From a Reader:

A Reflection on "'hastening while awaiting' the development of a revolutionary situation..."
Historical Sweep, Scientific Rigor

March 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


I recently participated in a discussion of the first part, and particularly the first six paragraphs, of Part 2 of Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity ("Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism" "Hastening while awaiting—not bowing down to necessity"), by Bob Avakian (BA), now being highlighted at How, someone asked in this discussion, do the subjective and the objective—that is, those people who attempt to understand and act to change the larger social reality which confronts them, on the one hand and, on the other, that larger reality (of which they are a part, but which through their actions they can change)—interact? How can they and do they mutually transform—what are the dynamics of that? And what does it mean to say that the synthesis of this set forth in "Making Revolution/Emancipating Humanity" is scientific—and a major contribution to the science on that question?

To start with the last question: How do we know that this is scientific? Because we can verify this against the study of the material reality from which these theoretical concepts are drawn. Over 30 years ago, in Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will, BA talked about the need to "to combine a sweeping historical view with the rigorous and critical dissecting of especially crucial and concentrated historical experiences, and to draw out as fully as possible the lessons and to struggle to forge the lessons as sharply as possible as weapons for now and for the future." (p. 9) This includes the experience of revolutionary situations and other sorts of crises in societies of different kinds, and it encompasses things more broadly than that as well—the ways in which ideas of many different kinds concerning different spheres of endeavor and inquiry can enter into and change the character of reality. BA has also discussed how while "The pursuit of knowledge should not be reduced to discovering things in order to wage struggle in the ideological realm," as people do learn more about reality in all its dimensions this "will inevitably become part of the class struggle—and even under communism part of the ideological struggle." ("Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World," in his Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, p. 63) This too is important—for what is crystallized in that section of "Making Revolution/Emancipating Humanity" is not limited to only the study of revolutionary situations, but takes in the study and reflection on broader questions of science and method and a sweeping approach to society.1

What follows are reflections provoked by the discussion referred to above. The following article first examines some historical examples from the framework of that section of "Making/Emancipating," examples that are both drawn on, concentrated and further illuminated in that piece; and then reflects more deeply, in light of those examples, on the scientific principles that BA has drawn from all that. These reflections grapple with how it is that revolution could be possible and worked for; the potential dynamic role of revolutionaries in hastening the emergence, and shaping the contours, of a revolutionary situation well before it actually emerges (even as such a situation is brought on principally by developments objective, or "external," to revolutionaries); the crucial importance of the Party in actually being able to not only take initiative in such "hastening" but also to carry things all the way forward to revolution, to victory; and some of the implications of BA's development of this aspect of the science of revolution. Throughout, I'll be drawing contrasts with the "determinist realism" pinpointed in this section of "Making/Emancipating."


The first example concerns the experience of the Black Panther Party—a very rich experience to which BA has over the years continually returned. The recent book Black against Empire, by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr., attempts to give a definitive history of the Black Panther Party—to lay out objectively how they were thinking and what they did, mainly based on studying their newspaper and other documents of the historical record. In this book, you get a living sense of how the BPP at a certain point began to represent a real pole of revolution in society at large—they came to be seen by many as the core of an opposed authority with a different program, actively mobilizing people for a revolution.

Often today people try to boil this appeal down to one or two things. "It was the breakfast for children program," they'll say; or "it was the patrols they had against police brutality." Those different elements played a role; but casting it like that is too narrow. It was not just one thing. The Panthers presented an entire "package," or ensemble, with a number of elements that included: promoting revolutionary ideology (spreading and utilizing Mao Zedong's Red Book); directly confronting the authorities, as well as developing forms of alternate authority that mobilized masses in defiance of the authorities (the patrols were perhaps the most important but not the only part of this); spreading their weekly newspaper and promoting a 10-point program outlining what they aimed to do with power (though the form of this power was not spelled out, "power" was actively put forward as the goal—as in their slogan, almost universally known through society in those days, of "All Power to the People"); reaching out to other movements in society; waging ideological struggle against cultural nationalism and reformism; and not least, actively mobilizing very broadly to take on the repression that the state brought down upon them in the course of doing all this. There was an edge to all of this that they were very serious about revolution, and in doing this they leaped to the forefront of, and gave new shape to, a much broader impulse in society. I was struck again in reading Black against Empire how, while the BPP was rooted in the basic masses among Black people, in a certain sense they "took responsibility" for the movement as a whole—they reached out to, tried to influence and give leadership to, and at the same time learned from the antiwar movement, sections of the Black middle class, movements arising among other minority nationalities, artists and writers very broadly, etc. So something like the breakfast program—where the BPP would mobilize masses to demand food from local supermarkets and then feed hungry children before school, doing this in a way that instilled and propagated the Maoist ethic of "Serve the People"—had the effect, as part of a whole constellation of activity, of showing that with state power a whole other way of dealing with people's needs was possible and, moreover, the fact that they did do this while the current order didn't further pointed up the essential illegitimacy of the capitalist system. It wasn't, at least at first, a strategy to "first meet people's needs, then they'll be open to politics"; it was part of a whole way they were operating where the question of the revolution was on the agenda, and this was one concrete way among others (all of which worked together) to challenge the legitimacy of the existing system and put forward a different one, in a very vivid way.

