Grasp Revolution, Promote Production: Questions of Outlook and Method, Some Points on the New Situation
This is the tenth in a series of excerpts from an important tape-recorded talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, in the first part of 2002, "GRASP REVOLUTION, PROMOTE PRODUCTION, Questions of Outlook and Method, Some Points on the New Situation." These excerpts have been edited for publication here. Footnotes have also been added.
Stepping back and looking at things with historical sweep, and harking back to what was said earlier, in the part of this talk on philosophical and methodological questions--on applying materialism and dialectics to confront and transform reality as it actually is, as it is moving and changing and as it is actually tending in its motion and development--this is the basis for Lenin's statement (which was referred to in "Great Objectives and Grand Strategy"*) on dreaming, and on bringing our dreams into reality. It is the basis for the point from Mao (also referred to in "GO&GS") on striving for greatness, not for ourselves or for some personal gain, but for our class and our cause. It is the basis, in other words, for our "strategic double-c": strategic contempt for our enemy and its system, and strategic confidence in our class and our cause. With all the complexity of social reality and its historical development; and, more broadly, with all the complexity of reality and its motion and development; with all that, our historic goal of world communism is not just "a good idea." It is emphatically that, but it's not just that. It is in fact the way the world is tending.
Here it's important to emphasize what was said in the "Democracy" book**: that we cannot say that communism is inevitable in some metaphysical and idealist or essentially religious sense--in the sense that there is some predetermined, predestined way in which all of reality and all of human historical development in particular has been leading up to, or even was somehow bound to lead up to, communism. (This is also spoken to in "GO&GS" and it is something we've given emphasis to repeatedly) We cannot say that. And this has to do with something I wrote, which was cited at the beginning of the book Primeval Steps and Future Leaps by Ardea Skybreak, about how it's wrong to say that the emergence of the human species or the development of human society was somehow predetermined or that there are some predetermined or predestined pathways that reality in general or human historical development in particular was bound to follow.
At the same time, harking back to something I stressed earlier in this talk, this is not all random or accident.*** While we can't look at it as predetermined and predestined in some religious sense, there is the continuing dialectic between accident and necessity, there's the ongoing fact that what's accident in one context is necessity in another (and vice versa); and there are certain underlying causes and forces that have been at play through all this, though nothing was predetermined or bound to turn out the way it has turned out. We must willingly and decisively let go of and gladly reject all such essentially religious notions, and we need to uproot the religious mentality from within the communist movement as well as within society as a whole, ultimately--but especially right now we need to struggle against these tendencies in our own ranks.
At the same time, all of human history, in all its diversity and complexity, has in fact led humanity to the threshold of communism --has established a powerful material and social basis for this, not just in this or that country, but throughout the world, notwithstanding the differentiated and highly contradictory character of the world situation and of world conditions. This is a leap that humanity needs to make and in historical terms is now poised to make. And there is, as I said, the dialectical relation running through all this, between accident and necessity, between contingency and underlying driving forces which set the basic framework for things.
Now, to paraphrase an important point from Marx, people make history, but they don't make it simply according to their will or their imagination; they make it in accordance with, and by transforming, the conditions that confront them at any given time. This is an extremely important point. And, yet once more [BA laughs], this is a unity of opposites: people make history, on the one hand; but, on the other hand, they don't make it simply according to their will or their imagination or desires, that is, on a voluntarist basis. They make it in accordance with and by transforming objective material reality, the necessity or the conditions that confront them at a given time. Fully exploring the implications of that is something that's very important and worthwhile doing in an ongoing way.
Of course, as we are coming to understand more and more deeply and fully, making the world-historical leap to communism will be, is bound to be, a complex and a wrenching process, one full of twists and turns--and, as we have said before, full of great leaps forward and inevitably great setbacks and reversals, to be followed by yet further great leaps forward. All this is rooted in the fact that the actual development of human society, in all its diversity and complexity, over thousands of years and throughout the world, has led to the emergence of the capitalist system and the bourgeois epoch and the increasing development of this system, particularly in its highest and final stage of imperialism, as a worldwide system (even though, as I've been emphasizing here and as we've spoken to in America in Decline and "Notes on Political Economy," **** this is not a uniform and undifferentiated system throughout the world, but consists in and proceeds through profound divisions, including the great divide between the imperialist states and the oppressed nations and countries of the world, as well as the divisions and conflicts among the imperialist states themselves).
Through all this, the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist system, between socialized production and private appropriation--and the motion and major contradictions that this fundamental contradiction gives rise to and repeatedly intensifies, through a spiral-like development, on a world-wide basis--all this continues to assert itself and to call forth its opposite: resistance, struggle, revolution, and--at the core of this, able to act as a driving force within all of this--the potential gravedigger of this system, the proletariat. This remains profoundly true, even more profoundly true than at the time Marx proclaimed it, despite the attempts of the bourgeoisie to mock it and to pretend that there is no proletariat, and certainly no more prospect of proletarian revolution. Well, we shall see. And this will continue to assert itself through all the setbacks as well as the advances of our world-historic struggle: the need for proletarian revolution and the fact that there is no other ultimate resolution to the fundamental contradiction of capitalism and the bourgeois epoch--no other resolution which holds out and represents a future for humanity, no other resolution that is in the interests of the great majority of the world's people and ultimately of humanity as a whole.
