Revolution #160, March 29, 2009
Revolutionary Strategy, Bringing Forward a Revolutionary People
Editors’ Note: The following is an excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, “Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future,” to a group of Party members in the first part of 2008. This has been edited and footnotes added for publication here.
Bringing forward a revolutionary people: This, too, is not a matter of falling into idealism or voluntarism, thinking and acting as if we can “conjure up” a revolutionary people out of the mere will to do so, or through some kind of linear approach of simply agitating among people about the need for them to become revolutionaries —we certainly should be doing that, and a lot more of that, but not in a linear sense, not as part of a linear approach. Rather, it is a matter of really being a revolutionary, and communist, vanguard ourselves—and acting as such—and that means carrying out the overall ensemble of “Enriched What Is To Be Doneism” (a point to which I will also return later).
The UFuLP strategy
First, some brief observations concerning the strategic orientation of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat (or UFuLP). With regard to this strategy of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat, it is important to discuss this in relation to—and to recognize that, in certain important aspects, this involves a contradictory relation with—the identification of key driving forces for making revolution, that is, for getting over the first great hump of the seizure of power. Here again the question of reification—or not falling into reification—enters in, in a very important way. What became the model in the international movement—not only in the Second International of socialist (and some genuine communist) parties leading into World War 1,1 but to a significant degree after Lenin, in the communist movement under Stalin’s leadership, particularly from the late 1920s on—was the notion that you build up a mass movement, largely in fact a trade union movement of the working class, and then somehow under the right conditions that will go over to a general strike (or, in its best expression, into an insurrection). But this is not how proletarian revolution is going to be made: It is not historically how such a revolution has been made, and it is not how it can be made in the world as it is today.
“Palpable results”: economism, reformism and revisionism
Here it is relevant to speak once again, briefly, to the whole fundamentally erroneous orientation of aiming for “palpable results.” Perhaps many people don’t understand what that means: It means not just trying to wrest reforms out of the system, but focusing the struggle on that. The point is not that it’s wrong to struggle for certain reforms and to actually try to win such struggles, but it is completely wrong to make that the strategic approach—or, as Lenin put it, “the most widely applicable means”—for building a revolutionary movement (or of moving towards socialism, whether that is conceived of in revolutionary terms or not). As you know, Lenin wrote What Is To Be Done? to refute that whole approach, which he very correctly criticized as economist and revisionist—a betrayal of revolution on the part of so-called communists. But then, after Lenin, in the communist movement this whole other idea—of gradualism and of integrating yourself into the daily struggles of the working class and becoming the best fighter for those struggles, and on that basis supposedly winning the allegiance of the masses to your larger program—increasingly took hold.
This brings me back to the important strategic point I referred to earlier: the historical separation of the communist movement from the labor movement. If you go back to Germany in the early 1930s, for example—we don’t have time to go into this now in any kind of depth, but it does involve an interesting and significant point—it seems from reading the history of the communist movement that 1934 was a major turning point in terms of not only the communist movement in general but also with regard to the Soviet Union in particular, and more specifically Stalin’s thinking. When Hitler came to power in 1933, there was a general orientation in the international communist movement (which Stalin led) about how they were going to build a united front, and at first this was in a more or less “left” form, associated with the line articulated by R. Palme Dutt, which posed the essential contradiction then as communism vs. barbarism: the conception was that fascism was the direction in which all of capitalism was headed, that this could only drag society down into barbarism, and the answer was to oppose this with communism, in sort of a “left” economist form.2 But when the communist movement in Germany was crushed by 1934, and the Communist Party there was thoroughly decimated, with large numbers of its members and followers killed and/or dragged off to concentration camps, then that led to certain definite changes in the prevailing thinking within the international communist movement, and what resulted was the adoption of the Dimitrov line of United Front Against Fascism3 and the whole approach of trying to unite with the “democratic section” of the bourgeoisie and the Western imperialists against German imperialism in the form of NAZIism. This represented a kind of “flip” from the “left” form of economism—which essentially treated the bourgeoisie as no longer capable of upholding the earlier achievements of bourgeois society, even in terms of development of the productive forces, and specifically of technology—to an openly rightist line that divided the bourgeoisie, and the imperialist states, into those which were fascist, and therefore were to be solely targeted as the enemy, and those who still upheld democracy and civilization against the onslaught of the fascists, and were therefore to be allied with.
