From Dictatorship and Democracy, And the Socialist Transition to Communism

Part 8: Moving Toward Communism

by Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #1260, November 28, 2004, posted at

Editor’s Note: The following is the concluding excerpt from the edited text of a recent talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA. This talk was given to a group of supporters of the RCP who are studying the historical experience of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and preparing to take up the challenge of popularizing this experience and engaging in discussion and debate with others about it, particularly on campuses but also more broadly.

The entire talk is online at Footnotes and subheads have been added to this excerpt.

One of the things that was pointed out in the last great battle in China, when the forces who were following Mao were criticizing the revisionists in the Chinese Communist Party who were poised to take over and take China back down the road to capitalism—one of the points that the Maoists made was that the power over the relations and means of production in socialist society is in significant ways concentrated as the power of political leadership.

Now this is a very important point, and a very acute contradiction as well. What were they talking about? Well, this can be concentrated in the statement that I’ve made in a number of writings and talks, that when we say that the masses of people are the masters of socialist society, we’re not just talking bullshit—that’s actually true and it has many different expressions and manifestations—but the point I have emphasized is that this is true not in some absolute sense, but only in a relative sense, and it’s something that’s not static, but is in motion.

Now, what do I mean by that—a relative sense and not an absolute sense, and not static but in motion? This means that so long as society is on the socialist road, is carrying out the transition toward communism that Marx talked about, toward the abolition or transformation of the four alls—as long as that is the case, this will find expression in the masses of people being more and more drawn into all these different spheres of society, and having more and more of a role in these things. It’s impossible to continue advancing on that road without that. If you don’t do that, and you try to rely on a handful, you will inevitably be forced back into the bourgeois way of doing things. Even on the level of the economy, you will be forced to calculate according to the principle of profit in command in the economy, with commodity relations dominating the economy. Because if you don’t build, and transform, the economy by unleashing the conscious initiative and activism of the masses to actually determine what should be produced and in what proportions and all these other things, then you have to fall back on some other mechanism for doing that, or the whole thing will come unraveled. And the only mechanism you could fall back on is the capitalist mechanism of calculating according to production for profit, and letting commodity production determine the direction of things.

So, in order to even advance on the socialist road, you have to consciously strive to do things in a different way, by bringing into play the conscious initiative of the masses of people. Even on the level of the economy, how could you possibly calculate what should be produced in what proportion and how it should be exchanged if you don’t involve the masses of people in that? Unless you are going to fall back on capitalist principles, how could you possibly do that, other than by relying on and increasingly involving the masses and their conscious initiative?

How could you evaluate what’s produced, and whether it’s really useful to the masses of people, if you don’t rely on them? The capitalists say you can’t do this—you have to rely on the market mechanism, that’s the only way. Well, it is the only way to have an exploiting system at this stage of history. But if you want to have something different, which abolishes exploitation, then you have to rely on the masses.

But this isn’t some absolute thing. You just don’t have mass meetings to decide everything; and, as I have talked about from a lot of different angles, you don’t have masses who are absolutely equal in every way. In many ways, especially in the early stages of socialism, there are profound inequalities among these masses. And this ends up getting expressed in the fact that some people have more of a role in political affairs, and in the affairs of society in general, than others. These people, if they are adhering to the socialist road, if they are really applying the communist outlook and methodology, will act in the interests of the masses, but in significant ways they are acting in place of the masses even while acting in their interests. To move beyond that situation requires a whole process, a whole epoch of struggle, to achieve the transition from socialism to communism, and not just in one country by itself—which is impossible—but on a worldwide basis.

So this is what I’m talking about when I am speaking to the fact that the masses are the masters of socialist society but in a relative sense, not in some absolute sense. There are all these contradictions running all through that. And there are no easy answers. There is one road or another to deal with these problems, these contradictions—either the socialist road, or the road back to capitalism.


Forging ahead on the correct road, the socialist road, is a very complex and wrenching process, and you can get pulled off it in a thousand ways. And only by consciously continuing to go back to the communist outlook and methodology and applying this in a consistent way—that’s the only way you can stay on the socialist road.

