Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bob Avakian

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

Chapter 5: The Party: The Key Part of Organizing Forces

Q: In “Conquer the World? ...” in the part on the central task when you speak of ”preparing minds and organizing forces” you say that the party is the key aspect of organizing forces. Maybe you could develop a bit more how you see that.

BA: On the one hand maybe it should seem obvious that the party is the key aspect of organizing forces since it is a principle of Marxism-Leninism that the party is the most important organization of the proletariat, right? But the fact is that in opposition to that there’s been a trend which has also had a lot of influence within our own ranks going all the way back to the RU,[1] where the party was seen as less important or treated as less important than mass organizations or attempts at mass organizations. If this was not true theoretically or in name, nevertheless it was true in another sense in actual political terms.

This went along with the idea that the key thing was to have mass struggle. In other words it went along with the understanding we used to have of the old central task of our party. Now, through forging the line of Create Public Opinion ...Seize Power, we’ve come to see that the struggle of the masses largely and overwhelmingly takes place, or is initiated, independently of the direct calls to action of the party, although that’s not always true and there are some important cases where the party does issue direct calls to action and mobilizes the masses in struggle. But for the most part, the struggle of the masses should be viewed more as part of the objective conditions that the party deals with, because most of it comes into being, people come into motion, independently of the direct calls to action of the party; even to a large degree independently of the indirect work of the party to initiate struggle, that is, the agitation and propaganda that indirectly causes people to come into motion. Even if you take that into account, still most of the struggle of the masses is something that takes place, is provoked if you will, or called into motion, by other and in an overall sense larger forces than the party itself. And in a general sense it forms part of the objective conditions that the party has to deal with, has to react upon. That’s in its principal aspect, not in its entirety; there are important secondary aspects in which the party does directly initiate certain important forms of mass struggle, and even leads them directly from the beginning.

In other words, in the past, the party was seen as a direct generator of mass struggle; and going along with this view was a tendency for those struggles to be treated as things unto themselves, even though we never gave up on the goal of revolution or forgot about it. The goal was always proclaimed and even work to propagate it was carried on in relation to mass struggles, but often in a way of sort of tacking it onto the work of building these struggles. But still those struggles were seen as something of a thing unto themselves, and the building of struggle like that was likewise seen as a stage unto itself. So building mass organizations tended to become the focus and emphasis of our work in organizing forces. This was true no matter how it was formulated, even if these organizations were called transmission belts or conveyor belts between the party and the masses.

In opposition to that understanding, as a negation of it if you will, the more that the line of actually preparing for revolution has been grasped and carried out, the more that Create Public Opinion . . . Seize Power, or preparing minds and organizing forces, has come to the fore as the real basis of the work, the more there has been the necessity to grasp the real meaning and importance of the fact that the party is the most important organization that the proletariat has. Yet there has still been a lagging in that area. Even while there have been real advances in grasping and applying that new line on the central task, still there has been lagging on that aspect of the role and importance of the party as the key organization of the proletariat and the key aspect of organizing forces. If you think about it, the two really do go hand in hand.

In the past we operated with an idea of a sort of “intermediate stage” (summing this up obviously doesn’t mean we are now saying that today is directly a revolutionary situation, or even one that is immediately heading toward a revolutionary situation). With this intermediate stage idea it wasn’t that you carried out reformist work in the sense that you were consciously or subjectively trying to build toward something else than revolution even in the interim, even as an intermediate program. But nevertheless, objectively, the more that you treated struggles as things unto themselves, and as things which had their own dynamic, their own dialectic and their own process which was treated as self contained – the more the role of the party would be downgraded. And on the other hand, in opposition to that, the more that you see that all of your work is work of preparation in the sense and with the content expressed by the formulation of the central task now, Create Public Opinion . . . Seize Power, or the formulation of “preparing minds and organizing forces” – the more you see that really the party is the most important organization. As we’ve swept away the old view, the importance of building the party has become much clearer and sharper.

