THAILAND — Communist Party of Thailand
The Communist movement in Thailand (still called Siam until 1939) had a slow and confused development, partly because of the complex ethnic make-up of the country. Initially it was composed mostly of ethnic Chinese and there were very few Communists of Thai ethnicity. Though this imbalanced diminished over time, it remained a major problem throughout the party’s history. The CPT was also primarily an urban party until the 1960s when, under repressive government attacks, it retreated to the forests and began an armed struggle. During the 1970s it rapidly expanded its revolutionary army (the People’s Liberation Army of Thailand), which reached a peak of between 12,000 and 20,000 soldiers by early 1979. There were guerrilla zones in more than 40 provinces, with CPT influences in thousands of villages with a total population of more than 3 million people.
However, the CPT and PLAT then fell to pieces, primarily because of internal ideological and organizational weaknesses and poor leadership, and weak ties with the non-Chinese masses throughout much of the country. The rapidly developing revisionism in China after Mao’s death led to much less support and sympathy for the revolution in Thailand. During the period of hostility and conflict between China and Vietnam (1978-9 and later), the weapons supplied by China to the Thai national army to resist an expected Vietnamese invasion (which never occurred) were actually used against the PLAT revolutionaries. Because of poor leadership and ideological confusion the PLAT soldiers began surrendering to the government, often en masse. By the mid-1980s the revolutionary war was abandoned and the CPT itself disappeared from view. It will be up to a new generation of Thais to recreate a revolutionary communist party and carry out the still desperately needed social revolution in that country.
For further information see: Pierre Rousset’s article on the Communist Party of Thailand at: http://links.org.au/node/1247 or http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article14956
THALES OF MILETUS (625?-547? BCE)
Early Greek philosopher of the Ionian School, often called the “first philosopher”. In addition to that, he was credited by Aristotle with being the founder of physical science; he may have been the first person in recorded history to put forth materialist speculations about the physical nature of the world. (He believed that the most basic substance, and the ultimate constituent of all things, was water.) He is said to have predicted the solar eclipse on May 28, 585 BCE, and to have introduced the study of geometry to Greece from the Middle East.
The ideology and policies associated with the reactionary bourgeois politician Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister of Britain from 1979 to 1990. She was an advocate of supply-side economics, which meant many of the same pro-corporation, anti-worker policies that were encompassed by Reaganomics in the U.S. at the same time. These included lowering taxes for corporations and the rich, anti-labor legislation and attacks on labor unions, cutbacks of social welfare programs, and a general laissez-faire ideological fanaticism. In addition, since Britain had a significant nationalized state-capitalist sector, it also meant the privatization in those industries (at bargain prices for the capitalist buyers). Thatcherism, together with Reaganomics, constituted the beginning of the new neoliberalist period in contemporary world capitalism, a period of trying to drive down the working class as a means of keeping corporate profits high during the continued development of the world capitalist overproduction crisis.
In 1983, Thatcher’s economic policies, including her monetarist tightening of the money supply to try to keep inflation low, led to the worst unemployment figures in Britain since 1923—even worse than during the Great Depression of the 1930s! And while Thatcher claimed to favor “smaller government”, she promoted the vigorous expansion of state power in the police, military and “security” areas.
THE LIFE OF WU HSUN [New style: THE LIFE OF WU XUN]
A reactionary Chinese movie, the criticism of which played an important role in getting the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution underway. This motion picture was begun by the Guomindang’s [Kuomintang’s] Central Film Studio, but remained unfinished when the GMD was forced out of power in the great Chinese Revolution in 1949. The film was then completed and promoted by the revisionists Zhou Yang [Old style: Chou Yang] and Hsia Yen within the CCP after the victory of the Revolution. Zhou Yang, Liu Shaoqi’s leading agent in the field of culture, called it “one of the best Chinese films” and journalists inside and outside the Party were ordered to write hundreds of articles praising it.
Wu Xun (or Wu Hsun) (1838-1896), himself, was born into a very poor family in Shandong. He had no education and worked in semi-slavery for landlords, and later became a beggar. But he diligently saved and invested his money and through astute business dealings eventually became a rich man and a landlord himself. While he was known for his philanthropy, the portion of his riches that he gave away of course came from his own much larger exploitation of peasants and workers. Thus a film glorifying such a person is hardly something that a real communist would make or promote. [See: PHILANTHROPY]
Chiang Kai-shek and the GMD highly praised the deeds of Wu Xun from 1934 on, as part of their cultural indoctrination efforts called the “New Life Movement”. Wu’s story was told in comic books, and statues were erected to him in many primary schools around the country. And even after the Liberation of the country, when this film about Wu Xun was finished, the newspapers were filled with articles praising the movie and lauding Wu Xun for his philanthropy and portraying him as a model for the masses.
Mao himself initiated the first major criticism of this film in his editorial in Renmin Ribao [People’s Daily] entitled “Give Serious Attention to the Discussion of the Film The Life of Wu Hsun” (May 20, 1951):
“The questions raised by The Life of Wu Hsun are fundamental in
character. Living in the era of the Chinese people’s great struggle against foreign aggressors
and the domestic reactionary feudal rulers towards the end of the Ching Dynasty, people like
Wu Hsun did not lift a finger to disturb the tiniest fragment of the feudal economic base or
its superstructure. On the contrary, they worked fanatically to spread feudal culture and,
moreover, sedulously fawned upon the reactionary feudal rulers in order to acquire the status
they themselves lacked for spreading feudal culture. Ought we to praise such vile conduct?
Can we ever tolerate such vile conduct being praised to the masses, especially when such
praise flaunts the revolutionary flag of ‘serving the people’ and is underlined by exploiting
the failure of the revolutionary peasant struggle? To approve or tolerate such praise means
to approve or tolerate reactionary propaganda vilifying the revolutionary struggle of the
peasants, the history of China, and the Chinese nation, and to regard such propaganda as
“Is it not a fact that reactionary bourgeois ideas have found their way into the militant Communist Party? Where on earth is the Marxism which certain Communists claim to have grasped?” —Quoted in “The Class Struggle in China’s Ideological Sphere” [PDF: 872 KB], in Peking Review, issue #37, Sept. 7, 1969.
But that was way back in 1951. How did it come about that this episode served in part to help initiate the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s? It was because the revisionists did not really change their ways. Further reactionary works, such as the historical drama “Hai Rui Dismissed From Office”, continued to appear, and formed a definite reactionary pattern. When Yao Wenyuan, at the urging of Mao and Jiang Qing, criticized “Hai Rui Dismissed...” in 1965, this opened a floodgate of revolutionary criticism against all such reactionary cultural works, going back to the founding of the People’s Republic. And it led eventually to the criticism of those at the top (led by Liu Shaoqi) who had promoted and protected this sinister current.
THE ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE STATE [by Engels]
See: ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE STATE, The
THE STATE AND REVOLUTION [by Lenin]
See: STATE AND REVOLUTION
“[T]heology is petrified dogmatism...” —Engels, speaking specifically of the period before the great French Revolution, in his “Notes on Germany”, online at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/subject/art/notes-germany.htm
THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE [“Volume IV of Capital”]
A major part of the economic manuscripts left by Marx at his death which was intended to become volume IV of his great work Capital. Although the fourth volume of Capital that Marx hoped to publish was expected by him to be primarily historical, the actual manuscripts he left of TSV include many passages of great importance to the theory of Marxist political economy. TSV is thus an extremely important, though often neglected, part of Marx’s writings on political economy. It contains many points not fully elaborated in the first three volumes, as well as a detailed history and criticism of the crucially important topic of surplus value as it was originally developed by classical bourgeois economists.
TSV was not published, even in German, until the first decade of the 20th century. The first of the three volumes of TSV, which were all edited (poorly and tendentiously!) by Karl Kautsky, appeared in 1904, the second in 1905, and the third not until 1910. Prior to their publication other Marxist writers on political economy—including Lenin—did not have access to Marx’s complete theory on a number of key topics, most notably with regard to Marx’s criticism of “Say’s Law”. More accurate editions of the three volumes of TSV, based on Marx’s original manuscripts, were published in German in 1956, 1959 and 1962. The versions of these three volumes in English translation (from Progress Publishers in Moscow) did not appear until 1963, 1968 and 1971, respectively. The late publication of TSV, the dubious reliability of its first German edition, and its relative neglect even since its proper publication, have all created serious problems for Marxist political economy, especially in Britain and the United States.
“First, a manuscript entitled Zur Kritik der politishen Oekonomie, ... written in August 1861 to June 1863. It is the continuation of a work of the same title, the first part of which appeared in Berlin, in 1859.... The themes treated in Book II [volume II of Capital] and very many of those which are treated later, in Book III [volume III of Capital], are not yet arranged separately. They are treated in passing, to be specific, in the section which makes up the main body of the manuscript, viz., pages 220-972 (Notebooks VI-XV), entitled ‘Theories of Surplus-Value.’ This section contains a detailed critical history of the pith and marrow of Political Economy, the theory of surplus-value and develops parallel with it, in polemics against predecessors, most of the points later investigated separately and in their logical connection in the manuscript for Books II and III. After eliminating the numerous passages covered by Books II and III I intend to publish the critical part of this manuscript as Capital, Book IV. This manuscript, valuable though it is, could be used only very little in the present edition of Book II.” —Engels, Preface to Marx’s Capital, Vol. II, (International: 1967), p. 2. [Engels died before he was able to follow through with this plan to publish TSV as volume IV of Capital.]
