Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bob Avakian

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

Chapter 9: A Social Base for Proletarian Internationalism

Another important aspect of the question of the relationship between quality and quantity in party building is the relationship between line and social base. This takes us back again to the founding congress of our party in 1975. If you remember, the economist line which manifested itself in a number of ways there also manifested itself in the question of building the party and recruitment and particularly the way the contradiction of line and social base was expressed. At that time it was basically said that workers in our party, or even workers in the leadership, are the sign of a great victory and great advance for the proletariat and our party, in a very mechanical, economist kind of way. This congress presented the question of line and social base very mechanically, and as a matter of fact it had identified the wrong social base. That is, it identified the more bourgeoisified workers as the ones who should be our social base and the ones who ultimately would be determining what kind of line the party would have.

One of the Menshevik ironies is that they haven’t had much success in getting that kind of social base to want to join their – I guess they still call it “communist” – formation. It’s an ironic contradiction that they are involved in: for historical conditions and reasons owing to the different positions of these countries in the world, that kind of social base in the U.S., as opposed for example to some of these European countries like Italy or France, is not interested in being identified with communism in any kind of way. Trade unionism, yes, to some degree. But, unfortunately for the Mensheviks in the U.S., they don’t have the whole historical and present day reality that enables them to wrap trade unionism up in a pink diaper of so-called communism. So they are really shit-out-of-luck (at least for now, with the present conditions).

But, getting back to our situation, despite all the distortions, there is still an important question of the relationship between line and social base. Line is still decisive, and line is particularly the key link that you can grasp at any given moment to move this dialectical process forward, to act correctly upon this dialectical relationship between line and social base. At any given time it’s the line that enables you to build the party, and in particular to build it among the real proletarian social base for the kind of line that our party has been deepening and applying through struggle.

But on the other hand, in another context I presented the question this way: it’s also a matter in a certain sense of “coming from behind” in terms of the party itself. You remember, the talk “Coming From Behind to Make Revolution” raised this idea of “coming from behind” in a general, overall sense. This means, especially as the objective developments themselves accelerate, being able to accelerate ourselves to go from where we are to catch up with and get to the fore of the situation. This itself will not happen in a straight line way either, but in an overall way we have to be able to do that. There is also an application of that with regard to our party itself. In other words, there is a question in a certain way of rupturing the party itself, or making a further leap in the party itself, and in that sense really rupturing it into the kind of vanguard that is going to be necessary for the period ahead, especially if there is actually the development of a revolutionary situation in the U.S., but even if there is not. Even if a revolutionary situation does not fully mature or ripen in the U.S., the kind of tests that the proletariat and its vanguard are going to be put to in the world as a whole, including in a country like the U.S., are going to require a vanguard force that really is one. And that means not only in line being more and more firmly based on Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought, but also actually strengthening the party’s political base among that social base in society that has the greatest interest in proletarian revolution – that is, in carrying out that kind of a line. This social base is what we’ve called in short-hand terms the “real proletariat” in the U.S. Putting it from the other side – I mean that social base which has the least basis for being drawn into support for or conciliation with the imperialist system, in particular the imperialist ruling class of the country itself. There is a kind of a race involved there, a “coming from behind” process involved there.

Our party did come out of a certain kind of movement of the ’60s, which was tremendously important and did bring forward a lot of forces. You were telling me earlier about an activist from the ’60s now working as a lawyer, coming forward and being inspired by the example of people still carrying out revolutionary work, and coming forward and telling our people, half in whispers, “You know, I still believe in revolution.” There’s a lot of people like that and the ’60s did have a lot of lasting effects. It produced a lot of people who already are, and many more who will be, drawn forward as things sharpen up. The ’60s laid a lot of the basis for the future, both in terms of the overall consciousness of the masses and in terms of the vanguard itself; it was in that period that our party had its roots and out of which it developed. This is a broader, international phenomenon, too.

So all that’s very important, but still there was a certain character to that social movement of the ’60s in the U.S. It was a social movement which corresponded to a period (the ’60s and early ’70s) when things didn’t sharpen up all the way to a revolutionary situation. And the lines (and the organizational expressions) that had currency and were largely in command in that period were not the kind that were capable of leading the revolutionary movement all the way through. (This is dialectically, though not mechanically, related to the way things did – and didn’t – develop.) Neither were these lines and organizations capable of meeting the tests of the period of the ’80s and ahead, meaning the tests that are going to be placed on the masses and in a concentrated way on the vanguard, even if a revolutionary situation doesn’t develop in the U.S. In any case there are going to be tremendous demands as well as tremendous opportunities that are going to confront the masses, and in a concentrated way the vanguard forces, internationally, including in an important way in the U.S. So, there is a test.