Well, not to get too far afield, the thing I want to emphasize here is the impact on the international communist movement, and specifically on Stalin, when the German Communist Party was essentially wiped out in 1934. It is important to understand that we are talking about a truly massive communist organization and movement: the German Communist Party in this period (up through 1933) was heavily represented in the trade unions, it got millions of votes in the parliamentary elections—not as many as Hitler at the time when he was appointed Chancellor, but millions of votes. The German communists led truly mass movements. They even engaged in street fighting. But what they did not do was break out of a basically economist framework, even though they often gave this a militant expression. They never really grappled with the question of how to actually get to revolution, other than a notion of this happening more or less as an extension of militant trade unionism in effect—I’m oversimplifying here, but this does speak to the essence of it.
The separation of the communist movement from the labor movement:
the communist movement as a revolutionary movement
As the communist movement and the struggle for socialism went forward after that experience—and in particular as the focal point of that shifted to China and more generally toward the Third World—there was clearly a move away from communism being based in the trade unions and the labor movement. It’s not that communists no longer did any work within the trade unions and among the workers in those unions, but clearly what Mao brought forward—and specifically the strategy of protracted people’s war—represented a very different strategic orientation than one of pivoting work in the trade unions. Now, it is worth recalling that Mao’s development of the strategy of protracted people’s war in China was, in no small part, based on summing up some devastating experience where the communists were among the trade unions, and were organizing workers in industry in the large cities, and they got slaughtered by Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces in 1927. Again, we don’t have time now to go into all that history,4 but the essential point is that the development by Mao of the strategy of protracted people’s war represented a decisive breakthrough, a whole new approach, in how to make revolution in a country like China, and protracted people’s war involved a profound separation between the communist movement and the struggle for revolution, on the one hand, and the trade unions and the labor movement on the other hand, in terms of what was the focal point and pivot of revolutionary work. And this has generally been the case with regard to serious attempts at revolution in the Third World since that time.
But it’s not only in the Third World that this historical separation (the separation of the communist/revolutionary movement from the labor movement) has application and importance. Once again, it is not a matter of whether, particularly among the lower, deeper sections of the proletariat, it is important to be involved in trade union struggles and to build organization among workers in those arenas—while fundamentally approaching all this as part of building a revolutionary, and not an economist, movement. That is important. But the question is: How do you identify what the core and essence of the struggle is about, and how are you going to get to revolution?
In a certain way, this goes back to the metaphor about the multi-layered, multi-colored map.5 For example, think about the point Mao made in regard to how he initiated the People’s Army and first launched the uprisings that became the initiation of the people’s war: He recounted how he relied on what he called the “brave elements” (semi-lumpen elements) because they were more willing to fight and die. This was an application by Mao of the “multi-layered, multi-colored map,” if you will.
Forces for revolution,
forces for remaking society: unity and contradiction
Another way to get at the overall point here is that those people who may be the backbone of fighting for revolution, and in particular for the seizure of power, will not be, one-to-one, the same people who constitute the lower, deeper sections of the proletariat. There will be overlap, but the key fighting forces (to put it that way) won’t be identical with even the lower, deeper sections of the proletariat, as such, and also won’t be identical with the forces that have to be the backbone in terms of constructing a new socialist economy, once power has been seized and consolidated. Understanding this, both in its essence and in its complexity, is part of breaking with economism and with reification.
