On Global People’s War and Global New Democratic Revolution
Under capitalist-imperialism, in which the exploitation of the proletariat by monopoly capital is mediated by the oppression of nations, the path to socialism and communism is through global people’s war and global new democratic revolution. The struggle to sever the structural ties of capitalist-imperialism and build the subjective forces of proletarian revolution are one in the same. The movement for international socialism and communism can only successfully emerge through the movement against the international rule of a few ‘great’ imperialist powers.
However, before proceeding further into a discussion on revolution (much less a ‘global new democratic’ revolution), it is worth asking a few questions.
First and foremost, what is a revolution?
Mao Zedong described revolution as “an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.” For Marxists, revolutions serves to overthrow the rule of representatives of capital, establishing socialism: a period in which, according to Nikolai Bukharin:
“Even after it has been ‘thrown on its back on the ground,’ the bourgeoisie still uses what resources remain to it, to go on fighting against the workers; and that, ultimately, it relies on international reaction in such a way that the final victory of the workers will be possible only when the proletariat has freed the whole world of the capitalist rabble and completely suffocated the bourgeoisie.”
Making an explicit connection to the struggle of colonized, exploited peoples against imperialism, Lenin also noted that socialist revolution is “not one single act, not one single battle on a single front; but a whole epoch of intensified class conflicts, a long series of battles on all fronts, i.e., battles around all the problems of economics and politics, which can culminate only in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.” Thus, for Marxists, socialist revolutions in particular countries are significant only insofar as they aid in the development of a global socialist epoch of victorious struggle against capitalism.
Beyond abstractions, revolutions typically share causal features: they take place in countries racked by imperialist exploitation and maldevelopment; usually follow or accompany structural-economic downturns; occur in periods of conflict among forces of international reaction during which the effective and immediate mobilization of counter-revolutionary maneuvers is inhibited; and involve heterogeneous coalitions, leading organizations and institutions, and the development of an oppositional political culture. (Foran) While these causal features have historically pertained to individual countries, it is necessary to perceive of their existence globally.
We can synthesize this to say: revolutions are the violent overthrow of one class by another, both particularly in the case of single countries and as part of a larger global process; proceeding from neo-colonial and colonial areas; usually as part of the context of structural-economic downturns; during which international sections of reactionary classes are too divided among themselves to intervene on an immediate or effective basis; and involve the growing oppositional political cultures of diverse coalitions and leading, naturally ascendant, revolutionary forces.
The next question to arise is, what is the class character of such a revolution? Which class or classes overthrow which others?
Drawing partially from authors such as Immanuel Wallerstein and Samir Amin, I would argue we are heading for (and are now beginning to witness) a period of intense polarization and conflict along with the development of increased inter- and intra-imperialist rivalries. This period, which is unfolding now due in part to the inherent contradictions of capitalism and in part to world-historic circumstance [which I hope to outline in fuller detail in the future] could be described ‘a coming a global civil war.’ It marks a world-historic point of bifurcation. Depending on subjective factors, i.e., the respective mobilization of different class forces, history may lean toward socialism. Or, another much worse future could evolve from the conflict, perhaps Marx’s notion of the ‘common ruin of all contending classes’; or, more likely, a sort of neo-tributary system made possible through the advancement of the productive forces along with the ‘freezing’ of social hierarchies and classes via the increasing devotion of surplus social product toward ruling-class political violence and the maintenance of an ideologically conditioned technocratic elite and labor aristocracy. Needless to say, we are entering a period of extreme opportunities and dangers, during which the best bet for the proletariat is to play full-court with the best possible strategies available.
Despite these brief descriptions of possible significance of future conflicts, it is more important to firmly understand the past and present. The current state of the world involves a series of relationships which provide avenues for the transfer of value originating in the (super-) exploitation of a global formal and semi-formal work-force. As part of the structure of imperialism necessarily maintained through global reactionary violence, surplus value is typically produced in the Third World or otherwise by a proletarianized labor force, transferred via various mechanisms (including the pricing of commodities such as labor power above their value), and realized in the First World by monopolistic and parasitic tertiary sectors capital.
