Revolution#120, February 17, 2008
1995 Leadership Resolutions on Leaders and Leadership:
Part II: Some Points on the Question of Revolutionary Leadership and Individual Leaders
The following is Part 2 of “Resolutions on Leaders and Leadership,” which was released by the Revolutionary Communist Party in October 1995, on the 20th anniversary of its founding, and originally published in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution ) on October 1, 1995. (Part 1, “The Party Exists for No Other Reason than to Serve the Masses, to Make Revolution” along with Part 2, is also available online at revcom.us) These Resolutions, and in particular Part 2, directly address the relation between individual leaders, and specifically the Chairman of our Party, Bob Avakian, on the one hand and, on the other hand, the fundamental collectivity of our Party and Party leadership overall, as well as the relation between individual leaders, leadership as a whole, and the masses of people, who are ultimately the decisive force in making revolution and radically transforming the world. While, in the more than ten years since these Resolutions were adopted and first published, there have of course been significant changes in the objective situation in the world; and while, in fact, what is said here about the particular role of Bob Avakian has been borne out all the more clearly, including through the continuing development of his body of work and method and approach; what is said in the 1995 Resolutions in terms of the role of revolutionary leadership, and of an individual leader like Bob Avakian, not only continues to provide a scientific approach to this question and a basic foundation and orientation for further engaging it, but also speaks to some of the most important questions and concerns that different people raise in relation to this. For this reason, especially at this time when the objective need for revolutionary leadership is all the more profoundly and acutely posed, but when there continue to be considerable confusion and misunderstanding about this, we consider it especially relevant and important to reprint here “Some Points on the Question of Revolutionary Leadership and Individual Leaders.”
One of the most important questions for any revolutionary forces anywhere—and for their allies and supporters—is the question of leaders and leadership. Do the revolutionary people even need individual leaders? Just what makes a revolutionary a revolutionary leader anyway? What makes one leader any “better” at leading than any other? What criteria should we use to evaluate leaders and their roles? If individual leaders are not superhuman and can have weaknesses or make mistakes, should we even be promoting them? Are most individual leaders bound to end up capitulating, broken or dead? Why even bother to put forward and promote individual leaders if this could lead to the masses treating them as gods, and getting set up for possible disappointment and paralysis in the event individual leaders are taken, broken or crushed? Doesn’t the promotion of individual leaders possibly discourage the masses from recognizing the need to take initiative and become conscious revolutionary activists and leaders themselves? If we are in favor of collectivity in our methods of work and are striving for a communist spirit and way of life, then why are we highlighting individual leaders? And what about initiative within the Party itself: does the recognition and promotion of individual leaders tend to stymie the initiative and all-rounded participation of basic members or lower level cadre? What is the correct relationship of leadership and led?
The questions listed above are all worth discussing more deeply. People from different strata, and with different life experiences (and different levels of political experience) will tend to answer these questions differently.
Most people who are serious about making revolution recognize the need for some structure, organization and leadership in order to guide, coordinate and systematically unfold the revolutionary work, and in order to ultimately seize power and begin building a whole new kind of society. Basic people in particular, because they are often only too familiar with the repressive hand of the enemy, are often quick to point out that the power of the authorities cannot be seriously challenged and defeated without tight organization and clear lines of leadership. And yet there is also among the basic masses—particularly, though not only, in a country like the U.S.—a significant amount of cynicism about revolutionary leaders: the view that leaders will “sell out,” or that even if they don’t sell out they will be taken from the masses by the enemy and there’s just not much that you can do about it. This kind of cynicism is something that should be taken on, by drawing out the connection between the basic masses and leadership, and the responsibilities of each with regard to the other.
It is usually the people from the middle strata, and especially the intellectual types, who have the most “questions” about whether or not it’s even “right” to have, and to promote, individual leaders in a communist revolutionary movement. They often look at this question too much in a vacuum or in the abstract, divorced from the material realities and necessities of the particular historical era we are part of. But it is a fact of material reality that humanity has not yet reached a stage where it can afford to dispense with a formalized division of labor and leadership structures and hierarchies. The question should be: what is the nature of these structures and whose interests do these structures serve.
Minuscule numbers of people trying to discuss and take action around a very few issues, of only limited scope, may sometimes be able to do so through “general consensus,” without a leadership structure and individual leaders. But as soon as the objectives broaden in scope beyond one’s backyard to encompass and take responsibility for trying to make fundamental and comprehensive social changes—and certainly to achieve a revolutionary transformation of the whole way society is organized, and on a world scale—then the need for more formalized division of labor, structure and leadership becomes obvious. And all the more so since these efforts to change the world do not go unopposed by those currently in power!
