Using the lecture and readings, discuss the key differences between Maoist political thought and general Marxist thought. In your own words, why was Maoism not a popular leftist revolutionary ideology in Latin America? What was Latin America’s dominant leftist revolutionary ideology, and what led to this belief? Make sure you note some specific examples and references from the readings.
Something that lead to one of the biggest differences between Maoism and Marxism is that Mao felt Marxism would not work in China. Marxism is all about the working class – the proletariat – protesting their unfair treatment from the upper class – the bourgeoisie. China didn’t have a working class though, they had rural farm workers, known as the popular masses. So, Mao ‘made Marxism Chinese’ (Kang, 15). He used two main strategies, guerrilla warfare and cultural revolution (Ning, 9), in order to achieve ‘revolution through the countryside’. An additional difference is that Marxism was mainly an economic theory, but Maoism expanded beyond that, eg. the cultural revolution. The two ideas shared similar emphasis on class struggle.
Maoism was not the popular belief in most Latin American countries because they already had an example: the Soviet Union. The USSR’s relationship with Cuba demonstrated regional communism that lead the influence in the region. With this successful relationship, other countries were following the USSR’s version of communism not China’s. There were however small student groups all over the Americas that focused on communist thought including Maoism, but most of these were not prominent (except of course the Peruvian movement). (Gomez).
Latin American went through a phase of enlightenment which featured mainly anti colonial or anti Spain ideas. (Martz, 60). There was a period of romantic liberalism that stemmed from the French and British, but it was short lived in Latin America. Martz writes, “The years of Romantic Liberalism in the hemisphere, in short, were characterized broadly by the search for a new basis to a truly American order of things. This meant different emphases from different men.” (Martz, 63). Privilege and elitism were still a main social problem. But the dominant ideology in the region for a period of time according to Martz was positivism. Positivism fixed economic, political, and social problems such as remaining colonial issues, and was described as the the most important philosophical movement in Hispanic America. (Martz, 64). This theory spread across the whole continent as ” a new instrument for the attainment of immediate national political goals.” (Martz, 68). At the beginning of the 20th century, many new theories developed in the region on either side of the political scale and with a range of impact and influence. There was a form of existentialism, Neo-Thomism, and humanism mixed into one, socialism and Marxism, and even far right fascism, individualism, and materialism. (Martz, 70).
The standard Marxist focus on industrial workers was not applicable to many parts of the world. Mao Zedong, a Chinese communist, developed a form of Marxism which was compatible with his country. The variant was called Maoism, though this term wasn’t used inside China. This is because Mao himself did not like it, rather preferring Mao Zedong Thought as Niang claims. His version focused on rural peasants rather than the factory proletariat. Furthermore, he attempts to make Marxism “non-western” and universal. He heavily romanticized the countryside and emphasized the revolution needs to be fought for even after a successful takeover due to the Bourgeois influence over culture, this led to giant mistakes later on such as both The Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution where millions perished. In fact, you can even see the impact of The Great Leap Forward on time series data of the word.
Although purposely constructed to fit a place like Latin America, it failed to initially gain ground in the region especially compared to the Soviet model. The Soviet model had the head start. It began earlier, had influence over Cuba, and was perceived as a success due to its industrialization. The industrialization and growth of the Soviets can be critiqued on numerous grounds however, such as the counterfactual and input accumulation. First, counterfactual estimations show the actual path of Russia to be lower. This makes sense due to industrialization not being particularly impressive compared to both the pre-1913 trend and Japanese occupied Korea. Second, growth theory literature suggests Soviet growth was purely based on input accumulation. Meaning it could not grow past a certain point. Anyways, Marxism already had made some marks on the region. Martz article “Characteristics of Latin American Political Thought” names many Marxist Latin American authors who played a role like Juan Marinello, Blas Roca, and the Machado brothers of Venezuela. These authors were more on the Soviet spectrum. For Maoism, one author that would play a special role would be Jose Carlos Mariategui from Peru. This particular author’s writings were quite similar to Mao, focusing on the common worker who was not in a factory but rather the countryside. He additionally wrote about how the economy of Peru was set up, with a form of feudalism having a significant presence. Mariategui and Mao would eventually inspire the most well known maoist group in the region, Sendero Luminoso. At first, like Lewis Taylor describes in his article, Sendero was not expected to become huge even in Marxist circles: “I was further underwhelmed by my initial encounter with the PCP–SL when respected friends who had a detailed knowledge of the Peruvian left intimated that ‘Sendero’ was not a serious outfit. The prevailing view among activists was that a combination of dogmatism, unsophisticated social analysis and adherence to a maximalist program seemingly divorced from current realities placed the party firmly on the exotic margins of Marxist politics in Peru”. SL quickly rose and began planning both military operations and terrorist attacks. Taylor notes few people realized at the time, during their early meetings, the fate of millions of Peruvians would be decided. SL would commit atrocities like slaughtering infants (Lucanamarca massacre) and detonating car bombs (Tarata bombing), eventually being defeated by the Peruvian state and evolving into drug trafficking.
