Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF A TALK BY BOB AVAKIAN, CHAIRMAN OF THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST PARTY, USA, FALL 2009
UNRESOLVED CONTRADICTIONS, DRIVING FORCES FOR REVOLUTION
TABLE OF CONTENTS
UNRESOLVED CONTRADICTIONS, DRIVING FORCES FOR REVOLUTION
In the following, I'm going to touch on some important points concerning not only the present situation and its developing features, but also certain deeply entrenched relations in society and the world and the prospects and challenges all this poses in relation to the strategic and fundamental goals of our party (and others who share our revolutionary communist outlook and orientation) and how to rise to these challenges. Much of this I am still working and grappling with myself, and much of what follows therefore will be more in the nature of a scaffolding than a fully elaborated discussion. So while this talk will include points of basic orientation and of analysis which I feel are important to be firmly taking hold of and acting on, to a significant degree the purpose and aim here is also to offer some food for thought and some sense of direction in regard to key aspects of what will be spoken to, while at the same time promoting and provoking further wrangling with these questions among party members and others more broadly who are at least beginning to seriously confront the reality of what is going on in the world, and whether and how there could actually be a radically different and much better world.
I want to begin by briefly speaking to the continuing relevance and importance of the "two historically outmodeds" analysis in today's world—that is, historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system, with a particular focus on U.S. imperialism. As we have, for good reason, repeatedly emphasized, the greater harm done and the greater danger to humanity is by far embodied in the imperialist "outmoded," and in particular U.S. imperialism. And because of this, it is criminal to (at least objectively) support U.S. imperialism and its many monstrous crimes in the name of opposing the other "outmoded." Even with the very real horrors committed by Islamic fundamentalists—against women in particular, but against the masses of people more generally—it must never be forgotten, or covered up, that these very forces and the crimes they commit have, in a fundamental sense, been fostered by the imperialist system itself, directly and indirectly, through conscious efforts to support and build them up in certain circumstances (for example, U.S. support for and massive aid to such fundamentalists in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation of that country) and through the overall functioning of the imperialist system with the massive dislocation and upheaval and brutal oppression and suffering it causes for masses of people in the countries of the Third World under imperialist domination.
It is also very important to emphasize yet again that these "two outmodeds" do, in fact, reinforce each other even while opposing each other; and that therefore supporting either of these "outmodeds" leads to the strengthening of both and the continuation of this deadly dynamic and a disastrous dead-end for humanity. This is something which many people have difficulty, for various reasons, grasping or coming to terms with. To put this another way, many people have a hard time understanding how it is we got to where we are today.
There is, ironically on the Fox channel, an interesting TV program called Lie to Me, whose main character (played by Tim Roth) is Dr. Cal Lightman, a scientist who is supposed to be the world's leading deception expert. As presented in this program, Lightman is able to study people's body language and facial expressions, etc., and tell much more accurately than a lie detector when they are lying or covering something up, or what emotions they are feeling, even when this may be manifested in ways that are difficult to discern by the ordinary person without the necessary training. Well, whether it is really possible, scientifically, to determine things like this in this way—or to what degree that might be possible—may be of interest, but it is of secondary interest in regard to the point I am emphasizing here. More interesting, in this regard, is an exchange that took place in one of the episodes of this program (Lie to Me) where the FBI had gone in and bugged some Islamic mosques, and at one point, as a result of doing this, they were supposedly able to prevent a crime from having been committed—another "terrorist act," although on a lesser scale than September 11, 2001. And then in the aftermath of this, at the end of this episode, there is an exchange between Lightman and an FBI agent (played by Mekhi Phifer), where Lightman says: Well, you may have prevented a specific act, but you've created a lot more Islamic fundamentalists by the way you did it—because you went in and committed this outrage against a sacrosanct mosque, you invaded this holy place in this way by bugging it. And the FBI agent comes back with: Yes, but we prevented this horrible act from taking place. In response to this, Lightman insists that you have to think about the longer term effects—to which the FBI agent replies: that's a problem for tomorrow. And then Lightman comes back with the punch line, which "caps" the exchange: How do you think you got to today?
This, in its own way, captures what a lot of people don't understand. You keep this dynamic going—whether it's Israel or the U.S.—you go and you obliterate whole sections of a country, as was done in Lebanon and then in Gaza by Israel with the full backing of the U.S. (including Obama, by the way, in the middle of his campaign in 2008) and, with every bomb that falls, with every small child that's buried in the rubble, you are creating a new generation of thousands and thousands of Islamic fundamentalists. Now, of course, there is a role—a very important role—for people who are genuinely, and from a much better place, against the imperialist system and opposed to what Israel represents in the overall framework of the imperialist system and as an occupying colonial settler state in Palestine; it's the responsibility of such people to actively resist this, and it's our responsibility to unite with people in opposing this and work to win them to our revolutionary viewpoint. But when people, especially those in the imperialist countries themselves, support, or passively acquiesce in and do nothing to oppose, the acts of war and wanton slaughter, torture and so on, carried out by their governments, which today are aimed largely against people in the Middle East and other countries where Islam is the dominant religion—and whether this support or acquiescence is justified in the name of "modernity," in the name of ending horrible oppression of women, or is rationalized in some other way—this only serves to reinforce the dynamic where the imperialists have a freer hand to carry out these acts, and as a consequence new legions of Islamic fundamentalists are being created. So that tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow there are more and more people willing and determined to engage in acts of "terrorism against the West"—while, in the name of opposing these acts, and the forces who commit them, you are supporting imperialism or Israel or other reactionary forces in the world—while the dynamic goes on, and on, and the terms become increasingly worse.
People need to be confronted with that question: How do you think we got to today—and what do you think is going to be the dynamic if we don't actually stand up and oppose the crimes committed by U.S. imperialism, by our own government, in our name—or, even worse, if we actually support these crimes in the name of the horrors committed by the other "outmoded," by Islamic fundamentalists and other similar reactionary forces?
All this emphasizes, once again, the need to break out of, and fully rupture with, this whole framework and dynamic. Unless and until this is done, the people whose actual interests don't lie with either one of these reactionary forces, either one of these "historically outmodeds," will have no initiative, no way in which their real interests can actually be expressed in the powerful way they need to be.
So, it is crucial that revolutionaries and communists—but others as well who genuinely abhor these crimes committed by the one outmoded and the other, and who want to see a different kind of world where these crimes are not endlessly perpetrated and perpetuated—step forward and resist this. And this is all the more so, in recognition of two things, if you're in the imperialist countries and in particular the U.S. First, it is in reality the imperialist "outmoded," and in particular U.S. imperialism, which by far has done the greatest harm and poses the greatest danger to humanity. That's an objective fact. I challenge anyone to look into the facts objectively, and if you do so you cannot but come to the conclusion that this is true.
And secondly, in recognition of the fact that you live in this country, that this government acts in your name and justifies its acts on the basis of "protecting" you and acting in your interests. This only gives a further dimension to the need to step forward and oppose this imperialist "outmoded" in particular while, at the same time, working to break things out of this whole framework—opposing both "outmodeds" and the ways in which this deadly dynamic goes on where they mutually reinforce each other even while opposing each other.
This "pyramid analysis" was first put forward more than five years ago now, in the question-and-answer session of the "Revolution" talk (Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About).1 To briefly summarize this, the point is that you can conceive of the political structures and the way that they relate to the larger society in the U.S. as something of a pyramid: At the top you have the ruling class forces, which, speaking in broad strokes and for general purposes, are divided on the one hand into the Republican Party and on the other hand the Democratic Party, and what these parties represent in terms of "conservatism" and "liberalism" (about which I'll have more to say a little bit later); and then, continuing the metaphor of the pyramid, you have lines extending (or angling) from the top of the pyramid, where the ruling class sits with its two basic wings, down to the social bases that these different wings of the bourgeoisie at the top of the pyramid seek to appeal to—on the one side the "right," and on the other side the "left," in the terms that are utilized commonly in the framework of bourgeois politics. These two ruling class forces, and the political parties that generally represent them, appeal to people on the two sides of this pyramid, in terms of seeking their votes; and they also, at times at least, appeal to them to become politically active—but always within the framework of the dominant capitalist system, and on terms conforming to the interests of the ruling capitalist class, of which both of these political parties are representatives.
What has been further pointed out in regard to this pyramid is not only that you can roughly conceive of the dominant or "mainstream" politics in terms of this kind of division, but also that on one side of the pyramid—that is, the openly right-wing side—the politicians of the ruling class who sit on top of that side of the pyramid are perfectly willing to, and often do, mobilize a social base "on their side of the pyramid"—right-wing and in fact fascist forces—which we see happening today in the context of what's going on with the Obama presidency in particular. These right-wing politicians (generally grouped within the Republican Party) can, will, and do actively mobilize this essentially fascist social base (and, even while they keep it on something of a leash, it's a long leash) yet, on the other side, the sections of the ruling class that are more generally represented by the Democratic Party are very reluctant to, and in fact resistant to, mobilizing their social base, if you want to put it that way—the base of people whose votes and support in the bourgeois political arena the Democrats seek to gain. This (Democratic Party) side of the ruling class generally is not desirous of—and in fact recoils at the idea of—calling that base into the streets, mobilizing them either to take on the opposing forces in the ruling class and their social base, or in general to struggle for the programs that the Democratic Party itself claims to represent and actually in some measure does seek to implement.
So you have on the one side (the "left" side, to use that term) a significant amount of paralysis, whereby the objective of the ruling class politicians is in fact to pacify and demobilize the people whom they appeal to to vote for them (their "social base" in that sense), whereas on the other side there is a very active orientation toward unleashing, revving up and mobilizing, in a very passionate and active way, the fascist social base that the Republican, right-wing part of the ruling class sees as its social base, or sees as a force it relies on among the population. This is not to say that the people down the sides and at the base of the pyramid, so to speak (the people in the middle strata, let alone those held down at the bottom of society) play any kind of decisive role in determining what the policies and actions of those at the top of society will be; but they are forces which in the one case—in the case of the right-wing politicians, the Republican Party—they're very anxious to mobilize; while, in the case of the other side, the people at the top of the pyramid are anxious to not mobilize into the streets the people they appeal to for support in elections. They are concerned to have this "social base" demobilized and paralyzed politically, other than to act, and very passively at that, within the dominant political framework, and always on the basis of seeking conciliation and compromise with the openly right-wing forces in the ruling class and the fascist base that they appeal to.
As an amplification of the basic point here, it is important to recognize this: Within the framework of the capitalist-imperialist system, and with the underlying dynamics of this system, which fundamentally set the terms, and the confines, of "official" and "acceptable" politics, fascism—that is, the imposition of a form of dictatorship which openly relies on violence and terror to maintain the rule and the imperatives of the capitalist-imperialist system—is one possible resolution of the contradictions that this system is facing—a resolution that could, at a certain point, more or less correspond to the compelling needs of this system and its ruling class—while revolution and real socialism, aiming toward the final goal of communism, throughout the world, is also a possible resolution of these contradictions, but one that would most definitely not be acceptable to the capitalist-imperialist ruling class nor compatible with the imperatives of this system!
All this is the fundamental reason why—as noted by the progressive observer and critic of the mainstream media, Jeff Cohen—it is not only conceivable but in fact very common these days to have "respected" commentators in the mainstream media whose position was captured by the recently deceased Robert Novak, who at one point expressed to Cohen that in the 1950s he (Novak) was an Eisenhower Republican, and every day since then he has gone further to the right; while, Cohen emphasized, it is inconceivable that there could be a regular commentator, treated as a reasonable and respected voice, who, from the other side of the political spectrum, could say: In the early 1960s I was a Kennedy Democrat, and every day since then I have gone further to the left!
To further illustrate what is captured in the "pyramid analysis," let's take an example from contemporary politics, the politics of the last couple of presidencies. Everyone recalls, or should recall, that in 2000 the presidential election was the most contested election at least in recent or modern history in the U.S. The conflict was not resolved on the day the voting took place (or early the next morning), but stretched out and became quite intense for weeks after that, with court cases and battles back and forth about whether Bush or Gore was the legitimate winner in Florida and therefore in the country—with all this finally being decided by a 5 to 4 decision of the Supreme Court.
Significant, and revealing, in terms of what I'm speaking to here—and, as so often happens in American politics, many people have no doubt forgotten this by now—is that in 2000 the conventional wisdom coming from the TV commentators and pundits and so on was uniformly, or at least overwhelmingly, that given the fact that this election was so contested and that it ended up in a highly controversial ruling by a sharply divided Supreme Court; and given, in addition, that Bush didn't even win the popular vote but in fact Gore did; Bush would have to "rule by consensus" and move "toward the center" in how he governed. Noooo. Exactly the opposite was the case. Bush took a very hard line, mobilized a hard core force of his followers in the ruling class and appealed, when he felt that he needed to, to a hard core right-wing, basically fascist, social base to back him up. And the whole notion of compromising with the other forces among the powers-that-be, and in particular those grouped in the Democratic Party ("reaching across the aisle," as they like to say) was not at all the way that Bush approached things, even before the 2004 election when he was "re"-elected and claimed that he had won substantial "political capital" through this election. But for all that time, up to that 2004 election, it was not at all the case, contrary to what was the conventional wisdom, voiced over and over again, that Bush would after all have to rule by consensus and move toward the center.
Now let's contrast that with the present situation. Obama did not become president as a result of a highly contested election, in terms of people calling into question the outcome. The outcome was clear, and by the standards of mainstream bourgeois electoral politics in the U.S., his victory was a decisive one. The result was not in doubt—by late on election night Obama's electoral victory was clear—and there was no controversy about who'd won the vote. On top of that, Obama has a clear majority with him from his party in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. In other words, in the Congress, the Democrats have a clear majority to go along with Obama's decisive victory in the presidential election.2 And yet, over and over again, it's insisted that Obama will have to seek consensus, "reach across the aisle," not become isolated from those who didn't support him, not alienate the Republican Party, and so on and so forth—and Obama acts in accordance with that, over and over again. In fact, whenever Obama carries out the actions that his role as chief executive of U.S. imperialism and commander-in-chief of the imperialist armed forces of the U.S. requires him to carry out, the rationalization that's frequently if not always given, particularly to those who voted for him but are disappointed by these actions, is that Obama, after all, has to compromise, he has to "reach across the aisle," he has to rule by consensus, et cetera, et cetera.
Why is it that, if you look at these two very sharply contrasting examples, logic would seem to indicate that Obama should be able to rule with a clear hand and come out fighting and not have to compromise with the opposition forces within the ruling structures but, in fact, he does constantly compromise with them, and it is repeatedly insisted that he must; whereas Bush, according to "conventional wisdom," should have been compromising and "seeking consensus" yet refused to do so and, in fact, had a more or less free hand in acting in such a way as not to seek compromise and consensus?
To get at this further, and from another important angle, it is necessary to look at some particular characteristics of these social bases, these class forces who tend spontaneously to support the one or the other of the mainstream ruling class political parties. I'll come back later to the divisions within the ruling class itself, and how this influences things in a larger sense, but here I want to return to a famous statement by Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, on the democratic intellectual and the shopkeeper—and how this relates to repolarization for revolution. It is important to examine carefully what Marx said about this. Not because we're religious types engaging in "hermeneutics" (detailed interpretation of scripture), but because Marx was intentionally precise, and there is profound meaning concentrated in the various things he said in this statement.
There are two essential points—which form a kind of "unity of opposites"—in what Marx said about this in The Eighteenth Brumaire that I want to focus on here. On the one hand, he made the point—the very important point, which we have, for very good reason, repeatedly stressed—that the democratic intellectual in the realm of his or her thinking does not escape the limits and the confines that the shopkeeper cannot escape in practical life. In other words, the democratic intellectuals, in their thinking and philosophy, are still trapped and confined within the framework of commodity relations and capitalism. Even when they conceive of how the world ought to be, and when they conceive of what the rights of people ought to be, when they conceive of the need to redress and correct injustices (or however they would formulate that), they do so within the same delimited framework of commodity relations and capitalist conditions. And in that sense, these democratic intellectuals can't get beyond the framework within which the shopkeeper is confined and entrapped in practical activity, namely, the dynamics of commodity production and exchange and more specifically capitalist economic relations.3
But Marx also makes a point which stands in contradiction to this, because he is being very dialectical: he is looking at the overall picture and the contradictory relations of these things and how they interact. He emphasizes how, although in the final analysis, the democratic intellectual and the shopkeeper both are bound within the same confines, in their education and in their way of thinking they may be as far apart as heaven and earth. It is this latter aspect that can be overlooked in the emphasis on the very important conclusion Marx reaches: that they are trapped within the same confines, ultimately—the democratic intellectual and the shopkeeper respectively, the one in the case of philosophy and the other in the case of practical life. But it is very important to recognize that the difference—which Marx emphasized as being as far apart as heaven and earth—has real import and ramifications also. It has real political meaning and implications.
The democratic intellectuals, in their political tendencies and political "impulses" (so to speak), are very different from the shopkeeper. And going back to the "pyramid analysis," what we often see, or a general trend that we see, is that these intellectuals, insofar as they are still confined within the dominant bourgeois political framework, tend to line up "on the left" of that framework; in terms of U.S. electoral and bourgeois politics, they tend to be in the camp of the Democratic Party. Not exclusively, but to a very large degree. On the other hand, again not exclusively but to a very large degree, the actual shopkeepers—and using "shopkeepers" more broadly as a metaphor for other small proprietors and small property owners—tend, spontaneously at least, to be in the camp of the other side, to be on the right-wing side of the social division. Especially when they feel their interests are being acutely threatened or called into question, they tend toward the fascist position, toward becoming a social base for fascism.
And this has real importance, in terms of understanding the actual political alignments in the U.S. at any given time, including now, and the challenges this poses in terms of repolarization for revolution. It won't do, just because Marx says that in the final analysis they are confined within the same framework, to ignore the very real differences between the democratic intellectuals and the "shopkeepers," in terms of how they act within that framework politically. Our task, the task viewed from the strategic standpoint of revolution toward the final aim of communism, is on the one hand working and struggling to break the democratic intellectuals out of the bourgeois-democratic framework, even while uniting with them where their democratic sentiments impel, or at least incline, them toward opposing crimes and outrages perpetrated by this system—crimes which, in many instances are, or at least seem to be, in conflict with the proclaimed democratic principles of this system. At the same time, however, it would be wrong and harmful to allow the shopkeepers (again, using that as a metaphor for broader groupings in the middle strata, small proprietors and petty property owners and others in a similar situation, with similar spontaneous sentiments) to simply remain in the camp of reaction, and to gravitate more and more toward fascism. It is necessary, even while recognizing the very real difficulties in this, to maintain a strategic orientation of also seeking to politically win over, or at least politically neutralize, as much as possible, the shopkeepers, understanding that as emblematic of broader petit bourgeois strata.
