Revolution #148, November 23, 2008
Making Revolution in the U.S.A.
On October 26, speakers from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA gave talks in New York and Los Angeles on “Making Revolution in the U.S.A.” Revolution is posting the entirety of the speech on its website, and serializing it in the newspaper. It has been slightly edited for publication.
Let’s start with the four questions that were posed in the announcement for this event:
Do we need a revolution and a radically different society? What is happening every day—what this system does to people day in, day out—here and all over the world, cries out: YES, WE DO.
Is revolution really possible in a country like the U.S.? YES, IT IS.
Is there actually a strategy and method for approaching how to make such a revolution? YES, THERE IS.
Is there a group that is organized on the basis of that strategy and method, is working for such a revolution, and could lead that revolution when the time is right? YES, AGAIN.
Those are the questions that brought you here. So let’s get into answering them in depth.
First, do we need a revolution and a radically different society?
Our Party, and especially our Chair, Bob Avakian, has given many talks and written many things going into the need for revolution. And in a recent special issue of our newspaper Revolution, entitled “The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System, and the Revolution We Need” we revisited this once more.
We showed how this system—this system of capitalism—first arose in Europe on the basis of violently separating the peasants from their land and their livelihoods and very often their lives, and forming them into the beginnings of the modern working class—the proletariat. How capitalism then came to the Americas, North and South, and extinguished the lives of tens of millions of native peoples as it stole their lands. We showed how at the same time capitalism went into Africa and kidnaped over ten million people into slavery and murdered countless others. How capitalism in America further developed and grew off of slavery. And then how these capitalists betrayed the great sacrifices made by the former slaves, and others, in the Civil War and Reconstruction: promising emancipation, but in the end only changing the forms in which Black people were exploited and oppressed.
We showed how this betrayal formed a crucial part of the foundation for an entire system of exploitation and worldwide plunder: capitalism-imperialism. And we show every week in our newspaper how imperialism has commanded the killings of tens of millions of people all over the world in colonial wars and world wars, right down to today in Iraq and Afghanistan and who knows where next. We’ve shown what this means for people all over the world, in starvation, in bitter exploitation and even in outright slavery—sometimes, as we showed in a recent issue of our paper, for children as young as six in India, whose hands are bloody from sewing labels on products that say “no child labor used to make this.”
We show in our newspaper nearly every week how capitalism took over and modified the patriarchal oppression of women and how this system continues to subjugate one half of humanity, pressing down on them at every turn—while holding out to men the poisonous privilege of being a petty oppressor and tyrant in their homes and relationships, and on the street.
And I hope you’ve read our coverage of the financial insanity now going on—how capitalism has taken something as basic as people’s need for housing and turned that into an object of parasitical speculation. Millions of people have now been driven from the homes they spent their lives working for, and millions more face the same prospect tomorrow, or next week, or next year. And there is the further bitter irony that many of those now being driven into the streets and shelters are themselves construction workers who, in a different system, could use their skills to build housing fit for human beings. But under capitalism, nothing can be done unless it serves the further accumulation of capital and the political interests of the capitalist ruling class. And this bedrock requirement stands as a barrier between the work that society needs and the masses who could do it.
Look at our planet, choking to death from the poisons and pollution generated by this mad logic of “profit over all.” Look at the teachers and health-care professionals and others who dedicate themselves to helping people. Look at how the system sucks all it can out of them and then sets them up for constant frustration and burnout. Look at science, which has the knowledge to prevent not just millions but hundreds of millions of people from dying needless deaths or living foreshortened lives from malaria, from infant diarrhea, from AIDS, or from diabetes. But again—right now this doesn’t fit the accumulation of capital, and so the people die.
The same is true of hunger—humanity could now produce, for the first time in history, enough food to feed everyone on the planet. But the “bottom line” of capitalist accumulation stands as a barrier to that, and so not just millions but hundreds of millions are malnourished and hungry and even die of starvation—and today this grows worse, as a result of the same kind of parasitical capitalist speculation that brought on the housing crisis. Karl Marx, the founder of communism, famously said that capitalism comes into the world with blood dripping from every pore—and that blood still drips today. You can see it all around you when you walk out of this building, and it goes on in even worse forms all over the world, and that blood will drip and flow and pour as long as capitalism exists.
But this is not fundamentally about bad or greedy people. Now don’t get me wrong—the people who run this system are in fact greedy and sadistic and monstrous and hideous and hypocritical and a hundred things more besides—but they are only the personifications of a system. There is no god and “he” did not create man in his image. But there is capital and it twists and stamps and molds the people in this society with the eat-or-be-eaten and look-out-for-number-one outlook, relations and values that it requires for its daily operation. This is a system—a system that is nothing but organized greed backed up by the machinery of mass murder.
And by the way—or not so by the way—don’t tell us that putting someone else in power to administer that same system of organized greed and mass murder is going to make a damn bit of difference. Don’t tell us that if they somehow one day allowed the prisoners at Attica, or San Quentin, or any of the other thousands of prisons that this system builds to warehouse the Black and Latino youth that it has cast off and consigned to hell, don’t tell us that if they allowed those prisoners to elect their warden those prisoners would no longer be in cages. That they would be exercising their freedom.
This is a system we are talking about. At its base it is an economic system. It’s an economic systemin which masses of people—hundreds of millions around the world—must work in common to create the wealth. It’s an economic system in which the wealth those hundreds of millions of people create is then taken and controlled by a relative handful of capitalists. That is what is meant when we say “exploitation.” And arising on that base is a political system—a political system in which the instruments of force and violence—the armies, prisons and police—are monopolized by that same class of capitalists to enforce, defend and extend those relations. Political domination and social oppression of all kinds on the foundation of economic exploitation—that is the essence and reality of what George Bush calls “democratic capitalism.”
