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Excerpts from "Strategic Questions"—on Propaganda and Agitation

Being Eminently Reasonable—And Completely Outrageous: Speaking and Writing—With Masses of People in Mind

EDITORS NOTE: In this issue, the RW is publishing excerpts from "Strategic Questions," a tape-recorded talk given a few years ago by Bob Avakian. These excerpts deal with questions concerning agitation and propaganda--how to make it powerful and lively--and, particularly given the tremendous importance in the present situation of speaking to and influencing great numbers of people, it was felt that it would be especially helpful to publish these excerpts now. In the next issue, we will be printing excerpts from a more recent talk by Bob Avakian on the same general subject. These excerpts have been edited for publication here.

The first part of this talk* discussed the question of boldly putting forward our line and ideology and carrying out ideological struggle and polemics vis-á-vis holding out the hand of unity and uniting broadly. Another aspect, or expression, of this same basic point can be formulated in terms of the contradiction between being "on the edge"--outrageous and even a bit provocative--without being reckless or being "cult-like" and "sect-like" (and sectarian in the more general political sense). This applies to the strategic question of United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat, and it also applies to the particular sphere of propaganda and agitation (and more generally "impacting society through the superstructure").

Once again, the principle applies: The better we are at grasping and applying our ideology and line, the better we will be able to handle this contradiction; and, specifically as applied to propaganda and agitation and the superstructure, this means that we have to be--and can be--good at analyzing and determining what are the sharp questions (actually or potentially) around which taking a strong and "way out" position will, in fact, enable us to clarify the decisive questions involved and clearly elucidate the interests involved for broad masses of people, in a way that shows that "right and advantage" lie with the proletarian position. It means showing, in a living way--by drawing from real-life events and their interconnections, from "the logic" of social relations and major social questions and world events--the "inevitability" of our line and program. It means correctly combining--or achieving the right synthesis--between being completely outrageous...and being eminently reasonable!

Wearing Different Hats

A contradiction I want to speak to, which comes up a lot in our work, is something that could be characterized as "wearing different hats". Now, fundamentally, we have to wear our MLM hats--and I was very glad to read reports and see videos of various speeches where that's been done, literally (comrades wearing hats with "MLM" on them). But it's not as simple as that. The problem can't be solved by putting on an MLM hat, and at the risk of indulging in blasphemy (!), I'll say it's not even correct to always wear an MLM hat in every situation, although overall it's very good and fine and mainly we need to do a lot more of that. But we have to deal with the particularity of different situations, and there can be this contradiction between wearing different hats. In other words, what I'm speaking to here, using "hats" metaphorically, are situations where people are in a united front effort, while at the same time being identified as part of or being associated with the Party.

This comes up even if we do all of our work correctly--this is not a contradiction we can avoid--so various people are going to find themselves in situations where they may be speaking as part of a mass organization or movement, while at the same time they're clearly identified as part of or associated with our Party and our international trend and so on. How to correctly handle this and turn this to advantage, all the way around--to both strengthen the United Front effort and strongly put forward the Party's line and position, the independent line and role of the Party in dialectic relation with the United Front--this is the question. How to correctly present both the unity and the distinction between the Party and the United Front in various manifestations.

This is not easy to do--it is not easy to be able to speak on different levels, the United Front level and the level of the Party's independent line, yet not come off as speaking "out of both sides of your mouth"--but it is possible, and particularly people who are associated with the Party have to become skillful in this. If you are, in any case, associated with the Party and its line, it is a question of turning this to greater advantage, developing the ability to effectively put forward the Party and its line while also finding the ways to set forth the United Front basis of unity and doing this in a way that does not allow the contradiction between these levels--these two different bases of unity--to become antagonistic.

Of course, dealing with this contradiction depends to a significant degree on our overall political work to build mass struggle and organization so broadly that more "room" is created to bring forward our Party's independent line and role without this being so easily confused with United Front movements and organizations. (I'm using "United Front" here as a short-hand expression, referring to particular movements and organizations that are not the entirety of but are part of the larger, overall carrying out of our strategy of United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat.) But in this political work, as in our work as a whole, there will remain the need to correctly handle the contradiction between the United Front aspect and the aspect of the Leadership of the Proletariat. We're not going to be able to get away from, nor should we want to get away from, the need to bring forward forcefully our Party's independent line and role, and no matter how broad the movements are and how much "room" that gives us to operate without the line and stand of our Party being confused with that broader mass organization and movement, it's never going to be easy to find the ways to correctly bring forward our independent line and role and not allow that to become an antagonism with the United Front effort. To put it another way, this will require the consistent, systematic application of our Party's line and policy and of the practice-theory-practice dialectic, relying on the collectivity and structure of the Party, with individual roles and initiative based on that and within that overall context.

