Excerpts from

Putting Forward Our Line—In a Bold, Moving, Compelling Way

by Bob Avakian

These excerpts are from a tape-recorded talk by Chairman Avakian in the summer of 2001, "Putting Forward Our Line--In a Bold, Moving, Compelling Way," dealing with questions concerning agitation and propaganda--how to make it powerful and lively. These excerpts originally were published in the Revoltuionary Worker #1177 and #1178, December 1 and 8, 2002, and were edited for publication at that time.

"Walking Point"

Basically, the question is: how do we view the role of being a spokesperson for the Party? Obviously, it's a major responsibility--it's a task that has to be taken extremely seriously. This is a point that is made in Strategic Questions: it's a matter in a certain sense of "walking point," being "out there," both in the sense that you're broadly propagating the line of the Party and engaging other lines and tendencies and in the sense that you are kind of out there, you know, you're sort of in the sights of the enemy as well as someone whom the masses look to when they want to know what the line of the Party is. A spokesperson is someone who has the particular and special role of putting forward the line of the Party both around specific questions and also more generally. So you're kind of out there in both those senses. You're "walking point"; you have a special responsibility which has a lot of different dimensions to it.

So there is the need to take this responsibility very seriously, but on the other hand this should not lead to paralysis. Because this is such a heavy responsibility it is not something that should cause us to feel inadequate to the task or to feel, for example, that if we don't know how to handle a particular question that arises in a given situation then, you know, the sky is going to fall down or something like that. It's a question of being out there doing the best we can and taking seriously the responsibility, so that if we run into things we have difficulty with, we go back to the sources we have. We go back to the RW , we go back to the Party's line in general, we go back to MLM; we even go to other sources and apply MLM to them to draw on and get the bases for answering questions that we don't know how to answer at a given time. And when we make a speech or when we, in one way or another, represent the Party in a debate or engaging other lines, we do the best we can and then we sum it up afterwards. We listen to the comments and criticisms of the comrades and other people in the audience and learn the most we can from them--we try to continuously keep the dialectic going of practice-theory-practice and of learning through our experiences and deepening and strengthening our ability to do this, to carry out the role of representing for the Party in an ever more effective way. So it's a heavy responsibility, but again it shouldn't lead to paralysis. We should welcome this as a great opportunity to do this and we should have a certain sense of pride--in the proletarian sense, not in the personal sense--about taking on and shouldering this responsibility of representing for the Party and ultimately for the international proletariat.

In this light, I wanted to share something very moving. I saw an application that a youth from among the basic masses made to join the Party, and without going into inappropriate details, one of the things that was really striking and moving to me was that they talked about how they just lived to take out the Party's line everywhere. They're always seeking out their friends and people they meet and people they've been in political struggles with, and always taking them the Party's line. And when the Draft Programme came out, they were just overjoyed and extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to take this out. And specifically what really struck me was that they talked about how when they don't know the answer to something that someone raises, they say: "I don't know, I'm going to get back to you." And they go back to the Programme, they go back to the newspaper, they go back to MLM, they go back to other literature of the Party, they talk to other people that they know are in or around the Party, and they find out the answer. They take this responsibility seriously, but they also take it very eagerly and enthusiastically to go back to people and say: "OK, here's the answer to your question." And in reading about this, I felt it was very inspiring and also something to really learn from--both the ideological orientation but also the practical application of how they carry out a practice- theory-practice dialectic. They're just so eager to get the Party's line to everybody that they know, and they're not "stopped cold" or intimidated when they run into something they don't know, or can't explain well--they go back to "the sources" and search out the answer, and then take it back to people. So I think that kind of orientation and approach should infuse and be a sort of bedrock of how we view this spokesperson role too and how we approach it, building on the accomplishments that we have achieved in carrying out this role already--which are accomplishments not for us personally but for the Party and the international proletariat--and also learning from the shortcomings that occur in our carrying out this task. So that's a general point of orientation, by way of introduction to the question of representing for the Party (and the international proletariat ultimately).

Compelling Propaganda and Agitation vs. Just "Covering the Points"

Now, with that as a kind of a basic orientation and background, the first point which I want to speak to could be posed as a question this way: With regard to a speech (or some kind of presentation in a debate or forum or whatever--let's just use the word speech in this kind of a general way here) what distinguishes a speech that is really powerful from a speech that "covers the points it should cover"? This is a really important question to dig into deeply. I think one of the defining and distinguishing characteristics of a speech that's really powerful is that it really "grabs" the audience. It doesn't just "connect" with them, but really grabs them and makes them feel compelled to engage what's being spoken to in this speech and really brings alive for them the contradictions that are being spoken to and the resolution of those contradictions that's being pointed to.

In "Strategic Questions" it makes the point that basically agitation and propaganda deal with contradictions, yet it's not simply a matter of presenting contradictions but in a certain way it's a matter of "getting inside" of these contradictions, actually taking the audience through those contradictions and enabling them to not just intellectually understand but, at the same time as they intellectually understand, to actually feel the "inevitability" of the conclusion that you're drawing. It seems to me these are some of the distinguishing features of a speech or presentation of whatever kind that goes beyond merely covering the points it should cover to actually grabbing and moving people, motivating them in a certain direction. There are various aspects of form and style and even devices that go into that, but essentially this is a question of content and correctly handling contradictions not just in general but in the particularity of making a speech, which does have its own particularities and particular contradictions.

Let's take an example. What does it mean to go beyond simply saying or declaring that this system is worthless, is based on exploitation, and must go? Although it's very important to say and declare this, and to keep on doing so--and we need to do it a lot more--at the same time, we need more than just saying or declaring that. How do you go beyond that to actually bringing this alive for people, to illustrating it with penetrating and compelling exposures of the ugly features of this system and showing how they are completely bound up with the very nature and workings of this system, and doing that in such a way that it really makes these points compelling, as is discussed in various aspects in "Strategic Questions"?

Now there are some examples, including some negative examples, that are given in "Strategic Questions" which might be worth reviewing briefly. For example, there it refers to Dimitroff (a leader of the Communist International during the 1930s) and specifically Dimitroff's criticism of a speech that was given by a German communist in the early 1930s at a huge rally after a Nazi had spoken. Everybody's waiting to hear, OK what's the Communist have to say or what's the Communist answer to this fascist agitation? And so the Communist representative gets up and says something along these lines: "Comrades, I'm very happy to report that the Third Plenary Session of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International has recently convened and has issued a most important manifesto." Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And, you know, the Nazi carries the day.

And to provide an even more extreme negative example, I can recall the experience I had when I was in China in the mid- '70s. We were up in the northeast and we were waiting to go to a meeting in the evening--it was in the fall and it was very cold up there in that part of China, and because every resource belonged to the proletarian state they were trying to conserve resources so they didn't have the heat on except for a couple of hours a day in this guest house where we were. They gave us these heavy padded cotton coats, but it was still really cold. And I was waiting for this meeting later on, so I figured I would try to find something to entertain me to keep my mind off the cold. There was a shortwave radio in the room, and I turned on the shortwave radio and managed to find an English-language broadcast, so I crawled under the covers and listened to this English-language broadcast. It was coming from North Korea. And this is more or less how this broadcast went:

"Comrades. I'm very happy to report that a most important meeting has just been held of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland. Present at the meeting were so-and-so, General Secretary of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland; also comrade so-and-so, First Vice Chairman of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland. Also in attendance were comrades so- and-so and so-and-so, Second and Third Vice Chairmen of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland. At this meeting, comrade so-and-so, General Secretary of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland [BA laughs] gave a most important speech. In this speech, comrade so-and-so, General Secretary of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland, emphasized that the unification of the fatherland is very important." [BA laughs again]

And by the end of this thing, I was just rolling out of the bed onto the floor, laughing. It was really sad, but on another level it was one of the funniest things I'd ever heard. It was inadvertently hilarious-- they didn't mean it to be that funny, but it was just hilarious. It was exactly the stereotypical "commie stuff," you know, that we're always being accused of. And this went on and on--I'm only giving a small flavor--it went on and on for something like 15 minutes summarizing the speeches of every one of the important officers of the National Front for the Unification of the Fatherland, who all had nothing more diverse and important to say than that the unification of the fatherland is very important! So this is an extreme example, a negative example of the kind of speech that we definitely do not want to give [BA laughs again] in any shape, way, or form.