Thus, instead of the dualistic, faux-Marxist conception of the struggle between the bourgeoisie and working classes, there are instead a wide array of classes conforming to various economic roles. Included among them are:
Direct representatives and holders of finance capital
The comprador bourgeoisie of the Third World
Bourgeois-nationalist forces of the Third World
A section of embourgeoisfied, largely non-productive and hence wholly parasitic workers: i.e. the working petty-bourgeoisie or ‘labor aristocracy’; those who derive material privilege from the accumulation of capital (from who we might subtract a progressive section of petty-bourgeoisie as a strategic social variable)
Those nationally oppressed within the First World, including migrants, or those otherwise forced into especially oppressive productive relations
Those layers of people who form the modern proletariat, i.e., those who receive few of the benefits of modern society; their labor used to further perpetuate their own economic disenfranchisement and while forming the basis of the capitalist-imperialist economy.
Generally speaking, we can summarize the revolutionary struggle as one waged by the modern proletariat and its allies (the progressive national bourgeoisie, the progressive petty-bourgeoisie, those living under national oppression within the First World) against imperialists and their hanger-ons (compradors, the parasitic working petty-bourgeoisie). Though other contradictions may certainly come into play (and thus be acted upon by these opposing sides of class struggle), this forms the basic outline of class forces for the purpose of conceiving of revolutionary strategy.
Following from such an understanding global class dynamics, we can firmly state that revolution in the general sense includes the movement to:
First, develop revolutionary coalitions which overthrow imperialism, thus resolving the structural and super-structural contradictions (which give rise to vast inequalities) between the productive, exploited Global South – the prison of the global proletariat – and the parasitic Global North – the house of finance capital..
Second, eliminate inherent contradictions which arise from the existence the capitalist mode of production, substituting systems of socialism, i.e., the temporary political and economic rule of the proletariat.
Lastly, destroy every vestige associated with capitalism, including alienation, along with the very existence classes, nations, and the state.
It should be pointed out in all clarity: these tasks flow follow from one another and are made possible by the completion of the previous.
During the supremacy of the proletarian line during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the line of global people’s war and global new democratic revolution as a first stage of socialism and communism was partially articulated by Lin Biao in the essay, Long Live the Victory of People’s War! In the chapter on the international significance of Mao’s theory on people’s war, Lin first informs the reader about the historical significance of the October and Chinese revolutions, the latter carried out by a decades-long people’s war against the Japanese imperialists and US-backed Kuomintang ‘nationalists’:
“The Chinese revolution is a continuation of the great October Revolution. The road of the October Revolution is the common road for all people’s revolutions. The Chinese revolution and the October Revolution have in common the following basic characteristics: (1) Both were led by the working class with a Marxist-Leninist party as its nucleus. (2) Both were based on the worker-peasant alliance. (3) In both cases state power was seized through violent revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat was established. (4) In both cases the socialist system was built after victory in the revolution. (5) Both were component parts of the proletarian world revolution.”
Going on, Lin outlines the global applicability of people’s war, and thus its world-historic significance:
“Many countries and peoples in Asia, Africa and Latin America are now being subjected to aggression and enslavement on a serious scale by the imperialists headed by the United States and their lackeys. The basic political and economic conditions in many of these countries have many similarities to those that prevailed in old China. As in China, the peasant question is extremely important in these regions. The peasants constitute the main force of the national-democratic revolution against the imperialists and their lackeys. In committing aggression against these countries, the imperialists usually begin by seizing the big cities and the main lines of communication, but they are unable to bring the vast countryside completely under their control. The countryside, and the countryside alone, can provide the broad areas in which the revolutionaries can maneuver freely. The countryside, and the countryside alone, can provide the revolutionary bases from which the revolutionaries can go forward to final victory. Precisely for this reason, Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s theory of establishing revolutionary base areas in the rural districts and encircling the cities from the countryside is attracting more and more attention among the people in these regions.
“Taking the entire globe, if North America and Western Europe can be called ‘the cities of the world,’ then Asia, Africa and Latin America constitute ‘the rural areas of the world.’ Since World War II, the proletarian revolutionary movement has for various reasons been temporarily held back in the North American and West European capitalist countries, while the people’s revolutionary movement in Asia, Africa and Latin America has been growing vigorously. In a sense, the contemporary world revolution also presents a picture of the encirclement of cities by the rural areas. In the final analysis, the whole cause of world revolution hinges on the revolutionary struggles of the Asian, African and Latin American peoples who make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s population. The socialist countries should regard it as their internationalist duty to support the people’s revolutionary struggles in Asia, Africa and Latin America.”
