Revolution#113, December 23, 2007
MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY
PART 2: EVERYTHING WE’RE DOING IS ABOUT REVOLUTION
“Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism”
Editors’ Note: The following is the first in Part 2 of a series of excerpts from a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, earlier this year (2007). This has been edited for publication and footnotes have been added. These excerpts are being published in two parts. Part 1 is available in its entirety, as one document, online at revcom.us, and has been serialized in (the print version of) Revolution (see issues #105, Oct. 21; #106, Oct. 28; #107, Nov. 4; #108, Nov. 11; #109, Nov. 18; #110, Nov. 25; #111, Dec. 9; and #112, Dec. 16, 2007). Part 2 is also available, as one document, at revcom.us.
“Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism”
Hastening while awaiting—not bowing down to necessity
Next I want to talk about “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism” and its role in building a revolutionary and communist movement. I want to begin by reviewing some important points relating to the whole orientation and strategic approach of “hastening while awaiting” the development of a revolutionary situation in a country like the U.S.
I spoke earlier about the outlook and approach of revisionist “determinist realism”1 which, among other things, involves a passive approach to objective reality (or necessity), which sees the objective factor as purely objective—and purely “external,” if you will—and doesn’t grasp the living dialectical relation between the objective and subjective factors and the ability of the latter (the subjective factor—the conscious actions of people) to react back on and to transform the former (the objective factor—the objective conditions). In other words, this “determinist realism” doesn’t grasp the essential orientation, and possibility, of transforming necessity into freedom. It doesn’t really, or fully, grasp the contradictoriness of all of reality, including the necessity that one is confronted with at any given time. So, one of the essential features of “determinist realism” is that it dismisses as “voluntarism” any dialectical grasp of the relation between the subjective and objective factors, and sees things in very linear, undifferentiated ways, as essentially uniform and without contradiction, rather than in a living and dynamic and moving and changing way.
Of course, it is necessary not to fall into voluntarism. There are many different ways in which such voluntarism can be expressed, leading to various kinds of (usually “ultra-left”) errors and deviations, if you will—including in the form of giving in to infantilist or adventurist impulses—all of which is also extremely harmful. But—particularly in a protracted or prolonged situation in which the objective conditions for revolution (that is, for the all-out struggle to seize power) have not yet emerged—by far the much greater danger, and one that is reinforced by this objective situation, is this kind of determinist realism which doesn’t grasp correctly the dialectical relation between the objective and subjective factors, and sees them in static, undialectical, and unchanging terms.
It is true that we cannot, by our mere will, or even merely by our actions themselves, transform the objective conditions in a qualitative sense—into a revolutionary situation. This cannot be done merely by our operating on, or reacting back on, the objective conditions through our conscious initiative. On the other hand, once again a phrase from Lenin has important application here. With regard to the labor aristocracy—the sections of the working class in imperialist countries which are, to no small extent, bribed from the spoils of imperialist exploitation and plunder throughout the world, and particularly in the colonies—Lenin made the point that nobody can say with certainty where these more “bourgeoisified” sections of the working class are going to line up in the event of the revolution—which parts of them are going to be with the revolution when the ultimate showdown comes, and which are going to go with the counter-revolution—nobody can say exactly how that is going to fall out, Lenin insisted. And applying this same principle, we can say that nobody can say exactly what the conscious initiative of the revolutionaries might be capable of producing, in reacting upon the objective situation at any given time—in part because nobody can predict all the other things that all the different forces in the world will be doing. Nobody’s understanding can encompass all that at a given time. We can identify trends and patterns, but there is the role of accident as well as the role of causality. And there is the fact that, although changes in what’s objective for us won’t come entirely, or perhaps not even mainly, through our “working on” the objective conditions (in some direct, one-to-one sense), nevertheless our “working on” them can bring about certain changes within a given framework of objective conditions and—in conjunction with and as part of a “mix,” together with many other elements, including other forces acting on the objective situation from their own viewpoints—this can, under certain circumstances, be part of the coming together of factors which does result in a qualitative change. And, again, it is important to emphasize that nobody can know exactly how all that will work out.
