Revolution #149, November 30, 2008
The following are excerpts of correspondence from Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, which was written to other Party leaders in the wake of the election of Barack Obama. While not originally intended as articles, this correspondence has great relevance to current questions, and Revolution has obtained permission to share this with its readers.
Obama: Playing the Trump Card?
Something to reflect on, from a strategic standpoint (and in this, without forgetting what is concentrated in the “There is no ‘They’” point, I am nonetheless, for “shorthand” purposes here, referring to the ruling class in more or less monolithic, or uniform, terms):1
What the ruling class has just done with Obama—not only having him become a viable and serious candidate but allowing/having him actually win the presidency, and the Jack/Bobby Kennedy role of this, as well as the powerful particularity of “the first Black President”—is not something that they can do very often. In the case of a Black President, they can really do this only once—or only once with anything like this level of significance and impact. (Of course, there is more “identity politics/bourgeois style” they can come up with—the first woman president, or the first Latino president, for example; but without denying that things like that could have some social significance, it would not likely be of the same kind, or same magnitude, in terms of its impact, within the U.S. and internationally, as the “first Black president” in the United States, precisely given the particular history of Black people in this country, which many people around the world are aware of, even though they have many misconceptions about the actual nature, causes, etc., of this.) Given this, and given that (in line with the “Andrew Sullivan analysis”2) doing this with Obama is a sign of recognition on their part that they are in for some heavy shit ahead—all of which has been taken to an even greater dimension with the whole financial/economic crisis—is there an analogy here to the game of bid whist? More specifically, is this analogous to their having—because of the heaviness of the situation and its potential to become qualitatively more so—to play what constitutes a major trump card of theirs (this role played by Obama) before they might otherwise have wanted to do so—to have, in effect, lost the ability to play this particular trump card later, when they might need it even more? Now, with this analogy, I am definitely not suggesting that they do not still have—or that they will not have if things sharpen up to a qualitatively greater degree—any more maneuvers to make and weapons to wield: they will still have resources and devices, both in terms of the carrot and definitely the stick. And, in any case, whatever the value might (or might not) be to this bid whist/trump card analogy, I believe there is something of strategic significance in the fact that the ruling class—or, to be more scientific, a powerful confluence of ruling class forces—decided at a certain point that it was necessary to go with Obama, and the fact that this is not something that they can easily replicate, even if things do sharpen up qualitatively.
So, while tactically and in the short run, the election of Obama will create (and no doubt already is creating) some new difficulties for us—and this is likely to be especially so among Black people, many of whom are not surprisingly swallowing down the “ObamaL’aid ” as Glen Ford creatively refers to it [in an article on the website Black Agenda Report3 ]—in an overall and strategic sense there are important favorable factors in all this—provided that we continue to be grounded in and consistently apply our scientific communist outlook, method and approach, including firmness of principles and flexibility (an application of solid core with elasticity in terms of method and approach) and vigorously put forward our revolutionary-communist line and carry out revolutionary work based on and proceeding from that line, in its core elements and in all its richness (including building a culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization around the leadership of Bob Avakian and the role of the newspaper as hub and pivot—and scaffolding—of the revolutionary movement with the Party at the core, and the full, correct—not economist—orientation and implementation of “Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution”).4
The more that life—and specifically the contradictions marking the world under the domination of this imperialist system—assert themselves (within the U.S. and internationally) and things unfold with Obama's presidency (and even now with his "transition" to the presidency), the more there will be a basis for further exposing what he is, and is not, all about and for demonstrating the kind of radical, fundamental change that is really needed…once again provided that we consistently approach all this in the way and on the basis emphasized here.
