‘Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain’ reviewed by Hamayon Rastgar

Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain

Zero Books, Winchester and Washington, 2016, 312pp., £17.99/$29.95
ISBN 9781785354762

Reviewed by Hamayon Rastgar

About the reviewer

Hamayon Rastgar is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at York University …


There is a lack of a meaningful material on Maoist theory within the existing body of Marxist literature. Therefore, knowledge about this theoretical tendency is relatively poor. For example, A Dictionary of Marxist Thought does not contain an entry on Maoism. This lacuna is a glaring reflection of the general ignorance about Maoist theory particularly since, in several countries of the global south in the past two decades, there have been various people’s wars waged under the banner of Maoism. In the epoch when capitalism is triumphantly declaring ‘the end of history’ Maoism has become the ‘greatest internal security threat’ for a state like India, so much so that Financial Times has asserted that ‘the spectre of Maoism’ is ‘haunting south Asia.’ Therefore, J. Moufawad-Paul’s book Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain is a much-needed corrective.

In this book Moufawad-Paul outlines and engages with the theoretical development of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism [MLM], and provides an understanding of Maoist theory in the way it is understood by contemporary Maoist organizations. In explicating the development of the concept of Maoism, Moufawad-Paul argues that Maoism

is not simply an addition to Marxism-Leninism’ but a theoretical development of Marxism-Leninism in a dialectical process of continuity and rupture in which Maoism mainly upholds Marxism-Leninism while rupturing from its secondary inadequacies and shortcomings.

Moufawad-Paul claims that MLM is ‘a third stage of revolutionary science’ (3), and a theoretical development of the science that sums up its continuity in the formula Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

Furthermore, the author argues that this modern understanding of the concept of Maoism, despite the prior existence of the name, only emerged in late 1980s, at least a decade after the defeat of revolution in China and restoration of capitalism, with the Communist Party of Peru launching its people’s war and declaring Maoism the third stage of revolutionary science. The key moment in the formation of MLM as a coherent theoretical concept, according to Moufawad-Paul, is 1993 when the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement [RIM] emphasised Maoism’s universal applicability, stating that ‘without Maoism there can be no Marxism-Leninism. Indeed, to negate Maoism is to negate Marxism-Leninism itself’ (3).

As a philosophical intervention, Continuity and Rupture is primarily concerned with explaining the meaning of contemporary Maoism, or what the author calls ‘Maoism-qua-Maoism’, rather than theorizing what he takes as already established by the historical process described above. In this sense the book has to deal with the following problems: i) the existence of a tendency called ‘Maoism’ prior to the period he treats as foundational and why this tendency was not Maoism proper; ii) the justification for Maoism as a ‘third stage’ of revolutionary theory; iii) how Maoism is distinct from simply Marxism-Leninism. The first of these problems is relatively easy to solve, even if, as the author himself begins by admitting, it might seem ‘counter-intuitive’ to claim that Maoism ‘did not exist’ prior to 1988 (xii). Moufawad-Paul, employing the philosophical distinction between name and concept, demonstrates that the previous name ‘Maoism’ that was used by organizations throughout the world in the 1970s-80s was conceptually an ‘anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism’ (often going by the term ‘Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought’), and did not treat itself as a new ‘stage’ of Marxism. The solution to this problem, however, leads directly to the other philosophical dilemmas; just what makes something a ‘stage’ in ‘revolutionary science’? What is the conceptual difference between Marxism-Leninism and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism? And, moreover, by what token can we use the term ‘revolutionary science’ in the first place? The majority of the book is dedicated to engaging with these questions in a way that opens the door for further examinations of a theoretical tendency that, to date, lacks any rigorous academic investigation.

In order to justify the possibility of Maoism’s claim as a ‘third stage of revolutionary science’, Moufawad-Paul argues that revolutionary theory develops through the actual practice of class revolution, particularly ‘through world-historical revolution’ (16). After explaining how an event qualifies for this status, as well as arguing why this matters, the author asserts that there have been three world historical communist revolutions: the Paris Commune, the Russian revolution, and the Chinese revolution. All three world historical revolutions respectively have provided the material practice for the emergence of the three stages of the development of this revolutionary science by producing, through retrospective theoretical systematization, concepts that, in continuity and rupture with each other, are universally applicable: Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism. The Chinese revolution being the third communist world historical revolution which systematized ‘the lessons of the first [and second] world historical revolution[s]’ (29).

