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Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
Bush Regime Spies on Millions
On May 11 the front page of USA Today featured the latest revelation in the scandal over the Bush regime's spying on people within the U.S. According to USA Today, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been obtaining phone records of all domestic phone calls from three of the biggest phone carriers in the country: Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth. (A fourth major company, Qwest, refused to hand over their records.)
200 million phone users. Billions of phone calls. All in the possession of a powerful secretive spy agency controlled by a president and an administration that's been ripping up fundamental rights at warp speed.
An unnamed source quoted by USA Today described this NSA surveillance program: “It's the largest database ever assembled in the world. For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made—across town or across the country—to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.”
This surveillance program reportedly involves “data mining” of phone numbers, not the content of the calls or the customers' names, addresses, and other information. But the NSA can easily cross-check other databases to get such information.
Bruce Schneier, a security technologist and author of “Applied Cryptography”—called a “security guru” by The Economist—pointed out in a March 2005 issue of Wired magazine that "data mining is very useful for tracking credit card fraud, not uncovering ‘terrorist’ plots.” When Revolution asked Schneier what data mining would be good for, he responded, “A police state.”
And Washington Post columnist William Arkin points out:
“Once collected, the call records and other non-content communication are being churned through a mind-boggling network of software and data mining tools to extract intelligence.... Their sheer scope, the number of 'transactions' being tracked, raises questions as to whether an all-seeing domestic surveillance system isn't slowly being established, one that in just a few years time will be able to reveal the interactions of any targeted individual in near real time.”
In fact, things are moving very quickly, and we hardly have a “few years.” This is Big Brother at work now, big time.
The new exposé of domestic surveillance brings out just how quickly and intensely the Bush administration has escalated and is escalating levels of repression and spying within the U.S. borders. It reveals more lying by Bush, and more carte blanche declaration of unlimited presidential powers.
In December of last year the New York Times revealed (in a story that the Times had sat on for months) that the NSA, under Bush's orders, was carrying out secret wiretapping of phone calls, without getting warrants from the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court as required by law. FISA, set up in 1978, has approved almost all the requests for wiretapping by the executive branch. But even this was not enough for the Bush regime, which wanted a totally free hand to spy on anyone, anywhere.
Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and then-NSA head Michael Hayden (now Bush's nominee to head the CIA) all said that the only phone calls tapped were ones where at least one end was located outside the U.S. and that it was all legal.
Gonzales told the press, “People are running around saying the U.S. is somehow spying on American citizens’ calling their neighbors. Very, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.”
When asked whether the NSA is doing domestic spying, Hayden answered, “NSA is a foreign intelligence agency...what we've talked about here today is about foreign intelligence.” He added that if they deemed it necessary to do monitoring of domestic communications, “We go through the FISA court in order to do that.”
As for Bush, he told the media in December, “I authorized the NSA to intercept the international communications of people with known links to Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. In other words if Al Qaeda or their associates are making calls into the U.S. or out of the U.S. we want to know what they are saying.”
As has now been dragged out into the open, these statements were all deliberate lies. Even as Bush, Gonzales, and Hayden spoke those words, their NSA was “data mining” and collecting the domestic phone records of tens of millions of people in the U.S., without ever going through any courts.
Some light was shed on the existence and the extent of NSA spying of domestic phone calls in a Dec. 25, 2005, L.A. Times report which said that since Sept. 11, 2001, “NSA has had a direct hookup into the database” at AT&T, code-named Daytona, which “keeps track of telephone numbers of both ends of calls as well as the duration of all landline calls.”
The following month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a federal lawsuit alleging that “AT&T Inc. had given the NSA direct access to the records of the more than 300 million domestic and international voice calls and huge volume of Internet data traffic it handles each business day.” (AP, 5/11/06)
Then in April, Gonzales, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, contradicted his own claim just a few months earlier that only international calls were being monitored. The New York Times reported, “Attorney General Gonzales suggested…for the first time that the president might have the legal authority to order wiretapping without a warrant on communications between Americans that occur exclusively within the United States. ‘I'm not going to rule it out,’ Gonzales replied when asked about that possibility...”
A month later, the whole world has come to know about the Bush regime's vast program to keep track of “communications between Americans that occur exclusively within the United States.”
After the May 11 exposure in USA Today, Bush went on TV to repeat (without directly referring to the domestic surveillance program) that any spying he has ordered has been all perfectly legal, strictly targeted at “terrorists and their associates,” and for the purpose of preventing “another attack.” He declared that “The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities”—as if people should believe that entrusting the NSA with huge mountains of phone records amounts to “privacy.”
Some Bush apologists claimed that the NSA's data mining of phone records was, strictly speaking, not illegal, since the contents of the phone calls are not collected, business records are not protected by the Fourth Amendment, etc., etc. But Georgetown Law Professor David Cole told USA Today, “This may well be another example where the Bush administration, in secret, decided to bypass the courts and contravene federal law.”
But the main way that Bush and his crew is responding to the new exposure is to aggressively go after any critics, branding them essentially as traitors in bed with “terrorists” for questioning the President. After the NY Times story in December, the Bush administration ordered government investigations targeted at the newspaper. Now, in his TV appearance after the USA Today article, Bush warned, “Every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.”
That theme was taken up with a vengeance by other leading Republicans. “Every time we have a leak of classified information like this, it makes us significantly less safe,” said Senator Kit Bond on the Lehrer News Hour. Trent Lott said, “What are people worried about? What is the problem? Are you doing something you're not supposed to?”
Their argument boils down to: As president and “commander-in-chief,” Bush has the power to do anything he wants to, including ignoring existing laws and courts. This is the same “theory” of the “unitary executive” that Bush and Co. has used to justify torture and other crimes they have carried out against the people of the world.
The logic of Bush's arguments and the real-life actions of the Bush administration reveal how fundamental rights, supposedly assured under U.S. bourgeois society, are being ripped up—while new fascist legal norms are being cemented into place. With the calls and emails of tens of millions being tracked and monitored—legal concepts like need for probable cause to investigate people have been thrown out the window. To try to “wait it out” in the hope that the pendulum would “swing the other way”—instead of fiercely resisting this course—is to accept a very dark future where anyone can be a “suspect” and where those who question the government are instantly branded as “traitors.”
Democrats and some Republicans have raised concern over the warrantless wiretapping and the new exposures of domestic phone monitoring. One of their complaints is that they are being kept in the dark about the spying programs—but they've hardly tried to stop Bush. Democrat Nancy Pelosi met with then-NSA Chief Hayden in 2001 and wrote a “letter of concern” about the wiretapping programs. End of story. Bush's spy programs continued moving right ahead.
After the recent USA Today revelations, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has been a supporter of Bush's CIA nominee Hayden, said this new scandal may lead to a “major constitutional confrontation.” Other Democrats, and some Republicans, are demanding investigations.
But sharp as such struggle within the power structure may be at times, all this takes place within certain very narrow bounds. To begin with, agencies like the NSA exist to spy both on the foreign rivals of these imperialists and on the political movements of the people. Bush's critics within the ruling class almost universally limit their objections to the fact that he didn't follow the rules on how to do this. They are NOT really outraged over the fact that Bush has spied on millions of people. What concerns them is that he claims the right to violate the rules that legally govern that spying AND that he could turn—and probably already has turned—the NSA not just against the people, but against his ruling class counterparts and rivals.
What we are seeing is an illustration of how bourgeois democracy really is a bourgeois dictatorship. As the Bush administration drives forward with the war in Iraq, nuclear threats to Iran—and their overall goal of restructuring whole parts of the globe — they are more driven to tighten up control at home. And this includes tearing up certain guarantees and rights promised under “normal times.”
This represents great dangers for the people—including real dangers to the people's ability to resist. But it is also true that many millions are outraged, upset, and concerned about the course being taken by the Bush regime and the direction of society overall. And this needs to translate into massive political resistance and independent historical action. This is crucial, both from the standpoint of stopping this whole juggernaut of repression and also from the standpoint of building a revolutionary movement and repolarizing society for revolution. Mobilizing millions in the streets and throughout society against this repression and striking real political blows against the Bush regime will serve to open up new and greater opportunities for what the people think and dream is possible and what they are able to actually achieve.
Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
MY JOURNEY FROM MAINSTREAM AMERICA TO REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST
A MEMOIR BY BOB AVAKIAN
In conjunction with the online posting of an audio recording of Bob Avakian reading his memoir—From Ike to Mao and Beyond—Revolution is publishing a series of excerpts from the book. The audio recording of the author reading Chapters One through Five is available now on our website, revcom.us, and also at bobavakian.net. The audio for Chapter Six will be available on Monday, May 15. Excerpts from the following chapters have appeared in previous issues of Revolution: Chapter One, “Mom and Dad,” and Chapter Two, “One Nation Under God—a ‘50s Boyhood” (issue 44); Chapter Three, “The World Begins to Open,” and Chapter Four, “High School,” (issue 45); Chapter Five, “Life Interrupted” (issue 46). This week we feature excerpts from Chapter Six.
Shortly after this, in February of 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. This hit me as a devastating loss for Black people, and also for people generally fighting against injustice, not just in the U.S., but throughout the world. I knew Malcolm X was seeking to link up with people in other parts of the world who were fighting against injustices and oppression. And I never believed that it was just Elijah Muhammed and the Nation of Islam who were involved in Malcolm’s assassination. Whether or not they were involved in some way, I knew that the U.S. government was somehow behind this. I knew enough to know that.
So this was another thing further radicalizing me. First, I saw Kennedy blatantly lying, before the whole world with the fate of the world literally hanging in the balance around the Cuban Missile Crisis, then you see something like this, the assassination of Malcolm X, and you know that somehow the U.S. government was involved in this. I hadn’t studied the issue, and a lot of the exposure of how they were involved hadn’t come out yet, obviously. But I just sensed this—I knew they hated Malcolm X and saw him as very dangerous to them—and it made me really sad but very angry too.
I had been aware of the transformations Malcolm was going through. A lot of my friends and I were following this very closely. People were debating about the split between Elijah Muhammed and Malcolm X, and most everybody I knew sided with Malcolm X. We saw him as more radical, more willing to take on the powers that be, more willing to stand up in the face of any threat against Black people and against their oppression. So I was following that very closely, and all that was an important part of what was causing me to undergo a lot of changes in how I was seeing things and what I felt needed to be done.
I don’t remember exactly where I was when I heard the news about Malcolm’s assassination, but I do know how I felt immediately upon hearing this. My friends and I were just devastated by it. There’s that Phil Ochs song that I mentioned before, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal.” It is done in the persona of a liberal—it is a biting exposure of the contradictoriness and hypocrisy in liberals—it starts out with how sad this liberal was when Kennedy got killed, and even what a tragedy it was when the civil rights leader Medgar Evers was murdered, but then this liberal says that Malcolm X got what he had coming. That was a fairly widespread view among a lot of liberals, and Phil Ochs captured that with rather brilliant and biting irony. So there were a lot of very sharp arguments with some people that I knew, because I vehemently disagreed with that view.
All these things were influencing me in making up my mind about Vietnam. Obviously Malcolm X was not only against what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam, but was giving these speeches like “The Ballot or the Bullet,” where he sided with the Vietnamese people and talked about how great it was that these poor people who didn’t have a lot of technology were standing up and giving battle and delivering blows to this mighty, powerful, white power in the world, as he saw it—“the great hypocrite America.” So this was having a big influence on me.
Then there were a lot of debates that were sharpening up on the campus and in activist circles. One thing I remember in particular was a lot of argument about who was responsible for violating the Geneva Agreements that had been made in 1954 about Vietnam, which were to provide for the reunification of Vietnam and elections in 1956.7 France was getting out of Vietnam—they’d been forced out by the struggle of the Vietnamese people, having suffered this devastating defeat at Dien Bien Phu. In fact, Malcolm X talked about that—about how the Vietnamese sent the French running. As I looked into these arguments, and when I went to the university library and read the initial Agreement and most of the reports of the commission it set up, I found that their reports overwhelmingly demonstrated that the U.S. was systematically sabotaging this Agreement. I learned that Eisenhower, who was then President of the U.S., recognized that Ho Chi Minh would have been overwhelmingly elected to head any government of a reunified Vietnam. So the U.S. set up a puppet government in the southern part of Vietnam, the Republic of South Vietnam, as a separate state and refused to allow the elections for reunification in 1956. I was reading all the pamphlets and articles about this and listening to the debates, trying to figure out the real truth in all this, just like I’d done at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And I discovered that it was unmistakably true that the U.S. had sabotaged this Geneva Agreement and prevented the reunification of Vietnam, because they knew that things wouldn’t go their way if this Agreement were implemented.
All this was percolating within me, and I still remember very clearly when I got up one morning in early 1965 and got the newspaper, and there were big banner headlines about the brutal attack in Selma, Alabama on civil rights marchers. I said to myself: “How in the world could the U.S. government be over there in Vietnam fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese people, as they claim to be, when this is happening to Black people right here in the U.S. and the U.S. government is doing nothing about the freedom of Black people right in this country, and in fact it is allowing freedom fighters here in this country to be savagely attacked by these KKK and the racist sheriffs and the authorities in the south?” So that was the final straw for me. I knew they could not be fighting for freedom in Vietnam. That was the thing that led me to be firmly convinced that I had to become actively involved in opposing the Vietnam War too.
There was still a lot of division, even in the city of Berkeley itself, on these issues, however. As I’ve described several times, I grew up in a pretty well-off middle class family. And among people coming from that part of society, there were very strong generational divisions developing. And there were also political divisions in line with larger economic and social divisions in society as a whole. Many Black people I knew in Berkeley and Oakland were much more inclined to oppose the Vietnam War because of the basic understanding that I’d come to by reading about Selma—they kind of knew, “Look these people are not up to any good, I don’t care what they say, whether it’s Vietnam or here.” I don’t mean to say that they necessarily had a developed understanding of all the “ins and outs” of the issue, or had read all the Geneva Convention reports, and things like that, but they had a basic understanding of the truth: “these people are up to no good in Vietnam.” They had a lot of experience to draw on that told them that. So there were those kinds of divisions as well.
The ’60s were a time when the universities were opened up to broader sections of society. Previously, they were much more restricted to the elite strata. But it was still largely the middle class whose kids went to college, and largely white students who came to a university like Cal at that time. Among the students, there was tremendous conflict developing with their parents over a whole host of issues, including Vietnam. That was a big phenomenon of the time. For example, my parents were troubled by the Vietnam War, but they were still supporting it.
I used to argue all the time with my parents about this, and one time in particular I had this pamphlet written by Bob Scheer, who now works for the L.A. Times and is more or less a liberal, but at that time was more radical. He’d written this pamphlet making very strong and cogent, very well-documented arguments about the Vietnam War and what the U.S. had done and why it was wrong, and I was using this pamphlet to argue with my parents. And my dad started making what I regarded as nitpicking arguments. Some people might refer to this kind of nitpicking as being “lawyerly,” but I had a lot of respect for the way my dad used logic in his legal arguments—and I’d learned a lot from the dinner table training that he’d given our whole family when he’d sit down and say, “Okay gang, here’s a case, here’s what happened, what do you think?” I respected that and enjoyed it. But I didn’t appreciate this sort of nitpicking way in which he was approaching the question of Vietnam—a way in which things would be argued to actually get away from the truth. I got very frustrated with this, and I took this Bob Scheer pamphlet and threw it across the hall and stomped out of my parents’ house.
There was that kind of very sharp conflict, and I remember at one point my parents said, “Okay, look, if you feel this strongly, write our congressman”—our congressman was Jeffrey Cohalen, my parents were friends of his and worked on his campaigns—“and give him your arguments.” So I wrote a several-page letter laying out my arguments about what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam and why it was wrong. He sent me back what was pretty much a form letter—and I probably only got that because he knew my parents and didn’t want to insult them. He just ran out the standard government propaganda about what the U.S. is doing and why it’s good for the Vietnamese people, and he quoted something from this professor, Robert Scalapino, at Berkeley, whom I, and many others, simply regarded as a State Department professor. That just infuriated me more and convinced me even more deeply that (a) what the U.S. government was doing in Vietnam was wrong; and (b) they weren’t going to listen to people who had real arguments about why it was wrong.
At the time there were students who were aggressively supporting the war, like the Young Republicans. But other students, even kind of liberal students, were still not really sure or maybe wanted to cling to the belief that the U.S. was doing something good in Vietnam, perhaps because it was Democratic administrations—first under Kennedy and then Lyndon Johnson—which were carrying out the war at that time. So there would be debates with these liberal students as well. And then there were people who would come from off campus and seek us out to debate. The anti-war organization on the Berkeley campus was called the Vietnam Day Committee, because they’d organized a big teach-in called “Vietnam Day” in the spring of 1965. People from off-campus would seek out the Vietnam Day Committee table—and this included many soldiers who would do a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam and, if they didn’t volunteer to be sent back again, would then come back and do the rest of their time in the military somewhere in the U.S. Or they’d come on leave, on their way back from Vietnam before going to somewhere like Germany. They would often seek us out to argue—sometimes they’d be in their uniforms, sometimes in “civilian clothes,” but they would identify themselves as soldiers and talk about how they’d been in Vietnam and how we didn’t know what we were talking about.
Many of these soldiers would try to hold sway by acting as if they knew all about Vietnam, because they’d gone there to conquer it and occupy the country and oppress the people. They would give us the standard military line. This was before massive rebellion hit in the military. A few years later, there would be many, many soldiers and veterans of the Vietnam War with a very different viewpoint, but this was earlier, in 1965 and ’66, and the soldiers were still mainly defending what they were doing. A lot of times it would go from the level of all this bullshit about fighting for freedom to talking about their buddies. That was the last line with which the government and the military brass could keep the grunts fighting: “Look what happened to your buddy, your buddy got killed by these ‘gooks’”—as they would call them, along with other racist terms—“so therefore, you have to hate them and fight against them all the harder.” A lot of times the arguments would break down pretty quickly to that—what happened to “my buddies.” But first they would try to give us more lofty-sounding arguments about freedom, in terms of what was happening in Vietnam—the same kind of bullshit the U.S. uses about Iraq now. At that time, it was “we’re there to liberate the people from the communist tyrants.”
And so we’d get in these big arguments and, after a while, when people would challenge them and show that what they were saying about the history of things and so on wasn’t true, they’d fall back on, “Well, I was there and I know.” They’d demand: “Have you ever been to Vietnam?” I’d say, “No,” and they thought that was the end of the argument. But then I would ask them, “Well, look, you’ve been saying all this stuff about communism and the Soviet Union and China and all that, have you ever been to the Soviet Union or China?” “Well, no.” “Then what do you have to say about all that, if you’re gonna put the argument on that level? According to your logic, you can’t say anything about the Soviet Union, or China, or communism, because you’ve never been to those places, you’ve never been to a ‘communist country.’” Then they’d sort of hem and haw and we’d get back to the substance of the issues, once we got rid of that ridiculous line of argument. Besides being actively involved in demonstrations, what I loved most was being in all these vibrant discussions and arguments. Knots of people would form around the table and then they’d break up and another knot would form, and more people would come to the table and new discussions and debates would break out, over these tremendously important issues.
Sometimes the arguments got pretty heated, even with people that you would expect would be on your side. The hippie thing was generally cool, as far as I was concerned, even though that wasn’t really what I was “into,” as we used to say. But I didn’t have any patience for some of the “hippie/dippy” stuff about “everybody do your own thing,” without regard to what “your thing” was. One time I was at the office of the Berkeley Barb newspaper, which was kind of an alternative newspaper that was pretty radical at the time. And there was this kind of hippie-biker type in there. I was talking to some other people in the Barb office about the Vietnam War, denouncing it and exposing different things that were going on. And I was really ripping into Lyndon Johnson, what a mass murderer he was—everybody hated Lyndon Johnson, because he was both the symbol of continuing and escalating the war and the president who was actually doing it. This hippie-biker type was listening for a while, and finally he pipes up and says, “Hey man, you know, like, maybe the Vietnam War is just like Johnson’s thing, maybe he’s just doing his thing.” I got really angry and turned to him and said: “Well, what if my thing is just punching you in the mouth right now?” And he went, “Oh, okay, man, okay—I get it man.”
During this period, Liz and I had continued to become closer, and then to become lovers. In 1965 we got married. For some reason I had decided that I wanted to become a doctor. I’d switched my major from English to pre-med. I was an activist and wanted to remain an activist, but I was thinking about what I wanted to do as my life’s work, so to speak. I didn’t want to become a doctor so I could go to the golf course. I wanted to become a doctor so I could give people medical care who didn’t have medical care. But my pre-med studies lasted less than a semester. I remember having to go to chemistry lab several afternoons a week, and every time about two o’clock or so I’d think: why am I not at the Vietnam Day Committee table, or why am I not helping to organize a demonstration? So that didn’t last very long. I went to the university administration and asked if I could withdraw from school that semester. Because I had a good standing as a student, they allowed me to withdraw that semester “without prejudice,” and I became much more of a full-time activist.
Liz’s parents had an interesting reaction to that. Remember, they had a whole history of being political activists and communists perhaps, or at least radical people who were communist sympathizers. They weren’t so upset when we became active in the Free Speech Movement or even opposing the Vietnam War. But when I took this step of withdrawing from school to become involved full-time in anti-war activity, as well as civil rights and things like that, they got very upset. They lived back in New York, and I remember one time her father was talking to me on the phone, and he said, “Look, this is very serious what you’re doing. I know what you’re doing—you’re becoming a full-time revolutionist, and pretty soon you’ll be meeting together with other people who are revolutionists and making plans for a revolution.” I argued vigorously with him that this wasn’t true, because at the time I didn’t think that was where I was headed. But ironically he, who had had some experience with things like this, could see it more clearly than I could—and of course, in retrospect, he was right. I mean, it wasn’t bound to turn out that way, but he recognized the trajectory that I was heading off on.
Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
We received the following correspondences from readers in Los Angeles who have been reading, promoting, and discussing Bob Avakian's memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond.
I had a discussion of the Bob Avakian's memoir with two Latin-American immigrant proletarians, Tony and Pablo, who consider themselves supporters of the Party, one much longer than the other. Both are much more comfortable reading and talking in Spanish, but both read the book.
The younger of the two, Tony, had raised two years ago, before anyone knew that a memoir was being prepared, when he first had read a few issues of the newspaper, “He [Bob Avakian] seems like an important leader, do you have any kind of book about him?”
Tony said that there were many things that “surprised” and interested him in reading the Memoir. One was learning about Bob Avakian's father's family as immigrants from Armenia. He said he had never heard of Armenia before and said it was striking “how different the experience of immigrants has been coming from different places” and in this case how they fell out around the issue of racism in the U.S., identifying more as white people, and how Bob Avakian dealt with this contradiction. He also said he was surprised by Bob's account of growing up in a segregated environment in the late 50's and then “crossing over” and sharing his life with Black people.
Pablo said that he was at a disadvantage in this discussion because he had lent his copy of the Memoir to a Latina immigrant friend (who finally has a place of her own after being in and out of homeless shelters and losing all of her possessions including her books) and so he hadn't had the opportunity to actually review the Memoir prior to our discussion. He said, “I read it like a novel. I find autobiographies/memoirs interesting as a story more than something I will take notes from” (like he does with other things he has read by Avakian). He said that though it wasn't fresh in his mind, some things still struck him a year later. He was surprised to learn that the Chairman had come from what he described as an “upper middle class” family and how that affected him. He said that it was interesting how “he learned a lot about law and politics from his father,” while at the same time rebelling and choosing his own path. He said that it was interesting how at a certain point in his life, Bob “led a double life,” one with his family and one at school, and how “timing” was important to his development: “The turmoil in the world affected his thinking.” Like Tony, Pablo said that there were surprises in the book that made it interesting; he listed three: 1) His nearly life-ending illness; 2) His relationship with the people who would form the Black Panther Party and how that influenced him; and 3) His first experience “going to the working class” in Richmond, California—Pablo said “it seems that he went there with a lot of illusions about people.”
He said it was interesting how Bob Avakian described his (and others’) way of seeing life in the late 60's, “they expected revolution to happen then.” He said that there was a theme in the book of repeatedly “learning from mistakes.” He found particularly funny the episode in China of continually being offered snails, a food that he and others had trouble with, but not wanting to offend anyone by commenting negatively.
Tony said he was also struck by Bob Avakian's journey from the middle class—“how people make that kind of change” was new to him. He said it was interesting how Bob Avakian “mixed with people” and how that affected him. Overall he said that the Memoir painted a picture of Bob as “another human being and not some sort of super-hero.” He was also struck by how the Chairman's mother's concern for basic people (albeit from a religious standpoint) was something that he learned from and was influenced by. He described the struggle in the book involving his sister dating a Black person and said it reminded him of a situation that he had had working in a Korean-owned store. The Korean owners tried to keep a distance from the mainly Black and Latino customers, but one of the sons (around 18-20) worked there and befriended him, which the owner tolerated but didn't like, but that then when the son started to date a Black young woman, the parents went ballistic.
Tony said he liked the part “Getting Free of Religion.” He said that this was very interesting. He said that the journey from religion to atheism was explained as because “there is no truth to it.” Tony said that in his own case he had lost connection with religion in much the same way, but “I couldn't be a total atheist until becoming a communist.”
Pablo said the memoir gave him a picture of Bob as a “regular guy... someone who liked sports,” etc. He said he liked (and identified with) Bob's description of how his “proudest achievement” in high school was being listed as “Teachers' Trial.” and how Bob saw himself as a rebel against “arbitrary authority.” This means a lot and concentrates, as Pablo explained, his own contradictory feelings about promoting leaders. Pablo had grown up in a home where his father was the tyrannical minister of an evangelical church, and was lauded as the “great leader” of that church. He said that this really angered and alienated him and when he questioned this “arbitrary authority” he was literally thrown out of the house when he 14 years old and lived on the street selling candies etc. on street corners before leaving his home town in the country he is from. So he says sometimes he feels uncomfortable with the promotion of Bob Avakian as a leader, even though he said, “I agree with more than 90% of what Bob Avakian says and writes.” At the same time, he said he felt a great kinship for his rebelliousness and his challenging “arbitrary authority.”
We also talked with someone who had really liked some portions of the DVD by Bob Avakian (Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About), but felt uncomfortable promoting any one leader. We talked about how to get into these kinds of issues—taking up the Leadership Resolutions [see “Resolution: On Leaders and Leadership” and “Some Points on the Question of Revolutionary Leadership and Individual Leaders,” both dated Oct. 1, 1995, available online at http://rwor.org/rcp-e.htm], and also the part in Michael Slate's radio interview with the Chairman, that discusses the question, “Isn't it dangerous to invest so much in an individual leader?” (Bob Avakian's interview with Slate is available online at bobavakian.net) I won't go into all of that here, but what is most directly connected with the Memoir is how from reading the Memoir even people with a general “distrust of leaders,” will “want to make an exception” for Bob Avakian once “they get to know him.”
People agreed that reading the Memoir really gives you a sense of Bob Avakian's integrity and his deep connection with the people. But Pablo raised that is not enough. He said, Malcolm X had a lot of integrity and a deep connection with the people and this comes out in his autobiography, but “what if he had not been killed, I sometimes wonder what would have happened with him. I worry that he could have ended up becoming a Mayor or something.”
This got us into how the Memoir as a whole not only gives “a humanizing portrait” of Bob Avakian's early years, but paints a vivid picture of his development into how he is described on the back of the Memoir, as “America's most radical revolutionary communist.” This brought Tony back to the day he first asked if there was a book about Bob Avakian. He said he had wanted to know “who is this leader, how did he become that kind of leader.” He said that as a young person himself, “I naturally identified a lot with the part on his early years.” But he said this whole book is about “his life and our lives.”
In the previously-mentioned discussion, the person had raised, “you can't put so much in one leader—what would you do if he became a fascist?” Tony said that the Memoir gave him great confidence that this wouldn't happen with Bob Avakian. He turned to the last chapter of the Memoir and read aloud the concluding passage: “So this is what my life will continue to be devoted to, and this is what the ongoing story of my life will be about.”
From there we got into the significance of Cornel West's description of Bob Avakian as “a long distance runner in the freedom struggle against imperialism, racism and capitalism.” They felt that having read the Memoir that they got a deeper sense of why that is in fact true. Pablo hearkened back to a part of Carl Dix's interview with Bob Avakian that had stuck with him—his answer to “What sustains you?” [“Bob Avakian Speaks Out: On War and Revolution On Being a Revolutionary and Changing the World, Interviewed by Carl Dix,” also available as downloadable audio] He said his answer was very important. One of them (I forget which) said, “People often say to you, 'you are radical now as a youth, but then you will get more conservative when you get older,' but Bob Avakian continues to get more radical.” Tony raised that another reason he has confidence in Bob Avakian (in response to our friend's challenge) is how he will fight for what's right even if at times it is very unpopular or even dangerous to do so, even within the existing movement of the time. He mentioned in particular the section of Memoir where Bob describes getting ready to go to the showdown RCP Central Committee meeting on the coup in China and his wife asks him “Do you think we will win?” and he answers, “I don't know if we will win, but we can't lose.”
I spoke with a Black college student who grew up in the Valley. She is not a communist or into socialism, or even revolutionary, but she is very progressive-minded. She really enjoyed reading the Memoir. When I went to speak with her, we talked about both her thoughts on the book and also seeing if she could help and/or had any ideas about popularizing it at her school. She told me that she was expecting it to be really different, more like Bob Avakian’s other writings (she’s read some of his pieces in Revolution newspaper, and also she read part of his book, The Loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of Mao Tsetung). She thought it was going to be more complex and at first she didn’t really like that. But she said, “It wasn’t a hard book at all! It was like having a conversation with someone!” She really liked the stories he told.
There were two things in particular she spoke about that really impacted her. The first was how he lived through the times of segregation. She said that a lot of people she knows, especially white people, were really affected in very negative ways from segregation. She said that a lot of the people she has interacted with “have this sense of ‘it's okay’ or somehow acceptable if you called people ‘nigger’ back in those days. They try to excuse themselves by saying ‘oh that’s how it was in those days, everyone was like that,’ but he really lets us know that things weren’t like that and that not all white folks were racist like that and accepted that as normal!” I should say that she is half white, and growing up with her family that was the gringo side (that’s what she calls it), was very hard for her. She had to endure a lot of shit from them. So for her the beginning of the book, and how Bob Avakian looked at Black people as his brothers and sisters in those days is very admirable. It gave her a bigger sense of who he really is and his convictions, and how he became the leader of this Party.
Another part she really enjoyed was when he starts talking about his involvement with the Black Panther Party. That whole section about the sixties she really enjoyed. “It’s like a history lesson.” She says you really get a feeling of what he went through, and really a feeling of what youth were going through at the time and the real struggle. We were tripping out for a while because I have a copy of the movie, “Berkeley in the 60s” and we would watch it all the time. In the book Avakian talks about times he was at different events which are also documented in the movie. For example the time when the Mario Savio got arrested at a Free Speech Movement protest and people surrounded the car, and they had a rally and the stage was on top of the pig car. She remembered during our conversation that they mention Bob Avakian in the video at one point (I believe it was during “Stop the Draft Week”) and she got so excited saying she was going to go back to the book and read that whole section again.
Another really good conversation I had was when I spoke with a youth who lives in the projects. He also told me that he really enjoyed the part from the 60s. He said that in the part on the Civil Rights Movement, Chairman Avakian really brings it to life for people. It’s really good for youth to read and they can learn from the history and grow from that, like how he analyzes the socialist societies of the past and is advancing our science (of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism) to a whole other level. We can learn from the movement of those times, and take it much further this time around. He was saying how this book is crucial for youth to get their hands on, especially with the immigrant struggle going on. When I talked to him it was in the middle of the week of walk-outs, so he was tripping out for a while, imagining, what if the students had this book in their hands and were reading it, what difference it would make! He said that the book really paints the picture of really how much struggle it took to keep the Civil Rights Movement forward, and how in the wildness of everything he became a communist.
He also said a really important thing in the book is how he analyzes the other trends he came across in the past, like the PLP (Progressive Labor Party) and others, like the Weathermen, and the Trotskyites. It’s like Marxism-Leninism-Maoism vs. other lines. People should see that and question these other lines in a way similar to how people were engaging in it during those days. We should study what they are really about and where these other lines will lead you. That is also really important for youth to get into because sometimes, he said, youth out of spontaneity get sucked into these other lines, and the wrong line leads people to nowhere good, so a lot of youth get discouraged and think that all revolutionary groups and communist groups are the same when its not the case. He explained to me that he really got a living sense of what the chairman is like, for example, how he would never run away from getting into struggle with people, and debating politics even from his early days as a revolutionary!
Another high school youth from the same housing projects said that it would be really good to get this memoir into classrooms. It can be a very good textbook. And also it can help people see what Bob Avakian is really like and what he’s really about and they’ll get over these wrong ideas they have of him and of communism. He had some really good ideas of how to promote this at school and among youth. He suggested having teachers sell the book in class to the students or have the students demand that the teacher carry the book in class, get the book into every library (public and school), get it to stores so people can more easily buy it, and promote Libros Revolucion because they carry all his works. But the idea he was most excited about was making some pamphlets of excerpts of the book, that aren’t really expensive so youth can read it and they get hooked so they’ll want to get the whole thing!! I thought this was a really great idea.
Note: People have downloaded the audio files of Bob Avakian reading the Memoir (available at revcom.us and bobavakian.net) and put it on CDs for distribution in places like the Nickerson Gardens where many people do not have access to the Internet.
Ester and I have been getting together each week over the past few weeks listening to the Memoir on CD and taking turns reading it out loud to each other. One day we got together at Starbucks for a cup of hot chocolate and some good reading of the Chairman’s Memoir. Ester loves hot chocolate, and she really liked reading the Memoir. We laughed and talked about the stories about Bob Avakian’s childhood growing up. Ester said he was a real “prankster,” and he’s funny. She used to listen to a lot of singers he mentions in the book, the Chantels, Jimmy Reed (one of her favorite blues singers), Chuck Berry, the buster brown shoes, this was all during her time and she was reminiscing about it. She loved the corn bread story, she described how he must have been looking at that cornbread, and how hungry he must have been. She could understand how he would go after that cornbread, because the other kid had two pieces and he was hungry. She just laughs about this story and describes it. Then she says, he could have got his ass kicked, and then we laughed.
We got so involved in reading the book, even though Ester didn’t have any glasses and the strain was hurting her eyes she still wanted to read on. As we read each page in anticipation of what the next chapter would hold, what new adventure was young Bobby going to get into. She said to me, his life was exciting all the little chances he was taking. She went onto say that from reading the book so far “he is someone who loves people no matter what color they are. He hung out with kids of all colors no matter what people thought about him.” She is referring to the part in the book where this one white kid he knew was questioning why he was hanging out with Black kids. She quotes Bob's response. She loves his response to this kid. When we got to the part about him going to the student dance with a Black girl during a time when there was segregation in the country and in his school, Ester was on the edge of her chair anxious to find out what happened. After reading it later she commented, that was a Big Kiss, and we both laughed.
She liked how the Chairman hung out with all nationalities and how he would fight for what he thought was right, even though it might get his ass kicked or get him in trouble. She thought the prankster stuff was like kids do and it was funny. She thought he was funny too. She liked the arbitrary authority chapter too. She said he was right, “his parents had taught him to stand up for his rights.”
Through the pages of the book and listening to the CD’s Ester is getting to know Bob Avakian, who he is as a person. She had seen the DVD, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary—Why It’s Possible—What It’s All About before and we have had many debates and discussions particularly over the question of him being white. After reading the book she is questioning if he is really white. As we read through the book each week, Ester has been referring back to things he said or did in the chapters before. Through the pages of the book she is getting to know who Bob Avakian is. This is just a beginning. Through the pages of the book the Chairman is becoming more a part of her life. She knows by heart many of the stories we have read and she talks about the stories as though it was a story of and old friend or neighbor. After reading the early years of his life some questions have come up with her and others who are reading the Memoir or listening to the CD’s. People want to know more about Armenia (Bob Avakian's family is Armenian). Where is Armenia? What happened there? Why were people massacred by the Turks? How many got killed?
Mable and I listened to parts of the Memoir on CD and watched part of the DVD sampler.
She said, when you hear the Memoir on CD it’s like having a conversation with him. He’s telling you his story and he’s funny. She said in watching him in the DVD, he’s hard. She grew up in the South and could identify with and remembers all the stuff he talked about like about Emmet Till and all what Black people went through. She liked the DVD and the parts of the Memoir we have listened to on the CD. She wants to know how old is he? Where is Armenia? She thought it was awful what happened to the Armenian people with the Turks massacring a million people. She wants to know more about this and where Armenia is? She was impressed with the review on the back of the book from Cornel West and Howard Zinn. She has the book now and the CDs. I can’t wait to see what all she thinks of the book after reading it. I have told her and others most of the stories in the book and how good it is, and how he is such a great revolutionary communist leader and a real human being—who loves the masses and has a strategy and plan for how we can get out of this system and build a whole new one. People are beginning to learn who the Chairman is as a person.
A youth in the LA Writers Collective wrote a review of the Memoir last year while he was a college student. He said the Memoir was a very important part of him getting to know the Party better. At first it took struggle to get him to read the book—he asked why people should be reading books about an individual instead of studying what the U.S. government is up to in the world and organizing anti-war demonstrations. Eventually he decided to pick it up because he had been reading some of Bob Avakian’s works and he wanted to get to get to get to know the person more.
He said the thing he enjoyed the most about the Memoir is that it’s so personal and honest. He said that through reading more about how Bob Avakian became the kind of person that he is—his interaction and friendships with Black youth, his deep discussions with people on basketball courts, and the way he dealt with his serious illness—he gained a deeper appreciation for Bob Avakian. He also gained insight on why Bob Avakian stayed on the revolutionary road, while many others from his generation gave up or made peace with the system.
A book like this can move you to see what human beings are capable of doing even though they are born into a fucked up society like this. And through this book, he gained new insights into Bob Avakian and the Party he leads.
He said the Memoir is a reflection of the society we should want to live in and the kind of communist we should all strive to be like.
The following are stories of two people who connected with the Memoir. The first is about a revolutionary comrade. The second about someone who died recently.
P’s comments on the Memoir were very heartfelt. He said: “There’s something special about it. Humor, his life story, the history of the 60’s in the Bay Area and the country—you can see his development and why he came out to be who he is. There are a lot of political lessons in the book—like the free speech movement. It shows a lot: the person, the political, why he is who he is, why he’s so important. Like the Autobiography of Malcolm X, you get to know this side of Bob Avakian. One thing I love about the Memoir—when I read it, it feels like he’s talking to me, telling me stories, I can hear his voice. There’s an element to personally getting to know this leader—it draws people closer to him. I didn’t think it would be so humorous and warm and inviting as it actually is, I thought it would be hard core.”
D died this past year. He was in his 70s. He was someone I knew from work—he worked part-time in the copy room. He was really a character—an artist who would bring his paintings into work to show everyone—mainly abstract paintings with a lot of brilliant color. He had a lot of energy and liked to go to raves and parties. Many, many times he would come into work telling stories about the wild weekends he’d had—sometimes he even brought pictures. He was bipolar and had been hospitalized in mental institutions for long periods of time when he was younger. He was born in France but spent most of his life in the U.S. and had a lot of patriotism for the U.S. D constantly checked out all kinds of politics and trends and read newspapers, magazines, books—he read all the time.
D came to the premiere of the DVD (Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About) in Santa Monica. He said that Bob Avakian must be a good speaker because he kept his attention for the whole two hours—that it was rare he could sit in a theater for two hours without falling asleep. He bought the Silver Book of quotations from Bob Avakian at the premiere and stayed up all night reading it. He came in the next day with the book all underlined and he wanted to talk about it—particularly what Bob Avakian had to say about art. He said what struck him about Bob Avakian from the Silver Book was how honest he is and how funny he is. For Christmas I gave D a copy of the Memoir. He really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I don’t know the specifics of what he liked about it. D and I used to have roaring arguments about Communism—Stalin, the cultural revolution, sending the intellectuals to the countryside. After reading the Memoir, D said that he still doesn’t know about Communism, but that if he had to pick someone to be a leader of society it would be Bob Avakian. And I know that it was mainly because of those qualities he first saw in the Silver Book—the honesty and the humor—that made D feel like this was someone he could trust. I don’t know if D talked to a lot of other people about the Memoir, but I have a feeling he did talk to people about Bob Avakian, because he made comments to me in passing all the time. And Bob Avakian would show up in his art. D used to do a lot of little sketches about things he was thinking about. Sometimes they were interesting, a lot of times they were kind of weird and funny. (He was always trying to be funny—and he loved puns.) He was really into the Star Wars movies and for a while he was doing a lot of sketches related to Star Wars. One time he drew a sketch of himself in a Darth Vader outfit with a caption that he’d gone to the darth side. Later he drew a sketch of Bob Avakian with the same caption—he had Bob Avakian in a Darth Vader outfit, holding an Ayn Rand book. I thought it was pretty funny.
Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
On May 3, a crowd of over 100 students, professors, and others, gathered at the Barnes & Noble DePaul Center in Chicago for a presentation and discussion of Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History and Politics, a book by Bob Avakian and Bill Martin. Many had heard about the program from an article in the DePaul school newspaper, which began: “What is it about Marxism that piques human curiosity? Perhaps, in this day and age, it is the thought of a collectivist spirit or the possibilities for social change. Maybe it is the widespread social upheaval the movement has influenced. Regardless, Marxism as a movement is alive and well…”
Raymond Lotta, Maoist political economist and the author of the book’s preface, started off the evening talking about how Conversations is both a provocation and an invitation, a broad-ranging discussion between Bob Avakian and Bill Martin that reaches into and explores the question of whether a whole other, liberating future of humanity is possible. Lotta pointed to the breadth and diversity of the questions dug into in the book, such as sustainable agriculture in today's world; the Bush regime and its plans for restructuring society and the world; history, historical materialism and contingency; the prospects for revolution; the question of Marxism and ethics, and more. And deep philosophical issues like: where do values and vision come from, are they transcendent, are they socially situated in the material development and social contradictions of society—are explored in Conversations where Avakian and Martin find points of common contact and divergence and are constantly listening to and learning from each other and pursuing discussion that goes in unexpected directions.
Lotta talked about Avakian’s pathbreaking contributions, in looking critically at the first wave of socialist revolutions (in the Soviet Union and China) and the need to uphold these great achievements while critically examining them, in order to go further and do better in the struggle for a communist world. And Avakian brings to Conversations, his radically new vision of socialist society which emphasizes the crucial and vital role of intellectual ferment, debate, and dissent in the struggle to understand nature and society, and in the struggle to transform the world.
