Revolution #76, January 14, 2007
The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution
Living With and Transforming the Intermediate Strata in the Transition to Communism
And this relates to the very real and often acute contradiction between applying the united front under the leadership of the proletariat—the leadership of the proletariat, and not of the petty bourgeoisie, or some other class—all the way through the transition to communism on the one hand, and on the other hand, actually forging ahead through that transition and advancing to communism. So “solid core with a lot of elasticity” relates to this very real and often acute contradiction, which in turn relates to the point that Lenin made when he said that the first and, in a certain historical sense the easier, step is to overthrow and to appropriate the bourgeoisie (to expropriate the holdings of the bourgeoisie). And if this is, in a certain historical sense, an easier step, the more difficult process is one of, as Lenin put it, living with and transforming the middle strata in the transition to communism. This is a very profound point, and both aspects of this are important; this is once again a unity of opposites—living with and transforming the middle strata. If you set out only to live with them, you will end up surrendering power back, not to the petty bourgeoisie but in fact to the bourgeoisie; things will increasingly be on their terms. On the other hand, if you seek only to transform the petty bourgeoisie (speaking broadly, to refer to the intermediate strata of various kinds), you will end up treating them like the bourgeoisie and driving them into the camp of the bourgeoisie, seriously undermining the dictatorship of the proletariat, and you will end up losing power that way, also.
So there is, as Lenin emphasized, the need to live with and transform these middle strata, these intermediate strata, both in their material conditions as well as in their world outlook—and in the dialectical relation between the two. This goes back to my comment earlier, speaking to three basic class forces, the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, and the proletariat: the transition to communism aims to and must eliminate the basis for and the existence of all three of these groups, or classes, but the proletariat is the only one that doesn’t mind. The petty bourgeoisie definitely minds; it will continually strive to re-create its existence as a petty bourgeoisie and, indeed, will strive toward becoming the bourgeoisie, spontaneously. But you have to draw a clear distinction between the petty bourgeoisie (the intermediate strata) and the bourgeoisie, and not seek to exercise dictatorship over the petty bourgeoisie, which would drive them into the arms of the enemy—and, in that and in other ways, would work against our most fundamental objectives. (I will speak to that more fully in discussing the “parachute” point a little later.) On the other hand, you can’t simply allow these intermediate strata to follow the spontaneity of their own outlook and their own interests at any given time, or you will lose the whole thing that way.
As you move to uproot the soil that gives rise to capitalism and move beyond the sphere of commodity production and exchange—the law of value, the great difference between mental and manual labor, and all the production and social relations and the rest of the “4 Alls” (1) characteristic of capitalism—you are going to run into conflict with the interests of intermediate strata. And how to handle that, through the whole long transition from socialism to communism (which, again, can only happen on a world scale), is going to be a very, very tricky question and one that’s going to require a consistent application of materialist dialectics, in order to be able to win over, or at least politically neutralize, at any given time, the great majority of these intermediate strata—and prevent the counter-revolutionaries from mobilizing them, playing on grievances they may have, or playing on and preying on the ways in which things that you objectively and legitimately need to do may alienate sections of the petty bourgeoisie at a given time. And here again there is a real contradiction—which can become quite acute at times—between the necessity that you are, in fact and correctly, imposing on the petty bourgeoisie, while not exercising dictatorship over it, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the countervailing spontaneity and influence of the larger social and production relations which exist and which you have not thoroughly transformed—and, along with that, there is the larger world, which at any given time may be mainly characterized by reactionary production and social relations and the corresponding superstructure. You are not going to be able to deal with all this in such a way as to not only maintain the rule of the proletariat but to continue the advance toward communism, unless you can correctly handle the principle and strategic approach of solid core with a lot of elasticity.
In this regard we can say that there is a kind of application, under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of an important formulation in Strategic Questions (2) —which I won’t try to fully elaborate here, but it has to do with drawing dividing lines so that, at any given point, you unite the greatest number of people around positions which are, to the greatest degree possible, in the objective interests of the proletarian revolution, while at the same time winning as many as possible subjectively to that—or, in other words, winning as many as you can to be partisan toward the goal of proletarian revolution—without undermining the necessary unity at any given time. You can see that’s another “moving target”—it’s a living dynamic and a contradictory thing, sometimes in acute ways. And, in socialist society itself, particularly with regard to the middle strata, but more broadly and even among the proletarians, there is an application of that principle spoken to in Strategic Questions. But if you let go of the solid core, none of this would be possible. In terms of the four objectives I referred to earlier, in relation to the solid core in socialist society—including the importance of having the maximum elasticity possible at every given point—if you let go of the first point, holding onto power, none of the rest of it has any meaning. (3) So we can see how there is tremendous tension—or, another way to say it, there is very acute contradiction—involved in all this.
