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Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
May 9, 2016, originally published February 19, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editors’ Note: In this issue we are reprinting part of an interview with Bob Avakian, this one conducted in 2004. It originally aired on Michael Slate’s Beneath the Surface show on KPFK radio in Los Angeles, on July 29, 2005. In publishing it here, some editing has been done, particularly for clarity. In some places brief explanatory passages have been added within brackets. Subheads have also been added.
MS: Let’s dig into the Cultural Revolution [in China, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s]. You led communists around the world in fighting to understand what the significance of the Cultural Revolution was, and to uphold it as a dividing line question, and to see it as the highest point of class struggle in human history, the greatest height the class struggle’s gotten to in human history. That’s not exactly—in terms of conventional wisdom today, that’s not exactly what you find on the bookstore shelf. You can find 70 books about how—and you can hear people who are 32 years old talking about how—the Cultural Revolution destroyed their careers, and they had remarkable careers when they were like two years old. But it’s had an impact on people. It’s had a big impact on people.
You had musicians who once were major supporters of the Cultural Revolution who now listen to these stories from people, from artists coming out of China, for instance, and saying, “I was misled. I didn’t understand everything that went on because I didn’t understand the suffering that people have.” Or you have these popular cultural forms, The Red Violin, for god’s sake: a movie that had nothing to do with China, but there was this one scene in it where they had to show the Red Guards banging down doors and pulling people out of their houses, searching for this red violin that they needed to smash. And it was this symbol of artistic freedom and creativity.
Or you had Farewell My Concubine, which was a big, big movie among—I know a lot of my friends, a lot of artists and intellectuals who went to see that film two, three times, and really looked at it as a sign of what was wrong, and how the Cultural Revolution was not an advance for humanity, but something that was actually part of suppression, and particularly suppression of intellectuals and artists.
I wanted to ask you about that—let’s talk a little about the question of intellectual freedom. And I think it’s tied up with the question of dissent, but we can get into that separately. But I think actually this idea of—what you’ve been saying all along, and one of the reasons I asked you about this question about the Party and everything else in terms of people starting to settle in, and that kind of thing—is that you had talked earlier about the need for really just a totally, tremendously creative surge among the people and in the Party and among communists, this constant creative application, and then that Marxism itself is a science that actually, in a living form, really does do that. When you were saying that, I was just thinking, you know, it’s so refreshing to hear this thing because it invigorates you with a sense of like, you know, [what] our science really is—it unleashes the greatest creativity, when you grasp it, it unleashes the greatest creativity possible.
Street scene in China before the revolution
But there’s this common, or this conventional wisdom that actually—here’s this crucial development in the class struggle, this crucial development of the science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and yet it’s portrayed as this sort of thing that was the suppression of artistic and intellectual freedom.
BA: Well, once again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but this is a complex question and a complex problem that the Cultural Revolution was seeking to address, and was addressing. And once more you have to situate this in what was occurring in the development of the Chinese Revolution, and not come at it from the way all too many people do in this society. They don’t understand the actual dynamics—why these revolutions were necessary in the first place, what they arose out of, and what were the contradictions they faced when they emerged. And some people have some sense of, OK in China people were poor. If you have read those Pearl Buck novels, you know, people of our generation, where you get a sense about the terrible life of the peasants, and you can understand why people would want to cast off that oppression, and so on. But a lot of people are even ignorant of that, especially now. They have no real sense of what China was like, and why a revolution was needed, and how that revolution had to take place.
Foot binding was the custom of breaking the arch of the foot and the toes of a young girl (between the ages of two and six) and then binding each foot painfully tight to prevent further growth. This was practiced mainly among the wealthier classes. The tiny narrow feet were considered beautiful and to make a woman's movements more feminine and dainty.
Bound feet rendered women dependent on their families, particularly the men in their families. When the revolution succeeded in 1949 and the new society was established, foot binding was outlawed as a step towards liberating women.
So that’s one problem. But not only did they have to overcome the whole daunting prospect, or reality rather, of imperialist domination and carving up China, but they also had a whole history of feudalism, of massive exploitation of the peasantry and hundreds of years—or thousands of years, actually—in which the great majority of people were just desperately impoverished and exploited. And they were coming from a society which, because it was dominated by imperialism, and because of the remaining feudalism, was not advanced technologically, or was technologically advanced [only] in a few enclaves. But then the vast part of the country and the people who lived in it were mired in a lot of enforced backwardness.
So you’re coming from that, and you’re trying to make leaps in terms of overcoming the poverty and the oppression of the masses of people. And you come to power, in 1949, and right away, within a year, you’re thrust into a war with the U.S. in Korea—a war in which MacArthur is saying: let’s take the war to China. That was his big dispute with Truman. Let’s take the war to China. Let’s go right to China and cross the border. Not just go near the border, but go across the border, and roll back the Chinese revolution.1
And so right away, you barely have time to celebrate and consolidate your victory, and you’re thrust into this battle with this powerful imperialist force right at your doorstep, literally. And then you fight the U.S. to a standstill, and in effect defeat it—because, in terms of its objectives in Korea, once the U.S. entered the war, they were thwarted in those, in large part because of the involvement of the Chinese in that [war].
So here you are. Now you’re trying to take this country that’s poor and backward, has been dominated by imperialism—you have the situation where [there was] the famous sign in a park in Shanghai, “No dogs or Chinese allowed.” This is just a stark way of expressing what their life was like, even in the urban areas, even if you were among the more educated classes, for example. So what you were referring to earlier—a lot of people did either go back to China [after the victory of the revolution in 1949], or a lot of people in China, intellectuals and others, were very enthusiastic about the new society that was being brought into being, because it was going to overcome this whole situation where China was held down and carved up by different imperialists and the Chinese people and the Chinese nation was going to be able to stand up on its feet and not be run roughshod over and lorded over by these foreign powers, and so on.
But within that there’s also a contradiction, that a lot of people are—it’s sort of captured in Mao’s thing that “Only socialism can save China.” What I’m trying to get at—this is a contradictory statement actually, because he’s saying that without taking the socialist road, China cannot get out from underneath the poverty and the domination by imperialism, and so that’s the only road for China. Which means that a lot of people—the reason I say it’s contradictory is it means a lot of people who were not really won to the communist vision will support the revolution and will even support going on the socialist road because it is true that objectively there’s no other way that the backwardness and domination by imperialism can be ended.
On the one side, there’s obviously a positive aspect to that. You get a lot of people, including in the more bourgeois strata, who are enthusiastic about the socialist road because it does represent the way out for China. But, on the other side of it, they’re coming at it from more like a nationalist point of view, or a more bourgeois point of view. They want China to take its rightful place in the world—and they don’t want it to be stepped on by foreigners, and so on—which is certainly legitimate, and something you can unite with. But it’s contradictory.
And that phenomenon existed, not only outside the Party, but to a very large degree inside the Party in China. A lot of people joined the Communist Party in China for those kinds of reasons. And they had not necessarily become fully, ideologically communists in their outlook, and really being guided by the whole idea of getting to a communist world—and internationalism, of doing it as part of the whole world revolution and sacrificing for that world revolution when necessary—but more from the point of view: this is the only way China can stand on its feet and take its rightful place in the world. Well, a lot of those people were in the Party for a long time. A lot of them were veterans of the Long March and made heroic sacrifices, but never really ruptured completely to the communist viewpoint, which certainly encompasses the idea that China should throw off foreign domination and the poverty and backwardness of the countryside and feudalism, but is much more than that, and it goes way beyond that.
So this is one of the problems, the contradictions that were existing within and characterizing the struggle within the Chinese Communist Party right from the beginning. And then there’s a whole other dimension to it, which is that everybody has the birthmarks of the womb they emerge out of, so to speak. And that was true of China in terms of the world and of the Chinese Revolution. The new society emerged out of the old one in China, and carried the birthmarks of that, the inequalities and so on.
BA continues: But it was true in another important dimension, too, which is that the Chinese Revolution was made as part of the international communist movement, in which the Soviet Union was the model of how you made revolution and how you build socialism. Well, it’s interesting—here’s another contradiction: Mao broke with part of that. In order to make the revolution in China, they had to break with the Soviet model, which was the idea that you centered in the cities, based in the working class, and took power in the cities and then you spread it to the countryside.
The Chinese approach to it that Mao forged, after a lot of defeats and some serious setbacks and bloodshed and bloodbaths that they suffered trying to do it in the cities and being crushed by the forces of the central government, or Chiang Kai-shek’s forces,2 was to finally do it the opposite way—to say we have to come from the countryside: because it’s a backward country, we can start up guerrilla war in the countryside, where most of the people live, and advance to finally taking the cities. So that was the opposite of how they did it in Russia. Now, it’s true that in Russia the majority of people lived in the countryside, but it was a different kind of society than China. And they didn’t really have the possibility of waging guerrilla warfare from the countryside in Russia the same way that they did in China. So right there, Mao had to break with the Soviet model and forge a new model of how you make revolution in China and in countries more generally like China.
But then, when they got to actually—OK, here we are, we’re in power, now we’re going to build socialism—the Soviet Union existed, it was offering them a certain amount of support and material assistance in doing it. And they didn’t have any other model. And they didn’t right away recognize that the model of the Soviet Union first of all had problems in it anyway, and second of all wasn’t necessarily suited to the concrete conditions of China. So the emphasis the Soviet Union under Stalin put on developing heavy industry, you know, to the disadvantage of agriculture and so on, was an even bigger problem for China than it was in the Soviet Union, although it caused real problems there.3 So at a certain point, Mao once again, as he did in making the revolution in the first place, comes up against the realization, after maybe a decade or so of experience in trying to build socialism in China, that this Soviet model has a lot of problems with it. You know, its over-emphasis on heavy industry. That’s not the way we’re going to actually get the peasantry to be on the socialist road, by sacrificing everything just to one-sidedly develop heavy industry, and so on.
Communal dining room in a people's commune during the Great Leap Forward, 1959. People's communes were a new thing that, under communist leadership, brought together millions of peasants to collectively work the land and transform relations between and among people.
So Mao was trying to break out of this model. And that’s really what the much-maligned Great Leap Forward was about.4 Plus the Soviets, once Mao did try to break out of this model and not be under the wing of the Soviets, turned against him, supported people in the Chinese Party who wanted, if not to overthrow him, then force him to go back under the Soviet model and Soviet domination, in effect, and [the Soviets] pulled out their assistance, their blueprints, their technical aid, and so on, right when the Chinese are trying to make a leap in their economy.
So Mao is trying to forge this road in China for socialism, just as he did before, for the road for actually getting power. Now they have power. He’s trying to forge a different road for socialism. But he’s up against not only the Soviet Union but a significant section of the Chinese Party. On the one hand, a lot of them really didn’t break out of the—as Marx said, they really didn’t get beyond the horizon of bourgeois right. They really were still thinking in terms of just—as Deng Xiaoping openly implemented after he came to power—how do we make China a powerful country, even if it means doing it with capitalism? And they weren’t really thinking about how to get to communism as part of the whole world struggle. So you have that phenomenon. And then you have the phenomenon that a lot of the people, to the degree that they are trying to build socialism, are doing it with the Soviet model, and with the methods the Soviet Union used (which we talked about somewhat) as the way you go about doing this. And Mao is trying to figure out how to break out of this, and how to actually have a socialism that much more brings the masses consciously into the process. Mao criticized Stalin, for example, when, in the early ’60s, he was commenting on some of Stalin’s writings about socialism—he said Stalin talks too much about technique and technical things and not enough about the masses; and he talks too much about the cadre and the administrators, and the technical personnel, and not the masses and not enough about consciousness.
So in those ways, too, he was trying to fight for a different model of socialism that would really bring the masses much more consciously into the process. And then, on top of that, the educational system, the culture—all that superstructure, as we describe it—was really unchanged from the old society. A lot of people, even in the Communist Party, didn’t see the problem with the traditional Chinese culture, even though it had a feudal content to it, to a very significant degree, and even though it sort of uncritically repeated or adopted things that came from these imperialist countries that had dominated China. So Mao was saying: how do we break out of this mold that’s not really going to lead us to where we need to go in terms of building socialism in China?
