When People Are Falling Into Bullshit, They Should Be Told So: The Need for Sharp, and Principled, Struggle

From What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, An Interview with Bob Avakian

Editors’ Note: At the beginning of 2012, an in-depth interview with Bob Avakian (BA) was conducted over a period of several days by A. Brooks.  (This interview, with the title What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, is available at revcom.us.)

Brooks—a younger-generation revolutionary who has been inspired by the leadership and body of work of Bob Avakian and the new synthesis of communism this has brought forward—is the author of “God the Original Fascist,” a series of articles which appeared in Revolution in 2005, and is available at revcom.us (excerpts from these articles are quoted by Bob Avakian at the beginning of his book Away With All Gods!—Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, Insight Press, 2008). We are republishing here sections of this interview which are highly relevant to the current situation—particularly as a critique of the all-too-common practice of lies, slander and unprincipled rumormongering that are part of the popular culture these days, including among people calling themselves “anarchist”... “left”... “progressive”... “woke.”

In this interview, 10 years ago, BA called out this highly destructive way of avoiding principled struggle over differences—and, in opposition to this, emphasized the kinds of standards and methods that need to be applied in order to have principled and meaningful struggle over differences and arrive at a scientific understanding of what different ideologies and programs actually represent, and where they will actually lead.  We want to call attention especially to the section of this interview “The Culture, the Principles, the Standards We Need,” because of its particular and very direct relevance to what is happening today.

What Humanity Needs - Cover


What Humanity Needs, by Bob Avakian   

Brooks: I know that, in terms of your own development into a revolutionary communist and in terms of your relation to other people in that process, the role of struggle has been really important—people struggling with you during your development, and then you, at different points, very sharply struggling with other people.

BA: [Laughs] That is true. In my own development, there were people who struggled with me—some of them correctly, some of them incorrectly, some of them mainly correctly, and some of them mainly incorrectly. But all of that was part of the process of my learning—going through this process of really deeply grappling with these things because you understand it matters, it has real implications in terms of what's gonna happen to masses of people, not just yourself. You get into this—and the reason I laughed is because people did struggle, sometimes very sharply, with me. If you're going to get offended if things get sharp, and you respond to people struggling with you by thinking, "you're being oppressive because you're challenging my views strongly, and you're not giving me space to think," then you're not going to learn what you could learn. Now, we should have good methods with people, we shouldn't "jack people up" and shove them up against the wall, ideologically speaking. But there is a need and a role at times for very sharp struggle.

When people are falling into bullshit, they should be told so. Now, that's not all you should say. You should show them why. You should give them the substance. You should explain to them what's wrong. But this idea that everything has to be all so super-polite—this goes along with the relativist notion that everybody's ideas should be considered equally valid. Well, no. It's not a question of the person, it's a question of the ideas. It's not that one person counts for less than another person, but it's a question of whether the ideas are correct or incorrect. If they're incorrect, and if they're doing harm, they need to be called out sharply. Not in a way that puts people down. Not in a way that's antagonistic toward them—unless what they represent is really, fundamentally antagonistic to the interests of the masses of people, and they're digging in their heels around that. But among the people, so to speak, wrong ideas should be struggled over. Where people are putting forward different notions that are really wrong, and they are digging in their heels around them, they should be struggled with sharply. And where people say things that they don't have a basis for saying, where they haven't really investigated, they need to be told: you don't know what you're talking about.

Especially in this culture today, as I was referring to earlier, there is all this "tabloidism." You go on the Internet and there's all this nasty, low-level crap. People hide behind the pseudo anonymity of the Internet to attack people in low and vicious ways—not being at all principled, not lofting things up to the level they should be on. And, by the way, I say "pseudo anonymity" because the state can find out who you are any time they want to. Now, if you're not going up against the state, maybe you don't have to worry about that. But, for anybody who thinks they're really anonymous on the Internet—think again. You may be able to hide from other people for a while, but the state will certainly be able to find out who you are, if they want to, if you're all over the Internet. In any case, not to get too far afield on that, the point is: It does go back to that Mark Twain thing that I'm fond of quoting, because it's so applicable [Laughs]. He said: What you need to get along in America is the perfect combination of ignorance and arrogance. And there is way too much of that.

