RW #597, March 17, 1991

Keep the Fires Burning

by Bob Avakian

Q: Getting back to the more personal aspect if I may--how have you managed not to sell out, or burn out, over so many years in the struggle? What do you think sustains you?

Bob Avakian: You know, it's very interesting, back in the mid-'60s when I was first getting involved in radical politics I remember one of these reformist-socialists telling me: "Well, you know, people like you who are full of radical fire at this age are the people who burn out the quickest. You won't be around very long because I've seen a lot of you come and go and you're very, very, extremely radical for a short time and then you're burned out." I've always remembered that because it was very striking to me that the equation being made was that to be an opponent of the system, in some form or other, over the long term meant you had to be an evolutionist and not a revolutionist, and that if you were a revolutionary and didn't seek merely to reform the system or something like that then you were bound to burn out.

Well, first of all I would say that my experience, and I think experience generally, has shown that it's the people who try to make some sort of radical reform in the system who, far more than revolutionaries, burn out or become irrelevant or both.

But as for the question of what has sustained me over this period of time, I'm not sure I can give a complete answer to that. I know that what propelled me into being a revolutionary in the first place was seeing the injustices in U.S. society and in the world, particularly the oppression of Black people, the Vietnam War, things like that, which were sharp questions at the time when I was forming my view of the world, my political outlook. And I came to see through experience and through study and taking up Marxist theory that these things were rooted in the very nature of the system that dominates the world and the very nature of a society divided into classes and that they could only be eliminated through a communist revolution. And ever since that time I've always tried to do everything I could to contribute to that revolution. And I've never been shaken in the belief that that's both what's necessary and also that that's possible.

To put it another way, there's nothing about the present order of things in the world that's tolerable to me. It's completely intolerable. I can't stand it. And I don't want to make my peace with it, I don't want to find a way to make it within that world, or to try to make it. I don't want to be part of the established order. I don't want to turn a blind eye and pretend I don't see what I do see. I don't want to stand on top of the rubble of broken bodies and the suffering and destruction that this system brings down on people and never look down and see what I'm standing on while I'm stuffing my face. That doesn't hold any attraction for me; I'm repulsed by the idea of that and I just have no interest in doing that.

These are the kinds of things that continue to sustain me, as I think about it--that on the one hand the world as it is to me is intolerable and, you know, I feel an urgent burning desire to see everything radically changed and I also continue to believe that it's possible. And as I've said, ever since I've come to understand that communist revolution holds the way to do this, that's sustained me. That understanding has sustained me as well and I continued to do everything I could to contribute to that.

But I also want to stress that it's not just a question of being "sustained," it's a question of continuing to advance and repeatedly making necessary leaps and ruptures in your understanding and in your stand and your actions. And it's definitely not just a question of revolutionary will--certainly not in some existential, look-inside-yourself- for-the-daring-and-determination sense--but a question of dealing with, striving to change, the objective world and drawing strength from the advances that are made and the advanced forces that come forward. I know that, besides the other things I've touched on, what has been of decisive importance in helping me to be sustained--that is, to continue to advance--have been the revolutionary upsurges and revolutionary uprisings of oppressed masses, which have repeatedly arisen, often breaking through seemingly very suffocating situations; and also the advances that have been made among the conscious organized revolutionary forces, the international communist movement, many of which have also been made in the face of adversity and setback and on the basis of summing up the causes of such setback and difficulty. So it's all of this that has kept me going forward, that has made me feel compelled to go forward.