The Pyramid of Power
EDITORS' NOTE: The following is part of a series of questions and answers that followed a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, last year. It has been edited for publication here (and notes have been added).
The Pyramid of Power
And the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down
by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA
Revolutionary Worker #1237, April 25, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org
Question: Part of your earlier talk was about our involvement with Iraq, the slaughter of the poor Iraqis, and what do you think the odds are [that] for election purposes this current administration will commit another slaughter against another country, one of the "axis of evil" most likely I guess?
Answer by Chairman Avakian: Well, I think it's possible that they would do that. On one level, they are madmen. But on another level, they aren't simply madmen; they do try to think strategically and they do have people smarter than Bush, I guess--which isn't saying very much--who actually try to think things out strategically and think over the longer term. A lot of people thought, "Well as soon as they get through with Iraq, they're going to attack Iran and North Korea." But they're actually proceeding in a little bit more measured way right now because they don't want to get over-extended and they don't want to get in over their heads.
North Korea is a real problem for them because, whether or not it has nuclear weapons, it has massed artillery on the border with South Korea; and if they attack it, it can unleash a massive barrage which will kill probably thousands of American soldiers and probably hundreds of thousands of South Koreans. So they have to figure out how to deal with that contradiction. They just can't jump in with both feet without thinking. And similarly with Iran--to go after Iran is not just a light matter, it's even more complex and more difficult than going after Iraq, which they weakened through a previous war and then through ten years or more of sanctions. So I think there's a possibility of another war relatively soon, but they are trying to think strategically, even past the elections.
I actually think one of the main ways in which they are trying to position themselves for the 2004 election, interestingly enough, has to do with the state of California right now. Not that I am a fan of Gray Davis or want to argue for keeping him in office. On one level, who gives a fuck. But, on the other hand, we do have to look beyond the surface of things to see the larger picture. And I do think this recall is very likely part of a whole thing where these people grouped around Bush are positioning themselves well beyond this immediate situation in California, trying to get control of the state of California as part of going for the 2004 election, and looking beyond that. Bush has gone off and raised--what, 200 million dollars already for the 2004 election? I mean it's really incredible. And I think one of the things that is very serious to consider, is that these people grouped around Bush--he's just sort of a figurehead for this group of people who have been at this for quite a while now--they actually consider any other group of people being the government of this society as being completely illegitimate. That's the way they looked at and treated Clinton--again, he's no hero of the people by any means, but that's the way that they looked at him even when he was president. And that's the way they look at anybody other than themselves as being at the core of power in this society. Whether they go and attack another country, which I wouldn't rule out, there are some very serious things that are going on in this society now that we have to look at. We can't be simple minded if we're going to actually do what needs to be done, especially if we are going to make the kind of revolution we need to make. You have to look at what's been building in this society for quite a while now.
It's helpful to look at it kind of like a pyramid. At the top of this pyramid are the people that rule this society and in particular you've got those that are represented by the Democratic Party on the one hand and the Republican Party on the other hand. And there is struggle between them. This is very obvious, right. Think back to the 2000 election: that was the most boring election in recent memory, and all of a sudden it turned into an extremely intense and interesting thing, not because of what they said and did while they were campaigning, but because of the way the election came out (or didn't come out). So then you could see that there is very sharp struggle among them. And if you look at this kind of pyramid thing, on the top of this pyramid is the ruling class and its different political representatives, which (even though it may be a bit oversimplified) we can look at as the Democrats on one side and the Republicans on the other. And for decades now these people who are grouped around Bush and the kind of people that they represent have been working and preparing a whole thing in society--a whole infrastructure you might call it-- a whole structure within the society itself that could move this society in a whole different way towards a fascistic kind of thing when things come to that.
