A principle that I want to stress is something that's pointed to in the Declaration of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement , where it speaks to the dialectical relation between holding firmly to basic principles of our ideology (MLM, as we now identify it) and to strategic principles politically on the one hand, while, on the other hand, creatively applying this, as opposed to dogmatically applying it. This same basic principle is also spoken to in the conclusion of Mao Tsetung's Immortal Contributions ,* where it talks about this in similar terms, but specifically in terms of the relation between standing firmly on, upholding, and applying our basic principles at any given time, but also being open to learning new things and continually deepening our principles and our ability to grasp and apply them.
Interestingly in this regard, in the RW supplement on the new situation ("The New Situation and the Great Challenges") it speaks about this same basic question and the importance of it in relation to major changes, particularly demographic changes and changes in class composition and "social configuration" in countries throughout the world, but especially in vast areas of the Third World—the uprooting of the peasantry, their being propelled into the urban areas, the sort of "push-pull" that draws huge numbers of them into the urban areas (or, more specifically, into the shantytowns) and the implications of this for the revolutionary process. And it makes what is again a sort of provocative statement, that it is not enough to just go back to the basics of MLM—and not even enough to just go back to and creatively apply the basics of MLM. We're going to have to confront and engage reality more fully—obviously not by abandoning our principles, but by applying them, but also being willing to learn new things. As Mao said, we should not be bound by superstition and we should not be bound by convention. The challenge will be to correctly handle the dialectical relation between sticking to our basic principles and at the same time applying them creatively—and being open to learning new things, including ways in which we have to go back and re-examine some aspects of our basic principles.
This is a tremendously important point of world outlook and methodology and its application to the revolutionary process. And, as I mentioned before, in some of his philosophical talks and ruminations Mao stressed the point that often—and even generally in history—truth, particularly newly emerging truths, are in the hands of a minority. This is another contradiction we have to confront. The people who come forward with new truths (or important new aspects of truth) often, and generally, not only have to go up against convention in the general sense, and superstition in the sense of blindly accepting convention; they also have to go up against established authority.
And what makes it particularly complex, once again, is that this can occur not only in general, and not only with regard to (and in opposition to) established bourgeois authority (or feudal or other oppressive authority). It can also occur in our own ranks—in somewhat different ways, as well as some of the same ways, this can be a real phenomenon within our own movement, within the communist movement itself and within the overall process of the world proletarian revolution. This is one of the things that makes it difficult.
Again, truth is not always—and often is not—in the hands of the majority. New truths are, almost by definition, in the hands of a minority. And there is established convention, there is even constituted authority, in the communist movement—even where we don't have state power, although on a whole other level when we do. This is another contradiction that, methodologically, it's important to, first of all, recognize and be attuned to and be acutely grappling with, because if we don't correctly handle this kind of contradiction, new truths are going to be suppressed more than they need to be and in ways that are going to be very harmful. I say "more than they need to be" because, as I spoke to, every new truth is going to have to fight to be recognized—every new thing has to fight against the old, and that's a law. But the point is [BA laughs] we shouldn't make the fight harder. We shouldn't consciously make the fight harder. We should, on the contrary, have a conscious orientation and method of handling this contradiction more correctly.
This is difficult—there it is again!—because almost every revisionist idea has presented itself as a creative application of Marxism and a wrestling with new reality. Khrushchev was "creatively applying Marxism-Leninism" when he came up with his "3 Peacefuls," (peaceful coexistence, peaceful transition to socialism, and peaceful competition between socialism and capitalism)—these revisionist theses that were gutting fundamental principles of our ideology and of our strategic orientation in terms of the seizure of power, in terms of advancing to communism. So this is what makes it complicated. Many things emerge which proclaim themselves as new truths, which in fact are not; but if we have an attitude of suppressing every new thing that goes up against convention—and here I have in mind convention within the communist movement in particular—it will be much more difficult to sort things out correctly.
A VIBRANT REVOLUTIONARY SCIENTIFIC VIEWPOINT
This relates to a very important point: the fundamental distinction not only between science on the one hand, and religion (and superstition as a whole) on the other hand, in a general sense, but more particularly between MLM and all unscientific and fundamentally conservative or even reactionary ideologies. MLM is fundamentally opposed to religion in general and particularly to religious dogma and to all similarly rigid and doctrinaire approaches and methods, in all their manifestations—including their manifestations within the MLM movement itself. MLM is in essence—and should be and must be in its application—the most thoroughgoing, systematic and comprehensive, and the most living, vibrant, critical, creative, and revolutionary scientific viewpoint and method. And religious dogmatism of any kind—or essentially the same kind of method and approach in any form—s anathema to MLM. It's completely opposed to everything we're about methodologically and in our overall objectives.
This relates to something I referred to earlier, where Marx (I believe it was in "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte") makes the point that the proletarian revolution goes forward by picking itself up from its defeats, and rising again from the dust, shaking itself off, and subjecting itself to criticism. This applies in practice, when we suffer defeats and setbacks and have to go forward again, but it also applies in the realm of theory and methodology and world outlook. This is important to grasp.
