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Revolution #344 July 6, 2014
June 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Elva Marroquin left her impoverished Guatemalan home, traveling to El Norte to live and work in California. But she had to leave her children, 10-year-old Angel and seven-year-old Dulce, behind. Finally she saved enough money to have the two children try to make the perilous journey across Mexico to the U.S. hoping that her family would finally be united and stable. Angel and Dulce left their home over a month ago in the hopes of reaching their mother. But they were taken into custody by the Border Patrol immediately after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas. The children called her two weeks ago—they were tired, frightened, and hungry. Marroquin told a reporter "My children were heartbroken, sad, tearful, crying beyond comparison, begging me to take them out of there. Their begging was so distressing because I couldn't run to get them." Elva Marroquin still doesn't know when that will be, or what the fate of her children will be if and when her family finally reunites.
Another woman, from El Salvador, told CNN how her 12-year-old son Henry and nine-year-old daughter Estefania left El Salvador in December with their grandmother. A grandmother took them to the Rio Grande and paid thousands of dollars to a coyote (smuggler) in the hope that he could get them safely across the river. In January the woman, who lives in California, received a call from Henry, who was in the custody of an immigration official somewhere in Texas. The official allowed the mother to speak with her son. "All I told my son is to calm down, that everything will be okay. Then the call got cut off, and they didn't call me back." She said she doesn't know the whereabouts or well-being of her children.
Imagine thousands of people like Elva Marroquin, agonizing over the fate of their children in the custody of U.S. immigration officials. Then you will begin to have a picture of the horrible and infuriating crisis unfolding on the U.S.-Mexico border.
As accounts of this situation make it into the news, many people in this country have been shocked at the sights of so many desperate, exhausted children, and tried to find ways to provide them with life's basic needs and a warm embrace. In contrast to this, the powers-that-be have greeted them with cruelty and repression. Warehoused for days in filthy and crowded detention centers designed to hold adults for short periods; locked in windowless corridors without seats; sleeping in shifts on concrete floors and sharing portable toilets with dozens of others in the same area they all eat; put on buses in the middle of the night and hours later dumped off at bus stations in cities they are completely unfamiliar with across the Southwest.
An inspection of a Texas detention center concluded "children in this area sat, slept and ate on the floor with no cots in temperatures that reached 100 degrees."
The United States government and its system of capitalism-imperialism are inflicting great crimes upon the people of Central America, especially the children. 52,000 immigrant children trying to enter the U.S., many escaping extreme poverty, repression, and gang conflicts, and trying to reunite with their families, have been taken into custody in the first eight months of this fiscal year, and the numbers grow daily. 39,000 or so mothers and children have crossed the border in the last few months. Another 90,000 women and children are expected to cross the border in the next few months.
The migration of tens of thousands of impoverished, desperate children has triggered what Barack Obama and other political leaders have had to admit is a humanitarian crisis. This crisis engulfs South Texas and is sending shockwaves through the entire Southwestern U.S., echoing into Mexico and beyond. But these ruling class figures—of all stripes—are not taking responsibility for this crisis. Instead, they are blaming, persecuting, and clamping down on the victims of the workings of their system that have driven people to the desperate measure of sending their unaccompanied children on a perilous trek to what they hope will be safety.
On Tuesday, June 24, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson presented to Congress the Obama administration's "13 point plan" as its comprehensive response to this crisis. Johnson told Congress the U.S. is "taking no lawful option off the table."
A centerpiece of the Obama/Johnson plan is sending more Border Patrol agents to South Texas, and leaving open the option to send hundreds more. It also calls for more detention centers, more "processing centers" for youth apprehended by the Border Patrol, additional legal staffing, and more Spanish-speaking employees to be sent to South Texas. The purpose of all this is to "create more detention space for families caught at the border and to accelerate cases through immigration courts, hoping to stem a growing tide of migration from Central America."
As part of this, a new center has been set up to detain 700 people, adults and children, at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico. One of Johnson's top assistants said that the Obama administration is "actively pursuing additional capacity" for detention. Johnson also has announced plans to begin using electronic tracking bracelets on children and others detained by the Border Patrol.
Obama supporters in Congress have argued that measures such as ankle bracelets on children are "humane and cost effective." Congressman Henry Cuellar, who is from the border town of Laredo, Texas, said the administration is setting up a "one stop shop" along the border "where the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Justice would work jointly to process, adjudicate and, if warranted, remove the immigrants quickly."
The federal government is temporarily re-assigning immigration judges, attorneys, and asylum officials to the Rio Grande Valley. They are part of the Obama administration's plan to be able to hear many more cases right in the Valley area, and deport people from there before they get further into the U.S. interior. Adults from Central America who are caught by the Border Patrol are usually put into an "expedited removal" process, which means the government doesn't have to bring them before a judge before deporting them.
The same "expedited" process of deportation is used for children from Central America caught and detained with their parents. But the government is prohibited by federal law from fast-tracking the deportation of unaccompanied children. This legal prohibition contributed to the almost unbelievably malicious practice of loading children detained in South Texas onto buses and dropping them off at public bus stops in distant cities, especially Phoenix, Arizona.
At the same time, Jeh Johnson was announcing the 13-point Obama program, Vice President Joe Biden made a blitz series of arm-twisting visits to the presidents of Mexico and Central America. Biden had three goals for his trip: compelling Mexico to detain and deport many more of the Central Americans attempting to cross Mexico and reach the U.S.; initiating a massive publicity campaign in Central America that would "fight the widespread belief in Central America that children and families will be allowed to stay in the U.S."; offering money to the three Central American countries for "youth outreach centers" supposedly intended to "reduce gang membership," but more to the repressive point, for the "expedited prosecution" of alleged gang members.
Anthony Wayne, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, summed up the overall message of Biden's trip: "All who enter the United States without proper immigration status are subject to deportation proceedings." In an interview on June 27, Obama himself made this explicitly clear, while once again expressing his phony humanitarian concern for the children, and directing the blame for the children's dire situation away from the system he heads. He told ABC News that "our message absolutely is don't send your children unaccompanied on trains or through a bunch of smugglers. That is our direct message to families in Central America. Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they'll be sent back. More importantly, they may not make it."
Busloads of people are being forcibly returned by Mexico to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador every day. Hundreds more arrive daily at an airport outside the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, deported from the U.S. A June 26 report in the San Antonio Express-News described how the day before, "13 buses from Mexico were scheduled to arrive in San Pedro, [the country's] second largest city and near the Guatemalan border. For the past week or so, about 500 people a day are deported from Mexico back to the Honduran city. A Honduran official said we've never experienced anything like this before."
Much attention in the U.S. has focused on the supposedly widespread belief in Central America that children and women who enter the U.S. will be given "permisos" (permits) and be able to stay. In fact, radio, television, and newspaper outlets in Mexico and Central America have been flooded with dire warnings that people should not attempt to go to the U.S. Christina Gonzalez, a reporter for the Fox News station in Los Angeles, said: "I don't see anywhere any report telling people to send their kids over. Quite the opposite, they are warning people not to do so, it is not a good idea."
Rick Perry, the Christian fascist governor of Texas, has authorized $1.3 million a week for the rest of 2014 to send Texas Rangers and other law enforcement to the border to "combat the flood of illegal immigrants into the state in the absence of adequate federal resources to secure the border." John Boehner, the leading Republican in Congress, has called for the National Guard to be deployed along the border; Dan Patrick, another powerful Christian fascist from Texas, recently told the big lie that immigrant children are bringing "third world diseases" into Texas, and demanded more "boots on the ground" to deal with the situation.
Leading Democrats share the same basic goals: stopping the flow of Central American children into the U.S. and sending the overwhelming majority of the immigrants back to their homelands. Hillary Clinton, after expressing what she characterized as her "concerns" for the children, in a recent interview concluded that "we have to send a clear message: just because your child crosses the border, that doesn't mean your child gets to stay."
For the capitalist-imperialist system and its political representatives, there is no easy resolution to this crisis. A cornerstone of U.S. imperialism's dominant status in the world is its brutal exploitation and vicious repression in countries to its south; essential to the profitable functioning of this system is the wealth it extracts from millions of immigrants, legal and "illegal," in the U.S. This country lashes out at and has continually suppressed thousands of children; yet seeks to present itself to the world as the champion of democracy and the downtrodden of the world.
The crisis gripping Central America and Mexico and pulsing into the U.S. is deep. The fevered efforts by the ruling class to somehow contain and suppress this crisis reflect real concern that it could spin out of their control and become something much more damaging to their interests—to their system; and their differences over how best to contain this crisis could burst into even sharper conflict among them.
All this poses sharp challenges to people building the movement for revolution, and for anyone who wants an end to a world where anyone suffers as the children of Central America have. As we wrote in last week's Revolution:
"The suffering these children are enduring is a tragedy and a catastrophe. And unnecessary! It is a product—in many different ways—of the capitalist-imperialist system. And it is a burning testament to the need to make revolution as soon as possible, and put an end to the system that perpetrates such abominations....
"All the youths and children who make it to the U.S. must be treated humanely and compassionately; whenever possible, they must be reunited with family members as soon as possible. They must be given all necessary medical treatment, and put in a caring, loving environment. They must be provided with education, and they must never be deported."
Revolution #344 July 6, 2014
June 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
To the editor:
On Tuesday, June 24, PBS showed a special film on Mississippi Freedom Summer, by Stanley Nelson. (See: "Interview with Filmmaker Stanley Nelson: Freedom Summer.") I was emotionally moved and intellectually provoked, in many ways and on many levels, as I watched this film, and afterward. The film captures the richness and contradictoriness of that experience. Everybody should see it—let the whole thing wash over you, in all its dimensions. And there would be much to write (and much that has been written), in another context, on the whole movement of that time—its strengths and weaknesses, the ways in which people saw what they were up against and what they thought would solve things, why and how the system of segregation arose after the Civil War and its connection to the growth of capitalism-imperialism. Much of that should be gotten into. But now, at a time when the movement for revolution, and the Party at its core, is attempting to make an urgent leap in societal impact, I feel compelled to try to draw out and underline what struck me as some points that might have some particular bearing on today's juncture—even as the goals, means and terms of Mississippi Freedom Summer were particular to that time and place.
Freedom Summer: Racial Oppression and Voter Suppression
The film explains how a small core from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had moved into Mississippi to register voters. At that point, less than seven percent of Black people in Mississippi were allowed to vote; and this was one extreme aspect of an entire system of segregation and terror that WAS Mississippi society at that time. One powerful element of this film is the way in which people who were brought up in Mississippi talk about how the system of white supremacy was drummed into people in virtually every social interaction with white people. Those who fought any form of this ran into extreme repression—people were brutally beaten, jailed, driven from their jobs and homes, and very often killed in Mississippi in the early 1960s for getting active in this struggle. Medgar Evers, the head of the NAACP in the state, was assassinated in his driveway in June 1963. And yet, while this repression was known and felt to be an outrage among many Black people and a section of white college youth, it did not really hit the whole society. The heroic people working in Mississippi were making some progress but overall could neither make the system budge nor rally the masses on a large scale, and were straight-up being murdered in their efforts.
The film outlines a struggle within SNCC over what to do about this. A proposal was made to bring 1,000 college students down to register people to vote—to both have an impact on the masses in Mississippi but even more so to affect the terms in the entire society. The thinking was that those many people coming to Mississippi (including the fact that most of them would be white) would force things to a whole other level, where millions of people throughout the U.S. and the world would be compelled to pay attention. Within SNCC, many of the seasoned grassroots organizers opposed this move—they argued that the hundreds of college students (again, mainly white) would have no idea of how to work with people coming from a totally different background, they could undo much of what had been painstakingly built up by the SNCC cadre, and so on. But others in SNCC argued that only a bold move like this would actually have the potential to compel the attention of the whole society and thereby change the terms. At one point in the film, Charlie Cobb—one of the core SNCC people who initially, at least, opposed the move—tells of being confronted by Fannie Lou Hamer, the courageous Mississippi woman who had endured blacklisting, beatings and threats for daring to resist the segregationist system. She went up to Cobb, as he tells it, and asks him why he's opposing these people coming—"Well, Charlie," she says, "I was glad when you came—what's the problem with more people coming down?" In the event, it was very important that SNCC provided leadership and orientation for the volunteers, which included significant struggle with them; and the lines of leadership were clear. On that basis, the volunteers fanned out across the state and, as it turned out, the coming of the volunteers, combined with other factors, did take things to another level. The point: There are no "outsiders" in the battle against oppression; and sometimes "outsiders" are needed to compel attention to a heavy "local" situation.
Very shortly, the powers-that-be in Mississippi made clear their response. As the main corps of the students were literally getting on the buses to come south, vigilantes working in tandem with the police kidnapped and murdered three of the SNCC organizers—James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, who were core SNCC organizers, and Andrew Goodman, who was one of the first wave of students. The bodies were hidden and that uncertainty almost made the terror worse. But the students came anyway. The movie brings out very strongly the kinds of terror that they faced—which was essentially a taste of what Black people in Mississippi faced all the time if they dared resist, and much of the time even if they didn't.1 But the student volunteers held firm; and this, no doubt had an important influence on the people they were trying to reach. The point: Serious struggle is met with bitter repression and people must hold firm to advance in the face of that.
This outrage put Michael Schwerner's wife—who was also a core organizer—under a spotlight. Even while bearing the terrible uncertainty about the three missing volunteers, including her husband, and at the same time the grief of basically knowing what had happened, Rita Schwerner understood that much was demanded of her. She tells in the movie how Lyndon Johnson, the president at the time, tried to position himself as "sympathetic"—she wasn't having it, and instead took advantage of the White House visit to demand that they make a serious effort to find out what happened and catch the killers. The film literally plays tapes of Johnson complaining about Rita Schwerner's attitude to J. Edgar Hoover, the vicious head of the FBI—you hear both how callous these two are and how fearful they are of Rita Schwerner and how she makes them look. Then, when the official news came that the bodies had been found, she refused to give the press the story they wanted of the "grieving, crying widow" or the "poor little white girl," and instead fought to keep things focused on what was being done to those who stood up in Mississippi and those who organized them to do so. The point: At every step, no matter how heavy the pressure, you have to fight to set the REAL terms of things.
Another important aspect of this movie: the ways in which the students transform the people they encounter, and the way that they in turn are transformed. For all the culture clash and awkwardness and, no doubt, insensitivity, a real bond is forged. The students bring something different. To the Black masses in Mississippi, they represent both the fact that there are people who support them and are willing to put things on the line for them and that there is a whole different way the world might be. The film lets you see this in people who were young people and even children back then talking about the long-lasting impact of the freedom schools that SNCC and the student volunteers set up that summer, or of just the human contact with people. And the interviews with those who were students also show people who were changed in profound and lifelong ways by the experience. Point: The cauldron of struggle, including the ways in which people from different backgrounds are brought together and learn how to stand firm as one against the enemy while they mix and mesh, and the new community that is forged through that, can profoundly transform people.
I also want to call attention to the powerful and moving speech given by Dave Dennis at the memorial for James Chaney. As Chaney's younger brother Ben is crying over the loss of his brother, Dennis—who had been told to "keep people calm"—could no longer take it. You see him directly challenge the masses, at the funeral and more broadly: "Don't bow down any more!" he says. "STAND UP!"2 The struggle that DID go on between the SNCC members and the masses broadly was a very important and usually little-noted dimension of this whole experience; here I want to strongly recommend the memoir of Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi, a Black woman who grew up there in the 1950s, joined the struggle, and who examines some of the ways this went down and how it felt. The film also gives emphasis to the important point that the SNCC core and the new students also had to be good at listening. Point: Leaders have to both listen AND they have to dare to lead, and sometimes that means sharp struggle with the masses.
At the same time, ways were found for all different kinds of participation to take place, and for people to “move through” a process. The Mississippi Summer Project, when you think about it, wasn’t huge; counting the SNCC people already there, it probably numbered less than 1,000 people. But the organizers found lots of ways for people to participate. There were the volunteers themselves, and the fund-raising that went into the whole project—which is a way for a lot of people beyond the core to contribute to changing the world. In Mississippi itself, there weren’t huge marches, and the film describes how for most of the summer only 10 or 12 people would come to “mass meetings,” and very few people were ready to take the step to go down to the registrar and put themselves on the line in that way. But all that summer grassroots people would house volunteers; they would send their children to freedom schools, and sometimes go themselves; they participated in the process of choosing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party slate for the convention. Artists would give concerts, and—while this particular element is not in the film—there were also demonstrations in some northern cities against the federal inaction on the murders of the civil rights workers. All the while, in different ways, things built. Then the film describes how at the very end of the summer things “took” and there was a leap and you had 50 or 60 or 70 people turning out every night to mass meetings. But this element of mass participation, in many different forms, from the beginning was crucial to what were really a relative handful impacting millions.
And, in fact, the whole Freedom Summer effort did focus everyone's eyes on Mississippi. This bold move DID have societal impact. Things came to a head at the Democratic National Convention at the end of the summer. The SNCC people formed an alternate slate of delegates to the convention, under the name of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). They argued that since the regular Mississippi slate was the product of a system which did not allow Black people to vote, it was unconstitutional; they would insist that an integrated delegation, chosen in a process in which everyone had the right to vote, should be seated instead. Johnson, the president, made a number of crude attempts to take the focus away from this; but the insistence of the MFDP on justice and on righteously telling the truth forced these moves to essentially backfire. Fannie Lou Hamer—who had grown up as a sharecropper and come forward from among the masses as a mass leader and testified at the convention—made an extremely powerful impact on people all over the world, refusing to be impressed by or to back down to those in power who were working on her to compromise, keeping in mind who and what she was representing, as she saw it.
In the face of this—and again, the movie utilizes tape recordings that Johnson himself made—Johnson coordinated different allies (including Black elected officials and the established civil rights leaders) to bring pressure to bear on the MFDP, and especially on the delegates from other states who were sympathetic to them and the United Auto Workers union lawyer who had been helping them, to cave in. And you also get to hear him telling the people he is deploying to pretend as if this was their own idea. It is very clear—on any issue of significance, the ruling class rules, using everything they have to enforce their will.
