Letter from a reader
WORKING ON THE CONTRADICTIONS OF THE REVOLUTION: Reflections on bringing forward a revolutionary people and organizing for an actual revolution
April 27, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Revolution cannot be made without a revolutionary force of millions. But the question is: a revolutionary force of millions brought into being and developed on what basis and toward what end?
—Bob Avakian, “Revolutionary Strategy, Bringing Forward a Revolutionary People,” March 29, 2009
In a recent article, the actual possibility of a revolutionary situation developing in the period ahead was spoken to accordingly:
With the uprising in Ferguson, and everything that broke out after that across the country, people stood up in a way that they had not in decades. And because of that, the possibilities of revolution were opened up in a way that they had not been for a long, long time. There is no guarantee, but there is a chance that a revolution could develop out of the further unfolding of what erupted in Ferguson and beyond, along with the sharpening of other contradictions and conflicts in society and the world, and the work of the vanguard—the Revolutionary Communist Party.1
As has been spoken to in other articles and works, making a revolution is a very complex struggle, involving many components and dimensions. When wrestling with what it means today to be organizing for an actual revolution, one major challenge before us right now is how do we accumulate organized forces for revolution; or another way to put this is how do we bring forward a revolutionary people? What do we mean by this? What does this look like? What kind of conscious ideological, political, and organizational work is necessary in order to achieve this? If in fact there is the possibility, as spoken above, of the development of a revolutionary situation then doesn’t that mean we need to be bringing forward wave after wave of revolutionary forces? If so, how do we approach this—get our arms around this? How do we shape all of this, and what do we mean when we say this?
This letter will speak to a few crucial contradictions of the revolution—contradictions which need to be further scientifically grappled with and worked on in our practical revolutionary work.
A revolutionary force of millions brought into being and developed on what basis and toward what end?
A decisive question which any movement serious about making revolution needs to confront is that posed by BA in the above quote, “a revolution ... toward what end?”
What IS an Actual Revolution?
As posted on our website, “An actual revolution is a lot more than a protest. An actual revolution requires that millions of people get involved, in an organized way, in a determined fight to dismantle this state apparatus and system and replace it with a completely different state apparatus and system, a whole different way of organizing society, with completely different objectives and ways of life for the people. Fighting the power today has to help build and develop and organize the fight for the whole thing, for an actual revolution. Otherwise we’ll be protesting the same abuses generations from now!”
As opposed to this clear statement of the process and objectives of an actual revolution, a lot of people see revolution as some sort of amorphous or unstructured movement, where people are rising and resisting against many different outrages and injustices, and somehow all of this will grow and grow until, as an organic extension out of such a movement, a revolutionary force will coalesce and be in a position to take power for the people. The objectives of such a revolution are also general and unclear, often a vague sense of “people power,” or general ideas of reforms for more equality, democracy, some better conditions for the people, or hoping to pressure the government to stop ruining the lives of people all over the world and to stop their despoliation and destruction of the planet.
Two points in relation to this type of thinking: 1) None of these reforms will really solve the problems of the people and free them from the oppressive hand of this system; 2) further, such a movement does not even begin to confront the actual nature of the present system, the way it is organized or the state apparatus which is in place to keep the system running and doing things the way it does, and why the system, in order to survive, must attempt to crush any forces which seriously threaten the way society and the government are organized.
Anyone serious about making an actual revolution needs to confront that there are two roads, two basic lines of thinking, on what a revolution is: it matters greatly to gain clarity on this, as one road has the possibility of leading to revolution and human emancipation, while the other road will ultimately end with demoralization, being defeated or crushed in some form or another.
So to start, we need to bring forward a revolutionary people who are committed to the road of an actual revolution, as described above, and determined to lead many millions on this path (even as all along the way there will continue to be many people who are part of the movement for revolution who are working their way through how they see these two roads).
But then, what are some other strategic components of bringing forward a revolutionary people, a force of millions?
To get on the ground here, to really make a revolution, we need a material force which can be wielded to meet and defeat an opposing material force.
What does this mean?
On one level, “In this struggle for revolutionary change, the revolutionary people and those who lead them will be confronted by the violent repressive force of the machinery of the state which embodies and enforces the existing system of exploitation and oppression; and in order for the revolutionary struggle to succeed, it will need to meet and defeat that violent repressive force of the old, exploitative and oppressive order.” (“Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—in Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution,” July 30, 2006)
At the same time, there would be interpenetration of that with the phenomenon of “civil war between two sections of the people” (in broad terms, the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary sections, or forces, among the people overall) that would almost certainly be a major feature of such a struggle. The necessity would exist, in those future conditions, to both carry out such a battle between two sections of the people—intertwined with the struggle against the main repressive forces of the old order—and to work to achieve continuing repolarization, on more favorable terms, through the course of the overall struggle, winning over as many people as possible from the ranks of the counter-revolution to that of the revolution, or at least politically neutralizing them, so that they no longer took part in opposing the revolution. All this is another complexity that would have to be dealt with in the course of this protracted struggle.
