Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA

Please note: this page is intended for quick printing of the entire issue. Some of the links may not work when clicked, and some images may be missing. Please go to the article's permalink if you require working links and images.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

The following was written by someone who has been actively involved in the communist movement since the late 1960’s and has closely followed and studied the experience of this movement, internationally and historically.

An Open Letter to the Revolutionary Communists and Everyone Seriously Thinking About Revolution:

On the Role and Importance of Bob Avakian

Dear Comrades,

I am writing this letter in the hope that it may in some way contribute to the current discussion over the role and importance of Chairman Bob Avakian in the struggle for a communist world.

How one evaluates the role Bob Avakian has played in the revolutionary movement in the U.S. and internationally over the last almost 40 years has, in the final analysis, proven itself to be a question of how one views communist revolution itself: are you for it, or not. Not to make an absolute of this nor to suggest that at any particular point every person who is not clear on the role Bob Avakian has been/is playing, is therefore consciously against communist revolution: such a mechanical view would be both wrong and harmful. Knowledge and understanding are something in motion, they develop (as has the role Bob Avakian is playing). So it is a question of “in the final analysis”. At the same time—and as actual experience has repeatedly shown—it is objectively true and this truth will sooner or later assert itself in someone’s subjective understanding as well.

I first heard of Bob Avakian when I was studying in the U.S. in the late 1960’s and getting involved in revolutionary politics. My introduction came through two sources. The first was by means of “The Red Papers 1 & 2” which were the basic documents of the Revolutionary Union (RU), the forerunner of the RCP,USA. Some people at the college I was attending had been in contact with the RU and were circulating the “Red Papers” as important contributions to understanding how working class revolution could be made within the USA. Already at that time Avakian was being talked about as one of the main leaders of the RU and authors of the “Red Papers”.

I started reading the “Red Papers” and was quite impressed by the systematic and serious manner in which the analysis they contained was presented. This is not really the same as understanding this analysis in a deeper manner, but as stated above: knowledge develops. This was a start.

My second avenue of introduction to Avakian came in the form of two documentary films made by a group called Newsreel that were circulating at that time. One was called “May Day (Black Panther)”, and was about a May Day rally in San Francisco organized by the Black Panther Party in (I believe) 1969. The other film was called “Richmond Oil Strike” and was about a strike conducted by workers at a Standard Oil refinery in Richmond (California) and showed how revolutionaries had united with and supported these workers. Bob Avakian appeared in both these films. Especially his appearance at the Black Panther rally made a big impression on me.

As many are aware, at that time the Panthers were an important component in the leading edge of the revolutionary movement in the U.S. Their uncompromising revolutionary stand vis a vis U.S. imperialism and in the face of the most vicious and murderous repression was a key element of the political landscape in those days. I had heard that Avakian and the RU worked closely with the Panthers. But hearing about this was one thing; actually seeing it on film was something else. There was Avakian up there on the stage with a Red Book in his hand saying, “Let me say one thing to the white people in the audience...” And then Avakian went on to emphasize very powerfully that, while the Black Panther Party had taken a firm position that white people were not the enemy, this should not be taken to mean that white people were relieved of the responsibility to actively take part in the fight against the oppression of Black people and against the imperialist system as a whole. I can remember thinking: “Wow, this brother can really rap it down.”

Being full of enthusiasm, as well as somewhat impressionable, all of this was enough to convince me that Bob Avakian was going to be an important leader in any revolution that took place within the USA. In retrospect this was obviously a guess and not a scientifically grounded evaluation: a well intentioned guess, but guesswork nevertheless. No one could have then predicted how true it would turn out to be, and not just in regards to the U.S. alone.

As things developed and the key turning points of that period began to emerge, Avakian did in fact play a leading role in forging the road ahead and in “going against the tide” to take on and defeat incorrect lines and tendencies that would have taken things in the U.S. down one wrong path or another. He describes these struggles in a very lively and even powerful fashion in his memoir From Ike to Mao and Beyond, My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist.

In those days things like nationalism, adventurism, etc. had a big influence on revolutionary mind­ed people as a lot of very basic questions had not been sorted out[1]. People who were promoting these kinds of wrong lines often attacked Avakian personally rather than focus on the actual questions of principle that were up for debate. So what is currently emanating from some quarters is nothing new. Learning to see through these types of unprincipled attacks and focus on the key questions of political line was important training for the struggles to come. The line that Bob Avaki­an led in formulating and propagating, the method he employed in doing this and the fact that he never wavered in the face of these attacks played a crucial part in this training.

Even in those very formative years, given all the sidetracks and dead ends that needed to be successfully navigated to advance on a basically correct road, what would have transpired if Bob Avaki­an had not played the role he did? Is it conceivable that the RCP, USA would ever have been formed in the first place? And if it had, what kind of party would it have been? Without Avakian­’s role, what, if anything, would have been consolidated within the U.S. out of the great revolutionary upsurge that swept the world in the 1960’s and early 1970’s?[2]

When the coup took place in China things took a leap... one of the “great needs” that the RCP has talked about in recent documents got a lot greater. At that immediate time the extent to which this was the case was not so clear, even though it was objectively true. As he recounts in From Ike to Mao and Beyond, Avakian wrote “Revisionists are Revisionists and Must Not be Supported; Revolutionaries are Revolutionaries and Must Be Supported”. This paper exposed the revisionist line that had taken power following Mao’s death and upheld Mao’s line and the Four.[3] It was the basis for unit­ing people to defeat the revisionist pro-Deng Menshevik-faction at the central committee meet­ing that was held to decide the question of what stand the RCP would take on the developments in China.[4] And as far as I am aware no other Maoist party or organization in the world was able to produce such a document—unfortunately.

When you read about this in From Ike to Mao and Beyond it really comes through how deep a grasp he had of the fact that the question of a correct evaluation of the coup was, as he talks about it, a “cardinal question” on which there could be “no compromise”. Making a correct evaluation and winning the struggle in the Central Committee meeting around this question was crucial in not only keeping the RCP on a revolutionary path, but also opening up the whole trajectory of development that would follow.

All the Maoist forces that made a wrong evaluation of this question rapidly became revisionist. Almost all those who thought they could sit it out, or felt that it was all too complicated or too far away to figure out, continue—if they still exist and have not corrected this error—to suffer from the agnostic and pragmatic thinking that allowed for such a position. And even many of those who took a basically correct position on the coup, but did not ground this evaluation in the kind of deep analysis that Avakian made, had great difficulty not only in grasping Mao’s breakthroughs in understanding the contradictory character of socialism as a revolutionary transitional society, but also in taking a scientific approach to the science of revolution in general.

What would have happened if Avakian had not had the grasp of this question that he did, including the understanding and orientation that this was do-or-die with no backing down?

Around this time Avakian also wrote Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions. For those not familiar with it, this is a major work that synthesizes Mao’s qualitative contributions to the science of revolution. Although things have progressed quite a bit since then, if you look at this work you will see that Avakian does not rest content with just discussing what Mao had to say about the major topics the book deals with. When it comes to Bob Avakian and important questions of political principle, there is never even a hint of superficiality, or as he puts it in From Ike to Mao and Beyond, “When I get into something, I like to get into it deeply...” (pg. 248). (BTW, this is something that has both frustrated and infuriated his opponents over all these years. )[5]

Each chapter of Mao’s Immortal begins with Avakian first summing up what the thinking of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin had been on these issues and then explaining how Mao had qualitatively advanced the communist understanding on the particular subject. In the last chapter Avakia­n, as is his fashion, deals with Mao dialectically and begins an initial discussion of some of Mao’s weaknesses as well. In other words, he deals with all this in an all-around, deep-going way. He had clearly not only thoroughly immersed himself in Mao, but in Marxism-Leninism as a whole. As it turned out, this was the most advanced effort of its kind anywhere and provided the theoretical basis for both upholding Mao’s contributions and the revolutionary experience in China as well as a starting point for further deepening the understanding of these contributions (both their positive and negative aspects).[6]

If he had not been able to do all this, what understanding would exist in the world today in regards to Mao’s qualitative developments in our revolutionary science and the experience of socialism in China as a whole? Remember, at that time there was not only the revisionism coming from China, but there was also the dogmato-revisionism coming out of Albania which was claiming that Mao had never been a communist and China had never been socialist. As ridiculous as this may seem today, at the time this line was exerting a lot of influence among previously Maoist forces around the world. Without Avakian’s leadership, what would have happened to the RCP,USA in terms of remaining on the revolutionary road? Remember that no other party in an imperialist country was able to survive as a revolutionary party in the wake of the coup in China: not a single one—and there were many, including not a few which were much larger and more influential than the RCP at that time.[7]

In connection with this struggle, as the RCP has documented, there was also the re-discovery, so to speak, of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? Even if this “re-discovery” was initially still mixed with the influence of economism, and it is now being summed up that over the last 2 decades new prob­lems in this regard emerged, what would have resulted if this initial re-discovery had not been made at that time? Would it have been possible to have arrived at the current understanding of “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism” at all?

Following this phase Avakian continued to push forward—to put it mildly. I remember when Con­quer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will first appeared. In the “Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology” he refers to this as the beginning of an “epistemological rupture”.[8] I agree with that wholeheartedly. For some, the analysis/synthesis he makes in that document—both the methodological approach and the political conclusions—was like a bolt of lightning; others were less enthusiastic (to say the least). Those “less enthusiastic” saw this document as a kind of heresy since it criticized a good deal of the long ingrained dominant thinking within the international communist movement around the questions it deals with. Again, Avakian was going against a really big tide by applying—and further developing—the principle of “going for the truth” no matter where it leads and whom it might offend.

Conquer the World? marked Avakian’s initial barrage in what later became an all-around analysis and criticism of the method of “political truth”: a malady that has historically so inflicted itself on our move­ment. The way in which Avakian holds firmly to basic correct principles, and genuine advances, but at the same time breaks with convention and makes a really critical/self-critical evaluation of the history and practice of our movement up until that time is truly remarkable. I know that for me this opened an entirely new view of the history of our struggle as well as how we need­ed to approach things in general if we are going to get to where we want to go.

Among all the deep insights Avakian makes in Conquer the World?—and there are many—the analysis that is made here regarding the proletarian world revolution being a single integrated world process in which the international arena is overall principal is, in my opinion, a world-historic leap in our understanding of this subject. It puts the whole question of proletarian internationalism, the dialectic of defence/advance and the correct approach to evaluating the factors affecting the conditions for revolution internationally—and in particular countries—in an entirely different and qualitatively more scientific light. I agree with the RCP’s estimation that this understanding has fundamental meaning for communist strategy and tactics worldwide and in every country.

And this insight provided the basis for Avakian’s conclusion that socialism in a particular country must in the first place be built as a base area for the world revolution. This is a fundamental paradigm rupture in regards to this question: one that opens up tremendous new avenues of freedom for advancing our struggle in particular countries and worldwide. Unfortunately, far too many have—for various reasons—been unable or unwilling to take up this understanding. I think it is no exaggeration to say, that if our movement does not adopt and apply Avakian’s approach to this question, it will be impossible to get to communism.

If Avakian had not continued to advance and make these breakthroughs, what would have happened to our movement internationally? Would the founding of the RIM and the formulation of its Declaration (with the content it has) have even been possible without all this? And what direction would the RCP have taken if this understanding had not been developed?

As it has turned out, Conquer the World? was just the opening salvo in what has been over 25 years of continuing analysis, leaps and advances in evaluating, summarizing and synthesizing  the experience of the communist project: the political economy of imperialism; the question of democracy; the collapse of revisionism; the question of communist morality, ethics, etc.; the role of intellectuals, art, and “awe and wonder” more broadly; epistemology and philosophy in general; revolutionary strategy in the imperialist countries; the role of the vanguard, the leadership/led contradiction (sol­id core/elasticity) and all the other multifaceted developments in understanding what the character of revolutionary socialism really is and how to keep it on the path to communism; and so forth... in short all of the components that have now emerged as Bob Avakian’s new synthesis.

This is not the place (nor am I the person) to try to go into all of this. But I do want to just briefly comment on one aspect: the question of how we are going to “do better next time”. First of all, the fact that Avakian has approached the evaluation of the experience of the first wave of communist revolution with this orientation is a very important positive factor in and of itself. It has been absolutely imperative for us to have waged an intense battle to defend the genuine revolutionary breakthroughs and monumental achievements made so far in the struggle for communism—of which there are many. On the other hand it has also become increasingly clear over the years that just upholding the “best of what was done before” is not enough: not enough to deeply and in an all-around way answer the critics, and enemies, of our movement, and even more importantly not enough to be able to “do better next time”.

As concentrated in the formulation “solid core with a lot of elasticity”, Avakian has broken new ground in our understanding of how to correctly utilize the contradictoriness of socialist society as an engine for propelling it forward. In my opinion, what he has done in this regard is in many ways similar to what he did in Conquer the World?, but with perhaps even more far-reaching importance and profound implications: another paradigm leap, this time in our whole understanding of and approach to the vital question of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a revolutionary transition to communism.[9] While upholding the great advances made in the Soviet Union and, on a qualitatively higher level, in China when these countries were socialist, and building on the theoretical contributions of those who have gone before, Avakian has subjected this experience to an all-around and thoroughgoing scientific evaluation, including an appraisal of the major criticisms of that experience (from friend and foe alike).

Through his deepening of our grasp of the nature, importance and role of truth in the struggle for communism, he has developed the concept that repeatedly unleashing the whole of society in the effort to discover and grasp truth and on that basis transform reality (society and nature in general, including people’s way of thinking) on a continually deeper level is—together with the advance of the world revolution as a whole—a central element for keeping socialist society on a revolutionary path. By furthering our understanding of the meaning of “embraces not replaces” and making a seminal rupture with “political truth”, pragmatism, empiricism, reductionism, instrumentalism, etc. he has identified in a whole new way the material basis for and the necessity and role of ferment and dissent in socialist society. And this has also led to a re-conception of our under­standing of the contradiction between the individual and the state under the dictatorship of the proletariat.[10] In short, in the wake of the defeat that marked the end of the first wave of communist revolution, and the confusion this has produced over the theoretical and practical possibility of overcoming class society, he has opened up a qualitatively new vision of a revolutionary socialism as pathway to a communist future: one that is as viable as it is liberating.

Given how urgently needed all these advances have been, it is really quite difficult to take seriously those who claim that they are “not necessary”, of “minor importance at best”, or “nothing new”. Moreover, located as it is in the USA—the current strategic heart of the world imperialist system—the RCP is particularly well situated to make a major breakthrough that would provide immense assistance to the international proletariat’s worldwide struggle to emancipate itself and all of humanity. And given the quality of the leadership role that Avakian has been playing in his party for almost 3 decades, something which has again been underscored by all that is con­tained in the new Manifesto the RCP has recently published (Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage)—including especially what is said there about the role Avakian played in calling for a “Cultural Revolution within the RCP” to be carried out “in the midst of a Long March”: given all this, it is extremely difficult to understand how anyone consciously involved in the struggle for communism would not grasp how Chairman Avakian’s continuing leadership immeasurably increases the chance of there being a communist revolution in the USA during our lifetimes, and therefore how the role he is playing is also in that sense an extremely positive factor for the world revolution as a whole.

Some people raise the question of just who Bob Avakian is to claim to have produced such a contribution to our communist science and understanding. After all, they assert, “what has he done?” In the first place, this approach really begs the question—the issue is not one of “claims and counter-claims”. Check out and evaluate the new synthesis. Therein lies the heart of the matter and the answer to this “question”. Additionally, leaving aside the fact that Bob Avakian is far from alone in making this evaluation of his contributions, and without repeating everything that has already been said here in terms of “what Bob Avakian has done”, there are fundamental methodological problems with the “what has he done” line of thinking.

The example of Marx and the approach he took to arrive at a scientific understanding of the work­ings of human society and nature as a whole has been discussed extensively in other places.[11] But briefly, Marx’s breakthroughs in this area were based on both his active participation—and leadership role—in the communist movement of his time, and a years long study and evaluation of an extensive set of data encompassing the entire world and the history of human society, as well as his critical engagement with a broad range of other thinkers and analyses. Through developing and then applying the method of dialectical materialism to process the empirical data at his disposal—and by applying his all-around knowledge of nature and human society together with his tremendous talent for creative thinking—Marx (together with Engels) was able to uncover and synthesize the basic laws of nature and society: Marxism. This included a scientific understanding of the inner workings of  the capitalist mode of production as well as the need for and possibility of achieving communism. His work remains today the cornerstone of scientific communism.

As others have also pointed out, what Bob Avakian has done over the last 30 years and more is very similar. First of all, as Chairman of the RCP he has continued to provide all-around leadership to his party in carrying out revolutionary work and struggle in the U.S., as well as play a leading role in our movement internationally. At the same time, and as talked about above, he has deeply immersed himself in the historical experience of our movement; the theoretical framework that has guided this experience; the criticism and evaluations of the experience of socialism coming from all quarters; the philosophical, ethical and political debates and discourse of our times; and the new developments and challenges that have emerged over the course of the last 3 decades. The cumulative product of his work over all that period is a new understanding of our revolutionary science that “...involves a recasting and recombining of the positive aspects of the experience so far of the communist movement and of socialist society, while learning from the negative aspects of this experience, in the philosophical and ideological as well as the political dimensions...” (Avakian, Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity). This is the process and dynamic through which Bob Avakian’s extensive “body of work” has come into existence.

Just as Marx could not have written Capital by going to work in a factory, it would be equally as misguided to insist that Avakian could not have brought forward a new synthesis because he did not personally participate in all the major struggles of our movement over the course of the last 40 years. Such a thing is not possible and to suggest that it is a prerequisite for making a leap to “the stage of rational knowledge” (as Mao puts it On Practice) is to fundamentally depart from the Marxist method. In the final analysis, since this prerequisite can never be met, it would mean that no further qualitative all-around advances in the development of our science are possible.

Some of those who make these “what has he done” arguments either state, or imply, that in order to make the theoretical advances that Avakian has made, one must have first led a successful seizure of power—or at least a major revolutionary war. But this argument is, again, just another expression of pragmatism and empiricism (coupled in certain cases with a major dose of nationalism). If these same criteria were to be applied to Marx and Engels, would we not be forced to conclude that they were little more than geeky windbags? Yes, they were out in the streets in their younger days, but so was Bob Avakian. And in any case, like all other communist leaders, the political leadership they provided and their theoretical contributions were overwhelmingly based on indirect knowledge and not direct personal experience. They led no revolutionary wars and never experienced socialist society. They were not even personally present when the Paris Commune took place, the first and only revolutionary seizure of power during their lifetimes. Although their lack of direct participation in that event did not stop them from thinking they could sum it up and draw crucial theoretical and political lessons from this brief, but nevertheless earthshaking event.

And perhaps even more importantly, if followed, the wrong approaches described here would have two grievous—and interrelated—consequences. First, the objectively posed task of critically evaluating the first wave of communist revolution, of identifying from that vast store of experience the theoretical and practical advances that must be upheld and built upon, as well as the errors and shortcomings and the reasons for them, so that it will be possible “to do better next time”; that task would not be carried out. Second, without at some point accomplishing that task and given both the weaknesses of the “first wave” and all the changes that have occurred in the world since the proletariat last held state power, another successful communist-led revolution might never take place, or, if it were to happen it would, in all likelihood, not be guided with the understanding necessary—and possible—to remain on a revolutionary path for a substantial period of time.

Maybe the “who is he” and “what has he done” approach has some validity on planet “agnosticism, pragmatism and empiricism”; but here on Earth the methodology that Avakian has applied to confronting and transforming the necessity that our movement has faced in terms of analyzing and understanding the experience of the first wave of communist revolution and the developments since then exactly conforms to the basic scientific method and approach that Marx and Engels first developed and applied. And while doing this Avakian has set a very high standard by maintaining an extraordinarily principled approach to all investigation, discussion, debate and strug­gle—including a great respect for the contributions and opinions of others. The results are more than just excellent... they are truly momentous and path breaking.

As for the claims of “cult of the personality” that have been raised, there are a couple of points to make. First of all, this is about the need for and role of leadership, not “cults”. The need for leadership is not something imposed upon reality by communists; rather it fundamentally arises from the inherent contradictions and conditions of class society and the process through which rational knowledge develops.

There are two basic questions that must be addressed here: 1. Does Bob Avakian’s new synthesis represent a breakthrough in our science as is being put forward: yes or no? And even if you answer with “no”, you still must engage with it and explain why it is not... you cannot simply make that assertion based on some kind of non-materialist or even narrow petty arguments. (If you take a serious and systematic approach and are still not convinced, then at least your arguments will help contribute to everyone’s understanding.) And 2. If you answer “yes”, then doesn’t this present you with the necessity of helping to make both the new synthesis and its author known as broad­ly as possible throughout society... if Bob Avakian is really playing the role that has been talked about, then is it not a burning necessity that people everywhere are made aware of this, and all the dimensions of what it means for our struggle, their actions, etc.?

No one is talking about slavish acceptance of the new synthesis, but rather critical engagement, principled struggle and conscious understanding... this has nothing to do with “cults” or superstition of any kind, nor the promotion of some kind of infallible all-knowing leader who is beyond all criticism. In fact, what is being called for here is the exact opposite of such notions.

In his introduction to Six Easy Pieces the physicist Richard Feynman describes the “principle of science” with the following sentence: “The test of all knowledge is experiment.” “Experiment,” he writes, “is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth’. But”, he asks, “what is the source of the knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from?”[12] “Experiment”, he answers, can provide us “hints” as to the underlying laws of nature, but to arrive at “the great generalizations”—the theorization of the underlying laws themselves—“imagination” is “also needed”.

While Feynman was not a dialectical materialist [13] —thus placing limits on his materialism—and did not see his work in the context of, or connected to, the struggle for communism, he nonetheless makes a very important point here; one that is equally true for developing communist theory. To make a leap, any kind of correct scientific theory, including communist theory, must incorporate an image of (conceptualise) that which has not yet come into being (or, in science, has been confirmed through experiment), i.e. it must “‘run ahead’ of practice”.

Qualitative theoretical advances in communist theory require not only the empirical data obtained through revolutionary struggle and the broadest array of other forms of practice, but also both a dialectical materialist approach and the application of imagination and vision to process and synthesize that data. Bob Avakian has repeatedly demonstrated a profound grasp of the dialectical materialist method and a “communist imagination” of exceptional quality and strategic sweep—one that is infused with a combination of scientific rigor, revolutionary romantic spirit and love for the people. He is that rare kind of radical visionary who, so far at least, has only appeared once or twice in a generation—if that often.

Furthermore, these qualities and ability did not drop from the sky in finished form. Avakian’s political development, like that of everyone else, is a product of necessity and accident. There is a great deal of contingency here. Starting back in 1969 there was absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that Bob Avakian was going to take the path he has and advance along it as far as he has gone. There were more than a few who, with not so un-similar backgrounds and qualities, and starting around the same time along the same general path, have gone astray or fallen by the wayside at one of the numerous turning points along the way. So Bob Avakian’s contributions are not the outcome of some innate genius, pre-determined inevitable course of events or “going it alone”. They are the result of a historically conditioned complex process that—depending upon a myriad of factors—could have had quite a number of much less favourable outcomes.[14]

In closing, and if I may be allowed to paraphrase here, “Let me say one thing to the revolutionary communists in the audience...”

Especially the last point above should serve to emphasize just how unique and precious our comrade Bob Avakian is to our common cause and struggle. This is extremely important to grasp and understand.

When Mao died in 1976 it was like the whole communist movement kind of held its breath and contemplated what was going to happen: not just in China itself, but also in relation to what we all were going to do without the Great Helmsman at the head of our ranks. At that time Bob gave a speech at a memorial meeting for Mao in which he said: “So when they raise the question, who will be Mao Tsetung’s successors, the working class is ready with its answer: We will be Mao Tsetung’s successors, in our millions and hundreds of millions, and we will continue the cause for which he fought and in which he led us and to which he devoted his entire life, until that great goal of eliminating exploitation and oppression and achieving communism has finally been achieved.”[15]

This was a very important orientation to set and statement to make in that situation. And because in the final analysis it is the masses of people who make history—who, to again paraphrase Avakian, must in the end emancipate themselves—it is also correct to say that the masses in their millions will be Mao Tsetung’s successors. But having said that, and looking back at it now, I think we also have to acknowledge that his statement was a bit one-sided.

The masses make history, but if it is to be a history that leads to a communist world, they need leadership: genuine communist leadership, including rare and outstanding figures like Mao Tsetung. So the question at that time was also: what leader or leaders were going to step forward to fill that “great need”? There is an important dialectic here. Without people capable of making exceptional contributions on the level of a Mao Tsetung, it is impossible for everyone else to make their maximum contribution and for humanity as a whole to reach the day when there will no longer be any permanent institutionalised division of labour between leaders and the led.[16]

In light of all that has been said here it should be clear that in my opinion it is without question that Bob Avakian has, through all the twists and turns of the last 3 decades, risen to the challenge and stepped forward to fill that objectively existing role and need. He has not only stayed the course, but has produced a “body of work” containing a new synthesis of our understanding of the science of communism: a new level of freedom from which to engage and transform in a revolutionary fashion the necessity we are currently confronting. This is a tremendous positive factor for continuing and advancing the epic battle for a communist world.

Thus, for this and all the other reasons described above, we should without reservation cherish, defend and celebrate comrade Avakian: proudly and boldly make his role and contributions known to the masses of people everywhere and in that way help turn his new synthesis into a material force to change the world. We can and must declare that Chairman Bob Avakian is indeed an outstanding example of what it means to be a genuine tribune and servant of the people -- a true emancipator of humanity.

With my warmest and most heartfelt communist greetings,


1 This is not to suggest that such incorrect tendencies do not exist or have no influence today, but back then there was still a good deal of lack of clarity about whether these questions should even be evaluated on a Marxist-Leninist basis, or with some other approach.

2 I cannot deal here with the aspect that has been raised in different documents published by Avakian and the RCP in which it is stated that in some regards the founding of the RCP was, due to the influence of economism, both a great advance as well as its “low point”. It was obviously much preferable to have a “low point” from which one could build, than “no point” at all.

3 This refers to Mao’s four closest leading comrades during the Cultural Revolution and at the time of his death. Their arrest was at the heart of the counter-revolutionary coup staged by Deng Xiaoping and the other revisionists in China.

4 The main documents of this struggle were made public by the RCP in the book Revolution and Counter-Revolution: The Revisionist Coup in China and the Struggle in the Revolutionary Communist Party USA..

5 In Revolution and Counter-Revolution where the main documents of the RCP leadership are published along with those of the “Jarvis-Bergman Headquarters” (Mensheviks), there is the paper “China Advances Along the Socialist  Road” (sic). In it the Mensheviks characterize as a “coup” the Central Committee meeting at which Avakian was able to win over a majority to support his position on China. They even go so far as to complain about the fact that his paper had been circulated to the top leadership—including them—before the meeting; as if being open and above board is something negative. They proceed to discuss the reasons why they did not do more “to put real roadblocks in the path of the Chairman”. In trying to explain this “failing”, and why, at the end of the debate at the Central Committee meeting they actually voted for the position put forward by Avakian, and only afterward decided to “rebel”, one of the reasons they give is, “...our fear of having to take on The Chairman in a big face to face battle...” Was this self-described “fear” due to Avakian spending his evenings watching Bruce Lee movies, so if anyone disagreed with him at a meeting he could pull out the nunchucks and do a number on them? Or was the Mensheviks’ “fear” a result of the fact that Avakian takes positions based on solid analysis and is ready and able to present them convincingly and defend them tenaciously; whereas for their part the Mensheviks were just blowing smoke? (See Revolution and Counter-Revolution, pg. 143-4)

6 Also around that time there were major programs held in New York and San Francisco at which Avakian explained the exact course of events that led to the coup in China and enabled it to be successful. This was published in a pamphlet called The Loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of Mao Tsetung.

7 I might add here, and just to emphasize the point, since that time not a single party of major consequence has been formed in an imperialist country. People could give some thought to why this has been the case, what it means that in what is currently the world’s most powerful imperialist country a genuine communist vanguard does exist and what this has to do with the role that Bob Avakian has played.

8 “Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World” cited in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, pg. 44.

9 The point here is not to try to “rate” these things vis a vis one another, this is a question of the development of knowledge and understanding: the former actually laid the basis for and helped lead to the latter.

10 As he further describes in Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, this involves “opening up qualitatively more space to give expression to the intellectual and cultural needs of the people, broadly understood, and enabling a more diverse and rich process of exploration and experimentation in the realms of science, art and culture, and intellectual life overall, with increasing scope for the contention of different ideas and schools of thought and for individual initiative and creativity and protection of individual rights, including space for individuals to interact in ‘civil society’ independently of the state—all within an overall cooperative and collective framework and at the same time as state power is maintained and further developed as a revolutionary state power serving the interests of the proletarian revolution, in the particular country and worldwide, with this state being the leading and central element in the economy and in the overall direction of society, while the state itself is being continually transformed into something radically different from all previous states, as a crucial part of the advance toward the eventual abolition of the state with the achievement of communism on a world scale.”

11 See for example: Stuck in the “Awful Capitalist Present” or Forging a Path to the Communist Future? A Response to Mike Ely’s Nine Letters by a writing group in the RCP.

12 Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher, by Richard P. Feynman. Richard Feynman was a prominent U.S.-American physicist in the post-WWII period until his death in 1988. In 1965 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in quantum electrodynamics. Six Easy Pieces is a collection of introductory physics lectures originally delivered in 1963. The entire passage reads: “The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth’. But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself,
helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations—to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess.” (pg. 2, all emphasis in the original).

13 Feynman, as far as I know, did not consider himself a dialectical materialist. But to achieve the insights into quantum mechanics that he did, he obviously had to take a generally materialist approach to reality. For example, he also makes the following comment: “If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis... that all things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.” (ibid., pg. 4, emphasis in the original.)

14 In Ike to Mao and Beyond Avakian provides a rich description of the overall interplay of necessity and accident at work here: his childhood family life and the illness that could have killed him; his initial personal, social and cultural influences; entering political life at Berkeley in the early 1960’s; the radicalising experience of meeting Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver; the influence Leibel Bergman had in pushing him toward ML and communism; the founding of the RU and the RCP; etc.: a fascinating account of his life, the times and the influence his interaction with people and events had on him—and vice versa.

15 Quoted in Revolution and Counter-Revolution, pg. xiii.

16 This dialectic also has its other side: the more everyone contributes to the overall struggle, the greater the basis for our outstanding leaders to raise the level of their contributions as well.










Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us


On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning

By Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA


More on Individuals and Social Relations...
Life With a Purpose: Different Experiences, Different Spontaneous Views, and Fundamentally Different World Outlooks...
     "Human life is finite, but revolution is infinite"...
"And This Semblance Seduces the Democrats"...
Each Class Seeks to Remake the World In Its Image—But Only One Class Cannot Do This By Relying on Spontaneity...
     Some points concerning the role of intellectuals and the revolutionary process...
     Different interests of different class forces in the struggle against the oppression of Black people in the U.S....
The Decisive Importance of Leadership, Leadership Concentrated as Line...
     Lines and social bases—a dialectical relation...
     What is communist leadership?...
The Social Basis for Revolution...
     What a revolution really is...and really is not...
     Winning people to be communists, emancipators of humanity...
     Relying on the masses, but not on spontaneity, even in socialist society...
     Fundamental errors of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist): wrong conception of the problems, wrong "solutions"...
Communism as a Science—Not a "Scientific Ideology"...
     Some observations on what science is and some essential aspects of the scientific method...
     Once again on objective truth, relative truth, and the fundamental opposition between scientific materialism and relativism...
     A correct understanding of the relation between science and philosophy...
Further Wrangling with Meaningful Revolutionary Work...
     The continuing importance of ideological struggle—correctly waged...
     Giving full expression to the attractive force of what we’re all about...
     A still more deepened understanding, and living reality, of "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution"...
Building a Movement for Revolution—and Nothing Less...

[Editors’ Note: The following is the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year. It has been edited and footnotes have been added for publication here.]

More on Individuals and Social Relations

I want to begin by returning to the question of individuals, classes, and the abolition of classes—themes that were explored in various dimensions in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" and a talk last year (2008), "Out Into the World—As A Vanguard of the Future." What I am going to speak to here is also, in certain aspects, following up on themes that are discussed in Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy.1 These are questions that require further discussion, in particular by way of contrasting the communist with the bourgeois understanding and approach.

There are a number of contradictions that are bound up with the fact that on the one hand people exist as individuals, while on the other hand their existence is a social existence. Individual existence is part of material reality—it's not something people invent as a bourgeois individualistic device—people do actually exist as individuals, that's a material reality which we should understand; and yet at the same time their lives are shaped essentially by social and, most fundamentally, production relations.

In "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," I began this discussion by citing what's in America In Decline about how the historical basis for capitalism was the violent separation of the producers from the means of production, and I went on to discuss the implications of this, including the fact that this has a determining influence, if you will, on the whole question of individuals pursuing their own particular interests—and even how they perceive their own individual interests. I stressed that, beyond their existence as individuals, more fundamentally their social existence as members of a social group—or in class society, as members of a class—shapes even the way in which they perceive and then the way in which they pursue their individual interests. I pointed out that this is in fact a refutation of the notions of Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant: the categorical moral imperative of Kant (which tries to make an absolute out of the idea that each individual should be treated only as an end in himself or herself and never as a means to an end) and the Smithian and generally the capitalist theoretical notion that if each individual pursues her/his own individual interest, the greater societal good will be served. These ideas are fundamentally in conflict with and are contradicted by the greater reality, the more profound and fundamental reality, that people's existence, even their individual existence, is always a social existence.

This is a point that Marx emphasized strongly: people's individual existence—even their individuality—always, and can only, take shape as a social existence. Outside of society, of social interaction and social relations, individuals' lives are very different and, in fact, they are very circumscribed, compared to what they are when they are in a social context and carrying out (to use that expression) social intercourse. This is a very fundamental point, which the bourgeoisie with its apotheosization of (its making a god-like quality out of) individuality and even individualism, seeks to deny—or which, in fact, it objectively ignores and doesn't take account of, even without this necessarily being conscious in the case of every advocate of this system.

The whole idea that the individual, for example, is the essential category of bourgeois society (or of "democratic society," as they like to characterize capitalist society, particularly in its bourgeois-democratic form), the idea that the individual is the highest representation and the highest point of reference of the best possible society, is in fact in fundamental conflict with, and is refuted by, the reality of capitalist society and, in a more general and broader sense, all of human society. It is refuted by the reality that people find their existence within the framework of definite social relations—most essentially and fundamentally, production relations—that are independent of the wills of individuals, and that this is most determining even of their individual inclinations, ideas, aspirations, and so on.

So, while the bourgeois theoreticians and moralists and ethicists, and so on, might argue—and this is another way of stating the Kantian categorical moral imperative—that, in the best and most just society, the individual should always be a subject and never an object, and that even laws and constitutions have as their highest principles and concepts, and their deepest grounding, the protection of the rights of individuals, in reality this is in violent conflict with the actual operation of any society divided into classes, or more particularly any society that is grounded on and proceeds in accordance with relations of exploitation.

This is a point that was emphasized in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," where (toward the end of Part 1) it refers to all the great and grand talk from proponents and apologists of the capitalist system about the rights of individuals, and yet this system functions, and can only function, by—quite literally and with no exaggeration or hyperbole—grinding into the dirt the lives of millions and even billions of individuals, including hundreds of millions of children, people whose individuality, whose individual aspirations, are counted as nothing in the actual operation of this system.

Another dimension of this is the parasitism of imperialism. It is most of all in the imperialist countries, and especially among the more privileged strata in those countries, that the notion of "the inviolability of the individual," and individual rights being the highest principle—approached in a way that divorces all this from fundamental social relations—can hold the most sway, precisely (and in a bitter irony) because all this is grounded in not only utter disregard for, but the utter pulverization of, individuals and of any individuality and individual aspirations of masses of people throughout the world. And were it not so, there would not be the privileged position that some hold from which they can pontificate about the rights of individuals. So all of that's on the one hand.

On the other hand, going back to the point I started off with, it is a part of material reality that people do exist as individuals. And any attempt to ignore this, or to negate individuality—which, as we have repeatedly stressed, is very different than individualism, which involves making a principle out of one's self as above all other things and as the thing that deserves the highest regard: individualism in that sense is very different than individuality—any attempt to negate or to somehow ground down the individuality of people, and to actually fall into the stereotype of communists as seeking to reduce the diverse masses of people to one undifferentiated whole, made up of parts all interchangeable with the other, and so on and so forth (I'm only slightly exaggerating, if in fact I am exaggerating, the vision of communism that's presented by people like Hannah Arendt), to actually fall into that kind of thinking and approach, which would conform to that kind of stereotype, would not only be morally wrong, but would be disastrous politically and disastrous in regard to any attempt at positive radical social transformation.

