Revolution #162, April 19, 2009
RUMINATIONS AND WRANGLINGS
On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science,
Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning
TABLE OF CONTENTS...
More on Individuals and Social Relations...
Life With a Purpose: Different Experiences, Different Spontaneous Views, and Fundamentally Different World Outlooks...
"Human life is finite, but revolution is infinite"...
"And This Semblance Seduces the Democrats"...
Each Class Seeks to Remake the World In Its Image—But Only One Class Cannot Do This By Relying on Spontaneity...
Some points concerning the role of intellectuals and the revolutionary process...
Different interests of different class forces in the struggle against the oppression of Black people in the U.S....
The Decisive Importance of Leadership, Leadership Concentrated as Line...
Lines and social bases—a dialectical relation...
What is communist leadership?...
The Social Basis for Revolution...
What a revolution really is...and really is not...
Winning people to be communists, emancipators of humanity...
Relying on the masses, but not on spontaneity, even in socialist society...
Fundamental errors of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist): wrong conception of the problems, wrong "solutions"...
Communism as a Science—Not a "Scientific Ideology"...
Some observations on what science is and some essential aspects of the scientific method...
Once again on objective truth, relative truth, and the fundamental opposition between scientific materialism and relativism...
A correct understanding of the relation between science and philosophy...
Further Wrangling with Meaningful Revolutionary Work...
The continuing importance of ideological struggle—correctly waged...
Giving full expression to the attractive force of what we’re all about...
A still more deepened understanding, and living reality, of "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution"...
Building a Movement for Revolution—and Nothing Less...
[Editors’ Note: The following is the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year. It has been edited and footnotes have been added for publication here.]
I want to begin by returning to the question of individuals, classes, and the abolition of classes—themes that were explored in various dimensions in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" and a talk last year (2008), "Out Into the World—As A Vanguard of the Future." What I am going to speak to here is also, in certain aspects, following up on themes that are discussed in Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy.1 These are questions that require further discussion, in particular by way of contrasting the communist with the bourgeois understanding and approach.
There are a number of contradictions that are bound up with the fact that on the one hand people exist as individuals, while on the other hand their existence is a social existence. Individual existence is part of material reality—it's not something people invent as a bourgeois individualistic device—people do actually exist as individuals, that's a material reality which we should understand; and yet at the same time their lives are shaped essentially by social and, most fundamentally, production relations.
In "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," I began this discussion by citing what's in America In Decline about how the historical basis for capitalism was the violent separation of the producers from the means of production, and I went on to discuss the implications of this, including the fact that this has a determining influence, if you will, on the whole question of individuals pursuing their own particular interests—and even how they perceive their own individual interests. I stressed that, beyond their existence as individuals, more fundamentally their social existence as members of a social group—or in class society, as members of a class—shapes even the way in which they perceive and then the way in which they pursue their individual interests. I pointed out that this is in fact a refutation of the notions of Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant: the categorical moral imperative of Kant (which tries to make an absolute out of the idea that each individual should be treated only as an end in himself or herself and never as a means to an end) and the Smithian and generally the capitalist theoretical notion that if each individual pursues her/his own individual interest, the greater societal good will be served. These ideas are fundamentally in conflict with and are contradicted by the greater reality, the more profound and fundamental reality, that people's existence, even their individual existence, is always a social existence.
This is a point that Marx emphasized strongly: people's individual existence—even their individuality—always, and can only, take shape as a social existence. Outside of society, of social interaction and social relations, individuals' lives are very different and, in fact, they are very circumscribed, compared to what they are when they are in a social context and carrying out (to use that expression) social intercourse. This is a very fundamental point, which the bourgeoisie with its apotheosization of (its making a god-like quality out of) individuality and even individualism, seeks to deny—or which, in fact, it objectively ignores and doesn't take account of, even without this necessarily being conscious in the case of every advocate of this system.
The whole idea that the individual, for example, is the essential category of bourgeois society (or of "democratic society," as they like to characterize capitalist society, particularly in its bourgeois-democratic form), the idea that the individual is the highest representation and the highest point of reference of the best possible society, is in fact in fundamental conflict with, and is refuted by, the reality of capitalist society and, in a more general and broader sense, all of human society. It is refuted by the reality that people find their existence within the framework of definite social relations—most essentially and fundamentally, production relations—that are independent of the wills of individuals, and that this is most determining even of their individual inclinations, ideas, aspirations, and so on.
So, while the bourgeois theoreticians and moralists and ethicists, and so on, might argue—and this is another way of stating the Kantian categorical moral imperative—that, in the best and most just society, the individual should always be a subject and never an object, and that even laws and constitutions have as their highest principles and concepts, and their deepest grounding, the protection of the rights of individuals, in reality this is in violent conflict with the actual operation of any society divided into classes, or more particularly any society that is grounded on and proceeds in accordance with relations of exploitation.
This is a point that was emphasized in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," where (toward the end of Part 1) it refers to all the great and grand talk from proponents and apologists of the capitalist system about the rights of individuals, and yet this system functions, and can only function, by—quite literally and with no exaggeration or hyperbole—grinding into the dirt the lives of millions and even billions of individuals, including hundreds of millions of children, people whose individuality, whose individual aspirations, are counted as nothing in the actual operation of this system.
Another dimension of this is the parasitism of imperialism. It is most of all in the imperialist countries, and especially among the more privileged strata in those countries, that the notion of "the inviolability of the individual," and individual rights being the highest principle—approached in a way that divorces all this from fundamental social relations—can hold the most sway, precisely (and in a bitter irony) because all this is grounded in not only utter disregard for, but the utter pulverization of, individuals and of any individuality and individual aspirations of masses of people throughout the world. And were it not so, there would not be the privileged position that some hold from which they can pontificate about the rights of individuals. So all of that's on the one hand.
On the other hand, going back to the point I started off with, it is a part of material reality that people do exist as individuals. And any attempt to ignore this, or to negate individuality—which, as we have repeatedly stressed, is very different than individualism, which involves making a principle out of one's self as above all other things and as the thing that deserves the highest regard: individualism in that sense is very different than individuality—any attempt to negate or to somehow ground down the individuality of people, and to actually fall into the stereotype of communists as seeking to reduce the diverse masses of people to one undifferentiated whole, made up of parts all interchangeable with the other, and so on and so forth (I'm only slightly exaggerating, if in fact I am exaggerating, the vision of communism that's presented by people like Hannah Arendt), to actually fall into that kind of thinking and approach, which would conform to that kind of stereotype, would not only be morally wrong, but would be disastrous politically and disastrous in regard to any attempt at positive radical social transformation.
So we have to have a continually deepening understanding of this contradiction—this moving contradiction between the fact that on the one hand people exist as individuals and yet their lives are shaped essentially by social and most fundamentally production relations. And we have to give the proper weight to each aspect of this contradiction. As I've stressed before, the principal aspect involves the social relations, and most fundamentally the production relations, into which people enter, independently of their wills—relations which largely shape even their individuality, their individual wants, needs, aspirations and so on, as well as the means they have for pursuing those wants, needs, etc. But on the other hand, not only in the future communist society when classes will have been eliminated (but not production relations as well as other social relations, and not all social constraints), not only in that future society but all the way in the transition toward that—in the struggles for the first great leap to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism with the dictatorship of the proletariat, and then during the whole transition through that socialist stage to a communist world—we have to correctly appreciate, understand and correctly handle this contradiction.
That people exist as part of, and that their lives are essentially shaped by, social and most fundamentally production relations—this is a very profound and principally determining material reality. But also an important part of material reality is the fact that people exist as individuals and that people think as individuals. There is not one common human brain: we have not reached the stage—and I myself am definitely not an advocate of ever trying to reach the stage—where there would be one common brain directing all of the human bodies, which would somehow be linked to that brain.
So there is a great diversity and richness to human society as a result not just of the fact that there are billions of different individuals, but as a result of this contradiction between the fact that people exist as individuals while at the same time their lives are shaped essentially by social and most fundamentally production relations. This, if you want to put it that way, is another expression of the "multi-layered and multi-colored map" metaphor—of understanding the rich texture and diversity and complexity of reality and seeing these things as fluid, and (to paraphrase The Communist Manifesto) not as fixed, fast, and frozen.
Life With a Purpose: Different Experiences, Different Spontaneous Views, and Fundamentally Different World Outlooks
Going further, there are two things that are relevant to all this, things which do bear very significantly on human life, human relations and human thinking: one, all human beings die; and two, human beings are not only conscious of this but in many ways acutely aware of it. Now the point is not to "wax existential," or to lapse into existentialism as a philosophical outlook, but there is a value, if you will, to exploring this, at least a little bit. Why do I raise this? Well, often, for example, in existentialist literature, but more generally in a lot of literature which seeks to deal with "profound ironies and tragedies of life," this contradiction—that human beings are living beings but all human beings die, and that human beings are conscious of this—forms a significant theme, a significant phenomenon with which people wrestle. This is true in philosophy but also in the arts. Especially in a society which places so much emphasis on "the individual," in an ideological sense, even while it grounds down individuals in material reality—and this is particularly true of U.S. society and U.S. imperialism—it is not surprising that this phenomenon, that human beings die and they are conscious of this, has a prominent place in the culture.
This is also one of the main elements that factors into religion, and in the way people understand and explain the phenomenon of—and, as many portray it, the need for—religion. Some people even argue that you will always have religion because people will need a way to deal with death—not only their own death, but perhaps even more the death of loved ones. It is interesting, I was recently reading one of these pulp novels, by these two sisters, the O'Shaughnessy sisters (they write these legal thrillers—"page turners"—fun to read for a little diversion), and they actually made an interesting comment in passing in this book about how American society is so litigious these days (one of the two sisters is a former lawyer). They were speaking specifically of all the litigation that goes on around wrongful death, which of course is a big phenomenon in the U.S.: somebody dies, well very often there is going to be a lawsuit for wrongful death—unless it's one of the basic masses, and then generally nobody in a position of authority or prominence cares and, while there are some prominent cases of people suing when a loved one is murdered by police, the death of one of the basic masses is not the kind of thing that usually ends up in litigation. But, in any case, in this book the point was made that in countries like the U.S., where there is a certain decline in religious belief (at least of the more "traditional" kind), there has been an increase—I don't even know if this is actually true, but it's an interesting point to think about—there has been an increase in wrongful death suits because people have to find somebody to blame. And especially if you can't get the false consolation that religion offers—"they're in a better place, god had a plan for them," and all these other outrageous things that are said when someone dies—then somebody's got to be held accountable, so you sue somebody for wrongful death. Now I thought that was an interesting and provocative point. I'm not sure this is capturing an essential aspect of reality, but it's a little bit interesting as a side point.
The main point I'm exploring here, briefly, is that the fact that human beings die is often used to justify religion, or in any case to argue that human beings will always need religion: in order to deal with death, the argument goes, human beings will always need some sort of consolation in the form of religion of one kind or another.
This is something worth exploring a bit—precisely from a materialist standpoint and in relation to our communist outlook and communist objectives. First of all, it is necessary to recognize that while death is universal for human beings—all human beings die, sooner or later—there is not one common viewpoint about death: people in different social conditions have different experiences with and different viewpoints on all kinds of phenomena, including death.
In this connection, I was thinking of a statement attributed to Mao near the end of his life—I believe it was in a letter that he was reported to have written to Chiang Ching in which he talked about what he had tried to achieve through the revolution in China, and as part of the world revolution, and the ways in which he'd run up against obstacles in this. His statement was something to the effect that "human life is finite, but revolution is infinite." Now (assuming he said this) I don't think Mao meant this literally—that revolution is literally infinite—because Mao was materialist enough to know that human existence as such, the existence of human beings as a species, is not going to be infinite. Or, perhaps, as another leading comrade has suggested, Mao was actually thinking more broadly—beyond just human existence—to reality overall, and the fact that all of reality proceeds not just in a gradual and linear way but is marked by profound leaps and ruptures, involving qualitative changes from one state of matter in motion to another. In any case, and in the dimension in which Mao was speaking about human beings and human society, he was pointing to the contradiction that individuals can play a certain role—and specifically if they become conscious of the need for revolution, and more especially if they take up the outlook and method of communism, they can contribute a great deal to radically transforming human society—but, in all cases, their role and their contributions will still be limited, not only by their particular abilities (and shortcomings) and by their circumstances, but also by the fact that human life is finite, that people live only a few decades. But revolution—that is, not only the overthrow of exploiting classes but, even far into the future in communist society, the need for the continual transformation of society, the need to recognize and transform necessity into freedom—will constantly pose itself and human beings will constantly, and with varying degrees of consciousness, act in relation to that. So, with regard to human society, that is the essential meaning of the statement (attributed to Mao) that human life is finite, but revolution is infinite.
This poses an important challenge morally and, if you will, psychologically—or in terms of one's basic orientation. It is true, everybody is going to live a relatively short life—certainly compared to the life of the cosmos. Even though, over millennia, we've prolonged human life for several decades, it still involves a relatively brief period of time. But the fact remains that your life, whether shorter or longer (within this overall finite framework), is going to be devoted to one kind of objective or another. It is going to be shaped by larger forces that are independent of your will, but then there is the question of how, yes, each individual—as well as in a different, larger dimension, social classes—respond to the way in which the contradictions that are shaping things confront and impinge on them. And there is conscious volition and conscious decision in terms of what people do with their lives, in relation to what they see as necessary, possible, and desirable. After all, it is not as if revolution is something outside of human experience, nor certainly is it outside of material existence; in other words, it's not as if revolution is not made by people. It is not as if "revolution is infinite" means that there is something called Revolution, with a capital R, that's some sort of metaphysical force, like nature with a consciousness, or history with a consciousness, that is marching on, in accordance with some sort of teleological notion.
No, people make revolution. They do so on a certain foundation. That is Marx's point, which I have repeatedly referred to, and for good reason: People make history, but they don't do so any way they wish—they do so on the basis of certain definite material conditions which are inherited from previous generations and are independent of the wills of individuals. But, within that framework, people have a great deal of initiative, and a great deal of scope for conscious decision about what they're going to do with their lives; and the more they become conscious of the way that the world and the contradictions driving the world actually are and actually move and change, the more conscious their decision can be about what they're going to do with their lives.
I was further provoked to think about this whole question, in watching a film about the P-Stone Nation gang in Chicago. As part of this film there were interviews with some "O.G.s"—veteran or former members of the gang, who are now in their 50s and 60s—people who were in the P-Stone Nation way back when, and who remained in for several decades, but now have gotten out of it, let's say. One of these guys was being interviewed about the situation with the gangs and the youth who are drawn into the gangs now, and it's kind of funny, but very often when you hear one generation of people who have gotten a little bit older than the teenagers and people in their early 20s who make up the "soldiers" of these gangs, they make the comment about these younger guys: "Well, things were crazy when I was doing this, but these younger guys nowadays, they're really crazy, much crazier than we were." But what stood out to me in what this guy was saying was his comment that these young guys don't expect to live to be 21—and they just don't care. And then he went on to acknowledge: That's the way I was when I got into this—I didn't expect to live to be 21, and I just didn't care.
This is a contradiction that was pinpointed and focused on by George Jackson in talking about the question of revolution, emphasizing that gradualism can never appeal to youth like this—that, as he put it, the idea of revolution as something in the far-off distant future has no meaning to a slave who doesn't expect to live beyond tomorrow. This is a very difficult and very important contradiction that we have to continue to grapple with. But here what I want to emphasize is that this viewpoint (not expecting to live past 21, and just not caring) flows from a certain social experience—it is a more or less spontaneous response to that social experience. It's not that, somehow, mysteriously and magically, an existential philosopher and a gang member are likely to have very different views of life and death. This flows out of different social experience (again without reifying things—without ignoring or pounding down into an undifferentiated whole the actual differences among different individuals within the same social grouping, having the same social experience, broadly speaking).
But there is something very thought-provoking in that statement: these youth don't expect to live to be 21, and they just don't care. That's a different view towards life and death than that of a middle class person who, nice person though they may be, is doing everything possible to prolong her or his life by another two years, three months, six days, seven hours and twenty-seven seconds, or whatever: doing all the right exercising, the right diet, et cetera, et cetera. I'm not arguing that people should be careless of the considerations of health and fitness and living as long as they can—the quantity of life is not irrelevant. But the point is that it's not nearly as significant as the quality of life—that is, what someone's life is all about, and what it is dedicated to, no matter how long or short one's life is. But there is also the point that different social classes, different groups in society, with different social experiences, have different views on this—views which, without being reductionist and mechanical, do correspond, broadly speaking, to different social experiences.
