Revolution #96, July 22, 2007

Reader Criticizes Revolution Article on Elections

We received the following letter of criticism from a reader of the article, “Elections: The Hype and the Reality,” in Revolution #68.

February, 2007.

Dear Revolution,

Greetings! I’m a regular reader and supporter of Revolution. I have always enjoyed reading coverage and analysis in your newspaper about events in the world and in this country. And I have found Chairman Bob Avakian’s works printed in your newspaper very inspiring while at the same time very thought-provoking.

I know you welcome readers’ response and that is what motivates me in writing this letter. I have some questions that I wanted to raise to you about the article, “Elections: The Hype and the Reality” in issue #68 (November 5, 2006). When the article first appeared, I thought it was a fine effort (and an ambitious attempt, given the short length of the article itself) to expose bourgeois elections and contrast them with the role of elections under socialism envisioned by Bob Avakian’s pathbreaking new synthesis. Then a friend of mine, who also reads your paper regularly, raised to me that he didn’t quite like this article because of the “leading” role of the party under socialism described and emphasized in the article (and in particular, the next-to-last paragraph of that article). At first I treated his criticism not seriously, thinking that my friend didn’t like the article because he still has a lot of illusions in bourgeois democracy. But his criticism kept coming back to my mind, especially during the time (near the end of last year) when your newspaper was running a series of essays and talks from Bob Avakian on issues and contradictions involved in the socialist transition to communism. After studying that series and re-reading the article in question, “Elections: The Hype and the Reality,” I have come to the conclusion that there were merits in my friend’s criticism of that article. I myself also had some serious questions about the article and I wanted to raise my concerns to you in this letter.

In an overall sense, my concern is that the article, in a condensed way, presented a vision of socialist transformation as a process that is somewhat orderly and neat and kind of linear. And this vision is quite different from the vision of a wrenching process full of struggle and wrangling that is envisioned by Avakian in his article “Role of Dissent in a Vibrant Society” (issue #72) and his other writings. While it’s true that “the proletariat needs to be firmly in control of the state” throughout the process, as the “Election” article said and as Avakian points out in his writings on the new synthesis, the way the “Election” article came off, to me, is rather, the party should be firmly and tightly in control of everything. (I believe this was the impression my friend got and prompted his criticism of the article.) While the word “ferment” is used in the article, the article as a whole did not reflect the spirit of ferment. While the article said correctly that the process should be led by the revolutionary communist vanguard party, my concern is that people reading the article would not get the sense of the following passage by Bob Avakian in his article, “A Materialist Understanding of the State and Its Relation to the Underlying Economic Base”:

“And we’ve also learned from experience that it is easy to veer in the direction of all solid core and a linear view of how you advance toward communism, how you carry forward the socialist transition: linear in the sense that everything is extended out as a line from the party--it’s the party leading the masses to do this, the party leading the masses to do that. Yes, in an overall sense, it is necessary for the party to lead the masses, as long as there is a need for a vanguard party; but it is a very complex and contradictory process that I think we have to envision and that is envisioned in this new synthesis, which has to do with unleashing a lot of mass upheaval, turmoil, tumult, debate, dissent, and thrashing it through among and together with the masses, in order for the masses, in growing numbers, to synthesize what’s true and correct and revolutionary out of all that. And yes, on that basis, to suppress what actually needs to be suppressed, but also to carry forward what needs to be carried forward, and to deal correctly, at any point, with the two different contradictions (contradictions among the people and contradictions between the people and the enemy). This is a different way, a not so linear way. It’s not like you’re fly-fishing and throwing a line out--it’s much more ‘throwing out’ a process that goes in many different directions and then working through, together with the masses, to synthesize it, without letting go of the core of everything. And that’s the very difficult part, to do that without letting go of the core of everything.”

And that is the point of “going to the brink of being drawn and quartered.” which is emphasized a lot in Avakian’s writings on the new synthesis. But I don’t think the “Election” article brought forward that sense and spirit at all. In fact, I think the vision that Avakian criticizes at the beginning of the passage quoted above is the vision the “Election” article ended up presenting.

As far as the question of “contested elections” is concerned, I think the “Election” article gives a too neat and simplistic, kind of a “text-book” view about these contested elections under socialism. How to make sure--in a world likely still dominated by powerful hostile reactionary states--that necessary state secrets will not be disclosed to imperialists and other enemies of the socialist state while these contested elections and public debates in relation to them are held? How will the socialist state in this context handle correctly the contradictions between the people and enemy and contradictions among people? Thinking about all these complex contradictions and the kind of tumultuous situation these contested elections will give rise to would underscore the difficulty and the need of “going to the brink of being drawn and quartered.” But I don’t get this kind of sense from reading that particular part of the “Election” article where contested elections were addressed. (I also have a related question: can the question of contested elections be fully discussed without mentioning the role of laws and constitution in the way that Bob Avakian envisions--for example, in his article, “A Materialist Understanding of the State and its Relation to the Underlying Economic Base”? Just discussing the role of contested elections without describing how the laws and the constitution work in broad strokes--would that give people a wrong impression that these contested elections are just a way to “set up” opponents of the socialist government for later prosecution?)

My second criticism/concern about the “Election” article is that the discussion mostly left out the middle class and intellectuals in a socialist society, an important section of society that the proletariat has to live with and transform. The masses talked about in the article are clearly the working people. The only mentions in the article of the middle strata were two sentences: “a relatively small section of society do intellectual work and are trained to work with ideas,” and, “other sections of society will be in a better position and more trained to engage in political discourse.” What about these people? How are they going to be transformed in the whole process, including in the contested elections? How can their important contributions to society be fully unleashed? Leaving the middle strata and intellectuals out gives people an impression of socialism being a society of “class against class”--simply a contradiction between the proletariat vs the “old exploiters but also new exploiters generated by the remaining inequalities in society.” This misses the whole thrust made by Bob Avakian in his various articles about the new synthesis, including importantly, the article (in issue #67), “The Revolution We Are About Should Not Only Encompass But Welcome the Arundhati Roys of the World.” How to handle correctly the sentiments and opinions of the Arundhati Roys of the world in socialism? How to welcome them and their opinions and criticisms in the whole process, even with all their cantankerousness, so that the humanity can go to the “4 alls” and beyond? What is required in doing so, epistemologically, ideologically, and politically? If one considers all what is said in the “Arundhati Roys” article by Avakian, one would get a sense of the crucial need of (and the difficulty involved in) maintaining the orientation of being willing to go to the brink of being drawn and quartered. I’m not saying all of the above has to be addressed in one article, but the problem I have with the “Election” article is that it did not even include this important section of society--its contributions and its transformation--when it discussed the process of socialism and the role of contested election. And that, in my opinion, is one reason why the article gave an orderly, neat and linear view of the process of the socialist transformation.

Chairman Bob Avakian’s new synthesis is indeed a very radical re-envisioning of socialism and communism. It’s something I am grappling with a lot and I hope many, many readers are doing the same because I think the future of humanity depends on it. Through this letter and by raising my concerns and criticisms of your “Election: The Hype and the Reality” article, I wanted to share with you my grappling with his new synthesis.

A reader

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond