by Bob Avakian
Revolutionary Worker #1177, December 1, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
In our last issue, we published excerpts from "Strategic Questions," a tape-recorded talk given a few years ago by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA. These excerpts dealt with questions concerning agitation and propaganda--how to make it powerful and lively--and, particularly given the tremendous importance in the present situation of speaking to and influencing great numbers of people, it was felt that it would be especially helpful to publish these excerpts now. In this issue, we are printing excerpts from a tape-recorded talk by Chairman Avakian in the summer of 2001, on the same general subject: "Putting Forward Our Line--In a Bold, Moving, Compelling Way." These excerpts have been edited for publication here.
Basically, the question is: how do we view the role of being a spokesperson for the Party? Obviously, it's a major responsibility--it's a task that has to be taken extremely seriously. This is a point that is made in Strategic Questions: it's a matter in a certain sense of "walking point," being "out there," both in the sense that you're broadly propagating the line of the Party and engaging other lines and tendencies and in the sense that you are kind of out there, you know, you're sort of in the sights of the enemy as well as someone whom the masses look to when they want to know what the line of the Party is. A spokesperson is someone who has the particular and special role of putting forward the line of the Party both around specific questions and also more generally. So you're kind of out there in both those senses. You're "walking point"; you have a special responsibility which has a lot of different dimensions to it.
So there is the need to take this responsibility very seriously, but on the other hand this should not lead to paralysis. Because this is such a heavy responsibility it is not something that should cause us to feel inadequate to the task or to feel, for example, that if we don't know how to handle a particular question that arises in a given situation then, you know, the sky is going to fall down or something like that. It's a question of being out there doing the best we can and taking seriously the responsibility, so that if we run into things we have difficulty with, we go back to the sources we have. We go back to the RW , we go back to the Party's line in general, we go back to MLM; we even go to other sources and apply MLM to them to draw on and get the bases for answering questions that we don't know how to answer at a given time. And when we make a speech or when we, in one way or another, represent the Party in a debate or engaging other lines, we do the best we can and then we sum it up afterwards. We listen to the comments and criticisms of the comrades and other people in the audience and learn the most we can from them--we try to continuously keep the dialectic going of practice-theory-practice and of learning through our experiences and deepening and strengthening our ability to do this, to carry out the role of representing for the Party in an ever more effective way. So it's a heavy responsibility, but again it shouldn't lead to paralysis. We should welcome this as a great opportunity to do this and we should have a certain sense of pride--in the proletarian sense, not in the personal sense--about taking on and shouldering this responsibility of representing for the Party and ultimately for the international proletariat.
In this light, I wanted to share something very moving. I saw an application that a youth from among the basic masses made to join the Party, and without going into inappropriate details, one of the things that was really striking and moving to me was that they talked about how they just lived to take out the Party's line everywhere. They're always seeking out their friends and people they meet and people they've been in political struggles with, and always taking them the Party's line. And when the Draft Programme came out, they were just overjoyed and extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to take this out. And specifically what really struck me was that they talked about how when they don't know the answer to something that someone raises, they say: "I don't know, I'm going to get back to you." And they go back to the Programme, they go back to the newspaper, they go back to MLM, they go back to other literature of the Party, they talk to other people that they know are in or around the Party, and they find out the answer. They take this responsibility seriously, but they also take it very eagerly and enthusiastically to go back to people and say: "OK, here's the answer to your question." And in reading about this, I felt it was very inspiring and also something to really learn from--both the ideological orientation but also the practical application of how they carry out a practice- theory-practice dialectic. They're just so eager to get the Party's line to everybody that they know, and they're not "stopped cold" or intimidated when they run into something they don't know, or can't explain well--they go back to "the sources" and search out the answer, and then take it back to people. So I think that kind of orientation and approach should infuse and be a sort of bedrock of how we view this spokesperson role too and how we approach it, building on the accomplishments that we have achieved in carrying out this role already--which are accomplishments not for us personally but for the Party and the international proletariat--and also learning from the shortcomings that occur in our carrying out this task. So that's a general point of orientation, by way of introduction to the question of representing for the Party (and the international proletariat ultimately).
