Getting Over the Hump
Part 2: What Will It Take to Get Rid of This Obsolete System?By Bob Avakian
Revolutionary Worker #930, November 2, 1997
Let's dig into this whole question of the "death (or demise) of communism," "the end of the cold war," "the victory of the West in the Cold War," "the triumph of capitalism over communism," etc. etc., blah, blah, blah. To do this in a thoroughgoing and deep way, it is necessary to "step back" and analyze this question with some historical perspective and historical sweep as well as examining it in terms of how it fits into the major changes taking place in this period in world economics and world politics.
This phenomenon, which the imperialists and reactionaries celebrate as "the demise of communism," is an important part of the political terrain as well as being related to some changes in the U.S. military "force structure" and other changes. In other words, a lot of the "technological revolution" that we are hearing so much about these days--and major technological changes are taking place--was in a certain way and in certain aspects "bottled up." It couldn't find as much expression as now because of the international configuration, or alignment of forces, that had to do with the "Cold War," the inter-imperialist contradiction and the confrontation between the U.S.-led bloc and the Soviet-led bloc.
But with the "end of the Cold War"--with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc--while there hasn't been a restructuring and expansion in the economy in the way there was after World War 2, certain things have been unleashed in terms of the operation of capital internationally. And certain technological changes which were obviously already in motion have been further unleashed. The U.S. imperialists in particular, and also others in their bloc, have been freed up to do certain things that they couldn't do previously because of the political or geo-strategic requirements of the confrontation with the Soviet bloc. (And, on the other hand, from the Soviet side, there also have been some obviously very dramatic changes, which I am not going to try to get into here.)
Getting Rid of Class Society Worldwide
Now stepping back to get some historical perspective, we have to confront straight-up the contradiction between the fact that in world historic terms the capitalist-imperialist system is obsolete and has long since ceased to play a positive role in human affairs and world history, yet at the same time it will take a whole historical era to get rid of it, to eliminate this system and its material-social basis, worldwide. The reality that it is going to take a whole historical era to abolish class society and its material as well as ideological basis, worldwide, is also a material and historical fact.
We have to look at both aspects of this, we can't just look at the fact that from a world historical standpoint the capitalist-imperialist system is done for, that it's outlived any positive role it can play overall in human affairs and in the development of society. That's one very powerful, strategic reality--that is a material reality, that's not just an idea. But, on the other hand, a secondary but very powerful material reality--the other aspect of the situation historically speaking--is that it is going to require, as we are learning more and more deeply, a very long and very complex and tortuous historical era of struggle to get rid of this system. It will require a process of struggle, very profound struggle, to eliminate this system and its material-social basis worldwide.
And, as an important particularity within that, there is the very stark fact that in the U.S., in one of the main citadels of this system (or in "the belly of the beast," as we like to say) we cannot right now rise up and overthrow this system, as much as we might want to. And, further, we have to deal with the reality that the opportunity to do so depends, primarily--not entirely but primarily--on qualitative changes in the objective situation.
I say primarily but not entirely because we should also recognize that the world situation includes, as a very important factor, changes brought about by revolutionary struggles internationally, and not just changes in the economy or similar things. So it isn't like the proletariat has a passive position or role in relationship to this.
And one of the points we have stressed before and must grasp firmly is that a period of non-revolutionary situation in one country may be a period of very acute revolutionary crisis and struggle, or one marked by an advancing protracted people's war, in many other parts of the world. So it is never a static or uniform picture--it is only relatively that you are talking about a non-revolutionary situation, if you are keeping in mind the world as a whole. And of course it's also only relative in the sense that there are also always revolutionary factors even in a non-revolutionary situation within particular countries. So it is never absolutely non-revolutionary, even when a revolutionary situation is not fully developed or there hasn't been a qualitative leap to an all-out revolutionary situation.
Still, a qualitative change in the objective situation--within the country itself, in the context of the overall world situation--is the primary thing that has to occur in order to be able to launch an armed struggle which has a real chance of winning in a country like the U.S. We can never have a guarantee of success--and we should never look for one--but we must have a situation where there is a real chance of winning, "in the belly of the beast" as well as in other powerful imperialist citadels. And more generally, even in Third World countries where a protracted people's war is launched, there will have to be changes in the objective situation before they can win nationwide power. There have to be objective and also subjective changes before complete victory can be won--although the advance of the protracted people's war is one of the main ways that such changes will be brought about. Such is the materialist dialectics of the situation.
Now, in a different way in the imperialist countries--and in a concentrated way where you are directly up against U.S. imperialism, in its own "citadel"--being able to seize power does depend primarily on qualitative changes in the objective situation. Yet, here again, we also do have to remember that the objective situation includes, as a very important factor, changes brought about by revolutionary struggles internationally and secondarily, although very importantly, it depends on our all-round revolutionary work in the U.S. To emphasize it once more, we are not in a passive position--we are not determinists in the mechanical sense--we don't think this will all just work out "by itself" and we can just sit around and try to live a bourgeois lifestyle--or survive however we can, or whatever we might think of doing--until the proper time, and then somehow we can step in and make revolution. And in fact we wouldn't want to anyway. If we weren't consistently working for revolution, we wouldn't recognize the opening or have the willingness and eagerness to seize the opening for revolution when it did occur.
