Revolution #249, November 6, 2011
"Where is the Mao or the Lenin of the Arab Spring?"
So read a headline on page one of the New York Times Sunday Review, calling attention to a recent article by Robert Worth, entitled "The Arab Intellectuals Who Didn't Roar." The "Arab Spring" (the various uprisings of the past 10 months across the nations of the Middle East and North Africa) "has not," in Worth's words, "yielded any clear political or economic project, or any intellectual standard-bearers of the kind who shaped almost every modern revolution from 1776 onward. In those revolts, thinkers or ideologues—from Thomas Paine to Lenin to Mao to Vaclav Havel—helped provide a unifying vision or became symbols of a people's aspirations." What Worth calls the "leaderless quality" of these upsurges "has become a liability. Organizers in and out of the country are now struggling to shape a set of shared political goals, and intellectual coherence and leadership is increasingly seen as important in that process."
While there are things to take issue with in his article, Worth has put his finger on a crucial question: what kind of leadership is needed to actually deal with the agonizing problems and realize the high aspirations that impelled the masses to rise up so courageously in January of this year.
It is in this context that the names of Lenin and Mao come up. Lenin, in 1917 in Russia, and then Mao in China, led revolutions that went after the deepest problems in society. They applied and further developed the theory—scientific communism, first brought forward by Karl Marx—that lays bare the source of the exploitation and misery in society and that shows how all that could be fundamentally overcome and then uprooted. Lenin and Mao forged and led parties that, first, led the masses to make these revolutions, against overwhelming odds; and second, to establish new structures that began to abolish the relations and institutions of exploitation and oppression and to give living expression to the possibility first uncovered by Marx: that of a new, emancipatory, dawn for humanity. (In this, by the way, they were a leap beyond and away from the others lumped with them in Worth's piece—Thomas Paine, a leader of the American Revolution, the primary aim of which was to displace the dominance of the British capitalist class over the colonies with the rule of the native capitalists and slave owners, opening the way to establishing the United States as a new capitalist empire; and Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident who came to power after the revolts of 1989 which aimed only to replace systems in eastern Europe that were socialist in name only with ones that were more openly capitalist.)
In fact, for all the talk of being "leaderless," there is leadership being provided to these upsurges in the Middle East and North Africa. The question is leadership to do what. All kinds of forces have all kinds of programs—and later Worth describes some of how this is falling out. But none of those forces have a vision or program capable of tackling and resolving—or even correctly identifying—the most fundamental questions facing these societies. None of these forces can lead the masses to satisfy their most fundamental interests and highest aspirations.
Bob Avakian posed it like this:
Theirs [the masses] is the cry of "freedom," and the struggle must be carried forward until real freedom is achieved—freedom from the rule of the imperialists and their local henchmen and junior partners, freedom from all forms of oppression and exploitation. Freedom from both the outmoded forces which would enslave women, and the people as a whole, in medieval darkness and oppression—and from the outmoded forces who would enslave people in the name of "democracy"..."freedom"... and capitalist-imperialist exploitation marketed as "progress." ("Egypt 2011: Millions Have Heroically Stood Up...The Future Remains To Be Written," Revolution #224)
And then, actually summing up what happened when Lenin and the Bolshevik (Communist) Party did lead the masses in all-the-way struggle to get rid of the old system and replace it "with one that would really embody and give life to the freedom and the most fundamental interests of the people, in striving to abolish all oppression and exploitation," Avakian went on to say:
When people in their masses, in their millions, finally break free of the constraints that have kept them from rising up against their oppressors and tormentors, then whether or not their heroic struggle and sacrifice will really lead to fundamental change, moving toward the abolition of all exploitation and oppression, depends on whether or not there is leadership, communist leadership, that has the necessary scientific understanding and method, and on that basis can develop the necessary strategic approach and the influence and organized ties among growing numbers of the people, in order to lead the uprising of the people, through all the twists and turns, to the goal of a real, revolutionary transformation of society, in accordance with the fundamental interests of the people. [ibid.]
This is the sharpest question: will there be leadership which can lead the people to effect really fundamental change... or will there only be change which, however seemingly dramatic on the surface, leaves untouched the oppressive foundations of society? That question remains to be answered. The framework with which to chart the course to actual liberation exists—it is there, in concentrated form in the Manifesto from the RCP, USA, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, to be taken up and wielded by those who would take up the challenge posed by the current crossroads (and given expression by the headline writer at the New York Times). As Avakian ended his statement on Egypt:
To all who truly want to see the heroic struggle of the oppressed masses develop, with the necessary leadership, in the direction of real revolutionary transformation of society and genuine liberation: engage with and take up the emancipating viewpoint and goals of communism, and the challenge of giving this organized expression and a growing influence and presence among the struggling masses. [ibid.]
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.