What are some more positive examples of the kind of things we should be doing and in some ways have been doing? For example, let's take the question of police brutality and murder. Now recently, within the last couple of months, there was an article in the RW about one of these murders, and it seems like every time you open the RW there is at least one and often more than one article about another one of these outrages--basically the same story of how the police go in and wantonly murder someone, especially basic Black and Latino youth. And in this particular article I believe it was a Latino youth who was involved, it was one of these things where he, you know, lost it a bit and had a gun or something, and was out in a public place, and there was sort of a standoff and I guess the police shot him and wounded him, if I have all the facts right, and his girlfriend was there with him, and she at one point told the police that she would get his gun away from him and then the police said if you touch the gun, you'll be shot! And his mother came up and begged the police to let her go get the gun away from him, and they told her the same thing.

This article was really very compelling, and by the time you were through reading it, both the anger at what had gone on and also the fact that with these police, this is not some accidental thing, they want to shoot down these masses, and this is an integral part of what they do--what their social role is, what their political role is--this was brought out very powerfully in this article. You know, I finished reading it and I just had this restless anger where you can't sit still, plus this really strong feeling that, as the article brought out, not once but twice there was a solution there, but the police specifically rejected it and threatened the people with being shot themselves. I mean this shows, once again, that they're not out there "doing a difficult job and faced with difficult choices" and they couldn't find any way out of this other than shooting this person.

Or you can take the Tyisha Miller thing.* How should we do agitation around that? A lot of good agitation was done, including written agitation and, you know, some propaganda in the paper and also verbal agitation and propaganda in the course of the struggle around that, but one of the things that really needs to be driven home is--here's the scene where she is passed out in the car and they come up to the car, the police, they surround the car, and there's a whole bunch of them, they're all armed, they're surrounding the car, and they just shoot her--execute her basically. And it seems to me that one basic point to be made is this: if you can't handle this situation differently than this, then get the fuck out of the way. Not only out of the way of this situation but get off the earth--get out of the way of the masses of people. Because, you know, we could have handled that situation any number of ways that would have resulted in a much better outcome, and frankly if we had state power and we were faced with a similar situation, we would sooner have one of our own people's police killed than go wantonly murder one of the masses. That's what you're supposed to do if you're actually trying to be a servant of the people. You go there and put your own life on the line, rather than just wantonly murder one of the people.

It seems to me that this kind of point can be brought out very powerfully to people. What were they there to do? You know, fuck all this "serve and protect" bullshit. If they were there to serve and protect, they would have found any way but the way they did it to handle this scene, they could have and would have found a solution that was much better than this. This is the way the proletariat, when it's been in power, has handled and would again handle this kind of thing--valuing the lives of the masses of people- -as opposed to the bourgeoisie in power, where the role of their police is to terrorize the masses, including wantonly murdering them, murdering them without provocation, without necessity, because exactly the more arbitrary the terror is, the more broadly it affects the masses. And that's one of the reasons why they like to engage in--and have as one of their main functions to engage in--wanton and arbitrary terror against the masses of people.

And how many stories have we heard of situations where people have come up on the scene and tried to resolve something like this without bloodshed and death, and the police won't allow it? There was that scene in a housing project in L.A.--it might have been Jordan Downs--where that guy "Chubby" with the mental problem was out with a knife and masses were trying to resolve that by taking the knife away, and once again they were basically threatened with the same thing--being killed themselves if they "got in the way" of the police and what they were there to do, to kill that guy, which they did.

How do we do the most hard-hitting, penetrating exposure around things like this, really bringing this alive? Not just cursing the enemy as they deserve to be cursed, but how do we do it so as to really bring these things alive, so that masses of people, even those who don't know that this goes on every day, are really moved by this--like we really reach inside them and make them really feel this, from the "inside out," so to speak--really be "grabbed on the inside" and moved by the outrage that's been committed here and how this connects up with and has something essential to do with the very nature of this system. Because unfortunately, in a certain sense, life is continually providing us with hundreds and thousands of these occasions, these outrages, and our agitation about them is one very important part of arousing the masses to struggle around these things as well as exposing the system and contributing to the overall process of moving people to the position where they're willing to put everything on the line to bring this system down because they understand that these things are integral and indispensable features of this whole system--that this system cannot do without these things and needs to do these things, and why it needs to do them.

How well do we do? In the newspaper we often do very well, but how well do we do overall at really (to use that metaphor) "reaching inside" of people and making them feel, as I said, from the "inside out" that this is completely intolerable and that you can't go to bed that night or get up that next morning and feel that same way about things and about this society as you did before you learned about this from one of our spokespeople or one of our people doing agitation and propaganda? As a result of what they've laid bare for you and put together for you, you cannot get up the next morning and feel the same way about this society as you did before. To whatever degree that's going to be true for particular individuals--and it's not that people are going to instantly become revolutionaries if they weren't before, but, you know, how much did we move them in that kind of a way?

Or let's take another important question and faultline in society: the battle around abortion. How well do we do, not only in bringing out the very basic truth that denying the right to abortion has everything to do with the oppression of women and how it concentrates that in very important ways right now, but how well, as part of that, do we do at really going after these Christian Fascists? For example, when they're out there reading from their Bibles and mumbling their mumbo-jumbo, how well do we do at taking it to them, calling them out: "These people believe that homosexuals should be killed. These people believe that women should be quiet in public. These people believe that women should be subordinate to their husbands, that it's alright for men to take women as slaves. These people believe..."--on and on and on about all kinds of horrendous things--things that are right in their Bible that they're mumbling and mumbo-jumboing about, insisting upon as the absolute truth that must be followed without question. How well do we have those facts at hand, the passages from their Bible for example, to show that these people talk about "murdering children" through abortion but they believe that children who are disrespectful to their parents should be executed. And their Bible proclaims and celebrates the raping of women and the bashing in of babies' heads (as, for example, the book of Isaiah and Psalm 137). Let them deny it. Because every one of those things I've mentioned is in the Bible that they insist on taking literally. So let them come out and say they don't believe in those things. Then we can say, "Well you don't even know your own fucking Bible." How much do we go after them like this and put them on the defensive? How much do we show the hypocrisy of their crusade to supposedly save children when really what they are about is the oppression of women and really their own scriptures--which they are mumbling about and insist on a literal interpretation of--put forth the most horrendous things, such as the insistence not only on beating but executing children if they strike their parents or even are disrespectful or rebellious against their parents, and the bashing in of babies' heads?

You know I have something of a "Jones" about these religious fundamentalist types in particular--I really think we need to go after these people on a whole other level, and they're just ripe, they're sitting there for us to do it, and we need to do it. Nobody else wants to do this--at least not in the way we can and must, with a thoroughgoing materialist and dialectical method. Most everybody else wants to conciliate. Far too many people who know, on one level, what's wrong with this stuff, want to take the attitude of "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto religion that which is religion's." That is, they want to try to get these religious types, including the fundamentalists in particular, to keep their religion to themselves--or just in the sphere of spirituality, or whatever--and not bring their religious-based notions and programs into the political arena, into the societal sphere broadly. And, in particular, many scientists take the conciliatory attitude of "let's have science over here and religion over there, and just so long as the religious people don't interfere with science it will be alright and they can do their own thing with regard to religion." No! These fundamentalists, these Christian Fascists, they don't accept this--they are trying, in a thousand ways, to interfere with science and to not only overturn soundly established verdicts and truths in science, such as evolution, but more generally to obstruct the scientific pursuit of the truth with their religious obscurantism. They need to be gone after, and nobody really wants to do this the way we want to, and need to.