He’s up against people who are not really that much motivated by transforming the whole society, you know, in terms of getting rid of all the unequal relations and oppressive divisions, but just want to build up a powerful country. He’s up against people who, to the degree they even do think about that, are thinking of it in the terms of what the Soviet Union under Stalin had done (and the Soviet Union under Khrushchev5 was modifying but still carrying forward some aspects of it in terms of this way to build the economy). And he’s up against a whole culture and superstructure that’s still reinforcing the old relations from the past. And he tries various methods.
I’m saying “Mao.” It’s not just him all by himself, but to a significant degree, to be honest, it was him by himself. Because not that many other people in the leadership of the Party even recognized these contradictions and saw that it was going to take them somewhere other than [where] they wanted to go, and ultimately back to a form of capitalism. So to a significant degree, although there were some few others in the leadership, mainly there weren’t. It was mainly Mao who was the one who was saying: We have to break through and do something different here.
And he tried things like initiating socialist education movements, that through the channels of the Party would raise the sights of the Party members and the masses more broadly as to why they needed to build socialism in China, and what that meant, and what that had to do with transforming the economic relations of people in production, and the social relations between men and women and various other important social inequalities that needed to be overcome, and the political structures and the culture. But that only got so far, and really didn’t get to the heart or the root of the problem: that there were all these forces taking China back toward capitalism, even if in a slightly different form, a combination of copying what was done in the imperialist countries, and what had been done in the Soviet Union—which, in the conditions of China, repeating that would have led back to capitalism, as Mao was increasingly recognizing.
University students in Peking posting big character posters, a form of mass democracy through which the people could express their views on major economic, social, political and cultural issues.
So all this is the backdrop—the reason I’m going into this much detail—this is the backdrop for why the Cultural Revolution was necessary. And Mao said, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution: we tried various ways to solve this problem, that we were being taken back down the road to capitalism. I mean, the Soviet system—part of Mao’s criticism was it also involved things like one-man management in the factories, instead of really bringing the workers increasingly into administrative and other, similar tasks, and into the development of technology, and the planning of technology, the planning of production. They just basically froze in place the old relations, within the framework of state ownership, and they basically reproduced the same relations in that framework. That was a big problem with the Soviet model of socialism. Mao was increasingly recognizing this. And they [the Soviets] were doing other things that are familiar in capitalist society, like motivating people with piecework and bonuses, rather than trying to motivate them ideologically to want to raise production in order to advance the revolution in China and support the revolution worldwide.
So Mao’s saying: We have to sweep away this stuff, but we’ve tried doing it through the channels of the Party, through things like socialist education movements, and they haven’t really worked, because the way the Party is structured and the way that the leadership of the Party—most of the leadership of the Party conceives of socialism just in a way that’s actually going to lead away from socialism. So if we just do it through the channels of the Party, it’s just going to end up going nowhere, or end up ironically reinforcing what we’ve already got. We need something radically different to rupture out of this—to transform what’s going on in the economy, to transform what’s going on in terms of how the actual decision-making goes on in the society, transform the culture and the thinking of the people. So this is finally—Mao said finally we found the form in the Cultural Revolution, a form through which, as he put it, the masses could expose and criticize our dark aspect, our negative side, in a mass way and from below.
BA continues: And that’s really what they were setting out to do with the Cultural Revolution, which is—the reason I’m going into all of this background is that Mao was trying [to deal with] a really tremendously challenging, difficult thing: to rupture them off one road, really, onto another. Even though the society was still, in an overall sense, socialist, it was very rapidly heading back to capitalism because of all the pulls I’m talking about. And Mao recognized: unless we rupture it somewhere else, the process of attrition, almost, is going to wear us down back to the capitalist road.
So all that is what he was really setting out to do, and he recognized that in doing this, you can’t rely on the same channels of the Party that are sort of sclerotic and frozen in these old ways of seeing what this is all about, with this bourgeois idea of just getting China to be a powerful country playing its own rightful role in the world—and, to the degree that anybody thinks about socialism, it’s the Soviet model, which has a lot of things in it that are actually carryovers from capitalism.
So you’re not just going to be able to go through the channels of the Party to solve this problem, Mao recognized. So we have to have some upheaval that comes, as he said, from below, and in a mass way. And that’s where the whole phenomenon of the youth—who are often the force that’s willing to criticize and challenge everything, and is not just stuck in convention. They were unleashed—you know, the Red Guards—to actually challenge this whole direction, including to challenge the Party leaders and Party structures that were the machinery for carrying things in this direction that Mao recognized would go back to capitalism, for all the combination of reasons that I’m discussing. So that’s really what they were trying to accomplish, and they were trying to make changes in the way society was administered, to draw the masses in; changes in how, for example, health care was done so that it wasn’t only for the city and only for the better-off strata, but was spread out to the countryside where the masses had never had health care. All these were issues that were bitterly fought out in the Cultural Revolution.
And the culture began to put the masses of people—but, more importantly, revolutionary content—onto the stage, instead of old feudal themes, and emperors and various upper-class figures like that as the heroes.
BA continues: So this was what they set out to do. And I think a lot of these horror stories that we hear about from the Cultural Revolution—I think that there’s some reality to what people describe—there were excesses. But they [these horror stories] also reflect a very myopic view where a small, more privileged section of society raises its concerns and needs above the larger thing that was happening to the masses of people in the society as a whole. I mean, I’ve made this analogy. Some people complain: well, intellectuals were made to go to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution; but nobody ever asked the peasants, who made up 80 or 90 percent of the population, whether they wanted to be in the countryside. It was just assumed they would be there, producing the food and the materials for clothes and so on, while other people were in the cities, having a more privileged existence, especially if they were from these strata other than the proletariat.
So that’s one side of the picture. I think that there were excesses. I mean, Mao commented on a peasant rebellion that he went to investigate in China during the 1920s, at the beginning of the revolutionary process, and he made this statement: the peasants are rising up, challenging all the old authorities and overthrowing them, and some people are saying, oh, it’s terrible, it’s going too far. And he said: look, we basically can either try to get to the head of this and lead it, we can stand to the side and gesticulate at it and criticize it, or we can try to stand in the way and stop it. And he also, along with that, said: if wrongs are going to be righted, there will inevitably be excesses, when the masses rise up to right wrongs, or else the wrongs cannot be righted. If you start pouring cold water and criticizing and trying to tamp things down as soon as there are any excesses, then things never get out of acceptable bounds—and if things don’t get out of acceptable bounds, fundamental changes don’t come about. So the same thing applied in the Cultural Revolution.
There were excesses. Mao said to Edgar Snow, when he was interviewed by him in 1971, that he was very disappointed by some of the excesses that occurred and some of the ways in which people carried out struggle in unprincipled ways. And he was very disappointed that there was factionalism that developed among the Red Guards, instead of uniting people broadly around the broad themes of the Cultural Revolution as I’ve tried to outline them. They got into factional disputes and began to actually war with each other. Sometimes literally with arms over which was the one that was the only revolutionary force and all the others were counter-revolutionary. So you know, while he was disappointed and even expressed his disappointment with some of this, he also recognized that the same principles were at work—that if there weren’t a mass upheaval, you were not going to be able to rupture things off the road they were on, and they would very quickly go back to capitalism, for all the reasons I’ve been trying to point to. But if you did have a mass upsurge, you would have excesses. And then Mao tried to move to correct these excesses.
But it’s not possible—first of all, this isn’t like the caricature they paint, like one person sits here and stage-manages the whole thing and literally presses buttons and controls [everything]. The thing is a mass upsurge. It was a revolutionary struggle. I mean, they did overthrow the established leadership of the city of Shanghai through a million people rising up, and replaced it with a revolutionary headquarters, a revolutionary committee, which brought to the fore and incorporated a lot of the masses who’d risen up in these Red Guard groups, including not just students, but workers in the city, and peasants from the countryside around Shanghai. So it was a real revolution—and real revolutions are not neat and clean.
A women's brigade in a commune pauses to read a big character poster, an announcement in 1969 about the 9th Party Congress, summing up the lessons up to that point of the Cultural Revolution.
They did issue directives that tried to give general guidelines to the struggle—including narrowing the scope of the people that were identified as enemies to a small handful of people in the Party who, as Mao put it, were people in authority taking the capitalist road; that among the intellectuals and in academia, they should draw distinctions between a handful of bourgeois academic tyrants who were trying to lord it over people and impose the old feudal and bourgeois standards, and a larger number of intellectuals who were trained in the old society and had a lot of the outlook from that society, but were people that were friends of the revolution and should be won over, even if there were contradictions there. So Mao put out guidelines to try to deal with his understanding that there would inevitably be excesses.
But it was a massive thing of hundreds of millions of people. And a lot of people jumped into it, and some people deliberately carried it to excess in order to sabotage it. People who were at the top who wanted to deflect the struggle away from themselves and what policies and lines they represented would foment factionalism and would carry things to excess deliberately, in order to discredit it, so that then they could step in and say: see it’s all gotten out of hand, we have to put a stop to it.
So this is all the complexity of that. And I have no doubt that there were people who were wrongly victimized in the Cultural Revolution. It’s almost inevitable in this kind of thing. Which doesn’t mean it’s fine, it’s OK. As I said, Mao was upset about some of these things. But, on another level, if you’re going to have a mass revolution to rupture the society more fully onto the socialist road and prevent capitalism—which is what they did—and even to completely restructure and revolutionize the Party in the course of that—which they also did. They basically suspended the Party and disbanded and then reorganized it on the basis of the masses being involved in criticizing Party members, and even having mass criticism meetings where the Party would be reconstituted, as part of mass meetings where the masses would raise criticisms of the Party and evaluate Party members. This was an unprecedented thing in any society, obviously, but including in socialist society. And a lot of errors were made. So that’s one dimension to it.
The Red Detachment of Women (1964) was one of the most popular model revolutionary operas created during the Cultural Revolution in China. Combining beautiful, stirring music with incredible and innovative ballet—the story takes place in the 1930s during the war of liberation. A young woman slave escapes a brutal landlord and joins a women's detachment of the Red Army. During the Cultural Revolution, the masses of people—but, more importantly, revolutionary content—were projected onto the stage, instead of old feudal themes, and emperors and various upper-class figures like that as the heroes.Works like The Red Detachment of Women were part of developing a new art and culture in socialist society–as part of revolutionizing all of society.
BA continues: Another dimension is, I do think there were some errors of conception and methodology on the part of the people leading this—maybe Mao to some degree, but especially people like Chiang Ching and others who put a tremendous amount of effort into bringing forward these advanced model revolutionary cultural works, which were really world-class achievements in revolutionary content, but also in artistic quality: the ballets, and the Peking operas and so on. But who also I think, had certain tendencies toward rigidity and dogmatism, and who didn’t understand fully the distinction between what goes into, of necessity, creating model cultural works, and what should be broader artistic expression, which might take a lot of diverse forms, and not only could not be, but should not be supervised in the same way and to the same finely-calibrated degree as was necessary in order to bring forward these completely unprecedented model cultural works.
And there needed to be more of a dialectical understanding, I think—and this is tentative thinking on my part, because I haven’t investigated this fully and a lot more needs to be learned, so I want to emphasize that—but I have a tendency to think that there needed to be a better dialectical understanding of the dialectical relation between some works that were led and directed in a very finely detailed and calibrated way from the highest levels, mobilizing artists in that process, and other things where you gave a lot more expression to a lot more creativity and experimentation, and you let a lot of that go on, and then you sifted through it and saw what was coming forward that was positive, and learning from different attempts in which people were struggling to bring forward something new that would actually have a revolutionary content, or even that wouldn’t but needed to nevertheless be part of the mix so that people could learn from and criticize various things and decide what it was they wanted to uphold and popularize and what they didn’t. So I think there’s more to be learned there.