And, as I have spoken to, this involves a whole epistemological dimension as well as the political dimension. It involves the question of how not only the communists but the masses of people broadly actually come to a deeper and richer synthesis of the understanding of reality in any phase of things, through any process, and in turn have a stronger basis for transforming the world—without giving up what you’ve got at any given time, without letting go of the core of everything. This is what causes me to continually invoke the metaphor of being drawn and quartered. (4) If you think about this—if you actually try to think about this image of standing there at the core of all this, unleashing all this intellectual and political ferment in society, while at the same time you are seeking to bring into being certain material and ideological transformations that move toward communism and which run up against spontaneous inclinations, even of proletarians, and run up against certain vested interests of intermediate strata, and, of course, run fundamentally up against the bourgeoisie and the imperialists and other reactionary forces—you’re trying to do all that and (continuing the image) you’re holding on to the reins with each hand while people are running in all kinds of directions. If you really think about all that, you can see why I continue to invoke the metaphor of being drawn and quartered, if we don’t handle this correctly. But I am equally convinced that, if we don’t proceed in this way, we are not going to get, within the socialist country itself, the kind of process we need in order to get to communism (leaving aside for a minute the whole international dimension, which I will come back to).
Now, this principle of solid core with a lot of elasticity—and elasticity on the basis of the solid core, let me emphasize that once again—has to do with, is closely bound up with, another principle which is discussed in the talk on the dictatorship of the proletariat (5): namely, the great importance of distinguishing between those times and circumstances when it is necessary to pay finely calibrated attention to things and to insist that they be done “just this way,” and, on the other hand, those times and circumstances when it is not only not necessary to do that, but it would be harmful to do that. In the experience of our Party, for example, there have been various times and circumstances when it was necessary to pay very finely calibrated attention and insist on things being done exactly this way and not that way—and, along with that, to insist on things being very tightly in formation, so to speak. But then there have been many other circumstances where that has not been the case, and where to insist on this would be wrong and harmful. For example, relatively recently we have had debate about the Party Programme, inside as well as outside the Party, and we have had other processes in the Party where there have been debate and struggle over questions of line. This is not, and should not be, just a one-time or infrequent aspect of things—it is something that should find expression repeatedly, in the appropriate times and circumstances, in the ongoing political and ideological life of the Party.
As I pointed out in that talk on the dictatorship of the proletariat, this relationship between “opening up” and “closing ranks” and between elasticity and solid core, is also a dialectical process, a unity of opposites. What is solid core in one aspect also has elasticity within it as well. There is no such thing as a solid core that doesn’t have some elasticity within it. At any given time (as well as in an overall sense), there are always those things to which you are paying finely calibrated attention, but other aspects of the same thing to which you are not paying the same systematic attention.
In that talk on the dictatorship of the proletariat, one of the examples I used was writing an article. It’s not that you don’t care about certain things you say, but some of them you have to get exactly right, because they bear on the whole character of what you’re saying, while with other things, you say them as best you can but you do not—and actually should not—pay the same amount of attention, or you’d never finish writing, for one thing. And in anything you do—in a meeting, for example, and more generally in everything you do—this principle applies: solid core with elasticity and paying finely calibrated attention to some things that are at the core and give definition to everything you’re doing, while not trying to pay the same kind of attention, and allowing a lot more elasticity, with regard to other things.
And with regard to the aspect of solid core itself, you can’t say, “well, we have to have an absolute, perfect solid core before we can allow for any elasticity and initiative.” On the other hand, there is a real problem if the elasticity is not, in a fundamental sense, on the basis of the solid core—if, in effect, the elasticity and the initiative that is taken amounts to, or results in, substituting some other solid core for the one that is actually, objectively needed. But, again, you can’t get metaphysical and “absolutist” about this: You can’t say, “only when we have some ‘absolute’ solid core, and everybody has exactly the same level of understanding and agreement with regard to that solid core, can we then have any elasticity.” First of all, you’ll never achieve that kind of absolute certainty and absolute unity, you’re never going to overcome all unevenness; and second of all, your solid core will dry up and turn into its opposite, into dogma. It will become lifeless and turn into its opposite, and it won’t even be a solid core any more, in fact. There has to be space and life, even within a solid core; there are certain solid core things within any solid core, around which other things, within that solid core, are less solid and have more elasticity, if you will. (This is another expression of the very important point made by Mao, which I have emphasized a number of times: what is universal in one context is particular in another, and vice versa.) But if you don’t have sufficient adhering power, so to speak, at the core, so that (to use this metaphor) the electrons are flying off in every direction, then you have a serious problem.
