June 9, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Editors' Note: The following is a paper which was distributed within the RCP,USA in 2004, during the early stages of the Cultural Revolution within the RCP, which was launched by Bob Avakian (BA), Chairman of the RCP, in 2003. This paper (which came to be known within the RCP as the "Passion Paper") speaks to a number of questions of basic orientation and method that—in the context of the continuing Cultural Revolution within the RCP, but well beyond that and more generally as well—have continuing, and very profound, relevance and importance. For this reason, we are publishing this paper at this time. Some editing has been done in preparing this for publication.


I know something about Passion with a capital P. More specifically, for the greater part of my life I have been very intimately, very acutely, and at times even excruciatingly aware of the objective contradiction which poses itself when one's most deeply felt passion or passions cannot, for a variety of reasons (both legitimate and not legitimate), be given full and unfettered expression in the context of a revolutionary political party and process. On a personal level, it hurts. It hurts a lot. And, much as in the case of the loss of a loved one, the attendant sense of very real personal grief and profound loss is not necessarily something that one ever fully "gets over."

That being said, I also feel compelled to look at things from another, somewhat less melodramatic (!) perspective, and add: so fucking what? From the perspective of the daily agonies of the multitudes of humanity: so fucking what? From the perspective of the beauty of unprecedented sweep and scale which some of us know—deeply and scientifically know—could be brought forth from these horrors if we do what needs to be done: so fucking what?

And while the motivation to strive to put the self and its passions into such a grander overall perspective should obviously be rooted in a deep desire to contribute to the emancipation of humanity, it also happens to be the case that even the individual mind and self can undergo a fuller and richer emancipation (a more profound individual unfettering in effect) simply in the course of striving to correctly situate the individual within this larger perspective, and of then pursuing a lifelong struggle to ever more consciously harness individual passion and other aspects of "self" to the grander sweep and flow of matter and human history—which, lo and behold, it turns out we individual human beings can—amazingly enough—actually affect!

Which brings me back to the point that what the world needs now, more than anything else, is communists. Far-reaching, all-encompassing visionary communists. And, more specifically, the world has dire and pressing need of many more individual communists willing to step to the plate to assume responsibility for providing humanity with all-round communist leadership. This great need must, as a simple matter of fact, trump all personal individual passions, concerns, and interests.

Easy to say perhaps, but not always so easy to do!

This difficulty arises especially acutely in cases where one's individual "passions" might well, in a more ideal (and idealized) world, be very much in line with "what would be good and wonderful, and perhaps even crucial, to do"! This may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, but I have come to understand from a deeper materialist perspective that a great many individual skills and passions and creative energies—even those aimed at correctly undertaking and unleashing many even urgently needed intellectual, artistic and scientific advances, even those which have great potential to meet human needs of various sorts—simply cannot be given full and unfettered expression at certain historical moments, and that there is actually a correct way (from the perspective of the overall social process and goal of revolution) that such creative energies must sometimes be severely restricted, restrained, or—more positively put—dramatically redirected and rechanneled into different avenues.

In short, constraint and restriction should not be conceived simply in "negative" terms (as in "having one's wings clipped," for instance). Interestingly, "restriction" and "constraint" seem to play an important role in the emergence of new things and pathways in natural evolutionary processes. While prior historical development always brings forth the diversity and unevenness which serves as the "raw material" out of which even radically new changes are built, this very same prior historical development also brings forth significant built-in constraints and limitations on just what future pathways of change can be undertaken at any given point—in other words change is, in very real ways, always severely "channeled and restricted" by prior historical development. And yet, even with such inescapable restrictions and constraints, and in a very real sense even because of them, look at what wondrous new forms matter keeps bringing forth!

I do think all this is worth some further reflection with regard to the role of constraint (including constraint on "self," individuals and individual passion) in actually unleashing higher order creativity—and perhaps this is yet another expression of the somewhat counter-intuitive point that it is possible to unleash greater elasticity and initiative if this is undertaken on the basis of a truly solid core (and with discipline, subordination, humility, and so on) rather than attempting to do so in some unreal state of non-materialist "dissociation" from (or, in effect, opposition to) that solid core. In any case I guess the point I am trying to get at here is that, in the human social arena and within the revolutionary process, objective constraints and restrictions imposed on individuals—and on their skills, passions, and so on—are not at all necessarily a bad thing (to think it is always a bad thing is the outlook of the atomized petty bourgeois who can't see beyond those narrowest of horizons of individual bourgeois right and who can therefore not get very far at all in charting the path to truly radical revolutionary change!).

