Is Leading Light Communism the path, or the goal?
By Comrade Jacob Brown
What is Leading Light Communism, exactly? In some places, comrade Prairie Fire speaks of Leading Light Communism as the most advanced stage of the science of revolution. In other places, comrade Prairie Fire talks about Leading Light Communism as the final goal of socialist revolution, “communism” itself.
Which is it then? Is Leading Light Communism the path, or the destination? It seems that an ideological gap has emerged. Those equipped with orthodox Marxism-Leninism and Maoism are not typically able to grasp what is being said here, given their constricted approach to epistemology. Nevertheless, the traditional Leninist outlook on communism is one of stages, and this is the currently dominant paradigm in what remains of the old international communist movement.
It is the responsibility of Leading Light Communists to explain the difference, as the ideological forerunners of the Leading Light Communist movement at one time called its ideology “Maoism-Third Worldism”. This was conceived of as “taking the First Worldism out of Maoism, and the capitalism out of Third Worldism”. While this was a synthesis of sorts, it wasn’t a real breakthrough in and of itself. This is why some Marxist-Leninist critics of contemporary expressions of Maoism-Third Worldism would say that Maoism-Third Worldism was “simply [anti-revisionist] Marxism-Leninism”, effectively rendering Maoism-Third Worldism as a sectarian artifice. In a certain respect, these Marxist-Leninist and Maoist critics are correct. This is why a new break with the old dogma has been initiated by Leading Light Communists throughout the world.
The Leading Light does not view the struggle for communism, and the revolutionary science that flows from that practice, as being some kind of “continuity” with the high points of the previous waves of communist revolution –with some pretense of “rupture” with backward lines within the old international communist movement thrown in. Leading Light Communism demands a bigger break with the past, not to negate the past glories and lessons learned from the previous wave, but with a serious communist commitment to global social investigation and a 21st century communist practice that is geared to actually win.
With the purported desire to break with past communist conceptual frameworks, it might seem rather odd to the reader that in order to explain the thinking behind the term “Leading Light Communism”, we refer back to some things Karl Marx had said in The German Ideology and other manuscripts. We don’t do this for sake of “continuity” at all. We instead seek to demonstrate that communism itself is neither a standalone doctrine, nor some far off endpoint in history, but the actually existing movement of the world’s oppressed and exploited majority against all exploitation and oppression.
From Marx’s letter to Ruge (1843):
“Therefore I am not in favour of raising any dogmatic banner. On the contrary, we must try to help the dogmatists to clarify their propositions for themselves. Thus, communism, in particular, is a dogmatic abstraction; in which connection, however, I am not thinking of some imaginary and possible communism, but actually existing communism as taught by Cabet, Dézamy, Weitling, etc. This communism is itself only a special expression of the humanistic principle, an expression which is still infected by its antithesis – the private system. Hence the abolition of private property and communism are by no means identical, and it is not accidental but inevitable that communism has seen other socialist doctrines – such as those of Fourier, Proudhon, etc. – arising to confront it because it is itself only a special, one-sided realisation of the socialist principle.”
“…[Nothing] prevents us from making criticism of politics, participation in politics, and therefore real struggles, the starting point of our criticism, and from identifying our criticism with them. In that case we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to.” (1)
From “Private Property and Communism” (1844):
“Whereas the still immature communism seeks an historical proof for itself – a proof in the realm of what already exists – among disconnected historical phenomena opposed to private property, tearing single phases from the historical process and focusing attention on them as proofs of its historical pedigree (a hobby-horse ridden hard especially by Cabet, Villegardelle, etc.). By so doing it simply makes clear that by far the greater part of this process contradicts its own claim, and that, if it has ever existed, precisely its being in the past refutes its pretension to reality.”