Look at this whole religious fundamentalist thing they've got. This is an effort to deliberatively build up a base of people, millions and millions and millions of people, who are frightened by the idea of thinking--I'm serious--people who cannot deal with all the "complicatedness," all the complexity of modern society, who want simple absolute answers to the complexities of this society. This whole religious fundamentalist thing is based on mindless absolutism--like that bumper sticker: "god said it, I believe it, and that settles it." And of course, as I spoke to earlier, what "god said" is what these reactionary human authorities tell them god said--not simply what's in the Bible, which after all was written by people, but also what these people alive today say the Bible means. And, as a matter of fact, these "authorities" themselves ignore parts of the Bible that are inconvenient for them to talk about now. For example, they don't really want to go out with a program saying all children who strike their parents, or simply are disrespectful to and rebellious against their parents, should be executed. Because that would expose them for the crazy maniacs that they are. But if you literally believe what's in the Bible, you should uphold that.
Now here's another example of how they get these people to be unthinking stormtroopers. The conscious political operatives, representatives of the ruling class, that have been organizing and "cultivating" these Christian fundamentalist forces, had a real problem because for years and years and years the people in these fundamentalist movements have all been trained with the idea that "the Jews are the killers of Christ." That's how they have been identified--"the Christ killers." This is what you learn if you learn Christian fundamentalist religion: the Jews are the ones who crucified Christ. So, naturally this makes them kind of crazy haters of the Jews. But there is a problem. You see, the people who are on top of this--not the people who are unthinking foot soldiers of this, but the commanders on the top, the Falwells and the Pat Robertsons and all those people, with their connections right to the highest levels of society and government--their problem is that they are strategic operatives for this imperialist system and for a particular section of the ruling class within it. And for this ruling class and for that section, the state of Israel is tremendously important, strategically, for everything they're trying to do in the world.
So here you have a big contradiction for the Christian fascists: The state of Israel is a Jewish state and they proclaim the Jews to be "Christ killers," and yet you've got to get people in these Christian fundamentalist movements to be unthinkingly supportive of the state of Israel. How do you do that? Well, here is what you do. You tell people that, according to the Book of "Revelation" in the Bible, the creation and existence of the state of Israel is a crucial step in the process leading to the "second coming." So therefore, if Israel is destroyed it will set back the forces of Christ and advance the forces of Satan (or the anti-Christ) in terms of the "second coming." Therefore, the state of Israel has to be defended at all costs, get it? So this is the way they get these people.
Now, again, they've been working on this base of people for decades. They've been organizing and not only creating this whole broad movement, they've also been organizing what you could call cadre formations--political structures and political operatives in things like the "Promise Keepers." The "Promise Keepers" is a fascistic fundamentalist religious organization which not only calls on men to make their wives subordinate to them, and wives to submit to their husbands (lovingly, of course) but it also sets out to organize an actual structure of people who will carry this message and this program into every part of life: into their job, into their kids' little league baseball teams, and all the rest of this. They've been building this up for decades now. So they've got a sort of a fascistic mass movement and an organized cadre they're building within this society, an organized structure of political operatives.
And, while this is very important for them, they've got something even more important. They've got a heavy influence in the command structure of the American military. There is a book, for example, called Making the Corps .It's written about the Marine Corps--it covers the basic training of people in the Marine Corps. And one of the things that comes out in that book is how the command structure of the U.S. armed forces is becoming "politicized" (in bourgeois reactionary terms). One of the big principles of the U.S. military has always been that it's not a political army, it's not a politicized force. It doesn't take part in politics, it upholds the chain of command through the Constitution, and it doesn't get involved in politics, and it doesn't have a specific ideological stand. But then, over the last few decades, there's been an increasing influence of the Christian right-wing fundamentalists among the officer corps of the military. So now it's a highly ideological military officer corps that identifies politically with this extreme right-wing fascistic kind of program and movement in this society.*
So, let's look at this whole picture and look at what they've been putting in place and then think about this: what do the Democrats--from their own position within the ruling class--what do they have to counter this with?
Here's the pyramid, and here are the Republicans over here (on the right) with their shit going down to this right-wing social base of religious maniacs and fundamentalist fools. OK, remember the aftermath of the 2000 election, when they were dealing with all the "hanging chads" and "pregnant chads" and all the rest of that in Florida. There was one point where in one precinct in Florida they were counting the ballots, and this group of operatives--Republican congressional aides--came down there and banged on the doors of the precinct where they were doing this, and actually intimidated them out of counting the ballots. Now, that was significant in itself but it was also symbolic of something much bigger than that particular incident. What it's symbolic of is that these forces are quite willing to call into motion this fascistic kind of force that they've built up when they feel that they need it, and they're willing to bring it all the way into motion and turn this into a whole other kind of religious, fundamentalist, fascistic society if they feel that's where they need to go.
