A piece by Mike Ely reprinted from Kasama.
Jaroslav writes a critique of the revolutionaries in Nepal. He rejects the idea that they may be working to show large numbers of people, through living political practice, that there is a need for a new revolution:
“I am not saying [the people] had all the education they need for seizure of power, I’m saying that what UCPN(M) is doing now is not contributing to any further education. Either people get it & it is repetition, or they don’t & it’s not helping.
This is a remarkable claim. I want to use this remark as a jumping off point — for some comments that are not aimed at anyone personally. They are aimed at a mix of dogmatism and deep cynicism has (unfortunately) paralyzed too many people who sincerely want radical change.
The Riptides of Revolutionary Opportunities
Let’s just step back a second, and think about how revolutionaries come to know the mood of the people within an emerging revolutionary situation — when the people are not yet ready to strike and when exactly they become ready. Think of how carefully revolutionaries need to evaluate which sections of the people are needed for victory, and how the thinking of those sections are changing. Victory and defeat can hinge on this. In such moments the mass line has heightened importance — These are not the politics of small propaganda groups, but of moving millions of people into position to act (and fight).
The hard core needs to be ready (mentally) to move decisively– literally to die and kill for the next advance — and they need to beorganized to act with great unity, energy and determination (something that, if you think about it, revolutionaries are not always able to do). The middle forces need to be swinging toward the revolution (or at least toward “friendly neutrality”). And the reactionary forces need to be “over a barrel” — exposed, divided, far from the high moral ground.
This is political combat of a particularly close kind — where society is becoming highly politicized and all kinds of awakening forces are scrambling to decide what to do.
One of the things that happened in Nepal over the last few years, is that the focus of the revolutionary struggle (the monarchy) was overthrown — and a series of changes and political processes put into place. There was a tremendous (even giddy) air of expectation and hope — that these processes would create a new Nepal. And while there was widespread understanding that the Maoist-led peoples war had played a tremendous role in toppling the king — that does not automatically mean that the people are ready to launch a newpotentially difficult civil war — in the real world, people don’t support initiating civil war, until they become convinced that it is absolutely necessary to move forward on their most heartfelt needs and demands– i.e. until they have a sense that a stalemate has emerged, that the die-hards are determined to prevent progress, that the reactionaries will not bend to pressure, that sinisister forces are preparing some deadly counterrevolutionary stroke that may shift events in a horrific direction…
And in every revolution there have come such intense periods, where the revolution has gathered a significant force, but for actual victory (and for a chance of stabile political power after victory) they need to win over and lead sections beyond their core — sections of people who were previously beyond their reach, people not naturally sympathetic to the communists’ core ideologies and long range goals.
This is often difficult. The German Communist Party did not succeed in doing that (in the 1920s and 30s) and was trapped in a kind of political ghetto with millions of supporters but an frustrating inability to form broader alliances for the defeat of Hitler and the seizure of power.
Another example: I won’t detail the complex efforts of Lenin and his party between April and October of 1917 — but they started in a situation where “everyone” supported the bourgeois Provisional Government that had replaced the Tsar in February…. and it took a series of shocking events and the active exposure of this government’s determination to continue Russia’s participation in World War 1 to turn the people against it.
And, it has to be said that the process was not just a matter of winning over middle forces to the need for a second revolution — it was also a process of winning over the communist party itself to that new leap. When Lenin arrived in Petrograd (in April 1917) the communist leadership in the city had adopted a public position of “critical support” for the very government that Lenin intended to overthrow. When Lenin announced he would plan a second revolution — his own second-tier leadership literally questioned his sanity and his grasp of the situation — and publicly distanced themselves from those views. On the eve of the insurrection, Lenin faced a revolt on his own central committee — with two prominent Bolsheviks even denounced plans for the October insurrection in public (and warning the reactionaries of what was coming).
