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.
As part of the basic political dividing lines in society, and how religion relates to this, we have to draw a clear line between a society where people have the right to their religion and one where Dark Ages mentality is imposed on people—to oppose science, to oppose rational thinking, to oppose knowing the real world. It is very important to make, and insist on, that distinction. Now it is true that, for some of the masses the religion they are given actually falls on the wrong side of that dividing line, but they may not know that—they may not think of it that way. And when it’s posed in those terms, I’m not sure a lot of masses who are religious would like to be on that side of that dividing line, supporting Dark Ages ignorance and suppression of science and rational thought. Whereas some of these hard-core Christian fundamentalists who are the social base of Christian Fascism actually don’t mind thinking in those terms. They do regard science as an enemy, they do regard scientific thinking and a rational approach to things as the work of the devil, in essence. So, it is important to formulate things in a way that draws the dividing lines correctly, and enables the masses to be on the right side when, on the one hand, spontaneity might land them on the wrong side but, on the other hand, that’s not really where they want to be—and, fundamentally, not where their real interests lie. At this point, and for some time, many of them will want their religion, but they don’t really want to be in the Dark Ages, even though in many cases that’s where their religion will actually take them if they follow it all the way out. That is a contradiction that needs to be understood and acted on, in all its complexity and contradictoriness. There is a difference—a very important difference —between masses who are caught up in forms of religious fundamentalism and others who are consciously rejecting the whole scientific approach to reality and seeking to be part of imposing a Dark Ages mentality.
With regard to my talks on religion (particularly the one entitled “God Doesn’t Exist—And We Need Liberation Without Gods”1), it is very important to make concerted efforts to get this into the prisons as well as to distribute it broadly among the masses throughout society. I really believe that this can provide an ideological basis, and concrete means, for the advanced, revolutionary-minded people in the prisons—as well as more generally in society—to stand up firmly against and really go after the backward religious stuff that is promoted at every turn.
We have to do a lot of hardcore ideological work—this is something whose importance we really have to deeply understand. Once again, with regard to prisoners in particular, they should be developing themselves, ideologically and politically, as revolutionaries—and not just “revolutionaries” in some general sense but more specifically as communist revolutionaries. They should be a force for this revolution, politically and ideologically. And they could play a crucial role in spreading the message of revolution, of communism, not only among prisoners but among their families and others they have contact with and can reach outside of the prisons. That is an additional dimension to the important contribution that prisoners can make to the cause.
I read another one of these statistics that make your head spin around on its axis: something like 10 percent of Black males between 25 and 29 are in prison. That’s another one of these things that makes your hair stand up and your head spin around. What the fuck—what does that say about this society, this system?! And, for everyone who is in prison now, there are several who have been in prison, and there are a number of family members and loved ones outside prison. Some people in prison have the time, or somehow seize the time, to think deeply and to train themselves intellectually and to explore things. Most people get caught up in bullshit, but not everybody does. And even some of those who do get caught up in this still try to fight it. And revolution—communist revolution—really does represent the only way out for them.
The religious fundamentalists, of various kinds, make a point of recruiting in the prisons, and they come with a heavy ideological message. There is something very important to be learned from the “Losing My Religion” article that appeared in our newspaper within the past year. 2 The author of the article, who comes from a family steeped in religious fundamentalism, says that his own life experiences had provided plenty of reasons to reject religion, but it was only when there was another coherent ideology that he could take up that he completely broke with religion. And that coherent ideology wasn’t another religion—it was the scientific outlook and method of communism, which he was introduced to through writings of mine which he encountered in college. He also commented on that: he said that these writings, and the outlook and method they embody, taught him to do what religion never did—to think critically. It is not at all the case that people can only “lose their religion” by replacing it with another religion in some form. But there does have to be another explanation about the world and existence and why this is the way it is, and how it could be different. And how an individual relates to that. If you want to rupture people out of shit, not only stuff that lands them in prison, but the daily shit they are caught up in, in the society, you have to have a really strong hardcore ideological thing to bring to them. It doesn’t have to be dogmatic—it should not be dogmatic, and it should not be religious—but it has to be coherent and systematic. It has to explain the world—and in our case we can actually explain it in a scientific way [BA laughs]. That’s an advantage of communism over religion, even though religion has certain short-term advantages because it can appeal to things we can’t appeal to, things that go along with spontaneity. But we have the advantage of actually being able to make reality make sense for people. That’s a very powerful thing.
We should not underestimate the importance, not only with prisoners but in general, of doing a lot of ideological work to really enable people to see the world in a wholly different way—really the way it is. To take the pieces of this puzzle that are all out of whack and don’t fit together— it’s like looking through a weird kaleidoscope the way most people see reality. And then it’s misinterpreted for them by all these different bourgeois and reactionary ideologies and programs, and so on, including various religious views. But communist ideology and its application to the world is a way of taking reality and having it make sense for people. That’s what the CD of my speech on religion 3 aims to do, that’s what we urgently need to do in general.
We really should not underestimate the importance of winning people on an ideological basis. Yes, you can’t win them only with ideas. If you don’t provide political—and in that sense practical—means of waging the struggle against oppression and the system in which all this oppression is rooted, then ultimately you can’t hold them just with ideology. But it’s true as well, and very important to understand, that you also can’t win them politically without winning them ideologically. And besides, we want people to have a vision of what they’re fighting for, in the largest sense.
So all this emphasizes, from a number of angles, the great importance of ideology—and of boldly popularizing, winning people to, and developing their grasp of the emancipating ideology and method of communism.
1. “God Doesn’t Exist—And We Need Liberation Without Gods” and a second talk, “Christianity and Society— the Old Testament and the New Testament, Resistance and Revolution,” are available online as audio downloads at bobavakian.net.