So we have to have a continually deepening understanding of this contradiction—this moving contradiction between the fact that on the one hand people exist as individuals and yet their lives are shaped essentially by social and most fundamentally production relations. And we have to give the proper weight to each aspect of this contradiction. As I've stressed before, the principal aspect involves the social relations, and most fundamentally the production relations, into which people enter, independently of their wills—relations which largely shape even their individuality, their individual wants, needs, aspirations and so on, as well as the means they have for pursuing those wants, needs, etc. But on the other hand, not only in the future communist society when classes will have been eliminated (but not production relations as well as other social relations, and not all social constraints), not only in that future society but all the way in the transition toward that—in the struggles for the first great leap to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism with the dictatorship of the proletariat, and then during the whole transition through that socialist stage to a communist world—we have to correctly appreciate, understand and correctly handle this contradiction.

That people exist as part of, and that their lives are essentially shaped by, social and most fundamentally production relations—this is a very profound and principally determining material reality. But also an important part of material reality is the fact that people exist as individuals and that people think as individuals. There is not one common human brain: we have not reached the stage—and I myself am definitely not an advocate of ever trying to reach the stage—where there would be one common brain directing all of the human bodies, which would somehow be linked to that brain.

So there is a great diversity and richness to human society as a result not just of the fact that there are billions of different individuals, but as a result of this contradiction between the fact that people exist as individuals while at the same time their lives are shaped essentially by social and most fundamentally production relations. This, if you want to put it that way, is another expression of the "multi-layered and multi-colored map" metaphor—of understanding the rich texture and diversity and complexity of reality and seeing these things as fluid, and (to paraphrase The Communist Manifesto) not as fixed, fast, and frozen.

Life With a Purpose: Different Experiences, Different Spontaneous Views, and Fundamentally Different World Outlooks

Going further, there are two things that are relevant to all this, things which do bear very significantly on human life, human relations and human thinking: one, all human beings die; and two, human beings are not only conscious of this but in many ways acutely aware of it. Now the point is not to "wax existential," or to lapse into existentialism as a philosophical outlook, but there is a value, if you will, to exploring this, at least a little bit. Why do I raise this? Well, often, for example, in existentialist literature, but more generally in a lot of literature which seeks to deal with "profound ironies and tragedies of life," this contradiction—that human beings are living beings but all human beings die, and that human beings are conscious of this—forms a significant theme, a significant phenomenon with which people wrestle. This is true in philosophy but also in the arts. Especially in a society which places so much emphasis on "the individual," in an ideological sense, even while it grounds down individuals in material reality—and this is particularly true of U.S. society and U.S. imperialism—it is not surprising that this phenomenon, that human beings die and they are conscious of this, has a prominent place in the culture.

This is also one of the main elements that factors into religion, and in the way people understand and explain the phenomenon of—and, as many portray it, the need for—religion. Some people even argue that you will always have religion because people will need a way to deal with death—not only their own death, but perhaps even more the death of loved ones. It is interesting, I was recently reading one of these pulp novels, by these two sisters, the O'Shaughnessy sisters (they write these legal thrillers—"page turners"—fun to read for a little diversion), and they actually made an interesting comment in passing in this book about how American society is so litigious these days (one of the two sisters is a former lawyer). They were speaking specifically of all the litigation that goes on around wrongful death, which of course is a big phenomenon in the U.S.: somebody dies, well very often there is going to be a lawsuit for wrongful death—unless it's one of the basic masses, and then generally nobody in a position of authority or prominence cares and, while there are some prominent cases of people suing when a loved one is murdered by police, the death of one of the basic masses is not the kind of thing that usually ends up in litigation. But, in any case, in this book the point was made that in countries like the U.S., where there is a certain decline in religious belief (at least of the more "traditional" kind), there has been an increase—I don't even know if this is actually true, but it's an interesting point to think about—there has been an increase in wrongful death suits because people have to find somebody to blame. And especially if you can't get the false consolation that religion offers—"they're in a better place, god had a plan for them," and all these other outrageous things that are said when someone dies—then somebody's got to be held accountable, so you sue somebody for wrongful death. Now I thought that was an interesting and provocative point. I'm not sure this is capturing an essential aspect of reality, but it's a little bit interesting as a side point.

The main point I'm exploring here, briefly, is that the fact that human beings die is often used to justify religion, or in any case to argue that human beings will always need religion: in order to deal with death, the argument goes, human beings will always need some sort of consolation in the form of religion of one kind or another.

"Human life is finite, but revolution is infinite"

This is something worth exploring a bit—precisely from a materialist standpoint and in relation to our communist outlook and communist objectives. First of all, it is necessary to recognize that while death is universal for human beings—all human beings die, sooner or later—there is not one common viewpoint about death: people in different social conditions have different experiences with and different viewpoints on all kinds of phenomena, including death.

In this connection, I was thinking of a statement attributed to Mao near the end of his life—I believe it was in a letter that he was reported to have written to Chiang Ching in which he talked about what he had tried to achieve through the revolution in China, and as part of the world revolution, and the ways in which he'd run up against obstacles in this. His statement was something to the effect that "human life is finite, but revolution is infinite." Now (assuming he said this) I don't think Mao meant this literally—that revolution is literally infinite—because Mao was materialist enough to know that human existence as such, the existence of human beings as a species, is not going to be infinite. Or, perhaps, as another leading comrade has suggested, Mao was actually thinking more broadly—beyond just human existence—to reality overall, and the fact that all of reality proceeds not just in a gradual and linear way but is marked by profound leaps and ruptures, involving qualitative changes from one state of matter in motion to another. In any case, and in the dimension in which Mao was speaking about human beings and human society, he was pointing to the contradiction that individuals can play a certain role—and specifically if they become conscious of the need for revolution, and more especially if they take up the outlook and method of communism, they can contribute a great deal to radically transforming human society—but, in all cases, their role and their contributions will still be limited, not only by their particular abilities (and shortcomings) and by their circumstances, but also by the fact that human life is finite, that people live only a few decades. But revolution—that is, not only the overthrow of exploiting classes but, even far into the future in communist society, the need for the continual transformation of society, the need to recognize and transform necessity into freedom—will constantly pose itself and human beings will constantly, and with varying degrees of consciousness, act in relation to that. So, with regard to human society, that is the essential meaning of the statement (attributed to Mao) that human life is finite, but revolution is infinite.

This poses an important challenge morally and, if you will, psychologically—or in terms of one's basic orientation. It is true, everybody is going to live a relatively short life—certainly compared to the life of the cosmos. Even though, over millennia, we've prolonged human life for several decades, it still involves a relatively brief period of time. But the fact remains that your life, whether shorter or longer (within this overall finite framework), is going to be devoted to one kind of objective or another. It is going to be shaped by larger forces that are independent of your will, but then there is the question of how, yes, each individual—as well as in a different, larger dimension, social classes—respond to the way in which the contradictions that are shaping things confront and impinge on them. And there is conscious volition and conscious decision in terms of what people do with their lives, in relation to what they see as necessary, possible, and desirable. After all, it is not as if revolution is something outside of human experience, nor certainly is it outside of material existence; in other words, it's not as if revolution is not made by people. It is not as if "revolution is infinite" means that there is something called Revolution, with a capital R, that's some sort of metaphysical force, like nature with a consciousness, or history with a consciousness, that is marching on, in accordance with some sort of teleological notion.

No, people make revolution. They do so on a certain foundation. That is Marx's point, which I have repeatedly referred to, and for good reason: People make history, but they don't do so any way they wish—they do so on the basis of certain definite material conditions which are inherited from previous generations and are independent of the wills of individuals. But, within that framework, people have a great deal of initiative, and a great deal of scope for conscious decision about what they're going to do with their lives; and the more they become conscious of the way that the world and the contradictions driving the world actually are and actually move and change, the more conscious their decision can be about what they're going to do with their lives.

I was further provoked to think about this whole question, in watching a film about the P-Stone Nation gang in Chicago. As part of this film there were interviews with some "O.G.s"—veteran or former members of the gang, who are now in their 50s and 60s—people who were in the P-Stone Nation way back when, and who remained in for several decades, but now have gotten out of it, let's say. One of these guys was being interviewed about the situation with the gangs and the youth who are drawn into the gangs now, and it's kind of funny, but very often when you hear one generation of people who have gotten a little bit older than the teenagers and people in their early 20s who make up the "soldiers" of these gangs, they make the comment about these younger guys: "Well, things were crazy when I was doing this, but these younger guys nowadays, they're really crazy, much crazier than we were." But what stood out to me in what this guy was saying was his comment that these young guys don't expect to live to be 21—and they just don't care. And then he went on to acknowledge: That's the way I was when I got into this—I didn't expect to live to be 21, and I just didn't care.

This is a contradiction that was pinpointed and focused on by George Jackson in talking about the question of revolution, emphasizing that gradualism can never appeal to youth like this—that, as he put it, the idea of revolution as something in the far-off distant future has no meaning to a slave who doesn't expect to live beyond tomorrow. This is a very difficult and very important contradiction that we have to continue to grapple with. But here what I want to emphasize is that this viewpoint (not expecting to live past 21, and just not caring) flows from a certain social experience—it is a more or less spontaneous response to that social experience. It's not that, somehow, mysteriously and magically, an existential philosopher and a gang member are likely to have very different views of life and death. This flows out of different social experience (again without reifying things—without ignoring or pounding down into an undifferentiated whole the actual differences among different individuals within the same social grouping, having the same social experience, broadly speaking).

But there is something very thought-provoking in that statement: these youth don't expect to live to be 21, and they just don't care. That's a different view towards life and death than that of a middle class person who, nice person though they may be, is doing everything possible to prolong her or his life by another two years, three months, six days, seven hours and twenty-seven seconds, or whatever: doing all the right exercising, the right diet, et cetera, et cetera. I'm not arguing that people should be careless of the considerations of health and fitness and living as long as they can—the quantity of life is not irrelevant. But the point is that it's not nearly as significant as the quality of life—that is, what someone's life is all about, and what it is dedicated to, no matter how long or short one's life is. But there is also the point that different social classes, different groups in society, with different social experiences, have different views on this—views which, without being reductionist and mechanical, do correspond, broadly speaking, to different social experiences.

Or we can think of youth and others giving their lives in struggles and wars—doing so willingly, many times, especially today, for what are ultimately dead-ends or bad ends. But, on the other hand, there has been historical experience—and, yes, even today, there is experience—where this is done for truly liberating ends, for emancipating goals and objectives. Or, in a more "personal" dimension, you see parents who will say, "You have to protect your children no matter what," and who give up their lives for their children. Sometimes this is in a more lofty way, sometimes in a not so lofty way. But, overall, there is the significant phenomenon of people consciously making the decision—which, again, is "intertwined" with social experience, but still involves a process of consciously making the decision—to devote and dedicate their lives, and even to give their lives, for one purpose or another—sometimes very negative, but also sometimes very positive.

So, the fact that all human beings die, and that they're conscious of this, is not the beginning and end of the story. There is a much greater reality that this is situated within, and people have different views of this, which largely reflect their differing social experiences, as well as their own individual experiences, secondarily but importantly.

It is not the case that the great existential drama—and, as this is often presented, the great unavoidable tragedy—of human beings is that, do what they may and try as they will, they cannot escape death. That is a material reality. But being a material reality, it is also something that people do come to terms with in various ways, and that people do act consciously in relation to, under differing circumstances and out of differing social experiences.

This has a lot to do with the point in "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future" about why, in initiating the People's War in China, Mao drew on what he called the brave elements. As he said, they were less afraid of dying, they were more willing to take a risk that could involve dying. It's like the line from the Bob Dylan song: "When you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose." Now let me emphasize that it is most emphatically not the case that communists count human life, or the lives of the masses of people, as cheap or as nothing. Quite the contrary. As Mao also powerfully articulated: Of all things in the world, people are most precious. But the reality is (a) no one is going to escape death and (b) people's lives, and even their deaths, are going to have one content or another, and count for one thing or another. It is a tragedy, to put it that way, if people's lives are given for what are ultimately dead-ends—or, still worse, bad ends. And it is never a light thing when anyone gives her/his life even for a truly liberating objective. To paraphrase another powerfully poetic statement by Mao: While dying in the service of the imperialists and reactionaries is lighter than a feather, to die for the people is as weighty as a mountain. (This basic orientation is also emphasized in the statement I made on the occasion of the murder of Damian Garcia.)2 The content of people's lives—the quality of those lives, what they are dedicated and devoted to, and ultimately what they've been lived about, whether their death comes sooner or later—is the most important thing and gives meaning, one way or another, to people's lives, short as they are in relation to the infinite existence of matter in motion.

This is a basic point of orientation which has to do with the question of whether we can actually confront, and should confront, reality as it actually is—in opposition to the notion that human beings (or at least some human beings) need some sort of consolation in the form of distortions of reality—and in particular inventions of gods and/or other supernatural beings and forces. This is a fundamental point of ideological orientation—and ideological struggle. Can we and should we face reality as it actually is? Can human beings actually have, and how can they most fully have, a life with meaning and purpose, and is that best done by actually confronting and, yes, striving to transform, reality on the basis of how reality actually is and the potential for change within that; or should we descend—and I use that word very consciously—into inventions, obfuscations and distortions of reality, in an ultimately failed attempt to provide consolation—consolation not only for the fact that people will die, but also for the fact that most people's lives, in the world as it is, under the domination of the imperialist system and relations of exploitation and oppression, are not lives that are richly lived (and I don't mean that in a monetary sense, I mean that in the sense of the fullness of their lives, the humanity of their lives, if you will)?

How should we deal with the glaring contradiction between the fact that most people's lives are ground down, and while they exist their lives are full of misery, and on the other hand that this could be radically different and the world as a whole could be radically different and better? What should be our orientation toward that contradiction? What should we seek to do about that? Should we, because lives are short and all human beings die and we know it, shrink from the sacrifices that are necessary in order to make human life radically different and better—or should we more and more consciously and willingly devote, dedicate and in an overall sense give our lives to the emancipating goals of the communist revolution?

We cannot change the fact that all human beings have finite lives. We cannot change the fact that human beings are aware of this (and if they were not aware of this, then their lives would be that much more impoverished, because obviously their consciousness of many things would be extremely curtailed and limited). What we can change, and what has a great deal of meaning, is what we do with the lives that we do have. This, once again, is the meaning of Mao's statement, or an important aspect of what Mao was getting at, when he said human life is finite, but revolution is infinite.

So perhaps having waxed more existential than I intended to, let me end this part of the discussion by citing the following passage from the evolution book (The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters3 ), which speaks very powerfully and sweepingly to fundamental questions of orientation:

"There is no particular special purpose to our existence in the grand scheme of things—except what we make of it. Whether we're even here or not doesn't really matter (at least not consciously) to anything on this planet except ourselves; and certainly (at least at this point) our existence or non-existence can't possibly have the slightest impact on anything in the greater cosmos, where objectively we are of no greater significance than a single grain of sand on a beach. But so what? Does that mean we don't matter? Does it mean that we might as well kill each other off because there's no god there to care what we do one way or the other? Does it mean that our lives have absolutely no purpose? Of course not! Our lives are precious and we do matter a great each other! We should decide to 'do the right thing'—and act with each other in ways that are 'moral and ethical'—not because we're afraid we'll get written up by some warden-like god if we don't, but because what we do directly affects the quality of human life. And, of course, our lives can and do have purpose (though different people will define that in different ways in accordance with their world outlooks) because we humans can choose to imbue our lives with purpose." (pp. 155-56, emphasis in original)

"And This Semblance Seduces the Democrats"

Going back to how individuals in society exist not purely as individuals, but in a more fundamental sense as part of social groupings, and how this is grounded in certain definite social and fundamentally production relations, I want to return to some points that have to do with what Marx sharply gets at in his essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, specifically on the question of democratic intellectuals and their relation to the petite bourgeoisie (the "middle class"). Let's begin with the following from the polemic against K. Venu ("Democracy: More Than Ever We Can And Must Do Better Than That") which was written more than 15 years ago now but remains very relevant (this polemic is also included as an appendix in the book Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!—in the second [2004] edition of that book). I will first give the passage in full, and then comment on certain parts of it which are particularly salient in relation to what is going on today:

"Here the following insights of Marx are very relevant. Commenting, significantly, on a variant of petit-bourgeois social-democracy that, in a different context and somewhat different form, also advocated 'the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petite bourgeoisie,' Marx goes on to say that:

"' must not form the narrow-minded notion that the petite bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent....'" (See Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, 2nd (2004) edition, pp. 209-210, emphasis in original)

In examining this further, let's focus first on the very insightful observation by Marx that the petite bourgeoisie "believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided." How often nowadays, much to our frustration, do we see this phenomenon played out in politics and other spheres of society? The petit bourgeois, and in particular the petit bourgeois intellectual, continually gravitates toward, and gives expression to, the notion that the narrow interests, and illusory "solutions," that correspond to the spontaneous strivings and inclinations of people in this ("middle class") position can somehow be imposed on all of society, and will fix society's ills, or at least ameliorate and mitigate the objectively profound contradictions which rive society and repeatedly give rise to antagonistic conflict, in which this "middle class" generally finds itself the middle.

And Marx goes on: "Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers." Marx is a dialectical, not a vulgar, materialist. He makes clear:

"According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions..."

Note that: to the same problems and solutions. Not only the same solutions, but the same problems and solutions. Even with regard to how they see the problems, as well as the solutions which they believe they have found, these democratic intellectuals come up with ideas and theoretical propositions which ultimately are in line with where "material interest and social position drive the latter [the shopkeepers] practically."

And then follows a very important conclusion: "This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent...."  Here again, Marx is putting forward a correct understanding of the way in which ideas are a reflection of material reality and more specifically of a certain social position—but they are not crudely that, they're not that in a reductionist, one-to-one sense. Ultimately, he stresses, the ideas of the democratic intellectuals do not escape the bounds within which the practical petite bourgeoisie, if you will, is confined by its economic interests and its social position. This is a very profound and very important point. But, again, this is not a linear "one-to-one" relation. To help illustrate this, it is worthwhile referring to a report I read of a discussion relating to how I had applied this statement by Marx to the role of someone like Amy Goodman. In this discussion, one person said, "Well, Amy Goodman, she's a shopkeeper." No...a-a-a-h [laughing, making the sound of a "buzzer" in a game show, when a wrong answer is given]. That misses the whole point. The point is the relation between democratic intellectuals and shopkeepers—the dialectical relation—and how, in the working out of their ideas, these intellectuals may proceed very differently than how the shopkeeper thinks about practical problems all day long, or even the way the shopkeeper thinks about politics, but that the democratic intellectuals—as representatives, in the realm of ideas, of the petite bourgeoisie—don't escape the framework, and the limits, within which the (if you will) more practical activities of the petite bourgeoisie are confined. And this, in its full meaning—and its living application of dialectical materialism, as opposed to mechanical materialism and idealism—is extremely important to understand.

The next paragraph from Marx's "Eighteenth Brumaire," which is also cited in "Phony/Real," further elaborates on and sheds further light on this point. This paragraph begins: "But the democrat, because he represents the petite bourgeoisie, that is, a transition class, in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously mutually blunted, imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally."

Here Marx is speaking to the fact that the petite bourgeoisie is a class which has no future, as such, and is incapable of ruling society, as such, although representatives of the petite bourgeoisie may actually come to preside over society, or lead society, on behalf of the proletariat or on behalf of the bourgeoisie—"moving over," so to speak to take up the class standpoint and interests of the one or the other of these two fundamentally and antagonistically opposed classes. This is why Marx refers to the petite bourgeoisie as a transition class, in which the interests of two classes—that is, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat—"are simultaneously mutually blunted." It is for this reason that the petit bourgeois democrat "imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally."

How often have we heard this viewpoint expressed, including in relation to the recent election and the triumph of Obama in that election?! For example, recently someone wrote to our newspaper complaining about our exposure of Obama and declaring: I think people are in a mood more for healing than they are in a mood for conflict.

This is a classical expression of the class outlook of people in the petite bourgeoisie—who, as Marx so graphically and insightfully puts it, commonly imagine themselves "elevated above class antagonism generally." They imagine that they can wave the magic wand of petit bourgeois idealism and eliminate objective class conflicts and the antagonism and struggle to which these conflicts give rise, repeatedly, in one form or another.

Marx goes on:

"The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them"—you see, Marx is very sophisticated and nuanced in his understanding—"The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people. What they represent is the people's rights; what interests them is the people's interests. Accordingly, when a struggle is impending, they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes." (emphasis in original)

Once again, this is extremely insightful and extremely important. It is very worthwhile going back to this repeatedly and drawing more and more out of it, precisely in relation to developing reality and the ways in which this constantly gets posed—including the ways in which it is posed in very sharp terms now. While this phenomenon finds repeated expression every time there's an election in a bourgeois democracy—and in the U.S. in particular—it has been very acutely expressed with this recent election, around Obama, which has had by far the highest quotient of illusion, deceit and especially self-deceit of any election in quite a long time. It has set a very high standard for illusion, deceit and self-deceit, even for bourgeois elections.

Along with this, the following quote from the Grundrisse, also cited in "Phony/Real," penetrates beneath so much of the outer appearance of things and the obfuscation by so many (consciously or not) of fundamental and essential reality:

"In the money relation, in the developed system of exchange (and this semblance seduces the democrats), the ties of personal dependence, of distinctions of blood, education, etc. are in fact exploded, ripped up (at least, personal ties all appear as personal relations); and individuals seem independent (this is an independence which is at bottom merely an illusion, and it is more correctly called indifference), free to collide with one another and to engage in exchange within this freedom; but they appear thus only for someone who abstracts from the conditions, the conditions of existence within which these individuals enter into contact (and these conditions, in turn, are independent of the individuals and, although created by society, appear as if they were natural conditions, not controllable by individuals).... A closer examination of these external relations, these conditions, shows, however, that it is impossible for the individuals of a class etc. to overcome them en masse without destroying them." (Marx, Grundrisse, translated with a foreword by Martin Nicolaus, Penguin Books/New Left Review, "The Chapter on Money," pp. 163-64, emphasis in original.)

Here, because Marx has put it within parentheses, it is possible to miss, or to fail to take full note of, an extremely important observation: In the developed system of exchange embodied in the money relation, the semblance of things—the outer and non-essential appearance of things—seduces the democrat into believing that the various individuals who are related to each other through this system of exchange are actually independent and autonomous, when in reality they are enmeshed, and confined, within definite production relations, of which the developed, money-based system of exchange is a subordinate expression. In a significant aspect—and this is true even while the degree to which this is consciously thought out varies—such democrats view the capitalist system, and its mode of exchange, in contrast with the feudal system, in which ties of personal dependence, distinctions of blood, education, etc., are openly determinants and markers of social status. By contrast, in capitalist society such non-market distinctions are, at least to a large degree and in essence, torn down and, as Marx puts it, personal ties all appear as personal, not as fixed by custom and tradition, or even law. This too is part of what "seduces" the democrat.

But what, really, is this much-vaunted independence and autonomy of people enmeshed in capitalist market relations? As Marx caustically characterizes it, this independence is more correctly called indifference, for capitalist relations not only allow but require and compel people to be fundamentally indifferent to the situation and fate of others—and the freedom people have, within these relations, is, as Marx puts it, essentially the freedom to collide with one another.

At base, as Marx also makes clear, the independence and autonomy that is so often proclaimed as an essential feature of bourgeois society, marking it as superior to all other forms of society, is an illusion. In fact, the situation people find themselves in, and the "freedom" they actually have, is defined, and confined, by "the conditions of existence within which these individuals enter into contact"—once again, fundamentally the relations of production of capitalism, and the corresponding relations of exchange and of distribution—which, as Marx emphasizes, are independent of the individuals. What the democrats typically do—again, reflecting the position and outlook of the petite bourgeoisie, understanding that in a dialectical, and not a mechanical, materialist sense—is precisely "abstract" the situation of individuals from these fundamental and essential relations and conditions. At the same time, they are taken in by the appearance that social conditions—conditions which are a result of the historical development of society and what that development has led to, the conditions and relations society embodies and is characterized by, at any given time—are "natural conditions," conditions which are simply "given" by nature, or which conform to the "nature of things," so to speak, and more specifically to a supposedly essential(ist) and unchanging "human nature."

How many times have we heard people say, "Yes, I agree with you, there are many things wrong in society—but that's just the way people are—that's human nature, that's why things are the way they are, and that's why they can never really be changed"?

For these reasons, the democrats—and others, so long as they adhere to this outlook—are not capable of recognizing this most fundamental truth: Not only are different individuals "situated" within a larger system of production and social—and, in class society, class—relations, which are historically evolved and fundamentally independent of the wills of individuals, as individuals, but even though some individuals may be able to change their social-class status within capitalist society, the masses of people—and in particular the exploited masses in the lower sections of the proletariat, and others in oppressed social groups whose oppressed status is integral and indispensable to the prevailing capitalist society—cannot do so within the existing conditions and relations. As Marx very correctly, and profoundly, insists, they can do so, en masse, only by destroying these conditions and relations—only by overthrowing the system which embodies, and enforces, these conditions and relations.

That, of course, is why a radical transformation of society, a revolution, is necessary in order for the individuals en masse—in other words, for the masses of exploited and oppressed people, trapped in these social relations—to overcome them and bring into being radically different social conditions and relations, a radically different economic base and superstructure: to advance to communism and achieve the "4 Alls."

So, from all this, we can see the extreme relevance of these statements by Marx, from the Grundrisse and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in relation to—and as dissection and refutation of—commonly held notions that prevail in society today, whether in the form of more developed theories and philosophies, or simply popular prejudices and misconceptions, about the nature of things, and "human nature" in particular, and about the possibility—or, as it is often spontaneously conceived, the impossibility—of revolution and communism.

Each Class Seeks to Remake the World in Its Image—But Only One Class Cannot Do This by Relying on Spontaneity

This brings me to the next point, which is how—without, in fact, falling into reductionism and reification—it is a very important phenomenon in all of social life, and particularly in social struggle, that each class will try to remake the world in its image. Especially in every revolution, but in every major social transformation or social movement, different class forces seek to seize the reins and impose their solutions, in accordance with how they see the problems. More specifically, it is important to understand how bourgeois and other reactionary class forces seek to do this, especially in the context of any major social upheaval and social struggle, and most especially in the context of an approaching revolution. Let's examine briefly some examples of this.

** Iran in the 1978-79 revolution, where there was a mass upheaval in which different class forces were contending, and in which, unfortunately, the representatives of the exploited and oppressed masses and, in particular, the proletariat—that is, the communists—were weak, relative to other class forces, especially because of the vicious repression that had been carried out against the communist movement under the reign of the Shah, backed by U.S. imperialism, for several decades. In the swirl and roiling of that revolution, the class forces representing the interests of the bourgeoisie—and in some aspects feudal relations—maneuvered, and didn't just maneuver but were given powerful backing, to seize the reins of that revolution and to turn it into the horror that it has since become, with the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and its existence for nearly three decades now.

More still needs to be learned about this, but enough is known to be clear that the U.S. imperialists, who initially backed the Shah, even in the face of this massive upheaval, then maneuvered, through their contacts within the existing Iranian army and in other parts of the ruling structures in that society, to prevent the revolution from ripening more fully. They moved to cut short a process through which the masses would be able to more fully test out in practice, as well as wrangling on the level of line and theory with, different programs and different forces representing different solutions. Instead, the U.S. imperialists, and elements they could work through, maneuvered things so that the forces grouped around Khomeini would, in fact, get the necessary backing to be able to seize and consolidate power. It was the calculation of the imperialists that they could better deal with that than a continuously developing revolutionary situation—a situation in which the communists, assuming that they had been able to find their bearings and more thoroughly grasp and apply a genuinely communist and revolutionary line, would have been able to win increasing numbers of the masses through that social upheaval, through the masses testing out different programs and seeing which ones really were leading in a direction that was in their fundamental interests, and which were stopping halfway, seeking to hold things back and keep things confined within an oppressive framework.

Once again, this is something that needs to be more fully explored—although in significant measure it has been explored, particularly by our Iranian communist comrades. I'm merely seeking to sketch out a basic picture here, to illustrate this extremely important point about how different class forces enter into the fray and, especially in the context of major social upheavals and more particularly with impending revolutions, seek to seize the reins and impose their solutions—and what the consequences are when different class forces are able to do this. (For further, and more specific, analysis in relation to this, see the article "30 Years after the Iranian Revolution" from A World to Win News Service, February 23, 2009.)

** The situation in South Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s. There was a tremendous revolutionary upsurge in that country in that period, particularly in the urban shantytowns but spreading also to the bantustans and among the masses of black people throughout South Africa. And at a certain point, especially with larger changes in the world, including profound changes in the Soviet Union and its erstwhile bloc—first the ascension by Gorbachev to the head of the Soviet party and state, and then the demise and dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fracturing apart of its former empire, as such—the U.S. imperialists, in league with the white supremacist ruling class in South Africa, recognized that they had not only necessity but also freedom to change the form of rule in South Africa: to abolish the apartheid system, and even to allow the majority African population to vote in elections and to choose black South Africans as the leaders of the country, beginning with Mandela.

But, once again, the result of this was that the revolutionary process was aborted. There are times, and situations, where abortions are good, and times and circumstances where they are bad. This was one that was very bad—an aborted revolutionary process. Despite what is constantly preached at us these days—including by the "liberals" and "progressives" in the ruling class, and those who follow in their wake—it is not by any means always bad (or, "at best," a "necessary evil") to abort a fetus. But it is very bad to abort a revolutionary process—and this is what happened in South Africa. And part of the whole arrangement there, worked out under the commanding influence of the U.S. ruling class, was that South Africa would remain within the framework of imperialist domination, and even of IMF (International Monetary Fund) structures and dictates, and so on. This was clear and explicit.

A number of people have analyzed this, at least partially, but the essential point is this: The whole way in which Mandela was brought to the fore by the imperialists, and by their allies within the ruling structures of South Africa, not only did not fundamentally improve the conditions of the masses of oppressed and exploited African people in that country, but in many ways this new arrangement has led to their conditions worsening, especially economically, but even socially and morally, if you will, so that now, and for the time being, a mass revolutionary upsurge and the whole sense of purpose and the whole sense of a fight for a better future, and all the uplifting elements that go along with that, have been replaced to a large and growing degree by crime, particularly among the same kinds of youth who, a couple of decades ago, would have been the backbone of a revolutionary struggle. And this has led to demoralization, to confusion, to illusions that have not only been fed and taken hold among the masses in South Africa but whose influence has been spread to oppressed people in other parts of the world.

And this was, again, a very conscious policy—a very consciously adopted series of steps on the part of the imperialists and the white elite strata in South Africa, but also on the part of certain bourgeois strata among the oppressed black people in South Africa whose aspirations did not go any further than an arrangement of this kind, because their interests, as a social group (class), were in fact largely in line with merely abolishing certain forms of formal segregation (apartheid) and the oppression that went along with that, while leaving intact the fundamental relations of oppression and exploitation—which has in fact led to even worse consequences in many ways over the nearly two decades since apartheid was abolished.

This is a profound lesson that must be deeply grasped and driven home, if masses of people, not only in South Africa but throughout the world, are really going to be able to consciously fight for their emancipation and the emancipation of humanity as a whole.

** Another illustration of this is the contrast between India and China in relation to the end of old-line colonialism and the emergence of a new (or not-so-new) society in the one country and the other. Here we are speaking of two fundamentally opposed paths: one born out of revolutionary struggle and, yes, revolutionary war, with the overall leadership of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, resulting in the overthrow of the existing system, a rupture from imperialist domination, and embarking on a path of radically transforming society toward the objective of finally eliminating all relations of exploitation and oppression and the institutions and ideas that go along with and reinforce them; and, on the other hand, the path in India, represented by Gandhi and some others, of seeking conciliation with imperialism—seeking the end to formal colonialism but maintaining things within an oppressive framework, both in terms of the international relations in which India is enmeshed and oppressed, and in terms of the economic and social relations inside India itself, not the least being the horrendous oppression of women as well as the caste system, the outrages continually committed against the so-called "Untouchables," and so on. In the one case and the other, it is a matter of particular class forces—very different and fundamentally opposed class forces—moving to achieve certain solutions, in line with their interests and their outlook and, accordingly, how they see the problems.

** Or we could take the struggle within the Chinese Communist Party itself, especially once it came to be the leading force within the socialist state, after the seizure of power and the overthrow of imperialist domination and reactionary rule in China in 1949. Especially as this struggle, within the Chinese Communist Party, came to a head through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), in the decade from the mid-1960s until the death of Mao in 1976, it became clear that there were two sharply opposed viewpoints and programs representing not just individuals but social forces—that is, different class forces—which both existed within, and had positions of authority and leadership within, the Chinese Communist Party itself. This is why Mao made the pathbreaking analysis that is encapsulated in his statement, popularized during the GPCR: You are making revolution but don't know where the bourgeoisie is. It is right within the Communist Party. The capitalist roaders (within the Party) are still on the capitalist road.

Some points concerning the role of intellectuals and the revolutionary process

This was not just a matter of bureaucrats in the Chinese party and state having grown fat or power hungry as a result of holding positions of authority—it was not essentially a matter of bureaucracy. This was a matter of different people who, yes, were intellectuals, but (going back to the insights of Marx) intellectuals who in their contrasting modes of thinking, and in the policies and programs that they developed—in their lines, in other words—represented two fundamentally opposed classes (think again of Marx's very important observations about the relations between classes and the political and literary representatives of those classes). Or, to put this another way, the question, over which there was antagonistic struggle, was: In the image of which social class should that society (and ultimately the world) be remade? In the image of the proletariat—not in a reductionist or reified sense but in the sense of its interests as a social class, which lie in ultimately resolving the contradictions of capitalism, in particular its fundamental contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation, and moving on to abolish all class distinctions and the production relations, social relations, ideas and institutions that go along with that (in short, achieving the "4 Alls")? Or should society (and ultimately the world) be remade in accordance with the viewpoint of that stratum which had taken a concentrated form within the Chinese Communist Party, which sought merely to make China a powerful country, and which was determined that the best way to do that was to institute what are objectively capitalist economic relations and to implement policies that would give further life to and reinforce all the relations that go along with capitalist economic relations, and would place China squarely within the overall framework of imperialist domination and exploitation on a world scale?

This is not a question of "power struggles" among individuals or cliques. This is a matter of different classes—or of people and groups objectively representing different classes—perceiving more or less correctly their interests as a social force, as a class, and then striving to influence and to utilize the struggle and the aspirations of the masses to change society, to shape society in accordance with those class interests. It was in the interests of this stratum which was constituted, in a real sense, of intellectuals, but intellectuals who had taken up the outlook of the bourgeoisie—once again, political and literary representatives of the bourgeoisie, as Marx spoke to this—it was in the interests of that class, it was in accordance with their aspirations as a class, to institute these capitalist relations, to bring China back within the framework of overall imperialist domination, exploitation and oppression in the world. And this was in direct opposition to those leading people within the Party—again, a group of intellectuals, broadly speaking, but intellectuals who had taken up the viewpoint and were fighting for the revolutionary interests of the proletariat, as a class—who were on the socialist road, as a transition toward the final aim of communism, worldwide. This battle—between the socialist road, and those leading forces representing that road, and on the other hand the capitalist road and those representing it—went on very intensely, even with some partial ebbs and flows, over the whole decade of the GPCR, and it resulted, unfortunately, shortly after the death of Mao in 1976, in the victory of those class forces representing the program of capitalism and imperialism, and the defeat of those representing the program of communism and the ultimate abolition of relations of exploitation and oppression.

In speaking of this battle as taking a concentrated form as the struggle between intellectuals (party leaders) representing, respectively, the socialist road and the capitalist road, I do not mean to, in any way, ignore or downgrade the importance of the role of the masses in all this—to present things as if they were mere spectators, or pawns of contending leading groups, in all this. No, one of the hallmarks of the GPCR was the degree—truly unprecedented in history—to which masses of people, literally in the hundreds of millions, were involved in this massive social upheaval, with at least tens of millions doing so with an unprecedentedly high consciousness of the terms and stakes of this struggle. But the point is, as Lenin summarized (in Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder):

Everyone knows that the masses are divided into classes;...that usually...classes are led by political parties; that political parties, as a general rule, are directed by more or less stable groups composed of the most authoritative, influential and experienced members, who are elected to the most responsible positions and are called leaders. All this is elementary. (As cited in the polemic against K. Venu. See the Appendix to the second [2004] edition of Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, p. 204.)

Even if one is only speaking of self-proclaimed Marxists, it may be the case that Lenin was overly optimistic in asserting that "Everyone knows" this; yet the fact remains that indeed "All this is elementary." But what is more complicated—and this will remain a significant phenomenon so long as the masses are divided into classes, and until the unequal and oppressive social relations bound up with class divisions, including in particular the division between mental and manual labor, are overcome—is that leaders are generally people who, as one of their essential qualities, have a more developed ability to work with ideas (who, generally speaking, are intellectuals). This objective fact, and the gap between such intellectuals and the masses of people, particularly those who are not intellectuals, will be real and have real implications and ramifications, regardless of whether those intellectuals (leaders) themselves come from backgrounds and circumstances that are, generally speaking, those of the petite bourgeoisie, or whether they are drawn from the proletariat and other basic masses.

