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.
An irony for all these progressives who got into the recent (2004) election and supported Kerry—and Thomas Friedman (a major commentator for the ruling class) had the virtue of saying this explicitly—is that they were basically supporting Bush, the papa, against Bush, junior. That's what they were doing by voting for Kerry. Objectively, it came down to: they were supporting Bush I against Bush II. If you reduce things to the talk about "multilateralism," and so on, if that's what your critique of the Iraq war has been reduced to—criticizing Bush for "not involving more allies," in that war—so much for your "progressivism." Anyway, for people who consider themselves progressives but got into this Kerry thing, they need a good hard look in the mirror. Even Ralph Nader said, "My god, you people all gave in [to Kerry and the Democrats] without demanding anything." That was his answer to the people who attacked him—progressives who attacked Nader for running again—"you people gave in without demanding anything—that's shameful, disgraceful." And he has a point, within the framework of how these people are arguing. Anyway, that's just something to think about.
The main point is this: If you take the statement by Newt Gingrich (a "conservative" Republican and former Speaker of the House of Representatives), comparing the present situation in the U.S. to that in the period before the Civil War in the middle of the 19th century, what I'm arguing is that even if these imperialists don't get overextended internationally, in a really dramatic way and get into a whole disaster, this Christian Fascism thing could- -not automatically will but could—play the role of "stage manager" for revolution, if we do our work correctly, not only in opposition to Christian Fascism but in relation to the situation and its development as a whole. Of course, we did not choose to have—and we would greatly prefer not to have—this whole Christian Fascist phenomenon. But that is not up to us—it is not of our doing, and not of our choosing. That's why (in some other remarks) I made the analogy to Japan invading China and Mao's comment about how, as terrible as that was—and he was very acutely aware of how terrible it was and how it greatly increased the suffering of the masses of Chinese people—this invasion constituted a kind of "pivotal event," or represented a kind of "stage manager role," in relation to the revolution in China and its ultimate success in not only driving out Japanese imperialism but liberating China entirely from imperialist and reactionary rule. With that understanding, and in that spirit, this is an analogy I'm drawing to the role of Christian Fascism in the U.S. today.
Yes, things could intervene to change this—you can't be determinist, and our approach to very serious things shouldn't be gimmicky—but I do think this Christian Fascist phenomenon is changing things and setting in motion a definite dynamic, which is part of a larger dynamic in the world, so it could be subsumed under or altered by or shoved aside temporarily or mitigated by other contradictions and dynamics. But it is introducing a definite dynamic—and the point of the Gingrich statement is that all this doesn't have a resolution short of something very radical.
I don't think everybody is just alarmist who is saying this. Of course, everybody knows we're alarmist [ B.A. laughs ], but there are other people out there saying this. To be serious, there is an alarmism you have to guard against, which is a form of instrumentalism: "If we can just scare people enough, then they will rally to our banner." That's what we're accused of, and we should not fall into that. We should make scientific analyses, not instrumentalist analyses like, "Oh good, now I can see a way we can swing people to our side." We shouldn't get into that kind of approach of: "let's look for something that can scare people enough that they will rally to us." But the point is, this is real what's happening. It's not accidental that some people are saying that this is like the period between the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor and the Reichstag fire (an event in Germany—the burning down of the parliament, or Reichstag, structures—which was used by the Nazis to consolidate power and outlaw and suppress opposition). It may not be exactly analogous, things may not work out exactly that way (leaving aside the limitations with all analogies), but it's not accidental, it's not out of nowhere, it's not because people are crazy or just merely being instrumentalist themselves in trying to get other people to oppose this.
There is something real here, and what I'm arguing is that, yes, the international dimension is ultimately decisive for everything—it is fundamentally and ultimately determining of what takes place in any, and every, country—but we shouldn't be mechanical and reductionist about that either. Things can develop their own dynamics, which doesn't have to be what's happening in the world at large—or, more specifically, what's happening with Bush and the imperialists' overall international crusade. Those things will have a major effect on how the polarization occurs within the U.S., and in how we can and must work to achieve a repolarization, but that's not the only way that things can get posed in very extreme terms. I'm saying something different than "only if they get overextended could we possibly have the emergence of a full legitimacy crisis and even possibly a revolutionary crisis." I'm not selling anybody promises, I'm just trying to analyze the world.