“Communism is… the actual phase necessary for the next stage of historical development in the process of human emancipation and rehabilitation. Communism is the necessary form and the dynamic principle of the immediate future, but communism as such is not the goal of human development, the form of human society.” (2)
From “The German Ideology” (1845):
“Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.” (3)
If the last quote from “The German Ideology” seems familiar to some readers, it may be because there has been a brief renaissance of the “original Marx” in the recent decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This renaissance coincided with an attempted ideological fusion between various trends within the so-called “anti-globalization movement”, as well as various trends of anarchism, “communization”, and “ultraleftist / left communist” trends. The EZLN in Chiapas, Mexico was also in focus at the beginning of this post-Soviet era “breath of fresh air” out from decades-long Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy because of the uprising against the Mexican state in 1994.
But for reasons the Leading Light Communists have already pointed out many times, it would be incorrect to pretend that Marx’s view of global class polarization during his lifetime would apply to the age of capitalism-imperialism, to say nothing of the 21st century. It is precisely this exact error of those with this fascination with the “original Marx; untainted by Leninist ‘stages’ and ‘vanguards’ and ‘proletarian dictatorships’” that leads some of them to attempt a vulgarized “synthesis” of these various trends (4), while leading others with the same ideological preoccupations to characterize the EZLN uprising and other anti-colonial or Indigenous liberation movements in the Global South as having “authoritarian” deviations (5).
The response of much of the post-Soviet era Left (with any pretense of anti imperialism and anti-colonialism to it) to the “new, but old” criticism by the new wave of revanchist, Eurocentric, ultraleftists hinged on an extreme subjectivism around identity and localized cultural narratives (6). A rejection of universality, and with it a rejection of any notion of revolutionary science, was an inoculation of the 21st century decolonizer from colonial conceptions of universality –which finds expression in contemporary First Worldist “socialism” of today, all the way back to Christopher Columbus, and every export of “advanced culture” to the colonized within that 500+ year span of time. The cruel irony is that this subjectivism , even as it finds new expressions in our times to resist the openly social-chauvinist “Marxist critique”, does nothing to ideologically prepare the masses to resist neocolonial subversion of the revolutionary process. Indeed, it is often the case that such extreme subjectivism paves the way for even greater neocolonialist penetration of the world’s exploited (7).
It is clear that we need universality back on the communist and anti-imperialist agenda once again– specifically, universality in revolutionary science, universality in our practice, and universality in the final aim. We can kindly (at least at first go) dismiss those who insist on the subjectivist approach to engaging in the struggle against imperialism, as the global proletariat needs to be able assert itself as a class and establish its New Power in the world. Leading Lights don’t need to wait for some 5.5 billion individual people’s stories to be told before we can understand something about group level oppression, and how to uproot and eliminate it. We need to put Leading Light Communism in command, as the general will of the world’s oppressed –the Global Mass Line.
Conversely, we cannot copy previous models of class polarization put forward by Marx and Engels over 160 years ago. Our echoed assertion of communism as “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” must be distinguished from previous Marxist conceptions of communism. This remains the case, even as we revisit one such previous conception. We do this to highlight what has been understandably muted by the classical Marxist-Leninist emphasis on a socialist stage lasting for “a long historical period” on route to full communism. We uphold Leading Light Communism as the science of revolution, and that Leading Light Communism is also the final aim of the Global People’s War and the New Power that its victories bring into being.
However, it is impossible for Leading Light Communism to either solely be the highest stage of revolutionary science, nor solely the final aim. The third aspect of what we call Leading Light Communism is what binds the science and the final aim together: Leading Light Communism is the real movement today which abolishes the present state of things. It is precisely the struggle itself to wipe national, gender, and class oppression off the face of the Earth. The assertion of the New Power of the Leading Light (via the unfolding process of Global People’s War, and the radical social experimentation that follows its victories) negates the oppression of some groups of humans by other groups.
