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Part 10: Revolutionary Upheavals and the Law: A Contradiction Even in Socialist Society

From "On Proletarian Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship: A Radically Different View of Leading Society"

This series by Bob Avakian is excerpted from a previously unpublished talk titled "Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World."  The series was published 2003-04.

In one way, we could say that a concentrated example of the essential contradictions that I have been speaking to in this part of this talk is the relation between the rights of the people, including what could be broadly defined as "due process," on the one hand, and the kind of mass upheaval and struggle that marked the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China on the other hand. Here we can see how these two things, which are in contradiction, can come acutely into contradiction in a period of such revolutionary upheaval taking place within socialist society, under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Even under the dictatorship of the proletariat, where the essential character of the law is that it reflects and serves the interests of the proletariat and masses of people, you cannot have mass revolutionary upsurges that are bound strictly by the law. You cannot have mass upsurges, revolutionary upsurges like the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which don't step outside the bounds of the law in certain important aspects. This came out in the Cultural Revolution, for example, when the masses of red guards would pull out leaders and put dunce caps on them, and so on. These were, strictly speaking, I'm sure, violations of whatever the institutional provisions of "due process" were in that society at that time. Yet, if they had strictly adhered to "due process," they couldn't have carried out the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution!

But that does not mean that such things as "due process" and the rights of individuals cease to exist or lose all meaning, even during such upsurges--or that they become completely arbitrary and dependent solely on the will and whim of one or a few leaders and/or of a "mob" (as is portrayed in the bourgeois slanders and caricatures of such great revolutionary upsurges as the GPCR). This is linked to the dialectical relation--again the unity as well as opposition--between vanguard leadership and the broader masses, including how this finds expression in such revolutionary upsurges. In this connection, it is important to recall that, while Mao issued his "big character poster" calling on the masses to "bombard the headquarters"--the revisionist headquarters within the Communist Party--he didn't just call for this without any direction, without any leadership, without any principles to guide it. In fact there were such things as the "May 16 Circular," I believe it was called, which came out fairly early during the upsurge of the GPCR: it set forth very definite principles and guidelines for the masses in carrying out this struggle, including the method of narrowing the focus of attack, distinguishing between the two different types of contradictions (those between the people and the enemy and those among the people), and so on and so forth. So while they couldn't strictly adhere to "due process," it wasn't the case that there was no leadership and guidance, that there were no principles set forth clearly and openly before all to guide this. Nor was it the case that they simply trampled all over the rights of everybody in the form of mob rule in the service of this or that leader or clique, and/or the rivalry between contending cliques.

Legality and the rights of individuals cannot, in a fundamental and overall sense, be raised above social--and, in class society, class--relations. This is a point I think it's important to continue hammering at (as is evidenced by the fact that I continue doing that). But, again, this does not, or should not, translate into the obliteration of the rights of individuals under the dictatorship of the proletariat, nor to the kind of arbitrariness that Koch* characterizes in his analysis of the law under Nazi society and his generalization about "totalitarian" regimes with respect to the law. There remains, and must remain, a qualitative, fundamental difference between the dictatorship of the proletariat and fascist dictatorship--and, for that matter, all bourgeois dictatorship--in this regard too. In fact, as we have emphasized, the rights of the people are qualitatively different and greater under socialism, and with the achievement of communism the rights of the individual will be still further enhanced and progressively expanded, certainly as compared with bourgeois society.

As emphasized in the polemic vs. K. Venu, in socialist society not all individuals are equal in certain aspects--particularly with regard to the social role they play. A concentrated expression of this is the role of individual leaders and in particular the fact that, especially in the early stages of socialism, leaders are not so easily replaceable.

In the polemic vs. K. Venu, this was discussed in terms of why, in the experience of socialist countries so far, it has not been possible to literally implement the provision that was applied in the very short experience of the Paris Commune, where all leaders were subject not only to universal election but also to immediate recall by the masses. (The Paris Commune, nearly 50 years before the October 1917 Revolution in Russia, did represent the dictatorship of the proletariat, in a basic sense, but it represented it "in embryo," so to speak-- its experience was partial and temporary--it existed in only part of France and was crushed after only a few months.) As socialist society has actually developed in the concrete conditions of imperialist encirclement, and with what we've learned about the character of socialism as a sharply contradictory society constituting a transition to communism, marked by and driven forward by class struggle, it has not proven possible to adopt--nor correct to attempt to adopt--some of the measures taken in the Paris Commune, such as the direct election and recall of leaders by the masses. In the context of making these points in polemicizing against K. Venu's arguments, the example was brought out that, in revolutionary China when it was a socialist country under the rule of the proletariat, even if the masses had been given the formal right to vote Mao Tsetung out of office, that would not have eliminated the need for a Mao--for someone to play the same social role as Mao was playing--at that stage of society. All the masses could have accomplished, if they had voted Mao out of office, would be to get somebody not as good at playing that role--or, even worse, somebody who played that role in the interests of the bourgeoisie rather than of the proletariat.

This is a very important point. But all this does not mean that leading people (or others such as specialists in various fields) are not held to the same standard as the masses with regard to such things as the law. The dictatorship of the proletariat is undisguised dictatorship, and in that aspect we can agree with the spirit of what Lenin is saying when he says it is unrestricted dictatorship. It is undisguised dictatorship--it doesn't attempt to conceal what it is. In that respect, we can find some agreement with the spirit of what Lenin was saying when he characterized dictatorship as unrestricted, although we can't agree with the particularities of how he argues that it is unrestricted by law, and so on.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is open, undisguised dictatorship, in contrast with bourgeois democracy, which attempts to conceal the fact that it is an oppressive class dictatorship. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, certain groups of people--the overthrown ruling class and counter-revolutionary forces, which have been clearly established to be counter-revolutionary--are openly identified as objects of the dictatorship of the proletariat and have their rights curtailed. But this does not mean either that among the people equality before the law does not apply, or that it has less application in socialist society than in bourgeois-democratic society. In fact, in bourgeois society there is no equality before the law, because people's relation to the law is situated within the oppressive class relations, as is everything else in bourgeois society. Among the people (as opposed to the overthrown exploiters and proven counter-revolutionaries) in socialist society equality before the law will have more reality, although the social-class content of the law is qualitatively different in socialist society than in bourgeois society.


*H.W. Koch, In the Name of the Volk: Political Justice in Hitler's Germany.

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