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Part 13: The Correct Approach to Intellectuals...Engels Got Upset When Duhring Was Removed From His University Post

From "On Proletarian Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship: A Radically Different View of Leading Society"

This series by Bob Avakian is excerpted from a previously unpublished talk titled "Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World."  The series was published 2003-04.

I guess I'm knocking down, or at least taking some shots at, some "sacred cows" here in this speech, because I think this is necessary, so in that same spirit I want to go back to something that struck me at the time when the whole campaign was launched by the revisionists after their coup in China--the campaign of "criticizing and repudiating the Gang of Four." I commented on it at the time but then more or less left it alone for a while. I always read those quotes that were attributed to Mao criticizing the Gang of Four with a lot of interest. I didn't simply brush them aside as being all bullshit. In looking them over, it struck me that some of them may have been totally fabricated while others were grossly distorted. Many of them may have been criticisms that were actually made, but the way in which they were made, and the spirit and purpose in which and for which they were made, was being completely distorted, was being ripped out of context and turned into its opposite.

As I said at the time, in "Revisionists are Revisionists...,"* they struck me as criticisms being made by someone (specifically Mao) to people in the same camp, and they may have reflected Mao's being very frustrated with mistakes that he felt they were making in this very intense, life and death struggle. Mao's frustration would be of a certain kind--and in a certain sense would be all the greater-- precisely because the Four were in the same camp with him and he was relying heavily on them. This is the way this struck me at the time (20 years ago now!) and, in going back and looking over and thinking about these criticism attributed to Mao, it continues to strike me this way.

One of these statements attributed to Mao that I remember in particular was a comment about the way intellectuals were being dealt with. He supposedly made this comment as a criticism of the "gang of four." Now, again, with all the qualifiers that I just stated, it struck me there might be something to this--specifically where Mao was alleged to have said, in commenting on the treatment of intellectuals, that even Engels got very upset when Duhring was dismissed from his post at the university. Engels, of course, wrote Anti-Duhring, which was a very scathing criticism of Duhring's philosophical outlook and method and his political line and program. But at a certain point the government ousted Duhring from his post in the university, and Engels opposed this very sharply, because the basis on which it was done was not something that a communist should support.

It seems to me that something very important is being gotten at in this comment about Engels and Duhring. (Here I am assuming that Mao actually made this particular criticism of the "gang of four.") Mao is raising this example of how Engels got upset at Duhring's dismissal from his university post to make the basic point that we have to have a similar approach to the intellectuals in socialist society. That is, we need to subject their erroneous ideas and inclinations to criticism, sometimes sharp criticism, we need to struggle against their tendency to be "intellectual overlords" as well as their general tendency to divorce theory from practice, and so on. But, at the same time, we have to find the ways for them to make their contribution to the fullest. Just because there is a need to criticize and struggle against certain erroneous viewpoints and tendencies among intellectuals, we must not allow this to become transformed into an antagonism, and we must not negate the important positive role that they can play. And (whether or not Mao would have said this exactly this way) I would add that we can't negate the aspect in which the intellectuals can play an important role precisely by raising criticisms and challenging our ideas and policies.

Continuing with the same basic theme, I wanted to turn to something that came up in the course of the struggle vs. our Mensheviks (the Mensheviks within our Party) over the coup in China. This focused on the Goldbach conjecture--there was this mathematician who was being held up as a model by the revisionists who had seized power in China because he was doing work to attempt to prove the Goldbach conjecture (a mathematical proposition or theorem). At the time, we sort of dismissed this in a rather facile and frankly philistine way in our polemics against our Mensheviks. We made some sarcastic comment about this great model of a mathematician and how, if he were successful in his theoretical endeavors, he would actually prove that 2 plus 2 equals 4. This was a bit philistine, to be frank. I mean, the Goldbach conjecture is not as simple as that--it involves prime numbers and all that--I don't even understand it fully, but I do understand enough to know that it's not so simple as proving that 2 plus 2 equals 4.

The point I am getting at here is this: whatever the particularities of that situation, involving this mathematician who was working on the Goldbach conjecture, and notwithstanding the fact that the way in which he was being brought forward as a model was in fact in the service of a revisionist line on the role of intellectuals and of science in socialist society, there is nonetheless a principle that in socialist society, no less than in other societies, there is a place and a need for "pure science." While an important aspect of science is the way in which it helps to more or less directly unleash the productive forces-- understanding productive forces to mean not simply technology but also, and most essentially, people--it should not be the case that science is, in some sort of narrow and reductionist, one-to-one way, limited to simply its role in relation to production, or even to the immediate exigencies or requirements of the class struggle.

So, again, in socialist society, no less than in other societies, there is a need for pure science and for that kind of abstract research. If we don't recognize and allow that and even encourage it in certain ways, then we are not really going to be creating the kind of society that can continue to move forward toward communism. That is not the kind of socialist society that we want, one which negates or has a philistine attitude toward pure science and abstract research.