One of the distinguishing features of intellectuals is that—because of their particular circumstances and the nature of their role in working with ideas—as individuals (and even in a certain sense as a broader social phenomenon) they have relatively more freedom and capacity to "attach themselves" to one class or another, and even to "detach themselves" from one class and "attach themselves" to another. In other words, they can take up the world outlook and come to represent the interests of one class or another. Now, it is generally the case—and this is what Marx is speaking to in discussing the democratic intellectuals and their relation to the shopkeepers—that intellectuals spontaneously, and rather strongly, gravitate to the outlook and interests of the petite bourgeoisie, because that most corresponds to the social position and circumstances of the intelligentsia, as a general rule. But, as we know, certain intellectuals (or even groups of intellectuals) can become high functionaries, and even political leaders, of the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, some intellectuals—including intellectuals who come forward in the revolutionary ranks out of the basic masses and develop the ability to work with ideas, to formulate line and policy, on a high level—can and do take up the outlook of and become fighters for the interests of the proletariat. This generally becomes more of a social phenomenon in times of social upheaval, particularly when revolutionary currents are more powerful among the masses of people and in their influence in society overall.

But for those intellectuals who are drawn to the revolutionary cause of the proletariat, in the most fundamental sense, there is the very real challenge of consistently applying the outlook and method of dialectical materialism and not only embarking, but persevering, through all the difficulties, on the road of revolution and, in a real sense, giving over their intellectual capacities, as well as their hearts, to the cause of this revolution and its emancipatory goals. Beyond that, and more especially for those who come to occupy positions of leadership in the vanguard of the proletarian revolution, they face the challenge of not simply providing leadership to that revolution but more specifically doing so in a way that, increasingly, masses of people, particularly from the most exploited and oppressed sectors of society, are enabled to more and more consciously take part in this revolutionary struggle. To put this another way—to speak to another key dimension and profound contradiction characterizing the proletarian-communist revolution and the ways in which it must be fundamentally different from all previous revolutions in human society (and this was spoken to, more than a decade ago now, in "Strategic Questions"4 ): All revolutions are led by a small part of society—and in a concentrated way by a leading group which is quite small, relative to the masses of people it is ultimately leading—a leading group which will, in fact, be mainly constituted of people who are intellectuals, generally speaking, regardless of where those intellectuals come from, in terms of their "social origins." In a very important aspect, this is true of the proletarian revolution, and not simply revolutions led by people embodying the outlook and representing the interests of exploiting classes. The profound, truly world-historic challenge for the proletarian-communist revolution, and for those who lead it, is to bring about the radical leap and rupture beyond the situation—characteristic of all previous revolutions, waged ultimately in the interests of exploiting classes and led by people representing those classes—where the masses are the main fighting force in the revolution (or, to put it more bluntly, do the bulk of the sacrificing and dying in this struggle) but the fruits of this struggle and sacrifice are reaped by forces which are in reality exploiters and oppressors of the masses, where society is once again "remade in the image" of an exploiting class, even if there are certain changes with regard to the particular mode in which this takes place.

To accomplish the radical leap and rupture beyond this involves, and requires, overcoming the mental/manual contradiction as a crucial aspect of achieving the "4 Alls." But this will require a whole historical epoch and can only be achieved on a world scale; and throughout this whole transition, wherever power is seized, the dictatorship of the proletariat established and the revolution continued under this dictatorship, there will be the complex, and at times very intense, contradictions bound up with the fact that overcoming the mental/manual division, and achieving the "4 Alls," must be not only a long-term goal but something that is being concretely "worked at," at every stage of the process, even while, at least for a very long time into this transition, the mental/manual contradiction will remain a very pronounced phenomenon. Handling all this correctly, in the living process of advancing the revolution, with all its complexity, is one of the great challenges of our revolution and its ultimate aim of communism, throughout the world.

Different interests of different class forces in the struggle against the oppression of Black people in the U.S.

As another illustration of the basic point here—regarding the phenomenon of different classes seeking to "remake the world in their image"—we can look at the role of the Black bourgeoisie (and even sections of the Black petite bourgeoisie, but in particular the Black bourgeoisie) in the U.S., in relation to the long struggle of Black people, particularly in the period from shortly after World War 2 up until the present. There are those individuals and groups among Black people who have sought to identify that struggle as nothing more than—and to confine and shape that struggle into—a reformist struggle for, as they put it, "civil rights." In some important ways, there is a parallel here with what happened in South Africa with Mandela. These forces have sought to (mis)direct the struggle into one limited to eliminating certain formal and legal barriers of discrimination and segregation—although such barriers have been far from removed in reality, and in some ways are reinforced more than ever in the schools, in housing and employment, in health care, and in many other spheres. Now, of course, striking down formal laws and codes embodying discrimination and segregation is in the interests of the broad masses of Black people (and the broad masses of people of all nationalities). But the point is that it is in the interests of a section of the bourgeoisie among Black people—and not in the interests of the masses of people—to keep the struggle from breaking out of the bounds of reforms within the existing system. These bourgeois forces have seen that these reforms could offer them the possibility—given the ways in which they are now situated in this society and, relative to the masses of Black people, their more privileged position—to have a more favorable opportunity to improve their situation within the existing framework, to "move on up" within this framework, even in some cases to achieve high positions within this system. Now, in reality and whether or not they recognize it (some may and some may not, but the reality is) this is condemning—and so long as this is what holds sway, it will condemn—the masses of Black people, and indeed Black people as a people, as an oppressed nation within the U.S., to continue to suffer horrendous oppression.

It is not so simple as saying that these Black bourgeois forces don't care about that. The fundamental and essential point is that—to go back to Marx's formulation—this is how they see the problem and the solution. Their perspective is that eliminating these formal barriers and allowing people in their position to advance, even perhaps to achieve the pinnacle as has now happened with Obama—to become the leading functionary of the imperialist state with all of its horrors—is the best way that Black people—or at least Black people "in their image"—will be able to advance and "realize the dream." They see their own aspirations and interests as the highest expression of the general good. In a certain sense, this is true of all classes and their representatives: they see the class interests they uphold as representing the general interests, and the general good, of all. The fundamental question is whether this is true or not—and the fundamental difference is that this is true of the proletariat, as a class, in a way that it is not true, and never has been true, of any other class: conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat, from its exploited and oppressed situation, are in fact the necessary and essential conditions for the general emancipation of humanity, the abolition of all relations of exploitation and oppression, throughout the world. But—there is a certain irony in this—precisely with the elimination of certain formal barriers of discrimination and segregation, it is the case that the interests of the Black bourgeoisie, as a class, are objectively (and however they perceive it) in sharp conflict with the interests of the masses of Black people, particularly the masses crowded into and confined and brutalized in the inner cities, as well as the interests of the oppressed and exploited masses in the U.S. and throughout the world in general.

To be clear, this does not mean that the Black bourgeoisie—or at least many among that class—cannot be won to the side of revolution, as things unfold, and through a great deal of struggle; it is both possible and necessary, as a matter of strategic orientation, to win as many as possible among that class to the side of the revolution. And certainly that is true of the Black petite bourgeoisie. But what is crucial and essential to grasp—for the vanguard and for the masses who will be the backbone of the revolutionary struggle—is that forces representing the Black bourgeoisie, or even the Black petite bourgeoisie—the outlook and the interests that correspond to the social positions of those class forces—cannot be in the leading position, or the struggle will not go where it needs to go, in order to achieve the general emancipation of the oppressed and exploited masses, of all nationalities, and the ultimate emancipation of humanity as a whole, throughout the world. Only a vanguard representing and fighting for the interests of the proletariat, as a class, can lead the struggle to achieve such a general emancipation.

All these examples discussed here—which I've only been able to sketch out briefly and in broad strokes—demonstrate the fundamental truth that different class forces contend according to their understanding of the problem and the solution. And, in turn, their different understandings of the problem and solution are essentially shaped by the decisive relations in society—most fundamentally the production relations, but also the social relations and the political relations—and by the differing places and roles of different social groups, or classes, within those overall relations.

But an additional complicating factor, and problem, is that under the rule of exploiters and oppressors—and specifically today under the rule of the imperialists and bourgeois forces—the heavy weight of habit, tradition, and the spontaneity this gives rise to, all go in the direction of exerting a powerful influence in line with the interests and aspirations of the exploiting classes. This is why it requires a conscious rupture on the part of the exploited and oppressed—and on the part of those intellectuals and others who seek to represent them—in order to be able to first of all even recognize, and then to act on the recognition of, the fundamental interests that the exploited and oppressed masses have, in contrast and in conflict with those of the bourgeoisie, and even more privileged, if not strictly speaking bourgeois, strata, in terms of how the representatives of those strata are pulled to see the problems and the solutions.

The Decisive Importance of Leadership, Leadership Concentrated as Line

All this underlines the crucial importance of line—and leadership—in relation to the question of what kind of change is going to happen, what kind of transformation of society. It is certain that there will be change. There is always change, of one kind or another, and there has been and will again be major change in the world and in human society. Society, like all material reality, cannot and does not stay as it is. It goes through changes, including at certain points major, even qualitative, changes. But the question of line and leadership is decisive in determining ultimately what kind of change, what kind of transformation of society and fundamentally what kind of revolution is going to be possible, even if and when the masses do rise up and demand and fight for radical change.

Lines and social bases—a dialectical relation

In this connection, it is important to re-emphasize a point that we’ve touched on before, which is the relation, the dialectical materialist relation, between lines and social bases. That is, on the one hand lines reflect certain social bases. Or to put it another way, they represent certain classes. This is a point I’ve been touching on through the various examples I have discussed here, and in other ways so far in this talk. Lines are a concentration of the fundamental interests and aspirations of different classes; different lines represent different class forces. Again, especially in bourgeois society but even in socialist society, the one class interest which cannot be represented, at least in any full way, spontaneously is that of the proletariat, which in an overall sense represents the interests of the exploited and oppressed masses in general. All other class interests, and the lines representing them, can—under the domination of the bourgeoisie and its ideology and with the whole history of exploiting class rule and the influence of the ideology of exploiting classes—have a lot of spontaneity going with them. But it requires a conscious rupture with spontaneity in order for a line to be brought forward, and in order for masses to recognize and take up a line, that actually represents their fundamental interests as exploited and oppressed classes and masses of people.

So, on the one hand, lines reflect different and opposing social bases or classes. And in a fundamental and essential sense—though not in a straight line, and not all at once—different lines bring forward different social bases. The reason I am giving emphasis to "not in a straight line, and not all at once" can be seen by looking again at the example of the Iranian revolution. One of the decisive things about a revolutionary upheaval—and this is shown, by negative example, in the Iranian revolution—is that the more that it develops, and is not cut short by some sort of an "arrangement at the top," the more the masses are able to become aware of and test out different lines and the programs that are associated with them—different interests and aspirations that are concentrated in these lines and programs. (In other words, in talking about lines I’m speaking of worldviews and programs for social change—or to oppose social change—which correspond to those worldviews.) In a real social upheaval, and especially one that develops to revolutionary dimensions, the people directly involved, and those more broadly who are significantly affected, become increasingly aware of and test out different lines and programs, and over time masses of people more and more gravitate toward those lines and programs that they come to see as basically in line with not only their deeper interests but also their more immediately and acutely felt needs and which, at the same time, offer a realistic means of radically changing things when radical change is what growing numbers of the masses come to see as necessary.

This is directly related to Mao’s very correct and much ignored—and, even among some alleged communists, often maligned—insistence that the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line of a communist vanguard is decisive: whether in its outlook and its program and strategy it really represents the interests of the proletariat and other exploited and oppressed masses, and a means for radically transforming society through revolution to begin uprooting exploitation and oppression, together with the same struggle throughout the world; or whether it represents, in one form or another, the reinforcement (or at most a slight adjustment within) those relations of exploitation and oppression. That, in essential terms, is what is meant by the principle that the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line is decisive. As we know, revolutions are very complex processes, and there is no possibility of radically transforming society in the actual interests of the masses of oppressed and exploited people without the leadership of a force which has—and which continually fights to maintain and develop and apply—a correct ideological and political line. This is in fact decisive, no matter how much derision may be poured down on this fundamental concept.

What is communist leadership?

There is a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion about the question of communist leadership, confusion which is bound up to a large degree with misconceptions about—and in some ways opposition to—the principles and objectives of communist revolution itself. Leadership—and in particular communist leadership—is, as I have been speaking to, concentrated in line. This does not simply mean line as theoretical abstractions, although such abstractions, especially insofar as they do correctly reflect reality and its motion and development, are extremely important. But in an all-around sense, it is a matter of leadership as expressed in the ability to continually make essentially correct theoretical abstractions; to formulate, to wield, and to lead others to take up and act on—and to themselves take initiative in wielding—the outlook and method, and the strategy, program, and policies, necessary to radically transform the world through revolution toward the final aim of communism; and through this process to continually enable others one is leading to themselves increasingly develop their ability to do all this. This is the essence of communist leadership.

It is not a matter of being physically present among this or that group of the masses. I have read reports which recount how people say: "How do we know Avakian really is everything you say he is, why can't we talk to him—how can we tell if he's really all that, if we're not able to see him, or if he's not right out here in our midst?" Among other things, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what communist leadership is and of the practical realities as well as the strategic orientation involved in building a movement for revolution. We are aiming to build a revolutionary movement of millions, toward the goal of actually taking hold of the reins of society and radically transforming it, when the conditions for that have come into being. As much as it is genuinely a great thing to be able to talk to masses, and to learn from them as well as to struggle with them, is it really conceivable that a leader (or any number of leaders, for that matter) of such a revolutionary process, and of the party leading that revolution, could mingle among and talk personally with all those millions of people who must ultimately make up the ranks of the revolution? If we were just thinking in terms of small little circles, and we were not really thinking about transforming society and ultimately the world as a whole, well then, OK, maybe it would be a realistic thing to demand that the small numbers of people who would then be involved be able to have personal contact ("face time") with the leader of that. In that case, however, who cares—it wouldn't have anything to do with what we are supposed to be, and really must be, all about: making revolution and advancing toward the final goal of communism throughout the world. If we are really thinking about millions of people being involved—and, yes, being led—and at the same time learning from those millions of people, and synthesizing all this in a scientific way, in the service of the kind of revolution that is actually needed, then we have to understand that communist leadership means something radically different from notions of direct, one-to-one contact between leadership and all the masses of people who must be involved in that.

The following (an excerpt from the talk last year, "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," which was recently published in Revolution) touches on important aspects of this:

"First, the purpose of my writings and talks, and indeed of everything I do as a communist leader, is to apply the outlook and method of dialectical materialism to continue developing a scientific understanding of the world and to provide leadership in radically transforming it toward the goal of revolution and the final aim of communism.

"In this connection, while I should, and do, hold myself to a very high standard in terms of intellectual integrity and rigor, and while I respect those who apply the same standards in the realm of academic work, my purpose and approach is not the same as academic scholars who do not play the role of communist leaders. My responsibility, in my particular leadership role, involves (although it is not limited to) addressing the most fundamental contradictions and the most pressing problems in relation to actually making revolution and advancing toward the final goal of communism, and giving leadership to others in doing so. One aspect of this is to continually make, and popularize, an analysis and assessment of the ever changing 'political terrain'—the objective conditions and the role of different political and social forces in relation to those objective conditions. Another key dimension of this is to speak to the questions on the minds of proletarians and other basic masses, as well as people of other strata, particularly with regard to things that may weigh on them and pose obstacles in relation to their seeing both the necessity and the possibility of communist revolution, and acting on that understanding—questions which most academics largely ignore and which many are frankly ignorant of. In a larger sense, with regard to theory and intellectual work, my particular role is not only to strive myself to meet the pressing and profound needs in the realm of developing theory, line and strategic orientation, to serve the goal of revolution and the ultimate aim of communism, but also to inspire—and, yes, to provoke—others in this regard and more generally in terms of taking initiative in working with ideas and wrangling in the realm of theory, broadly speaking; to help provide a continually deepening foundation and developing framework for those seeking to apply the outlook and method of communism to engage in theoretical and analytical work, covering a broad range of fields; and to challenge others, beyond the ranks of communists, to seriously engage with such a communist method and approach and the theory and analysis that results from the application of that method and approach." ("On The Role Of Communist Leadership And Some Basic Questions Of Orientation, Approach And Method," in Revolution #156, February 15, 2009, emphasis in original)

The Social Basis for Revolution

This brings me to some other very important statements by Marx, which were cited in the book Ghana: End of an Illusion, by Bob Fitch and Mary Oppenheimer. This book was written more than 40 years ago, analyzing the rise and fall of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and the larger social and international relations bound up with this. In speaking about the partial revolution—or, in fact, reforms within the system of imperialism and exploitation that people grouped around Nkrumah were seeking to carry out in Ghana—Fitch and Oppenheimer quote Marx to contrast that experience with a "total revolution," that is, a real revolution that involves the radical transformation of society. Fitch and Oppenheimer themselves put it this way:

"Another characteristic of a 'total' revolution is that the class which forms the basis of the revolutionary movement must be one which has 'radical chains' to break.... Marx says that it must be a class in but not of civil society." (Fitch & Oppenheimer, Ghana: End Of An Illusion, Monthly Review Press, 1966, p. 24, emphasis in original)

And then, in elaboration of this point, they quote Marx directly, emphasizing that the basis of the revolution must be a social group, or class, which represents a

"sphere of society which has a universal character because its sufferings are universal, and which does not claim a particular redress because the wrong which is done to it is not a particular wrong but wrong in general. There must be formed a sphere of society which claims no traditional status but only human status, a sphere which is not opposed to particular consequences but is totally opposed to the assumptions of the...political system." (As cited in Fitch & Oppenheimer, p. 24)

This relates back to—it is in a sense another way of stating—what was discussed earlier in relation to Marx's observations in "The 18th Brumaire," and specifically the profound differences in how different class forces and their political and literary (or intellectual) representatives see the problems and solutions. The Black bourgeoisie in the U.S., the forces grouped around Mandela in South Africa, Gandhi in India, the forces around Khomeini in Iran, and so on, see (or saw) things not in a universal way, but in a particular way; what they advocate and strive for embodies a particular or a partial redress, or change, not a universal redress—not a sweeping, radical transformation of the existing system. They represent, in fact, a traditional status—not, as the proletariat does (as it becomes a revolutionary force, on the basis of its fundamental interests as a class) a sweeping away of tradition's chains.

Ghana: End of an Illusion also cites Marx speaking to what he refers to as a "partial, merely political revolution." "What is the basis," Marx asks, of such a "partial, merely political revolution?" Marx answers as follows:

"Simply this: a fraction of a civil society emancipates itself and achieves a dominant position; a certain class undertakes, from its particular situation, a general emancipation of society. This class emancipates society as a whole, but only on condition that the whole of society is in the same situation as this class, for example, that it possesses or can acquire money or culture." (As cited in Fitch & Oppenheimer, p. 23, emphasis in original)

Now of course, Marx's statement here embodies irony: he doesn't actually mean that under the leadership of such a class, and in the remaking of society in the interests and the image of this class, all of society can actually do this (put itself into the same position as this class). The essential point is that this is how these more privileged and even exploiting strata and classes see the remaking of society, even when they are driven toward that objective: they believe, and insist, that the general conditions of society should conform to their particular interests and way of approaching things—in other words, their particular status and aspirations—rather than there being a "springing into the air" and a radical transformation of society as a whole, leading to the abolition of tradition and tradition's chains.

Also, as something of an aside but definitely related to this, there is a very interesting and in some ways humorous observation by Engels which is cited in this same book, Ghana: End of an Illusion. Speaking about the counter-revolution which drowned in blood the revolutions of 1848 in Europe, Engels wrote,

"...when you inquire into the causes of the counter revolutionary successes, there you are met on every hand with the ready-made reply that it was 'Mister This' or 'Citizen That' who betrayed the people. Which reply may be very true or not, according to the circumstances. But under no circumstances does it explain anything, not even how it came to pass that the people allowed themselves to be thus betrayed. And what poor chance stands a political party whose entire stock in trade consists in the knowledge of the solitary fact that 'Citizen So-and-So' is not to be trusted." (As cited in Fitch & Oppenheimer, p. 10)

How much has this kind of "analysis," which Engels so rightly ridiculed, been repeated since then, including right around us today!

This, in turn, calls to mind that very insightful and concentrated observation by Lenin which for very good reason we have many times cited:

"People always were and always will be the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit," [note very well: "and self-deceit"] in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes." (Lenin, "The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism," as cited in Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, second [2004] edition, p. 122, emphasis in original)

How profoundly true—and how profoundly relevant once again these days!

Indeed, this kind of approach, on which Lenin is critically commenting, is very pronounced today, especially when among the oppressed and exploited masses—and, in fact, among all strata of the people, including notably the intelligentsia—there is almost everything but a materialist understanding of things, and especially of society and its historical development. There is a glaring lack of understanding—and a crying need for people to understand—that there is a system whose basic contradictions and dynamics set the terms of things in a fundamental sense; and for people to be given, in a living and compelling way, a materialist analysis and a materialist estimate, as Lenin put it, of how this system actually works and of the role of different classes and social forces in relation to all this.

And here, speaking again about different social forces, their understanding of the problem and their aspirations towards a solution, there is a very relevant observation by Jack Belden in his book China Shakes the World, which was cited in a report by a leading comrade of our party recently:

"No social revolution, either good or bad, ever took place without the existence of a great mass of disinherited people who could furnish a new group with a base of support. In the women of China, the Communists possessed, almost ready-made, one of the greatest masses of disinherited human beings the world has ever seen. And because they found the key to the heart of these women, they also found one of the keys to victory over Chiang Kai-shek."

This recalls the crucial analysis that is contained in the passage that was cited earlier from Marx, speaking to what is necessary in order to have a "total revolution."

What a revolution really is...and really is not

This question is not only important in a general and fundamental sense, but it takes on particular significance in relation to the current "Obama phenomenon," and some of the deeper emotions his candidacy—and still more his election (and inauguration)—have called forth, and the ways in which, sad to say, this has blinded some people to what Obama is really all about and the actual nature of the system of which he's a part, of which in fact he is now the chief executive and commander-in-chief.

In this connection, perhaps the following story will shed some light. Back in the '70s when Idi Amin was still the head of the government in Uganda, I went to a party that was held at the house of one of our comrades, and there were some masses from the local area there, including a number of Black people. I was going around and listening to different conversations and just enjoying myself, but also seeking to find out what people were talking about, and in one corner there was a very lively discussion and debate about Idi Amin: One of the Black people there was vigorously upholding and defending Idi Amin, who in reality was both a flunky of imperialism and a brutal oppressor in his own right. And, finally, after listening for a while, I kind of broke in and said: "I understand, I saw that picture of Idi Amin making those British citizens carry him around on all fours. I understand the feelings that evokes. I understand why that made you feel good. But we have to get beyond that to see what Idi Amin really is." And then we began to talk about what Amin really represented—and did not represent.

The desire for revenge (for "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first") and to see one of "your own" actually "make it to the top"—this, especially under a system like this and with the pull of its ideology and the notion that the point of change is for oppressed individuals to "have their chance" to be in a position of privilege and power, is understandably, even if very wrongly, quite strong. And, to come up to the present situation in the U.S., we hear of many people, particularly Black people, saying things like: "We've had a revolution, it's a new America." No, we haven't had a revolution, and it's not a new America. There is something different going on: You have a different kind of president who comes from a different place, and has a different color, if you will. But that is not a revolution, and it is not a new America. It's the same old America, the same old imperialist state, trying to get over better in the world, as well as among people in the U.S.—including Black people in particular—with its murderous and brutally oppressive program.

Malcolm X, even with certain definite limitations in his outlook and understanding, had many important insights, and among them was the way in which he made the point that revolutions are not just a change within the existing system, and that revolutions are not made through the ballot box. As he put it, revolutions overturn systems. This is not what's happened with the election of Obama. What system has been overturned? What fundamental relations in society and the world have been radically changed, in the interests of the masses of people? None. A change of face, a change of color, is not a revolution and it does not a "new America" make.

In a very concise and scientific way, Mao Tsetung spoke to what a revolution is, when he pointed out that a revolution means nothing less than the overthrow of one class by another. A revolution means that the hold of a reactionary ruling class over society—as concentrated in that class's monopoly of political power, embodied in a state (armed forces, courts and prisons, bureaucracies, etc.) representing and serving the interests of that ruling class—is broken and thoroughly dismantled, through a determined struggle of masses of people, organized around a program of radical change—and a new state, representing the interests of a rising revolutionary class, is established in place of the old state. It means that a whole different system is brought into being.

Which class in America has been overthrown, by which other class, with the election of Obama? What new state has been brought into being? What new system? None. It's the same class ruling and the same system, being presided over by a new face with a new color. It's not even "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." It's just one of those who looks like the "last" joining, and heading up, the "first" to keep the "last" last.

The revolution we need—a real revolution, and in particular a revolution aiming for the final goal of communism—has to set its sights on first bringing into being a radically new state, which represents the revolutionary interests of the proletariat in finally abolishing all relations of exploitation and oppression. And then the revolution must be carried forward from there. The long-term and fundamental aim of this revolution is uprooting and eliminating class antagonisms, indeed all class divisions, and everything bound up with this; and in achieving this, throughout the world, the conditions will be created for the withering away of the state—as an instrument of organized, forcible class suppression—and its replacement by forms of association and functioning among the people that enable them to make decisions affecting their interaction with the rest of nature, and their interaction with each other, without class distinctions or any oppressive divisions. This obviously involves something radically different and better than "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." But the election of Obama is not even that.

Revolutions are called forth fundamentally by contradictions in the economic base—by the way in which people are exploited and the way in which the functioning of the economy proceeds through certain relations among people which have become outmoded, which can no longer meet the needs of society in a fundamental sense. This—through many different channels and not directly one-to-one, but nevertheless in an overall sense—calls forth the need for radical change in society, and people more or less consciously come to an understanding of this and act to bring about changes in accordance with their understanding.

At the same time, as I have emphasized before, while they proceed from, or are called forth by, contradictions in the economic base of society—with the outmoded character of the fundamental economic relations, and the way in which they are a fetter on society, becoming particularly acute—revolutions are not made in the sphere of production. They are made in the realm of the superstructure of politics and ideology, through a struggle which ultimately takes its highest and most concentrated form in the all-out struggle to determine who—that is, which class, representing which economic and political and social system and relations—will actually rule society and transform society in accordance with how its most conscious representatives understand the problems and the solutions. That is what a revolution is. Measure that against the election of Obama and see how his election stands in relation to that.

The communist revolution is a radically different revolution from all previous ones, in that it is made in the interests of, and fundamentally by, the class—that is, the proletariat—whose interests lie not simply in changing positions within society (let alone just changing some faces) but in radically transforming society to abolish all economic, social and political relations, and all ideas and culture, which embody and enforce exploitation and oppression—not just in one place or one part of the world, but throughout the world as a whole. It involves and requires the advance to a society, a world, not divided into classes and into oppressors and oppressed, a communist society and world.

Winning people to be communists, emancipators of humanity

In light of that, I want to speak once again to the crucial importance of bringing forward and continually strengthening the communist solid core of, in turn, a broader revolutionary movement—a movement aiming for revolution and nothing less. This stresses once again the great importance of struggling to win people to the whole orientation of being emancipators of humanity, in opposition to notions of revenge—"the last shall be first, and the first shall be last"; "this is my chance to have a go at being in the top position," and so on—which is, to a large degree, the spontaneous way in which people see the question of change in society, when and insofar as they think about this. So there has to be a struggle for people to break out of, to rupture with, that outlook, and to become emancipators of humanity—to be striving consciously for the abolition of not just this or that particular oppressive relation, and not just a change of place within the framework of oppression and exploitation, but the abolition of all oppression and exploitation throughout the world.

This underlines why it is so crucial to pay so much attention, now, to questions of the communist outlook, orientation and aims, in contrast to outlooks and programs representing the interests and aspirations of other classes, and particularly in contrast to the outlook and interests of the bourgeoisie and to what is concentrated in the phrase "bourgeois right": the notion of "right" (or rights) within the framework of bourgeois society, a society dominated by an exploiting class, a society founded on, embodying and enforcing relations of exploitation. There is a crucial importance to this if there is ever going to really be a revolution and if that revolution is actually going to lead to a radically new world.

At the same time, while it is important to wage this struggle among basic masses—the exploited proletarians and others held down at the base of society—there is also the crucial importance of winning over a section of intellectuals—and, more broadly speaking, educated youth—to the vision but also the actual goal of communism. Repeatedly, we see that the strivings of youth for a better world, even to the degree that they do get spontaneously expressed, become diverted, and perverted, degraded and vitiated by the ruling class. And, again, Obama's role is a concentrated example of that. We see a lot of youth today, for example, rallying to Obama's broad call to do "service" to the country in one form or another—not simply military service, but even service in other ways—in education or in terms of the infrastructure or other needs of the country, as these are perceived and framed by the ruling class that Obama is a representative of and serves. What Obama is calling for is service to imperialism—to the bloody system which crushes, degrades and brutalizes, and literally slaughters millions of people, year after year, decade after decade, in the service of exploitation, and to reinforce oppressive relations, including those between oppressor and oppressed nations and peoples, and the oppression of women.

There is, with Obama, this whole echo today of John Kennedy's [speaking in New England accent]: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Obama is very consciously echoing this with his call to service. And, as an article in issue number 153 of Revolution pointed out, this is being directed, distorted and perverted toward service to U.S. imperialism. This is something people learned back in the 1960s. One very significant manifestation of this occurred with people who went into the Peace Corps and then found out what imperialism was actually doing and what they were being directed and led to do as part of an imperialist agency—and who then came back and formed groups like Returned Volunteers, which were explicitly anti-imperialist. They learned in those times, in a situation where people were rising up against imperialism around the world, what the actual relations were that they were being called on to give service to, by being part of imperialist agencies like the Peace Corps. They learned that things like the Peace Corps were an "adjunct" to, and part of the same overall apparatus as, the U.S. military, the CIA, and other instruments of violent, life-crushing imperialist domination and exploitation—and they rebelled against that. This underscores how crucial it is that people break out of the imperialist-constructed framework in which they are conditioned to see the possibility of making contributions to a better world: the ways in which that is distorted and perverted to the literally bloodthirsty aims of imperialism—yes, as represented by Obama, no less than Clinton, no less than "W" Bush, and all the others.

At the same time, we see how in the world today there is the growing phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism, an outmoded world-view, representing outmoded relations, highly oppressive relations, including the enslavement of women in many different forms. People are drawn to that because they see it as a force actually opposing the dominant imperialist powers of the West (however they understand that), represented above all by the U.S. In this connection it is worth recalling again the comment made by a bourgeois observer about people in England who carried out what were objectively acts of terrorism there, on the basis of being influenced by this Islamic fundamentalist ideology. He noted that a generation ago these people, or many of them, would have been Maoists. Now, as I've stressed before, the point is most decidedly not that Maoists carry out the same kind of tactics as Islamic fundamentalists—clearly communists have a very different world outlook and different fundamental objectives and, flowing from that, very different tactics—but the essential point here is that a few decades ago, in circumstances where, in the world overall, revolutionary communism had a much more powerful impact and influence, such people, or many of them, would have been in a radically different and much better place, being drawn to a radically different and truly liberating world outlook and a whole different strategy for changing the world that relies upon and draws forward the masses of people, women no less than men, and aims to uproot all relations of exploitation and oppression, and doesn't seek to terrorize sections of the people into accepting a new form of oppression, or a slightly altered form of oppression.

In this context it is also worth recalling a front page article in the New York Times, on December 24 of last year (2008), where it quotes a youth in a Middle Eastern country, saying that the Islamic fundamentalist movement is for youth like him what Pan-Arabism was for his parents' generation.

This general phenomenon is something that I've pointed to and analyzed in some depth in the book Away With All Gods!—Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. But one thing that was not sufficiently spoken to there (I have spoken to this elsewhere but I actually wish I had spoken to it more in that book...but I'll speak to it here [laughs]) is that, besides the phenomenon of masses of poor people from the countryside—peasants and so on—being uprooted and thrown into the urban areas, and in particular the shantytowns, in countries throughout the Third World, there is also the phenomenon of educated youth who are, however, educated (as one bourgeois commentator put it) on a certain narrow foundation: people who go to college to become engineers or technicians or similar occupations, but find their aspirations for that thwarted by the corruption of the governments in those countries (this is how many of these youth spontaneously see this), but fundamentally by the fact that the economy of those countries and their role within the overall framework of imperialism cannot provide an outlet for these aspirations—to put it simply, cannot provide enough positions and jobs for people who do get the education and training in these spheres. This is one of the sources that is feeding organized Islamic fundamentalist trends and movements within many of these countries. And this is feeding Islamic fundamentalism—and other religious fundamentalism—in today's world more broadly.

In opposition to this, there is a need to much more broadly and deeply capture the imagination of people generally, basic masses but also educated youth—to inspire them with the vision of communism and win them to its truly liberating outlook and goals, win them to truly be emancipators of humanity seeking to abolish all shackles, mental as well as economic, social and political, that hold down the masses of people—as a key part of building the overall movement for revolution, toward the final aim of a communist world. This is an extremely important point, and something I'll come back to: the attractiveness of what is represented by communism, and the need to much more boldly and vigorously put this forward and fight for it among educated youth, as well as among basic masses, and other sections of the people.

Relying on the masses, but not on spontaneity, even in socialist society

But first I want to speak to another basic contradiction that is a key obstacle, or key factor to be taken into account and to be struggled through, in the course of our revolution in the broadest historical sense. And that is the contradiction between the fact that in fundamental terms the advance to communism must be the conscious act of the masses of people making up the great majority of society and on the other hand what has been brought out through the experience of socialist societies so far, namely, that even in socialist society spontaneity cannot be relied on to continue the advance on the socialist road toward communism. Another way to formulate this is: the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat and for a vanguard leadership, in relation to—and in some important ways in contradiction to—the need for this state (dictatorship of the proletariat) to increasingly be radically different from all previous forms of the state.

It is for very good reason that we have opposed bourgeois-democratic notions of how the will of the people gets expressed, especially in a society dominated by exploiters. Even with regard to socialist society, we have correctly resisted the notion of this being identified, in essential terms, with the people voting in elections, and in particular elections involving competing political parties. Not that there is no role for that kind of thing in socialist society but, very correctly and very importantly, we have rejected the notion that this is the essential way in which the masses can express their will and in which their interests can be served.

This notion (that such elections—at least in socialist society—are the essential means for the expression of the will of the masses of people) goes along with a lot of tailing of spontaneity and a misconception that the masses, in their majority, are always, and more or less spontaneously, in a mood to continue advancing on the socialist road toward communism, and therefore they will always be inclined to support those people who put forward that kind of program. In line with this, there is also the misconception that the only real problem, in socialist society in particular, is to make sure that leaders don't become corrupt and bureaucracies and bureaucrats don't take over and divert the course of the revolution; that the key task is to find the means for the masses to supervise the leaders and prevent the leaders from going bad. Now, it is not that there is no role for any of this, but to identify this as the essence of the problem is to seriously misapprehend the actual, fundamental problems, to seriously underestimate, and mis-assess, the fundamental contradictions underlying the very real difficulty and struggle that is involved in advancing on the socialist road toward communism, once power has been seized and the socialist state—the dictatorship of the proletariat—has been established.

It will not be possible to resolve the very real problems and contradictions that do have to be confronted, if the "solution" involves idealizing and romanticizing the masses, and ignoring the very real conditions and social forces, material and ideological, that pull in contradictory directions on the masses of people, even in socialist society—including the fact that sections of the masses at any given time can be pulled back toward the old ways, especially in the face of the difficulties that are bound to be encountered in transforming society on the socialist road in a world still dominated by imperialism and other exploiters and powerful reactionary forces, and in a situation where it requires continual struggle to keep advancing on the road of revolution.

Fundamental errors of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist): wrong conception of the problems, wrong "solutions"

In this regard I want to make some observations concerning the seriously erroneous thinking of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).5

The CPN(M) has put forward a view and a program which in essence identifies communism with bourgeois democracy (that is the actual meaning of its notion of "communism of the 21st century"). This party has become precisely the representative of the fundamentally erroneous view that the masses spontaneously will always desire to continue on the revolutionary road, and therefore they will always support those leaders who represent that road and who put forward programs to advance on that road; and that the masses will, through their actions, if allowed to do so, correct the leaders who deviate from that road, so to speak. This, again, is a fundamental underestimation and misunderstanding of the real and decisive contradictions in socialist society—in the economic base, in the political and ideological superstructure, and in the relation between the base and superstructure—especially in the context of a world still dominated by imperialism.

Now, there are real contradictions, which they seem to be addressing. But their program is seeking to provide a fundamentally wrong answer. And this is related to the fact that they are not correctly identifying the problem. Once again, different classes see the problems and solutions differently.