I also think there was a third dimension to this. There was an element, even in Mao—and I’ve criticized this, you know, it’s controversial, but I’m criticizing something that [has been pointed to] in various things I’ve written or talks I’ve given, in particular one called Conquer the World?6—that there was a tendency, even in Mao, toward a certain amount of nationalism. And I think this carried over into some of the ways in which intellectuals and artists who had been trained in and were influenced by or had an interest in Western culture—there was somewhat of a sectarian attitude toward some of that. You know, Mao had this slogan: we should make the past serve the present and foreign things serve China. Well, in my opinion, that—particularly the second part of that—is not exactly the right way to pose it. It’s not a matter of China and foreign things, it’s a matter of—whether from another country, or from China, or whatever country art comes from—what is its objective content? Is it mainly progressive or is it mainly reactionary? Is it revolutionary or counter-revolutionary? Does it help propel things in the direction of transforming society toward communism or does it help pull things back and pose obstacles to that? And I think that formulation, even the formulation of “foreign things serve China”—while it has something correct about it, in not rejecting everything foreign, let me put it that way—has an aspect of not being quite correct and being influenced by a certain amount of nationalism, rather than a fully internationalist view [with regard to] even the question of culture.
MS: That even led to some of the bizarre thing around jazz, right?
BA: Yeah, jazz and rock ’n’ roll. They didn’t understand the positive aspect of that. Of course, there’s a lot of garbage in rock ’n’ roll in particular. They didn’t really understand what jazz was as a phenomenon in the U.S., and they just—they negated it one-sidedly. And they also one-sidedly negated rock ’n’ roll, which in a lot of ways had a very positive thrust at that time, in the ’60s, the late ’60s in the U.S. It had a lot of rebellious spirit and even some more consciously revolutionary works of art were coming forward, even with their limitations. So I think what was bound up with that was also part of what I think got involved in the way some intellectuals in China, particularly those maybe who had more inclinations toward and interest in Western culture, got turned into enemies or got persecuted in ways they should not have.
Factory revolutionary committee members meet with workers.
But this is tentative thinking on my part. We need to investigate it more fully. What I was trying to do, though, was to give the backdrop for why this Cultural Revolution was necessary in the first place, and what they were trying to accomplish with it, and why that was not only legitimate, but necessary and tremendously important and why and how it brought forward all these new things. It did bring forward new revolutionary culture. It did spread health care to the countryside. It did involve masses of people who’d never been involved in science before, in scientific experimentation and investigation, and even scientific theory together with scientists, and the same kinds of transformations in education, the same kinds of transformations in the workplace, where they broke down one-man management and they actually started having administrators and managers and technicians getting involved part of the time—not on a fully equal basis, but part of the time—in productive labor, and having some of the production workers getting involved in those other spheres and having, instead of one-man management, a revolutionary committee that drew in significant representatives of the workers as well as of management or more full-time management and technical personnel and Party cadre.
So there were tremendous accomplishments, including in the sphere of art, including in the sphere of education, including in the whole intellectual sphere broadly speaking. I mean, I read articles from that time in China about physics, theoretical physics, wrestling with the nature of matter and the whole—how to understand the question of motion of matter in different forms that it could assume, not just in everyday things but on a more theoretical physics construct.
So there were a lot of tremendous things that were brought forward. This was not a time when the lights went out intellectually. However, there were shortcomings, and I do believe there were some people who were wrongly persecuted in the course of this; and that, I think, gets mixed into the equation, too.
Artwork created by peasants during the Cultural Revolution.
MS: I want to roll on with this. Before I get into the question of actually pursuing more of this question of intellectual and artistic freedom and dissent as a necessity in the future society, I wanted to get into a couple of things about the role of artists in particular. You know, it’s interesting because, 10 years ago, Haile Gerima—I interviewed Haile Gerima, the filmmaker who made Sankofa, Bush Mama. He’s an Ethiopian filmmaker, but he’s been here a long time. He’s kind of been steeped, he’s very schooled in revolutionary theory around the world. And he was influenced a lot by the Cultural Revolution. And one of the things he had, he advanced this idea that the role of the artist in socialist society is to constantly—I’m trying to remember how he actually put it, but it’s to always be opposing the ruling apparatus. He looked at it: the Cultural Revolution went so far but not far enough because this didn’t actually break out that way—that the artists, they stopped short of that.
And then more recently I had the opportunity to interview and spend some time with Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Kenyan writer, and he has a couple of things that he advances around the nature of art and the relationship between the artist and the state in any society. And one of the things that he talks about is that there’s a conservative part of the state, in that it’s always trying to save itself and preserve its rule and preserve itself, and then that art actually—he says that art, on the other hand, is something that’s always changing. You know, it’s always that—art differs from that, in that it’s always trying to grasp things in their changingness. It’s based on how things are developing, how things are moving and what’s essential and not always what exactly is. And so he sees these two things as being in contradiction to one another, and he says that the artist actually should always be a constant questioner of the state. The artist has a role—his view of the artist in society is that the artist has the role of asking more questions than they do of providing answers, and that’s something that he feels should be enshrined in any society. And I was wondering how that would fit in with your view of socialism and the role of art and the question of artistic freedom and dissent.
BA: Well, I think from what you’re describing and characterizing, briefly quoting, I think there’s an aspect of truth to that, but it’s one-sided, it’s only one side of the picture. About 15 years ago I gave a talk called “The End of a Stage, the Beginning of a New Stage,7 ” basically summing up, with the restoration of capitalism in China following the same unfortunate outcome as the Soviet Union, that we had come to the end of a certain stage beginning with the Paris Commune, more or less, and ending with the Chinese Revolution being reversed and capitalism being restored there. And now we had to regroup and sum up deeply the lessons, positive and negative, of that and go forward in a new set of circumstances where there were no more socialist countries temporarily. And, at the end of that [talk], one of the things that I tried to set forth was certain principles that I thought should be applied by a Party in leading a socialist society. And one of those was that it should be a Party in power and a vanguard of struggle against those parts of power that are standing in the way of the continuation of the revolution. And I actually think that’s a more correct way, a more correct context, or analogy, for how to evaluate the role of art in particular in a socialist society. In other words, by analogy, I think art should not just criticize that [socialist] state, it should criticize those things in the society—including in the state, including in the Party, including in the leadership—that actually represent what’s old and needs to be moved beyond. Not necessarily what is classically capitalist but what has turned from being an advance into an obstacle—because everything, including socialism, does advance through stages and by digging more deeply into the soil the old is rooted in and uprooting it more fully. So things that were advances at one point can turn into obstacles or even things that would take things back, if persisted in.
COMMUNISM: THE BEGINNING OF A NEW STAGE
A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
Available in English, Farsi, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish from RCP Publications, P.O. Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
$5 + $1 shipping. A draft translation into Arabic is now available online. See all translations here.
So I think art needs to criticize all those things. But I think it also needs to uphold—and even, yes, to extol and to popularize—those things that do represent the way forward, including those things about the state. The state in socialist society is not the same as the state in capitalist society. It’s the state that, in its main aspects—so long as it’s really a socialist society—represents the interests of the masses of people, makes it possible for them, provides the framework within which, they can continue the revolution and be defended against enemies, both within the country and the imperialists and other forces who would attack and try to drown that new society in blood from the outside. So the state has a different character, and as long as its main aspect is doing those things—is actually representing rule by the proletariat in which the proletariat and broad masses of people are increasingly themselves consciously involved in the decision-making process and in developing policies for continuing the revolution—wherever that remains the main aspect, those things should be supported and even extolled. But even within that, even where that is the case, there will be many ways in which there will be not only mistakes made but things which have come to be obstacles, ways in which in the policies of the government, and the policies of the Party, and the actions of the state, [there are] things that actually go against the interests of the masses of people—not just in a narrow sense, but in the most fundamental sense even, in terms of advancing to communism—and that actually pose obstacles. And those things should be criticized.
And I do think there is a truth to the idea that artists tend to bring forward new things—although that’s not uniformly true. Some artists—the same old thing over and over, you know, very formulaic—and especially those whose content seeks to reinforce or restore the old, it often isn’t that innovative. Sometimes even that is good [artistically]; often it isn’t. But I do think there is some truth that there is a character of a lot of art that it’s very innovative and it tends to shake things up and come at things from new angles and pose problems in a different way or actually bring to light problems that haven’t been recognized in other spheres or by people who are more directly responsible for things, or by people who are more directly involved in the politics of a society. And I think there should be a lot of freedom for the artists to do that. But I also think part of their responsibility, and part of what they should take on, is to look to those things that are—that do embody the interests of people—including the state. And they should popularize and uphold that, because there are going to be plenty of people wanting to drag down and destroy that state. But I think there’s not a clear enough understanding of the fundamental distinction—even with all the contradictions involved that I’ve been trying to speak to—the fundamental distinction between a proletarian state, a state in socialist society, and a bourgeois state which is there for the oppression of the masses and to reinforce the conditions in which they’re exploited, as the whole foundation of this society, and [which] viciously attacks any attempt to rebel against, let alone to overthrow, that whole system.
So I think there is importance to drawing a distinction—and then, once you recognize that fundamental distinction, then once again, as we say, divide the socialist state into two. What parts of it are power that embodies and represents the interests of the masses in making revolution and continuing toward communism, and what parts have grown old or stand in the way of that continuation? Extol the one, popularize the one; and criticize and mobilize people, encourage people to struggle against the other.
MS: One of the things that sets you against a lot of the past experience of socialist societies, of Marxist thinkers and whatnot, is the point about not just allowing dissent, not just allowing this kind of breadth of exploration among people who work with ideas and among artists and whatnot, but actually talking about the necessity of that to exist. Why do you think that that’s necessary and not just something to be tolerated?
BA: Well, I’m currently wrestling with the question of how you can have that within the Party, and the relation between having that inside the Party and in the society at large, and how you do that without losing the essential core of what you need to hold onto in order to actually have state power when you get it, and in order to actually go on toward communism, rather than getting dragged back into capitalism. So that, to me—that’s something I’m grappling with a lot. It’s a very difficult contradiction.
But to go directly to your question: I think the reason you need it is because if people are going to be fully emancipated—you know, Marx said that the communist revolution involves a transition to what we Maoists have come to call, by shorthand, the “4 Alls.” He said: it’s the transition to the abolition of all class distinctions (or I think literally he said, “class distinctions generally,” but it’s the same thing) and to the abolition of all the relations of production, all the economic relations on which those class distinctions rest; the transformation or abolition of all the old social relations that correspond to those production relations—like oppressive relations between men and women, for example—and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. So if you look at those “4 Alls,” as we call them, and the objective is to get to those “4 Alls,” then that can only be done by masses of people in growing numbers consciously undertaking the task of knowing and changing the world as it actually is, as it’s actually moving and developing and as it actually can be transformed in their interests. So if that’s the way you understand what you’re after and how fundamentally that’s going to be brought about—and not by a few people gathering everybody in formation and marching them in a straight road forward in very tight ranks—then you understand that a lot is going to go into that process. The socialism that I envision, and even in a certain way the Party that I envision, is one that’s full of a lot of turmoil, one that would give the leaders of it a tremendous headache, because you would have all kinds of stuff flying in all kinds of directions while you’re trying to hold the core of all that together and not give up everything.
I had a discussion with a spoken-word artist and poet, and I was trying to describe these things I’m characterizing here—what I’m grappling with as it applies to the arts and lots of other things—and he finally said to me, and I thought it was a very good insight: he said, it sounds to me like what you’re talking about is a solid core with a lot of elasticity. I said yeah, well, that’s very good—because he put together in one formulation a lot of what I was wrestling with.
But it is—how do you keep that solid core so you don’t lose the revolution? Let me be blunt. You need a vanguard, you need a Party to lead a revolution and to be at the core of a new society. When we get there, we’re not going to hand power back and we’re not going to put power up for grabs or even up for election. We’re not going to have elections to decide whether we should go back to the old society. In my view that should be institutionalized in a constitution. In other words, the constitution will establish: this is a socialist society going toward communism. Will establish what the role of the Party is in relation to that, and will establish what the rights of the masses of people [are] and what the role of the masses of people is in fundamentally carrying that out—including, as I see it, having some elections on local levels and some aspects of elections from local levels to a national level, which are contested elections within that framework of going forward through socialism to communism and having spelled out, in some fundamental terms (not in every detail), what that basically means and doesn’t mean, in a constitution, in laws, that the masses of people increasingly themselves are formulating and deciding on.8
But we’re not going to just say: “OK, we’ll have socialism and then we’ll give it back to them [the capitalists] and see if the people want it [socialism] again. If you do that, you might as well not bother to make a revolution. Because think about everything we were talking about earlier, and everything you have to go up against—if you’re going to have an attitude like that, you don’t have any business putting yourself forward to lead anything, because you’re not serious. To make a revolution is a wrenching process, and to continue on the road forward toward communism and to support the world revolution in the face of everything that will get thrown at you is going to be an extremely arduous and wrenching process, and you have to have a core of people who understands that, even as that core is constantly being expanded. I’ve set forth—when I say “set forth,” I don’t mean to make it sound like a proclamation, this is what I’m thinking about, this is what I’m wrestling with—that there’s four things that this core has to accomplish, four objectives. You have to maintain power, at the same time as you make that worth maintaining. And the four objectives I’m talking about are:
One, that core has to hang on to power and lead the masses of people to not be dragged back to the old society—not hang on all by itself, but it has to be determined to hang on to power and mobilize the forces in society that could be won at any given time to seeing that you have to hang on to power and hang on to the revolutionary direction forward.
