Revolution #82, March 18, 2007
"Living in the House of Tony Soprano"
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.
This is really capturing something very powerful, not only in a general sense but also more specifically in terms of what is pulling on a lot of people who should be in motion very vigorously and with real determination against the outrages that are being perpetrated in their name and by their government—by this ruling class, and by the core that's at the center of power now in the U.S.
When this analogy, or metaphor, of "living in the house of Tony Soprano" was first brought forward (or when I first heard of it, at least), in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, it was very timely and relevant. But September 11th was a rude announcement that there's a price to be paid for living in Tony Soprano's house, for continuing to go along with these profoundly unequal relations in the world and the way that your government, and this system fundamentally, bludgeons people in the world into conditions of almost unspeakable suffering in order to keep this whole thing going and in order, yes, for some "goodies" to be handed out to sections of the population in the "house"—not only "goodies" in an economic sense but also in the form of a certain amount of stability, and a certain functioning of democracy (bourgeois democracy) within the U.S. itself. All that is being shaken up now. Now, you don't just get the goodies for "living in Tony Soprano's house"—you get the "strangers" out in the backyard at night. "They're out there somewhere." It's a different world. It isn't the same equation as it was, even a decade or so ago—it's not the same now "living in Tony Soprano's house."
It is not that everything was all smooth and nice for everybody in this house—for many people in the U.S. that has been far from the case—and it is not that nobody was aware of things going on in the world, of what "Tony Soprano" was doing to people out there all over the world. In fact, one of the ironies is that a lot of people have been somewhat aware of this, but when the terms get sharpened up, some people want to pull back from what they themselves know. And so we have to get into real and sometimes sharp struggle with people.
This is a point I believe I made in one of those recent 7 Talks1—and, in any case, it is a very important point to emphasize: 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.
Ultimately, especially in today's world, to do that is a form of complicity, and we should struggle with people about that.
And it also won't work to apply that kind of approach. You'll just end up in a very bad place, reinforcing both of the "historically outmodeds"2 and being on the wrong side of what needs to happen in the world, if you follow that approach out to its logical conclusion.
We need a different world than one where there are a few houses of Tony Soprano, surrounded by a seemingly endless sea of suffering and oppressed humanity, living in terrible squalor and under undisguised tyranny; where the power, wealth and privilege of the relative few depends on, and is grounded in, the exploitation and misery of the many (and where, even within "Tony Soprano's house" itself, there are many who are treated as little better than second-class members of the family, or as despised servants). This is a world that cannot, and should not, go on as it is.
Even before people are won to the communist standpoint and program, to fully deal with this, there is a struggle to be waged and they can be won to the broad position that we need a different world. We can struggle about what that world should be, and how it should be brought into being; but this dynamic we're on is going to lead to a disaster for humanity, including all of those who are trying to hide from it, in one form or another, or are thinking that if they remain passive, somehow it will pass them by.
This Is Not Our War—and This Is Not Our "Quagmire"
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…
They Lied to Us… and Deceived Themselves
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. They actually believe all this stuff about "free markets." Or, to a large degree, they believe this, because once again there is also a lot instrumentalism.3 But they do believe a lot of it, and they don't understand what their system and its operation around the world actually leads to and what it actually calls forth. They understand some of it—it would be wrong and way oversimplified to say that they don't understand any of it—but, in essential and fundamental terms, they don't understand how it actually functions, what the underlying dynamics are, and what it calls forth in different ways. So they believe they can go in and do this kind of thing in Iraq, and everybody's going to welcome it—you know, the flowers and all that kind of stuff. They believed that to a significant degree. And then sometimes they don't know what they believe and what they want you to believe. The two get very closely bound together and even become identical in their thinking. But, to a significant degree, they do believe their own propaganda: they actually deceive themselves, and they don't understand how their own system works.
They don't understand the lopsidedness in the world—the great disparity and acute polarization in the world, where tremendous wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a small number of people, and in a handful of countries, while in most parts of the world, and in the world as a whole, the great majority struggle, often unsuccessfully, even to secure the basic necessities of life while being subjected to life-stealing exploitation and murderous oppression. Yes, the imperialists know this lopsidedness is there, and they make calculations based on it, yet they lack the intention, and the ability, to put an end to this lopsidedness. Along with that, they don't really understand what it flows from, what are the foundations of that lopsidedness, and why it is continually recreated, often in even more extreme terms.