Or we can think of youth and others giving their lives in struggles and wars—doing so willingly, many times, especially today, for what are ultimately dead-ends or bad ends. But, on the other hand, there has been historical experience—and, yes, even today, there is experience—where this is done for truly liberating ends, for emancipating goals and objectives. Or, in a more "personal" dimension, you see parents who will say, "You have to protect your children no matter what," and who give up their lives for their children. Sometimes this is in a more lofty way, sometimes in a not so lofty way. But, overall, there is the significant phenomenon of people consciously making the decision—which, again, is "intertwined" with social experience, but still involves a process of consciously making the decision—to devote and dedicate their lives, and even to give their lives, for one purpose or another—sometimes very negative, but also sometimes very positive.
So, the fact that all human beings die, and that they're conscious of this, is not the beginning and end of the story. There is a much greater reality that this is situated within, and people have different views of this, which largely reflect their differing social experiences, as well as their own individual experiences, secondarily but importantly.
It is not the case that the great existential drama—and, as this is often presented, the great unavoidable tragedy—of human beings is that, do what they may and try as they will, they cannot escape death. That is a material reality. But being a material reality, it is also something that people do come to terms with in various ways, and that people do act consciously in relation to, under differing circumstances and out of differing social experiences.
This has a lot to do with the point in "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future" about why, in initiating the People's War in China, Mao drew on what he called the brave elements. As he said, they were less afraid of dying, they were more willing to take a risk that could involve dying. It's like the line from the Bob Dylan song: "When you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose." Now let me emphasize that it is most emphatically not the case that communists count human life, or the lives of the masses of people, as cheap or as nothing. Quite the contrary. As Mao also powerfully articulated: Of all things in the world, people are most precious. But the reality is (a) no one is going to escape death and (b) people's lives, and even their deaths, are going to have one content or another, and count for one thing or another. It is a tragedy, to put it that way, if people's lives are given for what are ultimately dead-ends—or, still worse, bad ends. And it is never a light thing when anyone gives her/his life even for a truly liberating objective. To paraphrase another powerfully poetic statement by Mao: While dying in the service of the imperialists and reactionaries is lighter than a feather, to die for the people is as weighty as a mountain. (This basic orientation is also emphasized in the statement I made on the occasion of the murder of Damian Garcia.)2 The content of people's lives—the quality of those lives, what they are dedicated and devoted to, and ultimately what they've been lived about, whether their death comes sooner or later—is the most important thing and gives meaning, one way or another, to people's lives, short as they are in relation to the infinite existence of matter in motion.
This is a basic point of orientation which has to do with the question of whether we can actually confront, and should confront, reality as it actually is—in opposition to the notion that human beings (or at least some human beings) need some sort of consolation in the form of distortions of reality—and in particular inventions of gods and/or other supernatural beings and forces. This is a fundamental point of ideological orientation—and ideological struggle. Can we and should we face reality as it actually is? Can human beings actually have, and how can they most fully have, a life with meaning and purpose, and is that best done by actually confronting and, yes, striving to transform, reality on the basis of how reality actually is and the potential for change within that; or should we descend—and I use that word very consciously—into inventions, obfuscations and distortions of reality, in an ultimately failed attempt to provide consolation—consolation not only for the fact that people will die, but also for the fact that most people's lives, in the world as it is, under the domination of the imperialist system and relations of exploitation and oppression, are not lives that are richly lived (and I don't mean that in a monetary sense, I mean that in the sense of the fullness of their lives, the humanity of their lives, if you will)?
How should we deal with the glaring contradiction between the fact that most people's lives are ground down, and while they exist their lives are full of misery, and on the other hand that this could be radically different and the world as a whole could be radically different and better? What should be our orientation toward that contradiction? What should we seek to do about that? Should we, because lives are short and all human beings die and we know it, shrink from the sacrifices that are necessary in order to make human life radically different and better—or should we more and more consciously and willingly devote, dedicate and in an overall sense give our lives to the emancipating goals of the communist revolution?
We cannot change the fact that all human beings have finite lives. We cannot change the fact that human beings are aware of this (and if they were not aware of this, then their lives would be that much more impoverished, because obviously their consciousness of many things would be extremely curtailed and limited). What we can change, and what has a great deal of meaning, is what we do with the lives that we do have. This, once again, is the meaning of Mao's statement, or an important aspect of what Mao was getting at, when he said human life is finite, but revolution is infinite.
So perhaps having waxed more existential than I intended to, let me end this part of the discussion by citing the following passage from the evolution book (The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters3 ), which speaks very powerfully and sweepingly to fundamental questions of orientation:
"There is no particular special purpose to our existence in the grand scheme of things—except what we make of it. Whether we're even here or not doesn't really matter (at least not consciously) to anything on this planet except ourselves; and certainly (at least at this point) our existence or non-existence can't possibly have the slightest impact on anything in the greater cosmos, where objectively we are of no greater significance than a single grain of sand on a beach. But so what? Does that mean we don't matter? Does it mean that we might as well kill each other off because there's no god out there to care what we do one way or the other? Does it mean that our lives have absolutely no purpose? Of course not! Our lives are precious and we do matter a great deal...to each other! We should decide to 'do the right thing'—and act with each other with some integrity and in ways that are 'moral and ethical'—not because we're afraid we'll get written up by some warden-like god if we don't, but because what we do directly affects the quality of human life. And, of course, our lives can and do have purpose (though different people will define that in different ways in accordance with their world outlooks) because we humans can choose to imbue our lives with purpose." (pp. 155-56, emphasis in original)
Going back to how individuals in society exist not purely as individuals, but in a more fundamental sense as part of social groupings, and how this is grounded in certain definite social and fundamentally production relations, I want to return to some points that have to do with what Marx sharply gets at in his essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, specifically on the question of democratic intellectuals and their relation to the petite bourgeoisie (the "middle class"). Let's begin with the following from the polemic against K. Venu ("Democracy: More Than Ever We Can And Must Do Better Than That") which was written more than 15 years ago now but remains very relevant (this polemic is also included as an appendix in the book Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!—in the second  edition of that book). I will first give the passage in full, and then comment on certain parts of it which are particularly salient in relation to what is going on today:
"Here the following insights of Marx are very relevant. Commenting, significantly, on a variant of petit-bourgeois social-democracy that, in a different context and somewhat different form, also advocated 'the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petite bourgeoisie,' Marx goes on to say that:
"'...one must not form the narrow-minded notion that the petite bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent....'" (See Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, 2nd (2004) edition, pp. 209-210, emphasis in original)
In examining this further, let's focus first on the very insightful observation by Marx that the petite bourgeoisie "believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided." How often nowadays, much to our frustration, do we see this phenomenon played out in politics and other spheres of society? The petit bourgeois, and in particular the petit bourgeois intellectual, continually gravitates toward, and gives expression to, the notion that the narrow interests, and illusory "solutions," that correspond to the spontaneous strivings and inclinations of people in this ("middle class") position can somehow be imposed on all of society, and will fix society's ills, or at least ameliorate and mitigate the objectively profound contradictions which rive society and repeatedly give rise to antagonistic conflict, in which this "middle class" generally finds itself caught...in the middle.
And Marx goes on: "Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers." Marx is a dialectical, not a vulgar, materialist. He makes clear:
"According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions..."
Note that: to the same problems and solutions. Not only the same solutions, but the same problems and solutions. Even with regard to how they see the problems, as well as the solutions which they believe they have found, these democratic intellectuals come up with ideas and theoretical propositions which ultimately are in line with where "material interest and social position drive the latter [the shopkeepers] practically."
And then follows a very important conclusion: "This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent...." Here again, Marx is putting forward a correct understanding of the way in which ideas are a reflection of material reality and more specifically of a certain social position—but they are not crudely that, they're not that in a reductionist, one-to-one sense. Ultimately, he stresses, the ideas of the democratic intellectuals do not escape the bounds within which the practical petite bourgeoisie, if you will, is confined by its economic interests and its social position. This is a very profound and very important point. But, again, this is not a linear "one-to-one" relation. To help illustrate this, it is worthwhile referring to a report I read of a discussion relating to how I had applied this statement by Marx to the role of someone like Amy Goodman. In this discussion, one person said, "Well, Amy Goodman, she's a shopkeeper." No...a-a-a-h [laughing, making the sound of a "buzzer" in a game show, when a wrong answer is given]. That misses the whole point. The point is the relation between democratic intellectuals and shopkeepers—the dialectical relation—and how, in the working out of their ideas, these intellectuals may proceed very differently than how the shopkeeper thinks about practical problems all day long, or even the way the shopkeeper thinks about politics, but that the democratic intellectuals—as representatives, in the realm of ideas, of the petite bourgeoisie—don't escape the framework, and the limits, within which the (if you will) more practical activities of the petite bourgeoisie are confined. And this, in its full meaning—and its living application of dialectical materialism, as opposed to mechanical materialism and idealism—is extremely important to understand.
The next paragraph from Marx's "Eighteenth Brumaire," which is also cited in "Phony/Real," further elaborates on and sheds further light on this point. This paragraph begins: "But the democrat, because he represents the petite bourgeoisie, that is, a transition class, in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously mutually blunted, imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally."
Here Marx is speaking to the fact that the petite bourgeoisie is a class which has no future, as such, and is incapable of ruling society, as such, although representatives of the petite bourgeoisie may actually come to preside over society, or lead society, on behalf of the proletariat or on behalf of the bourgeoisie—"moving over," so to speak to take up the class standpoint and interests of the one or the other of these two fundamentally and antagonistically opposed classes. This is why Marx refers to the petite bourgeoisie as a transition class, in which the interests of two classes—that is, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat—"are simultaneously mutually blunted." It is for this reason that the petit bourgeois democrat "imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally."
How often have we heard this viewpoint expressed, including in relation to the recent election and the triumph of Obama in that election?! For example, recently someone wrote to our newspaper complaining about our exposure of Obama and declaring: I think people are in a mood more for healing than they are in a mood for conflict.
This is a classical expression of the class outlook of people in the petite bourgeoisie—who, as Marx so graphically and insightfully puts it, commonly imagine themselves "elevated above class antagonism generally." They imagine that they can wave the magic wand of petit bourgeois idealism and eliminate objective class conflicts and the antagonism and struggle to which these conflicts give rise, repeatedly, in one form or another.
Marx goes on:
"The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them"—you see, Marx is very sophisticated and nuanced in his understanding—"The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people. What they represent is the people's rights; what interests them is the people's interests. Accordingly, when a struggle is impending, they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes." (emphasis in original)
Once again, this is extremely insightful and extremely important. It is very worthwhile going back to this repeatedly and drawing more and more out of it, precisely in relation to developing reality and the ways in which this constantly gets posed—including the ways in which it is posed in very sharp terms now. While this phenomenon finds repeated expression every time there's an election in a bourgeois democracy—and in the U.S. in particular—it has been very acutely expressed with this recent election, around Obama, which has had by far the highest quotient of illusion, deceit and especially self-deceit of any election in quite a long time. It has set a very high standard for illusion, deceit and self-deceit, even for bourgeois elections.
Along with this, the following quote from the Grundrisse, also cited in "Phony/Real," penetrates beneath so much of the outer appearance of things and the obfuscation by so many (consciously or not) of fundamental and essential reality:
"In the money relation, in the developed system of exchange (and this semblance seduces the democrats), the ties of personal dependence, of distinctions of blood, education, etc. are in fact exploded, ripped up (at least, personal ties all appear as personal relations); and individuals seem independent (this is an independence which is at bottom merely an illusion, and it is more correctly called indifference), free to collide with one another and to engage in exchange within this freedom; but they appear thus only for someone who abstracts from the conditions, the conditions of existence within which these individuals enter into contact (and these conditions, in turn, are independent of the individuals and, although created by society, appear as if they were natural conditions, not controllable by individuals).... A closer examination of these external relations, these conditions, shows, however, that it is impossible for the individuals of a class etc. to overcome them en masse without destroying them." (Marx, Grundrisse, translated with a foreword by Martin Nicolaus, Penguin Books/New Left Review, "The Chapter on Money," pp. 163-64, emphasis in original.)
Here, because Marx has put it within parentheses, it is possible to miss, or to fail to take full note of, an extremely important observation: In the developed system of exchange embodied in the money relation, the semblance of things—the outer and non-essential appearance of things—seduces the democrat into believing that the various individuals who are related to each other through this system of exchange are actually independent and autonomous, when in reality they are enmeshed, and confined, within definite production relations, of which the developed, money-based system of exchange is a subordinate expression. In a significant aspect—and this is true even while the degree to which this is consciously thought out varies—such democrats view the capitalist system, and its mode of exchange, in contrast with the feudal system, in which ties of personal dependence, distinctions of blood, education, etc., are openly determinants and markers of social status. By contrast, in capitalist society such non-market distinctions are, at least to a large degree and in essence, torn down and, as Marx puts it, personal ties all appear as personal, not as fixed by custom and tradition, or even law. This too is part of what "seduces" the democrat.
But what, really, is this much-vaunted independence and autonomy of people enmeshed in capitalist market relations? As Marx caustically characterizes it, this independence is more correctly called indifference, for capitalist relations not only allow but require and compel people to be fundamentally indifferent to the situation and fate of others—and the freedom people have, within these relations, is, as Marx puts it, essentially the freedom to collide with one another.
At base, as Marx also makes clear, the independence and autonomy that is so often proclaimed as an essential feature of bourgeois society, marking it as superior to all other forms of society, is an illusion. In fact, the situation people find themselves in, and the "freedom" they actually have, is defined, and confined, by "the conditions of existence within which these individuals enter into contact"—once again, fundamentally the relations of production of capitalism, and the corresponding relations of exchange and of distribution—which, as Marx emphasizes, are independent of the individuals. What the democrats typically do—again, reflecting the position and outlook of the petite bourgeoisie, understanding that in a dialectical, and not a mechanical, materialist sense—is precisely "abstract" the situation of individuals from these fundamental and essential relations and conditions. At the same time, they are taken in by the appearance that social conditions—conditions which are a result of the historical development of society and what that development has led to, the conditions and relations society embodies and is characterized by, at any given time—are "natural conditions," conditions which are simply "given" by nature, or which conform to the "nature of things," so to speak, and more specifically to a supposedly essential(ist) and unchanging "human nature."
How many times have we heard people say, "Yes, I agree with you, there are many things wrong in society—but that's just the way people are—that's human nature, that's why things are the way they are, and that's why they can never really be changed"?
For these reasons, the democrats—and others, so long as they adhere to this outlook—are not capable of recognizing this most fundamental truth: Not only are different individuals "situated" within a larger system of production and social—and, in class society, class—relations, which are historically evolved and fundamentally independent of the wills of individuals, as individuals, but even though some individuals may be able to change their social-class status within capitalist society, the masses of people—and in particular the exploited masses in the lower sections of the proletariat, and others in oppressed social groups whose oppressed status is integral and indispensable to the prevailing capitalist society—cannot do so within the existing conditions and relations. As Marx very correctly, and profoundly, insists, they can do so, en masse, only by destroying these conditions and relations—only by overthrowing the system which embodies, and enforces, these conditions and relations.
That, of course, is why a radical transformation of society, a revolution, is necessary in order for the individuals en masse—in other words, for the masses of exploited and oppressed people, trapped in these social relations—to overcome them and bring into being radically different social conditions and relations, a radically different economic base and superstructure: to advance to communism and achieve the "4 Alls."
So, from all this, we can see the extreme relevance of these statements by Marx, from the Grundrisse and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in relation to—and as dissection and refutation of—commonly held notions that prevail in society today, whether in the form of more developed theories and philosophies, or simply popular prejudices and misconceptions, about the nature of things, and "human nature" in particular, and about the possibility—or, as it is often spontaneously conceived, the impossibility—of revolution and communism.
Each Class Seeks to Remake the World in Its Image—But Only One Class Cannot Do This by Relying on Spontaneity
This brings me to the next point, which is how—without, in fact, falling into reductionism and reification—it is a very important phenomenon in all of social life, and particularly in social struggle, that each class will try to remake the world in its image. Especially in every revolution, but in every major social transformation or social movement, different class forces seek to seize the reins and impose their solutions, in accordance with how they see the problems. More specifically, it is important to understand how bourgeois and other reactionary class forces seek to do this, especially in the context of any major social upheaval and social struggle, and most especially in the context of an approaching revolution. Let's examine briefly some examples of this.
** Iran in the 1978-79 revolution, where there was a mass upheaval in which different class forces were contending, and in which, unfortunately, the representatives of the exploited and oppressed masses and, in particular, the proletariat—that is, the communists—were weak, relative to other class forces, especially because of the vicious repression that had been carried out against the communist movement under the reign of the Shah, backed by U.S. imperialism, for several decades. In the swirl and roiling of that revolution, the class forces representing the interests of the bourgeoisie—and in some aspects feudal relations—maneuvered, and didn't just maneuver but were given powerful backing, to seize the reins of that revolution and to turn it into the horror that it has since become, with the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and its existence for nearly three decades now.
