Why the Proletariat Must Lead the United Front

By Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #892, February 2, 1997

It is very important that we be very firm and have a firm grip on the fact that the strategy we are talking about is the United Front, Under the Leadership of the Proletariat.

The simple fact is that the proletariat and its vanguard party must lead the united front, in an overall and ultimate sense, or ultimately it won't serve the revolution and the emancipation of the broad masses--that's just a bedrock fact.

And after the seizure of power, in the new socialist society and throughout the transition to communism, the proletariat and its vanguard party not only has to lead in general but in particular the proletariat must exercise all-around dictatorship over the bourgeoisie in all spheres of the superstructure, including culture. This was a point repeatedly emphasized by Mao, especially through the Cultural Revolution and more particularly (and in a very emphatic way) in his last great battle against Deng Xiaoping and his revisionist headquarters.

As an essential aspect of this, the proletariat, through the leadership of its party, has to control the key pillars of state power--the army and the state apparatus overall--there can be no mistake about this and no wavering on this. No other class but the proletariat and its party is going to exercise leadership over the main pillars of state power. And if anybody else does, then we are not going to go where we need to go--that's a fact--we have to be firm on this.

The more firmly we grasp our line and its basic principles, the more broadly we will be able to unite. But we have to be able to be bedrock about this: in socialist society, no other class is going to be leading and having the leading position in the superstructure in general and particularly with regard to the key pillars of state power--or else the masses are going to suffer and the old society is going to be brought back. It's just that simple.

This was a basic point that was made in the polemic against K. Venu, "Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That"*: if you try to implement all this so-called democracy without class content, if you try to give expression to that, what you are going to do is undermine and destroy the dictatorship of the proletariat. You are not going to exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat in a more "democratic" way, you are going to undermine and destroy the dictatorship of the proletariat--and new, or old, exploiters are going to take power and bring back the inequalities of the old society.

So another way to put this is that the proletariat and its vanguard party must lead the united front all the way through, not only in preparing for and carrying out the seizure of power, but all the way throughout the transition to communism until the material basis and the ideological basis for the party itself has been eliminated together with the elimination of class distinctions and everything bound up with that.

From Many Armies in the Field to One Army

This is a very complex question, particularly when it comes down to the matter of the key levers of state power. Here again, another very sharp contradiction comes to the fore. Going back to the statement from Lenin--about how the revolution isn't going to be so simple and easy as one army lining up here and saying "we're for imperialism" while another army lines up there and says "we're for socialism" and then they fight it out. In reality there are going to be many armies in the field, in the course of the revolutionary struggle and very likely in the revolutionary war.

How do the proletarian revolutionaries handle the contradiction between that very profound material reality and on the other hand the very profoundly rooted principle that the proletariat and the proletariat alone has to be exercising dictatorship and in particular the commanding position in regard to the key pillars and levers of state power? Or, to put it another way, how would communists deal with the contradiction that objectively in the process of seizing power, and perhaps even for a time afterward, there would be many armies in the field (at least politically and probably militarily), but ultimately there can only be one army under one leadership? In other words, after the revolution, with the dictatorship of the proletariat, there are not going to be many armies, there is only going to be one army.

Now, one of the particular complex factors involved with this overall contradiction is the national question--the right of self-determination and in particular the right of secession (the right to form their own state) for the African-American people in (what is now) the U.S. We have emphasized--and must continue to emphasize and educate the broad masses, particularly among white people, in the "self-determinationist spirit"--that upholding the right to self-determination means that this question must be settled on the basis of equality and by renouncing the use of force, on the part of the people of the dominating European-American nation, in handling this question.

At the same time, the objective of the revolution is to establish the rule of the proletariat in the largest possible territory at any given point--based precisely on the voluntary union of the people and the struggle for equality. And, in accordance with this, our objective is to achieve a unified state apparatus representing the interests of the proletariat and the masses of people, of all nationalities, with one revolutionary army, led by the single vanguard party of the single multinational proletariat, giving expression to the voluntary union of the people, based on the principle of equality. It should be obvious that handling all this correctly would not be easy, but it must and can be done, and what I have spoken to are the basic principles that must and would guide the revolutionary forces in doing it.

Of course, there is going to be lots of diversity in socialist society and even diversity within the army in a certain sense. We need diversity as well as unity. But after the revolution there would not be many different armies, because if there are many different armies there are certainly going to be many different classes represented by those different armies--and one of them would be the bourgeoisie. And we don't want that, because then the class interests of the proletariat are not going to be brought to the fore and upheld.

