Grasp Revolution, Promote Production - Questions of Outlook and Method, Some Points on the New Situation
by Bob Avakian
A series of excerpts from an important tape-recorded talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, in the first part of 2002, "GRASP REVOLUTION, PROMOTE PRODUCTION, Questions of Outlook and Method, Some Points on the New Situation." These excerpts have been edited for publication here. Footnotes have also been added.
One thing that is becoming more and more clear and is standing out more and more acutely as events have unfolded since September 11 is the fact that the objectives of the U.S. imperialists relate only secondarily and decreasingly to the events of September 11 themselves.*
Take, for example, the situation with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Political leaders and representatives of the U.S. imperialists are openly saying, "Saddam Hussein was a problem before September 11, and he's a problem after September 11." And while there will undoubtedly be further attempts on their part to concoct certain connections between Iraq/Saddam Hussein and the September 11 events, in the main that's not what they're going to do--not only because it's very likely not true, which wouldn't bother them, but also because even their own objectives don't necessarily lie in the direction of linking it that closely.
They've declared an open-ended war and their right to make war on anybody, basically for any reason, at any time, anywhere, by any means--including nuclear weapons. So, even though they may concoct some connection with September 11, it also serves their purposes to at least have another track going where they are basically saying: it's not because of September 11; it's because he's a problem for us. For public consumption, they try to relate this to his alleged development of weapons of mass destruction, even though, during the many years that the UN inspectors were there, it was clear that they had overseen the destruction of most of the facility and ability to produce those weapons, and it's certainly credible when the Iraqis say that the conflict with the inspectors reached the breaking point in 1998 because these inspectors were being used as spies for a heightened attack on Iraq--which, it now becomes all the more clear, the U.S. has been wanting to do all along.
This gets back to what we've referred to as a sort of "Mafia gangster logic"-- understanding this on a worldwide and monstrous scale. Besides other problems that Saddam Hussein's regime may cause for them in that region and in terms of their wild ambitions for that part of the world and for reordering the world overall more firmly under their domination, the U.S. imperialists can't even allow someone to remain standing who has stood up to them, even in the partial and limited way that Saddam Hussein did. And they feel that, whatever necessity they had to leave him in power, even though with reduced power, after the Gulf War a decade ago, now they no longer have that necessity and instead they have necessity to get rid of him (and freedom to do so, they believe).
So, we can see that this is not really a war on terrorism (although there is an aspect of their dealing with groups that would fit an objective definition of "terrorist" in various parts of the world where they may interfere with the imperialists' strategic objectives). But it is really part of an overall drive on the part of the U.S. imperialists to intensify and raise to another level their domination throughout the world (and not just in regions in which they've been focusing at this point, beginning with Afghanistan) and even to force a reshuffling, if you will, in relation to other imperialist powers, for example in Europe, who are being put in the position where, while they have objections and problems with what the U.S. is doing, they're just going to have to find their place in relation to that. This is the orientation with which the U.S. is carrying this out. Now, what they want to do and what they'll be able to do--what they're trying to control and what they'll be able to control--are not necessarily the same thing. But in terms of their objectives, I think it's important to look at it this way.
The point is that, on the one hand, they are attempting to seize on the freedom they see in the situation, to reorder things in the Middle East, and in fact worldwide, more firmly under their domination; but, because there are many other forces that are "at play" in that part of the world, and in the world at large, which could undermine, further "destabilize" and even unravel important parts of the structure of power relations, threatening and perhaps even toppling regimes that are part of the present imperialist world order, the U.S. imperialists also have real necessity to act to recast things in this way. (Besides Palestine, think of places like Saudi Arabia, or Egypt, or Pakistan, for example.) And, while this juggernaut will have an aspect in which the U.S. imperialists will be aggressively seeking to bludgeon things into an order even more firmly under their hegemony, this will also set into motion, or intensify, forces and conflicts, in many parts of the world, which could get out of the control of these imperialists, even wildly out of their control.
It is also important to stress that this is rooted in their nature as imperialists and in the nature of the imperialist system. It's not just a matter that you've got madmen in there [BA laughs]. I've heard (and I think it's actually been verified) that Henry Kissinger, who has himself been described as "Dr. Strangelove," was asked, "Well, you've seen a lot of despots and cruel absolute rulers in the world, and so on and so forth. Whom would you rate at the very top of it?" And I guess the interviewer was thinking about people like Pinochet or whatever. And apparently Kissinger's answer was: "Rumsfeld." [BA laughs] But even if you take this as apocryphal, and whatever Kissinger had in mind in saying that (or whether he even literally said it), the fact is that it's not just that you have these gleeful butchers like Rumsfeld, who seems to be most happy, as do Bush and the rest of them, when they're talking about how they're destroying and killing people. It's not just that there is a certain group like that in power, or even just that they are drunk with power in a certain way and gleefully going about these horrendous objectives they have. More fundamentally, this is rooted in the very nature of the system. And, while we shouldn't be insisting, as a basis of unity, that everyone unite with this viewpoint on the nature of the system, we should be striving to bring people this understanding through all the work that we're doing.