Leaps in the Party Itself

Now I don’t want to introduce this to say we should panic, or to say there is something wrong with our party, or to say that it’s only a matter of time, if we don’t radically alter this party then it’s going to go down the drain. That’s not the point at all. The motion is forward. Viewing things in terms of their motion through contradiction we can actually see that the future is bright for the party itself as a part of the heightening prospects in the overall situation in the world as a whole. I think in the struggle carried forward up to this point there has been a strong foundation laid for coming from behind in relation to the party itself, for making further leaps and making a real rupture in terms of the party. But that is what’s required – and nothing less! When I talk about a rupture, I mean our party has to do more than just keep going forward along the road it is going forward on. It has to make some real qualitative leaps. And that involves a certain process of rupture with some of the character that it has had up to this time. Specifically talking about social base, it means that there is a relationship between line and social base. That line has to be carried out mainly, not only, but mainly among that social base. And the advanced elements mainly, not only, but mainly from among that social base have to be brought forward toward the party, into the party, trained more inside the party and developed into a more solid base of our party. Now I don’t mean this in a mechanical way or just repeating (with simply a different social base) the economist and tailist errors that we made in the past. We have to do this precisely by actually training people in practice and in theory in an all-around way as Marxist-Leninists, and ever more broadly raising the political consciousness of the people, especially that social base and particularly the advanced.

That revolutionary communist, proletarian internationalist line does represent in the most fundamental sense the interests of the international proletariat, but in terms of its expression inside the U.S., it does represent and is a concentration of the interests and to a significant degree the felt aspirations of a social base of people too – a concentration in the sense of raising to a higher level. This doesn’t mean that those people are already basically conscious, or a tailist notion that they already have the basic understanding that’s required and all we have to do is refine it a bit. They themselves need to make ruptures and leaps in terms of their consciousness and in terms of their activity. But nevertheless, it’s not like a line is just in the abstract. It does represent most fundamentally the interests of the international proletariat, but it also represents and has to find its most solid roots among that section of society whose interests are, in fact, most fully in line with the fundamental interests of the international proletariat, and whose felt aspirations are also more in the direction of those internationalist interests. If further leaps aren’t made in that direction, and in that sense a “rupturing”, then that will react back upon the line of the party. Even though the line at any given time is the key link, still there is that relationship with the question of social base, and that will react back upon the line of the party.

Now the role of revolutionary intellectuals, for example, among whom I count myself, is an extremely important role in the revolution, and it’s an economist line and philistinism to downgrade in any way the role of revolutionary intellectuals in the movement. We have to continue to combat those kinds of tendencies. But at the same time it is decisive to carry out that line and build the base of support for the party, and also to build the party itself mainly, not only, but mainly among that proletarian social base. Ultimately, either positively or negatively, that will react back upon the line of the party. And the question that is up for struggle and will increasingly come to the fore is whether that is going to be in a positive or a negative direction.

I told a story at the ’79 Central Committee meeting about a speech I gave in Cleveland. There was an older Black guy who got up and left the meeting early (eventually he came back). People told me that after he left he was out in the hall and when they went up to talk to him and see why he was leaving he was out there crying and he said, “That guy up there is saying everything that I’ve always wanted to say all my life.” Now, I don’t believe that speech was a tailist speech. The point was not that I was saying everything, just in a little bit better style or with a little bit clearer formulation, that he had always been trying to say all his life. He saw his own interests reflected but raised to a higher level, which is the role of the vanguard, and, because they had been presented in that way, he saw them in light of the struggle of the whole international proletariat. But in that light, in that broad sense, he saw his own interests and his own felt aspirations, concentrated and raised to a higher level. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. People like that have to be brought forward and not only developed in a qualitatively greater way as the base of support for our party, but have to be brought into the party and they have to struggle and work and contribute to revolution in that arena. In the period ahead this is going to sharply pose itself. Either positively or negatively in its principal aspect this is going to react back upon the line of the party. It isn’t a quantitative question there either. It isn’t a question of numerically where you have more members drawn from at any given point. But it is a question of motion and development. Over a long period of time if there is not motion and development – through ebbs and flows and twists and turns – but development towards increasingly building a base of support for the party among that social base and bringing that social base into the party, then that will tend to react back on the line itself. A line that represents the interests of the international proletariat should find its strongest base of support in the U.S. among that section of the masses whose social position is truly proletarian. Without motion and development in that direction, without that base of support, it is going to be very difficult to maintain and deepen a proletarian internationalist, revolutionary communist line over a period of time.

