Revolution #157, February 22, 2009
REVOLUTION AND A RADICALLY NEW WORLD:
CONTENDING “UNIVERSALISMS” AND COMMUNIST INTERNATIONALISM
Editors’ Note: The following is an excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, “Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future,” to a group of Party members in the first part of 2008. This has been edited and footnotes added for publication here.
To begin this discussion, it is worthwhile reviewing briefly the question of internationalism and more specifically the “Three Universalisms” that were referred to in “Great Objectives and Grand Strategy” (GO&GS).1 As discussed in GO&GS, there is imperialist universalism—we’re all very familiar with that—the drive of imperialism (or of competing imperialisms, anchored in different imperialist states) to carve up, dominate and oppress the world and the vast majority of the world’s people, fundamentally in the pursuit of capitalist accumulation, rooted in exploitation. Then there is a phenomenon which doesn’t describe everything that’s going on, in terms of opposition to imperialism from one angle or another—nor certainly does this encompass the contradictions among the imperialists and other major powers—but it is a marked phenomenon now in the world, namely, “Islamic fundamentalist universalism.” In other words, the Islamic fundamentalism that we’re seeing in the world today to a large degree—not entirely, but to a large degree, and in an essentially defining way—is not the same thing as a “religious nationalism” of a particular nation or country. The way in which people are being rallied to Islamic fundamentalism now is not so much on a nationalist basis but, at least with regard to many of these Islamic fundamentalist forces, on a more “universalist” basis of Islam—which, it is insisted, should be the prevailing and defining ideology and way of life, at least in the “historically Islamic world” (and, it is argued by some, in the world as a whole). Whether or not there are explicit calls for a new caliphate (or institutionalized Islamic rulers), and so on, this is the general outlook that’s driving these Islamic fundamentalist movements, or at least many of them; and, again, this is not the same thing as the nationalism of a particular people, with a religious component. That is important to understand.
And then there’s the question of our “universalism”: proletarian internationalism, or communist universalism, not in a “totalitarian” sense (or as something “totalizing” in the negative sense in which this is often used these days—to imply that there is no room for different or opposing ideas) but a “universalism” both in the sense that this is a phenomenon which has to find expression on a world scale—communism has to be achieved on a world scale—and that this is where humanity needs to go in order to achieve emancipation from class divisions, and from profound effects on society from all previous history: to make a radical rupture and leap beyond that.
There is a real and a profound need for strategic orientation, conception and approach on the part of our “universalism,” in terms of proletarian internationalism, in relation to the goal of communism and the fundamental reality that communism can only be achieved and needs to be achieved on a world scale. Revolutionary struggles in particular countries of course have to be undertaken by those in a position to do so, in terms of directly being involved in and leading them; and it is the responsibility of people in that position to develop more specific strategies and tactics for those struggles. But that does not eliminate nor diminish the need for a basic orientation that could provide a broad, general political-strategic framework for the struggle aiming for the final goal of communism throughout the world.
The fact is that, for some years now, wrong lines and methods, of various kinds, in the international movement have interfered with even approaching this question of developing a political-strategic orientation, conception and approach. These erroneous lines and approaches have stood in the way of actually being able to draw important lessons, positive and negative, from important revolutionary struggles, in various other parts of the world, in the more recent period as well as in terms of the larger history of the communist movement. This has posed real obstacles to actually approaching certain questions of decisive importance, on the level of theory and strategic conception, including real problems which some of these revolutionary struggles were running up against, such as the phenomenon of massive urbanization and shantytown-ization, which is occurring in countries throughout the Third World. What are the effects and implications of that, for the strategic approach to making revolution?
To a significant degree because of the “interference” of these erroneous lines and methods, it has been more difficult to maximize and “synchronize” overall efforts to confront and address decisive questions that are being thrown up in the world by objective developments and by what’s happening with the subjective factor (conscious revolutionaries and communists) in attempting to deal with those objective developments. And this has set things back significantly.
In “Advancing the World Revolutionary Movement: Questions of Strategic Orientation” (and this is something that was cited in the presentation on the New Synthesis)2 it is pointed out that, in addition to the basic principles that Lenin stressed about internationalism and confronting imperialism with proletarian internationalism—pursuing this revolutionary line and no other in your own country and supporting the same line in all countries—there is continually the objective necessity to assess what was characterized by Stalin, in The Foundations of Leninism, as weak links in the imperialist system: the need to identify those places where there is a concentration of objective and subjective factors that make it more possible for breakthroughs to be made at any given time, and to actually focus attention and efforts of communists overall in order to help contribute to a breakthrough in that way—to really give life, on the part of communists in all countries, to the orientation of working for the advance toward communism on a world scale, including by bending efforts and making sacrifices to support advanced revolutionary struggles, wherever (in whatever country or part of the world) they develop at any given point. To be clear: what is being spoken of is not direct “material aid,” or anything of that kind, but political and ideological support (including ideological struggle aimed at helping to strengthen the communist outlook and approach of all involved) and similar efforts.