You hear about things being said like, "Well, if people would just not drive these gas-guzzling SUVs, then we wouldn't be so dependent on foreign oil"--all these sort of mixed-up ideas, left and right, all thrown together--but this doesn't get at the essence of the problem. It's not just a matter of the U.S. being dependent on fossil fuels or whatever. There's truth to that in a certain sense, but it's secondary to the essential nature of the system and the way that expresses itself and takes form in the context of this situation and in terms of the objectives of the imperialists. It's not just that Bush and Cheney are oil men. Sometimes there's a sort of crude populist agitation that some people put out, that it's all about oil and Bush and Cheney are oil men, and that's the problem. Well, again, there's secondarily an aspect of truth in this, in the sense that they do have a particular interest in oil and there is a particular importance to oil, but that's not the essence of it. It's much more fundamental and much more all-encompassing, having to do with the very nature of this system.
This whole juggernaut and its unfolding precisely illustrates the actual nature of the imperialist system, in contrast to a number of mistaken and illusory notions about the nature of the beast that people are up against. I'm not going to go into all that here, but the notion, for example, that it's just bunch of corporations, or multinational corporations with their international institutions and instruments--and that the role of the nation state has somehow significantly diminished in this period or this era of globalization-- stands out starkly in contrast to the actual reality that's asserting itself here. What's clearly being demonstrated is that these imperialists have interests as a class and that they are driven by the dynamics of their own system and the ways this assumes concentrated form through the state and the contention among imperialist states. This is also in the nature of their system. It's not one undifferentiated imperialist system. There's a great divide in the world between the imperialist countries and the oppressed nations of the world (or what's broadly referred to as the Third World); and there is also very sharp division and contention between the different imperialist countries, even when the U.S. has, at this point, a dominating position in relation to the rest of them (or a clearly superior position).
These are things that are underlying what's going on; this is being borne out and sharply illustrated by what's happening. I mean [BA laughs], is the nation state of U.S. imperialism irrelevant? Is it not playing a big role? Through what forms and means are the U.S. imperialists carrying out their juggernaut at this point, particularly in its international and war dimension, if not through the imperialist state-- representing not the narrow interests of this or that particular capitalist or group of capitalists, but in a fundamental and all-around sense representing the interests of the ruling class of the imperialist nation state as a whole, even while imperialism continues to operate as a global system of exploitation and plunder? These are very important things to understand. (Technically, the U.S. could be called a multi-national state, but the principle involved is the same.)
Even these international institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, etc., are not supranational in the sense that they've done away with the influence or role of the nation state--nor are they tending toward doing so, certainly not in any immediate or short-term sense, or even looking quite a ways into the future. To the contrary, all these institutions are, at one and the same time, instruments of imperialist domination and arenas of imperialist contention. Generally speaking, in all these international forums and vehicles and instrumentalities, the U.S. imperialists have the upper hand and play the dominant role, but there is contention among the imperialists over this--they contend in and through these things for their particular interests as imperialists while they also collude in another sense to carry out their general interests vis-á-vis particularly the oppressed nations of the world. And these two things obviously interpenetrate, that is, the way in which they are instruments of imperialist domination exists in dialectical relation with the ways in which they are arenas of inter-imperialist contention.
This is the way we have to understand things, this is the reality of what these particular institutions are and the way that they function, but also the reality in general of the nature of the beast that we're actually up against.
Another important point to emphasize is the potential for unpredicted developments to arise, including and specifically in relation to this whole juggernaut. This is particularly obvious in this period with the intensification of events in Palestine, for example. But even the whole way in which these events erupted that provided the occasion, or pretext, for this juggernaut (what happened on September 11, to put it simply) was widely, and wildly, unexpected. Maybe a few imperialists and others had some inkling of something, as I said earlier, but certainly in a general sense these events were completely unexpected. At the same time, as we pointed out in the supplement on this new situation, this has to do also with the way certain other contradictions in the world were resolved previously--which was also unexpected by almost everyone, including our Party, as we pointed out in our self-criticism in "Notes on Political Economy"**--the whole way in which the "Cold War" was resolved with the implosion and dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire in that form.
