Revolutionary Worker #1104, May 27, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
We always have to come back to the most crucial and decisive question: WHAT ARE THE FUNDAMENTAL NEEDS AND HIGHEST INTERESTS OF THE MASSES, ALL OVER THE WORLD--AND WHAT ACTUALLY CORRESPONDS TO THOSE FUNDAMENTAL NEEDS AND HIGHEST INTERESTS?
The masses don't just need a movement, although that is very valuable. They need a revolution. If we have a movement and not a revolution, then people's suffering is not going to end. These conditions are not going to be overthrown and uprooted. That's a fundamental difference we have to understand, a fundamental difference between what we represent and various reformists and especially the revisionists--defenders of the system, or people who just want to try to reform the system, but who put themselves forward as revolutionaries, as socialists, or even as communists.
Lenin talked about how one of the hallmarks of revisionism, one of the main features of revisionism, was the viewpoint that "the movement is everything, the final aim is nothing." And you see this repeatedly. People get into a movement, and yes, it's great to have a movement--it's great to be part of struggling against the enemy, it's great to be debating questions--this is all tremendously important. And there is a real element of why people should draw inspiration from this and love it more than the horrible daily grind of this system. But we can never get intoxicated with that to the point that we forget about or lose sight of the final aim--of the need to overthrow and bury this system and bring a whole new world into being. Everything we do has got to be part of building toward that, or else it all gets turned into its opposite. In the final analysis we don't need "the movement is everything, the final aim is nothing"--we need to carry out the final aim and we need to build the movement always toward achieving that final aim, wherever we are in the process.
This pull toward "the movement is everything, the final aim is nothing" is especially great where, on the one hand, there are important mass movements and struggles against the system--yet on the other hand the prospects for overthrowing the system are not yet so immediate and apparent. In this situation, ideas and programs that have broad currency and influence in such movements and among those attracted to them--from anarchism, to nationalism, to other trends that are in the final analysis reformist and not revolutionary--these ideas and programs can tend to "set the terms" and in fact can set limits to people's vision and lower their sights.
This is not a reason or a justification for "elitism," for denying or downgrading the importance of such movements and struggles, for having a sectarian attitude toward those influenced by other lines and trends, or for thinking that we're better than those who haven't yet come to our revolutionary understanding and position. None of that is what we should be doing or the attitude we should have.
At the same time, all this is definitely not a reason for giving up on or watering down our revolutionary outlook and understanding and our work to bring about proletarian revolution. Just because most people are not with that yet is not a reason why we should water it down. We have to learn how to correctly apply it but we should never water it down. What all this shows is the need to grasp more firmly the underlying forces at work in society and the world, and the basic truths that are brought to light by historical materialism and MLM as a whole.
Marx made a very important comment on this. He said the crucial thing is not what the masses are doing at any given time, but what the system will force the masses of people to do. The system is calling forth these struggles that people are engaged in and will increasingly do so. This will not all happen in a straight line--it will not be everything just straight ahead but will proceed through twists and turns, and through waves of struggle. The system will continue to call forth people to struggle against it and ultimately, yes, to bury it. This is in the nature of things.
I remember when I visited China--back when it was a socialist country, a bastion of proletarian revolution--and the comrades there laughed and said: "the system is a great teacher--if you don't learn the first time, they'll be glad to teach you a second time and third time and a fourth time." We have to keep this in mind. What the statement by Marx is getting at is that there's a material reality that's moving and shaping things, and it's leading things in a certain direction, whether or not people are conscious (or fully conscious) of that at a given time and regardless of how many people are with that at a particular time. Again, we have to keep our eye on the prize and never lose sight of what is and must be the fundamental aim of the struggle against this system and its continual crimes against the masses of people, all over the world.
And we should never fail to appreciate, or lose sight of, how precious MLM is to the masses of people, even when many of the masses themselves may not yet recognize this--how decisive it is in terms of their ability to finally emancipate themselves from every form of enslavement and degradation. I remember back in the '60s Eldridge Cleaver wrote this article for Ramparts magazine (which was a sort of radical, oppositional magazine) where he used this metaphor about how Malcolm X had pointed to the pot at the end of rainbow. Eldridge said that Malcolm pointed us to this pot at the end of rainbow and when we, Black people, opened up the pot and looked inside we found the tool of our liberation--we found the gun. And it was very heavy to be writing this at that time. What he was doing was bringing out and emphasizing the need for armed struggle in order for Black people to win liberation.
Back in those days, despite certain negative aspects, Eldridge played a very positive role overall. In my own experience he, more than anyone else, was the one that turned me on to Mao. I went over to his house one day and he had this big poster and I said: "Hey, why have you got that poster of that Mao Tsetung up there on your wall?" And he looked at me and said: "because Mao Tsetung is the baddest motherfucker on the planet earth!" Eldridge did a lot to popularize the idea of revolution, and in particular armed struggle, to bring down this system, and he popularized Mao, at least as a "bad" leader of a victorious revolutionary war. And that was a very important contribution.
But, since that time we have also learned that what we need as well--what we need most of all--is MLM to guide people in wielding the gun, in waging the armed struggle, where the revolutionary situation exists, where the conditions for revolution have emerged. We need a vanguard party, based on MLM, to lead the masses in preparing for and then carrying out a revolutionary war to actually overthrow this system and then transform society and the world in accordance with the interests of the masses of people. So in that sense we can say MLM is like "a light in the darkness"--a light we should be determined and eager to shine, everywhere.
In a report I was reading recently on youth work in one area, this story really grabbed me: A youth who is newly coming around us went out to sell the paper for the first time. People asked her why she was doing that. She said: "If you knew the truth, wouldn't you want other people to know the truth."
That's the outlook and the spirit we should have! We should recognize and be aware of the full meaning of the fact that, when we take up MLM, when we join with and join the Party in working for the proletarian revolution, we are representing and fighting for the liberation of the masses of people, not just in the U.S. but everywhere on the globe. We are part of the MLM forces worldwide, united now in the RIM and working toward a new, even more developed international organization, a higher form of organization of MLM forces world-wide, a new Communist International that will give expression even more powerfully to the unity of the vanguard revolutionary forces in all parts of the world who are applying our common world outlook and method, our common ideology of MLM, to bring forward the most powerful force--the conscious revolutionary struggle of the masses of people.
We represent that revolution--the most profound, earth-shaking and emancipating transformation in the history of the world--a revolution whose basis has been laid as a result of thousands of years of human historical development, in all its complexity and diversity. This is a revolution which, through all the madness and tremendous suffering of the great majority of humanity, all over the world, cries out--screams out--that it must be made...and can be made; because it represents the only resolution of the howling contradictions of this system and its grip on the world and on human destiny--the only resolution in the interests of the vast masses of people, all over the world and, ultimately, the interests of humanity as a whole. And this revolution is possible because the capitalist system itself and the fundamental contradictions of capitalism have brought forward the class, the proletariat, whose interests lie in making this revolution and carrying it through thoroughly. As Marx put it: capitalism has created and continually creates its own gravediggers.