The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement

20. Objective Conditions and the Mass Line

The analysis of objective conditions is important in the mass line because such an analysis is one of the major tools which the party must use in order to process the ideas of the masses. Obviously no leaders can lead successfully if they do not have a correct understanding of the situation they are in.

The overall, balanced view of Marxism on the question of objective conditions was well expressed by Lenin:

Marxism differs from all other socialist theories in the remarkable way it combines complete scientific sobriety in the analysis of the objective state of affairs and the objective course of evolution with the most emphatic recognition of the importance of the revolutionary energy, revolutionary creative genius and revolutionary initiative of the masses—and also, of course, of individuals, groups, organizations and parties that are able to discover and achieve contact with one or another class.[1]

It is easy to see from this quotation that there is a tension here, a dialectical contradiction between the objective and the subjective. And where such a contradiction exists, there will be those who recognize one aspect but not the other, or who lean too much one way or the other. There will be rigid "fatalists" on the right and there will be crazy "subjectivists" on the "left". Only a dialectician can consistently steer between these two extremes.

The Importance of a Concrete Analysis of Concrete Conditions

Our first task here is to emphasize the importance of correctly analyzing the objective conditions. How important is this? Marxists have always viewed it as the foundation for our work. As Mao summarized it,

Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin have taught us that it is necessary to study conditions conscientiously and to proceed from objective reality and not from subjective wishes; but many of our comrades act in direct violation of this truth.[2]

Mao even calls this our "most fundamental method of work":

The most fundamental method of work which all Communists must firmly bear in mind is to determine our working policies according to actual conditions. When we study the causes of the mistakes we have made, we find that they all arose because we departed from the actual situation at a given time and place and were subjective in determining our working policies.[3]

Mao rhetorically asks: "Why is our Party correct? It is because we can start from objective conditions in assessing and resolving all problems."[4] And in another place he gives a philosophical explanation of why starting from objective reality is so important:

Subjectivism means proceeding not from objective reality and from what is actually possible, but from subjective wishes. the light of our experience, we should criticize views running counter to the realities, criticize and combat subjectivism.... The universal truth of Marxism must be integrated with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution, or else we will get nowhere. In other words, theory must be integrated with practice. Integration of theory with practice is one of the fundamental principles of Marxism. According to dialectical materialism, thought must reflect objective reality and must be tested and verified in objective practice before it can be taken as truth, otherwise it cannot. Though we have done well in the last few years, subjectivism is evident everywhere. There will be subjectivism in the future, just as there is today. Subjectivism will always be there, ten thousand years and even a hundred million years from now, and it will be so as long as humanity does not perish. Where there is subjectivism, there are mistakes.[5]

Thus subjectivism, which is a species of idealism, results when we fail to base our work on objective conditions. In less fancy language, subjectivism means working according to pipe dreams. And as Mao indicates, subjectivism of one sort or another is the source of most our mistakes. (Subjectivism is the source of all our mistakes which do not derive from a bourgeois or other alien class stand. Of course taking a bourgeois class stand is only correctly described as an "error", or a "mistake", if it is an aberration. David Rockefeller did not become a capitalist "by mistake".)

Anyone, no matter who, may succumb to subjectivism if they cease studying the objective situation. As Mao said, in his inimitable way, "In my opinion, circumstances are more powerful than individuals, even than high officials."[6] Not even important leaders of the party or the state (under socialism) are immune, no matter what their previous accomplishments.

Of course the most important part of an analysis of the objective situation is a class analysis, and a calculation of the strength of the various social forces. As Mao put it, "In all mass movements we must make a basic investigation and analysis of the number of active supporters, opponents and neutrals and must not decide problems subjectively and without basis."[7] In fact, if such a calculation is broad and deep enough, it is probably almost all there is to an analysis of the objective situation. Thus the amount of ammunition the two sides in a battle have is a factor in the objective situation, but if the study of the strength of the opposing forces is extensive enough it will include this information.

Only an objective consideration of the sum total of reciprocal relations of all the classes of a given society without exception, and, consequently, a consideration of the objective stage of development of that society and of the reciprocal relations between it and other societies, can serve as a basis for correct tactics of the advanced class. At the same time, all classes and all countries are regarded not statically, but dynamically, i.e., not in a state of immobility, but in motion (the laws of which are determined by the economic conditions of existence of each class). (Lenin)[8]

The very best statement about the importance of basing one's work on a study of the objective situation comes, once again, from Lenin who said "what is most important, that which constitutes the very gist, the living soul, of Marxism—[is] a concrete analysis of a concrete situation."[9] That is a comment that no Marxist can ever afford to forget.

The Trap of Rigid Fatalism Due to "Objective Conditions"

The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them. (George Bernard Shaw)[10]

While all revolutionary work must be based on a full appreciation of the present situation, must start from the real objective conditions, it is possible to exaggerate and completely distort this basic truth, to make a mockery of it. One person who had a strong tendency in this direction was Nikolai Bukharin. His biographer and admirer, Stephen F. Cohen, discusses the common charge against Bukharin, as well as the diametrically opposite error:

A widely held view maintains that the cautious evolutionary policies that Bukharin was to advocate in the twenties, which set him first against the Bolshevik Left and then against Stalin, may be explained largely by his mechanistic understanding of Marxist dialectics and his companion theory of equilibrium. His Marxism it is argued, was sternly deterministic, emphasizing the hegemony of objective conditions over the interventionist capabilities of man. This view is contrasted with the voluntarism embedded in the Left's programs of the twenties and subsequently in Stalin's "great change" of 1929-33. Political and economic voluntarism is seen as being intimately related to the anti-mechanistic school in Soviet philosophy, centered around Abram Deborin, which unlike the mechanists (who disliked the Deborinist formulation of the proposition and its transcendent implications) argued that dialectics implied self-movement of matter and leaps from quantity to quality.[11]

Cohen claims this criticism is unfair to Bukharin but it seems accurate to me. The way Cohen appears to view things, however, you must either be a "determinist" or a "voluntarist"—there is no middle ground. (Typical bourgeois logic.) Anyway the key point here is that on the question of objective conditions—as on so many other questions—it is possible to place too much emphasis on them just as it is possible to place too little emphasis on them. If "objective conditions" becomes the excuse for rightist passivity it has definitely been carried to a ridiculous extreme. Both Bukharinist "determinism" and Deborinist "voluntarism" must be avoided.