More on the "Two Historically Outmodeds"
…A number of pundits and "analysts"—including once again right-wing squawking heads like Glenn Beck—have continued to insist: "This is World War 3, we are already in World War 3." This specter of World War 3 involves, in a real sense, both considerable distortion of reality and actual reality. And this does get to the "two historically outmodeds" and how in fact they do reinforce each other even while opposing each other. As I have formulated this:
"What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade 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.
…It is interesting, I recently heard about a comment that someone made relating to this, which I do think is correct and getting at something important. In relation to these "two historically outmodeds," they made the point: "You could say that the Islamic fundamentalist forces in the world would be largely dormant if it weren't for what the U.S. and its allies have done and are doing in the world—but you cannot say the opposite." There is profound truth captured in that statement.
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.
An Unequaled Barbarity
In a speech on September 11 this year (2006), the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush said—now listen to this: "Five years ago, 19 men attacked us with a barbarity unequaled in our history." Think about that statement for a second and what they're trying to put over on people with that.
Really, "a barbarity unequaled in our history"? How about little things like slavery? How about little things like genocide of the Native Americans? How about lynching? How about wars like the war against the Philippines at the end of the 19th century, and all the atrocities committed by U.S. forces against the people of the Philippines? Or Vietnam? Or Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Note that Bush didn't say "on our territory." He said "unequaled in our history." That is not only a profound lie but a profound exposure of the monstrosity of the mentality of someone who could say something like that.
Recently in our newspaper, Revolution, we had pictures and headlines from the time of the dropping of the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War 2. There's all this talk these days about how "we" can't let others have nuclear weapons. And you have to keep reminding people in this country—or informing people, probably the majority in this country, who don't know it—about which country is the only one that has ever actually used nuclear weapons. I hate to say it—I don't want to be Jay Leno on the Tonight show, out on the street with his microphone, asking people basic questions about things and getting wrong answers, showing how all the "rubes" are really as stupid as you might think they are. But the fact is that this is a systematically uneducated and mis-educated population. Something a professor at one university said to us is actually very important. He said about the youth that he teaches now: "You should understand that they don't know anywhere near what you think they know."
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."
In one of the recent 7 Talks (if I recall correctly, it was the one on religion4) I got into the question of logical syllogisms, and I want to return to this here.
This is related to the question of "common sense." 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.
You see this all the time. People proceed from certain assumptions, like "we're the good guys in the world." They don't even necessarily say "we're the good guys" every time; they just proceed from that assumption and then make arguments about what "the bad guys" (the ones who are opposed to "us" or who are "getting in our way") are doing in the world.
Well, as I have pointed out, with any of these syllogisms, or any kind of logical reasoning, there is the question of whether you are in fact reasoning logically—which is a problem for a lot of these hard-core defenders of the system and apologists for its crimes, especially the religious fundamentalist ones—they do not proceed logically much of the time. But even if you are proceeding logically, there is the question of whether your assumptions are valid to begin with, whether they actually are true. And, in addition to critically examining the logic (or lack of it) that characterizes people's thinking, there is a real importance to bringing to light the unstated, unchallenged—and often even unrealized—assumptions that go into a lot of what many people say, and think.
If you think back to the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, whenever anybody would bring up anything about what was wrong with invading Iraq, those who supported the invasion—and who, at the same time, were unwilling, or unable, to think at all critically about all this—came back with a constant refrain: "But we were attacked." This has the virtue of highlighting both bad logic and faulty assumptions. Bad logic: "We" (the U.S. and its citizens) were not attacked by Iraq, so how does the argument that "we were attacked" justify an invasion of Iraq? And faulty assumptions, which do not conform to reality: the assumptions that "we" have been completely innocent, doing no harm in the world, and then "we" were suddenly attacked out of nowhere, with no relation to anything "we" were doing in the world. Well, in reality, who are "we," what have "we" actually been doing in the world, and where did this attack come from—and why? What set of social relations are "we" out in the world enforcing? What is our Tony Soprano doing out there?