Now, Mao ran into all kinds of difficulties because of relying on those “brave elements” he spoke of, as well as the fact that, in the countryside, where the people’s war was centered, the main force relied on was the poor peasantry. Mao wrote many essays about the “roving rebel band” mentality and other erroneous tendencies which existed among poor peasants and among semi-lumpen elements and which had to be vigorously struggled against. There is a reason, besides just articulation of general principle, why the revolutionary army in China had formalized points of attention and points of discipline. The problems they were addressing were very real. When, in those points of attention and points of discipline, it said “don’t do ‘this’ and don’t do ‘that’”—well, the “this” and the “that” (such as taking things from the masses of people without paying for them) were what people in the revolutionary army were doing. So the leadership had to say, don’t do that—we’re aiming to do something much greater, we’re aiming to radically change the whole society, which can only be accomplished by relying on the masses of people and this stuff you’re doing works against and undermines that. Now, even more fundamentally than applying these rules and regulations (points of discipline and points of attention), they carried on ideological struggle in the ranks of the revolution; but, at the same time, they did need those rules and points of discipline.
And, if you are seriously grappling with all this, you can imagine how things will get posed, looking to the future. We have to understand that all this will involve a very complex mix of people, including youth in particular, coming from different sections of society and tending spontaneously toward different ways of seeing the world, but being united under the leadership of a communist vanguard to fight for revolution and being increasingly influenced and inspired by the communist outlook and the goal of a radically new society, in accordance with that outlook. Reification and economism will only lead us away from dealing with the profound and complex contradictions involved in actually building a revolutionary movement and, when the time is right, waging the fight for the revolutionary seizure of power.
In this regard, it is worth recalling an argument I had, which I described in my Memoir (From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist6). There were a bunch of us talking in somebody’s house in Oakland (I don’t remember exactly whose house it was), myself and David Hilliard, Bobby Seale, and Masai Hewitt (who was a leader in the LA Panthers). We were arguing back and forth about which was the decisive force for revolution: proletariat, lumpen-proletariat...proletariat, lumpen-proletariat. And finally Masai, who had some background in “classical Marxism,” provided his summation of the Panthers’ side of the argument by saying: “the ideology is proletarian, the force is the lumpen proletariat.” Well, that was wrong and eclectic, but it’s not as if there was nothing to Masai’s point. It is worth thinking about. As he articulated it, that position is too simple, too reductionist—revolution will be a much more complex and rich mix and process. The multi-colored and multi-textured map enters in here too. And if you’re really thinking about how to actually build a revolutionary movement, you have to be thinking about the mix of all these things, and specifically: where are the forces going to come from who are going to actually fight through this revolution, where are the forces going to come from who are going to be won to support for it, and so on and so forth, without getting mechanical about it and artificially drawing lines that exclude people—that’s not the point.
All this is very much involved with the question of how will a revolutionary people emerge, and the question of how a revolutionary situation can emerge.
As I alluded to earlier, there is also the question of the driving forces for revolution, when you are going for the seizure of power—and in the building of a revolutionary movement which in a fundamental and strategic sense is aiming toward that—and, on the other hand (and it is an “other hand,” to a significant degree), the forces for socialist transformation once you’ve achieved the seizure and consolidation of a new state power, a revolutionary state power: the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is identity and overlap, but there is also significant difference, between these forces. As I have pointed out before, when you are in socialist society and confronting the challenge of carrying forward socialist economic construction, and handling the relation between that and continuing the socialist transformation of society overall toward the goal of communism, if you don’t win the proletariat—and here I’m speaking specifically of those workers actually involved in production—if you haven’t won a significant section of them, and if you don’t continue to win over broader sections, but you issue grand calls like “let’s all produce for socialism and for the world revolution,” and they all say, “fuck you!”—well, you’re in big trouble! And you can’t just win such people over after you have seized power, although that does provide the basis and freedom to do so on a much greater scale. The point is, there has to be a “winning over” of significant sections of them as part of building the revolutionary movement.