The question should be not so much can there be, must there be, constraints on individuals as part of the revolutionary process, but are these constraints correct and legitimate and themselves contributing to the larger societal objectives, or not?

And here it must be said: The (properly infuriating) past mistakes and shortcomings of the communist movement internationally and within our own ranks and the whole history of Menshevism and economist and instrumentalist dogmato-revisionism repeatedly opposing and contending with the revolutionary vision and synthesis of BA (with all the costs and losses which this has already entailed) should not be invoked as an excuse for "revisionism inside out" and allowed to obscure the correct handling of this question and end up giving ground to a "revolt of the individualistic social democratic petite bourgeoisie" right within the revolutionary communist party. And yet this is exactly what we will be giving ground to if we end up throwing solid core (along with the correct understanding of the need for restriction, as well as channeling and redirection, of individual passions) out the window "in the name of" such things as getting some air, overcoming the errors and shortcomings of the communist movement historically and internationally, unleashing more widespread creativity, flexibly engaging diverse voices and perspectives, or even, simply and baldly put, "freeing me"!

There is, after all, the simple question we need to keep coming back to, of what the masses of people the world over objectively need, and what it is we can and must do.

Do individuals and their individual inclinations, skills, interests, concerns and passions MATTER within the greater collectivity of a disciplined revolutionary communist movement, party, and leadership? Of course they do. There is no such thing as a one-note symphony, and if there were it wouldn't be very compelling. And individuals and individual initiative matter all the more when these highly diverse strands can be brought into common alignment in an enthusiastic and highly disciplined revolutionary communist core, so that all within it, with all their different individual abilities and contributions, end up pulling in the same direction, in mutually supportive ways, in line with the same larger strategic objectives, consciously bound one to the other in the willingness and humility to be led by (and to fight to bring to material fruition) the most radically transformative vision for the emancipation of all of humanity which the world has yet seen (as concentrated today in the radically invigorating works, method and approach of Bob Avakian).

As communists, we need to keep clearly in mind that:

• Individuality and individual persona does matter, but its content needs to be continually transformed and redefined and re-envisioned to bring it into ever closer correspondence with overall strategic objectives (and that includes jumping in with both feet to stop pulling in objectively "opposing" directions and allowing oneself to be led by what we—yes, as individuals!—can systematically and scientifically determine to be the most advanced representation of our project and objectives to have ever yet emerged in the world—namely BA and all that he represents).

• If we try to "embrace," encompass and explore non-communist people, ideas and perspectives ever more widely and flexibly (which we should do) but do so on the basis of something other than a truly solid core and strategic grounding in OUR project and objectives, we will at one and the same time fail to harvest as much as we could from these wider explorations and initiatives AND, most unconscionably, we will LOSE THE WHOLE THING!

This is a very real and pressing danger.

Some, including some of our own comrades, have argued, in essence, that certain spheres, such as art and culture, are so important, and that in many instances at least they have been so poorly handled by the communist movement, that they should essentially be made the "special province" of people directly involved in them and that any communist leadership in these spheres can come only from comrades who have devoted themselves to specializing in them—which means walling these spheres off from and in effect even "protecting" them from the overall communist movement and party, and its overall leadership. Well of course it is true that "cultural arenas are important ideological forms," through which many masses come to know the world and even why and how to change it. Yes, it is true that there can be no revolution without revolutionary cultural movements. But it is important to dig further into what this does and doesn't mean from our overall strategic perspective and responsibilities. For instance, it is not in my opinion correct to make a "special category" or concern out of unleashing and providing communist direction and leadership to the sphere of "art and culture" any more than it would be to the sphere of "science."

The point here is obviously not to "pit" art and science against each other, nor to deny that, in society as it is today, art and culture often present themselves as more accessible spheres through which the masses can actively engage. But I am trying to make the point that, as all-round revolutionary communist leaders, we need to focus less on the particularities of any one sphere or of our individual roles within those spheres—all of which could easily turn into a form of identity politics for the previously unsung art and culture (or science) "franchises" (!)—and need instead to focus more on the understanding that theory is the leading edge of ideological line more generally. Developing and widely promoting all-round communist theory and ideological line is what we—yes, even as individuals and regardless of our individual fields of passion, interest and expertise—should be doing above all else.

• What we, as members of our Party and individual communist leaders, "should be doing" at any given time should proceed more from a materialist assessment of freedom and necessity at that time and of what would likely be the key links and foci through which to make the necessary strategic revolutionary advances at that particular juncture.

