Revolution #100, September 9, 2007
Editors' Note: The following are excerpts from an edited version of a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, to a group of Party supporters, in the fall of last year (2006). This is the 17th and concluding excerpt in a series of excerpts we have been running in Revolution. Subheads and footnotes have been added for publication here. The entire talk is available online at revcom.us/avakian/anotherway.
Confronting Daunting Problems
Now, in moving closer to a conclusion (see, I'm dangling that prospect out there!), I want to speak to something I have formulated previously (I believe it was the "Reaching/Flying"1 series that ran in our newspaper a few years ago), where I spoke about "two things we don't know how to do"—namely, meeting repression and actually winning when the time comes. Now the point of saying these are two things we don't know how to do is not to project some phony posture of humility: "We're very modest—there are some things we know how to do, in fact there are really important things we don't know how to do. Isn't that great?" No, it's very bad, it's a very real problem, that we don't know how to do these things. The point is to call attention to the fact that we'd better work on these things—in the appropriate way and not in inappropriate ways.
Dealing with Heightening Repression
So, let's talk briefly about this. Resisting the heightening repression—this is a gigantic challenge. I mean, let's do keep in mind that bourgeois democracy is after all bourgeois dictatorship where democracy is ultimately and fundamentally only for the ruling class and those who serve its interests and dictatorship is exercised over the rest; but it's not good what's happening right now, the way they're moving with that bourgeois dictatorship, the way they are markedly and openly stepping up the repression and undercutting the ground from which to oppose and resist it. It's not good for the people of the world. It's not good for the people in this country, and it's not good for the organized forces of political resistance, and not good for us as the vanguard of the necessary revolutionary movement. It's very bad. The fact that, on the orders of the President and his functionaries, anybody can be yanked out and put in a deep freeze, locked up with no rights, subjected to torture and perhaps never heard from again—that is not a good thing in any sense! This is posing itself very acutely and urgently now, and again you find the problem that foundational things are being undermined so that people are losing their sense of even what to stand on to fight some of these things—which is a significant part of the purpose of undermining these foundational things.
And then there is the dynamic of "that which" (as the Call of World Can't Wait emphasizes: "That which you do not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—or be forced—to accept"). If you don't fight something, you don't forge the means for fighting it—for resisting it and building massive political opposition—and you are much further behind in being able to fight not only that outrage but the ones which are coming behind it and for which it is preparing the ground. And a major part of the dynamic these days is this: What was yesterday's outrage becomes today's institutionalized and codified reality. This dynamic is very, very bad and poses very serious problems on many different levels—on the level of the mass movement and mass resistance, and on the level of organized political forces, and yes, definitely, on the level of vanguard leadership. For anybody with progressive sentiments, and certainly anybody with a revolutionary orientation, if this is not giving you nightmares, there is something very wrong.
So we (and by "we" I mean not just our Party but the broader movement and broader forces of opposition) have to come from way behind on this, and very urgently—in a very telescoped way and on different levels and in different dimensions at one and the same time: We have to develop resistance to the repression while learning how to not just survive the repression that will come anyway (and, in some aspects, may even be heightened in response to resistance) but also to forge the means for advancing politically and in an overall sense in the face of this heightening repression and in the face of the shifting ground.
In terms of our Party and in the most fundamental terms, it is going to take the highest level of application of our scientific world outlook and methodology to be able to rise to this challenge. We are way behind on this, and there are no easy answers to it. And the dialectical relations are very difficult to handle correctly, particularly the dialectical relation between taking risks politically and practically in order to get into a position to better deal with the repression, vs. what you lose, or might lose, by taking such risks. This is an extremely intense contradiction—a very acute and very, very daunting challenge. And this has to be fought through on the level of forging policies and approaches for the mass movement and for the vanguard in different dimensions.
When they are gutting habeas corpus and codifying torture, when they actually now have brought legal charges of treason against someone—I am referring to someone who is an Islamic fundamentalist nutcase, but they're charging him with treason for making videotapes in support of Jihad against America—think of the implications of that. And they always do things like this, to the degree they can, with people they think will be—and in some cases may actually be—the least defensible, in order to scare everybody away and to turn everybody off from rising to oppose this. I hope everybody is taking note not just of the ongoing rantings of Ann Coulter and David Horowitz and that ilk about treason, but also of the comment by Gary Bauer who, after seeing the October 4th World Can't Wait ad in the New York Times, said: If that's not treason, I don't know what is.2 Well, if an ad like that, opposing torture and other crimes against humanity of the Bush regime—if that is denounced as treason, think about the implications of that. And Gary Bauer is not a minor figure. He might not be right in the inner core of the ruling class, at this time, but if so he's at most only a couple of rungs away.
