Revolution #253, December 18, 2011

Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy

Editors' note: The following is an excerpt from Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, in 2006 and published as a pamphlet in 2008. This excerpt begins with a reference to the previous excerpt, "Capitalist Society, Bourgeois Democracy and Dictatorship," in Revolution #250, November 13, 2011. Earlier excerpts were published in Revolution #248-#250. All of these excerpts, and the work as a whole, address important questions that are on many people's minds in the situation today.  The pamphlet is available for purchase online at or The text is available at; audio available at

Dictatorship Does Not Mean Unchallengeable Power

But all this does not mean that the ruling class of imperialists has everything all sewn up. There are profound contradictions in their system which, these days especially, are posing themselves in rather acute terms. And especially at those times when these contradictions become intensified and assume acute expression, this sharpens divisions within the ruling class itself and provides much greater openings for mass resistance to develop and to have effect. It also poses more sharply the need for revolution; and the further intensification of these contradictions may even lead to an opening for revolution.

Now, at the present time, this may not appear to be so true, because for reasons that I've analyzed before,1 one section of the ruling class (as represented generally by the Democratic Party) faces real difficulties in formulating and fighting in a consistent way for a systematic and coherent program that would really represent an alternative to the dominant program represented now in a concentrated way by the Bush regime.

Still, there are today significant conflicts within the ruling class. The fact that there are real difficulties for the ruling class—and, especially in the face of that, some real differences among them—is the reason that someone like Congressman Murtha, for example, could get a hearing in his criticism of the Iraq war. Of course, Murtha is in no way a representative of the people, and certainly he is not speaking on behalf of the oppressed people of the world, but he is speaking with great concern about serious problems that he sees arising already, and potentially much greater problems, for the U.S. ruling class. Murtha may get attacked, he may get shoved to the side, but he still has gotten a certain hearing, because there is enough conflict within the ruling class that arguments like his are treated as within the scope of "legitimate discourse," on ruling class terms (and Murtha has certain particular credentials and connections—long-time association with the military, and so on—which make it more possible for him to say these things). I saw Murtha not long ago on Paula Zahn: he was talking about the murders of civilians carried out by U.S. soldiers in Haditha, Iraq, and Zahn went after him with her fangs bared. But what happened was interesting. He actually got angry and responded accordingly, rather than backing away from this—this turned into a rather sharp confrontation, which I don't think was mainly staged. But someone like Murtha's being able to express his views and to be taken seriously in a certain context, even while also being marginalized to some degree, is an expression of the fact that there are significant conflicts within the ruling class at this point; and the warnings being voiced by Murtha, along with some other ruling class figures, represent concern over much greater contradictions that could emerge and erupt.2

So, we shouldn't look simply at the way contradictions within the ruling class are posed at this point, and see only the significant aspect of paralysis on the part of one section of the ruling class (grouped around the Democrats). We should look further, at the deeper dynamics and at the potential for all this to assume much more acute expression. This, of course, will have very contradictory effects. On the one hand, this can (to echo Lenin's phrasing) provide further cracks, fissures and openings for mass outrage to erupt on a large scale. On the other hand, it will quite likely lead to even more vicious repression, including of any such mass eruptions and outbreaks of political resistance and concerted efforts to affect and change government policy.

But, just as we recognize, and emphasize, the profound point that (to paraphrase Marx) what is important is not what the masses of people are thinking and doing at any given time, but what they will be confronted with by the actual workings and dynamics of the system—and the ways this can impel them in the direction of thinking and acting differently—this also applies to the ruling class and to divisions and conflicts within the ruling class. What expression those divisions and conflicts take is not dependent primarily on what appears on the surface at any given time, or on the will of individual representatives of the ruling class, but on what are actually the underlying and driving dynamics. And if you go back to what is the larger grand strategy of the dominant force within the ruling class at this time (grouped now in and around the Bush regime) and look at what that is going to run up against as they pursue that and seek to go from one offensive to the next, you can see the potential for contradictions in the world and in U.S. society itself—including within the U.S. ruling class—to greatly sharpen and intensify, and you can, in turn, get a sense of the potential dialectic—the back and forth relation and mutual interaction—between that and what goes on among the masses of people.

This is a very important point: While the ruling class exercises dictatorship, it is not the case that it has absolute freedom and has no problems and no difficulties, is confronted with no necessity. In fact, at this time, the U.S. imperialist ruling class faces great necessity, and further necessity for it is being created by the way in which the core in power now (the Bush regime, for short) is aggressively pursuing its program (what we have referred to as its juggernaut of war and repression). We should keep in mind that those grouped around Cheney, and others aligned with them, first formulated a decade or so ago the grand strategy which has since become articulated as a national security strategy, after Bush took office. These forces have been arguing for this strategy since the early '90s—insisting, on the one hand, that there is an opening to make a leap in imposing American hegemony on the entire world in an unprecedented way, in a way that they believed would be unchallenged and even unchallengeable, but warning, on the other hand, that this opening will close after a certain period of time—other regional, and world, powers will emerge, and (they argue) if we don't seize the initiative now, we won't be able to continue the kind of momentum that will be necessary to do this. In formulating and advocating this strategy, they acknowledged that it would be hard to get the American people behind it—not that they let the people decide, but they do want to do this with the people deluded and following behind them to the greatest degree possible. This wouldn't be so easy to do, they recognized, absent something like a new Pearl Harbor—which then happened on September 11, 2001. This does emphasize that the question of whether these ruling class forces might have played some role in the 9/11 events is something which should not simply be dismissed, but does need to be looked into, in a serious and scientific way. Yet, whatever the story is with that, September 11 provided them with their "new Pearl Harbor."