[Speaking of Kautsky’s edition of TSV in 1904-1910:] “In this edition the basic principles of the scientific publication of a text were violated and there were distortions of a number of the tenets of Marxism.” —Note 36, Lenin: Selected Works, vol. 3 (Moscow: Progress, 1967).
[Intro material to be added... ]
“What kind of theorists do we want? We want theorists who can, in accordance with the Marxist-Leninist stand, viewpoint and method, correctly interpret practical problems arising in the course of history and revolution and give scientific explanations and theoretical elucidations of China’s economic, political, military, cultural and other problems.” —Mao, “Rectify the Party’s Style of Work” (Feb. 1, 1942), SW 3:38.
See: CENTRAL ORGANIZING THEORY, MARXIST THEORY, “PRACTICAL MEN” WHO DESPISE THEORY, REVOLUTIONARY THEORY, SCIENTIFIC THEORY
THEORY — As Promoting Human Action and Scientific Experiment
As Marxists have repeatedly pointed out, theory is derived from practice (including both mass political action and scientific experiment), but at the same time, our existing theory serves to suggest and promote new practice (including new mass actions and new scientific experiments). That is to say, theory and practice are mutually supportive, and serve to advance each other.
Among the great many examples we can point to in the scientific sphere, are:
• Galileo’s use of the newly invented telescope to look at Jupiter, because he already had the theory that Jupiter was a planet. Others had telescopes too, but only Galileo, at first, had both a telescope and a scientific theory that led him to use that telescope in a particular way.
• Sir Arthur Eddington, the English astronomer and physicist, learned of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, and its prediction that the light from distant stars would be strongly bent as it passed near a massive object like the sun, in a way Newtonian physics did not allow. Eddington then arranged for an expedition to the island of Principe off the west coast of Africa in 1919 to test Einstein’s theory during a solar eclipse, and found that it was indeed correct. Einstein’s theory had led to an experiment that probably otherwise would never have been done, at least in that era.
• Dr. Ignaz Semmelweiss, appalled by the vast number of women dying of infections during childbirth, developed a crude (but basically correct) theory that many of these deaths were caused by some unknown factor resulting from obstetricians not washing their hands before operating, and then demonstrated the correctness of his theory by starting a movement for physicians to wash their hands more frequently and to use antiseptics. (Unfortunately, the very positive practical results arising from his theory were only widely employed after his death.)
In revolutionary politics too we have many examples of how new theory leads to changed practice, and for that reason, to revolutionary advances. Here is just one sequence by way of example:
• Marx and Engels, looking at the Paris Commune, and its early defeat by the bourgeoisie, changed Marxist theory to include the necessity for the dictatorship of the proletariat once the proletariat came to power. And Lenin and Mao, when their revolutions came to power in Russia and later China, made use of that new theory to hang onto proletarian power for decades. Improved theory led to improved practical results.
• Mao, then looking at the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union by a newly arisen capitalist class within the CPSU and Soviet government itself, further improved the revolutionary theory to emphasize the need to continue the revolutionary class struggle during the period of socialism, and specifically through the means of cultural revolutions. This further improved theory kept proletarian rule in power in China for an additional decade.
• But after Mao’s death the newly arisen bourgeoisie within the Communist Party of China still managed to seize power and overthrow the socialist society. Looking at this, Marxist-Leninist-Maoists around the world have realized that Mao’s approach continuing the revolution under socialism must be further strengthened, and that revolutionary parties must be prepared for this necessity even from the time of their founding. Once again our revolutionary theory has been changed, as part of our preparation to change our practice once the proletariat comes to power again.
• Another example in the political sphere is Mao’s recognition of various implicit aspects of the “from the masses, to the masses” (or the “mass line”) method of leadership implicit in Marxism from the beginning, and his further raising of this to a more conscious and elaborated revolutionary theory. As such, the mass line was more consistently and successfully used in the Chinese Revolution than ever before in history.
In short, the development of theory had led to improved practice. That, indeed, is what theory is primarily for!
THEORY DRIVEN (Adj.)
The opposite of pragmatic. This is the term which I use (and possibly so do others) to refer to actions which are guided by some reasonably arrived at theory about what to do in that situation, or else to refer to people who generally try to work according to a number of such theories about what best to do in various situations. In other words, it refers to people who have a lot of reasonably supported theories about what best to do in different circumstances, and who actually keep them in mind and try to work in accordance with them. See for example my explanation of why I refused to follow my mother’s advice about putting some bread in my mouth in order to avoid tears when cutting onions! [At: https://www.massline.org/Philosophy/ScottH/ChoppingOnions.htm ]
While it seems to me to be quite rational to be a theory driven sort of person, we do have to recognize that this only helps achieve good results if the theory being followed is basically correct. If the theory is erroneous, then the result will not be what we are looking for! The bourgeois writer Nassim Taleb, in his 2007 book The Black Swan, notes that: “[B]efore we knew of bacteria, and their role in diseases, doctors rejected the practice of hand washing because it made no sense to them, despite the evidence of a meaningful decrease in hospital deaths. Ignaz Semmelweis, the mid-nineteenth-century doctor who promoted the idea of hand washing, wasn’t vindicated until decades after his death.” [Pp. 182-183] Of course, since there actually was substantial evidence of increased safety for patients if doctors washed their hands, they should have done so even if they didn’t have a theory to explain this! But this historical event also shows the great importance of developing a truly correct theory to follow in important situations. —S.H.
“THEORY IS GRAY”
“Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie
Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.”
[Gray, dear friend, is all theory
And green the golden tree of life.]
—Goethe, Faust, Part I, Mephisopheles speaking to a student.
[Lenin liked to repeat this aphorism, as for example in his “Letters on Tactics” (April 1917), LCW 24:45. He did not mean that theory is to be generally ignored or rejected, but merely that theory is never as rich, complex and fully appropriate as life is itself. Just before quoting Goethe, Lenin says “It is essential to grasp the incontestable truth that a Marxist must take cognisance of real life, of the true facts of reality, and not cling to a theory of yesterday, which, like all theories, at best only outlines the main and the general, only comes near to embracing life in all its complexity.” Good theories are a general guide to action, but should not be taken as an absolute dogma regardless of the actual situation. —S.H.]
“THEORY OF EVERYTHING” (or “TOE”)
A grossly grandiose name for some future scientific theory which will (presumably) cover all our knowledge in particle physics, and specifically include the force of gravity along with the other three known forces of nature. Of course such a theory, while it would surely be an important advance in physics, would by no means cover all of scientific knowledge! Just to give a few examples, it would not include the vast bulk of information in the biological sciences, or in geophysics, linguistics, historical materialism, and all the other major spheres of science beyond particle physics. Therefore the name proposed for this theory, the “Theory of Everything”, is the height of arrogance.
The right half of the figure here shows the names of different theories which have been developed to encompass more and more forces in physics. This trend of combining apparently separate forces into a unified theory actually began way back in the 19th century with Maxwell’s unification of electricity and magneticism into the theory of electromagnetism. (Strangely, this first unification is not shown in the diagram.) Paul Dirac, Richard Feynman and others later reconstructed the theory of electromagnetism into a relativistic quantum field theory known as quantum electrodynamics (QED). In the next step, the weak nuclear force (which governs radioactivity) and the electromagnetic force were combined into the electroweak theory, which describes these two apparently very different forces as aspects of a single force. Meanwhile, quarks were discovered as the internal components of protons and neutrons, and the theory of quantum chromodynamics was developed to explain how gluon particles of force allow quarks to interact with each other. Quantum chromodynamics and the electroweak force were then combined into what is known as the Grand Unified Theory of particle physics. This forms the theoretical basis for the current Standard Model in particle physics, and is where things stand today. However, there is one more very well known force, gravitation, which has not yet been unified with the other three forces. The first step towards doing this is thought to be the development of a quantum theory of gravity—which has not yet been accomplished. Then the goal will be to combine all four known forces into one supposedly final “Theory of Everything”. But there is also another possible complication; there may in fact be other as yet unknown forces to be discovered. The recent cosmological discovery that the universe appears to be expanding at an ever increasing speed can apparently not be explained without adding at least one new force of nature to the mix.
THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
The branch of philosophy which is concerned with the nature and extent of human knowledge, how we come to know things, the reliability of what we know, and so forth. Also known as epistemology in more pretentious language.
See also below, and: AGNOSTICISM, REFLECTION THEORY
THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE — Marxist
Marxism has a definite and distinctive theory of knowledge (epistemology) which, however, is based on scientific method and practice in general. Briefly, its most essential points are that:
1. Knowledge comes from the theoretical summation of experience or practice;
2. Tentative knowledge must be tested and confirmed through further practice;
3. New knowledge builds on earlier knowledge and develops step-by-step;
4. Knowledge develops dialectically, both in that it very often comes from the recognition of dialectical contradictions in things, and also in that the development of deeper knowledge depends on dialectically “negating” (to one degree or another) earlier conceptions or knowledge.
5. Our knowledge of the world is “reflected” (in an abstract way) in the physical organization of the brain. I.e., the physical brain is continually modified by a person’s experience and practice, as well as by the rationalization (or theoretical summation) of that practice. This is the basic materialist explanation for how we are able to physically acquire, expand and retain our knowledge. (See: REFLECTION THEORY, UNDERSTANDING—“Perfect”
“Discover the truth through practice, and again through practice verify and develop the truth. Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it into rational knowledge; then start from rational knowledge and actively guide revolutionary practice to change both the subjective and the objective world. Practice, knowledge, again practice, and again knowledge. This form repeats itself in endless cycles, and with each cycle the content of the practice and knowledge rises to a higher level. Such is the whole of the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge, and such is the dialectical-materialist theory of the unity of knowing and doing.” —Mao, “On Practice” (July 1937), SW 1:308.
“Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone; they come from three kinds of social practice, the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment. It is man’s social being that determines his thinking. Once the correct ideas characteristic of the advanced class are grasped by the masses, these ideas turn into a material force which changes society and changes the world. In their social practice, men engage in various kinds of struggle and gain rich experience, both from their successes and from their failures. Countless phenomena of the objective external world are reflected in a man’s brain through his five sense organs—the organs of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. At first, knowledge is perceptual. The leap to conceptual knowledge, i.e., to ideas, occurs when sufficient perceptual knowledge is accumulated. This is one process in cognition. It is the first stage in the whole process of cognition, the stage leading from objective matter to subjective consciousness, from existence to ideas. Whether or not one’s consciousness or ideas (including theories, policies, plans or measures) do corectly reflect the laws of the objective external world is not yet proved at this stage, in which it is not yet possible to ascertain whether they are correct or not. Then comes the scond stage in the process of cognition, the stage leading from consciousness back to matter, from ideas back to experience, in which the knowledge gained in the first stage is applied in social practice to ascertain whether the theories, policies, plans or measures meet with the anticipated success. Generally speaking, those that succeed are correct and those that fail are incorrect, and this is especially true of man’s struggle with nature. In social struggle, the forces representing the advanced class sometimes suffer defeat not because their ideas are incorrect but because, in the balance of forces engaged in struggle, they are not as powerful for the time being as the forces of reaction; they are therefore temporarily defeated, but they are bound to triumph sooner or later. Man’s knowledge makes another leap through the test of practice. This leap is more important than the previous one. For it is this leap alone that can prove the correctness or incorrectness of the first leap in cognition, i.e., of the ideas, theories, policies, plans or measures formulated in the course of reflecting the objective external world. There is no other way of testing truth. Furthermore, the one and only purpose of the proletariat in knowing the world is to change it. Often, correct knowledge can be arrived at only after many repetitions of the process leading from matter to consciousness and then back to matter, that is, leading from practice to knowledge and then back to practice. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge, the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge.” —Mao, “Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?”, May 1963, Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tsetung (1971), pp. 502-3.
“Every scientific theory has its domain of applicability, every theory
has realms where their approximations work, and realms where their approximations break
down. We don’t use Newtonian gravity to build buildings on the Earth (unless the building
is very tall), we use Galileo’s model of gravity. We don’t use Einstein’s theory
of gravity for navigating the space shuttle when Newton’s theory works to the level of
precision needed for the task. The relevant question is ‘Could we have learned the
greater understanding revealed by Einstein without the two centuries of observations,
analysis, and experience developed under Newton’s ideas?’ I think the answer is
probably ‘no.’” —William T. Bridgman, “The Cosmos in Your Pocket: How Cosmological
Science Became Earth Technology. I”, Oct. 2, 2007, online at:
[This view agrees with one of the principles of the Marxist theory of knowledge, namely that more correct or sophisticated knowledge can rarely be acquired except on the basis of extending or correcting less accurate earlier ideas. Yes, we must correct the errors or limitations in what we take to be our existing knowledge, but in most cases we would not even be in a position to do this if we hadn’t already acquired that somewhat inadequate and tentative existing knowledge. —S.H.]
“THEORY OF PRODUCTIVE FORCES”
Various related revisionist theories whose central dogma is that the establishment of socialism and then communism depends entirely, or at least to a very large degree, upon the prior expansion of the productive forces to a very advanced level, under some form of capitalism. (Whether that is to be Western-style monopoly capitalism; or state capitalism of a form like that in the Soviet Union during the revisionist period; or some type of so-called “market socialism”; or whatever.)
The productive forces are the material means of production (factories, machinery, raw materials, etc.) together with human labor of an appropriate quality and capability. Thus certainly the productive forces must have reached some reasonable level of development before socialism (let alone communism) can first be established. No sensible person imagines that genuine socialism (in the modern Marxist sense) could have been established in ancient times, for example, or before the capitalist era.
But the “theory of productive forces” goes well beyond that recognition; it insists that even in the present world, after centuries of capitalist production, socialism (and communism) are still not possible unless the productive forces are further expanded to a major degree. The essence of this reactionary theory, therefore, is that, “at least in our country”, 1) the productive forces have not yet been developed to the point where socialism can be successfully established; and 2) that the productive forces cannot be further and rapidly developed under any sort of socialism which can be established at the present time. In other words, those who uphold this revisionist theory view the continuation of capitalism as still essential “at the present time”.
This theory has been especially prominent among revisionists in poorly developed countries (the “Third World”). But it has even been championed by some people in the more advanced capitalist countries. The theory, after all, first developed at the end of the 19th century in one of the leading capitalist countries, Germany, where it was championed by Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky among others.
“Bernstein first put forward this fallacy in 1899 in his book The Premises of Socialism and the Tasks of the Social-Democracy. He maintained that with the highly developed social productive forces, capitalism would grow into socialism peacefully. Therefore, he said, revolution by armed force would become a meaningless phrase. He arbitrarily declared that the victory of socialism could only depend on the general social progress, especially on the increase of social wealth or the growth of social productive forces accompanied by the maturity of the working class in terms of knowledge and morality. He concluded: As for the capitalist system, it should not be destroyed but should be helped to further develop.” —Kao Hung, “From Bernstein to Liu Shao-chi”, Peking Review, #38, Sept. 19, 1969.
“The renegade, hidden traitor and scab Liu Shao-chi consistently advocated the reactionary ‘theory of productive forces.’ According to this fallacy, socialist revolution is impossible and the socialist road cannot be taken in any country where capitalism is not highly developed and the productive forces have not reached a high level. Before the seizure of political power by the proletariat, he advocated this theory to forbid the proletariat from rising to make revolution and seizing political power. After the seizure of power, he raised it to oppose socialist transformation in a futile effort to lead China on the road of capitalism. When the socialist transformation of the ownership of the means of production was completed in the main, he continued to advocate this theory in a clandestine attempt to restore capitalism.” —Hung Hsueh-ping, “The Essence of ‘Theory of Productive Forces’ is to Oppose Proletarian Revolution”, Peking Review, #38, Sept. 19, 1969.
“Production relations and productive forces comprise the two aspects of
social production. In overall historical development, productive forces are generally
revealed as the major determining factor. Any transformation of production relations is
necessarily a result of a certain development in productive forces. Production relations
must be compatible with prductive forces. When certain production relations become
incompatible with the development of productive forces, these production relations must be
replaced by some other new production relations which better match the development of
productive forces. This is to say, the form of production relations is not determined by
man’s subjective will, but by the level of development of productive forces. Production
relations must conform to the development of productive forces. This is an objective law
which is not subject to change according to people’s will. The emergence, development, and
extinction of certain production relations unfold with a corresponding evolution of the
contradictions of certain productive forces. Therefore, in the study of production
relations, Marxist political economy also studies productive forces.
“In the overall development of history, if productive forces are revealed to be the major determining factor, does it mean that production relations are entirely passive compared with productive forces? Definitely not. When production relations are compatible with productive forces, they exert an active impetus to the development of productive forces. When production relations become incompatible with productive forces, they will hinder the development of productive forces. As productive forces cannot be developed without changing production relations, the transformation of productive relations plays a major determining role. When old China was under the rule of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism, the landlord and the comprador represented the most reactionary and backward production relation of China. Productive forces were severely restricted and sabotaged. Before liberation, China did not have any machine building industry or any automobile or airplane manufacturing. The annual output of steel was only several hundred thousand tons outside of Northeast China. Even daily necessities were imported. Cloth was called foreign cloth; umbrellas were called foreign umbrellas. Even a tiny nail was called a foreign nail. Under those circumstances the overthrow of the rule of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism, the transformation of comprador-feudal production relations, and the establishment of socialist production relations played an important role in promoting the development of productive forces.
“Big development of productive forces often occurs after the transformation of production relations. This is a universal law. Big development of productive forces in capitalist society also occurred after the disintegration of feudal production relations induced by the bourgeois revolution and the rapid development of capitalist production relations. Take England, for example, where big development of productive forces occurred on the basis of the bourgeois revolution in the seventeenth century and the Industrial Revolution of the late eigthteenth century and early nineteenth centuries. The modern industries of France, Germany, the United States, and Japan rapidly developed only after the old superstructure and production relations had been transformed in various ways. On the issue of production relations and productive forces, one of the principal aspects of the long struggle between the Marxists and the Soviet revisionists has always been whether one should insist on taking the dialectical unity viewpoint or should expound the reactionary productivity first viewpoint. [I.e., the Theory of the Productive Forces. —Ed.] ... The experience of socialist revolution teaches us that it is always the superior socialist system which promotes the development of the productive forces. It is always after the transformation of those parts of production relations which are incompatible with the development of the productive forces that the development of the productive forces is promoted. Where is the so-called ‘contradiction between the advanced socialist system and the backward social production forces’ [which Liu Shao-ch’i and others proclaimed]?”
—Fundamentals of Political Economy [the “Shanghai Textbook”], (Shanghai: 1974), as translated into English by George C. Wang (1977), pp. 5-7. Available online at: https://www.bannedthought.net/China/MaoEra/PoliticalEconomy/FundamentalsOfPoliticalEconomy-Shanghai-1974-English-sm.pdf
THEORY OF TWO POINTS
Shorthand, often used in Maoist China, for the dialectical viewpoint that within any thing or any process there are two contradictory aspects which are simultaneously opposites and a unity, and that one of these aspects is principal and the other secondary. It is opposed to the “one-point” theory (which fails to recognize any internal contradiction within the thing) and also to the theory of equilibrium which does not distinguish the principal aspect of a thing from its non-principal aspect.