And as we put it in our Party’s constitution, the cruelest fact of all is this: IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY! The very way that hundreds of millions of people are drawn together to create the vast wealth of the world has laid the basis for a whole new world. As we explain in our Party constitution, that can only come through a revolution. And we explain in there what this revolution would do. How this new revolutionary power would immediately strip the capitalist-imperialist class of its property and power. How it would immediately set about meeting the most pressing needs of the people and solving what those who rule us today always say are “intractable” or unsolvable problems. How this power would be part of something bigger—a world revolution, leading to the all-round emancipation of humanity. How this new society would be full of ferment and dissent and debate, with leadership being exercised both to unleash this and, in an overall sense, to guide this toward the ultimate goal of communism—the goal of doing away with all exploitation, with all forms of political domination, with all oppressive social relations, and with all the ways of thinking that go with and reinforce all that.
So to answer that first question: YES, WE DO need a revolution and we have a vision and approach for a radically different and far better society.
But okay, what about that next tough question: “Is revolution really possible in a country like the U.S.?”
Let’s start right in with a very heavy and serious element of that question: could revolutionary forces actually meet and defeat the violent and repressive force that the oppressors would bring down in a country like this?
Now even to approach this question in the right way, you have to understand that such a struggle could only correctly take place in a country like this in a very different situation than the one we have today. It could only take place, in a country like this, at a time of huge crisis in society, and when millions and millions of people had become conscious of the need for revolution. We’ll talk about how that could happen—and what our actions have to do with all that—in a few minutes. But even if things did get to that point, still: would it be possible, even at that future time, to make revolution in a country like the U.S.?
Well, let’s get into this. First of all, quiet as it’s kept, imperialist armies actually have been defeated by revolutionary forces—revolutionary forces which started out much weaker and smaller than the oppressor. Let’s look at the U.S. war against Vietnam. Particularly in the early phases of that war, the revolutionaries in Vietnam drew on the military doctrine developed by the great revolutionary communist leader, Mao Tsetung, during the Chinese revolution. Mao argued that it didn’t make sense to go straight up against the imperialist armies, that it didn’t make sense, especially at first, to try to match them in weaponry or force or training. Instead, Mao said, the stance of the revolutionaries had to be “you fight your way, we’ll fight our way.”
“Our way” meant that the revolutionary forces had to be like fish swimming in the sea of the people. They had to be deeply rooted among the masses, drawing on them for support, for protection, for intelligence, and for recruits. And in order to do this, they had to win the masses to consciously understand and support the basic revolutionary program. This was a back-and-forth process. The more that the masses saw that the revolutionaries were serious, and the more that they saw the ways in which the revolutionaries fought—seeing not only that these forces could go up against the oppressors, but seeing also how the ways in which they fought were so different than those of the reactionary forces—the more the people saw all that, the more they were drawn to this program, and the more deeply many got into it.
At the same time, these revolutionary forces had to find the ways to take the initiative, even when they were smaller and weaker. So they developed tactics to concentrate the strength that they did have to break down and weaken the enemy. They avoided large clashes. As Mao said, you don’t eat a whole meal in a single swallow; you couldn’t do it and even if you could you’d get sick. But bite by bite, you can chew up that big meal and digest it.
And what happened in Vietnam? The United States sent in its army, navy and air force. Criminals like John McCain dropped bombs on villages, and water supplies, and even hospitals and they exacted a terrible toll. But as the war went on, the liberation forces developed the tactics to wear down the U.S. Army.
And even while the Vietnamese were fighting, they were also struggling politically with the American soldiers. They would leaflet Black soldiers—“why are you fighting and dying here for a system that oppresses you ‘back home’?” All this, along with the antiwar movement back in America, began to cause disintegration within the military. Soldiers like Carl Dix courageously refused to be shipped to Vietnam, and were sent to prison for their actions. Other soldiers and sailors made antiwar statements, or took part in demonstrations. Mutinies occurred and in some cases officers were forcibly prevented by the troops they commanded from sending them out on patrol. Now it was not the case that the U.S. could not field troops to go out and fight—but at a certain point all this forced them to at least alter their tactics, out of fear that “the contagion would spread.”
And what happened, finally, to this most powerful army in the world? It lost.
Now let’s be very clear: the point is not to directly transfer those lessons of making revolution to an imperialist power like the U.S. Vietnam was and is a third world country. In those countries, the majority of people live in desperate circumstances most of the time. Many of them live in relatively isolated rural villages, where the central power cannot always easily reach. In countries like that, the revolution can generally start up as guerilla war in one or more rural areas before the whole country is engulfed in a crisis, and the revolutionary forces can build up strength in that way and eventually seize power nationwide.
That is NOT the case in an advanced imperialist country like the U.S. As I touched on earlier, the revolutionary struggle for power could only be begun in a country like this once there is a major qualitative change in society from “normal times” to one in which society as a whole and the government are embroiled in serious crisis. And with that as a basis, the situation would have to change from one where the great majority of people are not seriously considering revolution, to one in which there is a revolutionary people, numbering in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it. Only then would it be possible and correct to start the revolutionary struggle for power in an imperialist country.
So, no, the strategy developed by Mao should not be applied in a country like this in quite so direct a way as the Vietnamese originally did. But there ARE certain key principles to learn from Mao, and to integrate into a much different military strategy that could, under certain conditions, fit a modern imperialist country like the U.S.
One lesson is that to do this in a way that leads to a real revolution and not just a change in regime, this would have to be led by a revolutionary communist party, and in the service of truly liberating goals. Another is that this struggle would have to rely on the masses of people, and draw ever-increasing numbers into the struggle in many different ways. This revolutionary struggle would also have to present to the people a whole different way of organizing society in a way that feels very concrete to them. And it would have to avoid decisive engagements, or really major strategic battles, before it is ready. Instead it would have to fight in ways that would deprive the imperialists of their strong suits and that would bring to bear the strengths of the revolutionaries.