And then you have a tremendous fight, because you are not doing this in a vacuum. You’ve got counter- revolutionaries, who don’t want those inequalities overturned and uprooted, and you’ve got people who want to go so far and no further. "I liked it when we were eliminating some of these evils of society, but now you are starting to get close to where I live. So that’s enough now, okay? Things have improved enough." That happens, and people turn from one thing into another. Not just leaders, but people in society generally. But this happens in a concentrated way with some leaders. As Engels said, the revolution advances through stages, and even well-intentioned people get stuck at certain stages. They can’t figure out how to go forward. What do you do about the fact that the imperialists are breathing down your neck? Well, that’s not an easy problem to solve.

And one of the main ways in which all of these contradictions, and in particular these two great contradictions— that socialism is a transition to communism, and not yet communism, that it has all these inequalities that still have to be overcome; and, at the same time, that you are surrounded by imperialists—a major way in which these two contradictions get bound up together, and concentrated, is in the need for an army in socialist society.

Now, a lot of anarchists, and some others, talk about how you shouldn’t have a state. Well, they are not serious. Or they are serious, but they are serious about something else than actually revolutionizing society. They also don’t get beyond "the narrow horizon of bourgeois right." The kind of society they are envisioning is not one in which these profound inequalities could actually be transformed and eliminated. Because without a state, how are you going to actually implement policies that move in the direction of overcoming these inequalities? What if the people who don’t like uprooting these inequalities, who benefit from them, resist these changes? Then what do you do? Without a state, what do you do? "Well, okay, if you don’t want to do it, I guess we won’t do it." [laughter] That’s all you could be left with. So they are not really going for the all-around transformation of society.

Plus, in the real world, as they say, you would be crushed in a minute. You don’t have a state? You don’t have means to suppress those who want to overthrow your revolution? You don’t have an army to protect your revolution? Forget it. There’s been plenty of experience where people have been drowned in blood, and where the attempts of people rising up have been met with just horrendous suppression, because they didn’t have the material force to meet the material force of the oppressors. And the idea that you would go through everything that is necessary in order to make a revolution, and then turn around and hand it back to the oppressors, the exploiters—to me that’s just unfathomable, and unforgivable. You don’t resolve the problems that you are trying to resolve by not defending your revolution, or by not having an army that can defend it.

But there are problems in having an army. We have to face them squarely. Why do you need an army? Okay, you’ve got the imperialists out there, and you’ve got other counter-revolutionaries, right within socialist society—that’s easy to see. But why couldn’t you just arm the population in general and deal with that? Well, there is a very real problem, there are very real reasons why you can’t do that. The imperialists devote a tremendous amount of resources and people to developing their military strategy, their military doctrines, and their concrete technology and people to wield these things. And they spend a tremendous amount of time training their military. Right now they have been training for a couple of decades to do urban combat. We’ll see what happens if they actually have to engage in that kind of combat in a really serious way, especially against a massive force of aroused and conscious revolutionary people, determined to fight in a revolutionary way for their emancipation and the emancipation of society, and the whole world ultimately. But they will probably prevail, in the short term sense militarily, against various insurgent forces which do not really rely on and fully mobilize the masses of people, women as well as men, to fight for real emancipation. That’s the most likely outcome. Why? Because these imperialists have tremendous technology, because they have developed these different means of utilizing that technology, communication and all kinds of things. And because they have trained their forces over and over again. Those people in their army are professionals. That’s what they do.

Well, if you want to overthrow the rule of the imperialists, and then defend the socialist society you are bringing into being and continue on the socialist road, you also have to have people who specialize in that particular sphere; when it comes to that, you have to have a full-time professional armed force—people who spend their time studying it, learning about what the imperialists are doing in this sphere, learning about military history in general, and military doctrine, training your military forces. You have to devote a part of your economy to producing—not the same weapons the imperialists do on the same level, because you can’t—but weapons that correspond to your way of fighting against them. You can’t just go out there with pop guns. If you are serious about defending the gains of the revolution, you are going to have to develop real weaponry to defend your revolution and the new society it has brought into being. And you are going to have to devote people to it.

