Bob Avakian On
1968 & 2020: LIES THEN, LIES NOW
AND THE ACTUAL URGENT CHALLENGES
As the election scheduled for this November approaches, everyone who stands against injustice and is outraged by the Trump/Pence regime (and there are tens of millions who hate everything this regime says and does) is being bombarded with the declaration that it would be outright criminal not to vote for Joe Biden and the Democrats, and that voting for Biden and the Democrats is the most important and vital political act people can carry out. Once again, people who have been taking to the streets in powerful protest are being preached at that protest is good but, to be really effective, their passion must be funneled into the elections, and that this is especially true this time. Often this is accompanied by “words of wisdom” from people who lived through the 1960s (or who, in any case, claim to be drawing crucial lessons from that time) insisting that the “tragic experience” of the 1968 election must not be repeated. According to this false re-written history, people who had become radicalized (in a very positive way) through the experience of those times—in their opposition to the Vietnam war, the oppression of Black people and other racial and gender oppression—and refused to vote for the Democratic Party candidate for president, Hubert Humphrey, were responsible for opening the gates to the reactionary “backlash” that took off with the election of Richard Nixon that year. This supposed “analysis” is just wrong, in many important ways.
The Real Lessons From Those Times
First of all, the mass opposition to the unjust U.S. war in Vietnam, and the all-around oppressive nature of this system, and the positive radicalization of masses of people, grew in numbers and gained momentum for several years after that 1968 election. This very fact—that growing numbers of people, from many parts of society, including large numbers of middle class white youth as well as Black people and other oppressed people, were motivated by revolutionary sentiments and aspirations and were breaking out of the suffocating confines of the conventional “norms” of this system, including its BEB (Bourgeois Electoral Bullshit)—this is a cause for great “upset” among those who are responsible for spreading this false tale that it was a terrible mistake, and led to terrible consequences, not to vote for Humphrey. (The fact that the revolutionary upsurge of that time did not continue past the mid-1970s and did not lead to fundamental change—this does not revolve around Richard Nixon’s election in 1968, or his re-election in 1972, but involves a combination of different factors, including repression by the ruling class, along with some moves to co-opt sections of the rebellious population, in the context of major changes in the objective situation not just within the U.S. but internationally as well. In a number of works I have analyzed some of the major factors involved.1)
Humphrey (who had been vice-president during the years that Lyndon Johnson, as president, had massively escalated the U.S. war in Vietnam) was himself a hard-core “cold war warrior,” who consistently supported the war in Vietnam, and only began to make some meaningless talk about some kind of negotiations with the Vietnamese as the presidential election approached, in an attempt to “corral” people involved in the anti-war movement. There is absolutely no good reason to believe that, if Humphrey had been elected president in 1968, this would have brought about any significant positive change in either the U.S. war in Vietnam, or in the ongoing oppression of Black people and the vicious repression that was brought down against the massive uprisings of Black people that repeatedly occurred at that time, or in any of the other ways in which oppression is built into this system of capitalism-imperialism. It was the people opposing the system in all kinds of ways, especially by taking to the streets in protest and rebellion, that led to the very positive things that happened during that time.
And it was with Nixon as president (after he had soundly defeated the “anti-war” candidate George McGovern in 1972) that the U.S. finally withdrew from Vietnam. Examining this experience in Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, I made the point that in 1964 people who opposed the Vietnam war were told, emphatically, that they had to vote for the Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, because his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, would massively escalate the Vietnam war—and then Johnson, upon being re-elected as president, did exactly that. Then in 1972, it was insisted that people had to vote for McGovern to end the Vietnam war but, again, it was Nixon who, soon after that election, signed a “peace agreement” with the Vietnamese. And summing up the crucial lesson: “in neither case—neither in 1964 nor in 1972—were the decisive changes that occurred brought about by the elections. Quite the contrary.”
The reason for this has to do with something very basic:
Elections do not provide an avenue for the realization of the desire of masses of people to see these policies and actions of the government change—although mass political resistance can, under certain circumstances, make an important contribution to forcing changes in government policy, especially if this takes place in a larger context where these policies are running into real trouble and, among other things, are leading to heightened divisions within the ruling class itself.2
The Crucial Challenges Now
But, at the same time as we are fed false history from the 1960s, we are told that it is different this time. Many who make this argument do so by invoking the fact that Trump (and Pence) are fascists (or on the road to fascism, or some other variation of this position). Yes, it is true, this is a fascist regime (and this is something those of us, from many diverse political perspectives, who have initiated and worked to build the organization Refuse Fascism [RefuseFascism.org] in its efforts to bring about massive, non-violent but sustained mobilization to drive out this regime, have been saying from the beginning). This regime does pose a great threat to humanity, with its program of carrying the oppression and exploitation built into this system, and its plunder of people and the environment, to even greater extremes. And it would have been very good—it could have made a real difference—if, during the nearly four years of this regime, with all the outrages it has repeatedly committed, those who are now insisting we must vote for Joe Biden and the Democrats had joined with Refuse Fascism in bringing about the mass mobilization it has been calling for, and working to build, to drive out this regime. Now, the hour is getting late—but it is still not too late to make this mass mobilization a reality. Relying on the “norms” and “regular channels” of this system will not solve this profound and urgent problem, especially when dealing with a fascist regime and its fanatical followers that are determined to trample on and tear up those “norms.”