What might that look like in a country like the U.S., in a qualitatively different situation than the one we have today? As I said, millions of people would have to be in upheaval and resistance. But the revolution itself would almost certainly NOT take the form that it did in the only other socialist revolution to occur in a capitalist country—the 1917 revolution in Russia. In that situation, there was a mass insurrection in cities, followed quickly by setting up a revolutionary government and then waging a civil war. If revolutionary forces were to attempt that strategy in these times, even in a revolutionary situation, it is very likely that the imperialist armies would be able to easily fix and pulverize the revolutionary forces. Instead, the struggle for power in an imperialist country, even in the midst of crisis and upheaval, would be a somewhat protracted struggle, in forms that enabled the revolutionary side to grow increasingly stronger over time.
In thinking about this, it is useful to study some of the imperialists’ own military experts and analysts. The article “On the Possibility of Revolution,” in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation cites one Rupert Smith. Now, Smith is an imperialist military man—in other words, he’s a butcher—and he intentionally mushes together revolutionary struggles based among the people with terrorist strategies—which are, as I will shortly discuss, fundamentally opposed. But while taking that into account, it is interesting to note that Smith—again, from an imperialist standpoint—grapples with the fact that some of the ways that the imperialist forces are structured and some of the ways that they operate, including their reliance on overwhelming force, can work against them.
In a future revolutionary struggle for power, the revolutionary fighters would be very intertwined with the people who would be their main base of support. And Smith emphasizes the fact that in these sorts of situations many times the imperialist attacks on the revolutionary forces actually spur more people to join the revolutionary side.
“On the Possibility of Revolution” gives a sense of the dynamics of this:
The main objectives of the revolutionaries, in waging the kind of protracted struggle spoken of here, in the conditions which would make such a struggle possible, would be: to win over even greater numbers of people, through the confrontation and the living contrast between the two radically different authorities, while at the same time frustrating, disintegrating and demoralizing the imperialist and reactionary forces—which would be seeking to violently re-impose and reinforce the old order and the old relations of exploitation, oppression and domination—and then to finally defeat those reactionary forces. In the course of this, the revolutionary forces would conduct a determined and strategically conceived course of action, marked by calibrated struggles against the reactionary forces, in which the revolutionaries would strive to gain more and more initiative without prematurely entering into encounters that posed the strategic risk of decisive defeat and decimation. And, with regard to those who made up the ranks of the reactionary forces, especially those who were actually drawn from the oppressed and exploited in society, and whose objective interests would fundamentally lie with the revolution, the revolutionaries would continue to make political appeals to them to come over to the side of the revolution. [p. 88]
Let’s break that down. First, note well: “to win over even more people, through the confrontation and living contrast between two radically different authorities.” This is a crucial point: the way that these revolutionary forces would be fighting would make clear what kind of society they were fighting for and this, along with the fact that they continued to survive and fight, would give them revolutionary authority in the eyes of the people. Look at these imperialist armies—armies where the hatred of women is so thick and pervasive that female soldiers in Iraq have to take escorts if they go to the bathroom at night for fear of rape by their own fellow soldiers; armies where soldiers routinely murder civilians or carry out grotesque acts of torture; where their standard way of fighting relies on artillery and bombs that indiscriminately murder and mangle everyone who gets in their way, including children. The revolutionary forces—both in their program and in the way that they were fighting—would represent a whole other way to organize society—including for example in the relations between men and women in the revolutionary forces, and the role played by women. People would see that while these reactionary forces were attempting to carry out murder and mayhem to maintain their system of exploitation, there was a seriously contesting revolutionary force that could actually win and bring into being a new and much better society.
Let’s go on with this passage from “On the Possibility.” The revolutionary forces, it says, would “at the same time [be] frustrating, disintegrating and demoralizing the imperialist and reactionary forces—which would be seeking to violently re-impose and reinforce the old order and the old relations of exploitation, oppression and domination—and then to finally defeat those reactionary forces.” Again: it is the reactionary forces who would be attempting to re-impose their oppressive ways; it is the revolutionaries who would be preventing that and defeating these reactionaries; and the people come to see this ever more clearly.
To continue breaking this down: “In the course of this, the revolutionary forces would conduct a determined and strategically conceived course of action, marked by calibrated struggles against the reactionary forces, in which the revolutionaries would strive to gain more and more initiative without prematurely entering into encounters that posed the strategic risk of decisive defeat and decimation.”
These new revolutionary forces would be learning as things went on. Here, again, is something that people like Smith see as a problem, coming from his vantage point of defending imperialism. The revolutionaries start out with little experience, but they can learn quickly and rapidly innovate. But while the reactionaries have been highly trained, they’ve been trained to fight in certain ways with certain kinds of equipment in certain kinds of formations. That can be a strength for them at some times, but if revolutionary forces could “take them out of their game,” so to speak, that same strength could end up working against the reactionaries and making them inflexible. Calibrating the struggle as they went—taking on forces they could defeat, wherever possible—and finding the ways to frustrate their enemies, not only surviving but taking initiative in fighting their way, the revolutionary forces could—to once again borrow from Rupert Smith—”define the parameters of the conflict [and] by default [present] an alternative force and power.” 