Yet at the same time, they are NOT all-powerful. Yes, these forces headed by Johnson defeated the particular challenge—but the way in which these pigs did it, and the fact that the MFDP and SNCC held firm in refusing the compromise that they had been offered, ended up as a strategic political defeat for the ruling class. Many, many students and Black people became much more radical as a result of this betrayal, and not just those who were on the scene. The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, which arose several months later, is unimaginable without Freedom Summer—not only because some of the key organizers had been tempered in that, but even more due to the ways in which the thinking of millions had been broadly influenced, and transformed, even in beginning ways, through all that. In fact, it is very telling that Johnson at one point has what amounts to a nervous breakdown for several days over this and is clearly very panicked about the challenge that has been brought against him—again, you hear this in his own words (and you also hear Johnson's bone-deep racism come out as well—in fact, another strength of the film is how powerfully it draws out how this society was saturated, from top to bottom, with racism—something that has not fundamentally changed since 1964). Point: The rulers of this society are NOT all-powerful; they do not have everything under their control, especially when people refuse to bow down to them.
Finally, the film shows—in part—what came out of Freedom Summer. And here is where there is a particular weakness, even as there are still lessons to draw. In the end, the ruling class was forced to make concessions—in fact, a year later the Voting Rights Act was passed (this came after still more struggle that focused world attention on the situation in the U.S.). The film makes the point at the end, as sort of a conclusion, that Mississippi later had the highest number of Black elected officials of any state. But while it is important to bring out the ways in which people's struggle led to some not insignificant change, the film does NOT bring out that the conditions of Black people in Mississippi today remain horrific in fundamental ways and in many dimensions—i.e., that voting within the confines of this system did NOT lead to the kind of basic change needed by the masses in Mississippi and that in significant respects things are worse. Focusing on the election of Black officials objectively ends up obscuring and cutting against that point. In doing this, the film reflects in part both the limitations of the movement at the time and the related fact that the movement was still struggling for some basic bourgeois-democratic rights.
At the same time, on the other side, the point is also made at the very end, right before that “concluding sentence,” that many in SNCC, to paraphrase Bob Avakian, followed their convictions out to their logical conclusions, refusing to stop fighting and questioning so long as the outrage that drove them into action persisted. These forces began to turn to much more radical solutions. Stokely Carmichael from SNCC, who later became a revolutionary and a lifelong opponent of U.S. imperialism, is seen very militantly leading a Mississippi crowd in chanting "Black Power!"—which at the time had an extremely radical and militant social content, and was posed in direct opposition to the mainstream of the "civil rights movement." SNCC in fact had run up against the limits of the road that they had taken; and one section (which included Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and others) went on to play an important role in further radicalizing the movement, and American society, over the next several years.
1. Dave Dennis, a core SNCC organizer at the time, has made the point elsewhere that, “During the time they were looking for the bodies of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman, they found other bodies throughout the state. They found torsos in the Mississippi River, they found people who were buried, they even found a few bodies of people on the side of roads. As soon as it was determined that these bodies were not the three missing workers, or one of the three, those deaths were forgotten. That’s what we were talking about in terms of what the Freedom Summer was all about, in terms of why it was necessary to bring that attention there. Because people forgot, and if it had just been blacks there, they would have forgotten again. It would just have been three black people missing.” (See Voices of Freedom, the book compiled from the documentary Eyes on the Prize, p. 194) [back]
2. A longer part of this speech is captured in the documentary 1964, also well worth watching. [back]
Revolution #344 July 6, 2014
June 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
This summer the BA Everywhere campaign is planning to make big advances in impacting society—changing how people think about the world—why it is the way it is, and how it could be radically transformed through revolution—with crucial steps towards millions of people knowing that there is a way out of the horror and madness of today. This summer, hundreds and then thousands of people need to become a part of raising the big funds necessary so that this is known in every corner of society.
Look around... talk to people... check out the news... the world is in great turmoil... people agonize about the state of their lives, the state of the world, even the planet’s survival. Lives are stolen by the millions—in wars, in people fleeing desperately across militarized borders, in the prisons. Dreams are thwarted and crushed. People’s anger at the brutality, degradation, and profound alienation that so many feel, gets taken out against each other and themselves. There is profound discontent that seethes beneath the surface.
Yet, people don’t understand the root cause of why the world is the way it is, and that a radically different way the world could be is possible. They have deep questions—questions they often haven’t even allowed themselves to ask. When confronted with what is to be done about the state of the world, people hit an ideological block. This can, and must, change.
The BA Everywhere campaign is about making that change. People need to know about the revolutionary leader Bob Avakian (BA) and engage the work he has done. Nobody speaks to the questions confronting humanity like BA. He has analyzed in a more scientific way the problem humanity confronts in the capitalist-imperialist system, he’s broken this down so people can understand this and work with the framework he has developed. Even more fundamentally, he has charted the way forward, forging a viable vision and framework for a radically better world. BA has developed a new synthesis of communism that provides a deep scientific understanding of the methods, goals, strategy, and plan for making revolution and creating a far better society, leading to the emancipation of humanity. And he leads a party, the RCP, USA, that is building a movement for revolution here and now.
This must be a summer and accelerating into the fall when BA and what he has brought forward becomes known by millions of people. A time when thousands, then tens of thousands, not only hear about BA, but engage his work: reading, watching, discussing, debating, and going out to friends, relatives and colleagues with what they learn. A time when, as people talk about how bad things are, others will say: “Have you checked out BA and the Party and movement for revolution he leads?” A time when throughout the country, people are familiar with who BA is and have a basic sense of what he stands for—and this becomes a reference point when people talk about what is to be done about the big questions of the state of the world. And, as a part of this, a growing section of people is connecting with the Party and the movement for revolution.
For this to really be—to make BA known on a huge scale—requires serious money, and that takes lots of people raising funds from thousands more people. Raising funds is being serious, and it’s making a difference—by those who do the asking and by those who donate.
The campaign kicks into a higher gear at picnics across the country on the July 4th weekend with the words of the escaped slave and freedom fighter Frederick Douglass: “What To a Slave Is Your Fourth Of July?” And, answers with a theme for the summer: “We Refuse to Accept Slavery in Any Form!”
The BA Everywhere campaign is crucial, as the leading edge of a whole ensemble of revolutionary work, to changing blocs of people’s thinking to where the possibility of ending all forms of slavery would be possible. Breaking through the ways that people’s thinking is trapped within the confines of what is—that this dog-eat-dog system is the best and only way the world could be... and consciously or unconsciously accepting the verdict from those who rule or defend this capitalist-imperialist system that the communist revolutions of the 20th century were a failure.
The BA Everywhere campaign is bringing something different: a deep understanding of why the world is the way it is—the problem; and that there is another way the world could be through revolution as concentrated in the new synthesis of communism developed by BA—the solution. Bob Avakian and the BA Everywhere campaign are about this: problem and solution—nothing less. If this is made known in all corners of society, that would change the face of everything—with the biggest questions and biggest dreams for the future being debated and setting terms.
To get to that point means lots of people joining the campaign. Summer 2014 must see the BA Everywhere campaign going out to the people in a bold, mass way, stirring things up—as the leading edge of a whole ensemble of revolutionary work that’s “Fighting the Power, and Transforming the People, for Revolution,” inviting and involving people in spreading BA and raising funds to do so on an ever greater scale and unleashing a society-wide ideological struggle over what’s the problem and the revolutionary solution. BA Everywhere committees should be growing: canvassing, reaching out and raising funds, building community in the parks, housing projects, summer festivals. To realize the ambitious vision for this summer and fall will mean working with people... having lots of entry-level ways that many people can join... providing people with a vision and plan—an approach that revolutionaries call “Grasp Revolution, Promote Production”*—and breaking down the ways for people to be a part of making this real. The campaign should be out among the people – raising sights and giving them the opportunity to learn about and contribute to something that could make a tremendous difference for humanity.
Running through everything this summer is the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! This mind-blowing talk is 6+ hours that can change how people see the world and what they do with the rest of their lives.
BA says in the film, “Those this system has cast off, those it has treated as less than human, can be the backbone and driving force of a fight to not only end their own oppression, but to finally end all oppression, and emancipate all of humanity.” This speaks to a big part of the heart of another theme for this summer, “Revolution in the City”—reaching out to and challenging especially the youth in the crosshairs of this system. Making this a summer where BA Everywhere is the leading edge of the whole ensemble of work that is preparing today for revolution. Where, when people are organizing for the October Month of Resistance against mass incarceration and fighting back against this, they are finding out about BA Everywhere. Where, when people are organizing for the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride and fighting back against the attacks on women, they are finding out about BA Everywhere. Where, when people are organizing for the massive Climate March at the UN in New York on September 20-21, 2014, and fighting back to save the environment, they are finding out about BA Everywhere. Where, when people come together at concerts and festivals that inspire and bring people together, they are finding out about BA Everywhere.
In the context of the overall BA Everywhere campaign, there are several focuses. Each of these focuses should serve to project BA and the campaign as a whole far and wide, and should raise significant funds for the projects themselves, and for the campaign as a whole.
An important objective and focus of the BA Everywhere campaign, especially in August, should be inspiring and organizing people of all strata to join in taking BA Everywhere out to the campuses at the start of the semester. And there should be a special focus on organizing a significant Revolution—Nothing Less! Contingent—with scores of people, especially youth wearing the T-shirts—at the September 20-21 “A Call to Arms: An Invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change” demonstration in NYC coinciding with the UN Climate Summit 2014. Indeed, throughout August the campaign should be bringing to people why and how only revolution could begin to really tackle the problem of a sustainable planet.
Each of these component focuses should serve to strengthen the whole of the BA Everywhere campaign—getting out broadly; going deeply into problem and solution with people and sparking lively debate; and involving many people, getting them organized into committees and with the national campaign to raise the big funds that are necessary to make a big impact with BA on the whole of the country.
Revolution #344 July 6, 2014
Revolution #344 July 6, 2014
Challenge from a Former Prisoner:
June 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I want to stand with the people who are standing up to the NYPD pig invasion and occupation of Black and Latino neighborhoods in Harlem. This system cannot be allowed to just come into neighborhoods and round up our youth in the name of stopping crime and get away with it. That is how the Nazis started going after Jewish communities in Germany. A slow genocide is being carried out. It is that serious. The people from the different neighborhoods who are unifying and fighting against this outrage are fighting for all of us. I stand with them.
To the youth who are the targets:
This system has no future for you! It treats you like garbage and it needs you to believe that is what you are and for you to treat each other that way. Some of you who were swept up in the raids are fighting each other in jail. WHY? The system needs for you to hurt each other and to hate each other. Why do what they want you to do?
I had that same rage in me. I was ready to smash in somebody's face for a few dollars, or because they were from some other block and feel little remorse. I saw no hope and hated everything but what I should have been hating—the system that caused all this suffering. This set up was stealing my humanity and making me into a monster. I was doing things that hurt the people not the system, and was programmed for prison or death from the time I was a child. Some of you are into that same shit now and you got to get out of it. Not just for yourselves and your families, but for humanity! You got to find the ways to unite against this system and stop being played by it. It's time to stop doing what they want us to do.
Start thinking a different way. The philosophy of "If it ain't about money, it ain't about nothing" is the way of thinking of the people who rule over us. That is the way of thinking of the capitalists and the police and courts that back them up. To die for a piece of real-estate that ain't yours—a fucking city block, hurting each other—for what? And then to take pride in being used this way, in acting in this way, is really messed up. Stop it! We have to start thinking in a different way.
I was you. I'm a former gangster youth and believe me I've probably done every stupid thing you've done and more. When I was your age, and doing a long bid, somebody handed me a book one day and told me to read it. I didn't like to read then but read it anyway. The book was Soledad Brother by revolutionary prisoner George Jackson. I didn't know that people like George Jackson existed. Somebody who had come up like me, being told by the system that he was a criminal and an animal and believing it. But George Jackson transformed. He went from criminal to revolutionary and a fighter for the people. My eyes began to open. I began to change. I came to hate this capitalist system and what it had done, not just to me and people like me, but to people worldwide. The more I learned the more I hated this system and the more I wanted to be part of ending it. I became a revolutionary.
Today I am appealing to you brothers to stop the bullshit and get with Bob Avakian and the movement for revolution. BA is the leader of the RCP, the Revolutionary Communist Party. He has the strategy for how to make revolution. I did not know how different the world could be if we get rid of this system until I started to get down with the work BA is doing. Nobody has to be treated as less than human or be made to feel that way. We can learn to understand the truth about why things are the way they are and how we can change them by using the scientific approach to everything. Bob Avakian's works is like a flashlight to find our way out of this fucking darkness they got us in. I'm telling you like someone once told me, read this book, BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, and it can change how you see everything. Read From Ike to Mao and Beyond, and watch BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Read the books and watch the video all the way through. You don't like to read—do it anyway!
BA ain't playing! He is not talking about people holding hands waiting for some savior. He's talking about getting ready for the time when we can throw down, millions of us, and defeat this system and make a better world for humanity. I went from being a hard core criminal; from wanting to be John Dillinger, to becoming one of the emancipators of humanity. We need a lot more emancipators!
I am raising a dollar for every year I was in prison for the "1,000 Years–$1,000 for BA Everywhere" campaign. That money is going toward getting the word out about BA into the prisons, and neighborhoods, into the colleges, and high schools, everywhere. This has to get out there to stand up to the lie that we have to accept this living hell, that we are to blame for how messed up things are or it's human nature. Or that the system is too powerful to be defeated. All lies! People need to know that—the youth need to know that—NOW!
A call to former prisoners:
All the former prisoners who read this—raise a dollar for every year you were behind bars and contribute that to the BA Everywhere campaign. Ask everybody you know to participate. Let's start getting more into BA ourselves and working together to connect this young generation with the leader who knows how to get out of this hellhole we all live in.
To all the rest of you:
Match the money we raise for BA Everywhere.
Revolution #344 July 6, 2014
Revolution #344 July 6, 2014
May 19, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editors' Note: The following are part of observations that were made by Bob Avakian, and were originally distributed within the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) at the beginning of 2012. This is being published now as the first part of the serialization of these observations. These observations were originally made at a time when the "Occupy" movement was having a significant—and overall positive—impact, but was also increasingly running up against the repressive force of the state, as well as its own limitations. While this was an important particular aspect of the overall situation at that time, and this is reflected in these observations by BA, these observations are speaking more broadly to the situation and challenges facing the RCP and the communist movement in the world as a whole. For this reason—and because these observations continue to have relevance and importance in that light—the decision has been made to publish these observations. Also included, as an addendum at the end, is a more recent document, "Basic Orientation Regarding the Two Mass Initiatives (and the Overall Ensemble of Revolutionary Work)," written by Bob Avakian and distributed within the RCP earlier this year (2014). Some editing has been done, and footnotes have been added, in preparing this for publication.
We have to resituate the two initiatives—against mass incarceration, and against the degradation of women—in the context of the larger approach and objectives embodied in the Campaign as a whole that we are carrying out, with its three objectives: really putting revolution and communism on the map; making BA a household name and what BA represents a subject of substantive discussion and debate throughout society; and bringing forward waves of new initiators of the communist revolution. At the same time, we need to keep in mind that while these mass initiatives are part of an overall strategic approach or ensemble, they are not gimmicks to achieve the goals of the Campaign. There are two "mirror opposite" errors: the economism of "the movement is everything, the final aim nothing," divorcing these initiatives from larger strategic objectives (and slicing further down within that, reducing mass incarceration to STOP Stop & Frisk, for example); or not really building these initiatives as truly mass movements and struggles.
These mass initiatives are part of a strategic approach, but they also have relative identity themselves. They are real struggles that we are taking up—real outrages and concentrations of key social contradictions. And Marx's point applies to both—if these are not resisted, the masses will be degraded into broken wretches, incapable of rising up for anything greater. Think about that report summarizing a wild discussion with basic masses about the oppression and degradation of women—and all the backward shit that came out from those very oppressed masses, including women, about the degradation of women, rationalizing and even in some ways getting into this. And these are not the most backward masses—in fact, in some ways these masses are advanced. It is not just a matter of the degradation of masses who are directly oppressed by this, but the dragging down of the masses as a whole. And the same applies to mass incarceration. It is not just that it's hard for masses of inner city youth to rise up in these conditions—including the aspect of self-degradation when they are cast into these conditions—but also the effects in society as a whole. These are egregious outrages, acute concentrations of major social contradictions, and masses do need to rise up against them. People of all strata have to be won to take this up. "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution" has to be going forward rather than people being dragged down by these things.
And, without any hyperbole, we should recognize and present to people what really is involved in these concentrations of social contradictions. It is a form of slow genocide, what is happening with mass incarceration. That is not hyperbole. The degradation of women that's involved in both of these expressions—pornography and the Christian Fascist-spearheaded offensive on forced child-bearing—that's not hyperbole either. Forced child-bearing—denying the right to abortion, as well as to birth control—is slavery. There needs to be a truly mass struggle that's called forth in society against these things.
We're not going to overturn and eliminate national oppression and the oppression of women within the present system. But we're not Trotskyites with "transitional demands," aimed at tricking people into fighting the system over certain demands, and then, when they realize that they can't win those demands under this system, they supposedly become convinced of the need for some other system (whatever that means in the minds of Trotskyites). But this doesn't mean that there can't be real mass struggle developed and that the political and ideological terms can't be changed around these outrages, that the masses can't be transformed in their understanding; and it doesn't mean you can't put the ruling class back on its heels on these things. If we are correctly working in relation to this—if we are approaching all this with the understanding and orientation that this is all part of building a movement for revolution and these contradictions can only be fully and finally resolved by revolution, even as people should not now just take this and not fight it—then people, rather than being demoralized, can advance.
So, two points: One, what is involved with these mass initiatives are real battles in their own right that have to be built to change the terrain ideologically and politically, in terms of who has the initiative on this and how the masses are being transformed; and two, there is the question of how these link to the whole oppressive system and to making revolution.
These mass initiatives have to be taken up, on our part, in the framework of "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution"; we have to constantly raise things back up to that vantage point and framework. At the same time, while we are coming from that framework and approach things from that perspective, these DO have to be taken on as real questions, real concentrations of major social contradictions. These outrages are NOT tolerable, and a mass struggle in many different forms has to be undertaken on the basis that they are not tolerable. Masses of people should not be forced, tricked and misled into putting up with this. If we don't approach this with this orientation, it will just be "let's get a few things going," and nothing will change.
That's why I keep going back to the paragraph in the Badiou polemic1 on the machinery of capitalism-imperialism humming in the background: "And [with reformism] the world stays fundamentally unchanged. Capitalism-imperialism continues humming in the 'background,' crushing lives and destroying spirits in its meat-grinder of exploitation. And the horrors continue unabated." That captures very powerfully the difference between reform and revolution. That basic point of orientation has to infuse how we take up both of these initiatives and how we handle the relation between them and the overall strategic objectives we have to keep clearly in mind and be guided by.
We should look at each of these mass initiatives in its own right, but not lose track of bedrock principles relating to the full picture, the overall strategic situation. And we need to go to people with a compelling argument for why these outrages are intolerable and mass struggle must be built against them. If you don't give people a feeling of what an intolerable outrage they are, you won't call forth the felt compulsion to struggle against them; but if you just do that and don't give them the full picture, they will be demoralized by the difficulties and twists and turns in the struggle, and/or misled and co-opted by other forces which will not lead things in the direction they need to go, even in terms of really building mass struggle against these outrages, let alone in terms of the fundamental solution. If you get something going, then other forces come in; if we don't bring in the larger picture, then it gets led back under the wing of the bourgeoisie, it gets sidetracked and dissipated and/or crushed.
To emphasize it again: These outrages—mass incarceration and the degradation of women—need to be fought, and we can change the terrain around these things. "Occupy" hasn't "won" anything, but it has contributed in a significant way to changing the political terrain. These mass initiatives have, if anything, even more potential to do that. These outrages really are as egregious, and as integral to this system, as we say they are. At the same time, I agree (with the point raised by another leading comrade) that a key goal of the work of our comrades in these initiatives should be driving people to the two mainstays of our ongoing work.2
We are still not thinking big enough in terms of these initiatives. With mass incarceration, we are talking about millions of people affected by this, and whole generations of inner city youth. On the one hand, there has been, since the time of the 1960s, the raising of significant Black middle strata—although their position is still precarious. On the other hand, this—mass incarceration—concentrates what this system has done to the masses of Black people in the inner cities. It is no better than Jim Crow. And don't think that—during the time of Jim Crow segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror—they didn't have all kinds of rationalizations about how this was necessary and even good. This is a big deal, mass incarceration. With the woman question, we're talking about the oppression and degradation of half the human race.
These are outrages around which really mass struggle has to be called forth. We need to constantly return to that. And then, in turn, on a more fundamental level, we are taking this up because these are two very key concentrations of what this system is all about and part of the whole larger picture of what this system is all about—which is why this system needs to be swept away. That's how we are coming at these initiatives, that's why we are working to make revolution, and why we're driving people to the two mainstays. Without revolution, egregious oppression, in many forms, will remain. And the world will get worse—there are the wars and torture, poverty and starvation, the brutal repression of people, the devastation of the environment. All this is rooted in the same system. And that's why you have to get into the question of what our Party is all about. We cannot mishandle this either way—either in effect treating these initiatives like gimmicks, around which we are not really intending to change anything, or treating them as things unto themselves. Many other people can and should be involved in these mass initiatives, for a diversity of reasons, but our orientation has to be: "We're going to change the whole society around these things as part of laying the groundwork and building up the basis for going for the whole thing." If you don't set out to change the society around these things, you're not taking up these initiatives correctly. There's a difference between saying you're going to eliminate all these outrages short of revolution, and saying you're going to change the whole society, that is, the whole political terrain, in relation to them-—the first is not true, the second better be. And then there is the fundamental point of how our work in relation to all this is laying the groundwork and building up the basis for revolution.
Changing society around these things, while it is not the same thing, and should not be confused with, making revolution, is nevertheless a real objective that has to be approached and fought for—but, on our part, fought for as an important part of building up the basis for and building up the movement and accumulating forces for revolution, and bringing something better into being. This is what we have to be constantly regrounding our own people in, and this is what the responsible Party collectivities should be constantly bringing it back to: how are we doing at handling these different aspects and their correct relation?
On the question of transformation of people vs. the notion of unchanging human nature. We have repeatedly—and for very good reason—emphasized the point that the problem is not human nature, the problem is the nature of the system. There is an analogy here to what is said in Part 2 of "Birds/Crocodiles"3: how do people get out of the self-degradation, which IS real? Particularly in regard to inner city youth, there is this notion, which is widespread, including among the basic masses, that "they're all messed up." What is actually wrong with where many of these youth are at right now—the shit they have gotten pulled into—will not be changed by telling them not to wear baggy pants, to pull up their pants and get respectable. No, through sharp struggle against what's holding them down, and especially as they see the prospect of a whole different world, and that becomes real and viable to them, they CAN transform themselves—but that is the ONLY way this can happen on a mass scale. The only way that will change for the better. Once again, we need to be bold with that.
In regard to what these two initiatives are dealing with, there is an element of self-degradation involved on the part of masses. But how you are gonna deal with that? This is the only way it's gonna change—through building mass resistance against these outrages and, on our part in particular, waging struggle to win people to revolution. In other words, "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution." As has been emphasized, people don't make choices in a vacuum, they do it in the context of the social relations they're enmeshed in and the options they have within those relations. Which are not of their own choosing. They confront those relations, they don't choose them. Second, if people feel for whatever reasons they want to choose to harm themselves and others, we're going to struggle with them but not blame them—we're going to show them the source of all this, and call on them to struggle against it.4 There is no other way, besides "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution" that this will change for the better in any fundamental sense.
A point on how people with the responsibility of representing publicly for our Party and its line present themselves vis-à-vis BA. We do not want "preliminary mantras" (or "mantras" of any kind) "in praise of BA." We are not, and we should not come off as if we were, some kind of religious cult which has to begin everything we say by praising our "god." What we want, what we need, is to bring out in a living way where we are coming from. The point is that we have a Party that stands on the basis of certain fundamental things. We should present this well. We should, in essential terms, put this forward: We have a Party that bases itself on communism as it's been brought forward to a new synthesis by BA, a Party that is led by BA. We should do this in a living way, as opposed to religious-like "mantras."
This should not be difficult at all. This should just be presented naturally—in a matter of fact, and at the same time compelling, way. It should be put forward boldly, and with the essential substance—and if people don't like that... boxing gloves—ideological struggle. But we should not come off as if there is, or there has to be, some kind of religious "mantra" involved. We shouldn't let petit bourgeois ways of thinking, with their prejudice against leaders, or at least communist leaders in particular, set the terms for what we do. But we also shouldn't actually turn into a cult, and tactically we should take into account how things affect people.
Where is all this proceeding from and where does it all have to go? How do you convey that, and not something else—how do you present that in the best way—given the particularity of the audience and the particularity of the circumstance? There needs to be a further leap in terms of how this is presented, with substance, in a living and compelling way—not only by a few people but by our people as whole.
If we are talking about someone like Sunsara Taylor, or Andy Zee, or Carl Dix, or Raymond Lotta, for example, what's the correct synthesis? People should get a living sense that these people are coming from a certain place—with substance, and liveliness—they are not at all a bunch of automatons. If our people clearly come through as basing themselves on a developed line, the new synthesis, and the leadership of BA, and at the same time it comes through that they are lively and creative people, and so on—that's what we need. Here are people basing themselves on this line and leadership and, wow, they can really think on their feet and have a lot to say—that's what should come through, that's what's gonna build up the whole thing.
Both of these things have to come through very prominently: 1, people are coming from the new synthesis of communism and the leadership of BA—that's the foundation; and 2, what they have to say and the way they present it is very provocative and illuminating—they don't fit the stereotype of a dogmatic communist, they're not cultists, etc., but people who are lively, creative and critical thinkers, with a scientific method and approach. And, in an overall way, it should come through that one flows from the other (that 2 flows from 1) in a fundamental sense. That is the right synthesis—there shouldn't be even a hint of defensiveness in all this, but there does need to be the right synthesis—and that will help drive people to the mainstays.
It should come across: The essential reason this person (an ST, AZ, CD, RL, etc.) is cool is because they've come to this understanding and orientation, this communism; it has a specific content in the world today and they're part of or related to a Party that has as its basis the new synthesis of communism and the leadership that's provided by BA. This embodies a synthesis of two things, which should be mutually reinforcing, in a positive way: the particular person with their own experiences, positive qualities, their own way of going after things, as one aspect, which is real; and the foundation and leadership that gives this the character that it has in its most fundamental aspect.
All this goes back to the interconnection (the dialectical relation) between the fact that what we're all about is revolution and communism, and that the new synthesis and the leadership that has brought this forward is crucial in relation to that. In ultimate and fundamental terms, the reason people get exercised about my role and leadership has to do with the reality that we're actually working to make revolution, with the final goal of a communist world. The terrain today is not what it was in the early 1970s, when there was a big struggle over what's real communism. The reason that people are so put off today is that they're not for revolution and not for communism—or they haven't been won to that yet. You can't understand why you should give so much importance to one person, unless you understand what it is that needs to be done—that you need a revolution, and what kind of revolution—and what the role of this person is in relation to that.
This relates to what is concentrated in Chapter 6 of BAsics,5 on revolutionary responsibility and leadership and the role of outstanding individual leaders, in relation to the challenge of making revolution and advancing toward the final goal of communism. Back in the day, from the time of the late 1960s, we'd argue: there is no such thing as being a communist without being a Maoist. Communism has developed—if you're not with Mao, you're not a communist.
Today, communism has advanced again, through the new synthesis. It is, and it should be, very easy, not at all hard, to present that, and argue for it, with substance and in a living and compelling way. Even with people, or at least honest people, who may not agree with you, who may not see or agree that communist revolution is what is needed—even with people like that, to present things in these terms is better. Whether someone agrees or disagrees with you, you get to the real question: whether you should be for communism or not, whether or not there should be revolution aiming for communism. Those are the fundamental terms we want to get to. The boxing gloves should be put on essentially to struggle around that. Problem-solution. It is simple if you're coming from that—if you present things in a living way and get into the role of leadership and individual leaders, and specifically myself, in that context, it makes sense, it puts things on the right terms, provides the right framework for struggling over things.
To go back to the two mass initiatives—and this applies to all that we do—in our approach we can't allow these things to be separated off from communism and what that means. If the mass initiatives become things unto themselves, then they will not actually be built as powerfully, in a mass way, as they can be and need to be, and they definitely will not contribute to building the movement for revolution, in the way they can and should. If we do our work correctly, in relation to these mass initiatives—and overall—growing numbers of people will begin to see the need for revolution and the need for communism. In the final analysis, if people do not get won to the need for revolution and communism, we're not going to get anywhere and the masses are not going to get out from under all the many different ways in which they are oppressed, exploited, and degraded.
People are not going to really understand and appreciate our Party and my role in particular if they're not being won in the direction of seeing that we need a revolution and it's got to be a communist revolution. We have to do all our work in a way that brings that forward. The reason for promoting and popularizing BA and the new synthesis is that this is what is needed to deal with the problems of the world and the solution to them. This relates to the "Because" formulation that our Party has brought forward as a concentrated statement on this question: "Because of BA and the work he has done over several decades, summing up the positive and negative experience of the communist revolution so far, and drawing from a broad range of human experience, there is a new synthesis of communism that has been brought forward—there really is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the crucial leadership that is needed to carry forward the struggle toward that goal."
Let's get back to the basic question: what is the significance of this for humanity? People don't have to live this way. Here's what communism is about, and here, in the new synthesis, is another leap to it. People are living in ways that are horrible, and here's a way that they don't have to. Not that it's going to be easy, and not that people won't have to make sacrifices, but we don't have to live this way. Why can't people get excited about that? I can understand why certain people attack and don't want it. But why cannot people who are straining for a different way get excited? We ought to be able to convey this in a living way: this is where we're coming from, this is why we're taking up this mass initiative, as well as other important things we're doing, and this is why we're part of an organized vanguard force, or with that vanguard force, that is fighting to make this a reality, and to bring forward others to make it a reality. It's that that people ought to be deeply with and passionate for, and on fire to present to many others; and that should come across as really exciting to people. Not because you're some kind of "mentally deranged cult member," but because people could live in a much better way than this cesspool that they're chaining people in. If you're a Party member or a supporter really partisan to the Party, you ought to radiate this—not in a religious "beatific" way, but with living passion, because this is really the scientifically grounded understanding of what is, and what could be, and how to bridge the gap between the one and the other.
If that is what people are grounded in, we won't have these recurrent problems of going off track on this and even getting defensive when there is no reason to be defensive. This is what should infuse the Party and everybody around it. Yes, what we're setting out to do is very tough—but there is something to be very passionate around here.
As our Party's Manifesto6 puts it, there has been this long night, since the emergence of class divisions among human beings, and everything bound up with that. We don't want to go back to early communal society, which had real problems. But there has been a long night since then of enslavement and exploitation and oppression. And it can end. It could end badly or it could end well and go to a whole different, much better thing. And that's what we're fighting for here—and it is a fight. If you come into contact with people who have a sense that the world can go a whole different, much better way—that should be exciting.
In terms of these mass initiatives, once again, it is a matter of transforming societal terms around this and really mobilizing masses to battle back, politically, against certain concentrated forms of oppression. There is a need for massive struggle to do this—to change the terms, the thinking of people, and to really affect who has the initiative, politically and ideologically. At the same time, in terms of our orientation and approach, we have to do all of this, out of the gate and consistently, as part of building the movement for revolution. We need to be constantly regrounded in that synthesis—of really building struggle around these mass initiatives, against these concentrated outrages, on a truly mass scale, and at the same time doing this as part of building the movement for revolution. This orientation, on the part of our comrades involved in these initiatives, and of our Party as a whole, needs to be consistently applied, modeled, and fought for by people who have responsibility for providing leadership, in regard to these initiatives and overall, and this should be basically and increasingly setting the terms and the orientation for people who are around us and are being more and more drawn to our line. We need to change society on these questions—in terms of the major social contradictions that these initiatives are addressing—as part of building up the basis to make a fundamental change in the whole society and make a qualitative leap in terms of fully uprooting the different forms of oppression, in this society and ultimately throughout the world.
With regard to these mass initiatives, we have to be constantly paying attention to making sure that these things are both staying on track and getting somewhere. There really does have to be mass struggle against these outrages. These things are intolerable. And they are objectively intolerable to millions and millions of people. These are assaults on the masses which are against their interests, and masses can be won to see the intolerability of this and therefore feel compelled by that understanding to act. We have to win them to that and give expression to that. We have to mean what we say—these things are intolerable—and we have to take them on and mobilize broad masses of people who feel that they are intolerable and want to act because of that. And, in terms of our fundamental orientation, we approach all this—and we present all this to other people—as part of our work to build the basis for the revolution that is needed.
More on the role of the website/newspaper and polemics. The website/newspaper needs to be a key tool to take on the lines that have to be taken on, and it needs to model how to do that. That's how my statement on "Occupy"7 should be seen—as a tool for people to use to go out and unite, and struggle, with people. Unite—and struggle.
We do need people to get deeply into things like "Birds/Crocodiles," with all the complexity that involves. Not everything should be "quick and concise." The Badiou polemic, the polemic against Popper in Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity8—those things are very good, and very important. More and more people should be introduced to things of that kind, and led to "work their way through" them. That is very important, it is essential. But we also need—and the website/newspaper should be a key source and model for—punchy, quick and concise polemics. Let's encourage people to use the website/newspaper in this way: "I ran into this, and I don't know how to answer it." Utilize the website/newspaper to answer it, and move the process along. We need to model and lead in making this happen and come alive. And if we do that, people will want to use the website/newspaper in that way. If we can't answer stuff that people run into, then we should just fold up and go away. But we CAN answer it—and we should—with the website/newspaper a key resource and tool for doing that.
Grappling with questions of theory and line (including policy for particular initiatives, etc.) is of course necessary and important, and has a definite role to play in the overall process of making revolution. BUT IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO EMPHASIZE THIS: Let's not overcomplicate matters—causing things to go off course and be stuck in paralysis, when there is a pressing need for things to move forward, and advances and breakthroughs to be made, in actually building these two mass initiatives, as mass movements/mass struggles, and pushing forward the ensemble of our revolutionary work as a whole, with BA Everywhere as its leading edge. The basic orientation that needs to be taken up—and actively applied—with regard to the two mass initiatives (as well as BA Everywhere and the ensemble overall), should be very clear. We need radical simplicity here and now, not overcomplication of what should be very clear.
What follows is the basic orientation for what is to be done with regard to the two mass initiatives and the ensemble overall, and basic guidelines for proceeding now to do it.
There is a profound basis in the objective world—in the contradictions of this system and how they find expression continually—for these mass initiatives (and the ensemble overall). And there is a definite and powerful basis in the subjective factor—that is, in the actual line of our Party—our line overall and specifically in relation to these mass initiatives (and the ensemble as a whole).
Who should be part of these mass initiatives—whom should we be working to involve in them? Everyone who agrees—or can be won to see—that what these mass initiatives are taking up (in essence: mass incarceration and everything bound up with that; and the degradation of women, particularly as focused now around the attacks on the right to abortion, and even birth control, and pornography and the sexual degradation of women) is intolerable, and must be fought against. This should mean that, in the very near future, hundreds are actively involved, in an ongoing way, in building these initiatives, with the aim of involving thousands and ultimately millions in various ways and on various levels. The situation and atmosphere need to be created in which people broadly who meet this criterion (of who should be involved) will recognize and feel that there is an important place and role for them in these mass initiatives, and the practical means must be developed to enable them to be actively involved and make real contributions to the initiatives.
At the same time, WE, as revolutionary communists (and those who are in basic agreement with us on this), should be putting forward, in relation to these mass initiatives, as well as in an overall way, that these and other outrages which in fact constitute concentrations of major social contradictions, are rooted in the basic nature and dynamics of this system, and they can only be finally and fully ended, and a radically different and much better society and world brought into being, through communist revolution, proceeding on the basis of the new synthesis of communism that has been brought forward through the work done by BA over many decades.
