Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom
A MATERIALIST UNDERSTANDING OF THE STATE AND ITS RELATION TO THE UNDERLYING ECONOMIC BASE.
Revolution #42, April 9, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Editors Note: The following is drawn from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005. It has been edited for publication here, and subheads and footnotes have been added.
Revolution is publishing this work by Bob Avakian in installments. Published so far are:
- 1—“Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom,” in issue #37 (March 5, 2006).
- 2a — “Materialism vs Idealism...The Fundamental Contradiction of Capitalism, and the Revolutionary Resolution of This Contradiction,” in issue #39.
- 2b — “Materialism vs Idealism...The Fundamental Contradiction of Capitalism, and the Revolutionary Resolution of This Contradiction, Part 2,” in issue #40.
- 3 — “The Ideological as Well as the Material Transformation that is Required to Achieve Communism (The “Two Radical Ruptures” and the “4 Alls”), and How that Relates to 'Solid Core with a Lot of Elasticity.'” ...That Relates to 'Solid Core with a Lot of Elasticity,'” in issue #41…
- The complete work, “Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom,” can be read and downloaded online at revcom.us.
A MATERIALIST UNDERSTANDING OF THE STATE AND ITS RELATION TO THE UNDERLYING ECONOMIC BASE.
Now, on the foundation of what has been said so far, I want to turn to the question of A MATERIALIST UNDERSTANDING OF THE STATE AND ITS RELATION TO THE UNDERLYING ECONOMIC BASE.
The State Is, In Its Essence, An Instrument of Class Rule, and Class Suppression
First of all, what is the state? In some post-modernist thinking, which finds expression in some leftist trends, you'll hear this formulation: "The state has agency." This is a fancy way of saying that the state is not an instrument of class rule, but is an institution that can be affected and influenced by different groups in society, depending on how much pressure they exert on it. Obviously, this is a reformist, as opposed to a revolutionary, viewpoint, and leads to a reformist as opposed to a revolutionary program. This notion that the state can be influenced and caused to act in different ways—it's not an unchanging thing, it can be influenced to have a different character and play a different role, depending on who's exerting more influence on it—this is just the old revisionist view of the state, finding expression these days in "post-modernist" language.
But an actual materialist analysis of the nature and role of the state is essential in terms of making revolution and actually transforming society, it is essential in understanding what the problem is and what the solution is. So, let's dig into the questions: what is the state, what is its essential character and its essential role?
Engels, also in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, made the very concise summation, from a lot of historical materialist analysis, that the state is an instrument of class rule, an instrument for the suppression by one class of the other classes it rules over, and that it arises with, and is a manifestation of, the split-up of society, not only into classes in general, but into antagonistic classes—into exploiters and exploited, for short.
Now, in the "Democracy" book (Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?), I quoted a statement by Raymond Lotta, that the state is an expression of a certain division of labor in society. This gives the state its particular class character. In other words, the state in general has the character and role of being an instrument of class suppression—or, another way of putting it, an instrument of dictatorship—but being an expression of a certain division of labor in society gives expression to the particular character of a given state. And in an all-round and fundamental sense, we can say that the state is an expression of the overall production relations in society; it reflects that and in turn serves to reinforce that. With one exception—the proletarian state, which seeks not simply to reflect and reinforce, but actually to be an instrument for the further transformation of the production and social relations in society. That's one of the things that gives the proletarian state a character that is qualitatively different from all previous forms of the state.
The proletarian dictatorship aims at the abolition of classes along with the others of the "4 Alls." It aims to do away—not by physical extermination, which is the caricature charged—but through the transformation of society, it aims to do away with classes and their material basis: it aims to do away with the bourgeoisie; it aims to do away with the petty bourgeoisie; and it aims to do away with the proletariat itself. And, as I put it in another discussion with some comrades, the proletariat is the only one of those three classes that doesn't mind. [laughter] Neither of the other two classes wants to go out of existence—which doesn't mean the dictatorship of the proletariat is also exercised over the petty bourgeoisie, that's a different question. But it does mean you have to transform circumstances and people, such that not only the bourgeoisie, but also the petty bourgeoisie and, indeed even the proletariat, no longer exist. But the proletariat is the only one that wants to go all the way with that, speaking in broad social terms.
Now if we understand the role of the state, and we hark back to what I was saying earlier about why we want state power, we can hopefully understand, much more profoundly, the truth and reality of the statement, that without state power all is, in fact, illusion, in terms of transforming society in any fundamental and qualitative way, in terms of getting rid of the oppression and exploitation in which the overwhelming majority of humanity is enmeshed and the nightmare that this involves. I was recently reading some articles from A World to Win News Service,1 ironically dated July 4 of this year, 7/04/05. There were two articles, in particular—one on globalization, the meeting of the heads of state of the major industrial countries, and the demand for debt elimination or reduction; and the other was an article about Africa, the Congo in particular. Anyone who hasn't read those articles should definitely read them, and they're worth reading over more than once, because they vividly bring alive the horrific conditions of the masses of people under the rule and domination of imperialism, and the local agencies of imperialism in these particular countries. The fact is that in the Congo, in the last decade or so, somewhere between 3 and 5 million people have been killed in warfare going on within the Congo, none of the sides of which represent anything positive, in terms of the liberation of the people there. There are all these military forces, sometimes literally gangs that have been pulled together by different capitalist corporations and consortiums to fight against rivals in plundering and looting the minerals and rich resources of those areas. It reminds me of the old Peter Tosh song "Fight Against Apartheid": "you steal my diamonds and finance your ballistic mis-siles." This is what's going on, in truly horrific terms. This is what went on for 40 years in Zaire, when it was called Zaire, after they got rid of Lumumba and civil war broke out and the imperialists imposed and backed the rule of Mobutu. And it's been going on very acutely, millions of people have been dying, during this decade in just this one part of the world. People dying not just from starvation, like in Niger and other places in Africa. But dying from this warfare, this internecine warfare, this reactionary warfare, organized by imperialists and even by different companies and consortiums that are looting the country.
