A Revolution Club Discussion on Bob Avakian's Outline of the New Synthesis

August 10, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


From a reader:

A couple weeks ago, I sat down with a small crew from the Revolution Club to open up some discussion of the new outline from Bob Avakian, The New Synthesis of Communism: Fundamental Orientation, Method and Approach, and Core Elements. In addition, I asked people to read Watching Fruitvale Station With Bob Avakian. While I wanted us to mainly focus on an initial discussion of the Outline, I thought this would contribute to getting more into the character of the leadership who brought all this forward. I also wanted us to talk some about a critical point emphasized in that Watching Fruitvale Station article: “We had better fully recognize and appreciate what we have in BA, and act accordingly.

This Outline is a really tremendous thing to have: a distillation of the core elements that make up the revolution in human thought represented by the new synthesis of communism. And it merits repeated and ongoing discussion... getting into the full cohesive framework for the further advance to communist revolution.

I opened with some brief comments referencing a point BA made answering the question of what is the new synthesis. In a talk from 2005, The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution, BA said “The first point that needs to be made is that this is something that is dealing with real world contradictions—it’s not some idealist imaginings of what it would be nice to have a society be like.” I thought this was important in terms of understanding the materialism of the new synthesis of communism. I also wanted people to begin to get into the lived impact of taking one approach vs. another... that there are great stakes in the ruptures concentrated in this new synthesis and will have a great impact one way or another.

One young woman said that, at first, she thought the outline was more like a bibliography, a guide to key aspects of BA's work. But the more she read it, she realized this outline was itself a synthesis. That BA has distilled the core questions, contradictions and breakthroughs that make up this whole framework. People echoed this point in appreciation of the Outline itself. She added later that it's exciting to see it all put together in this way—to see it broken down, and be able to get into what really are the core breakthroughs.

We talked briefly about a point BA makes in the “introductory point of orientation” that the new synthesis is still a “work in progress” at the same time as it's correct to say that because of the work BA has done, “there is already a further, qualitative development in the science of communism that is embodied in the fundamental orientation, method and approach, and the core elements, of the new synthesis.” I asked the group why they thought this was emphasized.

A few people talked about the nature of science being always ongoing. There are always new contradictions and problems to solve and therefore, our understanding has to develop. One person said that it's important how BA emphasizes that the scientific method and approach is the most important part of this because all the other breakthroughs in the new synthesis came from applying this scientific method and approach. Proceeding with that method, you understand that reality is going to keep changing and you need a scientific method to keep applying that in the real world.... the world presents new things that have to be dissected and as a result, the theoretical work is always ongoing.

This is true of science over all, and true of the science of communism and I think it is really important for people to understand this aspect. But I also feel there is something in this important to appreciate about BA—someone who is restlessly working to understand the world in the deepest way and applying himself to forging the theory required to make a total revolution, a revolution to emancipate all of humanity. He's constantly learning from every sphere of human society, from revolutionary practice understood in a broad sense and wrangling with what it will take for revolution—here and internationally—to actually break through. We should just really appreciate that we are living in a time when the most advanced, visionary scientist in the sphere of revolution is continuing to do this work, and that we—all of us—have an opportunity and a responsibility to be deeply digging into this work, contributing to it and fighting for it. And – given that BA is still putting himself to this work—it puts even more responsibility on us to vigorously promote and defend this precious resource for the people of the world.

In one discussion, we knew we were just going to begin to scratch the surface of what's in this Outline so with all of the above as a basic opening, I asked people to carve in where they wanted—elements they wanted to wrangle with further, ask questions about, thoughts on the whole thing etc.

The two questions we ended up focusing on were in the section on method and approach.

