Some people have argued that an attempt to make an actual revolution, to overthrow the ruling system of capitalism-imperialism in this country, up against the powerful armed forces of this system, would be suicidal. This is something I spoke to, a number of years ago now, in the talk Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution:
Many people, including many who say they would like to see a radical change in society, insist that revolution is not possible because “they” are too powerful, and “people are too messed up.” Well, it is true that, shaped as they are by this system, the masses of people, in any part of society, don’t know shit and have their heads up their asses, when it comes to an understanding of how things really are, why they are the way they are, and what could and should be done about this. But this stands in sharp contradiction to another important truth—that millions of people really do care about one or more, and many care about all, of the “5 STOPS.” This is a contradiction that we have to go to work on, to move masses of people in the direction of the revolution that is needed to finally put a stop to those “5 STOPS” and the horrific conditions to which the masses of humanity are constantly subjected. [The 5 STOPS refers to five major social contradictions and forms of oppression and devastation that are built into this system of capitalism-imperialism and which can only be eliminated through a revolution to overthrow this system.]1
It is also true that the ruling powers of this system, with the machinery of death and destruction they wield to enforce this system, are indeed very powerful. But a big part of people’s difficulty in imagining that we could actually defeat them is the inability to conceive of a situation that is radically different than the “normal” functioning of this system, a situation where, for large parts of society, the “hold” of the ruling class over people—its ability to control, manipulate, and intimidate them—is broken, or greatly weakened. Fundamentally, people cannot imagine this because they are not approaching things with a scientific outlook and method.2 [emphasis added here]
This series of five articles speaks more fully to why such a revolution is not only urgently necessary now but why, with the right scientific approach, such a revolution could in fact have a real chance to succeed—and why anyone who really wants to see a radically different world, without all the horrors that are continually brought about, and the even greater horrors for humanity that are now threatened, by this system of capitalism-imperialism needs to be actively involved in working tirelessly, with scientifically-based determination, for this revolution.
The following excerpt from Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution is the second in this series of selections from my talks and writings speaking to how to go about carrying out a revolution in this country, mobilizing millions of people, with the goal of actually defeating the violent enforcers of this system of capitalism-imperialism, abolishing this system altogether, and bringing into being a radically different, emancipating system based on the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.3
Let’s begin with the statement from HOW WE CAN WIN that everything we are doing is “aiming for something very definite—a revolutionary situation: Where the system and its ruling powers are in a serious crisis” and “millions and millions of people refuse to be ruled in the old way—and are willing and determined to put everything on the line to bring down this system and bring into being a new society and government that will be based on the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America. That is the time to go all-out to win. That is what we need to be actively working for and preparing for now.”4 Key components and signs of a revolutionary crisis are that the violence used “to enforce this system is seen by large parts of society for what it is—murderous and illegitimate” and that “the conflicts among the ruling forces become really deep and sharp—and masses of people respond to this not by falling in behind one side or the other of the oppressive rulers, but by taking advantage of this situation to build up the forces for revolution.” This underlines the great importance of ongoing work and compelling struggle to break people away from the “hold” of the political operatives and media mouthpieces of this system.
I will speak more fully to how we need to be actively preparing now for a revolutionary situation. But, first, in order to have the fullest sense of this, we need to work back from that situation and what would be required then—how the all-out fight would need to be waged—to have a real chance to defeat the powerful, violent forces of this system. Here again, it is crucially important to approach things in a serious and scientific way. This is what is done in “On the Possibility of Revolution,” which (as noted in HOW WE CAN WIN) “sets forth the foundation—the strategic conception and doctrine—for how to fight with a real chance of winning,” once the necessary conditions have been brought into being. “On the Possibility of Revolution” (which is available at revcom.us) is an important document that deserves serious study.5 Here, I am going to examine some of the key points that are gone into in depth in “On the Possibility of Revolution” and are summarized in a more concentrated way in HOW WE CAN WIN.
