There is a very important statement by Mao in his essay "Where Do Correct Ideas Come From": sometimes, he points out, those representing the advanced class can lose out in a particular battle or a particular encounter, not because they are incorrect or have made serious errors but because at the given time the balance of forces is against them. But, he goes on to say, they are bound to win in the long run. We have seen many examples where the proletariat has lost in a battle, or even a major encounter such as the battle between revolution and counter-revolution in China which resulted in the revisionist coup and the restoration of capitalism.
This has been something of a stumbling block in the International Communist Movement. Various forces have had trouble coming to grips with the fact that you can be correct at a given time--as Mao said, you can represent the advanced class and not make any fundamental errors--but you can still lose in a particular round of struggle because at the time the balance of forces is against you, even though you are bound to win in the long run. There has been some disorientation in terms of failing to grasp this. People might say about the struggle in China, "Well how could the `Four'1 be correct if they lost? If you are correct you are supposed to win." But this viewpoint does not recognize that what is involved is an actual class struggle which is rooted in underlying material forces and contradictions and that if we could always win every battle then it would be very easy to get to communism.
The notion that if we don't make any serious mistakes we are always bound to win, or to advance, and the converse of this--if we suffer a defeat or setback it must be because we made serious mistakes--runs up against the whole dialectical materialist orientation represented by Mao's concentrated formulation: "The future is bright, but the road is tortuous." According to some people's logic, Mao should have said "the future is bright and the road is a straight line." This logic fails to grasp that you can be correct and still lose a particular battle or round of struggle. In emphasizing this, my point is not to offer an excuse for being incorrect, for not caring about being correct or just saying "que sera sera," whatever happens will happen.
So we have to be materialist and dialectical in our approach. We have to correctly assess the objective stage that we are operating on, including the strengths and weaknesses of ourselves and the enemy, at any given time. And with both victories and defeats, advances and setbacks, we have to correctly analyze the objective factors and the subjective factors (including our mistakes) and the interrelation between the objective and subjective factors, including the determination of which of these was principal in the particular circumstances.
But, without falling into determinism and fatalism, it is very important to grasp the essence and the dialectical materialist basis of Mao's statement that, even if they do not make serious errors, the representatives of the advanced class can lose sometimes, although they are bound to win in the long run. It is very interesting and significant that Mao makes this statement in an essay ("Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?") whose subject is the basic materialist theory of knowledge.
Basketball and History
Now in talking with the masses about the "demise of communism," we have to start from the ground floor and go deeply into the actual contradictions facing the proletariat on a world scale--and what it's going to take to put the imperialists on the run. It might be helpful to develop and use popular analogies, drawn from everyday life. For example, drawing from an arena that is dear to me, we could make an analogy to basketball.
If an expansion team, in its first or second year of existence, were somehow thrust into the NBA championship, it probably wouldn't make it right away, but that doesn't mean it can't win the championship in the long run. And, on a much more profound level, it's also not surprising if the first attempts at socialist revolution are defeated, and this doesn't at all show that this revolution cannot ultimately prevail. Of course, the NBA is fake, anyway, so maybe we should come up with other, better analogies.
For example, if a bunch of young teenagers go down to the playground courts and there's nobody older around right then, these younger kids might be able to rule the courts for a while; but then if the older, bigger, stronger players start coming around, these youngsters might be able to hold out and win a couple of games, but they're bound to lose and have to get off the court before the day is over. Yet if we look at it strategically, these young kids will grow up. They will grow bigger and stronger and they will also learn from their experience. And in the meantime the bigger, stronger players will get older, and actually get weaker and slow down--they won't be able to hold off the younger players forever.
And, by analogy, the rising proletariat, with the first breakthroughs it makes--the first socialist states it creates, encircled by still more powerful imperialism--may be defeated in the short run, but the imperialist system, and all systems of exploitation and oppression, are growing old, while the international proletariat and its revolutionary struggle is on the rise and is learning from its defeats as well as its great achievements, and is bound before too long to gain the upper hand and then drive the exploiters and their system off the court of history, once and for all.
This is the material foundation under our slogan "Fear Nothing, Be Down For The Whole Thing." It is with this kind of approach and methodology that we can understand, apply, and boldly assert Mao's concentrated formulation that "thoroughgoing materialists are fearless."