—Bob Avakian, “Some Further Thoughts Relating to ‘On the Possibility of Revolution’—Imperialist countries” in Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon, Part 2: BUILDING THE MOVEMENT FOR REVOLUTION, March 8, 2011
So, when looking at bringing forward a revolutionary people, revolutionary leadership needs to step back and look at the strategic implications of what a revolution will need to confront, and give serious consideration to how, from among various sections of the people, will it be possible to build the necessary revolutionary movement and then bring forward a force of millions which is disciplined and organized so that it is able to be deployed in a way which will not be surrounded by reactionary and counter-revolutionary forces among the people, and will be able to “meet and defeat that violent repressive force of the old, exploitative and oppressive order.”
The purpose of this letter is not to get into all of this in any depth, but there are some key contradictions and questions of approach which have been spoken to by BA, which we need to be consciously aware of and purposively working on.
Bedrock Forces for Revolution—some contradictions to work on
Bob Avakian has devoted much scientific study and analysis to understanding what sections of the people potentially can actually become “a backbone and driving force role” in the struggle for revolution—that is, basic youth and basic masses more broadly, particularly those concentrated in the inner cities—many of whom are not strictly speaking part of the proletarian class. This is not based on a superficial or mechanical analysis of the “most oppressed,” but is based on analyzing and synthesizing the changing dynamics of this society over decades.
In this connection, a crucial contradiction of the revolution which we need to be working on, which BA has identified, is the need to “be actively working on bridging this tremendous chasm between that scientifically established and grounded recognition of this real revolutionary potential, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, where the masses of these youth are at now and where they’re being pulled by the dynamics of the system.” It is beyond the scope of this letter to go more deeply into this, but this is both examined scientifically and approaches to working on this contradiction are spoken to in various articles.2
Further, very much related to this, at the same time that we are working on “bridging this chasm,” another major contradiction is that any revolution will quickly face the challenge that the forces of repression will seek to isolate, surround, and crush this most “solid base of support” for such a revolution.
BA has pointed out “that there will be a gap, a significant gap, between the most bedrock base for this revolutionary movement and other strata of the people, if that is allowed to be turned into a profound, unsurpassable gulf, and only that hard-core section of the population is moving in the direction of involvement in and active support for this struggle, then this struggle is on the way to defeat. This is something that has to be thought about and acted upon not only when the conditions do undergo a qualitative change, and there is an all-out struggle for power—but long before that, in terms of how political and ideological and organizational work is carried out.” (emphasis mine)3
Again all of this needs to be approached with a living scientific approach and method, but the essential challenge posed here is how to build a movement which would not allow the forces of repression to isolate, marginalize, surround, and possibly ultimately crush this bedrock force for revolution—and thus, likely the revolution itself (either before a revolutionary situation develops or once such a struggle for power has commenced).
In this context it is important to study what BA points towards as a crucial strategic approach to this problem: “Now, at the same time, we have to also look at this in the broader context of what we’ve described as the ‘two maximizings’ (revolutionary work among the basic masses, and revolutionary work among the middle strata, and the dialectical inter-relation of all this) as a key part of our overall approach to building the movement for revolution.”4
With this in mind, we need to take stock of and scientifically understand, and then further build on some recent significant transformations in the objective situation in relation to “the two maximizings.” Here I am speaking to the fact that people of various strata, and especially youth and students of different nationalities have, as part of taking to the streets in protest and outrage, been raising the banner of “Black Lives Matter” and “Latino Lives Matter.” This has had tremendous impact in relation to basic masses not feeling isolated and alone, and thinking that what happens to them and more importantly, what they do to resist, does not matter to others in the society; and for broader strata this represented an important development where people are now confronting the reality of what life is like for those at the “bottom of society” and coming to grips with the role of the police as enforcers of oppression and repression. Also very significant is that many from broader strata, including youth and students, have been taking a moral and political stand, willing to put a lot on the line. (We need a lot more of this. There is a great need for these types of stands and actions to grow and spread, both in terms of making a larger social impact on the society, but also in terms of the breadth of those taking such a stand. (Where were major artists, actors, and sports figures stepping out and making an honest stand in all of this? A tweet here and there will not change the world.))
