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Quotes from
Bringing Forward Another Way,
by Bob Avakian

 

Editors’ Note: In 2007, revcom published Bringing Forward Another Way, a talk from Bob Avakian going into the international situation, the conflict between imperialism (especially U.S. imperialism) and Islamic fundamentalism, and important questions of strategy, method, epistemology and morality. This talk is well worth going back to in the current crisis. A member of the National Get Organized for an ACTUAL Revolution Tour selected some of the following quotes for people to get a sense of this talk. Some of these quotes were reprinted in BAsics.

What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade [increasingly globalized western imperialism] on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these “outmodeds,” you end up strengthening both.

While this is a very important formulation and is crucial to understanding much of the dynamics driving things in the world in this period, at the same time we do have to be clear about which of these “historically outmodeds” has done the greater damage and poses the greater threat to humanity: It is the historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system, and in particular the U.S. imperialists.

BAsics 1:28

One thing we should really understand—and I believe this is a slogan, or formulation, that could and should be popularized: If you look at what they did in Iraq, the way they justified it and what’s happened there, you can capture a lot of this in the formulation They lied to us and deceived themselves. This is a big part of what happened. They actually believed their own propaganda. The way they were seeing the world—they really thought that’s the way the world is. They really thought they could do what that Bush administration functionary said to Ron Suskind—that they could just continue to create their own reality on the ground, as if no other factors, and no other people, have anything to do with what reality is and how it develops.

As I was listening to one of these imperialist spokespeople on the media recently, I couldn’t help blurting out: “They don’t understand how their own system works.” This is important to grasp. They don’t understand what the actual nature of U.S. society is and what it rests on fundamentally.

The interests, objectives, and grand designs of the imperialists are not our interests—they are not the interests of the great majority of people in the U.S. nor of the overwhelming majority of people in the world as a whole. And the difficulties the imperialists have gotten themselves into in pursuit of these interests must be seen, and responded to, not from the point of view of the imperialists and their interests, but from the point of view of the great majority of humanity and the basic and urgent need of humanity for a different and better world, for another way.

BAsics 3:8

But their problem is, as we are seeing, that whether it’s Afghanistan or Iraq, these imperialists are good at invading countries and knocking over regimes, but then when they find themselves in the position of occupying the country and they have a population that gets aroused against them, it becomes a different dynamic, and it is not so easy for them. It is not so easy for them to maintain “order” and to impose the changes they want to impose in accordance with their interests. It is not so easy to impose this “from the top down”—which is the only way imperialist occupiers can impose changes.

Besides the moral bankruptcy of seeking to avoid chaos for yourself and the things that more immediately affect you, while many, many others are caught up in this and are suffering horribly—besides that whole moral dimension, which I will return to later, because it is in fact something that needs to be emphasized and joined with people—there is the reality that, even those now occupying more privileged enclaves in the imperialist countries and in other parts of the world will not be able to avoid being affected by great upheaval and chaos in the period ahead. The essential question is not whether there will be chaos or no chaos, or whether it will end up affecting people everywhere, in one way or another. The question is: What will this all lead to, what will come out of it, what kind of world will emerge out of all this?

To put it in basic terms, Israel is a colonial-settler state which was imposed on the region of the Middle East, at the cost of great suffering for the Palestinian people (and the people of the region more broadly). Israel could not have come into being without the backing of imperialism, and it acts not only in its own interests but as an armed garrison and instrument of enforcement for U.S. imperialism, which supplies the Israeli state with aid, and in particular military aid, to the tune of billions of dollars every year.

As a matter of general principle, and specifically sitting in this imperialist country, we have a particular responsibility to oppose U.S. imperialism, our “own” ruling class, and what it is doing in the world. But, at the same time, that doesn’t make these Islamic fundamentalist forces not historically outmoded and not reactionary. It doesn’t change the character of their opposition to imperialism and what it leads to and the dynamic that it’s part of—the fact that these two “historically outmodeds” do reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. And it is very important to understand, and to struggle for others to understand, that if you end up supporting either one of these two “historically outmodeds,” you contribute to strengthening both. It is crucial to break out of that dynamic—to bring forward another way.

The widespread ignorance that does exist, even among the relatively educated population in the U.S., is generally accompanied by an attitude that we’re the “good guys” in the world, so what we do that brings suffering to other people doesn’t count in the same way as if the same thing were done by others. Partly out of an attitude like that, and partly out of just plain ignorance, it is very likely that a majority of people in the U.S. do not know—or have been unable, or unwilling, to “process the information”—that the U.S. has actually used nuclear weapons, that it has dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations. Or somehow it’s like the Bob Dylan lines I referred to in the Memoir (From Ike to Mao and Beyond, My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, a Memoir by Bob Avakian): When the character in a Dylan song tries to get into a fallout shelter, he is refused and threatened by the owner of this bomb shelter, and then there is the following exchange between the two of them: “I said, ‘You know, they refused Jesus too’; he said, ‘you’re not him.’” This is the same kind of logic that many people in this country use—and a logic that is systematically used by the rulers and apologists of this system—when just some of the “unequaled barbarity” they have committed comes to light: “That’s us—that doesn’t count... you’re not us.”