The RCP has appropriately criticized Zhou Enlai [Chou En-lai, old style] for a similar Bukharinist tendency:

On the question of pushing the revolution forward, Chou repeatedly emphasizes that it is necessary to "wait and do some persuading". His emphasis is not on mobilizing the masses and relying on their conscious activism to advance the revolution. Chou's message is to go slow—the democratic revolution will be a long period, and only when we have united "the great majority" will it be opportune to start talking about the socialist revolution. Using the demagogic line of a bourgeois democrat, Chou argues that "when the great majority do not agree, we must follow the majority organizationally."...
      Chou's speech to this important Youth Conference in 1949 also literally reeks with a totally perverted conception of the relation between leaders and the masses....
      Very significant is the fact that, in exhorting the youth to "learn from Mao Tsetung", Chou chooses to stress two things: (1) that Mao applies Marxism-Leninism concretely, in the particular situation of China, and (2) that it is always necessary to "win over the great majority" before anything can be done. Why, in allegedly explaining Mao Tsetung Thought does Chou lay all his stress on these, and only these? Although he "modestly" notes that "what I have said is only a very small part of Mao Tsetung Thought"..., the effect of his speech is to reduce Mao Tsetung Thought to a pedestrian pablum of keeping your eyes on the concrete and patiently persuading the great majority before attempting to take any action. The vanguard role of communists is perverted into the role of condescending saviors or Confucian sages who patiently keep dispensing their pearls of wisdom until the backward masses finally wake up and pick them up.[12]

The general point here is that in dealing with a dialectical contradiction it is possible to go wrong by putting too much emphasis on one aspect of the contradiction and ignoring the opposite aspect. (I am speaking of a "metastable" contradiction here, that is to say, one that must for a time be dealt with as a whole, as a unity of opposites, rather than a contradiction which must be immediately resolved by completely favoring one of its aspects over the other.) It is not that we shouldn't recognize and start from objective conditions; of course we should. But we must also understand that the party must play a role in changing objective conditions, and to ignore or soft pedal this aspect of the contradiction is to make a serious rightist error.

Of course, no one should disregard reality and indulge in flights of fancy, or make plans of action unwarranted by the objective situation, or reach out for the impossible. However, the problem today is that Right conservative thinking is still causing trouble in many spheres and prevents our work from keeping pace with the development of the objective situation. The problem today is that what can be done by a measure of exertion is considered by many to be impossible. It is therefore entirely necessary to continue the criticism of Right conservative ideas, which do in fact exist. (Mao)[13]

To mark time and make no advance is a deviation to the Right; to go beyond what is practicable is a deviation to the "Left". Both are manifestations of subjectivism. (Mao)[14]

Right opportunists continually chant that we must wait until conditions are just right before we attempt to lead the masses in action. But in reality "conditions are never just right."[15] Those who from timidity, or whatever cause, say that political action—insurrection, for example—should be forever put off because "conditions are still not exactly right" need to reflect on this bit of wisdom. Conditions will never be exactly right; but they need only be sufficiently right. If conditions were exactly right, things would happen all by themselves, and the party would be completely unnecessary.

An excellent statement of the Marxist point of view appeared in an article in the Chinese newspaper People's Daily in 1959:

One of the greatest characteristics of the Communists is that they have a strong subjective desire to transform the world, display their subjectivity as far as possible with respect for objective reality, and never show themselves helpless in the face of objective reality.[16]

While it is completely true that we must start from the real objective conditions in all our work, we must be very careful not to let "objective conditions" become the excuse for passivity, or even worse, become the excuse for redirecting the revolutionary struggle in a reformist, economist direction. Lenin exposed and criticized this latter tendency very forcefully. In the following, he starts by quoting an "Economist" attack on his position:

"In adopting a hostile attitude towards the activities of the Social-Democrats of the late nineties, Iskra ignores the absence at that time of conditions for any work other than the struggle for petty demands," declare the Economists in their "Letter to Russian Social-Democratic Organs" (Iskra, No. 12). The facts given above show that the assertion about "absence of conditions" is diametrically opposed to the truth. Not only at the end, but even in the mid-nineties, all the conditions existed for other work, besides the struggle for petty demands—all the conditions except adequate training of leaders. Instead of frankly admitting that we, the ideologists, the leaders, lacked sufficient training—the "Economists" seek to shift the blame entirely upon the "absence of conditions", upon the effect of material environment that determines the road from which no ideologist will be able to divert the movement. What is this but slavish cringing before spontaneity, what but the infatuation of the "ideologists" with their own shortcomings?[17]

The rightist tendency toward passivity, toward slavishness to "objective conditions", amounts to an abandonment of leadership—at least revolutionary leadership. Remember that the spontaneous trend under capitalism (and even under socialism) is generally a bourgeois trend. Yes, we start from the objective situation in our revolutionary work, but as Lenin said, we must make the most of that situation from a revolutionary perspective:

The task of the advanced class in the revolution is to ascertain correctly the trend of the struggle, to make the most of all opportunities, all chances of victory. This class must be the first to take the directly revolutionary path and the last to abandon it for the more "prosaic", more "circuitous" paths.[18]

This also justifies in part the tendency of genuine revolutionaries to take an optimistic stand in considering the gains which might be possible in a given situation. Again, the point is not to take leave of our senses, but to really strive with all our might to achieve every advance possible.

The objective situation does in fact circumscribe what gains we can make in any situation. But the challenge is to push things to the limits. Only if we follow such an optimistic, revolutionary policy will we actually advance the revolution to the degree that is truly possible.

When we fall short in our revolutionary objectives it may be because of the objective situation or because of the inadequacy of our work in making the best out of that situation. (But see below!) The initial objective situation is simply something we are presented with, something we have to recognize and start from. If we don't do so, it is our own fault. There is no use complaining about it, and it is foolish to pretend it is any different than it really is. But our own work is something we control, and our own work is a factor in changing the situation we initially confront. If we don't proceed to do that either, that is also our own fault.

Thus the Marxist attitude toward our failures is well expressed by Mao: "If we do not win, we will blame neither heaven nor earth but only ourselves."[19] If the objective conditions are not right for what you are trying to do, whose fault is that? The world's, or your own?! If the conditions are not right for what you are trying to do, then what you are trying to do under those conditions is somewhat wrong—you must tailor your work to the actual conditions that exist. If we fail to reach our goals, we must simply reevaluate the objective situation and our work in light of the now better-understood contitions. For a genuine communist there is no such thing as permanent or complete failure; there is only yet another lesson from the school of hard knocks, and a new and wiser start toward our revolutionary goal.

Every situation, properly perceived, becomes an opportunity...[20]

The Objective Situation is Not Static

The objective situation is not static; it is always changing. It changes because of what revolutionaries do, and for lots of other reasons. Thus determining the objective situation is not something to be done once and for all. It is something that we must constantly be studying. This is all the more the case since, while we may at many points come to a more or less correct understanding of the objective circumstances, there will always be at least some subjectivity in our understanding, which we should constantly work to reduce.

Conditions are changing all the time, and to adapt one's thinking to the new conditions, one must study. Even those who have a better grasp of Marxism and are comparatively firm in their proletarian stand have to go on studying, have to absorb what is new and study new problems. (Mao)[21]

As conditions change, our plans must also change, if we expect to reach our goals. (Sometimes even the immediate goals themselves need to be modified.)