As I emphasized in “Radical Change Is Coming,” even assuming the election scheduled for November is held (and not canceled or “delayed” by Trump, citing health dangers from COVID-19 or some other hypocritical pretext), there is certainly no guarantee that Trump will lose, or that he will accept the results if he does lose. But what is certain—what is already happening and will happen on an even greater scale and with even greater intensity—is that Trump and the Republicans, and their fascist “base,” will seek to intimidate and suppress the votes of large numbers of people who would vote against Trump. And it is entirely possible that Trump would move to mobilize his supporters within the police and military, as well as “Second Amendment people,” in the attempt to prevent his removal from office if he does lose the election but refuses to recognize this.3
For all these reasons, waiting for the next presidential election and relying on voting, while doing nothing meaningful now to actively oppose the fascism of the Trump/Pence regime, is a recipe for dangerous paralysis and potential disaster. Not only in Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, but in a number of other works as well, I have spoken to why no fundamental change for the better can come through voting under this system, and as an overall phenomenon voting actually reinforces this monstrous system of capitalism-imperialism that the politicians of both ruling class parties (Democrat as well as Republican) actually represent.4 But, expressed as the intention to vote or not, the truly massive hatred for the Trump/Pence regime, and everything it stands for, must not be reduced to and simply funneled into the electoral process. It must be manifested as active mobilization in the streets against this regime, in an ongoing way, linked in a powerful way with a continuation of the outpouring against institutionalized white supremacy and police terror, with the orientation of driving out this fascist regime and continuing this struggle even past November, regardless of what happens with the scheduled election, in order to powerfully oppose the fascism that is being mobilized in society as a whole, and to build further momentum in the overall struggle against oppression.
And here is a fact of fundamental importance: While it is crucial to unite and mobilize people, from different perspectives, very broadly, in the movement to drive out this regime,
it will be much more difficult to do this on the scale and with the determination that is required to meet this objective if there are not, at the same time, greater and greater numbers of people who have been brought forward around the understanding that it is necessary to put an end not only to this regime but to the system out of whose deep and defining contradictions this regime has arisen, a system which by its very nature has imposed, and will continue to impose, horrific and completely unnecessary suffering on the masses of humanity, until this system itself is abolished. And the more that people are brought forward to be consciously, actively working for revolution, the growing strength and “moral authority” of this revolutionary force will in turn strengthen the resolve of growing numbers of people to drive out this fascist regime now in power, even as many will not be (and some will perhaps never be) won to revolution. So, both to meet the immediate challenge of creating a political situation in which this regime will be removed from power—and in which the political initiative has been seized to a great degree by those who are determined to turn back the assault on humanity that is being carried out by this regime and to strive for a better world, however they understand that—and to advance toward the fundamental goal of revolution, it is vitally important that all those who have come to understand the need for revolution actively contribute to building the movement to drive out this regime, and do so from the perspective and in the overall framework of building for revolution.5
1. As pointed out in a footnote to the article by Bob Avakian, “Boomers”—“X,Y,Z”: The Problem Is Not “Generations,” It’s The System (also available at TheBobAvakianInstitute.org and revcom.us):
In a number of works—including Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution; Breakthroughs: The Historic Breakthrough by Marx and the Further Breakthrough with the New Communism, A Basic Summary; HOPE FOR HUMANITY ON A SCIENTIFIC BASIS, Breaking with Individualism, Parasitism and American Chauvinism; and Bob Avakian Responds To Mark Rudd On The Lessons Of The 1960s And The Need For An Actual Revolution (all of which are available at revcom.us)—Bob Avakian speaks further to “why there was no revolution” at the height of the 1960s upsurges and “major changes, largely of a negative kind, that have taken place over the decades since.” [back]
3. Radical Change Is Coming: Will It Be Emancipating, Or Enslaving—Revolutionary, Or Reactionary? This article by Bob Avakian is available at TheBobAvakianInstitute.org and revcom.us. [back]
4. See, for example, Bob Avakian Exposes the BEB (Bourgeois Electoral Bullshit): If You Want To See No Fundamental Change—Go Vote, which is available at revcom.us. [back]