Communism and Religion--Part 3: Islam (Continued)

Taking Off the Shackles: Less Atonement, More Revolution

By Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #917, July 27, 1997

Moving on to talk about the U.S. itself: what accounts for the appeal of Islam among oppressed people, particularly Black people, in the U.S. today?

Certainly one of the major reasons is that taking up Islam involves a certain kind of opposition to the oppressive status quo--including, in the case of Black people in the U.S., the dominant religion, Christianity, which is part of the oppressive status quo. Taking up Islam involves a certain kind of opposition to the oppressive status quo without requiring or enabling a real radical rupture with the status quo. In this way, taking up Islam is more in tune with spontaneity; it requires less than a real and full radical rupture with traditional ideas and with the whole system. It does not require you to go up against the system in any kind of full and all-out way--it does not recognize the need for and does not call for the overthrow of the system and all existing conditions and relations, and everything that is involved with that. Thus, it is something people may gravitate to before they reach the point of recognizing the need for and committing themselves to the all-out revolutionary stand of the class-conscious proletariat.

Within the U.S., obviously, a major aspect of this is the Nation of Islam. (There are very significant differences between orthodox Islam and the doctrine of the Nation of Islam as formulated by Fard Muhammad and then Elijah Muhammad; but, in a broad sense, the Nation of Islam, now led by Louis Farrakhan, can be considered part of the Islamic phenomenon in the U.S.) Farrakhan is someone who is outwardly and seemingly militant, even sometimes coming across as radically opposed to the status quo; someone who, in the posture of a prophet, calls the powers-that-be to account for some--but only some--of their most egregious wickedness; but someone who, in essence, is a very conservative force, ideologically and politically. In fact, he has much in common with key elements of the reactionary program and outlook being pumped out by the ruling class, in "high volume" now.

In many ways, much of what Farrakhan promotes sounds strikingly similar to the Christian Coalition. But there is one very significant difference, and it is very important to keep this difference in mind: Farrakhan is, in general terms, a representative of the bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation, of the African-American nation, and as such he does have real and sometimes sharp contradictions with the ruling class. And this accounts for why he is able to articulate some of the deeply felt discontent and outrage of the oppressed and to rally sections of the oppressed, including among the proletariat, to his banner, even though his ideology is opposed to proletarian ideology and his program represents bourgeois rather than proletarian aspirations. Once again, it will require the consistent, systematic, and living application of dialectical materialism to correctly grasp and relate to this phenomenon--to unite with what can and must be united with, where and to the degree that Farrakhan's actions are objectively in opposition to the system and in line with the overall interests of the proletariat, and to struggle to win the masses of people to the banner of the revolutionary proletariat, as opposed to all other ideologies and programs, including those representing the bourgeoisie of an oppressed people or nation.


As our Party has put out point blank, the masses need a lot less atonement and a lot more going after the system--they need an understanding of who and what the real enemy is and how to unite with all possible friends to go up against and finally defeat that enemy. A lot less atonement and a lot more going after the system--this is our rendition of what Malcolm X used to say when talking about the civil rights movement and all the passive resistance and the singing of "We shall overcome" while being brutalized. Malcolm said: we need less singing and more swinging. And what our Party is emphasizing is in the same spirit, and at the same time is an expression of the all-the-way revolutionary outlook and program of the proletariat: we need less atonement and more going after the system.

In a fundamental sense, the masses don't have anything to atone for. The masses have not created the material conditions in which they find themselves and which set the framework and terms for what "choices" they have, nor are the masses the ones who are responsible for the dog-eat-dog mentality that goes along with these material conditions, with the fundamental and essential relations of bourgeois society. In relation to the enemy, we have absolutely nothing to atone for. This capitalist system is responsible for the conditions the masses are in--this system has created and maintains these conditions, and the police and the whole repressive apparatus of bourgeois state power forces the masses to remain in these conditions--and therefore the system and the ruling class are ultimately responsible for what the masses do as a result of being forced to remain in these conditions. And the ideology ceaselessly pumped out by the system propagates and encourages the mentality of dog-eat-dog, "make money any way you can, people are just one more commodity to be possessed and used."

Now, the masses do need to break out of these conditions and break with the whole mentality and ideology of the system. We do need to transform the relations among people in society, including the messed-up ways in which people often deal with each other. The masses definitely need to get out of this, but they have nothing to atone for. There is some real self-criticism and some serious changes in ways of thinking and acting that need to be made and will be made in the context of waging a revolutionary struggle, but the masses have nothing to atone for, especially not to the enemy.

But the masses are not going to get this understanding from people who, at best, are themselves very confused about all this and to a significant degree mix up friends and enemies and even blame the masses--and encourage the masses to blame themselves--for their miserable situation and/or to look for supernatural forces to "save" or "deliver" or "guide" them--"supernatural" forces that are, in the final analysis, an imaginary representation of the interests of very earthly powers. Of course, it is not Farrakhan alone who puts forward this kind of outlook and calls for "atonement"--this is an outlook that is shared and promoted by various religious forces, definitely including various Christian religious leaders.

But "atonement" is an approach that is at very best misguided, and way off the mark. It won't work when directed toward the real enemy--it won't work to call for the imperialists to atone for all the evil they have committed. The imperialists are never going to apologize for, let alone take any action to put an end to, the horrendous crimes they have committed and continue to commit all over the world--they could not put an end to this, even if they wanted to. And, when directed toward the masses, "atonement" is fundamentally useless, and worse than useless, because it involves blaming the masses, instead of the system, for what the lives of the masses are all about.

And, although various religious systems of belief and codes of conduct can lead to some change in the lives of some individuals, they do not and cannot lead to the kind of fundamental changes in social conditions and in people's thinking that will enable people as a whole to act and to relate to each other in radically new ways. These religious beliefs and codes of conduct cannot lead to a revolutionary overturning of the dominant social order and the transformation of the dominant economic, social, and political relations, and the dominant ideology, in society and the world. The masses need leadership to enable them to strike at, and ultimately to shatter, the shackles that bind them--the economic, social, and political relations of exploitation and oppression and the mental (or "spiritual") shackles as well. They need revolutionary leadership--they need the leadership of a vanguard representing the revolutionary proletariat--they need our Party and its outlook and program, propagated widely and boldly and at the same time concretely and systematically applied to develop the revolutionary struggle of the masses and deal with all the twists and turns, the back and forth between Revolution and Counter-Revolution.

To enable the masses to fully and finally break and cast off these shackles will of course require a long-term, tortuous struggle. In a fundamental sense, casting off these mental or "spiritual" shackles, as well as breaking the material chains that enslave people, must be the conscious voluntary act of the masses themselves--it cannot be imposed on them, no matter how good anyone's intentions might be. And, as has been and must be repeatedly emphasized, in order to achieve our strategic objectives we must unite with many diverse forces, including many who hold, and even propagate, various religious viewpoints; but only the scientific outlook and methodology representing the revolutionary proletariat can illuminate the path to all-the-way liberation for the masses of people. That's a unity of opposites--on the one hand, the need for the broadest possible unity, in accordance with the objective interests of the proletariat; and, on the other hand, the need to continually struggle to win leadership for the proletariat and its ideology--a unity of opposites that we will have to deal with, with all of its complexity and repeated intensity, throughout the entire world-historical process of the proletarian revolution and the advance to communism, worldwide.

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