ON STATUES, MONUMENTS,
by Bob Avakian
July 6, 2020 | revcom.us
One of the significant trends associated with the upsurge sparked by the sickening murder of George Floyd has been the targeting of statues and monuments honoring a number of historical figures and events. This began with the attempts (some successful, some not) to tear down (or have removed) statues and monuments to soldiers and political leaders of the Confederacy—which is entirely justified and righteous! Clearly, removing these Confederate statues and monuments is not only justified and righteous, but long overdue! As I have written previously, the “tirades” from Trump (and others) against tearing down these statues and monuments to white supremacy is “one of the clearest demonstrations of the poisonous presence of ongoing white supremacy, from the White House to the white people (and a few Black lackeys) who are defending these statues as part of the ‘great history and heritage of this country!’”1 And it must also be said:
Any country which began with its foundation in slavery (and genocide against the native peoples); which maintained, and expanded, slavery (on land stolen from native peoples and Mexico) for nearly 100 years after its founding; which for another 100 years after the Civil War carried out thousands of lynchings of Black people, with mass celebrations of this, including the selling of postcards of lynchings throughout the country; which still has thousands of monuments to the Confederacy and white supremacy; and which today continues racist oppression in every dimension of society, enforced by continuing police terror—any such country has absolutely no claim to any positive celebration of itself or its history and heritage!2
But in the current situation the targeting of statues and monuments has also reached beyond just those dedicated to the Confederacy. So, here again, rather than attempting to discuss every particular instance in which a statue or monument has been targeted, it is crucially important to discuss the basic methods and principles that need to be applied to determine right from wrong, positive from negative. As a point of fundamental orientation, this must be emphasized: What is needed, in order to end not only white supremacist oppression but all oppression, is nothing less than an actual revolution, to overthrow this system of capitalism-imperialism and bring a much better system into being—and, in the radically new society brought into being through this revolution the symbols extolling this country and this system will not continue to occupy a place of honor in the way they do now.
Does this mean that all these statues, monuments, and other symbols will be destroyed? No, it means that, when this revolution finally succeeds, those that remain, and what they celebrate, will in fact be treated as part of history, and placed in their proper context in history, with a scientific explanation as to what role they actually played—and this will be utilized as an important part of educating people about history and the way to correctly, scientifically understand history and its relation to the present (and the future). This, by the way, serves to further expose the utter hypocrisy of those, like Donald Trump, who try to “dress up” their racist rants against tearing down Confederate statues and monuments by claiming that these statues and monuments represent important history, and it is important to learn about history. Yes, it is important to learn about history—definitely including the horrific history of slavery and the role of those who fought to maintain slavery, and the reasons why all this should be thoroughly denounced and condemned! And, in the future society, any remaining statues, monuments, etc., that celebrate such horrors will be removed from any positions of “honor,” and from public squares, parks, streets, and so on—and will be placed in museums where they can be given the accurate, and damning, treatment they deserve. That is what will be done in the society envisioned in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, which sets forth the goals for which the revolution is aiming.3
Once More: The Crucial Importance of a Scientific Method and Approach
In speaking about the beautiful uprising that has burst forth against institutional white supremacy, police brutality and murder, I have stressed the importance of a scientific dialectical materialist method and approach in distinguishing right from wrong, positive from negative, and determining what does, and does not, contribute to advancing the struggle—both in more immediate terms and in relation to the fundamental goal of finally abolishing racist oppression and all oppression. As I wrote in that article, this scientific dialectical materialist method and approach emphasizes the importance of, and provides the means for, identifying “what, in any given phenomenon (a system, a movement, a person), is the main thing (the principal aspect), which defines the essence of that phenomenon at any given time, and overall.”4
Using the examples of the rebellions against slavery led by Nat Turner and John Brown, that article also speaks to the importance of viewing things in their appropriate historical context and determining what was the principal contradiction that was being confronted in that historical context (the article cites the fact that these rebellions were not rising up against all systems and forms of exploitation and oppression but against what was then the principal contradiction, involving the main form of exploitation and oppression that it was then necessary and possible to abolish: outright slavery).