If you are a Marxist and you look at this, you say: "what a crying need for proletarian state power in these countries." But people are being subjected to these horrors because they haven't made a real revolution and don't have proletarian state power. You can criticize the state as an institution all you want—but goddamn it, let's get a proletarian dictatorship and then we'll let people criticize it! As I have pointed out before—for example in an interview I did with Michael Slate2—people should mainly extol the proletariat state, even while they're raising some criticisms. That's another unity of opposites—uphold and extol the proletarian state, while criticizing its shortcomings. And if you understand this as a Marxist, as a communist, you can see the crying need for people to have state power to be able to put a stop to the horrors they are subjected to. Tribe is being pitted against tribe in this warfare in the Congo, slaughtering each other. Even what went on in Rwanda is linked up with the larger network of imperialist relations and the battle among competing imperialists, much as they cried crocodile tears over it, and used it as a way to build up public opinion for their intervention all over the world. They're even doing that now in relation to Nepal: "Nepal could become another Rwanda, another Cambodia, humanity cannot allow this to happen, cannot allow this society to be plunged into chaos, with the attendant mutual slaughter." Public opinion is being actively created in this way right now in relation to Nepal and the prospect of the Maoist-led revolution winning victory in Nepal. But this is very vivid and real in Africa, the horrendous suffering of the people, because they don't have a proletarian state. Now, the proletarian state, where it comes into being, still has to stand up to the imperialists and other reactionary forces militarily, but you don't even have a chance, you're not even in the contest, if you don't have proletarian state power and therefore can reorganize society accordingly and provide a material foundation underneath that state at the same time as you're transforming the society and supporting revolutionary struggles in other parts of the world, all over the world.
Once More: Without State Power All Is Illusion
If you look at this as a communist, it just jumps out at you, how much the people are suffering for lack of proletarian state power, and for having every other kind of reactionary state power brought down on them and being hurled against each other in these mutual slaughters for the interests of people wielding other state power and serving imperialism and oppression and exploitation. This is true throughout vast parts of the world, and in the world overall. And you can't do anything about it without proletarian state power. Look, I have enormous respect for the people who go become part of Doctors Without Borders. But there's a tremendous burnout rate among these people, too. The problems are so enormous and grow at such exponential dimensions while they're trying to do something. Because people haven't wrenched themselves free of the imperialist system and established a proletarian state power. And this suffering will go on and on and get worse until that is what happens. When you see this and understand it—not refracted through a bourgeois or revisionist prism, but when you see it from a communist standpoint—it leaps out at you: the crying and urgent need for proletarian revolution and proletarian state power. Yes, this revolution has to go through different phases. But in essence, and in the final analysis and fundamentally, proletarian revolution and proletarian state power is what it must be aiming for, as the first great leap toward the final goal of a communist world. We've had every other kind of state, and the imperialists have used this experience with every other kind of state to reinforce the idea that, after all, their domination and even outright colonialism is the only thing for people in Africa and other parts of the Third World. "Look what they've done since independence," they say—negating the actual fact that the people in these countries have never really had real independence. Mobutu—is that independence?!
If you want to understand why "without state power all is illusion," once again I say: just think about all the things that do—that should —drive you crazy, that will, if you're a communist, drive you crazy, that drove you to become a communist in the first place, because you realize the enormity of this and the fact that there isn't any way to deal with this within the confines of this system. All those outrages that keep growing to larger and larger dimensions, that you can't do anything about, in any fundamental terms, because there is not yet proletarian state power, because the idea of doing anything about these things without that state power is, in reality, nothing but illusion.
Jim Wallis, in the aftermath of the 2004 election and the prominent role of Christian fundamentalist fascists in the so-called "re-election" of Bush, is now trying to promote the idea—and getting some backing from sections of the ruling class in promoting the idea—that the only really good opposition to this Christian Fascism is an opposition that shares a great deal with it, shares many of the same fundamental religious underpinnings, even if this opposition wants to give this a somewhat different expression. And, as I pointed out in Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones,3 a number of years ago now, even while recognizing and condemning, or at least lamenting, ways in which masses of people are suffering throughout the world, Wallis's whole attempt has been to preach reconciliation between oppressors and oppressed and to promote reform within the existing system and relations of oppression and exploitation, within the U.S. and on a world scale. He insists that reform, and not revolution, is the only way to bring about positive change—and he openly polemicizes against communism, accepting and repeating many of the more crude distortions and slanders against the historical experience of socialist society and the communist movement. In his book The Soul of Politics, written during the 1990s (he now has a new book out, God's Politics), Wallis attempted to cite examples of how reform, reconciliation and peaceful change within the system hold out the hope—as he would have it, the only hope—for improvement in the situation of the masses of suffering people. One example he gave involved Brazil—the following story, whether true or apocryphal I don't know, but let's take it as true, and look at the content of it: Peasants were being driven off their land in one little part of Brazil, so the peasants called up the wives of the Senators in Brazil—look at the social relations that are being reflected here, by the way—they called up the wives of the Senators and in some sort of re-enactment of (or a variation on) Lysistrata,4 I suppose, the wives put pressure on their husbands, the Senators, to intervene and keep the peasants from being driven off their land. Wallis makes a big deal about how this is the paradigm, this is the model for how we can bring about change. And I went and I did some research—see you have to do work—I did some research [laughs] into what was going on in Brazil at this time. And during a period of about 10 to 15 years, which covered the time he was talking about, 15 million peasants were driven off their land in Brazil. Now, even if you allow that the story Wallis tells is true, and these particular peasants in this one little part of Brazil were not thrown off their land right then, let's look at the larger picture. First of all, these peasants, or most of them, are very likely gone from their land now. And even if somehow they remained as a little pocket for a while, during the same period 15 million peasants in Brazil were driven off the land into the slums and shantytowns. Many of you no doubt saw the movie City of God; and in general you know what this leads to among the people who are driven into the cities. Brazil has its glittering facades and enclaves—and then, both in the countryside and in the slums, tremendous poverty and people being driven into conflict with each other, and setting up gangs and slaughtering each other over unofficial capitalism. This is the reality of what happens without proletarian state power. This is the reality of what's gone on because, for decades, there hasn't been proletarian state power in these places.