COMPELLING PROPAGANDA AND AGITATION VS. JUST "COVERING THE POINTS"
Now, with that as a kind of a basic orientation and background, the first point which I want to speak to could be posed as a question this way: With regard to a speech (or some kind of presentation in a debate or forum or whatever--let's just use the word speech in this kind of a general way here) what distinguishes a speech that is really powerful from a speech that "covers the points it should cover"? This is a really important question to dig into deeply. I think one of the defining and distinguishing characteristics of a speech that's really powerful is that it really "grabs" the audience. It doesn't just "connect" with them, but really grabs them and makes them feel compelled to engage what's being spoken to in this speech and really brings alive for them the contradictions that are being spoken to and the resolution of those contradictions that's being pointed to.
In "Strategic Questions" it makes the point that basically agitation and propaganda deal with contradictions, yet it's not simply a matter of presenting contradictions but in a certain way it's a matter of "getting inside" of these contradictions, actually taking the audience through those contradictions and enabling them to not just intellectually understand but, at the same time as they intellectually understand, to actually feel the "inevitability" of the conclusion that you're drawing. It seems to me these are some of the distinguishing features of a speech or presentation of whatever kind that goes beyond merely covering the points it should cover to actually grabbing and moving people, motivating them in a certain direction. There are various aspects of form and style and even devices that go into that, but essentially this is a question of content and correctly handling contradictions not just in general but in the particularity of making a speech, which does have its own particularities and particular contradictions.
Let's take an example. What does it mean to go beyond simply saying or declaring that this system is worthless, is based on exploitation, and must go? Although it's very important to say and declare this, and to keep on doing so--and we need to do it a lot more--at the same time, we need more than just saying or declaring that. How do you go beyond that to actually bringing this alive for people, to illustrating it with penetrating and compelling exposures of the ugly features of this system and showing how they are completely bound up with the very nature and workings of this system, and doing that in such a way that it really makes these points compelling, as is discussed in various aspects in "Strategic Questions"?
Now there are some examples, including some negative examples, that are given in "Strategic Questions" which might be worth reviewing briefly. For example, there it refers to Dimitroff (a leader of the Communist International during the 1930s) and specifically Dimitroff's criticism of a speech that was given by a German communist in the early 1930s at a huge rally after a Nazi had spoken. Everybody's waiting to hear, OK what's the Communist have to say or what's the Communist answer to this fascist agitation? And so the Communist representative gets up and says something along these lines: "Comrades, I'm very happy to report that the Third Plenary Session of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International has recently convened and has issued a most important manifesto." Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And, you know, the Nazi carries the day.
And to provide an even more extreme negative example, I can recall the experience I had when I was in China in the mid- '70s. We were up in the northeast and we were waiting to go to a meeting in the evening--it was in the fall and it was very cold up there in that part of China, and because every resource belonged to the proletarian state they were trying to conserve resources so they didn't have the heat on except for a couple of hours a day in this guest house where we were. They gave us these heavy padded cotton coats, but it was still really cold. And I was waiting for this meeting later on, so I figured I would try to find something to entertain me to keep my mind off the cold. There was a shortwave radio in the room, and I turned on the shortwave radio and managed to find an English-language broadcast, so I crawled under the covers and listened to this English-language broadcast. It was coming from North Korea. And this is more or less how this broadcast went:
"Comrades. I'm very happy to report that a most important meeting has just been held of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland. Present at the meeting were so-and-so, General Secretary of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland; also comrade so-and-so, First Vice Chairman of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland. Also in attendance were comrades so- and-so and so-and-so, Second and Third Vice Chairmen of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland. At this meeting, comrade so-and-so, General Secretary of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland [BA laughs] gave a most important speech. In this speech, comrade so-and-so, General Secretary of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland, emphasized that the unification of the fatherland is very important." [BA laughs again]
And by the end of this thing, I was just rolling out of the bed onto the floor, laughing. It was really sad, but on another level it was one of the funniest things I'd ever heard. It was inadvertently hilarious-- they didn't mean it to be that funny, but it was just hilarious. It was exactly the stereotypical "commie stuff," you know, that we're always being accused of. And this went on and on--I'm only giving a small flavor--it went on and on for something like 15 minutes summarizing the speeches of every one of the important officers of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland, who all had nothing more diverse and important to say than that the unification of the fatherland is very important! So this is an extreme example, a negative example of the kind of speech that we definitely do not want to give [BA laughs again] in any shape, way, or form.
