Part 12: Our Methods of Leadership, and How They Flow From Our Goals and Our World Outlook

Bob Avakian Speaks Out, Interviewed by Carl Dix

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

Revolutionary Worker #1168, September 29, 2002, posted at


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 12. In the future, the complete interview will also be published and made available online.

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


Carl Dix: Ok, let me move things on a bit. When you were talking earlier about the struggle to transform all of society under the rule of the proletariat, you touched on the importance of the methods of leadership that the party applies and carries out in that period. I think that is a very important question, and very important lessons have been won through the struggle of our class, especially under the leadership of Mao in China. It also seems as if there is application of the lessons to the role the party has to play now and the methods that it has to apply in terms of bringing forward and leading people in carrying out revolutionary struggle, preparing for revolution, and carrying out revolution when the time is right. I guess a way that I want to get into this--and you tell me if I'm phrasing it in a way that's concrete and comprehensible enough to go at it or maybe we have to clarify it--what I have been thinking about on this front is that, in our work with people, and particularly in some of the initiatives that we take up, we've been getting a very positive response from people who've gotten some experience working with us about how working with you guys is different from some of these other things: you seem to really welcome our involvement and input, you seem to want to put things in our hands. And it's good that people are responding positively in that sense.

One thing that I don't think we always do well enough is bringing out that it certainly isn't that we're just good at this, off in the abstract, but that there's a relationship between who we are in the sense of being proletarian revolutionaries and what we're about, what our goal is, and what is the scientific understanding that all that's based on, and applying these methods. It's not just a question of we're good or we've got good experience or we're nice guys, but that having a goal of proletarian revolution and being based upon that goal means that we have to go about our work in a certain kind of way. Now again, have I enough raised something here that you could speak to it or...

Bob Avakian : Well, it's obviously a very important question, but as you pointed out and as you were speaking to it, and as you were laying out the question, there are a lot of different facets to it, a lot of different aspects of it. Again maybe one question to clarify from the beginning--we have been talking a lot about the proletariat and different class viewpoints. Why is it that the proletariat has to lead the revolution and what is it about the proletarian outlook...because this gets back to what force in society is so positioned and has interests that lie with fundamental and radical opposition to the whole operation of this system and with radically transforming it to bring a whole different world into being--and that is the proletariat.

The proletariat is not a bunch of individual entrepreneurs who are inclined toward trying to exploit other people--because you can only get so far being an individual entrepreneur and then you have to go up against the fact that you can only get rich by exploiting other people. So, the proletariat is not a bunch of individual entrepreneurs--which is not to say that we can't unite with sections of entrepreneurs and small business people and people who have their own individual enterprise or maybe one or two workers or whatever. But they are not going to be the backbone of the revolution, their interests don't lie in a thoroughgoing way with that revolution, although they can be won over to it in the course of the whole struggle--or broad ranks of them can. But the proletariat doesn't have any--it isn't doing business, it's not caught up in the whole ethic and ethos of the entrepreneur and of capitalism and of making money by exploiting other people. It's the class that is exploited. And it's also the class that, when it is able to work- -which is not always, and you know millions of its numbers in a society like the U.S. are out of work often, but when it is able to work it works cooperatively and socially. And so in that is the basis for it to see the need for, to be won to and to actually take up, the overturning of the system based on exploitation and to take up the development of society based on cooperation and based on people working together socially to achieve their common ends--while of course they have individuality and individual needs, but those are met through consciously social and cooperative means.

The proletariat is the best situated in society to see that and, because it has nothing in this system-- nothing in its economic and social relations to defend and fortify, as Marx once said--it also is freest of limitations in being able to take up an outlook that looks broadly at the whole sweep of human society and sees that the whole trend is towards the development of a society that can in fact do away, and will do away, with exploitation and oppression. That's why we talk about the position of the proletariat and the world outlook of the proletariat corresponding to that position.

It doesn't mean every proletarian automatically has that outlook--far from it. But it does mean this outlook is something that proletarians can be won to more readily and more powerfully than other forces in society because it does correspond to their position and to their role in this society and in taking society to the next stage--to communism ultimately. I just wanted to first start off by speaking about that, because we have been referring to it, making references to the proletariat, what difference does it make what class outlook you have, what class position.

These people we are talking about, who insist that you have to have a majority of people of color in the leadership, obviously they don't mean that Colin Powell is going to lead a revolution or something like that (or Condoleezza Rice). But they do get confused on the question of--or they obliterate the important standard of--what class viewpoint you take up and what line, flowing from that class viewpoint, do you put into practice. And, again, that's why we put emphasis on that, because there are different classes and strata in society. Even people who are brutally oppressed, depending upon their class position are going to tend to gravitate toward different solutions or different means of trying to solve a problem or trying to deal with oppression. That's why I put emphasis on that--I just wanted to clarify that--because I think a lot of times we're used to using these terms when we talk among each other, and we know what we mean by that and we kind of use a "shorthand," but I think it's important to spell it out a little bit.

CD : OK...

BA : But that is an important part--it is also an important part of our methodology to...not understand class in narrow mechanical and economist terms, like a worker or proletarian is automatically bound to have a more advanced political understanding and position than someone from any other strata. Again, it's the difference between classes and the role they play ultimately in society and where individuals within a class or within society might be at a given time. Some workers are very backward. If that weren't the case--everything we are setting out to do would be a lot easier. But we live in this society that's ruled by capitalism and its ideology, and you know bourgeois ideology has sway among all classes of people, so everybody is influenced by it. But the position of some people, and some classes, puts them in a situation where they're more inclined to gravitate toward going up against all that. And other people are more inclined toward going up against it part way, but not wanting on their own to carry it through thoroughly. That is a basic point of our methods of leadership--understanding that. And, in turn, it's rooted more deeply in our whole materialist world outlook.

I mean every time we use this phrase "objective reality"--it's not just a phrase we like or something. It has to do with our understanding that there is objective reality--and it's a big philosophical question, but it also has big implications for how you view society as well as the universe more generally. Does reality actually exist and is there truth, human understanding which corresponds to the way reality actually is and the way it's moving and developing? Or, is everything unknowable or is there no objective reality, and its just what's in everybody's mind?

There are all kinds of variations of the latter viewpoint--that "you can accomplish anything you want if you try hard enough" is a very common thing promoted among the oppressed, which is meant to demoralize them or has the effect in any case of demoralizing them and making them feel like they're responsible for their own oppressed conditions because, you know, I guess they just didn't try hard enough- -that's why their kid got shot down by the police. Or I guess they didn't try hard enough--that's why the place they were working got closed down and moved to another country to exploit people more viciously there. Or I guess they didn't try hard enough--that's why they weren't able to get this job. There's no discrimination out there--they just didn't try hard enough. And on, and on, and on.

Well this is an idealist viewpoint--that whatever you want to do you can do--if you try hard enough. Well, human beings, for example, can't long jump 75 feet. I don't care how hard they try. There's no material basis. The basis for that does not exist, at least at this point, in objective reality. Sorry, that's the way it is, you know.

So we have to change the world beginning by understanding how it actually is. And understanding that part of how it is, is always changing --that there are contradictions and...contradictions are the driving force within things, and this both provides the possibility for change but also sets a certain direction toward change, and we have to understand how things are moving and developing. And they're not just as they are, but they're also...becoming something else. Which is complicated, but that's the way the world is, and we have to have that methodology in order to be able to get it correct about what we are up against and what to do about it, now as well as in a longer term way, in order to really engage not just social reality but the world out there--the universe out there--and be able to learn more and more about it, even as it is always changing and there is always more to learn.

CD : OK, I think that that's important, and it gives a good foundation for some of what I wanted to get into. To me in looking at this it's like we're trying to accomplish something--we are trying to raise the proletariat to the point of running society--and when we look at the work that we are doing now we have to go about that work with that goal in mind and not in just some sort of pragmatic sense.

But what does that mean for what we need to be doing now? And you know for me--and again this is a point that I don't think we always bring out to people well enough and they don't get enough where this is coming from--that this is why, when we engage people in some of these endeavors, whether it is a question of working with people to build resistance to police brutality or working with people right now to build resistance to the juggernaut of war and repression, that we don't want to bring them forward to "do what we tell them." That's not going to be the way to build the most powerful resistance possible now, and it's definitely not going to be the way to get to where we need to go--actually leading people and making proletarian revolution. And I'm actually not thinking of this in terms of a question to pose to you--I'm just responding to what you just said.

BA: Well, yeah, this is a big thing. One of the basic principles of our methods of leadership is something that I referred to earlier, which is the mass line. One of the things that anybody who is serious, who sets out to change the world comes up against, is that it is not going to be changed in any fundamental way by a handful of people. It's going to be changed by really masses of people more and more consciously becoming active and ultimately waging revolutionary struggles. There's a question of how that's going to happen.

You can also demoralize people and prevent them from actually taking an active part if you don't provide them leadership. That's another thing you learn. For example, you start working with people, let's say in the garment center or in a housing project, and you say "OK, here's what we are going to do, now go out and organize people to do this." And many times people--whenever we've slipped into those kinds of methods, people would say, "What the fuck are you talking about? I don't know how to do that." Because they have no experience with it and because there are certain principles and methods that go into it, and if you just say go out and do it, well, if they are really dedicated they may try but they are going to get demoralized and disoriented and then come back and say that it can't be done. A lot of times people talk about: "Why can't the people in their masses just do things on their own? Why do they need any leadership?" Well, they need leadership in order to be able to take up and do these things and learn how to do them, in order that they can in turn bring forward broader numbers of people and eventually through this whole revolutionary process we can get to the point, like I said, where this distinction between leadership and led, or leaders and followers, can be overcome and put behind us in history.