So there are epistemological points that have to be gone into as part of this—most fundamentally in terms of how we understand reality, but also how we struggle with people about all this. I mean, imagine making the statement Bush did: "Nineteen men attacked us with a barbarity unequaled in our history."…
American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People's Lives
One of the positive things on the political terrain these days—and we have to struggle for this to be brought forward a lot more fully—is a fairly widespread sentiment and consciousness, within the U.S. itself, that American lives are not worth more than other people's lives. This view is even more widespread than during the Vietnam War, I believe, although it did find expression then as a pretty mass phenomenon. Those who haven't been around as long perhaps aren't fully aware of this, but it's a relatively new thing for there to be a mass phenomenon where people in the U.S. itself are arguing that American lives are not worth more than other people's lives. This is a very important and relatively new positive thing on the political terrain. In the history of this country, there has always been the assumption—this has been promoted by the ruling class, but it's held much broader sway—that American lives are, of course, more important and worth more than other people's lives. The difference is that now there is actually a significant section of society who, when it's presented that way, will vehemently disagree. That's an important thing. And we have to win many more people to this viewpoint that American lives are not more important…
Rejecting—and Breaking Out of—the Framework of the "War on Terror"
For people living in the U.S., there is a particularity that needs to be continually gone back to, in relation to the "war on terror." I have made the point that this is not entirely fabrication on the part of the Bush regime (and the imperialist ruling class generally). There are real aspects to this—or, better said, there is a reality to which these imperialists are speaking, even while they fundamentally distort reality. But, in essential terms, this "war on terror" is an imperialist program which, among other things, is aimed at blotting out and turning the attention of people, even people who should know better, away from reckoning with the profound inequalities and oppressive relations that exist within different societies but especially on a world scale, under the domination of the imperialist system and in particular U.S. imperialism, which boasts of being "the world's only superpower" and is determined to maintain all this. If you accept the terms of "war on terror"—and especially if, as part of this, you do not look more deeply at the more fundamental relations in the world, the effects and consequences of that and the ways in which it is at the root of developments in the world now—you will get increasingly caught within the logic that what is most important is that "we" (meaning the people in the U.S.—and "I" above all!) "have to be protected." You get caught up thinking and arguing about what should be "the real war on terror." This has happened even to a lot of progressive people—including those who frame their opposition to the Iraq war in terms of considering it a "diversion from the war on terror"—they become trapped within the wrong logic. If you are carried along by this logic, you can end up in a very bad place.
You cannot get to a correct understanding of things, and you cannot move toward the only possible resolution of all this that is in the interests of humanity, by proceeding from within the terms of the "war on terror." Even while "the war on terror" is not entirely a fabrication, even while there are important aspects of reality that it is reflecting—from the point of view of the imperialists—it is a fabrication in the form in which it is presented to people. That contradiction is important to understand: There are important aspects of reality that this formulation of "war on terror" (or "war against terrorism") is reflecting; but, as it is presented, it is a fabrication. Its essence is not "a war on terror." It is essentially a war for empire. And the confrontation with Islamic fundamentalist, and other, forces (even those which actually do employ tactics and methods which can legitimately be called "terrorist") takes place within, and is essentially framed by, that context and that content of war for empire.
Epistemology and Morality… Crimes and Complicity
This has to do with the point about "where epistemology meets morality." I thought the quote from Josh Wolf that was in an article in our paper recently was very much to the point. He is a video journalist who wouldn't turn over to the police and a grand jury his videotapes of an anti-globalization demonstration in the Bay Area. And they are going after him because he won't be complicit with them in this way. He said, very strongly: "People out there, quit hitting the snooze button. Wake up and hope it's not too late." And then he said very explicitly: "Quit saying you can't make a difference. That's just another form of cowardice." It is definitely another form of complicity. And as part of wrangling with people and doing what needs to be done to bring forward meaningful political action on a mass scale, this issue of complicity has to be joined with people.
It does seem that one of the big problems with World Can't Wait, and specifically in terms of its October 5th mobilization, is that far too many people still didn't know about it. But then there are others who could have helped more people know about it, and more than a few of them didn't do what they should have and could have done. Now, we shouldn't shriek at people, we shouldn't actually get strident and shrill, but we also shouldn't be liberal and avoid struggle with people, even sharp struggle where necessary, so long as it is on a lofty and principled basis. We and others who are involved in World Can't Wait are not doing this because this is "our thing." We are doing this because of what's going on in the world and the stakes that are intensifying all the time.