Finally, and again quoting “On the Possibility of Revolution,” “with regard to those who made up the ranks of the reactionary forces, especially those who were actually drawn from the oppressed and exploited in society, and whose objective interests would fundamentally lie with the revolution, the revolutionaries would continue to make political appeals to them to come over to the side of the revolution.” Note that well: that the presence of large numbers of soldiers drawn from the oppressed sections of society forms a sort of Achilles heel, or big vulnerability, for the reactionary forces. Look at how they recruit in the inner city schools, or find people in desperate straits to sign up for their army. Think about how that could turn into its opposite and boomerang in a different situation, in which these troops would face the kinds of people they grew up with and in which powerful political appeals were being made to them, appeals which spoke to their most fundamental interests and yes, their highest aspirations.
Once the situation radically changed in a country like this and there then emerged a force actually going up against the reactionaries—both surviving and administering increasing, if still initial, defeats to these reactionaries—people in their tens of millions would no longer be looking at the new society as just another nice idea. They would begin to view it as a real alternative—as something that might really happen. And when that happens even more millions of people who’ve never allowed themselves to dream of real freedom, never allowed themselves to even think about what that might look like and feel like, would begin to think and begin to act in different ways. Those ideas would then represent a reality that could be realized, and then everything would pose itself differently to people.
Here I want to re-emphasize a point that runs through “On the Possibility of Revolution”—for example, on page 89, where it stresses that:
All this would be radically different, in its guiding philosophy, its objectives and methods, from what can generally be considered “terrorist” strategies–which involve actions isolated from masses of people, and/or aiming their fire at non-combatant forces and utilizing means and methods that seek to forcibly terrorize the people, or sections of them, into accepting the aims of those practicing this kind of violence–and in general it would be radically different from the reactionary aims, approaches, and methods of historically outmoded forces, not the least of which are the imperialists themselves.
And I also want to re-emphasize a related point: that “attempting such a struggle–or any kind of warfare–without and before the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people would lead to a terrible defeat for the revolution and the demoralization of the masses of people who yearn for a radically different and better world.”  Without a revolutionary situation and revolutionary people, any such attempt could not rely on the masses of exploited and oppressed, and could not seek support among other sections of society who in a different situation could in fact be won to support a revolutionary struggle. In such a case, the ruling class would be able to polarize society in a way favorable to it. They would be able to deprive the revolutionary forces of initiative and increasingly isolate, confine and pulverize them.
What is being considered is something very different. We are talking about a force—in the future, to be clear—that would be acting in the midst of a revolutionary people, at a time when millions and millions have become convinced of the need for revolutionary change and are willing to fight for it. We are talking about a force that would be fighting in a way to win support from the people, not doing things to intimidate them.
Obviously, all this would pose tremendous challenges. The revolutionary forces, and the people, would face tremendous sacrifice up against such a barbarous enemy. And a force like this would have to find the ways to defeat the enemy’s strategy of “decapitation”: that is, of going after and taking out the leadership of the revolutionary struggle. It would have to figure out and develop the ways to have everyone operating around the same viewpoint, goals and strategy, while these forces would at the same time have to be decentralized enough to take a lot of initiative on the local level. And then, as the enemy was increasingly worn down and disintegrated, and boiled into its hard core, the revolution would have to figure out how to win final victory. Because this can’t be about just making trouble to negotiate a seat at the table of the same imperialist feast. This has got to be about a whole new world—and the revolutionaries, even in the final phases of the struggle, would still be facing powerful forces and rather than quickly moving to fight the kinds of battles that would play to the remaining strengths of their enemy, the revolutionary forces would likely have to work to further isolate and disintegrate them, laying the basis for finally defeating them.
But just think of what a crushing and suffocating weight a victory in this struggle would lift off people, not only here but everywhere in the world. Think of the possibilities for humanity that it would open up and the beacon of hope that would shine. To get a sense of this, think for a minute of what a difference it would have made if there actually had been a revolution in the U.S. in the ’60s—what it would have meant to people in Latin America, Africa, and different parts of Asia, where the U.S. and its proxies murdered literally millions of people in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s and consigned hundreds of millions more to starvation, disease and early death. And what it would have meant in this country—where instead of going through the ordeals of the crack epidemic and mass criminalization in the ghetto, and instead of having an ethos of patriarchy and punishment and fundamentalist religion suffocating society, the people would have been building a new society, free of exploitation and oppression.
Now again, digging into these ideas does NOT mean that anyone should try to jump off a revolutionary struggle for power now. That would be very wrong and extremely damaging in a country like this. But there is nothing wrong with thinking about how these questions might play out in a hypothetical future scenario. And in fact, it is important for people to grapple with this–and in particular to read and think deeply about the strategy, and the principles, that are written about in the article, “On the Possibility of Revolution.” It is part of being serious about actually changing the world.
With that in mind, let’s dig deeper into what we mean by a revolutionary situation. A very important statement by our Party, “Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—in Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution”—one which is also reprinted in Revolution and Communism—says this:
In a country like the U.S., the revolutionary overthrow of this system can only be achieved once there is a major, qualitative change in the nature of the objective situation, such that society as a whole is in the grip of a profound crisis, owing fundamentally to the nature and workings of the system itself, and along with that there is the emergence of a revolutionary people, numbering in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it. In this struggle for revolutionary change, the revolutionary people and those who lead them will be confronted by the violent repressive force of the machinery of the state which embodies and enforces the existing system of exploitation and oppression; and in order for the revolutionary struggle to succeed, it will need to meet and defeat that violent repressive force of the old, exploitative and oppressive order.
Okay, that’s quite a bit. So again, let’s break it down.
“In a country like the U.S., the revolutionary overthrow of the system can only be achieved once there is a major, qualitative change in the nature of the objective situation, such that society as a whole is in the grip of a profound crisis, owing fundamentally to the nature and workings of the system itself ...” What IS a major qualitative change in the objective situation? It means that for society as a whole there’s been a rupture in business as usual, that the people who in normal times either don’t care or simply cannot concern themselves with political questions are seeking answers. It means that the rulers themselves are in disarray over what to do and fighting sharply and even openly among themselves.
