Getting Over the Two Great Humps:
Further Thoughts on Conquering the World
Revolutionary Worker #968, August 9, 1998
This article is excerpted from a new work by Bob Avakian called "Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World." This work deals with strategic problems of the world revolution--getting over the hump of seizing power in different countries and getting over the hump in terms of defeating the imperialist system on a world scale. Other excerpts from this work will appear in future issues of the Revolutionary Worker/Obrero Revolucionario.
Recently, I went back and re-read the writings of George Jackson, especially Blood in My Eye, which I found very interesting and full of a lot of insights on the question of how to make revolution in a country like the U.S.--even though, ultimately, I found I had to reject George Jackson's basic approach as a strategy for revolution. But I didn't start re-reading his writings with the orientation that I disagreed with them. Based on a previous reading of his work (as well as my general understanding of the theory and practice of revolution), I thought that his basic strategic orientation had to be rejected, but I consciously approached the re-reading of his writings by "suspending" my previously-held conclusions on this. I said to myself, "I am going to read this as if I've never seen his writings--I am going to look at his line and see, in light of my basic understanding of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM), does his line make sense after all." I had to end up concluding, once again, that we should reject his line, as a strategic approach. But along the way there are a lot of real things--very important contradictions--that he is grappling with, and there are some real insights in the way he is grappling with them, even though ultimately I think the line has to be rejected as a strategic orientation.
Now, it is important to note that by the time George Jackson wrote the letters and other writings that went into Blood in My Eye, he considered himself a communist and insisted on being considered a communist. He specifically said I am a communist--I am not a "communalist," I am a communist.
It is very interesting--he did have elements of the view that African society sort of naturally lends itself to communism, to collectivism and cooperation, but he didn't want to be considered a "communalist." He wanted to be considered a scientific communist. That is very interesting and very positive: he openly promoted communism and was not the least bit apologetic or defensive about it. That is very striking in re-reading these writings.
At the same time, his view of communism was somewhat of an eclectic mix of genuine communism--as represented by his continual references to Mao Tsetung and his attempts to apply important aspects of (what we then called) Mao Tsetung Thought. But it was an eclectic mix of genuine communism on the one hand with aspects of revolutionary nationalism and in fact revisionist influences (via people like Angela Davis, who had a significant influence on George Jackson, among others). But, despite that, there is still much that we can learn from his writings--through applying a consistently communist, that is an MLM, method and approach.
The following from Blood in My Eye goes very much to the heart of the contradictions involved in building the revolutionary movement among those whose conditions most cry out for revolution, and among the basic youth in particular:
"To the slave, revolution is an imperative, a love-inspired, conscious act of desperation. It's aggressive. It isn't `cool' or cautious. It's bold, audacious, violent, an expression of icy, disdainful hatred! It can hardly be any other way without raising a fundamental contradiction. If revolution, and especially revolution in Amerika, is anything less than an effective defense/attack weapon and a charger for the people to mount now, it is meaningless to the great majority of the slaves. If revolution is tied to dependence on the inscrutabilities of `long-range politics,' it cannot be made relevant to the person who expects to die tomorrow." (pp. 9-10)
I think that in this statement George Jackson manages to capture and concentrate a lot of the intense contradictions of our road--our path to revolution--and of everything we are trying to do.
Let's talk about what there is to agree with in the basic orientation expressed in this statement, what do we have to disagree with, and what synthesis can we come up with in relation to what it raises. It is important to note here that, to a large degree, what George Jackson is polemicizing against, in this passage and repeatedly throughout Blood in My Eye, is the "gradualist" line of the revisionists. Even though, ironically, he was significantly influenced by the revisionists, the fact that he was polemicizing against the revisionist line and outlook is a reflection of the fact that the only two real alternatives he saw were the line he put forward (as reflected in the statement cited above) and the revisionist line of slow gradual evolutionism.
The fact that he saw these as the only two alternatives is a reflection of, on the one hand, the eclecticism in his own thinking and, on the other hand, some real lacunae, some real gaps in his own thinking. Even though he read Mao Tsetung--in terms of actually finding a way through the difficult contradictions of making revolution in a country like the U.S. and not getting drawn into either "left adventurism" or openly rightist, revisionist lines (the opposite dangers of Charybdis and Scylla* as they pose themselves in the revolutionary process in a country like the U.S.) George Jackson didn't find the right synthesis. He didn't find the right synthesis that would reject the revisionist line, but reject it on a correct basis, and avoid falling into a line--which ultimately couldn't be maintained--that would lead to getting onto a war footing with the imperialists, under conditions where that could only lead to the revolutionary forces being smashed and defeated politically as well as militarily.