More still needs to be learned about this, but enough is known to be clear that the U.S. imperialists, who initially backed the Shah, even in the face of this massive upheaval, then maneuvered, through their contacts within the existing Iranian army and in other parts of the ruling structures in that society, to prevent the revolution from ripening more fully. They moved to cut short a process through which the masses would be able to more fully test out in practice, as well as wrangling on the level of line and theory with, different programs and different forces representing different solutions. Instead, the U.S. imperialists, and elements they could work through, maneuvered things so that the forces grouped around Khomeini would, in fact, get the necessary backing to be able to seize and consolidate power. It was the calculation of the imperialists that they could better deal with that than a continuously developing revolutionary situation—a situation in which the communists, assuming that they had been able to find their bearings and more thoroughly grasp and apply a genuinely communist and revolutionary line, would have been able to win increasing numbers of the masses through that social upheaval, through the masses testing out different programs and seeing which ones really were leading in a direction that was in their fundamental interests, and which were stopping halfway, seeking to hold things back and keep things confined within an oppressive framework.
Once again, this is something that needs to be more fully explored—although in significant measure it has been explored, particularly by our Iranian communist comrades. I'm merely seeking to sketch out a basic picture here, to illustrate this extremely important point about how different class forces enter into the fray and, especially in the context of major social upheavals and more particularly with impending revolutions, seek to seize the reins and impose their solutions—and what the consequences are when different class forces are able to do this. (For further, and more specific, analysis in relation to this, see the article "30 Years after the Iranian Revolution" from A World to Win News Service, February 23, 2009.)
** The situation in South Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s. There was a tremendous revolutionary upsurge in that country in that period, particularly in the urban shantytowns but spreading also to the bantustans and among the masses of black people throughout South Africa. And at a certain point, especially with larger changes in the world, including profound changes in the Soviet Union and its erstwhile bloc—first the ascension by Gorbachev to the head of the Soviet party and state, and then the demise and dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fracturing apart of its former empire, as such—the U.S. imperialists, in league with the white supremacist ruling class in South Africa, recognized that they had not only necessity but also freedom to change the form of rule in South Africa: to abolish the apartheid system, and even to allow the majority African population to vote in elections and to choose black South Africans as the leaders of the country, beginning with Mandela.
But, once again, the result of this was that the revolutionary process was aborted. There are times, and situations, where abortions are good, and times and circumstances where they are bad. This was one that was very bad—an aborted revolutionary process. Despite what is constantly preached at us these days—including by the "liberals" and "progressives" in the ruling class, and those who follow in their wake—it is not by any means always bad (or, "at best," a "necessary evil") to abort a fetus. But it is very bad to abort a revolutionary process—and this is what happened in South Africa. And part of the whole arrangement there, worked out under the commanding influence of the U.S. ruling class, was that South Africa would remain within the framework of imperialist domination, and even of IMF (International Monetary Fund) structures and dictates, and so on. This was clear and explicit.
A number of people have analyzed this, at least partially, but the essential point is this: The whole way in which Mandela was brought to the fore by the imperialists, and by their allies within the ruling structures of South Africa, not only did not fundamentally improve the conditions of the masses of oppressed and exploited African people in that country, but in many ways this new arrangement has led to their conditions worsening, especially economically, but even socially and morally, if you will, so that now, and for the time being, a mass revolutionary upsurge and the whole sense of purpose and the whole sense of a fight for a better future, and all the uplifting elements that go along with that, have been replaced to a large and growing degree by crime, particularly among the same kinds of youth who, a couple of decades ago, would have been the backbone of a revolutionary struggle. And this has led to demoralization, to confusion, to illusions that have not only been fed and taken hold among the masses in South Africa but whose influence has been spread to oppressed people in other parts of the world.
And this was, again, a very conscious policy—a very consciously adopted series of steps on the part of the imperialists and the white elite strata in South Africa, but also on the part of certain bourgeois strata among the oppressed black people in South Africa whose aspirations did not go any further than an arrangement of this kind, because their interests, as a social group (class), were in fact largely in line with merely abolishing certain forms of formal segregation (apartheid) and the oppression that went along with that, while leaving intact the fundamental relations of oppression and exploitation—which has in fact led to even worse consequences in many ways over the nearly two decades since apartheid was abolished.
This is a profound lesson that must be deeply grasped and driven home, if masses of people, not only in South Africa but throughout the world, are really going to be able to consciously fight for their emancipation and the emancipation of humanity as a whole.
** Another illustration of this is the contrast between India and China in relation to the end of old-line colonialism and the emergence of a new (or not-so-new) society in the one country and the other. Here we are speaking of two fundamentally opposed paths: one born out of revolutionary struggle and, yes, revolutionary war, with the overall leadership of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, resulting in the overthrow of the existing system, a rupture from imperialist domination, and embarking on a path of radically transforming society toward the objective of finally eliminating all relations of exploitation and oppression and the institutions and ideas that go along with and reinforce them; and, on the other hand, the path in India, represented by Gandhi and some others, of seeking conciliation with imperialism—seeking the end to formal colonialism but maintaining things within an oppressive framework, both in terms of the international relations in which India is enmeshed and oppressed, and in terms of the economic and social relations inside India itself, not the least being the horrendous oppression of women as well as the caste system, the outrages continually committed against the so-called "Untouchables," and so on. In the one case and the other, it is a matter of particular class forces—very different and fundamentally opposed class forces—moving to achieve certain solutions, in line with their interests and their outlook and, accordingly, how they see the problems.
** Or we could take the struggle within the Chinese Communist Party itself, especially once it came to be the leading force within the socialist state, after the seizure of power and the overthrow of imperialist domination and reactionary rule in China in 1949. Especially as this struggle, within the Chinese Communist Party, came to a head through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), in the decade from the mid-1960s until the death of Mao in 1976, it became clear that there were two sharply opposed viewpoints and programs representing not just individuals but social forces—that is, different class forces—which both existed within, and had positions of authority and leadership within, the Chinese Communist Party itself. This is why Mao made the pathbreaking analysis that is encapsulated in his statement, popularized during the GPCR: You are making revolution but don't know where the bourgeoisie is. It is right within the Communist Party. The capitalist roaders (within the Party) are still on the capitalist road.
This was not just a matter of bureaucrats in the Chinese party and state having grown fat or power hungry as a result of holding positions of authority—it was not essentially a matter of bureaucracy. This was a matter of different people who, yes, were intellectuals, but (going back to the insights of Marx) intellectuals who in their contrasting modes of thinking, and in the policies and programs that they developed—in their lines, in other words—represented two fundamentally opposed classes (think again of Marx's very important observations about the relations between classes and the political and literary representatives of those classes). Or, to put this another way, the question, over which there was antagonistic struggle, was: In the image of which social class should that society (and ultimately the world) be remade? In the image of the proletariat—not in a reductionist or reified sense but in the sense of its interests as a social class, which lie in ultimately resolving the contradictions of capitalism, in particular its fundamental contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation, and moving on to abolish all class distinctions and the production relations, social relations, ideas and institutions that go along with that (in short, achieving the "4 Alls")? Or should society (and ultimately the world) be remade in accordance with the viewpoint of that stratum which had taken a concentrated form within the Chinese Communist Party, which sought merely to make China a powerful country, and which was determined that the best way to do that was to institute what are objectively capitalist economic relations and to implement policies that would give further life to and reinforce all the relations that go along with capitalist economic relations, and would place China squarely within the overall framework of imperialist domination and exploitation on a world scale?
This is not a question of "power struggles" among individuals or cliques. This is a matter of different classes—or of people and groups objectively representing different classes—perceiving more or less correctly their interests as a social force, as a class, and then striving to influence and to utilize the struggle and the aspirations of the masses to change society, to shape society in accordance with those class interests. It was in the interests of this stratum which was constituted, in a real sense, of intellectuals, but intellectuals who had taken up the outlook of the bourgeoisie—once again, political and literary representatives of the bourgeoisie, as Marx spoke to this—it was in the interests of that class, it was in accordance with their aspirations as a class, to institute these capitalist relations, to bring China back within the framework of overall imperialist domination, exploitation and oppression in the world. And this was in direct opposition to those leading people within the Party—again, a group of intellectuals, broadly speaking, but intellectuals who had taken up the viewpoint and were fighting for the revolutionary interests of the proletariat, as a class—who were on the socialist road, as a transition toward the final aim of communism, worldwide. This battle—between the socialist road, and those leading forces representing that road, and on the other hand the capitalist road and those representing it—went on very intensely, even with some partial ebbs and flows, over the whole decade of the GPCR, and it resulted, unfortunately, shortly after the death of Mao in 1976, in the victory of those class forces representing the program of capitalism and imperialism, and the defeat of those representing the program of communism and the ultimate abolition of relations of exploitation and oppression.
In speaking of this battle as taking a concentrated form as the struggle between intellectuals (party leaders) representing, respectively, the socialist road and the capitalist road, I do not mean to, in any way, ignore or downgrade the importance of the role of the masses in all this—to present things as if they were mere spectators, or pawns of contending leading groups, in all this. No, one of the hallmarks of the GPCR was the degree—truly unprecedented in history—to which masses of people, literally in the hundreds of millions, were involved in this massive social upheaval, with at least tens of millions doing so with an unprecedentedly high consciousness of the terms and stakes of this struggle. But the point is, as Lenin summarized (in Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder):
Everyone knows that the masses are divided into classes;...that usually...classes are led by political parties; that political parties, as a general rule, are directed by more or less stable groups composed of the most authoritative, influential and experienced members, who are elected to the most responsible positions and are called leaders. All this is elementary. (As cited in the polemic against K. Venu. See the Appendix to the second  edition of Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, p. 204.)
Even if one is only speaking of self-proclaimed Marxists, it may be the case that Lenin was overly optimistic in asserting that "Everyone knows" this; yet the fact remains that indeed "All this is elementary." But what is more complicated—and this will remain a significant phenomenon so long as the masses are divided into classes, and until the unequal and oppressive social relations bound up with class divisions, including in particular the division between mental and manual labor, are overcome—is that leaders are generally people who, as one of their essential qualities, have a more developed ability to work with ideas (who, generally speaking, are intellectuals). This objective fact, and the gap between such intellectuals and the masses of people, particularly those who are not intellectuals, will be real and have real implications and ramifications, regardless of whether those intellectuals (leaders) themselves come from backgrounds and circumstances that are, generally speaking, those of the petite bourgeoisie, or whether they are drawn from the proletariat and other basic masses.
One of the distinguishing features of intellectuals is that—because of their particular circumstances and the nature of their role in working with ideas—as individuals (and even in a certain sense as a broader social phenomenon) they have relatively more freedom and capacity to "attach themselves" to one class or another, and even to "detach themselves" from one class and "attach themselves" to another. In other words, they can take up the world outlook and come to represent the interests of one class or another. Now, it is generally the case—and this is what Marx is speaking to in discussing the democratic intellectuals and their relation to the shopkeepers—that intellectuals spontaneously, and rather strongly, gravitate to the outlook and interests of the petite bourgeoisie, because that most corresponds to the social position and circumstances of the intelligentsia, as a general rule. But, as we know, certain intellectuals (or even groups of intellectuals) can become high functionaries, and even political leaders, of the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, some intellectuals—including intellectuals who come forward in the revolutionary ranks out of the basic masses and develop the ability to work with ideas, to formulate line and policy, on a high level—can and do take up the outlook of and become fighters for the interests of the proletariat. This generally becomes more of a social phenomenon in times of social upheaval, particularly when revolutionary currents are more powerful among the masses of people and in their influence in society overall.
But for those intellectuals who are drawn to the revolutionary cause of the proletariat, in the most fundamental sense, there is the very real challenge of consistently applying the outlook and method of dialectical materialism and not only embarking, but persevering, through all the difficulties, on the road of revolution and, in a real sense, giving over their intellectual capacities, as well as their hearts, to the cause of this revolution and its emancipatory goals. Beyond that, and more especially for those who come to occupy positions of leadership in the vanguard of the proletarian revolution, they face the challenge of not simply providing leadership to that revolution but more specifically doing so in a way that, increasingly, masses of people, particularly from the most exploited and oppressed sectors of society, are enabled to more and more consciously take part in this revolutionary struggle. To put this another way—to speak to another key dimension and profound contradiction characterizing the proletarian-communist revolution and the ways in which it must be fundamentally different from all previous revolutions in human society (and this was spoken to, more than a decade ago now, in "Strategic Questions"4 ): All revolutions are led by a small part of society—and in a concentrated way by a leading group which is quite small, relative to the masses of people it is ultimately leading—a leading group which will, in fact, be mainly constituted of people who are intellectuals, generally speaking, regardless of where those intellectuals come from, in terms of their "social origins." In a very important aspect, this is true of the proletarian revolution, and not simply revolutions led by people embodying the outlook and representing the interests of exploiting classes. The profound, truly world-historic challenge for the proletarian-communist revolution, and for those who lead it, is to bring about the radical leap and rupture beyond the situation—characteristic of all previous revolutions, waged ultimately in the interests of exploiting classes and led by people representing those classes—where the masses are the main fighting force in the revolution (or, to put it more bluntly, do the bulk of the sacrificing and dying in this struggle) but the fruits of this struggle and sacrifice are reaped by forces which are in reality exploiters and oppressors of the masses, where society is once again "remade in the image" of an exploiting class, even if there are certain changes with regard to the particular mode in which this takes place.
To accomplish the radical leap and rupture beyond this involves, and requires, overcoming the mental/manual contradiction as a crucial aspect of achieving the "4 Alls." But this will require a whole historical epoch and can only be achieved on a world scale; and throughout this whole transition, wherever power is seized, the dictatorship of the proletariat established and the revolution continued under this dictatorship, there will be the complex, and at times very intense, contradictions bound up with the fact that overcoming the mental/manual division, and achieving the "4 Alls," must be not only a long-term goal but something that is being concretely "worked at," at every stage of the process, even while, at least for a very long time into this transition, the mental/manual contradiction will remain a very pronounced phenomenon. Handling all this correctly, in the living process of advancing the revolution, with all its complexity, is one of the great challenges of our revolution and its ultimate aim of communism, throughout the world.
Different interests of different class forces in the struggle against the oppression of Black people in the U.S.
As another illustration of the basic point here—regarding the phenomenon of different classes seeking to "remake the world in their image"—we can look at the role of the Black bourgeoisie (and even sections of the Black petite bourgeoisie, but in particular the Black bourgeoisie) in the U.S., in relation to the long struggle of Black people, particularly in the period from shortly after World War 2 up until the present. There are those individuals and groups among Black people who have sought to identify that struggle as nothing more than—and to confine and shape that struggle into—a reformist struggle for, as they put it, "civil rights." In some important ways, there is a parallel here with what happened in South Africa with Mandela. These forces have sought to (mis)direct the struggle into one limited to eliminating certain formal and legal barriers of discrimination and segregation—although such barriers have been far from removed in reality, and in some ways are reinforced more than ever in the schools, in housing and employment, in health care, and in many other spheres. Now, of course, striking down formal laws and codes embodying discrimination and segregation is in the interests of the broad masses of Black people (and the broad masses of people of all nationalities). But the point is that it is in the interests of a section of the bourgeoisie among Black people—and not in the interests of the masses of people—to keep the struggle from breaking out of the bounds of reforms within the existing system. These bourgeois forces have seen that these reforms could offer them the possibility—given the ways in which they are now situated in this society and, relative to the masses of Black people, their more privileged position—to have a more favorable opportunity to improve their situation within the existing framework, to "move on up" within this framework, even in some cases to achieve high positions within this system. Now, in reality and whether or not they recognize it (some may and some may not, but the reality is) this is condemning—and so long as this is what holds sway, it will condemn—the masses of Black people, and indeed Black people as a people, as an oppressed nation within the U.S., to continue to suffer horrendous oppression.
It is not so simple as saying that these Black bourgeois forces don't care about that. The fundamental and essential point is that—to go back to Marx's formulation—this is how they see the problem and the solution. Their perspective is that eliminating these formal barriers and allowing people in their position to advance, even perhaps to achieve the pinnacle as has now happened with Obama—to become the leading functionary of the imperialist state with all of its horrors—is the best way that Black people—or at least Black people "in their image"—will be able to advance and "realize the dream." They see their own aspirations and interests as the highest expression of the general good. In a certain sense, this is true of all classes and their representatives: they see the class interests they uphold as representing the general interests, and the general good, of all. The fundamental question is whether this is true or not—and the fundamental difference is that this is true of the proletariat, as a class, in a way that it is not true, and never has been true, of any other class: conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat, from its exploited and oppressed situation, are in fact the necessary and essential conditions for the general emancipation of humanity, the abolition of all relations of exploitation and oppression, throughout the world. But—there is a certain irony in this—precisely with the elimination of certain formal barriers of discrimination and segregation, it is the case that the interests of the Black bourgeoisie, as a class, are objectively (and however they perceive it) in sharp conflict with the interests of the masses of Black people, particularly the masses crowded into and confined and brutalized in the inner cities, as well as the interests of the oppressed and exploited masses in the U.S. and throughout the world in general.