This underscores again a basic point of orientation: In the circumstances that have come into being with Obama’s election, it is all the more important to persevere—boldly and in a determined and focused way—in not only putting forward in an overall sense but in going to the masses (basic masses but also masses of other strata) with our basic revolutionary line. And, besides the need for continuing exposure of what Obama represents (and does not represent), a significant (even if overall secondary) aspect of propagating our revolutionary line should be doing so directly and explicitly in opposition to what is being rallied, politically and ideologically, by and around Obama. In particular we need to be waging sharp—and at the same time substantive and really compelling—struggle against the ceaseless propagation, in relation to Obama's winning the presidential election, that: “Anything is possible”…“Black people finally have a real place in America and should now, finally, be proud of America and proud to be Americans”…“Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘dream’ has finally been realized”…and all the syrupy crap being put forward by a number of Black bourgeois figures—along with Obama in particular, and the ruling class and its representatives and mouthpieces more generally—about how Black people can be anything they strive to be in this great American society. While there is a need for a certain “finesse” (or “souplesse”) in how this struggle is carried out, it is very important to wage this struggle—to wage it wisely and well, but sharply—and to point sharply to the corollary to the purveying of these seemingly “positive” but actually very poisonous illusions, a corollary which was voiced with undisguised menace by William Bennett on the night of the election, once the outcome had become clear: Now there is no more basis for claiming that the way of opportunity is blocked for Black people...and there should be no more excuses.5
Besides the need to sharply expose how Obama, and others parroting this stuff, are attempting to draw Black people into being consciously complicit in the crimes of “their country”—i.e., U.S. imperialism—against the oppressed masses of the world,6 it needs to be recognized and pointed out that these syrupy bromides being given voice by Obama, and by many bourgeois Black figures, on the basis of Obama's winning the presidential race, not only make the ground more favorable for, but can very quickly turn into, the menace voiced by William Bennett as things unfold, as this system continues to operate according to its essential nature and underlying dynamics, including—as we have stressed in the special issue on the Black national question7 —the ways in which it functions, and is bound to function, to keep masses of Black people, in particular youth in the inner cities, from “being whatever they strive to be,” and these youth and other basic Black masses are increasingly seen, and treated, by many of these Black bourgeois forces as dragging them down and posing an obstacle to their being what they are striving to be—more prominent functionaries and lackeys of the imperialist system.
The present role of Black bourgeois forces (as well as that of Obama), who spread this poison now must be very sharply confronted and called out for what is; and this should include directly making the analogy between some of these Black bourgeois forces and the Judenrat during the Nazi rule in Germany.8 That is, it is important to point to the potential “Judenrat role” of such Black bourgeois forces. But here let me stress potential, because it is important to be consistently scientific, and not to overstate things or engage in hyperbole—and specifically not act as if even those Black bourgeois forces who are purveying the poison referred to here are in fact already playing the role of insisting on more draconian measures (or even genocidal measures) against the masses of Black youth and others in the inner cities—except, of course, where there may be certain individuals (or forces) who are already doing that (or at least calling for more draconian measures, if not outright genocidal measures at this time), which definitely does need to be sharply called out now, and in an ongoing way.
Again, all this must be done while bringing forward, in contrast to this poison, our revolutionary line--our revolutionary-communist objectives and strategic orientation, approach and method. To a considerable extent, this can and should be done through the continuing dissemination—particularly among the Black masses but also among other sections of the people—of the special issue/statement “The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need”; this should mainly be disseminated for its overall powerful content, while there is also a more specific aspect of its polemics against the kind of poison I have referred to here. (It is noteworthy that this “now, no excuses” threat is exactly what we indicated in the statement on the Black national question would accompany all this seemingly “uplifting” talk about how Black youth can now dream and strive higher because of Obama.) But there will also be a need to do this in relation to more particular ways in which this stuff comes up—in which this poison is purveyed—in an ongoing way now, particularly in the context where Obama has been elected president (and commander-in-chief).
In connection with all this—and again as a basic point of orientation—I think we should boldly popularize the following:
Do Black people need to “take responsibility”? Responsibility for what? RESPONSIBILITY FOR REVOLUTION—DEFINITELY! WE ALL NEED TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MAKING REVOLUTION—TO EMANCIPATE HUMANITY FROM THIS WHOLE SYSTEM OF OPPRESSION.
