THE DEADLY ILLUSION OF “NORMALCY” AND THE REVOLUTIONARY WAY FORWARD
by Bob Avakian
Even before the coronavirus became a worldwide pandemic, a New York Times columnist wrote about the lure of boredom—arguing that, after the years of Trump madness, having a sleep-inducing president (like Joe Biden) might be just what is needed. The impact of the coronavirus has reinforced and strengthened this tendency toward a “yearning for normalcy,” especially on the part of the section of the ruling class represented by the NYT and that section of society, particularly among the more formally educated middle strata, that for some time has, to a significant degree, identified with what is represented by the NYT.
But, in fundamental terms, this notion of a “return to normalcy” is an illusion that will be exploded by the nature and workings of the system of capitalism-imperialism to which the masses of humanity are subjected.
In the context of this current crisis, the exploitative and oppressive relations built into this system are asserting themselves in a pronounced way, within this country and internationally, just as they have in previous crises. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit, in New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005, even as broad sections of people suffered, it was poor Black people who were hit in the most devastating ways, because of the oppression and savage inequalities to which they were already subjected and because of the not-so-benign neglect and often malign actions of those in power. The same has been true with regard to AIDS—it is those who have been discriminated against and denigrated who have suffered the most—and the lop-sided burden of suffering has been especially pronounced on an international scale, with people in sub-Saharan Africa in particular enduring tremendous devastation.
Even as broad swaths of the population will be hit by the coronavirus, this inequality will once again have its effect in this country in relation to the current crisis—as immigrants, prisoners, the homeless, people in poor communities, particularly among the oppressed nationalities, and others who are subordinated, degraded and despised by the “normal workings” of this system and the powers that be, will be subjected to disproportionate suffering.1
And internationally the same dynamics apply in an even greater way. As I have pointed to previously:
we live in a world where large parts of humanity live in stark poverty, with 2.3 billion people lacking even rudimentary toilets or latrines and huge numbers suffering from preventable diseases, with millions of children dying every year from these diseases and from starvation, while 150 million children in the world are forced to engage in ruthlessly exploited child labor, and the whole world economy rests on a vast network of sweatshops, employing large numbers of women who are regularly subjected to sexual harassment and assault, a world where 65 million refugees have been displaced by war, poverty, persecution, and the effects of global warming.2
It is those, worldwide, who are maintained in these conditions who will be hit hardest in this crisis, as they have been in the past.
All this, combined with the continuing and rapidly deepening climate crisis, rooted in the dynamics of this system and increasingly posing an existential threat to all of humanity, will drive masses, millions and ultimately billions, of people to even further desperation, and no one on the planet will be able to avoid the repercussions and effects of all this.
The Immediate Dangers, the Fundamental Problem and the Revolutionary Solution
Several years ago, I pointed out:
Today, while the U.S. is, and loudly proclaims itself to be, the world’s number one superpower, it is riddled with sharpening contradictions, and facing growing challenges, within the country and internationally, and this has brought forth a fascist regime that now holds the reins of power, with the finger of a demented bully on the nuclear button—a regime that, without exaggeration, threatens not just greatly heightened suffering for the masses of humanity but the very existence of humanity itself.3
And, in a number of other countries, fascism has continued to gain strength, as a response—a fanatical, lunatic, and violent reaction—to changes being driven fundamentally by the necessities and dynamics of the capitalist-imperialist system and the fact that this system does not have, and cannot have, any positive resolution to all this. Despite what many (especially many “liberals”) would like to believe, the notion that especially in times of crisis like this “we are all in this together” is in conflict with and is refuted by reality and specifically is not adhered to by the fascist forces. For example, gun sales in this country have skyrocketed even higher amidst this crisis, as “Second Amendment types” stock up even further on lethal weapons to “protect themselves” from “criminals” (and, on the part of many, to prepare themselves for the “civil war” they see coming). To refer again to the insights of African-American theologian Hubert Locke, what is involved with the fascist movement in this country is not just some abstract battle for the “hearts and minds” of people but a deadly serious struggle for power, with the aim—on the part particularly of the Christian fundamentalist driving force of this fascism—of “seizing the reins of government, manipulating the courts and judicial decisions, controlling the media, and making incursions into every possible corner of our private lives and relationships, so that what the religious right perceives as the will of God will reign in America.”4