It is part of our "job," part of our responsibility, to try to see where the openings for revolution might come from, without inventing them. We should really guard against instrumentalism and "concocting fashionable means" of struggle and "looking for loopholes" in the wrong sense—where they don't really exist. But, with the correct scientific method, it is our responsibility to look for where openings might come and where they might be emerging. And, from that perspective, I believe there is a certain thing happening here which is very unfavorable right now, but which holds the potential (that's the analogy to the Japanese invasion) for us to transform it into something else, maybe even all the way into a revolution. Now, again, we should learn from past errors in the direction of being mechanical and not engaging reality in a thorough enough way, in all its complexity and contradictoriness, to say nothing of approaching reality with preconceived notions, or formulas, and instrumentalist methods. We should learn from the epistemological ruptures we are making and really make them thoroughly.1 Things may turn out another way, besides a full-blown crisis and possibly even a revolution—it may turn out horribly or it may get mitigated. Let's not go out to people with a simple-minded vulgarization of reality—that doesn't do anybody any good. But, on the other hand, I believe there is a certain development here that is leading toward an extreme resolution, one way or the other. I don't believe these arguments are purely hyperbole, for instrumentalist purposes, by the Gingriches, or whatever.
It is a little bit like the Yao Wen-yuan statement—this was attributed to him after the "gang of four" were defeated, but it sounds real to me—about how, "We've had struggles of all different kinds, we've had the Cultural Revolution, and we've tried to resolve this in other forms, so why can't we cut off some heads?" [Yao Wen-yuan was one of the "gang of four" who were upholding Mao's line after his death in 1976 and were arrested as the first and decisive step in the coup that led to the restoration of capitalism in China under Deng Xiaoping.] This is what Yao Wen-yuan was reputed to have said before his head effectively got cut off politically. And apparently the other side, led by Deng Xiaoping, had the same logic—only they had more going for them. That's somewhat the problem we're facing here and now [ B.A. laughs ]. It's not literally a question of cutting off heads, that's a metaphor—at least I'm using it as a metaphor—what I'm speaking to is the situation where forces in society with very different outlooks and programs are increasingly in antagonistic opposition to each other and this can only be ultimately resolved with one of them winning out and decisively defeating the other. This very much relates to the Gingrich statement about how things are shaping up in this period in the U.S.: things are not going to get resolved other than through one side crushing the other, is essentially what Gingrich is saying.
Right now the sides are not the way we need them to be—but neither were they when Japan invaded China. The point is to recognize what the dynamic is, and what the potential is for resolution, one way or the other.
Yes, if the international situation goes one way it will affect that adversely for us, and if it goes another way it will, at least potentially, make it more favorable for us. We don't see eye to eye with the people who may be progressive in a general sense but, on their own and spontaneously, are fearful of the prospect of revolution. It's not that we like extremes for their own sake, any more than Mao liked the mass slaughters and rapes carried out by the Japanese when they invaded and occupied China. But this is part of reality we have to confront: If things don't go to extremes, they can't get resolved, and the horrors will continue, and get worse. That's the point of A Horrible End, or an End to the Horror 2: This world is horrible for the great majority of humanity, and for large sections of this society, all the time, even if they put up with it much of the time. As Lenin said, people "uncomplainingly" allow themselves to be robbed in "normal times." That doesn't mean they're not being robbed, and it doesn't mean it's not horrible—certainly for the majority of humanity it is horrible. That's why we are willing to see things go to extremes—and, specifically, the "extreme" of revolution. But, in order to make revolution, we also have to understand that there will be forces, particularly among the middle strata, with whom we have to work, and carry out a process of unity-struggle-unity, who are going to try desperately to find every other solution before they will embrace revolution. They will even do things that amount to supporting the essence of Bush I against Bush II, in the embodiment of Kerry—and other things that keep presenting themselves as illusory solutions—before they become convinced, through the development of the objective situation and our work, correctly carried out, that revolution really is both necessary and in fact desirable.
Now, it is a fact—and this is examined in the book by Crane Brinton, The Anatomy of Revolution —that revolutions don't usually develop with the most resolute and determined revolutionaries coming to the fore right away. In many cases at least, revolutions are made by, or initiated by, people who don't intend to have it go to a revolution. They get "Gorbacheved"—they think they're setting in motion one dynamic, and they end up with another: The dynamic that they're both taking initiative to set in motion and that they are, on another level, an expression of, can't be resolved, or in any case doesn't get resolved—not to be determinist about it, but it doesn't get resolved short of something beyond what they may have wanted. This is what happened with Gorbachev—he didn't set out to dissolve the Soviet Union, but that is what resulted from what he set in motion. And, in certain circumstances, this is what happens to "moderates" who set in motion a process that leads to a revolution they may well not have expected, or even wanted.
This is the way we have to understand things. We do have to break away from "structural determinism"—seeing the basic structure, or underlying foundation, of things as determining events in a mechanical sense, and not understanding the relative independence of the superstructure (ideology and politics, the actions of individuals, and so on). These are erroneous tendencies we have fallen into before, and we should learn from that. Human beings are thinking, conscious beings, who are acting within a certain underlying material framework, but they're not simply slaves to objective conditions. This applies to representatives of the bourgeoisie as well as of the proletariat. People can transform objective conditions, too—they have will and initiative. That's what Engels said in that letter he wrote (to Bloch) near the end of his life: We (Engels and Marx) had to put so much emphasis on the underlying material factors, and we didn't really talk a lot about the superstructural factors. That's what Engels said, in essence: We did not give enough emphasis to those superstructural factors.
