PART 8: More on "Identity Politics" -- and Why We Need To Bring Forward Revolutionary Politics

Bob Avakian Speaks Out, Interviewed by Carl Dix

On War and Revolution, On Being a Revolutionary and Changing the World

Revolutionary Worker #1163, August 18, 2002, posted at

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 8. 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


Carl Dix: I want to go back to the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the vanguard party and come at it from a different angle because there is another way in which the questions around that come up and I think it kind of comes up like this--people say, "All right you say there's a need for a revolution...

Bob Avakian: Before you get there, I want to ask you, do you think we've touched enough on and gone enough into this whole identity politics thing? I was wondering because different questions have come up as we're talking and we have kind of have gone with it, but I'm wondering have we said enough about what you were raising originally about identity politics? I definitely want to get into what you were just starting into, but is there more to be said about identity politics?

CD: Okay, I guess I was thinking that we had gone at it quite a bit, both from the angle of philosophically what's wrong with that understanding and also gotten into what are the implications for revolutionary struggle, coming off of that. So I did think that we had gone at that sufficiently.

BA: Do you think we dealt enough with some of the political dimensions or the political expressions of it? In other words, I felt like we philosophically discussed that a lot...

CD: But not enough the political implications?

BA: In other words, what are the political implications of identity politics and how does it get posed against what we're talking about, against proletarian revolution? I thought maybe we could explore that a little bit more because when you were responding to what I said, you pointed out that people would say, "Okay, we're not saying nobody else can have an opinion about it but only people who experience this oppression can actually take responsibility for formulating and coming up with and bringing forth an answer to it." So that's sort of on the philosophical level, but it also leads up to the political level. Because there are political implications to that, you know what I mean? It seems to me the political implications are pretty reformist.

In other words, we talked a bit about how this would wall off each struggle--like you said...each from their own little castle could reach out to others, but you couldn't really have the kind of broad unity we're talking about and you couldn't have any kind of objective basis for determining which program within each of these little spheres, walled-off spheres, would be correct or incorrect. And so it seemed to me that this involves the philosophical dimension but it also pushes right up against the political, because then how are you going to build a movement and how are you going to even know what's right and wrong in order to build the kind of movement that can actually make a revolution? And do the people who hold this view even think that a revolution is what they want or what's possible or desirable or whatever?

CD: Well, I think the way that it comes out is that there are forces coming from this general viewpoint who would say revolution is the goal... but when you come down to their line and outlook--what kind of struggle do they get involved in, what kind of practice do they take up--it falls far short of that and in fact it doesn't have the perspective of gathering the forces that could make revolution.

BA: I was just going to ask, how do they see a revolution? Where do they see the forces coming from to make such a revolution, and what do they think such a revolution would lead to? I mean, those are the things that occurred to me right away when you are saying that.

CD: OK, yeah, they occur to me too. And it's hard to get an answer, because for a lot of these forces, they don't have that kind of--at least they have not put out before the people that they're trying to organize, or other forces that they're trying to link up with, that kind of analysis and that kind of theoretical work. And some of them even raise it in terms of, well, we're newer and we have to develop some of this. Others actually do stop short of the point of revolution and say straight up that revolution isn't a goal at this point. Or at least at this point that isn't the goal. And that they have a goal of building up resistance, forging links between the different oppressed groups, but don't put that forward in terms of actual preparing for and gathering the forces to make revolution.

BA: Well, you know one of the things that occurs to me when you're saying that--I know that there's this line out there (along with what you're saying) about how "you can't just go out there and introduce people to revolution right away, you gotta work with them, you've got to build a movement, and then you can talk about revolution." But the problem is that you do have to build a movement and you do have to build resistance, you do have to build struggle--and we're actively seeking to do that, as you know perfectly well being in the thick of a lot of it--we've experienced this and it goes back to what we were talking about earlier, about the whole thing from the Vietnam war to today. If you don't from the beginning bring out to people the real deal, if you don't tell them what you're really up against, and you don't put things in that context, then what happens is that people get disoriented and lose heart after a while because, even if you make real progress on a particular front of struggle, and you make some gains and wrench some concessions and beat back some attacks, like we talked about they keep coming back and shit keeps getting even worse, and people then lose heart and get disoriented because they don't have a larger view of where this all has to go and how to get there, at least in basic terms. I think you're actually setting people up to get further demoralized, if you don't do that. I think there's a lot of experience that says that.

CD: Yeah, I mean this is even something that we've seen and have been trying to grapple with, how to help the people get beyond this in a lot of our own work. Because you take something like the front of organizing people to take on the brutality and murder that the police are being unleashed to bring down on oppressed and exploited people right now. Well, you've got some people who have stepped into that battle and really fought hard for justice, some of them being motivated by particular cases where their loved ones were brutalized or murdered by the police, and who came forward from being motivated by justice in a particular case to seeing the need for justice for all of the people who've been victimized by this, and they've waged a lot of very heroic resistance around that. But then at a certain point they see that most of the time none of the pigs who do this shit get punished at all, or at most get a slap on the wrist. But then you come up to a situation like the Abner Louima case, where a number of cops did in fact get convicted, and then you get a decision like this reversal at the appeals court level, where they threw out the convictions of all the cops except the one who confessed. And that does pose to people: what are we fighting for here? We did all this work, and we got a little bit of justice on this front, and now it got turned back.