All this took place on the foundation, and against the backdrop, of very sharp contradictions in the base of U.S. society at that time. These contradictions included the migration of millions of Black people into the cities, where generations-old modes of living were disrupted and hopes were both raised and dashed; the takeover of the colonial empires of rival imperialist powers (France, Britain) after World War 2 and the upheavals it brought in resistance to the new domination and plunder imposed by the U.S. (especially, but not only, the liberation struggle being waged against the U.S. by the Vietnamese); and the rapid changes in the role of women and the turmoil and transformations that these gave rise to. At the same time, China—at that point a genuinely revolutionary country and one in which an inspiring Cultural Revolution was being waged to stay on the revolutionary road—acted as a beacon, a source of inspiration and a direct challenge to the notion that the only alternatives were the U.S. empire or the oppressive state capitalism (socialist in name) of the Soviet Union. And leading into all this was the ferment sparked by the civil rights movement in the U.S. South, and the dividing out that occurred as that movement increasingly ran up against sharp limitations by the mid-1960s.

Beginning in 1966, the Black Panther Party had become a sort of model of a different approach to winning emancipation...but this was not that well-known beyond California. In fact, the defense campaign mounted against the imprisonment of BPP founder Huey Newton in October 1967 for an incident in which a police officer ended up dead and Newton himself was wounded, had been a major way in which the Panthers initially projected themselves, and through which they began to accumulate forces and influence on a much bigger scale. At the same time, they aggressively moved to turn outrages and atrocities committed by the ruling class into openings for masses to take up struggle. Then, when Martin Luther King was assassinated by reactionary forces in April 1968, many people became utterly fed up with the system and ready to put everything on the line to change it. Many Black youth joined the BPP, and people from all kinds of strata were very broadly influenced by the BPP in a positive direction. Their actions, in turn, along with those of other social forces—radical, progressive, reactionary and some not even falling into such neat categories—fed into a whole rich swirl and mix of social upheaval in which radical forces began to have much greater initiative.

During that period, the BPP fought to set terms for society—they were the leading core of a movement and, more broadly, a whole social impulse which, variegated as it was, still cohered around certain oppositional values and had the initiative morally, culturally and politically. In this context, and with the BPP mobilizing masses to resist every attack by the government, millions of people came to see these attempts by the powers-that-be to violently repress and legally railroad the BPP as utterly illegitimate, and this in turn spread a certain broader "outlaw" contagion into all kinds of spheres. Many forces coming from different viewpoints further came to oppose this repression for their own reasons, and all these phenomena interacted in different ways that further turned up the heat and the swirl of that boiling mix, with new elements bubbling up. Many saw the powers-that-be of the time as utterly illegitimate, utterly bankrupt, and at the same time began to see the BPP as a challenging, opposed source of legitimacy. This is really a very powerful example of the subjective entering into and transforming the larger objective situation...becoming part of that in a different way.

This was NOT a matter of catching lightning in a bottle, or waiting for things to break. Still less could this have been predicted when they began; far from it. The BPP combined imagination and daring, persistence and diligence, including at those times when people were NOT flocking to their banner, with an orientation of jumping to seize openings when those openings occurred.