And the same thing is true of the U.S. Look what's gone on because we haven't had proletarian state power. The growth of even more horrific economic and social conditions. The spread of religious fundamentalism, including among the basic masses. The weighing down of the masses with oppression and deliberately spread and inculcated ignorance. Because we weren't able to make revolution, particularly during the great upsurge of the 1960s, with its widespread revolutionary ferment and sentiments. I'm not putting the blame primarily and essentially on those of us who became revolutionaries in that time, but the fact is that because, for a combination of reasons, revolution didn't break through, and because proletarian power wasn't seized and held onto, look what's come about in the world and in the U.S. over decades. And the idea that somehow you could change all this without proletarian state power, and that some other way could be found even to alleviate the suffering of the masses, let alone eliminate it, is the most outrageous and harmful of illusions.
What Coercion Is Good For
Now, along with talking about what state power is good for, I want to talk specifically about the element of coercion and what coercion is good for. This is related to the "constraints" point that a comrade has raised, to which I referred earlier—all constraint is not bad. Let's dig into this. I've used this example before, that another comrade raised, from the movie Remember the Titans. It's not about the dictatorship of the proletariat, but it is about a significant social change that was brought about, and in which state power exercised a certain role on the part of liberal reforms at the time. Remember, or for those of you who have forgotten or never saw the movie, it's about this city in Virginia in the early '70s where the high school became integrated, the football team became integrated, and the white football coach, who was an award-winning coach, was replaced by a Black football coach, transferred from a Black high school. Now, the point has been made about what would have happened if they had gone to the white people in the town, and specifically those white people whose kids went to high school, and said, "Let's have a fair democratic vote: how many of you want to integrate the high school; how many of you want to integrate the football team; how many of you want to have a Black football coach?" Are you fucking crazy? [laughter] But because this was a necessity that people were confronted with, because that coercion was exercised, then it provided a different foundation on which people's thinking could be changed—and, importantly, as other people have also pointed out, it provided a more favorable ground on which the advanced elements could be brought forward rather than being suffocated. The people within the football team, first of all, and then more broadly in the community who did, actually, either initially favor this but were afraid to speak up, or who got won over to it, gained more initiative because these were the terms that were set.
So you can see here the value of coercion. All coercion is not bad. Just as there will never be a society or a world without necessity, in the same way there will never be a society without coercion, even when there's no more state power and there's not political coercion, in that sense, and dictatorship is no longer being exercised by one part of society over others. Still, you'll never get rid of necessity. And, related to that, you'll never entirely get rid of coercion. Not everybody in society, including in communist society, gets to do exactly what they want all the time. The difference is that, in communist society, people will voluntarily submit themselves to that situation because of the greater good that they consciously grasp—understanding that "I may not get `my' way this time, but in the context of everything overall, this is much better for everybody, and therefore, much better for me."
Let's take another example. There's a big controversy being kicked up now around evolution. The only reason there is a controversy about evolution is because a section of the ruling class in this country, a powerful section, has decided that it is in its interests to undermine the acceptance of evolution as a scientific fact, at least among the general populace. Oh yeah, they'll let some scientists do some science based on the fact of evolution. Remember the book, The Handmaid's Tale, and the movie? They had a very straitlaced morality that was imposed on people in society as a whole, but then the members of the ruling elite got to go whore around and stuff on the side. Well, perhaps it's something of an odious analogy, but if they end up insisting that science classes teach that evolution is not a proven fact, they will still have scientists who will be allowed to do the work that the bourgeoisie thinks is necessary, and among themselves they'll say, "Of course, we know evolution's a fact, we couldn't do anything if it weren't." But with regard to the general populace, they want to spread this other ideology—not only trying to redefine the question of evolution and whether it's true or not, they're trying to redefine science to bring supernatural and theistic elements into it—which, guess what, means there's no science. [In a satirical sounding voice:] "Well, you may stay on the earth because of the force of gravity—or it may be because God wants you to. We don't know. Shouldn't both explanations be discussed in the schools? Are you trying to suppress ideas and keep people from having a chance to decide for themselves?" [laughter]
I was talking to another comrade about evolution and they said, "You know, if you were to demand of me right now that I provide you, right at this instant, a proof of the fact that the earth revolves around the sun, I could not do it. I could go study up on it and come back and tell you, but I accept this because the whole scientific community for centuries has determined this to be true and it's been verified to the satisfaction of people over and over again, and it conforms to what I do know about reality. Could it be wrong, theoretically? Yes, but it doesn't seem so." There is no controversy among scientists and, at this point at least, there is no controversy in society about that point—whether the earth is the center of everything and everything, including the sun, goes around it, or whether, instead, the earth is part of a solar system and revolves around the sun. Still, this comrade went on to say, "But, you know, if it were in the interests of a section of the ruling class, they could make this question (of whether the earth goes around the sun) controversial as well, in the same way as they are doing about evolution. And even though there would be no controversy among scientists, they could create a controversy politically and societally, if a section of the ruling class saw that as being in their interests."
There is a political struggle, a class struggle ultimately, which is taking place essentially in the realm of epistemology, but it is a political struggle over contending epistemologies. It's a complex struggle, and the terms are not communism versus other ideologies. It's basically science and the Enlightenment versus things opposed to that. This is another reflection of the complexity of what we have to deal with.
So the only reason this question of evolution is controversial, has become controversial in U.S. society, is because a powerful section of the ruling class wants to promote a different epistemology, in the service of a certain political, social and economic program, an all-around and openly reactionary program. There is no controversy among scientists about evolution—the overwhelming, overwhelming majority of scientists, and particularly those in the field of biology, recognize that evolution is not only a fact but one of the most fundamental truths in all of science. Essentially, there hasn't been a controversy about this among scientists for over a hundred years, and increasingly actual science continues to verify the truth of evolution. But a controversy about this is being manufactured on a political basis. Well, here's another thing state power is good for and coercion is good for: The proletariat comes to power, and evolution is taught in the schools. [laughter] End of discussion. [laughter] No "flowering of ideas" about whether evolution is true or whether we are all the product of some grand designer. That's it, it's set. Now, you deal with that. In other words, that's part of the core curriculum that we're going to have in socialist society: Evolution is a scientifically established fact that's going to be taught, and that's it.
