Discussion at Revolution Books: Digging into Bob Avakian’s Outline of His New Synthesis of Communism

December 7, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


From a reader:

Recently, people gathered at the new Revolution Books NYC location up in Harlem for a lively and wild discussion of the new outline from Bob Avakian, “The New Synthesis of Communism: Fundamental Orientation, Method and Approach, and Core Elements.” We knew from the outset that we could not exhaust the content of this outline in one evening, rather we aimed to work together to get a deeper grasp of the significance and scope of what is in the outline and why the work and leadership of Bob Avakian (BA) is absolutely necessary if humanity is to make a genuine revolution that can fully and lastingly uproot all forms of exploitation and oppression. There were also very different levels of familiarity and experience with the revolution in our group—some who have been in the Revolution Club for a longer time, some who came to revolution through the resistance struggles in the fall, customers from Revolution Books, and others. We were young and old, many nationalities, and from very different life experiences. We saw this mix as a strength. Everyone had studied the outline and read a recommended section of the interview by Ardea Skybreak (SCIENCE AND REVOLUTION: On the Importance of Science and the Application of Science to Society, the New Synthesis of Communism and the Leadership of Bob Avakian) and, on that foundation, everyone was encouraged to dive in fully to a collective process of learning and struggle.


by Bob Avakian, Chairman, Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Summer 2015

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Political Activism and Revolutionary Leadership of Bob Avakian (BA), During the 1960s-1970s, and Continuing to the Present Time

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What Is Science?

Taking note of where the outline itself begins, and how it ends, we decided to open things up around several questions pertaining to BA’s method and approach: What is science? Can science be applied to history and human societies? What is new in what BA has done on the question of science? Why is BA’s method and approach necessary for humanity to get free?

From the moment we divided into smaller break-out groups, people dove in with great passion as well as with some very different understandings of what science is. The first woman to speak is new to BA’s work and is still wrestling with whether or not a revolution and communism are actually necessary. She drew first from what she recalled from school about science. She emphasized that “rather than just ideas, science means you test your ideas to see if they are true. Science deals with data and you make a hypothesis and then you test it.” She was unclear, however, how this related to the work BA has done, “Are there multiple ideas BA is testing? Is the hypothesis ‘Why communism vs. something else?’ What data do we have to say this is a valid statement?”

Another newer person responded, “I don’t think BA meant to be speaking in absolutes. He proposes communism as a scientific hypothesis, but remains open to other ideas.” But when he went on to define science, his definition was very different, “Science is absolute definitions. This is what something is. This is how it works. Nothing else to add.” This led him to voice some confusion, “But it’s kind of a paradox. BA is saying he is open to applying other ideas to his idea, but calling it science, when I thought science means you are firm in your conclusion.”

A third person didn’t agree that science cuts off discovery, arguing, “What is science? You need ideas from before, and you advance from there, but the ideas have to evolve and advance. Like in physics, there was the ideas of Newton but then we advanced on those ideas. We kept some, but we also advanced.” The first woman built on that, adding, “Science is to constantly question everything. It’s not, ‘Here’s a theory, period.’ I mean, we used to think Pluto was a planet, now we realize it is not. You are constantly testing everything.”

A member of the Revolution Club spoke up, “Science is a method to interrogate and understand reality based on material evidence.” She posed, “Even the question of why communism, or how a revolution could happen, these are questions that have to be answered with science. With evidence.” Responding to what had been said earlier about BA’s ideas being “just a hypothesis” and “being open to other ideas,” she said, “BA has come to some conclusions, not just ideas. He’s done this based on looking at the material world—what kind of organization of society corresponds to a way that can emancipate humanity? How can you set up an economy that does that? Skybreak says in her interview that there were some key breakthroughs BA has made. He built on Marx who said that all ideas and relations are based on how human society is organized, based on the economic foundation. These are not just ideas. They are not even just the best idea that sounds the best, but he shows why... here is a materialist analysis of history and why this communist revolution is possible now...”

Already, different ideas on what science is and how BA approaches this question were swirling. The leader of the discussion pointed out that one person had argued that science was “absolute definitions” with “nothing else to add,” while others had emphasized that science builds on previous ideas and advances over time. Which is it? And, why?

