Revolutionary Worker #1206, June 29, 2003, posted at rwor.org
May Day 2001 the RCP released its Draft Programme with the slogan "Looking For A Plan To Change The World?…It's Here!" Since the release of the Draft Programme, or DP, the RCP has learned from the sentiments, thoughts and opinions of thousands of people checking it out. All the while RCP has been popularizing its revolutionary strategy and vision.
Over the past few years a new generation has stepped forward to oppose imperialist globalization. Since 9/11, literally millions more have come into political life and struggle against the juggernaut of war and repression. Mao Tsetung teaches us the fundamental law that "people fight back, then they seek philosophy." Many are asking why things are this way-and do they have to be this way, is another world possible.
Over the next several months the RW/OR will be putting a spotlight on the DP, highlighting important parts of the Draft Programme. Along with this the RW will publish selected comments, criticisms, and suggestions from people studying the DP-including comments from Party supporters, debates from the 2changetheworld web site, and letters from prisoners.
Readers of the RW are encouraged to contribute to the debate by sending in comments. Comments can be sent to "Draft Programme Debate" c/o RCP Publications, PO Box 3486 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654. They can also be given to your local RW distributor.
The RW will not be able to publish all the comments sent in. However all such commentary from the debate will aid in the finalization of the DP. So don't hold back-join the debate!
In issues #1200 to #1203, this series dealt with the question of the Central Task of the RCP. The DP appendix "The Party and the Masses" appeared in #1204; and this week, we are publishing some comments related to that appendix.
Anarchism vs. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism
The following is an exchange from the 2changetheworld.info website--between Rise, representing an anarchist position, and Dolly Veale, San Francisco spokesperson for the RCP, on the question of leadership and leaders.
I agree strongly with Joe's contention [referring to previous post on website] that you cannot undo capitalism and the systematic forms of bourgeois oppression "overnight." Indeed, I would emphasize just as strongly that it is a hard, tortuous road in overcoming those social relations so strongly ingrained into capitalist society.
What I would like to know is, who is Joe talking about when he mentioned members of the "middle class" who want the state to disappear overnight? Seeing as how this was made out as a reply to my earlier note about anarchism, i'd like to point out that the contention that anarchists do not believe a long, arduous transition stage is unnecessary. In fact, anarchist theory, practice, and indeed history all say the opposite.
Anarchists believe in "building the new society within the shell of the old." The actual process of building new forms of social relationships within society must take place even before a revolution is realized. Of course we realize that these cannot be complete, and that you cannot merely "drop out" of capitalist society: until a successful revolution, these social relations are tentative at best.
That being said, it is not a question of "do we need a transition period?" as some would like to argue, but rather a question of "what kind of transition period, and with what social structures?" As anarchists, we believe that the means shape the ends. In saying this, we believe that a state--any state--is the means for shaping a class society, not a communist anarchist one. And we can see that our contention, made by the very first anarchists, has been proven time and time again. Every single marxist revolution, utilizing a state, has turned reformist and state-capitalist. There are no exceptions.
So, the anarchist idea of a transition period is quite different than the marxist one. We don't believe in having a state. We believe in having a federation of groups, collectives, communes, individuals, regional federations, and syndicates. In essence, we believe in building a situation of dual power until such time as the revolution can be realized. Once the capitalist state is crushed through a revolution, we believe in setting up a federation that co-ordinates production and distribution, not from the "top down" but from the bottom up, through the revolutionary self-activity of the working class.
This is far from realizing communist anarchism in its entirety. Indeed, merely having a federation through which groups coordinate the means of production and distribution does not immediately deal with all the issues of exploitation, patriarchy, homophobia, racism, the environment, and other equally important "leftovers" from capitalism. This is the real challenge of a revolutionary movement, to seek these structures out and to change them, to implement new and revolutionary communist anarchist forms of social relations.