So there is another principle that is asserting itself here. It is a principle of reality in general that things often develop in unexpected ways, and no matter how comprehensive and systematic we are in applying our scientific outlook and methodology, even we are going to be surprised by many events. That's in the nature of reality (and it has to do with the contradiction between accident and necessity, which I'm going to touch on briefly in a minute). But, in any case, this is a feature of reality in general, and specifically it's going to pertain to and already has stood out very sharply in relation to September 11 and the whole juggernaut that has been unleashed since then and is ongoing.
So, on the one hand, there have been and will be many events that are unexpected, although on another level, if we dig deeper, we can see the basis from which these things arose. In other words, here again we have another unity of opposites--between accident and necessity, or another way to put that: between the unanticipated (and even the unanticipatable) in these developments, on the one hand, and on the other hand, underlying factors which, if we examine them, we can recognize as causal. These things didn't arise out of nowhere. There is a certain necessity, a certain reality in its motion and development, that gave rise to these things. And this, again, is an important principle--that there is a unity of opposites between accident and necessity.
This relates to the principle, which Mao spoke to, that what's universal in one context is particular in another, and vice versa. What's accident in one context is necessity in another--or has cause on another level, if you want to put it that way. Let's take an example I've spoken to before: when Columbus came to the Americas, he intended to go somewhere else [BA laughs], so in one sense, on that level, it was an accident that he arrived in the Americas. (We know of the atrocities and genocide carried out by Columbus, and in his wake, and the horrendous consequences for the indigenous peoples; but here I am speaking of the role of accident in his arrival in the Americas.) But was this totally random and without cause? No. There were reasons why he ended up in the Americas. And each reason (or cause) would, in turn, again divide into the contradictory aspects of accident and necessity (or contingency and cause). This is the way reality is, and again it's a matter of understanding different levels and the interpenetration of different levels (of matter in motion). I'm going into this point not only in terms of general understanding of philosophical questions, so to speak, but because it's important in terms of being able to deal with the unanticipated and at the same time to dig more deeply and to discover the underlying causes which are giving rise to this, to understand what the overall motion and development is, and is likely to be, at any given time, even while we have an orientation that gives us a certain "tenseness" toward--and enables us to be as prepared as possible for dealing with--the unanticipated (or even, in a certain sense, the "unanticipatable").
There are many things that illustrate this. For example, I mentioned Palestine, which is a very acute demonstration of the point that we have made about how things could get wildly out of control and have unanticipated results for the other side, as well as for the side of the people, broadly speaking. (Even though, up to this point, we could not say that Palestine itself has gotten completely out of the control of the imperialists, it has certainly embodied unexpected developments for them and has caused them significant problems.) Also, look at things like Pakistan and India and Kashmir: while there were underlying contradictions that were at play before September 11, there are important ways in which they have been accentuated by what happened then, and moreover by what the U.S. imperialists have unleashed since then. You can't really think about what has been happening in Kashmir, for example, or the attack on the Parliament in India, and the response of India, and then Pakistan and India both mobilizing their armies-- and even the crazy stuff going on between the Hindus and the Moslems in parts of India, the communal religious riots and everything else--in isolation from the events of September 11 and the juggernaut the imperialists have unleashed. While the underlying conflicts were there, and would have given rise to certain clashes in any case, the way in which these have expressed themselves and the acuteness with which they've expressed themselves are by no means unrelated to--and, in fact, are in important ways related to and greatly influenced by--this whole juggernaut.
And here again comes to the fore the importance of grasping that what is involved in this whole juggernaut is a "cauldron of contradictions" and of recognizing the potential volatility of this whole situation, and--you can put it in these terms--the certainty, in a certain sense, of unanticipated events (not only events unanticipated by us but also events unanticipated by the imperialists themselves). And what we are able to wrench out of all this has a tremendous amount to do with our ability to correctly analyze and then to engage and transform the objective conditions.
Another important principle to stress in relation to the challenge of building resistance to this juggernaut is the difference between building the broadest possible unity in a static way, which means pitching things to the lowest common denominator, and doing this in a dynamic way, which means that you establish the dividing lines and the basis of unity in accordance with what the greatest number of people can be won to, not what they already think or are already prepared to move around. Now, of course, that's a dynamic thing itself and it changes as the struggle develops, but the point is this: if you conceived of building the broadest possible unity in a linear way, as opposed to a dialectical way, what you would do is go to the farthest point to the right that corresponded to where you wanted to, or thought you could, unite people, and then take up that position. That would be the way you would seek to unite all who could possibly be united. Well, that won't work.