Now we have to have tactics and, as a matter not just of tactics but of principle, we have to draw the correct distinctions between different kinds of religious people and the different motivations that people have and whether it lands them on the progressive or the reactionary side of things in a broad sense. We have to have the correct approach of unity-struggle-unity with progressive religious forces, and so on. But with all that, we have to expose these fucking Christian Fascists. We could and should do a lot more of this, and do it a lot more powerfully. It takes a little study; it takes a little concentrating of knowledge about some of the shit these people actually believe in, but in my opinion, we have to expose these people a lot more consistently and systematically and give heart to people. There are a lot of people out there, I feel very confident in saying this--there are a lot of people out there who are sick to death of these reactionary religious obscurantists and the fact that every time you try to have a rational investigation of reality and pursuit of the truth they bring their bullshit into it and get in the way of it--many, many people who would be really heartened if somebody exposed these Christian Fascists in a systematic and unrelenting way. And there's nobody better than us to do it. So, you know, this is a challenge that is before us, particularly around abortion but also more generally, and we have to actually do it in such way, frankly, that people who are religious but can't stand this reactionary shit either will feel impelled to step forward and, from their own point of view, take it on in a more consistent way than they do now, even though that can never substitute for our own independent role and line in doing this with the standpoint and method of the proletariat and its MLM ideology.

Or, to take another example, the garment sweatshops. How well do we do with our exposure around this? Some of the things we've done--not only articles in the paper and so on, but things like taking people, including youth, on tours of these garment sweatshops--this is a very good way to bring this alive for people; and we've seen in the newspaper, for example, how this has brought out reality to people in a powerful, living way. It is one of those things that changes people's whole view of something in such a way that they can never look at things again as they did before--both that particularity of sweatshops but also, to a significant degree, the system as a whole. But how well do we do this in an all-around way, in a consistent and systematic way--bringing this out in a living sense--not just saying, "you know, a lot of people are superexploited in there," but finding the ways to powerfully bring alive what that means? What does it mean in terms of real people, the reality of what people go through, that people are being viciously superexploited in there and how that relates to the domination of places like Mexico and Central America and to the international system of imperialism?

There are a lot of these students on campuses, for example, who have been part of the anti-sweatshop movement, and they see this as an evil but most do not yet see this as part of a whole system. Or take the broader phenomenon of the anti-globalization struggles, which are very inspiring and militant struggles, and there's the potential for people involved in this to learn a tremendous amount. They're already learning a great deal, a lot of the actual underlying relations of the system are being laid bare. But a lot of them still, of course, are carrying a lot of illusions. They think that these things can be reformed away; they don't understand that this is an integral part and an indispensable part of the imperialist system, something it can in no way do without. This is something we have to do propaganda around, to give people an all-around explanation and analysis of why and how this is so, but we also need to do hard hitting agitation, both written and spoken, that brings this alive, that makes people feel the way one of those youth did, after going on a tour of the garment center, when s/he said, "I'll never look at a shirt the same way again. There's a lot of people in that shirt." Well that youth was really making a very insightful statement that captures a great deal-- there's a lot of people in that shirt. Or when they encountered the boss who cared more about his dog than about the people working in the plant. You know, all these are the kinds of things that get at the essence of the system and its production and social relations, and the question is: how can we even more systematically and penetratingly and powerfully expose this and bring it to life in ways that even more sharply stick the knife in and draw blood, in terms of the reality of these outrages and also the way in which they are an inevitable part of this system, things it cannot do without?

That's one of the things that the anti-globalization people and the anti-sweatshop people, the students and youth and the people involved broadly, have not really fully come to grips with. And that's true for all these particular outrages. People come into motion around particular outrages, but how do we move them along in that process where they begin to see these are all part of a system that works together? These are all aspects of the system, are built into it, and they can in no way be done away with except through doing away with the whole system.


I'm trying to contrast that with this stereotypical stuff that we should all hate, because it really works against our cause. I mean if people who are inexperienced do it, that's a different matter; and when I say we should hate it, I don't mean that we should be one-sided about it if inexperienced speakers get up and a little bit fall into mechanical ways of speaking, because anybody who does anything at first--whether it's an infant learning to walk or someone getting up and making speeches--is going to do it mechanically at first, and if we don't allow for that in a certain sense and help them through it, they're never going to learn how to do it "smoothly" and "seamlessly" and really effectively and penetratingly. But those of us who are more experienced, we should hate that stereotypical stuff in a certain sense--because it works against everything we're trying to do, because what it conveys is the idea that we're a bunch of robotical automatons and if we ran society, it would be a horrendous society (which in fact, if we were like that, it would be). So, you know, we really have to use that as a negative example and work to actually bring forward the opposite of that, bring forward things that really in a living way expose the system and the enemy and bring forward our revolutionary alternative, our solution. This is related to Lenin's statement that communism springs from every pore of society. We have to actually take that reality and make it come to life for people, show in a thousand different ways that all these different outrages and injustices and all the contradictions that we shine a spotlight on actually point to the inevitable conclusion that proletarian revolution is necessary.

Starting from Reality, Not Definitions

Moving on, then, the question could be posed: In light of some of the points I've been speaking to here, how do you approach the preparation, beginning with the conception, of a speech? Now, obviously, you have to think about what points need to be covered. I'm not saying you can get up and just talk about any old thing. You do have to figure out what it is you want to talk about. You can't just talk about anything that's not even related to the subject or the question at hand or the circumstances at hand. And you do need to be systematic. You don't want to just get up and talk about anything in any old order without any interconnections between things--without any synthesis of what you are presenting and in turn without that being related to the particular audience and circumstances, the particular issues and contradictions, etc. So that's one basic thing that you do have to do in preparing a speech, and even in conceiving a speech. You have to figure out what it is you want to talk about, what are the main points that need to be covered.

But, while that's very important and necessary, it's not sufficient. It's only the first important thing that needs to be done. You also need to go beyond that and start thinking about, well, who is the likely audience (since you may not be able to know exactly) and what is this particular circumstance arising out of and how do I go after the main things that I want to go after and correctly reveal the interrelationship between them; but, beyond that, how do I do this in a way that, in this circumstance with this audience, is really going to reach people and move them--from the "inside out"--reach down inside and actually make them feel the connections that I'm drawing and the conclusion that I'm pointing to, both in more immediate terms relating to the more particular struggle but also in more strategic terms?

Now, one of the important things in this regard, as well as generally in terms of speaking and representing for the Party, is a point Mao emphasized, including in the "Talks at the Yenan Forum," where he says it's important to start from reality and not from definitions. And when Mao wrote his notes critiquing a Soviet political economy textbook, he made this point again (this is found in the book edited by Stuart Schram, Mao Tsetung Unrehearsed ). He said the problem with this textbook (or one of its main problems) is that it proceeds from definitions and categories and not from reality. He said this not only leads to wrong analysis, but it makes for very boring reading. And the same thing applies when people are listening to you. That's one thing that is shown with that example of that North Korean fiasco. You know, they're starting from--I guess you could call them categories or definitions--well, in that case it's almost rites they are beginning with (and continuing in). It was very much like listening to a religious incantation. You can imagine a Catholic priest or some leader of the Orthodox Church or something getting up there intoning in the same kind of way--just change a few words and you could transport this right into the hallowed halls of the church.