Bill Martin brought out a personal dimension in his remarks, giving the audience some insight into what he described as a “heady” experience, spending several days of discussion with Bob Avakian. Martin talked about the different styles of the two authors and the excitement of the back-and-forth, give-and-take exchange that also contained much humor. He outlined some of the points of disagreement that came up, as well as areas that warrant ongoing and deeper dialogue. And true to the spirit of Conversations, Martin offered some further thinking on some key topics in the book such as the relationship of science and truth: How we understand this; how this should be applied to the poetic and the realms of culture; and what the difference is between what goes on in the culture realm and what goes on in natural and social sciences. Martin also emphasized the importance of the ethical and reiterated his concern that Marxism needs to pay more attention to this dimension.
These two philosophical questions are addressed very deeply in Conversations, and Lotta and Martin read from “Calculation, Classes and Categorical Imperatives”—a chapter which discusses the need and possibility of bringing into being a new society that addresses the profound social and material needs of humanity that are not met under this system, the relationship between that and people being motivated by a sense of justice and what’s right, and the importance of the ideological moral dimension in all this.
When things were opened up to the audience there was a very lively discussion, including a dialogue off of one person’s argument that socialism and communism are neither desirable nor viable. And there were many other points in Conversations that people in the audience wanted to discuss further, like the debate over animal rights and the question of whether or not there is directionality and inevitability in history. This discussion, and several more hours of informal conversations afterwards, was a living example of the need, desire, and excitement for taking up big philosophical questions—exactly because they are connected to the current state and future possibilities of society and humanity. And the whole evening demonstrated the power of Conversations to provoke and invite people into discussion and debate over the crucial philosophical questions that will literally determine the fate of the planet.
As the quote from Allen W. Wood says on the back cover of Conversations:
“At this dark time in the history of our country and of the world, we need some new conversations about Marx and the socialist tradition—conversations free of dogmatism, open to ideas from all sides, but oriented in a progressive direction and eager to learn from thinking critically within the Marxist tradition. This book provides us with one model of what those kinds of conversations can be like.”
Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
On May 12, the Associated Press reported that the Pentagon has met with Bush officials to discuss deploying as many as 10,000 National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border. Bush is expected to announce this plan as part of a nationally televised talk on immigration on Monday night, May 15. This troop deployment would be a major and very chilling escalation of the U.S. government's militarization of the border.
After millions of immigrants and their allies have poured into the streets in the past few months to protest anti-immigrant attacks and to demand full rights—this is the response of the Bush regime!
The Senate is reportedly set to vote on an immigration bill soon. The Senate bill will then be “reconciled” in negotiations with the fascist Sensenbrenner bill (HR4437) passed by the House of Representatives. There are some sharp divisions within the ruling class over the immigration issue, and it's not clear what the final Senate bill and immigration bill that would come out of Senate-House negotiations will contain. But all these immigration “reform” proposals in the halls of power are bad for the people. (See “Update on the Immigration Bills: They're All No Good,” in Revolution #43) And the political representatives of the ruling class are all in agreement on gearing up border militarization and repression against immigrants. (Revolution will have analysis of these developments in future issues.)
60 years ago, America loosed a horror upon the world.To win a new empire, two nuclear bombs were dropped by presidential decree, two Japanese cities laid waste.More than 100,000 lives taken by the initial blasts.Some instantly vaporized into shadows. Some dying in agony, eyes melted, flesh hanging like used wallpaper.Many thousands more were slowly killed by the radioactive poison that devoured from within.The president who gave the order, Truman, never regretted his decision. Looking back on that infamous moment, we can only ask, who would ever dare commit such a crime again?
“U.S.President G.W.Bush refused on Tuesday to rule out nuclear strikes against Iran if diplomacy fails to curb the Islamic Republic’s atomic ambitions. Asked if options included planning for a nuclear strike,Bush replied, ‘All options are on the table.’” April 18,2006 - Reuters
Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
Red Flag Vs. American Flag
Two Very Different Histories—Two Very Different Futures
On every continent on Planet Earth, the Red Flag has come to represent the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat to liberate all of humanity. It first was carried by the slaves in Rome who rose in revolt and became the banner of revolution down through the ages.
The Paris Commune of 1871. For the first time in history, the working class rose up and seized power. And the Red Flag soared for the first time as a symbol of not just rebellion and revolution, but of a new proletarian state—a radically different kind of state, one to serve a transition to a society without classes and, eventually, without states. After 70 days, the Commune was crushed and the bourgeoisie took its revenge, killing tens of thousands. But a new point of departure for the future had been forged.
The Red Flag was carried into battle when the masses rose up in Russia in 1917. Led by V.I. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, the proletariat overthrew the Tsarist Regime, established a new revolutionary government, and began building a new socialist society. Millions of people around the world looked with hope and pride at the unprecedented revolutionary changes that became possible under proletarian rule. Land to the tiller. Liberating new policies toward minority nationalities. The uprooting of women's oppression. And for the first time, a planned economy geared toward meeting the needs of the people. But the forces of the old order at that point proved too strong, and proletarian rule in the Soviet Union was overthrown in 1956.
In China, Mao Tsetung led the masses of people to make revolution and seize power in 1949. The Red Flag flew victorious over a new socialist society where the rule of profit and exploitation was ended and basic social needs were met. Social and economic divisions and inequalities were broken down and the masses of people in their millions participated in the struggle to transform society and themselves. The Red Flag flew still higher in 1966, with the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a “revolution within the revolution” where Mao called on the masses to rise up and overthrow top party and government officials who were trying to bring capitalism back to China. The transformations in China went much further than the Soviet Union, and a whole new understanding was forged in the process—but here too imperialism was finally able to defeat the proletariat, and power was seized back by a coup from within the Party in 1976.
This first wave of proletarian revolutions, though defeated in the short term, shows the potential, necessity and material basis for the building of socialist societies as a transition to a new and liberating world free of classes and class oppression—a communist world. Both the wonderful achievements, as well as the shortcomings and weaknesses, provide us with rich lessons that can and must be learned, so as to take the Red Flag higher next time—a process which our Party, led by its Chairman, Bob Avakian, is actively contributing to and struggling for.
The Red Flag represents the fundamental interests of the masses of people. It is the flag of proletarian revolution and communism. Its history is rooted in the fight against exploitation and oppression. It represents the liberation of oppressed nations, as part of getting to a world without borders or nations, where both diversity and unity flourish among people. It is the flag that represents the historic mission of the proletarian class to liberate itself and all of humanity.
The American flag is a flag of empire. It has its roots in the enslavement of African people, the seizure of land from Mexico through war, and the systematic genocide of Native Americans. This flag has drawn its nourishment from the blood and bones of the uncounted millions who’ve been ground up in capital’s relentless and never-ending pursuit of profit, down through the centuries to today, within this land and over the seas.
This flag was raised in the invasion and conquering of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines and scores of other countries. This flag was painted on the only nuclear bombs ever used, which killed over 200,000 people in Japan. This flag presided over the killing of over two million people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with napalm, carpet bombing, death squads and village massacres. Under this flag the U.S. has carried out two wars on Iraq, invading and occupying, killing hundreds of thousands—and now threatens nuclear war against Iran.
This is the U.S. flag that holds thousands of people in Guantánamo and secret prisons throughout the world, proclaiming the right to torture and jail them forever. And this is the flag that flies over prisons that hold two million people, most of them Black and Latino, and mostly for the crime of being hungry, poor, and desperate.
The American flag takes as its history, present and future, the oppression of Black, Latino and other national minorities. A history and present that includes the oppression of immigrants forced to come to the U.S by the workings of capitalism and imperialism, to labor in the most backbreaking and dangerous jobs.
The American Flag today represents the U.S. nation at the top of a global system of exploitation and oppression—capitalism and imperialism. The American Flag is a concentrated expression and representation of a country that economically dominates and devastates people and vast areas of the environment all over the globe in search of profit.
The highest aspirations represented by the American Flag are to become an exploiter yourself, to get into the dog-eat-dog of selfishness, greed, and getting a piece of the spoils of global plunder. The American Flag serves to cohere national unity—either through unthinking patriotism and great-nation chauvinism, or belief in an illusory freedom that it never has delivered and never will. For even the rights and freedoms this system brags about—to the extent they are anything but total lies—are built on the blood and bones of those the system of U.S. imperialism murders and works to death here and around the world. Today, adding horror on horror, that flag is increasingly waved as the banner of theocracy and openly fascist dictatorship.
Flags represent what has been under their banner.
The Red Flag stands for proletarian revolution, breaking the chains of all oppression and exploitation, getting rid of class society and liberating all of humanity on the planet.
The Red, White and Blue Flag of the United States stands for exploitation, plunder, greed, and war; the destruction of the environment; the systematic denial of rights to national minorities; and the oppression of women.
Which one will you pick up?
Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
The Revolution Interview is a special feature to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music, literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own, and they are not responsible for the views expressed elsewhere in Revolution and on revcom.us.
Courageous actions and boldly speaking the truth—even by one person—can galvanize the feelings of millions. This happened last year when Cindy Sheehan camped outside Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas and demanded he meet with her to explain for what “noble cause” her son died in Iraq. And it happened on May 4 in Atlanta when Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran, a founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), and a participant in the Bush Crimes Commission, confronted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about his Iraq War lies—and caught him red-handed—on national TV.
At the beginning of Rumsfeld’s televised speech, a woman shouted, “I cannot stay silent, this man needs to be in prison for war crimes. Drive Out the Bush Regime!” Two more protesters stood up and accused Rumsfeld of war crimes and lying, and another man stood with his back to Rumsfeld. Then during the question-and-answer period, McGovern confronted Rumsfeld—with facts.
Ray McGovern (quoting from a New York Times report): Atlanta. Sept. 27, 2002, Donald Rumsfeld said (and this is in quotation marks), “There is bulletproof evidence of links between al Qaeda and the government of Saddam Hussein.”
Was that a lie, Mr. Rumsfeld?… Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties?
Rumsfeld: Well, first of all I haven’t lied. I didn’t lie then. Colin Powell didn’t lie... It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.
McGovern: You said you knew where they were.
Rumsfeld: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were, and we were—
McGovern: You said you knew where they were: near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and north, east, south, and west of there. Those are your words…
Rumsfeld: My words—my words were that—
[Here is what Rumsfeld told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on March 30, 2003:
“We know where they (the WMD) are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad, and east, west, south, and north somewhat.”]
The McGovern-Rumsfeld exchange immediately flashed through the media and cyberspace. CNN, MSNBC and other major media broadcast the back-and-forth, and compared McGovern’s words with Rumsfeld’s March 30, 2003 statement, showing that Rumsfeld was lying—yet again. It became grist for a Jon Stewart segment lampooning Rumsfeld and sparked the lead editorial in the New York Times on May 7.
I interviewed Ray McGovern about the encounter.
Larry Everest: Why did you decide to focus on the question of Rumsfeld’s lies about the war?
Ray McGovern: That day I was surfing the web and noticed that my former colleague, recently retired Paul Pillar, had referred in an interview to the “campaign of manipulation of intelligence” that tried to create out of whole cloth ties between Iraq and al Qaeda. Until he retired late last year, Pillar was the most senior analyst/manager for the Middle East; now he is speaking out.
So that morning I was thinking of that unconscionable manipulation of intelligence that was used to trick Congress into voting for an unnecessary war, but that had not been my first choice of a question to pose to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Rather, I have been longing for someone to ask him directly whether he had been personally involved in the torture of detainees. Fresh in my mind was an official Army Inspector General’s report, released last month in response to a Freedom of Information request, which includes sworn testimony by Army Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt who interviewed Rumsfeld twice in early 2005. Schmidt testified that Rumsfeld was “personally involved in the interrogation at Guantánamo of high-value al-Qaeda detainee Mohammed al-Kahtani in Dec. 2002.” On Dec. 2, 2002, Rumsfeld had approved 16 harsher interrogation tactics for use against Kahtani.
Army investigators called “degrading and abusive” the treatment of Kahtani by US soldiers implementing measures the defense secretary had approved. Rumsfeld, in turn, was “talking weekly” with the notorious Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller with his campaign ribbons from Guantanamo and Abu Graib (who has now taken the Army equivalent of the Fifth Amendment). During the 18 to 20-hour per day interrogation of Kahtani for 48 days, he was forced to do “dog tricks” on a leash, to stand naked in front of a female interrogator, and to wear women’s underwear. According to Lt. Gen. Schmidt, when he asked Rumsfeld about this, he replied, “My God, you know, did I authorize putting a bra and underwear on this guy’s head?” So I had been thinking of asking Rumsfeld the obvious question that Pentagon-accredited pussycat press people never would; i. e., “Well, did you...or did you not?”
But what Paul Pillar had said the day before about the artificial creation of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda, seemed even better to raise, since Rumsfeld’s comment that evidence of such ties was “bulletproof” was his own word and cut right to the key issue of the corruption of intelligence. The success of that campaign can readily be seen in the fact that for a long period of time, 69 percent of the American people believed it at the time. It was, of course, a bald-faced lie but one that was assiduously insinuated into the discussion by the administration. And from the White House’s point of view, the campaign bore very good fruit.
That was a particularly sore bone of contention with me because the CIA had been leaned on very strongly by the likes of Rumsfeld and Cheney to come up with evidence that there were meaningful ties between al Qaeda and Saddam. The agency labored long and hard for years and finally concluded there was no evidence of meaningful ties. Yet here is Rumsfeld saying the evidence was “bulletproof.”
So I was thinking of what Pillar said—and one other thing that had just happened. When Rumsfeld was several minutes into his Atlanta speech, he was interrupted by two women who accused him of lies. Rumsfeld paused, and after the women were ejected, he chose to address the charge as though they had accused the president rather than Rumsfeld. He proceeded to wring his hands and solemnly intoned:
“You know, that charge is frequently leveled against the president for one reason or another, and it is so wrong, and so unfair, and so destructive of a free system where people need to trust each other and the government. And the idea that people in government are lying about something is fundamentally destructive of that trust and, at bedrock, untrue.”
That was almost too much to take—the feigned abhorrence of lies and how destructive they are. Lucrative material for Jon Stewart or Saturday Night Live, but nonetheless outrageous.
That got my Irish up. So I decided when the question period came up I would try to ask Rumsfeld about that—about lies. There was certainly no lack of material.
Everest: How did he react to you?
McGovern: He seemed surprised. When I pointed out I was a 27-year veteran of the CIA he sort of smiled as if to say, “This fellow will do no harm.” When I pointed out that I was a member of VIPS (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity), his demeanor changed a bit. I led off by complimenting Rumsfeld on his observation that lies are fundamentally destructive of the trust that government needs to govern. Then I went on to ask him why he talked about “bulletproof” evidence when virtually all the intelligence analysts said there wasn’t any at all.
Everest: What kind of response have you gotten afterward?
McGovern: The media response has been interesting. No sooner was I out the door, when I got a call from CNN. They asked for my sources so I gave them chapter and verse. Ten minutes later, I was booked for several shows on CNN that evening. Clearly, CNN had checked the facts, verified what I had said and thought the encounter with Rumsfeld might make a good story. I’m not sure that just a year ago this would have happened.
That evening CNN and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann took the trouble to display Rumsfeld’s earlier statements and compare them with what he said last week in Atlanta. CBS and Fox simply provided the familiar “he-said-but-he-said-and-I-guess-we’ll-have-to-leave-it-at-that” treatment. No apparent fact checking; no pursuit of truth there.
Everest: You’ve made an important comparison between the US today and Germany in the 1930s. What changes do you see in the US that makes you feel that way, that concerns you so much?
McGovern: First and foremost people need to reassert the primacy of the rule of law. The familiar administration line is that after 9/11 everything changed and that we now have a new “paradigm.” Well I hope we haven’t decided to substitute that “paradigm” for the Constitution. If we still give primacy to the Constitution, lawmakers and other leaders need to confront the clear illegalities that have been taking place. It’s actually hard to keep track, given what I call “outrage fatigue.” It seems there is a fresh outrage every week, and it becomes very hard to prioritize them and decide which to focus on.
But if we don’t focus on these violations of law then fascism will take hold. Indeed, we are already well down that road—for example, when we see what the National Security Agency has been doing at the President’s direction; when we see a U.S. Air Force officer, Michael Hayden, unable to stand on the principle of law and instead allow himself to be corrupted by nearness to power, we’re in a dangerous situation. Like me and all other officers, Hayden swore an oath to defend the Constitution; we were also taught that no military officer is obligated or permitted to obey an illegal order.
There was no one in the USA who knew more about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 than Hayden did. He knew it was illegal to spy on Americans without a court order, but he saluted and did it anyway. It is not for some idle or capricious reason that warrantless eavesdropping is illegal. It’s illegal because of what was done before 1975 when the Church Committee exposed the outrageous abuses of Fourth Amendment protections that President Richard Nixon, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and others had been committing with such surveillance, like wiretapping and trying to blackmail Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example.
So you have to observe the law. If you have some reason that law is outdated, then you ask Congress to change it. You don’t just ignore it. If you start ignoring laws then our democracy is lost. The bottom line is Congress makes laws and the executive branch is supposed to implement and observe them. No president is empowered to say, “We’ll simply ignore the law because after 9/11 everything has changed.” If he is allowed to do this, we endanger all laws—like the President is already doing with “signing statements.” It's incredibly corrosive of the democratic process and constitutional protections, and it can lead to the end of the Republic.
Adding insult to injury, many of these law-skirting actions are being kept secret. Knowledge is the oxygen of democracy and we are slowing suffocating. Down with the new “paradigm”!
Read the article on Ray McGovern's involvement in the Bush Crimes Commission and his recent appearance on the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer.
Watch the MSNBC broadcast on McGovern’s confrontation with Rumsfeld and the protests against Rumsfeld by World Can’t Wait and others.
Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
Ray McGovern helped lead the prosecution of the Bush administration for war crimes in Iraq War at the The International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration (www.bushcommission.org), which brought together over 40 expert witnesses in October 2005 and January 2006 to determine whether Bush administation policies in five areas rise to the level of crimes against humanity.
The Commission’s ongoing mission is to use the evidence it gathered and the findings it reached to “frame and fuel a discussion that is urgently needed in the United States: Is the administration of George W. Bush guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity?” This is the purpose of the current Bush Crimes Commission national campus tour—“Speaking the Unspeakable”—co-sponsored by World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime. The tour has included McGovern, as well as other Commission witnesses including Brig. General Janis Karpinski, ex-UK ambassador Craig Murray, Ann Wright, Daphne Wysham, Ted Glick, Vanessa Brocato, Larry Everest, and C. Clark Kissinger.
McGovern’s April 24 appearance on the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer to discuss the firing of CIA officer Mary McCarthy for reportedly leaking information about CIA secret prison camps to the Washington Post also exemplified the “framing and fueling” of this debate. When asked about McCarthy’s action, McGovern immediately raised the question of war crimes—something rarely if ever discussed in the mainstream media when it comes to the Bush administration—and peoples’ moral responsibility to speak out when confronted with war crimes. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
“We're not talking about petty crimes or misdemeanors; we're talking about war crimes. She [Mary McCarthy] was cognizant of war crimes. She needed to do something about that, from a moral and a legal perspective. And she chose this way to do it, because the other ways were blocked for her...Now, we're talking about serious things here...I'm talking about torture...And so she's faced with a situation that's real. The director is in favor of torture. And their only other recourse is Congress. And Congress, the oversight committees—I hate to say this, but it's a joke...she has a moral responsibility and a legal responsibility.
“In other words...under Nuremberg and other international law, she is required...to do something...And when we see this happening, somebody has to speak out...My country has launched a war that, under Nuremburg and other international agreements, amounts to a war of aggression. And Nuremberg defined...that as the supreme international crime, holding within itself the accumulated evil of the whole. What did they mean by that? They mean torture; they mean rendition, these kinds of things. And this is what's going on.”
Read the entire interview on the World Can't Wait website.
Here is what McGovern told Revolution about the Commission:
“I think the International Commission of Inquiry has been very useful in educating me and all those who attended the two main sessions in New York and the sessions of the national campus tour, and who have visited our website. The scope of the Commission was truly ambitious and I had my doubts initially as to whether the five subjects (war, torture, attacks on the environment, attacks on global public health and the response to Hurricane Katrina) could be covered. Yet they were covered in a most judicious and deliberative way, and the indictments were highly instructive. After being instructed about the Bush administration’s policies on global warming, HIV/AIDS, and Hurricane Katrina, I focused on the war of aggression in Iraq and specifically on torture. There was so much enlightenment at the Commission sessions, such as the presentations by Amy Bartholomew, Craig Murray, and Marjorie Cohn, and many others. You had all the information one needs to form an opinion, so it helps me as I write and go around the country speaking. And we are beginning to encounter a greater willingness to look at these things as crimes against humanity, and understanding torture, rendition and kidnapping as precisely what the Nuremberg tribunal meant when it said that a war of aggression holds within itself the seeds of all other crimes against humanity. This has been fleshed out, it’s not rhetoric. It’s the inevitable outcome of an illegal policy aimed at achieving objectives kept secret and justified by a mountain of lies.”
Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
There were some surprises in store for me when I heard David Horowitz speak recently at the University of Chicago. For one thing, I didn’t necessarily anticipate ending up being encouraged by a Republican student into an impromptu debate with Horowitz himself—which I’ll tell about later. But even beside that, there were surprises in store. I've been writing in Revolution about how Horowitz is a self-described “battering ram” for an agenda that would turn academia in the U.S. into a deathly reactionary, airless vacuum. I've been among those raising the alarm that Horowitz has powerful backing from the White House, a dangerous cadre of campus brownshirts dedicated to turning in professors who make an “off topic” comment in class. I’ve been exposing his racism and his efforts to forbid some well-established truths about this society and its history from being taught—or even discussed—on campus.
