Bob Avakian Responds
To People Who Should Know Better (and Maybe Once Did)
May 9, 2022
Recently, the article of mine “Ukraine: World War 3 Is the Real Danger, Not a Repeat of World War 2” was sent to a number of former members of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), which developed into a major radical movement during the 1960s that strongly opposed the U.S. imperialist war in Vietnam. In response, several people raised arguments in opposition to my article—arguments which reflect the thinking today of all too many people in this country with “liberal,” “progressive” and “social democratic” views.1 While some of this involved petty “snark,” there were also points of substance made, which (unlike the “snark”) do deserve a serious response. Here I am going to speak to some of the more relevant and substantive points that were raised.
Let’s begin with the following disagreement with my article:
Here’s my reaction: let’s stipulate that the U.S. has a shameful history of imperialist wars and shouldn’t have dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan. Also there is a reasonable case to be made that NATO should not have welcomed into membership former Soviet-controlled Republics. However, it’s also true that NATO membership is exactly what large majorities in those countries wanted. As for Yemen, I’m not sufficiently informed to have an opinion on whether the U.S. role there is equivalent to the Russian role in Ukraine. I’ll look into it, but I’ll be surprised if it is.
Here’s the main thing: the inevitable result of the U.S. policy you advocate in the current conflict would leave the Ukrainians to the tender mercies of Putin. Is that what you want?
In what is an all too typical line of argument, from those who do not care to defend America’s “shameful history of imperialist wars” (and the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War 2), this “shameful history of imperialist wars” is acknowledged—and then effectively ignored, or discounted. This amounts to saying: “All that shameful history has nothing to do with what is going on now, and all we need to do is look at the terrible things that Putin/the Russians are doing in Ukraine.” In answer to this, it is necessary to point out that this “shameful history” is not just “history”—it has everything to do with what the U.S. is doing now with regard to Ukraine (and more generally). Most importantly, this “shameful history” has to do with the very nature of the system that rules in the U.S., the system of capitalism-imperialism, and with the dominant position of U.S. imperialism in the world, and its necessity and determination to retain, and fortify, that dominant position.
In another article, drawing from the insight of a friend of mine from back in the day, I referred to the imperialists, on both sides of this conflict in Ukraine, as “legit gangsters”—gangsters who are fighting not just over “turf” in a city but over domination in the world as a whole—and, very significantly, gangsters with massive arsenals of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons that could wipe out human civilization.2 If this analogy is valid—and it is—then it is relevant to ask: Would we regard as legitimate an argument by someone who was a part of one Mafia “family” (or criminal cartel) saying, “Yes, we have done very bad things, but what counts now is what another bunch of gangsters is doing over there, and how we are helping the victims of their murderous criminal activity”? Would we take the position that the criminal nature of the organization to which this person belongs has suddenly become irrelevant to what is going on—or even that, in this case, this organization had somehow ceased to be criminal, or to be acting in a criminal manner? Or, would we—very correctly—recognize that the declarations and actions of this criminal organization were a continuation of its whole criminal history, and flowed out of its whole criminal nature?
I will come back to that point.
Next, there is another argument that “giveth with left hand” and “taketh away with the right”—the argument that maybe it was bad for the U.S.-led imperialist military organization NATO to expand into countries that were very close to, or even bordered on, Russia—but “it’s also true that NATO membership is exactly what large majorities in those countries wanted.”
This line of argument is a very dangerous one—and it involves a standard and criterion that I doubt justice-minded people would actually like to consistently apply and make into some kind of general principle. For example, it is almost certainly true that, up until the 1960s (at least), a majority of people in this country wanted to have segregation and discrimination against Black people continued. Or, to return to an historical example already cited, it is a terrible reality that a majority of people in this country supported the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan when that happened (and far too many still uphold this, as does the government of this country, which has refused to acknowledge that it was wrong). Many other examples could be cited, but the point should be clear that this kind of “populist” argument can lead to upholding, or at least rationalizing, all kinds of terrible things. (This also relates to arguments that, in the name of “realism,” end up supporting this capitalist-imperialist system, and in particular the Democratic Party, which, as a representative of this system, has perpetrated some of its most horrendous crimes, including the atomic bomb attacks on Japan. This, too, is something I will return to later. But here let’s get back to the arguments cited above.)
The statement is made: “As for Yemen, I’m not sufficiently informed to have an opinion on whether the U.S. role there is equivalent to the Russian role in Ukraine. I’ll look into it, but I’ll be surprised if it is.”
