Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
Many people in the world today are wondering how to evaluate the recent developments with the revolution in Nepal—where, after 10 years of an inspiring People’s War led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), that war has come to an end, the CPN(M) is now the leading party in the recently elected Constituent Assembly and the Party’s Chairman, Prachanda, is the Prime Minister of the government. Does the current trajectory in Nepal and the course taken by the CPN(M) represent an historic new thing, a victory and breakthrough in advancing the communist revolution in the 21st century, as some have claimed; or—as many others fear—does this represent a setback and betrayal of the goals of the revolution and of the heroic struggle waged to achieve them, and a serious departure from the communist cause that the CPN(M) claims to be fighting for?
The answer to this is of great importance, and can only be arrived at by going deeply into the key questions of ideological and political line that are involved; and this needs to be seen in the context of the crossroads that the international communist movement is facing, which focuses on the fundamental question, as posed in Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA: whether to be a vanguard of the future or a residue of the past.
This article serves as an introduction to an exchange between the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP,USA) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)1 (CPN[M]) over a period of several years between October 2005 and November 2008—three letters written during this period by the RCP,USA and one reply by the CPN(M)—which deal with mounting disagreements on key questions of communist principle and revolutionary strategy. (These letters can be found online at revcom.us.)
Revolutions, and especially revolutions of the oppressed led by genuine communists, are all too rare in the world today—a world which cries out desperately for such revolutions. Whenever a struggle emerges that is aimed at opposing the hold of imperialism on even a small part of the globe, and when that revolution has the goal of transforming fundamental relations that have a grip on humanity today, the success or failure of that struggle is of great importance and has profound implications. In February 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) dared to begin such a struggle, launching a revolutionary People’s War and raising the red flag of communist revolution on “the roof of the world.” This raised the hopes of not only the people in Nepal and that region of the world, but of all those who are yearning for this kind of liberating struggle to be undertaken, and to achieve a new revolutionary state power, in many more places all over the world. At a time when people have been sold the lie that communism is dead, and that there is no real possibility of breaking free from the death-grip of imperialism (and relations of exploitation and oppression in general), when it is constantly repeated that there is no viable alternative to the monstrous system of capitalism-imperialism, many people were greatly inspired by the daring and lofty goals that these revolutionaries had taken up.
For 10 years battle raged back and forth in the Himalayan kingdom, but despite vicious repression, the revolutionary forces grew, as they drove the armed forces of the old state out of most of the countryside and set up red base areas where peasants, ethnic minorities, women and millions of other oppressed got a first taste of real liberation. The stated goal of the People’s War was to oppose the monarchy that had ruled Nepal for over 200 years, to establish a new democratic state—a state which would result from the overthrow and defeat of imperialism and feudalism, and other reactionary forces aligned with imperialism and feudalism, and which would represent and embody the rule of the proletariat, led by its communist vanguard, heading an alliance with the masses of the peasantry and other classes and groups that had been united in the struggle against imperialism and feudalism—and then to carry forward the revolution to socialism and communism. This was explicitly seen by the CPN(M) as part of, and as contributing to, the world revolution.
This was given political and ideological support by revolutionary communists through-out the world, including the RCP,USA. Our Party made significant efforts to popularize the heroic struggle and the communist aims of this rising of the most oppressed masses in Nepal, led by the comrades of the CPN(M). We followed closely the twists and turns of the People’s War and the revolutionary new things that the struggle brought forward. And we paid attention to how the leadership was applying the basic principles of Marxism to the concrete conditions they were confronting, with specific focus on the fact that they were popularizing the final goal of communism and the establishment of revolutionary state power as the necessary next step toward that final goal; how new democracy—as opposed to bourgeois democracy— was being aimed for; how they envisioned the united front under the leadership of the proletariat; and questions of strategy for winning the revolution and establishing a new, revolutionary state power.
As the revolution advanced, it not surprisingly encountered new difficulties and challenges that centered on how to actually accomplish winning state power, how to transform the economy of a backward country in a world dominated by imperialism and especially threatened by the powerful neighboring countries of India and China (the latter no longer a socialist country but a reactionary state ruled by communists in name but capitalists in fact), and how to forge a united front drawing in the middle strata of society while maintaining the focus on the revolutionary goals and continuing to provide communist leadership. These are the kinds of challenges that any genuine revolutionary struggle will encounter, and there are never simple solutions, or ready-made formulas, that can be applied to solving these complex problems. In this context, in the larger context of the defeat of the first stage of communist revolution in the world (which came to an end with the reversal of the revolution and the restoration of capitalism in China, shortly after the death of Mao Tsetung in 1976), and in response to the need to further develop, in theory and practice, a new stage of communism capable of meeting these challenges, struggle emerged over what the actual goals of the revolution should be and how to achieve them.
Our Party paid attention to all of these developments, in accordance with our fundamental internationalist orientation—our understanding of the responsibilities of all communists to approach revolution as a process of world-historic struggle which must aim for, and finally achieve, communism on a world scale. From this standpoint we became increasingly alarmed at the direction the CPN(M) leadership was taking, both in its theoretical formulations and in the related abandoning of the original objectives of the revolution. These disagreements centered on: 1) the nature of the state, and specifically the need to establish a new state led by the proletariat and its communist vanguard, as opposed to a strategy centering on participating in, and what amounts to “perfecting,” the reactionary state (minus the monarchy, in the case of Nepal); 2) more specifically, the need to establish, as the first step, upon the overthrow of the old order, a new democratic state which would undertake the development of the economic base and corresponding institutions of the nation free from imperialist domination and feudal relations, based on new production and social relations brought forward through the course of the People’s War, as opposed to establishing a bourgeois republic which focuses on developing capitalism and finding a place within the world imperialist network; 3) the dynamic role of theory and two-line struggle (struggle within communist parties and among communists generally over questions of ideological and political line), vs. eclectics, pragmatism and attempts to rely on “tactical finesse” and what amounts to bourgeois realpolitik—maneuvering within the framework of domination by imperialism (and other major powers) and the existing relations of exploitation and oppression.
With regard to each of these three decisive dimensions, the leadership of the CPN(M) has increasingly insisted on the wrong view and approach, which has tragically led them to the abandonment and betrayal of the cause they were initially fighting for. In the face of these very disheartening developments, we have been faced with the need to carry out sharp struggle against this disastrous course, and we have consistently sought the best and most appropriate means to make our criticisms known to the CPN(M), and to the parties and organizations that make up the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM)—to carry out this struggle in a way that would actually be of political and ideological assistance to the revolution and would not aid the imperialists and reactionaries, who are the bitter enemies of the emancipation of the oppressed (and ultimately all humanity) and are constantly seeking to divide, defeat and crush the forces of revolution and communism.
In approaching this line struggle, the RCP has proceeded from the understanding that communists the world over not only have the responsibility to apply the science of communism to the problems of making revolution in “one’s own” country but also, to use Lenin’s words, to support “this struggle, this, and only this line in every country without exception.” It is the duty of communists to understand to the best of their ability the crucial questions of political and ideological line as they take place on an international level, and to do everything in their power to help the revolutionary communist line defeat the influence of revisionism (betrayal of communism in the name of communism) in every country, and all the more so when the outcome of the struggle over ideological and political line has so much immediate impact on a very advanced revolutionary struggle such as that taking place in Nepal.
This two-line struggle has been conducted in a serious and disciplined way. Even as the CPN(M) took further steps toward the destruction of the revolution it had been leading, the RCP,USA continued to carry out the struggle privately, in light of the fact that the CPN(M) had made clear it favored such an approach, and with the aim of limiting the ability of the imperialists and other enemies to speculate on differences in the communist ranks and of creating the most favorable conditions for the CPN(M) itself to debate and struggle out these line questions. Unfor-tunately, the CPN(M) leadership has failed to really respond to, or to engage in any substantive way with, the fundamental questions at issue during this whole period, instead insisting that the heart of the matter is tactics, and not basic principles and strategic orientation, from which tactics must and will flow. In effect, they have dismissed criticisms over these fundamental questions with a repeated message that was itself a gross expression of pragmatism and empiricism: We appreciate your concerns, but there is no need to worry—trust us—we have been successful so far, so what we are doing now must be right.
At this point, however, developments in the CPN(M), and in particular the further acceleration of the revisionist degeneration of its line, have made it necessary to conclude that the policy, so far carried out by the RCP, of only conducting this struggle privately, is no longer correct. We believe it is necessary at this point to make this struggle public, with the aim of enabling the revolutionary movement throughout the world, and people who support revolution and communism (or who are wrestling with the question of whether revolution and communism are not only necessary but possible), to have as accurate and full an understanding as possible of the nature and development of this crucial two-line struggle.
Today, as a result of elections held in April 2008, the CPN(M) is the leading party of the newly formed Constituent Assembly in Nepal. The central Party leaders loudly promise to be faithful to the new “federal democratic republic,” i.e., a bourgeois state which is founded upon and protects the reactionary class relations in Nepal, and these leaders multiply their assurances to the “international community” (read: imperialist and reactionary states such as the U.S., Great Britain, India and China) of their intention to keep Nepal firmly cemented into the world imperialist system. The organs of people’s power built up in the countryside of Nepal through the revolutionary war have been dissolved, the old police forces have been brought back, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), although never defeated on the battlefield, has been disarmed and confined to “cantonments” while the old reactionary army (formerly the Royal Nepal Army, now renamed the Nepal Army) which previously feared to travel outside its barracks, except in large heavily armed convoys, is now free to patrol the country—with the blessing of a CPN(M) Defense Minister. The naked renunciation by the CPN(M) of communist principles—such as the need to smash the old bourgeois state and establish a new proletarian power, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the actual goal of communism itself, to make a radical rupture with all traditional relations and traditional ideas, in both words and deeds—has shocked many inside and outside of Nepal. Within the CPN(M) itself many are recoiling at these open manifestations of revisionism—in which some communist slogans and verbiage are used to dress up what is essentially a capitalist worldview and political program. Outside of Nepal, revisionists all over the world, few of whom ever supported the People’s War, are overjoyed at the course of events and write article after article lauding the CPN(M) and the current line it is carrying out. On the other hand, those who had supported the People’s War, in the hopes that it would usher in a new social order and serve the advance of the world revolution, are increasingly frustrated and disheartened by developments in Nepal.
While there has been opposition within the CPN(M), it has unfortunately become increasingly evident, especially after the November 2008 National Convention (which will be addressed below), that the main opposition forces inside the CPN(M) who have been upset by the abandonment of the revolution have themselves been unable to develop a coherent critique of the revisionist line and, as a result, are deceiving themselves, and are at least objectively serving to deceive others, as to the actual program and nature of the CPN(M), a party headed for complete abandonment of the cause of communism in reality, while (at least for a time) upholding it in name.
In fact, the bitter fruits that we see today in Nepal are not a sudden act of betrayal by a few Party leaders—they are the logical and foreseeable outcome of a process that has been emerging in the CPN(M) over a number of years, a process in which the revolutionary communist line that (with whatever weaknesses and shortcomings it may have had) led to the initiation and the advance of the People’s War, was replaced in the CPN(M) by a revisionist line on a whole series of questions. By “line” we mean the outlook and orientation, strategic conception and method which guide political activity in one direction or another. The decisive turn took place in October 2005 when a sharp struggle within the Party was “resolved” in a revisionist fashion, as we will discuss below. This whole experience shows once again how insightful Mao Tsetung was when he emphasized that ideological and political line is decisive. As Mao put it:
If one’s line is incorrect, one’s downfall is inevitable, even with the control of the central, local and army leadership. If one’s line is correct, even if one has not a single soldier at first, there will be soldiers, and even if there is no political power, political power will be gained. This is borne out by the historical experience of our Party and by that of the international communist movement since the time of Marx. The crux of the matter is line. This is an irrefutable truth.
When the line struggle first erupted in the CPN(M) it focused on what might have appeared to many as abstract questions of democracy and the experience of socialist revolution, and many communists in Nepal and around the world failed to understand the life and death implications of these questions for the direction and fate of the revolution. But the questions involved in the ideological struggle regarding the revolution in Nepal are, fundamentally and in the last analysis, a matter of whether to fight for a communist world, or to “make the best” of the existing imperialist-dominated world; whether to accept the proposition that society is, and will indefinitely be, organized on a capitalist basis, or whether to fight to overthrow that system and build a wholly different kind of society without classes and exploitation. Not surprisingly, the terms of struggle in Nepal did not express themselves openly in this way, and even less so at the early stages of the struggle. While a few leaders of the CPN(M), especially Baburam Bhattarai, have loudly proclaimed loyalty to “democracy”—meaning Western-style bourgeois democracy—and expressed a negative verdict on the whole first wave of proletarian revolution, most of the other central Party leaders proclaimed just as loudly their support for the goals of establishing new democracy, socialism and communism while insisting that limiting the struggle to a fight for a “transitional” (read bourgeois) republic was only a “tactic.” Indeed, CPN(M) leaders in general have continually tried to focus the debate on the question of “tactics,” as if the essential question were how to achieve a “federal democratic republic,” not what kind of state, and more fundamentally what kind of social system, was needed in Nepal and the world.
In its letters, the RCP,USA did not focus on the specific tactical questions involved, concentrating instead on the overall questions of line and general direction, while continually listening to and examining the arguments of the CPN(M) about how their tactics, in their concrete conditions, could lead to a revolutionary solution to the real problems the revolution faced. It is not that questions of ceasefire, negotiations, even participation in the Constituent Assembly elections were unimportant; the crucial point was that the correctness, or incorrectness, of such tactics could not be examined and evaluated outside of the fundamental framework of what the Party was seeking to accomplish and what outlook and orientation was guiding its actions. Those who opposed the direction the Party was taking but focused on the tactical questions as the decisive arena, as the CPN(M) leadership insisted on doing, were paralyzed, unable to develop a clear critique of the Party’s line, and thrown into disarray and confusion at every successive twist or turn in the political situation in Nepal or the latest political maneuver of the Party leadership.
Understanding the dangers facing the revolution in Nepal required really digging into the issues as things unfolded—being able to use the outlook and method of communism to penetrate beyond the surface phenomena to understand the essential questions involved. Even now, when it may appear easier—at least to those who have maintained a revolutionary orientation—to see the non-revolutionary conclusion of the CPN(M)’s course over the past few years, anyone content with a facile dismissal of the Party’s actions, without a serious examination of the political arguments justifying and rationalizing those actions, will risk falling into a similar trap in new forms in the future. For all of these reasons, and not merely or mainly out of a concern for the historical record, it is necessary for the important exchange between the RCP,USA and the CPN(M) to be examined by all who are concerned with the problems of making revolution.
What was the situation in 2005, when the line struggle first fully erupted? The forces led by the CPN(M) had liberated most of the countryside in Nepal and advanced to the point, both militarily and politically, where the prospect of nationwide victory began to loom on the horizon. Faced with this, the ruling monarch, King Gyanendra, had centralized all political power in his hands and dismissed parliament and suppressed the mainstream parliamentary parties in an effort to rally by force the entire ruling class of Nepal to smash the People’s War. The Royal Nepal Army under the command of Gyanendra was backed by the U.S., India, China, Great Britain and other reactionary states. On the battlefield, fierce fighting took place with mixed results: some battles were won by the People’s Liberation Army, but in other cases the Royal Nepal Army was able to withstand large-scale attacks and the PLA was forced to retreat with significant casualties. The question of who would win out—the old state, represented by the king, or the new state being built up in the liberated areas of Nepal—was very real and palpable. The question of what the intermediate classes in Nepal would do, especially the urban middle classes in the Kathmandu Valley, took on a particular importance as possible “end games” came into focus.