Now, it's true, as Richard Pryor once pointed out, that on one level many people are attracted to all that mystery of religious ritual, but it's not what we want to do--that's not how we want to reach and move people. There is a certain role for ritual, even in the communist movement. There's a certain role for organization of meetings, of programs, etc. There's a certain role for celebration. There's a certain role for superstructural things in a general sense. This is also a point that's in "Strategic Questions"-- when you have a public meeting, the way you organize it also is part of how you reach and appeal to people. You know, if you come in and everybody's sort of milling around and somebody gets up and says, in a kind of flaky and half-hearted way, "Well, I guess it's time to get started," then you've lost a lot already--instead of conveying a certain seriousness, as well as a certain liveliness.

In this connection, let's take two extreme poles. One is that you have a public meeting and people come in, they sit down, there doesn't seem to be much cohesiveness to what's going on, there doesn't seem to be much sense of direction or much sense of organization or even sense of purpose. Finally, somebody gets up and says, "Well, I guess we ought to get started." It's not very inspiring to people. On the other hand, the other extreme, people come into a meeting and everybody has an assigned seat-- "No, no, you sit over here, not over there," you know. The people responsible for running the meeting are all standing around very stiffly and then the master of ceremonies or whatever gets up and gives one of those speeches again--like "Comrades, I'm very privileged tonight to welcome you to this most historic meeting." You know, blah, blah, blah. Well then you've lost people too. But there is a point to organization, to ceremony, to taking yourself seriously--or taking what you're doing seriously-- while not failing to have a sense of humor. Without being dogmatic and inflexible, there is importance to giving a sense of purpose and seriousness and to having the right combination or synthesis of seriousness and liveliness and an atmosphere where people, while appreciating the seriousness, also feel at ease. That's true in organizing a meeting, and the same kind of basic principle also applies in making a speech or writing an article. There is something that people want and appreciate in a certain seriousness and organization, but they don't want to feel that they're being spoken to by the living dead.

These are points we have to have in mind in making a speech or organizing a meeting--or whatever you're doing. And the point Mao was stressing, of starting from reality and not from definitions, is a key aspect of this. What are the actual contradictions that are presenting themselves, and how do they actually link up with the larger, more universal questions that our revolution is all about, here and internationally? Not coming off like that communist spokesperson at the German stadium referred to by Dimitroff--in effect, superimposing on the situation their definitions, their categories, their ritual in a bad sense, just falling back on the terminology of the international communist movement, without regard to the situation and the audience. Yeah, all those terms have meaning, but have you ever listened to a scientist who has a good position trying to debate some of these reactionary fundamentalist lunatics? Sometimes it's very frustrating because many of these scientists can't speak "English" (or whatever the language might be). They often have a hard time explaining things in "regular language"--they can't break things down and present things in the language that "ordinary people" can understand. I don't mean we should feed people pablum, but if you talk only in the "jargon" of your particular scientific discipline, you're missing the people out there who don't know these terms, to whom they don't have any meaning, with whom they don't resonate, don't suggest any kind of reality.

The same is true with our terms. We have lots of scientific terms--the dictatorship of the proletariat, that's a perfectly valid and important term, and we have to popularize it among the masses. I'm certainly not saying that we shouldn't talk about the dictatorship of the proletariat or only speak about it in certain limited circles where people are already familiar with the term. But there's a question of how you do that. If somebody gets up and says, "What I don't like about you Communists is that you're against democracy," and we get up and answer, "Well, you have to understand, we have to have the dictatorship of the proletariat in order to make the socialist transition to communism worldwide." No good! You lost people right there--you're using terminology and what effectively comes across as jargon instead of explaining the same content in a living way and then introducing the terms in the process of that, so that those terms take on meaning and come alive for people, rather than just sort of dumping definitions on them. So, as a general rule, we should start with the living reality that we're confronted with when we're making a speech, writing an article, doing agitation and propaganda in whatever form. We should proceed from that reality.

Put another way--or coming at this from another angle, or in another aspect--the point I'm emphasizing is the importance of drawing the living link between the particular contradictions that define an immediate situation, or the immediate question, and the larger strategic questions. And, yes, we should introduce scientific MLM terms in the course of that (although you don't have to, and shouldn't, bring them all in at once and overwhelm people with it!). In a living way, we should indeed be bringing people a scientific understanding. But science of whatever kind, and most especially our science, should not be dry and dogmatic--it should be living, exciting, vibrant; it should make people see that what we are putting forward is actually "getting inside of reality" and putting it together for people in a way that they themselves perhaps have even been straining towards doing, but haven't been able to do on their own.

Knowing Your Audience, Taking People Through the Contradictions

You do have to know the different audiences, you have to know the particularities of various audiences. That's another point that was stressed in "Strategic Questions." Different audiences are coming from different places. In "Strategic Questions" this example is given: if you're speaking to an audience of Black people about the oppression of Black people and how it relates to the overall nature of the system and the need for revolution and what kind of revolution, etc., yes, there are some things that they don't spontaneously understand about their oppression, but you don't need to spend very much time trying to convince them that they're fucked over and oppressed in a lot of different ways. What they need is for you to quickly move from that to getting into the internal dynamics of that, and why and how it is the way it is, and how it flows from the system, how all the different aspects of that fit together and how this relates to other kinds of oppression that go on in society and the world, how they all stem from the same system and its fundamental contradictions, and how they all have a resolution through proletarian revolution. (Again, you better not use these words for the most part [BA laughs], but in a sense that's exactly the point--how to make all this really come alive, and not just fall back on a "string of terms.") These things have to be broken down in a living way.

So when I'm using these terms here, my particular audience (imagining you "out there," beyond this tape recorder!) includes many comrades who apply MLM--who know what these terms mean-- but when you're out speaking to a broader audience, they don't know what this means--things like "the fundamental contradiction of capitalism" and "the ultimate resolution of that through proletarian revolution." If we're going to use those concepts, which we should, we have to make the reality of those things come alive with different language for most audiences, for audiences that don't start out with a familiarity with those terms and concepts. Again, if you actually are speaking to an audience that already has familiarity with these terms and concepts, and you start saying, "We really need the dictatorship of the proletariat--now let me explain, by the dictatorship of the proletariat I mean..."-- no, you're wasting everybody's time, and you're just infuriating people. And they're likely to say (or at least to think): "Why are you telling me about the dictatorship of the proletariat? I know what the dictatorship of the proletariat is. How does your programme lead to achieving the dictatorship of the proletariat? That's what I want to know right now." See, that's a different audience.

If you're talking to an audience and you're putting forward our Draft Programme, for example, it's all too rare at this point to find an audience that already is familiar with all these terms and concepts, and especially an audience that is largely in agreement with this, so in most situations you can't and shouldn't assume that kind of familiarity and agreement. This has to do with Mao's point about "raising the bucket." If you're speaking to an audience that actually does have familiarity and agreement with the dictatorship of the proletariat, that's an audience whose "bucket" is pretty high up, and you have to start from there and go higher and further. But most audiences, unfortunately at this stage of things, are not going to be there. So you have to start raising the bucket from where they're at--you have to, first of all, know them, do some investigation, do some study, talk to other people who are familiar with them, learn as much as you can, and then (as I also said in "Strategic Questions") try to learn even as you're going along, try to "read" the audience, try to apply the mass line in a certain telescoped way even while you're speaking.

These are some points that are important, although the essential point once again is really to get "inside" of the contradictions and present them in a living way, and present the living link between particular things, or contradictions, and strategic considerations and strategic objectives. And again, one important part of this is starting from reality and not from definitions--definitely not from slogans or from terminology that's unfamiliar and even alienating to your audience, whoever the particular audience is and whatever the particular contradictions are.