What are some more positive examples of the kind of things we should be doing and in some ways have been doing? For example, let's take the question of police brutality and murder. Now recently, within the last couple of months, there was an article in the RW about one of these murders, and it seems like every time you open the RW there is at least one and often more than one article about another one of these outrages--basically the same story of how the police go in and wantonly murder someone, especially basic Black and Latino youth. And in this particular article I believe it was a Latino youth who was involved, it was one of these things where he, you know, lost it a bit and had a gun or something, and was out in a public place, and there was sort of a standoff and I guess the police shot him and wounded him, if I have all the facts right, and his girlfriend was there with him, and she at one point told the police that she would get his gun away from him and then the police said if you touch the gun, you'll be shot! And his mother came up and begged the police to let her go get the gun away from him, and they told her the same thing.
This article was really very compelling, and by the time you were through reading it, both the anger at what had gone on and also the fact that with these police, this is not some accidental thing, they want to shoot down these masses, and this is an integral part of what they do--what their social role is, what their political role is--this was brought out very powerfully in this article. You know, I finished reading it and I just had this restless anger where you can't sit still, plus this really strong feeling that, as the article brought out, not once but twice there was a solution there, but the police specifically rejected it and threatened the people with being shot themselves. I mean this shows, once again, that they're not out there "doing a difficult job and faced with difficult choices" and they couldn't find any way out of this other than shooting this person.
Or you can take the Tyisha Miller thing.* How should we do agitation around that? A lot of good agitation was done, including written agitation and, you know, some propaganda in the paper and also verbal agitation and propaganda in the course of the struggle around that, but one of the things that really needs to be driven home is--here's the scene where she is passed out in the car and they come up to the car, the police, they surround the car, and there's a whole bunch of them, they're all armed, they're surrounding the car, and they just shoot her--execute her basically. And it seems to me that one basic point to be made is this: if you can't handle this situation differently than this, then get the fuck out of the way. Not only out of the way of this situation but get off the earth--get out of the way of the masses of people. Because, you know, we could have handled that situation any number of ways that would have resulted in a much better outcome, and frankly if we had state power and we were faced with a similar situation, we would sooner have one of our own people's police killed than go wantonly murder one of the masses. That's what you're supposed to do if you're actually trying to be a servant of the people. You go there and put your own life on the line, rather than just wantonly murder one of the people.
It seems to me that this kind of point can be brought out very powerfully to people. What were they there to do? You know, fuck all this "serve and protect" bullshit. If they were there to serve and protect, they would have found any way but the way they did it to handle this scene, they could have and would have found a solution that was much better than this. This is the way the proletariat, when it's been in power, has handled and would again handle this kind of thing--valuing the lives of the masses of people- -as opposed to the bourgeoisie in power, where the role of their police is to terrorize the masses, including wantonly murdering them, murdering them without provocation, without necessity, because exactly the more arbitrary the terror is, the more broadly it affects the masses. And that's one of the reasons why they like to engage in--and have as one of their main functions to engage in--wanton and arbitrary terror against the masses of people.
And how many stories have we heard of situations where people have come up on the scene and tried to resolve something like this without bloodshed and death, and the police won't allow it? There was that scene in a housing project in L.A.--it might have been Jordan Downs--where that guy "Chubby" with the mental problem was out with a knife and masses were trying to resolve that by taking the knife away, and once again they were basically threatened with the same thing--being killed themselves if they "got in the way" of the police and what they were there to do, to kill that guy, which they did.
How do we do the most hard-hitting, penetrating exposure around things like this, really bringing this alive? Not just cursing the enemy as they deserve to be cursed, but how do we do it so as to really bring these things alive, so that masses of people, even those who don't know that this goes on every day, are really moved by this--like we really reach inside them and make them really feel this, from the "inside out," so to speak--really be "grabbed on the inside" and moved by the outrage that's been committed here and how this connects up with and has something essential to do with the very nature of this system. Because unfortunately, in a certain sense, life is continually providing us with hundreds and thousands of these occasions, these outrages, and our agitation about them is one very important part of arousing the masses to struggle around these things as well as exposing the system and contributing to the overall process of moving people to the position where they're willing to put everything on the line to bring this system down because they understand that these things are integral and indispensable features of this whole system--that this system cannot do without these things and needs to do these things, and why it needs to do them.