Of course, there have been important positive things brought forward by World Can't Wait and in connection with its efforts—and it is important to build on the positive things. But there needs to be a challenge carried out, and we shouldn't shy away from it or shrink from it. We should join this struggle—in a good way. If you just go out and try to jack people up with no substance, that's no good. But we have to get into the substance of this with people. These two "historically outmodeds" are reinforcing each other; this dynamic is very bad and will lead to far worse disaster—if we don't lead people to break out of this. World Can't Wait was, and is, a vehicle for people to do that. What mainly needs to be done, on a whole larger scale still, is to show people, in a living way, why what is represented, and called for, by World Can't Wait is necessary, and how it can make a crucial difference. But we also have to join the issue of complicity with 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.
Attacks on Foundational Things in the History of the U.S.
…[T]here are two foundational things about the history of the U.S., and the exercise of bourgeois rule in the form of bourgeois democracy in this country, which are being brought under frontal attack increasingly. One is the undermining of the rule of law. We see this in a very sharp and concentrated way with the torture law, the so-called "Military Commissions Act," not only in its codification of torture, but also in its gutting of habeas corpus and in the powers that it grants to the executive. This is an attack on the historical basis of the bourgeois Constitution and the rule of law in U.S. society. We've gone into this elsewhere and we should continue to go into it more deeply. Here I'm just going to call attention to it.5
This goes along with and interpenetrates, in a very negative "synergy," with the whole Christian fascist attack on the secular foundations of the Constitution and government of the U.S.
Someone said—I think it might have been in the movie Jesus Camp—I haven't seen that movie yet, but I believe someone who has seen it recounted this, where one of these fundamentalist preachers said: India is the most religious country in the world, and Sweden is the most secular country; and we're a nation of Indians being ruled by Swedes. Now, as a matter of fact, one of the things about India is that it probably also has the most Maoists in the world, by the way. [laughs] It is definitely true that there's too much religiosity there, but describing India as the most "religious" country in the world is not really an accurate and hardly an all-sided characterization. But this statement (about India and Sweden) gets at something nonetheless. And, of course, the significance of this is that these right-wing religious fundamentalists—these Christian fascists, as we very accurately refer to them—want to change the situation so that there is in fact religious rule: law and government based on a literalist reading of the Bible, as interpreted and enforced by religious authorities.
An important thing to keep in mind in regard to this is that, while the U.S. is a very religious country, in the sense that the great majority of people profess some religion, it is not true that this is a religious country in the sense these fundamentalist Christian fascists mean it. They mean, and they insist, that not just the people, in their large majority, are religious but that, from its founding, the government and the laws were based on religion, and in particular on Biblical principles (and, of course, their literalist interpretation of those principles). This is not true. It is—yet another—falsification of history. The United States, in its Constitution, and in the basis for its laws, was and has been all along explicitly secular. That is, the notion of basing the Constitution and laws on religious, and specifically Christian, precepts was expressly and explicitly rejected in the founding of the country. So, again, what is involved here is an attack on another foundational thing about bourgeois society and bourgeois constitutional government in the U.S.—an attack which is being openly and aggressively carried out by the fundamentalist Christian fascist movement. And it is important to keep in mind that this is not just a grouping of isolated fanatics but a powerful force which has connections and influence at the highest levels of the U.S. government…
The Necessity That Is Being Confronted
Again, to just touch on these points quickly—but as bases and focuses for further reflection and wrangling—for the class of U.S. imperialists themselves, this situation is now impinging on them, and this necessity is making itself felt, in increasingly acute ways. They can't roll back the clock and go back to the situation before they invaded Iraq this time (in 2003) and ousted Saddam Hussein. Some of them might actually wish now that they could do that—but they can't. Some of these right-wing commentators were, for awhile, making joking remarks like: "Here's what we should do. We should get Saddam Hussein out of jail, apologize to him, put him back in power, tell him to whip this shit in shape while we ignore what he has to do to get this done." Now, clearly they can't do that. But these jokes themselves are a reflection of "the fine mess they have gotten themselves into," and the fact that, as a result, the necessity that is confronting them is greatly heightened.
And one of the ways this finds expression—and in fact this is another manifestation of, or dimension to, the point about "the pyramid of power"6 in the U.S. now—is this: Especially in these acute circumstances, as well as in an all-around and basic sense, to really take on and answer the right-wing section of the ruling class and its program and where it is driving things, it would be necessary to get down to, and to hit strongly at, the underlying assumptions and foundations upon which this rests. And that the other representatives of the ruling class—including as this is embodied in the Democratic Party leadership—can never do—and do not want to do.
