Commentary on the Joshua Moufawad Paul Interview with the New Inquiry
Article by Kavga
The June 10 interview “The Limit Does Not Exist” is introduced by the interviewer with a negation of Marxism, a negation of class struggle producing certain verifiable results throughout history:
“There is no question that a revolution is needed, but neither is there any certainty that it can ever be obtained.”
This sentiment is a truism of the contemporary, cynical, anti-Marxist left; it runs counter to Marxism, which insists with great certainty that the bourgeoisie is a doomed class, that imperialism can go no further and that the proletariat is the last class in history. All these Marxist positions speak to the truth of Marxism: revolution is natural and unavoidable even if it does not proceed in a straight line. In the very first chapter of the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels lay this matter to rest; it is anathema that there still exist those who several hundred years later still oppose this most basic Marxist position:
“The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
This leaves no room to doubt that revolution can most certainly be attained. It is not surprising that JMP fails to challenge his interviewer on this specific topic, considering the general tendency of his work, his opposition to revolutionary optimism, his views on the Party, etc. Marx of course spent his whole life defending basic concepts like the one quoted above and theorizing each concept presented in the Manifesto in great detail. Denying the above Marxist position is to deny the proletariat of its role as the revolutionary subject and makes them just another potential hopeful on the world’s historic saga.
The interview begins with a “critique” of Foucault; this critique, however, is inconclusive. After the introduction’s “nothing is certain”—a postmodernist position itself—JMP leads the criticism of Foucault by way of postmodernism, his reliance of Spivak is nothing but a defense of postmodernism in Marxist dressing. Attacking a postmodernist with postmodernists is a cornerstone of postmodern academia. The whole school of thought is precisely about this maneuver and it is why the whole train exists on a track far away from material reality, existing in the minds of professional thinkers only and in their interests, which of course have aligned historically with the interests of imperialism.
What is key in Skivak’s criticism of Foucault, is not at all a defense of Marxism but a doubling down on postmodernism, she is simply arguing that Foucault, by way of being European is just as “exclusionary” as Marxism is, an argument repeated by JMP in other essays which default to identity politics:
“Postmodernism, especially post-colonialism, has been quite critical of the discourse of, to put it in Spivak’s terms, the discourse of ‘Europe and the Other’; some of its more polemical dismissals of marxism [sic] concern the fact that Marx was ‘a white European male’… And though Marx’s historical specificity is something that historical materialists should also note (for it explains Marx’s theoretical limitations while, at the same time, allows us to use Marx’s method to critique his own short-comings), and though we should perhaps take some of these postmodern/post-colonial critiques seriously, we also cannot accept that the same eurocentric limitations do not apply to a theory that is mainly significant in eurocentric academia and is built on the same, supposedly flawed and suspicious, foundations of European specificity.”
JMP is both echoing and defending Spivak, he is doing what he is good at—that is, importing postmodernism into Marxism to “critique” the latter. He is a Trojan horse.
Contrary to JMP’s presentation, Spivak is not defending Marxism as universally for the oppressed and exploited, and in essence neither is JMP. Both are simply arguing that Foucault is “exclusionary too.” Both offer the same critique only slightly adapted to their respected audiences.
Marx on the contrary is analyzing matters in class terms, which exist among all peoples and all stages of development. The framework created by Karl Marx and Frederic Engels far transcends them, something JMP admits but does not make proper use of. The issue the postmodernists have is that—while Marxism is a great unifier—their analysis without synthesis approach is eternal division.
As is typical, JMP moves on to a total conflation of Marxism and revisionism; he positions Althusser as the underdog hero to the villainy of CIA translated Foucault. Note that the CIA regularly translated revisionists as well, and the phenomenon goes well beyond their hand in postmodernist philosophers. Of course, JMP fails to critically examine the role of Althusser as a historical materialist must; what was his relationship to class struggle, what were the positions he took on the actual class struggles of his times? JMP while feigning adherence to historical materialism—that is, fidelity to the fact that history is understood only and fundamentally through class struggle—rejects this when it comes to matters of the mind and philosophy. If we assess Althusser as historical materialists he comes out mainly in the negative, his theories begin to show the rough wear of revisionism. Not only was he a member of the revisionist Communist Party of France, but he supported their pro-bourgeois position on May 68; many of his students would go on to promote many horrible theories on “Marxism.” To call a revisionist a “Marxist” as JMP is committed to doing (while ramping up for an attack on the great Lenin) is to completely void Marxism of being a revolutionary science. In essence JMP only plays lip service to Marxism, what is consistent is his attacks on revolutionary leaders while smuggling in postmodernist and revisionist thinkers. He attacks Lenin, Stalin, Gonzalo and more while defending Spivak, Zizek, Badiou, Althusser, etc. His half-way critique of Foucault does not absolve him in any way of his conflations, which are in essence conflations of class and the ideas it produces.
