Posted August 4, 2006
Question and Answer Session
Question 1: You’ve addressed that there is too much relativism – that it’s killing the advanced and their ability to even recognize what’s going on in the world and in this society. Could you elaborate on this? In particular you’ve talked about World Can’t Wait, Drive Out the Bush Regime — that this is something that really needs to be done, yet people don’t really want to see what’s happening. Could you speak more to that also?
Question 2: My question flows out of the “Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State…” series that ran in Revolution newspaper. You wrote about Engels’s statement that in early communal society there is not a difference between rights and duties, and that Marx said there’s no need for laws once property relations are transformed. Then you made a statement about how under communism there’s no need for law to codify and institutionalize relations among people. I have a hard time understanding how there’s no need for laws under communism. Even though social antagonisms as such don’t exist in the same way, it’s not as though we’re going back to some early pre-communal small groupings where everybody knows each other. It will be highly complex. Then there is also necessity and there are things still happening. So how is it that you don’t need some kind of rules of the game in dealing with necessity? I understand, not laws in the sense of people going to prison. But, can you talk about why it is that once, particularly property relations and everything that flows from that, gets transformed there’s no need for codified laws, but there will still be some basic understanding among people in society?
Question 3: My question deals with some of the material from the two series: “Views on Socialism and Communism” and “The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution”.
I’ve been thinking about two things: One is a statement by Arundhati Roy in an interview where she basically said (this is paraphrasing), “I support the Maoists in India even though I would probably be the first person they would kill.” Second, I’ve also been thinking about this in relation to the need to make a distinction as you’ve emphasized between those who are actively plotting to overthrow the socialist state and those who are just dissenting or even vehemently opposed to it, but not actively plotting to overthrow it.
My question is – taking into account the socialist experience and the very secondary aspect where Arundhati Roy might have a point based on what happened in China and also taking into account the particularity of India and the particularities of this country: what should communists say to the Arundhati Roys of the world in relation to this contradiction and why should they believe us?
Question 4: In your talk on “The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters” you talk about basketball and you get into coaching, the metaphor of coaching. And you’re not against coaching obviously, but you talked about coaches’ ability to play an initiating role in terms of the productive forces that they are given, in unleashing and freeing what was really positive in changing the game. Could you talk more about that?
Question 5: You’ve spoken about two major events in the late ‘70s and ‘80s — the Iran revolution and the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan and how these two events had more of a long-lasting effect comparatively to other things that were going on in Central America. A lot of your works and analysis in the Revolution newspaper speak to the rise of globalization and religious fundamentalism taking root in different countries. My question is about what’s going on in Latin America—on the one hand this rise of Pentecostalism and the role of religion, the church and even theocracies in Latin America but on the other hand the emergence of people like Lula and Chavez and Morales. In Chile the recent president is a woman who considers herself agnostic. So, what is the deal with Chavez and Lula, but in the context of where the world is at – in terms of McWorld vs. Jihad?
Question 6: My question is in relation to a point you made about democratic intellectuals like Amy Goodman not getting beyond the shopkeeper in their thinking and not getting beyond the confines of bourgeois right. In contrast, the need for communists to continually get beyond the bounds of bourgeois right in their thinking. In studying the “Views on…” series, it opens with the understanding that it’s necessary and right to want state power as a communist. In thinking about changing people’s sentiments, including our own sentiments, it seems that seeing the necessity for wanting state power is one fundamental aspect of getting beyond the bounds of bourgeois right.
I wanted to hear more of your thoughts on that and communists continually making ruptures and leaps in their thinking and in understanding and analyzing the world.
Question 7: My question relates to the question of positivism, but in a certain way relates to many things you address because it deals with the question of science which is a word you use a lot. I think in the book “Marxism and the Call of the Future…” you made an aside along the following lines: "Of course when I talk about science I don’t mean a bourgeois conception of science."
Could you speak to that point, and also speak to what it means methodologically to take a bourgeois approach to science? What are some examples or illustrations? What is the impact in the international communist movement of having that kind of approach, which I believe is a kind of positivist approach to science?