So, I know some things about Horowitz. But it was an eye opener to see him “live,” and to observe (and interact with) the response he got at an “elite” university. Surveying the audience—something like 300 people, almost all UC students—was interesting in its own right. The guy in front of me wore a shirt saying “But does it work in THEORY?” Not exactly a hotbed of good ol' boy pragmatism! Next to me, a row of five or six students had all opened the current issue of Revolution to the first installment of the series, “The Basis, The Goals, and The Methods of the Communist Revolution,” by Bob Avakian. And they filled the twenty-minute wait for Horowitz by reading through it. I learned during and after the event that at least most of them were far from radicals. Quite a few other students were reading the article on Horowitz in the last issue of Revolution (and at least one drew on the articles to confront Horowitz during the Q & A that followed his talk).
But Bob Avakian wouldn’t be the only one talking about communism that night. I actually wasn't quite prepared for how much anticommunism figures into Horowitz's spiel. Horowitz began his one-hour talk with an updated version of the “I Was A Commie Dupe” ’50s movie confessional. It starts with a young David Horowitz, idealist, activist, Marxist, and supporter of the civil rights movement, who thought that Black people were oppressed. Ah...those values don't sound so terrible...at first! But as we follow the “reefer madness”-like story, it ends with Horowitz's bookkeeper, who he says he had assigned to assist a Black Panther program, being murdered. “I knew that the Black Panther Party had murdered her,” Horowitz asserted to his audience.
Do you find it intolerable, or at least very disturbing, that Black people are living in oppressive conditions in this country? Well, once upon a time, David Horowitz did too—and then “they” killed his bookkeeper. “Everything I believe about social justice,” Horowitz summed up, “about oppressed people in inner cities, everything I said...about the Panthers, that the police were fascists and were attacking them...was a lie.” No, instead the Panthers were a “murderous gang.” You don’t believe it? Well, “I was there,” claims David Horowitz.
A few things have to be said here. First, no criminal charges were ever brought against anyone associated with the Black Panther Party for the death of the woman Horowitz refers to. Second, the Black Panther Party—in the face of incredible repression and with tremendous personal sacrifice—put revolution on the agenda in this country for millions of people. Several dozen members of the BPP were killed—including, in the very city where Horowitz was speaking, Fred Hampton. Hampton, as Horowitz ignores, had been drugged by a police informant and then slain in his bed by police while he slept. And many more were framed up for long terms in prison, with some—like Geronimo Pratt—only released decades later when active government frame-ups were brought to light. Third, the Panthers, for various reasons, could not sustain their revolutionary direction; by the time this incident took place they had long since given up on revolution and were involved in opening shoe factories, and their strategy for change had gone from revolutionary to relying on and working within the system. To impute anything they did or did not do in this period to revolutionary ideology is conscious distortion.
But as I surveyed the room while Horowitz told this story, the atmosphere reminded me of experiences as a kid at camp, when the counselors would scare the shit out of us with stories of young campers who wandered off into the woods to be eaten alive by some monster, ghost, or dead former-camper. Over two million people in jail, a majority of them Black or Latino or other oppressed nationalities? The epidemic of police murder and brutality, with the stories of Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, or Rodney King concentrating the experience of millions? The whole shameful history of slavery and Jim Crow and the terrible inequality and oppression that exists today, as exemplified in what happened after Katrina? “Don't go there! Stop thinking about that! Black thugs will kill you,” says counselor Dave. To say that Horowitz had a subtext is almost giving him too much credit—it was a very blatant attempt to get his audience to identify with Horowitz’s younger, white liberal self and to walk them into a very ugly, very racist place. And this became even more clear later.
But first Horowitz went somewhere else. His experience of momentarily aligning himself with the Black Panther Party, he told us, was part of a much greater horror: “All my leftist writers and prophets were telling me that there was going to be a revolution in the world and on the other side of that rainbow was going to be what? ‘A future of social justice. Equality. No more poverty. No reason for war, because people would have gotten rid of private property, which of course is the root of all evil.’ That's why I devoted my services to a street gang.”
And, where does that all lead? “The utopias of the left, the illusion which every leftist who is a faculty member of this university put their energy behind, ended up in absolute catastrophe. One hundred and twenty million people slaughtered since 1917 in the name of social justice. Billions made poor, poor behind anyone's imagination, artificially poor.”
Let me turn around here, and address readers who do have some sense of what Horowitz is about. To you, there is a challenge to confront, one that was driven home to me by both Horowitz's opening tirade, and the widespread confusion this seemed to create in what is, after all, a very well-educated audience. There is a critical need for a scientific atmosphere of investigation and debate about the actual experience of the world communist revolution on college campuses, and on opinion-making, influential campuses in particular. You can't evade that. Fundamentally, you can't evade it because it is an experience that represents the highest achievements of humanity so far, by far, and if you flush it down the toilet, you give up all that. That’s the main thing. But in addition, unless the hegemony of lies, distortions, and a ruling out of scientific inquiry into this experience is challenged, very broadly, Horowitz and those he represents will pound this into people's heads, and in the process, by “logical extension,” rule any questioning of or opposition to the status quo out of order.
The Set the Record Straight project is sponsoring Raymond Lotta's speaking tour “Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World.” Revolution has been serializing that talk, and it is interesting that the very excerpt in the issue students were reading as they waited for Horowitz's act to start addresses the lie of the “100 million deaths” issue, exposing that if the same methods and standards were applied to deaths in capitalist countries, and countries dominated by imperialism, then the “democratic capitalist experiment” in India alone killed more people since 1947 than all the deaths anti-communists (falsely) claim were caused by communism.
But Horowitz had a “scared straight” type impact with the anti-communist horror stories. During the Q & A period, at least a couple of students who wanted to challenge Horowitz felt compelled to preface their objections to his talk by disassociating themselves from communists and their alleged misdeeds.
Once Horowitz had linked any concern for the oppression of Black people to an inevitable murder of innocents, he spent a substantial portion of his talk attacking Black people.
Particularly ugly was his attack on the progressive Black intellectual Cornel West. Here he combined the old Dixiecrat race-baiter George Wallace's attacks on “pointy headed intellectuals” and Black people. Of West, Horowitz sneered, “There isn't an idea in that head. And yet he charges like $35,000 a speech.” That stupid comment was met with a disturbing amount of laughter, as well as visible anger on the faces of the small number of Black people in the room. There was less applause, and some murmurs of disagreement when Horowitz called West “lazy,” and awkward silence when Horowitz called West an “overpaid, underworked fool.”
I have to say that my blood boiled. It shouldn’t need to be said—but evidently it does—that Cornel West is remarkable for the breadth of his scholarship and his thinking, his concerns for justice, and his continual attempts to link up with masses of people who are locked out of the world of ideas by this system. No ideas? I don’t have to agree with everything Cornel West writes to find him provocative, engaging, and challenging. To be called someone with “no ideas” by a demagogue like Horowitz, who specializes in hackneyed and recycled McCarthyism, would almost be a compliment—if it were not the fact that Cornel West has been under attack from numerous quarters in recent years in an attempt to deprive him of his platform, and if it were not for the fact that Horowitz is not some iconoclast but a very highly connected and well-supported ideological hitman of the rulers of this country. On top of that, to descend into the most ugly racist stereotyping, to pander to and stir up whatever resentment might exist in his mostly white audience, was even more ugly. It is frankly only a step or two, if that, to the demagogue in the movie “Rosewood,” who whips up a lynch-mob against a Black man because the man has “taken on airs” and owns a piano!
Just as there is an intolerable amount of ignorance about what communism is about, there is also a tremendous amount of ignorance—even on an elite campus like UC, and in a crowd like this—of the reality of national oppression and white supremacy. Horowitz told the story of the lynching of Emmett Till, only to contrast it with a fabricated account of how Kobe Bryant was supposedly treated as a hero for being charged with raping a white woman (a Latino student later challenged and refuted this in the Q & A). Horowitz claimed that “In America, in the 21st century, a Black man accused of rape, or a big Black man accused of rape by a little white woman will get his day in court, and innocent until proven guilty.” And, on the other hand, Horowitz claimed that white Duke students charged with raping a Black woman got “hung in the media.” “You have a better chance,” Horowitz claimed, “if you're accused as a Black person, in certain settings, than you do if you're white.”
To take just a very brief reality check, the following from the Rush Limbaugh show is typical of the way the victim and the Duke Lacrosse team have been treated in the media:
LIMBAUGH: “[Al Sharpton is] trying to figure out how he can get involved in the deal down there at Duke where the lacrosse team—
LIMBAUGH:—uh, supposedly, you know, raped, some, uh, ho’s.
One could find similar examples, including going back to the hysteria created around the case of the “Central Park jogger” in New York in 1989. A white woman was brutally raped, and a group of Black and Latino teenagers, ranging in age from 14 to 16 years old, were seized by police, interrogated (in some cases without lawyers or parents present), and tricked and coerced into videotaping false “confessions.” Intense racist hysteria against Black and Latino youth was whipped up and Donald Trump spent nearly $100,000 on full-page ads calling for the youth to be executed! Though there was no physical evidence and the youths' “confessions” did not match known details of the case, they were convicted and one youth served nearly 13 years in prison. Not until 2002 did the truth come to light when another man confessed to the rape—it turns out he had raped another woman in similar fashion only two days before. There was good evidence that the police themselves knew about this, had refused to investigate it, and instead proceeded with their frameup. The state was finally forced to expunge the youth's records.
But there is method to the madness. On the other hand, Horowitz wants to utterly distort the history of communism and lump it together with any progressive impulses at all, in order to rule out of order any dreams of a better future. All in the service of shutting down critical thought on the campuses. Nothing less than the truth can answer this—and we have to fully master and muster that truth.
In part 2 of this article, I’ll talk about what happened when I began to bring out some of the truth to his followers—and ended up confronting Horowitz himself.
Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
This article appeared in a number of online publications on Thursday, May 11, including Truthdig.com, Counterpunch.org, and OpEdNews.com. Since this article was written, the author has informed us that the Battle Cry event discussed here was opened with a letter from President George Bush. After that, a minister led the 17,000 youth in attendance to pray to god, “Thank you for giving us George Bush.”
If you’ve been waiting until the Christian fascist movement started filling stadiums with young people and hyping them up to do battle in “God’s army” to get alarmed, wait no longer.
In recent weeks, Battle Cry, a Christian fundamentalist youth movement, has attracted more than 40,000 to mega-rally rock concerts in San Francisco and Detroit and this weekend they plan to fill Wachovia Stadium in Philadelphia.
They claim their religion and values are under attack but, amidst spectacular lightshows, hummers, Navy Seals, and military imagery on stage, it is Battle Cry that has declared war on everyone else! Their leader, Ron Luce, insists: “This is war. And Jesus invites us to get into the action, telling us that the violent—the ‘forceful’ ones—will lay hold of the kingdom.”
A glimpse at Battle Cry’s Honor Academy, which trains 500 youth each year and preaches that homosexuality and masturbation are sins, reveals a lot about what kind of society they are fighting for. Interns are forbidden to listen to secular music, watch R-rated movies or date. Men can’t use the internet unsupervised and the length of women’s skirts is regulated. The logic behind this, that men must be protected from the sin of sexual temptation, is what drives Islamic fundamentalists to shroud women in burkhas!
Behind their multimillion-dollar operation that sends more than 5,000 missionaries to more than 34 countries each year, are some of the most powerful and extreme religious lunatics in the country. Their partners include Pat Robertson (who got a call from Karl Rove to discuss Alito before the nomination was made public), Ted Haggard (who brags that his concerns will be responded to by the White House within 24 hours), Jerry Falwell (who blamed September 11 on homosexuals, feminists, pagans, and abortionists), and others. Their events have been addressed by Barbara Bush (via video) as well as former President Gerry Ford. This weekend’s event will include Franklin Graham, who has ministered to George Bush and publicly proclaimed that Islam is an “evil religion.”
What most of these figures have in common is their insistence that the Bible be read literally and obeyed as the inerrant word of God. And, as Ron Luce leads youth to pray, “I will keep my eyes on the battle, submitting to Your code even when I don’t understand….outside my comfort zone in the battle zone,” it would be foolish to expect that there is any part of the Bible’s literal horrors this movement would be unwilling to enforce. That includes stoning disobedient children and non-virgin brides (Deuteronomy 21:18-21 and 22:13-21), executing gays (Leviticus 20:13), and keeping slaves (Peter 2:18).
Already they staged a protest on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall precisely because they were “the very city hall steps where several months ago ‘gay marriages’ were celebrated.” Their answer to the scourge of rape and violence against women is to end divorce, spread ignorance, insist on virginity—the very things that will more entrap women in these nightmares. And this Friday, they are planning rallies at 50 City Halls nationwide.
Of course, like the President who gave Ron Luce an appointment to the White House Advisory Commission on Drug-Free Communities, Battle Cry tells its share of bald-faced lies. For one, they claim that “a society fortified by biblical principles and a strong moral code...is the heritage our forefathers fought and died to secure for us.” But the word “God” never appears in the Constitution. After three-and-a-half months of debate about what should go into the document that would govern the land, the framers drafted a constitution that is secular.
Battle Cry also claims America has been “set aside for God’s purposes—a country established for good and fruitfully blessed so that we might take God’s message to the ends of the earth.” It is revealing that for all their talk about the value of life and the evils of violent imagery, Battle Cry never speaks against the real violence and loss of life being inflicted by U.S. troops in Iraq.
Still, there is one thing that Battle Cry gets right: this country is in the midst of a deep moral crisis. We are indeed living through times when business-as-usual is unconscionable.
As the Bush regime wages unjust wars and conducts torture in our names, as they leave New Orleans to rot, and drag us closer each day to a theocracy where abortion and birth control are banned, science is pulled under, and gays are persecuted, it is no wonder that young people are searching for meaning and morality.
The truth is, however, youth will not find the morality they need in a stadium listening to Ron Luce preach about religious war and intolerance. And they won’t find it while buying Battle Cry’s keepsake dog-tags.
These young people need to be challenged to look around them and think for themselves.
I am confident that if they do, many of them may find that the truly moral way to live is to throw their tremendous energies and dreams of a better world into stopping this madness and driving out the Bush regime.
This generation—and their counterparts all around the world—will have to live with the consequences of this culture war, one way or another.
Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution newspaper and sits on the Advisory Board of The World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime.
Read Sunsara Taylor's correspondence from the Philadelphia BattleCry rally, “Fear and Loathing at Philadelphia's BattleCry”.
Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
May 13, 2006.
It began with fireworks so loud and startling I screamed. Lights and smoke followed, and a few kids were pulled up on stage from the crowd. One was asked to read a letter.
This was the letter that opened the event. Its author was George W. Bush. Yes, the president of the United States sent a letter of support, greeting, prayer and encouragement to the BattleCry event held at Wachovia Spectrum Stadium in Philadelphia on May 12. Immediately afterward, a preacher took the microphone and led the crowd in prayer. Among other things, he asked the attendees to “Thank God for giving us George Bush.”
On his cue, about 17,000 youths from upward of 2,000 churches across America and Canada directed their thanks heavenward in unison.
Throughout the three and a half hours of BattleCry’s first session, I thought of only one analogy that fit the experience: This must have been what it felt like to watch the Hitler Youth, filled with self-righteous pride, proclaim the supremacy of their beliefs and their willingness to shed blood for them.
And lest you think this is idle paranoia, BattleCry founder Ron Luce told the crowds the next morning (May 13) that he plans to launch a “blitzkrieg” in the communities, schools, malls, etc. against those who don’t share his theocratic vision of society.
Nothing like a little Nazi imagery to whip up the masses.
But back to the first rally, on May 12. Shortly after we sat down, Tom, a man of imposing size who appeared to be a BattleCry security staffer, sat down next to me and my friends and asked us if we were planning any disturbances. I don’t know how BattleCry & Co. knew I was here; they apparently had recognized me from my appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor” in March. I told Tom that we weren’t planning any disturbances and that, no, I wouldn’t like to meet with BattleCry founder Ron Luce after the rally, nor did I want to give him my phone number. Seemingly satisfied, he ambled off. But later on, as I rose to go to the bathroom, I caught sight of another BattleCry security-type following me. It was very unsettling, to say the least.
(While in the bathroom, I saw something equally unsettling—a preteen girl wearing a shirt being sported by many attendees that night: Jesus on the cross, robes waving, and emblazoned across the front the words “Dressed to Kill.”)
After my bathroom break, Tom, my helpful minder, was replaced by an eerily cheerful young woman who was also obviously one of the BattleCry personnel. She claimed to be simply making sure that my friends and I were happy. She would stop by several times over the course of the concert. I wonder if all attendees got that kind of VIP treatment.
But on to the show.
The first rock band that performed, Delirious, got the crowd festive and up on their feet with lyrics that were projected on large screens so that everyone could join in: “We’re an army of God and we’re ready to die...Let’s paint this big ol’ town red...We see nothing but the blood of Jesus...”
Between musical acts, Luce, the BattleCry founder, hammered away at the dominant theme of the night: his contention that “pew-sitters...passive Christians...the Christians who just want love, joy, peace...” were the problem, and that the world needed more radical and extreme God-worshippers—those who would be obedient and fully submit to Christ.
Luce would have us believe that everything went off track when the Bible-toting people of my grandparents’ generation were replaced by the “pew-sitters” of the Baby Boom generation. These are the people who, according to Luce, just wanted to passively benefit from the “love, joy and peace” message of Christianity without actively surrendering their wills and their selves completely upon Christ’s altar and working in His name.
Yeah, if only people would stop practicing “love, joy and peace.” Wouldn’t that make the world a better place...
Luce used this critique of pew-sitting Christians to assuage the doubts of the youths at the rally who may have been feeling uncertain about their commitment to the Church. “Don’t worry,” he was telling them, “you’ve been amongst pew-sitters—watered-down Christians. Welcome to the reign of total submission to the Lord.”
It was a mantra Luce repeated all through the night: the need to submit one’s self fully to Jesus, to belong completely to Him.
“He doesn’t just want to be in your heart, He wants to own your heart...There’s only one good reason to come to Christ: because He’s the rightful owner of your life...You don’t have to know much about Jesus, just enough to surrender your whole life.”
Throughout this section, a loud crowd from the back of the stadium would periodically erupt, “We are warriors!”
After tugging at countless emotional strings, Luce insisted—with the humility of Taliban members who submit to Allah’s command to stone adulterers—“You are the one talking to God, I am just going to help you with the words.”
There was a session when, after a great crescendo, the stadium was brought to silence. Luce instructed individuals to stand up when they felt the spirit and cry out, “I want the cross!” The voices of hundreds rose up over the course of 10 minutes. These young people, declaring death unto themselves and rebirth in Christ, were called down to the floor of the stadium and directed to get on their knees and put their heads down and pray some more.
Luce put great emphasis on following every word in the Bible, treating it as an “instruction book,” even when a person doesn’t understand or agree. This is, of course, the logic that leads to the stoning of gays, non-virgin brides, disobedient children and much more—because the Bible says so.
Chillingly, when I confronted Ron explicitly about these passages, he refused to disavow them. During the afternoon preceding the May 12 rally, Luce and about 300 BattleCry acolytes (almost entirely youths) rallied in front of Philadelphia’s Constitution Hall—the location having been chosen because Luce wants to “restore” the Founding Fathers’ vision of a religious society (never mind that the Founders enshrined in the Constitution an explicitly secular framework of government).
I and about 20 people representing various anti-Bush, atheistic and anti-Iraq-war factions made our way into the rally and began interacting with the youths assembled. Some said openly that it was OK that George Bush’s lies have cost the lives of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. Why was it OK? Because “God put him [Bush] there.”
We then decided to ask them a little about this God, and his “instruction book,” as Luce calls it. Specifically, we asked them if they supported the parts of Deuteronomy and Leviticus that spell out, for example, death sentences for women who dared to enter the city while menstruating. The most memorable response came from Luce himself. (We were standing face to face in the plaza—he had recognized me from my O’Reilly appearance.)
“This is your Bible,” I told him. “You have to defend this.”
He smiled, smugly, and almost looked taken aback that I would challenge him like this.
“You can’t defend this,” I continued.
A biblical literalist, Luce couldn’t disavow something in his “instruction book,” but neither did he want to appear (I imagine) to condone Iron Age barbarity. So he stayed quiet, until, after I prodded him further, he changed the subject.
“Why are you so angry?” he asked.
My point made, I walked away.
Read Sunsara Taylor's editorial, “Battle Cry for Theocracy”.
[Editors’ Note: The following is drawn from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005. It has been edited for publication here, and subheads and footnotes have been added. Previous excerpts drawn from the same talk have been printed in Revolution, most recently a series of excerpts with the overall title “Views on Socialism and Communism: A RADICALLY NEW KIND OF STATE, A RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND FAR GREATER VISION OF FREEDOM”—see Revolution #37, 39, 40, 41, 42, and 43 (March 5, 19, 26 and April 2, 9, and 16, 2006). “Views on Socialism and Communism” is available in its entirety at revcom.us.]
I want to move on now—everything that’s been spoken to so far forms, in one aspect, a kind of a background for this—to speak more directly and fully to the question: What is the new synthesis?
The first point that needs to be made is that this is something that is dealing with real world contradictions—it’s not some idealist imaginings of what it would be nice to have a society be like. When we talk about a world we want to live in, it is not a utopian notion of inventing a society out of whole cloth and then trying to reimpose that on the world once again. But it is dealing with real-world contradictions, summing up the end of a stage (the first stage of socialist revolutions)1 and what can be learned out of that stage, attempting to draw the lessons from that and dealing with real-world contradictions in aspects, important aspects, that are new. It is a synthesis that involves taking what was positive from previous experience, working through and discarding what was negative, recasting some of what was positive and bringing it forward in a new framework. So, again, it’s dealing with real-world contradictions—but in a new way.
