The Oppression of Black People and the Revolutionary Struggle to End All Oppression
Editors' Note: The fourth and final installment begins with the article “Communism Is Not a 'European' Ideology--It Is the Ideology of the International Proletariat,” which was originally published in the Revolutionary Worker #593, February 17, 1991. It is followed by excerpts from another article by Bob Avakian, “Hatred for Oppression--It's Not Just a Personal Thing,” which originally appeared in the Revolutionary Worker #583, December 2, 1990. (Some minor editing has been done in republishing this here, including the addition of some phrases, in brackets within the text, for clarity, and a footnote has been added by the author.)
It is sometimes claimed, particularly by nationalists of various kinds, that communism is "a European ideology." In fact, recently I was reading a report about a discussion some of our people had with some Black college students who raised this and went on to insist that "Black people cannot follow a European ideology, we have to follow an ideology we create ourselves."
First of all, to get down to basics, communism is not the ideology of any one part of the world, any one people, any one nation (or race). It is the ideology of the proletariat, which includes people of all regions and all nations. In the U.S. itself the proletariat is made up of people of many different nationalities--including Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native peoples, as well as whites. And more than that, the proletariat is an international class--it is made up of people of every country, in every part of the world, of every race--and communism is the ideology of this international proletariat.
But let's get into this whole question more fully.
Historical Development of Communist Ideology
It is true that communist ideology was first developed in Europe, by Karl Marx (together with Frederick Engels), in the middle of the 1800s. Why was this the case?
This was a time when the industrial revolution associated with the rapid development of capitalist society was in full swing in parts of Europe. Massive technological changes were taking place and major scientific developments were being made and harnessed to this capitalist enterprise. Together with this rapid development of capitalist industrialization, the social relations of capitalism were also becoming more and more obvious. In particular, it was becoming more and more clear that the interests of the two main classes in capitalist society--the bourgeoisie (the capitalist exploiters) and the proletariat (the working class exploited by the capitalists)--were in fundamental conflict with each other. It was on the basis of all this that Marx founded the ideology of communism. But Marx did not do this in some narrow sense. He drew from a broad range of human experience and knowledge, including philosophy and science as well as economics and politics. He looked back through the history of development of human society and he surveyed the broad field of human experience internationally.
Marx not only exposed that capitalism meant the ruthless exploitation of the workers by the capitalists in Europe itself. He also exposed that from the very beginning capitalism had been founded in the enslavement and even the outright extermination of peoples from Africa to the Americas. He exposed and opposed the colonial powers of that time in their oppression of peoples all over the world, from Ireland to Egypt to India and China. It is true that Marx expected the communist revolution would take place first in Europe, where capitalism was most highly developed, and that this would show the way to the rest of the world. But later in his life, as he saw that this revolution had still not come in Europe, Marx changed some of his particular views accordingly. For example, as he himself said, he had taken the position that a revolution by the workers to overthrow capitalism in England would lead to the liberation of Ireland from English domination, but he had come to see that things were really the other way around--that unless the English workers fought for the liberation of British colonies like Ireland, these workers could never carry out a communist revolution. And he took the same kind of position toward slavery in the United States: not only did Marx actively support the struggle to abolish slavery, but he pointed out that the working people in the U.S. could never emancipate themselves from capitalist wage-slavery if half of their number were chained in outright slavery.
The Russian Revolution--A Bridge to the East
Yet, despite Marx's expectations--and his active work, both theoretical and practical--a communist-led revolution did not come first in Europe. It came instead in Russia. Or, rather, it took place in what had been the Russian empire, which covered a huge area, including not only Russia itself but many other nations as well. Most of this area was not in Europe but in Asia. In fact, this Russian empire was a kind of bridge between West and East, and so was the proletarian revolution that occurred there, beginning in October 1917. This revolution not only brought about the emancipation of the workers from capitalist exploitation. It also brought about the liberation of more than a hundred nations and national minorities who had been cruelly oppressed under the Russian empire. Before the proletarian revolution this empire had been known as "the prison-house of nations." But as a result of the October Revolution this "prison-house of nations" was replaced by the Soviet Union. For several decades, first under the leadership of Lenin and then of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union was a genuine, revolutionary union of the peoples of the country, on the basis of equality and with the proletariat holding political power.
