Brooks: What do you think is the responsibility—particularly of revolutionary forces but, even more broadly, of anybody who's serious about or even questioning about whether the world could be different? Isn't there the responsibility of setting whole new standards and taking on this vicious culture of gossip and slander, setting the standards that you're talking about, where people are proceeding from what it's actually gonna take to change the world? How do you see people's responsibility in terms of that?
BA: Well, again, people have to fight to make the focus of things: what is the way we're gonna actually understand the world and change the world? If that's what we're setting out to do, if that's what we really wanna do, then we're gonna proceed from the need to get a real understanding of what it is that different people and groups actually are for and where it would actually lead. What is their line, and what are the implications and the consequences if that line is carried out and if people are mobilized around that line, as opposed to another one? And it is a fight to make that the focus.
There's also a fight to have the standard be: That other stuff—that "tabloidism," that low-life gossiping, slander and rumor-mongering, the personal backbiting, and the rest of that—we don't want that, that doesn't go here. We're about something serious here, we're about trying to make a new world, and that other stuff is part of the old world we need to get rid of. If you have a criticism of somebody, let's raise it up to the level of things that really matter.
And, along with that, let's raise it up to a level where people, beyond just the parties in conflict, can figure things out. If I say, "you punched me, and anyway you're an asshole": for people who were not there, who are not directly involved, how are they gonna sort that out? And is that really where their attention should be focused? You could go around and around and, first of all, you might never sort it out. Second of all, and even more fundamentally, it's not what people's attention should be focused on. If we have political differences, we're not gonna resolve them—and people are not gonna be able to know what's right and wrong—by descending down to that level.
It will also not get things onto the level where they need to be—but will actually drag them down and away from what needs to be focused on—if, when an individual or group forthrightly puts forwards its views and aims, instead of responding to the substance of this, it is "answered" by accusing them of arrogance for putting this forward, or trying to dismiss them as a "cult," or demanding: "Who are you to say that you know what the problem is and what should be done?" Instead, the focus needs to be on: What does this person or group stand for, and what does that other person or group stand for—and which one, if either of them, really is in correspondence with reality and with the interests of humanity, and which is not? Or, which ones go part way and then turn back, and which ones can actually break through and go where we need to go?
People need to be insisting that those are the questions that should be focused on. And there's a related and important point of method. In contrasting opposing views, in polemics, what should the approach be? For example, we wrote a long polemic against Alain Badiou's political philosophy, his so-called politics of emancipation—which is really just the politics of staying within the world as it is, confined within the bourgeois world. When I say "we wrote," I am referring to the polemic written in Demarcations, an online theoretical journal which puts forward the perspectives of our Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party.4 The people who wrote that polemic worked very hard on it. They read a lot of what Badiou has to say, and they applied the method of taking on the best arguments that Badiou himself makes about what he sees as the essence of things, as opposed to taking cheap shots. If you read that polemic, you'll see that it's not taking on all of his philosophy, but it's taking on his political philosophy and his political orientation, and it goes deeply into what he has to say about that, and shows why it's wrong—in a way that people who are serious can actually get inside of and get an understanding of—as opposed to taking cheap shots, chopping up things that people say, misrepresenting them in so doing, and so on. Rather than that, let's really examine what somebody has to say, in the best representation that they themselves can make of what they're arguing for, and then let's examine whether it's right or wrong, and whose interests it actually serves. Those are the standards that people should be striving for—and insisting upon.
Also, people should understand that not only does gossip and rumor-mongering, personal backbiting, "personal grievance narratives," and all the rest of that, do a lot of harm in terms of dragging people's attention down toward the gutter, and keeping people from focusing on the big questions that really make a difference in terms of whether the world's gonna stay the way it is, or whether it's gonna be radically changed and how; but it also greatly aids the repressive forces of the present system. It provides a lot of fuel for them, and it creates an atmosphere in which they can actually send in agents, and make use of this whole atmosphere to stir up a lot of shit between people.
There has been a lot of bitter experience with this. For example, there were political differences that developed within the Black Panther Party at a certain point, particularly at the end of the 1960s and into the early '70s. There was a division where people were grouped around Huey Newton on the one hand, and Eldridge Cleaver on the other. They had big differences. But, all too often, instead of those differences being struggled out on the high plane of what is this one saying about the problem that the revolution is facing, what's the other one saying—and which one is right, or are they both partly right and partly wrong, or are they both wrong?—instead of that being what people focused on, a lot of personal shit got thrown into the game, and personal attacks were made. This created an atmosphere in which the political police—the FBI, the repressive forces of the state—could thrive. They could get people at each other's throats, and sometimes they could even get people to go at each other physically, attack each other, while the state could say: "Look, it's not us, they're just fighting each other—that shows you these revolutionaries are no good, they're fighting each other."
So this kind of atmosphere not only leads away from a correct understanding of things and interferes with the ability to get to the essence of things, but it also demoralizes the masses of the people whose hopes have been raised that there can be a radical change for the better, while it creates an atmosphere in which the forces of the present order, which are not only oppressive but are literally murderous, can have more favorable conditions in which to operate. And I'm not engaging in any exaggeration or hyperbole—they're murderous on a massive scale. If you don't think so, look into it, and see what they've done throughout the world, as well as within the U.S. itself. There are literally millions upon millions of people that they've murdered or enslaved, or driven off their land and herded into concentration camps, in what's now the U.S. itself, as well as in every other part of the world.
This is what we're up against. And to feed an atmosphere where things are on a low, petty and nasty level—giving vent to personal grievances or personal narratives, rather than focusing on the big questions—this can only aid those truly murderous forces of the repressive state, whether people intend to do that or not. Some people may be consciously doing this, consciously seeking to aid the state—either they themselves are agents of the state, or they've become so thoroughly corrupted by their own narrow outlook, that they are willing to actually do things that they know will aid the state—or they're doing it unknowingly, but it has the same effect.
So there has to be a fight. People have to say: No, let's raise our sights. This is not the level things should be fought out on. This is not the level where criticism and struggle should be carried out. And, furthermore, this is not the way we're gonna sort out what's right and wrong. If things get down to the level of these personal narratives and backbiting, then those who are not directly involved are very unlikely to be able to arrive at a correct understanding of what happened. But you can sort out what different people stand for, what they say the problem is and what the solution is. That's where people's attention has to be focused. And there has to be an insistence: No, we are not gonna sink down into that gutter, and we're not gonna play into the hands of the enemy, of this ruling class that is literally a world class bunch of murderous gangsters—and, again, I say that without any exaggeration or hyperbole—we're not gonna play into their hands by keeping things on that level. And we are gonna struggle in the culture at large to tell people: Let's get out of that cesspool, and let's get up here into the realm of the future of humanity; and over that, yes, let's have lots of very sharp, but principled struggle—about the substance of what humanity's up against and the substance of what we need to do about it.
4. Raymond Lotta, Nayi Duniya and K.J.A., "Alain Badiou's 'Politics of Emancipation': A Communism Locked within the Confines of the Bourgeois World," Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic, Issue Number 1, Summer-Fall 2009, demarcations-journal.org. The next (second) issue of Demarcations is scheduled to be published in Summer, 2012. [back]