From "Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism"
Revolutionary Worker #1264, January 16, 2005, posted at rwor.org
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the question-and-answer session following a recent talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party. This talk was given to a group of supporters of the RCP who are studying the historical experience of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and preparing to take up the challenge of popularizing this experience and engaging in discussion and debate with others about it, particularly on campuses but also more broadly.
This excerpt is taken from two different parts of the talk. It has been slightly edited for publication in the RW. The complete text of Bob Avakian’s talk "DICTATORSHIP AND DEMOCRACY, AND THE SOCIALIST TRANSITION TO COMMUNISM" and the complete question- and-answer session is online at rwor.org.
B: I think we are pretty much aware of the strength of the ruling class as it is expressed daily, all the forces of the army, the ideological media being able to present that. But what do you think our strengths are, in being able to grasp hold of sectors of the people?
Bob Avakian: Well, strategically, it’s the fact that what we are saying is much more in line with reality than anything else. That doesn’t mean we have a perfect understanding of it, but it’s much more in line with reality. And reality does assert itself. For example, look at the Iraq war. For a while everything looked like it was going right the way they had drawn it up on the drawing board, and they had their little spectacles they put on, with the pulling down of Saddam statues [laughter]—I heard a great thing about a demonstration, when Bush came to England a couple of months ago, where they erected this gigantic statue of Bush and then pulled it down. [laughter] Well, anyway, reality does assert itself. And the way in which they expected everything to go smoothly is not working out. And that does cause people to—it kind of jolts people into thinking about things, in a way that they might not have. And also it creates—it brings to the forefront the contradiction in an important arena between what people are told is true and reality, what actually is. Everybody has gone through that. I certainly did when I was younger. You go through this process—for me one of the big things was the Cuban missile crisis, when I remember Kennedy gave this speech and he said that it was a violation of the UN Charter for the Soviet Union to have missiles in Cuba. At that time, literally, we all expected the world to come to an end. That’s literally what you felt like, because it was, like, hours away from a war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and nuclear weapons were going to fly, and that was going to be it.
So, with something that important I said, well okay, I have to look into this. So I went to the university library and I dug out the UN Charter. And I read through it—see, I was naive. I literally thought it was going to say "It shall be a violation of this charter for the Soviet Union to ship missiles to Cuba." [laughter] And of course there was nothing like that remotely in there. There was nothing remotely like that. And so then I said, well maybe it just means it [the UN Charter] says it’s a violation for one country to put missiles in another country. So then I read through the whole thing—because I wanted to believe Kennedy—and I was hoping I would find "It shall be a violation for one country..." Well, nothing like that. So I read it through three or four times—and I realized he was just lying! [laughter] So then you realize—I mean, that didn’t change my view of everything all at once, or make me a communist or something. But it did kind of open my mind up. The next day if somebody had told me Kennedy was lying about something else, I would have been much more open to believing it than I had been the day before. And this kind of thing constantly happens, because in order for them to do what they have to do—it’s not just that they are inveterate liars who can’t help themselves—in order for them to do what they have to do, they do have to lie to people.
You can look at this whole Iraq thing. They couldn’t say: "Look, we’ve got a grand strategy for recasting the whole Middle East and your daughter or son has to go and die for that." People would say, "Well fuck it—I don’t want to have them die for that!" So they had to portray it as if there is some sort of threat, you know. This could materialize as a mushroom cloud, as Condoleezza Rice said, and all this stuff. So that sticks with people. Maybe right away it doesn’t cause them to become totally alienated from the whole system, or something, but it’s working in there. There are the effects of these things. And this provides openings to get in there and do some work with people about some of the bigger things that they have been lied to about.
I think these are some of the things that we have going for us, and fundamentally that what we are talking about does correspond much more closely to reality, and to the real interests of the great majority of people in the world; and, on the other side of it, with all the propaganda they put out and all the mass media they have at their disposal and the ways in which they can threaten people into falling in line, reality does assert itself—and reality is not as they say it is. So that objective fact constantly throws up things that you can work with. Besides just the fundamental and strategic thing that they don’t represent the truth and in a fundamental sense we do (not in some sort of metaphysical sense, but in terms of much more closely approximating reality).
There’s also the fact that this contradiction between the way they portray the world and the way it really is, is constantly finding new ways in which it makes itself felt among people. And that provides lots of opportunities to carry on political work with people.
And then there is the fact that there is an accumulation of abuses—not to sound like the Declaration of Independence—there is an accumulation of abuses that finally people just can’t take anymore. That was the whole thing with the L.A. Rebellion, for example. For a year after—if you remember how it unfolded, for a year there was a videotape of the Rodney King beating, and there were a lot of the masses of people that would just jump out and taunt the police: "Why don’t you beat me, so we can videotape it? We’ve got the videotape. We’ve got you this time." So this was going on for, like, a year. And then you had the verdict in the case—it wasn’t just the outrage of what they had done to Rodney King, because that happens a lot, and people know it happens a lot, but it was like "we caught you this time." And then it was "even when we caught you, it still didn’t make any difference." And that’s when everything just erupted.