If, for example, you are going to really challenge the thrust of the Iraq War, and the "let's go after Iran" logic, and so on, you have to call into question the whole assumptions of the "war on terror" and you have to bring forth what all that is really all about and is based on. Or, if you are going to take on something like the attacks on affirmative action, you have to talk about the actual history of this country—and all the atrocities, including genocide, slavery, and other horrendous forms of oppression, down to today—that this has involved. And that you cannot do from a ruling class perspective. Or to defend the right to abortion in a truly powerful way, which can answer the many-sided attacks on this—practical, political, and ideological—you have to get into the role of women in this society and the whole historical oppression of women—how that is bound up with other fundamental social and class relations. That, again, is something you cannot do while remaining within the dominant and "acceptable" framework of bourgeois politics and ideology.
This is especially acutely posed in today's circumstances. Bourgeois politicians can't even do what the Church Senate Committee (named after Senator Frank Church) did back 30 years ago. Then, as a result of a whole mass upheaval and growing mass consciousness about the real nature of what the U.S. does around the world, this Senate Committee came out and exposed some of the things the U.S. had done, like in Chile and other countries where the U.S. pulled off coups and committed other crimes. Today, if you want to represent the ruling class, you cannot do even what the Church Committee did. It's nowhere on the agenda to talk about that stuff. The current situation—and not just the freedom but the necessity of the ruling class—doesn't allow for that kind of discourse, even in watered-down terms…
The "Two Maximizings" in the Development of the Revolutionary Movement—Among the Basic Masses, Among the Middle Strata
Moving ahead then from that foundation, I want to talk a little bit about the "two maximizings" and the decisive role overall of the first. To very quickly paraphrase here, this ("two maximizings") refers to developing a politicized atmosphere and a revolutionary current—and in particular a growing pole of people partisan to communism and to the Party—among the proletariat and basic masses; and developing essentially the same thing among the middle strata. And then there is the need to develop the "positive synergy" between these "two maximizings"; or, to put it another way (in more "classical communist terms"), the dialectical relation—the mutual interaction and reinforcement—between the two, in a positive way.
You are not going to bring forward a revolutionary force and a communist movement among the basic masses, on anything like the scale that is necessary, and potentially realizable, without there being the development of political ferment and political resistance broadly—and, yes, the development of a revolutionary and communist current—among the middle strata. In the absence of that, the basic masses are going to say to you—and they're going to have a point—that "we'll never get anywhere, we're going to be surrounded, everybody's going to oppose us, and we're just going to be viciously crushed once again." On the other hand, you can't hinge the development of a revolutionary force and a communist movement among the basic masses, and in society in general, on developments among even the progressive section of the middle strata or among the middle strata more broadly. That's not mainly where it's going to come out of. So we have to get the dialectics of this correctly.
We saw some of the positive development (and "synergy") that I'm talking about in the 1960s, for example. Why did the '60s become "the '60s"? It's because, in addition to all the ferment that was largely centered among the middle strata—the youth counter-culture and the anti-Vietnam War movement, and so on—there were masses of people, Black people and others, at the base of society who were expressing in very powerful ways: we refuse to live this way anymore. And, largely as a result of this powerful impulse, things developed beyond the confines in which various reformists and bourgeois forces were trying to contain them; things quite broadly found a revolutionary expression, in a general sense. And this, overall and in a political and ideological sense, lit a fire under all the other different strata in society. In terms of what was going on in U.S. society itself—and in the context of the whole world situation, including the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people to U.S. aggression as well as the Cultural Revolution in China—it was that upsurge "from the base," more than any other factor in American society, which gave the defining character to what "the '60s" became in the U.S. Not the distorted character that is attributed to it now, especially by the ruling class and mainstream media, etc., but its actual, extremely positive, radical, and revolutionary character.