But let's go back a bit further. You can't separate all that from the influence of Malcolm X. Malcolm relentlessly agitated all through the late 1950's and especially the early '60s. He challenged and tore apart people's beliefs that America was essentially good—beliefs being promoted by both the ruling class and the mainstream sections of the civil rights movement. And he affirmed and strengthened the elements that simultaneously existed in some people's understanding that America was in fact no damn good—elements which were suppressed and unvoiced, and not put into rational form, before Malcolm—at least not in the same way, and not with the same influence. Malcolm went everywhere, from the corners of the ghetto to the most elite campuses, he interacted with all different kinds of people, laying bare the truth about America and the oppression of Black people. Of course, all this didn't take place in a vacuum—there was bubbling ferment within the U.S., mainly in the form of the civil rights movement, and there was the wave of revolutionary struggle against colonialism and neo-colonialism (which socialist China was strongly upholding and supporting). In his last years, and particularly after the break with the Nation of Islam, he increasingly linked the fight against the oppression of Black people to the worldwide struggle against imperialism. Malcolm worked on people's minds, he challenged his audiences to break out of the basic framework through which they were viewing the world. He called out—he made people feel—the utter illegitimacy of everything America claimed about itself and all the force they used to defend the foundation that those lies tried to hide. He compelled people to think about the implications of that; and he popularized the idea of revolution going up against state power, and of the need for revolutionaries to wage a relentless struggle. And he did all this over and over again (and in the process became part of something larger, a nascent sea change in people's way of thinking, influencing and being influenced by it).

Because of this, and on the basis of the ways in which the struggle against the oppression of Black people was erupting and people were searching for answers, Malcolm X had begun to become very broadly known by the early '60s. Even as some of this—too much of it, in fact—, came from the vitriolic slanders of the powers-that-be, fearful of Malcolm's potential influence, he nonetheless became a point of reference very broadly among people conscious of the need for change, and known in a basic way by many people more broadly in society, even before things erupted much more powerfully in the political sphere. When the answers being proffered by the mainstream civil rights movement increasingly began to be exposed as bankrupt as the '60s wore on, Malcolm's voice and thinking took on even greater resonance and influence, and broke through in a qualitatively more powerful way. It is a great tragedy, and real crime—and it is a crime and tragedy containing painfully purchased lessons which must never be forgotten in terms of defending revolutionary leaders—when reactionaries assassinated Malcolm in 1965 with, at the very minimum, government complicity. All this was very important in laying a basis for the BPP—as the leaders of that party at the time would point out.

But important as the example of the BPP is—and it remains a deep well of lessons for any genuine revolutionary and, again, BA's work on this bears constant returning to—they were only able to go so far. They re-polarized society, but they were not able to fundamentally change, in a determining and sustained way, the course of events. The BPP came under extremely severe state repression which either imprisoned or drove into exile their main leaders, Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. And the state acted not only to repress them, but to deal in different ways with some of the broader forces they had been influencing. The state made some concessions to the Black middle class and built up a whole range of objectively counter-insurgent political forces in the Black community. They ended the draft and scaled down the direct combat role of U.S. troops—and while this was not done mainly as part of "dealing with the Panthers," it did change the terrain on which the BPP (and everyone else) was operating, what people broadly saw as necessary and what they saw as possible. And the ruling class took other measures as well.

The BPP, meanwhile, had not been able, in their brief period of existence and before their leaders were taken out of circulation, to develop the ideology, line, program and organizational principles that might have enabled them to not only survive that repression but to maintain their bearings and ultimately advance the revolution even when the societal tides began to shift at the end of the '60s, and the different forces the BPP had been influencing began to come under the pull of different currents.

In an important article written in the mid-1980s, BA analyzed the situation they found themselves in:

...[T]hinking back on some of the early discussions and struggle that I had with people like Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver—leaders of the Black Panther Party who had a big influence on me, moving me in a revolutionary direction—it strikes me now that on the one hand they were the most advanced revolutionaries in the U.S. at that time, yet even they never really developed a clear and full sense of what needed to be done. What were the changes that needed to be made in society and in the world? How were those changes going to be made? What was the road and strategy for doing that? What kind of ideology did you need? What kind of leadership did you need, and how should it organize itself? How should it mobilize and organize the masses? What were you up against—what did you have to go up against and defeat, and how were you going to do that? Not that nobody had any ideas about these questions, because within the Black Panther Party, and within the revolutionary movement as a whole, people debated a lot of these ideas, and there was a lot of conflict and struggle about these questions. But there was never a clear, unified, and fully correct sense of (a) even posing all those questions in that kind of way, and (b) answering them. And so you had a lot of different ideas in conflict but no clear, definite sense of these things. ("Why You Really Need This Kind of Party If You're Serious About Seizing Power," from Reflections, Sketches & Provocations, pp. 238-39)

So, if you look at this experience, again coming from the need for combining "a sweeping historical view with the rigorous and critical dissecting of especially crucial and concentrated historical experiences" and doing that with the sharp challenges before us now clearly in mind, you can see both the great scope that can be seized for the subjective factor but you're also going to be forced to confront the crucial importance of the party, unified around a scientific approach and correct ideological and political line.