Two, it has to be constantly expanding the ranks of that core, so you’re not just talking about the same relative few—even if you’re talking about hundreds of thousands or millions, the same relatively small section of the population relative to say a country like this. But is it constantly expanding, constantly in waves drawing in broader ranks to be part of that core of this process?
Three, that it is guided constantly by the objective of eventually moving to where you don’t need that core anymore, because the distinctions that make it necessary have been overcome.
And four, that at every point along the way there’s the maximum elasticity that you can have without destroying that core.
So this is what I am wrestling with in terms of this process. And to me this the furthest thing from everybody marching forward in tight formation, although there are times when you have to do that—when you’re directly under military attack, you have to tighten your ranks up. But, in general, I see it as a very wild and woolly process, if you will, where people are going in different directions and the responsibility of the leadership, of this leading core, is to try, as I put it before, to get your arms around all that—in the sense of an embrace, not in the sense of squeezing it and suffocating it—keeping it going toward where it needs to go and drawing more and more people into the process of doing that.
So seen in that way, this is a very tumultuous thing. And I think there’s even a way in which the Party has to be like that. That this principle of “solid core with a lot of elasticity” has to apply even within the Party, because I’ve been wrestling with the question: can you really have ferment, intellectual ferment, artistic creativity and ferment and experimentation in a society, in a socialist society at large, if you don’t have it within the Party that’s at the core of it? I don’t think you can. If the Party doesn’t have that, then it’s gonna suffocate it in the society. It’s going to be too much uniformity coming from the Party, which has a lot of influence, and so it’s going to tend to stifle and suppress that [creativity and ferment]. So how do you have a solid core and elasticity even within the Party in general, over policy but also as applied to the arts and to the intellectual sphere in the broadest sense, and so on? And, to draw an analogy from physics here, even a solid core—you know, everything is contradiction and whatever level you go to it’s contradiction—so a solid core is solid in one sense, but within it, it also has elasticity. Because if everything is packed together too tightly in your core, so to speak—to continue to torture this metaphor—but if it’s all packed together too tightly in the core, then you don’t have any life in there, so you can’t have the elasticity.
So I see this as a very moving, tumultuous thing. On the one hand, we’re not giving power back and we’re not putting that up even for a vote—and, on the other hand, we’re also not all marching everybody straight down the road, but we’re having all kinds of tumultuous struggle, including within that people who want to go back to capitalism throwing their ideas into the ring. While we supervise the overthrown exploiters and curtail their political activity, and while people who have been demonstrated—through legal processes shown—to be active counter-revolutionaries, in the sense of their actually taking up concrete acts of sabotage, or what we would now call “terrorism,” against the new society (blowing up things, assassinating people, or actively, not in some vague sense, but actively plotting to do that), that’s one thing. I think you need a constitution, laws and procedures to deal with those people. But beyond that, in the realm of ideas, even people who argue that capitalism is better than socialism—those ideas need to be in circulation, and people who want to defend those ideas have to be able to do so, so that the masses of people can sort this out.
And we have to defeat them in the realm of ideas as well as in practice. Right now, we do that all the time. Our attitude now is somebody wants to defend capitalism—bring on all comers, let’s have a debate. We can’t get these [bleep] to debate us! That’s what’s frustrating to us. So my attitude is: yes, things are changed [once you get to socialist society]; there is a new set of circumstances; we are going to be at the core of leading the masses of people. That’s our responsibility. But we shouldn’t be any less anxious to have those debates and to thrash those things out, and to get many more people in them. Why should we fear that then in a way that we don’t now? We welcome it now, so why shouldn’t we welcome it [then]?
I will tell you that, as I envision this, it gives me a headache because I can see how hard it would be to keep all this going in the forward direction it needs to go. But if you aren’t willing to risk that, then I don’t think we can get where we need to go.
1. The Korean War began June 25, 1950 and ended July 27, 1953. General Douglas MacArthur led the United Nations Command in the Korean War from 1950 to 1951. U.S. President Harry S. Truman removed him from command in April 1951. [back]
2. Chiang Kai-shek was a U.S.-backed general who led the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) against the communist revolutionary forces beginning in approximately 1927. The war for liberation went through different and often complex stages, and finally ended in victory on October 1, 1949. [back]
3. See “On Communism, Leadership, Stalin, and the Experience of Socialist Society,” an excerpt from an interview Michael Slate conducted with Bob Avakian in 2005. The excerpt was published in Revolution #168, June 21, 2009, revcom.us/avakian/on_communism-en.html. [back]
5. Nikita Khrushchev was head of state in the Soviet Union from 1956, when capitalism was restored, until 1964. [back]
8. In this connection, see Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, RCP Publications, 2010. See revcom.us/socialistconstitution/. [back]
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
Letter from a Reader
February 12, 2012
To the editors:
I was very glad to hear that Revolution is publishing Michael Slate's interview with Bob Avakian on the Cultural Revolution in China, and the role of the artist in socialist society. I've recently used this interview in two different study sessions with people who from various viewpoints are getting into the RCP's Manifesto and BA's new synthesis of communism, and I want to share that experience and make a recommendation.
First off, I used the audio of the interview itself, which is available online. I didn't make a presentation with my own interpretation of what was said, and I didn't just ask people what they thought of the content; I played it. I would suggest doing the same. Even if people have read it, this interview is deep and layered, and stands repeated listening. In addition, for this generation the content of what's being discussed is very unfamiliar. So hearing it again will refresh people as to its content. (If you are leading discussion of this in prison or otherwise are unable to play an audio, perhaps someone could read the content out loud, and then stop at various points.)
When I led the classes, I began with an orientation that laid out the importance of BA and the work that he has done, including very importantly on the experience of the first stage of the communist revolution; that this first stage—the great achievements, as well as the setbacks—is critical for us to understand if we are going to truly initiate a new stage of this revolution; and that our approach has to be scientific and not religious—we are trying to deeply understand reality, not reassure ourselves as to the "tenets of the faith" or tell ourselves tales of a "golden age" to buck up our spirits or spend an evening discussing something interesting for the sake of discussion (though it is interesting!). This is about learning how to do better the next time. Of course, a program in a bookstore should draw a very broad audience, including people who are checking this out for the first time, and we should take care to be inclusive (to have "big arms," to put it that way); but this orientation should be the leading edge.
This orientation was relatively brief. Then the session proceeded like this: I would play a section of audio, and then stop and ask a few questions on the content. This wasn't random—to do this well, you have to listen to the audio a few times and figure out where the important points are to stop. For example, at one point BA discusses the "birthmarks" of capitalism in the new society—in one group we stopped there and discussed for a while what that actually refers to. In the course of this, people raised many questions and there was quite a bit of discussion and debate. In the other session, in discussing the part of the interview where BA compares Mao's approach to Stalin's, someone raised, "yeah, well you can say all that, but let's face it—Stalin had no choice." This too led to some really engaged discussion and debate. The point is this: by playing the audio and stopping it occasionally, the discussion stayed focused on the content of the material as the solid core—and the elasticity of the discussion (ranging over different concepts discussed by BA and experiences of the first stage of communist revolution) revolved around that. I won't and can't go into all of what we discussed, but we did dig deeply—and one of these discussions, which took place in the afternoon, went well over 4 hours before we finally had to leave to make way for another program. A few major themes: the need to be scientific (and we reviewed what that is), to learn from the content but also the approach of BA, and to do all this coming from understanding that the world really needs a new stage of communist revolution—and the responsibility to bring forward those initiators and be those initiators is before us.
Another way to go at this would be to play the whole interview all the way through, and then focus on key points for discussion. Leaders of the classes should decide which way will work best in their situation.
Second, these discussions actually did NOT go into the second part of the interview—they did not get to the criticisms of Mao and the role of the artist in socialist society. We will do this, but we just weren't able to in one session and I don't think we could have and really have done justice to the first part of the interview. So I would strongly recommend that if discussions of this are being planned—and I strongly feel that they should be—that these be conceived of as two sequential discussions.
Through the course of these discussions, you should be directing people to the RCP's Manifesto, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. This document captures the sweep of history and the juncture we're at now—it's really the essential grounding for anyone who wants to understand the historical context of this interview. I would also strongly recommend that people leading these discussions review and, frankly, steep themselves in other works by BA going into this, as well as the polemic against Alain Badiou, the Manifesto, and the appendix in the Party Constitution on the science of communism; there is a hunger among some people right now to learn more and go deeper—to take one example, someone at one point asked "Could you please explain what happened in the GPCR?" This led to interesting discussion where different people put forward their understanding of that, and it was very important to be able to draw on the polemic with Badiou, for instance, in sorting this out.
But again, above all, stay with the interview itself. It's packed! There's nothing more important than bringing forward initiators of a new stage, and this is a very valuable tool in doing that.
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
BA Everywhere is a campaign aimed at raising big money to project Bob Avakian's voice and works throughout society—to make BA a household word. The campaign is reaching out to those who are deeply discontented with what is going on in the world, and stirring up discussion and debate about the problem and solution. It is challenging the conventional wisdom that this capitalist system is the best humanity can do—and bringing to life the reality that with the new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA, there is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the leadership that is needed for the struggle toward that goal.
Success in this campaign can bring about a radical and fundamental change in the social and political atmosphere by bringing the whole BA vision and framework into all corners of society where it does not yet exist, or is still too little known, and getting all sorts of people to engage and wrestle with it.
BA Everywhere is a multi-faceted campaign, involving different key initiatives and punctuation points, at the same time sinking roots among all sections of the people and reaching out broadly in myriad creative ways. Revolution newspaper is where everyone can find out what's going on with all this: reports on what people are doing, upcoming plans, important editorials, etc. We call on readers to send us timely correspondence on what you are doing to raise money for BA Everywhere, why people are contributing, and what they are saying.
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
“Let’s Go” was the spirit of the first hours of the BAsics Bus Tour two-week pilot project. The atmosphere changed as the 30-foot RV rolled out, covered from top to bottom with huge front and back covers of the book BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian—in Spanish and English—you can’t change the world if you don’t know the BAsics—with the Revolution talk, the online speech by Bob Avakian, on the top of the cab for all oncoming traffic to see... pumping music from a special on-the-road mix CD and “All Played Out” and other audio pieces by BA... and most important, inside were people of all ages, with the ability to reach out in Spanish and English, filled with the desire to change the world and seeing that getting this book into the hands of many, many people and BA known by thousands more being key to that... and, yes, filled with boxes of the book BAsics and the ability to set up on-the-spot showings of the film Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About.
The bus’s first destination was the area of Pico Union in Los Angeles, the most densely populated neighborhood of immigrants in the city and the scene last year of days of mass resistance in response to the murder of Manuel Jaminez by the LAPD. As we traveled through the neighborhood, heads turned and people took copies of the special BAsics issue (Revolution #244, August 28, 2011) and BAsics was sold. On the ground a lot was learned and the whole pilot project nature of this tour—the learning and transforming hourly and daily—took off as people got ready for the next neighborhood, around Revolution Books, which led up to the launch celebration.
|At UC Riverside|
At noon, people gathered to launch the tour at Revolution Books. Displays with quotes from BAsics—in Spanish and English—lined the sidewalk and music filled the air. Michael Slate, correspondent for Revolution newspaper and host of the Michael Slate Show on KPFK radio, mc’d a program that featured statements by supporters and people who had decided to ride the bus. People heard a description of the many important destinations along the route: rural areas of the state where there is literal starvation and extreme poverty in the midst of the richest farmlands in the country, in the Central Valley of California; college campuses in outlying areas—UC Davis and UC Riverside where the student movement and Occupy were met with extreme brutality by the state, with Riverside being the “diversity” campus for a rapidly disappearing minority student body in the UC system, a campus situated in one of the most economically devastated counties in California; and Orange County, that quintessential symbol of “suburbia” in this country, where a homeless man was brutally beaten to death last July by the police and where the community responded with daily demonstrations.