A lot of people talk about “common sense,” and this is something that is frequently invoked by right-wing politicos, talk-show hosts, etc., especially when they want to appeal to a certain philistinism in the service of their reactionary objectives. They will often say, “let’s just talk common sense here.” Well, it is very important, in terms of epistemology—in terms of struggling with people over how to really understand what is going on in the world, and why—it is very important to grasp the fact that “common sense” means one (or both) of two things: It means either elementary logic and/or thinking proceeding from assumptions that are so deeply embedded in the prevailing culture that people don’t question them, or even are unaware of them.

There was that slogan back in the ’60s, which was not fully scientific, but it was more good than bad and more correct than incorrect: “You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” That kind of orientation was not wrong. If you drew the lines irrevocably and you didn’t try to win people over when they were on the wrong side (or were trying to sit on the sidelines), well then, yes, that would be wrong. And if you didn’t make any kind of materialist analysis of what are the actual driving forces underlying things, and what are actually the ruling and decision-making forces in society—then, yes, that would be wrong. But it is not wrong, and in fact it is very necessary, to pose the challenge to people: Look, there’s a great earthquake here, and neither side of the way the earth is separating is going to lead to anything but disaster; we’ve got to forge another way, you’ve got to be part of that—and you’ve got to get out of your “comfort zone” to do it.

This is the only chance the masses have. They don’t have any other chance. Mobile Shaw was right: we are collectively the only hope the masses of people have. Of course, there are other communists throughout the world. But collectively we are the only hope the masses of people have and the only hope the world has—hope that all this craziness and destruction and sacrifice that’s coming anyway is going to turn toward something much better. We must not shrink from that role. And we must never forget that this is our role, through everything we’re doing. Even when we’re sitting down and having a cup of coffee with people—and overall in working our way through a lot of things that are short of revolution—we can’t ever forget that this is what it’s all got to be aimed for. We’ve got to have those broad arms and that sweeping vision; and, as I’ve said before, we’ve got to go be willing to go right to the brink of being “drawn and quartered,” without allowing that to actually happen, in order to move all this forward.

We have two things going for us, against all the very big things that we have to confront, the gigantic and momentous things we have to go up against, the very daunting things. One is our dialectical materialist outlook and method, our scientific approach to reality. And the other is reality itself and its motion and development, which that outlook and methodology reflect and encompass.

This is an analogy that I have found helpful: Reality is like a fire, like a burning object, and if you want to pick up that burning object and move it, you have to have an instrument with which to do it. If you try to do it bare-handed, the result is not going to be good. That’s another way of getting at the role of theory in relation to the larger world that needs to be transformed, in relation to practice, and in particular revolutionary practice, to change the world.

BAsics 4:21

Theory and (political and ideological) line are abstractions from reality which, the more correct they are, the more they can guide us in changing the world in accordance with its actual nature and its actual motion. If you are going to wield theory and line as an instrument to change the world, you have to take it up and wrangle with it in its own right—abstracted from the reality out of which it comes, of which it is a concentration—and to which, yes, as Marx emphasized and we must emphasize, it must be returned in order to change the world. But if you leave out the step of grappling, on the level of abstraction, with theory, you are bound to go astray and land in a pit.

And everybody can deal in abstractions, by the way. It’s not only a handful of people who can do this. Revolutionary theory, communist theory, has to be made accessible to masses of people, but they actually engage in abstraction all the time, with different world outlooks. I’ve never met any basic person, or any person from any stratum, who doesn’t have all kinds of theories about all kinds of things—most of them drawn from the bourgeoisie and ultimately reflecting its outlook—although some of them do this only indirectly and appear to be, and to some degree are, ideas and theories that people have “cooked up” on their own, more or less unconsciously reflecting the dominant bourgeois outlook in society. Of course, to make theoretical abstractions that most correctly, deeply and fully reflect reality, in its motion and development, requires taking up the communist world outlook and methodology and increasingly learning to apply this consistently and systematically. And, as Lenin emphasized (in What Is To Be Done? and elsewhere), this communist outlook and methodology will not just “come to” the masses of people on their own and spontaneously, but must be brought to them from outside the realm of their direct and immediate experience. But the fact remains that everyone engages in theoretical abstraction of one kind or another—everybody is capable of this—and, fundamentally, it is a question of how are you doing this, with what world outlook and methodology?

BAsics 4:22

American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People’s Lives.

BAsics 5:7

Here I want to bring up a formulation that I love, because it captures so much that is essential. Soon after September 11, someone said, or wrote somewhere, that living in the U.S. is a little bit like living in the house of Tony Soprano. You know, or you have a sense, that all the goodies that you’ve gotten have something to do with what the master of the house is doing out there in the world. Yet you don’t want to look too deeply or too far at what that might be, because it might upset everything—not only what you have, all your possessions, but all the assumptions on which you base your life.

BAsics 5:10

There is a place where epistemology and morality meet. There is a place where you have to stand and say: It is not acceptable to refuse to look at something—or to refuse to believe something—because it makes you uncomfortable. And: It is not acceptable to believe something just because it makes you feel comfortable.

BAsics 5:11

“Never underestimate the great importance of ideology.”

We have a very negative example of this with the Islamic fundamentalists. The way in which they are proceeding to do what they’re doing has a very powerful ideological component to it.

How do people respond to the conditions that they find themselves in? What course or road do they take, and what do they respond to, in the face of those conditions? This is not predetermined. There is not just one way that people respond, automatically and regardless of influences on them. And even the level on which people sacrifice depends on their ideological orientation to a very significant degree.

BAsics 5:15

 

 

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