by Amil K.
A major internal assessment of leadership development practices in our organization has prompted me to revisit with a fresh set of eyes some of the ideas on pedagogy and party-building that I began to discuss two years back in my essays on Gramsci and Mao (“Towards the War of Position: Gramsci in Continuity and Rupture with Marxism-Leninism” from Uprising Volume #4).
Comrades within and outside our organization seemed to find some merit in that document, and I believe the following essay advances the project of reading Antonio Gramsci in light of Mao Zedong. However, in this piece, I explore Brazilian popular educator Paolo Freire’s ideas on pedagogical praxis to flesh out the Maoist concept of mass line and Gramsci’s ideas on party leadership. This essay is heavily informed by and reflects RI’s experiences in party-building in its first phase of development, 2007-2013, and in the region in which it was founded, Southern Ontario i.e. the ancestral and/or present-day territories of the Haudenosaunnee, Wendat, and Mississauga peoples.
Introduction: a critical look at past leadership development practices in R.I.
At a series of meetings of the RI Central Committee in 2014, one of the overarching discussions that played out concerned the state that our organization had found itself in as a result of underdeveloped or ineffective training, education, and leadership development mechanisms. What we were confronted with in 2014 was an organization that began to face serious obstacles to further growth, and had in fact had begun to contract. Paradoxically, we found ourselves in this situation at a moment when we in fact we faced a rising number of potential recruits around us that we weren’t capable of leading. Our previous work had successfully created an interest in revolutionary organization. The problem, however, was our inability to consolidate our members, or reproduce leadership: that is, make them into effective organizers and provide them with the ideological, political, and organization training to organize, recruit, lead, and train others.
Internally, we had a disproportionate number of rank-and-file members to cadre (i.e. politically more advanced comrades, more precise meaning given below) and no established or effective means and institutions to develop recruits into cadre. Our inability to do this meant that we faced challenges in reproducing leadership. Basically, we faced a crisis of leadership from top to bottom. By this I mean, from top to bottom, or from the core to the periphery of the organization, the actual abilities of our members to provide some form of ideological, political, and organizational guidance and direction to others, inside or outside of R.I., was limited. So we hit a wall.
And as I’ll expand upon further below, I believe the key ingredient that was missing from our leadership development methods – absent from the core to the periphery of our organizational reach – was a pedagogical praxis.
In the past, we didn’t effectively train our comrades in the art of agitation, consciousness-raising, ideological struggle, and effective criticism and self-criticism. We recruited people not on the basis of their capacity to organize and lead, but rather on the basis of (1) an interest in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (not always as clear and conscious as it needed to be) and perhaps also (2) the energy and consistency of their activity – and I mean this pejoratively – in the activism that R.I. members were involved in. We thought that somehow the rest would just follow. Well it didn’t.
Ironically, a principled reason why our founding members didn’t join the PCR-RCP in 2006 was due to a skepticism of joining a Maoist organization on the basis of a nominal adherence to a program without effective and practical experiences in mass line organizing. So instead of joining the PCR-RCP, we embedded ourselves in sections of the massses and amidst mass struggles. However, when confronted with predictable challenges in mass organizing, rather than persevering and refining our methods in the mass organization of the proletariat, we became increasingly preoccupied with the recruits that we were able to attract by merely being embedded with and agitating amongst the masses. But that’s not the same as saying that we were effectively advancing mass struggle.
All this to say that when we recruited comrades to R.I., it was not necessarily on the basis of their demonstrated capacity to develop, cultivate, or lead people’s struggles. Rather, as I said immediately above, it was on the basis of some consistency in their activism and an interest in Maoism.
So why couldn’t our founding core of RI members not effectively reproduce its leadership? The context of weak leadership development practices by our first generation of leadership in RI is one in which effectively no one in that period of the organization had the benefit of much training and careful guidance by elder revolutionary communists. Our founding core did make efforts to learn from and expose ourselves to some of the most advanced revolutionary movements in the world today – coupled of course with our book study of past experiences. But these exposures, direct and indirect, still left us with the heavy weight of having to self-orient and strategize for our own context. And this is a burden that revolutionaries anywhere will face where a connection to previous generations of attempts at revolutionary struggle have been severed.
Learning from revolutionary movements around the world was one of the most vital things we did as an upstart revolutionary organization. Second to that, and also essential, was embedding ourselves amongst the proletarian masses – which had the greatest boost on our morale, unity, and determination. But the disconnect between being revolutionary communists and effective mass organizers, I now believe, was to be found in how we conceived of and conducted revolutionary education and ideological struggle.
For RI comrades and other revolutionary activists, we’d drop some Mao and communist classics on comrades, RI literature, etc., but it’d really only hit people on the head most of the time. Maoism was almost never met with aversion, but that didn’t quite mean there was uptake and synthesis either. Our methods, I think, were a little too close to book worship. And I say this without in the least bit discounting the importance of building up the ability and confidence of comrades to engage with the written word of “the classics,” and with a strong emphasis on how significant I believe the introduction of Maoism has been to the resolve, commitment, and outlook of our comrades. The problem has been in forms of education that have been missing.
To be sure, we’d engage deeply in mass organizing, campaigning, and alliance work, but in these we often lacked a process of theorizing our practice, of deep assessment and evaluation. Not because it wasn’t seen as important, but because we, in the standard mode of activism we were caught up in, we often let “the work” drive us, we let ourselves become dictated by external factors, and we became swayed by circumstances. Mass work would often predominate over party work, and the impulse to “get things done” would often predominate over building people up as revolutionaries or even ask what the point was of the work we were doing. All in all, this meant that the relationship of theory to practice was often weak.
But this is beginning to change.
Theorizing our practice
The moment things really began to shift in RI – and this is a noteworthy event – was the moment that one of our first major debates opened up within the organization, which forced members to merge revolutionary communist theory with their life experiences. This was the series of studies and debate on women’s liberation initiated by Comrade Stella, which has engaged virtually the entire organization and has been the engine in consolidating and strengthening our membership. That the debate on women’s liberation happened to arise in the midst of a crisis of leadership in the organization may have been a coincidence, but the progress of this debate had a lot to do with the consolidation of the organization and very deep and critical examination of our past leadership development practices. How? Because the moment we began to deeply engage and theorize people’s lived experiences – particularly around the super-exploitation and oppression of proletarian women – we saw a boom in member engagement in the organization and a very significant rise in women’s leadership.