Revolution is not made by “formulas,” or by acting in accordance with stereotypical notions and preconceptions—it is a much more living, rich, and complex process than that. But it is an essential characteristic of revisionism (phony communism which has replaced a revolutionary orientation with a gradualist, and ultimately reformist one) to decide and declare that until some deus ex machina—some god-like EXTERNAL FACTOR—intervenes, there can be no essential change in the objective conditions and the most we can do, at any point, is to accept the given framework and work within it, rather than (as we have very correctly formulated it) constantly straining against the limits of the objective framework and seeking to transform the objective conditions to the maximum degree possible at any given time, always being tense to the possibility of different things coming together which bring about (or make possible the bringing about of) an actual qualitative rupture and leap in the objective situation.
So that is a point of basic orientation in terms of applying materialism, and dialectics, in hastening while awaiting the emergence of a revolutionary situation. It’s not just that, in some abstract moral sense, it’s better to hasten than just await—though, of course, it is—but this has to do with a dynamic understanding of the motion and development of material reality and the interpenetration of different contradictions, and the truth that, as Lenin emphasized, all boundaries in nature and society, while real, are conditional and relative, not absolute. (Mao also emphasized this same basic principle in pointing out that, since the range of things is vast and things are interconnected, what’s universal in one context is particular in another.) The application of this principle to what is being discussed here underlines that it is only relatively, and not absolutely, that the objective conditions are “objective” for us—they are, but not in absolute terms. And, along with this, what is external to a given situation can become internal, as a result of the motion—and changes that are brought about through the motion—of contradictions. So, if you are looking at things only in a linear way, then you only see the possibilities that are straight ahead—you have a kind of blinders on. On the other hand, if you have a correct, dialectical materialist approach, you recognize that many things can happen that are unanticipated, and you have to be constantly tense to that possibility while consistently working to transform necessity into freedom. So, again, that is a basic point of orientation.
The Pivotal Revolutionary Role of the Communist Newspaper
In that framework, I want to speak to the questions: how do we hasten, or what are some of the key elements of hastening while awaiting; and how does “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism” apply to that? First of all, what do we mean by “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism”—what are we referring to in speaking of “What Is To Be Done-ism,” and what do we mean when we speak of this being “enriched”? “What Is To Be Done-ism” refers to the fundamental orientation set forth by Lenin, in his famous work by that name (What Is To Be Done?), where he emphasized that the essential role of a communist is to be, not a “trade union secretary” (in other words, not a leader of struggles for reforms and improvements in the situation of the working class within the confines of the capitalist system) but a “tribune of the people”: someone who shines a penetrating light on the outrages and abuses perpetrated by the capitalist system, the ways in which all this affects different strata among the people, and how different strata respond to major events in society and the world; who brings to light, in compelling ways, the underlying causes and relations at the root of all these outrages and injustices—pointing through all this to the need for revolution and the establishment of a new, socialist and ultimately communist society, and the decisive role of the exploited class in the present (capitalist) society, the proletariat, in bringing about such a revolutionary transformation, as part of the overall world proletarian revolution. In this connection, the following from a different work by Lenin provides another profoundly important but—in today’s world especially—little known about or understood insight of scientific communist theory:
“People always were and always will be the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes.” (Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism,” in Marx, Engels, Marxism, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, p. 73, emphasis in original—cited in Bob Avakian, Phony Communism is Dead…Long Live Real Communism, second edition, Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004, p. 122)
And, of course, a central and pivotal point in Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? is his analysis of why and how communist consciousness—which involves a scientific outlook and approach—cannot be developed “spontaneously” but must be brought to the proletariat and masses of people from outside the realm of their own more direct and immediate experience; and that, for this as well as other reasons, the communist revolution must have the leadership of an organized vanguard party, which is made up of people, drawn from all sections of society, who have taken up the communist viewpoint.