Statements of support (posted at revcom.us) were read. And there were statements made by three people who will be on the bus. A young woman talked about the BAsics quote that inspired her... where BA talks about his friend who dedicated his life to finding a cure for cancer... and in that quote he talks about joys in taking on the responsibility of changing the world (6:18). A skit was performed, based on BA’s spoken-word piece “All Played Out.” And the program ended with comments by Clyde Young of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who talked about the difference it would make for BA to be known everywhere, for BA to become a household word and a point of reference for people looking to how to change the world. Achieving this goal means raising money to project BA’s vision and works into all corners of society.
The program ended with the words “Let’s Go”... Spirits and resolve were high as the bus hit the road... Next stop: Watts... then out of the city...
The BAsics Bus Tour has now spent a week in Southern California. The bus has been to UC Riverside and to Cal State Fullerton in Orange County. Bus riders did a bookstore reading of Lo BAsico in Santa Ana (the county seat of Orange Country). A dinner for the bus was hosted by Unitarians in Anaheim. Revolutionaries have mixed it up with high school youth in Watts. They performed the skit based on “All Played Out.” This pilot bus—and its riders— are on a mission to lay the ground for a national bus tour—to get BAsics everywhere. And through it all, the tour has met many people and introduced them to BAsics and, in a beginning way, to Bob Avakian.
When the bus rolls down the street, heads turn. One woman said, it “stopped me in my tracks!” People bought BAsics and Lo BAsico, got into the book, and some are now looking forward to getting together to discuss it collectively.
A student at UC Riverside, after learning about Avakian, went on the Internet to do his own research. He came back the next day saying he had learned that BA had worked with the Black Panther Party and was impressed by that. Then he asked are you promoting him or his ideas? We answered: both—that people need to know his work, and BA as a person, and people must defend and protect this leader.
Some people the bus tour has met already have some knowledge of Avakian, but many more people have never heard of BA, his vision and his work. They have not heard of the movement for revolution that we are building. The BAsics Bus Tour is joining with others who are on a mission to change this!
When the bus arrived in Watts, at first the street was quiet, with an occasional passerby. But as a nearby high school let out, the scene changed as Black and brown youth began to pass the bus and its displays.
A loud commotion came toward us from down the street and one student looked over and remarked to her friends, “Here come the wild kids!” Soon there were many youths stopping by the bus, reading the displays of the quotes from BAsics. One youth was holding BAsics in his hands and some others taunted him. The youth told them fiercely to back off, and revolutionaries joined the fray challenging the other youth to engage with BA. It became quite lively as curiosity turned into more serious and sharp discussion and debate on the crowded sidewalk.
The BAsics Bus Tour is part of a campaign to raise big money to project Bob Avakian’s vision and works throughout society, to make BA a household word, to project the whole BA vision and framework into all corners of society where it doesn’t yet exist or is still too little known. And through it all, getting all sorts of people to engage and wrestle with it.
In its pilot project, the bus will roll through Northern and then Central California. Everyone reading this article has an important role to play. There are many ways everyone can be a part of the campaign to raise big money to spread the BA Everywhere campaign. Revolution newspaper urges everyone to donate to and raise money for this tour to go nationwide. Funds are urgently needed so that this tour can head out to communities all over the country.
The BAsics Bus Tour urges Revolution readers to follow the tour on revcom.us, basicsbustour.tumblr.com, and on Facebook (friend BAsics Bus Tour.) Get your audio downloads, video and blog entries at basicsbustour.tumblr.com.
And call to find out the many, many ways you can contribute and join the tour at 323-463-3500.
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
The following letter from a prisoner was sent to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:
29 January 2012
Revolutionary Greetings! I hope all is well and all your staff finds itself in high spirits.
I’m writing to thank you for a book I received a couple of weeks ago (Marxism and the Call of the Future). The envelope it came in was postmarked Dec. 8, 2011. If I don’t write to thank you soon after you’ve sent me something to read, it will most likely be because prison staff has delayed delivery. I’m done with Marxism and the Call of the Future. I learned a lot and gained a lot from it as I always do from the things you send. I’m studying Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy right now. I’m only a couple of pages into it, but I could already tell that every page is packed with liberating knowledge that must be spread throughout society, including the prison system. I am very grateful for the literature you’ve sent so far and look forward to the day that I could show my appreciation.
The books you’ve sent have had a tremendous impact on the way I view the world and the role I should play in it. I’ve read communist literature in the past, but not until I read Revolution and Bob Avakian’s works was I inspired to become a communist myself. I like to read as widely as I possibly can and it’s been highly unlikely of me to promote the views of any single individual above those of a vast array of others. I have made the necessary exception with Bob Avakian. I’ve come to recognize that the guidance he provides is crucial to the struggle for a better world. I’ve recommended BAsics to my loved ones on the streets, and I’ve been discussing it with all prisoners willing to listen. I might’ve never been cured of my pessimistic views of the future had it not been for Bob Avakian and the RCP. One of the first things I plan on doing when I parole (a little less than two years from now) is finding the nearest Revolution Books.
Thanks again for the book and the subsidized subscription to Revolution newspaper. The work you do is highly appreciated. Keep up the great work.
In Struggle, Prisoner in California
P.S I’m enclosing a book of 20 stamps. I hope you can use them for something.
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
We received this correspondence:
An amazing gathering of three different generations of immigrants came together at a house party to raise funds to get BAsics to prisoners. It was a great gathering. Everyone there was very familiar with what prison is. Some experienced it first hand and most have loved ones who have experienced it. People brought food and baked goods and were happy to be there. This party successfully raised $300. It was especially significant considering that the funds came from people who are really struggling financially.
Our host was very energetic in pulling this event together. In addition to the sharing of food, we had a discussion about different questions, including what was going on in the world.
We talked about BAsics and the call to those cast off by society, read a few letters from the prisoners, and talked about their hunger strike. We talked about the impact that BAsics could have in society. We read parts in the main editorial; some loved it passionately and some did not, and others just wanted to inform themselves about the debate and dialogue that could be brought into the society and what impact it could have. The letter from the prisoner who said that he has people on the waiting list for BAsics was very intriguing.
Many sharp questions got posed, including about what would it take for revolution to really come about here.
Do you have enough revenue to have activists go out and propagate your cause?
There were discussions about the Arab uprising and the Occupy movement and where they might end up.
Does your organization visit prisoners in an ongoing way, because this would make a difference for prisoners to have visitors? What is up with the Occupy movement now and what you are doing about that? What can a teenager like me do to help?
Our host, who had lived in another country for a while, talked about how different life was in that country that once was considered a socialist country, but it wasn't really one. The host said the lifestyles and values were different than what exists here in the U.S., but remarked on imagining what a real socialist country would be like. Someone asked a question about socialism that if they were so good and so intelligent, then why did they lose? We ended up talking about socialism as a transition and what Mao developed in understanding that.
We got into what BA has summed up and brought forward in the new synthesis. She ended up getting a copy of the Manifesto, as did one of her relatives who has only been here for a few months. At the end, most wanted to meet at to get into the questions more. It was an excellent evening, both in raising the funds and in having discussions about such deep questions about the possibilities and ways of changing the world.
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
Thursday, February 2, 2012. A confused six-year-old boy stands in front of his home in the Bronx, crying. Neighbors say they heard him say, “They shot my brother.”
Eighteen-year-old Ramarley Graham lies dying on the floor of an upstairs bathroom. A member of the NYPD had just shot him in the chest, close range with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun.
A security camera video shows Graham walking up to his house, entering, and closing the door. A few seconds later, NYPD officers, guns drawn, come into the picture. They run up to the door and begin kicking it. They break into the house. Moments later Graham is shot.
Initial news reports repeat police claims that Graham had a gun. But these stories quickly fall apart as witnesses, the security video (which at least 63,000 have viewed), and the non-existence of a gun reveal that in fact—there was no gun! The police also claimed they found a small packet of marijuana in the house. To this, one young man spoke for many when he said, “They telling us he had weed. So what! They take a man’s life over a bag a weed! That’s bullshit!”
There is more. The police took Patricia Hartley, Graham’s grandmother, into custody. She was in the house during the police break-in and murder. Ms. Hartley was held for five and a half hours against her will and according to reports was interrogated by the police and representatives from the District Attorney’s office about what she saw. The family reported that Ms. Hartley was coerced to sign some sort of statement. All this while she was denied a lawyer or contact with family and supporters.
A few days before the murder of Ramarley Graham, four NYPD officers were caught on a cell phone video, in another Bronx neighborhood, savagely beating 19-year-old Jatiek Reed. The video shows Reed being thrown to the sidewalk and repeatedly kicked, punched, and struck with batons as bystanders scream for the cops to stop the beating. Then you see a cop turn on the person recording the incident, threatening them with a mace canister. After this, the police searched for a man who had yelled from an apartment window for the cops to stop the beating. And when they found him, they beat him up too.
In the days after the murder of Ramarley Graham and the beating of Jatiek Reed, hundreds of people from the Bronx and around the city rallied to condemn these outrages and to support the families of the victims. People with the Occupy movement, the STOP “Stop & Frisk” campaign, students, artists, and Black, Latino, and white youth joined others and marched on the police precincts in the area.
A crowd of 100 people listened to local officials at a press conference on Saturday, February 4, who called for an investigation of Graham’s death. Suddenly a young man on a bicycle pedaled into the crowd, loudly speaking bitterness about the police. Some officials tried to shut him down but he was unrelenting. When two plainclothes cops began to move toward him, the mood of the crowd shifted in an instant. The anger and impatience, just beneath the surface, erupted and galvanized to defend the right of the man to speak out. The crowd began to march, chanting, “Fuck the Police” and “Police are NOT part of the 99%.”
Along the way folks grabbed up copies being handed out by revolutionaries of the “The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have: A Message, and a Call, from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.” One young woman told Revolution, after hearing about the movement for revolution and the possibility for a different kind of world, “It’s about time. We need a Plan B because this is not working.”
At the 47th precinct rally, Ramarley Graham’s sister told the angry crowd, “This is not just about Ramarley. This is about all young Black men.” Placards read, “Justice for Ramarley and Jatiek!” and “NYPD=KKK!” Defiant protesters stood nose-to-nose with police.
On Monday, February 6, hundreds turned out for a rally and march in the Bronx. Frank Graham, Ramarley’s father, told the crowd, “We are human beings. Stop treating us like animals.” “My son did nothing wrong. I want justice for my son, my baby.”
Outrage about these two incidents has spurred a bearing witness among the oppressed, a collective speaking out about all kinds of bitter experiences with the police: stop and frisk; illegal stops; warrantless searches; arrests for no reason; beatings; drawn guns; prison terms; and cold-blooded murder. Over and over again, people express their deep hatred for having to live this way. And many who have not directly experienced this abuse are learning about it and being moved to stand against it.
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
Once again, heroic prisoners are putting their lives on the line to change the torturous conditions they’re forced to endure. In late December 2011, prisoners in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) at Corcoran State Prison in California went on a hunger strike. And now there are reports that one prisoner, who may have been participating in the hunger strike, has died.
The Prisoners Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) website reported on February 10:
“A prisoner at Corcoran, who remains unnamed due to fear of reprisal, stated in a letter received on February 5, ‘On or about February 2 or 3, 2012, an inmate has passed away due to not eating that has been going on over here in Corcoran ASU. Inmates are passing out and having other medical problems and it seems that this is not being taken seriously. There will be more casualties if this isn’t addressed or brought to light.’...While this death is unconfirmed, it raises concerns that the CDCR [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] is failing [to] take this hunger strike or the prisoners’ demands seriously.”
Solitary Watch has also reported about the death of this prisoner, saying: “While the cause of death and its possible relationship to the hunger strike remains unconfirmed, [CDCR spokesperson Terry] Thornton responded to questions from Solitary Watch with an apparent affirmation that an inmate death had taken place and the statement: ‘I do not know the results of the autopsy.’ In response to a phone call, Tom Edmonds, chief deputy coroner in Kings County, confirmed that inmate Christian Gomez died on February 2 at Corcoran but also did not share the cause of death.”
