Revolution Online, February 21, 2010
An Historic Contradiction: Fundamentally Changing The World Without "Turning Out the Lights"
"And the world stays fundamentally unchanged. Capitalism-imperialism continues humming in the 'background,' crushing lives and destroying spirits in its meat-grinder of exploitation. And the horrors continue unabated."
This is our standing and powerful refutation of every other trend in the world. On the other hand, the way that a lot of people look at what we're about—and not entirely without justification—is: "Here come the communists, turn out the lights, the party's over."
In a basic sense, what this contradiction captures is that while only revolution leading to communism can put an end to the horrors of this world, for large numbers of people there's a sentiment, or verdict, that the dop [dictatorship of the proletariat] is not somewhere people, and in particular (but not only) the broad middle strata, would want to live. Whatever people think of the 'ideal' of communism, in practice they think it's bound to lead to a stifling of critical thinking and dissent, creativity, initiative, individual expression and individual rights; to the imposing of an official ideology which, if not professed, means being shut out of any significant input into or influence over affairs in politics, culture, science, etc.; to an instrumentalist approach to reality that substitutes "political truth" for a genuine search for the truth; and to a place where exploring new directions and avenues in science and art, particularly where that goes off in tangents or is seen as or actually is oppositional to the main ways that society is being mobilized, is looked on as not worthwhile, as a problem, or something dangerous.
A few examples of how this gets expressed, particularly among artists and intellectuals:
One professor, who organized a discussion on Away With All Gods, made the point at a brown bag discussion of the book we did earlier that he feels communists are better at critiquing capitalism than running society; essentially that they have played a better role when not in power than when in power. In his case I think this is related to his feeling that communists downplay the extent to which "human nature" is an obstacle to transforming people. He thinks it would take "saints" to handle these contradictions correctly. (On the other hand he has shown an appreciation for the work of Bob Avakian, and has been engaging with it for some time.)
Someone like Susan Jacoby is dismissive of the experience of socialist societies, focusing on some of the same errors that the Chair has identified, but drawing very wrong conclusions. In The AGE of AMERICAN UNREASON, she characterizes "Soviet power" as the "social pseudoscience of communism at the heart of the most dogmatic interpretation of Marxism," and points in particular to the experience of "Stalin's anointed biologist," Lysenko.
Michael Slate has described the extremely negative impression that many progressive artists have of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China (GPCR) because of the impact of the film "Farewell My Concubine" and its depiction of the way artists were treated during the GPCR. (This was raised and addressed in his interview with Avakian.)
And one intellectual of conscience wrote me after reading Ray Lotta's Open Letter to Tony Judt that this style of "political radicalism" put him off. While "the issues of how to assess communism are complex and a positive reassessment might to some extent be justified, criticism is far from consisting only of 'lies and misrepresentations.'" And "Beyond this, Raymond Lotta gives the fundamentalist impression that only he and Bob Avakian are in possession of the truth of our age. Again that sets off alarm bells."
As the Manifesto speaks to vividly in the analogy to the suppression of evolution following the seizure of power by Christian fundamentalists, this widespread negative summation of the experience of the first stage of the communist revolutions is principally the product of the "shark-like frenzy among reactionary forces" with their distortions and slanders of this revolution in a relentless ideological assault. And yet it is also true that the way a lot of people look at what we're about is "not entirely without justification."
In the context of the current campaign and the momentous stakes in achieving our 3 inter-related aims, this "turn out the lights, the party's over" evaluation points to a significant obstacle we continue to confront fairly broadly among progressive masses, and particularly among the intellectuals. At the same time, all of these criticisms, to the extent that they find their roots in the weaknesses and errors that were a part of the first stage of communist revolution, are a part of what the Chair has been sifting through, recasting and recombining in bringing forward the new synthesis. The potential the new synthesis represents for transforming this situation is stressed at the end of Part 1 of Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity:
…it is very important not to underestimate the significance and potential positive force of this new synthesis: criticizing and rupturing with significant errors and shortcomings while bringing forward and recasting what has been positive from the historical experience of the international communist movements and the socialist countries that have so far existed; in a real sense reviving—on a new, more advanced basis—the viability and, yes, the desirability of a whole new and radically different world, and placing this on an even firmer foundation of materialism and dialectics. This new synthesis is bound up with and interpenetrates closely with key ruptures in the realm of epistemology—ruptures with instrumentalism and apriorism, dogmatism and religiosity, positivism, empiricism and pragmatism, as well as nationalism in the realm of how we view the whole process of advancing to communism.
