Revolutionary Worker #1238, May 1, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org
The following is an excerpt from an historic talk by Chairman Bob Avakian, soon to be available on video and DVD from Three Q Productions-REVOLUTION: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About. This talk, delivered in 2003, followed by questions and answers, is a wide- ranging revolutionary journey, covering many topics. As Three Q has described it, "It breaks down the very nature of the society we live in and how humanity has come to a time where a radically different society is possible. It takes us deep into the heart of the horrors we see around us-from the oppression of whole peoples and parts of the world to what underlies brutal wars of domination-and why we live in a world where profound poverty, starvation and exploitation co-exist with unprecedented wealth. From the American nightmare to a sweeping vision of a whole new world, he breaks it all down, and shows how and why a radically different world can be brought forward."
The following excerpt is taken from a transcript of the talk, edited for publication by the RW. It gives a sweeping vision of a thoroughgoing revolutionary society and what it means for the masses to truly become masters of all society. It talks about the role of the vanguard party of the proletariat under the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the instrument of the masses to overcome the wounds and scars of the old society until finally, throughout the world, there is no longer a need for parties or states, and a new world has been birthed.
One of the main features of socialist society and one of the main aims of the advance through this socialist stage to communism, is for the masses of people to take up all kinds of questions and to have their creativity set loose in all kinds of ways. The aim is not just for people to have a job and work at one job but to master many things, to contribute to planning the economy to meet the needs of the people and to support the revolutionary struggle worldwide. To developing medicine and healthcare, to providing sports programs for the youth and the population as a whole. To creating and producing music, movies, television and programs on the internet. And writing poetry. To political decision-making and the organization and administration of society. To debating questions like whether anything in the universe can actually travel faster than the speed of light, and what lessons should be drawn from scientific discoveries of many different kinds. And the aim is to develop and unleash individuality and creativity on the foundation of and within this broad and overall framework of cooperative and collective efforts and goals.
These are not things that just a few geniuses can understand and play a role in. The masses of people as a whole are fully capable of entering into and taking up all these spheres, and that is precisely what is and what must be made possible through the communist revolution.
To make this possible, that the masses of people, and not just a relative handful, can and will do these things, will take a conscious consistent and determined struggle to overcome inequalities that have been handed down to us by capitalist society and thousands of years of unequal and oppressive relations in society and in the world as whole. Overcoming all that cannot happen without a system of political rule that gives the masses of people the right and the power to do this, and to prevent the overthrown exploiters or others from sabotaging and wrecking this process. Once again, this system of political rule is the dictatorship of the proletariat. And all this cannot happen without a vanguard of the proletariat to lead it in carrying out this complicated and often very intense struggle to bring about these changes in society and in the world.
In thinking about this, I was drawn to the example, which might seem a little odd but has a real relevance here. I was drawn to the example of Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong is one of the great cyclists in the world, one of the great bicycle racers in the world. He's won probably the most important and major bicycling race in all the world, the Tour de France, five years in a row. But back before that, a little while, his whole bike riding and bike racing career was disrupted because he developed cancer. When he developed cancer, he didn't say, oh well, who cares if I have cancer. Soon as I get a surgery or medicine, I'll just get right out and race again and be able to win the Tour de France again. No. He knew that he needed rehabilitation. He knew that he needed medicine. He knew he needed people to help him be able to return to, and be able to rise to these heights.
Now there's a great cancer in society. Capitalism. The latest in a long line of sickness in humanity's existence. Radical surgery and rehabilitation is needed. The seizure of power and the revolutionary transformation of the world. This is needed in order for humanity to overcome this. Lance Armstrong needed people schooled in medicine and in physical therapy in order for him to return to the position where he could reach the heights that he has. And the masses of people, the proletariat and the masses of people, need the dictatorship of the proletariat and a vanguard party to enable them to fully overcome the cancer of capitalism and finally to soar to heights never before reached. (applause). They need this in order to overcome the forces that represent the old society and in order to overcome the scars and wounds from that old society.
Now in all this, here is a great irony. There are those who say they agree we need a different society, where a small group does not dominate and exploit the rest. Yet while they say they agree with this, they condemn the dictatorship of the proletariat. They declare that vanguard leadership can only lead to tyranny. They insist that there should be pure democracy where right from the start everyone takes part equally in decision-making without any established leaders. Well, if they were to have their way, and there were an attempt to change society and model it according to their vision, the best that could happen, if you want to call it the best, would be that people like them would become the new group that dominated and exploited the masses of people, ruling once more over the great majority, who have always been locked out of political decision-making and the affairs of society and government and who in reality would remain locked out of this. This is the great irony involved in their thinking.
