Why Our Party Calls Itself the Vanguard -- What It Means to Be the Vanguard

Bob Avakian Speaks Out, Interviewed by Carl Dix

On War and Revolution, On Being a Revolutionary and Changing the World

Revolutionary Worker #1161, August 4, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

The Revolutionary Worker is very excited to present to our readers this interview and exchange between Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Carl Dix, national spokesperson of the RCP.

In coming weeks, the many different subjects covered in this important and wide-ranging interview will be made available. This week is Part 6. In the future, the complete interview will also be published and made available online. Parts 1-6 are currently online at www.rwor.org.

The transcript has been slightly edited for publication.


In heavy times like these, the people require extraordinary things to help prepare them for the challenges we face. What follows is truly extraordinary, something that will help arm those who want to take on the U.S. rulers' juggernaut of war and repression with the kind of understanding they need to deal with these times--the immediate challenges in front of us and a whole lot more involved in changing the world. The Revolutionary Worker is publishing an important interview with Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.

I had the honor of doing this interview with him in early 2002. Going into it, I knew there were burning questions many people would've wanted to put to him if they had the chance. They had been putting those kinds of questions to me when I went out there around the Party's Draft Programme or got down with people around the "war without limits" the U.S. imperialist ruling class has unleashed on the world. I was going to have the responsibility, and the opportunity, to put these questions to him for them.

Doing this was intense. It was hard, and it was fun. I hadn't had a chance to get into it with Bob Avakian like this for quite a while. He was the same "fired man" (to borrow a term from Peter Tosh) who had provided crucial leadership for the revolutionary movement at key junctures so many times in the past. He was right on top of what was going down in the U.S. and around the world. And he had the same boundless enthusiasm to dig into world historic questions concerning the process of proletarian revolution. We spent several days doing the interview, getting into everything from the current situation to the role of religion to what sustains him as a veteran revolutionary leader. And then, when we finished our work, we went deep into the night talking about basketball, movies and more.

I hope those who read this interview get as much out of it, and enjoy it as much, as I did in the process of doing it.

Carl Dix


In Part 5 (RW #1160), Carl Dix and Bob Avakian discussed the controversy among different forces over multi-national revolutionary organization and specifically the concept of a vanguard of the proletariat.

Carl Dix: Okay, so let me bring back the second part of that question which also some of these forces pose -- "Why can this party call itself a vanguard? What is it about this party that qualifies it for that?" And some of them pose it more negatively about why they think it's not.

Bob Avakian: First of all, what does it mean to say you're the vanguard? Does it mean that you insist that everybody follow you whatever you do? No, that's not what it means--or that's not what it should mean.

What it means is not that you are declaring yourself that which everyone must follow, but that you're taking responsibility, in all of its different expressions and every dimension, for actually leading the process that has to be carried forward in order to deal with the problem, in order to bring about the solution, in order to upend and overturn the system and transform all of society and contribute to that process on a worldwide basis. That's what it means to be a vanguard fundamentally. It means you're taking the responsibility for that, and that means both leading and it also means learning. It means learning from the masses and it means learning from other people. It means carrying out a process of unity-struggle-unity with many different forces in society. But that's fundamentally what you're doing when you're saying that you're the--you're saying, "We are willing to and determined to take the responsibility for leading the revolutionary process to overturn this monstrous system and to bring into being a better world together with revolutionaries and vanguard forces throughout the world."

So that's a fundamental point that's very important to stress. It's a fundamental point of orientation.

Now, how do you determine if a group really is a vanguard or not? Once again it gets back to line. This question has to be approached in a concentrated way as a matter of line. Does a group's line--does its outlook on the world, does its world view, does its methodology, does its programme, do its policies actually represent a correct understanding of the problem and a correct means to achieve the solution? Does it really have the means, on the basis of that line, to mobilize the forces that have to be mobilized and to lead people and bring forward people consciously to struggle for what needs to be struggled for in order to bring into being a better world on the basis of having overturned and swept away this system? That's the fundamental question.

Now it's true that a vanguard, to really be a vanguard, should have some following among the masses. In other words, if it merely has a line, in the sense of a set of ideas that it never carries out in practice and never mobilizes the masses around, first of all its line will not remain correct because you can't cook up the correct line in a hothouse where you're divorced from the actual class struggle. You're only going to learn more and more deeply what's correct by taking it into practice and carrying out what we call the practice-theory-practice dialectic, where you formulate ideas on the basis of summing up as much as you can about reality, you take them out to put them into practice, unite with the masses to carry them out, win the masses to take them up, learn from the masses as well as from experience broadly in that context and then further develop your line. That you have to do. If you don't do that, if you're not actively doing that, then objectively you're not a vanguard no matter how good your ideas sound (if they do).

Second of all, yes, you should have a certain section of the masses behind you, but there's an important point in this regard that Lenin made. He said the definition of "masses" means different things in different circumstances. He said in a non-revolutionary situation, masses can mean a few thousand people. In a revolutionary situation, then you have to be thinking and acting in terms of millions or tens of millions.

In a situation which today, unfortunately, is still a non-revolutionary situation in the U.S., no revolutionary vanguard is going to have millions of people following it, pretty much by definition, I mean in its full program. It may be able to and it should be able to unite with tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and even millions in certain particular struggles. But in a non-revolutionary situation, a revolutionary vanguard is not going to have millions of people following it in its full program; otherwise, you'd be in a revolutionary situation almost by definition if you had that. So that can't be the standard and criterion.

But the standard and criterion that is important--it's not as fundamental as the question of line, but it is important and it is also a reflection of line and how you're carrying it out--is that a vanguard should have, even in a non-revolutionary situation, thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of people who either more or less are following it directly or who look to it for leadership. And by that criterion our Party does in fact constitute a vanguard. And the point is not to be complacent with that. The point is that we're always, as we say, seeking to strain against the limits that are imposed by the objective conditions and to transform them and to expand the ranks of the revolution as well as to advance the struggle overall. But I think that's the way you have to approach the question of whether you're a vanguard or not.

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