Revolution #172, August 9, 2009
RUMINATIONS AND WRANGLINGS
On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science,
Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning
[Editors’ note: The following is the eighth excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year, which is being serialized in Revolution, beginning with issue #163. Parts 1-7 appeared in issues #163, #164, #165, #166, #167, #169, and #171. Part 8, along with Parts 6 and 7, are from the section titled “The Social Basis for Revolution.” The text of the talk has been edited and footnotes have been added for publication. The entire talk can be found online at revcom.us/avakian/ruminations/BA-ruminations-en.html]
Winning people to be communists, emancipators of humanity
In light of that, I want to speak once again to the crucial importance of bringing forward and continually strengthening the communist solid core of, in turn, a broader revolutionary movement—a movement aiming for revolution and nothing less. This stresses once again the great importance of struggling to win people to the whole orientation of being emancipators of humanity, in opposition to notions of revenge—"the last shall be first, and the first shall be last"; "this is my chance to have a go at being in the top position," and so on—which is, to a large degree, the spontaneous way in which people see the question of change in society, when and insofar as they think about this. So there has to be a struggle for people to break out of, to rupture with, that outlook, and to become emancipators of humanity—to be striving consciously for the abolition of not just this or that particular oppressive relation, and not just a change of place within the framework of oppression and exploitation, but the abolition of all oppression and exploitation throughout the world.
This underlines why it is so crucial to pay so much attention, now, to questions of the communist outlook, orientation and aims, in contrast to outlooks and programs representing the interests and aspirations of other classes, and particularly in contrast to the outlook and interests of the bourgeoisie and to what is concentrated in the phrase "bourgeois right": the notion of "right" (or rights) within the framework of bourgeois society, a society dominated by an exploiting class, a society founded on, embodying and enforcing relations of exploitation. There is a crucial importance to this if there is ever going to really be a revolution and if that revolution is actually going to lead to a radically new world.
At the same time, while it is important to wage this struggle among basic masses—the exploited proletarians and others held down at the base of society—there is also the crucial importance of winning over a section of intellectuals—and, more broadly speaking, educated youth—to the vision but also the actual goal of communism. Repeatedly, we see that the strivings of youth for a better world, even to the degree that they do get spontaneously expressed, become diverted, and perverted, degraded and vitiated by the ruling class. And, again, Obama's role is a concentrated example of that. We see a lot of youth today, for example, rallying to Obama's broad call to do "service" to the country in one form or another—not simply military service, but even service in other ways—in education or in terms of the infrastructure or other needs of the country, as these are perceived and framed by the ruling class that Obama is a representative of and serves. What Obama is calling for is service to imperialism—to the bloody system which crushes, degrades and brutalizes, and literally slaughters millions of people, year after year, decade after decade, in the service of exploitation, and to reinforce oppressive relations, including those between oppressor and oppressed nations and peoples, and the oppression of women.
There is, with Obama, this whole echo today of John Kennedy's [speaking in New England accent]: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Obama is very consciously echoing this with his call to service. And, as an article in issue number 153 of Revolution pointed out, this is being directed, distorted and perverted toward service to U.S. imperialism. This is something people learned back in the 1960s. One very significant manifestation of this occurred with people who went into the Peace Corps and then found out what imperialism was actually doing and what they were being directed and led to do as part of an imperialist agency—and who then came back and formed groups like Returned Volunteers, which were explicitly anti-imperialist. They learned in those times, in a situation where people were rising up against imperialism around the world, what the actual relations were that they were being called on to give service to, by being part of imperialist agencies like the Peace Corps. They learned that things like the Peace Corps were an "adjunct" to, and part of the same overall apparatus as, the U.S. military, the CIA, and other instruments of violent, life-crushing imperialist domination and exploitation—and they rebelled against that. This underscores how crucial it is that people break out of the imperialist-constructed framework in which they are conditioned to see the possibility of making contributions to a better world: the ways in which that is distorted and perverted to the literally bloodthirsty aims of imperialism—yes, as represented by Obama, no less than Clinton, no less than "W" Bush, and all the others.
At the same time, we see how in the world today there is the growing phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism, an outmoded world-view, representing outmoded relations, highly oppressive relations, including the enslavement of women in many different forms. People are drawn to that because they see it as a force actually opposing the dominant imperialist powers of the West (however they understand that), represented above all by the U.S. In this connection it is worth recalling again the comment made by a bourgeois observer about people in England who carried out what were objectively acts of terrorism there, on the basis of being influenced by this Islamic fundamentalist ideology. He noted that a generation ago these people, or many of them, would have been Maoists. Now, as I've stressed before, the point is most decidedly not that Maoists carry out the same kind of tactics as Islamic fundamentalists—clearly communists have a very different world outlook and different fundamental objectives and, flowing from that, very different tactics—but the essential point here is that a few decades ago, in circumstances where, in the world overall, revolutionary communism had a much more powerful impact and influence, such people, or many of them, would have been in a radically different and much better place, being drawn to a radically different and truly liberating world outlook and a whole different strategy for changing the world that relies upon and draws forward the masses of people, women no less than men, and aims to uproot all relations of exploitation and oppression, and doesn't seek to terrorize sections of the people into accepting a new form of oppression, or a slightly altered form of oppression.
In this context it is also worth recalling a front page article in the New York Times, on December 24 of last year (2008), where it quotes a youth in a Middle Eastern country, saying that the Islamic fundamentalist movement is for youth like him what Pan-Arabism was for his parents' generation.
This general phenomenon is something that I've pointed to and analyzed in some depth in the book Away With All Gods!—Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. But one thing that was not sufficiently spoken to there (I have spoken to this elsewhere but I actually wish I had spoken to it more in that book...but I'll speak to it here [laughs]) is that, besides the phenomenon of masses of poor people from the countryside—peasants and so on—being uprooted and thrown into the urban areas, and in particular the shantytowns, in countries throughout the Third World, there is also the phenomenon of educated youth who are, however, educated (as one bourgeois commentator put it) on a certain narrow foundation: people who go to college to become engineers or technicians or similar occupations, but find their aspirations for that thwarted by the corruption of the governments in those countries (this is how many of these youth spontaneously see this), but fundamentally by the fact that the economy of those countries and their role within the overall framework of imperialism cannot provide an outlet for these aspirations—to put it simply, cannot provide enough positions and jobs for people who do get the education and training in these spheres. This is one of the sources that is feeding organized Islamic fundamentalist trends and movements within many of these countries. And this is feeding Islamic fundamentalism—and other religious fundamentalism—in today's world more broadly.
In opposition to this, there is a need to much more broadly and deeply capture the imagination of people generally, basic masses but also educated youth—to inspire them with the vision of communism and win them to its truly liberating outlook and goals, win them to truly be emancipators of humanity seeking to abolish all shackles, mental as well as economic, social and political, that hold down the masses of people—as a key part of building the overall movement for revolution, toward the final aim of a communist world. This is an extremely important point, and something I'll come back to: the attractiveness of what is represented by communism, and the need to much more boldly and vigorously put this forward and fight for it among educated youth, as well as among basic masses, and other sections of the people.
To be continued