Getting Over the Hump
The Problem of Lowered Sights
by Bob Avakian
Revolutionary Worker #932, November 16, 1997
Let's talk more about the "death of communism." This theme is a big part of the current political and ideological terrain, and it has definite negative aspects that we have to deal with--and transform. On the other hand, running counter to the tactical gains that the ruling class and reactionaries have realized from the so-called "death" or "demise" of communism--which they have attempted to magnify through their propaganda barrage and the use of all their technology and media--is that now the reality of open and more unbridled capitalism has set in in the former Soviet empire, and masses of people have begun to rebel in various ways against this.
This is very strikingly revealed in places like Poland. Now look, let's face it, I don't give a good god damn about the guy who is head of state of Poland right now. He is just another bourgeois politician--nothing really in the interests of the masses happened with his election. But, let's put it this way: who couldn't get some "artistic pleasure" out of watching that scoundrel Lech Walesa get thrown on his ass out of office. There was something very poetic about that I have to say, even though it involved no fundamental change in the society--and was only a change from one bourgeois representative to another. But the results of that election reflected the dissatisfaction of the masses with the more openly capitalist regimes that have replaced the old phony communist regimes. In the former Soviet Union right now and in countries that were part of its bloc, such as Poland, you have this phenomenon.
In the Presidential elections in Russia, the U.S. did quite a lot to bolster Yeltsin against his main challenger, the head of the so-called Communist Party. And still Yeltsin had trouble winning the election. They tried to make a big deal of how he won decisively, but actually he got 60 percent of the vote, and the representative of the former and re-furbished Communist Party got something like 40 percent of the vote--even with all of the resources of the Russian bourgeoisie and the U.S. bourgeoisie behind Yeltsin. This is a reflection of the fact that some of the luster of the more open and unbridled capitalism--insofar as it had any luster in Russia--has come off pretty quickly even for some of the middle strata and certainly for the basic masses. They had been living under capitalism anyway, in the revisionist, phony socialist, state-capitalist form since the time of Khrushchev, but now they have run into the material-social reality of living under an undisguised form of capitalism.
Finding Out About Capitalism
I remember one of the passages I really liked in the statement the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement put out to the masses in these Eastern European countries once the Soviet Empire started unraveling a few years back. (And, to my understanding, various vehicles were found to get this statement out to the masses in Eastern Europe pretty broadly, and it got some favorable response there.) Now one of the parts of that statement that I really liked was where it addressed itself to the masses along these lines: If you think that there is going to be all these wondrous things happening now with the advent of open capitalist rule, you are going to be in for a big shock and it is not going to be a pleasant shock. And it added something to this effect: If you want to know what's in store now, you can go and ask someone living in a housing project in Chicago or one of the equivalent places in London. A few other examples were mentioned, and then came the part I really liked: "Or you can just wait and find out for yourselves!" That was one of my favorite parts of the RIM statement--it had just the right pizzazz and the right substance to go with that pizzazz, the right content.**
And that is exactly what is unfolding now--people are in fact beginning to find out for themselves what this more undisguised and unbridled capitalism is all about and the hell and the horror it really means. And they didn't have to wait very long to find this out. Not that revisionism was any better for the people, but with this undisguised, unbridled capitalism has come not only a lot of chaos and breakdown economically but also direct attacks on the old "social welfare" measures that were extended as concessions to the working class in the Soviet Union. What is going on in Russia now parallels in some significant ways the process in the U.S. whereby the "New Deal" and "war on poverty" social contract and social programs are being gutted and the ruling class is moving to forge a new and different "social contract" to attempt to maintain the stability of its rule.
And as all this has happened in the former Soviet Union (and former Soviet bloc), we have seen some of the luster coming off all this triumphalism of "the victory of capitalism," the "end of history," etc., etc. ad nauseam. Not that the imperialists and reactionaries are going to stop pumping this stuff out there, but some of the luster has come off even for many of the people who were initially more attracted to it.
A Lowering of Sights
Still, in the short run, one of the things that has happened as a result of the collapse of the Soviet empire--which is presented as the demise and failure of communism because of its own inherent weaknesses and defects--is that this has had a real effect, materially and also ideologically. It has had an effect specifically in lowering people's sights, politically and ideologically. This is true even for some more advanced people. This has been the case among various strata, finding different expressions among different strata and social groups. We have to take this into account--this is part of the political terrain and in an overall sense part of the objective conditions that we have to deal with.
This is related to the fact that the initial rejection of revisionism, as these former Soviet bloc countries became unraveled, did not take the form or expression of the immediate demand for genuine socialism but a gravitation toward bourgeois democracy and undisguised and unbridled capitalism. This is especially so among intellectuals and other more privileged strata, but it also had effect among more basic masses.