Plan for the greatest effect. Change plans with the change of circumstances. If circumstances have changed, a man's thought had better change accordingly. If not, he will be put in a passive position. Let the brain not be fossilized. Formulate plans according to the amount of materials and the number of people, not according to subjectivity. (Mao)[22]

Mao talks about many of these issues at length in "On Practice". He says, for example, that

As far as social movements are concerned, true revolutionary leaders must not only be good at correcting their ideas, theories, plans or programmes when errors are discovered, as has been indicated above; but when a certain objective process has already progressed and changed from one stage of development to another, they must also be good at making themselves and all their fellow-revolutionaries progress and change in their subjective knowledge along with it, that is to say, they must ensure that the proposed new revolutionary tasks and new working programmes correspond to the new changes in the situation. In a revolutionary period the situation changes very rapidly; if the knowledge of revolutionaries does not change rapidly in accordance with the changed situation, they will be unable to lead the revolution to victory.[23]

As Lenin notes, what this all means is that sensible revolutionaries must be flexible in their plans and tactics:

The difficulties are immense. But we are accustomed to grappling with immense difficulties. Not for nothing do our enemies call us "stone-hard" and exponents of a "firm-line policy". But we have also learned, at least to some extent, another art that is essential in revolution, namely, flexibility, the ability to effect swift and sudden changes of tactics if changes in objective conditions demand them, and to choose another path for the achievement of our goal if the former path proves to be inexpedient or impossible at the given moment.[24]

The Dialectic Between the Objective and the Subjective

A wise person will make more opportunities than seem to exist. (Francis Bacon)[25]

One of my major themes is that the proletarian party can only lead the revolution if it maintains a mass perspective. It must in other words combine its own revolutionary determination and fervor with the existing mass movement. Back in 1976, Bob Avakian seemed to be saying much the same thing when he wrote:

We must start from the actual conditions and break through the actual contradictions to advance toward the revolutionary goal, not in isolation from, but together with ever greater sections of the working class, ever broader ranks of the masses.[26]

Avakian went on immediately to note that this process must not be viewed metaphysically:

On the other hand, the development of the situation must not be viewed simply in quantitative terms—a series of small changes, added together over time, will somehow lead to a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary mood among the masses. At a certain point, there must be and will be a qualitative leap, in the objective situation, in the mood, and—if we do our work right—in the consciousness of the masses.[27]

Not only must there be leaps in revolutionary consciousness among the masses at various points, but the whole relationship between the objective and the subjective must be viewed dialectically. Avakian explicates two ways in which this is so:

The objective situation sets the stage on which the Party plays its role. There is a dialectical relationship, however, between objective and subjective conditions. What is objective for the Party—for example, the mood of the masses—is subjective for those same masses (another way of applying what Mao says in On Contradiction, "what is universal in one context becomes particular in another", and vice versa). Due to this same fact—the dialectical relationship between objective and subjective—there is an interpenetration between them, they react upon each other and therefore the objective situation can be changed by the action of the conscious forces on the basis of grasping not only the general laws of development, but also the particularity of the conditions (contradictions) that you are immediately confronted with (in this process the subjective changes, too). Hence Lenin's statement that the "living soul of Marxism is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions".[28]

Mao, also, brought out an important aspect of this dialectic between the subjective and the objective when he remarked "The initiative of the masses exists objectively."[29]

The Imminence of Revolution

Back in 1970 I met a number of people in the Revolutionary Union and other revolutionary organizations active at the time who believed very firmly that revolution in the U.S. was imminent, and I mean really imminent, something that could break out "any day now". I remember one pair especially, "Rick" and "Diane", who embraced the revolutionary creed in a very messianic way, very much like a religion. For example, I remember Rick attempting to give an almost mystical exegesis of one of Mao's quotations from the little Red Book. Rick told me that there would positively be a revolution in this country in 18 months "at the most". I tried to get him to view things a little more objectively, and to take a long view, but it was no use. I guess it must have seemed like additional evidence that I was not yet "truly revolutionary" myself. (I was trying to get into the RU at the time and involve myself in revolutionary work.) Within 18 months there was indeed a change: Rick and Diane had become disillusioned and left the movement. The last I heard of them they had become born-again Christians and were members of some cult.

There are two opposite ideological dangers to arm ourselves against here. The "leftist" view that revolution is always imminent, and the rightist view that revolution will never be imminent, that it is an impossibly distant goal, that in fact it is not really a practical possibility.

As Marxists we have learned to view the development of society dialectically, which is to say in part that we have learned that there can be qualitative leaps in the situation. A non-revolutionary situation can develop very quickly into a revolutionary situation, and we must be ready when it does. But on the other hand, a non-revolutionary situation can also continue for decades, even if there are periods of mass upsurge, as well as periods of quiescence, within it.

Even in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was not a revolutionary situation in the U.S. Most revolutionaries at the time were sober enough to realize that at no time were we actually in a revolutionary situation; they had that much grasp of the objective situation. But a great many of them believed that the objective situation itself would soon change and we would soon be in a revolutionary situation. It was not in fact ridiculous to imagine that such a turn of events might actually happen within a few years time, though of course things did not turn out that way.

As Lenin remarked, a revolutionary situation has three main characteristics: 1) the ruling class is in crisis and is no longer able to continue ruling in the same old way; 2) the condition of the broad masses has grown qualitatively worse than usual; and 3) as a consequence of the first two points, there is a great increase in the political activity of the masses.[30]

In the late 60s and early 70s there were indeed some major symptoms of crisis for the ruling class in the U.S.—their difficulties with the Vietnam War and the reaction against it at home, the upsurge of the Black liberation struggle, economic difficulties, Watergate, etc. But though it was a period of crisis for the bourgeoisie, it was not a crisis severe enough that they were unable to continue ruling in the same old way. (There was no resort to open fascism, no declarations of martial law, no military coups, etc.) The condition of the broad masses worsened somewhat, during this period, but again it was not a major qualitative worsening.[31] And there was a considerable increase in the political activity of the masses, especially around the war and the Black liberation struggle. But the activity of the masses in general was still quite limited; it was primarily sections of the students and Black people who were in motion. By no stretch of the imagination did anything like Lenin's interpretation of this condition hold: "for a revolution to take place, it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class-conscious, thinking, and politically active workers) should fully realize that revolution is necessary, and that they should be prepared to die for it..."[32]

I don't want to minimize the importance of this period of history. It is probably fair to say that while there was definitely not a revolutionary situation at any point, and we were never "extremely close" to one, for several years society was moving in that direction. At the time it was by no means obvious that a revolutionary situation would not develop within a few years. It might have developed if a few things had been different. Suppose the bourgeoisie had not become so frustrated in Vietnam and so alarmed about the trend at home, for example, and instead of winding down the war and finally ending it, they had decided to "go for broke". Suppose they had decided to use nuclear weapons, and/or attack China—things which they were considering doing at various points. Suppose they had decided to try to suppress the mass movements at home more ferociously than they were already doing, and move more in the direction of fascism. Under such conditions millions would have had their liberal and bourgeois democratic illusions shattered, and might well have turned to revolution. Another thing that certainly might have made an enormous difference was if there had been a genuine, and well-established proletarian party in existence at the time to push things forward.

