Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bob Avakian

If There Is To Be Revolution, There Must Be A Revolutionary Party

Chapter 3: Internationalism and the Mass Line

The line on the party that opposes its Leninist character as evil and undemocratic also goes along with bourgeois-democratic tendencies generally. And it’s interesting that especially on the part of people in the imperialist countries this current has as one of its essential currents social-chauvinism because, you see, if you ’re going to tail behind the masses in imperialist countries then you’re going to end up promoting social-chauvinism.

For example there’s one group I know which wrote an essay saying, well, if there’s a world war, and particularly if there’s a Soviet invasion (which already shows you that it’s a loaded question) of Western Europe, then the national question will certainly come to the fore and it’s not up to communists to ignore the national sentiments of the people. But this is just another way of saying that if there’s a world war there’ll be a wave of chauvinism which will sweep over these European imperialist countries; that’s really what they’re talking about. So then the question is posed, do you do like Lenin did and go against that?

Let’s face it, Russia was not the leading imperialist country in World War 1; it was not the leader of its bloc. In fact as Lenin pointed out, in certain ways it was in hock to England and even France, and to a certain degree there was even an element of truth (secondarily) that a lot of the fighting that Russia did was in the interests of British imperialism. But it was also, and Lenin never slackened on this, in the interest of Russian imperialism, even if they played a secondary role. Somebody’s got to play the role of the leader of the bloc. You could say in this one context there was a qualitative difference between British imperialism and Russian imperialism, but that didn’t make Lenin say, well, since we’re second-rate, I guess we can defend the fatherland. There wouldn’t have been a Russian Revolution had he not waged an untiring struggle against all the major manifestations of this social-chauvinist line, including the idea that, well, the masses want to defend the fatherland and it’s not up to us to offend the masses. If Lenin had not been an internationalist, he could not have taken that stand; if he didn’t have in mind the overall process in the world and hadn’t viewed the proletarian revolution as essentially and fundamentally an international process he would not have been able – not to have the courage in some sort of existential sense – but he wouldn’t have been able to have the understanding to go against the wave of chauvinism that swept over Russia as it did over every country, at least every major participant, in World War 1 at the time.

But of course if you have a line of promoting bourgeois democracy and tailing behind the masses, even in promoting the form of that, denying the need for vanguard leadership and therefore denying the need for centralism, you will go along with, even promote, this wave of chauvinism. There is a direct link between vanguard leadership and centralism, not centralism in a bourgeois sense but centralism in dialectical relationship with democracy, that is, with the conscious role of the masses. If you deny the need for a vanguard role, politically and ideologically, you will deny the need for centralism organizationally and that goes hand in hand with tailing the masses. In imperialist countries it is bound to lead to promoting social-chauvinism.

Oppressed Nations

Here we get into a more controversial area – but that’s okay – which is in some of these other countries where there is legitimacy to the national question. To step back a second, I remember for example someone once challenged me when I said that these European bourgeoisies and the bourgeoisies in imperialist countries in general were the legitimate defenders of the fatherland, they were the legitimate bearers of the standard of the nation at this stage. Someone who had an opportunist line on this challenged me and said, well, what do you think about the comprador bourgeoisies in these countries of the third world? Do they have a national character, that is, because they’re the ruling classes of the nation, are they the upholders of the national banner and the standard of the nation? But precisely what that question ignored or obliterated was the distinction between the imperialist countries and the oppressed nations.

Now it’s true, we’re talking about a basic distinction in the world; like Lenin pointed out, an era would not be an era if it did not consist of many different, diverse phenomena. Just because you’re talking about general tendencies in the world, you cannot make everything fit neatly into boxes; there are transitional forms, there are things which are more in one category than the other but still have features from the category of which they’re not generally a part; there are transitional forms in between and so on. But still there is this basic distinction between imperialist countries and oppressed nations in this era – a distinction which, if anything, is even more important than when Lenin first insisted on it around the time of World War 1.