Now why can’t you just have everybody do this equally? It goes back to what I was saying earlier: As long as you are in a situation—and remember you are not exploiting anybody else now, you are not ripping off the world, you are not living "at the top of the food chain" in that way any more—if you are going to produce and distribute all of the things that keep the society running and continue to improve the conditions of the people—there are horrendous conditions that have to be addressed immediately, and then other needs of people that are ongoing—so a large part of your population has to devote a large part of its time to that sphere of production in order for that to happen, they cannot also be training in military affairs on the level that is necessary in order to deal with these imperialists. They can be mobilized, part-time, to be in militias; and these militias can supplement the full-time military, but they cannot substitute for it, or play a role equal to it, at this stage of things and in the early stages of socialism.

So you have to have a division of labor in your society. Some people specialize in the military. You can rotate people through, but you are not going to obliterate all the distinctions there. At any given time, those who are in the military are a special body of armed people who are trained, highly trained, highly disciplined, highly equipped, and they are surrounded by or living in the midst of a population that is not so trained, equipped and trained in that way. Even if they are involved in militias and spending one day out of the week training in that way, for example, they are not going to be any match for the professional army in an actual military showdown. We saw that in the coup in China. I’ve talked about this before. I was listening to the radio right after the coup and they were talking about how the militias in Shanghai were fighting the PLA, which was no longer really a PLA—no longer a people’s liberation army—but had become a bourgeois army. And I kept saying "come on, militias." But they had no chance, and they were crushed. Now, maybe if they had got more momentum going earlier, they could have peeled away sections of the army and things could have gone a different way. That would have been a whole different kind of dynamic. But, just in a military contest, they had no chance. And this is a reflection of these profound underlying contradictions that we have to work our way through at the same time as we have to defend ourselves, defend the new socialist societies as we bring them into being.

So this is another problem that we really have to grapple with deeply. These contradictions facing socialist society, which I’ve been speaking to, get concentrated in this special body of armed people.


Mao led the Chinese revolution in dealing with these contradictions in some profoundly new ways, especially as that got expressed for a decade in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—where, in contrast to all the slanders about this, they were trying and struggling to bring forward all kinds of new things in the relations among people. They were struggling to transform the culture and the ways of thinking of people in ways that corresponded to carrying out this necessary transition toward the achievement of the "four alls." In every sphere there were new things brought forward that represented further transformations along that road.

You could look at the sphere of health care, for example. Before the Cultural Revolution, the situation in China remained largely as it had before the revolution altogether, before 1949, where the great majority of the people lived in the rural areas working in agriculture, and had little if any access to health care, even basic health care. What they had developed was health care in the cities. And people who were following the revisionist line argued that they should build up the cities more, that the only way to eventually bring along the countryside was to develop the cities, even in a disproportionate way in relation to the countryside. Concentrate on developing heavy industry in the cities, improve the livelihood of the people and the health of the people there, so they could produce more, and eventually that would benefit the countryside, eventually you would be able to mechanize agriculture and other things because you had built up industry.

But Mao insisted, very correctly, that if you do it that way, you are just going to polarize the society the same way it was before, or in slightly different forms but essentially the same. And this is what has happened in China since the revisionists came to power. Especially in the cities but also to some degree in the rural areas, you have a relatively small stratum that is profiting, while the great masses of people are suffering terribly. Tens of millions of people are leaving the countryside, just like in all the rest of the Third World countries, coming to the cities, and many of them remain unemployed there, because the whole economy has been geared to a certain stratum, and the differences between the city and the countryside have been further accentuated.

Well, when China was socialist, all this is what they were going after to transform. They were on a completely different road—the socialist road—which reached its high point during the Cultural Revolution. And you could go through all the different spheres of society—education, for example. Before the Cultural Revolution, education was turning out an elite that would actually better serve a bourgeois system, and was going to reinforce the inequalities that already were there. And the same in every sphere. Take culture: Mao denounced the culture before the Cultural Revolution—he said it should be renamed the culture of beauties and emperors and so on. Because those were the only people being portrayed on the stage. All the old feudal works of art, which supposedly embodied "classical" representations of Chinese society, were being performed and were reinforcing the old ways of thinking and the old ways of being. So this is something they set out to transform.

Now, did they make errors in that? Sure. Are there things that we should learn to do better? Of course. But they also made tremendous advances. This is a society in which, until 1949, many women had their feet bent under and crushed so that they would look more "dainty." Even prostitutes had to have these bound feet in China because it was considered to be unattractive for women to have normal size feet.