The appeal of the Christian Fascists in the moral and cultural sphere—and the need to sharply contend in this sphere
In this context, I want to speak to something which would be very wrong to ignore or to underestimate. And that is the moral appeal of the Christian Fascists in particular—and more specifically their opposition to and attacks on selfishness, individualism, consumerism and, as they frame it, "materialism." That is, the grasping and the lusting and striving after more and more consumer goods and material possessions.
This is a big part of the moral indictment and moral appeal of Christian fundamentalist fascists in particular. All of this is raised by them, however, from the standpoint of vigorously upholding and aggressively seeking to reinforce tradition's chains, as applied to women and the family in particular, and all on the basis of accepting and serving to perpetuate the dominant oppressive relations in this country and the world overall—including, as a key pillar of this, the position and role of U.S. imperialism as "the most monstrous, most oppressive superpower." (See "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," Revolution #170, July 19, 2009; this statement is also available online at revcom.us.)
This moral appeal of theirs focuses and seizes on some of the elements of the dominant popular culture and ethos that we also criticize—and very rightly so—but from a radically different perspective. From the standpoint of Christian Fascist morality, around which a social base of very large and significant proportions is presently being mobilized and has been mobilized over a number of years in the U.S., this involves a critique of things that could be concentrated in the word "licentiousness": both sexual license, by which they mean any kind of sex outside of the framework of the traditional patriarchal family, and a more general licentiousness of seeking gratification in terms of personal—and what are very often, spontaneously and within the dynamics of this system, selfish—objectives and selfish motivations.
As these Christian Fascists see this, what is involved, and is dragging society toward damnation, is everything from abortion to same sex relations (and, specifically, gay marriage) as well as the question of evolution—all these things which call into question the traditional dominant relations that have existed for thousands of years and are associated in a general sense, particularly by these fundamentalist religious forces, with the "Judeo-Christian tradition."
These reactionary Christian Fascist forces insist that such challenges to "traditional" viewpoints and values can only lead to chaos in society. There is some truth to this, and from their standpoint this can only be a very bad thing, since they are proceeding from within the framework of the capitalist-imperialist system and the need to continue—and enforce, as violently as necessary—U.S. imperialist domination in the world. But the more fundamental question is: how to view the prospect of "chaos," or the disruption of "stability"—when that "stability" involves the perpetuation of this system and its monstrous crimes—and how to view the prospect of major social upheaval and struggle, when that upheaval and struggle can bring an end to this system and its very real horrors?
Now, it's important to note that the "moral appeals" of the Christian Fascists find some resonance, are able to strike a chord, not only among "old fogies," but with a number of youth as well—including, very importantly, some young women who, among other things, are very legitimately alienated and disgusted by the rank degradation of women promoted everywhere in the dominant culture and embedded in the dominant social relations in this society. This is something that is very important, once again, not to be ignorant of, or to ignore or underestimate.
It is also very significant that this kind of appeal finds a basis among those who make up the ranks, and not just the officer corps, of the U.S. military. Those who have been drawn to the U.S. military, as a voluntary military now, are appealed to in significant measure on the basis of being different from, and better than, the "nasty" society outside the military. (This was true when Bill Clinton was president, during most of the 1990s; and, while this does need more looking into, it would be surprising if it were not the case now with Obama and the politics and "ethos" that he is associated with.) This denunciation of the dominant society as corrupt and rotten often focuses on the rampant individualism among the U.S. population—contrasting this with the "team spirit" of the murderous U.S. military!—and, once again, rampant individualism is something that we also criticize, but from a radically different standpoint.
In the book Making the Corps, by Thomas Ricks (Scribner, 1997)—which was written in the 1990s, and was about the U.S. military broadly even while it focused on basic training for U.S. Marines—this theme came up over and over again. It was stressed by the officers, but also voiced spontaneously by a lot of the soldiers who were going through this basic training, that they were the ones who had the real values, and the irony was that they were protecting a society full of people who were rotten and selfish.
Somewhat related to this, it's worth noting the posturing of these fascists and in particular fundamentalist Christian Fascists as "anti-colonialists": the ways in which, in certain circumstances and at least in certain aspects, they will defend "traditional cultures" against what they sometimes denounce as "liberal cultural imperialism." For example, in the name of opposing liberal cultural imperialism, they may uphold even some of the most horrific traditional forms of oppression of women: things such as female genital mutilation in Africa and some other parts of the Third World; or other ways in which women are debased, degraded and subjugated in traditional forms in the Third World, rather than in the "modern" forms that more often take shape in the imperialist countries themselves.
These Christian Fascist forces also promote a perverse populism (which is a feature of fascist political tendencies generally). As people like Chris Hedges have pointed out, this was quite pronounced in the short-lived but significant Huckabee candidacy during the Republican presidential primary in 2008. This populism involves an effort to rally the "common folks" against "liberal elitism"—all on behalf of truly elite and ruling forces at the top of the capitalist system (or, at least, significant sections of them). You can see that now, for example, in the debate around health care.
Right-wing—and it is not exaggeration to identify them as fascist—demagogues seek to rally "common folks" against what are, in fact, some positive aspects in liberalism, such as secularism and advocacy of certain rights for oppressed and marginalized groups, even while liberalism itself frames and confines all this within a bourgeois and imperialist dominated framework. This, too, is a very perverse dynamic, and it is crucial to wage the struggle to break people out of this in growing numbers.
This is also akin to how, in certain circumstances, these Christian Fascists will promote relativism. Even while they denounce relativism and promote the absolutism of Biblical literalist "certainty," they will at times turn around and foster and support relativism—especially in opposition to science—with once again, their attack on evolution a concentration of this.
All this is an arena, morality and culture, where we need to contend much more—more extensively, systematically, sharply and creatively—bringing forward a truly radical and truly liberating alternative to all this, to every way in which culture and morality is presented on the terms of the exploitative and oppressive system of capitalism-imperialism.
As another important dimension of the "pyramid analysis" and the present polarization in U.S. society—both at the top and among different strata extending out and down from the top of the "pyramid"—it is, of course, necessary to recognize and point sharply to, and take the full measure of, the American white supremacist element in all this. It is important, for example, to note how, as we and some others have pointed out, the current economic crisis is hitting Black people and other "minorities" even harder than the "general population" (or, in other words, white people), deepening in this dimension as well the objective "racial divide" in America. What goes along with this, ironically—and you see this very clearly in the mobilization of these fascist forces, in their "tea parties" and other forms—is the sense of white male American entitlement.
I believe that, as a general phenomenon, one of the main elements that contributes to a fascist mentality, and the inclination (or the vulnerability, however you want to put it) to be mobilized around a fascist program, is a sense of frustrated entitlement. And this is a very big element of the current political situation overall and specifically of this fascist force that we see being mobilized very rabidly on the scene now.
Here enters in, once again, the "de Tocqueville point" that we have emphasized many times. With his romanticized view of the United States at that time, de Tocqueville (a French politician, scholar and philosopher who traveled in the U.S. in the early days of the American republic, about 200 years ago) extolled American democracy and the prospects for this to not only survive but flourish over the long term. But, at the same time, he did take note of and call attention to a certain vulnerability, or Achilles heel, in all this: the existence at that time of slavery. And extrapolating from that down to the present, we could refer more generally to the situation, the viciously oppressed situation, of Black people within the United States, which in the 200 years or so since the time of de Tocqueville has gone through changes in form and in particular circumstances, but remains one of the most pronounced aspects of American society and one of the greatest exposures of the crimes of the American capitalist-imperialist system overall.
This remains a vulnerable point of this whole system. Even with very real changes in the situation of Black people, as part of the larger changes in the society (and the world) overall—including a growth of the "middle class" among Black people, an increase in college graduates and people in higher paying and prestigious professions, with a few holding powerful positions within the ruling political structures, even to the extent now of a "Black president"—the situation of Black people, and in particular that of millions and millions who are trapped in the oppressive and highly repressive conditions of the inner city ghettos, remains a very acute and profound contradiction for the American imperialist system as a whole and for its ruling class—something which has the potential to erupt totally out of the framework in which they can contain it. And something which, at the same time, is a point of very sharp contention and spur to mobilization, not only of potential revolutionary forces, but also now of reactionary and potential or actual fascist forces.
In this connection, I want to go back to a contentious but very real and important point that I have been stressing for a number of years now, which is captured in the formulation "the Bible Belt is the lynching belt." To put this another way, religious fundamentalism in the United States, as with all reactionary social and political expressions, cannot help but have, as a major component, white supremacy, including in its most extreme and virulent forms. Of course, I am not the only one who has pointed to this basic phenomenon and made some important analysis of it. Here, for example, it is worth recalling what was said by Dr. Hubert Locke, an African-American theologian, in a 2005 talk at the Pacific School of Religion, entitled "Reflections on Pacific School of Religion's Response to the Religious Right." In this speech, Locke pointed particularly to two factors in regard to what he very forthrightly called Christian Fascism in the U.S. in this period: unresolved contradictions going back before the Civil War—or, as Locke put it, there is a "thinly-veiled cry to return to a set of ideals and values that this nation demolished when the South lost the Civil War"—along with an attack on what was brought forward through the 1960s. This embodies an attempt to impose a fascist resolution to contradictions which in important ways have remained unresolved and which repeatedly pose themselves in profound and acute ways and become especially acute in the context of a serious crisis, such as the current economic crisis and the broader dimensions of crisis that now exist in the U.S. and in its role in the world. (Locke's speech, "Reflections on Pacific School of Religion's Response to the Religious Right," is reprinted in Revolution #32, January 29, 2006.)
In tracing the relation of these factors to right-wing Christian fundamentalism in the U.S., Locke makes essentially the same point that I have made, including in the book Away With All Gods!,4 concerning how the Bible Belt is the lynching belt—in other words, the very close connection, or intertwining, of religious fundamentalism in the U.S. with overt, virulent and violent white supremacy, from slavery to lynching down to the wanton murders of Black people repeatedly carried out by the police in cities across America today.
In Away With All Gods!, along with examining the implications of the reality that the Bible Belt is the lynching belt, I also emphasize that there is a great irony in this: that among the masses of Black people there is a particular form of Christian fundamentalism in which they are getting caught up and which is being promoted by a section of reactionary—yes, let's call them what they are: reactionary—Black preachers who are, objectively at least, serving this system which has for centuries oppressed Black people. Even while among Black people there are some particular features of Christian fundamentalism which differ from the way this takes form among reactionary white Christian fundamentalists, two things remain profoundly true and important: religious fundamentalism in the U.S. cannot help but include a significant dimension in which it embodies and serves to reinforce white supremacy; and this religious fundamentalism is more generally a poisonous force which plays a key part in shackling masses of oppressed people, and people of different strata, to a reactionary worldview in the service of oppressive relations and the system of capitalism-imperialism which encompasses and enforces these oppressive relations.5
What is particularly relevant in today's situation is how to a large degree this is concentrated around Obama. Not long ago, I saw an interview with Janeane Garofalo (I believe it was on the Keith Olbermann show) in which she was talking about the earlier mobilizations of this "tea party" phenomenon, and she made the point: "Look, let's just cut through the bullshit here"—I'm paraphrasing, but this is the essence of what she said—"let's just cut through the bullshit, everybody knows what this is about. These people are white supremacists, racists who can't stand the idea of a Black president." Well, that's not the whole of the matter, and it would be oversimplifying to reduce it to that alone, but it certainly is a major element in it. It's barely disguised, if disguised at all, and often undisguised.
Here we come back to the two wings of the imperialist ruling class in the U.S.—what we could call, as a general characterization, the fascist wing on the one hand and on the other hand the more mainstream imperialist wing—which are represented in the political structure, broadly speaking, by the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, respectively. As discussed earlier, one side is very aggressive in putting forth its particular program and ideology within the overall framework of imperialist politics and imperialist interests in general. That is the right-wing side, the fascist side. The other side is shamefaced, at best, halting and often apologetic about its particular views, and is always seeking common ground with the overtly fascist section of the ruling class. This is why, for example, today people are again bringing up that the Democratic Party "has no spine," that it won't stand up to the Republicans, even when the Republicans are being outrageous and totally out of touch with reality in terms of what they are putting forward and the basis on which they are mobilizing people.
To further characterize these two wings, and how they act, you have on the one hand something like CNN, which pretends to be an objective news source, along with publications like the New York Times, the "newspaper of record" for more educated and "sophisticated" sections of the population ("all the news that"—a very pregnant phrase—"is fit to print"... from a certain standpoint, we should underline). So you have these kinds of media, who pretend to be objective—they have no particular axe to grind, no particular interests that they are advocating for, they insist—they are just there to tell you the news the way it really is. Well, recently, there was Anderson Cooper of CNN in Afghanistan, with his ill-fitting military helmet on, looking ridiculously like Ted Koppel (didn't he learn from Ted Koppel and Dan Rather?—they didn't look very good when they dressed up like that and played that role during the beginning of the U.S. war on Iraq). So, here is Anderson Cooper embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and he's going along in his "newsman" guise, pretending to be giving you an objective account of what's happening—recounting how he went out with U.S. troops in this area in Afghanistan, and there was some explosion and then some shots were fired, and "we ran over there but the bad guys seem to have disappeared." Now, if you're presenting the news "objectively," and you don't have a partisan point of view, how did you determine who were the "bad guys" and the "good guys" in this situation? This is just another expression—which is so common, so extensively propagated and hence so "embedded" in the popular consciousness, that it goes right by most people and they don't even notice it—of the highly partisan nature of all the mainstream and dominant media in the U.S., including those, like the New York Times and CNN, which are not the most overtly right wing. These media, despite significant differences among them, are all partisans of the imperialist system and its ruling class. They are not state-run media—at least not at this point—they are imperialist-run, ruling class-run media; and it is the viewpoint of the imperialist ruling class (or viewpoints which differ in some aspects but all within the framework of imperialist ruling class interests) that they dutifully and systematically put forward. That is why it shocks nobody, and most people wouldn't even stop to reflect on what it means, when they hear Anderson Cooper say: "But we weren't sure where the bad guys went."
Now, you do have Fox News, which overtly purveys fascist propaganda, and openly mobilizes fascist social forces. These right-wing politicians and their media representatives (such as Fox News, as an outstanding example) put forward ideas and portray things in ways that are wildly in conflict with reality, whether the subject is the "health care debate" or such a fundamental fact of science as evolution—you have prominent politicians in the Republican Party who openly deny the scientific fact of evolution and appeal to people on that basis. So, here's a question which goes back to the "pyramid analysis" and how one side is paralyzed, or is always seeking consensus and the common ground, while the other side is overtly and aggressively putting forward its partisan views within the overall imperialist framework—here's a question that highlights that: Why is it that CNN, the New York Times, etc., cannot openly and straightforwardly speak of one side of this polarization as dangerous lunatics, or as crazed lunatics? Why is it that they are unable or unwilling to look at what's said by these right-wing forces, for example in the debates about health care, and say unequivocally and with real conviction: "This is totally out of line with reality, this has no relationship to the actual reality"? Or, around the question of evolution or other ways in which these fascist forces are totally out of step with reality, why cannot CNN straightforwardly report that one side in this is actually a bunch of dangerous lunatics and crazed fanatics?
Their inability and unwillingness to do this is for two essential reasons: One, they are not willing to deal with the fallout from that. In other words, when the response comes from the right-wing fascistic section of the ruling class and that social base is mobilized on this kind of crazed basis, the "liberals" and the more "mainstream" imperialist media and politicians are not willing to mobilize and call into motion, in opposition to this, the people whom they generally seek to appeal to in their role as news media or as politicians. That is the last thing they want to do, as we have emphasized.
And the other, even more fundamental reason flows from the fact that the continual theme that's drummed at people over and over again is that the only real, legitimate and meaningful political framework is Republicans vs. Democrats. When any news item comes out, what does CNN do, very quickly? They present things in terms of: "What do Republicans say? What do Democrats say? Here's some Republican spokespeople, here's some Democratic spokespeople on the panel to debate it." Not what's the truth and what are the larger implications, but "what do the Democrats say, what do the Republicans say?" Over and over again, through "mainstream" ruling class media, such as CNN, the idea is propagated and reinforced that these are the only terms on which things can even be considered politically—Republicans vs. Democrats.
Well, if you insist on that, on the one hand—as they must, because this is integral and crucial for maintaining the dominance of bourgeois politics and, more fundamentally, bourgeois rule in American society and American domination in the world—if you insist that these are the only terms and this is the only framework, but then you were to turn around and say, "one side is a bunch of crazed lunatics," that would not only be seen as an insult to that one side—while actually being an accurate portrayal—but it would in fact be calling into question and fundamentally undermining the whole framework. How can you insist that the only legitimate framework is one in which one side is a bunch of crazed lunatics?!
Here it is important to emphasize that in a real sense these two wings of the ruling class, and of bourgeois politics in American society, also reinforce each other even while in some significant aspects opposing each other (in a way that is somewhat analogous to how, on a world scale, imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism reinforce each other even while opposing each other). And once again, Obama is a focus of this to a very significant degree in the present situation, with the rabid opposition to Obama that's being whipped up with, yes, not only very definite racist "overtones" but essential racist elements within it.
This also explains a significant phenomenon that we have to confront and transform, through struggle: Even people who have become very disaffected with and disillusioned about Obama and everything that got whipped up around his election—"hope" and "change" and all that—now that they see at least some of the reality of what Obama represents and what he is doing in accordance with that, they are becoming more disillusioned and disaffected, and even critical of Obama—but they are also being paralyzed to a significant degree. This is not only due to the fact that Obama and what he represents (that side of the "pyramid" of ruling class structures) does not want them to be mobilized—in fact wants them to be demobilized and politically paralyzed, except to act in very limited and passive ways within the dominant political framework—but they are also being demobilized and paralyzed to a significant degree by their fear, which is sometimes openly expressed, of criticizing Obama precisely because of and in the face of this mobilization of a truly fascist, and yes racist, force which is focused to a large degree on hatred for Obama.
Now I don't want to just emphasize the negative over and over again, but it is important to recognize that the present polarization is very negative. To a large degree, even to an overwhelming degree at this particular time, the positive side of the base of the pyramid is paralyzed. In the case of basic masses in particular, they are heavily weighed down by the hardships, and often the real horrors, of their daily life under this system. And they are being told to put all their faith in Obama and the Democratic Party, as well as in god, while a fascist base on the other side is being riled and revved up, rabidly, and mobilized on the basis of racism and a very much related religious fundamentalism. And, with regard to the "progressive middle strata," to use that term, they are weighed down by, among other things, their real fear of chaos and upheaval and their desire to "go on with their lives" without having to "get out of their comfort zone." Once again, this calls to mind the line from William Butler Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
Into this mix and this mess also comes a certain political trend among some "liberals," represented for example by people like Michelle Goldberg and expressed in her latest book, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World (Penguin Press, 2009). People with this outlook pose, wrongly, the polarization internationally as well as within the U.S. in essentially these terms: Secular liberalism and modernity vs. religious fundamentalism and traditionalism of various kinds (I'll come back to this more fully, later in this talk, specifically in relation to the oppression and the struggle for the liberation of women). This drawing of the lines of polarization does, in fact, reflect an aspect of present reality. But much more fundamentally, it reflects, for us and for all those who do want to see a radically different and better world, the crucial necessity of repolarization on the basis of and with the aim of a revolutionary orientation and revolutionary objectives.
