Skip to main content

Part 12: Holding on to Power—and Continuing the Revolution—Philosophical and Political Principles

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This series by Bob Avakian is excerpted from a previously unpublished talk titled "Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World."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

Related to all these points I am making and contradictions I am pointing to, in the political realm—in terms of the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the relation between democracy and dictatorship under the dictatorship of the proletariat—there is the whole philosophical dimension of this. One very important aspect of this is how it relates to the principle that, as Mao put it, MLM "embraces but does not replace" various fields of knowledge and of activity. This philosophical principle is very much bound up with the political contradictions on which I have been focussing attention here. In other words, it has to do with the relation between the vanguard and the masses; it has to do with the question of allowing dissent and criticism, and how such dissent and criticism can be dealt with correctly and critically assimilated by the vanguard in leading the masses in exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat.

There is a particular question that figures into this, which I have spoken to in a number of places and which I want to briefly touch on here. And that's what I have formulated as "inertia" in socialist society, in dialectical relation to unleashing the masses to continue the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

What I mean by "inertia" in this context is that there is a certain way in which, for significant strata in society, including in particular the middle strata, there is a recognition that making revolution against any established authority (as we know all too well) is a very big and daunting challenge. People don't go off lightly to make revolution. They don't take up arms against the established order for minor grievances, or because they feel there should be some adjustments in the way things are done in society. They do that only under extreme conditions.

So, generally, whenever a class is in power, it has a certain "inertia" going for it, in the sense that it requires a major rupture for people to actually take up arms and seek to overthrow it. There is a certain general acceptance—not only in the sense of intimidation or awe at the power of the state, but also in the sense that a force in power tends to be vested with a certain authority, and people tend to go along with what the constituted authority is, for all the reasons that we know, which definitely have their negative aspects. But under the dictatorship of the proletariat, there is also a positive aspect to this, and there is a certain way in which the middle strata go along with the rule of the proletariat because it is the constituted authority. And, in addition to the fundamental reality that socialism is a much better society for the great majority of people, there is also the fact that the proletariat is in power and its representatives are the constituted authority, and the "inertia" that I have been speaking about goes in that direction. That's something which on the one hand has a positive aspect, but which on the other hand can't be strategically relied on, even with regard to the middle strata. This is not the strategic principle which has to be in effect—relying on this "inertia."

"End/Beginning"* speaks to this:

"The proletariat in power can to a certain degree make tactical use of the respect, even awe, that especially intermediate and backward sections of the people feel spontaneously for whoever is in power. But the proletariat can never rely on this. In the final analysis, spontaneity will go against the revolutionary proletariat. Fundamentally it must rely on the initiative, the conscious struggle and self- sacrifice of its most advanced forces and on the fact that it does represent the interests of the masses of people and a much brighter future for humanity— and that this will have real meaning, will make a tangible as well as an intangible difference in people's lives." (p. 25)

In this regard, and in terms of the question of inertia in socialist society, it is interesting to think about the difference in generations and how there are some tactical distinctions that will have to be made with regard to generations, particularly among the middle strata but also among the basic masses, in the new, socialist society. Thinking of the middle strata in particular, as well as the masses of people, in the first few years of socialism, even after it is consolidated, the great majority will have grown up within—and will have formed their assumptions about life and their political viewpoints, and so on, within—bourgeois society. They will have been shaped by bourgeois society and its institutions and influences. They are going to carry a great deal of that with them into the new society, even though people, including in the middle strata, will undergo great transformation through the course of the whole revolutionary struggle to seize and consolidate proletarian state power and then embark on the socialist road. It still will be the case that they will carry with them many assumptions and ways of looking at things and approaching things— they will have developed preferences, predilections, and prejudices—which have been shaped in the old society. It's not that people who are "born into" the new society (the new generations that come along once socialism has been established) will be "clean slates"; and, in any case, there will be profound contradictions in socialist society that will have a contradictory effect on their outlook. But there is still a difference between that and the generation which grew up within and formed its assumptions and prejudices, and so on, in the old, capitalist society.

This will be a secondary but not totally unimportant aspect of the way contradictions will be working themselves out in socialist society, especially in its very early stages. The proletariat and its vanguard will be educating and training and unleashing the youth according to radically new and different principles— fundamentally the principles of serving the people and striving to realize their highest interests through the continuing struggle to revolutionize society, as part of the overall world proletarian revolution. At the same time, though, even with the "older generation" we will need more than just their "acquiescence." As a matter of principle, and in the principal aspect, we will need their increasingly conscious and voluntary efforts to support and build socialism—and, yes, we also will need their criticism.