This is why the commonly propagated notion that what has given rise to the sharp polarization in this country, and the madness associated with Trump, is a “departure from civility,” or more specifically that it flows from a failure on the part of educated middle class “liberals” to communicate with and try to understand the views of people in the “heartland”—all this is not only completely erroneous but actually a dangerous delusion. Writing a little more than 20 years ago, in her book Mobilizing Resentment, based on her extensive investigation into the right-wing movement in this country, Jean Hardisty recounts how, even where her efforts to engage in civil and friendly conversation with people of this kind would initially be returned with a certain superficial kindliness, as the conversation progressed she would repeatedly be subjected to the “brutal intolerance” that would come to the fore on the part of these right-wingers. As she graphically puts it: “when I give rightists the benefit of the doubt, out of respect for their right to their own worldview, they reward me every time with a kick in the teeth.” She sums up that what we are dealing with is
a well-financed, well-coordinated, savvy movement that has developed brilliant techniques of manipulation and has captured and molded a hospitable moment in history. The right’s quest for political power has become a frightening reality.5
And things have only gotten worse, and the danger this poses even greater, in the 20 or so years since Hardisty wrote this.
In very immediate terms, the outlook and methods as well as the priorities of the fascists, as concentrated in the Trump/Pence regime—with the appointment of the anti-scientific Pence to head government efforts around COVID-19; Trump’s initial denial of the scope and danger posed by this virus and his continuing lies about this; his gross American chauvinism, pitting this country against the rest of the world; his repeated tendency to recklessly deny medical science and ignore the recommendations of medical experts where it runs counter to his own narrowly conceived and dangerously shortsighted interests and objectives; and more—all this amplifies and fortifies the barriers that the “normal functioning” of the capitalist-imperialist system places in the way of a systematic and coordinated approach to combating the coronavirus. At the same time, there is the question of whether Trump will actually recognize the results of the election in November if (even in the electoral college count, as well as in the popular vote) he is not the winner—or whether there will even be an election, since it is not unthinkable that Trump would “delay” (or even outright cancel) the election, declaring that in the context of the coronavirus crisis it is too dangerous to have an election!
All this must be resisted and overcome to the greatest extent possible, while at the same time recognizing that it will require a radical transformation of society, and ultimately the world as a whole, to remove the powerful restraints that this system places on human beings and their ability to act in common to confront and transform the necessity they face, in an ongoing way and acutely so in times of crisis.
Whatever happens in regard to the elections that are scheduled to be held this November, and however the coronavirus crisis is resolved—or if it is not really resolved but becomes part of “cascading crises,” with one crisis leading to another… and another—there will be no returning to some idealized notion of “normalcy.” And, while there is certainly a legitimate and positive desire on the part of people everywhere to get beyond the scourge of this virus, taking into account what is the actual situation for the masses of humanity under the “normal” domination of this system, no one should desire a return to the “normalcy” dictated by the capitalist-imperialist system.
Underlying the immediate crisis, and the danger posed by the Trump/Pence regime and its fanatical fascist “base,” there is the more fundamental reality of the capitalist-imperialist system and the consequences of allowing this system to continue to dominate the world and determine the conditions of the masses of humanity and indeed the very fate of humanity itself. This crisis with the coronavirus has brought into sharp relief the reality that the capitalist system is not simply out of step with but is in fundamental conflict with, and a direct obstacle to, meeting the needs of the masses of humanity. Even as the capitalists and governments representing their interests have been forced to take certain emergency steps that in some ways run counter to the inherent dynamics of their system (such as massive intervention by the government in the functioning of the economy), the ways in which this system constitutes an obstacle to dealing with this crisis continue to assert themselves—including not only such perverse actions as the hoarding by some of vital medical and other supplies, in order to drive up the price, but also the fact that the creation of wealth under this system proceeds on the basis of ruthless exploitation and the impoverishment of masses of people throughout the world, while even in the “wealthier” countries there is significant poverty and large parts of the population live paycheck-to-paycheck and are only one serious crisis away from disaster; the ongoing rivalry between different capitalists (or associations of capital), with their private ownership of the means of production (land, raw materials, technology, factories and other structures) and private, competitive accumulation of wealth acts as a hindrance to necessary cooperation and the production of things that may be urgently needed but are not productive of private profit—and the whole ideology of advancing one’s interests at the expense of others, the individualism that is fostered by this system and is promoted to an extreme currently in this country, runs counter to and undermines inclinations toward cooperation and, yes, sacrifice for the greater good. Despite the dedicated efforts of many well-meaning people, even if the immediate crisis with the coronavirus is resolved, this will be done on the basis of intensifying the contradictions built into this system and the suffering of the masses of humanity who are already exploited and oppressed under this system.