We have seen this phenomenon at work--this lowering of sights and this gravitation, at least initially, towards more of a belief that capitalism was the way to go. So, now, when people see the "death of communism," but then on the other hand they also see some of the luster coming off of "the triumph of capitalism" and they feel the effects of what's happening with the economy in the former Soviet bloc--the immediate spontaneous reaction is not to say "We want revolution to overthrow this system and bring back socialism, real socialism." People go in many different directions spontaneously--including, as a significant social phenomenon, a number of people moving toward the right. Or they simply become more passive, more paralyzed politically and ideologically. They lower their sights in terms of what they think is possible and therefore desirable. And this applies not just in the former Soviet Union and the countries of its bloc, but more broadly throughout the world. People have been propagandized with this whole notion, this unscientific summation of what's happened in the Soviet Union, and that it represents the "death or failure of communism."
And many people have lowered their sights as a result of all this--lowered their vision as to what is possible, and what is desirable--because there is a unity of opposites between how people view possible and desirable. What is considered to be impossible also tends to get transformed into being regarded as not desirable in certain ways. If you get your sights lowered, even things you might abstractly or in another context think are good ideas become not good ideas because you see them as not possible, and to put your energy into that is not worthwhile and is in fact bad. This is the negative dialectic that can set in. Of course, this is far from the universal reaction. Not everyone responds this way, and even for those who do--or certainly for many of them--this reaction is not permanent.
It is perhaps ironic that precisely in the countries of the former Soviet bloc, after only a few years of more open unbridled and undisguised capitalism, masses of people are revolted by and revolting against this in various ways. Yet and still, this phenomenon of the lowering of sights, politically and ideologically, is an important aspect of the current "social terrain" that we have to reckon with in our work.
This affects how we have to work and what work we have to do to raise people's sights, raise them to a qualitatively different vision. Here, obviously, we cannot rely on spontaneity. What is required is giving people a correct understanding of this so-called "death of communism." We have to get into the reality of the defeat, not failure, of the first attempts at creating and developing socialist society, in the Soviet Union (where capitalism was actually restored several decades ago) and then in China (where it was restored two decades ago). And we have to get into the real and profound historical lessons that must be drawn from this, not the lies and distortions that the imperialists and reactionaries are so noisily and incessantly trumpeting. It requires giving people an historical perspective on this from a correct, in other words a proletarian class, viewpoint.
Against the "Everything Is For Sale" Morality
A related point here, which I think is potentially very important, is that we certainly have something going for us on the positive side. And we have to figure out how to maximize this. Because with all this sort of unbridled and unrestrained commodification that's going on, including in the culture and other aspects of the superstructure, people are becoming sickened by it, even where they don't have a scientific understanding of it.
Everything is openly and crudely a commodity these days, even in a qualitatively greater way than before. Everything has a commercial tag associated with it very directly, brazenly. Put simply, everything and everybody appears to be for sale. This is the going "ethos" or spirit of the times--it is being aggressively put forward by the ruling class. And, on the other hand, the effects of this are far from positive for the great majority of people--even when they get swept up in it, the effects of it are far from positive for the great majority of people. It has many negative consequences for different strata of people in different ways.
I think that, for various people, particularly though not only in the middle strata, one of the attractions of "traditional morality" and the Christian Right is that they appear to be putting forward some values and morals in contrast to this crass "materialism," that is, consumerism and commercialism (everything and everybody for sale). Recently, I was reading an article about the appeal of this right-wing ideology and the people being interviewed were talking about how they want something more than just consumerism and all that.
Of course, particularly in the middle strata, while they say they want something more than all this consumerism, they're not so inclined toward giving up the consumerism. That's the beauty of this fascist ideology and all this "traditional morality" from the point of view of the bourgeoisie--it does not really call on people to give up all this consumerism and dog-eat-dog. And that makes it a lot easier for this ideology to get over with people--spontaneity goes a lot more with it. This is one of the appeals of these people, these Christian Fascists--they appear to be putting forward, and they assert that they're putting forth, transcendental basic values in contrast to a lot of the madness that's been unleashed by what's going on in the material base of society and by associated things in the superstructure that are being promoted by the bourgeoisie to a significant degree. (Even the criminal activity that the masses get caught up in is, to a large degree, encouraged by the ruling class in various ways and used as a rationalization for imposing even harsher police state rule, particularly over the masses in the ghettos and barrios.)
