Bob Avakian on The Oppression of Black People & the Revolutionary Struggle to End All Oppression
There is the potential for something of unprecedented beauty to arise out of unspeakable ugliness: Black people playing a crucial role in putting an end, at long last, to this system which has, for so long, not just exploited but dehumanized, terrorized and tormented them in a thousand ways—putting an end to this in the only way it can be done—by fighting to emancipate humanity, to put an end to the long night in which human society has been divided into masters and slaves, and the masses of humanity have been lashed, beaten, raped, slaughtered, shackled and shrouded in ignorance and misery.
an illustrated excerpt from the film
THE TRUMP/PENCE REGIME MUST GO!
In The Name of Humanity,
We REFUSE To Accept a Fascist America
A Better World IS Possible
A Talk by Bob Avakian
Watch the entire film here
One of the things that comes through most powerfully in Bob Avakian’s memoir is that a profound hatred for the oppression of Black people has been a defining part of Bob Avakian’s life from the time, as a teenager, he learned about the lives of the Black people with whom he developed deep ties of friendship. Never feeling that, because he is white, “it is not his place” to be involved in the struggle against this oppression—but, on the contrary, determined to contribute whatever he could to this struggle—Bob Avakian (BA), from the time he worked closely with the Black Panther Party in its revolutionary days in the 1960s, has made the liberation of Black people a defining part of his life’s commitment and work. As he developed as a revolutionary communist, and emerged as the foremost revolutionary leader and thinker in the world, this commitment has become even deeper and has been strongly interwoven with a dedication to the emancipation of all humanity from every form of oppression and exploitation.
One of the things that I see, something that I haven't lost sight of, is this: I see all the strength of the ruling class, but I also see all the way through all this shit, all the contradictions in society—I actually see a force in this society that, if it were developed into a revolutionary people, actually could have a go at it, could have a real chance of making a revolution, or being the backbone force of a revolution, when the conditions were ripe. I see a force of millions and millions and millions—youth and others—for whom this system is a horror: It isn't going to take some cataclysmic crisis for this system to be fucking over them. The ruling class, ironically, sees them too. It is those who once had but have lost—or those who never had—a revolutionary perspective...it is they who can't see this.
There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth.
There is a semi-official narrative about the history and the “greatness” of America, which says that this greatness of America lies in the freedom and ingenuity of its people, and above all in a system that gives encouragement and reward to these qualities. Now, in opposition to this semi-official narrative about the greatness of America, the reality is that—to return to one fundamental aspect of all this—slavery has been an indispensable part of the foundation for the “freedom and prosperity” of the USA. The combination of freedom and prosperity is, as we know, still today, and in some ways today more than ever, proclaimed as the unique quality and the special destiny and mission of the United States and its role in the world. And this stands in stark contradiction to the fact that without slavery, none of this—not even the bourgeois-democratic freedoms, let alone the prosperity—would have been possible, not only in the southern United States but in the North as well, in the country as a whole and in its development and emergence as a world economic and military power.
Determination decides who makes it out of the ghetto—now there is a tired old cliché, at its worst, on every level. This is like looking at millions of people being put through a meatgrinder and instead of focusing on the fact that the great majority are chewed to pieces, concentrating instead on the few who slip through in one piece and then on top of it all, using this to say that “the meatgrinder works”!
If you want to talk about who owes whom—if you keep in mind everything the capitalists (as well as the slaveowners) have accumulated through all the labor Black people have carried out in this country and the privileges that have been passed out to people on that basis—there wouldn’t even be a U.S. imperialism as there is today if it weren’t for the exploitation of Black people under this system. Not that the exploitation of Black people is the whole of it—there has been a lot of other people exploited, both in the U.S. and internationally, by this ruling class. But there wouldn’t be a U.S. imperialism in the way there is today if it weren’t for the exploitation of Black people under slavery and then after slavery in the sharecropping system and in the plants and other workplaces in a kind of caste-like oppression in the cities.
No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that.
The Black people, the youth, with their pants hanging down around their knees, their hats on backwards, their swagger, much of which I admire, weren’t the ones who picked the jobs up and took them out of the ghetto. The people filling the prisons, the people in the gangs weren’t the ones who took the jobs and moved them away. They were not the ones who, when Black people went chasing jobs, relocated them over the decades, discriminated against them, brought the police out to harass them and made it very difficult for them to get a job and keep a job under those circumstances.
