Revolutionary Worker #1160, July 28, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
The Revolutionary Worker is very excited to present to our readers this interview and exchange between Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Carl Dix, national spokesperson of the RCP.
In coming weeks, the many different subjects covered in this important and wide-ranging interview will be made available. This week is Part 5. In the future, the complete interview will also be published and made available online.
The transcript has been slightly edited for publication.
In heavy times like these, the people require extraordinary things to help prepare them for the challenges we face. What follows is truly extraordinary, something that will help arm those who want to take on the U.S. rulers' juggernaut of war and repression with the kind of understanding they need to deal with these times -- the immediate challenges in front of us and a whole lot more involved in changing the world. The Revolutionary Worker is publishing an important interview with Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
I had the honor of doing this interview with him in early 2002. Going into it, I knew there were burning questions many people would've wanted to put to him if they had the chance. They had been putting those kinds of questions to me when I went out there around the Party's Draft Programme or got down with people around the "war without limits" the U.S. imperialist ruling class has unleashed on the world. I was going to have the responsibility, and the opportunity, to put these questions to him for them.
Doing this was intense. It was hard, and it was fun. I hadn't had a chance to get into it with Bob Avakian like this for quite a while. He was the same "fired man" (to borrow a term from Peter Tosh) who had provided crucial leadership for the revolutionary movement at key junctures so many times in the past. He was right on top of what was going down in the U.S. and around the world. And he had the same boundless enthusiasm to dig into world historic questions concerning the process of proletarian revolution. We spent several days doing the interview, getting into everything from the current situation to the role of religion to what sustains him as a veteran revolutionary leader. And then, when we finished our work, we went deep into the night talking about basketball, movies and more.
I hope those who read this interview get as much out of it, and enjoy it as much, as I did in the process of doing it.
Carl Dix: Okay, I want to come back a little bit later to this question of set- backs for the revolutionary movement worldwide and how we should look at those [See Part 4, RW 1159], but I think I'd like to go on to another set of questions that have come up in response to our circulation of the Draft Programme and getting into discussions with various kinds of forces. I'd like to go to some of the questions that have come up among some of the people involved in fighting against the oppression of Black people and other oppressed nationalities here in the U.S, and some of their "take" on the Draft Programme and what we're putting forward in it. And there have been different aspects to it, because there have been forces who have been impressed by the kind of comprehensiveness of our analysis of today's society--what's the problem? what needs to be done to deal with it?--and people have indeed wanted to get copies of the Draft Programme circulated among their base and different things like that. But they've also come back with a few kinds of questions that I want to pose to you.
One has been kind of in opposition to the concept of the proletariat as the vanguard force in society, the force upon which the revolution needs to be based. And some forces have come back on this saying that they could see where Black proletarians could be a motive force in the liberation of Black people, where proletarians of other particular nationalities would be the vanguard or leading forces in the liberation of their people, but they don't see the proletariat as a multinational force being a leading force for revolution in the U.S. And for them that focuses up on the question of the white proletariat, as they phrase it, and either questioning its existence in general--as if, well, there are no white proletarians in society--or even more particularly questioning the potential of white proletarians as a revolutionary force in society. I wonder if you'd respond to that?
Bob Avakian: Is the question or the assertion about whether there are any white proletarians anyway or whether they have any revolutionary potential?
CD: The questions are actually both. Sometimes they come from different forces, and sometimes from the same forces. I recall in one discussion of the Draft Programme , the person started out arguing there were no white proletarians in society and then had to concede in the back-and- forth, "Okay you got a point, there are white people who are in that position in society" but the question then became: "Is there any basis for them to have any revolutionary potential?" So I think both questions are interrelated.
BA: As you were just referring to in recounting that, there are objectively white proletarians, quite a few of them. That's one of the things we further discovered and confirmed in doing the investigation that we did for the Draft Programme , both statistical study and also actually going out among different sections of people. And perhaps somewhat ironically, but in any case, there are a lot of white proletarians in the South for example, and some of them are in very highly exploited and impoverished conditions. So I think objectively there's no question that there are millions of white proletarians in this society. Then the question, I guess, as you recounted, really does come down to: "Do they have any revolutionary potential, given the history of white supremacy and racism and so on in the U.S. and the way it's woven into the whole historical development and structure of this society?" So, as we pointed out in our analysis of the proletariat--we didn't just say there's a proletariat in the U.S. and it's got a lot of white people in it. Well, we did say that--it's an important point, and a lot of people don't actually know it, so it's important to say that, but we also said, on the other hand, while this is what we call a multinational proletariat, it also has stratification and inequalities within it. It has caste-like divisions within it, and it's historically evolved that way, which is the basis for white supremacy and for racism to have considerable influence, even within the proletariat.