First, someone asked what is meant by necessity, what is the actual definition and then, as the discussion went on, someone else asked what is meant by “a further synthesis” of the understanding between freedom and necessity? We defined necessity as material requirements or material compulsion, and got into some brief discussion about the different levels of necessity in nature and human society. Taking off from this, we read aloud the quote from BA that is referenced at the beginning of the Outline that is quoted by Ardea Skybreak in the intro to Of Primeval Steps & Future Leaps, An Essay on the Emergence of Human Beings, The Source of Women’s Oppression, and the Road to Emancipation: “Neither the emergence of the human species nor the development of human society to the present was predetermined or followed predetermined pathways. There is no transcendent will or agent which has conceived and shaped all such development, and nature and history should not be treated as such—as Nature and History. Rather, such development occurs through the dialectical interplay between necessity and accident and in the case of human history between underlying material forces and the conscious activity and struggle of people.”

We talked about this for a while, using different examples and getting into the different levels of accident and necessity throughout history and nature. A student who has been getting into Marx's work talked about what Marx's breakthrough opened up. Prior to him, she said, people thought history worked as a ladder wherein which everything and everyone was just ascending in a linear way to more and more progress. But this isn't how it works. And now, with BA's building on Marx—we are able to understand the world even more dynamically.

In terms of how what BA has brought forward is a “further synthesis” of this, we got into some of the secondary tendencies in the communist movement to see communism as inevitable (something that is still being fought out today). Related to this, and overall to this “further synthesis” was how BA criticized a conception from Engels of “the negation of the negation.” In the discussion, a couple of us described this but I've since looked up how this is discussed in Communism: The Beginning of A New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party: “In the original conception of human society’s historical development toward communism, even as formulated by Marx, there was a tendency—although this tendency was definitely very secondary—toward a somewhat narrow and linear view. This was manifested, for example, in the concept of the 'negation of the negation' (the view that things proceed in such a way that a particular thing is negated by another thing, which in turn leads to a further negation and a synthesis which embodies elements of the previous things, but now on a higher level). This concept was taken over from the philosophical system of Hegel, whose philosophy exerted a significant influence on Marx (and Engels), even while, in a fundamental sense, they recast and placed on a materialist foundation Hegel’s view of dialectics, which was itself marked by philosophical idealism (the view that history consists in essence of the unfolding of the Idea). As Bob Avakian has argued, the 'negation of the negation' can tend in the direction of 'inevitable-ism'—as if something is bound to be negated by another thing in a particular way, leading to what is almost a predetermined synthesis. And when applied to the historical sweep of human society, in such a way that it verges on being simplistically formulaic—as in the construct: primitive classless (communal) society was negated by class society, which in turn will be negated by the emergence once again of classless society, but now on a higher foundation, with the achievement of communism throughout the world—the tendency toward reductionism with regard to the extremely complex and variegated historical development of human society, the tendency toward a 'closed system' and toward 'inevitable-ism,' become more pronounced and more problematical.”

We got into the significance and dynamism of this. This also provides the further understanding that communism won't be a static utopia. We talked more about how the science of communism has advanced on these questions drawing from Mao's further development of Engels' understanding and how BA has built off all this (here's this important quote from Mao: “Engels spoke of moving from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom, and said that freedom is the understanding of necessity. This sentence is not complete, it only says one half and leaves the rest unsaid. Does merely understanding it make you free? Freedom is the understanding of necessity and the transformation of necessity—one has some work to do too.” The science has developed since Marx, at the same time there is a qualitative rupture in the work BA has done on these questions—putting the whole understanding on a more consistently, thoroughly, comprehensively scientific foundation.

Someone else talked about the “constant need to confront necessity and transform it into freedom, how you understand the necessity that is impinging on you and how you see transforming that. This is the nature of reality. Skybreak talks about it in terms of evolution. For example, bones of different species are all made out of very similar substances. This has to do with the constraint of all evolving from a common ancestry, things develop certain ways but they branch out of that. To understand any phenomenon in nature or society, you have to understand the dynamic relationship between freedom and necessity or necessity and accident. Especially if you're trying to make a totally emancipatory revolution, you can recognize where you have freedom to act if you understand the deep going necessity and where that necessity arises.”