In this connection, there is a point of basic orientation that is worth quoting from a paper written by a leading comrade of our Party:
“If we try to embrace, encompass and explore non-communist people, ideas and perspectives ever more widely and flexibly (which we should do) but do so on the basis of something other than a truly solid core and strategic grounding in OUR project and objectives, we will at one and the same time fail to harvest as much as we could from these wider explorations and initiatives AND, most unconscionably, we will LOSE THE WHOLE THING!”
Now, this has particular application with regard to the orientation and approach of our Party; but, in the broader framework of the larger world we need to be transforming, this also has more general application. And what’s being said here is an important aspect of the principle of solid core with a lot of elasticity,2 which is itself a kind of encapsulation, or concentrated expression, of what is involved in the new synthesis I am referring to. Not only now but throughout the struggle, to first seize power and establish socialism and then to continue advancing to communism—in other words, both before and after the seizure of power—the general principle of solid core with a lot of elasticity and the specific point that’s being driven home in what I cited above from that paper by a leading comrade will have important, indeed fundamental, application: the contradiction between on the one hand, yes, embracing, encompassing and exploring non-communist people, ideas and perspectives ever more widely and flexibly and getting the most we can out of that—not in a narrow, utilitarian sense, but in the broadest sense—but at the same time not losing the whole thing, not letting go of the solid core, without which none of this will mean anything in relation to what must be our most fundamental objectives.
And this relates to the very real and often acute contradiction between applying the united front under the leadership of the proletariat—the leadership of the proletariat, and not of the petty bourgeoisie, or some other class—all the way through the transition to communism on the one hand, and on the other hand, actually forging ahead through that transition and advancing to communism. So “solid core with a lot of elasticity” relates to this very real and often acute contradiction, which in turn relates to the point that Lenin made when he said that the first and, in a certain historical sense the easier, step is to overthrow and to appropriate the bourgeoisie (to expropriate the holdings of the bourgeoisie). And if this is, in a certain historical sense, an easier step, the more difficult process is one of, as Lenin put it, living with and transforming the middle strata in the transition to communism. This is a very profound point, and both aspects of this are important; this is once again a unity of opposites—living with and transforming the middle strata. If you set out only to live with them, you will end up surrendering power back, not to the petty bourgeoisie but in fact to the bourgeoisie; things will increasingly be on their terms. On the other hand, if you seek only to transform the petty bourgeoisie (speaking broadly, to refer to the intermediate strata of various kinds), you will end up treating them like the bourgeoisie and driving them into the camp of the bourgeoisie, seriously undermining the dictatorship of the proletariat, and you will end up losing power that way, also.
So there is, as Lenin emphasized, the need to live with and transform these middle strata, these intermediate strata, both in their material conditions as well as in their world outlook—and in the dialectical relation between the two. This goes back to my comment earlier, speaking to three basic class forces, the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, and the proletariat: the transition to communism aims to and must eliminate the basis for and the existence of all three of these groups, or classes, but the proletariat is the only one that doesn’t mind. The petty bourgeoisie definitely minds; it will continually strive to re-create its existence as a petty bourgeoisie and, indeed, will strive toward becoming the bourgeoisie, spontaneously. But you have to draw a clear distinction between the petty bourgeoisie (the intermediate strata) and the bourgeoisie, and not seek to exercise dictatorship over the petty bourgeoisie, which would drive them into the arms of the enemy—and, in that and in other ways, would work against our most fundamental objectives. (I will speak to that more fully in discussing the “parachute” point a little later.) On the other hand, you can’t simply allow these intermediate strata to follow the spontaneity of their own outlook and their own interests at any given time, or you will lose the whole thing that way.
As you move to uproot the soil that gives rise to capitalism and move beyond the sphere of commodity production and exchange—the law of value, the great difference between mental and manual labor, and all the production and social relations and the rest of the “4 Alls”3 characteristic of capitalism—you are going to run into conflict with the interests of intermediate strata. And how to handle that, through the whole long transition from socialism to communism (which, again, can only happen on a world scale), is going to be a very, very tricky question and one that’s going to require a consistent application of materialist dialectics, in order to be able to win over, or at least politically neutralize, at any given time, the great majority of these intermediate strata—and prevent the counter-revolutionaries from mobilizing them, playing on grievances they may have, or playing on and preying on the ways in which things that you objectively and legitimately need to do may alienate sections of the petty bourgeoisie at a given time. And here again there is a real contradiction—which can become quite acute at times—between the necessity that you are, in fact and correctly, imposing on the petty bourgeoisie, while not exercising dictatorship over it, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the countervailing spontaneity and influence of the larger social and production relations which exist and which you have not thoroughly transformed—and, along with that, there is the larger world, which at any given time may be mainly characterized by reactionary production and social relations and the corresponding superstructure. You are not going to be able to deal with all this in such a way as to not only maintain the rule of the proletariat but to continue the advance toward communism, unless you can correctly handle the principle and strategic approach of solid core with a lot of elasticity.
In this regard we can say that there is a kind of application, under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of an important formulation in Strategic Questions4—which I won’t try to fully elaborate here, but it has to do with drawing dividing lines so that, at any given point, you unite the greatest number of people around positions which are, to the greatest degree possible, in the objective interests of the proletarian revolution, while at the same time winning as many as possible subjectively to that—or, in other words, winning as many as you can to be partisan toward the goal of proletarian revolution—without undermining the necessary unity at any given time. You can see that’s another “moving target”—it’s a living dynamic and a contradictory thing, sometimes in acute ways. And, in socialist society itself, particularly with regard to the middle strata, but more broadly and even among the proletarians, there is an application of that principle spoken to in Strategic Questions. But if you let go of the solid core, none of this would be possible. In terms of the four objectives I referred to earlier, in relation to the solid core in socialist society—including the importance of having the maximum elasticity possible at every given point—if you let go of the first point, holding onto power, none of the rest of it has any meaning.5 So we can see how there is tremendous tension—or, another way to say it, there is very acute contradiction—involved in all this.
And, as I have spoken to, this involves a whole epistemological dimension as well as the political dimension. It involves the question of how not only the communists but the masses of people broadly actually come to a deeper and richer synthesis of the understanding of reality in any phase of things, through any process, and in turn have a stronger basis for transforming the world—without giving up what you’ve got at any given time, without letting go of the core of everything. This is what causes me to continually invoke the metaphor of being drawn and quartered.6 If you think about this—if you actually try to think about this image of standing there at the core of all this, unleashing all this intellectual and political ferment in society, while at the same time you are seeking to bring into being certain material and ideological transformations that move toward communism and which run up against spontaneous inclinations, even of proletarians, and run up against certain vested interests of intermediate strata, and, of course, run fundamentally up against the bourgeoisie and the imperialists and other reactionary forces—you’re trying to do all that and (continuing the image) you’re holding on to the reins with each hand while people are running in all kinds of directions. If you really think about all that, you can see why I continue to invoke the metaphor of being drawn and quartered, if we don’t handle this correctly. But I am equally convinced that, if we don’t proceed in this way, we are not going to get, within the socialist country itself, the kind of process we need in order to get to communism (leaving aside for a minute the whole international dimension, which I will come back to).
Now, this principle of solid core with a lot of elasticity—and elasticity on the basis of the solid core, let me emphasize that once again—has to do with, is closely bound up with, another principle which is discussed in the talk on the dictatorship of the proletariat:7 namely, the great importance of distinguishing between those times and circumstances when it is necessary to pay finely calibrated attention to things and to insist that they be done “just this way,” and, on the other hand, those times and circumstances when it is not only not necessary to do that, but it would be harmful to do that. In the experience of our Party, for example, there have been various times and circumstances when it was necessary to pay very finely calibrated attention and insist on things being done exactly this way and not that way—and, along with that, to insist on things being very tightly in formation, so to speak. But then there have been many other circumstances where that has not been the case, and where to insist on this would be wrong and harmful. For example, relatively recently we have had debate about the Party Programme, inside as well as outside the Party, and we have had other processes in the Party where there have been debate and struggle over questions of line. This is not, and should not be, just a one-time or infrequent aspect of things—it is something that should find expression repeatedly, in the appropriate times and circumstances, in the ongoing political and ideological life of the Party.
As I pointed out in that talk on the dictatorship of the proletariat, this relationship between “opening up” and “closing ranks” and between elasticity and solid core, is also a dialectical process, a unity of opposites. What is solid core in one aspect also has elasticity within it as well. There is no such thing as a solid core that doesn’t have some elasticity within it. At any given time (as well as in an overall sense), there are always those things to which you are paying finely calibrated attention, but other aspects of the same thing to which you are not paying the same systematic attention.
In that talk on the dictatorship of the proletariat, one of the examples I used was writing an article. It’s not that you don’t care about certain things you say, but some of them you have to get exactly right, because they bear on the whole character of what you’re saying, while with other things, you say them as best you can but you do not—and actually should not—pay the same amount of attention, or you’d never finish writing, for one thing. And in anything you do—in a meeting, for example, and more generally in everything you do—this principle applies: solid core with elasticity and paying finely calibrated attention to some things that are at the core and give definition to everything you’re doing, while not trying to pay the same kind of attention, and allowing a lot more elasticity, with regard to other things.
And with regard to the aspect of solid core itself, you can’t say, “well, we have to have an absolute, perfect solid core before we can allow for any elasticity and initiative.” On the other hand, there is a real problem if the elasticity is not, in a fundamental sense, on the basis of the solid core—if, in effect, the elasticity and the initiative that is taken amounts to, or results in, substituting some other solid core for the one that is actually, objectively needed. But, again, you can’t get metaphysical and “absolutist” about this: You can’t say, “only when we have some ‘absolute’ solid core, and everybody has exactly the same level of understanding and agreement with regard to that solid core, can we then have any elasticity.” First of all, you’ll never achieve that kind of absolute certainty and absolute unity, you’re never going to overcome all unevenness; and second of all, your solid core will dry up and turn into its opposite, into dogma. It will become lifeless and turn into its opposite, and it won’t even be a solid core any more, in fact. There has to be space and life, even within a solid core; there are certain solid core things within any solid core, around which other things, within that solid core, are less solid and have more elasticity, if you will. (This is another expression of the very important point made by Mao, which I have emphasized a number of times: what is universal in one context is particular in another, and vice versa.) But if you don’t have sufficient adhering power, so to speak, at the core, so that (to use this metaphor) the electrons are flying off in every direction, then you have a serious problem.
Once again, we can see that crucially involved in all this is that fundamental dividing line between materialism and idealism, and between dialectics and metaphysics. You can’t have a metaphysical view of what a solid core is, and somehow it has to be absolutely solid; at the same time, you can’t have an idealist view of the whole process which corresponds to people going off in all directions because there’s no material grounding in terms of what the solid core is and has to be in any given set of circumstances, and in terms of what are the things where you have to insist on their being done in a certain way, with everyone “marching in tight formation,” so to speak, and on the other hand what are those things where you not only should not do that but where it would do real harm to try to insist on that.
And, speaking frankly, among the ranks of the communists—this applies to our Party but also more generally to the communist movement—there is a need for a further leap and rupture beyond utopianism and idealism and, frankly, beyond social-democracy or even outright bourgeois democracy and, ironic as it may sound, even plain old, straight-up anti-communism within the communist movement itself, which takes expression particularly in what amounts to a bourgeois-democratic view of such crucial things as the nature and role of the state and a bourgeois-democratic critique of the historical experience of the proletarian state. We need to leap and rupture beyond and out of those confines, even while we also need to rupture more thoroughly with the “mirror opposite” of this: the tendency to dogmatism and essentially a religious view of the principles and of the experience of communism and the communist movement, which amounts basically to “all solid core” with no real elasticity—and, correspondingly, to a “solid core” that in the final analysis is not all that solid, is in fact brittle, because it is grounded in apriorism and instrumentalism (seeking to impose dogmatic conceptions on reality and to “bend” and torture reality to make it serve certain preconceived notions and certain aims—not to engage reality and transform the actual necessity that has to be confronted, in accordance with its fundamental and driving contradictions, but to apply one variation or another of what Lenin criticized as the approach of “truth as an organizing principle,” which amounts to a subjective and idealist notion of truth rather than a recognition of truth as something that is objective and that is characterized by its being a correct reflection of objective reality). Still, while we must reject an orientation and approach that amounts to “all solid core,” at the same time we cannot have a utopian and idealist view of what elasticity means—treating it as something unmoored from the actual underlying material relations of society, and the world, in which all this is embedded, a material reality which we are seeking to transform, but can’t simply transcend in our minds.
The correct application of this principle—solid core with a lot of elasticity—is elasticity on the basis of the necessary solid core at every given point. And I say the necessary solid core because, again, dialectics enters in: it is not a matter of some absolute solid core, because that would be metaphysics—conceiving of and aiming to achieve some perfect state of solid core, which in fact you never will achieve—but it is a matter of the necessary solid core: enough of a solid core so that it acts as a powerful cohering center and basis on which you can then proceed to move forward and unleash the elasticity and the initiative, without losing the whole thing. And there’s no “magic formula”—or, in a basic sense, no formula of any kind—for that. There’s no formula. You can’t get out a “sliding calculus” and say: at this stage of socialism, we need 28% solid core, and you can have 72% elasticity; but at this stage, once there is an imperialist intervention and invasion, we can only have 4% elasticity and 96% solid core. That’s not how it works. [laughter] These are living, moving things that we have to be scientifically engaging and dealing with and determining concretely on the basis of actually grasping the motion and development of the defining and driving contradictions.
What has been said so far, concerning “solid core with a lot of elasticity,” relates very closely to the next point I want to get into, which is the “parachute” point: the concentration of things at the time of the seizure of power, and then the “opening out” again after the consolidation of power.
This is a general principle as to how revolution goes, and it also has more specific application to a country like this, and this country in particular. Whatever the path to power in a particular country—whether, in broad terms, the revolutionary road is one of protracted people’s war, where that is applicable, which involves surrounding the cities from the countryside and then eventually seizing power in the cities and thereby in the country as a whole; or whether the revolutionary road involves, as it does in imperialist countries like the U.S., a whole period of political (and ideological) work and preparation and then, with the emergence of a revolutionary situation, a massive insurrection, involving millions and millions of people, centered and anchored in the urban cores—either way, at the time when countrywide political power can be seized, things become “compressed” politically. A lot of the diverse political trends and currents that are in opposition to the established power either become politically paralyzed and/or they become compressed in and around the one core that actually embodies the means for breaking through what needs to be broken through to meet the immediately, urgently felt needs of broad masses of people who are demanding radical change. This happens specifically and in a concentrated way when that need to break through to actually seize power is not just some sort of long-term strategic objective and consideration, but becomes immediately posed; when, along with that and as part of that, other programs which are seeking social change become paralyzed in the attempts to implement them—run up against their limitations which, on a mass scale, causes people to reject them and to rally from them to the one program that actually does represent the way to break through.
Things tend to become compressed at that point, as when a parachute closes up. And one of the things that has not been sufficiently understood—and has led to mistakes, in its not being correctly understood and dealt with—is the fact that, while this is a very real and important and necessary ingredient, in an overall sense, of actually being able to have the alignment that makes it possible to go for revolution, this is something that comes into being at the concentration point of a revolutionary situation but not something that will continue in the same way after that point has been passed, regardless of how that situation is resolved—not only if the revolutionary attempt fails or is defeated, but even if it is successful and results in the establishment of a new, radically different state power. Even then, after that situation has passed, and as things go forward in the new society, the “parachute” will “open back up” and “spread out.”
This relates to Lenin’s third condition for an insurrection—that a situation develops in which political paralysis qualitatively weakens half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution. Other forces, representing the interests of social strata other than the proletariat, and programs corresponding to that, are paralyzed or incapable of speaking to the needs and demands of masses of people and what’s posed, very acutely, by the objective situation. When that occurred, for example, in the Russian Revolution in October 1917, people in huge numbers rallied to the Bolsheviks. And in that situation, as the revolutionary crisis assumed its most acute expression, there was that dramatic moment when one of the Mensheviks (reformist socialists) said at a mass meeting, “there is no party here that would lead a struggle for power”—and Lenin rose and declared emphatically: “There is such a party!” And Lenin and the Bolsheviks were able to win people to that. But this does not mean that all the people that they won, at that decisive moment, were won in any full sense, or anything close to it. That is, they were not necessarily won, in their great majority, to the full communist program. While some were won to that, for a far greater number it was more that, at that acute moment, the program of the Bolsheviks, and of no other force, represented the only way out of a desperate and increasingly intolerable situation.
So here is where, after power is consolidated, “the parachute opens back out.” In other words, all the diversity of political programs, outlooks, inclinations, and so on—which reflect, once again, the actual remaining production and social relations that are characteristic of the old society, as well as what’s newly emerging in the society that has been brought into being as a result of the revolutionary seizure and consolidation of power—all these things assert, or reassert, themselves. And if you go on the assumption that, because people all rallied to you at that particular moment when only your program could break through—if you identify that with the notion that they’re all going to be marching in lockstep with you and in agreement with you at every point all the way to communism—you are going to make very serious errors. This is a very important point in general in terms of revolution and, obviously, would have particular and important application in a country like the U.S. And, obviously, this relates to solid core with a lot of elasticity, because everything is going to get pulled more toward that revolutionary core at the time when everything is compressed like that—and then many things are going to move back out, away from that core, in a certain sense.
This is an important dimension in which the whole question of living with and transforming the middle strata asserts itself, and poses the kind of contradictions that I’ve been talking about. On the one hand, there are the basic proletarian masses and, within the broad ranks of those masses, there are those who are most advanced and class conscious in their understanding, who are most firmly supporters of and fighters for the revolution, and who most deeply understand the overall objectives of the revolution and the final aim of communism; and then, along with those advanced proletarians, there are intermediate and backward, even among the proletariat, and there are broader strata of people (within which there are also advanced, intermediate, and backward). And once again, to continue advancing toward the goal of communism, which involves a whole long period of transition, you have to know how to handle all these different dimensions and levels of the “social configuration,” if you will, all the different expressions of the underlying contradictions that are giving rise to this. Ideologically, politically, and in terms of the economy and economic construction, as well as in terms of defending the socialist country while at same time supporting the world revolutionary struggle, you have to know how—here’s another application of solid core with elasticity—you have to know how at one and the same time to (a) hold on firmly to power and keep going in the direction of communism, while (b) giving expression to, and making the most of, all positive factors of all the different forces and diverse strata among the broad category of the people in society, while handling correctly the negative aspects that go along with that, from the standpoint of continuing the socialist transition toward the goal of communism (which, once more, can only be achieved on a world scale).
Here again this involves great complexity: The core, at any given time, whatever that core is, is holding all this in its hands, so to speak, and has to see the broad panoply of all this and, at least in their basic outlines, all the gradations that lie within this, and know how to handle it all in a “textured way,” if you want to use that metaphor. You have to handle correctly all the complexities of this while keeping it all going where it needs to go—continuing the revolution toward the goal of communism. You see, it’s not “head down, march straight forward”; it’s like this [waving his hands in circles to give expression to all the complexity], with all these different things going on, often in different and contradictory directions, within this whole process. That’s what we’re talking about dealing with, and if you try to compress that back down to what it was like at the time of the seizure of power, you’re going to lose power, lose the whole thing, one way or another, because you will not be able to do that. On the other hand, if you let it all go where it wants to go [laughter]—if you let it all go where it wants to go, then you’re going to lose everything in that way—because it’s going to go back into that spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie,8 in one form or another. And this is not existing in a vacuum, but in the actual conditions of what socialist society is like, with its material and ideological “left-overs” from capitalism—with the continuing existence of different classes and strata, and their underlying material basis in the production relations, with the corresponding social relations, as well as the expression of this in the political and ideological superstructure—and the international context that all this exists within, with the existence of remaining imperialist and reactionary states and the very real dangers and threats this poses to socialist states that are brought into being through revolution.
We can see the negative, extremely negative, expression of not correctly grasping and handling this in the experience—which I won’t attempt to go into in any kind of full way here, but briefly—the experience of Pol Pot in Cambodia, where instead of this kind of approach they had this whole approach that involved real irony, as well as real disaster. They had peasant masses who had not undergone any real radical transformation in their thinking, despite certain changes in their material conditions: the peasant masses, especially in the base areas they established during the war against the Lon Nol regime and the U.S. (which installed and backed that regime), were led by intellectuals who had that problem, the very real problem that I’ve spoken of in other talks and writings—the phenomenon of education on a narrow foundation (I’ll come back to that point shortly, because it is actually a very important point). And the Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot’s direction, took the rest of Cambodian society and attempted to pound and flatten it down to the level of the peasantry—as the peasantry was then—in the name of, and somehow as a supposed means for getting to, communism. To wildly understate it, they did not grasp solid core with elasticity or the “parachute point” at all. And this led to real disasters and, yes, real horrors.
Now, to turn more directly and fully to this point about education on a narrow foundation: I was reminded of this point again in seeing the presentation by Raymond Lotta on Setting the Record Straight—and specifically the discussion of the Soviet model of bringing up “a working class intelligentsia.” Besides the very real, and very significant, problem of mechanically identifying class origin with class outlook—which was a very marked tendency with Stalin but also found some expression in China under Mao’s leadership, although Mao was far more dialectical than Stalin about this, and in general—besides that problem, what was the essential aspect and the focus of that “working class intelligentsia” in the Soviet Union? Engineers. Now, I know that it’s probably not fair, and I don’t want to single out engineers as the only ones representative of the problem, but they are, I’m afraid to say, sort of a good metaphor for the problem. I have actually known engineers who became communists—but there’s still something about engineers, I’m sorry. [laughter] And there is definitely something about education on a narrow foundation, even if the education is in “Marxism.” If it’s education that amounts to training in dogma, which does not recognize and deal with the complexities of things—and all the different realms of society and history and nature, and yes, of epistemology, that have to be dealt with in order to actually lead this kind of complex process of revolution—if people trained in that kind of “education on a narrow foundation” emerge as the leadership, and if that leadership then takes basic masses as the main force it is mobilizing and relying on, but takes them more or less as they are, and uses them as a battering ram in relation to all the other strata in society, it becomes a very, very bad and dangerous brew, a poisonous brew.
