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Oppressed people who are unable or unwilling to confront reality as it actually is, are condemned to remain enslaved and oppressed.
Bob Avakian, from his upcoming book AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World (to be published this spring by Insight Press)
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
Change. How can anyone look around the world and not want change? Five years of war in Iraq leaving over one million Iraqis dead and five million displaced from their homes. Half of the planet lives on less than $2 a day. Within the United States, the net worth of the average Black family is one-tenth that of a white family. Torture is being legitimized and practiced by the U.S. at Guantánamo, Bagram and at secret prisons around the world. The U.S. government is spying on the people in unprecedented ways. Global warming threatens the very future of life.
The candidacy of Barack Obama promises change. and many have been attracted to his campaign, especially among young people and Black people, filling stadiums and bringing record numbers to the polls.
But you are being bamboozled. You are being lied to. And you are being enlisted in legitimating, complying with, and furthering murderous crimes.
Those who are BEING SWEPT UP IN Obama or Clinton need to ask some hard questions.
The operative point in Obama’s blathering about “no conservative America, no liberal America, just the United States of America” is that we are supposed to identify not with the interests of humanity, not with the interests of the people of the world, but as “Americans,” who patriotically support the U.S. imperialist ruling class in their contention with oppositional forces around the world. And that leads to support for the “war on terror” and all the horrors that has brought to the world—including the fostering of Islamic fundamentalist forces even as it wages war on them.
Obama’s “change” is about putting an acceptable and different face on the coffins of millions of Iraqis, on the orange jumpsuits that have become an international symbol for American-made torture, on the increased role of the Bible in government, and on the increased surveillance that heightens the whole “watch what you say” atmosphere.
Hope and raised sights are genuinely needed in the world today, but the hope in Obama is a false and harmful one.
First off, if you honestly look at what they are saying, neither Obama nor Clinton is even trying to speak about the most pressing issues confronting humanity. And they couldn’t do anything about all that even if they did want to—which they don’t. To really address the massive inequality and poverty in the world, or to solve global environmental problems, requires a radical restructuring of the economic, social, and political relations; this is something that neither of these candidates represents, or could represent. Just encouraging a spirit of public service won’t cut it—and will actually work against the kind of fundamental change needed, in effect putting band-aids on a cancer. But, even short of that, do either of these candidates represent a fundamental break with the trajectory of war and repression that the U.S. has been on over the last period?
Iraq and Foreign Policy
Let’s look at the war in Iraq. The United States is an empire. The relative stability of the ruling class (compared to the rest of the world) rests on the domination of U.S. capital, and that rests on the unchallengeability of U.S. military might. That—and not any supposed concern for “the mess we made”—is why no candidate who has been allowed to get this far in the race is for immediate and complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, let alone Afghanistan. It is why Obama, Clinton, and McCain all support U.S. military threats against Iran.
Obama makes a big deal about how he opposed the war from the start. Maybe so, but his objections were not principled opposition to pre-emptive war on oppressed nations, but concerns over whether this would “work”—i.e., whether it would be a military and political success for the U.S. empire. And now that the U.S. is in Iraq, Obama says he wants a phased withdrawal from Iraq and if elected he will begin pulling out troops and hopes to have all troops out in 16 months. But he refuses to pledge that four years after being in office he will have all U.S. troops out of Iraq.
Obama is right in line with all the other “credible” candidates in supporting the Bush doctrine of preventive war. For example saying this is the “right battlefield,” Obama said he would order U.S. military strikes on targets in Pakistan if President Musharraf did not target Taliban presence in the country’s tribal areas. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act we will,” Obama said. (New York Times, 8/2/2007)
The United States now spends more money on its military than all the nations on earth combined; yet both Obama and Clinton have called for even more money for the military. Columnist Robert Scheer writes, “Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have treated the military budget as sacrosanct with their Senate votes and their campaign rhetoric.” (Truthdig, 2/6/2008). Obama calls for adding 92,000 more troops to the U.S. military. His website says, “it is essential that our military continues to be the best in the world.” And again, this is because in a world dominated by capitalism, military might enforces the dominant position of U.S. imperialism. Imagine how everything that holds the oppressive, exploitive system in this country would unravel if that domination was undermined.
Obama is surrounding himself with foreign policy advisors who are tested operatives of U.S. imperialism. One of Obama’s key foreign policy advisors is Anthony Lake, who was National Security Advisor to Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997, and who also played a role in the sanctions against Iraq which killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. And then there’s Zbigniew Brzezinski, another top Obama policy advisor, who as Carter’s National Security Advisor was responsible for, among other crimes, giving political and military support to the Indonesian dictator Suharto to wage a genocidal campaign against the people of East Timor, killing tens of thousands.
When the Military Commissions Act—which allows the President to decide what constitutes torture, indefinitely hold people without trial, put people to death based on “evidence” obtained by torture, among many other things—was being debated in the Senate, Obama voted against it. But Obama, like Clinton and all other Democratic senators, refused to filibuster to stop this law from going into effect. Obama said, “The problem with this bill is not that it’s too tough on terrorists. The problem with this bill is that it’s sloppy.” Calling this bill—which fundamentally changed rights as fundamental as habeas corpus that go back hundreds of years—“sloppy” is like criticizing Hitler for bad penmanship. Obama went on to say that he didn’t oppose military commissions trying the detainees, only that these commissions hadn’t been adequately thought through. And both Obama and Clinton supported the original Patriot Act and its renewal.
How then, should we understand Obama’s real differences with things McCain is saying (Obama speaks of trying to disengage from Iraq in a way that will preserve U.S. interests, while McCain talks about staying a hundred years)? First, underlying these disagreements are common shared assumptions: that U.S. “global interests” must be perpetuated and that the U.S. must defeat Islamic fundamentalist forces in the Middle East that stand as obstacles to U.S. control of this strategic region.
Beyond that, to understand Obama’s role we have to look behind the Wizard of Oz curtain to see how elections are used to play people into identifying with a system that does not represent their interests. One way this is done is by having two kinds of candidates running for president: There are the ones who are allowed into the early rounds of debates and caucuses to reflect real desires and demands of the people. These candidates are then rather quickly weeded out; their role is to draw people into the process before being “bait-and-switched” to another candidate who is deemed a “realistic” choice.
Right now Obama is playing something of an unusual, dual role. First, he is being positioned as a serious candidate by some forces in the ruling class—he raised $30 million in one month and that is not just “grassroots” support. There are forces positioning him, and arguments being made that he would be the best president to rally the patriotism of the masses behind the U.S. domestic and international agenda in the coming period. (See “Andrew Sullivan on Obama: The ‘Best Face’ for Imperialism,” Revolution #118, 2/3/2008.)
But he is also playing the role of the candidate who ropes people into the process. So some of the things he promises, like the rebuilding of New Orleans on a basis that takes into account its long history as a center of African-American culture and the needs of its people, are the kind of thing he can say now, but will slip away if he actually becomes president. In that case, he would serve as the head of a system that is driven by the insane logic of accumulating profit and all the thinking that goes with that. And Obama’s being Black will have nothing to do with it, one way or another—this is a country in which the system of capitalism and white supremacy have been tied together since the “birth of the nation.” If it so happens that having a Black president will best reinforce the oppression of the Black masses, then this system can do that. If you don’t believe that, look at the history of the Black mayors in America—including people like Wilson Goode of Philadelphia, who signed off on the bombing of a Black neighborhood there in 1985 which took the lives of 11 people, five of them children, and destroyed 61 homes.
And there is the possibility that Clinton, not Obama, will get the nomination, and the “new grassroots” people he has brought into the system will be channeled into Hillary Clinton’s establishment-as-usual campaign. Because once they’ve got you there, what else are you going to do? Support a Republican?
If You Want Real Change…
There is nothing good for the people in any of this and much that is harmful. We are told that the elections are the realistic way to change things. We are told that if we don’t join in all of this we are just being cynical or worse. In reality it is the process of elections that uses people’s hopes and dreams to draw them into identifying with and supporting the system and its crimes that they originally opposed. There is nothing more cynical than that.
But there is something that we can do if we want real change. We can demand that this government STOPS torturing people, STOPS spying on people, STOPS waging its wars for empire. STOPS destroying the planet. We can—and must—get much more active in resisting this, and in doing so, rupturing with the whole political framework that extinguishes resistance and confines protest to what the-powers-that-be find acceptable. And you can get out this paper that has a real alternative in its pages—a revolutionary solution that gets to the roots of this problem, a radical movement aiming to bring about such a revolution, and a far better society without the exploitation and oppression and divisions that are bred into the bone of this one. That is something to dream about and to fight for.
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
Hillary Clinton claims she is the one who can stand up to the Republican attack machine. Please! Hillary Clinton has gone along with, rolled over in the face of, or actively supported Bush and the Republicans in essence on every substantial issue.
The War: After all the lies that have been exposed, all the horrors that have been unleashed, Hillary Clinton will still not say that she was wrong to vote to authorize Bush to invade Iraq! Before the war, she even voted against the Levin Amendment that would have asked the United Nations to approve authorization of force against Saddam Hussein before the U.S. invaded, because she said it would have made the U.S. “subordinate” to the United Nations. She says Bush’s “surge” of sending in more troops is “working,” and that the problem with Bush is “We’re just years too late in changing our tactics.” Clinton’s promises to withdraw troops from Iraq are vague, open-ended, and would leave U.S. bases in Iraq in any event. And recently she voted to put elements of the Iranian army on the U.S. “terrorist” list—ratcheting up and justifying threats of a U.S. military attack on Iran.
Torture: How is Hillary Clinton going to stand up to the Republicans on torture when her position is at least as pro-torture as McCain’s? Speaking to the New York Daily News editorial board on October 11, 2006, Clinton said she recognized that in some situations interrogations called for “severity.” According to Daily News columnist Elizabeth Benjamin, “[I]t emerged that she’s not actually against torture in all instances, and that her dispute with McCain and Bush is largely procedural.” On Guantánamo, she just wants to move it somewhere.
Government Spying and Repression: Clinton voted FOR the USA Patriot Act in October 2001 when it was first enacted. Then in March 2006 she voted to renew it. She supports making flag-burning as a form of political protest illegal. And don’t forget that the foundation for the post-9/11 attacks on civil liberties was laid by Bill Clinton’s 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Clinton (like Obama) refused to filibuster the Military Commissions Act that fundamentally overturns habeas corpus. And nobody is going to outdo Clinton in upholding the criminalization of Black people and the imprisonment of 2.3 million people in the U.S. According to ABC News, Clinton aides recently fed the network a story attacking Obama because in the past he said he was opposed to mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes.
Ann “We Should Invade Their Countries, Kill Their Leaders and Convert Them to Christianity” Coulter has said she would campaign for Hillary Clinton over John McCain. The point is not “guilt by association,” much less that John “100 Years Of War” McCain is a positive alternative to anything. But this Medieval fascist has a point when she says that Hillary voted for the war, supports the “surge,” is not against torture and is a good fit for her (Coulter’s) politics.