Mao Zedong formed the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) who supported Chinese nationalism and was an anti-imperialist. He was the founder of Maoism which is the guiding ideology for the Communist Party. He was of peasantry descendant and wanted China to focus on the people. He was determined to purge China of any remaining capitalism, so he came up with Maoism, which is a leftist political thought designed mainly for the Chinese, it is a revolution that thought of peasants as true rulers. When we speak of peasants we are thinking of farmers and Mao thought of them having the true power to the system. This revolution is of the countryside that focused on peasantry instead of the proletariat, a rural revolution versus an urban.
Marxism was founded by Karl Marx. This ideology is also a leftist political thought, a practice of socialism where a worker revolution will replace capitalism with a communist system. It’s a struggle between the Bourgeoisie (capitalists) and the Proletariat (working class). Maoism is derived from Marxism-Leninism but with a twist to it. There is a difference between Maoism and Marxism, in the sense that, Maoism is not about the proletariat but about the peasants. Proletariat is for the industrial working class and Maoism is about the farming peasantry class. With Marxism a working class is needed to sustain it.
Though Maoism was essentially for the Chinese people it spread to the west. Many different places adapted to this ideology like Peru for example, they had a Maoist organization. While Latin America was practicing leftist movements, it was not practicing Maoist. The majority of Latin America gravitated to Marxism. They gravitated to Marxism because of Cuba and how successful it was. Latin America was led to this belief in Marxism because of the increase in inequality between the rich and the poor. The famous problem of capitalism is inequality. The wealthier citizens benefited more than the poorer. “Oligarchical interest by large continued to monopolize public affairs, increase economic wealth was not accompanied by its equitable distribution, and individual interest remained narrowly selfish.” (Martz, pg. 69) While Latin America was struggling with this, they saw Cuba and how successful it was doing practicing Marxism. Cuba was the inspiration to Latin America because of its success and relationship with the Soviet Union, which influenced many countries in the Caribbean and Central America. Because of Cuba’s who is also a Latin country, was success with Marxism, Marxism was more practical to them versus Maoism.
Maoism was not a popular leftist revolutionary ideology in Latin America, most likely because of the surrounding ideas that were presented. Such ideas were how the Maoist political thought is certainly reflected amongst the world to a certain extent. Such extent was important on the idea of how it had been portrayed within the world, and especially on what issues were surrounding it in many parts of the world that led to many differences.
Maoism had emphasized the approach from China as an idea of revolution which is a global idea of revolution (Kang 2015 ) ‘’Maoism was a global theory of revolution in both the developed western countries and the underdeveloped third world countries.’’ (Kang 2015)Maoism had the tendency to have an idea that approached a radical sense of view from point of Chairman Mao Zeong in where human rights are not humane to any extent which unfairly causes lot of inequality that leads to death of innocent people, and difficult living conditions just for multilateral purposes of society that was heavily relied on farmers.’’Latin America has always needed a unified Latin America in order to support one another’’ (Gomez 2023), due to how The United States of America has the correlation to support those countries in Latin America, due to the United States being able to support those countries that don’t support communism because it supports human rights. ‘’North America has made Latin Americans in large measure dependent upon their distant neighbors for much of the method and content of that part of their social sciences which is not of indigenous origin.’’ (Martz 1966). The tendency of Latin America had evolved tremendously around the world with the involvement of Cuba and the Soviet Union that resulted to contradict China’s views due to Soviets success.