For one thing the Party is obviously not in the business of "maximizing any individual's particular abilities and contributions." This is something I've often pointed out to others (and repeatedly to myself!), often in the course of (once again) reflecting on my own need to come to terms with no longer being able to "do" scientific research, regardless of how good I might be at it, how much it has always been my "first love" and core passion, or even how valuable and important a contribution I might conceivably be able to make to humanity via scientific investigation. For instance, I've often felt (and not without basis I still think) that I would have made a "better" scientist than communist party cadre. This is for a number of reasons, including the fact that I am not exactly a "political animal" by inclination; that I was systematically trained as an intellectual in the European tradition from about the age of 11 (which developed in me critical thinking and provided me with some critical intellectual tools and also fueled a wide and diverse range of intellectual interests and passions in a great many spheres of both arts and sciences); that I was actually professionally trained as a working scientist, actively and productively engaged in the process of scientific research and investigation, etc. In short, let's put it this way: by the time I was in my early 20s I was already well grounded in scientific theories and controversies in my field, had taught at college level, had engaged in both theoretical and practical research projects, had traveled, lived and worked in a number of challenging and thrilling exotic world locales, had already published a few articles in professional journals, was well respected and actively working on my PhD., and in an overall sense could honestly claim to be living exactly the life I wanted to live and "getting paid for doing what I would gladly do for free"! So, as you can imagine, leaving all that behind in order to join the Party, many years ago now, was a genuine and profound sacrifice. I had been a "communistic radical" since high school (the Vietnam war, Free Huey, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the radical emancipation of women, China...were, as for so many others, formative) but I had never found an organization I could join, and I went on to college and beyond "waiting for the day." Ironically it was a scientific aspect I felt I detected in the RU and its methods and approaches which drew me (I remember Red Papers 6 and also the argumentation for why we needed an actual party as particularly compelling). But still...natural science and active engagement in scientific research was, it seemed to me, my "true calling"—science was my passion, my avocation, my first love...so when the issue of recruitment was directly posed, I kicked and screamed and madly resisted and blubbered through desperate offers of "compromise" (I really can do BOTH I argued, to deaf ears). And so my heart broke, I reluctantly put down my "tools" and left the scientific world (I even wrote a maudlin poem about it at the time), and I went off to join the Party. I did it for ultimately a very simple reason: I realized I knew too much by then about not only what needed to be done but that there actually was a basis to do it, so how could I look at myself in the mirror from that point on if I didn't join in?

I am sharing this highly personal anecdote for the following reasons:

1) I want to stress again that I know and feel deeply about passion for a particular sphere of life and work. But, again, in the bigger scheme of things: so fucking what?

2) Obvious mistakes (due to a combination of primitiveness and economism) were made in recruiting me and, while I shouldn't have made it a precondition for joining the Party that I would "be allowed" to continue doing science, I also shouldn't have been forced, in the mechanical way I was, to give up science as a precondition of becoming a communist—today we would hopefully handle things differently in significant ways and, yes, we want people who are working intellectuals, artists and scientists to be able to also be full-blown communists and members of the Party.

3) While professionals should often be able to be communists and Party members and still engage their professions as well, we are kidding ourselves if we don't realize that there will continue to be real contradictions involved with this, especially before the seizure of power and as long as communist leaders are in short supply, including because when a working professional inside a communist party (artist, scientist or whatever) begins to develop and to be able to assume more overall and all-encompassing communist leadership responsibilities, giving full and due expression to THAT, while still maintaining the necessary standards and practices of the given "other" profession, will likely become untenable, at least past a certain point. We have to accept that as part of the terms of revolution.

Another way to put it: I could have been a working scientist and a full-blown communist and basic member of the Party, but it is unlikely I could have then gone on to assume larger overall leadership responsibilities and remained a working scientist in a professional capacity. So breaking with Menshevik economism and dogmato-revisionism is not the only side of the contradiction we must grapple with. This is a contradiction that we all need to reflect on (with regard to our own subjective frustrations and the underlying causes of this, and also with regard to how we are going to lead younger comrades and lead outside scientists and artists and intellectuals more generally to become actual Party members).

This is something we will all need to wrangle with in training and developing working professionals in fields like science, the arts, etc., as professional communists.

4) It might even be true, in a funny kind of way, that what I personally might have been "best" at (or best suited to), in some individualized and idealized realm, might have involved making contributions to the advance of the natural sciences rather than to the direct advance of the political arena, and if so I could even argue that this might well have indirectly contributed (including philosophically and epistemologically) to our cause in some significant ways. But again this (and I think this would likely apply also to any other comrade with specific "outside" skills and "passions") is essentially irrelevant in the larger scheme of things: we're supposed to try to set out to fulfill a great and pressing societal need as best we can, not "maximize" what we ourselves as individuals might be particularly good at or even best able to contribute.

