Revolutionary Worker #1174, November 10, 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.
This is the final excerpt. The complete text of the interview is available online at rwor.org. The transcript has been slightly edited for publication.
Part 1 of the audio of this interview--"The New Situation--The War on Terrorism" is now available on CD.*
* Audio CD of "The New Situation--The War on Terrorism" is available from: RCP Pub- lications, P.O. Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654 and Revolution Books, 9 West 19th Street, New York, NY 10011.
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.
CD: Well, we've talked about quite a bit here today. We've talked about the significance of some of the setbacks that our movement has faced internationally in terms of the overthrow of proletarian rule in the Soviet Union and China. We've also talked about what sustains us on the revolutionary road and some of the things that give us hope. And taking all of that into account, I want to ask you right now, what you would say about the state of the proletarian movement worldwide and its historic mission to wipe imperialism off the face of the earth and totally end exploitation and oppression? What would you say about where we're at in that at this point?
BA: I wrote something that was recently published in the Revolutionary Worker, taking off of a poem by Willam Butler Yeats, an Irish poet, with the line "a terrible beauty has been born/all is changed utterly."* And I think that the last century is not the century of the debacle and the horrors of the communist revolution, but in fact it is in a sense a terrible beauty that's been born. As I pointed out in what I wrote there, it's "terrible" in the sense that it's terrible to the bourgeoisie--literally. One of these bourgeois types commented about the Paris Commune, the first proletarian uprising which led to the proletariat seizing power and holding it for a couple of months in Paris and some other parts of France-- and particularly looking at the way this unleashed and emancipated women, unfortunately for all too brief a period--but looking at their revolutionary role in the commune, one of these bourgeois commented, "If France were a nation of women, what a terrible nation it would be." He meant "terrifying." And our revolution in the aspect of unleashing the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution, and in general in terms of uprooting oppression, is "terrifying" to the bourgeoisie and is "terrible" to them--that's real terror to them--but it is beauty, a beautiful thing, for the masses of people.
*William Butler Yeats wrote this in reference to the uprising of the Irish people against British domination during World War 1.
And what we managed to achieve, through the first successful proletarian revolutions, where the proletariat didn't just seize power for a brief time but actually consolidated it and held onto power for several decades and made major transformations--not only in the economy but in the political institutions, the social relations, the culture, the thinking of the people--this was truly a beautiful thing. But it was also terrible in that, as I have pointed out, it was flawed--limited in the sense that it hadn't thoroughly overcome all the remaining inequalities in society and even remnants of oppressive and exploitative relations that had just begun to be dug up through these first few decades of these new socialist societies. It was terrible in the sense that it still had these remnants, these vestiges of these old exploitative, oppressive relations which it was moving to uproot but hadn't fully uprooted. And this laid the basis and the possibilities we discussed earlier for these revolutions to be reversed and even for forces within the vanguard of these revolutions to seize power away from the proletariat and, instead of leading the proletariat forward toward communism, drag them back to the old ways, to the old world, to the old society--to capitalism, in short.
So this has been the contradictory experience. And, as I have said earlier, if you look at China and the Soviet Union [and] you ask the question--"for the masses of people, for the great majority of the people in those societies, the Soviet Union and certainly China, were they better off or worse off when those were socialist countries than they were before, or have become since?"--there's no question that, by any objective measure, not only in terms of their basic necessities of life but in terms of their political participation in society, in terms of the transformation and uprooting of oppressive social relations, in terms of their understanding of the world and their ability to change it, they were infinitely better off.
Now, that didn't mean that there weren't shortcomings, problems, even some serious errors made, in the course of those revolutions and by the leadership of them, but there's no question that they were better off than they were before or than they have been since, in terms of moving to uproot relations of exploitation and oppression and beginning to create a whole new world. So that's the reality of what's gone on. But the reality is also that those revolutions have been turned back, partly as a result of the errors that we've made (speaking collectively of our class and its leadership over this whole period) but largely because, looking at these beginning efforts, as we've talked about, these new socialist societies come into being first of all marked by the inequalities and vestiges of the old oppressive and exploiting society, but also emerging into a world still dominated by imperialism, with all the effects that's had on the economy, in terms of military threat on these societies, and other ways in which they've been deformed by having to emerge into and deal with a world of this kind and with these relations not fully uprooted. I think that there's a tremendous amount to learn from and build on, and at the same time we must dig even more deeply than we have.