As pinpointed and stressed by BA, one thing the BPP came very sharply up against was what kind of party would be needed. In fact, it was Lenin who first developed the correct approach to a party. Lenin led the October Revolution of 1917—a breakthrough in which the revolutionary proletariat liberated the territory of what had been the Russian Empire and began to build a whole new socialist society, on the road to communism. Before that, Lenin had led breakthroughs in the science of communism—including on the role of the vanguard party and the character of the work it must do to actually lead a revolution.

The party he formed and led on the basis of that initial theoretical breakthrough was able not only to powerfully impact the objective situation... to not only re-polarize it temporarily... but to fight that through to revolution. And it is BA who fundamentally retrieved and excavated the essence of Lenin's work in this regard, and now has built on it.2 Contrary to a whole tradition that grew up in opposition to Lenin after his death (even among some claiming to be "Leninists"!), Lenin did not envision the party as a two-stage mechanism to first lead the struggle of the masses around their basic conditions and then, later, with the advent of a serious crisis, for this to sort of naturally turn into revolution.3

Lenin, instead, emphasized—more accurately, he insisted on and fought for—the need to focus on changing people's thinking through the medium of a newspaper. This is much of the point of Lenin's What Is To Be Done? And that in turn relates to even a more foundational point, made in the first chapter of that work, that the need for a vanguard party itself arose from the fact that Marxism is a scientific analysis of society and must be brought to the masses from outside their sphere of daily experience and struggle. A scientific worldview and approach does NOT arise spontaneously in people's thinking—actually, people's everyday experience is conditioned by the social relations in which that takes place, and gives rise to understanding that is one-sided and distorted and in large part cuts against a communist understanding, even as there are ways in which those conditions can also cause people to gravitate toward such an understanding once they come into contact with it. The point is that people have to learn this and they have to struggle, in doing so, to break with their spontaneous ways of looking at things, and to approach things consciously wielding the scientific method. This requires the party to struggle with and transform the spontaneous thinking of the masses, and to divert the spontaneous struggles the masses undertake from the gravitational pull to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class).

In addition, Lenin in What Is To Be Done? put forth and elaborated on the need for a disciplined vanguard. He stressed the need to recruit and train those who stepped forward to Marxism as full-time revolutionaries within that vanguard, but also to find the ways—mainly through using the newspaper—to draw on the contributions of every person who would support, in some way, the revolutionary struggle and to develop and strengthen ties everywhere. In fact, throughout his writings Lenin gave great focus to welding people together organizationally who came forward, to valuing (and not squandering) the contribution of every potential tie of the movement and giving that organizational expression. He also pointed to the fact that the revolution follows a pattern of outbreaks alternating with intense calm, and he spoke of the need to maximize gains—to change people's thinking and to accumulate forces—through each of these phases...with the party as the key organizational force to do all that. (This pattern of outbreaks alternating with periods of intense calm—and the need for the vanguard to actively work through both those kinds of situations, with its eyes focused toward preparing for revolution—became a theme that Lenin expanded on in works like "The Collapse of the Second International.") And this was what he fought to put into practice, in the building of the vanguard party of the Russian Revolution—the Bolsheviks.

In Russia, the events that opened up a rupture in the societal framework occurred in February 1917, during World War I, independent of the work of the party led by Lenin. February 1917 witnessed a revolution in which the old form of rule—of the Tsar, a feudal monarch—was overthrown and replaced by a parliamentary democracy that represented a political framework that, as Lenin put it during that period, formed the "best possible shell" for capitalist rule. The February Revolution occurred on the basis of the extreme stresses that war and hunger had placed on Russian society, and a sharp split within the Russian ruling class at a certain point over the further conduct of the war and the role of the Tsar.This split formed a "fissure" through which the discontent of the masses—who had been simmering with suppressed anger over the continued terrible losses in the war and the deprivation brought on by it, but saw no way to express this—could erupt into a full boil. The result was a revolution in which masses poured into the streets, but the government that came out of that outpouring represented a section of the Russian bourgeoisie determined to pursue, through the form of bourgeois democracy, the same policies around the war that had brought on the crisis in the first place.

Lenin insisted, at first alone among the Bolsheviks, that there was qualitatively more to seize out of this situation—that the potential lay beneath the euphoria and illusions with which the masses greeted this new government to go all the way to socialist revolution.4 Led by Lenin, the Bolsheviks worked to grasp the dynamics of this extremely fluid situation, where all kinds of political forces were operating and first one force would ride high and then another. They continually fought to re-set the terms in which people were viewing things, to re-polarize the different elements in the field, to actively work to move masses toward and into the struggle for a whole new world.