Any kind of mass struggle or mass organization – as important as it genuinely may be, and even if it’s a struggle that becomes very broad and lasts a long time – has a temporary character as compared with the party and as compared with the ongoing task of revolution. Such a mass struggle cannot be identical with, nor still less replace the overall work, but has to be a subordinate part of the overall process and work of building for and carrying out revolution; any mass organization has to be looked at in the same way, even where it is correct for a mass organization to be maintained or even for the party to directly initiate it.

One of the things that Stalin more or less correctly pointed out (even if he tended to be a little bit mechanical in the way he treated it) was that the Soviets (the councils of the masses) were the kind of organization that could only really be brought into being and maintained in a period of revolutionary upsurge; you couldn’t have Soviets all the time. In fact it’s interesting to note, and perhaps the implications should be drawn out more fully at another time, that when it came to consolidating things after the Russian Revolution and the whole upsurge there associated with the conjuncture around World War 1, they basically had to do away with the soviet form. Even with the proletariat in power, the Soviets were not able to be maintained in the form in which they had existed as part of the revolutionary upsurge. Now to what degree that was due to errors and to what degree that was more due to the rise and fall of the revolution and its spiral motion (which is what I tend to think) should be looked into more. But if we take just the aspect of when you ’re not in power, I think it is correct as a general principle, without being mechanical about it, that you cannot maintain that advanced kind of organization all the time, especially when you don’t have a revolutionary upsurge.

This is one of the things that we summed up around the NUWO (National United Workers Organization), for example. We kept trying to find new ways to provide a theoretical basis and a practical basis to maintain it, but we finally summed up that there wasn’t any. The original meeting back in 1977 actually did show something. It showed that there were a number of advanced workers around who were interested in revolutionary politics. I know that some of the workers were brought there on a trade-unionist basis, especially by the Mensheviks, but also by the general influence of the economist trend within our line at that time; but there were also many who were brought forward on a much more advanced basis who wanted to take up politics and even world affairs. That was what was positive about that meeting, what was reflected there, even though it was perverted, especially by the Menshevik leadership of that meeting.

But even as we went forward and tried to root out the Menshevism that had influenced – I was going to say infested – but influenced our thinking, our line and our work, we still weren’t able to forge a practical and theoretical basis for maintaining the NUWO and we finally had to sum up that it wasn’t possible to maintain that sort of conveyor belt, transition belt, in this kind of a period. We did not conclude from this that any kind of mass organization is wrong now; and as for very advanced forms of organization, something equivalent to Soviets, a mass form of basically revolutionary organization – that doesn’t mean they could not be maintained or should not be maintained and even initiated when the situation demands them; that is, in particular, when the situation is ripening to a revolutionary situation and the masses are rising in a general revolutionary upsurge. But nevertheless, you have to ask, well, why was there this sort of general tendency to view mass organizations as more important than the party? It was because there was a tendency to view struggle as cut off from and apart from and in reality as a substitute for the work of actually carrying out all-around preparation for revolution. Now we understand that our work of various kinds in building, supporting struggles has to be in fact a part of and just one part, in a general sense a subordinate part, of our overall preparation for revolution.

A Backward Pull Will Emerge

I tried to point out in that letter of mine that was excerpted over a period of time in the RW (see issue No. 109) that there is going to be a tendency to go back to the old economist tendencies again. It has been pointed out that this has started already to assert itself and will increasingly do so now that there is more mass ferment and mass struggle. Opposition to Create Public Opinion . . . Seize Power has been difficult for people who aren’t still won over to it inside and outside our ranks because there hasn’t been a big mass movement that they could latch onto, point to and use as a weight against this line. But now, even if only the beginning stages, there clearly is mass ferment and mass struggle breaking out here and there. And there will be a pull to say, “How can we stand aside from that?” In other words, how can we not plunge head-down into it and throw away all the line that we’ve fought to forge up to this point. There will be the very strong pull, even among the best, to get drawn into any particular mass struggle and lose sight of the fact that as important as some of those struggles may be, they are only one stream that we are trying to direct eventually into a general torrent that can knock down the dams ahead (if you want to carry out the analogy). There will be a tendency to get lost, to dive head-first into these streams and get lost just trying to swim in the swirl and complexity of the particular struggle, especially an important one. This is not to say that we shouldn’t enter into some of those streams, and actually swim right in the current of them, plunging into some of those struggles, but we should not do it head down. Nor should we do it in such a way that we throw away or lose sight of the revolutionary goal, even unconsciously or just by being pulled along by spontaneity and not through actual design or conscious policy. We cannot lose sight of how this is still only one stream of the overall advance, one current that we are trying to – and that in fact only we can help to – channel toward the goal, along with a number of other streams.

