Throughout history human societies have deified and worshiped certain leaders or invented icons or ‘Gods’ for the same purpose. This is an expression of the mysticism of the religious practices in the primitive stages of human production. The power of nature over humans, scarcity and educated men on the whole ruling over the people, controlling them led to the supposed divinity of certain people in the eyes of the many. The authorities used this regard for divinity of certain leaders as a tool of control as a means by which they could discourage the people from thinking themselves. Despite the advances which were bought about by capitalism and the development of technology up to its present stage, mystical ideas and ideologies are very common all over the world. This should be no surprise given that bourgeois society promotes metaphysical thinking, individualism and subjectivism. It has relied on the perpetuation of the main religions and spiritualism because often they provide hope for many oppressed and exploited people. This leads to a disregard and ignorance and distrust of scientific thinking and rigorous scientific testing of theory.
One particular form of this mysticism is the cult of the individual. The bourgeois ideology of individualism is taught to everyone from birth and is promoted in schools, media, universities and, of course, the workplace. It effects our attitude to analysing social phenomena and historical change. The idea of the big men who make history with the masses as passive spectators or sheep is a common explanation given in bourgeois schools for the historical process. Bourgeois ideological hegemony is insidious. It is no surprise (and would be unusual if it were otherwise) that revolutionary movements can carry these bourgeois ideas and even promote them.
The cult of the individual is one such hangover from the past that has played a negative role in the Communist movement. There is nothing Communist in this in itself. The cult of the individual has existed throughout the ages around kings, queens, military leaders, spiritual gurus and celebrity entertainers. They have promoted the infallibility of a single leader, a “genius” whose every word and thought is correct, guiding and beyond question. Some of the best and outstanding revolutionary leaders of the Communist movement have ended up at the centre of such cultish devotion; Vladimir Lenin. Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung have all had cults of the individual developed around them which have reached bizarre religious proportions. The cult has always ended up being used as a counter-revolutionary weapon and it could not be otherwise with such a reactionary phenomenon. Both Stalin and Mao were critical of the cult of the individual although they did not struggle enough against it when they could have done so. Mao opportunistically believed he could used the cult to further spread the message of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution but it ended up being used against it by Lin Piao and later Deng Xiaping. In the 1950s Mao had pointed out the reactionary nature of the cult of the individual:
“The cult of the individual is a rotten carry-over from the long history of mankind. The cult of the individual is rooted not only in the exploiting classes but also in the small producers. As is well known, patriarchalism is a product of small-producer economy.”1
Comrade Mao was always emphatic that ‘Mao Tse-tung Thought’ was the summation of the experiences of millions of Chinese people making revolution and definitely not the sole creation of one clever individual. The Marxist theory of knowledge holds that all kinds of knowledge are social products arising out of the collective struggles of human beings to sustain their means of material life. Particular individuals may give clear expositions of such bodies of knowledge but they are the medium through which socially generated analyses of aspects of the world are expressed.
There are revolutionaries today who are again reviving the cult of the individual. This time it is Dr. Abismael Guzman (Gonzalo) who has become the focus of this mystical phenomenon. This leads to the formulation of an incorrect political line.
The capitulationist line of the Communist Party of Peru (Sendero Luminoso) leadership, it is argued. is not the result of the errors of these leaders and the conditions of the struggle. Rather it is argued that it is all down to individual traitors excluding Gonzalo, who is apparently free of any errors. It is claimed that he cannot take any responsibility for the capitulationist line, because he is Gonzalo, the Great Leader. The evidence points to the contrary. The Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (MOVADEV) political organisation bases its support for elections and ‘peace’ on the fact Gonzalo had called for this in letters and interviews. As far as they are concerned the line must be correct because it is “Gonzalo Thought” emanating from the head of the Great Leader and is the ultimate truth. The cultism around Gonzalo has played a role in the defeat of People’s War in Peru. The “theory” put forward to justify the cult of the individual is that of ‘Jefatura’ or ‘Great Leadership‘ developed by the CPP (Sendero Luminoso). It is once again being promoted today by the ‘Struggle Sessions’ Art House internet “Maoists” in the USA. This theory claims that the vanguard party and democratic centralism must have ‘Great Leadership’ which guides everything. This is not the practice of democratic centralism which is the centre of the political movement (not a top down hierarchy) and operates through the mass line. The same kind of justifications for the cult of the individual was put forward by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) with Prachandra Path and the Revolutionary Communist Party USA around Bob Avakian. In 1980 Avakian wrote a book titled ‘Mao Tse-tung’s Immortal Contributions’. This is another example of the religious style of worship some Communists have engaged in. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is a scientific theory and cannot be immortal as everything is in a constant state of change from quantitative to qualitative, a thing comes into being and changes and dies to be replaced by another. This is the fundamental understanding of dialectics. To claim Mao’s teaching is ‘immortal’ goes against it.
These are no different to the ‘Supreme Leadership’ theory promoted in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea around the Kim dynasty. Such a theory of ‘Jefatura’ is the result of a failure to the practise the mass line and the emergence of petty bourgeois individualism. The cult of the leader is a bourgeois ideology of egoism and individualism and it will always end up serving the ruling class. Khrushchev and the revisionists in the International Communist Movement of the past century used the attack on the cult of the individual as a cover to attack and abandon Marxism-Leninism, but as Althusser said, we have to attack the cult of the individual from the left as opposed to the approach of the revisionists. The accusations of “Khrushchevite revisionism” thrown at the Marxist–Leninist Communist Organization – Proletarian Way (OCML-VP) by the Parti Communists Maoiste (MCP) of France2 because of the formers criticisms of the Communist Party of Peru3 is an infantile attempt to discredit materialist criticisms of such cultish practices. It was, of course, the likes of Khrushchev who promoted the cult of Stalin in the first place and then used the reverse version of it to blame Stalin for every mistake or historical phenomena which had negative consequences to the building of socialism.
The cult is an ideal tool for the capitalist class. Someone at the top can do all the thinking for everyone; he is infallible, no one else knows better so follow and do not question, politics is the preserve of a few geniuses. The masses are just there to listen and play no initiating role. This is extreme individualism. It is the same practice that creates celebrity culture, stardom, fandom and idolatry of the rich. According to the cult, the individual and not the masses make history. Its aim is to stifle the initiative of the masses and has always been used against them. The ‘great man’ theory of history which has been promoted by bourgeois idealists like Aldous Huxley is repeated throughout bourgeois society. Politics and culture today are always put down to this or that leading individual of exceptional genius and even biological superiority. We see the media and smaller capitalist enterprises promoting the cult of people from Diana Spencer, Che Guevara and Jeremy Corbyn. Faith in an individual to do all things means no conscious political action by the masses. The cult of the individual has has hung like a lead chain around the neck of the Communist movement for decades. It’s time it was discarded into the dustbin of history!
1Mao Tse-tung, ‘Stalin’s \place in History’ from Peoples Daily editorial 5th April 1958, Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung Marxist Internet Archive <https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-7/mswv7_467.htm>
2‘To Defend the Life of Chairman Gonzalo is to Defend Maoism’ by Maoist Communist Party of France <https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://www.pcmaoiste.org/communique/defendre-la-vie-du-president-gonzalo-cest-defendre-le-maoisme/&prev=search>
3‘On Peoples War in Peru, the betryal by the leadership of the PCP and the capitulation of Gonzalo’ from Organisation Communiste Marxiste-Leniniste-Voie Proletarienne < http://ocml-vp.org/article1828.html>