Revolution #187, December 27, 2009
EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF A TALK BY BOB AVAKIAN, CHAIRMAN OF THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST PARTY, USA, FALL 2009
UNRESOLVED CONTRADICTIONS, DRIVING FORCES FOR REVOLUTION
[Editors' note: The following is the fourth in a series of excerpts from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian in Fall 2009, which is being serialized in Revolution. The first three excerpts appeared in Revolution #184, #185, and #186. The entire talk can be found online at revcom.us/avakian/driving.]
Racism and white supremacy, ruling class divisions and repolarization for revolution
As another important dimension of the "pyramid analysis" and the present polarization in U.S. society—both at the top and among different strata extending out and down from the top of the "pyramid"—it is, of course, necessary to recognize and point sharply to, and take the full measure of, the American white supremacist element in all this. It is important, for example, to note how, as we and some others have pointed out, the current economic crisis is hitting Black people and other "minorities" even harder than the "general population" (or, in other words, white people), deepening in this dimension as well the objective "racial divide" in America. What goes along with this, ironically—and you see this very clearly in the mobilization of these fascist forces, in their "tea parties" and other forms—is the sense of white male American entitlement.
I believe that, as a general phenomenon, one of the main elements that contributes to a fascist mentality, and the inclination (or the vulnerability, however you want to put it) to be mobilized around a fascist program, is a sense of frustrated entitlement. And this is a very big element of the current political situation overall and specifically of this fascist force that we see being mobilized very rabidly on the scene now.
Here enters in, once again, the "de Tocqueville point" that we have emphasized many times. With his romanticized view of the United States at that time, de Tocqueville (a French politician, scholar and philosopher who traveled in the U.S. in the early days of the American republic, about 200 years ago) extolled American democracy and the prospects for this to not only survive but flourish over the long term. But, at the same time, he did take note of and call attention to a certain vulnerability, or Achilles heel, in all this: the existence at that time of slavery. And extrapolating from that down to the present, we could refer more generally to the situation, the viciously oppressed situation, of Black people within the United States, which in the 200 years or so since the time of de Tocqueville has gone through changes in form and in particular circumstances, but remains one of the most pronounced aspects of American society and one of the greatest exposures of the crimes of the American capitalist-imperialist system overall.
This remains a vulnerable point of this whole system. Even with very real changes in the situation of Black people, as part of the larger changes in the society (and the world) overall—including a growth of the "middle class" among Black people, an increase in college graduates and people in higher paying and prestigious professions, with a few holding powerful positions within the ruling political structures, even to the extent now of a "Black president"—the situation of Black people, and in particular that of millions and millions who are trapped in the oppressive and highly repressive conditions of the inner city ghettos, remains a very acute and profound contradiction for the American imperialist system as a whole and for its ruling class—something which has the potential to erupt totally out of the framework in which they can contain it. And something which, at the same time, is a point of very sharp contention and spur to mobilization, not only of potential revolutionary forces, but also now of reactionary and potential or actual fascist forces.
In this connection, I want to go back to a contentious but very real and important point that I have been stressing for a number of years now, which is captured in the formulation "the Bible Belt is the lynching belt." To put this another way, religious fundamentalism in the United States, as with all reactionary social and political expressions, cannot help but have, as a major component, white supremacy, including in its most extreme and virulent forms. Of course, I am not the only one who has pointed to this basic phenomenon and made some important analysis of it. Here, for example, it is worth recalling what was said by Dr. Hubert Locke, an African-American theologian, in a 2005 talk at the Pacific School of Religion, entitled "Reflections on Pacific School of Religion's Response to the Religious Right." In this speech, Locke pointed particularly to two factors in regard to what he very forthrightly called Christian Fascism in the U.S. in this period: unresolved contradictions going back before the Civil War—or, as Locke put it, there is a "thinly-veiled cry to return to a set of ideals and values that this nation demolished when the South lost the Civil War"—along with an attack on what was brought forward through the 1960s. This embodies an attempt to impose a fascist resolution to contradictions which in important ways have remained unresolved and which repeatedly pose themselves in profound and acute ways and become especially acute in the context of a serious crisis, such as the current economic crisis and the broader dimensions of crisis that now exist in the U.S. and in its role in the world. (Locke's speech, "Reflections on Pacific School of Religion's Response to the Religious Right," is reprinted in Revolution #32, January 29, 2006.)
In tracing the relation of these factors to right-wing Christian fundamentalism in the U.S., Locke makes essentially the same point that I have made, including in the book Away With All Gods!,1 concerning how the Bible Belt is the lynching belt—in other words, the very close connection, or intertwining, of religious fundamentalism in the U.S. with overt, virulent and violent white supremacy, from slavery to lynching down to the wanton murders of Black people repeatedly carried out by the police in cities across America today.