Here, again, comes to the fore the crucial role that must be played by a force capable of actually leading opposition to these fascist forces and directing this toward revolution. I mean this both in terms of what we might call the "objective factor" and the "subjective factor"—that is, masses of people, on the one hand, and on the other hand, conscious revolutionary forces, and in the most concentrated expression of this our party, the Revolutionary Communist Party.
And here once more is the relevance of a point that has been stressed before and was emphasized in particular during the years of the Bush regime: There may be a need, and in fact almost certainly will be a need, for conscious revolutionary forces to take the lead in opposing certain fascist initiatives which take form, to a significant degree at least, as attacks on bourgeois-democratic rights and norms and, in certain cases perhaps, even some figures identified with bourgeois democracy and liberalism; but, let me underline, this must be done not by way of promoting and defending bourgeois democracy and bourgeois-democratic political leaders, but instead radically recasting this and directing it against the whole system of bourgeois rule, that is bourgeois dictatorship (which is what is actually embodied in the dominant political structures in this country) and the capitalist-imperialist system this enforces.
Here again we can see the continuing relevance and importance of the strategic orientation of the United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat—and let me emphasize specifically the latter aspect of this: the Leadership of the Proletariat. But, at the same time, let me also emphasize that this must be understood and acted upon not in terms of reification—not by treating the proletariat, or even individual proletarians, almost as some kind of supernatural force, some force imbued with the logic and momentum of history behind it in some metaphysical and essentially religious sense. It is a question of the fundamental interests of the proletariat as a class, and a question of mobilizing a mass social base, drawn from proletarians but also other oppressed people and broader strata in society, around a line representing the interests of the proletariat in the largest sense; giving life to the very real fact—with its very real material basis in actual human society, and not in some religious fantasy—that the proletariat as a class can only emancipate itself from its exploited condition by emancipating all of humanity and uprooting and abolishing all relations of exploitation and oppression.
This is the goal around which people must be brought forward: the advance to communism, the achievement of what we refer to as the "4 Alls," as they were popularized in China at the time of Mao: the abolition of all class distinctions, the abolition of all the production (or economic) relations on which these class distinctions rest, the abolition of all the social relations corresponding to those production relations, and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations.
This is what a force must be brought forward and mobilized around, in order to be emancipators of humanity. But as has been emphasized previously (for example in my talk "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future"6) this is not a matter of linearly going to "the workers" in an economist sense and appealing to them on a narrow basis, or just going to the lower sections of the proletariat as they actually exist in the millions and even tens of millions in this country. Rather, it will involve a process through which diverse forces—including many of those in the lower, deeper sections of the proletariat, as well as other oppressed people, particularly among the oppressed nationalities in the inner cities, but also masses from other strata among the people—must be brought forward around this orientation of being emancipators of humanity, around the line and program that corresponds to the largest objective interests of the proletariat as a class: making and carrying forward revolution to sweep away the capitalist-imperialist system and advancing to a world without exploitation and oppression.
This is crucial in terms of our overall strategic revolutionary objectives, of getting to a whole different and radically better world. But it is also crucial in terms of the present polarization in society and the challenge of repolarizing not for reform—not to try to ameliorate or mitigate or smooth out the rough edges of the ways in which things are being sharply posed now, and not only, or in and of itself, to oppose and defeat this fascist force that's being mobilized—but to repolarize for revolution—and, yes, as part of this, even seeking to win over as many as can be won from among those who now gravitate toward reactionary and even fascist programs, working to achieve repolarization among them as well—including by addressing in a much more vigorous way, in a much more creative way, in a much more profound way, the current moral crisis and the whole question of morality and culture.
This brings us to the question of meaningful revolutionary work. This has been touched on in other works, including most recently "Ruminations and Wranglings,"7 and here I just want to emphasize a few basic points. The whole orientation that's concentrated in the formulation "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution" is a key part of repolarizing forces in society and, in particular, bringing forward that force that can actually be the bedrock basis for revolution.
Without bringing forward a significant force from among that social base, it is not going to be possible to achieve repolarization, in anything like the full dimension necessary. In particular, without a significant force of basic masses who are rising up in resistance and increasingly taking up a revolutionary communist orientation, it is not going to be possible to win, on the correct and necessary basis, people broadly from among the middle strata, including the many who are horrified by what is represented by these fascist forces and beyond that are also, to a significant degree, horrified by many of the crimes that are carried out by this system—whether it's torture, or wars of aggression, or the oppression of women, or police brutality and murder and other ways in which Black people, Native peoples, Latinos and immigrants are oppressed under this system—but who are paralyzed in terms of acting against this for reasons that I pointed to earlier.
Without being crude about this, the fact is that while we have to work among and win forces from among these middle strata by carrying out penetrating and compelling exposure of this system and bringing forward policies and programs that can lead people in opposing these outrages that they do abhor, and by struggling with them ideologically to move in this direction, it is not going to be possible to do even that on the scale that is necessary unless, to use a metaphor—and let me underline that this is a metaphor—unless a fire is lit, politically and ideologically, underneath them by bringing forward a force of people for whom the idea of upheaval and chaos is not some dreaded prospect that they seek to avoid, almost at all costs, but something that is much more a part of their daily lives, even while it is true that in the course of resisting the crimes of this system and building a movement toward the goal of revolution, people will come up against the fact that the ruling class will seek to make them pay an even greater price for standing up than what the daily grind and the daily oppression of the system subjects people to. Pursuing the metaphor, it will be necessary, and critical, to light such a "fire"—one which inspires people broadly, including among the middle strata, when they see those who are much more oppressed and exploited standing up and in fact fighting the power and transforming themselves and others toward the goal of revolution, as happened on a very broad scale, for example, in this country in the 1960s. So this is not a negative thing when I use the metaphor of lighting a fire, but overwhelmingly a positive thing.
Very much related to this is the point that is brought out very boldly in the statement of our party—"The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have": "The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world... when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness... those days must be GONE. And they CAN be." As that statement also makes clear, now is not yet the time, the conditions do not yet exist, to go all out to seize power, but "now IS the time to be WORKING FOR REVOLUTION—to be stepping up resistance while building a movement for revolution—to prepare for the time when it WILL be possible to go all out to seize the power."
So I want to underscore again the importance of this whole orientation—and of giving life to this, mobilizing masses of people around the orientation of "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution." But this, at the same time, has to be understood and approached in the context of all-around work to build a movement for revolution. As we have repeatedly emphasized, and is emphasized again in the statement of our party, what is called for is not just sitting around waiting for a revolution to somehow happen "one fine day," but "hastening while awaiting" the development of a revolutionary situation and the emergence of a revolutionary people in the millions and millions.
All this is encapsulated in the formulation "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism": building on and further developing and strengthening the basic orientation that Lenin stressed in his classical work, What Is To Be Done?, where he emphasized that the role and orientation of a communist is not to be a trade union secretary—in other words, not to focus on fighting for reforms within this system—but acting on, and bringing to life for masses of people, the understanding that only through the abolition of this system and the bringing into being of a whole new system can the real and fundamental interests of the people, in their masses, actually come to fruition, actually be realized. Or, as Lenin put it, the goal of a communist is to be a tribune of the people.
What is involved in "Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism" is sharply and scientifically exposing the system, bringing to light the causes and reasons for the oppression that different sections of the people suffer and the outrages that masses of people detest; showing, in a living way, how all this is rooted in and has as its source the system of capitalism-imperialism, which perpetuates and enforces this on a daily basis and in horrific dimensions; illustrating, through the application of a scientific, dialectical materialist method, how different sections of the people tend to respond to different events in society and the world, and how this relates to their position within the overall production and social relations; bringing forward and setting before all, and boldly struggling for, our revolutionary and communist orientation and convictions; and mobilizing people, yes, to fight back against oppression but to do so on the basis and with the orientation and aim of building a movement for revolution, toward the goal of sweeping aside the capitalist-imperialist system, bringing into being a new, socialist system and continuing to advance, together with people struggling throughout the world, toward the final goal of communism; and setting before the masses of people not only the goals of the revolution and the basic strategy for making revolution, as embodied in the line and policies of the party, but also the problems of making revolution, involving growing numbers of the masses in grappling with and helping to resolve these contradictions in the direction of revolution and communism.
All this is discussed in greater length in the pamphlet, Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, is presented in a concentrated way in the Constitution8 of our Party and spoken to in some other works, so I'm not going to go into this at greater length here. But I do want to emphasize the importance of this understanding: On the one hand, without resistance, without fighting the power, it will not be possible to build a revolutionary movement; on the other hand, if that resistance is not approached, on the part of communists, with the orientation of building a movement for revolution and the goal of sweeping away this capitalist system and bringing into being a radically new society and world, then that resistance will be reduced to the equivalent of being on a treadmill, leading to no fundamental change, and before long most of the people involved will become demoralized and fall into passively accepting, once again, their oppression and the overall outrages perpetrated by this system, or turning against each other and fighting over crumbs, as we've seen the system succeed in getting people to do over and over again.
Even while others we unite with in particular struggles will proceed from different perspectives, we have to proceed in everything we do with the understanding and from the standpoint that is concentrated in the formulation: "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution."
While putting emphasis on bringing forward basic masses and youth—including basic youth, but also, I would stress, educated youth, and specifically college students—there does continue to be great importance to "the transfer of allegiance" of a section of the intelligentsia: winning a section of the intellectuals to become ardent advocates and active fighters for communism and revolution.
In this regard, particularly in today's circumstances and with the prevailing culture serving the dominant system, we should not underestimate the importance of epistemology, of such fundamental questions as: Is there such a thing as objective reality? Is there such a thing as truth, objective truth? And can we arrive at important, even fundamental elements of a correct understanding of objective reality, in other words of truth?
All this up against all the widespread promotion—particularly among the democratic intellectuals and the intelligentsia more broadly—of what is in fact a very poisonous relativism, which serves the imperialist system very well because it robs people of the initiative and even of the orientation of fighting back against oppression. For how consistent can people be in fighting oppression, and how can they get to the root of that oppression, if they are mired in the misconception that there is no objective truth, not even such a thing as objective reality, but only different "narratives" expressing the different and often conflicting interests of various "identity groups," each pursuing its own "agenda" within the confines of the existing world, dominated as it objectively is by the dynamics and dictates of the capitalist-imperialist system? This relativism reduces people to the narrowest terms when they do oppose oppression. And it is also a perfect foil for, and paralyzes people in the face of, fascist forces with their absolutism—even while, as I pointed out earlier, these fascists themselves are willing to and will wield relativism when it serves them, particularly against such things as the scientific fact of evolution and the scientific method in general.
Along with the importance of epistemology is the point, which I have stressed previously, about how epistemology meets morality. This refers to the fact that it is necessary to struggle vigorously with people that it is not acceptable to say, "I choose not to think about that, not to know about that"; or "I choose to ignore this or that thing because it makes me uncomfortable." This kind of orientation leads many people to become complicit with what are in fact monstrous crimes being carried out by the U.S. imperialist ruling class today, including such things as overt torture and the overt justification of torture.
Also important in this framework, and in relation to the goal of winning a section of the intelligentsia to become ardent advocates and active fighters for communism and revolution, is the role of polemics—and, specifically in this regard, the online theoretical journal putting forward our party's viewpoint, Demarcations (demarcations-journal.org), which has gotten off to a very important start with its major polemic against the political philosophy of Alain Badiou, but which needs to be further developed and to take on other important pillars of erroneous thinking and orientations which are leading people away from gaining a correct understanding of crucial questions—questions such as how to understand the actual nature and deeper causes of major events in society and the world, and is radical change necessary and possible, and if so what kind of radical change, embodying what goals and achievable by what means?—and from acting on a correct understanding to actually change the world.
Now, all this is linked to, and must take place in the overall context of, broadly creating an atmosphere of questioning and contestation—contestation with the prevailing ideas and culture and, in a certain sense, contestation with everything. Where in today's scene, and particularly among the youth, including the educated youth, is the hunger to know about the world as it actually is? Where is the spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity to pursue the truth wherever it leads? There are in fact many among the educated youth and among the intelligentsia more broadly with good sentiments, wanting to see a better world and even seeking some ways to try to effect this, through volunteering and in other forms. But all this today is overwhelmingly conditioned, shaped and vitiated by the notion that there is no alternative to the present system; it is weighed down and confined by lowered sights and impoverished dreams, channeled back into service to the very system which, to paraphrase again our party's statement, is itself the cause of so many horrors and so much unnecessary suffering. Where is the alienation at what is truly alienating about this whole society? Where is the revulsion at what is truly repulsive? Where is the defiance of what calls out to be defied? Where is the revolt, the ferment? Where is the dreaming and the restless searching for another way, a radically different world? Where is the culture that gives expression in many diverse ways to all this?
All this, of course, cannot be created out of nothing, or by merely attempting to wish it into being. But there is in fact not nothing in the current situation and atmosphere out of which this can be brought forward. There are real, if at this point fragile, shoots of this, and it is essential to encourage, foster, nurture and develop this in order to have the conditions in which it is possible to win more than an individual here and there to revolution and communism. And here let me emphasize once again what was said earlier about morality and culture and the need to contest much more in this arena.
The last point I want to speak to, in this first part of this talk—under the general heading "Once More on the Coming Civil War... and Repolarization for Revolution"—is the importance of what's captured in the metaphor of the multi-layered, multi-colored map. This metaphor is speaking to the fact that the development of a revolutionary movement is not a simple and linear process. It is not one which is going to be built in an essentially economist way by going to oppressed and exploited people and appealing to them on the narrowest of bases, and in fact deluding them, or reinforcing illusions along the lines of thinking, that it's possible to redress and address their conditions, their oppression and their fundamental needs and interests, under the present system. But a revolutionary movement also isn't going to be built by just going to the lower and deeper sections of the proletariat with the notion—or really the illusion—that they are going to come forward in a straight line and basically in a self-contained way to take up the position of revolution and communism, and then that in turn will by itself, or in a linear sequence of events, lead to winning over many of the middle strata. Building a movement for revolution is a much more complex process in which there has to be a correct synergy between what we've called the "two maximizings": maximizing the development of a political movement and a revolutionary current, with communism at its core, among the basic masses, including what's embodied in "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution," while also doing essentially the same thing among the middle strata and developing the correct synergy—or the dialectical interplay back and forth—between these two elements, maximizing each of these aspects and the development of the revolutionary movement overall.
As we have very correctly and importantly emphasized, only in doing this will it be possible to bring forward a revolutionary force among any section of the people; this cannot be done in boxed off and self-contained ways. Society doesn't exist and reality generally doesn't exist in that way, with self-contained compartments—and therefore neither can the building of a revolutionary movement proceed in that way.
At the same time, what is being gotten at with this metaphor of a multi-layered, multi-colored map is that there are contradictory trends and tendencies—or, if you will, strengths and weaknesses—among different sections of the people. This is not to deny the basic and bedrock role of the most exploited and oppressed sections of society as the backbone of the revolutionary movement. But it is to emphasize once again that all this will not be a straight line and simple process.
For example, if we look at the "social and political configuration" today, one of the reasons why it's unfavorable is that you have a certain strain of enlightenment among the democratic intellectuals, in opposition to religious obscurantism and other kinds of reactionary, even lunatic, political trends and expressions; but there is at the same time a great deal of paralysis among these democratic intellectuals, and similar "progressive middle strata," including for the reason that these people don't want to get "outside of their comfort zone" and, to a significant degree for that reason, they resist pursuing to their logical conclusion many of their own positive inclinations. They are not going to be the first and most decisive force to move to take on everything that has to be taken on, even as we have to continually—and, in a certain sense, unrelentingly—work among them, and struggle in a good way with them, to win them to do that.
On the other hand, among Black people and Latinos and other basic masses, there is very deep hatred for oppression, a certain recognition of the ways in which they are oppressed in this society and of the fact that the dominant forces in this society regard them as having no value, other than to exploit them when that is profitable or to utilize them in wars; that these ruling forces would just as soon kill off many of them as do anything else with them—or even better, from the standpoint of the ruling class, get them to kill each other. But, at the same time, there is among these basic masses a great deal of confusion and even some wrong inclinations or tendencies around a number of decisive questions, including questions of "enlightenment"—in other words, tendencies to be deep into religion and even religious fundamentalism, which has a very strong pull, particularly in today's circumstances, among the basic masses—Black masses, Latinos and others.
If you look at this just in terms of what is apparent on the surface, it can definitely seem like the worst of all worlds. But if you grasp the multi-layered, multi-colored map metaphor and what it is speaking to, you can understand the ways in which precisely—and, in fact, only—on the basis of a revolutionary communist line and the work of forces dedicated to the revolutionary cause on the basis of that line, there is the potential for repolarization, for the moving of the plates (to use a geological metaphor) and a realignment in line with the fundamental interests of the exploited and oppressed masses; and there is a basis to win over broad sections of the middle strata in line with those interests. Through the lens of this metaphor, you can see the possibility and potential for this, through all the contradictory motion that will be involved.
A phrase here is important in confronting the present situation, a phrase that another leading comrade of our party has been giving voice to a number of times: "It is what it is." What's out there in society and the world is what we have to deal with. You can go out there and run into all kinds of difficulties, including backward ideas and trends among all these different sections of people that I've been speaking about. We know that the basic masses, besides religion, are caught up in a lot of other bad shit, because of the conditions that they are subjected to under this system and because of the logic, dynamics and momentum of how this system operates—and not fundamentally for any other reason. But "it is what it is." At the same time, however, especially in today's situation—in order to fully reflect reality in its contradictory character and motion, and in order not to encourage the already existing and far too prevalent determinism and defeatism among many who are opposed to the way things are—we must immediately add: "and it can be transformed."
It is what it is... and it can be transformed—through struggle.
What is being emphasized in this formulation is the materialist approach of proceeding from the objective conditions that we have to work with—and work on and transform—and that there is, within those same objective conditions, the material basis—not a certainty, not some supernatural process or force, but an actual objective material basis—which makes possible repolarization for revolution.
All this underscores very sharply the crucial strategic importance of repolarization: working on those objective conditions, and working and struggling with people, to transform them in radical ways, not in line with some idealist dream or utopian vision but in line with the actual material reality that exists and, as a crucial part of that material reality, the fundamental interests of the masses of people here and all over the world, which lie with revolution and the ultimate goal of communism.
To begin, I want to re-emphasize a point which is by no means an exaggeration and certainly not hyperbole: the communist movement in the world at this juncture is truly at a crossroads, with the stakes really being "vanguard of the future, or residue of the past." We have to be fully aware of this in all we do—fully recognize the reality and implications of this and act accordingly, including with regard to our internationalist responsibilities. So I want to speak briefly to a few points with that understanding and in that framework.