Marxism teaches us that theory develops in relation to, and ultimately on the basis of, practice. The experience of this October Revolution and of the overall situation in which it occurred led to the further development of communist theory. This revolution took place toward the end of the first world war--and this war in turn grew out of the further development of capitalism into a worldwide system of exploitation and oppression, imperialism. It was Lenin, more than anyone else, who led the way in analyzing these new developments and in seizing on the situation to break through the chain of imperialism and carry out the proletarian revolution. Lenin didn't just lead the revolution in the Russian empire--he did everything possible to further this same revolutionary struggle in other countries, not just in Europe but throughout the world. It was on the basis of all this that Lenin developed Marxism to a new and higher stage--Marxism became Marxism-Leninism. Although attempts at proletarian revolution in other countries at that time were defeated--either led astray or crushed outright--still the revolution led by Lenin changed the face of the entire world. One of the most important things it did was to spread communism to the East, linking it with the struggles of the colonized peoples for their emancipation from imperialism. As Mao Tsetung so powerfully put it, the salvos of the October Revolution brought Marxism-Leninism to China, and once the Chinese revolutionaries discovered and took up this ideology they were finally able to take the road leading to complete liberation.
Since that time communism has become even more fully an international movement. More particularly, it has increasingly been linked with and stood at the forefront of the liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples of (what today is often called) the Third World. When these struggles are led by revolutionary communists, it is possible not only to carry out the first great step--overthrowing the domination of imperialism and the local reactionary forces aligned with imperialism. Beyond that, it is possible to take the next, and even greater step--to carry forward the revolutionary struggle to the stage of socialism. Socialism is itself a political-economic system ruled by the proletariat and a transition to communism, which will mean the elimination of classes altogether and with them the end of all oppression and exploitation.
It was in China, a Third World country with 1/4 of the world's population, that this revolution reached its highest peak, under the leadership of the Communist Party headed by Mao Tsetung. In fact, under Mao's leadership the masses of Chinese people not only liberated their country in 1949 and advanced into the socialist stage; they then carried out a further revolution under socialism, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
This revolution was aimed at making further radical changes in the relations between people and in people's thinking. At the same time it was aimed at preventing the rise to power of new capitalist forces, disguising themselves as communists but seeking to bring about capitalist restoration--to bring back the old system of exploitation and oppression. Such a restoration of capitalism had taken place in the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s. It was on the basis of deeply summing up this negative experience in the Soviet Union, as well as carefully analyzing the world situation, that Mao unleashed and led the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, beginning in the mid-1960s. For 10 years this great revolutionary struggle beat back the attempts of the counterfeit communists to take China back down the road of capitalism. But after Mao's death in 1976, these "capitalist-roaders," led by Deng Xiaoping, finally succeeded in seizing power from the proletariat and reversing the revolution in China.
Despite this setback, it remains true that the revolution in China and in particular the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is the highest pinnacle that the proletariat--and indeed humanity as a whole--has yet achieved in the advance toward classless communist society. In the course of leading this revolutionary struggle, through many different stages, while at the same time paying close attention to and making great contributions to the revolutionary struggle worldwide, Mao Tsetung raised communist ideology to a new and still higher stage: Marxism-Leninism has been developed into Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
The Peoples of the World Are Bound Together
From all this it should be very clear that today, more than ever, it is absurd to consider communism some kind of "European ideology." Today communist ideology, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, is more than ever an international and internationalist ideology--it is the ideology of the international proletariat in its world-historic struggle to free itself, and all humanity, from the bonds of exploitation, oppression and the very division of society into different classes.