Throughout his political life, Lenin consistently viewed things, and struggled with others to view them, from the perspective of making revolution as part of the world revolution. On that basis, he led the Bolsheviks to adopt an internationalist stand toward the world war—to oppose the war as a predatory one, to work for the defeat of their bourgeoisie and to strive to make revolution in the midst of the upheaval brought on by that war. Once the revolutionary situation developed within the Russian empire, he continued and deepened this internationalist perspective—grasping both the openings that afforded and the responsibilities it put upon the Bolsheviks to wrench as much as they could from the situation in Russia not only to make revolution there but “as part of their share” in the world revolution.

Coming from that framework, Lenin grasped in particular that the new government that had come to power with the overthrow of the Tsar had no answer for the sharpest contradictions facing Russian society—its participation in World War I, the hunger and privation among the masses, and the demand for land among the peasantry—and that the government was vulnerable. Whether that vulnerability could be turned into an actual revolution depended in large part on if a revolutionary force—the vanguard party—worked on those contradictions. That meant spreading among the broadest masses a belief in the illegitimacy of the government that promised to solve these acute problems but was in fact doing nothing; working to rapidly train as communists and recruit those who gravitated toward a more revolutionary understanding (the Bolshevik party grew exponentially in the eight months following the February Revolution, as people were going through enormous changes in their thinking); developing and defending the forms through which masses were exerting a different authority, and taking those to a higher level; and a host of other things. But note well: while the Bolsheviks were not the biggest party at the outset of the crisis, they made a point and a policy of being as big as they could be on the correct basis; and had they not had the orientation of accumulating forces for revolution, in the form of both members and organized support for the Party, to the greatest degree possible at every point, there would very likely not have been the requisite minimum base to enable that "take-off"—that exponential growth—when the opportunity opened up (or, more accurately, was wrenched open) for that to take place on a correct basis.

In a sense the lessons of both the whole period of preparation, and then the extremely intense and telescoped period of February through October 1917, with all its richness, was summed up in the very concentrated short piece by BA, "Some Principles for Building a Movement for Revolution:"

At every point, we must be searching out the key concentrations of social contradictions and the methods and forms which can strengthen the political consciousness of the masses, as well as their fighting capacity and organization in carrying out political resistance against the crimes of this system; which can increasingly bring the necessity, and the possibility, of a radically different world to life for growing numbers of people; and which can strengthen the understanding and determination of the advanced, revolutionary-minded masses in particular to take up our strategic objectives not merely as far-off and essentially abstract goals (or ideals) but as things to be actively striven for and built toward.

The objective and orientation must be to carry out work which, together with the development of the objective situation, can transform the political terrain, so that the legitimacy of the established order, and the right and ability of the ruling class to rule, is called into question, in an acute and active sense, throughout society; so that resistance to this system becomes increasingly broad, deep and determined; so that the "pole" and the organized vanguard force of revolutionary communism is greatly strengthened; and so that, at the decisive time, this advanced force is able to lead the struggle of millions, and tens of millions, to make revolution. (BAsics, 3:30)

Lenin grasped that the contradictions that were roiling Russian society could only be resolved by the overthrow of the new regime and its replacement with a new state power... but that if this did not happen, then things would sooner or later revert to the status quo ante (the way things had been before), and the chance for revolution that existed—albeit beneath the surface of things—would evaporate. And Lenin led the Party, at times against resistance, to take up this understanding, and through many hairpin twists and turns compressed in the months between February and October, the Party was able to lead the masses to actually make revolution. To win. And this was the greatest breakthrough in the history of humanity to that point.

Lenin also saw—he actually forecast it, based on studying previous revolutionary situations, on deeply summing up the experience of the revolutionary situation in Russia in 1905 that he had lived through, and also undertaking study in the dialectical method—that a revolutionary situation "cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably they will bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses and errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution...expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will be able to unite and direct it, capture power..." and establish the new state power—the dictatorship of the proletariat. ("The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up," from Lenin's Collected Works, Volume 22, p. 356)

Lenin followed keenly the thinking and actions of these other forces, identifying the dynamics and potential lines of development within what could seem to be chaos and unpredictability, probing and pushing for ways to advance the fundamental interests of the proletariat through all this, learning the most he could, identifying openings, doing ideological battle where needed...all to the end of seizing on those openings. And through all this he fought to lead and forge the Party to grasp, and seize, the potential inherent in, but hidden within, the situation.