To be clear, this does not mean that the Black bourgeoisie—or at least many among that class—cannot be won to the side of revolution, as things unfold, and through a great deal of struggle; it is both possible and necessary, as a matter of strategic orientation, to win as many as possible among that class to the side of the revolution. And certainly that is true of the Black petite bourgeoisie. But what is crucial and essential to grasp—for the vanguard and for the masses who will be the backbone of the revolutionary struggle—is that forces representing the Black bourgeoisie, or even the Black petite bourgeoisie—the outlook and the interests that correspond to the social positions of those class forces—cannot be in the leading position, or the struggle will not go where it needs to go, in order to achieve the general emancipation of the oppressed and exploited masses, of all nationalities, and the ultimate emancipation of humanity as a whole, throughout the world. Only a vanguard representing and fighting for the interests of the proletariat, as a class, can lead the struggle to achieve such a general emancipation.
All these examples discussed here—which I've only been able to sketch out briefly and in broad strokes—demonstrate the fundamental truth that different class forces contend according to their understanding of the problem and the solution. And, in turn, their different understandings of the problem and solution are essentially shaped by the decisive relations in society—most fundamentally the production relations, but also the social relations and the political relations—and by the differing places and roles of different social groups, or classes, within those overall relations.
But an additional complicating factor, and problem, is that under the rule of exploiters and oppressors—and specifically today under the rule of the imperialists and bourgeois forces—the heavy weight of habit, tradition, and the spontaneity this gives rise to, all go in the direction of exerting a powerful influence in line with the interests and aspirations of the exploiting classes. This is why it requires a conscious rupture on the part of the exploited and oppressed—and on the part of those intellectuals and others who seek to represent them—in order to be able to first of all even recognize, and then to act on the recognition of, the fundamental interests that the exploited and oppressed masses have, in contrast and in conflict with those of the bourgeoisie, and even more privileged, if not strictly speaking bourgeois, strata, in terms of how the representatives of those strata are pulled to see the problems and the solutions.
All this underlines the crucial importance of line—and leadership—in relation to the question of what kind of change is going to happen, what kind of transformation of society. It is certain that there will be change. There is always change, of one kind or another, and there has been and will again be major change in the world and in human society. Society, like all material reality, cannot and does not stay as it is. It goes through changes, including at certain points major, even qualitative, changes. But the question of line and leadership is decisive in determining ultimately what kind of change, what kind of transformation of society and fundamentally what kind of revolution is going to be possible, even if and when the masses do rise up and demand and fight for radical change.
In this connection, it is important to re-emphasize a point that we’ve touched on before, which is the relation, the dialectical materialist relation, between lines and social bases. That is, on the one hand lines reflect certain social bases. Or to put it another way, they represent certain classes. This is a point I’ve been touching on through the various examples I have discussed here, and in other ways so far in this talk. Lines are a concentration of the fundamental interests and aspirations of different classes; different lines represent different class forces. Again, especially in bourgeois society but even in socialist society, the one class interest which cannot be represented, at least in any full way, spontaneously is that of the proletariat, which in an overall sense represents the interests of the exploited and oppressed masses in general. All other class interests, and the lines representing them, can—under the domination of the bourgeoisie and its ideology and with the whole history of exploiting class rule and the influence of the ideology of exploiting classes—have a lot of spontaneity going with them. But it requires a conscious rupture with spontaneity in order for a line to be brought forward, and in order for masses to recognize and take up a line, that actually represents their fundamental interests as exploited and oppressed classes and masses of people.
So, on the one hand, lines reflect different and opposing social bases or classes. And in a fundamental and essential sense—though not in a straight line, and not all at once—different lines bring forward different social bases. The reason I am giving emphasis to "not in a straight line, and not all at once" can be seen by looking again at the example of the Iranian revolution. One of the decisive things about a revolutionary upheaval—and this is shown, by negative example, in the Iranian revolution—is that the more that it develops, and is not cut short by some sort of an "arrangement at the top," the more the masses are able to become aware of and test out different lines and the programs that are associated with them—different interests and aspirations that are concentrated in these lines and programs. (In other words, in talking about lines I’m speaking of worldviews and programs for social change—or to oppose social change—which correspond to those worldviews.) In a real social upheaval, and especially one that develops to revolutionary dimensions, the people directly involved, and those more broadly who are significantly affected, become increasingly aware of and test out different lines and programs, and over time masses of people more and more gravitate toward those lines and programs that they come to see as basically in line with not only their deeper interests but also their more immediately and acutely felt needs and which, at the same time, offer a realistic means of radically changing things when radical change is what growing numbers of the masses come to see as necessary.
This is directly related to Mao’s very correct and much ignored—and, even among some alleged communists, often maligned—insistence that the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line of a communist vanguard is decisive: whether in its outlook and its program and strategy it really represents the interests of the proletariat and other exploited and oppressed masses, and a means for radically transforming society through revolution to begin uprooting exploitation and oppression, together with the same struggle throughout the world; or whether it represents, in one form or another, the reinforcement (or at most a slight adjustment within) those relations of exploitation and oppression. That, in essential terms, is what is meant by the principle that the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line is decisive. As we know, revolutions are very complex processes, and there is no possibility of radically transforming society in the actual interests of the masses of oppressed and exploited people without the leadership of a force which has—and which continually fights to maintain and develop and apply—a correct ideological and political line. This is in fact decisive, no matter how much derision may be poured down on this fundamental concept.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion about the question of communist leadership, confusion which is bound up to a large degree with misconceptions about—and in some ways opposition to—the principles and objectives of communist revolution itself. Leadership—and in particular communist leadership—is, as I have been speaking to, concentrated in line. This does not simply mean line as theoretical abstractions, although such abstractions, especially insofar as they do correctly reflect reality and its motion and development, are extremely important. But in an all-around sense, it is a matter of leadership as expressed in the ability to continually make essentially correct theoretical abstractions; to formulate, to wield, and to lead others to take up and act on—and to themselves take initiative in wielding—the outlook and method, and the strategy, program, and policies, necessary to radically transform the world through revolution toward the final aim of communism; and through this process to continually enable others one is leading to themselves increasingly develop their ability to do all this. This is the essence of communist leadership.
It is not a matter of being physically present among this or that group of the masses. I have read reports which recount how people say: "How do we know Avakian really is everything you say he is, why can't we talk to him—how can we tell if he's really all that, if we're not able to see him, or if he's not right out here in our midst?" Among other things, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what communist leadership is and of the practical realities as well as the strategic orientation involved in building a movement for revolution. We are aiming to build a revolutionary movement of millions, toward the goal of actually taking hold of the reins of society and radically transforming it, when the conditions for that have come into being. As much as it is genuinely a great thing to be able to talk to masses, and to learn from them as well as to struggle with them, is it really conceivable that a leader (or any number of leaders, for that matter) of such a revolutionary process, and of the party leading that revolution, could mingle among and talk personally with all those millions of people who must ultimately make up the ranks of the revolution? If we were just thinking in terms of small little circles, and we were not really thinking about transforming society and ultimately the world as a whole, well then, OK, maybe it would be a realistic thing to demand that the small numbers of people who would then be involved be able to have personal contact ("face time") with the leader of that. In that case, however, who cares—it wouldn't have anything to do with what we are supposed to be, and really must be, all about: making revolution and advancing toward the final goal of communism throughout the world. If we are really thinking about millions of people being involved—and, yes, being led—and at the same time learning from those millions of people, and synthesizing all this in a scientific way, in the service of the kind of revolution that is actually needed, then we have to understand that communist leadership means something radically different from notions of direct, one-to-one contact between leadership and all the masses of people who must be involved in that.
The following (an excerpt from the talk last year, "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," which was recently published in Revolution) touches on important aspects of this:
"First, the purpose of my writings and talks, and indeed of everything I do as a communist leader, is to apply the outlook and method of dialectical materialism to continue developing a scientific understanding of the world and to provide leadership in radically transforming it toward the goal of revolution and the final aim of communism.
"In this connection, while I should, and do, hold myself to a very high standard in terms of intellectual integrity and rigor, and while I respect those who apply the same standards in the realm of academic work, my purpose and approach is not the same as academic scholars who do not play the role of communist leaders. My responsibility, in my particular leadership role, involves (although it is not limited to) addressing the most fundamental contradictions and the most pressing problems in relation to actually making revolution and advancing toward the final goal of communism, and giving leadership to others in doing so. One aspect of this is to continually make, and popularize, an analysis and assessment of the ever changing 'political terrain'—the objective conditions and the role of different political and social forces in relation to those objective conditions. Another key dimension of this is to speak to the questions on the minds of proletarians and other basic masses, as well as people of other strata, particularly with regard to things that may weigh on them and pose obstacles in relation to their seeing both the necessity and the possibility of communist revolution, and acting on that understanding—questions which most academics largely ignore and which many are frankly ignorant of. In a larger sense, with regard to theory and intellectual work, my particular role is not only to strive myself to meet the pressing and profound needs in the realm of developing theory, line and strategic orientation, to serve the goal of revolution and the ultimate aim of communism, but also to inspire—and, yes, to provoke—others in this regard and more generally in terms of taking initiative in working with ideas and wrangling in the realm of theory, broadly speaking; to help provide a continually deepening foundation and developing framework for those seeking to apply the outlook and method of communism to engage in theoretical and analytical work, covering a broad range of fields; and to challenge others, beyond the ranks of communists, to seriously engage with such a communist method and approach and the theory and analysis that results from the application of that method and approach." ("On The Role Of Communist Leadership And Some Basic Questions Of Orientation, Approach And Method," in Revolution #156, February 15, 2009, emphasis in original)
This brings me to some other very important statements by Marx, which were cited in the book Ghana: End of an Illusion, by Bob Fitch and Mary Oppenheimer. This book was written more than 40 years ago, analyzing the rise and fall of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and the larger social and international relations bound up with this. In speaking about the partial revolution—or, in fact, reforms within the system of imperialism and exploitation that people grouped around Nkrumah were seeking to carry out in Ghana—Fitch and Oppenheimer quote Marx to contrast that experience with a "total revolution," that is, a real revolution that involves the radical transformation of society. Fitch and Oppenheimer themselves put it this way:
"Another characteristic of a 'total' revolution is that the class which forms the basis of the revolutionary movement must be one which has 'radical chains' to break.... Marx says that it must be a class in but not of civil society." (Fitch & Oppenheimer, Ghana: End Of An Illusion, Monthly Review Press, 1966, p. 24, emphasis in original)
And then, in elaboration of this point, they quote Marx directly, emphasizing that the basis of the revolution must be a social group, or class, which represents a
"sphere of society which has a universal character because its sufferings are universal, and which does not claim a particular redress because the wrong which is done to it is not a particular wrong but wrong in general. There must be formed a sphere of society which claims no traditional status but only human status, a sphere which is not opposed to particular consequences but is totally opposed to the assumptions of the...political system." (As cited in Fitch & Oppenheimer, p. 24)
This relates back to—it is in a sense another way of stating—what was discussed earlier in relation to Marx's observations in "The 18th Brumaire," and specifically the profound differences in how different class forces and their political and literary (or intellectual) representatives see the problems and solutions. The Black bourgeoisie in the U.S., the forces grouped around Mandela in South Africa, Gandhi in India, the forces around Khomeini in Iran, and so on, see (or saw) things not in a universal way, but in a particular way; what they advocate and strive for embodies a particular or a partial redress, or change, not a universal redress—not a sweeping, radical transformation of the existing system. They represent, in fact, a traditional status—not, as the proletariat does (as it becomes a revolutionary force, on the basis of its fundamental interests as a class) a sweeping away of tradition's chains.
Ghana: End of an Illusion also cites Marx speaking to what he refers to as a "partial, merely political revolution." "What is the basis," Marx asks, of such a "partial, merely political revolution?" Marx answers as follows:
"Simply this: a fraction of a civil society emancipates itself and achieves a dominant position; a certain class undertakes, from its particular situation, a general emancipation of society. This class emancipates society as a whole, but only on condition that the whole of society is in the same situation as this class, for example, that it possesses or can acquire money or culture." (As cited in Fitch & Oppenheimer, p. 23, emphasis in original)
Now of course, Marx's statement here embodies irony: he doesn't actually mean that under the leadership of such a class, and in the remaking of society in the interests and the image of this class, all of society can actually do this (put itself into the same position as this class). The essential point is that this is how these more privileged and even exploiting strata and classes see the remaking of society, even when they are driven toward that objective: they believe, and insist, that the general conditions of society should conform to their particular interests and way of approaching things—in other words, their particular status and aspirations—rather than there being a "springing into the air" and a radical transformation of society as a whole, leading to the abolition of tradition and tradition's chains.
Also, as something of an aside but definitely related to this, there is a very interesting and in some ways humorous observation by Engels which is cited in this same book, Ghana: End of an Illusion. Speaking about the counter-revolution which drowned in blood the revolutions of 1848 in Europe, Engels wrote,
"...when you inquire into the causes of the counter revolutionary successes, there you are met on every hand with the ready-made reply that it was 'Mister This' or 'Citizen That' who betrayed the people. Which reply may be very true or not, according to the circumstances. But under no circumstances does it explain anything, not even how it came to pass that the people allowed themselves to be thus betrayed. And what poor chance stands a political party whose entire stock in trade consists in the knowledge of the solitary fact that 'Citizen So-and-So' is not to be trusted." (As cited in Fitch & Oppenheimer, p. 10)
How much has this kind of "analysis," which Engels so rightly ridiculed, been repeated since then, including right around us today!
This, in turn, calls to mind that very insightful and concentrated observation by Lenin which for very good reason we have many times cited:
"People always were and always will be the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit," [note very well: "and self-deceit"] in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes." (Lenin, "The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism," as cited in Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, second  edition, p. 122, emphasis in original)
How profoundly true—and how profoundly relevant once again these days!
Indeed, this kind of approach, on which Lenin is critically commenting, is very pronounced today, especially when among the oppressed and exploited masses—and, in fact, among all strata of the people, including notably the intelligentsia—there is almost everything but a materialist understanding of things, and especially of society and its historical development. There is a glaring lack of understanding—and a crying need for people to understand—that there is a system whose basic contradictions and dynamics set the terms of things in a fundamental sense; and for people to be given, in a living and compelling way, a materialist analysis and a materialist estimate, as Lenin put it, of how this system actually works and of the role of different classes and social forces in relation to all this.
And here, speaking again about different social forces, their understanding of the problem and their aspirations towards a solution, there is a very relevant observation by Jack Belden in his book China Shakes the World, which was cited in a report by a leading comrade of our party recently:
"No social revolution, either good or bad, ever took place without the existence of a great mass of disinherited people who could furnish a new group with a base of support. In the women of China, the Communists possessed, almost ready-made, one of the greatest masses of disinherited human beings the world has ever seen. And because they found the key to the heart of these women, they also found one of the keys to victory over Chiang Kai-shek."
This recalls the crucial analysis that is contained in the passage that was cited earlier from Marx, speaking to what is necessary in order to have a "total revolution."
This question is not only important in a general and fundamental sense, but it takes on particular significance in relation to the current "Obama phenomenon," and some of the deeper emotions his candidacy—and still more his election (and inauguration)—have called forth, and the ways in which, sad to say, this has blinded some people to what Obama is really all about and the actual nature of the system of which he's a part, of which in fact he is now the chief executive and commander-in-chief.
In this connection, perhaps the following story will shed some light. Back in the '70s when Idi Amin was still the head of the government in Uganda, I went to a party that was held at the house of one of our comrades, and there were some masses from the local area there, including a number of Black people. I was going around and listening to different conversations and just enjoying myself, but also seeking to find out what people were talking about, and in one corner there was a very lively discussion and debate about Idi Amin: One of the Black people there was vigorously upholding and defending Idi Amin, who in reality was both a flunky of imperialism and a brutal oppressor in his own right. And, finally, after listening for a while, I kind of broke in and said: "I understand, I saw that picture of Idi Amin making those British citizens carry him around on all fours. I understand the feelings that evokes. I understand why that made you feel good. But we have to get beyond that to see what Idi Amin really is." And then we began to talk about what Amin really represented—and did not represent.