So, things find expression in different ways like that, and, after a while, things get to the point where the abuses become intolerable—which doesn’t mean that you make a revolution right away necessarily, but it does mean that a lot of things open up.
Or, I remember Seattle when they had the demonstration there in 1999—there were these youth that were interviewed, and they had experienced the whole thing with the police and the media, and how the police had attacked them and they weren’t doing anything and the media had totally misrepresented what had happened. And I remember this one person saying, "I’ll just never see things the same way again, after having been through that kind of an experience." And a lot of people, probably everybody here, at one point or another, has had an experience like that. Or numerous experiences like that.
So this provides a lot of fertile ground also when people are conditioned to see the world one way, but then life asserts itself, including in things that you just finally find intolerable. I remember during the Iraq invasion, someone telling about this woman they knew who was an aerobics instructor. She went to her first demonstration during this period, and she said, "You know, we elect these politicians, and they are supposed to take care of these things so I don’t have to." [laughter] This was sort of her view. "But now, here comes this war that nobody wants, and these politicians, in particular the Democrats, are not doing anything about it, so I guess I’m going to have to do something." [laughter]
There is that kind of thing too, where in this society you sort of settle into a division of labor and you leave the driving to other people when it comes to politics, but then what you find acceptable, or unacceptable, clashes against what’s being done.
So I think a lot of these kinds of things are the things we have going for us—which doesn’t make it all easy, by any means, but it continually throws up ways and occasions in which we can do work.
B: You were referring to the Rodney King beating and the riots and whatnot that occurred after that. Through all of that chaos that did erupt through the contradiction of them actually seeing the bullshit and whatnot—how would you handle that in a way that concentrates—like if we got into a situation like that say here in this city, or somewhere, some sort of riot or something came off, and it definitely had fertile grounds for mobilizing people, how would you politically handle that?
BA: Well, I think the most important thing you have to bring forward in that is you have to help people see the larger picture and see how it relates to the whole system, and to the fact that life doesn’t have to be this way. In other words, people will spontaneously rebel all the time. And, in an overall strategic sense—in terms of what the approach of our party is—you can’t stand to the side of people’s rebellion, but the most important thing you bring to it is an understanding of where this injustice that people find intolerable comes from. And the fact that there is a different way that the whole world could be, and why we need to move in that direction. In other words, when people are in motion you have to be in motion with them, but mainly you have to be bringing that to them. Because they will accomplish a lot on their own.
I mean, if you take the example of L.A.: on their own, people had a tremendous impact on the whole world. But what spontaneously they weren’t able to accomplish was to see where this all came from and where it all needed to go. But a thing like that is going to spend itself in a certain sense, it’s going to run its limit, no matter how powerful it might be, the other side is going to amass force against it and the energy of the masses gets spent after a while. That’s sort of inevitable—unless it comes together with a bunch of other things in society that mean that all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, the whole society is up for grabs. Let’s say there had been a lot of things—if that rebellion had taken place in the context of something like this Iraq War. And let’s say they sent army units to L.A., and instead of suppressing the people a bunch of them had defected, and refused to shoot down their people, and had gone over to the side of the people, or something. And then they sent another unit in and the same thing happened. And it set in motion a certain dynamic. Well, then you might be able to take things all the way to a revolution, if that were occurring in the context where large sections of society were already disaffected from the way things were going, and from the forces running society, and they had lost confidence in the people running the society, and no longer believed very much in their ability or their right to be running society. Then, maybe you could go all the way to a revolution—with a tremendous amount of work.
And you never know exactly where something’s going to lead when it starts. But, short of something like that—all the different factors like that coming together—there is a real need to bring what people can’t get on their own to something like that, and to come out of it with more revolutionary organization than was there before. So that it’s not just that these things are happening but then they spend themselves, and then things just go back to the way they were. There is going to be an element in which, short of a revolutionary situation, that will happen. But you should come out of it in terms of people being won to, or more partisan toward, or having more interest in (or however you want to put it) the revolutionary road, than the thing started out with.
So there is a certain element of what Lenin called diverting the spontaneous struggle toward revolutionary goals that really lies at the heart of what you have to do. Because frankly, in that kind of a spontaneous thing, what you can practically add to what the masses are already doing is not going to be that much. But what you can add politically and ideologically can be a tremendous amount, because that’s what they can’t do on their own.