And that is very important, critical: Lenin did not do all this alone—he led, and led in building, a very specific kind of party, firm in principle, acute in analysis and flexible in moving to mobilize masses.

All this—and again, much, much more in other realms—has gone into the six paragraphs at the beginning of part 2 of Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, and is then further applied and made very concrete in the RCP's "On the Strategy for Revolution" (available at as well as in BAsics).


None of this was or is magic; it has to do with the real relationship of consciousness to the material world. Human consciousness does not arise independently of the material world and the human social relations into which people are born; it arises out of and is conditioned by that context. The world, in turn, is further profoundly shaped and re-shaped by human consciousness responding to and working on what it encounters. In other words, human consciousness is a form of matter that has the particular property of being able to reflect on, engage with, experiment on, and learn about the forces of the material world, and to transform the material world in and through that process. Human beings do this constantly, learning more and changing more, summing up mistakes and drawing lessons, and returning again to change more and learn more.

When you correctly consider the process on the level of a whole society—one divided into classes, with a host of political and literary (or cultural) forces contending, and all of them ultimately (though not linearly or obviously) rooted in and representing the positions, interests and outlooks of different classes and social strata...and when you think about all this exponentially multiplying in conditions when the normal order that holds all that in check comes under strain and even rupture—then you can begin to see how, through all that swirl and complexity, there is a whole process that the vanguard party can work on, fighting for its ideas to be taken up and transformed into a material force. It's an ongoing process—with the conscious element compelled to vitally engage and transform reality to the maximum extent all along the way, and then do it again when other forces respond—and it's a fight. And if this is done consistently and consciously, there can be a dynamic unleashed where the conscious forces increasingly learn how to set terms and seize initiative, and then re-seize it when other forces try to set new terms, so that the capability can be developed to lead leaps and radical changes in that framework, both in normal times and where moments break open in a new way and the potential is qualitatively greater.

This is neither a question of doggedly hammering on a single idea until "the times catch up with you," nor a matter of "imposing one's will" through sheer force. Still less is it a matter of trying to "keep things together" waiting for favorable new conditions, which only guarantees that the times will increasingly pass you by; nor is it even just a question of utilizing the science of communism to achieve a given political objective. It is a matter of looking at everything through the prism of the revolutionary situation and (to the greatest extent possible) being alive to and constantly learning from all of material and social reality in its changing-ness and on that basis identifying, and working to learn more and transform more deeply, the key social faultlines through which the initiative of millions of the formerly suppressed could spring forth, and the ways to make that happen, and in the course of all that further deepening the understanding of reality. At the same time, as part of this process, the vanguard has to accumulate forces—it has to grow and it has to increasingly weld together what the RCP statement "On the Strategy for Revolution," calls the thousands who "can be brought forward and oriented, organized and trained in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation...and then, when there is a revolutionary situation, those thousands can be a backbone and pivotal force in winning millions to revolution and organizing them in the struggle to carry the revolution through." (BAsics, p. 112)

It was not "fated" that Lenin and the Bolsheviks would succeed; but you can say fairly certainly that without such a party, rooted in the outlook of the farthest-seeing leadership of the day, it is almost certain that revolution would not have won or perhaps even have been attempted.5  

A vast scope of historical experience (including much more than the above examples) and more (including developments in the realm of science—see the earlier reflection from another reader on this question which explores this in greater depth6) is part of what is synthesized and raised to the level of scientific theory in the six paragraphs from BA's Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity that is reprinted in the recent issue of Revolution. That synthesis is pathbreaking:

  • It includes the identification of determinist realism and the way in which that method mechanically separates the objective and subjective in such a way as to form an almost unbridgeable breach between them and puts the subjective factor in a position of only reacting to events, instead of seeing the basis for dynamic mutual transformation of objective and subjective and on that basis the tremendous scope of initiative of the subjective.
  • It includes the deep recognition of the contradictoriness of all reality, on "its living and dynamic and moving and changing" character, and the requirement that poses to ever more deeply study and apprehend that reality in its flux and dynamism.
  • It includes the importance attached to the role of accident, especially in the character of the unforeseeable actions of all the different class forces in a fluid, volatile, rapidly changing situation, the emergence through that interaction of novel situations, further accident, etc., all of which the vanguard must be attuned to and be able to acutely analyze in order to understand and develop ways to act on all this... as part of hastening, as well as shaping, the opening for revolution.
  • It recognizes the scope that all this gives to the conscious forces and the heightened, the crucial, role of consciousness itself.