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY
PART 2: EVERYTHING WE’RE DOING IS ABOUT REVOLUTION (CONTINUED)
Editors’ Note: The following is the eighth and final installment in Part 2 of a series of excerpts from a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, last year (2007). This has been edited for publication and footnotes have been added. These excerpts are being published in two parts. Part 1 is available in its entirety, as one document, online at revcom.us, and has been serialized in (the print version of) Revolution (see issues #105, Oct. 21; #106, Oct. 28; #107, Nov. 4; #108, Nov. 11; #109, Nov. 18; #110, Nov. 25; #111, Dec. 9; and #112, Dec. 16, 2007). Part 2 is also available, as one document, at revcom.us.
Repolarization for Revolution:
A Strategic Orientation
In the context of everything that has been said so far, I want to emphasize the continuing importance of grasping and applying the strategic orientation of the United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat. It is in relation to this strategic orientation that the principle of the “two maximizings,” which was spoken to earlier, takes on real importance.1 And within this dynamic—or dialectical relation—of the “two maximizings,” there is the particular and decisive importance of bringing forward basic masses as conscious and active partisans of proletarian revolution and communism—or, in other words, as emancipators of humanity.
Religion and repolarization—
the complexity of reality
In carrying forward and applying the strategic orientation of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat, we have to keep in mind a point that also has been emphasized repeatedly: the complex nature and features of reality. You cannot have a reductionist or simplistic approach to reality. Here, to illustrate the point, I want to invoke the analogy of a map with many different layers, with a different coloring for each layer, expressing different phenomena (population centers, parks, bodies of water, and so on). This is a useful metaphor or analogy to help understand the complicated and variegated nature of the reality that we’re dealing with and are working to transform.
As one illustration of the basic point, I have been thinking about why it is that (to put it this way) “Chris Hedges is better than Christopher Hitchens.” Recently, I’ve read accounts of debates that have been held between the two of them. Hitchens, it seems, is to a certain degree having an insidious effect because, to a lot of enlightened, thinking people—including people with many progressive sentiments—he sounds good because he cuts through this contradiction (as does Sam Harris2 in his own way) of people trying to make religion something other than what it is, to “reinvent” it into more palatable terms. But Hitchens (and Harris as well) does this all in the service of a thoroughly reactionary objective: defending the core program of the Bush regime, at least in its international dimension, with its “war on terror.”
Hitchens, from everything I can tell, really is an atheist, but he is an atheist in the service of imperialism. As an extension of his worldview, and in the service of his political objectives, he applies an extremely mechanical and reductionist approach which (as expressed in his book God is Not Great) reduces many of the profound and complex conflicts in the world to simply religious terms, ignoring or (conceptually) obliterating the most profound and decisive divisions in the world, such as those between imperialism and oppressed nations, as well as between classes, thereby leading away from a real understanding of the underlying dynamics and driving contradictions in all this.
So here is an example of how we can’t have a crude and simplistic approach to reality. I’ve read Hitchens’ book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and there’s much that you have to agree with in it. I laughed out loud a number of times: There is a lot of puncturing of religion—there’s also some nonsense, and worse, but there’s a lot of good puncturing of religion. There’s a lot of exposure of what religion leads to and the real harm it does in the world, and what’s wrong with the whole religious outlook. One can even identify, up to a certain point, with his call for a new Enlightenment, at the end of the book. But, again, all this is in the service of something which is itself very poisonous.
With regard to Chris Hedges’ American Fascists, it is very stimulating and at the same time often frustrating to read this book. It contains a lot of valuable insight—in the form of both analysis and anecdotal reporting—into the phenomenon of Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. and those who are drawn to it. And this book stands out, in a good way, in identifying the right-wing Christian fundamentalists as what they are—fascists—and opposing the idea of conciliating with them, insisting that on the contrary you have to stand up to and struggle against this, with an understanding of what people in this fundamentalist movement are really being organized around, what this really represents, what it’s really aiming to do and will try to implement if and when it can seize on an opening to do so—in the context of some major social crisis. And Hedges’ political positions are much, much better than Hitchens’. There are many things to unite with, in regard to Chris Hedges and what he is doing in the world. Just look at the article he co-authored recently in The Nation,3 which exposes, through stories recounted by U.S. soldiers (or former soldiers) themselves, the atrocities being committed by the U.S. occupying forces in Iraq. On balance, he is doing much more good in the world than harm—and he’s certainly doing a lot more good than Christopher Hitchens (or Sam Harris).
And yet, strictly on the question of religion, as such, if you put the two positions up against each other, Hitchens’ is better. Sam Harris’ position is better. Sam Harris, in Letter to a Christian Nation, says straightforwardly: Both the fundamentalists and I agree that the meaning of the Bible is what the Bible says it is, that the Bible means what it says. It’s either true or it’s not true. Quit trying to make it say something else than what it clearly says or mean something else than what it clearly means.
Well, one can only agree with that. And I have to say that I chuckled in reading that book, too—and you cannot help “licking your chops” at certain points in appreciation of the way that some of this religious nonsense (and worse) is being ripped to shreds, in sometimes creative ways, by Harris.
But in the final analysis, Chris Hedges is a lot better than Harris and definitely a lot better than Christopher Hitchens: If you look at the overall effect of what they are saying and doing, and how it is influencing people, there is no question that what Hedges is doing, even with its very real shortcomings—including its effort to “salvage religion,” and Christianity in particular, through the approach of “reinterpreting” it into something other than what it really says and really is—is much better than Hitchens, is in fact on the other side of the “political divide” from Hitchens, who is lined up squarely with—and is aggressively wielding whatever talents and skills he has to attack those who oppose—what is being done by the Bush regime and the imperialists.
But more than that, in the final analysis what is really needed out of all this is a communist approach—which can incorporate, and recast, as part of a different synthesis, the positive aspects of what is represented by people like Chris Hedges; which can help to bring forward the best in people who do have a basically good stand, while rejecting and struggling against what would lead in the wrong direction; and which can expose what is wrong—and indeed what is insidious—in the position of people like Hitchens.
Christian fundamentalism, the needs of the ruling class, and repolarizing for revolution
In this light, before concluding, I want to briefly return to the question of Christian Fascism—the “cohering hard core” role of this force in U.S. society. I’ve spoken already, in a certain dimension, to the particularity of why this is needed by the ruling class now, given its necessity. If you think about what was said earlier, in terms of the extreme parasitism and individualism—and, yes, infantilization—and the extreme levels of self-indulgence that are promoted in the U.S. especially at this time,4 and you look at that in relation (and in real ways now in sharp contradiction) not only to the needs of the ruling class in general but more specifically to the necessity that they have brought into being—for themselves as well as for others —through what has become a real debacle in Iraq, in the context of their grander designs, you can see why there is a need, on their part, to have at the ready, and continually to “prime,” this kind of hard core force which is exerting an increasing influence now but is also poised to exert a qualitatively greater influence if the need arises and is recognized by powerful enough sections of the ruling class. This is the role of Christian Fascist forces in the U.S. today and looking to the future (from the point of view of the ruling class, and a certain section of that ruling class in particular, which has been grouped in and around the Bush regime).
Now, it is true—and this is a point I have emphasized before5 —that this Christian Fascism is one element in the context of the overall program of the forces at the core of power now in the ruling class. But I have noticed certain tendencies, including within the ranks of our Party, to act as if the Christian Fascists are the whole, or the essence, of what we are up against. Instead of situating this within the context of the capitalist-imperialist system and its ruling class as a whole—and in that context calling attention to the particular and important role of the Christian Fascists—there has been a phenomenon (and here again I’m speaking not just about others, outside our Party, but more specifically about tendencies within our Party) of treating the Christian Fascists as though they were ruling the country. However, that was never the point of this analysis—and that does not conform with reality. But it conforms to an inclination to appeal to people on the basis of bourgeois-democratic illusions and prejudices—and this is an easy thing to fall into because, frankly, it enables you to seek unity with people on the basis of simply defending and preserving bourgeois democracy, if you want to get right down to it. If the enemy is Christian Fascism and not a whole system—if that’s your strategic view in essence—then you’re going to go in the direction of upholding and tailing bourgeois democracy.
The point of our Party’s analysis was never that Christian Fascists are now ruling the country, in the sense that a Christian Fascist program and force is what is now defining the essence of bourgeois rule in this society. The correct understanding and approach has to do with what this Christian Fascist phenomenon poses in relation to the sharpening contradictions in society and the world, in the context of larger forces and of an overall program, within the Bush regime itself and in the framework of the system and the ruling class as a whole. For example, the point has been made that, while the Christian Fascists have lent a lot of support to the heightened international marauding of the U.S., this has been driven more by the “neo-conservative” forces in and around the Bush regime than by the Christian Fascists. This is another illustration of the complexity and “multi-textured” nature of reality (the multi-layered and multi-colored map, to invoke that metaphor again).
Revolution: stereotypes, stage managers and the living process
But there is a definite role for the Christian Fascist forces—now, and potentially in an even larger sense, if things develop in a certain way—as a “cohering hard core force” for the system and the ruling class. And, yes, in a larger overall “mix” this could be something that plays a kind of “stage manager” role in terms of sharpening crisis in society and even ripening the conditions for revolution (“stage manager” is a formulation used by Lenin in speaking of the role of World War 1 in relation to the Russian revolution of 1917). In the context of the sharpening of contradictions overall—within the U.S., on an international level, and in the mutual interpenetration and influence of these dimensions—the aims and the actions of the Christian Fascists could call the legitimacy of bourgeois rule into question—or could play a key part in bringing the question of the legitimacy of bourgeois rule overall much more forcefully onto the political agenda—for much, much broader sections of society. It could play that role. That’s what we have said—and have given a certain emphasis to. That is all that is correct to say because, as Mao emphasized, Marxists are not fortune tellers.
Christian Fascism is definitely an important element within a larger “mix”—let’s understand that. And, as part of that larger “mix,” it could play a “stage manager” role in relation to revolution. But it is also very important to emphasize something that was spoken to in “Two Great Humps,”6 where there is not only discussion of “hastening while awaiting” a revolutionary situation, but also—and here is another application of the importance of not being bound by conventions, superstitions and stereotypes—there is an emphasis on not erecting artificial barriers to revolution. And this means not doing so in the manner of “formulaic” thinking that declares, “Here’s the way revolution will come about and become possible: The Christian Fascists will force out other sections of the ruling class, they’ll take over the government and institute theocratic rule, and then all the bourgeois democrats will rally to our side and we can make revolution.” With that kind of orientation and mentality, if things don’t fall out neatly like that—which they are very unlikely to do—then, of course, revolution will be totally off the map and out of consideration, for who knows how long.
That kind of wooden thinking amounts to taking something like the analysis of the potential (or possible) “stage manager” role of Christian Fascism and turning that grotesquely into its opposite. It amounts, at least objectively, to doing what “Two Great Humps” insists we should not do—namely, erecting artificial barriers to revolution, including in the form of stereotyped and “scholasticist” formulas.
