Revolution Online, December 29, 2008
Some Thoughts on the Importance of Bob Avakian to Building a Revolutionary Movement
As many who read Revolution regularly are aware, I have been traveling and speaking very broadly about Bob Avakian’s recent book, AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. I have reported previously on some of what I have been encountering on this tour. Here, I want to share with readers the ways in which my experiences on this tour—and through the recent efforts of the Party as concentrated in COMMUNISM: THE BEGINNING OF A NEW STAGE: A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party1 —have deepened my appreciation for the leadership that we have in Bob Avakian and the great importance, and strength, we have in promoting this revolutionary leader.
Communist Morality: Giving Life Meaning and Giving a Taste of a Communist Future
I want to start by speaking about how communist morality—and its rootedness in the real world—is a powerful force of attraction at the same time that it is a powerful magnet for people’s biggest misconceptions of what communists are all about (including questions of means and ends).
Communist morality is rooted in the material possibilities of achieving human emancipation—including, very importantly, fully emancipating women; uprooting all national oppression and racism as part of getting beyond nations altogether, while at the same time continuing to foster diversity in culture and language; getting beyond a system that forces people to calculate “with the stinginess of a miser” what they are getting back for everything from how much work they do to acts of kindness towards their friends; valuing and fostering a critical and scientific spirit (because the communist revolution has no interest in suppressing any truths and tremendous interest in unleashing a process of getting to the truth and training everyone in the scientific method and questioning conventions); unleashing art and the imagination without and unfettered by the harm of religious myth and ignorance; and finding meaning in living and contributing to bringing a whole new liberated world into being, putting one’s life in the service of THAT. All this, when discussed, is very attractive to people. All this is rooted not in some “utopic ideal,” but in the potential resolution of the most defining material contradictions of our time—the contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation which finds expression in relations of class exploitation, oppressive institutions and the ideas that reflect and reinforce all that—and the whole new world of possibility that could be brought into being if that contradiction were resolved through revolution.
This is an extremely important part of what is new in Bob Avakian’s approach to revolution and communism. For one, it is a reflection of the deeper and more scientific overall approach to dialectical materialism, including as that applies to human society and the dialectical relationship between the economic base and the superstructure, and the point he makes in Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity about there being many channels through which people recognize and carry out the transformation of necessity.2 At the same time, communist morality is an incredibly important particular aspect of Bob Avakian’s new synthesis on revolution and communism that is an attractive force today and a taste of the world to come. Here, a point made in Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy is very relevant: “[t]he struggle for revolution, as well as the final goal of communism, is—and must be brought forward, in a living way, as—something far, far better, something truly emancipating. Even with all of its struggle and sacrifice; even with all the upheaval; even with all the violence and destruction, largely brought about by the forces of the old order to prevent this radical transformation of the world; not only will our revolution lead to a radically different and much better future for humanity, but the process of this revolution itself must, and can, embody increasing elements of that future and itself be profoundly uplifting for the growing numbers who, more and more consciously, take part in and drive forward this revolution, and for the great majority of the people.”3
This pamphlet goes on to quote from For a Harvest of Dragons where Bob Avakian writes, “In the final analysis, as Engels once expressed it, the proletariat must win its emancipation on the battlefield. But there is not only the question of winning in this sense but of how we win in the largest sense. One of the significant if perhaps subtle and often little-noticed ways in which the enemy, even in defeat, seeks to exact revenge on the revolution and sow the seed of its future undoing is in what he would force the revolutionaries to become in order to defeat him. It will come to this: we will have to face him in the trenches and defeat him amidst terrible destruction but we must not in the process annihilate the fundamental difference between the enemy and ourselves. Here the example of Marx is illuminating: he repeatedly fought at close quarters with the ideologists and apologists of the bourgeoisie but he never fought them on their terms or with their outlook; with Marx his method is as exhilarating as his goal is inspiring. We must be able to maintain our firmness of principles but at the same time our flexibility, our materialism and our dialectics, our realism and our romanticism, our solemn sense of purpose and our sense of humor.”4
I want to further emphasize this and pose that we need to be finding more ways to give this expression—to speak to people and reach them on this level and have this as a powerful attractive force.