We have to start thinking in these kinds of ways, in our methodology generally, but in particular I'm arguing for a certain thing here. Not because I like the polarization that is currently taking shape, but because I do believe it is our responsibility to see where openings for radically transforming things might be coming from. And, in any case, we certainly have to recognize what a very bad polarization can lead to, if we don't act on it.
If Kerry had been elected, there would have been a different dynamic. And I will say that I agonized for quite a while over whether, in this particular situation, it might be better if, in fact, Kerry did win—or, more to the point, if Bush lost the election. I came to the conclusion that this was not the case, but I agonized over this for quite a while, and from many different angles, before coming to that conclusion—and I will say that, if you were not agonizing over that, you weren't doing what a communist is supposed to be doing. But, at the end of all that agonizing, I came to the conclusion that the election of Kerry would not have been better—there would have been a different dynamic, but not one that was better (or worse).
I had some discussion with another comrade and they kept coming back to this point: "Would it be objectively better if Kerry got elected? I know we shouldn't say so, but would it be objectively better if Kerry got elected?" And I answered: "If it would objectively be better, we should say so, and train the masses to think the right way. It's not the case that it might be objectively better but we shouldn't say so. If it would be objectively better, we should have determined that and said so and explained why, and trained the masses in communist tactics flowing from a communist analysis and methodology." That was a very good discussion and struggle we had. That process had a lot to do with how I came to the position: "They [Kerry and Bush] are both worse"— which I think is a correct position. This relates to a point some comrades in our Party's leadership have pointed out: If Kerry had gotten in office it would have been "Clinton times ten" (or "Clinton to the 10th power") in terms of what would have been going on. Not only would Kerry have been, in essence, Bush I, but he would have been Bush I under extreme and intensifying pressure from Bush II (or the forces Bush II represents).
What is represented by the Christian Fascists is not isolated from the larger dynamics—within the ruling class, within U.S. society as a whole, and within the world overall—and we should understand the role of the other sections of the ruling class, both within the alliance that the Christian Fascists are now part of, and more broadly. What is represented by Brzezinski (former Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter)? What is represented by Kerry? By Scowcroft (a official in the administration of Bush I)? And, for that matter, what is represented by Bush I himself? Kitty Kelley says, in her book ( The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty ), that Papa Bush went into a tirade at one point about what his son "W" is doing, particularly in regard to Iraq. I don't know if that's true or not, but it might be, there is a certain logic there in terms of what is happening in Iraq. But, in any case, Bush senior is there cheering on his son "W"—Bush I is not coming out in the public and saying "vote for Kerry." The same thing with McCain. McCain hates Bush, for good reason and to a great depth, and he has more or less said so. When I saw him interviewed after the election, he more or less said so (or all but said so). But McCain also said, "I think Bush is a better Commander-in-Chief in time of war." These are things we have to understand.
Anyway, I'm offering a certain thesis that relates to the Gingrich statement, the analogy to the Japanese invasion of China, the ladders of the pyramid collapsing3—I don't mean that the whole pyramid is collapsing, but the way it's configured, that's not going to hold. The center not holding in the way it's been holding, the effort to reconstitute a center (of capitalist class rule) on a different basis, and a rationalization and legitimation of that on a different basis—that is the process going on here. This is giving rise to a certain polarization now, which needs to be radically repolarized. And the point is that this might—not will for certain, but might—lead all the way to an opening for revolution, to the resolution of this in, yes, an extreme but at the same time a positive way, a revolutionary way, rather than in some reactionary and even fascist way. And this could happen through a direct clash with the fascists—against the attempt at the fascist resolution of this and the imposition of outright fascist rule. These may be the two poles that come to the fore. One of them, the negative extreme, can easily come to the fore "spontaneously"—through a process that is spontaneous from our standpoint. But the other one, the positive one, certainly won't—it will require tremendous effort on our part, to wrench this positive revolutionary outcome out of this whole situation and its development toward extremes.
Needless to say, if there is a fascist resolution of all this, it will not be "Nach Hitler Uns" (a saying in German—"After Hitler Us"—a very mistaken orientation fallen into by communists in Germany in the 1930s). Instead, it will in essence be: "Mit Hitler... Oh Shit!" ("with Hitler...oh shit!") [ B.A. laughs ]. We'd better understand that, we better not allow that to be the resolution of it. We better change that by the work we do and the struggle we wage, by how we understand and act on reality.
1. See "Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology—On Knowing and Changing the World," Revolutionary Worker #1262 (December 19, 2004).
3. See "The Center: Can It Hold...The Pyramid as Two Ladders," another excerpt in this series, which was published in Revolution #4 (May 29, 2005).