Dear Diary – Maoist Controversies

It has been a strangely volatile and entertaining day so far. First of all Academic board – a pretty dull looking agenda, but the high points were the student intervention by Hannah that crushed a badly thought out proposal on plagiarism (well, crushed isn’t exactly the word, since skillful meeting management deflected any visible crushing, but a victory for the students union in any case) and a report from Warden Geoff (on some Gang of Four-type committee) to advise on the reform of Uni of London that will do away with some superfluous uni-wide forums that probably were once pretty significant – well, if I heard it right amongst the clatter of refurbishment works, this seems like a quiet but major major coup. But that was just my admin stand-in responsibility. The day had started off strange, but it soon got very weird indeed.

So over lunch, a call from Bill Martin who is speaking at the Mao Workshop on friday…

[the details of which are:

Dec 1 2006 – Mao CCS 1-6pm

Centre for Cultural Studies and Department of Politics at Goldsmiths presents:

Mao workshop – Friday 1st Dec – Goldsmiths 1-6pm cinema – all welcome.

Why Mao? Why Now?

Why have a conference on Maoism in a heart of 21st century post-industrial post-colonial European Capitalism? What interest would Maoism hold for an Urban Bourgeois Institution of Intellectuals in an era in which Communism has been historically ‘surpassed’? Two decades after China itself began its ‘De-Maoification’? And why Maoism in particular out of all forms of Marxist-Leninism? Why does Maoism continue to inspire theory and revolutionary struggle far beyond the bounds of China and Chinese Culture, beyond the divisions of East and West, North and South? This small day conference attempts to address those and other questions by looking at different currents of Maoist thought and practice in the US, France, India, China and Nepal…. all welcome]

With Bill as keynote this will be good. He wrote “Humanism and its Aftermath” and very engagingly debated with Avakian in a recent volume that’s at home on my desk (and called “Marxism and the Call of the Future” – it has an intro by Zizek, which is amusing since as I mentioned on the links page of this blog, the human-print-industry that is S/Z is writing an intro now to Mao’s “On Contradiction” essay, from Verso in January). Expect Bill in fine form – come hear him tell the Zizek tale, and of the response they wrote to his forward – such that this workshop is gonna be much much fun. But as I was explaining to him, it is causing a bit of controversy, as well as gathering some enthusiasm.

The first example of enthusiasm today (there have been many) came from an email from a guy who’d been on a road building project with the CPN-M in Nepal. He has a 30 minute video about it that we will have to find time for – our breaks are too short, maybe another day – but his perspective on my rants about the Himalayas would have been good to hear. To be continued… but not now as then an interruption by phone again.

I got a call from a journalist in India who wants to know WHY WE ARE DOING A MAO CONFERENCE IN LONDON???

In response to this, when I told him, the head of the Dept of Politics (co-sponsor of our event) said, ‘well, no one would object if you did a conference on Hitler, so why not Mao?’.

Gulp. I anticipate an interesting day on friday for sure. Co-organiser Maude said that where she’s from a conference on Hitler would also raise eyebrows. Twitch, twitch. Enthusiasm and controversy indeed.

Then, the day got even better. Raymond Lotta got in touch (I think some parts of his informative letter can be shared here):

Dear John Hutnyk,
I will be attending the “Why Mao? Why Now?” conference at Goldsmiths and staying in London through the afternoon of December 6. I am a Maoist political economist based in Chicago. I have written and edited several books, including “America in Decline,” “Mao Makes Five,” and “Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism.” I promote the perspectives of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, whose chairman is Bob Avakian. I wrote the preface to “Marxism and the Call of the Future” (the dialogue between Avakian and Bill Martin published by Open Court).I was hoping that after the conference—I’ll be staying in London through the afternoon of December 6–it might be possible to get together with you to talk. I have recently become familiar with your work (I am reading and very much enjoying “Bad Marxism”) and I also see from your blog that you have been reading Bob Avakian’s Memoir. It would be highly interesting for me to learn more
your work, your assessment of the radical intellectual-political scene in England, and more on your thinking about the relevance of Maoism to the 21st century. I would also like to share some of what Avakian has been speaking to in his writings and how he is enlarging the horizons of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