But more than that, it would be impossible for Marxism to be some kind of "European ideology" in any kind of "pure" sense. By this I mean that Europe and peoples of European descent are themselves the product of different mixtures and influences, both biologically and culturally. In fact, peoples from Africa have played a significant role in this development, as many Black intellectuals have helped to make clear, showing how civilizations and empires from the ancient Egyptian to the more recent Moorish have influenced, interacted with, and at times dominated Europe, or parts of it. It would be very difficult, if not simply impossible, to identify any "European" ideas which did not in some way share in these influences from Africa, as well as from other parts of the world. At the same time, there is not, and there cannot be, any "pure African ideology." Africa, too, has been influenced, directly and indirectly, by many different peoples and cultures. Much of this, of course, has come through conquest and domination--by the Islamic empire as well as various European colonizers and others. Both the Christian and the Islamic religions were imposed on African peoples at swordpoint (and gunpoint). Or, to take another example: some of the foods which make up an important part of the diet of African peoples today (such as peanuts, maize corn, and cassava) were actually brought to Africa from the Americas--the European conquerors and colonizers took many foods from the peoples they found in the Americas and carried them not only to Europe but to many other parts of the world, including Asia and Africa. (In turn it seems that those "native" peoples of the Americas are actually peoples originally from Asia who migrated to the Americas thousands of years ago across a stretch of land that has since been covered by ocean.)
What Is the Source of Ideas?
Even if, in isolated areas of Africa (or some other part of the world), peoples could be found who had never encountered outsiders, parts of their way of thinking would be common to all human beings--reflecting human experience in general--and parts would reflect only their local and particular experience. But these local and particular parts, by definition, could not be the basis for some kind of universal ideology--an ideology reflecting the experience of all the people of Africa (or the world) as a whole. The source of all knowledge is experience, direct or indirect--that is, experience a person (or group of people) has themselves or the experience of others they learn about. The more narrow the experience, the more limited the knowledge; and on the other hand, the broader the experience, the richer the source of knowledge. In today's world especially, any ideology that exerts an influence on large groups of people cannot be "purely" that of any one nation (or race). And if an ideology is meant to reflect the particular experience of a nation (or race) of people, then the fundamental question is: how does it reflect that experience-- how accurately and fully does it reflect that experience and how correctly does it relate that experience to the experience of human beings and their society overall, historically and internationally?
In Today's World, All Ideologies Are Class Ideologies
Today, overwhelmingly, the societies African people live in are societies divided into different classes. (And certainly this was also true of the great civilizations in Africa in the past, such as the ancient Egyptian civilization, which existed on a foundation of slavery.* ) As Mao Tsetung clearly summarized it, "In class society everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class." (The "Red Book," Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung, p. 8) And Mao also made clear that, because the proletariat is the only class in history that can free itself only by emancipating all mankind--because the historic goal of the proletariat is to put an end to the division of society into different classes--for this reason the ideology of the proletariat is the only ideology that both has a definite class stand and at the same time is scientifically truthful.
Let's go back to this idea that Black people "have to follow an ideology we create ourselves." This way of thinking is clearly "stamped with the brand of class," but it is not that of the proletariat. It bears the stamp of the middle class (or petty bourgeoisie), and it also bears the stamp of the Black bourgeoisie--which is the bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation. The middle class precisely stands in the middle between the two major contending classes in today's society--the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The petty bourgeoisie wants to avoid coming under the sway of either of these classes--it tries to carve out an "independent" position between the two. But in reality it ends up swinging back and forth between the bourgeois and the proletarian camp, and it tends to split, with some parts of it ending up in one camp while others end up in the other camp. And, especially in times of the revolutionary rising of the basic masses, some among the petty bourgeoisie actually come over to the side of the proletariat, firmly and wholeheartedly, and are transformed into proletarian revolutionaries.
As a class, the petty bourgeoisie is incapable of ruling society and making its ideas the dominant ideas in society. But it is a common tendency of this class to confuse its own, limited, class position and interests with the general interests of society. Thus, intellectuals from this class repeatedly come up with attempts at creating some kind of "original" or "independent" ideology--which, however, only reflects the same-old, same-old ideology of the petty bourgeoisie, or in some cases the big-time bourgeoisie. This takes different forms among different peoples, depending on their actual situation and role in society.