Revolution arises out of a complex interplay of contradictions, within the particular country and internationally, and the interpenetration between those levels or dimensions. Yes, there are certain things and certain patterns we can identify. Yes, the role of Christian Fascism is a very important element in the “mix” right now. And, yes, it could play a “stage manager” role. Yes, there is something very real in the analogy between what is going on now and the period before the Civil War in the U.S., in the mid-19th century. Speaking in broad terms, there is a point to the analogy to a “coming civil war.” But this has to be understood in living dialectical terms, and in materialist terms. Not with a dry, dead, uninspiring religious and dogmatic approach.
What really is involved, and what we really have to grasp firmly and apply consistently, is a materialist and dialectical understanding of the relation between the objective and subjective factors, with all the complexity involved in this, with all the interpenetration of the different layers of that “multi-textured” reality.
When we identify certain phenomena or certain patterns (such as those having to do with the role of Christian Fascism in the U.S. in this period) as being of real significance, and potentially great significance, it is with that kind of method and that kind of approach—as part of gaining a scientific understanding of reality, to serve to hasten as much as we can the development of things toward a revolutionary situation, and to contribute to a more favorable repolarization in relation to the strategic goal of revolution. This means consistently “straining against the limits” imposed by the objective situation, not in order to fulfill a stereotype but in order to transform the objective conditions that we are confronting (to transform necessity) as much as possible, at every point, all in order to contribute to bringing about—and to preparing growing numbers of the masses and the Party for—the eventual ripening of a revolutionary situation and the emergence of a revolutionary people, in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change, determined to fight for it, and oriented and able to seize on the revolutionary opening when it finally occurs.
Everything we do has to be informed and infused with this kind of understanding and this kind of approach—this kind of materialism and this kind of dialectics. Everything we do is, and must be, about revolution.
In concluding, let me go back to the title of this talk. What is it we are called on to be—what is it we are called on to bring forward—in increasing numbers and with increasingly conscious initiative? Makers of revolution. Emancipators of humanity.
1. “Two maximizings” was discussed in an earlier installment in this series, “Overcoming Obstacles and Limitations, ‘Mobilizing All Positive Factors,’” in Revolution issue #117, January 27, 2008. [back]
2. Chris Hedges is the author of, among other works, the recent book American Fascists, The Christian Right And The War on Terror ; Christopher Hitchens’ latest book, God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything, is discussed here by Bob Avakian; Sam Harris has written two recent books relating to the subject being discussed here, Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. For a further discussion by Bob Avakian of religion and religious fundamentalism —and refutation of the arguments of people like Harris and Hitchens—see “Religious Fundamentalism, Imperialism and `The War on Terror’” and “Why Is Religious Fundamentalism Growing in Today’s World—And What Is the Real Alternative?”—excerpts from the forthcoming book (to be published in the spring of 2008 by Insight Press) AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, in Revolution #103, October 7, 2007 and #104, October 14, 2007. [back]
3. “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness,” by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, The Nation, July 30, 2007. [back]
4. In this talk, the discussion of parasitism, individualism, infantilization, and self-indulgence is found in an earlier installment in this series, “Heightened Parasitism and the ‘Two Outmodeds,’” in Revolution issue #118, February 3, 2008. [back]
5. See, for example, The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era, a Collection of Articles by Bob Avakian, (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2005). [back]
6. The full title of the talk is Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World. Excerpts from this talk appeared in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper (now Revolution ) and are available online at revcom.us. The series “On Proletarian Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship—A Radically Different View of Leading Society” appeared in RW #1214 through 1226 (Oct. 5, 2003-Jan. 25, 2004). The series “Getting Over the Hump” appeared in RW #927, 930, 932, and 936-940 (Oct. 12, Nov. 2, Nov. 16, and Dec. 14, 1997 through Jan. 18, 1998). Two additional excerpts from this talk are “Materialism and Romanticism: Can We Do Without Myth?” in RW #1211 (Aug. 24, 2003) and “Re-reading George Jackson” in RW #968 (Aug. 9, 1998). All of these articles can be found online at revcom.us. [back]
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
Part II: Some Points on the Question of Revolutionary Leadership and Individual Leaders
The following is Part 2 of “Resolutions on Leaders and Leadership,” which was released by the Revolutionary Communist Party in October 1995, on the 20th anniversary of its founding, and originally published in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution ) on October 1, 1995. (Part 1, “The Party Exists for No Other Reason than to Serve the Masses, to Make Revolution” along with Part 2, is also available online at revcom.us) These Resolutions, and in particular Part 2, directly address the relation between individual leaders, and specifically the Chairman of our Party, Bob Avakian, on the one hand and, on the other hand, the fundamental collectivity of our Party and Party leadership overall, as well as the relation between individual leaders, leadership as a whole, and the masses of people, who are ultimately the decisive force in making revolution and radically transforming the world. While, in the more than ten years since these Resolutions were adopted and first published, there have of course been significant changes in the objective situation in the world; and while, in fact, what is said here about the particular role of Bob Avakian has been borne out all the more clearly, including through the continuing development of his body of work and method and approach; what is said in the 1995 Resolutions in terms of the role of revolutionary leadership, and of an individual leader like Bob Avakian, not only continues to provide a scientific approach to this question and a basic foundation and orientation for further engaging it, but also speaks to some of the most important questions and concerns that different people raise in relation to this. For this reason, especially at this time when the objective need for revolutionary leadership is all the more profoundly and acutely posed, but when there continue to be considerable confusion and misunderstanding about this, we consider it especially relevant and important to reprint here “Some Points on the Question of Revolutionary Leadership and Individual Leaders.”
One of the most important questions for any revolutionary forces anywhere—and for their allies and supporters—is the question of leaders and leadership. Do the revolutionary people even need individual leaders? Just what makes a revolutionary a revolutionary leader anyway? What makes one leader any “better” at leading than any other? What criteria should we use to evaluate leaders and their roles? If individual leaders are not superhuman and can have weaknesses or make mistakes, should we even be promoting them? Are most individual leaders bound to end up capitulating, broken or dead? Why even bother to put forward and promote individual leaders if this could lead to the masses treating them as gods, and getting set up for possible disappointment and paralysis in the event individual leaders are taken, broken or crushed? Doesn’t the promotion of individual leaders possibly discourage the masses from recognizing the need to take initiative and become conscious revolutionary activists and leaders themselves? If we are in favor of collectivity in our methods of work and are striving for a communist spirit and way of life, then why are we highlighting individual leaders? And what about initiative within the Party itself: does the recognition and promotion of individual leaders tend to stymie the initiative and all-rounded participation of basic members or lower level cadre? What is the correct relationship of leadership and led?
The questions listed above are all worth discussing more deeply. People from different strata, and with different life experiences (and different levels of political experience) will tend to answer these questions differently.
Most people who are serious about making revolution recognize the need for some structure, organization and leadership in order to guide, coordinate and systematically unfold the revolutionary work, and in order to ultimately seize power and begin building a whole new kind of society. Basic people in particular, because they are often only too familiar with the repressive hand of the enemy, are often quick to point out that the power of the authorities cannot be seriously challenged and defeated without tight organization and clear lines of leadership. And yet there is also among the basic masses—particularly, though not only, in a country like the U.S.—a significant amount of cynicism about revolutionary leaders: the view that leaders will “sell out”, or that even if they don’t sell out they will be taken from the masses by the enemy and there’s just not much that you can do about it. This kind of cynicism is something that should be taken on, by drawing out the connection between the basic masses and leadership, and the responsibilities of each with regard to the other.
It is usually the people from the middle strata, and especially the intellectual types, who have the most “questions” about whether or not it’s even “right” to have, and to promote, individual leaders in a communist revolutionary movement. They often look at this question too much in a vacuum or in the abstract, divorced from the material realities and necessities of the particular historical era we are part of. But it is a fact of material reality that humanity has not yet reached a stage where it can afford to dispense with a formalized division of labor and leadership structures and hierarchies. The question should be: what is the nature of these structures and whose interests do these structures serve.
Minuscule numbers of people trying to discuss and take action around a very few issues, of only limited scope, may sometimes be able to do so through “general consensus”, without a leadership structure and individual leaders. But as soon as the objectives broaden in scope beyond one’s backyard to encompass and take responsibility for trying to make fundamental and comprehensive social changes—and certainly to achieve a revolutionary transformation of the whole way society is organized, and on a world scale—then the need for more formalized division of labor, structure and leadership becomes obvious. And all the more so since these efforts to change the world do not go unopposed by those currently in power!
But if all this is true, then the fact that certain individual revolutionaries emerge as a concentration of this process, and themselves become a concentrated expression of the best qualities of revolutionary leadership—including a selfless dedication to the revolutionary cause and deep love of the masses, as well as a strong grasp of the scientific methodology needed to unleash the masses and chart the path of revolution in line with their objective interests—then the existence of such an individual leader or leaders is not something to lament but something to welcome and celebrate! It is part of the people’s strength.
Ironically, those middle forces who have the most qualms about “accepting” revolutionary leadership often fail to see the extent to which they are already being “led” in every sphere of life and society by the very functioning of the underlying dynamics of the system and the prevailing oppressive and repressive powers and institutions! They need to recognize that the only real alternative to that is to choose to be guided by a radically different form of leadership, with radically different objectives, and to learn to become this kind of leader themselves.
Such people also usually fail to think through sufficiently the practical implications of the fact that there is uneven development in all processes and things, including people. This is true among the vanguard forces and among the masses of people in general. How could it be otherwise? But this unevenness is not a bad thing: correctly understood from the perspective of dialectical materialism, unevenness is itself a source of growth and development and a catalyst for advance.
But that is not to say that the questions posed by many intellectuals about leadership and the promotion of individual leaders in revolutionary parties and movements are not worthy of serious discussion. There are for instance in the revolutionary movement real practical questions that pose themselves (and that must be addressed repeatedly in practice) concerning how to most fully unleash the conscious initiative of the masses of people and combat any tendencies they might have to want to “leave the driving to others”. Similarly, inside the revolutionary ranks it is important to guard against the development of any kind of “employee mentality” of people who would just as soon accept, in uncritical and in uninspired fashion, any lines and policies emanating from “above”.
In regard to this it is important to recall a point that has been repeatedly stressed by Comrade Avakian: where leadership is genuinely revolutionary leadership, the more it plays its leadership role correctly, in accordance with MLM principles, the greater will be the conscious initiative of the masses.
There are also real questions about how to best build unity on a revolutionary basis, among the masses and among the organized revolutionary forces. There is always bound to be unevenness of development and differences on a number of questions, with the terrain often being further complicated by the effects of enemy attacks and the possibility of setbacks and defeats.
But to correctly deal with the question of leadership, as in all else, we all have to ground ourselves firmly in the science and methodology of MLM: on that basis, and no other, we have to evaluate lines and policies and determine what can push things forward in a good direction and separate it from that which cannot. And then we have to find the ways to promote those lines and policies which advance things in a revolutionary direction, and concretely support those individuals and organizations which concentrate and embody them at any given time.