Through this ongoing process, and through correctly handling the contradictions (dialectical relations) that will be involved, in an overall way both the mass initiatives—as truly mass initiatives, involving growing numbers of people who are, at any given time, coming from different perspectives but are all in basic unity with the understanding that these outrages are intolerable and must be fought—and the movement for revolution, and the Party as its leading core, should grow and gain strength.
VERY IMPORTANTLY: We should certainly include ourselves among those who are in fact outraged by these outrages and feel deeply that they are intolerable and must be fought. The fact that we—as revolutionary communists, with a grounding in the scientific outlook, method and approach of communism (dialectical materialism), and its development through the new synthesis—understand that these outrages (and the many others we recognize as flowing from the fundamental nature and dynamics of this system) can only be finally and fully ended through communist revolution, and ultimately the achievement of a communist world, should make us even more—and certainly not less—outraged about all this and determined to fight it, now and in an ongoing way! This should come through in everything we do. And, as a matter of fact, a very important part of what we should be doing is (as another leading comrade put it) ORGANIZING AND MOBILIZING THE ANGER OF THE PEOPLE. In relation to that, as well as overall, we need to be consistently working—in the correct ways—to make all this serve the building of the movement for revolution, and the Party as its leading core.
And what about BA Everywhere—whom should we be working to involve in that? Everyone who agrees—or can be won to see—that it is very important that what is represented by BA/the new synthesis become a major point of reference, and subject of discussion and debate, throughout society, can and should be involved in and contribute, in various ways, to BA Everywhere. At the same time, those of us who are revolutionary communists, basing ourselves on the new synthesis, should be consistently setting forth, boldly and compellingly, our understanding of the importance of BA Everywhere, and its role as the leading edge of an overall ensemble of revolutionary work, and should be working consistently to build the movement for revolution, and to win growing numbers of people to agreement with what is actually the line of our Party, and to join the Party on that basis. In dialectical relation with that, the number of people who are, in various ways, involved in and contributing to BA Everywhere should also be continually growing—including many people who are not (or not yet) won to full agreement with what is represented by BA/the new synthesis of communism, but are in agreement that this, and the big questions it raises, should be broadly known, and actively discussed and debated, throughout society.
The important thing now is to have a grounding in this basic understanding, and to implement this, actually building the mass initiatives as truly and increasingly mass initiatives—and building BA Everywhere in the ways and on the level it needs to be built, to truly have major societal impact—all as part of an overall ensemble, whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
As has been emphasized, in proceeding to actually carry this forward, various contradictions, including ones which are complicated and difficult, will have to be confronted and correctly handled, and there will be a need, and a role, for continually returning to the basic grounding and guidelines that have been provided—and undoubtedly further guidelines that will need to be developed as things go forward, proceeding from the basic grounding spoken to here. But, to emphasize it again: The basic grounding and guidelines are there, to proceed to actually build these mass initiatives as truly mass movements/mass struggles around these crucial faultlines—involving growing numbers of people, with diverse viewpoints but all in unity that the outrages these mass initiatives are taking up are intolerable and must be fought—and to build BA Everywhere on the correct basis, while WE (and those who agree with us on this at any given time) work, in the correct ways, to have all this contribute to building the overall movement for revolution, and the Party as its leading core—learning and deepening our understanding and our ability to handle the contradictions that have to be confronted and struggled through, AS WE GO FORWARD.
In conclusion, let me return to where I started and give this emphasis yet again: As a basic point of orientation, and especially now: We must not get mired in overcomplication and paralysis. Again, radical simplicity. Grappling with questions of line and theory, and developing conceptions, plans, etc., are necessary and important; however, this must not be allowed to become, or be turned into, yet further, self-imposed, obstacles. Right now we need conception and plans that in fact facilitate—provide means and vehicles for—the carrying out of the line on the two mass initiatives (and the overall ensemble, with BA Everywhere the leading edge) in an active way, from here forward. On the basis of what I have written above here, and what it concentrates, and continually returning to and deepening this, AS WE GO FORWARD... LET'S GET OUT THERE, NOW, AND DO WHAT NEEDS—WHAT CRIES OUT—TO BE DONE!!
1. "Alain Badiou's 'Politics of Emancipation': A Communism Locked Within the Confines of the Bourgeois World," by Raymond Lotta, Nayi Duniya, and K. J. A., Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic, Issue Number 1, Summer-Fall 2009 [back]
2. These two mainstays are the promotion and popularization of the leadership of Bob Avakian (BA) and the new synthesis of communism he has brought forward; and the website revcom.us/Revolution newspaper. [back]
4. This is spoken to in an article by Bob Avakian: "On Choices...and Radical Changes," Revolution #254, December 25, 2011:
On Choices... And Radical Changes
First, people don't make choices in a vacuum. They do it in the context of the social relations they're enmeshed in and the options they have within those relations—which are not of their own choosing. They confront those relations, they don't choose them.
Two, if people feel for whatever reasons that they want to choose to harm themselves and others, we're going to struggle with them—but we're not going to blame them. We're going to show them the source of all this in the system, and call on them to struggle against that system, and transform themselves in the process. Just because a youth "chooses" to sell drugs, or a woman "chooses" to commodify herself sexually, doesn't mean that they chose to have those choices. And there is no other way besides fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution that all this will change for the better. Blaming the masses for bad choices just reinforces the conditions that they are oppressed by.
In sum, people do make choices—but they make them enmeshed and confined within social relations that are not of their choosing. We have to bring into being different social relations and conditions so that masses of people can act differently and relate differently to each other. Fundamentally, that takes a revolution which is aiming for communism. [back]
5. BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2011. The title of Chapter 6 is "Revolutionary Responsibility and Leadership." [back]
6. Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, September 2008 (RCP Publications, 2009) [back]
7. "A Reflection on the 'Occupy' Movement: An Inspiring Beginning...and the Need to Go Further," by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Revolution #250, November 13, 2011 [back]
8. Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity: Part 1: "Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right"; Part 2: "Everything We're Doing Is About Revolution", Revolution, October 2007-February 2008. Also included in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, 2008. "Marxism as a Science—Refuting Karl Popper" is in Part 1 of Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity. It begins on page 18 of the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation. [back]
Revolution #344 July 6, 2014
May 26, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editors' Note: The following is a part of some observations that were made by Bob Avakian, and were originally distributed within the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP) at the beginning of 2012. This is being published now as the second installment of the serialization of these observations. The first installment of this series, "The Mass Initiatives and Their Relation to Our Strategic Objectives," was published online May 19, 2014 and is being serialized in the print edition of Revolution, beginning with issue #339 (May 25, 2014). These observations were originally made at a time when the "Occupy" movement was having a significant—and overall positive—impact but was also increasingly running up against the repressive force of the state, as well as its own limitations. While this was an important particular aspect of the overall situation at that time, and this is reflected in these observations by BA, these observations are speaking more broadly to the overall situation and challenges facing the RCP and the communist movement in the world as a whole. For this reason—and because these observations continue to have relevance and importance in that light—the decision has been made to publish these observations. Some editing has been done, and footnotes have been added, in preparing this for publication.
A big and recurrent problem has to do with the relation between freedom and necessity. Historically, there have been difficulties with this in the communist movement and in our own Party. On another level, this is manifested in relation to "Occupy" and what it is up against. It has come up against necessity, particularly in the form of repression by the bourgeois state, and there is the phenomenon among many of not seeing any way to forge any freedom out of this—and, instead, they are trying to find some way to work within the necessity that's been imposed that they don't see any way of breaking through on. That is objectively what is going on to a significant degree.
Returning to our Party, if you have a successful program like 411 (the April 11, 2011 program on the occasion of the publication of BAsics1) even the very real advance represented by this program creates new necessity for you. All of a sudden, here you have some people come forward that have made a commitment on a certain level, and you have to allow for the fact that they're in the picture now, in terms of what to do to build on and go forward from this. But you will run into problems if you don't see that the freedom in this situation lies in grasping the principal aspect of this contradiction, and then going to work on things from there. The principal aspect is that there WAS a solid core that did cohere that program and give a central expression to what that program was about; but in going forward from there, you have to go back and have further rounds of discussion and struggle with people based on continuing to put forward the solid core, and developing elasticity on that basis.
But there is a recurrent tendency: instead of seeing the freedom, one gets weighed down by the necessity. When you have made advances, and when the situation is overall more advanced, more people take seriously and care what you say, and that brings new necessity. The constant pull is a pull to determinism—to being afraid of losing advances that have been made. Do you play to win or play not to lose? In the name of playing to win you can play recklessly—but the far bigger erroneous tendency is that people get a lead and they get conservative and they lose. People start protecting what they have and get afraid to risk that to make further advances, and therefore they begin throwing away what they've achieved.
Okay, we have new necessity—how did we get to this point? We confronted necessity and transformed it. Did everybody immediately say "great!" when we contacted them to get involved with that 411 program? No, of course not, we had to struggle to transform necessity into freedom. Then you get new necessity. So why, in that situation—or any other situation where advances have been made—should we stop the approach of transforming necessity into freedom? In going forward to build off what has been achieved, you have to recognize that the achievements themselves bring new necessity; you have to be anticipating that and working to lay the basis to transform new necessity into new freedom (which will itself involve necessity).
Another important factor contributing to the tendency to bow down to necessity is losing sight of the larger objective that this is all part of. There is not going to be a seizure of state power on the basis of what was achieved through the 411 program. As positive as that was, it was only a small building block of what needs to happen. If you keep that in mind, you have more of a basis to be less determinist in the next round of things, because you know we have to get to a whole other place. If you lose sight of that, the pull to play not to lose becomes stronger, because you see things in narrower terms. Things have to go a lot further than any particular event, or any particular movement or struggle, so how do we get things to go further? Proceeding on that basis, you are better able to handle the solid core/elasticity dialectic. This involves a combination of the freedom/necessity dialectic with whether we are really continually going back to the largest strategic perspective and looking at things in regard to that, and figuring out how to struggle through to transform necessity into freedom and make things go further to advance toward the goal it all has to contribute to.
In order to lead and not continually be pulled off the track and not be pulled down, these are key questions of ideology and methodology, as well as political orientation in terms of what we're aiming for. If you see particular things as "things unto themselves," you are going to have a tendency to go off to the right and get conservative (this could conceivably cause you to go off in a "left" direction, but that is less likely) because you're gonna lose sight of the larger reason why things have to be ruptured from the present level they've achieved to something larger.
Where does freedom come from? It comes from a correct analysis of objective reality and its contradictory character. And that has a material basis. We don't have spontaneity going for us, but we do have reality, in the most fundamental terms, going for us. Therein lies a lot of our freedom—grasping that. Here I think of a recent comment by the actor Johnny Depp about Marlon Brando. Brando, he said, had "the great gift of not caring." In other words, he didn't care about, he wasn't weighed down by, what other people thought of his acting and how they thought he should approach it. There is an analogy here, to keeping the larger picture constantly in view. I think, for example, of the 1977 Central Committee, where the struggle with the Mensheviks in our Party came to a head—concentrated over the question of how to assess and what stand to take in relation to what was in fact the revisionist coup in China, following the death of Mao in 1976. This is spoken to in my memoir.2 In that situation, a lot of freedom came from recognizing that, even if the battle was not won at that Central Committee meeting, those of us fighting for the revolutionary line, and opposing the revisionist coup, could not lose, because in any case we had to take the stand of opposing that coup and fighting to win as many people as possible to that stand, even if that meant splitting the Party, or having to leave the Party and fighting to form a new one. The question of the revisionist coup in China was that kind of a cardinal question, on which there could be no compromise. And while that presented us with a lot of necessity, it also embodied a definite freedom. Why? Because, those of us upholding and fighting for the revolutionary line, and opposing the revisionist coup, were coming from an understanding of the deeper reality and the bigger stakes than simply what happened at that Central Committee meeting, or even what happened with regard to our Party, as it had been up to that point. One way or another, that Party was going to be qualitatively different coming out of that Central Committee meeting—either strengthened as a revolutionary communist vanguard, or dragged down into revisionist betrayal. Understanding the stakes in those terms, and proceeding from the larger strategic standpoint that the Party had to really be a revolutionary communist vanguard, or if instead it became an instrument of revisionism then it wasn't worth preserving and remaining in—and something new would have to be brought into being, to reconstitute the remaining revolutionary forces—that provided the basis to not bow down to necessity.
Our thinking and approach should not be shaped by the immediate thing before us. Why can we wage struggle—dare to wage struggle—with people, including people with whom we have had a certain level of unity? Because we are waging struggle for a bigger thing, AND we know that this is grounded in a deeper material reality. And while things may be tougher in the short run, reality is what it is—and that will assert itself. We can't be governed and determined, constrained and confined, by the ups and downs of the mass movement, or of any particular struggle or initiative, or by the "chops and changes" of the situation at any given time. We have to take these things into account, but we can't bow down to them in a determinist fashion. We have to proceed from a scientific, dialectical materialist, analysis and synthesis of the deeper reality, and its contradictory dynamics.
Freedom lies in grasping, in this way, the material basis for what we are setting out to do, strategically. Grasping that, and proceeding from the larger perspective corresponding to that, enables you to wrench freedom out of necessity, because you are looking at things from where you fundamentally and ultimately need to get to, proceeding from a scientific, materialist and dialectical, assessment of reality, particularly the deeper and driving mainsprings and dynamics of that reality.
Not recognizing that reality is constantly changing AND that there are other class forces out there in the world which are working on people in various ways, directly and indirectly, will cause you to go off track and lose your bearings. People who have united and worked with us will often then come under attack as a result of having taken the step to work with us. Or they get a sense that taking another forward step in uniting with us could jeopardize their career, or make it more difficult for them to achieve certain short-term objectives they may have. To fail to take this into account amounts to ignoring the fact that there is a larger and continually changing reality out there that is also acting on and influencing other people.
The masses do know a lot about reality, and we need to learn from that, but they're not going to tell us about the deeper mainsprings of reality and where that reality can go and needs to go. When we go out among the basic masses, they can tell us a lot about what we're up against—among the masses, as well as with the authorities—and how things work. That can and should enrich our understanding of reality—but if you think that whether something is true or not depends on whether masses say it's good or bad, you will get into a lot of trouble and become disoriented. People keep getting away from the point—and we need to keep drawing people back to the point—that what the masses think is part of objective reality, but it does not determine objective reality. Rather than going up and down with the mood of the masses, we have to be proceeding with a deeper, and more strategic, scientific approach and method. What have certain opportunists and counter-revolutionaries attacked us for—what has been one of their main lines of attack? A whole pragmatic thing that our line "hasn't worked and won't work." That begs the question of what "working" means. Our line has "worked" to maintain a revolutionary communist party over a whole period in which there have been major setbacks for the communist movement in the world as a whole, and conditions for building a revolutionary movement, with such a revolutionary communist party at the core, have been very difficult, particularly in a country like this. Has it "worked" to give us a big mass base during a period when that wasn't possible on the right basis, on a basis that would actually be leading toward the revolution that is needed? No. Of course, the point is not simply to remain as a party and to "stay in the game." The point is to work, actively, to build a movement for revolution; to influence and change the "political terrain" in a way more favorable to revolution; to accumulate increasing forces for revolution; to prepare for—to hasten while awaiting—the emergence of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people, whenever that is brought into being. But doing that, and evaluating how we are doing in relation to that, involves and requires the application of scientific communism, and not pragmatism and empiricism.
At the same time, we also have to combat a tendency to have a superficial, and fundamentally wrong, view that what we are basing ourselves on is ideas abstracted from reality—as if we, with our set of ideas, can see that other sets of ideas are not the same as our set of ideas, and therefore they are wrong. That kind of approach explains why, as indicated in a report on a discussion of the Badiou polemic,3 people in our own ranks can say things like: "Why would anybody be attracted to the Badiou line?" That reflects an approach of not really looking at things in terms of what social position and aspirations might the Badiou line express, and therefore not recognizing that there might be a significant attraction, particularly among certain social strata within the "middle class," to ideas of this kind. This is not thinking like a materialist and not proceeding from our strategic standpoint and the recognition that this strategic standpoint flows from a scientific analysis and synthesis of a deeper material reality. Why would people in "Occupy" be pulled toward doing something that (to refer to Badiou's orientation) is "at a distance from the state"? Because they've run right up against the state—and their response to that is significantly conditioned by their social position, and correspondingly their spontaneous aspirations, and a spontaneous orientation that corresponds to those aspirations.
Failing to see this—or to really take it into account, proceeding from a scientific materialist approach—has to do with why in some cases we don't write with the audience in mind: don't proceed with a sense of where the audience, for example the audience for our website/newspaper, is "at," what at least many of them don't understand or aren't familiar with, how they spontaneously see the events and questions we are addressing, and therefore how we have to approach things in order to address these contradictions in the best way to move people from where they are in the direction of where they need to go, with regard to their thinking and their felt need to act. This happens when and to the degree that we are not really thinking about transforming people and dealing with the contradictions that weigh upon them and push them in certain directions—including ignorance in some cases, as well as spontaneous aspirations, inclinations, and prejudices—but rather approach all this as just a matter of presenting our set of ideas. We have to consistently approach things with our scientific materialist standpoint and method: that we are seeking to understand reality, as it actually is—in its contradictory nature, and as it is actually moving and changing—in order to be able to transform material reality in a certain way, and that we have to be constantly seeking to learn more and more about reality. We have to consistently come at all this from the framework of our scientifically grounded strategic objectives, as opposed to viewing it through the tunnel of this or that particular thing.
The essence of the problem is whether we're proceeding in a materialist and dialectical way, and whether we're really working and struggling to transform the necessity—which is posed by the actual reality and its changingness—into freedom, by recognizing where the pathway lies for doing that. If your framework is too narrow, you are not going to see the pathways for freedom correctly. If you are looking at only a corner of the world, and viewing things just through that prism, then you're not going to see how you're going to be able to change the world in the way it needs to be changed.