I remember seeing Barbara Walters doing a program in the 1970s on shoes from around the world. And she showed a shoe from the old China, a shoe for bound feet—a very small shoe—and she said, "You can see that Chinese women needed an equal rights amendment." And then she actually added: "Well, in fact they have one ." This was back in a different time when even some things like this, some of the truth about what was happening in China, exerted an influence even on the mainstream. This was before the coup in China. But here is this shoe that embodied the plight of tens of millions of Chinese women; and, less than two decades after that, you had women performing in these revolutionary ballets doing things that had never been done before in ballet, anywhere in the world by anyone.

This was a tremendous transformation, not only in the content of these ballets—in that they were putting forward revolutionary themes and the masses of people were on the stage representing revolutionary struggle—but even in the social relations within the ballet—and these were of very high artistic quality. You can criticize that there weren’t enough of these works, and that other things were being suppressed, or not being fostered; and there is more to look into on that. But these were works of very high artistic quality. And you had women who, two generations before, would have had their feet crushed under, performing incredible feats in ballet that had never been done before.

And you can go down the list, in every part of society. I don’t have time to go into all of it here. The point is that Mao was trying to find new ways to do this. And it wasn’t just all from the top down. One of the things that Mao said at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution was: In the past we tried to find a form which would enable us to address these problems (that these inequalities were being reinforced, and the old ways of thinking were being reinforced), but we didn’t find a form and a means for the masses of people to address our dark side from below. What he meant by "our dark side" was the part of the Chinese Communist Party that was taking the revisionist road, and the policies that were embodied in that. There was not a way that they were able, before the Cultural Revolution, to bring forward, from below, mass criticism—and not just mass criticism but also mass struggle—against all these things, and therefore, he said, it didn’t go anywhere. There would be criticism from the top, they would have education movements to bring out the need to change things, but they didn’t go anywhere, because, as Mao said, before the Cultural Revolution, we never found a form in which the people could rise up and criticize us and struggle against these things, from below, and in a mass way.


The cultural revolution was precisely the form in which that became much more possible. Of course, there were all kinds of contradictions in it. But that became the form through which such mass criticism and struggle became much more possible. Even the way the Party was reconstituted after the Cultural Revolution was a reflection of that, because to a large degree it was disbanded in the swirl and chaos of the Cultural Revolution, and the mass criticism, and the way in which the Party was reconstituted was what they called "open door meetings" where Party members (or potential Party members) would go before the masses and be evaluated and criticized. So in that way, too, they were making advances and developing forms for the masses to play an increasingly conscious role in all this.

But then, what did they run into? The Cultural Revolution was, once again, not carried out in a vacuum. Mao and the others who wanted to lead the Cultural Revolution had to take into account the very difficult circumstances, within China and in the international arena, in which the Cultural Revolution was carried out. And, for that matter, at one point, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, in the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party it was only Mao who wanted to, and was determined to, unleash this Cultural Revolution. (As Mao put it—this is typical Mao—"I was the only one on the Central Committee who agreed with my opinion.") In other words, nobody else there wanted to carry out the Cultural Revolution at the start. So some new leaders had to be brought forward, and some other leaders had to be won over. And they did that with varying degrees of success.

But why did nobody else "agree with his opinion"? Because, among other things, this wasn’t happening in a vacuum. It was going to create chaos in society. As Mao said, chaos was created on a grand scale. He said that even about the Great Leap Forward that preceded the Cultural Revolution. Chaos was created on a grand scale, and I take responsibility, he said. Well, this happened on an even grander scale in the Cultural Revolution. And it was happening in what context? Think about the world then. The U.S. was in Vietnam, escalating the war there. There was always the question of whether they were going to actually invade North Vietnam, which borders on China. You had all these U.S. troops in Korea, which also borders on China, although they were in the South, but not very far from the Chinese border. And there had already been a war fought in Korea in the 1950s, right after the victory of the Chinese revolution. And, on top of that, you had the leadership of the Soviet Union having gone back down the road to capitalism, and having turned the Soviet Union into a social-imperialist power—socialist in words but imperialist in deeds and in essence—and the Soviet Union was directly threatening China. There were lots of border clashes in the late ’60s; and according to Henry Kissinger and some others, the Soviets were actually drawing up plans for attacking and dismembering China, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons. In particular they were aiming to grab the industrial heartland of China, in the northeast, and then basically reduce China to a bunch of dismembered and scattered provinces that would be effectively under Soviet domination. And the U.S. opposed this very strongly for its own reasons.