It is all that, taken together, and then the conclusion that "our 'working on' [these objective contradictions] 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."

BA goes on to say that revolution isn't made by formulas—"it is a much more living, rich, and complex process than that. But it is an essential characteristic of revisionism... 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... 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."

Any serious look at the examples above, or other examples in history, bears out this point. The passively patient, the mechanically plodding, those who wait for or alternately trail in the wake of events, those who downplay the need to battle in the realm of consciousness all the way through, do not transform the world in a revolutionary direction. Nor do those who seek to impose schemes or gimmicks on reality, with no sense, or a shallow and truncated sense, of the depth and texture of the contradictoriness of that reality.

All of this is drawn from reality, from actual history as it has been made by real human beings, many of them attempting to apply the principles of communism; it comes from a rigorous analysis of the societal dynamics that make possible and lay the basis for the real scope of the subjective factor, and from further wrangling with philosophy and the natural sciences. The scientific synthesis of this section of Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity undergirds our Party's statement on the strategy for revolution. At the heart of this is the grasp that everything in society is being driven forward by contradiction, by unevenness, by fluidity... not stagnant and static, but volatile and eruptive... not predictable in a narrow sense, but understandable if one bases oneself on the real moving faultlines beneath the surface of society... not the least of which are the sentiments, ideas, aspirations and strivings of people who perceive on one level that "it does not have to be—it shouldn't have to be—this way," but whose thinking is held within the prison of a belief in permanent necessity.

Up until the breakthrough work begun in the early '80s and concentrated in those six paragraphs, all too many parties (and this was universal in the advanced capitalist countries) that claimed to follow Lenin essentially reduced the role of the party to that of a machine for generating and leading the spontaneous struggle of the masses, with a view that "someday" this would all come to fruition, without any ongoing struggle with masses of people over how they were thinking, into a movement for revolution. It was a model of a sort of "mass awakening," somehow brought on without determined struggle over how people were thinking but rather through people spontaneously coming to see through their participation in struggle that they needed a revolution and, moreover, the kind of revolution being put forward by the communists (leaving aside here what the actual conception of that revolution was). This model did not just ignore What Is To Be Done? It utterly negated it.

BA has gone against all that—he has re-studied Lenin and distilled and concentrated Lenin's essential insights: parties must be based on science, on grappling with objective reality, and not rely on spontaneity. Parties must be instruments through which the masses are led to increasingly know and transform reality on the path to making revolution and fully emancipating humanity. All along the way such a party proceeds through transforming reality, transforming the masses, and transforming itself in a way consistent with its world-emancipatory aims. A party like this—a real communist party—is essential; without such a party, there will be no emancipation.

If you look at today's world from the standpoint of this recently reprinted section of "Making/Emancipating," this is a situation pregnant with possibility. But that is just the point—those possibilities are largely not yet born. The potential for social upheaval is there, but it is (in many ways) beneath the surface, moving and developing. And all this ferment and simmering takes place in a situation in which the belief in the "permanent necessity" of the way things are today—that is, the idea that at bottom things just have to be this way, they can't be fundamentally changed—is dominant, and thus constrains the limits of people's imagination even as they agonize and strain. This is for a number of intersecting reasons: the defeat of revolution in China in 1976 and the restoration of capitalism there under the label of communism, which has seriously disoriented people, and, along with that, the unending slander and lies about the real experience of socialist revolution there during the era of Mao's leadership; the weight of the fact that people, worldwide and within the U.S. itself, had "stormed the heavens" in the 1960s but were fundamentally defeated, and that the concessions that were made had the confusing character of apparently granting equality while more deeply concealing the fundamentally oppressive relations of the system that people were rebelling against; the permeation of the culture with the terms of commodity exchange on the one hand and relativism on the other; etc.

So people are not right now, in their millions, rising up (even as there are important outbreaks of struggle, sometimes quite significant, as well as important manifestations of discontent, resistance and yearning for a better world in the cultural sphere going on) or even questioning whether things could be radically different. In this situation then, there is an even more urgent and magnified need to work on people's thinking, to struggle with them, to transform how they see things.