From the point of view of communism and advancing on the socialist road toward communism, there is this profound, and often acutely posed, contradiction: If, in fact, the emancipation of humanity has to be the conscious act of growing numbers of the masses of people—even while the notion that elections represent the most essential means for the expression of the political will of the masses, and the conception that they will always be spontaneously gravitating towards the program of communism and advancing on the socialist road, is wrong and must be rejected—it can't be the case that at every key point when the spontaneity of the masses is going in another direction, the communists have to step in and act instead of—or even in opposition to—the masses. It will never be correct, nor serve the revolutionary advance to communism, to institutionalize things in such a way that coercion becomes the essential means through which the masses are maintained—or an attempt is made to maintain the masses—on the socialist road. Such a concept is itself profoundly wrong and will lead to the same dead-end as tailing the masses and seeking to rely on spontaneity; and ultimately, or not so ultimately, it will lead to the restoration of capitalism, where socialism has been established.

This is a very real contradiction and thorny problem. We have to develop the ways in which the socialist road is forged through the conscious initiative of the masses, and we must not in fact attempt to do this through the party acting instead of the masses; at the same time, the spontaneity of the masses and its limitations has to be correctly understood and the means have to be developed, with the leadership of the communist vanguard, for the masses to grasp the necessity of advancing, and then actually to fight consciously to continue advancing, on the socialist road—through all the contradictory motion that's involved in that, and not with an idealized vision which assumes that this is going to be a matter of all the masses marching uniformly and in unison toward the goal of communism at every point and with every twist in the road. This goes back to the point that was stressed (almost two decades ago now) in "The End of a Stage—The Beginning of a New Stage,"6 about unresolved contradictions in socialist society and the way in which this calls forth social forces within that society which still demand and are striving for radical change, which the vanguard party has to embrace in the largest sense—learn from, and also struggle over and actually lead to become part of the process of continuing to advance on the socialist road toward communism.

All the understanding, which has been brought forward as part of the new synthesis,7 concerning the role and importance of dissent in socialist society, and the necessary turmoil and "messiness" of the process, has everything to do with being able to embrace all this and lead it toward the goal of communism, while doing so with a full recognition of the contradictoriness of this whole process—and within that constantly looking for and seeking to encourage and support forces which come forward, or can be brought forward, in relation to these unresolved contradictions under socialism, contradictions which propel these forces in the direction of seeking to continue the radical transformation of society, even though at any given time that won't spontaneously be reflected uniformly among the masses, or even perhaps among the majority of people, as a conscious desire to continue to struggle for communism. That's where the role of the vanguard constantly comes in—interacting with these forces and with movements, struggles, and aspirations that are called forth, by the very contradictions still existing in socialist society—continually finding, and forging, the means to embrace all this in an overall sense and lead it toward the goal of communism.

But the idea that, as the CPN(M) argues, all this can be handled through elections with competing parties, and that the masses are always going to gravitate in their majority toward the socialist road and therefore will always elect communists as the leaders of the new society, so long as the communists are not deviating from the correct path and are not becoming overlords over the masses—this is completely naive and idealist.

And this relates to the CPN(M)'s fundamentally wrong viewpoint and method philosophically—its whole approach of combining two into one, in opposition to the correct understanding of contradiction: the understanding that all of life and reality, including society and its transformation, is driven forward by contradiction, and the struggles this gives rise to. The CPN(M) is in fact putting forward the idea that you can handle contradictions—and even that you can avoid the eruption of what are objectively antagonistic contradictions—by seeking to reconcile opposing positions, which in reality always means conciliating, in the final analysis, to what's old and what's reactionary. This is in opposition to recognizing that things will constantly divide out in terms of opposing forces—in terms of contradictions—and that it is a question of constantly recognizing and acting to strengthen what's new, what's revolutionary and what represents the radical transformation of society. That the resolution of contradictions is achieved, and can only be achieved, through struggle. And that when the relations are objectively antagonistic, this resolution will involve, and require, antagonistic struggle, just as when they are not antagonistic then the resolution can be achieved through non-antagonistic struggle—but struggle nonetheless. Contradiction, all contradiction, is resolved through struggle and not through conciliation. This is the difference—the fundamental and essential difference—between the approach of "combining two into one" and that of "dividing one into two": between seeking to conciliate and to reconcile contradictions rather than to resolve them through struggle, either antagonistic or non-antagonistic struggle, depending on the particular nature of the contradiction and the corresponding character of the struggle.

So in this connection, it is important to take the measure, so to speak, of the widespread trend—which is very pronounced in the CPN(M) but also finds expression among others in the ICM, unfortunately—the trend of forces seeking (whether they realize it or not) to reinvent the wheel: to act, and often with no small amount of arrogance, as if they have come up with some startling new discoveries concerning the reasons for the restoration of capitalism in formerly socialist countries and the means for preventing this, when all they have really done is retreat into and rehash worn-out bourgeois-democratic analyses, prejudices and prescriptions, as a supposed analysis of, and remedy for, the reversal of socialism and the overall setback of the communist movement in the last several decades. They have singularly ignored—or, in any case, have failed to seriously engage, let alone to really absorb—the crucial analysis of Mao's on the character of socialist society and the danger of capitalist restoration, and the real lessons to be drawn from this experience, which fundamentally confirm Mao's analysis and approach. At the same time, they have ignored—or dismissed with no, or only very superficial, engagement—the extensive work our party has done around this, which finds expression in the new synthesis and the overall body of work and method and approach of which this new synthesis is, in important ways, a concentration. All this is spoken to powerfully in the Manifesto from our party, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage.

In a very real and fundamental sense, the question of how to view contradiction, and how to understand the means for dealing with contradictions, runs through all of this. The idea that if communist parties have splits—or if antagonistic struggle breaks out within communist parties, in or out of power (to use that shorthand phrase)—that shows that somehow the leaders mishandled the contradictions: this notion is nothing but another expression of the phenomenon that Marx identified and analyzed so insightfully and penetratingly, with regard to the position of the petite bourgeoisie and the thinking that reflects this position, which envisions that it can stand above the great antagonism of the contending classes. Contradictions and struggles within communist parties are a reflection—and in some significant ways a concentrated reflection or expression—of the larger contradictions in society between real and opposing class and social forces which in turn are embedded in, and embody, real material contradictions in the relations of production and the social relations and which find expression in the political institutions and structures and the superstructure as a whole, including ideas and culture.

This is why, despite the best efforts of someone like Mao to prevent splits, such splits repeatedly occurred throughout the history of the Chinese Communist Party. After all, it was Mao who insisted on the basic principles: practice Marxism, not revisionism; unite, don't split; be open and aboveboard, don't intrigue and conspire. He meant all that, and he practiced all that. But adhering to these principles cannot do away with the existence of the bourgeoisie and the fundamental relations in which its continuing existence is grounded, the ways in which it is constantly regenerated, not only in capitalist society but in socialist society as well, and the ways in which this gets expressed within the communist party itself, among people who take up the bourgeois world outlook and the aspirations that go along with that—who see the problems and solutions in a way that corresponds to the outlook and interests of the bourgeoisie. To think that you can avoid—and that you should make a principle of avoiding—splits with forces like that is in reality (and whatever one's intentions) to establish a principle of compromising away fundamental principles and of conciliating with, and ultimately capitulating to, the exploiting classes.

As I have pointed out previously in correspondence to other leading comrades of our party—and this is very relevant to the situation today in the ICM:

"The following from 'Conquer the World’ and specifically the section 'Leninism as the Bridge' is indeed very relevant, insightful and incisive: 'To put it somewhat provocatively, Marxism without Leninism is Eurocentric social-chauvinism and social democracy. Maoism without Leninism is nationalism (and also, in certain contexts, social-chauvinism) and bourgeois democracy.'"8

And, in what I wrote to other leading comrades, I went on to say:

"Along with this, we should clearly understand—and here again the Manifesto speaks to the substance of this very well and importantly—that today Maoism without Bob Avakian's new synthesis will turn into its opposite. Instead of making the leap forward that is required, there will be a retreat backward, ending up sooner or later—and perhaps not that much later—in outright opposition to revolutionary communism."

Communism as a Science—Not a "Scientific Ideology"

Next I want to speak to the question of communism as a science and why it is not correct to conceive of it as a "scientific ideology," as someone has raised recently in a written criticism of the characterization in our party's Constitution, in the opening sentence of the Appendix, where it says: "Communism is both a science and a revolutionary political movement." The opposition that is expressed by this criticism, with the formulation "scientific ideology," represents another two into one. It is another version of a trend in the international movement toward reification of the proletariat (in effect, reducing the overall and fundamental interests of the proletariat to identification with individual proletarians) and of "class truth" ("proletarian truth") and a notion of, in effect "proletarian science." It is a form of relativism—which, in fact, "class truth" is, in essential terms—it is (to put it in the popular parlance of our times) another form of "identity politics," with the corresponding relativism.

Now, in discussion of this criticism, some important points have been made by some comrades in refutation of this argument about "scientific ideology." It has been pointed out that this argument amounts to an attempt to create ideology and philosophy which stand outside or above science—ideology and philosophy which are, in the words of this criticism, "a higher level of abstraction" than science.

It is worthwhile getting into this further here, because this touches on some fundamental principles and questions of outlook and methodology which are not only relevant for our party but are crucial for our movement overall and its fundamental objectives.

Part of this argument for why we should call communism a "scientific ideology" explicitly involves a reference to—but in fact a misuse or a misunderstanding of—an analogy I once made, comparing the understanding of reality to the handling of fire (or a burning object): you can't pick up something that is burning with your bare hands, you need an instrument with which to handle that burning object. This is true—there is validity to the analogy, properly understood—but it in no way negates the need for what we could call "scientific objectivity." Applying this analogy, the "instrument" we need for understanding and transforming reality, in all its complexity, is an outlook and method that is not subjective ("class truth"), but one that correctly reflects objective reality—dialectical materialism, which, as I have repeatedly stressed, provides the means for being scientific in the most consistent, systematic, and comprehensive way, if it is correctly grasped and applied, and is not vitiated with subjectivity of one kind or another, including what amount to instrumentalist notions of "class truth."

That such subjectivity is what the author of this criticism has fallen into is shown by the fact that he goes on to argue that we need a certain partisan ideology, in the wrong sense—in the manner of arguing, in effect, that everybody approaches things with certain preconceptions, and communism represents our partisan approach, embodying our set of assumptions, or preconceptions. This is a way of treating ideologies as "narratives," and including communist ideology in this—subjective—category of "narratives." This ends up negating the scientific character of communism, even while calling it a "scientific ideology." It goes along with a misunderstanding, and misuse, of the fact that, yes, everyone does come to anything, including science and any scientific process, with certain assumptions. It falls into—or at least lends itself to—the relativist argument that, since everyone is proceeding according to certain assumptions, then there is no basis for (so to speak) "separating out the subjective from the objective," and really arriving at the truth. It negates the fact that, even with regard to assumptions from which people may be proceeding, it is possible to determine, and to distinguish, which are valid and objectively true assumptions and which are not.

In other words, the fact that we come to things with certain assumptions, or preconceptions, does not rule out the fact—the very important fact—that even those assumptions or preconceptions can, and should, be repeatedly subjected to scientific analysis themselves, to see if they have been and if they remain valid (which, however, does not mean calling everything into question all the time). There is an objective basis, as well as an objective need, to test the assumptions, as well as the conclusions, with which people enter into and with which they carry out the process of science of any kind, including the scientific process of making revolution. Ultimately, this characterization of communism as "scientific ideology," and the arguments in support of this formulation, actually negate not only the scientific character of communism in particular but also the scientific character of science and of the scientific method in general.

This argument in favor of characterizing communism as a "scientific ideology" also insists that "philosophy regulates theory." There is truth in the assertion that one's particular ideological standpoint determines—or has a major influence on—how one develops theory and to what use one puts theory. But, once again, a serious problem enters in when ideology is reduced to a subjective standpoint—which is what is done in this line of argumentation, whether or not that is the conscious intent. This argumentation, including specifically the assertion that "philosophy regulates theory," negates the scientific standard and scientific criteria for evaluating philosophy itself as well as particular theories. Does the philosophy (or the theory) actually correctly reflect reality, or does it not? That is a test that can be applied, and should be applied, by proceeding according to the scientific method—and, above all, the scientific outlook and method of dialectical materialism.

Further light is shed on this by the fact that this argument (in favor of the formulation that communism is "scientific ideology") cites Althusser to the effect that ideology is class struggle in the realm of theory. This is another relativist and idealist formulation. Ideology is a worldview and a set of values. There is class struggle in the realm of ideology, as there is in the realm of theory, but ideology itself is not class struggle. This, yet again, is akin to—and in fact a form of advocacy of—"class truth." Once more, the correctness, or incorrectness, of a particular ideology—whether or not it corresponds to reality—is something which can be objectively determined, and that determination is not reducible to—and is not in essence—a matter of class struggle. As emphasized in Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA: "truth is objective, does not vary in accordance with differing class interests, and is not dependent on which class outlook one brings to the pursuit of the truth." (Part IV, "The New Challenges, and the New Synthesis")

This argument (for why communism should be considered not a science but a "scientific ideology") also involves a wrong understanding, as opposed to a correct understanding—or a wrong line, as opposed to the correct line—on the principle that Marxism "embraces but does not replace" all the different spheres of human endeavor and thinking. At one point in the course of this argument it is said that, as such, communism has nothing to say about specific theories in different fields or disciplines of science—physics or biology or whatever. Now, it is true that there is the particularity of contradiction—that each of the phenomena or processes that fall, generally speaking, within these different spheres of biology or chemistry or physics, etc., have their particularities. And you can't resolve them by just imposing, shall we say, communist principles in general. But to wall off the one from the other—a specific sphere, or a particular phenomenon, on the one hand, and the question of outlook and method, on the other hand (or, to put this another way, the "does not replace" aspect, on the one hand, and the "embraces" aspect, on the other hand)—and to argue that communism doesn't methodologically enter into the equation (if you will) of how these problems are approached and understood is, once again, wrong. It in effect negates the "embraces" aspect—the fact that, while not replacing them, communism does embrace all these particular spheres and the particular contradictions and phenomena within these spheres. It amounts to making an absolute separation where there is not, and cannot be, such a separation. Outlook and methodology "penetrates into" and has an influence on how particular phenomena will be studied, investigated, probed, synthesized and understood—or not—correctly. This does not negate the fact—one which we have very rightly insisted on—that people who do not uphold and apply the outlook and method of dialectical materialism can and do arrive at important truths. But it remains true that dialectical materialism provides the most consistent, systematic and comprehensive means for engaging, and learning about—and having the most scientifically founded basis for transforming—objective reality; and, once again, this does have implications for—it does "embrace" and apply to—all spheres of human endeavor.

As can be extrapolated from what I have said so far, this argument (communism is a "scientific ideology") involves a wrong line, as opposed to a correct line, on the very important principle that communism as a world outlook and method is both objective and partisan. This argument basically amounts to saying that communism is partisan, while in essence denying that it is objective, even if that is not explicitly denied.

This goes against very important principles that were being emphasized in the discussion with comrades on epistemology, in the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy9 : the particular point about how truth does not have a class character but different truths enter into the class struggle, and the whole rich process that's being envisioned and argued for there, in terms of how communism correctly embraces everything and seeks to know everything that's actually true—even when, in the short term sense, particular truths may work against the things that we're fighting for, but then in the larger sense, if correctly handled, they can become part of the process that leads to the objectives we're struggling for. That contradictory motion and struggle—and all the richness involved in that process—is undermined and opposed by this incorrect line on objective and partisan (which is part of the argument for why communism should be considered not a science but a "scientific ideology"). Because communism is objective, it can be partisan on behalf of the proletariat—and, in fact, can be so in a thoroughgoing way—and only to the degree that it is actually objective can it really be partisan in the essentially correct sense—can it, in other words, really serve and further the most fundamental interests of the proletariat.

Some observations on what science is and some essential aspects of the scientific method

This leads into the broader question of what is the correct understanding of what science is. I was recently reading the book The Canon (or, more specifically, the first part of that book) by Natalie Angier. She recounts some discussions she had with a number of scientists on this question: what is science, and what is the scientific method? One of the essential things that comes through is that science involves, as a fundamental starting point, accepting and working with the world as it actually is, and not as you would wish it to be. This is, as we know, a fundamental dividing line, epistemologically and methodologically, and it has everything to do with what I have been speaking to here.

Science, we need to emphasize again, is not a mystery. There are specific spheres and disciplines of science which do have their own particularities—and which do, yes, require specialization and hard work to learn about them and make advances in them. This is where the correct application of "embraces but does not replace" comes in for communists. But the basic scientific outlook and scientific method is something that anyone can and everyone should grasp and apply to reality—not that everyone will do this, at least in a systematic way, in this kind of society, but looking to the future and in terms of what we're striving and struggling for, we should have an orientation and an understanding that anyone can and everyone should grasp and apply the scientific outlook and method, and by doing so, and persevering in doing so, ordinary people (that is, non-specialists, and not only specialists in various fields) can learn important things, not only about reality overall but about science itself and about particular spheres of science, even ones that are highly complex and involve a high level of abstraction.

The following, then, are some key principles of science and the scientific method as well as, in particular, the scientific outlook and method of communism, dialectical materialism.

First, as came through in the discussions Natalie Angier had with a number of scientists, there is the fundamental point of orientation of approaching the world as it actually is, and not as we would like it to be.

Along with this is the importance of proceeding according to the understanding that all reality consists of matter in motion, of material reality which is constantly moving and changing and undergoing transformation, through leaps, from one state of matter (and not anything else) to another state (or form) of matter.

There is the process of learning about matter in motion through empirical investigation of actually existing material reality in different particular forms (gathering evidence in this way, so to speak). In this regard, there is Mao's famous statement that to learn about the pear you have to change it by eating it—he didn't just say you have eat it, he said you have to change it by eating it. It is a fact that you do change reality by investigating it, but this understanding can, and should, be incorporated into and utilized as part of the scientific method and approach.

There is the importance, in the whole process, of synthesizing what is learned through this approach (that is, by empirical investigation of the actual existing material reality): making the leap from facts, data, etc., accumulated in this way to rational conclusions about these facts, data, etc.—and in particular by identifying the patterns that emerge through this process. (In this connection, I'll just refer people once again to the article "'A Leap of Faith' and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods"10 and to Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, in particular the section "Reason Has Not 'Failed Us'—Reason Is Absolutely Necessary—Though, In Itself, It Is Not Enough" in Part Four, "God Does Not Exist—We Need Liberation Without Gods.")

In terms of science, the scientific method, and in particular the scientific outlook and method of communism, it is crucial to constantly be striving to maintain a spirit and method of critical thinking and openness to what is new and what challenges accepted or received wisdom. This involves repeatedly re-examining what is believed by oneself and/or the prevailing opinions in society, etc., to be true: repeatedly subjecting this to further testing and interrogation from the challenges of those who oppose this and of reality itself, including the ways that the ongoing development of material reality may bring to light new facts—that is, newly discovered or newly understood aspects of reality which pose challenges to the accepted wisdom. However, it is very important to emphasize, this does not mean falling into agnosticism and relativism, denying objective truth and in particular acting as if everything must be called into question, as if nothing is known or can be counted on as being true, whenever new discoveries, or new theories or hypotheses, call into question certain ideas previously determined or thought to be true. The scientific process and scientific knowledge, and knowledge in general, is not advanced in this way and cannot be advanced in this way—at least not in any kind of sustained sense—but is advanced by proceeding on the basis of what has previously been established to be true, especially where this has been established through mutually reinforcing evidence and rational conclusions drawn from a range of sources; and then to further probe and learn about reality and use the accumulated store of human knowledge, including with regard to methodology, in evaluating new evidence, new theories, new challenges to what has been held to be true, and so on.

This basic point of method is, for very good reason, emphasized a number of times in the book on evolution by Ardea Skybreak, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters. And it is articulated in the "Defend Science" statement (which is also reproduced as an appendix in that book), particularly in the following, just before the conclusion of the "Defend Science" statement:

" thing the overwhelming majority of scientists have in common is their understanding that, when conducting scientific investigation and applying the scientific method, it is essential to use as a starting point previously accumulated scientific knowledge—the storehouse of well-established scientific evidence about reality which has previously been arrived at through concrete and systematic scientific observation and experiment and has been subjected to rigorous scientific review and testing. This is what we scientists stand on as our foundation when we set out to further investigate reality and make new discoveries. This is how science has been done and how it has advanced for hundreds of years now, and this has allowed science to benefit humanity in countless ways." ("An Urgent Call by Scientists to: DEFEND SCIENCE! In the United States Today Science, as Science, Is Under Attack as Never Before," reprinted in Ardea Skybreak, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters—see pages 322.)

Once again on objective truth, relative truth, and the fundamental opposition between scientific materialism and relativism

What is involved here, among other things, is the fundamental difference and decisive dividing line between the recognition that all human knowledge contains an element of relativeness and, on the other hand, relativism as a basic philosophical outlook and approach. Here, again, is the relation between absolute and relative truth: the fact that the universe infinitely exists and the reality that actually exists embodies absolute truth, but human knowledge at any given time, even about particular things, let alone about reality in general, contains an aspect of relativeness because the world is constantly moving and changing and it is not possible to know everything about reality ever—and even what's known about particular things, since they don't exist in isolation and aren't static and unchanging, will involve a relative element. But as Lenin stressed, there is a fundamental difference between understanding that correctly—and therefore being driven to keep on learning, on the basis of grasping and applying a correct approach to the actual relation between absolute and relative truth, and between theory and practice—and, on the other hand, falling into relativism and agnosticism, especially when some established truth may be upended and overturned in this or that particular sphere, or even in a major way.

It is a basic foundation stone of materialism that practice is the ultimate point of origin and point of verification of theory. This is opposed to notions such as those advocated by Karl Popper, for example, who insists that how well a theory withstands criticism determines whether a theory should be accepted as the most valid at any given time. In Popper's thinking (and he is certainly not alone in this) this goes along with the idea that it is after all not really possible to know what is actually true. To quote Popper directly: "We cannot establish or justify anything as certain, or even as probable, but have to content ourselves with theories which withstand criticism." (The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 2: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, Princeton University Press, Revised First Edition, 1966 [First Princeton Paperback Printing, 1971], pp. 375, 379, cited in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity." See "Marxism as a Science—Refuting Karl Popper," in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity"—also found in Revolution And Communism: A Foundation And Strategic Orientation, pp. 18-30.)

Here, ironically in the name of opposing relativism, Popper is in fact arguing very clearly for relativism—and is specifically denying and opposing the scientific principle that practice, and not "criticism," is the ultimate point of verification (as well as the ultimate point of origin) of theory.

But it is also important to emphasize that, just as it is a foundation stone of materialism that practice is the ultimate point of origin and point of verification of theory, it is equally true and crucial to grasp that what is involved in this criterion is not practice in a narrow empiricist sense, but in a broad sense, and practice not simply "taken as it is" but practice analyzed and synthesized through the application of the scientific method, and above all the most consistent, systematic and comprehensive expression of this, the scientific communist outlook and method of dialectical materialism.

A correct understanding of the relation between science and philosophy

From all this it can be seen that it is very important that we correctly understand the relation between science and philosophy, and in particular our communist philosophy, which includes morality as well as outlook and method. Communism is a world outlook and method, but once again that world outlook and method is (to put it that way) susceptible to and should be evaluated according to scientific principles. Is idealism (as a philosophical outlook) in accord with reality, or is materialism? Are static and metaphysical notions about reality (for example, the notion that things have been brought into being by some supernatural force and that, once brought into being, they have always been and will always remain the way they are) in accord with reality, or is dialectics—the understanding that all of reality involves, indeed consists of, contradiction, motion, struggle, development, and leaps from one state of matter in motion to a qualitatively different state of matter in motion—in accord with reality?

To come at this another way: Communism, it could be said, is not simply a science, in the sense that it does involve other elements, including morality, which are, strictly speaking, outside of the province of science. But all this cannot be divorced from science; and it all ultimately and fundamentally rests on, as well as needing to be continually regrounded in, what is actually true, as determined by a scientific approach and method, and no other.

So harking back to the discussion I mentioned earlier—the discussion with comrades on epistemology, on knowing and changing the world, in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy—it is very important to continually go back to, dig into and wrestle more deeply with what is said there about the relation between the scientific method and the emergence of new truths that are established through the scientific method, on the one hand, and on the other hand the struggle for communism. It is crucial to grasp what is actually being said there, in all of its richness, concerning this whole process, and why in fact it is true that even truths that make us cringe can and should—and in a real sense must—contribute to the struggle for communism, rather than being treated as something which works against it.

Further Wrangling with Meaningful Revolutionary Work

With all this as background, I want to move on to engage in some further grappling with the question of meaningful revolutionary work, as this applies both to basic masses—and more specifically basic youth—as well as to college and university students. There is a need for more systematic summation of our party's practice in this regard, in relation to "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution"—understood in its full meaning—and overall. And, besides the need for more systematic summation of practice, there is a need for further wrangling in the realm of theoretical conception, specifically in regard to meaningful revolutionary work. And, as I spoke to in "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," there is a need to grapple further, on the level of theoretical and strategic conception, with what a revolutionary situation would actually "look like" and how it could actually develop—a need which is underscored by the deep and multi-pronged crisis in which the imperialist system is now enmeshed.

Here again arises what we have referred to as the "George Jackson question"—the fact that, as George Jackson put it, the idea of revolution as some far off goal has no meaning to a slave who does not expect to live beyond tomorrow11 —and the contradictions bound up with this in terms of meaningful revolutionary work on the necessary road in a country like the U.S. (or, to put it another way, meaningful revolutionary work in relation to what is concentrated in "On the Possibility of Revolution"12 ). As has been repeatedly emphasized, this is "a tough nut to crack" and at the same time it is of decisive importance in relation to actually making revolution in a country like this. Continuing to make advances and breakthroughs in relation to this is critical in terms of really making our very advanced line—which is our great strength, or a concentrated expression of our great strength—making this very advanced line a material revolutionary political force among growing numbers of the masses of people.

A way of formulating the contradiction, which gets to the crux of things, or much of it, is this: All along the way, even before there is a revolutionary situation, and through all the work and struggle of preparing for the emergence of such a situation, how to make revolution, and the building of a movement for revolution real—and, yes, even palpable—without falling into the orientation of seeking palpable results as the means for building the movement, which would mean that it would be a non-revolutionary movement. This is a contradiction that we have to constantly be conscious of and continually working on, all along the way. (For a discussion of the fundamental error of seeking to build a movement pivoting on "palpable results," see "'Palpable results': economism, reformism and revisionism," in "Revolutionary Strategy, Bringing Forward a Revolutionary People," an excerpt from "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," in Revolution #160 [March 29, 2009], available online at into the World/Avakian_Out_into_World_pt4-en.html.)

We hear from masses of people—and I've seen this in reports recently—statements or sentiments along the following lines: "I know revolution is needed," or "I know revolution is what's gotta happen at some point," but "what do we do now, what do we do in the meantime?"

Answer? Make revolution. Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution. Prepare minds and organize forces for the time when a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people, in the millions and millions, emerges. Work actively and consciously to bring this time closer and to bring things to where we are in the best position to act decisively when this does come about. Devote your life, energy, daring and creativity to confronting, fighting through and overcoming the obstacles to making this happen, and to winning more and more people to doing the same.

That statement—that answer to this question of "what do we do now?"—is not meant to be facile or flippant. It is intended to embody all the content, and recognize all the complexity, that goes into doing that, but at the same time to stress the fact that making revolution is what we're doing every day, in order to actually be able to have a revolution, and that there is nothing more substantial or meaningful to which people can and should be devoting their lives. Of course, the meaning of this has to be fleshed out more fully—and I'm going to speak to this further here, to lay the groundwork, or some of the groundwork, for doing this more fully in an ongoing way.

In this context, I do want to emphasize a fundamental point of orientation and crucial dividing line, in the context of the already very deep and continually deepening financial/economic crisis which has gripped U.S. society and, indeed, world capitalism as a whole, involving a certain ideological "crisis of confidence" of capitalism, which is increasingly accompanying this material crisis—all of which is occurring in the context of profound challenges all-around for imperialism and U.S. imperialism in particular, with its wars for empire in the name of "war on terror." The basic point of orientation and line of demarcation is this: In the context of all this, we must not fall into the revisionist sinkhole that marked the CPUSA in the 1930s depression, or into the neo-FDRism that much of the so-called "left" and "progressives" are so abjectly and pitifully salivating and begging for now, with regard to Obama's presidency.

Here it is worth highlighting—specifically in relation to Obama, and along with the continuing exposure that has been done in our newspaper, and must continue to be done, around what Obama really represents—what is said in the statement by the March 8 Women's Organization (Iran-Afghanistan), exposing how Obama will not and cannot be fundamentally different from other imperialist heads of state, and his "good wars" are no different from what was done under Bush. (See "Revolutionary Women Cry Out: Revolution Is the Way Out for Humanity," reprinted in Revolution no. 156, February 15, 2009.) This, and other exposure of Obama, is something we have to drive home very forcefully to people.

But more generally, the point I'm stressing is that here is a deep crisis of capitalism—which all (or at least most) of the capitalist representatives, experts, pundits, and so on, are saying is not going to end any time soon—and we must not repeat the experience of the CP in the 1930s depression, of striving to crawl under—and actually crawling under—the wing of the bourgeoisie. We must very sharply struggle against that tendency, not only among ourselves, but more broadly in society.

We must remain all the more firmly grounded in a revolutionary orientation and work unswervingly and with great energy and initiative for revolution, aiming for the final goal of communism—and nothing less—as our strategic approach and the guide and measure in all our work. Let me put it this way: We really have to be about revolution, and we have to come across very clearly and boldly as being about revolution, in all we do. Not in some religious sense, not just with incantations or even just with very good exposure about the need for revolution, although that is in fact indispensable; but everything we do has to be about actually building a movement aiming for revolution, and we have to be continually straining against the limits and constantly coming back to the question of how to make revolution real and palpable without falling into fashionable means or gimmicks or, in fact, seeking palpable results as the means for building the movement.

We have to really be building a movement for revolution, consistently and systematically, and constantly struggling against the pull of spontaneity toward getting drawn into something else, something less. We have to firmly and consistently grasp, fight for and apply—and continually draw in others to take up and apply—the orientation of not just waiting for some "fine day" when revolution will come, but actually hastening while awaiting the emergence of a revolutionary situation. We have to understand more deeply and more consistently apply ourselves—and win continually greater numbers that we draw forward to understand, and act on the understanding—that "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism" (the overall ensemble of revolutionary work drawing from and expanding on the basic principles that Lenin stressed in his seminal work What Is to Be Done?), including the two mainstays within that overall ensemble, is meaningful revolutionary work. This is not something else, and it must not be reduced to or perverted into something else. The following from our party's Constitution is very relevant here:

"This work of 'hastening while awaiting' requires that the party must strain against the limits of the objective political situation it faces—working to transform the situation to the maximum degree possible at any given time and doing so in relation to, and maintaining its tenseness toward, any possible openings for revolution. To do this, it leads a whole ensemble of revolutionary preparations, with the party's press and the spreading of communist theory, especially as concentrated in the body of work, method and approach of Bob Avakian, as the mainstays of that activity." (Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, I. Preamble: Basic Principles of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, RCP Publications, 2008, p. 10)13

That whole ensemble—including the two mainstays, as actual mainstays—is meaningful revolutionary work, not just for more educated and literate strata, but for basic masses, including in particular the youth among the basic masses.

There is a very real and pressing need to win masses of people to see that this is what they should be giving their lives to. Our party's line and strategy is a way to actually make revolution, in the correctly understood sense—not that we're carrying out the struggle for the seizure of power now, but everything we're doing is building for revolution, in all of its different dimensions, as concentrated in the overall ensemble of "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism."

The continuing importance of ideological struggle—correctly waged

Once again, it is crucial to give emphasis to the ideological dimension and ideological struggle, with masses of people broadly—basic masses but also people of other strata. With regard to the basic masses in particular, and as a matter of fundamental orientation overall, while of course it is important to unite with people who hold religious views but take a stand (or can be won to take a stand) in opposition to various forms of oppression—and while it is also important to recognize that winning people, in their masses, away from religion will involve a long-term process, of struggle—this struggle cannot, and must not, be put off, or put to the side, until some future time; there is a decisive and ongoing need, even in the context of uniting in the practical struggle, to carry out very sharp struggle against religion, in all its forms—struggle waged in a living and compelling way, not in a dogmatic way and not in a way that is contemptuous of the masses in fact, but in a way that actually manifests strategic respect for them, embodying the understanding that they can, and strategically they must, cast off this mental shackle of religion and confront and transform—be part of a growing mass revolutionary movement to confront and transform—reality as it actually is.

We also have to go straight up against the mentality of a defeated and degraded people, especially as this applies among people in the inner cities. And, along with this, we have to struggle fiercely against the deceit and self-deceit around the Obama election and the Obama presidency, including the pathetically false notions—in the actual and full meaning of "pathetically"—that "we've had our revolution, it's a new day in America," which is really just defeated people mentality turned inside out, and which sets people up for further defeat and, even worse, for enlisting them in the crimes of this system, while at the same time they are further victimized by crimes of this system.

We should remember and constantly bring out the real meaning of William Bennett's comments on election night about "now, no more excuses,"14 and what all these "grand hopes and inspirations," bound up with illusions about Obama, are going to turn into when the system asserts itself according to its actual nature and dynamics and prevents the masses of people from actually being able to realize even the aspirations they spontaneously have under this system—and when this system does what it does to masses of people, in particular the masses of people in the inner cities, and then adds insult to injury by seeking to blame them for their situation, and adds even further insult by saying, "now you have no more excuses because of Obama." We really need to grasp firmly the bitter reality that's bound up in the masses getting caught up in this Obama thing, and the way this is going to be ruthlessly wielded against them.

And there is a need for ideological struggle to enable people to rupture with the "hustler mentality" and the spontaneity that goes along with the life of many of the masses in the projects and the inner cities generally.

All of this ideological struggle must be waged sharply and at times even fiercely. But in terms of basic stance and orientation, let me stress once again that it must also be waged, as I have put it previously, with our arm around the masses, maintaining a clear and firm sense of the real revolutionary potential of these masses.

We need to vigorously struggle with people—and here I am speaking especially of basic Black people and other basic masses—so that their mentality, and the actions that go along with that, are not those of a defeated people...nor a deluded people. As we put it in the special supplement, "The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of this System, and the Revolution We Need,"15 there must be a conscious confronting of the reality of being oppressed people…and transformation into becoming revolutionary people.

There is also a need, of course, for ideological struggle, waged sharply and compellingly, among other sections of the people, and in particular educated youth and the intelligentsia broadly speaking—in particular sharp struggle against the forms that bourgeois individualism and bourgeois-democratic illusions and prejudices take among these strata; struggle against idealism and various forms of relativism and petit-bourgeois "ultra egalitarianism," including as this takes form as opposition to leadership. This "ultra egalitarianism" is, at base, another form of "me first-ism"—it is a version of striving to be "first among equals," which ultimately is in the service of perpetuating this system with its profound inequalities and fundamental relations of exploitation and oppression.

I remember, decades ago, when we were opening things up to public discussion and debate about our old Programme, an anarchist wrote in and put forward standard anarchist arguments against vanguard leadership—while at the same time insisting that he's all for releasing political prisoners when the revolution comes...but if the "murderers, rapists, and psychopaths" among the incarcerated threaten his daughters, then he's going to use the training he got as a U.S. soldier in Vietnam to kill those threatening his daughters. All of a sudden, the idea that there should be guaranteed rights for people (which this person was strenuously arguing) goes up in smoke with the invocation of the prospect of this guy's property—in this case his daughters, which he is essentially treating as his property—being threatened. Here, in this apparent "flip"—from lofty sounding principles about protection from arbitrary authority, to starkly narrow individualism and "vigilante-ism"—we see a rather classical (if somewhat extreme) example of the outlook of a patriarch and a small property owner: we see, sharply revealed, the fundamental nature of this "ultra egalitarian" outlook (including, in this case, not only extreme individualism but also rather pronounced and aggressive patriarchy).

This—to invoke again the very important formulations from Marx that I cited earlier—is another expression of the outlook of the petite bourgeoisie, and more specifically of the petit bourgeois democrat—who, however, imagines that he or she is expressing some universal principle about how society ought to be, something which represents the road to the general emancipation of society, when it only represents the illusory notion of remaking the world in the image of the petite bourgeoisie and in reality leads to perpetuating this system ruled by the bourgeoisie with not only its profound inequalities, but the fundamental relations of exploitation and oppression in which this system is grounded and through which it proceeds.