It is not surprising that the military and political struggle on the ground was helping to focus up a theoretical and ideological struggle in the Party itself. What kind of state system would the revolution put in power once the power of the king had been defeated? How would it be similar to and how would it be different from the socialist states of the 20th century, the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, and the People’s Republic of China under Mao? What type of democracy would be practiced in such a system? What would be the role of political parties and elections? What kind of economic and social transformations would be carried out, and by what means? What would be the relationship between a people’s revolutionary government in Nepal and the imperialist and reactionary states? How would a revolutionary Nepal serve the world revolution—or would it?
In February 2004, an article appeared in issue #9 of the English language organ of the CPN(M), The Worker, entitled “The Question of Building a New Type of State,” written by Baburam Bhattarai. “The New State” advanced a series of arguments about democracy and dictatorship and how they related to the struggle in Nepal that, the RCP argued, “…would, if followed, lead to not establishing a proletarian dictatorship or to abandoning it if it were established.” At the time this article appeared, there were also indications of an internal struggle between Bhattarai and a few others grouped around him, on one side, and, on the other side, the central Party leadership led by Chairman Prachanda. The RCP, alarmed by the positions put forward in the “New State” article but also hopeful that the inner party struggle could serve as a means for the CPN(M) to reaffirm and clarify its understanding of the goals of the struggle, called on the CPN(M) to “cast aside those aspects of its previous understanding and political line which go against the mainly correct orientation” which had characterized the CPN(M)’s line and leadership up to that point, and had enabled it to lead crucial and inspiring advances.
The “New State” article basically placed the extension of formal democracy (including elections with competing political parties) at the heart of the socialist transition and as some kind of supposed “guarantee” for the prevention of capitalist restoration, and proposed that upon reaching socialism the standing army could be dissolved and replaced by militias, and in general the model of the Paris Commune, with direct elections and recall of officials, was raised as a more positive model than the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and China.
The October 2005 letter from RCP,USA challenged the views expressed in “New State” and its promotion of formal democracy as the key to a new state power. Quoting Bob Avakian, it pointed out:
In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about “democracy”—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no “democracy for all”: one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality.
The RCP Letters could not of course go deeply into the dynamics of the socialist transition, but instead referenced the works of Bob Avakian that have examined these issues in great depth and have brought forward a radical re-envisioning of communism that has addressed many of the weaknesses of the first wave of the world proletarian revolution. But it was vigorously pointed out that it was a serious mistake to make the most essential question in the socialist transition formal democracy (and its expression in elections, competing parties, and the like) and that this would strengthen tendencies toward the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The arguments advanced in “New State,” which came to characterize the CPN(M)’s overall approach, negated the need for a powerful proletarian state that could actually allow the masses to transform the world—and to transform themselves—as part of the larger battle to overthrow imperialism throughout the world, uproot and eradicate all relations of exploitation and oppression, and emancipate all humanity.
The RCP’s first letter drew the very correct and important conclusion that, “the proletarian dictatorship is portrayed in the New State as, at best, a ‘necessary evil.’” And the question inevitably arose: with an approach like this, would it really be possible for the CPN(M) to wage the arduous uphill battle required to shatter the old state and throw off the thousands-year old domination of society by exploiting classes and establish proletarian rule, with all the painful sacrifices that requires?
The Manifesto from the RCP,USA, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, published in September 2008, analyzes that while two opposing tendencies have arisen in the International Communist Movement (ICM)—“either to cling religiously to all of the previous experience and the theory and method associated with it or (in essence, if not in words) to throw that out altogether”—at the same time, “these ‘mirror opposite’ erroneous tendencies have in common being mired in, or retreating into, models of the past, of one kind or another (even if the particular models may differ): either clinging dogmatically to the past experience of the first stage of the communist revolution—or, rather, to an incomplete, one-sided, and ultimately erroneous understanding of that—or retreating into the whole past era of bourgeois revolution and its principles: going back to what are in essence 18th century theories of (bourgeois) democracy, in the guise, or in the name, of ‘21st-century communism,’ in effect equating this ‘21st-century communism’ with a democracy that is supposedly ‘pure’ or ‘classless’—a democracy which, in reality, as long as classes exist, can only mean bourgeois democracy, and bourgeois dictatorship.” 2
The reversals of the revolution in the Soviet Union (in the mid-1950s) and in China (20 years later), if correctly understood, should not, and do not, provide a justification for this kind of retreat into the past, in one form or another. As the RCP’s October 2005 Letter argued:
It is definitely true that the very existence of the proletarian state, a vanguard proletarian party, a standing army, etc., all can be transformed into their opposite—a state of the bourgeoisie oppressing the masses of the people. The same can be said for the revolution itself—there is no guarantee that it will continually advance toward communism—revolutions can be and unfortunately many have been aborted or turned into their opposites. But this is no argument not to make a revolution. Whether a state continues to advance toward the ultimate goal of communism, and its own eventual withering away, depends on whether and how that state is fighting to transform all of the objective material and ideological conditions that make the existence of the state still necessary. There is no easy way around this. Relying on the institutions and practice of formal democracy will not solve the problem—it will not remove the contradictions that make the dictatorship of the proletariat absolutely necessary, it will only strengthen the hand of those forces who are seeking to overthrow and abolish the dictatorship of the proletariat, and who can draw strength in these efforts from the remaining inequalities in socialist society and from the existence of reactionary and imperialist states, which for some time are likely to be in a position of “encircling” socialist states as they are brought into being through revolutionary struggle. Abolishing or undermining the monopoly of political power and, yes of armed power, by the proletariat, and its vanguard leadership—in whatever form this is done, including by having elections in which the vanguard party and its role is put up for decision in general elections—this will, for all the reasons we have spoken to here, lead to the loss of power by the proletariat and the restoration of reactionary state power, with everything that means.
Unfortunately, the line struggle within the CPN(M) at that time was resolved on a very bad basis by the Central Committee (CC) meeting held in October of 2005, even as the RCP letter was arriving. Far from repudiating the arguments of Bhattarai’s “New State” article, the Central Committee adopted his core arguments. In a Communique of the CPN(M) CC, the line differences in the Party were dismissed as a “misunderstanding.” The plan to go for a “transitional republic” was adopted by the Party, with the proviso that this was only a “tactic” while it was asserted that the Party remained true to its long term goals of new democratic revolution, socialism and communism. Bhattarai was reincorporated into the leadership of the Party on this basis. This method of uniting two contradictory opinions was heralded as a great achievement and was upheld as a model for the whole international communist movement.
This particular form of revisionism—eclecticism, or the attempted reconciliation of irreconcilable opposites, the combination of Marxism (in words) with revisionism in essence—had long been a problem in the thinking of the CPN(M) leaders but became enshrined and defended as a principle in the aftermath of the 2005 “inner party struggle.” And it was this political line and orientation that piloted the CPN(M) through the next turbulent period of class struggle in Nepal.
The CPN(M) leadership did not answer the RCP’s October 2005 letter until July 2006; but, even before there was a response in the realm of theory to the arguments that had been raised, the practical consequences of the CPN(M)’s line came pouring out.
One of the key theses put forward by the 2005 CPN(M) Central Committee meeting that adopted core positions from “New State” was the notion that the immediate goal in Nepal was not new democratic revolution—the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat appropriate to the oppressed nations that Mao Tsetung pioneered—but instead a “transitional republic.” The CPN(M)’s July 2006 letter explained the thinking behind this:
“[O]ur Party has viewed the democratic republic neither as the bourgeois parliamentarian republic nor directly as the new-democratic one. This republic, with an extensive reorganization of the state power as to resolve the problems related with class, nationality, region and sex prevailing in the country, would play a role of transitional multiparty republic. Certainly, the reactionary class and their parties will try to transform this republic into a bourgeois parliamentarian one, whereas our Party of the proletarian class will try to transform it into a new-democratic republic.”
As the RCP letters explain in greater depth than can be gone into here, this concept of a “transitional republic,” and the underlying notion that it is some kind of neutral apparatus that can be transformed into a bourgeois state or a proletarian state, deny a basic truth of Marxism—one that is not a matter of some ossified dogma but has been established, and verified over and over, through the scientific summation of wide-ranging, profound and repeatedly acute experience in class society over the centuries: There is no state that is not ultimately an organ of the rule of one class or another. Which class will the army and the other organs of institutionalized power serve in this “transitional republic?” Will they serve the struggling masses to uproot the foundations of their oppression and to fight to advance the world revolution—or will they be in the hands of, and carry out and enforce the interests of, the reactionary classes? The RCP letters put emphasis on the class nature of the state and point out, from many different angles, that in the world today every state will have a class character and enforce definite class interests—those of the proletariat, or those of a reactionary class (or some combination of reactionary classes). In this light, the letters examine, and refute, the CPN(M)’s argument that the existence of a monarchy makes Nepal an exceptional case, which justifies not just a temporary united front against the monarchy but uniting anti-monarchy forces in the “transitional republic” and “restructur[ing] the state” in what amounts to a whole stage, which is separate from and not yet new democracy.
Once the CPN(M) had decided to accept the “New State” position and the goal of a “transitional republic,” it is not surprising that this orientation and commitment on its part became a major factor in the politics of Nepal. A series of agreements was reached with the reactionary political parties that had been frozen out of power by King Gyanendra’s dissolution of parliament on February 1, 2005. The RCP,USA has made clear that its orientation—and the substance of its criticism—does not involve an infantile approach that would rule out reaching agreements even with reactionary political parties to accomplish specific objectives, for example in opposition to the monarchy. However, in the case of the CPN(M) it can be seen that these agreements were based upon and reflected the theses that its leaders were adopting about the “transitional republic” and related questions. In other words, the agreements with the reactionary parties were based on the renunciation of communist objectives and principles, as expressed especially in the acceptance of a (bourgeois) “democratic republic” as the goal of the struggle, which again would actually correspond to a whole stage, separate from new democracy.
With these political agreements—and a developing broad opposition to the denial of democratic rights by the king along with the continuing progress of the People’s War centered in the countryside—as a backdrop, in April 2006 a huge mass movement took place in the urban centers of Nepal directed against the monarchy. This movement involved not only the proletariat and urban poor but large sections of students, intellectuals, shopkeepers and middle class elements generally in the cities. The main parliamentary political parties—such as the revisionist Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist Leninist) which, while communist in words, had been a vicious opponent of the People’s War, and the Nepal Congress Party, which had deep connections with the Indian ruling class and had been the historic political party of Nepal’s comprador bourgeoisie (a section of the local bourgeoisie that is tied to and serves imperialism and foreign powers)—also supported this movement and strived to lead it. Faced with the massive outpourings in the urban areas, and in particular the capital, Kathmandu, on top of the powerful People’s War, the ruling classes of Nepal and their foreign backers in the U.S., India and elsewhere, decided that it was necessary to abandon the policy of counting on the absolute monarchy to restore order. A ceasefire took place and negotiations began between the parliamentary parties and the CPN(M) which led in November of that same year to the Comprehensive Peace Accords, establishing an interim government with the participation of the CPN(M), restricting the PLA to cantonments, and setting the ground rules for elections for a Constituent Assembly charged with writing a new constitution for the country.
Clearly, the eruption of the urban mass movement and the end to the absolute monarchy created important new conditions for the revolutionary struggle in Nepal, and certainly it was necessary for the communists to take these new conditions into account, make necessary changes in their tactics and policies and strive to win over the vacillating urban sections who had risen up against the king but were full of illusions that the “return to democracy” would solve the problems of the country.
It was in this context of the end of the absolute monarchy that the CPN(M) leadership finally answered the RCP,USA in a letter dated 1 July 2006. The CPN(M) response indignantly dismissed the arguments of the RCP as being a mere repetition of “the ABCs of Marxism.” It’s true that the correct understanding of the class nature of the state is one of the “ABCs of Marxism”—that is, it is a fundamental truth established through scientific analysis and synthesis of vast, and all-too-often bitter, experience, with tragic consequences when this truth has been ignored. In this connection, the question sharply poses itself: Even if it were true—which it was not—that the RCP’s criticisms of the CPN(M) merely restated certain “ABCs” of Marxism, including on the basic nature of the state, how would that justify abandoning such basic principles (“ABCs”), as the CPN(M) has done?
In its response, the CPN(M) seeks to wriggle out of this by declaring that of course it agrees with the RCP that “strategically” it is class relations that determine the nature of the state, but then it goes on to argue that its demand for a transitional republic is really just a “tactical slogan.” But this argument is yet another self-exposure that only compounds the problem. Suddenly the goal of the revolutionary struggle is no longer to smash the old reactionary comprador-feudal imperialist-backed state and establish new democratic rule under the leadership of the proletariat, but instead to settle for some kind of democratic republic which supposedly has no clear class nature, a state which both bourgeoisie and proletariat alike will try to use. But, with classic eclectics, it is argued that this doesn’t revise the heart out of the Marxist understanding of the state because this is only a “tactic”! Events since 2005 demonstrate clearly that the eclectic, muddled understanding of the state reflected in this slogan (“transitional republic”) goes far beyond mere “tactics”—and it is no surprise to find articles in Red Star (the biweekly online newspaper that presents the views of the CPN[M] in English) a few years later insisting that the current state in Nepal is a “joint dictatorship of both the proletariat and the bourgeois class.” (Red Star #15, “Fall of Koirala Dynasty”) This is declared to be a great theoretical innovation. But in reality there is nothing great, or innovative, about a state that is based on the old society, with new faces in high places who claim they can use that state to fulfill the interests of “the people.” In fact, this conception of the state standing apart from the class divisions in society is the very same deception that exploiting classes always utilize to hide their class domination. In the communist movement as well, the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, in favor of a “state of the whole people,” has also been a hallmark of revisionism. As with revisionist efforts of this kind in the past, the attempts in Nepal now to implement such conceptions, and the tactics that go along with this, can only lead to further and further setbacks for the revolutionary cause, disarm the revolutionary forces, and masses, ideologically as well as otherwise, and set them up for disaster. The fundamental truth, which no erroneously conceived “tactics” can change, or get around, is that proletarian rule can only be established by smashing and dismantling—and not seeking to “perfect,” or “restructure”—the old, reactionary state; and the interests of the masses of people can only be served by digging up the roots of class society, while the rule and the interests of the imperialists, and other reactionaries, can only exist and be served by reinforcing those very roots of exploitation and oppression.
In March 2008 the second major letter of the RCP,USA answered the arguments of the CPN(M) and further developed many of the themes of the RCP’s previous letter (of October 2005) in the context of the evolving political situation in Nepal. Through a whole course of maneuvers and attempts to carry out the agreements that had been reached between the CPN(M) and the other political parties, elections for the Constituent Assembly in Nepal were finally set to take place in April. The question of a “transitional republic” had gone from only being one of basic principle and theory, as it was in 2005, to becoming an immediate practical question as well, as the whole country was preparing to go to the polls for the April 2008 Constituent Assembly elections.
The RCP letter of March 2008 examines the CPN(M)’s call to “restructure the state” and argues that it amounts to a call to “perfect the existing state machinery”—which in fact serves the reactionary classes—rather than to smash the reactionary state (to borrow Marx’s formulation). Numerous historical examples are drawn on, in the RCP’s argument on this crucial point—bourgeois democratic revolutions in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, the 20th century revolutions (or regime changes) in Russia, Iran, Spain and other countries—to show that time and again revolutionary struggles have fallen short of liberating the oppressed because they have settled for ridding the state machinery of obsolescent aspects, like a monarchy, that no longer corresponded to historical developments—and/or to the needs of the reactionary classes at the time—rather than destroying the state machinery entirely and clearing the ground to establish the rule of those who were exploited and oppressed in the old society.