It is also important to grasp the fundamental underpinning for this—or, to put it another way, the correspondence between this world outlook and method and the actual position and interests of the proletariat. This has to do with a phrase that was again formulated in a deliberately provocative way in "Strategic Questions,"** where it talks about "the god-like position of the proletariat." Here I am talking about how we have to reject all religious dogmatism, and then this phrase is used: the "god-like position of the proletariat"! But the point of that provocative phrase is that the proletariat, in its historically evolved role in society, occupies a position where it is capable of grasping the large sweep of history as well as the internal relations of capitalism, and of placing those internal relations and contradictions of capitalism within the broad sweep of human historical development and seeing the way to the emancipation of humanity as a whole from all oppressive and exploitative relations. This does correspond to the position of the proletariat in society, to the way in which, even under capitalism, it carries out its essential role as the driving force of society—as the basis on which society continues to develop.
If there were no class that occupies this objective position, that carries out socialized productive activity (as a class, even though particular members of the class may not be able to work at a given time, or even for extended periods) and at the same time is situated in a strategic and powerful position within capitalist society—and because of all these factors holds the potential for rising up and completely overthrowing the system and completely transforming society in accordance with principles of collectivity and cooperation, not to eliminate or to suppress individuality but to bring forward greater individuality within the framework of greater cooperation and collectivity—if there weren't a proletariat in that kind of position, then there could not be a proletarian revolution.
I remember a leading person in our Party years ago (who turned into one of the leaders of the Mensheviks within our Party) saying at one point—and this was revealing of his pragmatism—"We talk about the proletariat, but if we made the analysis that dentists were the key force to carry out the socialist revolution, we'd have to figure out how to win dentists to playing that role." Well [BA laughs], I don't really think so. You may win a few dentists to MLM, but that's probably one of the groups that's going to be brought along last. And the point is, even if you won them as a group to MLM, they're not in a position to carry out the proletarian revolution. And neither is an isolated group of MLM theoreticians. The proletariat is in the position to carry this out—or to be the driving force in leading the broad masses to carry this out—and it does have this "god-like" position.
But here again comes the contradiction between that and the need for the vanguard of the proletariat to merge and fuse its sweeping revolutionary outlook and methodology with the actual struggle of the proletariat and to transform that struggle into a thoroughgoing revolutionary struggle—and in the process to transform the vanguard itself and eventually reach the point, through the whole world-historic process of getting to communism on a global scale, where not only the state but the vanguard itself can and will wither away because the underlying contradictions that have given rise to the need for a vanguard have been thoroughly transformed. That's obviously a very sharply contradictory process. The anarchists will say, "Well, that will never happen, because people come to power and then they never want to give up power." And there is a certain pull in that direction. Mao said that one of the problems we have in socialist society is that officials become bigshots and they want to protect their interests as bigshots. He also said: human beings have one fault—they tend to look down on other people. Now, he didn't mean—as this might be interpreted—that this is inherent and unchangeable human nature; he meant that when you have social divisions, it gives rise to a corresponding ideological outlook. But it still poses a big problem.
Returning to a point discussed earlier in this talk*** why would we fund dissent under the dictatorship of the proletariat? Because we recognize its importance in relation to everything we're trying to do, and we give it a certain priority even in relation to very urgent problems at a given time, even while we have to correctly handle those priorities. Similarly, why would we work to undermine the basis for the vanguard to have this special role as a vanguard? Why would we work to undermine the situation where there's a need for an army as a separate special body of armed men and women? In other words, why would we be seeking, as a strategic objective, to get rid of those situations? Because this has to do with our fundamental aims and views, with our world outlook and methodology and where we're trying to get. Again, the essence of the problem is not that people won't give up power, as if that's inherent in human nature, but rather has to do with objective material contradictions and with class outlook—n the fullest sense, not in a narrow, economist sense. It has to do with what world outlook and methodology—and, flowing from that, what strategic viewpoint—you're grasping, putting forward, fighting for and carrying out. These are contradictions that are going to be with us all the way through the process of advancing to communism.
* Mao Tsetung's Immortal Contributions was written by Bob Avakian as a series of articles between April 1978 and January 1979, and published as a book by RCP Publications on May First, 1979. [Return to article]
** Excerpts from "Strategic Questions," a tape-recorded talk by Bob Avakian, appeared in RW Nos. 881, 884-893, Nov. 10, 1996 and Dec. 1, 1996 through Feb. 9, 1997. These are available at revcom.us under Bob Avakian, Uniting All Who Can Be United: On the Revolutionary Strategy of the United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat. Additional excerpts from "Strategic Questions"—"On Propaganda and Agitation: Being Eminently Reasonable—And Completely Outrageous—Speaking and Writing With Masses of People in Mind," appeared in RW #1176, Nov. 24, 2002 and is also available at revcom.us under Bob Avakian, Further Thoughts and Writings. [Return to article]
*** This was discussed in the excerpt entitled "Valuing Dissent...Why?" in RW #1184, January 26, 2003. [Return to article]