Now, let’s move right into the substance of this presentation. Let’s begin with a statement by Lenin which not only has great importance in an overall sense but is also highly relevant in today’s world. Lenin said:
People always were and always will be the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes.4
This is a very important statement by Lenin, so let’s dig into it. Let’s begin with the first sentence: “People always were and always will be the foolish”—notice what he says—“victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics…” In other words, people get fooled, and they fool themselves, “until they learn to discover the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises.”
Now, you can see this right around you in the electoral process—the whole circus around the bourgeois elections that is being promoted now. You can’t even turn on the news without having someone like Donald Trump stuck in your face. And then here comes Hillary Clinton. Will Joe Biden run or not? And what about Bernie Sanders? You can’t get away from it. You’d think the election were next week—and it’s more than a year away. But they want you to focus on this, and they want you to think that this is about you—that somehow these people represent you—when in fact they represent what? A ruling class that’s ruling over you and ruling over the masses of people. Beyond just the relentless hype, even the serious contention that goes on through this bourgeois electoral process is contention among candidates for the position of presiding over a literally, and massively, murderous system of exploitation and oppression, on a world scale. To the degree that people do not recognize this, it is not because it is not true, but because, to invoke again Lenin’s critical insight, they have not learned to recognize the interests of the ruling class behind all this, and they remain the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit.
There is this old saying that George W. Bush couldn’t get right. The actual saying is: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” But this goes even further, because not only do they fool people over and over again with this electoral process, but they often fool you while they’re telling you they’re fooling you. I was watching this commentator, this guy named Jonathan Alter, who was on MSNBC the other day talking about the elections, and he said Bernie Sanders, everybody knows he’s not really gonna be the candidate, but he can generate a lot of enthusiasm and momentum, and then that’ll be very helpful to Hillary Clinton when she runs. They’re telling you what they’re doing, how they’re manipulating you. They’re manipulating you right now and telling you, “Hey, by the way, we’re manipulating you.”
So shame on you, if you don’t get it. But then there’s the self-deceit, where people don’t want to get it to a certain degree. I made the statement one time about liberals, that liberals have an oedipal complex. Now, Oedipus was this character in Greek mythology who ended up, unknowingly, sleeping with his mother; and then, when he found out that that’s what he’d done, he stabbed his own eyes out. So I said, liberals have an oedipal complex: It’s not that they want to sleep with their mother, it’s that they deliberately blind themselves—blind themselves to the reality of what’s going on in the world. This is a real problem with liberals.
And there’s the phenomenon I call “Fisher-Price ruling class.” Now maybe you all are familiar with Fisher-Price—they make toys for kids, right? They have a little tea set, and kids can come out and pretend—there’s no tea in there, but they can pretend they’re having a tea party. Or they make little trucks and kids can pretend they’re driving on a highway, while they’re puttering around in their little trucks. Well, now you’ve got what I call “Fisher-Price ruling class,” where you turn on something like Bill Maher on TV, and here’s Alec Baldwin, the actor, talking about, “This is what we ought to do in Iraq.” What do you mean “we,” white man? You’re not running the fucking country. But they’ve got these people—you know, Hollywood people, “Meathead” Rob Reiner and the rest—trying to act like they’re gonna shape what the politicians do, ignoring—or being ignorant of—the fact that the system is gonna dictate what the politicians do. People like that are just playing around with little Fisher-Price toys, pretending like they have some role in the running of the government.
And then there’s the role of the media, and in particular the “news” media. These are not vehicles for providing people information about important things in society and the world—and they are certainly not “objective,” if that means presenting reality as it actually is, nor are they a “free press,” in the sense of not being beholden to and controlled by powerful interests. They are in fact the propaganda machinery of the capitalist-imperialist ruling class. This is not “rhetoric,” but something which can be, and has been, clearly demonstrated on the basis of scientific analysis of these media: who owns and controls them, how they “manage” and distort what information they provide (and don’t provide) to people, and what this has to do with the basic relations in society. But people will not see this—and see through the ways these media operate to shape and manipulate their understanding of things—until, again, they learn to recognize the interests of this ruling class behind these media, as well as all other major institutions in society.
You can see this same kind of phenomenon with things like the environment. You’ll see people do really good exposure, deep and all-around exposure, of the desperate situation with the environment, where things really are on the precipice of going over to where it will be very hard, if not impossible, to reverse the damage to the environment; these people go through all that, graphically bringing this alive, and then they get to the end and they act as if everything they just said had no meaning. They start talking about, “If you recycle this, or you get a hybrid car, that is gonna solve the problem”—a problem they just described as so enormous that it would be impossible to solve it in that way. But they’re deceiving themselves because they can’t see beyond the confines of the existing system, or they resist seeing beyond the confines of the existing system. So, as Lenin so sharply characterized it, they remain supporters of reforms and improvements who are always the foolish victims of deceit, and self-deceit. As long as they stay within this framework, they’re always fooled by the defenders of the old order, because they haven’t yet realized that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes.
