The Irish Communist Group of the mid-1960s, the subject of the article “Stoking up on theory” in the last issue of Solidarity, was part of a wider scene of Trotskyist-Maoist regroupment efforts at the time.
Stalinist Beijing and Moscow had fallen out in the early 60s. The Chinese criticised Moscow from the “left” — for instance, questioning the dogma of the Stalinist parties controlled by Moscow that there could be a peaceful parliamentary road to socialism. If you didn’t know, or let yourself forget, what and who Mao and his comrades were, it was good Marxist critique of Moscow and East European Stalinism.
The Maoists traced what they called Moscow’s “modern revisionism” to the 20th congress of the CPSU, at the beginning of 1956, the one in which Stalin’s heir Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin as a mass murderer. Groups of pro-Chinese “Marxist-Leninists”, as they called themselves, formed in and then outside some Communist Parties. They were pre-1956 revolutionary Stalinists, cherishing the memory and implicitly the deeds and politics of Stalin.
Maoists in and after the Cultural Revolution (1966) would usually be political quasi-lunatics. Before the Cultural Revolution they included some more sober old-time Stalinists critical of the Western CPs. Naturally the Orthodox Trotskyists paid attention, wrote analyses of the Moscow-Beijing “debate”, etc. When, around 1963, independent “Marxist-Leninist” groups were formed, the Trotskyists approached them for discussion, common work, etc.
For instance, in Belgium the group led by Ernest Mandel approached the small Maoist party there. The Mandel side of a Fourth International that had reunified in 1963 after a ten-year split with the supporters of James P Cannon and the American SWP thought of China as a deformed workers’ state. A working-class revolution against the state, what in relation to Stalinist Russia the Orthodox Trotskyists called a political revolution, was not necessary.
In fact they were critical supporters of the Maoist regime. They argued that the “great revolutionary” Mao was, unconsciously, the political heir of Trotsky (for instance, in an introduction by Pierre Frank to a French-language collection of Trotsky’s writings in 1955). They could come out for a new revolution in China — a “political revolution” — in 1969.
In the first half of the 1960s, when the Orthodox Trotskyists made approaches to Maoists, they were relating to people with whom they had much in common and whose criticism of “Moscow” they thought valid (with the exception of the Maoists’ attitude to a Third World War, that it was nothing to be afraid of). In fact, however, it was all in vain. There could be no rapprochement between Mao-Stalinists and Trotskyists, even Trotskyists gone seriously soft on Maoism.