This relates to the “intangibles” of what people see and are attracted to in the person of Bob Avakian, for instance, when they watch the DVD of his speech, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, and What It’s All About or read his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist. I remember a longtime radical feminist who, after watching the DVD at Symphony Space a number of years ago, commented that she was very struck, not only that he had such a powerful section on the oppression and liberation of women, but that throughout the other sections a whole different approach to women was woven in, it was consistent and assumed. It was clear that Bob Avakian was coming from a different place on this question even when it wasn’t the “subject at hand.” People can tell this. And this matters just as much as the “main points being made” at any given time in a speech or article or conversation. It is similar to the agitation modeled around Tyisha Miller.5 It is not just about the particular police murder, or even that if we were running society we would’ve handled that situation radically differently, but that in an all-around way Avakian is coming at this from a whole other way the world could be in all its texture—its morality towards the masses, the materialism of how it could be radically different, the nature of the world in which we live today and what that murder is overall a part of. It’s a composite whole and it is scientific as well as radical as well as passionate and partisan. Again, this is extremely attractive.
A Mainstay of Revolutionary Work
This is something we need to appreciate more fully and scientifically in our work to build a culture of appreciation, promotion and popularization as a real mainstay of our revolutionary work6 —and these are things that need to be given greater expression by our revolutionary movement as a whole.
The more I get out there, the more I am struck by how much of a strong suit this is for us. The lowered sights are a huge problem, as is the lack of materialism and the huge fight it is to get people thinking about the real world and thinking with science and breaking with anti-communist assumptions and bourgeois democratic and “pure democracy” illusions and bourgeois right—but there is also a way that in the midst of this we communists are something that makes people have to catch their breath. Think about all the young people who have said about Obama, “We’ve never had anything to believe in.” It is similar to people’s felt need for religion in these times of imperialist parasitism, empty consumerism, deeply alienating social relations, and horrors both within the borders and especially around the world (everything about how living in the U.S. is like “living in the house of Tony Soprano”).7 The fact that we do have something radically liberating to believe in, to come to scientifically understand and take up and fight for, to put one’s life in the service of, and to contribute to and engage with at many levels—this is extremely important and attractive, and (it should go without saying) where we put this forward with substance and passion and especially where we pose this up against what Obama really is about, or what America really is about, or what religion really is about—well, our vision of the future, our methods for getting there, and our morality is so much better.
This comes out, and should come out, when people meet individuals associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party. I have reported for this paper and shared with comrades at different points off of different tours and broad engagement out to the masses that I have been a part of, but I don’t think I’ve ever really synthesized this “intangible” element sufficiently—and particularly the more I have been bringing forward and fighting for revolution and communism in a direct and scientific way, I want to sum this up explicitly: Most people I have spoken to have never met or seen or even heard of anything like me or, more fundamentally, the revolutionary communist movement I am part of—its vanguard party, its science, its goals of the emancipation of all of humanity or its methods. This in itself is stirring and attractive—and people tell me so in a million ways, sending artwork they’ve made, writing letters, coming up to talk, speaking from the floor about being moved as well as challenged, etc.
Promoting Bob Avakian—Attracting and Answering the Most Controversial and Important Questions of the Revolution
All this brings back to me a very interesting editorial by Brian Greene in the New York Times during the World Science Festival.8 He made the point that science is not just a collection of conclusions, but that the method of why and how those theories were arrived at is just as important if not more important. Also, he made a point about the methods of teaching science. He criticized the method of teaching science simply as building blocks that are boring and dry—the notion that first people have to learn a, then on that foundation b, then on that c, and only after lots of dry foundational principles could people be introduced to living and the most cutting-edge scientific theories and controversies of our time. He said this made science boring and lifeless—but was also unnecessary. That ways could be found to bring people the most cutting-edge theories and controversies, and by giving people even a basic and living understanding of those theories, people’s appetite could be whetted and they could be invited in and intrigued into digging into the more foundational principles that those cutting-edge theories are resting upon. That by engaging the most advanced science, they could relate to that and get a basic grasp of that off the bat—and through that feel the need and be led to learn more deeply all the more underlying theories and truths and methods of science.
I think there is an analogy here to Bob Avakian and our work to really push out with a culture of appreciation, promotion and popularization of him, his body of work, his method and approach and the ongoing role he is playing. Bob Avakian and the work he has done and is doing concentrates what is most advanced and most attractive about our science, our goals and our method. Promoting him, in a concentrated way, goes right up against all the most entrenched anti-communism, unscientific thinking, bourgeois democratic prejudices, wrong verdicts on the communist project, identity politics, anti-theory pragmatism, lack of materialism and all the other obstacles we are up against in bringing forward a revolutionary people and a revolutionary repolarization. I don’t know if we have yet fully appreciated and embraced the dialectic involved in this, that promoting Avakian opens up all the controversies of communism—and that we should WANT this. And, that what Avakian is doing and who he is actually is the most concentrated answer to those controversies surrounding communism.
