Excerpt from 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
The New Synthesis of Communism, Solid Core and Elasticity
April 3, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In the early part of 2015, over a number of days, Revolution conducted a wide-ranging interview with Ardea Skybreak. A scientist with professional training in ecology and evolutionary biology, and an advocate of the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian, Skybreak is the author of, among other works, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters, and Of Primeval Steps and Future Leaps: An Essay on the Emergence of Human Beings, the Source of Women’s Oppression, and the Road to Emancipation. This interview was first published online at www.revcom.us.
Question: Well, we’re definitely gonna get more directly into the new synthesis of communism that BA has brought forward that you mentioned, pretty soon. But in terms of the method that BA models in all of his work, including at this Dialogue, one thing that was called to mind for me by what you were just saying is the relationship between the point you’re making about constantly going for the truth and another key dimension of this new synthesis of communism, which is the approach of solid core with a lot of elasticity. So, I wondered if you wanted to also talk about how this Dialogue was an example of applying solid core with a lot of elasticity.
AS: Well, I think this relationship between solid core, and lots of elasticity on the basis of that solid core, is a real hallmark of Bob Avakian’s entire body of work, of the whole new synthesis. It is in evidence in everything he does and writes and talks about, and it was in evidence at the Dialogue. I mean, one of the things you can count on with Bob Avakian is that he will tell you what his most developed and advanced analysis and synthesis has brought him to understand. He will share that with the world without hesitation, regardless of how popular or unpopular it is, and he will back it up with evidence. And anybody who wants the proof can look into his works and how he got to certain things, certain conclusions about the nature of the system and the way forward, and so on. But one of the things that he’s understood, in the course of studying deeply the experience of the first wave of socialist revolutions, and the positive and negative experiences of the past, is that he’s come to appreciate even more deeply the need for a scientific method that you might think of as neither too rigid nor too loose. [laughs]
Good science, you know, does not just go out into the world with a big question mark without any kind of developed theory. In order to advance science, you go out into the world with a framework of certain analyses that have accumulated over time. You make your best possible analysis and synthesis at any given time. And then you go out and test it further against reality. That’s what scientists do. And, in the course of that, you discover that some things that you thought were true are in fact very much true—you see some patterns that maybe you expected—and you often also get some surprises, you learn some things you didn’t expect, you find out you were wrong in some instances, and you learn from that as well. That enables you to make an even more advanced analysis and synthesis. And you go on from there. That’s how good scientific knowledge advances. And Bob Avakian models that in everything he does, in my opinion. That’s why I think there’s really no one like him in terms of taking a really consistently good scientific approach to societal issues and the positive transformation of society.
And what you saw at the time of the Dialogue—you’re looking at a guy who’s really a statesman. People say sometimes, “Well, we need to change things, but there’s no leadership.” Well, you want leadership?—there’s leadership. There is leadership that is not hesitating. There is leadership that has the confidence that has been built up on analyses and syntheses of world experience, and the experience of this country, and the experience of the communist movement and revolutionary movements, on the whole human history of experience, which has been studied and analyzed for decades. He’s got a lot under his belt that way, and he has no hesitation at sharing with the people what he has learned, in a very coherent way. That is leadership, and that is the solid core of his leadership.
At the same time, it’s very much part of his scientific understanding of things that communism and the transformation of society—this is not a religion, this is not a dogma, this is not catechism, it is not a set of precepts or rules, it’s not the Ten Commandments. It’s a living science that must always be open to learning from some new directions and new experience and new information, new data coming in, which can both reinforce and further substantiate what you already understand, and also call some parts of it into question and allow you to develop it even further. It’s not a static process. Science is a very dynamic process, correctly understood. So, one of the things that you see is...why is he even bothering to do something like this Dialogue? Why is he speaking to such a diverse audience? It’s not like most people there were communists. Most people there were not won over to everything—he’s not preaching to the converted. Again, it’s not a religion. He’s bringing science to the people, and he’s calling on people to engage it and to bring some of their own experiences to bear and bring new insights into further deepening the truth and further deepening analyses.
But what he’s also not doing is making the opposite mistake that people can make. On the one hand, there’s the mistake of dogmatism and a religious approach—acting like, instead of a science, communism is just a bunch of precepts or a catechism that you should recite and that has that kind of rigidity. No. Real life, real nature, and real human society is much too dynamic to be forced into these dry little precepts and cubicles! But the opposite mistake people can make epistemologically is to act as if nothing can ever really be known, nothing is ever certain. Acting like, just because it’s right to question everything you can never be sure of anything, that there’s never anything you can ever base yourself on to go forward, to learn more—basically arguing for all elasticity all the time, so that there’s no longer any solid core to anything at all. It’s like what prevails a lot in university circles these days: a tremendous amount of philosophical relativism, where people will literally say to you things like: “Well, there’s your truth and then there’s my truth, we can all have our truths, and you can have your narrative and I can have my narrative, and who’s to say what’s right or wrong.” In my view, such extreme relativism is not just idiotic, it’s unconscionable.
If you never have any scientific certitude about anything, you’re going to have a lot of disasters and you’re not going to move forward. For instance, in the natural sciences, if you’re trying to solve a huge environmental problem, or cure a serious disease, or send a probe into space to explore Mars, or whatever, you’d better be starting off with a certain solid core of scientific certitude, to the best of your ability, even while recognizing that some parts of your understanding and approach may not be perfect. In fact, you can almost always predict that you will be learning some new things that will call some parts of your understanding and approach into question. But you’d better start off with an initial scaffolding or template which involves a certain core of certitude, of scientific certitude, that has been built up over time through the accumulation of historical experience and the subsequent scientific sifting through and “triaging” of that historical experience. This allows you to say, OK, we’re going out into the world applying these scientific hypotheses and theories, and we’re going to further test them and develop them and no doubt learn many new things along the way. But if you don’t set out with some scientific certitude, with some solid core to put out in the world, you won’t be able to accomplish anything. If you don’t think there’s anything you can reliably base yourself on...you might as well be floating in a vacuum! If you’re trying to figure out how to cure cancer or some other terrible disease, you can assume that there will likely be some flaws and shortcomings in your understanding at any given time, but you’d better be willing to apply the best accumulated understanding to date and use this as a basis to further experiment and try to transform reality, and then to further sum up and analyze in order to enable even further advances in solving the problems.