Well, objectively, there is no doubt that the U.S. role in Yemen is not simply “equivalent” to the Russian role in Ukraine, but the devastation and suffering it has caused is even far worse. First of all, not as a personal attack but as a commentary on the dismal state of things among “progressive” people in this country who like to think of themselves as caring about and relatively informed about significant world events, it is striking that so many actually do not know about what has been going on, for years now, in Yemen, and the U.S. role in this. If you seriously “look into” this (and do not simply rely on the same U.S. media that are now waging a massive propaganda offensive to justify U.S. actions in Ukraine) you will find that the war waged by Saudi Arabia in Yemen—which has been supported and provided with heavy military and other aid by the U.S., since the time of the Obama/Biden administration—has caused almost unbelievable suffering for the people of Yemen, in particular children, who have died in massive numbers as a result of conditions created by this war, including a terrible cholera epidemic. (In addition to other sources, significant analysis of the war in Yemen, the horrendous suffering of the people there, and the responsibility of the U.S. in all this, can be found at revcom.us.)
And then we get to this argument: “Here’s the main thing: the inevitable result of the U.S. policy you advocate in the current conflict would leave the Ukrainians to the tender mercies of Putin. Is that what you want?”
No, what I want (and what I have called for in the article in question, and others as well) is for the masses of people, on “both sides” of this conflict—and in the world as a whole—to act in their own interests, as opposed to those of the imperialists on both sides of this conflict. As I strongly argued in another recent article:
All this emphasizes why it is vitally important for the masses of people, in this country, and other countries aligned with it, as well as in Russia—for people everywhere—to finally and fully wake up now, recognize the real, and profoundly heavy, stakes involved, and act in accordance with our actual interests—the interests of all of humanity: demanding that this war in Ukraine, and the involvement (direct and indirect) of the imperialists on both sides in this war, be STOPPED, before it not only causes even greater suffering for the people of Ukraine but possibly escalates into a far more terrible conflict which causes massive destruction and death, on a whole other level, and even possibly poses a threat to the very existence of humanity itself.3
A War for National Independence, or a “Proxy War” Between Imperialists?
At the heart of this is the question of the actual nature of the war in Ukraine now, and the application, yes, of science to this question, as opposed to muddled thinking strongly influenced by American chauvinism and its distortion of history. This is concentrated in the following argument:
Putin may not be Hitler, but what he’s doing in Ukraine does bring back memories. FDR was right to save Europe from the Nazis, and I’d say Biden is right to do what he can, short of WWIII, to save Ukraine from the Russians. Proxy wars vs. wars of national liberation? Why is Ukraine a proxy for NATO imperialists any more than the NLF and the North Vietnamese were a proxy for Russian and Chinese imperialists? History forces messy choices on us, As I see it, the Ukrainians are fighting for their country as fervently as the NLF fought for theirs. Finally, Bob, I’d like to know what there is in the lived history of revolutionary communism that’s worth striving for now.
This is truly a “treasure house” of wrong-headed thinking, strongly influenced precisely by anti-scientific, anti-historical American chauvinism (with a pungent dose of rancid anti-communism). To answer this fully is beyond the scope of what is possible here, but the substance of what is argued here does demand a response. First, in my article with which this argument is disagreeing, I spoke to important reasons why comparing Putin and his actions now to what Hitler did leading into World War 2 is wrong, and involves a significant distortion and ignorance (or deliberate ignore-ance) of crucial differences between the situation then and now. I won’t repeat all that here, although one point is definitely worth emphasizing again: both the U.S. and Russia possess thousands of nuclear weapons—weapons which did not exist in the period leading into (and for almost all of) World War 2. But I cannot let pass the statement that “FDR was right to save Europe from the Nazis.” Here is another striking “blind spot” created by the glare of American chauvinism.
If we are going to put things in the rather crude terms of this argument, it was not FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the U.S. president for most of World War 2) who “saved Europe from the Nazis”—it was much more that old bête noire of anti-communists everywhere, Joseph Stalin. The reality is that it was the Soviet Union, led at that time by Stalin, which broke the back of the NAZI war machine and effectively created a turning point in the war that led to the final defeat of the German NAZIs and their Japanese (and Italian) allies. This is a matter of historical fact (and it was alluded to, for example, by the British leader during the war, Winston Churchill, who acknowledged that the decisive fighting against the NAZIs took place on the eastern front, where the great majority of the NAZI forces were concentrated, against Soviet forces, during the crucial part of the war in Europe).