I feel there is still a further leap to be made in terms of everyone coming into this revolutionary movement really both wanting this controversy and grasping and putting forward in a non-defensive and substantive way the answers to these controversies concentrated in Avakian. And, I think there is a point to what Brian Greene was saying about the most cutting-edge science being something that does not need to be nor should it be “saved” until people have all the basics and building blocks to get there, but is itself the most powerful way to get people into science as a whole and from there to be inspired and challenged to dig more into the parts that make it up. This relates both to the extremely advanced communist theory and breakthroughs that Bob Avakian has been making, as well as to all the “intangibles” I was speaking about before and what is attractive about them in how where he is coming from informs and shapes all that he does.
In a very concrete and urgently posed way, if we are going to succeed in bringing forward a revolutionary people with a growing solid core that comes at everything as emancipators of humanity, we need people broadly engaging, appreciating, taking leadership from and defending Bob Avakian. This will require, and we should want to be, taking on all the things that stand in the way of people doing that, including the fact that even the objections many raise about Avakian as an individual whose ideas are disproportionately important flow from a world outlook that we should want to be challenging, from assumptions grounded in bourgeois right, which we need to break people out of and around which no one has done more advanced work than Avakian.9
Everything We Do Is Part of Making Revolution
One final point I want to observe from being out in the world very broadly. That is, the import of doing what is described in Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity and boldly spreading revolution and communism everywhere and why we communists want state power and what that is good for. How we should be really hammering at the fact that all the horrors in the world flow from the bourgeoisie holding state power and using it to enforce its economic and production and social relations all over the world, and why state power in the hands of the proletariat, led by its vanguard, is a VERY GOOD THING and why we want it, should want it, and why we and growing numbers of others should be working for this together with us!!!
When I spoke in Denver at a program as part of protests against the Democratic National Convention I very unapologetically put forward that the Revolutionary Communist Party wants state power and this is a good thing and great things can be done with it. I talked about ending unjust wars, exploitation, rape, racism and national oppression and how much could be done right away with revolutionary state power. The crowd gave a standing ovation, several speakers who followed me spoke favorably about this revolution even while raising their differences, and a lot of people bought copies of the new Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA and Revolution newspapers. The next day, an anarcho-marxist-mormon who’d graduated from Brigham Young and driven up with a friend to the protest, approached me and was clearly very moved by the speech. It was funny because he was actually a bit bashful in saying that he had never seen state power as a good thing but that now he was reconsidering it. A couple from the ’60s purchased every piece of literature we had available from Bob Avakian and the RCP, came to all the organized discussions on these during that week, and have stayed in touch since. And just last week, a student in South Fork, Colorado who was still affected by having heard this speech sent me a chilling black-and-white lithogram of the hooded detainee standing on a box with arms outstretched and tied with electrical wires (the box read, “Made in the USA”), with skulls in the background that he had made and displayed at an anti-war student art show.
No one else is saying anything like this and it means so much to the masses today—and to the possibilities for the future—that we do this very boldly and very consistently. What is said in Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity is really true, about how we have to be bringing alive how good state power in our hands would be.10 We need to be speaking in plain language and living terms about this, and exposing why it is the existing state power, not human nature or anything else, that prevents these great things from happening and why with state power we can do all kinds of liberating things right away, real things! And from there go on to struggle to uproot all vestiges of the “4 alls.”11
I am referencing this here because I want to highlight the significant attractiveness of us putting out revolution unapologetically and very boldly. I think we would really be remiss to fail to appreciate what this meant there—and what this indicated more broadly.
Finally, as part of the recent tour I was on promoting Bob Avakian’s Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, I met with a professor who had attended one of the events. His first comment was to criticize the fact that Revolution newspaper runs writings from Bob Avakian every week. He likes Avakian’s works, has read Away With All Gods!, and has been supportive of the Party in various ways. But, he thought this was too much on the individual. We struggled a bit over this—but it is worth noting that we didn’t really get anywhere on this until later when our conversation became focused up over his suggestion that we be less ideological in order to unite with more forces where they are at in order to build the biggest possible movement. I put back to him very clearly that the key question was not the size of the movement we have built at any given time, but what we are building a movement to do—that most of all humanity needs revolutionary state power and communism, and that we need a movement based on bringing that into being.