The point is, the comprador bourgeoisies in these oppressed nations are national traitors, if you will; they are lackeys and retainers of imperialism. But the reason that it is correct to formulate it in that way and even to raise the question of national traitor is because the national question is still on the agenda as the central question there, whereas in the imperialist countries it is not. The national question, as Lenin pointed out very clearly, is a thing of the past for the developed imperialist countries; whereas it is very much on the agenda now, historically and politically speaking, for the oppressed nations. That’s precisely the point and so that question itself revealed at the minimum an ignorance of that whole essential point.

Nevertheless, in these oppressed nations to promote a line of tailing behind the masses will in fact lead you also to promote and foster and tail behind nationalism. There is an important distinction: the national sentiments there have a great deal more progressive character and can contribute to a revolutionary movement, which is not the case in the imperialist countries, where they work against it. But still, even in an oppressed nation, communists are not – ideologically, in their outlook and in their overall stand – representatives of the nation. This is the point we have been fighting for with the article on “National Nihilism” in Revolution[1] and so on. A communist is a representative of the international proletariat, of no nation in that sense; a communist is a representative of the proletariat, which is seeking to move society beyond nations, even while recognizing in a practical sense not only that there are nations in the world but that the national question is an extremely important question and the national struggle is an extremely important struggle which can, especially under proletarian leadership, contribute significantly to the proletarian revolution and the advance toward communism. (And even sometimes when it is not under proletarian leadership it can for a time and to a degree contribute to it, although then it will turn into its opposite, meaning it will be once more a question of that nation’s subordination to imperialism.) There are tendencies for the colonial mentality to take hold even among the colonized themselves. Fanon talked about this and analyzed it in Wretched of the Earth from a bourgeois-democratic (but radical democratic) point of view. Mao, from a Marxist-Leninist standpoint, talked about this problem too: the colonial mentality taking hold and influencing even the colonized themselves in the direction of feelings of national inferiority. All that’s true but nevertheless, that’s secondary in an overall sense to the national sentiments and then the nationalist sentiments of broad masses of the people in these countries which are aroused by their concrete conditions, particularly the national oppression that does exist. These sentiments are also strengthened by the fact that large masses of the people in these countries are in a petty-bourgeois situation, that is peasantry or artisans or urban petty bourgeoisie, intellectuals and so on.

The Mass Line and Nationalism

But here’s where I said we’d get into some controversy: the question of tailing behind the masses. While Mao’s contributions on the mass line are genuinely important, real contributions and are linked with important contributions of his in the realm of philosophy, there also is something which has to be called attention to and looked into more deeply. For a good part of the struggle in China the revolutionary movement was going with the spontaneous thrust of nationalism – against Japan, for example. The revolutionary movement did not have to – as it did in Russia – go against the nationalist (and in that case openly chauvinist) sentiment of the masses, especially as it sharply expressed itself in world war. During this whole period of the anti-Japanese war, for example, they had to give leadership to, but they were also able to a certain degree to merge with, the national sentiment of the people to fight against Japanese imperialism. I’m not saying it was wrong for them to do so; that’s not the case at all. It was correct for them to rally people on the basis of their opposition to Japanese imperialism and to unite with people on the basis of the desire to fight for liberation of the nation and so on even after that against U.S. imperialism and its lackey Chiang Kai-shek. But still, what I’m trying to get at here is that in that kind of situation the need to go against the national sentiments of the masses does not present itself.

Even though Mao was one of the leaders, not only in China but in the whole history of the international communist movement, who most sharply and directly pointed out that truth is in the hands of the minority at the beginning as a law; even though he was the one that brought forth the formulation ’ ’going against the tide is a Marxist-Leninist principle” and stressed over and over again that that was the case; nevertheless I’m not so sure that in the area of the national question he saw or applied that consistently there. Again that links up with some of the points made in the talk (“Conquer the World? . . . ” – Ed.) about what was the character of the Chinese revolution and what things they had to go against the tide of in the Comintern and the international communist movement at the time and what things they didn’t.

The reason I raise the mass line is related to this. While I think there is a basic principle of mass line which is correct, still a lot of questions and concrete circumstances have to be thought through – including when what you’re doing in its principal aspect is going with the stream of the sentiments of the masses in an overall sense, as was the case, for example, during the anti-Japanese war. A lot of Mao’s writings on the mass line are from that period – at least in terms of what was put into the Red Book which many people are familiar with. When the situation did change in China, for example after the victory of the revolution and particularly in Mao’s later years, there is increasing emphasis on his part on going against the tide.