Especially in the context of the acute challenges facing our Party (and, more broadly, the international communist movement as whole), and in terms specifically of the role of people with leadership responsibility in our Party, an important part of the objective reality we have to know about is the Party itself. If people with leadership responsibility don't have a good sense of the work of the Party, the "ideological state" of the Party, and so on, then we have problems. A question: What percentage of the people in the Party really understand Marx's point about the shopkeeper and the democratic intellectual? Do we know the answer to that? We need to know the answers to those kinds of things. What is the ideological state of the Party?—that is also part of the objective reality we have to know.
Even with very real and significant positive developments, the objective situation we are confronting remains difficult. It is no doubt wearing on people that we are having difficulty breaking through in qualitative terms, and that our movement is continuing to suffer losses in the world. This is the objective reality and the dynamic we have to confront, and transform, and if we don't break through—if we think we can just go along and do a few good things—we're going to be seriously set back. Plus there are people out there—including opportunists and counter-revolutionaries—who are trying to destroy us. Those opportunists and counter-revolutionaries are, in a basic sense, motivated by the same kinds of petit bourgeois viewpoints and aspirations as someone like Badiou—except that theirs is a virulent variation of this that wants to destroy us, because these are people whose particular petit bourgeois aspirations depend on our not being there and not constituting a standing alternative to—and in fact a standing indictment of—what they're about, and not about. If, as is the case with these opportunists and counter-revolutionaries, what you do is in fact predicated on the view that you can't—or really that you shouldn't—change things in any fundamental way, but you want to pretend you are for that, then you will feel compelled to destroy a force that says you can and is actively working to do it.
In a basic sense, the world outlook of at least many of these opportunists and counter-revolutionaries is not different than a lot of other viewpoints that have sway among sections of the petite bourgeoisie. It is just that their particular form of capital—in pretending to be for some kind of social change, while not really believing in or working for a truly radical change—is invested in trying to build themselves up as what amounts to a "perpetual left opposition" within the existing system, and this involves animus, extreme hostility, toward us and a necessity to see us fail and to no longer exist as what we objectively are, even with all our shortcomings and difficulties: a revolutionary communist vanguard. Other people among the petite bourgeoisie, even where they may have certain views in common with these opportunists and counter-revolutionaries, don't have the same "investment" and thus not the same animus toward us. This is why, as the Chinese Communist Party pointed out in its polemics with the Soviet revisionists back in the 1960s, it is possible to unite with many people who are not communists but also don't pretend to be communists, while unity with revisionists (phony communists) is impossible.
So this is what we're up against—this is the objective situation, in its various dimensions, that we have to confront and transform—and we have to make real breakthroughs and advances, not just in some long-term sense but in more immediate terms. The objective situation, even if and as it could become more favorable, in strategic terms, would also involve the heightening of negative aspects, including the prospect of heightened repression and increasing attacks on us of various kinds and from various quarters. We cannot afford to be passive, or to just go along in a routine way, or even just "do a few good things." We need to transform the situation, qualitatively, wave after wave, to where on a whole other level growing numbers of people are won to this—including new and fresh people, particularly (though not only) youth, who have the advantage of youth to go out and work and struggle, tirelessly and with great energy and initiative, for this.
This is a materialist assessment. You can get absorbed in what we're doing at any given time and lose sight of the larger picture—both the positive elements that are emerging and developing, even if in a contradictory and still fragile way, as well as the negative elements—and you can lose sight of the bigger strategic orientation in which all this has to be viewed and approached.
To meet the very real and acute challenges we face requires "playing the piano" well—handling well the dialectical relation of things, and in particular the relation between principal and decisive things, on the one hand, and secondary things—correctly dealing with the question of "props on the stage," and solid core/elasticity: handling well the relation between things that require finely tuned and calibrated attention, and those things to which such detailed attention not only cannot but should not be paid. It requires keeping in mind that reality is constantly changing and that, with regard to "key links" and key "props on the stage," this is not a static matter, but something that may undergo change—what is a "key link" or a key "prop on the stage," requiring continual and finely calibrated attention, today, may not be that tomorrow—and other things may come to occupy that kind of role and require that kind of attention.
This is a key part of the challenge: constantly investigating and interrogating reality, to see what in fact should be the main theme on the piano at a given time, and how you let the fingers play the other parts without paying the same level of finely tuned attention to that (to continue, and perhaps torture, this metaphor of "playing the piano"). You have to know if you're dealing with something that would have a decisive outcome on a whole process—or even on the overall strategic process of revolution. This constantly poses AND re-poses itself—what we need to concentrate on really knowing and giving concentrated direction to, as opposed to what we do not need to pay so much attention to (or perhaps can even be relatively ignorant of) at any given time. This changes all the time. It is not just a matter of reality shifting in a general sense, but the ways in which things get posed in a concentrated and decisive way repeatedly shift.
We do have to pay significant attention to "Set The Record Straight" (STRS). The questions that STRS is addressing are coming more to the fore now, because there is more upheaval and resistance, more questioning and searching for an alternative, for another way. We need to be speaking to this in a consistent and compelling way—working to turn the negative view that far too many people have, and which generally prevails, regarding the history of the communist movement and socialist society, into something positive. The fact that many people are raising their heads and thinking about big things creates more favorable conditions for doing this—but it requires work and struggle.
I noted in a report that a basic person who has been around us, and generally supportive, for some time now has changed his thinking radically on Stalin: kind of "flipping" from really one-sidedly opposing Stalin (he had been influenced by the ISO) to thinking—once he understood, on the basis of reading Conquer the World?4 the necessity that Stalin was facing—that Stalin really had no alternative other than to do what he did. That, too, is wrong; and it is not what is said in Conquer the World? We need to win people to the correct synthesis on this—and to the new synthesis of communism overall.
But it is a bedrock fact that, in general and as an overall and at this point overwhelming phenomenon, people don't have even an inkling of a materialist understanding of things like this. What was Stalin actually up against, and how did he do at dealing with this—evaluated from a materialist standpoint and in accordance with the strategic orientation of advancing toward communism? People's prejudices are striking. Many people talk glibly about Stalin, and Mao, repeating slanders about how they "killed millions of their own people" without having actually looked into this in any serious way. And many of the same people will refer to the Bible as a moral authority! Well, the fact is that the Bible is full of figures who insist on slaughtering many, many people, often in the most wanton ways, and committing other truly horrendous and grotesque acts—and these people are upheld as positive figures, even icons—people like Moses, for example.
Moving closer to the present time, and looking at this country, how many people were killed through the Civil War? A great, great number. And it could be said that Lincoln was ultimately responsible for this. Why did Lincoln do this—why did he wage war against the Confederacy, instead of just letting it secede? His essential and basic reason was not to end slavery—Lincoln himself made that clear. It was because the Confederate forces were trying to break up the Union—the United States of America—and that, Lincoln insisted, could not be allowed, even if huge numbers of people had to be killed in a war to prevent it. As it turned out, this war could not be won—by the Union—without emancipating the slaves of the Confederacy and allowing them to fight on the Union side, a fight in which many of these emancipated slaves died. Should we condemn Lincoln as a mass murderer?
We are still not materialist enough when we are hit with stuff like this. And we need to be.
We have to confront, understand and transform material reality. We have to proceed as dialectical materialists, not as sectarian keepers of a "temple of secret knowledge." It will not do to dismiss Badiou, or similar types, as "Kautskyite," as someone did recently in a discussion. We have to have substance—and present it in a living way. What would our answer be to someone who says, "I don't know who Kautsky is and what he was about, so that doesn't mean anything to me"? By contrast, the actual polemic against Badiou is very substantive, thoroughly dissecting the Badiou line and its bankruptcy. The recent Raymond Lotta polemic against Žižek5 is also a positive example and model—it has substance and a good method. We have to do the work to actually understand different aspects of reality, and to win people to understand it correctly. We—our Party collectively and comrades in the Party—also have to make use of, wield effectively, the work that has been done. A lot of work has been done through STRS. A lot of work has been done in relation to many other dimensions of reality, in the present era and historically. We must not squander this work either—we have to immerse ourselves in what it has brought to light and wield this in a living and compelling way.
Comrades in the Party and people around us should be demanding answers from us. People should be going into their Party units and saying, "this came up, and I don't know how to answer it"—demanding collectivity and leadership in dealing with this. Where is the percolation? There is not nearly enough. But instead of bemoaning the fact that there is not enough of this, we need to find out why and do something about it. The "tone" for the whole Party gets set by leadership. Leadership IS decisive. Yes, the masses make history—but even with good aspirations, if they don't have the necessary leadership, they can't make history in the way they need to, in accordance with their own fundamental interests. Leadership is of decisive importance in all this, including within the Party, and we do have to lead on the basis of being materialists and scientists, and lead with an understanding of where we are in the process, the process of confronting and transforming the objective situation, the necessity we face, in its many different significant manifestations—and specifically the acute challenges we face now.
Where are we at in this process now, and how does that relate to what we're all about? We need to consistently keep that in mind, in order to determine how to play the piano well and to lead overall. This means constantly interrogating reality, being in touch with and learning more deeply about and keeping pace with key aspects of reality, and their changingness, in the various aspects of the objective situation, and in regard to the subjective factor (the Party itself), in order to correctly lead. If we just make a list of what we're doing, or supposed to be doing, at any given time, and try to lead that as best we can, that's not gonna cut it. We have to pay attention to important particular aspects of things—but we have to view and approach all this with a grounding in an understanding of the deeper material reality, and its contradictoriness and changingness, correctly comprehending and handling the relation between necessity and freedom, and proceeding fundamentally from the plane of our strategic revolutionary objectives.
On any and all levels of the Party, in any Party collectivity, everyone is supposed to speak up and say if something is right or wrong; it doesn't matter where it's coming from. Of course this needs to be done through the right channels, and in the right spirit. And it is true, it is a key aspect of democratic centralism, both epistemologically as well as organizationally, that the higher up the "chain" you go, the more basis there is, and the more responsibility there is, for grappling with and concentrating what is being learned, through the work of the Party overall and from other sources. That is one side of the picture, and it is important. But, at the same time, just because there are people who have more and higher level leadership responsibility, doesn't mean that other people aren't responsible. Everybody, on every level of the Party, has responsibility for the line of the Party and the direction of its work in carrying out that line, even as that gets expressed through a division of labor and through the channels of the Party, which are not simply "horizontal" (involving people on the same level of collectivity and responsibility) but are also "vertical" (involving a chain of knowledge and of command, from lower to higher levels, and back down again). But, again, in terms of fundamental orientation, everyone has responsibility for the revolution and for the line and role of the Party which must be the leading core of that revolutionary process. And everyone should be striving to take as much responsibility as they can, and to contribute as much as they can, in ways consistent with the democratic centralist principles of the Party and the structures and processes of the Party which give expression to those principles. In a way consistent with this, we need a great deal of, and continually increasing, initiative and percolation, throughout the Party, on all levels and in the back and forth process which gives life to the Party's chain of knowledge and of command.
Wield, model and insist. Wield the line of the Party...be a model of grasping and wielding this line...and insist that this line, and no other, be carried out, through the application of democratic centralism, in both its epistemological and organizational dimensions. And approach all this as an ongoing, living process.
1. BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2011 [back]
3. "Alain Badiou's 'Politics of Emancipation': A Communism Locked Within the Confines of the Bourgeois World,"
by Raymond Lotta, Nayi Duniya, and K. J. A., Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic, Issue Number 1, Summer-Fall 2009 [back]
4. Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will, by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, published as No. 50 of Revolution magazine, RCP Publications, 1981 [back]
5. "Vilifying Communism and Accommodating Imperialism: The Sham and Shame of Slavoj Žižek's 'Honest Pessimism,'" by Raymond Lotta, Revolution #256, January 15, 2012 [back]
Revolution #344 July 6, 2014
June 2, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editors' Note: The following is a part of some observations that were made by Bob Avakian, and were originally distributed within the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP) at the beginning of 2012. This is being published now as the third installment of the serialization of these observations. The first installment of this series, "The Mass Initiatives and Their Relation to Our Strategic Objectives," was published online May 19, 2014 and is serialized in the print edition of Revolution, beginning with issue #339 (May 25, 2014). The second installment, "Freedom and Necessity, and Proceeding from a Strategic Standpoint: Some Thoughts on Methods and Leadership," was published online May 26, 2014. These observations were originally made at a time when the "Occupy" movement was having a significant—and overall positive—impact but was also increasingly running up against the repressive force of the state, as well as its own limitations. While this was an important particular aspect of the overall situation at that time, and this is reflected in these observations by BA, these observations are speaking more broadly to the overall situation and challenges facing the RCP and the communist movement in the world as a whole. For this reason—and because these observations continue to have relevance and importance in that light—the decision has been made to publish these observations. Some editing has been done, and footnotes have been added, in preparing this for publication.
We have to start by returning to the reality that the international communist movement, and our Party specifically, is faced with the rather acute contradiction that we must make significant, qualitative breakthroughs and advances, in the near future, or we will be seriously set back, or even face the danger of being rendered "out of the game" for a certain historical period. And the consequences of that for the communist movement and ultimately the masses of the world are very, very heavy. This is another way of formulating—and underlining the importance of—what is said in the Manifesto from our Party,1 regarding the crossroads facing communists today: vanguard of the future, or residue of the past. We have to soberly and scientifically reground ourselves in this, and deepen our grounding in how all this has to be approached. It is not that there are no favorable objective developments, and no prospects for making the needed breakthroughs and advances—but the point is that the basis must be seized and new, more favorable conditions created through struggle, in order to actually make these breakthroughs and advances.
This calls to mind a comment from another leading person: In this context where there are more contradictory but overall favorable developments happening, in particular mass upsurge and the sharpening of the objective situation overall, if we don't go forward, then we'll go significantly backward. If we take this seriously and recognize in fact the acute contradiction we are confronting, then we will see that we do not have infinite time to make the necessary breakthroughs. And, while there should not be any panic in this regard, there most definitely needs to be a sense of urgency. This orientation has to form an important part of the grounding for everything we do.
We are doing some positive things with BAsics,2 for example, and some comrades have gathered people around them on this basis—although this, too, is contradictory. And the events, the dialogues, involving Carl Dix and Cornel West have been very positive—drawing large numbers of people and having a significant impact. There are the two mass initiatives—against mass incarceration, and pornography and patriarchy—and masses have come forward around those initiatives. Some of the advanced people closely around the Party are continuing to advance. All that is on the one side. But then there is what we could call "what is objective to us, department one" and "what is objective to us, department two" that we have to deal with—the second "what is objective to us" being the opportunist and counter-revolutionary attacks on us.
In regard to this "objective to us, two" factor, we are not correctly recognizing, let alone dealing with this. And how we understand and approach this has everything to do with fundamental principles concentrated in the "as long as" point (in essence: as long as what we are actually about is revolution and communism, it should be easy to correctly appreciate and promote BA and the new synthesis he has brought forward). What is concentrated in that "as long as" point has to do with our whole core message—you could rephrase it as that core message and the "because" statement3: the fundamental fact that what we're about is radically transforming the world through revolution and the seizure of power, with the dictatorship of the proletariat as the transition to communism, and how BA/the new synthesis relates to all that, is crucial for all that.
There is the first quote in Chapter 3 of BAsics, which begins: "Let's get down to basics. We need a revolution. Anything else, in the final analysis, is bullshit."
We don't proceed enough from the understanding that anything else, in fundamental terms, is bullshit. I took note of a report about a youth who worked with us closely for a while in "Occupy" but lately has been pulled toward anarchism and influenced by opportunist and counter-revolutionary shit. This happens all too often: people come around us and get close—or, in some cases, youth in particular have been recruited, but on the wrong basis and with a heavy influence of a revisionist line, and then some quit and pull away from us—in some instances going over to the camp of counter-revolution. This is both a result of objective factors—including what I'm calling "objective factor, two"—and is a result of revisionist lines and influences within our own Party and how, consequently, we work with people. This reminds me of how Lenin said that, in the revolutionary movement of his time, anarchism was to a significant degree payment for the sins of revisionism within the ranks of the communists—this revisionism, gutting the revolutionary heart out of communism, made it easier for anarchism to appeal to some people. But, speaking of our situation specifically, it is a combination of remaining revisionist influences on our part and the pull of objective factors. This involves the influence of what exists and predominates in society and the world as a whole, under the rule of the imperialists—including, as a very significant factor, the reality and continuing effects of the reversal of socialism and the restoration of capitalism first in the Soviet Union and then in China. But it also involves the role of opportunists and outright counter-revolutionaries.
You can see this reflected in some reports on work with students. People are initially attracted to what we're about, in a general and basic sense, and then they begin to get a fuller sense of what we're about, and everything this involves—and the heaviness hits them. They get introduced to BAsics and they are drawn to what it concentrates, but then they come up against everything this involves, and many back away, at least in the short run. We should understand that this is part of the process. We shouldn't get freaked out. We should remain firmly grounded in our scientific materialist understanding of the whole process, and maintain the orientation of struggling this through with people. But we also have to understand that what happens is not just that people come forward, come up against the heaviness of it, come up against the difficulties in taking this out, and then they back away. In the age of the Internet, there's an analogy between people who defect from our camp, so to speak, and the Christian Fascists in society at large. If the Christian Fascists were just scattered, just a bunch of scattered individuals, they'd be a problem—but nothing like the problem they are, where they are given a coherent and organized expression and powerful backing by sections of the ruling class. The analogy is that when people drop away there is a place where they can go where they will get a coherent counter-revolutionary program that is directly in opposition to us and is determined to viciously attack, undermine and if possible destroy us.
It is time for us to put on our boxing gloves. We have to realize that this process involving counter-revolutionary attacks on us is not going to go away—we have to incorporate in our approach the understanding that this is objective to us, is a significant part of the objective obstacles we face. The conscious opportunist and counter-revolutionary forces—which are objective to us—this is part of the terrain we have to reckon with and deal with correctly. And we are not really doing this the way we need to.
