Is the Revolution Bound to "Turn Out Bad?"
Why Do We Need a Dictatorship?

By Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #1083, December 17, 2000, posted at

Preventing capitalist restoration and continuing to advance toward the goal of communism--exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat and carrying forward the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat--this is a truly monumental question. A lot of people say this can't be done--that the revolution is "bound to turn out bad," bound to be turned into its opposite, that leaders are bound to turn into oppressors of the people, and so on. This is not only a commonly held idea among anarchists and so on, but it has currency in the popular culture and is widely promoted by the ruling class and its media and mouthpieces. They haven't just been blaring this out everywhere in recent times, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its bloc--they have been putting this out for a long time.

I remember back in the '60s and the early '70s, this was even in the popular music. The Beatles, for example, had a song about "revolution"--"count me out," they said. And then another popular rock group, The Who, which was also pretty big at the time, did a somewhat more sophisticated song precisely on this theme: "meet the new boss--same as the old boss...hope we don't get fooled again..." and so on and so forth. And, of course, for people who don't want to be part of a revolution, it makes sense for them to write about how it won't do any good anyway.

But this is more than just the subjective viewpoint of a few people. This is a broadly propagated and, at this point especially, a broadly held idea. And in fact, looking at historical experience superficially and without the science of MLM seems to back this up--it seems that this is what's happened--that the revolution has gone bad, that things are not (and supposedly never were) any better in socialist countries (or "communist countries," or however people see it): the revolution has turned out to be as bad as--or even worse than--what it overthrew. And not only this kind of subjective and unscientific understanding of what has happened but, more fundamentally, the objective fact that capitalism has been restored in former socialist countries is a big question that we do have to confront. We can't--and we shouldn't want to--avoid this question and try to sidestep it because it's a difficult question and because it's a point at which we can be attacked. This is a monumental question--the reality and the danger of capitalist restoration in socialist countries--a monumental question that the proletarian revolution has had to confront, and will have to repeatedly confront, throughout the tortuous process of advancing to communism worldwide.

But before getting into all that, let's get down to another big question, a very basic question:


To help shine a light on this, let me refer to the way in which this point was illustrated in a speech I read by William Hinton, who wrote the book Fanshen about the Chinese revolution, which has inspired many people to get into Mao and communism. Now, our Party has some important differences with Hinton, including over the crucial question of how to understand the revisionist coup in China after Mao's death and the role of different forces in that struggle, but he has made a lot of contributions, and his point here is a very important one that people can learn from. He posed the question: What would it have taken, in the aftermath of the Civil War in the U.S., to actually prevent the re-emergence of the oppressive plantation system--which in fact did re-emerge, not in the form of literal slavery but share-cropping and other forms of basically feudal exploitation--and all the horrendous oppression and terroristic tyranny bound up with this, to which Black people in particular were subjected--lynching and KKK terror, and all the rest. What would it have taken to prevent this from happening?

After the Civil War there was a brief period of Reconstruction in which some of the promises that were made to Black people (and also to poor whites) about getting land and rights and so on, were actually carried out, although only in a partial and limited way. And then, after about 10 years, that was betrayed and reversed and this horrendous system of oppression and terror was brought down particularly on the masses of Black people. Why did the bourgeoisie do that?

You always hear them talking about this tragedy of the Civil War--"brother was fighting brother." Fuck you! That was no brother of mine! Those were not our brothers fighting in the Confederate army to preserve and extend the slave system! That Civil War was fought over the question of slavery, whether it would be abolished or not--even though the North, under Lincoln, was slow to openly make this the center of the conflict, that is objectively what was being fought out, and finally, of course, the North could not win the war without freeing the slaves of the Confederacy.

What about the slaves--were they the "brothers" of the slaveowners? What about the 200,000 Black people who fought heroically in the Union army--once they were allowed to join and fight in that army--making great sacrifices, dying in huge numbers, in order to defeat the Confederacy and the slave system it embodied and was fighting for? Was this war a great tragedy for them--or, for the many other people who hated slavery? This is the way the bourgeoisie looks at it--as a great tragedy--that's their class outlook.

