Part 7: Who Can Understand Oppression--And What's Necessary to Really Put an End to Oppression?

Bob Avakian Speaks Out, Interviewed by Carl Dix

Revolutionary Worker #1162, August 11, 2002, posted at

The Revolutionary Worker is very excited to present to our readers this interview and exchange between Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Carl Dix, national spokesperson of the RCP.

In coming weeks, the many different subjects covered in this important and wide-ranging interview will be made available. This week is Part 7. In the future, the complete interview will also be published and made available online.

The transcript has been slightly edited for publication.


In heavy times like these, the people require extraordinary things to help prepare them for the challenges we face. What follows is truly extraordinary, something that will help arm those who want to take on the U.S. rulers' juggernaut of war and repression with the kind of understanding they need to deal with these times -- the immediate challenges in front of us and a whole lot more involved in changing the world. The Revolutionary Worker is publishing an important interview with Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.

I had the honor of doing this interview with him in early 2002. Going into it, I knew there were burning questions many people would've wanted to put to him if they had the chance. They had been putting those kinds of questions to me when I went out there around the Party's Draft Programme or got down with people around the "war without limits" the U.S. imperialist ruling class has unleashed on the world. I was going to have the responsibility, and the opportunity, to put these questions to him for them.

Doing this was intense. It was hard, and it was fun. I hadn't had a chance to get into it with Bob Avakian like this for quite a while. He was the same "fired man" (to borrow a term from Peter Tosh) who had provided crucial leadership for the revolutionary movement at key junctures so many times in the past. He was right on top of what was going down in the U.S. and around the world. And he had the same boundless enthusiasm to dig into world historic questions concerning the process of proletarian revolution. We spent several days doing the interview, getting into everything from the current situation to the role of religion to what sustains him as a veteran revolutionary leader. And then, when we finished our work, we went deep into the night talking about basketball, movies and more.

I hope those who read this interview get as much out of it, and enjoy it as much, as I did in the process of doing it.

Carl Dix


Carl Dix : I wanted to get more into this question of identity politics and contrast that to the approach of the party, that is, the united front under the leadership of the proletariat. And in particular-- national oppression is real, and it gives rise to resistance and struggle, but then there is a question of how should that struggle and that resistance be organized and what should it be directed against? So I guess I'd like you to contrast the view that the struggle should be taken up and focused by organizing the different oppressed groupings kind of under their own national tent as opposed to the party's view of the need for a united front under the leadership of the proletariat.

Bob Avakian : Well, in the course of the struggle there are going to be all kinds of organizations that develop among different sections of the people in response to different kinds of oppression and where it's coming from at a particular time. And that's all positive, or has the potential to be led in a positive direction, but again it gets back to: "What are we dealing with here? What's necessary to deal with this oppression?"

And more fundamentally, can we really deal with all this oppression, or do we have to settle for simply trying to soften the effect or loosen the chains of oppression, or however you want to say it? I think it gets back to that question again, because if we can't really change the whole society, if we can't bring into being a new world, if we can't get rid of all of these different forms of oppression, then it would be logical to say, well, everybody ought to just try to do what we can to offset the effects of this, or whatever. But the fact is we need to and we can uproot all this, so how do you look at all the different forms and streams of struggle that come into being at a given time?

I think we have to look at it in relation to this objective of ultimately overthrowing and transforming- -overthrowing the existing system and transforming all of society. And that's why we talk about a united front under the leadership of the proletariat, because, again, the proletariat is the force in society that has the most fundamental and compelling interest and need to make such a revolution, but it also needs to bring forth and unite broader forces in society. It needs to lead every stream of resistance and struggle ultimately toward the goal of revolution even while uniting and struggling with various forces whose viewpoint is different at any given time.

So that's very different, as we talked about earlier, than the whole notion of "identity politics." Of course a lot of different people mean different things by identity politics. You've had some experience with this too, and maybe you could pose a little more how this actually comes out.

CD : Well, it gets raised in terms of: can the oppression that comes down on the particular grouping of people even be grasped and understood by anyone outside of that grouping and, flowing from that, can they actually take up and fight that oppression, or does it require being a part of that oppressed group to understand what it is you're dealing with and to lead the struggle--if not being the only grouping and the only people who'd be involved or interested in taking up the struggle?

BA : Let me put it this way--from the philosophical standpoint, we could say first of all that people's experience, of whatever kind, is a rich source of understanding. People's experience of oppression and of fighting against oppression is a rich source of understanding the nature of that oppression and also how it relates to other things. But by itself that's not going to give you a full picture, and if everybody just went with their own experience, any experience, human knowledge would be very limited.