But this is the kind of circumstances in which Mao said, let’s throw the whole society into chaos. So you can see why nobody but Mao "agreed with his opinion," because it was not an easy decision to make. They faced this very serious situation. After the Cultural Revolution had reached a certain stage, and with the international situation undergoing dramatic changes, Mao reversed course in a certain sense, and decided to try to work out a certain accommodation with the U.S. (and allies of the U.S.), as one key component of dealing with this very real threat from the Soviet Union. And so China had this whole "opening to the West," which began in the early ’70s.

And it was very disorienting and disconcerting to many people, including to Maoists all around the world, our Party among them, to see the Shah of Iran being praised as a great leader of Iran. And Haile Selassie who—apologies to Rastafarians—was a brutal oppressor of the people in Ethiopia, was hailed as a great leader by the Chinese government. And Marcos, a fascist dictator in the Philippines, who was seeking to suppress a people’s war led by Maoists in the Philippines, was praised. And so on and so forth. This is what happened as a result of this "opening to the West."

Mao and other leaders in the Chinese Communist Party who were grouped with Mao were attempting to implement a policy similar to what the Soviet Union had done in relation to World War 2. That is, they saw an attack coming from fascist Germany, and so they began to maneuver, from the mid-1930s on, to try to deal with this threat. First—and this is a lot of history that is often covered over—they tried to get France and England and even the U.S. to unite with them in certain ways to oppose German expansionism. But the U.S. and Britain were not interested in that. Their outlook was captured a little later by Harry Truman, who got up in the Senate—he wasn’t yet Vice President or President, he was still a Senator from Missouri—and he said (this was before the U.S. got into the war but at a time when it was becoming clear that Germany was likely to attack the Soviet Union): let them fight it out and weaken each other, the Soviet Union and Germany, and then we will intervene on the side that is losing.

So these imperialist powers were not interested in uniting with the Soviet Union against the expansionism of German imperialism under the Nazis. They thought it was in their interests to have Germany push out in this way, so long as this was directed "toward the East," that is, toward the Soviet Union.

You had the whole famous, or infamous, incident of Neville Chamberlain making an agreement with Hitler. This is always invoked these days as an example of capitulation that leads to disastrous results—and as a reason why we have to go after Saddam Hussein, for example, because "remember when Chamberlain conciliated with Hitler and said `I have made peace’—and then look what happened"—blah, blah, blah. Well, never mind about the fact that this analogy is totally inapplicable. The fact is that what Chamberlain was really doing was trying to direct Germany to the East, trying to direct them to attack the Soviet Union. That was a lot of what that maneuver was about. And then in this situation, at a certain point the Soviet Union shifted course and said, okay, these Western imperialists don’t want to unite with us against Germany, so we will come to terms with Germany. And the Soviets knew very well that Germany was very likely to still attack them, but they were trying to buy time to prepare—to move their industry, to build up their armed forces, to produce more planes and tanks, and so on. There is a whole discussion that could be had about their military strategy, but that is beyond what we can do here today.

Nevertheless, this is what the Soviets were maneuvering to do. They made an agreement with Germany, and they even carved up Poland as part of this agreement, with secret protocols and so on, in order to try to get a buffer. And they did other things along the same lines.

Well, eventually, at tremendous cost, the Soviet Union was able to turn back the attack of Germany that did come, and then the rest was history, as they say—that was really the decisive turning point in World War 2, especially in the European theater. I mean, Normandy—the Normandy invasion by the U.S. and Britain—came long after the tide of the war had been turned in Europe, when the Soviet Union, after the battle of Stalingrad, began hurling back the German armies. Even Churchill admitted that something like three-quarters of the fighting against Germany was done by the Soviet Union. That’s not what they like to talk about these days, but that was the reality and truth of it.