The fact is that revolutionaries cannot bring a revolutionary situation into being only through their own efforts. The great communist leader V.I. Lenin, who led the Russian Revolution, once said that in normal times people “uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed.” The masses do not see, just from looking at the surface, how things could change. So they learn to make their way in it, even if they are profoundly dissatisfied. But Lenin immediately went on to compare the deep contradictions involved in the workings of the system during a crisis to a volcano that could erupt at any minute, and he insisted that the revolutionaries had to be “tensely” preparing themselves, and the masses who were politically awake, for this.
What are the kinds of things that could put the system into crisis? Well, things like financial panics and economic shocks. Nobody knows where the current one will lead, but already millions of people are now worried about the future, the questions of capitalism and socialism are coming up for mass debate, even if in weird ways, and you read about police preparing to deal with angry impoverished people. Or things like wars that go bad and lose support—and where the rulers have to call on the people to make still more sacrifices.
And you can see a glimmer of how people’s thinking and actions can change very quickly when big breaks happen, even short of a revolutionary situation. One day everyone is going about their business, the next day “all bets are off.” I remember very clearly all the way back to 1970 when the National Guard killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio, who were protesting against the war in Vietnam. I was a revolutionary even back then. And even during those more revolutionary days, we would normally get a few dozen people to our meetings. When we heard about this, I remember telling a comrade that we’d better get a bigger room for the meeting that night—that on account of what had happened, maybe a hundred or even two hundred people might come. And what did happen is that over 3,000 people came to the meeting, and not only at our campus but at hundreds of campuses all over the country students rebelled and took over buildings and defended themselves against the violence of the police and national guard, and very quickly the government shut down many of the universities and sent the students home to stop the contagion from spreading.
I also remember, and more people here can remember, the LA rebellion in 1992—how quickly it erupted when the police who had brutally beaten Rodney King were let off, and how it spread to many other cities beyond Los Angeles, and raged for days. And we can all remember Hurricane Katrina—how suddenly, overnight, the eyes of the whole world were riveted on New Orleans and how what is normally kept hidden by this system—in this case, the oppression of Black people, in particular—became something that everyone had to talk about and deal with. These examples are not themselves revolutionary situations, but they are the kinds of things that could in certain circumstances be part of making up a revolutionary situation, along with other breaks in the objective situation. And again—all these things were in a basic sense “owing fundamentally to the nature and workings of the system itself.” And all these things point up the need for revolutionary forces to be working now, preparing for and intensely seizing on such crises and other opportunities to influence public opinion and, especially, to build up their ties and add to their ranks, so as to advance as far as possible toward, and to prepare politically and organizationally for, a revolutionary situation and to be in the best possible position to take advantage of it at the point when it would occur—a point to which I’ll return.
Now along with that kind of crisis, it would be necessary that there emerge “a revolutionary people, numbering in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it.” Again, we’ve seen at least the embryo of that kind of phenomenon in living memory—the 1960s. People back then wanted a whole different way and were willing to fight and sacrifice for it. Now it was complex and full of contradiction in the way people saw that, but as we said in the special issue of our newspaper on the oppression of Black people, “the revolutionary stance of leaders like Malcolm X and forces like the Black Panther Party resonated with millions in the streets and campuses of the U.S.” And we went on to say: “[T]he ’60s showed that when masses rose up in rebellion against the powers-that-be, and when that was coupled with a political stance that called out the system as the problem, and when a growing section of that movement linked itself to and learned from the revolutionary movement worldwide...well, when all that happened, you could radically change the political polarization in society. What could hardly be imagined yesterday suddenly became a real possibility for tomorrow, which demanded action today.”
Now that passage gets to another big question: what about the tens of millions of people in this country who are used to a comfortable way of life and not so immediately inclined to radical change? Even when things begin to go badly for them, many tend spontaneously to blame the wrong people—and there are dangerous demagogues like Sarah Palin or Lou Dobbs misleading them in that way.
But much more strategic is the fact that, as our Party Constitution says: “The fundamental interests of most people in this society do NOT lie with the imperialists. This simple but profound truth is an important part of the objective material basis for why revolution in this country is both necessary and possible.” You can see the evidence of it today, in the ways that people from these better-off sections often do challenge the power and even stand with the masses. Look at people like Sean Penn during Katrina—hiring a boat and saving people in the flooded streets and condemning the government. The stand he took was righteous and there were many thousands not so well known who did, or sought to do, similar things. Yes, this has to go much further. But even today the discontent and ferment of these sections of people represents an embryo of what could be fully brought to fruition in a revolutionary situation, and it has to be built on and led.
Returning to “Some Crucial Points,” it says: “In this struggle for revolutionary change, the revolutionary people and those who lead them will be confronted by the violent repressive force of the machinery of the state which embodies and enforces the existing system of exploitation and oppression; and in order for the revolutionary struggle to succeed, it will need to meet and defeat that violent repressive force of the old, exploitative and oppressive order.”
Let’s take one more look back to the ’60s. Civil rights workers and ordinary people in the South who fought to get very basic rights for Black people were hounded and driven out of town and in over 25 cases were KILLED by the authorities, or by reactionaries who these authorities worked through and with. Even Martin Luther King—who actually opposed revolution, and advocated reform—even he was viciously hounded and harassed by the FBI, and then he was assassinated. Antiwar students were beaten or mowed down, or attacked by fascist mobs of so-called hardhats mobilized by the president at that time, Nixon. And then there was the Black Panther Party, where over two dozen members were killed, including leaders like Fred Hampton, who was murdered by police as he slept in his bed. Over and over and over again, the system drowned the people in blood. Any serious challenge, and the powers-that-be didn’t give a fuck for the “will of the people.” Over and over again the system made clear that if there was to be a fundamental and basic change, this brutal force would have to be met and defeated by the people. And many people were won, in those days, to understanding that.