That, again, is an expression of why it is important to have state power, and in fact it is an expression of the positive aspect of coercion—in that case, using state power to set terms that correspond to reality, and to the interests of the masses of people and ultimately to humanity as a whole. Some things have to be settled, or nothing can get done and you can't go forward. Does that mean we don't want intellectual ferment over all kinds of things? Of course not. And if somebody could bring forward proof—actual scientific proof, arrived at through the application of the actual scientific method—that evolution is not a fact, then it would be necessary to recognize that. But everything cannot be "up for debate" all the time, or nothing could get done and society could not function. This is certainly the case in a socialist society, whose fundamental and guiding principle is to enable the masses of people to more and more consciously know and change the world in their interests and advance to the point where class divisions and instruments of class suppression do not obstruct and distort the process of humanity's knowing and changing the world in its interests. There has to be some solid core as well as a lot of elasticity and, if we throw everything up for grabs in socialist society, the bourgeoisie will be back in power very quickly.
Why don't we, in the schools, teach "two alternative theories" of epilepsy: one based on what medical science has learned about the actual, material causes of epilepsy, and one that says epilepsy is caused, after all, by demon possession? [laughter] Now, one thing to be aware of in this regard, while we are laughing at this notion, is that today's satire is tomorrow's horrific reality. In talks I have given about religion, I have used this example of epilepsy, and how Jesus didn't get it right about epilepsy—how, in the Bible, it says that Jesus cured epilepsy by casting out a demon. Well, if it becomes politically expedient on the part of a powerful section of the ruling class, we may have a debate opened up, [voice marked by sarcasm:] "Well, there are alternative explanations for epilepsy. Some people believe that it's caused by what goes on electrically and chemically in the brain, but there are a lot of holes in that theory. [laughter] Other people are coming to see that perhaps, after all, it is a matter of demon possession." [laughter] Why don't we teach that in the schools? No, we should not do that, because it is not true—it has been scientifically established that this is not true. And it is just as much the case that it has been scientifically established that evolution is true and that intelligent design is not a truthful explanation of the emergence and development of life, including human life.
So, there is a value to coercion, and we should understand the value and the role of coercion, while at the same time grasping this in dialectical relation to the fundamental reality and what must be the fundamental orientation that revolution and the advance to communism, both now and in socialist society all the more, must be the self-conscious liberating act of the masses themselves. Grasping that contradiction correctly is once again a matter of materialism and dialectics, as opposed to idealism and metaphysics, with regard to what communism is and how we're going to get there.
From all this, the point should clearly emerge that the proletariat, as expressed in a concentrated way through the role of its vanguard party, must seize power and must be the decisive and determining element in the state, and does not, and cannot in any essential way, share state power with any other class, even while it applies the strategic orientation of building the broadest united front, under its leadership, in continuing the advance toward communism. At a later point in this talk, I will discuss more fully the application of the United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat all the way through the transition to communism, because that's another very important contradiction. But here I want to emphasize that the proletariat, as expressed in a concentrated way through the role of its vanguard party, must lead in the state and in the exercise of state power. And that's also something in motion, that's also "a moving target," because, as we advance toward communism as part of the overall worldwide revolution, the role of the party should be increasingly replaced by other instrumentalities that represent the masses themselves exercising state power. But the role of the party—and the need for the party—will not be eliminated completely until we actually get to communism and there's no more need for a state, either. So that's another contradiction we're going to have to handle correctly and, yes, even better than before, even with all the great achievements, particularly through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China under Mao's leadership.
Relentless Struggle Against Spontaneity
Another thing that we always should be clear on is that there is a need for a continuous resolute struggle against the pull of spontaneity. One of the things that I've continued to learn more about and to understand more fully and deeply is Lenin's formulation, in talking about the struggles of the masses, where he refers to their "spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie." This is actually a very important formulation. He doesn't just say, "Well, these struggles tend spontaneously to go in a direction where the bourgeoisie can come to dominate them." He says, "There is a spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie." This is, in fact, what gets expressed, repeatedly, in the struggle to rupture people out of the whole killing confines of the dominant political framework in the U.S., in relation to World Can't Wait. We see this spontaneous striving of people repeatedly and continually to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, or a section of the bourgeoisie (as represented generally by the heads of the Democratic Party). And this spontaneity, and even this spontaneous striving to come back—if not directly and organizationally, then politically—under the wing of the bourgeoisie will also exist under socialism. This striving to keep things within, or to bring them back within, the confines of bourgeois relations and their reflection in the superstructure—the confines of bourgeois right, for short—will, even in socialist society, continually reassert itself, for real material as well as ideological reasons, and the constant interpenetration between material and ideological factors. This has to do with the continuing existence of classes and social inequalities in socialist society, and with real material conditions and pulls on people, as well as the fact that socialist states will almost certainly exist, for a long period of time, in the midst of and surrounded by imperialist and reactionary states.
So there's a need for a consistent, and in a real sense relentless, struggle against spontaneity and to divert spontaneity onto a revolutionary path. This will be true not only in capitalist society and in building toward the seizure of power and the establishment of a new, socialist state, but also in socialist society itself and in order to continue advancing toward communism.
Some Further Thinking on: The Socialist State as a New Kind of State
I want to talk a little more about the question of democracy and dictatorship in socialist society and about the socialist state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, as a radically different kind of state. Proletarian democracy—as given expression as democracy for the masses of people in socialist society—should contain some secondary and "external" features, if you will, in common with bourgeois democracy, including Constitutional provisions for the protection of the rights of masses of people, and of individuals; but in essence it is a radically different kind of democracy, fundamentally because it is an expression of a radically different kind of class rule—rule by the proletariat, led by its vanguard, openly exercising dictatorship over the overthrown bourgeoisie and other proven counter-revolutionary elements—and it has radically different objectives, above all the advance to communism, and the "withering away of the state"—and of democracy.