For years, almost since our inception, the Central Committee had been setting goals for increasing women’s membership and leadership in the organization. We saw the lack of women’s leadership in the organization as a problem that we urgently needed to solve. Very early on, women in the organization identified our analysis of patriarchy and women’s liberation as woefully inadequate, and that this inadequacy would keep us from recruiting or developing revolutionary women. But as soon as we began to seriously engage the experiences of women with revolutionary communism, and with the assistance of Comrade Stella’s ideological interventions, women’s participation and leadership in the organization dramatically shifted. This shift occurred as soon as women in the organization and in its immediate orbit saw RI begin to actually theorize and seriously prioritize the tasks of organizing around proletarian women’s concerns and prioritizing their political leadership in revolutionary struggle. Not as a tokenistic gesture, but as a strategic necessity given our emergent class analysis regarding the super-exploitation of proletarian women in the imperialist world system and the necessity of their leadership for revolution and the advance of class struggle within socialist society.
Now, the debate that consolidated our organization in its time of crisis could have very well been something else. As massively significant and needed that the debate on women’s liberation was, it could have been national oppression (which is our next major ideological-political priority). The point I am making is that our organization surged forward the moment our members carefully scrutinized their lived experiences through the lens of revolutionary communism, therein discovering the words and concepts to arm themselves in the struggle, differentiate friends from enemies, and advance with greater confidence as revolutionaries. In other words, learning and education in RI made a huge leap forward when we overcame book worship and activism and began to develop an internal pedagogical praxis. And we’re now faced with the tasks of developing the internal institutions by which each and every one of our members can develop their capacity to engage in pedagogical exchanges (which I define further below). This is the key to strengthening leadership in the organization. It’s not a question of how many theoreticians we have, or the “prowess” of Central Committee members, as Comrade Pierce recently pointed out in an internal intervention. It’s about the strength of collective leadership in the organization, and the sinews that bind our collectivity must in large part be an effective pedagogy.
We’re now faced with the work of encouraging each and every one of our comrades to examine their actual leadership capacities and to identify what they need to do to become more effective leaders. Each of us needs to be able to answer questions like, “How many people look to me for leadership?” and “Who do I look to for leadership?”
What matters right now – at a moment when the development of cadre will be crucial for launching a Party and maintaining the initiative in accumulating revolutionary forces – is that every comrade has a correct sense of their own current capacities and what they need to do to advance as revolutionaries. This means that they know who looks to them for leadership, and they need to begin leading those people in a revolutionary direction. They also need to know who they need to look to for guidance in their journey to improve their revolutionary leadership. Revolutionary leadership is not principally about command or authority – how we think of “leaders” in bourgeois society. It’s about taking responsibility for the mentorship and guidance of those entering class struggle or R.I., as well as having the humility to know when to turn to other comrades for guidance and direction.
The picture I’ve painted of our organization may leave one wondering just what the hell were leaders in our organization actually doing, if not training, mentoring, educating, and guiding the membership?
Well, instead of doing these things, I think that our leadership was often way too caught up in the nuts and bolts of activism – and I draw a distinction here between activism and being immersed in mass struggle amongst the people. There was frankly a lot of uber-activism that got rendered as “leading by good example.” Many of our leading members were extraordinarily active, were juggling multiple organizational responsibilities, and were trying to provide leadership to far too many people than any of us were actually able to sufficiently mentor and do the due diligence that was required to develop new revolutionaries. We were more activists in the worst sense of the word than we would have ever admitted or even recognized at that time: We organized more things than we organized people. We engaged in extensive propaganda, built organizations and alliances, launched campaigns, held countless events, many rallies and mobilizations. In the best of times we were even engaged in mass organizing that extended our contact far, far beyond the reach of the mass organizations we were involved in. And so areas of work would and did collapse like a house of cards any time a leading member wasn’t able to hold it down any longer. Let’s face it: people burn out, get dispirited, and give up, but these tendencies are strongest where there is a lop-sidedness in leadership and general membership. Sometimes what we considered to be our mass work was like blowing frantically into a balloon, only to have the air come out the other end once those doing the blowing lost their breath. Ultimately, what we lacked was a strong and dynamic organization of revolutionary cadre. Why? Because we often sacrified our party development to the development of our mass organizations, and the party work we did undertake was too disconnected from it. Our party-building organization wasn’t mining our experiences in mass struggle for important lessons. We were recruiting from our mass work without learning through it. Thus, our party development and our mass work lagged.
To reiterate once again before I expand further below, the missing factor was a solid pedagogy. If we weren’t learning from our experiences in mass struggle, it’s because we just weren’t paying close enough attention, we weren’t investigating the problems we faced with due attention. A pedagogical praxis is really at the core of the mass line method of organizing and the task of building up revolutionary cadre out of mass struggle. Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed offers some important insights on the pedagogical praxis of party-building, especially when read alongside Gramsci and Mao.
Freire’s Concept of ‘Pedagogical Praxis’
While Paolo Freire’s simplistic division of the world into ‘oppressors’ and ‘oppressed’ suffers from a lack of nuance in its conception of class as well as a lack of a deeper consideration of how class relates to national oppression and patriarchy, there are nonetheless quite valuable principles concerning liberatory education that revolutionary communists should study closely and which I have not found expressed as sharply elsewhere in communist literature. And if these ideas are out there somewhere buried in annals of our history and the lesser-known theorists of revolution, they certainly don’t have the currency that Freire’s ideas do. Finally, there is a revolutionary essence to Freire’s educational methods that truly need to be wrested clutches of academic Marxists and liberal/reformist educators.
