Revolution#142, September 7, 2008
THE OBJECTIVE SITUATION,
THE BUSH REGIME
AND THE BOURGEOIS ELECTIONS
The following is an excerpt from a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, to a group of Party members, earlier this year. It has been edited, and footnotes have been added, for publication here.
I want to say a few things about the current conjuncture, and examine, or at least identify, some serious problems confronting the ruling imperialists as well as maneuvers by and struggles among the different sections of these imperialists, and the challenges and openings this poses for our side.
To begin, there is the question of the Bush regime—its orientation and options. This is something we need to study more, but it is clear that Bush & Co. have not given up on their basic program, and we are bound to hear more from these people in the coming months, including very likely on the tactical level of trying to influence the outcome of the upcoming election. In fact, even suspending the election is not out of the realm of possibility—I’m not saying that is going to happen, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. We should understand that there is a certain core in and around the Bush regime that feels that they’re actually doing well with their program—now that their “surge” in Iraq is bringing results, from their point of view—that they’re doing well overall, even while they are having problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Lebanon, and so on. So the idea that these forces are going to be fading away, or that various forces associated with them, including the Christian Fascists, are just going to be fading into the woodwork, is an illusion that is very much an expression of kind of the outlook embodied in the line from the original movie “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”: “Oh, that’s so totally five minutes ago.” In other words, it is expressive of the very American tendency to look, in a very empiricist way, only at what is happening right now, with no regard to history or to larger trends and patterns. So we should not fall into that—we should combat tendencies of that kind, among our own ranks and more broadly.
There is more to be said about the Bush regime, but it definitely remains one important element of the situation. Those people are going to persevere in their program, and we should be prepared for developments in relation to that, including ones that aren’t immediately obvious right now. And there is the basic question of whether Bush and Cheney (and what they represent in terms of ruling class forces) are just going to simply allow another program to come in, even if it represents a minor adjustment in what they’re doing—whether they are going to entrust what they’ve set in motion to other forces in the ruling class, especially those they regard as being, at best, totally incapable of pursuing what needs to be pursued (and, in their reckoning, what is represented by Obama almost certainly falls into that category).
Along with that, there is momentum and necessity, in a significant dimension, that has been created for the ruling class by the Bush regime and its program and what it’s done and set in motion. This is a point I will further touch on briefly as we go along here.
World Can’t Wait and the Importance of Summation—on a Scientific Basis
But, before that, I want to take an important detour, so to speak, to sketch the outlines of a summation, to be built on more fully at another time, with regard to the experience up to this point of World Can’t Wait—to indicate some of the basic “contours” of that fuller summation, which needs to be made over the next period, drawing on our own comrades, as well as others, who have been actively involved in World Can’t Wait, carrying out this summation in the correct relationship with continuing to build resistance against the crimes of the Bush regime and of this system overall. This is important principally because, on the basis of the very extensive and rich experience of WCW, even with its very real shortcomings, there is a real need, for our own comrades (and not just those whose area of responsibility has been WCW) as well as for the many others who have been involved in WCW, and for people more broadly, to have made available to them further summation of this by our Party—in terms of our Party’s approach to this and its assessment of what has and what has not been achieved, what lessons should be drawn from this, and what, looking ahead, are the challenges to be met in this regard. And secondarily it is important because certain opportunists have set out to play on and to further create confusion and distortion around this.
As a general overview, in terms of how our Party approached this, our orientation in working, and seeking to unite with others, to initiate World Can’t Wait, was based on a number of factors which held out the possibility—not the certainty but the possibility—of meeting the great need of bringing forward a massive outpouring of political resistance to the Bush regime and its criminal program; and from the standpoint of our Party and our fundamental objectives, we viewed and approached this as part of a larger strategic orientation of working to bring about a repolarization in society that would be more favorable for revolution. The factors pointing to the possibility of achieving this included:
The way in which the 2000 presidential election was resolved—through a Supreme Court decision installing Bush in power—resulted in a very widespread sentiment that what was coming to power was an illegitimate regime (headed, nominally at least, by Bush).
Bush, et al., brazenly lied and steamrollered opposition in going to war with Iraq; and even though the way in which this regime went ahead with this war, in the face of powerfully manifested mass opposition, demoralized broad numbers of those who opposed all this, it also deepened the already profound alienation and revulsion that large sections of society felt toward the Bush regime.
While the “re-election” of Bush in 2004 was another demoralizing factor to large numbers of people who opposed the Iraq war and the whole direction in which the Bush regime was driving things, the fact that Bush was aggressively pushing forward with the Iraq war, and his program overall, while the Democrats, as concentrated in their 2004 candidate Kerry, put up no real opposition to the Iraq war and put much greater emphasis on how they could better prosecute the “war on terror” and that Kerry would make a better commander-in-chief than Bush—this both added to the outrage that huge numbers of people felt toward Bush and added to the alienation they also felt from the Democratic Party.