To understand why this is so, let's start with a more immediate expression of this irony. Some people, including those who are more familiar with political discourse and with the concepts I have just spoken of here, they would have no trouble understanding what I've been saying about this great irony. Even if they didn't agree with me, they would understand what I have been saying. But those who have been locked out of any real involvement in the affairs and the direction of society, those who have been denied access to the kind of education and working with ideas that would enable them to be familiar with the concepts I am speaking of here, an education that would give them the facility to engage these concepts.. Those people would have no idea what I have been getting at here. They would have no sense of what I've just been talking about. "What the hell is he saying?"
So let's break this down. Let's start with the word irony... what does it mean. One kind of irony is when you use a word in a way that what you mean is the opposite of the usual meaning of the word. Or what you are expressing at a particular circumstance is in conflict with what actually makes sense to say in that situation. Another kind of irony is when you do something and the result of it is the opposite of what you intended to happen. Let's look at some examples. You see someone playing basketball on the playground. Or you see a young kid singing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. You say "she's bad" or "he's bad," actually meaning they're very good.
Or someone comes up with an idea but it leads to everything going wrong. For example, a group of friends get together one day on a Saturday and one of them says, "Why don't we go to the beach." So without looking into it very much or checking the weather or anything else, they do get into the car and drive off towards the beach. And they get halfway there and they run out of gas. So they run down to the gas station and an hour later they've got enough gas and they limp over to the beach. They get to the beach and they start relaxing and all of a sudden a storm comes up. They hadn't checked the weather. It's going to rain that day. They get caught in the storm. So then they get back in the car and they drive and they get a flat tire and they have to fix the flat tire and finally they get home and they're soaking wet and its been a mess and someone says "Well, that was a good idea." (laughter) Obviously meaning it was a very bad idea. Well, those are examples of irony.
Here's another example of irony. Someone has to catch an airplane or a bus but they don't make it on time. Then the bus or the airplane crashes and everyone on it is killed. There's an irony here. If they'd been on time, they would have been killed. Then the person thanks god for saving their life. That too is an irony. (laughter) Because really god is being thanked for causing a tragedy. If god gets the credit for causing that particular person's life to be saved, by being late, you would have to say that god also caused the accident that killed so many people. And that's not something that a god should be credited with and thanked for. But the bigger irony is that they are thanking god and god does not exist. (laughter)
Returning now to the main point I'm making here. For those people who say they want a society without one group dominating others and they want to bring this into being right away without any leaders to make this happen, the great irony is that their program and approach would lead to exactly the opposite of what they say they want. It would lead precisely to a group dominating and exploiting others, and a further irony is that this group would include them or people just like them, because they would be familiar with everything that goes into running this society while others have been locked out. Think about the kinds of things that have to been taken up, the kinds of problems that have to be faced and dealt with in building a movement to make revolution in the first place and then to go on and not just rule society, but completely remake it in the interest of the masses of people and the interest of the whole world revolution. All the kinds of things that I have pointed to in the course of this talk.
To deal with all that requires an understanding, not just of specific problems, but of the scientific method for digging into problems and contradictions and for finding the solution to them. It requires and can only be done with the kind of communist, materialist and dialectical outlook and method that I've spoken about. The masses of people can and will take all this up and become masters of all these spheres and parts of society and of society and the world as a whole. But to do that, when we are starting out with a whole legacy and tradition of tremendous inequality, brought about through hundreds of years of capitalist exploitation and thousands of years of oppression and the force and dead weight of oppressive tradition - to overcome that requires and can only be done with the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leadership of the proletariat's vanguard party. It is this which will make it possible for the masses of people to more and more consciously and confidently take up and conquer all the different spheres of society and to continue advancing towards the point where everyone can really take up and take part in all this on an equal basis.
Without this, and if people who have been locked out of all this were suddenly told, "go ahead, you can take part equally in everything - you can teach physics, you can practice medicine, you can run a factory, you can plan a whole economy. You can write about philosophy. You can organize the government. There is nothing now to stop you. If they were just told that, you know what they'd say? "What the fuck are you talking about? (laughter) I don't know how to do all those things." And they would be right. They would get angry and get demoralized and discouraged because they would not know how to do those things and they could not keep up with those who had experienced the advantage and privilege of learning about and doing these things in the old society. On their own, they would not be able to do this. But with the leadership of their vanguard, they would be enabled to learn and to do these things - to take part more and more fully in these things. And even to provide leadership to others, including specialists and experts in these fields, in a way that didn't suppress but unleashed - did not suffocate but unleashed - the initiative and creativity of such specialists and experts. And that helped them apply their expertise in an overall way to benefit society and humanity.