In speaking of an “enrichment” of “What Is To Be Done-ism” we are referring to what more has been learned since the time of Lenin—including in terms of the dialectical relation between consciousness and the transformation of material reality, or between the subjective and objective factors—and an even more heightened emphasis not only on enabling increasing numbers of the masses to engage with what’s going on in all the different spheres of society and how that relates to the fundamental nature of society and the fundamental question of transforming society and the world, but also an emphasis on breaking down, to the maximum degree possible at any given time, the barriers to their engaging in the sphere of “working with ideas” and the struggle and contention in the realm of ideas (in the spheres of art and culture, science and philosophy, and so on) as well as putting before these masses the problems of the revolution—drawing them, as much and as fully as possible, at every point, into grappling with crucial questions relating to the need for communist revolution and the means for making that revolution. The point of all this is not simply to create a situation in which growing numbers of the masses will “feel involved” in the revolutionary process, but to actually help find the solutions to these problems and to enable the Party, as well as the masses, to learn in this way.
Very much at the heart of “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism”—and at the heart of Lenin’s original discussion of “What Is To Be Done?”—is the role of the communist newspaper, as a “collective propagandist” and “collective organizer” of the revolutionary movement. Many people ask: “How can you make a revolution, how can you build a revolutionary movement, with a newspaper as your main weapon?” Often the implication of questions of this kind is that proceeding in this way, with a newspaper as your main weapon in building the revolutionary movement, is inevitably going to lead you into reinforcing notions of “patient education” or some kind of “each one teach one” approach, through which, supposedly, everybody will somehow learn what they need to know and then everybody will be prepared to move in a revolutionary way at some point in the far off, indefinite future. But, of course, that will not happen, and that cannot lead to a revolution. Life—and in particular human society and its transformation—is much too dynamic and contradictory for an approach like that to ever succeed in leading to revolution (if, indeed, the goal of revolution could even be maintained by proceeding with such an approach).
But there is an essential reality and truth to Lenin’s point when he insisted that the wielding of a newspaper is the better part of preparation—ideologically, politically, and organizationally—for the eventual struggle for the seizure of power. How is the wielding of a newspaper the better part of such preparation? This has to do with the role of consciousness and the relationship between consciousness and people taking initiative in struggle. Lenin’s point in What Is To Be Done? is not that communists don’t need to organize the masses in various forms of struggle to resist the abuses and outrages of the system; and not that we should never issue “calls to action” to enable the masses to wage such political struggle and resistance. But, Lenin rightly insisted, the most important thing we need to do is bring to light and bring alive for people who are oppressed and exploited, and who are dissatisfied in various ways with this system—to bring to light and bring alive for them the actual nature of this system, and how the things which are weighing down on them, or which outrage them, interrelate to each other, and how they are all rooted in the very nature and functioning of the capitalist-imperialist system; how to understand correctly, scientifically, not only what is exposed in this way but also how all the different class forces in society (and the world as a whole) figure into this larger picture of the functioning of the system, and (without falling into mechanical materialism) how, and why, different classes and strata tend to respond to different events in society and the world.
And, as Lenin put it, if this is really done in a powerful way, in a way which—metaphorically speaking—draws blood, sharply penetrates beneath the surface of things and gets to the core and essence of things, this will fill people with (in Lenin’s phrase) “an irresistible urge to act” politically. It will call this forth far more powerfully than all the direct calls to action that we might make—as important as that is on many occasions—and in a greater way than our directly organizing masses of people to carry out various forms of political struggle and resistance, as important as that is as well. And an important extension of Lenin’s basic point is that what people see as tolerable, or intolerable, is dialectically related to what they see is possible or necessary (or, on the other hand, what they come to see as un-necessary—or no longer necessary—no longer something they just have to put up with and endure).