The NAZI attack on the then-socialist Soviet Union, and the Soviet resistance and repulsion of the NAZI invasion, cost the lives of somewhere between 20 and 30 million people in the Soviet Union, along with massive destruction in the Soviet Union itself. Although I have my criticisms of how this war was conducted by the Soviet leadership—including, significantly, that it was waged essentially on a nationalist (and even Great Russian chauvinist) basis, rather than a revolutionary basis—if we take the standard that, mistakenly, attributes to FDR the “saving of Europe from the Nazis,” then the actual defeat of the NAZIs should certainly count among the things that should be celebrated in “the lived history of revolutionary communism,” in this case the Soviet Union. (In fact, there is much in this “lived history” that is “worth striving for now,” even as, with the new communism I have developed, this is, as it needs to be, critically analyzed with a consistently scientific method and approach, identifying in this way both its principal, definitely positive, aspect as well as its secondary but real, and at times even grievous, negative side. I will speak further to this point a little later here.)
This leads me to an argument made by another critic of my article:
Without engaging in polemic with Chairman Avakian, god forbid—given that he’s the greatest theorist of communism since Mao Tse Tung and I’m just a humble social democrat not remotely confident in my socio-political analysis as “science”—my take is he entirely sidesteps any agency on the part of Ukrainians. That’s deeply problematic.
Moving beyond the “snark” at the beginning of this statement, there is actually something very important from Mao that has definite bearing on the questions in contention here, in particular the decisive question of what is the actual nature now of the war in Ukraine.
In the course of leading the Chinese revolution over several decades, Mao made significant contributions to, yes, scientific communist theory, in particular his discussion of contradiction, in society and life generally. More specifically, Mao’s approach to understanding the relation between the main (or principal) aspect of a contradiction, in opposition to the secondary aspect, is very relevant here. The principal aspect of a contradiction, Mao pointed out, determines the essence, or the basic character, of that contradiction at any given point. However, he also emphasized that, since all of life is constantly in motion—and any particular thing (or contradiction) is constantly interacting with other things—the principal aspect of a contradiction can change, and what was secondary can become principal, and vice versa. (To illustrate this with a simple example from everyday life, if it is cloudy and raining heavily while the sun is just beginning to “peek through” the clouds, at that point the condition of cloudiness and rain is principal, while the sun’s appearance is secondary; but, if things change in such a way that the sun fully emerges and the rain is reduced to a mere drizzle, then it is the case that the sunshine has become the principal aspect, and it is quite possible that the rain will stop altogether.)
This basic understanding has definite, and very important, application to the war in Ukraine—and particularly in answer to this argument (cited earlier):
Proxy wars vs. wars of national liberation? Why is Ukraine a proxy for NATO imperialists any more than the NLF and the North Vietnamese were a proxy for Russian and Chinese imperialists? History forces messy choices on us, As I see it, the Ukrainians are fighting for their country as fervently as the NLF fought for theirs.
The answer is that it could be argued that, at the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the principal aspect, on the side opposed to Russia, was the resistance of Ukraine to the Russian invasion (in that sense, a war for national independence on the part of Ukraine), while the role of the U.S./NATO, in supplying arms to Ukraine and waging economic war against Russia through sanctions, was at that point secondary. Even from very early on in this war, however, Volodymyr Zelensky, the head of the Ukrainian government, repeatedly and insistently called for the direct involvement of the U.S. and its NATO “allies” in this war—through the imposition by the U.S./NATO of a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine—that would qualitatively, and quickly, change the war into one whose character was overwhelmingly a conflict between rival imperialists (the U.S./NATO vs. Russia). And, as the war has gone on, even without such a “no-fly zone,” the essential character of the war has changed into one between imperialists. This is mainly because the actions and aims of the U.S. imperialists (and their NATO “allies”) have significantly escalated, particularly with their increasingly massive arming of Ukraine, while also providing intelligence to the Ukrainian forces, and so on—all with the now openly declared goal of weakening Russia and its ability to challenge U.S. dominance. As a result, the principal aspect has become warfare between imperialists, with the U.S./NATO so far waging war “by proxy” with Russia but at the same time the very real and growing danger that this could become a direct war between these opposing imperialists, with all the terrible consequences, even a very real existential threat to humanity, that this could involve.
By contrast, the war in Vietnam, on the side opposed to imperialism, was from the beginning, and remained throughout, principally (and in its essential character) a war of national liberation: a country (Vietnam) fighting to free itself, first from the French imperialists who had colonized Vietnam, and then from the U.S. imperialists, who went from heavily backing the French to becoming directly and massively involved in attempting to subjugate Vietnam and its people—a war which cost the lives of 2 million Vietnamese civilians and was marked by American atrocities on a scale way beyond what Russia has done in Ukraine.