He was grappling with the contradictions in some very important ways--and, again, I am not saying this mainly to negate what he did or to cast him mainly in a negative light. I think that, particularly for the time (almost 30 years ago now), his was very advanced thinking and in particular very advanced grappling with the contradictions that continually re-assert themselves in terms of making revolution in a country like the U.S.
We have to persevere and make breakthroughs in coming up with the necessary synthesis, in line and in practice, particularly in terms of what revolution is, what it aims for, what kind of revolution is needed, how such a revolution can actually be made, and what is the relation between how the revolution is fought and what it is fighting for. (This is once again the question of "winning...and winning"--winning in the more immediate sense of overthrowing the system and how this relates to winning the prize in the fullest sense--moving to seize power and doing that, carrying forward the revolutionary process as a whole, in a way that is consistent with and advances things toward the final aim of communism, worldwide).
In this regard we can agree and also have to disagree with certain aspects of the first part of what George Jackson says in the statement cited above here. He says, "To the slave, revolution is an imperative, a love-inspired, conscious act." Overwhelmingly, we agree with that.
It is an act "of desperation." Well, yes, there is definitely an element of desperation, it is true, but it cannot be essentially that. Revolution should not be principally an act of desperation, even though if it doesn't contain an element of desperation, it won't be revolution. There is not going to be any revolution or revolutionary sentiments that don't contain an element of desperation. If there is no desperation there is no revolution, to put it simply. But here we have another unity of opposites: Revolution inevitably will have and must have an element of desperation, but on the other hand it cannot be essentially defined as an act of desperation.
Revolution "is aggressive." Yes. "It isn't cool or cautious." Yes, and no. Essentially, in the principal aspect, that is correct. Revolution isn't cool or cautious, though there does have to be an element of what he means by "cool and cautious," in the sense that it has to be scientific. But essentially he is correct here, it isn't cool or cautious.
"It's bold, audacious, violent..." Yes. That goes along with Mao Tsetung's point, which I am sure George Jackson was very conscious of, that revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or doing embroidery, and so on and so forth. It can't be so courteous, refined etc. It is an act of violence by which one class overthrows another. So, yes, it is bold and audacious and it is violent.
What about the next part?--it is "an expression of icy, disdainful hatred!" Again--yes, and no. It definitely must have--any real revolution will have--an element of icy disdainful hatred, but it cannot be principally that. It also has to be more than that--and he says this himself, in speaking of how it is "love inspired." But beyond that, it has to be guided by and essentially infused with higher objectives than simply revenge. Revolution can't be, in its essential ideological content, "icy disdainful hatred," even though it cannot do without icy disdainful hatred. So that's another unity of opposites.
Again, I think the correct synthesis on these ideological points does contain elements of what he says, but is more fully represented by what I wrote toward the end of For a Harvest of Dragons.** There it speaks of meeting and defeating the enemy on the battlefield amidst terrible destruction, but in the process not annihilating the fundamental and essential difference between us and the enemy. And then the end of that passage speaks to what are after all the loftier aims, objectives and character of what this is all about, when it points to the need to "maintain our firmness of principle and our flexibility; our materialism and our dialectics; our realism and our romanticism; our solemn sense of purpose and our sense of humor."
And, again, what's posed in all of this is how to correctly deal with the contradiction between the present situation and the strategic objective of revolution, the seizure of power as the first great leap in revolution,--the contradiction we sometimes formulate as between today and tomorrow. In essential terms, the problem is: how to build a revolutionary movement among crucial sections of the basic masses, and among broader sections of people, in the overall conditions of U.S. society, and do this in accordance with the strategy, along the strategic road, that can lead to actually waging, and winning, the revolutionary war to overthrow this system and establish socialism as part of the worldwide advance toward communism.
Let's go back to George Jackson's basic approach to these contradictions. To put it simply, what was his basic strategy?
In a certain sense, given the emphasis that he placed on the importance of the military element (which is sort of encapsulated in that passage from Blood in My Eye cited above), it was surprising--and it struck me as surprising at the time--that, when there was a split in the Black Panther Party, George Jackson ended up going with the Huey side and not the Eldridge side. I always wondered why that was, and in re-reading Blood in My Eye different elements of the answer come through. It is answered very directly where he recalls how he wrote Eldridge a letter telling Eldridge why he rejected his line (at the time Eldridge Cleaver's line was for urban guerrilla warfare) and why what Eldridge was attempting to do would lead to being smashed. And what George Jackson says is that to simply engage in military activity without a political component to it would lead to being isolated and smashed.