So I think it's important the point that you're raising about bringing out the perspective of where this needs to go, and also approaching it from a thing of bringing people along step by step, because one heartening thing coming off of the reversal in the Louima case is there was recently a demonstration of about a hundred people in Brooklyn and one of the key parts of it was some of the family members of other people who had been murdered, or brutalized by the police, and they were standing strong in this, and kind of bringing forward two things. One was that this reversal was a slap in the face for all of them. It wasn't just a slap in the face for Abner Louima and his family, but it was a slap in the know Mrs. Baez came out...and a number of the parents whose children had been murdered by the police came out to participate in this. And they were saying this was a slap in the face to all of us. But at the same time they were saying, "We're not going to give up the fight for justice on this front." That was an important manifestation. But it's also important the degree to which we and others have worked to give people a broader view of what's going on here, so it isn't just a linear thing that gets determined by what progress we're making on this one case--and people can actually get sustained even in the face of a decision like that where a few cops who had participated both in the torture of this guy and also the cover up of that torture get exonerated by the courts. It didn't demoralize them and disorient them to the point that they were going to step back from it and give up.

BA: Like Marx said a long time ago, it's important to mobilize the masses to fight against the immediate instances of their oppression, partly so they're not reduced to the condition of broken wretches...where they can be even more viciously exploited and oppressed, and also so they are not incapable of waging the larger struggle that does have to be waged. I think that's still a very important point in relation to all this. But it does bring out that if your only aim is to try to reform a few things, you're going to be overwhelmed by the workings of the system ultimately. It doesn't mean it's not important to fight for certain reforms, or concessions, or to beat back certain attacks, but if that's the highest horizon that's being put forward to people...even if people don't fully embrace a full revolutionary program, represented by our Party and that we're putting forward, they're still influenced by it when they come into struggle, and it still gives them higher vision and more hope for the future, even if they don't fully understand it and embrace it all at any given time. And I think that's very important, too, even in terms of being able to sustain particular or partial struggles, let alone to really get ultimately to the solution to all of this.

CD: Yeah, I think that is important, and we've even seen that in practice, and I don't want to get too far from what we're doing, but I just want to bring forward a couple of things on this. Because usually each year we put out an editorial leading into October 22, the national day of protest to stop police brutality, and we try to bring together what is the state of the movement of resistance on this front, what are the challenges that it faces, and to point to the road ahead. And we try to do that in two ways--one is what are the immediate steps that this movement has to take to continue the fight for justice on this front, but we also assess it from our perspective as proletarian revolutionaries.

When we first began to do this, when we'd get it out to everybody, I wasn't sure what impact it was having, and then we'd find out things like some of these parents would get the thing, read over it, and this one woman xeroxed it and did a mass mailing. She contacted one of our comrades who worked in the local coalition with her, and said "I need your to help me do this mailing," and the person had a lot of things to do and they weren't sure, and the woman said well this is important for October 22, so the comrade said "OK, I'll make some time and I'll help you do the mailing." They get there and they find out that what the woman wanted them to mail was copies of our editorial on October 22, and she said everybody needs to get this. And that didn't mean that this woman had become a proletarian revolutionary, but she was like, "Everybody needs to read what's said here, because this is what's going to get them to see what we've been accomplishing on this front, and how we need to keep on keeping on"--I think is how she put it.

BA: Yeah, and I think that the point is that even though she might not agree or others may not agree with everything in there, it does provide a larger vision that enables them to see even that particular struggle in a larger sense--which brings me back to the identity politics thing. Because one of the things for example--this is true in all of our work, it's been true in our efforts in uniting with others, other people's efforts in the October 22 coalition--has been to unite with people broadly. We haven't said, "OK, let's divide it up as narrowly as we can." Black people who experience police brutality should form one group. White people who might experience it--and there have been some who have been involved in the coalition--should organize another group. Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and everything--and women should organize a different group than men.

That's not to say that there's not going to be and there's not a positive role for various forms of organization that develop among particular sections of the people to fight particular oppression. But to make a principle out of it, to divide everybody up--and you can keep going with that too. You can always find another basis on which to divide people. They can be divided up almost endlessly into narrower and narrower groups. But one of the strengths in opposition to that, with things like October 22, has been to unite people broadly--and we've talked about uniting the people directly under the gun with other people, even from...the middle class strata, for example, who are outraged by the injustice. And that's one of the real's a strength of the October 22 coalition but it's a strength of the whole unite-all-who-can- be-united orientation and of bringing forward the proletarian line to lead that. It's an expression of that line and the strengths of that line that's being manifested there, even though people, as part of the united front, have many different viewpoints about different questions.

Again, different forms of oppression have their particularity, you know the oppression of women is different than the oppression of Black people, for example, discrimination against gays and lesbians is different than the exploitation of immigrants in the garment factory--but all these things interconnect and interpenetrate, and most of all they're all fundamentally rooted in the same system, and in the nature of the system. And they all have the same solution. If they're all rooted in the same thing then you have to uproot that system in order to get rid of these things. Walling off things--or saying everybody should go to their own narrow circle, and wall themselves off at least to a certain degree from everybody else, and develop "their own truth" and their own understanding of oppression separated from the larger picture-- is not going to, it couldn't, lead to anything but reform at best, and it seems to me to fall woefully short of being able to really deal with the problem. And it really represents, on the part of people who have consolidated this into a line, it does represent--to a certain degree consciously, but at least unconsciously--a statement that revolution is not possible and/or not desirable.

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