Latin America’s dominant leftist revolutionary ideology was the idea of where it was related the period of positivism, according to Martz in where it focused on ‘’the failure of constitutional democratic forms, the absence of economic prosperity, the increasing social tensions arising among classes and in some cases among races, and the unending frustrations of church-state relations.’’ (Martz 1966) Positivism tends to relate to the living standards for many latin americans in which it can fix many economic, political, problems in their society. ‘’With its slogan of order and progress, would encourage a moderate and graduate approach to national problems.’ (Martz 1966) With the problematic issues that had been occurring, had correlated to the people from Latin America to focus on such issues in order to perceive new life beginnings.
Maoism was not a popular idea within the Latin American region due to what was entailed, and the influence of the United States, Soviet Union and its beliefs, as well the diffusion of the Cuban society that took necessary action within the world that it had become influenced. As Well positivism was an idea in South America that was characterized within the dire need that it entailed for the people.
The key differences between Maoist political thought and general Marxist thought are different by nature. Maoist political thought and general Marxist thought are both rooted in the broader ideology of Marxism, which seeks to critique and transform capitalist societies to establish a classless and stateless society. However, there are key differences between Maoist political thought, which emerged as a specific branch of Marxism under Mao Zedong’s leadership in China, and general Marxist thought. Marxism is all about the working class – the proletariat – protesting their unfair treatment from the upper class – the bourgeoisie. China didn’t have a working class though, they had rural farm workers, known as the popular masses.
Maoism, as a revolutionary ideology, did not gain widespread popularity in Latin America for several reasons such as: contextual differences, focus on peasantry, geopolitical factors, pragmatic and tactical considerations, and political repression and state violence. A perfect example as to why the Maoism ideology did not gain widespread popularity in the Latin American region was because of the Soviet Union. In some Latin American countries, leftist movements faced severe repression, state violence, and human rights abuses by authoritarian regimes supported by the United States during the Cold War.
Latin America has seen various leftist revolutionary ideologies gaining prominence at different times in its history. Some of the dominant leftist revolutionary ideologies in Latin America include Marxism-Leninism, socialism, and various forms of nationalism. The history of exploitation, oppression, and marginalization of indigenous peoples, peasants, and workers in Latin America has led to the rise of revolutionary ideologies that aim to challenge and overthrow the existing socio-economic and political structures. Latin America has long been characterized by high levels of social and income inequality, making it the world’s worst region for income inequality. Social movements and popular uprisings play significant roles in establishing these ideologies.
It’s important to note that revolutionary ideologies and movements are complex and multifaceted, influenced by a wide range of factors.
Maoism builds upon Marxist ideas, but diverges greatly from the ideology it has its roots in. Marxism was designed for industrialized societies with a large proletarian class, while Maoism sought to be the solution for communists in agricultural societies lacking a significant proletarian class. The ideology was conceptualized by and named after Mao Zedong during the Chinese Civil War. Mao was a communist influenced by Soviet communism and Leninism, but after the death of Stalin and changes enacted by Nikita Khrushchev, he felt a new system was needed. Mao argued that China, and many other countries, did not have a proletarian class to mobilize towards revolution, and instead must focus on the agricultural people to fuel the communist revolution. Mao’s system was also thought to help poor, feudal, and agricultural systems modernize. Aside from focusing on the agricultural working class rather than industrial working class, Maoism also differs from Marxism in its push towards cultural revolution rather than focusing just on economic and political revolution. Mao was successful in sparking the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China between 1966 and 1976, which caused deadly damage to human life and the Chinese economy, now known as a “ten-year turmoil” (Ning 2015).
Just as with most communist thinkers, Mao hoped for his ideology to spread worldwide. Mao believed his concept for a farmer-peasant led communist revolution would be more relevant to non-western poorer countries, especially those wishing to rid their society of imperialism, but unfortunately Maoism never spread too significantly outside of China. In the case of Latin America, some states were too industrialized to desire Maoism, but there were also many states that were not very industrialized, but had already been influenced by Soviet communism for so long. Long before Mao conceptualized his communist system, Soviet communism was already spreading and taking root around the world, and in Latin America in particular. Much of Latin America saw the success of the Cuban Revolution and its influences from Soviet Marxist Communism, and sought to follow that example. With there already being a successful communist uprising with Marxist and Soviet influences, that became the dominating influence rather than Maoism, which did not offer a successful regional example.