But if all this is true, then the fact that certain individual revolutionaries emerge as a concentration of this process, and themselves become a concentrated expression of the best qualities of revolutionary leadership—including a selfless dedication to the revolutionary cause and deep love of the masses, as well as a strong grasp of the scientific methodology needed to unleash the masses and chart the path of revolution in line with their objective interests—then the existence of such an individual leader or leaders is not something to lament but something to welcome and celebrate! It is part of the people’s strength.
Ironically, those middle forces who have the most qualms about “accepting” revolutionary leadership often fail to see the extent to which they are already being “led” in every sphere of life and society by the very functioning of the underlying dynamics of the system and the prevailing oppressive and repressive powers and institutions! They need to recognize that the only real alternative to that is to choose to be guided by a radically different form of leadership, with radically different objectives, and to learn to become this kind of leader themselves.
Such people also usually fail to think through sufficiently the practical implications of the fact that there is uneven development in all processes and things, including people. This is true among the vanguard forces and among the masses of people in general. How could it be otherwise? But this unevenness is not a bad thing: correctly understood from the perspective of dialectical materialism, unevenness is itself a source of growth and development and a catalyst for advance.
But that is not to say that the questions posed by many intellectuals about leadership and the promotion of individual leaders in revolutionary parties and movements are not worthy of serious discussion. There are for instance in the revolutionary movement real practical questions that pose themselves (and that must be addressed repeatedly in practice) concerning how to most fully unleash the conscious initiative of the masses of people and combat any tendencies they might have to want to “leave the driving to others.” Similarly, inside the revolutionary ranks it is important to guard against the development of any kind of “employee mentality” of people who would just as soon accept, in uncritical and in uninspired fashion, any lines and policies emanating from “above.”
In regard to this it is important to recall a point that has been repeatedly stressed by Comrade Avakian: where leadership is genuinely revolutionary leadership, the more it plays its leadership role correctly, in accordance with MLM principles, the greater will be the conscious initiative of the masses.
There are also real questions about how to best build unity on a revolutionary basis, among the masses and among the organized revolutionary forces. There is always bound to be unevenness of development and differences on a number of questions, with the terrain often being further complicated by the effects of enemy attacks and the possibility of setbacks and defeats.
But to correctly deal with the question of leadership, as in all else, we all have to ground ourselves firmly in the science and methodology of MLM: on that basis, and no other, we have to evaluate lines and policies and determine what can push things forward in a good direction and separate it from that which cannot. And then we have to find the ways to promote those lines and policies which advance things in a revolutionary direction, and concretely support those individuals and organizations which concentrate and embody them at any given time.
No one is born a revolutionary leader, and there is no one set formula for how people become revolutionary leaders. Each revolutionary leader is a complex mix of personal life experiences and broader social experience, particularly in the revolutionary movement, and revolutionary leaders can be of any race, nationality, either gender, and come from many different backgrounds. The same objective criteria for determining that an individual is particularly suited to the role and responsibilities of revolutionary leadership should apply to all: the essential thing is that they demonstrate the greatest ability to take up and apply the stand, viewpoint, and methodology of the international proletariat. This has been shown by the experience of the international communist movement; today MLM parties and organizations throughout the world have brought forward—and will continue to bring forward—a number of leaders, who represent a great force for the advance of the world proletarian revolution.
The basic masses usually know, from deep life experience, that the concentrated power of the enemy cannot be seriously challenged with just “good ideas” and “good intentions” and a vague “general consensus” of the revolutionary ranks. It takes real tight organization and real political, ideological and organizational leadership to bring forth, to guide and to wield the newly emerging power and combativity of the people.
So the revolutionary masses recognize the need for leaders. But that’s not enough. Real revolutionary leaders are brought forth, developed, nourished and sustained by the revolutionary people, and the revolutionary people must more fully understand that connection themselves. Revolutionary leaders are in a real sense the flower and fruit of the revolutionary people, who are themselves the roots and shoots of the revolution.
Without the revolutionary people the leaders are nothing. And without genuine revolutionary leaders to chart the course through the minefields, the people will not find the way to make real revolutionary breakthroughs when these are possible. Without revolutionary leadership the people’s resistance will be crushed over and over again and will not succeed in “getting over to the other side.”