The Soviet Union won the war, but there were many things that were undone in the process of doing that in the way it was done. There was a lot of disorienting of the international communist movement. People got confused. The U.S. and England were just referred to as "democratic countries." Their imperialist nature was significantly covered over. And, within the Soviet Union itself, they made all kinds of appeals to Great Russian patriotism. Feudal monarchs and despots, like Ivan the Terrible, were brought back as icons of national unity. A lot of patriarchy that still had a strong pull among the people was appealed to. And there were all kinds of other ways in which problematic things were done.

So that even while winning victory in the war and saving the Soviet Union, a lot of the socialist road was undone in the Soviet Union. Now, it’s easy to sit and criticize this, but it was not an easy thing to deal with. I mean, Germany at the time it invaded the Soviet Union, was an army on the march. It seemed invincible. It had built itself up into a very powerful military machine. It had crushed France quickly and driven the British from Dunkirk out of France and back to their island, and all that, and it had come close to conquering Britain itself.

This was an extremely difficult experience, and yet it appeared for a while after World War 2 that the socialist camp in the world had expanded. Shortly after World War 2, there was the Chinese revolution, even though that was made to a large degree by defying the Soviet Union. And there were what appeared to be socialist countries that emerged in Eastern Europe. But a lot of this was more appearance than essence. We don’t have time to go into all of this here, but in a lot of ways the seeds of its undoing were very strongly sown in how the Soviet Union approached and fought World War 2.

But, while Mao and the Chinese Communist Party broke with, and went against, some of this, in some very decisive ways, they never really summed up the negative aspects of all this in any systematic and all-around way. They just looked at it as their revolution occurred in this context, the socialist camp expanded in this context, and even though they recognized the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe were no longer on the socialist road by the mid to late 1950s, as often happens people don’t sum up the negative aspects of their positive experience. There is this whole point about how defeated armies learn well, but we have to emphasize that victorious armies have to learn, too, and have to be always questioning and interrogating themselves. Because one of the easiest things that can happen is that when you are doing well, you don’t tend to criticize yourself and you don’t tend to listen well to criticism. Triumphalism sets in, or pragmatism sets in—this worked so it must be right. And you don’t keep critically summing up and interrogating yourself and interrogating that experience and dividing it into its contradictory aspects.

So when China faced what they saw as a similar situation in the early ’70s, they didn’t see any problem with essentially repeating this same model, as the Soviet Union did. After the U.S. did get into World War 2, at the end of 1941—and, even before that, after Germany attacked England and France—the attitude of these Western imperialists changed. And after the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany, in 1941, these Western imperialists formed an alliance with the Soviet Union. So that was the complex history of that war. Well, the Chinese looked at that and said, by analogy: the Soviet Union, now a social-imperialist power, is similar to and is playing an analogous role to Germany in World War 2; and we are in an analogous role to the Soviet Union during that war. So why wouldn’t it work out for us to make an alliance with these Western imperialists ourselves, as the Soviet Union did in World War 2?

Well, the problem is that the situations were not completely the same or analogous in many ways. And there were a lot of problems with this whole "opening to the West" by China. It disoriented, once again, large parts of the Maoist movement around the world. It was very difficult to sort this out. I went on a trip to China in 1974, and we—myself and someone who was in the RU at that time, the precursor of the Party—we put a lot of hard questions to the Chinese about what they were doing; and we never got any answers. We were very dissatisfied. We went and asked them about all this stuff I’ve spoken to here—what’s this shit with Marcos? They didn’t like this very much. We were persistent and wanted to know what this was about, and we were obviously critical of it. But we never got any real answers. There was a lot of talk about defeating our enemies one by one. They drew that from their own experience, as well: in the Chinese revolution, after Japan invaded and occupied large parts of China in the 1930s, the communists actually united with Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese, which in effect meant uniting with the U.S. and Britain, who were behind Chiang Kai-shek. Now, in that case, that was a correct strategy that did lead to an advance of their revolution, not just in a narrow sense but in a more profound and fundamental sense it did lead them closer to the socialist revolution.

