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Combat Liberalism is a 1937 pamphlet published by Mao Zedong, that helps to demonstrate that "liberalism" is criticised from the left, as well as the right. (Who knew?) However, it must be noted that "liberalism" here refers to all mainstream pro-capitalist viewpoints — so most forms of conservatism are also liberalism, but paleoconservatism, fascism and some reactionaries (read: those promoting mercantillist guilds) may actually avoid criticism. Furthermore, anything to the left of social liberalism wouldn't be considered "liberal" in this instance. Even social democracy tends to oppose capitalism and introduce social safety nets and state-planning to counter whatever effects they consider harmful.
The pamphlet was written as a way of defining (or redefining) what liberalism meant in the Chinese communist context, and establishing it as an "other" or boogeyman that was opposed to Maoist thought. It also seeks to identify the ways in which liberalism could pose a threat to, and weaken, the Maoist movement, and thus identify and provide steps for dealing with any liberals that might be found in their midst.
Types of liberalism
Mao identifies a number of types of liberalism, and ways in which liberals can fall short of the ideal of a good communist citizen. Abridged somewhat, liberals are people who:
- Refrain from calling out their friends and acquaintances when they go astray, out of a misguided desire not to rock the boat.
- Gossip behind people's backs, rather than submitting their concerns to the local party.
- Ignore important issues that do not affect them, and avoid blame and responsibility.
- Pride their own opinions over the orders of others, and demand special consideration.
- Make personal attacks and pick quarrels rather than promoting unity and debating rationally.
- Hear wrong views without correcting them.
- Fail to agitate and spread their political views.
- Fail to stop, or feel indignant at, wrong or counter-revolutionary views.
- Muddle along half-heartedly, without putting themselves into their work.
- Are proud of their contribution to social change, and refuse to involve themselves in more menial tasks because of it.
- Are aware of their mistakes, but do little to nothing to change them.
In this survey of liberal style, a number of different themes can be observed. One of the foremost is the notion that liberals are lazy, or not zealous enough in their attempts to deal with incorrect, harmful, or counter-revolutionary principles in their society. Whether or not we agree with these observations, it's still possible to see where they originate: in liberal ideas of self-determination, and the freedom of people to hold their own opinions. Closely linked to this is a sense of liberals as individualistic and anti-communitarian individuals who promote their own interests and well-being above that of the collective (possibly justifiable, but a little more debatable). Liberalism "robs" the revolutionary ranks of compact organization and strict discipline, prevents policies from being carried through and alienates the Party organizations from the masses which the Party leads.
Overriding all of this, however, is a strong sense of liberals as the enemy, especially as far as attempts to coordinate and manage society into the communist ideal are concerned. Mao states this explicitly on a number of occasions, describing liberalism as "conflict[ing] fundamentally with Marxism," and claiming that "we must use Marxism, which is positive in spirit, to overcome liberalism, which is negative." Liberalism, for Mao, is everything that Marxism is not, and an excellent "other" to hold in opposition to the communist movement.
MLK makes similar criticisms of the "white moderate," noting that they "prefer the negative peace of a lack of tension to the positive peace of justice." It could be argued that resentment with establishment politics (the eponymous "liberalism" or "white moderate") is a common feature amongst anti-establishment movements of all types, seeing as it is frustration with the status quo that motivates anti-establishment politics in the first place.
Mao's view of liberalism
Elsewhere in the piece, Mao paints a fairly typical view of liberalism as a degenerate, decadent political belief system, suggesting that it:
“”…rejects ideological struggle and stands for unprincipled peace, thus giving rise to a decadent, Philistine attitude and bringing about political degeneration in certain units and individuals in the Party and the revolutionary organizations.
|—Mao, Combat Liberalism, p1.|
This notion of liberalism as a weak, milksop ideology that rejects war and conflict in favour of mediocrity, and an "unprincipled peace" is common among authoritarian movements that seek to replace it with a more dynamic, powerful one.
- Combat Liberalism from September 7, 1937, on the Marxist Internet Archive, translated by the Maoist Documentation Project
- "Martin Luther King Jr's scathing critique of moderates from the Birmingham jail" - Washington Post. Published Jan. 15th, 2018.