In this context, Moufawad-Paul argues that Maoism developed through a dialectical process of continuity and rupture; it emerged ‘precisely at the point where Marxism-Leninism had reached its limits.’ Maoism was thus theorized, through a systematization of the event of the Chinese revolution ‘because those behind its theorization were encountering, in the crucible of class struggle, problems that Marxism-Leninism was incapable of solving’ (86). By setting up a schema of theoretical development through world historical revolutions, Moufawad-Paul is able to demonstrate how Maoism, while carrying on the revolutionary tradition of Marxism and then Marxism-Leninism, ruptures from this tradition by rearticulating the ‘theoretical terrain’ of Marxism. Hence, whereas the ‘Maoism’ of the past was simply a Marxism-Leninism that declared fidelity to the Chinese Revolution, ‘Maoism-qua-Maoism’ is a different theoretical entity.

Indeed, Moufawad-Paul maintains that the general limits of Marxism-Leninism required ‘a theoretical rupture’. Following the defeat of revolution in the Soviet Union, the revolutionaries in China theorized that class struggle continues under socialism: representatives of the bourgeoisie within socialist society––not external agents, as Stalinism would have it, but forces internal to socialism––would attempt to overthrow proletarian dictatorship, and replace it with bourgeois dictatorship. This understanding led the Chinese revolutionaries to develop the theory of the continuation of class struggle under socialism, and launch the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. While these were the lessons that the anti-revisionist communists employed in their struggles, under the name of ‘Maoism’, in the 1970s they still encountered the limitations of Marxism-Leninism that would make the Maoist theoretical rupture necessary. That is, all of the theoretical insights that were opened by the event of the Chinese revolution’s sequence (cultural revolution, mass line, line struggle, the party of the new type, etc.) were not treated as universal developments of Marxist theory, and as Moufawad-Paul demonstrates, remained under-theorized. Hence, the New Communist Movement based its theory and practice on a fidelity to ‘orthodox’ Marxism-Leninism, maintaining everything said by Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, rather than grasping that a heterodox rupture was in possible emergence.

The need for this heterodox rupture, according to Moufawad-Paul, is explicated in the limits of Marxism-Leninism that the anti-revisionist movement reached in a central contention of the communist movement: the question of organization. That is, the central contradiction of this period was the fact that

on the one hand, it is impossible for the proletariat to spontaneously develop a revolutionary party with a revolutionary ideology; on the other hand, it is impossible for a party that the workers cannot possibly develop, and thus is developed instead by the petty bourgeoisie, to carry a revolution to its completion. In essence: Marxism-Leninism is correct while, at the same time, Marxism-Leninism is incorrect’ (99).

In the new Maoist return to the question of organization, where the theory unlocked by the Cultural Revolution is systematized, it becomes possible to move beyond the contradiction of Marxism-Leninism. According to the author, this possibility is

because the party does not simply lead the masses; the party also must be held to account by the masses and in this accounting class struggle continues. Those petty-bourgeois intellectuals who once defined the meaning of revolution, if they were indeed petty-bourgeois intellectuals should be called to account by the very revolution they once claimed to represent’ (129).