The task with regard to the existing communist forces in the world, particularly the organized communist forces, is, again, one of repolarization through struggle. The question of whether there are going to be organized forces in the world which are, in fact, basing themselves on communism in its most advanced expression is one that is going to be determined through struggle; the only way there is going to be a positive resolution is in fact through very systematic and determined ideological struggle on the part of those who do adhere to this communist viewpoint, and we have to find the best and most appropriate forms for that struggle to be waged.
At the same time, there is another significant dimension to the forging of the communist movement on this basis, which is bringing forward and winning to revolutionary communism new forces, people who are not at present affiliated with or organized into a particular communist grouping in this or that country, and people who may not even at the present time be advocates of or won to communism.
Both these aspects—both repolarization of the existing communist forces and the winning to communism of new forces—present themselves as important challenges in the context of the framework which I began this discussion with—that the communist movement, without any hyperbole or any exaggeration, is truly at a crossroads and the stakes really are vanguard of the future, or residue of the past. This is not just some abstract formulation, not just some moral injunction nor still less some sectarian concern of a few vestigial forces left over from the high tide of the 1960s revolutionary upsurge. It is a matter of profound importance for the masses of people in the world. If you think back to what was being discussed in terms of the "two historically outmodeds"—that whole dynamic and the logic and momentum of that, and the overall trajectory of things in the world now, which offers no way out for the masses of people other than being shackled more deeply within the confines of this horrific world as it is—you can understand why the question of whether there is going to be a vanguard of the future, or only a residue of the past, is truly a world-historic challenge, one which we have to confront and meet.
There are particular parts of the world where the absence of communist forces especially stands out, but on the world scale as a whole this is a very stark phenomenon—the lack of, or the real weakness of, the communist forces, and the struggle between communism and revisionism within the communist movement, as well as the need to reach out to, to influence and to draw toward communism, new forces. Now, with regard to the aspect of bringing forward and winning to revolutionary communism new forces, there is once again a particular importance to people among the intelligentsia. There is the necessity for the shifting of allegiance, the winning over to revolutionary communism, of even a small—but nonetheless in today's context, a significant—force among the intelligentsia.
Here it is important to recall and apply to this situation and this challenge Lenin's point on "masses" and "masses." Lenin emphasized that the definition and meaning of "masses" differs according to differing objective situations. At certain points, when the objective and subjective factors are not particularly developed, in terms of favoring revolution—when the communist forces are weak, when there is not a great deal of revolutionary upheaval more broadly in society and in the world—the term "masses" can legitimately apply to even a few score or a few hundred people. In periods when there is massive social upheaval, and particularly when society as a whole is convulsed in a profound crisis, "masses" means not only thousands but hundreds of thousands and millions.
It is important not to have a static or metaphysical understanding of "masses," as a category that always constitutes a majority, or in any case a very large part, of society. It can be meaningful to speak of "masses" in terms of scores of people in a certain context, and specifically in terms of the disproportionate—and in this case disproportionately positive—influence that can be exerted by a small core of intellectuals, even a few score, or certainly a few hundred, in the world today who are won to, and become ardent and active advocates and fighters for, communism. Winning over a core of such people at this point, both within a particular country such as the U.S., but also on an international level, is an extremely important challenge that has to be taken up.
In all this, it is important to grasp that the New Synthesis is the basis on which the struggle must be waged and the basic framework within which people must be won to communism. At the same time, the Manifesto of our party, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, is pivotal in this. The Manifesto includes a concentrated presentation of the New Synthesis. Of course, the New Synthesis is addressed in other works,9 and there is the larger body of work of communist theory, as it has been developed up to the present. But within all this, this formulation is important: The New Synthesis is the basis and the Manifesto is pivotal.
Here, again, we can see the tremendous importance of polemics—and in particular a crucial role for Demarcations, beginning with the very important and substantive polemic against the political philosophy of Alain Badiou—in relation both to repolarization of existing communist forces and winning new forces. This is important not only within the U.S. itself, but has much broader application and importance in the international dimension, as a key aspect of repolarizing forces around revolutionary communism in its most advanced expression.
In terms of the development of the organized communist movement, from now and looking to the future, there is another important question that I want to address: the relation between ideological unity and cohesion on the one hand and decentralization on the other hand—another expression of solid core and elasticity. This gets focused to a large degree around this contradiction: the need for, but at the same time problems related to, leadership. This has been a difficult contradiction for our movement, historically as well as in more recent times. Without going into great detail here, in a way that is neither necessary nor appropriate, and is not helpful to our cause, I do want to point to some recent negative experiences that our movement has undergone and to what lessons should, and should not, be drawn from this.
There is the experience of the Communist Party of Peru within the last couple of decades: even though there were all along real problems with significant aspects of its ideological and political line, this was a party that was, broadly speaking, on the revolutionary road and fighting under the banner of communism, and then it experienced, and our whole movement experienced, a severe setback when, first of all, the top leadership and in particular the main leader, Gonzalo, was captured by the other side, and then on top of it he called for an end to the revolutionary struggle, in effect, with all the confusion and disorientation which that gave rise to over a number of years. Here we see the phenomenon where the top leadership is taken and/or goes off track, and the struggle suffers a severe setback.
We have, unfortunately, also seen this more recently with the experience in Nepal and the line that has been taken by what is still the dominant leadership in the party there, which is now calling itself the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). This is not to say that the struggle is over, that it has been resolved completely and irrevocably in a negative direction, that revisionism has fully and unalterably triumphed in that party; but it's clear that the line that has come to dominate and the core of leadership which still has the predominant position in that party is an embodiment of revisionism at this point and represents a program and direction that will lead to the defeat of the revolution there.
People look at experiences like this and they say: "You have these revolutionary struggles and the leadership goes bad or the leadership gets captured or killed, and that's the end of the struggle." Some people are more vaguely, and some more clearly, aware of these experiences and are drawing conclusions along these lines. And there are those who are attempting to force this into a framework of arguing for a line that is opposed to recognizing the importance of, or promoting, individual leaders.
For example, we know that the Indian party—the Communist Party of India (Maoist)—wrote a polemic which contains some valid points but also some questionable and problematic points in terms of its critique of the course taken by the Nepal party. One problematic element in this critique is that it puts a great deal of emphasis—what is actually undue emphasis—on the fact that the Nepal party had, for a number of years, built up the prestige of its main leader, Prachanda. The Indian party's critique links this to a general assertion that when you build up an individual leader, then you make it that much harder to criticize that leader if and when they go off the track or even take up revisionism. While there may be some truth to this, focusing on this in the way that is done in this critique by the Indian party reflects an incorrect line. It is true that when particular leaders are built up and they gain a certain prestige, this does give them a certain disproportionate weight and influence. But the more fundamental fact is that leaders who play a certain role will objectively have a disproportionate influence in any case.
An analogy can be drawn, for example, to a point that has been made about the international communist movement overall. During the period of the Third International of communist parties (the Communist International, or Comintern), the Soviet Union, for several decades, was essentially the only socialist state in the world, and as a result the Soviet party and its leadership definitely had a disproportionate influence. This was a real contradiction, with an objective basis, and there were negative consequences that were associated with this. As a result of such negative experience, both in regard to their own revolutionary struggle and more generally, the Chinese communists drew the conclusion that it is bad to have Internationals—bad to have formal organization of communist parties and organizations throughout the world. But, in analyzing this whole experience, we have pointed to the fact that, regardless of whether you have institutionalized communist organization internationally, parties which lead major revolutionary struggles—and, even more, a party which leads in the seizure of power and the establishment of a socialist state, with that party exercising overall leadership within such a state—such parties will in any case acquire a great deal of prestige and influence. Such was the case with the Chinese Communist Party itself, especially after the nationwide seizure of power in China in 1949, and particularly through the upsurge of the Cultural Revolution in China from the mid-1960s to the mid-'70s. Leaders of revolutions and of revolutionary parties which succeed in coming to power, such as Mao Tsetung, will have a disproportionate influence, whether or not a "cult of the personality" is consciously and deliberately built up around them. You do not solve this problem, this contradiction, by not having institutionalized organization of communist parties on an international level. And, as we have also pointed out, in significant ways this problem is actually heightened by not having such organization—since certain parties and leaders will in any case have great prestige and disproportionate influence, but without international communist organization there is no established framework in which this contradiction can be systematically addressed.
Speaking specifically of individual leaders, well if certain particular leaders do come forward and play an outstanding role, then that is an objective phenomenon. The masses of people should understand that phenomenon, both because it is an important part of reality that they should grasp correctly, and also because that is the only basis on which they can be mobilized to defend such leadership, which is vitally important for them and the cause of their emancipation. You don't solve the problem that individual leaders, as well as leaderships of parties collectively, and parties as a whole, can go off track—can go "bad," can take up a revisionist line and turn from being a vanguard force of revolution into a counterrevolutionary force—you don't solve that by bourgeois-democratic means, by denying the particular role of individuals and promoting ultrademocracy and a petit bourgeois-democratic view that ignores, or refuses to acknowledge, the objective roles of different people and forces, and which, more fundamentally, denies, or ignores, the underlying material basis for why vanguards are necessary and formed and why certain leaders come to the fore of certain revolutions and revolutionary parties at given times. You don't solve problems that are associated with that by trying to ignore the contradictions which give rise to the need for vanguards, or by trying to deny the reality that an outstanding leader has emerged when that is actually true—is an important part of objective reality—and in its principal and essential aspect is a very positive and favorable factor for revolution and the advance toward communism.
To return, for example, to the situation with the Nepal party, the essential problem with that party now is not that they unduly promoted an individual leader. The essence of the problem is that this leader, and the still dominant leadership of the party collectively, has adopted a revisionist line which now predominates in that party. In other words, this is another expression of Mao's basic point that the ideological and political line is decisive.
And this itself involves important contradiction. On the one hand, it is line that is decisive, and not the question of whether individual leaders are built up or not built up, or whether somehow you could try to avoid the phenomenon of certain individuals playing a disproportionate role. In fact, if a particular leader is, on the basis of a correct line, playing a disproportionate role and you try to deny that and you ignore the underlying basis for why that emerges, you are actually robbing yourself and the masses of people of one of your great strengths. In my writings on philosophy, and in discussions with other comrades about this question, emphasis has been put on the contradictory nature of reality and how this is the basis for and the process through which change takes place. The point has been stressed that unevenness is in fact the basis on which change occurs and that the basis for change which this unevenness provides can be a tremendous strength for rising and revolutionary forces.10 But, if you deny this unevenness or seek to suppress it—out of ignorance or as a result of consciously choosing to ignore the underlying contradictory reality which gives rise to it—you are only weakening the process of revolution.
All that is one side of the contradiction. The other side, however, is that there are problems associated with the historical process in which vanguards and particular leaders play a disproportionate role. This is not essentially owing to the willful action and errors of communists; the fundamental basis for this problem does not lie in the fact that communists choose to build up the authority of a leading group within the party or even a particular leader within the overall collectivity of the party. Of course, there have been situations where the authority of leadership bodies, or particular leaders, has been built up artificially and wrongly; but the more profound problem is that, even where legitimately and necessarily, and as a reflection of the underlying contradictoriness of material reality, certain people have come to play a more important and disproportionately influential role than others within the revolutionary process, there has been the phenomenon that when such leaders have either gone off track—have even reversed course and gone from being revolutionary to being counter-revolutionary—or have been taken from the people, either by "natural causes" or by the actions of the enemy, the communist movement has suffered severe setbacks.
We can look at the larger dimension, beyond the particular and more recent experience of the party in Peru or the party in Nepal. We can look in the more sweeping sense, over a century or so, at the restoration of capitalism in former socialist countries, not only in the Soviet Union shortly after the death of Stalin, but also in China very soon after the death of Mao. Now, those two experiences are very different in a number of important particulars, but at the same time they are both part of the more general phenomenon that certain powerful influential leaders arise who do actually—and not principally as a result of artificial factors—assume a disproportionate role and have disproportionate influence within the overall collectivity, and then when those leaders are lost to the revolution, in one form or another, this creates much more favorable conditions for a setback or defeat for the revolution.
This was very dramatically demonstrated in the experience of China after the death of Mao. It was literally a month after Mao's death that the revisionist coup, which began the restoration of capitalism, took place in China. Much as this is hidden from people, this was a process not of the revolution going bad in some abstract sense (or the revolution "eating its own children," in some distorted sense) but of an actual military force being wielded by high-ranking leaders within the Chinese Communist Party who had taken up the revisionist outlook and were fighting for a revisionist program of capitalist restoration, who wielded the armed forces to kill or arrest thousands and tens of thousands of genuine revolutionaries who were fighting to persevere on the revolutionary road toward the goal of communism.
So, once again, looking at this not only in terms of the more immediate experience of the last decade or two, but in this broader historical dimension, the problem is, in essence, not one of too much authority invested in a single powerful leader. During the period of the greatest achievements of this whole first stage of socialist revolution, representing the greatest advances toward communism in the world, during the high point of the whole communist revolution up to this point in history, namely through the Cultural Revolution in China, a great deal of authority was invested, legitimately and as an actual reflection of objective reality, in a particular leader, Mao, who did exert a tremendously—and tremendously positive—disproportionate influence. This is something which must not be lost sight of: Mao did exert a very significantly disproportionate influence, and this significantly disproportionate influence was a very positive one.
Yet, here we also see the other side of the contradiction—that when Mao was no longer able to exert that positive influence (when he was no longer alive), then the strength of the revisionists was great enough to overpower and overcome the remaining revolutionary forces who were fighting for the same basic line as Mao. So, is this in one sense a weakness within the overall process of the communist revolution? Is this a problem of ours? Yes, it is—but not in the way that people mean when they locate the essence of the problem in the disproportionate role and the building up of an individual leader—any more than the fact that a party as a whole can become revisionist, while a very real contradiction and problem of our revolution, means that the essence of the problem lies, as many now wrongly assert, in the very existence of the vanguard, and you would be better off without such a vanguard.
Owing to contradictions in the actual material world—in human society as it has developed up to this point, in interaction with the larger natural world, and not by some metaphysical process guided by some supernatural force—there is a profound objective need for a vanguard force to lead in the process of communist revolution. And at times—not in every situation, but at times—these very same contradictions, and the unevenness within them, give rise to individual leaders who play a particularly important role and exert a particularly disproportionate influence; and, if they do so on the basis of the correct line rather than an incorrect line, that will be a very positive disproportionate role.
But, again, the other side of the contradiction is this: If, for whatever reason, they are no longer able to play that role—if they either "go revisionist" (adopt a revisionist line), or if they are taken from the people and are lost to the revolution in one form or another—then this is not only a great loss in some abstract sense, but it can greatly affect the (if you will) balance of forces between revolution and counter-revolution and can provide, yes, real openings for counter-revolutionary forces, including in a concentrated way within the vanguard party itself. But neither the role of the vanguard party itself nor the role of these individuals, when they do emerge and play this disproportionately positive role, is owing to the subjectivity of the revolutionaries, to their erroneous idea of how to exert leadership, to arbitrary attempts to build up authority, but is owing to profound underlying contradictions marking human social relations, not only in particular countries but on a world scale, at this point.
So this is a real objective problem, or contradiction, for our revolution, and it will remain such and will repeatedly assert itself, including in acute ways at various times. So we do have to find the means to deal in a better way with this contradiction in the future—but we have to deal with it on a materialist basis, proceeding from actual material reality and the actual contradictions that we're confronted with which give rise to the need for a vanguard and, yes, the need for individual leaders—and which hopefully will more and more give rise to a number of outstanding leaders who are able to exert a disproportionately positive influence, but whose loss will, on the other side of things, create better conditions for the revisionist forces to launch attacks and even perhaps to succeed, in certain conditions, in turning the revolution around, into its opposite.
In sum on this point: There is a need for vanguards (for Leninist parties, to use that terminology) and for leadership cores of such parties; and in every party, within its overall collectivity, there will be individual leaders. But not every such individual leader will objectively play the role of an outstanding leader in terms of their contributions to the communist movement overall and its fundamental objectives. Here again, there is the need for and the importance of a scientific assessment of individual leaders—of what role they actually play in relation to the fundamental objectives of the communist revolution—and the need to portray the role of such leaders in a way that actually corresponds to reality, neither overestimating and overstating nor underestimating and understating this with regard to any particular leader but, as with all phenomena, scientifically assessing this and portraying it in accordance with this scientific assessment.
With this historical experience and its material basis in mind, and confronting the challenges of the beginning of a new stage of communist revolution, here are a few thoughts on handling this contradiction—a few thoughts, in other words, on solid core and elasticity in terms, first of all, of ideology, where there is a great need to further forge unity on a higher level, and how this relates to organization, the organization of communists in particular.
As we fight to bring into being a new stage of the communist revolution in the world and fight to repolarize and bring forward new forces around the New Synthesis as the most advanced expression of the communist ideological and political line that we have today, we need to keep this particular contradiction in mind: how to effect the best relation between solid core and elasticity; how, learning from past experience, positive and negative, to even better achieve the necessary centralization, especially ideologically—a firm and deeply grounded unity and cohesion, a solid core in that sense ideologically, as the key and pivot—in dialectical unity with decentralization, including organizational decentralization in particular.
Returning, in this context, to the question of individual leaders, one of the main roles of such leaders precisely lies in bringing forward other leaders and a broader collectivity of leadership, including cores of new leaders from the younger generations of communists who come forward. This is a challenge which must be very consciously understood and taken up by the communist leadership; and where there are people who do have a disproportionate influence—in other words, outstanding leaders who do play a disproportionately positive role—this is one of the most important things that they, working together with and overall through the collectivity of leadership, have to consciously pay attention to.
At the same time, in the practical struggle in various forms, this aspect of ideological solid core—firm and deeply grounded unity and cohesion ideologically, not as some sort of absolute and unchanging category, but a unity that's continuously being developed and deepened, through struggle—has to be handled in correct relationship with a decentralized dimension of organization, both with regard to the revolutionary struggle overall and with regard to its leadership, on various levels. This is an historical problem which we have to address—dig into and struggle to develop the means to handle better than we have in the past, even while there is much positive experience to learn from.
A key to correctly handling this is the recognition of the fact that the deeper and the firmer the ideological unity and cohesion is—not just unity on whatever basis, but unity on the basis of a correct revolutionary and communist line—the more that this exists, and the more that it is continually strengthened and further developed and deepened, the more possible it should be to develop elasticity, including in the sphere of organization. But, as with every other aspect of the revolutionary struggle, this will not happen spontaneously. It will only happen if it is consciously understood and consciously addressed and worked on by the leadership that does exist, leadership that is united firmly around the correct line and does embody the necessary, and constantly developing, ideological unity and cohesion. It has to be a conscious task that we set ourselves, in other words, at every stage of the struggle and looking to the further development of the struggle.
Mao paid attention to this problem of (as he characterized it) bringing forward successors to the revolution. It is interesting that Mao made the comment, during the course of the Cultural Revolution, that at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution he was thinking in terms of bringing forward a core of intellectuals as successors in terms of the top leadership of the revolution, but he became disillusioned with the intellectuals because they proved unreliable. So, then he began to think more in terms of the whole Red Guard phenomenon—unleashing the youth as a revolutionary force.