When you pitch things to the lowest common denominator, you don't bring forward the advanced. You don't get that kind of dynamic going where the dialectic between action and education--between actually bringing forward an opposition and posing more sharply the challenges and questions to bring other people forward--gets going in a positive way. So what needs to be done is to make an analysis looking beyond the temporary and the superficial to see what it is that the broadest number of people can be united around through work and through developing struggle in a way that draws the dividing lines and builds the unity that actually directs the spearhead where it needs to be directed, against the juggernaut of the U.S. government, and directs it in the most powerful way--actually corresponds with the objective of derailing this juggernaut, and not just opposing it (although, obviously, opposing it is important [BA laughs] and is dialectically related to derailing it).
Another question I want to touch on relatively briefly here, although obviously it's a decisive question, is the relation between stopping or derailing this juggernaut and actually making revolution to overthrow imperialism, in particular in the U.S. itself. Here again, we have to grasp and handle this contradiction in a dialectical, as opposed to a mechanical, way.
A fundamental and essential question poses itself: Is it actually possible to stop this whole juggernaut without carrying out proletarian revolution? Well, we'll learn that in the event, as things actually develop, but certainly we can't say at this point that it would be impossible to stop this juggernaut without achieving the actual overthrow of the whole system--that only through revolution, to put it simply, could this juggernaut be derailed. Now, that may turn out to be the case, but that's not something we can determine at this point. So when we put forward the objective of actually stopping this juggernaut, it's not a gimmick; it's not a way to get people on a train, an express train with no local stops that goes only to revolution. It's an orientation toward actually uniting with people with a real objective in mind. We're not promising people that this is going to happen one way or the other, or pretending that we know the whole outcome of this. What we are saying is that we must have this as an objective--to stop this juggernaut--and we're serious in seeking to stop it, even if it means that it gets derailed short of revolution, because that will contribute greatly to revolution in any case, besides the fact that in terms of the two 90/10s***, and particularly in terms of the interests of the people of the world and their revolutionary struggles, it's important to stop this juggernaut.
But, at the same time, if we're not bringing forward, through the course of all this, the need for proletarian revolution, if we're not showing in a living way how this juggernaut is rooted in the very nature of this system--that it's one particular, concentrated expression of the nature of the beast and why we need to do in this beast--then we're not meeting what we need to be meeting in terms of the needs of the people and in terms of our revolutionary objectives. So this is another contradiction we're going to have to handle, once again, not in a linear or mechanical way but in a dialectical way, in accordance with the complexity of how these contradictions play out.
The last point I want to speak to on the current situation is something that was also spoken to in the tape-recorded talk from which the supplement "The New Situation and the Great Challenges" was taken: the relation between building opposition to this juggernaut and developing all around struggles against the system--and, in turn, the relation of all this to strategic revolutionary objectives. Now, in that talk it was pointed out that, in a sense, everything is different now. In a very real sense, we do have a whole new situation. That's why we titled the Supplement "The New Situation and the Great Challenges." There is a new situation. The terms of things have been recast by what's been unleashed--not so much by the September 11 events themselves, but by the imperialist juggernaut and all the wild ambitions and objectives they have, but also all the craziness and volcanic character of everything that they have already unleashed and even more what will be unleashed through the course of this open- ended war that they're declaring. So everything has changed in that sense. The terms of things have been recast, and even ongoing events and struggles take place in a new context.
But here again it's important to correctly handle this, to handle it dialectically and not in a linear or mechanical way. This doesn't mean that all the other struggles should either be abandoned, because everything should be concentrated in the struggle against the juggernaut, or they should all be mechanically linked to, or reduced to, how they directly, one-to-one, relate to this juggernaut and to the struggle against it. These other struggles still have their own life and dynamic in a relative (not in an absolute) sense. This applies to the anti-globalization struggle, for example. The struggle against capitalist globalization is important to continue and deepen and broaden in its own right, and it's heartening to see that this struggle is continuing, but obviously this closely interpenetrates with the question of war--and this is being broadly recognized by people, which is a very powerful positive factor to be fully mobilizing and building on. But there's a need, even while that's true, to also continue with the struggle against capitalist globalization "in its own right," to develop that even while we win more and more people within that movement and its broadening ranks to take up, and even to take up centrally, the struggle against the imperialist juggernaut. So this is another relation we're going to have to handle correctly.