Question 8: This question is in relation to some methodological questions. For the talk, “Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy” – in choosing that question to go into and in formulating that title – how do you approach a sphere?
These are huge world-historic questions in reality among the masses, as part of the whole process of getting to communism. It’s not a priori, “who would be a good target to make our point.” There is what Jefferson concentrates to anybody who theoretically gets into the question of democracy and all the ways that seeps down into people’s thinking today. So this is a basic question on the questions you take up. It’s not just that it’s your special thing. It’s not incidental to this whole project. In terms of approach, there were four or five books on Jefferson that you listed.
Further, there’s a lot of reality that is fascinating that you can approach. So, how do you even choose something to go at?
Question 9: In your talks, one of the threads of many is about the oppression of Black people being a foundational part of how this society formed in the economic base and the whole way this country developed. The things that you’ve written and talked about: slavery and democracy, the New Deal and Great Society programs; the conscious policies and the southern politicians. Your talk on minstrelsy and how the NBA is an extension of that was very heavy. I’m trying to understand this more because it is so intertwined with this society. Related to this is the point about the struggle of Black people being an Achilles heel for the system. Can you comment further?
Question 10: My question comes from reading “Views on Socialism and Communism…” series — “The Communist View of Communism” in particular. We use this phrase “freely associating community of human beings,” I think that came from Marx, to describe communism, but after reading “Views on…” it seemed to me that there was a lot of stress on communist society not being a collection of individuals, of it being a society (I’m trying to understand the dialectics of this) with more coherence, not less. To me “association” connotes less coherence in society. Then there’s the question of “freely associating.” You talked in the series that there’s still necessity in communism and you’ve said that 10,000 years from now there’s still the forces and relations of production and that contradiction.
It’s what Marx says, people are born into, they don’t decide the production relations they live under when they come into life. It seems like what you’ve brought forward has gone beyond that conception, that “freely associated community,” and that even in communist society necessity will still be there. It would be transformed, it would be very different necessity, but it would still in the overall sense be principal.
When I read “A Communist View of Communism” I was picturing communism as more subordination in the sense of more integration into the overall life of society and the questions that it’s wrangling with. I think there’s some truth to that, but then you were also saying, I think, that individual conscience and pursuit of reality will have an important and broad scope in itself and as part of the overall role of changing the world. I am very curious what your thinking on all this was? I think this is related to there being institutions and rules but not laws in communism.
Question 11: I would like to ask about how the process of the leap from perception to cognition took place in the synthesis in your talk, “The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show…” It was really provocative and liberating. Did you go into this with a working thesis?
How much did that interpenetrate with some of the work that you’ve done in terms of how embedded and fundamental national oppression is to the base and superstructure of this country.
Question 12: You’ve made the point about boldly propagating communism all over the place, all of the time. There’s propagating communism politically but also epistemologically and philosophically, for instance saying, “Okay, we should have a discussion of positivism,” to more deeply understand something like identity politics, although they’re not one and the same. It’s also related to what you said about being interested in how people think and what people are thinking and the importance of social investigation.
I know there’s not a formula for how you do this, but how do you approach figuring out where you’re going to carve in with the masses you’re struggling with or engaging. Sometimes you have to wage a struggle over epistemology to even have a discussion of the political issue at hand. But sometimes you have political unity with people who are involved in something and they are philosophically wed to Jeffersonian democracy and very anti-communist along with it. You have to unite politically, but you also have to engage them on the philosophy and the more you do it actually can help their politics.
I know there’s not a formula, but I want to cheat and ask how do you do it right? How do you go about it, how do you approach it? — that is my question.
Question 13: This question is related to “hastening while awaiting” and “repolarization for revolution.” I think I’ve inherited some positivism in terms of envisioning what a revolutionary situation would look like. I’m trying to get a picture of the combination of factors, both subjective and objective, while breaking with this idea of, “well you just go out and struggle with people to become class conscious and then you await something happening and then people automatically respond in a certain way, and that affects something over here and then you have a revolution.” I’m trying to get a more concrete picture of how this subjective element becomes THE thing in combination with objective factors. Could you speak to this?