This RCP letter continues to examine why countries like Nepal, which of necessity must carry out the anti-feudal struggle (and which, in Nepal specifically, did involve uniting forces broadly against the monarchy), will require a form of “two stage” revolution but why the first stage—which corresponds to the achievement of bourgeois-democratic tasks, such as overthrowing feudalism (and, again, in the case of Nepal, abolishing the monarchy)—cannot be allowed to fall under the leadership of bourgeois forces, and to result in the establishment of a bourgeois-capitalist republic (in whatever guise and with whatever name), but instead must be led by communists, representing the fundamental interests of the proletariat, and must result in the establishment of a new democratic state, consciously built as part of the world proletarian revolution. In Nepal the capitalism that has developed under the impetus of the world imperialist system is intertwined with feudal forms of exploitation and oppression, and there cannot be any democracy of the capitalist type without the “stench of feudalism.” Thus, without new democratic revolution any half-measures will mean that the country and the masses of people will not only fail to break free of foreign domination and continuing subordination within the international network of imperialist relations, with all the terrible conse-quences of that, but significant aspects of feudalism will also remain—in reality and regardless of anyone’s professions or intentions. Along with that, whatever progress might be made in perfecting the reactionary state machinery will only lead to more fully establishing the bourgeois republic that Lenin described as being the “most suitable shell” for the growth of capitalism.
Here once again is the fundamental principle—yes, an “ABC” of Marxism, and one that it has repeatedly proven disastrous to ignore—that breaking free of the hold of the reactionary classes, and abolishing exploitation and oppression, cannot be accomplished through some gradual(ist) approach, but only through a radical rupture: an overthrowing and breaking up of the old organs of political power, serving the old society, and the establishment of radically new organs of political rule, serving and carrying forward the radical transformation of every sphere of society, as part of the overall world proletarian revolution.
As the RCP’s March 2008 letter argues:
One of the central political questions we raised in our debate with the CPN(M) was whether the current stage of the struggle is for the establishment of a New Democratic republic, that is, the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat appropriate in the conditions of Nepal, or whether the revolution must ‘pass through’ the process of consolidating a bourgeois democratic republic. This question that we were debating in theory has, over the last two years, taken on flesh and bones. Two states had emerged in the course of the ten year-long People’s War: the old reactionary comprador-bureaucrat-capitalist-feudal state led by the monarchy in league with imperialism, and the embryonic new democratic state that had emerged in the countryside on the basis of the strength of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The objective question facing Nepal is which of these states will emerge victorious and be consolidated on a nationwide level and which of them will be defeated. The great tragedy is that the political line and muddled thinking of the comrades of the CPN(M) has to a large degree delegitimized the revolutionary state that had emerged in the countryside and relegitimized the dictatorship of the reactionary classes linked to the world imperialist system…
Indeed, the People’s War had already succeeded in making real advances in transforming social and economic relations in the liberated areas, on the basis of the red political power established there. These changes showed in practice how it is only by clearing away the old state power through new democratic revolution that it is possible to carry out basic bourgeois democratic tasks, such as doing away with the caste system, making a genuine leap toward uprooting the inequality and oppression faced by women and the minority nationalities, distributing “land to the tiller,” and establishing genuine national independence from imperialist domination.
This last point is crucial: without a people’s army and a new democratic state led by the proletariat, it will be impossible to break free of imperialist domination. And, as the RCP letter of November 8, 2008 argues:
Time and again we have seen the inseparable link in the oppressed countries between achieving the social emancipation of the masses and waging the struggle against imperialism.... Exactly because imperialism is a world system that is ever more deeply penetrating all aspects of the social and economic structure, it is impossible for meaningful social transformation to take place without a radical rupture with imperialism....
The RCP’s November 2008 letter argues sharply against the path being taken by the CPN(M), which is concentrated in its promise to make Nepal the “Switzerland of South Asia”—a promise that featured prominently in the Party’s election campaigning earlier that year. First, this promise is built on the illusion that Nepal’s problems could be solved by further integration into the world imperialist system (one key plank of this promise is making Nepal a “hub of trade” between China and India), rather than by rupturing Nepal out of the system in which it has suffered generations of domination and the distortion of its economy and society overall, in accordance with the interests and dictates of imperialists and other exploiters. And this is an illusion that is rapidly going up in smoke amidst the current global economic crisis, with Nepal suffering sharp rises in the prices of basic necessities such as energy and grain. Even more fundamentally, what does this vision have to do with communism in the first place? Switzerland is a small imperialist country that sits near the top of the imperialist food chain, feeding off the global plunder of this parasitical system. Is this the vision that should be inspiring communists—or should it not instead be the vision that Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA, has given such emphasis to: being “emancipators of humanity?”
Once again, the base areas in the People’s War in Nepal had vividly demonstrated some of the revolutionary transformations that the masses were capable of making once they had power in their own hands. Imagine what a contribution the establishment of a revolutionary state, even in a relatively small and poor country like Nepal, could make to breaking through the all-too-widespread view that there is no alternative in the world today to bourgeois democracy serving capitalism and imperialism.
The CPN(M) threw itself entirely into election campaigning, and against the expectations of almost all observers, including the RCP, it emerged from the elections as the leading party. Elated by its victory, the CPN(M) put itself at the head of a coalition government with a number of the other main parliamentary parties.
As already noted, this represented not a step towards liberation, but a step away from it, for these elections proved in fact to be a powerful way of giving new legitimacy to the old reactionary state, which was not smashed or defeated but only perfected by the whole Constituent Assembly process. More generally, the CPN(M)’s declaration that it is using the existing state in Nepal, shorn of its monarchical features, as a springboard for liberation is a dangerous illusion. As has been repeatedly stressed—but cannot be stressed too many times, given how much this is a source of deadly illusions—the reactionary state is not a classless instrument that can serve the proletariat or bourgeoisie alike, depending merely on who is holding it in their hands. The state is not the same as the government, and in particular parliaments—which, as Lenin pointedly noted, can be readily dissolved, if the core of the ruling class finds it in its interests to do so. The state, on the other hand, is an integrated, historically evolved machinery of military and bureaucratic power that reflects, embodies and serves the dominant social and economic relations and the ruling class (or classes) that sit atop them. The idea that the machinery of the exploiting classes can be taken over as it is, or “restructured”—but not smashed and dismantled—and then can be used for the ends of emancipating the oppressed, and ultimately humanity as a whole, goes against the scientific summation of the class character of every state and of countless experiences where the exact opposite has occurred instead: those who began with revolutionary aspirations but fell into these illusions about the state have been swallowed up time and again and transformed into upholders of the very system which oppresses the masses, and/or they have been ruthlessly crushed. The March 2008 letter from the RCP examines the bitter experiences of the communist movement in France and Italy, and concludes that, “once the basic framework of the bourgeois state institutions is accepted as legitimate, then the efforts of the communists to organize the proletariat and the masses to exert their interests within this framework (through both electoral and non-electoral means) has the objective effect of strengthening and perfecting these reactionary institutions themselves.”
It is no accident that one institution that has gone virtually untouched by any changes sought by the CPN(M)-led government is the Nepal Army (NA), the pillar on which the old state stands. But while the NA, which waged a vicious counter-revolutionary war for years, and racked up one of the worst human rights records in the world, still stands fully intact, the PLA has been disarmed and confined to UN-supervised cantonments for almost three years and is now threatened with liquidation through the process of being integrated into the NA. All too often, revolutionaries have indulged themselves in illusions rather than face the basic truth that Mao so incisively summed up: “Without a people’s army, the people have nothing.” On the other hand, the reactionaries and imperialists never fail to maintain an iron grip on this basic question of state power. While the CPN(M) constantly talks about the two armies as if they occupied an equivalent status, it speaks volumes about the reality of the situation that the idea of the NA being integrated into the PLA, instead of vice versa, is non-existent in public discourse, and in Kathmandu’s halls of power the only response this idea would provoke is bemused laughter.
During the period since shortly after the CPN(M)’s electoral victory, a growing number of Party cadres began to recoil at the direction that the Party had taken. They launched struggle within the Party, and a sort of “opposition” coalesced around some senior figures in the Party who raised criticisms that the Party was settling into parliamentary politics in Kathmandu and forgetting about continuing the revolution, and other serious concerns.3 This struggle culminated at a National Convention held in mid-November 2008. Unfortunately, what did not happen at that Convention was a radical break with the dominant line in the Party and a rejection and repudiation of the bourgeois democracy and eclecticism which has come to characterize the Party’s line overall, and which had led it into the morass that had angered so many cadres.
Indeed, it seems that most of the opposition forces themselves remained trapped within this same approach of half-way measures, centrism (trying to find a compromise position between communism and revisionism) and eclecticism, and instead of a decisive struggle, wound up in an eclectic compromise (a classic case of combining “two into one,” as the RCP’s polemics examine). Basic points of the two papers presented by CPN(M) Chairman Prachanda and opposition leader Kiran were combined into a single common platform. Based on this common platform, the Party will continue to head up a coalition government, but the Party’s work will now be carried out through a three-pronged front, consisting of the “government, the Constituent Assembly, and the street.” (Even the new name they propose for the government—People’s Federal Democratic National Republic—reveals the eclectic resolution of this struggle.)
This compromise shows how little most of the opposition leaders have understood what is wrong with the current overall line of the CPN(M). However much one professes in words that “the street” will be principal, so long as state power continues to remain in the hands of the reactionary classes in Nepal and their imperialist backers, what will define Nepalese society and determine the country’s future development will not be “the street” but the workings of the capitalist-imperialist system worldwide and in Nepal. In this situation, “the street” can never be more than a pressure group on parliamentary politics, to be unleashed or reined in based on the workings of these more fundamental factors, and limited to achieving reforms within the overall reactionary framework. Even if one holds the position of Prime Minister, the rules that one will be forced to abide by, the agreements one will have to make, and the interests one will be forced to uphold and serve will prevent “the street” from being anything more than a pressure group used to tack and negotiate.
The RCP,USA letter of November 2008 notes:
One of the particularities of centrism and eclecticism is its refusal to make a clear‑cut demarcation between Marxism and revisionism, but instead to try to carve out a position “half‑way” between a revolutionary communist ideology and politics and outright capitulation and opportunism. In Nepal it is this form of centrist revisionism that has become the greater danger, not those who unabashedly proclaim their adhesion to the ideology of multiparty democracy and the glories of capitalism. The tired refrain is that there is the danger of revisionism or rightism “on the one hand,” but there is also the danger of “dogmatism” on the other, and that by skillfully maneuvering between these two obstacles the Party has gone from victory to victory. Or, there is the recognition‑in-words of fundamental principles, the “ABCs of Marxism,” such as the need to smash the existing state apparatus, while the Party’s actual policy goes completely contrary to this goal.
In particular, Baburam Bhattarai has been arguing openly for a long period of capitalist development in Nepal, and has been a target of dissatisfaction among broad ranks of the Party for some time now.4 But the greater obstacle recently is the eclecticism and half-measures that have come to characterize the line of Party Chairman Prachanda and the forces around him, who time and again combined verbal assurances, to the rank and file and discontented sections of the leadership, of the Party’s intentions to carry the revolution through to victory while continuing to carry out the basic revisionist line and policies advocated by Bhattarai. This “fusion” of two into one is heralded as a great contribution to Marxism, under the signboard of “avoiding splits,” but it actually amounts to avoiding the necessary sharp, decisive struggle and rupture to a fundamentally different and revolutionary line and uniting all who can be united through THAT line struggle. It is becoming increasingly clear in practice that this “avoiding splits,” and the more general eclecticism it is part of, really means abandoning the fundamental interests of the proletariat and other oppressed masses in the name of unity with exploiting classes, their political representatives and their ideology, and abandoning the mission of the proletariat to thoroughly sweep away imperialism and reaction in Nepal as part of advancing the world proletarian revolution.
In this situation, it was crucial, especially for those wanting to build the necessary opposition to the revisionist line now dominant in the CPN(M), to make a radical rupture with precisely this kind of half-stepping centrism and eclecticism and break with an orientation that was framed in terms of an illusory and classless democracy, which could only mean the kind of bourgeois democracy that the Party was settling into. To instead take half-measures and conciliate yet again with revisionism and with eclecticism means reinforcing this erroneous outlook, which had led to the situation that had provoked the rebellion in the first place.
In a situation that demanded decisively going after the causes of the illness, the opposition wound up confining attention once again simply to the symptoms. To take just one example, the “opposition” recoiled at the prospect of the Party being swamped in parliamentary reformism, but persisted in hailing the April 2008 election victory as a great success. The resulting compromise at the November National Convention was, like the April 2008 election “victory,” not a stepping stone towards setting the Party on a more revolutionary path, but instead represented reconciliation with revisionism, taking all the anger and rebellion that had erupted among a significant section of the Party and once again pulling it back within the orbit of an overall wrong line. As the RCP,USA letter of November 2008 put it, “We should remind comrades that every revisionist party always has a ‘left’ whose role objectively is to provide an outlet for the discontent of the masses and sections of the rank and file, while keeping these same sections bound to the political programme of the party leadership.”
Further evidence that there was no significant change in the Party’s trajectory came to light almost immediately, when in January 2009 the CPN(M) completed a process of uniting with the Communist Party of Nepal-Unity Centre (Mashal). This latter party was the product of an earlier split in the communist movement of Nepal before the People’s War was launched. Indeed, splitting with these and other revisionists had been a necessary and vital part of the process of preparing to launch the People’s War in the first place. The fact that the CPN(M) has now re-united with these die-hard revisionists, and has hailed this as a great accomplishment on the road to uniting “all Nepal’s communists,” represents a further step in putting the People’s War, and the revolution it embodied and spearheaded, into the museum of ancient history. In fact, the People’s War is increasingly treated as an action that, though it legitimated the Party among the poorest sections of society, has no relevance for the future.
A recent issue of Red Star gave another indication of where the path that the CPN(M) is taking will lead. Issue #21 featured an article by a Red Star reporter, Roshan Kissoon, entitled “Negation of the Negation,” which took the CPN(M)’s eclectics and revisionism to new depths. Kissoon’s article repudiates the whole history of the international communist movement and the pathbreaking contributions of its founding and leading figures, beginning with Marx. He reverses the verdict on almost every major struggle between revolution and counter-revolution. The result of Kissoon’s article is to effectively liquidate all dividing lines in the experience of the ICM—as if nothing whatsoever had been learned since the proletariat came onto the stage of history, as if the struggle and sacrifices of the hundreds of millions who fought heroically to wrench the beginnings of a new world out of the grip of the capitalist exploiters was all for nought.
This contempt for the achievements of the communist movement, historically and internationally, and the lessons learned at such great cost, is in service of outright capitulation, for Kissoon’s conclusion is that nothing can be done in Nepal today but to build capitalism, and he approvingly echoes a comment from Bhattarai that “communism should be left to our grandchildren.” The point, however, is that future generations will never achieve communism until and unless revolutionaries take the initial but decisive steps that go in the direction of socialism and ultimately communism. Going full steam toward capitalism will only retard and undermine the struggle for communism, and with regard to Nepal in particular it will mean throwing away the great opportunity that was wrenched through the process of People’s War—of opening the door to the socialist and communist future.