All of this stands in sharp contrast with what is needed to deal in a truly meaningful way with crises like that occasioned by the coronavirus, and to meet the fundamental needs of humanity on an ongoing basis. It stands in sharp contrast to the socialist system envisioned in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, where there is social, not private, ownership of the means of production, social wealth is produced through cooperation not exploitation and is increasingly distributed in accordance with the needs of the people, not those of competing capitalists, and there is a government that represents and is geared to meeting the fundamental interests of humanity, and promotes that outlook among the people and involves them in the process of governance toward that end—not a government that is an extension of and can only represent the demands and dynamics of capital, with all the anarchy and ruthless exploitation that involves, within particular countries and on an international scale.6
Beyond the borders of any particular country, there is the great importance and potentially very positive role and impact of internationalism, which can only be really and fully realized with the overcoming of the barriers erected to international unity and cooperation by the workings of the capitalist-imperialist system—which is international in its scope of operations (that is, its exploitation) but consists of competing capitalists and rival capitalist states.7
Overcoming all this can be—and can only be—accomplished through the communist revolution and the increasing establishment of socialist countries in the world, proceeding on an internationalist basis and carrying out the economic, social and political transformations, as well as transformations in the ways of thinking and culture of the people, that will enable humanity to leap beyond the constraints and the terrible consequences which are imposed by the “normal” functioning of the capitalist-imperialist system and are greatly intensified in situations of crisis. This unprecedented revolution will make it possible for people to engage reality, and to confront crises, in a truly cooperative way as members of a world community of freely associating human beings, not separated and pitted against each other by divisions of country, class, nationality (or “race”), gender and other oppressive relations.
1. Materials posted at revcom.us, including communiqués from the revolutionary communists (revcoms) and the interview with Lenny Wolff on the Michael Slate radio show, speak to how this dynamic is already being expressed in this current crisis. [back]
2. Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution. The text and video of this speech by Bob Avakian are available at TheBobAvakianInstitute.org and revcom.us. [back]
3. THE TRUMP/PENCE REGIME MUST GO! In The Name of Humanity We REFUSE To Accept a Fascist America, A Better World IS Possible. Video of this speech by Bob Avakian is available at TheBobAvakianInstitute.org and revcom.us. [back]
4. Reflections on Pacific School of Religion’s Response to the Religious Right, by Dr. Hubert Locke, also available at revcom.us. [back]
5. Jean Hardisty, Mobilizing Resentment, Conservative Resurgence From The John Birch Society To The Promise Keepers, Beacon Press Books, 1999, pp. 5, 6, 8. [back]
6. The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by Bob Avakian, is available at TheBobAvakianInstitute.org and revcom.us. [back]
7. In the section “Globalization, the Nationality of Capital, and the Imperialist Nation‑State,” in Notes on Political Economy: Our Analysis of the 1980s, Issues of Methodology, and The Current World Situation, published by the Revolutionary Communist Party (available online at revcom.us), there is an analysis of this major contradiction in the world today:
In the imperialist era, the circuits of capital become internationalized—and accumulation grows ever more global in reach and process. But imperialist capital remains anchored to national markets and national state formations….
In short, the anarchy bound up with global processes of capitalist development creates new problems of “control.” The contradiction between internationalized accumulation and the national character of capital, far from being transcended, is intensified.
As “Notes” further states:
At the same time, capital requires an apparatus (the imperialist state) and the military wherewithal (which means a military industry) to secure the international environment within which it can globally thrive. [back]