Giving full expression to the attractive force of what we're all about

Directly posed against all this—and something which must be boldly put forward in a living, meaningful, powerful and compelling way—is the radically different and truly liberating outlook and objectives of revolution and communism. There is great importance to fully recognizing—and acting on the recognition of—the positive attractive force of what we are actually all about: our goals, and above all the final goal of communism, but also our outlook, methods and morals. In this regard it is very instructive to read the article by Sunsara Taylor in issue no. 152 of Revolution, "Some Thoughts on the Importance of Bob Avakian to Building a Revolutionary Movement," where she speaks precisely to the attractive force of what we represent and how radically different it is from everything else that is out there—the liberating content of this, and the way that this both calls forward inspiration among people, and also a lot of questions and struggle which, as she emphasizes, we should want and welcome, because this, too, is part of the process through which we're going to win people to what we're all about.

As I have previously emphasized, there is crucial importance to fostering, through many different means and in many different arenas, a radically different culture—among the youth and among all sections of the people—a culture of defiance, resistance, and, above all, revolution, infused with the communist emancipators of humanity ethos and spirit. Once again, this will require both determined and, yes at times, even fierce struggle, straight up against the prevailing culture (and "sub-cultures") that reflect and ultimately serve the existing system of commodification, domination, exploitation and oppression. And it will require unleashing initiative and creativity among masses who are drawn forward to the emancipators of humanity outlook.

We really should be, and increasingly need to be, calling on youth (and others) to be utilizing and giving expression to their creativity to develop and popularize this culture, in all kinds of ways, in every sphere—to be spreading this culture, and in particular the communist core of this culture, in art and all the different forms of popular expression, on the internet, and in a thousand ways which people can be unleashed to take up, when they begin to get a basic grasp of the liberating potential of what we're all about. While struggling consistently for the communist outlook to gain increasing influence within all this, we should not seek to tightly control but should seek to unleash and to, once again, "put our arms around" and strive to lead all this toward the communist goal, working through the contradictions that will inevitably be involved in this, especially if we are actually going to have a living process, which we really need to have on a much bigger scale.

In addition to, and in important ways overlapping with, the roles of certain comrades as public spokespeople and representatives for the party, and more particularly their roles in terms of fostering a culture of appreciation, promotion and popularization of our Chair, his body of work and method and approach—and with the newspaper as the hub and pivot, and organizational "scaffolding," of the revolutionary movement overall—there is a great need for propagators, in a compelling way, of the party's line and, in the correct sense, fighters and organizers for this line—people who see it as their mission, and are guided by the party's vision and line, to go out and actually fight for this line, win people to it, organize them into the revolutionary movement and struggle for them to become communists and then to join the party once they've made that leap to being communists. With even a relatively small increase in the ranks of people who are really won to do this, we could make significant advances, we could make important changes in terms of building the movement for revolution. We need to have a conscious orientation toward this, and pay systematic attention to it, both inside and outside the ranks of the party: It must be increasingly developed from within the party itself, and among those very close to and partisan to the party, at any given time, but also by bringing forward newly advancing people within the broader movements and struggles as, through our systematic work on the basis of our party's line, people are won to the revolutionary communist position.

There is a need to be much more straightforwardly putting out the challenge, especially to youth but to others as well who are drawn toward our party and its revolutionary communist line, that—even before making the leap to joining the party, but as a crucial aspect of moving in that direction—they need to advance beyond just being drawn toward the idea of revolution and weighing, "from the outside," whether they think the idea of revolution can take hold among broader numbers and can really become a powerful political force—they need to make the leap from that to taking up the challenge themselves of assuming responsibility for building the revolutionary movement, actively playing a role in figuring out how to make this happen and actually making it happen. This, too, is something to which further attention—including the further development and refining of a basic approach in this regard—needs to be seriously and systematically devoted on the part of the party leadership and the party as a whole, from here forward.

A still more deepened understanding, and living reality, of "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution"

In light of all this, we should grasp more fully everything that is embodied in the strategic orientation: "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution." We need a deepened understanding of this and more consistent and systematic application of it: by the party itself; in terms of the orientation and practical activity of the Revolution Clubs; and in an overall sense. This is not a slogan just for resistance. Nor, on the other hand, is it a slogan that is meant to encourage scholasticist discussions in the abstract (in a bad sense) of how the world could be different and how people need to change, or the idea that first we have to change ourselves before we can change the world. Quite the contrary. We need to change ourselves—and growing numbers of people have to be involved in changing themselves and others—in the context of, and in the process of, making revolution and changing the world. That is what "Fight the Power, and Transform the People"—and the dialectical unity of the different aspects involved in this, and the struggle involved in this—is all about. It is all aiming, and building, for revolution.

It should be clear to the masses—and this has everything to do with meaningful revolutionary work—especially to those masses who at any given time are drawn toward the party and to the attractiveness of what it's all about, it should be clear that when they want to stand up and fight back against oppression, this is where they go: to the vanguard, to the movement around the vanguard. When they want to grapple with the problems, the contradictions and the difficulties of how the people themselves are going to be changed in order to become revolutionary and in order to take up the challenge of making revolution, this is where they come: to the vanguard, and the revolutionary movement around it. It is not somewhere else and something else that is involved in resisting the oppression of this system and in making that resistance part of building a movement to sweep away this system and advance toward the final aim of communism. It is, it must be, this party and the movement for revolution with this party at its core.

This has to be deeply internalized on the part of the party as a whole and fought for, and won, among growing numbers of people who are drawn around the party. And, as I have been stressing here, they have to themselves take this up and—not as "a leap of faith" but on the basis of being won to this, through struggle involving substance and science—move "from the outside" and agnosticism to coming into the process and actively, themselves, taking up the challenge of building this movement for revolution, with the party at the core of that.

We have to give all this organized expression—not for economist purposes and not with an "economist culture" ("the movement is everything, the final aim nothing") but with a revolutionary culture and for revolutionary communist aims. We have to give this organized expression in various forms on the basis of consistently and systematically carrying out and fighting for this revolutionary communist line, and no other, and continually struggling to enable this line, and no other, to be in the guiding and leading position, in an overall sense. We have to actively carry out—and win others to understand the crucial need for, and to carry out—the process of preparing minds and organizing forces—for revolution.

Building a Movement for Revolution—and Nothing Less

This goes back to the answer to the question: What do we do now? We make revolution: we "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution"; we carry out the overall ensemble of "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism," with its two mainstays; we bring forward fighters for this revolution, people on a mission to win people to and organize them around the line of this party and into this revolutionary movement with the party at its core, guided by this line and no other; we prepare minds and organize forces for revolution. This is what we are, and must be, doing—now, and throughout the whole process of hastening while awaiting the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people in the millions and millions. Not in the sense that, right now and without the objective conditions and the millions of people prepared to fight for this, we're going for the seizure of power, but in the sense that everything we're doing is nothing else and nothing less than building a movement toward the goal of revolution, real revolution.

It is crucial that we maintain a firm grounding in and consistently apply our strategy of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat. To be very clear: The emphasis in this talk on the importance of class analysis—dialectical materialist analysis, not reified and reductionist "class analysis"—should not be taken to mean that we should simply "accept," and in fact tail rather than struggling with, the spontaneous outlooks of other class forces ("what do you expect?—that's just the way the petite bourgeoisie is—there's nothing you can do about it") nor, on the other hand, that we should adopt a sectarian attitude toward, and simply "write off," petit bourgeois forces, and others who spontaneously gravitate toward that outlook—a category which, it must be recognized, constitutes the great majority of people, including the majority of the basic masses, at this point. No, the point of all this is to strengthen our grasp of dialectical materialism and our ability to apply this in a living way, and to have a fuller and deeper appreciation of the strategy of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat, and of the correct relation between the two aspects of this: United Front, and Leadership of the Proletariat. But this is only important, and only correct, precisely as a strategy for revolution—revolution aiming toward the ultimate goal of communism—and nothing else, nothing less. Implementing this strategy involves building broad mass movements and mass organizations with people coming at things from different viewpoints and with different specific objectives, particularly around the major concentrations of social contradiction (in this connection see, for example, "Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—In Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution"16 ). It involves the process of unity-struggle-unity and how, through this whole rich process, the revolutionary interests of the proletariat—in the largest sense and not in a narrow and reified sense—can be brought to the fore and the ground prepared for revolution.

Going back to a repeated theme in this talk, one class or another is going to seize the reins, in the ultimate sense; and that class, headed by its leading political representatives, is going to work to bring into being the solutions that it sees in line with the way it sees the problems, in accordance with the outlook, interests and aspirations that are characteristic of that class. The only way that the revolutionary interests of the proletariat are going to be able to come to the fore and finally seize the reins, and bring about the actual solution that is in the interests of the great majority of people, and ultimately of humanity as a whole, is if the communists remain firmly grounded in that and, through all the complexity of unity-struggle-unity and the whole implementation of the strategy of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat, constantly struggle to bring to the fore these revolutionary interests and objectives and prepare the ground in this way—politically and ideologically and, yes, organizationally, preparing minds and organizing forces—for when it comes down to the situation where the fight can be waged for the seizure of power, when in fact a revolutionary situation develops, a revolutionary crisis becomes extremely acute, and a revolutionary people emerges in the millions and millions (as spoken to in Revolution And Communism: A Foundation And Strategic Orientation, including "On the Possibility of Revolution" and "Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—In Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution").

Through all this, we must keep firmly in mind the fundamental point that the party itself is the most important and decisive expression of organization of the masses, which in fact embodies the highest interests of the proletariat as a class and ultimately the emancipation of humanity.

In addition to the party itself, there is the importance of other organizations and instrumentalities following the party's line, such as the Revolution Clubs and revolutionary bookstores. And there is the need for developing other forms that give expression to the movement for revolution and a culture of defiance, resistance, revolution and communism. Once again, this must involve, as a significant aspect, unleashing the creativity of growing numbers of people, especially youth but others as well, in many different ways and many different dimensions—in an overall sense on the basis of, and guided by, the party's revolutionary communist line—to bring into being not only new forms of struggle but new forms of organization that all contribute to the process of building a movement for revolution.


So, in conclusion: We've talked about "reascending Chingkangshan."17 We've talked about once again, and even more fully, grounding our party in a revolutionary communist line and orientation, actually carrying out that line and transforming reality on that basis, through all the twists and turns that will inevitably be involved. As has been stressed before—but cannot be emphasized too many times—the point, after all, is really to make revolution, radically transform the world and advance to communism throughout the world. There isn't any other point to all this. And anything else, anything less, is something that none of us should be oriented toward, since we should clearly understand that all these other things (all these other ideas and programs, and so on) that get raised by way of distraction—or which objectively constitute a distraction or diversion—from the revolutionary path and from our objective of advancing to communism, are things we need to engage, yes, but struggle to sweep aside in a fundamental sense. Because if we don't, and if revolution is not made, the masses will continue to suffer, unnecessarily, the horrible consequences of living under the domination of this system when it has long since become outmoded. And while, as our party's Constitution clearly and powerfully states, it does not have to be this way, without our making revolution it will remain this way—this cruel irony will continue to torment and torture the masses of people and humanity as a whole—this horror will be perpetuated when, in fact, it is long past time that this should have been swept from the stage of history.

As the Manifesto from our party puts it:

There have been revolts and uprisings, massive rebellions, armed conflicts, and even revolutions in which societies, and the relations between different societies, were transformed in major ways. Empires have fallen, monarchies have been abolished, slave owners and feudal lords have been overthrown. But for hundreds and thousands of years, while many people's lives were sacrificed, willingly or unwillingly, in these struggles, the result was always that the rule of one group of exploiters and oppressors was replaced by that of another—in one form or another, a small part of society continued to monopolize wealth, political power, and intellectual and cultural life, dominating and oppressing the great majority and engaging repeatedly in wars with rival states and empires.

But, once again, this is no longer necessary. It does not have to be this way, and whether it will continue this way for generations to come—or whether radical breakthroughs will be made, and everything possible will be done at every point to advance toward the goal of communism—depends on us and others who are won to, and take up, the communist outlook and objectives. And it is this and nothing else, nothing less, which must fundamentally concern and motivate us in everything we do.


1. Bob Avakian’s talk "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" appears in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008, and is also available online at (Part 1) and (Part 2); "Out into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future" is a talk given in the first part of 2008 that was serialized in Revolution in issues #156, #157, #159, #160, and #161 (February-April 2009); Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy is available as an audio file online at and as online text at, and a pamphlet based on the talk was published by RCP Publications, 2008. [back]

2. Comrade Damián García, a much-loved member of the RCP, was assassinated by police agents in Los Angeles on April 22, 1980. Two weeks earlier he had raised the red flag over the Alamo, in place of the Texas flag, as part of the campaign to bring forward a revolutionary outpouring for May Day 1980. Bob Avakian’s "Statement on the Death of Damián García" was published in Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) #51, April 25, 1980. A portion of it is quoted in his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, Insight Press, 2005, pp. 408-409. [back]

3. By Ardea Skybreak, Insight Press, Chicago, 2006. [back]

4. Strategic Questions was a talk by Bob Avakian in the mid-1990s, and selections from it were published in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) in issues #881 and #884-893 (November 1996 through February 1997) and in issues #1176-1178 (November 24 through December 8, 2002). These selections can also be found online at [back]

5. This party, having merged with another group, is apparently now calling itself the Unified CPN(M). For a fuller discussion of the RCP, USA's fundamental differences with the line and direction which this party has increasingly adopted in the past few years, see "On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Reply from the CPN(M), (2006), published in Revolution #160 (March 29, 2009) and available at A PDF document—Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Reply from the CPN(M), 2006)—is available online at [back]

6. "The End of a Stage—The Beginning of a New Stage" is a talk by Bob Avakian in late 1989, published in Revolution magazine, no. 60 (Fall 1990). [back]

7. Bob Avakian’s new synthesis is spoken to in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," Parts 1 and 2, available at; the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008, which includes "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity"; Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, a Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, September 2008, available online at, in Revolution #143, and in pamphlet form from RCP Publications, 2008; and "Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: What IS Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis?," a speech given in various locations around the country in spring 2008, available online at [back]

8. Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will, published as Issue #50 of Revolution magazine (December 1981), available online at [back]

9. Bob Avakian, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, Insight Press, 2005, pp. 43-64. [back]

10. "'A Leap of Faith' and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods," Revolution #10 (July 31, 2005), is available online at [back]

11. Bob Avakian has addressed this "George Jackson question" in "Rereading George Jackson," part of the series "Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World," in Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) #968 (August 9, 1998), available online at [back]

12. "On the Possibility of Revolution" appears in the Revolution pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation (May 1, 2008), pp. 80-81 and in Revolution #102, and is available online at [back]

13. In addition to the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, a discussion of "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism" and the two mainstays can be found in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," Parts 1 and 2, available at and in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008; and in the speech "Making Revolution in the U.S.A.," which was serialized in Revolution newspaper beginning with issue #148 and is available online at [back]

14. See the article by Bob Avakian, "In the Wake of the Election, a Basic Point of Orientation: To the Masses…With Revolution," in Revolution #149 (November 30, 2008), available online at [back]

15. Revolution Special Issue #144, available online at [back]

16. "Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—In Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution" appeared in Revolution #102 (September 23, 2007) and is available online at and in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008. [back]

17. The phrase "reascending Chingkangshan" is drawn from a poem of that name by Mao Tsetung, and is used in this context to refer to revitalizing and reinvigorating the RCP, USA as a revolutionary communist vanguard and fully taking up its responsibilities as such. [back]

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

What a revolution really is...and really is not

Excerpt from:
On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning

By Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA

[Editors’ note: The following is an excerpt from a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year. Click here for the text of the entire talk.]

This question is not only important in a general and fundamental sense, but it takes on particular significance in relation to the current "Obama phenomenon," and some of the deeper emotions his candidacy—and still more his election (and inauguration)—have called forth, and the ways in which, sad to say, this has blinded some people to what Obama is really all about and the actual nature of the system of which he's a part, of which in fact he is now the chief executive and commander-in-chief.

In this connection, perhaps the following story will shed some light. Back in the '70s when Idi Amin was still the head of the government in Uganda, I went to a party that was held at the house of one of our comrades, and there were some masses from the local area there, including a number of Black people. I was going around and listening to different conversations and just enjoying myself, but also seeking to find out what people were talking about, and in one corner there was a very lively discussion and debate about Idi Amin: One of the Black people there was vigorously upholding and defending Idi Amin, who in reality was both a flunky of imperialism and a brutal oppressor in his own right. And, finally, after listening for a while, I kind of broke in and said: "I understand, I saw that picture of Idi Amin making those British citizens carry him around on all fours. I understand the feelings that evokes. I understand why that made you feel good. But we have to get beyond that to see what Idi Amin really is." And then we began to talk about what Amin really represented—and did not represent.

The desire for revenge (for "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first") and to see one of "your own" actually "make it to the top"—this, especially under a system like this and with the pull of its ideology and the notion that the point of change is for oppressed individuals to "have their chance" to be in a position of privilege and power, is understandably, even if very wrongly, quite strong. And, to come up to the present situation in the U.S., we hear of many people, particularly Black people, saying things like: "We've had a revolution, it's a new America." No, we haven't had a revolution, and it's not a new America. There is something different going on: You have a different kind of president who comes from a different place, and has a different color, if you will. But that is not a revolution, and it is not a new America. It's the same old America, the same old imperialist state, trying to get over better in the world, as well as among people in the U.S.—including Black people in particular—with its murderous and brutally oppressive program.

Malcolm X, even with certain definite limitations in his outlook and understanding, had many important insights, and among them was the way in which he made the point that revolutions are not just a change within the existing system, and that revolutions are not made through the ballot box. As he put it, revolutions overturn systems. This is not what's happened with the election of Obama. What system has been overturned? What fundamental relations in society and the world have been radically changed, in the interests of the masses of people? None. A change of face, a change of color, is not a revolution and it does not a "new America" make.

In a very concise and scientific way, Mao Tsetung spoke to what a revolution is, when he pointed out that a revolution means nothing less than the overthrow of one class by another. A revolution means that the hold of a reactionary ruling class over society—as concentrated in that class's monopoly of political power, embodied in a state (armed forces, courts and prisons, bureaucracies, etc.) representing and serving the interests of that ruling class—is broken and thoroughly dismantled, through a determined struggle of masses of people, organized around a program of radical change—and a new state, representing the interests of a rising revolutionary class, is established in place of the old state. It means that a whole different system is brought into being.

Which class in America has been overthrown, by which other class, with the election of Obama? What new state has been brought into being? What new system? None. It's the same class ruling and the same system, being presided over by a new face with a new color. It's not even "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." It's just one of those who looks like the "last" joining, and heading up, the "first" to keep the "last" last.

The revolution we need—a real revolution, and in particular a revolution aiming for the final goal of communism—has to set its sights on first bringing into being a radically new state, which represents the revolutionary interests of the proletariat in finally abolishing all relations of exploitation and oppression. And then the revolution must be carried forward from there. The long-term and fundamental aim of this revolution is uprooting and eliminating class antagonisms, indeed all class divisions, and everything bound up with this; and in achieving this, throughout the world, the conditions will be created for the withering away of the state—as an instrument of organized, forcible class suppression—and its replacement by forms of association and functioning among the people that enable them to make decisions affecting their interaction with the rest of nature, and their interaction with each other, without class distinctions or any oppressive divisions. This obviously involves something radically different and better than "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." But the election of Obama is not even that.

Revolutions are called forth fundamentally by contradictions in the economic base—by the way in which people are exploited and the way in which the functioning of the economy proceeds through certain relations among people which have become outmoded, which can no longer meet the needs of society in a fundamental sense. This—through many different channels and not directly one-to-one, but nevertheless in an overall sense—calls forth the need for radical change in society, and people more or less consciously come to an understanding of this and act to bring about changes in accordance with their understanding.

At the same time, as I have emphasized before, while they proceed from, or are called forth by, contradictions in the economic base of society—with the outmoded character of the fundamental economic relations, and the way in which they are a fetter on society, becoming particularly acute—revolutions are not made in the sphere of production. They are made in the realm of the superstructure of politics and ideology, through a struggle which ultimately takes its highest and most concentrated form in the all-out struggle to determine who—that is, which class, representing which economic and political and social system and relations—will actually rule society and transform society in accordance with how its most conscious representatives understand the problems and the solutions. That is what a revolution is. Measure that against the election of Obama and see how his election stands in relation to that.

The communist revolution is a radically different revolution from all previous ones, in that it is made in the interests of, and fundamentally by, the class—that is, the proletariat—whose interests lie not simply in changing positions within society (let alone just changing some faces) but in radically transforming society to abolish all economic, social and political relations, and all ideas and culture, which embody and enforce exploitation and oppression—not just in one place or one part of the world, but throughout the world as a whole. It involves and requires the advance to a society, a world, not divided into classes and into oppressors and oppressed, a communist society and world.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

What is communist leadership?

Excerpt from:
On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning

By Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA

[Editors’ note: The following is an excerpt from a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year. Click here for the text of the entire talk.]

There is a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion about the question of communist leadership, confusion which is bound up to a large degree with misconceptions about—and in some ways opposition to—the principles and objectives of communist revolution itself. Leadership—and in particular communist leadership—is, as I have been speaking to, concentrated in line. This does not simply mean line as theoretical abstractions, although such abstractions, especially insofar as they do correctly reflect reality and its motion and development, are extremely important. But in an all-around sense, it is a matter of leadership as expressed in the ability to continually make essentially correct theoretical abstractions; to formulate, to wield, and to lead others to take up and act on—and to themselves take initiative in wielding—the outlook and method, and the strategy, program, and policies, necessary to radically transform the world through revolution toward the final aim of communism; and through this process to continually enable others one is leading to themselves increasingly develop their ability to do all this. This is the essence of communist leadership.

It is not a matter of being physically present among this or that group of the masses. I have read reports which recount how people say: "How do we know Avakian really is everything you say he is, why can't we talk to him—how can we tell if he's really all that, if we're not able to see him, or if he's not right out here in our midst?" Among other things, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what communist leadership is and of the practical realities as well as the strategic orientation involved in building a movement for revolution. We are aiming to build a revolutionary movement of millions, toward the goal of actually taking hold of the reins of society and radically transforming it, when the conditions for that have come into being. As much as it is genuinely a great thing to be able to talk to masses, and to learn from them as well as to struggle with them, is it really conceivable that a leader (or any number of leaders, for that matter) of such a revolutionary process, and of the party leading that revolution, could mingle among and talk personally with all those millions of people who must ultimately make up the ranks of the revolution? If we were just thinking in terms of small little circles, and we were not really thinking about transforming society and ultimately the world as a whole, well then, OK, maybe it would be a realistic thing to demand that the small numbers of people who would then be involved be able to have personal contact ("face time") with the leader of that. In that case, however, who cares—it wouldn't have anything to do with what we are supposed to be, and really must be, all about: making revolution and advancing toward the final goal of communism throughout the world. If we are really thinking about millions of people being involved—and, yes, being led—and at the same time learning from those millions of people, and synthesizing all this in a scientific way, in the service of the kind of revolution that is actually needed, then we have to understand that communist leadership means something radically different from notions of direct, one-to-one contact between leadership and all the masses of people who must be involved in that.

The following (an excerpt from the talk last year, "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," which was recently published in Revolution) touches on important aspects of this:

"First, the purpose of my writings and talks, and indeed of everything I do as a communist leader, is to apply the outlook and method of dialectical materialism to continue developing a scientific understanding of the world and to provide leadership in radically transforming it toward the goal of revolution and the final aim of communism.

"In this connection, while I should, and do, hold myself to a very high standard in terms of intellectual integrity and rigor, and while I respect those who apply the same standards in the realm of academic work, my purpose and approach is not the same as academic scholars who do not play the role of communist leaders. My responsibility, in my particular leadership role, involves (although it is not limited to) addressing the most fundamental contradictions and the most pressing problems in relation to actually making revolution and advancing toward the final goal of communism, and giving leadership to others in doing so. One aspect of this is to continually make, and popularize, an analysis and assessment of the ever changing 'political terrain'—the objective conditions and the role of different political and social forces in relation to those objective conditions. Another key dimension of this is to speak to the questions on the minds of proletarians and other basic masses, as well as people of other strata, particularly with regard to things that may weigh on them and pose obstacles in relation to their seeing both the necessity and the possibility of communist revolution, and acting on that understanding—questions which most academics largely ignore and which many are frankly ignorant of. In a larger sense, with regard to theory and intellectual work, my particular role is not only to strive myself to meet the pressing and profound needs in the realm of developing theory, line and strategic orientation, to serve the goal of revolution and the ultimate aim of communism, but also to inspire—and, yes, to provoke—others in this regard and more generally in terms of taking initiative in working with ideas and wrangling in the realm of theory, broadly speaking; to help provide a continually deepening foundation and developing framework for those seeking to apply the outlook and method of communism to engage in theoretical and analytical work, covering a broad range of fields; and to challenge others, beyond the ranks of communists, to seriously engage with such a communist method and approach and the theory and analysis that results from the application of that method and approach." ("On The Role Of Communist Leadership And Some Basic Questions Of Orientation, Approach And Method, in Revolution no. 156, February 15, 2009, emphasis in original)

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

A Revolution in Ideas… For a Radically New World!

In a world where war, torture, and mass murder are justified by a morality that calculates the lives of Americans as worth more than the lives of others...

In a world where the ability to feed every human being on the planet starkly coexists with a billion people living in chronic hunger...

In a world where everything is turned into something to be bought and sold...

A restless stirring for something entirely different emerges again and again.

And even as the memo has gone out that the parameters of “hope” and “change” are determined by a new face atop the empire, people all over the world seethe with discontent, anger, and a feeling deep inside that there must be a better way that human society could be organized—that another world is, and must be, possible.

Anyone wanting to make that world immediately confronts two things. There is the repressive force of the powers-that-be, brought to bear against any challenge to its authority—as happened at the New School in New York last week, when police brutalized demonstrators and arrested over 20 people for peacefully occupying a building in protest; or as is going on in Oakland right now, where a young revolutionary faces years in prison for daring to protest the wanton police murder of a young Black man, Oscar Grant.

But there is also confrontation in the realm of ideas.   Right now, there are struggles in the arena of the university and academic freedom; in the realm of morality, science, religion and world-outlook; on the question of complicity versus resistance; over how to understand and evaluate the whole first stage of communist revolutions, in the Soviet Union and China—what they accomplished, and why they were defeated; on the question of whether the racist oppression that has marked American society since its foundation has been transcended, or morphed into new, potentially more dangerous forms; and on many more fronts besides. It is a coincidence—but not an accident—that articles from all these different arenas of the struggle over ideas came in to us and are running in this issue of Revolution; there is ferment in society over real and unreal, right and wrong, and what kind of world we want.

But the most important struggle in the realm of ideas today focuses on the kind of change we need, the theory that can guide that change, and the leadership that we have to carry forward that radical transformation.  We state clearly: we need a revolution.  And there will be no revolution that is not grounded in the work being done by, and the leadership being provided by, Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.

To that end, we are featuring in this issue a critically important essay: “An Open Letter to the Revolutionary Communists and Everyone Seriously Thinking About Revolution: On the Role and Importance of Bob Avakian.” Written from the perspective of looking back on the past 40 years, and taking stock of what humanity really needs to get beyond a world of capitalism, classes, and all that goes with that, the article argues with depth and candor (and not a little humor) that Bob Avakian “has not only stayed the course, but has produced a ‘body of work’ containing a new synthesis of our understanding of the science of communism: a new level of freedom from which to engage and transform in a revolutionary fashion the necessity we are currently confronting.”

If you haven’t read Bob Avakian, now is the time.  Start with this open letter, let yourself be challenged by it, and then dig into his body of work, and his method and approach. If you are someone who finds the current world intolerable and sees the need for a radically different one, then you cannot be true to your own principles without seriously checking out and engaging with Bob Avakian. If you have begun to read him, this letter will give you a deeper appreciation—a platform from which to much more seriously engage what Bob Avakian has brought forward. [To get into Bob Avakian’s works, go to or; and see the announcement below for table of contents of his new talk “Ruminations and Wranglings.”]

The last great upsurge of revolution, in the 1960s, was characterized by an atmosphere of fighting the power all day and debating ideas all night. Let’s do both, fighting the powers-that-be; engaging with the most advanced, radical and revolutionary ideas of the time; and bringing forward a new revolutionary movement and upsurge, one that goes further than even the best of the past.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

In the Era of Obama:

The Collapse of “The Movement”; the Resistance and the Revolutionary Movement We Need

by Andy Zee

Part I. Introduction

A grievous, shameful and dangerous state of affairs permeates the movements of opposition in the U.S. Their outlook and politics have collapsed into passive acquiescence and even overt criminal complicity with the policies and actions of the ruling class, and are doing so by promoting the deadly illusion that the election of Barack Obama is bringing progressive change.

This is bullshit, it’s knowable, and it must change.

Some basic reality of Obama’s first 80 days:

This is not all, and it is not without lived impact. There are over a million dead in Iraq, 4 million refugees, civilians being slaughtered daily in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet, from within the United States mass protest, mass resistance, mass statements of condemnation are at an appallingly low level. An anti-war movement has not only been demobilized, but delivered into the war criminal enterprise of working to make Obama live up to his promise—a promise that Obama has always been clear about, that is nothing less than rescuing the U.S. from its multi-faceted crises.

In an act which concentrates the treachery of this collapse, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the largest anti-war coalition, at their national meeting in December 2008, voted to oppose organizing demonstrations on the 6th Anniversary of the Iraq War on March 19 and 21, 2009. In opposition to mounting a determined struggle to end the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and instead of calling people into the streets to stand with the people of the world, they decided “to mobilize a new base of people who have been inspired by Obama” in a four month campaign in commemoration of Martin Luther King titled, “Beyond War, A New Economy Is Possible: Yes We Can!”

The practical results: first, the protests that were actually held by others to coincide with the Iraq War’s Anniversary on March 19 and 21 were not as large as they needed to be—which mattered. Then, on Saturday April 4, UFPJ led a dull routine walk through the deserted financial district of NYC with a couple of thousand people revealing their capacity for sapping the life and spirit out of a movement—egregious, but not the heart of the matter.

“No We Can’t” Make Imperialism Work!

Their slogan, “Beyond War, A New Economy Is Possible: Yes We Can!” is packed with false analyses, absurd deadly deception, and a dangerous road of complicity—leading people to attach their hopes and their struggle to the commander-in-chief of the United States, Barack Obama. It is difficult to fathom if the lie or the chauvinism of this slogan is more rotten. Never mind valuing the lives of people of other countries as much as people born here, forget what war crimes are still being done in your name; no, focus the movement on the self interests of the American people. Far from leading to a world “beyond war” and whatever fix to capitalism’s crisis a “new economy” is supposed to conjure up, this slogan, with its repetition of Obama’s “Yes, We Can” mantra, leads directly to enlisting people in service to all that Obama, as the chief executive and commander-in-chief of U.S. imperialism, is actually doing in the world. Indeed, military recruitment is back on the rise, including among Black youth.

For all the talk and denunciation of “empire” in the movement, there is widespread belief and promotion of the erroneous understanding that imperialism is actually a policy and not a system. Bloody domination of the whole planet is integral, not incidental to what America is all about. There is no “promise” of America to the rest of the world other than the promise to carry out coups, invasions, proxy wars, and occupations. And Obama, for all his rhetoric, and all the wishful thinking of the so-called “left,” is continuing precisely on this tack. Indeed, even the New York Times observed that “for all the shifting words, Obama has left the bulk of Mr. Bush’s national security architecture intact so far;” and, regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the New York Times noted that Bush’s national security advisor, Gordon Johndroe, “detected a great deal of overlap in actual policy between the two presidents.”1

This is not arbitrary. “Empire” did not begin with Bush. The Bush Doctrine was an extreme concentration of the necessities and functioning of U.S. imperialism, but it was not an aberration. Obama is not merely betraying or reneging on campaign promises. Actually, what he is doing is what he said he would do for those who didn’t project their desires on his, but even if he wanted to do otherwise, he could not. U.S. imperialism is a system. The United States is a capitalist-imperialist empire. Raymond Lotta has written: “it operates according to the imperatives of economic expansion, the pressures of competition, and the drive among contending world powers for strategic position and advantage over regions, markets and resources. And, this empire rests on military might.”

When Obama harkened back in his Inaugural Address to America’s founding “ideals that still light the world” to threaten—as he does in deceptive saccharin sounding words—that “America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace,”2 the criminal history of America springs to mind, including the trail of broken “peace treaties” with Native Americans. A bitter irony, a crucial theme actually of Obama’s election, and in reality his “selling” point to the ruling class, was to invoke the election of a Black man becoming president as evidence of the perfectibility of America—in spite of its history. It was in this that people should find hope, even as, or especially as, their unquestioning belief in capitalism and the goodness of America was beginning to be shaken by the deepening economic crisis and the intractable wars in the Mideast.

Taking Advantage of—and Reinforcing—Ignorance

Certainly there are many young people who have grown up in the enforced ignorance of America, for whom its true history of genocide and bloody wars of conquest is not known. But this is a history certainly known to the leaders of UFPJ and the bevy of progressive journalists who have been so obsequious in their promotion of Obama. From the genocide of the Native Americans, through the unspeakable brutality of a murderous slavery, to the theft of much of Mexico, through wars, invasions, overt and covert coups that stretch over the last 110 years spanning every continent—from the Philippines, to Puerto Rico, to the Congo, to the nuclear bombing of civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on through Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and into most every country of the Mideast and South Asia at one time or another—to plunder resources and people in pursuit of increasing profit. When atrocities are that repeated, that widespread, and that unmatched on a world scale—is there not something at the root, at the foundation, that drives such madness forward?

This is not just America’s past, it’s the reality lived today by civilians in the Swat region of Pakistan where unmanned U.S. drone aircraft create human carnage with their missiles, by the 3/4 of a million widows in Iraq, by the re-establishment of Islamic religious (Sharia) law in U.S. occupied Afghanistan, and, much as it’s hidden, by the hundreds of millions around the world newly being driven to starvation by the spreading crisis of U.S. capitalism. This is also the reality lived here in the U.S., by immigrants hunted like criminals on the U.S./Mexico border (where the Obama administration has outlined both new efforts and continuation of Bush administration plans including adding border patrols, high-tech equipment and canine teams), by Black and Latino youth routinely gunned down by the police and incarcerated in numbers unprecedented in world history; by the tens of millions without health care, homes, or work.

These are not anomalies—“bad things that happen to a good country.” No, what the U.S. does around the world are not some mistakes or excesses of bad policy that run contrary to the promise of America’s ideals. This is American reality. These are not fundamentally the effects of corruption of big money or the hypocrisy of politicians. This is the normal workings of capitalism-imperialism as it seeks, and can only seek to viciously exploit people on an ever more expansive global scale. The government, the president, the military exist to enforce this. They cannot be made to do otherwise.

This is what Democracy looks like. Peddling illusions and steering a movement to support the daily horror that this means for the people of the world, is what a movement in utter collapse looks like.

The Poisonous Myth of America’s “Perfectibility”

Unfortunately, the collapse of the opposition has not been restricted to UFPJ and movement coalitions and organizations. Progressive journalists, intellectuals, and artists, including many who were instrumental in exposing and denouncing the crimes of Bush and Cheney, are today awash in a wave of Obama euphoria. Rather than speaking out as voices of conscience and principle, dealing with the reality of the continuation of the basic direction of the War on Terror, exposing its re-branding, and calling on people to act, they remain instead enthralled by Obama’s demagogy, precisely because they have never given up the myth of the perfectibility of America.

There is a coherence that runs through and guides the breadth of what has passed for a “progressive,” and even the “radical” movement in the U.S. It is a thesis that boils down to:

The election of Obama represents real progressive movement and opens the opportunity to push for more. Obama has his role, and we have ours. The people need to work with and/or pressure Obama from below so that he can bring change.

And, so the argument goes, now is the time to build this pressure movement of the people because—coming from varying shades of analysis and belief in Obama and what his personal views and intentions may or may not be—there is now a favorable alignment in Washington (i.e.: the Democrats control Congress) and this converges with an upsurge of political energy and optimism among Black and young people. There are those who advocate getting in on the action—working with and within the Obama administration, and there are those who argue that the movement should organize to be a pressure block on a sympathetic administration. And all of this supposedly will make it possible for President Obama to usher in progressive change, even a new era of a progressive America—if we do our part.

In service to this premise, the ghost of the 1930s and FDR are incessantly invoked to conjure up a mass movement. For those enamored by the prospects of working with or within the Obama government, they argue this is necessary so he has the support to do the progressive things that he really wants to do. So, there is the phenomenon of groups like the mass internet organizing group, which many people joined to oppose the Bush regime, focusing on getting conservative Democrats in Congress to vote with Obama.

Others, not so enamored of working with the government, but enthralled by the masses who have been brought into political life by the ruling class through the campaign of Obama, yet who share the same deadly assumption as those who do want to work with the government, argue that through mass pressure the government can be made to bring progress. A stock in trade watchword for this approach is the inane illusion of “holding his feet to the fire.”

Fuck the New Deal

Drawing on the 1930s they all look fondly on the New Deal. What the fuck was so good about a “deal” to rescue capitalism? The real fruits of the New Deal were what Henry Luce, publisher of Time magazine called in 1950 “the American Century,” which meant nothing other than one counter insurgency war and coup after another as the U.S. sought to brutally impose its neo-colonial domination over the lives of people stretched round the planet.