But again, the proletariat, too, is a moving and changing thing. I alluded earlier to the fact that the proletariat under socialism is not the same as the proletariat under capitalism, and the proletariat in either case is not the same as a reified view of the proletariat. And, after all, people who are perhaps technically “semi-proletarians,” in the present society—people who are only rarely employed as proletarians and who are forced to take up other means of pursuing a livelihood—can become proletarians in socialist society—can be employed, and trained and unleashed to do productive work that they are now effectively blocked from doing by the workings of the capitalist system and the actions of the capitalist state. So, here again, it is a question of being able to handle reality which is complex and which is constantly moving and changing. It’s a little bit like electrons (and some other sub-atomic particles): they are there, but at the same time they are moving. This is also how it is with social forces that you are winning—and, yes, wielding to make a revolution. (I have heard that some people are raising objections to our use of words like “harvesting” and “wielding” in relation to winning over and organizing political contacts and social forces—it is said that talking and conceiving of things in this way [“harvesting” and “wielding”] is a manifestation of “instrumentalism” toward people. Well, I do not agree. I am sorry, but our Party is not a humanist debating society, and what we are involved in is not a parlor game. I don’t want to deny or denigrate the importance of not actually approaching people in an instrumentalist way, but we do have to organize and, yes, lead people—and, in the correct and necessary sense, wield forces—to really make a revolution; and when it gets down to it, material force has to be wielded to meet and defeat opposing material force, in order to make a revolution. This has to be done, yes, on the basis that people are consciously won to this, but then they have to be—let’s get right down on the ground, they have to be led to act in an organized and disciplined way, to make a revolution. They’re not going to make a revolution by going out and putting flowers on the weapons of the other side when it comes down to it, or by saying “Hey-y-y, ma-a-a-n, let’s have a different world, what do you say...” Well, we know what the enemy will say—and do—about this. You have to lead people, in an organized and disciplined way, to build a revolutionary movement and make a revolution. Yes, they have to be acting on a conscious and voluntary basis fundamentally. And, yes, we have to learn from people at the same time as leading them. But let’s be clear on what’s involved, and what our responsibilities are as a vanguard—or we won’t be capable of doing anything good in regard to the masses of people and their actual, fundamental interests.)
All this provides a further dimension to and shines a further light on the decisive importance of the rupture with economism, and revisionist determinism. At the same time, there is the fundamental importance, after all, of being firmly grounded in and consistently and systematically applying dialectical materialism, and not idealism and voluntarism. Revolution cannot be made without a revolutionary force of millions. But the question is: a revolutionary force of millions brought into being and developed on what basis and toward what end? There is great importance to the point we have stressed about the need to develop and forge a strong enough solid core that, particularly at the time when a revolutionary situation does ripen, it can withstand the “petit bourgeois wave” (the phenomenon of millions flooding into political life and even revolutionary struggle but doing so from the position of the petite bourgeoisie [or middle class], or in any case coming at things with the outlook corresponding to that class). It will be crucial then to have developed a force, powerful enough in numbers and fundamentally in its adherence to the communist viewpoint, that can be a strong enough cohering force to win millions and millions more masses to its side and its cause in the actual event, when the showdown comes and everything is on the line (even if that involves a more protracted struggle than had been previously conceived of—as spoken to in “On the Possibility of Revolution”).
Revolution cannot be made without a revolutionary force of millions, and that force is going to be drawn—not because of any apriorism or reification on our part, but because of a dialectical materialist understanding, we can understand that it is going to be drawn to a large degree—from people at the base of society, but not in some sort of classical, purist notion of the PROLETARIAT (in all capital letters), let alone according to some economist notion of “THE WORKING CLASS,” especially as that is identified essentially with THE LABOR MOVEMENT.