I’ve used this metaphor before—I’ve thought about this in terms of athletes, who go from very poor conditions up to very luxurious conditions, but never broaden their viewpoint as they go “upwards.” Then they become “role models” for many others in society. And often combined with this, these days especially, is what this guy (Mark Bowden) who wrote the book Black Hawk Down, very well described as “jock Christianity.” This is like getting in a very narrow elevator shaft and going from the basement to the penthouse without ever stopping and looking out any windows. And the same basic problem arises whenever anyone undergoes this kind of experience. This formulation about the danger of education on a narrow foundation was something I read in a book by Robert Kaplan, who’s not a good guy, he’s an imperialist apologist, but nevertheless it’s an important insight, I believe, in his book The Ends of the Earth. He was actually talking about Islamic fundamentalism. And he quoted someone saying, “There is nothing so dangerous as education on a narrow foundation.” With this in mind and returning to the metaphor of an elevator shaft, you get in the elevator and it doesn’t stop on any floors, and it’s not one of those elevators in a fancy hotel where there are glass walls so you can look out through those walls to see a broader sweep of things. It’s very straight and narrow, and goes past floor after floor after floor, never stopping—it’s got the express button on. And riding on that elevator, you never get a broader vista.
Well, if that’s the kind of approach, even to Marxism, that you take, you can turn Marxism (or what claims to be Marxism) into its opposite, into something that becomes a weapon for very bad purposes and that does not recognize, and is not capable of recognizing, let alone dealing correctly with, the complexities that I’ve been talking about and emphasizing. Without going into great detail here, but just sort of characterizing things for the moment, this is essentially, epistemologically and politically, what was, to a significant degree, embodied in and what was happening in Cambodia under Pol Pot. You can see how things like that could be brought into being, and how even very positive things could be turned into their opposites, if they are led by people who are proceeding on the basis of “education” on a narrow foundation and, along with that, are mobilizing masses of oppressed people around a motivation of seeking revenge, not only against the old ruling class but also against anyone who may occupy a somewhat more “advantaged” position in relation to those on the bottom of society.
This is something we should learn from, very deeply. This is why I keep stressing these epistemological principles. If we are going to lead this whole process, we and our comrades throughout the international movement—and we are, because we must—then we have to develop this kind of a broad sweeping view and not an instrumentalist view of how we have to understand things and lead people to understand and transform things: what are the underlying and driving and defining contradictions and where they are tending, and how they have to be taken where they can be taken in the interests of the masses of people, broadly, and ultimately in the interests of humanity as a whole. Anything less than that is going to fall short, “at best.” There will be many people we can unite with who represent something less than that, but nothing less than that can lead this process. And if it does, it will not go where it needs to go, even if it makes a start. Of this I am deeply convinced.
There is an interconnection in all this between the underlying material conditions and the superstructural expressions, at every point. At the end of Phony/Real,9 I talked about this question of abundance and egalitarianism and stressed that what we are in favor of is relative abundance and relative egalitarianism during the transition to communism. Actually, with the achievement of communism we move beyond considerations of egalitarianism; but in the transition phase, during the socialist period, what we are talking about is relative abundance and its relation with relative egalitarianism. In other words, we are not for leveling, smashing everything down to the “lowest common denominator”—we’re not for “communizing poverty,” reducing everybody down to whatever the lowest status of people is at a given time, and then “we’ll all march forward together from there,” which is another expression of what went on in Cambodia under Pol Pot, more or less. But if we are correctly handling the back and forth between the underlying material factors and the superstructural expressions, the situation will continue to develop where, as it says at the end of Phony/Real, we increasingly develop greater relative abundance—in other words, there’s never absolute abundance, there are never unlimited resources, and there is never an absence of necessity, but there is a growing relative abundance, so that increasingly what is required (essentially, the amount of total labor time that is required) to simply reproduce the material requirements of life is declining, is taking up less and less of the time of the people, in relation to what overall is produced and is available in society and ultimately in the world as a whole. And, in interrelation with this, at every stage there should be further transformations in the economic base (in the production relations, including the division of labor in society, particularly the division between intellectual and physical labor) and in the superstructure, so as to move increasingly toward overcoming the remaining divisions and social inequalities. Put another way, what should be aimed for in society as a whole is: increasing relative egalitarianism, not essentially by bringing the higher levels down, so much as continuing to raise everything up, while moving (what was) the bottom up the most in an overall sense. In advancing toward and in finally realizing communism, the objective and the approach is not, and must not be, to “flatten everything out”—it is to continue to advance toward overcoming social inequality and, beyond that, to move beyond calculations of equality and inequality by realizing and implementing the principle of “from each according to their ability to each according to their need.”
This is another important aspect of the continual dialectical interplay between underlying material factors and the superstructural factors. It is another crucial dimension in which we have to understand and handle things correctly—not trying to overstep what’s possible at any given time but, as it says in Phony/Real, to repeatedly move, in the course of the socialist transition, from one level to another, higher level of relative abundance and relative egalitarianism—which, in turn, will give further expression to the emancipation of the productive forces, including the masses of people above all, and will at the same time give increasing scope to the flourishing of the individuals who make up society, within the overall collective framework.
So we can see from all this that, if we’re proceeding correctly, there’s going to be a very real and often very acute contradiction between applying the United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat “all the way through” the transition to communism and, on the other hand, actually forging ahead through that transition and finally arriving at the goal of communism, together with the whole worldwide struggle. This, once again, has to do with the dialectical relation between living with and transforming the intermediate strata, and has everything to do with the application at every point of solid core with a lot of elasticity and the related principles that I’ve discussed.
Here is a point of truly world-historical importance: The fundamental contradiction of capitalism will continue to call forth the need for proletarian revolution and the advance to communism to resolve this fundamental contradiction; but, as was spoken to earlier, to realize this requires the conscious struggle to recognize this—to dig down to the essence of this—and to act on it.
This is also a very real contradiction: It is like proceeding through a thicket to actually get to a grasp of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism and how it is actually moving and developing, and the different forms of motion of all this, and how they’re interpenetrating. This is not readily apparent, even to communists who are seeking to systematically apply the scientific outlook and method of communism to the world and to history and to society and nature.
So, on the one hand, even if all the communists in the world were to be wiped out tomorrow, the fundamental contradiction of capitalism would continue to objectively throw up the need for the proletarian revolution to resolve this contradiction in the interests of the masses of people. But, on the other hand, as we rupture more and more fully with determinism, we can understand that there is no guarantee that in any given period of time, or for a long time, there would necessarily emerge communists who would grasp this necessity, this objective need that was being acutely expressed. And we should recognize—we should fully confront the fact—that objectively, stepping back and looking at things since the loss of China in 1976 (the revisionist coup d’etat leading to the restoration of capitalism in China), while there have been and are important struggles going on in the world with real material force and important ideological expressions of what we’re all about, in a very real sense communism is hanging by a thread in the world right now.
And if the communist viewpoint and method, and the striving for communist objectives, that is represented by our Party and its leadership and some others in the world at this time (and, together, let us be honest and scientific, we represent a small number, particularly in relation to the challenges we face in the world—and this must change) but if, in the more short run, this were wiped out or crushed and defeated, there is a real chance that communism as a conscious expression could suffer a very severe setback and perhaps even disappear for a while. I don’t say this with any sense of defeatism—nor certainly to spread defeatism—nor do I say it to promote any false sense of self-aggrandizement on the part of those of us who are seeking to lead things toward the goals of revolution, socialism, and ultimately communism. I say this simply in a scientific sense. This is the reality—and this is the responsibility we have. This acutely posed itself at the time of the coup and capitalist restoration in China—was the communist movement going to basically be lost for a while, perhaps for a good while?—and it’s posing itself again acutely now. If you look at what’s going on in the world, if you look at the two extremes and everything in between that are talked about in “The New Situation and the Great Challenges,”10 you can understand from a materialist standpoint what I’m talking about. And, once again, I say this to emphasize nothing other than our profound responsibilities. We have a responsibility to fight for the correct understanding and application of the communist viewpoint and method, to see to it not only that this isn’t lost but that it becomes, on a qualitatively higher level, a real material force, taken up by growing ranks of the masses of people, of proletarians and other strata.
And, on the other side of things—speaking of not just the one, the negative extreme that could result from the development of the current dynamics in the world, but also the other, positive extreme, as well as everything in between—there is the possibility of qualitative breakthroughs in the world struggle as a whole, both in the realm of theory but also in the realm of practice and in their dialectical relation. And not only in the world as a whole but also in this country itself.
Now as Raymond Lotta has pointed out (in his presentation on “Setting the Record Straight”11 about the historical experience of socialist society and the dictatorship of the proletariat), the book Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That?12 does bring out—I’d actually forgotten this myself [laughs, laughter] until I heard this presentation, but it does bring out what is a very important point, it focuses on a very important contradiction: The motion of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism (and all the contradictions it gives rise to) is indeed tending toward the advance to communism, but on the other hand—acutely in contradiction to that, and an expression of the fact that this is not inevitable, or the only possible resolution of this fundamental contradiction—this advance to communism will require conscious and determined struggle on an unprecedented historical level in order to bring this into reality. And this, too, should give us a sober sense of our responsibilities.
To put it another way, what are we communists? We are not, to refer to Eldridge Cleaver’s phrase, “the baddest motherfuckers on the planet earth”—at least not quite in the sense that he meant it. We are a reflection, we are the conscious expression, of this fundamental contradiction of capitalism—of how it is tending, and of the need for the world-historic struggle to resolve this contradiction in the interests of the masses of people through proletarian revolution and the advance to communism, worldwide. That is what we communists are. We are the conscious expression of that.
George Bush is a reflection and in a certain sense, more or less—and probably less in his case—a conscious expression of this contradiction, in terms of the interests of the bourgeoisie. But in a whole different way, on a whole different level, we are the conscious expression of this contradiction and its motion and development, the way in which this is tending and the way in which it needs to be resolved through conscious revolutionary struggle. And this enables us to understand our own role. This doesn’t mean we are a mechanical extension of that—it means we are a conscious expression of it, with all the complexity and all the dynamism and initiative that this can imply—here again enters in the importance of a dialectical, as opposed to a mechanical-materialist, understanding of the relation between the economic base and the superstructure and more specifically between material reality and the reaction of people upon that material reality, to transform that reality, or, to put it another way, the dialectical relation between matter and consciousness and, as Mao emphasized, the continual transformation of the one into the other: matter being reflected in consciousness and, in turn, consciousness reacting back upon matter and changing it. (Of course it is important to keep in mind that consciousness itself is a form of matter in motion—and not something else—but consciousness, and in particular the consciousness characteristic of human beings, is a particular kind of matter in motion which has the ability to grasp the contradictions and driving forces in matter and its motion and development and to act, consciously, to affect that.)
Now part, and indeed a crucial part, of the material basis for communism, if it is to not be an idealist good wish or a nice idea only, is the existence and role of the proletariat as the “grave-digger” of capitalism. This is a crucial, indeed indispensable, part of the material basis for advancing to communism. You cannot, despite Leibel Bergman, have a proletarian revolution in which dentists are the driving force.13 [laughter] You have to have a material basis—- after all, what is embodied in this fundamental contradiction of capitalism? What does represent socialized production? It is the proletariat. And Engels did say there were two forms of motion of this contradiction, two expressions, one of them being the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Well, there can’t be a class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie if there is no proletariat. Fortunately, there is. And we have to add this, without getting mechanical materialist and determinist about this either: there cannot be a proletarian revolution if there are no class-conscious proletarians striving for that revolution.
So, we have to continue to examine and grapple with this question, continue to come back to the question of the proletariat, its actual existence and its revolutionary potential, now and in socialist society. We have to look at the contradictions involved in this from a materialist and dialectical standpoint and have a dialectical and materialist approach to this—as opposed to vulgar and mechanical materialism, determinism, and economism—in order to be able to actually lead a revolution in which the interests and outlook of the proletariat are in the leading and decisive position, understanding that not in some narrow, mechanical way, but rather in a sweeping, world-emancipating sense.
Looking at the U.S. itself, there are a lot of contradictory trends with regard to the proletariat. Here I am not going to try to examine all of this, but I do want to speak to some important aspects of it.
There is proletarianization, on the one hand, going on in different forms. People from the intermediate strata are being pushed down into the proletariat. And a big expression of this proletarianization involves immigrants coming into the U.S. who are from different strata in different countries, especially although not only from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Many of them were not proletarians in the countries they came from, and they carry the influences of that as well, but they become proletarians here, in their millions. So there is—in one dimension, one aspect of things—increasing proletarianization going on in the U.S. in this period. But there is also, in contradiction to that, significant de-proletarianization that is going on and has gone on for a number of years, and even decades. There are people whose situation changes from being proletarians to becoming semi-proletarians, who work part of the time, and make a living and accumulate things through other means as well, one way or another—peddling or petty activities in the informal economy and often in the illegal and underground economy—and there are people who go back and forth from the one to the other continually, depending on the particular ups and downs of the economy and other factors.
There has been a significant de-proletarianization over three decades now, and more, in the inner cities. You could actually trace it back to the 1950s, but it’s accelerated since the mid-’70s. People who were working in even well-paying jobs, in auto or steel, for example—you go to the places where these steel plants were and, from what I understand, there’s a bunch of cement there, in Gary, Indiana and Chicago and places like that; and auto plants, the same thing in parts of the midwest and in L.A. and the Bay Area and other places. Large numbers of people who formerly worked in these plants have gone into other positions, sometimes into lower sections of the proletariat, or they’ve gone into other ways of making their way through the world.
So there’s de-proletarianization, and then there’s some re-proletarianization. With regard to a number of services, such as travel, sometimes when people make travel or vacation arrangements they are speaking to somebody in prison—the job has been “farmed out” to the prison and people in prison doing that work are pushed back into conditions more approximating that of the proletariat—of an extremely exploited and oppressed proletariat, in fact—and there are other ways in which people are working in essentially semi-slave labor or very harsh sweatshop conditions within prison. That’s one manifestation of what could be considered “re-proletarianization.” There are other dimensions to this—there are people who had better-paying positions who have been pushed down into the proletariat, even the lower sections of the proletariat, by the changes brought on by globalization and related phenomena.
These contradictory trends, including significant de-proletarianization, find expression in the superstructure, including in ideological and cultural phenomena and trends. One of the main expressions of this is the growth of religion and religious fundamentalism among formerly proletarian sections of people or semi-proletarian sections of people today. You see this, for example, among Black people and immigrants in the U.S. And you see it as a worldwide phenomenon (which I will get into shortly).
Underlying and driving all this, on the global scale, there is the further “imperialization,” if you will—further imperialist penetration and domination of agriculture and in general the economies of Third World countries—and accompanying that the stark, grotesque contradictions in those countries between “technologically advanced enclaves” and massive technological backwardness (think of India, for example—and think of the cover of Notes on Political Economy,14 with a computer screen and little children carrying back-breaking loads). There is this stark and grotesque contradiction between technologically advanced enclaves and massive technological backwardness, along with deepening impoverishment and immiseration and, together with this, the massive uprooting of the peasantry and migration to the urban areas, as well as emigration to far-flung parts of the globe—all this together with, and fundamentally as a part of, this further “imperialization.” On this scale, this is a phenomenon of the last several decades. For the first time in the history of the world, half the world’s population now lives in urban centers—but often in desperate conditions, without being integrated in any “articulated” way into the economy of these countries: truly massive numbers of people are increasingly crowded into shantytowns which continue to grow in rings around the cities, and they are engaged, many of them (in many countries the majority of them), in the informal economy, both legal and illegal.
This is a new phenomenon in world history. It is an expression of both further and particular development of imperialism and of the setbacks of the socialist revolution in the world. Look at China, if you want to see this phenomenon once again—it is becoming more and more like India in many respects and particularly with regard to this striking phenomenon, this acute contradiction, where there are enclaves marked by advanced technology and glittering facades of wealth, surrounded by a sea of mass poverty and desperation.
And, along with this, all over the world, we see the growth of religious fundamentalism. Mike Davis, who has his limitations but also has some important insights, wrote an article where he spoke about how in the nineteenth and early twentieth century when people were driven off the land in the countries where capitalism was rising, they were more or less—not evenly and smoothly but more or less—integrated into the proletariat. And the proletarianization of these people led to a decrease in religion. But the phenomenon in the world today is in significant measure the opposite: people being driven from the countryside to the cities, or flushed out of the proletariat, if you will, and being herded into these massive shantytowns, existing in this “disarticulated” kind of situation—this has given rise to the reverse phenomenon of the growth, the significant dramatic growth, of gravitation toward religion, and in particular religious fundamentalism. In countries that are traditionally Islamic, it’s Islamic fundamentalism. In India, it’s mainly Hindu fundamentalism. In large parts of Latin America and Africa and other places, it’s Protestant Evangelical and, in particular, Pentecostal fundamentalism (Pentecostalism). This is something we have to understand more deeply. Pentecostalism, for example, combines the most extreme form of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, talking in tongues and all the rest of that stuff, with a very overt populism. It actually started among poor Black people in the U.S. about a century ago. (It’s not the John Ashcroft version of Pentecostalism I’m talking about.) This is a phenomenon throughout the impoverished parts of the world, in this country as well as in places like Africa and Latin America. This is something we have to learn about and come to understand more deeply, in order to be able to contend with it more effectively, in line with everything that I’ve been talking about here.
Here again, there is the interplay between underlying material factors and superstructural factors, and it’s important not to be a mechanical materialist and not to be an idealist in relation to these things. Simply because there is a growth of fundamentalist religion doesn’t mean that this is an inevitable trend that is bound to win out over more positive trends and programs, including and in particular revolutionary communism.
And this phenomenon of the growth of religious fundamentalism is not owing only to material factors. The fact is (and this is something that others have pointed out as well) that this has been accompanied in the political sphere by the concerted efforts of the imperialists, and those allied with them, over decades to wipe out secular opposition to them—especially communists, but also other secular opposition, all over the world. There is the dramatic example of Indonesia—the mass slaughter of communists, in the hundreds of thousands, in the 1960s—which I have spoken to in a number of places, including the talk Revolution.15 But you can also look at places like Egypt and the experience with Nasser (a bourgeois-nationalist leader in Egypt who had a popular following not only in Egypt but more broadly in the Arab countries, during the 1950s and 1960s). When “Nasserism” ran into its limitations in various ways, Islamic fundamentalism grew in relation to that. The same thing in Palestine: the U.S. and Israel have had a systematic policy of seeking to drive out Palestinians who are (at least nominally) Christians, because they have tended to be more secular than the Islamic Palestinians. Israel and the U.S. actually like the dynamic of “Jihad versus McWorld” (the way in which imperialism and creations and outposts of imperialism, like the state of Israel, on the one hand, and reactionary Islamic fundamentalism, on the other hand, actually mutually reinforce each other, even while opposing each other); they understand that it’s more favorable to them than having secular, and especially communist, opposition. And then add to this the defeat of socialism and the restoration of capitalism in China—and the negative effects and influences resulting from that, including the fact that, even if they sometimes make references to “socialism...with Chinese characteristics,” the rulers of China clearly have nothing to do with revolution and striving for a radically different world, and China is now clearly dominated by bourgeois forces which promote a bourgeois outlook and bourgeois aspirations. Recently, there was someone on the news, someone who writes for Newsweek (I believe he was the Middle East correspondent for Newsweek) and he was talking about the people who are the suicide bombers, in Europe and in England in particular (this was shortly after the bombing of the subways in London), and he said: A couple of decades ago these people would have all been Maoists, but now they’re Islamic fundamentalists. There is an insight there. That’s why I say we have to let reactionaries publish some books in socialist society—so we can learn some things. [laughter] And not just us, but the masses of people will learn more as a result.
So these are things we have to grapple with more deeply. We have to understand the complexity of all this and the interpenetration and interplay of these different factors, in the base and the superstructure—and in the different parts of the superstructure, the ideological and the political dimensions interacting with each other in the superstructure. All of these factors, and their interpenetration with each other—all of this has an influence with regard to the spread of this religious fundamentalism, which takes place, on the one hand, somewhat spontaneously and, on the other hand, through the very conscious encouragement of it by the imperialists (and forces allied with them), together with their systematic efforts to discredit and destroy the ideology and the political forces representing a real, and really liberating, alternative: communist ideology and the communist political program and objectives.
Now, this leads me to another point which I brought up in a talk nearly 20 years ago. This is an important point, and I want to return to it and to emphasize the importance of a correct understanding of it. What I am referring to is the formulation and orientation—which is intended to be and is somewhat provocative—of viewing positively the separation of the communist movement from the labor movement, and the whole way in which this is part of a rupture with economism and reformism. This represents a rupture with a whole historical trend which emerged and increasingly exerted itself under Stalin, after Lenin’s death—the identification of the communist movement with the labor movement. (At the same time, it is important to stress that this trend was not simply associated with Stalin but has been characteristic of various forces who have claimed to be for “socialism,” of one kind or another, and at the same time have opposed and vilified Stalin, including the Trotskyites, the revisionists of various kinds, many social-democrats and other reformist-socialists, and so on.)