Look at the resistance to the Iraq War. The first day the war actually broke out, especially in the Bay Area and in San Francisco in particular, there were several thousand people arrested. Remember, there was that whole thing where people actually tried to stop the traffic, and to some degree they brought bridges and other things to a standstill for a certain period. And people kept trying to do that. But you reach the point where people were not prepared to go farther. That’s just the reality you ran up against. The level at which they understood the stakes involved and felt they had to do something to stop this, reached a certain limit. Most of the people who got arrested there were not willing to be arrested every day—you know, get bailed out and get arrested again—although some were for a little while. People weren’t ready to go beyond that. People weren’t ready to risk dying to stop the war. Well, that’s the reality of it. You can wish that things were more advanced—not that we want to see people die, but you wish people were willing to put more on the line. But if you reach the limit, you reach the limit. And then you have to try to consolidate and draw the most out of what you have achieved. And then you have a whole battle for summation of all this, where the spontaneous tendency, reinforced in a thousand ways by all the instruments of the ruling class, is that after all this was worthless and didn’t do any good, because "we didn’t stop the war."
And there’s a big struggle about how to understand what was actually accomplished by what people were willing to do and did take initiative to do. And were led to do. And yes, to recognize what the limitations were. But people have illusions that if they just make their anger about what’s happening really known and expressed powerfully, that’ll be enough to stop these things. And they went up against the reality that there is a ruling class here pursuing its interests, that fundamentally doesn’t care about and is certainly not acting on the basis of what people feel is right and just.
So you have to go through that with people and sum it up with them—that a tremendous amount was accomplished. One thing is that, largely because of the struggle of people throughout the world, and secondarily but significantly because other imperialists had their own conflicts with the U.S., they were denied a UN mandate for that war, which was a big deal. I mean, here you had Asnar of Spain, and Blair and Bush, sitting on an island somewhere, declaring war. And they didn’t have anybody else with them, essentially. I mean they did have a few, but...
And that was due in large measure to the tremendous struggle that people put up; it was also because of conflicts between French imperialism and U.S. imperialism and all these other countries not wanting the U.S. to single-handedly run the world and run roughshod over them as well as everybody else. But the big element of that was the struggle that people put up. And that reacted back and forth with the interests of these other governments and ruling classes. The governments were pushed to go farther than they probably would have gone on their own because of the struggle of people—millions of people in their countries were coming into the streets. And while they don’t base themselves on that, they can’t totally ignore it either.
And not only were they stripped of a UN mandate, but they were stripped of really any kind of "high moral ground." They went to war, all right, but they went to war without the mantle of really having the support of the people, even though they pretended they did. There was a tremendous division in U.S. society and great uniformity in much of the rest of the world against this war. So they were denied a lot of that political legitimacy, if you want to put it that way—not entirely, but to a significant degree. That makes a big difference. And it’s not unrelated to the problems they’ve had there, either. So people have to understand these things, and that’s a struggle for people to shed illusions and come to a more materialist understanding and dialectical understanding of how these things play out.
But you run up against the limits. Also, some of these questions, we should understand, that get battled out now politically, not only have immediate great relevance, or a great relevance in immediate terms, but also strategic relevance. For example, "Support the Troops." Now, that line within the resistance—whether that line is struggled against or not, how effectively it’s taken on, is very important in terms of how much people are unleashed to really oppose the war now, but it also has to do with strategic considerations. When it comes down to it, whatever time you really get a revolutionary situation, one of the big questions is actually going to be politically denying the ruling class legitimacy for seeking to suppress a revolution by force—which you can never completely do, but to the degree that you can it is a big political factor. And also, in terms of what that army does, whether it acts uniformly to crush the revolutionary uprising or whether it splits in the face of that also has major implications. And, if you want to put it that way, the degree to which the cohering and legitimizing ethos of that military is affected and defeated, or undermined politically, by the rank-and-file of an army questioning fundamentally the purposes for which they’re being called to kill and to die, has a lot to do with what happens with the outcome of a revolutionary struggle. It doesn’t mean you can just rely on politically winning over the other side’s armed forces, but that question will be a big component—whether that army is sort of a monolithic force, or a force that coheres entirely and crushes the revolution, or moves to try to crush it; or whether there is a lot of centrifugal things pulling at that force, with parts of it flying loose and staying out of the battle or even coming over to the side of the people. A lot of these questions that get fought out over political programs and lines even now will have bearing on those strategic things, even though those struggles become much more magnified and concentrated in those revolutionary circumstances.
We have to understand this, and we have to bring more and more people to an understanding of that kind of dynamism that goes into things. Lenin once made the statement: "propaganda is never wasted." And what he meant was that it becomes part of what circulates in people’s thinking, even while it may not be the dominant thing there for quite a while until circumstances change radically and political work is done on a different level.
All this struggle that’s going on now, because it doesn’t stop a war, is not meaningless or without any impact. But that depends especially on what the communists do with it. It can become totally squandered if those who understand that this all has to go to a revolutionary resolution are not acting on that understanding, or losing their own grip on it. But if they do act on it, this stuff has effect not only in the short term, but a cumulative effect toward the final resolution of all this.