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 a presentation to a gathering of revcoms (revolutionary communists) in 2022 is the final installment 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 The first part of this excerpt was previously posted at revcom.us in part one of this series.
As I said in the Dialogue with Cornel West: It is important that we are right, and righteous—it is important that we stand with the wretched of the earth and stand up against their oppression—but we have to win. We have to actually shatter the rule of this monstrous system, and bring something radically different and much better into being. Or else, we will at best “fight the good fight” but the horrors will continue, and get even worse.4
The sixth point of the Points of Attention for the Revolution says this: “We are going for an actual overthrow of this system and a whole better way beyond the destructive, vicious conflicts of today between the people. Because we are serious, at this stage we do not initiate violence and we oppose all violence against the people and among the people.”5
I have highlighted the words “Because we are serious” in order to emphasize that this Point of Attention is not a declaration of some idealist pacifist notion that the struggle against this system can and must always remain non-violent. First of all, while we are against all violence against the people and among the people, and at this stage we do not initiate (and we do not encourage others to initiate) violence, at the same time we strongly recognize and uphold the right of people to defend themselves against unjust attacks. And, more strategically, we scientifically understand that: the fundamental source of violence in the world is this system of capitalism-imperialism, that by far the greatest perpetrators of unjust violence are the ruling classes of the capitalist-imperialist powers, most of all this country—and that the fundamental reason why the abolition of this system cannot be achieved peacefully is, once again, because of the nature of this system itself, and the fact that those who rule in it would never allow their system to be swept away without attempting to violently suppress and crush any such attempt.
This is what it means that we are serious about all this.
It is with this understanding, and this orientation, that we have to very seriously approach the question of how to actually win—win in the more immediate fight, historically speaking, to seize power—and win in a way that lays the basis for winning in the largest sense, with the goal of uprooting all oppression and exploitation, all over the world, bringing into being a communist world in which human beings can truly thrive with the fullest expression of their humanity.
This approach to “winning—and winning”—is an application of the principle that “the new communism thoroughly repudiates and is determined to root out of the communist movement the poisonous notion, and practice, that ‘the ends justify the means.’ It is a bedrock principle of the new communism that the ‘means’ of this movement must flow from and be consistent with the fundamental ‘ends’ of abolishing all exploitation and oppression through revolution led on a scientific basis.”6
So, let’s get into how we could, and would need to, go about winning, when the conditions for that have been brought into being. The necessary strategic approach to this flows from the scientific understanding that the revolutionary forces could not win any contest in which they frontally took on the full force of a unified and cohesive existing state power. (I’m going to pause so people can think about this...)
The following, from “Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating,” speaks to this:
Here, again, is something that is crucial to understand, something that is a hallmark of a serious, scientific approach to fighting to win, when the time comes: No matter how much the situation in society overall is changed, and no matter how much even the most powerful institutions of violent repression of this system are affected by this, with significant splits very likely occurring among them, the revolution will still be confronted with powerful armed forces of counter-revolution, from among sections of the official institutions, along with fascist “civilian forces” aligned with them. And it would be extremely unlikely that, particularly at the beginning phase, the revolutionary fighting forces would be able to confront and defeat those armed forces of counter-revolution by directly and frontally taking on anything close to their full force. That is why, in the doctrine and strategic orientation that has been developed to enable the revolutionary forces to fight to win, when the time is right, it is stressed that:
This doctrine and strategic orientation is spoken to in some depth and spelled out more fully in... Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution, with additional thinking provided in my article “A Real Revolution—A Real Chance To Win, Further Developing the Strategy for Revolution” (which also can be found at revcom.us). This sets the basic groundwork for how, when the necessary conditions have been brought into being, a revolutionary force, mobilizing masses of people, could actually approach the overthrow of this system in such a way as to effectively neutralize and eventually overcome what would almost certainly be, at the outset, the overwhelming power of the armed forces seeking to defeat and pulverize this attempt at the revolutionary seizure of power. It speaks to how, when the revolutionary situation has been ripened, revolutionary fighting forces, with the backbone drawn especially from youth who have been won hardcore to this revolution, could be organized and trained, and provided with the means to engage and defeat forces of counter-revolution in encounters, beginning on a small scale, which would be favorable for the revolutionary forces—and how, on that basis and through the course of doing that, they could grow in strength and win over growing numbers among those who had been part of the counter-revolutionary forces, and then finally defeat the remaining forces of counter-revolution.
In Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution, I cited this important statement:
Rupert Smith, a British military officer and strategist, has noted that an insurrectionary force that is "defining the parameters of the conflict" has “by default presented an alternative force and power.” [Let’s stop and reflect on what that means.] This means that, if a revolutionary force is to a large degree determining the character of the conflict, it will be seen not as a bunch of “outlaws” but as a legitimate force contending against the old order; and this relates to why it is so important that the initial actions of the revolutionary fighting forces, accompanied by a bold declaration to the world, “make clear that there is an organized force determined to defeat the forces of the old order and bring into being a new, revolutionary system.” This would play a crucial part in demolishing the “superstitious awe” that people have toward the existing system, the nearly religious belief that this is the best, or at least the only, way that things could be, and that the power of this system is unchallengeable; it would further undermine the “legitimacy” and “authority” of the old order and its ruling class and the allegiance to it of broad sections of the population, and lay more of a basis for winning over even broader sections, including from within the fighting forces of the other side.
The approach of seeking and achieving victories, in more limited encounters, has as one of its key objectives the creation of an overall situation in which there will be increasing disintegration of the opposing side, and the defection of significant parts of that opposing side to the revolutionary side. This will be an important part of the process of bringing about a qualitative change in the “balance of forces,” to where the revolutionaries have gained the upper hand—a position from which they could then carry out the final defeat of the counter-revolution.
The following (from the article “A Real Revolution—A Real Chance To Win, Further Developing the Strategy for Revolution”) stresses this:
There would need to be an added emphasis on the need for the all-out revolutionary fight to be country-wide in scope, from the beginning, or very quickly after the start, for the revolutionary forces to have organized strongholds of support in many different parts of the country—and to have the ability to act simultaneously, or in quick succession, in many different parts of the country (to effect a “popcorn” phenomenon of actions breaking out repeatedly and in quick succession all over the country)—in order to effectively counter the “encirclement and suppression” of the revolution by the counter-revolution, and in particular the ability of the counter-revolution to not only concentrate forces against but to actually occupy the areas that constitute the strongholds of support for the revolution (even while those strongholds are not yet being openly controlled and administered by the revolution), particularly in the early stages of this all-out fight.
This “popcorn” approach, keeping the enemy off balance, could also contribute to the disintegration of and defection from the other side.
To quote again from Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution:
[A]nother point emphasized by Rupert Smith is important: it is not absolute force but “utility of force” that matters—not what any state, or other armed force, may have in its arsenal, but what it can actually utilize to its advantage in an armed conflict. One of the key operational principles of the revolutionary forces would be to wage the fight in such a way as to prevent the forces of the old order from being able to use their worst destructive power in a way that would be to their military as well as political advantage. At the same time, in the face of the barbaric actions that the old ruling forces would still carry out, it would be crucial for the revolutionary forces to “turn the barbaric actions of the enemy against him—to win greater forces for the revolution, including those who come over from the ranks of the enemy.”
Here it is worth repeating this crucial point:
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.
(And does it need to be said again that we must be bringing this scientific outlook and method to people?)
At the same time, “Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating” emphasizes that the development of the basic doctrine and strategic approach for this all-out fight is an ongoing process. And that
[T]hroughout this period of preparing the ground, preparing masses of people and preparing the leading forces for this revolution, this basic doctrine and strategic approach for the all-out fight must be continually developed and made more “operational” in conception—that is, it must be further elaborated and further concretized, particularly in terms of what will constitute the actual pathways to victory—and, flowing from and serving that, what should be the specific nature and features of the encounters with the other side, particularly in the beginning phases, and (as far as possible) overall.
As spoken to earlier, a big factor in regard to all this is the real possibility of civil war between opposing sections of society, and how this could impact the key institutions of state power of this system. If such a civil war were to erupt—or even if the deepening divisions in society were moving more directly toward such a civil war—this could have a profound effect on such institutions, with the real prospect of splits among them, and even the possibility of the splitting apart of such institutions, with some parts siding with the fascists and others with those on the side opposed to the fascists.
This possibility is something that the basic doctrine and strategic approach for the revolutionary fighting forces would need to take into account and encompass. But, in order for the revolutionary forces to win over, and incorporate into their ranks, significant numbers from among the ruling and repressive institutions of this system, and to do so in a way that would actually maintain the emancipating character of the revolutionary forces, and strengthen them on that basis, it would be necessary for the revolutionary ranks to be tempered and steeled, not just in terms of fighting capacity [which is obviously very important] but in terms of their fundamental ideological and political orientation, as fighters for the emancipation of humanity.