I remember seeing a Peter Sellers movie in the early '70s, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (if I remember correctly, Alice B. Toklas was credited with coming up with a recipe for "grass" brownies). The movie was about this character, played by Peter Sellers, who was a typical middle class guy, a lawyer who kept getting to the altar to get married and then running away and dropping out. He had a younger brother who was a hippie who had already dropped out, and (to make a long story short) at one point this younger brother takes the Peter Sellers character to a "head shop"—they're looking around, and the hippie younger brother finds a copy of Mao's Little Red Book and says: "Oh, you've gotta have one of these. Everybody's gotta have one of these." That scene did actually characterize the times. It was not the way they portray it now. After a certain point—this was very positive, and we must not allow it to be summed up as negative—the revolutionary forces and, in a general sense, a revolutionary culture, had the initiative among very broad sections of society. And there are important lessons in that, in terms of developing the "two maximizings," and their "positive synergy" today.
Emancipators of Humanity
Essential in this—the principal aspect of this, in an overall sense—is bringing forward increasing numbers of the proletariat and basic masses, bringing forward growing waves of people from among the proletariat and basic masses as emancipators of humanity who are viewing things from that perspective. Revolutionary masses who are taking up the communist outlook and method and are learning to view the reactions and responses and the characteristics of different classes and strata from the point of view of "how do we get to a whole different world?"—and not from the point of view of "how does that affect me, or how does that make me feel?" That's what it means to rise to the level of being emancipators of humanity. It means you see beyond the shortcomings and limitations of these different strata—speaking of the middle strata in particular—and you see the necessity and the challenge of winning them, through a whole complex process, to be on the side of, or at least to a stance of friendly neutrality toward, revolution, preparing the ground politically for, and helping to hasten the time when a revolutionary situation comes into being.
If we don't bring forward a section of the proletariat and basic masses—or growing sections, wave after wave of people-–who are consciously motivated as emancipators of humanity, we have no chance for anything good to come out of all this. This definitely does not mean that it's unimportant to work among the middle strata, even with all their limitations. Believe me, the proletariat and basic masses have all kinds of problems and limitations too. The point is that they occupy a different position in society and are propelled toward different things. But here, again, there is the essential question of where they are going to be led, what they are going to be led to do—because, on their own and even with a certain gravitation toward radical solutions, this will not take the fully positive expression it needs, it will not go where it needs to go, without leadership—communist leadership.
And this responsibility falls to us—to those of us, drawn from many different strata in society, who at any given time have taken up the standpoint that corresponds to the fundamental interests of the proletariat, as a class—the outlook and method, and the cause and program, of revolutionary communism. It falls to us to in fact be the vanguard of the proletariat in that sense. If we don't do that, if we shirk or shrink from the responsibility to do that, how are the masses going to understand their own role as the emancipators of humanity? How are they going to be able to see beyond all the difficulties and the tremendous weight on them and the ways in which they're pulled down and pulled toward other things, which do not correspond to their own fundamental interests and the larger interests of humanity? How are they going to be able to realize their potential as the emancipators of humanity if we aren't very clear and firm about this (while also, on the basis of firmness, having flexibility, on the basis of solid core having elasticity)?
Understanding the World In Order to Change It
…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 all 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?
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…
1. The 7 Talks are a series of presentation given by Bob Avakian in 2006. The audio files of the 7 Talks, along with the Q&A and Concluding Remarks for those talks, are available for listening and downloading at bobavakian.net and revcom.us/avakian. [back]
2. This is referring to a formulation by Bob Avakian: "What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade 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." [back]
3. In another section of the edited version of this talk, Bob Avakian explains that: "by 'instrumentalism' here I mean torturing reality in the attempt to make a distorted version of reality an instrument of certain aims." [back]
4. The title of this talk is "Communism and Religion: Getting Up and Getting Free—Making Revolution to Change the Real World, Not Relying on 'Things Unseen'"; this talk and others of the 7 Talks are available online at bobavakian.net and revcom.us/avakian. [back]
5. See Revolution articles on the Military Commissions Act, online at revcom.us: "The Torture Bill: Compromising Your Way to Fascism" (issue #63); "Facts About the Military Commissions Act (Torture Law)" (#64); "Interview with Bill Goodman, Center for Constitutional Rights—The New Military Commissions Act: "It is a dangerous moment for all of us" (#65). [back]
6. In a number of talks and writings, Bob Avakian analyzes the relations at the top of U.S. society—as well as the relations between various contending forces "at the top" and social bases at various levels of society—in terms of a "pyramid." This analysis can be found, for example, in the DVD of the talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About (Three Q Productions, available at threeqvideo.com). See also the articles "The Pyramid of Power and the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down" and "The Center—Can It Hold? The Pyramid as Two Ladders," available online at revcom.us. [back]