As for the claim that it is wrong to see the Ukrainians now as mere “pawns” in this present war between imperialists, it is unfortunately the case that this is what they have essentially become. Or, as Raymond Lotta has very sharply put it—in an interview in episode 99 of the YouTube RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show—the Ukrainians have now become “cannon fodder” for U.S. imperialist aims in the war in Ukraine (which, again, threatens to become a much wider and far more destructive war). This is one very important reason why everyone who really cares about the Ukrainian people, as well as humanity as a whole, should be actively demanding that this war, and the actions of the imperialists on both sides in this war, be stopped, before the destruction and terrible suffering it involves become far greater.
In terms of the essential character of a war, what is decisive is not how “fervently” the people involved in that war (on one side or the other) are fighting. (To cite an extreme example to drive home the point, it could be said that, at least for much of World War 2, the soldiers of the NAZI army were fighting very “fervently.”) Even if we were to allow that “the Ukrainians are fighting for their country as fervently as the NLF fought for theirs,” that does not necessarily mean that this is the defining character of the war that the Ukrainians are now involved in. Rather, it is a matter of what is the actual, objective character of the war, as determined by its principal aspect—and that principal aspect can change, and has changed in the concrete reality of the war in Ukraine, into principally a war between imperialists.
Once again, in the case of Vietnam, the aid supplied to the Vietnamese war of liberation, by China and the Soviet Union, was a secondary factor. And, very importantly, at that time China was most decidedly not an imperialist country but in fact a revolutionary socialist country, and its self-sacrificing aid to Vietnam was in the service of supporting the Vietnamese struggle for national liberation, as part of promoting revolution against imperialism throughout the world. (Capitalism was only restored in China in 1976, beginning with a coup d’état by “capitalist roaders” in China shortly after Mao died. This is analyzed in depth in works of mine, and other important material, which can be accessed at revcom.us.) And, while the Vietnamese Party itself was already sharply contradictory during the period of the war there—with a kind of eclectic combination of communism and revolutionary nationalism—there is no comparison, and it is obscene to make any comparison, between the revolutionary character of that Party at that time and what is represented now by the ruling class of Ukraine, which actually includes an element of extreme right, actually fascist forces, and in any case constitutes a thoroughly uninspiring bourgeoisie (even if its resistance against the Russian imperialists could be supported—so long as that resistance, and not the involvement of U.S./NATO imperialism, essentially defined the opposition to the Russian invasion—which is now no longer the case).
Before ending this discussion of the difference between the present war in Ukraine and the war in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s, and how this relates to the essential nature of the war in Ukraine now, and the responsibility of people in this country toward that war, it is necessary to underline that there is the reality—and the very important difference—that the imperialist war in Vietnam was being waged by the U.S. ruling class, while the invasion of Ukraine has been carried out by one of the main rivals of this U.S. ruling class. For people in Russia, their responsibility is to mainly oppose their own ruling class in this war; while, for people in the U.S. (and “aligned” NATO countries) the responsibility is the reverse: to make a point of opposing the aims and actions of “their own” imperialists in this war, while also opposing Russian aggression. Or, as I have put it previously:
Of course, this act of imperialist aggression by Russia deserves to be condemned. But especially for people residing in this country—which, again, by far holds the record for such acts of aggression—it is a matter of basic principle and profound importance not to be echoing the positions and serving the aims of “our” imperialists, and instead to be making very clear our opposition to the aims and actions of these (U.S.) imperialists, who are using opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, not as a way of promoting “peace,” or “the right of nations to self-determination,” but as means of furthering U.S. imperialist interests, in opposition to the rival Russian imperialists. So, in keeping with this crucial principle, any opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, particularly by people in this imperialist country, should be accompanied by a clear and definite stand of also opposing the role of the U.S. in the world, including the wars it continually wages, and other ways it violently interferes in other countries.4
Here it is also necessary to respond to the assertion, by one of the critics of my article, that it contains only minimal mention of Putin’s actions against the Ukrainian people (“Putin’s actions against them goes almost entirely unmentioned except with a bit of throat clearing”). Assuming this is not a deliberate mis-reading of my article, it is yet another example of being blinded by American chauvinism, however conscious or unconscious. In this article (and in a number of others) my opposition to Russian aggression is very clear—and my emphasis on the point that the suffering of the people in Yemen is even far worse than that suffered by the people in Ukraine is not a way of denying the terrible suffering to which the people in Ukraine are being subjected in this war, but of emphasizing the utter hypocrisy on the part of the U.S. imperialists (and those who echo them) in portraying Russian atrocities in Ukraine as some kind of “unprecedented” war crimes, when these U.S. imperialists themselves are guilty of being responsible for even far worse atrocities, as evidenced in Yemen. And it is true that I put a great deal of emphasis on opposing the way the U.S. imperialist ruling class is seizing on Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the suffering of the people there, to further its own imperialist aims—which is exactly what someone should do in a situation like this: put emphasis on opposing the imperialist aims and actions of “their own” imperialist ruling class. Also, the article of mine that is being criticized for supposedly being “soft” on what Russia is doing in Ukraine contains a section, “Actual Aims of Putin/Russian Imperialism,” which examines those aims in some detail, precisely with the understanding and characterization of them as the aims and actions of Russian imperialism (and it hardly needs saying that I regard imperialism as a very negative, not somehow a “positive,” or “neutral,” phenomenon!).
