Revolution#123, March 16, 2008

Revolution's response appears below this correspondence.

Letter from Reader:

Revolutionaries Should Support Bourgeois Democracy Over Islamism, and Support Anyone Who Opposes Genocide

Revolution received this letter from a prisoner:

I would like to receive the Revolution paper if one can be spared for a poor prisoner? Having said that I would [like] to touch on a number of issues that I feel aren’t analyzed correctly by the U.S. Left. I do so briefly but would like your opinion without undue rhetoric please.

My first concern is where we as socialists and communists should stand in relation to so-called “Islamist” states and the pursuit of these through the use of terrorist tactics. As I ask you this question, I’m reminded of how Marx viewed religion. And ask you to please make no attempt to sugarcoat what is essentially an oppressive, reactionary ideology which by everything it teaches (with few exceptions) stands in the way of progress.

While the Revolution is honest enough to say Islamists are reactionary, I still get a sense that you prefer Islamic rule in places like Afghanistan, Somalia or the Sudan if it means the alternative is a war by the West (the U.S., Britain, etc.) to bring democracy to these countries.

Given the ruthless way in which this would oppress women and end many civil rights for people in general, I question how the Left could possibly take such a position. As flawed as bourgeois democracy is, I’d much rather live here than any Islamist society. And it’s doubtful that any one would say we have less freedom or rights than so called Muslim nations do.

Be that as it may, I don’t see the left making the distinction in this regard clear in dealing with Islamist struggles or their neo-fascist strategy around the world.

By contrast however even the Revolution does not hesitate to run stories which characterize the Christians in the U.S. as “fascist theocrats” (see Revolution January 7, 2007 page 4, “Scientists Debate Science and Religion”) and do so despite the fact that the religious right in the U.S. isn’t using any of the violence employed by fascists in the Islamist world. Car bombs, suicide bombs, killing in mass of religious rivals or women who don’t wear veils, etc.

In my view at least one can be against bourgeois democracy yet prefer it over a neo-fascist Islamist form of government. This of course doesn’t mean you don’t want to end it at some point to implement a proletarian one-party state. On the contrary, it merely means one represents progress over the other, and you’re smart enough to know it.

I personally felt relieved when the U.S. overthrew the Taliban and Al Qaeda. I would have felt the same no matter who accomplished that feat, and my reasons for saying so are listed above.

What I do not understand is how the Left could feel any different knowing it restored some freedom and liberty to Afghan women and others in general.

We can go on and on about oil and world domination, etc. But one need not condone the latter as exploitation of a country’s resources by the U.S., Russia, China, etc. to advocate an end to Islamic rule by neo-fascists.

I wanted to go on to address the issue of genocide and how it’s dealt with by the left. But I’m a little tired right now. Briefly, however, I think as a matter of principle that any revolutionary should support anyone who opposes it. I’d even go so far as to say that the U.S. government should have intervened to stop the slaughter in Rwanda or other countries such as the Sudan (Darfur).

When the lives of hundreds of thousands or even millions are at risk, I could care less about economic systems or political characterizations (bourgeois democracy, etc.). What’s vitally important and was completely disregarded by everyone in W.W. II is that we prevent genocide based upon race, religion or ethnic persuasion. At times I can see how this would ally us on the left with the government, and at other times pit us squarely against it.

Nevertheless in cases like Darfur, etc. I don’t see the Left taking a principled stand on such issues. All I read about is U.S. or British war moves in a country, or how they seek to exploit it, etc.

All that’s fine but what about the fucking genocide people? If these countries intervene to end that where do you stand? With the people committing the genocide or those who want to stop it?

In closing I should add that your position on Iran baffles me. I remember when the Revolutionary Worker [former name of Revolution—eds.] was banned in Iran, and its distribution centers shut down by the Islamist clerics. (The paper ran stories with pictures of the “Revolutionary guards” trashing its newsstands.)

How the hell could you possibly care if that country’s government is topped or replaced by a democracy? At least under a democracy you’d be able to peddle your paper and express opposition to neo-fascists under Islam!