But, while a very positive factor, that did not and could not solve the problem—and Mao recognized it didn't solve the problem—of a core of leadership. And, as is emphasized for example in "Ruminations and Wranglings," as regards the core of leadership—the political and literary representatives of a class and of the revolutionary struggle which embodies the fundamental and highest interests of a class, and in particular the proletariat at this stage of history and in this revolution we're talking about—that leading group is going to be made up of people who are in essence intellectuals, people who are capable of working with and developing ideas and grappling in the realm of theory. This will be true regardless of where those people come from originally—whether they come out of the basic masses or the middle strata or more specifically from a family of intellectuals, or whatever. We're not going to be able to eliminate that contradiction—involving the disproportionate role of intellectuals—until we are very far down the road toward the transformation of the contradiction between mental and manual labor, as part of the overall transformation of the basic contradictions characterizing society as a whole in the transition from the bourgeois epoch to the epoch of communism worldwide.
So, I understand the spirit of what Mao was getting at when he said that at first he had hoped to rely on a core of intellectuals, but then they proved unreliable. Yet, we still have to work through that problem. This has to do with the "transfer of allegiance" of a section of the intelligentsia. We have to both bring forward and develop and (in the correct sense of this word, and not in a narrow sense) "train" intellectuals from among the basic masses; but as we do so, we have to recognize that they will, in significant aspects, become different than they were before, and different than other masses from whom they've come, as they develop into intellectuals. That represents an objective change in their position and in what they embody. It is overwhelmingly positive—its positive aspect can be and must be developed as principal—but you are not going to resolve the contradictions between intellectuals and broader masses (or between a class of people, broadly speaking, and the political and literary representatives of that class) in the way Stalin thought you could—by bringing forward people to be intellectuals (or in that case more like engineers and technicians, although it does seem to have been a little more broadly conceived) from among the workers and peasants.
We are going to need to develop a core of intellectuals, in the sense in which I'm speaking of that—political and literary representatives of a class, to again use Marx's important formulation—who are reliable. Not in the sense that anybody's guaranteed against going revisionist, but reliable in the sense that they are deeply grounded in and firmly united around taking up and applying—and are continually learning, in the context of the collectivity of the party and in the course of the revolutionary process overall, how to more firmly grasp and better apply—the scientific communist outlook and methodology.
We have to meet this need and challenge both by bringing forward people from among the basic masses who show that potential, and then developing them, but also by winning over (achieving that "transfer of allegiance" of) a section of people who are already among the intelligentsia. We should not underestimate or downgrade or hold our nose at the prospect of that latter aspect. Intellectuals who are won to communism and really take it up and take it to heart are a tremendously valuable resource for the proletarian revolution and can fulfill an indispensable need in terms of actually carrying forward the revolutionary process. We should thoroughly rupture with any economist and reified and revengist notions which would underestimate and downgrade the importance of such intellectuals and of the need—not only within particular countries but now speaking more of the international dimension—to achieve that "transfer of allegiance," of even a small core now within the intelligentsia, bringing forward even a small number of people who do become deeply grounded in and ardent and active advocates and fighters for communism and revolution.
We will not be able to wish away or will away the contradictions that are bound up with these phenomena I've been speaking to—the role and importance of particular outstanding leaders, or a small leading core of a party, or a vanguard party as a leading force more broadly in relation to the masses of people and the revolutionary struggle that is necessary for, and represents the road to, their emancipation. Again, "it is what it is." This is where we are in the process of making revolution, these are the material conditions that we have to confront and transform—once again, transforming necessity into freedom through struggle, and not by seeking to evade necessity or avoid contradiction.
But we can and must be consciously aware of, keep constantly in mind and struggle in a strategically conceived way to work on, these contradictions—to continually bring forward new leaders and to continually strengthen and further develop the collectivity of leading cores for the communist struggle. This is a very important challenge and task both for particular parties but, especially in the current context and given the crossroads the communist movement as a whole is facing, it is also a very important challenge and task on the international level.
We won't be able to do without—and in fact we should recognize the overwhelmingly principal positive character and role of—leading cores and of outstanding individual leaders where they do objectively emerge and play that role. But, at the same time, we should consciously "work on" the contradictions that are bound up with that, on the correct basis.
If we try to handle the contradictions involved with the disproportionate role of vanguards, of leading cores, and of individual outstanding leaders where they emerge, by artificially undermining and diminishing the role of those vanguards, leading cores, and outstanding individual leaders, the results will be very bad and it will be very harmful to the cause of the people in whose name these ultra-democratic and petit bourgeois-democratic cries against leadership and individual leaders are often raised. What is required, in opposition to that, is an orientation of recognizing, confronting and struggling to transform the objective material conditions that give rise to the need for such vanguards, leadership cores, and individual leaders and, on that basis, seeking to move that contradiction forward in a positive way, not by undermining and diminishing the role of vanguards, cores of leadership and outstanding individual leaders where they emerge and play that role, but by bringing forward new waves of leadership. This requires working consciously to raise the level of those who are committed to the communist cause but are not yet capable of playing an overall leadership role—enabling them to increasingly develop their ability to grasp and apply the scientific outlook and method of communism and in this way take initiative in leading. Proceeding in this way can lead to very positive results and can make a very important contribution to the revolutionary struggle and the cause of the emancipation of the masses of people, for whom leadership genuinely does need to exist—a leadership whose role is precisely to enable the masses to emancipate themselves through continually raising their ability to consciously struggle for that goal.
III. The New Synthesis and the Woman Question: The Emancipation of Women and the Communist Revolution—Further Leaps and Radical Ruptures
Here again, I want to emphasize the point with which I began this talk as a whole: Much of this I am still working on and grappling with myself, and much of what follows will be more in the nature of a scaffolding than a fully elaborated discussion. So while what follows will include points of basic orientation and analysis, which I feel are important to be firmly taking hold of and acting on, to a significant degree the purpose and aim here is to offer some food for thought and sense of direction, while at the same time promoting, and provoking, further wrangling with these decisive questions.
The question of the status—the oppression and the struggle for the liberation—of women is objectively coming to the forefront in today's world and posing itself ever more profoundly and acutely. This fact is being recognized and spoken to by a number of people representing very different class viewpoints, but who remain within the framework of a world of imperialist domination, class division, ruthless exploitation and oppressive social divisions and relations. We see this, for example, in the book which I referred to earlier by Michelle Goldberg (The Means of Reproduction) as well as in a major article in the New York Times Magazine and a new book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (see "The Women's Crusade," in the New York Times Magazine, August 23, 2009, an essay adapted from the book by Kristof and WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).
Here is a point worth reflecting on, which has been raised by another leading comrade in our party: This focus on the status of women, particularly in the Third World, is being raised by these various bourgeois-democratic forces, both out of a genuine belief that this is an outrage which must be addressed—while approaching this entirely from within the framework of bourgeois and imperialist-dominated relations—and out of a sense that this is one key way to go after, undermine and eventually defeat radical Islam. In other words, an aspect of this is how it is part of a strategic approach on behalf of one historically "outmoded"—imperialist ruling strata—in opposition to another historically "outmoded"—reactionary Islamic fundamentalism.
So in this context, as well as in the larger, world-historic context of the communist revolution, there is a profound and pressing need for those representing the emancipatory goals of the communist revolution, with its final aim of the abolition of all class divisions and all relations of exploitation and oppression, to make further leaps and ruptures in our understanding of and approach to the woman question, in theory and in practice—in the realm of ideological and political line, and mobilizing mass struggle based on that line—in accordance with the pivotal and decisive role this question objectively occupies, not only in terms of ending the millennia of subjugation and degradation of half of humanity, but also the way in which this is integrally and indispensably bound up with the emancipation of humanity as a whole and the advance to a whole new era in human history with the achievement of communism throughout the world.
In this light and from this perspective, I want to offer some thinking on key aspects of how this challenge is presenting itself and on the necessary work and struggle to achieve the leaps and ruptures that are objectively and indeed urgently called for.
To begin with, the oppression of women is a decisive dimension of what Marx referred to as the enslaving subordination of people to the division of labor, which has been a phenomenon ever since class divisions—and, along with them, the oppression of women—emerged in human society, and which must be overcome in order to advance to communism.
Now, as far back as Red Papers 3,11 published by the Revolutionary Union (the forerunner of our party) about 40 years ago now, this point—how the oppression of women is a decisive dimension of the enslaving division of labor in society—was made. But Red Papers 3, and our thinking at that time overall, was not only undeveloped in general and specifically on the woman question, but it was also significantly influenced by economism (and by related trends which also ultimately amounted to seeking reforms within the existing system and ran counter to a truly revolutionary communism), and this had its effects, as I will discuss through the course of the remaining part of this talk.
In today's world, with regard to the woman question we see again the relevance of the "two historically outmodeds." In A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity, published by our party earlier this year (2009), the following is cited:
What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these "outmodeds," you end up strengthening both.12
That Declaration immediately goes on to emphasize the point that:
Between these two "outmodeds" it is the imperialist ruling classes, and that of the U.S. in particular, which have, by far, done the most harm to humanity and pose the greatest threats. In fact, imperialist domination itself in the Middle East, Indonesia, and elsewhere—along with the massive disruption and dislocation that this domination causes, and the corruption, venality and vicious repression characteristic of the local governments that are dependent on and serve imperialism—gives great fuel to the fire of Islamic fundamentalism as a response to all this, although a reactionary one.
This brings into relief the way in which the other "outmoded"—that is, medieval forms of the oppression of women by Islamic fundamentalists and others in parts of the Third World—is being utilized by those who, at least objectively, side with the imperialist "outmoded" and attempt to prettify—and in some aspects even to promote—the "modern" forms of the oppression of women that are more common in the imperialist countries, and to divert attention and struggle around the oppression of women into a framework that reinforces the imperialist system, which is in reality the main and most fundamental force perpetuating oppression, including of the most horrific kinds, in all parts of the world.
This puts into the appropriate perspective the role being played, at least objectively, by people like Goldberg and Kristof and WuDunn, with the analysis they are propagating, and the programs they are promoting, as supposed answers to the oppression of women. Even if we allow that they are genuinely outraged by many manifestations of this oppression, they are still leading everything back into the very framework of the system which is fundamentally the cause of all this.
The following, also from A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity, powerfully refutes the attempt to portray the imperialist "outmoded"—or, more specifically, the "modern" and "liberal" variations of this "outmoded"—as the standard bearer of the liberation of women:
In sum: "Modern" capitalist society—or in reality the global system of capitalist imperialism—has inherited the oppression of women from past societies out of which capitalism has emerged, and while changing some of the forms in which this takes place, it has not eliminated, and cannot eliminate, this oppression; it has incorporated pre-capitalist forms of this oppression, in various parts of the world, particularly the Third World, into its overall, worldwide system of exploitation and oppression, and it perpetuates all this through the fundamental relations, the ongoing process of accumulation and the overall functioning of this capitalist-imperialist system itself. (emphasis in original)
To cite another important passage from this Declaration:
While they may appear very different, the burkha enforced by fanatical Islamic fundamentalism, on the one hand, and the "thong," widely advertised and promoted as "sexy underwear" for women, in "modern" capitalist society, on the other hand, are both hideous symbols and embodiments of the degradation of women. The fundamental thing they have in common is that they are both manifestations of a world marked by horrendous forms of oppression, both "traditional" and "modern"—a world dominated overall by capitalist imperialism—a world that needs to be turned upside down and radically transformed.
Now, in addition to the obvious and egregious manifestations of the oppression of women, not only in the Third World, but also in the U.S. itself—the widespread rape and brutality and degradation that are part of the social relations and the prevailing culture which are promoted in this society and all over the world—it is important to focus on some particular aspects of how the woman question is actually posed in the U.S. today, while situating this in the context of significant changes that have taken place over a few decades.
As we know, women have entered in very large numbers into the work force in the U.S. in this period. In fact, recently it has been pointed out that, if present trends continue, it will very soon be the case that women will actually outnumber men in the work force in the U.S., which is obviously a very significant development. This is a result of changes in the economy (the U.S. economy, in the context of the overall world economy) which have both made possible and necessary this drawing of women into employment in large numbers; and this also plays a part in "stabilizing" U.S. society through the development and furthering of a certain middle class standard of living and "lifestyle" which is only possible to maintain, for significant numbers of people in the U.S. today, through women as well as men working. This involves a very great change from the era of the Mad Men on TV, for example (the early 1960s), where the women were in the home and one man working in a middle class position was able to supply this kind of standard of living and lifestyle for the family as a whole. But changes that have taken place have resulted in a situation where it is only possible to maintain this status and this standard of living and lifestyle through the women working as well as the men. This is a very significant development.
And, of course, this did not happen automatically as a result of developments and changes in the economy, but also occurred as a result of concessions wrung and changes brought about through the whole upsurge of the '60s and, in particular, the movement for women's liberation which developed through the 1960s and into the 1970s. These two factors together—changes in the economy and struggle brought forth through the movement of the 1960s, and in particular the women's liberation movement—have led to significant changes in the status of women in many different dimensions, including in the sphere of work, even while women continue to be discriminated against systematically in work, including in pay and opportunities for advancement and so on—the "glass ceiling" still exists.13
But, as we emphasized, even while there is a need, on the part of the ruling class, to promote and foster a significant "middle class" as a force of stability and, in very important ways, of conservatism, there is also a pressing need of this system to maintain traditional relations—particularly as these are concentrated in the patriarchal family and the position and role of women in society overall. And, in this situation, the changes to which I have referred here are clashing sharply against the extremely aggressive attempts of the Christian Fascists and other openly reactionary forces to more firmly assert and enforce tradition's chains, particularly as applied to women—to openly, overtly chain women in a subordinate and oppressed condition, relying heavily on biblical tradition as the ideological basis for this (as is discussed, for example, in Away With All Gods!).
What I pointed out, speaking over 20 years ago now to the situation in the U.S., remains profoundly true and of pivotal importance in terms of the fundamental direction of society and, indeed, the world overall. I wrote then: "The whole question of the position and role of women in society is more and more acutely posing itself in today's extreme circumstances." This was in the context, back in the 1980s, where there was in reality a growing danger of world war—those are the particular extreme circumstances that were being referred to in this statement—but today there are different particular extreme circumstances and real crisis that exists, and this statement, concerning the acute terms in which the position and role of women is posing itself, continues to have profound meaning now. As that statement goes on to emphasize:
It is not conceivable that all this will find any resolution other than in the most radical terms.... The question yet to be determined is: will it be a radical reactionary or a radical revolutionary resolution, will it mean the reinforcing of the chains of enslavement or the shattering of the most decisive links in those chains and the opening up of the possibility of realizing the complete elimination of all forms of such enslavement?
In light of the situation and the stakes, it is very important to critically review the historical experience and views of the revolutionary and communist movements on this question, and to grasp more firmly the need for yet a further radical leap and rupture. There is definitely a need for further investigation, study, analysis and synthesis in regard to all this, but the following speaks to some important aspects of this and can, in part at least, help provide a framework and guidelines for that further investigation, study, analysis and synthesis.
I want to begin by touching briefly on the movement of the 1960s and into the 1970s, and its legacy and aftermath.
Even as there were different trends ideologically and politically among the more radical forces in that period, these radical forces increasingly gained the initiative within the movements and struggles and the overall upheaval of those days. They were going up against, and seeking in various ways to pose radical alternatives to, the dominant forces in the world, in particular U.S. imperialism. But also, at least objectively and to no small degree consciously, they were rebelling against the revisionist parties and forces which were not only stodgy and conservative, in some general and abstract sense, but had themselves become defenders and advocates of the existing oppressive order, seeking at most some kind of adjustments or realignments within that order.
The women's movement coming out of the 1960s, and specifically the contributions as well as some shortcomings both in what it brought forward and how that was responded to by the broader movement, as well as the broader society, is the next point I want to speak to.
Extremely important questions were being raised and grappled with, particularly by the more radical forces within the women's movement that emerged out of the 1960s and into the 1970s, even though this was not on the basis of, and in some significant ways was objectively in opposition to, a consistently scientific approach. But economist influences and related tendencies within the new communist movement that emerged in that period, including the RU and then the RCP, worked against the correct scientific assimilation and synthesis of very important things that were being raised by the women's movement. Valuable insights and important elements of a more advanced understanding were squandered by the communist movement at that time, as a result of economist and other erroneous influences.
So this emphasizes the importance of a more dialectical as well as materialist approach to what came out of that women's movement, even if we can say, as objectively we should, that this movement was largely characterized by a petit bourgeois orientation, not only, or even essentially, in terms of the class position of most of the women who took part in it, but more fundamentally in terms of its outlook and orientation. Nonetheless, on the part of that women's movement, and particularly its more radical sections, extremely important questions were being grappled with, and criticisms were being raised of the communist movement and its approach to the woman question at that time which had some validity and which should have been embraced in an overall sense and sifted through and synthesized in a way that they were not.
All this needed then, and definitely needs now, to be approached with the understanding that the status of women and the struggle for the emancipation of women will continue to have a tremendously important role, not only in the struggle for revolution but also in the transition toward communism once a new socialist society has been brought into being. Twenty years ago now, in "The End of a Stage—The Beginning of a New Stage" (Revolution magazine #60, Fall 1990), I grappled with the question of unresolved contradictions under socialism and how this can be a propelling and driving force to continue the socialist revolution toward the goal of communism and to combat and defeat revisionist influences and forces which would turn the revolution back. As spoken to earlier, unevenness and contradiction hold the basis and potential for change. The unresolved contradictions under socialism and their potential to be a driving and propelling force for continuing the revolution is another expression of this role of unevenness, in terms of its posing the potential for radical transformation. Among the most important of those unresolved contradictions which were spoken to in "End/Beginning" was precisely the aspects of the oppression of women that would persist in socialist society and the importance of the struggle for the complete liberation of women not only in its own right but as a driving force for continuing the revolution overall in socialist society.
In this context, and in regard to the opportunities that were lost, or squandered, on the part of the communist movement to learn from and to correctly, scientifically assimilate many crucial things that were being raised by the women's movement at that time, there is a dimension that I want to touch on here, which might be captured in the formulation: the relation between the visceral and the theoretical. In the 1960s and into the '70s, there was, as a very vibrant, vital and crucial part—not just a legitimate part but a very vibrant, vital and crucial part—of the women's movement, the bursting forth of visceral feelings of outrage, of pent-up outrage over decades (and, in a larger sense, centuries and millennia) of the oppression of women. At times, this came forward in ways that were not thoroughly scientific, although it must be stressed that there has been, on the part of many forces within the women's liberation movement, serious work done and struggle waged in the theoretical sphere, with the aim of making scientific analysis of the oppression of women and the road to their liberation. Even where that fell short, there were important theoretical contributions that were made and important theoretical questions that were focused on and wrangled over, including by way of criticism of some of the stereotypical thinking and economist influences within the communist movement.
