Revolution #49, June 4, 2006
Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World
Conclusion—Bob Avakian Reenvisions Socialism
Growing numbers of people are concerned about the state of the world and the fate of the planet. Do things have to be this way? No, there is a real world alternative: socialism and communism. But people are constantly bombarded with the message that socialism has failed and that capitalism is the best of all possible worlds. A whole generation of young people has basically heard nothing else about socialism other than it is a nightmare. This “rewriting of history” has also influenced many progressive intellectuals. The Set the Record Straight Project aims to turn the ideological assault against communism into a two-sided debate on college campuses about communism’s past and communism’s future.
Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta is now on a national speaking tour as part of the Set the Record Straight project. His daring speech, “Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World,” confronts the lies about communism, analyzes the real experience and breakthroughs of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917- 56, and the Chinese revolution of 1949-76, and brings forth Bob Avakian’s vibrant reenvisioning of the communist project. This is the concluding part of the serialization of Lotta’s speech in Revolution. The whole series is online at revcom.us/strs/index.htm.
Bob Avakian has developed a radical new model of socialist society.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is the form of state power and class rule that enables the proletariat and its allies to take hold of society…to transform society…and to move society forward towards communism: a community of freely associating human beings. You need firm and visionary leadership to guide the complex and challenging struggles to achieve this goal of classless society. You need to hold on to power; you don’t want to allow the capitalists back in to power.
But, as Avakian says, this new power has to be worth holding on to. Socialism has to be a vibrant and exciting place that people would want to live in…and that would open the door to communism. Avakian has addressed different aspects of this challenge in ways that have enlarged the horizons of Marxism. Here I want to highlight some of how Avakian is looking at intellectual ferment and dissent in socialist society.
The Importance of Intellectual Ferment
Under socialism, the masses of people are unleashed to run and transform society towards the goal of communism. This is a society in which you want, and need, to unite and lead broad sections of people to take up the goal of creating a new world. In this regard, Avakian has called attention to the importance of the intellectual, artistic, and scientific spheres in socialist society, and the particular role that intellectuals can play in socialist society.
Intellectuals and intellectual ferment can contribute to the dynamism and wrangling spirit that must characterize socialist society. One of the very positive aspects of intellectual life is the tendency to look at things in new ways and from new angles, to challenge the status quo and hidebound thinking. This needs to be even more the case under socialism. Intellectual and scientific ferment are essential to the search for the truth—to people knowing the world more deeply, so it can be transformed more thoroughly.
The people on the bottom of society have historically been locked out of the realm of “working with ideas.” Bourgeois society creates islands and pockets where a minority can engage in the realm of ideas, while the great majority of humanity is exploited and prevented from pursuing intellectual activity. Socialist society has to transform this situation. It has to put an end to exploitation and enable the masses of people to work with ideas and take up all kinds of questions and participate in society in an all-around way. This was something that the Cultural Revolution addressed very powerfully.
At the same time, Avakian has pointed out that socialist society needs to give scope and space to intellectuals, artists, and scientists. You don’t want to maintain and reproduce the ivory tower relations that exist in capitalist class societies. But you don’t want to stifle and straitjacket intellectuals, either. You want to unite with and lead them.
Here it must be said that there has been a problem in previous socialist societies. There has been a tendency to see intellectual activity that is not directly serving or linked to the agenda of the socialist state at any given time as not that important—or as disruptive of that agenda.
Now in bringing forward this understanding and pointing to these weaknesses, Avakian has been retracing the experience of proletarian revolution in the intellectual and scientific realms.
Lessons of the Lysenko Affair
There is the famous Lysenko affair. Lysenko was a Soviet agronomist in the 1930s who came from a proletarian background. He advocated the theory that acquired characteristics can be inherited. This theory was incompatible with modern biology and genetics. But it was attractive because it held out the promise of the rapid expansion of grain production. And as I have emphasized when I was discussing the Soviet experience, there was a real necessity to solve major economic problems.
Stalin promoted Lysenko and his ideas in a big way. Many of the scientists who criticized Lysenko were from the old guard of academia. And some of them were reactionary politically. And their criticisms got suppressed. The problem was: they were right about the science, and Lysenko was wrong.
Avakian sees this as emblematic of a problem in the international communist movement. There have been tendencies to think that only Marxists have the truth. There have been tendencies to assume that if a person is reactionary politically—then that means that their scientific or intellectual ideas must be suspect or incorrect.
But this is not a Marxist approach to truth. Truth is truth, no matter where it comes from. Reactionaries can have partial truth. Coming from a proletarian background or being committed to Marxism and revolutionary change is not a guarantee that you have truth. Theories have to be judged on a scientific basis.
Marxism needs to be brought into, taken up, and creatively applied in different spheres of inquiry—because Marxism is the most systematic and scientific reflection of material reality in all its changingness. Marxism allows for the richest synthesis of different ideas and insights. Marxism allows things to be summed up in the interests of the masses of people in transforming the world. But Marxism doesn’t substitute for the particular features of individual spheres of knowledge and scientific practice. And Marxists are not always right. Others often have the truth.
So you want to have a dynamic in socialist society where you have this struggle for truth, with all its richness and interplay, where Marxism is being promoted and creatively applied. You want to follow the truth, wherever it leads you. This is essential to getting to communism.
Dissent and People’s Rights
In his reenvisioning of socialism, Bob Avakian has been emphasizing the role of dissent in socialist society. Avakian has said that dissent must not only be allowed but actively fostered, and this includes opposition to the government.
This is something quite new in the understanding of communists. Why is dissent so important? Because it reveals defects and problems in the new society…because it contributes to the critical spirit that must permeate socialist society and advances the search for truth…and because dissent can contribute to struggles to further transform society. You won’t get to communism without this kind of upheaval.
Now what I am discussing is in fact one aspect of democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat. You cannot allow people to organize to overthrow the system. But you don’t want a situation where people are afraid to speak out against the regime and face repression, as happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin. People must feel that they have room to disagree with those in authority. And socialist society must make available the resources and outlets, so people can express these views.
Socialist society is organized to achieve the goal of abolishing all classes and class distinctions; overcoming all systems and relations of exploitation; overcoming all oppressive social institutions and relations, like the oppression of women; and enabling people to cast off all oppressive and enslaving ideas and values.
This goal will be written into the Constitution of socialist society. This Constitution will also institutionalize the right of the great majority of society to speak, to dissent, to strike, to protest, and so forth. But the overthrown ruling class and their political representatives and operatives would not have these rights. And others who are actively working to overthrow the socialist system will have their rights taken away or curtailed in accordance with their crimes in the old society or the new socialist society.
These things cannot be decided arbitrarily in socialist society. They would be approached and decided through constitutionally established and enacted procedures and processes. Reactionary political and ideological views, including those which opposed the socialist system and the policies of the government, would not be suppressed—except where they involved, or were directly part of, attempts to actually organize the overthrow of the socialist system.
Avakian has written that it would be a good thing to allow even reactionaries to publish some books and speak out in socialist society. This would contribute to the process through which the masses of people would come to know the world more fully and be able to sort out more thoroughly what does and does not correspond to reality, and what does and does not correspond to their fundamental interests in abolishing exploitation, oppression, and social inequalities. This is an important way in which the masses will be better able to take part in running society and transforming that society and the world as a whole toward the goal of communism.
The Challenge Before Us
This model of socialist society is encapsulated in what Avakian calls “solid core with a lot of elasticity.” Power has to be held on to, and society has to be moving forward to communism, not back to capitalism. This is the solid core. And in the framework of a society that is overcoming all forms of exploitation, oppression, and inequality—there has to be elasticity: great debate, ferment, experimentation, upheaval, and people striking out in all kinds of creative and diverse directions.
Bob Avakian has been examining the experience of socialist revolution in this critical and challenging way. It is from the perspective of how humanity can get to communism. Avakian has produced a whole body of work. And I encourage people to get into his writings. I think people will be provoked and surprised and inspired when they engage with him.
So let me conclude. I began by talking about the urgency of this moment in world history. Must humanity be condemned to the present cruel order of things? Or is another world possible...a radically and breathtakingly different world? Yes it is. And what does the experience of proletarian revolution of the past 100 years have to do with this? A great deal. I am saying that this first wave of revolution marked a beginning…an historic beginning. There were great accomplishments. But we have to accomplish more. We have to go further and do better.
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