Knowing Your Audience

Next, I want to speak to the question of knowing your audience. (This is related to a number of important points that Mao makes in his "Talks at the Yenan Forum"--he was speaking to artists and cultural workers, but certainly his comments were meant to apply, and do apply, to propaganda and agitation and the work of creating public opinion in general.) Knowing your audience has both a general and a particular application--for example, understanding the section (or sections) of people you are addressing or mainly addressing (either through the written or the spoken word--or through actions that have an agitational or propagandistic intent) and knowing the people you are immediately addressing. In other words, there is the question of knowing what section of people we are addressing ourselves to and, within that, there may be an audience of particular people who are generally drawn from these sections of the masses but also have particular experiences you need to have in mind in order to be able speak to them in a way that applies the mass line in the best way.

This applies particularly to speeches, and it involves both learning about the audience, as much as possible, in advance and also learning about them as you go along, by observing and in a certain way interacting with the audience even as you are speaking!


The experience that goes into knowing the audience can be acquired and should be acquired both directly (through your own experience) and indirectly (from the experience of others). That is, you may be out doing things among different sections of the masses, or you may have a chance to speak to an audience both before and after a speech, and to the degree it is possible to do this is it very important--it is important in general and also in terms of propaganda and agitation, to direct propaganda and agitation to those sections of the masses. This knowledge of the audience and how to speak to it can also be acquired through indirect means, including through reading (where appropriate) reports of work among these different sections of the masses as well as paying attention to artistic and other cultural expressions that arise from and are popular among them, and so on--paying attention both to the themes that are common in these works as well as to the forms and styles and devices that the masses relate to and are popular among them.

Knowing your audience also means knowing the particular ways the questions you are addressing "come up" among or relate to the audience you are speaking to. This enables you to "come at" these questions in a way that "engages" and "grabs" your audience and brings them along. In order to do the latter you have to know the former--you have to know not only what the questions are in general, but how they pose themselves among the different sections of the masses. The same major questions in society pose themselves among all sections of the people, but they don't pose themselves exactly in the same way, because people have different experiences, belong to different social groups, classes, strata, and so on.

What I have been speaking to here--knowing your audience and, in turn, being able to speak to your audience through the application of the mass line--is primarily a matter of substance, and not of style. But, on the other hand, style--in the sense of being familiar with the forms of expression that are common among and familiar to the audience--can play an important, though secondary, part in "engaging the audience." Along with this, another thing that is important is that the masses like and in a certain sense they demand--and we should be able to meet their demand--they like certain things of style. They like things to be organized, without being too organized. Particularly if they are coming to hear people who say they are capable of leading the overthrow of the present system, the seizure of power by the rising class, the proletariat, the exercise of that power by and in the interests of the masses of people, and the transformation of society to create a whole different and better world--well, they want to feel that such people have some shit together! They don't want to feel it is so together that there is no room for anything new or different--they don't want to feel suffocated, in a way that begins to feed the worst images of totalitarianism--"big brother" is controlling everything and there is no real interaction with the audience, it might as well be an automaton speaking to them. They don't want that, rightly so. But they do want things to be organized, they want things to be together.

And they like style. They like things that have a certain flair. Not when it is artificial and has no substance to it, or when it is in conflict with this substance. But if it is consistent with the substance, and serves it and helps to deliver it in a more powerful way, people like it. Not only does it help them to understand things better, but they also like it in an aesthetic sense--it is a cultural thing, if you want to put it that way, there is a cultural dimension to this. Even to speaking, even to organizing a meeting, even to having a celebration, there is an aesthetic and cultural dimension, which we should pay attention to. And this applies secondarily but not unimportantly even to the way we write--developing a certain style and flair in writing which again is not an attempt to replace substance, but is based on substance and serves the substance of what we are all about.


What is most essential and decisive is that you reflect an understanding of how people see the main questions you are addressing--without tailing that--and that you address them in styles and forms of expression that are not alien and inaccessible to people but that capture their imagination and provoke them, in a positive sense. Speaking to different audiences often means--and this is an application of knowing how questions arise among particular audiences that you are addressing--"beginning from different places" and "coming at" things from different "angles"--but "taking" them all to the same fundamental place. Knowing your audience and being able to speak well to your audience means knowing how do these questions pose themselves and what's the way to come at them to engage the audience and to bring them with you where you want them to go?