It is no wonder that Kissoon reserves his greatest bile for Bob Avakian, for it is the work that Avakian has done to rescue communism from being turned into a museum piece—and to revitalize and strengthen it as a scientific outlook and method capable of leading the masses to advance the revolutionary struggle toward the goal of communism—that poses the greatest danger to this brand of revisionist “cynical realism.” The CPN(M) itself has not—yet—adopted this kind of outright liquidationism but giving revisionists a platform to spew their venom in a Party-led newspaper, as they have done with Kissoon, is a reflection of a line that has already taken the Party a long way on the road to liquidating the communist content in the Party’s line.
The RCP is making these letters public at this point based on its assessment of how best to carry the struggle forward to do whatever is possible to save the revolution in Nepal, and to assist others around the world in learning from this experience so as to sharpen the overall understanding of the diverging lines that are becoming evident in the international communist movement. This is no time to mince words: the revolution in Nepal has been sinking into quicksand and will not “self correct” unless and until there is a conscious and energetic repudiation of the ideological and political line that has led it to this disaster.
In deciding to make these letters public, the RCP is proceeding from the bedrock understanding that communists are not representatives of this or that nation, but of the world proletariat, and that their cause is the cause of emancipating all humanity. Pro-ceeding from this viewpoint, communists should pay particular attention to, and focus political and ideological support and assistance on, those struggles that offer the greatest chances for making revolutionary breakthroughs against imperialism. The RCP therefore has viewed the growth of revisionist views in the CPN(M) with the utmost seriousness and concern, and has worked hard to figure out how to conduct struggle with the CPN(M) in a way that is consistent with communist principle and would offer the greatest hope for a positive outcome.
Some critics have derided the RCP for its “silence” over Nepal up to this point. But the exchange of views between communist parties and organizations—including at times sharp disagreements over matters of principle—takes place in the context of extremely complex struggle, with monumental stakes, against ferocious enemies; this must be constantly kept in mind by anyone who is serious about advancing this struggle. The RCP has proceeded on the basis of the understanding that, “the work of communists and the revolutionary struggles they lead are matters of profound importance for the masses of people, not only in the particular country immediately involved but indeed in the world as a whole” and that the airing of differences has to be weighed and approached very carefully, because doing so “can easily be of aid to the imperialists and reactionaries who relentlessly seek to crush and annihilate revolutionary struggles and vanguard communist forces.” (From “Stuck in the ‘Awful Capitalist Present’ or Forging a Path to the Communist Future, Response to Mike Ely’s Nine Letters”)
The international communist movement must be full of vigorous debate and struggle, but it is not and should not be turned into a mere debating society. It is only when the RCP had become thoroughly convinced that it was not possible through the channels available to it to persuade the leadership of the CPN(M) to turn aside from the disastrous path it was pursuing that the decision was made to open up the struggle to the broad public.
It is undoubtedly true that the CPN(M) has dug itself a deep hole, and it is getting deeper. To speak frankly, it is very hard indeed for a party to extricate itself from such depths. But communism will never be reached without communists going up against great obstacles and overcoming tremendous difficulties, in order to make unprecedented breakthroughs—and this is what is called for today. The first thing that needs to be done is to accept the fact that the problem is the basic line of the Party. It is the revisionism, and the centrism and eclecticism and promotion of illusions of classless democracy that have led the Party into the swamp, and it is a radical rupture with this that is required. This means above all a reaffirmation of the basic principles and goals of communism, which in Nepal means carrying forward—through revolutionary means and not by attempting to rely on, and promote, gradualist illusions and reformist schemes—the struggle to complete the new democratic revolution as the first step toward socialism and the final aim of communism.
The comrades in Nepal are not alone in facing this challenge, but to make the necessary ruptures will require a definite break with nationalism, empiricism and pragmatism—and, as a particular expression of that, the elevation of one’s practice, with whatever successes it may have involved up to a certain point, as beyond criticism and as more important than the fundamental principles of communism, which are themselves the distillation and scientific synthesis of a vast range of human practice and struggle, in the realm of revolution and in many other dimensions of human thought and activity. As the November 2008 RCP Letter points out:
[T]he belief that the advanced practice of the Nepal revolution has made it unnecessary to learn from advanced understanding from other comrades is part of the pragmatism and empiricism that has, unfortunately, been a growing part of the CPN(M) leadership’s ideological orientation for some time now. Any effort to resolve the crisis in the CPN(M) only “on its own terms,” and on nationalist or empiricist grounds to ignore or resist the advanced revolutionary communist understanding developing elsewhere is to severely handicap the struggle for a correct line. In particular, we sincerely hope that the comrades of the CPN(M) will give serious attention to engaging with the body of work, method and approach, the new synthesis, that Bob Avakian has been bringing forward.
This introduction and overview of the polemical exchange between the RCP,USA and the CPN(M) has only touched on some of the many important points that were raised in the Letters, including the relation between strategy and tactics, the international dimension of the revolution in Nepal, the relation of new democracy to carrying out bourgeois democratic tasks, the role of formal democracy under socialism, the CPN(M)’s history, and many more. But one thing is clear: these polemical exchanges represent one of the most important two-line struggles that have taken place in the international communist movement in many years. Like other such major struggles, they involve profound stakes and far-reaching ramifications, and they are an important “school of revolution” that can help a new generation to learn what is involved in the inevitably complex process of revolution and what is required to actually carry revolution through all the way to victory—and on that basis to contribute to doing whatever is possible to save the revolution in Nepal. As the RCP’s March 2008 letter concluded:
This very important battle is part of a greater process of rescuing the communist project in the only way that it can be rescued, by confronting the ideological and political questions of revolution in the 21st century, daring to examine and reexamine our precepts and understandings and forging the solution to the problems of humanity. Our own steps along this process have convinced us, more than ever, of the viability and necessity of the communist revolution.
1 The CPN(M) has changed its name to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) following the merger in January 2009 with the revisionist Communist Party of Nepal-Unity Centre (Mashal). [back]
2 We would suggest our readers study Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA which situates the principal political tendencies within the international communist movement within the context of the summation of the whole first wave of communist revolution and the need to unfurl a whole new wave. [back]
3 See the articles by comrades Kiran and Gaurav among others in issues of Red Star published in September to November 2008. [back]
4 Bhattarai argues that Nepal must first develop the productive forces before the revolution can advance further, and that only capitalism can achieve this. While some compare him to China’s Deng Xiaoping, it could be said that to invoke the “theory of the productive forces” like this in Nepal, in conditions where, unlike in China, socialism has not even been achieved, is a classic example of Marx’s ironic phrase, first time tragedy, second time farce. [back]
Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
On March 23rd, a set of documents on developments in Nepal was released to the public and posted at revcom.us; these included the article: “On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Reply from the CPN[M], 2006)”; 4 Letters from the RCP,USA to the CPN (M); one letter from the CPN(M) to the RCP,USA; and two Appendices by Bob Avakian–“The Creative Development of MLM, Not of Revisionism” and “Some Further Thinking on The Socialist State as a New Kind of State.” This set of documents was made available to the public by the RCP, USA. The collected documents are available as a single PDF file at revcom.us, and may be distributed, downloaded and republished in full as long as they are credited to the Revolution newspaper website, revcom.us.
Shortly after the posting of this set of documents, the Kasama website immediately packaged and posted a “pirate”, unauthorized, inaccurate and incomplete version as their own “webpamphlet,” under the title “Two Lines, Five Letters”. Mike Ely and others connected to Kasama have posted links to this unauthorized, incomplete version on other websites as well.
Notably what was omitted were the article “On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Reply from the CPN[M] 2006)” and the above-mentioned Appendices.
The publication of this unauthorized and incomplete set of materials reveals and is yet another expression of a completely opportunist and dishonest method and approach. In this case, the publication and dissemination of this selectively edited set of documents distorts the content of the material, and obstructs the kind of thorough and serious study, discussion, and struggle required in relation to these documents.
Again, the full set of documents, “On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Reply from the CPN[M], 2006)” is available to the public, and may be downloaded at revcom.us. And these materials may be distributed and republished in full (that means without addition or subtraction) as long as they are credited to the Revolution newspaper website, revcom.us.
Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
“Many people in the world today are wondering how to evaluate the recent developments with the revolution in Nepal—where, after 10 years of an inspiring People’s War led by the CPN(M), that war has come to an end, the CPN(M) is now the leading Party in the recently elected Constituent Assembly and the Party’s Chairman, Prachanda, is the Prime Minister of the government. Does the current trajectory in Nepal and the course taken by the CPN(M) represent an historic new thing, a victory and breakthrough in advancing the communist revolution in the 21st century, as some have claimed; or—as many others fear—does this represent a setback and betrayal of the goals of the revolution and of the heroic struggle waged to achieve them, and a serious departure from the communist cause that the CPN(M) claims to be fighting for?”
So begins the article which is featured in this issue of Revolution: ON DEVELOPMENTS IN NEPAL AND THE STAKES FOR THE COMMUNIST MOVEMENT: LETTERS TO THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF NEPAL (MAOIST) FROM THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST PARTY, USA, 2005-2008 (WITH A REPLY FROM THE CPN[M], 2006).
This article is an introduction to a sharp polemical exchange between the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP, USA) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN[M]) over a period of several years between October 2005 and November 2008. This represents one of the most important two-line struggles which has taken place in the international communist movement in many years. There are four letters from the RCP, USA to the CPN(M) and one reply which are now being made public.
These letters address vital differences of line and a struggle which has been unfolding for a number of years. These differences center on three questions: in brief, 1) the nature of the state, and specifically the need to establish a new state led by the proletariat and its communist vanguard; 2) more specifically, the need to establish, as the first step, upon the overthrow of the old order, a new democratic state which would undertake the development of new economic and social relations in the nation free from imperialist domination and feudal relations; and 3) the dynamic role of theory and two-line struggle vs. eclectics, pragmatism and realpolitik. The outlook and orientation, strategic conception and method which any Party takes up—that is, their line—guides its political activity in one direction or another. In two-line struggles like this, the stakes are very high: which line wins out can lead to advance, setback—or even betrayal.
Digging deeply into this article—and the letters from the RCP, USA and the CPN(M)—is serious, and necessary revolutionary work. This two-line struggle requires an approach which comprehends the life and death stakes of its outcome. The approach of our Party, the RCP, USA has been to proceed from communist goals and basic principles of the science of communism, to go into the questions in a thorough and all sided way. Not only does the future of the revolution in Nepal hang ever more precariously in the balance, but only by drawing the lessons from this ideological and political struggle and more deeply grasping what genuine communism is can the revolutionary forces go forward on a correct basis and advance the cause of emancipating all of humanity.
We urge all our readers to study the introductory article and dig into the letters posted on line—and to engage in deep, informed discussion with the Party and others concerning these vital questions of ideological and political line. Come to the presentations which will be sponsored by Revolution Books*—and organize discussions...with your comrades and friends.
This article and the letters need to find their way into the hands of many people– from revolutionaries in the U.S. and others who have been following the developments in Nepal, to immigrants and students from abroad, including from South Asia, to the international communist movement. It needs to get out into the areas of the cities—from the ghettos and barrios to the campuses and scenes of intellectual ferment—and among people of all strata where the revolutionary and communist movement is developing. It needs to reach all those who are searching for a way out of this horror—and the path to real liberation. And, it is an opening for those who are searching for such answers to find out what communism really is and how human society could be organized in a whole different way. This issue of Revolution needs to reach these people and more—and this article and the letters it introduces need to spread throughout society and the world on the Internet.
This line struggle further underscores the historic importance of the Manifesto from the Party, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. As that Manifesto says, the international communist movement is at a crossroads. It confronts the question of whether to be, as the Manifesto puts it, “a vanguard of the future or residue of the past?” The line struggle which is carried out in depth in these letters is both situated within this larger world context and is also a concentration of it. And it is vital for all to engage with this Manifesto...as they study and wrestle with the two-line struggle in relation to the revolution in Nepal. As this issue of the paper gets distributed among all kinds of people, this Manifesto needs to accompany it. With the defeat of the revolution in China and the restoration of capitalism in that country, the first stage of communist revolution in the world ended. And Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, has led in scientifically summing up that experience, building on the monumental achievements and critically summing up the shortcomings—and, on that basis, bringing forward a new theoretical framework for carrying forward communist revolution in the world. This synthesis, as concentrated in this Manifesto, urgently needs to be engaged by all who see the horror of the world the way it is and burn for a different future, free of exploitation and oppression. It represents a source of hope and daring, on a scientific foundation—for masses the world over.
* For events in New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area, click here.
Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
Editors’ Note: The following is an excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, “Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future,” to a group of Party members in the first part of 2008. This has been edited and footnotes added for publication here.
Bringing forward a revolutionary people: This, too, is not a matter of falling into idealism or voluntarism, thinking and acting as if we can “conjure up” a revolutionary people out of the mere will to do so, or through some kind of linear approach of simply agitating among people about the need for them to become revolutionaries —we certainly should be doing that, and a lot more of that, but not in a linear sense, not as part of a linear approach. Rather, it is a matter of really being a revolutionary, and communist, vanguard ourselves—and acting as such—and that means carrying out the overall ensemble of “Enriched What Is To Be Doneism” (a point to which I will also return later).
First, some brief observations concerning the strategic orientation of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat (or UFuLP). With regard to this strategy of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat, it is important to discuss this in relation to—and to recognize that, in certain important aspects, this involves a contradictory relation with—the identification of key driving forces for making revolution, that is, for getting over the first great hump of the seizure of power. Here again the question of reification—or not falling into reification—enters in, in a very important way. What became the model in the international movement—not only in the Second International of socialist (and some genuine communist) parties leading into World War 1,1 but to a significant degree after Lenin, in the communist movement under Stalin’s leadership, particularly from the late 1920s on—was the notion that you build up a mass movement, largely in fact a trade union movement of the working class, and then somehow under the right conditions that will go over to a general strike (or, in its best expression, into an insurrection). But this is not how proletarian revolution is going to be made: It is not historically how such a revolution has been made, and it is not how it can be made in the world as it is today.
Here it is relevant to speak once again, briefly, to the whole fundamentally erroneous orientation of aiming for “palpable results.” Perhaps many people don’t understand what that means: It means not just trying to wrest reforms out of the system, but focusing the struggle on that. The point is not that it’s wrong to struggle for certain reforms and to actually try to win such struggles, but it is completely wrong to make that the strategic approach—or, as Lenin put it, “the most widely applicable means”—for building a revolutionary movement (or of moving towards socialism, whether that is conceived of in revolutionary terms or not). As you know, Lenin wrote What Is To Be Done? to refute that whole approach, which he very correctly criticized as economist and revisionist—a betrayal of revolution on the part of so-called communists. But then, after Lenin, in the communist movement this whole other idea—of gradualism and of integrating yourself into the daily struggles of the working class and becoming the best fighter for those struggles, and on that basis supposedly winning the allegiance of the masses to your larger program—increasingly took hold.