So, as you can see, anarchists are not against a transitional period. We are against a transitional period utilizing a state. We, quite simple, are scientific socialists, and we see that the use of the state is antithetical to the vision of a communist anarchist society [which we expect to work long and hard before achieving] and that it has historically, in every single instance, been the instrument of counter-revolution and capitalist restoration.
So, the question comes, how can anarchists and MLM'ers work in common to put forward a common front against capitalism? In my opinion, this can only happen at a regional level, with anarchist and communist militants working together on issues of importance. And I think it is at this level that the line struggle over which mode of transition is best will take place.
From Dolly Veale :
It's clear from the discussion that we DO share a DEEP hatred of capitalism and desire for revolution, and that's why on the "street level", we often have unity on not letting our oppressors set the terms/boundaries of our resistance.
But I think MLM and anarchist have different final aims/ultimate goal, and because our final aim is different, we differ on how to get there 1) strategy--uniting all who can be united under the leadership of the proletariat vs. ???; 2) socialist state vs. anarchist federations; 3) vanguard party vs. the spontaneous "revolutionary self activity of the oppressed classes."
Our DP says (page 36): "Of course, what kind of organization is needed is, in the final analysis, a question of what you're trying to do. If the goal is simply to fan dissent and protest, or to build a movement that may take militantly to the streets around particular outrages but does not aim to overthrow the system, then one can dispense with revolutionary organization--a vanguard is not necessary, and for that matter, there's no need for revolutionary ideology."
As others have asked, how does anarchism (as goal, ideology or strategy) completely get rid of "the conditions for people to oppress people" while capitalism is rooted in class exploitation, what of its whole structure of oppression of one nation by another, of women's domination by men, of a division of labor where intellectual work lords it over manual work, of cities privileged over countryside, of workers over peasants?
A thoroughgoing revolution has to deal with the entire process of getting rid of the conditions that breeds ALL this, everywhere in the world.
In a funny way, IF the anarchist "model" of revolution and federations could really work, I'd prefer it! It'd actually involve less work than going for a communist revolution and all the really difficult problems involved in socialist transition. E.g., the vexing problem that the division of labor which makes a vanguard necessary in order to succeed at revolution, is also the potential source for capitalist restoration under socialism (I'll try to return to this separately).
If you really base yourselves on being serious about revolution to liberate all of humanity, and meeting the fundamental and highest interests of the masses of people worldwide, then I think it'll lead you to MLM as the most revolutionary path and ideology (vs. nationalism or anarchism).
Only the communist revolution has as its starting point the proletariat's historic mission and goal to end ALL oppression and exploitation worldwide. It is this world outlook that guides us to unite all who can be united to make revolution, and remake society.
Let's take one example here--the oppression of whole peoples and nations or what we call national oppression.
Many nationalists demand a nation-state of their own as the final aim of the revolution, and often are sectarian towards anarchists! As part of the RCP's strategy for uniting all who can be united for revolution, we'll certainly continue to politically defend the battle of Seattle against the divisive, narrow-nationalist, reformist "Marxist" attacks of "where's the color in Seattle?"
It may be helpful for friends involved in this thread/exchange to check out the discussion on NAPO's criticism of our DP and our reply. If we are really serious about taking down a monster like (U.S.) imperialism as part of the world revolution, we have to deal with the history of a country like the U.S. and its actual class configuration/forces today, and uniting all who can be united as both a necessary and complex process in making revolution, and throughout the socialist transition.
A successful revolution involves dealing with the often conflicting forces/ demands of many sections of people, transforming all spheres of society (e.g., economics, politics, culture, education etc). How is the vision of federations different than one big trade union that deals with the economic struggle between workers and employers?
And how do anarchists see solving something like national oppression (not just racism but uprooting the structure of white supremacy in the U.S.)? Who exactly do anarchists see as friends/allies and who are the enemies is still unclear to me as far as a defined strategy. If you see uniting with middle class people as class collaborationist, what will you do with the whole middle class, including among the oppressed? (e.g., today the African American middle class in the U.S. is 3 to 4 times bigger than in the '60s, even as the conditions of the majority of Black people are proletarians and is in much more desperate situation.)