Question 14: When we seize power how does the decision making process work?
How do we decide at different times that we should give funds to this or that and a number of things at one time? For instance, people who disagree or some masses, they don’t consider pornography to be pornography, they consider it to be eroticism. So, how will the decisionmaking go? What gets on TV and what will be on the air voicing disagreement?
Question 15: In your talk, “Why We’re In the Situation We’re In Today…And What To Do About It…” you take us through a very rigorous sweep of history, which was marked by the principal contradictions that were being posed in the world. You made the point that the principal contradiction is a defining and determining contradiction in terms of what’s happening in the world. The fall of the Soviet Union is a point at which the formulation of a period of transition with the potential for great upheaval was basically put forward. Could you elaborate on how we should understand this as the principal contradiction in the world today?
Question 16: Some years ago, I think it was in your piece, “End of a Stage, Beginning of a New Stage…”, you wrote about the positive role of unresolved contradictions under socialism. It was focused up around key or fault line things in the socialist society. I’m trying to understand that point in the context of the new synthesis and the whole question of solid core and elasticity. It seems to me that while the new synthesis comprehends this point, it’s not exactly the same point. It points to something I think about the synthesis. There’s a way in which that’s going to have to take concentrated expression around these key fault line questions. For instance, around the struggle over uprooting national oppression and white supremacist ideas — we would really concentrate some effort to bring forward solid core with elasticity — putting it in the hands of the masses but opening up dissent, bringing forward representatives of different kinds, including opposing views on this, to have people grapple with those ideas and that type of thing. This is part of the way that you can take leaps in transforming both the base and the superstructure. Could you comment on the connection between those two points, that earlier point and this one, the synthesis point?
Question 17: I have two questions. One question is this: In listening to your talks and also reading the “Views on…” series, I’m trying to get a better understanding of where do social relations exist in relationship to the base and superstructure? My understanding is that the social relations — like the oppression of women for example – are rooted fundamentally in the economic base of society but then they take expression within the superstructure of society. Could you speak to that more?
The other question is related in some ways. How do you see the application of solid core and elasticity within the transformation of the production relations and in the economic base of society under socialism?
Question 18: A book I read, Racial Transformations, has a subhead which says, “How Latinos and Asians are Remaking the World.” It’s getting at changing the discourse about race relations and class relations just being about white supremacy and the oppression of Black people even though that’s definitely a part of it. Could you speak to how different immigrants and different minorities are entering into these production relations in a very different way than Black people who were forced into slavery and its aftermath. How are different immigrants and minorities part of and changing the dynamics, the racial dynamics within this country and what that means for revolution and what we are trying to do?
Question 19: In your talk “Communism: A Whole New World and the Emancipation of All Humanity…” you talked about revengism and that our outlook and vision can’t be the last shall be first and the first shall be last. It reminded me of a statement you made about what the oppressors will try to force us to become in trying to make revolution. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about your memoir when you talked about Peter Tosh and ego. On one level all that you’ve brought forward, including the example of your life, rebukes that.
Having listened to your recent talks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the great privilege it is but also the responsibility that we all have. Could you talk about the role that all the individuals here and communists around the world can really play in trying to bring forward the profoundly liberating vision that you’ve been talking about?
Question 20: In the Revolution newspaper series “The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution” you have a quote from a comrade that said that people should embrace non-communists and non-communist ideas. Could you speak more to that? Why is that so important in getting over the first great hump and actually beyond that? Why is it so important to embrace non-communist ideas?
Question 21: Could you speak to the question that under socialism, the constitution will be a moving target, but apparently one of the principles is that socialist society would be set up along the lines of democratic centralism. I want to understand that in terms of solid core with a lot of elasticity.
Question 22: You’ve spoken a lot about internationalism, but I was hoping you could talk about how — in furthering the world revolution — there can be a contradiction between building socialism in a particular country where power has already been seized and actually furthering the overall world revolution?
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