Previously in the history of revolutions—I'm not talking about the proletarian revolution alone, but previous revolutions throughout history, including the bourgeois revolution—the more it was the case that these revolutions were thoroughgoing revolutions in relation to the era in which they occurred, the more it was also the case that they were carried out with the masses as the main material force, the main fighting force. And they were often even generally carried out in the name of the masses—especially the bourgeois revolution was generally carried out in the name of the masses or "the people." (For example, the French Revolution was a very thoroughgoing, bourgeois revolution, which is why it scared the hell out of a lot of the bourgeoisie even at that time.)
But the fact is that a minority of society in all previous revolutions has always monopolized leadership of these revolutions and monopolized administration and rule in the societies that have been produced or have resulted from these revolutions. This minority of society has reaped the fruits of these revolutions and subjected the masses once again to exploitation and oppression, differing perhaps in form, or in certain forms, from the previous system.
In this regard, we often speak of how this is precisely where the proletarian revolution represents a radical rupture with all previous societies and all previous revolutions. This is correct, and it's a very important point to emphasize—that the previous revolutions were in essence about replacing one exploiting class and one system of exploitation with another, whereas the proletarian revolution is about putting an end to all forms of exploitation and all oppressive social divisions and all social antagonisms, eliminating the contradictions between rulers and ruled, as well as the related contradictions of mental/manual labor and so on.
This is a very important point to assert, to aggressively and boldly assert—to emphasize. But even more important is that we have the world historic task of actually making this a reality. We have to actually achieve such a rupture—or the two radical ruptures that Marx and Engels spoke of in the "Communist Manifesto." And to do this it is necessary to fully confront this contradiction—the fact that we cannot in the short run do away with the situation where the tasks of leadership, administration, and intellectual work generally will be the province—and cannot help but be the province—of a minority of society, as well as the interrelated contradiction of the uneven development of the world proletarian revolution and with that the emergence of socialist states not all at one time but in one or a few places and in general conditions of imperialist encirclement.
Communists and Communist Intellectuals
And an important point to bring out here is that we should not have a one-sidedly negative attitude toward intellectuals. This applies all the more with regard to communist intellectuals: to people who have come from among the intellectual strata and have come to communism, first of all, through an intellectual process, but who then make the great qualitative leap, or radical rupture, to taking up the stand, viewpoint, and method of the proletariat and to applying this in practice; or, on the other hand, people from among the basic masses, including prisoners and others, who come to communism perhaps through their own kind of intellectual development; or people from among the basic masses who come to communism not through an intellectual process but more out of their direct life experience—their particular individual experience but more essentially their social experience—but then develop their intellectual capacities as communist intellectuals. Clearly, we should not have any kind of a negative or one-sided attitude with regard to communist intellectuals, wherever they came from and however they have developed into communist intellectuals.
Why, and how, such communist intellectuals develop and adopt the orientation of "serving the people" and fighting for the revolutionary interests of the masses—why "they would want to do that," as the masses sometimes put it, including advanced masses—this is a very important point to bring out to the masses because this is bound up with our whole stand, viewpoint, and methodology. It is bound up with a dialectical materialist understanding of what the tasks of the revolution are and what its underlying material basis is. This underlying material basis is the fact that the fundamental contradictions of the bourgeois mode of production, and how it expresses itself internationally as well as in particular societies, especially in the era of imperialism, will continually call forth the objective need for proletarian revolution and the advance to communism. This need will assert itself repeatedly until this proletarian revolution is in fact carried out. These fundamental contradictions of capitalism/imperialism will continually thrust people into struggle against the system and throw them up against the fact that objectively the fundamental things they are struggling around can only be finally and ultimately and completely resolved through the proletarian revolution.
To become a communist is to make a qualitative leap to grasp these things in a basic way and also to understand that it is the proletarian class which has an objective interest and need to carry out this revolution and therefore is able, through the leadership of its vanguard party, to be at the forefront of the masses of people in fighting ever more consciously, ever more determinedly, for this goal. To be a communist is to come to understand this, and that's why as communists we go out to "do all that." That's why we talk about serving the people and making revolution, because we have not only a hatred for the injustices and a feeling that this whole system is completely intolerable, but also the understanding that it's completely unnecessary and that there is the material basis and the social basis for overcoming it and moving beyond it.
This is why we go out and do the things we do, and this is what we have to let the masses know. We don't want it to be a mystery to them why we are doing what we are doing. We want them to understand this ever more deeply, even as we deepen our own understanding of all this.
Lenin in What Is To Be Done? makes the very basic point: communist consciousness can be and has to be brought to the masses "from outside," that is, outside of the relations between workers and their employers, and more generally outside the sphere of the masses' daily experience and struggle and "outside" the spontaneous consciousness they develop. So in this light we can understand the indispensable role, the absolutely essential role of people who develop, from one starting place or another, into communist intellectuals and who take up communist theory. The crux is that, upon taking up this theory, they have to find the ways to take this to the masses, to "bring it home," and enable the masses to take up and act upon this understanding and transform it into the powerful material force that it in fact can and must become in order to realize this theory in actual life. So, in doing this, intellectuals are involved in a very sharp contradiction: they come to a theoretical understanding of all this, but then taking it to the masses is a very real contradiction, or is made up of many different contradictions, which can sometimes be expressed very acutely. It is not so direct that you just go to the masses and say "Here I am, I'm bringing your ideology home to you", and they say, "Oh, I've been wondering where it was!"