Bob Avakian models that kind of scientific approach. He doesn’t tell you everything in the past was perfect. Or that everything in his own understanding was perfect. Or there won’t be any mistakes made in the future. He never tells you that. He tells you that we have to learn to apply a scientific method and approach in order to systematically analyze and sort out what is true from what is not true to the best of our ability at any given point in history and in an ongoing way.
And, of course, if you’re talking about social transformation, you have to attach your scientific method to a moral conscience. You have to actually be proceeding back from certain objectives. If you’re a natural scientist, maybe your objective is to figure out the effects of deforestation of a rain forest, or something like that. If you’re a social scientist and you’re a revolutionary communist, your objective is to actually move towards a better world, a world that transcends class divisions and accomplishes what’s been called the “4 Alls.” The “4 Alls” refers to a formulation by Marx where he said that reaching the goal of communism requires the abolition of all class divisions, of all the production relations on which those class divisions rest, of all the social relations that correspond to those production relations, and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. You’re moving in that direction of a communist society, and you’re understanding some of the contradictions involved today in the process of seizing power, in the process of building a new socialist society on a completely different economic footing and with different objectives and different social relations being fostered and fought for. You’re moving in a certain direction.
So, today a revolutionary communist should be proceeding back from that longer term goal of bringing into being the kind of society that would be truly emancipatory for the majority of humanity. And that should be what you’re continually double-checking: Is the work going in the right direction? Is it moving towards, rather than away from, those stated objectives? The work may go down some wrong paths, and you can hopefully recognize that soon enough and correct course and learn from those mistakes. Any good scientist will tell you that you can even learn a lot from your mistakes and your wrong directions, as long as you consistently apply scientific methods to their analysis and summation. But if you don’t apply consistent scientific methods, you are much more likely to get devastated by mistakes and misdirections.
Bob Avakian has said that all truths are good for the proletariat, that everything that is actually true can help us go in the direction of communism. And that’s really true. You can learn. And in the Dialogue you can see him actually struggling with the audience to understand that. He knows he’s talking to an audience that harbors a lot of misconceptions, a lot of prejudices—it’s an audience that is full of intelligent people but people who do not know much of anything about how society is structured and organized, or what it would take to actually remake society on a much more positive basis. There’s very little science, there’s very little materialism in society today. I don’t care how educated people are, most people don’t know anything, frankly, when it comes to understanding society and how to transform it. I don’t hesitate to say that. And Bob Avakian is modeling the solid core, in that he’s saying, Look, I’ve been at this for decades, I’ve been applying scientific methods. There’s a lot that I’ve learned, there’s a lot I can share with you about how this system is constructed, about these outrages like police murders and all these other outrages. Why do they happen? Why do they keep happening? Why will they continue to happen until we get rid of this system?
He has a lot of solid core material, a lot of scientific certitude that he can bring to bear. And, at the same time, he has these very wide arms, that are open to bringing together people who have a lot of different perspectives and to drawing from broad insights and experience, including, in this case, his very warm and productive rapport with Cornel West, who proceeds from a different philosophical epistemology, but who shares many of the same concerns.
There is much we can learn from these diverse frameworks, but they have to be sorted out and they have to be harnessed and directed. The elasticity shouldn’t just be a random mush. It should constantly be brought back together with the solid core to direct it and channel it. A good scientist does try to direct and channel things in positive directions in order to resolve problems. And that is part of what you’re seeing—you’re seeing it in the course of the Dialogue. There’s a great deal of confidence and certitude of the scientist who’s done a lot of work, and who knows that his work is very advanced, and who knows that many of his critics have never really engaged the material with any real substance. And, at the same time, he’s opening his arms out very widely, both in encouraging critical thinking and in learning from a lot of different experiences in the past and in the present, all for the purpose of leading in a direction that would actually be good for the majority of humanity.
Another thing you could get from the Dialogue, in terms of what Bob Avakian was modeling, was something of a feel for the kind of society he’s arguing should be brought into being. I think people are often surprised when they read or in other ways encounter Bob Avakian. People often come with all sorts of societal prejudices, misconceptions and stereotypes, about communists being some kind of dry and humorless dogmatists, but then they encounter Bob Avakian and discover that he is completely different from what they expected. And this is precisely because of the kind of scientific method and approach he takes to the transformation of society and working towards the goal of emancipating all of humanity. He’s very lively, and he has a tremendous generosity of spirit. And he’s very funny. That’s always something you hear people say—I never knew he was so funny! At the same time, he’s dead serious, he’s absolutely dead serious about what he’s about. And his rage, his anger, his outrage at the injustices of society, the depth with which he feels every one of those police murders of Black youth, for instance, he’s not putting on a show, this is something that is profoundly felt. Everybody comments on that—that his sense of outrage is very real, his seriousness and determination to do away with all this is very real. And, at the same time, he can combine that hard core seriousness and science with an approach that is lively and generous and full of humor and that embraces life in all its many dimensions. And that, I think, says something about the kind of world that he’s arguing to bring into being, and the methods for doing so.
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