How well do we do? In the newspaper we often do very well, but how well do we do overall at really (to use that metaphor) "reaching inside" of people and making them feel, as I said, from the "inside out" that this is completely intolerable and that you can't go to bed that night or get up that next morning and feel that same way about things and about this society as you did before you learned about this from one of our spokespeople or one of our people doing agitation and propaganda? As a result of what they've laid bare for you and put together for you, you cannot get up the next morning and feel the same way about this society as you did before. To whatever degree that's going to be true for particular individuals--and it's not that people are going to instantly become revolutionaries if they weren't before, but, you know, how much did we move them in that kind of a way?
Or let's take another important question and faultline in society: the battle around abortion. How well do we do, not only in bringing out the very basic truth that denying the right to abortion has everything to do with the oppression of women and how it concentrates that in very important ways right now, but how well, as part of that, do we do at really going after these Christian Fascists? For example, when they're out there reading from their Bibles and mumbling their mumbo-jumbo, how well do we do at taking it to them, calling them out: "These people believe that homosexuals should be killed. These people believe that women should be quiet in public. These people believe that women should be subordinate to their husbands, that it's alright for men to take women as slaves. These people believe..."--on and on and on about all kinds of horrendous things--things that are right in their Bible that they're mumbling and mumbo-jumboing about, insisting upon as the absolute truth that must be followed without question. How well do we have those facts at hand, the passages from their Bible for example, to show that these people talk about "murdering children" through abortion but they believe that children who are disrespectful to their parents should be executed. And their Bible proclaims and celebrates the raping of women and the bashing in of babies' heads (as, for example, the book of Isaiah and Psalm 137). Let them deny it. Because every one of those things I've mentioned is in the Bible that they insist on taking literally. So let them come out and say they don't believe in those things. Then we can say, "Well you don't even know your own fucking Bible." How much do we go after them like this and put them on the defensive? How much do we show the hypocrisy of their crusade to supposedly save children when really what they are about is the oppression of women and really their own scriptures--which they are mumbling about and insist on a literal interpretation of--put forth the most horrendous things, such as the insistence not only on beating but executing children if they strike their parents or even are disrespectful or rebellious against their parents, and the bashing in of babies' heads?
You know I have something of a "Jones" about these religious fundamentalist types in particular--I really think we need to go after these people on a whole other level, and they're just ripe, they're sitting there for us to do it, and we need to do it. Nobody else wants to do this--at least not in the way we can and must, with a thoroughgoing materialist and dialectical method. Most everybody else wants to conciliate. Far too many people who know, on one level, what's wrong with this stuff, want to take the attitude of "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto religion that which is religion's." That is, they want to try to get these religious types, including the fundamentalists in particular, to keep their religion to themselves--or just in the sphere of spirituality, or whatever--and not bring their religious-based notions and programs into the political arena, into the societal sphere broadly. And, in particular, many scientists take the conciliatory attitude of "let's have science over here and religion over there, and just so long as the religious people don't interfere with science it will be alright and they can do their own thing with regard to religion." No! These fundamentalists, these Christian Fascists, they don't accept this--they are trying, in a thousand ways, to interfere with science and to not only overturn soundly established verdicts and truths in science, such as evolution, but more generally to obstruct the scientific pursuit of the truth with their religious obscurantism. They need to be gone after, and nobody really wants to do this the way we want to, and need to.
Now we have to have tactics and, as a matter not just of tactics but of principle, we have to draw the correct distinctions between different kinds of religious people and the different motivations that people have and whether it lands them on the progressive or the reactionary side of things in a broad sense. We have to have the correct approach of unity-struggle-unity with progressive religious forces, and so on. But with all that, we have to expose these fucking Christian Fascists. We could and should do a lot more of this, and do it a lot more powerfully. It takes a little study; it takes a little concentrating of knowledge about some of the shit these people actually believe in, but in my opinion, we have to expose these people a lot more consistently and systematically and give heart to people. There are a lot of people out there, I feel very confident in saying this--there are a lot of people out there who are sick to death of these reactionary religious obscurantists and the fact that every time you try to have a rational investigation of reality and pursuit of the truth they bring their bullshit into it and get in the way of it--many, many people who would be really heartened if somebody exposed these Christian Fascists in a systematic and unrelenting way. And there's nobody better than us to do it. So, you know, this is a challenge that is before us, particularly around abortion but also more generally, and we have to actually do it in such way, frankly, that people who are religious but can't stand this reactionary shit either will feel impelled to step forward and, from their own point of view, take it on in a more consistent way than they do now, even though that can never substitute for our own independent role and line in doing this with the standpoint and method of the proletariat and its MLM ideology.