Among oppressed peoples, such as African-Americans, it often takes the form of some kind of nationalism which is militantly opposed to the ruling structures and ideas but which resists taking up the stand and viewpoint of the group in society that is most fundamentally opposed to these ruling structures and ideas--the proletariat. The notion of creating some kind of "Black" or "African" ideology that is different from and opposed to the ideology of the proletariat--this is an example of such nationalism reflecting the position and outlook of the petty bourgeoisie among Black people.
But, as noted before, this kind of thinking also reflects the position and outlook of the Black bourgeoisie. One of the main concerns of any bourgeoisie is that it have control over the affairs of "its" nation. Fundamentally this means control of economics but it also means control of politics, culture and ideology. When the bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation raises the demand for the independence of its nation, it means independence under the leadership of the bourgeoisie and serving its class interests. The idea of creating a kind of "independent national ideology"--including the idea that "Black people have to follow an ideology that we create ourselves"--this is in line with the interests and viewpoint of the Black bourgeoisie as the bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation.
Of course, thinking such as this, which bears the stamp of the petty bourgeoisie and of the Black bourgeoisie, can and does exert an influence on people of other classes, including among the proletarians. Nationalism of this kind exerts an influence on African-American proletarians, especially because they are subjected to oppression as Black people and are up against the rampant reactionary nationalism of the dominating European-American nation in the U.S. This reactionary white chauvinism (racism) exerts a significant influence on white people, including white proletarians, in the U.S., and it is by far the greater problem that must be struggled against. And it is necessary to unite with the Black petty bourgeoisie and as far as possible with the Black bourgeoisie in the fight against the common oppressor--the imperialist ruling class. But at the same time it is necessary to struggle against all forms of nationalist ideology and firmly uphold proletarian internationalist ideology.
This is an important part of the all-around ideological struggle that must be waged at the same time as waging the struggle against the ruling class in the practical sphere. It is crucial to win the masses to the ideology of the proletariat, in opposition to the ideology of the ruling class and in opposition to the ideology of all other classes as well. It is only in this way that the proletariat and the masses of people can wage a revolutionary struggle in their own highest interests and finally win their own emancipation. The conclusion is this: The most basic thing to ask about any way of thinking, any ideology, is which class does it represent? There is only one ideology that can lead to all-the-way liberation. Only one ideology that is both partisan --openly standing for one side in the struggle--and true --capable of correctly reflecting reality and summing up experience in the broadest and deepest way. It is the ideology that represents the most revolutionary class in the world--the class whose interests lie in radically remaking society to get rid of all forms of exploitation and oppression, and all backward ways of thinking, worldwide. That class is the international proletariat, and its ideology is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
Recently I have been reading reports about building for the speaking tour by Carl Dix, and something that really hit me was the comments by a couple of basic youth about why they joined up with the [Revolutionary Communist Youth] Brigade. In slightly different words but to the same effect they talked about the question of revenge, particularly revenge for what the police do, because they themselves have been brutalized by the police, they have seen family or friends murdered by police, have seen the police rampage through their neighborhoods with no respect for the people. And these youth themselves have been grappling with the question of how this desire for revenge relates to revolution.