Science Requires Evidence

Building on that question, she asked: If science does build on previous ideas, how does one determine which ideas to adopt and which ideas to discard? Don’t religions also change over time, building on some of what came before as well as adapting and adding new things at times? Are they both scientific because they both change, or is there something else involved in making something scientific?

A New Theoretical Framework for a New Stage of Communist Revolution What is New in the New Synthesis? An Explorer, a Critical Thinker, a Follower of BA; Understanding the World, And Changing It For the Better, In the Interests of Humanity Some Thank Yous That Need To Be Said Aloud Order the book here Download the full interview in PDF format here

Several people argued that science is not “absolute definitions” with “nothing else to add” because the world keeps changing and we keep learning more. Some of what we once thought was true might be proven to be wrong and so we might have to change our theories, but what makes the theory scientific is that it is based on material evidence. This is very different than religion because religion, even while it might change at times, does not provide evidence.

Science Is a Reality-Based Method, Not a “Set of Conclusions”

Still, big questions hung in the air. One was: how to understand the relationship between scientific “conclusions” and the scientific process of “questioning and testing everything.” As recounted earlier, the person who argued that science is about “absolute definitions” with “nothing else to add,” had also noted how BA has insisted his approach and new synthesis is “still developing.” He drew from this that perhaps BA’s new synthesis wasn’t really scientific. In response, someone from the Revolution Club argued emphatically that BA had actually come to some very important scientific conclusions that were backed up by evidence. They walked through some of these, like the fact that you need a revolution and a different mode of production (a different economic system and way that food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities of life get produced) in order to end oppression and exploitation.

This was very important, and it is true that Bob Avakian has tremendous and well-grounded scientific certitude about many things—many of them are highlighted in the outline we were studying. It is also true that BA’s new synthesis as a whole is backed up by evidence and marks a qualitative leap and advance in the science of communism. Secondarily, BA’s new synthesis—as he himself points out—is an ongoing “work in progress.” How to understand this?

This opened up a whole discussion about how science in general, and BA’s new synthesis in particular, is so much more than—and actually quite different than—a collection of well-grounded “conclusions.”

As I was thinking about this more afterwards, someone pointed me to a passage in the Skybreak interview, “Good science, you know, does not just go out into the world with a big question mark without any kind of developed theory. In order to advance science, you go out into the world with a framework of certain analyses that have accumulated over time. You make your best possible analysis and synthesis at any given time. And then you go out and test it further against reality. That’s what scientists do. And, in the course of that, you discover that some things that you thought were true are in fact very much true—you see some patterns that maybe you expected—and you often also get some surprises, you learn some things you didn’t expect, you find out you were wrong in some instances, and you learn from that as well. That enables you to make an even more advanced analysis and synthesis. And you go on from there. That’s how good scientific knowledge advances. And Bob Avakian models that in everything he does, in my opinion. That’s why I think there’s really no one like him in terms of taking a really consistently good scientific approach to societal issues and the positive transformation of society.

One point that the outline draws out is that BA has developed a more scientific way of approaching reality, a more scientific method and approach, rupturing with elements in the methodology of communism that were NOT fully scientific. We got into how the new synthesis has been established to be true and is the most scientific foundation for acting to change the world towards human emancipation and for continuing to learn more about the world and about how it can be changed. It contains both a great deal of certitude and firm scientific conclusions, and on that foundation a truly searching and constantly restless and interrogating scientific spirit.

But, as one woman posed, “The more I start to understand about this, the more questions get opened up.” This was true for everyone in the discussion.

Does Objective Reality Really Exist, and Can We Know It?

Even the question of “evidence” and being “evidence-based” can be understood in different ways. One person argued that “reality is objective” and that people should “draw from evidence,” but “at the same time, we all have our own realities and our own evidence.” She argued, “You can’t know everything all at once. Everyone has their own reality, so the conclusions you draw from one point of view are valid for you, but that doesn’t mean they speak to all people everywhere.”