But the quick development of such a revolutionary situation was not as "inevitable" as it seemed to some, nor could any predictions of revolution "within 18 months" be reasonably made. Those who back in 1970 not only expected the development of a revolutionary situation within 18 months, but also a successful revolution by then, were almost as ignorant of the objective situation as those who thought that we were already in a revolutionary situation at the time and that revolution would come any day.

The wild optimism of most 60s revolutionaries has long since vanished. The more typical problem today is cynicism, and the rightist belief that revolution can never happen in this country. That is now the major error to be hammered away against. Many 60s revolutionaries who are now cynics seem to believe that the failure of the situation to come to a revolutionary head back then somehow proves that it will never happen. Sometimes there even seems to be an arrogance to their attitude: "If we couldn't do it back then, nobody will ever do it". Of course the trouble with cynics is that since they believe nothing can change, they refuse to work to help bring it about. Instead, through their deadening pessimism they actually hold back others and inadvertently help block the revolution they profess to desire.

But on the other hand, wild optimism is not entirely dead either, and to a degree this wild optimism of the past and present is one of the factors which feeds, by counterreaction, the prevailing deadly pessimism. Unfortunately, this wild optimism, this subjectivity, exists within the most serious revolutionary organization in the U.S. today, the RCP, and is a symptom of some pretty ingrained ideological errors there which are holding back the Party. The error is not just the rather obvious failure to fully grasp objective conditions, but some much deeper things that this book is attempting to bring to the surface.

The RCP has been prone to making erroneous predictions of the imminence of revolution for the whole period of its existence. At the beginning of the 1980s, in particular, it became an element of firm faith in the Party that a revolutionary situation would develop in the U.S. during the decade. In 1980, Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, wrote an article entitled "Is Revolution Really Possible This Decade and What Does May 1st Have to Do With It?" whose major intent seems to have been to convince the remaining doubters in or close to the Party that revolution was really possible in the U.S. "within the next few (say 5 to 10) years".[33]

The reasoning behind the RCP's revolutionary predictions for the 1980s was, briefly,
      1) That change comes through dialectical leaps, and that such leaps in the objective situation must be expected.
      2) That many of the smaller steps leading up to such leaps had already occurred; that for example "the response now, to a much more openly and thoroughly revolutionary line, a straight-up communist stand and analysis, is qualitatively more positive among much broader numbers of people."[34]
      3) That while the Party was still small, it had nevertheless made tremendous gains, and that it already influenced "tens, or perhaps hundreds, of thousands" of people.[35]
      4) That a prolonged period of economic depression and war is not necessarily required for the development of a revolutionary situation.[36]
      5) That the primary thing pushing society towards the development of a revolutionary situation very soon was the headlong rush of the superpowers towards world war. In the article under discussion Avakian says that "the kind of unprecedented changes that the masses in this country will be put through, even in the preparation for such a war, to say nothing of the war itself, could well provide the objective basis for a revolutionary situation.[37]

So what is wrong with this argument? We know something must be very wrong with it because the U.S. did not come anywhere close to a revolutionary situation in the 1980s; in fact, instead of developing in that direction, the decade proved to be a quite reactionary period with the overall mood and consciousness of the masses moving more away from revolution (compared with the 1970s), than towards it. Let's look at each of the five points in the argument in turn.

On the first point, it is completely true that change and development involve sudden and massive leaps. But the RCP argument does not give sufficient recognition to the other aspect of the dialectics of change, that such leaps only occur after the ground is sufficiently prepared. (See chapter 31 for more on this.) Thus the second and third points are quite exaggerated and unrealistic. The RCP thought in 1980 that it was on the verge of massive leaps in its own preparations for revolution, that it could quickly build the circulation of the Revolutionary Worker newspaper to sustainable levels of 100,000 or more copies per week, that it could organize massive May Day demonstrations in 20 or more cities, and so forth. These things proved to be impossible. The response of the masses to the line of the RCP was nowhere near as positive as they imagined it was, and the Party influenced in significant ways far fewer people than it imagined.

On the fourth point of the RCP argument, I would agree up to a point: prolonged periods of depression and war are not necessarily required for the development of a revolutionary situation. However, that assumes that other important factors are pushing society strongly in such a direction—which in the case of the U.S. today, certainly does not appear to be true. It seems to me that in a very backward political climate such as we are confronted with overall in this country, it will take some very extensive, bitter, and prolonged negative experiences to shake the masses awake to the necessity of revolution. Capitalism of course is a system that cannot but administer such unpleasant lessons, sooner or later.

The RCP also proved wrong in its prediction of inter-imperialist war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the 1980s. Of course the world is extremely fortunate that such a thing did not occur, and everybody, including the RCP is very happy that it did not. But it does show that the Party did not really correctly grasp the whole situation during the 1980s, and all the possibilities. Where, exactly, did they go wrong on this? Well, I think the Party was correct in its perception around 1980 that there were powerful developments in the direction of world war, certainly within the U.S. I think they were correct in their estimation that the U.S. bourgeoisie was unflinching, and determined to go for broke in their struggle with their Russian imperialist counterparts. If the Soviet imperialists, like the U.S. imperialists, had also been as strong and intransigent as they appeared to be on the surface, the RCP view, that "it's obvious that world war is coming before long",[38] might well have proven all too accurate.

In short, where the RCP went most wrong in its analysis—and where virtually everybody else (including me), no matter what their political persuasion, was also hopelessly out of touch with the actual objective situation—was in failing to recognize the extreme internal weaknesses in the Soviet economic system and empire. We Marxists knew the Soviet Union and its sphere was moribund, but we had no idea how much so. To a degree our partial recognition of the economic and other problems which the Soviets faced further misled us; we thought it would force them to opt even more strongly toward war as the only solution to their difficulties. We did not see that they were already in such a state of crisis and internal decay that most of their top leaders themselves recognized that world war offered no possibility of a solution to their problems, no possibility of bailing them out.

We American Marxists knew full well the nature of imperialism, and we knew quite well the United States; but we did not sufficiently know the Soviet Union. That is why our expectations of world war in the 1980s proved wrong. (By the way, just because we were wrong on this in the 1980s, it does not follow that world war is ruled out during coming decades. On the contrary, whether or not the former Soviet Union succeeds in its "restructuring" along western-style capitalist lines, the danger is still there, and will always be there, as long as imperialism continues to exist. In fact we must recognize that it is just in unstable times like the present that things can suddenly lurch in a totally unexpected direction. We must not become seduced by the current transient easing of tensions among the nuclear powers.)