In Away With All Gods!, along with examining the implications of the reality that the Bible Belt is the lynching belt, I also emphasize that there is a great irony in this: that among the masses of Black people there is a particular form of Christian fundamentalism in which they are getting caught up and which is being promoted by a section of reactionary—yes, let's call them what they are: reactionary—Black preachers who are, objectively at least, serving this system which has for centuries oppressed Black people. Even while among Black people there are some particular features of Christian fundamentalism which differ from the way this takes form among reactionary white Christian fundamentalists, two things remain profoundly true and important: religious fundamentalism in the U.S. cannot help but include a significant dimension in which it embodies and serves to reinforce white supremacy; and this religious fundamentalism is more generally a poisonous force which plays a key part in shackling masses of oppressed people, and people of different strata, to a reactionary worldview in the service of oppressive relations and the system of capitalism-imperialism which encompasses and enforces these oppressive relations.2
What is particularly relevant in today's situation is how to a large degree this is concentrated around Obama. Not long ago, I saw an interview with Janeane Garofalo (I believe it was on the Keith Olbermann show) in which she was talking about the earlier mobilizations of this "tea party" phenomenon, and she made the point: "Look, let's just cut through the bullshit here"—I'm paraphrasing, but this is the essence of what she said—"let's just cut through the bullshit, everybody knows what this is about. These people are white supremacists, racists who can't stand the idea of a Black president." Well, that's not the whole of the matter, and it would be oversimplifying to reduce it to that alone, but it certainly is a major element in it. It's barely disguised, if disguised at all, and often undisguised.
Here we come back to the two wings of the imperialist ruling class in the U.S.—what we could call, as a general characterization, the fascist wing on the one hand and on the other hand the more mainstream imperialist wing—which are represented in the political structure, broadly speaking, by the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, respectively. As discussed earlier, one side is very aggressive in putting forth its particular program and ideology within the overall framework of imperialist politics and imperialist interests in general. That is the right-wing side, the fascist side. The other side is shamefaced, at best, halting and often apologetic about its particular views, and is always seeking common ground with the overtly fascist section of the ruling class. This is why, for example, today people are again bringing up that the Democratic Party "has no spine," that it won't stand up to the Republicans, even when the Republicans are being outrageous and totally out of touch with reality in terms of what they are putting forward and the basis on which they are mobilizing people.
To further characterize these two wings, and how they act, you have on the one hand something like CNN, which pretends to be an objective news source, along with publications like the New York Times, the "newspaper of record" for more educated and "sophisticated" sections of the population ("all the news that"—a very pregnant phrase—"is fit to print"... from a certain standpoint, we should underline). So you have these kinds of media, who pretend to be objective—they have no particular axe to grind, no particular interests that they are advocating for, they insist—they are just there to tell you the news the way it really is. Well, recently, there was Anderson Cooper of CNN in Afghanistan, with his ill-fitting military helmet on, looking ridiculously like Ted Koppel (didn't he learn from Ted Koppel and Dan Rather?—they didn't look very good when they dressed up like that and played that role during the beginning of the U.S. war on Iraq). So, here is Anderson Cooper embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and he's going along in his "newsman" guise, pretending to be giving you an objective account of what's happening—recounting how he went out with U.S. troops in this area in Afghanistan, and there was some explosion and then some shots were fired, and "we ran over there but the bad guys seem to have disappeared." Now, if you're presenting the news "objectively," and you don't have a partisan point of view, how did you determine who were the "bad guys" and the "good guys" in this situation? This is just another expression—which is so common, so extensively propagated and hence so "embedded" in the popular consciousness, that it goes right by most people and they don't even notice it—of the highly partisan nature of all the mainstream and dominant media in the U.S., including those, like the New York Times and CNN, which are not the most overtly right wing. These media, despite significant differences among them, are all partisans of the imperialist system and its ruling class. They are not state-run media—at least not at this point—they are imperialist-run, ruling class-run media; and it is the viewpoint of the imperialist ruling class (or viewpoints which differ in some aspects but all within the framework of imperialist ruling class interests) that they dutifully and systematically put forward. That is why it shocks nobody, and most people wouldn't even stop to reflect on what it means, when they hear Anderson Cooper say: "But we weren't sure where the bad guys went."