A big problem for the revolution is what could be called the “encirclement and suppression” of the people at the base of society who are subjected to one injury and insult after another under this system, and who yearn for an end to all this madness, but who are, in a certain sense, “surrounded” in the society at large by sections of people who do not directly suffer the same daily outrages. To put it simply, there are large numbers of poor and bitterly oppressed people in this country, but there is also a big middle class. Although much of this middle class is not doing as well economically as in the past, there is still a big gap between the middle class and the people at the base of society, and this big divide is one of the main reasons why people—even people who say they would like to see a revolution, but who just look at things on the surface and do not analyze the situation scientifically—say that revolution is not possible. And it is something that the ruling class, and its institutions of repression and control, have seized on, in their efforts to isolate and contain, as brutally as they deem necessary, those whom they most viciously oppress and who represent potentially the greatest threat to their system. This is something these ruling powers would seek to do in an even more systematic and greatly intensified way in a situation where they were confronted by an organized revolutionary struggle aimed at overthrowing their whole system. It is one of the main obstacles the revolutionary forces would need to overcome in order to have a real chance of winning. Not only the strategic approach and basic operational principles, but also certain particular tactical measures of the revolutionary forces—including concentrating forces to repeatedly break through and break down the other side’s physical encirclement of areas of revolutionary strength—would need to be developed and applied to address this major contradiction once the all-out struggle were underway. But confronting this basic problem cannot be left until the time when the all-out struggle is raging. This is something I spoke to in very plain and stark terms in THE NEW COMMUNISM, where I emphasized that we need to “transform this situation so that, when the time comes, it’s not going to be the case that they can easily contain this revolution to those sections of the people that they’d... just as soon kill off anyway.”6 And, as is also emphasized in Part 2 of Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon: “political and ideological work with this contradiction in mind would need to be carried out during the whole period before the emergence of the necessary conditions and... [the all-out] struggle is launched.”7 The more this work is carried out, from here forward, the more the revolutionary forces would be able to counter and defeat the military “encirclement and suppression” of the strongholds of the revolution when the time came for the all-out fight.
As I put it in THE NEW COMMUNISM, a defining contradiction of this all-out fight is the fact that, at the start, the other side “would likely still be very powerful in military terms, although weak, and in crisis, politically”; while the revolutionary side “would be weak, at the beginning, in military terms, but strong, and on the rise, and having a great deal of initiative, politically, which then would have to be transformed into initiative militarily.” The operational principles and stratagems that are outlined in the final part of HOW WE CAN WIN, speaking specifically to “How We Could Defeat Them,” are particular applications of the approach to dealing with this contradiction.
An overall principle that flows from this contradiction is the fact that, once underway, the all-out fight would need to be protracted but also finite. “Protracted” means drawn out—it would not be a situation where the outcome, if it were favorable for the revolution, could be decided in a very short period of time. “Finite” means having definite limits—not extended indefinitely. Given that, at the beginning, the balance of power would almost certainly be heavily in favor of the forces of counter-revolution (the forces of the old ruling class and those fighting with it to defeat the revolution) in terms of their military organization and experience, as well as their armaments, the revolutionary forces would need to draw out (protract) the conflict for a certain period, in order to transform the situation into one in which they could overcome those strategic disadvantages. At the same time, because this all-out fight should only be launched by the revolutionary forces in a situation marked by a deep and acute revolutionary crisis and a revolutionary people in the millions and millions, if it were protracted over too long a period, without the revolution advancing in a fairly limited period of time toward the situation where it began to have the upper hand, then the advantages of a revolutionary situation would tend to be lost, the overall initiative would return to the counter-revolution, and the allegiance of significant sections of society, including in the middle classes, that was lost by the old ruling class, would be regained to a degree that could spell defeat for the revolution. This touches on a very important point of strategic orientation: When it comes down to it, what happens on the battlefield will be decisive in determining the outcome but, for the revolutionary forces, one of the key objectives of the fighting would be to demoralize and disintegrate the ranks of the other side, both their actual fighting forces and their broader “civilian support,” leading to further loss of allegiance and of initiative on the counter-revolutionary side; and, to the degree this succeeded, it would be a key element in shifting the balance of forces in favor of the revolution. The all-out struggle will not just mean going up against the institutional forces of the old ruling class but will also involve “a civil war between two sections of the people,” requiring the revolution to both defeat and disintegrate but also, as far as possible, win over parts of the armed forces among the population that started out on the other side....
