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The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future
You Don't Know What You Think You "Know" About ...
By Raymond Lotta
Insight PressCopyright © 2014 Raymond Lotta
All rights reserved.
People need the truth about the communist revolution. The REAL truth. At a time when people are rising up in many places all over the world and seeking out ways forward, THIS alternative is ruled out of order. At a time when even more people are agonizing over and raising big questions about the future, THIS alternative is constantly slandered and maligned and lied about, while those who defend it are given no space to reply. It is urgent that the questions be answered, and the TRUTH be told about the communist revolution — the real way out of the horrors that people endure today, and the even worse ones they face tomorrow. To do this, Revolution newspaper arranged for Raymond Lotta to be interviewed by different groups of people in different parts of the country, and other people sent in questions. What follows is a synthesized, edited version that draws on those interviews and adds new material since the interviews were first conducted.
Question: I've heard you talk about the "first stage" of communist revolution. What exactly are you referring to?
Raymond Lotta: We're talking about a sea change in human history, the first attempts in modern history to build societies free from exploitation and oppression. Specifically, we're talking about the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian revolution of 1917–1956, and the Chinese revolution of 1949–1976. These were titanic risings of the modern-day "slaves" of society against their "masters." They aimed to bring about a community of humanity, a society based on the principle of "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs," and one where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.
Never have there been such radical and far-reaching transformations in how society is organized, in how economies are run, in culture and education, in how people relate to each other, and in how people think and feel as there were in these revolutions. Against incredible odds and obstacles, and in what amounts to a nanosecond of human history, these revolutions accomplished amazing things — and they changed the course of human history. Never before had the myth of an unchanging human nature — in which people are "naturally" self-seeking, and some people just "naturally" dominate others — been so decisively exploded.
For those few decades, a better world seemed on the verge of birth. As it is put in Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, for the first time, the "long night ... the thousands of years of darkness for the great majority of humanity" — where society is divided into exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed — this was broken through, and a whole new form of society began to be forged.
The Lies of Conventional Wisdom
Question: But the conventional wisdom is that these revolutions were not liberating, but extremely autocratic, trampling on the rights of people ... utopias turned into nightmares.
RL: Yes that is the conventional wisdom, and it is built on systematic distortion and misrepresentation ... built on wholesale lies as to what these revolutions were about: what they actually set out to do, what they actually accomplished, and what real-world challenges and obstacles they faced.
Now people have a certain awareness of how they have been systematically lied to about things like "weapons of mass destruction" that were the pretext for the war in Iraq. And we're not talking about incidental mis-admissions of fact here ... the Iraq war resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and the dislocation of millions.
But all too many people who consider themselves "critical minded" are all too willing to accept the "conventional wisdom" on communism. And let me be clear, the ruling class and intellectual guardians of the status quo have been engaged in a relentless ideological assault against communism ... through popular journalism, so-called scholarly studies, memoirs that traffic in the "authenticity of personal experience," films, and so on.
You know, for several years, I have been engaged in a project called "Set the Record Straight," taking on these distortions and bringing to people the actual truth of these revolutions. For example, back in 2009–2010, I was on a campus speaking tour and one thing we did was to set up tables on campuses with a "pop quiz" on just basic facts about the communist revolutions.
And the students scored terribly on the quiz. That is shameful, not just because it's a statement on higher education ... but more importantly because people are being robbed of vital understanding of how the world could be radically different, could be a far better place, where human beings could really flourish.
There are real stakes here, real relevance and urgency to this now.
We Need Revolution and a Whole New World
Question: What do you mean by "stakes"?
RL: Look at the state of the world ... the unjust wars, the poverty and savage inequality, the unspeakable oppression and degradation of women. The environmental crisis is accelerating and nothing is being done to stop it. The capitalist-imperialist class in power ... that holds and violently enforces that power ... that controls the world economy and the world's resources ... this class and the system it presides over have put us on a trajectory that is threatening the very eco-balances and life-support systems of the planet.
People are responding, especially the new generation. We've seen major stirrings of protest and rebellion: the massive uprising in Egypt of 2011, the Occupy movements, the defiance of youth in Greece and Spain, the recent outbreaks in Brazil and Turkey. People are standing up. People are searching and seeking out solutions and philosophies. Various political programs and outlooks have gained influence and followings: "leaderless movements," "real democracy," "anti-hierarchy," "anti-statism" and "horizontalism," "economic democracy," and so on.
