New world, new challenges, new science

Aug 7, 2011 by     9 Comments    Posted under: economy, essential reading, peoples war, theory

New world, new challenges, new science
by Prairie Fire

In 1965, as wars of liberation waged around the world, Lin Biao wrote of the great divide between the global city versus the global countryside, the rich countries versus the poor countries, the First World versus the Third World. This continues to be the principal contradiction today. Lin Biao saw the world revolution through the lenses of people’s war. Just as Mao’s people’s war in China advanced from the countryside to surround, then conquer, China’s cities, so too would global people’s war advance from the global countryside to surround, then conquer, the global city. This basic outlook continues to be correct today, as it was in 1965. However, the world has changed greatly in the last half century. Our political economy, our concepts of underdevelopment, class,  revolutionary agency, and practice must all be updated to meet these challenges. Here are some basic points that need to be understood by revolutionaries:

1. Underdevelopment has taken new forms. Imperialism has created a lopsided world. Development has been, and continues to be, uneven from country to country. In the past, those countries that were considered to be developed were industrialized and also had diversified economies. Some of these developed countries were imperialist ones, others were socialist. The socialist ones built themselves up and sustained themselves through their own labor and resources. By contrast, the imperialist countries became developed on the backs of their colonies and neo-colonies. The imperialist countries built up their economies at the expense of others. For example, the industrial-revolution economies of Western Europe and North America were made possible and given a boost by the value created by slavery and value transfers from colonies. Cheap labor and raw materials, plunder of land through genocide, and the opening of new colonial markets aided in the modernization of the West. This process continues in various forms today. However, underdevelopment today differs in some respects than past underdevelopment. In the past, underdevelopment was often linked to both lack of industrialization and lack of diversification of production. In the past, an underdeveloped economy was usually a poor economy that was mainly geared toward production of one or two cash crops or mineral or other resource extraction. These products would then be processed, or refined, or enter into a larger production process in the imperialist developed countries. In other words, in the past, industrialization and diversification was almost always associated with development. And, lack of industrialization and lack of diversification was almost always associated with underdevelopment. Even though this old pattern continues in some places, in other places new patterns are emerging. Today, the wealthy, imperialist countries are no longer industrialized as they once were. Today, in many parts of the First World, fewer and fewer people are employed in factories. Rather, more and more people are employed in distribution, commerce, management, and the public sector. In many parts of the First World, populations consume more and more, but produces less and less. This is the rise of the mall economy of the First World. At the same time, factories are moved to the Third World. Many Third World economies have become industrialized and diversified, yet the primary beneficiaries of this are not Third World populations, but the imperial populations of the First World. In other words, even though the Third World countries are producing, the value is mainly directed outward to the First World. The surplus is not directed into the Third World economies in a way that benefits the population, aids self-determination, or produces truly national capital. Instead, the beneficiaries are the imperialists and the imperial populations. Thus healthy development is not simply a matter of industrialization and diversification. And underdevelopment is not simply a lack of these qualities. Today both the First World and Third World are increasingly mal-developed. The First World, producing less and consuming more, is increasingly parasitic on the Third World.

2. New Democracy will take new forms. In the past, imperialism divided the world, for the most part, into traditionally developed and traditionally underdeveloped countries. Traditionally underdeveloped countries were described in various ways: “semi-feudalism,” “comprador capitalism,” “bureaucrat capitalism,” etc. These descriptions emphasized various aspects of mal-development in the Third World. One implication of this was that revolution in the Third World could be described as a two stage process. The first stage is the New Democratic stage. The New Democratic revolution unites much of the peasantry, workers, petty bourgeoisie, and even some of the patriotic capitalists of the Third World against imperialism, for land reform, national development and basic democratic reforms. New Democratic revolution lays the basis for the second stage. The second stage is socialism, where the proletariat further reorganizes society in its interest. This lays the basis for communism, the end of all oppression. The changing nature of underdevelopment in the Third World today will affect the revolutionary process. The New Democracy of the future may not necessarily be an agricultural affair based on “land to the tiller.” It may not be based on land struggles at all. It may not be centered on the countryside. The slum dwelling classes and their concerns for shelter, to have their own small trade and businesses, and survival generally, may become a greater and greater part of the early revolutionary process, and of New Democracy. Or, this may lay the basis for a whole new kind of socialist revolution in the Third World: New Socialism.

