Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bob Avakian

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

Chapter 7: More on the Party and Mass Movements in Relation to the Revolutionary Goal

Q: I had two questions: One was to get more into the question of the party being the key aspect of organizing forces and how that relates to developing the dialectic between being able to feel the pulse of the masses and actually being able to quicken it; and then I’m still somewhat confused about the actual relationship here between organizing forces – developing the party quantitatively and qualitatively – and the work that goes on in these mass upsurges, these struggles, which while not ultimately revolutionary in and of themselves are very important and are more and more going to come to the fore.

BA: There is a relationship between quantity and quality, not only in terms of building the party but also in terms of the party being able to carry out its overall line (which in one sense can be viewed as a qualitative question, that is, a question of line). There is also a quantitative aspect of that which enters in, which is how many forces the party can directly command under its leadership. Now there is, of course, the related question of the broad forces that rally around the party to one degree or another and carry out its policies in that kind of way, that is, not being part of the party but still sympathetic with it or supporting it and helping to carry out its policies. But still there is a qualitative difference between that and people who carry out the party’s policies as members of the party and as part of its organization and division of labor, and with that degree of consciousness and therefore that degree of commitment. We talked a little earlier about how that is a higher level and how, if it is not, then the party is not really carrying out its role.

There is a relationship between how many forces the party can marshall as party members, as part of its own ranks, and how broadly it can carry out its line among the masses and also therefore how much it can really apply the mass line in a correct, that is not tailist, sense. In other words, how much you can actually feel and quicken the pulse beat of the masses. As we have stressed for some time now, carrying out agitation is, along with spreading the party’s line, actually also the most effective way of getting to know the masses politically, of really understanding where they are at. That’s a point Lenin made which was stressed a couple of years ago in the Thoughts paper.[1] And it’s a very important principle to grasp. Ultimately quality is crucial there, too, because what kind of line party members are carrying out is going to be decisive in an overall sense, even in terms of bringing more people into the party. But within that quantity plays an important role. How many forces you can marshall, even if it’s not ultimately decisive or the principal aspect, still it has everything to do with how much you can both feel and quicken the pulse of the masses, how much you can influence them, and how rich and diverse the material is that you can gather to concentrate in order to be able to further sharpen your agitation, your propaganda, your exposure.

The mass line should not be understood narrowly: that we go out and we find out what the ideas of the masses are and we just concentrate them in the most limited, direct, one-to-one sense, and take that back – just a little bit higher level concentration of what the masses themselves are saying. That’s still tailism; it’s still a form of empiricism. But there is a relationship. In order to carry out agitation among the masses you do have to know what’s on their minds, how they are seeing things. You can learn from it, which is very important and that’s not something you have to say because it’s a moral principle that you should learn from the masses. You actually can learn from it and you can learn all the more when you actually have a revolutionary and not a tailist approach to this question. So you can learn from it. But also you cannot carry out effective and sharp exposure if you don’t know what’s on the minds of the masses, and first of all the advanced masses, especially among the proletariat and the real solid social base for a revolutionary line, but also more broadly.

So, the party has to learn and lead, and not just at the time when a revolutionary situation is maturing and ripening and a revolutionary struggle to seize power becomes possible – but all the way along this is so, through the whole period of preparation for revolution, as well as in carrying it out. In other words, all through the whole process that is comprehended and described by the formulation Create Public Opinion . . . Seize Power, the more the party can marshall its forces into the field according to its organizational principles and with its division of labor, the more it can both learn from and the more it can affect and lead forward the class forces that can be most firmly rallied to the revolutionary banner, and also the masses more broadly. On the one hand, maybe it seems very simple, but it’s also a very important point to emphasize, and again, it’s been underemphasized and not firmly grasped.

But as far as the other point... the relationship of building the party to the mass struggles, was that the point you were raising?

Q: Yeah, well like you said we’re going to jump into these currents and streams of struggle. It’s not that we shouldn’t do it, but we should do it with our head up, not down. So how do you see building the party in relationship to that – even particularly right now in this period that we are in?

