Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
Editors' Note: The following are excerpts from an edited version of a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, to a group of Party supporters, in the fall of last year (2006). This is the 12th in a series of excerpts we will be running in Revolution. Subheads and footnotes have been added for publication here. The entire talk is available online at revcom.us/avakian/anotherway.
Attacks on Foundational Things in the History of the U.S.
Along with the whole international dimension of what these imperialists, headed now by the Bush regime, are doing, there is an attack on foundational things in the history of the U.S., with regard to the rule of law and the secular nature of law and government. And it is important to note that the attacks on, and undermining of, these foundational things is causing restlessness and, yes, some movement among people, but this is in contradictory directions. Here we see once again the profound truth of that statement—one of the most important points in the Call of World Can't Wait: "That which you do not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—or be forced—to accept."
Mao observed that where there is oppression there will be resistance; but this should not be understood in some sort of linear sense. People can capitulate. People can learn or be forced to accept that which they do not resist and mobilize to stop. And you already see this happening. A number of people have commented along these lines:
"I thought that when they showed the pictures of torture at Abu Ghraib, that would be enough—that there would be a mass outpouring of outrage. I thought that when they had the exposure about Fallujah and how the U.S. military basically destroyed that city; I thought when, even after Abu Ghraib, they started openly talking about torture again and legitimizing it; I thought when they began openly talking not only about outlawing abortion, but birth control as well—I thought there would be a mass outpouring."
Well, it isn't going to happen spontaneously. There will be spontaneous outpourings, but the level and the character of massive outpouring of political resistance that is needed—here I'm talking about something short of revolution—this is not going to happen spontaneously. Because that dynamic is at play, where far too many people are learning to accept all this. And an important dimension of this—an important aspect of the problem—is that, when foundational things are brought under attack, this cuts the ground out from under people in terms of resisting. These foundational elements, even as illusory as they are—even with all the illusory elements that they involve—these are the things, or important parts of the things, that people have felt they could stand on, as solid ground from which to engage the world politically, so to speak. And when the ground moves underneath you like that, it's very hard if you're not moving with it—or you're not moving to counter it—it's very hard to find firm ground to stand on. What you could stand on yesterday, you can no longer stand on tomorrow.
As I touched on a minute ago, there are two foundational things about the history of the U.S., and the exercise of bourgeois rule in the form of bourgeois democracy in this country, which are being brought under frontal attack increasingly. One is the undermining of the rule of law. We see this in a very sharp and concentrated way with the torture law, the so-called "Military Commissions Act," not only in its codification of torture, but also in its gutting of habeas corpus and in the powers that it grants to the executive. This is an attack on the historical basis of the bourgeois Constitution and the rule of law in U.S. society. We've gone into this elsewhere and we should continue to go into it more deeply. Here I'm just going to call attention to it.1
This goes along with and interpenetrates, in a very negative "synergy," with the whole Christian fascist attack on the secular foundations of the Constitution and government of the U.S.
Someone said—I think it might have been in the movie Jesus Camp —I haven't seen that movie yet, but I believe someone who has seen it recounted this, where one of these fundamentalist preachers said: India is the most religious country in the world, and Sweden is the most secular country; and we're a nation of Indians being ruled by Swedes. Now, as a matter of fact, one of the things about India is that it probably also has the most Maoists in the world, by the way. [ laughs] It is definitely true that there's too much religiosity there, but describing India as the most "religious" country in the world is not really an accurate and hardly an all-sided characterization. But this statement (about India and Sweden) gets at something nonetheless. And, of course, the significance of this is that these right-wing religious fundamentalists—these Christian fascists, as we very accurately refer to them—want to change the situation so that there is in fact religious rule: law and government based on a literalist reading of the Bible, as interpreted and enforced by religious authorities.
An important thing to keep in mind in regard to this is that, while the U.S. is a very religious country, in the sense that the great majority of people profess some religion, it is not true that this is a religious country in the sense these fundamentalist Christian fascists mean it. They mean, and they insist, that not just the people, in their large majority, are religious but that, from its founding, the government and the laws were based on religion, and in particular on Biblical principles (and, of course, their literalist interpretation of those principles). This is not true. It is—yet another—falsification of history. The United States, in its Constitution, and in the basis for its laws, was and has been all along explicitly secular. That is, the notion of basing the Constitution and laws on religious, and specifically Christian, precepts was expressly and explicitly rejected in the founding of the country. So, again, what is involved here is an attack on another foundational thing about bourgeois society and bourgeois constitutional government in the U.S.—an attack which is being openly and aggressively carried out by the fundamentalist Christian fascist movement. And it is important to keep in mind that this is not just a grouping of isolated fanatics but a powerful force which has connections and influence at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
And then there is the whole way in which the fundamentalist Christian fascist outlook and program interconnects with and serves the grand scale imperial designs of the Bush regime and provides a certain additional element of rationalization for it. I spoke to this in the recent 7 Talks, including "Why We're in the Situation We're in Today… and What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need for Revolution" as well as the talk on religion itself ("Communism and Religion: Getting Up and Getting Free—Making Revolution to Change the Real World, Not Relying on 'Things Unseen'"). I am not going to get into this point further here, but I did want to mention a couple of relatively new books that are interesting in this regard: One is The Theocons—Secular America Under Siege by Damon Linker, who used to be involved with the Catholic Christian fascists whom he calls theocons. The other one, interestingly enough—I finally broke down and got this book—is Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg. (Yes, that Michelle Goldberg—the one who attacked us in such an unprincipled way in connection with the original "Not In Our Name" statement2 and the development of a movement of opposition to the juggernaut of the Bush regime in the aftermath of September 11—but there are some insights in this book and it is worth reading.)