3. The revolutionary agent will take ever new forms. The world economy has created vast reservoirs of impoverished people in the Third World who do not add to the total social product, but, rather, survive on the edges. Many of these people barely survive in the megaslums of the Third World. Many of them live in refugee camps or survive on aid. At the same time, in some parts of the Third World, the unionized industrial working class has become a relatively privileged strata among the population with less immediate interest in radical social transformation. This working class is sometimes more privileged than the numerous street vendors and small traders who reside in Third World slums. The concept of the proletariat need not be tied exclusively to a role within production per se, but can be tied to overall social position and impoverishment. In some places in the world, those who match Marx’s famous description of  having “nothing to lose but their chains” are not always those who sell their labor to capitalists. Thus there is a rise of new proletarians.

4. Just as the class structure of the Third World has changed, so has the class structure of the First World. In the First World, the revolutionary class has passed from the scene. In the 1960s, there was some basis for thinking that a revolutionary social base existed within the ghettos and captive nations of the First World. Such a base is nonexistent today. There is no significant First World revolutionary class, no significant First World proletariat. There is no significant stand-in First World revolutionary class. This means that we must look beyond the First World for a revolutionary social base. This means global people’s war is the primary means of bringing the New Power of the proletariat to the First World.

5. With the growth of the global slum and new proletarians, the shape of future people’s wars will change. In some parts of the Third World, people’s war will follow the traditional Maoist pattern. It will be mostly peasant movement led by the communist line that establishes ever greater base areas and red zones, the new society in miniature, in those places where the state is weakest. It will be tied to New Democratic demands, especially the demand for land. It will be a protracted advance from the countryside to city. However, the changing world will make this pattern not viable everywhere. Some geographies make the traditional Maoist model problematic. Also, the growth in imperialist air power will affect the ability to set up traditional base areas and red zones. Most importantly, the growth of the urban population will make the urban slum more and more important in the people’s war.

6. There is a growing ecological crisis. The capitalist system is based on infinite expansion beyond our means. Yet our Earthly resources are finite. Thus capitalism is incompatible with the continued survival of the planetary ecosystem. First World consumption is out of proportion; it is leading us toward ecological catastrophe. Environments are rapidly changing due to human intervention. Revolutionaries of the future are going to have to adopt strategies that take this into account. Revolutionaries need to examine not just the forces of production and social relations, but also the conditions of production themselves. Revolutionaries need to take the natural world into account. Socialist development cannot treat nature as a never ending resource to be consumed. The New Power of the future will need to be ecologically sustainable. The survival of all life on Earth is on the line.

7. New technology and greater mobility open up new paths for revolution. Greater communication and mobility mean that revolutions may be increasingly dynamic in important ways. Subjective and objective conditions can change in explosive ways, very rapidly. Tempos can accelerate seemingly out of nowhere. Events in one location can quickly influence events and conditions around the world. Revolution will become more globalized in important ways. New technologies will have a profound  impact on how revolutions are made. New technologies will open up new possibilities during socialist construction.

Leading Light Communism has advanced revolutionary science in almost every way. This is a big part of why Leading Light Communism is a whole new stage of revolutionary science. It is the pinnacle of revolutionary science today. Political economy is key to making revolution.  However, it is not enough to limit these advances to the realm of theory. To match our advances in theory, we must also advance our organizational forms to meet today’s challenges. We must strike out in ever new, bold ways. We must not be afraid to lead not only in the ideological realm, but also on the ground. We have the plan, the organization, the leadership. Follow the Leading Light. Be the Leading Light.