But the one solution that is dismissed out of hand is communist revolution. Yet it is precisely and only communist revolution that can actually deal with the problems of society and the world that people are agonizing about ... and that can realize the highest aspirations that have brought people into the streets.
And we are seeing the price of what it means where there is no communist leadership, vision, and program.
Take Egypt. People heroically toppled the Mubarak regime. On the surface there was dramatic change. But the military representing imperialism remains in power, and people are locked into the vise-grip of two unacceptable alternatives: Islamic fundamentalism, or some variant of Western democracy serving imperialism. The notion of a "leaderless" movement that can somehow produce fundamental change has shown itself to be a dangerous and deadly liability and delusion.
Question: But people say that Lenin and Mao just took power for a small group. How do you answer that charge?
RL: Lenin in 1917 in Russia, and then Mao in China led parties that in turn led millions and then tens of millions of people in revolutions that went after the deepest problems of society. They applied and developed the theory of scientific communism first brought forward by Karl Marx. This science lays bare the source of the exploitation and misery in society — the division of society into classes in which a small group monopolizes the wealth and controls society on that basis. And it shows how all that could be fundamentally overcome and uprooted, with a revolution corresponding to the interests of, and involving as its bedrock base, the exploited class of today: the proletariat.
The parties forged and led by Lenin and Mao did two things. First, they led the masses to make revolutions ... to overthrow the old system. Second, they led people to establish new structures that empowered the masses to begin to take responsibility for ruling society and transforming it ... beginning the process of abolishing all relations of exploitation and oppression and all the institutions and ideas that correspond to and reinforce those relations.
Marx had uncovered the possibility of a new emancipatory and liberating dawn for humanity. He insisted that this would ultimately have to be the work of the masses themselves. And these revolutions gave living expression to that.
At the same time, you couldn't do this without leadership — scientific and far-seeing leadership. And this lesson was paid for in blood in the first great attempt at revolution — the Paris Commune.CHAPTER 2
The First Dawn — The Paris Commune
Question: Could you say more about the Paris Commune?
Raymond Lotta: The Paris Commune happened in 1871, during the last days of a war between France and Germany. The people of Paris had been suffering terribly ... massive unemployment, food shortages, and the destruction of war. On March 18, they rose up against their "own" government. The Paris National Guard, which had radical influences within it, revolted ... and sections of the city joined in an insurrection. The Guard took over the town halls of most of the districts of Paris, and executed two generals of the French wartime government.
A week later, the National Guard organized new municipal elections. A new government was created. This was the Commune. It was made up of socialists, anarchists, Marxists, feminists, radical democrats, and other trends.
Right away, the Commune abolished the old police force. It introduced radical social reforms: separation of church from state; it made professional education available to women and gave pensions to unmarried women; and it canceled many debts. The Commune established centers where the unemployed could find work. And the Commune allowed trade unions and workers' cooperatives to take over and run the factories that the capitalists had abandoned during the war. Immigrants were allowed to become full citizens.
But it wasn't just that a new government was taking progressive measures. There was an attempt to create a new mode of rule, a different kind of governing system.
Question: What do you mean by that?
RL: The Communards, as they were called, tried to create a political system representing the interests and needs of the workers, urban poor, and lower classes in society ... those who had been long oppressed and denied political power. And they also set out to create a form of rule that operated differently from the bourgeois system. They tried to make administrators more accountable to the people who elected them; they tried to simplify government and link it more directly to the rough and tumble of the masses' lives.
Question: I've met anarchists who say they base themselves on the Paris Commune — that this is their model. What would be wrong with that?
RL: Well, there were a few problems, but one big one. The Communards had gotten this going in Paris — and it was really remarkable what they were doing — but they had not decisively overthrown the old exploiting order and thoroughly destroyed the old state power. In fact, the top political leaders and the military forces of the old French government had fled to the outskirts of Paris, to an area called Versailles.
You see, the central committee of the Commune conceived of what they were doing as a municipal revolt and that they could hold out in Paris. The Communards had this idea that by creating the Commune ... that this model, with its creativity in the now liberated space of Paris, would be the example for the rest of the country to follow. But this was not a correct understanding.
The French ruling class was not reconciled to its initial defeat, and it still had the power to enforce its will ... notably regular armed forces.
By May, this reactionary Versailles government had amassed an army of 300,000 soldiers. On May 21, the army reentered Paris to crush the Commune. The Communards fought back heroically. But the military forces plowed through their street barricades and went on to massacre between 20,000 and 30,000 Parisians ... just over the course of one week. There was a famous last stand, in a cemetery, with people literally backed to the wall. A wave of executions followed.