So overall, the RCP's argument that a revolutionary situation was looming in the 1980s was way off base. It did not start from a correct analysis of the objective situation. The mistake on the unrecognized dire weakness of the Soviet Union is quite understandable because it is much harder to know the situation in another country (especially a secretive one like the Soviet Union), but it was still a mistake. The other mistakes, though secondary—such as the great overestimation of the strength of the revolutionary forces in the U.S., the great overestimation of the current receptivity of the American masses to revolutionary ideas, and the great underestimation of the work that is necessary in order to prepare the masses for revolution, and the renunciation of many of the techniques that are necessary in order to do so—are less understandable, less acceptable, and are evidence of serious "left" errors in the line of the Party.

In the 1980 article I have been focusing on, Bob Avakian condemns "'blind faith' in the possibility of revolution" and says that it will lead, sooner or later, "to demoralization, despair and outright defection from the revolutionary ranks."[39] Unfortunately, the same is true of any analysis of the imminence of revolution which is not based on the real objective conditions. It is therefore no wonder that the RCP itself has shown signs of these evil symptoms, after two decades of following a line starting not from objective reality, but only subjective wishes and beliefs. It is too bad that when such mistakes are exposed people can not just seek to correct them; unfortunately for some, the weak and the faint hearted, it is an excuse to give up the struggle. (See chapter 41 for more on this.)

In the publisher's (the RCP's) introduction to a recent collection of Bob Avakian's essays from the 1980s it is admitted that "Some of the predictions and expectations contained in these essays have not come about.... Revolutionary opportunities did not develop as rapidly as several of these essays had foreseen."[40]

As of this writing (June 1990), I have not seen any extensive, or satisfactory analysis and self-criticism by the RCP about this whole question. There have been a number of comments and admissions worth noting however.

In the fall of 1987 Bob Avakian made some remarks which showed that the Party was just beginning to recognize that it did not completely understand the Soviet Union:

As we've said before, we have to recognize that, in terms of the analysis that we made, going into this decade, of what the character of the decade would be, there has been some tactical underestimation of the difficulties for the other side [I presume he means the Soviet Union—JSH] in having the all-out confrontation which we have been correctly pointing to as shaping up. We have in the recent past made some self-criticism, internally among our leadership, for this tactical underestimation.[41]

But the only thing being questioned here was the timing:

It is crucial to remain firm in our understanding of what has been and remains the principal contradiction in the world—the interimperialist contradiction—and at the same time to grasp this in dynamic terms and specifically in terms of the intensifying conflict between the two main trends in the world. These are the trend toward world war and the trend toward revolution—both of which have intensified through the course of this decade.[42]

Looking back at the 1980s with the benefit of hindsight, it now seems pretty clear that while there were indeed developments in the direction of interimperialist war, especially at the beginning of the decade, these developments were quite likely to short-circuit (though this was by no means assured). In other words, while it certainly appeared for awhile that the principal contradiction in the world was the interimperialist contradiction which was leading to imminent world war, it was not so in fact. It now seems clear that the RCP, and I myself, were wrong on this very basic question, and that the point of view of the Communist Party of Peru as expressed by Chairman Gonzalo was and is correct:

We consider that there exist three fundamental contradictions in this situation [since World War II—JSH]... The first and principal contradiction: between oppressed nations, on the one side, and imperialist superpowers and imperialist powers, on the other... A second fundamental contradiction is the one between proletariat and bourgeoisie... A third contradiction is the interimperialist one, between the superpowers, between the imperialist superpowers and the imperialist powers, and amongst the imperialist powers themselves...[43]

Of course we know that the principal contradiction can suddenly change, that interimperialist world war is and will remain a serious possibility and eventually a certainty if imperialism continues to exist. But it now once again seems very clear that so far, in the entire period since World War II, the principal contradiction in the world has been between the oppressed nations (the so-called Third World) and imperialism.

[Note added Oct. 4, 2003: This whole business about what the principal contradiction in the world was during the post-World War II Cold War period is still something that I am pondering. Some of my friends have a different perspective on this than I presented above, and they may be right. One friend pointed out that the principal contradiction at any time is the one that conditions all the other contradictions present. Thus, while it is true that the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed nations was still a very important contradiction during the Cold War period, there is no doubt that it was conditioned and shaped by the interimperialist contradiction. The contention between the Soviet Union and the U.S. led the Soviets to promote many anti-imperialist struggles, for example, even if this was done out of their own interests. It led them to try to control such struggles in the oppressed nations, and direct them in light of their own social-imperialist interests. Thus on this view, until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the interimperialist contradiction was in fact the principal contradiction in the world even if it didn't actually lead to interimperialist war. Of course you could also argue this point in the other direction, that the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed countries conditioned and shaped the interimperialist contradiction. And clearly these two contradictions did interpenetrate and influence each other strongly. In many respects they conditioned each other! So for me it is still somewhat unclear which of the two should really be called the principal contradiction during the Cold War period. In any case, it is crystal clear that since the fall of the USSR, the contradiction between imperialism (primarily U.S. imperialism) and the countries which it exploits and oppresses has been the principal contradiction in the world.]

Returning again to the RCP's discussion of the failure of its revolutionary predictions for the 1980s: In the Spring 1990 issue of Revolution, Bob Avakian says

We're at the end of the '80s and things haven't worked out the way we thought they would in the general framework of the '80s. And while not being dogmatic and mechanical about "the '80s," there is a period that has gone on and hasn't worked out exactly the way we predicted. In one very basic way, it hasn't worked out the way we predicted at all. That is, there has not been a major worldwide violent readjustment of the world relations of one kind or another—in particular there has not been the outbreak of world war. This has not yet occurred and we did expect it by now unless it was prevented by revolution. We thought it was very likely that it would happen. So, obviously we have to analyze why this has not happened.[44]

But no such analysis is provided. All he says is "the imperialists have actually maneuvered to avoid this direct, all-out confrontation, i.e., nuclear war. We have to look more deeply at why and how they were able to do that."[45]

On a number of occasions recently the RCP seems more to be raising important questions than answering them. Near the end of the same article, for example, Avakian raises "the question of what forms of struggle, and what forms of organization, can really give expression to and unleash the positive factors among the basic masses" without giving any indications of what he views the answers to be.[46] He closes the article with the unanswered question, "How... can we make some breakthroughs that are crucially needed, breakthroughs that we are at the point of being able to make, breakthroughs that will be great strides in preparation for the goal toward which all this is aimed?" It does seem clear that the current Party line does not contain the answer to this very basic question, and I disagree that the Party is "at the point of being able to make" such breakthroughs. (Unfortunately it will probably take at least a few more years of futile efforts before this becomes obvious to them.) I suspect that all these questions with no answers are signs of a considerable amount of ideological confusion within the Party. That in itself is not bad; it is to be expected in a period when an incorrect line is just starting to be reexamined.