And besides getting inside the contradictions, as I spoke to earlier, there's also a question of taking your audience through these contradictions. In other words, not skipping over things that are important in this process, in the particular circumstances. I mean obviously you can't dot every "i' and cross every "t" and fill in every point in a line, so to speak--or you'll speak forever and people will get very dissatisfied before too long. So, when I talk about taking the audience through these contradictions, I don't mean it like, literally, A-B-C-D-E-F-G. What I mean is that you actually bring alive the inner essence of things and the interconnections of things, so that, for example, you show in a living way how a particular police murder or a particular aspect of exploitation in a garment shop concentrates something essential about the system and also relates to other aspects of the system and to the system as a whole, and demonstrates the need to overthrow this system.

That's what I mean by taking people through the contradictions--however much you can do that in the given situation. If you're speaking for five minutes and you're doing very "abbreviated" agitation, since you cannot do too much you have to choose carefully what you're going to emphasize and what contradiction you think is principal that you have to speak to and what's the main way to highlight things, what's the main thing you have to try to lead people to and what's the main way you have to lead them to it. On the other hand, if you're giving a longer propaganda speech of several hours, you can do a lot more. You can show a lot more interconnections of things, while in a more telescoped and limited framework you can't really show the interconnections of all this in a very living way. So you have to know exactly what the nature is of what you're doing, too. Are you doing propaganda primarily, in which you can unfold things and draw the interconnections of different contradictions and different outrages and different features of the system in a more comprehensive and elaborate way? Or are you doing very telescoped agitation where you really have to get across one main point in a very concentrated way and link that point to the more universal without being able to get deeply into the nature of the system and the need for revolution to overthrow it, without trying to draw out in an elaborate way all the various implications and ramifications relating to the particular you are speaking to?


So, this is one aspect of the larger principle of showing, in a living way, by drawing from real live events and circumstances and their interconnections--and from social relations and major social questions and world events--the "inevitability" of our line, of our analysis of the problem and our solution, correctly combining--or, as it says in "Strategic Questions," achieving the right synthesis between--"being completely outrageous ...and being eminently reasonable."

That is really what we should be aiming to do in general because, compared to the spontaneity of things and what people are conditioned and led to think, what we are saying is completely outrageous--and should be! In other words, if what we're saying doesn't come across on one level as completely outrageous to people, then something's missing and we've watered it down. We haven't really exposed the enemy. We haven't "reached" inside and made the masses feel shaken up by what we're saying--which they should, in a good way, in a way that connects with them.

You know, it's like when Malcolm X used to speak to people, he'd shake them up in a good way. He'd say, "They run this game on you, and you go for it every time--because you're a chump, you're a fool, you've been took, you've been had, you've been misled because you're a chump." And people would roar with approval because they recognized two things: that this was true, and that this was coming from someone who was on their side, someone who was seeking to lift them up, not to put them down once more. So that's very important--where you're standing and what attitude you put across in doing this--with whom you are standing when you do it.

But there is a way in which we have to be completely outrageous because, as I said, up against the spontaneity of what people are inclined toward--and what they're led, and conditioned, to believe-- everything we say is completely outrageous. We should recognize that--and recognize that it is mainly a positive thing--but by the time we're done, what we put forward should also disturb at least some people precisely because it seems so eminently reasonable, so that it can't be dismissed as just being outrageous, but also compels people to think: "Well, I have to say it makes a lot of a sense what she said (or he said). I don't like it, but I just can't get it out of my mind." That's what we want people to be wrestling with in a certain sense, wherever they're coming from, wherever the bucket is starting out.

Sharp Exposures

Now, another important principle is the importance of being what we could call being "pitbull" about certain points, in particular sharp exposures. I mean that in the sense of not letting go of these points--exposing the other side repeatedly. This goes back, for example, to the point I was hammering at earlier about the Christian Fascists and their Bible, and really going after them: "You're going to literally uphold this shit, OK, then this is everything that you have to explain--that's all on you now. You explain this shit. This is your shit. You explain it. You defend this shit." You know, not letting go of that, not just making the same point, but relentlessly exposing them from many different angles.

Let's take some examples of how to expose the other side--using their own shit. Let's take the fact that even this conservative author, Edward Luttwak, who wrote the book Turbo Capitalism actually makes this statement at one point, that even factoring in the risk of going to jail for long periods of time, beginning as a youth, or even dying young (and leaving aside whatever pathology you might want to attribute it to), for millions of inner city youth crime is a rational choice . Now here is this conservative analyst making this statement, and right away look at what jumps out. You have to say, "What kind of system is it where even a conservative analyst can say that for millions of youth in the inner cities, crime is a rational choice? What kind of a system have you got going here, where crime is a rational choice for millions of inner city youth?!

Or what kind of system do you have--which you declare to be the greatest of all systems--where there is the reality of continual police murder of the masses in the inner cities, particularly the Black and Latino youth? Here we can and should be making use of a lot of the exposures that are in the Stolen Lives book* to really bring to life how over and over again the same pattern repeats itself. This cannot be the few famous (or infamous) "rotten apples." These are not exceptions. This is a systematic pattern--and we have to show, in a living way, that not only is it a systematic pattern but what it has to do with the basic nature of the system and the function of its state apparatus--without always using the term "the function of its state apparatus." [BA laughs] That's another concept we have to bring alive --the nature of the state and its function as an apparatus of repression to enforce and preserve the capitalist system and its set of social relations.

Earlier I talked about what do you need to say to an audience of Black people--where do you need to start, what do they need to know, and what do they already know? Well, if you're speaking to an audience of people of the more privileged strata--especially white people, but even some of the relatively better off among the oppressed nationalities, the Black or Latino middle strata or whatever--you have to start from different places. You have to bring alive the reality of the oppression of the masses of basic people--and show whose fault it is.

Now it may be an outrage that we have to do that, when this has already been done over and over and over again, not only by us but by many others. But whether it infuriates us or not, we still have to do it. It's like Mao's point that everything reactionary is the same--if you don't hit it, it won't fall...where the broom doesn't reach, the dust will not disappear of itself. And some of these things haven't been exposed as fully as they need to be. In other words, they haven't been hit with our line and methodology and the penetrating exposure we can do, and some of them have been hit with this, but they need to be exposed again and again and again, because the same system is still there and it keeps repeating in only slightly different forms the same outrages and it keeps regurgitating the same rationalizations to blame the masses for these outrages. So it may infuriate us, but we still have to do it.

You can't just get angry, or frustrated, or impatient--you have to go to an audience like this and you have to make them feel the reality of this and the outrage of it, which they don't experience directly, and they don't spontaneously feel it "from the inside out." You have to give them these stories exposing the horrors the masses are subjected to by this system and its enforcers, in a living way, and you have to go through details that for other audiences you don't have to go through. You have to knock away reactionary rationalizations that for other audiences you don't have to knock away because they already understand more of the reality involved, although there are certain assumptions among the masses that need to be hit, too.

There are certain ways, for example, in which the masses, basic masses, who are victimized by the police every day kind of spontaneously accept a standard: "Well, these are the rules of the game and if you break the rules, then naturally you're going to have shit to pay--like you do the crime, you have to do the time. If you break the rules, well they're going to come down on you. That's just the way it is." For example, I was reading about this incident at one housing project where people were doing something like shooting dice in one part of the project and the police came in and started fucking with them and beating up some youth who were part of this scene and pushing around a woman holding a baby. And the pigs' defense was, "Well, people were breaking the law--they were shooting dice--so we had a right to go in there and deal with that." And, to a significant extent, the masses' response was "OK, maybe you had a right to go in and deal with it, but you didn't have a right to brutalize people in this way."

No! We have to take the stand: "No, you don't have a right to come in and fuck with people. You're the fucking oppressor and, to turn around the Dred Scott thing, you have no rights the masses are bound to respect. (Dred Scott was a "runaway slave" captured in the North, shortly before the Civil War, and the Supreme Court ruled that he had to be returned to his master; in that ruling it was put forward that essentially a Black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.) But we have to bring that alive. You can't just assert that. You have to show why that's so--that the police don't have a right to come in and mess with people. And in this case?!--I mean, come on! People shooting dice? That's the best fucking thing you can find to deal with, is people shooting dice?

