Revolution#129, May 18, 2008
Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism:
WHAT IS BOB AVAKIAN’S NEW SYNTHESIS?
The following is Part I of the text of a speech given in various locations around the country this spring. The text has been slightly edited for publication. Revolution is publishing this speech in five installments. The complete speech is available online at revcom.us.
Part I: “Humanity Needs Revolution and Communism”
We’re talking today about Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of a re-envisioned revolution and communism. To get into this, we need to talk first about why we need revolution and communism.
I want to read from an article in our newspaper, Revolution, on an ACLU survey of the behavior of the 4,600 cops in New York public schools. They reported a daily diet of harassment and verbal humiliation, and instance after instance of outright brutality. This included, among others, the case of Biko Edwards, who was walking toward his chemistry class when a vice principal stopped him. When Biko protested not being allowed to go to class, the vice principal called in a cop. The ACLU report describes what happened next:
Officer Rivera then grabbed Biko and slammed him against a brick door divider, lacerating Biko’s face and causing him to bleed. Officer Rivera then sprayed Mace at Biko’s eyes and face, causing Biko’s eyes to burn. Rather than treat the student, Officer Rivera then called for back-up on his radio, and proceeded to handcuff Biko... [Biko] was taken to a hospital where he spent approximately two hours being treated for his wounds, and spending most of his time in the hospital handcuffed to a chair... He faces five criminal charges.1
For those of you who know of Steven Biko, the South African revolutionary after whom this young man was very likely named, there is a sharp—and bitter—irony here. For Steven Biko was beaten to death in prison by South African police during the apartheid era—by a racist government whose main backer was the United States. The outrage done to Biko Edwards echoes this and goes on every day, in every ghetto school, in New York and around the country.
What kind of a system does THIS to its youth?
And let me share with you from an article that appeared just a few weeks ago in the New York Times magazine, reporting on an American counter-insurgency unit in Afghanistan. Among other horrors, it describes a night-long assault on a village and how, after the assault, to quote the article, “Lt. Matt Piosa, an earnest, 24-year-old West Point grad...radioed that the village elders were asking to bury their dead. They’d also collected wounded civilians. The tally was bad—5 killed and 11 wounded, all of them women, girls and boys.” I invite you to read the whole article to get just a small sense of what the murderers that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton call our “brave men and women in uniform” actually do.2
An army is an extension of the society it defends; what kind of a society produces an army that fights like this?
Take a spin on this globalized best-of-all-possible worlds. Talk to the families of the 150,000 peasant farmers in India who, ruined by global capitalism, have killed themselves in the past decade, usually by drinking pesticide. Travel to Angola, in Africa, where, to quote another Times article, “children stripped to their underwear dance through sewage-clogged creeks and slide down garbage dumps on sleds made of sheet metal into [shit]-fouled puddles,” while oil executives jet in and out to cut deals in luxury hotels.3 Stop off in Eastern Europe, where thousands of women each year are kidnaped and turned out as sex slaves for that same global market.4 Then go to Mexico and visit the family of any one of the 400 men and women a year who die of thirst trying to cross the Arizona desert in a desperate search for work.5 Think about these people; and tell me—tell them—tell yourself—that this world doesn’t need to be fundamentally changed, bottom to top. Tell me that this world doesn’t need revolution.
But then the question comes up: can there BE a revolution that would really change things? Didn’t people try that, and fail? And even if a revolution could change all that, how would you ever go about doing it in a country like this?
These questions have been central to Bob Avakian’s work—to what we call the new synthesis—and they are what I’m going to get into today. I obviously can’t thoroughly cover 30 years of Bob Avakian’s work in two hours. But what I hope to do is to give you a sense of a whole new way of approaching human emancipation and fundamental change, building on the best of what’s gone before but taking it to a new level.
So, let’s get into it.
Embarking on a New Stage of Revolution
160 years ago, Marx and Engels proclaimed in The Communist Manifesto that the workers of the world—the international proletariat—had nothing to lose but their chains and had a world to win. That manifesto put forward the basics of the pathbreaking theory that would guide that struggle.
25 years later, the first, brief attempt at proletarian revolution occurred with the Paris Commune; and nearly 50 years after that, the first real breakthrough—the first real consolidated socialist revolution—was made in the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Lenin and, after Lenin’s death, Stalin. This was followed in China—where the revolution came to power in 1949 and where 17 years later the leader of that revolution, Mao Tsetung, launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a revolution within the revolution to both prevent China from reverting to capitalism and to actually take it further toward communism.
This whole first stage of the communist revolution came to an end in 1976. When Mao died, there was a counter-revolutionary coup in China that imprisoned and/or executed those who had stood with him in leading the Cultural Revolution. The policies that they had fought so hard against were put into effect, and capitalism was restored. Today there are no genuine socialist countries in the world. And people all over the world feel, and struggle with, that weight every day—whether they know it or not.
So, how to go forward in the face of that? How to embark on a new stage of revolution? In this situation, Bob Avakian has led in defending, upholding and building on the monumental achievements of those revolutions and the illuminating insights of its greatest thinkers and leaders. But he has also deeply analyzed the mistakes, and the shortcomings in conception and method that led to those mistakes. And on that basis, he’s forged a coherent, comprehensive and overarching theoretical framework—that is, a synthesis. While this definitely comes out of and builds on what has gone before, this advance has also involved real ruptures with the past understanding and experience as a crucial element, which is why we call it the new synthesis.
Today I’m going to discuss this in three realms: philosophy, or how we understand the world; politics, especially but not limited to the political conceptions that guided the first attempts at building socialist societies and carrying out socialist transformation; and strategic conception, which focuses on how one would actually make revolution in a country like this.
Next: “Part II: A Philosophy to Understand—and Change—The World”
1. “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools,” NYCLU, ACLU, March 2007 [back]
2. “Battle Company Is Out There,” Elizabeth Rubin, New York Times magazine, 2/24/2008 [back]
3. “In Oil Rich Angola, Cholera Preys Upon Poorest,” Sharon LaFraniere, New York Times, June 16, 2008 [back]
4. Anita Gradin, European Union Commissioner, Martina Vandenberg, “The Invisible Woman,” The Moscow Times, October 8, 1997 [back]
5. Latin American Working Group [back]
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