Fairly frequently, in talks and writings, I have referred to masses of people suffering unnecessarily. What this is speaking to is that, when people come to see that what they are going through—what, in reality, this system is putting them through—is not “ordained by god,” or is not “just the way things are” or the result of the workings of some impenetrable power—societal or supernatural—but instead stems from the very workings of a system and, moreover, that things could be radically different once this system is swept aside, then the recognition of the possibility of acting to change things—and the impulse to act in this way—becomes much more powerful. One of the biggest things weighing on the masses is their belief that no radical change is possible because the forces they are up against are too powerful. But also weighing very heavily on them—and closely interconnected with the sense that real and radical change is not possible—is the notion there is no real alternative to the way things are, so the most you can do is try to get the best you can within this situation, or just suffer silently through it and seek the refuge and solace of religion or something else which represents, objectively, an illusory “escape.” But the more the actual nature and workings of this system are laid bare and brought to light in many different ways—graphically and compellingly—and the more that people grasp that this is not the way things have to be, but only the way things are because of the workings of a system—a system which is full of contradiction—the more they can feel, and will feel, impelled to act. Lacking that, even our best efforts at mobilizing them to act are going to eventually run into their limitations and be sidetracked or turned around into their opposite, into something which actually reinforces the present system and the sense that nothing can be done to radically change things.
Addressing all this, through applying the basic orientation and approach that Lenin argues for in What Is To Be Done?—and as this is further “enriched,” in the ways I have referred to here—is the role of the communist newspaper in building the revolutionary movement. Our Party’s newspaper, Revolution, has to continue to sharpen its ability to play this role, at the same time as comrades in the Party—and growing numbers of people who, at any given time, are not yet in the Party but are, in a basic sense, partisan to or supportive of the Party’s aims and actions—have to wield the newspaper with this kind of orientation. This must be done with a continually deepening understanding that it is actually preparing the ground—and in an overall sense is the single most important part of preparing the ground—politically, ideologically, and organizationally, for the future struggle for power, when there is a major, qualitative change in the objective situation and the emergence of a revolutionary people, in the millions and millions, owing to the unfolding of the contradictions of the system itself and—in dialectical relation with that—the work of the conscious revolutionary forces, with the Party at the core. This is (to invoke again Lenin’s phrasing) “the better part of preparation”—even though it is, in a sense, indirect preparation—for the future struggle for power. It is not activity in the sphere of military struggle, obviously. But it is the better part of preparation for when the objective situation does undergo a qualitative change, in the way and on the basis spoken to here. Wielding the newspaper in this way is, in the conditions that obtain in countries like the U.S., the most important means of hastening while awaiting.
This relates back to—and establishes an overall framework for—the role of the newspaper as a “collective propagandist and collective organizer” for the Party as well as for a broader revolutionary movement, and for the growing core within that movement which is partisan to the Party and its strategic objectives. The newspaper provides a concentrated means of “laying down a guideline” to enable people to move in unison around major political questions and events in society and the world—not in the sense of people being “automatons,” all marching together in a mindless way, but in the sense of their understanding more consciously how to respond to world events—to respond in a way that represents meaningful activity toward an objective which they can more and more clearly identify as a radical alternative which is, in fact, possible, as well as desirable, and which has to be, and can be, brought into being through their conscious initiative and struggle.
Combating “the spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie”
The newspaper also plays a key role in what Lenin described as diverting masses and movements of mass opposition from their spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie. I have to say that my sense of what Lenin meant by this used to be more that there was a spontaneous tendency in these struggles, and among the masses involved in them, to come under the wing of one or another section of the bourgeoisie (as personified not only by direct and literal representatives of the ruling class, but often by people whose positions and outlooks ultimately represent the interests of the ruling class, even if the particular individuals are not themselves members of that ruling class). But, in going back to What Is To Be Done? more recently, it struck me that Lenin actually refers to the striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie. (His precise formulation, speaking specifically of movements of the working class, is “this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie.”)