See also: ONE-INTO-TWO
The branch of physics which deals with heat and the transformation of energy in one form (such as heat) into another form (such as mechanical motion).
There are three laws of thermodynamics which can be expressed in a variety of ways. Here is one way:
1. The energy of the universe is constant. (The conservation of energy law.)
2. The entropy of the universe tends to increase to a maximum. (Everything gets more disordered over time.)
3. As a system approaches absolute zero temperature ( -273.15 C°) all processes cease. (Quantum mechanics somewhat modifies this third law.)
“The history of thermodynamics is a story of people and concepts. The cast of characters is large. At least ten scientists played major roles in creating thermodynamics, and their work spanned more than a century. The list of concepts, on the other hand, is surprisingly small: there are just three leading concepts in thermodynamics: energy, entropy, and absolute temperature.” —William H. Cropper, Great Physicists (2001).
THERMODYNAMICS — Second Law Of
“[Y]ou cannot apply the second law of thermodynamics except to an isolated system, enclosed in a box that prevents matter and energy from being exchanged with the outside. No living system is an isolated system. We all ride flows of matter and energy—flows driven ultimately by the energy from the sun. Once enclosed in a box (in a prefiguration of our eventual internment), we die.” —Lee Smolin, Time Reborn (2013), p. 219.
“THESES ON FEUERBACH” [Notes by Marx]
A set of 11 short theses (or principles) set down by Marx in the spring of 1845. They were just his own notes at the time. But they are so profound, and so concisely summarize the fundamental principles of the Marxist approach to philosophy and to social practice that they have become justly famous. Engels first published them in 1888 as an appendix to his book Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy.
The central theme in the “Theses on Feuerbach” is an elaboration of a scientific understanding of practice (social activity). Among the many important concepts and principles which may be found in an early and only partially developed form in the Theses is that of the mass line method of revolutionary leadership and having a mass perspective.
But rather than read about the “Theses on Feuerbach”, people should just go read them! They are online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm. See also: FEUERBACH, Ludwig
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” —Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”, Thesis XI.
THIERS, Louis Adolphe (1797-1877)
An opportunist and reactionary French politician and historian who served as Prime Minister of France in 1836, 1840, and 1848. He was an opponent of Napoleon III and returned to power in the national elections of February 1871 and accepted the victory of the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War. When the proletarian revolutionaries of the Paris Commune of 1871 seized the city, he fled and plotted the overthrow of the Commune. With German support, his troops broke through the city’s defenses and slaughtered tens of thousands of communards. Following these brutal murders, he became President of France, but then was forced from power himself by the monarchists in 1873.
“A reactionary bourgeois politician, traitor to his country and butcher who suppressed the Paris Commune uprising in French history. Minister of Internal Affairs in 1834, he stamped out the people’s uprising in Lyon. Immediately after becoming head of the bourgeois government in February 1871, he sent reactionary troops to disarm the Paris people. Following the armed uprising by the proletariat of Paris on March 18, he fled to Versailles. Colluding with Bismarck and mustering reactionary forces, he strangled the Paris Commune revolution. Marx referred to Thiers as ‘a master in small state roguery, a virtuoso in perjury and treason, a craftsman in all the petty strategems, cunning devices, and base perfidies of parliamentary party-warfare; never scrupling, when out of office, to fan a revolution, and to stifle it in blood when at the helm of the state.’” —Explanatory note accompanying an article on the Paris Commune, Peking Review, vol. 14, #13, March 26, 1971.
A nominally non-government institute which engages in political advocacy with respect to government policies in areas such as social issues, economics, international imperialist strategy, military issues, the best political strategy for the ruling class within the country (or often the best strategy for just one section of that ruling class), and so forth, and which prepares “research studies” to support the views and policies it favors. Think tanks are therefore, and with only the rarest exceptions, operations run by and for the capitalist ruling class, or one of its contending sections. The government itself supports these think tanks in many ways, including through providing them with lucrative contracts for “research”, and by exempting them from paying taxes by calling them non-profit organizations (even when they openly work to promote greater profits for capitalist corporations). Sometimes the government will directly set up a think tank, or provide it with ongoing general funding under one pretext or another.
One of the earliest think tanks was the Institute for Defence and Security Studies founded in London in 1831. But think tanks have truly mushroomed as key parts of the system of bourgeois rule mostly since World War II, and especially in the United States. The term “think tank” itself originated in American slang in World War II and came into general consciousness in the U.S. in the 1950s. The archetypical, and one of the most prominent think tanks, is the RAND Corporation, which was founded under the sponsorship of the U.S. Air Force as an offshoot of the Douglas Aircraft Corporation shortly after World War II. During the Cold War, and since then, the number of think tanks in the U.S. and around the world has skyrocketed; by 2006 there were at least 4,500 them in the world, mostly focused on international affairs, foreign policy, and “security” matters (military issues and how to keep the restless population under control).
Some of the many prominent U.S. bourgeois think tanks include:
• American Enterprise Institute — A right-wing counterpart to the slightly “left”-wing Brookings Institution. One of the loudest proponents of neoliberalism.
• Brookings Institution (one of the oldest U.S. think tanks, founded in 1916) — Quintessentially an “establishment” institution which describes itself as non-partisan, but which sometimes seems to lean toward the Democratic Party.
• Cato Institute — Promotes dogmatic libertarian “free market” doctrines and policies.
• Center for American Progress — Promotes more politically liberal bourgeois policies than most think tanks.
• Heritage Foundation — Promotes right-wing “conservative” doctrines and policies.
• RAND Corporation — In effect this has been a major research arm of the U.S. government, focused especially on military and “security” matters, but extending far beyond that scope.
See: THOUGHT, ANALOGY, CATEGORIZATION
THINKING JUST ALIKE
When we believe we understand the principles, policies and actions which will truly advance the interests of the people, and especially their central interest in capitalist society of making socialist revolution, of course we want as many others as possible to come to agree with us, and that is what we try to bring about through our educational, agitational, and leadership work. So in this situation it seems to be a very desirable goal to get everyone to “think alike”, at least on these most essential points and goals. But, on the other hand, sometimes even the best intentioned of us are wrong about what precise political line will really advance the interests of the people. Even the very best and most dedicated and experienced revolutionary political party will make mistakes at times about this, and certainly so in the secondary or tertiary aspects of implementing each political campaign. So, in these cases, even if they are hopefully infrequent, it might actually be a very good thing if some people strongly disagree with us about what should be done! Their differing ideas might well, in that case, turn out to provide us with an alternative course of action if that becomes necessary. In fact, it might prove very good and useful if even some of our own comrades have disagreements and different ideas about what should be done—provided, of course, that these comrades are nevertheless willing to follow the rules of democratic centralism and sincerely work to give the original policy a fair try first.
If we were always right then it would be best if everyone always completely agreed with us! But since we are not always right, it is actually a very good thing that not everyone always agrees with us, and not everyone thinks exactly alike. This is a point which is difficult for many to accept, especially those inclined toward dogmatism who believe that they, or at least their Party and its leaders, are always right about everything, right from the very start.
Of course we are all striving for unity, which means both unity of ideas and even more importantly unity of action. But the fact is that full and complete unity on some important matter, such as on how precisely to make social revolution, is really only possible after the struggle is long over, and success was achieved despite the fact that not every single person fully agreed with how to accomplish it! Absolutely complete unity is only achieved once the issue has become moot. In the meanwhile we do need quite substantial unity to make progress toward our revolutionary goal, and in each battle we need to struggle to make that unity of ideas and action as complete as possible. And yet, we know that there will still be other ideas both among the masses and among comrades which differ to varying degrees from that unified thinking we have to work for. However, amazingly enough, especially if our initial efforts fail, it may be just some of those different and alternative ideas that actually turn out to be exactly what we need to find another path to victory. Such is the perspective of the mass line method of leadership.
“When everyone thinks just exactly alike, no one is thinking very much.”
[In part there is a lot of validity to this because of the fact that the truth develops through struggle with what is false. The existence of erroneous views, and the struggle against them, helps us establish and further clarify the correct view. This is what dialectics teaches us. Moreover, we can still be wrong at first, or perhaps only partially wrong. It is good to have some previously rejected ideas in the back of one’s mind in case experience suggests there might be some validity to those previously rejected ideas after all. But it is also true that there is a world of difference between everyone thinking alike before much actual thinking and discussion occurs, and everyone thinking alike after the various ideas have been thoroughly hashed out and the basic problem or situation has been satisfactorally dealt with! It would be inexplicable if there were not near total unity of thought on the issue once the truth had finally been proven to virtually everyone through practice. In short, in the best situations unity of thought comes about from everyone having done a whole lot of thinking and acting, rather than from nobody doing much thinking at all. —S.H.]
In feudal France (before the great French Revolution of 1789) society was characterized as being composed of three “estates”: The First Estate was the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church; the Second Estate was the nobility (the class of the feudal landlords); and the Third Estate was everyone else (about 98% of the population!), including peasants, workers and capitalists (or bourgeoisie). However, it was the rising new class, the bourgeoisie, that dominated this Third Estate politically (though certainly not numerically). The Estates-Generales was a weak and very intermittent French national assembly that represented these three estates. In 1789 it was convened (after 175 years!) in order to deal with a major financial crisis of the state. But from the perspective of the ruling nobility, this assembly got quite out of hand! The bourgeois leaders of the Third Estate demanded much more power, and this precipitated the French Revolution.