If you want to print this along with a response in the Revolution—feel free.


Sincerely, XX


Imperialist Intervention is the Problem, Not the Solution

by a Revolution writing group

In responding, we’ll focus on two connected and basic arguments made in the letter: 1) That “As flawed as bourgeois democracy is,” it is better than life in an Islamist country; and 2) At times, “the left” should support U.S. invasions, for example in Afghanistan or Darfur.

 In speaking to this, we need to take a serious and honest look at what bourgeois democracy in the United States is really all about. And, related to that, we need to really understand and deal with what kind of world is enforced by U.S. invasions around the world.

The Essence of U.S. Democracy

The letter writer argues that, “As flawed as bourgeois democracy is, I’d much rather live here than any Islamist society.”

But the operative word in “bourgeois democracy” is bourgeois. Democracy is the form through which the bourgeoisie exercises dictatorship over everyone else. That is because, in any society, the political setup will only function if it serves the economic system it sits on top of.

This capitalist-imperialist system is built on exploitation of the people of the whole world. If the political system got in the way of that process, the whole system would break down. What if, for example, “the people decided” they didn’t want to invade a country to enforce the subordination of that country to imperialism? The whole world order that the United States sits on top of would unravel in a way that would be intolerable to the ongoing functioning of imperialist exploitation. We saw this bourgeois democracy in operation with the Iraq war: Millions here and around the world went into the streets to oppose the invasion of Iraq, but they were ignored, suppressed, and overruled because the bourgeois ruling class deemed that invasion to be in the essential interests of their empire.

The real nature of bourgeois democracy is demonstrated whenever there is any real challenge to the whole exploitive and oppressive setup. During the 1960s, for example, undercover government agents, false criminal charges, and outright murder were used to suppress the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, and other radicals and revolutionaries. And today, the president of the United States can put anyone behind bars without charges or anything close to a credible trial. If you step out of line, you find that American bourgeois democracy has a very short leash. Again, the essence of bourgeois democracy is that it is a form of dictatorship, by which the ruling capitalist-imperialist class rules over people, and violently imposes that rule.

The “right to gripe”—such as it is today—in the United States is possible because the rulers of this country, normally, oversee a relatively stable society based on plundering the world. And that relationship is enforced with its troops and nukes.

What the U.S. Brings to the World

Whether their target has been a rival empire, an oppositional regime, or a popular liberation movement, often as not the U.S. imperialists have wrapped their invasions, coups, occupations, and torture chambers in the banner of “freedom,” “human rights,” and/or “democracy.” But behind such rhetoric, these invasions have been about neo-colonial domination and plunder. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. demonstrated “support” for the Filipino people’s liberation struggle against their Spanish colonizers by conquering the Philippines for themselves—using water torture, massacres, and concentration camps, and leaving one million Filipinos dead.

The writer argues, “When the lives of hundreds of thousands or even millions are at risk, I could care less about economic systems or political characterizations (bourgeois democracy, etc.).” But why are those hundreds of thousands or millions of lives at risk? What is the source of their suffering?  And how do we put an end to it? That suffering—which is real!—cannot be stopped without understanding and acting on the fact that it is rooted in the economic systems people live under.

People’s conditions do not exist apart from, and are ultimately determined by, the economic system they live in. Relations between people arise on the foundation of an economic system. Economic systems mean something, and imperialism means vicious superexploitation. The economies of countries dominated by imperialism are twisted and warped so that entire nations can be ground up to feed imperialism’s insatiable hunger for profit. That process is backed up by U.S. military action—whether in the form of mercenary armies, client dictators, or  direct U.S. military intervention. And the capitalist-imperialist economic system gets reflected in, and reinforced by, ideas, customs, and so on—like the oppression of women and the promotion of religion. 