But history doesn’t always repeat itself in the exact same forms—in fact, it rarely does. The world was not the same in the 1970s as it was during the period leading into and during World War 2. U.S. imperialism was a major force in the world, a major oppressor of the world’s people, and it was very disorienting to people to see China seeking to unite with it. And really, it didn’t work out in the same way as the Soviet policy in relation to World War 2 did, even with all the very great problems with that. And unfortunately, this policy of China’s—this "opening to the West" and everything that went along with that—not only disoriented Maoists in other countries, but undoubtedly had an effect within China itself in terms of strengthening some of the arguments of the revisionists, the "practical arguments" of the revisionists, whose way of avoiding war with the Soviet Union was to become revisionists themselves, among other things. Let’s put it this way, their desire to avoid that reinforced their revisionist positions, which they held in any case.

So this is something that needs to be summed up more deeply as well. What was the basis on which the Chinese adopted this policy? What necessity were they feeling that compelled them to do this? What were the consequences of this, and what was the right and wrong of this? Because, while it may have been true that the Soviet Union posed the most immediate and gravest danger to China at that point, it wasn’t true that that was the case in the world as a whole. And the problems with what the Soviet Union did in World War 2 were once again expressed very sharply in what China was seeking to do in this period in the early 1970s.


One of the things that you realize when you start digging into this—once more an acute expression of what we are going to have to work our way through in making revolution and carrying out the transition to communism, worldwide—is that often we find that at times when contradictions on a world scale are very sharply expressed, great dangers and great opportunities come closely bound up together. The same kind of crisis in the imperialist system which produces these wars, of one kind or another, and which draws the whole world deeply into the maneuvers and machinations of the imperialists and the way in which they are moving in the world—the ways in which these things get concentrated and the whole world gets drawn in, in the wake of this into political motion—heightens the possibilities of revolution, on the one hand, but also heightens the dangers of being crushed on the other hand. This applies to a party at whatever stage of development, even as it applies in a very concentrated way to socialist states where they exist.

The crisis that existed through the 1930s and then erupted into World War 2 heightened the possibilities of revolutionary advance throughout the world, but it also heightened the danger that the Soviet Union itself would be wiped out, which very nearly happened. And the same kind of thing posed itself again in the early ’70s for China. There were certain ways in which the contradictions of the imperialist system, and in particular the contradictions between the imperialists—especially between the U.S. on the one side and the Soviet Union on the other—were being heightened, and the whole world was getting drawn into motion as a result of this in different ways. But this also posed a much more acute danger that China would be attacked by the Soviet Union in particular. And it would not have been easy to defeat that attack. It would have been a very daunting challenge to defeat that. That’s not to say it couldn’t have been done, or that it couldn’t have been done without this "opening to the West" and seeking alliances with the U.S. and the forces allying with it (and under its domination). But it would not have been easy. There would have been tremendous destruction in China, tremendous loss of life, probably in the tens of millions anyway.

It’s not a matter that Mao shrank in the face of this danger. It’s that, to put it a certain way, "he went for what he knew." He went back to what he still regarded as a viable approach. And there were problems with that approach, the first time around, with the Soviet Union. There were also significant changes in the world—the world was not configured exactly the same way as it was in the period leading into World War 2.

All this is something we also have to learn from. Even where we have made great advances, and even while we are in the midst of making great advances, we have to have a critical attitude of looking for the negative aspects within that. We have to always go back to and continue to take a deeper look at things that we have done, even things that we have done well. Victorious armies have to learn how to learn well, not just armies when they are defeated. It’s easier to accept criticism, or at least sometimes it is, when you are clearly not doing well. Either you just give up, and become immune to any kind of criticism—or, you put up a defense and resent such criticism—but more likely, you will be open to it, because you are in a difficult spot and you have to figure out how to get out of it.

But what about when you have done well in the past by taking a certain approach, or what about in the midst of advancing, how do you interrogate yourself in those circumstances and draw the necessary lessons? Once again, all this becomes very sharply posed when great dangers and great opportunities come closely bound together. How do you avert and avoid the great dangers, or minimize them, while maximizing the advances? That’s a very difficult contradiction we also have to learn how to do better with.

We have to have a very sober approach in assessing the mistakes. There is no room for, and no good purpose served by, facile and flippant criticism which doesn’t take into account the very profound and daunting challenges that were being confronted. But on that basis of being materialists and really confronting this deeply, we really do have to dig for the lessons, and be unflinching in facing the mistakes and the shortcomings in what we have done so far, even while we fight to uphold and popularize the main thing, the overwhelming thing—which is the unprecedented achievements that have been brought into being in socialist society and through the dictatorship of the proletariat, even at this early stage of the advance to communism.


