Part 13: How Do You Stay on the Revolutionary Road?

Bob Avakian Speaks Out, Interviewed by Carl Dix

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

Revolutionary Worker #1171, October 20, 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, well since we're here and I'm doing this interview with you, I should take the opportunity to pose to you something that gets posed to me quite a bit, both from some of the youth who are coming forward but also from some people who've been around awhile--maybe some people who had been around, dropped off, regained some interest.... And one question people always raise to me a lot is: "How do you stay on the revolutionary road? How do you sustain on this?" And they're not raising it to me to speak for the organization, although, you know, what keeps me as an individual on the revolutionary road is definitely related to the organization that I've been a part of, for decades and all like that, but they're also raising a question that has a personal aspect to it. So I just wanted to take the opportunity to pose that to you and see what your thoughts would be in relation to it.

Bob Avakian:

I think the most important thing is actually what we've been hammering at a lot here--which is the question of our ideology. When you're in American society, or if you've grown up in American society, you're always bombarded with a sort of anti-theoretical bent--American pragmatism--whatever works is all you need to worry about, whatever works is true, whatever gets you ahead is as good as the truth if not the truth, and so on and so forth. So especially in a society like this, it's a real uphill battle to actually keep grounded in our Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology, you know what I mean? Because of anti-theoretical notions that are constantly promoted anyway, and also because obviously our ideology of MLM goes completely up against and is a rupture with everything that is promoted and pumped out continually. I think that's the most fundamental thing.

I know back in the '60s people used to say to me, "You're very ideological," but they meant that in a negative way, you know--like, it isn't that they could say that I wasn't actively involved at that time, because I was, but they would say..."you're very ideological." And you could have substituted " too ideological" for " very ideological." But I know my experience, and experience generally, has shown that having a really deep ideological grounding and continuing to deepen that grounding is crucial to being able to understand what's actually happening and all the twists and turns. I notice right now that the Bush administration is trying to break out of the ABM Treaty, (you know, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty) but ideologically they like to promote ABM--Anything But Materialism.

They get people into all kinds of idealist notions--I tried to touch on one of them earlier--"you can do anything you want if you try hard enough," or "one truth is as good as another truth," or "my experience is just as valid as your experience," meaning there's no way to unify those experiences in order to get an actual understanding of the truth underlying them, and so on and so forth. This is pumped at people all the time. Or "the problem in society is people are greedy," or "the problem is human nature," or "the problem is that you have bad leaders," or "the problem is that leaders automatically turn bad." All these things which are divorced from the underlying material reality. The actual foundations and contradictions that underlie society and give rise to the dynamic forces in society are ignored or glossed over, and all these superficial expressions or incorrect notions are promoted-- anything but materialism to understand what are the actual motive forces in both what happens in society and also how people think. Like Mao said, "Where do correct ideas come from?" Do they fall out of the sky or do they come from social experience?

And where do incorrect ideas come from? You know, they come from society too. People's ideas are a product of their social experiences and also what's promoted, at every turn, in the educational system, the churches, whatever. "We can't make revolution because people are all evil, by nature, and only by taking up religion can they curb their evil nature." Or "we can't make revolution because, after all, the fate of everything is in god's hands." Which raises the question: "If the fate of everything is in god's hands, why don't you just go to bed and do nothing?" But actually people can't do that, and don't do that, but they still--these notions get raised all the time-- what we call idealist notions, the sense that what really is the foundation of things is not the actual material reality, the underlying social conditions, but what goes on in people's heads or what goes on in the minds of great people (or great men) or whatever. All these kinds of things are promoted. The struggle not only to grasp initially, but to continually deepen your grasp of the materialist and dialectical world outlook and of MLM as a whole and to continue applying that to all the complexity of reality, and all the different spheres, and to all the changes that have gone on in the world in terms of the political struggle and the advance and then the setback of the revolution...the key all that is actually taking up and applying MLM.

But, of course, it's not a matter of just doing that off on your own somewhere. If you just try to do that on your own, you're going to become isolated and your understanding of the world is going to become restricted and eventually turn from being more or less correct to being incorrect. It's only by being part of the ongoing process of changing the world and understanding it more deeply in that context, and doing that as part of a collectivity of people--in particular, in the case of the U.S., part of our Party--which systematically sets out to apply that ideology and line and to learn from it...only in that context are you going to be able to keep yourself grounded and not be totally thrown off by very real twists and turns and sudden eruptions and changes in the course of history and of world events. So, I'd say that's the most fundamental thing, most essential thing...There are a lot of other things that go into it.