Or, to take another example, the garment sweatshops. How well do we do with our exposure around this? Some of the things we've done--not only articles in the paper and so on, but things like taking people, including youth, on tours of these garment sweatshops--this is a very good way to bring this alive for people; and we've seen in the newspaper, for example, how this has brought out reality to people in a powerful, living way. It is one of those things that changes people's whole view of something in such a way that they can never look at things again as they did before--both that particularity of sweatshops but also, to a significant degree, the system as a whole. But how well do we do this in an all-around way, in a consistent and systematic way--bringing this out in a living sense--not just saying, "you know, a lot of people are superexploited in there," but finding the ways to powerfully bring alive what that means? What does it mean in terms of real people, the reality of what people go through, that people are being viciously superexploited in there and how that relates to the domination of places like Mexico and Central America and to the international system of imperialism?
There are a lot of these students on campuses, for example, who have been part of the anti-sweatshop movement, and they see this as an evil but most do not yet see this as part of a whole system. Or take the broader phenomenon of the anti-globalization struggles, which are very inspiring and militant struggles, and there's the potential for people involved in this to learn a tremendous amount. They're already learning a great deal, a lot of the actual underlying relations of the system are being laid bare. But a lot of them still, of course, are carrying a lot of illusions. They think that these things can be reformed away; they don't understand that this is an integral part and an indispensable part of the imperialist system, something it can in no way do without. This is something we have to do propaganda around, to give people an all-around explanation and analysis of why and how this is so, but we also need to do hard hitting agitation, both written and spoken, that brings this alive, that makes people feel the way one of those youth did, after going on a tour of the garment center, when s/he said, "I'll never look at a shirt the same way again. There's a lot of people in that shirt." Well that youth was really making a very insightful statement that captures a great deal-- there's a lot of people in that shirt. Or when they encountered the boss who cared more about his dog than about the people working in the plant. You know, all these are the kinds of things that get at the essence of the system and its production and social relations, and the question is: how can we even more systematically and penetratingly and powerfully expose this and bring it to life in ways that even more sharply stick the knife in and draw blood, in terms of the reality of these outrages and also the way in which they are an inevitable part of this system, things it cannot do without?
That's one of the things that the anti-globalization people and the anti-sweatshop people, the students and youth and the people involved broadly, have not really fully come to grips with. And that's true for all these particular outrages. People come into motion around particular outrages, but how do we move them along in that process where they begin to see these are all part of a system that works together? These are all aspects of the system, are built into it, and they can in no way be done away with except through doing away with the whole system.
I'm trying to contrast that with this stereotypical stuff that we should all hate, because it really works against our cause. I mean if people who are inexperienced do it, that's a different matter; and when I say we should hate it, I don't mean that we should be one-sided about it if inexperienced speakers get up and a little bit fall into mechanical ways of speaking, because anybody who does anything at first--whether it's an infant learning to walk or someone getting up and making speeches--is going to do it mechanically at first, and if we don't allow for that in a certain sense and help them through it, they're never going to learn how to do it "smoothly" and "seamlessly" and really effectively and penetratingly. But those of us who are more experienced, we should hate that stereotypical stuff in a certain sense--because it works against everything we're trying to do, because what it conveys is the idea that we're a bunch of robotical automatons and if we ran society, it would be a horrendous society (which in fact, if we were like that, it would be). So, you know, we really have to use that as a negative example and work to actually bring forward the opposite of that, bring forward things that really in a living way expose the system and the enemy and bring forward our revolutionary alternative, our solution. This is related to Lenin's statement that communism springs from every pore of society. We have to actually take that reality and make it come to life for people, show in a thousand different ways that all these different outrages and injustices and all the contradictions that we shine a spotlight on actually point to the inevitable conclusion that proletarian revolution is necessary.