Through all this, there has been what I have described elsewhere as the end of a whole stage and the beginning of a new stage. We have had this whole experience, not only of the Paris Commune, but of actual socialist countries being brought into being in the Soviet Union and in China. And that’s come to an end.

None of us wanted it to come to an end, but it came to an end. And that was also a point of very sharp struggle: are we going to face the fact that it has come to an end, or are we going to pretend that what they are doing in China under Deng Xiaoping still has something to do with socialism, because we can’t face the reality that we have suffered a terrible loss—and it was a terrible loss. That was a big struggle that was necessary to go through in order to regroup on an international level, not just within particular parties.

But we have the end of a stage, but not the end of our project, not the end of the cause of communism, but the end of a stage and the beginning of a new stage, where we have to build on the previous advances and build on the advanced things that are coming forward in the world, and divert and lead them towards socialism, and we have to learn how to go more deeply and do better as we win victory, now here and now there.

The task is drawing, in as all-round and deep way as possible, the crucial lessons—negative but above all positive—from the experience of this first stage. This is of tremendous and decisive importance. With the very great challenges and problems that have been encountered, and real mistakes that have been made in the experience of socialist society and the dictatorship of the proletariat so far, it is very important not to forget, but instead to uphold and boldly popularize the great achievements of this first stage that has now ended, the achievements of the proletariat and its vanguard in ruling and transforming society in ways never seen before in the history of humanity. We should not cover over or avoid, we should confront squarely and dig deeply into, the errors and shortcomings. But we should never forget that with any shortcomings it may have had, socialist society is a thousand times better for the masses of people, for the great majority of society, than capitalism and imperialism and all their horrors. And, socialist society opens the road, a road of struggle, monumental struggle, to the even greater goal of communism worldwide.

We should steep ourselves in the understanding of this truth and continually develop our ability to bring this alive for people. We should remember that we really can run society much, much better than the bourgeoisie, and that this will have meaning and take form and expression in a thousand ways throughout socialist society.

There is no magic solution, no silver bullet, to solve these daunting and monumental problems, world historic contradictions that we have to confront and struggle through. There is no one thing that can solve the problem and provide some kind of guarantee against the reversal of the revolution even after it has triumphed, against the rupturing of society off the socialist road and back to the restoration of capitalism. It is a matter of continually learning and deepening our ability to confront and deal with the profound and acute contradictions that have to be confronted and moved through and struggled through and resolved in order to advance toward communism. It is a matter of continuing the revolution wherever the proletariat seizes power and establishes socialism, and defending it while at the same time, and above all, building the socialist country as a base area—a source of inspiration but also of assistance and support— for the revolutionary struggle throughout the world toward the common goal of communism.

Once again, this requires drawing the lessons from historical experience—in particular the historical experience where our class has seized power, established the dictatorship of the proletariat, and embarked on the socialist road— and it is a matter of building on this to go even further, and yes, to do even better, the next time around.

So, in conclusion, it is this, this dialectical and materialist summation of our historical experience so far, this discussion of the actual material factors and complexities involved, and the synthesis of this, arriving at an even deeper understanding, and an even stronger ability therefore to confront and transform reality—it is this, with its even more advanced vision of the society and world we are aiming for, a society and a world that in fact the great majority of people throughout the world, including of the educated strata and intellectuals, would want to live in—it is this that we need to be boldly taking to people, and engaging them around, in many different forms, and on many different levels.

We need to correctly handle the relation, in all this, of the complex, on the one hand, and the simple and basic, on the other hand. In other words, there are some simple and basic truths that we need to hold firmly to—the positive achievements and the real meaning of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist society, and the fact that it is a thousand times better than anything that is represented by capitalism and imperialism. That is simple and basic. On the other hand, there is great complexity in understanding this whole process, and in carrying it forward. And we shouldn’t oversimplify that, or vulgarize it. We should go into it in all its complexity, while holding firmly to what is simple and basic. This is another expression in a certain way of "solid core / elasticity."

It is this that we have to take to people and really deeply engage them around. And that’s what I wanted to say. [applause]