This brings me back to the important strategic point I referred to earlier: the historical separation of the communist movement from the labor movement. If you go back to Germany in the early 1930s, for example—we don’t have time to go into this now in any kind of depth, but it does involve an interesting and significant point—it seems from reading the history of the communist movement that 1934 was a major turning point in terms of not only the communist movement in general but also with regard to the Soviet Union in particular, and more specifically Stalin’s thinking. When Hitler came to power in 1933, there was a general orientation in the international communist movement (which Stalin led) about how they were going to build a united front, and at first this was in a more or less “left” form, associated with the line articulated by R. Palme Dutt, which posed the essential contradiction then as communism vs. barbarism: the conception was that fascism was the direction in which all of capitalism was headed, that this could only drag society down into barbarism, and the answer was to oppose this with communism, in sort of a “left” economist form.2 But when the communist movement in Germany was crushed by 1934, and the Communist Party there was thoroughly decimated, with large numbers of its members and followers killed and/or dragged off to concentration camps, then that led to certain definite changes in the prevailing thinking within the international communist movement, and what resulted was the adoption of the Dimitrov line of United Front Against Fascism3 and the whole approach of trying to unite with the “democratic section” of the bourgeoisie and the Western imperialists against German imperialism in the form of NAZIism. This represented a kind of “flip” from the “left” form of economism—which essentially treated the bourgeoisie as no longer capable of upholding the earlier achievements of bourgeois society, even in terms of development of the productive forces, and specifically of technology—to an openly rightist line that divided the bourgeoisie, and the imperialist states, into those which were fascist, and therefore were to be solely targeted as the enemy, and those who still upheld democracy and civilization against the onslaught of the fascists, and were therefore to be allied with.
Well, not to get too far afield, the thing I want to emphasize here is the impact on the international communist movement, and specifically on Stalin, when the German Communist Party was essentially wiped out in 1934. It is important to understand that we are talking about a truly massive communist organization and movement: the German Communist Party in this period (up through 1933) was heavily represented in the trade unions, it got millions of votes in the parliamentary elections—not as many as Hitler at the time when he was appointed Chancellor, but millions of votes. The German communists led truly mass movements. They even engaged in street fighting. But what they did not do was break out of a basically economist framework, even though they often gave this a militant expression. They never really grappled with the question of how to actually get to revolution, other than a notion of this happening more or less as an extension of militant trade unionism in effect—I’m oversimplifying here, but this does speak to the essence of it.
As the communist movement and the struggle for socialism went forward after that experience—and in particular as the focal point of that shifted to China and more generally toward the Third World—there was clearly a move away from communism being based in the trade unions and the labor movement. It’s not that communists no longer did any work within the trade unions and among the workers in those unions, but clearly what Mao brought forward—and specifically the strategy of protracted people’s war—represented a very different strategic orientation than one of pivoting work in the trade unions. Now, it is worth recalling that Mao’s development of the strategy of protracted people’s war in China was, in no small part, based on summing up some devastating experience where the communists were among the trade unions, and were organizing workers in industry in the large cities, and they got slaughtered by Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces in 1927. Again, we don’t have time now to go into all that history,4 but the essential point is that the development by Mao of the strategy of protracted people’s war represented a decisive breakthrough, a whole new approach, in how to make revolution in a country like China, and protracted people’s war involved a profound separation between the communist movement and the struggle for revolution, on the one hand, and the trade unions and the labor movement on the other hand, in terms of what was the focal point and pivot of revolutionary work. And this has generally been the case with regard to serious attempts at revolution in the Third World since that time.
But it’s not only in the Third World that this historical separation (the separation of the communist/revolutionary movement from the labor movement) has application and importance. Once again, it is not a matter of whether, particularly among the lower, deeper sections of the proletariat, it is important to be involved in trade union struggles and to build organization among workers in those arenas—while fundamentally approaching all this as part of building a revolutionary, and not an economist, movement. That is important. But the question is: How do you identify what the core and essence of the struggle is about, and how are you going to get to revolution?
In a certain way, this goes back to the metaphor about the multi-layered, multi-colored map.5 For example, think about the point Mao made in regard to how he initiated the People’s Army and first launched the uprisings that became the initiation of the people’s war: He recounted how he relied on what he called the “brave elements” (semi-lumpen elements) because they were more willing to fight and die. This was an application by Mao of the “multi-layered, multi-colored map,” if you will.
Another way to get at the overall point here is that those people who may be the backbone of fighting for revolution, and in particular for the seizure of power, will not be, one-to-one, the same people who constitute the lower, deeper sections of the proletariat. There will be overlap, but the key fighting forces (to put it that way) won’t be identical with even the lower, deeper sections of the proletariat, as such, and also won’t be identical with the forces that have to be the backbone in terms of constructing a new socialist economy, once power has been seized and consolidated. Understanding this, both in its essence and in its complexity, is part of breaking with economism and with reification.
Now, Mao ran into all kinds of difficulties because of relying on those “brave elements” he spoke of, as well as the fact that, in the countryside, where the people’s war was centered, the main force relied on was the poor peasantry. Mao wrote many essays about the “roving rebel band” mentality and other erroneous tendencies which existed among poor peasants and among semi-lumpen elements and which had to be vigorously struggled against. There is a reason, besides just articulation of general principle, why the revolutionary army in China had formalized points of attention and points of discipline. The problems they were addressing were very real. When, in those points of attention and points of discipline, it said “don’t do ‘this’ and don’t do ‘that’”—well, the “this” and the “that” (such as taking things from the masses of people without paying for them) were what people in the revolutionary army were doing. So the leadership had to say, don’t do that—we’re aiming to do something much greater, we’re aiming to radically change the whole society, which can only be accomplished by relying on the masses of people and this stuff you’re doing works against and undermines that. Now, even more fundamentally than applying these rules and regulations (points of discipline and points of attention), they carried on ideological struggle in the ranks of the revolution; but, at the same time, they did need those rules and points of discipline.
And, if you are seriously grappling with all this, you can imagine how things will get posed, looking to the future. We have to understand that all this will involve a very complex mix of people, including youth in particular, coming from different sections of society and tending spontaneously toward different ways of seeing the world, but being united under the leadership of a communist vanguard to fight for revolution and being increasingly influenced and inspired by the communist outlook and the goal of a radically new society, in accordance with that outlook. Reification and economism will only lead us away from dealing with the profound and complex contradictions involved in actually building a revolutionary movement and, when the time is right, waging the fight for the revolutionary seizure of power.
In this regard, it is worth recalling an argument I had, which I described in my Memoir (From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist6). There were a bunch of us talking in somebody’s house in Oakland (I don’t remember exactly whose house it was), myself and David Hilliard, Bobby Seale, and Masai Hewitt (who was a leader in the LA Panthers). We were arguing back and forth about which was the decisive force for revolution: proletariat, lumpen-proletariat...proletariat, lumpen-proletariat. And finally Masai, who had some background in “classical Marxism,” provided his summation of the Panthers’ side of the argument by saying: “the ideology is proletarian, the force is the lumpen proletariat.” Well, that was wrong and eclectic, but it’s not as if there was nothing to Masai’s point. It is worth thinking about. As he articulated it, that position is too simple, too reductionist—revolution will be a much more complex and rich mix and process. The multi-colored and multi-textured map enters in here too. And if you’re really thinking about how to actually build a revolutionary movement, you have to be thinking about the mix of all these things, and specifically: where are the forces going to come from who are going to actually fight through this revolution, where are the forces going to come from who are going to be won to support for it, and so on and so forth, without getting mechanical about it and artificially drawing lines that exclude people—that’s not the point.
All this is very much involved with the question of how will a revolutionary people emerge, and the question of how a revolutionary situation can emerge.
As I alluded to earlier, there is also the question of the driving forces for revolution, when you are going for the seizure of power—and in the building of a revolutionary movement which in a fundamental and strategic sense is aiming toward that—and, on the other hand (and it is an “other hand,” to a significant degree), the forces for socialist transformation once you’ve achieved the seizure and consolidation of a new state power, a revolutionary state power: the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is identity and overlap, but there is also significant difference, between these forces. As I have pointed out before, when you are in socialist society and confronting the challenge of carrying forward socialist economic construction, and handling the relation between that and continuing the socialist transformation of society overall toward the goal of communism, if you don’t win the proletariat—and here I’m speaking specifically of those workers actually involved in production—if you haven’t won a significant section of them, and if you don’t continue to win over broader sections, but you issue grand calls like “let’s all produce for socialism and for the world revolution,” and they all say, “fuck you!”—well, you’re in big trouble! And you can’t just win such people over after you have seized power, although that does provide the basis and freedom to do so on a much greater scale. The point is, there has to be a “winning over” of significant sections of them as part of building the revolutionary movement.
But again, the proletariat, too, is a moving and changing thing. I alluded earlier to the fact that the proletariat under socialism is not the same as the proletariat under capitalism, and the proletariat in either case is not the same as a reified view of the proletariat. And, after all, people who are perhaps technically “semi-proletarians,” in the present society—people who are only rarely employed as proletarians and who are forced to take up other means of pursuing a livelihood—can become proletarians in socialist society—can be employed, and trained and unleashed to do productive work that they are now effectively blocked from doing by the workings of the capitalist system and the actions of the capitalist state. So, here again, it is a question of being able to handle reality which is complex and which is constantly moving and changing. It’s a little bit like electrons (and some other sub-atomic particles): they are there, but at the same time they are moving. This is also how it is with social forces that you are winning—and, yes, wielding to make a revolution. (I have heard that some people are raising objections to our use of words like “harvesting” and “wielding” in relation to winning over and organizing political contacts and social forces—it is said that talking and conceiving of things in this way [“harvesting” and “wielding”] is a manifestation of “instrumentalism” toward people. Well, I do not agree. I am sorry, but our Party is not a humanist debating society, and what we are involved in is not a parlor game. I don’t want to deny or denigrate the importance of not actually approaching people in an instrumentalist way, but we do have to organize and, yes, lead people—and, in the correct and necessary sense, wield forces—to really make a revolution; and when it gets down to it, material force has to be wielded to meet and defeat opposing material force, in order to make a revolution. This has to be done, yes, on the basis that people are consciously won to this, but then they have to be—let’s get right down on the ground, they have to be led to act in an organized and disciplined way, to make a revolution. They’re not going to make a revolution by going out and putting flowers on the weapons of the other side when it comes down to it, or by saying “Hey-y-y, ma-a-a-n, let’s have a different world, what do you say...” Well, we know what the enemy will say—and do—about this. You have to lead people, in an organized and disciplined way, to build a revolutionary movement and make a revolution. Yes, they have to be acting on a conscious and voluntary basis fundamentally. And, yes, we have to learn from people at the same time as leading them. But let’s be clear on what’s involved, and what our responsibilities are as a vanguard—or we won’t be capable of doing anything good in regard to the masses of people and their actual, fundamental interests.)
All this provides a further dimension to and shines a further light on the decisive importance of the rupture with economism, and revisionist determinism. At the same time, there is the fundamental importance, after all, of being firmly grounded in and consistently and systematically applying dialectical materialism, and not idealism and voluntarism. 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? There is great importance to the point we have stressed about the need to develop and forge a strong enough solid core that, particularly at the time when a revolutionary situation does ripen, it can withstand the “petit bourgeois wave” (the phenomenon of millions flooding into political life and even revolutionary struggle but doing so from the position of the petite bourgeoisie [or middle class], or in any case coming at things with the outlook corresponding to that class). It will be crucial then to have developed a force, powerful enough in numbers and fundamentally in its adherence to the communist viewpoint, that can be a strong enough cohering force to win millions and millions more masses to its side and its cause in the actual event, when the showdown comes and everything is on the line (even if that involves a more protracted struggle than had been previously conceived of—as spoken to in “On the Possibility of Revolution”).
Revolution cannot be made without a revolutionary force of millions, and that force is going to be drawn—not because of any apriorism or reification on our part, but because of a dialectical materialist understanding, we can understand that it is going to be drawn to a large degree—from people at the base of society, but not in some sort of classical, purist notion of the PROLETARIAT (in all capital letters), let alone according to some economist notion of “THE WORKING CLASS,” especially as that is identified essentially with THE LABOR MOVEMENT.
At the same time, revolution, particularly communist revolution is not—and never can be—made against the petite bourgeoisie. That is neither the objective, nor is it a strategy that can succeed. We have to grasp firmly the indispensable requirement of a strategic realignment, in accordance with the UFuLP strategy and, in essential terms, how we achieve that. We have to understand, in this context and for this purpose, the importance of Lenin’s three conditions for an insurrection (or, more generally, the struggle for the seizure of power, especially in an imperialist country) and in particular the third of those three conditions, that is, the paralysis of the weak, half-hearted and vacillating friends of the revolution (this is summarized in “On the Possibility”) as well as the “parachute” point, and specifically the “closing up” of the parachute at the acute moment of revolutionary crisis—that is, the rallying of broad sections of the masses, of different strata, around the solid core of the communist revolution, led by the vanguard party.7 But it is also important to emphasize that what will be involved is the relative, not absolute, “closing up” of the parachute, since there will still be, at that point, contradiction and motion in contradictory directions.
At the same time, it is crucial to keep in mind that there will be the “opening out” of the parachute after the consolidation of the new, revolutionary state power. This is an objective phenomenon, and is not a matter of “what we allow.” Let’s remember Enver Hoxha’s simple-minded attack on Mao’s whole theoretical analysis about the bourgeoisie in the party—about how, particularly in socialist society, the most important forces representing the bourgeoisie are actually concentrated within the communist party itself, especially in its top ranks, and how the bourgeois elements (or people taking the capitalist road) within the party are continually, and often acutely, locked in struggle with those who are determined to carry forward the revolutionary struggle and the transition toward communism. Mao should not have allowed the bourgeoisie in the party, Hoxha declared. Hoxha was accusing Mao of liberalism; in effect, if not literally, Hoxha was insisting that Mao should have cut off more heads—he should simply have cut off the head of the bourgeoisie, according to Hoxha.8 This ignores—or makes a principle of being ignorant of—the material basis for why the bourgeoisie will be continually regenerated in socialist society, because of the very nature of socialism as a transition from capitalism to communism, and why bourgeois elements will not only arise within but will seek to establish headquarters within, and eventually to seize control of, the communist party, because the party is the leading and most decisive institution in socialist society.9
All this is not a matter of “what we allow.” It is a matter of what materialism and dialectics tells us will happen—and how we deal with that necessity, how we transform that toward our fundamental objectives of revolution, socialism and ultimately communism throughout the world.
But, to return to an important point bearing on the challenge of actually making revolution (and specifically getting over the first great hump of seizing power), we do have to think about the “closing up” of the parachute with the approach of, and then the ripening of, a revolutionary situation, because this is a key part of what will make a revolution possible. How do we work toward a situation, and be in a position to seize on a situation, where all these other programs (fundamentally representing class forces in society whose interests lie in seeking to find some adjustment within, and ultimately accommodation to, the existing system) do show their inadequacy in terms of dealing with the acute crisis, the desperate situation of huge numbers of people and their determination to seek radical change? How do we bring this alive, through agitation and propaganda, combined with the actual experience of the masses in testing out different lines and programs, over a period of time and especially in a situation of acute crisis? It is not a matter of simply saying, “We all know about the ‘closing up’ of the parachute, let’s be sure not to forget about the ‘opening out’ of the parachute later on, if the revolution succeeds and a new, socialist society is actually brought into being.” No, let’s not forget about the “closing up” either...or else there will be no “opening back out,” that is, there will be no revolution, no seizure of power by revolutionary forces, and we won’t even get the chance to deal with all the—in a real sense maddening, yet fundamentally exhilarating—complexities of leading a socialist society!