But in opposition to this fascist ideology and bourgeois ideology generally, our ideology and our motivation really stands out: not being self-centered; not being selfish and looking out for yourself (for "number one") above everything else; not being motivated by or getting into petty rivalries and back-stabbing; having a definite integrity consistent with our strategic objectives, in other words, integrity in the sense that we mean what we say, and we say what we mean, that we're not for sale, that we can't be bought. This is not to say that no individual will ever be broken or sell out, but collectively speaking we cannot be tortured or bludgeoned away from our stand, speaking of the Party collectively. All this is very powerful and inspiring to masses of people as they learn about it and see it in practice. It stands out against all this unbridled "everything for sale-ism" and all the rotten corruption associated with this.
As people run into the concrete results and manifestations of what's going on in the economy and what the ruling class is promoting through the superstructure, the contrasting fact that we're not for sale, that we're operating out of some more overriding principle which is objectively in conformity with the interests of the masses and with where society needs to go--this is a potentially very powerful "pole of attraction" for people.
It's not just that we have some good ideas and we're principled people, although that's true, but what we're fighting for is objectively the only possible resolution of the underlying contradictions of society that's actually in the interests of the masses of people and ultimately of humanity as a whole. This has a potentially very powerful "attractive pull," exactly in a situation where people are thirsty for something that makes sense out of everything going on and all the craziness that is being unleashed.
A Dramatic Contrast
We shouldn't think that this is going to solve all of our problems by any means, but we also shouldn't underestimate this as a positive factor that's going for us. In other words, to put it simply, what we're about stands out in very sharp contrast to the bankrupt ideology and dog-eat-dog mentality and underlying dog-eat-dog and exploitative reality promoted by and promoting the ruling class--what they're grounded in and what they promote.
Today those bourgeois values are assuming the most putrid forms, and the most putrid forms are very consciously being promoted by the ruling class in order to degrade and demoralize the masses of people. This is having an effect.
Sometimes I get to see tapes of some of these tabloid shows in the U.S. And it's very clear when you watch them that, besides all the general bullshit, there is a conscious design and policy to promote this putrid stuff in order to disorient and demoralize a lot of people and to get them to see things in terms of the "flaws in human nature" and how messed up everybody is--and also to get them to gravitate more toward traditional morality and the traditional social relations that this morality serves. This whole way of thinking is directly opposed to people gaining the consciousness that the problems in society, and in people, have their source, fundamentally, in the underlying production and social relations and in the ruling ideology that serves those relations of exploitation and oppression.
So what we're all about stands out in very sharp relief. One of the main objectives of the Morality essays*** is to speak to that contradiction: on one hand to lay bare the ugly reality and essence of "traditional morality" and the underlying relations that it's upholding, and on the other hand to put forward our ideology and our morality as a beacon to inspire people towards something higher which is based on a material reality that's strategically more powerful than what capitalism has going for it. Our communist morality and our ideology overall does represent the actual necessary resolution of these underlying contradictions, in the interests of the broad masses of people not just in the U.S., but worldwide.
At the same time, it is important for us both to think more deeply about and to speak openly to the masses about all this--including the world-historical problems of the proletarian revolution. We should put it out openly to the masses and involve them in grappling with these contradictions, on the basis of what we call our "strategic double-c": our strategic contempt for the enemy, and our strategic confidence in the masses and in our cause.
We should do this especially as we grapple more and get more understanding of these questions, but it's a dialectical process. We don't want to go off into a corner and refine all our understanding and only then speak to the masses. That would result in another case of the more we do that the stupider we'll get. It's a back-and-forth process of refining our understanding while speaking to the masses about the world historical problems that have been encountered by the international proletariat to this point in the struggle to move from the bourgeois epoch to the epoch of world communism, in other words, to carry forward the world proletarian revolution. We have to be speaking to the masses about these questions, rather than ducking them. Strategically we should welcome these questions. We should welcome the fact that these contradictions are sharply posing themselves.
The fact that there have been temporary setbacks in the world proletarian revolution is a real problem for us. Obviously, we're still feeling the effects of the loss of China in many different ways, but that's part of the objective reality that we have to confront and transform through revolutionary struggle. Yes, it poses problems for us, but we shouldn't be ducking them. We should be welcoming questions and challenges about this, and we should be speaking to the masses about them and giving the masses our understanding and learning from the questions that they pose, to help deepen our understanding as well as theirs.
**The RIM statement "Cast Away Illusions! Revolution--All the Way!: An Appeal to the People of Eastern Europe from the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement" is available in World to Win magazine Issue No. 15, 1990. An excerpt appears on this web page.
"Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones: The Reality Beneath William Bennett's `Virtues,' Or We Need Morality, But Not Traditional Morality" and "Putting an End to `Sin' Or We Need Morality, But Not Traditional Morality (Part 2)." Excerpts from these essays--including a series on "What Is Communist Morality"-- appeared in the RW from January 28, 1996 through May 12, 1996.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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