See: COMMUNIST INTERNATIONAL
A term introduced by the French economist Alfred Sauvy in 1952 to refer collectively to all the non-industrial nations of the world. Due to the Cold War, many people soon reinterpreted the “Third World” to mean those countries which were aligned neither with the Western imperialist bloc (headed by the United States) nor with the “Socialist bloc” (headed by the Soviet Union). Under this interpretation the “Third World” became nearly synonymous with “non-aligned countries”. It was later during this Cold War period that the Communist Party of China put forward the largely incorrect “Three Worlds” Theory, in which the term the “Third World” was contrasted to the “First World” (the two superpowers) and the “Second World” (the other imperialist or advanced capitalist countries). This moved the term back closer to its original meaning, but not quite completely so—since it was then also a political term as well as an economic designation. Since the explicit and enthusiastic promulgation of the “Three Worlds” Theory by the Chinese revisionists beginning soon after Mao’s death, most revolutionary Marxists have rejected that theory (at least in its usual notorious form). But because of its association with that erroneous theory, the term “Third World” was also shunned by many revolutionary Marxists for a long period.
However, since the collapse of the revisionist Soviet Union and its bloc, and the end of the Cold War, the term “Third World” has shifted back to something even closer to its original meaning: Those countries which are largely undeveloped economically. There have been attempts (by bourgeois writers) to replace the term “Third World” with the euphemistic term “developing countries”, but most such countries are not really “developing” economically very much at all, since they remain so greatly under the control of and exploitation by the imperialist nations. The term “undeveloped countries” would be better, but it also has some possible implications that these countries are culturally undeveloped which is totally false and slanderous. Thus many people are once again using the term “the Third World” to mean these economically undeveloped countries. Unfortunately, other people still use the term in somewhat different ways, which means that it remains somewhat ambiguous.
The term “semicolonial countries” is better, but somewhat outdated; more appropriate today would be “neocolonial countries”. But in many countries these terms are not widely understood by the masses.
In short, there are difficulties in picking the most appropriate short terms or phrases to replace the “Third World” in the sense of meaning those countries which are largely undeveloped economically, or in the closely related sense of those countries which are exploited and oppressed by imperialism. Perhaps the most appropriate phrases today, depending on the precise sense we mean, are: 1) “the economically undeveloped countries”; 2) “the exploited and oppressed countries”; 3) “the neocolonies” or “the neocolonial countries”. When we do use the term “Third World” we should be sure that our audience understands it in the same way we do.
We should also be aware that there can be intermediate or transitional forms, between imperialist countries and countries exploited and oppressed by imperialism. China today, for example, is both still exploited by foreign imperialism and at the same time a rising new imperialist power which exploits other countries itself. It was once a “Third World” country; but though large sections of the population are still very poor, with the massive expansion of industry in China and the shift of so much world production to that country, that characterization no long seems at all appropriate.
See also: DEPENDENT COUNTRIES
“THIRD WORLD MARXISM”
[To be added...]
“THIRD WORLD” THEORY
See: “THREE WORLDS” THEORY
The religious/philosophical school of thought based on the doctrines, concepts and methods of “Saint” Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), still the dominant theologian and philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church.
See also: NEO-THOMISM
THOMSON, George Derwent (1903-1987)
An English classical scholar (specializing in ancient Greek drama and poetry), a scholar of the Irish language (which he mastered from the people of the Blasket Islands off the west coast of Ireland), and a revolutionary Marxist who remained true to the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin, and who also embraced Mao. He is best known to us Marxists for a series of 3 short books which served as a fine introduction to Marxism: From Marx to Mao Tse-tung (1971); Capitalism and After (1973); and The Human Essence (1974).
George Thomson joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1936. He achieved wide recognition in intellectual circles for his works Aeschylus and Athens and Marxism and Poetry (1945). He pioneered in the Marxist interpretation of Greek drama, arguing for a connection between work songs and poetry, and that ancient songs were connected to social rituals.
Thomson was a member of the CPGB Cultural Committee and also its Executive Committee. In 1951 he was the only member of that Executive Committee to vote against the Party’s programme (known as The British Road to Socialism) because “the dictatorship of the proletariat was missing”. Thomson was profoundly affected by the Chinese Revolution of 1949, which eventually led to his split with the CPGB and involvement in efforts to replace that revisionist party with a new revolutionary one. “He never lost his political beliefs. He was committed to working class education, including giving lectures to factory workers at Birmingham’s Austin car plant.” [Wikipedia article]
Thomson’s works available online:
From Marx to Mao Tse-tung — https://www.bannedthought.net/MLM-Theory/MLM-Intro/Marx2Mao.pdf [9,790 KB];
Capitalism and After — https://www.bannedthought.net/MLM-Theory/MLM-Intro/CapitalismAndAfter-GeorgeThomson-1973.pdf [11,007 KB];
The Human Essence — https://www.bannedthought.net/MLM-Theory/MLM-Intro/TheHumanEssence-GeorgeThomson-1974.pdf [8,694 KB]
A naturally occurring, weakly radioactive element, atomic number 90, atomic weight 232. It is “fertile” but not “fissile”. That is to say, while thorium itself cannot be used to make an atomic bomb, it can be irradiated in a nuclear reactor to produce uranium233 which can be used to make a bomb. The bare critical mass (of the uncompressed U233) is 16.13 kilograms, compared to 10 kilograms for plutonium and 47.53 kilograms for U235. However, because of a very highly radioactive impurity (U232) in the U233 produced from thorium, it is difficult to work with to produce a bomb. The United States did however test at least one composite atomic bomb made from both U233 and plutonium in Yucca Flats, Nevada, in April 1955. The 800-pound bomb yielded the equivalent of 22,000 tons of TNT. [Info source: Richard Rhodes, The Twilight of the Bombs (2010), p. 156.]
The act or process of thinking, or a particular result of that process in a specific case.
“It is impossible to separate thought from matter that thinks.” —From a summary of the philosopher Hobbes’ materialist views, prepared by Marx & Engels in their early book, The Holy Family (1845), MECW 4:129. Engels reprints this sentence with quite apparent approval, and puts it in italics, in his “Introduction to the English Edition” of Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, April 20, 1892, in the 1975 Peking edition of that pamphlet, p. 17; and in MECW 27:284. [This understanding of thought appears to be in accord with the modern materialist and functionalist understanding of the mind and mental phenomena, and coming as it did that far back is remarkably prescient. —Ed.]
“THOUGHT” (As a system of political ideology, as in “Mao Tse-tung Thought”)
1. [As used by the Communist Party of China during the Mao era:] The application of Marxism-Leninism to the specific conditions in a particular country which allows the revolutionary party in that country to successfully achieve power and to genuinely begin the process of transforming society into socialism and eventually communism. Thus “Mao Tse-tung Thought” was viewed as a body of specific theory, ideas, policies and programs which led to the successful application of the more general theory of Marxism-Leninism in the Chinese Revolution.
Implicit in this terminology is the idea that Marxism-Leninism is a general theory which may need to be adapted to the specific conditions in different countries, but that these adaptations—however necessary—do not amount to such a total change or revision that the term “Marxism-Leninism” becomes obsolete or needs to be replaced. In the case of China, Mao created a whole new strategy for revolution (Protracted People’s War based on the peasantry engaging in guerrilla warfare in the countryside and first surrounding the cities) which was so different from the strategy of the Russian Revolution that it did indeed require some new terminology. Consequently, before the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution the core, at least, of “Mao Tse-tung Thought” was this new strategy of PPW. However, in China’s socialist society and with the GPCR in particular, Mao added another extremely important new approach, of continuing the revolution under the proletarian dicatorship. This was such an important departure from previous history in the Soviet Union that it also became a major component of “Mao Tse-tung Thought”. These were the two most important contributions by Mao to Marxist-Leninist theory, though there were many others. (See: MAO ZEDONG—Contributions of to Revolutionary Theory and Practice)
While Mao, for better or worse, did make use of a major personality cult around himself, especially during the GPCR, he never approved of any change that would place his own name on a par with that of Marx and Lenin. Nevertheless, we genuine followers of Mao—and recognizing his truly world shaking contributions to revolutionary theory—have since Mao’s death generally dropped the phrase “Mao Tse-tung Thought” and have appropriately switched over to referring to our revolutionary science as “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism”, or just “Maoism” for short.
Oddly, it is mostly in China itself where this switch has not been made. Instead of acknowledging Mao’s great contributions, the capitalist-roaders in China have made it their business to knock Mao down while instead promoting their own imagined greatness.
2. [As used by other revolutionary parties:] The political strategies, lines, policies and methods adopted by any party are of course associated with the individual leaders who propose and defend them. Traditionally, the term line was the most common way of referencing all this. Thus, after Lenin’s death and the defeat of the European revolutionary upsurge following World War I, Stalin championed the line of building “socialism in one country”, while Trotsky proposed a far more adventurist line which would have led to the early destruction of the Soviet Union. But more recently some revolutionary parties have begun talking about their general lines and adaptations of Marxism-Leninism to their countries as the “Path” or “Thought” of a particular leader. Unfortunately, many of these supposedly correct “paths” have turned out to be failures, such as in Peru and Nepal. While it may be understandable that some parties will come to use terms such as “Path” or “Thought” to describe the specific general line of their top leader, one would hope that they would refrain from doing so at least until that “Path” or “Thought” has proved itself correct and achieved major success!