In essence JMP, his defenders, and those like them reject the analysis of Chairman Gonzalo, who, deriving his position from Mao, insists that the “main danger” to Marxism is revisionism. This important position is not simply a posture put a precise synthesis produced from scrutinizing the history of the Communist movement.
In the past JMP has tried to slither out of allegations that his defining/defanging of Maoism is actually just an attack on Leninism. When the interviewer frames things as:
“The challenge for a revolutionary party has been to maintain a coherent vanguard identity, and at the same time safeguard itself against the kind of internal corruption that you write about as endemic to Leninism.”
JMP does not defend himself at all against the claim that internal corruption is par for the Leninist course. This again conflates Marxism with revisionism and fails to demarcate the two. Like the “party” which JMP supports (pcrrcp.ca), his attacks on Lenin and Leninism come packaged in a distortion of the mass line, as if the latter is a negation of the former rather than a discovery made possible through its application. This relies on considering the masses as “not ready for socialism” and the mass line as a means to condition them for receiving propaganda—a wholly bourgeois and negative view of the masses (cynicism toward the masses). This bourgeois view allows a neat departure point for other bourgeois views regarding “cults” and “brainwash.”
Always the artist of conflating ideas JMP claims:
“When I conceptualize the party in the general way that I did in Continuity and Rupture, and other works, it is based on putting together a bunch of texts that come out through a certain region of Marxist theory, conceptions from the Communist Party of the Philippines or the Communist Party of Peru, for example.”
To be clear the Party concept espoused by the Filipino Party is quite different than the one espoused by the Peruvian Party, and both are different from the one promoted by JMP. In spite of his flirtation with the imagery belonging to the PCP which he uses on the cover of his first two books, these books’ contents are not only an attack on the political line of the PCP, but a consistent refusal to understand the ideology of the PCP. The Filipinos, however, do not, nor have they ever, upheld MLM as theorized by the PCP as distinct from Mao Zedong Thought. For JMP these are nothing but convenient names to traffic with, lending legitimacy to his views which are totally disconnected from armed struggle. Neither of the two mentioned Parties position the Maoist Party as a “mass party” as JMP has and neither of them consider their ideologies a “rupture” from Leninism.
His conflations continue when he claims Charles Bettelheim is a “Maoist.” If anything, Bettelheim must be considered the type of “left-wing communist” which Lenin so avidly polemicized; this is due to the theoretical and ideological content of the very works JMP is promoting. Among Bettelheim’s views are the ideas that socialism was never accomplished in the Soviet Union, his refusal to recognize the four comrades of Mao (Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen) taken out by the Deng-led coup in 1976 as Mao’s successors, and worst of all his total negation of the Party form and denunciation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Cultural revolution as maintained in volume 3 of his “Class Struggles in the USSR.” All these things JMP conveniently forgets when making his endorsement. This is not to argue that the texts are totally useless, but that they are not “Maoist” texts, nor is Bettelheim a “Maoist” by any stretch of the imagination.
Crediting Mao with insistence that class struggle continues under socialism is a strange maneuver, considering that Mao did not originate this theory and went to great pains to situate this as a position upheld by Lenin himself. Once again, JMP does not concern himself with Mao’s actual assessments of comrade Stalin, which Mao insisted was mainly good, JMP instead uses the criticism of Stalin to attack the great Lenin. By doing this, he is snuggling up to the views of the interviewer that corruption is “endemic to Leninism.” He forgoes a defense of MLM only to curry more favor among trendy intellectuals. At worst this is revisionism, but even the most charitable view forces us to acknowledge his liberalism at play by refusing to correct mistaken ideas aired publicly by his interviewer. The interviewer hits the nail on the head by attributing the viewpoint to JMP who confirms it by failing to condemn it.
The more he speaks, the more he condemns himself and this recent interview just adds to the mountain of evidence of the corruption endemic not to Leninism but rightism. Rightism is best understood as a tailing of the bourgeoisie or in other instances, to tail the masses. Based on the cynical formula that the masses are not ready for socialism, the view that anti-communism has fundamentally made the masses skeptical are based in the idea that there is no real demarcation between Communist and revisionist ideology, which is JMP’s most frequent conflation of opposites. In spite of his claim that philosophy must make interventions on the movement, he has fully failed to address our repeated criticism, which speaks volumes on the quality of said philosophy. While JMP finds time to engage with countless postmodernist academics, and give interviews to hipster-left rags like New Inquiry, he will no doubt systematically avoid and ignore our Maoist criticism, this is intellectual cowardice.
At this point, it is only the willfully ignorant and the incurable rightists who still cling to his stinking barge.