We have to take all this very seriously. If we don't yet know how to deal with all this, we'd better make leap after leap in developing the ability to do so, with the necessary sense of urgency and through the dialectical back and forth between practice and theory in this regard. We must not allow a situation to unfold that will just foster further demoralization among the masses, especially basic masses, who are already inclined, in large numbers, to say: "I told you, you can't do anything. Anytime you try to do anything, they'll just come and wipe out the organizations and the leaders." I don't want to see that again. And I don't want to see people have to conclude that you can't build mass resistance, let alone a revolutionary movement, because they'll just come and devastate this with repression. This is not just some subjective thing—"I don't want to see this"—this has to do with what we are all about, with the fundamental needs and highest interests of the masses of people and ultimately of humanity—as communists we cannot allow this to happen. And, to invoke again and give particular emphasis to that Dylan line: "Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
As has been seen in the history of the communist movement on an international level, in the experience of socialist states in relation to the overall worldwide revolutionary struggle, and in the experience in particular countries: repeatedly there have been situations where heightened possibilities and potential openings for advance, perhaps for great qualitative advance, often, or even generally, go hand in hand with greatly heightened dangers and the prospect of profound losses and setbacks. This is what the Soviet Union faced in the context of World War 2 and in relation to the question of advancing, or not, the international communist movement and the international revolutionary struggle. It's what China faced at the juncture where, in the late 1960s and early '70s, the Soviet Union was seriously threatening China with attack, perhaps even with nuclear weapons.
What can get posed at such critical junctures is not just greatly heightened dangers in some abstract or general sense, but the risk of losing everything, at least for a certain period of time. Being able to—or developing in the midst of intensifying contradictions the ability to—forge, and to continue forging in new circumstances, the means to handle these contradictions correctly, and well, is of decisive, strategic, and at times even world-historic importance. And, without overstating things, this is one of those times.
Approaching Revolution, and Winning, in a Serious Way
The other thing that I have said we don't know how to do is, when the time comes, be able to win. We don't know how to get over the first hump of seizing power through a mass revolutionary upsurge. To put it bluntly and somewhat crudely, to emphasize the reality people face: Those who rule the U.S.—and much of the world—are some powerful nasty motherfuckers who have an ideological solid core that doesn't give a fuck about killing millions of people, is firmly convinced that it represents everything good in the world and that any opposition to it, especially of any essential or fundamental nature, represents a concentration of evil in the world and needs to be stamped out. We should reflect on that very seriously.
Recently, Rumsfeld and others in and around the Bush regime have been making an analogy which, in immediate terms, they are applying to Islamic fundamentalists. They speak of how, a century ago, at the beginning of the 20th century, this guy Lenin wrote this pamphlet What Is To Be Done? ; and, they say, "If we had known everything this would lead to, through the course of that century, wouldn't we have moved to stamp that out right then and there?" Well, on the surface—and in the main aspect now—they are making an analogy to Islamic fundamentalists today (bin Laden and others), but they are also making a general point. And if we don't listen and take heed of the broader point they are making, well… Bush couldn't get that saying right, but we can render it a little differently: If they tell you once, and if you don't listen, shame on you. And if they tell you a bunch of times and you still don't listen, then you have no right to be calling yourself a vanguard or anything like that. You have no right to step out before people and say, follow us.
We have to take up the question and approach the question of winning in a very serious and not in an infantile way, and not in a way which makes it even easier for this kind of concentrated power of reaction to crush any attempt to bring a new world into being. Not long ago a very important statement was published in Revolution newspaper, "Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—in Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution." This was both a matter of necessity—it was necessary to clear up some confusion that had been created—and a matter of seizing freedom out of this necessity to put forward before people a serious and scientific presentation of what this revolution is about and how in fundamental terms it has to be gone about.
This statement is worth reading here, in its entirety.
"Revolution is a very serious matter and must be approached in a serious and scientific way, and not through subjective and individualistic expressions of frustration, posturing and acts which run counter to the development of a mass revolutionary movement which is aimed at—and which must be characterized by means that are fundamentally consistent with and serve to bring into being—a radically different and far better world. Revolution, and in particular communist revolution, is and can only be the act of masses of people, organized and led to carry out increasingly conscious struggle to abolish, and advance humanity beyond, all systems and relations of exploitation and oppression.
"A bedrock, scientific understanding which must underlie the development of such a revolutionary movement is that [and here this statement quotes from the first of the Three Main Points that are run regularly in Revolution]:
"The whole system we now live under is based on exploitation—here and all over the world. It is completely worthless and no basic change for the better can come about until this system is overthrown.
"In a country like the U.S., the revolutionary overthrow of this system can only be achieved once there is a major, qualitative change in the nature of the objective situation, such that society as a whole is in the grip of a profound crisis, owing fundamentally to the nature and workings of the system itself, and along with that there is the emergence of a revolutionary people, numbering in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it. In this struggle for revolutionary change, the revolutionary people and those who lead them will be confronted by the violent repressive force of the machinery of the state which embodies and enforces the existing system of exploitation and oppression; and in order for the revolutionary struggle to succeed, it will need to meet and defeat that violent repressive force of the old, exploitative and oppressive order."
I am going to continue reading this statement, but people could very well benefit from studying this over many times to see how things are said and how they are not said, and the ways in which attention is paid to how fundamental principles are put forth while at the same time infantile posturing is avoided—and not only infantile posturing, but other ways in which the enemy can actually be aided, by stating things in a way that does not conform to what is actually intended and what will actually advance the struggle.