Firstly, Freire was a fan of Mao, as most radicals would have been in the 1960s and ‘70s. So having published Pedagogy of the Oppressed in the era China’s Cultural Revolution, Freire wasn’t shy to admit that there was an affinity between his principles of revolutionary education and Mao Zedong’s conception of the mass line. Freire said of Mao’s mass line that it “contains an entire dialogical theory,” and Freire’s notion of pedagogical praxis really comes down to “critical or liberating dialogue.” It’s the practice of consciousness-raising through a dialogue between two people or a small number of people, whereby the teacher/communist organizer advances the dialogue through questions that engage with the actual contradictions in the consciousness of her/his interlocuter. This is why pedagogical praxis must take the form of a dialogue. Merely handing someone a book or piece of propaganda is tantamount to saying, “Here’s something that may or may not speak to your particular experiences or the contradictions in your mind, but try to figure it out.” This is a poor substitute for the role played by an experienced agitator, who has a long history of synthesizing her/his experiences within the wider experience of proletarian revolutionary struggles and within a particular place and time. A skilled agitatory can speak directly to the specific contradictions that are holding back the development of her/his interlocuter’s consciousness from moving further in a revolutionary direction. This is Freire’s pedagogical praxis in a nutshell. And for Freire to make a connection between his pedagogical praxis and Mao’s mass line is actually a significant theoretical proposition.
In the 1970s, Maoism wasn’t yet viewed as a third and higher stage of revolutionary science by revolutionary communists who situate themselves within Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. So perhaps Freire didn’t see the need to elaborate beyond a couple footnotes on how his theories of education relate to the mass line (which Maoists across the world at least nominally acknowledge as a pillar of Maoism, even if it’s not always clear that there’s much disagreement on what the mass line means practically).
So dialogue is at the core of pedagogical praxis and Mao’s mass line contains an entire dialogical theory to it. It can’t be emphasized strongly enough that a dialogue is NOT just one person talking to another. A communist organizer must always be conscious of the opposing dangers of talking too much (preaching) or not at all (as if we’re empty vessels waiting to be filled by the masses). A revolutionary with a program has much to teach the people, and also much to learn. Moving a subject’s consciousness along a revolutionary trajectory requires attentive listening and intervening where people can be moved in a revolutionary direction. When we engage in agitation, in listening attentively to what the people have to say, we first determine whether the reactionary or the revolutionary elements of one’s consciousness predominate; second, we engage with the contradictions in one’s consciousness to push them along a revolutionary trajectory; and third, we seek to identify where people can be pushed into practical struggle on the basis of their positive ideas. Conscious participation in mass struggle, when guided by critical reflection, is where one’s consciousness makes leaps in a revolutionary direction. This can only come through an active dialogue. The necessarily critical and reflective participation of the masses in revolutionary struggle is sharply distinguished from how they are treated in bourgeois society:
Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building; it is to lead them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated.
Isn’t this just another way of saying that the conscious role of the masses is decisive in revolution, which we Maoists recognize as pretty foundational to our view of the world? So what’s the difference between pedagogical leadership and demagogic leadership? Freire believes that the revolutionary process is far more the former than the latter: “The object in presenting these considerations is to defend the eminently pedagogical character of the revolution.”
“The only effective instrument is a humanizing pedagogy in which the revolutionary leadership establishes a permanent relationship of dialogue with the oppressed. In a humanizing pedagogy the method ceases to be an instrument by which the teachers (in this instance, the revolutionary leadership) can manipulate the students (in this instance, the oppressed), because it expresses the consciousness of the students themselves.”
Okay comrades, so maybe it’s time we take down those posters of Lenin, Mao, Chavez or whoever, giving riling speeches to the masses. To be sure, figures like Lenin and Chavez were incredibly skilled orators: their monologues were filled with the experiences and concerns of the masses. But grand monologues simply aren’t what revolutionary leadership looks like 99.9% of the time. Virtually all of our time is engaged in the development of revolutionary consciousness, consciousness that must lead to action and which advances by correctly summing up the results of our actions.
As with demagogy, so too in propaganda, wherein Freire identifies the critical lack of dialogue:
The revolutionary leader must realize that their own conviction of the necessity for struggle… was not given to them by anyone else – if it is authentic. This conviction cannot be packaged and sold…. Likewise, the oppressed (who do not commit themselves to the struggle unless they are convinced, and who, if they do not make such a commitment, withhold the indispensable conditions for this struggle) must reach this conviction as Subjects, not as objects…. Propaganda cannot achieve this.
This is a pretty significant statement, considering we communists are notorious for our propaganda. Freire is basically saying that dialogue is more important than or at least has primacy over propaganda:
The correct method for revolutionary leadership to employ in the task of liberation is, therefore, not ’liberation propaganda’… The correct method lies in dialogue. The conviction of the oppressed that they must fight for their liberation is not a gift bestowed by the revolutionary leadership, but the result of their own conscientização.
Let’s not let the pendulum swing too far and scrap propaganda or speeches where those methods are the choice means of propagation. But what Freire is saying is that dialogue has to be at the core of building the revolution, and this principle resonates with the conscious role of the masses in the Chinese revolution that we have much to learn from. Let’s get into that a bit more.
For so long, we – and I include myself here – interpreted the old mass line dictum “From the masses, to the masses” as a method for developing solid propaganda, not how to have an actual conversation. In Comrade Stella B’s article “What is the Mass Line? Experiences and Reflections” in this issue of Uprising, she speaks to her own experiences in observing the un-dialectical application of the mass line:
Some revolutionary organizations interpret the application of mass line as putting out the best argument or line to sway the masses. But the mass line is a political, organizational, and ideological practice, not a slogan or mere political position. This un-dialectical approach of sloganeering will lead to errors and isolation. Some revolutionary organizations interpret the mass line as disseminating communist analysis to the masses through newspapers, party propaganda, and militant actions; this type of practice is a form of commandism. In my experience this only alienates communists and cuts us off from access to the main revolutionary forces of society.
In my own experience, the inter-personal, the dialogical, essence of the mass line, has long been overshadowed by viewing the mass line as a process of developing good ideas that is cut-off from moving people’s consciousness. Certainly, propaganda or a specific political call that has passed through some iterations of a mass line practice could be a good entry point for some critical dialogue. But alone, the propaganda is not enough: it needs the active, conscious role of a skilled agitator.