But even that has turned into its opposite in significant aspects. It is not now the same situation it was when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, shortly after September 11, 2001. The Bush regime ran into much more massive political opposition when it turned its focus from Afghanistan to Iraq. A lot of people were confused: What does that have to do with the "war on terror"? Well, if you think it's actually a war on terror, maybe it is confusing; but if you understand that, in fundamental and essential terms, this is a war for empire, then you can see that the war in Iraq has everything to do with it. But the Bush regime—as the driving force of the ruling class as a whole—ran into a very acute contradiction, because they were waging a war for empire in the name of a "war on terror." That contradiction significantly rebounded in their face—it didn't stop them from aggressively pursuing the war in Iraq, and the "war on terror" overall, but it created all kinds of difficulties for them, even within the U.S., besides the difficulties they've had in actually imposing their will "on the ground" (and from the air) in Iraq. And along with this, there are the continuing, and mounting, difficulties they have had in "pacifying Afghanistan" after their initial success in toppling the Taliban: There is a growing resurgence of resistance in Afghanistan which, unfortunately, still consists largely of the Taliban and other reactionary forces allied with it. At the same time, there is the real possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran, which is fraught with great danger not only for the people of Iran, and that whole region, and indeed for the people of the whole world, but also for the U.S. imperialists themselves.

So they don't have everything all locked up. It is the nature of reality, and it is the nature of their system as a particular expression of reality, that it is full of and driven by contradiction; and even if certain contradictions are dealt with—either resolved or partially resolved or mitigated—this gives rise to new contradictions (or old contradictions in new forms). You go into Iraq, and then you've got the "cut-and-run" problem, the way things have turned out—the reality that, even if things are not going the way you planned, now that you have committed to this, and made it a major front of your so-called "war on terror," you can't simply pull out, without causing even greater problems for yourself. This is why there is a strong pull—and not just a pull on the Bush regime, but on the ruling class overall—to aggressively pursue that war, even with the difficulties they've encountered as a result of waging this war in the first place. So they had a certain necessity not to lose what they saw as a "window of opportunity"—particularly with the collapse of the Soviet Union and "the triumph of the U.S. in the Cold War"—and then they've created new necessity for themselves—not just for others, but for themselves as well—by going ahead and pursuing this course, including the war in Iraq.

It is very important to understand these dynamics in this way and not to simply see, as many people do spontaneously, how powerful these imperialists are. Otherwise, even a recognition of the way the ruling class dominates society can lead to defeatism: "OK, I agree with you, they run everything, they control everything, they dictate everything—there's not a fucking thing we can do." No. They do monopolize everything, dominate everything, dictate everything—but this is all riddled with contradiction which has the potential—and not just in some abstract historical sense—to become extremely acute.

To be continued

1. See, for example, "The Pyramid of Power and the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down," in Revolutionary Worker #1231, March 7, 2004, & #1237, April 25, 2004, also available at; see also Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian. [back]

2. At the time of this talk—prior to the congressional elections in 2006—John Murtha, a veteran congressman from Pennsylvania, was one of a very few members of the Democratic Party who was then not only raising serious criticisms of the U.S. war in Iraq but was declaring that this war could not be won and that the U.S. needed to pull back (at least its main forces) from Iraq. Since that time, and in particular with the emerging candidacy of Barack Obama, leaders of the Democratic Party have been calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of at least most U.S. forces from Iraq—although this has been coupled, including on the part of Obama, with caveats about how it is important not to be precipitous, or careless, in pulling out U.S. forces from Iraq, and to listen to the concerns of the "generals on the ground" in Iraq about when U.S. troops could be withdrawn, and/or what kind of "residual force" should be left in Iraq, even after the withdrawal of (most) U.S. forces there. These Democratic Party leaders, and again Obama in particular, have also insisted that the war in Afghanistan must be more vigorously fought, including through the transfer of significant U.S. forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, while Obama has spoken of the possibility of launching direct attacks within Pakistan, in relation to (or as an extension of) the war in Afghanistan, and he—along with the Democratic Party leadership in general—has consistently insisted that it may be necessary to go to war with Iran, and possibly even to use nuclear weapons in attacking Iran ("all options must remain on the table"), if Iran does not bow to U.S. demands to stop its enrichment of uranium, even though, according to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, and there has been no conclusive evidence that Iran has been developing nuclear weapons.

The Obama candidacy, and the Democratic Party approach overall at this point (in 2008), embodies some notion of "course correction" in regard to the program that has been very aggressively pursued by the Bush regime, but it does not represent any kind of fundamental departure—it is not a "systematic and coherent program that would really represent an alternative to the dominant program represented now in a concentrated way by the Bush regime." As mainstream, bourgeois commentator Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, in arguing in favor of the Obama candidacy, it is "generally minor policy choices" that are "on the table" in the current (2008) presidential election. (See "Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters," in the December, 2007 Atlantic Monthly, emphasis added.) Obama's candidacy is not about changing American society, or its role in the world, in any essential way—which Obama could not do even if he wanted to, which he does not—but it is, secondarily, about making certain tactical adjustments in the course set by the Bush regime, and is principally about attempting to change the way in which people around the world, as well as in the U.S. itself, perceive this country and what it is doing in the world—to "put a better face on this," and carry it out with a different style and tone, "rounding off some of the rough edges" of the way in which Bush and his regime have antagonized much of the rest of the world in pursuing a program which, to a very large extent, is shared by all sections of the ruling class and their representatives, even with certain secondary differences among them. [back]

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