Getting Over the Hump

The Problems of Uneven Development and "Leftovers"

by Bob Avakian

A new series by RCP Chairman Bob Avakian on the so-called "demise of communism" and the advance to communism worldwide. The series takes up strategic problems in the struggle of the proletarian revolution in particular countries and on a worldscale to "get over the hump" and defeat the imperialist system.

One important dimension of the world-historical problems encountered by the international proletariat and the world proletarian revolution can be summarized in terms of two major, and interrelated, contradictions. In various ways we have spoken to these problems before, but it is very important to continually return to them and deepen our understanding of them, as well as our all-around understanding of this whole process and its contradictory motion and struggle.

The first of these two major contradictions is the uneven development of the world proletarian revolution and the fact that, up until this point, proletarian revolutions have triumphed in one (or a few) countries at a time--so that they have emerged and, for some time, are very likely to emerge and exist in a world still dominated by imperialism. They will exist in a context--a "grand strategic context," if you will--of imperialist "encirclement." So that's one expression of the world historic problem of carrying forward the world proletarian revolution and advancing to communism.

Leftovers from the Old Society

The other world-historical problem involves the contradictions within socialist society that are "left over" from capitalism (and previous class society) and that characterize socialist society as a transition to communism--that mark and shape this whole transition. One concentrated expression of this could be characterized this way: For a certain historical period, even after the seizure of power and the initial socialization of ownership, at least to a certain level, the functions of leadership and administration, and more generally the tasks that are associated with intellectual work, are still going to be the main province of a minority of society. This was true, for example, in the Soviet Union and China where the basic socialist ownership that was achieved, after a short period, involved mixed forms of socialist ownership, collective ownership by groups of peasants and others, as well as state ownership, with remaining commodity relations, even within the state sector of the economy.

This is very important to understand from a dialectical materialist standpoint: with the dictatorship of the proletariat, even after basic socialist ownership is achieved, these intellectual, administrative, and leadership tasks still are--and, more fundamentally, they cannot help but be--the main province of a minority of society. This will be true for a fairly long period. And in the beginning stages of socialism, it will be a relatively small minority of society that specializes in these tasks. There will be no way to avoid the fact, that for a certain period of time, there will only be a minority in society that will be able to be given the training and education to be able to take on these intellectual, administrative and leadership tasks. The basis will not yet have been created for people throughout society to share, more or less equally, in this intellectual labor as well as in manual labor. This is a reflection of the underlying contradictions that mark socialist society and the transition, moving from capitalism as it exists when it's overthrown--with all the destruction involved in the warfare to overthrow the old order and consolidate the new system--towards the elimination of class distinctions and the achievement of the "4 Alls," with the advance to communism, worldwide.

In other words, try as we may and wish as we will, we're not going to be able to create a situation where we're going to be able to immediately, or in a very short period, make a qualitative transformation, in a world historic sense, in terms of the mental/manual contradiction--let's put it that way. And this has all kinds of ramifications, not only in administration but more specifically in the very pillar of state power--the army.

You can have a real people's army; you can have a correct line in command; you can have a correct relationship between the army and the masses; you can have all that and the fact will remain that you are going to have contradictions. You are going to have a division of labor that could be transformed into a relation of alienation and subordination characteristic of a bourgeois army--between the commanders and the rank and file, to cite one important aspect of the problem. To be a commander of an army requires, besides practical training and experience, a certain level of acquired intellectual skill, military knowledge, training, etc., and that's another expression, a very concentrated expression, of the mental-manual contradiction. Everybody in the army cannot immediately or in a short period of time be a commander. Nor, for a considerable period of time, will it be possible to create a situation where everyone can, in rotation, serve as a commander and a rank-and-file fighter in the armed forces.