On the other hand, here are the Democrats at the top of this pyramid (on the so-called "left"). Who are the people that they try to appeal to--not that the Democrats represent their interests, but who are the people that the Democrats try to appeal to at the base, on the other side of this pyramid, so to speak? All the people who stand for progressive kinds of things, all the people who are oppressed in this society. For the Democrats, a big part of their role is to keep all those people confined within the bourgeois, the mainstream, electoral process...and to get them back into it when they have drifted away from--or broken out of--that framework. Because those people at the base are always alienated and angry at what happens with the elections, for the reason I was talking about earlier: they are always betrayed by the Democratic Party, which talks about "the little man" and poor people and the people who are discriminated against, and so on. And at times they'll even use the word oppression. But then they just sell out these people every time --because they don't represent their interests. They represent the interests of the system and of its ruling class. But they have a certain role of always trying to get people who are oppressed, alienated and angry back into the elections. You know: "Come on in, come on in- -it's not as bad as you think, you can vote, it's OK." This is one of the main roles they play. But the thing about them is that they are very afraid of calling into the streets this base of people that they appeal to, to vote for them. The last thing in the world they want to do is to call these masses of people into the streets to protest or to battle against this right-wing force that's being built up.
So, this gives a sense of the real danger that exists now in this country--of the whole direction toward a qualitatively much more repressive and, yes, even a fascistic form of bourgeois rule.
But it's a very sharply contradictory and two-sided thing. We should understand that. On the one hand, things get moved farther and farther to the right, and all the Democrats do is raise a few whiny objections and then find their position at "the left wing" of the juggernaut that's moving farther and farther to the right.
The Democrats always present themselves as the "reasonable center" and as the ones upholding the Constitution and orderly Constitutional rule in society, as it moves further and further in this fascistic kind of direction. But the other side of that, as things are sharpening up in society, is that there are tens of millions of people who hate the direction that things are going in. We've seen this in the aftermath of the election, and we saw it around the Iraq war. And it's not just the Iraq war, although it very definitely is that.
Millions and millions and millions of people have a deep, visceral gut hatred for everything that's represented by Bush and the whole direction that group is taking things. And one of the interesting things that's happened is that, because of the role the Democrats are playing, they're paralyzed to a significant degree from offering any alternative for those very alienated and angry people.
Part of the reason why the demonstrations against the Iraq war were as massive as they were is because people felt they had no choice. The Democrats refused to offer them an alternative. If you think back to the elections in 2002, the congressional elections, it was a perfect time, if a party like the Democrats actually wanted to oppose what the Bush group was doing in its whole move towards war, they could have gotten a massive turnout of people voting for them. People were almost begging the Democrats to take a stand against it, but for all the reasons I've been pointing to, they look at the situation and they say, "Well look, we might not like some of the Bush program either, but if the shit comes down, if everything goes down, and it's a struggle between us and them, they can call all their crazy people out into the street and they can get big sections of the military to go with them. Who's going to go with us--who that we aren't afraid to call out?!"
So, to a significant degree, they're paralyzed, and this is one reason why there was tremendous mass mobilization, particularly against the Iraq war, even before it began, because people felt the need for something to be done. They were looking for people like the Democratic Party leaders to do something, and they didn't do it, and people felt strongly enough and they said that we have to move on our own, anyway.
This is significant in itself but it also demonstrates a positive potential in terms of revolution. I'm not saying that we are on the threshold of revolution right now, but just looking down the road, and looking at the potential, one of the things that leads to a revolutionary situation is that millions and millions of people feel that something is intolerable. They want certain leaders at the top of society to lead them in doing something about it, but those leaders are not in the position to and don't want to lead them in doing it--so whom do they turn to? The people who are willing and determined to lead them to do it and to take it somewhere. So this is a situation that's full of great danger; but the same situation--or the other side of the contradiction--is that it holds much positive potential for struggle now and for revolution as things unfold.