More fundamentally, there are new contradictions that will be posed after the seizure (and consolidation) of power. This goes back to the point from "End/Beginning" on the positive role of unresolved contradictions under socialism and the relation of this to dealing with "that monumental question" of how to maintain socialist society as a revolutionary society without attempting to constantly maintain it in a state of "war communism"—which will not work. As it is put in "End/Beginning":

"In other words, there is the tendency for people whose lot has improved in the new socialist society to become conservative and selfish, and there is the tendency for leading people to follow the capitalist road. Socialist society is marked by new and different contradictions than the old society, and carrying forward the revolution under socialism depends on correctly identifying and dealing with those contradictions and the forces and struggles they set in motion. This brings up one very important factor in all this: the positive side of unresolved contradictions under socialism—the bringing to the fore of driving forces for revolutionary transformation in the socialist stage—forces on the cutting edge of contradictions that are coming to the fore as decisive questions in terms of whether society will be moved forward or dragged backward." (p. 21) ("End/ Beginning" goes on to focus on the woman question as one very important aspect of this, as well as "bourgeois right" in general and the leadership/led contradiction in particular.)

Along with this, important points in this regard are made in "A Final Note" accompanying "End/Beginning" (and "Mao More Than Ever") in Revolution magazine. In particular this point: "In short, [the proletarian party in socialist society should] be a party in power and a vanguard of revolutionary struggle against any parts of power that are blocking the road to complete liberation." This, again, will be a very acute contradiction that will be very difficult to handle and will repeatedly pose itself in complex and intense ways throughout the socialist transition. To be able, in fact, to be a party in power and at the same time a vanguard in revolutionary struggle against any parts of power that are blocking the road to complete liberation—this is precisely the principle that Mao brought forward and gave leadership in applying so powerfully in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). But, with the great importance Mao attached to the GPCR and the new things that were brought forth through it, he emphasized that one Cultural Revolution, or even a few Cultural Rev- olutions, could not finally resolve these contradictions.

Now here, in connection with the philosophical principle that MLM "embraces but does not replace" particular fields of human endeavor and knowledge—and in connection with the general principle of not only allowing but fostering, in certain important aspects, criticism and dissent from the established policies and the prevailing norms in socialist society at any given time—I wanted to make a few brief comments on the concept of "aporia." Certain trends within deconstructionism raise this concept of "aporia" to refer to the gaps or spaces in things, and more particularly to the gaps or spaces in knowledge.

The way they put this forward, more or less—or at least one way of putting this forward—is that there can be and should be no complete system, including no complete system of thought—there always are gaps and spaces in any understanding or any system of thought, and that's as it should be—the need for this and the reality of this should be recognized. Now, however much there may be, on the part of people putting forward viewpoints other than that of MLM, including certain trends associated with deconstructionism— however much on their part this may involve unscientific concepts and world outlooks different than ours, there still is an important point that's raised with this concept (of "aporia") that I think we have to take into account. From our scientific, dialectical materialist understanding, we can "reconstruct" the essence of this point, or what's correct about this point, in terms of the relationship between absolute and relative truth.

Lenin pointed out, in his philosophical writings, that the essential difference between a Marxist materialist and a relativist is that the Marxist—the dialectical materialist—recognizes that there is absolute in the relative, whereas the relativist sees only the relative. Of course, the opposite of this is also true. If there is absolute within the relative, there is also relative within the absolute. They form, once again, a unity of opposites.

This has application in terms of what I referred to earlier, speaking of some points that were brought out in the articles on Communism vs. Anarchism, and in particular the point that at any given time the MLM party will be focussed on certain things that it has identified as priorities, and even where its assessment of priorities is correct, its attention and its thinking is necessarily and overwhelmingly concentrated and focussed on those things. So that there may be questions, or phenomena, or whatever, that other forces in society who do not have the same role and responsibilities are recognizing more readily or seeing in a different light—perhaps even a clearer light—than the party. It's important for the party to take this into account and to correctly relate to and to correctly assimilate what's raised, including criticisms that are raised by other forces who have a different viewpoint than that of the party.

The point—the epistemological (or theory of knowledge) point, if you will—is that we have to recognize that no one ever has complete and absolute knowledge, both in the sense that it's impossible for anyone, or any group of people, including communists, to avoid making mistakes and because reality is constantly changing, undergoing transformation. There always is and always will be the contradiction between ignorance and knowledge. This goes along with what was just spoken to, namely, that at any given time it is necessary for the party to be focussing on certain things that it has identified as priorities and areas where it has to focus its attention. So, in this sense we can say that, even if the line of the party and the understanding of the party is correct—and even if its knowledge and its understanding of reality is (as it should be) more comprehensive and systematic than any other force which upholds and applies a different world outlook—it still may be the case, and in some instances will be the case, that others grasp or recognize certain aspects of reality that the party has not grasped at the time, or may understand reality more correctly, in these particular aspects, than the party.

We have to take this into account not only in this period before the seizure of power, but also—and very importantly—afterward, in socialist society when the party is leading the proletariat in exercising its rule and its mastery of society and in carrying out the transformation of society in accordance with its outlook and interests.


* "The End of a Stage—The Beginning of a New Stage" (Late 1989), Revolution No. 60, Fall 1990.

[Return to article]