And it's correct that this is one of the big challenges of the whole revolutionary process in this country--how to overcome that and unite the proletarians on the basis of their revolutionary class interests, which means the fight against all oppression including very importantly national oppression. This is one of the big challenges but it's also the case, as our work has shown, that there are white proletarians as well as other sections of people who are white in this society who can be and have been rallied to this fight, particularly in periods of major upsurge in the society, and especially this has often been most the case among the youth among these proletarians, which is not surprising. But there is obviously a great deal more work to be done to bring forward the proletariat overall as a class-conscious force and in particular, and very much to the point of what you're raising, to rally white proletarians as class-conscious fighters against all oppression, including national oppression.
CD: Yes, I think part of what was tripping up this person--this was someone who wasn't from a proletarian background, an African American who wasn't from a proletarian background, but he was someone who hated this system. And coming from the hatred that he had for what this system does to Black people, he also had developed a broader view and saw that it didn't just oppress Black people, and he hated what it did to other people as well. But what he wasn't able to grasp is that there was any basis for anybody who wasn't an oppressed nationality to see what this system was doing and to in fact hate it. He was missing also something that I think is an important positive factor for the prospects of proletarian revolution in the U.S., and that is the fact that among Black people and other oppressed nationalities, some of the forces who can be brought forward to stand very firmly with the revolutionary cause are in fact not from the proletariat in terms of what we have talked about as the solid core of the United Front that's going to be needed to take down U.S. imperialism. And these were some of the things I tried to get into with him.
He actually did want to get the Programme , wanted to get it to other people, but this is still a question with him and with many other people. I think this also ties into what is an important question out there among large numbers, especially of the youth--not just the youth, but large numbers of the youth-- around how to look at the oppression of Black people and other oppressed nationalities here in the U.S. and the implications for the struggle against that oppression.
And you can kind of group this up as the question of identity politics, as is often referred to, and it raises a question for how you build struggle and what the goal of that struggle is--is revolution the goal or other kinds of things? I guess what I wanted to try to pull together here--well, let me just start it out like this: Some youth who were trying to build opposition to this juggernaut of war and repression got invited to go visit some youth up in the northeast to talk with them about it. And when they got there, there were like a dozen youth who wanted to talk with them about it and they laid out why it was important for people here in this country to stand up to resist the horrors that are being perpetrated in our name by the U.S. government around the world. And then one very significant person in this grouping of a dozen youth came back with, "You're not serious because if you were serious, you wouldn't come up to talk to us because we're white and we're middle class and just by definition what we do isn't going to be that important. If you were really serious about this you'd be going to Black people, you'd be going to Latinos and other oppressed nationalities because they're the ones who have to deal with this stuff."
Now I think our youth did good in this situation because they came back to this one particular person, but also the whole grouping, with the responsibility that these youth, and everybody in this country, has to take a stand against the horrors that are being perpetrated in our name, and specifically saying that as white youth you cannot absent yourself from the struggle around it just because you're not bearing the brunt of the national oppression that comes down here within the borders of the U.S. I guess what I wanted to pose to you are some of the questions and views that are out there that who has to take this struggle on and who has to lead it are the oppressed and that as white youth, they can't be out there in the struggle and they definitely can't be out there too far. And this comes down in terms of some of the critical views that were raised in response to Seattle--where was the color in Seattle? So I'd just like to pose some of that to you, and let me know if it's too amorphous? [BA laughs.]
BA: First off, I think the answer that you are describing that was given by our people, our youth, was a very good answer and very much on the mark. So I think that is the first thing--that you can't pass the responsibility to other people to stand up against oppression just because you may not be as oppressed as they are in an overall sense. If there's an injustice, if there's oppression, and you see it and recognize it, it should be opposed and you have a responsibility to be part of opposing that and do whatever you can. So I think that's a very important point. That's the first thing.
Secondly, I think this question does go back to what we were discussing earlier, about what are we up against? Who cares if there is a proletariat in the U.S., or if it's revolutionary (ironic laugh), in one sense, unless it has something to do with transforming this society. That's another way of saying that this is not an academic question. What are we up against, what do the problems and the suffering of the people, not only in the U.S. but around the world, stem from? And what's necessary to eliminate that and to bring a better world into being, to put it simply?
Once we can understand the nature of this beast we're up against and the juggernaut that it's on-- we've only been able to touch on this partially here. I would point to other things that have been written that go into it more fully, and we had a whole special supplement in our paper "The New Situation And The Great Challenges" which discusses this more fully, but without trying to get into all that, what is the nature of this juggernaut we're up against, and more fundamentally what is the nature of the beast that's given rise to this and is pushing it forth in the world? That sets the basis for these questions and whether they're important or not--and if you understand, along the lines of what we've been saying, what the nature of this beast really is, what's the nature of the enemy, the system that you're up against, then you have to next pose the question of what's the means and where are the forces that can actually bring this system down and bring a better world into being? Whose situation in society and whose objective interests actually lie with such a revolutionary transformation? Because a lot of times you can get misled momentarily by what people are thinking or doing, which is important but it's not as important as where their fundamental interests lie.