Think about it--how they run this game with elections. You've got this whole traveling circus out here now of Democratic Party candidates going on this speaking tour around the country. And interestingly enough, there was this thing in Time magazine talking about Al Sharpton, and it said that Sharpton is, in essence, an illegitimate candidate--that he has no chance of being president and he has this whole funny past, the Tawana Brawley** case and all this stuff.
But isn't it strange, they said, that when they have these Democratic Party candidate meetings, Sharpton's the one who gets the best response from people, other than this guy Howard Dean, because those are the only ones even pretending to talk about anything that people feel deeply in their guts these days. Whatever the intent of Sharpton, the objective role of people like that--and even more of Howard Dean--has been to get all those people who are alienated and angry, and feel the Democrats have betrayed them, back into the arena: "Come on back because the primaries are coming up--vote for your candidate, there is a place for you." And, then what happens? Your candidate doesn't win, he doesn't get the nomination--but then they have the next step for you. Now they got you leaning that way and they say, "but, do you want Bush again?" OK, so your candidate didn't get in there, so we got Dickhead Gephardt as the candidate,*** but, still, it's better then Bush, isn't it?"
Then you are paralyzed because you've been brought back into their arena where you can't do anything effective. This is going to be a tremendous tug and pull on this huge body of people-- literally, already, tens of millions of people--who feel this deep gut hatred for what's going on. Are they going to get brought back into the fold, or are they going to get increasingly brought into resistance?
Now that doesn't mean that the dividing line should be drawn, or can be drawn, over whether you vote or not in the next election. That would be foolish. Many, many, many people are going to vote for the Democrats--people who are also going to know that the Democrats aren't going to do shit--and we have to get out and do something to move these people in a better direction: we have to unite with them in that part of it, in their opposition and deep hatred for the whole direction of things, and bring them forward, because it's going to be proven again and again that these Democrats don't represent any way to stand up and fight against all this. So we have to develop a certain sophistication, a certain maturity, a certain flexibility, a certain all-aroundedness about how we approach these things. A certain dialectics--of recognizing the contradictions and how they are moving and developing--in order to actually build the kind of movement which can have a major impact now and can actually lead toward revolution.
In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequalities, to talk about "democracy"--without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves--is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no "democracy for all": one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation , or the eventual abolition , of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality.
* Another important part of this overall picture is the fact that, increasingly over the past several decades, the Supreme Court has also come to be dominated by people who "identify politically with this extreme right-wing fascistic kind of program."--Bob Avakian
**In November 1987, 15-year-old Tawana Brawley was found in upstate New York, semi-conscious and wrapped in a plastic garbage bag. She had been missing for four days. Her blouse was full of burn holes, and the crotch of her pants was burned away. Dog feces was smeared on her, and chunks of her hair were cut off. Racist epithets were scrawled on her stomach. She later said that she was abducted and raped by a group of white men that included law enforcement officials. The Brawley case touched off widespread outrage. But the authorities immediately pointed the finger at Tawana, her advisors, and her supporters. Instead of helping the traumatized young woman, the system persecuted her and attacked those who rallied around her. More than 10 years later, a court ruled against Tawana Brawley's advisors, including Sharpton, in a civil suit brought by a former district attorney--one of the men whom Tawana had accused of assaulting her.
***Dennis Kucinich also fits into the category of a candidate who was "even pretending to talk about anything that people feel deeply in their guts these days," although from the beginning it was clear that Kucinich, as well as Sharpton, had no chance to win the nomination. And, while Dick Gephardt, cited here as an example of what type would be the eventual Democratic Party candidate, actually fared so poorly in the early going that he had to drop out of the race, the basic point being made here applies: That the Democratic Party nominee will be someone who from the beginning was well within the "acceptable" narrow (and continually moving to the right) framework of mainstream bourgeois politics--or someone who, in any case, had situated himself well within that framework by the time of the general election--and that this is a repeated and well-established pattern and device for drawing in, and then frustrating and betraying, millions of alienated and angry people who are constantly bombarded with the notion that, if you want to change things, there is no real alternative to the Democratic Party.--Bob Avakian
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