Finally on the subject of the war in Ukraine, and just to clarify a point around which there could be confusion (or deliberate distortion): In the article in question, I did not say that there is no basis for believing that Putin might invade other countries. Rather I said—and this is a very crucial distinction—that there is no evidence to back up the claim that Putin intends to invade, or attack, other NATO countries (something which, as I emphasized in that article, would “trigger” an immediate military response by the U.S.). This was part of an analysis that both sides in this conflict—that is, both Russian imperialism and the U.S./NATO imperialist bloc—are attempting to achieve their objectives without getting into direct military confrontation with their imperialist adversary. But, as I also pointed to, there is the very dangerous reality that the dynamics of this war could actually lead to a direct military confrontation between Russia and the U.S./NATO:
Regardless of intentions, however, as has been shown over and over again, events—especially the dynamics of war itself, once entered into—can “overtake intentions” and lead to circumstances and consequences that neither side wanted or anticipated at the start. In the current situation, with the war in Ukraine, there is a very real danger that such a dynamic could “take over” and lead to truly terrible consequences—the very real possibility of war between the U.S./NATO and Russia, with the use of nuclear weapons which could pose a very real threat to human civilization as a whole.5
The Actual, Principally Very Positive “Lived Reality” of Revolutionary Communism
Since this question was sharply posed, in one of the responses to my article, it is necessary to respond directly to this: “Finally, Bob, I’d like to know what there is in the lived history of revolutionary communism that’s worth striving for now.”
Of course, as I indicated at the start, it is not possible here to go into this at the length and in the depth that is necessary to answer all the lies, slanders and distortions that have been, and continue to be, spewed forth by the propaganda instruments of this capitalist-imperialist system and its intellectual accomplices—and which have been uncritically swallowed down, and often regurgitated, by far too many people who should know better (and perhaps once did). With that in mind, while touching on just some of the outstanding achievements of the “lived reality of revolutionary communism” (and while noting the importance of a scientific assessment of not only its principally positive experience but also its actual shortcomings and mistakes, some of them quite serious and in some cases even grievous) I will refer anyone genuinely seeking a further, serious and substantive answer to this question to the website revcom.us, and in particular the special issue that can be found there: You Don’t Know What You Think You “Know” About… The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future, Interview with Raymond Lotta.
But, briefly, with regard to the Soviet Union (the world’s first socialist state, brought into being through the Russian Revolution of 1917), during its first period, up until the early 1930s, there were tremendous liberating transformations, freeing masses of people from remaining elements of feudal oppression and imposed ignorance and superstition, particularly in the vast countryside, while at the same time moving to end capitalist exploitation centered in the cities. An outstanding example of this was the emancipation of women from brutal and suffocating patriarchal oppression, in ways that were unprecedented at that time. And all this was accompanied by a flowering of creativity and revolutionary content in the realm of art and culture.
It is true that, even during this period, from the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917 to the early 1930s, mistakes were made, even some serious errors—which is hardly surprising given that this was the first attempt at socialist transformation of society, in the context of bitter opposition from remaining reactionary forces within the Soviet Union itself and antagonistic encirclement by powerful imperialist countries. And, particularly after the early 1930s, many of the earlier inspiring transformations and expressions of revolutionary enthusiasm, in many different spheres of Soviet society, were undermined, or even reversed, and a certain suffocating atmosphere, politically and culturally, began to take hold to a significant degree. A major turning point in relation to all this was the triumph of fascism in Germany in the early 1930s, with the crushing of the Communist Party in that country, which had constituted the most powerful direct opposition to the NAZIs and was the first target of massive, concentrated repression and murder by the NAZI regime. It was particularly in the face of the threat of outright invasion by the German NAZI regime, and in the preparation and maneuvering by the Soviet government to deal with this increasing threat throughout the second half of the 1930s, that serious errors and violations of communist principle were made by Stalin and the Soviet leadership, including a campaign of severe repression against people perceived and denounced as enemies, many of whom were not actual enemies. And then came the NAZI invasion in 1941, with the terrible destruction and massive loss of lives in the Soviet Union (with the number of Soviet civilians and soldiers dying in that war approximately 50 times that of U.S. deaths).