Again, there is an aspect of style and form involved in this, although it is mainly a question of substance. I remember way back in the day, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) was on TV, on one of these interview or news shows, and the host was trying to show him up to be a hypocrite and a charlatan by playing tapes where he's speaking to different audiences and using different language. In one situation he was speaking to a more intellectual, literate audience and he was speaking in those terms. On another tape, he was speaking more to the basic masses, and he was talking more in terms familiar to them. But the host was trying to make it out like there's something wrong with this. Stokely replied, "Of course I'm speaking differently to different audiences; people use different language." (I don't remember his exact words but it was something like this: "I'm speaking in the language and style that makes most sense to people.") And that's exactly what we should do.

What we should not do is change the essence, the basic substance, of what we are saying.


We have to put out the same basic line to everybody, but we should come at the questions differently, according to how the questions arise and the way the contradictions are most sharply posed to the audience that you're speaking to. So you come at these things somewhat differently but you bring people to the same place. Here, as elsewhere, the mass line is key, including once again in speeches--applying it "at close quarters" with the audience for a speech.

Knowing the questions on the minds of the masses and how different questions are posed among different sections of the masses doesn't mean knowing all the questions on the minds of the masses in general or without perspective. In other words, in giving a speech, we don't want to try to get up there and know everything about the personal history of everybody and what television programs they watch and whether they're watching soap operas or sports on TV, etc., except insofar as this relates to the main questions that we're trying to address. Knowing the questions on the minds of the masses and how different questions are posed among different sections of the masses means knowing this in relation to our objectives --in relation to more immediate objectives and above all in relation to the fundamental interests and strategic objectives of our class.

Knowing Your Subject Matter

Obviously related to this is the question of "mastering" your subject matter, whatever it might be at a given time: knowing it well enough that you can "break it down" for your audience or for different audiences (in writing and in speaking, although generally these involve somewhat different means and modes of expression). Now, this criterion of mastering your subject matter and knowing it well enough so you can break it down for your audience (or for different audiences) can't be viewed in metaphysical terms so that it becomes a cause for paralysis where you feel you can't say anything because you don't know it well enough. With this logic, you never know it well enough to be able to say anything, so you never learn it better because you never get out and have the practice of learning and doing and the dialectical relation of the two. This has to be seen as something in motion--it's a process. We have to study, but we also have to apply. We have to figure out what we can say and say well at a given time to meet the needs of the situation and learn how to do it better through a process and through further study.

It is not a question of "mastering" it once and for all, and having this kind of knowledge "on file" for any occasion, just sitting there waiting, but of continually deepening your knowledge of the subject matter and how to "dissect" it for a given audience; and there is also the dialectical process whereby you learn more--including learning more about what you know, and don't know--about the subject matter precisely in confronting the necessity and carrying out the process of presenting it to an audience.

One important ability that needs to be developed is the ability to "speak to different audiences at the same time." What I mean by this is presenting things so they can be grasped on different levels, so that (for example) for people who may be in the same audience for a speech, or are reading the same newspaper article, those with more developed understanding can get more from it but those with less understanding can get the basic point and not get lost (or lose interest!). But in this it is crucial to have a clear sense of who is the main audience and to make sure that things proceed according to this main audience's levels and needs.

Here the question of "raising the bucket" that Mao speaks to in "Yenan Forum" is very important. In other words, if you're speaking to a crowd that includes a lot of basic masses and some intellectuals, you want to speak so the intellectuals, because of their generally higher level of literacy and perhaps greater familiarity with certain concepts and terms, will get some things out of it that the basic masses may not get, but you want to make sure that the basic masses get the essence of what you're saying; and you want to make sure, in that situation, that this is your main priority. You should try to do both things, but your main concern--the principal aspect around which things have to unfold--is speaking to the main audience, which in such cases will generally be the basic masses. You have to make sure that they are grasping the essential points, and this sometimes comes into conflict with the intellectuals feeling their needs are fulfilled, partly for more legitimate reasons and partly because of class bias.

A lot of times the attitude of the intellectuals is, "Oh, yeah, we know all that," when they don't really know any of it at all, at least not in any correct and scientific way. So sometimes they feel dissatisfied--well often many feel dissatisfied even if you speak to them in the terms they are more familiar with too, because of their class position and ideological limitations. And here I'm not trying to cast a one-sided, negative light on intellectuals--everything I said earlier in this talk about the importance of working correctly with intellectuals is very important to firmly grasp and apply--but there is the principle that, if you're speaking to an audience that's mixed basic masses and intellectuals, you have to decide what is the main audience and what is the main thing you're trying to do, and in most situations it's going to be speaking to the basic masses. While you should try to weave into your speech things that those in the audience who are more literate or intellectual will get more out of, on a certain level--and one of the reasons you should do this, besides meeting the needs of those intellectuals, is that if you do this well, the basic masses will be challenged by this, in a good way--still the main thing around which things have to unfold is speaking to the basic masses in a way that's accessible to them so they get the essence and thrust and main content of what you're saying or writing.