No one is born a revolutionary leader, and there is no one set formula for how people become revolutionary leaders. Each revolutionary leader is a complex mix of personal life experiences and broader social experience, particularly in the revolutionary movement, and revolutionary leaders can be of any race, nationality, either gender, and come from many different backgrounds. The same objective criteria for determining that an individual is particularly suited to the role and responsibilities of revolutionary leadership should apply to all: the essential thing is that they demonstrate the greatest ability to take up and apply the stand, viewpoint, and methodology of the international proletariat. This has been shown by the experience of the international communist movement; today MLM parties and organizations throughout the world have brought forward—and will continue to bring forward—a number of leaders, who represent a great force for the advance of the world proletarian revolution.
The basic masses usually know, from deep life experience, that the concentrated power of the enemy cannot be seriously challenged with just “good ideas” and “good intentions” and a vague “general consensus” of the revolutionary ranks. It takes real tight organization and real political, ideological and organizational leadership to bring forth, to guide and to wield the newly emerging power and combativity of the people.
So the revolutionary masses recognize the need for leaders. But that’s not enough. Real revolutionary leaders are brought forth, developed, nourished and sustained by the revolutionary people, and the revolutionary people must more fully understand that connection themselves. Revolutionary leaders are in a real sense the flower and fruit of the revolutionary people, who are themselves the roots and shoots of the revolution.
Without the revolutionary people the leaders are nothing. And without genuine revolutionary leaders to chart the course through the minefields, the people will not find the way to make real revolutionary breakthroughs when these are possible. Without revolutionary leadership the people’s resistance will be crushed over and over again and will not succeed in “getting over to the other side.”
Individual leaders are not gods or superhumans. They have their individual failings like anyone else, and they will make mistakes even when they are overall doing a good job of leading the revolution.
Some of them will even do worse than that and will at some point be broken, or in some way capitulate to the enemy and betray the revolution. And some will be taken from us by the enemy and jailed or killed.
Everyone must understand that such things can happen and must prepare for such eventualities, to minimize the possibility that such blows can fundamentally derail a revolutionary process and direction. But these possibilities cannot make us cynical or despair in the possibility of revolution. Because the hard-core strength of the revolution is the revolutionary base, the revolutionary people themselves. And it is true that as long as there is oppression the people will in time bring forth new revolutionary leaders to replace those who have fallen or been taken from us. But it must also be stressed that in a very real sense it is the responsibility of the party, together with the revolutionary masses, to minimize such losses, as well as to deal with the situation when such losses do occur.
Revolutionary leaders themselves should pay attention to fostering the greatest possible revolutionary collectivity and the greatest possible growth and all-rounded development of the revolutionary ranks and of many veteran and newly emerging leaders, so that, to the greatest extent possible, if they are taken from us, others will be ready to take their place.
On the other hand, there is no denying it: The loss of a true revolutionary leader—and all the more so if this is an individual who plays a key and critical leadership role—is like having a heart ripped out of our collective chest. When such things happen, we should deal with it—new leaders must step forward and be brought forward to continue to guide the revolutionary cause. But we should first of all do everything in our power to prevent such things from happening.
Key revolutionary leaders must be defended and protected with everything we’ve got. They are, in fact, the revolutionary people in concentrated form. They embody the very best that the people have to offer, that the people have given rise to and brought forward at a given point in history. To respect, protect and defend such revolutionary leaders is to respect, protect and defend the people themselves.
Within the revolutionary ranks there will always be (and always should be) discussion and wrangling about many different things and about just what is the right way to go forward. This is very healthy and important and an expression of the mass line within the revolutionary ranks and it will in many ways be the “juice” of the revolution and of the future society we will build.
But vis a vis the enemy we close our ranks tightly, and present them with a strong and unfissured wall of unity and allegiance to leadership. This makes it all the more difficult for them to breach our ranks.
We have to make the enemy feel this very sharply: come after our revolutionary leaders, and you will first have to come through us and the revolutionary people. We’re that serious.
What does it mean to be a revolutionary communist leader? The revolutionary party has many leaders of different levels and abilities. They embody a variety of different strengths. All of them are visionaries as well as practitioners of revolutionary struggle, but not one of them can embody all the best characteristics of the revolutionary people today or of the future new society that we are struggling to bring into being. This is another expression of the fact that the party’s strength and power is best expressed through its collectivity.
Yet every single leader is an important part of the process of making the revolution and the new society a reality. Each one brings to the revolution his or her particular mix of strengths and abilities. Each struggles to study and apply the scientific methodology of dialectical and historical materialism to the problems of making revolution. Each does many things right and some things wrong, and hopefully we all learn through experience to become stronger and better at the art of making revolution.
Each one is motivated not by petty concerns and self-interest but by a vision of how things could be done to better meet the needs of the great majority of humanity. Each one gets tired sometimes, but then struggles to once again work hard. Each one is afraid sometimes, but then struggles once again to be brave and have no fear.
Above all the most fundamental feature all genuine revolutionary communist leaders have in common is this: their strategic confidence in the masses of people, grounded in dialectical materialism.
The life of a revolutionary leader is one of sacrifice and hard work, frequent frustrations, self-doubts, and significant risks, and yet selfless dedication to the masses and to struggle for a better world. And it is also something else: especially in those times when the masses of people more readily shed their cynicism, fear or despair, and come forward with enthusiasm and life-affirming defiance to join the revolutionary movement, the all-conquering spirit and powerful unity of the people and its revolutionary expression courses through the revolutionary ranks and buoys the spirits of every genuine revolutionary like nothing else! It is a tremendous thing and something the cold and heartless bourgeois—who feed on the basic people but who can never be nourished or sustained by their growing emancipation—will never be able to enjoy, and in fact dread. But for us it makes it all worthwhile.
Revolutionary comrades: we should defend, support and celebrate our Party, our revolutionary leaders, our revolutionary people, and our vision of a revolutionary future. For they are in fact inseparable!
On Bob Avakian, the Chair of the Central Committee of our Party:
How do we really know that Comrade Avakian, the Chair of our Central Committee, is a great revolutionary leader? This is a fair question and one which we should be bold and forthright in answering.
We know that ultimately it will be the course of history and the actions of the masses which will bring forth the proof of this. But meanwhile it’s not like there aren’t already many indications!
It says something for instance that the collectivity that is the Central Committee of the Party, the best and most concentrated representation of the entire collectivity of our Party, has continued to select him over these many years to lead the C.C. and through it the whole of the Party.
It says something as well that he has accumulated so many years of consistent revolutionary practice, in a changing society and world, that he has never given up, sold out, or fallen off the revolutionary path. Whatever specific circumstances he has found himself in, he has always found the ways to have a sense of the key political and ideological questions and of the sentiments of the masses—precisely by relying on the Party.
It says something that he has been tested and proven at a number of key junctures : He has withstood being hounded and threatened by the bourgeois enemy. He has withstood personal and political attacks of opportunists and counterrevolutionary forces within the revolutionary movement. In fact these attacks have only succeeded in making him, and the Party he leads, stronger.
His position of leadership has not given him a swollen head and he has never lost his basic love for the people nor forgotten that a revolutionary leader—and the revolution itself—are only as good and as far-reaching as the people who bring them forth.
But he has never abdicated responsibility. In hard times there are some who give up, whine a lot, or resort to blaming others—the leaders, the masses, or both—for those difficulties. This is not what Comrade Avakian does: when there are problems, his attitude is first to maintain his strategic confidence in the Party and the masses and second to try even harder to use the methodology of MLM to figure out even better what to do. This is something we can all learn from!
In times of mass upsurge and revolutionary advance, Comrade Avakian applies himself with tremendous energy and enthusiasm to help maximize the gains, both in the immediate battle and above all for our long term strategic goals, and at the same time he seeks in the midst of such upsurge and advance to “step back” and look at the broader trends and bigger questions that are posed or sharpened by this upsurge. We should all learn from this as well.
Guiding the revolution is a little like piloting a boat through a coral reef, or leading a platoon through a minefield. Every day there are choices and decisions to be made: What priorities to set, what pitfalls to avoid, what openings to go for. How to successfully thwart the attacks of the enemy while doing the maximum to advance and strengthen the revolutionary forces and keep our sights focused on the future with the greatest possible sweep and vision.
There have been a number of times—again critical junctures in the development of the revolutionary road in the U.S. and internationally—when Comrade Avakian has stood out in his ability to wield the methodology of MLM to correctly analyze changing conditions and on that basis provide crucial direction and guidance to the revolutionary forces. The analysis of the counterrevolutionary character of the events in China following the death of Mao, and of how they were bound to lead to the restoration of capitalism in that former stronghold of revolution, cut through a time of great confusion, disorientation and disarray in the international revolutionary ranks and is one striking example of this.
On a number of other occasions Comrade Avakian has been able to steer the revolutionary forces away from potentially deadly mines appearing in the form of economism, reformism of various sorts, adventurism, social chauvinism, and various other forms of capitulation to the overt enemy or to counterrevolutionary political lines and trends emerging within the ranks of the revolution.
But Comrade Avakian did not do this through some sort of “magic.” He did it by systematically and consistently wielding his particular ability to distill and concentrate the lessons of history and to apply the basic principles and scientific methodology of MLM to the analysis of ever-changing objective and subjective conditions, including the developing requirements of the revolutionary movement. With his particular ability to connect historical sweep and vision and very sharp MLM methodology with a deep sense of the sentiments of the masses and a deep understanding of the problems of the practical revolutionary movement, Comrade Avakian has repeatedly led others to distinguish revolutionary from counter-revolutionary lines and trends and to determine what, in practice, could and should be done to advance towards our overall strategic objectives. Applying the stand, viewpoint and method of MLM, Comrade Avakian has repeatedly dared to go against incorrect tides no matter how powerful they might be at a given time, and has led the revolutionary forces of our Party in waging the two-line struggle and in uniting all who can be united around the correct line.
Nobody does this better than Comrade Avakian.
And this, perhaps more than anything, is why he commands tremendous love and respect throughout our Party. He is without exaggeration our Party’s single greatest individual resource and weapon. At the same time he understands, and has given leadership in understanding, that this is rooted in, is nurtured by, and must serve, the collectivity of the Party and ultimately of the masses of people.
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
On the occasion of Black History Month, Revolution is running a three-part series of excerpts from Cold Truth, Liberating Truth: How This System Has Always Oppressed Black People, And How All Oppression Can Finally Be Ended . This pamphlet was originally published as a series in Revolutionary Worker (former name of Revolution ) in 1989. While there have been changes in some of the statistics cited in the pamphlet, the overall analysis continues to be very relevant today. Part 1 went into slavery in the U.S.
New Forms of Oppression Under Capitalism
Even though slavery was finally ended, after almost 250 years, Black people were still subjected to vicious forms of oppression—and still blamed for their own oppressed condition. First of all, Black people’s own major and heroic role in fighting against slavery is denied or downgraded by the “official histories.” The facts are that there were over 200 slave revolts, including the more famous ones led by Nat Turner in Virginia and Denmark Vesey in South Carolina, as well as other revolts that were covered up and “written out of history” by the slavemasters. And what about the Civil War that finally ended slavery? Once they were allowed to, masses of Black people flooded into the northern (Union) army in that war and fought courageously and with great sacrifice on the front lines—even though they were still subjected to segregation and discrimination, even down to the level where their pay as soldiers was only about half that of the white soldiers! Nearly 200,000 Blacks fought in the Union army and one out of every five (almost 40,000) gave their lives in this fight—a much higher casualty rate than for whites in the Union army.
