Taking Responsibility for the Line of the Party—At the Highest Level
October 9, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I was in a recent discussion where someone asked what it means to join the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). I want to begin to answer this question—having made that leap to join within the last couple of years. In addition, I encourage everyone to read Lenny Wolff’s article, “Why You Absolutely Need a Vanguard Party to Make Revolution,” as this frames the scientific importance of a vanguard party.
First, joining the Party is an ideological rupture; it means being a thoroughgoing communist and subordinating oneself to the vanguard party. It is a life commitment and it is not something to do or take lightly. But, there’s nothing more important your life can be about than making revolution and contributing at the highest level to the emancipation of all of humanity. I encourage everyone to get into and proceed off of the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, as this gets deeply into what it means to be in a vanguard party.
Think for a second what a real revolution would mean—actually being able to end the tremendous suffering and horror inflicted on the people of the world—because this is what’s crying out to be done. As the Party itself has correctly emphasized, there won’t be a revolution without a revolutionary party.
Being in the Party means taking responsibility for the line of the Party as a whole and among the ranks of the Party. As the Constitution states: “The party’s line consists of its understanding of the scientific method and body of knowledge of communism (of communist theory, in the most sweeping sense); its application of that theory to reality; and the basic principles, strategy and policy that result from that application.” So when you’re taking responsibility for the line of the Party as a whole, it means you are taking responsibility for whether this Party stays on the revolutionary road, it means you’re taking responsibility for whether this Party is really straining against the limits of the objective situation and hastening to the greatest degree possible the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people in their millions. This is the highest, and most important, level of responsibility for anyone in the Party.
As a part of that, one of the things that has struck me the most about being in the Party is what it means to take responsibility for the line of the Party at this whole different level. In the Party, you are a part of the chain of knowledge (a team of scientists)—constantly contributing to it, wrangling with it, and collectively wielding it to transform the world... and drawing theory out of that process (along with other developments and changes in the world), which goes on in a larger process of what we call the “theory/practice/theory” dynamic.
This is wrangled with, above all, collectively but is also done through a system of reports. This is described as well in the Party’s Constitution. And actually writing reports is part of the process of being more scientific: you step back, look at the work we’ve done, systematize what we’ve done, and within that you’re looking for trends and patterns that are significant. You have to ask questions: How reflective was this practice of the overall strategy for revolution? Did we max out as much as possible? What were the advances—both qualitative and quantitative? If there were shortcomings, you have to identify those and wrestle with why. What did we run up against? What didn’t we understand, or what did we understand wrong? Was it objective or were there subjective elements that pulled on not being able to really max out and wield the line to the maximum degree possible?
You also have to work at thinking of ways—and this is part of taking responsibility—to further seize on openings or opportunities as part of leading the overall movement for revolution, even as you are working on a particularity that is feeding into the broader work the Party as a whole is doing.
In addition to summing up our practice, you are summing up trends on the terrain—obstacles in people’s thinking that we’re reaching out to, ideological and methodological questions that need to be spoken to or ruptured with among different sections of people. You are summing up the larger motion and dynamics in objective reality—which holds the material basis for revolution in the first place.
In writing reports, one thing I’ve paid attention to is working to make sure it’s reflective of reality, and not political truth that can sometimes slip in (in other words, making shit up that sounds good but actually doesn’t reflect reality)—it really matters whether you’re basing yourself on reality; and that the whole Party—in this larger collective process—is really able to proceed from scientifically understanding that reality at the deepest level possible. Truth—to the deepest of our understanding at that point—really matters.
All this has to be done systematically because it is feeding into the larger process. And you are trying to synthesize as much as possible to really contribute at the highest level you can. I’ve found that approaching it this way, I’ve actually further developed a scientific method and approach. Not just in what difference it makes to wield the line, but to be better able to learn from and synthesize key trends in reality in a more breathing in-and-out way—while this is a conscious method and approach, it’s not something that is imposed on reality. This too contributes to being able to take responsibility for the line at an increasingly higher level.
Related to this, I’ve more deeply recognized the importance of being a part of this disciplined collective process to coming to understand—and be able to transform—reality itself more deeply. Democratic Centralism in a vanguard party really is the best way to know and change the world. The Constitution uses the analogy to a team of scientists: “Party units should function like teams of scientists—plunging into vigorous struggle over the character and dynamics of the material reality they are engaging, then applying the resulting analysis to transform that reality, and summing up results with the same orientation and method, as thoroughly and sweepingly as possible, as part of the overall chain of knowledge and chain of command of the party.”
We are able to learn so much more this way—acting collectively in a disciplined way on what you’ve come to understand to be true instead of proceeding from yourself out and essentially ignoring or stepping around the actual scientific breakthroughs that have been made up to that point through a collective process.
This approach goes up against how we’re taught in this society—“I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do.” Aside from the fact that you’re being told what to do and think all the time in this society, you will actually learn less this way and it will undermine the collective process of developing a revolutionary line. BA talks about this in the talk, “The Method and Material Basis for Making Revolution.”
There’s another point he talks about in that talk as well which I’ve come to appreciate: “having the humility to allow yourself to be led, but without a hint of slavishness.” You’re applying that synthesized leadership to being able to understand and change the world and acting consciously based on that leadership—that’s the first part. And if in that process, you see a problem in that synthesized line, or you see a problem in how things are being carried out or if there are other people raising things that are more reflective of reality, that has to be raised and wrestled with. It could contribute to a better understanding and approach, but only if it’s part of this larger, collective scientific process. And when there are disagreements, you have to do the work to raise that to the level of line from the perspective of why that wouldn’t be reflective of the great need we are aiming to fill—that great need being to change all of society in a direction favorable for revolution.
One rupture I’ve had to make has been with the idea of feeling daunted at taking on responsibility—especially at a higher level—out of a fear of making mistakes. Not because of how I’d look but because of the stakes involved—we’re up against so much, and we really can’t afford to fuck things up, or to lose this. Someone was struggling with me about this and talked about the difference in orientation between playing not to lose and playing to win. The choice is not between making mistakes or not making mistakes, it’s between setting out to transform the world radically and making mistakes in that process (even as we should try to minimize them) or doing nothing. You can’t have a party culture where leadership develops the line and everyone else just carries it out—that will just ossify everything and contribute to the kind of religious bullshit that BA has been struggling against... there is no formula, we have to probe reality, make analysis and synthesis, we are standing on a very developed line but there are no guarantees and all of us—individually and collectively—have to dare to take initiative on the basis of the best synthesis we can forge at any given time (standing on and building on the fundamentals... even as we are open to questioning those). It’s a living science and if we’re really leading the process that has to be led, we will make mistakes—but again, the biggest mistake is to get comfortable in that stagnant pool and leave the world as it is with the system humming in the background, destroying lives and crushing spirits.
This is what it means to take responsibility for changing the world. There is great importance to leadership and there is a dire need for more communists in the world who are wielding the new synthesis of communism. The world, as it is, is a horror and it does not have to be this way. But that can only change if the scientific method and approach of making revolution and emancipating all of humanity is actually wielded.
Related to this, a point I constantly wrestle with is the two roads for humanity—the reality of the potential for human emancipation or the world staying as it is, with the system in place with all of the horrors that means for the billions of people on the planet, and the planet itself. As a part of the vanguard of the revolution, I am doing all I can to contribute to that first road—working to make revolution at the earliest possible time. And wherever people are at, they have a responsibility to throw into this as they themselves are going through a process of determining what their life should be about—directly related with what kind of world we want to live in.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.