To begin, “backbone forces”—especially youth strongly committed to and actively involved in the revolution—would need to be transformed “into organized fighting forces in key strategic areas” and provided with the necessary training and equipment. Doing this would depend on the recognition that the revolutionary situation is clearly emerging. On the one hand, trying to do this before the immediate approach of a revolutionary situation would almost certainly lead to this effort being easily targeted and quickly crushed. On the other side of things, once a revolutionary situation were at hand, the shattering of the “normal conditions” and “normal functioning” of the system that such a situation would involve, would make it possible not to easily and smoothly organize, train, and equip fighting forces for the revolution, but to wrench, out of the intensifying situation, the basis for doing this. The point is that doing this, without being wiped out, would be a process of very intense struggle, but the dramatically new situation would provide the possibility for waging, and winning, this beginning struggle.
Similarly, providing for the basic logistical needs of this revolutionary fighting force, to enable it to initiate the all-out fight, without being immediately crushed, and then to quickly regroup and once again take the initiative and maintain momentum overall, without being “fixed” and annihilated, would also involve intense struggle, and would require defeating enemy blockades and attacks and penetration directed against strongholds of the revolution and focused on locating and destroying those who make up the revolutionary fighting forces and their logistical sources. All this would require “misdirection” and surprise in operations. And all this would depend on millions more, beyond the backbone fighting forces, being organized concretely as “reserves” and as networks of support and supply for these fighting forces, and the willingness and ability of these “reserves” to “absorb” and protect the fighting forces and their equipment and logistical supplies, and enable them to repeatedly regroup and seize the initiative. This would also require continual “calibration” of the size of fighting units and their operations, at any given time, to enable these fighting units, upon completion of an engagement, to “melt back into” the larger revolutionary “reserves,” while at the same time the conditions are being created to allow them to remain active, in training and in initiating further engagements with the enemy.
The approach of capturing equipment from the enemy is important for any revolutionary force which starts out facing an enemy with an overwhelming advantage in destructive power and, for some time, a much greater capacity to produce more of this. But HOW WE CAN WIN also emphasizes that utilizing equipment captured from the enemy must be done in ways that “fit the fighting strategy of the revolution.” Not all equipment that might be captured from the other side would be usable by the revolutionary forces—to try to use some captured equipment could put requirements on the logistical capabilities of the revolution that could not be met or sustained, and/or propel the revolutionary forces into fighting in ways that would run counter to the strategy the revolution would need to follow, and/or violate the basic principles and goals for which the revolution is being fought. It has everything to do with what the revolution is all about in the first place, as well as whether or not it has a real chance of succeeding, that HOW WE CAN WIN emphasizes that the revolutionary fighting forces must, “Always conduct operations and act in ways that are in line with the emancipating outlook and goals of the revolution.” Still, in addition to developing means to enlist masses of people in creating equipment the revolutionary forces could utilize, ways could be developed to utilize a great deal of equipment captured from the enemy that are consistent with the strategic orientation, the ways of fighting, and the goals of the revolution. All this would be vital for the advance and ultimate success of the revolution.
As stressed in HOW WE CAN WIN, the revolutionary forces would need to fight only on favorable terms and avoid decisive encounters, which would determine the outcome of the whole thing, until the balance of forces had shifted overwhelmingly in favor of the revolution. This flows from what has been discussed regarding the overwhelmingly superior destructive force of the counter-revolution at the start of the all-out fight. What is also very important to underline is that this is not merely a question of orientation and intent on the part of the revolutionary forces. Given its overwhelming superiority of force, for some time the enemy would continually seek precisely to force the revolutionaries into situations where they would either be compelled to fight decisive battles that they were bound to lose, or they would have to surrender outright—leading to the total defeat of the revolution, or putting it well on the road to defeat. The point is that being able to avoid potentially disastrous decisive encounters with the enemy would itself be a matter of intense struggle, including that the revolutionary forces could often find themselves having to wage a determined struggle just to avoid being trapped in a situation where they would have to fight such a decisive encounter, or surrender. This is why HOW WE CAN WIN speaks of actively avoiding unfavorable decisive encounters and fighting only on favorable terms. It is why it also emphasizes that, even when the “balance of forces” has shifted in favor of the revolution, it would still be necessary, when conducting operations aimed at achieving final victory, to continue to “calibrate” those operations, “so that decisive encounters are still avoided until the forces of the old order have been brought to the brink of total defeat”—which would then be the time to “fully, finally, rout and dismantle the remaining enemy forces.”