On the basis of these and other factors—including the experience with Not in Our Name (NION) and the role it played in galvanizing and inspiring opposition to the Iraq war and the program of the Bush regime overall, particularly in the period (roughly from the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2003) which was, on the part of the Bush regime, the build-up to and preparation for the Iraq war—the assessment was made by our Party, in the aftermath of the 2004 election, that there was both a great need and a real possibility to transform the broad and deep “reservoir” of revulsion and outrage at the Bush regime into massive political opposition and resistance, and that, in these new conditions, after the launching of the Iraq war by the Bush regime and the results of the 2004 election, a new statement to rally people and a new means of giving organized expression to this mass political opposition and resistance was required—and this took expression as the World Can’t Wait organization and its “Call.”1
Particularly from the standpoint of our Party, this represented a recognition of the situation where the Bush regime was determined to forge ahead with its juggernaut of war and repression, while the Democrats partly supported this and partly were paralyzed in terms of mounting any real opposition to things that they did not actually agree with, leaving tens of millions of people in a situation where, if they were going to give expression to their deeply-felt opposition to all this, they were going to have to do so by themselves taking independent historical political action (and, again, from the point of view of our Party, this was part of a larger strategic orientation of working to repolarize things in a more favorable direction for revolution—and as part of that, in this specific situation, making use of contradictions within the ruling class, as well as between different sections of the ruling class and masses of people, in the service of our fundamental revolutionary objectives).
But let’s look more closely at some of the particular ways the contradictions bound up with this took expression, and the twists and turns and ups and downs in relation to the efforts of World Can’t Wait. In all this, of course, it is essential to give due weight to 9/11 and its aftermath—what occurred then, what the mood was like then, what the impact of this was in this country and the world, and the ways the Bush regime in particular seized on this in carrying out its program—and, in the face of that, the importance of the analysis that was made in “New Situation and Great Challenges”2 and what was called for there, in terms of the challenge of building an anti-war movement and a movement of opposition generally. Again, it is crucial not to ignore, or to underestimate the significance of, what was achieved in terms of materializing that into the whole effort around Not In Our Name.
If you think back to 2002, there was a call, by NION, for a massive outpouring of opposition, particularly in Central Park in New York, in October of that year. This was built for, in part, through significant efforts, and real gains, in popularizing a Pledge of Resistance and in holding meetings and other organized events based on that. I believe I’ve told this story before, but I remember watching CNN on October 6, 2002, knowing that the goal was to mobilize 10,000 in Central Park that day, and then a scroll came across the bottom of the screen saying, “10,000 people rallied in Central Park, NY today against the Iraq war,” and I was jumping, as high as I could jump, with joy. Well, to go back to the preparation for this, there was a phrase we had—some of you may be familiar with this—“filling the pool.” This was a metaphor for mobilizing masses to fulfill what was called for with this demonstration in October 2002. This was a way of saying: There is definitely an objective need for this, and there is an objective basis for it, but if we don’t do the work, it is going to flop—it’s going to be like diving off a high dive into an empty pool—so we have to do the work to fill the pool, we have to get the masses to come out around this.
That was our orientation. It is important to stress that it was by no means a given that this was going to happen just because there was an objective need and an objective basis for it. In that case, there was success in “filling the pool.” In fact, the turnout in Central Park that day not only fulfilled but even greatly exceeded what was being aimed for—and what was judged to be the necessary outpouring to have a very significant political impact: 10,000 people. In the event, something like 25,000 rallied in Central Park that day. The significance of this was, among other things, expressed by a prominent person who had signed the NION Statement, when he said, shortly before this Central Park demonstration: “Well, there is a need for resistance, and NION is taking the lead in that now.” The success of that Central Park demonstration, and the swelling momentum leading up to it, embodied a real feeling that this had broken through in terms of the general fear that you couldn’t stand up against this now, after this “new Pearl Harbor” (September 11, 2001). We should not forget that and in so doing fall into the empiricism and pragmatism of others in evaluating things.
Following this, there were other and even more massive outpourings of opposition, especially in the last few months before the initiation, by the Bush regime, of the Iraq war. To far too great an extent, people have such short memories in this country. Many people—including many who took part in this massive manifestation of opposition—forget that there was a New York Times article around the time that the Iraq war started, which talked about there being “two superpowers” in the world now—the U.S., and mass public opinion against what the Bush regime was doing, in particular the Iraq war. Now, only a few short years later, it is common for people to say: “We tried demonstrating, and that didn’t work.” Well, how about having a little larger perspective?! To get the New York Times to say that these demonstrations represented “another superpower” is working on some fucking level! I mean, come on! But just because the war went ahead then—because Bush and his regime were determined to launch this war (remember Bush’s statement at the time: “I don’t go by focus groups”—in other words, “Fuck you, I’m going ahead with this!”), and because the other sections of the ruling class were at least acquiescing in this—that had an effect on people along the lines of what I was just referring to, with some sarcasm (“we tried that, and it didn’t work”). Still, even with that, in the time since the beginning of the Iraq war, there have been other major demonstrations against that war and other outrages. But the fact is that this—the way in which Bush went ahead with launching the Iraq war, in the face of openly manifested mass opposition—had an effect in chilling and in killing off some of the mood of rebelliousness and resistance among broad numbers of people, because they ran up against the fact that all this is bigger than they had thought it was. To a significant degree, illusions of theirs were shattered through that experience, and that has had—in the main and with some contradiction—a demoralizing and demobilizing effect, in the shorter term.