It is a lie that “Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves” because he was morally outraged over slavery. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves (and not all the slaves at first, but only those in the states that had joined the southern Confederacy) because he saw that it would be impossible to win the Civil War against that southern Confederacy without freeing these slaves and allowing them to fight in the Union army. Lincoln himself said clearly that:
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”
Lincoln claimed it was his “personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free,” but at the same time he said that the idea of “Negro equality” was nonsense (“a low piece of demagogism”) and he insisted that whites were, and must be, superior to Blacks.
“There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. . .and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race,” said Lincoln.
Lincoln spoke and acted for the bourgeoisie —the factory-owners, railroad-owners, and other capitalists centered in the North—and he conducted the war in their interests.
The Civil War came about because of the clash between two different economic and social systems—slavery, based on plantation farming in the South; and capitalism, based on factory and other wage-labor centered in the North. Things had gotten to the point where these two systems could no longer peacefully coexist within the same country. The slaveowners and the capitalists were battling each other for control of the country, they were battling each other as the USA expanded westward. This expansion was carried out by slaughtering the native peoples (“Indian savages,” they were called) and grabbing their lands and waging a war to steal a huge chunk of land from Mexico. The slaveowners needed more land because their plantation system of farming was using up the land so fast, and the northern capitalists especially wanted the gold, oil, and other rich resources to the West. All this exploded into the Civil War.
To isolate and defeat the southern slaveowners, the northern capitalists had to promise the slaves their freedom and had to promise them (and poorer whites in the South) that they would get land and rights when the war was won. For a few years after the Civil War, some parts of these promises were kept, but even then the U.S. government used its federal troops to put down Black people (and poor whites who sometimes joined with them) who tried to get their promises paid in full. And before long, Black people were forced back onto the same plantations they had slaved on.
Now if they weren’t actually slaves, things were still not all that different. Now the masses of Black people were exploited as sharecroppers and farm laborers, still working for The Man from “can’t see in the morning till can’t see at night.” They were held down by debt they could never seem to get out of, and they were terrorized by scum like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and a whole set of laws and codes—all working to chain them in new ways to the plantation system.
Where was the U.S. government and what was it doing about this? It was doing what it has always done—protecting and enforcing the interests of the ruling class. The northern capitalists had gotten what they wanted and needed out of the Civil War: domination over the whole country and greater openings for the expansion of their capitalist system. Equality for Black people and an end to the plantation system—keeping the promises made during the Civil War—was in conflict with these capitalists’ interests. So the promises were broken and brutal force was used to keep Black people poor, exploited, segregated and discriminated against, treated like peons on the plantations, now under the ultimate control and domination of the capitalists. And what excuse was given for this—what Big Lie was told then to try to justify this? The lie that Black people were “not ready” for full freedom and equality!!
Once Again: The Form Changed But Oppression Remains
It was not until World War 2—nearly 100 years after the Civil War—that a basic change began to be brought about in the situation of Black people in the U.S. Millions of Blacks went from a rural life to an urban setting. They went from being peasants (tied to the land as sharecroppers and poor farm owners) to being mainly proletarians —not tied to any one place or any one job but forced to live by selling their labor power (their ability to work) to the capitalists, or going unemployed if the capitalists could not get enough gold by working these proletarians.
Actually, the mass migration of Black people off the southern plantations to the cities of the North (and the South) began during World War 1. At that time there was a big demand for workers in the defense plants and other factories, and the war cut off the huge flow of immigrants from Europe who had come to America for years before that war. In short, the capitalists needed a lot of workers and there weren’t enough white workers to fill the need, so some Black people were allowed in—on the bottom floor.
But not long after World War 1 the great economic depression of the 1930s forced a slowdown of the migration of Black people to the cities—with massive unemployment everywhere, the cities no longer seemed to offer hope of a better life. Yet when World War 2 broke out at the end of the 1930s, and as production and employment soared through this war, masses of Black people once again began moving to the cities, especially in the North—away from the plantations, open segregation, and terror of the South.
The biggest change came in the years after World War 2. Southern agriculture was drastically changed. Tractors were brought in on a large scale, and mechanized methods of planting and picking were also introduced in a big way. Machines were replacing human labor, and patterns of land ownership were being changed. Millions of Black people were uprooted from the land and pushed toward the cities by the “invisible hand” of capitalism and its supreme commandment: profit, and more profit. Even for those Black people who wanted to stay—who maybe owned their own land and were trying to make a go at farming it—the great majority were forced to give it up anyway. Before, the interests of the capitalists dictated that Black people be forced and terrorized to remain on the southern plantations. Now, these same capitalist interests dictated that Black people leave the southern farmlands.
On the basis of these economic changes, certain political and social changes had to be brought about also. Segregation was brought under fire. Battles were waged, and barriers were knocked down. Black people could no longer be legally denied the right to vote or to eat in the same restaurants or even use the same bathrooms and drinking fountains as white people. Lynchings of Black people, which had been a common thing in the plantation South, became much more rare, though they did not stop completely.
Next: The ’60s Upheavals and Changes Since Then
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
Debate and Controversy Heat Up
The November 22, 2007 issue of The New York Review of Books (NYRB) featured a full-page ad from Engage! Committee to Project and Protect the Voice of Bob Avakian. The ad features a statement entitled “Dangerous Times Demand Courageous Voices. Bob Avakian is Such a Voice.” The statement calls on people to engage with the writings of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and puts the U.S. government on notice that the signatories stand against any attempt to silence or suppress Avakian’s voice. Over 250 intellectuals, artists, people from social movements, and others of diverse viewpoints have signed this statement.
One might expect the publication of this ad to cause some stir. Here we are in 2007 and 2008; radical ideas and the notion of revolutionary change are officially declared passé; and yet some rather notable and critical-thinking people are declaring that the work of Bob Avakian, a communist theorist and leader, is thought-provoking, timely and relevant, even as they are not all advocating for Bob Avakian’s views.
While the statement has aroused interest and controversy in some intellectual quarters and beyond, it provoked consternation and distress in others. This is clearly in evidence in a highly distorted account of the Engage! effort by Mark Oppenheimer published in The Boston Globe (see “Free Bob Avakian!,” January 27, 2008) and in a round of other commentary, articles, and postings on the net which followed in the article’s wake.
Oppenheimer’s account, and others like his, have in common a refusal to reckon with the substance of Bob Avakian’s views and an insulting attitude towards the signers of the statement. Willfully ignoring the history and lessons of McCarthyism and the assassinations of Malcolm X and Fred Hampton, these journalists cast a blind eye to the real-world effects and future implications of moves like the Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act and the dangers this poses to a revolutionary leader like Avakian.
Remarkably, for an article appearing in The Boston Globe ’s “Ideas” section, Mark Oppenheimer has precious little to say about Bob Avakian’s ideas. Despite having ready access to the work of Bob Avakian, Oppenheimer said nothing about Avakian’s critical investigation into and summation of the “first wave” of socialist revolutions in the Soviet Union and China—their great accomplishments as well as their shortcomings; nothing about his vision of a socialism in which dissent, broad contestation over the character and direction of society, and protest, even in opposition to the socialist state, are part of the very fabric of society; nothing about how Avakian sees the challenges of exercising revolutionary leadership; nothing about his analysis of U.S. society or the possibilities for revolution. Oppenheimer did not go there because it cuts against his preconceived notion that Bob Avakian and his work are really of little consequence, a throwback to another era.
Oppenheimer derisively labels many of the signers of the Engage! statement as the “petition-signing left,” who, in his view, have lent their names without knowing or caring much about Avakian. But in a letter to the editor published in the Globe, members of the Engage! Committee exposed some of these distortions. In fact, Oppenheimer did conduct extensive interviews with signers of the ad who spoke about what they find compelling about Avakian’s work, as well as articulating their differences with his views. In addition, many of the signers have written up comments on why they signed the statement and these can easily be found on the Engage! Committee’s website. None of this made it into his article because it didn’t fit his narrative.
Oppenheimer then wants to know where Avakian is. But this is irrelevant—since when does a person’s zip code determine the validity of his ideas? And Oppenheimer’s insistence that a prominent revolutionary leader should somehow be accessible to him—why can’t I have coffee with Avakian?—is as absurd as it is obnoxious. Does he think Toni Morrison, Brad Pitt, Stephen Hawking, or any person of public accomplishment or notoriety, has some special obligation to meet with him or any journalist who so wishes?
With his sarcastic wonderings about why so many prominent figures would sign a statement sponsored by a committee to project and protect the voice of Bob Avakian, along with his dismissal of the very real dangers that a leader like Bob Avakian faces in today’s world, he distorts the main purpose of the Engage! Committee’s publication of the statement—which is in fact to encourage people to discover and dig into Bob Avakian’s work.
Answering Misrepresentations, Spreading and Debating Bob Avakian’s Ideas
This article in the Globe was as vicious as it was vacuous. In response, people have taken the approach of jumping into the controversy and turning a bad thing into a good thing—going out boldly to counter the article and to give people a truthful and substantive picture of what Bob Avakian is actually all about. In addition to the above-mentioned letter from the Engage! Committee, the Globe printed a letter from Maoist political economist and Engage! signer, Raymond Lotta. (Both letters can be read in full on the website, engagewithbobavakian.org.)
In the days following the appearance of the Globe article, people from Revolution Books and others posted copies of the NYRB ad around Harvard Square and elsewhere in Cambridge and talked with people in the streets. They went to Harvard, MIT, and Tufts with a leaflet answering the misrepresentations of the Globe article. Discussions took place in offices, dorms, and cafes, and touched on such things as whether revolution was possible or even desirable in this society, how a socialist society would function in today’s globalized world, the Obama phenomenon and how this generation of students sees its role in social change.
Revolution Books also hosted a talk and discussion led by Raymond Lotta on the topic “Is Communism Dead…Or is it Alive and Developing?—Bob Avakian’s Vision of a Liberating New World.” A diverse audience engaged in lively discussion about how a revolution could happen in the U.S., what it would take to wake people up, and what Avakian is saying about the kind of revolutionary movement needed in society. While Oppenheimer’s intention in part may have been to belittle the significance of Bob Avakian’s voice, by countering this attack, more people were in fact introduced to him and became interested in seriously checking out his work.
The Lie about a “Religious Cult”
One of the themes of Oppenheimer’s article and his piece on HuffingtonPost.com is his false claim that the Revolutionary Communist Party is creating a religious-like “cult of personality.” This does a disservice to the signers of the statement who, from their own perspectives, recognize the need for Avakian’s ideas to be part of the ferment and discourse required in this dark time and who also recognize the real dangers to Avakian in the current and increasingly repressive political climate.
