Revolutionary Worker #1164, August 25, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
The Revolutionary Worker is very excited to present to our readers this interview and exchange between Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Carl Dix, national spokesperson of the RCP.
In coming weeks, the many different subjects covered in this important and wide-ranging interview will be made available. This week is Part 9. In the future, the complete interview will also be published and made available online.
The transcript has been slightly edited for publication.
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In heavy times like these, the people require extraordinary things to help prepare them for the challenges we face. What follows is truly extraordinary, something that will help arm those who want to take on the U.S. rulers' juggernaut of war and repression with the kind of understanding they need to deal with these times -- the immediate challenges in front of us and a whole lot more involved in changing the world. The Revolutionary Worker is publishing an important interview with Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
I had the honor of doing this interview with him in early 2002. Going into it, I knew there were burning questions many people would've wanted to put to him if they had the chance. They had been putting those kinds of questions to me when I went out there around the Party's Draft Programme or got down with people around the "war without limits" the U.S. imperialist ruling class has unleashed on the world. I was going to have the responsibility, and the opportunity, to put these questions to him for them.
Doing this was intense. It was hard, and it was fun. I hadn't had a chance to get into it with Bob Avakian like this for quite a while. He was the same "fired man" (to borrow a term from Peter Tosh) who had provided crucial leadership for the revolutionary movement at key junctures so many times in the past. He was right on top of what was going down in the U.S. and around the world. And he had the same boundless enthusiasm to dig into world historic questions concerning the process of proletarian revolution. We spent several days doing the interview, getting into everything from the current situation to the role of religion to what sustains him as a veteran revolutionary leader. And then, when we finished our work, we went deep into the night talking about basketball, movies and more.
I hope those who read this interview get as much out of it, and enjoy it as much, as I did in the process of doing it.
Carl DixCarl Dix: OK. Let me circle back to this point about the dictatorship of the proletariat and the vanguard party--and the point you raised about revolution maybe not being considered desirable brought this back up. Because there's another angle from which people raise questions around that. They say: "OK, you say that we need a revolution and we need a vanguard party to lead that, and the vanguard leads people to triumph and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. And you draw from the experience of China and the Soviet Union, particularly around China but also around the Soviet Union, and you make the point that it's not that socialism failed but that it was overthrown--that forces within society, including within the communist party, were able to overthrow the rule of the proletariat. And the thing about that is, even if that's how it came about, where it ended up was people fought against an oppressive, exploitative society, threw it off, set up a different kind of society, but then that was overthrown and the result was people were back under exploitation and oppression." And particularly the fact that forces who led that overthrow were in the very party that was supposed to be the vanguard of the masses--does that speak to a "fatal flaw," so to speak, in this project of proletarian revolution? What would you say to that?
Bob Avakian: I think it is a reflection or an expression of two things--two really fundamental things that we're up against, and anyone is up against who really seeks to advance to a world where there is no more exploitation and oppression and wars and domination of one part of society or the world by another. And that is, one: revolutions don't happen throughout the world all simultaneously, unfortunately. It would be much better if that could happen. But the world doesn't go that way, there are not the same conditions in all countries at the same time and revolutionary situations and struggles don't emerge at the same time everywhere. So we're going to be making revolution bit by bit or part by part often--and generally country by country. So then a revolution that succeeds is going to come into being in a world, at least for a period of time, that's still dominated by oppressors and exploiters and in particular by imperialist powers. That was the experience of the Soviet Union and China and that sets certain very definite conditions. It doesn't mean we can't succeed, but it means that these are real powerful obstacles that have to be confronted and dealt with.
And along with that, and what interconnects with it and interrelates with it, is the fact that upon seizing power--even though some things have changed radically, including the thinking of the people to a certain degree, as well as relations among people--we don't at one fell swoop, just by knocking down the old system, get rid of all the old inequalities, all the leftovers and vestiges of the old system which have been deeply rooted either in the economic relations or in the social relations, for example between men and women, in the political institutions and structures, or in the thinking of the people and the culture. All these things remain largely to be transformed after you've taken the first great step of seizing power.