STARTING FROM REALITY, NOT DEFINITIONS
Moving on, then, the question could be posed: In light of some of the points I've been speaking to here, how do you approach the preparation, beginning with the conception, of a speech? Now, obviously, you have to think about what points need to be covered. I'm not saying you can get up and just talk about any old thing. You do have to figure out what it is you want to talk about. You can't just talk about anything that's not even related to the subject or the question at hand or the circumstances at hand. And you do need to be systematic. You don't want to just get up and talk about anything in any old order without any interconnections between things--without any synthesis of what you are presenting and in turn without that being related to the particular audience and circumstances, the particular issues and contradictions, etc. So that's one basic thing that you do have to do in preparing a speech, and even in conceiving a speech. You have to figure out what it is you want to talk about, what are the main points that need to be covered.
But, while that's very important and necessary, it's not sufficient. It's only the first important thing that needs to be done. You also need to go beyond that and start thinking about, well, who is the likely audience (since you may not be able to know exactly) and what is this particular circumstance arising out of and how do I go after the main things that I want to go after and correctly reveal the interrelationship between them; but, beyond that, how do I do this in a way that, in this circumstance with this audience, is really going to reach people and move them--from the "inside out"--reach down inside and actually make them feel the connections that I'm drawing and the conclusion that I'm pointing to, both in more immediate terms relating to the more particular struggle but also in more strategic terms?
Now, one of the important things in this regard, as well as generally in terms of speaking and representing for the Party, is a point Mao emphasized, including in the "Talks at the Yenan Forum," where he says it's important to start from reality and not from definitions. And when Mao wrote his notes critiquing a Soviet political economy textbook, he made this point again (this is found in the book edited by Stuart Schram, Mao Tsetung Unrehearsed ). He said the problem with this textbook (or one of its main problems) is that it proceeds from definitions and categories and not from reality. He said this not only leads to wrong analysis, but it makes for very boring reading. And the same thing applies when people are listening to you. That's one thing that is shown with that example of that North Korean fiasco. You know, they're starting from--I guess you could call them categories or definitions--well, in that case it's almost rites they are beginning with (and continuing in). It was very much like listening to a religious incantation. You can imagine a Catholic priest or some leader of the Orthodox Church or something getting up there intoning in the same kind of way--just change a few words and you could transport this right into the hallowed halls of the church.
Now, it's true, as Richard Pryor once pointed out, that on one level many people are attracted to all that mystery of religious ritual, but it's not what we want to do--that's not how we want to reach and move people. There is a certain role for ritual, even in the communist movement. There's a certain role for organization of meetings, of programs, etc. There's a certain role for celebration. There's a certain role for superstructural things in a general sense. This is also a point that's in "Strategic Questions"-- when you have a public meeting, the way you organize it also is part of how you reach and appeal to people. You know, if you come in and everybody's sort of milling around and somebody gets up and says, in a kind of flaky and half-hearted way, "Well, I guess it's time to get started," then you've lost a lot already--instead of conveying a certain seriousness, as well as a certain liveliness.
In this connection, let's take two extreme poles. One is that you have a public meeting and people come in, they sit down, there doesn't seem to be much cohesiveness to what's going on, there doesn't seem to be much sense of direction or much sense of organization or even sense of purpose. Finally, somebody gets up and says, "Well, I guess we ought to get started." It's not very inspiring to people. On the other hand, the other extreme, people come into a meeting and everybody has an assigned seat-- "No, no, you sit over here, not over there," you know. The people responsible for running the meeting are all standing around very stiffly and then the master of ceremonies or whatever gets up and gives one of those speeches again--like "Comrades, I'm very privileged tonight to welcome you to this most historic meeting." You know, blah, blah, blah. Well then you've lost people too. But there is a point to organization, to ceremony, to taking yourself seriously--or taking what you're doing seriously-- while not failing to have a sense of humor. Without being dogmatic and inflexible, there is importance to giving a sense of purpose and seriousness and to having the right combination or synthesis of seriousness and liveliness and an atmosphere where people, while appreciating the seriousness, also feel at ease. That's true in organizing a meeting, and the same kind of basic principle also applies in making a speech or writing an article. There is something that people want and appreciate in a certain seriousness and organization, but they don't want to feel that they're being spoken to by the living dead.