Otherwise, even if you win over forces from the other side, given how they’ve been conditioned and trained, that could end up setting the terms of things on a very bad basis and lead to defeat in one form or another (either outright defeat at the hands of the enemy, or defeat in the sense that, even if military victory were somehow achieved, the way that was done would not lead to a radically new and better system, where the ongoing transformation of society, and ultimately the whole world, to uproot all exploitation and oppression, could be carried out).
Here is something else to take into account: What matters, as the all-out showdown approaches, is not only the size (in the millions) of the revolutionary people, but also its “composition,” involving masses of the most oppressed, especially youth, as well as large numbers of people from other sections of society; how that “composition” of the revolutionary people would relate to the composition of the opposing forces; and how, in turn, this relates to major social contradictions in the larger society (for example, racial, sexual and gender oppression).
To be more concrete, to break this down further: Out of their own interests, the rulers of this country have been compelled to draw large numbers of people from the ranks of the oppressed into their military, including women, Black people and Latinos. To the degree that these ranks would see, in the masses of revolutionary people, “people like themselves,” this would strengthen the potential ability of the revolutionary forces to disintegrate the forces seeking to suppress them and to cause significant defections from their ranks to the ranks of the revolution.
Of course, as pointed out in “Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating,” this factor (the composition of the revolutionary people, in relation to that of the opposing forces) will not “automatically” translate into support for—and even defection over to—the side of the revolution; but this is a potentially favorable factor that would need to be consciously and concretely built on through the course of the all-out fight. And the potential for this would likely be even greater in the context of an actual civil war, with once again “the real prospect of splits,” among the institutions of violent enforcement of this system, “and even the splitting apart of such institutions, with some parts siding with the fascists and others with those on the side opposed to the fascists.”
In this connection, here is another crucial point: We, the revcoms and continually growing masses of people we are leading, must come to the fore in waging the fight against the fascists and do so on a revolutionary basis, not as defenders of bourgeois-democratic imperialism. This will have everything to do with the potential for a repolarization more favorable for the revolution, including in the actual all-out fight.
Through all this, it will be of great importance to be firmly based on, keep constantly in mind, and consistently apply the fundamental internationalist orientation and approach that is an essential part of the new communism. As I called attention to in “Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating”:
This revolution will inevitably be influenced by, and will in turn significantly influence, what is happening in countries to the south (and north) of it, with which the USA has historically been closely interconnected, and which in many cases it has dominated and plundered.
(And here I want to mention a very important new book that has been published by the Revolutionary Communist Organization, Mexico: La Esperanza Revolucionaria [Revolutionary Hope],8 which has also been translated into English by, and is available at, revcom.us.)
“Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating” goes on to make this important point:
And more generally, there will be the ways in which this revolution will be viewed, and responded to, by different forces, far beyond the present borders of this country. A serious fight for revolution in this country—this country—would have the effect of a powerful political earthquake, sending seismic shockwaves throughout the world. It is true that one reaction to this would be that oppressive governments and forces throughout the world would see this as a serious threat to their position and objectives, and there is a real possibility that there could be moves by some of these forces to aid, or join in, attempts to crush such a revolution. At the same time, such a revolution would shake awake and provide a powerful positive shock to literally billions of people everywhere, shattering the sense that there is no alternative to this terrible world. Overall, it would almost certainly contribute, in a very significant way, to a repolarization on a global scale. [Think about the effect, even on people who are now drawn to very bad trends, like Islamic fundamentalism. All of a sudden, things are completely different in the world—here is a real revolutionary, emancipatory struggle, with a prospect of actually winning, taking place in this country. Think of the effect on hundreds of millions of youth as well as on others throughout the world.]
All this would need to be taken into account by the leading forces of this revolution, as an important part of its strategic orientation and objectives.
Everything Depends on Bringing Forward a Revolutionary People
Having examined in some depth, and in a broad framework, the necessary foundation and basic roadmap for the revolution that is (more) possible—and urgently needed—now, we are back once more to this decisive point:
Everything depends on bringing forward a revolutionary people, from among the most bitterly oppressed, and all parts of society, first in the thousands and then in the millions, as a powerful revolutionary force, organized from the start and consistently with a country-wide perspective, impacting all of society and changing the terms of how masses of people see things and how every institution has to respond. Everything must be focused now on actually bringing forward and organizing this revolutionary force.9