Fascist lunacy—and "legitimate politics"
Now, you do have Fox News, which overtly purveys fascist propaganda, and openly mobilizes fascist social forces. These right-wing politicians and their media representatives (such as Fox News, as an outstanding example) put forward ideas and portray things in ways that are wildly in conflict with reality, whether the subject is the "health care debate" or such a fundamental fact of science as evolution—you have prominent politicians in the Republican Party who openly deny the scientific fact of evolution and appeal to people on that basis. So, here's a question which goes back to the "pyramid analysis" and how one side is paralyzed, or is always seeking consensus and the common ground, while the other side is overtly and aggressively putting forward its partisan views within the overall imperialist framework—here's a question that highlights that: Why is it that CNN, the New York Times, etc., cannot openly and straightforwardly speak of one side of this polarization as dangerous lunatics, or as crazed lunatics? Why is it that they are unable or unwilling to look at what's said by these right-wing forces, for example in the debates about health care, and say unequivocally and with real conviction: "This is totally out of line with reality, this has no relationship to the actual reality"? Or, around the question of evolution or other ways in which these fascist forces are totally out of step with reality, why cannot CNN straightforwardly report that one side in this is actually a bunch of dangerous lunatics and crazed fanatics?
Their inability and unwillingness to do this is for two essential reasons: One, they are not willing to deal with the fallout from that. In other words, when the response comes from the right-wing fascistic section of the ruling class and that social base is mobilized on this kind of crazed basis, the "liberals" and the more "mainstream" imperialist media and politicians are not willing to mobilize and call into motion, in opposition to this, the people whom they generally seek to appeal to in their role as news media or as politicians. That is the last thing they want to do, as we have emphasized.
And the other, even more fundamental reason flows from the fact that the continual theme that's drummed at people over and over again is that the only real, legitimate and meaningful political framework is Republicans vs. Democrats. When any news item comes out, what does CNN do, very quickly? They present things in terms of: "What do Republicans say? What do Democrats say? Here's some Republican spokespeople, here's some Democratic spokespeople on the panel to debate it." Not what's the truth and what are the larger implications, but "what do the Democrats say, what do the Republicans say?" Over and over again, through "mainstream" ruling class media, such as CNN, the idea is propagated and reinforced that these are the only terms on which things can even be considered politically—Republicans vs. Democrats.
Well, if you insist on that, on the one hand—as they must, because this is integral and crucial for maintaining the dominance of bourgeois politics and, more fundamentally, bourgeois rule in American society and American domination in the world—if you insist that these are the only terms and this is the only framework, but then you were to turn around and say, "one side is a bunch of crazed lunatics," that would not only be seen as an insult to that one side—while actually being an accurate portrayal—but it would in fact be calling into question and fundamentally undermining the whole framework. How can you insist that the only legitimate framework is one in which one side is a bunch of crazed lunatics?!
Obama as a major focus
Here it is important to emphasize that in a real sense these two wings of the ruling class, and of bourgeois politics in American society, also reinforce each other even while in some significant aspects opposing each other (in a way that is somewhat analogous to how, on a world scale, imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism reinforce each other even while opposing each other). And once again, Obama is a focus of this to a very significant degree in the present situation, with the rabid opposition to Obama that's being whipped up with, yes, not only very definite racist "overtones" but essential racist elements within it.
This also explains a significant phenomenon that we have to confront and transform, through struggle: Even people who have become very disaffected with and disillusioned about Obama and everything that got whipped up around his election—"hope" and "change" and all that—now that they see at least some of the reality of what Obama represents and what he is doing in accordance with that, they are becoming more disillusioned and disaffected, and even critical of Obama—but they are also being paralyzed to a significant degree. This is not only due to the fact that Obama and what he represents (that side of the "pyramid" of ruling class structures) does not want them to be mobilized—in fact wants them to be demobilized and politically paralyzed, except to act in very limited and passive ways within the dominant political framework—but they are also being demobilized and paralyzed to a significant degree by their fear, which is sometimes openly expressed, of criticizing Obama precisely because of and in the face of this mobilization of a truly fascist, and yes racist, force which is focused to a large degree on hatred for Obama.
The "best" need "passionate intensity"
Now I don't want to just emphasize the negative over and over again, but it is important to recognize that the present polarization is very negative. To a large degree, even to an overwhelming degree at this particular time, the positive side of the base of the pyramid is paralyzed. In the case of basic masses in particular, they are heavily weighed down by the hardships, and often the real horrors, of their daily life under this system. And they are being told to put all their faith in Obama and the Democratic Party, as well as in god, while a fascist base on the other side is being riled and revved up, rabidly, and mobilized on the basis of racism and a very much related religious fundamentalism. And, with regard to the "progressive middle strata," to use that term, they are weighed down by, among other things, their real fear of chaos and upheaval and their desire to "go on with their lives" without having to "get out of their comfort zone." Once again, this calls to mind the line from William Butler Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
Into this mix and this mess also comes a certain political trend among some "liberals," represented for example by people like Michelle Goldberg and expressed in her latest book, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World (Penguin Press, 2009). People with this outlook pose, wrongly, the polarization internationally as well as within the U.S. in essentially these terms: Secular liberalism and modernity vs. religious fundamentalism and traditionalism of various kinds (I'll come back to this more fully, later in this talk, specifically in relation to the oppression and the struggle for the liberation of women). This drawing of the lines of polarization does, in fact, reflect an aspect of present reality. But much more fundamentally, it reflects, for us and for all those who do want to see a radically different and better world, the crucial necessity of repolarization on the basis of and with the aim of a revolutionary orientation and revolutionary objectives.