The more that you grasp all of that basic revolutionary line that I’ve just been talking about up to this point, the more you can see that only the party is in a position to do that; and the more you can see how important it is in fact that the party be strengthened both qualitatively and quantitatively in order to be able – precisely as there is more mass struggle and mass upsurge – to carry out the kind of line that is concentrated in Create Public Opinion . . . Seize Power. We have pointed out that this central task is a whole process which includes the preparation for revolution and also, eventually, the act of revolution itself in the sense of the seizure of power. To be able to carry out that whole process, you can see how crucial it is that the party be strengthened at every point as much as possible, that real effort and real leaps be made in building the party both qualitatively and quantitatively. The more you see all these diverse streams that you have to relate to – but in that way, with that kind of line – the more you can see how important it is to qualitatively and quantitatively build the party as much as possible at each stage. To summarize this point, this revolutionary line meets opposition from both the spontaneous pull (which still exists) and the conscious line and thinking (which also still exists in varying degrees) to treat any particular mass struggle or mass struggles in general as the be-all and end-all and a thing in themselves. Inevitably a part of that is to downgrade the role of the party.

It’s really going to take a great deal of political courage, by which I don’t mean some existential or psychological thing of “do you have guts,” but a great deal of consciousness and determination to carry out the line that we’ve been forging more deeply, precisely not to plunge head-down into all these struggles and lose sight of the overall process and lose sight of the importance of the party. This is because there is going to be a tremendous pull of spontaneity, and there is always going to be the pull from masses involved in struggles to want to draw the party deeply into them in a kind of way that causes you to lose sight of the overall process which is comprehended by Create Public Opinion . . . Seize Power, and of which these struggles have to be treated as a part, a subordinate part, however important any of them may be, or however important they may be overall as a general phenomenon.

In our history there has always been an active orientation and not an armchair orientation. And in one sense it was a strength of the RU, which stood out in opposition to a lot of armchair revolutionaries, and has been a part of the positive thing that I have described as “taking responsibility for the movement as a whole,’’ that is, taking responsibility for building a revolutionary movement. But it must also be said that this divides sharply into two; to a significant degree all along and at times unfortunately even the principal aspect, there has been the tendency to define “activity” narrowly and to identify it simply with being involved in struggle, while tacking on or adding on in a quantitative way and a mechanical way propaganda (in particular) about the need for revolution, socialism, and propagating the positive model of the socialist countries such as China (when it was one). So while there was a strength, there was also a great weakness, and now we’ve come to understand much more clearly that our activity has to be understood in a much broader sense and has to be seen as an ongoing process, as preparation toward and then carrying out the revolution, that is, the seizure of power.

There can’t be any sort of wall created between the work we do now and the seizing of power later. And the most important form of work we are doing now is the agitation and propaganda, with all-round exposure key. Even where we may get involved in struggles on the level of trying to give tactical and organizational leadership, still in an overall way the propaganda and agitation and exposure we do in relation to them is more important. And beyond that we have to carry out exposure in an all-round way which in an overall sense will not be directly related to any particular mass struggle or mass organization. And there, again, the question of political courage comes in, in the form of standing up against the pull of “Let’s do something more immediate, let’s do something more practical,” as if anything short of revolution can do what has to be done.


[1] Revolutionary Union, the organization which preceded and played the key role in the formation of the RCP, USA.