Now, to be very clear, in speaking of the very bad present role—and the potentially far more horrendous role—of more than a few of these bourgeois Black forces, and of the need to sharply combat this ideologically and politically now, the point is not to make this the main focus of our work (or our exposure) overall, and certainly not to place the Black bourgeoisie as a whole—and still less the Black petty bourgeoisie, some of whom will also, spontaneously and left to their own devices, play a bad role in relation to what is being raised here—in the camp of the enemy. (I am not suggesting that there should be some blanket condemnation of the Black bourgeoisie—and certainly not of petty bourgeois Black people—but rather a sharp rebuke, with substance, especially with regard to egregious examples of particular bourgeois—and, yes, petty bourgeois—Blacks purveying the kind of poison I am speaking of here.) And, in our own thinking as well as in how we speak to things publicly, we must clearly distinguish between the spontaneous enthusiasm of very large numbers of Black people in the petty bourgeoisie, and among the basic masses as well, in regard to election of the “first Black President,” on the one hand, and on the other hand the more worked out and conscious purveying of the idea that there are now no societal obstacles to Black people—with the stated or unstated (or now unstated but later to be stated) corollary that if they do not “succeed” it is their own fault, and if they cause trouble (and get in the way of the advance of bourgeois Blacks) then they must be ruthlessly suppressed. Overall, we must continue to adhere to the correct understanding and application of our United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat strategy9 —including a recognition that overwhelmingly the Black petty bourgeoisie can be and must be won to the cause of revolution, and that this also applies to at least some parts of the Black bourgeoisie. But, even in order to effect this—as well as to counter the very bad role that a number of Black bourgeois (and even some Black petty bourgeois) types will play, especially if they are not called out and the role they are now inclined to play is not struggled against sharply—we must not pull punches in opposing this poison and pointing to the disastrous dimensions it can assume if it is not defeated.
In boldly putting this forward, there is a particular role for Black comrades who have responsibilities for representing for the Party in various ways (and more generally for other Black comrades); but this is by no means something that can, or should, be done only by these comrades—it is a responsibility and a challenge that must be met by the Party as a whole and all comrades (and, as I have put it previously, I don't care if you are as white as a snowstorm in New Hampshire—it is your responsibility to put forward this line, and to struggle with masses, including Black masses, on the basis of this line).
At the same time, we do need to be keeping up on the foaming-at-the-mouth fascism, directed toward Obama, on the part of the right-wing talk shows and generally that fascist section of the ruling class and the rabid social base they are working to rally—with Obama a particular target of theirs (a phenomenon which was very marked during the campaign and has not, and almost certainly will not, be lessened, but on the contrary very likely increased, from here forward). We will need to reckon with this, both in how we carry out our propaganda and agitation—and specifically our exposure around Obama (and our struggle against the poison being purveyed by Black bourgeois forces in particular, as discussed above)—and in terms of our method and approach to the overall struggle and work of building the movement for revolution in the new circumstances where Obama has been elected (and will soon take office). We need to have, and to continue to develop, a very good sense of tactics in all this, flowing from our fundamental revolutionary-communist strategic orientation, combining once again firmness of principles10 and flexibility on the basis of those principles (solid core and elasticity, as applied to this).
In regard to Black people in particular, who are, in large numbers, being understandably—but of course very wrongly—swept up in “Obamamania,” in keeping with the “Malcolm X spirit” I stressed last time…we do have to put out, straight up, and struggle sharply with these masses, that they are being played. Worse yet, there is the prospect of significant numbers of them being turned, literally or at least ideologically, into the 21st-century version of “Buffalo soldiers”: enlisting with (or being more supportive of) the armed forces of their oppressors to go commit war crimes against oppressed people throughout the world—just as, after the Civil War, the “Buffalo soldiers” enlisted to help the U.S. army complete the theft of the land of the Indians (Native Americans) and carry forward the genocide against them.
We should, in our own orientation, not underestimate the potential pull of this “Buffalo soldier” phenomenon, particularly in the short run, on youth in the inner cities—and even the possibility that there could be appeals, and provisions made, for prisoners to go into the imperialist armed forces, with its “African-American commander-in-chief.” We have seen this kind of phenomenon with other oppressed people--including, in a profound irony, among Native Americans themselves. And the Black president/commander-in-chief factor could, at least in a shorter-term frame of reference, make this pull very powerful among at least significant numbers (though of course not all) of the Black youth. As was pointed out even as far back as the polemics against the Bundists (35 years ago now!),11 Black people in the U.S. have a dual position in the sense of being an oppressed people/nation (and, in large numbers, exploited and oppressed proletarians and semi-proletarians) but also, on the other side of this contradiction, as Americans. In a basic sense, the principal aspect of this contradiction is the oppressed people/nation part (and the role of masses of Black people as proletarians and semi-proletarians) but under certain circumstances the “American” aspect can strongly assert itself, and even become principal. The current situation, with Obama as a Black president/commander-in-chief (or soon to be that) is one in which this secondary—and of course very negative—aspect, is likely, at least in the short run, to be strengthened, and joining the U.S. military, to the degree that happens, will further strengthen this aspect: being part of that military does put people in the position of going out to beat up on oppressed people all over the world, and feeling like a “true American” in doing so (and this can, as it does to a significant degree among Native Americans, play into the “warrior” mentality which has no small amount of influence among Black youth—particularly but not only males). Further, there is the element of these youth getting discipline and “straightening out and straightening up” in the way the (imperialist) military does, in a certain sense, cause/force them to do—and there is the element of the effect of this on broader masses who are not joining the military but are the family, friends, etc., of those who do (the—once again very wrong and misplaced—sense of “pride” they take in this, as well as the sense of relief that these youth are getting out of the inner city life with all its very real horrors).