Capturing the Imagination, Bringing the Truth to Light

Another point is holding the attention and capturing the imagination of the audience. Again, this applies to both writing and speaking, although somewhat differently to the one and the other, and obviously somewhat differently in different circumstances. Here is an important point I want to raise: It is important to recognize that different speakers (and writers) have their own, differing, approaches and styles, and this is a good thing and not a bad thing and in fact adds to our strength, it doesn't weaken it. This is a different "angle," or aspect of what was emphasized in the "Leadership Resolutions"** on how different leading people and different comrades on all levels have particular strengths and weaknesses while of course we all share in the same process of Party life, and we all are part of putting forward the same line and carrying out work among the masses guided by that same overall line. But it is very important that different Party leaders, different Party members--and, in particular, when we're talking about propaganda and agitation, different speakers and writers--have their own differing approaches and styles and this is a very good thing and adds to our collective power and our strength overall. The reason I'm raising this is that to the degree that there arises the notion that there is one model of how you ought to speak or write, we should resist and reject that because it's incorrect.

As the "Leadership Resolutions" point out, people come from their own life experiences as well as more general social and political experiences, so that's going to be reflected in people's strengths and weaknesses and their particular way of approaching things, including their way of speaking and writing, and that's overwhelmingly to the good. There are, at the same time, certain principles that apply to propaganda and agitation, some of which I've been speaking to already--such as knowing your audience, and mastering your subject matter--in which everyone has to continually, through the practice-theory-practice dialectic and the application of mass line, deepen and sharpen their abilities. But, within that, at the same time, is the individuality (if you will) of particular people with their particular strengths and weaknesses, styles and approaches, and the point is to build on those and utilize those particular qualities that people have to make that serve basic strategic interests--to make it serve the putting forward and carrying out of our Party's line, and more specifically to make it serve some of the principles I'm discussing here concerning propaganda and agitation, such as knowing your audience and engaging your audience, capturing the imagination of your audience, and so on.

And there is the question of determining which approach is appropriate for a given occasion and a given audience. Not all speeches should be given (or articles written) in the same style and with the same "tone," etc.


A particular way of expressing these principles is that a speaker or writer should present things in such a way that the picture you paint--the way you analyze and synthesize the contradictions and the contradictory aspects of things--puts things together for people in the audience in a way that is truth and, in its vivid truthfulness, is compelling. In other words, the most engaging thing that there is about our propaganda and agitation is that it's based on reality and it's true and that it brings the truth to light. That's what's compelling about what we have to say. It's not style or devices; those things can be important, but what's most compelling is the truth. It is not simply a matter of making sure that we "cover" this and that point--of merely stating (or asserting) this or that truth--but of "getting inside" of these truths, of "breaking down" the reality they embody, and "taking the audience through" this, bringing them to the correct, the inevitable synthesis--inevitable not only objectively but subjectively, that is, in their thinking, their consciousness. In other words, through the process on which you've taken them with the article, or speech, or whatever, they begin to recognize--and, in a conscious sense, to feel--the inevitability of the conclusion.

Of course, this cannot be done for every major contradiction that could conceivably be addressed in a speech (or article), or else every speech (or article) would become extremely long and complex, which is not always appropriate. (This is something I have had to be reminded of at times!!) But this must be done with regard to one or a few main contradictions that can be identified as central to the particular speech (or writing). As I have suggested, although writing (both propaganda and agitation), on the one hand, and speaking on the other hand, each have certain particularities, the basic principle being stressed here--the need to identify and concentrate on one or a few contradictions and to not only "dig into" but "take your audience through" these contradictions, in order to enable them to begin to recognize the inevitability of your conclusions--applies not only to speaking but also to writing. Here I want to emphasize that, while I have raised the criticism that sometimes there is a tendency to blur the lines in some newspaper articles between propaganda and agitation, looking at it overall, I would say that our newspaper provides many positive examples of very effective propaganda and agitation. I'm continually struck, over and over again, by the extremely high level of the newspaper. I've actually seen letters, from people who are not even in our ranks or don't even necessarily agree with everything we say, but who ask, with positive amazement: "How do they do that, in the newspaper? They'll analyze something, they'll predict something, and it doesn't appear to be that way at all, but then two months later you see that that's exactly the way it is. How do they do that?"