To start with a self-critical examination with my own past writings, in “Mass Work and Proletarian Revolutionaries” (Volume #2 of Uprising, 2012), I shared my view at the time that our organization “upholds the principle of the mass line… as being the highest and clearest articulation of the correct form of proletarian revolutionary leadership amongst the masses.” I also pointed out that I believed that:
The collection of quotations from Mao Zedong on the mass line forms one of the richest [and most condensed] articulations of a revolutionary epistemology and pedagogy in the International Communist Movement…
But while I already recognized some pedagogical content to Mao’s mass line at the time, I didn’t really grasp the essence of pedagogical praxis – nor did our organization as a whole. This pedagogical deficit is embodied in this passage:
If the communist is the teacher, then what s/he strives to teach is materialist dialectics and history and the strategic orientation for revolutionary struggle. But the mass line recognizes that one cannot teach revolutionary politics adequately without first being familiar with the conditions and experiences of the masses, and that knowing can only come by way of humbly learning from and being taught by the masses. Communist ideas are not neat little pre-packaged ideas that we just have to go out and disseminate amongst the people. The most important communist ideas, those that R.I. seeks to develop, are mass-lined communist ideas – ideas that have been substantially enriched by knowing and living the experiences of the people in all the specificity and particularity that is required to advance class struggle in any given place and time.
Here’s the weakness of this formulation. It isn’t as dialectical as it appears at first glance. I think this formulation makes it sound like the task of the communists working amongst the people is to simply gather social investigation, get to know what people are thinking and feeling, transfer these ideas into a process of producing propaganda, programs, and strategy for mass work. And we did a shit load of that in the course of our work. We returned a lot of ideas back to the people in the form of, well, “packaged ideas.” Isn’t this what we do when we produce “mass-lined propaganda”, educational curricula, and organization programs? And this is necessary. Good “mass-lined propaganda” is important. But at an individual level, the above conception of the mass line falls short on account of actually engaging in the dialectics of consciousness-raising with people on a one-to-one basis. It remains undialectical if our actual interactions with people do not consist of dialogue and critical reflection both in the first moments of contact and social investigation, and in later periods of returning with more developed propaganda and programs.
So the mass line splits into two practices. In my experience, there’s this dialectical mass line – which we’re now trying to utilize and employ – and the undialectical one that failed to press our comrades to engage people’s consciousness directly and dialogically.
In my own past practice of doing mass propaganda with comrades in proletarian neighbourhoods, there are these moments when you get pulled into someone’s home for a long conversation about what’s going on. Anyone who has done serious organizing knows that these interactions are what you wait for when knocking on dozens and dozens of doors. But sometimes this little conflict played out in our minds: “Damn, this conversation is so important, but I’m also sacrificing getting this fresh pamphlet here out to another 150 people. What do I do?”
This sort of internal dialogue, I can now see, reflected a confused or at least inadequate understanding of how communists should be agitating, organizing, educating and learning. The problem wasn’t the two hour conversation. That was gold! That’s the sort of opportunity we should have been looking for. It’s the chance to really explore what people are thinking, to find the most advanced people, and move them into class struggle – or even join them in struggle. Not every conversation will yield that. But it’s only through these conversations that we’ll find potential leaders and those interested or ready to engage in class struggle.
The problem is that we didn’t have a clear idea of what should come out of those conversations, because we had no clear, tried, and tested means of effectively organizing people. As Freire says, pedagogical practice must be a problem-solving form of education, and it must be action-oriented. What was our plan for engaging the masses in action, in organizing for their own liberation? And if plans for action are not emerging from these sorts of conversations, if the idea and plans for action are coming entirely from outside these conversations, even if after extensive social investigation and contact building, then we’ve failed at dialectical education and our pedagogical practice will certainly suffer. Who was there to carry out the actions if these were not organically emerging from agitation amongst the masses? Who? Activists! And this is why we were more activists than mass organizers, despite our activism being more amongst the masses and even though we tried to distance ourselves from the more petty-bourgeois activist scenes.
There’s a contradiction between agitation through propaganda, on the one hand, and focused pedagogical praxis on the other, and I can now see that the latter needs to come first and be primary as communists begin undertaking focused mass work. The contradiction between agit-prop and critical dialogue is that the former is quick, momentary, and sweeps over a wider area, and the latter is focused, deeply engaging, and takes a lot more time. They are complimentary, they are two aspects of a contradiction, and their relative importance may flip from moment to moment. For example, if you’re advertising an action that may be taking place soon, then the agit-prop is going to be primary and you’re not going to have a lot of time for critical dialogue with everyone person you see. But if you’re in a phase of organizing people and building an organization, pedagogical practice is primary and the two-hour conversations are exactly what you’re looking for. It’s in critical dialogue that we get to know each other, begin to develop trust for one another, and work through the tangle of oppressive versus liberatory ideas – bourgeois/liberal versus proletarian revolutionary ideas. And if we can – and we must – pinpoint and leverage what Mao called the “advanced ideas” in these conversations into political action, and if out of these conversations we get people to rally, recruit, and engage others, then we’re discovering, bringing out, organizing those “advanced masses” Mao instructed as being necessary to bring together for the success of mass struggle.
Beyond the mass struggle, for revolutionaries, dialogue is also extremely significant for sustaining and refreshing the consciousness of revolutionaries. A “revolutionary” who isn’t having critical dialogues about struggle and revolution with a wide range of oppressed and exploited people on a regular basis runs the risk of dogmatism in the short run. And in the long run, one runs the risk of altogether abandoning these revolutionary communist ideas if years of dogmatic practice leaves one isolated. Mao’s principle that “We must have faith in the masses” becomes a tenet of blind faith with no material basis if we are not routinely validating that belief, and one may find oneself beginning to question the principle altogether if one is not deeply and routinely engaged in the development of the consciousness of the masses. It’s not a far journey for the dogmatist to arrive at that place where s/he begins to blame oppressed and exploited people for the situation they’re in because he, the dogmatist, failed to advance revolutionary organization.
By having “faith in the masses,” of course, we must be discerning. The science of revolution, our class analysis, our strategy and tactics, all help us separate out good ideas from bad ideas, “advanced” ideas from reactionary ones. This is why we require the Leninist Party. As Mao says,
The leaders must… be skilled in uniting the small number of active elements around the leadership and must rely on them to raise the level of the intermediate elements and to win over the backward elements.
But how else can we identify who the “advanced” are if not through pedagogical conversations?