So there was a very concrete political process in which the revolutionary forces helped expose the nature of very specific, and very new political arrangements (centered on the Provisional government) which were ruling in the name of democracy and the anti-Tsarist February revolution. And they hammered on the three main points “Bread, Peace and Land” — which represented the most urgent demands of the people, and which (it came to be understood) the people could only get by overthrowing the Provisional government under communist leadership.
In China, the people emerged from World War 2 (and the occupation by Japan) quite devastated and exhausted — and the onus of launching a new, second civil war had to be put clearly on the reactionaries and their foreign backers. And so Mao went through a protracted process of negotiations for coalition government. And here too, this was not just for the “education” of the more backward — but also to consolidate his own party (and the larger progressive world opinion) behind an understanding of why a new war (against the reactionary nationalist government) was needed and just.
There is no formula for this kind of approach to the actual seizure of power. It is described as an art — and involves manipulating very specific and rapidly changing dynamics. It requires an intimate understanding of the “mood of the people” — not just in general… but the specific moods of different sections of the people, the soldiers of the other side, the spirit of the communists themselves, the relations between reactionaries and their social base and so on. It is not just a matter of “educating” people in some pedagogic fashion — but of creatively working to create a fighting mood among the people (around your organized core), and working to put the enemy in a position of isolation, confusion and internal disarray.
If you think seriously about what such situations are like, if you have a sense of the historical nature of such transitions to the final “coup de grace” of revolution — then you will get a sense of how wrong it would be to think you can sit a world away and judge the effectiveness of tactics seen and unseen.
What It Means to Support a Revolution
We should be clear on what we know, and what we don’t.
And one thing we know is that this revolutionary cause in Nepal is just. It has drawn in millions of people. Ith as built itself an army. It has captured the imagination of the youth. It has embodied the hopes of some of the earth’s most impoverished and isolated people. And this is the first time this generation has even SEEN such problems of communist revolution played out in real life.
There is a living revolution going on here — in all its complexity, mystery and unpredictability.
And we should know that we need to take a clear political stand of support for this.
Sure we will “wait and see” in one sense — in the sense that everyone “waits and sees” how great events turn out — including their direct participants.
But in another sense, it would be wrong (and I’m tempted to say a criminal betrayal of internationalism) to SIT BACK while we “wait and see.”
Here again I need to quote Jaroslav, who writes:
“In fact this uncertainty is extremely important to note for what it is. Because of uncertainty about their positive progress, we cannot say that what they are doing is a good example or not. Therefore I especially disagree with any calls to ‘learn from Nepal’ or the like. Also, after so many fake ‘revolutionary’ organisations in history, I think the burden of proof lies with the revolutionary, not with the skeptic observer.”
This is just wrong on every level.
First we will learn from Nepal no matter how it turns out. And I think (on a deeper ideological level) that we need a worldview that is prepared to learn from all kinds of events and people. And, let’s not forget: There is a terrible legacy that thinks “learning” is a “one to many” process where “we preach and you listen.”
There is a tremendous amount to learn from living revolutions — and this discussion is one sign of that. This is true even when they lose (which is often the outcome). The Nepalis talk about learning from Peru and Nicaragua — and they are right.
Again: A whole generation has never seen such a revolutionary process before — so in many ways, many sincere revolutionaries no real idea how to look at and evaluate what might be going on — and have little sense of how communists should act when a precious revolution actually emerges.
As for this argument that Nepali revolutionaries somehow have a “burden of proof” (that they owe TO US?!) Well it is rather startling. Is our role really to play “skeptical observer” when people fight and die making revolution? No.
Here is a place where (with sacrifice and consciousness) millions of people have made communism and revolution a living political question. The revolutionaries and the oppressed of Nepal now have the “burden” of finding their way to revolution and socialism — through incredible obstacles.
And shouldn’t we be asking what “burden” WE have?