The 1930s was a period of deep systemic crisis, of looming war and economic collapse, a time when many in the U.S. and throughout the world looked to the then socialist Soviet Union as a revolutionary alternative. In a complex history, which we will discuss more in a future article of this series, the possibility to wrench a different, revolutionary future was thrown away by a mass movement, in exchange for purchasing social peace by granting some reforms in the form of a new social contract, for a section of the people.

Fused at the hip with the chorus of progressive voices clamoring for a variant of a New Deal is the view that this, after all, is all that’s realistic. Tom Hayden: “My sense is we are moving too rapidly towards economic hell for a socialist ideology to catch up,” before he goes on to argue for mass struggle to demand more financial regulation.

House Slaves

In the name of political maturity, the “leftists” of today’s movement play on the immaturity of most people who believe that the imperialist state can be a vehicle for the interests of those oppressed by this state. To the extent that the U.S. has ever given any reforms—including the New Deal, these have been (1) predicated on the domination of other countries and the extraction of super profits from those countries; (2) used to divide people into competing interest groups within a capitalist framework, who then, generally fight each other over crumbs; and (3) for the purpose of drawing people even deeper into a sense of being stakeholders in this system, creating what Malcolm X so aptly ridiculed in 1963 as the mentality of House Slaves who “would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would.” 3

This has been starkly revealed as Obama ratchets up the war in Afghanistan, and to maintain some credibility, if not principle, some have raised some criticism, which has been cravenly couched in a framework of trying to dissuade Obama by arguing that his policy could be disastrous to U.S. interests and undermine his presidency. Bill Fletcher, editor of the Black Commentator and a founder of UFPJ, in a recent piece: “Wrong On Afghanistan” advises Obama that this is a policy that could (a) create greater problems in the region; (b) take “badly needed funds away from domestic projects in the USA,” and “brings no assurance of victory.” “Victory?” For whom? God damn, now we have the movement advising the commander in chief on how to win a victory for imperialism.  Malcolm X said you could tell a house slave because “whenever the master said ‘we,’ he said ‘we.’”4

Those at the core of this collapse opposed the efforts to actually drive out the Bush regime and repudiate its whole program through mass independent political action, working instead to turn the movements of opposition during the early part of this decade into pressure groups on—and into the arms of—the Democratic Party. What is painful now is that some who knew better and did better among radical and progressive journalists, intellectuals, and activists now find themselves singing the same essential tune as these hard-core opportunists. The fact is there will be no anti-war movement worth the name, or a movement against anything else of consequence,5 if it is not struggling fundamentally outside of and in opposition to the framework of the system that is at the root of and carrying out the wars and other forms of oppression that the people want and need to fight.

No one should accept the world as it is. All the more so here in the U.S., the leading source and prosecutor of war, exploitation, and oppression.

Complicity in this current situation is intolerable. There is no other way to live a life that is not stained by what U.S. imperialism is and does. It must be resisted. With this introduction to a series of articles we have just begun the process of clearing away the rot that has caused the resistance movements to collapse. We can and must reforge a movement that acts with courage and conscience, a movement that dares to struggle.

And while the U.S. state that enforces capitalism-imperialism cannot be made to serve the interests of the people, a far better future, could be achieved through making revolution to uproot all the relations imperialism and all systems of exploitation and oppression thrive upon—and massive implacable resistance is one key part of forging a revolutionary movement and people. 


1. New York Times, April 3, 2009; Page A20. [back]

2. President Barack Obama; Inaugural Address. [back]

3. Malcolm X, “Message to the Grassroots,” from Malcolm X Speaks, Page 10. [back]

4. Malcolm X, “Message to the Grassroots,” from Malcolm X Speaks, Page 10. [back]

5. In this four-part series on the collapse of the movement we are primarily focusing on the capitulation of the anti-war movement, but the same essential dynamics of collapse saturate the women’s and Black national movements. For a discussion of the collapse of the Women’s Movement see Revolution issue #156. For discussion of the movements of opposition to the oppression of Black people see Revolution issue #144. [back]

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

Debate Sharpens Over Ward Churchill Verdict

"One thing I kind of admired or respected was that, even though the world may disagree with what Ward Churchill said, even though it was very painful to people, I do respect that he can stand up for what he believes in… He never issued an apology because he doesn’t feel one was needed."
(Juror Bethany Newill, at the, 4/4/09)

On April 2, a jury in Denver rendered its verdict in the case of Ward Churchill. The jury agreed with former University of Colorado (CU) professor Ward Churchill—and the many distinguished scholars in his field of Native American studies who testified on his behalf—that he was fired in July, 2007 not for faulty scholarship but in retaliation for a controversial essay he wrote after 9/11. There’s been extensive and continuing coverage in the major media of the decision’s impact. And this is an indication of the significance and great stakes for the battle to defend dissent and critical thinking in academia, and ultimately in society. The essence of the case from the very beginning was the political persecution by a major university of a controversial professor, scholar, and activist—that’s what the jury confirmed. The jury’s verdict is a significant setback for forces hell-bent on suppressing and stifling dissent and critical thinking on campuses.

The jury also awarded $1 in damages. Five out of the six jurors argued to pay Ward Churchill more in damages, but the jury as a whole could not agree. A juror who spoke to the press later explained their decision: "…it wasn’t a slap in his face or anything like that when we didn’t give him any money. It’s just that David Lane (Churchill’s attorney) kept saying this wasn’t about the money, and in the end, we took his word for that."1 Professor Churchill said: "What was asked for—and what was delivered—was justice."

Witch-hunt on Trial

There were two elements the jury had to determine in rendering its verdict: did the majority of the Board of Regents of CU fire Professor Churchill principally because of his post-9/11 essay? And even if they did, was Churchill correct that he would not have been fired for other reasons—that is the alleged research misconduct?

Ward Churchill was a tenured professor of American Indian Studies and Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at CU-Boulder (2002-2005). In January 2005, his invitation to speak at Hamilton College in upstate New York suddenly became the target of right wing forces, the governors of New York and Colorado, and radio and TV figures like Bill O’Reilly, because of a sharply worded essay Churchill had written three years earlier, right after 9/11. This essay was critical of the U.S. role in the world and included a formulation about how those people who worked as functionaries for the large corporations with offices in the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns"—a reference to the functionaries of the Nazi regime.

The speech was cancelled, and numerous politicians, including the governor of Colorado, called for Churchill to be fired. After first launching an investigation of all of Churchill’s writings to find a reason to fire him, the university changed gears, put together a collection of mainly old complaints about aspects of his large body of work, and formed a faculty committee (IC) to investigate. In July 2007, Churchill was fired by the university Regents, who pointed to the IC’s findings of "serious research misconduct," though the IC had only recommended suspension.

Among the "heavy-hitters" behind Professor Churchill’s firing who were called as witnesses was former Republican governor Bill Owens. Juror Bethany Newill described the testimony this way: "We’d seen depositions of previous testimony, and we found that a lot of them contradicted themselves." In speaking of Governor Owens she said: "He had gone on the Bill O’Reilly show and mentioned threatening the budget" [that he might cut CU’s state funding if they didn’t get rid of Churchill]; "On the stand, he said that wasn’t what he was doing, but that was clearly what I saw."

There was remarkable testimony by Betsy Hoffman, who’d been president of the University of Colorado from 2000 until resigning in March of 2005, shortly after the controversy broke out. One observer at the trial described Dr. Hoffman’s testimony where she described a conversation she had "with the Governor [Owens] where she said he told her to fire Ward Churchill 'tomorrow,’ that his tone was 'threatening,’ and that if she didn’t he would 'unleash his plan.’"2

Churchill’s attorney, David Lane, asked Dr. Hoffman about the comparison of the treatment of Professor Churchill to neo-McCarthyism that she’d made in a speech to a faculty committee less than a week before resigning:

"She said that the list of the 101 Worst Professors in the Country by David Horowitz3 was an example of this type of targeting, and pointed out that list included Mr. Churchill and some 'very highly regarded academics, like Derrick Bell, who were espousing controversial left-wing views.’

"Dr. Hoffman… began researching where some of the criticism of Mr. Churchill was coming from. She found a website for ACTA, an organization the Colorado Chapter of which Governor Owens and Senator Hank Brown had been founding members. The organization encouraged members to 'take a very active role in reducing the left-wing bias in universities.’ Once ACTA became involved in an 'all out assault’ on CU and Mr. Churchill during February 2005, Dr. Hoffman assumed that the action was part of the 'plan’ 'unleashed’ by Governor Owens….

"Mr. Lane asked if she saw a link between the 9/11 essay becoming publicized and ACTA working in concert with the right-wing media to paint Mr. Churchill as an example of 'what’s wrong with academia in this country’ and Dr. Hoffman indicated that this was her impression at the time… 'It was an all-out assault on Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado, and me,’ she testified."4 (emphasis added)

The jury concluded political motivations were principal among the majority of Regents in the decision to fire Churchill. The question remained; would Professor Churchill have been fired for research misconduct anyway?

Experts in American Indian Studies and Indian Law Testify

Many scholars, experts in Professor Churchill’s field of American Indian  Studies testified on his behalf, disagreeing with most of the IC’s findings and conclusions. Professor Eric Cheyfitz, Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters at Cornell University, had only met Churchill in 2007, but was familiar with his scholarship and held it in high regard. He said his reaction to the IC report, as elaborated in his extensive recent essay, "Framing Ward Churchill: The Political Construction of Research Misconduct,"5 was that the charges were "fundamentally baseless and motivated by the political circumstances surrounding the 9/11 essay." He then went on to challenge each of the committee’s findings.

Dr. Barbara Alice Mann, an eminent historian, teacher and writer at the University of Toledo, is a Native American and author of nine books. Her latest, "The Gift of Disease," includes a chapter on the 1837 smallpox epidemic that destroyed the Mandan Indians of the Great Plains. Dr. Mann’s testimony contradicted the IC’s report—saying there was indeed a "reasonable basis" for Churchill’s claim that the smallpox epidemic was a result of blankets taken from an infirmary in St. Louis, and the claim that army doctors at Fort Clark told the infected Indians to scatter.

This is just a glimpse of how fundamentally flawed, how politically motivated, and how damaging to historical scholarship and the search for the truth this whole investigation was. Research by Revolution reveals that in November of 2006, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter at CU-Boulder had written the university, saying out of Churchill’s more than twenty books and hundreds of articles, chapters, speeches, and electronic communications, the committee investigating Churchill’s work studied six pages of his writings. The IC offered no evidence that they were even familiar with the bulk of Churchill’s work, yet they made claims from a tiny sample of evidence that he "deliberately" engaged in research misconduct; that there was a "pattern" of such misconduct, and that he "has repeatedly plagiarized, as well as fabricated and falsified information to support his views on American Indian history." Nevertheless, their findings have been used to destroy Churchill’s reputation as a scholar, and to delegitimize basic verdicts about the genocide of the native peoples.

After weeks spent listening to testimony about Churchill’s scholarship, juror Newill concluded: "I definitely saw where [the university] was coming from on a few of them," but in other instances, "I thought they had really weak arguments. To me, it just seemed like the charges were trumped up. And even if all of those things were true, we didn’t feel that was the reason for termination."6

In a New York Times essay on April 5, 2009, Stanley Fish, a highly recognized professor in the U.S., wrote that the accusations that the committee investigated "are the kind scholars regularly hurl at their polemical opponents. It’s part of the game. But in most cases, after you’ve trashed the guy’s work in a book or a review, you don’t get to fire him." Fish then observed, like many other scholars, "…if the standards for dismissal adopted by the Churchill committee were generally in force, hardly any of us professors would have jobs." He added, "There is… a disconnect in the report between its often nuanced considerations of the questions raised in and by Churchill’s work, and the conclusion, announced in a parody of a judicial verdict, that he has committed crimes worthy of dismissal, if not of flogging."7


The battle to defeat the political persecution of Ward Churchill is far from over. CU has a month to appeal the verdict; and it is up to the judge to decide whether CU will be ordered to pay Churchill’s attorneys’ fees, to award Churchill his lost wages, and to require the university to give Churchill his job back, which has been at the heart of his demands from the beginning. CU officials are expressing strong opposition to his returning to campus.

Beyond that, there is also a great deal at stake for academia and for society overall right now in upholding and defending this verdict, and deepening its lessons. An ugly, high-stakes public witch-hunt by dangerous, reactionary, and powerful forces, aimed at spreading a repressive chill over the universities, has been dragged into the light, and dealt a setback. But these forces, far from retreating, are regrouping, and trying to turn the meaning of this verdict on its head.

To them, Professor Churchill remains the "poster-boy for academic irresponsibility in both substance and style," as the Chairman of the conservative National Association of Scholars put it in "NAS Regrets Ward Churchill Verdict." John Leo, senior fellow at the ruling class think tank the Manhattan Institute, calls Churchill’s scholarship "hideous and embarrassing," blaming the university for hiring, "for diversity reasons, an unprepared, erratic, ideologue with no sense of fairness and no academic credentials…" And Ann Neal, president of ACTA, says "shock, hurt, and even anger are surely natural reactions to the recent jury determination," but promises that "ACTA is here to help" all those trustees strongly motivated to respond.

With stakes so high, a robust debate is called for with those within and outside academia that have accepted these twisted distortions, now discredited by the Denver verdict. Roger W. Bowen, who was head of the AAUP when the Churchill attack was in full swing, practically brags in the Wall Street Journal that he did nothing in response to requests for assistance from "his [Churchill’s] loyal spouse, Natsu Taylor Saito." Bowen says, "When Churchill invokes 'academic freedom’ as a protection for scholarly fraud, he dishonors a noble tradition that appropriately defends honest scholars who bravely challenge conventional wisdom."8 What is this other than continuing to cling to the same distortions coming from the likes of academic hit man David Horowitz; ACTA; William Bennett and company.

In a supplement to Revolution Issue #81, "Warning: The Nazification of the American University," we wrote that powerful, right wing forces in this country have set out to transform university administrations into "instruments of coercive enforcement and control over faculty and students—intimidating, threatening, and 'cleaning house' of dissident thinkers when called on to do so, while leaving scholars under attack to fend for themselves." These right wing forces attacking the university are "out to turn the university into a zone of uncontested indoctrination, where severe limits would be placed on permissible discourse—in terms of professors speaking out, writing, or encouraging engagement over controversial issues in the classroom, etc.; and in terms of restricting and gutting programs like African American studies, women’s studies, etc., that challenge and refute the official narratives and explanations of U.S. history and present-day inequality and global lopsidedness."

And further: "The overall objective of this attack on dissent and critical thinking is to change the university as we have known it: in its internal life and functioning and in its effects on society. If this reactionary program wins out, the university will be turning out students who will have had little, if any, opportunity to think critically, into a society qualitatively more severely repressive than anything seen in this country’s history."

 The challenge to administrators, faculty, and especially students is to stand up to this assault. And broader segments of society must join with them. We must continue to defend those like Ward Churchill when they are singled out for attack, and, more generally, defend the ability of professors to hold dissenting and radical views. It is vitally important that the new generation of students step forward to defend an unfettered search for the truth, intellectual ferment, and dissent. One way or another, this struggle over the university and intellectual life will have profound repercussions on what U.S. society will be like, and on the prospects for bringing a whole new society into being.


1. Michael Roberts, "Juror Bethany Newill talks about the Ward Churchill trial," Denver Westword (online:, 4/3/09. [back]

2. From a blog of law school observers of the trial, [back]

3. Referring to the book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America [back]

4. From a blog of law school observers of the trial, [back]

5. In Carvalho, Edward J. and David B. Downing, eds., "Works and Days: Academic Freedom and Intellectual Activism in the Post-9/11 University" 51/52.26 (Spring/Fall 2008) [back]

6. [back]

7. Stanley Fish, New York Times, 4/5/09 [back]

8. "Freedom, but for Honest Research," Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2009. [back]


Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

3rd NYC Campus Occupation in Five Months:

New School Students Seize Building,
Viciously Attacked

By Readers

On the morning of Friday April 10, students of the New School University in New York City occupied the Graduate Facility at that university, demanding control of the building, and the resignations of the president of their university, Bob Kerrey (a war criminal), and the school’s Executive Vice President, James Murtha.

This was the third student occupation of a building at a New York City university campus in the past five months, the second at the New School (the other occupation was at New York University—see “A Fresh Wind Out of NYU – Students Occupy Building… Unrepentant in Face of Repression…” at

What followed was a vicious and brutal attack on students by the NYPD that represents a leap in the repression of the student movement, and is in line with the overall clampdown on critical thinking and dissent in academia. In the face of mounted police, police helicopters, and police beatings, the students continued to protest all day and into the night.

A student bitterly recounts this, “This time they had the police come in, over a hundred officers in riot gear came into the school, arrested the students and as the students were trying to escape from the building the door opened, the cops pepper sprayed students trying to escape and arrested them. Also, there were three demonstrators on the outside who were arrested.”

A widely viewed online video shows several NYPD cops jumping on and beating a student for the “crime” of yelling “shame on you!” as they brutalized another student. One student told us that the victim is “a vegan pacifist, and he was yelling shame on you as a cop arrested a student and they were macing him. The cop turned around punched him in the face, tasered him and arrested him.” (

A New School student from the Lang College who was there described for Revolution the response on the scene, “The crowds were furious. After the arrest of the young man who was thrown to the ground, a few people became very vocal, cursing the police and the administration for handling them like they did. But as onlookers who were greatly outnumbered, we were forced to watch our friends go out in handcuffs.” A New School student at the support rally said that when he heard about all this, “I felt sick to my stomach, that’s not what our school’s based on, that’s not the foundation of our school, we’re all about peaceful demonstration, which it was.”

Later that evening, there was a support rally where about 100 students mobilized to gather in Union Square in solidarity with arrested students. There was an intense atmosphere of anger at the police, and uncertainty as to what would happen to the students who were being held.  It was announced that an arraignment would occur on Saturday, April 11. Students took to the streets and marched through lower Manhattan, passing Bob Kerrey’s house. They were again met with brutal repression with several students attacked, beaten, and arrested.

Among students at the New School, there was also lot of discussion about everything that was behind the occupations. For example one student said, “They didn’t even used to have endowments, but now they’re using our endowments to invest in L3 communications because one of our board members, he’s the president or CEO of it, and they supplied arms to both sides of the Bosnian conflict and they’re currently a top ten defense contractor for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Another student commented later, “I think students are inspired by what is going on at New School. There is definitely room for improvement in strategy, tactics, and organizing. But I also think that this is a new political moment for students in this country. I think it shows that once we develop a community of struggle, we can accomplish a great deal.”

Interviewed in the New York Post, Kerry said, “An illegal occupation of a building is not a legitimate protest,” and, “There’s a long list of legitimate ways to protest a university. This isn’t one of them.” And, he said, “I called the NYPD and said there are people who have broken into our building and I want them removed,” said Kerrey. “If they do it again, I’ll call again.” And speaking of the students involved in the occupation, Kerrey told the New School Free Press, “I cannot consider them students at this point.”

Let’s be clear, demanding the firing of a vicious war criminal is not a crime, but is righteous and needs to be supported by everyone.

The New York City chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild issued a statement calling for “the release of students wrongfully arrested at the New School.”

NYU student activists posted a statement of solidarity at their web site. One student from Take Back NYU! said, “We need to take this to other students and get them involved. We can’t do anything without greater student power, like we’ve seen in Spain and Italy, and the UK. If nothing else, I hope that the unnecessary brutality will open people’s eyes to importance of the struggle. The strong arm tactics shown by Bob Kerrey and the NYPD are unacceptable and we need to show them that that will not be tolerated.”

These student protests are desperately needed, both at the New School and throughout the country, at a time when the anti-war movement is collapsing and we are being told to put our faith in Obama as the US’s war for empire is expanded, students taking a stand around their education, and the role their schools play in the world is a breathe of fresh air. At the same time, this brutality that the students at the New School are facing is from the same system that shoots handcuffed Black men in the back like Oscar Grant in Oakland, and the same system that has killed over a million people in Iraq and is expanding its war in Afghanistan. It’s going to take a lot more resistance from all sections of society to reverse this direction, including people standing with the students of the New School, and ultimately we need a revolution.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

Interview with Bai Di

Growing Up in Revolutionary China

Bai Di grew up in socialist China (before capitalism was brought back after the death of Mao in 1976) and participated in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). She is a co-editor of the book, Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up During the Mao Era and is the Director of Chinese and Asian Studies at Drew University. The following interview with Bai Di was done in February 2009 by Revolution correspondent Li Onesto.

The entire interview is posted online here, and is being serialized in print.

Li Onesto: A young person who heard you talk about your experiences growing up in socialist China told me that before this they had no idea at all what it was like during the Cultural Revolution, including what it was like to be a woman during that time.

Bai Di: In my generation, most of the women hoped to accomplish great things. When we were young, when we were teenagers, there were revolutionary ideals. We worked for some goals. We felt that our lives were full of meaning, not for ourselves but for all these larger goals of society. That is what we were discussing at that moment. We were idealistic about the world that we envisioned. We were about 15 years old when we went to the countryside, around 1972. At that point I graduated from high school. The school was reopened after about a year of closing in 1966. We spent most of the time studying Chairman Mao’s works, and some math, chemistry and physics. Later on we were digging tunnels in the school yard because of the Soviet threat of war. We were trying to protect our country.

Our class had more than a thousand students and four of us, all women in our high school, got together and decided to write an epic of the history of the Red Guards. We were very ambitious at that moment, now to think about it. There were two guys who tried to join us and we interviewed them. I remember that each of them presented something poetic written by them, and the four of us looked at them. We decided not to have them in this writing group because they were not good enough. We just laughed at their writings because they were not up to our standards. We totally rejected them. The four of us, we thought we were the best. We wanted to record our deeds of trying to educate other people with Chairman Mao’s teachings. We organized the first “Chairman Mao Thought Propaganda Team” in the school.

Li Onesto: When most people hear the term, “propaganda team,” they don’t know what that is and/or they look at it like a negative thing, like it’s about just telling people what to think, that it goes against critical thinking.

Bai Di: The Mao Zedong propaganda teams in the beginning of the Cultural Revolution were organized by the revolutionary Red Guards so that educated people, students, armed with all the songs and poems, could go to the neighborhoods in the cities and later on in the countryside to spread knowledge to the not so well educated. They tried to teach the so-called “less educated people” about the party’s directives and Chairman Mao’s ideas. Our propaganda team taught people revolutionary songs and read the current events from the newspapers to them. We organized our school’s students to go to clean up the neighborhoods and after that we performed dances and songs and called on people to clean up the neighborhood because sanitation was very important. We felt that was part of building a greater society.

Li Onesto: How did you see that in relation to the ideals that you had?

Bai Di: The idea was that we could make a change, that there were all these opportunities. We were going to change the world; we were going to change China. That was the mission of my generation because we lived in a very special era: the great 1960s and 1970s. We called that moment the dawn of communism, that’s the point. We were working to build up this great society and we felt that everyone in that society should have education. Because we students could read and we could write so we used this to try and inspire other people—to teach them to sing and teach them sections of Mao’s works. That was what the propaganda teams did. Something gets lost in the translation of this concept to English. In Chinese right now this phrase still refers to what is considered a very positive thing. The phrase propaganda team is not a negative thing, it is to let everybody know what they need to know, the ideas of the party’s central committee, what they are doing. During the Cultural Revolution everybody needed to know that. China at that point, it was such a large country, and the government organization at each level had a propaganda department, you needed this at every level. There was a lot of illiteracy. And Chairman Mao’s teachings aren’t all very easy and they are open to interpretation. If you change one line, it changes the meaning. You can’t just teach the words, you have to explain it.

Take something like what was called the “constantly read three articles” by Mao: “Serve the People,” “The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains,” and “In Memory of Norman Bethune.” Look at the old story about the foolish old man—why do we have to talk about that? That is an ancient Chinese fable that everyone already knows. It is about an old man who called on his sons to dig away two big mountains that were obstructing their way out. Others made fun of him saying it was impossible for them to dig up these two huge mountains. But the Foolish Old Man replied, “When I die, my sons will carry on; when they die, there will be my grandsons, and then their sons and grandsons, and so on to infinity.” This resilience impressed the God so much that God sent down two angels, who carried the mountains away on their backs. But Chairman Mao changed it and said it was the hard working people who moved the mountains. He said, right now, we the communists, the party are like the Old Foolish Man. We will try to move all these three mountains—imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism—but we cannot do that. So we have to impress the Chinese people; they are the God. Only they can move away the three mountains that are oppressing us. And we have to entrust the people. Do you get that? So we have to move them, we have to understand what we are doing. You have to explain that to people, why that is very important. We have to keep doing something and we have to keep letting people know what we are doing. We have to politically educate people—that is our job. When I think back—that was our whole mission. We were so lucky that we were able to get the ability to write and understand things and others didn’t understand that, didn’t see the connection. So that’s what we were doing and when I think about it, what confidence we had.

Li Onesto: What effect did the Cultural Revolution have on the status of women?

Bai Di: One example is what I told you before, that young women changed their names. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 Chairman Mao would greet the Red Guards at huge rallies in Tiananmen Square, for about eight times I think. At one of the rallies, one girl went up to Tiananmen and put a Red Guard armband on Mao. He asked her what her name was. She said, Song Binbin. Mao said, that is very Confucianist, Binbin means prudence and modesty. And Chairman Mao said, why be prudent, why be modest? You should Aiwu; you should love that militancy in women. So she changed her name from Binbin to Aiwu that stood for loving militancy, fighting. Then there started a trend: the girls who had feminine names like flower or jade or whatever, changed their names.

According to Chinese culture, your name means something. My name never had gender connotation and this was due to my parents. Bai is my family name; it means cypress, like the tree. It’s a great surname in the first place. I was the first born and my parents were very progressive at that moment in the 1950s. They were checking out the dictionary to get a name. My father grew up in the communist system and he was among the first class in the Foreign Languages School run by the Communist Party in 1946, when the Russian Department of that school was moved, Yenan moved to Harbin. He was in the class with children of many famous communists including Chairman Mao’s second son. He and my mother were very revolutionary. So they went to the dictionary and they found “Di” which means wood, which is not very assuming but very easy to survive. And it seems that I have lived up to the name. When young women were trying to change their names from these girlish names to something revolutionary, I didn’t have to change my name because it meant independence already. Girls tried to change their girlish names if they weren't revolutionary or were too feminine - they would change it into something fighting and strong like the men’s names. After capitalism came back, I can give you three instances where women changed their names back. One of my friends, before the Cultural Revolution, her name was very womanish, so she changed it to Wenge which literarily means “cultural revolution.” But recently I heard from her and she changed her name back. I have another friend who is an editor in a Beijing publishing house and her name was “red” and she changed it back to “little flower.”

Li Onesto: You’ve written a lot about the role of women in revolutionary China. Can you compare the status of women before 1949, then 1949 to the Cultural Revolution, then during the Cultural Revolution and then what it is like now for women under capitalism?

Bai Di: I always like to look at the differences among the three generations of women in my family as an indicator of how China had changed under the Communist Party. Both my grandmothers were born at the turn of the 20th century and they both married early, one at the age of 14, the other at 15. They both had bound feet and each of them gave birth to 14 kids. They were in arranged marriages. They were both illiterate. They did nothing for their whole life but giving birth and having kids, seeing some of the newborns die helplessly. My mother’s life is very different. She was born in the ’30s so basically in 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded, she was in middle school and in the early ’50s she went to college to study Russian, dreaming to be a diplomat. Both my parents were the first generation of college educated in their respective families. My mother was a translator and researcher in Russian literature before her retirement. Then I think of my generation, I am a college professor with a Ph.D. degree. I have been traveling around the world teaching and writing. Compared with my grandmas and my mother, I am more ambitious, more idealist and more confident. I am very grateful that I grew up in an extremely special moment in Chinese history. The dominant ideology was that women hold up half of the sky; what men can do, women can do. Those may sound now as hollow slogans; but I lived through that period really believing in myself, in my ability in bringing about changes in my own life and the lives of other people. And then I think of the fourth generation of the family. I do not have a daughter, so I will use my niece as an example. She is now about 26 years old, having a college degree and a very high paid job in China. It seems that all she is interested in are brand name bags and clothes. She likes to talk about who has money, who has brand name bags, what kind of husband is there. And I just look at her now and I see that there is another generation right now, it is called “post-’80s” in China; a generation that puts most of their energy into this consumer culture. When I was young, the social ideal was to do something good for other people, to work to change the world into a better system. We were willing to sacrifice. And we all believed in fair and equal distribution of social wealth. But right now for young people growing up in China, it’s me, me, me. And the whole culture buttresses that. And also the women’s role today, you can see it ingrained, basically that you should be a good wife and then right now the Chinese popular culture is full of this kind of discussion. On CCTV, on the women’s programs, both the hosts and guests will focus on what kind of husband you will be happy with; how one can be more feminine so that she is more attractive. The famous women in every realm of the society are invited in to talk about this. Can you imagine a program that famous men were on to talk about how to be a good husband? They never ask the guys this kind of question.

Li Onesto: One of the things during the Cultural Revolution was refutation of Confucian thinking and how this is oppressive, especially to women, the feudal and patriarchal thinking. Can you talk about that and compare this to now?

Bai Di: This kind of criticism of feudalism was going on back in the May 4 Movement at the beginning of the 20th century. But the real legal reform started in 1930s in the Red Soviet areas controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the first law that the new government passed was not the Constitution, the Constitution was passed in 1954. The first law passed by the Communist government in 1950 was the Marriage Law—for the first time it abolished the concubinage system, abolished arranged marriages, saying men and women should be partners in marriage and that women should get equal inheritance and divorce rights, banned polygamy, child brides and also the concept of “illegitimate” children. That was a great moment in history. Think about how the government saw the role of gender issues in changing people’s minds and lives.

In order to build a new world, women have to be liberated. Like Marx said, for the liberation, you have to liberate everybody. And if women are not liberated you cannot say that the nation is liberated. This showed the progressiveness of the Chinese Communist Party. So the first law passed was the Marriage Law and the second law passed a month later was the land reform law. So basically you can see in 1950, the next year after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, two laws basically representing the new government’s focused agenda. First, the change of superstructure—because families were so ingrained in Confucian family hierarchy, this was so ingrained in Chinese culture, that you had to change it. So I think that was a symbol of the change of culture.

Secondly, the change in the infrastructure of the economic base, that is of the poor peasants and their ownership of the land. You were not only changing the economic structure, you had to change the superstructure, including people’s ideas. And law is a part of superstructure. So that’s Mao’s great idea, changing both sides, rather than just the economy. On the other hand, those who wanted to bring capitalism back, like Deng Xiaoping, said that if you just change the economy, everything else will change. But at the beginning, the Chinese Communist Party saw that you have to abolish the old things that are oppressive. There is a dialectic, you can see this in anything. Like the problem with the Marriage Law. There was great resistance all along. Because it’s not like you will just have a law and then all the people will follow that. There were still a lot of women’s issues for the 17 years after 1949 from the start of the new socialist government until the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.

When new China was founded in 1949, the new government met so many challenges: prostitution, concubinage, drug problems. And miraculously, within two or three years, all the prostitutes were reformed and all the drug addicts got treated. My grandmother told me about how there was this place in Harbin where there was this neighborhood for prostitution and it then became a normal residential area. Unfortunately today that area has gone back to its “tradition” of prostitution.

Li Onesto: A lot of things were changed in the first 17 years, but what made it necessary to go further? What problems was the Cultural Revolution trying to address, including around the woman question?

Bai Di: There was the newly emerged elitist group within the Party and the government. They were called the capitalist roaders in the Cultural Revolution and they were the targets of the revolution. But I think “capitalist roader” may be a misnomer. They were people who were trying to return back to the old hierarchy in the society. Also the social idea was emerging that those who were educated should stay in the cities and then they looked down on their parents in the countryside. This was one of the symptoms in that 17 years and then the Cultural Revolution tried to get rid of this.

The peasants said of their children who were lucky enough to go to the university in the cities: The saying went—the first year they are country bumpkins, the second year they catch up with the other people, the third year, they will desert their parents in the countryside. So that’s a change in the peasant children sent to the cities. This was used to talk about the larger problem and social issues. The Communist Party came also from the peasant base. It represented peasants’ interest. So people send them to govern the country, they go to Beijing right? First, they’re fine. They keep their basic color, their values, and their mission. But after a while, the second period, they catch up with all the people there, they try to “get in,” they forgot why they were there in the first place.

Li Onesto: You’re saying this was an analogy to those who were supposed to be serving the people but then ended up somewhere else. And the reason why Mao and others started calling them capitalist roaders was because there were two roads that China could go on, one to socialism, one to capitalism. And there were those like Deng Xiaoping who were saying China should be capitalist and this is why they were called “capitalist roaders.”

Bai Di: But I don’t think these people wanted to go to capitalism, they were trying to take people back to old [feudal] tradition, and they were trying to retrench back to feudalism. Before China didn’t really have capitalism. But Deng Xiaoping was really a capitalist roader who wanted to emulate the capitalist system. Liu Shao Qi was trying to emulate the capitalist system too.

Li Onesto: What about the role of model operas, the role of women, the importance of the superstructure—the Confucian superstructure had a certain image of women—the mummies, beauties, etc. on the stage.

Bai Di: Jiang Qing gave a speech in 1965 and said we have to reform the opera and literature; that signaled the official start of the Cultural Revolution.

Li Onesto: Why was it so revolutionary what they did with the model operas?

Bai Di: That is what my research is all about. I feel that before the Cultural Revolution, even though the Chinese Communist Party was very aggressive politically, but culturally the Party still carried a kind of conservative bend. The Marriage Law was passed and was a great moment in Chinese history, a very progressive thing. But culturally, at the same time it carried something very traditional—why a marriage law, it is still thinking that women need to get married. That’s my argument. What Jiang Qing did was more radical than that. I’m writing a paper on this that I will present this summer on the opera and literature of the Cultural Revolution. What I want to say is that compared to the old works, the gender roles changed in the model operas and ballets.

The model theaters have to be highlighted—this was how the revolution should be. We can’t idealize the Cultural Revolution but this addressed the problem of the fact that there were 600 million people who still carried a lot of old baggage with them. Chairman Mao said you cannot carry out the revolution in one generation. You have to have a second and third generation; there is still baggage that the people carry with them. Right now it’s very difficult to speak out about this, the people who study Cultural Revolution say that model operas have created all these false images and stereotypes. Yes, so what? Any artistic work creates and promotes certain images and stereotypes.

Li Onesto: And they are used to promote certain ideas...

Bai Di: Exactly. What’s wrong with that compared to promoting some other kinds of ideals? If you look at Swan Lake, that is a certain view of women’s beauty. Then what is in the Red Detachment of Women where you use the same form of ballet but a different image of women. There is that comparison, contrast. Jiang Qing used Beijing Opera which is very, very abstract—she used this form to carry a certain message, a certain image. People say, oh those women are not real—they don’t have a family. But that’s the point. That the woman being portrayed isn’t burdened down by a family. So in that cultural sense, Jiang Qing was more advanced. And you look at things now in China under capitalism. The family is totally disruptive for women. And in terms of women’s total role, the liberation of themselves and their social roles—you have to get out of the family. Especially in Chinese culture, the word family is a loaded word, a loaded concept, you have a role and obligation.

Li Onesto: It’s true in U.S. culture as well—there are unequal relations, obligations, there’s patriarchy...

Bai Di: Exactly. Women can never be equal in the family structure. That’s Jiang Qing’s very radical feminism right there. So women can be revolutionaries and can be great leaders only when she is liberated from being a mother, from being a wife. Those are the images the model theater in the Cultural Revolution has built.

Li Onesto: Can you talk more about what the Cultural Revolution accomplished and what it meant to grow up in a socialist society?

Bai Di: I grew up there, and for me, I always had a purpose. That was what education was about. And you didn’t have to worry about something like the kind of financial crisis that capitalism will always have periodically. We never had that much—two sets of clothes, but we never felt we should have more. You don’t have that kind of crazy desires for everything, like the need to go shopping all the time. I feel that capitalism is very good at creating a void in people’s psyche. It will teach you that the only way you feel okay is to want more. It is so consuming. When I grew up, I did not put much time at all in material stuff. So we had energy to do other things for greater good. We studied all kinds of subjects, and we thought our presence was very much a part of the future. Yes, we were very future oriented and our focus was also wider than only on China. It was about the whole human kind. It is what inspired us. That’s what I feel education has to be about.

Some people believe in individualism. But if you think that you are the most important, then that is really a boring life, because your existence is irrelevant to others; that is how I feel. You can’t survive that long. You have to put yourself into human history. Then your life, your existence will carry some meaning. That is what Chairman Mao said. In his memorial to Doctor Norman Bethune, he said everyone has to die. But the meaning of death is different. Somebody dies a worthy death so that death is as weighty as the Mount Tai. Some other’s death is as light as a feather. And because Bethune put his life into this communist cause, we all remember him—his death was weighty. We were all trained this way. You feel that you become part of something. And this makes your life and death more meaningful. Now to think about it, we were pretty profound as teenagers. We were already coping with the existential questions for all humankind: life and death.

