Draft Programme of the RCP, USA
Draft Programme Part 2
The Party and the Masses
Why does the proletariat need a vanguard party, and how does this party lead the masses in making revolution?
The most basic answer to the first of these questions lies in the enormity of the challenge facing the proletariat: a system of exploitation with a vast and highly developed apparatus of control must be overthrown and a new liberating system must replace it. And specifically with regard to the U.S., when you consider what is required to mount an armed insurrection against the most powerful military machine in history, to go on to shatter that machine and win a civil war, and then to construct an entirely new society on the ashes of the old...it quickly becomes clear that this can’t be done without organization, without politically far-seeing and powerfully organized leadership.
Mao Tsetung expressed this in a very concentrated way: if there is to be a revolution, there must be a revolutionary party.
The proletariat needs its own party to represent its interests—that is, the overthrow of the whole capitalist system of exploitation and the eventual elimination of all classes and oppressive divisions between people. To put it another way, the proletariat needs a leading core of people who have shown themselves to be dedicated and able to identify and fight for the fundamental interests of the proletariat through every twist and turn of struggle.
It is a fundamental principle of Marxism that the masses must emancipate themselves. But this is not going to happen spontaneously. The masses are not going to emancipate themselves without organization and leadership.
The reasons for this are bound up with the proletariat’s particular place in society—its conditions under capitalism on the one hand, and its historic mission on the other. All this has great bearing on why the proletariat needs a vanguard party and what kind of party this must be.
The life of the proletariat in bourgeois society, combined with the bourgeoisie’s pervasive ideological influence and bombardment, means that the masses of proletarians will not become class-conscious on their own.
Beginning with the terrible and intentionally mind-numbing education and including the dog-eat-dog struggle to find a job, the long hours of back-breaking work (when work is found), the constant battle to keep one’s head above water, the harassment of landlords, cops, merchants, and so on—all this is a weight on the masses, making it difficult for them to raise their heads.
On their own, the masses can and will certainly develop strong class feelings, a hatred of various forms of oppression, and revolutionary sentiments.
But the masses cannot spontaneously come to grasp the historic mission of the working class, that is, the need for it to lead a broad united front to forcibly shatter the rule of the bourgeoisie, replacing it with the rule of the proletariat, and then to continue the revolution with the goal of bringing into being an entirely new society—a new world in which the very division into classes and all oppressive social relations have been eliminated.
The ideology that represents the outlook and interests of the proletariat, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM), is a scientific outlook—the science of revolution. And like all sciences, it is generally first grasped by those with the time and opportunity to develop an interest in and to become familiar with the realm of intellectual inquiry, theory, etc.
In a society based on exploitation and with a division of labor embodying great inequalities—including the division between mental and manual labor—those who are first able to do this will mainly (though not only) be students, intellectuals, and so on. The task of those who do first embrace this ideology is to bring it to the class that it represents and that can and must take up this ideology as its own.
To sum up. Because of the material conditions of its existence, the surrounding atmosphere of bourgeois ideology, and the limitations of spontaneity, the proletariat needs leadership: a group of people organized on the basis of an advanced understanding of society and revolution. And until society moves beyond its division into classes, leadership will be necessary.
The Party and the Initiative of the Masses
It is often alleged that leadership by its very nature stands above the masses, keeping them in a passive position, and that tightly knit revolutionary organization will ultimately put a bureaucratic brake on the activism of the masses. But what in fact stifles the masses is the capitalist system in all its exploiting, dominating, and repressive dimensions, and the force of habit that goes with living in class society. That is the existing situation.
So the question then becomes: what are the means to overcome this situation, how can the masses lift their heads and act in their own interests? And this is where the vanguard party comes in.
The vanguard party
applies itself in a concentrated way precisely to solving this problem
of developing the methods of raising the consciousness of the masses and
releasing their creative energies and determination in struggling
against and overthrowing the old order.
The party takes this task up with the political and ideological recognition of the need to narrow and ultimately overcome the gaps between leadership, with its more advanced understanding and commitment, and the broader masses.
Is a vanguard formation an impediment to the masses standing up, or is it an instrument for their emancipation? Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the RCP, has pointed out:
“Lenin’s argument in What is To Be Done?—that the more highly organized and centralized the party was, the more it was a real vanguard organization of revolutionaries, the greater would be the role and initiative of the masses in revolutionary struggle—was powerfully demonstrated in the Russian Revolution itself and has been in all proletarian revolutions. Nowhere has such a revolution been made without such a party and nowhere has the lack of such a party contributed to unleashing the initiative of masses of the oppressed in conscious revolutionary struggle.”