Well, first of all, hatred for the oppressor is not only righteous, it is absolutely necessary, and without it you can't even think about getting out from under oppression. Besides that, the way you are treated by the system and how the system's enforcers do you--this is not just a personal thing. How you are treated by the police, by the welfare agencies, by the judges, by the school administrators…and on and on…all this is a product of how the system operates. This is a system that exploits, oppresses, and degrades whole groups of people. In fact, such exploitation, oppression, and degradation is what this system is all about and how this system keeps itself in effect. Hatred for how this comes down on you can be and should be a basis, a starting point, for moving to revolution to get rid of this whole system. But moving to such a revolutionary position also means moving beyond just the desire for revenge, beyond just thinking about how you yourself can get out from under oppression--it means making a leap to where you are out for nothing less than to wipe out and tear up the roots of oppression not just in one place, one country or region, and not just for one group or nation, but worldwide and for humanity overall. This is the stand of the international proletariat and its ideology, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
In reading a report describing how one young brother talked about the cold-blooded murder of a friend by the police, a lot of images came to my mind--images of other vicious murders by police I had known about or heard about but also images of horrendous brutality carried out by enforcers of the same system in many different parts of the world. One image in particular that stuck in my mind was something I have written about before, at the beginning of the book Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? :
"In…Guatemala, numerous accounts in recent years have described scene after scene where government troops enter a village and, after executing everyone of fighting age, proceed to brutally murder old people, rape and kill women, and then take the small children and infants and bash their heads open."
Think about it: the government troops in Guatemala carrying out these sick and beast-like acts are not just the "cousins" of the police in the USA. In fact they are run by the same powers-that-be, by the rulers of the imperialistic USA who are responsible not only for scenes like this in Guatemala but for the same kinds of monstrous things all over the world. And, on the other side, the people who are the victims of such atrocities, all over the world, are our people: we share the same condition of exploitation and oppression and the same mission of rising up to put an end to all this.
If people could sit down and talk with other people from all the different places in the country they're in--and if they could sit down and talk with people from all over the world--they would come to see that the masses of people share the same basic conditions everywhere. And, in fact, there is a way in which people can do that: It is the role of the vanguard forces of the proletarian revolution--which in the USA means the RCP,USA--to be the means through which oppressed people "sit down and talk with each other," in effect. That is, it is through the work of their vanguard (and in this the Party's newspaper and other publications are crucial) that the masses of people come to know the situation of people like themselves not just in a particular country but worldwide. They come to see that they have a common problem--the imperialist system and all relations of exploitation and oppression--and a common solution: proletarian revolution to uproot all such systems and all such relations, worldwide. In conclusion, let me go back to the point I started with: the question of revenge and its relations to revolution. I believe the following can serve as a basic summary of the viewpoint of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism on this question:
"What we need is not simply to strike back against the oppressor, not simply to get some revenge, but much more than that to rise up all the way, carry through and make revolution." [ BULLETS, From the Writings, Speeches, and Interviews of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA , RCP Publications, 1985, p. 23.]
"If we didn't have the burning desire to get rid of all this and bury it once and for all, then we would have no right to call ourselves revolutionaries, and we would never be able to lead anybody in making revolution. But that spirit will never make a revolution by itself. It has to be tempered with revolutionary theory and a scientific method to be able to deal with the complexities of what a revolution is about and to be able to bring forward the force that can actually make a revolution, and that is the masses of people in their millions."[Bullets, p. 191]
"It is only the international proletariat that needs no excuses or apologies, in some form or other, for exploitation, the oppression of women and of nations and national minorities, war, and a thousand other monstrosities; it is only the class-conscious revolutionary proletariat that insists that all these things can and will be eliminated from the earth. When this outlook and this leadership is combined with the anger and burning desire of the masses of oppressed to put an end to all this--then an unconquerable force is forged." [Reflections, Sketches, and Provocations, by Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 1990, p. 133.]
* FOOTNOTE ADDED BY THE AUTHOR FOR THE RE-PUBLICATION OF THIS ARTICLE IN FEBRUARY 2007: As to the question of slavery in ancient Egypt (the Egypt of the Pharaohs), there are in fact conflicting views, and further research and analysis remains to be done to determine more fully the precise role that slavery played in that ancient Egyptian society. But it is already clear that slavery, including the enslavement of people conquered and subjugated by the Egyptian state, such as the Nubians to the south of Egypt itself, was a significant phenomenon (even while, at other times, Nubians conquered and became the ruling group within Egypt); and it is clear that more generally (and along with outright enslavement of some), ancient Egyptian society, and its state, rested on a foundation of exploitation and oppression of the masses of people, in various forms, by the ruling elites, headed by and concentrated in the Pharaohs.