All this should point to the need for the kind of initiatives our Party is now undertaking—the efforts to strengthen and promote its website... the work involved in mobilizing (and struggling with) masses very broadly to stand up and resist around key contradictions—faultlines, as we say—of the system... but most of all, and giving all of it meaning, to work to transform the thinking of people through the comprehensive work to promote BA and the new synthesis of communism, challenging them to break out of a narrow view of what is and to see the real basis for what could be—going straight up against the prism through which they have been trained to view and "make sense out of" all events and giving them a scientific one instead. All these elements, if worked on synergistically in a way greater than the sum of each one taken as a thing unto itself and then added together, and with BA Everywhere as the dynamic factor giving coherence and direction to all of it—in fact have the potential, in this specific situation, to truly "transform the objective conditions to the maximum degree possible."


1. This latter point—how ideas from various sources enter into the class struggle—recently struck me in reading the book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, tracing the impact of the re-discovery in the 15th century of a poem originally written in ancient Rome by Lucretius, "On the Nature of Things." Greenblatt shows how the poem, which is a very artistic rendering of basic materialist philosophy, hit a Europe in transition from feudalism to capitalism, and then goes on to influence thinkers and fighters for centuries, in different ways. (The title itself—The Swerve—refers to Lucretius' view of the importance of what we might call the role of accident in history; and this is illustrated by the impact of the chance re-discovery of what turned out to be a very seminal work in the development of "The Enlightenment"—i.e., the movement for reason and science against the superstition that was promoted, and often enforced through torture and execution, by the Catholic Church. For more on both the strengths and limitations of The Enlightenment, see "Marxism and The Enlightenment," in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, pp. 148-154). [back]

2. While the BPP adopted some elements of communist thinking and represented the most advanced expression of the late 1960s, they still had a "mixed bag" of ideology and cannot be said to have fundamentally ruptured to a communist outlook, even as they adapted certain forms associated with the Leninist party. [back]

3. “…What became the model in the international movement—not only in the Second International of socialist (and some genuine communist) parties leading into World War 1,1 but to a significant degree after Lenin, in the communist movement under Stalin’s leadership, particularly from the late 1920s on—was the notion that you build up a mass movement, largely in fact a trade union movement of the working class, and then somehow under the right conditions that will go over to a general strike (or, in its best expression, into an insurrection). But this is not how proletarian revolution is going to be made: It is not historically how such a revolution has been made, and it is not how it can be made in the world as it is today…” (Bob Avakian, Out Into the World—As A Vanguard of the Future) It is well worth reviewing, or reading for the first time, what BA goes on to say in analyzing this "model" of work, the influence of which remains pervasive, including among revolutionaries, and what this then led to, and then his further reflections on some of the questions a correct approach poses today. [back]

4. Lenin's very ability to see this is itself in part the product of the struggle he conducted in defense of scientific materialism (see his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism) and his explorations and digging into the character of the dialectical method after the outbreak of World War I, which can be seen in his "Philosophical Notebooks," in Volume 38 of Lenin's Collected Works. [back]

5. The case of 1917 is worth deeper thought—even Lenin himself, a month before the crisis erupted with the February Revolution (and again, this revolution only replaced the Tsar with a bourgeois-democratic republic, and did not dismantle the organs of state power), mused in a speech that his generation might well not see the socialist revolution. The outbreak of World War 1 had been a shattering setback for the international revolutionary movement—nearly every party sided with its own bourgeoisie and told its followers to join the mutual slaughter-fest that ended up leaving millions of dead in its wake. The Bolsheviks, though they did not go back on their principles, had also suffered during the repression and the national chauvinism that accompanied the initial outbreak of the war, and had to wage very hard and determined struggle to survive the repression and continue revolutionary work. But through this period, if you read Lenin's works, you see that he hammered on the need to see beneath the surface—yes, war makes governments stronger, he would write, but each government sits on a volcano. And if you read further into his writings during the period leading from the February Revolution up to the insurrection that seized power in Russia in October 1917, you will find that he waged determined struggle against those who insisted on waiting for revolution to break out elsewhere in Europe, because they feared that the revolutionary forces in Russia would be too weak to go it alone; or against those who pointed to the masses' alienation from political action at a certain point to argue that those masses were demoralized (as opposed to being fed up with anything short of revolution by then); or people who drew on many other surface phenomena to argue that the time was not ripe and that the subjective forces must wait... "just a little longer." Lenin grasped the need to work to seriously transform conditions... he did not exaggerate conditions and was very sober in his approach... but he was alive to the potential within conditions, within contradictions, that could enable the subjective forces to radically alter the whole situation and to move closer to the moment—which would not present itself neatly and clearly—when the all-out struggle for power could be launched. [back]

6. "Thoughts Provoked by Hastening While Awaiting—Not Bowing Down to Necessity," from a reader, at [back]


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