But so far the RCP has not squarely faced the failure of its "80s analysis". The Party cannot but see that it was wrong in its expectation of world war and/or revolution in the U.S. in the 80s. But it has not really abandoned the basic analysis that lead to such erroneous expectations. As Bob Avakian expresses it,

Our "impetuosity" [around the expectation of war and/or revolution in the 1980s—SH] was based on a serious attempt to make a deep-going analysis, and more than that the fundamental terms of that basic analysis as systematized in America in Decline are still correct and extremely important to uphold. So what's wrong with our impetuosity in that sense? Wanting leaps in the world revolution, including these rare moments in imperialist countries and in the U.S. in particular where we could perhaps even make a world-historic breakthrough for the international proletariat: What's so bad about that impetuosity?[47]

The Party admits only to "impetuosity" in quotes, i.e., only to apparent impetuosity, not to the real thing. There is to be sure nothing wrong with revolutionary hopes and desires, no matter how fervently held. But actual revolutionary work, and the political line of a revolutionary party, must be based not on fervent hopes, but on a correct analysis of concrete conditions. The RCP still does not admit that its perception of the objective situation at the beginning of the 80s (and also now) is incorrect in any fundamental respect; it sees only a few "tactical" errors. The primary thing they confess to is being wrong about "the timing" of events.

(Note added March, 2000: This year the RCP finally got around to a substantial, if still partial and inadequate, self-criticism of the errors of its 1980s analysis. For my extended critique of this document, see: "Notes on Notes on Political Economy")

And thus at the beginning of the 1990s the RCP says that they "have been making some real strides among the basic masses",[48] that they are "at the point of being able to make" breakthroughs in unleashing the masses, and imply that revolution can—once again—be expected imminently, very probably within the decade. As Yogi Berra said, "it's déjá vu all over again".

Those who long for revolution with all their hearts have a somewhat understandable tendency towards excessive optimism on the score, and I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. Even Lenin tended to be a little overly optimistic at times, both with respect to revolution in Russia, and elsewhere in Europe (especially Germany). To a degree an optimistic attitude is necessary and helpful in bringing about a revolution, in preparing the subjective conditions for it.

But it is always important to keep such optimism within bounds, to keep it consistent with current objective reality. We may reasonably be optimistic both about the long run and developments in the short run, but we must be ruthlessly objective about the present situation, and not let our optimistic tendencies get too out of hand when we extrapolate from current objective conditions.

The whole tenor of the RCP's argument still seems to me to be that a full-scale revolutionary storm could break out in this country any day. A vivid example of this is the full page "Communique From the Revolutionary Communist Party" whose entire text is as follows:

Stakes are going up.
Attacks are coming down from the powers that be.
The atmosphere is charged.
Battle lines are being drawn and forces are lining up
—on the people's side, not just on theirs.

In this situation, our Chairman Bob Avakian
said our stand is:


I guess you could interpret this in a number of ways, but it sounds immediate and apocalyptic to me. I don't think the current objective situation can justify the extreme optimism the RCP seems to have—even granting that, yes, "things can change very quickly". The actual fact of the matter, no matter how much it may distress us, is that as of this writing (1990) revolution is not imminent in this country. It worries me that the RCP apparently still does not have enough of a grasp of the objective situation to realize this obvious fact.

Revolutionaries Must Have a Long-Term Perspective

A common theme among revolutionary-minded individuals whose acquaintance with Marxism is not very deep, is that the revolution is a single event which happens in a day, or at least in a very short period. Those of us who talk about revolution with the masses have all come across those who say, "When the day comes you can count on me." These folks, despite their sympathy for revolution, do not realize that the day will not come at all unless those of us who want it to come get out and work for it over a long period before hand. (For a fine discussion of this syndrome which gets into important aspects of the issue which I have not mentioned here, see Bob Avakian's article "When the Real Deal Goes Down... 'I'll Be There'—You'll Be Where?!"[50]) And moreover, these same folks do not realize that after that glorious day they cannot just go back to their private affairs, knowing that "everything is fixed up now".

There is only one truly revolutionary attitude—that of the long view. No matter how close or how far away the day of the actual proletarian seizure of power may be, the revolution must be viewed as a very long term process whose preparation has already begun, and whose final completion cannot possibly be achieved in the lifetime of anyone alive today. To be a true revolutionary is to commit the rest of your life to the revolution, while recognizing full well that more will remain to be done after you are gone.

Thus despite its obvious importance, it is wrong to focus exclusively on the moment of the seizure of proletarian power. That will undoubtedly be a great, momentous, and historic day. But whether it is near or far, whether it lies in the future or the past (as it will someday), there is revolutionary work to be done! To only be capable of revolutionary work in the immediate period before an insurrection is the mark of a backward person, not the advanced guard. Communists and other serious revolutionaries should not need to constantly fool themselves into thinking the revolution (the seizure of power) is imminent in order to develop any enthusiasm for and dedication to revolutionary work.

Not only communists, but the masses too must be imbued with this long term point of view. We must frankly tell the people that we cannot say exactly when the seizure of power might be possible; more than that, we cannot say with certainly at this point whether it will be soon or not. We should get them to understand that an insurrection might be possible far sooner than they (or we!) presently imagine, that things can change rapidly, but that also it might be quite a long time yet. But that one thing is certain—the more they stir themselves and take part in the preparations the sooner that day will be.

It could be argued that we, as Marxists, should have some notions about how the objective situation may be expected to develop, and of course this is true. We know that the current easing of tensions between the U.S. and the (now defunct) U.S.S.R is very probably only temporary, and that certainly new inter-imperialist rivalries will develop and sooner or later lead to war (if imperialism is not abolished first). We know that the world capitalist economy is skating on very thin ice, and that sooner or later the credit and speculative bubbles will burst and a major period of world economic difficulties will commence. We know that much of the "Third World" is more or less ripe for revolution, and that active revolutions are in progress in a number of countries that can be expected to spread and eventually weaken imperialism considerably.

Thus we do have some considerable knowledge about how the objective conditions may be expected to develop in the U.S. and around the world. But it must be recognized that we only know the overall principles, and not most of the particulars, or the time tables. We do not know the objective situation well enough, for example, to know with certainty whether a revolutionary situation will develop in the U.S. during the next 25 years. Society is enormously complex, and very small occurrences can have enormous and unforeseeable consequences. (This is a characteristic of physical reality as well, which has only recently dawned on the scientific community with the development of so-called "chaos theory" and theories of complexity.) A revolutionary situation might develop in this country in the next 25 years, or it might not; frankly, I personally doubt it can come that soon. But all we can do is our damnedest to prepare for the possibility, so that if such a situation does develop, we will be ready for it, and it will not be wasted.

To be revolutionaries we do not need to be soothsayers. We only need to know that our day will come. We must prepare, we must be ready, and that is all. Of course we must constantly study the objective conditions so that our tactics can be adjusted accordingly. But fortunately it is not necessary that we know the future in minute detail.

The point in stressing the need for a long-term perspective is not to encourage passivity. Just the opposite! At all times and places there are revolutionary tasks to be done. The point is to identify those most appropriate to the actual situation, and to get moving on them immediately.