When people do rebel against oppression, or even try to implement reforms that do not conform to the interests of imperialism—what happens? History is full of blood-soaked U.S. operations to crush forces that present obstacles to U.S. exploitation. To take just one example: The nationalist Mossadegh government in Iran tried to nationalize foreign oil companies in the early 1950s. It was overthrown by the CIA and replaced by the brutal dictatorship of the Shah of Iran in 1953. The U.S.-backed Shah tortured and executed many revolutionaries. Yes, communists, their organizations, and even their ideas (including, as the reader notes, distribution of this newspaper) have been viciously suppressed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. But it was also the case that revolutionary communists were tortured and killed under the U.S.-backed Shah.

This is a grotesquely lopsided world, where a handful of advanced imperialists control, dominate, and live off poor and oppressed countries in the Third World. The U.S. is currently trying to hammer into place its unchallengeable superpower status on top of all this. Anything that strengthens U.S. domination in one country, where the U.S. is able to invade, wage war on, intervene, etc. only strengthens its position overall in the world.

The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism

In this context, how do we understand the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and Jihadist movements in the world today? And where do we line up when U.S. imperialism invades and occupies countries, claiming to bring “liberation” to people who are the victims of repressive Islamic fundamentalism?

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism is in part a direct consequence of the workings of U.S. imperialism. Imperialism is tearing up the status quo in the Middle East in ways that are very disruptive to people’s lives. Uprooting people from the land—so-called modernization—has driven massive migration to the cities. With that, traditional ways that people have lived for thousands of years are broken down. As it tears up traditional social relations, imperialism allies with and uses reactionary feudal class forces to maintain its control over oppressed nations. Thus, even as it imposes “modernization,” even where that includes a thin layer of bourgeois democracy, at the same time imperialism reinforces oppressive feudal tribal structures, feudal economic relations in the countryside, and backward feudal customs (including the severe oppression of women).

U.S. imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism oppose each other, but they strengthen each other at the same time. The more that U.S. imperialism bombs villages, supports Israeli assaults on the Palestinians and Lebanon, and occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, the more people tend to rally around these reactionary Islamic fundamentalist forces. These forces rail against the massive dislocations of people and their culture. They claim that the answer to all the suffering imperialism brings is to return to and strengthen fundamentalist, traditional ways. Those are the very traditional ways (oppressive feudal relations) that the letter writer abhors. The Islamic fundamentalists are indeed a dead-end “alternative” to imperialism. So, we do not “prefer” either Islamic fundamentalist rule or U.S. imperialist rule in countries like Afghanistan. In fact, when you support one against the other, you contribute to the whole terrible situation where too many people see McWorld and Jihad as the only possible “alternatives.” And you end up strengthening the hand of both.

A Case In Point: What the U.S. Has Brought to Afghanistan

The letter writer says that the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 “restored some freedom and liberty to Afghan women and others in general.”

Let’s step back a moment: U.S. intervention in Afghanistan decades ago helped plunge Afghani women into the Taliban’s fundamentalist hell in the first place. Even before the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion into Afghanistan, the U.S. financed and supported the most reactionary theocratic forces in Afghanistan. For their own reasons, the Soviets (at the time an imperialist power in worldwide contention with the U.S.) and their so-called “Marxist” client regime promoted land distribution and a certain amount of rights for women. Meanwhile, pro-U.S. theocrats like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar won notoriety for throwing acid in the faces of uncovered women. These U.S.-backed forces fought the Soviets, but they also attacked revolutionary opposition to the Soviet occupation—including killing Afghan Maoists. The U.S. funneled billions to these so-called “freedom fighters” in a war that left a million Afghanis dead and eventually led to the ascension of the extreme fundamentalist Taliban after the defeat of the Soviet occupiers.

And what about now? Under U.S. occupation, Afghanistan’s Islamic Republic combines Islamic law with some trappings of bourgeois democracy. Women can go to work—yet in much of the country, they are still compelled to cover themselves completely. Women are “free” to vote and be elected—but if they speak out too much, also “free” to be expelled from parliament by the drug lords and fundamentalist warlords who dominate the government. Women are still imprisoned and even stoned to death for adultery, based on the say-so of their husbands or other men. Women face a much greater risk of rape and kidnapping now than before. Prostitution has increased tremendously, and forced marriage remains the standard. Increasing numbers of women are seeing suicide as the only choice. In Afghanistan, the U.S. occupation has not only not meant liberation, but the way in which it has ruled and oppressed the people has given great impetus to the Islamic fundamentalist forces who oppose it.