3. [As used by the current national bourgeoisie running China today:] The recognition of an individual’s “Thought” is the highest level of glorification used to describe Chinese leaders and their now fascist party. The Sixth Plenum of the CCP Eleventh Central Committee in 1981 described “Mao Zedong Thought” as the “crystalization of the collective wisdom of the CCP”, and even claimed that much of it was not created by Mao at all, but rather by nefarious individuals such as Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping! After his death, Deng’s “Thought” was specifically mentioned in the Chinese constitution, and with the Nineteenth Party Congress just concluded (Oct. 2017), the current top ruler of capitalist-imperialist China, Xi Jinping, also had his “Thought” proclaimed. The official ideology of the CCP is now called “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. This is said to “build on and further enrich Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development”. (Egad!) There is now a whole hierarchy of terms for the systems of ideas of Chinese big-shot rulers, ranging from “view” or “perspective” [guan] at the bottom, to the middle tribute of “theory” [lilun], and then up to the pinnacle of “Thought” [sixiang]. “Which word is used depends upon how important the originator of the idea is considered to be.” [Economist, Oct. 21, 2017, p. 45.]
See: “BRAINWASHING”, CONTROLLING OUR OWN THOUGHTS
A thought experiment is a theoretical consideration based on known or presumed facts and theories which is designed to generate implied consequences which either support those theories and presumed facts, or else bring them into serious question. Conceiving of specific thought experiments is thus one important means of testing and rationalizing scientific theories. Thought experiments have played an important role in the development of physics and other sciences.
Galileo, for example, probably did not actually perform the famous experiment often attributed to him, of simultaneously dropping two equally sized balls of different weights off the Tower of Pisa to see if the heavier one would fall faster than the lighter one. Instead he used a thought experiment to convince himself that they would fall equally fast. One variation of this thought experiment is to imagine first two balls of equal weight dropping beside each other, and then the absurdity of thinking that they would both fall faster if a string or hook held them close together and made them into a “single system” with twice the weight. Other famous thought experiments in physics include Schrödinger’s Cat and the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Thought Experiment, both being attempts to help us correctly understand quantum mechanics.
In the case of Galileo’s thought experiment about gravity an actual physical experiment could have easily been carried out instead (or in addition), but in other cases of thought experiments, it is impractical, or impossible, or perhaps morally wrong to actually perform them in the real world. For example we may try to determine theoretically what the climate consequences of a worldwide thermonuclear war might be (such as a “nuclear winter”), but actually purposefully performing the “physical experiment” of having such a war to test the theory is totally out of the question.
There is a very important role for thought experiments in revolutionary politics. As much as possible, the leaders of the masses need to know what the actual effects of promoting certain mass actions will be before they start to actually promote them! They need to think through, as best as possible, what the results of various policy alternatives might be (with respect to promoting both the immediate and long term interests of the people).
Thus, in using the mass line method of leadership, we gather as many ideas from the masses as we can about how to advance the revolutionary struggle. For each of these ideas we perform a thought experiment, trying to imagine the results of the particular proposal, in light of everything we know (including MLM theory and the objective situation). The most promising “social thought experiment” is the one we pick to actually attempt to implement among the masses. Then, whether or not our ideas about what would happen actually proved correct, we begin the whole process again but with further knowledge and experience.
See also: INTUITION PUMP
A very common technique used by bourgeois politicians to fool the masses, whereby each bourgeois party attempts to more greatly exaggerate the threats to the people or the country if the opposing ruling-class party should be elected or re-elected. Since each side tries to outdo the other in presenting (or inventing) the threats, there is a general tendency for both sides to keep “upping the ante” and to get wilder and wilder in their claims about the differences between them; i.e., there is a tendency for the claimed threats to get more and more “inflated”.
Of course there are many things which do genuinely threaten the welfare of the working class and masses, and even their very lives in many cases, including wars, severe economic crises, and so forth. But it is generally in the interests of the ruling class to downplay the actual threats to the livelihood and lives of the people—unless the acknowledgement or exaggeration of these threats can serve the purposes of the ruling class as a whole, or else can be used to the advantage of one section of the ruling class against the other.
John F. Kennedy used the method of “threat inflation” when he (falsely) claimed that the Republican Administration of Eisenhower and Nixon had allowed a dangerous “missile gap” to develop in the great imperialist Cold War contest with the Soviet Union. This was an interesting turn-about, since “Threat inflation had been the predominant Republican strategy of the Cold War years, holding Democratic president after president to single terms; Clinton was the first Democrat to win a second term since Franklin Roosevelt.” [Richard Rhodes, Twilight of the Bombs (2010), p. 239.] Since the Cold War, the “threats” the Republicans in particular like to use against the Democrats include those about Blacks or the “underclass”, immigrants, “socialists”, Gays, and so forth. However, George W. Bush and the Republicans used the same sort of “threat inflation” against those who opposed their imperialist war against Iraq in 2003 by falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaeda and that Iraq had acquired a dangerous hoard of “weapons of mass destruction” (which could never be found because they really didn’t exist).
Both the Trump side and the Democratic side used greatly exaggerated “threat inflation” against each other in the 2020 election. Indeed, this ever-stronger tendency in bourgeois elections to grossly exaggerate the importance of the victory of one side over the other is a major factor in the ever-intensifying polarization within American society. Curiously, this shows how the increasingly frantic desire of the opposed sub-sections of the bourgeoisie to defeat each other is actually starting to become a threat to the continued rule of the bourgeoisie as a whole!
Vicious, murderous policy of “kill all, burn all, loot all” which was employed by the Japanese military invaders during at least the last four years of their long and horrifying imperialist war against China (1937-1946).
“Though the absolute number of Japanese troops in occupied China seems high, they were actually spread thin in so vast a territory. Japanese policy was to control strategic points, especially along China’s railroads, and to set up local administrations by inducing local Chinese to collaborate with them. This made them susceptible to enemy infiltration, resistance, and guerrilla action, in central and south China, by armed bands under Nationalist control and more famously in the north by forces belonging to the Communist Eighth Route and Fourth Route armies. Years after the war, Japanese veterans testified that starting in 1942, in an attempt to cope with this difficult situation, Japan carried out what came in China to be termed the ‘Three Alls’ policy—kill all, burn all, loot all—which meant savage reprisals against villages for harboring guerrillas and against any individuals suspected of opposing Japanese rule. Japanese scholars have estimated that 2.7 million Chinese were killed as a result of that policy. Herbert Bix, Emperor Hirohito’s most recognized American biographer, concludes that the atrocities carried out as a result of the Three Alls policy were ‘incomparably more destructive and of far longer duration than either the army’s chemical and biological warfare or the “rape of Nanking”’ in 1938.” —Richard Bernstein, China 1945 (2014), pp. 75-76. [Bernstein is an bourgeois American historian. The number of deaths because of this genocidal policy against the Chinese was probably much higher than the Japanese scholars referred to have admitted. —Ed.]
THREE ANTI CAMPAIGN (China: 1951)
A mass movement launched by the Communist Party of China in 1951 focused against corruption, waste, and bureaucratic obstructionism within the Party, the People’s government and the economy.
“THREE CONSTANTLY READ ARTICLES”
A term used in Maoist China, and especially during the period of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, to refer to the following three articles by Mao: “Serve the People”, “In Memory of Norman Bethune”, and “The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains”. These three articles were no doubt given special emphasis because they strongly promote the basic proletarian moral principles of selflessly helping others and working for the collective welfare of the people. Another, less common term for these same articles was “the three good old articles”.
“THREE-EIGHT WORKING STYLE”
A term used in Maoist China (which in Chinese is written in three phrases and eight additional characters), for a manner of political work which consists of:
A firm, correct political orientation;
A plain, hard-working style;
Flexibility in strategy and tactics; and
Unity, alertness, earnestness and liveliness. (Note that despite the “three” and “eight” numbers in common, this is not the same thing as the THREE MAIN RULES OF DISCIPLINE AND EIGHT POINTS FOR ATTENTION described in an entry below.)
“THREE-IN-ONE” REVOLUTIONARY COMMITTEES
A provisional form of revolutionary rule developed in China in 1968 during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, when political power was re-captured from the revisionists and capitalist-roaders within the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government. The three-in-one revolutionary committees consisted of a combination of revolutionary cadres, representatives of the People’s Liberation Army and representatives of the revolutionary masses.
“In every place or unit where power must be seized, it is necessary to carry out the policy of the revolutionary ‘three-in-one’ combination in establishing a provisional organ of power which is revolutionary and representative and enjoys proletarian authority. This organ of power should preferably be called the Revolutionary Committee.” —Mao, quoted in Peking Review, #43, Oct. 25, 1968, p. 21.
“There are three elements in the basic experience of the revolutionary committee: It embraces representatives of the revolutionary cadres, representatives of the armed forces and representatives of the revolutionary masses, constituting a revolutionary ‘three-in-one’ combination. The revolutionary committee should exercise unified leadership, eliminate duplication in the administrative structure, follow the the policy of ‘better troops and simpler administration’ and organize a revolutionized leading group which links itself with the masses.” —Mao, quoted in Peking Review, #43, Oct. 25, 1968, p. 21.
“THREE MAIN RULES OF DISCIPLINE AND EIGHT POINTS FOR ATTENTION”
These are rules of conduct that members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army were required to follow during the Mao era, and which helped the PLA to truly serve the interests of the masses and win their support during the Chinese Revolution. The three main rules of discipline were:
1) Obey orders in all your actions;
2) Don’t take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses;
3) Turn in everything captured.
The eight points for attention were:
1) Speak politely;
2) Pay fairly for what you buy;
3) Return everything you borrow;
4) Pay for anything you damage;
5) Don’t hit or swear at people;
6) Don’t damage crops;
7) Don’t take liberties with women;
8) Don’t ill-treat captives.
(Despite the use of the same numbers, this is not the same thing as the “THREE-EIGHT WORKING STYLE” described in an entry above.)
“THREE OURS”, The (Of the RCP.)
This refers to the following set of three slogans formerly prominently promoted by the RCPUSA in its newspaper and on its web site:
“Our ideology is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism,
Our vanguard is the Revolutionary Communist Party,
Our leader is Chairman Avakian.”
There are obviously some serious problems with these slogans. The second, for example, proclaimed the RCP as the “vanguard”, when in fact it had not even begun to lead the American working class toward revolution in any noticeable way. And the third slogan set up Bob Avakian as the permanent and unchallengeable leader of the Party, which is both anti-scientific and anti-democratic. But strangely enough, it was discomfort about the first slogan that led the RCP to quietly drop the “Three Ours”, circa 2008. Instead of calling the science of revolution “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism”, as they formerly did, they now call it simply “communism”.
The explanation for this change offered by Party members is that this does not mean that “Mao is being demoted”, but rather that this has to do with breaking with “religious trends in the ICM” that supposedly led communists to uncritically uphold Marx, Lenin and Mao, and never admit they made any errors. (This is quite ironic in light of the religious cult of personality around Avakian which the RCP has created, and their refusal to admit that Avakian ever makes any errors!) In addition, the RCP thought that the first slogan somehow implied that we don’t need to further develop our revolutionary science, while they believe that with the defeat of China we are in a new stage of development of communism as a science. The strong suspicion among some of those not in the RCP is that Avakian made this change because he knew they could not get away with calling his supposed “new synthesis” “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism-Avakianism”. This calls to mind the old principle of bourgeois success: “It is not enough that I am honored and raised up; others must also be knocked down!”
“THREE SOURCES AND THREE COMPONENT PARTS OF MARXISM, The”
A brief but important 1913 article by Lenin explaining the philosophical, economic and socialist political sources and components of Marxism. Available online at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1913/mar/x01.htm
“In this brief article Lenin explains how the teachings of Marx ‘arose
as a direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives
of philosophy, political economy and socialism.’
“Lenin shows how, taking as his point of departure the highest point reached by his predecessors, Marx revolutionized both philosophy, political economy and socialism.
“Marx’s philosophy is materialism, and he deepened and developed materialism by means of the conception of dialectics. He carried materialism to its conclusion in historical materalism, by wedding it to the understanding of human society, showing that the economic order of society is the basis on which the whole political and ideological superstructure of society arises.
“Marx then studied the economic order of modern capitalist society. The doctrine of surplus value is the cornerstone of his economic theory. He traced the development of capitalism from the first germs of commodity economy and simple exchange to its highest forms, to large-scale production, showing that the capitalist system creates the great power of combined labor.
“Marx elaborated the doctrine of the class struggle, showing that the working class was the social force which was capable of becoming the creator of a new social system.”
—Maurice Cornforth, ed., Readers’ Guide to the Marxist Classics (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1952), p. 2. [Cornforth also refers readers to Lenin’s article “Marxism and Revisionism” (1908), now online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1908/apr/03.htm where Lenin shows how the revisionists “revise” all three of these component parts of Marxism. —Ed.]
“THREE SUPPORTS AND TWO MILITARIES”
A term popularized in China’s People’s Liberation Army during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which referred to the important tasks of the PLA to: 1) Support China’s industry; 2) Support its agriculture; 3) Support the broad masses of the Left in the ongoing political struggle; 4) Military control (maintaining proper control of the military); and 5) Political and Military training in the PLA.
“THREE WORLDS” THEORY
The name given to several related versions of a geo-political theory, some of which are mostly correct (or innocuous), but the worst versions of which are very wrong and dangerous indeed! This theory starts from the straightforward recognition that the countries of the world in the 1970s could be analyzed as consisting of three distinct groups: The First World, consisting of the two superpowers, the United States and the revisionist Soviet Union, both of which were imperialist countries seeking to totally dominate and exploit the world in their own interests; the Second World, consisting of the other junior imperialist or advanced capitalist countries; and the Third World, consisting of all the other countries, including most of the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, which were dominated and exploited by imperialism, especially by the two superpowers. So far there is nothing very contentious in this theory, and pretty much every sophisticated person (except for the supporters of one or the other superpower) understood the world situation in roughly this way at the time. Mao, for example, is quoted as saying to a leader of some unidentified Third World country in February 1974:
“In my view, the United States and the Soviet Union form the first world. Japan, Europe and Canada, the middle section, belong to the second world. We are the third world.... The third world has a huge population. With the exception of Japan, Asia belongs to the third world. The whole of Africa belongs to the third world, and Latin America too.” —Mao, quoted in Peking Review, #45, Nov. 4, 1977, p. 11.
The important question, however, is exactly what use was (or is) to be made of this 3-way
analysis? Mao sought to make use of it to help create a united front of Third World countries
against the two superpower imperialist countries. That was no doubt reasonable and correct.
But some subsidiary views and uses of this theory, that Mao certainly didn’t agree with or
approve of, are quite another matter!
The countries of the “second world” were viewed as having a dual nature. On the one hand they shared in the exploitation of the Third World, but on the other hand they were also pushed around (to various degrees) by the two superpowers. This led to the notion that at least some of these “second world” countries might be won over to joining a united front against the two superpowers, at least on some matters. This was unrealistic with regard to most issues, however. The first goal of all imperialist countries is to defend the imperialist system.
This notion of being able to enlist the support of some “second world” junior imperialist countries in a united front against imperialism had as much persuasiveness as it did at that time only because there were then two superpowers in the “first world”, and the real goal was more and more to unite all other countries, imperialist or not, against just one of those superpowers, the revisionist social-imperialist Soviet Union. In effect the “three worlds theory” actually became a “four worlds theory”: one enemy superpower, one lesser-evil superpower, other junior imperialist countries, and all the other countries of the world—the “third world”. Given that the Soviet Union was on the verge of a military attack on China at the time it was understandable that China should look at things this way. But this was still not the basis for a revolutionary strategy of the people of the world against imperialism in general.
Much worse, however, was the tendency to support reactionary Third World regimes (as part of building a “united front” against the superpowers) instead of supporting the revolutionary masses in those countries in their efforts to overthrow those regimes! In theory, both of these rather contradictory things could be done simultaneously, but somehow even in revolutionary China the former seemed often to take precedence over the later. The tendency was to refrain from (or soft-pedal) criticizing the crimes of these reactionary regimes against their own people, and to be excessively cozy with Third World tyrants and imperialist lackies such as the Shah of Iran and the dictator Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. While building a united front of countries against imperialism is a good idea, that idea is perverted if it only amounts to being friendly towards lacky regimes completely controlled by the imperialists.
This in turn led to much confusion among revolutionary forces in these Third World countries. It is true that “state-to-state” relations are one thing and “party-to-party” relations are another thing. But this “Bandung spirit” of building a united front of Third World countries against imperialism seems to have helped promote seriously erroneous shifts in political line by some nominally Communist or revolutionary parties. One of the most notorious cases occurred in Indonesia where the KPI backed the bourgeois nationalist regime of Sukarno (rather than arming the masses as they should have been doing at that time), and were then destroyed in 1965 in a reactionary military coup and nationwide massacre directed by the CIA.
The “Three Worlds Theory”, in one form or another, was part of the thinking that lay behind the de facto foreign policy of the Chinese government for decades. While Zhou Enlai was alive, he was in charge of it. Aspects of it were criticized at times by Mao, and were also criticized during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and by the so-called “Gang of Four”. But after Mao’s death in September 1976, there was a huge burst of enthusiasm for the theory and the more anti-revolutionary policies it led to. Of course to cover themselves, the Chinese revisionists attributed this theory entirely to Mao personally, including its worst aspects and policies that Mao would have certainly opposed. The most thorough presentation of the theory by the CCP was in the long article “Chairman Mao’s Theory of the Differentiation of the Three Worlds Is a Major Contribution to Marxism-Leninism”, in Peking Review, #45, Nov. 4, 1977, online at: https://www.massline.org/PekingReview/PR1977/PR1977-45-ThreeWorldsTheory.pdf [PDF: 34 pages, 4,411 KB]. (Readers should be forewarned that some aspects of this theory as presented there sound pretty good in abstract terms; many of the disastrous problems associated with it are due to how it is actually invariably applied in practice.)
While the revisionist Soviet Union is now long gone, something like the Three Worlds Theory still exists in various forms. One expression of it is the common (but erroneous) view among many revolutionaries around the world that U.S. imperialism, as the only remaining superpower, is the only foreign enemy to focus on in anti-imperialist or revolutionary work. A corollary view is that other imperialist countries, such as Britain and France, are of little concern in anti-imperialist work, and might even be united with and supported at times in opposition to the United States. And China is often not yet recognized as an imperialist country at all, even though in reality it is already the second most important and powerful imperialist country in the world, and is rapidly rising while U.S. imperialism is clearly declining and becoming more and more vulnerable, especially economically.
Other views which have commonalities with the “Three Worlds” Theory are World Systems Theory, and the “Triad” conception (of Samir Amin) which also fail to recognize China as a rapidly strengthening imperialist power.
See also: “THIRD WORLD”
“Even during the 1970-1973 period, the CCP’s view of the international
situation had serious problems. Its position was that the two superpowers (the U.S. and
the Soviet Union — ‘the first world’) were the principal enemies on a world scale; the
Western imperialists and Japan (the ‘second world’) were part of an international united
front against the superpowers; and the “peoples and countries of the third world’ were
the most reliable revolutionary force in opposing the superpowers.
“As a perspective for the world’s revolutionary movement, this analysis was flawed. It detached the U.S. and Soviet Union from the imperialist system as a whole; it downplayed the reactionary nature of the other imperialist countries in Western Europe, Japan, Canada and Oceania; and it advanced a classless conception of nationalism by lumping together the oppressed peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America with their rulers, who had limited contradictions, if at all, with one or another imperialist power.
“Some of the problems with the ‘three worlds perspective’ were reflected in a widely quoted statement attributed to Mao, ‘Countries want independence, nations want liberation, and the people want revolution.’ Mao’s eclectic statement, which tended to place struggles of Third World countries for national independence on a par with revolutionary movements, shared some aspects of the Bandung line associated with Zhou in the 1950s and 1960s.
“... While Mao advocated tactical unity in some areas with the U.S. in order to deal with the Soviet threat to China, after 1973 Deng and Zhou sought to implement a strategic alliance and political understanding with U.S. imperialism. This took the form of the fully developed ‘Three Worlds Theory.”....
“As a result of the dominant position achieved by the revisionist forces after 1973, China began to withdrew support for revolutionary movements in the Third World. Parades of U.S. puppets were honored in Beijing for their contributions to ‘the struggle against Soviet hegemonism.’ In 1975, the Chinese government supported the U.S. and South African-backed UNITA in the Angolan civil war — in the name of defeating the Soviet Union’s attempts to gain a strategic foothold in Africa through its support for the MPLA.
“In the Middle East, China’s prior support for revolutionary movements was reversed. Chinese aid to revolutionary forces in the Gulf States was dropped in favor of diplomatic ties with Oman. Another sign of this reversal of Chinese foreign policy was a speech by Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua in 1975 in which he said that China was reconciled to the existence of Israel as a ‘fait accompli.’....
“Thus, the counter-revolutionary developments in Chinese foreign policy in the mid-1970s were a direct outgrowth of the Three Worlds Theory and the revisionists in the CCP who spawned it. This threw many Maoist parties and organizations around the world into a tailspin, from which most never recovered.” —Excerpts from pages 30-34 of the excellent article, “Chinese Foreign Policy during the Maoist Era and its Lessons for Today”, by the MLM Revolutionary Study Group in the U.S. (January 2007), online at http://www.mlmrsg.com/attachments/article/74/ChForPol-Final-4-09.pdf
“An important weakness of the ‘three worlds perspective’ was that it did not make a correct analysis of the imperialist system as a whole. This theoretical framework sowed confusion about the nature of the ‘Second World’—the other Western imperialist powers–and exaggerated their conflicts with the U.S. This perspective was reshaped by Deng and other revisionists into the Three Worlds Theory, which asserted that the West European and Asian imperialist powers played a progressive role in the world by defending their national independence against the Soviet Union, the “most dangerous” imperialist superpower. This essentially called on revolutionary and Maoist forces, especially in Western Europe, to support, or stop opposing, their own bourgeoisies and various oppressor regimes which opposed the Soviet Union.” —Ibid., p. 38.
See also: ANGLE OF REPOSE
“Thresholds pervade science! And a great many of them, including
most or all of those mentioned [earlier], are usually in practice fixed or ‘absolute’
thresholds. In the strictest sense none of these may be ‘absolute’ thresholds,
but in specific contexts, under standard conditions and so forth, and within reasonable
limits, virtually all of them are. That is their utility.
“But what about social science, and political economy specifically? Here too we find many thresholds, and many of them are pretty much fixed, or ‘absolute’, under standard conditions and in specific contexts. When, for example, do the capitalists invest in new plants and machinery? Although there are individual exceptions and miscalculations, in general, and normally, they invest when they have a reasonable expectation that the new investment will return profits at least at the level of the prevailing average rate of profit. That is, they invest when profit expectations reach a certain threshold, and not before. Another example comes in the concept of differential rent, which in agriculture is the rent over and above the threshold level of absolute rent (the rent a land owner can still obtain on the worst land being farmed). Likewise, the prices of agricultural commodities must rise to the threshold value determined by the production conditions on the worst plots of land which it is necessary to farm to meet market demand.
“It is true, of course, that in social science and political economy—as in other spheres of science—not all thresholds are definite and fixed (even under standard or prevailing conditions) in the way that the examples mentioned above are. Sometimes we really do have to talk about a much more vague type of threshold. Marx gave a classic example of this in his famous presentation of the principles of historical materialism in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859):
‘At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or—this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms—with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.’ [Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Moscow: Progress, 1970 (1859)), p. 21.
“Marx is evidently talking about a threshold of sorts here, a stage in the development of an economic system when the relations of production become more of a hindrance than a force propelling production forward. But this is at a very high level of abstraction and generality. At what year in European feudal society was this threshold reached? When, even, in the development of capitalism did it happen, exactly? There is no precise answer to such questions, and not simply because our knowledge of history is incomplete. These are not quite the same sorts of definite thresholds that boiling points are.
“It may even be true that this vaguer, more indefinite type of threshold may be more common in social science than in the physical and biological sciences (though they occur there as well)....
“It is not my intention to deny that there is ever any validity to the new RCP methodological ‘principle’ against ‘absolute’ thresholds. But I am convinced that it is not generally valid, and I know for sure that it is not always valid, even in social science—let alone in science in general.” —Scott Harrison, “Notes on Notes on Political Economy” (Feb. 25, 2000), online at: https://www.massline.org/PolitEcon/ScottH/NotesNPE.htm. [In their belated, very inadequate self-criticism entitled Notes on Political Economy in 2000, the RCPUSA argued against any methodology that “involves notions of ‘absolute thresholds’—development having a fixed end-point or reaching a point past which this or that has to happen.” The above excerpt is part of Scott’s criticism of that RCP claim. —Ed.]
A weapon planted [by police] at a crime scene in order to mislead investigation, especially in situations where deadly force would only have been justified if the victim were armed. Also an untraceable weapon kept in readiness for such use. [From the online Wiktionary.]
The historical fact that when a rising economic and political power confronts an existing powerful, but declining, hegemonic power, there seems in many cases no way to avoid a major war which results in terrible damage to both sides. In his history of the Peloponnesian War of 431-404 BCE, Thucydides said that “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Many modern wars have also followed this same pattern, as with the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) in which rising Germany defeated declining France; the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) in which rising Japanese imperialism quickly defeated the moribund Russian empire; and, much more seriously than either of those wars, World War I, in which rising German imperialism (once again) came up against the established imperialist powers of Britain, France and Russia, until the contest was tilted against Germany with the late participation of also rising U.S. imperialism as an additional opponent. And World War II, in Europe anyway, was in many respects simply “round two”, a continuation of World War I.
While “Thucydides’s Trap” may well be a general truth of history in the entire era of the existence of social classes, it is especially dangerous in the modern capitalist-imperialist era. Not only is the law of uneven development at least as true as ever, technology has now developed to the point where inter-imperialist war becomes ever more devastating—even to the point where today the continued existence of humanity itself is in extremely serious jeopardy should an all-out inter-imperialist nuclear war occur.
In the 21st century it is now China which is the rising capitalist-imperialist power, while the old hegemon, the United States, is clearly in a long period of economic and political decline. One of the recent books bringing attention to this increasingly dangerous situation is Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?, by the bourgeois author Graham Allison (2017). A similar warning from a Maoist perspective is in: Is China an Imperialist Country?, by N. B. Turner, et al., (2014), available online at: https://www.bannedthought.net/International/Red-Path/01/RP-8.5x11-IsChinaAnImperialistCountry-140320.pdf
“[In his book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape
Thucydides’s Trap? (2017)] Mr Allison has examined 16 similar cases since the
15th century. All but four ended in war. Mr Allison does not say that war between
China and the United States is inevitable, but he thinks it ‘more likely than
“This alarming conclusion is shared by many in Washington, where Mr Allison’s book is causing a stir....
“War would be disastrous for both sides, but that does not mean it cannot happen. No one wanted the first world war, yet it started anyway, thanks to series of miscalculations. The Soviet Union and America avoided all-out war, but they came close. During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when the Soviets tried to smuggle nuclear missiles onto Cuba, 90 miles (145km) from Florida, there were at least a dozen close calls that could have led to war. When American ships dropped explosives around Soviet submarines to force them to surface, one Soviet captain thought he was under attack and nearly fired his nuclear torpedoes. When an American spy plane flew into Soviet airspace, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, worried that America was scoping targets for a nuclear first strike. Had he decided to pre-empt it, a third world war could have followed.
“China and America could blunder into war in several ways, argues Mr Allison. A stand-off over Taiwan could escalate. North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, might die without an obvious heir, sparking chaos. American and Chinese special forces might rush into North Korea to secure the regime’s nuclear weapons, and clash. A big cyber-attack against America’s military networks might convince it that China was trying to blind its forces in the Pacific. American retaliation aimed at warning China off might have the opposite effect. Suppose that America crippled China’s Great Firewall, as a warning shot, and China saw this as an attempt to overthrow its government? With Donald Trump in the White House, Mr Allison worries that even a trade war might turn into a shooting war.”
—“China and America: Fated to Fight?”, Economist, in a review of Graham Allison’s book, July 8, 2017, p. 73.
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