Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
A Reflection on the Statement on Strategy
I recently participated in a discussion of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian and then in a day-long discussion of the RCP’s statement “On the Strategy for Revolution” (which is also part of BAsics). The discussions provoked me to share a few thoughts.
In the discussion of BAsics one of the people wanted to get deeply into the supplement to the chapter on revolutionary responsibility and leadership. This supplement is titled “The Revolutionary Potential of the Masses and the Responsibility of the Vanguard.” And this person raised a sharp question—why are the masses not rising up; and why has this situation gone on, with very few exceptions, for so long?
This is a very important question; it weighs on everybody who comes forward, and it weighs on revolutionaries as well. There are reasons for this—reasons that BA has gone deeply into in different talks during the past few decades. Grasping these reasons can give us a deeper understanding of the problems we’re dealing with, and some of what we have to do. Some of those reasons include:
• the profound defeats suffered by the revolutionary movement after the high tides of the 1960s, worldwide as well as within the U.S., and the relentless ways that the bourgeoisie has hammered on those defeats to spread its own summation that revolution cannot and will not work;
• the changes in the U.S. economy and the class makeup of the U.S. These changes include the greatly heightened parasitism of the U.S. economy and the ways that has affected the middle strata. Those changes also include the “de-industrialization” of the U.S., and the system’s program of pervasive criminalization of huge sections of the Black, and Latino, masses. And there is also, going along with those developments, the deeper gulf between these two sections of the people (that is, the basic masses and the middle strata), and the feelings of isolation that gives rise to in those “for whom this system is a horror” every day.
• the emergence of the “two outmodeds”: the dynamic in which U.S. imperialism and bourgeois democracy, on the one hand, and Islamic fundamentalism, on the other, are presented to people as the only living alternatives, or the main alternatives, in the world;
• the “pyramid of power” in the U.S. itself, where the masses are confined within the straitjacket confines and terms of Republican-Democrat politics.
And there are other reasons besides. All of these are very important to dig deeply into, to keep working on understanding—as part of our orientation, as BA says in this supplement, of “working on all the things that are in between that revolutionary potential [of the masses] and its actual realization.” In fact, this supplement by Bob Avakian is critically important to staying on the revolutionary road for real. This supplement leads us to scientifically confront how the masses do in fact “have real limitations and shortcomings, as a result of living and struggling to survive under this system,” while grasping deeply that “that doesn’t mean they are not capable of overcoming all this.” To go on with the quote from that supplement:
...And it doesn’t mean that they [the masses of people] have not accumulated a great deal of experience and knowledge and wisdom of many kinds, which can contribute to the development of the revolutionary struggle, especially as this is taken up by people wielding a scientific communist outlook and method and spreading this among the masses of people. We should understand, on a scientific basis, that these masses are fully capable of becoming conscious communist revolutionaries...
It is the responsibility of those who are the vanguard to lead the masses to realize this potential, to become a revolutionary people and, when the time becomes ripe, to be the backbone of a revolution that will open up the way to a whole better world. And, yes, that means struggling with the masses to, first of all, recognize their own revolutionary potential, their potential to become emancipators of humanity, and then to act in accordance with that potential.
All this—especially the need for the vanguard to struggle with the masses, and to not tail behind them, even as the vanguard learns from them—is extremely important. I thought about this quite a bit overnight, before the discussion the next day which focused on the actual strategy to move millions to make revolution. How do we work on those things that “are in between that revolutionary potential and its actual realization”?
As I thought about this overnight, it occurred to me that you have to identify and pose the question correctly. Right now, we are not directly facing the question of how do we move millions to act, in the current situation, to make revolution; nor is it our task to somehow generate, from our own efforts, an upsurge or rebellion on the scale of the 1960s. The statement on strategy fully recognizes the non-revolutionary state of things today. But it makes the point that the nature of the system itself “causes great suffering. And at times it leads to crisis on one level or another—sudden jolts and breakdowns in the ‘normal functioning’ of society, which compel many people to question and to resist what they usually accept.”
But that’s not the end of the story—it’s really the stepping off point. We can’t just wait for some crisis somewhere down the line to somehow “deliver the people.” That won’t happen. Instead, the statement gets into how revolutionaries need to work today to prepare for those situations so that “leaps are made in building up the movement and the organized forces for revolution, creating in this way a stronger basis from which to work for further advances” (even while it points out that nobody can say for certain that one of those crises won’t develop into something where “for great numbers of people, the ‘legitimacy’ of the current system, and the right and ability of the ruling powers to keep on ruling, can be called seriously and directly into question, with millions hungering for a radical change that only a revolution can bring about”). It lays out, very concisely but very richly, the key things we need to be doing today to hasten and prepare for such times when people are questioning and resisting what they usually accept. There is the whole rich paragraph on what is involved in “fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution”; the discussion of the need to win people to support and strengthen the Party; the need to learn from Bob Avakian, “spread the knowledge and influence of his pathbreaking leadership, and defend and protect this rare and precious leader”; and the points on the need to wield Revolution newspaper, including as “the key instrument in developing an organized political network.” All of these, and more, are crucial in the strategy statement’s orientation of hastening while awaiting the changes that make revolution possible.