In the aftermath of that war, socialism in the Soviet Union was, in effect, hanging by a thread—a thread that was cut by Nikita Khrushchev and other leaders of the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s, setting the Soviet Union on the course of restoring capitalism.
As should be obvious even from what I have only been able to touch on here, this is a very complex history (and, again, for a fuller discussion of this, I refer people to the special issue I have mentioned), but there is no doubt that an honest, scientific evaluation of this experience in the Soviet Union, when it was socialist,leads to the conclusion that, even with serious mistakes that were made—and even as it is necessary, and possible, to do even better in communist revolution, going forward—there was definitely much that was positive in the “lived experience” of this first socialist state that is “worth striving for now.”
And that is all the more true—and true in a far greater dimension—with the experience of socialist China, during its all-too-short existence, from 1949 to 1976. It is striking that this question, of what there is “worth striving for now” in the “lived experience” of revolutionary communism, would be raised by someone (a veteran of SDS) who lived through the period of tremendous revolutionary upsurge in the world, during the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, in which the revolutionary experience in China was the most outstanding and inspiring example. Have you, who raised this “question,” forgotten (or did you somehow fail to notice at the time) the tremendously liberating transformations that were carried out, in just a few decades, in socialist China, reaching its high point in the Cultural Revolution there?
Are you not aware of the way that the Chinese revolution, and the socialist transformations it brought about, freed hundreds of millions of Chinese peasants from unspeakably bitter feudal exploitation and deprivation, including situations where families were forced to sell their own children, especially girls, in a desperate attempt to survive?
Did you not become aware of how terrible diseases, and massive opium addiction, were ended, through campaigns that involved masses of people in consciously struggling to overcome these scourges in a way that would contribute to the revolutionary transformation of society as a whole?
Did you somehow miss, or ignore, the fact that these liberating transformations particularly freed women from centuries, even millennia, of terrible oppression, including the degradation of prostitution, which was eliminated as a significant social phenomenon in socialist China (but which has reappeared as a major social phenomenon since capitalism has been restored in China)?
Did you not learn that life expectancy was doubled in China during the socialist period (from an average of 32 years to 65) and that the infant mortality rate in the major city of Shanghai was lower then than it was in New York City?
Have you forgotten (or did you somehow miss) the revolutionary culture that was brought forward through the Cultural Revolution in China, including the revolutionary ballets in which women, for the first time in history, played a leading role in productions of high artistic value and inspiring revolutionary content?
Have you forgotten (or did you somehow miss) the radical transformations in the economy of socialist China, particularly through the Cultural Revolution, where remaining aspects of capitalist management and exploitation were abolished, and replaced with the new forms of emancipating socialist relations—as concentrated in the slogan and approach “grasp revolution, promote production,” which directed the development of a planned socialist economy, geared to meeting the needs of the masses of people, and supporting the world revolution, instead of being based on alienating labor, under cruelly exploited conditions, in the service of the relentless profit drive of competing capitalists?
Did you somehow miss the fact that the Cultural Revolution in China involved the greatest flowering of truly mass democracy in human history? This literally involved hundreds of millions of people, with huge numbers of youth especially, but others as well, producing “big character posters” and other forms of mass expression that criticized officials and policies of the government that were promoting capitalist exploitation and oppressive social relations. This was a process of mass debate and ideological struggle over questions regarding revolutionary transformation, in China and in the world overall. And the revolutionary leadership, headed by Mao, gave backing to this mass outpouring. Yes, this involved some excesses. When has there ever been a truly massive revolutionary upsurge that did not contain some excesses? But these excesses have been greatly exaggerated (and other “excesses” invented) by the mouthpieces of the imperialists and others who hated and opposed this revolutionary upsurge. And the fact is that Mao criticized and provided concrete guidance to oppose these excesses and to direct the struggle toward its main objectives: to carry out further revolutionary transformations in the economy, the political structures, the social relations and the ideology and culture, and to defeat moves, by people in positions of authority, to restore capitalism.
Apparently you are aware of the aid that China gave to the Vietnamese people in their war of liberation against U.S. imperialism—although you slander this as an act of imperialism, instead of an inspiring, self-sacrificing act of revolutionary internationalism.
I could go on further—but the point should be clear.