But we're not there now. Just like when we get to the new society, if you go to the masses of people and say: "OK, we need a bunch of physicists, we need a bunch of engineers, we need a bunch of doctors--OK, all you people that got educated under the Detroit public educational system, or the educational system in L.A. or whatever, all you go out now and just sign up and you can be physicists and engineers." They're all going to look at us like we are nuts--and we would be. But does that mean that they can't learn to do these things? Of course not, and that applies at every stage of the revolution. There's nothing--our materialist and dialectical viewpoint tells us there's nothing that people can't learn to do*, but also that they have to learn to do it, especially when they're living in a society or coming out of a society that's prevented them from being able to have any experience and gaining knowledge in different spheres, including how to build a political movement. They're not going to know how to do it on their own and spontaneously. So we have to rely on people, but we also have to give leadership.

* Footnote added by BA: In saying here that "there's nothing that people can't learn to do" the point is not to deny what is said earlier, that from a materialist standpoint we have to understand that there are certain things that human beings cannot do--at least not at this stage of human development--such as long jumping 75 feet, and that people cannot just "do anything they put their mind to." There will always be things that people cannot do--and things that humanity as a whole does not know, and perhaps cannot know, at any given time. But there is nothing which, by definition and in principle, it is impossible for humanity to learn. And the immediate point being stressed here is that all these various spheres of knowledge, and activity, from which the masses of people are largely locked out in capitalist society--such as the sciences and philosophy, as well as economics and politics, and so on--are things which they are fully capable of mastering, but at this stage of history--and throughout the socialist transition to communism--they will need leadership in doing this.

On the other side of it, leading also means learning. We have to learn very deeply from the experience of the masses--both their broad life experience and also the experience that they do have in carrying out political work--and we have to get together with them and, through a process of unity-struggle- unity, sum up more deeply what they're learning and draw the deepest lessons from it. And that's one key aspect of what we call the mass line. It means, as Mao said, enabling the masses to take up and master every movement that we launch. But even more fundamentally it means drawing our policies and programs from the ideas and experiences of the masses, but then applying the dialectical and materialist outlook and method--applying the science of revolution to that, to concentrate what's correct in the masses' understanding and to distill out and concentrate the lines and policies that then you take back to the masses and they can take up themselves and we can unite with them to carry out in any of these particular spheres, whether it is the struggle against police brutality or the struggle against this imperialist juggernaut of war and repression or any other arenas of struggle--the anti-globalization movement or whatever. And this is a continuous, ongoing process, where you are both learning from but also leading people, because at this stage, given the inequalities that exist and the uneven experience of people that results from that, people need leadership. But they need leadership that doesn't just command them, "go do this"--or doesn't just send them out on their own and say, "you can do anything you want, go ahead"-- but actually works with them, learns from them, but also leads them and moves step by step toward overcoming these inequalities.

CD: Yes, this seems to relate to something that you raised actually back towards the beginning of the interview--about the need, in terms of mobilizing people, not to pitch things to the lowest common denominator of where people are at. And I guess it also ties in to something that you said a while ago, not just in this discussion, I forget exactly where you said it, but you talked about the need to draw correct dividing lines that allow us to bring to the right side of things as many forces as possible in society while also working to advance the entire movement as far as we could without breaking the unity of things. I think that also flows from the mass line that you have been talking about and the overall approach that you've been laying out here.

BA: Yeah, I mean, all these things that we are talking about are difficult to do in practice, because you are dealing with a lot of sharp contradictions...

CD: Yeah, I know that...[both laughing]...

BA: And you are dealing with the pulls of the system and its whole outlook and all the pressure it puts on people in various ways--including, and this is true, including on people in the ranks of the revolution and in the ranks of the vanguard. The vanguard is not some perfect organization that's hermetically sealed off from the rest of society. If it were, how could it do anything, and how could it really be a vanguard? How could it practice the mass line, how could it interact with the masses and learn from them and also lead them? All these influences exist even within the party, the ranks of the party and the leadership of the party, as well as more broadly in society. But the point that this underlines is that you can do a lot of things without the communist world outlook and method and without the line that corresponds to that, but to deal with the monumental challenge and the complexity of actually making a revolution you cannot do without that.

All these pulls and contradictions you have to deal with and the complexity of and the difficulty of figuring things out really requires fundamentally the systematic application of that line and the collective wrangling on how to apply it in order to continue advancing through all the twists and turns that come up. I mean every particular struggle has tremendous twists and turns (and I'm sure you could talk about that), in many different arenas--whether it's fighting against this imperialist juggernaut or the struggle against police brutality--every particular struggle and every particular phase of it has so many twists and turns, and if you don't have an outlook that's sweeping and broad yet grounded in reality and at the same time understanding the motion and change of reality, how can you see beyond all of this and how can you both learn from and lead people to move beyond and through these contradictions, not by sheer willpower but by actually confronting reality and finding the means and the forces to be able to transform it?

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