For a people who shed blood to even attain things like becoming professionals (e.g. doctors), will many of them support a revolution that'll immediately reduce them to the pay and position of a domestic? How is that different than what they've been forced to suffer for centuries?
The following are two previously unpublished comments from RCP comrades.
On Centralism and Democracy
This section starts by posing the allegation that leadership, and in particular a "tightly knit revolutionary organization," by its nature puts a brake on the activism of the masses. It then goes on to expose how what really keeps the masses passive is this system and poses the question, what does it take to overcome this?And it explains how the very purpose of a vanguard revolutionary organization is to take responsibility for finding the ways to unleash the masses in struggle against this system. Then there is a quote from RCP Chairman Bob Avakian talking about Lenin's point that "the more highly organized and centralized the party was, the greater would be the role and initiative of the masses in revolutionary struggle." The post on the (2changetheworld.info) website by Rosa (RL) of 10/24/02 quotes this line and basically asks the question, Why is that true?
When I first went back and read this section, I wasn't sure if it actually did a good enough job of explaining how leadership, or a leading body, actually serves to unleash the masses. And then when I read it again, I realized that I was wrong and that I had missed the profundity of the explanation when I had read it the first time. Then I thought some more about this post by Rosa (RL), as well as some questions in general regarding leadership that have been coming up from some of the youth I work with. And I went back and looked at "Grasp/Promote" [a talk by Bob Avakian recently excerpted as a series in the RW ], in particular the section on leading and unleashing.
It seems to me that people like Rosa (RL), or these youth I'm referring to, can understand how in order to really make revolution you have to have leadership. But what's harder to understand is how more centralism and discipline in an organization can result in more unleashing of the masses being led. As Rosa (RL) said, "In one way this really does seem against logic--at least common logic."
I was thinking maybe it would be good to have another small subsection here about leadership--what kind of leadership we're talking about (leading/learning and leading/unleashing), and why it is that more centralism in the organization (obviously we're talking about democratic centralism and not just centralism, but there's something to the fact that people see communist parties as all centralism--and while we have to explain that it is democratic centralism, we do also have to uphold the centralism aspect) actually means more freedom for the creativity and initiative of the masses.
I tried to take a stab at answering this myself, using what's in "Grasp/Promote." This first paragraph tries to speak to the question of how a "tightly knit revolutionary organization" serves to unleash the masses--and in particular why it is that centralism is crucial to being able to lead:
Centralism enables the party to carry out a unified line--it means everyone in the Party is pulling in the same direction. How can a vanguard party which is taking responsibility for unleashing the masses to wage revolutionary struggle and create a new society in the highest interests of humanity be an organization made up of individuals all "doing their own thing," carrying out different lines and engaging in contradictory practice? Such a party would be incapable of leading the masses anywhere, and this is why: to be able to lead people, you must be able to learn from them. That is what Mao's formulation of the mass line is all about--take the scattered ideas of the masses, systematize them using MLM, take this higher synthesis back to the masses in the form of line and policies, and unite with the masses to carry this out. Learning from the masses is an integral part of leading them. In order for the Party to learn, party members must all be carrying out the same line and then bringing their experience and what they have learned back to the Party...
These next few paragraphs is my try at writing a subsection on leadership--which I think would be important to have in the vanguard appendix--though I'm sure it could probably be formulated better than I did here:
How are people unleashed? How do people, whose whole energy is bound up in the struggle for survival, who are told in a million ways they are worthless and stupid, whose creativity is suppressed and beaten out of them--how do people break free of these chains even to begin the struggle to thoroughly shatter the chains of oppression binding humanity to the monstrous system of capitalism/imperialism? Yes, people rebel spontaneously when blatant outrages are too much to bear. Yes, people desire things to be different. But how does that rebelliousness and that desire become a conscious understanding of how to change things? How do people learn that it is really possible to bring in another kind of world and that what they do can bring it closer? That does not happen spontaneously. It requires leadership. Unleashing means leading and leading means unleashing.