Of course, what kind of organization is needed is, in the final analysis, a question of what you’re trying to do.
If the goal is simply to fan dissent and protest, or to build a movement that may take militantly to the streets around particular outrages but does not aim to overthrow the system, then one can dispense with revolutionary organization—a vanguard is not necessary, and for that matter there’s no need for revolutionary ideology.
But if the goal is to mobilize the masses to seize power from a murderous ruling class and to establish a new power that enables the masses to run and transform society, then you have to act on the implications of this: a vanguard party becomes essential.
* * * * *
How does the party play its vanguard role, bringing the masses forward as a conscious revolutionary force? In what follows, we lay out some of the key principles and methods guiding the party’s work.
Proletarian Ideology and the Masses
One of the basic truths that MLM brings to life and bases itself on is the dialectical relation—the continual interplay and mutual dependence and mutual influence—between theory and practice, and the ultimate grounding of theory in practice.
MLM is drawn from, and is a continually developing synthesis of, the vast and ongoing experience of the proletariat, and all of humanity throughout history, in class struggle and in every other sphere of human activity. And the experience of the masses of people, and in particular of the proletarians, provides the basis for increasing numbers of them to grasp the truth of and take up and wield the revolutionary ideology of the proletariat, when it is brought to them by the vanguard party.
For this reason, when the party brings this ideology to the proletariat it is bringing it home.
The party must link the theory of MLM with the struggle of the masses and in this way develop a revolutionary movement led by the class-conscious proletariat. It must constantly draw forward the advanced among the proletariat, and other strata, into the ranks of the party and train them as communists. Only in this way can the party continue to maintain, and deepen, its grasp of MLM and its ability to act as the vanguard of the proletarian revolution.
The Mass Line
The mass line is the method through which the party both
learns from and leads the masses. To apply the mass line means to seek
out and learn from the ideas of the masses and to apply the science of
The mass line is an ongoing process which links theory with practice and the vanguard with the masses in an ever-deepening way—all in the service of the masses’ fundamental revolutionary interests.
The Spontaneous Struggle and the Party
The struggles waged by the masses around their conditions are of vital importance in preventing the masses from being crushed and in developing among the masses a sense of their ability to unite and fight back against their oppressors. But, in and of themselves, these struggles cannot lead to revolutionary consciousness or a revolutionary movement. By definition these struggles have limited aims and scope—most involve a demand for a partial change or reform and are targeted against a particular oppressor or aspect of state power.
Thus, the revolutionary party cannot take the view that the struggle of the masses will spontaneously make the leap into a revolution. In addition to the inherent limitations of any single struggle, the bourgeoisie sends its political operatives into any mass movement of significance, promoting directions and lines which draw people more deeply into the suffocating “proper channels” of bourgeois political life.
Even struggles which spontaneously develop into very powerful outbreaks of mass upheaval will eventually ebb, leaving the system that spawned them intact, if battered. Surely the history of the United States—full of heroic mass uprisings by different sections of the people—proves this. The party cannot tail in the wake of spontaneous struggles and seriously call itself revolutionary.
But the genuine proletarian party does not stand aside from the masses’ spontaneous struggles. Such struggles provide a strong basis for the work of the party. While at times the party must and should play a direct role in tactically leading, or striving to lead, these struggles, its most crucial and essential role lies in raising the consciousness of the masses, and developing their fighting capacity and organization—all as preparation for going over to something different: the struggle to seize power from the capitalist class when the time is ripe.
To paraphrase Lenin, the party must divert the many different streams of struggle from their spontaneous tendency to remain confined within the existing bourgeois framework. It must step by step transform them into a raging revolutionary flood-tide against the system as a whole. (How the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA carries out this work is discussed further in the appendix “Create Public Opinion, Seize Power! Prepare Minds and Organize Forces for Revolution. The Central Task of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.”)
Organizational Principles of the Party
A truly revolutionary party is the deadly enemy of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois state therefore constantly attacks it in different ways—attempting to sever its links to the masses and its ability to lead them—and ultimately seeks to destroy the party altogether. For this reason the proletariat needs an organization that can counter the vicious repression of the bourgeois state apparatus in all its forms—including the spying, disruption, and outright murder carried out by the enemy’s police forces and agencies.