This is completely OUTRAGEOUS, INTOLERABLE and UNACCEPTABLE! Prison officials maintain complete control (and censorship and distortion) of what information gets outside prison walls. And now they have admitted that a prisoner has died but refuse to reveal the cause of his death to family, friends, and supporters of the hunger strike.
This is an URGENT situation and the people must demand answers—that the CDCR disclose the truth concerning the situation of prisoners participating in the hunger strike and the circumstances and causes of the reported death of Christian Gomez; and that they immediately open the prisons to journalists.
Earlier in 2011 more than 12,000 prisoners across the state, including at Corcoran (with support in other states) participated in two major hunger strikes initiated by prisoners in the Pelican Bay Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU).
After starting their strike in December, the prisoners at Corcoran suspended it in early January after the prison’s warden promised to meet their demands. But when the warden failed to keep his promises, prisoners resumed their strike in late January—with prisoners going on strike for different periods of time. The CDCR said 30 men were still striking as of February 9. But more prisoners may actually be participating in the strike, since, as PHSS points out, the CDCR has consistently misreported numbers of prisoners on strike.
The Corcoran strikers are rallying around 11 demands. In December, three Corcoran ASU prisoners (one white, one Black, one Asian) sent a list of 11 demands to the head of the CDCR and the warden at Corcoran documenting conditions in the ASU and demanding “redress and reform of current inhumane conditions we are subjected to which violate our constitutional rights.” The demands included TVs and/or radios; an adequate law library; not being placed in the ASU upon completion of their SHU terms; adequate and timely medical care; adequate laundry; due process at hearings; phone access; uncontaminated canteen food; educational and rehabilitative programs and/or opportunities; the same privileges as SHU inmates; and no reprisals for exercising their right to petition. (The full petition is available at sfbayview.com: “New hunger strike: Petition for improved conditions in Administrative Segregation Unit at Corcoran State Prison,” December 30, 2011.)
In the California prison system, all prisoners in Administrative Segregation (ASU or Ad-Seg) are kept in solitary confinement similar to the SHU. Ad-Seg is labeled “temporary” yet many prisoners have been kept there for years, often awaiting transfers to SHUs. Conditions in Ad-Seg are often even worse than those in the SHU. Many prisoners in the various ASUs in California have been validated as gang members by CDCR and languish, sometimes for years, awaiting transfer to facilities such as Pelican Bay, where some prisoners have spent more than 20 years in solitary confinement.
Occupy Oakland has called for a National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners for Monday, February 20. Rallies are being planned around the country. And people everywhere need to find ways to act to demand the CDCR immediately meet the just demands of the heroic prisoners at Corcoran.
Check revcom.us for ongoing coverage of this struggle.
Revolution has had extensive coverage of the California prisoners’ hunger strikes last year, available at revcom.us/s/pelicanbay-hungerstrike-en.html.
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
Ask a Communist
The last 30 years have seen a massive and unprecedented imprisonment of millions of people in this country. To give some idea of this, there are more than eight times as many people in prison today as there were in 1970! This comes out to 2.4 million people (and that doesn't even include the 363,000 immigrants passing through "detention centers"—many of which are worse than prisons—awaiting deportation). In addition, millions more are being indirectly controlled through probation and parole. No other country on the planet even comes close to imprisoning as many people, or as high a percentage of its population.
Almost more than the sheer volume, the most fundamental aspect of this massive imprisonment has been its targeting of Black and Latino people in particular. To give some sense of this, the proportion of Black prisoners relative to whites has more than doubled in the past 40 years; and today Blacks are incarcerated at a rate seven times higher than whites. A 2007 study pointed out that "a young Black male without a high school degree has a 59 percent chance of being imprisoned before his thirty-fifth birthday."1 Today in the U.S., more Black men are in prison, or otherwise caught up in the penal system through probation, etc. than were enslaved in 1860!
Meanwhile, the conditions in prisons have become even worse and more severe—with roughly 50,000 people locked down in ongoing solitary confinement in conditions that international law has condemned as torture!
This program has genocidal elements right now and a definite genocidal direction to it. We have seen in history what happens when whole groups of people, whether through explicitly directed racial laws or just what seem to be "the workings of the system" are removed from society, stigmatized as enemies of "decent PEOPLE," and then warehoused in prisons or prison-like conditions; genocide doesn't have to happen overnight, it can develop in stages. People must not be tricked, misled or intimidated into putting up with this. On the contrary: we need—we urgently need—a massive uncompromising movement that refuses to put up with this and calls into question the very legitimacy of a system that would commit such a crime.
And in fact, there is a growing movement around this. Within this movement, there is debate and struggle over the cause of the problem and solution to this horrific outrage. What is behind the ruination of literally millions of lives, and the shadow that is cast over tens of millions more?
One popular explanation is that this has been driven by a "prison-industrial complex." Angela Davis, the most notable advocate of this explanation, or line, has written that this massive imprisonment arose as a convenient "response of first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty."2 Once this happens, she writes, mass imprisonment of people in the oppressed communities "literally become[s] big business."
All this work, which used to be the primary province of government, is now also performed by private corporations, whose links to government in the field of what is euphemistically called "corrections" resonate dangerously with the military industrial complex. The dividends that accrue from investment in the punishment industry, like those that accrue from investment in weapons production, only amount to social destruction. Taking into account the structural similarities and profitability of business-government linkages in the realms of military production and public punishment, the expanding penal system can now be characterized as a "prison industrial complex."3
Other people who hold this view note that these prisons are almost always built in rural areas—yet most of the people locked up in them are from urban areas. These prisoners are counted as residents of those rural areas, even though they aren't allowed to vote there or anywhere else. This shifts influence and resources from those urban areas to the rural sites of those prisons. And finally, some of the people who put forward this explanation, including Davis, link this to what she calls "structural racism in the economy," and the demonization of Black and other peoples of color in the institutions and culture more generally, as well as the whole history of white supremacy. They further say that this so-called prison-industrial complex is directly related to the cuts in welfare, the gutting of education and health care, and other essential needs—and that a movement against this could enable moneys to be spent on those needs instead.
Some of this reveals part of the truth about mass incarceration; once this program was embarked upon, a number of corporations did get their snouts into the trough, and there is now a whole structure of interests that has something of a life of its own and tries to influence things. But much of this is wrong. This program was NOT some kind of misguided or even cynical response to crime nor still less to "the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty." This did not cause the gutting of education, health and housing—nor would the reversal of this whole program (which we must definitely fight for) "free up" money for those needs. (The reason this is so has to do with how the U.S. imperialists view their "options" in a period of extremely intense cut-throat competition with their international rivals. Everything that is not absolutely essential to maintaining and expanding their share of worldwide plunder must be cut; and even the military, which they do see as essential to their share of global plunder, and the prisons themselves, which they view as essential to enforcing order and stability "at home" is coming in for some "surgically done" cuts. This, even as the prisons continue to bulge, overcrowded in ways that recall the slave ships of the "rosy dawn" of capitalism, and the military retains its overwhelming advantage against other powers and oppressed nations in carrying out slaughter and destruction.)
This "prison-industrial complex" paradigm as a whole is badly misleading. It does not portray the problem correctly and because of that it blunts the edge of the needed struggle and it leads down dead ends.
This is so for two big reasons:
One: The massive expansion of imprisonment, directed primarily against Black people and other people of color, has NOT happened because some interest groups saw a way to make money out of it and manipulated the government machinery, using white racism, to do that; nor was it a response in any way to "social problems that burden people ensconced in poverty" (to again use Davis' strangely neutral description). It has mainly gone down because the powers-that-be were profoundly shaken by the 1960s, and in particular the Black liberation struggle and the growth of revolutionary sentiment. To deal with that, they set out on a course to crush the movement for revolution and to prevent it from arising again. To do that, and to also deal with other changes and social dislocations brought about by the functioning of capitalism, they "re-tooled" and reinforced the deep roots of the oppression of Black people, and other minority peoples. The result: a "new Jim Crow"—that is to say, a new and more perverse and dangerous stage of the oppression of Black and other minority people by this system. Because it misses this, or at best de-emphasizes it, the prison-industrial complex line covers over the deep roots of the oppression of Black people in this country, the revolutionary potential of the mass upheaval in the 1960s, and the viciousness of the counterattack by the powers-that-be.
Two: This line portrays, or implies, that the core institutions of the state—the courts, police, prisons, army, bureaucracy and executive power—are neutral, or can at least be used for good. It says, or implies, that the state can be used to serve the oppressed groups as well as the oppressor, as if these oppressed groups could learn how to work the machinery of the system to benefit themselves. In fact, this state machinery—both its tools of violent suppression and its "democratic procedures"—historically developed, and is structured, to serve the interests of the capitalist-imperialist class. It is a bourgeois (capitalist-imperialist) dictatorship, serving bourgeois interests. It cannot serve the interests of any other class. To attempt to make it do so will not only not lead to any fundamental change—it will play into the hands of the rulers, and ultimately aid them in their attempts to prevent the development of a movement for revolution among the people and to crush it if it does arise and take root. That doesn't mean that you cannot win any concessions, that doesn't mean that you can't change the way society sees this, that doesn't mean that the masses can't transform their understanding, and it doesn't mean you can't put the ruling class back on its heels politically. All this can happen as a byproduct of determined, relentless mass struggle and sometimes such struggle can be very important and must be waged, both as part of "preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution" and to prevent people from being ground down—as it is now. But such changes will be partial and temporary short of a revolution. And there is plenty of bitter history to prove this. In short, the prison-industrial complex line covers over the real nature of the capitalist state machinery—that is, the prisons, police forces, courts, armies, etc.
There are extremely high stakes to getting both the diagnosis and the cure correct; we use the formulation "genocidal elements and a definite genocidal direction" very seriously. So let's break both of these points down.
In many works published by our Party,4 we show how white supremacy—the oppression of Black people, as well as the genocide against the native American Indian people, the theft of land from Mexico, and many other horrors—has been at the core of America since Day One. This oppression has gone through changes as that system has developed and as people have risen up in struggle against white supremacy. But at every step of the way—even after the Civil War of the 1860s, even after the Black Liberation struggle of the 1960s—instead of doing away with this oppression, the capitalists who actually rule society developed new forms of it.
The movement of the 1960s in particular developed into one with a revolutionary thrust and rocked the system back on its heels. But revolution was not made, and the rulers of this system —the capitalist-imperialists—regrouped and counter-attacked. As a key part of this counterattack, these oppressors developed the program of unprecedented levels of mass incarceration.
This horrific program wasn't the brainchild of a few so-called "special interests." The program of mass incarceration was and is part of a whole multi-level offensive directed from the highest levels and designed to crush revolution and to prevent new revolutionary movements from taking root. The program of mass incarceration was developed by key leaders of the ruling class of imperialists—and it has been maintained and made worse by every top political representative of this system for the past 40 years—beginning with Nixon, and going on through Reagan, Clinton (who presided over the doubling of the prison population and the crippling of legal rights), the two Bushes and, yes, Barack Obama—with his hateful 2008 "Father's Day" speech that puts the blame for this disaster squarely on Black people themselves.
This imperialist counter-revolutionary strategy involved many things, only some of which we can touch on here. Much of the revolutionary organization and leadership of the time were violently repressed, and other forces who called for "working within the system" were built up. Some opportunities were opened up for a minority of Black people and other oppressed nationalities in education, employment, culture and small business, even as conditions were actually made worse for most of those communities. (Then later, these concessions—like affirmative action—also came under attack.) Politicians openly unleashed white racists nationwide as an even more potent and ugly force.
In addition to this conscious policy of the imperialists, and part of the reason for that policy, there were major jolts and developments in the U.S. economy. The economic dynamics of the system—that is, the profit-above-all, expand-or-die, and exploit-to-the-maximum laws of capitalism—had continued to develop. These dynamics led to the elimination of many of the industrial jobs in which Black people had worked in the '40s, '50s and '60s. Factory production was streamlined and shipped from the inner cities to the suburbs or overseas. African-American unemployment in the urban cores went off the charts. In response to this, the ruling capitalists stepped up a policy of penning Black people into the central cities (or in some cases, the older, more rotting out suburbs) and slashing education, health care, and housing—while building up the police and giving them vast new powers and arms.
