Editors' note: The following is an excerpt from the new work by Bob Avakian, THE NEW COMMUNISM. In addition to excerpts already posted on revcom.us, we will be running further excerpts from time to time on both revcom.us and in Revolution newspaper. These excerpts should serve as encouragement and inspiration for people to get into the work as a whole, which is available as a book from Insight Press. An updated pre-publication PDF of this major work—now including the appendices—is available here.
This excerpt comes from the section titled "IV. The Leadership We Need."
I’ve spoken earlier about the “pyramid point”—the pyramid with the ruling class at the top, the contention among the different forces within the ruling class at the top, and how this relates to contradiction and struggle in the larger society, and world. But, in talking with people sometimes, I’ve also made a point about another kind of “pyramid.” I got to thinking about this when Nixon went to China in the 1970s and met with Mao, as well as others in the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. And, even more than Nixon, I was thinking about Henry Kissinger, who conceives of himself as more of an intellectual than Nixon, who liked to think of himself and present himself as more of a practical politician, or even a regular man of the people. But anyway, Kissinger was Nixon’s “right hand man,” particularly on foreign policy, and he traveled with Nixon when Nixon went to China in the early 1970s. Kissinger sat down and talked with Mao in Mao’s study, surrounded by all these books, and they had all these philosophical discussions—here was Mao engaging in all these philosophical discussions with Henry Kissinger, a representative of U.S. imperialism. And, in reflecting on this, I’ve wrestled with this: Besides the problems with the “opening to the West” on the part of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party—the whole policy bound up with this “opening,” and the very real problems I mentioned earlier about the way they promoted the Shah of Iran, and other oppressive rulers, as part of an anti-Soviet united front—putting the problems with that aside, the fact is that, as a leader of a revolutionary movement, or as part of a vanguard of the revolution (whether you’re a leader of the vanguard or just a “regular member” of the vanguard), and then as a leader of a new socialist society and state, you are going to be in situations where you are representing the proletariat, in the largest sense, in interacting with people who are coming from different places and, at least objectively, are representatives of different classes. Think about it: Even in building struggles now, isn’t there a significant aspect of diplomacy that gets involved, where, if you’re building broad movements, you have to meet with lots of different forces and you have to have unity, as well as struggle? A lot of times, there needs to be a lot of struggle, but you still have to strive for unity on a certain level. For example, if you’re gonna take up the battle around mass incarceration, you have to unite with a lot of forces who are coming from a lot of different places, and there is a bundle of contradictions, some aspects of which may not be very good at all. And here’s where this statesman role and having a certain amount of diplomacy comes in. So, whether you become a head of a socialist state and you find yourself having to meet with someone like Henry Kissinger, or not, you will at times find yourself in this position where you’re meeting, sort of “up here” (up above the reality of daily life and struggle, so to speak), engaging with these representatives of different classes.
So this is the other “pyramid point”: You are representing masses of people, exploited and oppressed masses of the whole world—that’s the grounding underneath you. I mean this not in a sense of tailing the masses, but that’s what you’re standing on, in a scientific sense, the interests of the broad masses of people in the world. But then, you get “up there,” where you meet with these people—you sit in a room, you go out to coffee, whatever you do—you’re engaging with somebody who, at least objectively, represents some other class; and, as somebody who’s a leader and has developed certain intellectual abilities, you can get into all kinds of discussions about all kinds of questions with people—and it’s not necessarily bad to do so. Overall, it is good to do so. But you can feel a certain pull to lose sight of what you’re standing on and what you represent when you’re doing this—you can get kind of pulled into this realm that seems to be somehow above the fray. It may be literally out of the fray at a given moment (that is, not immediately in the midst of a struggle), but it appears to be above the struggle of classes, appears to be above the fundamental conflicts that are going on. Well, this can exert a pull on you to forget what it is you represent and what has to guide everything you do. So, this is a different kind of “pyramid” contradiction.
