Revolution#120, February 17, 2008
MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY
PART 2: EVERYTHING WE’RE DOING IS ABOUT REVOLUTION (CONTINUED)
Repolarization for Revolution:
A Strategic Orientation
Editors’ Note: The following is the eighth and final installment in Part 2 of a series of excerpts from a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, last year (2007). This has been edited for publication and footnotes have been added. These excerpts are being published in two parts. Part 1 is available in its entirety, as one document, online at revcom.us, and has been serialized in (the print version of) Revolution (see issues #105, Oct. 21; #106, Oct. 28; #107, Nov. 4; #108, Nov. 11; #109, Nov. 18; #110, Nov. 25; #111, Dec. 9; and #112, Dec. 16, 2007). Part 2 is also available, as one document, at revcom.us.
Repolarization for Revolution:
A Strategic Orientation
In the context of everything that has been said so far, I want to emphasize the continuing importance of grasping and applying the strategic orientation of the United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat. It is in relation to this strategic orientation that the principle of the “two maximizings,” which was spoken to earlier, takes on real importance.1 And within this dynamic—or dialectical relation—of the “two maximizings,” there is the particular and decisive importance of bringing forward basic masses as conscious and active partisans of proletarian revolution and communism—or, in other words, as emancipators of humanity.
Religion and repolarization—
the complexity of reality
In carrying forward and applying the strategic orientation of United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat, we have to keep in mind a point that also has been emphasized repeatedly: the complex nature and features of reality. You cannot have a reductionist or simplistic approach to reality. Here, to illustrate the point, I want to invoke the analogy of a map with many different layers, with a different coloring for each layer, expressing different phenomena (population centers, parks, bodies of water, and so on). This is a useful metaphor or analogy to help understand the complicated and variegated nature of the reality that we’re dealing with and are working to transform.
As one illustration of the basic point, I have been thinking about why it is that (to put it this way) “Chris Hedges is better than Christopher Hitchens.” Recently, I’ve read accounts of debates that have been held between the two of them. Hitchens, it seems, is to a certain degree having an insidious effect because, to a lot of enlightened, thinking people—including people with many progressive sentiments—he sounds good because he cuts through this contradiction (as does Sam Harris2 in his own way) of people trying to make religion something other than what it is, to “reinvent” it into more palatable terms. But Hitchens (and Harris as well) does this all in the service of a thoroughly reactionary objective: defending the core program of the Bush regime, at least in its international dimension, with its “war on terror.”
Hitchens, from everything I can tell, really is an atheist, but he is an atheist in the service of imperialism. As an extension of his worldview, and in the service of his political objectives, he applies an extremely mechanical and reductionist approach which (as expressed in his book God is Not Great) reduces many of the profound and complex conflicts in the world to simply religious terms, ignoring or (conceptually) obliterating the most profound and decisive divisions in the world, such as those between imperialism and oppressed nations, as well as between classes, thereby leading away from a real understanding of the underlying dynamics and driving contradictions in all this.
So here is an example of how we can’t have a crude and simplistic approach to reality. I’ve read Hitchens’ book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and there’s much that you have to agree with in it. I laughed out loud a number of times: There is a lot of puncturing of religion—there’s also some nonsense, and worse, but there’s a lot of good puncturing of religion. There’s a lot of exposure of what religion leads to and the real harm it does in the world, and what’s wrong with the whole religious outlook. One can even identify, up to a certain point, with his call for a new Enlightenment, at the end of the book. But, again, all this is in the service of something which is itself very poisonous.
With regard to Chris Hedges’ American Fascists, it is very stimulating and at the same time often frustrating to read this book. It contains a lot of valuable insight—in the form of both analysis and anecdotal reporting—into the phenomenon of Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. and those who are drawn to it. And this book stands out, in a good way, in identifying the right-wing Christian fundamentalists as what they are—fascists—and opposing the idea of conciliating with them, insisting that on the contrary you have to stand up to and struggle against this, with an understanding of what people in this fundamentalist movement are really being organized around, what this really represents, what it’s really aiming to do and will try to implement if and when it can seize on an opening to do so—in the context of some major social crisis. And Hedges’ political positions are much, much better than Hitchens’. There are many things to unite with, in regard to Chris Hedges and what he is doing in the world. Just look at the article he co-authored recently in The Nation,3 which exposes, through stories recounted by U.S. soldiers (or former soldiers) themselves, the atrocities being committed by the U.S. occupying forces in Iraq. On balance, he is doing much more good in the world than harm—and he’s certainly doing a lot more good than Christopher Hitchens (or Sam Harris).
And yet, strictly on the question of religion, as such, if you put the two positions up against each other, Hitchens’ is better. Sam Harris’ position is better. Sam Harris, in Letter to a Christian Nation, says straightforwardly: Both the fundamentalists and I agree that the meaning of the Bible is what the Bible says it is, that the Bible means what it says. It’s either true or it’s not true. Quit trying to make it say something else than what it clearly says or mean something else than what it clearly means.
Well, one can only agree with that. And I have to say that I chuckled in reading that book, too—and you cannot help “licking your chops” at certain points in appreciation of the way that some of this religious nonsense (and worse) is being ripped to shreds, in sometimes creative ways, by Harris.