I had never lived in a capitalist society then so I didn’t know how to compare it to socialism. But looking at the things now both in China and U.S., I feel that there was, back then, an optimism that was always in the air, we were always optimistic. People didn’t complain. Right now everyone is complaining even though he/she has already so much. Under capitalism there is all these desires for all kinds of things. Right now when I go back to China everyone is complaining and it’s just money, money, money. But back under socialism, the purpose in life was not money. As Lei Feng said succinctly: We cannot live without food, but our lives are not for food. It is for making a better society. That pretty much sums up the spirit. Lei Feng was an ordinary soldier in the People’s Liberation Army and died manning his post. He spent his short 22 years of life helping other people. And Chairman Mao called on the whole nation to “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng” in 1964.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

Religion and Morality—Atheism, and Communism

Sunsara Taylor Tour Building Momentum

Revolution correspondent Sunsara Taylor has been touring campuses around the country promoting Bob Avakian’s book: Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World—opening up lively debate and stirring up controversy about religion, atheism and communism wherever she goes. In recent weeks, momentum has been building, as Sunsara has been the guest on popular call-in radio shows and has spoken to overflow crowds on campuses hungry to wrangle with these questions.

Taylor’s tour has been sponsored by Atheist Clubs, religion departments, humanities departments and more at places like New York University, Columbia College in Chicago, and Atlanta’s Georgia State University. Panels have included—along with Taylor— “freethinkers”, professors of biology and philosophy, a Buddhist, progressive clergy who are deeply committed to social justice, and pro-capitalist atheists.

On April 7, she appeared at Columbia College as part of a program titled, “A Communist, a Buddhist, and a Priest sat down to discuss: Morality to Change the World—With or Without God(s)?” Bob Bossie, a Catholic priest and long-time activist for social justice; Professor Steve Asma, a Buddhist and philosophy professor; and Taylor debated and wrangled over whether religion is an obstacle or a pathway to emancipating humanity before a standing-room only crowd of over 250. Students asked probing and sometimes personal questions—one said the whole event had “touched a moral nerve” in her. One young man said the event, “was eye-opening for my own view of what I think morality should be and where it fits in my life. So it gave me more of a perspective to find my place.” The next evening, the “Best Church of God,” a satirical Chicago improv company, hosted a “spirited debate” where the righteous believers took on the blasphemous atheist in a battle of Good vs. Evil—all as a special fundraiser to benefit Taylor’s tour.

Last month at Georgia State University, as part of a panel with a reverend from a Black church and a founder of the Fellowship of Reason, Sunsara Taylor brought Bob Avakian’s provocative challenging of the enslaving mentality of religion right into the Bible Belt. The audience of 300 was thirsty for the sharp exchange that ensued. The audience got rambunctious and they got passionate, and a lot of them spoke up—both asking questions as well as interjecting and challenging the speakers. (Go to for a report on this wild and wrangling discussion: “Correspondence from Revolution readers and distributors in Atlanta”)

Breaking the debate out into the broader mainstream, Taylor has been on two popular call-in shows on commercial Black radio—in Chicago and Atlanta. In Atlanta, the host challenged listeners: “We have a very intelligent young woman here—and now I want all of you preachers, Jesus freaks and holy rollers to call up, cuz she’ll have a word for you.” (The interview is available for download at

Last November was when the tour really began to take off with an event at New York University hosted by the Atheists, Agnostics & Humanists at NYU and Equal Time for Freethought radio on WBAI radio. The event was a panel with other non-believers: “Morality Without Gods: An Exchange.” People were turned away from the packed room. Following the intense discussion and debate the audience demanded a second round which was held on March 3 of this year. (The first event can be seen on YouTube at

Through all these events, audiences have been stimulated by the amazing contention of perspectives, and at the same time genuinely inspired to see that people with widely different views, but a common interest in bringing about a future world fit for human beings to live in, could sharply engage these questions without it becoming antagonistic or disrespectful. And Sunsara has brought the perspective of a revolutionary communist into all this. People have come away from these events talking and wondering about all kinds of questions about religion, morality, science and communism and what all of this has to do with bringing about a better world. Text Box:

Bring Sunsara Taylor
to your campus, organization, bookstore or town!
Organize a panel, bring together others
with strong views on these questions,
get her on the radio, and kick the debate much higher.
To arrange to have Sunsara speak in your area,
and for assistance in how to plan and organize events,

email or call 917-520-6963 

FLASH:On April 7, Librería Calíope in New York City hosted a lively book release event to celebrate the publication of the Spanish edition of Away with All Gods! ¡Fuera con Todos los Dioses! Desencadenando la mente y cambiando radicalmente el mundo, is stirring up interest among Spanish-speaking readers, including proletarians, youth, intellectuals and people influenced or involved in the powerful radical and revolutionary currents that swept Latin America in the 60s and 70s. Passages from the book were read aloud, including a dramatic reading of the bitterly ironic beginning of the book, “God Works in Mysterious Ways.” After the readings, discussion and debate broke out and there were refreshments and a toast to the release of the book. Plans are being made to promote the book in the Spanish-speaking community.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

Supreme Court Rejects Mumia Appeal

by C. Clark Kissinger

On April 6, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of death-row inmate and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. There was no ruling in his case, it was simply included in a list of cases that the Supreme Court is refusing to even hear. Ominously, the list of refused cases did not include an appeal by the State of Pennsylvania which is seeking to reinstate Mumia's original death sentence.

This greatly raises the danger that Mumia might face execution.

In 1982, Mumia was found guilty of the murder of a Philadelphia cop after a completely unjust trial. And he has now been in solitary confinement on death row for almost 27 years.

Shortly before dawn, on December 9, 1981, Mumia was driving his cab on a downtown Philadelphia street. He saw a cop viciously beating his brother, William Cook, with a metal flashlight. Mumia rushed to help his brother. He was shot in the chest—and was found sitting on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood. A cop lay on the street nearby, dying from bullet wounds. The police charged Mumia, who was well known to them as a revolutionary journalist and a former Black Panther, with the murder of the cop.

At his 1982 trial, Mumia was denied the right to serve as his own attorney and was barred from the courtroom for half his trial. The prosecution claimed that Mumia had confessed -- a confession that cops only "remembered" months after the incident. Witnesses were coerced into giving false testimony. Key evidence was never seen by the jury. A court reporter overheard the trial judge saying that he was going to help the cops "fry the n****r." Mumia was convicted and sentenced to death.

A growing mass movement prevented Mumia's execution in 1995, but he was still denied justice and remained on death row. By 2000, Mumia's case had become an international issue. The European Parliament, Amnesty International, and others called for a new trial. In 2001, a federal district court judge upheld Mumia's conviction but overturned his death sentence because of unconstitutional jury instructions.

The heart of Mumia's appeal in the federal courts has been the prosecution's use of peremptory challenges to block 10 or 11 African Americans from being on Mumia's jury. The racial stacking of juries in Philadelphia was such a common practice at that time that the District Attorney's office even produced a training film for new assistant DA's on how to do it.

All this was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in its 1986 landmark decision in Batson v. Kentucky. In fact, when now Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was a judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, he wrote in a case similar to Mumia's that if even one potential juror is removed from a panel for reasons of race or religion, then that trial's verdict is fatally flawed and must be overturned.

But the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal demonstrates that the political needs of the ruling class consistently trump the niceties of law. Linn Washington Jr., columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune and Temple University professor of journalism wrote: "This Supreme Court decision again underscores the 'Mumia Exception' where courts ignore or radically alter existing precedent to reject granting this inmate the same legal relief given to others raising the same legal points."

Mumia has never backed down in the face of all this. And the system has continued in its determination to crush his unrepentant revolutionary stand. In 2008, the Third Circuit rejected Mumia's appeal by a vote of 2-1. Appellate Judge Thomas Ambro criticized the majority judges, asking why, for this particular petitioner, they were raising the bar for the evidence required to prove racial bias.

The Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, signed into law by Bill Clinton, limits each defendant to one and only one federal appeal. So the failure of the Supreme Court to even hear Mumia's case marks the end of the line for his appeals to the federal courts.

Lower federal courts previously overturned Mumia's death sentence because of unconstitutional instructions to the original jury. But the Supreme Court might still reinstate this death sentence off Pennsylvania's appeal, which is still pending. Even if the high court refuses to reinstate the original death penalty, Pennsylvania still has the option to empanel a new jury and rerun the penalty phase of Mumia's original trial--asking a new jury to choose between life in prison and execution.

This criminal system under which we live has now subjected Mumia to over a quarter century of systematic torture. He is locked in a small cell for 23 hours a day and only allowed to see family and lawyers through a plexiglass window. Outside his cell he is always shackled and chained.

Writing in the March 30 issue of The New Yorker, Professor Atul Gawande of the Harvard Medical School, points out that holding prisoners in long-term solitary confinement is a mechanism of torture. "It wasn't always like this," Prof. Gawande writes. "The wide-scale use of isolation is, almost exclusively, a phenomenon of the past twenty years. . . America now holds at least twenty-five thousand inmates in isolation in supermax prisons."

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

Correspondence from Revolution readers and distributors in Atlanta:

“When Sunsara Taylor Came to Atlanta…Right Here in the Bible Belt”

A very exciting thing happened when Sunsara Taylor’s Away With All Gods! Tour came to Atlanta in mid-March. Sunsara has been touring campuses all over the country, speaking to audiences about Bob Avakian’s book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, and opening up all kinds of stimulating debate and exchange with people from many different perspectives about religion and the role it plays in the world.

But when Sunsara Taylor came to Atlanta—right here in the Bible Belt—her courageous and provocative challenging of the enslaving mentality of religion tapped into a deep interest and thirst for this kind of conversation to be opened up.

This first became apparent when she was interviewed on a popular call-in show on commercial Black radio by Derrick Boazman, a former city councilman. The interview was electrifying and Boazman kept her on for the full two hours of the show. He read quotes from Bob Avakian’s book and asked her to respond and elaborate, and he challenged his religious listeners to call in saying, “We have a very intelligent young woman here—and now I want all of you preachers, Jesus freaks and holy rollers to call up, cuz she’ll have a word for you.” There were a number of calls from nationalists and from religious people from different points of view—including traditional Christian and African spiritualism—but many listeners called to thank her and congratulate her for her courageousness and some to profess their own atheism. One woman called in and testified about how hard it is to be a free-thinker in the Black community and about how her kids get bullied by Christians.

This radio show, and another with a Puerto Rican lesbian radio host on the local community station, helped to get the buzz going for the program planned at Georgia State University a few days later.

On the night of the program, over 300 people came out to hear the panel of Sunsara Taylor, communist, atheist and writer for Revolution newspaper; Dr. Kenneth Samuel, human rights activist and pastor of a local Black church; and Martin Cowen, non-believer and founder of Fellowship of Reason—and then to take part in two hours of wrangling debate.

The audience was hungry for sharp exchange and debate on foundational questions about religion, science, morality, and communism. They got rambunctious, they got offended, they got inspired, and a lot of them spoke up—both asking questions as well as interjecting and challenging the speakers. ALL of the speakers were challenged by the audience and things got pretty wild. People’s deeply held beliefs were being hit hard and people were getting excited and passionate.

Rev. Samuel’s presentation spoke firmly to the fact that one can be moral and be an atheist, but that his morality comes from Christ and that the political reality in America is that progressives will never get anywhere if they don’t embrace the fact that most people are Christian. He cited Obama and the fact that he could never have gotten anywhere if he hadn’t aligned himself with a church, and he argued from the point of view of pragmatism and the practical needs of the social movement that Christianity was necessary to work with. He said he will defend separation of church and state and that he will defend the right of non-believers and communists, he only hopes they will respect his rights to believe as well.

Martin Cowen, putting forward the philosophy and outlook of Ayn Rand, took on both Christianity as well as the dictatorship of the proletariat and put forward instead, the individual as the moral center of the universe. His point was that both the dictatorship of the proletariat and religion rule over people’s lives, and what we need instead is the individual as the moral center. He said that every individual should live life in order to flourish most fully, and individualism—not any form of collectivism—is the highest moral good.

Sunsara Taylor began by saying how important it was to have these exchanges, how much she respected the views of the other panelists, and then went on to do powerful exposure of Christianity and the Bible—how it is bloodthirsty and a source of outmoded, oppressive morality. She got into the core of the Christian message being rooted in patriarchy and in the idea that god has a plan and there is mysterious meaning in that plan. She told how the preacher at Oscar Grant’s funeral said he had thought Oscar was going to be a preacher but that “god had other plans.” She said, “That is one fucked-up plan”—to which a large section of the crowd burst into enthusiastic applause. She discussed briefly communist morality and how it is rooted in the potential resolution of the contradictions currently shackling people and is a guide for how to live and struggle today. She ended by talking about how humanity will never do without art and imagination—BUT we can do and will do much better without religion.

A section of the audience was very audibly moved and unleashed by Sunsara’s presentation as she took on the Bible and the foundational beliefs of Christianity with substance and passion. There was palpable excitement among many in the audience that atheism was being fought for as a rational and scientific understanding of the world and that—not only did people not need a belief in the supernatural to be moral people in their relations to others—but that religion of all kinds was harmful and an obstacle to people understanding reality and liberating themselves and all humanity. There were also no “typical” lines of unity among the panelists—Mr. Cowen, the other atheist panelist, was arguing for “live and let live” and that individuals should do what made them happy and had no obligation to take responsibility for humanity as a whole. Both Sunsara Taylor and Rev. Samuel were addressing morality in the context of people taking responsibility to stop the suffering and injustice—especially that was propagated by our “own” government. All three were united in their opposition to any kind of theocracy.

From there the Q&A took off and got really wild—every panelist was challenged from a number of different directions and the panelists sharply challenged each other. The audience was made up largely of students from Georgia State University, but there were also students from colleges all over the area, including the historical Black colleges in Atlanta, and there were many nationalities represented—African Americans, Caribbeans, South Asians, Asians, white people and others. There were Black nationalists who opposed Christianity as a European concept, Muslims, Christians, Fellowship of Reason members, members from atheist and skeptic organizations, members from Dr. Samuel’s church, and then there was a whole mix of people who were just fed up with religion, many considering themselves atheists or agnostics.

There were a lot of questions to Sunsara Taylor about communism, many coming from misunderstandings and notions of totalitarianism, and others about how can communism be a science, what would motivate people in a communist society, and is there anywhere that it has been successfully tried. There were challenges to Rev. Samuel about Christianity and the role of the church that came from deep wells of bitterness and pain, and there were sharp challenges and dismissals to Mr. Cowen’s philosophy centered on the individual fulfillment as selfish and not addressing the inequities in the world.

A middle-aged deeply religious Christian from Haiti challenged Sunsara Taylor for being mired in “Western arrogance” in her comments and not recognizing that oppressed peoples had made revolutions based on scriptures in the Bible. Citing the revolution in Haiti, he asked: isn’t this a case of religion helping people to liberate themselves, not chain them? Another immigrant from the Caribbean challenged this statement, pointing out that people in Haiti are far from liberated now. One questioner seemed to be grappling with the contradiction between being drawn to Sunsara’s description of the kind of world we can achieve with communism versus her own Christian beliefs---she told Sunsara that her description was “really” what Christianity could bring to the world and that was why communism should be rooted in Christian love, not opposing Christianity. A middle-aged Black woman from Dr. Samuel’s church asked why one can’t be a revolutionary and a Christian at the same time, and someone else challenged Reverend Samuel on how can religion be a choice when it was forced on you as a young child.

There was also a developing exchange that took place mainly between Sunsara Taylor and Rev. Samuel—but also with the audience—over the Bible, Christianity, and Jesus.

Rev. Samuel early on united with Sunsara Taylor’s disapproval of what he called the “toxic texts” of the Bible—on patriarchy and homosexuality—but he, as well as some members of the audience, insisted that this wasn’t all that was in the Bible and that it was impossible to deny that Christians have played a major role in social movements, citing Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference motto: “To save the soul of America.” Taylor agreed that Christians have played a major role, but this has largely been in spite of the core of the religious message, not because of it, and that the church has played an acutely contradictory role in these struggles, including keeping the struggle of the masses within bounds acceptable to the system. She said patriarchy is not incidental to, but is at the heart of the Bible’s message, and then went on to talk about why we don’t need to “save the soul of America” but instead we need a revolution that gets rid of America and all that it means in the world. Debate continued between them over whether the core message of the Bible, including that of Jesus, supported liberation of the oppressed or slavery, rape and genocide.

Sunsara Taylor repeatedly made the point that she shares a lot of concern for the same issues as Rev. Samuel, respects him a lot and will unite with him and others from his perspective, but that at the same time there is a need for unity-struggle-unity; that the dividing line is not belief or non-belief, it is whether you stand with the oppressor or the struggle of the oppressed to get free. But, within that overall unity we do have to speak frankly and thrash out our differences—because the stakes are very high over what will really emancipate humanity from centuries of oppression and degradation.

One man in the audience got up and said it is pointless for the panel to be arguing—we are all one, from the same life force, all saying the same thing, all humanity is beautiful, it’s all energy, no one is ruling over anyone, etc. Taylor responded to this very bluntly: “As far as no one ruling over anyone, tell that to the 740,000 widows in Iraq. Tell it to the 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons.” The audience got very serious and there was a heavy pause and then applause.

A Black man stood up and commended Sunsara Taylor and her courage and clarity, saying, “There is no pretty way to tell the dirty truth” and then went on to challenge Rev. Samuel and Martin Cowen (who despite being a non-believer, was very accepting of religion, as long as it wasn’t pushed on him) about whether they put the same value on things they “know” through faith as on things they know through empirical evidence.

This is only a small taste of all that got debated that night, and other questions ranged from social Darwinism, to dreams and consciousness, to Buddhism and Hinduism. After the debate finally had to be brought to a close, audience members clustered around the 3 speakers, with many people gravitating around Sunsara Taylor, some raving about how well she had done and how sick they are of Christianity.

A number of people had come out to the program off of hearing the Derrick Boazman radio show, and Derrick Boazman as well as the other radio host themselves showed up for the program. There were invitations for more interviews and exchanges with Sunsara Taylor and the other panelists. One student exclaimed about the event: “This was fantastic. This is arguably the most significant topic of discussion we can have in today’s society.” Others wanted to know when was Part 2 of the event going to take place.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

As Obama Sends More Troops

Afghanistan: Lackies of U.S. Legalize Marital Rape and Other Anti-Women Laws

On March 27, Barack Obama laid out his plan for another 4,000 troops on top of the 17,000 he's already sent (and another 10,000 likely before the end of the year, bringing the U.S. total to 70,000).

Among the rationales for this escalation, Obama claims that the U.S.'s ongoing war and occupation "is a cause that could not be more just," including because a goal is helping the Afghan people, "especially women and girls." "For the Afghan people," Obama stated, "a return to Taliban rule would condemn their country to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralyzed economy, and the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people—especially women and girls."

But "the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people—especially women and girls" is exactly what the U.S. and its puppet regime are enforcing in Afghanistan.

Just four days after Obama's statement, it was revealed that the Afghan government—which was installed by the U.S.—had passed (in February) one of the most vicious anti-women bills in the world based on Islamic religious law (sharia). This bill was supported by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was handpicked by the U.S.

This new law will apply to Afghanistan's Shia population, which is about 10-15 percent of the Afghan people. And it sets terrifying precedent for all Afghan women. It explicitly legalizes rape in marriage by banning women from refusing to have sex with their husbands. The law states, "Unless the wife is ill, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband."

But that's not all. This reactionary, medieval law also:

One woman parliamentarian called the law "worse than during the Taliban," and said that "Anyone who spoke out was accused of being against Islam." (Independent and Guardian UK reports, 3/31/09)

In the midst of international outcry over this law, Obama denounced it as "abhorrent." But this law is the product of a regime installed by, propped up by, and serving U.S. imperialism. And Obama made clear that it wouldn't change the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. (ABC News, 4/4/09).

A statement issued for International Women's Day this year from the March 8 Women's Organization (Iran-Afghanistan) points to a basic reality: "U.S. imperialism invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of a 'war against terror' and the 'liberation of women.' It ended up pouring terror on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and reinforcing all patriarchal, tribal, and religious authorities."

What is urgently needed now, from people in the U.S., is opposition to the occupation of Afghanistan by the U.S.– which is responsible for the by-far greater part of the horrors and suffering in the Middle East. The more this kind of movement and powerful struggle against the war emerges in the U.S., the more it will give air to breathe and initiative to genuine revolutionaries in parts of the world that are quite righteously hotbeds of hatred against U.S. imperialism, and who are going up against both U.S. imperialism and reactionary Islamic fundamentalism.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

London G20:

We want another world, or We want this world patched up?

Scenes from the anti-G20 demonstrations

April 6, 2009. A World to Win News Service. “Will French President Sarkozy get his global financial regulatory mechanism, or will the Anglo-American financial stimulus approach to the crisis prevail?” “Will climate change be a priority, or will it be put on the back burner?” People all over the world, and especially in Britain, were barraged with the message that everyone had a vital stake in the debates at the London G20 meeting, the summit conference of the world’s largest 20 economies, and that these were the only choices. Hand in hand with that went another message: how dare anyone even think of protesting?! The stakes being discussed at the G20 were said to be of such tremendous importance to the future of the whole planet that no one must be allowed to disturb our democratically elected leaders as they conduct their delicate negotiations. U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden tried to play on President Barack Obama’s newness in government to argue that the demonstrators should “give us a chance” and first listen to what the leaders plan to do.

Yet the future of the planet is indeed vital, and faces unprecedented threats—and that’s exactly why its destiny cannot be left in the hands of the G20 leaders and their ilk. This question—in whose hands should we place our hopes for the future—was what objectively made the G20 demonstrations in London and other cities in Europe so important, and it was also very present in the minds of and debated by quite a few demonstrators as well.

On March 28, the Saturday before the G20 meeting, over 35,000 people marched through London in a demonstration called by a broad coalition of environmentalists, charities and trade unions. The official slogan, “Put People First,” was meant to be a word of advice or pressure on the G20 deciders. On that same day, 15,000 marched in Berlin, 6,000 in Rome (where a meeting of the G8 Ministers of Labour was being held) and another 6,500 in Vienna under the slogans, “Make the Rich Pay” and “Capitalism Kills,” as did hundreds in Paris.

Even greater attention was focused on the G20 meeting itself on Wednesday and Thursday. As the date approached, another, more ominous message came from the police themselves, with mounting force: “violent extremists” were out to “hijack” the protests, even possibly “terrorists.” A few days before the G20, a handful of people were arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Front-page headlines linked “terrorists” and the G20, and said that the “suspected terrorists” had “extremist” political material as well as “dangerous weapons” and were possibly planning an attack on the G20. Only later did it emerge that they had nothing more dangerous than fireworks, and when the media tried to pin down the constable in charge of the investigation, he revealed that the arrests had been made when one of them was caught painting graffiti on a wall. He refused to identify the “extremist” political material seized, but said that “it was different than what you ordinarily see,” which raises the question: are the police now going to treat anything out of the ordinary as “terrorist”?!

This specter of violent confrontation dominated the headlines day after day preceding the G20, as London’s Metropolitan Police mounted what they said was the “biggest operation” in their history, with all police leave cancelled and thousands of reinforcements called in from surrounding regions. A force of 30,000 police was deployed. Bankers were told to “dress down” so that they wouldn’t be targeted, as if individuals, and not the G20 leaders themselves, were the real object of the protestors’ wrath. Here it is worth noting that the only bankers hurt during the protests, and there were some, were injured by the police, not by protestors.

Despite the police and media-fuelled atmosphere of threat and intimidation, tens of thousands turned out on Wednesday to greet the G20. No one really knows how many, including first, because most of the protests were highly decentralized, with six or eight or even more different actions taking place at a single time, each gathering anywhere from a few dozen to many thousands, and second, because the police took every opportunity to block off huge swathes of central London, corralling protestors in isolated bunches and doing their best to prevent coordinated action.

One crucial factor shaping how this whole battle unfolded was Obama’s image. Anyone not joining in the celebration welcoming the first Black U.S. President in history to Britain was portrayed like the town drunk who always shows up to spoil the party. While analyzing the relations between U.S. imperialism and the rest of the world’s major powers is beyond the scope of this report, two things could be said: first, many of the other G20 leaders clearly welcome Obama as representing the prospects of a somewhat more multilateral Washington approach to global policy, but two, they also very much hope that the change in image that Obama represents will reinvigorate the U.S.’s ability to “lead the democratic world,” that is, the global system of imperialist plunder that they all have a vital stake in.

As for the protestors, many of them did have hopes that Obama might bring some real change to U.S. policy. In fact, if this hadn’t been the feeling among so many people, it’s hard to believe that the G20 could have been held in London at all. For some time now in Europe most gatherings of major heads of state had been forced into the shadows, to remote locations kept inaccessible to normal people, like the Scottish highlands resort of Gleneagles for the G8 in 2005 and Germany’s Heilingendamm for the G8 in 2007 (and a militarized island off Sardinia for the upcoming G8 meeting). This life in the shadows was truer for no one more than George Bush, who during his final time in office was forced to confine his major appearances to military bases and other areas safe from the hatred that hundreds of millions around the world felt for what he stood for.

So the very act of holding this kind of gathering of major heads of state in a global capital once again was in a sense an attempt to reverse a correct verdict on these world leaders. It threw down the gauntlet to the ranks of those forces who’ve hounded them around Europe and the world in their periodic meetings. This was particularly so as they were coming to a world financial center at a time when their global financial system is wreaking such pain and misery on literally billions around the world. But while many protestors held out some hope that Obama might bring real changes, at the same time many recognized that the outrages they see reflect the workings of a much larger system. As one protestor put it, “Why on earth should we think that the heads of the main capitalist states getting together should make it possible to solve a problem caused by capitalism?”

And so it was that large numbers of those who descended on London, including from around the British Isles and northern Europe in particular, came with a real sense of determination to try to stop business as usual in London’s financial center while the G20 leaders met.

Scenes from Obama’s first taste of mass protest

On Wednesday, as the G20 leaders arrived, the climate change campaigners held several actions. At the ExCel Centre in London’s East End, where the G20 meeting was to take place, they held a “climate emergency ice-berg demo,” where they brought in a giant block of ice to dramatize the melting of the polar ice caps and the urgent threat of global warming. A March for Jobs passed through some of London’s poorest boroughs to call attention to the millions around the world who’re being thrown out of their jobs and into the streets. At 12:30, in a highly coordinated action that made use of Twitter and other e-media, about 1,000 people suddenly swooped on Bishopsgate, the heart of London’s financial area called “The City,” and set up several hundred tents, creating a “tent city,” behind a huge banner proclaiming, “Nature Doesn’t Do Bail-outs.” They planned to stay 24 hours and use the area as a base to hold teach-ins and fan out and talk with passers-by.

Early that same afternoon, 6-8,000 people gathered at the U.S. Embassy for a march in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular. Like in the anti-NATO protests in Strasbourg, France, later that week, many felt that it was important that these be strong shows of defiance. Not only were people angry because Obama was sending more troops to Afghanistan and calling on Europe to do the same, but several people also pointed to the recent news of a new anti-woman law passed by the imperialist-backed Karzai government that limits women’s right to leave their homes unaccompanied and legalizes marital rape. This is yet further proof that however reactionary the Taleban might be, the imperialist occupation was not part of the solution, but at the heart of the problem.

Meanwhile, even as the anti-war protestors and the climate change campaigners were on the move, thousands more were gathering at the Bank Underground station to take the protests right into London’s financial center. It was here that tensions were sharpest. Protestors talked of the stark contrast between the bail-out of the bankers and what the broad masses were going through. Many pointed to Sir Fred Godwin, former head of Royal Bank of Scotland, who’d retired at 50 on a million dollars a year after presiding over the bank’s collapse and public bail-out, while hundreds of thousands of working-class people were being tossed onto the dole queues [unemployment benefit lines] on 130 dollars a week. One group of protestors had drenched themselves in blood to show what the reality of the financial crisis meant to the people of the Third World, for whom higher food and energy prices mean going cold and hungry.

The protestors were converging in four smaller feeder marches, each with many hundreds of people, on the main gathering of 5-6,000 already at the station. But suddenly, hundreds of police encircled the main group, while hundreds of other police blocked each of the feeder marches, and then encircled some of them in turn. This is a technique developed over the last few years in the UK called “kettling.” Large numbers of riot police block all the surrounding streets to encircle a mass of protestors, holding them sometimes for many hours, almost always without any advance warning. Then, if they so decide, they allow the protestors to leave only through the “kettle outlet,” one at a time, taking their photo and ID as they exit. If protestors refuse, they are arrested on the spot. This police-state tactic is one way that the authorities in Britain, the home of modern Western parliamentary democracy, have built up a massive computerized database on its citizens, which includes DNA records on millions. This practice has just been upheld by the highest court. It is part of what is said to be the most comprehensive surveillance society in the world, with several million closed-circuit TV cameras countrywide and every square meter of central London said to be covered by police CCTV.

All this has been overseen by the Labour Party. While throughout the week the British bourgeoisie were salivating at the fantasy of somehow having their own Obama moment, or at least basking in his temporarily, their situation contrasts starkly with the U.S. Unlike there, where it was the Bush regime that presided over the post-9/11 juggernaut of war and repression, in Britain it was the supposedly left-wing Labour Party that oversaw this time of war and repression, leaving a big vacuum among millions who had traditionally looked to it as an alternative to the conservative Tories.

For two hours or so, the 5-6,000 “kettled” protestors were resigned to chanting, singing, dancing and just talking to each other. One 20-year-old student from a university in the Newcastle area was straining to understand why more people hadn’t come out, given the devastation the crisis was wreaking on people’s lives all over the world. He talked about his experience struggling with some of his mates who were trying to convince him that he should be supporting socialism in Castro’s Cuba and in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. “But,” he said, “I’ve been studying what’s going on in those countries, and just don’t see how they are getting rid of imperialism. Cuba hasn’t diversified its economy, and Chavez is doing all kinds of deals with the multinationals, and depends on oil to try to get free of imperialism. It’s not bottom up, it’s top down.” He was, like several other students met during the protest, reading Marx’s Capital in a small study circle, and was eager to get into discussion about communist revolution, what kind of society it was aiming for, and what was the experience of the 20th century revolutions.

Some of the demonstrators had gone to Edinburgh, Scotland, to protest the G8 summit there in 2005. One young Londoner said he had been “pretty naive” back then: “We were focusing on Africa then, and I really thought we were going to make the G8 do a lot more for the people there. But if you look at the percentage of gross domestic product that the G8 countries are giving out in foreign aid, it hasn’t changed in the last ten years.”

Many protestors identified with anarchism, anti-capitalism and even revolution. As one high-school youth put it, “I look around and see all these states, and they’re all bad, and it seems that the communist revolutions didn’t solve this problem, so you’ve just got to be against the state.” But at the same time, when pressed for how society could be organized, he, like many others, acknowledged, “Look, I don’t really know, but I’m trying to figure that out.” Anarchism, like anti-capitalism, often translated into opening up space for alternative lifestyles that could break out of the confines of consumer society and exist in some kind of spirit of solidarity with people all over the world, and while the default was that communism had failed, there was also openness to going into the experience of the 20th century revolutions and what it means to say that capitalism is the problem, and what it would actually take to go beyond class society, and intense wrangling about all the “big questions” of revolution, like human nature, and how such change could actually happen.

As the hours went on, the protestors grew restless. No one was allowed out, even elderly people who complained of their health. People began to press against the police perimeter, and scuffles started, with the police wielding their truncheons with abandon. Some of the activists seized on the discontent, and mobilized much of the 5-6,000 people to close ranks and push harder and harder against one of the police lines, finally just rolling over them. Freed from the kettle! But before the demonstrators had marched more than a few hundred yards, the police had called in reinforcements, closed off the surrounding streets, and reinstituted the lock-down. And so the day progressed, alternating between periods of intense confrontation, and periods of intense discussion over capitalism and communism in the “kettle.”

Towards evening, the police turned their attention towards “the greenies” in the Climate Change camp at Bishopsgate, where by now at least 1,500 people had gathered, most with the intention of spending the night in the “tent city.” Even this alternative eco scene was too much for the police, and several hundred of them surrounded it, dumped the protestors out of their tents and kettled them till late into the night.

The heavy-handed police tactics, in particular the use of kettling on a more mass scale than ever, caused a lot of controversy even among the liberal media, particularly when it emerged that a 47-year-old man, Ian Tomlinson, had died during the protest. Sharp controversy still rages as we go to press. It was reported that he was photographed lying on the ground talking with 5 riot police shortly before he died. But why didn’t the police call an ambulance? And had he been kettled before collapsing, or worse? The slowness with which any facts have emerged says a lot about how determined the police were not to let this incident spoil the G20.

Some protestors made the journey from London to Strasbourg at the same time as Obama and the other leaders from NATO countries did the same. Some argued that this was the “real” meeting, the meeting that showed what these leaders were really about: while in London the G20 could put on a big song-and-dance about trying to stop the financial crisis, at the NATO meeting in Strasbourg what came out was their unrelenting determination to pursue and even escalate the latest war in Afghanistan to defend the empire that they all have a share in. In Strasbourg, too, there was a massive police presence, as thousands of French riot police closed off the city to anyone who even looked like a protestor, and fought fierce battles with thousands of youth in the streets.

France’s pro-Sarkozy (and therefore pro-Obama, whose image Sarkozy covets) conservative daily Le Figaro, boasted on its front page after the NATO meeting that “Four days of Obama had erased eight years of Bush.” The major imperialists and reactionaries are indeed squeezing everything they can get out of the change in image Obama has brought the American empire and the global system it heads. But there’s a fundamental problem: the empire remains, and its workings bring misery, war and oppression to hundreds of millions worldwide, over and over again—and Obama is not just someone who happens to find himself at the top of the imperialist world order, he is actively and enthusiastically getting on with that job. For the first time on the global stage Obama was on the wrong side of the fence, being protected by phalanxes of truncheon-wielding riot police from thousands of people fighting for a better world. What took place in London and Strasbourg was the opening of some initial cracks in the shiny new ideological armor that U.S. imperialism is trying to put on its bloody empire and on the global system it leads.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

Protecting the G20:

The Untimely Death of Ian Tomlinson

The following is from the A World to Win News Service:

April 8, 2009. A World to Win News Service. Within a few hours of going to press with yesterday's News Service edition, the fog surrounding the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests was lifted by a video turned in to the Guardian newspaper by a New York banker, who said he attended the protests "out of curiosity." The video, together with a growing number of eyewitness reports, now clearly establishes that the police attacked Tomlinson without warning or provocation and threw him brutally to the ground where they left him unattended, and that he died moments later. (The video is widely available on YouTube, with witness statements on the Guardian and other sites.)

The known facts are these: Tomlinson, 47-years-old, had left the stall in London's financial district where he sells newspapers and headed for the nearby Bank tube station, where at 7 pm he was denied entry by a police cordon. He then tried to make his way home through streets crowded with protestors, police and passersby. At 7:15 pm the video then clearly shows Tomlinson walking away from a group of riot police, his back turned to them, looking downwards, with both hands in his pockets. Suddenly one of the policemen approaches Tomlinson from the rear, seems to whack him with a truncheon in the back of his legs, then shoves him with both hands to the ground. Tomlinson hits hard, in fact, witnesses say so hard that he "bounced off" the pavement. He lay there for a few seconds, remonstrating with the group of police, before a protestor helped him to his feet. Witnesses say Tomlinson then stumbled off, but seemed dazed, his eyes glazed. Moments later, barely 50 meters away, he keeled over and died.

On Wednesday evening, shortly after Tomlinson's death, police spokesmen gave a briefing to journalists in which they concealed any reference to contact with Tomlinson, said they had offered him medical assistance, and claimed that protestors had interfered with their efforts to save his life. These brazen lies tried to turn reality upside down, as if brave policemen tried to save an innocent bystander threatened by uncaring protestors. Instead the truth is now there for anyone to see: vicious baton-wielding thugs in uniform brutalize someone who they abandon and who is then helped by protestors. An ITV journalist now reports that one of his news team tried to assist Tomlinson after he'd fallen, but was driven away by a police baton charge, and then another news team member reported Tomlinson's plight to police but was given the brush-off.

Some might think that, given the exposure of how outrageously the police lied following their killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, the young Brazilian who was shot 7 times in the head at point-blank range by the Metropolitan police right after the July 2005 London bombings, they would think twice before lying once again so soon, and so blatantly. But what actually happened in the wake of that killing? What was the result of all the subsequent investigations and hearings held by all the independent commissions and courts into the police murder of de Menezes? Not a single policeman ever spent a day in jail or was even demoted—in fact, the commander of the operation, Cressida Dick, was even rewarded with a promotion. So why shouldn't they lie again to cover up another of their bloody deeds?