9 Comments + Add Comment

  • This is a very clear statement of where things are at, although I don’t agree with every point. I think that you need to distinguish between First World countries like Germany and Japan that owe their advantage to being able to produce manufactured goods that the 3rd World can’t quite do yet and First World countries like USA and UK that have tried to rely on earnings from finance capital to make up for their uncompetitive manufacturing sector. This latter model has obviously not been very successful recently but it shows some signs of revival in terms of bank profits in these countries etc. There are also countries like Ireland and Spain that can neither compete internationally in the financial sector or manufacturing. To be honest if they don’t find some way out of this mess there is nothing much to stop wages in these countries converging with wages in the better-off Third World countries. Globalization is putting all wages under pressure due to labour competition. In theory this could erase differences in income between First World and (middle income) Third World countries. On the other hand a two tier system might emerge whereby wages in countries like Germany stagnate due to competition from other developed countries in manufacturing. At the same time convergence with the Third World doesn’t happen because increasing wage competition in the Third World holds down wages here as well and countries like China and India find themselves unable to do the design and high-tech manufacturing needed to produce goods that compete with those produced by Germany and Japan (due to lack of capital, infrastructure a sufficiently educated workforce etc.-in short the money necessary to do all this). Which is the most likely scenario? I don’t know but I think it is important not to be too dogmatic either way on the likely future of the Third World/First World split.

  • Long time reader, rarely poster. Writing from the perspective of someone very interested in the history of the global economy and in the development of the Third World, but not as well-versed in Marxism let alone Maoism as the average person here. I find the articles here challenging to think about and interesting. If I may jump in …

    Joseph, I had a similar thought about Germany and Japan (and South Korea and the Netherlands), which are all still net exporters and have a relatively large industrial sector (as compared to the US/UK/Southern Europe). However, think about what these countries produce and how they produce it. Military hardware, luxury products (and I include much of the automobile industry here), medical technology that is so expensive it is only available to the few, business tools for office-based workplaces, etc. I’m not sure we would prioritize these industries in the same way in a socialist economy. Also, these industries produce such a high margin of profit not because of the quality of labor but because of technology. Technology that is managed and restricted in a way that benefits the few, instead of working for global prosperity. Not to mention they cooperate militarily through NATO. So I don’t see the same distinction you do between the exporter nations like Germany and Japan & the extreme importer nations like the US and UK. They’re both a part of the “imperialist bloc”. If anything, countries like Germany and Japan are the core of the imperialist bloc. The imperialist class would be a lot weaker if it weren’t for their stability.

    I also think your “wage convergence” theory is interesting.

    I often tell people that, at the moment, libertarians (or “liberals,” if you’re in Europe) are more progressive than social democrats (or “liberals”, if you’re in the US) in the First World, if you have the interest of the Third World at heart. A hard currency like gold would make it much harder for the First World countries to rack up so much debt and extract so much profit/value from the Third World working class. A lot of the value that is being extracted from the Third World is not just due to unequal class relations but also has to do with the fact that the U.S. has given the much of the Third World payment in increasingly worthless paper I.O.U.’s. Also, hardcore libertarians support free labor across borders. The increasingly porous or non-existent global borders become, the closer we get to some kind of wage convergence. Social democrats support the opposite. Obama has deported more Latino workers from the U.S. than George W. Bush. Social democrats are very nervous about foreign workers and do nothing to challenge national chauvinism within the First World “labor aristocracy.” I used to think that the term “labor aristocracy” sounded incredibly outdated but I realize its pretty appropriate. The old aristocracy determined privileges and power based on last name/lineage. The new aristocracy determines privileges and power based on your birth certificate/the borders you were born within.

    One problem with the wage convergence idea is that it comes very close to the idea of re-proletarianization. Currently, this idea of re-proletarianization is popular in a some intellectual circles. The idea that a significant percentage of the labor aristocracy may be driven down into proletarian status by virtue of structural changes in the economy. That might be possible, especially in marginal areas of the First World like Eastern Europe and the Southern Cone. It does not, however, support the idea that teachers who make $60,000 a year with $40,000 in benefits who are protesting over some % paycut due to the financial crisis are the people that Marx was talking about when he wrote about the exploited toilers of the world, which is what quite a few people suggested.