This is an important principle, the separation of the communist movement from the labor movement—but, at the same time, this is not the same thing as the separation of the communist movement from the proletariat and from materialism. That we don’t need. If there is going to be a proletarian revolution, especially in a country like this, it has to have a foundation in the proletariat. And there are a lot of complex contradictions involved in that.
Let’s look at some of the contradictory character of this. Even if you could somehow think of making revolution in a country like this without the proletariat, or without the proletariat playing a very significant role—even if you could somehow imagine that, as problematical as that is—do you think you’re going to build socialism without a proletariat that’s with you? To just get right down on the ground, if you can imagine such a revolution, where you do not have on your side masses of people who actually are capable of producing the material requirements of life—and the material requirements of building a new society—and you go to those people and say, “let’s produce so we can carry forth the socialist revolution,” they will answer, directly or indirectly: “fuck you!” Well, you’re in trouble. [laughter] Now, this is not a static thing either, because a lot of people who are not proletarians now, semi-proletarians and others, can become proletarians in socialist society—they can be employed, they can be enabled and unleashed to contribute, materially as well as politically and ideologically, to building the new society—when you have state power and you’ve got the reins of the economy in your hands. New proletarians can be created by the millions, out of the ranks of the formerly unemployed and others. But even that’s contradictory because being a proletarian in socialist society has conservatizing influences as well, relative to capitalist society. In capitalist society, the proletariat is the exploited class, while in socialist society that is no longer true—this, of course, is a very good thing, and this radical change is an integral part of the whole advance to communism—but it also brings with it some conservatizing influences. On the other hand, the proletariat is the class which, even under socialism, will continue to be “losing out,” if you will, in the division of labor of society—unless and until the revolution is carried forward to communism and that division of labor is fully and finally overcome. This is why the proletariat can emancipate itself only by emancipating all of humanity: The only way it can completely overcome and abolish the conditions in which there is the basis for the proletariat to once again be exploited is by transforming all of society, and indeed the whole world, to bring into being a situation where all the production and social relations, all the political institutions, structures, and processes, and all the ideas that are an expression of, and reinforce, the division of society into classes and the existence of social inequalities bound up with those class divisions and antagonisms (such as those between intellectual and physical labor, as well as between women and men)—where all of that has been uprooted and finally eliminated.
So, in the world today, we see these acutely contradictory trends with regard to the situation of the masses of people. There are also contradictory trends with regard to the more bourgeoisified sections of the working class in the U.S., many of whom are being pushed down as a result of changes which were further unleashed after the end of the “Cold War,” and as result of how that “Cold War” was resolved, but which were in motion even before that. This has contradictory effects, too. These changes are not automatically leading people to be more radical in the positive sense. So all this is part of a complex picture that we have to deal with. We cannot make proletarian revolution, even in terms of the first leap represented by the seizure of power, without a significant base among different strata of the proletariat, and we can’t build socialism and advance to communism without that.
We did a considerable amount of investigation into the status of the proletariat and different sections of the working class, broadly speaking, as part of the process of producing our Draft Programme, but we have to understand more fully the physiognomy, if you will, the different configurations within the proletariat, as well as more broadly in society. We have to keep firmly in mind the principle and strategic orientation that Lenin stressed, of going down lower and deeper to the basic sections of the proletariat, whose interests more conform to and give rise to an inclination or gravitation toward proletarian revolution; but we also have to understand and handle correctly the complexity of all this. And we have to understand the historical evolution of the working class in the U.S. and its contradictory trends, what expressions these have taken over the last number of decades and what expressions they are taking today.
In this connection, a book that drew my attention is Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White, by David R. Roediger. In some significant ways, this book by Roediger is in line with important themes and points of analysis in Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis, which focuses on Detroit, but Working Toward Whiteness takes a broader look at what happened through the New Deal and in the aftermath of World War 2.16 Roediger discusses suburbanization, along with what amounts to the bourgeoisification of significant sections of (white) workers, particularly unionized workers. He focuses on those workers and sections of the working class that he calls the new immigrants—immigrants, in particular those from eastern and southern Europe, who came into the U.S. after World War 1, and faced discrimination and were sort of held in an in-between position, not considered to be fully American or even fully white, but very distinguished from oppressed nationalities, especially Black people. And he traces what happened with these different sections of immigrants. He points out, for example, that a lot of eugenics—the racist theories of population manipulation and so on, and theories of racial inferiority—a lot of this was actually directed against these immigrant groups during that period. Obviously, it was directed against Black people and other “people of color” in U.S. society, but it was also directed against these immigrant groups: they were considered to be somewhere on the sub-human ladder by many of the eugenicists, and a lot of the qualities that you hear now attributed to immigrants from other countries were attributed to these immigrants at that time from the Mediterranean and southern and eastern Europe, including the notion of their reproducing like rabbits all over the place.
There was, especially through and in the aftermath of World War 2, a very important international context and framework for what went on here. We talked about this in our Draft Programme (even, if I remember correctly, our Party’s previous Programme), about the bourgeoisification of significant sections of the working class as a result of the outcome of World War 2, the position of U.S. imperialism in rising to ascendancy within the imperialist world, and what this enabled it to do in terms of bribing broader sections of the working class in the U.S.
And you see here as well the interconnection of different things. For example, it’s been pointed out that the whole “defense strategy” that was developed for the homeland after World War 2, and under Eisenhower in particular, involved developing a vast interstate highway system that didn’t exist before. That was done largely in relation to perceived “defense” needs in the context of the “Cold War,” and the confrontation with the Soviet Union, which went through different phases, but was pretty acute in the 1950s. But what that did, at first somewhat coincidentally and then more consciously on the part of the ruling class, was provide more of a material basis for suburbanization, because you could have more of this commuting back and forth to work when you had these more developed highway systems that people could travel on at higher speeds. So this again shows the interconnection between the international and the domestic (if you will) conditions and contradictions.
There are some important insights and analyses in Roediger’s book, some of which I want to cite. He says that, in the years immediately after World War 2, “With Uncle Sam increasingly promoting the idea that U.S. levels of consumption, born of free enterprise, proved superiority over the Soviet system, the suburban house became an important (white) American symbol and the subsidized” (note: subsidized) “suburban home owner the quintessential social citizen. ‘When you rear children in a good neighborhood,’ one subdivision promoter told Time [magazine] in 1947, ‘they will go out and fight Communism.’” [laughter] Roediger goes on to comment about liberal anti-communism and how it tried to pose opposition to racism in terms of the national interests, and even fell into promoting this opposition to racism and discrimination in terms of how to better fight the “Cold War.” Roediger again: “Even as liberal anticommunism created new openings to attack Jim Crow as undermining national unity and embarrassing the nation in the Cold War, it simultaneously promoted the white suburb as the apotheosis of free market development, consumer society, and the American Dream.” (Apotheosis here referring to raising something to the level of a god, or to the level of the epitome, or perfect example, of something.) This is an important point: the white suburb became the apotheosis of free market development, consumer society, and the American Dream.
And Roediger goes on to comment: “Variously styled as ‘the right to racially homogeneous neighborhoods,’ ‘white entitlement,’ and,” (note well) “‘freedom of choice,’ this stance connected northern urban segregationism with claims on the state characteristic of the ascendancy of new immigrants during the New Deal” (again, referring particularly to immigrants from eastern and southern Europe). And here Roediger makes a very important point relating to many things I’ve been stressing here: “Of course in no society, least of all a market-based one, does a ‘right to choose neighbors’ exist.” Note how this is also an expression, once again, of the principle, articulated by Marx, that “right can never be higher than the economic structure of society, and the culture conditioned thereby.” Roediger continues: “In truth, high-sounding pro-segregation rhetoric typically asserted no such broad right” (that is, the right to choose neighbors), “but instead reflected the debasement of language by white supremacy when it assumed that ‘freedom’ inhered in the ability to avoid living near ‘Negroes...Chinese, Mexicans, American Indians, and other minorities.’” And he goes on: “New Deal housing policies empowered and advantaged new immigrants, but as whites, not as new immigrants. Such policies form perhaps the clearest example of the New Deal’s ‘whitening’ reforms. They expanded and clarified the ways state policy could favor whites, raising the stakes for the claiming of white identity.”
In other words, Roediger is saying that this was not all spontaneous racism. There was plenty of that, but it wasn’t all that. These New Deal policies expanded and clarified the ways that state policy could favor whites, raising the stakes for the claiming of white identity, as he puts it.
And he continues: “They [policies applied by the state] also advertised the coercion that accompanied federal blandishment” (that is, coaxing and enticement). In other words, there was a carrot and a stick here. If you did assert your whiteness, you got certain benefits; and, if you didn’t, you suffered for it.
Roediger then goes on to talk about some of the ways this worked out: “FHA [Federal Housing Authority] guidelines took up the attack on ‘mixed race’ neighborhoods with a vengeance, cautioning against the presence of, or even possible infiltration by, ‘socially antagonistic’ populations or ‘incompatible racial elements.’” Remember, this is a federal agency he’s talking about, the FHA. He continues: “Thus while helping the descendants of new immigrants get more favorable credit and cheaper homes, the FHA and VA [Veterans Administration] also directed them away from the mixed urban areas containing immigrant neighborhoods and ethnic institutions.” In other words, these government institutions could have directed these immigrants into neighborhoods that were mixed, but had the basis for the immigrants to be able to effect a transition in their situation and be more comfortable in dealing with the transition, but institutions like the FHA and VA deliberately pushed them away from those neighborhoods, away from integration, and into segregated and suburban neighborhoods. “The FHA,” Roediger points out, “represented an open incarnation of the New Deal alliance between white supremacist southern Democrats and northern segregationist forces, in this case, realtors, bankers, and white urban and suburban home owners.”
And he goes on: “Beyond the racial outcomes dictated by the ‘raceless’ logic of the market” (in other words, beyond just the spontaneity of economic factors) “in an unequal society, the FHA constructed powerful preferential options for whites....With the top tier of federal housing initiatives reserved for whites, public housing, as the historian Craig Steven Wilder reminds us, became ‘the only new construction available to black and Puerto Rican people,’ and it ‘was normally constructed in segregated areas and therefore only served to reinforce ghettoization.’” Here, again, this is a matter of conscious federal policy.
Roediger once more: “From its earliest days the New Deal implemented a two-tier housing policy. On the one hand, the initiatives in the realm of public housing provided for mostly low-income workers. These initiatives bowed to segregation but served the poor across the color line.” In other words, they reinforced segregation but they were extended to people in different neighborhoods, of different races or nationalities. Continuing with Roediger’s observations: “Like direct relief benefits”—now this is very important—“public housing was quickly typed in many places as ‘welfare’ for African-Americans, as a ‘handout for the feckless’ [the lazy and irresponsible]. On the other hand, government support [that is, government subsidy] for private housing massively and deliberately benefitted white home owners and white prospective buyers. It was not seen as welfare at all.” [The preceding quotes are from David E. Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White, The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (New York: Basic Books, 2005), pp. 230, 226, 228, 231, 232, 227-28, 225, emphasis added.]
So here you see a very profound point—how things were typed and cast: deliberate segregation and creating a stigma. Both types of situations Roediger describes result from federal funds and federal subsidies, but one of them is public housing and cast as second class, as handouts to the lazy and irresponsible, and the other is glorified as the emblem or apotheosis of the good society, with government underwriting of private home ownership, and things divided along lines of segregation by “race,” as defined by the ruling class.
And, as Roediger also points out, this further entrenchment and institutionalization of segregation, discrimination, and white supremacy in housing, which resulted through the New Deal, was accompanied by the same thing in employment, including in the industrial working class, and it was gone along with by the heads of the industrial unions, organized in the CIO (Congress of Industrial Unions), which also gained strength through the New Deal—“union leaders” (we might put this in quotes) who were thoroughly reformist-minded and thoroughly wedded to, and linked their own interests with, the “fortunes” of U.S. imperialism. That’s me saying that. [laughter] But Roediger goes on to say: “Within the CIO itself, the unequal positions of new immigrant workers and workers of color ensured that nonracial syndicalist policies could empower new immigrants around the defense of white interests” (Working Toward Whiteness, p. 220). In other words, by not taking up the fight against white supremacy, they reinforced white supremacy and the superstructural expressions of racism that went along with it.
And, once again, taking into account the international dimension of this—and specifically the role and strivings of U.S. imperialism in the world in this period—we can see how the defense of “whiteness” was linked to the defense of “Americanism.” We can also see that what is particularly treacherous is the way in which the Communist Party, despite its declared opposition to white supremacy, and even despite its work in opposition to it, nonetheless, in subordinating itself within the terms and confines of the New Deal, became in essence an appendage of U.S. imperialism, with the white supremacy which has been built into and institutionalized in this system and which became (as Roediger shows) even more firmly institutionalized and deeply entrenched through the New Deal and in the aftermath of World War 2, with the triumph of U.S. imperialism in that war and its emergence as the top imperialist power in the world.
In this connection, it’s worth quoting Eric Alterman, who wrote this book called What Liberal Media? He’s a social democrat and a liberal himself—he definitely has his limitations—but he did bring forward a very interesting and important insight. Speaking about people like Bill O’Reilly and Chris Matthews, he said the following: “for both O’Reilly and Matthews, the term ‘working class’” (because, to step back, O’Reilly always insists that he’s working class, [laughter] but his father was a realtor or something like this—“I’m a working class guy,” he frequently insists, but Alterman observed): “for both O’Reilly and Matthews, the term ‘working class’ is defined not by income, but by cultural values such as hard work, devotion to family, and respect for authority and tradition.” (In passing here, it should be noted that income, as such, is not a scientific means for determining class position—for example, a small shopkeeper could actually have a lower net income than someone who works in a low-paying sweatshop, but that sweatshop worker would be part of the proletariat, while the shopkeeper would be part of the petty bourgeoisie—but this does not change the fact that Alterman is making an important point here.) And, in fact, these values, which Alterman summarizes, are really petty bourgeois values of a certain kind—they are a superstructural expression that is representative of a certain section of the working petty bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy. So this is an interesting and important insight of Alterman’s. All this underlines, again, the importance of—a correct understanding of—Lenin’s emphasis on the split in the working class under the conditions of imperialism and on basing revolution on the “lower” and “deeper” sections of the proletariat; and it underlines—the correct understanding of—the separation of the communist movement from the labor movement.
At the same time, as I referred to earlier, on the other side of things, with the end of the “Cold War” and heightened globalization, there have been significant changes and there is considerable “flux” in the broader working class in the U.S. There is an aspect in which this provides more objective basis for winning formerly bourgeoisified sections of the working class to the proletarian revolution, although the effects of all this are sharply contradictory and definitely do not lead to heightened class consciousness in a mechanical and linear sense, nor certainly spontaneously. The fact that sections of the working class are being, if you will, de-bourgeoisified in certain measure does not spontaneously lead to their radicalization in a good sense, by any means, and certainly not in a mechanical and linear way or spontaneously.
Our strategic orientation and approach to all this must be: winning over the broader working class as part of the UFuLP (United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat), with this “anchored” fundamentally in the “lower, deeper” sections of the proletariat and based on the world outlook and fundamental interests of the proletariat, not as individuals, but as a class, not as representative of groupings within the proletariat, but fundamentally representing the outlook and interests of the proletariat as a class in the sweeping sense. And here again we see the importance of the approach (which I have spoken to, in previous talks and writings) of what we have characterized as “combining all positive factors” (as opposed to all negative factors!) within the proletariat (and among the basic masses broadly) as well as in regard to the overall development of the struggle and the united front, under the leadership of the proletariat.
Now, you can think about, for example, Léon Bing’s book, Do or Die, about the gangs in LA. She describes this phenomenon, on the one hand, of a 14-year-old Black kid, who’s in the gangs in the ghetto and who, every day, kind of goes out and looks at what seems to him the strange phenomenon of these Mexicans going to work—for him, this is not a familiar phenomenon, given the circumstances in which he’s grown up and the people he’s known. But he sort of looks at it like an oddity—what’s that about? On the other hand, I was just reading something in our paper about this outpouring of 40,000 immigrant workers in Chicago17 and the way in which some work was done, to take out to the people in this demonstration not only the Call for World Can’t Wait but also Revolution newspaper and a DVD “sampler” of my talk, Revolution; and, in following up on this, there was a comment by this one Mexican immigrant proletarian, who said that one of the things he learned from the this DVD was about the history of Black people in the U.S.—the whole horrific history of oppression—he didn’t know about this, and this was very important for him to learn.
So there is the question: how do we combine all positive factors? There are the negative factors, obviously, of de-proletarianization and the way this affects people’s outlook, some of which I’ve spoken to. On the other hand, there are certain positive qualities to not being thoroughly plugged in to the economy, particularly in an imperialist country like this, and not being, if you will, bourgeoisified in that kind of way. It gives people more of a readiness to jump to a radical solution, especially if and as that takes on more of an actual feeling of reality to them—and it is our responsibility to do the work to make that happen, together with the development of the objective situation, and in order to transform that situation to the greatest degree possible at every point.
On the other hand, there are obviously positive qualities of people who are more regularly employed—and whose life conditions are more regularly those of the proletariat. There’s a discipline that comes with that. There is the socialization of labor, working together and in coordination with hundreds, even thousands of people, directly (and ultimately thousands, even millions more, throughout the world), which still counts for a great deal. There is the broadness of mind that does tend to develop with that, although that is contradicted by other countervailing tendencies. And then there are those other countervailing tendencies: there’s the conservatism that comes from being in that position. An immigrant comes to the U.S, say from Mexico, and he (or she) has twelve people dependent on them down in their village in Mexico—that has a certain pull on people. And they have four kids; they left their village, they brought their kids with them and they have to support these kids. And the kids are undergoing the changes that happen when you go to a different society. The parents are proletarians—or, as often happens, the mother comes with the kids, and she is (or becomes in her new situation) a proletarian, but the kids, or some of them, get off into the drug trade. There are all these different contradictory tendencies, and we have to forge a synthesis of all the positive factors out of this, and overcome the negative factors.
We are not going to have, and there never will be, a proletarian revolution that is made with “pure proletarians,” especially as conceived of with an economist outlook and approach (reducing the workers and the scope of their struggle to merely the economic sphere, reducing the struggle of the working class to immediate concerns involving wages and related questions, or in any case limiting it to the economic sphere, with the highest expression of that being something like a general strike). Revolution is not going to be a general strike, as the Trotskyites and others with essentially the same viewpoint and approach think—if they even think about revolution. But, beyond that, it’s not going to be a neat unfolding of something where, in direct proportion and mechanical relation to how many proletarians there are, that much more powerful will be the revolutionary movement of the proletariat. It’s going to be much more contradictory and complex than that, in some ways acutely so.
One of the things we continually wrestle with—I spoke to this in an article about George Jackson, it is another form of the Scylla and Charybdis contradiction, having to navigate, metaphorically, between a hard rock and a whirlpool18—is that we know very well that there are thousands and ultimately millions of these youth, for example, who are semi-proletarians, many of whom have told us, over and over again, “when the time comes, I’ll be with you.” Now, some of them are, at this point, bullshitting about that—as materialists we should certainly understand that—some of them are bullshitting, okay? [laughter] But many of them are not—and one of the difficult challenges of a situation like ours is finding a way to give expression to the sentiments of these youth in favor of revolution, while doing so in a way that corresponds to and serves, and does not rupture with, the correct strategy and revolutionary road for a country like this (as spoken to earlier) and does not overstep what the situation is and where the broader masses of people are at any given point, in terms of their consciousness and, correspondingly, how and for what they are, and are not yet, prepared to fight.
There are many difficulties when you can be on the road of armed struggle, of people’s war, from the beginning, including the pull toward falling into what amounts to armed reformism, or armed revisionism, in particular the ways in which you can get pulled in that direction after getting a certain ways through waging people’s war but then running up against new obstacles and in particular the challenge of getting over the big hump of being able to take on the concentrated strength of the reactionary army and go all-out to defeat it. Still, there are certain advantages in that kind of a situation, which we do not have as a result of the fact that the road to revolution in a country like this cannot be protracted people’s war, that the all-out struggle for power can only come after a major, qualitative change in the objective situation, and that, in preparation for such a qualitative change, the essential approach must be one of political and ideological work and struggle to hasten while awaiting the development of a revolutionary situation. But once, in the development of any revolutionary movement, the conditions are such that armed struggle is the necessary and appropriate form of struggle, then the possibility of mobilizing people into that struggle—including many who have previously not been involved in the revolutionary movement—is heightened. And, speaking specifically of the millions of youth in the inner cities, if conditions were such that the armed struggle were on the agenda—once a revolutionary situation existed, including the presence of a revolutionary people, of millions and millions—a lot of these youth would be front-line fighting forces. Of course, it would be necessary then to carry out a tremendous amount of ideological struggle with them about what they would be, and should be, fighting for. Because there will be very powerful spontaneous pulls to be fighting for something other than what they should be fighting for, and toward ways of fighting that correspond to that something else, rather than what they need to be fighting for. There would be tremendous need for the presence and influence of a communist solid core and for ideological struggle, but a lot of these youth would be in the front ranks, well before a lot of more “classical” proletarians. But, on the other hand, if you think that it would be possible to make revolution without those proletarians becoming actively involved—including in the all-out struggle for power, when the time comes for that—no, that’s not going to happen.