There is no revolutionary science without active practice in the struggle for Leading Light Communism no theory without practice, only stale dogma. This unites Leading Light Communism the science with Leading Light Communism the actually existing movement against the oppressive rule of the old powers. Likewise, there is no final aim without active practice in the struggle for Leading Light Communism. No materialism-based communism can be some far off “heaven on Earth”, as it must be brought into being through the conscious activity of the revolutionary subject. This in turn unites Leading Light Communism the final aim with Leading Light Communism the actually existing movement of the New Power against the oppressive rule of the old powers.
This third definition of Leading Light Communism also allows for the broadest possible United Front against imperialism. With Leading Light Communism representing the most advanced expression of actually existing class struggle today, other tendencies representing broad masses of people of certain historically oppressed nation (or group of oppressed nations) or an oppressed gender in the Global South have a global standard of New Power to emulate and perhaps even surpass. Leading Light Communism claims a universality that these other socialist-oriented pan-nationalist tendencies, by their very definition, cannot claim. Nevertheless, this does not preclude Leading Light Communists from working with the broadest possible anti-imperialist coalition. What this does mean, is that in every instance of its work (whether working in coalition or on our own) the Leading Light will always put forward the material interests of the world’s oppressed and exploited majority first and foremost, and in tandem the strategic interests of the Leading Light in establishing its New Power in the world. Leading Light Communists, by definition, do not abdicate the responsibility of communist leadership within the United Front.
The point about surpassing Leading Light Communism is important, because the key to avoiding sectarianism is the recognition that Leading Light Communism fears no criticism. Indeed, if the advances of Leading Light Communism are surpassed by another tendency, that tendency becomes the Leading Light! The old “leading light” collectively must then reorient to a more correct line, or dissolve itself. The point is, only by continuously advancing Leading Light Communism through struggle, can any conservative dogmatic ossification of Leading Light Communism be negated. This also solves the basic epistemology problem of “stages of revolutionary science” represented by a historical communist leader’s name. Thus, the whole problem of an endless string of communist leaders’ names, as with what follows “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” (when the science needs to advance) is resolved, alongside the tendency towards a bourgeois individualist deification of past communist leaders. Leading Light Communism by its very definition always positions itself to be the most advanced expression of communism today, not by pompous dogmatic declaration, but by testing (indeed, forging) the correctness of its line through the concrete criticism of the existing global struggle on our practice.
In turn, Leading Light Communism breaks with a tendency towards viewing the struggle for communism in a historical teleological way. The constant re-forging of the weapon of revolutionary science requires a conscious, revolutionary subject actively pushing the revolution forward towards Leading Light Communism. As comrade Prairie Fire pointed out previously:
“Our revolution is not chiseled into the atoms themselves. Our victory is not foretold by the stars. The Maoists began to see this, but did not go far enough. They understood that not only can revolutions go forward, they can go backward too. What is to stop the exploited and oppressed from rowing the boat in circles forever? There is one thing that will keep us moving forward: science. Science learns. Science adapts. This is why we must be guided by the Leading Light of revolutionary science.” (8)
Fundamentally, the resolution to the occasionally mysterious dual-definition of Leading Light Communism in LLCO literature is the third definition, which unites both the most advanced revolutionary science with the final aim. That is, Leading Light Communism is the actually exiting movement of the world’s oppressed and exploited majority today, with active cells growing and doing serious mass work in some of the poorest communities on the planet. And it is a struggle that needs your active participation as well. Walk this road of revolution with us, joining with the world’s proletariat to sweep away the old powers and make a whole new world! Get involved and be a Leading Light for communism today!
1. Marx’s letter to Ruge (1843)
2. “Private Property and Communism”, Karl Marx (1844)
3. “The German Ideology”, Karl Marx (1845)
4. “Wobblies and Zapatistas”, Staughton Lynd (2008)
5. “A Commune in Chiapas?”, Aufheben #09 (Autumn 2000)
6. “Locating Race”, Malini Johar Schueller (2009)
7. “Revolutionary science in command, not identity politics”, http://llco.org/revolutionary-science-in-command-not-identity-politics/