I’ve been asked few times to explain the difference between different strands of Marxism. Below are some very simplified explanations of the three main strands, orthodox communism, Maoism and Trotskyism, together with their relevance to the local scene, today.
Orthodox Communism, began in NZ in 1921 with the foundation of the Communist Party of NZ. For many years this was NZ’s only Marxist-Leninist party and it slavishly followed Moscow’s policy line, whatever it happened to be.
In the ’20s and thirties a major split developed in the international communist movement. When Stalin came to power in the Soviet Union, he concentrated on building “socialism in one country“. Trotsky on the other hand wanted to aggressively promote world wide “permanent revolution“.
Stalinism was inward focused, emphasising building up socialism in Russia, rather than exporting revolution. Stalin still believed in world revolution, but wanted to build Soviet power and military might in order to force the revolution on his neighbours and eventually the entire globe.
Trotsky, by then living in exile, preached that the revolution was best served by educating and agitating amongst the masses to bring about spontaneous revolutions all over the globe.
Stalinisn was inward looking, paranoid and xenophobic. Trotskyism was outward looking, enthusiastic, naive and wildly unrealistic.
During the ’30s and ’40s small Trotskyite sects began to appear, mainly in Western countries. Their cadres were ruthlessly hounded and often murdered by the Stalinists, especially in Civil War Spain. Trotsky himself was eventually murdered by a Stalinist agent in 1941, in Mexico.
In China, Mao followed Stalin and developed his theories further by postulating that rural peasants would lead the revolution in backward countries. In the absence of an industrialised proletariat, the peasantry would win communism by conquering the countryside and eventually storming the cities.
This strategy was applied in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, In the Philippines by the New People’s Army, in Peru by Shining Path and currently in Nepal and parts of rural India, by their respective Maoist parties.
After Stalin died, orthodox communism took a slightly more moderate line and emphasised conquering the west by semi-peaceful means while simultaneously arming third world revolutionary movements.
In the early ’60s, China and the Soviet Union staged a “split“. The orthodox communist parties stayed loyal to Moscow, while hundreds of Maoist splinter parties allied themselves to Peking.
Trotskyism also boomed in the ’60s, encouraged in part by Castro, who though an orthodox communist appealed more to Trotskyite romanticism than did Kruschev, Honecker and co.
In New Zealand our Communist Party was unique in the West by adopting Maoism and aligning with China. The local orthodox pro Soviet elements founded the Socialist Unity Party in 1966 and promptly set about infiltrating the unions and the Labour Party.
In 1969, some youthful Trotskyite students and some older ex Stalinists formed NZ’s first Trotskyite group, the Socialist Action League. The SALers, mostly university graduates followed the dictates of their bosses in the US, Socialist Workers Party and took up menial jobs in factories and meat works. The aim was to get amongst the workers to build their communist consciousness. Some of these old “70s student radicals are still trying to stir up revolution in the local biscuit factory.
During the ’70s all three strands worked together on the anti Vietnam War movement. The SUP concentrated on the unions, the SAL worked on building mass rallies and the Maoists worked on youth and students. The Progressive Youth Movement was one of NZ’s earliest Maoist fronts.
The Communist Party went on to desert Maoism and re-adopt Stalinism, in the late ’70s then in the ’90s took up Trotskyism, for God’s sake, and morphed into the Socialist Workers Organisation.
Some of the Communist Party’s Maoists and some radical students formed the Workers Communist League in 1980. They controlled HART and maintained several fronts including Women Against Pornograhy, the Philippines Solidarity Group and the Campaign Against Nuclear Warships.
Later the WCL dumped Maoism and eventually dissolved into Jim Anderton’s New Labour Party and the Greens. Several other Maoist sectlets broke away from the Communist Party in the ’80s and ’90s including the pro-Chinese, Organisation for Marxist Unity, the pro-Shining Path, Red Flag Group, the Workers Party and the Communist Party of Aotearoa,
The neo-Maoist Radical Society flourished at Auckland Uni in the early ’90s and at Victoria later in the decade.
All still exist, except the Red Flag Group and possibly Radical Society. Maoist organisations focus on opposing foreign control (building socialism in one country)so its no surprise that the well known Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa has Maoist roots.
North Korea follows the “Juche Idea” of self reliance, which is essentially, Maoism/Stalinism carried to its extreme. We have a few “Juchites” in NZ, mainly in the NZ/Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea Friendship Society, plus a few at Victoria University.
All communist strands are prone to splits, but the Trots are masters of the art. Every Trotskyite sect is affiliated to some international grouping, the Fourth International, the Committee for a Workers International etc.
Trot groups in NZ in recent times have included the Spartacist League, The Communist Left (now known as the Communist Workers Group), the Permanent Revolution Group, International Socialists, Socialist Alternative, Revolution, and the largest, Socialist Worker. The old Socialist Action League, which spawned the likes of Keith Locke and Matt Robson, has morphed into the Communist League, a tiny Castroite sect. You might see these comrades in Auckland or Christchurch with their little stalls outside supermarkets selling the “Militant”.
The orthodox communists of the SUP kept on working on the unions and the Labour Party. They had a huge impact on NZ’s anti nuclear policies in the ’80s, through their front, the NZ Council for World Peace. Bill Andersen left the SUP in 1990, to form his Socialist Party of Aotearoa, over the SUP’s slavish support for Labour.
The SPA is allied with the Russian communists and the traditional communist parties of Australia, USA, South Africa, Canada, Cuba etc. The SUP has dissolved, with some members going into the Labour Party.
Many of these parties are working together these days, Trots with Maoists, Maoists with orthodox communists etc. The Workers Charter Movement for instance unites, the Trots of Socialist Worker, with ex Radical Society Maoists and orthodox communists from SPA. The new Workers Party unites the hard core Maoists of the old Workers Party with the militant Trots of Canterbury Uni based, Revolution. Much of the communist movement is re-uniting, world wide as the old socialist bloc slowly re-forms and the third world Marxist states grow in strength. Many of NZ’s communist groups are following this trend.
I hope this helps my readers better understand the character of contemporary Kiwi communism.
Any comments or criticisms from the comrades?