While Maoism did not overtake Marxism or Leninism in Latin America, it did have some influence, particularly in Peru. During the Sino-Soviet split, while much of Latin America leaned towards Soviet forms of communism, Peru saw a rise in significant political actors with influences from Maoism. Author and politician Jose Carlos Mariátegui sparked the shift towards communism in Peru. Mariátegui argued that capitalism will not work for Peru, but rather than supporting a communist revolution led by the proletarian class, he looked to Incan agrarian communism and felt support from agricultural workers in modern Peru would provide the best path to communist revolution. These ideas from Mariátegui laid the ground for Abimael Guzman to form the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) with deep influence from Maoism. Guzman and the Senderos saw Maoism as the best system for Peru, and rose to such prominence that they almost overtook the central government between 1989 and 1990. However, when Guzman was captured in 1992 the Sendero Luminoso lost its stability and ultimately deteriorated, marking the end of the largest Maoist movement in Latin America.
Maoism adopted the same base principles as Marxism and achieved a level of global significance that no other Chinese thought has (Ning, 3). Maoism sought to implement Marxist theory into China’s own cultural revolution and used such to overthrow the government and implement the People’s Republic of China. However, there are key differences between Maoism and Marxism. Marxism is the revolutionist language of the Western world, whereas Maoism adopts these ideas and applies them to the Third World. For instance, Marxism encourages the rise in class consciousness among the proletariat in order to revolt against capitalism and the inequalities among the classes. Maoism used this same idea, but because China did not have a capitalist society there was no proletariat to rise up. Instead, Maoism used guerilla warfare among the peasantry as their form of class rebellion (Kang, 15). Further, Marxism pushes for the dismantling of class hierarchy, where there is no singular job that is “better” than the other and there is no hierarchy to determine who fits into what class. Maoism claimed these same ideals, but instead when pushing the idea of class consciousness and ridding the hierarchy, Maoism implemented a hierarchy of its own with Maoist bureaucrats and army officials at the top (Kang, 16). Anyone who did not support this new system was to be persecuted for defying the peasantry proletariat. Maoism was definitely influenced by Marxism but did not value equality and harmony among the classes, and instead prioritized a shift in power to a new bureaucracy.
Maoism was the Marxism for the Third World, including Asia and Africa (Ning, 2). Parts of Latin America attempted to adopt Maoism, such as Peru. The Communist Party of Peru used Maoist policies in their own fight for peasantry revolution (Taylor, 15). However, this did not become widespread because most Latin American countries favored the communism coming from the USSR at the time and their path to proletariat revolution. In Latin America, the most favored leftist revolutionary ideology was positivism, which stemmed from the anticolonialism spread throughout the region (Martz, 63). Positivism highlighted the use of observation and the scientific method to create a society with rules of engagement and interaction. This ideology provided a logical response to confront the ills of Latin American society, such as the lack of democratic institutions and low economic prosperity. The way this would be achieved would be by ridding colonial heritage and then move into progress (Martz, 65). This was so popular because a widespread desire in Latin America was to remove the colonial presence and heritage and return back to the native and indigenous culture.
Marxism and Maoism are two distinct yet very similar political ideologies that tend to follow the same economic passage yet in different circumstances. In Marxism the proletariat are the workers who live in urban environments and are very poor working in factories and living in those conditions. In Maoism the revolutionary class were the producers of the society the rural peasants that worked in the fields and produced the food for the nation. China was a feudal system that had not had an industrial revolution like the western nations in Europe so the idea of an urban proletariat was never applicable to China. This leads to another large difference in the ideologies and that is that Maoism does not care much for industrialized technology because Mao thought that the new industrialized technologies would give means for workers to be further exploited by the managers. Finally, Maoism was heavily influenced by Chinese culture and their history such as Sun Tzu whereas Marxism was more heavily influenced by the writings of westerns thinkers of the enlightenment.
Latin America came from a history of colonial powers dominating the region and installing provincial governments that were similar to the western governments in mainland Europe. So, when political revolutions and fights for independence started to happen, they were more heavily influenced by European thought. Martz stated, “Marx, Spencer and Comte were intellectually dominant figures in Europe, the latter two also helped to set the tone for a kin of thought which received wide acceptance in Latin America” (Martz 64). Therefore, it was a natural progression for the Latin American nations to be influenced more by Marxism since they could relate and install the ideology much easier than Maoism. Latin America was no stranger to developed cities due to the European influence hence Marxism made more sense and caught on in their revolutions more often than Maoism. Marxist revolutions were also more successful in Latin America, and they became the model for example the Cuban revolution became the model revolution for all the communist revolutions in Latin America. Essentially the rest of the revolutions just followed in the footsteps of the Marxist revolution because it was deemed successful, so instead of deviating the rest followed suit. Therefore, Marxist revolution was a much more popular option in Latin America than the Maoist alternative.