Bourgeois Methods of Education
Another way to grasp the notion of pedagogical praxis is to understand what it is not. The revolutionary form of education is sharply contrasted with the form of education employed by the ruling class and its functionaries, by virtually all the institutions of bourgeois society. Because these are the methods through which we learn much of what we know growing up in capitalist society, it’s not surprising that it’s the default method by which a lot of upstart revolutionaries educate one another and attempt to educate the masses with.
The bourgeois form of education is what Freire called the banking model of education, a model wherein “education becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor” (Freire 72). Why this is the form by which the ruling class propagates its ideas is pretty plain to see. When you’re trying to deny, dismiss, ignore, obscure, and negate the lived experiences of the masses and if your education methods cement one’s sense of alienation and oppression within it, you just can’t leave people with much room to engage critically and dialogue. Critical consciousness must be repressed. Questioning one’s social circumstances must be repressed. Unfortunately, many revolutionaries emulate these methods: That is, we study books more than we study the lived experiences of the people, we teach without learning, we talk without listening, we monologue without dialogue.
Freire is damn on point when he says that the purpose of revolutionary education is to resolve the contradiction between the teacher and the student. And let’s no be embarrassed about this contradiction. There’s nothing more natural in this world than a contradiction: the unity of opposites. The movement of all things is propelled by contradiction. Communists are principally teachers in relation to the masses. But – and this is a big BUT– there are many moments when relating to someone who is not in the communist party — let’s say a recruit, or a member of a mass organization, or someone amongst the unorganized masses — wherein we are primarily students. These are the moments wherein we listen intently, ask questions that help us understand that person’s situation, check our understanding of the situation, and critically engage someone’s understanding of reality. This attentiveness is essential to rearrange the scattered and incoherent ideas of the masses and pull out those “advanced ideas” we mass-line Maoists talk so much about. This is how the mass line becomes a living, breathing practice. As Freire said, “liberating education consists of acts of cognition, not transferals of information.”
The closing of this gap between the teacher and student – between the communist and her interlocuter – is really the elevation of that someone into an increasingly conscious participant of the class struggle or revolutionary struggle. And this is where the discussion on pedagogy meets its limitations in the absence of the question of the revolutionary Party.
By way of a preface to the next section of this essay, it is worth saying that dialogical exchange / critical dialogue / pedagogical praxis is emotionally and intellectually very intensive for the two interlocutors. So if we’re talking about communists in imperialist countries who are going to be people who need to get up in the morning and go chase after a wage, then there’s going to be a strict limitation to how many people any one communist can really dialogue with in the course of a week. So again, we need to explore the question of an unfolding pedagogical praxis to the larger question of the Party and its expanding leadership capacities (which really comes down to the numbers and quality of cadre, as I’ll expand upon further below).
I believe that we find answers to these problems by exploring some of the qualities of members and levels of leadership that we find within such a revolutionary organization and movement. Enter Gramsci, left of stage…
“Generals”, Cadre, and Rank-and-File: Conceptions of Communist Leadership in Gramsci’s Thought
Antonio Gramsci argued that for the Communist Party to come into being, three types of members must converge: what he called the mass element, the intermediate element, and the principal cohesive element. Now, we must remember that Gramsci’s historical moment was one where communist parties had membership numbers in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, and in his unique historical moment, these three types of membership coalesced like filings to a magnet.
The collapse of the Second International during the first major inter-imperialist world war and the complete bankruptcy of the Social Democratic parties signaled an historical rupture in socialism, a split in Marxism, and the emergence of Marxism-Leninism and the Communist Party as the phase of consolidating the revolutionary experiences of the proletariat. After 1914, millions of proletarians across Europe hardened by the war, exposed to two generations of class struggle, and disenchanted from the social democratic parties were up for grabs. So this was the historical context within which the three types of members Gramsci identifies could very rapidly coalesce. It was a context where dozens — maybe even hundreds — of cadre could be assembled into a revolutionary party, which by today’s tempo of revolutionary growth appears to us like a lightning flash. Let us not be blind to the potentiality that such moments of historical rupture will return, but this is clearly not the context of communist organizing today at least in the imperialist countries. But Gramsci’s schema of a party remains useful, in any case, for elucidating the qualities of leadership within a party and the relations among them.
Fusing some of Gramsci’s language with our own contemporary political nomenclature, I will refer to these segments of the Party respectively for the moment as rank-and-file, cadre, and what Gramsci metaphorically refers to as the “Generals” I will call the leading cade. Let’s explore how Gramsci characterized these various elements of the Party, and examine the merits of these concepts for shedding light on the question of leadership development within revolutionary organization for our times.
Rank-and-File: ‘The Mass Element’
The mass element is the base of the Party. By the way Gramsci characterizes this layer of the Party, it would seem like it is the main interface between the Party and the masses, if not in qualitative terms certainly in quantitative terms. Gramsci believed the “mass element” of the Party to consist of
Ordinary, average men [sic], whose participation takes the form of discipline and loyalty, rather than any creative or organizational spirit… They are a force in so far as there is somebody to centralise, organise, and discipline them. In the absence of a cohesive force, they would scatter into an impotent diaspora and vanish into nothing (Gramsci [1930-32], Selections from the Prison Notebooks, 152).
Some may cringe – perhaps those of us with a little anarchist part of our hearts or minds – at the idea of a rank-and-file scattering so quickly upon the dissolution of a leadership structure. Anyone who questions this formulation needs only reflect upon the examples we have from history where upon the elimination of the leading cadre of the movement and/or or significant portion of the intermediate level of cadre, parties rapidly disintegrated. The Black Panther Party was effectively neutralized by the mid 1970s when much of its leading ideological and political figures were killed, imprisoned, or driven into exile. Certainly, internal ideological contradictions played a significant role in the destruction pf the Panthers and ruled out a recovery of the Party from the FBI’s war on the black liberation movement. In any event, we have a case in point that the FBI didn’t and couldn’t kill the thousands of members and tens of thousands of supporters – the rank-and-file of the Party. What they succeeded in doing was repressing and dividing the organization’s cadre and “generals.”