And it is because of the same concerns that HOW WE CAN WIN, while speaking to the importance of building up political and logistical bases of support for the revolution, at the same time stresses that the revolutionary forces should “not attempt to openly control and govern territory, until the necessary ‘favorable balance of forces’ has been created.” To attempt to do so prematurely would make this territory, the people within it, and the revolutionary forces defending and governing it, highly vulnerable to attack from an enemy that, again, would have overwhelming destructive power; and it would put the revolutionaries in the position of having the responsibility—and what, under the circumstances, would be an unsupportable burden—to meet the basic requirements of a functioning society, and the people within it. The point, the goal, is to carry forward the fight to thoroughly defeat, and dismantle, the forces of the old order, and on that basis to bring into being a new, revolutionary state that can embark on the thorough transformation of society with the ultimate aim of overcoming and eliminating all relations of exploitation and oppression, everywhere in the world.
This ultimate aim and internationalist orientation of the revolution is also why HOW WE CAN WIN speaks to the need for the revolutionary forces in this country to correctly handle the relation between the all-out fight, when the time comes, and the situation—including the character and level of revolutionary struggle—in countries to the south (and the north). As we know, this country was created through and amidst warfare; and, as I spoke to earlier, it has continually expanded its territory and extended the reach of its empire through armed conquest, enslavement and other forms of extreme exploitation. In carrying out the fight to overthrow the violent rule of this system, both as a matter of orientation and principle, and in terms of strengthening the basis for succeeding, it will be crucial to refuse to be bound by the borders that have been established and the walls that have been erected through the murder and marauding of the ruling capitalist-imperialists of this country, but instead to actively unite with peoples to the south, and the north, in the struggle against this capitalist-imperialist monster, and advance the revolution overall, in this part of the world and in the world as a whole.
In contrast to the revolutionary forces, the forces of the old order, especially when faced with the prospect that their oppressive system could actually be overthrown and dismantled, would resort to all kinds of barbarity to preserve this system. As it is put in “On the Possibility of Revolution”:
It is not that the imperialists would hold back from bringing down terrible destructive force against the revolutionaries and the masses of people who supported them—given their reactionary nature, it would be necessary to reckon with the fact that the imperialists would do this—but the decisive question would be whether, through doing this, the imperialists would be able to isolate and destroy the organized forces of the revolution; or whether, on the contrary, these barbaric actions of the imperialists would deepen the hatred of growing numbers of people for the imperialists, stiffen the resolve of those already supporting the revolutionary side, and win more of the people to sympathize with, and to actively support, the revolutionary cause....
“Decapitating” the leadership of the revolution, and destroying or crippling the means of coordination and overall direction for the revolutionary forces, would also be one of the major objectives of the counter-revolution. HOW WE CAN WIN correctly emphasizes the importance of “Relying on mass support, the intelligence this provides for the revolution and the denial of intelligence to the enemy, [to] counter the enemy’s efforts to find, fix and annihilate revolutionary leadership and key fighting units” and the importance of combining “strategic direction and coordination for the fight as a whole, with decentralized actions and initiative by local units and leaders.” Here again stands out the importance of all the work, from here forward, to build the revolution, among masses of people in many different parts of society. But it has to be squarely faced that, when it comes down to it, even with broad and deep mass support, protecting leadership, in particular the top leading core of the revolution, maintaining overall coordination and strategic direction, and being able to rapidly replace leaders and forces that are lost, is, and will remain, a serious challenge; and this, too, must be actively prepared for and struggled for, including by bringing forward growing ranks of revolutionary leadership now, who are trained and tempered through the combination of being actively involved in building the revolution and becoming more and more deeply grounded in the scientific outlook and methods of communism as it has been further developed with the new communism.
This brings us back to the decisive point that everything that has been spoken to in terms of how we could defeat them, when the time comes, “depends on winning millions to revolution in the period that leads up to the ripening of a revolutionary situation.”....