Here the following passages from Engels, once again from The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, are very relevant: He points out: [In early communal society] "there cannot yet be any talk of ‘right’ in the legal sense....Within the tribe there is as yet no difference between rights and duties."
That's worth pondering and wrangling with deeply: no difference between rights and duties. And we can go on to say that, in a fundamental sense, what was true in early communal society will again be true, but in a very different way—with a different material, and ideological, basis and in a different, worldwide context—in communist society: where there is no class antagonism, there is no separation, in a fundamental sense, between rights and duties. There is no separation between rights and duties characteristic of class society, is another way to say this. All rights and duties will be afforded and carried out consciously and voluntarily—and there will be no need for special institutions to enforce duties and to protect rights—no need for the state, nor for formal structures of democracy. This, of course, does not mean that there will no longer be a need for a government in communist society, for decision making and administration. That need will persist, and understanding this is a crucial part of understanding the difference between a scientific and on the other hand a utopian view of communism—and of the struggle to get to communism (I will have more to say on this, too, as we go along). But the state is not the same thing as, not identical with, government: the state, once again, is an organ, an instrument, of class suppression and dictatorship, and its existence is always and everywhere an expression of the existence of class antagonisms. Now, at the same time, the character of the proletarian state, and the way in which power is exercised under the dictatorship of the proletariat, must—in accordance with, and to advance toward, the fundamental objectives of the communist revolution—also be radically different from any previous kind of state.
In order to get into this, and as a foundation for it, I want to paraphrase and review three sentences on democracy which I have formulated as a concentration of some fundamental points. To paraphrase, the first of these sentences is: In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequalities, to talk about democracy without talking about the class content of that democracy, and which class it serves, is meaningless or worse. And second: In such a situation, there cannot be any such thing as democracy for all or "pure democracy"—one class or another will rule and will institute the forms of rule and of democracy that serve its interests. And therefore the conclusion of this, if you will, the third sentence, is: The essential question and dividing line is whether this class rule and the corresponding forms of democracy serve to reinforce fundamental class divisions and social inequalities, fundamental relations of exploitation and oppression, or whether they serve the struggle to uproot and finally eliminate these relations of exploitation and oppression.
Now, I said before, in another context, that I could teach a whole college course on this, simply by reciting these three sentences and then saying, "discuss," for the rest of the semester. And I wasn't joking. One could easily do this. But here, let's take off from this to discuss some important related questions, with this as a foundation.
I want to discuss the state—once again, the armed forces and the other organs of dictatorship—in relation to the broader institutions and functions of government in socialist society, including decision-making bodies, a legislature of some kind more or less, as well as centralized institutions that can effect the carrying out of decisions, or an executive of some kind. I also want to deal with the question of a Constitution and of the "rule of law" and of courts.
Recently, I told some people that one of the key things I have been grappling with is how to synthesize what's in the polemic against K. Venu5 with a principle that is emphasized by John Stuart Mill. A pivotal and essential point in the polemic against K. Venu is that, having overthrown capitalism and abolished the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat must establish and maintain its political rule in society, the dictatorship of the proletariat, while continuing the revolution to transform society toward the goal of communism and the abolition of class distinctions and oppressive social relations, and with that the abolition of the state, of any kind of dictatorship; and that, in order to make this possible, the proletariat must have the leadership of its vanguard communist party throughout this transition to communism. In continuing to grapple with these fundamental questions, I have become convinced that this principle articulated by Mill—that people should hear arguments presented not only as they are characterized by those who oppose them, but as they are put forward by ardent advocates of those positions—is something that needs to be incorporated and given expression in the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is one element—not the entirety, but one element—of what I have been reaching for and wrangling with in terms of what we have formulated as a new synthesis. And in line with that, while the proletariat has to maintain firm control of the state—and, particularly in the early stages of socialism and for some time, this is expressed in terms of the leadership of the vanguard party of the proletariat—while the proletariat in that way has to maintain firm control of the state; and while the key organs and instruments of the state have to be responsible to the party (and I'll talk more about that and other aspects of this shortly); there is also a question of how can the masses be increasingly drawn, not only into the exercise of state power, but also into other forms, other aspects of the governing and administration of society, and the law-making of society; and how can the political process that goes on in socialist society, on the basis of the firm control by the proletariat over the state as exercised in a concentrated way through the leadership of its party—how on that basis can the political process lead to, or contribute to, the kind of ferment that I've been talking about as an essential element of what needs to go on in socialist society, including the emphasis on the importance of dissent?
So here "the John Stuart Mill principle" comes in, in a certain way—within the framework of proletarian rule and not raised as some kind of absolute, outside of and above the relation of classes and the class character of the state. I don't have time to go into a whole discussion of Mill, but in the "Democracy" book (Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?) I made the point that in fact Mill did not insist on and apply a principle of unrestricted liberty in some universal and absolute sense—he didn't think it applied to workers on strike; he didn't think it applied to people in "backward countries" who, as he saw it, were not yet ready to govern themselves, and he implemented that by being an official in the East India Company, a major instrumentality of colonial depredation and ravaging in Asia and other places. But nonetheless, leaving those contradictions aside here, there is a point that Mill is raising, about how people should be able to hear arguments from their ardent advocates. And I think one of the ways in which this should find expression in the governing of socialist society is that—within the framework where, first of all, the state is firmly controlled by the proletariat, and second, there is consultation between the party and the masses and the implementation of forms, such as those that were developed through the Cultural Revolution in China, forms that combine basic masses with people from administrative posts or technical or educational professionals, or people in the arts who are professionals, etc., in decision-making and administrative tasks on all the different levels and in all the different spheres of society—while that should go on as a foundation, there should be a certain element of contested elections within the framework of whatever the Constitution of the socialist society is at the time. And one of the reasons why this should happen is that it will contribute to implementing what is positive about this John Stuart Mill point—that people need to hear positions not just as they are characterized by those who oppose them but as they are put forward by ardent advocates of those positions—what is positive about this in relation to our strategic objectives, of continuing the socialist revolution toward the goal of communism, the ways in which the implementation of this principle will contribute to political and overall intellectual ferment in socialist society and to the flowering of critical and creative thinking and, yes, of dissent, within socialist society—which will make that society more vibrant and will overall strengthen not only the willingness but the conscious determination of the masses of the people, including among the intellectuals, to not only preserve and defend that society but to continue revolutionizing society toward the goal of communism, together with the revolutionary struggle throughout the world.