We see this all the time, among various strata of the people. For example, recently someone told me that they came across a car with two bumper stickers: one of them said “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”; and the other one was supporting Obama for president. I thought if I were to come upon this I would barely be able to resist the temptation to stick a piece of paper on this car with the message: “If you’re supporting Obama, you’re still not paying attention.” [Laughter] Here is another example of “striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie”: the owner of this car is, through the one bumper sticker, putting forward a very good sentiment: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” But, on the other hand, where, spontaneously, does this person want to go with that? Into the camp—under the wing—of the bourgeoisie, in the person of Obama, with some stupid quote of his about how “there’s not a liberal America, there’s not a conservative America, there’s just the United States of America.” How profound, and how liberating.
And along with—or as part of—this “striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie,” there is the repeated phenomenon of people who insist that they can’t stand the cult of the personality nevertheless continually reinventing “saviors” from among the representatives of the ruling class. “Al Gore—please run for president.” This is based on a certain “oppositional” posture that Gore is assuming, not only around the environment and global climate change but, to a certain degree at least, around things like the war in Iraq. But this reflects a lack of understanding that (as I pointed out previously, in the context of the 2004 elections2) the reason that Al Gore is saying and doing these things, as limited as they are—and as much as they remain within the dominant, ruling class political framework—is because Al Gore is not running, at least not right now—and if he were running he would increasingly be saying different kinds of things—as he did in 2000—in order to demonstrate to those who actually shape and control the decision-making process that he is capable of directing the ship of state of U.S. imperialism, through the very dangerous waters into which it has gotten itself.
These examples—and many others that could be cited—demonstrate the tremendous struggle that must be waged in order to enable people to break out of this orientation of “striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie,” to enable them to rupture, in their thinking and orientation, beyond the narrow confines of how the ruling class shapes and dominates political life, along with every other aspect of society; to grasp what has been repeatedly shown in reality—that meaningful political change (even short of revolution, let alone the radical transformation of society that is possible only through revolution) can come about solely through taking political action that is independent of and, in an essential way, in opposition to that whole dominant framework.
When you look at the various mass movements that have occured, even just in recent years—whether it’s the massive outpouring of immigrants, or the anti-war movements that have developed, or other manifestations of political opposition and resistance—it is clear that there is, time and again, not just a “pull” but a striving to find a section of the bourgeoisie under whose wing they can seek support and protection—and, as many see it, can become “effective” in doing so (while the question of “effective” at what and on what terms, toward which ends, is begged). This is a continually recurring phenomenon. To paraphrase an observation by Lenin in another context (in which he was speaking about the regeneration of the bourgeoisie, out of small production and trade, under socialism), this “striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie” is regenerated daily, hourly, continuously, spontaneously and on a mass scale: “I know, I know, they’re not any good, they’re all bad,” many people will say, speaking of bourgeois politicians; but then they turn around and insist that it is nonetheless necessary to get behind one or another of them, in order to “do something realistic.” Well, my answer to that is: Yes, let’s do something realistic—but let’s not do something bad. And coming under the wing of a section of the bourgeoisie, and the Democrats in particular, is something very bad indeed—it will lead, and can only lead, to political paralysis, and worse, in the face of very real, and continually mounting and intensifying, crimes carried out by the system, and the ruling class, of which these Democrats, no less than the Republicans, are representatives. As I have pointed out before: If you try to get the Democrats to be what they are not, and never will be, you will end up becoming more like what the Democrats actually are.
Waging a determined struggle against this “spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie” is a crucial part of our all-around work, and the newspaper has a particular and a concentrated role in the struggle to divert masses and movements of mass opposition from this path and onto a path of truly meaningful political activity.
This series will continue in the next issue of Revolution.
1. The subject of “determinist realism” is spoken to in part 1: “Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right”—available at revcom.us—and, in the serialization of part 1, is found in “Marxism as a Science—In Opposition to Mechanical Materialism, Idealism and Religiosity,” in Revolution #109, Nov. 18, 2007.[back]
2. This refers to a talk by Bob Avakian in 2004, Elections, Democracy and Dictatorship, Resistance and Revolution, available at bobavakian.net.[back]
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