Now, the main problem among the intellectuals (or certainly significant sections of the intellectuals) is not going to be--in socialist society or anywhere else--that they are going to under-appreciate the importance of intellectual inquiry and abstract pursuit of knowledge, divorced from the class struggle and from the needs of the masses. The overwhelming tendency in which the intellectuals will go off course will be in the opposite direction, in wanting too much of intellectual inquiry that is in fact guided by idealist and metaphysical principles--and, as one important expression of that, is divorced from the masses and from the class struggle, and from the needs of production in socialist society.

But with all that--recognizing that and the need to struggle against that--it is still important to grasp that socialist society has to have a place for pure science, for abstract research, for thinking about and exploring big philosophical questions, as well as questions of scientific investigation, which don't have any direct or immediate relationship to the social and political questions and the questions of production that are then posing themselves immediately in society. And if we don't allow for that, we are not going to get the kind of "mix" that we need--we are not going to get the correct relationship between the superstructure and the base, and the correct relationship between the ideological realm on the one hand and the political realm on the other hand, in socialist society--we are not going to get the right "mix" of all that, which is necessary in order to carry forward the revolution in socialist society as part of the world proletarian revolution.

This is another dimension in which we have to review the history of the Internationalist Communist Movement--including the history of our own Party in this case, where overwhelmingly we were taking the correct side and waging very correct polemics against the revisionists who had been in our own ranks, and more importantly the Chinese revisionists who seized power from the proletariat. But in the course of that, we did fall into certain narrow and philistine tendencies which run counter to the kind of outlook and methodology that we have to have.

Unleashing the Critical and Revolutionary Essence of Marxism

This relates to the essential, underlying point that I am trying to get at here, which is fully "restoring"--or accentuating and further unleashing and developing--the critical as well as the revolutionary essence of Marxism itself. As was pointed out in the articles on Communism vs. Anarchism, while we have to recognize the positive role that can be played by criticism from people, anarchist-tending people and others, with different viewpoints than that of the proletariat, even more important than that, our own outlook and methodology has to be infused with that critical and revolutionary essence that Marx speaks of. Specifically, Marx speaks of this (in "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," I believe it is) where he talks about how the proletarian revolution must continually subject even itself (as well as other things) to criticism and continually arise anew from its defeats and go forward again.

In relation to this, the following from "End/Beginning"** is very important:

"Socialist society should be the farthest thing from a stagnant and dreary place. How can we, when we're in power, despise and suppress the very kinds of things we welcome and promote now--non-conformity, critical thinking, the unwillingness to blindly follow authority, and so on? Does this mean that we don't need unity and people pulling together for the common cause and to carry forward the continuing revolution under socialism? No, we need those things very much, but diversity and struggle need not undermine this unity--they can and should make it more real, more firmly grounded, more solid. And they will make things a hell of a lot more exciting!"

And then it goes on to put this punctuation point on things: "If socialism is lifeless and boring, it will fail."

That might sound like non-materialist categories--lifeless and boring--but these have objective social content and relate very much to the fact that, as is stressed in "End/Beginning," socialist society should be the farthest thing from a stagnant and dreary place. It should be characterized by lively struggle, by a lot of initiative and creativity, and by a lot of turmoil and upheaval, not in the anarchist sense but in the sense in which we have spoken to it, in the sense in which this is all part of the whole contradictory motion through which socialist society must and will move forward.

All this is related to the continuing need today for an ideological counter-offensive against the anti- communist ideological offensive of the imperialists and reactionaries--an ideological counter-offensive in which we boldly put forward our "strategic double-c", that is, strategic contempt for the other side and all it stands for, and strategic confidence in our own cause and our own revolutionary aims.

To refer once more to what is said in "End/Beginning": "We should instill in the victims of this system an attitude of despising this system and all it stands for--of recognizing that this system represents not the `wave of the future' but the dregs of the past--that it is the thing standing in the way of a much brighter future." We must inspire people with a profound vision of that future- -of the communist ideology and program that represents that future--and of their own role in taking up communism and advancing humanity toward that future. As "End/Beginning" quotes Mao on this point: "Unless we despise the old system and the old reactionary productive relationships, what do we think we are doing? If we do not have faith in socialism and communism, what do we think we are doing?" What indeed!? (See Revolution, Fall 1990, p. 13.)

Here it is also important to recall the point raised by our Party's CC, which was referred to earlier-- that the shifts to increased emphasis on leading the masses in resistance against their oppression and to heightened attention to the role of youth in this resistance and in the revolutionary movement overall--these shifts do not diminish but increase the importance of ideological work and ideological struggle.


* "Revisionists Are Revisionists and Must Not be Supported; Revolutionaries Are Revolutionaries and Must Be Supported," in Revolution and Counter-Revolution: The Revisionist Coup in China and the Struggle in the Revolutionary Communist Party USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1978).

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** "The End of a Stage--The Beginning of a New Stage" (Late 1989), Revolution No. 60, Fall 1990.

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