BA: Well, earlier I raised the thing about being sectarian, right? What we were always concerned about and what is sometimes the caricature conjured up by opportunists now attacking us is that we go in the midst of the mass struggles, and say “Join the party. Frankly, I wish there was more truth to that caricature than there is. But on the other hand, that is not the essence of what we should do. The essence of what we should do is to carry out the line of Create Public Opinion . . . Seize Power. I don’t want to repeat everything that is said, for example, in the article “Support Every Outbreak of Protest and Rebellion”[2] it should be studied over again in terms of what we are talking about now. I think the principles there are important and also in some of the excerpts from the letter[3] that speak to the same question – what should be the way in which we relate to mass struggles.

This is going to be increasingly important because there is going to be growing turmoil and struggle in the period ahead, whether or not a revolutionary situation fully ripens in the U.S. As we have stressed over and over again, if you take the world as a whole there will certainly be revolutionary situations developing in various places, and in the U.S. the situation will certainly be a much sharper one, full of a lot more turmoil and upheaval, whether or not a revolutionary situation fully matures and ripens there. So it’s going to be all the more important to grasp and apply those principles that were stressed for example in those articles.

Our work is not to go in and say, “Join the vanguard.” In other words, the contradiction we want to deal with is not whether you should put everything into the immediate struggle or whether you should build the party. Those are opposite poles of the same stupidity in a certain sense. Obviously if you just go in and just make the immediate struggle everything that’s erroneous. But it would also be erroneous just to go in and carry out that caricature, saying, “forget the immediate struggle, join the party.” The point I’m trying to make when I say opposite poles of the same stupidity is that those aren’t even the right terms. The right terms, the correct approach and method, is to carry out the all-around work of Create Public Opinion . . Seize Power, with exposure the key link, including particularly in important struggles.

No recipe can be set forth to cover everything; you have to actually make a concrete analysis of the overall situation and the role of particular questions and struggles. In some cases you should not put any significant number of forces, maybe none at all, into the organizational and tactical aspects of that particular mass struggle or mass movement. In some other cases, such a method will lead to the conclusion that it’s very important to put one or even quite a few forces into that kind of work. But at all times this has to be seen as a subordinate part of carrying out the task of Create Public Opinion. . . Seize Power. And in a general way, even when you devote a number of forces to the organizational and tactical aspects of a struggle, still the most important thing you have to do is the all-around political work to raise the consciousness and build this struggle as part of the overall preparation for revolution in that kind of way, that is by still making exposure the key link of your all-around work. That still remains the most important thing that you have to do, even where you do go into particular struggles.

Seizing Power Central

When there are more and more of these mass struggles there is going to be the pull to fall back or become defensive in the face of that opportunist caricature. That comes with seeing the contradiction in terms of either you put everything into the immediate struggle or else you just try to build the party, like “doing your own thing to the side.” The reason I’m stressing this is that if you accept those as the terms you are bound to go wrong. Those are not the terms. The question to bring to the fore, and the correct terms in which this has to be posed, is in what way does this particular question and struggle or movement or organization, etc., fit into the overall process of preparing for and then carrying out the seizure of power. That’s the way we have to fight to present the question and it’s a question of struggle within our own ranks and more broadly even to sharpen up that this is the question. We have to grasp it that way ourselves and win others to that kind of an approach and to carrying it out. If we can grasp that, then the question of the party again can be put in its proper perspective, and we shouldn’t be defensive in that framework about the importance of building the party, and yes, building it right in the context of these immediate struggles, but again in a more general all-around way as part of the Create Public Opinion . . . Seize Power and as the most important aspect of organizing forces. Once you grasp that the real question is how does this particular struggle or movement or organization fit into that overall process, then you can also see the importance of the party and you can also treat it in a way that isn’t the opposite pole of the stupidity of putting everything into the immediate struggle and treating it as an end in itself and in fact raising it above the overall process and the revolutionary objective.