Immediately he reacted, “Oh, you are talking about state power...well, that has all kinds of problems with it.” From here, our whole conversation shifted as I got into the real horror being that without us having state power, the imperialists have it, and wield it to do and enforce horrible things. So, yes, there are problems with state power and us having state power, but mainly it is a VERY GOOD THING!!! And both the real horrors and nightmare of the imperialists holding state power and the need for us to get it, AND the challenges that come with wielding state power and drawing the correct lessons from the past and doing better yet, all this is why Revolution runs writings from Bob Avakian in the paper every week!
Then, in this context, of making clear that we are really talking about REVOLUTION, the struggle over Bob Avakian and his leadership—and the content of his new synthesis, both in terms of method and political conception including the role of artists and dissent and religion and ideological struggle, and solid core and elasticity in many dimensions, as well as the strategic conception of hastening and awaiting and enriched What-Is-To-Be-Done-ism (including putting these questions to the masses now in the paper each week and in other ways)12 —ALL this was recast and we were able to struggle over the importance of Bob Avakian from a revolutionary perspective. It is the case that many still haven’t thought seriously about what revolution entails and once you do think seriously about revolution the need for leadership becomes pronounced. It is back to the question of what the point of any of this is anyhow. The more that we are firmly rooted in the need for revolution and the more we are proceeding from that, the more we will not have difficulty but will actually be wanting to promote Bob Avakian. And the more that we are promoting Bob Avakian as who he actually is and what he is actually indispensible to (revolution aimed at the emancipation of all of humanity), the more we will be drawing forward and engaging the biggest questions of this revolution and bringing growing numbers into it.
2. See Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, page 11 in the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, under the subhead “Freedom…and Necessity”: “But, fundamentally (and, so to speak, underneath all this) freedom does lie in the recognition and transformation of necessity. The point is that this recognition and the ability to carry out that transformation goes through a lot of different “channels,” and is not tied in a positivist or reductionist or linear way to however the main social contradictions are posing themselves at a given time. If that were the case—or if we approached it that way—we would liquidate the role of art and much of the superstructure in general. Why do we battle in the realm of morals? It is because there is relative initiative and autonomy in the superstructure. And the more correctly that’s given expression, the better it will be, in terms of the kind of society we have at a given time and in terms of our ability to recognize necessity and carry out the struggle to transform necessity.” Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity is also available online at http://revcom.us/avakian/makingrevolution/. [back]
3. Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy (RCP Publications, 2008) is available online at http://www.revcom.us/Comm_JeffDem/Jeffersonian_Democracy.html]. [back]
4. Bob Avakian, For A Harvest of Dragons, On the “Crisis of Marxism” and the Power of Marxism Now More Than Ever, RCP Publications, 1983, p. 152. [back]
5. “Putting Forward Our Line—In a Bold, Moving, Compelling Way,” Revolutionary Worker #1177, December 1, 2002 [back]
6. Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, p. 48 in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation. [back]
8. “Put a Little Science in Your Life,” New York Times, June 1, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/opinion/01greene.html [back]
9. See the section “‘I Want More’—or We Want Another World?” in Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, page 1 of the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, online at http://revcom.us/avakian/makingrevolution/ [back]
10. Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, pp. 46-48 in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation. [back]
11. Those “4 Alls” that mark the advance to communism: the abolition of all class distinctions; of all the production relations that underlie those class distinctions; of all the social relations that correspond to those production relations; and the revolutionization of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. See Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, p. 13 in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation. [back]
12. In Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, Bob Avakian explains, “In speaking of an ‘enrichment’ of ‘What Is To Be Done-ism’ we are referring to what more has been learned since the time of Lenin—including in terms of the dialectical relation between consciousness and the transformation of material reality, or between the subjective and objective factors—and an even more heightened emphasis not only on enabling increasing numbers of the masses to engage with what’s going on in all the different spheres of society and how that relates to the fundamental nature of society and the fundamental question of transforming society and the world, but also an emphasis on breaking down, to the maximum degree possible at any given time, the barriers to their engaging in the sphere of ‘working with ideas’ and the struggle and contention in the realm of ideas (in the spheres of art and culture, science and philosophy, and so on) as well as putting before these masses the problems of the revolution—drawing them, as much and as fully as possible, at every point, into grappling with crucial questions relating to the need for communist revolution and the means for making that revolution.” (pp. 41-42 in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation) [back]
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