Digging Into What It Will Really Take to Change the World at the Green Party Convention
August 30, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
After Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, a lot of people started checking out the Green Party for the first time. Registration for their national convention spiked. I decided to go down there, to learn what was motivating people and to get into what it will really take for humanity to get free. I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of the conversations I got into with the readers of www.revcom.us.
The first night, before things got started, I approached a group of new volunteers to learn why they had gotten involved. We ended up talking at length about the Message from the Revolutionary Communist Party’s Central Committee and the polemic published by www.revcom.us aimed at the Greens (a team handed out hundreds of each throughout the convention).
A white woman asked whether we would ban small entrepreneurs like her brother. I pulled back the lens and explained why, after the revolution, we will abolish all forms of capitalist enterprise (not all at once)—making clear that we don’t see small-business owners as the enemy, but that any system based on socialized production and private appropriation inevitably leads to gross concentrations of wealth and vast immiseration. She got angry, “How dare you communists say my brother doesn’t deserve to get ahead!?”
While making clear that I have no reason to doubt that her brother works very hard, I explained calmly, 1) even his experience of working hard, yet getting burned, demonstrates how capitalism cannot be made to work for “the little guy,” and 2) I doubt very much that her brother—without detracting from him—works harder than the children in Bangladesh making our clothes. She walked off in a huff. But a young Latina from McAllen (a town with a lot of poverty on the U.S./Mexico border), had been nodding every time I spoke about the people in the sweatshops or fields. She asked whether it was really impossible to regulate capitalism, so we got into this.
A Black man joined in, arguing that religion is the source of patriarchy and is the real root problem. I united with much of what he said, but argued that he was missing the deeper forces that gave rise to the problems he correctly identified with religion—changes in the mode of production. Patriarchy (the enslavement and domination of women by men) did not emerge until human societies developed the ability to produce a surplus beyond what is needed for day-to-day survival. With this, it became possible for one group (class) to live off the labor of others, and men began to strictly control the reproduction and sexuality and lives of women in order to ensure that the children born to his wife were really his children and not someone else’s—in order to make sure his children inherited his wealth and social position.
I had lunch with the guy the next day. He wants to abolish money and we got into how money is only an outward expression of commodity production and the law of value, so really it is necessary to abolish all this. Bob Avakian gets into this further here. This guy also hoped that by taking over school boards and getting Greens on the ballot in local areas, they could undermine capitalism from within. We walked through different scenarios and how the capitalist state and its representatives would come down on you as soon as you came close to challenging anything fundamental about their system. We got into the need to overthrow this system and implement a new state power, genuine socialism on the road to communism as envisioned in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America. This became something of a theme of the arguments/discussions I got into—and our polemic on the Greens was very relevant.
Some stubbornly refused to acknowledge limitations in their electoral take-over model, but others (like this guy), would acknowledge these limitations but then come up against what they saw as the “impossibility” of overthrowing this system. But overthrowing this system is not impossible. We got into the RCP’s strategy for this (both parts—political and organizational preparation today, and with the emergence of a major revolutionary crisis in the future, an all-out fight for the seizure of power). Interwoven with this was repeated struggle over what is in the first essay in BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian on “Reform or Revolution”; i.e., the need to go for breaking free the antibiotics because that is what it will really take, not just nursing the sick as they die [read the essay to really understand this]. Also, I struggled with him and others, “You have no idea what is possible because you haven’t engaged the work that has been done on this yet—which you have a responsibility to do.” Some were interested in getting into this, but they also seemed scared by it.
Some at the convention recognized the Revcoms—from Ferguson, from Twitter, from the recent protests against the Democratic and Republican conventions. A Latino guy who does a Bernie blog (now a Jill Stein blog) said, “Yeah, I saw you all over Philadelphia—'We are the Revcoms, the mighty, mighty Revcoms!’”
With a trio of “Bernie or Busters,” I got into a good argument. They initially claimed that our flag-burning at the DNC had disrupted their protests, but I shifted this onto what the flag represents and they backed up significantly. Then we got into struggle over whether the problem was that the DNC was undemocratic and squashed Bernie or whether it is part of a capitalist dictatorship that must be overthrown.
An Iraq war vet listened in. Later, he complained about the U.S.’s wars based on how ill-treated vets were, but I sharply posed that wasn’t the essential problem and got into the quote from BA, “American Lives Are NOT More Important Than Other People’s Lives.” (BAsics 5:7) After some back and forth, he opened up a flood of horrific shit he’d witnessed or been part of. Being in Sadr City when the U.S. imposed a shoot-to-kill curfew, watching a woman bleed to death while being denied medical aid by U.S. soldiers, being screamed at by his commanding officer for not shooting a kid who threw a rock at their tank, watching Iraqi kids try to make ends meet by selling porn to the soldiers, and more. It was wrenching for him to talk about this, and he noted a couple times that a lot of folks would be mad at him for speaking of this stuff. I listened and encouraged him to confront what he had been part of and said he’d been used for something truly horrible and he had a responsibility to bring that experience to bear as part of stopping those very crimes from continuing.
