The Revolutionary Potential of the Masses and the Responsibility of the Vanguard

by Bob Avakian

EDITORS' NOTE: The following is part of a series of excerpts on various subjects, drawn from conversations and discussions, as well as more formal talks, by Bob Avakian. This excerpt was edited for publication in Revolutionary Worker #1270, March 13, 2005.

One of the things that I see, something that I haven't lost sight of, is this: I see all the strength of the ruling class, but I also see all the way through all this shit, all the contradictions in society--I actually see a force in this society that, if it were developed into a revolutionary people, actually could have a go at it, could have a real chance of making a revolution, or being the backbone force of a revolution, when the conditions were ripe. I see a force of millions and millions and millions--youth and others--for whom this system is a horror: It isn't going to take some cataclysmic crisis for this system to be fucking over them. The ruling class, ironically, sees them too. It is those who have once had but have lost--or those who never had--a revolutionary perspective...it is they who can't see this.

So what I'm working on is all the things that are in between that revolutionary potential and its actual realization. How does this force of masses at the base of society get joined by people from other strata, how does it get allies broadly, how does it get "friendly neutrality" among many in the middle strata--how does all this get developed into a revolutionary people that can become a powerful fighting force when the conditions emerge to fight all out for the seizure of power? How does all that happen not in a passive sense , but how do we work on bringing this revolutionary people into being, even if most of the changes in society and the world are not owing to our initiative but to larger objective factors? I actually believe there is such a revolutionary force in potential--I actually believe this, I see this potential--I believe that there is a force there that, if somehow (and the bourgeoisie knows this too) if somehow the bourgeoisie got into a real, deep crisis...[ BA laughs ]

Yes, these masses have got a lot of ideological hang-ups, and everything else--that's why we have work to do-- but we should never lose sight of that potential. And it's not only the oppressed nationalities either--although that is a good part of it, it's not the whole of it. There are a lot of youth, and there are a lot of other masses, of all nationalities. They are not a revolutionary people now, and they are not joined by other forces in the way they need to be--they don't have the necessary allies, they don't have the necessary "friendly neutrality," they don't have the political paralysis of the half-hearted reformist trends, and whatever. But that relates to the crucial question of where we come in , in relation to all that. Do we just wait for "the stars to all align"? Or do we have a lot we can do--is there a lot of back and forth between us and the objective situation, not just at the point of a revolutionary crisis but all along the way toward that point?

This is why, among other things, I haven't become discouraged with all these twists and turns. Not only do I have the moral dimension of feeling it's an outrage the way that masses of people, tens of millions in the U.S. and literally billions more in the world, are treated, but I'm also thinking about how to bring into being this revolutionary people--not just how are they going to become a revolutionary people in the sense of wanting to make revolution and overthrowing the system, but how are they going to become a revolutionary people in terms of "fitting themselves to rule" as Marx once put it. This is why I don't feel like tailing them--because what good is that doing for them?

I told some people in a discussion recently: If anybody expects that, because I'm a white male, I am going to be apologetic about putting myself forward as a leader, they are going to be terribly disappointed--you are in for a big disappointment if you expect me to be apologetic about that. Because whom are we thinking about when we're thinking that way? And what are we thinking about? Are we really thinking about the masses of people who are bitterly oppressed, and what they need to get out from that oppression, and to make a whole different, much better world--or are we thinking about something else? That's why I don't feel like tailing these masses. There are plenty of people pandering to them and using them in various ways, and feeling sorry for them. I hate the way the masses of people suffer, but I don't feel sorry for them. They have the potential to remake the world, and we have to struggle like hell with them to get them to see that and to get them to rise to that. We shouldn't aim for anything less. Why should we think they are capable of anything less?

And, yes, there are a tremendous number of contradictions. I'm not an idealist--I'm not a "soft-headed liberal"--I know that the masses of people have real limitations and shortcomings, as a result of living and struggling to survive under this system. Many of them have been denied not only formal education but access to knowledge about many spheres--and a good number of them have even been denied the means to learn basic things, like how to read--but that doesn't mean they are not capable of overcoming all this. And it doesn't mean that they have not accumulated a great deal of experience and knowledge and wisdom of many kinds, which can contribute to the development of the revolutionary struggle, especially as this is taken up by people wielding a scientific communist outlook and method and spreading this among the masses of people. We should understand, on a scientific basis, that these masses are fully capable of becoming conscious communist revolutionaries. Those who have been kept illiterate by this system are capable of being leaders of a revolution and of a new society that will overcome the things that made them illiterate. We should struggle like hell, ideologically and practically, to enable them to become literate; but, even if they don't, they can still play a leading role in the revolution. You want to talk about the non-professional leading the professional? This is how you do it--you do it with ideology, communist ideology and methodology, in the fullest sense. And you do it with the correct understanding of this ideology. Some of the masses who are going to play leading roles in this process are never going to understand much beyond some basic things about physics, for example. And most of us here aren't either. [ BA laughs ] But they don't have to understand all that to be able to lead. If you have the right ideology and methodology, you can still relate correctly to physics, and to physicists, and to people in all these spheres. You can still enable the masses to enter into these spheres and learn about them, and learn how to give leadership, in an overall sense politically and ideologically, to people in these spheres--without undermining and undercutting these spheres, without acting in a narrow way, or worse yet a tyrannical way, towards the people who do have specialized knowledge and expertise in these spheres, and without limiting and constricting them but, on the contrary, valuing and learning from them and their knowledge-- and their search for knowledge --and uniting and struggling in a good way with them. It's tough, we have to work on these problems some more, but there is a methodology here that can lead to correctly dealing with these contradictions, in a way that gives full expression to the scientific method, the scientific spirit and scientific inquiry, to the flowering of the imagination and the search for the truth, and that leads all this to serve the emancipation and the betterment of humanity.

And, at the same time, it is very important to keep in mind that more than a few physicists, and people with expertise in other fields, will themselves become communists and play leading roles, not only in relation to their particular area of expertise but in an overall sense, in making revolution and transforming all of society and bringing a whole new world into being.

Masses of different strata, including the basic masses--we cannot have the idea that they are capable of less than they are capable of. They are capable of terrible things, yes; some do terrible things, too, as a result of what this system has done to them; but that doesn't mean that this is somehow their "essence" and all that they are capable of. Speaking of the broad masses, including some who have gotten caught up in terrible things, they are also capable of great things.

It is the responsibility of those who are the vanguard to lead the masses to realize this potential, to become a revolutionary people and, when the time becomes ripe, to be the backbone of a revolution that will open up the way to a whole better world. And, yes, that means struggling with the masses to, first of all, recognize their own revolutionary potential, their potential to become the emancipators of humanity, and then to act in accordance with that potential.

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