Ignorance is one thing. Let's demystify that word. It just means you don't know. In and of itself, this word isn't an insult. "Stupid" is different: "stupid" implies you can't think, even if you are given information. But ignorant just means you don't know. There's nothing wrong with ignorance, in itself. But if you pass judgments based on ignorance, and you insist on things based on ignorance, that's where the Mark Twain point comes in: the combination of ignorance and arrogance—arrogance that is grounded in ignorance. "I haven't bothered to really find out what you stand for, but I know it's no good." That kind of thing is all too common in the culture these days—and that needs to be called out for what it is. Do some work. These things matter.

If people are saying—either our Party or anybody else—that they believe they have an understanding of the fundamental problem humanity is up against and the solution to it; if we say that the problem is the capitalist-imperialist system, and the answer is communist revolution to bring into being an entirely different world without exploitation and oppression, without antagonistic conflicts among humanity or between humanity and the rest of nature; if people are saying that, that's obviously a very big deal. That's very serious. It matters a tremendous amount to the masses of humanity. If the people saying this are right, it's a very big deal; and if they're wrong, that is a very big deal. But your responsibility, if you're newly encountering this and you're ignorant about it—that is, you don't know because you have just encountered it—don't get sidetracked by what "everybody else" says about it. If you're serious—and this is serious—dig into it and learn about it. That's your responsibility.

That's the responsibility we took, back in the day, when we confronted the truly big things that were going on in the world, back in the 1960s. Not just the people who became communists, but many more people broadly, had that kind of serious orientation. There was, in the '60s movement, a different culture, a better culture, than what prevails today. Not that there weren't opportunists—people who were underhanded and unprincipled, and people who were out for personal gain and attacked other people in ways that were unprincipled and harmful to the general movement. There was some of that, of course. As long as there are class distinctions, as long as there are divisions among people that are oppressive, and as long as there is the corresponding ideology, there will be that shit in the mix. But, let me put it this way: There was a very powerful thing that ran counter to that in the '60s, where people understood that things mattered tremendously to the people of the world. The Vietnam War was going on. Your government, if you were an American, was waging this horrific war—massacring people, burning down villages, dropping napalm on little children, bombing dams and flooding whole areas, killing literally millions of people over the decade of that war. And you felt a sense of responsibility to resist that, and to do what you could to stop it, by joining together with others in massive political resistance to it. And so there was a different kind of culture among the very broad numbers of people who were deeply alienated from and determined to stand up against not just certain policies, and not just around certain particular, and more limited, grievances, but against the whole system, or the whole "power structure," as it was often called, and the whole "ethos," the whole prevailing philosophy and culture, that went along with that.

And there was a positive thing about communism in the mix. That raised people's sights also. Many people were drawn to that, instead of being bogged down in trying to figure out how we can make this system work in the interests of the people—which is impossible, and which, frankly, also ends up turning people against each other. If you are limited to the confines of this system, you will end up in conflict and competition with other individuals and with other sections of the people. You will be in competition in the attempt to get "your share," or to have the grievances of your particular identity group addressed, as opposed to that identity group, and so on. But, through the very broad and radical upsurge of the 1960s, people's sights were being lofted up. That's what we need to fight for now—and that is a fight.

What is going to be the culture? What is going to be the morality? How are people going to approach the question of what different individuals and groups represent and where they would take things? Are they gonna do it on the basis of the lowest kind of shit that people can get dragged down to? Or, are they gonna do it on the basis of what people actually stand for, what they actually say is the problem, and the solution? Let's see that in confrontation with other ideas about what the problem and the solution is—let's dig into that, and struggle through to figure out what's really right and what's really wrong.