But the point is that, even for some of the basic masses, you have to go through some of these things. Why do they have a right? Why is it necessary? What good are they doing for the people--how can any good be done by their coming in and fucking with people shooting dice? So what if they're shooting dice? You know, what harm is that doing to anybody around here? It's just an excuse for them to come and fuck with people, and we can't accept the idea that it's justified for them to do that. Sometimes even those things have to be gone into with the masses because they accept too much. They concede too much to the enemy. Because of the way they've been conditioned and the way the dictatorship has come down on them and the things that they've had to adjust to, they don't understand that there are things you don't have to accept from the oppressor just because they say that's the law or that's their right to do that. So even those kinds of things have to be struggled out with the basic masses on many occasions.

But if you're talking about the same questions with different audiences--more privileged strata, even more privileged strata among Black or Latino people--you have to go into things more fully and in a different way, coming at it from different angles and going into it more thoroughly. Because one of the tenets--or at least the spontaneous tendency--of these more privileged strata among the oppressed nationalities is, in many cases, that they want to put some distance between themselves and the basic masses, because they feel dragged down by the things that basic masses do and they feel that their ability to rise and be upwardly mobile is dependent on distancing themselves and putting space between themselves and even criticizing and condemning the basic masses--"it's their own fault, why do they do all this nasty shit?--look at me, my family started out poor but we went to church, we worked hard, we made something of ourselves"...you know, some of the same shit you hear from other people, from people whose family were immigrants from Europe, for example [BA laughs]. So you have to go into and go through some of these things with them, too. And this is even more so with people--for example, many white middle class people--who've never experienced any of the brutal oppression of the system directly and perhaps have never even heard about it from anybody that meant anything to them, let's put it that way. In those cases, you have to take people through a different path, in order to get them to the same point. You have to step back and talk about a few more things.

Let's go back to that Edward Luttwak statement. What does that have to do with the encounters between the police and the masses? You know, who's responsible? People say "Yeah, but they're doing all this crime." Who's responsible? To take an even more fundamental step back, who's responsible for the situation people are in, where people like Luttwak have to acknowledge that crime is a rational choice for people in this situation? Why are they doing this crime? Why is there no other avenue for them?

And then there are repeatedly examples, which we should also really seize on, where somebody played by all the rules of the game and still got cut down. They went to church. They read their Bible--they even got shot through the Bible they were carrying, as has happened on some occasions. You know, they got shot in the chest, the bullet went through their Bible. But before that, they got a job--or maybe two jobs. They went to school and studied hard. Their parents worked hard and sacrificed to send their kids through school. And still the kid gets cut down, murdered by the pigs. Maybe they're even an honor student, and they go out on their prom night and they end up in the wrong neighborhood and they get shot for their trouble.

Now, people from the middle class can understand that point, but it has to be broken down for them. Do they think that their kids should go out and face being shot down for wanting to have some fun on their prom night? Would they accept it if the police came back and said, "Well, we had to shoot your kid down on prom night because they were speeding in a car, and they looked like somebody that might have stolen a car, we thought the car was stolen. Oh, we checked it out after we shot them down and actually it wasn't stolen, but at the time we thought..."--would they accept that?! See, these are the things you have to go through with people from certain strata, etc., to get them to not only intellectually understand but to feel deeply the outrage--the continual outrages. Now, again, it might infuriate us that we have to do that. We could take a stand that they ought to know better. This shit goes on all the time and all around; they're just closing their eyes to it. Yeah, well, in a certain way they are, but that doesn't relieve us of the responsibility, when we're speaking to them, to take them through these things and bring this alive to them in terms that can grab them, that can make them feel this "from the inside out."

And what about the fact that every two minutes a woman in this society will be raped or sexually assaulted? What does that say about the nature of this society? And what's the root cause of that? It is very interesting that, in a report on a meeting of some youth around the Draft Programme, there was actually a lot of debate among some of these advanced youth over the point in the Draft Programme about eliminating rape--making it very rare and then eventually eliminating it altogether--and whether this was actually possible. Could you actually have a society where there is no rape? Which shows how, because of the loss of socialist countries and people not living in a time when there are actual socialist countries where such things are being brought into reality, how much people's sights have been narrowed and lowered as a result, so that they actually have trouble believing that we can and will eventually eliminate rape--which is something that will require struggle throughout society but definitely is an achievable goal, something that will be achieved through the socialist revolution and the advance to communism. What gets involved in the disbelief and the debate about this is the question of whether there's something innate in people, in particular men, that leads, and will always lead, to this kind of thing--rape and sexual assault; or whether there are certain social relations that just cannot be radically changed.

So we have to go through this with people, go into it deeply--start with an outrage like that, which is a real indictment of this system and, to the degree you can in any particular speech or article, or whatever you're doing (any particular circumstances), actually go through it and show people what this is rooted in, that there is a solution to it, that once this system and the social relations it is rooted in are uprooted and eliminated, and along with this people's outlook is transformed, this outrage can and will be abolished. So you start with a glaring outrage like that--and this is a thing that no one can defend and almost no one will try to defend--but you shine a light on that and then you take people through what this is rooted in, where does this come from, why does this happen, what is the answer to this, is there an answer to it?

Again, this must be and can be done in a living way. One way to do this is to pose some penetrating questions: Can this be eliminated under this system? If it can be, why hasn't it been, for all the time this system has been around? If this isn't built into the system, if this isn't an inevitable feature of this system, then why hasn't it been gotten rid of a long time ago? Why isn't it even a goal of this system to get rid of that? Why don't they even claim that they can create a "rapeless society?" There's an indictment of them. They don't even claim that they can do this. They don't even set it as a goal. And yet, if it's not an integral and indispensable feature and part of their system, then why hasn't it been gotten rid of? And on the other hand, yes, it'll be a struggle, but this can be gotten rid of, because it's rooted in certain social relations; it's rooted in the fundamental nature of the capitalist system and the social relations it gives rise to and reinforces; and it can be eliminated as those things are transformed and eliminated. And, yes, we can and will do this without turning the whole society into a repressive police state!

Or what about the crimes the U.S. imperialists have committed against the people of Iraq? Here again, you can talk about statistics, which are important--the fact that over a million people, most of them children, have died as a result of the bombing and the continuing sanctions enforced by military means. That's very important and very powerful, but in addition to that, it's really necessary to bring out some of the living sense of what we're talking about here--some of the stories that people have told, some of which have been in articles in our newspaper--to give people a real and profound sense of the agony here. Here is a mother and a father standing over a bed, a hospital bed, with their two-year-old kid slowly dying of dysentery and nothing can be done for the kid because there's no medicine and because the sewage treatment plants that would purify the water were destroyed along with the rest of the infrastructure in the bombing by the imperialists--and this situation has been perpetuated with the ongoing sanctions enforced by the imperialists--with the U.S. imperialists the main power responsible for this. What a horror! Our agitation and propaganda should make people feel that horror--not just hear about it but feel it--and then we should take them to the point where they understand that this, once again, is a monstrous crime which is part of the whole nature of this system.

Why did these imperialists do what they did in Iraq? They'll tell you themselves on a certain level. It's to enforce their international system and their top dog position. If anybody challenges this, they have to be crushed, these imperialists insist, and "we have to keep on crushing them so everybody learns the lesson and so the international relations remain and are further enforced as we want them to be, because if we don't do that, our `national interests' --i.e., our whole network of imperialist relations and domination-- will be threatened and may even come unraveled." This is what they say themselves, in effect. So we have to take what they themselves say and recast it, and show people the reality of what it actually means for people all over the world and what it reveals about the nature of this imperialist system.