Individual leaders are not gods or superhumans. They have their individual failings like anyone else, and they will make mistakes even when they are overall doing a good job of leading the revolution.
Some of them will even do worse than that and will at some point be broken, or in some way capitulate to the enemy and betray the revolution. And some will be taken from us by the enemy and jailed or killed.
Everyone must understand that such things can happen and must prepare for such eventualities, to minimize the possibility that such blows can fundamentally derail a revolutionary process and direction. But these possibilities cannot make us cynical or despair in the possibility of revolution. Because the hard-core strength of the revolution is the revolutionary base, the revolutionary people themselves. And it is true that as long as there is oppression the people will in time bring forth new revolutionary leaders to replace those who have fallen or been taken from us. But it must also be stressed that in a very real sense it is the responsibility of the party, together with the revolutionary masses, to minimize such losses, as well as to deal with the situation when such losses do occur.
Revolutionary leaders themselves should pay attention to fostering the greatest possible revolutionary collectivity and the greatest possible growth and all-rounded development of the revolutionary ranks and of many veteran and newly emerging leaders, so that, to the greatest extent possible, if they are taken from us, others will be ready to take their place.
On the other hand, there is no denying it: The loss of a true revolutionary leader—and all the more so if this is an individual who plays a key and critical leadership role—is like having a heart ripped out of our collective chest. When such things happen, we should deal with it—new leaders must step forward and be brought forward to continue to guide the revolutionary cause. But we should first of all do everything in our power to prevent such things from happening.
Key revolutionary leaders must be defended and protected with everything we’ve got. They are, in fact, the revolutionary people in concentrated form. They embody the very best that the people have to offer, that the people have given rise to and brought forward at a given point in history. To respect, protect and defend such revolutionary leaders is to respect, protect and defend the people themselves.
Within the revolutionary ranks there will always be (and always should be) discussion and wrangling about many different things and about just what is the right way to go forward. This is very healthy and important and an expression of the mass line within the revolutionary ranks and it will in many ways be the “juice” of the revolution and of the future society we will build.
But vis a vis the enemy we close our ranks tightly, and present them with a strong and unfissured wall of unity and allegiance to leadership. This makes it all the more difficult for them to breach our ranks.
We have to make the enemy feel this very sharply: come after our revolutionary leaders, and you will first have to come through us and the revolutionary people. We’re that serious.
What does it mean to be a revolutionary communist leader? The revolutionary party has many leaders of different levels and abilities. They embody a variety of different strengths. All of them are visionaries as well as practitioners of revolutionary struggle, but not one of them can embody all the best characteristics of the revolutionary people today or of the future new society that we are struggling to bring into being. This is another expression of the fact that the party’s strength and power is best expressed through its collectivity.
Yet every single leader is an important part of the process of making the revolution and the new society a reality. Each one brings to the revolution his or her particular mix of strengths and abilities. Each struggles to study and apply the scientific methodology of dialectical and historical materialism to the problems of making revolution. Each does many things right and some things wrong, and hopefully we all learn through experience to become stronger and better at the art of making revolution.
Each one is motivated not by petty concerns and self-interest but by a vision of how things could be done to better meet the needs of the great majority of humanity. Each one gets tired sometimes, but then struggles to once again work hard. Each one is afraid sometimes, but then struggles once again to be brave and have no fear.
Above all the most fundamental feature all genuine revolutionary communist leaders have in common is this: their strategic confidence in the masses of people, grounded in dialectical materialism.
The life of a revolutionary leader is one of sacrifice and hard work, frequent frustrations, self-doubts, and significant risks, and yet selfless dedication to the masses and to struggle for a better world. And it is also something else: especially in those times when the masses of people more readily shed their cynicism, fear or despair, and come forward with enthusiasm and life-affirming defiance to join the revolutionary movement, the all-conquering spirit and powerful unity of the people and its revolutionary expression courses through the revolutionary ranks and buoys the spirits of every genuine revolutionary like nothing else! It is a tremendous thing and something the cold and heartless bourgeois—who feed on the basic people but who can never be nourished or sustained by their growing emancipation—will never be able to enjoy, and in fact dread. But for us it makes it all worthwhile.
Revolutionary comrades: we should defend, support and celebrate our Party, our revolutionary leaders, our revolutionary people, and our vision of a revolutionary future. For they are in fact inseparable!