But in the final analysis, Chris Hedges is a lot better than Harris and definitely a lot better than Christopher Hitchens: If you look at the overall effect of what they are saying and doing, and how it is influencing people, there is no question that what Hedges is doing, even with its very real shortcomings—including its effort to “salvage religion,” and Christianity in particular, through the approach of “reinterpreting” it into something other than what it really says and really is—is much better than Hitchens, is in fact on the other side of the “political divide” from Hitchens, who is lined up squarely with—and is aggressively wielding whatever talents and skills he has to attack those who oppose—what is being done by the Bush regime and the imperialists.
But more than that, in the final analysis what is really needed out of all this is a communist approach—which can incorporate, and recast, as part of a different synthesis, the positive aspects of what is represented by people like Chris Hedges; which can help to bring forward the best in people who do have a basically good stand, while rejecting and struggling against what would lead in the wrong direction; and which can expose what is wrong—and indeed what is insidious—in the position of people like Hitchens.
Christian fundamentalism, the needs of the ruling class, and repolarizing for revolution
In this light, before concluding, I want to briefly return to the question of Christian Fascism—the “cohering hard core” role of this force in U.S. society. I’ve spoken already, in a certain dimension, to the particularity of why this is needed by the ruling class now, given its necessity. If you think about what was said earlier, in terms of the extreme parasitism and individualism—and, yes, infantilization—and the extreme levels of self-indulgence that are promoted in the U.S. especially at this time,4 and you look at that in relation (and in real ways now in sharp contradiction) not only to the needs of the ruling class in general but more specifically to the necessity that they have brought into being—for themselves as well as for others —through what has become a real debacle in Iraq, in the context of their grander designs, you can see why there is a need, on their part, to have at the ready, and continually to “prime,” this kind of hard core force which is exerting an increasing influence now but is also poised to exert a qualitatively greater influence if the need arises and is recognized by powerful enough sections of the ruling class. This is the role of Christian Fascist forces in the U.S. today and looking to the future (from the point of view of the ruling class, and a certain section of that ruling class in particular, which has been grouped in and around the Bush regime).
Now, it is true—and this is a point I have emphasized before5 —that this Christian Fascism is one element in the context of the overall program of the forces at the core of power now in the ruling class. But I have noticed certain tendencies, including within the ranks of our Party, to act as if the Christian Fascists are the whole, or the essence, of what we are up against. Instead of situating this within the context of the capitalist-imperialist system and its ruling class as a whole—and in that context calling attention to the particular and important role of the Christian Fascists—there has been a phenomenon (and here again I’m speaking not just about others, outside our Party, but more specifically about tendencies within our Party) of treating the Christian Fascists as though they were ruling the country. However, that was never the point of this analysis—and that does not conform with reality. But it conforms to an inclination to appeal to people on the basis of bourgeois-democratic illusions and prejudices—and this is an easy thing to fall into because, frankly, it enables you to seek unity with people on the basis of simply defending and preserving bourgeois democracy, if you want to get right down to it. If the enemy is Christian Fascism and not a whole system—if that’s your strategic view in essence—then you’re going to go in the direction of upholding and tailing bourgeois democracy.
The point of our Party’s analysis was never that Christian Fascists are now ruling the country, in the sense that a Christian Fascist program and force is what is now defining the essence of bourgeois rule in this society. The correct understanding and approach has to do with what this Christian Fascist phenomenon poses in relation to the sharpening contradictions in society and the world, in the context of larger forces and of an overall program, within the Bush regime itself and in the framework of the system and the ruling class as a whole. For example, the point has been made that, while the Christian Fascists have lent a lot of support to the heightened international marauding of the U.S., this has been driven more by the “neo-conservative” forces in and around the Bush regime than by the Christian Fascists. This is another illustration of the complexity and “multi-textured” nature of reality (the multi-layered and multi-colored map, to invoke that metaphor again).
Revolution: stereotypes, stage managers and the living process
But there is a definite role for the Christian Fascist forces—now, and potentially in an even larger sense, if things develop in a certain way—as a “cohering hard core force” for the system and the ruling class. And, yes, in a larger overall “mix” this could be something that plays a kind of “stage manager” role in terms of sharpening crisis in society and even ripening the conditions for revolution (“stage manager” is a formulation used by Lenin in speaking of the role of World War 1 in relation to the Russian revolution of 1917). In the context of the sharpening of contradictions overall—within the U.S., on an international level, and in the mutual interpenetration and influence of these dimensions—the aims and the actions of the Christian Fascists could call the legitimacy of bourgeois rule into question—or could play a key part in bringing the question of the legitimacy of bourgeois rule overall much more forcefully onto the political agenda—for much, much broader sections of society. It could play that role. That’s what we have said—and have given a certain emphasis to. That is all that is correct to say because, as Mao emphasized, Marxists are not fortune tellers.