And this is even true when there is a very direct and immediate connection between what the individual could do and is "good at" and our overall strategic direction. Example: one of the things BA is most "good at" (out of the many things he is good at!!) and is clearly personally inclined towards, and passionate about, is public speaking. And there is literally no other individual who can do what he can do with that. And yet that doesn't mean (as we have seen) that it would necessarily be right for him to do this at any given point, just because it would be great and crucially valuable to do "in the abstract." And that also doesn't mean that it would be tolerable for BA to therefore go into a funk, give vent to destructive subjectivity about the myriad frustrations, obstacles and difficulties of what revisionism has already cost our Party, our international movement, and no doubt him personally (not to mention what more it is likely to cost us still) and in assorted ways try to "escape" what it is that he can and must focus on in this period. Something to reflect on here?

• More generally we need to see our own comrades and broad masses of people taking up, "running with" and wildly spreading (in countless creative ways we can still barely start to imagine) the whole historically unprecedented "revolution in the world of ideas" represented by BA's existing and ongoing epistemological breakthroughs. This is what we ALL need to be doing and this is also ultimately (but also quite immediately and directly) what stands the best chance of providing the material basis to truly unleash the much needed "radical cultural movements" and bringing forth many new innovations and creative expressions, great and small, which will help pull and drive the masses in the revolutionary direction. Ironically I think there may be a definite tendency to greatly underestimate the ways in which PROVIDING ALL-ROUND COMMUNIST LEADERSHIP (especially via spreading BA's method and approach far and wide) is actually the key link in this unleashing of the arts and cultural movements and in correctly LEADING this process (which after all must be led, right?). It is no accident that it is a poet, grappling directly with BA's words, who came up with the formulation "solid core with lots of elasticity." It is no accident that another poet, grappling directly with BA's words, started to envision a creative new work of art with potential to be both powerful art and to concretely advance revolution. Tantalizing glimmers of the future to be tapped? I can also well imagine scientists grappling with BA's words and then being inspired to some new breakthrough in the lab or field or theoretical musings...because what BA represents really IS a revolution in the world of ideas.

In short, I think we are going to have to wrangle more with what is actually the main way to unleash, develop and lead the cultural movements and the artistic, intellectual and scientific professionals—and how much of it is to be direct vs. how much more we are going to lead by promoting and spreading our full communist project among these professionals and allowing them/encouraging them to relate to this (including BA's words) on their own terms and then "run with it" in countless wonderful directions—and I see the role of comrades with overall leadership responsibility, regardless of their particular passions, or even their particular areas of responsibility, more in helping to do THAT than necessarily more directly in any particular sphere.

• There is no such thing as "exceptionalism" in any sphere of the overall communist movement we need to be building—neither art and culture, nor science, nor any other: By now my thinking on this should be obvious but I thought I would emphasize that I think it is incorrect (non-materialist and unscientific) to "make a principle" out of any of the "particularities" of any of these spheres. We need to grasp ever more deeply "embrace but doesn't replace" and really learn about the particularities of each sphere of life we seek to enter into, divert and lead (i.e., all spheres!), but the commonplace idea that the realm of "art and artists" (sometimes extended to the intelligentsia as a whole) is somehow inherently touchier or more delicate or more easily bruised or even simply more complex than other spheres is, in my opinion, hogwash and an unscientific and romanticized notion that just doesn't hold up. If what I am saying on this is correct, then it is also true that there is no scientific justification for being extra protective or defensive about the arts and cultural figures and no reason to expect that many artists and other cultural figures could not deal with (and be greatly inspired by) straight up uncensored full-out communism—we just have to make sure what we're giving them is actually communism and not some horrid revisionist porridge!—and even respond well to being struggled with around their own mistaken or backward views and prejudices, whether about the history of communism or sundry other topics.

It is a simple fact of this era that misconceptions, prejudices and gross anti-communism is the "normal" currency among intellectuals and people working in the arts and sciences generally. We can, and should, matter of factly and undefensively address the concerns of such strata which have (or may have) some basis in reality and in the shortcomings of our historical project. But let's not overdo it! The bigger problem, by far, among such strata today is their reluctance to fully acknowledge and confront the full spectrum of horrors of the imperialist system (including as pertains to their own fields of activity) and follow to its logical conclusion the logic of that logic (including the materialist assessment of why this system is "utterly unreformable") while at the same time failing to accurately contrast all this to both the actual accomplishments and the still-much-more and better-to-come basis for what the world we are fighting to bring into being could look like.