A little more about my work. My book “America in Decline” (1984) is an attempt to extend Lenin’s theorization of imperialism. I have written on issues of contemporary trends in the world economy (debt crisis in Latin America, famine in Niger, etc.) and recently done a critique of Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat”. I have written extensively on Mao’s approach to socialist planning (politics in command, centralization/decentralization and the “information problem,” and regulation and stability/experimentation and upheaval) and on why “market socialism” represents no alternative to capitalism.

For the last year I have been on a lecture tour entitled “Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World.” This is part of the “Set the Record Straight” project aimed at challenging conventional wisdom about the “first wave” of socialist revolutions (the Soviet Union 1917-56 and China 1949-76)—that is, the idea that these revolutions were utter failures, utopias gone mad, etc. I talk about the great achievements, as well as the shortcomings and problems, and how Bob Avakian, building on but also going beyond these experiences, is bringing forward a radically new model of the dictatorship of the proletariat (I have attached the concluding section of my speech that deals with aspects of this new model). I have spoken at Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford here in the U.S. The idea is to “reopen” what is considered a settled debate and to stir discussion about scholars and professors and the new generation of students. It’s been very exciting and controversial (at UCLA, the sponsoring departments came under attack from reactionaries associated with David Horowitz who has been spearheading a campaign to “purge” radicals from the academy).

I have also been taking on “Mao: The Unknown Story.” I been on the radio about the book; and last month, I presented a critique of the book at a graduate seminar lecture series at the University of Chicago. Part of the reason I am coming to England is to talk with people about the prospects of a high-profile debate with Chang/Halliday—either in London or New York, or both cities. I really hope to ratchet up the level of debate. .. What is most important…I look forward to attending the “Why Mao? Why Now” conference and meeting you and others who will be there.
Yours in solidarity,
Raymond Lotta

So, all in all friday for the Mao Workshop is going to be great – Sukant worries there will be too many mad Maoists; others worry there won’t be enough, or they won’t be mad enough; still others were concerned at the idea of glorification of it all. The line up is: Alpa Shah on Naxalites (see my take on them here), Michael Dutton on China, Alberto Toscano on French theory, Sukant Chandan on the Black Panther Party. Bill Martin as keynote, and a panel at the end. Maude’s intro is going to be great (I’ve seen a draft), so I am sure all the contributions, those from speakers as well as those from the floor, will provoke. In general I am looking forward to debate debate debate.

Then next week we are going to have lunch with Raymond and hear a talk from him on tuesday evening (to be confirmed, but probably 6.30 in the cinema). Slowly we are surrounding the city, a protracted insurgency, but a lively one…

Red Salute

3 thoughts on “Dear Diary – Maoist Controversies”

  1. A conference on Hitler in the New York Metropolitian Area would do a lot more than raise eyebrows! It would raise voices and banners, it would be protested. I remember the KKK wanted to march through NYC. We wouldn’t let them. Besides John, I guess I don’t understand why you mentioned the Hitler comment to the journalist. Mao is far scarier than Hitler nowadays for those in the paranoid ‘know’, because he’s far more useful. Hitler did not give us great strategies like the People’s War. If he did the invasion of Germany would have been more like Vietnam. Stalin or Hitler did not make the very useful and enduring contributions to Marxist-Leninist thought that Mao did. They were not really theorists in the way that Mao was. It is this fact, and not the other facts that make Mao comparable to Hitler or Stalin that made me want to do this conference.


  2. Hello Prof. Hutnyk,

    I have been reading your blog for a at least a couple of years now and briefly asked you a few questions at a Revolution Bookstore event in NYC. I remember you giving a review to Bill Martin’s work and this post, so I thought you might be interested in this recent letter by Prof. Martin following the developments of degeneration of the RCP and the Kasama regroupment project in its aftermath.

    You might be minimally interested.


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