A vanguard party must be an organization that can continue to lead the struggle towards its revolutionary objective in the face of all such repression. The ability to do this must be mastered in a systematic and organized way—and on the basis of applying the most advanced ideological and political understanding. This is something that can only be done by a vanguard party basing itself on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
The party organizes itself on the basis of democratic centralism. This principle combines centralized leadership and the greatest degree of discipline with the fullest discussion and struggle over line and policies within the party. It also means the selection and political supervision of party leaders by party members, on the basis of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
Differences of opinion are struggled out in a vigorous and principled way within the party; in the face of the enemy, there is the firmest unity.
This principle of democratic centralism is used to create a political situation inside the party in which there is both centralism and democracy; both unified line and broad initiative; both discipline and ideological struggle; and both unity of will and action and personal ease of mind and liveliness. All this greatly strengthens the ability of the party to correctly apply the mass line, deepen its roots among the masses, and, overall, to play its role as the advanced detachment of the proletariat in its revolutionary mission.
A Party to Serve the Emancipation of the Proletariat
For all the reasons gone into, an MLM vanguard is a vital necessity for the proletariat. Either there will be a party, or the masses will continue to suffer the horrors of the system. The advanced, class-conscious workers—and the masses of revolutionary-minded people of all strata willing to take up the cause and outlook of the proletariat—must step forward to build, support, defend, unite with, and join their party, which in this country is the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
Our Party is, in the most profound sense, the product of the masses and their struggle, not only in the U.S. but throughout the world. It is made up of proletarians and others who have fought back against oppression and, in the course of that, have sought out answers for why there is such horrendous oppression and so many continual outrages in society and the world, and what is necessary to finally put an end to them.
In doing so, we have drawn inspiration from the revolutionary uprisings of the oppressed in the U.S. and around the world, including the tremendous wave of struggles and wars of national liberation in the Third World in the 1960s and early ’70s. A very powerful role was played then by the heroic war waged by the Vietnamese people which delivered a resounding defeat to the supposedly “invincible” armed forces of U.S. imperialism, a defeat from which these imperialists have still not fully recovered politically.
Above all, we have drawn inspiration and profound lessons from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China during that period. It was a mass upheaval, led by Mao Tsetung and other genuine communist leaders, which carried forward the revolution within socialist society itself. The Cultural Revolution represented the greatest advances made so far by the international proletariat and for the cause of emancipating all humanity.
Our Party has been tempered in and strengthened by the struggle against revisionism. Revisionism cuts out the revolutionary heart of Marxism—by distorting its basic principles and reducing Marxism to something that serves the preservation or the restoration of capitalism. We have learned from Mao’s great struggles against revisionism and have also waged struggles against various forms of revisionism within our own ranks.
On this basis, and through struggle to distinguish the correct from the incorrect and the revolutionary from the opportunist lines, our Party has taken up and continued to deepen its grasp of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as our ideology. And we have joined with other MLM parties and organizations throughout the world in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM).
We have continued to learn from, to support, and to draw strength from the resistance and rebellion of the masses of people worldwide, and in particular the people’s wars and other revolutionary struggles led by the detachments of the RIM in many parts of the world.
Our Party is determined to fulfill its responsibility to make revolution to overthrow this monster, U.S. imperialism, and to contribute all we can to the world proletarian revolution.
The Party must constantly bring forward into its ranks those who dedicate themselves to the cause of international proletarian revolution, who seriously take up the weapon of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and carry out the Party’s line and tasks among the masses. The members the Party must attract are those whose dedication is not to narrow and personal interests, but to the historic mission of communism.
To win victory, the Party must be made up of those who embody the best qualities of the proletariat and are prepared for great sacrifice, jail, even execution at the hands of the ruthless enemy. But, even more fundamentally, they must be guided by the largeness of mind characteristic of the proletariat. They must study energetically and actively apply the science of MLM and be prepared to go against any tide that is opposed to MLM. They must be vanguard fighters among the masses and be ready to take up any post, fulfill any task that serves the revolution—not only in this country but internationally.
The Party must be made up of people whose lives are devoted to the revolutionary struggle of the international proletariat and the achievement of its historic mission: worldwide communism.
This is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online:
Este artículo se puede encontrar en español e inglés en La Neta
del Obrero Revolucionario en: rwor.org