And then you had other major phenomena that figured into all this. There was, in the context of the 2004 election, another massive outpouring, focused around opposition to the Iraq war and the Bush regime, at the site of the 2004 Republican Convention in New York City: A lot of different forces worked to build this, and hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps a half a million, took part in this mobilization. It is true that we were hoping for—and working toward the goal of—a million people in the streets on that occasion, but half a million is hardly insignificant. Still, the effect when Bush was “re-elected” was further disorienting, and in significant ways demoralizing, for people—in large part precisely because they were still seeing things and operating within the established framework of bourgeois-dominated politics, even while they were opposing the direction in which those politics were driving things under the Bush regime.
For us, all this is part of the objective terrain. In this context, I want to recount a story I heard about some guy who was with “Move On” (movenowhere.ugh!) who was attempting to influence supporters of Bush in the “heartland.” I’ll get to the specifics of that story shortly; but first, let’s examine very briefly the role of “Move On.” Their role was precisely to corral the massive discontent and opposition and secure it back within the established framework. Remember, a significant element of the situation was that the Democratic Party had been politically paralyzed in the period leading into the start of the war, and particularly as this was expressed in relation to the 2002 Congressional elections. The role of “Move On”—you don’t have to be a believer in arcane “conspiracy theories” to see this—their role was very consciously to corral this and bring it back into the fold of the Democratic Party and to rob it of any real political force in so doing. It is with this in mind that we can get the full meaning of the story about this guy working with “Move On”—which, at the time of the Republican Convention was having its adherents call up people in the “heartland” to try to persuade them to oppose Bush by voting for Kerry. And many of these “Move On” people were from the coastal areas (the “blue states,” in the bourgeois-electoral parlance of our times). This particular guy I’m referring to was from New York, and he recounted how, in talking to a woman in the Midwest who was a Bush supporter, he pointedly said to her: “How is it that we people in New York, where 9/11 took place, are opposed to all this stuff Bush is doing? If anybody should be for revenge, and so on, it should be us, but we’re opposed to all this. How do you explain that?” And the woman replied: “Because you’re totally out of touch with things.” And it seems that this completely disoriented and demoralized this guy—he apparently accepted that, after all, people like him were out of touch with reality, or at least out of touch with the “mainstream” of America.
This is in essence the same kind of thinking as that which argues that the real effect of the 1960s was to get Nixon elected and generally to “strengthen the right wing” in America. When you look at things within this kind of narrow framework, and on these bourgeois terms, you come to exactly the wrong conclusions.
But, because so many “progressive” people still have been looking at things from within that perspective, the 2004 election did, in one significant aspect, have a negative effect in disorienting and demoralizing them, even while it also further alienated them and angered them with regard to what they saw as the “lack of backbone” on the part of the Democrats in standing up to Bush and the Republicans. And this also largely explains the effect on such people when the Democrats won a majority in both houses of Congress in the 2006 election. I remember watching on TV, when Nancy Pelosi went before the cameras on the night of that election and, right before your eyes, she “reinterpreted” what people were doing—why they had voted for the Democrats. She told them what it was they had voted for, when how she characterized this was, in very significant ways, at odds with what their sentiments and objectives actually were. In effect, she was saying: Regardless of what you thought (or hoped) you were voting for, this is what you’re going to get.
Now, if you think back to November 2 in 2005, the date of the first mass mobilization called for by World Can’t Wait, there was in fact a significant outpouring, including very significant walk-outs by high school youth on that occasion, even while overall things fell far short of what was needed and called for by WCW. But there was, during this same time period—and pulling in the opposite direction to what was embodied in WCW and the mobilization it did achieve in November 2005—a very definite striving, on the part of large numbers of “progressive” people, to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie. When October 5, 2006 was called for, one of the explicit bases and purposes of this was to go up against this spontaneous striving, to try to divert that striving into actually meaningful political activity in opposition to the program of the Bush regime.
This was another situation where there was a need to “fill the pool” again. Now, in the event, it wasn’t exactly the case that the pool was completely empty on October 5, but (to continue the metaphor) there wasn’t enough water in the pool when the plunge was taken this time off the diving board. But, if we are materialists, and if we’re dialectical, we know that this is part of the process. My point is not to say that “everything is everything” and “it’s all good” and we don’t need to examine shortcomings, whether of a minor or more major kind. But falling short in this way is going to happen sometimes, even when what you are doing is necessary and correct—when there is not only the need but also the basis for what you are aiming to do. In fact, it could have happened that, in the fall of 2002, with the rally called for in Central Park, the “pool” also did not get sufficiently filled—the turnout then could also have ended up being significantly short of what was needed and called for. Now, there were reasons why the outcome was different on October 6, 2002 than on October 5, 2006, but there was no locked-in, set-in-stone guarantee that things were going to be successful, and even exceed expectations, in 2002—nor, on the other hand and negatively, was it pre-determined or a virtual certainty that things were not going to come anywhere near what was called for in 2006 on October 5. In each case, there was an objective need, and there was an objective basis; but, if you want to put it simply, in one case we won and in one case we lost—speaking broadly of the “we,” and not just our Party itself. And if anyone thinks that coming up short and even suffering serious setbacks isn’t going to be part of the process of going up against what you’re going up against—even in terms of building resistance, as well as in the overall process of making revolution—then this is reflective of approaching things in an extremely pragmatic and empiricist and obviously unscientific way.