In bourgeois society, the very concept of leadership is twisted around to become something ugly, something hypocritical and oppressive. The so-called leaders of society are the most ruthless of bloodsuckers, whose positions of power are used to commit the worst crimes humanity has ever seen. Over the years, genuine leaders operating with the people's interests at heart have arisen from among the masses. And many more so-called leaders have used the people's trust to gain positions for themselves within the capitalist setup. The experience of having our genuine leaders stolen from us, whether through bullets or bribes, only to be replaced by so-called leaders who serve to pacify the people's struggle, has filled many people with cynicism and mistrust towards even the idea of leadership.
Overwhelmingly, the critical, dare-to-question spirit of today's generation is a positive thing and should be encouraged. On the other hand, it is important to understand that leadership, while it does contain an aspect of unevenness that carries the potential for oppressive divisions, is not something oppressive in and of itself. And real revolutionary leadership is in fact liberating and should be upheld and defended.
Building the Party and the Mass Line
On the first page of this section, page 35, it talks about the inequalities and divisions in society that make a Party necessary in order to realize the interests of the proletariat, and about the need for a science of revolution. In that context it talks about how people who have exposure to and opportunity to study ideas are often the first to take up the science and their task is to bring it to the masses of proletarians to take up as their own. Then in the next paragraph it goes on to sum up that the proletariat needs leadership based on the science of revolution.
I know the intent of this section is to talk about the need for a party based on the inequalities and divisions in society and the fact that there are reasons why intellectuals take up the science first, but I wonder if in juxtaposing the point about the science being brought from intellectuals, together with the statement that the proletariat needs leadership, it ends up implying that the proletariat needs leadership from the intellectuals and students (who are largely people from the middle classes) and therefore that the party is principally made up of those forces. Initially it is true that the party is made up principally of intellectuals, but there is a whole process of transforming the character and composition of the party through the course of the revolutionary struggle. And in order for the party to get in a position to actually lead the struggle for power, it's essential that it be based firmly within the proletariat, including that the ranks of its membership contain large numbers of proletarians who have taken up the science of rev as their own.
Even though later in the section it speaks more about the composition of the party, I think it would be important to clarify it in this first section as well. Here's a suggestion for the end of the last full paragraph on page 35: (I added the sentence in bold)
"The task of those who do first embrace this ideology is to bring it to the class that it represents and that can and must take up this ideology as its own, and through this process the vanguard party is built and strengthened, bringing into its ranks the most class conscious workers and members of other strata who have devoted their lives to revolution."
I keep going back and forth about whether the section on mass line on page 37 is adequate. It is such a fundamental concept and is something the Party has given a lot of attention to in recent years and is constantly struggling to deepen its understanding of. The question I have about the section is that it's boiled down into such a concentrated little segment that I'm not sure the real meaning of it comes alive. The way it is described is the way we've talked about it for years, but until we carried out deeper discussion and struggle about it in the Party, I never felt that I really understood it very well--it was kind of a formula of "from the masses and then back to the masses."
Recently Chairman Avakian has deepened the understanding further in some of his writings. The whole question of the vanguard combining its actions with the masses and the idea that nothing can be done without the masses just doesn't come across very strongly to me in the way it is written. I know we can't expand on every point in this programme or it will be a tome, but I'll just float out here a suggestion for a slight expansion of this section:
These 2 sentences would replace the first sentence of the section:
"The vanguard cannot wage the revolutionary struggle on its own -- all of its efforts must be combined with the masses. The mass line is the method the party uses to do this, to both learn from and lead the masses, and it is fundamental to everything the Party does."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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