OK, well just in response to what you've said so far, I mean this view that people used to raise about you're " very ideological" it sounded like they were saying you're " too ideological." I know for myself I'm glad that you're as ideological as you are...[BA laughs]...And as a personal aspect to that too, I might raise something here which you don't remember but it's something that I remember. I have never forgotten it and probably will never forget--and that is because in general you've helped me quite a bit with the firmness and forcefulness of your stand on these burning questions, and there was one time in particular where I'm really glad that I had a chance to get into some things with you, and that was back in the '70s around some of the questions that were up in the revolutionary movement then about what direction to take in terms of the struggle against national oppression. And I was in the Black Workers Congress back then. This was before the Party was formed.


Yeah, I remember this very well, by the way, but go ahead.


OK [laughs]. And we in the Black Workers Congress were taking the wrong stand on some of these questions, in fact, related to some of the stuff that we've been talking about before this. We were raising that leadership in the revolutionary movement and in the revolutionary party should be based upon one's nationality and not one's line, and different things like that.

And I remember just one night while the struggle was brewing, I was in New York City and needed to find somewhere to stay and only knew some comrades in the RU up there so I gave them a call and they said "sure...." They hesitated but then they said, "Sure, come on over" and it turned out to be somewhere that you were [BA laughs], and instead of sleeping that night which was what my plan was [BA laughs again], we ended up staying up all night and talking about some of the questions that were up. And we started out coming from hostile positions but struggling them out and struggling.... I know I was putting out the best of my understanding and it seemed like you were too, but at the same time we seemed to both be listening to each other, and through the course of that, you actually addressed what I was saying and showed me where, while I was looking at this in terms of "here's how to advance the struggle to liberate Black people and liberate all oppressed people"--you were actually showing me that if my goal was what I said it was, then the political positions that I was advancing were off target. And it took you hours to do it, `cause we did end up being up about all night [both laugh], as I recall.


Yeah, I do remember this very well.


But, you actually made quite a bit of headway and won me away from some wrong views that I was taking at that point. So just on this point of you being too ideological, I say those people were way off base with that and that the firmness and the forcefulness of your stand on that particular question and many other crucial questions for the revolutionary movement have been very important for the proletariat in this country and around the world.


I think that's a good example--the exchange you're talking about is a good example of how our methods of work should be and how people ought to approach things. As I said earlier, when you say you're a vanguard it doesn't mean that you're proclaiming that you're better than everybody else or that everybody has to just fall in line behind you unquestioningly. It means you're taking up a certain responsibility, and part of the responsibility is to recognize that at any given time there are certain things, certain principles you have to stand on and fight for, but at the same time you have to be open to learning from other people and from experience generally. And that's one of the most difficult things to handle--is how to stand on principle but also be open to considering the fact that you might be wrong about something, even something you hold to be a really crucial matter of principle. Because, on the one hand, you can just kind of waffle all over the place and not stand firmly for anything, you know, or on the other hand you can be rigid and dogmatic and not be willing, not be open to learning and not be willing to recognize where you might be wrong. And life is just much more complex than that, and the world, the universe is just much more complex and ever-changing. We're never going to be able to really engage it and continue learning and deepening our ability to change things if we have a kind of rigid stand--or if, on the other hand, we just don't stand on anything. So that's the tricky thing.

One of the things that's mentioned for example in the Declaration of the RIM (the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement), which we've also spoken to, is the need to correctly handle the relationship between standing firmly on and applying principle as you can understand it at a given point but creatively applying it and not dogmatically applying it. And what goes along with creatively applying means being willing and open to learning, being willing to reconsider questions, even ones you thought had been settled for a long time, if reality throws forward new challenges which cause you to see that maybe some things you held as dear, as bedrock principles, maybe are not 100% the way you thought they were. This happens in every sphere of knowledge and endeavor, because human knowledge never ends--it keeps developing-- and the process of changing the world is constantly encountering new challenges. So I think that methodology of standing on what you think and struggling for it but being open is actually in accord--it's not just a way to be diplomatic--it's actually in accord with our world outlook and methodology. It's actually in accord with materialism and with dialectics, which tells us there is objective reality but it's constantly changing and that it's possible to know things but you don't know all of them at any given time, and you'll never know all of them at any given time. So, I think that's an important methodological point too.


Yeah, and it actually seems to me that being a part of a vanguard--because in the correct sense this Party is the vanguard of the proletariat in this country--being a part of this vanguard has been an important part of personally what has sustained me on the revolutionary path because this is a party that has the ability--it doesn't give up on principle but it also can meet new challenges and figure out how to deal with things that you can't have, you didn't have in the play book already in a certain sense [BA laughs]. This was a new one coming at you and you have to figure out, "All right, well what does this mean? How do... Let's investigate the reality... Let's come to understand it and figure out how we as revolutionaries need to approach it."