Of necessity, my summation here is elliptical and abbreviated—and again it needs to be further fleshed out—but if we compare NION in 2002 and World Can’t Wait in 2005, but especially in 2006, we can say on a scientific basis that in the case of each, there was the same basic orientation and approach, while taking into account and working to deal with certain different particularities. There was the same fundamental assessment of a need and of an objective basis, but the results were different in significant ways. And, yes, we do have to sum that up more deeply, but we’ll never get anywhere toward where we need to go, and we’ll never have a correct summation, if we do it on the basis of empiricism and pragmatism, and specifically on the basis of thinking that just because what you are calling for does have a real foundation—does have a material basis in the real world—it is bound to succeed in any particular circumstance (and, conversely, by the same pragmatic and empiricist logic, if it does not succeed then there must not have been a basis, and it must have been wrong to call and to work for this particular thing).
Here something that has always stood out to me as not quite correct has relevance to summing up the experience of World Can’t Wait so far. I am referring to the experience—and the summation made by the Chinese Communist Party with regard to the experience—of the first base areas, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, during the people’s war in China. Over a period of a few years, in the late ’20s and early ’30s, there were five so-called “encirclement and suppression campaigns” carried out by Chiang Kai-shek to try to wipe out these early base areas and the communist forces that had liberated them and were defending them. The first four of these campaigns failed. With the fifth one, Chiang Kai-shek was assisted by German military advisers: they used a different strategy—they proceeded very methodically—they would take over territory, build a block house and a whole compound, and then proceed from that, again, to seize more territory, setting up more block houses and military compounds, and so on, systematically step-by-step. They succeeded in driving the communists out of the base areas with this fifth campaign—and hence the Long March that we all have heard about, which was not a great thing when it began—a brilliant military maneuver taken on the initiative of the communists (“Oh, let’s have a Long March, that sounds like a great way to advance the people’s war”). No, this was a desperate escape.
It always troubled me, when I visited China and heard presentations about this (and in reading about it), that there would be the tendency to sum this up along these lines: “In countering the first four of these ‘encirclement and suppression’ campaigns, we carried out Chairman Mao’s line correctly—we lured the enemy deeply into the base areas, then we encircled them and cut them up piece by piece and defeated them—but in the face of the fifth ‘encirclement and suppression’ campaign, we tried to stand and ‘fight the enemy at the gates’ and ‘defend every pot and pan,’ and we got smashed and had to flee and take off on the Long March.”
To me, that was always too “linear” and simplistic. And I always said to myself (if not to the Chinese comrades who were making this summation): “OK, but I bet you would have gotten your ass kicked anyway, even if you’d done absolutely the right thing!” It was just too pat, just too neat. After all, the other side has something to say about what happens, in war and in general. And the enemy learns from its experiences, too. Just carrying out the correct line does not necessarily mean that you’re going to succeed in any particular situation or set of circumstances. In fact, Mao did speak to that in the philosophical essay “Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?” He said, sometimes the forces of progress are defeated, not because their ideas are incorrect, but because for the time being the balance of forces is against them. This is a more materialist and dialectical understanding.
Keeping in mind these basic points of method, and returning to WCW, in its inception it was to a significant degree building on what was accomplished with NION, but again there were also some significantly different features of the political “terrain” (or landscape) at the time and some new obstacles that had to be overcome, as things divided into two on the basis of the previous experience with NION and other outpourings of resistance, and the response of different classes—including in particular the ruling class—to that. Contradictory trends had emerged—or become more pronounced—since the time when NION, and more generally opposition to the impending Iraq war and the direction of the Bush regime, was at a high point.
One of the phenomena that had to be dealt with was the attitude of many who had previously united in the NION effort—their insistence that it was wrong to try to take on the Bush regime directly, and specifically to try to rally people around the objective of driving out the Bush regime, through massive political opposition and resistance. And, as we know, certain opportunists have seized on the fact that World Can’t Wait’s efforts have, so far at least, fallen short of its objective of mobilizing massive political resistance to the program and the crimes of the Bush regime, in order to attack this whole effort and more specifically our Party’s work in relation to this. Among other things, these opportunists have declared that you cannot do something like what WCW has set out to do without building alliances and organizing bases. But have these “critics” actually carried out any scientific investigation or made any scientific summation of what has been done by World Can’t Wait in this regard? Of course not. This brings us back to that very insightful and still very relevant statement by Mark Twain more than a century ago—that what you need to get along in America is the perfect combination of ignorance and arrogance. The fact is that when WCW started with its core, consisting of our Party along with some others, there was a systematic approach of going out to all different kinds of forces, including many who had been involved in NION, with the recognition that opposing the Bush regime, and seeking to drive it out, was a further leap beyond what had been done in just opposing the Iraq war. But what this initial core of WCW was putting forward was resisted and opposed by many “progressive” people and groups, most of whom had at least one foot solidly planted in the orbit of the Democratic Party. One such person put it in a very concentrated and succinct way, articulating a sentiment that was run into more generally among a lot of these forces, particularly those with a more conscious and confirmed reformist approach and ties to the Democratic Party: When this particular person was approached about the objectives that were crystallized in World Can’t Wait and urged to join in with this, he said simply: “Please, don’t do this.” This was a recognition that the stakes were being raised. But were they being raised arbitrarily and as an act of idealism and voluntarism, or because of necessity and, yes, because there was a basis as well as a great need for this?
The question posed itself then and needs to be looked at again with a clear understanding: Should forces which are largely within—or at least have one heavy foot in—Democratic Party circles, with connections and allegiances in those circles, have been allowed to set the terms of what could, and could not, be done in the face of what was going on (and is still going on) in terms of what the Bush regime has been doing? Should such forces have, in effect, been granted “veto power” in regard to mass political resistance against this? Of course, if there were no material basis for this, that would be one thing. But, again, there was a scientific analysis—and I am firmly convinced that a correct summation will uphold this analysis—that there was not only a heightened need but, yes, a material basis for what was set forth in the “Call” of WCW, even though what was aimed for there has not been achieved.
With regard to what WCW put forth in its “Call” and set out to do, objectively the principal aspect has been that this has fallen far short of what was needed, and what has been called for. But even if definitely secondary—and we should not “cheat” on this and do a two-into-one and become eclectic ourselves—even if definitely secondary, important things have been achieved by WCW: thousands were mobilized on November 2, 2005, including those significant “bust outs” by high school students; going into and then going forward from November 2, with contradictory motion—some people and forces falling back while some others came forward—organization was, yes, actually built, on a significant basis by WCW, nationally and in local areas. Were there shortcomings and errors—were there mistakes in method, as well as in tactics, and so on, in doing this? Yes. But organization was built, including chapters in many cities with people actively involved, in various ways and on various levels, in the dozens, or scores—or even on a certain level in some cases, in the hundreds—with a definite political (and cultural) dimension reaching and impacting people much more widely; a broad united front was built, drawing in not only people from different strata, including prominent people in various fields, let’s not forget, but even some “defectors” from various government spheres—which is hardly insignificant.
And, on the “eve” of October 5, there were definite signs that it might “break over the top,” as happened with the Central Park mobilization in 2002. But, as it turned out, most of the very large number of people who, from many indications, were seriously weighing whether to break out of the killing confines of the dominant political framework and take independent political action on October 5, ended up not doing so, and the turnout ended up falling way short of what was needed. Thousands were in fact mobilized on that day, but in the event the leap was not made from the very real “building blocks” that were being constructed in preparation for October 5—that was not translated into a truly massive political outpouring, so powerful that it could not be whited-out or covered up, or its political impact ignored. It is true that since October 5, 2006—and let us not forget what I mentioned earlier: the results of the Congressional elections the month after that, with the Democrats winning a majority of both houses of Congress—and then very soon after that, with the launching of the longest presidential campaign in history, there has been a certain chilling effect, and a suctioning and siphoning effect, in terms of bringing people under the wing of the bourgeoisie in the short term.
As a result of all this, the size and political impact of WCW has objectively declined in the period since October 5, 2006. And this is particularly so as the current presidential campaign, and in particular the Obama phenomenon, has swung into high gear and has offered a “wing” under which many who are deeply alienated from and angered and disturbed by the Bush regime and its program have been drawn. But, again, even with its very real shortcomings, it would be very wrong to negate the significant political impact WCW has had, on the basis of acting on its “Call” in various ways, even while, once again, this has fallen significantly short of what that “Call” set forth, and what is needed. And in the period ahead, depending on various factors—both those objective to WCW and in terms of what WCW itself does—there could still be a heightened role for WCW, and certainly for forces it has influenced and, at least for a certain time and to a certain level, organized in political resistance.
Let us keep in mind as well the very important point that what WCW has accomplished since its inception, even while falling significantly short of what it set out to accomplish (as expressed, once again, in its “Call”), has been done with our Party openly playing a significant role in WCW, uniting broadly with others, both within the more deeply committed core of WCW and in the broader ranks attracted to it—and with our Party, in its work with WCW, notwithstanding certain very definite shortcomings in this, openly putting forward and propagating what we stand for, in fundamental and strategic terms, and how we approach WCW in relation to our strategic objectives, while drawing the clear distinction between that and the basis of unity and integrity of WCW itself, uniting people and forces with a diversity of larger views and perspectives from which they have approached working in and with WCW. Again, notwithstanding what have been very definite and significant shortcomings on our part, our involvement in WCW—both our work to build it, in accordance with its basis of unity and integrity, and our putting forward our full revolutionary and communist viewpoint and objectives—has been a noteworthy positive factor. And it is also noteworthy that many people—and conventional wisdom—would insist that you could not do anything like what has been done by WCW, even with its definite shortcomings, so long as communists were involved and moreover were playing a prominent role and openly propagating their full communist viewpoint and program (while clearly distinguishing that from the basis of unity and integrity of World Can’t Wait).
Once again, there can be—and should be—no avoiding of the fact that WCW, and those working in and with it, have not succeeded in bringing forth the level and kind of mass political resistance that was, correctly, set out as a goal, and a necessity, in the WCW “Call”; and the fact that, so far at least, this has not happened, on the level that is needed, has represented a significant negative factor on the political landscape. Nevertheless, the role that WCW has played, and what it has accomplished, can have a lasting positive political (and ideological) impact—if it is not squandered, politically and ideologically, but instead is built on.
Think of the degree to which torture has become much more of a question in society—even while it is an outrage that torture is not much more of an outrage throughout society. Would awareness of—and resistance to—this have occurred on the level that it has without the role of WCW? Think of the important political attention that’s been focused on the overall program of the Bush regime, rather than simply this or that aspect of it, in isolation from other aspects. Would that have happened on the level it has without what WCW has done?