There is all kind of very sharp contradictions involved in this. A lot of things the masses are caught up in and the "spontaneous" consciousness they have actually runs counter in some important ways to their objective fundamental interests. And there is a very real objective difference between people who are the conscious vanguard elements and the rest of the class, and that contradiction can be turned into an antagonism. Especially if you do actually lead a revolution and come to be the leading group within the new society, that becomes a very acute and concentrated expression of the fundamental underlying contradictions that mark socialist society as a transition from the old world to the new, from the bourgeois epoch to the epoch of world communism. In short, this contradiction between the leaders and the led—between the conscious, organized vanguard and the rest of the proletariat and the people—can be the basis for the vanguard party to be transformed into its opposite and to become an instrument for restoring bourgeois dictatorship and capitalist rule and the capitalist mode of production.
We have to speak openly to the masses about this, too. We have to engage in a dialectical process of learning and leading in our relations with the masses, on this question as on all questions. We have to be bold about putting this forward and also we have to be good at learning from what the masses raise as well as what social practice more broadly teaches us, or potentially teaches us—the lessons that can be drawn from this—by applying our stand, viewpoint and method.
Realizing Our Historic Mission in Practice
But most fundamentally we have to actually realize our historic mission in practice. We have to bring about the actual radical ruptures through a whole world-historic process. We have to transform and make a leap beyond the situation where the masses make revolution and then a small group which monopolized leadership of that revolution then has a monopoly on the economy and on political power, and dominates intellectual life and all the things characteristic of a society divided into classes, into exploiters and exploited. This is something that spontaneously the masses have a certain sense of; but this is distilled and distorted through the prism of bourgeois ideology to a large degree—and "spontaneously" includes a very heavy dose of bourgeois propaganda and inculcation. They have a certain sense that this is how revolutions have gone: the masses fight and then a group which seizes leadership—or even in a good sense exercises leadership—of the revolution, usurps power for itself, in the interests of itself as a clique of exploiters and oppressors; the masses of people fight and then a handful of people, even if it is a handful who genuinely exercise leadership, take it over and use it for their own benefit.
This calls to mind that old song by "The Who"—their song about revolution. It is a very cynical song, of course. One of its objectives, besides generally spreading reactionary, cynical and pessimistic views about revolution was to justify their own non-involvement and non-support for revolutionary struggle.
Now, if you step back for a second and divide it into two, one of the very interesting things is here you had a group that was a major group in the cultural scene who felt they had to do a song justifying why they weren't going to support revolution. So this tells you something about the times then, the late '60s and early '70s.
So "The Who" had this song about revolution, which had this line (or refrain): "Here comes the new boss; same as the old boss"—in other words, nothing has really changed, here we are back again in the situation where a self-serving clique is lording it over us and telling everybody what to do. And then they had the punch line, the "kicker" that summed everything up: "We won't be fooled again." How much they were really worried about being fooled is one thing, but it did speak to a more general problem and a more general sentiment then among the masses, even among some involved in the revolutionary struggle.
Obviously, there's a certain amount of cynicism about revolution and changing society that comes from the more privileged strata. At that point "The Who" were not exactly among the struggling masses, and this song was sort of a "class-conscious" statement of privileged strata. But also among the basic masses there's a certain kind of cynicism—or, to put it another way, a blunt, if somewhat distorted, recognition of this contradiction—that the masses make revolution but then the leadership and power and authority goes to a handful and things go back into the same old thing.
However much this may be distorted through the prism of "spontaneous" bourgeois ideology, there is a real contradiction here that people are recognizing. It's not one we can deny and it's not one that we should want to deny. It's part of objective reality that we have to confront together with the masses—and we have to transform it together with them. It is not a contradiction that we're going to be able to deal with easily, but we have to be open and honest with the masses about that too. We can't pretend that this is a contradiction that's going to be resolved quickly or easily. Nor, on the other hand, should we act like because it can't be resolved quickly and easily therefore it can't be resolved at all. It can be, but it's going to be a very tortuous process of struggle, like everything else that has to do with our historic goals.
Now, these basic contradictions have to a significant extent been confronted, in the realm of theory, by our party—for example, in "Conquer the World" some years back, and elsewhere, as well as by others in the international communist movement, in the RIM and even some forces who are still at this point outside the RIM. But these are extremely important questions that have to be continually returned to and grappled with ever more deeply, involving the masses in this as well as grappling with it within the ranks of the conscious revolutionaries.
At the same time, it's important to emphasize that despite the profound nature of these contradictions and the related difficulties and reversals, twists and turns, of the world proletarian revolution so far, there is NO basis for pessimism and defeatism, at least not for OUR class and OUR cause. This is a very important point to grasp. It's not hype. This is an expression of the very sharply contradictory but principally and strategically favorable material reality that I have spoken to. It is the principal and strategic aspect of the world situation and the process that it's going through now.