One of the things that should be really understood about what we have characterized as the new synthesis, is that it envisions a much more wild society than has heretofore existed, politically speaking. I mean, things got very wild in the Cultural Revolution in China. But I am envisioning this in a different sense, on a more ongoing basis—one in which there is a solid core, and elasticity is giving rise to all kinds of contention on the basis of the solid core and within the framework in which the proletariat is (a) firmly in control of the state, and (b) is leading, and in that sense, in control of the overall political apparatus, even those parts that are not strictly speaking the state in the literal sense of being organs of political dictatorship and suppression, such as the armed forces, where the leadership of the party, and with that the rule of the proletariat, has to be very clear and firm.
The reason that I'm wrangling with this idea of having contested elections to, in part, select people to legislatures—in other words to have part of the selection, not the whole, but part of the selection of people to legislative bodies on local areas, and even on the national level, open to contestation—has to do with the Mill principle. It has to do with the principle (which I've articulated before) about how even reactionaries should be able to publish some books in socialist society—all of which, of course, is highly unorthodox [laughs] and, to say the least, controversial, especially in the international communist movement. But I do believe that the masses themselves—if they're actually going to rule and transform society and understand to an increasingly deepening level what is involved in transforming the world—will be better served by some contention in this kind of way, and that it has to find some expression other than just people being able to be guaranteed certain "first amendment" rights (freedom of speech and of assembly, of the right to dissent and protest, and so on), which they should have, within the framework of the proletarian dictatorship. So that's one element that I'm wrestling with.
Along with that, as there has been in previous socialist societies, there needs to be a Constitution. A Constitution, however, should always be understood, as should the law, as a moving, dynamic thing. At any given time it has relative identity. You can't say it's completely relative, or that it's essentially relative at any given time, or it would have no meaning then—it would be whatever anybody wanted it to be, and that's not a Constitution. A Constitution is something that sets down what are the rules of the game so that everybody can, on the one hand, in one important aspect, feel at ease, and, at the same time, can contribute fully to the struggle to transform society, while knowing, in effect, what the rules are. But it's a moving thing in the sense that a Constitution will change as the advance is carried forward toward communism. A Constitution is a reflection in the superstructure of where you are in the overall transformation of society, including in the economic base—just as the law, as Marx pointed out, is essentially a reflection of the property relations of society (and the production relations at the foundation of those property relations) at any given time. And there will be a need, as there was in China, for example, for different Constitutions at different stages in that process. You will need to, in effect, tear up the old Constitution and rewrite it, as you advance, particularly by leaps, from one stage to another. But, at any given time, a Constitution plays an important role, I believe—or should play an important role—in socialist society. For example, I firmly believe that the army, and also in a fundamental sense the courts, especially courts that have a more societal-wide impact, and the essential administrative bodies, should be particularly responsible to the vanguard party in socialist society. But, here's where the contradiction comes in. I also believe they should be responsible to the Constitution. That is, to get right down on the ground, the army should not be able to be mobilized to go against the Constitution, even while it's being led by the party. And here you can see a potentially roaring tension. But if the party can lead the armed forces to go outside of and above and beyond the Constitution, then the Constitution is meaningless. And then, in effect, you do have an arbitrary rule whereby it's merely the party and whatever the party is deciding at a given time—those are the rules, and that's how they'll be enforced.
Now, this gets really tricky if you think about Cultural Revolutions in socialist society. What happens then? Well [laughs] revolutions are revolutions—a lot of things get suspended, but they have to be reconstituted. And there has to be some sort of leading core and rules even within that. That was the point of the Circulars that were put out by the party leadership in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, for example. But on a more ongoing basis, you can't simply run society in such a way that whoever gets control of the party at a given time sets and enforces the rules according to whatever they think the rules should be at a given time. Or else the masses will not feel at ease and, in fact, you will open the gates much more widely to the restoration of capitalism and a bourgeois dictatorship, a dictatorship of exploiters and oppressors of the masses. So there's real tension, and you can concentrate it in that formulation—that the army, for example, should be responsible to the party and led by the party, but it should also be responsible and accountable to the Constitution, and if people rally against the party, for example, in mass dissent, it should not be that the party can mobilize the army to carry out bloody suppression of those masses, or to suppress their right to raise that dissent against the party. So this has a lot of acute tension, or potentially acute tension, built into it. But again I am firmly convinced that, in order for the masses to really increasingly become masters of society, these kind of principles, and the institutionalization of these principles, are necessary in socialist society.
This, then, raises the question that I call the "Islamic Republic of Iran question." People will say: "Well, okay, that sounds good—Constitutional rights, even the army can't violate the Constitution, yes, have some contested elections—but how are you going to be different than Iran where they have the Supreme Islamic Council and it has final veto power over what happens. You're not really going to be different than that, are you?" Well, we aren't and we are. We aren't in the sense that we don't intend to have the fundamental question of state power put up for whoever can grab it. In fact, a Constitution has to embody what the character of the state power is—not only what the role of the army is in relation to the party, for example, but what is the character of the production relations, in addition to having a whole dimension of the rights of the people and, yes, of individuals.
Why do you need a Constitution? Because as Mao pointed out—this was an important thing that he brought forward—in socialist society there remains a contradiction between the people and the government, or the people and the state. This was not well understood before Mao. He pointed this out, if I remember correctly, in "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People." And the need for a Constitution and for constitutional provisions, protections and rights is an expression of the recognition of that reality—that even where the state is in the hands of the proletariat, and is a positive state, is a good state, is a state that's maintaining the rule of the proletariat and putting its weight behind the further revolutionization of society and support of the world revolution—even there, there has to be protection against simply trampling on individuals or sections of society in the name of, or even in the legitimate pursuit of, the larger social and worldwide good.