The same thing is true with regard to many other movements and fronts of resistance, whether you're talking about the struggle around the environment or, for example, the battle around abortion or more broadly around the oppression of women, or the struggle against national oppression and certain acute manifestations of that, like police brutality. And the line from the bourgeoisie that "everything is different" does not seem to have been borne out in things like recent Abner Louima legal decisions (overturning convictions of cops involved), it doesn't seem to have stopped the police from continuing to brutalize and murder people. So things have not changed--everything is not different--in that sense. And from our side, we shouldn't be folding up these struggles or thinking that they don't have an important role now, nor should we be seeking to link them in a mechanical way with the struggle against the juggernaut or reduce them all to how they fit into that struggle in a linear, undialectical sense. We should, on the one hand, recognize the new context in which they're taking place but at the same time grasp the importance of building them in their own right and according to their own dynamic and the forces they call into motion and unleash, even while we continue to make the struggle against the juggernaut the main thing, and even while we work to correctly link these other struggles with the resistance to the juggernaut-- and , in turn, to link all this to our strategic revolutionary objectives.
Another dimension to this which is very important is work among the proletarians and other basic masses. The Party has been carrying out concentrated work to build revolutionary strongholds among these masses and to bring forward especially the advanced among them as a class-conscious force. Now, obviously, this is important in relation to the juggernaut, but it is also important in an all-around way.
And there are certain dynamics resulting from the basic phenomenon that Mao put emphasis on: where there is oppression, there will be resistance. There are various forms of the exploitation and oppression of different sections of the proletariat and basic masses, and the oppression and exploitation they suffer calls forth different kinds of struggles. It is extremely important for us to continue to work in relation to this, to apply the mass line, to bring forward all positive factors out of all this, and above all to bring forward a class-conscious revolutionary force among these masses. Again, this is important in relation to the struggle against the juggernaut, in order to give it, over time, more backbone and more of a driving revolutionary force, which will help strengthen the basis for uniting people broadly. And, even more fundamentally, if we don't bring forward a class-conscious force from among the proletariat and basic masses--and, yes, a lot of that does have to do with the juggernaut, but it's not all reducible to the struggle against the juggernaut--if we don't bring that forward, then ultimately, while we will accomplish many important things if we do our work well in other spheres (and while other forces will, both with us and independently of us, contribute important things) we will not be advancing toward the ultimate resolution of this and toward uprooting the basis for wave after wave of more horrors unleashed by the imperialist system in all kinds of ways. In other words, we need to bring forward a class-conscious force of proletarians and other basic masses to add strength and vitality and a driving force to the different struggles and in particular the struggle against the juggernaut now; but we also need to be bringing it forward in order to advance toward our strategic revolutionary objectives.
* As pointed out in the RW special supplement ("The New Situation and the Great Challenges") the U.S. government did have a certain necessity to respond to the events of September 11. Not that they give a damn about the civilian lives that were lost in the World Trade Center, for example, but they can't allow even the appearance that somebody can come along and just punch them in the nose and get away with it, and they also can't allow the appearance that they can't regulate their own home base, that they can't protect people's lives in the U.S. or even that they can't keep the society functioning and chaos is about to be fully unloosed on this society. That supplement also touches on some of the Byzantine character of all these kinds of things. It quotes the statement by the Committee of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement to the effect that in the murky world of intelligence, where duplicity is the currency, it may never be possible to know exactly who was involved in these events. So, we can't even rule out the possibility that at least sections of the U.S. ruling class (or operatives of that ruling class) at a minimum had some advance warning that something was coming, even if they weren't directly involved in it. We can't say for certain what intelligence agencies various people may be working for-- knowingly or unknowingly. All these kinds of things may never be able to be answered fully. They certainly can't be answered now and can only be addressed speculatively at most (on our side--leaving aside what the imperialists may know, and be concealing, about all this). But whatever the truth is about that, these imperialists did have a certain necessity in terms of responding to what happened. ["The New Situation and the Great Challenges" was based on a previous talk by Bob Avakian, published in RW #1143 and is available online at rwor.org.]
[Return to article]
** "Notes on Political Economy" is available from RCP Publications, Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654 and online at rwor.org.
[Return to article]
*** The "two 90/10s" refers to a formulation in the Draft Programme of the RCP, in the section on building a united front under the leadership of the proletariat (UFuLP), where it speaks to the importance of seeking to win over the great majority of people within the U.S. itself (the "90 percent") "while doing this in unity with the `90 percent' internationally, the great majority of the people of the world who suffer exploitation and oppression under the domination of imperialism and its allies and puppets."
[Return to article]