The questions WCW has raised, or has played a crucial role in raising and sharpening—its indictments of the crimes of the Bush regime and its exposure of the comprehensive nature of the program of that regime and the great harm already done through the regime’s carrying out this program, including the precedents and “norms” this has created and its impact on the political terrain and the thinking of the people—this continues to be extremely relevant and points to the continuing need to mobilize massive political resistance to the basic political direction in which this regime has driven things. And this must be taken up, from the standpoint of our Party and in terms of our work, as part of the more fundamental objective of building a movement aimed at revolution, and the final goal of communism. Even given that things have fallen far short of what is needed, it can be said with, yes, a great deal of certainty, that it is much better that people have united around and mobilized to work for the objectives of WCW, even in the numbers that they have—much better that this has been persevered in—much better than if this had not been done. And now there is the challenge of how to continue, in new circumstances, the much needed work to build mass opposition and political resistance to the whole direction driven by the Bush regime, and the “new norms” it has set, and the trajectory it has established, within the U.S. and in the world at large—in the only way this massive political resistance can really be built—breaking out of the confines of the established and dominant political framework.
This must be done in the context where the current bourgeois electoral process is serving both as a certain arena of struggle among the powers-that-be themselves, over how to pursue their interests not only in a general sense but more specifically in the context of what has been set in motion by the Bush regime—and over whether, and if so how and to what degree, to make adjustments, or to continue firmly and without significant alteration on the current course—and where this whole electoral process is serving to further confine, influence and shape the profound mass discontent that exists, channeling this into forms and paths that not only do not threaten the interests of the powers-that-be but actually further those interests. Yet, this, too, is full of—and could contribute to deepening—contradictions and factors that could further sharpen the alienation that exists among broad numbers of people. Combating this political suffocation, and bringing forward meaningful political opposition and mass resistance, is a challenge that WCW itself is continuing to confront, and a challenge which must be confronted in an all-around way—and once again must be taken up, by our Party, in accordance with and proceeding from our strategic, revolutionary standpoint and objectives, while uniting with many others, coming at this from many different viewpoints.
In fact, in terms of setbacks with regard to efforts around WCW, the most harmful effect would occur to the degree that people, including some who have been involved in WCW, sum it up on an incorrect basis and according to linear thinking—on the basis of empiricism and pragmatism—and accordingly become disoriented and demoralized, not only about what WCW has and has not been able to achieve, but more generally about the prospect for bringing about significant, or even fundamental, change. This is somewhat understandable as a spontaneous tendency among people who are relatively new to this kind of political struggle and to taking on the challenge of building this kind of movement of mass political resistance, but it is inexcusable for people who are, or who claim to be, communists but who have fallen into empiricism even in relation to the period from 9/11 to the present—and have forgotten all the ups and downs just in that period, which I have been reviewing here briefly—to say nothing of how to evaluate things in relation to the strategic goal of revolution, aiming toward the final goal of communism. This underscores, all the more, the importance of persevering with the fundamental objective of opposing the whole direction in which the Bush regime has driven things and the efforts to direct outrage at this back into dead ends that only serve to derail and demobilize opposition to the crimes of this regime and this system as a whole—and, again from our Party’s standpoint, it points to the importance of proceeding in this in accordance with our fundamental revolutionary viewpoint and objectives and, as a decisive part of this now, making a scientific (as opposed to a pragmatic and empiricist) summation of this effort, so far, and carrying out vigorous struggle against unscientific summations and in particular distorting and opportunist “verdicts” on this effort that aim people away from drawing the real and crucial lessons and carrying forward the struggle on that basis.
The Obama Phenomenon
As I have touched on a couple of times already, a significant factor in the objective situation now is this year’s presidential election, and more specifically the particularity of the Obama phenomenon. Here, I can only briefly comment on (but will refer people to) the article that appeared some months ago by Andrew Sullivan (see TheAtlantic.com, “Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters,” December 2007) and an interview that was done more recently with George Soros—both of whom spoke in ways that, while coming from their own points of view, are insightful and important in relation to what is going on with this Obama phenomenon. Sullivan made the point that basically the policy options of whoever becomes president will be very restricted; in that sense there won’t be much difference. And that has to do with the trajectory of things and the necessity that’s been created by what the Bush regime has done, as well as other factors in the world in a larger sense. But, Sullivan said: while the range of those policy options will be narrow, in terms of style and perception the difference will be profound. And, once again, we should not be narrow and economist in our understanding of this—nor should we be “tailers after bourgeois democracy,” obviously (I hope that’s obvious). We should understand the complexity and once again the multi-layered, multi-colored nature of the “map” of this phenomenon.3 In terms of the “war on terror,” which Sullivan is very much for—he insists that it is necessary to carry forward and win this war, as does Obama, of course—Sullivan argues that, overnight, it will make a profound difference in the Muslim world if the president of the United States is Obama. And Obama, in effect, when he spoke before AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), made the same point, if you listen carefully with anything of a discerning ear.