None of that was done by the masses whom Bill Cosby so cheaply chooses to attack in this way. These were conditions that were caused by the dynamics of capitalist accumulation in its international dimension as well as within the country and by conscious policies of ruling class politicians in line with this.
The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness.
An Appeal to Those the System Has Cast Off
Here I am speaking not only to prisoners but to those whose life is lived on the desperate edge, whether or not they find some work; to those without work or even homes; to all those the system and its enforcers treat as so much human waste material.
Raise your sights above the degradation and madness, the muck and demoralization, above the individual battle to survive and to “be somebody” on the terms of the imperialists—of fouler, more monstrous criminals than mythology has ever invented or jails ever held. Become a part of the human saviors of humanity: the gravediggers of this system and the bearers of the future communist society.
This is not just talk or an attempt to make poetry here: there are great tasks to be fulfilled, great struggles to be carried out, and yes great sacrifices to be made to accomplish all this. But there is a world to save—and to win—and in that process those the system has counted as nothing can count for a great deal. They represent a great reserve force that must become an active force for the proletarian revolution.
Editor’s note: Tyisha Miller was a 19-year-old African-American woman shot dead by Riverside, California police in 1998. Miller had been passed out in her car, resulting from a seizure, when police claimed that she suddenly awoke and had a gun; they fired 23 times at her, hitting her at least 12 times, and murdering her. Bob Avakian addressed this.
If you can’t handle this situation differently than this, then get the fuck out of the way. Not only out of the way of this situation, but get off the earth. Get out of the way of the masses of people. Because, you know, we could have handled this situation any number of ways that would have resulted in a much better outcome. And frankly, if we had state power and we were faced with a similar situation, we would sooner have one of our own people’s police killed than go wantonly murder one of the masses. That’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re actually trying to be a servant of the people. You go there and you put your own life on the line, rather than just wantonly murder one of the people. Fuck all this “serve and protect” bullshit! If they were there to serve and protect, they would have found any way but the way they did it to handle this scene. They could have and would have found a solution that was much better than this. This is the way the proletariat, when it’s been in power has handled—and would again handle—this kind of thing, valuing the lives of the masses of people. As opposed to the bourgeoisie in power, where the role of their police is to terrorize the masses, including wantonly murdering them, murdering them without provocation, without necessity, because exactly the more arbitrary the terror is, the more broadly it affects the masses. And that’s one of the reasons why they like to engage in, and have as one of their main functions to engage in, wanton and arbitrary terror against the masses of people.
People say: “You mean to tell me that these youth running around selling drugs and killing each other, and caught up in all kinds of other stuff, can be a backbone of this revolutionary state power in the future?” Yes—but not as they are now, and not without struggle. They weren’t always selling drugs and killing each other, and the rest of it—and they don’t have to be into all that in the future. Ask yourself: how does it happen that you go from beautiful children to supposedly “irredeemable monsters” in a few years? It’s because of the system, and what it does to people—not because of “unchanging and unchangeable human nature.”
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.
There will never be a revolutionary movement in this country that doesn’t fully unleash and give expression to the sometimes openly expressed, sometimes expressed in partial ways, sometimes expressed in wrong ways, but deeply, deeply felt desire to be rid of these long centuries of oppression [of Black people]. There’s never gonna be a revolution in this country, and there never should be, that doesn’t make that one key foundation of what it’s all about.
Oppressed people who are unable or unwilling to confront reality as it actually is, are condemned to remain enslaved and oppressed.
During that time and on the way back after the game I was sitting with some Black friends of mine on the football team, and we got into this whole deep conversation about why is there so much racism in this country, why is there so much prejudice and where does it come from, and can it ever change, and how could it change? This was mainly them talking and me listening. And I remember that very, very deeply—I learned a lot more in that one hour than I learned in hours of classroom time, even from some of the better teachers.
The “Bible Belt” in the U.S. is also the Lynching Belt.
Do Black people need to take responsibility?
Responsibility for what?
Responsibility for REVOLUTION—DEFINITELY! We all need to take responsibility for making revolution—to emancipate all of humanity from this whole system of oppression.