The Future And The Past

I don’t know if anyone has actually read the whole book “Prairie Fire,” but you really ought to. It is an extremely disturbing book because we are watching it play out.

The WU identify two impediments to the desired communist revolution: American exceptionalism and reformism.

Here is the section from pages 13 and 14 of Prairie Fire:

There are two currents of thought and activity that conspire to hold back the power of the movement. They are American exceptionalism and reformism. These tendencies often unite and reinforce each other. They are subtly embedded in various tendencies and accepted truisms in the left, and they are strategically put forward by the enemy to deflect us. They are both racist in effect.

American exceptionalism is the assumption that for one reason or another —US “technological superiority,” the “post-scarcity economy,” the “system of democracy,” our “advanced consciousness”— our revolutionary struggle is not subject to the same general conditions and the same general necessities as others.

It assumes different faces. One is American superiority, a kind of cultural chauvinism. This is characterized by the acceptance of some of these positions: that imperialism is something different from and unnecessary to capitalism, something that happens outside the US, incidental to the struggle here; US society is stable and even, not subject to the great dislocations and wrenching changes sweeping the world; our feminist consciousness is more advanced that that of women in Third World liberation movements or in Cuba or Vietnam; our revolution will be a consciousness revolution on the plane of personal relations and sexuality —we have passed beyond anything as “old fashioned” as socialism.

Of course there are new conditions and unique aspects to US society. Our revolution makes its own contributions. But we have to elicit the class consciousness and struggle out from beneath layers of false consciousness, resignation and fearfulness. Our women’s movement is a great new vital movement, but we can also learn much from women of the Third World about who our enemy is and how to mobilize to fight him. The repudiation of cultural oppression isn’t everything, but it does constitute a serious break with the brain-washing control of empire.

As a people we are saturated with the myth of American superiority. As a revolutionary people, we must take our place in the human community resolutely opposed to all expressions of arrogance.

Another form of American exceptionalism is rejecting forms of struggle for the US which are obviously necessary in other parts of the world. Some people actually defend the taking up of arms by the Vietnamese people, the Chilean workers or the Chinese Revolution —but preserve the territory within US borders from the same laws and forces which produce revolution everywhere else. This is half-hearted internationalism. Colossal arrogance is concealed in the self-deception that Third World people and socialist countries can and must do the fighting while we have some kind of free ride, tidy and constitutional.

Reformism deceives and derails the movement by putting forward the strategy of “peaceful transition to socialism.” It pretends to reassure the people by spreading pacifist and conciliatory ideas. It sells short the sacrifices and strivings of the people —disarms them of their correct understanding of the’ intractable nature of the enemy and disarms them of their own power and will to fight and win. Reformism assumes the essential goodness of US society, in conflict with the revolutionary view that the [*13] system is rotten to the core and must be overthrown.

Reformism rejects revolutionary violence by treating each new armed act as if it were a Reichstag fire, an act of provocation, or premature. Along with denouncing armed struggle comes the exaggerated emphasis on legality and electoral struggle, or an attempt to influence power by collaboration with the “best” aspects of the imperialists. Thus many good struggles which are parallel to and complementary to militant and armed struggle are instead turned against it, and posed as an alternative.

Another characteristic of reformism is “mainstreamism” —the attempt within the left to take on the coloration of the worst aspects of the mainstream of US society and history so as to be acceptable, and thereby change things without disturbing people too much. This is an attempt to slide in under the flag. In the name of becoming integrated with the US people, this movement abdicates its responsibility to confront racism and class rule and change it. It becomes corrupt.