So this is an important contradiction, and this is why you need a Constitution. And in my opinion, it is why you also do need a "rule of law." This has to do with the criticism that I raised in "Two Great Humps" (a talk I gave in the latter half of the 1990s)6 of Lenin's formulation that dictatorship is rule, unrestricted rule, and specifically rule unrestricted by law. Now, to be fair to Lenin, he was saying this in the very, very early stages of the new Soviet republic, when not that much experience had been accumulated about the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and under very urgent and desperate circumstances. And he was not putting this forward as a general conclusion about what the character of the governance should be throughout the transition to communism. He didn't even fully understand what that transition would look like yet. But, reflecting on it with historical perspective, that is not a correct statement of what a dictatorship is or should be. There do need to be laws. And there does need to be a "rule of law," or else there are no laws. I mean this in the sense that the law does have to be applied according to the actual character of the society and what is provided for in the Constitution and the laws themselves—it has to be applied in the same way to everybody and everything. Now, part of the law, an essential part of the law, must be and will be an expression of dictatorship over the bourgeoisie, and suppression of counter-revolutionaries. But then you do not simply declare somebody a counter-revolutionary and deprive them of rights without any process of law, or else you're again opening the gates to arbitrary rule and the restoration of bourgeois dictatorship. So that's another intense contradiction.
What about independent judiciary? In my opinion, the judiciary, as to whether it should be independent—it should and it shouldn't. In one real sense, it should be independent—in the sense that it shouldn't be, in any proximate, immediate sense simply following the dictates of the party. There should be law, and things should operate according to the law. On the other hand, and in an overall sense, and especially the more we are talking about a court whose decisions influence things on a large scale, and especially courts whose decisions affect all of society, this, too, has to be under the leadership of the party at the same time as it is beholden not only to the party but to the Constitution. Once again, intense contradiction.
So these are some things I'm wrestling with, and here the "Islamic Republic of Iran question" does arise, once again. Now there are some fundamental differences between us and what I'm envisioning in speaking of the Islamic Republic of Iran (as the embodiment of a certain kind of rule). First of all, we're not theocratic fundamentalists! That is not merely a statement without content, but makes a profound difference—our world outlook, our political objectives, are profoundly different. But as true and as important as that is, that's still not enough, there is still more to be wrestled with in the sense of: the party cannot, simply and arbitrarily and by going "outside of the rules," overturn what may be happening in society, according to the "rules" of society at any given time—mobilizing the army, once again, or other organs of the state, to do that. If revolutionaries in the party, or the party collectively, feel that the society is going in the direction back to capitalism, and there's no way to prevent this other than through the kind of thing that Mao unleashed in the Cultural Revolution, then that's what the Party will have to unleash—and then everything is up for grabs, "all bets are off," so to speak. But, in my opinion, if you allow the party to simply and arbitrarily decide what the rules are, what the law is, how the judiciary should operate, whether or not constitutional provisions should be extended or whether rights should be taken away, without any due process of law; if you allow that, you are increasing the potential and strengthening the basis for the rise of a bourgeois clique to power and for the restoration of capitalism.
So these are all things that need to be further wrangled with. But the contradictions that are being touched on here have to do with the character of socialism as a transition to communism, and not yet communist society itself, and with the need to draw the masses into—first of all, the need to draw the masses more fully into the running of and the transforming of society; and second of all, it has to do with the whole new synthesis and, in particular, the epistemological dimension of that and how that interpenetrates with the political dimension. In other words, to put it in concentrated terms, how are the masses going to come to know the world as fully as possible, in order to actually transform it; how are they going to more fully understand the complexity of things and what is right and wrong, what is true and not true, in order to be able to become more fully the masters of society and to transform it toward the goal of communism? The things that I'm wrestling with have to do with and are being taken up in that kind of framework. But we can't get away from the fact that there is one thing that CANNOT be done, and that is: the proletariat cannot, in a fundamental sense, share power with other classes—that is, the state in socialist society cannot be a state that serves different class interests—because, even while the proletariat must maintain and apply the strategic orientation of building a united front under its leadership, all the way to the achievement of communism, it remains a profound truth that only the proletariat, as a class, has a fundamental interest in abolishing all class distinctions and everything bound up with class divisions, in both the economic base and the political and ideological superstructure of society. What exists and is concretized in law, in a Constitution, in the nature of the state, has to reflect not only the rule of the proletariat but also the objectives of the proletariat in advancing toward the abolition of class distinctions and the "4 Alls" and thereby the need for the state. And this has to take concrete forms, which will get embodied in successive Constitutions. But, as important as that is, on another level that is only the outward, superstructural expression of what needs to be going on in terms of transforming those "4 Alls"—continuing to transform the economic base, to revolutionize the world outlook of the people, within the party as well as in society overall, and to transform the political institutions to draw more and more masses into them, and to move to continually narrow and eventually eliminate the difference between the party and the broader masses in the running of the state and in the determination of the direction of society.