Once again, we can see that crucially involved in all this is that fundamental dividing line between materialism and idealism, and between dialectics and metaphysics. You can’t have a metaphysical view of what a solid core is, and somehow it has to be absolutely solid; at the same time, you can’t have an idealist view of the whole process which corresponds to people going off in all directions because there’s no material grounding in terms of what the solid core is and has to be in any given set of circumstances, and in terms of what are the things where you have to insist on their being done in a certain way, with everyone “marching in tight formation,” so to speak, and on the other hand what are those things where you not only should not do that but where it would do real harm to try to insist on that.
And, speaking frankly, among the ranks of the communists—this applies to our Party but also more generally to the communist movement—there is a need for a further leap and rupture beyond utopianism and idealism and, frankly, beyond social-democracy or even outright bourgeois democracy and, ironic as it may sound, even plain old, straight-up anti-communism within the communist movement itself, which takes expression particularly in what amounts to a bourgeois-democratic view of such crucial things as the nature and role of the state and a bourgeois-democratic critique of the historical experience of the proletarian state. We need to leap and rupture beyond and out of those confines, even while we also need to rupture more thoroughly with the “mirror opposite” of this: the tendency to dogmatism and essentially a religious view of the principles and of the experience of communism and the communist movement, which amounts basically to “all solid core” with no real elasticity—and, correspondingly, to a “solid core” that in the final analysis is not all that solid, is in fact brittle, because it is grounded in apriorism and instrumentalism (seeking to impose dogmatic conceptions on reality and to “bend” and torture reality to make it serve certain preconceived notions and certain aims—not to engage reality and transform the actual necessity that has to be confronted, in accordance with its fundamental and driving contradictions, but to apply one variation or another of what Lenin criticized as the approach of “truth as an organizing principle,” which amounts to a subjective and idealist notion of truth rather than a recognition of truth as something that is objective and that is characterized by its being a correct reflection of objective reality). Still, while we must reject an orientation and approach that amounts to “all solid core,” at the same time we cannot have a utopian and idealist view of what elasticity means—treating it as something unmoored from the actual underlying material relations of society, and the world, in which all this is embedded, a material reality which we are seeking to transform, but can’t simply transcend in our minds.
The correct application of this principle—solid core with a lot of elasticity—is elasticity on the basis of the necessary solid core at every given point. And I say the necessary solid core because, again, dialectics enters in: it is not a matter of some absolute solid core, because that would be metaphysics—conceiving of and aiming to achieve some perfect state of solid core, which in fact you never will achieve—but it is a matter of the necessary solid core: enough of a solid core so that it acts as a powerful cohering center and basis on which you can then proceed to move forward and unleash the elasticity and the initiative, without losing the whole thing. And there’s no “magic formula”—or, in a basic sense, no formula of any kind—for that. There’s no formula. You can’t get out a “sliding calculus” and say: at this stage of socialism, we need 28% solid core, and you can have 72% elasticity; but at this stage, once there is an imperialist intervention and invasion, we can only have 4% elasticity and 96% solid core. That’s not how it works. [laughter] These are living, moving things that we have to be scientifically engaging and dealing with and determining concretely on the basis of actually grasping the motion and development of the defining and driving contradictions.
1. This refers to a statement by Marx, in The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, that the dictatorship of the proletariat represents the necessary transit to the abolition of all class distinctions (or class distinctions generally); of all the production relations on which these class distinctions rest; of all the social relations that correspond to these production relations; and to the revolutionizing of all ideas that correspond to those social relations. [back]
2. Strategic Questions was a talk by Bob Avakian in the mid-1990s, and selections from it were published in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) in issues 881 and 884-893 (November 1996 through February 1997) and in issues 1176-1178 (November 24 through December 8, 2002). These selections can also be found online at revcom.us. [back]
3. As spoken to by Bob Avakian in another part of this talk, these four objectives are: (1) holding on to power; (2) making sure that the solid core is not a static thing but is expanding to the greatest degree possible at any given point; (3) working consistently toward the point where that solid core will no longer be necessary, where there will no longer be a distinction between that solid core and the rest of society; and (4) giving expression to the greatest amount of elasticity at any given time on the basis of that solid core. The section of the talk that addresses this was published as “Views on Socialism and Communism: A RADICALLY NEW KIND OF STATE, A RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND FAR GREATER VISION OF FREEDOM,” particularly the part titled “A Materialist Understanding of the State and Its Relation to the Underlying Economic Base,” which appeared in Revolution #42 (April 9, 2006) and is available online at revcom.us. [back]
4. This metaphor of being drawn and quartered is spoken to by Bob Avakian in “Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World” (Revolutionary Worker #1262 [December 19, 2004]). It was also published as part of the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005). [back]
5. "Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism" appeared in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper (now Revolution) between August 2004 and January 2005 and is available online at revcom.us. [back]
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