Christian Fascism is definitely an important element within a larger “mix”—let’s understand that. And, as part of that larger “mix,” it could play a “stage manager” role in relation to revolution. But it is also very important to emphasize something that was spoken to in “Two Great Humps,”6 where there is not only discussion of “hastening while awaiting” a revolutionary situation, but also—and here is another application of the importance of not being bound by conventions, superstitions and stereotypes—there is an emphasis on not erecting artificial barriers to revolution. And this means not doing so in the manner of “formulaic” thinking that declares, “Here’s the way revolution will come about and become possible: The Christian Fascists will force out other sections of the ruling class, they’ll take over the government and institute theocratic rule, and then all the bourgeois democrats will rally to our side and we can make revolution.” With that kind of orientation and mentality, if things don’t fall out neatly like that—which they are very unlikely to do—then, of course, revolution will be totally off the map and out of consideration, for who knows how long.
That kind of wooden thinking amounts to taking something like the analysis of the potential (or possible) “stage manager” role of Christian Fascism and turning that grotesquely into its opposite. It amounts, at least objectively, to doing what “Two Great Humps” insists we should not do—namely, erecting artificial barriers to revolution, including in the form of stereotyped and “scholasticist” formulas.
Revolution arises out of a complex interplay of contradictions, within the particular country and internationally, and the interpenetration between those levels or dimensions. Yes, there are certain things and certain patterns we can identify. Yes, the role of Christian Fascism is a very important element in the “mix” right now. And, yes, it could play a “stage manager” role. Yes, there is something very real in the analogy between what is going on now and the period before the Civil War in the U.S., in the mid-19th century. Speaking in broad terms, there is a point to the analogy to a “coming civil war.” But this has to be understood in living dialectical terms, and in materialist terms. Not with a dry, dead, uninspiring religious and dogmatic approach.
What really is involved, and what we really have to grasp firmly and apply consistently, is a materialist and dialectical understanding of the relation between the objective and subjective factors, with all the complexity involved in this, with all the interpenetration of the different layers of that “multi-textured” reality.
When we identify certain phenomena or certain patterns (such as those having to do with the role of Christian Fascism in the U.S. in this period) as being of real significance, and potentially great significance, it is with that kind of method and that kind of approach—as part of gaining a scientific understanding of reality, to serve to hasten as much as we can the development of things toward a revolutionary situation, and to contribute to a more favorable repolarization in relation to the strategic goal of revolution. This means consistently “straining against the limits” imposed by the objective situation, not in order to fulfill a stereotype but in order to transform the objective conditions that we are confronting (to transform necessity) as much as possible, at every point, all in order to contribute to bringing about—and to preparing growing numbers of the masses and the Party for—the eventual ripening of a revolutionary situation and the emergence of a revolutionary people, in the millions and millions, conscious of the need for revolutionary change, determined to fight for it, and oriented and able to seize on the revolutionary opening when it finally occurs.
Everything we do has to be informed and infused with this kind of understanding and this kind of approach—this kind of materialism and this kind of dialectics. Everything we do is, and must be, about revolution.
In concluding, let me go back to the title of this talk. What is it we are called on to be—what is it we are called on to bring forward—in increasing numbers and with increasingly conscious initiative? Makers of revolution. Emancipators of humanity.
1. “Two maximizings” was discussed in an earlier installment in this series, “Overcoming Obstacles and Limitations, ‘Mobilizing All Positive Factors,’” in Revolution issue #117, January 27, 2008. [back]
2. Chris Hedges is the author of, among other works, the recent book American Fascists, The Christian Right And The War on Terror ; Christopher Hitchens’ latest book, God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything, is discussed here by Bob Avakian; Sam Harris has written two recent books relating to the subject being discussed here, Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. For a further discussion by Bob Avakian of religion and religious fundamentalism —and refutation of the arguments of people like Harris and Hitchens—see “Religious Fundamentalism, Imperialism and `The War on Terror’” and “Why Is Religious Fundamentalism Growing in Today’s World—And What Is the Real Alternative?”—excerpts from the forthcoming book (to be published in the spring of 2008 by Insight Press) AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, in Revolution #103, October 7, 2007 and #104, October 14, 2007. [back]
3. “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness,” by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, The Nation, July 30, 2007. [back]
4. In this talk, the discussion of parasitism, individualism, infantilization, and self-indulgence is found in an earlier installment in this series, “Heightened Parasitism and the ‘Two Outmodeds,’” in Revolution issue #118, February 3, 2008. [back]
5. See, for example, The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era, a Collection of Articles by Bob Avakian, (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2005). [back]
6. The full title of the talk is Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World. Excerpts from this talk appeared in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper (now Revolution ) and are available online at revcom.us. The series “On Proletarian Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship—A Radically Different View of Leading Society” appeared in RW #1214 through 1226 (Oct. 5, 2003-Jan. 25, 2004). The series “Getting Over the Hump” appeared in RW #927, 930, 932, and 936-940 (Oct. 12, Nov. 2, Nov. 16, and Dec. 14, 1997 through Jan. 18, 1998). Two additional excerpts from this talk are “Materialism and Romanticism: Can We Do Without Myth?” in RW #1211 (Aug. 24, 2003) and “Re-reading George Jackson” in RW #968 (Aug. 9, 1998). All of these articles can be found online at revcom.us. [back]
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