Now, to be clear, you not only have to continually think about and wrangle with how you’re going to make a revolution, but you also have to think scientifically about and approach scientifically the question of what happens after the seizure of power, and how you go about handling new contradictions that arise—or new expressions contradictions take—in that radically different situation. And included in this is the question of the “changing social and class composition” that occurs during the course of the socialist transformation. This goes back to the discussion earlier about individuals and classes and the correct orientation and approach to this, as opposed to a view of the proletariat (or other exploited classes such as the peasantry) as undifferentiated, static and unchanging, and reified—both in the present and in the future socialist society.
1 The Second International existed from 1889 to 1916. Despite the presence of some genuine communist parties in it, especially the Bolsheviks in Russia led by V.I. Lenin, the Second International was basically non-revolutionary. The great majority of the parties in the Second International had become accustomed to “peaceful times” and mired in parliamentarism and other forms of “working within the system.” They were totally unprepared for the radical change in the situation with the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914 and ended up openly capitulating to the bourgeoisie, precisely at a time when revolutionary opportunities were opening up in various countries. A concentrated example of this was the German Social-Democratic Party led by Karl Kautsky, which had a mass following of millions; when the war broke out, their representatives in the parliament voted to support “their” imperialist government against other imperialists despite having signed, just a few years earlier, the Basle Manifesto, which had vowed precisely NOT to support such a war and, indeed, to regard it as a crime and to use it “to rouse the people and hasten the downfall of capitalism.” In the course of leading the Bolshevik revolution and the socialist state it gave birth to, Lenin waged sharp struggle against, and broke decisively with, the revisionism of Kautsky and others in the Second International. See Lenin’s Collapse of the Second International (Collected Works, Vol. 21) for more on this. [back]
2 R. Palme Dutt’s line is articulated in his book Fascism and Social Revolution (San Francisco: Proletarian Publishers, 1974). [back]
3 Georgi Dimitrov was a leading figure in the Third (Communist) International, or the Comintern, which had been founded by Lenin in 1919, shortly after the victory of the Russian Revolution. In 1929, Dimitrov relocated from the Soviet Union to Germany to head up the Central European section of the Comintern. In February 1933, he was arrested in Berlin, along with 4 others, and accused of involvement in the setting of the Reichstag (parliament) building fire. Adolf Hitler, who had been sworn in as the German Chancellor (head of the government) and the Nazi Party used the fire as a justification to carry out mass arrests of members of the Communist Party of Germany and to consolidate their fascist hold on power. After 7 months in prison, Dimitrov and the others were put on trial. One of the accused was pronounced guilty and executed, while Dimitrov and others were deported to the Soviet Union.
Dimitrov presented the United Front Against Fascism line in speeches delivered at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935 (Georgi Dimitrov, United Front Against Fascism, New York: New Century, 1945). [back]
4 See Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions by Bob Avakian (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1979), in particular Chapter 2, “Revolutionary War and Military Line,” as well as Chapter 1, “Revolution in Colonial Countries,” which speak to Mao’s development of the theory and line of new-democratic revolution and protracted people’s war in China, and how this applies more broadly in Third World countries. This book is now out of print. For a brief summary of some of the main elements of the strategy of people’s war and its relevance to the Third World countries, see “On the Possibility of Revolution,” which is included in the Revolution pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, May 1, 2008, and is also available online at revcom.us/a/102/possibility-en.html. [back]
5 References to this metaphor of the “multi-layered, multi-colored map” are found in some recent works by Bob Avakian, including “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity,” Part 2, which is available at revcom.us and in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, aRevolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008. [back]
6 Bob Avakian, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, Insight Press, Chicago 2005. [back]
7 The “parachute” point is discussed at more length in “The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution” by Bob Avakian, available online at http://revcom.us/avakian/basis-goals-methods/. This work was serialized in Revolution, in issues #46-50 (May 14-June 11, 2006). [back]
8 Enver Hoxha was the head of the Party of Labor of Albania from the end of World War 2 to his death in 1985, during the period when that party was heading the government in Albania and declaring the country to be socialist. After Hoxha’s death, there was an unraveling of the Albanian government and the party he headed, and the country came to be ruled by forces openly abandoning even any pretense of “socialism.” [back]
9 See Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage—A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, (September 2008), available online at revcom.us or as a pamphlet by RCP Publications, 2009, and the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP Publications, 2008) for fuller discussion of the phenomenon of bourgeois forces—“capitalist roaders”—emerging within the communist party, especially in its top leadership, particularly in conditions where it is the leading force in socialist society, and of the basic nature of the revolutionary struggle against the attempts of the “capitalist roaders” to restore capitalism. [back]
Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
The following was written by someone who has been actively involved in the communist movement since the late 1960’s and has closely followed and studied the experience of this movement, internationally and historically.
I am writing this letter in the hope that it may in some way contribute to the current discussion over the role and importance of Chairman Bob Avakian in the struggle for a communist world.
How one evaluates the role Bob Avakian has played in the revolutionary movement in the U.S. and internationally over the last almost 40 years has, in the final analysis, proven itself to be a question of how one views communist revolution itself: are you for it, or not. Not to make an absolute of this nor to suggest that at any particular point every person who is not clear on the role Bob Avakian has been/is playing, is therefore consciously against communist revolution: such a mechanical view would be both wrong and harmful. Knowledge and understanding are something in motion, they develop (as has the role Bob Avakian is playing). So it is a question of “in the final analysis”. At the same time—and as actual experience has repeatedly shown—it is objectively true and this truth will sooner or later assert itself in someone’s subjective understanding as well.
I first heard of Bob Avakian when I was studying in the U.S. in the late 1960’s and getting involved in revolutionary politics. My introduction came through two sources. The first was by means of “The Red Papers 1 & 2” which were the basic documents of the Revolutionary Union (RU), the forerunner of the RCP,USA. Some people at the college I was attending had been in contact with the RU and were circulating the “Red Papers” as important contributions to understanding how working class revolution could be made within the USA. Already at that time Avakian was being talked about as one of the main leaders of the RU and authors of the “Red Papers”.
I started reading the “Red Papers” and was quite impressed by the systematic and serious manner in which the analysis they contained was presented. This is not really the same as understanding this analysis in a deeper manner, but as stated above: knowledge develops. This was a start.
My second avenue of introduction to Avakian came in the form of two documentary films made by a group called Newsreel that were circulating at that time. One was called “May Day (Black Panther)”, and was about a May Day rally in San Francisco organized by the Black Panther Party in (I believe) 1969. The other film was called “Richmond Oil Strike” and was about a strike conducted by workers at a Standard Oil refinery in Richmond (California) and showed how revolutionaries had united with and supported these workers. Bob Avakian appeared in both these films. Especially his appearance at the Black Panther rally made a big impression on me.
As many are aware, at that time the Panthers were an important component in the leading edge of the revolutionary movement in the U.S. Their uncompromising revolutionary stand vis a vis U.S. imperialism and in the face of the most vicious and murderous repression was a key element of the political landscape in those days. I had heard that Avakian and the RU worked closely with the Panthers. But hearing about this was one thing; actually seeing it on film was something else. There was Avakian up there on the stage with a Red Book in his hand saying, “Let me say one thing to the white people in the audience...” And then Avakian went on to emphasize very powerfully that, while the Black Panther Party had taken a firm position that white people were not the enemy, this should not be taken to mean that white people were relieved of the responsibility to actively take part in the fight against the oppression of Black people and against the imperialist system as a whole. I can remember thinking: “Wow, this brother can really rap it down.”
Being full of enthusiasm, as well as somewhat impressionable, all of this was enough to convince me that Bob Avakian was going to be an important leader in any revolution that took place within the USA. In retrospect this was obviously a guess and not a scientifically grounded evaluation: a well intentioned guess, but guesswork nevertheless. No one could have then predicted how true it would turn out to be, and not just in regards to the U.S. alone.
As things developed and the key turning points of that period began to emerge, Avakian did in fact play a leading role in forging the road ahead and in “going against the tide” to take on and defeat incorrect lines and tendencies that would have taken things in the U.S. down one wrong path or another. He describes these struggles in a very lively and even powerful fashion in his memoir From Ike to Mao and Beyond, My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist.
In those days things like nationalism, adventurism, etc. had a big influence on revolutionary minded people as a lot of very basic questions had not been sorted out. People who were promoting these kinds of wrong lines often attacked Avakian personally rather than focus on the actual questions of principle that were up for debate. So what is currently emanating from some quarters is nothing new. Learning to see through these types of unprincipled attacks and focus on the key questions of political line was important training for the struggles to come. The line that Bob Avakian led in formulating and propagating, the method he employed in doing this and the fact that he never wavered in the face of these attacks played a crucial part in this training.
Even in those very formative years, given all the sidetracks and dead ends that needed to be successfully navigated to advance on a basically correct road, what would have transpired if Bob Avakian had not played the role he did? Is it conceivable that the RCP, USA would ever have been formed in the first place? And if it had, what kind of party would it have been? Without Avakian’s role, what, if anything, would have been consolidated within the U.S. out of the great revolutionary upsurge that swept the world in the 1960’s and early 1970’s?
When the coup took place in China things took a leap... one of the “great needs” that the RCP has talked about in recent documents got a lot greater. At that immediate time the extent to which this was the case was not so clear, even though it was objectively true. As he recounts in From Ike to Mao and Beyond, Avakian wrote “Revisionists are Revisionists and Must Not be Supported; Revolutionaries are Revolutionaries and Must Be Supported”. This paper exposed the revisionist line that had taken power following Mao’s death and upheld Mao’s line and the Four. It was the basis for uniting people to defeat the revisionist pro-Deng Menshevik-faction at the central committee meeting that was held to decide the question of what stand the RCP would take on the developments in China. And as far as I am aware no other Maoist party or organization in the world was able to produce such a document—unfortunately.
When you read about this in From Ike to Mao and Beyond it really comes through how deep a grasp he had of the fact that the question of a correct evaluation of the coup was, as he talks about it, a “cardinal question” on which there could be “no compromise”. Making a correct evaluation and winning the struggle in the Central Committee meeting around this question was crucial in not only keeping the RCP on a revolutionary path, but also opening up the whole trajectory of development that would follow.
All the Maoist forces that made a wrong evaluation of this question rapidly became revisionist. Almost all those who thought they could sit it out, or felt that it was all too complicated or too far away to figure out, continue—if they still exist and have not corrected this error—to suffer from the agnostic and pragmatic thinking that allowed for such a position. And even many of those who took a basically correct position on the coup, but did not ground this evaluation in the kind of deep analysis that Avakian made, had great difficulty not only in grasping Mao’s breakthroughs in understanding the contradictory character of socialism as a revolutionary transitional society, but also in taking a scientific approach to the science of revolution in general.
What would have happened if Avakian had not had the grasp of this question that he did, including the understanding and orientation that this was do-or-die with no backing down?
Around this time Avakian also wrote Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions. For those not familiar with it, this is a major work that synthesizes Mao’s qualitative contributions to the science of revolution. Although things have progressed quite a bit since then, if you look at this work you will see that Avakian does not rest content with just discussing what Mao had to say about the major topics the book deals with. When it comes to Bob Avakian and important questions of political principle, there is never even a hint of superficiality, or as he puts it in From Ike to Mao and Beyond, “When I get into something, I like to get into it deeply...” (pg. 248). (BTW, this is something that has both frustrated and infuriated his opponents over all these years. )
Each chapter of Mao’s Immortal begins with Avakian first summing up what the thinking of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin had been on these issues and then explaining how Mao had qualitatively advanced the communist understanding on the particular subject. In the last chapter Avakian, as is his fashion, deals with Mao dialectically and begins an initial discussion of some of Mao’s weaknesses as well. In other words, he deals with all this in an all-around, deep-going way. He had clearly not only thoroughly immersed himself in Mao, but in Marxism-Leninism as a whole. As it turned out, this was the most advanced effort of its kind anywhere and provided the theoretical basis for both upholding Mao’s contributions and the revolutionary experience in China as well as a starting point for further deepening the understanding of these contributions (both their positive and negative aspects).
If he had not been able to do all this, what understanding would exist in the world today in regards to Mao’s qualitative developments in our revolutionary science and the experience of socialism in China as a whole? Remember, at that time there was not only the revisionism coming from China, but there was also the dogmato-revisionism coming out of Albania which was claiming that Mao had never been a communist and China had never been socialist. As ridiculous as this may seem today, at the time this line was exerting a lot of influence among previously Maoist forces around the world. Without Avakian’s leadership, what would have happened to the RCP,USA in terms of remaining on the revolutionary road? Remember that no other party in an imperialist country was able to survive as a revolutionary party in the wake of the coup in China: not a single one—and there were many, including not a few which were much larger and more influential than the RCP at that time.
In connection with this struggle, as the RCP has documented, there was also the re-discovery, so to speak, of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? Even if this “re-discovery” was initially still mixed with the influence of economism, and it is now being summed up that over the last 2 decades new problems in this regard emerged, what would have resulted if this initial re-discovery had not been made at that time? Would it have been possible to have arrived at the current understanding of “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism” at all?
Following this phase Avakian continued to push forward—to put it mildly. I remember when Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will first appeared. In the “Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology” he refers to this as the beginning of an “epistemological rupture”. I agree with that wholeheartedly. For some, the analysis/synthesis he makes in that document—both the methodological approach and the political conclusions—was like a bolt of lightning; others were less enthusiastic (to say the least). Those “less enthusiastic” saw this document as a kind of heresy since it criticized a good deal of the long ingrained dominant thinking within the international communist movement around the questions it deals with. Again, Avakian was going against a really big tide by applying—and further developing—the principle of “going for the truth” no matter where it leads and whom it might offend.
Conquer the World? marked Avakian’s initial barrage in what later became an all-around analysis and criticism of the method of “political truth”: a malady that has historically so inflicted itself on our movement. The way in which Avakian holds firmly to basic correct principles, and genuine advances, but at the same time breaks with convention and makes a really critical/self-critical evaluation of the history and practice of our movement up until that time is truly remarkable. I know that for me this opened an entirely new view of the history of our struggle as well as how we needed to approach things in general if we are going to get to where we want to go.
Among all the deep insights Avakian makes in Conquer the World?—and there are many—the analysis that is made here regarding the proletarian world revolution being a single integrated world process in which the international arena is overall principal is, in my opinion, a world-historic leap in our understanding of this subject. It puts the whole question of proletarian internationalism, the dialectic of defence/advance and the correct approach to evaluating the factors affecting the conditions for revolution internationally—and in particular countries—in an entirely different and qualitatively more scientific light. I agree with the RCP’s estimation that this understanding has fundamental meaning for communist strategy and tactics worldwide and in every country.
And this insight provided the basis for Avakian’s conclusion that socialism in a particular country must in the first place be built as a base area for the world revolution. This is a fundamental paradigm rupture in regards to this question: one that opens up tremendous new avenues of freedom for advancing our struggle in particular countries and worldwide. Unfortunately, far too many have—for various reasons—been unable or unwilling to take up this understanding. I think it is no exaggeration to say, that if our movement does not adopt and apply Avakian’s approach to this question, it will be impossible to get to communism.
If Avakian had not continued to advance and make these breakthroughs, what would have happened to our movement internationally? Would the founding of the RIM and the formulation of its Declaration (with the content it has) have even been possible without all this? And what direction would the RCP have taken if this understanding had not been developed?
As it has turned out, Conquer the World? was just the opening salvo in what has been over 25 years of continuing analysis, leaps and advances in evaluating, summarizing and synthesizing the experience of the communist project: the political economy of imperialism; the question of democracy; the collapse of revisionism; the question of communist morality, ethics, etc.; the role of intellectuals, art, and “awe and wonder” more broadly; epistemology and philosophy in general; revolutionary strategy in the imperialist countries; the role of the vanguard, the leadership/led contradiction (solid core/elasticity) and all the other multifaceted developments in understanding what the character of revolutionary socialism really is and how to keep it on the path to communism; and so forth... in short all of the components that have now emerged as Bob Avakian’s new synthesis.
