the four firsts: ‘First place must be given to man in handling the relationship between man and weapons; to political work in handling the relationship between political and other work; to ideological work in relation to routine tasks of political work; and in ideological work to the living ideas in a person’s mind, as distinguished from ideas in books. That is to say first place to man, first place to political work, first place to ideological work, first place to living ideas,’ Running the School for Training Successors to the Revolutionary Cause of the Proletariat, Peking Review 47, November 22nd 1968.

It should not be thought that the call to make the creation of Red Bases a strategic goal of our struggle is merely a flight of rhetoric. The time has come to take seriously the images we use, to explore the limits of the analogies we invoke to the boundary of the possible. We must learn to penetrate the disguises in which history advances. Red Bases first appeared in China disguised as Soviets—perhaps Soviets will re-emerge in Europe disguised as Red Bases.

The reason why both Soviets and Red Bases could be pivots of revolution in Russia and China is that they were simultaneously embryos of a new social order and means of destroying the old. All revolutions need to discover strategic pivots of this sort—instruments of popular power that dispute the monopoly of legitimate violence claimed by every established order. Because the pivotal institution of such dual power represents a new and superior organising principle for social relations (as did both the Soviets and the liberated guerrilla zones) it will be able to combine effectively a challenge to this monopoly on the plane of legitimacy as well as on the plane of force. The strength of the revolutionary challenge to the legitimacy of the ruling power will depend directly on the extent to which the pivotal institution concretely embodies the immediate aspirations of the masses. Initially the revolutionary movement will no doubt find itself greatly inferior to the established order on the plane of force—it will have to compensate for this by adopting a form of struggle which tends to extend its active social base to all oppressed and exploited groups, and which tends at the same time to undermine the material force formally at the disposal of the enemy.

These apparently truistic formulas reveal the gulf that separates many of the inherited strategies of the European Left from those which have historically produced revolutions. Traditionally the over-riding goal of many Left strategies has been to ‘raise consciousness’—without any serious thought about the types of popular institution which might incarnate and secure this new consciousness. Its plethora of publications, programmes, proposals for structural reform, intermediary objectives, propagandist participation in elections, ‘roads’ to socialism, leaflet campaigns, meetings, demonstrations and pickets are all justified in terms of their projected effect on popular consciousness. However necessary all these forms of political work may be in the context of a general revolutionary strategy, they will become ineffective if they are not combined with the discovery of appropriate pivotal institutions of popular power. Capitalist power cannot just be drowned in a rising tide of consciouness. It must be smashed and broken up by the hard blows of popular force. This means that no serious revolutionary can afford to neglect the search for appropriate instruments of this force. Lenin defined a revolutionary situation as one in which the masses do not want to go on in the old way and the ruling class is unable to go on in the old way. In a forseeable future international capitalism will find itself in such a position in not a few areas. The question will then be: are the revolutionaries willing and able to give up ‘going on in the old way’?

Almost without exception the old types of political activity neither affect the daily life of the masses nor encroach on the power of the ruling class. It should go without saying that the organizations that workers create to defend their economic interests can never be adequate to this task of decolonising of everyday life. The critiques of ‘economism’ and ‘trade unionism’ by Lenin and Gramsci have never been rebutted. Strikes, even general strikes, tend to induce passivity in the working class: after all, in itself, a general strike is simply workers doing nothing on a large scale. Moreover the masses invariably find that they are more dependant on the day to day workings of the economy than is the capitalist class: the capitalist is thinking in terms of annual profit rates not of tomorrow’s dinner. This is probably why general strikes have not so far played a decisive part either in producing revolution or averting counter-revolution. Usually they last not more than nine days and they can even be a salutary tonic for an ailing capitalist class leading to demoralized workers and higher profits. To say this is not to deny that an ‘active’ general strike involving mass occupations as part of an overall revolutionary offensive would have very different results.footnote1 A genuinely revolutionary strategy encourages the masses to an aggressive over-participation in the social system, not to passive abstention (e.g. a public examination of exams in the examination chamber itself rather than an exam boycott). For these reasons a mass rent strike, which neccessarily involves ‘occupation’, could have more revolutionary implications than a conventional production strike, however ‘unofficial’. Similarly our demonstrations should not take place at week-ends through deserted streets, nor should their goal be merely a symbolic ‘rehearsal’ of our strength. So far as possible it should be a use of that strength meaningfully to disturb the routines of daily activity that actually help to constitute bourgeois power. This point is further explored below. For the moment it should be noted that to be really meaningful an action should take up and develop discrepancies in the articulation of social practice into the social formation—whose dominated structure is determined in the last instance by the capitalist economy. Precise delimitation of existing or potential discrepancies arising on the cultural and political as well as economic levels of social practice is important here.

It should not surprise us that the experience of the anti-imperialist struggle is rich in correctives for the degeneration of local political practice. The revolutions that have emerged from it (notably the Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions) grew out of methods of struggle that progressively involved the overwhelming majority of the oppressed and exploited, making the masses the agents of their own emanicipation. Guerrilla strategy is the generalised form of this mass revolutionary practice. It contrasts on four levels with many of the traditional anti-capitalist strategies of the European Left. It is premised on a different 1. sociology of power 2. conception of revolutionary practice 3. theory of consciousness 4. estimate of the role of mass activity. A brief comparison at this point will highlight the possible parallels which may exist between those strategies which have proved themselves in the anti-imperialist struggle and those towards which the new revolutionary forces of the West are moving.

The traditional assumption of strategy on the revolutionary Left in Europe is that nothing can be changed until everything is changed. European revolutionaries have sometimes been so preoccupied with the necessary struggle against reformist illusions (‘islands of socialism’) that they have implied that the revolution will suddenly emerge one day fully armed, like Minerva, from the head of the proletariat. Capitalist power is seen as what Louis Althusser has called an ‘expressive totality’: that is to say the power of the ruling class is thought to be evenly and equally distributed in all the institutions that comprise the social order. Each part ‘expresses’ the meaning of the whole with equivalent efficacy: the power of the ruling class cannot be encroached upon until the social order as a whole has been destroyed. By portraying the revolution as a Last Trump that will transform social relations once and for all the traditional idealist conception of revolutionary strategy can easily succeed in daunting the revolutionary movement at the size of the task before it. This leads to an indefinite postponement of the decision actually to start looking for ways to make the revolution rather than wait for its immaculate conception in the womb of capitalism’s general crisis.footnote2