Professor Toad's Swamp

This is a question that comes up periodically. The MLM groups in North America as a whole have made a very sad showing... Whether we're talking about the open wreckerism of the Red Guards clowns or the ultra-leftism and rapid collapse of the Canadian PCR-RCP. However, the label still seems to ahve its attractions. Maybe partly its just holdover ideas from the Cultural Revolution days that have now been inherited by a new generation, and then certainly it is partly the important work that is being done by the Communist Party of the Philippines. But we can't decide the usefulness of the label either on basis of unexamined dogma or on the basis that a single group, however good there work, employs it. We need to look at the label itself, where it comes from and what it implies.

In the end, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, as a term, is basically a concession to idealism. It also implies a break from Leninism that doesn't really exist.

What I mean by a concession to idealism is this: Leninism isn't defined by the great genius of Lenin or of anyone else. Leninism, as Stalin explained, is Marxism in the era of imperialism and revolution. The objective conditions of the world are the driving factor here, and Marxism has adapted to them. Lenin wasn't even the only one involved in adapting Marxism. Stalin, for example, was a major contributor to Leninist theories on the national question. In fact, if Lenin had never existed, sooner or later someone else would have reached the same conclusions that he did, because they are nothing but an accurate theoretical description of the world as it now is. Just as two people looking at the same animal should describe it similarly, two Marxists studying the capitalism of the modern period ought to reach mostly the same conclusions about it.

Marxism, likewise, isn't best understood as the product of the genius of Karl Marx. Of course, Marx was a genius, and Marxism developed much more rapidly because of his prodigious talent and labor. But Marx's ideas couldn't have come about much before Marx's time, because the proletariat was not yet developed enough to reveal its importance as a revolutionary subject. Also, like Lenin, Marx was not alone in the theoretical work that bears his name. Engels in reality was a major contributor, and there were others. And it has been pointed out that Joseph Dietzgen developed many of the same conclusions as Marx independently of him.

And this is how ideas come about in other areas as well. No doubt Newton was a genius for inventing calculus, but of course it is thought to have been invented almost simultaneously by Leibniz, possibly because the two were working on similar practical problems related to physics which demanded the new mathematical ideas. Maybe in the end the technological advances that made the telescope possible ultimately deserve more credit than either mathematician for the invention of calculus.

So, then, if Marxism-Leninism is Marxism in a new era, Marxism in the era of imperialism and world revolution, what newer era demands a newer Marxism? There obviously isn't one; we're still in the period of imperialism and world revolution. In the Cultural Revolution, some people suggested we were in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but if anybody said that today they'd just get laughed at.

What we're left with is the idea that Mao's great genius opened up a new era in Marxism. And not only is that just not how inventions work, but it's a very dangerous idea, that has contributed to the construction of cults of personality in far too many Maoist groups. Once we've accepted that a single individual's genius opened up a whole new era in Marxism, why shouldn't we expect to find great geniuses in our own work?

In any case, there is the practical side. The word Marxism-Leninism reflected a real break in the world socialist movement. From Lenin's time forward, every socialist revolution that has actually occurred has been led by Marxist-Leninists.

In Lenin's time, the movement split in two, between those that backed the Soviet Union and continued on a revolutionary path, and those who turned to bourgeois reformism. Accepting the theories of Marxism-Leninism was the dividing line between the two camps in the realm of theory.

We can't say the same about the Chinese revolution and Maoism, since even into the 1980s, socialist revolutions continued to occur and continued to be led by Marxist-Leninists such as Thomas Sankara. This even includes the Chinese revolution. Not only did the Chinese consider themselves Marxist-Leninists rather than Maoists at the time of the revolution, but many of the key ideas of Maoism had not yet been developed — ideas related to the growth of revisionism in socialist societies and the need for cultural revolution, to name two.

This break, in which everyone who wasn't a Maoist would go over into social democracy, just didn't occur. Sure, it continues to be a part of the rhetoric of many Maoist groups. But that's mainly because their ideas unfortunately often just dogmatically reproduce the thinking of this or that faction from the Chinese Cultural Revolution, without giving any attention to what has happened in the world since that time, or what theoretical lessons world events hold for us. Looking at events in revolutionary history since the Cultural Revolution, it's clear enough.