At the same time, the statement gives us a way to measure progress in this work of hastening while awaiting from today forward. Right now all our work needs to involve and result in bringing forward and orienting, organizing and training “thousands...in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation...and then, when there is a revolutionary situation, those thousands can be a backbone and pivotal force in winning millions to revolution and organizing them in the struggle to carry the revolution through.”
This question of bringing forward and orienting, organizing and training thousands—this is very critical. In wrangling with this, I thought of an analogy which, while it has real limitations, could perhaps shed light on this. A few weeks ago, I was riding in a car with some people and we had a flat tire. We didn’t try to directly lift the car off the ground and hold this several-ton car in the air with our bare hands while someone went about changing the tire. Instead, we took the jack out of the trunk and paid attention to correctly positioning it under the car. Then we worked the jack to lift the car off the ground and hold it there while we changed the tire. The jack itself was not very big, just a few pounds at most; but it was well-constructed and solid, and the whole process we were doing was based on science (in this case, the science of physics).
To drop the metaphor for a minute, we are not right now trying to move millions to carry the revolution through. We are trying to reach and influence those millions—but we are doing that largely through bringing forward thousands to do that. This is the movement for revolution that we are building—and this is a movement that has to be able, when the time is right, to actually do what is said in the statement: win millions to revolution and organize them in the struggle to carry it through. The thousands we are bringing forward, orienting, organizing and training today need to learn, through this process of trying to reach and influence millions even now, how to do that for the future—even as they are being led to influence how that future will shape up.
This movement for revolution is like the jack—it is like a lever that can move all of society, in the right conditions. But this movement at this point is not sufficiently strong to do what is said in the strategy statement. We do not yet have thousands who have been “brought forward and oriented, organized and trained in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation.” This we must do, and we must do it now.
Now all analogies have limitations. To begin with, people (individually or in their masses) are not inanimate objects like cars, movements are not machines, and revolutions are not simple mechanical processes! And there has been a very negative history in the communist movement of falling into thinking that is not too far from such mechanical materialist approaches to changing the world. So we have to be careful in not letting metaphors or analogies run away with our thinking. But perhaps if we take note of those limitations, this analogy can help us grasp the problem, and the task, before us—as they are very profoundly and dynamically laid out in the party’s statement on strategy itself!
It relates to a question raised in the second discussion I’m writing about, the one that focused on the statement on strategy. How do we know, one person asked, that we are making progress? How do we measure it? It is precisely this yardstick—to what extent are we bringing forward those thousands, how well are we orienting them, how tightly (yet flexibly) are we organizing them, how thoroughly are we training them, and how good are we doing at doing all that in the process of beginning to reach and influence millions—that we should be using to measure our progress. Of course, this has its particular parts—we should be able to see this in a growing number of people getting into BA, more people in an organized relationship to the Party and its newspaper, and a growing sense of a collective “we” that is thinking and acting in a revolutionary way. But it is that overall goal, the state of the whole movement, that should be the context for these measurements and the ground of our thinking in everything we are doing (and not just how is the particular project I’m involved in doing at that).
Our newspaper should be a way that people get enough information so that everybody who feels that they are part of this movement for revolution can be part of measuring this. It should enable people to analyze whether we are doing all we can to hasten the development of a revolutionary situation and to prepare for such a situation. Those who follow our paper should get a deepening sense of whether and how well the movement for revolution is influencing people now so that revolution is “circulating in their minds” and so that they have a sense of the leadership of that revolution. It should give a sense of whether these “thousands” are being brought forward, and getting oriented, organized and trained in a revolutionary way. It should be a place where people contribute their observations and insights on this, and their ideas on how to do better. And the movement for revolution itself must measure up to the vision of the very last paragraph of the statement—a movement in which there truly is “a place and a role, a need and a means, for thousands now and ultimately millions to contribute to building this movement for revolution, in many different ways, big and small—with ideas and with practical involvement, with support, and with questions and criticisms.”
Now the strategy statement is a very rich document; there are new layers of meaning that should emerge every time you read it or discuss it. It is concise and clear, but every word and phrase counts. At the same time, this statement concentrates a body of work by BA on this question that is rich, wide-ranging and full of texture. This point on bringing forward thousands today to reach and influence millions—in preparation for the emergence of a revolutionary situation in which those millions are won to and organized to carry the revolution through—is one (critical) part of a sweeping document and has to be seen in that context. This is a statement that should be wrangled with in all its dimensions, paying careful attention to what is said and how it is said and using it as a springboard to get more deeply into the whole body of work from which it came.
With all that in mind, this vision at the end of the statement is a very palpable goal. Again, we should not be mechanical—we should not reduce everything to that one very important aspect of things. Nor should we think that this process will go forward in a straight line without twists and turns and setbacks. But we should, on the other hand, use the strategy statement as a whole—including this very important part of it—to critically measure our progress and build the movement for revolution that can actually fulfill the great historic need that lies before it.
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