In a conversation I had some time ago with a spoken word artist, he raised the question of how to go about creating a great work. I responded that I don’t set out to produce great works, but to meet great needs. Since, with this orientation and objective, I continue to “churn out” articles, on top of more major works—and particularly now “Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating”1—and accordingly the website revcom.us is full of works of mine , I feel moved to respond to the following from a student who raised this criticism:
Everything flows down from Avakian; nothing flows up from the masses. Are we for democratic centralism or bureaucratic centralism? Seriously, I need to know. Because, otherwise, I need to get the fuck out if that’s not what is being promoted here.
My understanding is that, as a result of discussion and struggle over this, this student has since changed his mind, and does not see the question in the same way; but, in any case, it is worthwhile speaking to this, because there are matters of method and principle involved that have importance beyond the particular way he posed this criticism.
First of all, it needs to be said that there is in fact a need for much more to “flow upward”—for more initiative and ferment to come from “the ranks” of the revolution, at various levels—in contributing to the further development of line and policy and the science of the new communism itself.
At the same time, perhaps not surprisingly, what this student raises reflects a lack of understanding of what the “everything” that “flows down from Avakian” is based on, what it is ultimately grounded in (and provoked by) and how this is an expression of the relation between leadership and led (another way of speaking to the concept of “democratic centralism”).
The things I write for publication (and the work I do overall) is based on what I learn through reports and other aspects of our overall collective approach, including what is on the website and The RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show, as well as by more broadly paying attention to important developments in society and the world overall. An example of this is the article from 2020 on the need for Black people to emancipate themselves from religion (“Emancipation From Mental Slavery and All Oppression”).2 My sense of the importance of writing that article was based on what we were learning through our work and struggle among the masses, as reflected in reports, etc., and in an even larger sense my overall recognition that religion strongly acts as a mental chain on the masses of Black people. As a result of taking this article out among masses of people, there was a report in which a Black youth in Chicago was quoted as raising: “Where does our morality come from if we aren’t religious?” On that basis, and recognizing that this is an important question that influences not simply someone like that youth but much broader masses of people, I wrote an article speaking to this (“Morality Without Religion, Emancipation That Is Real”).3
This is just one example of the many that could be cited. This same kind of process (or dialectic) generally applies, for example, to the many articles I have written in recent years, including those from 2020 up to the present (and this article itself, responding to what was raised by that student, is another example of this process).
What I have indicated here should shed light on the actual dynamics involved, and how we actually need to apply what is effectively democratic centralism, with a lot more initiative and “ferment” from below, on the basis of the new communism. And, in line with that, one of the important objectives of what I do, including things I write, is precisely to encourage and stimulate initiative “from below,” on the basis of the same fundamental method and approach of the new communism.