But the dynamic synergy between the visceral and theoretical, and the correct understanding and handling of this dialectical relation, is very important in regard to the oppression and the liberation of women, as it is in general in the development of the revolutionary struggle toward a whole new world. Just as in other dimensions of this, it is impossible to conceive of a correct understanding and the waging of the necessary struggle without the element of visceral hatred for the oppression, and without the correct approach to—the correct scientific assimilation and synthesis of—what is brought forward through the visceral expression of outrage at this oppression.
To put it another way, as is true with every important aspect of the revolutionary movement, it will be impossible to proceed on the right basis, with the right foundation, in struggling to uproot the oppression of women with only a theoretical understanding, though that is important and should in no way be underestimated. It is also indispensable to proceed, in a real sense, from a visceral feeling of all that it means to be female in this world. Our party's Declaration on the woman question speaks to this very powerfully, particularly in its opening sections, and it is worth reviewing that and continually returning to it, to reground ourselves in both the sweep of this and also the acuity of it, and the outrage of it.
There are the very egregious things that stand out in terms of the oppression of women in more "medieval" forms, particularly in the Third World, which people like Goldberg and Kristof and WuDunn are able to point to (and let us allow that they do speak to this out of a sense of genuine outrage). There is the whole phenomenon of "honor killings," where members of her own family will murder a woman, or young girl, if she "dishonors" the patriarchal family by being involved in sex outside of "approved" (and often arranged) marriage, even if this is a result of being raped! There is the whole way in which, in countries where the Islamic religion is dominant, a girl at a certain age suddenly is shrouded in a hejab or in a veil or a chador or a burkha, with everything that this concentrates in terms of the subordination of women. There are the wife burnings or widow burnings in a country like India. The selling of women on the international sex market in the millions and millions. The outright brutality at the hands of husbands (recalling the old saying in China, which expresses a viewpoint, and relations, that are deeply entrenched in societies throughout the world: "a woman married is like a pony bought, I'll ride her and whip her as I please"). The ongoing practice of female genital mutilation to which literally millions of girls are subjected every year—cutting out the clitoris, which deprives women of sexual satisfaction, and/or sewing shut the vagina to ensure "chastity" until marriage. The generalized acceptability of marital rape. The killing of girls at birth—which has re-emerged in China, for example, as a result of the reversal of the revolution and the restoration of capitalism, and the patriarchy and male domination which is an integral part of this—as well as the misuse and abuse of the right to abortion to carry out the abortion of specifically female fetuses, because females are deemed to be less valuable than males.
At the same time, while all this is very widespread in countries throughout the Third World, in the so-called "modern" imperialist countries there are no less egregious ways in which woman are demeaned and degraded, and yes brutalized through sexual and other violence on a massive scale.
In the "Revolution" talk (Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About), there is a section where it is said: Look at all these beautiful children out here—speaking specifically of the children in the inner cities of the U.S.—and the point is made that these children's fate is sealed, a life of oppression and degradation is set out for them, even before they are born, and soon the smiles and laughter and the carefree play that you can see among these children when they are very young will be turned into horror upon horror. All this is very true and very important, and again a visceral feeling about this, combined with a scientific theoretical understanding of its basis and of the basis for overthrowing and eliminating it, is indispensable for what we're all about.
But it's also very important to focus on the question: What does it mean to be born female in this world? Look at all these beautiful children who are female in the world. And in addition to all the other outrages which I have referred to, in terms of children throughout the slums and shantytowns of the Third World, in addition to all the horrors that will be heaped on them—the actual living in garbage and human waste in the hundreds of millions as their fate, laid out before them, yes, even before they are born—there is, on top of this, for those children who are born female, the horror of everything that this will bring simply because they are female in a world of male domination. And this is true not only in the Third World. In "modern" countries like the U.S. as well, the statistics barely capture it: the millions who will be raped; the millions more who will be routinely demeaned, deceived, degraded, and all too often brutalized by those who are supposed to be their most intimate lovers; the way in which so many women will be shamed, hounded and harassed if they seek to exercise reproductive rights through abortion, or even birth control; the many who will be forced into prostitution and pornography; and all those who—if they do not have that particular fate, and even if they achieve some success in this "new world" where supposedly there are no barriers for women—will be surrounded on every side, and insulted at every moment, by a society and a culture which degrades women, on the streets, in the schools and workplaces, in the home, on a daily basis and in countless ways.
How long does it take before the carefree play of female children—yes, in countries like the U.S.—gets turned into cutting themselves, in response to an unbearable feeling of worthlessness and despair, and often as a result of abuse; or starving themselves in an attempt to conform to the dominant and incessantly propagated notions of female beauty, with which their worth as a human being is equated and to which it is reduced? How long does it take before many girls who show intellectual curiosity and the spark of wanting to know about the world, and of learning about the world, learn instead to stifle that, to "play dumb" and stop speaking up, because it becomes all too clear to them that boys and men feel "threatened" by strong, competent and intelligent women? Or girls who, once having been actively involved in the joy of playing sports, give that up in order to be perceived as more "feminine." Girls in general who, whatever else may happen in their lives, will be insulted and assaulted by pornography and other degradation of women, soft core and hard core, from mainstream advertising to the most extreme and grotesque and perverse. Who will learn to accommodate themselves in various ways—or will be encouraged, and in many ways coerced, into accommodating themselves—to the oppressive relations that prevail and predominate in society, particularly as regards women; or, on the other hand, will be encouraged and will learn to become hardened and cynical, to treat everyone and everything, including themselves and their own bodies, as commodities, and will be further degraded and debased in the process; will learn to lower their sights and not to dream and think of fully taking part in every sphere of society nor dare to rise up and change society, including in the way that it treats women? All this too, is laid out for female children, including in countries like the U.S., even before they are born.
We could go on and on and on, detailing the further dimensions of this. Learning every day, and having to be mindful every day, of going through the world constantly seeking to guard against being assaulted, physically and/or sexually, all the way down to the smallest details of how you walk down the street, or enter and leave a building, whether or not and how you get on an elevator—having to carry these burdens every day through your life. Having normal and natural bodily and sexual functions—when girls' breasts develop or they begin to menstruate and go through other hormonal and physical changes—having all that portrayed in a thousand ways as an object of others' gratification and/or as something that's unclean and shameful (that's not just an old biblical injunction, it still has force and exerts its influence and force in ways that devalue and demean the human beings, the half of humanity, who are oppressed in this way).
As our party's Declaration very rightly insists, in the world today and where humanity now stands, all of this should, and could, be swept from the earth—and the fact that it is perpetuated and enforced by outmoded systems, and above all the dominant system of capitalism-imperialism, makes it all more outrageous.
It is a striking fact—which is starkly evident in the U.S. now—that, in comparison to what is done to women, there is no other group in society that is so systematically reviled and defiled in a way that has become acceptable (or widely accepted in any case) as a significant part of "mainstream" life and culture, as happens in a concentrated way through pornography and the extremely demeaning and degrading images and messages about women it massively and pervasively purveys (with the Internet a major focus and vehicle for this), including pornography's extensive portrayal of sadistic and violent sexual domination of women. (In this regard see, for example, Pamela Paul's book, Pornified, How Pornography is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families, Holt Paperbacks, 2005.)
I began the "Revolution" talk with "They're Selling Postcards of the Hanging," reviewing the ugly history of the lynching of Black people in America and the way in which celebration of this became a cultural phenomenon in the U.S., with the selling of picture postcards of these lynchings a major expression of this—often including smiling and leering crowds of white people surrounding the murdered and mutilated body of a Black man. In a recent exchange, a comrade emphasized this profoundly important and compelling point: Today, the way in which pornography depicts women—the displaying of women in a degraded state for the titillation of viewers—including the grotesque brutality and violence against women which is involved in much of this, is the equivalent of those "Postcards of the Hanging." It is a means through which all women are demeaned and degraded.
All this while pornography is an accepted part of Internet and other mainstream culture and is in fact a highly profitable business, through which billions of dollars are made each year and in which many "pillars" of the capitalist economy are heavily involved. And this "mainstreaming" of pornography is facilitated and furthered by the fact that the degradation of women is a regular feature of TV programs and other forms of "popular culture," which routinely use the term "bitch" and other demeaning words to refer to women, crassly discuss the physical attributes and commodity value of female body parts, and often extol the sexual conquest and domination of women by men.
As has been noted by Pamela Paul, and a number of other authors who have examined this phenomenon, the great increase in the dissemination and consumption of pornography in recent decades, along with its increasingly extreme forms of humiliating and degrading women, is unquestionably related to the inroads women have made in a number of previously "male only" spheres of society and the challenges that have been posed to male domination overall. This is occurring, however, within the confines of a system in which patriarchy and male domination have not been, and cannot be, eliminated or uprooted—but are, in fact, essential and indispensable components of capitalism, and indeed all systems marked by class division and exploitation and oppressive social relations. In such circumstances, and given the prevailing ideology that corresponds to continuing male domination, despite—and in significant ways because of—real challenges to it, pornography serves as a vehicle of crude and vicious revanchism, a forceful reassertion of relations and traditions in which women are subjugated by and subservient to men. In all this pornography has, in a real sense, a "mirror opposite identity" with fundamentalist religion in today's world, in its Christian as well as Islamic, and other, forms: they have in common a dark misogyny and determination to slam, and chain, women in a position of enforced subordination.
So when we say, "look at all these beautiful children," and then we confront the question of what does it mean to be born into this world?—this has profound meaning for the masses of oppressed people and it has a double meaning for the female half of humanity, not only among the most oppressed and exploited sections of society, but among all strata of women. Back in the days when the women's movement first emerged as a radical force in the late 1960s, focusing on the oppression of women as a crucial social question, some of the men who purported to be radical would come back with "quips" like: "Is Jackie Kennedy oppressed?" That was supposed to somehow be an answer to the fact, the very real fact, that the masses of women of all strata are treated as less than men, and in many ways as less than human. Yes, women of the ruling class take part in the exploitation of the masses of people. But that does not eliminate even their subordinate status within the ruling class, and it certainly does not eliminate the many and horrendous forms of the oppression of women of all strata throughout the world. We could go on and on and still not do justice to this, and still not give anything like full expression to what this means.
To get into this more deeply, let's step back a little bit. Let's recall, for example, the official characterization of Black people that prevailed in mainstream and respected institutions well into the 20th century. To cite one really horrendous example, in the Encyclopedia Britannica, a very prestigious institution, well into the 20th century "the Negro" was characterized as being highly emotional, intellectually inferior, childlike and yet "subject to sudden fits of emotion and passion during which he is capable of performing acts of singular atrocity" (this is drawn from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, under the definition of "Negro"). This, again, in the prestigious Encyclopedia Britannica—portraying "Negroes" as in essence an inferior subspecies among human beings.
Let's compare that to the "official" characterization of women during that same general time period. Let's look, for example, at the medical profession. In For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English catalog some of the prevailing views about women in this profession and cite particularly sharp examples of it: the way in which women were associated with "flights of hysteria"; the supposed "child-like ignorance" that they exhibited toward the larger, male-dominated world; the whole attitude that prevailed toward menstruation, pregnancy and menopause—treating these as illnesses and/or defects; and even the alleged negative effect on the uterus if a woman were to use her brain too much! As Ehrenreich and English point out, with the appropriate caustic irony, "The great uterine manifesto of the 19th century, Dr. Edward H. Clarke's 'Sex and Education, or a Fair Chance for the Girls,' concluded with startling but unassailable logic that higher education would cause women's uteruses to atrophy." (Ehrenreich and English, Second Anchor Books Edition, January 2005, p. 140) Things like this were actually written by respected scientific experts late in the 19th century.
Ehrenreich and English call attention to the fact that there was a highly influential trend in natural history in the 19th century which held the view that "the existing human races represent different evolutionary stages"—and this was applied to the sexes (p. 128). Ehrenreich and English point out, for example, that with regard to the supposed hierarchy of human types, Karl Vogt, a leading European professor of natural history in the second half of the 19th century, categorized the Negro male as follows: "[T]he grown up Negro partakes, as regards his intellectual faculties, of the nature of the child, the female and the senile White." As Ehrenreich and English go on to comment: "Where this left the Negro female one shudders to think, not to mention the 'senile' female of either race." (p. 129)
And there was no prospect for the status of women improving with further societal development, according to Vogt, for as Ehrenreich and English quote him further: "'The inequality of the sexes increases with the progress of civilization.'" (p. 130)
Attitudes and notions akin to those cited here not only were prevalent in the 19th century but continued well into the 20th—and, in fact, are far from having lost all currency, even in "modern-day" imperialist society. They are at times voiced by powerful and influential figures in countries like the U.S. For example, the following statement, made by E.O. Wilson, only a few decades ago:
"In hunter-gatherer societies, men hunt and women stay at home. This strong bias persists in most agricultural and industrial societies and, on that basis alone, appears to have a genetic origin.... My own guess is that the genetic bias is intense enough to cause a substantial division of labor in even the most free and most egalitarian of future societies.... Even with identical education and equal access to all professions, men are likely to continue to play a disproportionate role in political life, business and science." (Cited in Ardea Skybreak, Of Primeval Steps & Future Leaps: An Essay on the Emergence of Human Beings, the Source of Women's Oppression and the Road to Emancipation, Banner Press, 1984. E.O. Wilson is known as a prominent proponent of sociobiology. As can be seen in the statement by Wilson cited here, this approach involves erroneous attempts to attribute the development of human behavioral characteristics and social relations in a linear and mechanical way to biological factors and causes, significantly underestimating the role of social factors in the development of—and changes in—human relations, behavior, traditions and ways of thinking. "Steps and Leaps" contains an important critique and refutation of the viewpoint and methods of Wilson and other sociobiologists.)
And more recently views of this kind were expressed by Lawrence Summers, insisting that women were naturally inferior in things like math and science. This at a time when he was the President of Harvard University—and, we should note, he is now an official in the Obama administration.
In this connection, also—and this is something referred to by Ehrenreich and English—the role of Freud and his theories and the whole psychoanalytic tradition, with the great harm this has done to women, as well as overall, is something which needs to be dug into and criticized much more thoroughly. Some important criticism of this has been raised by various feminists and some others. But, again, there remains a need for a much more thorough and radical exposure, critique and refutation of this, particularly through the application of dialectical materialism/historical materialism and the consistently and systematically scientific outlook and approach this embodies.
I recall myself that back in the 1960s, many of us were influenced, to varying degrees, by Freud's theories, and there were many attempts by radical theorists—particularly male ones, but not only them—to somehow link and commingle the theories of Freud with the theories of Marx. In reality, these theories are in profound opposition to each other, and the influence of Freud not only has had a negative influence in society overall, but did so within the radical movements of that time. More thoroughly critiquing Freud's theories and their influence can play an important part in the further development of the truly radical, and scientific, theory of communism, as applied to the oppression and the liberation of women, and overall.
Returning to the point made earlier about Red Papers 3—in terms of economist and related influences within the RU and more broadly within what was called the "new communist movement" at that time, and how this interfered with moving toward a correct synthesis with regard to what was being raised by the women's movement in that period, particularly its more radical sections—I want to refer to a comment that was made about 40 years ago now, at a meeting of what was then called the Revolutionary Youth Movement.
This was at a time when within SDS there were splits into different tendencies: there was the "Weatherpeople" phenomenon, which is well known; there was also Progressive Labor Party and its decidedly economist line (I mean, after all, what does it say when "communists" choose to call themselves the Progressive... Labor... Party—you only have to look at the name to know that such an organization is not going to lead to any kind of a radical new society!); and then there was this trend which identified itself at that time under the heading of the Revolutionary Youth Movement.
At the time of this split in SDS, there was a conference of the Revolutionary Youth Movement trend which some of us took part in as representatives of the RU. At one point in that meeting the question of sexuality, and more broadly the woman question, was being discussed, and one guy made an impassioned speech in which he very pointedly and emotionally said: "If you are a male and you want to be radical, you have to learn what it feels like to be a woman."
Now, while this statement itself was pointing to something very important, it was made in the context of, and was in fact a part of, a trend that was increasingly giving up on the possibility of effecting truly radical change on a societal, and even global, level. It was part of an emerging trend of "identity politics"—of lowered and narrowed sights—a view that each "identity group" must concentrate on its particular situation and demands, which objectively would remain within the confines of the existing system. This was a retreat from the whole orientation of building a movement to go up against, and overturn and uproot, imperialism and bring a radically different world into being. Even then you could recognize that this was part of taking steps in that direction. And we were right to reject the road of "identity politics" and reformism and, in a basic sense, to insist on continuing on the communist road, even while that was marred then to a significant degree by economism. But, at the same time, and especially looking back on it now, it is clear that there was something very important being raised which was too easily dismissed.
It was too easy to recognize and seize on the obvious "identity politics," reformist and petit bourgeois orientation that was coming through in this statement. But it would have been far better to have united with what was correct and important in this statement. It would have been much better if those of us who were serious in considering ourselves communists had taken that kind of approach and on that basis had striven to achieve a further synthesis, through the application of the scientific communist viewpoint and not one marred significantly by economism. And now there is all the more need—and, yes, there is more of a basis—to do precisely that. This is the challenge we face and the important task we have to take up urgently.
Stepping back to look at this with a broader sweep, it is important—without negating or downplaying the very positive character overall, and the very real contributions, of the 1960s movement—to recognize that there were, within this movement, and even on the part of its most advanced forces, real weaknesses with regard to the woman question, including a significant element that involved the assertion of "manhood." Now, especially as applied to Black people, this is a complicated question, because one of the main and most humiliating forms of the oppression of Black people in the history of this country has been the way in which Black men have been subjected to being treated as subordinate beings, as though they were at one and the same time child-like and extremely dangerous, forced—with the real prospect of death as the price for not doing so—to act in a manner subservient to white people, and in particular white men, as reflected, among other things, in the way that white people, including young white males who themselves had not yet reached adulthood, would consistently address grown Black men with the demeaning term "boy." But the answer to all this—if the goal is to finally and fully uproot the oppression of Black people, women as well as men, and to abolish all forms of oppression—is not to strive to establish the "rightful place" of Black men in having, equally with white men, a dominant position over women—in asserting traditional relations between men and women which fasten tradition's chains on women, as a key link in keeping humanity as a whole in an enslaved condition.
In a world marked by exploitative and oppressive divisions—where one of the most profound, and most oppressive, of these divisions involves the subjugation and degradation of the female half of humanity—the assertion of "manhood," whatever the intent might be in doing so, can objectively only mean, and find expression as, active participation in that subjugation and degradation. And in a world where oppressive and exploitative divisions, including those in which men dominate women, would have been abolished and surpassed, the word—and the very concept—"manhood" would not have, and could not have, any real meaning, and certainly not a positive one.