To put it another way, many many people came to see the use of force by the state as illegitimate. And they came to regard the people who were defending themselves against this as very legitimate. And this kind of understanding, among millions, would be an essential condition for any revolutionary struggle for power to have a chance of getting going and winning.
The point of going back and examining that period is not to buck up our spirits, or to think that history will somehow repeat itself—but to get a clearer sense of what kinds of things could happen and would have to happen in the future, even as there would be many new and unanticipated phenomena. But looking at everything involved in this question, from different angles, of whether a revolution is possible in a country like the U.S., we can in fact answer clearly: YES, IT IS.
This leads to the third big question: is there a strategy and method for approaching how to make such a revolution? Is there a way now to “prepare minds and organize forces for revolution”—to be in a position to win when the time is right?
As we’ve emphasized, you can only make revolution—in the form of the actual struggle for state power– when certain things come together. But let’s talk about what that means—and what it doesn’t mean for now.
What it does NOT mean is that you can just wait around and one day a revolutionary situation falls into your lap. What it does NOT mean is that you can somehow get people ready to seize the time without raising people’s consciousness and leading them in political resistance well before the time comes when the struggle for power comes on the agenda. This would be like expecting to win the Super Bowl without whipping yourself into shape, going through team drills and practices and developing teamwork, studying your own playbook and that of your opponents as well, winning some crucial games while learning from your losses in the regular season, and so on. Now you can’t take this analogy too far—for one thing because the Super Bowl is not a whole other kind of struggle than the “regular season”—and the revolutionary struggle for power would be a qualitatively different thing than what people need to be doing today. But there is still something to get from this analogy: that there is hard, urgent, and essential work of preparation to do now.
The people need a revolution as soon as possible—and we need a revolutionary movement right now. Not somewhere down the line, but now. Everything we do today has to be about hastening the development of a revolutionary situation, shaping as much as possible the political terms of things and gathering revolutionary forces, even as we are tensely awaiting and preparing for further breaks and crises in the situation overall that will be brought on by the system’s own dynamics. Yes, we have to be awaiting—but like a tiger awaits.
This means that the revolutionary movement has to carry out the kind of activity and wage the kinds of struggles that can shape events to the maximum degree possible at any given time, drawing people into the revolutionary movement, and movements of resistance, while constantly diverting things away from the dead ends and detours of different schemes for reform that the ruling class promotes. The movement has to raise the consciousness of the masses—both speaking to millions and developing those who hunger for change right now into dedicated revolutionary communists. It has to organize people so tightly that the enemy cannot shatter this organization—but with the suppleness and flexibility to take all kinds of initiative.
Let’s talk about what goes into building a revolutionary movement—now. A movement that really IS all about revolution—preparing for THAT. And, exactly because we are serious about winning when the time comes, the preparation we are talking about is NOT direct preparation for the struggle for power—but it is preparation, now in the political sense, to be ready whenever a revolutionary situation does emerge.
So what does this preparation consist of?
We like to say that we’ve got two mainstays in our work. The first is spreading the works of our Chairman, Bob Avakian, and getting the word out about his leadership. It’s no exaggeration to say that Bob Avakian has rescued communism. At a time when there are no genuine socialist countries, he’s defended and shone a light on the great accomplishments of the past revolutions, especially those of the Soviet Union and China in that first stage of the communist revolution, and he’s done that in the face of a tremendous onslaught of slander and distortion.
But he’s gone further than that. In addition to learning from the pathbreaking accomplishments of those revolutions, he has also examined and criticized the shortcomings of that first stage and developed a “new synthesis” of communism. This new synthesis has involved putting communism on a more fully scientific foundation...it has involved deepening that movement’s foundation of internationalism...it has meant reviving and taking further Lenin’s crucial theory on making revolution in imperialist countries...and—very especially—it incorporates Avakian’s theoretical vision of a socialist transition to communism that both fully recognizes and founds itself on the bedrock principles established by previous revolutions, including the need for a new revolutionary state power with the leadership of the party, but also emphasizes the need for a greater role for dissent, for intellectual ferment and for more scope and creativity in the arts in socialist society.
Taking this vision and this understanding to people all through society can become a “source of hope and daring on a solid scientific foundation.” This is crucial for a movement that is, and must be, boldly taking revolution and communism to the people.
The existence of a leader like this is a very powerful factor for revolution. Bob Avakian gave his heart to revolution and to the people decades ago. He has dedicated his life to figuring out how we can solve the problems involved in making revolution, deeply and thoroughly going into these questions, even as he provides leadership to the practical struggle. And all this is founded on and linked to a deep feeling for the potential of the people to rise above the muck and mire, and to transform the world. He’s kept coming back at these problems time and again, sharpening up and training others in the scientific method of going at them, and deepening our understanding of reality.
And you know what? He’s very, very good at it. Do you know how rare that is? So this is a huge strength for the revolution. Everyone here should get to know this leader by getting a copy of his memoir, From Ike to Mao...and Beyond, which tells the story of his life and also gets into some of the basics of what he’s developed, and by watching the DVD Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About. Get these works and really get to know this leader and what he’s all about...and then share them with others, spreading the word. Dig deeper into the ways in which Bob Avakian has developed the whole visionary understanding of communism and socialism...get into the philosophical method that he’s putting out there...study and learn from and apply his thinking on revolutionary strategy. And raise in people the understanding that we have got to defend this leader against the many different ways that the enemy comes at him.