I think some of the dynamic here was captured powerfully and poetically by a letter from “a former prisoner who is now an emancipator of humanity”:5
As someone who has never stepped foot in a university classroom and only caught glimpses of what life is like outside ghettos and prisons, I can tell you that when you’re cast off and counted as nothing, you often see yourself as the least able to change anything. But when you rise up against the conditions that you didn’t choose but were born into, and you see people stand with you, who come from sections of society that you learned to assume could never give a fuck, then that defeatism begins to break down and the possibility of getting rid of all this shit begins to come to life.
This advance in the “two maximizings” really is something of a revolutionary new thing, an important beginning strategic advance in building a movement for revolution, something we need to consciously “jump on,” further developing and strengthening this dynamic, both in relation to the struggle to stop genocidal persecution, mass incarceration, police brutality, and murder of Black and Brown people, and as part preparing for and laying the basis for a material force in society which can meet and defeat the strategic approach taken by the forces of repression to defeat the revolution by isolating and then crushing the bedrock force and backbone of such a revolution.
All of this must be further understood in the context of what BA has referred to as the “multi-layered, multi-colored map” in referring to the complexities involved in bringing forward a revolutionary people—this is something which is beyond the scope of this letter, but which again needs to be understood and “worked on.”6
The point in all of this is how are we consciously working on these contradictions of the revolution in relation to consciously shaping a movement for revolution, which in its make-up and its scientific understanding of the problem and the solution will comprise a revolutionary people of significant size and scope, which under the leadership of the RCP will be in a position, when the time is right, to actually go for revolution? Of course all of this will be very complex, and there are other crucial contradictions and components of the revolution not touched on in this letter, and in all of this, as the dynamics of the society change (including the political and strategic polarization and re-polarization), we need to continually analyze and synthesize how to approach building this movement for revolution.
For a deeper and broader strategic reflection on some of these questions, those who are serious about taking responsibility for leading a revolution, and those who want to understand the process of revolution more deeply, should study Bob Avakian’s “Revolutionary Strategy, Bringing Forward a Revolutionary People, “ March 29, 2009, available at revcom.us
2. “So, involving the basic youth is not just a matter of ‘let’s get together and fight,’ although that’s part of it—Fight the Power—but it’s also the all-around work to enable them to transform their thinking, not just so they ‘like our ‘narrative’ better.’ No. That’s not how we’re proceeding, or not how we should be proceeding. So that they actually come to a more and more scientific approach to and understanding of reality and on that basis see both the necessity and the possibility to radically transform that reality through revolution and guided by the new synthesis—communism and its development further through the new synthesis of communism. If we don’t carry out all-around work in which, yes, standing up and fighting back, fighting the power, is extremely important, but is only one part of the overall process that needs to involve—that these youth need to be part of—an overall process in which, in a pivotal sense, transforming the thinking of the people is what’s pivotally involved in this overall process of Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution, of preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution.”
—Bob Avakian, “Bridging the Chasm—Bringing Alive the Revolutionary Potential of Basic Youth,” in “The Strategic Approach to Revolution and Its Relation to Basic Questions of Epistemology and Method,” August 4, 2014 [back]
3. Bob Avakian, “Some Further Thoughts Relating to ‘On the Possibility of Revolution’—Imperialist countries” in Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon, Part 2: BUILDING THE MOVEMENT FOR REVOLUTION,” March 8, 2011 [back]
4. Bob Avakian, “The Strategic Approach to Revolution and Its Relation to Basic Questions of Epistemology and Method,” August 4, 2014. See the section, “The Two Maximizings.” [back]
5. “A Message to Students and Young People of ALL Nationalities,” March 18, 2015 [back]
6. “As we have very correctly and importantly emphasized, only in doing this will it be possible to bring forward a revolutionary force among any section of the people; this cannot be done in boxed off and self-contained ways. Society doesn't exist and reality generally doesn't exist in that way, with self-contained compartments—and therefore neither can the building of a revolutionary movement proceed in that way.
“At the same time, what is being gotten at with this metaphor of a multi-layered, multi-colored map is that there are contradictory trends and tendencies—or, if you will, strengths and weaknesses—among different sections of the people. This is not to deny the basic and bedrock role of the most exploited and oppressed sections of society as the backbone of the revolutionary movement. But it is to emphasize once again that all this will not be a straight line and simple process.”
—Bob Avakian, “UNRESOLVED CONTRADICTIONS, DRIVING FORCES FOR REVOLUTION,” November 29, 2009 [back]
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