Returning to today’s situation—where, in connection with the beautiful uprising against racial injustice, and police terror as a concentrated focus of that, statues and monuments (and other symbols) associated with the history of this country and key figures in that history are being targeted—it is critically important to apply this scientific dialectical materialist method and approach, in order to sort out right from wrong and determine what will advance, and on the other hand, what will set back, this righteous uprising and its potential to contribute in a major way to the struggle to end all oppression. First of all, it is necessary to determine if the targeting of such things as statues and monuments is contributing to the struggle or not. Where, and to the extent that, this forces into public consciousness important questions about the nature of this society and the history of this country which have too long been buried and suppressed—and where the targeting of people and things is mainly correct—then this can make a positive contribution. Where, on the other hand, the targeting of such things as statues and monuments actually gets to the point where it is more diverting attention from than contributing to what needs to be the main focus and thrust of the struggle against racial injustice, and the mobilization of masses of people in this struggle—or where people and things are targeted that should not be—then this will have a negative effect on the struggle.
And this last point is very important: It is critical to apply the scientific dialectical materialist method to determine what (which statues, monuments, etc.) are legitimate targets of the struggle, and which are not. Where people or things are targeted whose main (principal and decisive) aspect is that they are more perpetrators of than opponents of the main form(s) of oppression in their time, then this targeting is correct. Where, on the other hand, people or things are targeted where the opposite is the case—where, overall, they more contributed to ending, rather than perpetuating, the key form(s) of oppression in their time—then targeting them is incorrect and can cause real harm and undermine the struggle..
All this can be complicated—and that is all the more reason why it is so important to take up and apply the scientific dialectical materialist method. For example, as I have pointed out in Breakthroughs, during the Civil War there were more than a few Native American peoples who sided with the Confederacy; and, after the Civil War, there were emancipated Black people who, as the infamous “Buffalo Soldiers,” took part in the U.S. military’s concentrated campaign to kill off large numbers of Native Americans, steal their land, and force those who remained into concentration camp-like “reservations.”5 But here the crucial points of method and approach that I have been emphasizing need to be applied. First of all, which in the history of Black People and Native Americans, in their relation to this country, is the main (principal) thing: negative roles such as those just cited, or their overall experience of horrendous oppression and their struggle against that oppression?
Along with this, it is necessary and important to view things in terms of what is the decisive (principal) contradiction being confronted in the present time—and looking to the future: the need and the possibility of carrying out a revolution to do away with all oppression, of all people everywhere. This provides the fundamental standpoint from which it is possible to unite all the different struggles against various forms of oppression (rather than being mired in and weighed down by conflicts and divisions that are rooted in the exploitative relations of the present system, or even in the past).
Of course, it would not only be wrong, it would actually be quite harmful, to insist that people must take up the scientific dialectical materialist method and approach before they rise up in struggle against outrageous injustice and oppression. No, what is needed, what is crucially and urgently required, is to build such struggle as powerfully as possible and enable it to contribute as fully as possible to the fundamental goal of abolishing all oppression—which includes the need and the responsibility of those who have been able to learn about and take up this scientific method to widely and boldly propagate and spread this method, and struggle to win constantly growing numbers of people to themselves take it up and apply it. This will both strengthen the struggle in immediate terms and strengthen the basis for developing the all-around struggle to end all oppression, through the revolution that aims to overthrow this system and bring the much better system into being, on the basis of the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.
In that radically different and much better society, the scientific dialectical materialist method and approach will be applied, in an all-around way, including to history and the role of different people and events in history, in determining whether they should be upheld and honored, or toppled and condemned, from the perspective of where they stand in relation to the long struggle, of human beings everywhere, against oppression and injustice, which is finally advancing to the point of striving for the emancipation of all humanity.
1. See, Bob Avakian On: A Beautiful Uprising: Right And Wrong, Methods And Principles which is available at revcom.us. [back]
2. These monstrous, widespread and continuing atrocities are laid bare in the American Crime series at revcom.us, and in a number of writings and speeches by Bob Avakian—including his powerful exposure and denunciation of lynchings and “selling postcards of the hangings” in his 2003 speech Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, which is available in BA’s Collected Works at revcom..us. [back]
3. The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by Bob Avakian, is available at revcom.us [back]
5. Breakthroughs: The Historic Breakthrough By Marx, and the Further Breakthrough with the New Communism, A Basic Summary, by Bob Avakian, is available at revcom.us. [back]