The desire for revenge (for "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first") and to see one of "your own" actually "make it to the top"—this, especially under a system like this and with the pull of its ideology and the notion that the point of change is for oppressed individuals to "have their chance" to be in a position of privilege and power, is understandably, even if very wrongly, quite strong. And, to come up to the present situation in the U.S., we hear of many people, particularly Black people, saying things like: "We've had a revolution, it's a new America." No, we haven't had a revolution, and it's not a new America. There is something different going on: You have a different kind of president who comes from a different place, and has a different color, if you will. But that is not a revolution, and it is not a new America. It's the same old America, the same old imperialist state, trying to get over better in the world, as well as among people in the U.S.—including Black people in particular—with its murderous and brutally oppressive program.
Malcolm X, even with certain definite limitations in his outlook and understanding, had many important insights, and among them was the way in which he made the point that revolutions are not just a change within the existing system, and that revolutions are not made through the ballot box. As he put it, revolutions overturn systems. This is not what's happened with the election of Obama. What system has been overturned? What fundamental relations in society and the world have been radically changed, in the interests of the masses of people? None. A change of face, a change of color, is not a revolution and it does not a "new America" make.
In a very concise and scientific way, Mao Tsetung spoke to what a revolution is, when he pointed out that a revolution means nothing less than the overthrow of one class by another. A revolution means that the hold of a reactionary ruling class over society—as concentrated in that class's monopoly of political power, embodied in a state (armed forces, courts and prisons, bureaucracies, etc.) representing and serving the interests of that ruling class—is broken and thoroughly dismantled, through a determined struggle of masses of people, organized around a program of radical change—and a new state, representing the interests of a rising revolutionary class, is established in place of the old state. It means that a whole different system is brought into being.
Which class in America has been overthrown, by which other class, with the election of Obama? What new state has been brought into being? What new system? None. It's the same class ruling and the same system, being presided over by a new face with a new color. It's not even "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." It's just one of those who looks like the "last" joining, and heading up, the "first" to keep the "last" last.
The revolution we need—a real revolution, and in particular a revolution aiming for the final goal of communism—has to set its sights on first bringing into being a radically new state, which represents the revolutionary interests of the proletariat in finally abolishing all relations of exploitation and oppression. And then the revolution must be carried forward from there. The long-term and fundamental aim of this revolution is uprooting and eliminating class antagonisms, indeed all class divisions, and everything bound up with this; and in achieving this, throughout the world, the conditions will be created for the withering away of the state—as an instrument of organized, forcible class suppression—and its replacement by forms of association and functioning among the people that enable them to make decisions affecting their interaction with the rest of nature, and their interaction with each other, without class distinctions or any oppressive divisions. This obviously involves something radically different and better than "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." But the election of Obama is not even that.
Revolutions are called forth fundamentally by contradictions in the economic base—by the way in which people are exploited and the way in which the functioning of the economy proceeds through certain relations among people which have become outmoded, which can no longer meet the needs of society in a fundamental sense. This—through many different channels and not directly one-to-one, but nevertheless in an overall sense—calls forth the need for radical change in society, and people more or less consciously come to an understanding of this and act to bring about changes in accordance with their understanding.
At the same time, as I have emphasized before, while they proceed from, or are called forth by, contradictions in the economic base of society—with the outmoded character of the fundamental economic relations, and the way in which they are a fetter on society, becoming particularly acute—revolutions are not made in the sphere of production. They are made in the realm of the superstructure of politics and ideology, through a struggle which ultimately takes its highest and most concentrated form in the all-out struggle to determine who—that is, which class, representing which economic and political and social system and relations—will actually rule society and transform society in accordance with how its most conscious representatives understand the problems and the solutions. That is what a revolution is. Measure that against the election of Obama and see how his election stands in relation to that.
The communist revolution is a radically different revolution from all previous ones, in that it is made in the interests of, and fundamentally by, the class—that is, the proletariat—whose interests lie not simply in changing positions within society (let alone just changing some faces) but in radically transforming society to abolish all economic, social and political relations, and all ideas and culture, which embody and enforce exploitation and oppression—not just in one place or one part of the world, but throughout the world as a whole. It involves and requires the advance to a society, a world, not divided into classes and into oppressors and oppressed, a communist society and world.
In light of that, I want to speak once again to the crucial importance of bringing forward and continually strengthening the communist solid core of, in turn, a broader revolutionary movement—a movement aiming for revolution and nothing less. This stresses once again the great importance of struggling to win people to the whole orientation of being emancipators of humanity, in opposition to notions of revenge—"the last shall be first, and the first shall be last"; "this is my chance to have a go at being in the top position," and so on—which is, to a large degree, the spontaneous way in which people see the question of change in society, when and insofar as they think about this. So there has to be a struggle for people to break out of, to rupture with, that outlook, and to become emancipators of humanity—to be striving consciously for the abolition of not just this or that particular oppressive relation, and not just a change of place within the framework of oppression and exploitation, but the abolition of all oppression and exploitation throughout the world.
This underlines why it is so crucial to pay so much attention, now, to questions of the communist outlook, orientation and aims, in contrast to outlooks and programs representing the interests and aspirations of other classes, and particularly in contrast to the outlook and interests of the bourgeoisie and to what is concentrated in the phrase "bourgeois right": the notion of "right" (or rights) within the framework of bourgeois society, a society dominated by an exploiting class, a society founded on, embodying and enforcing relations of exploitation. There is a crucial importance to this if there is ever going to really be a revolution and if that revolution is actually going to lead to a radically new world.
At the same time, while it is important to wage this struggle among basic masses—the exploited proletarians and others held down at the base of society—there is also the crucial importance of winning over a section of intellectuals—and, more broadly speaking, educated youth—to the vision but also the actual goal of communism. Repeatedly, we see that the strivings of youth for a better world, even to the degree that they do get spontaneously expressed, become diverted, and perverted, degraded and vitiated by the ruling class. And, again, Obama's role is a concentrated example of that. We see a lot of youth today, for example, rallying to Obama's broad call to do "service" to the country in one form or another—not simply military service, but even service in other ways—in education or in terms of the infrastructure or other needs of the country, as these are perceived and framed by the ruling class that Obama is a representative of and serves. What Obama is calling for is service to imperialism—to the bloody system which crushes, degrades and brutalizes, and literally slaughters millions of people, year after year, decade after decade, in the service of exploitation, and to reinforce oppressive relations, including those between oppressor and oppressed nations and peoples, and the oppression of women.
There is, with Obama, this whole echo today of John Kennedy's [speaking in New England accent]: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Obama is very consciously echoing this with his call to service. And, as an article in issue number 153 of Revolution pointed out, this is being directed, distorted and perverted toward service to U.S. imperialism. This is something people learned back in the 1960s. One very significant manifestation of this occurred with people who went into the Peace Corps and then found out what imperialism was actually doing and what they were being directed and led to do as part of an imperialist agency—and who then came back and formed groups like Returned Volunteers, which were explicitly anti-imperialist. They learned in those times, in a situation where people were rising up against imperialism around the world, what the actual relations were that they were being called on to give service to, by being part of imperialist agencies like the Peace Corps. They learned that things like the Peace Corps were an "adjunct" to, and part of the same overall apparatus as, the U.S. military, the CIA, and other instruments of violent, life-crushing imperialist domination and exploitation—and they rebelled against that. This underscores how crucial it is that people break out of the imperialist-constructed framework in which they are conditioned to see the possibility of making contributions to a better world: the ways in which that is distorted and perverted to the literally bloodthirsty aims of imperialism—yes, as represented by Obama, no less than Clinton, no less than "W" Bush, and all the others.
At the same time, we see how in the world today there is the growing phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism, an outmoded world-view, representing outmoded relations, highly oppressive relations, including the enslavement of women in many different forms. People are drawn to that because they see it as a force actually opposing the dominant imperialist powers of the West (however they understand that), represented above all by the U.S. In this connection it is worth recalling again the comment made by a bourgeois observer about people in England who carried out what were objectively acts of terrorism there, on the basis of being influenced by this Islamic fundamentalist ideology. He noted that a generation ago these people, or many of them, would have been Maoists. Now, as I've stressed before, the point is most decidedly not that Maoists carry out the same kind of tactics as Islamic fundamentalists—clearly communists have a very different world outlook and different fundamental objectives and, flowing from that, very different tactics—but the essential point here is that a few decades ago, in circumstances where, in the world overall, revolutionary communism had a much more powerful impact and influence, such people, or many of them, would have been in a radically different and much better place, being drawn to a radically different and truly liberating world outlook and a whole different strategy for changing the world that relies upon and draws forward the masses of people, women no less than men, and aims to uproot all relations of exploitation and oppression, and doesn't seek to terrorize sections of the people into accepting a new form of oppression, or a slightly altered form of oppression.
In this context it is also worth recalling a front page article in the New York Times, on December 24 of last year (2008), where it quotes a youth in a Middle Eastern country, saying that the Islamic fundamentalist movement is for youth like him what Pan-Arabism was for his parents' generation.
This general phenomenon is something that I've pointed to and analyzed in some depth in the book Away With All Gods!—Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. But one thing that was not sufficiently spoken to there (I have spoken to this elsewhere but I actually wish I had spoken to it more in that book...but I'll speak to it here [laughs]) is that, besides the phenomenon of masses of poor people from the countryside—peasants and so on—being uprooted and thrown into the urban areas, and in particular the shantytowns, in countries throughout the Third World, there is also the phenomenon of educated youth who are, however, educated (as one bourgeois commentator put it) on a certain narrow foundation: people who go to college to become engineers or technicians or similar occupations, but find their aspirations for that thwarted by the corruption of the governments in those countries (this is how many of these youth spontaneously see this), but fundamentally by the fact that the economy of those countries and their role within the overall framework of imperialism cannot provide an outlet for these aspirations—to put it simply, cannot provide enough positions and jobs for people who do get the education and training in these spheres. This is one of the sources that is feeding organized Islamic fundamentalist trends and movements within many of these countries. And this is feeding Islamic fundamentalism—and other religious fundamentalism—in today's world more broadly.
In opposition to this, there is a need to much more broadly and deeply capture the imagination of people generally, basic masses but also educated youth—to inspire them with the vision of communism and win them to its truly liberating outlook and goals, win them to truly be emancipators of humanity seeking to abolish all shackles, mental as well as economic, social and political, that hold down the masses of people—as a key part of building the overall movement for revolution, toward the final aim of a communist world. This is an extremely important point, and something I'll come back to: the attractiveness of what is represented by communism, and the need to much more boldly and vigorously put this forward and fight for it among educated youth, as well as among basic masses, and other sections of the people.
But first I want to speak to another basic contradiction that is a key obstacle, or key factor to be taken into account and to be struggled through, in the course of our revolution in the broadest historical sense. And that is the contradiction between the fact that in fundamental terms the advance to communism must be the conscious act of the masses of people making up the great majority of society and on the other hand what has been brought out through the experience of socialist societies so far, namely, that even in socialist society spontaneity cannot be relied on to continue the advance on the socialist road toward communism. Another way to formulate this is: the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat and for a vanguard leadership, in relation to—and in some important ways in contradiction to—the need for this state (dictatorship of the proletariat) to increasingly be radically different from all previous forms of the state.
It is for very good reason that we have opposed bourgeois-democratic notions of how the will of the people gets expressed, especially in a society dominated by exploiters. Even with regard to socialist society, we have correctly resisted the notion of this being identified, in essential terms, with the people voting in elections, and in particular elections involving competing political parties. Not that there is no role for that kind of thing in socialist society but, very correctly and very importantly, we have rejected the notion that this is the essential way in which the masses can express their will and in which their interests can be served.
This notion (that such elections—at least in socialist society—are the essential means for the expression of the will of the masses of people) goes along with a lot of tailing of spontaneity and a misconception that the masses, in their majority, are always, and more or less spontaneously, in a mood to continue advancing on the socialist road toward communism, and therefore they will always be inclined to support those people who put forward that kind of program. In line with this, there is also the misconception that the only real problem, in socialist society in particular, is to make sure that leaders don't become corrupt and bureaucracies and bureaucrats don't take over and divert the course of the revolution; that the key task is to find the means for the masses to supervise the leaders and prevent the leaders from going bad. Now, it is not that there is no role for any of this, but to identify this as the essence of the problem is to seriously misapprehend the actual, fundamental problems, to seriously underestimate, and mis-assess, the fundamental contradictions underlying the very real difficulty and struggle that is involved in advancing on the socialist road toward communism, once power has been seized and the socialist state—the dictatorship of the proletariat—has been established.
It will not be possible to resolve the very real problems and contradictions that do have to be confronted, if the "solution" involves idealizing and romanticizing the masses, and ignoring the very real conditions and social forces, material and ideological, that pull in contradictory directions on the masses of people, even in socialist society—including the fact that sections of the masses at any given time can be pulled back toward the old ways, especially in the face of the difficulties that are bound to be encountered in transforming society on the socialist road in a world still dominated by imperialism and other exploiters and powerful reactionary forces, and in a situation where it requires continual struggle to keep advancing on the road of revolution.
Fundamental errors of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist): wrong conception of the problems, wrong "solutions"
In this regard I want to make some observations concerning the seriously erroneous thinking of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).5
The CPN(M) has put forward a view and a program which in essence identifies communism with bourgeois democracy (that is the actual meaning of its notion of "communism of the 21st century"). This party has become precisely the representative of the fundamentally erroneous view that the masses spontaneously will always desire to continue on the revolutionary road, and therefore they will always support those leaders who represent that road and who put forward programs to advance on that road; and that the masses will, through their actions, if allowed to do so, correct the leaders who deviate from that road, so to speak. This, again, is a fundamental underestimation and misunderstanding of the real and decisive contradictions in socialist society—in the economic base, in the political and ideological superstructure, and in the relation between the base and superstructure—especially in the context of a world still dominated by imperialism.
Now, there are real contradictions, which they seem to be addressing. But their program is seeking to provide a fundamentally wrong answer. And this is related to the fact that they are not correctly identifying the problem. Once again, different classes see the problems and solutions differently.
From the point of view of communism and advancing on the socialist road toward communism, there is this profound, and often acutely posed, contradiction: If, in fact, the emancipation of humanity has to be the conscious act of growing numbers of the masses of people—even while the notion that elections represent the most essential means for the expression of the political will of the masses, and the conception that they will always be spontaneously gravitating towards the program of communism and advancing on the socialist road, is wrong and must be rejected—it can't be the case that at every key point when the spontaneity of the masses is going in another direction, the communists have to step in and act instead of—or even in opposition to—the masses. It will never be correct, nor serve the revolutionary advance to communism, to institutionalize things in such a way that coercion becomes the essential means through which the masses are maintained—or an attempt is made to maintain the masses—on the socialist road. Such a concept is itself profoundly wrong and will lead to the same dead-end as tailing the masses and seeking to rely on spontaneity; and ultimately, or not so ultimately, it will lead to the restoration of capitalism, where socialism has been established.
This is a very real contradiction and thorny problem. We have to develop the ways in which the socialist road is forged through the conscious initiative of the masses, and we must not in fact attempt to do this through the party acting instead of the masses; at the same time, the spontaneity of the masses and its limitations has to be correctly understood and the means have to be developed, with the leadership of the communist vanguard, for the masses to grasp the necessity of advancing, and then actually to fight consciously to continue advancing, on the socialist road—through all the contradictory motion that's involved in that, and not with an idealized vision which assumes that this is going to be a matter of all the masses marching uniformly and in unison toward the goal of communism at every point and with every twist in the road. This goes back to the point that was stressed (almost two decades ago now) in "The End of a Stage—The Beginning of a New Stage,"6 about unresolved contradictions in socialist society and the way in which this calls forth social forces within that society which still demand and are striving for radical change, which the vanguard party has to embrace in the largest sense—learn from, and also struggle over and actually lead to become part of the process of continuing to advance on the socialist road toward communism.
All the understanding, which has been brought forward as part of the new synthesis,7 concerning the role and importance of dissent in socialist society, and the necessary turmoil and "messiness" of the process, has everything to do with being able to embrace all this and lead it toward the goal of communism, while doing so with a full recognition of the contradictoriness of this whole process—and within that constantly looking for and seeking to encourage and support forces which come forward, or can be brought forward, in relation to these unresolved contradictions under socialism, contradictions which propel these forces in the direction of seeking to continue the radical transformation of society, even though at any given time that won't spontaneously be reflected uniformly among the masses, or even perhaps among the majority of people, as a conscious desire to continue to struggle for communism. That's where the role of the vanguard constantly comes in—interacting with these forces and with movements, struggles, and aspirations that are called forth, by the very contradictions still existing in socialist society—continually finding, and forging, the means to embrace all this in an overall sense and lead it toward the goal of communism.