Others argued that, even while there might be some “evidence” being marshaled in the example she was giving, it wasn’t really a scientific approach and it’s simply not true that “everyone has their own reality.” People don’t “have their own reality”—in reality everyone exists within one larger objective reality. This opened up the larger question: Is it only possible to be sure about the surface of things that you can directly experience (through your five senses of touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing), or does science enable us to know things beyond our direct experiences with scientific certitude? Is science merely the collection of data and the testing out of theories on the surface of reality, or can science penetrate to discover the inner workings of things (whether it be a body and a disease, a human society and how it is changing, or anything else) and the underlying dynamics that give rise to the surface phenomena? These are very important questions that are taken up in many of the works cited in BA’s outline, including the polemic “Ajith—A Portrait of the Residue of the Past” by Ishak Baran and KJA in Demarcations #4.

While we didn’t come close to exploring the answers to all these questions, we did make a start of real substance—and that’s pretty important. I mean, I am attempting to draw together some themes as I write, but in the actual discussion things were much wilder than this. At one point someone argued that the real world doesn’t actually exist, “We all are an imagination of ourselves and we experience ourselves subjectively.” Someone else walked through the basic philosophical divide between materialism (the view that reality objectively exists and can be known) and idealism (the view that there is no objective reality, just the ideas of people or the existence of god). In arguing for materialism, they pointed out that one way you know the real world objectively exists is that when humans interact with it, it behaves the same way for everyone. For example, ice melts into water at the same temperature for everyone, regardless of whether someone else has given them that idea before.

Someone else introduced the rupture BA has made with the view that people, simply because of their oppressed status, somehow were more able to tell what is true, and brought alive some of the significance of this breakthrough. Another Revolution Club member commented on how rarely people think about how they think and how important it is that BA is paying attention to this. She had to repeat this statement different ways, because for many of the people present it was so true they’d never thought about it before, and it took them a minute before they even understood what she was posing.

All this, and much, much more, got unleashed as we went forward. Throughout it all, the significance of what BA has done in really developing a thoroughly scientific method and approach—and in providing us with his outline to appreciate and dig into it systematically—stood out. Through no fault of their own, most people have been denied and deprived of an understanding of science. And, as Ardea Skybreak points out in her interview, keeping people from understanding science really serves the ruling class of exploiters and oppressors because it makes it easy to fool the masses of people and keep them enslaved and oppressed. On the other hand, the work that BA has done—in advancing the scientific method, in breaking this down in his extensive body of work to make it accessible to the masses, and in providing practical ongoing leadership to carrying out a scientific revolution—is giving people the most important thing they need to rise up as conscious emancipators of humanity.

Do We Really Need All This Theory?

At a certain point, however, someone got a bit impatient. It seemed to him that perhaps we were straying off into things that had nothing to do with the urgent need to change the world. People are being killed every day, he insisted, and locked down in prisons. “What does any of what we are talking about have to do with really going out and fighting to end this?” It took a while before anyone came out with a clear and correct answer to this. This itself revealed a definite underappreciation for the game-changing significance of BA’s new synthesis, and in particular his development of communism as a science. Eventually, people worked their way to an answer: while it is absolutely essential that people stand up and fight back and while we ourselves put a lot of effort into this, without the new synthesis that BA has developed and leadership that is based on this, they will remain trapped in the world as it is.

If one does not burn with impatience to put an end to this system that causes so much misery for the masses of people here and all over the world, then they do not have the basis to be a revolutionary communist. But, if growing numbers do not take up the scientific approach to communist revolution that is concentrated in BA and his new synthesis, then the masses will never get free.

Someone pointed to the heroism of the masses who rose up in Egypt just a few years ago in the “Arab Spring,” and the heartbreak of all the horrors and rape and U.S.-backed torture and oppression that pervades Egypt today. They needed leadership grounded in the new synthesis! Or, look at the heroism of the Black Panther Party in this country’s history, or the women who rose up in the women’s liberation struggle—and look at the way Black people are still being gunned down by police and slammed into prisons in genocidal proportions and women’s rights are being stripped away and abortion clinics are being shot up. This is because there wasn’t a revolution and we need one—and we cannot make one, and we certainly cannot make one that leads to uprooting and abolishing all oppression, without BA’s new synthesis. If we really burn with impatience to see humanity emancipated, that should drive us to get deeper into the revolutionary theory and leadership BA is providing and we should help each other do so.