Any kind of knowledge requires--as Mao said, there are two sources of knowledge, direct experience and indirect experience, that is, the experience of other people that you learn from (or knowledge of something that is inferred from other things which are experienced or observed). And everybody does this. I mean, nobody says, "I'm only going to be concerned about, or I only have opinions about the things that I have directly experienced." You couldn't live in the world that way.

I remember when we used to argue with the soldiers about Vietnam when they'd come on leave. They'd come to Berkeley and go to the anti-war table, and they'd argue with us. They'd say, "Well, have you been in Vietnam?" And to those of us who hadn't and said "no," they would say, "Then you can't say anything about it." Meanwhile they were giving us all kinds of stuff about how we had to fight in Vietnam and stop the Chinese communists and Russians and all this stuff, so at one point I asked one of them, "Well, have you been to the Soviet Union or China?" "No," they'd admit. "Then," I'd respond, "how can you talk about the Soviet Union and China and what it has to do with Vietnam?" [CD laughs.]

And obviously, you can't only talk about your own direct experience, and nobody does and nobody has opinions only about their own experience. The question is, fundamentally, is your understanding of things correct--about anything, correct or incorrect? Does it really reflect reality as closely as possible? And, again, direct experience is very important, and it's very important for people who don't have direct experience in a particular sphere to learn from those who do, but there's still a question of getting deeper and understanding it more fully, and how it fits--both understanding its own features more fully and also understanding how it fits into a larger picture and interrelates with other things more fully.

So, first of all, on a philosophical level that's just wrong. And this came up, for example, in our Party's history, around the coup in China, when these people like Deng Xiaoping and others who wanted to turn back the whole revolution came to power and some people inside our own Party said, "Well, we're not in China, we can't have any opinion about that." And it was interesting that Mao had said earlier that "if revisionists come to power in China, the communists of the world should unite with the Chinese people to struggle against and overthrow the revisionists." So he had a different opinion about, if you were outside China, whether you could have anything to say about it and do about it. The reason is because, again, you live in the world and all these things do interact and they affect each other.

What happens in China obviously has a big effect on the world. What happens in the U.S. clearly has a big effect on the world. We don't tell people outside the U.S. they can't struggle against U.S. imperialism because they don't live in the U.S. So, similarly, we didn't agree with the position that because we didn't live in China we couldn't have anything to say about what was happening there, because all kinds of people had opinions about it and were acting on their opinions. But in order to actually know how to act, we had to actively take up the question. We had to study it. And we didn't say: "Well, Deng Xiaoping, because he's Chinese and lives in China, knows better about this than those of us who are in the U.S. and are not Chinese. We said there's objective truth here. What does Deng Xiaoping represent? What line and what program is he upholding and is he going to apply, and what's it going to lead to and what are going to be the consequences for the people of China and for the masses of people of the world, and what's our responsibility in relationship to that? That's the same way you have to approach all these things. So that's what's wrong philosophically with this notion of identity politics as you're describing it.

CD : Okay, I think in response to the points that you've just made, some people would say, "Look, we're not saying that the only people who can have any understanding of what this is about have to experience it directly--but what we're saying is that the people who can really understand it and can really be the ones to struggle against it, have to come from this oppressed grouping." It seems to me that this kind of viewpoint has a lot of implications for resistance and struggle and for revolutionary struggle, including for the possibility of revolutionary struggle. So I wonder how you'd respond to that?

BA: Well, I was explaining how I don't agree with it philosophically, and I think if you follow it out to its logical conclusion (like Richard Pryor said, "What's the logical conclusion of the logic?") it would lead to every struggle being walled off from every other one, rather than our whole approach of uniting all who can be united under the leadership of the proletariat and with the programme which will ultimately lead to proletarian revolution. But you end up walling off the struggles.

You may say that people may have opinions about it, but if your criterion isn't what's actually going on in this sphere, what kind of oppression are people facing, and what does it stem from and what to do about it--if that's not your criterion but your criterion is just "well, the people who are experiencing it just have to be the main ones to determine what should be done about it"--first of all, as I talked about earlier, many different people are experiencing it and they have different particular experiences. They also occupy different positions in society, and they're going to come up with different analyses of what the same experience means. Like among Black people, Black people of all strata, even these Black conservatives, are oppressed as Black people, whether they want to acknowledge it or not, and they may find it out when they go driving down the street, as has happened, and they get pulled over as a result of profiling and sometimes very dire consequences arise from that. But they're going to have a different analysis of that than someone who occupies a different position in society and experiences the same thing differently because it's part of a whole different context for them. They're living in a housing project, they're being brutalized by the police on a daily basis, they're living in conditions of enforced poverty, they can't get a job--all this kind of thing is different than someone of these bourgeois people who still suffers oppression being Black but it's part of a whole different context, and they're going to come up with different analyses and different solutions. So it's not going to solve the problem to just say that people who are experiencing it have got to be the ones who analyze and come up with a programme for it.

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