A key part of all this was the so-called war on drugs. The authorities channeled drugs into the ghettos and barrios as a way to both addict and demoralize the masses AND to provide a pretext for drastically expanding the prison population and police powers and arms. This drug trade also filled the economic void left by the withdrawal of industry. As part of this, a whole dog-eat-dog, look-out-for-number-one, and our-'hood-above-all culture around gangs and "gangsta-ism" was allowed to flourish and then built up.
This in turn was part of a larger ideological offensive (that is, an offensive to shape the way that people think) to not only blame African-American people for the problems of their oppression, but to get Black people to blame themselves. This last point included not only the promotion of Bill Cosby's viciousness, but its reinforcement by Clinton and Obama especially, and it also meant the further building up of the church in the African-American community.
A cornerstone of this offensive in how people think was the ruling class and its puppets saying this: "Black people are equal now. We got rid of those old laws that discriminated. So if people have 'problems'—if they lack an education, or are unemployed, or evicted, or end up in prison—it is the result of 'bad choices' that they made and therefore their own fault." But the reality is this: the old forms of inequality have been replaced by new forms that are deeper and more vicious, precisely because they are masked. Inequality has not been abolished—it has been "retooled," and given an even more deadly, deceiving and destructive new form.
And the rulers launched a major campaign in the political realm, the media, and the educational institutions designed to reverse the real gains that had been made in the '60s: they insisted on this lie that equality had been achieved and that now the problem was that Black people, as well as Latinos, Native Americans, and other oppressed nationalities, were demanding too much and weren't "working hard," and that it was whites who were supposedly being discriminated against. Now, once again, the oppressive conditions—which were growing more intense for the majority of African-American and other oppressed nationality peoples—were blamed on the victims themselves.
To sum up this first point: the heart of the problem is not that some interest groups, drawing on deep-seated racism in the U.S., have used their influence in government to enrich themselves by imprisoning millions of people, and have thereby deprived those communities of needed social services. Yes, that has happened—and it is an ugly testament to how this system plays out. But this is still a description, not a correct diagnosis, and it is a description that leaves out the most important part. The role of racism, which is in fact a central component, is not mainly a question of these interests taking advantage of that racism or even promoting it so as to make profits—no, the role of the massive re-pumping of racist garbage into society is a) much more directly linked to a multi-pronged counter-revolutionary offensive against the legacy of the 1960s and in particular the revolutionary edge of the Black liberation struggle, an offensive that has been launched from the highest levels of the ruling class; b) much more designed to prevent any future upsurge that could conceivably be part of a movement for revolution against the system from happening again; and c) a really insidious campaign to somehow justify the horrendous conditions for African-Americans and to prevent any serious struggle that might develop from gaining allies from other sections of the people. (It is not for nothing that writers or thinkers, some of them attached to the ruling class, have called the minority youth in the urban cores potential social dynamite and have also worried about their influence on the broader culture.)
Nor is the problem that so-called "American democracy" is not living up to its supposed promise. The problem is that "American democracy" has always meant the systemic and systematic oppression of Black and other oppressed nationality peoples; that "American democracy" has always responded to every change and challenge by adopting new forms of this oppression instead of abolishing it; and that now "American democracy" has given this oppression a new, more masked, and more intense and potentially more deadly form.
By making it seem as if this comes from the narrow interests of this or that section of capitalists, the "prison-industrial complex" theory covers over the essential character of the explosion of mass incarceration: that it is a policy decided upon from the highest levels to reinforce the white supremacist foundations of the U.S. empire in a new form. By cutting out the consciously counter-revolutionary character of this offensive, the line of "prison-industrial complex" badly underestimates the depth, the systemic character and the direction of the attack—and it underestimates and covers over the latent potential for a movement for revolution.
This gets to point two: the nature of the state apparatus. In speaking of "the state," we do NOT mean this in the same way that in this country we commonly refer to the different geographic areas that make up the U.S.—for example, the state of Illinois, the state of Georgia, etc. By state, we mean the core institutions of the government—the executive power (the president, the cabinet, and the bureaucracy) and the machinery of force that they wield or embody, which includes the prisons. This is the core because here is where the monopoly on "legitimate armed force and violence" rests—these are the main institutions through which the ruling class exerts its domination of the other classes in society and pursues its interests in the world.
The state is NOT a neutral instrument. It is not a machine that can be wielded equally well by one class or another. The core institutions of this state—the army, the police, the prisons and the courts—were all molded by and developed to serve and ensure a specific form of class rule: capitalism, which has now developed globally into imperialism. U.S. capitalism-imperialism included slavery at its very foundation for its first 90 years (and for 150 years before that, when it was a colony of Britain), outright genocidal war against the native peoples, and the theft of vast stretches of land from Mexico through war—all of which were carried out and defended by the army. This form of class rule has also meant scores of wars, occupations, and military actions against other countries, all of which were in the service of building up or defending a worldwide empire of plunder.5
In regard to prisons in specific, the system of imprisonment in America right down to today has reflected the deep stamp of slavery on U.S. society. (This was convincingly brought home in the Revolution interview with Robert Perkinson, the author of Texas Tough.6) And there are hundreds of examples of how institutions like the prisons, the police, the courts, and the army have been molded to reflect, preserve, and reinforce the values of a class and a system that feeds off the exploitation of billions of people, that oppresses most of the nations and nationalities of the globe as part of that, that is saturated from head to toe with white supremacy, and that subjugates one-half of humanity—women. Beyond the numerous examples in this article, you can read of these every week in this newspaper.
Any attempt to reform such machinery never has and never will change its essential character as the machinery of domination by the capitalist-imperialist class. For all the talk of "democracy," there is no such thing as a democracy above classes; as Bob Avakian has said:
In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about "democracy"—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no "democracy for all": one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality. (BAsics, 1:22)7
Further: there is no such thing as a democracy that is not also a dictatorship—that does not exercise a monopoly on the use of "legitimate" force and violence against those "whose interests are in significant opposition to, and/or which resist, its rule."8 So long as there are different classes in society, any state will either be a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, with democracy (and dictatorship) that reflects and reinforces the maintenance and expansion of exploitation and oppression... or a dictatorship of the proletariat, with democracy (and dictatorship) which aims to overcome relations of exploitation and oppression and the institutions and ideas which reflect and reinforce those relations and to, eventually, transcend the need for a state itself. What is needed is the latter: a new state power, one which "bases itself on, and proceeds from, the fundamental interests of those most bitterly exploited and oppressed under the [capitalist] system, and the masses of people broadly, and provides the means for them to play an increasingly widening role in the exercise of political power and the functioning of society in accordance with those interests—in order to carry forward the struggle to transform society, with the goal of uprooting and finally eliminating all oppressive and exploitative relations among human beings and the destructive antagonistic conflicts to which these relationships give rise."9
These two lines on the U.S. state—"neutral instrument that can be used by different classes or groups of people" versus "machinery of suppression developed by and able to serve only the ruling class of capitalist-imperialists"—ultimately concentrate two very different roads. The second line gets right to the heart of the problem and accurately shows where mass incarceration comes from: its deep historical roots in the oppression of Black people in this system and the needs of the ruling class today to maintain that oppression in new forms. It shows how mass incarceration was actually part of a whole counter-revolutionary response to the revolutionary upheaval of the 1960s. It shows the way forward in a movement for revolution, unleashing people once more—but this time with a clearer understanding of the problem and solution, and with revolutionary leadership with a vision, strategy, and forms of organization and struggle that can take things to full liberation once the conditions emerge that make that possible. And those who take up this line participate in and build the struggle against mass incarceration, reaching out as broadly as possible, and fighting with relentless determination, as part of building that movement for revolution.
The line of "prison-industrial complex" covers over the real nature of the state and thus keeps people locked on the treadmill of this system. It gets people looking away from how deeply rooted the problem is and how radical the solution really must be, and into thinking that a few reforms can solve the problem. And so it leads people on a road of tinkering with the machinery of oppression, instead of uprooting and dismantling that oppression at its very source. Ultimately it will lead them to get in on, or try to get in on, that machinery. This is the logic of this line; and that logic will assert itself despite the good intentions of many who hold it and put it forward. In sum, this line is not only wrong, if followed it will lead to disaster.
With Angela Davis herself, there is a long history of consciously promoting reforms in opposition to revolution. Despite the fact that she came under heavy and unjust attack by the state back in 1970, her actual role in those times—through the line she struggled for and carried out and the organization that she built—was to work to blunt the more revolutionary expressions of the movement. At a time when the Black Panther Party (BPP) and other forces were actually trying to build a revolutionary movement, she worked to turn people toward a party that posed as communist but in fact worked not to overturn the state but get in on it—the so-called "Communist" Party, USA.10 The "C"PUSA at that time made a concerted effort to turn the BPP away from the path of revolution, and Davis was a big part of that effort. Today she sums up that period in such a way so as to erase the revolutionary content of groups like the Panthers and to merge it together with forces that were actually opposed to the road of revolution and were working for reform, like Martin Luther King.11 (See, for example, "The Two Nations of Black America,"12 an interview with Angela Davis on the PBS TV show Frontline, in which she reduces the struggle between the BPP and the cultural-nationalist trend to whether youth should get involved in "campaigns against police violence" or whether they should "wear African clothes," and says nothing about the revolutionary content of the BPP and its fight for an internationalist position—including its orientation toward revolutionary China at the time of Mao's leadership.)
Today, this line of "prison-industrial complex" takes people's outrage and anger at a crime of imperialism and misdirects them as to its cause. It misleads them down a false path that leaves the source of the problem untouched and imperialism in power. It covers up this essential point: THIS SYSTEM CANNOT AND WILL NOT WORK IN THE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE AND MUST BE RADICALLY OVERTURNED.
Other people take up this line for different reasons. Some people have not actually heard a revolutionary explanation or have not heard the two different lines compared in a sharp way. Some people sincerely oppose the gross iniquities and horrors of imperialism, but at the same time are drawn to analyses that locate the problem somewhere outside the essential workings of the system itself. They are pulled toward seeing the problem as residing in the powers-that-be violating the rules of the system and the solution being bound up with getting them to follow those rules—as opposed to the cold hard truth that "the rules" themselves (the basic class divisions and social relations of capitalism, and what it requires to function) ARE the problem. Ultimately, this view reflects the position of those in society who are "caught in the middle" between the capitalist-imperialists on top, on the one hand, and those who "catch hell in the hardest ways every day under this system"13 on the other, and whose most fundamental interests can only be resolved by a total revolution.
So, again, this position "in the middle" gives rise to a striving to seek solutions that seek to stand above the fundamental antagonism or conflict, that rend society and that tend to deny the depth of that conflict; but that is impossible—that antagonism defines and conditions everything in society, and must be resolved in either one direction (revolution, leading to emancipation) or another (continued, and intensified, exploitation and oppression). Revolutionaries need to get into this question of the real problem and real solution with people who are drawn to and/or put forward this prison-industrial complex line—as we unite with them at the same time to go forward in struggle together against this outrage.
Right now, the battle against mass incarceration is crucial. There are genocidal elements in this mass incarceration program, and a genocidal dynamic. It is already a human disaster of terrible proportions; if the direction on this is not reversed, it will get far worse. People will and should come into this struggle with all sorts of viewpoints, and it is extremely important to unite all who can be united. This should mean people with many different views as to why this is happening and what to do about it coming together to say NO! And it should and must mean vigorous discussion over, and struggle for clarity about, the real problem and real solution, with revolutionary communists putting forward and fighting for a scientific analysis. Such struggle, on a principled basis, can strengthen unity and sharpen the thrust of a movement—and it is essential to preparing the basis for the struggle for a world where humanity really CAN be emancipated from all relations of exploitation, all the institutions that reflect those relations and keep them going, and all the ideas that grow out of and reinforce that exploitation and oppression.