All these are exposures that we have to really bring alive and the interconnections we have to draw in a living way. And we should be highlighting this against the backdrop of and in glaring contradiction to their loud and incessant proclamations about how theirs is the best of all systems. We should not only mock that claim, but we should make the outrages of their system come alive in mocking it.

Here again also is the importance of not letting go of these things and really going after the enemy with them. And again as well, this doesn't mean just constantly repeating them, repeating the same exact things, over and over--we do need to bring forward fresh exposures as well as continuing to hit on certain really glaring outrages and contradictions. And, you know, there is plenty of exposure, continually provided by the workings of this system itself--just as, as the dialectical opposite of that, what Lenin said is profoundly true: communism springs from every pore of society. And, to paraphrase Lenin when he was talking about the regeneration of capitalism and the bourgeoisie in socialist society, this capitalist- imperialist system brings forward outrages daily, hourly, continuously, and on a mass scale.

There is no lack of material for us to turn back against the enemy, and the more effectively we can do it in the ways I've been trying to emphasize, the more we're going to expose the enemy, and the more we're going to bring forward masses toward the revolutionary position and into the ranks of the revolutionary movement and our Party. Because there is that connection with people, when they see that something not only is outrageous but when they see that it doesn't have to be, then they feel much more compelled to act--they see that these things only exist and only are perpetuated because of a system, a set of social relations and an apparatus of repression and a ruling structure to enforce these things. When they see that, if it weren't for those things, these outrages would not have to exist, then they feel more compelled and more inspired to act, to change these things. So in bringing forward these particular exposures, we should make it so that people in the audience (and people generally) really get what is being exposed, the particular thing, and the larger things--the essential social relations, the nature of this system, the universal in that sense--which is being drawn out from this or that particular.


Going back to the point that I was speaking to earlier about preparing a speech, this is not just a matter of doing an outline or even writing out more fully the main points you need to cover, in what order, etc., although that is important. It is also a matter of systematically preparing how you present things--how you can get across and drive home these essential points in a way that will be compelling, taking into account as much as possible the audience and the circumstances in which you'll be speaking, etc. And another important point is that preparation is not just the more immediate, systematic and "organized" preparation that goes into a particular speech or writing a particular article, or whatever. There's also the continual, ongoing, and more general preparation--including (and this is another point made in "Strategic Questions") doing various kinds of study and reading--study of our line and of MLM generally, but also of various other things, from differing points of view. And there is also the ongoing process of sharpening your abilities and skills in regards to speaking as well as writing and doing battle in the arena of public opinion. There's a matter, if you want to put it that way, of "keeping your antennae out" to all the key events and outrages in society (and the world); even when you're not immediately preparing a speech, keeping "tense" to all these events and outrages in society and the world, and to how these are "handled" by the representatives of various forces and classes, particularly how they are handled by the representatives, the mouthpieces, and the media of the other side. This is a matter of sharpening your ability through all this to hound, to "fix", and to sharply expose the enemy.

Biting into the Big Questions

One thing that seems to get posed fairly often when someone is representing for the Draft Programme, or the Party in general--this has come up in interviews and it can also come up in debates or whatever--is how to "bite into" a "big question" that gets posed. For example, you're doing an interview and all of a sudden, the interviewer asks, "So, what is communism?" (This has actually come up in interviews I have heard). You know, there you are, talking back-and-forth with the interviewer--and boom!--somebody shoves in your face this gigantic great apple that's way bigger than your mouth [BA laughs]. How do you bite into that? One important aspect of this is how to make a concise summary, right on the spot, when such a big question gets posed either directly or just objectively by the back-and-forth of discussion or debate--either somebody directly poses a big question or you recognize that this kind of big question is at least objectively being posed by the discussion, the debate, or whatever--and, of course, it is also a question of your orientation and tenseness and acuteness to be able to recognize that a big question is getting posed up objectively, even if somebody doesn't directly and explicitly throw you a big question like that.

OK, when this happens, how do you quickly make a concise summary which captures the essence of the matter, and at the same time captures the imagination of the audience? How do you do that first , and then go on to elaborate (a little, or elaborate more fully depending on the circumstances)? For example, besides "What is communism?", you can think of other big questions we get hit with all the time--various forms in which the question of the reversal of socialism gets raised, or the role of vanguard leadership and the question of "hierarchies," this whole anarchist line of not needing leadership and that the objective should be to develop a leaderless movement and a leaderless society, etc., etc.

You know, on one of these radio interviews with Party spokespeople, right at the end of the program, all of a sudden this anarchist who was in the studio, this French anarchist, starts piping up about how what our people were putting forward is exactly the wrong answer, exactly what is not needed--how the Paris Commune was an example of a working class movement without a vanguard Party, that this was the great thing about the Paris Commune. He was so provoked by everything that our people had said that he launched into this whole thing about how the great thing about the Paris Commune was that it didn't have any leaders--no vanguard party--that's what the Paris Commune was all about. And I was sitting there listening to this tape, and immediately it occurred to me what we should have said in that circumstance if there had been a chance, if there still had been time on the program (which there wasn't) to confront this guy: "Yes, the Paris Commune didn't have any leaders--it didn't have the leadership of a communist vanguard--and that's one of the essential reasons why it was crushed so quickly." Boom!--like that-- and then you get into more in-depth analysis to the degree that's possible in the particular circumstances, because there are a lot of contradictions bound up in that and just saying that is not sufficient, but it gets a concise, hard-hitting answer out there quickly, in a few words--Boom! right away you get to the essence of the matter. It's true--they didn't have leadership in the sense we're talking about, the leadership of a vanguard Party--and one of the main lessons is that that's one of the main reasons why they got crushed so quickly and thoroughly. And then you can go on and elaborate more and explain that, but right away you've captured the essence of it in a way that's sharp, that's penetrating, that grabs people.

To take another aspect of things, I noticed that when the question would come up of the reversal of socialism and so on (however it was posed, that was the essence of the question), there was a certain tendency on the part of our people being interviewed to "speak around" the underlying contradictions involved--that is, to sort of one-sidedly put emphasis on the conscious role of the masses, that that's the way we're going to prevent capitalist restoration, to talk some about the vanguard role of the Party but not really talk about this deeply, only touching more superficially on the contradictions involved with the Party and its relations with the masses, particularly in the new socialist society. If you look at the second appendix on the Party in the Draft Programme, for example, that question--the role of the Party, the relation between the Party and the masses, in socialist society, and the profound and often acute contradictions bound up with this--is a central focus of that appendix.

In the Draft Programme, the two appendices on the Party are written as they are and are situated where they are in a very deliberate and conscious way. The first appendix on the Party deals with one half of the question or emphasizes one half of the question--why you need a vanguard Party, and how you can't make a revolution without it, how the Party leads the masses to make revolution, the mass line--that's in the first appendix, which focuses on the task of making the revolution, that is, seizing power. Then, a little later in the Draft Programme, the next appendix on the Party comes at things from the opposite side--these Party appendices represent, in a sense, two sides of the whole. What the second Party appendix is emphasizing is that when you take state power and you're in the new socialist society, things change profoundly and the position of the Party changes profoundly. It's now a Party of the proletariat in power. It's now the instrument of effecting leadership by the proletariat--not that it substitutes for the masses, but there's a real contradiction there between the Party and the masses, and between the role of the Party and the final goal of eliminating the conditions that make a Party necessary. This second Party appendix comes right at the beginning of the appendices that deal with how we are going to transform society, what the new society is going to look like, how's it going to carry out all these transformations. And again, this is very consciously and deliberately written this way and situated or structured in this way.

