Revolution #64, October 8, 2006
From Ike to Mao and Beyond
My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist
A Memoir by Bob Avakian
From Chapter Twenty-seven
Perseverance, and Inspiration
Disappointment, Danger, and Going Forward
Over the years and now decades, I’ve experienced many disappointments. Beyond personal hardships and losses, there have been real, and even profound, losses in terms of the struggle for a whole different world and better future for humanity. There have been not only twists and turns but gigantic setbacks, like the loss of China as a socialist country and base area for the world revolution. This is something that I myself, our Party, and communists throughout the world have had to confront.
Of course, there are not only difficulties but also great dangers. The people who so viciously rule the world oppress and exploit people in the most ruthless and murderous way. These are not just words that get thrown around; those are words that hardly capture the reality of the suffering that people are put through—totally unnecessarily—under the domination of this system and the way it twists and distorts the relations among people and turns people into instruments either to be used for the amassing of wealth on the part of a relative handful, or else just to be thrown onto the scrap heap like so much useless material. And there is the crushing of human potential and spirit that goes along with that. None of that has been lessened. The need to do away with all that—and, from a strategic point, the basis that exists to do away with all that—hasn’t been eliminated, or even lessened, despite these setbacks and even real defeats.
When I reflect on all this, I think of a conversation I had with a friend when I was a teenager. He was a little older than me, and he was going to medical school. One day I asked him what he wanted to do when he got out of medical school, what kind of medicine he was going to practice. He answered that he wasn’t going to practice a particular kind of medicine, he was going to go into cancer research because he wanted to help find a cure for cancer—he believed that was not only very important but was also possible, and he wanted to make whatever contribution he could to that.
It has been many decades since that time, and while some advances have been made in treating cancer, it’s still a scourge. It hasn’t yet been eliminated. A cure, to put it that way, hasn’t been found. But that person has been working in this field all these years, and I would never say that his efforts have been wasted just because cancer is still here. The need to eliminate cancer, or find a cure for it, if you will, is as great as ever. And, if you take a scientific approach to disease, you know that it is within the realm of possibility to find the means to eliminate this scourge on humanity and that it is worth persevering in that effort.
The same applies to the question of uprooting, overturning, and abolishing these horrendous relations of exploitation, oppression, and plunder on which this system is based and on which it thrives, along with the wars that are waged, and the destruction and despoliation of the environment that is carried out, as a result of its workings and the actions of those who rule it. The need to eliminate this system and bring something much better into being is even more profound than the need to find a cure for cancer. And if you’ve taken up a scientific approach to investigating, learning about and changing reality, then you know that the means can be found to do that. There is a basis within the nature of the world as it is, within the nature and contradictions of this system of capitalism and imperialism, to overturn and uproot and finally eliminate this system and all the horrors it causes in the world. Where you fall short of that, you have to draw the lessons as fully as possible, you have to ground yourself even more deeply in the scientific approach to understanding and changing reality that is Marxism, apply it in a more creative and critical and living way, and work together and struggle together with others in order to both learn more and do more to change the world. All the experience I’ve been through and learned from has taught me much more deeply and shown me much more fully that it is both necessary and possible to do this, and that the best thing I could do with my life is to make whatever contribution I can to this.
Even where there are terrible reversals and losses like what happened with China, this system will keep throwing up the need for revolution to abolish it and to bring into being a radically different and better world, a communist world. This need will continually be brought to the fore, over and over again. The conditions of the people and what they’re put through will continually cry out for this change.
If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is, there are profoundly different roads you can take with your life. You can just get into the dog-eat-dog, and most likely get swallowed up by that while trying to get ahead in it. You can put your snout into the trough and try to scarf up as much as you can, while scrambling desperately to get more than others. Or you can try to do something that would change the whole direction of society and the whole way the world is. When you put those things alongside each other, which one has any meaning, which one really contributes to anything worthwhile? Your life is going to be about something—or it’s going to be about nothing. And there is nothing greater your life can be about than contributing whatever you can to the revolutionary transformation of society and the world, to put an end to all systems and relations of oppression and exploitation and all the unnecessary suffering and destruction that goes along with them. I have learned that more and more deeply through all the twists and turns and even the great setbacks, as well as the great achievements, of the communist revolution so far, in what are really still its early stages historically.
And there have been great achievements, in what is actually the very brief and beginning experience of socialism and the advance toward communism. Whenever the masses in any part of the world rise up, even spontaneously, and especially when they do so with communist leadership, this is a source of tremendous inspiration and shows once again the potential for this whole revolutionary struggle and transformation of society and the world. This is a very powerful and sustaining thing when combined with an increasingly deepened grasp and application of the scientific outlook and method of communism.
As I spoke to earlier, since being forced into exile more than two decades ago, I have continued to give ideological and political leadership and direction to the RCP. I have studied and written extensively on profound problems and challenges confronting communists throughout the world in regrouping and carrying forward the revolutionary struggle in the face of truly devastating losses that have been experienced, above all the revisionist coup and capitalist restoration in China. I have continued to dig into the experience of the proletarian revolution and of the socialist societies that were brought into being in the twentieth century, in the Soviet Union and China, seeking to draw crucial lessons from both the positive but also the negative aspects of all this, and focusing in particular on the questions: How can the masses of people truly become the masters of society and of the state while at the same time advancing toward the ultimate abolition of the state, together with the abolition of all exploitative and oppressive divisions and social inequalities? And what is the relationship between the masses of people and revolutionary leadership in that process?
