"But How Do We Know Who's Telling the Truth About Communism?"
November 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Some people reading this interview may be saying to themselves: "Ok, Raymond Lotta says these socialist societies were incredibly liberating, and that all these amazing things happened. But my teacher… my textbook… that magazine article I read… my friend whose family is from Russia… everything I have ever learned or heard about these societies… says that they were nightmares. How do we know who's telling the truth? Why should I believe Raymond Lotta?"
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In response, two quick points must be made right away:
First, it's not a question of what Raymond Lotta says vs. what your teacher, or textbook, or friend, or magazine article says. There are not two, or three, or four different competing "versions" of reality; there is one reality. In other words: Either something is true, or it's not. Either something is in line with reality, or it isn't. Either something happened, or it didn't.
Second, here's how you definitely don't decide what's true: By looking at what most people think. Very often what most people think is wrong! For example: At different points in the history of the world, most people thought that the earth was flat… that the sun revolved around the earth… and that slavery was completely natural and acceptable… and most people today still think that god created human beings and all life on earth. 0 for 4!
But then this leads to the question: How do we tell what is really true, and who is really telling the truth about communism?
The short answer to this question is: Be scientific. Examine the evidence, and examine the methods and criteria being applied.
More specifically: Examine the evidence being offered, and criteria and methods being applied, in this interview with Raymond Lotta to argue that the past experience of the communist revolution was principally emancipatory… and compare and contrast this with the evidence (or lack thereof) being offered, and criteria and methods being applied, by those who tell you communism was a nightmare.
There is a basic question that you should ask yourself again and again as you read this interview and compare it to everything you've heard and been told and will again encounter about communism: Who is proceeding scientifically here, and who is not?
Now, what does it mean to be scientific, or to proceed scientifically? And why is this important? Being scientific means starting from, and consistently returning to, reality. It means doing that as opposed to starting from conventional wisdom, what one wants to be true, what one subjectively "feels," or one's prejudices and preconceptions about what is true.
As Bob Avakian has put it:
Let's not mystify science. Science means that you probe and investigate reality, by carrying out experiments, by accumulating data, and so on; and then, proceeding from that reality and applying the methods and logic of rational thought, you struggle to identify the patterns in the data, etc. you've gathered about reality. If you're approaching it correctly, you're struggling to arrive at a correct synthesis of the reality you've investigated. And then you measure your conclusions against objective reality to determine if they are in correspondence with it, if what they sum up and predict about reality is confirmed in reality. That's the way breakthroughs in science have been made—whether it's in the realm of biology, like the understanding of evolution, or whether it's things about the origins of the universe (or the known universe), like the Big Bang Theory, or whatever. That's the process that goes on, and the question is: is it scientific? That is, does it, in its main and essential lines, correspond to reality?
—From What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, An Interview with Bob Avakian by A. Brooks
And why is it so important to be scientific? Because this is the only way to actually get to reality and to continue learning more about reality. To return to the examples given earlier: where would we be if Copernicus and Galileo, or Darwin, or the Abolitionists who fought against slavery, proceeded from "what everybody knows," or decided that no one could really say what was true, or what was right and wrong, that there was no objective reality but simply "different versions" of that reality, or that truth depended on one's individual perspective?
Now, to be clear, the point is not that if someone is applying a scientific method—and the communist method of dialectical materialism in particular—that automatically means everything that person says about communism is true, or that everything anti-communists say is not true. In fact, at the heart of the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian is an understanding that while the communist outlook and method represents the most systematic, comprehensive, and consistent means of arriving at the truth, this does not mean that communists have a monopoly on the truth, or that those who are not applying this outlook and method are incapable of discovering important truths. Rather, with anything that anyone says, the test should be: Does this, in fact, correspond to reality?
But it is also the case that with this interview, as is the case with literally anything that one reads about any topic, everyone who reads this is not going to be able to independently verify every single statement made or fact cited. And if you just look things up for yourself, without an eye towards all the points being made above, you are—to be blunt—going to run across a lot of lies and bullshit and unsubstantiated garbage about communism and not know what to make of it.
So, again, as you are reading this interview with Raymond Lotta and comparing it to everything you've been told about communism, consider the question: Who is proceeding scientifically here? And who is not?
Let's Take Just One Example
Let's compare and contrast how Raymond Lotta discusses the Great Leap Forward in revolutionary China with how a recent New York Times article—which is representative of the standard anti-communist account of this experience—approaches the Great Leap Forward.