And that's been an important part of what's sustained me, because when people ask me this question of "Well, how did you stay on the revolutionary road?" I often have the feeling that they're raising, "What was special about you that kept you going when all these other people fell along the wayside?" And I've never felt special in that kind of sense--that there was some way that I was better than all of the other people who came forward back when my generation rocked this system back on its heels with revolutionary struggle. It did seem as if what we got involved in to deal with back then, in terms of the oppression and exploitation of people in this country and around the world, things like the Vietnam War--that was a big motivating factor for us--that those things stayed in effect. And since they were still in effect, we had to continue the struggle to deal with them and all... And then the other part to that was that I was able to hook up with and become part of a revolutionary organization and the Revolutionary Communist Party that had an understanding of how we could lead the masses in going up against and ultimately defeating imperialism here in the belly of the beast.

So connected to the fact that what we were trying to deal with and wipe out was still out there and in effect--but also the vision of how that could be done, a way in which we could in fact triumph in that struggle--and it was that combination that was really the key, I think, for me staying on the revolutionary road--that thing of seeing the oppression and the exploitation, knowing that it needed to be dealt with but also being a part of a vanguard that had a vision, a plan, a strategy and the leadership for taking that on and ultimately triumphing. And that's the thing, you know, that's kept me going on this path.


Yeah, well I think this last point you're bringing up about being part of a vanguard is very important, because besides all of the basic points we talked about in terms of ideology and the revolutionary program, it is also a fact that it is through the Party that people who are within the Party but working in one particular sphere, or people who are in a leadership position in particular, actually continuously get refreshed with a living sense of what's going on among the masses of people and how the oppression is coming down on them and the horrors they're going through and their desire for change, even if they can't spontaneously on their own formulate it into a revolutionary line or program or understanding. These things come back to us through the channels of the Party.

I know, even in the situation that I've been in, this has been a constant source of revitalizing me and deepening my own dedication as well as understanding. But you get a living sense from all the work of the Party--and through the newspaper is one key way, but also through the reports that come through the internal channels of the Party--you get a real living sense of different sections of the masses and how this is affecting them and the fact that they need and are crying out in various ways for radical change. Again, even if they don't understand on their own the need for revolutionary change in the way the Party understands it, but the fact that their lives cry out and their conditions cry out and their struggles are brought forth to deal with this oppression--that's a very important factor in keeping you going too, because you get a living sense--you get a living sense, in other words, of the mass line. You get a living sense of what it means when we take the lines we developed, the policies, the program out to the masses of people and also what we get back from the masses of people, not just directly in response to that but in terms of their overall life conditions and their views on things and the ways in which they are spontaneously struggling, and so on.

And we can add to that the whole dimension of the RIM--the international movement and the fact that through the RIM we get a living sense of that as well, even if it's more indirect than the direct channels of our Party....We still get a living sense of what this means for masses, millions and millions and millions of people, hundreds of millions, throughout the world-- even on all continents throughout the world--and how their conditions also cry out and demand a radical transformation of society and the world. I think this is a big part too. If you aren't part of a party, if you aren't part of a vanguard--and in addition to that, there being the whole international dimension--if it weren't for those things, I don't think we could have such a living sense...our ideological line and our grasp of it and our sense of the vitality of that wouldn't be nearly as great either.

The New Generation of Revolutionaries


You know in talking about things that keep you on the revolutionary path, I know as somebody who looks at it from my perspective--and I guess that it's a perspective we share in having been involved in this for decades--one thing that really gives me a lot of heart is seeing this new generation coming forward, and taking on the things that this system is doing to people here and around the world, taking up some really big questions--and even the level of youth who are coming forward working with our Party, running with the RCYB, joining the ranks of the revolution, I know that's something that really heartens me.


Yeah, definitely, and it's the whole energy and vibrancy, but also the conquering spirit that a lot of the youth have that's very infectious. That's something you have to have in order to be a revolutionary. And I think that, as we've talked about before, the synthesis--the combining of the strengths of people with experience and of the youth--is a really important thing for the revolution. The role of these youth is a real inspiration to us. I don't think that it means we're going to be able to retire, though [laughing]--nor to be serious do we actually want to, because this is something that you give your life to, and gladly so--but it really is a question of learning from this new generation coming forward, from the ways in which they take up some of the same questions we've been wrestling with, some of the new angles and perspectives they have on it, at the same time combining that with some of the experience that has been gained over decades, and also of course the international experience of our movement. This can become a very powerful force I think--this is something that definitely keeps you going. It not only keeps you going but it inspires you to reach for new heights yourself, and to apply yourself even harder to doing your part for the whole cause.

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