Not that this should be our main thing. But if we don't incorporate this understanding and deal with this—recognize that this is a real part of the "encirclement" we're dealing with: people and forces which have a passionate, active orientation of trying to destroy us and keep people from joining up with us—then we are going to pay a heavy price for failing to recognize and deal with this. If it weren't for the Internet, it wouldn't be the same thing, although it would still be a problem on a certain level. But there IS the Internet, and the Internet provides a means whereby people who really represent nothing—or at least nothing positive, in terms of actually opposing and going up against this horrific system, and offering any kind of real alternative to it—can magnify their influence, especially in today's putrid cultural atmosphere, and especially if they engage in "snarky" attacks against those who are seriously going up against this system and actually working for revolution. Yes, this is part of the process; but dealing with this, in the way it needs to be dealt with, is OUR part of the process. We have to take on this opportunist and counter-revolutionary garbage—with the right approach, flowing from and consistent with our fundamental revolutionary communist orientation and objectives. And this means we need a lot more "down on the ground"—and, yes, "up on the mountain" at the same time—ideological struggle and polemics to hit at this crap and expose it for its utter bankruptcy and its role in aiding the ruling class in maintaining this oppressive system. And, overall, we have to hit hard, in polemicizing against and exposing things that help to keep the masses in an enslaved and degraded situation.
For literally more than 10 years we said, let's write something on the Illuminati, and nothing appeared. That can't continue.4 I noted that someone who was drawn to us but then got pulled by slanders as well as spontaneous petit bourgeois thinking, read a statement by some anarchists and said: "This is the greatest statement I have read." We should get hold of that statement and polemicize against it, including in our paper. Let's dissect a statement like that and tear it apart. Because this matters—it is actually of profound importance in relation to the fundamental interests of the masses of people—which road leads to actual emancipation, and which to a dead end, or worse. We have to learn how to do quick, short and concise, hard-hitting polemics. The Badiou polemic5 is great, very powerful. It is a living and compelling application of the new synthesis of communism. But we can't approach everything as if we're writing the Badiou polemic. This gets back to the basic point: everything else, in the final analysis, really is bullshit. But we don't proceed that way, from that basic understanding—or at least we certainly don't do so consistently. We are too afraid to be sharp. Yes, we need to do this in a principled and lofty way—but sharply.
I am sorry but the culture that has been "imbibed" to a significant degree by this younger generation is very bad. Many of them are arrogant—frankly on the basis of very little substance. Not all, but far too many, have the ignorance/arrogance thing that Mark Twain talked about, when he said: What you need to get along in America is the perfect combination of ignorance and arrogance. They don't ask questions, they just make assertions. And I get the definite sense that we don't respond strongly ourselves—and, in fact, we are still often defensive in the face of this stuff, when there is absolutely no good reason to be defensive. The point—at least with people who are not conscious and dedicated opportunists and counter-revolutionaries—is not to "demolish" them, but there is definitely a role and value to administering a good "shock" to them, through sharp ideological struggle.
When people say stuff that reflects ignorance—like someone at a protest who demanded: why isn't Bob Avakian out here among the masses who are protesting?—our people don't respond the way they should. They should be ready to say: "Even assuming BA wanted to come here, it would be extremely irresponsible for our Party to allow him to do that." And then, in basic terms, they should explain why. How about wielding my memoir6 when someone says, "Why isn't BA out here"? There is a whole history of activism, as well as revolutionary leadership, there. And let's get into the substance of what communist leadership actually is, and what role I play in relation to that.
All this backward stuff comes from the fact that people are not really talking about changing the world in a fundamental way—or they haven't really thought about and grappled with what that really means. We shouldn't just let that go and be liberal. There is a time and a place to be sharp, to draw the lines sharply. If people don't like it, TOUGH. In one report I read, someone was complaining that Raymond Lotta was being sharp. That's part of waging the struggle for people. That's part of why I responded the way I did to hearing about a religious person attacking Mao as well as Stalin for "killing their own people." Along with refuting this, we should put back to such people: How about Moses? How about all that monstrous shit in the Bible—mass rape and slaughter, including the killing of babies, which is ordained and commanded by the Bible's god and that god's representatives like Moses? Even with people with whom we should be and need to be uniting, when they come up with rank shit, we need to call it out and hit back, ideologically. Let's put on our boxing gloves—get ready for some ideological battle here.
Someone else (a person from the "Occupy" movement) is quoted in a report as saying, "Well, I've been thinking about these big questions all my life, so what's so special about BA?" Okay, then, here are some questions:
Being defensive in the face of a comment like that?—you've got to be kidding me! There is not enough in our paper of: "Here's the reality and here's bullshit"—and if people don't like it, tough.
If that guy says my statement ("Reflection") on "Occupy" is the last straw—good. [This refers to someone who had been, or who had appeared to be, coming close to the RCP, but then went to join the camp of counter-revolution.] That is a reflection of the fact that my statement didn't just tail "Occupy," but went into things that needed to be gone into and hit at things that needed to be hit. That statement didn't say anything like "Occupy" is all fucked up; it recognized the positive side of "Occupy," and got into the material contradictions that are involved and laid out what we need.7
Is it true, or not true, that fundamentally everything else is bullshit? There are real tactical problems, and necessary tactical considerations, in putting forward the need for revolution and what revolution is actually all about and requires. But we have to talk about what revolution really means—we have to find the best and most mature ways to get across the essential point that revolution means overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with socialism (and then continuing on the socialist road toward the final goal of communism). We do have to take tactical concerns seriously into account, but we can't let tactical problems set the fundamental terms. And we have to tell people that anything else in the final analysis is bullshit, as it says in BAsics. And then the next paragraph in BAsics (3:1) "rounds things out," making clear that it is necessary and important to wage struggles against particular outrages and injustices of this system—and, in doing so, to unite with people who do not, at that point, agree with the need for revolution—while we act on the scientific understanding that all these outrages can only be fully and finally eliminated through revolution, aiming toward the final goal of communism throughout the world. Is that true or not? Or is that just our "narrative"? Our "mantra"? "Our thing" that we're feebly trying to impose on reality?
What is the problem in the world? What is the solution? We need to keep going back to that, and then get into the role that different people and social forces play in relation to that. We let these other people set the terms too much, instead of bringing them back to the real terms. What are the terms here? You want to say we don't need leadership?—let's talk about what you're going to encounter if you are really trying to fundamentally change the world, and what you need to do that. And if you have someone who has in reality emerged as a leader on another level than the rest of those around, you should celebrate it—it is precious, if your goal is really the emancipation of the masses of oppressed humanity, and ultimately humanity as a whole.
The problem is that, with people we encounter, and where they're coming from spontaneously, we're not talking about the same project. I am not upset that youth we encounter, who are newly awakening in mass movements, see things in ways that reflect a lot of spontaneous misunderstanding—but what are WE saying and doing about this? The point is not to club people over the head or swear at them. The point is, what do WE really understand, and point toward, about what is fundamentally needed? It is important whether people in the Party are actually (re)reading the Badiou polemic. There are real and important reasons why studying that was called for in the midst of this upsurge, with "Occupy" and some other things. The Badiou polemic continues to be highly relevant, and it is very substantial.
We can't put out every slanderous fire. But we have to have the right orientation and approach. There are positive things developing, objectively and through work we are doing, but they're not going to go anywhere good with a wrong orientation. We can't afford another rerun of the movie "The Movement Is Everything, the Final Aim Nothing"—where it's worse than just a rerun because, among other things, you're going to have people going to the camp of counter-revolution. I don't want to see that kind of rerun, or any rerun, of "The Movement Is Everything, the Final Aim Nothing."
The "to the masses" orientation has to apply to the Party and Party units as a whole—but also to more than just the units. We have to look at the whole thing. The Party leadership, and certainly those people with particular responsibility for speaking for the Party and being propagators of the new synthesis and the leadership of BA, have to put on their boxing gloves. The real issue got focused in a program/debate between Bernard Harcourt and Raymond Lotta—and I was glad to see the issue get joined in that way: Is being a permanent opposition within the existing system all you can do, while the machinery hums in the background, crushing lives and destroying spirits, to paraphrase the Badiou polemic?
Speaking of "Occupy," there's still a lot of American national chauvinism in the "Occupy" thing—some more conscious and some less. When we came forward in the '60s, one of the reasons we weren't arrogant in the way still too many youth today are, including many in the movements of today, is that you had a sense of your responsibility to the people of the world—you felt that responsibility. "Look at Vietnam, what they're doing in our name." This point that Raymond Lotta brought out about communizing the spoils of imperialism—how that's what anarchism ultimately amounts to—is very important. And that's what "Occupy" would represent, even in its most radical expression, left on its own terms and taken to its logical conclusion: more economic equity in the framework of being good patriotic Americans. Should we just whisper about this among ourselves, or should we take this out there to people?
We're not getting up in the morning itching for battle ideologically. We go out with our basic toolkit of revolutionary materials, and that's fine, that's important—but we have to be itching for ideological battle. Not sectarian diatribes—and that should be stopped if it starts. Leading people should be modeling this. Unity-struggle-unity. Advance through struggle—uniting with people, but advancing THROUGH STRUGGLE. We should be itching for ideological battle—we should be looking for people to join this with. The problems with this are related to why our own people don't take out the Cultural Revolution in our Party8—don't bring this up with people and get into it with them. If this is going to happen—if it's going to be done right, the way it should be—it's going to have to happen by Party leadership actually leading it and modeling it. If something happens that's important, call something at the bookstore and talk about this. If opportunists and counter-revolutionaries are running shit and confusing people, get people together and expose the bankruptcy of these people—set the terms the way they should be set, with the focus on the problem and the solution.
I was reading a report about the ISO9—people pulled to that trend canceling out on meeting with us because they're pulled by the shit that ISO puts out. We should be having things at the bookstores. Don't overcomplicate things—get right into it: what the deal is with this ISO, and why it won't lead anywhere good. What is this "S"—this "socialism"—they have in their name: what does that actually mean, and how do they say it will get brought about? Let's dissect this and expose what it really represents, and where it will lead—and won't lead. Or what the deal is with anarchism and why it just reinforces the existing system. If we can't do this, and do it well, we should learn how to—QUICKLY. And we should model that from the top. Don't answer rumors and slander with rumors and slander—don't descend to addressing things on that level and on those terms—answer it with substance, speaking to essential questions regarding problem and solution. This is not a matter of "sectarian squabbles"—and it should not be allowed to become that, or to be treated as that. This is nothing less than a matter of the fundamental needs and interests of the masses of oppressed people in the world, and ultimately humanity as a whole.
There should be a combative atmosphere in a good sense. We actually believe BAsics 3:1, and we know what the content of that revolution is. "Dictatorship of the proletariat" is not an unfortunate phrase (as the opportunist Kautsky once said as part of his attacks on Lenin). The dictatorship of the proletariat is a fucking good thing. Do you want to keep having vicious police repressing, brutalizing, and murdering masses of people—or a state power in the interests of masses of people and backing them up in overcoming exploitation and oppression? Why in the world would you be defensive? Yes, there have been some problems in how the dictatorship of the proletariat has been exercised in the experience of socialist society so far—but, mainly, there have been some really great things. I certainly don't feel apologetic about that. It's time we stop any defensiveness now. You're not going to get anywhere good without the DOP. All these contradictions you can't solve now—divisions among the masses, etc.—you won't solve them within the confines of this system, and you won't solve this without the DOP. These are simple, basic facts—and anything else, fundamentally and in the final analysis, is bullshit. Let's talk about that.
We cannot afford another round of squandering things and squandering people. If we do that, we are going to be much further behind. Part of the backdrop for the backward lines that some comrades are running into and tailing is also people getting demoralized about the "Occupy" thing. People are finding out even that's not so easy. First, "oh it's great..." But then there's state power that you have to go up against. State power exercised on behalf of the "one percent." They don't give a fuck about you—other than to stop you. If you persist in getting in their way, they'll do a lot more. Some of us have been through that—and if you're new to this, you need to learn about that, too. If people are not learning that, and we are not challenging them in order for them to learn what they need to learn, that's on us.
All this relates to how we view this fundraising campaign—this massive fundraising campaign to project BA Everywhere, to have that actually create societal impact, raise the level of discussion and debate throughout society about the state of the world and what can and should be done about that. It has everything to do with whether this campaign is really going to be what it needs to be—or falls short. We are not really going to succeed with this, and we are not going to make the critical breakthroughs overall that we need to make, unless leading people model this and lead with this, and insist that people do this—applying democratic centralism. If you get a report that speaks about a lot of problems comrades are encountering—and maybe also reflects problems with how these comrades are dealing with this, ways they are being pulled by spontaneity and tailing wrong lines—you deal with those contradictions and have people learn from how you deal with it.
Even small things can't be squandered. This whole situation we face can't be turned around by just winning and recruiting twos and twos. But we can't squander that either. We have to be thinking in terms of winning and recruiting masses, in waves. If we're not thinking in terms of masses, we won't even get twos and twos. But we also can't step over the twos and twos. Some people will go backward, and some will even go into the camp of counter-revolution—but we have to be winning and recruiting people, in growing numbers, and in waves.
We have to look at comrades' situation on different levels, and take tactical things seriously into account, but we cannot let that fundamentally set the terms as to whether people are being unleashed and utilized in the correct way. We cannot keep this knowledge we have about the history of our project, about the DOP and what the transition to communism has to be about—we can't keep that bottled up among a few people. We have to mobilize all positive factors and the synergy between them, to get this line out there, contending in a big way.
In carrying out ideological struggle—particularly when people are influenced by and caught up in bullshit—we have to strongly insist: that's not the question, here's the question. Whatever it is—dredging up and regurgitating unprincipled attacks against the Party and its leadership, or in talking about what's wrong with society—an important part of struggling with people is constantly recasting the terms: "that's not the question, this is the question." And then you have to back it up, with substance. But we do have people to back it up, and others should learn from them how to do it. We are perfectly willing to argue with you all day if you're principled and serious but not convinced—fine, we'll talk with you and struggle with you all day... unless you're not principled and not serious.
We cannot do things to organize people for revolution, and accumulate forces for revolution, on the wrong basis, where the wrong terms are being set. Not only do you lose people, you lose at least some to the camp of counter-revolution. When we do things on the wrong basis, we go backward and hurt ourselves. We have to have a core that's really won to what this is all about—including people who may not be quite ready for the next leap to join the Party, but are really close, and are being struggled with to make that further, crucial leap. That is the struggle with them: are they going to go forward to that? You can have your electrons around that solid core, but the electrons can't be the nucleus.
What HAVE we been working for, for nearly 50 years? What have we been learning through all this? Does everyone have to repeat the mistakes of the past? Do people in these movements today really think nobody ever tried this before? In the past upsurges, we didn't succeed in getting all the way to revolution—that's what remains to be done—and you don't have to repeat every lack of knowledge and mistake that we made. And, yes, we're here to teach you what we've learned. And not just in terms of this or that practical aspect of a particular movement, but in relation to the broader questions and the fundamental interests of humanity.
I read a comment by someone involved in the "Occupy" movement in NY—saying that the problem with the '60s was that people gave up, "but we're in it for the long haul." That's still the ignorance/arrogance thing. It goes along with the culture of tabloids, of short attention spans, and of solipsism and individualism. Do you really think there weren't many people in the '60s who were very dedicated and went up against a lot, and made many sacrifices, for a number of years, really trying to bring about radical change? Do you really think nobody has been in this for the real "long haul," and that nobody has learned anything in the process? There is too much of people proceeding from subjectivity—from how they see something from a limited perspective, or even how it "makes them feel." For example, whether we need leadership doesn't turn on the personal experience you've had, or "how it makes you feel." The question is what the masses of people are going through, and what's the solution to that? Is there an answer? What does the answer consist in? How it makes you feel is definitely not the question—how it makes you feel depends on what you understand. What is needed is not these tendencies of empiricism and individuals proceeding from their subjective impressions. No, we need a scientific method and approach—the scientific method and approach of communism, as it has been further developed through the new synthesis.
In terms of the communist vanguard, democratic centralism is not just a matter of discipline in an organizational sense, but a matter of how you actually come to know and transform the world in the most profound ways in the interests of humanity. You don't get a better understanding of reality if everyone in a party goes off in their own direction. There is an important lesson relating to this in my memoir, regarding the struggle with the Mensheviks within our Party who tried to take our Party into the swamp—supporting the revisionist coup in China after the death of Mao in 1976 and arguing for a whole revisionist line—and why it was important to apply d.c., even in the face of factionalizing by those Mensheviks. People should review and reflect on that experience and how it is summarized in the memoir. We definitely need lots of initiative and creative and critical thinking, within the right overall collective framework and with the right spirit and orientation. But you won't learn more all on your own, and you definitely don't learn more by having factions within a party. Factions among the communists (or alleged communists) of Lenin's time were a remnant of social democracy, which led to the collapse of the Second International of supposed socialist and communist parties. Having factions was a part of that social democracy—in reality a form of bourgeois democracy, in the name of "socialism"—which actually rendered support to the existing imperialist system, in opposition to real revolution and communism. The Bolsheviks breaking with and moving against that was part of rupturing with everything that led to the collapse of the Second International, the degeneration by almost every one of its parties into open support for "their" imperialists in the context of World War 1.
Can prohibiting factions be misused to suppress initiative and the necessary lively atmosphere and ferment within the Party? Of course. But the possibility of its being misused does not change the fact that it is correct, and is essential, not to have factions. It is correct and essential, not just in terms of organizational functioning and discipline, but even more fundamentally in terms of epistemology and epistemological discipline, in terms of increasingly gaining a correct understanding of reality and moving to radically transform it in the direction of communism.
We are not going to make it if we continue to have too much of a revolving door—where people come around us and become supportive, but then they are pulled away, and in some cases even turned against us, and we don't correctly recognize, and counter this, winning people over more deeply through really joining struggle with them. We will never make it, if we don't get down in the trenches ideologically and have a hunger for ideological struggle. Really, we don't think we can take on anarchism? Come on. You just have to ask a few questions. We can't answer the weak shit the anarchists put forward? Come on!