As for what Avakian thinks about leadership: he points out that revolution and socialism require dedicated and far-seeing leaders but must at the same time work to break down the distinction between leaders and led, and empower the formerly oppressed to take hold of, and with the great majority of society, take ever-greater responsibility for the direction of society. He is totally opposed to notions of the infallibility of and blind, uncritical adherence to leaders. On the contrary, a particular hallmark of Bob Avakian’s work is his understanding that a key role of leadership is to unleash and empower the masses of people, from now forward, to increasingly tackle and solve the real problems of making revolution and of keeping the revolutionary transformation of society going forward. While building on Lenin and Mao, Avakian has gone beyond them on a number of questions—and one of those critical arenas is his work on more deeply excavating both the roots of the contradictions in society which make the division between leaders and led necessary, and the ways and methods for seizing freedom out of that unevenness to develop a dynamic relationship between leaders and led, working toward eventually moving beyond all such divisions in society.
New Openings, Important Questions
It is a measure of the potential reach and impact of the works of Bob Avakian—against a backdrop of questioning, concern, and anxiety among sections of intellectuals over the state of affairs in this country and the world—that there would be these attempts, including in a major newspaper like The Boston Globe, to belittle and discredit both Avakian and the Engage! project.
The NYRB ad, the interest and controversy it has fueled, and the attacks it has occasioned, provide openings to reach out broadly and widen an important conversation: about Bob Avakian’s work, and the growing repressive circumstances many progressive thinkers find themselves in as well as the particular dangers posed to Avakian—who is not only a theorist but the leader of a revolutionary party which is taking responsibility for making revolution in this society.
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
Hook up with the revolution
Unless otherwise noted, the events listed on this page are in English, but in many cases Spanish translation is available. Please call the bookstore in advance to request Spanish translation.
9 West 19th St. (btwn 5th and 6th Aves)
Tuesdays, 7 pm
Join us for a series of sweeping and incisive discussions based on the new series “MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY” by Revolutionary Communist Party, USA Chairman Bob Avakian. The discussions are open to those who’ve been engaging the works of Bob Avakian and those who are brand new—all are welcome! Together we’ll get into some of the most essential questions confronting people who want to see a different world.
Two part series: What really happened in socialist societies? What would "doing better" mean and look like—and can you really do better?
February 12, 7pm—Part I
February 19, 7pm—Part II: With Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta
February 15, Friday, 7 pm
Black History Month Film Series: Revolution 1967: The Newark Rebellion
February 16, Saturday, 4 pm
Celebrate Darwin Day with a discussion of the book
Discussion of The Science of Evolution, The Myth of Creationism – Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters by Ardea Skybreak (with presentation/visual materials)
February 22, Friday, 9 pm
Myself: Protest in Disguise
"PUNK RAP" is a style of MYSELF's own, mixing alternative rock with classic organic hip hop!!! $10 cover
February 28, Thursday, 7 pm
Join Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party and special guests in a forum: In Light of Katrina & Jena: What Got Black People Into the Mess They’re In—And How Are They Going to Get Out of It.
February 29, Friday, 7 pm
Black History Month Film Series: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: Promises Betrayed (1865-1896)
March 13, Thursday, 7 pm
From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act
1103 N. Ashland Avenue
Every Sunday, 5:00 pm
Discussions of Bob Avakian’s "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity.” Call store for topics.
February 12, Tuesday, 7 pm
Celebrate Darwin Day! Discuss the article “Celebrate Darwin Day” in Revolution newspaper and the Introduction to the book The Science of Evolution and The Myth of Creationism... Knowing What’s Real—and Why It Matters by Ardea Skybreak (both in issue 119). Discussion led by Revolution newspaper correspondent Alan Goodman.
February 13, Wednesday, 7 pm
Set the Record Straight presents: "Mao, then and now," video of panel at 2007 U.S. Social Forum, followed by discussion of the Chinese Cultural Revolution
February 17, Sunday, 2 pm
Ardea Skybreak's The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters. Discussion 3: Evolution and Human Beings.
February 17, Sunday, 5 pm
Discussion of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. What is truth? What is science? Can you scientifically understand society? Does such an understanding mean there is no room for free will and human ideals and actions?
February 23, Saturday, 2 pm
Author appearance: Timuel Black
Timuel Black is an historian and author, chronicler of the Great Migration of Black people from the South to Chicago. He will speak on the dreams and expectations of Black people in their migration to Chicago, which gave way to a very different reality and the continuing struggle to bring in a better world.
February 24, Sunday, 5 pm
Discussion of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. What is democracy? What is dictatorship? And what is America—a democracy, a dictatorship, or both? If the “true ideals of the founders” could be realized—what would it look like—and why?
February 27, Wednesday, 7 pm
Set the Record Straight presents: Deconstructing popular misconceptions of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Discussion and video presentation.
February 29, Friday 7 pm
"Opposing White Supremacy and Getting to a Far Better World", with Clyde Young of the Revolutionary Communist Party.
March 2, Sunday, 2 pm
Ardea Skybreak's The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters. Discussion 4: Anti-Evolution Creationism: An Assault On All of Science, In the Name of God.
2425 Channing Way near Telegraph Ave
February 12, Tuesday, 7 pm
Darwin Day: Video showing of the NOVA Special: Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
February 13, Wednesday, 7 pm
Revolution newspaper discussion
February 14, Thursday, 7 pm
Out to the movies with Revolution Books. See Taxi to the Darkside in downtown Berkeley; have coffee after Meet in front of Shattuck Cinema @ 7:15.
February 16, Saturday, 11 am
Discussing the series “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity.” What is truth? What is science? Does “scientific understanding” mean there is no role for “free will” and human ideals and action?
February 17, Sunday 2 pm
Fundamentalism, Imperialism and the “War on Terror” – Discussion of the new book Away With All Gods by Bob Avakian
February 18, Monday, 7 pm
Video nite: Gaza Strip. Documentary on the lives of Palestinians in Gaza through the eyes of two youth
February 19, Tuesday, 7 pm
Barack Obama – New Face, Same Empire
Discussion with Larry Everest
312 West 8th Street 213-488-1303
February 12, Tuesday, 7 pm
Celebrating Darwin Day – 150 years of scientific discovery since Darwin have supported his discovery. Part two of a discussion of Ardea Skybreak’s The Science of Evolution, The Myth of Creationism – Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters.
Also at 7 pm
Revolución: Por qué es necesaria, por qué es posible, qué es. – Spanish language showing and discussion of sections from RCP, USA Chairman Bob Avakian’s DVD.
February 14, Thursday, 7 pm
Bilingual discussion of one or two articles from the current issue of Revolution newspaper – Check our blog for which articles we’ll discuss and read them online at www.revcom.us.
February 15, Friday, 7 pm
Cinema Revolución – Black history month film series: Home of the Brave —documentary examining the case of the only white woman murdered in the civil rights movement; and discussion of the Revolution DVD review in Issue #119.
February 16, Saturday, 6 pm
Reception for Hank Brown and Alice Woodward, Revolution newspaper journalists who have been covering events in Jena, Louisiana.
February 17, Sunday, 4:30 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity.” Bilingual discussion of Bob Avakian’s recent talk. Focus this week will be on the “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism” excerpt in issue #113 of Revolution/Revolución newspaper.
2626 South King Street
Every Monday, 6:15 pm
Reading circle/discussion of the current installment of Bob Avakian’s series, “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity”
February 17, Sunday, 3pm
"Celebrating Darwin Day and Defending Science in 2008"
by Michael G. Hadfield
Professor of Zoology, University of Hawai`i
Advisory Board, Defend Science Project
2804 Mayfield Rd (at Coventry)
Cleveland Heights 216-932-2543
February 18, Monday, 7 pm
Discussion of Bob Avakian’s talk “Making Revolution and Emancipating Society.”
This week will focus on the section “Changes in Society and in People: A Materialist, and Dialectical, Understanding of the Relation Between People’s Conditions and Their Consciousness,” including the following three sub-sections
• Changing circumstances, and changing people
• People make history—but on a certain material foundation
• State power—to effect radical changes
1833 Nagle Place
Every Saturday in February, 7 pm
Ongoing reading and discussion of the series “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian
February 12, Tuesday, 7pm
Celebrate Darwin Day! Film Showing & Discussion: Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus
Evolutionary biologist Randy Olson explains the debate over intelligent design in this in-depth yet lighthearted documentary that examines how evolution is being taught in the United States.
February 14, Thursday, 1pm
Encore film showing of Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus
February 16, Saturday, 7pm
Ongoing Reading & Discussion of Bob Avakian’s talk “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity Part 2: Everything We’re Doing Is About Revolution”
This week’s topic is “Repolarization for Revolution: A Strategic Orientation” available in Revolution #120.
(between Cass &2nd, south of Forest)
Every Sunday, 4 pm
Discussions of "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity—Part 2: Everything We're Doing Is About Revolution" by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
Every Thursday, 6 pm
Discussion on the latest issue of Revolution newspaper, digging into articles and expanding distribution
February 12, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
Celebrate DARWIN DAY. Film showing: Inherit the Wind.
February 19, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
Black History Month discussion, “Jena and New Orleans: the Need for Resistance and Revolution.”
February 24, Sunday, 1 pm
RBO goes to the movies at the Detroit Film Theatre (John R entrance of Detroit Institute of Arts, between Warren and Kirby, Detroit): Moolade, a film by Ousmane Sembene, great Senegalese film maker, about a rebellion against genital circumcision in an African village. Discussion afterwards.
February 24, Sunday, 4 pm
Discussion on “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity—Part 2: Everything We’re Doing Is About Revolution” (continued), Meaningful Revolutionary Work: Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution” by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Revolution newspaper, issue #116)
Every Monday, 6:30 pm
Weekly discussion of the work of Bob Avakian
February 9, Saturday, 6:30 pm
Dinner and discussion with the staff at Revolution Books about ways the store can make big leaps in the coming year in projecting out as a center of revolutionary ferment and a pole of a revolutionary communist movement. Please contact us in advance if you plan to come.
February 12, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
Celebrate Darwin Day! Film showing: Inherit the Wind
February 18, Monday, 6:30 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” Part 2. This week, the discussion will focus on Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution!
February 23, Saturday, 6:30 pm
Celebrate Black History Month! Revolution Books Presents: Rosewood (1997)
February 25, Monday , 6:30 pm
“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” Part 2. This week the discussion will focus on Building the Party.
4 Corners Market of the Earth
Little 5 Points, 1087 Euclid Avenue
404-577-4656 & 770-861-3339
Open Wednesdays & Fridays 4 pm - 7 pm,
Saturdays 2 pm - 7 pm
COMING SOON: Weekly in-depth discussions of Bob Avakian’s 2007 talk “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity.” Watch our blog or call for details.
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
On December 3, 2005, people gathered in the Nickerson Gardens Projects in Watts to pay tribute to Comrade Willie “Mobile” Shaw. Mobile had died on November 24. Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, issued a statement on the occasion of Willie Shaw’s death that was featured at the event (the statement can be read at revcom.us/a/027/avakian-statement-willie-shaw.htm).