Getting Clear on What an Actual Revolution Is—and Why That Matters

As soon as all this was said, a second person got impatient. She jumped to defend the Black Panther Party and the women’s liberation fighters, insisting they had been heroic and their efforts shouldn’t be dismissed. She insisted that they had made revolutions and that revolutions were happening all the time, “Just because they aren’t as big as you might like doesn’t mean you should look down on them.” She argued that even though there are still problems, things are much better for women than they used to be and much better for Black people and other minorities and this should be acknowledged.

One person jumped in to agree with her, while another began arguing that, in fact, things have been getting worse. But the leader of the discussion cut through this by speaking forcefully about what an actual revolution would mean. “Look, if we had made a revolution and now had revolutionary state power, there would not be ANY police terror and murder being carried out in the streets. I mean it, it would be over. It would not happen. No 16 shots in the back and then lies and cover-ups for years. No parents weeping and burying their children just because they are Black or Brown. No more generations locked in cages, dehumanized and degraded. And if the police did kill someone wrongfully, they would be on trial. And if people stood up to protest this, they would not be tear-gassed and beaten, and railroaded into jail. If we had state power, women would not have to walk through a militarized war zone to get an abortion, and they could do so on demand and without apology. They wouldn’t be being beaten and raped literally in the millions. We wouldn’t be sending drones around the world snuffing out wedding parties and reducing villages to rubble. These are not hard problems to solve—if we make a revolution and seize state power. If we don’t, they are impossible to solve.” It was necessary to pose this sharply because people needed to be shaken out of what were objectively very narrow sights.

She went on to acknowledge that there were many problems that are not so easy to solve, problems that would take a lot of time and a lot of work even after the seizure of power—like uprooting all the remaining vestiges of white supremacy and male domination, thoroughly changing the economy and repairing the environment as much as can be done, and bringing all of humanity into the realms of science and intellectual life and so much more—and this whole process is extremely complex. All this underscores why people need to get with the new synthesis and leadership BA is providing. He has developed a strategy and an approach to making this real. It is simply not true that the best we can do is fight heroically to push the same boulder up the hill only to have it come crashing back down on the masses of people year after year after year. Real and lasting emancipation is possible, this is what we must set our sights on and this is why we need to do the work to get into and to fight to get others into BA.1

As this agitation unfolded, the person who had initially expressed impatience at getting into so much theory dove back in, in agreement, adding his voice vigorously to the desire to see that kind of real liberation and not just more crumbs, and perking up to the questions of theory anew. One young woman’s eyes widened and she made clear that she’d never really thought about revolution in such a real way like that before.

The Culture We Need if We Are Serious About Revolution

That so much of this was so new for so many people gathered for the discussion only underscored how important it was that we were taking the time to dig into BA’s new synthesis outline. It also sharpened up a bigger question of what kind of ongoing culture we have in the movement for revolution, and how there needs to be a culture where all the questions taken up in BA’s outline are what we are living in and pulsing around all the time, not just on “special occasions.”

Towards the end, someone who had been in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War opened up about what a big deal it had been for him and other soldiers to get won over to supporting the Vietnamese side in that war. He spoke of how inspired he had been by their freedom struggle and their proclamations of fighting for some kind of communist liberation. He described how millions of them had been killed or given their lives fighting and actually defeating the U.S. Army, but then he choked up when he added, “But you look at Vietnam today and it is a hellhole. Even after all their sacrifice... This is why it matters that we take up the science and new synthesis of communism and BA’s leadership, because whether you really grasp communism or just call yourself a communist while really doing something else, it has life-and-death consequences.”

A young woman who had been challenged several times during the discussion but dove in eagerly with a good attitude all along the way added, “The important thing I am really getting is that this is possible for everybody to understand. I don’t understand it all yet, but I am getting that this is something everyone can learn and take up. Tonight I am going to buy a book from Bob Avakian so I can keep learning.”

We let these two comments stand as important points of orientation for all of us, new and old, not just in wrapping up a spirited discussion but in looking to our responsibilities going forward.


1. Bob Avakian has actually done a tremendous amount, going into the history of the Black Panther Party and the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s, summing these up and getting deeply into what WERE the lessons and how NOW to synthesize these lessons in going forward. Much of this can be found in his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond; My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist; Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution, particularly Part III looking at women’s liberation; “Rereading George Jackson,” from Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World, and in other works. [back]


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