On the other hand, while Marxism was the dominant leftist ideology in Latin Americas because of their European influence Maoism became the dominant left-wing ideology in Asia. This is due to culture being heavily influenced by China and life there being feudal. Taylor stated, “Rural society at this juncture remained dominated by a hacienda system that was ‘feudal’ in the Andes” (Taylor 20). Therefore, due to the difference in circumstances and the steps for revolution Maoism was much more popular in feudal Asian countries rather than the more developed Latin American countries with proletariat populations.
As we view the topic of communism from a collective point of view, we might find ourselves draping all historical “red” states as being of relatively similar mindsets, systems, and practices; however, at closer inspection, with the help of historiographical texts and sources, we can see that this is certainly not the case. When taking a dive into the broad context of communism, we find brands of its molded ideas that form the discussion around its erected distinctions such as traditional Marxism, Leninism, a combination of the two, and Maoism (Mao Zedong Thought) which acts as a “sinification” of the two previous indications.
When lining up these brands we find considerable differences in their structure, although they maintain similarities based on the writings of Marx, they nonetheless primarily diverge in their understanding of revolution and culture. Firstly, and most importantly, would be the belief as to where the revolution beings. In Marxism-Leninism, the thought resides in the belief that the proletariat middle class, oppressed by the Imperialists and Bourgeoisie, would rise up and lead the charge. However, in the case of China, there happened to be no significant body of a classical proletariat to fulfill the aforementioned process, and this led to an emphasis on the potential of the plebian population who could assume the revolutionary role. This is the cornerstone of “Mao Zedong thought” that distinctly separates itself from other brands of Marxism. By constructing a revolutionary base at the grassroots and rallying the masses in the countryside can the movement encircle the bourgeois cities and strangle out their defense. Moreover, the agrarian peasant populations control the means of production via food and wield with themselves the collective oppression and struggle that helps form the cultural identity required to build the foundation base necessary to launch the revolution. Secondly, with the triumph of the revolution, Mao Zedong Thought focuses on eradicating the remaining Bourgeoisie culture. Separate from Marxism-Leninism, which retains certain aspects of capitalism and its productive forces to maintain socialism, Maoism purges these inhibitors to the economic base by launching a “cultural revolution” that seeks to filter out any resemblance of capitalism, Bourgeoisie thought, imperialism, and any possible threats to the state that could reignite class struggle and oppression. In essence, it can best be explained as the erection of a new state devoid of any indication of precursors to separate itself from all others in order to form a new communist state.
As Maoism began solidified in China, it can be wondered why in other parts of the world it didn’t play such a critical role in the influence of other revolutions; particularly in Latin America. The reason for this outcome can be primarily seen in the shortcomings of Maoist movements, and the influence of the Cuban example built on a Marist-Leninist platform. In addition, the general mindset in Latin America leaned toward the Soviet ideology and this could have been due to the increased industrial and economic development which spurred questions of oppression and class. Furthermore, the decline of a positivist thought pattern that focused on a scientific method style with an emphasis on pragmatism without the need for theology could have fueled the communist minds who sought a planned approach towards economics and the political state. Even when Maoism was adopted by groups such as the Peruvian “Shining Path”, they focused too heavily on the action aspect of revolution rather than nurturing a revolutionary base built on the masses. This had the possible adverse effect of drawing people away from the movement as it was seen as being detrimental to local stability as crops and food had been taken to fund campaigns. Moreover, the intricate abundance of diversity in Latin America made it difficult to establish a base as the culture surrounding ethnic class and status made the struggles of population groups varied. Unlike in China, the masses all had the collective struggle of oppression which made the formation of a national unity easier; as opposed to Peru which had a plethora of ethnicities that made this goal highly difficult. In addition, after the success of the Cubans, the example/benchmark had been set for other communist movements in Latin America who saw their method of success as the tried and tested method which succeeded. Moreover, the Cubans with the support of the Soviets were able to export their revolution to other nations which made their brand more popular than Maoism which was better suited to the specifics of the Chinese circumstances.