Again, the people need a revolution as soon as possible—and we need a revolutionary movement right now. Let’s talk about the other mainstay of this revolutionary movement, our newspaper, REVOLUTION. REVOLUTION shows WHAT is happening, WHY it’s happening, and HOW a whole other world is possible. It lays bare the worthlessness of this system—and what we need to do to get rid of it. It creates public opinion...to seize power.
Why did police pump 50 bullets into the car of Sean Bell—a young Black man in New York, without any weapon, out with his friends at a club the night before his wedding? And why does this kind of thing continue to happen, over and over again? Is it because Black and Latino youth want to be constantly harassed and criminalized and sometimes murdered by the police? Do they “put out negative energy”? Or is something else going on, beneath the surface?
Why do people from Mexico and El Salvador and China leave their children and families and work for pennies and sometimes die in a strange land? Because they want to? Or has something else driven them here? And once here, why are they kept without rights, as outlaws forced into the shadows, and made into scapegoats for society’s ills?
Why do mothers in Haiti find themselves in a situation where they ask strangers to take their children because they can no longer feed them? Why do children in Thailand or India end up sold as sex slaves? Is it because people in those countries somehow lack “parental feeling”? Or does it have something to do with the killing choices they have been given by this system?
Why does the Bush Administration constantly attack abortion rights not only in this country but around the world? Why do the Democrats refuse to mount any real fight against this and similar outrages? And what are the real stakes in all that?
Why has there been a horrific civil war in the Congo for over ten years that has taken over six million lives—and why don’t we hear about it? Why are U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan—and why do they repeatedly and with impunity kill innocent people when they’re over there?
Why is there so much religion around us now? Everyone walking around talking about being blessed, or looking to some non-existent god or savior, or studying some mumbo-jumbo to solve their problems. It’s a pursuit that just ends people up deeper in misery and, even worse, learning to reconcile themselves with their oppression. So what’s that all about? And why is the ruling class pushing it so hard these days?
And why is Wall Street in a panic? Because of greed? Or lack of regulation? Or is it something deeper? And what does this mean for the people?
Events are constantly erupting and the ruling class offers us all the explanations in the world except the right ones. Day after day, week in week out, they are training us to see the world through their eyes. So you need this science to cut through that fog and distortion—you need the works of Bob Avakian, and the method and approach that he’s developed, and you need this paper every week hot on the heels of world developments.
Lenin said that people will always be the foolish victims of deception and self-deception until they take up this science of revolution. He said that people will constantly strive to come under the wing of one or another savior that the rulers send us, or seek one or another short-cut, in large part because they do not understand the root cause of the problem. He said the ONLY way to deal with that is to give people a scientific understanding of every major event in society and he stressed the importance of a newspaper as the vehicle for that. Well, Lenin was right and he built a revolutionary movement on that basis, and that movement went on to seize power—and we should learn from and carry forward that experience.
How can a newspaper play this role? Good question. It does it by giving masses of people the means to think and act together around major political events in society toward an objective they can more and more clearly identify as a radical alternative—toward revolution and communism. It does it by providing a means of organization—like the scaffolding you see at a construction site, out of which a skyscraper will be built—for the building of a revolutionary movement right now. It does it by providing a real way to prepare growing numbers of people for revolution—and an ongoing means to stretch out, reach, and begin to influence a lot of others whose eyes get opened by events.
Take this paper and most definitely read it—in fact, study it—but do more than that. Wield it. Take 50 copies and when you leave here go sell 20 right away, and then go win over four other people to get out 5 or 10, and then get down to one of our bookstores and get more. Build networks by getting to people week after week—networks that learn how to think and act together. Pull people together at a McDonald’s or a Starbucks every week to talk about what you run into when you take this paper out—cuz you’ll run into a lot—and talk about how to understand what people are raising and how to speak to it, and learn how to debate them and win them closer to the revolutionary cause. Write into this paper and tell the paper what you’re learning and what’s going on. And help the paper sharpen itself as a revolutionary tool.
Get this paper out broadly to influence people in their thousands today and their millions tomorrow. Get this paper out deep down among the most exploited and oppressed in society, the most solid base for revolution, and get it out way broadly into every section of society besides—because that’s what our revolution is about, and because we’re going to have to win over many, many people, way beyond the most oppressed, to make a revolution in this society. Get people all over into this paper, and grappling with the big questions of how to make revolution and how to keep on making it once power has been seized. Build networks of readers that form a backbone of revolutionary organization. No, the situation now is not one where the struggle for power is on the agenda. But this kind of work actually IS revolution, in the sense that it all constitutes building a revolutionary movement—politically preparing the ground for an actual revolutionary struggle for power, when there is a major qualitative change and the emergence of an objective revolutionary situation and of a revolutionary people numbering in the millions and millions.
As part of that, and to get going in all that, sign up with people at this event to take the special issue of the paper on the oppression of Black people out very broadly this next week and month. Think what it can mean to get out something that really lays bare this question to people, and points the road forward. Be part of jumping the revolutionary movement up to a whole other level, right away. Events today underscore both that there are millions right now who could be open to a revolutionary message—and millions who are getting drawn at the same time into all kinds of damaging false paths and dead ends. There is no time to lose in preparing minds and organizing forces for when the all-out struggle does come onto the agenda, whenever that may be.
And be clear on this: this paper is not something to do instead of taking on the oppressors; no, this paper is essential to fighting the power right now, to filling people with an irresistible desire to resist. And that’s important. If the people are not mobilized to carry out mass political resistance today, they will not be able to carry out any larger struggle in the future. Look, the day should be long past when these enforcers can just roll into an oppressed community and taser someone to death and get away with it. And getting this paper out consistently and broadly is essential to creating the kind of atmosphere where people won’t stand for that. The MORE that you show people that this oppression is not only brutal but unnecessary...that this is not something that people brought on themselves but something imposed on the people by this system...and that there is a better system and a better society possible...the MORE you do that, the MORE that people will resist, and the more that resistance will feed into building a revolutionary movement. Fighting the power is very much part of what this paper is and has to be about, and very much what every comrade in this party is about.
