Do the Masses Need Bill Cosby’s Scolding or Do They Need Leadership to Put an End to Oppression?

by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA

Revolutionary Worker #1271, March 20, 2005, posted at

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following is part of a series of excerpts on various subjects—drawn from conversations and discussions, as well as more formal talks, by Bob Avakian—which we will be running in this newspaper over the next period of time. This excerpt has been edited, and a footnote has been added, for publication here.

I have seen that some people have expressed surprise, in watching the DVD of my speech on revolution1, that a white person would say these things about national oppression—exposing and denouncing white supremacy so strongly. But the point is, I’m not a liberal—I’m a communist. And communists, if they are really communists, hate national oppression and white supremacy as much or more than anybody, regardless of what nationality you are.

Bill Cosby is as Black as he wants to be, but look at what he is saying! In effect, he is blaming the masses of oppressed people for their own oppression—and in that way, in fact, he is doing nothing but helping to perpetuate that oppression. Is that what the masses need—either Black masses or anybody else? Is that the ideological and political line the masses need? Or do they need a different line?

In a discussion involving some people from a housing project, I posed this question: If I discovered a cure for sickle cell anemia and malaria, which affect a lot of people from Africa and Asia, should I hide it because I’m not African or Asian? Or should I tell people: Here’s the cure, now let’s get rid of these diseases that are a scourge on people, causing tremendous suffering? What’s your orientation here?

I don’t intend to not tell people what I know. Yes, I intend to learn as much as I can, because there are a lot of things that I don’t know, and that will always be true. Right now there are things that vex me terribly because I don’t know them. I don’t know them, so I keep wrangling with them—things having to do with how we are going to bring forward the proletariat and the basic masses in a class-conscious revolutionary way in the broadest sense of that—not in a narrow and reformist sense, but in a sweeping and revolutionary sense. There are still real contradictions that we have to keep banging our heads against, not in a meaningless way but in a way to make a breakthrough—theory to practice and back and forth, until we achieve the necessary breakthroughs. But I don’t intend to keep what I do know from people and not struggle with people about what I know—including, frankly, the leadership role that I play. Because the masses of people need this.

You know, you can’t be all things to all people. I can’t be a Black, female, lesbian, etc., etc.—and neither can anybody else be all these kinds of things, because you can always keep adding on other "identity politics" elements. We can’t be all things to all people, and we shouldn’t try to be. We should be a communist vanguard.

When some people say, "I don’t want to follow no white man," that is an ideological question having to do, fundamentally, with what kind of world they want to live in. That’s what it gets down to. It may not be immediately apparent to them, but we should struggle it through and get into that question. Because that is what is ultimately posed. We have to take people through the process so they see that this is what is involved, but this is what we need to get to. And, in terms of ideology—in terms of how people see the world and what it can and should be—economism, nationalism, instrumentalism, determinism and utilitarianism: all those ways of thinking ultimately are in the way of making the most thorough revolution and bringing a whole new world into being—so we have to defeat all this and ultimately sweep it aside, ideologically.

Whom you choose to follow, whom you look to as a leader, has to do with what they represent, what road they are on and, fundamentally, what kind of world they are working and struggling to bring into being—or, to put it another way, where they will lead people who follow them. This applies to all the ideological questions that come up around leadership—not only from a nationalist perspective, but an anarchist or bourgeois-democratic one as well—they all fundamentally get down to what kind of world you think we should live in, and could live in, and what you want to do about it.


1 "Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About," a film of a talk given by Bob Avakian in the U.S. in 2003. Available on DVD and VHS from Three Q Video, 2038 W. Chicago Ave., #126D, Chicago, IL 60622 or on the web at

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