Well, it's called MLM--that's the key, that's what makes this possible--but you have to apply it, and there are many good examples of this application in the newspaper. So, I think we have a lot of positive examples to learn from and build on, where the principles I'm discussing are applied very well, in written and also in spoken agitation and propaganda, but it's a question of further developing and sharpening our ability to do this in a more systematic and all-around way.

Once more, this is not so much, not principally, a matter of style, nor of rhetorical device--and certainly it's not a matter of demagogic "cheap tricks" in speaking or writing--but primarily a matter of substance and method, and of style and devices that are consistent with and serve that method. Here is an important point which is what I was getting at earlier--that what's compelling about our propaganda and agitation is its truthfulness. This is in line with Mao's statement (I think it might have been in "Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing") that we communists stand for the truth and the truth demands science. This is what we should base ourselves on. This is the most powerful thing we have going for us--seeking truth from facts--not in a narrow, pragmatic sense but in a sense of applying, in an all-round way, our basic stand, viewpoint, and methodology to get to the essence of reality in its motion and development.

A related point here, something of importance that struck me when reading over Mao's "Yenan Forum," is the following: "In discussing a problem, we should start from reality and not from definitions." This has great relevance in terms of both substance and style, or form. I remember when Mao was critiquing a Soviet political economy textbook, he criticized it exactly on this point--that the writers of this textbook started out from categories, and not from reality--and he said, besides being wrong it makes for very boring reading. So I think there is something to learn from what he is saying there. And this has great relevance and broad application for propaganda and agitation, as well as for cultural work and for our work as a whole--that is, in addressing a problem we should start out from reality and not from definitions or categories.

Also related to this, I wanted to do something unusual and make a positive reference to Dimitroff--since we have, correctly, criticized Dimitroff sharply for the line of United Front Against Fascism***, for reducing the question to one of bourgeois democracy vs. fascism and promoting bourgeois democracy, it seems only fair that if we can find something that is positive from him that we should cite it! There is a statement by Dimitroff that Mao cites in the "Yenan Forum": "We must learn to talk to the masses, not in the language of book formulas, but in the language of fighters for the cause of the masses, whose every word, whose every idea reflects the innermost thoughts and sentiments of millions." Now I remember from reading this in Dimitroff's "United Front Against Fascism" speeches, that what Dimitroff is getting at here divides into two: essentially it's correct, although there is a secondary aspect that we have to discuss too, where it could lead to tailism. One of the things that Dimitroff cites as an example is some big rally in a stadium in Germany in the early '30s, before the Nazis had been established as the ruling party, and different forces were contending for leadership of the masses. A fascist spokesman got up at this rally and gave one of these Pat Buchanan type speeches, where he actually addressed contradictions on the minds of the masses but pointed to a resolution that was against the interests of the masses; and then the communist speaker got up, and as Dimitroff portrays it, there was sort of hushed anticipation--everybody really anxious to hear what the communist had to say--and he proceeded to speak along lines like this: "Comrades, I am happy to report that in the Third Plenary Session of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International..." You know--blah, blah, blah--the audience was very disappointed and virtually put to sleep. A tremendous opportunity to win leadership away from the fascists and lead the masses in a completely different direction--or at least to strongly influence them in that direction--was thrown away by speaking in the language of "book formulas."

Now we don't have that problem in exactly that way, including that unfortunately we don't yet have a Communist International, but some of the same types of tendencies can seep into various propaganda and agitation, and at times it does. But part of the problem that Dimitroff was not addressing well enough--and this is a reflection of errors in his line--is that there are certain ways that the fascists can play on spontaneity, prejudices, illusions, and so on, of the masses, which we cannot. We have to go up against a lot of those things. So you have to be careful: while there is an essential correctness and real importance to what Dimitroff is saying, in criticizing stereotyped speaking (and writing), this must not be turned into a recipe for tailing. What is involved is once again precisely a matter of leading--by applying the mass line. It is a matter of applying MLM to achieve a synthesis, drawing from "the innermost thoughts and sentiments of the masses" and applying MLM to achieve a higher synthesis and then returning that to the masses and persevering with them to carry that out; it is not a question of simply mirroring the thoughts and sentiments of the masses, but of drawing a higher synthesis and returning that to the masses.


The next point I want to speak to is not just "preaching to the choir"--but speaking to millions. Now let me be clear, it is important to "preach to the choir." One of the things that Mao says in "Yenan Forum" is that the cadre also have their own particular needs, politically, and ideologically and culturally, which are different than the masses' needs in this regard, because the cadre have a higher level of political-ideological understanding and development. At the same time, he points out--and this an extremely important point--ultimately addressing the needs of the cadre is serving the masses, because after all the whole role of the cadre is to carry out the line, to mobilize the masses, and to translate the line into policy (including propaganda and agitation) that is accessible to the masses and can be taken up by the masses. So it is important to "preach to the choir"--it is important to meet the needs of those who already are converted to the cause--to raise their level and to help increase their ability to carry out revolutionary work and the practice-theory-practice process, or dialectic.