I have to say, I felt this very acutely in the Dialogue with Cornel West. You can’t have a narrow philistine attitude, a dismissive attitude, toward people who hold religious beliefs, for example—and this makes it very complicated. In that Dialogue I did my very best to be really scientific and all-sided in dealing with something like the ideas of the Black theologian James Cone. I emphasized that I didn’t want to oversimplify this, that it’s not simple. I went into the complexity and the contradictions involved in the ideas he puts forward, and I didn’t present it as all negative, because that would not have been correct, would not have corresponded to reality. And then, after the Dialogue, he attacks what I did in the Dialogue. You end up being attacked because you criticize and bring to light the limitations and wrong directions that some of these ideas represent. But that is not the end of the story—you still have to persevere in carrying out the approach of unity-struggle-unity, so long as there is an objective basis for that approach. This is a matter of principle and of strategic orientation.
In situations like this, dealing with people with whom there is a basis for unity, as well as some significant differences, you do have to extend the hand of unity, and it isn’t just a mechanical process. Now, if you want to use that term, this process is not “devoid of social content,” or class content, but there is the human aspect to this, too. You’re dealing with real human beings. You’re not a machine, and you’re not dealing with machines.
So, you can get caught up in all that, and it can pull on you. You can do two things wrong. First, you can refuse to do this—refuse to engage with people with whom you may have significant differences—and then there’s not going to be a revolution. This relates to an important point from Lenin. He said, even for the basic masses, everyone who makes a revolution with the orientation that they had their chance to go at it, now it’s my turn—everyone who approaches it like that, is making revolution with the outlook of the petite bourgeoisie. And such people will never be able to lead things where they need to go. Well, there are a lot of people who spontaneously are inclined that way, and get pulled that way. But if we go about things that way, we won’t get where we need to go. This may be somewhat difficult to understand, but I think it’s an extremely important point: If you hold your nose and refuse to engage with anyone who disagrees with you, or whom you can recognize as representing some other class, we are never going to have a revolution.
The other mistake you can make—on the other side, so to speak—is this: If you do what you need to do, in all its dimensions, with all the complexity involved, you are going to find yourself pulled away from the orientation you need to maintain—pulled toward “we’re all just good people here.” “Hail fellow, well met,” as they say in Shakespeare—we’re all good people here, we all want good things. But, the fact is, we don’t all want all the same things. We may want some of the same things, but there are a lot of things that are not the same, a lot of things that are different, about what we want, what we’re striving for. And there has been this whole wrong approach of working with people by “meeting them halfway,” instead of applying solid core and elasticity on the basis of the solid core—wide arms but based on the solid core. This is the point that needs to be driven home: remaining continually grounded in that solid core of what this needs to be all about, and what it needs to be aiming toward.
This goes back to what I began with: being grounded in for whom and for what—in the largest sense, not in a narrow sense of tailing the masses, but what are the fundamental interests of the masses of people of the world, and what’s necessary to actually realize those interests. There’s a constant pull and a constant struggle, if you’re playing this kind of a role—on whatever level, and in whatever capacity—the tendency to get pulled away from that solid core and to forget what it is you have to represent and fight for. Or, on the other hand, the tendency to do that in a narrow and a rigid and a dogmatic way, which doesn’t reach out and embrace people broadly and bring them into the process, while not giving up the solid core. So this is a tricky, a difficult contradiction, and the more you do this, the more you feel the acuteness of this: Acting in the role of a politician, in a good sense—or statesman, in a good sense—for the communist revolution, is a necessity, or we won’t have this revolution; but this will exert contradictory pulls on you, and you can get in this rarified atmosphere and forget what it is that this has to be all about.