We've already been spending a lot of effort summing up this experience and trying to learn from the mistakes and the setbacks as well as the great advances and whole new breakthroughs in terms of bringing a new world and people with entirely different relations and ways of understanding the world into being. There's much more work to be done though, not just by our party but by the whole international revolutionary movement, to dig more deeply into and understand more fully these contradictions that socialist society has to deal with and what have been the strong points--what have been the things to build on that we've done in the face of that--and what we have to really learn from negatively and not repeat and learn how to do better. But, stepping back even further historically, we're really just at the beginning stages of this.
It was only in 1917 that the first successful proletarian revolution--other than the Paris Commune which, as I said, was crushed very quickly, in two months--the first proletarian revolution was the Soviet Union, beginning in 1917 and then China came along in 1949, so we really haven't had a lot of historical experience. I mean the bourgeois class emerged on the scene several hundred years before it consolidated its system and its rule over society in a few countries, mainly centered in Europe. There were a lot of twists and turns in that. And we're setting out to do something that's radically beyond anything the bourgeoisie or any other exploiting class sought to do--which is to completely transform society in such a way that all social inequalities and all relations of oppression and exploitation are uprooted and in which, as I said, the people come together as a freely associating people throughout the world--with all their diversity and all the different forms in which they interact, they come together as a freely associating community of people and, as Mao put it, they consciously and voluntarily transform the world as well as themselves and continually learn more about the world and how to transform it and go forward in that kind of way.
That's a whole radically different thing than has ever been attempted before, and the fact that we only got so far in the first two major attempts at that and then were reversed is not really surprising at all and shouldn't be a cause for being discouraged. Rather, we should recognize and study deeply the errors but we should also recognize the tremendous breakthroughs that were made and the advances that were made in such a short period, and that we're really at the beginning of this whole process. And if we step back with historical sweep, we can see that the underlying forces...of this whole system--the capitalist system that is still dominant in the world--will continue to call forth the need for this revolution, and will continually pose that more and more sharply...I mean look at the world today. There's so much wealth produced off the backs of the people all over the world...and yet half the people in the world are struggling to survive on two dollars a day or less. Forty thousand children are dying every day of malnutrition and preventable diseases in the Third World. What a glaring, profound, howling contradiction! And the means is there to resolve that. The means is proletarian revolution to take control of the economy, and of the political structures, out of the hands of this small class of exploiters, these capitalists and imperialists, and bring it into being the common property of the masses of people, and then eventually move on to where all social distinctions between administrators and followers, between intellectual workers and manual workers, and all the rest is finally eliminated.
But until we get to that point, and even with the setbacks we've suffered, these howling contradictions that I'm talking about continually call forth the need for this revolutionary transformation and are also going to call forth the forces who can carry out this revolution, because capitalism can't exist without exploiting people, and now it's spread that out over the whole globe so...even though we have to make revolution country by country, the basis has been strengthened to have an even more powerful unity of the proletariat internationally and of the revolutionary struggle in different countries. So the setbacks don't eliminate the need for this revolution and don't change the fact that out of the very workings of the capitalist system more and more people will be brought forward who will in fact finally carry out this revolution.
All Empires Eventually Fall --
The Challenge Is To Bring Something Radically New Into Being
CD: In light of what you've just been talking about, you're looking at this moment we're in right now and you've got these puffed-up representatives of the imperialists, like running out their perverse blathering about what they're gonna to do to people in this part of the world, what they're gonna do to this country, who they've got lined up next, and you get quite a bit of arrogance from them, and they're talking as if this is the way it is, now and forevermore. And it has me thinking about the Roman emperors, who were probably running out some of the same stuff. They didn't have the technology to spread it out in the same kind of way. I'm sure they were running out some of the same kind of arrogant "our empire is gonna last forever"--and we saw what happened to them. I think this question of empires declaring their permanence, and that the oppression and exploitation they bring down on the people is something that the people just gotta get used to and take, because that's the way it's gonna be, is something that we need to understand for what it actually comes down to--that these empires come into existence, they do rule and dominate for a while, but they also go out. And I wonder if you have any thoughts in reference to that?