But the idea that, as the CPN(M) argues, all this can be handled through elections with competing parties, and that the masses are always going to gravitate in their majority toward the socialist road and therefore will always elect communists as the leaders of the new society, so long as the communists are not deviating from the correct path and are not becoming overlords over the masses—this is completely naive and idealist.
And this relates to the CPN(M)'s fundamentally wrong viewpoint and method philosophically—its whole approach of combining two into one, in opposition to the correct understanding of contradiction: the understanding that all of life and reality, including society and its transformation, is driven forward by contradiction, and the struggles this gives rise to. The CPN(M) is in fact putting forward the idea that you can handle contradictions—and even that you can avoid the eruption of what are objectively antagonistic contradictions—by seeking to reconcile opposing positions, which in reality always means conciliating, in the final analysis, to what's old and what's reactionary. This is in opposition to recognizing that things will constantly divide out in terms of opposing forces—in terms of contradictions—and that it is a question of constantly recognizing and acting to strengthen what's new, what's revolutionary and what represents the radical transformation of society. That the resolution of contradictions is achieved, and can only be achieved, through struggle. And that when the relations are objectively antagonistic, this resolution will involve, and require, antagonistic struggle, just as when they are not antagonistic then the resolution can be achieved through non-antagonistic struggle—but struggle nonetheless. Contradiction, all contradiction, is resolved through struggle and not through conciliation. This is the difference—the fundamental and essential difference—between the approach of "combining two into one" and that of "dividing one into two": between seeking to conciliate and to reconcile contradictions rather than to resolve them through struggle, either antagonistic or non-antagonistic struggle, depending on the particular nature of the contradiction and the corresponding character of the struggle.
So in this connection, it is important to take the measure, so to speak, of the widespread trend—which is very pronounced in the CPN(M) but also finds expression among others in the ICM, unfortunately—the trend of forces seeking (whether they realize it or not) to reinvent the wheel: to act, and often with no small amount of arrogance, as if they have come up with some startling new discoveries concerning the reasons for the restoration of capitalism in formerly socialist countries and the means for preventing this, when all they have really done is retreat into and rehash worn-out bourgeois-democratic analyses, prejudices and prescriptions, as a supposed analysis of, and remedy for, the reversal of socialism and the overall setback of the communist movement in the last several decades. They have singularly ignored—or, in any case, have failed to seriously engage, let alone to really absorb—the crucial analysis of Mao's on the character of socialist society and the danger of capitalist restoration, and the real lessons to be drawn from this experience, which fundamentally confirm Mao's analysis and approach. At the same time, they have ignored—or dismissed with no, or only very superficial, engagement—the extensive work our party has done around this, which finds expression in the new synthesis and the overall body of work and method and approach of which this new synthesis is, in important ways, a concentration. All this is spoken to powerfully in the Manifesto from our party, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage.
In a very real and fundamental sense, the question of how to view contradiction, and how to understand the means for dealing with contradictions, runs through all of this. The idea that if communist parties have splits—or if antagonistic struggle breaks out within communist parties, in or out of power (to use that shorthand phrase)—that shows that somehow the leaders mishandled the contradictions: this notion is nothing but another expression of the phenomenon that Marx identified and analyzed so insightfully and penetratingly, with regard to the position of the petite bourgeoisie and the thinking that reflects this position, which envisions that it can stand above the great antagonism of the contending classes. Contradictions and struggles within communist parties are a reflection—and in some significant ways a concentrated reflection or expression—of the larger contradictions in society between real and opposing class and social forces which in turn are embedded in, and embody, real material contradictions in the relations of production and the social relations and which find expression in the political institutions and structures and the superstructure as a whole, including ideas and culture.
This is why, despite the best efforts of someone like Mao to prevent splits, such splits repeatedly occurred throughout the history of the Chinese Communist Party. After all, it was Mao who insisted on the basic principles: practice Marxism, not revisionism; unite, don't split; be open and aboveboard, don't intrigue and conspire. He meant all that, and he practiced all that. But adhering to these principles cannot do away with the existence of the bourgeoisie and the fundamental relations in which its continuing existence is grounded, the ways in which it is constantly regenerated, not only in capitalist society but in socialist society as well, and the ways in which this gets expressed within the communist party itself, among people who take up the bourgeois world outlook and the aspirations that go along with that—who see the problems and solutions in a way that corresponds to the outlook and interests of the bourgeoisie. To think that you can avoid—and that you should make a principle of avoiding—splits with forces like that is in reality (and whatever one's intentions) to establish a principle of compromising away fundamental principles and of conciliating with, and ultimately capitulating to, the exploiting classes.
As I have pointed out previously in correspondence to other leading comrades of our party—and this is very relevant to the situation today in the ICM:
"The following from 'Conquer the World’ and specifically the section 'Leninism as the Bridge' is indeed very relevant, insightful and incisive: 'To put it somewhat provocatively, Marxism without Leninism is Eurocentric social-chauvinism and social democracy. Maoism without Leninism is nationalism (and also, in certain contexts, social-chauvinism) and bourgeois democracy.'"8
And, in what I wrote to other leading comrades, I went on to say:
"Along with this, we should clearly understand—and here again the Manifesto speaks to the substance of this very well and importantly—that today Maoism without Bob Avakian's new synthesis will turn into its opposite. Instead of making the leap forward that is required, there will be a retreat backward, ending up sooner or later—and perhaps not that much later—in outright opposition to revolutionary communism."
Next I want to speak to the question of communism as a science and why it is not correct to conceive of it as a "scientific ideology," as someone has raised recently in a written criticism of the characterization in our party's Constitution, in the opening sentence of the Appendix, where it says: "Communism is both a science and a revolutionary political movement." The opposition that is expressed by this criticism, with the formulation "scientific ideology," represents another two into one. It is another version of a trend in the international movement toward reification of the proletariat (in effect, reducing the overall and fundamental interests of the proletariat to identification with individual proletarians) and of "class truth" ("proletarian truth") and a notion of, in effect "proletarian science." It is a form of relativism—which, in fact, "class truth" is, in essential terms—it is (to put it in the popular parlance of our times) another form of "identity politics," with the corresponding relativism.
Now, in discussion of this criticism, some important points have been made by some comrades in refutation of this argument about "scientific ideology." It has been pointed out that this argument amounts to an attempt to create ideology and philosophy which stand outside or above science—ideology and philosophy which are, in the words of this criticism, "a higher level of abstraction" than science.
It is worthwhile getting into this further here, because this touches on some fundamental principles and questions of outlook and methodology which are not only relevant for our party but are crucial for our movement overall and its fundamental objectives.
Part of this argument for why we should call communism a "scientific ideology" explicitly involves a reference to—but in fact a misuse or a misunderstanding of—an analogy I once made, comparing the understanding of reality to the handling of fire (or a burning object): you can't pick up something that is burning with your bare hands, you need an instrument with which to handle that burning object. This is true—there is validity to the analogy, properly understood—but it in no way negates the need for what we could call "scientific objectivity." Applying this analogy, the "instrument" we need for understanding and transforming reality, in all its complexity, is an outlook and method that is not subjective ("class truth"), but one that correctly reflects objective reality—dialectical materialism, which, as I have repeatedly stressed, provides the means for being scientific in the most consistent, systematic, and comprehensive way, if it is correctly grasped and applied, and is not vitiated with subjectivity of one kind or another, including what amount to instrumentalist notions of "class truth."
That such subjectivity is what the author of this criticism has fallen into is shown by the fact that he goes on to argue that we need a certain partisan ideology, in the wrong sense—in the manner of arguing, in effect, that everybody approaches things with certain preconceptions, and communism represents our partisan approach, embodying our set of assumptions, or preconceptions. This is a way of treating ideologies as "narratives," and including communist ideology in this—subjective—category of "narratives." This ends up negating the scientific character of communism, even while calling it a "scientific ideology." It goes along with a misunderstanding, and misuse, of the fact that, yes, everyone does come to anything, including science and any scientific process, with certain assumptions. It falls into—or at least lends itself to—the relativist argument that, since everyone is proceeding according to certain assumptions, then there is no basis for (so to speak) "separating out the subjective from the objective," and really arriving at the truth. It negates the fact that, even with regard to assumptions from which people may be proceeding, it is possible to determine, and to distinguish, which are valid and objectively true assumptions and which are not.
In other words, the fact that we come to things with certain assumptions, or preconceptions, does not rule out the fact—the very important fact—that even those assumptions or preconceptions can, and should, be repeatedly subjected to scientific analysis themselves, to see if they have been and if they remain valid (which, however, does not mean calling everything into question all the time). There is an objective basis, as well as an objective need, to test the assumptions, as well as the conclusions, with which people enter into and with which they carry out the process of science of any kind, including the scientific process of making revolution. Ultimately, this characterization of communism as "scientific ideology," and the arguments in support of this formulation, actually negate not only the scientific character of communism in particular but also the scientific character of science and of the scientific method in general.
This argument in favor of characterizing communism as a "scientific ideology" also insists that "philosophy regulates theory." There is truth in the assertion that one's particular ideological standpoint determines—or has a major influence on—how one develops theory and to what use one puts theory. But, once again, a serious problem enters in when ideology is reduced to a subjective standpoint—which is what is done in this line of argumentation, whether or not that is the conscious intent. This argumentation, including specifically the assertion that "philosophy regulates theory," negates the scientific standard and scientific criteria for evaluating philosophy itself as well as particular theories. Does the philosophy (or the theory) actually correctly reflect reality, or does it not? That is a test that can be applied, and should be applied, by proceeding according to the scientific method—and, above all, the scientific outlook and method of dialectical materialism.
Further light is shed on this by the fact that this argument (in favor of the formulation that communism is "scientific ideology") cites Althusser to the effect that ideology is class struggle in the realm of theory. This is another relativist and idealist formulation. Ideology is a worldview and a set of values. There is class struggle in the realm of ideology, as there is in the realm of theory, but ideology itself is not class struggle. This, yet again, is akin to—and in fact a form of advocacy of—"class truth." Once more, the correctness, or incorrectness, of a particular ideology—whether or not it corresponds to reality—is something which can be objectively determined, and that determination is not reducible to—and is not in essence—a matter of class struggle. As emphasized in Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA: "truth is objective, does not vary in accordance with differing class interests, and is not dependent on which class outlook one brings to the pursuit of the truth." (Part IV, "The New Challenges, and the New Synthesis")
This argument (for why communism should be considered not a science but a "scientific ideology") also involves a wrong understanding, as opposed to a correct understanding—or a wrong line, as opposed to the correct line—on the principle that Marxism "embraces but does not replace" all the different spheres of human endeavor and thinking. At one point in the course of this argument it is said that, as such, communism has nothing to say about specific theories in different fields or disciplines of science—physics or biology or whatever. Now, it is true that there is the particularity of contradiction—that each of the phenomena or processes that fall, generally speaking, within these different spheres of biology or chemistry or physics, etc., have their particularities. And you can't resolve them by just imposing, shall we say, communist principles in general. But to wall off the one from the other—a specific sphere, or a particular phenomenon, on the one hand, and the question of outlook and method, on the other hand (or, to put this another way, the "does not replace" aspect, on the one hand, and the "embraces" aspect, on the other hand)—and to argue that communism doesn't methodologically enter into the equation (if you will) of how these problems are approached and understood is, once again, wrong. It in effect negates the "embraces" aspect—the fact that, while not replacing them, communism does embrace all these particular spheres and the particular contradictions and phenomena within these spheres. It amounts to making an absolute separation where there is not, and cannot be, such a separation. Outlook and methodology "penetrates into" and has an influence on how particular phenomena will be studied, investigated, probed, synthesized and understood—or not—correctly. This does not negate the fact—one which we have very rightly insisted on—that people who do not uphold and apply the outlook and method of dialectical materialism can and do arrive at important truths. But it remains true that dialectical materialism provides the most consistent, systematic and comprehensive means for engaging, and learning about—and having the most scientifically founded basis for transforming—objective reality; and, once again, this does have implications for—it does "embrace" and apply to—all spheres of human endeavor.
As can be extrapolated from what I have said so far, this argument (communism is a "scientific ideology") involves a wrong line, as opposed to a correct line, on the very important principle that communism as a world outlook and method is both objective and partisan. This argument basically amounts to saying that communism is partisan, while in essence denying that it is objective, even if that is not explicitly denied.
This goes against very important principles that were being emphasized in the discussion with comrades on epistemology, in the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy9 : the particular point about how truth does not have a class character but different truths enter into the class struggle, and the whole rich process that's being envisioned and argued for there, in terms of how communism correctly embraces everything and seeks to know everything that's actually true—even when, in the short term sense, particular truths may work against the things that we're fighting for, but then in the larger sense, if correctly handled, they can become part of the process that leads to the objectives we're struggling for. That contradictory motion and struggle—and all the richness involved in that process—is undermined and opposed by this incorrect line on objective and partisan (which is part of the argument for why communism should be considered not a science but a "scientific ideology"). Because communism is objective, it can be partisan on behalf of the proletariat—and, in fact, can be so in a thoroughgoing way—and only to the degree that it is actually objective can it really be partisan in the essentially correct sense—can it, in other words, really serve and further the most fundamental interests of the proletariat.
This leads into the broader question of what is the correct understanding of what science is. I was recently reading the book The Canon (or, more specifically, the first part of that book) by Natalie Angier. She recounts some discussions she had with a number of scientists on this question: what is science, and what is the scientific method? One of the essential things that comes through is that science involves, as a fundamental starting point, accepting and working with the world as it actually is, and not as you would wish it to be. This is, as we know, a fundamental dividing line, epistemologically and methodologically, and it has everything to do with what I have been speaking to here.
Science, we need to emphasize again, is not a mystery. There are specific spheres and disciplines of science which do have their own particularities—and which do, yes, require specialization and hard work to learn about them and make advances in them. This is where the correct application of "embraces but does not replace" comes in for communists. But the basic scientific outlook and scientific method is something that anyone can and everyone should grasp and apply to reality—not that everyone will do this, at least in a systematic way, in this kind of society, but looking to the future and in terms of what we're striving and struggling for, we should have an orientation and an understanding that anyone can and everyone should grasp and apply the scientific outlook and method, and by doing so, and persevering in doing so, ordinary people (that is, non-specialists, and not only specialists in various fields) can learn important things, not only about reality overall but about science itself and about particular spheres of science, even ones that are highly complex and involve a high level of abstraction.
The following, then, are some key principles of science and the scientific method as well as, in particular, the scientific outlook and method of communism, dialectical materialism.
First, as came through in the discussions Natalie Angier had with a number of scientists, there is the fundamental point of orientation of approaching the world as it actually is, and not as we would like it to be.
Along with this is the importance of proceeding according to the understanding that all reality consists of matter in motion, of material reality which is constantly moving and changing and undergoing transformation, through leaps, from one state of matter (and not anything else) to another state (or form) of matter.
There is the process of learning about matter in motion through empirical investigation of actually existing material reality in different particular forms (gathering evidence in this way, so to speak). In this regard, there is Mao's famous statement that to learn about the pear you have to change it by eating it—he didn't just say you have eat it, he said you have to change it by eating it. It is a fact that you do change reality by investigating it, but this understanding can, and should, be incorporated into and utilized as part of the scientific method and approach.
There is the importance, in the whole process, of synthesizing what is learned through this approach (that is, by empirical investigation of the actual existing material reality): making the leap from facts, data, etc., accumulated in this way to rational conclusions about these facts, data, etc.—and in particular by identifying the patterns that emerge through this process. (In this connection, I'll just refer people once again to the article "'A Leap of Faith' and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods"10 and to Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, in particular the section "Reason Has Not 'Failed Us'—Reason Is Absolutely Necessary—Though, In Itself, It Is Not Enough" in Part Four, "God Does Not Exist—We Need Liberation Without Gods.")
In terms of science, the scientific method, and in particular the scientific outlook and method of communism, it is crucial to constantly be striving to maintain a spirit and method of critical thinking and openness to what is new and what challenges accepted or received wisdom. This involves repeatedly re-examining what is believed by oneself and/or the prevailing opinions in society, etc., to be true: repeatedly subjecting this to further testing and interrogation from the challenges of those who oppose this and of reality itself, including the ways that the ongoing development of material reality may bring to light new facts—that is, newly discovered or newly understood aspects of reality which pose challenges to the accepted wisdom. However, it is very important to emphasize, this does not mean falling into agnosticism and relativism, denying objective truth and in particular acting as if everything must be called into question, as if nothing is known or can be counted on as being true, whenever new discoveries, or new theories or hypotheses, call into question certain ideas previously determined or thought to be true. The scientific process and scientific knowledge, and knowledge in general, is not advanced in this way and cannot be advanced in this way—at least not in any kind of sustained sense—but is advanced by proceeding on the basis of what has previously been established to be true, especially where this has been established through mutually reinforcing evidence and rational conclusions drawn from a range of sources; and then to further probe and learn about reality and use the accumulated store of human knowledge, including with regard to methodology, in evaluating new evidence, new theories, new challenges to what has been held to be true, and so on.