She took off from this to talk about how exciting it was the first time she came to understand that communism isn't inevitable because it meant that—based on how things have developed up to this point in human history—what we do or don't do can have a qualitative impact on whether things go one way or another. Communism is not a narrative or our story that we like to believe in and really coming to see that there is a powerful material basis in reality but no spontaneity and definitely no inevitability, enables you to see that all the contradictions in that reality are part of the material basis for communism, but it's a material basis that we have to go to work on.

Responding to this, someone talked about how ideas of the anarchists are so unscientific. The idea that you should have total freedom doesn't recognize the underlying material contradictions in society and it doesn't enable you to see why the goal of the revolution has to be much more than equality. And that if you tried to enforce equality, that would just bring you back to a system of exploitation and oppression. She said, “If I have a few young kids and one leg and you have no kids and are able bodied and we're each given an equal plot of land to till, me and my kids are going to go hungry while you'll have a thriving farm. At a certain point, I'm going to need you to exploit my labor for a wage so I can buy some food to eat. This shows how enforcing equality covers over inequality... and it shows that in any circumstance, you're going to have to deal with different levels of necessity. The question is how you approach those things: by scientifically confronting and analyzing it, or by pretending it doesn't exist or that you can just step over all that, flattening out a whole complex dialectical process. Objectively, the necessity we face in material reality or in the birthmarks of this system limits people’s freedom. That's why calls for absolute equality are just wrong and idealist, meaning not proceeding from the dynamics and contradictions in the actual reality we face.”

In relation to the further dynamic understanding that BA has brought forward of the vibrancy of the socialist transition to communism, I brought in a point from the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), which also provides a really living understanding of the importance in the orientation that society won't get to communism through some kind of linear straight line path, there will be an ongoing dynamic and struggle between necessity and freedom, and accident and necessity. The Preamble of the Constitution makes this point: “...the principle of 'solid core, with a lot of elasticity' must be applied. This means that, on the one hand, there must be a continually expanding force in society, with the revolutionary communist party as its leading element, which is firmly convinced of the need to advance to communism and deeply committed to carrying forward this struggle, through all the difficulties and obstacles; and, on the basis of and at the same time as continually strengthening this 'solid core,' there must be provision and scope for a wide diversity of thinking and activity, among people throughout society, 'going off in many different directions,' grappling and experimenting with many diverse ideas and programs and fields of endeavor–and once again all this must be 'embraced' by the vanguard party and the 'solid core' in an overall sense and enabled to contribute, through many divergent paths, to the advance along a broad road toward the goal of communism. This orientation and approach is embodied in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.

I mainly encourage people to get into the Constitution as a whole to appreciate the larger context wherein which this is being discussed. In that context, this is a description I've always been really inspired by—the appreciation that there is on the one hand, only one solution to the nightmare of capitalism and that's communist revolution but that path to communist revolution and the achievement of communism through a whole dynamic epoch full of struggle and transformation is not all mapped out and will not just march in a straight line. It will be full of the dynamic relationship between necessity being transformed into freedom, resulting into new levels of necessity on many different levels and spheres of society.

We talked about this for a while, including what is meant by “many divergent paths.” In response to this, someone talked about the problem of how people too often view necessity as a negative thing to work through, instead of understanding it is what is—material reality, contradiction to work through. Also, bouncing off the point from the Constitution, he talked about BA's emphasis that there are many different elements of upheaval and transformation that will have to go into uprooting “the four alls.” [Meaning: the abolition of all class distinctions; the abolition of all the production relations on which those class distinctions rest; the abolition of all the social relations corresponding to those production relations; and the revolutionization of all the ideas corresponding to those social relations.]

Someone else linked all this and talked about how “the divergent paths come about as a result of necessity and accident and understanding the interplay between those things can potentially offer freedom that you can't see on the surface. For example, you can look at the oppression of women: is it just a negative monolithic blob or is it the case that while it’s manifesting itself in a horrible way, it is also pulling on the fabric of capitalism-imperialism which can be stretched and torn but from which patriarchy and the oppression of women can never be unbraided. But by recognizing the deeper reality of this question, and really pulling on it, it can open be opened up and even lend itself to openings which can contribute to making a revolution.”

