The Fight Against Oppression and the Leadership That Is Needed
by Bob Avakian
June 18, 2022
These days we hear a lot, from certain quarters, about how it is necessary to follow the leadership of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). But, in reality, there is no such thing as “BIPOC Leadership”—and no such thing as BIPOC, as some kind of uniform and unified social force.
Of course, there are Black people, indigenous people, and other people of color, and all of these peoples are subjected to various forms of discrimination and oppression. But there are very real differences within each of these peoples and between them. Each has their own particular history, and present circumstances, in relation to the historical development and present reality of this country and the system that rules in this country (and dominates in the world as a whole): the system of capitalism-imperialism. And within each of these peoples there are different classes, and social groups, and people with different—in some cases radically different—ideological and political viewpoints and goals.
The point is not that there is no basis for uniting the masses of people of these different groups. But a unity that will lead to actually putting an end to their oppression—and all oppression—will not, and cannot, be developed by following the notion that some supposedly uniform “BIPOC” must and will lead.
In this regard, here are some relevant questions: Is the fascist Supreme Court “justice” Clarence Thomas part of the BIPOC whose leadership should be followed? Was the repeat offender war criminal Colin Powell part of BIPOC while he was alive? What about Barack Obama—himself also guilty of terrible war crimes and crimes against humanity? How about the indigenous “leaders” who collaborated with the FBI to violently suppress the Wounded Knee uprising led by AIM (the American Indian Movement) in the 1970s, and similar types of reactionary indigenous “leaders” today? Or those fascist-minded Cubans and Venezuelans in South Florida? Or the Latino Catholic Church officials who are vigorously opposing the right to abortion? Or what about Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation in the Trump cabinet (and wife of Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell)? All these individuals are “people of color”—but should anybody be following them?
If, in answer to this, the argument is, “Of course, people like that are not part of the BIPOC whose leadership should be followed,” then that only raises this very relevant question: Who decides that people like that are not part of this BIPOC? If the answer to that is something along the lines that “BIPOC people” are those who are themselves oppressed (or “marginalized”) and represent the real interests of the “marginalized,” then this only begs yet other questions: Who decides this? Which people—among the different “BIPOC” groups (and sub-groups), with very different ideas and objectives—get to decide what are the real interests of the “marginalized”? Who decides which people make up “the authentic BIPOC,” which in turn decides who can be part of BIPOC with the “right” to exercise “BIPOC Leadership”?
And so it goes, round and round in a narrow circle, never escaping the conceptual cul-de-sac—the dead-end notion—of “BIPOC Leadership.”
The whole idea of “BIPOC Leadership” is based on the idealized notion that, just because people are part of a group that is oppressed, that in itself endows them with some kind of “righteous essence,” automatically shielding them from the influence of the dominant bullshit in society, or that they have some kind of inherent “special ability” to identify the cause of oppression and what is necessary to put an end to it. This is not only wrong, it is actually very harmful. Of course, people who are oppressed have a lot to say about the effects of that oppression, and that is obviously important. But understanding where the oppression comes from, and what to do to about it, requires most fundamentally taking up and applying a scientific method and approach—to dig down to the underlying causes of things—and it is that scientific method and approach that will enable people (whatever their “identity”) to lead things where they need to go.
Truth Is Not Determined by “Identity”—and Neither Is the Leadership That Is Needed
All this points to this crucial fact. What is really of decisive importance is not what “identity” people may be part of, but what is the content of their ideas and programs, and if those ideas are followed and those programs are implemented, what would this lead to?
As I have emphasized previously:
The truth of something does not depend on who says it, or how it makes you feel. Because something comes from a source you like does not make it true; and because something comes from a source you do not like does not make it untrue. And truth is not a “popularity contest.” Because a lot of people believe something does not make it true; and because only a few people believe something does not make it untrue.
Truth is objective—which means: Whether something is true or not depends on whether it corresponds to actual reality.*
While due weight needs to be given to the whole history and present reality of horrific oppression, and the experience of people directly subjected to such oppression, if the goal is actually to abolish and uproot oppression, the standard against which anyone’s (or any group’s) ideas and proposals need to be evaluated is: objective reality—and specifically what is the nature of the particular problem (or form of oppression) people are up against, what is the source and cause of this, how does this relate to the fundamental problem (the whole system), and how to correctly handle the relation between the more particular and the fundamental, in order to move toward achieving the actual solution. (And, no, objective reality is not a white supremacist or male supremacist “construct”—it is…objective reality.)**
This is the standard that should be applied—this is the basis for determining which ideas and programs should be taken up and acted on, and which leadership should be followed.
And it is worth emphasizing it again: Truth, including the truth of where different ideas and programs will lead, is not determined “subjectively” (according to who says something, or whether you like something or somebody) but in accordance with objective reality—by scientifically examining the evidence—weighing ideas and programs against the actual objective reality and, on that basis, determining where they will lead, and whether they should be followed, or not.
One final point: The notions of “leadership based on marginalized identity” not only will give openings to some negative (even very negative) forces to use “identity” as a means to mislead things, but can also provide a “convenient cop-out”—a rationalization—for those who are not part of “marginalized groups” to hold back from really, fully committing themselves to the struggle against oppression and injustice. NO. Everyone who cares about the state and the fate of humanity has the responsibility not only to take part in actively fighting against the oppression, plunder and destruction caused by this system, but also the responsibility to take up and apply a scientific method and approach to determining what is the fundamental problem and what is the actual solution, and how the fight can be most effectively waged toward the goal of actually ending that oppression, plunder and destruction.
* The passages quoted here are from the article by Bob Avakian I’m So Sick of this Whole “Identity Politics” and “Woke” Thing: Revolution and Emancipation—Not Petty Reform and Revenge: On Movements, Principles, Methods, Means and Ends. This article is available at TheBobAvakianInstitute.org and at revcom.us. [back]
** I’m So Sick of this Whole “Identity Politics” and “Woke” Thing: Revolution and Emancipation—Not Petty Reform and Revenge: On Movements, Principles, Methods, Means and Ends. [back]