When the revisionists seized power in China in 1976 and moved to restore capitalism, for a certain period of time they not only continued to pose as communists in a general sense but more specifically claimed to be the continuators of Mao’s revolutionary line and legacy. In this situation, what communists around the world really needed to do was to maintain a critical spirit and approach, make an objective, scientific analysis of what had actually happened, and why, and clearly distinguish communism from capitalism, Marxism from revisionism, as this found concentrated expression in those concrete and complex circumstances. This was not easy to do at the time, and the majority of the communists in the world who had looked to Mao’s China as a revolutionary model and beacon failed to do this, and so either themselves blindly tailed the new revisionist rulers of China and took the path into the swamp, or in some other form abandoned the outlook and objectives of the communist revolution. Responding to the great need, refusing to go along with what had happened in China simply because it was done in the name of communism and by hijacking the great prestige that revolutionary China and Mao rightly enjoyed among revolutionaries and communists throughout the world—and at the cost of a major split within our own Party—Bob Avakian undertook the task of making a scientific analysis of what had happened in China, and why, and then fought for the understanding that indeed a revisionist coup and restoration of capitalism had taken place. And along with that, he brought forward a systematic presentation of the ways in which Mao had further developed the science and strategy of communist revolution.9 In a time of great disorientation, demoralization, and disarray in the ranks of the “Maoists” around the world, this work of Avakian’s played a crucial role in establishing the ideological and political basis for the regrouping of the remaining communists after the loss of China and the devastating effects of this on the revolutionary and communist movement throughout the world.
But even greater needs now presented themselves. While providing overall leadership to our Party, Bob Avakian has, over the past 30 years, continued to deepen a scientific analysis of the experience of the international communist movement and the strategic approach to communist revolution. The result of this work has been the emergence of a new synthesis, a further development of the theoretical framework for carrying forward this revolution.
As our Party’s Constitution points out, the situation in the world today—including the defeat of the initial wave of communist revolution—actually “poses, anew, the great need for communism.” And:
While there are no socialist states in the world, there is the experience of socialist revolutions and there is the rich body of revolutionary, scientific theory that developed through the first wave of socialist revolutions to build on. But the theory and practice of communist revolution requires advances to meet the challenges of this situation—to scientifically address, and draw the necessary lessons from, the overall experience of this first wave of socialist revolution and the strategic implications of the vast changes taking place in the world.
Bob Avakian has taken on this responsibility, and has developed a communist body of work and method and approach that responds to these great needs and challenges.
In this body of work and method and approach, in the new synthesis brought forward by Bob Avakian, there is an analogy to what was done by Marx at the beginning of the communist movement—establishing in the new conditions that exist, after the end of the first stage of the communist revolution, a theoretical framework for the renewed advance of that revolution. But today, and with this new synthesis, it is most emphatically not a matter of “back to the drawing board,” as if what is called for is throwing out both the historical experience of the communist movement and the socialist societies it brought into being and “the rich body of revolutionary scientific theory” that developed through this first wave. That would represent an unscientific, and in fact a reactionary, approach. Rather, what is required—and what Avakian has undertaken—is building on all that has gone before, theoretically and practically, drawing the positive and the negative lessons from this, and raising this to a new, higher level of synthesis.
Other presentations and publications by our Party have provided a more extensive and systematic discussion of this new synthesis.10 Here we will briefly characterize some of its main elements.
» In terms of philosophy and method, this new synthesis is, in a meaningful sense, regrounding Marxism more fully in its scientific roots. It also involves learning from the rich historical experience since the time of Marx, upholding the fundamental objectives and principles of communism, which have been shown to be fundamentally correct, criticizing and discarding aspects that have been shown to be incorrect, or no longer applicable, and establishing communism even more fully and firmly on a scientific foundation.
In the original conception of human society’s historical development toward communism, even as formulated by Marx, there was a tendency—although this tendency was definitely very secondary—toward a somewhat narrow and linear view. This was manifested, for example, in the concept of the “negation of the negation” (the view that things proceed in such a way that a particular thing is negated by another thing, which in turn leads to a further negation and a synthesis which embodies elements of the previous things, but now on a higher level). This concept was taken over from the philosophical system of Hegel, whose philosophy exerted a significant influence on Marx (and Engels), even while, in a fundamental sense, they recast and placed on a materialist foundation Hegel’s view of dialectics, which was itself marked by philosophical idealism (the view that history consists in essence of the unfolding of the Idea). As Bob Avakian has argued, the “negation of the negation” can tend in the direction of “inevitable-ism”—as if something is bound to be negated by another thing in a particular way, leading to what is almost a predetermined synthesis. And when applied to the historical sweep of human society, in such a way that it verges on being simplistically formulaic—as in the construct: primitive classless (communal) society was negated by class society, which in turn will be negated by the emergence once again of classless society, but now on a higher foundation, with the achievement of communism throughout the world—the tendency toward reductionism with regard to the extremely complex and variegated historical development of human society, the tendency toward a “closed system” and toward “inevitable-ism,” become more pronounced and more problematical.
Again, this was a secondary shortcoming in Marxism, at its foundation (as Bob Avakian has also argued: “Marxism, scientific communism, does not embody, but in fact rejects, any teleological...notion that there is some kind of will or purpose with which nature, or history, is endowed”11 ). But tendencies of this kind asserted themselves more fully with the development of the communist movement and were particularly noticeable, and exerted a negative effect, in the thinking of Stalin, who in turn influenced Mao’s philosophical views, even while Mao rejected and ruptured in significant ways with Stalin’s tendencies toward “woodenness” and mechanical, somewhat metaphysical, materialism. The new synthesis of Bob Avakian’s embodies a continuation of Mao’s ruptures with Stalin but also in some aspects a rupture beyond the ways in which Mao himself was influenced, even though secondarily, by what had become the dominant mode of thinking in the communist movement under the leadership of Stalin.
» Internationalism. In the early 1980s, in the work Conquer the World?,12 Bob Avakian made an extensive critique of erroneous tendencies in the history of the communist movement, and in particular the tendency toward nationalism—toward separating off the revolutionary struggle in a particular country from, and even raising it above, the overall world revolutionary struggle for communism. He examined ways in which this tendency had manifested itself in both the Soviet Union and China, when they were socialist countries, and the influence this exerted on the communist movement more broadly, including in the sometimes pronounced moves to subordinate the revolutionary struggle in other countries to the needs of the existing socialist state (first the Soviet Union, and then later China). Along with this, Avakian made a further analysis of the material basis for internationalism—why, in an ultimate and overall sense, the world arena is most decisive, even in terms of revolution in any particular country, especially in this era of capitalist imperialism as a world system of exploitation, and how this understanding must be incorporated into the approach to revolution, in particular countries as well as on a world scale.
While internationalism has always been a fundamental principle of communism since its very founding, Avakian both summed up ways in which this principle had been incorrectly compromised in the history of the communist movement, and he strengthened the theoretical foundation for waging the struggle to overcome such departures from internationalism and to carry forward the communist revolution in a more thoroughly internationalist way.
» On the character of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist society as a transition to communism. While deeply immersing himself in, learning from, firmly upholding, and propagating Mao’s great insights into the nature of socialist society as a transition to communism—and the contradictions and struggles which mark this transition and whose resolution, in one or another direction, are decisive in terms of whether the advance is carried forward to communism, or things are dragged backward to capitalism—Bob Avakian has recognized and emphasized the need for a greater role for dissent, a greater fostering of intellectual ferment, and more scope for initiative and creativity in the arts in socialist society. He has criticized the tendency toward a “reification” of the proletariat and other exploited (or formerly exploited) groups in society—a tendency which regards particular people in these groups, as individuals, as representative of the larger interests of the proletariat as a class and the revolutionary struggle that corresponds to the fundamental interests of the proletariat, in the largest sense. This has often been accompanied by narrow, pragmatic, and positivist outlooks and approaches—which restrict what is relevant, or what can be determined (or is declared) to be true, to what relates to immediate experiences and struggles in which the masses of people are involved, and to the immediate objectives of the socialist state and its leading party, at any given time. This, in turn, has gone along with tendencies—which were a marked element in the Soviet Union but also in China when it was socialist—toward the notion of “class truth,” which in fact is opposed to the scientific understanding that truth is objective, does not vary in accordance with differing class interests, and is not dependent on which class outlook one brings to the pursuit of the truth. The scientific outlook and method of communism—if it is correctly taken up and applied, as a living science and not as a dogma—provides, in an overall sense, the most consistent, systematic, and comprehensive means for arriving at the truth, but that is not the same thing as saying that truth itself has a class character, or that communists are bound to arrive at the truth with regard to particular phenomena, while people who do not apply, or who even oppose, the communist outlook and method are not capable of arriving at important truths. Such views of “class truth,” which have existed to varying degrees and in various forms in the communist movement, are reductionist and vulgar materialist and run counter to the actual scientific viewpoint and method of dialectical materialism.