According to this theory of mass-line, ‘any revolutionary theory coming from outside must find its limits in the inside of the proletariat: if it is rejected by the most radical factions of this class then it should be rethought’ (132). In applying the theory of the mass-line the Maoist party of the new type upholds the Leninist lesson of the vanguard party, answering an important need of revolutionary strategy, ‘but is not trapped in the structural monolithism, best represented by the Communist Party of Soviet Union under Stalin, where party cadre were disciplined ‘military staff of the proletariat.’ (189)

Furthermore, Moufawad-Paul also provides a critique of other approaches within the broader left that attempt to provide alternative methods of handling the impasse reached by Marxism Leninism, which opens the possibility of critical engagement with this question on the broader left. The impasse of Leninism and the retreat of revolutionary communism has led many anti-capitalist forces towards post-modern and anarchist methods of organizing, where revolutionary parties that still uphold Lenin’s theory of vanguard party are ‘treated as authoritarian and thus suspect’ (190). Moufawad-Paul, following the arguments in his previous book (The Communist Necessity), provides a very pertinent critique of what he calls ‘movementism’, which he claims has ‘failed to deliver anything useful for an anti-capitalist praxis.’ (190) Here he highlights the futile attempts of Hal Draper’s theory of socialism from below ‘to square Leninism with the movementist circle.’ While Moufawad-Paul gives credit to Draper for being ‘insightful enough to recognize the limitations of Leninist orthodoxy,’ (195) he criticizes Draper’s attempts to move beyond the limitations of Leninism by abandoning the concept of the vanguard through movementism as being ‘in the last instance economism.’ (200)

Whatever problems and omissions it might possess, Continuity and Rupture establishes a strong argument that ‘there can be no authentic Marx or Lenin that can be directly apprehended, bypassing Mao’ (222). While, to date, it is only the first philosophical intervention on what the author often calls ‘the theoretical terrain of Maoism’, it is an opening that is notable in how it throws light on the problematic of grasping the revolutionary kernel of the theory of communism. As author argues, if we are to make sense of revolutionary theory then we must also understand the dialectical process of continuity and rupture, in historical instances of world revolution, through which communist theory has developed. In this sense, Moufawad-Paul makes an appealing case for a return to the revolutionary kernel of communism through understanding the most contemporary stage of the development of the ideology and science of revolution, namely Maoism.  

21 December 2016


  1. This is a really great review. The book was a wonderful read that accomplishes its goal of distuingishing the terrain upon which Marxism-Leninism-Maoism has deveoloped from, and how it must be engaged with to overcome less effective theories of proletarian revolution.

  2. In the 27 January, 1950, editorial of ” For a lasting peace, For a people’s democracy”, the organ of the Cominform it was stated, ” the path taken by the Chinese people .. is the path that should be taken by the people of many colonial and dependend countries in their struggle for national indipendence and people’s democracy.”
    Thus, the universal applicability of Maoism was recognised , and began to become the guideline for genuine revolutionaries throught the world, practically in the colonies and semi-colonies.
    Then, why the universality of Maoism was considered from 1988?

  3. @R.R. Brahmanandam: you can read the full text here: http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/archive/CominternColonial.pdf

    The Cominform wasn’t talking about the “universal applicability of Maoism”, they were talking only about “colonial and semi-colonial countries”. They were not talking about the rest of the world.

    Maoism is not applicable in the industrialized “Western” countries. This was recognized by the Dutch Socialist Party, which today has one million supporters. Okay, the SP adopted the “mass line” principle, but they rejected Chinese peasant politics, which had no experience of popular democracy.

    In the West, we should certainly support the principle “dare to struggle, dare to win”, but we should also oppose, and reject utterly, the killing of civil freedoms and human rights by the Maoists.

    There exists, as far as I know, not even one Maoist party in the world today, which has the defense of civil and human freedoms written into its party constitution.

    It is, in truth, the battle of the workers and farmers for civil freedoms and human rights, that is “universal” today.

    Most of the Maoists do not understand this, as far as I can see, they just see this as a “petty-bourgeois deviation” and, therefore, I think they will probably be consigned to the dustbin of history.

    I suppose, though, that this viewpoint is also a matter of interpretation – it is not just a question of political language used, but also of what is behind the language.

    In Europe, we do not need Maoism, although we can learn things from the Maoist experience. We need “socialism with European characteristics”, rooted in European moral, intellectual and political traditions.

    In America, we need “socialism with American characteristics” which is rooted in the American heritage. Only on this kind of basis is a genuine internationalism possible.

    You cannot create genuine internationalism on the basis that people deny the national heritage of their own country.

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