Marx Draws the Essential Lesson from the Commune: We Need a New State Power
Karl Marx enthusiastically supported the Commune. After its defeat, he scientifically assessed its significance and lessons. He pointed out that the Commune was positively prefiguring a new kind of state, the dictatorship of the proletariat — that the Communards were not simply laying hold of the old state machinery and trying to put it to progressive use. But he also pointed out that one of the Paris Commune's fatal weaknesses was that it did not march on Versailles and thoroughly shatter and dismantle the old state machinery, as concentrated in the permanent army of the old order. He also pointed out that the Commune failed to dismantle and seize the assets of the Bank of France, which was financing the regroupment of the old regime and its military in Versailles.
Marx showed that every state was, in its essence, a dictatorship of the dominant class in society. That is, there may be some forms of democracy, but so long as society is divided into classes, the army, police, courts and executive power will enforce the interests of the dominant class — which today means the capitalist-imperialist class. Again, a key lesson of the Commune was that the capitalist state power has to be thoroughly smashed and dismantled ... it has to be replaced with a new system of state power, the dictatorship of the proletariat. In other words, you have to dismantle the armed forces of the old system — and to establish a whole new economic and social system, you have to create a new state power that can enforce the will of the oppressed and exploited.
And the Commune had another weakness: it did not have the necessary leadership to analyze, confront, and act on the real challenges it faced. It did not have a leadership basing itself on a scientific understanding of what it would take to defeat counter-revolution and what it would take to go on to transform society ... you know, to forge a new economy and social system.
The Commune was this inspiring and world-historic breakthrough for oppressed humanity. In that fleeting moment of the Commune was the embryo of a communist society without class distinctions and social oppression.
It was Lenin who applied the lessons of the Commune and led the Russian revolution that created the world's first socialist state.
Less than 50 years after the defeat of the Commune, a far more sweeping and deep-going revolution takes place ... in Russia. As I was just saying, Lenin was summing up lessons of the Commune, and developed the understanding of the need for vanguard leadership. Because the fact of the matter is ... a key reason that the Commune couldn't make good on its incredible potential was because of the absence of unified leadership. Some people say that was the great thing about the Commune. But the absence of leadership was one of the reasons that they got crushed ... and that's not a great thing!
Question: But what you're saying goes against this whole view — I'm thinking about the kinds of movements that you pointed to, like Occupy — that highly organized leadership suffocates people.
RL: Yes, that's out there, big time, and it's profoundly wrong. Lenin developed the scientific understanding of the need for a vanguard party based on two critical insights. One, the masses of people cannot spontaneously develop revolutionary consciousness and scientific understanding of how society is structured and functions and the ways, the only ways, it can be radically transformed ... from their own daily experience and struggle. Look at Egypt. People have been truly courageous in standing up, but you have all these illusions about the Egyptian military. You need leadership to bring this understanding to the masses of people. On the basis of this understanding, masses can be unleashed to consciously transform the world — and this is part of what has been proven by the history we're going to get into. Making revolution requires science. Revolution requires passion, heart, courage, and creative energy. But that won't change the world in and of itself ... without a scientific grasp of what it takes to make revolution and emancipate humanity.
Question: And the other point?
RL: The need for centralized leadership. To actually enable the masses to break through the obstacles and what the enemy is going to throw at you, not least its military strength. And to be able to navigate through all the twists and turns, including the maneuvering and deceptions of the ruling class in a revolutionary crisis, and to lead people to actually overthrow the old order and to go on to revolutionize society. You need a strategic approach and the strategic ability to marshal all the creativity and resolve of the masses. When people do break free of "normal routine" and lift their heads, where is this all going to go? The question of leadership is decisive. And, look, there is no such thing as "leaderless-ness." Some program and some force, representing different class interests, is going to be leading, no matter how much people might want to shun leadership. And let's be honest: "leaderless-ness" is actually a program that is being led — and it doesn't lead anywhere radically transformative.
Excerpted from The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future by Raymond Lotta. Copyright © 2014 Raymond Lotta. Excerpted by permission of Insight Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1: Introduction,
Chapter 2: The First Dawn — The Paris Commune,
Chapter 3: 1917 — The Revolution Breaks Through in Russia,
Chapter 4: China — One Quarter of Humanity Scaling New Heights of Emancipation,
Chapter 5: Toward a New Stage of Communist Revolution,
Appendix: Two Essays Concerning Epistemology,
Special Feature: Illustrated Timeline — The REAL History of Communist Revolution,
About the Author,