So it seems to me that the question is fighting to more deeply grasp the correct line on the central task, and in that context be able to therefore deepen our understanding and our practice around building the party. On the one hand it should be our objective to draw the advanced forces generally in society and particularly among the proletarian masses toward the party; that should be our general objective and we shouldn’t see that as something we do mainly in relation to particular struggles. But on the other hand, it is also something we should do in relation to particular struggles including those we decide to devote forces to working in the tactical and organizational terrain. We should try and draw the advanced forces toward the party, as a very important part of our overall work in general and even our overall work in relation to those specific struggles. The idea that somehow that’s sectarian could only really have any currency if you are not carrying out that work as part of the overall process of Create Public Opinion. . . Seize Power, as part of the preparation for revolution. If you are, carrying out such work, well then how, in what sense, could it possibly be considered sectarian?

So, again, it comes back to that same crucial question: With what line and as part of what process are you approaching and carrying out work in relation to different particular aspects of that process? Owing to the continuing influence of reformist tendencies and wrong thinking on how to approach particular struggles, there still remains to a certain degree this tendency to be defensive or to think this is sectarian to build the party. And, again, I feel very sure that that sort of tendency is going to assert itself very strongly the more there is mass struggle, mass movement, organization and so on. This question will sharpen both because we are going to be attacked for it and also because of the tendency to tail spontaneity, the influence of some of these old Menshevik, or at least incorrect, influences and lines. There’s going to be a certain defensiveness and a certain tendency not to put enough emphasis in fact on the aspect of building the party.

Lasting and Important

Our strategy is not “Build the Party, Make Revolution.” It’s Create Public Opinion. . . Seize Power. But if you look at that as an overall process and you grasp some of the points that I have been trying to stress here, then you can see how important building the party is all the way through and as part of that overall process. Party building does not mainly take form and become concentrated in relation to particular struggles, it’s more as part of the overall process. But it does also pose itself in relation to particular struggles, including those where you do decide to devote some forces to working within a mass organization and striving to play a role organizationally and to give tactical leadership as well as (and mainly) carrying out the overall political work. And we’re going to have to fight these questions through. But the more that we grasp what all of our work should be guided by and is part of, and what the whole process that the central task relates to is part of, then the more and also the more correctly we can take up the question of building the party, both qualitatively but also quantitatively. That means drawing forces not only close to the party and struggling to win them to its line, but struggling to bring them into the party.

Just to sharpen it up, if you understand this correctly and dialectically, the building of the party is more important and more lasting than the building of any particular struggle. That is not the same thing as saying that our objective in relation to any immediate struggle is either to put everything into the immediate struggle or just to build the party. Again, that’s the wrong question or the wrong terms. But if we see our role and approach to any particular struggle or any particular aspect of our work as how it fits into this overall process, which corresponds to the work of Create Public Opinion . . . Seize Power, or prepare minds and organize forces, if we grasp that correctly, then we can see how and in what way it’s a very basic truth that the building of the party is more lasting and more important than what happens in any particular struggle or any particular aspect of our work. It is a subordinate part of our overall work to build the party, in the sense that it’s one part of it and in that sense subordinate to it. But it’s not subordinate to whatever we do in any immediate struggle. Specifically we have to say it’s not subordinate to the tactical and organizational aspects of what we might do in any particular struggle. And the building of the party is more lasting and more important than the outcome of, or the particular work we do in, this or that particular situation or particular struggle. But on the other hand, building the party is a subordinate part of the overall task of Create Public Opinion . . . Seize Power, even while it’s the most important aspect of organizing forces. That may sound contradictory, which it is, because the reality that’s involved there is contradictory. But it’s not contradictory in an eclectic sense. I believe that does describe the correct relationship of those different aspects.


[1] “Thoughts on Points for Discussion”, a report by Bob Avakian to the Second Plenary Session of the Second Central Committee of the RCP, USA in 1978.

[2] “Support Every Outbreak of Protest and Rebellion,” reprinted from RW No.84 in pamphlet form.

[3] Excerpts from a letter by Bob Avakian printed in RW Nos. 95, 96, 102 and 107-110.