    • I had a similar theory of my own in regards to tactical alliances with libertarians. Yes, it would be noteworthy to make distinction between hardcore libertarians and your average libertarian, but neither are reliable allies, just like social democrats. Most libertarians are fake ones; if you’ve noticed they also argue for a kind of economic nationalism that is similar to any other type of social imperialist configuration. The most popular kind of libertarian tends to not hold up to their own principles. They are not atheists and support reforming and simply tweak the current establishment. They don’t support totally free markets because they believe in maintaining local governments for the sake of checks and balances. Insteads of govt funded police, they want private militias which are less accountable in a democracy. So, what their system boils down to is a variation of social imperialism and While Nationalism..Also, who’s to say that FW countries wouldn’t hoard most of the gold assets for themselves? Under the current exchange of value, the third world would undoubtedly lose out if the gold standard was used. How does it makes sense to unite with libertarians for this? They are not willing to overthrow the imperialist system as it stands and structurally change the tansfer of value between the TW and FW we see today.

  • First of all, it is not true that globalization is putting all wages under pressure through competition. Indeed, “globalization” itself is a lie. What is the meaning of “globalization” without a free labor market? The borders are the greatest protectionist device of all. Real globalization would mean opening the borders, so that anyone could work anywhere. And we really would see wages in the First World plummet if the borders were opened.

    Second, the production done in Germany and other imperialist countries is made possible by abundant dead labor stolen from the Third World.

  • I’ve been reading an exchange about the Chinese critiques of the Soviet Union. In fact it’s about much more than the concrete experience of the USSR, it’s about the causes of revisionism in the socialist countries and how it is possible for capitalism to be restored under the dictatorship of the proletariat. There are many arguments. I think the maoist thinking is that under socialism there still is a material basis for restoration, so there’s a need of relentless class sturggle against the bourgeoisie in the party. And that was the driving force in the GPCR. I guess that this is an unavoidable outcome of a dialectic process where things ¿always? become their opposites. My perception is that the debate concerning this question is still open. Practice is the ultimate test of truth, new waves of proletarian revolution will shed light on this subject.

    Someone should translate this article of yours to all languages.

    • We now know that under socialism there is indeed a material basis for the restoration of capitalism—because capitalism was restored in every socialist country (the Soviet Union, China, and Albania, at a minimum; we can argue about northern Korea and various others). The debate on that question is not open.

  • Thanks for the response LF.

    To be clear, I didn’t mean to suggest an actual alliance with libertarians.

    More than anything, I was trying to make a point about the total bankruptcy of social democracy.

    There is an “internationalist capitalist” libertarian movement though. Look at individuals like Peter Thiel and other technology sector imperialists. A lot of them have a vision of the world that minimizes the role of national borders and state bureaucracies and instead emphasizes a kind of identity-blind, pacifist, uber-capitalism. I would leave to hear LLCO’s analysis of that.

    I do think you under-estimate the role a change in currency would play. It’s not that gold is somehow special or ideal for some intrinsic reason, the point is to tie currency to some kind of hard asset and take regulatory control of it out of the hands of the U.S. administration. A lot of the securities that the U.S. has used to pay the third world with have been subsequently devalued to zero. First world financial authorities have an enormous capability to loot the third world due to their control of the currency and market systems. Your point would be more viable if we still lived in a world where the third world was just a ‘primary sector’ economy of agriculture and resource extraction. Please refer back to point #1 of this article, things have changed. The third world is now a major industrial area and, increasingly, a major service sector area. The third world has a lot more bargaining power now. The simple act of demanding payment in hard assets would significantly “change the game.” It would make it a lot harder for the first world to support such a vast labor aristocracy.

  • Yes, you are right. I meant there still might be some debate about the relative importance of different factors motivating restoration: imperialism, wrong line, the lingering bourgeois ideology (superstructural causes), remnants of the old classes, saboteurs, spies, etc. and, of course, factors pertaining the relations of production, such as different wages, privileges, family relations, collective farms not owned by the whole people & state, petty production and others.

    On the other hand, the question remains open, from my pont of view, considering that we don’t know how to avoid restoration, in view of the failures of Stalin, Mao and Hoxha.

    I seize the opportunity to congrtulate you for your work and the contribution of many comrades and fellou travellers here.

    • We know a lot about how to prevent restoration, thanks in large measure to the Chinese experience. Even though capitalism was ultimately restored in China, the valiant struggle against the capitalist roaders was not a big failure; it succeeded for many years, and ultimately failed mainly because it was toned down and later abandoned.

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