So that’s another aspect of the problem that needs to be grasped. And not just the party leadership, or even membership, needs to grasp it. Even beyond that it should be put out broadly to the masses from all the different strata who are being drawn towards the party, but specifically it should be put forward as a question to be taken up and struggled over among that social base itself. They have to see this as a part of their responsibility and as a challenge to them; this has to be seen in the fullest sense, not narrowly or as a gimmick. We are not tailing; we are not offering some kind of first class and second class citizenship – inverting bourgeois society in the sense that if you come from the least privileged proletarian strata you have more privilege, or a higher status in the party. Line is principal; in a fundamental sense there is only one kind of party member regardless of what strata they are drawn from. That was Lenin’s point in What Is To Be Done?. In particular he was talking about the party’s backbone element being professional revolutionaries regardless of whether they are drawn from among the workers or the intellectuals. That’s a basic principle in opposition to economism and tailism. And it’s true. If you take any given individual or you take the individuals in the party as a whole, the important question is not where they come from, in terms of their social status or origin, but their grasp and application of the line as part of the party as a whole. But at the same time, viewing it more broadly in terms of where the work of our party needs to be concentrated and where its social base has to be mainly built and where over a period of time it has to make the most important efforts, and where it’s crucial to make leaps in building the party itself, it is among that social base.

Social Base for the ’60s Revolutionary Thrust

In terms of material forces overall in society, the stepping forward of the proletarian social base for revolution around that proletarian revolutionary inter nationalist line has a tremendous influence in bringing forward the other strata and class forces that can be allies of the proletariat and can be won to the revolutionary banner. Now it’s also true, and a very important principle in opposition to economism and narrow thinking, that those proletarian masses are influenced by the movements and ferment among these other strata in society. There’s a dialectical relationship. But let’s take an example in the movement of the ’60s to get at what I mean. What is it that pushed that movement as far as it went? What gave it such a revolutionary current? There was a significant revolutionary current, a revolutionary thrust, within that movement. Even if the majority of the people who were activists in the ’60s were not in a basic sense revolutionary, certainly that current had influence among the very broadest ranks and there was a very strong force within that movement that did take a basic revolutionary position with whatever contradictions and weaknesses there were within that. And even if it didn’t have a thoroughly proletarian class character to it and was largely influenced by petty bourgeois tendencies, bourgeois democratic tendencies and so on, still there was a revolutionary kernel and thrust and a revolutionary current that was very powerful. Why was that? Why did that become so powerful?

Of course in the most fundamental and important sense, it was what was happening in the world as a whole, in particular the struggle of the Vietnamese people and the Cultural Revolution in China, which shaped and influenced what was happening in the U.S. including among the forces that were active in the political movements of the time. But within that, as a subordinate part of that, looking at the U.S. itself, in terms of social forces it was the tremendous upsurge and uprising and the revolutionary sentiments and even the revolutionary organization among the Black people that pushed that movement as far as it went and gave as much of the revolutionary thrust and gave as much strength to the revolutionary current as it had.

You can see that by the way the bourgeoisie sums it up. The bourgeoisie in the way it tries to sum up the ’60s will always try to downplay or even sometimes outright eliminate that role of the Black masses. To a large degree, of course, they will do that with the international dimension (or else distort it and pervert it), and they will also do the same thing to a very large degree with the whole thrust of the Black people’s struggle. For example in that movie “The Big Fix” it was glaringly missing because if they had brought in the whole element of the uprising of the Black masses how could they put over the line that what happened to the movement of the ’60s was that it was made up of a bunch of spoiled rich brats with a banquet in front of them who finally got tired of saying “no” when there were all these goodies to be had. That line would look even more outrageous if you tried to bring in the whole role of Black people at the time and then said ’ ’and the problem with them was they had all these goodies available and they got tired of being spoiled rich kids saying no – and decided to get all the goodies.” Now there is a section, and we’ll talk about this more later, of the Black petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie, that did reap some benefits from the struggle of that time. That’s contradictory too, there is truth to that. But, nevertheless, taking the Black people in the main aspect, that’s hot what was going on in the ’60s. Looking in terms of the U.S. itself, that is the key element that gave that revolutionary thrust and gave as much strength to the revolutionary current as there was.

Now there is a lesson there. It isn’t just because those who were rising up were oppressed (although that’s very important) but this is also related to and was strengthened by the actual class position of the Black masses, their position as crucial elements among the least privileged and least bourgeoisified sections of the proletariat in the U.S., the real proletariat. Not that the proletariat and the strongest social base for a revolutionary line in the U.S. is all, or even in its majority, Black, but certainly there are millions of Black people whose position in society is proletarian. And that, and the way that material class position influenced their struggle, in interpenetration with the national contradiction, their oppression as a people and their resistance to that oppression – it was all that that gave the revolutionary current the thrust and strength it had at the time.