Here, it could be helpful to look at the similarities, and the differences, between the revolutionary process in a country like this and, on the other hand, what has happened in some Third World countries where conditions have allowed the revolutionaries to wage an armed struggle from the beginning of the revolutionary process—to start by fighting battles against small parts of the enemy forces, and to wage war over a long period of time, to wear down the enemy and build up their own forces, with the aim of reaching the point where the “balance of forces” has shifted in their favor, and they can then fight larger-scale battles to finally defeat the forces of the old order. This does have some things in common with how the all-out fight would be waged in a country like this, once the conditions for that had been brought into being. But there are important differences. In this kind of country, an armed struggle would not—should not—be launched until a revolutionary situation had been brought into being in society overall, and then this struggle, while having a certain aspect of being protracted, would also be considerably shorter (more finite) than the overall process of protracted revolutionary wars that have been carried out in Third World countries. In a country like this, there needs to be a process of political, ideological, and organizational work to carry out those “3 Prepares,” to hasten the development of things toward the revolutionary situation, when it would then become possible to launch an all-out struggle with a real chance of winning, through a somewhat protracted but also finite process. [The “3 Prepares" are: prepare the ground (the situation in society overall), prepare the people, and prepare the vanguard leadership for the revolution.]
To summarize briefly: Third World revolutionary wars—armed struggle from the beginning, over a whole protracted period, to create the basis for the final decisive battles; revolution in a country like this—a process of political, ideological, and organizational work to hasten and prepare for the development of a revolutionary situation, whereupon the all-out fight could be launched, and carried out over a somewhat protracted but also finite period.
In both types of situations, there is an aspect of “awaiting” as well as “hastening.” Even where revolutionaries in Third World countries have been able to wage warfare from the beginning, they have had to wait for, while actively fighting to bring into being, the situation where they can successfully fight large-scale decisive battles (and in some cases things have become protracted to the point of being bogged down, without any prospect of success). In both situations, everything the revolutionaries are doing needs to be aimed at getting to the point where they can go all-out to finally defeat and dismantle the violent enforcers of the old oppressive system; but the paths and the processes are different because of the different conditions. The point is that everything we are doing, at all times, is part of making revolution—actively working, according to a strategic approach and plan, to move things, as fast as possible, toward the time when it will be possible for millions to fight, all-out, with a real chance to win.
So, with this understanding and orientation, how do we go about hastening while awaiting? The means for doing this is concentrated in the formulation: “Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution.” Let’s start with the aim of all this—Revolution. In BAsics 3:1, I put it like this: “Let’s get down to basics: We need a revolution. Anything else, in the final analysis, is bullshit.”8 That is another simple and basic truth. We need to go to people—not just one or two people, not just a small number of people, but masses of people, reaching all over the country, in every part of society—straight up with revolution—instead of just letting “where they are at” set the terms, and trying to somehow “bring in” some idea about revolution within that limited framework. As BAsics 3:1 goes on to say: We do need to unite with people in all sorts of struggles short of revolution; but it is frankly ridiculous to think that something short of revolution could solve all the monumental problems and monstrous outrages that people face under this system. On the basis of going to people straight up with revolution, then, coming from that place, we need to unite with people in fighting injustice and oppression, and struggle to win more and more people to see the need and the possibility for revolution, and to get with this....
This goes back to the important contradiction that millions and millions of people really do care about one or more, and many care about all, of those “5 STOPS,” but in terms of understanding where all these outrages come from and what is necessary to really put a stop to them, most of the same people don’t know shit and have their heads up their asses. So, while uniting with and working to bring forward still greater numbers of people in protesting and resisting the atrocities of this system, there is a need for sharp struggle to win them to confront and grasp the fact that, in fundamental terms, this system is the source of all these horrors, and it cannot be reformed but must be overthrown.
This is revolutionary work that must be carried out, by continually growing numbers of people organized into the ranks of the revolution and acting together in accordance with a common strategic orientation and plan. This must be done consistently, including in more “normal” times (whatever those are), and it is of heightened importance “with every ‘jolt’ in society—every crisis, every new outrage, where many people question and resist what they normally accept...."
HOW WE CAN WIN emphasizes that: “The organized forces and the leadership of this revolution must become the ‘authority’ that growing numbers of people look to and follow—not the lying politicians and media of this oppressive system—not those who front for the oppressors and preach about ‘reconciliation’ with this system—not those who turn people against each other when they need to be uniting for this revolution...."
Revolution IS possible—and we have to go to work to make it real. So let me end with what is powerfully stated in the conclusion of HOW WE CAN WIN:
All this depends on winning millions to revolution in the period that leads up to the ripening of a revolutionary situation. The chance to defeat them, when the time comes—the chance to be rid of this system and to bring something far better into being—has everything to do with what we do now. Everyone who hungers for a radically different world, free of exploitation and oppression and all the needless suffering caused by this system, needs to work now with a fired determination to make this happen, so we will have a real chance to win.