This basic point of method is, for very good reason, emphasized a number of times in the book on evolution by Ardea Skybreak, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters. And it is articulated in the "Defend Science" statement (which is also reproduced as an appendix in that book), particularly in the following, just before the conclusion of the "Defend Science" statement:
"...one thing the overwhelming majority of scientists have in common is their understanding that, when conducting scientific investigation and applying the scientific method, it is essential to use as a starting point previously accumulated scientific knowledge—the storehouse of well-established scientific evidence about reality which has previously been arrived at through concrete and systematic scientific observation and experiment and has been subjected to rigorous scientific review and testing. This is what we scientists stand on as our foundation when we set out to further investigate reality and make new discoveries. This is how science has been done and how it has advanced for hundreds of years now, and this has allowed science to benefit humanity in countless ways." ("An Urgent Call by Scientists to: DEFEND SCIENCE! In the United States Today Science, as Science, Is Under Attack as Never Before," reprinted in Ardea Skybreak, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters—see pages 322.)
Once again on objective truth, relative truth, and the fundamental opposition between scientific materialism and relativism
What is involved here, among other things, is the fundamental difference and decisive dividing line between the recognition that all human knowledge contains an element of relativeness and, on the other hand, relativism as a basic philosophical outlook and approach. Here, again, is the relation between absolute and relative truth: the fact that the universe infinitely exists and the reality that actually exists embodies absolute truth, but human knowledge at any given time, even about particular things, let alone about reality in general, contains an aspect of relativeness because the world is constantly moving and changing and it is not possible to know everything about reality ever—and even what's known about particular things, since they don't exist in isolation and aren't static and unchanging, will involve a relative element. But as Lenin stressed, there is a fundamental difference between understanding that correctly—and therefore being driven to keep on learning, on the basis of grasping and applying a correct approach to the actual relation between absolute and relative truth, and between theory and practice—and, on the other hand, falling into relativism and agnosticism, especially when some established truth may be upended and overturned in this or that particular sphere, or even in a major way.
It is a basic foundation stone of materialism that practice is the ultimate point of origin and point of verification of theory. This is opposed to notions such as those advocated by Karl Popper, for example, who insists that how well a theory withstands criticism determines whether a theory should be accepted as the most valid at any given time. In Popper's thinking (and he is certainly not alone in this) this goes along with the idea that it is after all not really possible to know what is actually true. To quote Popper directly: "We cannot establish or justify anything as certain, or even as probable, but have to content ourselves with theories which withstand criticism." (The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 2: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, Princeton University Press, Revised First Edition, 1966 [First Princeton Paperback Printing, 1971], pp. 375, 379, cited in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity." See "Marxism as a Science—Refuting Karl Popper," in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity"—also found in Revolution And Communism: A Foundation And Strategic Orientation, pp. 18-30.)
Here, ironically in the name of opposing relativism, Popper is in fact arguing very clearly for relativism—and is specifically denying and opposing the scientific principle that practice, and not "criticism," is the ultimate point of verification (as well as the ultimate point of origin) of theory.
But it is also important to emphasize that, just as it is a foundation stone of materialism that practice is the ultimate point of origin and point of verification of theory, it is equally true and crucial to grasp that what is involved in this criterion is not practice in a narrow empiricist sense, but in a broad sense, and practice not simply "taken as it is" but practice analyzed and synthesized through the application of the scientific method, and above all the most consistent, systematic and comprehensive expression of this, the scientific communist outlook and method of dialectical materialism.
From all this it can be seen that it is very important that we correctly understand the relation between science and philosophy, and in particular our communist philosophy, which includes morality as well as outlook and method. Communism is a world outlook and method, but once again that world outlook and method is (to put it that way) susceptible to and should be evaluated according to scientific principles. Is idealism (as a philosophical outlook) in accord with reality, or is materialism? Are static and metaphysical notions about reality (for example, the notion that things have been brought into being by some supernatural force and that, once brought into being, they have always been and will always remain the way they are) in accord with reality, or is dialectics—the understanding that all of reality involves, indeed consists of, contradiction, motion, struggle, development, and leaps from one state of matter in motion to a qualitatively different state of matter in motion—in accord with reality?
To come at this another way: Communism, it could be said, is not simply a science, in the sense that it does involve other elements, including morality, which are, strictly speaking, outside of the province of science. But all this cannot be divorced from science; and it all ultimately and fundamentally rests on, as well as needing to be continually regrounded in, what is actually true, as determined by a scientific approach and method, and no other.
So harking back to the discussion I mentioned earlier—the discussion with comrades on epistemology, on knowing and changing the world, in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy—it is very important to continually go back to, dig into and wrestle more deeply with what is said there about the relation between the scientific method and the emergence of new truths that are established through the scientific method, on the one hand, and on the other hand the struggle for communism. It is crucial to grasp what is actually being said there, in all of its richness, concerning this whole process, and why in fact it is true that even truths that make us cringe can and should—and in a real sense must—contribute to the struggle for communism, rather than being treated as something which works against it.
With all this as background, I want to move on to engage in some further grappling with the question of meaningful revolutionary work, as this applies both to basic masses—and more specifically basic youth—as well as to college and university students. There is a need for more systematic summation of our party's practice in this regard, in relation to "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution"—understood in its full meaning—and overall. And, besides the need for more systematic summation of practice, there is a need for further wrangling in the realm of theoretical conception, specifically in regard to meaningful revolutionary work. And, as I spoke to in "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," there is a need to grapple further, on the level of theoretical and strategic conception, with what a revolutionary situation would actually "look like" and how it could actually develop—a need which is underscored by the deep and multi-pronged crisis in which the imperialist system is now enmeshed.
Here again arises what we have referred to as the "George Jackson question"—the fact that, as George Jackson put it, the idea of revolution as some far off goal has no meaning to a slave who does not expect to live beyond tomorrow11 —and the contradictions bound up with this in terms of meaningful revolutionary work on the necessary road in a country like the U.S. (or, to put it another way, meaningful revolutionary work in relation to what is concentrated in "On the Possibility of Revolution"12 ). As has been repeatedly emphasized, this is "a tough nut to crack" and at the same time it is of decisive importance in relation to actually making revolution in a country like this. Continuing to make advances and breakthroughs in relation to this is critical in terms of really making our very advanced line—which is our great strength, or a concentrated expression of our great strength—making this very advanced line a material revolutionary political force among growing numbers of the masses of people.
A way of formulating the contradiction, which gets to the crux of things, or much of it, is this: All along the way, even before there is a revolutionary situation, and through all the work and struggle of preparing for the emergence of such a situation, how to make revolution, and the building of a movement for revolution real—and, yes, even palpable—without falling into the orientation of seeking palpable results as the means for building the movement, which would mean that it would be a non-revolutionary movement. This is a contradiction that we have to constantly be conscious of and continually working on, all along the way. (For a discussion of the fundamental error of seeking to build a movement pivoting on "palpable results," see "'Palpable results': economism, reformism and revisionism," in "Revolutionary Strategy, Bringing Forward a Revolutionary People," an excerpt from "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," in Revolution #160 [March 29, 2009], available online at revcom.us/avakian/Out into the World/Avakian_Out_into_World_pt4-en.html.)
We hear from masses of people—and I've seen this in reports recently—statements or sentiments along the following lines: "I know revolution is needed," or "I know revolution is what's gotta happen at some point," but "what do we do now, what do we do in the meantime?"
Answer? Make revolution. Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution. Prepare minds and organize forces for the time when a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people, in the millions and millions, emerges. Work actively and consciously to bring this time closer and to bring things to where we are in the best position to act decisively when this does come about. Devote your life, energy, daring and creativity to confronting, fighting through and overcoming the obstacles to making this happen, and to winning more and more people to doing the same.
That statement—that answer to this question of "what do we do now?"—is not meant to be facile or flippant. It is intended to embody all the content, and recognize all the complexity, that goes into doing that, but at the same time to stress the fact that making revolution is what we're doing every day, in order to actually be able to have a revolution, and that there is nothing more substantial or meaningful to which people can and should be devoting their lives. Of course, the meaning of this has to be fleshed out more fully—and I'm going to speak to this further here, to lay the groundwork, or some of the groundwork, for doing this more fully in an ongoing way.
In this context, I do want to emphasize a fundamental point of orientation and crucial dividing line, in the context of the already very deep and continually deepening financial/economic crisis which has gripped U.S. society and, indeed, world capitalism as a whole, involving a certain ideological "crisis of confidence" of capitalism, which is increasingly accompanying this material crisis—all of which is occurring in the context of profound challenges all-around for imperialism and U.S. imperialism in particular, with its wars for empire in the name of "war on terror." The basic point of orientation and line of demarcation is this: In the context of all this, we must not fall into the revisionist sinkhole that marked the CPUSA in the 1930s depression, or into the neo-FDRism that much of the so-called "left" and "progressives" are so abjectly and pitifully salivating and begging for now, with regard to Obama's presidency.
Here it is worth highlighting—specifically in relation to Obama, and along with the continuing exposure that has been done in our newspaper, and must continue to be done, around what Obama really represents—what is said in the statement by the March 8 Women's Organization (Iran-Afghanistan), exposing how Obama will not and cannot be fundamentally different from other imperialist heads of state, and his "good wars" are no different from what was done under Bush. (See "Revolutionary Women Cry Out: Revolution Is the Way Out for Humanity," reprinted in Revolution no. 156, February 15, 2009.) This, and other exposure of Obama, is something we have to drive home very forcefully to people.
But more generally, the point I'm stressing is that here is a deep crisis of capitalism—which all (or at least most) of the capitalist representatives, experts, pundits, and so on, are saying is not going to end any time soon—and we must not repeat the experience of the CP in the 1930s depression, of striving to crawl under—and actually crawling under—the wing of the bourgeoisie. We must very sharply struggle against that tendency, not only among ourselves, but more broadly in society.
We must remain all the more firmly grounded in a revolutionary orientation and work unswervingly and with great energy and initiative for revolution, aiming for the final goal of communism—and nothing less—as our strategic approach and the guide and measure in all our work. Let me put it this way: We really have to be about revolution, and we have to come across very clearly and boldly as being about revolution, in all we do. Not in some religious sense, not just with incantations or even just with very good exposure about the need for revolution, although that is in fact indispensable; but everything we do has to be about actually building a movement aiming for revolution, and we have to be continually straining against the limits and constantly coming back to the question of how to make revolution real and palpable without falling into fashionable means or gimmicks or, in fact, seeking palpable results as the means for building the movement.
We have to really be building a movement for revolution, consistently and systematically, and constantly struggling against the pull of spontaneity toward getting drawn into something else, something less. We have to firmly and consistently grasp, fight for and apply—and continually draw in others to take up and apply—the orientation of not just waiting for some "fine day" when revolution will come, but actually hastening while awaiting the emergence of a revolutionary situation. We have to understand more deeply and more consistently apply ourselves—and win continually greater numbers that we draw forward to understand, and act on the understanding—that "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism" (the overall ensemble of revolutionary work drawing from and expanding on the basic principles that Lenin stressed in his seminal work What Is to Be Done?), including the two mainstays within that overall ensemble, is meaningful revolutionary work. This is not something else, and it must not be reduced to or perverted into something else. The following from our party's Constitution is very relevant here:
"This work of 'hastening while awaiting' requires that the party must strain against the limits of the objective political situation it faces—working to transform the situation to the maximum degree possible at any given time and doing so in relation to, and maintaining its tenseness toward, any possible openings for revolution. To do this, it leads a whole ensemble of revolutionary preparations, with the party's press and the spreading of communist theory, especially as concentrated in the body of work, method and approach of Bob Avakian, as the mainstays of that activity." (Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, I. Preamble: Basic Principles of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, RCP Publications, 2008, p. 10)13
That whole ensemble—including the two mainstays, as actual mainstays—is meaningful revolutionary work, not just for more educated and literate strata, but for basic masses, including in particular the youth among the basic masses.
There is a very real and pressing need to win masses of people to see that this is what they should be giving their lives to. Our party's line and strategy is a way to actually make revolution, in the correctly understood sense—not that we're carrying out the struggle for the seizure of power now, but everything we're doing is building for revolution, in all of its different dimensions, as concentrated in the overall ensemble of "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism."
Once again, it is crucial to give emphasis to the ideological dimension and ideological struggle, with masses of people broadly—basic masses but also people of other strata. With regard to the basic masses in particular, and as a matter of fundamental orientation overall, while of course it is important to unite with people who hold religious views but take a stand (or can be won to take a stand) in opposition to various forms of oppression—and while it is also important to recognize that winning people, in their masses, away from religion will involve a long-term process, of struggle—this struggle cannot, and must not, be put off, or put to the side, until some future time; there is a decisive and ongoing need, even in the context of uniting in the practical struggle, to carry out very sharp struggle against religion, in all its forms—struggle waged in a living and compelling way, not in a dogmatic way and not in a way that is contemptuous of the masses in fact, but in a way that actually manifests strategic respect for them, embodying the understanding that they can, and strategically they must, cast off this mental shackle of religion and confront and transform—be part of a growing mass revolutionary movement to confront and transform—reality as it actually is.
We also have to go straight up against the mentality of a defeated and degraded people, especially as this applies among people in the inner cities. And, along with this, we have to struggle fiercely against the deceit and self-deceit around the Obama election and the Obama presidency, including the pathetically false notions—in the actual and full meaning of "pathetically"—that "we've had our revolution, it's a new day in America," which is really just defeated people mentality turned inside out, and which sets people up for further defeat and, even worse, for enlisting them in the crimes of this system, while at the same time they are further victimized by crimes of this system.
We should remember and constantly bring out the real meaning of William Bennett's comments on election night about "now, no more excuses,"14 and what all these "grand hopes and inspirations," bound up with illusions about Obama, are going to turn into when the system asserts itself according to its actual nature and dynamics and prevents the masses of people from actually being able to realize even the aspirations they spontaneously have under this system—and when this system does what it does to masses of people, in particular the masses of people in the inner cities, and then adds insult to injury by seeking to blame them for their situation, and adds even further insult by saying, "now you have no more excuses because of Obama." We really need to grasp firmly the bitter reality that's bound up in the masses getting caught up in this Obama thing, and the way this is going to be ruthlessly wielded against them.
And there is a need for ideological struggle to enable people to rupture with the "hustler mentality" and the spontaneity that goes along with the life of many of the masses in the projects and the inner cities generally.
All of this ideological struggle must be waged sharply and at times even fiercely. But in terms of basic stance and orientation, let me stress once again that it must also be waged, as I have put it previously, with our arm around the masses, maintaining a clear and firm sense of the real revolutionary potential of these masses.
We need to vigorously struggle with people—and here I am speaking especially of basic Black people and other basic masses—so that their mentality, and the actions that go along with that, are not those of a defeated people...nor a deluded people. As we put it in the special supplement, "The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of this System, and the Revolution We Need,"15 there must be a conscious confronting of the reality of being oppressed people…and transformation into becoming revolutionary people.
There is also a need, of course, for ideological struggle, waged sharply and compellingly, among other sections of the people, and in particular educated youth and the intelligentsia broadly speaking—in particular sharp struggle against the forms that bourgeois individualism and bourgeois-democratic illusions and prejudices take among these strata; struggle against idealism and various forms of relativism and petit-bourgeois "ultra egalitarianism," including as this takes form as opposition to leadership. This "ultra egalitarianism" is, at base, another form of "me first-ism"—it is a version of striving to be "first among equals," which ultimately is in the service of perpetuating this system with its profound inequalities and fundamental relations of exploitation and oppression.
I remember, decades ago, when we were opening things up to public discussion and debate about our old Programme, an anarchist wrote in and put forward standard anarchist arguments against vanguard leadership—while at the same time insisting that he's all for releasing political prisoners when the revolution comes...but if the "murderers, rapists, and psychopaths" among the incarcerated threaten his daughters, then he's going to use the training he got as a U.S. soldier in Vietnam to kill those threatening his daughters. All of a sudden, the idea that there should be guaranteed rights for people (which this person was strenuously arguing) goes up in smoke with the invocation of the prospect of this guy's property—in this case his daughters, which he is essentially treating as his property—being threatened. Here, in this apparent "flip"—from lofty sounding principles about protection from arbitrary authority, to starkly narrow individualism and "vigilante-ism"—we see a rather classical (if somewhat extreme) example of the outlook of a patriarch and a small property owner: we see, sharply revealed, the fundamental nature of this "ultra egalitarian" outlook (including, in this case, not only extreme individualism but also rather pronounced and aggressive patriarchy).
