by Bob Avakian
EDITORS' NOTE: The series, "The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era," is available online at revcom.us and in pamphlet form from RCP Publications. This article has been edited for publication and footnotes have been added.
Just briefly, let’s talk about the dialectical relation between the international and the domestic dimensions of what is going on, and what has gone on over several decades. Let’s look at some key conjunctures and nodal points. Where did all this stuff that the ’60s was part of come from, what was the underlying basis of that? It was the resolution of World War 2, and what arose out of that on an international scale, and what became the principal contradiction in the world—between the oppressed nations of the Third World and imperialism—and other things we’ve analyzed in connection with that. The transformations in the southern U.S. were related to that—the changes in southern agriculture and related political, social, and cultural changes—and this, in turn, was related to what was going on in the world as a whole, both economically but also superstructurally (in terms of politics, ideology, and culture). There was the civil rights movement that arose in that context, and the Vietnam war also arose in that context. In other words, without being mechanical, there’s plenty of international dimension that has played and ultimately is playing a determining role in all this.
And then go to the situation today. What sets the context for all this is the resolution of the contradiction with the Soviet Union—"the end of the Cold War," as it is put—by highly unexpected means: the collapse of the Soviet Union. And then there is superstructural stuff going on in relation to and in the context of that, in all different kinds of ways, including different sections of the ruling class in the U.S. trying to forge new strategies and new consensus. And it’s true that, as a comrade pointed out, Clinton did try to bring forward a new consensus; but it was within the same fundamental framework as has historically existed within the U.S. What Clinton was doing was objectively bringing greater hardship for masses of people, but frankly it was not bringing a "clash of civilizations" right within this civilization, if you want to put it that way. It was not bringing two different "irreconcilable"—or, to put it in different and perhaps better terms, philosophically, two antagonistically op- posed worlds and worldviews directly up against each other. And that is what’s being posed now.
Now, the fact is, if there is another event like September 11, the configuration and the dynamics are going to change dramatically again. Some people, including some generally progressive people, left to their own devices, are perhaps going to join the Christopher Hitchens’ in deciding to cast their lot with the Christian theocratic fascists of U.S. imperialism rather than the Islamic theocratic fascists. Now, that is a metaphor for saying that a lot of the forces who right now don’t think they can live in the same world with these Christian Fascists will, in those circumstances (of further attacks on U.S. soil) be inclined to go under the umbrella of whatever the government in the U.S. is, even if it’s a Christian Fascist one, to protect themselves. If we allow that dynamic to go on, things will become worse, even much worse, than they are now. And, on the other hand, not only progressive people but even people like Andrew Sullivan, who is gay, should be reminded of the Niemöller statement (in Nazi Germany: First they came for the communists, but he was not a communist so he did nothing...1) and think about whose wing they believe they can crawl up under.
That was the point that came up sharply in a recent Bill Maher show—in particular the comments by D.L. Hughley, who insisted: I believe in Jesus, but I don’t believe Jesus resides only in the "red states" (where Bush and the Republicans carried the vote). Andrew Sullivan, who was also on that show, was getting all puffed up, and so Bill Maher says to him: "Well, try going into one of those churches in Mississippi and see how you..." And Sullivan cut in: "I do belong to a church, and I’m quite welcome in it." And they both, Hughley and Maher, responded: "In Mississippi?!" That’s where the gay question and the Black national question come together—in Mississippi (literally and metaphorically).
There is a particularity that they’re talking about with Mississippi too. Andrew Sullivan can find a church in New York or Washington, but he will have a hard time finding one in Mississippi. There’s still a particularity to Mississippi. Malcolm X was right in making the point, "Stop talking about the South—as long as you’re south of the Canadian border, you’re south." But still there is another side to it. There is still a South. My point about the Bible belt and the lynching belt—how they are the same—is not that the South is the only place they have ever lynched people, but there is a point there.
In any case, this is the dynamic that’s in play now, and it is important to understand that there is a difference between Hitler getting appointed Chancellor and the Nazis having totally consolidated power and crushing and eliminating the opposition. Without being mechanical, that analogy is indeed very relevant to what is going on in the U.S. now.
