Why You Need a Revolutionary Army
in Socialist Society

by Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #922, September 7, 1997

The same basic principle that establishes the need for the state and the vanguard party all the way through the socialist revolution, until the achievement of communism worldwide, also applies to the key pillar of state power, the armed forces. To put it simply, there will be a need to maintain a standing army during much, if not all, of the socialist transition period, although of course this will not be the old army of the bourgeois state but a new, revolutionary army of the proletarian state.

In the polemic vs. K. Venu* there is an analysis of why it has not been possible to abolish the standing army in socialist society, as originally envisioned by Marx and Engels and then by Lenin in "The State and Revolution," and why it will not be possible to do this for a considerable period.

This analysis centers on the contradictions I have talked about that mark socialism as a transition from capitalism to communism, and on the relations between socialist countries and the world situation--the contradictions bound up with the uneven development of the world proletarian revolution and the fact that socialist states emerge one (or a few) at a time and for a long time are likely to exist in a world still dominated by imperialism.

Under these circumstances--as we pointed out in the polemic vs. K. Venu--to try to eliminate the standing army and simply replace it with the general arming of "the whole people" really "amounts to calling for the abolition of the proletariat's monopoly of armed force, which in turn amounts to calling for the abolition of the dictatorship of the proletariat." So long as there are classes--and so long as there is an underlying material basis continually giving rise to and regenerating class divisions--if the proletariat does not have a monopoly on armed force, someone else is going to have that monopoly of armed force...and guess who it is going to be?.... The bourgeoisie.

Now, as also pointed out in that polemic against K. Venu, this doesn't mean that it is not important to arm the masses--and, more specifically, to build up the organized armed force of the masses in the form of militias, alongside the standing army--and in this and other ways to work toward the point where the standing army can in fact be replaced by the general arming of the people (or at least the arming of the broad masses of people, even before all class distinctions have been finally eliminated). The fact that you cannot do without a standing army, for some time into the socialist transition period, doesn't deny or diminish the importance of working and struggling for the goal of finally abolishing separate armed bodies of people--that is, "professional armies" which are separate and distinct from the masses of people as a whole, even if these "professional armies" are genuinely revolutionary armies and are linked with the masses of people in many ways.

In this decisive sphere of armed force, as generally with the question of state power and the superstructure as a whole, it is crucial that the masses increasingly be involved and relied on to exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat. For this is precisely how the dictatorship of the proletariat is a new and qualitatively different form of state--how it radically differs from all preceding states. Further, it is crucial not only that the masses be increasingly drawn into and relied on to exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat but also to make this serve the transition to communism, together with the whole international proletariat. But, especially in the early stages of socialism, and for some time into the socialist period, there will not be an easy answer to this--it will not be possible to abolish the standing army and simply put arms into the hands of the masses, or even just to organize the masses into militias.

Problems Requiring Revolutionary Solutions

Simply arming the masses, or organizing them into armed militias, cannot eliminate the underlying contradictions (the contradictions within socialist society itself and the existence of the remaining imperialist and reactionary states and their armed forces in various parts of the world) that make necessary a standing army of the socialist state, just as it cannot eliminate the underlying contradictions that make necessary the state as a whole and the vanguard party, exercising leadership in that state.

As the polemic vs. K.V. summarizes:

"...the decisive question, both with regard to the standing army and with regard to the people's militia, is whether the guns are in the hands of the masses in actual fact and not just formally. This question hinges on the nature of leadership that is exercized in the standing army and the militia. And, in turn, the nature of this leadership finds concentrated expression in line--both ideological and political line in its general expression and also its expression in concrete policies. This involves the internal relations within the armed forces (including the militia) and the relations between these armed forces and the masses of people; it also involves the formulation of the fundamental purpose and aim of these armed forces and the principles of fighting, doctrine, and so on that flow from this.... It is this--it is the consistent application of this approach and the continual struggle focusing on line--which is decisive in determining whether or not the armed forces of the proletarian state represent the armed power of the masses acting in accordance with the revolutionary interests of the proletariat."

Obviously, an anarchist line and approach cannot begin to correctly deal with all this!

Once again, anarchism generally represents the petit bourgeoisie, which spontaneously resists the rule of either of the two major contending classes--the only two classes capable of ruling modern society and making use of its highly developed and highly socialized productive forces--the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Or, to put it in a more all-around, all-sided way, the petit bourgeoisie chafes under the rule of either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat, but it also tends to accede to the rule of whichever of these classes is in power. In an overall sense, the petit bourgeoisie continually vacillates between the one camp and the other of the two contending classes (the proletariat and the bourgeoisie), while believing, subjectively, that it is standing aside from, or above, both! Marx gave emphasis to this important point:

" must not form the narrow-minded notion that the petty bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided...the democrat, because he represents the petty bourgeoisie, that is, a transition class, in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously, mutually, blunted, imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally." (From "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte")

This is what is reflected in the program of the anarchists--as a radical expression of the petit bourgeois democratic outlook--and in particular their demands for no state, no vanguard party, no leadership (or "hierarchies") of any kind, including within the armed forces of the revolution, both before and after the seizure of power (if power could ever be seized without such leadership!!). This is an expression of a fundamentally petit bourgeois class position and outlook, which is incapable of leading the way in overthrowing the old, exploiting order and carrying forward the revolution to the complete abolition of all conditions and all bases for exploitation and oppression. This is why such a program must be rejected by the class-conscious proletariat. This is why the class-conscious proletariat must build a revolutionary movement under its leadership--leadership realized through its vanguard party--and carry the revolutionary struggle forward all the way to the achievement of communism, worldwide, where finally the state and the party--and hierarchies and class divisions of any kind--will in fact be abolished. And throughout this process, the revolutionary proletariat must seek to win over the petit bourgeois democrats--especially the more radical among them--without however giving in to their petit bourgeois democratic prejudices and illusions and without shrinking from the necessity and the responsibility of leading the revolutionary struggle, all the way through.

* K. Venu is a former Maoist leader in India who turned against MLM and developed a line fundamentally opposed to MLM, including on the decisive question of the need for the proletarian vanguard throughout the socialist transition to communism. In "Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That," A World To Win magazine 1992/17, RCP Chairman Bob Avakian refutes the line of K. Venu.

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