There is an answer—there is a radical alternative to this—but it lies precisely, and in fundamental terms only, in what our Party stands for, and must fight for. The point of all this is most emphatically NOT to say that the fundamental position and potential strategic role of Black people, and in particular the masses of Black youth and others in the inner cities, has been qualitatively changed, in a politically negative direction (or will be), with the election, and then the presidency, of Obama. First of all, it is really true, it is an expression of a profound reality, that this system has no future for the masses of these youth (nor, for that matter, could it absorb all of them, or anything like all of them, into its army, even if there were an inclination to do so). The future the masses of these youth have under this system is in fundamental and essential terms the same as the past and the present they have lived—one of oppression, degradation, and humiliation, and brutality and murder at the hands of the system’s enforcers. And even becoming part of the U.S. military can have contradictory effects—and can lead to (or contribute to) further radicalization of many who go through this experience. This is both because of the fundamental condition of oppression of the masses of Black youth and other basic Black masses (and of the Black people/nation overall) which will not in fact change in any qualitative way, regardless of who is president (and commander-in-chief). And, secondarily but not unimportantly in this regard, when you go out, as part of the U.S. military, to beat up on (and that is an understatement) people in other parts of the world, all those people do not simply take it—many do some “beating back”—and that, too, has an impact: a contradictory one, but one which often deflates some of that bully mentality and brings people up short as to what the hell they have been part of and what they have been doing in that capacity.
So, the essential reason for raising all this is that we have to be thinking strategically and in a sober scientific way—not with naive idealism and religiosity, even about those masses who fundamentally can be, and must be, part of the bedrock and driving force of the revolution—and the essential point is that all this only gives greater emphasis and importance to OUR PARTY'S ROLE AS THE REVOLUTIONARY-COMMUNIST VANGUARD WE ARE REQUIRED TO BE, both in struggling ideologically very sharply, and at times even fiercely, with masses about all this (without any liberalism—once again, that is the point of the “Malcolm X spirit” analogy) and in terms of maintaining our strategic bearings, including as a crucial part of that our strategic understanding and orientation toward the still very real potential revolutionary role of these masses (here speaking specifically of Black masses, but of course this is not limited to them), and carrying out struggle with them precisely from that strategic standpoint and with that strategic orientation.
Along with the basic points of orientation stressed above, all this also gives further emphasis to the basic orientation, which we must continue to vigorously propagate, popularize and fight for: STOP THINKING LIKE AMERICANS! START THINKING ABOUT HUMANITY!