Who shot Lenin in the early years of the Soviet republic, seriously wounding him while attempting to assassinate him? It was forces that were essentially anarchist. Why did they do that? Because Lenin approached things from the largest perspective, proceeding from the interests of the proletariat as a class, in the most fundamental sense, and he understood what would happen if you allowed the terms of things to be set by workers in this or that factory, or a particular group of peasants, or the sailors on a ship, acting on the basis of their more particular and narrow interests. He understood that, if you proceeded in that way, different sections of the masses would be pitted against each other, in opposition to their most fundamental interests, socialism would be undermined and destroyed, and things would be dragged back to the anarchy of capitalist production and capitalist competition, and the overall dynamics of the capitalist system, with all its horrors.
Anarchism is an outlook representative of the petite bourgeoisie—and it will not and cannot lead to a radical rupture with and advance beyond capitalism, beyond the anarchistic dynamics of commodity production and exchange.10 There is much in the Badiou polemic that is very relevant in this regard.
As opposed to what people like Badiou try to argue, the "party-state paradigm"—state power, the dictatorship of the proletariat, led by a communist vanguard—is a very good, very necessary thing, so long as the line of that vanguard is correct. And you have to use that state power, to keep the revolution and to continue the revolution. Do we think the whole petite bourgeoisie in socialist society will just be wildly in favor of carrying forward revolutionary transformation in that society, that there won't be any opposition among them? As long as there is the material basis for the petite bourgeoisie to exist, including in socialist society, there will be manifestations of the assertion of the outlook and aspirations of the petite bourgeoisie. I think of students at a university in Canada who, during the high tide of the 1960s, staged a march under the banner: "as the future managerial class, we demand our rights." You're going to get that—whether expressed that crudely or not. You think that outlook doesn't exist in the "Occupy" thing? And, while this outlook basically corresponds to the material position and corresponding aspirations of the petite bourgeoisie, it's not only among the petite bourgeoisie itself that petit bourgeois ways of thinking exist—this kind of thinking exists among basic people too. The idea that we should tail this in any way is ridiculous and should be solidly combated and overcome.
Of course, the point is not that the petite bourgeoisie is the same, or should be treated in the same way, as the big bourgeoisie—the class that dominates ownership of the means of production and exercises dictatorship in capitalist society. The orientation is not that, in socialist society, dictatorship should be exercised over the petite bourgeoisie. In strategic terms, the point is, as Lenin put it, to live with and transform the petite bourgeoisie, through the course of the socialist transition to communism; and the relations involved are fundamentally non-antagonistic. But the terms cannot be set by an orientation that corresponds to the social position and spontaneous aspirations of the petite bourgeoisie, or there will be no revolution, no socialism, and no transition to communism.
My "Reflection" on "Occupy" welcomed "Occupy," but then went into the depth and complexity of the contradictions involved and what needs to happen if you don't want to maintain a society and a world marked by profound inequalities, oppression and exploitation—if you don't want people to continue suffering needlessly in this world.
We really have to come out strongly on this. We have to sharpen up this orientation. And we have to use this website and newspaper of ours, for many things—but including quick, concise, and sharp polemics. "What's wrong with Slavoj Žižek?"—that is, what's wrong with his viewpoint? What about Gramsci? Can't we do a few paragraphs on Althusser? Is it so hard? Can't we do simple things that provoke people, in the good sense? Can't we do that? And people do learn by comparing and contrasting. They learn by doing, but also by compare/contrast. We're cheating people and cheating ourselves by not struggling with them and joining the questions with them that are of objective importance—questions that they are often raising in somewhat distorted form (not always, but often). This is not surprising, because how they see things, spontaneously, is refracted through the predominant bourgeois outlook in society. Even people who are not consciously doing so, but are more spontaneously doing so, still represent the outlook and aspirations of classes other than the proletariat when they open their mouths to speak. The fact that you, in "Occupy," are discovering that it's much harder than you thought: ask yourself WHY it's much harder than you thought it was. It's not just that you are confronted by a wall of police. Why are they there, and why are they acting the way they do? And why does Mayor Bloomberg call them out and you can't? There are bigger, more powerful social forces at work, and underneath those forces are dynamics—the fundamental dynamics of this system—that even they don't control. Can't we get into joining these kinds of things with people? How to wield spokespeople and leadership to do this?—we have to pay systematic attention to that. We need to become good at quickly developing the forms for doing this. If five or 10 show up for a meeting or discussion, then give them something, some basic substance, to take out and join with others.
Without this basic orientation and approach, there won't be a real fundraising battle. We won't get where we need to go unless these questions are being fought through on the correct basis. There will be funds raised, but there will be no massive, multi-faceted fundraising campaign unless we lead with this orientation. Not only with the masses, but if you go to people who do have real money and you tail, you won't get anywhere. We need to put it to these people, straight up, and struggle on this basis: If you give your money to something like Obama, and not to this BA Everywhere fundraising campaign, it will have bad results and bad consequences for the masses of people and for humanity. We need a revolution, a communist revolution, and what you think you know about this is NOT true.
We can't let "Stalin and Mao were mass murderers" just go down. More than a few people sit in a privileged position in this country, with the "luxury" of accepting "verdicts" on crucial things without really bothering to learn the truth about them, because people have been slaughtered on a massive scale—in reality, and without hyperbole, their lives have been snuffed out in the tens and hundreds of millions—by the rulers of this country and the workings of their system, all over the world. People just can't get away with accepting the slanders about communism and refusing to face the real, truly monstrous crimes of this system. There are tactics and tact in struggling with people—but strategically we cannot let this go down. We can't let people go on talking about how Qadaffi (or whoever is identified as the villain of the moment) is somehow the worst person in the world. Can we talk about reality? We need to join these things with people—from a lofty and principled position, and with substance, but sharply.
If we don't do this, we are going to go backward and toward the abyss. Some of what I am talking about can happen right away, including with the website and newspaper. Can't we back our shit up?
BAsics is very important—a very valuable tool—and we need to be wielding it in even greater ways. But it is a distillation of much bigger things. Do we think Marx is obsolete? No, there is much to learn, much of importance, in studying Marx. In speaking of the shopkeeper and the democratic intellectual, for example, Marx points out that they are driven to the same problems and solutions—not just the solutions. There is a lot to learn from repeatedly going back to this. There is great importance to correctly, scientifically understanding, and presenting, the problem—to setting the terms on the right, scientifically grounded basis.
On Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy.11 This is on a high level of theoretical abstraction, even while efforts were made to break that down as much as possible, without "dumbing it down." It is an important work and definitely serves a very important purpose. But we need to take the line that's in there and go with it—popularize it, without distorting it or watering it down. And we need things besides that work which deal with the same basic subjects. There is a need for things that are shorter, hard-hitting—boom boom. We should correctly understand and deal with, and not mis-handle, the simplicity-complexity contradiction. Dealing with the complexity of things is necessary, and very important—and we should struggle with people when they want things to be too simple, oversimplified, when they don't want to do the work you have to do to really understand and therefore be able to transform the world in the way it needs to be transformed. But we also need forms for boiling things down to their essence—things that are simple in that sense. If someone wants to say, "It's more complex than that," we can speak to the complexity, and we do speak to it.
We definitely should not do what opportunists do, where they vulgarize things, including by chopping up and distorting the statements of people they disagree with, in an unprincipled, instrumentalist way. But we shouldn't overburden ourselves with the complexity of things. There is a trend like that—to overburden ourselves with attempts to deal with complexity, to where we mumble and then don't get to the point. We don't want simplicity in the sense of vulgarizing and taking cheap shots—but in the sense of really getting to the essence in a concise and basic way. There is a point to boiling the complex down to the simple and basic, so long as it is accurate.
You want the masses to learn?—let them see someone doing this. That's one of the main ways masses learn. Training them involves letting them see how it's done. Let them see the confrontation of opposing views. When we had the struggle vs. the Bundists (nationalist opportunists, posturing as communists), way back in the day, a few of us wrote things and everyone grappled with them. And people learned a lot.
In my memoir, there is a part that talks about this guy, Robere, who was a dogmatist who intimidated a lot of people, back in the day, by spouting from memory passages from Mao and Lenin, and so on. He created this "larger than life" image around himself. But some of us knew enough to recognize that rote recitation of "classics"—in the manner of a religious zealot repeating scripture—did not mean that there was a lot of substance, or a correct method for that matter. Then, one time, he got up and spoke at some demonstration at a courthouse, and in listening to him it struck me: "there is nothing there"—no real substance behind the supposedly intimidating front. And there is nothing there with these other lines, as far as problem/solution. This is an important point of orientation. Robere wasn't speaking to reality, and wasn't correctly dealing with it, and he had no "solution" other than dogma.
In short, with these opportunist forces: strategically, there's nothing there. And especially when you get to solution, there's nothing there. Now, it's different with someone like a Chomsky, or Arundhati Roy. There is much they do that is positive. In contrast with opportunists and counter-revolutionaries, their orientation and intent is to proceed in a principled way, and they do a lot of good work particularly in exposing many crimes of oppressive forces throughout the world, with a lot of focus on bringing to light the crimes of U.S. and western imperialism. But, in fundamental terms, and particularly when it comes to the solution, there is nothing there—no real orientation or program that can actually lead to a radically different world. With the opportunists and counter-revolutionaries, there is nothing there at all—that is, they have nothing positive to offer—they can only do damage. And we do have something—there is something here—because we are dealing with reality, that's what we're grappling with, scientifically, and struggling to transform. We have learned a lot in this way, and of course we have much more to learn—but we have a foundation to learn a lot more as we go forward.
It is not a matter of preoccupation with opportunists and counter-revolutionaries. But we do have to take into account, and actively counter, the one thing they can do: cause real damage through their counter-revolutionary activity. They are profiting from the larger putrid culture that still holds sway to far too great a degree, and profiting from the fact that they are not seeking to really go up against the powers-that-be, but in fact can and do act in ways that not only don't threaten but that actually serve those powers. We do have to actively take on the harm they are able to do, with their counter-revolutionary activity, particularly with today's technology and in the context of today's putrid culture. We have to take that shit on sharply and powerfully, even while not becoming overly preoccupied with it, in order to counter—and to provide a positive, substantive and uplifting alternative to—their opportunist and counter-revolutionary garbage. Again, the point is not to answer them on their terms, getting dragged down into the gutter—the point is to answer with substance, and by focusing things on the fundamental questions related to problem and solution, to what is needed to actually transform the world in an emancipatory way.
The "advanced" who, in today's situation, are simply "immune" to this all this "stuff out there" simply don't exist—or are very few. People come forward the way they come forward—this is part of the objective reality we're dealing with—and people running into, and even being influenced by, opportunist and counter-revolutionary shit is part of the objective reality we have to become better at recognizing and dealing with—struggling effectively to bring more and more people through it. Too often our response to this kind of stuff is watered down and namby-pamby. Again, we need to answer this with substance—but not in a way that is merely academic and educational, in the wrong sense. There is a battle to be waged. Part of the struggle we need to wage, an important part, is over the question: what matters, and what should we focus on and get into? Is it tabloidism, gossip, rumor-mongering and slander—or lines? Of course it should be lines, and where they will lead. We have to fight for people—which means fighting with people, ideologically—in order to make breakthroughs.
The fact that some people get drawn forward and then get turned away because we are "making too much of BA" isn't happening in a vacuum—or simply because of the influence of the ruling class and the dominant institutions and what prevails in society generally. Opportunists and counter-revolutionaries are telling them shit. They work on people that we draw forward. "Work on" doesn't really get it. Often they descend on people, including through the Internet. Some of this is studied counter-revolution. To use a metaphor, if people are sitting in the bushes and taking potshots at you, and you ignore it because you don't want to be dragged down to a petty level, or into the gutter, then you are making a mistake—you have to deal with it, without allowing yourself to get dragged down. If we don't sharply deal with this, shame on us. Not to answer it on its terms, but by pointing out the bankruptcy of this—and, in some cases, the outright piggery as well as the ideological and political bankruptcy.
I recently read again our response to Mike Ely's "Nine Letters." That response is quite good.12 In particular I was struck by the exposure and refutation of Ely's rank relativism and agnosticism—his attempt to undermine the understanding that, while there are of course things human beings cannot know with certainty at any given time, on the other hand there is much human knowledge that has a well-founded and well-established basis in reality and can be judged to be true, with a great deal of certainty, and does not simply have a tenuous link to reality, to use Ely's formulation. As part of our response, since Ely had invoked—and in fact had crudely distorted—Mao in an attempt to buttress Ely's agnosticism and relativism, the following was posed, pointedly, to Ely: Does he think that dialectical and historical materialism, the need for revolution and the seizure of state power, the DOP and socialism as a transition to communism, and the continuation of classes and class struggle in socialist society—do these have a tenuous link to reality? And would Mao agree? There is no good answer to that, if you are proceeding according to the opportunist "logic" of Mike Ely. He has also never been held to account on his shit with Nepal—tailing all the revisionism there and attacking us for not tailing it. Apparently, being an opportunist and a counter-revolutionary means never having to be accountable for anything—so long as you attack what is genuinely revolutionary and communist, you can get a "pass" from some people for just about anything you say and do. When he first quit the Party, Ely's opportunism and his attacks on me and the Party were mainly rationalization for giving up—for capitulating to imperialism and everything that represents—while putting up a shabby pretense of still being some kind of "communist" or "revolutionary." But here something Lenin pointed to is very relevant. It is one thing to make a mistake, Lenin said (although capitulating to imperialism, turning your back on and attacking what actually represents revolution and communism—even stooping so low as to appeal to ignorant and crude prejudice against communism and communist organization, invoking the specter of "thought control" within the RCP, and so on... garbage literally on the level of a J. Edgar Hoover—is more than a mere mistake; but to continue with Lenin's essential point) if a mistake is persisted in—and if "profound justifications" are sought for this—then this can become something truly monstrous. This is the basic process that has taken place with Ely.
Again, the point is not to have a disproportionate preoccupation with these opportunists and counter-revolutionaries, but to take seriously the fact that they can, and do, cause real harm, especially in today's situation and with the putrid culture that prevails, including far too much among people who claim to be some kind of opposition. It is part of the process that some people who are initially drawn toward us—especially if they are worked, and struggled, with well—will continue to make leaps forward, while some others will fall back after a certain point. But, if things are dividing out the wrong way with this, something is wrong. Part of the problem is that we don't join these issues sharply enough with people. Too often there is too much of trying to evade or finesse things, rather than getting into the essential questions frontally and sharply. Our sharp edge should not be dulled.
When people come around, and then they begin to get a sense of how big what we're talking about is—how hard and complex, and how much up against what most people think, as well as being up against the state—they discover this, and they come to a juncture. Now you're in a different stage with people than when they first came around. The questions are not simply the same as when they first came around, first got on the escalator. And the things that are pulling them down, pulling them away from this, are not just the objective things that come from the bourgeoisie and its ruling institutions and ideas—what also pulls on them is what these other forces are saying, what they are saying about our Party and BA and the whole communist project, really. These forces do fight for their line—such as it is. We certainly cannot afford not to fight for ours. To really counter their shit, we need to get, deeply and sharply, into what the differences are—the real and substantial differences that matter—and why this is right and these other people are wrong: why there really is "nothing there," when it comes to an analysis of the fundamental problem and the solution, why in fact everything else is bullshit.
As you learn more about the actual process of building a movement for revolution, and carrying out that revolution when the conditions for that emerge, the more complicated and difficult it seems, particularly as you first come to grips with these contradictions. But the fact is that actually making revolution involves and requires consistently applying a scientific method and approach to identify and analyze, and to develop the means to radically transform, the contradictions that are bound up with this process. We have gone to work, in a substantial way, on these problems—and we have more work to do to solve these problems as we go forward. We have a foundation, and there is a need for new people to join in and help do the further work that is needed. And the truth is, nobody else has anything underneath what they're talking about, because it doesn't correspond to reality. This point needs to be driven home.
This has to be very sharp. In the current situation, and in terms of the forces coming forward in the movements of today, we are dealing to a very large degree with forces representing the petite bourgeoisie. Something like "Occupy," while it has attracted and drawn in some people from the basic masses, is largely and essentially a movement of the petite bourgeoisie, and you are going to get lines, tendencies, and pulls characteristic of the petite bourgeoisie—coming at things from a different point of view than that which represents the interests of the proletariat, in the most fundamental sense. Approaching this scientifically, we can see that this is what we're dealing with, in terms of things like "Occupy"—even with its very definite positive aspects. We had better understand that and struggle accordingly. And, again, this way of thinking is not limited to just the petite bourgeoisie itself—it exists more broadly in society. Add to that the fact that people actually know very little about communism and its history—and most of what they think they know is wrong. With all this in mind, it should stand out very prominently what is profoundly wrong with the idea that we should tail this, rather than waging principled but fierce struggle, ideologically, with what is wrong—with what represents a misguided, unscientific sense of the problem and solution.
Yes, we should discuss and wrangle with people over questions like what direction movements that arise, like "Occupy," should take, as such. That is part of our responsibility, even an important part, but it is not our main responsibility. Our main and essential responsibility is building a movement for revolution—and we have to approach everything from the fundamental perspective of how it relates to that.
The problem that some of our comrades have, in relation to movements like "Occupy," stems to a significant degree from the fact that they are not proceeding systematically from an understanding that there is not an antagonism but there is a real contradiction between what's represented by things like "Occupy" and where things need to go. There needs to be unity/struggle/unity to resolve contradictions among the people—but if we are not proceeding from the correct foundation and the correct, scientifically based understanding, we will not have a real chance of correctly handling the very real contradictions and the unity/struggle/unity dialectic.
Problem/solution. Problem/solution. Problem/solution. Everything revolves around problem-solution: what the fundamental problem in the world is, and what the solution is. In a fundamental sense, this includes me and my role. The emphasis we give to my leadership, and what it has brought forward and concentrates, has real meaning and great importance—but only in the context of problem-solution. It is not simply an appendage or addendum or footnote to that—but it IS in that context.
This applies also to polemics—in an overall and fundamental sense, they should focus on and continually ground things in the problem/solution.
Keep in mind: "there is nothing there." Polemics should focus to a large degree on the fact that what is represented by these various other forces—and in particular organized opportunist and counter-revolutionary forces—will not lead to anything good and is actually working against what is needed.
One: There is the phenomenon that when you are drawn to our Party and what it represents, and then you step out with this, people representing the disaffected but self-absorbed petite bourgeoisie bray and bark. This is fundamentally how we have to understand these attacks—and, in a living way, explain it to others, including those who come in for such braying and barking.