Once more on matters of strategic revolutionary orientation
At the same time, revolution, particularly communist revolution is not—and never can be—made against the petite bourgeoisie. That is neither the objective, nor is it a strategy that can succeed. We have to grasp firmly the indispensable requirement of a strategic realignment, in accordance with the UFuLP strategy and, in essential terms, how we achieve that. We have to understand, in this context and for this purpose, the importance of Lenin’s three conditions for an insurrection (or, more generally, the struggle for the seizure of power, especially in an imperialist country) and in particular the third of those three conditions, that is, the paralysis of the weak, half-hearted and vacillating friends of the revolution (this is summarized in “On the Possibility”) as well as the “parachute” point, and specifically the “closing up” of the parachute at the acute moment of revolutionary crisis—that is, the rallying of broad sections of the masses, of different strata, around the solid core of the communist revolution, led by the vanguard party.7 But it is also important to emphasize that what will be involved is the relative, not absolute, “closing up” of the parachute, since there will still be, at that point, contradiction and motion in contradictory directions.
At the same time, it is crucial to keep in mind that there will be the “opening out” of the parachute after the consolidation of the new, revolutionary state power. This is an objective phenomenon, and is not a matter of “what we allow.” Let’s remember Enver Hoxha’s simple-minded attack on Mao’s whole theoretical analysis about the bourgeoisie in the party—about how, particularly in socialist society, the most important forces representing the bourgeoisie are actually concentrated within the communist party itself, especially in its top ranks, and how the bourgeois elements (or people taking the capitalist road) within the party are continually, and often acutely, locked in struggle with those who are determined to carry forward the revolutionary struggle and the transition toward communism. Mao should not have allowed the bourgeoisie in the party, Hoxha declared. Hoxha was accusing Mao of liberalism; in effect, if not literally, Hoxha was insisting that Mao should have cut off more heads—he should simply have cut off the head of the bourgeoisie, according to Hoxha.8 This ignores—or makes a principle of being ignorant of—the material basis for why the bourgeoisie will be continually regenerated in socialist society, because of the very nature of socialism as a transition from capitalism to communism, and why bourgeois elements will not only arise within but will seek to establish headquarters within, and eventually to seize control of, the communist party, because the party is the leading and most decisive institution in socialist society.9
All this is not a matter of “what we allow.” It is a matter of what materialism and dialectics tells us will happen—and how we deal with that necessity, how we transform that toward our fundamental objectives of revolution, socialism and ultimately communism throughout the world.
But, to return to an important point bearing on the challenge of actually making revolution (and specifically getting over the first great hump of seizing power), we do have to think about the “closing up” of the parachute with the approach of, and then the ripening of, a revolutionary situation, because this is a key part of what will make a revolution possible. How do we work toward a situation, and be in a position to seize on a situation, where all these other programs (fundamentally representing class forces in society whose interests lie in seeking to find some adjustment within, and ultimately accommodation to, the existing system) do show their inadequacy in terms of dealing with the acute crisis, the desperate situation of huge numbers of people and their determination to seek radical change? How do we bring this alive, through agitation and propaganda, combined with the actual experience of the masses in testing out different lines and programs, over a period of time and especially in a situation of acute crisis? It is not a matter of simply saying, “We all know about the ‘closing up’ of the parachute, let’s be sure not to forget about the ‘opening out’ of the parachute later on, if the revolution succeeds and a new, socialist society is actually brought into being.” No, let’s not forget about the “closing up” either...or else there will be no “opening back out,” that is, there will be no revolution, no seizure of power by revolutionary forces, and we won’t even get the chance to deal with all the—in a real sense maddening, yet fundamentally exhilarating—complexities of leading a socialist society!
Now, to be clear, you not only have to continually think about and wrangle with how you’re going to make a revolution, but you also have to think scientifically about and approach scientifically the question of what happens after the seizure of power, and how you go about handling new contradictions that arise—or new expressions contradictions take—in that radically different situation. And included in this is the question of the “changing social and class composition” that occurs during the course of the socialist transformation. This goes back to the discussion earlier about individuals and classes and the correct orientation and approach to this, as opposed to a view of the proletariat (or other exploited classes such as the peasantry) as undifferentiated, static and unchanging, and reified—both in the present and in the future socialist society.