1. Bob Avakian discusses this point in “There Is No ‘They’—But There Is a Definite Direction to Things: The Dynamics Within the Ruling Class, And the Challenges for Revolutionaries,” which can be found online at revcom.us and is also part of the pamphlet The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era (RCP Publications, 2005).[back] [back]
2. In a December 2007 article in The Atlantic magazine, prominent conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan wrote that Barack Obama should be the next U.S. president. Sullivan argued that there is a “consensus” (by which he meant agreement within the U.S. ruling class) for endless war and increased repression, and that Obama would be best able to implement all that, in the face of increasing challenges to American superpower status internationally and sharp polarization within U.S. society. Sullivan’s article, “Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters,” is online at theatlantic.com/doc/200712/obama. Revolution articles discussing Sullivan’s article include “Andrew Sullivan on Obama: The Best ‘Face’ For Imperialism” (#118) and “On Obama’s Nomination: The Change You Believe In—And the Change You’ll Get” (#142), at revcom.us.[back]
3. Glen Ford’s article, “The Obama ’08 Phenomenon: What Have We Learned?” appeared as a guest column in Revolution #148, available online at revcom.us.[back]
4. For a discussion of these points, see Bob Avakian’s “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” (and in particular Part 2: Everything We’re Doing Is About Revolution), which is part of the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation and is also available online at revcom.us.[back]
5. William Bennett, a top right-wing ruling class figure, said on CNN on Election Night, speaking of Obama’s election: “Well, I’ll tell you one thing it means, as a former Secretary of Education: You don’t take any excuses anymore from anybody who says, ‘The deck is stacked, I can’t do anything, there’s so much in-built this and that.’”[back]
6. [Footnote by Bob Avakian] One dimension of this is that the military—which already preys upon basic masses, including Black masses—will in some significant aspects be strengthened in its efforts to recruit among Black youth, and others, in the inner cities (this will be related to the sense of—very misplaced—pride in having a “Black commander-in-chief”). And this will likely have some effect not only among Black people, but among others as well who have gotten sucked into the “Obamaphilia” (in this regard, I took note of the comment by one person [not Black, I believe] out on the streets celebrating Obama's win, on the night of the election, who in response to some agitation by one of our people about Obama and Afghanistan, answered by saying something to the effect that “Obama might be right about that, and I might enlist to help with that”). And, beyond the military, there could definitely be a spontaneous phenomenon of especially younger people—including many whites—getting drawn into other dimensions of Obama’s plans to involve them in “service to the country.” In relation to this, along with the overall struggle that needs to be waged, compellingly—sharply and with substance and science—this emphasizes the particular importance of broadly propagating “STOP THINKING LIKE AMERICANS! START THINKING ABOUT HUMANITY! (as it is put in one of the subheads in our post-election statement) and of fighting vigorously—and in a real sense relentlessly—for this orientation. [“The Morning After the Elections: The Promise of Change…And the Change We Need,” Revolution #147 (November 16, 2008), available online at revcom.us][back]
8. The Judenrat were Jewish councils in the ghettos where Jews were confined by the Nazis. The Nazis rounded up and later killed millions of Jews in Germany and Nazi-occupied countries in Europe. The Jews of the Judenrat convinced themselves that things would go better for everyone if they carried out things in the ghettos like providing forced slave labor for the German war factories and deciding which Jews should be sent to the concentration camps first, instead of the Nazis doing these actions directly. But this kind of thinking—and the actions the Judenrat took on that basis—contributed to the horrific slaughter of millions. The Judenrat were given special privileges and power by the Nazis, in return for telling people not to resist—and working against and even snitching on those who did. The Judenrat were strung along till near the end of Nazi rule, when they too were exterminated.[back]
9. A discussion of the strategy of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat can be found in the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, pages 11-15, available online at revcom.us/Constitution/constitution.html.[back]
10. [Footnote by Bob Avakian] Particularly in this context, let me strongly emphasize the point that, while flexibility is indeed very important, firmness of principles is definitely the principal aspect in this relationship (contradiction) and it is this (firmness of principles) which must set the overall foundation, framework and context for the necessary flexibility. As one important particular expression of this, this is a time and situation—precisely given the spontaneous tendencies of masses of Black people (and others) in regard to Obama—to have that basic stance that Malcolm X often articulated to his (Black) audiences, when he declared (specifically in relation to things he knew were very controversial with them): “I know you don’t like me telling you these things—but I didn't come here to tell you what you like, I came here to tell you the truth, whether you like it or not.” Now, again, there does need to be flexibility—and not inflexibility and dogmato crap—in relation to this…but, once more, precisely flexibility on the basis of the necessary firmness of principles (or elasticity on the basis of the necessary solid core).[back]
11. As the process of forging a single, multi-national revolutionary communist party went forward in the early 1970s, a trend consolidated in opposition to the communist and internationalist viewpoint which argued for a nationalist line, a line and outlook which wanted a special role for communists from the oppressed nationalities in the party and saw the struggle of the oppressed nationalities as separate from and more important than the struggle led by the multi-national proletariat to emancipate all humanity. This included a faction within the Revolutionary Union (RU, forerunner of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA) and members of organizations that the RU was working with to forge the party. These forces were called Bundists because they promoted a line similar to one which Lenin had sharply struggled against in Russia in the run-up to the Russian Revolution. For more on the struggle against the Bundists, see Bob Avakian’s memoir, From Ike to Mao And Beyond: My Journey From Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist (Insight Press, 2005), in particular chapter Fourteen, “Unity, Struggle...and Principle,” pages 273-287.[back]