And I felt that in some of the answers to this question, in interviews, etc., there hasn't been enough really joining that question. It's a big question, which the masses have spontaneously, in certain forms. It's a question that the bourgeoisie bombards them with--it bombards them with a wrong understanding of the question and wrong answers, even a wrong way of posing it--it does this (to again paraphrase Lenin) daily, hourly, continuously, and on a mass scale, and it's something that we have to directly engage. Yes, there is a real contradiction here, particularly when the Party comes to power. And, in addressing this, we can and should say: "Here's the real deal--the real problem--if you want to talk about the real problem: The very contradictions (or underlying factors or conditions) that mean that the Party can be turned into its opposite, that the Party can become a ruling elite over the masses, are the same contradictions that make the Party necessary in the first place. And that's what we have to deal with."

Of course, there are different specific ways you can pose this, and that's one way of posing it, but in any case we have to speak to that contradiction--that to make revolution and transform the world, you can't do without a Party, including in socialist society, but your long-term strategic objective has to be to abolish the Party, through abolishing the conditions, the contradictions, that make the Party necessary. In the second Party appendix in the Draft Programme, it poses the contradiction this way (here I'm paraphrasing): neither the continuing need for the vanguard role of the Party nor the fact that this role of the Party poses very real contradictions that could lead to the reversal of socialism--neither aspect of that can be ignored and has to be systematically taken up under socialism. And then it goes on and talks about some of the main principles and methods for how to do that. And it was my feeling, in watching/listening to tapes of interviews, that to some degree this issue hasn't been joined directly and fully enough, but a little bit talked around in some of the interviews. It's not enough to say, well, we will bring the masses forward and make them conscious. They did that in China to a large degree, an unprecedented degree, and then socialism still got reversed. And some people, even honest people, will raise that because that's a question on their minds, and definitely [BA laughs] opportunists and bourgeois spokesmen and whatever will raise it. So, for all those reasons, and most fundamentally because it is a real contradiction we need to address and keep on addressing, we have to take that head-on and not talk around it. Now, of course, I don't think people were deliberately evading it, but perhaps it is a matter of not grasping firmly enough the necessity of going directly and as deeply as possible into that contradiction.


Now, once again, in this context I also want to stress the importance of being "concrete," that is, bringing out particularly sharp examples and using this to illustrate the more general and basic points, again linking the particular and the universal, bringing out how the universal resides in the particular. Of course, we have to do this without narrowing things and tending toward empiricism, reducing the whole universal down to one particular. (An example of this narrowing would be to say the reason we need revolution is so that we can get rid of police brutality. Well, that is one reason-- the need to get rid of police brutality is one particular that shows the larger and more universal point that we need revolution and why we need revolution and how revolution would deal with that--but it's not the whole of it, and the need for revolution cannot be and should not be reduced to just that.)

But there is the importance of being concrete, and I feel again that this came up a little bit as a problem in some of the interviews that I either read summaries of or watched videos or listened to audiotapes of--sometimes we got stuck a little bit, not knowing how to give an example that is sharply illustrative enough. And, along with other things I have been stressing, it's important to have some examples--you know, sort of "in stock" [BA laughs]--to be able to use in speaking to different questions when they come up. In other words, to think in advance and be thinking all the time about this, and rehearsing--going through the day rehearsing a lot this kind of stuff, on a certain level. Even though you may have other responsibilities and other tasks that occupy you, if you are a spokesperson on some level, you should be rehearsing this in an ongoing way, preparing for when different things come up--what am I going to say if somebody raises this or that, what's a good example to get into this point? On the other hand, no matter how much you do that, you're going to have to be good, and continually get even better, at "thinking on your feet," because there are always going to be things that come up that you can't prepare for. And then we have to be good also at learning when we fall on our face [BA laughs]--we have to get up again and learn well from that, so next time we do better--because things like that are going to happen.


Another point is that, in dealing with questions or statements, including disagreements in debates or whatever, it's important to quickly and immediately "sift through" and get to the core of what is being asked, posed, or brought forward in opposition to what you're saying. It is important to identify, as quickly as possible: what is the most important thing, the essential or principal contradiction, within what is being posed? For example, going back to this "gigantic question"- -what is communism?--in that circumstance we need to quickly figure out where and how to "first bite into that apple." You need to quickly figure out the most essential thing and give a powerful "capsule picture" of the essence of it, and then elaborate further to the degree possible as things unfold.

Training to Represent

Encompassing all the things that I've been talking about so far, there's a question for our main and more experienced spokespeople: Not just how do you strengthen your ability to do all these various things, but beyond that how do you help lead and train others to do the same? How to lead and train others to be spokespeople--for the Party in general and particularly around the Draft Programme and throughout the whole process of finalizing the Programme? This is a task for the Party as a whole, but there are also particular roles and contributions that people who already are playing an important role as spokespeople can make in this.

What are the main and essential elements of such training? Well, one of them is knowing things well enough to "break them down" for others. This is a point that's made in "Strategic Questions." It's one thing to understand something yourself on a certain level, but it's another thing, and it's another level you have to get to, to be able to break it down for other people. And, in fact, there is a dialectical relationship there, because the more that you can actually do that, the more you will actually understand it yourself. The better you're able to make that leap to breaking things down for other people, the more your own understanding is going to be strengthened and make leaps. So this is one important part of playing a key role in training others, and in continuing to learn yourself.

There is also the additional dimension of actually grappling with what goes into learning something. For our more experienced spokespeople, it would be worthwhile to dig into these questions: How did you learn how to do this particular thing--how to make a speech, how to do agitation and propaganda, how to write an article--how did you learn these things, and how are you still learning the key things that go into doing this and generally go into playing this spokesperson role? This is partly a question of sharing what you have learned, and are continuing to learn, with those you are leading and training, and with others more generally. But there also has to be a certain conscious effort to "deconstruct" and then "reconstruct" what you have learned and how you have learned it --that is, consciously going back and "taking it apart" and examining it and then "putting it back together" in a way that helps others learn. This applies to things in general as well as to agitation and propaganda particularly and the overall spokesperson role that I've been speaking to.


* Stolen Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement, 2nd Edition. This book, which documents over 2,000 cases of people killed by law enforcement, was published by the Stolen Lives Project, a joint project of The Anthony Baez Foundation, the October 22nd Coalition, and the National Lawyers Guild. It is available in English and Spanish from Revolution Books stores and outlets (listed on page 2) or can be ordered from amazon.com.



In this excerpt from "Putting Forward Our Line--in a Bold, Moving, Compelling Way," the following sentence, and in particular the part underlined here, is formulated in a way that could be misleading: "We have to actually take that reality and make it come to life for people, show in a thousand different ways that all these different outrages and injustices and all the contradictions that we shine a spotlight on actually point to the inevitability , to the necessity, of the proletarian revolution." In referring to "inevitability" here, what I was intending to say was that these outrages and injustices and all the contradictions that we shine a spotlight on point to the inevitable conclusion that proletarian revolution is necessary --similarly to what is done earlier in this excerpt where it refers to the "inevitability of the conclusion that you're drawing," or in the excerpt from "Strategic Questions (which appeared in RW #1176), where it speaks of how, "through the process on which you've taken them [the audience] with the article, or speech, or whatever, they begin to recognize-- and, in a conscious sense, to feel--the inevitability of the conclusion."

The question of the "inevitability"--or non-inevitability--of the proletarian revolution and the advance to communism is obviously very important, and is something I have spoken to in a number of other writings. For example, in the final excerpt from the talk "Grasp Revolution, Promote Production," which will be published within the next few months in the RW , the point is made that: "we cannot say that communism is inevitable in some metaphysical and idealist or essentially religious sense--in the sense that there is some predetermined, predestined way in which all of reality and all of human historical development in particular has been leading up to, or even was somehow bound to lead up to, communism.... At the same time, all of human history, in all its diversity and complexity, has in fact led humanity to the threshold of communism--has established a powerful material and social basis for this, not just in this or that country, but throughout the world....This is a leap that humanity needs to make and in historical terms is now poised to make."


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