The ‘People’s War’ and the Legacy of the Chinese Revolution

Wang Hui


Like the revolutionary movements of the twentieth century, contemporary Maoist movements have combined peaceful protest, armed struggle, relations with the workers and peasants, and ‘the line struggle’ through practice and theoretical debate, striving to achieve political unity and forge a new political subject through a dynamic process of division and integration. These features hardly find any equivalent in the contemporary social movements centred in urban middle classes. Such movements are often short-lived, fragmented, and based on immediate interests and mainstream values. The lack of a process of remolding the subject (or of self-negation in order to form a new self) makes it impossible for social struggle to be sustained. The scale, longevity, intensity and political innovation of the Maoist movement distinguishes it from the various Occupy movements in the west.

Calling this persistence of Maoist practice a ‘spectacle’ is deliberate, intended to contrast it with both the spectacular collapse of most Communist parties or their degeneration through an embrace of neoliberal globalization, as well as the spectacle of protest movements like Occupy. The ‘spectacle’ of Maoist movements also offers a sharp contrast to the overwhelming focus of contemporary scholarship on globalization, the rise of Chinese capitalism, financial crises, etc. Even the more critical currents leave little, if any, space for the possibility of overcoming capitalism through revolutionary means. As such, old categories, from class to nation, autonomism to internationalism, become the subjects of negative reflection and deconstruction. In the context of contemporary thinking, we can hardly find traces of the Maoist movement; or else it is no more than a synonym of terrorism. We have become accustomed to observing our world through the lens of the ‘end of history’, even for many people who firmly reject such a theory. This is why it is especially important to insist on asking whether Maoism as movement and party still bears lessons for people engaged in various forms of struggle.

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