This is obviously a very important principle that’s being stressed in “Advancing the World Revolution”; it is based on a materialist assessment of the foundation of internationalism—the world arena actually being decisive in terms of setting the basic conditions for revolutionary struggles, in particular countries as well as on a world level. On the other hand, this does not liquidate, eliminate, or diminish the importance of the revolutionary struggles in particular countries but in certain important respects gives a different focus to them and, yes, gives emphasis to a necessary concentration on those places where the objective and subjective factors combine to make it more possible to make breakthroughs. It is also very important to stress, as the New Synthesis presentation also makes clear, that this emphasis on the primacy of the international situation and the international arena does not mean that in a particular country you can’t do anything-–and specifically that you can’t advance a revolutionary struggle, or possibly even carry out the revolutionary seizure of power—if at any given time the international “balance of forces” is not favorable. Recently, in the course of reviewing a talk I gave in 2004 (“The Cultural Revolution and the Radical Transformation of the Party”) I came across the following—which was cited there from an earlier talk, given more than a decade ago, “Two Great Humps”3 —containing principles which have continuing relevance and great importance in regard to internationalism, to the understanding of the relation between the world arena and the struggle in particular countries and the basis for communists to seize initiative in advancing the revolutionary struggle:
“[T]he achievement of [the necessary conditions for communism] must take place on a world scale, through a long and tortuous process of revolutionary transformation in which there will be uneven development, the seizure of power in different countries at different times, and a complex dialectical interplay between the revolutionary struggles and the revolutionization of society in these different countries...[a dialectical relation] in which the world arena is fundamentally and ultimately decisive while the mutually interacting and mutually supporting struggles of the proletarians in different countries constitute the key link in fundamentally changing the world as a whole.”
“[T]he initiative seized by the revolutionary vanguard and masses in particular countries and the advances they make in the revolutionary struggle will significantly affect the international situation and struggle and may, in certain circumstances, even qualitatively transform it. Here again is an illustration of the dialectical relation between the situation and developments on the world level and in particular countries, and the ‘interweaving’ and constant interpenetration between them, including the fact that aspects of the one exist in the other—changes in particular countries are both part of that aspect (the particular country) and part of the other aspect (the world situation), and major changes in particular countries will both be bound up with and in turn will significantly affect the international situation....While recognizing the ultimately decisive importance of the world arena, and while taking the world revolutionary struggle as their fundamental point of orientation and doing everything they can to contribute to that struggle, they [the vanguard and masses in the various countries] should seize the maximum possible initiative at any given point, transform necessity into freedom to the greatest degree possible at every point, and keep their eye fixed firmly on the prize, so as not to miss, or throw away, the chance to get over the first great hump and go all-out for the seizure of power, whenever and however—through whatever combination of objective and subjective factors, within the particular country and worldwide—that opportunity arises.”
1. Excerpts from Bob Avakian’s “Great Objectives and Grand Strategy” appeared in Revolution (formerly the Revolutionary Worker) between November 2001 and March 2002. See revcom.us/avakian/avakian-works.html#gogs for a detailed list. The specific excerpt mentioned here is “Localism, ‘Tribalism’ and Contending ‘Universalisms,’” Revolutionary Worker #1131, December 16, 2001. [back]
2. “Advancing the World Revolutionary Movement: Questions of Strategic Orientation” was published in Revolution magazine in spring 1984. It is available online at revcom.us/bob_avakian/advancingworldrevolution/advancingworldrevolution.htm. “Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: What IS Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis?” appeared in Revolution newspaper in the spring of 2008. The full text can be found online at revcom.us/a/129/New_Synthesis_Speech-en.html [back]
3. “The Cultural Revolution and the Radical Transformation of the Party” has not been published. For a basic discussion of the Cultural Revolution in the RCP, see “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, a Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA,” September 2008, available online at revcom.us, in Revolution #143, and in pamphlet form (see page 3). “Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World” is a talk given by Bob Avakian in the late 1990s. Excerpts from this talk appeared in the Revolutionary Worker and are available online at revcom.us. The series “On Proletarian Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship—A Radically Different View of Leading Society” appeared in RW #1214 through 1226 (October 5, 2003–January 25, 2004). The series “Getting Over the Hump” appeared in RW #927, 930, 932, and 936-940 (October 12, November 2, November 16, and December 14, 1997 through January 18, 1998). Two additional excerpts from this talk are “Materialism and Romanticism: Can We Do Without Myth” in RW #1211 (August 24, 2003) and “Rereading George Jackson” in RW #968 (August 9, 1998). [back]