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today. (Malcolm X)

Basing Our Revolutionary Work on the Objective Conditions

What exactly does it mean, then, to base our revolutionary work on the actual objective conditions? It means starting from the real situation, and addressing the problems and tasks posed by the real situation. It does not mean addressing whatever problems and tasks we choose to, nor whatever our subjective desires would like to address. Nor does it mean, even in the most backward situation, giving up revolutionary work.

Since revolutionary work is primarily a matter of agitation and propaganda, first of all, and of leadership of the masses, second of all, revolutionary work which actually starts from objective conditions means:
      1) Agitation and propaganda which addresses the issues of the day and the questions actually on the minds of the masses; which is presented in language the masses addressed can understand; and which actually serves to raise the revolutionary consciousness and understanding of the masses to which it is presented. (Chapter 11 talked about this.)
      2) Leadership of the masses in the class struggles in which they are already engaged; leadership which uses the mass line to lead the masses in such a way that their immediate struggles—whatever they are—also advance the revolutionary struggle, even if sometimes only indirectly. That is, so that to the maximum degree possible, the target of all the struggles of the masses is broadened into the whole capitalist system, and so that the masses involved in these struggles are best able to sum up their own experiences from a revolutionary perspective.

Back in 1976, before the RCP renounced any leadership of the masses in their day-to-day class struggles, they recognized the connections between objective conditions, the mass struggle, correcting mistakes, and the mass line. They wrote that

Of course, there will be ebbs and flows in the struggle due to objective conditions and the relative strength of class forces, and we cannot avoid altogether making mistakes in the struggle, because we—the Party together with the class as a whole—must learn how to wage this class warfare in the course of waging it. But the more thoroughly and all-sidedly we apply the mass line at each step, the more we discover and deepen our grasp of the laws governing the struggle through the study of Marxism-Leninism, and return concentrated, correct lines, policies, tactics, etc., to the masses, the more we can learn to avoid mistakes and to correct them more quickly when they are made.[51]

At that time the RCP still believed the masses learn not only from agitation and propaganda but also through their day-do-day experiences, and that the mass line had an important role to play in this. In those days when the Party confronted problems it didn't know the answers to (such as the problems mentioned in a previous section of this chapter, of what forms of struggle and organization are presently needed, and of how to bring about breakthroughs in unleashing the masses), it at least knew that it should use the mass line to figure out the answers. Now that wisdom seems to be gone; there is not the slightest hint of reference to the mass line when such questions are raised today. In those days it had a tool to deal with mistakes and correct errors, though perhaps even then it was more of a theoretical possibility than something that was actually done successfully.

There is more to be said on the question of how to actually base revolutionary leadership on objective conditions than just "use the mass line", of course, though certainly that is the main thing. In the 1943 essay in which Mao summed up the mass line for the first time, he mentions several additional points:

It is part of the art of leadership to take the whole situation into account and plan accordingly in the light of the historical conditions and existing circumstances of each locality, decide correctly on the center of gravity and the sequence of the work for each period, steadfastly carry through the decision, and make sure that definite results are achieved.[52]

Many of these subsidiary leadership techniques were discussed in chapter 13.

But in addition to points such as these, there is another more basic point to emphasize—that the means of struggle which are appropriate also depend upon the concrete situation. Lenin said

To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon the Marxist position.[53]

Sometimes inexperienced revolutionaries imagine that some forms of struggle (say violent forms) are "inherently revolutionary", while other forms of struggle (say peaceful protests) are "inherently non-revolutionary". But the Marxist point of view is that no forms of struggle are inherently correct or incorrect in the abstract and divorced from concrete conditions. There is no such thing as "revolutionary forms and methods of struggle" in the abstract—only in the concrete.

Lenin wrote that

Inexperienced revolutionaries often think that legal methods of struggle are opportunist because, in this field, the bourgeoisie has most frequently deceived and duped the workers (particularly in "peaceful" and non-revolutionary times), while illegal methods of struggle are revolutionary. That, however, is wrong. ...revolutionaries who are incapable of combining illegal forms of struggle with every form of legal struggle are poor revolutionaries indeed.[54]

The Leninist principle is that revolutionaries do not rule out any means of struggle—legal or illegal, peaceful or violent—which actually advances us towards the goal of revolution. Any method of struggle which advances the cause of revolution should be considered a "revolutionary method of struggle" in that situation. Thus any method of struggle whatsoever can be considered "a revolutionary method" at times, since it is just about impossible to imagine any kind of struggle that never helps the revolution. Likewise, there are other situations where any particular method of struggle will be inappropriate, where it will set back the revolution rather than advance it. Thus just about any method of struggle can also be considered "anti-revolutionary" in other situations. (Remember also Lenin's remark that "without the enlightening and organizing influence of socialism.... all, positively all, methods of struggle in bourgeois society bring the proletariat into close association with the various non-proletarian strata above and below it and, if left to the spontaneous course of events, become frayed, corrupted and prostituted.")[55]

In short, it is wrong to speak of "revolutionary methods" vs. "reformist methods" in a discussion not connected with specific situations. To take such a road leads you into all kinds of nonsense. The Narodniks in Russia for example fancied that they were using "revolutionary methods" (assassinations of Tsars and government officials, for example), when in fact the methods they were using—no matter how violent and hateful to the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy they were—hampered the revolutionary struggle rather than advanced it, and were thus really anti-revolutionary in that situation, not revolutionary.

The degree to which some form of struggle is acceptable to the enemy—or whether it is legal or illegal, say—is not the prime determiner of whether or not it is revolutionary. Take for example the publication and distribution of revolutionary agitation and propaganda in the form of a newspaper, which is a central task during this period (and most periods). This is a form of revolutionary struggle, even if it is legal. It would remain revolutionary struggle if made illegal (which it no doubt will be at some point), and would not become "less revolutionary" if it became legal once more.

I don't want to go too far here. I think there is something to be said for the view that a wild-cat strike for example (say a militant coal miners' walkout) often has more potential for advancing the class consciousness and indeed the revolutionary consciousness of the workers involved, than does a run-of-the-mill token strike led by the usual bunch of bourgeois union officials—partly because such a strike is illegal (in the eyes of the union, anyway), more bitter, frequently involves some violence, more directly confronts the bourgeoisie and its government, etc. But the strike itself is still over a reformist issue, no matter what methods of struggle are used, and no particular methods of struggle are automatically appropriate or "revolutionary".

The final thing to emphasize in this chapter is this: The basic fact about the objective situation under capitalism is that it is a situation that is overall, and fundamentally, not in the masses' interests. Objectively the proletariat and the masses need to make revolution. No discussion of the overall objective situation can ever afford to forget that basic truth.


[1] Lenin, "Against Boycott" (1907), LCW 13:36.

[2] Mao, "Reform Our Study" (May 1941), SW 3:18.

[3] Mao, Quotations, pp. 211-2; slightly different translation in "Speech at a Conference of Cadres in the Shansi-Suiyuan Liberated Area" (April 1, 1948), SW 4:229-230.

