Taking the New Synthesis of Communism to the World Social Forum in Tunisia

April 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


A team of ardent advocates of Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism and promoters of the document Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage—A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA attended the World Social Forum [WSF] held in Tunis from March 23 to 28. The plan was to connect with many revolutionary-minded people, especially from Tunisia but also North Africa and other countries. We wanted to bring them the key theoretical contributions to making all-the-way revolution in today's world—Bob Avakian's new synthesis. In stepping onto this politically charged terrain, our anticipation ran high and our discussions and engagements throughout the week did not betray our expectations. In fact it was exhilarating.

The World Social Forum gathers an international mix of many different forces under the slogan "Another World is Possible!" Often referred to as an alternative globalization or global justice movement, the forum seeks to alleviate some of the most flagrant injustices without seeking to overthrow the system of imperialism. Financial backing for many participant NGOs in WSF stems from government institutions and multinational corporations who, for their own manipulative purposes, remain discreetly in the background. Nonetheless, it attracts many progressive people who genuinely hate the lopsidedness of the world today—the oppression and exploitation inflicted by the world imperialist system.

This year, under the theme of "Dignity," and inspired by the Arab rebellions of two years ago, there were over a thousand workshops drawing together thousands of activists from 127 countries, and a broad range of social movements involved in many important global issues. Topics included climate change and its effects on indigenous peoples, farming, land and water issues, opposition to today's wars and the U.S.'s use of drones, immigrant rights, the struggle against patriarchy and for gender justice, and human and constitutional rights, especially pertaining to women, to name just a few topics. The forum focus is against the neoliberal (free market, IMF-imposed) agenda and in favor of building a "global civil society." Along with this international mix of the usual WSF crowd, the overwhelming majority of participants were Tunisians awakened to political life by their own participation in the struggle to topple the Ben Ali regime in 2011, many still in a mood for revolution. Estimates put the total attendance at 30,000.

Embodying a kind of festival of the oppressed, many other issues were raised through lively debate, street theater and artistic performances and demonstrations. Hundreds of Palestinians held a march through the WSF site. Another lightning demonstration wound its way through the forum protesting the blockage by the Algerian government of a bus coming from Algeria to the WSF. A solemn, sometimes silent, demonstration by supporters of black African immigrants being held in Shousha Camp in southern Tunisia, many of whom were on a hunger strike, was very moving.

Some people were taken in by a big photo display put up by supporters of the Iranian government showing the death and destruction caused by Israel's bombing of Palestinians and claiming this as the "real" holocaust, as though one crime against humanity cancels out another—the same narrow logic used by Zionism but turned on its head, a viewpoint that obscures the role of imperialism in both cases. Some sharp differences emerged, especially with supporters of Islamic rule. There was a political clash between the pro-Assad and anti-Assad Syrians.

The situation in Tunisia is still full of sharp contradictions and revolutionary potential. The Islamist Ennahda party now in government is opposed by a coalition of liberal and leftist parties that are moving more and more to the center. A leader of this coalition, Chokri Belaid, was recently assassinated, creating an angry outpouring of Tunisians into the streets. There is confusion and a wide range of opinions among the people on what needs to happen to fundamentally change things. Many are clear about not wanting a religious government. Many feel their rebellion was hijacked by all the political parties, and that the capitalist system that was behind Ben Ali is still at work. Many feel there never was a real revolution in Tunisia or Egypt, not to mention Yemen, Libya, or the turmoil and slaughter now going on in Syria. People are not clear on what a revolution would mean or whether it is really possible to break out of the web of the economic and political relations of the capitalist-imperialist world system.

The crowd was mainly Arabic- and/or French-speaking. We prepared French translations of leaflets on the emancipation of women, the recent imperialist invasion of Mali, a short excerpt from Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the RCP,USA, and Bob Avakian's still very relevant statement in French and Arabic: ''Egypt 2011: Millions Have Heroically Stood Up… The Future Remains to be Written.''

