Revolution #177, September 27, 2009
RUMINATIONS AND WRANGLINGS
On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science,
Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning
[Editors’ note: The following is the 12th and concluding excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year, which has been serialized in Revolution, beginning with issue #163. Parts 1-11 appeared in issues #163, #164, #165, #166, #167, #169, #171, #172, #173, #174, and #175. Part 11 was taken from the beginning of the section titled “Further Wrangling with Meaningful Revolutionary Work.” Part 12 includes the rest of this section (which includes three subheadings: “The continuing importance of ideological struggle—correctly waged”; “Giving full expression to the attractive force of what we’re all about”; and “A still more deepened understanding, and living reality, of ‘Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution’”) and the last section of the talk, “Building a Movement for Revolution—And Nothing Less.” The text of the talk has been edited and footnotes have been added for publication. The entire talk can be found online at revcom.us/avakian/ruminations/BA-ruminations-en.html]
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,"1 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,"2 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"3). 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."4 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. 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]
3. "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]
4. 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]