Let me put it this way: when you’re fighting a foreign enemy, maybe it’s easier to rally 90% plus of the population to your banner. Now whether or not you can win leadership, whether the people are won to your banner is a question too. In other words, there’s a class struggle within that, as there was in the anti-Japanese war: which banner exactly is it, what character of warfare, relying on what forces, heading towards what eventual end, what eventual objective after you win the particular stage of struggle or if you pass through it? There is an intense struggle around all this which of course Mao very importantly and successfully waged, but still in another sense you’re going with the tide of the national sentiments of the people and you can rally, even unite with, 90% or more of the people in that kind of context. This is not easy, but it is possible to do so. Whereas it may not be possible to do so when you’re waging a civil war for example or when you have to carry out revolutionary defeatism in an imperialist country, when you have to go against the spontaneous tide in a much sharper way. Under those conditions your strategic objective should still be to win over all who can be won over to you, that is to unite with or to neutralize the broadest number, and to isolate the real enemies to the greatest degree possible; the united front kind of approach is still correct there. But we’ve correctly emphasized in the 1980 Central Committee report, for example, on “Charting the Uncharted Course,”[2] that a civil war is a struggle between two sections of the people, and we’re not going to have 90% with us more or less all the way through.

That was even true in China for example after the anti-Japanese war. They started with the minority of people – at least under their leadership – and they won over broad sections of the middle classes as the struggle advanced and as the Chiang Kai-shek regime really started tottering and then collapsing; then they won over broad sections. That experience also was summed up by Mao and made its impact on the Chinese revolution. I think that had something to do with important preparations for his ability to emphasize going against the tide and that you may start with a minority (while not giving up on winning over the majority or winning over or rallying the broadest number possible). Even in the anti-Japanese war a minority was under their banner.

But there’s a difference here, which I’m trying to emphasize, especially when you compare it to an imperialist country. In particular, you cannot go with the tide of national sentiment, which is a powerful sentiment in today’s world. There’s a material basis for this in the imperialist countries; people understand with one degree of consciousness or another that they’re fighting to defend a certain amount of privilege. Therefore, in such countries, to win over those who rally to the national banner, to win them to their more fundamental class interests, to the interests of the international proletariat, which are their fundamental class interests – this is not so direct and immediate and expresses itself differently.

I haven’t thought this through thoroughly and I know I’m getting into an area of controversy, which is fine. The way I want to promote the controversy is in the form of putting the question: How does that interrelate with the question of the mass line? Not that we shouldn’t uphold the mass line as an important principle and the developments around that as an important contribution by Mao, but how does that interrelate with the question of the mass line? One point I’ve been emphasizing over and over again is that it is a perversion of the mass line to promote tailing of the masses in the name of the mass line; it’s a common perversion. Mao himself was very clear on this and opposed to it; if you look at what he actually said and systematized in terms of the mass line, it is very clearly opposed to tailism.

Mao was never a promoter of tailism, but on the other hand maybe certain ways in which they didn’t have to go against the tide of the national sentiments of the people in the Chinese revolution have to be taken into account when you’re in a situation where you do have to go against it. Not that you give up on winning the masses and not that you ignore what the sentiments of the masses are. But it’s one thing not to ignore them, that is to take them into account tactically in order to be able to win them most effectively to a correct line, sometimes by struggling against a lot of their very sentiments; it’s another thing to “take account of their sentiments” by tailing them and in fact capitulating to imperialism which has rallied them behind those sentiments. One of the common forms of capitulating to imperialism is in the name of the masses; that’s what Lenin pointed out about World War 1. He said Kautsky was an example of how the worst crimes in the world can be committed in the name of the masses. That was something that Lenin had to deal with very acutely in World War 1 and to a certain degree that particular aspect of it anyway, in terms of the national sentiments, has been both obscured and to a certain degree distorted, at least since the 1930s.


[1] See Revolution No. 49, June 1981. Also published as a pamphlet.

[2] See RW No. 99, p. 12.