These frontal attacks on foundational things about constitutional bourgeois democracy in the U.S., interconnecting with the whole international drive to which I've spoken throughout this talk, are raising a lot of profound questions and unsettling people in a lot of ways. But, again, the effect of this is very contradictory—acutely so. This underscores once more the need to break out of linear thinking—the notion that the more that things people really cherish are brought under attack, the more they will resist. No—it's much more contradictory than that. There is an aspect of truth to that, and that is an aspect of the situation, but there are things pushing in the other direction, which I was speaking to earlier in terms of ground to stand on, and that ground being cut away. And the synthesis people need is not going to come from inside the logic with which they've been proceeding with their beliefs and illusions about these foundational things.
This relates to an important point in the Democracy book ( Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? ), where it speaks to the contradiction between the profession of the imperialists about democracy, on the one hand, and what this amounts to in reality, and how—this is very, very important—at one and the same time this is a continual source of exposure of the system and a constant source of regenerating illusions about the "perfectibility" of this democracy and this system which goes by the name of democracy. So we're going to have to learn even better how to handle correctly that contradiction in a way that moves things and moves people in a positive direction off of that contradiction—in a fundamental sense towards revolution but also, in more immediate terms, towards the kind of massive outpouring of resistance that is urgently needed, involving large and growing numbers of people with a diversity of political and ideological views.
Now, clearly, these attacks on foundational things, which I've been pointing to, are not attacks on the dictatorship of the proletariat—since, unfortunately, that does not exist, anywhere in the world, at this time. No, they are attacks on the form in which historically the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie has been exercised in the U.S., in the form of bourgeois democracy. And if we can't correctly understand and handle the contradictions involved in all this, then we're not going to get where we need to go. And it's going to require a lot of work and a lot of struggle, including some acute struggle with people, in order to, at one and the same time, enable increasing numbers of people to shed their illusions while, at any given time, we will be—and will need to be—uniting with large numbers of people who are acting out of motivations that to a significant degree stem from their illusions. This is a contradiction that it is extremely important to handle well.
What was said on the website of World Can't Wait, right after its October 5th (2006) mobilization, is quite correct and has application in terms of the objectives of that organization as well as in an overall sense: There is still time, but there's not a lot of time. There is still time, but not a lot of time, to race to catch up to where we need to be before the dynamic is one that's very hard to reverse, or to transform into something more favorable. Speaking for our Party (and I am sure that, coming from their own perspective, this is also the stand of many other people, including in World Can't Wait), we are never going to quit, we're never going to give up, as long as we're able to do anything. But the question of where are we going to be fighting from—from what position, with what political and social forces, with what popular consciousness gaining initiative, and so on—that's very acutely posed now. All this will have ramifications and implications in terms of everything, down to the most fundamental things concerning the direction of society and the world; the impact is going to be felt for decades—what's going on right now, and what the outcome of this is.
There are all kinds of things—including the prospect of legitimacy crisis and, yes, even the possibility of revolutionary crisis—that could possibly emerge out of all this, without putting a specific time frame or attempting to identify particular dynamics that could lead to this. And, in sort of a back-handed way, you can actually see the question of legitimacy crisis looming in more profound terms than just talk about elections being rigged and stolen, and so on. From what I have heard, there is actually some talk going on in liberal and progressive circles about how maybe a military coup wouldn't be so bad after all! You know, look to the Wesley Clarks, even the Colin Powells—somebody up there who's got some power, within the power structure itself. Partly, this is because some people are becoming convinced—somewhat through work we, and others, have done but more fundamentally reality is working to convince some people—that these Democrats aren't going to do anything, nothing essential to change the whole direction of things. But if you're still stuck within—if your thinking is still confined within and you haven't yet broken out of—the established and dominant political framework, where do you go next? Revolution? No. At least not immediately. Some of these people think, “Well, then, how about a military coup?!”
