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Accepting Reality as It Is and Transforming It

An excerpt from "Grasp Revolution, Promote Production —
Questions of Outlook and Method, Some Points on the New Situation"

The is the seventh in a series of excerpts published in the RW from an important tape-recorded talk by Bob Avakian in the first part of 2002: "GRASP REVOLUTION, PROMOTE PRODUCTION, Questions of Outlook and Method, Some Points on the New Situation." These excerpts have been edited for publication in the RW. Footnotes have also been added.

I've been speaking to some themes which have to do with our materialism and our dialectics, with handling the different levels of reality, with this basic principle about how Marxism "embraces but does not replace"* the different spheres and disciplines in the arts and sciences and human practical and theoretical endeavor in general. One of the things that illustrates this from another angle is something that came out during our struggle with the Mensheviks in our Party** and our polemics with them even after the Party split on the basis of our upholding the revolutionary line in China and opposing the coup.

In those polemics, we were talking about some of the inquiry in the scientific sphere and we actually fell into some pragmatism and instrumentalism ourselves in one thing we wrote at one point, in answering the Mensheviks, where we actually made the statement that truth has a class character.*** Now, we have since criticized that formulation and tried to draw important lessons from that mistake, and the essence of the mistake was that we were combining different things into one. There is the fact that to fully and most comprehensively and systematically arrive at truth, at an understanding of reality, does require the world outlook and methodology of a certain class, namely the proletariat—it requires our ideology of MLM. On the other hand, as I've been stressing several times in this talk, truth itself does not have a social or a class character.

There is not "proletarian truth" and "bourgeois truth," any more than there's "identity-politics truth." Truth is just truth. Truth is a correct reflection of objective reality—objective reality in its motion and development. That's what truth is. It doesn't have a social or a class character. It was important for us to learn from that mistake and to understand more deeply that, while we must apply our world outlook and methodology fully to both understand and to transform reality—and to correctly grasp and handle the dialectical relationship between understanding and transforming reality—objective reality does exist and is independent of us, and is independent of any individual, group, party, or whatever. So, again, we have to apply our outlook and methodology to grasp reality in the fullest way; but, at the same time, we can't confuse that with thinking that this means that we hold truth in our hands about any particular thing at a given time simply because we have the most comprehensive and systematic scientific outlook and method.

In this connection, it's interesting that there has been this whole controversy, which I've been following as closely as I can, about teaching evolution, as opposed to creationism, in the U.S. First there was the thing in the Kansas schools about whether they were going to make creationism equal with evolution. Now this battle has come back in a new form in Ohio, where, instead of the more crude creationist nonsense, it's being presented in the form of the "intelligent designer" notion that reality and life is too complex to have come into being, or to have developed as it has, without an "intelligent designer." This has been raging in the Ohio state education boards, and the question is up (I don't know how it's going to be resolved or if it has been) about whether to make this "intelligent designer" notion co-equal with evolution (evolution without an intelligent designer- -which is the only way that evolution can be presented).****

One of the things that I read that was interesting to me—and is relevant to what I've been stressing here—was that one of these scientists who's not a Marxist, not a communist, I presume (it didn't sound like it), was testifying in this controversy on behalf of evolution and against "intelligent design" and he made the very important statement that science—and this applies to science in general, but it applies all the more to our scientific world outlook and methodology—science, he said, means accepting reality the way it actually is, whether we like it or not. I thought that was a very interesting and powerful statement. And, again, from our standpoint, from the standpoint of not only materialism but dialectical materialism, this doesn't mean accepting reality in a passive sense. It means grasping the inner nature of reality, in its motion and changingness, and in the interrelation between different discrete forms of matter in motion—and transforming things accordingly. So it's not a passive acceptance of reality, but you can't transform reality if you don't confront and engage it as it actually is, no matter how unpleasant that might be at a given time, no matter how much you might wish that reality would be different.

This goes back to the coup in China, for example. It was not easy for us—despite what might perhaps appear to be the case, with some remove from it, it was not easy to take the position we did. Not only in terms of a lot of pressure—and, as a result of our position, we didn't get invited to China any more [BA laughs], while other people did, and so on and so forth. I remember, for example, there was this group (I forget what they called themselves, it used to be the October League and then they became the CPUSA,ML or whatever) and they took the opposite position: they supported the coup. So they got invited to China right after the coup, and we didn't get invited any more (except we went once, very shortly after the coup, and they didn't like what our approach was, so that was the end of our invitations). But I remember that the Guardian—which was sort of a revisionist newspaper in the U.S. associated in political terms with the CP,USA but maintaining a certain distance from it in appearance—wrote an article about this, gloating over the whole coup in China; and they said about us that we took the position we did because we didn't get invited to China—which was a reversal of reality and of cause and effect. (Of course, it didn't bother them that this was a reversal of reality, and of cause and effect, and that the sequence was different, was the exact opposite.) In other words, we came out with our position and then we got "disinvited." We didn't get disinvited and therefore, out of spite, we came out with our position. But that didn't bother the Guardian.

Anyway, the point of all this is that it was difficult to take this position, not so much for those kinds of reasons, which are not really very important, but because, going back to what that scientist said, it was hard to face an unpleasant reality. Nobody wanted to have to stare in the face the fact that we lost a tremendous bastion of the world proletarian revolution, and a beacon light—and those things are not exaggerated expressions, not hype. It was like having someone reach inside and rip your heart out to have this happen, to have revisionism triumph and come to power in China. It was a challenge for us, and for the whole international movement: are we going to keep on pretending that this is a socialist country, because that feels much better?

I remember one time that I made this kind of pragmatic error myself, at an earlier point when China was still socialist. I was arguing with someone who had been in PL, and PL had come out and denounced China as not socialist (this was in the early '70s). This person had left PL and I was trying to win her over. We were going back and forth—and I made all the good arguments I could about why China was objectively socialist, but she still had a sort of skeptical look. So then I said, "Besides, you know, it's important that we have a socialist country in the world." She said, "That's not a very good argument." I thought for a second and I had to agree: "Yeah, you're right—that's a terrible argument." But it's easy to get pulled into that kind of stuff, where it makes it "easier" to do your work if you can say things like: "Look at China. It's a socialist country. That proves we can do this. And it isn't inevitable that we'll be defeated and everything will be turned back." But what's the point after all? What are we trying to do? If we're going to do what we're setting out to do, which is to really bring into being what China was aiming for and then was turned back from, we have to face the realities, including the most unpleasant ones. This is a very important point of orientation as well as of methodology.



* See "Marxism 'Embraces but Does Not Replace' " in RW #1180 (December 22, 2002).

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** The group within the RCP that tried to take the Party down the road of supporting revisionism, in China and overall, was given the name Mensheviks because, like the original Mensheviks in Russia at the time of the revolution there, they represented a line that actually opposed revolution and communism, even while they claimed to uphold these things (Menshevik in Russian refers to the fact that these revisionists were in a minority position, as opposed to the Bolshevik majority, at a decisive point, but the term has come to have a broader and more essential meaning, describing opportunism).

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*** "How the Mensheviks Take Revisionism as the Key Link," Revolution and Counterrevolution: The Revisionist Coup in China and the Struggle in the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1978).

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**** The Ohio State school board authorized the teaching of "intelligent design" along with evolution in the state school system—or, more precisely, it is leaving it up to the local school districts to decide whether to teach "intelligent design" along with evolution.

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