Yes, once again, mistakes were made, and there were shortcomings in the orientation and method, as well as the practical actions, of the leadership; but there is no question that an objective, scientific analysis leads to the conclusion that this “lived experience” was definitely, and overwhelmingly, very positive, historically so. And the point is that, in approaching this with a scientific orientation and method, it has been possible to draw crucial lessons from this overwhelmingly positive experience, but also its negative aspect, and this has resulted in a new synthesis of communism (popularly referred to as the new communism) which enables the struggle for the emancipation of humanity to proceed on an even stronger foundation and to have the basis to do even better in striving for the goal of communism in order to bring about that emancipation.
The Politics of the “Possible” IS the Politics of Monstrosity
Finally, it is important to respond to the following, from one of the disagreements provoked by my article:
Truth be told I hate the fucking Democratic Party but it’s the only usable electoral formation that exists in the US for serious national politics from my pragmatic social democratic perspective. And while certainly not my sole organizing focus, electoral politics in the existing terrain is critical, especially for those most vulnerable and not engaged in intellectual debates over theories. Anything from the left more grandiose and disconnected from actually existing contests for power among broad, complicated coalitions suggests a primacy of doctrinal religious faith that I react to with the same indifference I have to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The only part of this statement that can be united with, by anyone seriously seeking a more just society and world, is the sentiment expressed at the beginning: “Truth be told I hate the fucking Democratic Party.”
As has also been amply demonstrated in extensive material at revcom.us, the Democratic Party—as one of the two ruling parties of the U.S. capitalist imperialists—is, and always has been, an instrument of repeated, massive and monstrous war crimes and crimes against humanity, right down to today. Especially for someone who declares that they actually hate the Democratic Party—and in this case it can only be assumed that this has to do with its role in enacting and enforcing injustices of many kinds—to then insist that the Democratic Party is, somehow, the only practical vehicle for supposed positive change, requires deliberately ignoring the actual role of the Democratic Party and the terrible crimes of which it has been repeatedly guilty. More fundamentally, it is to lower one’s sights and narrow one’s vision to the truly horrific terms of this system, and to insist that political activity remain within the confines of this system—all in the name of “realism.” This is a perfect illustration of my statement that the politics of the “possible” is the politics of monstrosity. And it also underlines the truth of my “companion” statement that if you try to make the Democratic Party be what it is not, and never will be, you yourself will end up being what the Democratic Party actually is. And it has to be said that, particularly for anyone who knows at least some of the truth about the crimes committed by the Democratic Party in presiding over this system of capitalism-imperialism, to then insist that it is necessary to work with and through the Democratic Party to effect some kind of supposedly meaningful change—this is to become complicit with the truly monstrous crimes of this system.
I can certainly identify with the spirit of the following criticism of much of the so-called “left”—and this should be applied to the “woke phenomenon” as well:
Lived in the Bay Area for over 50 years and have come to hate its pretentious “progressive” bullshit. The high pro “left” mostly has a base in the foundation world-liberal wing of the ruling class. Keeps the org’s and a certain brand of “leadership” going no matter how incompetent.
But the answer to such phony “left” and “woke” bullshit is not to fall into another variation of what Lenin very aptly described as “the striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie,” in particular its “liberal” wing, as represented by the Democratic Party.
And, as for the declaration that everything that is “disconnected from actually existing contests for power” within this system is somehow irrelevant—that statement is not only another expression of the reality that the politics of the “possible” is the politics of monstrosity, it is a graphic expression of the utter bankruptcy of this supposed “realistic” approach to politics.
Remember that this declaration is being made now, in the situation where this system of capitalism-imperialism, and the rivalry between imperialist powers, is not only causing tremendous suffering for the masses of humanity but is definitely, and increasingly, posing an existential threat to humanity, through its accelerating destruction of the environment and the heightening danger of war between the imperialists of Russia and those of the U.S./NATO bloc. Here, in opposition to the snide assertion that any politics that does not rely ultimately and fundamentally on the Democratic Party (and the system it serves) is as disconnected from reality as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the truth is that it is profoundly unrealistic, and definitely disconnected from reality, to think that working within this system can somehow lead to its becoming a force for good in the world, a force that will act in the interests of the masses of people, not only in this country but in the vast world outside this country, including the billions of people in the Third World (Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East) who are ruthlessly exploited and plundered by this self-proclaimed “champion of democracy” but actually parasitic imperialist USA.
What, after all, is the approach now of the Democratic Party, headed by Biden? It is to put overwhelming emphasis on crippling the rival Russian imperialism, and strengthening the “western” imperialist alliance, through war, fought at least for now as a “proxy” war that, yes, is reducing the people of Ukraine to “pawns” and “cannon fodder” and which is increasingly posing the danger of escalating into a direct war between the U.S./NATO and Russia, with the terrible consequences of that.