A couple days later we caught up again. He had studied the Message and the polemic and said he agreed with everything except burning the flag, because so many of his buddies died believing in it. We argued vigorously over this. He, like most people, really doesn’t know America’s crimes (everyone needs to read and spread this series!) Interspersed with exposing this country’s crimes, I posed that it was the flag that turned him and his buddies into mindless killing machines and then tossed people onto the garbage heap. “Still, they believed in that flag when they died,” he argued. I asked if his sister was killed by an abuser, would he refuse to call the bastard a killer just because his sister thought she was in love with him? He stopped arguing and then admitted, with a wry smile, that he would probably go much further than calling the bastard a killer. Part of our discussion was also over whether there was anything good in the founders’ vision, getting into the role of slavery and white supremacy as a key part of this.
He asked if I was paid to be there. He’d heard that people are paid to cause divisions and linked this to how “outside agitators will be bused in to cause riots and burn down buildings.” We got into the need to go to substance and program, not rumors. Being “divisive” can be good at times and wrong at times, how do you know? I argued that it is important to play out a political program—what happens if you implement it, where will it lead? We got into the program of the Greens, much of it is aiming for good things, but these things can’t be realized in the way they propose. I walked through how the RCP’s program can lead to real emancipation, not just here but for people worldwide. So, this is worth struggling over with substance, arguing in a good and comradely way because it matters to the lives of billions around the world.
He objected to playing out the political programs into the future because it goes against the practice of “mindfulness” (focusing on the present), which is part of PTSD treatment. I argued that while there are probably important therapeutic benefits to that in one’s day-to-day functioning, it would be irresponsible to take that approach to changing the world. I asked if he would accept that approach from a doctor if his child were seriously ill: “Oh, who knows if the treatment will work, let’s just live in the moment.” He said no way. We got further into how to think critically and scientifically, how to sort out what differences matter, etc. I had already urged him to read BAsics, but now I emphasized the importance of the essay, “‘A Leap of Faith’ and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods.” There are a lot of people like him, especially out of the military, who have a deep sense they’ve been lied to but don’t know how to figure out who or what to “trust.” This essay really could make a big difference for them.
A workshop titled “The State of Black America” began by touching on the murders of Black people by police, but ended up focusing almost entirely on “perceptions of Blackness” and micro-aggressions. After a while, I posed that there is much that is real and extremely degrading that was being exposed in this examination of micro-aggressions against Black people, but that we have to confront there is a deeper problem. There is a state that was built on white supremacy and slavery and exploitation and is now carrying out a genocide against Black people and other crimes, and we need to overthrow that state or Black people will never get free. The heroic civil rights and Black liberation struggles of the 1960s accomplished a great deal, including widely changing the perceptions of Blackness among millions and millions of people. But the state was not overthrown, revolution was not made, so the system has hit back with a vengeance. This is why Black people are being gunned down, and this is even why the kind of racist shit the workshop leader was exposing has been given renewed initiative, and this is why the most important thing is to make an actual revolution.
A couple people snapped their fingers in approval but the workshop leader declared this was “A perfect example of white people not being good allies.” She said, “I was sharing my pain and a white person says I’m not doing it right.” This was bullshit on several levels and has nothing to do with liberating Black people or anyone else. It was just a cheap way to avoid the substance of what I had said, which she clearly disagreed with but didn’t want to admit (she claimed that “everyone already knows” what I had said and she herself is working on it, and then went on to promote her campaign for office as part of this system). A couple people approached me later, drawn by my comments.
On Saturday night, I ended up basically holding a rolling session during the convention party. A student who is reading Capital wanted to know more about communism. Another guy running for office insisted that his ability to build solar energy in his county was a model for ending fossil fuels and poverty and all over the world. We argued. Even if everything he claimed were true in his county, I argued, that could not be “scaled up” to do what’s needed to deal with the capitalist state and build a whole new system and economy. I brought out the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America. Without responding to the real-world problems that I had posed, he stubbornly insisted that what he had done in his county was enough. I would’ve walked away except the student was listening intently and then others drew in. This turned into a ferocious argument, over politics, over “for whom and for what,” history, methodology and epistemology, morality, and more.
At one point, I was setting the record straight on what was accomplished under Mao (great advances in life-expectancy, literacy, social relations, breaking down the mental/manual division, etc.). He responded, “That is what technology is doing everywhere—improving conditions of life.” I called bullshit, posing—for the umpteenth time—that he was completely obliterating the lives of billions around the world. Under capitalism technological advances have allowed for pockets of “improvement” at the cost of billions of lives, including 10 million children who die of preventable disease every year. That he can’t see the difference between improving the lives of everyone and devastating millions of lives while a tiny handful live in opulent wealth is proof of either his profound ignorance or profound indifference to humanity or both. The changing group that joined in largely shared this guy’s prejudices, but not his belligerence, and they were increasingly moved. Several gave me their contact info.
A white guy in his 20s who is running for office wanted to know what I thought of Richard Wolff, then of Thomas Piketty. He had read their books, also watched the Dialogue on Revolution and Religion between Cornel West and Bob Avakian, and we ended up in a deep discussion about why BA is the Karl Marx of our time. We also got into the dirty little secret of capitalist exploitation and the driving force of anarchy. Breaking this down goes beyond the scope of this snapshot, but we spent quite a bit of time on it—and I recommend these pieces to learn more: “The Basic Contradictions and Dynamics of Capitalism,” “The Dirty Little Secret of Capitalist Exploitation,” and “On the ‘Driving Force of Anarchy’ and the Dynamics of Change.” We got into the need to overthrow the system and implement a totally different mode of production and state (not reform or regulate this one). He was very thoughtful and I urged him—and he seemed eager—to read The New Communism.
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