Objective and Subjective:
Talking Straight With the Masses
In all this, it is very important to grasp that the objective and the subjective are a unity of opposites. And while overall the objective is principal, there is continual interpenetration between the two and the transformation of the one into the other--of the objective into the subjective, and of the subjective into the objective. By the "objective" I mean the general conditions set by the world situation overall and the economic-social-political situation within the particular country, and the "subjective" means in particular the subjective factor, the political work and struggle that is carried out by class-conscious revolutionaries led by the Party. So this is a unity of opposites--the objective and the subjective factors--and there is a continual inter-penetration and transformation of one into the other.
The work that we carry out changes the objective situation. It gets transformed into part of the objective situation. And the objective gets transformed into the subjective in terms of how the objective factor impinges upon the Party--its outlook, its line, its policy, and what we have to do in response to the objective situation in order to transform it. This is an important general principle of dialectical materialism, and there is an important application in terms of how we view the relationship between the objective situation and the subjective factor (referring again specifically to our Party and its conscious political work and revolutionary struggle together with the masses).
I stress this because sometimes we can get into a situation where we emphasize the one aspect and not the other. In other words, sometimes we talk to the masses in various forms--we carry out our political work and put forward our line--and we present to them the aspect of reality, the strategic world historical aspect, that this system is obsolete, that it needs to be done away with and can be done away with, that we could solve all these problems that the system cannot solve--all of which is true and extremely important. In no way do I want to diminish the importance of that. We need to do a lot more of that, not less, so let me be clear on that. But we also have to present the rest of reality, which the masses even spontaneously in certain ways are acutely aware of.
They are acutely aware of the fact that it is not an easy prospect to do what we are talking about doing. To a certain degree they view this difficulty one-sidedly or they misunderstand what the actual character of the difficulty is, because spontaneously they don't have a correct understanding of this. But they have a lot of aspects of correct understanding. They know that this is not something that you can do with a snap of the finger. They know that you are up against "all that"--however that is actually conceived.
That's also material reality: it's not just material reality that the system has its fundamental contradiction, that both within particular countries as well as on a world scale this fundamental contradiction is assuming very acute expression and that it cries out for resolution through proletarian revolution. That is all very true and very powerful--an important part, the strategic aspect of material reality. But it is also part of material reality that it is going to take a whole historical process to get rid of this system, and that in a country like the U.S. it is going to take a lot of work and struggle and a lot of changes in the objective situation before it will be possible to overthrow this system.
We Can't Have a Revolution in the U.S. Right Now But We Can Have a Revolution
And this is something we also have to put out honestly and straightforwardly to the masses--and not only present this to them but involve them in grappling with this question and how we actually go about resolving this contradiction through all the steps and stages that the revolutionary process has to go through. We shouldn't try to hide this from the masses, we should openly, and in a certain way, boldly put this problem before the masses--let them know we are aware of this contradiction, that we don't think this is easy. We don't think we can do this right now, although we do think, we do know, that we can do it. We have to recognize and we have to acknowledge to the masses that this is a gigantic and very difficult task--we have to put this straight out to the masses--so that, among other things, they know we aren't crazy!
I was listening to a tape of a forum in a proletarian area of Los Angeles. In the question/answer part of the forum, a guy stood up and said: "You're talking about revolution and all of this kind of stuff, but they got all this and they got all that--man you're crazy." Now our answer to questions like that can't be to act as though we think we can do it right now and that we can do it easily. This kind of simplistic idea was not put forward in this forum. But the way the question came up reflects a certain understanding (as well as a certain lack of understanding) on the part of the masses. And they have a need to know, in a certain sense, that we know this--that we are taking into account the real difficulties involved. The masses need to know that just because we are out propagating the need and the possibility of revolution doesn't mean that we fail to understand how difficult this is, what a complex process it is. On the contrary, we have a very profound understanding of what we are up against and we still know that we can do it. That is what the masses need to understand. That is the synthesis that we need to bring to them.
So the masses need to know this--we have to dig into it more with them, we have to make this part of the understanding of the masses--the dialectical materialist understanding of why it is that on the one hand we can't make revolution right now in this country, but strategically we can make revolution. That it is going to take a whole historical era to arrive to communism, but we can carry out that whole historical struggle and arrive at communism ultimately.
Bite by Bite
So in a certain sense, speaking of the struggle in the U.S. itself--although not in the same sense as where the road is correctly protracted people's war--we also have to have the approach of eating a meal bite by bite. Mao pointed this out about waging protracted war--he said we can't defeat the enemy all at once, we have to defeat him piece by piece, bit by bit--he used the analogy (or the metaphor) of eating a meal bite by bite to illuminate the process of carrying out a protracted struggle--in that case a protracted war--to gradually wear down and then finally finish off the enemy. And, although our road isn't protracted people's war, we also have to have the same kind of approach. We have to recognize that we can't take the whole meal down at once. We have to have a systematic approach and an approach proceeding through definite steps and definite leaps to arrive at the point where together with the changes in the objective situation the revolutionary forces could launch an armed struggle-- an ai/cw (armed insurrection followed by civil war)--that has a real prospect of winning.
The masses need to understand this.
So this is a very important point of orientation--dealing correctly with this contradiction that on the one hand the capitalist system is outmoded and needs to be overthrown and superseded by communism, worldwide, but on the other hand this is going to require an entire historical epoch of struggle to achieve. And more specifically it is not possible now--and it will require qualitative changes in the objective situation before it could be time--to launch the ai/cw to seize power in the U.S. This isn't just a theoretical question of world historic sweep, although it is that, but it also has very direct implications for all of our work, including not only propaganda and agitation, but all of our work overall with the masses.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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