The majority of people in the army--even in the people's army under socialism--cannot be a commander, beyond a very basic level; we're not going to be able to quickly get to that point, even where proletarian state power has existed for a number of years, or even decades. This is bound up with a very important point that is brought out in the polemic against K. Venu ("Democracy: Now More Than Ever, We Can and Must Do Better Than That"): The historical experience of the socialist revolution has shown that, contrary to what was believed by Marx and Engels, and even what was believed by Lenin until after the the October Revolution, it will not be possible, for some time, to abolish the standing army under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

At the time Lenin wrote "The State and Revolution" (just before the October Revolution of 1917), he talked about how very quickly you could abolish the standing army and replace it with mass militias. But in fact, historical experience has shown this can't be done in any kind of immediate period, or for a long time.

And here we see the influence, and the interpenetration between, these two basic contradictions I'm speaking to: the fact that for a definite, rather protracted period, you can't abolish the standing army in socialist society has to do both with the contradiction of imperialist encirclement of socialist states and with the other contradiction involving the "survivals" of previous class society within socialism, the long-term persistence of these "survivals," such as the mental/manual contradiction. These "survivals" have persisted and will persist much longer than was anticipated by Marx and Engels and even by Lenin, at the time he wrote "The State and Revolution," before the October Revolution, but even to a certain degree afterward. The difficulty of uprooting these differences (between mental and manual labor as well as other major social distinctions) in the economic base as well as uprooting their expression in the superstructure involves a whole complex process, which is concentrated in the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and between the socialist road and the capitalist road, and which cannot be carried through in any short period of time.

Line and Leadership

So, in a sense, as Lenin said about the petit bourgeoisie, we're going to have to live with and transform this situation--marked by the remnants of previous class society in the economic base and the superstructure--over a long period of time. We can't try to change it overnight, or else we'll go right back to capitalism--the forces of capitalism will be more fully unleashed and strengthened to stage a comeback that much more quickly. This will be a long-term historical problem. And one of the ways to get at the essence of this is to examine the fact that we can't abolish the standing army in any short period of time, and more specifically the reasons why we can't do that.

This question is often put--in particular by people of various socialist persuasions, and even to a certain degree by some communists, the argument is often framed--in terms of whether the masses are armed, whether the guns are in the hands of the masses. And what was pointed out in that polemic against K. Venu is that the question of whether the guns are really in the hands of the masses is not so simple as whether the masses literally have arms. It involves much more profound contradictions, because the guns can be in the hands of the masses, in a literal sense, but if the line that's leading the army is a line that serves the bourgeoisie, then the guns are not fundamentally in the hands of the masses, even though literally and physically they are.

Whether the guns are really in the hands of the masses has everything to do with the question of leadership--whether the leadership represents the proletariat or the bourgeoisie--and that in turn gets concentrated in terms of line, whether the line is a line that serves the interests of the proletariat in carrying forward the revolutionary transformation of society and the advance to communism worldwide, or whether it serves the bourgeoisie, in fact, in restoring capitalism.

Again, my point here is not simply that we need to be grasping this more deeply and dealing with a theoretical understanding of this. We do need to be doing this, but we need to do that in dialectical relation with speaking about this with the masses and drawing forth their ideas and questions about this. We have to be not only grappling with this but mastering it well enough to really go back-and-forth with the masses about it in an ongoing practice-theory-practice dialectic. We have to point it out to the masses and hear what they have to say, including their "yeah, buts," when we point to the need and possibility for proletarian revolution, in the U.S. and worldwide--"Yeah that's a good idea, but you can't really do it"; or "Yeah, that sounds righteous but what about the ways things are gonna come down on us if we try to move in that way"; and so on and so forth.

We have to deal with all these "yeah, buts," including the "yeah, buts" about whether this is possible, both in the sense of being able to militarily defeat the other side, and in the sense of being able to uproot the underlying conditions that give rise to classes and to the world outlook that corresponds to bourgeois society and class society generally. We have to be able to continually deepen this in an ongoing back-and-forth process between the vanguard and the masses and between practice and theory.

I'm raising these world historic problems as food for thought--as something for the Party and other revolutionary-minded people to grapple with. But I also want to situate this in terms of the tasks that are more immediately before us, not only in the realm of propaganda and agitation but also in our ongoing revolutionary work, among the basic masses and among other strata.


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