Speaking at the memorial, Joe Veale from the RCP recounted something Willie Shaw had said about Bob Avakian:
“This system makes people do what they want them to do. In the new society you might only work for four hours and then you do art, science, crafts, or whatever. The masses out here think they are in control of the drugs but the system puts the drugs out here to keep us from thinking and acting in a revolutionary way. People look at the new society like that is unbelievable. But we have the right person to lead us there. There is enough people around the world that if they got a hold of the Chairman and took him up it would be a cold revolution. People need to know that they have a person like the Chairman on their side and they need to stand up for him.”
Revolution recently received a copy of several inscriptions left in the memorial book by those who attended the memorial, and we are sharing some of those messages here:
“I want a whole new world not just for my children but for all the children and all the people all over the world.”
“This society is fucked up. And Bush and them are trying to make it something even worse. Our society after revolution, socialism, is going to be way different than this—way different, but we got to get there first.”
“Bobby Avakian is the leader who can lead us to make revolution. Ain’t nobody else even talking about what he’s talking about. If people really knew what kind of society communism will be—99% would want to make it happen.”
“The more I learn the more I see how we have been cheated and lied to. They didn’t teach us the truth about how the system really works. All this shit that is done to people is not the people’s fault. And the more I learn the more I want to tell everybody.”
“We need more people to get with the Party and the Chairman, we can do some history making things. I believe we can do this.”
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
“I heard you, you booed.”
Bob Dylan, back in the day, responding with dismissive sarcasm to those at a concert who screamed at him for “going electric,” rather than remaining within the orthodox confines of “folk music.”
Some people have nothing better to do than to try to tear down those who are seeking to bring something radically different and new into being.
The sole purpose of our Party is to lead the masses of people in realizing their highest and most fundamental interests, to make revolution and to contribute to the cause of communism throughout the world—to be emancipators of humanity. For this reason, the focus of our attention and efforts is, and will remain, on systematically putting forward and carrying out—among the basic masses who are objectively in the most desperate need of revolution, and among all other sections of the people—the most advanced understanding we have of revolution and communism, as both a political strategy and program and as a living scientific theory, particularly as this is embodied in the line of our Party and the body of work and method and approach of our Chairman, Bob Avakian.
But in this country today there are some people who have sunk to the point where they can do nothing more than act as “parasitic critics” in relation to our revolutionary role and work—having themselves nothing positive to offer in terms of achieving a radical alternative to the monstrous system we live under, having no defining or unifying mission other than seeking to sabotage our efforts to bring such a radical alternative into being.
Of course, there are people who have honest differences with our outlook and objectives—and that is one thing. Our orientation in that case is to welcome and to seek out dialogue and principled struggle over these differences. But it is quite another thing when what is involved are completely dishonest and unprincipled attacks, including crude distortions of our views, aims, and methods. We recognize that the more we carry forward with our revolutionary work, and the more we make advances on the revolutionary road, the more we will be subjected to such attacks, not only from open reactionaries but also from some others who may call themselves progressive, or in some cases even claim to be “communist,” but who apparently can’t stand the fact that we are determined to actually be, and to carry out our responsibilities as, a revolutionary communist vanguard party, and not to degenerate into yet another revisionist (phony communist) knife in the back of the oppressed. We expect such attacks from those who have rejected—or who have in reality abandoned—the goal of radically remaking the world, and so feel compelled to try to tear down our Party, since we continue to act on the scientifically based understanding that such a radical transformation of the world is not only necessary but possible.
We recognize that our Party is seen as an obstacle by some who fear that their own narrow aims and petty concerns will be exposed and undermined by the reality that we have refused to give up on the goal of revolution, that we are—not only in name but in fact—continuing to approach everything from the point of view of how to finally make revolution and really advance toward a communist world, rather than accepting the world as it is and seeking, at most, to bring about some paltry reforms within the confines of the existing system—a system of horrors for the masses of people in this country and the overwhelming majority of humanity. Even—or we should say especially—when this bowing down to the “existing realities” is done in the guise of (and as a grotesque distortion of) “communism,” or in the name of “the masses” and in the form of tailing the masses, it amounts to nothing less than accommodation—and in fact abject capitulation—to imperialism, with all its horrors, and to betrayal of the masses of people upon whom those horrors are visited.
In keeping with our basic principles and methods, we will examine and seek to draw whatever lessons can be learned from even the most unprincipled opportunist attacks. In some cases, we may respond to such an attack—particularly where we believe it can serve as a useful “teacher by negative example,” and refuting it will enable people to get a sharper and deeper sense of the correct, revolutionary and communist, ideological and political line, in opposition to opportunist lines of various kinds, and to understand more clearly where these opposing lines will lead and with what consequences for the masses of people. But we will not allow such attacks to deter us or divert us from our fundamental purposes and aims, nor do we believe that it is necessary to answer every such attack in order to clarify what is, in reality, the line and the work of our Party. Those who are genuinely interested in learning about our Party are more than welcome, and indeed are encouraged, to read Revolution and other publications of our Party, to dig into the body of work of Bob Avakian, to attend public presentations and discussions of our line, and in general to engage with our Party and its viewpoint, aims, and practice.
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
In the previous issue of Revolution, we ran an excerpt from Cold Truth, Liberating Truth that included a quote from the French philosopher Montesquieu. The excerpt included the following:
“To many of these white overlords the enslavement and even the extermination of non-European peoples was so ‘natural’ that they didn’t even disguise what they were doing. For example, the French political philosopher Montesquieu greatly influenced the writers of the U.S. Constitution. Along with what he wrote about politics and law, Montesquieu had this to say:
‘If I had to justify our right to enslave Negroes, this is what I would say: Since the peoples of Europe have exterminated those of America [the Indians], they have had to enslave those of Africa in order to use them to clear and cultivate such a vast expanse of land [in America].
‘Sugar would be too expensive if it weren’t harvested by slaves….
‘It is inconceivable that God, who is a very wise being, could have placed a soul, especially a good soul, in an all-black body….
‘It is impossible that these people are men; because if we thought of them as men, one would begin to think that we ourselves are not Christians.’”
These quotes were drawn from a pamphlet on the U.S. Constitution, written by Bob Avakian a few years before the pamphlet Cold Truth, Liberating Truth was published. However, some years later, Bob Avakian went back and looked further into the relevant writings of Montesquieu and wrote the following in this regard:
Recently, Revolution ran an excerpt from a pamphlet I wrote, which was originally published in 1987, U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters’ Vision of Freedom. In that excerpt, there is a quote from De L’Esprit Des Lois (or, in English, “The Spirit of the Laws”) by Charles Montesquieu, an 18th-century French philosopher, who was one of the sources of inspiration for the U.S. Constitution, and in particular the theory of the separation of powers that is incorporated in that Constitution. The quote from this work of Montesquieu’s, which was published in 1748, is one in which he recites an extreme and grotesquely racist justification for “the enslavement of the Negroes.” In relation to this, it is not infrequently argued that Montesquieu was being ironic here, and deliberately overstating this argument, in order to, in effect, polemicize against the enslavement of African people, and that in general Montesquieu’s writings express opposition to slavery. But the reality is not so simple as this, nor does this reflect what Montesquieu was essentially seeking to do in this part of “The Spirit of the Laws.” It can be said that in “The Spirit of the Laws” Montesquieu’s position is one of general opposition to slavery, and he indicates that slavery is not appropriate in countries like France; but, at the same time, he speaks to various circumstances in which he believes slavery can be justified or reasonable. For example, he argues that in the parts of the world, in particular the southern regions, where the climate is warmer, this climate makes people lazy (indolent), and slavery may be justified in order to get them to work (and he argues that in a despotic country, where people’s political rights are already repressed, slavery may not be worse for people in that condition).
This, and the general discussion of slavery that makes up this part (book 15) of “The Spirit of the Laws,” is included in a broader discussion by Montesquieu on the nature of different societies and governments in different countries and parts of the world (this is found not only in book 15 but also books 14 and 16 of “The Spirit of the Laws”) in which Montesquieu argues that geography and in particular climate plays a big part in determining the nature of different peoples and the character of their society and governing system. And it is important to understand that, although in this discussion Montesquieu makes logical refutation of certain arguments, including certain defenses of slavery, this is not a polemic for or against slavery, or other forms of government, and its character is not that of moral argumentation, so much as it is an attempt to explain why various practices, and various forms of society and government, have existed (and in some cases continue to exist) in various places.
Another way to put this is that what Montesquieu is doing, in these parts of “The Spirit of the Laws” (and generally in this work), is attempting to make a kind of materialist analysis of these phenomena, including slavery in many places where it has existed—although it must be emphasized that this is not a thoroughly scientific, dialectical materialism but instead a rather crude and vulgar materialism which is marked, and marred, by a considerable amount of determinism: it is a kind of mechanical materialism that argues for a direct and straight-line (linear) connection between things like geography and climate and the character of society and government. It is a kind of materialism that does not adequately and accurately characterize the real motive forces in the development of human society, and in fact this kind of vulgar materialism has often been used to justify various forms of oppression, including colonial and imperialist domination. While we can, and should, recognize that, in the circumstances and time in which he wrote—about 250 years ago—there are aspects of what Montesquieu was seeking to do that were new and represented a break with the suffocating and obfuscating feudal outlook and conventions, it is very important to understand how Montesquieu’s outlook and method were marked, and limited, by the social, and international, relations of which they were ultimately an expression: relations in which one part of society, and of the world, dominates and exploits others. And that is the basic point that was being emphasized in relation to Montesquieu and the U.S. Constitution, in the pamphlet U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters’ Vision of Freedom.
With regard to the specific passage that was cited in U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters’ Vision of Freedom, “on the enslavement of the Negroes,” there is, in fact, some reason to accept that Montesquieu does not actually agree with the justification for this enslavement that he summarizes, and that he is actually subjecting this kind of justification to some ironic and satirical treatment. A reasonable interpretation of Montesquieu’s arguments, as he goes on in this part of “The Spirit of the Laws” (book 15), is that this kind of argument, about the non-human character of the Negroes, is not a valid argument, not one that actually justifies this enslavement. But then he does go on to explore the question of what might actually be reasonable justifications, in certain circumstances, for slavery; and, as spoken to above, he finds such justifications in situations such as those where there is a despotic government, or where—as he concludes, through an application of vulgar and determinist materialism—the warm climate makes people lazy and unwilling, on their own initiative, to work.
Thus, in looking into and reflecting on this further, I would say that, while it is important to understand the complexity and nuance of what Montesquieu writes here—and it can be said that the way in which I cited Montesquieu in writing this pamphlet on the U.S. Constitution does not really or fully do that—it is not the case that what Montesquieu was doing here was actually making a case against the enslavement of the Negroes, or against slavery in general. Once again, it is important to keep in mind the fact that, although he was opposed to slavery on general principle, and declared that it was a good thing that it had been eliminated in his home country, France, and more generally in Europe, Montesquieu did not think slavery was wrong, or without justification, in all circumstances. And it also seems that Montesquieu did not hesitate to invest in companies involved in the slave trade. In this, there is a parallel with John Locke, the English philosopher and political theorist, who, as I pointed out in this same pamphlet ( U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters’ Vision of Freedom ), was also a major influence in the conception of the U.S. Constitution. As I wrote in Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? (p. 29):
“In sum, the society of which Locke was a theoretical exponent, as well as a practical political partisan, was a society based on wage-slavery and capitalist exploitation. And it is not surprising that, while he was opposed to slavery in England itself, he not only defended the institution of slavery, under certain circumstances, in the Second Treatise, but turned a not insignificant profit himself in the slave trade and helped to draw up the charter for a government headed by a slave-owning aristocracy in one of the American colonies. For as Marx sarcastically summarized: ‘The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.’”