I have also focused attention on the monumental and unprecedented transformations that are going on throughout the world today and their implications for the revolutionary struggle—in particular the massive uprooting and migration of millions of peasants from the countryside to the urban areas each year throughout the Third World, with the new situation emerging where half the world’s population now lives in urban areas, with huge numbers of them in swelling shantytowns amidst tremendous poverty. I have continued to grapple with social, political and ideological phenomena associated with these transformations, focusing particularly on the growing phenomenon of religious fundamentalism—not only Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and other areas, but also Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. itself—and the dangers and challenges this presents for the revolutionary struggle to transform society, to bring true liberation and light and break all chains of oppression—economic, social, political, ideological and cultural.
I have written extensively and wrestled deeply—and continue to wrestle—with questions having to do with the role of intellectuals and artists and the creative process in relation to the larger interests of society, and the relation between collective and cooperative principles and the interests of society as a whole, on the one hand, and the role and rights of individuals and individual initiative, on the other hand.
In the context where our Party has undertaken the process of rewriting our basic Programme, in line with changes that have occurred in the world and important lessons we have been drawing in the more than twenty years since our Party Programme was last written, I have led the Party in breaking with serious errors, and a seriously flawed legacy of the international communist movement, with regard to the question of homosexuality. In the past, while we opposed discrimination against homosexuals, we regarded homosexuality as essentially a negative phenomenon which posed an obstacle to the ending of all oppression, and in particular we saw male homosexuality as something that contributed to the oppression of women. This is an erroneous and harmful position which we have not only changed but have set about deeply summing up and criticizing, not only within the Party but in published documents.*
Overall, I have continued to contribute whatever I can, and to lead the RCP in contributing the most it can, to the envisioning of, and the creation of, a whole new world, a communist world—a world of freely associating and cooperating human beings, a world in which the great majority of people, and ultimately all of humanity, would want to live and in which they would thrive, in ways never before possible or even imagined.
Perseverance, and Inspiration
In recent years, just at the time when the rulers of the U.S. and other capitalists and imperialists were seizing on the reversal of the revolution in China and the collapse of the Soviet Union to proclaim the ultimate triumph of the capitalist system, tremendous rebellions and protests have taken place, throughout the world and within the U.S. itself. In Los Angeles on a massive scale but also in Cincinnati and other cities, uprisings have taken place against outrageous acts of brutality and murder by the police. Through the work of our Party and others, a national coalition has been built against police brutality, and every year since 1996 there has been a National Day of Protest against police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of the youth, with thousands of people taking part in dozens of cities around the country. The battle around the right to abortion, as a key concentration of the fight against the oppression of women, has continued to rage, and is once against sharpening up. At the same time, the fight to eliminate discrimination against gays and lesbians in all spheres of society has taken new leaps. In recent years massive protests and battles have taken place against capitalist globalization and its devastating effects on people throughout the world, particularly in the Third World, and on the environment. Our Party and Maoists in many other parts of the world have been increasingly involved in these movements and struggles.
Seizing on the events of September 11, 2001, the ruling class of the U.S. and its leading core have unleashed a juggernaut of war and repression, declaring a worldwide war to expand their global domination and exploitation in the name of “fighting terrorism,” and instituting new levels of repression within the U.S. which are dangerous in themselves and represent precedent and potential for much greater and perhaps even unprecedented repression. All this has been met with increasingly massive resistance, in the U.S. itself and throughout the world, with tens of millions of people protesting against the war the U.S. was determined to launch against Iraq. I have characterized the juggernaut these imperialists have unleashed as “a cauldron of contradictions” and pointed to the fact that it holds the potential not only for great horrors and devastating setbacks for the resistance and revolutionary struggle of the masses of people throughout the world but at the same time the potential for great advances in this struggle—it holds the potential for these two extremes and everything in between.
This, or course, poses tremendous challenges for our Party and other Maoists throughout the world. One of the most important developments of the last twenty years is the fact that, in the aftermath of the tremendous loss in China, Maoists in different parts of the world, including the RCP in the U.S., have been able to regroup and unite together as an international movement, the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM). And in important parts of the world, Maoist parties, united in the RIM, are making crucial advances.
When I look at all this, I think again of my friend who decided to dedicate his life to ending cancer—and of the even greater need to put an end to the system of capitalism-imperialism and all the suffering and oppression this system embodies and enforces throughout the world. You see that there isn’t anything more important that your life could be about, and whatever you end up contributing during the course of your lifetime is the most important and the most uplifting thing that you could possibly do. And yes, there are moments of great disappointment, but also moments of great joy as part of this. There is the joy that comes from seeing the ways in which people break free of constraints and rise up and begin to see the world as it really is and take up more consciously the struggle to change it. There is the joy of knowing that you are part of this whole process and contributing what you can to it. There is the joy of the camaraderie of being together with others in this struggle and knowing that it is something worthwhile, that it is not something petty and narrow that you are involved in but something uplifting. There is the joy of looking to the future and envisioning the goal that you are struggling for and seeing people come to even a beginning understanding of what that could mean, not just for themselves but for society, for humanity as a whole.
* This is discussed, and gone into in much greater detail and depth, in the new Programme of the Party and in a position paper, “On the Position on Homosexuality,” available from RCP Publications. [back to text]
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.