In connection with this, one of the things we have to think about is why are so many people, including so many communists, pulled so often toward compromising their basic principles, toward just trying to go along with the way things are, and attempting to fit what we’re supposed to be about into the way things are, rather than struggling to change things. Why are people so afraid of being far out in front of where most people are at? Well, you can understand the pull, because you don’t want to be isolated. But the fact is, if what we are doing and what we are fighting for is not vastly different than where most people are at, it’s not any good. As the revolutionaries in China emphasized, particularly during the course of the Cultural Revolution there, Going against the tide, when the tide is wrong, is a communist principle.
The fact is that, where most people are at now, is not where people need to be. Where most people are at is shaped and conditioned by how this society, how this system, is working on them. So if we want to lead people where things need to go, there’s gonna be that tension, that contradiction, that we have to be out in front, fighting with people that this is where they need to go, while many things are pulling on them another way and you stand out as being different. But being different in that way is very good and very important, as long as you work and struggle to bring more people forward along the same path. Being radically different than the rest of society is what we need to be—including being radically different than the so-called “movement,” because that “movement” isn’t about anything that’s going to lead to what people really need, and in many ways is actually working against that. That’s not true for all of it; but, in terms of the organized “movement,” it’s true for a lot of it.
I was thinking about this in these terms: Which “M” should we base ourselves on—the “movement” or materialism, dialectical materialism? We need to base ourselves on materialism, dialectical materialism, what the application of that shows to be the fundamental need—not where most people are at, at a given point, but what a scientific dialectical materialist analysis shows us is the need and the basis for transforming things.
Introduction and Orientation
Foolish Victims of Deceit, and Self-Deceit
Part I. Method and Approach, Communism as a Science
Materialism vs. Idealism
Through Which Mode of Production
The Basic Contradictions and Dynamics of Capitalism
The New Synthesis of Communism
The Basis for Revolution
Epistemology and Morality, Objective Truth and Relativist Nonsense
Self and a “Consumerist” Approach to Ideas
What Is Your Life Going to Be About?—Raising People’s Sights
Part II. Socialism and the Advance to Communism:
A Radically Different Way the World Could Be, A Road to Real Emancipation
The “4 Alls”
Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right
Socialism as an Economic System and a Political System—And a Transition to Communism
Abundance, Revolution, and the Advance to Communism—A Dialectical Materialist Understanding
The Importance of the “Parachute Point”—Even Now, and Even More With An Actual Revolution
The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America—
Solid Core with a Lot of Elasticity on the Basis of the Solid Core
Emancipators of Humanity
Part III. The Strategic Approach to An Actual Revolution
One Overall Strategic Approach
Hastening While Awaiting
Forces For Revolution
Separation of the Communist Movement from the Labor Movement, Driving Forces for Revolution
National Liberation and Proletarian Revolution
The Strategic Importance of the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women
The United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat
Youth, Students and the Intelligentsia
Struggling Against Petit Bourgeois Modes of Thinking, While Maintaining the Correct Strategic Orientation
The “Two Maximizings”
The “5 Stops”
The Two Mainstays
Returning to "On the Possibility of Revolution"
Internationalism and an International Dimension
Internationalism—Bringing Forward Another Way
Popularizing the Strategy
Part IV. The Leadership We Need
The Decisive Role of Leadership
A Leading Core of Intellectuals—and the Contradictions Bound Up with This
Another Kind of “Pyramid”
The Cultural Revolution Within the RCP
The Need for Communists to Be Communists
A Fundamentally Antagonistic Relation—and the Crucial Implications of That
Strengthening the Party—Qualitatively as well as Quantitatively
Forms of Revolutionary Organization, and the “Ohio”
Statesmen, and Strategic Commanders
Methods of Leadership, the Science and the “Art” of Leadership
Working Back from “On the Possibility”—
Another Application of “Solid Core with a Lot of Elasticity on the Basis of the Solid Core”
The New Synthesis of Communism:
Fundamental Orientation, Method and Approach,
and Core Elements—An Outline
by Bob Avakian
Framework and Guidelines for Study and Discussion
Selected List of Works Cited
About the Author