U.S. Intervention Makes Things Worse for People

 Some people who might agree with much or all of what we have written so far argue that perhaps, somewhere, somehow, in the midst of some terrible situation like Darfur, that a U.S. imperialist military invasion would help people.

If the U.S. invaded Darfur, or anywhere else, under the pretext of stopping genocide, the result would be to make things worse there—and even more fundamentally to strengthen their chokehold on the people of the world.

U.S. imperialism (including through the UN) has a long record of using intervention in the name of humanitarianism to tighten the chains of oppression in oppressed nations. For example, in 2004, U.S. Marines supposedly invaded Haiti for humanitarian reasons. There was a “humanitarian crisis” in Haiti. But first of all, that crisis was rooted in the imperialist oppression of the country. And then, what did the Marines do? They kidnapped and exiled the elected President, Jean Bertrand Aristide, who the U.S. saw as an obstacle to efficient imperialist plunder. And they have themselves committed massacres, blasting away at Haitian people the way U.S. troops do on the streets of Baghdad.

The terrible slaughters that have erupted over the past years in Africa and elsewhere are direct and indirect products of imperialism. Colonialism and imperialism came to Africa in the form of some of the most horrific slaughters and genocide in human history. Belgium, for example, sucked over a billion dollars out of the Congo, killing as many as eight to ten million Africans. Today, the “civil wars” and massacres in Africa are shaped by, and in many cases directly serving, contention between various imperialist powers and companies over control of natural resources like diamonds, oil, or strategic minerals. The armed forces carrying out these slaughters get their arms from, are backed by, and in the service of one capitalist or another. In other cases, episodes of terrible killing in Africa are related to the legacy of colonialism, and present-day neocolonialism, and the ways that imperialist powers manipulate people in divide-and-rule schemes.

Even beyond the immediate effects of a U.S. incursion into any particular country, in an overall and fundamental way such intervention makes things worse for people of the world. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is a case in point. Remember, this too was sold (along with the lies about WMDs) as a “humanitarian mission” to rescue people from an oppressive dictator. People in Iraq are now suffering in horrible ways under the U.S. occupation that “liberated” them. And, the U.S. occupation of Iraq serves the preservation and expansion of U.S. domination of the region and the world.

A Real Liberating Way Forward

Of all the monumental problems that people living in the oppressed nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America face, the most crucial one is the lack of political power to bring about the necessary radical changes in the economic and social relations. That certainly won’t be solved by adding more imperialist poison to the wounds—but it can change with a New Democratic Revolution.

A New Democratic Revolution—where a communist party leads the proletariat and a broad alliance of oppressed classes to take power—makes it possible for people in the Third World to take the first great step to address and solve the pressing needs they face. With that power comes the ability to rip control of the economy out of the hands of the imperialists. With that power, rural peasants can be liberated from semi-feudal relations, through the seizure and redistribution of land that is controlled by big landowners and capitalists tied to the imperialist dominators. New Democratic Revolution can begin to uproot the soil underlying ethnic divisions that have been manipulated by imperialism and their lackeys. Oppression of women can finally be shattered because the feudal forces and their imperialist patrons, who maintained social control with these relations, will no longer hold power. And speaking of Marx’s point about religion’s chains, the New Democratic Revolution will unleash struggle to overthrow those chains as well.

The goal of a New Democratic Revolution is to continue on to socialism as part of the global struggle against all forms of oppression and exploitation and ultimately a communist world.


The people of the world do not need for people in this country (much less the revolutionaries!) to demand or be a cheering section for the U.S. imposing its will around the world. What they need is to see a much more visible, broad, and powerful movement of political resistance to the crimes being committed by “our” government, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere. And, we need to put our efforts towards building a revolutionary movement in this country, not helping “our” rulers further extend their power.

The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism.

Bob Avakian

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond