I want to begin by discussing the basic orientation with which the points in this talk should be taken up, and that centers around the principle that was brought forward in the course of the Chinese Revolution and applied to many different spheres: "Grasp Revolution and Promote Production." It is interesting and illustrative to go into a little bit of the history of not only this slogan but the struggle that developed around it.
This was a slogan—or an encapsulation of a basic principle—that was brought forward particularly in the Cultural Revolution, although it had been used before that. It had all kinds of application—including, for example, in a literal sense of being applied to production—and it was the focus of a lot of very sharp struggle because, as we can now see, the revisionists were insisting that the purpose of production after all was production—that production and revolution are completely separate things—and production has certain laws, certain rules and regulations that everyone must follow. Everyone should be at their posts, everyone should stay at their posts, there should be a rigid division of labor, and anything that distracted from production was harmful to the socialist cause. Politics was another sphere, and culture was another sphere, and they really had not much to do with the key tasks of increasing the output of society in order to bring about modernization—and modernization was the key to everything, including ultimately being able to have a powerful socialist country that could take its rightful place on the world stage. So any of the kinds of activities that the revolutionaries were fighting for, where masses would take time out from work to discuss political affairs, where cultural works would be performed, where the masses themselves would get together and form cultural troupes to create cultural works—any of that kind of thing was regarded as a harmful distraction. And then, of course, it also carried over even to such things as the formation of revolutionary committees that came forth through the Cultural Revolution: to have the workers leave their posts and take time out to engage in administrative tasks, and of course to waste the time of the administrators to go down and do production work on the floor with ordinary workers, was harmful to the socialist cause. This was the core revisionist line on these questions.
So this isn't just a slogan that sounds good and that was sort of universally embraced and applied. It was a point of very sharp contention.
And the question is: why did the revolutionaries bring forward this slogan, or these principles? Because they grasped that everything that we are out to do requires the increasingly conscious activism and initiative of ever broader masses of people, that socialism is not something that is identical with or essentially defined by production or even state ownership of the means of production, that it involves the revolutionary transformation of all of society and ultimately all of the world, through the whole proletarian revolution worldwide, and that included in this is the transformation of the thinking of the people as well as all the social and economic relations and the political institutions of society and the superstructure as a whole, including the culture. So they grasped that, in order for production to serve revolution, the masses had to, first of all, consciously understand what the production was for—why were they producing certain things?—and they had to struggle over some of the things that are focused on in the Shanghai Political Economy Textbook *: what are we producing for, are we producing in order to lay a stronger basis to transform society and contribute to the world revolution, or are we just trying to get more output so we can compete with the capitalist countries and become a powerful country? These are not just two different approaches or ideas; they represent two different class viewpoints on what the whole thing is about.
So, the workers must actually struggle not only with the question of what they're producing for but, along with that, how they're producing, in what production relations are they producing; because, as Marx pointed out, any time that people enter into production, they also enter into certain definite production relations. Production can never be carried out in the abstract. It's always carried out concretely by people engaging in, or entering into, certain production relations. And the socialist period is marked by people more and more consciously seeking to transform the production relations, as well as social relations in general, and to increasingly bring into being relations that more and more cast off the inequalities and oppressive divisions from the old society. So there was that whole dimension.
But, beyond that, there was a call for the masses of people to pay attention to affairs of state as well as to pay attention to the superstructure in general and to engage in the struggle to transform it. It was recognized that this is important in its own right in order to keep the socialist cause advancing, and that it was important even in relation to production, because the more that the workers grasped consciously all these things—not just the nature of production, the purpose of production, and the question of what are the relations of production, but the affairs of state and world affairs and so on—then the more consciously they could be unleashed to create "miracles" in production, which did happen in China: things like how they built a 10,000 ton ship on a dry dock that supposedly could only hold 5,000 tons. There were all kinds of things that were achieved on the basis of masses consciously grasping and wrangling with these questions, and this was a principle they brought forward.
But again, this wasn't just universally accepted and welcomed and grasped and enthusiastically carried out by everyone. It was a focus of very sharp struggle. And within our own Party, this became a focus of very sharp struggle after the coup in China, when we struggled out the question of what stand we were going to take toward that. And the people within our own Party, including on its leading levels, who supported and followed the revisionist line in China were also championing this idea that all this "fluffy" stuff, as they presented it, that was going on in the factories—workers taking time out to do painting, or to do other cultural activities, or to study Anti-Duhring...it's one thing if they want to do it on their own time, but to actually take time away from production to do that was "against Marxism." I remember one of these Menshevik** leaders got up at the decisive Central Committee meeting of our Party where the struggle came to a head and this question was resolved, and at one point he made what he thought was a very powerful argument that in Shanghai—where the Gang of Four had their main base and strongest base of support—in all the factories in Shanghai the people that they mobilized and the people they supported were all these "singers and dancers and whatever the fuck."
This is the way these revisionists looked at this—this is just fluff and flaky people, and the real hardcore workers wanted to carry out work. This was supposed to be a very compelling argument as to why the Gang of Four was all fucked up—they were mobilizing singers and dancers to come into the factories and mobilizing workers to be singers and dancers, and it was hard for the revisionists to imagine anything more horrible than that.
So, anyway, this is a very important principle, "grasp revolution, promote production," and it runs straight up against pragmatism, and the whole notion and linear thinking that the way to get anything done is to plunge ahead straight-line. Now, sometimes it is necessary to put ourselves to a task and carry through on it and plow through the obstacles, so to speak, but as a general principle and rule and method, the linear way—the straight ahead way, especially straight ahead with your head down—is not the way that we're going to achieve our objectives. That's the way the bourgeoisie and other exploiting classes want the masses to go about business—to stay at their posts, do their work, and put their head down and act essentially as beasts of burden. But to achieve our objectives, which are world-historical, really requires rupturing with that and going back and forth between practice and theory, and struggling and grappling and wrangling in the realm of our thinking over big questions of principle, over world affairs, affairs of state, big questions of political and ideological line, and on that basis being unleashed ourselves and being able to go out and in a certain sense reproduce that process more broadly among masses, in order to unleash them more and more consciously. Otherwise, what we're going to have in the end is not revolution and not socialism, and not the advance to communism. Even if somehow you could imagine a seizure of power, it would only amount in the end to one sort or other of a bourgeois coup if it didn't involve the increasingly conscious participation, activism, and initiative of the masses.
Now, one of the hardest things about what we're all about is that everything is contradiction—and that's true for everybody, but we recognize it more consciously—and none of this is simple. There are no "magic formulas" or simple formulae that you can just memorize and slap down on reality. For example, it's true that you need the conscious initiative of the masses to make revolution and ultimately to carry through the socialist transformation and reach the goal of communism worldwide, but it's also true that, as Lenin said, some of the worst crimes in the world have been committed in the name of the masses. People like Kautsky (the leader of the largest socialist party in the world, in Germany, in the period leading into World War 1) would say: the masses aren't ready for this, the masses aren't ready for that—it's not time to go for the seizure of power. In China, the same thing with regard to making leaps in transforming things: the revisionists said not only do we not have the material basis in production, but also the masses are not ready to take it upon themselves to do this. And it's always true that you can find backward sections of the masses to justify any backward line you want to put out.
So this is what makes it so complicated. As I've said, there is no easy answer or simple solution. There's only our world outlook and methodology grasped in a sweeping way and at the same time applied concretely to actual conditions and particular contradictions. But there are basic principles that we can and must apply. And "grasp revolution, promote production" is one such principle. It applies not just literally to production but more metaphorically or figuratively to every endeavor that we take up, every sphere of activity. Applying this principle is the way we're really going to, increasingly and in waves, bring forward broader ranks of masses—through a back-and-forth process, and in a wave-like motion, bring forward ever broader ranks of masses to consciously and through their own conscious initiative take up these tasks and carry out these struggles and ultimately achieve these transformations. Otherwise, whatever is done in the short run will not last.
Mao said at one point that authority that is artificially established will collapse, and what's sort of a corollary to that is that whatever's done by bureaucratic means and methods will ultimately not lead in the direction of what we're all about. And there's always a constant pull, either in the direction of trying to shortcut things by using bureaucratic means and methods or, on the other hand, just tailing. And the challenge is to find the right synthesis so that we're actually unleashing masses and leading them (and that's a point I want to come back to later in this talk—that unleashing people also means to lead them, and leading them obviously also means to unleash them—this is another unity of opposites). The grasp/promote principle applies in this kind of broad way to everything that we undertake.
So, in that light, I want to stress the importance of applying that approach to what I'm going to be talking about during the course of this talk, because the point and the purpose of this talk is not to arrive at or to set forward definite conclusions or to formulate lines and policies about specific areas of work or to sum up work as such, but to focus on and to promote wrangling around basic and sweeping questions— questions of principle and of world-historic significance—in a deep and wide-ranging way. This, again, is in accord with the principle of grasp/promote, and this is how the relation should be understood between what is unfolded with and around this talk, on the one hand, and on the other hand important, even crucially important, aspects and spheres of Party work and their relation to our largest strategic objectives.
* Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism: The Shanghai Textbook, ed. by Raymond Lotta (Banner Press, 1994). Available from Revolution Books stores and outlets listed on page 2, or order on line from amazon.com
** The group within the RCP that tried to take the Party down the road of supporting revisionism, in China and overall, was given the name Mensheviks because, like the original Mensheviks in Russia at the time of the revolution there, they represented a line that actually opposed revolution and communism, even while they claimed to uphold these things (Menshevik in Russian refers to the fact that these revisionists were in a minority position, as opposed to the Bolshevik majority, at a decisive point, but the term has come to have a broader and more essential meaning, describing opportunism).