This is not the place (nor am I the person) to try to go into all of this. But I do want to just briefly comment on one aspect: the question of how we are going to “do better next time”. First of all, the fact that Avakian has approached the evaluation of the experience of the first wave of communist revolution with this orientation is a very important positive factor in and of itself. It has been absolutely imperative for us to have waged an intense battle to defend the genuine revolutionary breakthroughs and monumental achievements made so far in the struggle for communism—of which there are many. On the other hand it has also become increasingly clear over the years that just upholding the “best of what was done before” is not enough: not enough to deeply and in an all-around way answer the critics, and enemies, of our movement, and even more importantly not enough to be able to “do better next time”.
As concentrated in the formulation “solid core with a lot of elasticity”, Avakian has broken new ground in our understanding of how to correctly utilize the contradictoriness of socialist society as an engine for propelling it forward. In my opinion, what he has done in this regard is in many ways similar to what he did in Conquer the World?, but with perhaps even more far-reaching importance and profound implications: another paradigm leap, this time in our whole understanding of and approach to the vital question of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a revolutionary transition to communism. While upholding the great advances made in the Soviet Union and, on a qualitatively higher level, in China when these countries were socialist, and building on the theoretical contributions of those who have gone before, Avakian has subjected this experience to an all-around and thoroughgoing scientific evaluation, including an appraisal of the major criticisms of that experience (from friend and foe alike).
Through his deepening of our grasp of the nature, importance and role of truth in the struggle for communism, he has developed the concept that repeatedly unleashing the whole of society in the effort to discover and grasp truth and on that basis transform reality (society and nature in general, including people’s way of thinking) on a continually deeper level is—together with the advance of the world revolution as a whole—a central element for keeping socialist society on a revolutionary path. By furthering our understanding of the meaning of “embraces not replaces” and making a seminal rupture with “political truth”, pragmatism, empiricism, reductionism, instrumentalism, etc. he has identified in a whole new way the material basis for and the necessity and role of ferment and dissent in socialist society. And this has also led to a re-conception of our understanding of the contradiction between the individual and the state under the dictatorship of the proletariat. In short, in the wake of the defeat that marked the end of the first wave of communist revolution, and the confusion this has produced over the theoretical and practical possibility of overcoming class society, he has opened up a qualitatively new vision of a revolutionary socialism as pathway to a communist future: one that is as viable as it is liberating.
Given how urgently needed all these advances have been, it is really quite difficult to take seriously those who claim that they are “not necessary”, of “minor importance at best”, or “nothing new”. Moreover, located as it is in the USA—the current strategic heart of the world imperialist system—the RCP is particularly well situated to make a major breakthrough that would provide immense assistance to the international proletariat’s worldwide struggle to emancipate itself and all of humanity. And given the quality of the leadership role that Avakian has been playing in his party for almost 3 decades, something which has again been underscored by all that is contained in the new Manifesto the RCP has recently published (Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage)—including especially what is said there about the role Avakian played in calling for a “Cultural Revolution within the RCP” to be carried out “in the midst of a Long March”: given all this, it is extremely difficult to understand how anyone consciously involved in the struggle for communism would not grasp how Chairman Avakian’s continuing leadership immeasurably increases the chance of there being a communist revolution in the USA during our lifetimes, and therefore how the role he is playing is also in that sense an extremely positive factor for the world revolution as a whole.
Some people raise the question of just who Bob Avakian is to claim to have produced such a contribution to our communist science and understanding. After all, they assert, “what has he done?” In the first place, this approach really begs the question—the issue is not one of “claims and counter-claims”. Check out and evaluate the new synthesis. Therein lies the heart of the matter and the answer to this “question”. Additionally, leaving aside the fact that Bob Avakian is far from alone in making this evaluation of his contributions, and without repeating everything that has already been said here in terms of “what Bob Avakian has done”, there are fundamental methodological problems with the “what has he done” line of thinking.
The example of Marx and the approach he took to arrive at a scientific understanding of the workings of human society and nature as a whole has been discussed extensively in other places. But briefly, Marx’s breakthroughs in this area were based on both his active participation—and leadership role—in the communist movement of his time, and a years long study and evaluation of an extensive set of data encompassing the entire world and the history of human society, as well as his critical engagement with a broad range of other thinkers and analyses. Through developing and then applying the method of dialectical materialism to process the empirical data at his disposal—and by applying his all-around knowledge of nature and human society together with his tremendous talent for creative thinking—Marx (together with Engels) was able to uncover and synthesize the basic laws of nature and society: Marxism. This included a scientific understanding of the inner workings of the capitalist mode of production as well as the need for and possibility of achieving communism. His work remains today the cornerstone of scientific communism.
As others have also pointed out, what Bob Avakian has done over the last 30 years and more is very similar. First of all, as Chairman of the RCP he has continued to provide all-around leadership to his party in carrying out revolutionary work and struggle in the U.S., as well as play a leading role in our movement internationally. At the same time, and as talked about above, he has deeply immersed himself in the historical experience of our movement; the theoretical framework that has guided this experience; the criticism and evaluations of the experience of socialism coming from all quarters; the philosophical, ethical and political debates and discourse of our times; and the new developments and challenges that have emerged over the course of the last 3 decades. The cumulative product of his work over all that period is a new understanding of our revolutionary science that “...involves a recasting and recombining of the positive aspects of the experience so far of the communist movement and of socialist society, while learning from the negative aspects of this experience, in the philosophical and ideological as well as the political dimensions...” (Avakian, Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity). This is the process and dynamic through which Bob Avakian’s extensive “body of work” has come into existence.
Just as Marx could not have written Capital by going to work in a factory, it would be equally as misguided to insist that Avakian could not have brought forward a new synthesis because he did not personally participate in all the major struggles of our movement over the course of the last 40 years. Such a thing is not possible and to suggest that it is a prerequisite for making a leap to “the stage of rational knowledge” (as Mao puts it On Practice) is to fundamentally depart from the Marxist method. In the final analysis, since this prerequisite can never be met, it would mean that no further qualitative all-around advances in the development of our science are possible.
Some of those who make these “what has he done” arguments either state, or imply, that in order to make the theoretical advances that Avakian has made, one must have first led a successful seizure of power—or at least a major revolutionary war. But this argument is, again, just another expression of pragmatism and empiricism (coupled in certain cases with a major dose of nationalism). If these same criteria were to be applied to Marx and Engels, would we not be forced to conclude that they were little more than geeky windbags? Yes, they were out in the streets in their younger days, but so was Bob Avakian. And in any case, like all other communist leaders, the political leadership they provided and their theoretical contributions were overwhelmingly based on indirect knowledge and not direct personal experience. They led no revolutionary wars and never experienced socialist society. They were not even personally present when the Paris Commune took place, the first and only revolutionary seizure of power during their lifetimes. Although their lack of direct participation in that event did not stop them from thinking they could sum it up and draw crucial theoretical and political lessons from this brief, but nevertheless earthshaking event.
And perhaps even more importantly, if followed, the wrong approaches described here would have two grievous—and interrelated—consequences. First, the objectively posed task of critically evaluating the first wave of communist revolution, of identifying from that vast store of experience the theoretical and practical advances that must be upheld and built upon, as well as the errors and shortcomings and the reasons for them, so that it will be possible “to do better next time”; that task would not be carried out. Second, without at some point accomplishing that task and given both the weaknesses of the “first wave” and all the changes that have occurred in the world since the proletariat last held state power, another successful communist-led revolution might never take place, or, if it were to happen it would, in all likelihood, not be guided with the understanding necessary—and possible—to remain on a revolutionary path for a substantial period of time.
Maybe the “who is he” and “what has he done” approach has some validity on planet “agnosticism, pragmatism and empiricism”; but here on Earth the methodology that Avakian has applied to confronting and transforming the necessity that our movement has faced in terms of analyzing and understanding the experience of the first wave of communist revolution and the developments since then exactly conforms to the basic scientific method and approach that Marx and Engels first developed and applied. And while doing this Avakian has set a very high standard by maintaining an extraordinarily principled approach to all investigation, discussion, debate and struggle—including a great respect for the contributions and opinions of others. The results are more than just excellent... they are truly momentous and path breaking.
As for the claims of “cult of the personality” that have been raised, there are a couple of points to make. First of all, this is about the need for and role of leadership, not “cults”. The need for leadership is not something imposed upon reality by communists; rather it fundamentally arises from the inherent contradictions and conditions of class society and the process through which rational knowledge develops.
There are two basic questions that must be addressed here: 1. Does Bob Avakian’s new synthesis represent a breakthrough in our science as is being put forward: yes or no? And even if you answer with “no”, you still must engage with it and explain why it is not... you cannot simply make that assertion based on some kind of non-materialist or even narrow petty arguments. (If you take a serious and systematic approach and are still not convinced, then at least your arguments will help contribute to everyone’s understanding.) And 2. If you answer “yes”, then doesn’t this present you with the necessity of helping to make both the new synthesis and its author known as broadly as possible throughout society... if Bob Avakian is really playing the role that has been talked about, then is it not a burning necessity that people everywhere are made aware of this, and all the dimensions of what it means for our struggle, their actions, etc.?
No one is talking about slavish acceptance of the new synthesis, but rather critical engagement, principled struggle and conscious understanding... this has nothing to do with “cults” or superstition of any kind, nor the promotion of some kind of infallible all-knowing leader who is beyond all criticism. In fact, what is being called for here is the exact opposite of such notions.
In his introduction to Six Easy Pieces the physicist Richard Feynman describes the “principle of science” with the following sentence: “The test of all knowledge is experiment.” “Experiment,” he writes, “is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth’. But”, he asks, “what is the source of the knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from?” “Experiment”, he answers, can provide us “hints” as to the underlying laws of nature, but to arrive at “the great generalizations”—the theorization of the underlying laws themselves—“imagination” is “also needed”.
While Feynman was not a dialectical materialist  —thus placing limits on his materialism—and did not see his work in the context of, or connected to, the struggle for communism, he nonetheless makes a very important point here; one that is equally true for developing communist theory. To make a leap, any kind of correct scientific theory, including communist theory, must incorporate an image of (conceptualise) that which has not yet come into being (or, in science, has been confirmed through experiment), i.e. it must “‘run ahead’ of practice”.
Qualitative theoretical advances in communist theory require not only the empirical data obtained through revolutionary struggle and the broadest array of other forms of practice, but also both a dialectical materialist approach and the application of imagination and vision to process and synthesize that data. Bob Avakian has repeatedly demonstrated a profound grasp of the dialectical materialist method and a “communist imagination” of exceptional quality and strategic sweep—one that is infused with a combination of scientific rigor, revolutionary romantic spirit and love for the people. He is that rare kind of radical visionary who, so far at least, has only appeared once or twice in a generation—if that often.
Furthermore, these qualities and ability did not drop from the sky in finished form. Avakian’s political development, like that of everyone else, is a product of necessity and accident. There is a great deal of contingency here. Starting back in 1969 there was absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that Bob Avakian was going to take the path he has and advance along it as far as he has gone. There were more than a few who, with not so un-similar backgrounds and qualities, and starting around the same time along the same general path, have gone astray or fallen by the wayside at one of the numerous turning points along the way. So Bob Avakian’s contributions are not the outcome of some innate genius, pre-determined inevitable course of events or “going it alone”. They are the result of a historically conditioned complex process that—depending upon a myriad of factors—could have had quite a number of much less favourable outcomes.
In closing, and if I may be allowed to paraphrase here, “Let me say one thing to the revolutionary communists in the audience...”
Especially the last point above should serve to emphasize just how unique and precious our comrade Bob Avakian is to our common cause and struggle. This is extremely important to grasp and understand.
When Mao died in 1976 it was like the whole communist movement kind of held its breath and contemplated what was going to happen: not just in China itself, but also in relation to what we all were going to do without the Great Helmsman at the head of our ranks. At that time Bob gave a speech at a memorial meeting for Mao in which he said: “So when they raise the question, who will be Mao Tsetung’s successors, the working class is ready with its answer: We will be Mao Tsetung’s successors, in our millions and hundreds of millions, and we will continue the cause for which he fought and in which he led us and to which he devoted his entire life, until that great goal of eliminating exploitation and oppression and achieving communism has finally been achieved.”
This was a very important orientation to set and statement to make in that situation. And because in the final analysis it is the masses of people who make history—who, to again paraphrase Avakian, must in the end emancipate themselves—it is also correct to say that the masses in their millions will be Mao Tsetung’s successors. But having said that, and looking back at it now, I think we also have to acknowledge that his statement was a bit one-sided.
The masses make history, but if it is to be a history that leads to a communist world, they need leadership: genuine communist leadership, including rare and outstanding figures like Mao Tsetung. So the question at that time was also: what leader or leaders were going to step forward to fill that “great need”? There is an important dialectic here. Without people capable of making exceptional contributions on the level of a Mao Tsetung, it is impossible for everyone else to make their maximum contribution and for humanity as a whole to reach the day when there will no longer be any permanent institutionalised division of labour between leaders and the led.
In light of all that has been said here it should be clear that in my opinion it is without question that Bob Avakian has, through all the twists and turns of the last 3 decades, risen to the challenge and stepped forward to fill that objectively existing role and need. He has not only stayed the course, but has produced a “body of work” containing a new synthesis of our understanding of the science of communism: a new level of freedom from which to engage and transform in a revolutionary fashion the necessity we are currently confronting. This is a tremendous positive factor for continuing and advancing the epic battle for a communist world.
Thus, for this and all the other reasons described above, we should without reservation cherish, defend and celebrate comrade Avakian: proudly and boldly make his role and contributions known to the masses of people everywhere and in that way help turn his new synthesis into a material force to change the world. We can and must declare that Chairman Bob Avakian is indeed an outstanding example of what it means to be a genuine tribune and servant of the people -- a true emancipator of humanity.
With my warmest and most heartfelt communist greetings,
1 This is not to suggest that such incorrect tendencies do not exist or have no influence today, but back then there was still a good deal of lack of clarity about whether these questions should even be evaluated on a Marxist-Leninist basis, or with some other approach.
2 I cannot deal here with the aspect that has been raised in different documents published by Avakian and the RCP in which it is stated that in some regards the founding of the RCP was, due to the influence of economism, both a great advance as well as its “low point”. It was obviously much preferable to have a “low point” from which one could build, than “no point” at all.
3 This refers to Mao’s four closest leading comrades during the Cultural Revolution and at the time of his death. Their arrest was at the heart of the counter-revolutionary coup staged by Deng Xiaoping and the other revisionists in China.
4 The main documents of this struggle were made public by the RCP in the book Revolution and Counter-Revolution: The Revisionist Coup in China and the Struggle in the Revolutionary Communist Party USA..