The general principle that I’ve just been talking about is also going to be true in relation to the party itself, in relation to the most advanced and the most concentrated revolutionary expression that develops within the society, that is, the vanguard party. Without getting narrow or mechanical about it, in an overall sense it’ s going to be true that the rallying of the strongest social base for the revolutionary line, not only around and in support of our party but into the party, is also going to draw and influence other strata and forces in society toward more support for the party and toward making the leap to joining the party itself.

Q: In “Conquer the World...” you summed up the campaigns around the 100,000 Revolutionary Workers and May Day and the relationship between quantity and quality in that. Overall, you said, quality was key and May Day really made some qualitative leaps but in terms of the quantity we didn’t achieve what we wanted to. Certainly there will be people around who say that, now he says that quantity wasn’t really that important so therefore the next time when it comes up that we put forward certain goals all we’ve got to do is reach a certain qualitative level and everything’s fine. And I think what you have been saying here is that in terms of the development of the party, with quality being the key link, at a certain point quantity is going to act on the quality. You’re saying that if we look at it at this time there’s a certain leap that has to be made. As you put it in the ’79 CC Report, there’s a certain chasm that we have to get across here. Maybe you can focus a little more on that and whether that’s actually the way you see it.

BA: Well to start with the last part first for a second: I’m not trying to present it like an immediate chasm in the sense that unless we make a certain advance, a certain leap right now, we’re going to start going backwards or we’re going to suffer a tremendous setback. That’s not the way I see it. And another dimension to that is I don’t think what’s called for is some sort of intense campaign of building our party or recruiting into the party. I think we need to sum up more deeply the efforts that were made in the past, including the advances we could have made beyond what was done in efforts like the Mao Tsetung Enrollment into the party; but I also think we need to see things in a little bit different light, especially at this point. What I am trying to stress is precisely the need to give more emphasis to this in an ongoing way, rather than like some emergency, intense effort or blast over a short period of time to try to make some leap. I think we need to make leaps, yes, but more we need to give increasing emphasis to this in an ongoing way.

To go back to what you said in the beginning of this question, I didn’t say and I don’t think that it’s the case that quantity didn’t matter or was unimportant in the question of May Day or in the question of the RW. As I pointed out in relation to summing up May Day 1980, there is a dialectic between quantity and quality, and if the quantity had been such around May Day that basically there were no advanced forces, beyond, let’s say a few hundred or something, who had responded to the call for May Day 1980 by taking to the streets, then that would obviously have influenced the quality. If that had been so, then you could not say that there was the kind of leap that there was. What I pointed out then and what I still believe is that even though the quantity fell short of what we called for (and what was possible) it was not such a low quantity that it turned the quality into its opposite – that is, making the demonstrations a setback rather than an advance. If that small a number had come out, it would have represented a setback, no matter if there were some good things that happened secondarily within it.

The same thing with the RW; we’ve had to consolidate on a lower level than the 100,000 we called for, but we have succeeded in making the paper, the line on central task and the revolutionary communist/proletarian internationalist trend the paper represents, a real trend in a qualitatively greater way, but also in a quantitatively greater way than before. That trend, as given concentrated expression in the newspaper, now has quantitatively greater impact, if you will, and also qualitatively greater impact. If it didn’t make a certain level of quantitative advance in terms of impact, it could not make a qualitative advance and we would have failed. So you could say on the one hand we did fail quantitatively to reach and consolidate on the 100,000 level; we had to consolidate lower than that. But on the other hand, the advances that were made in terms of the quantitative impact were such that when you take the thing as a whole, including the quantitative advances, we say that there was a qualitative leap there. That’s the only correct conclusion. It’s not that the quantity is unimportant or doesn’t figure in, or as long as we do a few good things, as long as there’s a few inspiring examples of things and as long as the line in the newspaper is correct, then it doesn’t matter if we try to expand regular distribution to 100,000 and end up with a thousand, let’s say, which is like only having hundreds on May Day, that’s a very extreme example. Obviously we have consolidated on a higher level than a thousand. But, it’s not like you could just say the quantity absolutely doesn’t matter – that’s not the correct method and that’s not what I am saying.

The question of the party is a little different than May Day 1980 or than the particular campaign around the 100,000. I think building the party is similar to what we have to do now at this point around the newspaper, which is to build from what we have achieved and consolidated up to this point, and through the course of our work and through the development of things over the period ahead, to advance from that level forward, including making leaps at crucial points in an ongoing way by deepening our grasp of the correct line and our application of it. But in particular what I am singling out here, because I think it’s been given too little emphasis, is the question of building the party, including building it quantitatively, recruiting new members into the party while taking quality, that is, line, as the key link and the principal aspect of that overall. Just as with the newspaper, that has to be an ongoing struggle which has to be given increasing attention and effort.