Or think of what some people say about police murder: put cameras on the police. Well, I think we know that there was a video of what happened to Eric Garner! They have had cameras taking pictures of many other people murdered by the police, but the idea is that, somehow, if you record it, that’s gonna change things. Or if you have “sensitivity training” for the pigs—you know, let’s get the pigs to be more “sensitive”—so now, instead of oinking when they murder someone, they first say, “Excuse me sir, may I shoot you?”—BAM! All these illusions, because people don’t understand that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling class. The police are part of the forces of the ruling class and its state apparatus of repression. They’re part of the machinery that enforces, on behalf of the ruling class, and with all the violence they deem necessary, the existing system of exploitation and oppression. And you cannot reform that away. Now, it isn’t enough to just say that; if you can’t make the case, then you might as well not bother to say it, because you’re not going to convince anybody. So, we need to get into that more deeply, to the scientific basis for understanding why this is so.
But we have the problem, which I pointed to in Ruminations and Wranglings5 that every class wants to “remake the world in its image.” In other words, you’ve got people in the middle class who are always promoting reforms and things like that, because they don’t want things to “get out of control,” they don’t want the conflicts in society to become really sharp, because then they’ll be caught where? Right in the middle. They have a sort of privileged position, even as many of them don’t like a lot of abuses that are perpetrated under this system. This is something spoken to very powerfully in the Interview with Ardea Skybreak that you have all read (SCIENCE AND REVOLUTION: On the Importance of Science and the Application of Science to Society, the New Synthesis of Communism and the Leadership of Bob Avakian).6 So, people like this are strongly inclined toward the sentiment: “Let’s not have things get extreme.” As if it’s not extreme what’s happening with the environment. As if it’s not extreme what’s happening to women all over the world. As if it’s not extreme what’s happening to people in the inner cities, with the police and with their conditions overall. As if it’s not extreme what’s happening with immigrants, being driven thousands of miles from one part of the world to another because of wars and overall desperate conditions. As if it’s not extreme with people being blown apart by bombs in all these different countries where wars are going on. “Oh no, let’s not have things become too extreme,” say people in the middle class because, even though they can’t do it, in their minds they’re constantly trying to remake the world into one where all these conflicts can somehow be resolved without a lot of chaos, upheaval and destruction.
Here is something important to understand: The way people look at things is a reflection—not in a mechanical one-to-one sense, but in a fundamental sense it is a reflection—of the position and inclinations of some social group or some class of people in society. Now, why am I emphasizing that we shouldn’t approach this in a mechanical way? Because people can and do take up the viewpoint of a social group or class other than the one that they themselves are part of. For example, basic masses, who are not in the middle classes, can take up the outlook that’s common among the middle class. They can get influenced by that. Or they can get influenced by ideas that come directly from the ruling class: “Well, you can’t do anything about this or that problem because it’s all human nature.” Who hasn’t heard that? Or: “Nothing can be done about that because it says right in the Bible that nothing’s gonna happen until the book of Revelation is fulfilled.” These are ideas that are pumped at people by the ruling and dominant institutions; and, in a fundamental sense, these ideas represent the viewpoint of a class of people that wants people to believe that you can’t do anything about the problems of society and the suffering of people—or that the most you can hope for is a few petty reforms—because this class, this ruling class, wants to keep the existing system going the way it is. In a basic sense, we can say that every class either wants to keep the world as it is, or to remake it in line with what it would like it to be, whether there’s actually a basis for that in reality or not.
But we have to go further. It is true—a very important truth pointed to by Lenin—that all these outmoded institutions are maintained by the forces of some ruling class; and it is also an important truth, understood correctly and not mechanically, that every way of looking at the world reflects the viewpoint, or the approach, of one class or another; but if you stop there, you could still be trapped within the confines of going for reforms: “This ruling class is dominating things too much, so, like Bernie Sanders says, let’s take away some of the power and some of the wealth from those people, and spread it out more in society.” You could still look at the existing framework and just try to rearrange things so they wouldn’t be so dominated by one class, or so that things wouldn’t be so prejudiced toward the middle classes, or however you look at it. We have to dig deeper. We have to ask the questions: What are classes rooted in? And can you change the system of class relations, the system where some classes dominate others, within the existing system—or does it require a complete break with that system in order to change this?
- V.I. Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism” (March 1913, Collected Works, Vol. 19 pp. 23-28, Progress Publishers) as cited in Bob Avakian, Phony Communism is Dead…Long Live Real Communism! Second Edition (RCP Publications, 2004) and Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, a talk by Bob Avakian, serialized in Revolution beginning October 21, 2007, in issues #105 through #120, available at revcom.us and also contained in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, 2008
- Bob Avakian, Ruminations and Wranglings: On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning. From a talk given in 2009. Revolution, May-September 2009. Available at revcom.us.
- Ardea Skybreak, SCIENCE AND REVOLUTION: On the Importance of Science and the Application of Science to Society, the New Synthesis of Communism and the Leadership of Bob Avakian, an Interview with Ardea Skybreak (Insight Press, 2015). Also available at revcom.us.