Particularly in the middle strata, but not only there, people are looking for some resolution of all this that's going to restore their illusions—and restore what their illusions are based on—without everything getting completely out of hand. And a lot of people in the middle strata—look, let's be honest and confront reality as it is—they fear the Bush regime, they fear upheaval, and they fear the basic masses. Okay, we're being scientists, not emotional people or people who are out for revenge. We have to work our way through those contradictions.
This is the whole point about emancipators of humanity —bringing forward a section of the proletariat, and others taking up the proletarian standpoint, who are not coming at it from a petty standpoint. Yes, it's insulting and maddening, what goes on all the time—including the outlook of a lot of people in the middle strata and what is often their attitude toward the basic masses—but, in a fundamental sense, this is the workings of the system. All this stuff is the workings of this system, and that's what we have to enable people to understand. For that matter, the things the masses are pushed into doing, in which they fuck each other up; the way in which these middle strata look at that, the way they look at the basic masses in general—all that is fundamentally the workings of the system. And we have to get to where we're bringing forward a section of people which is aiming to get totally through and beyond this whole stage of history, to bring about the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist-imperialist rule, by millions and millions of the masses, leading broader sections of the people, to actually sweep this system aside and bring something better into being in a profound sense.
But to really work toward and contribute to that, we have to understand the terrain, the political terrain. We have to understand—this is Lenin’s point in What Is To Be Done? —we have to understand the characteristics of different classes and strata while not looking at this in static, undialectical, linear terms but grasping the contradictory ways in which they respond to things. Without being vulgar materialists, determinists, and pragmatists, and while recognizing that this is not some kind of uniform phenomenon, we can say that the proletarians and other basic masses respond to major social and world events in ways that are significantly different from how, in general, people within the middle strata respond to such events. And, of course, within the middle strata, broadly speaking, there are different kinds of responses. The intellectuals and educated strata generally do tend to react to events differently than the shopkeepers, for example, even though Marx is right about the fundamental unity between them, when he speaks about how the democratic intellectuals do not get further in their thinking than the shopkeepers get in their everyday practical dealings—both remain within what Marx called "the narrow horizon of bourgeois right."
We have to understand all this complexity, if we're going to lead this all where it needs to go. And big things are "up." When you hear about people buzzing, or whispering, about military coups, this is a reflection of the fact that questions of legitimacy crisis are "brewing." Once again, all this will not develop in, and must not be approached in, a linear way. It's going to be much more complex and contradictory, and we have to work and struggle our way through this, dealing with all these different contradictions, and all the different levels of expression of these contradictions, while keeping it all going toward where it needs to go.
This is once again an expression of the "drawn and quartered" point.3 If you think you're just going to go out here and raise a banner and march forward and overcome one obstacle after another with more and more and more people, well then you're going to be in for a big demoralization and disorientation—if you haven't already encountered that many times over. So, to repeat a metaphor I have used before, you have to have a lofty and sweeping vision and big arms to encompass all this—and, through all the acutely contradictory back and forth, twists and turns, and ebbs and flows of it, keep going where it needs to go, and get to where there is ultimately a revolutionary situation, at whatever point that comes. This whole process will perhaps involve situations where legitimacy crises arise that don't develop all the way to a revolutionary situation but get resolved short of that, in one way or another, and then you have to struggle for the best resolution of that in line with your fundamental, overall, and ultimate revolutionary objectives.
These are basic points of methodology, and they are extremely important in terms of everything we engage and everything we wrangle with.
1. See Revolution articles on the Military Commissions Act, online at revcom.us: "The Torture Bill: Compromising Your Way to Fascism" (issue #63); "Facts About the Military Commissions Act (Torture Law)" (#64); "Interview with Bill Goodman, Center for Constitutional Rights—The New Military Commissions Act: ‘It is a dangerous moment for all of us’" (#65). [back]
2. The "Not In Our Name" Statement of Conscience, signed by a large number of prominent people in various fields, as well as thousands of others, was originally published as a paid ad in the New York Times on September 19, 2002. This statement, and the new Statement of Conscience opposing the Bush government's domestic and international agenda, is available online at nion.us. [back]
3. In a number of works, including the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Insight Press, 2005), Bob Avakian speaks to this concept of being--or going to the brink of being--"drawn and quartered," in developing and leading a revolutionary movement and the new socialist society that will be brought into being through revolution. This is linked to the concept of "solid core, with a lot of elasticity," which Bob Avakian puts forward as a basic guiding principle for the revolutionary struggle and for socialist society, and for those who lead in this process. See, for example, in the Observations book, "Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World," pp. 43-64, especially p. 64; and "Intoxicated with the Truth," pp. 68-73, including footnote 2 on p. 68. [back]