Here, again, comes to the fore the crucial role that must be played by a force capable of actually leading opposition to these fascist forces and directing this toward revolution. I mean this both in terms of what we might call the "objective factor" and the "subjective factor"—that is, masses of people, on the one hand, and on the other hand, conscious revolutionary forces, and in the most concentrated expression of this our party, the Revolutionary Communist Party.
And here once more is the relevance of a point that has been stressed before and was emphasized in particular during the years of the Bush regime: There may be a need, and in fact almost certainly will be a need, for conscious revolutionary forces to take the lead in opposing certain fascist initiatives which take form, to a significant degree at least, as attacks on bourgeois-democratic rights and norms and, in certain cases perhaps, even some figures identified with bourgeois democracy and liberalism; but, let me underline, this must be done not by way of promoting and defending bourgeois democracy and bourgeois-democratic political leaders, but instead radically recasting this and directing it against the whole system of bourgeois rule, that is bourgeois dictatorship (which is what is actually embodied in the dominant political structures in this country) and the capitalist-imperialist system this enforces.
Here again we can see the continuing relevance and importance of the strategic orientation of the United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat—and let me emphasize specifically the latter aspect of this: the Leadership of the Proletariat. But, at the same time, let me also emphasize that this must be understood and acted upon not in terms of reification—not by treating the proletariat, or even individual proletarians, almost as some kind of supernatural force, some force imbued with the logic and momentum of history behind it in some metaphysical and essentially religious sense. It is a question of the fundamental interests of the proletariat as a class, and a question of mobilizing a mass social base, drawn from proletarians but also other oppressed people and broader strata in society, around a line representing the interests of the proletariat in the largest sense; giving life to the very real fact—with its very real material basis in actual human society, and not in some religious fantasy—that the proletariat as a class can only emancipate itself from its exploited condition by emancipating all of humanity and uprooting and abolishing all relations of exploitation and oppression.
This is the goal around which people must be brought forward: the advance to communism, the achievement of what we refer to as the "4 Alls," as they were popularized in China at the time of Mao: the abolition of all class distinctions, the abolition of all the production (or economic) relations on which these class distinctions rest, the abolition of all the social relations corresponding to those production relations, and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations.
This is what a force must be brought forward and mobilized around, in order to be emancipators of humanity. But as has been emphasized previously (for example in my talk "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future"3) this is not a matter of linearly going to "the workers" in an economist sense and appealing to them on a narrow basis, or just going to the lower sections of the proletariat as they actually exist in the millions and even tens of millions in this country. Rather, it will involve a process through which diverse forces—including many of those in the lower, deeper sections of the proletariat, as well as other oppressed people, particularly among the oppressed nationalities in the inner cities, but also masses from other strata among the people—must be brought forward around this orientation of being emancipators of humanity, around the line and program that corresponds to the largest objective interests of the proletariat as a class: making and carrying forward revolution to sweep away the capitalist-imperialist system and advancing to a world without exploitation and oppression.
This is crucial in terms of our overall strategic revolutionary objectives, of getting to a whole different and radically better world. But it is also crucial in terms of the present polarization in society and the challenge of repolarizing not for reform—not to try to ameliorate or mitigate or smooth out the rough edges of the ways in which things are being sharply posed now, and not only, or in and of itself, to oppose and defeat this fascist force that's being mobilized—but to repolarize for revolution—and, yes, as part of this, even seeking to win over as many as can be won from among those who now gravitate toward reactionary and even fascist programs, working to achieve repolarization among them as well—including by addressing in a much more vigorous way, in a much more creative way, in a much more profound way, the current moral crisis and the whole question of morality and culture.
1. Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, Insight Press, 2008. [back]
2. It is beyond the scope and purpose of this talk to elaborate further on this subject. There is important discussion of it in Away With All Gods!, which, among other things, drew from some of the insights of Kevin Phillips in his book American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (Viking, 2006). Away With All Gods! also references the Chris Hedges book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (Free Press, 2006). [back]
3. "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," a talk by Bob Avakian in the first part of 2008, is available, in its entirety, online at revcom.us, and was serialized in Revolution, beginning with issue #156 (Feb. 15, 2009) and continuing in issues #157 and #159-61. [back]