If you read how Raymond Lotta talks about the Great Leap Forward in this interview, you will notice that he consistently applies the method of proceeding from, confronting and probing reality, and the complexity and contradiction within that reality. He starts by talking about the context—the situation within China and the world as a whole—in which the Great Leap Forward was launched. He addresses the challenges Mao and the Chinese revolution were faced with, and the problems and obstacles they were trying to solve and overcome. He addresses the basic question of why Mao initiated the Great Leap Forward and what its goals were. He speaks to what the Great Leap Forward accomplished. And he does not shy away from, but rather directly engages and refutes, the anti-communist accusations that "Mao was responsible for tens of millions of deaths" through the Great Leap Forward, illuminating where these charges and figures come from and exposing how anti-communists both inflate the numbers of deaths and also treat the deaths that did occur as people "killed by Mao." And in terms of the massive food crisis that hit China, Lotta does not attempt to cover up or shy away from this, instead explaining the various actual causes of this food crisis, the mistakes that the Chinese leadership made, and the ways that this leadership learned from and corrected these mistakes. And the basic criteria Lotta is applying to evaluate all of this is: To what degree were the Chinese communists seeking to—and to what degree did they—advance in the direction of overcoming all exploitation and oppression and the ways of thinking that go along with that?
It is very instructive to compare and contrast how Lotta approaches the Great Leap Forward in this interview with how it is approached in the New York Times article, "Milder Accounts of Hardships Under Mao Arise as His Birthday Nears" (October 16, 2013). In contrast to the interview with Raymond Lotta, which is consistently proceeding from, probing, and synthesizing the lessons of reality, the Times piece is proceeding from and returning to what "everybody knows."
The tone for this article is set in its opening sentence, which claims: "The famine that gripped China from 1958 to 1962 is widely judged to be the deadliest in recorded history, killing 20 to 30 million people or more, and is one of the defining calamities of Mao Zedong's rule." Right there, you have a combination of at least three standard anti-communist methods in a single sentence. 1) Toss out a huge number of deaths without offering any actual evidence for the claim, which the Times never does in the article. 2) Be sure to blame those deaths on communist leaders—again, evidence not included. 3) Use phrases like "widely judged" to convey the impression that "everybody knows" the above two points to be true, thereby freeing you of the burden of having to offer any evidence.
From there, in addition to putting forward snarky, distorted, and crude misrepresentations of what the Great Leap Forward was seeking to accomplish and the reasons it was launched—read how Raymond Lotta explains this in the interview, and then compare it to the Times' characterization—the basic method of the Times article is to lean on the "everybody knows" crutch over and over again, instead of offering any evidence or reality-based analysis to support its claims. For instance, the article refers to a mathematician, Sun Jingxian, whom the article says "asserts that most of the apparent deaths were a mirage of chaotic statistics: people moved from villages and were presumed dead, because they failed to register in their new homes." But the article never even attempts to show why what Sun says is inaccurate! Similarly, the Times refers to a book by Yang Songlin, whom the Times identifies as a "former official," who argues that the numbers of deaths in the Great Leap Forward have been severely inflated, and that the deaths that did occur were caused mainly by "bad weather, not bad policies." But again, there is not even an attempt by the Times to show why what Yang says is not true.
We are not commenting one way or another here on Sun Jingxian and Yang Songlin, or their specific claims and methods. Rather, we are pointing to the Times' methods here, which is to start with what "everybody knows," and then measure everything else against that, rather than actually probing and investigating reality and using that as the yardstick to measure what is true.
The method, and message, of the Times article is clear: When it comes to negative things about communism, if someone said it, it must be true. If someone didn't say it, say it now. And if it can be claimed that lots of people say it—well, all the better!
Pieces like this article, which again is one of many examples that could be given, train people to think that Mao sat around and said: "Hmm, how can I implement a policy that will cause the most people to starve?" Among the things you would never know from these anti-communist slanders and methods is that there was mass starvation and mass inequalities in China before the Chinese revolution; that Mao launched the Great Leap Forward with the aims of overcoming mass starvation and inequalities, radically transforming social and economic relations, and developing the Chinese economy in a way that would reduce, not widen, the gap between the cities and the countryside; that within 20 years of the Chinese revolution, everyone in China indeed had enough food to eat; and that the deaths that occurred in China during the Great Leap Forward were principally caused by a massive famine that gripped China as a result of the floods and drought that affected over half of its agricultural land, by hardships caused by the Soviet withdrawal of aid to China, and by mistakes that the Chinese leadership made in that context—NOT by some insane and evil plot by Mao to starve people!
Again, compare all this—and many other examples you will unfortunately encounter of anti-communist methods and accounts—to the evidence that Raymond Lotta presents and the methods and criteria that he applies, in this section of the interview, and in fact throughout the interview.
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