Our main leaflet was a one-page condensed version of a pamphlet we also sold in English and French, ''Arab Spring at an Impasse—Is There a Way Out?'' It sought to apply the understanding and method of the new synthesis of communism to the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Arab world. Looking at the obstacles and dangers that people's aspirations are running up against, and drawing on lessons of past revolutions, it argued that neither pro-Western liberalism nor Islamism, but only a revolution whose aim is socialism and ultimately world communism, can offer an alternative to imperialist oppression and end the suffering of the masses of people. It called on "the revolutionary leadership of the people" to "engage with the most advanced ideas on the world level and use that as a kind of platform and accelerating force to reach higher."

We wanted to help the process as described by Avakian in his statement on Egypt, of building a "core of leadership, communist leadership, that had a clear, scientifically grounded, understanding of the nature of not just this or that ruthless despot but of the whole oppressive system—and of the need to continue the revolutionary struggle not just to force a particular ruler from office but to abolish that whole system and replace it with one that would really embody and give life to the freedom and the most fundamental interests of the people, in striving to abolish all oppression and exploitation.

"…That is a crucial time for communist organization to further develop its ties with those masses, strengthening its ranks and its ability to lead. Or, if such communist organization does not yet exist, or exists only in isolated fragments, this is a crucial time for communist organization to be forged and developed, to take up the challenge of studying and applying communist theory, in a living way, in the midst of this tumultuous situation, and to strive to continually develop ties with, to influence and to ultimately lead growing numbers of the masses in the direction of the revolution that represents their fundamental and highest interests, the communist revolution."

Our two banners, "Humanité a besoin de révolution! Vive la nouvelle vision du communisme de Bob Avakian!" (Humanity needs revolution! Viva Bob Avakian's re-envisioning of communism!) "Que l'humanité se embarrasse de ce cauchemar capitaliste—Révolution jusqu'au bout! Engager avec la nouvelle vision de communisme de Bob Avakian!" (For humanity to get rid of the nightmare of capitalism requires all the way revolution! Engage with Bob Avakian's re-envisioning of communism!) were greeted very warmly and with genuine curiosity. This was true at the first march of tens of thousands of Tunisians combined with visiting WSFers, and throughout the forum at the literature table. People excitedly gathered around us, getting their pictures taken with the banner and asking who is Bob Avakian and what is the new synthesis. This enthusiastic response to our presence continued throughout the duration of the forum and took on different forms, from endless discussion around the literature table, to supporting our intervention in WSF sessions, and to coming to the special night sessions held on the new synthesis.

Our literature stand became the site of tremendous interest and the focus of almost non-stop political and ideological discussions. Sometimes as many as 40 people would cluster in small groups around each person at the table. We were so busy we hardly noticed that most of us had not eaten during the day. At one point, while every one else at the table was deeply involved in discussion, one of us who had succeeded in getting a sandwich, and sitting a bit away from the table, was approached by a young woman who apologized profusely about interrupting lunch but said she just had to know who Bob Avakian was and what we were about.

Many of Avakian's works were colorfully stacked up (especially BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian). Many curiously checked out the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) to understand what BA's re-envisioning of a future socialist society would look like. We sold hundreds of pamphlets, articles, and Manifestos in English and Arabic. Fifty copies were sold of a pamphlet in French ''May First 2011—From Iran to Our Revolutionary Comrades in the Middle East and North Africa'' written by the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) (www.sarbedaran.org) in several languages, a cautionary analysis of how Islamic fundamentalism ruthlessly suppressed the people's revolution. The pamphlet discusses how this negatively impacted the trend of revolution in the Middle East as well as the world and draws important lessons for how to advance the revolutionary struggle against both imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism.

Passersby attracted by the first part of the slogan on the banners, asked who Avakian is. Our response was that he is the communist leader of the RCP in the U.S. who has used the science of revolution to sum up the experience of the first wave of the world revolution, particularly in the Soviet Union and Mao Tsetung's China; BA addresses the mainly positive and unprecedented historical contributions in uprooting social inequalities including between men and women and different nationalities. BA also speaks to the secondary weaknesses, so that we can overthrow imperialism and in the process transform ourselves and the social conditions and set up socialist societies that can do even better, and take humanity all the way to communism, a society without classes or exploitation or social inequalities—and that this understanding is indispensable for revolution.

