Marxism-Leninism, not Marxism-Leninism-Maoism
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.