To put this another way—to draw the necessary line of demarcation sharply—the assertion of "manhood" is ultimately and fundamentally a form and a means of accommodating to and seeking to "find your place" within the oppressive system, with all of the horrific crimes it embodies and enforces. In this connection, the role of Booker T. Washington is instructive. In the latter part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century, after the reversal of Reconstruction, Washington became a prominent figure—and was promoted by the powers-that-be, including the openly segregationist and white supremacist powers-that-be in the South—in advocating that Black people not struggle against segregation and their overall oppression but instead strive to "better themselves" within the confines of their segregated and oppressed condition. An interesting insight in this regard is found in Jackson Lears' recently published book, Rebirth of a Nation—The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920 (HarperCollins, 2009). In Rebirth of a Nation (whose title rather clearly invokes, critically and ironically, the overtly racist, and highly influential, early-20th-century epic film Birth of a Nation) one of the main themes Lears explores is how the assertion of "manliness" and "manly virtue" has, in the history of this country, been closely linked with militarism in the service of U.S. empire, with Theodore Roosevelt the most salient personification of this. Lears' focus is on the period marked by the advent of capitalist imperialism—at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century—but clearly, and very correctly, he has in mind, and frequently suggests, parallels with phenomena today, a century later. And, as part of this discussion, Lears makes the following observation about Booker T. Washington—citing his role in preaching subservience to the established oppressive order, and contrasting him, significantly, with the much more militant and non-accommodationist Ida Wells, who boldly stood up against and organized against segregation and lynching:
As resistance to the emerging Jim Crow regime seemed increasingly futile, the frankly accommodationist views of Booker T. Washington appeared to hold out more promise than the angry resistance of Ida Wells. Washington epitomized the marriage of manliness and black uplift. (Lears, p. 131).
While here Lears seems to be conceding too much to the notion that resistance, like that of Wells', was futile, there are important insights in his observations about Washington, in contrast with Wells, particularly in the linking of "manliness" and "uplift" with accommodation to the oppressive system.
Once again, the 1960s had a radically different and much more positive character and impact—with regard to the struggle of Black people in particular, and overall—than what was represented by Washington's "accommodationism" (or, to use a less elegant but no less accurate phrase, Washington's "Uncle Tom-ing") in the period after the defeat of Reconstruction. In fact, the struggle of Black people in the 1960s, in its main and overwhelming aspect, was in direct opposition to, and a powerful refutation of, the kind of stand taken and promoted by Booker T. Washington. But the link remains, and is all too real, between the assertion of "manhood" and the orientation of accepting, and even seeking to "get in on," at least some of the oppressive relations that are the lifeblood of this system. To repeat a statement of mine, which is cited in A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity:
In many ways, and particularly for men, the woman question and whether you seek to completely abolish or to preserve the existing property relations and corresponding ideology that enslave women (or maybe "just a little bit" of them) is a touchstone question among the oppressed themselves. It is a dividing line between "wanting in" and really "wanting out": between fighting to end all oppression and exploitation—and the very division of society into classes—and seeking in the final analysis to get your part in this. (emphasis in original)
And, as that Declaration also makes clear, quoting the special issue of Revolution, The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System, and the Revolution We Need, the role models that are needed, by Black children and by people in general, are not "male role models" but
revolutionary role models, women no less than men. They need to see men and women who model the mutual respect and equality that reflects the world we are fighting for: a whole new liberated world where girls grow up strong and without fear of being raped, degraded or abused, where no child is ever deemed "illegitimate," and where men—like everyone else—find their worth in contributing to the betterment of all humanity through the revolutionary transformation of society rather than by getting in on even a little of the oppression of this nightmare world. (boldface and emphasis in original)
Again, as we look back on the movement of the 1960s overall, the point now is not to be determinist and teleological, as if it would have been impossible then to achieve the basic elements of the correct synthesis—with regard to the liberation of women, in its fullest dimensions, and the crucial relation between that and the emancipation of humanity as a whole—even though that would have been difficult to achieve given the overall weaknesses of the communist movement at that time; nor is the point that "it's all good," everything that has happened has led to the situation where such a synthesis is—only now—possible. Not only would it have been far better if a more correct approach had been taken back then, but the fact is that there is a great need now for that synthesis—and there is the basis, through focused and concentrated work and struggle, to make the leap and ruptures required to actually achieve that synthesis in theory and line, as a much firmer foundation for carrying forward struggle around this fundamental sphere of human social relations, as one of the most decisive elements of actually unleashing a new stage of communist revolution in the world at the crossroads we are now facing, and in order to really be a vanguard of the future.
One of the most important things that emerged in the upheaval of the 1960s (and into the early 1970s), particularly through the more radical currents within the women's movement, was the challenging of traditional gender roles in many different ways. And this, again, owing significantly to economist influences, was not thoroughly taken up and pursued by the emerging communist forces, including the RU at that time. Even while we did learn some things from this movement and did take up aspects of this, it was not taken up in the kind of central and thorough way it should have been. (This was interconnected with influences of the communist movement internationally and historically, which I will also discuss further through the remaining part of this talk.)
At the same time, and along with this challenging of traditional gender roles, there were many questions of sexuality and sexual liberation that were being brought up by the women's movement: a lot of experimentation, some of which led to dead ends, some resulting in bad ends, as is spoken to in our party's Declaration. Nonetheless, very important questions were being raised and answers were being sought in this sphere too. The whole question of emancipating women's sexuality—and that sexuality not being reduced to a "duty" to fulfill men sexually—was a very important dimension of what was being brought forward. But this didn't fit neatly into the views and the tendencies of the communist movement internationally and historically—it was something that, to significantly understate it, was at odds with a lot of the prevailing tradition within the communist movement, which significantly influenced the RU at that time.
And, along with this, in this whole context of throwing into the air and challenging traditional notions and oppressive conventions and mores with regard to sexuality, homosexuality also became a major social question and focus of struggle. And this, as we know, was way outside the pale of what the communist movement historically and internationally was prepared to engage in any kind of way other than to just reject it outright—and this included the RU, and then, for much too long a period, the RCP.
Now, it is true that, while there were, as our Declaration points out, many positive aspects to the sexual exploration and the challenging of tradition with regard to sexuality, and in particular the sexuality of women, which emerged through the upsurge of that time, there were ways, as that Declaration also emphasizes, in which the traditional roles and the traditional domination by men over women reasserted themselves and took advantage of, and turned into their opposite, these attempts to liberate women's sexuality. Notwithstanding these negative aspects, the questions that were being thrown up and the answers that were being sought were extremely important, as we can recognize more clearly now, particularly as we now view things not through a reified and economist understanding of what the proletarian revolution is all about, but understanding it in its fullest expression as (in the words of the Communist Manifesto) the most radical rupture with all traditional ideas, as well as with all traditional property relations. If, at the time of that powerful upsurge, in the 1960s and into the 1970s, we had really understood that fully, and proceeded from that understanding, we would have welcomed and embraced, and scientifically synthesized, what was being brought forward and thrown into the air and wrangled over in the realm of sexuality.
This brings me to some important points concerning the history and historical influence of the communist movement on this question—not just the question of sexuality but of gender relations and the woman question more broadly speaking. Here again, I want to emphasize that more definitely needs to be learned about this. But the following are some observations which may, in turn, serve as a part of the framework for further investigation, analysis and synthesis.
Now, not only to be "fair" in some abstract sense, but to be objective and scientific and to recognize what has in fact been the principal aspect of things, some very important fundamental analysis was made by the communist movement with regard to the oppression and the struggle for the liberation of women. Historically new breakthroughs were made, with Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State seminal in this regard. But, at the same time, intermixed with this, within the communist movement, there was from the beginning and there increasingly developed strong currents of economism, nationalism, patriarchy and traditional views and values with regard to women. This took very sharp expression in the Soviet Union over the period in which it was actually a socialist country.
To briefly touch on some important aspects of this, which, again, require further investigation, analysis and synthesis: In the Soviet Union during the period of socialism (from the time of the October 1917 revolution up through the mid-1950s, when capitalism was restored) transformations of a truly major and in some ways quite profound nature were carried out which did qualitatively change the position of women in a positive way and significantly strike at deep-seated inequalities between men and women. We should not ignore or underestimate this.
As part of this, there was some challenging of traditional gender roles in the popular culture as well as in official policy, especially in the 1920s. But there were significant limitations and shortcomings in this, and especially after the 1920s there was not only a lack of continuing to challenge and transform traditional gender relations and roles, but there was, in some aspects, a retreat from this. This is part of a larger phenomenon that we've noted, which was manifested in a number of different dimensions. For example, in the sphere of art and culture there was a lot of experimentation, a lot of throwing things up into the air, particularly in the early years of the Soviet Republic. But then at a certain point, after Stalin's leadership was firmly consolidated, things changed. However, it is necessary to look through a broader lens and not attribute this simply to a single individual. The larger context was set by the view—which did have a basis in reality—that, in the 1930s, and especially as that decade went on, there was a growing danger of imperialist attack on the Soviet Union, and that in any case it was necessary to rapidly industrialize and transform the economy, including in the countryside, or else, as Stalin put it, "we will perish." As this approach was applied, everything tended to get reduced to and funneled into the drive for rapid development of the economy. And to a significant degree, different forms of experimentation in different spheres—whether it was art and culture or the sphere of sexuality and gender relations—tended to be hemmed in and "compressed" within this framework, wherein it was held that the transformation of the economy, viewed essentially as a matter of technology and technological development and transformation, would lay the basis for, if not itself bring about, the elimination of the social relations that remained from the old society.
And then, particularly in the periods more or less directly leading into and during, and then after, World War 2, there were a number of statements from official sources in the Soviet Union that emphasized not only that it was "natural" for women to have a "maternal instinct" and to want to have and rear children, but also that it was their patriotic duty to do so—their duty to the Motherland, as it was formulated.
Now, we should not in this context ignore the objective factors of first the impending and then the actual massive attack on the Soviet Union, with the tremendous loss of life that occurred as a result of the Soviet Union's involvement in World War 2. In various studies I've seen, the estimate of 20 million (which we all sort of grew up with as the standard estimate of the number of Soviet lives lost during World War 2) has actually been challenged from the standpoint of saying that the number was probably even higher; some estimates of 25, 30 or even 40 million are offered, and not by people who are totally out of touch with reality. To emphasize the enormity of this, 20 million, the low estimate, would represent at least 10% of the Soviet population at that time, while 40 million would amount to about 20%—1 out of every 5 Soviet citizens! So it's understandable, on one level, why, in the aftermath of that war, there would be an emphasis on the need to increase the population, and that along with this tendencies to view this as the essential role and contribution of women would be strengthened. This is understandable, but it is not legitimate, justified or acceptable for communists to be putting this forward as their answer to this very real and acute contradiction—the tremendous loss of population as a result of the war.14
Obviously, in the history of the socialist and communist movements up through the experience of the Soviet Union during the period of Stalin's leadership, while again many truly profound changes and great achievements were brought about in relation to the status of women, as well as in other spheres, there remained a salient need for a further radical rupture with regard to the conception of women's role in society and its transformation, including a thorough break with the "motherhood cult" and with traditional gender roles.
As some observers of the Soviet experience (and not only the most overtly anti-communist) have pointed out, with some justification, while there was an advocacy of equality for women—and, it is important to emphasize, very important steps were taken in that direction, in the Soviet Union when it was socialist—there was no fundamental nor consistent effort to educate and mobilize masses to challenge and transform traditional gender roles in any kind of thorough way as part of fully uprooting tradition's chains. And, as one expression of this, increasingly after the early years of the Soviet Republic, the idea of the abolition of the family receded and then all but disappeared and was to a significant degree replaced by glorification of the family as it existed in the Soviet Union—and it was proclaimed that this was a different kind of family, and therefore women's role as mother had a different meaning. This went along with increasingly extolling motherhood in particular, even while this coexisted with significant steps that were being taken to overcome inequality and ways in which women's role had been limited—particularly as this applied to their role in work and the economy—including by removing barriers to women in traditionally male occupations.
In other words, as some have formulated it, there was a conception and even policies moving in the direction of equality for women, but there was no fundamental and consistent challenge to, or effort to transform, traditional gender roles, at least not after the beginning experimentation in the 1920s.15
All this does illustrate the basic point I have been emphasizing: In the Soviet Union, when it was socialist, there were, both in conception and in practice, not only important breakthroughs in terms of overcoming inequality for women in many different spheres, but also, especially in the early years, some challenging of traditional gender roles; but this latter aspect in particular was also in conflict with, and was increasingly giving way to, the assertion of traditional patriarchal views and conventions, along with economist and nationalist tendencies within the Soviet Union and the international communist movement overall, in which the Soviet Union exerted a great influence.
Now, in China, there were definitely significant advances beyond the Soviet experience, including with regard to the role of women in many different spheres of society. One of the ways this was powerfully expressed was in the sphere of culture, particularly through the course of the Cultural Revolution—with the model opera works and ballets, and so on. And this included a definite element of challenging traditional gender roles in many different spheres.
But still there were significant influences of economism, nationalism, patriarchy and traditional views and values, with regard to gender roles, and especially with regard to sexuality. Let us put it this way: What I referred to earlier, regarding the questions that were being raised and the answers that were being sought in terms of sexuality and, in particular women's sexuality, through the women's liberation movement, and especially its more radical sections, during the 1960s and into the 1970s—that would not have met with great welcome, nor was it embraced at the time, by the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. This is something we have to squarely recognize. And, for the most part, this was not welcomed and embraced by new communist forces looking to the Chinese Communist Party at that time, including specifically the RU and then the RCP. I will say that in visiting China in the early 1970s, along with the many tremendously positive things that I took note of and was inspired by, you did get this feeling of a certain heavy atmosphere and some sense of repression with regard to sexuality. And, looking at this in larger perspective, it does seem to have been part of an historical trend in the communist movement with which the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese revolution did not really rupture. This was not something that was unique to, or a specific weakness of, the Chinese revolution in contrast with the communist movement overall.
While, again, there is certainly more to be learned about this, it can be said that, with regard to the sphere of sexuality, in some significant ways for the communist movement overall, and specifically for our party and the RU before it, the question of homosexuality has been emblematic of the weakness of the communist movement and socialist states historically—from the time of Engels, with his unfortunate remarks denigrating homosexuality, up through the Chinese revolution. This, in a significant way, has concentrated a weakness of the communist movement on the question of sexuality more generally, including specifically how this relates to the status, and the struggle for the complete liberation, of women.
So, while again there is definitely more to be learned through further investigation, study, analysis and synthesis, all this does, I believe, establish that there is a need for a further radical rupture, to lay a firmer foundation for really achieving the "4 Alls" in their fullest dimension. This has not been given full expression or been fully recognized in the history of the communist movement, including in the history of our party, until very recently when we have begun to seriously address questions from a different and much more radical standpoint.
The change in the position of our party on the question of homosexuality16 is, in very significant measure, a result of what has developed into the New Synthesis, and specifically the method and approach embodied in that New Synthesis. It represents a breaking with trends and tendencies within the communist movement which, to no small degree, have been suffocating of the kind of radical theory and radical movement that communism actually should be and must be. But, in a real sense, this constitutes a beginning, which we need to build on and go much further with—on the basis of a scientific approach and the scientific synthesis of what I referred to earlier as the visceral and the theoretical.
At the same time, the struggle against the oppression of women, aiming at nothing less than the complete and final abolition of this oppression in every form, is also a crucial part of making revolution in the first place, without which there can be no revolution, certainly not one aiming for communism. Building a movement for revolution as powerfully as possible toward the first great leap of the seizure of power and the creation of a new, revolutionary state, empowering people to actually build a new society free of exploitation and oppression—when the conditions for that have been brought into being through the unfolding of the contradictions of the system itself and the conscious, consistent and determined ideological, political and organizational work of the growing ranks of the revolutionary communists—this is what we have to be taking up and proceeding from. Viewed in this light, there is a present and pressing need for further grappling in the realm of theory, analysis and synthesis to deepen our understanding concerning the oppression and the liberation of women—building on and advancing from the work that has been done, in order to learn still more about the origins of the oppression of women, but also about the specific forms this oppression is assuming in today's world as well as the actual material underpinnings and dynamics underlying this—all focused toward a deepened grasp of the necessary conditions for the complete emancipation of women and the role of the struggle around this contradiction as a pivotal and decisive front of the overall struggle for a communist world and the emancipation of humanity as a whole from all oppressive divisions.
In this context I want to say something briefly about the important role of our comrades in the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) around the woman question. These comrades have made a very important contribution in their insistence that the communist movement overall must focus much more attention on this question, as one of decisive importance for the radical transformation of society and the world as a whole; in their recognition of the even greater role that the struggle against the oppression of women—and, as our slogan says, unleashing the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution—can and must play in the next, new stage of communist revolution; and in calling for a scientific materialist, as opposed to a sociological or a cultural, approach to this question, while emphasizing the need to learn from, and to synthesize from a scientific communist standpoint, the work of others and in particular feminist scholars on this question. All these are important contributions of our Iranian comrades.
In carrying out further work on this crucial question, it will be important to consistently ground this work in the scientific outlook and method of dialectical and historical materialism. There is a need to guard against tendencies toward mechanical materialism and, specifically, toward attempting to situate the essential basis for women's oppression in, or even to reduce it to, the fact that throughout human history it has been women who have borne children and that women have had to take the main responsibility for the nurturing of children in their early years. Along with this, it is necessary to guard against ahistorical tendencies that fail to give the necessary attention to the specific forms which the oppression of women takes in the context of different modes of production and the property relations, as well as the ideas, customs, etc., that correspond to a particular mode of production.
In order to more fully chart the path of the emancipation of women, as a pivotal part of the emancipation of humanity as a whole, while recognizing the role of women's biology—specifically in giving birth to children and in their early care, particularly in conditions where prolonged nursing remains a necessity—it is also important to recognize that it is not this biology itself which is the fundamental source of women's oppression. Rather, it is the way in which this biology has figured into—or, better said, has been encompassed and subordinated within—definite production relations (and the corresponding social relations). These relations are historically evolved and have, in different societies and different epochs since the emergence of class society, differed with regard to the specific forms and the specific ways in which they embody class division, exploitation and oppression, even as they have in common that they all are, in one form or another, an embodiment and a fountainhead of exploitative and oppressive relations.
This understanding and approach is critical in order to be able to fully develop the conception, the strategic orientation, and the policies and actions flowing from this, which can lead, in fact, to the emancipation of women and of humanity overall in the most fundamental and thorough sense.
In this regard, it is also important not to underestimate the importance of the Declaration by our party: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity. This Declaration begins with, and throughout brings forward, searing exposure of the oppression of women in many different forms, in all parts of the world, including the so-called "advanced" capitalist countries. It also contains important analysis of how and why the capitalist-imperialist system does not, and cannot, eliminate the oppression of women, including as this is embodied in traditional gender roles, but on the contrary this system perpetuates and enforces such oppressive relations, in both "modern" and "medieval" forms, in both the capitalist-imperialist countries themselves, most definitely including the U.S., and in the Third World countries it dominates and exploits; and it drives home that only through revolution and the advance to communism throughout the world, and the decisive role of the struggle for the liberation of women in that revolution, can the oppression of women be ended together with all forms of exploitative and oppressive social relations.
