Revolution #173, August 16, 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 ninth excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year, which is being serialized in Revolution, beginning with issue #163. Parts 1-8 appeared in issues #163, #164, #165, #166, #167, #169, #171, and #172. Part 9, along with Parts 6-8, are from the section titled "The Social Basis for Revolution." This part includes two subsections: "Relying on the masses, but not on spontaneity, even in socialist society" and "Fundamental errors of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist): wrong conception of the problems, wrong 'solutions.'" 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]
Relying on the masses, but not on spontaneity, even in socialist society
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).1
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,"2 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,3 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 (international communist movement), 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.'"4
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."
1. 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]
2. "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]
3. 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]