On Bob Avakian, the Chair of the Central Committee of our Party:
How do we really know that Comrade Avakian, the Chair of our Central Committee, is a great revolutionary leader? This is a fair question and one which we should be bold and forthright in answering.
We know that ultimately it will be the course of history and the actions of the masses which will bring forth the proof of this. But meanwhile it’s not like there aren’t already many indications!
It says something for instance that the collectivity that is the Central Committee of the Party, the best and most concentrated representation of the entire collectivity of our Party, has continued to select him over these many years to lead the C.C. and through it the whole of the Party.
It says something as well that he has accumulated so many years of consistent revolutionary practice, in a changing society and world, that he has never given up, sold out, or fallen off the revolutionary path. Whatever specific circumstances he has found himself in, he has always found the ways to have a sense of the key political and ideological questions and of the sentiments of the masses—precisely by relying on the Party.
It says something that he has been tested and proven at a number of key junctures : He has withstood being hounded and threatened by the bourgeois enemy. He has withstood personal and political attacks of opportunists and counterrevolutionary forces within the revolutionary movement. In fact these attacks have only succeeded in making him, and the Party he leads, stronger.
His position of leadership has not given him a swollen head and he has never lost his basic love for the people nor forgotten that a revolutionary leader—and the revolution itself—are only as good and as far-reaching as the people who bring them forth.
But he has never abdicated responsibility. In hard times there are some who give up, whine a lot, or resort to blaming others—the leaders, the masses, or both—for those difficulties. This is not what Comrade Avakian does: when there are problems, his attitude is first to maintain his strategic confidence in the Party and the masses and second to try even harder to use the methodology of MLM to figure out even better what to do. This is something we can all learn from!
In times of mass upsurge and revolutionary advance, Comrade Avakian applies himself with tremendous energy and enthusiasm to help maximize the gains, both in the immediate battle and above all for our long term strategic goals, and at the same time he seeks in the midst of such upsurge and advance to “step back” and look at the broader trends and bigger questions that are posed or sharpened by this upsurge. We should all learn from this as well.
Guiding the revolution is a little like piloting a boat through a coral reef, or leading a platoon through a minefield. Every day there are choices and decisions to be made: What priorities to set, what pitfalls to avoid, what openings to go for. How to successfully thwart the attacks of the enemy while doing the maximum to advance and strengthen the revolutionary forces and keep our sights focused on the future with the greatest possible sweep and vision.
There have been a number of times—again critical junctures in the development of the revolutionary road in the U.S. and internationally—when Comrade Avakian has stood out in his ability to wield the methodology of MLM to correctly analyze changing conditions and on that basis provide crucial direction and guidance to the revolutionary forces. The analysis of the counterrevolutionary character of the events in China following the death of Mao, and of how they were bound to lead to the restoration of capitalism in that former stronghold of revolution, cut through a time of great confusion, disorientation and disarray in the international revolutionary ranks and is one striking example of this.
On a number of other occasions Comrade Avakian has been able to steer the revolutionary forces away from potentially deadly mines appearing in the form of economism, reformism of various sorts, adventurism, social chauvinism, and various other forms of capitulation to the overt enemy or to counterrevolutionary political lines and trends emerging within the ranks of the revolution.
But Comrade Avakian did not do this through some sort of “magic.” He did it by systematically and consistently wielding his particular ability to distill and concentrate the lessons of history and to apply the basic principles and scientific methodology of MLM to the analysis of ever-changing objective and subjective conditions, including the developing requirements of the revolutionary movement. With his particular ability to connect historical sweep and vision and very sharp MLM methodology with a deep sense of the sentiments of the masses and a deep understanding of the problems of the practical revolutionary movement, Comrade Avakian has repeatedly led others to distinguish revolutionary from counter-revolutionary lines and trends and to determine what, in practice, could and should be done to advance towards our overall strategic objectives. Applying the stand, viewpoint and method of MLM, Comrade Avakian has repeatedly dared to go against incorrect tides no matter how powerful they might be at a given time, and has led the revolutionary forces of our Party in waging the two-line struggle and in uniting all who can be united around the correct line.
Nobody does this better than Comrade Avakian.
And this, perhaps more than anything, is why he commands tremendous love and respect throughout our Party. He is without exaggeration our Party’s single greatest individual resource and weapon. At the same time he understands, and has given leadership in understanding, that this is rooted in, is nurtured by, and must serve, the collectivity of the Party and ultimately of the masses of people.
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