Revolution #189, January 17, 2010
EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF A TALK BY BOB AVAKIAN, CHAIRMAN OF THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST PARTY, USA, FALL 2009
UNRESOLVED CONTRADICTIONS, DRIVING FORCES FOR REVOLUTION
[Editors' note: The following is the sixth in a series of excerpts from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian in Fall 2009, which is being serialized in Revolution. The first five excerpts appeared in Revolution #184, #185, #186, #187, and #188. The entire talk can be found online at revcom.us/avakian/driving.]
"The Transfer of Allegiance" of a Section of the Intelligentsia
While putting emphasis on bringing forward basic masses and youth—including basic youth, but also, I would stress, educated youth, and specifically college students—there does continue to be great importance to "the transfer of allegiance" of a section of the intelligentsia: winning a section of the intellectuals to become ardent advocates and active fighters for communism and revolution.
In this regard, particularly in today's circumstances and with the prevailing culture serving the dominant system, we should not underestimate the importance of epistemology, of such fundamental questions as: Is there such a thing as objective reality? Is there such a thing as truth, objective truth? And can we arrive at important, even fundamental elements of a correct understanding of objective reality, in other words of truth?
All this up against all the widespread promotion—particularly among the democratic intellectuals and the intelligentsia more broadly—of what is in fact a very poisonous relativism, which serves the imperialist system very well because it robs people of the initiative and even of the orientation of fighting back against oppression. For how consistent can people be in fighting oppression, and how can they get to the root of that oppression, if they are mired in the misconception that there is no objective truth, not even such a thing as objective reality, but only different "narratives" expressing the different and often conflicting interests of various "identity groups," each pursuing its own "agenda" within the confines of the existing world, dominated as it objectively is by the dynamics and dictates of the capitalist-imperialist system? This relativism reduces people to the narrowest terms when they do oppose oppression. And it is also a perfect foil for, and paralyzes people in the face of, fascist forces with their absolutism—even while, as I pointed out earlier, these fascists themselves are willing to and will wield relativism when it serves them, particularly against such things as the scientific fact of evolution and the scientific method in general.
Along with the importance of epistemology is the point, which I have stressed previously, about how epistemology meets morality. This refers to the fact that it is necessary to struggle vigorously with people that it is not acceptable to say, "I choose not to think about that, not to know about that"; or "I choose to ignore this or that thing because it makes me uncomfortable." This kind of orientation leads many people to become complicit with what are in fact monstrous crimes being carried out by the U.S. imperialist ruling class today, including such things as overt torture and the overt justification of torture.
Also important in this framework, and in relation to the goal of winning a section of the intelligentsia to become ardent advocates and active fighters for communism and revolution, is the role of polemics—and, specifically in this regard, the online theoretical journal putting forward our party's viewpoint, Demarcations (demarcations-journal.org), which has gotten off to a very important start with its major polemic against the political philosophy of Alain Badiou, but which needs to be further developed and to take on other important pillars of erroneous thinking and orientations which are leading people away from gaining a correct understanding of crucial questions—questions such as how to understand the actual nature and deeper causes of major events in society and the world, and is radical change necessary and possible, and if so what kind of radical change, embodying what goals and achievable by what means?—and from acting on a correct understanding to actually change the world.
Now, all this is linked to, and must take place in the overall context of, broadly creating an atmosphere of questioning and contestation—contestation with the prevailing ideas and culture and, in a certain sense, contestation with everything. Where in today's scene, and particularly among the youth, including the educated youth, is the hunger to know about the world as it actually is? Where is the spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity to pursue the truth wherever it leads? There are in fact many among the educated youth and among the intelligentsia more broadly with good sentiments, wanting to see a better world and even seeking some ways to try to effect this, through volunteering and in other forms. But all this today is overwhelmingly conditioned, shaped and vitiated by the notion that there is no alternative to the present system; it is weighed down and confined by lowered sights and impoverished dreams, channeled back into service to the very system which, to paraphrase again our party's statement, is itself the cause of so many horrors and so much unnecessary suffering. Where is the alienation at what is truly alienating about this whole society? Where is the revulsion at what is truly repulsive? Where is the defiance of what calls out to be defied? Where is the revolt, the ferment? Where is the dreaming and the restless searching for another way, a radically different world? Where is the culture that gives expression in many diverse ways to all this?
All this, of course, cannot be created out of nothing, or by merely attempting to wish it into being. But there is in fact not nothing in the current situation and atmosphere out of which this can be brought forward. There are real, if at this point fragile, shoots of this, and it is essential to encourage, foster, nurture and develop this in order to have the conditions in which it is possible to win more than an individual here and there to revolution and communism. And here let me emphasize once again what was said earlier about morality and culture and the need to contest much more in this arena.