As a related part of the new synthesis, Bob Avakian has criticized a one-sided view in the communist movement toward intellectuals—toward seeing them only as a problem, and failing to give 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.
Again, as the Constitution of our Party explains:
This new synthesis also involves a greater appreciation of the important role of intellectuals and artists in this whole process, both pursuing their own visions and contributing their ideas to this broader ferment—all, again, necessary to get a much richer process going....
In short, in this new synthesis as developed by Bob Avakian, there must be a solid core, with a lot of elasticity. This is, first of all, a method and approach that applies in a very broad way.... A clear grasp of both aspects of this [both solid core and elasticity], and their inter-relation, is necessary in understanding and transforming reality, in all its spheres, and is crucial to making revolutionary transformations in human society....
Applied to socialist society, this approach of solid core with a lot of elasticity includes the need for a leading, and expanding, core that is clear on the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the aim of continuing socialist revolution as part of the world struggle for communism, and is determined to continue carrying forward this struggle, through all the twists and turns. At the same time, there will necessarily be many different people and trends in socialist society pulling in many different directions—and all of this can ultimately contribute to the process of getting at the truth and getting to communism. This will be intense at times, and the difficulty of embracing all this—while still leading the whole process broadly in the direction of communism—will be something like going, as Avakian has put it, to the brink of being drawn and quartered—and repeatedly. All this is difficult, but necessary and a process to welcome.
As a unifying theme in all this, Avakian has stressed the orientation of “emancipators of humanity”: the revolution that must be carried out, and in which the masses must be the conscious driving force, is not about revenge nor about changes of position within a narrow framework (“the last shall be first, and the first become last”) but is about transforming the entire world so that there will no longer be people who are “first” and others who are “last”; the overthrow of the present system, the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the continuation of the revolution in those conditions is all for the purpose and toward the aim of abolishing all oppressive divisions and exploitative relations among human beings and advancing to a whole new era in human history.
» Strategic approach to revolution. Avakian’s new synthesis has regrounded communist work in, and has enriched, Lenin’s basic understanding of the need for the masses of people to develop communist consciousness not only, or mainly, through their own immediate experience and struggles but through the all-around exposure of the nature and features of the capitalist-imperialist system and the clear setting forth of the convictions, aims, outlook and method of communism, which is brought to the masses, in a systematic and all-around way, by an organized vanguard party, linking the struggle at any given time with, and diverting and directing it toward, the strategic revolutionary goal, while also “setting before the masses” the essential questions and problems of the revolution and involving them in forging the means to resolve these contradictions and advance the revolutionary struggle. With the leadership of Bob Avakian, the basic strategic orientation necessary for carrying out revolutionary work in an imperialist country, to hasten while awaiting the development of a revolutionary situation and the emergence of a revolutionary people, in the millions and millions, and then to seize on such a situation when it does finally come into being—and to be able to fight and win in those circumstances—has been developed and is continuing to be further developed. (In this connection, see Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, 2008.)
All this is a living refutation of those who argue that revolution is not possible in imperialist countries, or that the practical and theoretical work of communists there should center on fighting for reforms and “solutions” to the immediate problems of the masses, in a way that severs this from revolutionary objectives and the communist outlook—and which, in reality, will lead away from that and, insofar as it influences masses of people, will lead them into a demoralizing dead-end and ultimate accommodation with the present system of oppression.
At the same time as this new synthesis has further developed the basic strategic orientation for revolution in imperialist countries such as the U.S., Avakian has also called attention to new challenges for the revolutionary struggle, and the need for further development of revolutionary strategy, in countries dominated by foreign imperialism, given the great changes in the world, and within most of these countries, in recent decades.
This new synthesis, in its many crucial dimensions (which we have only been able to briefly touch on here) has put revolution and communism on a more solid scientific foundation. As Avakian himself has emphasized:
[I]t 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 ever firmer foundation of materialism and dialectics....
So, we should not underestimate the potential of this as a source of hope and of daring on a solid scientific foundation.13