After the video's release, Peter Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, gave Radio 4 the explanation that, "on a day like that... there is inevitably going to be some physical confrontation. Sometimes it isn't clear, as a police officer, who is a protestor and who is not. I know it's a generalization but anybody in that part of town at that time, the assumption would be that they are part of the protest." What can this possibly mean other than that if Tomlinson had in fact been a protestor, then it would have been quite reasonable for the police to ambush him from the rear, hurl him to the ground and kill him! And take note: this isn't some rank-and-file bull caught off-guard, this is the police's professional spokesman, briefed and ready for a major media presentation. Is it any wonder why to so many people they're known as "pigs"!?

And what about the media itself? Did they hungrily go after the story, trying to ferret out the truth, chastened by how they'd simply repeated police lies in the de Menezes case, one after another? On the contrary, once again, just like after the murder of de Menezes, the police version of events dominated the airwaves, with the Daily Telegraph claiming rabidly that Tomlinson had died "after being caught among the mob" (which is true enough, if you understand who the real "mob" is).

One reason why the police might have decided to lie so brazenly in circumstances where they could have guessed that they would be caught out is to avoid the explosion of outrage that would have surely followed the next day, the day of the G20 meeting itself. With thousands of demonstrators already in the streets, powerful forces were undoubtedly very determined that this crucial imperialist gathering would proceed in an atmosphere undisturbed by little facts like government thugs killing innocent citizens on the streets. The events surrounding the death of Ian Tomlinson reveal an inescapable truth: what the G20 protests were up against was a ruthless system protected by a state, one that takes a parliamentary democratic form, but which is in essence a dictatorship of a class that will use all the institutions under its control, from the police to the media, to enforce its interests. It says a lot about where this system is headed that the word the British police use to describe their tactic of corralling masses and then running them through a narrow outlet, "kettling", is the very term that was used by the Nazis in World War 2 to describe this same tactic which they used against the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The media is now filled with calls for calm and the need to be even-handed and to not "rush to judgment." One of the BBC's main news presenters worried that, "It is clear that some protestors will use what's happened as a stick to beat the police with." Once again, reality is turned upside down: in the eyes of the public broadcaster, which vaunts its "impartiality," even after the truth has come out about Tomlinson's death it is not the police beating protestors that's the problem, but the protestors beating the police!

Like many of his fellow thugs in uniform, the policeman caught on the video attacking Tomlinson had his face and ID badge covered, so his identity is still not known. During the protests, individual police had repeatedly refused to allow themselves to be identified. This builds their sense of impunity and delivers a message to protestors that they should have no illusions that there will be any recourse against police brutality, so watch out! BBC has a weekly program called Crimewatch that presents unsolved crimes and calls on the public to step forward and help the police catch the criminals. Don't hold your breath waiting for them to recreate this crime scene and call on the public to catch this possible killer!

The police first refused calls for an investigation, but now that the video has come to light, it's been decided that the City of London police will investigate themselves, with the Independent Police Complaints Commission overseeing. As if having the police investigate themselves weren't already outrageous enough, this is the same IPCC whose investigations into the de Menezes case wound up with the police being let off free. Already officials are saying it will be difficult to investigate because no evidence was gathered at the scene on the day Tomlinson died. There is every reason to conclude that what will take place will not be an investigation, but a cover-up, just like the cover-up of the murder of de Menezes. Those who want justice for Ian Tomlinson cannot rely on this system, but urgently need to build a movement of resistance that calls out the police for the murderers they are, and exposes any efforts to cover up their crimes.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

Jose Maria Sison—Cleared of All Charges

The following is from the A World to Win News Service:

April 6, 2009. A World to Win News Service. After unrelenting legal persecution on murder charges that have failed to convince the courts again and again, Dutch prosecutors have finally announced that they have dropped their case against Professor Jose Maria Sison, the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service’s March 31 formal announcement of this decision due to “insufficient legal and convincing evidence” amounts to a self-exposure of the political nature of the legal campaign against Sison, just as he has always claimed.

Further, just in case anyone might doubt this political motivation, as a kind of parting shot, even after admitting that there never has been evidence that could stand up in court and no basis even for further investigation, the Dutch prosecutors repeated that because of his links to the CPP they believed Sison “would have been implicated” in the deaths of two men Sison has described as “security consultants and military assets of the Philippine reactionary government” killed by the Party-led New People’s Army. This is a blatant attempt to continue to persecute Sison in the sphere of public opinion (and in ways that have serious practical consequences as well), to punish him extra-legally after they have been forced to admit that he can’t be punished by law.

Sison, now 70, was arrested in August 2007 and kept in solitary confinement for 17 days with no visits from his doctor or family. At that time the courts turned down the prosecution request that he be kept in prison pending trial and ordered his release because, it said even then, there was not enough evidence for a trial and the charges against him had to been seen in their political context. It is noteworthy that the Philippine government itself had dropped charges against him for the killings that took place in 2003 and 2004, and yet Dutch officials chose to reconsider the case on the basis of what Sison calls “false witnesses” provided by “the Philippine political and military authorities.”

The prosecution tried and failed to get an appeals court to order his reimprisonment in October of that year. In June 2008 the appeals court ruled that there was still not enough evidence to warrant a trial. The prosecution continued its investigation. In his March 31 press release, Sison called the Dutch Public Prosecution Service’s decision to drop the charges “long overdue and much delayed.”

Sison has been living in Holland since 1988, when the Philippine government cancelled his passport while he was travelling abroad. He had been held for eight years in a Philippine prison, where he was tortured, and his life has been threatened ever since. Nevertheless, the Dutch government has refused to grant him asylum status. The Dutch government put his name on its “terrorist” list in 2002, following a similar U.S. government decision by 24 hours, and the European Union followed suit. There were no legal charges against him at that time, so again the purpose was extra-legal political punishment.

This listing has meant serious restrictions on his ability to work and travel and a denial of health care, housing and other benefits to which refugees are entitled. His bank account was also frozen.

Sison has announced that he intends to wage a political and legal battle to force Holland and the EU to “make amends for the injustices it has done to me in my asylum case, in the ‘terrorism’ listing and the false charge of murder.” He has filed a court case against the Dutch Prosecution Service “for failing to prosecute those who have attempted to assassinate me in the Netherlands.”

Similar legal action is being contemplated by the leadership and staffers of the Negotiating Panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), whose homes were raided at the same time Sison was arrested in 2007.

The NDFP suspended peace negotiations with the Filipino government in 2004. Sison said, “The dismissal of the case against me enables me to have more time to work for the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP in my capacity as NDFP chief political consultant. I am determined to work for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines on the basis of agreements on social, economic and political reforms that address the roots of the armed conflict.”

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

Hands Off David! Drop The Charges! Stop the Attack on a Young Revolutionary!

Oakland is a place where police brutality is a daily occurrence. Where stop and searches, beatings and police murders go on with impunity by official policy. The cold-blooded murder of Oscar Grant—who was punched, pinned to the ground, and shot in the back by BART police on New Year's Day, in the middle of a frenzied attack by police on numerous Black and Latino youth—was an ugly snapshot exposing the all too real essence of what this system does to people of color and youth in particular.

David, a 16-year-old member of the Revolution Club, is now facing two felony charges and one misdemeanor stemming from his arrest on the night of January 7 in Oakland, when people stood up against this outrage. David did not commit any crime that evening, and is being wrongly accused. The same system that murdered Oscar Grant is now trying to silence the resistance and keep it from spreading.

David has been on the front lines of this struggle and as hundreds of people, youth in particular, lifted their heads and marched through the streets of Oakland that night, defiant in the face of a heavy police presence, David brought Revolution newspaper out to the people and led chants—"We are ALL Oscar Grant!" and "The Whole System is Guilty!"—that raised the consciousness and struck a chord with all who were out there. For this, he is under attack. At one point David and five others were singled out by the cops. Suddenly the block was sealed off by about twenty police and an armored truck, and they were surrounded. David was tackled and arrested by five cops. While Mehserle, the cop who murdered Oscar Grant was walking free, David was locked up.

The police came down with force on many that evening—SWAT team and an armored personnel vehicle, swinging batons and deploying tear gas canisters, rubber pellets, etc. Over 120 people were arrested and most charges were later dropped. David is now one of only three charged with felonies, and the only juvenile being charged.

David, a Latino youth from East Oakland, is under attack because he is a revolutionary and a communist, and because he is a leader who is telling the truth and organizing resistance. As a member of the Revolution Club, a group that has been fighting police brutality, calling out the rotten system that causes it in the first place, and widely promoting revolution and communism, he has been calling on the youth to join and help build a movement for revolution .

An Attack on the People

There are many people, from all walks of life, who have taken up the fight for justice for Oscar Grant with a variety of goals, strategies, and tactics, and this attack on David is an attack on them as well. The powers-that-be are sending a clear message, "stand up to us, and we'll put you away."

This attack on David is also an attack against all the people starting to lift their heads to fight and question the kind of society they live in. There are millions of people, youth especially, who are criminalized and suffer at the hands of this rotten system on a daily basis. Many of these youth, in the Bay Area especially, have been inspired by and drawn to the righteous resistance that flared up in the wake of Oscar Grant's death. You can literally see it on the streets in the "Oscar Grant lives!" and "I am Oscar Grant" graffiti that has blossomed on the walls of in Oakland. And you can hear it in people's voices when they speak with pride about being out in the streets on January 7, a night when police murder wasn't allowed to go down as "business as usual." The Revolution Club is bringing a revolutionary communist consciousness into this struggle, showing why police murder is an inherent part of this capitalist system, how police under such a system can only "serve and protect" this oppressive system, and the fact that the solution lies in building a revolutionary movement with the final goal of sweeping away this truly monstrous system.

It's a big political and ideological threat to the enemy when there are growing numbers of young people who begin to take up revolutionary communism; when young people begin to see the violence of the system as wrong, illegitimate and unnecessary, and that a better world—a communist world—is possible and worth fighting to bring into being. This is what David is about spreading. The people who run this country can't run their society and keep all the injustices going if these young people begin to break out and challenge their system and fight for a new system. David is an example they need to attack to send a "you better not" message.

Stop the Attack on a Young Revolutionary

David's leadership and dedication to bringing about a radically different, and far better world must not be suppressed by the state. It is crucial that people expose the state's attacks and build mass political resistance to defend David and others who have stepped forward to fight police brutality and murder.

At David's first pre-trial hearing, fifteen people came to support him and demand the charges be dropped. They were not allowed into the courtroom because David is a juvenile (David's lawyer made a motion to open the proceedings which was denied), although the support did have the effect of putting the system "on notice" that this attack on a young revolutionary is not going to go down without a fight.

Since then, a legal defense committee has formed to expose this attack and call on people to rally to his defense. David has been on local radio, speaking passionately about how his case is a part of the overall struggle for justice for Oscar Grant and how it fits within the context of building a revolutionary movement. His case has resonated with everyone who sees the need for real change, and at his most recent pretrial hearing, over twenty people showed up to demand the charges be dropped, and two local TV stations were there to cover the case. After a press conference, those who came to show their support sat down together and took turns speaking about why they came to the courthouse. Heartfelt statements were made about David's leadership, the need to fight for Oscar Grant, and the need to foster more youth joining a revolutionary movement.

The Revolution Club is calling on people from all walks of life to be part of taking on this attack, turning it around, and bringing many more people into the battle for Justice for Oscar Grant and the revolutionary movement. That means spreading the word and organizing forces around this case, signing onto the defense committee petition, and building growing legal and political support for David!



Upcoming Court Dates:

Discovery Hearing—June 15

Trial Date—July 20

For more information and to get involved contact the Revolution Club: 510.725.8754 or email the Defense Committee at



Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

BART'S "Answer" to Oscar Grant's Murder:

Bald-Faced Lies and Coverups to Legitimize Police Brutality and Murder

From the Bay Area Revolution Team

Early in the morning of January 1, at least 3 cell phone videos captured a gut-wrenching murder scene: Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop Johannes Mehserle standing over Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Black man. Oscar, lying on his stomach on the cement platform at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, California, offering no resistance. Mehserle then methodically pulling out his gun and shooting Oscar in the back at point-blank range. Then Mehserle and another cop nudging Oscar with their feet, roughly lifting him up, turning him over, but showing no remorse, with no move to check his pulse or breathing, no attempts to administer CPR, as Oscar's blood filled his mouth and stained the pavement. (Oscar was pronounced dead at the hospital about 6 hours later.)

These videos (among other evidence) proved that Oscar Grant was murdered in cold-blood—without any justification.

Did this mean that BART (a governmental agency and arm of the state) and the rest of the power structure would admit the truth—that their officer had murdered someone in cold blood and should now be tried and convicted of first-degree murder so justice could be served?

No! On April 3, after months of telling the public how sorry they were about Oscar's death, after offering their "condolences" to his family, and after promising to investigate the killing and get at the truth, BART filed its first legal response (an "Answer") to the Grant family's $50 million dollar civil rights lawsuit. BART's "Answer" is yet another outrage: it blames Oscar for his own murder: For example the BART "Answer" states, "The decedent Oscar Grant was guilty of willful misconduct and wanton and reckless behavior...."

They bring up the "fight" issue: "The decedent Oscar Grant willfully and wrongfully provoked the altercation in which he was involved, and said provocation of decedent Oscar Grant was a cause of the injuries and damages allegedly sustained."

BART claims Oscar attacked BART cop Tony Pirone, saying that he (Grant) "willfully, wrongfully, unlawfully and without just cause or provocation made an assault and battery against and upon the person of Anthony Pirone."

And incredibly, BART claims that the cops needed to defend themselves and threaten Oscar Grant because if they hadn't, they, the cops, would have been "beaten, bruised, and ill-treated."

So according to BART, the police were acting in "self-defense" and had done nothing wrong leading up to Mehserle's use of his gun.

As for Mehserle's shooting Oscar in the back and murdering him, the BART attorney told the media that it was unintentional: nothing more than a "tragic mistake" and a "terrible error."

Every single one of these claims are bald-faced lies—lies directly contradicted by cell phone videos (all of which show the same basic sequence of events), eye-witness accounts, and other evidence.

* The "fight" that the BART police have used again and again—beginning within hours after Oscar's murder—as a justification for their brutality and murderous violence that followed, was at most a brief shoving match, described by one witness who spoke to Revolution as "an extremely minor" incident which was well over by the time the train pulled into the station. None of the police had a description of anyone involved in a fight, and instead simply racially-profiled Oscar Grant and his Black and Latino friends. People on the BART train took out their cameras and began taking video, not because of any "fight" that was going on between passengers, but only after police began pulling the youth off the train and attacking them.

* Oscar and his friends didn't attack the police—the police attacked them—repeatedly! One cell phone video clearly shows Pirone hit Oscar so hard he sinks to his knees and puts his hands up, an attack that a prominent legal expert not involved in the case has called "completely unprovoked" and "a felony." (And Pirone has not been arrested, nor charged with any crime.) You can see Mehserle hit the youth beside Oscar. You can see the police with their tasers out and pointing at the youth. You can see Mehserle and Pirone on top of Oscar while he lies face down on the platform, underneath at least 400 pounds of cop. But at no time do you see Oscar Grant or any of the other young men on the platform do anything that would warrant any of these attacks, let alone do anything that could justify Mehserle pulling out his gun and shooting it. Throughout this assault, people on the train can be heard in the video, shouting at the police to stop, to let the youth go, saying "that ain't right!" (See for analysis of videos of Oscar Grant’s Murder done at the People’s Tribunal, March 22, 2009)

* The police say they were "acting in self defense," but all three videos show the group of police in full control of the detained youth who were sitting, lying, or standing, some restrained by zip ties on their limbs. The videos show police with tasers out, beating down Oscar, and finally they show Mehserle shoot him while Grant lay on the ground, hands behind his back.

* The videos—and the whole sequence of events leading up to the shooting and what the police did in its aftermath—show that Oscar Grant's murder was not an unintentional error or a "tragic mistake," it was the culmination of an orgy of brutality by a whole gang of police against a crew of Black youth that included racial profiling and slurs, threats with guns and tasers, assaults, and illegal detention, and ended with a cold-blooded act of murder. (See, "The Cold-Blooded Murder of Oscar Grant: What Happened the Morning of January 1, 2009," Revolution #159, March 22, 2009.)

Setting Stage for Whitewash, Coverup—And More Police Murder

BART's Answer turns the truth upside down. This is a naked attempt not only to counter the Grant family's civil rights lawsuit, it's also an attempt to create public opinion before the criminal trial of killer-cop Mehserle (now postponed until May 18) by promoting the fiction that the cops were just doing their jobs that night and Oscar and his friends started the whole thing. As one speaker remarked at a recent BART meeting, it is like the old Groucho Marx line, "Who do you believe, BART, or your lying eyes?" All this is an attempt to pave the way for letting Mehserle off scott-free or with only minor charges.

From the beginning, BART has been trying to cover-up Oscar's murder. Within hours—before any cell phone videos came to light—BART held a press conference. After mouthing the words "condolences," "tragedy" and "regrettable," the BART spokesperson then told the lie which was obediently repeated by the news media in print and on air: someone had reported that two groups of young men were fighting on the train. That BART police were called to the Fruitvale BART station and they "began trying to isolate the young men as they fought" and that there was a "lot of verbal jockeying between the two groups of men" and in the midst of this melee an officer's gun "discharged." It was a "volatile situation."

BART covered up for its police (and their violations of BART's own protocols) time and again. None of the police on the platform when Oscar was killed even reported that there had been a shooting. BART did not immediately demand an interview with Johannes Mehserle even though they were required (Lybarger admonishment) to do so or fire him. BART police made sure the whole train of civilian witnesses left the station before anyone could give statements. BART tried to suppress evidence by confiscating videos, and may still have videos that they are hiding. And the district attorney issued an arrest warrant for Mehserle only after people took to the Oakland streets in rebellion, and only after Mehserle had fled out of the state.

Meanwhile, the system, its courts and its cops were strenuously punishing protesters, deploying hundreds of police at every demonstration, and singling out some with heavy charges—this all before Mehserle was even arrested or charged. (See "Hands Off David! Drop the Charges! Stop the Attack on a Young Revolutionary!") [needs a link]

Why have they gone to such great lengths to lie, cover-up, and deny justice? Why have BART's actions and the actions of the whole power structure—all the way up to President Obama who offered condolences to the four Oakland police recently killed but said nothing about the murder of Oscar Grant—worked to legitimize police brutality and murder?

Because their whole system rests on the violent suppression of the people, Black and oppressed people in particular. The cold truth is that the system racially profiles Black and Latino young men; beats, brutalizes and even kills them on a daily basis; and that in the unlikely event police are charged in court for these killings, they almost always go free. All this—and the whole nationwide epidemic of police brutality and murder—point to the cold truth that brutalizing, terrorizing, and yes murdering oppressed people—especially Black people—is what the police are supposed to do—not to "protect and serve," but to keep people down.

The fact that Johannes Mehserle is even charged with murder is the rare result of the combination of dozens of witnesses, cell phone videos, AND because there was mass, determined protest.

The next step of the case, the preliminary hearing now set for May 18, is two months away. Only mass resistance of growing numbers of people will prevent another injustice from going down.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

From a Reader

Elgin Baylor and Racism in the NBA

"The NBA is the equivalent of a minstrel show in today's society...with the continuation of white supremacy."

— Bob Avakian in his talk, "The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters."

"(He) has[a] vision of a Southern plantation-type structure."

— Elgin Baylor on Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angles Clippers NBA team


Elgin Baylor, a Black and former great player for the LA Lakers and who is in the NBA Hall of Fame, has filed a law suit against Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers team, and the NBA (National Basketball Association) charging "decades-long racist behavior" among other things that happened to Baylor during his 22-year tenure as General Manager of the Clippers.1

Baylor, who was recently released as the Clippers General Manager and was basically let go by the Clippers because he refused a lower paying consulting job with them, stated that Sterling "wants to fill his team with poor black boys from the South and a white head coach." Baylor also charged that, during the negotiations with former star Danny Manning in a meeting which David Stern, Commissioner of the NBA also allegedly attended, Sterling said, "I'm offering a lot of money for a poor black kid."2

What are some of the facts involved here? 1) Mike Dunleavy, the white head coach received a four-year, $22-million contract while Baylor's salary was frozen at a comparatively paltry $350,000 since 2003, and this disparity of pay was "condoned, adopted, and ratified by the NBA"; 2) Donald Sterling, has a history of racism and paying his players less than the league average; 3) The NBA has very few African Americans in executive roles; 4) The NBA is a league of Black players with white owners, white executives, and a white audience in its arenas.

In "The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters" Bob Avakian speaks to and chronicles how the nature of the NBA reinforces and endorses the oppressive relations for Black people in today's society. He goes on to show how the marketing strategy of the NBA has a racist component, where arenas are in the suburbs of the cities and only the wealthy can afford to attend the games. In this talk, Avakian makes an important analysis about the type of role models the NBA needs, and I see how this relates to the role that Elgin Baylor has played for the NBA, where he has been the perfect Black role model for the league by, what Avakian has provocatively pointed out, "serving the master in sneakers."3

But for Baylor enough was enough with the "decades-long racist behavior" of the league and the Clippers' owner that he has endured and that he felt had to be dealt with in this law suit.

To better understand what Baylor has been dealing with, it is necessary to look more closely at his ex-boss, Donald Sterling, whose history reveals the real racist scum-bag that he is.

In 2003, Sterling, who has made all his money in real estate and owns about 100 apartment buildings with thousands of rental units in LA County, admitted he had a 3-year relationship with a Beverly Hills woman where he paid her for sex at $500 a time. In a 2003 deposition, Sterling gave graphic accounts of his relationship with the woman. He stated that "maybe I morally did something wrong", but he was not one bit shy about recounting everything that happened in all his encounters with the woman, where he brazenly admitted how great it was—"better than words could express."4

Sterling's history of racism has been brought out in several law suits against him. According to the LA Times, "One suit was filed in 2003 by the nonprofit Housing Rights Center and was settled with the terms remaining confidential. According to that suit, Sterling allegedly told members of his staff he did not like to rent to Latinos or African Americans."5 One of the known terms of the suit is that Sterling was required to pay $5 million in fees to the plaintiff's attorneys.

Now there is another discrimination suit, which will go to trial next year, filed against Sterling by the Justice Department. This suit alleges that Sterling excluded African Americans from renting in his apartment buildings and that he has refused to rent to non-Koreans in his buildings in Koreatown.

Sterling has also spent a ton of money in promoting himself. In full-page ads in the front section of the LA Times he has promoted himself as a homeless advocate where he is proclaiming that he will build a medical and legal facility in the heart of Skid Row to be known as the Donald T. Sterling Homeless Center. In an expose that this homeless center is a fraud, the LA Weekly stated:

"These days, though, Sterling's vow to help the homeless is looking more like a troubling, ego-inflating gimmick dreamed up by a very rich man with a peculiar public-relations sense: Witness his regular advertisements proclaiming another 'humanitarian of the year' award — for himself. From homeless-services operators to local politicians, no one has received specifics for the proposed Sterling Homeless Center. They aren't the least bit convinced that the project exists."6

All of this gives us a picture of the racist, scum-bag, egotistical person that Elgin Baylor put up with for 22 years and is now refusing to put up with for another second. Can anyone doubt the truth in the words of Baylor's attorney in his current suit against Sterling? "I think it is very interesting that this owner has had a history of questionable conduct in both his other business ventures. It lends credence and support to many of the allegations we are making in the lawsuit."7

I remember seeing Elgin Baylor play for Seattle University and the LA Lakers. He was a marvelous player, who overcame Tourette's Syndrome and played a game that I love with a particular flair and skill of few. I rooted for Elgin when he played and I now give him kudos for his attempts to bring the racism of the NBA to the light of the day. However, all the law suits in the world will not end the racism in the NBA or end the oppression of Black people in America. Only communist revolution can do that. I urge everyone who reads this to listen to Bob Avakian's talk on the NBA and to read the special issue #144 of Revolution on "The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need" and then join the revolutionary movement by distributing Revolution newspaper and the works of Bob Avakian. This is a movement we urgently need to build in order to put an end to all this shit that people like Elgin Baylor come up against every day.

1  Los Angeles Times, "Elgin Baylor sues Clippers, claiming racism," by Lisa Dillman, February, 12, 2009.

2  Los Angeles Times, "There are no winners in Elgin Baylor's lawsuit against Clippers," by Bill Plaschke, February 13, 2009.

3  Bob Avakian, "The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters," at online.

4 "Deposition of Donald T Sterling" in the case of California Savings, et al., Plaintiffs vs. Alexandra Castro, an individual; et al., Defendants, August 13, 2003.

5  Los Angeles Times, "Elgin Baylor sues Clippers, claiming racism," by Lisa Dillman, February, 12, 2009.

6  Los Angeles Weekly, "Donald T. Sterling's Skid Row Mirage," by Patrick Range McDonald, March 8 2008

7  Los Angeles Times, "Elgin Baylor sues Clippers, claiming racism," by Lisa Dillman, February, 12, 2009.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

Inner-city High School Meets the Army

Revolution received the following correspondence from a reader:

The following incident was told to me recently by a teacher at an inner city, all Black high school in a major urban area.

This school recently held a Career Day in which various teachers invited outside people to talk about their careers. The speakers stayed in a certain room all day, and all the different classes (with different teachers) who used that room got to hear that particular presentation. Two army recruiters set up in one room and what follows is a) a description of what they ran out, and b) a discussion between the teacher and some students after they heard the recruiters.

The U.S. Army Pitch to Black Inner-City Youth

Both of the recruiters were Black men—one older and one younger—who had grown up in the surrounding neighborhood.

Their pitch was entirely framed in “we’re here to help you get out of the ghetto—we’re your alternative to the life on the streets which will only get you killed or jailed.” This choice was portrayed very starkly. Then they laid out all the ways they said the Army could help you:

  1. You can join the reserves after your junior year in HS. You need your parents OK and a statement from the school that you are on track to graduate. You will go to training one weekend a month and get $200 a month for that.
  2. When you graduate, you can either continue in the reserves or join active duty. Join the reserves and you do a weekend a month for 6 years and get paid. Go active and you can get a $20K signing bonus. You will be able to pick whatever kind of job interests you and the army will supply the training. You will live in very nice “dorms”—he went on to describe them in detail, stressing that you will have your own bedroom.
  3. The army will set aside money for you to go to college—either while you are in the reserves or after you get out of active duty—$5K a year and a $20K pay down of your dept.
  4. He stressed that once you get out of the military you have a much better chance to get a job because of your background. Employers will know that you don’t steal and will get to work on time—"that’s the army culture." He also pointed out how he got 10 extra points on the Post Office exam for being a vet.
  5. The younger guy was a jock. He didn’t say too much, but his main point was that there are all kinds of sports in the military so the jocks will have lots of opportunity to develop their skills and interests.
  6. There was no mention of combat or war during their entire presentation. To the limited degree it came up, it came from student questions. And here again it was downplayed. The older vet said he did a tour in Iraq, but never saw any combat. He stressed that there are lots of jobs in the army where people do not see combat. Then he asked the class—"how many of you know anyone who was killed in Iraq?" In one class no one raised their hand; in another class one girl did. Then he went on to ask: “How many of you know someone who has been killed on the streets right here?” And most of the class’ hands shot up. Again—taking it right back to the desperate conditions that the Army is preying on to convince these kids to join. However, he did make a point here that if he did get killed, his family would get $500,000 dollars in insurance—and he compared this to what he described as the pitiful funerals and little street memorials that are all dead masses leave behind. “There’ll be no t-shirts with my picture on it and people drinking cheap wine at my funeral, and then a few days later you are forgotten. No, my family will be taken care of.”

    There was no mention of mandatory (and multiple) tours of duty in Iraq/Afghanistan. There was no mention of Stop Loss [involuntary] extensions. There was no mention of any sacrifice at all—with the exception of the older guy saying that it was a big sacrifice to be away from his family when he was overseas.
  7. The presentation oozed with paternalism. The older guy was asked if women could be in combat. He said no—for two reasons. First, the U.S. public will not tolerate seeing pictures of women all bloody and maimed. Second, women need to be preserved to have babies. At other points he stressed that to be a man you have to be a provider—hence the value of the Army and its training. This guy also made it very clear that he is the master of his house. He described how he went to the high school where his son attends in response to some problems the kid was causing. He told the school that if his kid did not shape up, he would come back to the school and beat the shit out of his kid right there. He said the school told him he legally could not hit his kid in a school. He told them “try and stop me.”
  8. There was absolutely no mention of patriotism or any “greater purpose” in appealing to the kids to join the military. It was all framed in terms of narrow self-interest and personal success (i.e., money). The older guy bragged about how he now owns property. He praised a local school administrator as a Black man who had money—he wears a suit every day and even his shirts have his monogram on the sleeve. There was one reference to Obama in this context—as someone who had succeeded even more and therefore should be emulated.

A discussion between the teacher and some students who had heard the recruiters

At the end of the day—which had been pretty much destroyed as a teaching day—the teacher talked with 9-10 students during last period about what they thought of the recruiters’ presentation.

A number of the kids involved in this discussion had a history of being serious discipline problems in the class and the teacher had had some major confrontations with various ones including throwing at least four of them out of class on various occasions. One kid is a big kid who is extremely immature and just wants to wrestle and play all day. A couple of the other boys are into proving themselves by constantly talking shit about anything and anyone at anytime—especially when the teacher is trying to teach. One girl is so hungry for attention that she can’t shut up in class. Another kid is a gang banger who had been locked up and just recently got off of probation. And one of the girls was the teacher’s best student and someone who is thinking about the world and is concerned about where it is going. So it was a real mixed bag of kids.

The teacher started by asking if, after hearing the presentation, did anyone want to join the army. Most of the kids said “no way.” They smelled a rat, but they felt what was being hidden was that the army was just like boot camp the whole time—which they wanted no part of. The teacher asked them “what does an army do—what is its reason for existence?” This kind of stumped them—they hadn’t really thought about it that way. The teacher said that their job is to kill people—that is the whole point, to kill people in the interest of the government.

The teacher (who had also heard the presentation) pointed out that the recruiters never mentioned that this was what the army was about nor the wars that the U.S. is fighting today in Iraq (except slightly in passing) and Afghanistan (not at all) and the repeated tours of duty that almost all soldiers have to do there—including the reserves.

The big immature kid had been sort of listening around the edges of the group and it turned out that he had a U.S. Army sticker on his shirt. He said—"What are you talking about? The U.S. is not fighting any wars!" Huh? This was a serious self-exposure of how far this kids head had been up his ass. The teacher told him that he had better wake up and know what was going on in the world. The kid said, “how do you know about any of this—have you been in the Army?” The teacher responded that she had not been in the Army—but she had paid a lot of attention to what is going on in the world -- she had read and studied and talked to people who did know. And then she went on to make the point that is how people learn most of what they need to know. “No one person’s experience can encompass anything but a small slice of reality—you have to work at learning things. And if you don’t do this and take it seriously—you will get used. Just like the army is using you with that whole presentation that just played on your ignorance and got you wearing their sticker around and saying that you wanted to join.” This not only shut this kid’s mouth, but the look on his face suggested that he had actually run into something pretty big that he needed to think about.

The focus then shifted back to the Iraq war. The teacher asked the kids if they knew why the U.S. had attacked Iraq. A lot of the kids had no idea. A couple of them thought it had something to do with OBL [Osama Bin Laden]. The teacher said that this was one claim—which was not true—and the other was WMDs [“Weapons of Mass Destruction”]—which a couple of students then remembered. Here the gang banger kid jumped in and said: “It was about the oil—we’re gangsters and when we want something we just take it.” It was somewhat unclear who this kid meant by “we” in his statement—but at least to some extent, the kid was upholding this approach. So the teacher said that although Bush would never cop to it, it was about oil to a large degree. Then he asked the kid: “so this is the gangster way, right?” And the kid, feeling a little proud, said yeah! So the teacher said that if you want to embrace this gangster approach, here’s a little something else you will need to wrap your arms around. And then she told them the story that is portrayed in the film “Redacted” about how these GIs—in true gangster form—watched this 14-year-old Iraqi girl each day come home from school and decided to rape her. And on the day, they took their black PJs to their checkpoint, changed into them, ate some chicken wings and then followed her home. They walked into her house shot to death her entire family, raped the young girl and then brutally murdered her. “You want to be a gangster—that is what you will be!” The rest of the kids went crazy—pointing at the gang banger kid and yelling things like “she nailed your shit!” The teacher went on and asked the kid if he knew that 1/4 of all returning Iraqi vets need psychological care or that more Vietnam vets came home and killed themselves than were killed in Vietnam. They could not live with themselves and the horrors they had seen and participated in. “That is also part of your “’gangster way.’”

Now two of the girls were asking the teacher, “What was the name of that movie? How do you spell it? Why can’t we see that movie in class?” One of these was the girl who is aware of things, but the other was a girl who actually does pretty good work (some interesting writing), but never says a word in class, usually has her iPod in her ear and is always extremely well accessorized.

There was a moment at the end of this discussion when the teacher and the kids were all kind of looking at each other with different eyes. The teacher said to the kids, “do you know how tired I am of having all these stupid fights over dumb ass stuff. Let’s spend the last 10 weeks of school focusing on things that make a difference. I’ll bring in the movie Redacted, we’ll learn about the ’60s and the Black Panthers and stuff like that.” They all said yeah—and with some real conviction (at least for that day).

Before leaving, the teacher talked for a second with the gang banger kid. She asked the kid if he really identified with what the U.S. is doing with these wars all over the world. He said no, he wasn’t that kind of gang banger. But then he added “plus, we don’t have enough guns.” The teacher also took a moment to talk with the big immature kid and tell him that the reason that she has been so hard on him about growing up was because she did see the potential the kid has—if he will just deal with the world and not run away from it. The next day this kid was really cool in class.

A final thought of mine—none of this will last forever and nothing is permanently different. But I do think this episode does reveal in a small way that revolutionary work is never wasted. And that sharp political and ideological struggle can transform conditions—again understood within very real limits. And most importantly it shows that many of these kids do, deep in their hearts, really want something far better than the world they live in—including in their relationships with each other—something with more importance and dignity and justice than what this society has dumped on them.

Send us your comments.

Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

Earthquake in Italy and the Failure of Capitalism

We received the following comment from a reader on April 8, 2009:

I'm a regular reader of Revolution and I've been following the events in Abruzzo, Italy—site of a recent major earthquake centered near the city of L'Aquila that was recorded as 6.2 on the Richter scale, along with major aftershocks. Cities as far as an hour away felt strong shocks during the quake. This kind of devastation and destruction hasn't been seen in decades in Italy, although the peninsula is an important area of seismic activity.

As of today, there are over 235 people confirmed dead, with over a thousand wounded and at least 100,000 people left homeless according to L'Aquila mayor Massimo Cialente. In the surrounding area many thousands of people have been evacuated and many highways have been shut down by authorities. The downtown area of L'Aquila is utterly destroyed. Many historic buildings—in a city that dates back to the 13th century—have crumbled, and ancient Roman ruins were damaged as far away as the city of Rome, sixty miles away. While many evacuees sleep in their cars, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused all international relief aid to victims of the earthquake. [Berlusconi later said aid would be accepted.]

While clearly a natural disaster like this is not something humans are capable of preventing, there actually were signs before the earthquake that pointed to the coming disaster—and a cover-up by the government itself to prevent this evidence from becoming public.

Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher at the National Physical Laboratory in nearby Gran Sasso, saw that radon levels were rapidly increasing in the area in late March, over a week before the deadly quake—a warning sign that many scientists say is a way to predict major seismic activity. There also were some minor quakes in the area shortly beforehand, another clear warning that the "big one" was coming.

Not only did Giuliani predict that this would be a devastating quake—but he publicly announced this on a website, posting a YouTube video days beforehand, warning people in the L'Aquila area to evacuate as a major quake was coming. Vans with loudspeakers drove around the city before the quake hit warning people to evacuate. This was reported to the police and Giuliani was forced to take down the warnings he had posted.

Giuliani was accused of unnecessarily causing a panic, and the local authorities held a town hall meeting in L'Aquila on March 31 to try to calm people's fears. He has since been vindicated, and is being featured all over the Italian media and blogosphere.

After the last major Italian earthquake in 1980 and thousands died in southern Italy, a new law was passed requiring buildings to be built up to a certain code that would ensure they'd stand up to earthquakes. However, a lot of the buildings that collapsed were built after these new building codes went into effect—which many people blame on the construction companies which deliberately cut corners on safety to cut costs (the Italian government is notably corrupt, with a bribe or a connection to the right person one can get past most laws easily).

While it's sure that more information will come out as the dust settles in L'Aquila, I couldn't help but compare the situation here to what happened only a few years ago in New Orleans after the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. In both cases you had capitalist profit-before-everything and direct state complicity in preventing evacuation of people contributing to a lot of unnecessary death, injury, and destruction that could have been prevented. The capitalist system's failure in protecting the people from the destruction caused by this earthquake is yet another reason that revolution and communism are so desperately needed by humanity.

Send us your comments.