This is the way in which the proletarian state has to be firmly in the hands of the proletariat; but, at the same time, in accordance with the interests of the proletariat, it has to be different than every other kind of state: it has to be not only reinforcing the existing economic base and superstructure, but actually transforming the economic base and the superstructure, together with the advance of the world revolution, toward the goal of communism. This has to be reflected in all these institutions I'm talking about—of the state and of government, of law and Constitution. And all this, once again, involves very acute contradictions. As I have pointed out many times, it is very easy to promulgate, to theoretically conceive of and popularize, the idea of all elasticity—which is another way of saying bourgeois democracy, because that is what it will devolve into, that is what it will become. And we've also learned from experience that it is easy to veer in the direction of all solid core and a linear view of how you advance toward communism, how you carry forward the socialist transition: linear in the sense that everything is extended out as a line from the party—it's the party leading the masses to do this, the party leading the masses to do that. Yes, in an overall sense, it is necessary for the party to lead the masses, as long as there is a need for a vanguard party; but it is a very complex and contradictory process that I think we have to envision and that is envisioned in this new synthesis, which has to do with unleashing a lot of mass upheaval, turmoil, tumult, debate, dissent, and thrashing it through among and together with the masses, in order for the masses, in growing numbers, to synthesize what's true and correct and revolutionary out of all that. And, yes, on that basis, to suppress what actually needs to be suppressed, but also to carry forward what needs to be carried forward, and to deal correctly, at any point, with the two different types of contradictions (contradictions among the people and contradictions between the people and the enemy). This is a different way, a not so linear way. It's not like you're fly-fishing [laughing] and throwing a line out—it's much more "throwing out" a process that goes in many different directions and then working through, together with the masses, to synthesize it, without letting go of the core of everything. And that's the very difficult part, to do that without letting go of the core of everything.
So there is the challenge of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, to dig up the soil—materially and ideologically, in the economic base and the superstructure—that must be uprooted and abolished, in order to get to communism, to the realization of the "4 Alls," in relation—and yes this definitely involves contradiction—to continually giving fuller expression to the ways in which the socialist state actually is radically different from all previous kinds of states and actually is moving toward its own eventual abolition, even while—and here's another contradiction—even while that abolition will require a whole process, constituting a whole world-historical epoch, through which the necessary material and ideological conditions for communism are created, not just in a particular country but on a world scale.
I think we have come to see, from the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat so far—in sifting through and summing up this first stage of proletarian revolutions and socialist society and projecting to the future, we've come to understand more fully, and have much more a sense of the complexity, of the fact that this is a long-term process, involving a whole historical epoch, as contrasted even with what Lenin understood at the time he died in 1924, and certainly in contrast with what we would have to say, with historical perspective, were the more naive views of Marx and Engels concerning the abolition or the "withering away" of the state. Marx and Engels more or less thought that once you socialize things—they were looking at this happening first in a more capitalistically developed society—that once you socialize ownership of the means of production under the rule of the proletariat, it would be not that long of a period, and not that profound and complex a struggle, to get to where more and more of the people would be drawn into the administration of society, and the state could accordingly wither away. And we've learned that this is rather naive, not surprisingly. [Using a deliberately sarcastic sounding voice:] "He said Marx and Engels were naive." [laughter] Yes, he did. Because we're historical materialists and not religious and idealist people; and in this aspect, the understanding of Marx and Engels was very undeveloped, not surprisingly. But we've learned much more through, first (after the very short-lived and limited experience of the Paris Commune), the Soviet Revolution and then the Chinese Revolution and the Cultural Revolution in China—and looking at the international dimension of this much more fully in dialectical relation with the advance in any particular socialist country—how complex this will be, and how repeatedly the contradictions that are driving this will assume acute expression and there will have to be another leap forward, in order, first of all, to preserve proletarian rule, but much more fully in order to advance it further, to carry out further transformations in the base and the superstructure, together with supporting and advancing revolutionary struggles throughout the world.
So, in this context I want to come back and speak more directly to the solid core with a lot of elasticity—and elasticity on the basis of the necessary solid core. Now in talks I've given on "Elections, Democracy and Dictatorship, Resistance and Revolution,"7 I spoke about four objectives in relation to the solid core with state power. Now, the whole thing can be characterized, and I have characterized it, in the formulation that the point is "to hold on to state power while making sure that this state power is worth holding on to." And of course that's a boiled down, or basic and simple, concentration of a much more complex phenomenon and process. But the four objectives that relate to that are: 1) holding on to power; 2) making sure that the solid core is expanded to the greatest degree possible, and is not a static thing, but is continually expanding to the greatest degree possible at every point; 3) working consistently toward the point where that solid core will no longer be necessary, and there will no longer be a distinction between that and the rest of society; and 4) giving expression to the greatest amount of elasticity at any given time on the basis of that solid core.
The dialectical interplay of these things is another way of expressing what's involved in what I've described as a nonlinear process of, on the one hand, continuing to exercise the dictatorship of proletariat, and on the other hand—through this whole tumultuous and wrenching process, and through a succession of leaps—not only holding on to power, but transforming the character of that power, as the economic base and the superstructure as a whole are transformed, in dialectical relation with each other and in dialectical relation with the advance of the overall world revolution toward the goal of communism on a world scale.
1. A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the foundation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. Information on subscribing to the news service is available online at http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/AWorldToWinNewsService/
2. Audio files of Bob Avakian's interview with revolutionary journalist Michael Slate are available online at bobavakian.net. The point mentioned here can be found in the part titled "March 29, 2005: Michael Slate interviews Bob Avakian on China, the Cultural Revolution, and Dissent."
3. Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality But Not Traditional Morality (Chicago: Insight Press, 1999).
4. Lysistrata is an ancient Greek play by Aristophanes in which the women refuse to sleep with their husbands until they put an end to the war that they are engaged in.
5. This polemic, titled "Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That," appears as an Appendix to the book Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, 2nd edition, by Bob Avakian (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004). The polemic originally appeared in the 1992/17 issue of the magazine A World to Win. Available at revcom.us
6. The full title of the talk is Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World. Excerpts from this talk appeared in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper (now Revolution) and are available online at revcom.us. The series "On Proletarian Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship—A Radically Different View of Leading Society" appeared in RW #1214 through 1226 (Oct. 5, 2003-Jan. 25, 2004). The series "Getting Over the Hump" appeared in RW #927, 930, 932, and 936-940 (Oct. 12, Nov. 2, Nov. 16, and Dec. 14, 1997 through Jan. 18, 1998). Two additional excerpts from this talk are "Materialism and Romanticism: Can We Do Without Myth?" in RW #1211 (Aug. 24, 2003) and "Re-reading George Jackson" in RW #968 (Aug. 9, 1998). All of these articles can be found online at revcom.us.
7. This was a talk given by Bob Avakian before the elections in 2004. Audio file of this talk is available online for listening and downloading at bobavakian.net.
Call for Comments
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