One of the many great things about the Communist Party of the Philippines is that they do not make this mistake. They maintain close ties with the Communist Party of Cuba, for example, thought the Communist Party of Cuba defines itself as Marxist-Leninist.

So, to sum up, the name Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is wrong because it idealistically elevates the thinking of an individual human over the development of the material world. Consequently, it implies a break between Maoist groups and Leninist groups that isn't reflected in the real world, and tends to instigate dangerous sectarianism.

Think I'm going to make a robot with a strong artificial intelligence component, a web connection, and a boxing glove attachment. It will identify people likely to use the word “praxis”, go to them, and wait until they use it, at which point it will deploy the boxing glove.

I'll fund this admittedly niche machine by making another that targets the word “utilize”.

Praxis is just a razzle-dazzle word, one that people pull out like a stage magician with a handkerchief, drawing your eye away from the reality that they have no argument... Or intimidating you into assuming that since they use bigger words than you, they must be smarter than you, must be better Marxists than you, until you turn your brain off and uncritically accept their nonsense.

Discussions of Marxism have to be democratic, in the sense that they have to be couched in ways that ordinary people, and not just some intellectual elite, can understand what's being said and what the differences of opinion are. A Marxist who won't write for people who didn't even get to finish high school isn't a genius; they're a fuck up at best and a con artist at worst.

Professor Toad is an ugly and mean revolutionary. It is HIGHLY doubtful that he he is actually a toad or a professor or anything.

If you want to say something to him, you can write to him at

On the US left, the free breakfast program carried out by the Black Panther Party for Self Defense is legendary, and there are almost constant attempts to imitate it.

And why shouldn't people want to copy it? It filled a tremendous need in the community, and embarrassed the state enough to where today most US school children have access to a similar program through the state. It also did a great deal to build support for the Panthers in the community.

But no one ever really manages it, though God knows plenty have tried. The short answer to why it hasn't been matched is that it takes a tremendous amount of resources, and the left in the US doesn't have those resources right now.

Most of the time people set out to imitate it, they hold a big community feed. A LOT of times, this is anarchists doing it, so in addition to the other problems, they're serving people vegan soup, which isn't necessarily the most popular thing they could put out.

But whatever food they serve, what they don't do is feed hundreds of children every day for literally years, as the Panthers did in Oakland and other towns. People aim at weekly feeds, but hardly ever really manage that.

As a result, they connect to very few people, and they don't connect all that strongly to those. Recruitment really is a numbers game. You've got to sift through a lot of people to find a handful that are really going to go all in for the revolution. And feeding five or ten people isn't going to get you very far.

Even if you serve plenty of food, as anybody that has run a business knows, you've got to be out there and consistent for a while before you build up a clientele. The first time you do it, if you've got food for a hundred people, you're probably going to end up throwing a lot of it out.

And if you're thinking, well, my idea is clothes, or legal help, or whatever, that's fine, and one or another alternative may be a better idea than food in your town, but I don't see where that changes the basic math.

There are groups that build up a strong working class constituency through service programs, and turn that into some political mobilizing power. But these aren't revolutionary groups. These are pretty consistently NGOs, and they can do it because they have full time staff whose job it is to do the work, and usually a brick and mortar office to work out of.

So, if you're a revolutionary and you want to do this, then I think there's a few things you're going to have to do to really get traction.

One, you're going to have to raise money and other resources, so you have a place to work out of and you have things to distribute. You're going to have to do this in a serious, consistent way, and to the tune of probably thousands per month. And no, you may not have to buy the food. The Panthers didn't. But it's work to guilt people into donating it, it's work to collect, and it's work to prepare and distribute it. To do that on a large scale you will need a large number of people each one putting in a large number of hours.

Two, you're going to have to dedicate yourself to it, and probably live without working, or anyway while only half-working. That's quite a position to put yourself in, for a lot of reasons. First is that you're going to be relying on the generosity of others to live, and if that dries up, you're going to be kind of screwed. Second is what happens if you get sick or disabled. And third is it's going to be difficult or impossible to maintain a family life.

Three, you're going to need a strong organization to back you. And very few organizations in the US are really strong enough to consistently back anything at this time. Almost all of them still have terrible internal contradictions... But that's a different topic.

Otherwise, this is a kind of organizing that the left is not going to do very much with for a while yet.