Two: Every time we tail, we kick ourselves in the teeth and get seriously set back.
Three: We are for revolution and communism. You opportunists don't like it because, in reality—in terms of the content of what you put forward—you want to make this system "work"; your vision and aspirations actually do not extend beyond the narrow horizon of this system, to paraphrase Marx. Let's recast the terms to what they actually are. Our Party, and in a concentrated way BA, represents the leadership that is needed and the struggle for revolution, and the state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is the necessary outcome of that struggle— and in turn is a transition to the final goal of a communist world. That is why people, and in particular those who constitute political and literary representatives of the petite bourgeoisie, react the way they do. They want to make this system "work," at least for themselves. That's not what we're about.
We should take a lesson from the experience in the Bay Area with the group STORM some years back. Unfortunately, there was a marked tendency on the part of comrades there to be intimidated by STORM, because these comrades were approaching things incorrectly, looking too much at surface phenomena and not grounding themselves in the deeper dynamics of things. STORM seemed to be a "going thing," for a while, and was wielding nationalist identity politics as a weapon, while putting up some kind of a pretense of being Marxist, or in some way against the system. But where is STORM now? And where are the people who were put forward as its leading lights—someone like Van Jones—what's the deal with him now?! Openly working for this system. Which is a kind of leap, but a leap that, in a real sense, is an extension of the outlook and approach of something like STORM. This is not a matter of "personal traits," but of line—of outlook and method, and the strategic orientation flowing from that. Of course, so long as there are class distinctions, and so long in particular as there are people constituting the political and literary representatives of the petite bourgeoisie, including among the oppressed nationalities, there will continue to be different incarnations of the kind of phenomenon that STORM represented. But lessons should be drawn from the experience with STORM—and the fact that STORM itself is now defunct!
Apparently Chris Hedges declared that "Occupy" is "too big to fail." This is simply wrong. "Occupy," as such, will have a certain life—and, as I put it in my "Reflection" on "Occupy," it can make a significant contribution to the revolution that is needed, IF the revolutionary communists approach this correctly. "Occupy" itself will have a certain life and, as has already happened, it will face a series of challenges; and how those challenges are dealt with will have a major role in determining what course it takes and whether and in what ways it can continue to have a mainly positive impact. Right now this is concentrated in whether there will be a powerful challenge to the concentrated move by the ruling class to suppress and disperse "Occupy." There are important things that we can and should seek to do in relation to that, but the most important thing that we should be doing is accumulating forces for revolution, in relation to this movement and in other ways as well. If we don't really and deeply grasp this, and act on it, then not only "Occupy" but our Party, too, will either go out of existence or be absorbed into the political scenery of bourgeois society, to paraphrase the recent polemic against Slavoj Žižek13.
Can anyone claim that they've never been influenced by the line that something good has happened, so let's not spoil it by bringing in the solid core, by bringing alive the need for revolution and the final goal of communism? No it happens—but we have to be very attuned to that, recognizing and struggling against that.
We have to think about different ways of working with the advanced around us—to struggle things through and make some much-needed advances in bringing forward new forces, new initiators of the new stage of the communist movement—accumulating forces for revolution and recruiting more of the advanced into the Party. We need to make breakthroughs in all three objectives of the overall Campaign we are carrying out: really putting revolution and communism on the map; making BA a household name and what BA represents a subject of substantive discussion and debate throughout society; and bringing forward waves of new initiators of the communist revolution. This—and in particular the third objective—requires winning people to be really partisan for and then fully committed to THIS. We have to get more and more people to the point where they want to go out and take on the braying hounds. Let's instill that Black Panther Party spirit from back in the day. The BPP members really believed they were the vanguard, and they didn't want to hear any shit from you about how they weren't. We need much more of that basic spirit. The point is not to attack people, but to have a spirit of itching for ideological struggle.
We need to unleash and marshal the people who feel that way—give them substance, and get them out there fighting for this.
We don't think enough in terms of fighting for people who are being influenced toward wrong lines. Let's go up against the spontaneity—let's put on our boxing gloves. Let's jump into ideological contention, spoiling for a fight. If you are a leading person, take some others, including advanced masses, with you when you do this. Take these masses coming around with you. Engage these other lines. Call them out: "You don't even know what the problem is, let alone the solution." Then get into the substance. We have a developed line with a lot of substance. But you have to fight for it. If you want to win masses you have to fight, and you have to take masses with you so they see the contending lines and which ones have substance and are based on reality, and which ones don't and aren't.
How do we make sure that people go out in the right way to do revolutionary work? One of the advantages of BAsics is that this book lets you do good work. But, as we've seen, you can do work with BAsics with a wrong line seriously contending in that work. BAsics is not some kind of inoculation against the wrong line—it's a factor that creates more favorable conditions for work to be done correctly. With many people we need to figure out how to simplify things without being reckless, and get people into the mix and swirl of what's going on these days.
Let's pose a series of very basic questions. Do you think that this outrage of police brutality is going to be eliminated with a few sit-ins? If not, is that tolerable? And if not, further, what is it going to take to get rid of this outrage? Do you think this is the only outrage of this system, and how are all those other outrages going to get dealt with? How does what we are doing fit into a revolutionary movement to get rid of this whole thing? This resistance is great as a beginning and part of what needs to happen—but not so great as just a thing in itself and unto itself. Bring people back to what they know, and have a basis for knowing.
Do you really think that "Occupy" just growing and growing is going to solve everything we're about? People in the Party and close to us know the answers, and "forget" them. We have to constantly bring them back to what they know. There are line questions and the pull of spontaneity.
In situations where there are increased numbers of masses awakening and in motion politically, and we are working to relate to that, what we say matters more. And the more it matters, the greater the pull to tone it down. When you introduce something like my "Occupy" statement, it breaks up some of the unity that exists, even as it has the potential to unite people on a higher level. It is the same thing with regard to STOP "Stop & Frisk." Is it a static linear thing of more and more unity—or is it unity-divide-more unity, through junctures and struggles? Comrades, and in particular comrades with leadership responsibility, know the answers. So why does it happen that people lose sight of this and tend to tail? One, the pull of "the movement is everything, the final aim nothing"—and part of you is pulled toward thinking that revolution and communism is not viable, or is in some abstract realm, unrelated to what is going on now. And two, the pull to thinking: bringing this in is going to disrupt the unity we've forged, when we've got something good going here. This has to be fought through, in repeated rounds of struggle. Comrades need to see their responsibilities above all as communists, and not as people dealing in a particular realm.
We should use the website and newspaper to model things. Even a short piece, like the one I wrote on "The American Enterprise,"14 can concentrate a lot. If someone raises the present Constitution of the USA, we can respond by saying things like, "that belongs in the museum"—as opposed to an academic argument. The effect of a punchy response like that is to change the terms to more what they should be. And then you get further into the substance. That Constitution represents the past, here's what we need for the future—and point to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)15. Use the website and newspaper to model things like that. They should have some more in-depth analysis, but there is also a definite need for a lot of shorter, biting stuff.
We have to consistently lead with the correct line, and most fundamentally the correct, scientific method and approach. That has to be what we're striving for. That's the standard we have to set and aim for—nothing less. And, even as we are persevering to make breakthroughs in things we have identified as crucial, we need to keep looking afresh at things, and not fall into ruts and routines. We have to adhere to certain fundamental matters of principle and keep our eye on the prize of decisive objectives, while looking at things anew repeatedly.
We do have to get more focused in what we do and how we wield our forces, but the principal and decisive thing is leading with the correct line, and then how to get the correct combinations and synergies. We don't want to just judiciously wield our forces—we want, we need, to grow. We want more people to carry out the correct line and not some other line. Attention needs to be paid to how to lead that and effect the right combinations and synergies to make that happen. Think about the effect of a leading person going with a comrade in the work and doing the work correctly and fighting it through and summing it up with them. And we should involve advanced masses where that's appropriate. Masses learn by seeing things done correctly and seeing them in contention with other things. There are people who can do this right, and do it really well, but there are still too few—we need to wield them correctly and combine them, correctly, with basic Party members and people who are coming forward, so others can learn and develop.
How do we wield the strengths we have and the strengths of people around us in the best possible combinations and synergies, and get into the real-world places where this can go on? We can't just bring masses to our bookstores—we have to do that, but we also have to go TO the masses. This goes along with simplify, simplify, simplify. Radical simplicity. Get people together in groups and go places with somebody who's gonna set the terms in the right way.
Because I have given so much emphasis to the confrontation of opposing lines where the contradiction is in fact antagonistic—dealing with opportunists and counter-revolutionaries—I don't want to underplay the importance of non-antagonistic struggle, struggle with people with whom it is also correct to seek unity, even while carrying out ideological struggle over big questions and matters of principle. The difference is that there are many people who disagree with us, who are objectively representatives of an incorrect outlook, which ultimately leads things away from where they need to go, but they haven't made themselves in effect an appendage of the ruling class. They are not setting out to destroy our Party. And they are not framing their disagreements with us in the guise of "revolution" or "communism." This relates to why the Chinese Communist Party made clear, in its polemics against the Soviet revisionists in the 1960s, that unity with many forces who do not claim to be communists is possible, but there can be no unity with revisionists—phony communists who distort and oppose the revolutionary core of communism, while attacking those who uphold and act on the basis of real, revolutionary communism.
The emphasis on the need to hit back, with substance, ideologically, against the opportunist and counter-revolutionary forces that do make it their business to wage unprincipled attacks against our Party and BA—this should not lead to ignoring or undermining the importance of engagement and carrying forward the unity/struggle/unity process with what are objectively non-antagonistic representatives of other classes and strata. That remains very important.
1. Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, September 2008 (RCP Publications, 2009) [back]
2. BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2011 [back]
3. The "because" statement refers to the following:
Because of Bob Avakian and the work he has done over several decades, summing up the positive and negative experience of the communist revolution so far, and drawing from a broad range of human experience, there is a new synthesis of communism that has been brought forward—there really is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the crucial leadership that is needed to carry forward the struggle toward that goal. [back]
4. After BA made these observations, Revolution/revcom.us published "The 'Illuminati' Is a Myth! Wake Up and Deal With the REAL Problem!," #272. June 17, 2012. [back]
5. "Alain Badiou's 'Politics of Emancipation': A Communism Locked Within the Confines of the Bourgeois World," by Raymond Lotta, Nayi Duniya, and K. J. A., Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic, Issue Number 1, Summer-Fall 2009 [back]
7. "A Reflection on the 'Occupy' Movement: An Inspiring Beginning...and the Need to Go Further," by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Revolution #250, November 13, 2011 [back]
8. For a discussion of the Cultural Revolution in the RCP, see Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. Part VI, "A Cultural Revolution Within the RCP," begins on page 34 of the pamphlet. [back]
9. International Socialist Organization [back]
10. For an analysis of the driving force of anarchy as the most essential expression of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, see "On the 'Driving Force of Anarchy' and the Dynamics of Change—A Sharp Debate and Urgent Polemic: The Struggle for a Radically Different World and the Struggle for a Scientific Approach to Reality," by Raymond Lotta, Revolution, November 4, 2013. [back]
12. "Stuck in the 'Awful Capitalist Present' or Forging a Path to the Communist Future? A Response to Mike Ely's Nine Letters," by a writing group in the RCP, 2008 [back]
13. "Vilifying Communism and Accommodating Imperialism: The Sham and Shame of Slavoj Žižek's 'Honest Pessimism,'" by Raymond Lotta, Revolution #256, January 15, 2012 [back]
14. "The American Enterprise—Property and Slavery: Peculiar Notions of 'Freedom' and Profound Contradictions," by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Revolution #252, December 11, 2011 [back]
Revolution #344 July 6, 2014
June 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
In 2011, a U.S. drone assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen in Yemen. Portions of a Justice Department memo providing legal cover for that illegal assassination were released to the public on June 21.
I'm not a legal expert, but I've read the memo and commentaries from a range of experts and analysts, and it is clear that the implications of the legal rationale in this memo are chilling, ominous, and outrageous.
And here's something else: This memo represents and reflects the outlook, and morality of the rulers of an empire who look out at a world they dominate—a world of vicious exploitation, ruthless oppression, and cutthroat contention with rivals of all kinds—and declare their “right” to kill anyone, anywhere, perceived to be a potential threat.
In the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, here are the uncontested facts:
After the illegal assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki by the CIA, a CIA drone also killed Anwar al-Awlaki's son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also a U.S. citizen. There has never been any claim by anyone that Abdulrahman al-Awlaki had anything to do with al-Qaeda. He was a 16-year-old boy who hadn't seen his father in two years, eating dinner by an open fire along the side of a road when an American drone came out of the sky and fired the missiles that killed him and his companions. A spokesman for Obama justified the murder of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in this exchange with reporter Sierra Adamson:
Adamson: ...It's an American citizen that is being targeted without due process, without trial. And, he's underage. He's a minor.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don't think becoming an al-Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.
Murdering a 16-year-old boy is justified because of alleged crimes of his father! Such is the depraved morality of those who rule this country. As the band "War" put it: "I hear you're working for the CIA, they wouldn't have you in the Mafia."
In response to legal challenges by the New York Times, the ACLU, and in relation to infighting within the ruling class over how (not whether) to maintain the U.S. empire while maintaining the credibility of its vaunted "freedom and democracy," Barack Obama's White House authorized the release of the memo providing legal cover for the murder of Anwar al-Awlaki.
The U.S. has declared its right to launch drone attacks around the world in other countries, including against forces who are not in conflict with the U.S. itself, without regard to how many innocent civilians they kill. (See "Murder by Drone.") But the Justice Department memo had to break new (il)legal ground because it is explicitly illegal for a U.S. citizen to kill another U.S. citizen outside the United States under the Murder of United States Nationals Act of 1991.
In the George W. Bush era, the White House assigned its "legal" team that included John Yoo to concoct justifications for torture. Obama's team also started from an illegal objective and pieced together a rationale to justify it. In this case, murder.
That justification is both contorted and dangerous.
The New York Times called the legal arguments in the memo "a slapdash pastiche of legal theories—some based on obscure interpretations of British and Israeli law—that was clearly tailored to the desired result." (A "pastiche" is a hodgepodge. The editorial appeared June 23).
Among the twisted legal rationales in the memo is an extensive argument that violating laws is not a crime if carried out in the process of executing "public authority." The memo invokes examples like speeding laws not being applicable to police in chases, or to fire trucks on their way to a fire. Invoking "public authority" in this way is such an absurdly broad interpretation that it would justify anything, anywhere—and that is exactly the point of the memo.
And, in fact, the U.S. launched an assassination attempt on Anwar al-Awlaki in December 2009, even before the White House came up with a supposed legal cover for this attempt. So the Justice Department memo was, in effect, an after-the-fact legal cover for a previous illegal assassination attempt.
But the memo is not just bullshit, it is much worse.
The memo invokes the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) law, passed three days after 9/11, to a level of trumping any supposed civil liberties. The AUMF authorizes the President of the United States to deploy "United States Armed Forces" in order "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
Two things to be said on that:
The Justice Department memo cites supposed evidence against Anwar al-Awlaki, but that "evidence" has been redacted (blacked out) in the version of the memo released to the public. To quote from the memo: "We need not attempt here to identify the minimum conditions that might establish a public authority justification for that operation."
Legal analyst Kevin Jon Heller has been a critic of the administration's justification for the killing of al-Awlaki. Before the (redacted) memo was made public, he wrote "[W]e need to constantly remind people that the criminal law is not optional, not something that can be cast aside every time the government decides it is too limiting." And on release of the memo he wrote, "[L]et's call killing al-Awlaki what it still is, even after the memo—murder."
The memo acknowledges (only to dismiss) the fact that international law—the Geneva Conventions—prohibits "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds," with respect to persons "taking no active part in the hostilities" in a war.
But for the authors of the memo, and those for whom they are contorting the law, such rules don't suit the needs of the empire right now. A major element of the memo involves justifying the doctrine of the rulers of the U.S. that "war" is anything they say it is, and that "military combatants" are anyone, anywhere in the world who they target.
The memo acknowledges that Yemen, where Anwar al-Awlaki was assassinated, is "far from the most active theater of combat between the United States and al-Qaida." And the authors feel compelled to acknowledge what has been conventional legal theory (which the memo describes as the views of "some commentators") that "States are permitted to attack only civilians who directly participate in hostilities" (page 24)."
But the memo dismisses this basic concept of international law: "[W]e do not think this is the proper understanding of the laws of war in a non-international armed conflict." In other words, the White House is claiming that borders and theaters of war are irrelevant in defining where someone can be killed. The memo repeatedly uses wording that conflates and interchangeably refers to armed forces actually engaged in military conflict with "members of an enemy organization" (emphasis added). This erasing of the distinction between armed forces engaged in warfare against the U.S. on the one hand, and non-military, civilian activity by someone who the U.S. decrees is part of an enemy organization has extremely ominous implications.
The rulers of the U.S. are confronting challenges from forces who oppose them who engage in unconventional forms of combat. Those actions include a whole range of tactics that are in line with the non-revolutionary and reactionary agendas of these forces. Those are emphatically not tactics that genuinely revolutionary forces would use!
But a) the crimes carried out by, or even imagined by these forces are dwarfed by those of the U.S. empire, which is built on genocidal slaughter from Hiroshima to Indonesia to Guatemala; and b) in taking on these threats, the rulers of the U.S. are essentially justifying the widest range of their own current and future war crimes, against all kinds of forces who express views in opposition to the crimes of the U.S. ruling class.
I mentioned in the opening of this letter that the unprecedented declaration of the right—and need—to kill anyone anywhere is not an indication that the rulers of this country have things under control. Just the opposite. Which emphasizes the urgency of bringing forward the real revolutionary alternative.
It's critical that people speak up and oppose the whole logic and immorality of the Obama assassination memo. And, be made aware of, engage with, and take up a real alternative: The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) renounces aggression around the world for empire. And it guarantees by far the greatest protection for dissent and civil liberties in human history, in the context of unleashing all positive factors to get to a world beyond exploitation and oppression of any kind.
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