And, in spite of congressional hearings regarding the coup attempt by Trump/the Republicans in relation to the last presidential election, the Democrats—and in particular Biden and the leadership of the Democratic Party—are not only failing but in effect refusing to seriously oppose the escalating fascist moves by the Republican Party. Apparently Biden’s “strategy” ( if he has one) for opposing this fascism and “overcoming the divisions in the country” is to rally people behind his imperialist aims with the war in Ukraine—something which, unfortunately, has had all too much success, so far at least. And, while for the most part the politicians of the fascist Republican Party are perfectly happy to support U.S. imperialist aims in the war in Ukraine, this has by no means been accompanied by a lessening of their aggressive fascist offensive—which, on the contrary, is being repeatedly intensified and accelerated, in many dimensions.
If people, like the former SDS members voicing these disagreements with what I have analyzed about the war in Ukraine, want to wage a fight against a very real, and continually intensifying, threat of fascism, they need look no further than their own country. And if they really want to bring about a more just society and world, they need to dig deeper, down to the fundamental nature of this system of capitalism-imperialism and the terrible present, and even more horrendous future, it involves and portends for humanity—and become part of what is, yes, the very difficult but urgently necessary, and possible, revolutionary struggle, against all imperialism, with a special emphasis on opposing “their own” imperialist ruling class, and with the fundamental goal of finally ridding humanity as a whole of this system, and bringing something much better into being: a socialist system, aiming for the ultimate goal of a communist world, free from all exploitation and oppression, all wars and other antagonistic conflicts among people.
In this regard, I am compelled to strongly disagree with the following, which is contained in one of the arguments stimulated by the article of mine in question:
Chairman Bob and I were both in high school at the time and I dare say neither one of us has come up with a more coherent or usable political strategy than [Martin Luther] King’s. I have no problem admitting it—distasteful as associating with the establishment Dems tends to be.
Let me make very clear that I am acutely aware of the great, truly daunting challenges that must be confronted if one is serious about bringing about change that would really address the profound injustices and very real dangers in the world as it is today (and as it is threatening to become). And I definitely share the frustrations that anyone sincerely seeking to bring about a more just world cannot help but feel at the seemingly intractable obstacles that one encounters in working to bring this about—including, it must be said, resistance from among those who definitely, and many who desperately, need this radical change. It is precisely for these reasons that I have continued to apply myself to forging, and leading a collective effort to continue developing and applying precisely an approach that can confront the very real problems and actually overcome the extremely powerful forces arrayed in opposition to the urgently needed, and emancipating, radical change.
And the truth is that, through this process and as a result of determined work spanning many decades (if not quite as far back as high school!), I have developed a strategic orientation and approach not for appealing to, and seeking to win reformist concessions from, ruling class politicians (as Martin Luther King did in relation to the then president Lyndon Johnson) which can at most temporarily alleviate some of the atrocities of this system but can never put an end to, and uproot the basis for, them. Instead, I have developed the approach that is really necessary to abolish all this: a strategy for how to make an actual revolution—yes, up against the powerful ruling class of this system—as well as a framework, and concrete guidelines, for a radically new, emancipating socialist system, on the road to a communist world.
This strategy is spoken to in a number of speeches and writings of mine, most recently and extensively in “Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating.”6 (This work was written before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it contains essential analysis and strategic direction in terms of actually making revolution in this powerful country, and the basic principles and methods it speaks to are definitely applicable to the current situation, following this Russian invasion and the events that have unfolded in relation to it.) And a sweeping vision and concrete blueprint for a radically new and emancipating society is contained in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, which I have authored.7
It is this revolutionary approach that, with all the very real and profound challenges, represents the only “realistic” alternative to the truly terrible present and the potentially disastrous future that will be the fate of humanity, so long as it is confined and enchained within the realities and dynamics of this system of capitalism-imperialism. It is this truly emancipating revolutionary “alternative” that needs to be seriously engaged by anyone who really cares about the state and the fate of humanity—and it needs to be actively taken up by all those who can recognize that it represents the only real, and “realistic,” possibility of bringing something fundamentally different and much better into being.
Editors’ Note: Along with the special issue You Don’t Know What You Think You “Know” About…The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future, Interview with Raymond Lotta, the following articles and other works by Bob Avakian, cited above, are also available at TheBobAvakianInstitute.org and at revcom.us.
6. Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating: Profound Crisis, Deepening Divisions, the Looming Possibility of Civil War—And the Revolution that Is Urgently Needed. A Necessary Foundation, A Basic Roadmap for this Revolution [back]