These are points we have to have in mind in making a speech or organizing a meeting--or whatever you're doing. And the point Mao was stressing, of starting from reality and not from definitions, is a key aspect of this. What are the actual contradictions that are presenting themselves, and how do they actually link up with the larger, more universal questions that our revolution is all about, here and internationally? Not coming off like that communist spokesperson at the German stadium referred to by Dimitroff--in effect, superimposing on the situation their definitions, their categories, their ritual in a bad sense, just falling back on the terminology of the international communist movement, without regard to the situation and the audience. Yeah, all those terms have meaning, but have you ever listened to a scientist who has a good position trying to debate some of these reactionary fundamentalist lunatics? Sometimes it's very frustrating because many of these scientists can't speak "English" (or whatever the language might be). They often have a hard time explaining things in "regular language"--they can't break things down and present things in the language that "ordinary people" can understand. I don't mean we should feed people pablum, but if you talk only in the "jargon" of your particular scientific discipline, you're missing the people out there who don't know these terms, to whom they don't have any meaning, with whom they don't resonate, don't suggest any kind of reality.
The same is true with our terms. We have lots of scientific terms--the dictatorship of the proletariat, that's a perfectly valid and important term, and we have to popularize it among the masses. I'm certainly not saying that we shouldn't talk about the dictatorship of the proletariat or only speak about it in certain limited circles where people are already familiar with the term. But there's a question of how you do that. If somebody gets up and says, "What I don't like about you Communists is that you're against democracy," and we get up and answer, "Well, you have to understand, we have to have the dictatorship of the proletariat in order to make the socialist transition to communism worldwide." No good! You lost people right there--you're using terminology and what effectively comes across as jargon instead of explaining the same content in a living way and then introducing the terms in the process of that, so that those terms take on meaning and come alive for people, rather than just sort of dumping definitions on them. So, as a general rule, we should start with the living reality that we're confronted with when we're making a speech, writing an article, doing agitation and propaganda in whatever form. We should proceed from that reality.
Put another way--or coming at this from another angle, or in another aspect--the point I'm emphasizing is the importance of drawing the living link between the particular contradictions that define an immediate situation, or the immediate question, and the larger strategic questions. And, yes, we should introduce scientific MLM terms in the course of that (although you don't have to, and shouldn't, bring them all in at once and overwhelm people with it!). In a living way, we should indeed be bringing people a scientific understanding. But science of whatever kind, and most especially our science, should not be dry and dogmatic--it should be living, exciting, vibrant; it should make people see that what we are putting forward is actually "getting inside of reality" and putting it together for people in a way that they themselves perhaps have even been straining towards doing, but haven't been able to do on their own.To be continued next week.
In the excerpt from "Putting Forward Our Line--in a Bold, Moving, Compelling Way" (which appeared in the RW last week--issue number 1177) the following sentence, and in particular the part underlined here, is formulated in a way that could be misleading: "We have to actually take that reality and make it come to life for people, show in a thousand different ways that all these different outrages and injustices and all the contradictions that we shine a spotlight on actually point to the inevitability , to the necessity, of the proletarian revolution." In referring to "inevitability" here, what I was intending to say was that these outrages and injustices and all the contradictions that we shine a spotlight on point to the inevitable conclusion that proletarian revolution is necessary --similarly to what is done earlier in this excerpt where it refers to the "inevitability of the conclusion that you're drawing," or in the excerpt from "Strategic Questions (which appeared in RW #1176), where it speaks of how, "through the process on which you've taken them [the audience] with the article, or speech, or whatever, they begin to recognize-- and, in a conscious sense, to feel--the inevitability of the conclusion."
The question of the "inevitability"--or non-inevitability--of the proletarian revolution and the advance to communism is obviously very important, and is something I have spoken to in a number of other writings. For example, in the final excerpt from the talk "Grasp Revolution, Promote Production," which will be published within the next few months in the RW , the point is made that: "we cannot say that communism is inevitable in some metaphysical and idealist or essentially religious sense--in the sense that there is some predetermined, predestined way in which all of reality and all of human historical development in particular has been leading up to, or even was somehow bound to lead up to, communism.... At the same time, all of human history, in all its diversity and complexity, has in fact led humanity to the threshold of communism--has established a powerful material and social basis for this, not just in this or that country, but throughout the world....This is a leap that humanity needs to make and in historical terms is now poised to make."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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