So these two obstacles both pose themselves especially at this stage, this early stage, historically speaking, of the proletarian revolution, and it's these things that a party, a vanguard that's leading the masses in revolution, has to confront. And these things have their influence on the party itself, and that influence has to be dealt with. So I think it would be good to explore those further rather than the notion that there's something inherent in the nature of the vanguard party that leads to it becoming an oppressive institution. That may superficially appear to be what's happening or the reality but it's not the essence of it, and it doesn't really get to the deeper roots of it.
CD: Ok, well then let's explore that then--let's talk about the situation of seizing power but still being confronted with a lot of the inequalities and a lot of the backward thinking left over from the old society, and what that means for the process of transforming all of society and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
BA: Well it does tie in with, and in some ways become concentrated around, the question of the party, too. Because these very contradictions mean that you can't do away with vanguard leadership, because they underlie and give rise to differences in the level of political understanding of different sections of society.
The vanguard by definition is going to be made up of those people drawn from the proletariat but also other classes who, for whatever combination of reasons, have been able to become more actively involved in the revolutionary struggle, and also have been able more to take up the theory. Because, as Lenin said--and it's profoundly brought out by reality, over and over again--without a revolutionary theory, there can't be a revolutionary movement. We're gonna have an objective difference between leadership and led.
And this has to do with the contradiction that I was talking about between mental and manual labor and the fact that for the most part, right up until the revolution, the masses of people, particularly the working people who carry out manual labor, are shut out of these intellectual spheres, and do not have the freedom and the opportunity to really enter into and engage in them. And one of the big tasks is actually to break down that division, and break down those barriers, in socialist society. But especially in the early stages, you have to deal with the fact that you need all these kinds of intellectual labor in order to build a new society, in order to develop the economy, in order to carry out and to deal with things like medicine and health care, in order to build up a basis for defending the revolution against those overthrown classes and imperialists who want to attack it, and defeat it. So, for all these reasons--and plus there are spheres that humanity needs to explore and learn more about, like science and things like that--so, you can't and don't want to do away with these various spheres of intellectual labor, but you've got a contradiction that only a small number of people, relatively speaking, have been trained in the old society to deal with things. How are you going to overcome that difference?
This is going to get reflected in the fact that the party is by definition made up of people who are more politically developed, more politically advanced, have had more opportunity to grapple with questions of ideological and political line and program. That's an objective difference that exists, and if you just try to level all those differences immediately, you're just going to create chaos in the society, and you're actually going to undermine being able to transform the society and break down those divisions, because you're not going to be able to even meet the material needs of the people, their basic survival needs. You're not going to be able to have a functioning economy that can produce food and clothing and medicine and other basic necessities for the people, and you're not going to be able to defend your revolution against enemies who are still very real and very powerful in the world and even within your own society. So you can't just wipe all those differences out with one stroke. If you could, then you could do away with the party right at that point--but you can't. Those are deeply rooted differences that have to be overcome step by step through the advance of the revolution. At certain points you can make leaps in that, but you can't do it all in one giant leap.
CD: Ok, well how does this relate to the other dimension that you raise, and that's the international one, and the fact that historically and in the immediate period ahead the proletariat is going to be coming to power in a situation where most of the rest of the world remains under the control of the imperialists?
BA: Well these two things are interconnected, because...all the countries of the world that are under imperialist rule and domination are imbedded in a whole international network of imperialist relations of exploitation and oppression. One of the key tasks you have...once you've overthrown the old society, is to rupture your old society out of those old relations, and to develop an economy which is essentially self-reliant, and in its international relations is able to deal with the larger world, including some aspects of trade and international relations, but is able to do so on a basis that doesn't fundamentally compromise the advance of the revolution within the new socialist country, and which doesn't also compromise its position of support for and actively aiding revolutionary struggles throughout the world.
This is one big challenge, and obviously this is interconnected with the leftover inequalities and remaining social and class divisions that you have in the socialist society....You have to try to advance on both these fronts in terms of being able to rupture your country out of the grip of imperialist relations, and to forge new international relations that are consistent with your revolutionary goals and aims and the revolutionary nature of the society that you're setting out to build, and you also have to overcome the inequalities within the country. On the negative side, these leftover inequalities mean that there are some forces in society who occupy more privileged positions, and when the pressure comes from the imperialists--particularly when the pressure comes from the imperialist encirclement--these forces are more likely to seek out ways other than, or be drawn toward solutions other than, continuing the socialist revolution to deal with the very real problems.