Firmness and Flexibility

Just as in the intellectual field, we have to have a policy of firmness and flexibility, unity and diversity, unity and struggle. But at the same time if the proletarian outlook is not being established in the leading position, then the interests of the masses are going to suffer. It's not that the interests of the communists, narrowly conceived, are going to suffer, but the masses are going to suffer. They are going to be dragged back to the hell of the old society. If revolutionaries create conditions in which the intellectuals can give free reign to their spontaneous tendencies--speaking of intellectuals broadly, not the ones who are communist intellectuals, but intellectuals more broadly--then those very same conditions are ones which are going to be oppressive to the masses and land the masses back under an oppressive system. That's an acute way this contradiction expresses itself in terms of the intellectuals.

In terms of the question of state power and its key pillars, the revolutionaries would have to move through the correct handling of contradictions and the correct application of the United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat, to the position where there is in fact one army and one core of state power led by the proletariat and its party.

Let's just get right down with this: if the proletariat tries to share control of the key levers of state power with any other class it's not going to work. The interests of the masses are not going to be served. Only on the basis that it is very clear that the proletariat's interests are going to be in the commanding position can we actually bring forward the most positive factors from other class forces.

Now this is not a matter of declaring the leading role and commanding position of the proletariat in the united front and within socialist society. This is not something that can be simply declared, it would have to be won politically and it would have to be won on the battlefield. I don't mean it would have to be won on the battlefield by fighting these other strata that you are trying to ally with. But it would have to be won concretely by the revolutionary army of the proletariat being in fact the main force that defeats the other side and doing all the political work that goes along with that to establish the proletariat and its party in the leading position. And if the proletarian revolutionary forces didn't succeed in doing that, and if they were to adopt a liberal attitude toward other class forces, even the most radical ones, then they would be undermining and ultimately betraying the interests of the broad masses. The contradiction may not present itself in that way all the time--or it may not be readily apparent all the time--but that is the bedrock reality of the situation.

The more firmly we grasp and apply our ideology and line, the more broadly we will be able to unite with other forces, in accordance with our strategic objectives. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the more the proletariat and its party leads--the more firmly it establishes its leading role and at the same time applies the line and policies that represent the interests of the proletariat in the broadest and most fundamental sense--the more the positive qualities of other class forces can be brought to the fore and the more it will be possible to both live with and transform these other class forces, materially and ideologically, over a whole historical period of transition to communism, worldwide.

If you think about this in relation to our work, you can see how this plays itself out, even now. When we are working in a united front with other forces around any particular struggle, if other lines are in a commanding position, then there isn't broader unity established towards objectives that are in line with the fundamental interests of the masses. There is more sectarianism, there is more turning away from the fundamental interests of the masses.

Again, this does not mean that we just go in, to a struggle or an organization, and declare our leadership--we have to win leadership in practice--but it is a fact that our own practice as well as the whole historical experience of the international proletariat and the international communist movement firmly establishes the need and basis for the leadership of the proletariat and its party.

So if we let go of this "core"--of the essential fact that this has to be a united front under the leadership of the proletariat, that this has to be our strategic orientation all the way through, and that we have to win this in practice--if we let go of this, we will lose everything. It's just that simple and basic.

This was one of the main thrusts of the polemic vs. K. Venu. It was pointed out there: if we do what you want us to do in socialist society, then we are going to be inviting the bourgeoisie right back into power quicker then they have been able to get back in before. The international proletariat in its experience in socialist countries has had problems keeping the bourgeoisie from seizing back power, but in that polemic it was pointed out if the proletariat doesn't exercise all-around power you are going to open the front door for the bourgeoisie. We have to learn how to keep them from getting in through the back door and the windows, but without the proletariat in the lead you are opening the front door.

But, at the same time, the other aspect of this is that we must wield our ideology and line in such a way as to actually win over (or at least win to "friendly neutrality") the broadest possible ranks of the people in a long term strategic sense, but also at every point along the way. In exercising all-around dictatorship over the bourgeoisie in socialist society, in exercising all-around rule in all spheres of the superstructure, this finds expression, as I said, in combining firmness and flexibility, and correctly handling the contradiction of unity vis-a-vis diversity and struggle with these other class forces--and even, for that matter, among the proletarian masses themselves.

As I have pointed out,** the great majority of the middle strata will gain far more than they will lose through the proletarian revolution and the socialist transformation of society. This is an important point to grasp firmly and keep clearly in mind. But, again, this will remain just an abstraction (a "good idea," at best), except as this is made into a powerful material force through the revolutionary struggle of the group in society whose interests correspond to this and who feel a pressing need and desire to fight to radically change things--that is, the proletariat.

* "Democracy: More than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That!" Bob Avakian, published in World to Win magazine Issue No. 17, 1992.

** See "Talkin' Revolution to the Middle Class," RW No.776

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