Most of the people who spoke to us (mainly students but also people from all walks of life) were angry, determined, and anxious about the direction political events would take in Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world. There was a lot of positive reaction to the leaflet, "The Arab spring at an impasse." Many Tunisians and others from the Maghreb [Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya] argued that there had been no revolution in any of the Arab rebellions. Those who thought there was a revolution often said they needed a second revolution. Perhaps most of the hundreds of Tunisian youth we spoke with thought they needed a second revolution that went deeper and didn't just change the faces of those at the top, although this was contradictory, as some felt this because the Islamist Ennahda was in government instead of the secular left. People angrily related how Ennahda played no part in the uprising that ousted Ben Ali but instead sat on the sidelines. When elections took place, they were able to use religion to mobilize their social base and get elected to positions of power in the government and were unleashing all kinds of backward elements against women and others who spoke out, hence the murder of Belaid, some people claimed. With Ennahda coming to power physical attacks on artists, intellectuals and women had become commonplace. Some told of threats against them for speaking out.

Among those who participated vigorously in discussion were many articulate and lively women, both veiled and unveiled, who did not want religious rule or subordination to men but an overall more just society. They argued with us and amongst themselves over whether there had been a revolution in Tunisia and what should be done to protect women's rights. A child molestation case was then unfolding in the Tunisian press, which added to their visceral sense of outrage over the rising number of rape cases, which quite a few people linked to the wave of rapes taking place in Egypt. Most understood this as a counter-revolutionary response to the upsurge of women, and as an attempt to drive women off the streets and back into the home. Some did not accept the position of the political parties who want to put the issue of women's emancipation as something for later because it might risk an unfavorable polarization around Islam. They wanted to beat back patriarchy and the subordination of women to men that the Islamists are seeking to intensify and codify into law. One popular slogan at the first march came from young women and men around the NGO Oxfam, "Don't tell us what to wear, Teach your sons not to rape!" Our slogan and the title of one of our leaflets, ''Break the Chains, Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution!,'' seemed to many women and men an essential part of what any real revolution needed to include.

People who read our leaflets often returned with friends to discuss further, opening the door to getting more deeply into the new synthesis. There was a constant back and forth between some of the basic points about what the new synthesis of communism represented in its own right: Was the first wave of socialism really overwhelmingly positive? What were its real problems? Did it give leaders too much power? The youth were also eager to figure out what all this would mean for Tunisian society.

Many other questions emerged in the course of discussions. People felt trapped in a polarization between the varieties of Islamic fundamentalists, whom they often describe as fascists, on the one hand, and the secular and left forces who offer no alternative to imperialist domination. The Islamic fundamentalists are skillful in portraying the conflict as one between the downtrodden and the Westernized privileged elite. At the same time the existing parties, whatever their political hues, tend to conciliate with the Islamic fundamentalists and are backing away from positions that once sounded more revolutionary. Many youth were skeptical of the elections, and tended to think that they didn't change anything and were perhaps useless and ended up putting the Ennahda in power.

We attended the workshops likely to focus on vital questions relating to how to understand the emergence of the Arab Spring and the opportunities and dangers that form the current situation, especially where our interventions from the floor could help people discern the way forward that can lead to genuine revolution, serving their strategic interests. In one case, revolutionary-minded youth specifically invited our people to participate in what turned out to be a major political rally of the opposition united front coalition against the Ennahda government. The speakers limited the discussion to rejecting the Turkish AKP-Erdogan model of an Islamic government for Tunisia and listing grievances about the Ennahda party entrenching itself in power and acting undemocratically. With the request and rather open assistance of the revolutionary-minded youth at this open air rally, our intervention argued that the existing state and political apparatus cannot be nudged gradually to the left or reformed in the interest of the people and for revolution. We argued that this was a deadly illusion, as proven tragically by the murder of Chokri Belaid, that now was the time to ardently work towards a political movement to build for the revolutionary seizure of state power and to use that new revolutionary power to enable the masses to carry out the necessary transformations in order to get out of the world imperialist framework of economic and political dependencies and sweep away internal local reactionaries. Such a road is possible and can be charted, if people take up today's most advanced revolutionary theory, BA's new re-envisioned synthesis of revolution and communism.