And then, as I said, these contradictions--both the international ones and the contradiction of leftover inequalities within the socialist country--get expressed, and in some ways are expressed in a concentrated way, within the party itself. Because a party is where the question of how to deal with these contradictions is going to get focussed. I mean the party--as the vanguard of the revolution and not as a substitute for the masses--has to take these questions out broadly to the masses, and to mobilize the masses to take up these questions, through a series of mass campaigns and wave after wave over a period of time. But at any given time, as long as there's a need for a party, along the lines that I was speaking to earlier, these questions are going to get particularly sharply focussed within the party. In other words, it's not just that some people say, "let's become the new dictatorship," you know, or "let's institute rules and regulations and work that amount to exploiting the workers, pretty much along the old lines." It's not that they just willfully do that--maybe there are some people that fall into that, get power hungry or whatever, but they would never be able to get much of a hearing and get a following if it weren't for the fact that you're confronted with very real contradictions.
How do you deal with the threat of imperialist attack? This means you have to have an army. There are contradictions involved in having an army. If you don't have an army you'll be a sitting duck, and you'll be wiped out by imperialists more or less immediately. But if you have an army, that means an army that by definition is a standing body of armed people whose profession is preparing for and when necessary waging war. That means that they specialize in warfare, in effect. That means that they are the ones where the knowledge about war and the organization to wage war and the weaponry to wage war is concentrated. So, there's a potential for that army to become a standing army over and above the population, to become separated from it and in fact to be mobilized to suppress the people.
These are all very real contradictions. But you can't just get away from them by wishing them away. Within the party there's gonna be big struggle. What kind of army should we have? Should we have an army like the imperialists because that is more efficient? Should we rely on technology, should we have the hierarchy of rank that's characteristic of imperialist armies? Should we separate the army from the masses and have it isolated from them politically as well as specializing in the business of waging warfare, or preparing for warfare? These are all very real questions. Or do we want a people's army, one that's more integrated with the masses of people, that relies on the masses of people, that fights in a way that brings forward the masses of people as a backbone of defense against imperialist attack, or things like that?
These questions are going to be fought out within the party. And it's going to be in the party especially, because there's not only the contradiction of leadership and led that's going to exist for awhile, whether anybody wants it to or not, between the masses broadly and the party as the vanguard; even within the party there are people who are more advanced and less advanced, more experienced and less experienced, and so there's a leadership and a led even within the party.
So it's not only within the party in general, but particularly in its top ranks, that these questions are going to get battled out. And it's in confronting and trying to deal with these very real and profound, world-historical problems of how to actually advance the revolution and beat back the attacks of the imperialists and counter-revolutionaries within the country who are still left over from the old society and still seeking to reorganize and seeking out links with the imperialists and with other counter- revolutionaries--how do you defeat all that, while at the same time overcoming the inequalities that are left over from the old society and moving in the direction where, yes, eventually the party itself as well as the state can wither away and be replaced by the voluntary association of the masses of people? How do you do that? These contradictions and questions and problems will repeatedly pose themselves very sharply for the society as a whole, but in a concentrated way in the party.
And what if you use methods that are essentially bourgeois methods? Methods of relying on a handful, methods of keeping the masses out of political affairs and affairs of state and telling everybody get to the grindstone, everybody do your own job--you know, it's like a division of labor, where everybody has their position and nobody can do anything else but stick to their position and keep their nose to the grindstone. Or do you do this by revolutionary means--which means mobilizing the masses and knocking down step by step these barriers and inequalities--but which also involve real risks? Because in the short run it may be more "efficient" to actually do things by bourgeois methods, and it may seem like you can take shortcuts, build up a more powerful army for example by using bourgeois methods and diverting a lot of your resources to getting a lot of warfare technology. But that would mean that your ability to transform the economy and social relations and institutions would be undermined. So these things present themselves as very tough choices, to put it simply. It's in the battle over those things, and frankly whether or not the masses are involved in the struggle over those things, that is going to determine to a large degree the direction of society one way or the other, forward or backward.
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