In certain important aspects, and keeping in mind the differences as well as similarities between the 1960s and today’s situation, one can’t help but sense that there is a way in which Obama represents a kind of combination of Jack Kennedy and what things would have been like if Bobby Kennedy had not been assassinated and had instead become the Democratic Party nominee in 1968, with the key additional element of Obama’s being Black—but, as Andrew Sullivan emphasizes, a Black man who is not threatening to people like Sullivan—Black but with “no sudden moves.” In this context, it is worth recalling a significant fact and pondering the significance of this in relation to the Obama phenomenon: In the 1980s and early ’90s, during the time when there was a huge mass upsurge against apartheid in South Africa, and vicious suppression was being carried out in the attempt to drown that mass upsurge in blood, the most popular TV program at that time among whites in South Africa was...“The Cosby Show.” Again, “no sudden moves.”
Keeping in mind Sullivan’s observations, we can also see that there is, in this Obama phenomenon, an aspect of analogy to the way in which Booker T. Washington became a popular speaker at white supremacist rallies in the southern U.S. during the period of Jim Crow segregation and KKK terror. Washington was a “prominent Negro leader”—or someone who was promoted by the powers-that-be, including white supremacist forces in the southern U.S.—precisely because Washington advocated that, instead of waging struggle against segregation and KKK terror, Black people should work hard to better themselves within that horrendously oppressive framework. I’m not saying Obama is exactly the same as Booker T. Washington—nor, of course, is the political stage on which he is operating, and the political role he is playing on that stage, the same as with Washington—but there are some definite similarities, as this finds expression in today’s world (with everything that’s gone on since the time of Booker T. Washington), in terms of what Obama fundamentally represents—and in particular the phenomenon of, once again, “no sudden moves.”
We should not ignore, or be oblivious of, the difficulties posed by the unfolding of the objective situation right now, and in particular the election campaign and the Obama phenomenon more specifically—the ways in which this poses real obstacles to building mass political resistance and, on our own part, building a revolutionary movement. We should recognize the difficulties this poses in the short-term but also the potential “unravelling” that there could be for the ruling class—especially if we do our work correctly, proceeding from our strategic revolutionary perspective and orientation and dealing on that basis with the unfolding of these contradictions—again, not in a narrow, mechanical materialist and economist, kind of way—[sarcastic voice] “they’re all part of the same ruling class; Obama’s just a sellout; blah, blah, blah”—but understanding the complexity and again the multi-layered and multi-textured nature of this.
In this connection, some of us have been thinking about whether we should put out a statement, as the election eve approaches, to all those who have been pulled to the Obama phenomenon—all those people who have a genuine desire to see things take a very different course, within the U.S. and in terms of its role in the world, and who are objectively being set up for a great disappointment and grand disillusionment with the Obama phenomenon. This would be a statement in our paper that includes: “To all such people, we will be here when the debauchery turns into the blues!”
Now, whether or not we do that, there is a point to that orientation. At the same time, that’s not enough, obviously. It is crucial to be influencing and shaping, to the greatest degree we can, how people see and approach things, even those who are going to be, despite our best efforts, drawn into this Obama phenomenon on one level or another, so that, when “the blues” does hit, after the “debauchery” of indulging in illusions about Obama, it does not simply remain as “the blues” and lead to still further turning away from truly meaningful political activity—to demobilization, as well as demoralization, in relation to what is profoundly needed: massive political resistance. In opposition to that, we need to be influencing and shaping things so that, as this grand disillusionment takes hold, and as we are further exposing what all this is really about, then there will be at least a contradictory effect and strategically more of a basis for winning people to massive political resistance and ultimately to revolution (and winning some more immediately to a revolutionary position).
On the surface, in this immediate period, at least in the U.S. itself (and somewhat in dialectical relation with recent developments in Iraq, and the way the ruling class has to a significant degree downplayed the Iraq war in the public consciousness and replaced it with “Issue Number One: The Economy”), it may seem that the “storm” has quieted down; but this is much more likely to prove to be the “eye” of the storm rather than any kind of long-lasting “lull” in the storm. While there is, among the people in the U.S., a certain “trough” in terms of mass resistance—a definite “trough” as compared to a few years ago—and there is a struggle among the ranks of the ruling class about whether and if so how to make some adjustments, or “course correction,” the underlying contradictions—and here I am referring not just to the fundamental contradiction of capitalism and the bourgeois epoch in a general sense (between socialized production and private appropriation) but to the particular expressions of that in today’s world, including in the U.S.—have not really been mitigated, and will be very difficult to mitigate in a way favorable to U.S. imperialism. In fact, it is quite possible that, before very long, we will see a passing of things beyond the “eye of the storm” and the intensification of contradictions, with perhaps even some major eruptions, or escalations of tensions and conflicts, within the U.S. itself as well as in the world in the larger sense.
We should not underestimate the way that the notion that, after all, there will be a “pendulum swing” is exerting influence and having an effect (even if in some cases this is more in the category of a vague feeling). The appearance of the possibility of a major course correction and the seeming operation of the supposed “self-correcting mechanism of U.S. democracy”: we should not underestimate the influence of such ideas. Secondarily, there may actually be some aspect of “course correction,” and there are significant forces in the ruling class who really do want to see some kind of adjustment—precisely in order to better pursue, in the current situation, the interests of U.S. imperialism, as they perceive that. But overall the ruling class faces a lot of necessity, and there remain significant underlying factors and driving dynamics that militate against a major shift of direction on the part of the ruling class as a whole, internationally or within the U.S. This, again, is part of Andrew Sullivan’s point on why Obama is the man for the times. And, as has been pointed out by “neo-cons” and other more mainstream bourgeois commentators, Obama is already starting to adjust his stance on Iraq: “We have to be just as careful getting out as we were careless getting in” is his current refrain. And if he becomes president and “the generals on the ground” tell him that, with regard to Iraq, he can’t do what he said he’d do while he was campaigning—well, who is he to not listen to the generals? In any case, in calling for “carefully,” and gradually, pulling forces out of Iraq—while leaving open the prospect of retaining a “residual force” there—Obama consistently puts this in the context of, and emphasizes that it is to facilitate, sending more forces to Afghanistan (and he has spoken of the possibility of launching attacks inside Pakistan) and pursuing the “war on terror” overall more vigorously. Some “anti-war” candidate!
This is not to say that there won’t be any significant policy adjustments—we should not be simple-minded about this—but the point is rather that there are definite constraints and necessity that the ruling class will face, whoever is president. And we are actually being given the picture of this very clearly—as can be seen, for example, in Obama’s AIPAC speech and in general his talk about Israel and Iran. Anybody who is into the “Peace Now” and “War Is Not the Answer” thing and watched that AIPAC speech—and especially anyone who not only read the content but listened to the bloodthirsty tone of that speech—has to have been struck by that bloodthirstiness on some level (I don’t care how much they’re trying to turn off their minds, they have to have been struck by that on some level, even if not fully consciously). That was a bloodthirsty speech, and it indicated clearly what some of the necessity is that Obama recognizes—and recognizes he must take a clear stand on.
And we should not forget the experience with Jimmy Carter as president. Much as he’s now Mr. Human Rights and Mr. Habitat for Humanity, etc., let us not forget the Jimmy Carter who “came in like a lamb, and went out like a lion.” In the first part of his term, there he was, with the sweater he put on to give his “fireside chat” about pulling together and sacrificing, with the need for controls on oil and gas, and all that kind of stuff. But this avuncular figure turned into a bloody warmonger by the time he left office. This is covered up and forgotten by a lot of people who were around at the time—and of course many people, especially younger people, don’t even know about this. All they know is the image of Jimmy Carter, Mr. Human Rights. That Jimmy Carter is the one who, in the first part of his term, also out of necessity, pardoned a huge number of American soldiers who’d gone AWOL during (or as a result of) the Vietnam War. This was a mass phenomenon—thousands of people living underground or in other countries—and this pardon was all part of “healing the wounds,” in a way similar to some of how Obama talks now. But then reality and necessity for the ruling class asserted itself, and by the time Carter left office he was taking the advice of Brzezinski— he was helping to organize and arm the mujahadeen forces in Afghanistan against the Soviets—and, more ominously, Carter was directly threatening war, with everything that implied, against the Soviet Union over the Persian Gulf, in the context of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and in the wake of the Iranian revolution and the turmoil that was created there.
Carter emphatically stated—and here again the language of these imperialists is revealing—that if any “outside forces” try to intervene in the Persian Gulf, this will be taken by the United States as a cause for war. Well, I’m sorry, but I didn’t know that the Persian Gulf was a lake in the middle of the U.S. Obviously, by “outside forces” Carter was talking not about the U.S. but about the Soviet Union—and he was overtly threatening war against the Soviet Union!
This is important to reflect on—in general and specifically in relation to the Obama phenomenon now. This is not to say that history repeats itself in the same way, nor to ignore very significant differences between then and now. There is no Soviet Union, for one thing. But that experience with Jimmy Carter does hold some important lessons, in terms of the soothing talk of representatives of the imperialist ruling class, and on the other hand the necessity and constraints that this ruling class and its representatives face in pursuing their imperialist interests.
Right now, we have to face the fact that, while there is still a real “reservoir” of outrage directed at the Bush regime and what it has done, on the other hand there is a very definite “trough,” particularly among the progressive-minded middle strata, along with all the problems that the basic masses face in terms of being able to wage political resistance and in terms of building a revolutionary movement. I was struck by this once again in reading reports about our work around the Sean Bell case (the outrageous verdict exonerating the murdering cops): Even when we were successful in bringing out a lot of youth in Queens shortly after the verdict, it was striking, in reading the reports, that it was almost all females who were out in the streets protesting, not because they were necessarily more politically advanced but because all the young guys were on probation or in some other way caught up in the legal system, and that was a heavy weight on them, holding them back.
These problems are real. The “trough” and the “coming under the wing of the bourgeoisie”—not only among the middle strata but even among the basic masses, and certainly among Black people, with the pull of Obama—is very real. But so, too, is the necessity faced by the ruling class.
2. “The New Situation and the Great Challenges,” a talk given by Bob Avakian shortly after September 11, 2001, was first published in Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) #1143, March 17, 2002, and is available online at revcom.us [back]
3. In “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, Part 2” (available online at revcom.us/avakian/makingrevolution2 and as part of the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation), Bob Avakian wrote: “You cannot have a reductionist or simplistic approach to reality. Here, to illustrate the point, I want to invoke the analogy of a map with many different layers, with a different coloring for each layer, expressing different phenomena (population centers, parks, bodies of water, and so on). This is a useful metaphor or analogy to help understand the complicated and variegated nature of the reality that we’re dealing with and are working to transform. [back]