A similar intervention also livened up the discussion in a session on the Islamization of Egypt. Here again we exposed capitulationist, dead end illusions of gradually expanding the "democratic space" to be used against the existing state power. The speakers at the podium were called on to admit that Egyptian President Morsi and the Islamic fundamentalists are conscious about the value of state power whereas they themselves were never really willing to advocate for the revolutionary seizure of power. Again, revolutionary-minded women and men from Tunisia stepped forward to support this criticism and inquired about Avakian's vision of how to emancipate humanity.

Another intervention took place in a session led by European Trotskyists. Again gradual development was put forward as a way to change society, with no mention of communism or the need for revolutionary leadership. Our intervention was followed by a young Tunisian woman who denounced a panel speaker's Trotskyist reformism as no better than what they constantly hear from their own official left leaders. After the session we talked to the young woman. She and her friend had been grappling with the relationship between the less-impoverished working class in the cities and the large numbers of very poor peasants and others in southern Tunisia. These women were very eager to know more about Avakian's criticism of the "reification of the proletariat," which goes very much against the Trotskyist conception of the "working class," and how this relates to the experience of Mao in leading the Chinese revolution.

These youth were unclear on what is needed, and did not advocate but were open to the idea of the need for a genuinely revolutionary communist party to lead a real revolution. For many this still meant achieving an undefined sense of "real democracy." A few were clearer on the function of democracy in bourgeois society. One young French woman was critical of the French philosopher and political thinker Alain Badiou. When asked what she thought of democracy, she argued it is only a means of getting to communism, and that communism is a much higher step than the notion of bourgeois equality or democracy.

We set up evening discussions to get more deeply into some of the theoretical/ideological issues raised by mostly young people with different levels of political experiences. They strained against the limits of their own understanding. They had done a lot of thinking already and wrangled with us enthusiastically to come to grips with how they could hew a liberating path out of this current crisis. The discussion focused to a large extent around the arguments of a few more knowledgeable revolutionaries, included dealing with what is real internationalism and why in this era nationalism will not solve the problems of revolution. There were also some arguments upholding Badiou's position in opposition to the revolutionary seizure of state power. Alongside these more knowledgeable people were some who were just enthusiastic about revolution but very unfamiliar with Marxism. We tried to talk to both, but privileged the more advanced, and hoped the others would get something out of it, with mixed success (for these others). They want an explanation of what has happened to all these so-called revolutionary forces of the past that are no longer revolutionary.

Among these youth the idea that the communist experience was mainly a disaster is much less strongly held than in Europe generally. A few of them had some familiarity with Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and a few knew of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement and the developments in Nepal. They questioned whether a revolutionary seizure of power in a small country like Tunisia could hold out without an immediate advance in another country—the links between the advance in Tunisia and the advance in Egypt were important lessons. Many were also clear that revolution would not happen simultaneously worldwide, so it was important to seize on the moment now, there and in the region more generally. But how much depended on a party with a revolutionary communist scientific understanding of the problems was unclear to them.

One thing we could see in living color over and over again in Tunisia is that when people have rebelled they search for answers on where things went wrong, where they should go and how to achieve a real revolutionary transformation of society. Avakian's theoretical breakthroughs highlighted in the Manifesto—involving internationalism, philosophy, a re-envisaged socialism and revolutionary strategy—were all key points that the most advanced youth were interested in, and addressed some of the obstacles that they themselves were running up against spontaneously.

Our experience in Tunisia was a vindication of the need and possibility of putting real revolution front and center in the work. By bringing the new synthesis of communism to Tunisia we hope to contribute to this revolutionary process. The uprisings in Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world, which were brought about with so much suffering, cannot be squandered.


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