And let’s look at the youth today. People wonder how revolution could happen when so many of the youth are into so much bad shit. Well, first of all, let’s not blame the youth for the situation that this system put them in. The kind of carping that people like Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton and, yes, Barack Obama do against these youth is as vicious as it is hypocritical and worthless. The system has no future for the youth—but the revolution does! We understand the desire for liberation buried underneath all the bad shit so many of the youth get caught up in.
But we also understand you have to challenge these youth. You have to challenge them to fight the power, in ways that are meaningful and tap into the anger they feel, and you have to challenge them to change themselves—to get out of that “gangsta” mindset, or its twin brother of slavish religion, and to get into being emancipators of humanity.
Now a revolution requires a united front of many millions of people, and of many different kinds of people from all different sections of society. For reasons that I can speak to later, or which you can dig into in our literature, the revolution has to be led by the proletariat. It has to be led by that class which can, by virtue of the role it plays in production, be the backbone of a whole different kind of society and whose members live in conditions that most impel them toward radical change and revolution, once they see the possibility.
But the revolution has to reach out far more broadly than that. First, and most fundamentally, because of what this revolution is all about: which is emancipating all of humanity. It’s not the “property,” so to speak, of the people at the base of society, and it’s not just for them to get a better shake. It’s not “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” It’s about really radically and fundamentally transforming all of society in every sphere and emancipating all of humanity, from all oppressive relations.
Second, you need a broad united front under the leadership of the proletariat because a revolution could not win if it confined its efforts to the most solid base for revolution. If somehow a revolutionary struggle for power did take place on that basis, the revolutionary forces would get hemmed in and isolated and easily shattered.
Right now, the revolutionary movement needs to maximize the radical ferment and resistance and revolutionary currents among people from the middle class sections of society. And it needs to unite people all throughout society to struggle against the main ways in which the exploitative and oppressive nature of this system gets concentrated in the policies and actions of the ruling class at any time. On the one hand, these struggles can serve to reveal the essential illegitimacy of this system to millions; on the other, such struggles must be part of actually defeating, or doing all we can to defeat, their attempts to drive people down further, or divide them up, and put them in an even worse position from which to raise their heads. And all from the point of view of making revolution.
Now there’s a whole lot more to get into on these questions of strategy—and there’s a whole lot more we need to learn. And everyone has a role to play in that, a contribution to make, not just to the doing but to the learning as well. But here too we can look at the Party’s orientation of hastening while awaiting a revolutionary situation, and at its two mainstays and its strategy of united front under the leadership of the proletariat, and we can answer that question of “IS there a strategy and a method for revolution?” by emphatically saying YES, THERE IS.
So this leads to the final question: is there a group that is organized on the basis of that strategy and method, is working for such a revolution, and could lead that revolution when the time is ripe?
Everything we’ve covered today should have given you a sense that revolution is necessary, revolution is possible, and there is an actual strategy and method to making that revolution. And you should also have a sense that there is a vision and a solid understanding of how that revolutionary power could be wielded to bring into being a far better society. But that theoretical understanding came from somewhere, and in order for it to “go somewhere” there needs to be an instrument in order to actually apply that understanding to transform reality.
Put it this way: the people need a revolution, and we need a revolutionary movement now...and we need a growing revolutionary party at the core of that movement. It is this basic: you will never have a revolutionary movement that is really aiming and building for revolution and able to traverse the twists and turns...and knowing what to do once it makes revolution...if you do not have a revolutionary communist vanguard at the core of it. And, guess what? We DO have one—the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA—and it needs to grow.
This Party has been out there and will be out there, in the storms, working to bring forward a revolutionary people. This Party will be straining at the limits of the situation: shaping it to the greatest possible extent, drawing people into the revolutionary movement and building up the ranks of the party itself, in waves, preparing the ground politically for when the time is ripe. Meanwhile, as this system gets into deeper turmoil, as the rulers increasingly run into difficulties and even defeats and begin to fight among themselves, as the people become more restless and dissatisfied and angry and desperate, raising their heads and looking urgently for a way out, as the Party moves to put forward its revolutionary program and marshal people to actually struggle for power...at that time, whenever it may come, everything will turn on how strongly the Party has been built, how deeply its roots have been dug and how broadly its reach can extend. At that time, what each individual has done with her or his life—and what each of you in the audience decide to do from this day forward—will count for a great deal, and will in part determine whether the Party will be strong enough, in every respect, to lead the revolutionary people to actually win liberation.
To everyone here: get with this Party. Come to its aid. If you’re just learning about it, learn more and work with it. If you’re working with it, work more closely. Sell its paper and contribute funds to this paper’s growth. Get involved in this Party’s forums and meetings. Wrangle with it. Join a Revolution Club. Stand with the Party as it leads the masses in political resistance and when it struggles with those same masses to lift their heads and change their outlook. Learn about the science of revolution, including the body of work, and method and approach of its leader, Bob Avakian. Support it, defend it, draw closer to it and, when and if you become convinced that you are ready to dedicate your life to revolution, join this Party.
To revisit the questions that brought you to this program on this day:
Do we need a revolution and a radically different society? YES, WE DO.
Is revolution really possible in a country like the U.S.? YES, IT IS.
Is there actually a strategy and method for approaching how to make such a revolution? YES, THERE IS.
And, finally, is there a group that is organized on the basis of that strategy and method, is working for such a revolution, and could lead that revolution when the time is right?
THERE IS SUCH A PARTY!
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