Why did they reverse Reconstruction? Because to them it was much more important to cement together once again the ruling structures of the society. They'd gotten what they needed out of the Civil War--they'd brought about the complete dominance of the capitalist system over the slave plantation system and the rule of the bourgeoisie throughout the U.S., and they'd opened the way for the expansion of the capitalist system into other parts of the continent. It was more important to them to firmly re-establish and reinforce the unified ruling structures of their system and to move on with the process of expanding their capitalist system to the West, and so on. That was what was uppermost in their minds. They were not interested in freeing the masses of Black people. They were willing to use them to defeat the slave system in the Civil War, but they were not interested in carrying through--it was not in their interests to actually carry through--with the program of Reconstruction. That's why it was defeated--reversed.

Here Hinton has posed a very important question--what would it have taken to actually implement that kind of program--to really carry out a radical restructuring in the South in a way that brought land and rights to the masses of Black people (and other poor and landless people)? It would have taken a very harsh dictatorship. You couldn't have let the slaveowners--and the new forces who wanted to arise and re-subject Black people to plantation forms of oppression in the South, even if they were a kind of feudal oppression instead of slavery--you couldn't have let them have equal rights with the Black people and others who'd been oppressed under this system. If you wanted to not only put an end to slavery, but to move on and carry out this program of land reform, giving rights to Black people, and so on, you would have needed a state that exercised dictatorship and, yes, struck terror into the hearts of the overthrown slaveowners and their allies. They would have had to know that if they tried to move to bring back any of that shit, they would have been smashed--or you couldn't have carried out a program like Reconstruction, you couldn't have carried through with the promises of giving land and rights to Black people, and so on.

So you can have it one way or the other. If it's not important to you to free up the masses of people, and particularly in this case Black people, from this kind of oppression and terror, then you don't need a dictatorship to do that. And it was not important to the bourgeoisie--in fact it was important to the bourgeoisie NOT to do that.

But if the proletariat had been in a position to lead the Civil War, if we'd been the ones leading a united front to defeat the slavocracy and we'd come out triumphant as a result of that war, we would have instituted a very definite dictatorship over the overthrown slaveowners. We'd have said: "Your day is gone, you have no rights, because if you have rights, the former slaves are not going to have the right to be free of this. You cannot go around and organize. You cannot go around and find ways to sabotage the new system we're trying to bring about, because we're actually trying to move on to uproot this oppression and then eventually to move on to get rid of all exploitation."

This is the way the proletariat would have handled it, but the bourgeoisie did not handle it that way because to them it was much better--let's put it simply--it was much better to them that the masses of Black people be subjected to these generations of oppression and terror and all the horror that went with it. It was much better for the bourgeoisie, politically--much better than to have disruption at the top of their system that would get in the way of putting it back together in a manner that served their bourgeois accumulation process and the expansion of their system to the West, and then their emergence as an imperialist power on the world scene. And, economically, it was much more profitable for the bourgeoisie to derive great wealth, directly and indirectly, from the feudal exploitation of masses of Black people, as serfs on the plantation system. It was much better for the bourgeoisie.

THAT'S why they talk about the "tragedy" of the Civil War and "brother killing brother"--because it was much better for them for Black people to have to go through all this oppression and terror. That conforms to THEIR interests--these bourgeois exploiters. But if we'd been running things, if the proletariat and its vanguard had been leading this struggle, we would have had to do it and we would have done it completely differently. We would have had to strike terror into the hearts of the overthrown slaveowners and others like them. We couldn't have let them feel that they could make a move. Because if they did, then once again masses of people, in particular millions of Black people, were going to be re-enslaved in new forms--viciously exploited and subjected to this whole horror that they have been subjected to.


So this is living reality--the reality of that time (at the end of the Civil War) and the reality of class struggle and class dictatorship more generally. You have to deal with reality. The fact is that, so long as society is objectively divided into classes, you have to choose: one kind of dictatorship or another, the rule of one class or the other, the state as an instrument to enforce the interests of one class or another. As this whole experience of Reconstruction, after the Civil War, makes clear: you have to stand with either the slaves or the slavemasters, the exploited or the exploiter, the oppressed or the oppressor.

To exercise dictatorship over overthrown exploiters and others who try to bring back the old order is especially crucial for the proletariat and its revolution. And this is because our revolution is a radical departure--or as Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto, it is a radical rupture with all previous forms of society. We're going up against all that--all the force of habit, all conventional ideas, all tradition, all the ways in which people have assumed for thousands of years that things had to be done and could only be done. So exercising dictatorship is all the more important for our class if we're serious about moving on to actually uproot all this oppression and exploitation.

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