This—to invoke again the very important formulations from Marx that I cited earlier—is another expression of the outlook of the petite bourgeoisie, and more specifically of the petit bourgeois democrat—who, however, imagines that he or she is expressing some universal principle about how society ought to be, something which represents the road to the general emancipation of society, when it only represents the illusory notion of remaking the world in the image of the petite bourgeoisie and in reality leads to perpetuating this system ruled by the bourgeoisie with not only its profound inequalities, but the fundamental relations of exploitation and oppression in which this system is grounded and through which it proceeds.
Directly posed against all this—and something which must be boldly put forward in a living, meaningful, powerful and compelling way—is the radically different and truly liberating outlook and objectives of revolution and communism. There is great importance to fully recognizing—and acting on the recognition of—the positive attractive force of what we are actually all about: our goals, and above all the final goal of communism, but also our outlook, methods and morals. In this regard it is very instructive to read the article by Sunsara Taylor in issue no. 152 of Revolution, "Some Thoughts on the Importance of Bob Avakian to Building a Revolutionary Movement," where she speaks precisely to the attractive force of what we represent and how radically different it is from everything else that is out there—the liberating content of this, and the way that this both calls forward inspiration among people, and also a lot of questions and struggle which, as she emphasizes, we should want and welcome, because this, too, is part of the process through which we're going to win people to what we're all about.
As I have previously emphasized, there is crucial importance to fostering, through many different means and in many different arenas, a radically different culture—among the youth and among all sections of the people—a culture of defiance, resistance, and, above all, revolution, infused with the communist emancipators of humanity ethos and spirit. Once again, this will require both determined and, yes at times, even fierce struggle, straight up against the prevailing culture (and "sub-cultures") that reflect and ultimately serve the existing system of commodification, domination, exploitation and oppression. And it will require unleashing initiative and creativity among masses who are drawn forward to the emancipators of humanity outlook.
We really should be, and increasingly need to be, calling on youth (and others) to be utilizing and giving expression to their creativity to develop and popularize this culture, in all kinds of ways, in every sphere—to be spreading this culture, and in particular the communist core of this culture, in art and all the different forms of popular expression, on the internet, and in a thousand ways which people can be unleashed to take up, when they begin to get a basic grasp of the liberating potential of what we're all about. While struggling consistently for the communist outlook to gain increasing influence within all this, we should not seek to tightly control but should seek to unleash and to, once again, "put our arms around" and strive to lead all this toward the communist goal, working through the contradictions that will inevitably be involved in this, especially if we are actually going to have a living process, which we really need to have on a much bigger scale.
In addition to, and in important ways overlapping with, the roles of certain comrades as public spokespeople and representatives for the party, and more particularly their roles in terms of fostering a culture of appreciation, promotion and popularization of our Chair, his body of work and method and approach—and with the newspaper as the hub and pivot, and organizational "scaffolding," of the revolutionary movement overall—there is a great need for propagators, in a compelling way, of the party's line and, in the correct sense, fighters and organizers for this line—people who see it as their mission, and are guided by the party's vision and line, to go out and actually fight for this line, win people to it, organize them into the revolutionary movement and struggle for them to become communists and then to join the party once they've made that leap to being communists. With even a relatively small increase in the ranks of people who are really won to do this, we could make significant advances, we could make important changes in terms of building the movement for revolution. We need to have a conscious orientation toward this, and pay systematic attention to it, both inside and outside the ranks of the party: It must be increasingly developed from within the party itself, and among those very close to and partisan to the party, at any given time, but also by bringing forward newly advancing people within the broader movements and struggles as, through our systematic work on the basis of our party's line, people are won to the revolutionary communist position.
There is a need to be much more straightforwardly putting out the challenge, especially to youth but to others as well who are drawn toward our party and its revolutionary communist line, that—even before making the leap to joining the party, but as a crucial aspect of moving in that direction—they need to advance beyond just being drawn toward the idea of revolution and weighing, "from the outside," whether they think the idea of revolution can take hold among broader numbers and can really become a powerful political force—they need to make the leap from that to taking up the challenge themselves of assuming responsibility for building the revolutionary movement, actively playing a role in figuring out how to make this happen and actually making it happen. This, too, is something to which further attention—including the further development and refining of a basic approach in this regard—needs to be seriously and systematically devoted on the part of the party leadership and the party as a whole, from here forward.
A still more deepened understanding, and living reality, of "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution"
In light of all this, we should grasp more fully everything that is embodied in the strategic orientation: "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution." We need a deepened understanding of this and more consistent and systematic application of it: by the party itself; in terms of the orientation and practical activity of the Revolution Clubs; and in an overall sense. This is not a slogan just for resistance. Nor, on the other hand, is it a slogan that is meant to encourage scholasticist discussions in the abstract (in a bad sense) of how the world could be different and how people need to change, or the idea that first we have to change ourselves before we can change the world. Quite the contrary. We need to change ourselves—and growing numbers of people have to be involved in changing themselves and others—in the context of, and in the process of, making revolution and changing the world. That is what "Fight the Power, and Transform the People"—and the dialectical unity of the different aspects involved in this, and the struggle involved in this—is all about. It is all aiming, and building, for revolution.
It should be clear to the masses—and this has everything to do with meaningful revolutionary work—especially to those masses who at any given time are drawn toward the party and to the attractiveness of what it's all about, it should be clear that when they want to stand up and fight back against oppression, this is where they go: to the vanguard, to the movement around the vanguard. When they want to grapple with the problems, the contradictions and the difficulties of how the people themselves are going to be changed in order to become revolutionary and in order to take up the challenge of making revolution, this is where they come: to the vanguard, and the revolutionary movement around it. It is not somewhere else and something else that is involved in resisting the oppression of this system and in making that resistance part of building a movement to sweep away this system and advance toward the final aim of communism. It is, it must be, this party and the movement for revolution with this party at its core.
This has to be deeply internalized on the part of the party as a whole and fought for, and won, among growing numbers of people who are drawn around the party. And, as I have been stressing here, they have to themselves take this up and—not as "a leap of faith" but on the basis of being won to this, through struggle involving substance and science—move "from the outside" and agnosticism to coming into the process and actively, themselves, taking up the challenge of building this movement for revolution, with the party at the core of that.
We have to give all this organized expression—not for economist purposes and not with an "economist culture" ("the movement is everything, the final aim nothing") but with a revolutionary culture and for revolutionary communist aims. We have to give this organized expression in various forms on the basis of consistently and systematically carrying out and fighting for this revolutionary communist line, and no other, and continually struggling to enable this line, and no other, to be in the guiding and leading position, in an overall sense. We have to actively carry out—and win others to understand the crucial need for, and to carry out—the process of preparing minds and organizing forces—for revolution.
This goes back to the answer to the question: What do we do now? We make revolution: we "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution"; we carry out the overall ensemble of "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism," with its two mainstays; we bring forward fighters for this revolution, people on a mission to win people to and organize them around the line of this party and into this revolutionary movement with the party at its core, guided by this line and no other; we prepare minds and organize forces for revolution. This is what we are, and must be, doing—now, and throughout the whole process of hastening while awaiting the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people in the millions and millions. Not in the sense that, right now and without the objective conditions and the millions of people prepared to fight for this, we're going for the seizure of power, but in the sense that everything we're doing is nothing else and nothing less than building a movement toward the goal of revolution, real revolution.
It is crucial that we maintain a firm grounding in and consistently apply our strategy of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat. To be very clear: The emphasis in this talk on the importance of class analysis—dialectical materialist analysis, not reified and reductionist "class analysis"—should not be taken to mean that we should simply "accept," and in fact tail rather than struggling with, the spontaneous outlooks of other class forces ("what do you expect?—that's just the way the petite bourgeoisie is—there's nothing you can do about it") nor, on the other hand, that we should adopt a sectarian attitude toward, and simply "write off," petit bourgeois forces, and others who spontaneously gravitate toward that outlook—a category which, it must be recognized, constitutes the great majority of people, including the majority of the basic masses, at this point. No, the point of all this is to strengthen our grasp of dialectical materialism and our ability to apply this in a living way, and to have a fuller and deeper appreciation of the strategy of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat, and of the correct relation between the two aspects of this: United Front, and Leadership of the Proletariat. But this is only important, and only correct, precisely as a strategy for revolution—revolution aiming toward the ultimate goal of communism—and nothing else, nothing less. Implementing this strategy involves building broad mass movements and mass organizations with people coming at things from different viewpoints and with different specific objectives, particularly around the major concentrations of social contradiction (in this connection see, for example, "Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—In Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution"16 ). It involves the process of unity-struggle-unity and how, through this whole rich process, the revolutionary interests of the proletariat—in the largest sense and not in a narrow and reified sense—can be brought to the fore and the ground prepared for revolution.
Going back to a repeated theme in this talk, one class or another is going to seize the reins, in the ultimate sense; and that class, headed by its leading political representatives, is going to work to bring into being the solutions that it sees in line with the way it sees the problems, in accordance with the outlook, interests and aspirations that are characteristic of that class. The only way that the revolutionary interests of the proletariat are going to be able to come to the fore and finally seize the reins, and bring about the actual solution that is in the interests of the great majority of people, and ultimately of humanity as a whole, is if the communists remain firmly grounded in that and, through all the complexity of unity-struggle-unity and the whole implementation of the strategy of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat, constantly struggle to bring to the fore these revolutionary interests and objectives and prepare the ground in this way—politically and ideologically and, yes, organizationally, preparing minds and organizing forces—for when it comes down to the situation where the fight can be waged for the seizure of power, when in fact a revolutionary situation develops, a revolutionary crisis becomes extremely acute, and a revolutionary people emerges in the millions and millions (as spoken to in Revolution And Communism: A Foundation And Strategic Orientation, including "On the Possibility of Revolution" and "Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—In Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution").
Through all this, we must keep firmly in mind the fundamental point that the party itself is the most important and decisive expression of organization of the masses, which in fact embodies the highest interests of the proletariat as a class and ultimately the emancipation of humanity.
In addition to the party itself, there is the importance of other organizations and instrumentalities following the party's line, such as the Revolution Clubs and revolutionary bookstores. And there is the need for developing other forms that give expression to the movement for revolution and a culture of defiance, resistance, revolution and communism. Once again, this must involve, as a significant aspect, unleashing the creativity of growing numbers of people, especially youth but others as well, in many different ways and many different dimensions—in an overall sense on the basis of, and guided by, the party's revolutionary communist line—to bring into being not only new forms of struggle but new forms of organization that all contribute to the process of building a movement for revolution.
So, in conclusion: We've talked about "reascending Chingkangshan."17 We've talked about once again, and even more fully, grounding our party in a revolutionary communist line and orientation, actually carrying out that line and transforming reality on that basis, through all the twists and turns that will inevitably be involved. As has been stressed before—but cannot be emphasized too many times—the point, after all, is really to make revolution, radically transform the world and advance to communism throughout the world. There isn't any other point to all this. And anything else, anything less, is something that none of us should be oriented toward, since we should clearly understand that all these other things (all these other ideas and programs, and so on) that get raised by way of distraction—or which objectively constitute a distraction or diversion—from the revolutionary path and from our objective of advancing to communism, are things we need to engage, yes, but struggle to sweep aside in a fundamental sense. Because if we don't, and if revolution is not made, the masses will continue to suffer, unnecessarily, the horrible consequences of living under the domination of this system when it has long since become outmoded. And while, as our party's Constitution clearly and powerfully states, it does not have to be this way, without our making revolution it will remain this way—this cruel irony will continue to torment and torture the masses of people and humanity as a whole—this horror will be perpetuated when, in fact, it is long past time that this should have been swept from the stage of history.
As the Manifesto from our party puts it:
There have been revolts and uprisings, massive rebellions, armed conflicts, and even revolutions in which societies, and the relations between different societies, were transformed in major ways. Empires have fallen, monarchies have been abolished, slave owners and feudal lords have been overthrown. But for hundreds and thousands of years, while many people's lives were sacrificed, willingly or unwillingly, in these struggles, the result was always that the rule of one group of exploiters and oppressors was replaced by that of another—in one form or another, a small part of society continued to monopolize wealth, political power, and intellectual and cultural life, dominating and oppressing the great majority and engaging repeatedly in wars with rival states and empires.
But, once again, this is no longer necessary. It does not have to be this way, and whether it will continue this way for generations to come—or whether radical breakthroughs will be made, and everything possible will be done at every point to advance toward the goal of communism—depends on us and others who are won to, and take up, the communist outlook and objectives. And it is this and nothing else, nothing less, which must fundamentally concern and motivate us in everything we do.
1. Bob Avakian’s talk "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" appears in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008, and is also available online at revcom.us/avakian/makingrevolution (Part 1) and revcom.us/avakian/makingrevolution2 (Part 2); "Out into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future" is a talk given in the first part of 2008 that was serialized in Revolution in issues #156, #157, #159, #160, and #161 (February-April 2009); Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy is available as an audio file online at revcom.us/avakian and as online text at revcom.us/Comm-Jeff-Dem/Jeffersonian-Democracy, and a pamphlet based on the talk was published by RCP Publications, 2008. [back]
2. Comrade Damián García, a much-loved member of the RCP, was assassinated by police agents in Los Angeles on April 22, 1980. Two weeks earlier he had raised the red flag over the Alamo, in place of the Texas flag, as part of the campaign to bring forward a revolutionary outpouring for May Day 1980. Bob Avakian’s "Statement on the Death of Damián García" was published in Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) #51, April 25, 1980. A portion of it is quoted in his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, Insight Press, 2005, pp. 408-409. [back]
3. By Ardea Skybreak, Insight Press, Chicago, 2006. [back]
4. Strategic Questions was a talk by Bob Avakian in the mid-1990s, and selections from it were published in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) in issues #881 and #884-893 (November 1996 through February 1997) and in issues #1176-1178 (November 24 through December 8, 2002). These selections can also be found online at revcom.us/avakian/avakian-works.html. [back]
5. This party, having merged with another group, is apparently now calling itself the Unified CPN(M). For a fuller discussion of the RCP, USA's fundamental differences with the line and direction which this party has increasingly adopted in the past few years, see "On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Reply from the CPN(M), (2006), published in Revolution #160 (March 29, 2009) and available at revcom.us/a/160/nepal-article-en. A PDF document—Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Reply from the CPN(M), 2006)—is available online at revcom.us/a/160/Letters.pdf. [back]
6. "The End of a Stage—The Beginning of a New Stage" is a talk by Bob Avakian in late 1989, published in Revolution magazine, no. 60 (Fall 1990). [back]
7. Bob Avakian’s new synthesis is spoken to in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," Parts 1 and 2, available at revcom.us; the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008, which includes "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity"; Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, a Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, September 2008, available online at revcom.us, in Revolution #143, and in pamphlet form from RCP Publications, 2008; and "Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: What IS Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis?," a speech given in various locations around the country in spring 2008, available online at revcom.us/a/129/New_Synthesis_Speech-en.html. [back]
9. Bob Avakian, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, Insight Press, 2005, pp. 43-64. [back]
10. "'A Leap of Faith' and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods," Revolution #10 (July 31, 2005), is available online at revcom.us/a/010/avakian-leap-faith-leap-rational.htm. [back]
11. Bob Avakian has addressed this "George Jackson question" in "Rereading George Jackson," part of the series "Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World," in Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) #968 (August 9, 1998), available online at revcom.us/a/v20/960-69/968/jackson.htm. [back]
12. "On the Possibility of Revolution" appears in the Revolution pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation (May 1, 2008), pp. 80-81 and in Revolution #102, and is available online at revcom.us/a/102/possibility-en.html. [back]
13. In addition to the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, a discussion of "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism" and the two mainstays can be found in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," Parts 1 and 2, available at revcom.us and in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008; and in the speech "Making Revolution in the U.S.A.," which was serialized in Revolution newspaper beginning with issue #148 and is available online at revcom.us/a/148/speech-en.html. [back]
14. See the article by Bob Avakian, "In the Wake of the Election, a Basic Point of Orientation: To the Masses…With Revolution," in Revolution #149 (November 30, 2008), available online at revcom.us/a/149/avakian_on_election-en.html. [back]
16. "Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—In Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution" appeared in Revolution #102 (September 23, 2007) and is available online at revcom.us/a/102/crucial-points-en.html and in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008. [back]
17. The phrase "reascending Chingkangshan" is drawn from a poem of that name by Mao Tsetung, and is used in this context to refer to revitalizing and reinvigorating the RCP, USA as a revolutionary communist vanguard and fully taking up its responsibilities as such. [back]