Or in Canada, we have the example of the Workers’ Communist Party, which rapidly dissolved, almost overnight, after its leadership basically self-liquidated in the early 1980s. This is an organization that had under its leadership no less than hundreds of revolutionary communists, maybe thousands; and a mass movement it led running into the tens of thousands. As the oral tradition I have come across would tell it, it was liquidated literally overnight in Quebec after francophone leaders in the party were able to effect a liquidation of the organization, exploiting the fact that the leadership of the Party was heavily anglophone and that it did not support the independence vote in Quebec’s 1982 failed referendum. It is noteworthy that it took two decades for the reemergence of anything resembling a revolutionary communist organization in Canada after the WCP’s dissolution, which took the form of RCP-Canada starting in the early 2000s, and RI shortly thereafter.
There’s also the example of the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965, which not only faced a murderous liquidation of its leadership, but a full-out fascist onslaught against all leftists that claimed as many as 1-2 million of its members and supporters. Fifty years later, revolutionary forces in Indonesia have only just recently begun to re-emerge.
Gramsci concedes that “admittedly, any of these [rank-and-file] elements might become a cohesive force” down the road. But he is referring to them at the moment when the rank-and-file is precisely just that.
By contrast, the Bolsheviks after 1905, the Chinese Communist Party after 1927, and the Communist Party of the Philippines virtually since its inception all hold out strong illustrations of how a revolutionary party can pull through intense bouts of repression if its leadership structure and a significant layer of cadre remain intact, if it remains united with a clear and viable program for proletarian revolution, and if it remains embedded in the masses. In spite of the setbacks all of these parties experienced in the course of their development, from line struggles and splits to fierce repression, they advanced. I am not going to deny that objective conditions were fertile for revolutionary growth in Russia, China, and the Philippines in their own times and places. But were they not also for the Black liberation movement in the U.S. or for communists in Indonesia?
So what we can glean from Gramsci’s schema is that the “mass element” is the mass base, the majority of the party. It doesn’t principally lead the party strategically or ideologically, but it plays the significant part in the construction of the institutions of proletarian revolutionary power.
So what is the significance and role of the “Generals” or the leading cadre in the organization of the rank-and-file?
“Generals”: The Principal Cohesive Force
This is the section of the Party that Gramsci called the principle cohesive element, which
Centralises nationally and renders effective and powerful a complex series of forces which left to themselves would count for little or nothing. This element is endowed with great cohesive, centralising, and disciplinary powers also – and this is perhaps the basis for the others – with the power of innovation.
Without delving into an extended exegesis on what Gramsci may have meant by the innovation of the leading element, suffice it to say that I believe his conception largely concerned innovation at the level of overall strategy. But in our day as much as in Gramsci’s, there’s no doubt that rank-and-file elements and intermediate cadre would be required to innovate in all sorts of ways in the face of the problems encountered in the course of their own specific party work.
Gramsci goes on to argue that while this cohesive element could not form the Party unto themselves, they could do so more easily than the mass element:
One speaks of generals without an army, but in reality it is easier to form an army than to form generals. So much is this true than an already existing army is destroyed if it loses its generals, while the existence of a united group of generals who agree among themselves and have common aims soon creates an army even where none exists.
But how does a core of revolutionary leaders actually lead a comparatively far greater number of rank-and-file members? Not through demagogic speeches, not through one directional chain of command, and not merely in the communist press or theoretical journals. The chain of leadership is only complete by the existence of an intermediate strata of cadre.
Cadre: The Intermediate Element
What Gramsci calls the “intermediate element” is that stratum of the Party which “articulates the first element [the “mass element”] with the second [“the principal cohesive element”] and maintains contact between them, not only physically but morally and intellectually.”
By “articulate”, we can take this as meaning that the role of cadre is to explain the program to, organize, and provide direction to the rank-and-file of the Party. By its “moral” character, Gramsci is probably referring to the example that the cadre set for the mass element to be inspired by and emulate.
If Gramsci’s schema seems like a crude hierarchy of thinking leaders directing a mass of mindless drones, don’t get it twisted. Gramsci considered every person a philosopher in his or her own right. But the capacity to think independently and comprehensively of the institutions of the ruling classes, to actually break with the ideological hegemony and world outlook of dominant social groups, is not a capacity that emerges spontaneously or all at once. The role of the Party is, among other things, to facilitate the creation of an “intellectual-moral bloc” which can count among its tasks: (1) the repetition of basic arguments concerning its outlook on the world; and (2) to raise the intellectual level of the masses and to raise new intellectuals directly out of the masses, which Gramsci called ‘organic intellectuals’. Cadre play a central role in these tasks, for it is by the cadre that the revolutionary vision is articulated to the masses in the context of their lived experiences and it is by the cadre that organic intellectuals are trained from the masses and elevated into the rank-and-file and ultimately cadre or even revolutionary leaders.
Now what ties these three sections of the Party together is an iron conviction that a solution has at last been found to the historical problems faced by the oppressed and exploited, and this solution takes the form of a Party Program. The Party Program is the means by which leading cadre can be solidly united, act with unwavering conviction, train cadre systematically and provide them with clear strategic direction to recruit, organize, and advance much larger numbers of rank-and-file, who in turn must be trained to build and advance the mass institutions and organizations of the revolution.
Pedagogy and the Party Program
Let’s come back to the question of pedagogy, because I believe this is a key ingredient to how the above layers of leadership and membership relate to one another.
As we discussed above, Freire described pedagogy as a problem-solving form of education; or in other words, consciousness-raising must be action oriented, it must be a praxis (the dialectical unity of theory and practice). But there’s never merely one “solution” to a problem.
The act of problem-solving, as with anything done in the name of the oppressed and exploited, splits into two: a bourgeois line and a proletarian line. First, there are the paths of least resistance, the “solutions” that (bourgeois) “common sense” would dictate we follow, the excrement that follows any sentence that begins with “Let’s be pragmatic…” These are the quick-fixes that pursue a narrow “solution” for the few in the short-term at the expense of the many both in the short-term and long-term. Such “solutions” are not only permitted by the bourgeois state, they are consciously set up all around the masses like bear-traps looking to snatch a leg out from underneath any revolutionary movement. It’s the “justice” sought after through “civilian oversight bodies” that investigate the police whenever they murder a proletarian youth; it’s the “justice” you get when you’re standing in front of a state tribunal when your ceiling comes crashing in on your head in your slumlord apartment, and maybe you get a small payout. It’s even those historical moments when your class enemy looks you straight in the eye and extends a hand in peace and reconciliation, concealing a knife behind his back in the other hand, waiting for the moment to stick it in the revolution’s throat.