But that is not enough, and that is not overall the main thing we should be doing. Further, we have to not just be speaking to--nor certainly just mirroring the spontaneous sentiments of--our most bedrock social base; we have to be reaching out to and influencing broad strata, even among those who are important to win over--or at least win to "friendly neutrality"--from the strategic standpoint, but who are now (or may be now) more inclined toward the Right and "right-wing radicalism."

One example of this is that we have to develop the ability to speak convincingly and compellingly to the whole right-wing conspiracy lines about the New World Order and the World Bank, etc., and such things as...demagoguery about the banks and corporations and international investment ruining the lives of working people in America. As is typical of demagogic and reactionary forces, what you find in these conspiracy theories is a combination of actual fact woven together with a lot of lies and misinformation, as well as mythology and frequently mysticism, and so on. After all, there is a lot of truth that is being gotten at with the idea that there is international money and banking playing a big role and having a big effect on people's lives--that the lives of working people in a particular country, even in the "home country," ultimately mean nothing to the ruling class--all of these things are true. There are other things that are raised by these right-wing conspiracy theories that are true and are woven together not only with lies in general, but in the case of these right-wing conspiracy theories and right-wing propaganda and agitation, they weave this together with a lot of the prejudices and biases and illusions that are characteristic of the particular sections of the middle strata--in certain ways you might call them the unenlightened middle strata. This is what gives it its rightward character: they take a lot of the real contradictions that people are confronting, but they weave it together not only with mythology and lies in general, but also with appeals to patriotism--the idea that what's happening, for example, is that international institutions are somehow taking over America!--which is the exact inversion of the truth. What's happening is that U.S. capital is dominating the world accumulation process, the world market and most of the world politically and militarily. So they have inverted the truth--they have taken an aspect of truth and inverted it and woven it together with prejudices that have a lot of hold and sway among many in these strata.

So it is not simply a matter of us saying "Oh no, that is not the way it is, this is the way it is"--we have to become good at recasting and "re-synthesizing" all this on the basis of a scientific exposure of capitalism in its imperialist stage and pointing people towards the only real resolution of this that is in the interests of the broad masses of people. We have to learn how to do that well, in a way that is truly compelling even to these strata--we are going up against a lot of the spontaneity, prejudices, biases, illusions, and class limitations that the bourgeoisie in the form of its right-wing demagogues, and its mainstream fascist politicians like Buchanan, are playing on. But, while they can play and are playing on all that, we have to go up against that, so we have a harder road to go, and we have to figure out how to do it by recasting and re-synthesizing all this on the basis of a scientific exposure of capitalism in its imperialist stage and the only real resolution of this that is in the interests of the broad masses, including the great majority among these strata.

Another example: for a lot of these right-wing groups, one of their sometimes unspoken--and often openly spoken--tenets is white supremacy. What's wrong with big government? There is, in fact, from the standpoint of the class-conscious proletariat, a big problem with big government in this society--it is a big dictatorship of the bourgeoisie representing the interests of imperialism and it fucks over people, including the middle strata, in a lot of ways. But again, here you have a truth that is taken by these right-wing demagogues and distorted and woven in with lies and appeals to prejudices and reactionary or backward thinking and outlooks that spontaneously arise among certain sections of the middle strata in particular. And one of the biggest assaults these demagogues make on big government is that it has been responsible for carrying out things like affirmative action and concessionary programs to the poor and to working class people (the "social safety net," and so on); and the icon is raised of the "taxpayer"--one of the ways this is put out is that "all this is at the expense of the taxpayer." This is one of things we have to take on--this whole larger-than-life being called the "taxpayer."

One of the main ways we have to take this on is by showing, through our propaganda and agitation, where does wealth actually come from? Who creates it? It's back again to the question of who feeds whom? Where does the wealth of society and the wealth in circulation internationally get created--who creates this wealth? This comes out in relation to immigrants, for example. The accusation is that they are leeching off of society, when in fact they are being exploited mercilessly and creating a tremendous amount of surplus value which is part of the international accumulation process of imperialism. They have created and are creating surplus value both in the country that they left and in the country that they arrive in. But this is all inverted in the continual barrage of bourgeois-imperialist propaganda--this is all part of a general inversion of reality and of blotting out the whole process through which value and social wealth is created in the first place, and blotting out the masses who create it.