I agree with the point (made by another comrade), I do think Bush actually believes this fundamentalist shit, but he is also the president of the United States and he can’t simply be a Christian Fascist. I believe he is a Christian Fascist, but at this point he can’t simply be a Christian Fascist. That makes for (and reflects) another complexity. And there is a difference between what is the leading edge in the Republican Party and what is the character of the society overall, at this point at least.
We can’t be reductionist: The leading edge in the Republican Party is this Christian Fascism, the Republican Party is the leading party, and right now the ruling party, in the U.S. and bourgeois politics in this country is increasingly dominated by one party, the Republicans...so therefore the country is already fascist. That is not a correct way of reasoning, not correct methodologically. You can’t go mathematically—by mathematical reduction—to arrive at a conclusion like that. In fact, it is not even the case that a Christian Fascist consensus has won out within the ruling class at this point. That has not happened yet, and we should not confuse things. This is not being ruled as a Christian Fascist biblically based country—at this point.
But there are forces fighting for that who are not going to be satisfied until that is the way the country is being ruled. It’s got to be a biblically based, militarized, patriarchal and male supremacist, and, yes, white supremacist society—that is in essence the Christian Fascist program. And, yes, this means that their religious fundamentalist epistemology must be in command.
There is going to be a battle over what is truth and how do you arrive at the truth. There is so-called "biblically based" truth vs. actual truth. There is going to be fierce struggle over these epistemological questions as well as political struggle. What is truth? These right-wingers write things like, "People claim Bush `lied’ "—and they put "lied" in quotes—about Iraq and WMD [BA laughs]. I mean, here you see clearly that this is a battle of epistemology. Bush lied without the quotes, okay?—and everybody saw him do it. But, as another comrade was pointing out, this is not true in the worldview of these people who put forward, or take up, this fascist, and in particular Christian Fascist, epistemology. What Bush says is true: even if it’s a lie, it is true—or it doesn’t matter, because it’s subsumed by a larger "Truth," with a capital T.
This superstructural stuff does matter a great deal. What was Pat Buchanan talking about in speaking of a great division in American society that will reassert itself?2 This is a division that has developed out of all the upheaval of the ’60s—and everything else that’s happened since. If you read the supplement on the Clinton impeachment ("The Truth About Right-Wing Conspiracy... and Why Clinton and the Democrats Are No Answer")3 it talks about two phenomena at work, in terms of the problems the ruling class has in promoting patriotism, especially blind patriotism—people not being patriotic enough, from the point of view of the ruling class. One is the ’60s thing—everything that millions of people learned through that whole experience, which makes them not want to be very patriotic, or certainly not blindly and unquestioningly patriotic—and the other is precisely the ’90s thing—all this "gold rush" (get rich quick) shit makes for a lot of individualism, and it doesn’t make for much self-sacrifice for the "larger imperialist good." It isn’t just the one phenomena that’s being talked about there. We should understand the nuances, the gradations, the levels, the contradictory character, the particularity, all of that.
There is right now this whole battle shaping up over these two different worlds and worldviews. And there are millions and millions of people, right now, non-religious and religious people, who are deeply troubled by what is happening—and there are a lot of people who are religious among the basic masses who are saying, "We are fucked by this Bush thing." That doesn’t mean inroads can’t be made among them by the Bushites and Christian Fascists—we have been talking about that, and we should definitely be aware of that. But many among the masses who are religious are saying, "we’re fucked"—not because Bush is religious but because of what he is actually doing. The appeal to religious fundamentalism doesn’t have the same impact, it doesn’t have the same political effect, right now at least, on many of these masses, because they have different material interests, and—without being mechanical materialist—there is a point to material interests. But it would be very wrong to think that this religious fundamentalism doesn’t have an effect on these basic masses.