So what he came up with instead was what I would characterize as trying to give the best interpretation to Huey's line--the line of "serving the needs of the people," which was characterized at one point by Huey as "survival pending revolution." And the way that George Jackson gave this a more revolutionary interpretation was by coming up with a line of trying to combine the military and the political, or using the military aspect in conjunction with serving the needs of the people. Increasingly and essentially, under the leadership of Huey P. Newton, "serving the needs of the people" became sort of a "social service" approach. But George Jackson tried to give this a different interpretation, make it part of a different approach.
Basically, his approach was one of establishing, as he saw it, a sort of "model" in the inner cities--what he referred to sometimes as a "Black commune" in the inner cities. He envisioned that the needs of the people would be met in things like the "breakfast for children" program and other ways; and these programs would inevitably come under attack by the authorities the more that they were actually meeting the needs of the people; and then various forms of military activity would be used both to defend these programs and to strike blows at the other side to get them to back off from attacking these programs and to back off from attacking the vanguard forces that were leading these programs.
So it was sort of a combination of political work and a military element that was objectively largely defensive but, as he saw it, would have tactically offensive military actions within it. And this would become an increasing pole of attraction for broader sections of basic masses and even more broadly in the society, and through this somehow at some point it would be possible to move from the overall defensive to an overall offensive position.
I'm trying to boil this down to its essence. If you read through Blood in My Eye, this is more or less the essence of what he is coming up with. It is his attempt to find a way to deal with this contradiction that is very sharply expressed in Blood in my Eye: how to find a way to involve NOW, a lot of the youth who do not expect to live very long (and this, of course, has become much more acute since the time George Jackson wrote this). He is searching for a way to involve these youth now in various forms of activity while also being able to involve broader masses of people and be able to set up a model, an attractive force, to win over broader layers of society and eventually be able to go over to the offensive, to overthrow the system. It isn't at all clear in his strategy how you were going to be able to go over to the offensive, and that's largely because this isn't a strategy that would enable you to do that, but he was trying to think through these contradictions.
Now this model, this road he was putting forward, is not one which can in fact lead to revolution, to overthrowing the capitalist system. But, again, there is much to learn from the way he poses the contradictions--and in particular the very acute point that if revolution is some sort of off in the distant future type of thing it can have no meaning to someone who expects to die tomorrow. While ultimately George Jackson's attempt to resolve this acute and profound contradiction is wrong and has to be rejected, the fact that he is grappling with this and even the ways he grapples with it contain important things that we can and must learn from. Another way of saying this is that if this line should ultimately be rejected, because it is not a line and road that can lead to victory, it should not be one-sidedly rejected or negated.
George Jackson was grappling with some decisive contradictions. And although his "resolution" does not represent the correct synthesis--and although, in addition, there have been, over the last 25 or so years, some significant changes in the conditions and mode of life of many of the masses that he seeks to rely on and mobilize--there are important things that can be learned and must be learned from George Jackson's writings on these questions. Overall, there is much to be done--in the realm of theory and of practice, and in the dialectical back-and-forth between the two--proceeding on the basis of the line our Party has forged so far and continually enriching it through this dialectical back-and-forth. And this overall process should include critically assimilating important aspects of the contributions of George Jackson and his thinking on these decisive questions.
* In "Getting Over the Two Great Humps" Bob Avakian discusses the challenge for revolutionaries of avoiding two dangers in the revolutionary process--"settling in" during periods of revolutionary preparations or getting prematurely drawn onto a war footing. In talking about these dangers he uses the metaphor of "Charybdis and Scylla." "Charybdis and Scylla" were a pair of monsters in Greek and Roman mythology. In ancient myths they were two perilous hazards in a strait off the coast of Sicily: Scylla was a dangerous rock and Charybdis a dangerous whirlpool--which threatened to sink ships navigating their way through the strait. So we have "Charybdis and Scylla" along our road--and we have to steer our revolutionary course between these two hazards (avoiding both "settling in" and getting prematurely drawn onto a war footing).
** For a Harvest of Dragons: On the "Crisis of Marxism" and the Power of Marxism--Now More Than Ever was written by Chairman Bob Avakian in 1983 to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx. It can be purchased at Revolution Books stores and outlets or ordered from RCP Publications, P.O. Box 3486, Chicago, IL 60654 ($6.95 plus $1.50 shipping).