In order to help dramatically illustrate the real relations, I always thought, when they were doing this big "Buy American" stuff, that one way to get at this, if you are speaking to a group of people, is to say that if people who were caught up in all this "Buy American" and other America-first chauvinist bullshit--if they really wanted to be consistent, they should take off all their clothing that was made in other countries. Then you would have an overwhelmingly naked bunch of people! This is a way of saying: Look, this is international capital--this is the way it works. Yes, it is an outrage that it closes down plants and throws people out of work. But the answer to that can't be demanding that this system of international capitalism, this imperialism, act in some other way than what is possible according to the very nature of that system, its inner dynamics and compulsion; and definitely the answer cannot be raising demands that pit working people in the U.S. against those in other countries, especially those who are exploited even more viciously. The fact is, anything short of rising up, directing our fire against and overthrowing this system cannot solve the fundamental problem. This is the way the system works. We are always being lectured about "real life," or "the real world"--wake up if you're looking for a better life and better relations among people--"things are not like that in `the real world.' " Well, that's right--things are not like that--that the capitalist and imperialist system is going to operate in the interests of the broad masses of people. That is not real life, and people should wake up to that.

People who get caught up in these illusions, and worse--these American-chauvinist prejudices and schemes--need to understand more about how things really do work in the world as a whole. I was recently reading an article about child labor in the Third World--it was just heart-rending. (And, in the same period, I was reading the Jonathan Kozol book Amazing Grace and getting another vivid illustration of what real life is for millions and millions of people, in particular children, right within the imperialist "homeland"--in the "belly of the beast.")

Whether it is clothes, or these fancy rugs that more privileged people throw on their floors, or whether it is their wall hangings--a very large part of these things are produced by child labor around the world. Kids seven and eight years old in Thailand or Pakistan, or other places like Haiti, are slaving away, under the most extremely ruthless and murderous exploitation, producing these things. We have to bring this out to people, and we have to show how all this is in the very nature of the capitalist-imperialist system, the same system that is laying people off, "downsizing" them, "recycling them downward" into lower paying jobs and income categories, and so on, within the imperialist countries themselves. We have to bring out this reality in order to go up against the spontaneity that has broad sway among the middle strata, particularly in these imperialist countries--their prejudices and biases--we are going up against this spontaneity, which includes a continual onslaught of bourgeois propaganda and systematic miseducation, but on the other hand we have going for us the fundamental fact that what is represented by Buchanan, and by these right-wing theories and movements, does not conform to the reality of how the system works and does not conform to the interests of the broad masses of people, including in the middle strata.


We have to develop our ability to really put this forward in ways that attract and inspire broad numbers among these [middle] strata--and we can because in reality what we stand for, what is represented by the proletarian revolution and its historic mission, does stand out as far more uplifting and inspiring than the relations and corresponding ideology of the current system; and, despite all the hype and continual distortion, very broad numbers of people, including in the middle strata, have a sense of the profound bankruptcy of all this and are hungering for something different, even if spontaneously most gravitate, at least initially, toward something different than what we represent. We have to bring out, in a compelling way, that the rat-race of this system--being highlighted and heightened now through the "high-tech revolution" the U.S. and world economy is undergoing--is completely unnecessary.This is a extremely important point: people are being told, "well we just have to downsize, we just have to eliminate jobs, because of the world market and the competitive current international economy, etc." We have to stand back from that and say, that's complete bullshit ! This is totally unnecessary. Look at the wealth that is being produced already by the masses of people. Look at the potential for far more social wealth if people and things are liberated from these production relations and superstructure, from this system. It is absolutely unnecessary for people to have to be going through everything they are being put through--for people in the middle strata to have their jobs "downsized," let alone for the masses of the people in the world to be in literal or near starvation and all the other horrendous conditions that they are subjected to. This is completely unnecessary. Our propagandists and agitators and people working in the sphere of public opinion--our Party as a whole--we have to find many creative, effective, powerful and compelling ways to drive home this point. And we can do that.