1 The Second International existed from 1889 to 1916. Despite the presence of some genuine communist parties in it, especially the Bolsheviks in Russia led by V.I. Lenin, the Second International was basically non-revolutionary. The great majority of the parties in the Second International had become accustomed to “peaceful times” and mired in parliamentarism and other forms of “working within the system.” They were totally unprepared for the radical change in the situation with the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914 and ended up openly capitulating to the bourgeoisie, precisely at a time when revolutionary opportunities were opening up in various countries. A concentrated example of this was the German Social-Democratic Party led by Karl Kautsky, which had a mass following of millions; when the war broke out, their representatives in the parliament voted to support “their” imperialist government against other imperialists despite having signed, just a few years earlier, the Basle Manifesto, which had vowed precisely NOT to support such a war and, indeed, to regard it as a crime and to use it “to rouse the people and hasten the downfall of capitalism.” In the course of leading the Bolshevik revolution and the socialist state it gave birth to, Lenin waged sharp struggle against, and broke decisively with, the revisionism of Kautsky and others in the Second International. See Lenin’s Collapse of the Second International (Collected Works, Vol. 21) for more on this. [back]
2 R. Palme Dutt’s line is articulated in his book Fascism and Social Revolution (San Francisco: Proletarian Publishers, 1974). [back]
3 Georgi Dimitrov was a leading figure in the Third (Communist) International, or the Comintern, which had been founded by Lenin in 1919, shortly after the victory of the Russian Revolution. In 1929, Dimitrov relocated from the Soviet Union to Germany to head up the Central European section of the Comintern. In February 1933, he was arrested in Berlin, along with 4 others, and accused of involvement in the setting of the Reichstag (parliament) building fire. Adolf Hitler, who had been sworn in as the German Chancellor (head of the government) and the Nazi Party used the fire as a justification to carry out mass arrests of members of the Communist Party of Germany and to consolidate their fascist hold on power. After 7 months in prison, Dimitrov and the others were put on trial. One of the accused was pronounced guilty and executed, while Dimitrov and others were deported to the Soviet Union.
Dimitrov presented the United Front Against Fascism line in speeches delivered at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935 (Georgi Dimitrov, United Front Against Fascism, New York: New Century, 1945). [back]
4 See Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions by Bob Avakian (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1979), in particular Chapter 2, “Revolutionary War and Military Line,” as well as Chapter 1, “Revolution in Colonial Countries,” which speak to Mao’s development of the theory and line of new-democratic revolution and protracted people’s war in China, and how this applies more broadly in Third World countries. This book is now out of print. For a brief summary of some of the main elements of the strategy of people’s war and its relevance to the Third World countries, see “On the Possibility of Revolution,” which is included in the Revolution pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, May 1, 2008, and is also available online at revcom.us/a/102/possibility-en.html. [back]
5 References to this metaphor of the “multi-layered, multi-colored map” are found in some recent works by Bob Avakian, including “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity,” Part 2, which is available at revcom.us and in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, aRevolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008. [back]
6 Bob Avakian, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, Insight Press, Chicago 2005. [back]
7 The “parachute” point is discussed at more length in “The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution” by Bob Avakian, available online at http://revcom.us/avakian/basis-goals-methods/. This work was serialized in Revolution, in issues #46-50 (May 14-June 11, 2006). [back]
8 Enver Hoxha was the head of the Party of Labor of Albania from the end of World War 2 to his death in 1985, during the period when that party was heading the government in Albania and declaring the country to be socialist. After Hoxha’s death, there was an unraveling of the Albanian government and the party he headed, and the country came to be ruled by forces openly abandoning even any pretense of “socialism.” [back]
9 See Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage—A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, (September 2008), available online at revcom.us or as a pamphlet by RCP Publications, 2009, and the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP Publications, 2008) for fuller discussion of the phenomenon of bourgeois forces—“capitalist roaders”—emerging within the communist party, especially in its top leadership, particularly in conditions where it is the leading force in socialist society, and of the basic nature of the revolutionary struggle against the attempts of the “capitalist roaders” to restore capitalism. [back]