And it goes on,
So, we should not underestimate the potential of this as a source of hope and of daring on a solid scientific foundation.... In the present period in the U.S., revolution has once more been "ideologized" off the scene. And in the world as a whole, to a very large degree, revolution aiming for communism and the vision of a communist world—this has been "ideologized" off the scene—and with it the only road that actually represents the possibility of a radically different and far better world, in the real world, one that people really would want to live in and would really thrive in. The new synthesis has objectively "ideologized" this back on the scene once more, on a higher level and in a potentially very powerful way.
But what will be done with this? Will it become a powerful political as well as ideological force? It is up to us to take this out everywhere—very, very boldly and with substance, linking it with the widespread, if still largely latent, desire for another way, for another world—and engage ever growing numbers of people with this new synthesis in a good, lively and living way.
We need to be fostering a collective spirit within the party and among those becoming a part of the communist revolution, of "living in," grappling with and applying this new synthesis and popularizing its scientific method and approach as we're taking this out everywhere boldly and making the link with this widespread desire for another way, another world.
We and the emerging core of advanced have to be able to do this in ways simple and complex (not scholastic or facile), plunging into the questions, contestations and debates that it should unleash. The Chair makes the point in Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, "we need to be much more consciously and, yes, resolutely—but in a good and living way, not in a dogmatic way—struggling with people over these things." (Things such as the view of "human nature".) "To do this takes a grasp of the essential materialism and dialectics. You can't do it with religion, or religious dogma, or with utopian and idealist notions of how we'd like the world to be. We have to leap and rupture, and bring forward more and more people to leap and rupture—beyond that."
While this "turn out the lights, the party's over" verdict can be found among many different intermediate strata, I want to focus here on the intellectuals, in light of the importance of the "transfer of allegiance" of a section of the intelligentsia in repolarization for revolution. The Manifesto points out that the Chairman has criticized the one-sided view that sees the intellectuals only as a problem, and not giving "full recognition to the ways in which they can contribute to the rich process through which the people in society overall will come to a deeper understanding of reality and a heightened ability to carry out an increasingly conscious struggle to transform reality in the direction of communism." You can see concentrated in this criticism, proceeding from the theoretical framework of the new synthesis, the unity between reification, "political truth," and disdain for the intellectuals and for working with ideas.
This comes through fairly strongly in re-watching Breaking With Old Ideas, where the reification of the working masses goes hand in hand with a disdain for intellectuals, as represented by that one professor; or with suspicion, when the student decides to read the books Principal Lung is studying, but only to do "reconnaissance." And I have heard in others who mainly uphold the GPCR a hint of the tendency to see the intellectuals mainly as a problem.
The new synthesis recognizes that transformation goes through a lot of different "channels," and isn't tied in a one-to-one way to how the main social contradictions are posing themselves at a given time. And that the work of intellectuals, to the degree that they are contributing to a deeper understanding of reality, in whatever field they're engaged, can help humanity get to communism.
An aside: In this morning's L.A. Times a physics professor at UCSB wrote about the importance of the successful testing of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, and posed the questions "What will it discover, and why should we care?" He says the collider is poised to unravel "vexing mysteries" facing physicists; that it could "open new frontiers in understanding space and time, the microstructure of matter and the laws of nature." After describing many of the "mysteries" it could unravel, he points to the way in which such esoteric knowledge has contributed to things like MRIs, PCs, the GPS system, etc. And then he goes on to conclude:
But beyond practical considerations, we should ponder what the value of the LHC could be to the human race. If it performs as anticipated, it will be the cutting edge for years to come in a quest that dates to the ancient Greeks and beyond—to understand what our world is made of, how it came to be and what will become of it. This grand odyssey gives us a chance to rise above the mundane aspects of our lives, and our differences, conflicts and crises, and try to understand where we, as a species, fit in a wondrous universe that seems beyond comprehension, yet is remarkably comprehensible.