This statement goes on:
"Before the development of a revolutionary situation—and as the key to working toward the development of a revolutionary people, in a country like the U.S.—those who see the need for and wish to contribute to a revolution must focus their efforts on raising the political and ideological consciousness of masses of people and building massive political resistance to the main ways in which, at any given time, the exploitative and oppressive nature of this system is concentrated in the policies and actions of the ruling class and its institutions and agencies—striving through all this to enable growing numbers of people to grasp both the need and the possibility for revolution when the necessary conditions have been brought into being, as a result of the unfolding of the contradictions of the system itself as well as the political, and ideological, work of revolutionaries.
"In the absence of a revolutionary situation—and in opposition to the revolutionary orientation and revolutionary political and ideological work that is actually needed—the initiation of, or the advocacy of, isolated acts of violence, by individuals or small groups, divorced from masses of people and attempting to substitute for a revolutionary movement of masses of people, is very wrong and extremely harmful. Even—or especially—if this is done in the name of 'revolution,' it will work against, and in fact do serious damage to, the development of an actual revolutionary movement of masses of people, as well as to the building of political resistance against the outrages and injustices of this system even before there is a revolutionary situation. It will aid the extremely repressive forces of the existing system in their moves to isolate, attack and crush those, both revolutionary forces and broader forces of political opposition, who are working to build mass political resistance and to achieve significant, and even profound, social change through the politically-conscious activity and initiative of masses of people."
Again, I would seriously recommend that people study this over and over again to see how the contradictions were handled on all different kinds of levels.
Now, in previous talks I've spoken about two tracks in relation to winning, in relation to the seizure of power when there is the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people of millions. In light of what I've just read (which was the whole of "Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—in Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution"), and with that as a template, if you will, or a foundation—and from a strategic, not immediate, standpoint—we should understand the role and the dialectical relation of these two tracks. These are separate tracks, and only with a qualitative change in the situation (as spoken to in what I just read from "Some Crucial Points") can there be a merging of the two tracks. Until that point, they can only correctly be developed, and have to be developed, separately.
The first track, which is the main focus and content of things now, is political, ideological, and organizational work, guided by the strategic orientation of united front under the leadership of the proletariat, having in view and politically preparing for the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people on a mass scale. This is what it means to "hasten while awaiting" the development of a revolutionary situation.
The second track refers to and is in essence developing the theory and strategic orientation to be able to deal with the situation and be able to win when the two tracks can and should be merged—with a qualitative change in the objective political terrain, with the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people (as I have spoken to that here and as is set forth in a concentrated way in "Some Crucial Points"). What is appropriate now in this regard is attention to the realm of theory and strategic thinking and understanding, learning in a deep and all-sided way from experience of different kinds. There is a need to study all these different kinds of experience and for it to be synthesized from a correct strategic perspective—all in order to accumulate knowledge to deepen theoretical understanding and strategic conception.
If either one of these tracks is ignored or not correctly dealt with, then the possibility for revolution will be thrown away even if the objective conditions for revolution should come into being. And it will not just be "oops, the chance was missed." It will be a terrible debacle and disaster for not just the organized forces of revolution but for millions of people and a betrayal of what communists are supposed to be about and work toward and contribute to, in terms of the transformation of the whole world.
Nobody can guarantee anybody the emergence of a revolutionary situation, correctly understood, at any given time. We're not fortune tellers, and we're not sellers of some sort of bromide that cures all diseases—we're not religious hucksters, charlatans, and opportunists. And no one can guarantee that, even if you get the most favorable situation possible under a given set of circumstances, you are going to win. But if all this is not approached with all the seriousness that has been emphasized, if it is taken up irresponsibly and without a clear sense of what should and should not be done, and what is correct and appropriate and what is highly incorrect and inappropriate, then the name of communists is not deserved, the name of vanguard is a bitter irony at best.
* * * * *
The essential challenge that we face, not just in a general and historical sense, but very urgently—the question that is posed, not only in an overall strategic sense but also immediately and acutely—is one of being the vanguard of the future, or at best the residue of the past. And the dimensions and the stakes of this are constantly increasing.
This applies to our Party. It involves the question of being, in a sense, real, concentrated expressions of the emancipators of humanity and leaders of the emancipators of humanity. And the same challenge applies on the international level to the communist movement and in terms of the internationalist responsibilities of communists.
Are we going to go down as a residue of the past and another disappointment and in fact another arrow in the back of the masses of people? Or, without any guarantees of victory in any particular set of circumstances but with strategic objectives and a sweeping view in mind, are we going to rise to the challenge of being, together with our comrades throughout the world, the vanguard of the future?
1. Reaching for the Heights and Flying Without a Safety Net is a talk given by Bob Avakian in 2002. Excerpts from the talk appeared in Revolutionary Worker #1195-1210 (April 20-August 17, 2003) and are available online at revcom.us/avakian/avakian-works.html. [back]
2. For more on the treason indictment and Bauer's remark, see "The Federal Treason Indictment: Threatening Extreme Punishment for Public Speeches," Revolution #66 (Oct. 22, 2006), online at revcom.us. [back]