BA: Yes, I think that's an important point you're raising. I wrote something at the time of the millennium, in 2000, which spoke a lot to this point and made the essential point that, yes, every great empire has risen to its highest and proclaimed its permanence, and then fallen down to ashes--and been replaced by other empires. In fact, this is the history of Rome, or whatever. The question I posed there is how do we break out of that particular cycle? We're now at the stage of history where we have the basis to break out of that, so that we don't just have the replacement of one oppressive dominating empire by another. But all these oppressive rulers can be brought down, and in fact they can be replaced by the rule of the masses of people, the proletariat...and eventually a communist world where there is no rule of one part of society by another and there's a freely associating community of people.
So, the question really is--as I posed it in that millennium statement and as it poses itself sharply in the real world for us in a continuing way--what's going to replace these empires? Because they aren't permanent, and history proves that. And the U.S. empire, U.S. imperialism, is not going to be an exception to that, nor are any of the other imperialisms contending with the U.S. at this point. The question is what will replace them? That has to do with the question: by what means and by whom are they brought down? If they're brought down by losing out to other rising empires or imperialist powers, then we're going to have a perpetuation of the same thing going on. But we're at the era of human history where that doesn't have to be, and where instead they can be brought down by the revolutionary struggle of the masses of people and replaced by a liberating revolutionary society and ultimately by a communist world.
But that takes a conscious role. Here we get back to the point about the vanguard. That takes a conscious role of a revolutionary leadership basing itself on a communist world outlook and method and a communist line, on MLM as it's been developed to today. So that's the crucial question--how to bring that forward and make that something that's taken up by the masses of people and comes forward as a tremendously powerful material force of the revolutionary struggle of the masses. That's the thing that has to bring down all these empires.
In history, when you look at Rome for example, at a certain point the Roman empire and the Persian empire were fighting each other and both weakening each other, and all of sudden "out of nowhere" came the Islamic empire. Well, that was in the past, that was in history... Now we have the U.S. as the sole superpower in the world. We don't need them, and we also don't need a new empire, certainly not an Islamic empire nor a Christian empire to replace it. We don't need empires at all. What we need instead is the revolutionary struggle of the masses of people and the liberating society, the socialist society, brought into being through their revolutionary struggle, and then the advance worldwide to communism. That's the only way that we're going to end this cycle that's gone on for thousands of years-- where one empire rises to its peak, and then falls into decay, or in some ways is superseded and defeated and surpassed and replaced by another empire, and the people are always left in the same condition, being exploited and oppressed and brutally repressed and degraded by the operation of the system and the powers that rule it. Even if the forms of that slightly change, the basics of it and the essence of it remain the same.
But the point we've been stressing is that now we're at the period of history where that no longer has to be. Because now there's the basis--in terms of not only the technology that's been developed but also the proletariat that's come forward as the backbone and the core of producing everything in society and the world, together with other exploited working people--there's a basis for the needs of the masses of people to be met throughout the world but for that to be done and organized on a basis that involves the conscious and voluntary activity of the people themselves and enables them to increasingly conquer new spheres of society and to engage and grapple with existence much more broadly. This is the whole vista that's opened up before us. We're at the stage now where there's a basis to break out of this vicious cycle and actually bring into being something radically new.
That's what has to happen. That's the leap that has to be made. But for that leap to be made, it requires the work of people who understand this historical process--understand the driving forces of it, and see the possibilities of it--and have taken up the scientific viewpoint and method of communism, of MLM, and on that basis can rally, can bring forward the forces who do hold the potential power and basis to actually bring this into being and can lead them in doing so. So that's the challenge that we face at this point in history.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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