5 In Revolution and Counter-Revolution where the main documents of the RCP leadership are published along with those of the “Jarvis-Bergman Headquarters” (Mensheviks), there is the paper “China Advances Along the Socialist Road” (sic). In it the Mensheviks characterize as a “coup” the Central Committee meeting at which Avakian was able to win over a majority to support his position on China. They even go so far as to complain about the fact that his paper had been circulated to the top leadership—including them—before the meeting; as if being open and above board is something negative. They proceed to discuss the reasons why they did not do more “to put real roadblocks in the path of the Chairman”. In trying to explain this “failing”, and why, at the end of the debate at the Central Committee meeting they actually voted for the position put forward by Avakian, and only afterward decided to “rebel”, one of the reasons they give is, “...our fear of having to take on The Chairman in a big face to face battle...” Was this self-described “fear” due to Avakian spending his evenings watching Bruce Lee movies, so if anyone disagreed with him at a meeting he could pull out the nunchucks and do a number on them? Or was the Mensheviks’ “fear” a result of the fact that Avakian takes positions based on solid analysis and is ready and able to present them convincingly and defend them tenaciously; whereas for their part the Mensheviks were just blowing smoke? (See Revolution and Counter-Revolution, pg. 143-4)
6 Also around that time there were major programs held in New York and San Francisco at which Avakian explained the exact course of events that led to the coup in China and enabled it to be successful. This was published in a pamphlet called The Loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of Mao Tsetung.
7 I might add here, and just to emphasize the point, since that time not a single party of major consequence has been formed in an imperialist country. People could give some thought to why this has been the case, what it means that in what is currently the world’s most powerful imperialist country a genuine communist vanguard does exist and what this has to do with the role that Bob Avakian has played.
9 The point here is not to try to “rate” these things vis a vis one another, this is a question of the development of knowledge and understanding: the former actually laid the basis for and helped lead to the latter.
10 As he further describes in Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, this involves “opening up qualitatively more space to give expression to the intellectual and cultural needs of the people, broadly understood, and enabling a more diverse and rich process of exploration and experimentation in the realms of science, art and culture, and intellectual life overall, with increasing scope for the contention of different ideas and schools of thought and for individual initiative and creativity and protection of individual rights, including space for individuals to interact in ‘civil society’ independently of the state—all within an overall cooperative and collective framework and at the same time as state power is maintained and further developed as a revolutionary state power serving the interests of the proletarian revolution, in the particular country and worldwide, with this state being the leading and central element in the economy and in the overall direction of society, while the state itself is being continually transformed into something radically different from all previous states, as a crucial part of the advance toward the eventual abolition of the state with the achievement of communism on a world scale.”
12 Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher, by Richard P. Feynman. Richard Feynman was a prominent U.S.-American physicist in the post-WWII period until his death in 1988. In 1965 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in quantum electrodynamics. Six Easy Pieces is a collection of introductory physics lectures originally delivered in 1963. The entire passage reads: “The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth’. But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself,
helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations—to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess.” (pg. 2, all emphasis in the original).
13 Feynman, as far as I know, did not consider himself a dialectical materialist. But to achieve the insights into quantum mechanics that he did, he obviously had to take a generally materialist approach to reality. For example, he also makes the following comment: “If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis... that all things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.” (ibid., pg. 4, emphasis in the original.)
14 In Ike to Mao and Beyond Avakian provides a rich description of the overall interplay of necessity and accident at work here: his childhood family life and the illness that could have killed him; his initial personal, social and cultural influences; entering political life at Berkeley in the early 1960’s; the radicalising experience of meeting Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver; the influence Leibel Bergman had in pushing him toward ML and communism; the founding of the RU and the RCP; etc.: a fascinating account of his life, the times and the influence his interaction with people and events had on him—and vice versa.
Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
“Let’s Get Revolution in There!”
March 15, 2009. The streets bustle on a spring afternoon outside the old Audubon Ballroom at 3940 Broadway in New York City. Today, what’s now the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center is hosting a benefit for the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF), and its Campaign to Reach Women Prisoners.
The event was hosted by people’s attorney Lynne Stewart and her partner, Ralph Poynter. Lynne Stewart is currently appealing a prison sentence, having been tried and convicted on criminal charges for actions related to representing a client. They were joined by long time activists Marie Runyon and Father Lawrence Lucas, as well as, Juanita Young, Nicholas Heyward Sr., and Margarita Rosario—all parents of young men that have been killed by the police and fighters in the struggle against police brutality. Moving musical performances—African drumming, hip hop, and rock, opened and closed the event, and had people moving their feet and having a great time.
Lynne Stewart opened the event with this challenge: “Let’s get Revolution newspaper in there, let’s have that as a beginning point; you can’t flood the prisons with people, which it would be very nice to go in and talk, but you can get Revolution newspaper in there, and open up their minds and their eyes, let them understand the society that put them where they are.”
Nellie Bailey, Director of Harlem Tenants Council, spoke, bringing up to the podium with her Iyaluua Ferguson, of the Organization for Afro-American Unity, and they acknowledged political prisoners like Mutulu Shakur, Ruchell Magee, as well as Iyaluua’s husband Herman Ferguson, who was in attendance. Herman Ferguson was chair of the OAAU organization for many years and was a political prisoner and refugee. A dramatic moment was the playing of a video message (available online at revcom.us). from Yuri Kochiyama, who was present at the at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated there—he died in her arms—and who has devoted her life to fighting for justice.
There was also a powerful video message from Father Luis Barrios, who at the time the event took place was himself serving two months in federal prison for protesting to close down the School of the Americas. His message ended: “Now, I’m appealing to people to express this solidarity, buy a subscription so different places, not only male prisons, but also female prisons, not only adult prisons, also young people, so they can have the opportunity to receive the newspaper, read the newspaper, organize through the newspaper, wake up and create a revolution.”
A reading of letters to Revolution from prisoners was the heart and soul of the event. A group of accomplished professional actors was joined by a reader and distributor of Revolution who is a longtime resident of a housing project in Harlem. The letters to Revolution from behind bars were moving, inspiring, and compelling.
Aladdin Ullah, playright/actor, told Revolution:“I think one of the things I’ve noticed, because I’m a writer myself—and dissecting the way something is written—when you look at the way this is written, there’s so much passion that comes out, and a longing to search really for truth! It’s as though inmates have been living in a system of lies, and low self-esteem that is a result of these lies. When you uncover a truth, such as what Revolution newspaper does, from all aspects of evolution, to religion, to a corrupt government—when one is exposed to that—it’s like you want to celebrate to the world that you know, ‘I know this truth and I want to share it with everyone!’ So I got a sense of sort of rejoicing, and a newborn awakening if you may, of these letters, and the one thread they have in common is an awakening and a better understanding of what’s really going on.”
He added, “I’ve read the newspaper several times, and I’m a yearly subscriber, and I think a newspaper is really, really important to getting the word out to inmates and everyone about the truth, and tell about what’s really going on in America and around the world…. It’s one of the most honest newspapers, and I feel like everyone in America is choking on bullshit. Revolution newspaper is one of the few papers that exposes the truth.”
And, he said, “I can kind of sense that awakening, that feeling of connecting to something that is human, and ultimately feeling that their life isn’t wasted, and there is hope, which is why I think Revolution newspaper is really significant. Hope may be a dangerous word today because it’s being used for ulterior motives, but I believe that Revolution newspaper does a great service. Because it gives these people the truth. So before you have hope, you have to have the truth, and you have to expose the lies… and that’s why I think this newspaper is so important—and why this program should continue in the prison system.”
Another actor added, “It says so much, to these words of the paper, the power that they have, and these letters alone are evidence of that; to be convinced, to be converted, to be moved, now, not just being affected, but to want to be part of effecting anyone else.”
And, he added, “You said an awakening—this written word clicked light switches on in these peoples houses, and their insides, and made them see things in the room, in the corner, in the dark, that now they want to show other people, And that’s a beautiful thing.”
The closing letter was a sent from Joe Veale, a writer for Revolution who was a prisoner in the ‘60s. The actors presenting the letter did a dramatic ensemble reading of this letter, including recreating an exchange in prison recounted in the letter:
One prisoner argues that: “...there always have and always will be rich and poor. The rich and powerful will always rule over the poor and powerless...the best that can be done about this situation is what Robin Hood did!” (i.e take from the rich give to the poor).
I shot back: “...things not changing, being fixed in time and space, just continuously repeating themselves—is a metaphysical view of history and does not conform to facts! You need to study dialectical and historical materialism so that you can understand and see how human history develops and changes—and why it is no longer necessary to live the way you are arguing for!”
Following the letter readings, the MC called everyone in attendance to make substantial contributions to PRLF. “People having a hard time paying rent, people having a hard time keeping it together, and it’s most likely to get a lot harder. What kind of ethos are we going to have? What kind of morality represents the kind of society these people are talking about. A communist, revolutionary society.... What kind of ethic do we need? I would argue that what we need is an ethic of collectivity, where people fight for each other, where people look out for each other, where people are willing to make sacrifices to push things forward, not each for themself. And how many subscriptions to this paper? Eight hundred run out at the end of this month! 800 subscriptions! And this is not just about filling the subscriptions that we have now, but there are hundreds of prisoners who want this paper, who can’t get it! They need to get that paper, and they need to read in this paper in a couple weeks that the people in this room did something very significant on this day.”
He announced that a prominent civil liberties organization had contributed $250, a doctor and figure in the battle for the right to abortion gave $250, and challenged people to match that—several people did. A powerful moment was when Juanita Young put enough money in the basket to provide five prisoner subscriptions. Other people pledged to raise money from friends. In total, several thousand dollars was raised, and a basis was laid for new rounds of outreach and fundraising to make sure that every prisoner who requests a subscription to Revolution—in men’s and women’s prisons—can get one.
Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
Six years ago the Bush Regime unleashed a nightmare of “shock and awe” upon the people of Iraq. A war begun with brazen lies, reinforced with torture, and perpetuated with military occupation has been responsible for the deaths of over one million Iraqi people. Barack Obama, the “peace candidate,” has pledged to continue the occupation of Iraq, and escalate the unjust war for empire in Afghanistan.
On Thursday March 19th, and on Saturday March 21st, in dozens of cities and towns across the U.S., people protested the criminal wars and torture perpetrated by this country’s government. From Florida to Washington, from Maine to California, and many points in between, people gathered and found creative and courageous ways to voice determined opposition to these unjust wars.
Reports of these actions, and a fuller summation of them, will be posted on this site [worldcantwait.org] soon. But what is already evident is that there is a huge amount of simmering dismay, opposition, discontent, and anger at Obama’s continuation of the criminal wars begun by Bush; but even more, this sentiment needs to grow, become more focused and determined among much larger sections of people, and these wars for empire must be stopped by the independent political actions of the people.
World Can’t Wait is bringing Iraq & Afghanistan war veterans into high school class rooms now as part of the “We Are Not Your Soldiers! Tour.” Their stories give students the reasons to resist military recruiters, and World Can’t Wait organizers help students plan how to resist them. Information at Wearenotyoursoldiers.org 347-385-2195
Go to revcom.us for coverage of the DC demo and other breaking news in the world
A Must Read at the World Can’t Wait Web Site:
March 19th in New York:
The Few That Must Become the Many
There have been many moments in history in which the minority—acting boldly on its convictions—has been on the side of truth and justice, while the majority—either acting in opposition to that minority, or standing passively to the sidelines—has been on the side of lies and injustice.
On February 18, 1688, four Pennsylvania Quakers—Garret Hendericks, Derick up de Graeff, Francis Daniell Pastorius, and Abraham up Den Graef—wrote the first anti-slavery petition in the colonies.
Those four men were right. And the majority was wrong.
Read the entire article at worldcantwait.org
Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
“We Are Human!”
Chanting “No more Joe!” “¡Si, se puede!” and carrying signs with the message: “We Are Human,” thousands of protesters marched for four miles in 90-degree heat on February 28 in Phoenix to protest the cruel assaults against immigrants being carried out by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Musician Zack de la Rocha was part of the march. Speaking at a rally before the march he painted a picture of the “state of terror” Arpaio oversees against Latino immigrants in Arizona, how he “raids the homes and workplaces of janitors and gardeners,” and “at routine traffic stops, he detains and deports mothers, violently separating them from their children, who are left abandoned.”
A few weeks before the protest, on February 4, Arpaio forced over 200 immigrant prisoners—in striped prison uniforms, handcuffs, and leg chains—to march from Durango Jail to his “Tent City,” a makeshift concentration camp out in the open under the blazing Arizona sun. A news release from the Sheriff’s office gave details of the forced march to ensure major media coverage. The prisoners were described as hardened criminals “adept” at escape, even though none of them had been convicted of any crime. In fact, they were pre-trial detainees charged with crimes but not convicted. Speaking of the electric fence that surrounds the “Tent City,” Arpaio declared that “this is a fence they won’t want to scale because they risk receiving quite a shock—literally.”
This highly publicized chain gang march was aimed at mobilizing and stirring up racist sentiments, among fascistic vigilante forces like the Minutemen and more broadly in society, as well as creating an atmosphere of generalized terror for immigrants, who have to fear that any time they go outdoors, get caught in a traffic stop, or are in any situation where they encounter law enforcement, they face the risk of being seized, detained, and deported. This apartheid-like oppression enforces an intimidating climate for those who seek to protest their conditions, and puts pressure on people to leave the U.S. Since his election to his post in 1992, Arpaio has become a rallying figure for anti-immigrant hatred. He has institutionalized racial profiling on a massive scale, carrying out “saturation” patrols and “crime suppression” sweeps in Latino neighborhoods and using minor (or made-up) violations to stop Latino drivers. Anyone supposedly looking “illegal” is subject to being stopped, hit with racist insults, and ordered to produce proof of citizenship.
Arpaio has been carrying out his anti-immigrant offensive under a federal program that empowers and funds local police to act as immigration agents. This program is authorized under section 287(g) of an immigration law signed by the Democratic Clinton administration in 1996. One of the demands of the February 28 protest in Phoenix was an end to this 287(g) program (for background on Arpaio and the 287(g) law, see “The Growing Nightmare for Immigrants in Arizona,” Revolution #123, 3/16/08, at revcom.us).
In 2007, ICE “partnered” with Mari-copa County to make 100 of Arpaio’s detectives and patrol deputies—and 60 detention officers—sworn federal agents with broad power to arrest immigrants under federal law. (“Sweeps and saturation patrols violate federal civil rights regulations,” East Valley Tribune, 7/11/08) Since then, Arpaio’s deputies have arrested more than 1,400 people for “immigration violations.” (“Immigrant Busts Faulted,” Wall Street Journal, 3/4/09)
Recently, several Democratic congressmen sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking for an investigation of Arpaio. The letter read, in part: “Members of the Latino community—whether they are U.S. citizens or foreign-born, whether they are legal immigrants or undocumented—feel under siege.” The terms of this call for an investigation, however, are that authorities “fairly” enforce draconian anti-immigrant laws.
Barack Obama’s choice to head the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, was governor of Arizona until the end of last year. As governor, Napolitano lobbied for bringing the 287(g) program (which Arpaio seizes on) to the state. And she signed into law Arizona’s Fair and Legal Employment Act, which requires employers to check the immigration status of anyone applying for a job with the federal E-Verify database. This law affects the estimated 500,000 or more undocumented immigrants that make up 9-12 percent of the Arizona workforce, making their ability to survive more tenuous, and the terms under which they are viciously super-exploited and oppressed even more extreme.
In addition, Napolitano and the Democrats have called for more “boots on the ground” to beef up militarized security at the U.S.-Mexico border and declared that immigrants must “get right with the law.” One protester at the February 28 protest, a 45-year-old welder, told a group of religious activists that, “I voted for Obama for change, but with respect to immigration, I see no change at all.”
In this situation, the February 28 march in Phoenix was very much on time—and there is urgent need for people to step out in even greater resistance against the system’s unjust, inhumane war on immigrants.