1. Douglas Massey, Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 2007. [back]
2. Angela Davis, "Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison-Industrial Complex," colorlines.com, September 10, 1998. [back]
3. Here Davis explicitly draws on the formulation of a "military-industrial complex" that was made by none other than a former U.S. president and general, Dwight Eisenhower. This is actually telling: Eisenhower pointed to certain effects of the massive expansion of the U.S. empire after World War 2 and the explosion in spending on the military that went with it NOT to warn against the empire per se nor still less to call for its dismantlement (!), but to warn against certain "unintended effects" of this empire—that some defense industries and the military itself might put their own narrowly perceived interests above that of the empire (our word, not Eisenhower's) overall. As we'll see, the formulation of a "prison-industrial complex" also looks at certain effects—but, as does Eisenhower's "military-industrial" complex, it leads people away from a true understanding of how the system has required this expansion of state power and makes people think that this can be solved within the terms and framework of this system. [back]
4. Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2008; "The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need," Revolution #144, October 5, 2008. [back]
5. As for the Civil War, in which the army was deployed against the slave-holding class, this took place because slavery had come into conflict with the further expansion of capitalism; and after that war, once the former slave-holding class had been subdued, it was relatively quickly reintegrated into the ruling structures in a different form and the army once again became an instrument of domination against the African-American people. [back]
7. BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2011. [back]
9. Ibid, p. 2. [back]
10. The full role and scope of the "C"PUSA—which both functioned as an instrument of the imperialist interests of the Soviet Union, which by that point was socialist in name but imperialist in actual essence AND pursued its own reformist, get-in-on-the-system agenda within that—is beyond the scope of this article. As a party, it played a dual role of openly attacking the more advanced expressions of the day—particularly any trends or individuals drawn to the example and line of what was at that point the revolutionary example of China, as it was led by Mao Tse-tung—and also undermining those forces by, in some cases, attempting to unite on unprincipled bases, wielding the influence that they did have in certain sections of the people and institutions of society as a lever in that. This party was revisionist—they claimed to be Marxist (or Marxist-Leninist, in their case), but cut (or revised) the revolutionary heart out of communism. [back]
11. As we've written elsewhere, "Martin Luther King made many sacrifices—and indeed made the ultimate sacrifice—in seeking to bring about what he put forward in his 'I Have a Dream' speech. But, as indicated by that very speech, the outlook of Martin Luther King was precisely one of making America 'live up to its promise,' when that 'promise' has always involved, as one of its most essential elements, first the outright enslavement, and then the continuing oppression of Black people in other horrific forms... And the fact is that, whatever King's intent, the realization of this 'dream' could, at most, apply only to a small percentage of Black people, and would in reality come at the expense of the masses of Black people—and millions, even billions, of other people, here and around the world, who will continue to be preyed upon and to suffer horribly as a result of the workings of this capitalist-imperialist system and its systematic exploitation and merciless oppression, all enforced by its organized machinery of mass murder and destruction.
"Consistent with his outlook, King's program was straight-up one of reform, directly and explicitly in opposition to revolution..." ("The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need," Revolution #144, October 5, 2008) [back]
12. "The Two Nations of Black America: Interview Angela Davis," Frontline, PBS. [back]
13. "A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party: On the Strategy for Revolution," Revolution #224, February 11, 2011. [back]
"Immigration Detention," American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
"Pushing That Personal Responsibility Poison: Obama Sings Lead in the Blame the Poor Choir," Carl Dix, Revolution #138, August 3, 2008
"Why Does the United States Lock Up So Many People?," Karen Franklin, Psychology Today, January 30, 2012
"Hellhole: The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?," Atul Gawande, New Yorker, March 30, 2009
"The Caging of America: Why do we lock up so many people?," Adam Gopnik, New Yorker January 30, 2012
"1 in 31 U.S. Adults are Behind Bars, on Parole or Probation," Pew Center on the States, March 2, 2009
"Subjective and Objective Indicators of Racial Progress," Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, May 12, 2010
"Prisoners in 2010," U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 15, 2011
"Jail Inmates at Midyear 2010," U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 14, 2011
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
“Stand With the Occupy Movement!”
Support is growing for the mass action on February 28 in New York City against the suppression and repression of the Occupy movement. (The Call for Mass Action Against the Suppression of the Occupy Movement is available online at dontsuppressows.org.) George Packard, a retired Episcopal bishop who was detained by the NYPD while bringing water to the occupiers at Zuccotti Park, and later arrested in an Occupy Wall Street action, said the action on February 28 “is the absolute preface to any other actions. It’s a question of process even before we take to the streets—how is it that there is this coordinated effort to stifle our free speech?! Mayors on conference calls simultaneously rousting encampments? Renegade cops taking aggressive initiatives because it makes superiors smile? Tear gas and rubber bullets fired into the ranks of Occupy Oakland? Enough!”
The General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street reached consensus on February 11 in support of the Call for Mass Action Against the Suppression of the Occupy Movement, and specifically in support of the February 28 mass action at Union Square in NYC. Occupy Cleveland also voted unanimously to support the Call. Occupy Oakland activist Scott Olsen, the Iraq veteran who was shot in the head by the Oakland police in October, and Boots Riley of The Coup signed the Call, as did former poet laureate of the United States and UC Berkeley professor Robert Hass. (The signatories list is online at dontsuppressows.org.)
Tuesday, February 28 (F28) will begin with a rally at Union Square. An online campaign to raise $10,000 for the effort has just been launched at www.indiegogo.com/Dont-Suppress-the-Occupy-Movement. Twitter hashtags for the event are #F28 and #Dontsuppressows. New York organizers of the Ad Hoc Committee Against the Suppression of the Occupy Movement are calling on other occupations to sign the Call, bring it to General Assemblies, and organize local events on F28, under the demands, “Stand with the Occupy Movement! No Rubber Bullets—No Beatings—No Tear Gas—No Mass Arrests. Drop All the Charges Against Occupiers.”
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
Letter from Andy Zee:
Dear Friends in the Occupy movements and all inspired by Occupy:
Stop. Pull back the lens. See the reality. Address the real and urgent problem we face. Mobilize. Act.
1} The problem and the juncture confronting Occupy across the country does not reside within Occupy.
2} What confronts Occupy is massive, nationally coordinated brutal suppression of the Occupy movement that continues.
3} It is this suppression by the forces of the state that must be confronted and stopped. The first and next step must be calling forth into mass protest the broad public support that still exists for Occupy. The violent repression by those who wield power in this society of rights that are supposed to be legally guaranteed is utterly shameful from a moral standpoint, and thoroughly illegitimate from a legal and political one. Right is on the side of Occupy. It can only be regained by bringing to bear the great strength of what Occupy calls the 99% against that suppression.
4} Make February 28, 2012 a day of such resistance. A Call has been issued, signed by a thousand people, including Cornel West, Scott Olsen, Boots Riley, Robert Hass, Rt. Reverend George Packard and many others. The message is direct and simple: "Stand with the Occupy movement! Stop the Suppression of Occupy!” The General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street reached consensus February 11 in support of this action.
The Call for mass action is blunt and true:
if this illegitimate wave of repression is allowed to stand... if the powers-that-be succeed in suppressing or marginalizing this new movement... if people are once again “penned in”—both literally and symbolically—things will be much worse. THIS SUPPRESSION MUST BE MASSIVELY OPPOSED, AND DEFEATED.
On the other hand, this too is true: movements grow, and can only grow, by answering repression with even greater and more powerful mobilization.
This can be done. Reach deep into the consciences of all inspired by Occupy. Mobilize thousands upon thousands now. Act Together.
Revolution Books spokesperson
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
We are told that "equality for women has been won" and that "there are no limits to what girls can achieve." BULLSHIT!
Every 15 seconds a woman is beaten. Every day three to four women are killed by their partners. One out of four female college students will be raped or sexually assaulted while in college.
In recent years, pornography has become increasingly violent, cruel, degrading towards women; women are referred to as "cumdumpsters" and "fuckbuckets"; the "money shot" (ejaculation in a woman's face) is standard; humiliating cruelty—like violent "ass-to-mouth" penetration—is normalized, and racist bigotry is sexualized. Meanwhile, the broader culture has been pornified: pole dancing is taught at gyms, "sexting" is a national phenomenon among teens and the strip club is the accepted backdrop to "male bonding." All this is tied in with, and reinforces, the trafficking of millions of women and girls as literal chattel in the international sex industry.
This is NOT society becoming more comfortable with sex. This is society becoming saturated with the sexualized degradation of women. If you can't imagine sex without porn, you're fucked.
At the same time, a Christian fundamentalist-driven assault is imperiling abortion, birth control, real sex education and women's lives. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people who do not conform to traditional patriarchal gender and sexual norms are demonized and threatened. Abortion doctors are killed. Women who seek abortions—or even birth control—are stigmatized. 2011 saw the largest spate of legal restrictions on abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973.
ALL THIS MUST BE STOPPED!
Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder.
Women are not objects. Women are not things to be used for the sexual pleasure of men NOR are they breeders of children. WOMEN ARE HUMAN BEINGS CAPABLE OF FULL EQUALITY IN EVERY REALM!
It is long past time that this new generation stand up, reject, and RESIST this culture of rape and pornography; this culture that labels women "selfish" if they choose not to become mothers; this culture that reduces women and girls to sexualized objects while denying their full multi-dimensional humanity (including their right—as one essential part of this—to explore their sexuality without shame or stigma); this culture that demonizes and bullies LGBT people.
Our purpose is NOT to lobby for new legislation to ban pornography ("decency laws" have always served to further repress homosexuality, boundary-challenging art and scientific sex education). We oppose the criminalization of women in the sex industry. Our mission is to challenge the new generation in particular to wage fierce cultural and political resistance to wake others up and to bring forward a new culture that celebrates the full equality and liberation of women.
Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
|Photo: Faris Mansor|
Gather near St. Patrick's Cathedral (near Rockefeller Center, exact location TBA):
MARCH to TIMES SQUARE:
MARCH to and PROTEST STRIP CLUBS (TBA) in the area!
ALONG THE WAY: Protest "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" & Celebrate Abortion Provider Appreciation Day:
Help make International Women's Day happen:
PLANNING/MOBILIZING MEETINGS are held in NYC THURSDAYS @ 7 PM
If anything in this flier resonated with you... If you care about the conditions of women... If you want to do something that can really make a huge difference – not only for yourself, but for women (and all people) worldwide and for future generations...
3 things you can do right away:
1. Invite us into your class, club or dorm.
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
A Talk by Carl Dix
Mass Incarceration — Its Source, The Need to Resist Where Things Are Heading and The Revolution We Need!
Carl Dix says, “All this comes down to a slow genocide which could easily accelerate.”
Dix will break all this down and speak to where things are headed if action is not taken. And he will talk about “what kind of revolution is needed to eliminate mass incarceration and all the brutality and misery this capitalist system enforces on humanity once and for all.”
Carl Dix is a longtime revolutionary and a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. In 1970, he was part of the largest mass refusal of U.S. soldiers to go to Vietnam. In 1996, he co-founded the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality. In 2006, he coordinated the Katrina Hearings of the Bush Crimes Commission. Recently he participated in a series of dialogues with Cornel West under the theme: “In the Age of Obama: Police Terror; Incarceration; No Jobs; Mis-Education... What Future for Our Youth?” In 2011, he co-issued a call for a campaign of civil disobedience to STOP “Stop & Frisk.”
Revolution #260 February 19, 2012
The uprising in Egypt and the Occupy movements have ushered in a new wave of protest and resistance; they have also opened a vital conversation and debate about the way the world is, and the way it might be different.
In these times, you have put yourself forward as a voice of and force for radical thinking: writing on the summer rebellions in England, speaking to protesters at Zuccotti Park, appearing on the Charlie Rose show. At this very juncture of upsurge and questioning, you have also launched an irresponsible and unprincipled attack (online at platypus1917.org/2011/12/01/) on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism and on the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
I have written a reply ("Vilifying Communism and Accommodating Imperialism: The Sham and Shame of Slavoj Žižek's 'Honest Pessimism'"). I am now challenging you to a public debate:
Professor Žižek, let us argue these points in the public square. I will be happy to hold this debate in New York or in London.
This debate speaks to big questions on people’s minds. It is about intellectual responsibility...human possibility...and the challenges and pathways of creating a world in which human beings can truly flourish.
I urge progressive scholars and professors, students and activists, and all who recognize the importance of these issues: spread this call and let Slavoj Žižek know that this debate needs to happen.