And the point about the proletariat and the proletarian revolution is that this is the force in society that--it's really true what Marx said about them, it's said in the Communist Manifesto , they really do fundamentally have nothing to lose but their chains, especially the most exploited and impoverished sections of the proletariat. And they have a position in society which inclines them toward, or whose interests in any case objectively lie with, such a revolutionary transformation and therefore they can be brought forward to be the backbone and driving force of that revolution. Not just because it's one idea that sounds better than another (or maybe it doesn't), but because it conforms to actual reality. We can talk--and intellectuals do and should talk--about all kinds of ideas, including how to transform society, but if there's not a force in society that's impelled by their very conditions and their objective situation towards such a revolution, or if that force is not strategically situated or not powerful enough potentially to be able to make a revolution, then all that we will be able to do is talk about it.
So that's the importance of whether there is a proletariat and how it's constituted and whether white people who are in that position are really proletarians or can really be revolutionaries. Again, you have to stress: the important thing is where do their fundamental objective interests lie? And then you have to struggle, because there are all kinds of contradictory pulls on people--including the stratification and caste-like divisions within the proletariat that pull people in other directions--so you have to work to win people to act in accordance with their fundamental interests. And, in a certain sense, while this system creates all kinds of horrors, in another sense its very workings are actually bringing forth and will increasingly bring forth the forces for revolution and provide the basis for the vanguard to rally the proletariat to unite its ranks on a revolutionary basis and to unite much more broadly with other forces in society who will be called into opposition and who will struggle in very important ways against different abuses and outrages of the system, or even against the system as a whole, but whose position by themselves isn't such that they're strategically and powerfully placed enough and it doesn't impel them, on their own, to carry forth the struggle in the way that it has to be carried forward. It doesn't impel them to do it in the way that it has to be done in order to actually defeat what you're up against and bring something new into being. So that's the importance of the proletariat. It's not just an abstract question. Then we have to get down concretely, and not only analyze who's in the proletariat, but we have to do political work to bring forward this class as a conscious force around its own interests--and that of course is vastly different than the idea of identity politics.
A Vanguard Basedon the Proletariat--or OrganizationBased on Nationality?
CD: Yeah, I think this brings us around to the question of the vanguard party from a different angle and what I'm getting at here is that one of the views that comes out, especially from some of the veterans of the 1960s, is that it was a mistake to try to organize revolutionary organization on a multinational basis and that the correct approach would have been to have organized revolutionaries in groupings corresponding to their particular nationality; and some of these forces are trying to bring forward some of the new generation around that line today and trying to have influence on that basis and also in relation to that posing the question of why this Party feels it can call itself the vanguard? So I'd like you to speak to that. If need be, you can break it into two questions. [BA laughs.]
BA: Yeah, I'm laughing because there's a lot that's wrapped up in all that, a lot of important questions that are all tied together there, so let me try to speak to them one at a time. I think the first thing is of course the experience of the '60s and what that gave rise to. People did organize-- organizations, including revolutionary organizations along different national lines were developed. There were organizations, revolutionary organizations, of Black people, Chicanos and other Latinos, and so on. And nobody actually tried to organize a revolutionary organization as a white organization--because that's a contradiction in terms right there, given the whole nature of the society and the white supremacy and everything, an organization that makes a principle out of being white is not going to be a revolutionary organization, to say the least.
But, given national oppression, there were attempts and actual organization of revolutionaries by nationality, but what got objectively posed through all of that was the need for a vanguard that could be a vanguard on the basis of uniting all the most advanced forces and beyond that had a program for bringing forward once again the key forces that have to be the backbone and driving force in revolution and at the same time could unite people much more broadly. The reason that you got multinational organization that developed out of that whole upsurge, and in particular our Party that emerged out of that, is not because the idea was in the abstract a more attractive idea than other ideas of how to go about building revolutionary organization but because the actual development of things in the struggle posed very sharply the fact that you need to unite the revolutionaries of all different nationalities at any given point. And the key thing in all this is what line people represent, with what world outlook and methodology are they approaching the problem and the solution, of what are we up against and what it's going to take to deal with it, and what we should replace it with? And what concrete program and policies do they develop flowing from the application of such a line?
This is the decisive question because, as you pointed out, among different nationalities there are different classes. There's not just one broad grouping of people who are undifferentiated. You have people from all different--many different classes. You also have different outlooks and different programs and different notions of what the solutions are. I noticed that the U.S. bourgeoisie likes to always have Black conservatives whenever they have any Black people in the media. Well, those people don't represent much of a mass following, but they represent a class viewpoint that does have a basis among the broad structure, the broad configuration, if you will, of Black people in the U.S. They do represent a certain bourgeois stratum that's aligning itself with a certain section of the bourgeoisie. You have middle-class forces, in fact the middle class among Black people has grown greatly since the `60s, and you have different organizations and viewpoints that mainly base themselves there, and you have different viewpoints that also seek to rally people among the most oppressed and even the proletarians.
So there are all different lines contending among different nationalities in society in general, representing different class forces--which one really is going to lead to the solution to the problem? That's not a question of nationality. That's a question of what actually objectively is the reality we're dealing with and what is objectively required to transform it. And we need to be uniting people who have a common-- and, in fundamental terms, a correct--view of those questions and therefore a program for moving on that basis.
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