Still, this Declaration is precisely that—a declaration, a very crucial statement of basic principles and orientation, situated in both the current conditions in the world and in the strategic framework of communist revolution. It is not intended to itself make, but to help inspire, the further deeper analysis and synthesis with regard to this question which is necessary in order to have a still more powerful foundation for carrying forward the struggle for the liberation of women—from all tradition's chains, from all the horrific forms of their oppression, not only throughout history, but in the present world—as a crucial part of achieving the emancipation of humanity as a whole.
And here I want to (so to speak) step back to "Steps and Leaps" (Ardea Skybreak, Of Primeval Steps & Future Leaps: An Essay on the Emergence of Human Beings, the Source of Women's Oppression, and the Road to Emancipation, Banner Press, 1984). This is an important—and, I believe, still too much overlooked—work. The following concise statement in "Steps and Leaps" provides some rather jolting historical perspective with regard to the development of a scientific understanding of the origins of the oppression of women: "It is sobering to recall that the material origins of the subordinate social status of half the human species throughout recorded history was not posed as a question, nor certainly deemed worthy of serious investigation, until the middle of the nineteenth century." And Skybreak goes on to point out that Marx and Engels:
cut through the societal prejudice of their time to insist that the subordinate position of women had nothing to do with either some innate deficiencies of female nature or any divine decrees (or "natural features") sanctifying this order of things. They maintained, instead, that the oppression of women was a product and consequence of the social organization of human beings, basically determined in any given society by the particular level of development of the productive forces and the corresponding set of production relations. (The above quotes are from Skybreak, p. 107)
In no way should the profound importance of this initial breakthrough by Marxism, and its continuing significance, be underestimated. At the same time, however, this is, from an historical standpoint, an initial breakthrough—a beginning foundation which must be built on and qualitatively advanced. This, of course, is something which applies to all scientific breakthroughs, and all the more so when they have to do with the crucial, and highly contentious, question of human relations, the character and prospects of human society and the struggle bound up with all this.17
"Steps and Leaps" points to, and makes very important contributions to the analysis of, pivotal developments in relation to this very important contradiction: the initial and essentially unavoidable division of labor between men and women in early human society, owing to biological differences relating to childbirth and the rearing of children in their early years—emphasizing that this division of labor would not have constituted an oppressive relation, at least not in any fully developed and institutionalized sense, but that, on the other hand, it contained seeds of oppressive relations, between men and women in particular, which would then (to continue the metaphor) ripen into oppressive relations with changes in the productive activity of various human societies, the relative weight which different kinds of basic productive activity acquired, and along with that the emergence of the differential accumulation of material surpluses, and corresponding changes in the property and other social relations.
And "Steps and Leaps" points to this truly world historic conclusion: "the biological necessities associated with bearing children are themselves not immutable or necessarily permanent factors, and eventually the further elaboration of human social organization will be such that biological attributes will no longer contribute to channeling or restricting the activities of half the human species." (p. 137)
Along with this, one of the things that stands out very powerfully in "Steps and Leaps" is the way in which it examines all the different attempts—from sociobiology to general theories about human nature, and on and on—to evade, or in any case to come up with an alternative to, a scientific understanding of the fact that stares us in the face: The oppression of women, and all oppressive and exploitative relations, are rooted in actual material conditions that have resulted from the historical development of human society. Toward the end of "Steps and Leaps," this great irony is highlighted: At the very time when the need and possibility of abolishing and moving beyond all this is objectively posing itself more and more forcefully, there is more and more an attempt to turn away from that and to find any other kind of explanation for the state of human social relations and the very real horrors bound up with this—explanations which, whatever the intent, can only lead to the perpetuation of all this.
In acting on this objective basis, in terms of our conscious understanding and ability to take conscious initiative, we have a great deal to build on, but we also have many challenges to meet in going forward and achieving new advances. There is a need for further study and wrangling on the basis of consistently applying a scientific outlook and method, and specifically the scientific outlook and method of dialectical and historical materialism, as it has been developed up to this point, and doing so in a way that will contribute to its further and even qualitative development.
It is important to understand that here, too, it is not a matter of linear development. This is one thing that should be learned from the historical experience I have reviewed here, in stressing the need for further synthesis, including the missed opportunity for synthesis going back decades, as captured in the story about the meeting of the Revolutionary Youth Movement and the very heartfelt statement there—that if you are a man, and you truly want to be radical, you have to learn what it feels like to be a woman—and the overall point about how much of what was being challenged and wrangled with by the women's movement, particularly its more radical currents that came forward through the 1960s and into the 1970s, involved crucial questions which should have been, but were not then, fully welcomed, deeply engaged and correctly assimilated and synthesized through a consistent application of the communist outlook and method. This is what we have to do now. And, in doing so, we have to learn from our mistakes: We can't go back and correct that error of 40 years ago, but we can and must learn from it.
In 1970 Susan Brownmiller wrote that, "We want to be neither oppressor nor oppressed. The women's revolution is the final revolution of them all." (Susan Brownmiller, "Sisterhood Is Powerful: A Member of the Women's Liberation Movement Explains What It's All About," New York Times Magazine, March 15, 1970. Cited in Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (Free Press, 2005)—a critique of women who promote the degradation of women through pornography and other aspects of "raunch culture.") Now, in reading Brownmiller's In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (Dell Publishing, 1999) it is clear that her politics have gone in the direction of reform rather than revolution. Even at the time when she was part of a more radical upsurge and made the above-cited statement, it seems clear that there were significant limitations in how Brownmiller conceived of "revolution," and that she was influenced by contradictory trends, including not only revolutionary but also revisionist ones. But whatever the full picture is with that, it does not negate the important contributions she and others like her made, particularly in the period of the late 1960s and early '70s, nor does it remove from us the responsibility of correctly understanding and synthesizing something very important that's spoken to with the statement that "The women's revolution is the final revolution of them all."
There are two things that are important to emphasize once more in relation to this. First, that the emancipation of women can only be achieved as part of a real and profound revolution—the communist revolution—the most radical revolution in all of human history, aiming for the emancipation of all humanity, the historic leap beyond all forms of oppression and exploitation, through the transformation of all the material and ideological conditions which give rise to and reinforce exploitation and oppression. And, at the same time, a fundamental and decisive component of that revolution, without which that revolution will never achieve its goals, is the struggle for the complete liberation of women.
This takes us back to the very important point from "The End of a Stage—The Beginning of a New Stage" about unresolved contradictions under socialism. What is said there is another way of expressing the understanding that the struggle for the complete emancipation of women will be a crucial part of "the final revolution." In other words, it will be a crucial component in propelling and driving forward not only the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the rule of capitalism-imperialism but to continue the revolution, within the new, socialist society itself, in order to advance on the road toward the final aim of communism. The point is that, among the unresolved contradictions which will remain in socialist society, and which can be a driving force propelling that revolution forward, the continuing ways in which the emancipation of women will need to be fought for and fought through will be one of the most decisive aspects and expressions of that.
It should be clear that what will be involved in this whole process is not a matter of linear development—not a simple straight line continuation of the theory of the communist movement and the experience of socialist society—but will of necessity be a more complex and much richer process, drawing and learning from a much greater variety of experience and of analysis and theorizing, carried out from different perspectives, representing ultimately different class viewpoints—all of which must be encompassed and embraced by, and at the same time synthesized through, the application of the communist outlook and method.
In conclusion on this crucial question, all that has been touched on here underlines the need for further ruptures and leaps—in theory, and in practice guided by that theory—with regard to the liberation of women, as a decisive part of the communist revolution and the achievement of the "4 Alls" in the fullest sense. It underscores the need for the method and approach of the New Synthesis to be more fully and systematically applied to this question and for crucial and urgently needed advances to be made on this basis.
Concluding this talk overall, the statement issued by our party, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," powerfully presents in a very concentrated way the situation and the challenges we face and the truly historic stakes that are involved. There is the possibility of serious, and perhaps even devastating, setback for our whole movement, historically and internationally, but also the real prospect of decisive breakthroughs to be made. For our party, this is embodied and concentrated to a large extent now in the campaign in which this statement is the leading edge, and in the three objectives of that campaign: To spread revolution throughout society; to make the leader of our party, Bob Avakian, a household name; and to bring forward a core of new forces, grouped around the party and coming into the party, who are firmly convinced of, and dedicated and determined to fight for, this line and this goal of communism and to build a revolutionary movement toward that end.
What is brought into further and sharper focus is the great challenge of building the movement for revolution overall with a continually growing solid core of emancipators of humanity in the fullest sense, toward the time when a revolutionary situation is developed, a revolutionary crisis ripened and a revolutionary people in the millions and millions has been brought into being and, as the statement emphasizes, it will be possible to go all out for the seizure of power and to do so on the foundation of a firm scientifically based understanding of what the nature and goals of that revolution and revolutionary power are, and the largest vision of the final aim: the emancipation of all humanity from thousands of years of tradition's chains, the abolition of all relations of exploitation and oppression, and the thorough uprooting of the soil that gives rise to such relations throughout the world—the beginning of a radically new era in human history.
1. In addition to what is discussed in this talk on the "pyramid analysis," and in part 4 of the DVD Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, where this "pyramid analysis" was first put forward, see "The Right Wing Populist Eruption: Yes, It Actually IS Racism," in Revolution #178, October 4, 2009; also available online at revcom.us. [back]
2. At times it is said that, although the Democrats have a clear majority in both houses of Congress, they do not have a "filibuster-proof" 60 (out of 100) votes in the Senate. Without going here into all the "fine points" of bourgeois politics in the U.S. (and in particular the mechanics of Congressional procedures and related phenomena) the fact is that during the presidency of George W. Bush the Republicans did not have a "filibuster-proof" majority in the Senate either, and yet Bush and the Republicans were not, on this account, passive or conciliatory in their approach, and on the contrary were very aggressive in pushing their programs and policies and in countering any talk of "filibuster" by the Democrats. The fact that Obama and the Democrats are not now taking the same kind of aggressive stance, but instead are seeking compromise and conciliation with the Republicans, flows from what is discussed here, in regard to the "pyramid analysis."
It is also sometimes argued that Obama does not have a "free hand" to implement the policies he would like to implement because there are "conservative Democrats" in his own party with whom he must compromise on a number of issues. But this is another argument based on bourgeois logic—on the logic of bourgeois politics and the dynamics of capitalist economics which set the terms and determine the limits of those politics. And the fact is that the heads of the Democratic Party itself chose to throw their weight, and finances, behind those "conservative Democrats" in order to get them elected. If it is argued that they had to do so in order to have a majority of Democrats in both houses of Congress, well that is another expression of the same kind of bourgeois logic, and it is, on a deeper level, a circular argument: the Democrats never really tried to best the Republicans by going aggressively after the Republicans on issues around which they are potentially quite vulnerable, but instead, for the reasons touched on here, have conciliated and compromised with them, ceding more and more ground—and then claiming that they cannot beat the Republicans except by ceding yet more ground to them. The crucial question of abortion—where the Democrats have consistently yielded ground to the Republicans politically and ceded the "moral initiative" to them, allowing them to define the issue as one of "the right to life," or even more crudely "baby killing," rather than what is really and essentially at issue: the fundamental right of women to reproductive freedom—sharply illustrates this. And then there is the question of evolution, and more broadly the scientific method and approach to reality, as opposed to the denial of the reality of evolution and generally the flagrant irrationality that to a very significant degree characterizes the thinking and approach of the Republican Party: Instead of vigorously going after the Republicans around this—instead of emphasizing the very basic point that anyone who is so ill-informed and/or so irrational as to deny something as basic as evolution, and everything that is bound up with this in terms of a rational approach to reality (or anyone who would encourage, or cater to, people with such a mentality, rather than struggling to enlighten them about such decisive matters) should not be allowed anywhere near the levers of power, especially in a nuclear-armed country like the U.S.—instead of that kind of approach, the Democrats have sought to avoid confrontations, or even real controversy, around questions like this. Or there is the undeniable, and often overt, racism that is clearly a hallmark of the Republican Party and the mobilization of its base. Why does the Democratic Party and its leadership, including Obama, not call this out for what it is, without equivocation, and wage uncompromising struggle against it? Once more, the reasons for this have to do with what is concentrated in the "pyramid analysis." [back]
3. The following is the quote from Marx, speaking of the relation between the democratic intellectual and the shopkeeper, which is being paraphrased and discussed in the text above: "According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions...."
As cited in "Ruminations and Wranglings" and in "Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That," which is also included as an appendix in the book Phony Communism Is Dead... Long Live Real Communism!, RCP Publications, second (2004) edition. [back]
4. Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, Insight Press, 2008. [back]
5. It is beyond the scope and purpose of this talk to elaborate further on this subject. There is important discussion of it in Away With All Gods!, which, among other things, drew from some of the insights of Kevin Phillips in his book American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (Viking, 2006). Away With All Gods! also references the Chris Hedges book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (Free Press, 2006). [back]
6. "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," a talk by Bob Avakian in the first part of 2008, is available, in its entirety, online at revcom.us, and was serialized in Revolution, beginning with issue #156 (Feb. 15, 2009) and continuing in issues #157 and #159-61. [back]
7. "Ruminations and Wranglings: On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning," a talk by Bob Avakian in early 2009, is also available, in its entirety, online at revcom.us, and was serialized in Revolution, beginning in issue #163 (May 1, 2009) and continuing in issues #164-67, #169, #171-75, and #177. [back]
8. Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, A Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008. Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, RCP Publications, 2008. [back]
9. For a discussion of the New Synthesis, in addition to the Manifesto (Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, Revolution #143, September 21, 2008, also available online at revcom.us) see "What IS Bob Avakian's New Synthesis?"—which is serialized in Revolution newspaper, beginning with issue #129 (May 18, 2008) and continuing through issue #133, and is available in its entirety online at revcom.us—and "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," a talk by Bob Avakian, also available in its entirety (Parts 1 and 2) online at revcom.us and serialized in Revolution newspaper, beginning with issue #105 (October 21, 2007) and continuing through issue #120. ("Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" is also included in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008.) [back]
10. In this connection, see for example "'Crises in Physics,' Crises in Philosophy and Politics," in Revolution #161, April 12, 2009. [back]
11. The Red Papers 3, Women Fight for Liberation, was published in 1970 by the Bay Area Revolutionary Union. It is currently out of print. [back]
12. Here the Declaration is quoting a statement that originally appeared in Bob Avakian's talk "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." This talk is available online at bobavakian.net. [back]
13. While, to a significant degree, the dramatic rise in female employment in the U.S. in the last several decades has involved women in the professions and families of "middle class status," broadly defined, there has also been a marked increase in the number of working class and poor women who are employed outside the home—and all this has been accompanied by a major influx of immigrant women working in low-wage jobs, as well as those trapped in illicit enterprises, such as prostitution. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, edited with an introduction by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild (Holt Paperbacks, 2002), examines the phenomenon of the feminization of migrant labor, "legal" and "illegal," on a global scale in the last few decades—especially that involving the typical pattern of migration from poor to rich countries—and shines a light on important aspects of how this serves to perpetuate the imperialist system and the "lifestyles" of those in more privileged positions within the imperialist citadels, such as the U.S., a parasitism which, to no small degree, requires the hardships and often brutal exploitation—including outright slavery, particularly in the case of many trapped in the "sex industry"—endured by millions and millions of these women migrant workers. [back]
14. It should be stressed here that this view, of women's contribution to the country through childbearing, was not unique to Stalin and the Soviet leadership in the time of Stalin. Take, for example, the following statement by German socialist August Bebel in the early part of the 20th century: "A woman who gives birth to children renders, at least, the same service to the commonwealth as the man who defends his country and his hearth with his life against a foe in search of conquest." (From Woman Under Socialism) It is important to stress that this statement by Bebel is made in the context of emphasizing the dangers women face in childbirth, as part of a polemic on behalf of equality for women and in opposition to attempts to limit their role in public life and in contributing to society overall. And this statement by Bebel is not in the same category as the following, made during the same period, by the aggressive champion of American imperialism, Theodore Roosevelt: "But ... the woman who, whether from cowardice, from selfishness, from having a false and vacuous ideal shirks her duty as a wife and mother, earns the right to our contempt just as does the man who, from any motive, fears to do his duty in battle when the country calls him." (Cited in For Her Own Good, p. 209.) Nonetheless, Bebel, like Stalin and other prominent socialist and communist leaders who advocated for and led struggle on behalf of equality for women, was not free of the influence of paternalistic and even patriarchal views toward women. [back]
15. Footnote by author: In this connection, as part of research on this question, I came across a reference to a book which I haven't yet read—and therefore I can't evaluate the book overall—but the passage referred to did seem to be making an important point. This book is Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender and Propaganda During World War II, by Maureen Honey (Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1984). It appears to be comparing the experience in the U.S. (as attested to by the reference to Rosie the Riveter) and in the Soviet Union in the context of the second world war, and it identifies some significant similarities, it seems, between the two: the situation where (although estimates are that in the Soviet Union nearly a million women did take part in guerrilla warfare and other forms of military activity in fighting the Nazis, which is different than the U.S.) with large numbers of men in the military, women increasingly, in the Soviet Union—and in a new way, in some senses, in the U.S.—were fulfilling roles in the economy which men had traditionally occupied and from which women had generally been barred. But there was a way in which—even in the Soviet Union, and not just in the U.S.—this role of women in production, along with their role as mothers, was presented not only (and in the U.S. particularly, not so much) as a matter of rights and equality but also as a matter of duty, and more specifically patriotic duty to the country. This is something which is worth pursuing further. [back]
16. For a discussion of the RCP's position on homosexuality, and the development of that position, involving a major, qualitative change in its views on this question, see "On the Position on Homosexuality in the New Draft Programme," RCP Publications, 2001. See also Bob Avakian and Bill Martin, Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics (Open Court, 2005), especially chapter 21, "Sexuality and Homosexuality." [back]
17. Here it is worthwhile taking note of the statement by Engels, cited in "Steps and Leaps" concerning, as Engels put it, "one of the most absurd notions taken over from eighteenth century enlightenment ... that in the beginning of society woman was the slave of man." (Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, cited in Skybreak, p. 111)
This is a very pungent observation by Engels, and it underlines once again the basic orientation that we have stressed: the Enlightenment, yes and no. There are definitely things from the Enlightenment that must be upheld and defended, and this has special importance today when the Enlightenment, and specifically its more positive aspects, are under attack by Neanderthal fundamentalist Christian Fascists, who are a major force in the U.S. and are in fact no less obscurant than the most backward Islamic fundamentalists.
But, at the same time, there needs to be a recasting of what is correct and what is valuable in the Enlightenment, and a radical rupture with what in the Enlightenment is not positive, as part of a radical rupture with all traditional ideas as well as all traditional property relations. (In this regard, see "Marxism and the Enlightenment," in Bob Avakian, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, Insight Press, 2005.) [back]