Saturday, March 13, 2021

#StayAtHome: J. Moufawad-Paul's "The Communist Necessity"

I purchased J. Moufawad-Paul's The Communist Necessity back around 2014, when it came out in its first Kersplebedeb edition. There is a second edition from Kersplebedeb out now, which is about 10 pages longer, and you can download a free PDF of the first edition from the very fine independent Maoist publisher, Foreign Languages Press, right here

J. Moufawad-Paul is a Maoist philosopher, the publisher of the M-L-M Mayhem! blog, and a frequent contributor to online discussions hosted by the Foreign Languages Press. It's unfortunate that it took me so long to read his book, but on the upside, in recent years I have read a good number of the texts he critiques in the The Communist Necessity, including Alain Badiou's The Communist Hypothesis, Jodi Dean's The Communist Horizon, and the Invisible Committee's The Coming Insurrection.

The Communist Necessity critiques each of these texts as an expression of movementism, which is a similar concept to that expressed by Featherstone, Henwood, and Parenti as activistism: the species of anarcho-magical thinking born of WTO protests and Occupy, which holds that the sheer momentum of action by diverse social movements is sufficient to bring about sweeping social change, and may even be sufficient to cause capitalism to disintegrate or just go away, without need any overarching revolutionary movement, party, leadership, or organization. So far, so good.

The next level of critique is directed at the theoretical apparatus used in these texts, in particular their over-reliance on philology ("the word 'communism' comes from the Latin words X,Y, Z," etc.), as well as a variety of post-structuralist critiques of grand narratives, end of history, etc., all tools that lack explanatory power in the real world.

These approaches are described as being a form of idealism. They are perhaps sentimentally tied to notions of socialism and communism, but they are utopian socialisms of the kind already critiqued and rejected by Marx and Engels. So why revert to rhetorical strategies that have already been rejected by historical social movements?

Perhaps part of this rejection comes from the fear of being asked to defend (or be seen as defending) various historical moments in the history of socialism and communism, such as the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, and the Cultural Revolution. Moufawad-Paul makes the point that past revolutionary cycles and theories have of course had their disappointments and shortcomings; he makes it clear that for him there is no need to hypostatize Leninism as a fixed form or universal, transhistorical political solution. 

But why ignore recent and contemporary political struggles of the people's war variety: the Shining Path in Peru, the Naxalites in India, the CPP-NPA in the Philippines? The lack of engagement of these authors with those Third World movements is an interesting question, and it is easy to see the elevation of various forms of Theory (Lacan, Deleuze, Zizek, etc.) as just more eurocentrism. That is hard to deny. Like Trotskyism, the New-New Communists (my term) have a distinct lack of interest in and engagement with the Third World, both in terms of revolutionary theory from the periphery, and revolutionary practice there.

And that's where necessity comes back into the picture. The communist necessity is the demand for better lives and new forms of social relations being raised by movements in the periphery. Actual communist movements. Labor and social movements in the core countries of the capitalist world economy feel less sense of this necessity, and their movements embrace theory that doesn't recognize that necessity. 

The critique of New-New Communists could be advanced further through a deeper awareness of world-system analysis. That area of study grew out of a critique of development theory, and has stayed close to Third World revolutionary theory and struggles. Over the last 40 years, it has also developed a strong understanding of the limitations imposed by the world-system on any revolutionary movement that takes state power. There are constraints on revolutionary agency that come from the inter-state system and the capitalist world economy, which is why practically all revolutionary movements that take state power fail to achieve their maximum program, and usually achieve far less. 

While world-systems analysis is quite weak with respect to agency, it does bring attention to the challenges that revolutionary movements and states need to face, as well as to the challenges in internationalizing a revolutionary movement. This is especially important to consider with respect to people living in smaller states. Autarchic development is possible in large states with big populations and plentiful and diverse resources. Both the USSR and China demonstrated that. But it won't be an option for smaller states. That needs a lot of careful thought, but that is a project for a different book.

I intend to read some of J. Moufawad-Paul's more recent work, as The Communist Necessity was a provocative and enjoyable read.


  1. Thanks for this kind review. It's interesting that you bring up world systems theory since Amin has had a big impact on my work and his understanding of global capitalism largely determines my understanding of imperialism, the transition question, etc. Also since this is a SFF related blog you might be interested in Methods Devour Themselves which I cowrote with a SFF author. If you want I can send you a PDF.

  2. Hi JMP: Nice of you to stop by and leave a comment, and sorry to be so late to the game. I watched your great discussions with Ajith and others a month or so ago, and am reading your "Continuity and Rupture" at the moment. Would you believe that back in the day I missed seeing Samir Amin speak by an hour or two? I found out that he had popped in for a lecture at the Fernand Braudel Center while I was out to dinner. My jaw simply dropped in dismay!