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
From the Harlem Revolution Club
We received the following correspondence from a member of the Harlem Revolution Club:
People talk about god all the time in Harlem. But, in very real ways, people rarely get a chance to really talk about that non-existent homicidal myth and all the damage it does. A suffocating blanket of mind-numbing convention and religious superstition keeps people from seeing how things really work and what they can really do.
Last week the Harlem Revolution Club and supporters of Revolution newspaper fought to lift that blanket and let people get some daylight. We took out a leaflet denouncing the BattleCry Christian fascist youth crusade being held here in New York and the Black minister, T.D. Jakes, who is its featured speaker. “God Does Not Exist!” declares the leaflet, “ But We Do and We Can Emancipate Humanity!” “It’s time to lift our heads, get up off our knees, reject enslaving superstition, and take up the most radical and truly scientific way of understanding and changing reality, communism.”
Passionate debates and probing conversations about God, science, revolution, and communism took place up and down 125th Street last week. Here is a sample of some of the back and forth:
A 40-something Black woman with an English accent pulled out her Bible and raised it a little above her head. “That is not in there,” she told the person she was debating. He pulled out his Bible, turned to Numbers 31. “Here it is. God commanded the Israelites through Moses to slaughter the Midianites—all the women who weren’t virgins, all the male children, in addition to killing all the men. Do you want to say to your children—let this be your guide?” After verifying the passage in her own Bible, she said, “No. Of course people shouldn’t act that way today. It’s terrible. But we have to look at the context.” She could not come up with a context that would justify this god-induced murder spree. “It’s good that you are making people think about these things,” she said, “but I don’t know, maybe you are going to hell.”
Starbucks on the corner of 125th and Lenox: A guy in a gray shirt says, “I agree with 90% of what you’re saying but why do you say that god is not real?” He had been on the street corner just outside taking in what one of our people was saying from atop a milk crate. Now the rain had driven us all into the Starbucks. He continued, “I like what you’re saying but there has to be some spiritual force that is behind all this.”
His friend chimes in, arguing that people would not be able to change anything without the help of god. Then after a couple of rounds into the conversation it’s clear he’s actually arguing that people need god and personal salvation because society cannot be changed under any circumstances.
What about Katrina, the Iraq war, slavery, global poverty—there are very earthly causes for all this, not god or some heavenly plan.
“That’s Satan’s work!” announces the friend. We struggle over how this kind of thinking cuts against people making revolution and should be abandoned.
The discussion morphs into a debate about evolution. A woman from across the room comes over and says her friend wants to say something. We wave her friend over and pull up a chair. The woman tells us she remembers from high school that the continents were at one time connected but had broken apart over the course of many, many years. She adds that she had also learned that all human life had its origins in Africa. The gray shirt guy tries to argue intelligent design—that this is all part of god’s plan—but he also thinks evolution does explain some things. He says maybe science can explain the world but god made science. Someone counters: What does this over-seeing god do then if science gives us the only understanding of reality we have? Now, there are the three of us who had been handing out the leaflet, plus four other people around the table. And, everybody in the joint is listening in on our conversation.
When the rain lets up and we head back to the corner, the woman says, “I have never participated in something like this. I never liked to speak up like that but I feel that was good.”
On one bustling corner, six Black 15- and 14-year-old women stop to listen to one of our people standing on a milk crate saying: “You know that the god in the Bible is worse than Freddy Kruger. The Bible justifies rape, murder, war, slavery…. Do you think a woman who is not a virgin when she gets married should be killed by the men of the neighborhood?”
“Hell no!” they all respond loudly with variations on that general theme.
“Well that shit is in the Bible and it’s a good thing god is made up because the mf in the Bible is a mean and twisted piece of work.”
“Ooooo…if you went to church and said that they’d beat you up,” a youth warns.
“Why? They afraid of reality over at the church?”
“So, Mr. Smarty Pants—she doesn’t say this, but that’s the tone—if there is no god what woke you up this morning?” She’s confident that this is a winning argument.
“My alarm clock woke me up. Think we should build a church for it?”
Most of the youth are laughing out loud now. Wagging their fingers and shaking their heads in that—“You goin’ to hell” way, they head into the crosswalk, laughing. Debating forbidden topics was fun.
“God does not exist and the Bible is a nightmare?” A young Latino couple quickly turn their heads toward us as they hear this. They take a leaflet but keep walking. Someone catches up with them and asks what they think. It’s like opening a box or lifting a blanket. “People have been killed because of religion. Hatred is being spread because of religion. I don’t know if there is a god but I’m sick of hearing everybody talk about god, god, god.” They go on and on. They’re grateful we are challenging this but they wouldn’t join us on the spot. “Where do you meet?” the young woman asks. They buy the paper, take extra fliers, and give us a way to contact them.
A guy in a Catholic school uniform, looks about 14 years old, listens carefully for a long time as he watches the crazy scene on the corner unfold. Then says, “You really don’t believe in god—I do because there are a lot of people who wouldn’t make it without god, he is their hope.” His parents are from Africa and he argues that religion has been good for Africa. We talk about the role of Christianity and Islam in Africa and how they were brought to Africa at the point of the sword and gun. We talk about the devastating oppression of women promoted and justified by religion and how it causes tremendous suffering everywhere.
He says, even if most of what we’re saying is true, that didn’t cover everything. “How did we get here?” he asks with an honest voice.
Then we’re off to the races—15 billion years ago, matter moving and transforming, natural selection and evolution. Sometimes he gets a little frustrated when he can’t find the words to express his thoughts. He apologizes for not making his points as clearly as he wants. At one point, more talking to himself than to us he says, “It’s good I met you because I don’t talk to anybody about this sort of thing and I’m not sure what I really think.” We heard this more than a few times this week. He raises Darfur, AIDs, Iraq.
We tell him, “People like you have to grab hold of the scientific method for really understanding the world and how to change it. Why are the poorest kids cut off from understanding biology, astronomy, history? Why do they give kids in places like Harlem and Africa sick twisted fairytales about a god? Humanity needs more people like you to be revolutionary scientists, communists.” He’s a bit shaken as well as unleashed by the exchange, buys Revolution newspaper, takes leaflets and we make arrangements to continue the conversation.
So much has happened in the last wild and woolly week. Let me add just one other note. The Revolution Club members have been studying their Bibles and getting a lot of practice in struggling with people to cut god and the Bible loose. We’ve gotten stronger with each outing. One club member did a presentation for one of his college classes titled “The Revealed Bible” and he exposed the horror it represents. Club members came to confront the BattleCry crusade having studied Bob Avakian’s talk on religion and with their Bibles under their arms. Once you start pulling that blanket away, you want to pull more and more and more.
Away with All Gods,
Revolution #120, February 17, 2008
To download a printable PDFversion of the leaflet from the Harlem Revolution Club (below), go to revcom.us
A dangerous alliance—A dangerous trap
We received the following leaflet from the Harlem Revolution Club:
On Friday, February 8th at 3:00 pm BattleCry, the nation’s largest Christian fascist youth movement, will be in Times Square with its high tech, paramilitary, religious pep rally and “holy war” recruitment extravaganza.
BattleCry has reached hundreds of thousands of mainly white suburban youth with its message of holy war for God and America. Now it is attempting to attract Black and Latino youth into its crusade. Well-known Black preacher, Bishop T.D. Jakes is the featured speaker at BattleCry’s main event. He is helping to deliver these youth into the hands of these lunatics, while he serves up his own brand of slavish submission to a non-existent God and an all too real empire. Youth—don’t be played! Break out of the mental chains of believing in things that don’t exist and join the struggle to make revolution.
The Bible taken literally is a horror! The Bible is “God’s Instruction Manual” according to BattleCry and T.D. Jakes is down with that. What kind of instructions does the Bible offer?
The Bible upholds slavery—(Ephesians 6:5 and Deuteronomy 3:21), and calls for mass murder—(Samuel 15:2-3).
It commands: death for children who hit, curse, or disobey parents, death for those who commit blasphemy, death for gathering wood on the Sabbath, death for women who commit adultery, death for homosexuality, witchcraft, idolatry. ( Exod . 21:15, 17, Lev. 21:18-21, Num. 15:32-36, Lev . 20:13).
This is but a small sample of the horrors condoned by the Bible. God commits more murder and mayhem than Freddy Kruger ever thought about. The Bible teaches a murderously oppressive morality. We dare T.D. Jakes, BattleCry or anybody else to defend what the non-existent God of the Bible calls for! It doesn’t stop here.
The Bible fiercely supports and promotes patriarchy, the domination of man over women. (Deuteronomy 22:13‑21, 1 Corinthians 11:3, 14:33‑35 and many, many more places). BattleCry upholds this and wants to more forcefully impose it on all of society: women should not have the right to divorce, or to abortions, or to contraceptives, or to any life at all outside of being some man’s property and the bearer of his children. T.D. Jakes upholds this same bullshit. In “Woman Thou Art Loosed,” a book written by Jakes (there is also a movie based on the book), Jakes tells an angry woman who has been nearly destroyed by abuse that she has to get right with God: “Until your attitude is corrected, you can’t be corrected…. You cannot expect the whole human race to move over because you had a bad childhood.” In his sermons Jakes has said there are as many abused men as women. WHAT?! Seventy-eight women are raped each hour in this country. A woman is assaulted every 10 seconds. A woman is most likely to be beaten or murdered in her home by her husband or boyfriend. So—Fuck T.D. Jakes!
BattleCry and Jakes, and religion generally, say we must live with this madness and misery because God is punishing “sin” or carrying out some secret plan. Bullshit! God is a human invention! Satan is too! And there is no damn secret playbook!
30,000 children die needlessly around the world every day due to hunger and preventable diseases—not from the “wages of sin” but from the workings of this capitalist system. Savage poverty and wars stalk billions of human being cross this planet—not because “God is working in mysterious ways,” but because this system can work no other way. Slavery, racist police brutality and murder, the wretched desperation during Katrina and afterwards, and the nooses in Jena are not “part of God’s plan” but are part of a society that has white supremacy and the oppression of whole peoples built into its very foundation.
“Thank you Jesus.” “It’s a blessing.” Hell no! We want to make revolution and fight for a whole different kind of world—a world where human beings can live and work, and learn and love and struggle together—a world free of all this slave master and slave bullshit. We want a communist world where the youth, women and men, gay and straight, people of all nationalities from all around the world can rise up together and change everything. It’s time to lift our heads, get up off our knees, reject enslaving superstition, and take up the most radical and truly scientific way of understanding and changing reality, communism.
God Does Not Exist! But We Do And We Can Emancipate Humanity!
No to BattleCry and Jakes! Join us Friday at Times Square
The Harlem Revolution Club