So the answers and “solutions” that flow from critical dialogue or pedagogical praxis are not at all straightforward. They must be programmatically guided. They must be evaluated for their class content, and the long-term interests of the international proletariat. This is what makes so much of the critical pedagogy taught to educators in bourgeois institutions of “higher learning” such a sham. At best, students are encouraged to think critically about how they’ve been screwed over by history without seriously exploring how to collectively do anything about it. Thus, “liberation” gets rendered into one of the many individualistic self-help and self-indulgent practices that we find from the politics of postmodernism to New Age mysticisms.
When a revolutionary program exists that indeed correctly frames the historical problems faced by the oppressed and exploited and poses a viable strategic option for revolution, then it becomes that much easier to illustrate in the course of critical dialogue that the path of least resistance is not only not the only option, but rolls us right down the hill of historical defeat. A revolutionary program is absolutely necessary for a revolutionary pedagogical praxis, and without one we will of course be limited in our revolutionary work. (That doesn’t mean we should bluff and just put out a program if we haven’t genuinely found solutions to the problems of history, and when our framing of historical conditions of the oppressed and exploited can only but be partial, limited, and shoddy by our own underdevelopment.)
I concur with Freire that a pedagogical praxis is essential for revolution, because it is essential for training, elevating, and recruiting new layers of revolutionaries and leaders. But a sound pedagogical practice also requires a revolutionary program.
Coming full circle back to where this essay started, I believe that the serious limitations that our own organization faced by 2013-2014 had much to do with our own underdeveloped leadership and training processes. We lacked a trained and united core of cadre; and the “generals” we did have – and that would be a very generous framing of our leaders at the time – while trying to push forward party development by developing strategic discussion documents and such, failed at the most crucial task of cadre development and revolutionary mentorship. We held a growing number of people together not on the basis of ideological coherence but unity through action in mass work. And when our mass organizations met the limits of their growth – essentially because of weak or absent pedagogical praxes that limited our abilities to recruit and expand membership ranks – then our party-building organization went into crisis as well. We crashed into the limitations of our methods of party-building. A small but important minority, including some former leaders, proved unwilling or without the morale to push ahead into uncertain times and carry through a tough period of assessment and reconfiguration, and so they made their departure from our project.
But many of us proceeded. And in the course of a very healthy and refreshing internal struggle around women’s liberation – which brought many comrades to discover the revolutionary concepts to not only examine their lived experiences with patriarchal oppression as well as unchecked instances of male chauvinism in the organization – what we discovered was that the moment class struggle became immanent to the organization, the moment where pushing the organization forward could only be done by each and every comrade participating in a deep process of criticism and self-criticism, that became the moment when a whole new layer of members were consolidated and were advanced along the road of revolutionary commitment. In short, our internal struggle around women’s liberation became the moment where we internally discovered pedagogy.
We can’t expect every comrade in a revolutionary organization to operate with the same capacity or ability at any given moment. But we can expect, in fact we must expect and must be prepared to actively support, the development of all possible comrades to train and develop more revolutionaries in their turn, i.e. to employ a pedagogical praxis in the mass movement and ultimately in the Party.
Gramsci’s categories of party leadership paint for us a picture, in very broad strokes, of the qualities and roles of various leadership levels in the revolutionary party. In an internal discussion around questions of levels of party membership and leadership training, Comrade Pierce circulated what many leading comrades considered to be an important corrective to how we began to originally frame these concepts in light of reading Gramsci:
Certainly there will be different capacities for and qualities of leadership within a revolutionary organization, I’m not trying to suggest that we pretend a flatness that doesn’t exist. I’ve also been around for long enough that I’ve seen instances where the same person exercises outstanding revolutionary leadership in one context (or at one time) and totally destructive leadership in another.
The thing that will secure strong, effective and sustainable leadership in our organization is a committed and accountable collective leadership and the meaningful participation of as large as possible a pool of committed revolutionaries in the practice of democratic centralism.
Comrade Pierce goes on to say that we needed to
make it clear that the differentiation between cadre and leading cadre is not static and that as part of a healthy organizational practice different cadre will move into organizational leadership at different times and based on particular circumstances. The leadership is collective and based on the needs of the organization, not the individual prowess of particular cadre.
So while acknowledging certain features of the leadership of what Gramsci called the “Generals,” namely their role in serving as the “principal cohesive force,” especially in the theoretical and strategic innovation of the organization which not every cadre will be adept at but must participate in, Comrade Pierce’s considerations concerning the necessity of a robust collective leadership are vital to the expansion of revolutionary organization.
The purpose of putting names to these various levels is not to reinforce or harden divisions between them. We have no intentions of decorating “Generals” / leading cadre or suggesting that to be a rank-and-file is a station one just has to accept in life. These categories are an essential schema for understanding the actual capacities and necessary qualities of leadership that will and must exist in any revolutionary organization so that we can arrange our members appropriately towards maximizing our collective strength and in time building up each comrade to be a better revolutionary.
The most effective recruiters in our organization past and present have had anywhere between 10 and 20 years experience organizing, for the better part of this time consciously as communists; but with a shit-load of this time spent needlessly in trial and error and dead ends that were the result of themselves not having had sufficient revolutionary leadership and organization to train them effectively and efficiently in their own political lives. We can’t wait, the world can’t wait, 10-20 years for a new layer of revolutionary leaders to emerge.
In the discussions our leadership has had in the last six months, our internal assessment is that virtually all of our members are capable of becoming organizational cadre – and that’s obviously not the same as saying that all or even the majority of members of a communist party will be more than rank-and-file members. It’s also not to say that basic party members will not be required to make incredible feats.