Finally, in closing out this part of the discussion, I brought in a point from BA from the beginning of some observations from a few years ago: "Freedom and Necessity, and Proceeding from a Strategic Standpoint: Some Thoughts on Methods and Leadership." There, he says: “A big and recurrent problem has to do with the relation between freedom and necessity. Historically, there have been difficulties with this in the communist movement and in our own Party. On another level, this is manifested in relation to 'Occupy' and what it is up against. It has come up against necessity, particularly in the form of repression by the bourgeois state, and there is the phenomenon among many of not seeing any way to forge any freedom out of this—and, instead, they are trying to find some way to work within the necessity that's been imposed that they don't see any way of breaking through on. That is objectively what is going on to a significant degree.”

This is so critical and such a scientific rupture that enables us to break out of the determinism that frankly plagues way too much of the thinking of people who want to see a better world but don't proceed consistently with a scientific approach: do you go more deeply to try to understand the underlying contradictions and motion giving rise to the necessity you're facing, or do you just accept it without analysis and try to work within it?

We then had a briefer but important discussion on BAsics 4:10 and why BA links this to the question of morality. We talked about the science of communism being the basis for communist morality and compared and contrasted it to moralism on the one hand, or not seeing the importance of morality on the other. We also got into how objectively relativism, populism and identity politics contribute to the world as it is backed up by the state—brutally backing up and enforcing the world as it is, with all the oppression, exploitation, class divisions and antagonistic divisions among people that flow from all that.

We didn't have much time left but did have some discussion of the article "Watching Fruitvale Station With Bob Avakian." Once again, getting into this Outline—in its entirety and then digging into even just a couple of the different aspects—it brings you back to the import and significance of the leadership we have in Bob Avakian. Someone who has put himself to developing this revolution in human thought and is continuing to develop that “work in progress.” At the same time, there is this rare combination of, as BA himself has put it, “the visceral and the theoretical”—someone who is working on such a high theoretical level and has such a deepgoing sense of, and heart for, the most oppressed sections of society. Someone who really is, as the article talks about, “the best friend of the masses.”

I talked about this briefly and then acknowledged that we wouldn't really have the time to do justice to this article (and certainly were just beginning to wrestle with the Outline) but I asked people to speak to the different levels of meaning in the sentence in bold, which is repeated twice and which I quoted above: “We had better fully recognize and appreciate what we have in BA, and act accordingly.

Through the discussion, one person said, “We really need to appreciate what BA represents and have to build a wall around him while we also make that need known to people. And if we don't recognize and make known this need, we're just leaving the leadership vulnerable. That's not ok.” She went on to talk about how “there is so much unnecessary human suffering in the world today, here's this leader who has brought forward a way out of all the way these people suffer. If you don’t build a wall around this leader and emphasize why that is needed, then really you're not just dismissing BA's leadership, you're dismissing all the masses who are suffering at the same time.”

Another person talked about how when you understand the content and the real importance of the new synthesis of communism, you see the importance of his continuing ability to expand that work and expand the new synthesis as further problems of the revolution present themselves. It is very, very important to protect that leadership and line... to recognize the importance of the work and the person who’s continuing to do the work.”

We had to end the discussion because we ran out of time, but encouraged everyone to keep digging into the Outline formally and informally, and to continue digging into the interview with Ardea Skybreak, both discussing it in sections but also reading it cover to cover to get the whole sweep of it.



Volunteers Needed... for revcom.us and Revolution

Send us your comments.

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

REVOLUTION AND RELIGION The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Bob Avakian
BA Speaks: Revolution Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live
BAsics from the Talks and Writings of Bob Avakian
Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism
You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation Its History and Our Future Interview with Raymond Lotta
The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need