And we need to start with ourselves, to break ourselves out of the narrow and restricted boundaries of our own historically conditioned habits of thought. For example, look at the issue of the newspaper (Revolution #4), which has quite rightly come in for sharp criticism—criticism initiated in very unsparing terms by BA. Take the article on Arthur Miller, "Theater to Change the World." Not even close! Yes, Miller's work has its positive aspects but "theater to change the world" is way overblown and simply not a correct assessment of what Miller and his work represent. In short, the way I see it is that if we are going to properly lead in these various spheres and work for a genuinely revolutionary "convergence" and synergy, we need among other things to: not tail popular anti-communist prejudices and non-defensively fight for true and scientific assessments of reality; acknowledge and appreciate, but again not tail or overly extol, the best manifestations of the progressive or radical middle strata; loft our own "dreams" and help paint the vision of what the communist future could be like, including in these spheres.

• Red and Expert:

There is a way that fiefdoms can be decreed and moats drawn around them by declaring some matters or spheres "no-go" or "hands-off" areas, or matters of relatively "secondary importance" (when really they are not) or even conjuring up the frankly anti-communist specter of artistic suppression (as in the notion that leadership bodies poring over such things could "squeeze all the life" out of them). This isn't at all right and needs to be deeply excavated and rejected. And I say this having myself quite a bit of understanding and appreciation of both the question of the value of "expert knowledge" in particular areas, as well as the need generally for "wine to breathe" and for creative work in general to be afforded some room to experiment, try out some new things, etc., without every new exploration being immediately jumped on and too quickly trounced. So I understand why creative work, of whatever type, and especially in the first and initial stages, can't be excessively "hovered over" and "micromanaged" down to every petty detail and in similar ways stifled and suffocated, if we want it to actually grow wings and be any good. But that doesn't relieve us of the obligation to get it right, and of the obligation to offer it up for constructive criticism before it is sent out in the world—exactly because such things matter, and have impact and influence.

I don't know if this would help but I will tell one more little anecdote which was for me a learning experience. Some 20 years ago I was attempting to popularize some basic facts about evolutionary processes, and I was using some formulations which were a form of quickie "shorthand" commonly used among biologists at the time but which a broader public might well have interpreted as promoting deterministic adaptationism (including the notion that something might evolve "for" one or another predetermined purpose). BA actually caught this, and offered a criticism, pointing out this problem to me. I didn't take this critique too well at first—after all, I was the professionally trained biologist, I knew what passed for common and accepted language in the field, I knew what other experts did and didn't mean by such shorthand formulations, I felt he was blowing this out of proportion, I...well...what the fuck did he know about any of this anyway?! The point was I was just being subjective and letting my "ego" and "expertise" get in the way—whereas the reality was that, despite having admittedly little prior knowledge and direct experience with some of the more particular scientific concepts being discussed, he had nevertheless picked up on a seemingly minor instance of methodological "sloppiness" which I would soon come to realize had actually much more far-ranging implications and impact (including epistemologically) than I was at first willing or able to recognize. I never forgot that lesson.

Along a similar vein Mao reportedly once said something like, "If you go see enough opera, you will eventually be able to distinguish good opera from bad opera."

The point is that, here again, the mere fact that Menshevik revisionism typically fails to properly acknowledge and appreciate the value of accumulated experience and the "expert" side of the dynamic (instead typically spouting one version or another of narrow revanchist philistine workerism to trash such expertise) doesn't mean that we should flip into the "logical opposite" of mystifying and romanticizing any given area of expertise or accumulated experience—declaring it essentially "off limits" to (supposed or actual) non-experts. This is wrong and unscientific in general, and it is particularly egregious when the value of a truly advanced epistemological method and approach is not in and of itself recognized to be a form of much greater "expertise," one which is fully capable of embracing and encompassing any arena of human thought and activity, and which can provide experts and non-experts alike truly valuable insights if only we would be more open to hearing them!

This too is I think something well worth discussing/reflecting on more deeply. And it also ties in, once again, to the multi-faceted concept of "having the humility to allow oneself to be led."

So I'll just end here for now, with a final reiteration of a thought which keeps going through my mind: Yes, the world needs lots of artists and scientists and intellectuals, and lots of creative innovations and cultural movements, all in one way or another tending towards, driving towards revolution and ultimately communism. But what the world needs now, more than anything else, is what is in fact in very short supply: real genuine revolutionary communists. And among the communists themselves, what is most needed, more than ever, is for people to step up and fulfill their obligations not in one or another "specialty-niche" but as ALL-ROUND COMMUNIST LEADERS. It is especially in this way that we'll most help to usher in a radically new world, including in all the many diverse realms of human activity and imagination.

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