Reaffirming the Maoist line, Lin explains global people’s war has both a socialist character and operates to develop global new democratic revolution:
“Comrade Mao Tse-tung made a correct distinction between the two revolutionary stages, i.e., the national-democratic and the socialist revolutions; at the same time he correctly and closely linked the two. The national-democratic revolution is the necessary preparation for the socialist revolution, and the socialist revolution is the inevitable sequel to the national-democratic revolution. There is no Great Wall between the two revolutionary stages. But the socialist revolution is only possible after the completion of the national-democratic revolution. The more thorough the national-democratic revolution, the better the conditions for the socialist revolution.
“The experience of the Chinese revolution shows that the tasks of the national-democratic revolution can be fulfilled only through long and tortuous struggles. In this stage of revolution, imperialism and its lackeys are the principal enemy. In the struggle against imperialism and its lackeys, it is necessary to rally all anti-imperialist patriotic forces, including the national bourgeoisie and all patriotic personages. All those patriotic personages from among the bourgeoisie and other [Third World] exploiting classes who join the anti-imperialist struggle play a progressive historical role; they are not tolerated by imperialism but welcomed by the proletariat.
“It is very harmful to confuse the two stages, that is, the national-democratic and the socialist revolutions. Comrade Mao Tse-tung criticized the wrong idea of ‘accomplishing both at one stroke,’ and pointed out that this utopian idea could only weaken the struggle against imperialism and its lackeys, the most urgent task at that time.”
Of course, this idea about the importance of the struggles of exploited countries is not new. In 1869, Karl Marx remarked:
“For a long time I believed that it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime by English working class ascendancy…Deeper study has now convinced me of the opposite. The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland. That is why the Irish question is so important for the social movement in general.”
Some who falsely claim the mantle of Marxism also deride the above viewpoints as ‘stage-ist.’ Ironically, this ‘critique’ is correct: revolutionary Marxists are separated from idealists and anarchists by the former’s fundamental understanding that history develops in stages according the dialectical relationship between the base and superstructure of society. In the same vein, modern Marxists understand it is only global people’s war and global new democratic revolution which can effectively lay the material and socio-historic foundations for socialism and communism.
In order to gain a better grasp on global people’s war, it is necessary to make an analogy to the development of people’s war in China. China was a large country with a ‘backwards’ (i.e. maldeveloped) economy. There was a vast division between the agrarian countryside and the cities, the de facto base for foreign- and domestic-reactionary power. Mao’s forces were able to rally the forces of the countryside, notably the peasants which suffered from deep oppression, into building armed and civil dual power institutions, which were eventually able to dominate and militarily overcome the reactionary forces of the cities while gaining the support of a powerful new democratic revolutionary coalition which included members of the national bourgeoisie and progressive petty-bourgeoisie.
A certain parallel exists in regards to the global prospects for revolution. In order to overcome international reaction centered in the Global North, it is necessary to organize the global countryside, notably those most exploited and oppressed under imperialism, into armed oppositional movements and revolutionary states, in tangent with a global new democratic revolutionary coalition – a broad united front against imperialism – which includes progressive sections of the national bourgeoisie of exploited countries, progressive members of the mass petty-bourgeoisie of the First World, and captive oppressed people in the First World.
The global new democratic revolution is foremost anti-imperialist yet fundamentally proletarian. It is a “transitional stage between the termination of a colonial, semi colonial, and semi-feudal society and the establishment of a socialist society” (Mao) which is only possible “because of the leadership of the proletariat,” i.e., the leadership of parties which represents the interest of the proletariat. (Chen)
Of course, a global people’s war and global new democratic revolution is only the sum of its parts. It necessitates a number of aspects: successful people’s wars and proletarian revolutions in individual countries; the development and partial ascendancy of bourgeois nationalist ruling-power in individual countries in association with the leadership of the international proletariat; the weakening of imperialism through the loss of the labor power of the newly liberated global proletariat; and the development of oppositional coalitions of progressive sections of the Global North (oppressed nations, youth, intellectuals, etc) under the leadership of the international proletariat.
Finally, insofar as revolution represents the violent overthrow of one class by another, global new democratic revolution represents the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and oppressed nations over the former imperialists and their social and financial lackeys. As part of a transition to socialism, global new democratic revolution is a period of ‘settling accounts’ between the First and Third World, of redistributing productive capacity and ownership, and severing the ties which enable and necessitate massive value transfers from the latter to the former. In some cases, unproductive sectors of the economy will be wiped away. Formerly parasitical workers will be retrained and conditioned for productive labor. Economic space in both the First and Third World will be retrofitted. Trade patterns, though centralized to some degree, will cease to offer undervalued imports to the First World, resulting the need to further reintegrate productive activities into First World economies. No longer able to import undervalued commodities as part of a relationship of unequal exchange, production, though centralized, would also become more localized, especially for basic items like food. Moreover, some of the basic means of production which serve privileged consumption will need to be re-distributed and relocated to the Third World to serve the masses. (I.e., one could imagine unnecessary and superfluous restaurant equipment being sent to and serving the larger interests of the Third World proletariat; or passenger vehicles being recycled into planned intercontinental public transportation.)
Within the First World, revolutionary coalitions (of the nationally oppressed, other progressive local forces, and the international proletariat) would come to political power. In conjunction with the international proletariat, oppressed nations in particular would gain political administration over the current sovereign territories of settler-imperialist powers. The political institutions which currently serve white power would be dissolved and replaced by those which suit the strategic interests of the international proletariat. Global people’s war and global new democratic revolution demands the national liberation and self-determination of captive oppressed nations, particular on lands drawn from what is currently the sovereign territory of settler-imperialist regimes.
The process of re-proletarianizing the First World naturally comes into question. The process of reforming the consciousness of a billion parasites will no doubt be a protracted, arduous process. Certainly the international proletariat needs a revolutionary strata to administer over territories currently under the sovereign control of finance capital. Along with the further development of revolutionary consciousness among oppressed nations, there will exist the need for trained political cadre guided under the leadership of the international proletariat. These cadres will in great part, especially at the beginning, be drawn from the progressive forces sympathetic and actively supportive of the global new democratic revolution. The training of the First World cadres should be conducted among the basic masses (i.e., the Third World masses) as part of the beginning of widespread ‘to the countryside’ re-education programs aimed at eradicating bourgeois culture under the full weight of proletarian power.
While global new democratic revolution will break down the rule of monopoly capital along with the privileged position of compradors and the working petty-bourgeoisie, it will facilitate an end to capitalist productive relations and create the material basis for production with serves to effectively and rationally meeting the needs of humanity. Once the social fetters of unequal exchange, wage scaling, and the market mechanisms are eradicated, along with parasitic and outmoded sectors of the capitalist-imperialist economy (i.e., finance, advertising, media, policing, security, military, bureaucratic, sales, retail, etc), the productive energies of the masses can act in an uninterrupted fashion toward fully meeting the requirements for its material reproduction and cultural and psychological fulfillment. Without the dead weight of parasitic imperialism, including its hanger-ons, the masses can push history forward in a positive manner: through socialism and toward communism. In this manner, global new democratic revolution carried out by global people’s war is the one and only path to global socialism and communism. Thus, the immediate aim of the global proletariat is the development of global people’s war and the victory of global new democratic revolution, setting the stage for the immediate development of socialism.
Though some may bemoan in infantile self-interest about the pessimistic outlook this sets for the First World, the denial of the significance of global class structures indicates both an unimaginative dogmatism based on a superficial understanding of Marxism and a tired idealism which substitutes voluntarism for historical materialism. Beyond challenging and correcting First Worldist errors within the International Communist Movement, it is the job of revolutionary Marxists in the First World to work as representatives of the global proletariat in order to develop the sort of heterogeneous oppositional coalitions which are both part of the global people’s war and new democratic revolution and which can tactically and strategically intervene to preempt the forces of international reaction. The main thing which Third Worldism changes for practice in the First World is to provide a more accurate and strategic conceptual framework for internationalism in localized work. It does not ask First World Communists to do less; it asks them to do more and with a more advanced understanding the necessity for global people’s war and global new democratic revolution.
Drawing from Lin:
“In the last analysis, whether one dares to wage a tit-for-tat struggle against armed aggression and suppression by the imperialists and their lackeys, whether one dares to fight a people’s war against them, means whether one dares to embark on revolution. This is the most effective touchstone for distinguishing genuine from fake revolutionaries.”
This holds true today. Whether one works to support the aims of the proletariat, whether one supports the broad united front against imperialism, global people’s war, and global new democratic revolution, indicates the character of one’s politics. These are the hallmarks distinguishing modern revisionism from modern revolutionary Marxism.
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Chen Boda. “Mao Zedong on the Chinese Revolution.” 1953.
Foran, John. “Taking Power: On the Origins of Third World Revolutions.” 2005.
Lenin, V.I. “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination.” 1916.
Lin Biao. “Long Live the Victory of People’s War!” 1965.
Mao Zedong. “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan.” 1927.
– “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party.” 1939.
Marx, Karl. Letter to Friedrich Engels. 1869.
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Wallerstein,Immanuel. “World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction.” 2004.