But being in the pre-party phase of our development still, we really need to focus on cadre development to ensure that we continue to have the capacity to grow and advance the revolutionary struggle. We need leading cadre who can formulate vision and viable strategy in a consultative manner that moves everyone else forward and who can develop cadre. We need cadre, in turn, who lead and develop rank-and-file members; and we need those cadre and rank-and-file members to agitate and lead the people in advancing revolutionary struggle. And for all the reasons discussed above, pedagogical praxis will be the sinews that bind these layers of a revolutionary organization together. It will be operational principle that will actualize what we believe deep-down as Maoists, that “The masses are the makers of history.” But the masses are only the makers of history once they have become conscious of their place in it. And a pedagogy praxis will be necessary to bring that consciousness out.
 I should clarify that the generalizations about our past work pertain to RI in its general trajectory as an organization since its origins and up until approximately late 2013, but does not account for the political experiences of comrades who have been more recently united with R.I. and contributed to R.I.’s development from other regions.
 By effective criticism and self-criticism (CSC), I mean a practice of CSC that actually got down to the ideological basis of incorrect attitudes, behaviours, and styles of work to bring about ideological remolding and inspire rectification and transformation of comrades. Often, we delivered criticisms as rebuke and less inspired by revolutionary love, and thus we lacked the follow-through to support our comrades in pushing through with personal transformation to become more committed revolutionaries. In a word, our CSC practices were lacking in pedagogy.
 As one can see from Comrade Jameel’s article in this issue, a critical examination of our methods was already at play by late 2013 / early 2014, around the same time we were going to prioritize the ideological struggle around women’s liberation, but not before it had actually arose.
 Two comrades provided me with feedback on this paragraph that I would like to document, and which I find compatible with my statement on pedagogical praxis. One comrade pointed out that formal processes, like a pedagogical praxis, are inextricably bound up with the content of the exchange. So we should be cautious about emphasizing process/form over content. Another comrade raised an important point that struggles sometimes occur in the realm of philosophy and/or outside of our direct experiences that can have a huge impact on the direction of a revolutionary party. For instance, the coup in China in 1976 and how those developments were understood by parties around the world. Or take as another example the significance of Mao’s On Contradiction. Written in August 1937, this text was intended to correct dogmatic thinking in the CCP, as well as overcoming serious problems in Soviet policy and Stalin’s conception of dialectical materialism. In short, line struggles can take place around questions outside of our direct experiences.
 Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Continuum, 1970), Footnote on 93.
 It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Shining Path’s Gonzalo and the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement drew sharp lines between what began to be theorized as Maoism and the rest of Marxism-Leninism with “Mao Zedong Thought,” even if elements of what we know as Maoism today were unfolding or were being taken up in the practice of certain revolutionary communist struggles throughout the world from the Cultural Revolution onwards.
 Freire, 65.
 Ibid, 67.
 Ibid, 69. It’s unfortunate that Freire resorts to philosophical notions of humanism in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which were resurgent in the 1960s and 1970s and expanding in lock-step with the influence of the revisionist trends in Marxism. Althusser criticized the reappropriation of humanist concepts by Marxists or communists in his 1964 essay Marxism and Humanism. The humanist underpinnings of Pedagogy of the Oppressed are one of its major shortcomings, which has left the notion of pedagogy quite open to the individualistic conceptions of “liberation” that post-modernists and other liberals have seized upon. In any case, I do not believe that this shaky philosophical underpinning to Freire’s work detracts from the core insights of Freire’s reflections on the process of bringing out revolutionary consciousness.
 Freire, 67.
 There’s no English equivalent for this word, but if there was it would be conscienticization and this would mean, to raise the consciousness of.
 Comrade Stella B., Uprising Issue #6 (Summer 2015), 12-20.
 There are important discussions documents forthcoming later this year from R.I. that will elaborate upon questions of mass movement building, mass democratc organizing, the relaton between the Party organization and the masses, and the principles of proleterian democracy. These documents will address past errors and weaknesses, while clarifying our views on these questions moving forward.
 Mao Zedong (June 1, 1943), “Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership,” in Selected Works of Mao Zedong, Vol. III), 118.
 Another danger with bourgeois methods of education is “building a great wall” between ourselves and the people (p.15), which is addressed in Stella B.’s article “What is the Mass Line?” in this issue of Uprising.
 Freire, 79.
 The absence of development of all three elements in our own internal structure is among the reasons why we have remained a party-building organization, and not a Party. Too many organizations are quick to proclaim themselves a ‘Party’ without actually satisfying important criteria to live up to the name, thereby substituting appearance for essence. See our “Preconditions for Building a Genuine Communist Party,” The Theoretical Journal of Revolutionary Initiative Volume 1: 2006-2009.
 Remnants of the WCP regrouped in the 1990s into Accion Socialiste, the pre-cursor to the PCR-RCP.
 Kevin “Rashid” Johnson has written an interesting essay (Black Cats Have Many Lives: Reviving the Vanguard Party and Building the United Panther Movement.) comparing the FBI repression of the Black liberation movement and its internal divisions to the divisions within Russian social democracy after the 1905 revolution. A key difference between the Bolsheviks and the BPP, Rashid argues, is the lack of a Lenin-like figure (or figures) in the movement to lead in the line struggle. This has meant, he argues, that the black liberation movement’s recession has lasted much longer than the Bolsheviks did. In his words:
Whereas V.I. Lenin was able to wage a struggle to maintain a correct line upon which to lead the Russian revolution to success under the leadership of his Bolshevik faction, the BPP failed to provide such a leader of Lenin’s caliber to wage this internal line struggle. Consequently the decline of the BPP and official containment of the potentially insurgent oppressed masses in Amerika has lasted several decades – far longer than the Russian experience.
The takeaway point for our purposes here is the tragic fate experienced by the black liberation movement in the U.S. over the last four decades stemming from the dispersal and fissuring of its revolutionary leadership.
 Hoare, Quintin and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (eds.). Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (International Publishers Co. Inc.: New York, 1971), 152.
 Ibid, 153.
 For a greater elaboration of Gramsci’s views on the Party, philosophy, and the role of the intellectual, see my essay “Towards the War of Position: Gramsci in Continuity and Rupture with Marxism-Leninism”, which appears in Volume #4 of Uprising, particularly the section “What is philosophy and who is the ‘Organic Intellectual’” on p.28.
 R.I. Internal Correspondence, early 2015.