In my response I focus on disagreements, but I like the piece quite a bit. I'd really like to know more of the historical context. The piece or the intro mentions the Red Army, formed August 1927 during the Nanchang uprising. I've searched a bit (not a lot, I confess) and haven't found much on this. It also mentions a Communist Party organization within the Red Army, presumably then the Army itself was not a Communist organization, at least not in origin or in direction initially. That's all really interesting. Any advice on short stuff to read, preferably online? Maybe this blog could start linking to occasional relevant pieces of historical background? I'd find that useful, but I don't think I have enough bearings yet to really contribute to the collection of that sort of material. After I had more of a starting grasp on the history I could be more helpful along those lines. In any case, onto the article, so y'all can correct me ...
I don't find the causal connection between mistaken ideas and class background compelling. Given that people can be convinced out of their ideas by the Party's leading bodies and be educated into the correct line, clearly class does not determine consciousness. Perhaps this is more of a historical (rather than historical materialist?) point, though - along the lines of 'generally, it is the case that many people from X background hold Y ideas, and it is likely that many of them who come into our organization will have done so without having changed those ideas change.' This would be something like Mao's diagnosis of a 'low political level' existing empirically w/in the ranks. If that's the case, then no objection from me. I just don't see any worthwhile use to (nor do I believe in) the appeal to origins, especially in any kind of strong sense.
I like the piece about workers and peasants with experience in struggle taking on leadership roles in the Red Army.
I don't like the 'petty bourgeois individualistic aversion to discipline' thing in the criticism of ultra-democracy. That's just an ad hominem. I'm not I would agree with Mao about the correct balance of democracy and class struggle, nor am I convinced at the ability of the higher bodies to make objective decisions, at a minimum there's an epistemological problem here that is immediately political: who determines what objectivity is in this context? And if the lower bodies and the masses aren't qualified to judge the objectivity of the higher bodies - because presumably without access to objectivity one can not judge whether or not someone else has access to an objective perspective and is acting correctly based on that objective perspective - then genuinely revolutionary decisions based on objective bases and self-interested decisions based on a sectorial interest must look the same from the lower perspective. If someone below objects to an objective decision wrongly or to a self-interested decision rightly, in both cases the response will be "you are not fit to judge" presumably with the balance of ideological and organizational power tipped in favor of the higher bodies. I have a hard time distinguishing this from 'shut up and obey.' I'm also curious how this relates to the 'minority should agree to go along with the majority decision' line. If there was some situation wherein the majority/minority distribution was such that the minority was the leadership (the higher bodies) and the minority was everyone else presumably Mao would not agree that the minority should go along with the majority.
This is great: "Inner-Party criticism is a weapon for strengthening the Party organization and increasing its fighting capacity. In the Party organization of the Red Army, however, criticism is not always of this character, and sometimes turns into personal attack. As a result, it damages the Party organization as well as individuals. (...) The method of correction is to help Party members understand that the purpose of criticism is to increase the Party's fighting capacity in order to achieve victory in the class struggle and that it should not be used as a means of personal attack."
Many other Marxists could learn from this. But there's still a problem with regard to what is and is not a personal attack. Mao says that personal criticism is "a manifestation of petty-bourgeois individualism," which strikes me as at least potentially itself a personal attack, depending on its use in context. Particularly given that "the main task of criticism is to point out political and organizational mistakes," what difference does the appeal to origins make? To my mind that difference is a political one not aimed at educating the comrade involved but rather at politically isolating them. I'm willing to concede that some situations may well require that type of activity, but this is not criticism, it's political intrigue and machination, and the difference should be one we're aware of (though, of course, political machination that admits that that's what it is will be unlikely to succeed).
"Absolute equalitarianism, like ultra-democracy in political matters, is the product of a handicraft and small peasant economy--the only difference being that the one manifests itself in material affairs, while the other manifests itself in political affairs." Again with this stuff... what's the deal with this?
I think this is a pretty good criticism of socialism: "under socialism (...) things will then be distributed on the principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his work"" in that socialism retains the pegging of means of subsistence to labor, which is essentially value production, and given that there must still be a coordinating body (class) like the Party who will also need to be supported, there will still be surplus value extraction. I am, of course, all for the redistributive aspects of socialism - I would happily emigrate to a country with a more intact welfare state etc - but this is still a form of capitalism.
This is great: "Some people want to increase our political influence only by means of roving guerrilla actions, but are unwilling to increase it by undertaking the arduous task of building up base areas and establishing the people's political power."
I don't know enough of the history to actually back this claim up if push came to shove regarding specific past example, but I think this could apply to many cases of armed struggle of the clandestine variety - the Red Brigades, the Weathermen, etc - and of the occasional fetishizing of this kind of activity in some lefty circles in North America (often expressed in terms of wishing some 'real' action would take place). Also, in a different context, "roving guerilla" could be replaced with "PR-related" and it would describe a lot of other activity that takes place, including some bigger union campaigns, activity which doesn't know how to or isn't interested in building rank and file power.
Along the same lines, "some people follow the line of "hiring men and buying horses" and "recruiting deserters and accepting mutineers"," which the footnote describes as follows:
"In the application of these methods, attention was paid to numbers rather than to quality, and people of all sorts were indiscriminately recruited to swell the ranks."
I think this is pretty important, in the sense that organization must be deliberate, and must assess based on both quantity and quality. It is the case that more is more, but more of what? More people holding membership cards? What's that really mean? I've seen this in some of the nonprofit places I've worked, where the idea is just to get people to call themselves members, with little attention paid to the capacities of members either in terms of targeted recruitment based on organizational/campaign needs (a la "Draw active workers and peasants experienced in struggle into the ranks of the Red Army so as to change its composition") or in terms of member education.
I think the emphasis on education, especially internal education, is one of the main virtues of this piece, and while I disagree on several respects (disagreements I've already voiced), clearly Mao had success around his goals which suggests that his emphasis on education is something to emulate organizationally, even though I differ on some of the contents and the organizational forms. I also really like that education isn't simply 'produce correct ideas' a la the vulgar "we need to have a line on X issue" of sectarian groups, but includes an organizational infrastructure and practice - meeting procedures and the like, techniques. That's super important and is in some respects much more materialist (not that the name matters all that much, more important is that it's much more effective).
Over and out.