And really, we have seen here on our site, examples of the view that revolution is really unlikely. That they are all bourgeois anyway. That there is nothing but betrayal and capitalism, so why get worked up about any of it?
This is the result of some long difficult decades — but it is a view that does not reflect reality or a communist understanding of society. And there is even a view that says “well, I want to support revolutionaries, but only once its clear they are on the right path and that they are going to win.”
With that logic, there will be no internationalism until after-the-fact — which means no internationalism at all. Imagine if the revolutionaries of the 1960s had adopted that approach to the Vietnamese revolution?
When the Paris Commune broke out, Marx had all kinds of questions and concerns about strategic and tactical decisions being made in Paris…. but he also understood that the world was seeing its first revolutionary communist attempt at power, and he responded with all the partisan energy that such a moment decided. It was the only revolution of its kind for Marx’s generation — these were a few months that came and went quickly, but left everything changed.
Let’s confront the reality: A very destructive dogmatism has worked to demobilize revolutionaries in the U.S. And it is a dogmatism that is linked to a deep pessimistic mood of failure about the chances for revolution. And meanwhile a depressed rightism has led other sections of activists to assume that revolution isn’t even on the radar screen of our times.
It is as if the whole world now has a “burden of proof” to show some “skeptical observers” that it is not just a big pile of shit.
And this dogmatism is not just a matter of a few recent “letters” calling the Nepalis “revisionists” — it is a matter of years of training in very mechanical and idealist thinking, where communism has been severed from any sense of living people and living politics. And one of the hallmarks of this line is a very distorted and mistaken use of a famous Lenin quote:
““There is one, and only one, kind of real internationalism, and that is — working whole-heartedly for the development of the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary struggle in one’s own country, and supporting (by propaganda, sympathy, and material aid) this struggle, this, and only this, line, in every country without exception.”
We have here a reduction of theory and politics to a matter of mere formulas (snatched out of context). And this particular misuse has encouraged a narrowness toward the world’s revolutions that has become a defacto jettisoning of internationalism. An absense of very basic solidarity. A deadening of any spirit of celebration.
Internationalism was once a proud hallmark of revolutionaries here in the U.S. The revolutionary movement in the U.S. was literally born and then reborn in connection with international events (the russian revolution, the war in vietnam, the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles in Africa, and so on). And to see revolutionaries and communists made passive, suspicious, incurious, and crudely dismissive in their reactions to international events is truly shocking and intolerable.
We need to turn this around. We need to fight through these line struggles with some energy and speed. We need to understand (clearly) the difference between supporting a living revolution and endorsing every tactic of distant revolutionaries. We need to really understand that something remarkable is unfolding in south Asia (both India and Nepal) that radical and progressive people in the U.S. need to know about — and quickly. And those of us who are freeing ourselves from this deadening pessimism and dogmatism need to hook up and get to work.
I don’t know what will happen in Nepal — but there is a chance (a chance!) that a showdown may be brewing between the Maoists and the Army. If that is so, if Nepal is about to get kicked into the headlines over the summer, and if the revolutionaries enter a life and death struggle — then what are we prepared to do? And what do we need to do now, to be prepared when the big events hit?
To be clear, I am not predicting a specific showdown in Nepal. I do not know what will come now. I do not know what is happening behind the scenes. I don’t know how well the advocates of revolution are doing in their struggle with the advocates of caution. And I don’t expect the Nepali revolutionaries to explain themselves to us in advance.
If there are people who just want to passively “wait and see” — then fine, let them do that — and perhaps they will at least agree not to snipe at every sign of our own action and life.
But mainly, i am saying that the rest of us have a responsibility to act with some energy. So we need to be preparing (with materials, networks, common understandings, plans, articulate explanations, etc.) to act. We were not that active in the days of last year’s Constituent Assembly election — when we could have reached many new forces. We blew that opening.
We may have new opportunities ahead to speak about communist revolution to far wider audiences than we have long seen. Will we be ready this time?