It is the masses of people and not a handful of people, no matter how sincere or even heroic, who make history. And above all, the kind of revolution that is needed to completely change society and the world, and put an end to a situation where the masses of people are exploited and oppressed, this revolution requires the ever more conscious and active role of the masses of people. But once again, for this to really happen, the masses of people need leadership, the leadership of their communist vanguard.
As I emphasized in a recent interview with Carl Dix, you can speak in the name of the masses all day long and rail against leadership all day long in the name of the masses or in the name of some other principle. But if you don't actually recognize the need for leadership, and the fact that this need flows out of the very contradictions of this society you're seeking to overturn and transform, then you're going to leave the masses entirely out of the equation, and there's not going to be revolution, and certainly not one that leads to the emancipation of the broad masses of people.
Without a communist vanguard - even if we could imagine that somehow a revolution could be made, which in reality it could not, even then -- given the great inequalities that you would be inheriting, what you would have once again would be a situation where those who were formerly on the bottom of society would find themselves once more on the bottom, lorded over and bossed around by people with more privilege and the advantages that go with that. And/or you would have a situation where out of anger and frustration, those who have been on the bottom would blindly strike out, seeking revenge against anyone who had anything that had been denied to them, including people they should be uniting with. In any case, what you would soon get is a return to a society based on exploitation and oppression.
It is only with the leadership of a vanguard, basing itself on the communist outlook and methodology, that these problems and contradictions can be handled correctly and overcome. That the situation can be brought into being in which the proletariat, together with its allies making up the great majority, actually rules and revolutionizes society, and in which the inequalities left over from the old society can be overcome in a way that embraces and more and more involves the great majority of people in consciously and voluntarily carrying forward this revolutionary process, and which leads, finally, to the emancipation of humanity as a whole from all relations of oppression and exploitation.
At the same time, through the advance of the revolution, in overcoming these inequalities, with the leadership of the communist vanguard, we will be moving in the direction of reaching a world where, finally, there will no longer be a need for a vanguard. There will not long be a situation where some work only with their minds while others are worked, bending their backs and wearing out their flesh, and still others suffer and may even face starvation and death because they cannot get work. No longer a situation where a few lead and the great majority can only follow, where a small clique makes decisions that must be carried out by the rest. And when we do reach that point, where all that is no more, there will no longer be a need for a vanguard party and for a state (or dictatorship of any kind) to insure that these inequalities are being overcome to the greatest degree possible at every point and that the soil that gives rise to them is finally and fully dug up. Reaching that point is exactly the goal of our revolution and of the vanguard in leading that revolution.
To emphasize this crucial point once more, carrying forward this revolution to reach the goal of communism is a matter of dealing with the challenges, the problems and contradictions of socialism, as a transition to communism, which I've spoken to throughout this talk. It is also a matter of keeping in mind and building on what our class and our revolutions have achieved, the things we have brought into the world, that never existed before. It is a process of learning from the mistakes and the shortcomings in this as well as the tremendous achievements. There is a great deal to learn and to do. A great deal to be learned while we are doing, and a great deal to be done while we are learning. A whole world to be conquered and transformed through the back-and-forth process of making revolution and at the same time learning more deeply how to make revolution more thoroughly.
Yes, there is a danger. A danger that will remain until Communism is finally reached worldwide, the danger that the vanguard party can be turned into its opposite, turned around from being the advanced force of the masses of people which leads them in emancipating themselves, turned from that into a new group of exploiters that rules over the masses and drags them back down the road to capitalism and all the hell it means. But the way to deal with this danger is not to try to do without a vanguard party. To do away with the very thing the masses need most of all in order to finally put an end to capitalism and all exploitation and oppression - to rob the masses of people of the chance to finally be free. No, the answer is to continue transforming the economic and social relations, the political institutions and structures and the ideas that rule in society, to dig more and more deeply into the roots and soil of exploitation and oppression and to aim at nothing less than digging them out altogether all over the world. This is what must be the guiding star for all who seek all-the-way liberation. This and nothing less must be the aim of growing numbers of masses as well as their communist vanguard.