In fact, there is a tug between some of this superstructural stuff, and in particular religion, on the one hand, and material factors, on the other hand. Part of the problem with Thomas Frank’s reasoning in his book What’s the Matter with Kansas?—his argument that people who are getting screwed economically by the policies of the Republicans shouldn’t be supporting the Republicans, although they are supporting them now—part of the problem is that actually many of the people Frank is talking about are present or former labor aristocrats, bourgeoisified workers, and lower level and working petty bourgeois. They don’t have a whole history of being fucked over in this country, by the system, in the same way as people at the base of society, people in the inner cities and so on—people who have a whole history of this, so when they get fucked again, they respond on the basis of that whole history. Whereas these other people that Thomas Frank is talking about respond differently, because their history and their place in society has been and is still different—and part of the picture is that their self-identity, to use that term, has involved trying to set themselves apart from the people who are held down at the base of society.
This is not to argue that Frank is wasting his time agonizing over what is happening with these strata of people, or that it is not important to try to win them over to a progressive, and indeed to a revolutionary, position. But, precisely in order to do that to the maximum extent possible, it is necessary to understand, in a thoroughly materialist way, what their social position is, and what it has been, how that is changing and what are the, very contradictory, responses this calls forth among them, rather than just looking at them through some generally populist lens that fails to take note of important economic, social, cultural and ideological distinctions among different sections of the people. For example, within a broad category like "working people," there are impoverished proletarians, who are bitterly exploited by the capitalists who employ them, or are denied employment altogether, at least much of the time; and there are, on the other hand, self-employed working people and even small business people who may do some work themselves but also employ, and exploit, a few others. While the people in all these categories are in a vastly different position from the truly rich and powerful ruling class of capitalists, at the same time there are significant differences among these different strata among the people, and these differences have a definite effect on their outlook and how they respond to being further pushed down.
There is a rich tapestry involved in all this—not all of it is good, I don’t mean "rich" in that sense, but a very complex tapestry with a lot of different things tugging and pulling on different sections of people in contradictory directions.
Even with the Christian Fascist social base, as we pointed out in our statement right after the election ("The Will of the People Was Not Expressed in This Election"), they have kids getting killed in the war in Iraq, and more of them are going to get killed as this global war for empire is carried on. And they have kids who go out of this confined world (of Christian fundamentalism, etc.), into another world, for example when they go into the military. Yes, they go into another Christian Fascist universe within the military, but they can’t erect complete barriers around the rest of the world they send these kids out into. It’s more complex than that. And these strata are going to take economic hits. There is constantly a complex interplay between the base and superstructure—between underlying economic factors, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, political, ideological, and cultural factors. And we have to approach this with a dialectical materialist, not a vulgar materialist, method. There has been enough vulgar materialism in the world, and there is a need to thoroughly rupture with that.
This configuration within U.S. society could change. International events could change the character back toward what was happening at the time of the "New Situation/ Great Challenges" supplement,4 soon after September 11, 2001. But this Christian Fascist element is not going to go away. That is the point I keep coming back to: They are not going to go away, and they are not going to give up. As other people have said, this is a monster that’s demanding to be fed. It’s stayed on its leash pretty much because it’s been promised to be fed. But it has its own dynamics.
So all this makes for a very volatile situation, and one that requires us to grasp it—and to act on it, to transform it— in all its complexity and its potential for an extreme resolution, one way or the other.
"Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak
up because I wasn’t a Jew.
"Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
"Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
"Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."
—Pastor Martin Niemöller, imprisoned by the Nazis from 1937-1945. Initially a supporter of Hitler, Niemöller realized too late what the Nazis were all about. Niemöller criticized himself in this now famous quote and gave many speeches criticizing his fellow clergy, and other progressive people, for not opposing the Nazis when they had a chance.
2. For example, in his book The Death of the West, published after the September 11 attacks, Pat Buchanan accurately predicted the following: The sense of national unity which existed right after September 11 would not last; he argued that there are deep social and cultural and other divides in this society, and they were going to reassert themselves.
3. "The Truth About Right Wing Conspiracy. And Why Clinton and the Democrats Are No Answer" by Bob Avakian was first published in the Revolutionary Worker, November 1998, in the midst of the attempts to impeach Clinton. It was republished in October 2004, on the eve of the election of 2004. It is available in issue 1255 of the Revolutionary Worker and online at revcom.us.
4. "The New Situation and the Great Challenges" by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA, Revolutionary Worker #1143, March 17, 2002, available online at revcom.us]