[4] Mao, "Examples of Dialectics (Abstracted Compilation)" (1959?), MMTT, p. 216.

[5] Mao, "Strengthen Party Unity and Carry Forward Party Traditions" (Aug. 30, 1956), SW 5:315-6. Mao says here that Stalin's mistakes can be attributed to subjectivism.

[6] Mao, "Talks at a Conference of Secretaries of Provincial, Municipal and Autonomous Region Party Committees: Talk of Jan 17 [1957]", SW 5:365.

[7] Mao, "Methods of Work of Party Committees" (March 13, 1949), SW 4:380.

[8] Lenin, quoted in Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism: A Manual (Moscow: FLPH, 1961), p. 424. I haven't located this in Lenin's Collected Works.

[9] Lenin, "Kommunismus" (June 12, 1920), LCW 31:166.

[10] George Bernard Shaw, quoted by Michelle Yarbrough on the Internet, Jan. 4, 1995.

[11] Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution (NY: Vintage, 1975 (1973)), p. 108.

[12] Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, "Reactionary Mantle of Chou En-lai Used to Attack Mao's Line", Revolution, vol. 3, #15, Dec. 1978, p. 16-17.

[13] Mao, "Prefaces to Socialist Upsurge in China's Countryside: Preface II" (Dec. 27, 1955), SW 5:240.

[14] Mao, "Two Talks on Mutual Aid and Co-operation in Agriculture: Talk of November 4, 1953", SW 5:137.

[15] William Feather (1889-?), quoted in Rudolf Flesch, ed., The New Book of Unusual Quotations (NY: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 61. I don't know who WIlliam Feather was.

[16] T'ao Chu, Jen-min jih-pao [People's Daily] (June 18, 1959); quoted by John Wilson Lewis, Leadership in Communist China (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1963), p. 47.

[17] Lenin, "What Is To Be Done?" (March 1902), LCW 5:377-8.

[18] Lenin, "The Crisis of Menshevism" (Dec. 7, 1906), LCW 11:344.

[19] Mao, "The Situation and Our Policy After the Victory in the War of Resistence Against Japan" (Aug. 13, 1945), SW 4:15.

[20] Attributed to Helen Schucman and William Thetford (whoever they are), in an Internet message by Michelle Yarbrough, Jan. 4, 1995.

[21] Mao, "Speech at the Chinese Communist Party's National Conference on Propaganda Work" (March 12, 1957), SW 5:425.

[22] Mao, "Sixteen Articles Concerning Work Methods" (May 1959), MMTT, p. 179.

[23] Mao, "On Practice" (July 1937), SW 1:306.

[24] Lenin, "Fourth Anniversary of the October Revolution" (Oct. 14, 1921), LCW 33:58.

[25] Francis Bacon, original source unknown.

[26] Bob Avakian, Revolutionary Work in a Non-Revolutionary Situation (1976), p. 6.

[27] Bob Avakian, ibid.

[28] Bob Avakian, ibid., p. 1.

[29] Mao, "Examples of Dialectics (Abstracted Compilation)" (1959?), MMTT, p. 208.

[30] Lenin, "The Collapse of the Second International" (June 1915), LCW 21:213-4.

[31] Average U.S. real wages peeked around 1968, and since then the trend has been gradually down hill. Of course this is only one measure of the economic situation of the masses, though it is a very important one. It does not say anything about the economic situation of the unemployed for example. But unemployment too was fairly low (by capitalist standards) during the late sixties due to the Vietnam War, and only started to significantly rise during later years.
      It is also true that the economic conditions of the masses are only a part—though of course a very important part—of their overall conditions. But here again, while there were increased attacks on Black people, and on youths (especially those being sent to Vietnam), overall the non-economic conditions of the masses did not deteriorate to a great extent during this period; certainly not to the extent that Lenin was talking about, with all the tremendous dislocations and hardships of the First World War.

[32] Lenin, "'Left-Wing' Communism—An Infantile Disorder" (May 1920), LCW 31:85.

[33] Bob Avakian, "Is Revolution Really Possible This Decade and What Does May 1st Have to Do With It?", RW, #49, April 11, 1980.

[34] Bob Avakian, ibid., p. S-2.

[35] Bob Avakian, ibid., p. S-3.

[36] Bob Avakian, ibid., p. S-2.

[37] Bob Avakian, ibid., p. S-2.

[38] Bob Avakian, ibid., p. S-2.

[39] Bob Avakian, ibid., p. S-2.

[40] Bob Avakian, Reflections, Sketches, and Provocations (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1990), pp. iv-v.

[41] Bob Avakian, "Some Thoughts" (Fall/Winter 1987), Revolution, #57, Summer/Fall 1988, p. 5.

[42] Ibid., p. 6.

[43] Interview to [sic] Chairman Gonzalo, (Central Committee, The Communist Party of Peru, 1989), p. 121.

[44] Bob Avakian, "Making New Leaps in Preparing for Revolution" (Winter/Spring 1989), Revolution, Spring 1990, p. 5.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid., p. 12.

[47] Ibid., p. 6.

[48] Ibid., p. 4.

[49] Revolutionary Worker, #515, July 17, 1989, p. 3. Months later, in the Revolutionary Worker, #557 (May 27, 1990), Bob Avakian explained this slogan as follows:
      Mao made the statement that we should fear neither hardship nor death. When I brought forward this slogan that the party put out... "Fear Nothing. Be Down For the Whole Thing"... it was with that in mind and it's also with what we're going after in mind: be down for the whole thing—let's go on and make revolution... in the fullest sense. In other words, we can't stop short of revolution, and the revolution we're about is revolution in the fullest sense, its' [sic] all-the-way revolution. We don't want to leave any aspect of what this system brings down on people in effect. We're going to sweep it all away. So when we talk about "Be Down for the whole thing" we mean that in both senses: we're not going to stop short of revolution, and the revolution we are making is about doing away with all oppression, in every form.
      And when we say "fear nothing"'s obvious what we mean.
I have absolutely no objection to the slogan under this interpretation; I think it is great. But I still think that—whether or not it was intended to—the tone of this slogan, and the tone of a great deal of the RCP literature, is immediate and apocalyptic. It seems designed to give the impression that revolution is imminent, when in fact it is not.

[50] Bob Avakian, RW, #202, April 22, 1983; reprinted in his book Reflections, Sketches, and Provocations (Chicago: RCP, 1990), pp. 178-184.

[51] RCP, The Mass Line (1976), p. 7.

[52] Mao, "Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership" (June 1, 1943), SW 3:121.

[53] Lenin, "Guerrilla Warfare" (Sept. 30, 1906), LCW 11:214.

[54] Lenin, "'Left-Wing' Communism—An Infantile Disorder" (May 1920), LCW 31:96-7.

[55] Lenin, "Guerrilla Warfare" (Sept. 30, 1906), LCW 11:221.

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