Responding Quickly

Another point I want to speak to is being able to "respond quickly" and in certain circumstances to speak extemporaneously ("on the spot") without advance preparation, as well as developing our ability to give speeches with preparation. Even if we're not yet prepared to make a thorough and all-sided analysis, we should try to put out something that captures the essence of the matter--to respond hot on the heels and catch the enemy red-handed, etc.--to put out a basic position and then continually return to and deepen that, rather than undergoing a certain paralysis by feeling that we don't know enough to say everything, or to have it all together, so therefore we end up saying nothing. Of course, we don't want to say something wrong or say something that points in the wrong direction. We have to have enough grasp of the situation to be able to put forward something which captures the essence and points in the right direction, although there's no way to absolutely guarantee that--there's no way we can be perfect. We will make mistakes--we have made mistakes--we have to learn from them and move forward, but the principle is that we should be able to respond quickly and catch the enemy red-handed and use this as a way of hounding the enemy, hot on their heels. We should be able to come out with something that lays out the basic issues and takes a basic stand--whether it's in the newspaper or some other form of written propaganda and agitation or in spoken propaganda and agitation--and then over time we should dig deeper and develop a fuller, more all-around analysis.

This relates to a point Mao was stressing in "Yenan Forum"--a lot of what was needed then in the sphere of art and culture was "fuel in stormy weather" rather than "flowers on a brocade." Right then especially, they didn't need things that were very elaborate and fancy--they needed some cultural works that met the basic needs of the masses. Well, we need both, but we do need a lot of fuel in stormy weather, particularly in circumstances where there is a need to respond quickly. And one particular expression of this is being able to speak extemporaneously (or on the spot) without advance preparation in relation to events that jump off and that need to be spoken to right at the time in order to catch the enemy red-handed, and hound him and pursue him in that kind of way. Being able to do this is a matter of practice, and a matter of study.

It is very important that spokespeople and those who are generally associated with the Party and its trend (and more generally people doing agitation and propaganda) not only be familiar with the section of the masses they work more directly among (or address themselves mainly to) but with the situation of diverse sections of the people. It is important not just to know conditions in the U.S. at this time but to have a sense of history and familiarity with things internationally. It is important to read things not only more or less directly connected with the work you are doing but things unrelated, or only indirectly related, to this work that you're doing. It is important to study MLM and the Party's line and the Party's analysis of events, but it's also important to study other lines and points of view. It is important to be able to speak (or write)--and to continually develop and sharpen our ability to speak (or write)--as a representative of the revolutionary proletariat and its vanguard Party on a broad range of issues.

Of course, in a fundamental and essential sense, we must rely on the collectivity of the Party and its democratic centralism to develop line and policy, including analysis of major questions and events. And here again the role of the newspaper is pivotal. In other words, it's not a question of individuals just developing their abilities on their own and, worse yet, developing their own line. The ability to respond quickly to events is precisely the ability to wield MLM and the line of the Party in doing so. But, within this context, it is very important for comrades to develop their ability to apply our ideology and line to particular questions and tasks, as well in an overall sense, and to take initiative in doing so based on our line and ideology.

Through all this, it is crucial to be standing firmly on and to apply the outlook and methodology of the proletariat and of no other class or group--and to draw a clear distinction between the proletarian outlook and methodology and all others, even those that are "oppositional" and even "radical."


Before concluding, I want to speak briefly here to the new generation and the question of speaking to them and their particular concerns and the particular way they see things, and doing this in a way that comes across as fresh, vibrant and full of vitality (as opposed to "aging"--in the cultural, and certainly the ideological, sense!!). This is very much bound up with the contradiction of "being part of the process of discovery" with people while not pretending we don't know what we do know--and in fact finding the best ways to "connect" what we know with others as they go through this "process of discovery," and in fact as we go through it with them. This is also a matter of developing the best combination of youth and veterans, and included within this is leading newer and particularly younger people to develop the means to give expression to the universal truth of MLM and to our Party's line in particular forms that will "resonate" with the youth. Now, the youth, of course, are not one monolithic group--there are youth of different strata, different nationalities, male and female, etc.--but there is a certain phenomenon of youth that does have a more general character. So a particularly important aspect of our work is leading newer people in the movement and particularly youth to develop the means to give expression to the universal truth of MLM and our Party's line in particular forms that will capture the imagination of the new generation and bring alive, for them, the profound and compelling truth of our ideology and our line.


* Edited excerpts from the first part of "Strategic Questions" are available online at under the series title "Revolutionary Strategy:  Uniting  All Who Can Be United" in the section on Writings of Bob Avakian. This series was published in the RW from November 10, 1996 to February 9, 1997.  [Return to article]

** These Resolutions on Leadership, which were adopted by the Central Committee of the Party, were published in RW #825, October 1, 1995.  [Return to article]

*** Georgi Dimitroff was a leading Bulgarian communist who served as General Secretary of the Communist International starting in 1934. He was closely associated with the major changes in political line adopted at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International in the name of fighting fascism. This line has been sharply criticized by Bob Avakian in several places--including in "Outline of Views on the Historical Experience of the International Communist Movement and the Lessons for Today," (Revolution magazine, June 1981).  [Return to article]