Now, once again, we have to face reality squarely, whether it's unpleasant or not. Could some other outcome, something different than the ultimate triumph of the world proletarian revolution and the future of communism, result from all this--from the motion and conflict that arises from this fundamental contradiction? Could all the volcanic eruption and the antagonistic contention that is called forth out of all this lead to a yet more horrendous result, even perhaps the destruction of humanity? Well, yes, as we have said before, this is possible, and we have to face the fact that there is no certainty or guarantee of the triumph of the world proletarian revolution in some basically religious sense.
Once again, we have to let go of and reject all such notions, and do so gladly and willingly. But, while such a profoundly negative outcome cannot be declared impossible, it certainly can be said that it is far from inevitable. And it must be emphasized that the fact that the ultimate outcome is not predetermined or predestined means precisely that it can be and will be determined by the struggle among people, and fundamentally social classes and their conscious representatives and leaderships. So in this we can see that there is a tremendous scope for the initiative of the proletarian vanguard forces and tremendous importance to what we do. The recognition of all this should not lead to fatalism and pessimism; rather, it should lead us to a heightened understanding of the tremendously important role of our conscious initiative and of the conscious initiative of the masses that we must work to increasingly unleash. In this world-historic struggle, while there are great difficulties and powerful forces that we will have to confront and defeat, there are also profoundly powerful material and social forces that are strategically favorable for our side, for our cause.
Applying these principles in response to all the talk about "the history of the 20th century" is extremely important. The "history of the 20th century" has become shorthand for all the alleged horrors of the attempts at communist revolution, or of socialist society in the Soviet Union and in China. I was watching a videotape of when Boots from the Coup was on the TV talk show "Politically Incorrect," and at one point he came out and said very boldly, "Well, I'm a communist," and there was all this sort of rumble and rustling. Then the host of the show, Bill Maher, says: "Haven't you heard about the history of the 20th century?" By which he actually meant: "Haven't you gotten the memo?" This is important for us to confront and refute.
The history of the 20th century is not the history of the debacle and disaster and the horrendous nature of the attempts at proletarian revolution against the will of the people and against the current of reality, or whatever. In fact, it's a contradictory history, but what stands out very sharply, when it's understood in its real terms, are the tremendous achievements of our class, particularly where it has seized and held power and carried out transformations of society in every sphere. And it can be stated without any hesitation or any equivocation, or any sense of being successfully refuted, that if you take the experience of the masses of people in the Soviet Union during the period when it was actually socialist--with all the difficulties, and with all the errors, even grievous errors, that were made by the leadership, in particular Stalin--and if you take the experience of the Chinese masses during the period when China was socialist, there's absolutely no question that, by any measure and with regard to every sphere of society, the masses were qualitatively and infinitely better off than they were before or have been since. This is something we have to boldly grasp and put forward and struggle for, against "the memo" on "the history of the 20th century."
Back in the early '70s we used to send delegations to China--not only Party delegations but also delegations of people from different sections of society (students, workers, and so on). And I remember, after one workers' delegation, we had a dinner for one of the people who went on the delegation, and we invited some other people over --some other people we were working with, proletarians. And they were asking this person who'd gone on the delegation, "Well, what was it like going to China?" And he answered, "Oh, it was like stepping through a time machine." And this other person, who wasn't particularly backward but was thinking in terms of the usual portrayal about the backwardness of the conditions in China, said, "Kind of like going into the past, huh?" And the person who'd been to China replied: "No! The future!" This wasn't a case of people who were taken to something like the famous (or infamous) Potemkin Village in Tsarist Russia, where they set up a phony facade to make the society seem more advanced and "ideal" than it was. This was reflecting the reality of what they'd seen and learned about in China.
And this is something we have to grasp very firmly and deeply and stand on boldly--and also propagate and struggle for among people, to sum up correctly the history of the 20th century and the real debacle and horrors of the imperialist system and, on the other side, the tremendous achievements of our class in the socialist states that we brought into being. Even though those beginning efforts have been reversed, and there is a tremendous amount we have to sum up more and more deeply from that--and not shrink from recognizing all the negative aspects and learning from all the errors--we have to very boldly and forthrightly put forward the truth. Not just something we'd like to be true, but the actual truth about the tremendous achievements of our class and its socialist states so far, and the fact that this represents only the beginning stages, which we have to learn to build on and to leap beyond.
So, reflecting on and grappling with all this, we can see perhaps even more deeply how the conclusion from Mao stands out in the profound way in which, in pointing to all the complexity and, yes, all the difficulty, it concentrates the essence of this world-historic process and struggle: the future is bright, the road is tortuous.
*"Great Objectives and Grand Strategy" (GO&GS) is an unpublished work by Bob Avakian. Excerpts from it have appeared in the RW, issues #1127-1142. These excerpts are available online at rwor.org. [Return to article]
**This refers to Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?, by Bob Avakian (Chicago: Banner Press, 1986). [Return to article]
***The relation between accident and necessity, or contingency and cause is discussed in the first excerpt in this series, "The New Situation," in RW No. 1143. [Return to article]
****America in Decline by Raymond Lotta with Frank Shannon (Chicago: Banner Press, 1984); "Notes on Political Economy" by the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2000). [Return to article]