So this is the complexity of what we have to deal with. Once again, we have to be able to correctly handle all these things that get unleashed and come into the picture of what goes into actually making a revolution, as opposed to having a simplistic, linear, and mechanical notion of how this is going to come about. And once again, there is the by now familiar refrain—or what should be a familiar refrain by now—which is the need for a materialist and dialectical understanding and approach to all this—to the proletariat and proletarian revolution, to the basis and means for making this revolution and for advancing toward communism, as opposed to any bourgeois or petty bourgeois expressions of idealism. This is a fundamental line of demarcation, not in terms of who can be involved in this revolution but in terms of what class outlook and program has to lead it, and what the communists have to embody and express in order to lead it.
And the need to be firmly grounded in and systematically applying a proletarian world outlook—in the broadest sense—as opposed to various expressions of bourgeois and petty bourgeois idealism, takes us back once again to the shopkeeper and the democratic intellectual, who have now become familiar figures, if not old friends. [laughter] The democratic intellectual, and what is represented by that worldview, is not capable of leading a thoroughgoing struggle for revolution—and such a worldview reflected among the communists is revisionism (reformism, accommodation to and ultimately support for the existing capitalist-imperialist system, all in the name, or guise, of communism).
Lenin talked about this same basic phenomenon in relation to people like Mark Twain in the context of the U.S. war against the Philippines, at the end of the 19th century, and the atrocities committed by the U.S. in that war. Mark Twain was an outspoken opponent of that war—he denounced it in very uncompromising terms. But Lenin pointed out that his opposition came from the standpoint of the petty bourgeoisie, which wants to get rid of the excesses and atrocities which they can recognize but doesn’t see the need to transform the material foundation of all this, the material basis in which all these atrocities and excesses are rooted and from which they emanate—the imperialist system itself and its grounding in the capitalist mode of production.
And Lenin also made, in another context, a very important observation which relates to our old friends, the democratic intellectual and the shopkeeper. [laughter] Lenin pointed out that capitalism puts into the hands of individuals, as commodities and capital, things which have been produced by all of society. And today this is, more than ever, a worldwide phenomenon. It is worth repeating this: Capitalism puts into the hands of individuals, as commodities and capital, things which have been produced by all of society—and, indeed, on a worldwide level increasingly. So you see people who think of themselves as having earned everything they have, who believe they have a right, an inalienable right, to whatever they have been able to accumulate—even if we’re just talking about articles of consumption, and leaving aside the accumulation of capital—and who are blind to, or willfully ignore, the whole process of accumulation through which all this wealth, a portion of which they have, is created on a social basis. Lenin pointed out that, as long as that is the case, as long as you have commodity production—and this is all the more so with capitalism, which generalizes commodity production—you are going to have this phenomenon that Marx talks about, of commodity fetishism. Now, he wasn’t talking about deviant sexual behavior. He was talking about the inverted sense of reality whereby people view what are fundamentally relationships among people, social relationships, as if they are relations between things, and they don’t see the underlying process and division of labor—which, indeed, in today’s world is on a world scale—through which all these things are actually produced and distributed.
You see this reflected even in your own thinking: “I’m going to the hairdresser.” Because this person is an embodiment of the commodity that you are going to be paying for. “I’m going to the hairdresser, I’m going to the grocer, the butcher” (when they had butchers who were separate commodity traders, rather than being part of big supermarket chains, as they mostly are now in a country like the U.S.). Under the conditions of commodity production and exchange, people are thrown into relations with each other that appear to be relations between things—and when you want some things, you have to have another thing with which to get it—generally money, which is nothing other than the congealed and universal form of the exchange of all commodities. As I recall, Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels, pictures one fictional society where they actually tried to have people carrying around words, as a physical thing, instead of having a language with abstractions. Well, similarly, if you tried to carry around all the commodities that get traded on a world scale, it would be very unwieldy! So that’s the role of money.
But Engels made a point about money. If I’ve got the Latin phrase right, he said about money, “non olet”—“it doesn’t smell.” What he meant by that is: it doesn’t tell you where it came from and where it’s going—how it was produced, by what means, under what conditions, and what it’s going to be used for. Is it merely going to be used for the exchange of commodities, or is it in fact going to be used to buy that one unique commodity, labor power (the ability to work), that can create more wealth in its use? So Engels was saying: as long as there is money, there’s the potential for capitalism to emerge in the world, because money doesn’t “smell,” it doesn’t tell you how it got accumulated or what use it’s going to be put to.
So, in a society like this—a society of generalized commodity production and exchange, a society in which there is generalized commodity fetishism—people think that somehow they did whatever it was that caused these things they have to land in their lap. They are blind to the larger and more fundamental process that goes on, through which this wealth is created and in accordance with which it is distributed. I talked about this in the Revolution speech—in the imperialist countries many people are, in effect, floating on a pool of accumulated wealth. Why did Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs get to go into their garage and tinker around with computer things, and eventually end up founding Apple Computers, while someone their age in places like Pakistan, Honduras, Thailand, and Egypt, had been, for 10 years already, working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, producing some of the commodities that these two guys, and millions more like them, use for everyday life? I have told people: If you don’t believe this is an imperialist system, if you don’t see how the seal of parasitism is set on this whole society by imperialism, go home to your closet and throw out every piece of clothing except those made in the United States—which, in reality, means every piece of clothing that is made under conditions of not “normal” but extreme exploitation, including exploitation of little children, all throughout the world. Throw all those out and keep only the ones that aren’t made that way—and see if you can go out your front door. See if you will have anything to wear. All you have to do is look at the labels on your clothes to see what kind of system this is—to see a reflection of the fact that it is an international system of exploitation, with the most extreme forms of exploitation, including of children, throughout the Third World. This goes back to the relation between imperialism and bourgeois democracy (and social democracy), which I spoke to in an earlier part of this talk.19
Lenin also pointed out that capitalism and commodity production and exchange forces people to, as he put it, calculate with the stinginess of a miser: What do I have, compared to what you have, what do I get for what I give up? This is the way people are forced to calculate, not because of unchanging and unchangeable human nature, but because of the conditions in which people’s lives are embedded and the forces that shape those things—and the ideas that this in turn gives rise to and reinforces—within the confines of the capitalist system and its worldview.
A petty bourgeois outlook cannot see beyond commodity fetishism, beyond viewing the relations between people as essentially a relation between things, between commodities. It cannot get beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right; it cannot get any farther in its theoretical conceptions of society and how it ought to be, than our old friend, the shopkeeper, can get in everyday life. And this is why you need a proletarian revolution, understanding that with all the complexity that I have been speaking to, and not in some linear or mechanical and economist sense.
But there is a basic point here: You are not going to make revolution—communist revolution—by trying to base it on scattered petty entrepreneurs (and other people in the middle strata). Yes, we need to win as many of them to this revolution as we can, but we’re not going to make this revolution by trying to base it on them, and by upholding their material interests and their outlook in opposition to big capital (the corporations and so on), which is what a lot of “the left” is obsessed with and absorbed in these days. And you are not going to realize communism through some loose interaction of atomized individuals. Communism and the communist revolution will not be a grand flea market or a grand worldwide bazaar. I’m resisting the “Shakespearean temptation” to say: that would be a bizarre notion.20 [laughter] I guess I didn’t succeed in resisting it [laughter]. But, once more, that notion has more to do with Adam Smith than it does with Marx. So this emphasizes, yet again, the importance of a materialist, a dialectical materialist, as opposed to a utopian-idealist view of revolution and of communism.
Let’s return again to Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State: Here he makes a very important observation: “No society,” he says, “can retain for any length of time the mastery of its own production and the consequences of its process of production unless it abolishes exchange [here speaking of commodity exchange] between individuals.” This once more relates to the anarchy of commodity production and exchange. Let’s repeat that: “No society can retain for any length of time the mastery of its own production and the consequences of its process of production unless it abolishes exchange [here speaking of commodity exchange] between individuals.” This statement by Engels is another one of those things that concentrates profound understanding, from a materialist standpoint, about human society and its historical development, and its potential. Here I won’t further elaborate on this statement by Engels, but will emphasize the value and importance of continuing to reflect on and grapple with this statement and its profound meaning.
Now, proceeding from what has been said above, I want to speak further to the contradiction involving individuals in relation to collectivity and cooperation, and individuals in relation to the greater good of society. This is a matter of grasping firmly the principal aspect and yet not obliterating or ignoring but giving due weight and expression to the secondary aspect. These contradictions between individuals, on the one hand, and collectivity and cooperation on the other, and between individuals and the greater good of society—these contradictions are spoken to in a number of talks as well as writings of mine, including GO&GS (Great Objectives and Grand Strategy)21 and the epistemology discussion.22
In that epistemology discussion, I said there is more work to be done on these questions, and I referred to engaging with John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in this connection. In that work, Rawls is setting out to construct the idea of a just society. He is not claiming that this society has ever existed or that it has evolved historically, but he’s setting out to define what such a just society would be like and what should be striven for as the goal. And in this context—he’s speaking particularly about and polemicizing against the utilitarians, including people like John Stuart Mill, or perhaps people like Jeremy Bentham more than Mill—and he says: “Justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others....in a just society,” he continues, “the basic liberties are taken for granted and the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.” Note again: “The rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.” And then later, in discussing, as he calls them, “Two Principles of Justice,” Rawls writes, once again particularly in opposition, it seems, to utilitarianism of various kinds: “First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for others.” Sound familiar? Immanuel Kant, anyone? “Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all,” rather than the exclusive province of some. “These principles,” he goes on, “are to be arranged in a serial order with the first principle prior to the second. This ordering means that infringements of the basic equal liberties protected by the first principle cannot be justified, or compensated for, by greater social and economic advantages.” [Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999, revised from the 1971 edition), pp. 25, 53-54, emphasis added here]
In other words, what he is saying here, boiling it down, is this: the greater social good cannot justify restricting the rights of some, or affording greater “basic liberties” to one part of society as opposed to another. Goodbye, dictatorship of the proletariat!
And here we can see the fundamentally idealist and ahistorical nature of these principles, and of the viewpoint they express. If you think back to the whole discussion at the beginning of this talk, about the motion and development of society through the continuing expression and dynamism of the contradictions between the forces and relations of production and the base and the superstructure, and Marx’s point about how each generation inherits the productive forces from the previous generation, and the whole discussion of necessity and freedom, with the latter consisting in the transformation of the former—if you think about all that, you can see how this is totally idealist and ahistorical, how this notion of Rawls’s doesn’t at all correspond to how societies actually develop and how classes first emerged, and the state with them, and what the further development of class society has in fact led to.23 You can see how this is fundamentally ahistorical, and fundamentally idealist. If one applies historical materialism and thereby understands how society actually has evolved, it can be clearly seen how it is not possible to apply these principles of justice, formulated by Rawls, equally to individuals in the way he’s talking about.
And in basic opposition to this kind of approach is the communist approach of situating all this in the context of definite production and social—and, in class society, class—relations and the recognition that, in a society divided into classes, there are not only differing but even fundamentally opposed views of “the societal good”—what it is and how to achieve it—and of the relation of individuals to that societal good. Again, I go back to my earlier point that every class, and in particular every ruling class, identifies the general societal interests with its particular class interests. In opposition to that, there is the communist approach of correctly recognizing the criterion of realizing the greater social good, as the principal thing, while not negating the secondary but still very important aspect of not trampling on individuals and individuality, but giving the fullest expression to individuality within the overall societal and collective and cooperative framework. Here, again, we are back to Marx’s point that “right can never be higher than the economic structure of society, and the culture conditioned thereby.” And, with the exercise of state power by the proletariat, led by its vanguard, there is the importance—here is something else which I expect will be controversial within the international communist movement, or in any case it is a rupture with at least some of the previous practice of socialist states—there is the importance of not subjecting individuals, even individuals of the former ruling class (and other counterrevolutionaries being dictated over), to arbitrary suppression and curtailment of their individual rights, expressions, etc.
This goes back to my whole discussion about the “rule of law” and a Constitution, because if even the representatives of the overthrown ruling class and other counter-revolutionaries, or people who are said to be counter-revolutionary, are subjected to arbitrary suppression and curtailment of their rights, then you’re opening the door to doing that on a very wide scale, including among the ranks of the people, at the whim and caprice of whoever happens to be having their hands on the levers of power at a given time. So here again is the role of a Constitution and the question of “the rule of law” in socialist society.24
Once again, this all relates back to the communist, as opposed to the bourgeois, the materialist—the dialectical materialist—as opposed to the idealist and metaphysical, view of freedom. And it’s important for us to grasp and apply this without falling into a utilitarianism and instrumentalism which says that whatever is for the greater societal good should be done, and it doesn’t matter what happens to individuals—when you make an omelette you have to break some eggs, and so on.
Having spoken to these points, I want to emphasize again that, even now, before there is the establishment of a new proletarian state in the world—and, in fact, in order to strengthen the basis for establishing that state, wherever that breakthrough can be made first, through the revolutionary struggle for the seizure of power—and to make the socialist state serve, as fully as possible, the fundamental and final aim of advancing to communism, there is still more work to be done on this question of the relation of individuals to the greater societal good, including with regard to the summation of the previous historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat. At the same time, the principles I have spoken to, and the contradictions I have identified as essential, in relation to this, do, I believe, provide important parts of the foundation for that further work.
The understanding that freedom is the recognition—and the transformation—of necessity; that “right can never be higher than the economic structure of society, and the culture conditioned thereby”; and of what was just said in relation to, or by way of refutation of, Rawls’s Theory of Justice, as well as what was said concerning Kant’s “categorical moral imperative.”25: this, taken together, provides a foundation for understanding more fully the communist view of freedom, in contrast with the bourgeois view. I won’t say more about that here, but leave that as something for people to reflect on and for further wrangling.
But what I do call attention to here is how all of this, in terms of the relationship—the contradiction—between the individual and the collective, and individuals and the greater societal good, relates back to the “parachute” point that was discussed earlier. As was emphasized, it is very important to recognize that there is going to be a great deal of diversity as the parachute “opens back up again,” after power is seized and consolidated through proletarian revolution. There will be different social classes and groupings, and there will be many different individuals with different particular characteristics and inclinations; and handling correctly these different contradictions, in the different ways and on the different levels they express themselves, and in their inter-relations, is all part of the complexity of what’s involved in leading the struggle in any particular country as part of the worldwide advance to communism.
1. What is referred to here, with the concept of “end of a stage,” is the experience that began (after the short-lived Paris Commune) with the Soviet revolution in Russia, in 1917, and then the Chinese Revolution, which achieved nationwide political power in 1949, and ended with the restoration of capitalism in China, after Mao’s death in 1976—which, in turn, followed the restoration of capitalism in the formerly socialist Soviet Union in the mid-1950s. See “The End of a Stage—The Beginning of a New Stage” by Bob Avakian (Revolution magazine, Fall 1990).
2. Bob Avakian speaks to this concept of “solid core with a lot of elasticity” in the talk Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism, and it is referred to in the book by Bob Avakian, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005); in particular footnote 2, on pp. 68-69 of Observations, explains this concept as follows: “Avakian discusses this concept in the talk Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism as follows: ‘[Y]ou have to have a solid core that firmly grasps and is committed to the strategic objectives and aims and process of the struggle for communism. If you let go of that you are just giving everything back to the capitalists in one form or another, with all the horrors that means. At the same time, if you don’t allow for a lot of diversity and people running in all kinds of directions with things, then not only are people going to be building up tremendous resentment against you, but you are also not going to have the rich kind of process out of which the greatest truth and ability to transform reality will emerge.’ (‘A World We Would Want to Live In,’ Revolutionary Worker #1257 [October 31, 2004].)”
3. This refers to a statement by Marx, in The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, that the dictatorship of the proletariat represents the necessary transit to the abolition of all class distinctions (or class distinctions generally); of all the production relations on which these class distinctions rest; of all the social relations that correspond to these production relations; and to the revolutionizing of all ideas that correspond to those social relations.
4. Strategic Questions was a talk by Bob Avakian in the mid-1990s, and selections from it were published in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) in issues 881 and 884-893 (November 1996 through February 1997) and in issues 1176-1178 (November 24 through December 8, 2002). These selections can also be found online at revcom.us.
5. As spoken to by Bob Avakian in another part of this talk, these four objectives are: (1) holding on to power; (2) making sure that the solid core is not a static thing but is expanding to the greatest degree possible at any given point; (3) working consistently toward the point where that solid core will no longer be necessary, where there will no longer be a distinction between that solid core and the rest of society; and (4) giving expression to the greatest amount of elasticity at any given time on the basis of that solid core. The section of the talk that addresses this was published as “Views on Socialism and Communism: A RADICALLY NEW KIND OF STATE, A RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND FAR GREATER VISION OF FREEDOM,” particularly the part titled “A Materialist Understanding of the State and Its Relation to the Underlying Economic Base,” which appeared in Revolution #42 (April 9, 2006) and is available online at revcom.us.
6. This metaphor of being drawn and quartered is spoken to by Bob Avakian in “Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World” (Revolutionary Worker #1262 [December 19, 2004]). It was also published as part of the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005).
7. Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism appeared in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper (now Revolution) between August 2004 and January 2005 and is available online at revcom.us.
8. Bob Avakian discusses this phenomenon of the “spontaneous striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie” in the series of excerpts from this talk published as “Views on Socialism and Communism: A RADICALLY NEW KIND OF STATE, A RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND FAR GREATER VISION OF FREEDOM,” particularly the part titled “A Materialist Understanding of the State and Its Relation to the Underlying Economic Base,” which appeared in Revolution #42 (April 9, 2006) and is available online at revcom.us.
9. Avakian, Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, 2nd edition (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004).
10. See “The New Situation and the Great Challenges,” in Revolution #36 (February 26, 2006), available online at revcom.us. This is a talk given in the aftermath of September 11, and was originally published in the Revolutionary Worker #1143 (March 17, 2002).
11. Revolution is publishing this “Setting the Record Straight” presentation, “Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism and Communism Will Be A Far Better World,” in serialized form. See Revolution issues #25-33 (Dec. 4, 2005 through Feb. 5, 2006), #35 (Feb. 19, 2006), #38-39 (March 12-19, 2006) #42 (April 9, 2006) and #44 (April 23, 2006); available at revcom.us.
12. Avakian, Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? (Chicago: Banner Press, 1986).
13. In his memoir, From Ike To Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, Bob Avakian recounts how Leibel Bergman played a major role in his initial development as a communist. Bergman had been a member of the old Communist Party but broke with it in the 1950s, when it adopted a thoroughly and irrevocably revisionist stand. Avakian also discusses how Bergman himself, in his later years, more and more gravitated toward a revisionist position, and at the time of the revisionist coup d’etat in China, Bergman supported this coup and the restoration of capitalism it led to. At one point, while still a member of the RCP, Leibel Bergman said: If we concluded that dentists were the decisive force for making revolution, we would have to win these dentists to Marxism-Leninism.
14. Revolutionary Communist Party,USA, Notes on Political Economy (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2000).
15. Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About (Chicago: Three Q Productions, 2004). This film of a talk by Bob Avakian can be ordered in DVD or video format online at threeQvideo.com.
16. Footnote by the author: Examination of how the New Deal in particular fostered discrimination, and related questions, is found in When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America, by Ira Katznelson.
17. The talk by Bob Avakian in 2005 from which this excerpt was taken was given when there were the beginnings of mass mobilizations against the attacks on immigrants but before the much more massive outpourings of opposition that have taken place in recent months.
18. See “Re-reading George Jackson” in Revolutionary Worker #968 (Aug. 9, 1998). This article is part of the talk Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World.
19. This was spoken to in the part of this talk that was published as “Views on Socialism and Communism: A RADICALLY NEW KIND OF STATE, A RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND FAR GREATER VISION OF FREEDOM,” which is available, in its entirety, on the Web; and the part referred to here was published in Revolution #40 (March 26, 2006).
20. “Shakespearean temptation” is a reference to an earlier part of this talk where Bob Avakian mentions the comment by Samuel Johnson, an 18th-century English writer and literary critic, who said that Shakespeare would torture his text to work in a pun—that the pun was the apple for which Shakespeare would gladly give up all of paradise. This was spoken to in the part of this talk that was published as “Views on Socialism and Communism: A RADICALLY NEW KIND OF STATE, A RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND FAR GREATER VISION OF FREEDOM,” which is available, in its entirety, on the Web; and the part in which this reference to Samuel Johnson’s comment on Shakespeare appeared was published in Revolution #43 (March 8, 2006).
21. Great Objectives and Grand Strategy is a talk by Bob Avakian at the end of the 1990s; excerpts from it have been published in the Revolutionary Worker #1127-1142 (November 18, 2001 through March 10, 2002) and are available online at revcom.us.
22. “Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World,” is included in the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy by Bob Avakian (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005) and originally appeared in the Revolutionary Worker #1262 (December 19, 2004). It is available online at revcom.us.
23. The discussion of the points referred to here by Bob Avakian is included in “Views on Socialism and Communism: A RADICALLY NEW KIND OF STATE, A RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND FAR GREATER VISION OF FREEDOM,” which is available on the Web in its entirety at revcom.us; and the particular discussion referred to here appeared in Revolution #43 (March 8, 2006).
24. A discussion of the “rule of law” and Constitutions in socialist society is found in the part of this talk published as “Views On Socialism and Communism: A RADICALLY NEW KIND OF STATE, A RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND FAR GREATER VISION OF FREEDOM,” which is available, in its entirety, online at revcom.us. The part containing this discussion appeared in Revolution #42 (April 9, 2006).
25. This discussion of Kant’s “categorical moral imperative” (that people should never be treated as a means to an end, but only as an end in themselves) is found in the part of this talk published as “Views On Socialism and Communism: A RADICALLY NEW KIND OF STATE, A RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND FAR GREATER VISION OF FREEDOM,” which is available in its entirety online at revcom.us. The particular section referred to here was published in Revolution #43 (March 8, 2006).