Shouldn't the new synthesis be sending such a scientist dancing in the streets?!!
But the critique of the treatment of intellectuals is part of a much more fundamental critique of the weaknesses of these first socialist societies overall. In pointing to the need for more room for, openness toward and welcoming of contestation and dissent, and the understanding of the multi-layered and multi-colored "map" of social reality, the new synthesis has the potential to fundamentally change the character and the spirit of the socialist transition to one that people will welcome and want to get to.
A glimpse of this vision comes through strongly when the Chair asks in Making / Emancipating—about positive rights. For instance, he asks about both the "right" of the masses of people in the world to explore scientific questions, and about those who presently do have the ability to do this having the "right" to explore scientific questions in a whole new social context and framework. These "rights" can only be realized with a different economic structure, a different (communist) set of production relations, and the culture conditioned thereby. The contrast between "turn out the lights, the party's over" and this glimpse of a whole radically different kind of society that the new synthesis opens up, should stand as a challenge to break out of the confines imposed by this system.
At the same time, this re-envisioning of socialist society in transition to communism has to be unleashed while "state power is maintained and further developed as a revolutionary state power serving the interests of the proletarian revolution"—or the new synthesis would be a recipe for bourgeois democracy, and the restoration of capitalism. Yet as the Chair puts it, being at the core of leadership of this kind of process, and leading it not as a tightly controlled process but with people "running in all kinds of directions," means there will be tremendous pressure and tension pulling on you; because you can neither let go of the reins, nor hold them too tightly. You have to keep it all going toward the objective of communism, but without keeping things tightly under your control throughout the process. And if we're handling all of this correctly, doing what we should be doing, we will repeatedly be drawn to the brink of being drawn and quartered.
Individuals and Social Relations
Another, very important question the Chair has been analyzing and developing a deeper understanding of, and that is bound up with "turn out the lights, the party's over," has to do with the contradictions -
that are bound up with the fact that on the one hand people exist as individuals, while on the other hand their existence is a social existence. Individual existence is part of material reality—it's not something people invent as a bourgeois individualistic device…" (Ruminations and Wranglings)
For the "anti-totalitarians," this has been perhaps their greatest ideological trump card and their most effective argument for the "superiority" of bourgeois democracy with its notion that the "rights of the individual are sacrosanct." In contrast they portray the experience of the socialist societies of the first stage of communism as a horror because they "liquidated" individual interests and individual "rights"; expressed gruesomely in 1984 and, at least objectively, in Farewell My Concubine.
The Chair has addressed the bourgeoisie's distortion of the socialist experience, and contrasted it with the reality of "individual rights" and "individual interests" in bourgeois / class society. Principally what the bourgeoisie ignores and suppresses is the reality that the pursuit of individual interests takes place through the social and class relations of bourgeois society, which shapes and essentially determines how people even perceive their interests, and how to pursue them. Why, in other words, an individual's choices are obscenely different depending on where they were born in the world.
But there were not just excesses but serious errors made, grievous ones in Stalin's case, but also in the GPCR, that have contributed to people's view that on this very 'personal' question, with the coming of the communists, "the party is over."
It is a part of material reality that people do exist as individuals. And any attempt to ignore this, the Chair says, will be disastrous politically and in regard to any attempt at positive radical social transformation. This is a contradiction we're going to have to continue to understand more deeply; how to handle in the best way possible the reality of, and the relationship between individuals and classes—in the context and framework of moving to the abolition of classes—that social existence is principal, but that people's existence as individuals is part of material reality as well and cannot be liquidated.
The theoretical framework of the new synthesis comprehends the existence of this contradiction, including in its concentrated expression as "solid core with a lot of elasticity." It doesn't view the existence of people as individuals as a "problem." The Chairman makes the point that this contradiction between individuals and social relations makes for a great diversity and richness to human society, and is another expression of the "multi-layered and multi-colored map." But there is an objective contradiction; there is necessity; and there are objective constraints that confront individuals as members of society, ultimately rooted in "right can never be higher." This will always be true, including in communist society.
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