The Importance of Line... and of Polemics

From What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, An Interview with Bob Avakian

Editors’ Note: At the beginning of 2012, an in-depth interview with Bob Avakian (BA) was conducted over a period of several days by A. Brooks.  (This interview, with the title What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, is available at

Brooks—a younger-generation revolutionary who has been inspired by the leadership and body of work of Bob Avakian and the new synthesis of communism this has brought forward—is the author of “God the Original Fascist,” a series of articles which appeared in Revolution in 2005, and is available at (excerpts from these articles are quoted by Bob Avakian at the beginning of his book Away With All Gods!—Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, Insight Press, 2008). We are republishing here sections of this interview which are highly relevant to the current situation—particularly as a critique of the all-too-common practice of lies, slander and unprincipled rumormongering that are part of the popular culture these days, including among people calling themselves “anarchist”... “left”... “progressive”... “woke.”

In this interview, 10 years ago, BA called out this highly destructive way of avoiding principled struggle over differences—and, in opposition to this, emphasized the kinds of standards and methods that need to be applied in order to have principled and meaningful struggle over differences and arrive at a scientific understanding of what different ideologies and programs actually represent, and where they will actually lead.  We want to call attention especially to the section of this interview “The Culture, the Principles, the Standards We Need,” because of its particular and very direct relevance to what is happening today.

What Humanity Needs - Cover


What Humanity Needs, by Bob Avakian   

BA continues: Now, on the question of line and polemics. Line is the application of a world outlook and method to reality. It's a probing of reality and the drawing together and synthesizing of the lessons that are learned from probing reality. Line can be either correct or incorrect. Line, to put it another way, is an expression of, first of all, your world outlook and your method, how you approach reality—and everybody does that with one outlook or another. Religion is a world outlook. The idea that everybody is out for themselves, and screw everybody else, is a world outlook.

And there's also method. Is your method scientific, or is it something else? Is it subjective? Is it, for example: "Well, that may be true for you, but it's not true for me"? Let's go back to god again: "God may not exist for you, but god exists for me." No. Either god exists for everybody or there is no god. Or else your god is a very personal one, a matter of your personal feelings, so we can all ignore it, in terms of its being some kind of supernatural power or force. What people normally mean by god is not something that's merely personal to somebody—it's something that has a transcendental, a "larger than all the rest of reality" existence, which fundamentally and ultimately determines existence and how it goes, and what happens to people. So, that kind of relativist thing—"you have your truth, and I have my truth"—no. You may have your preferences, and I may have my preferences, but those are not the same thing as truth. Truth is a correct reflection of objective reality, at least in its main lines and its essential features.

And so line is a reflection of world outlook and method, and then its application programmatically, so to speak—in other words, what you are setting out to do on the basis of, or flowing from, your world outlook and your methodology. Going back to the formulation I've used a number of times here: what is the problem in the world, and what is the solution? What is humanity up against—to invoke Richard Pryor, why are we in the situation we're in today—and is there anything that can be done to change it, and if so, how fundamentally can it be changed? That's the application of your world outlook and method to the problems of society, to the problems of human existence, if you will. So that's what line is.

Now, people learn by having line—in particular a correct line, that is, a scientific and a fundamentally correct understanding of reality—brought to them, and then by taking that up, engaging, and struggling with it. Maybe pointing out some things that are wrong with it, even if it's essentially correct, but deeply engaging it. People also learn a tremendous amount—and this is where the role of polemics comes in—by seeing different lines in confrontation with each other. If individuals, or groups, have fundamentally opposed understandings of what the problem and what the solution is, then people can learn by engaging this, comparing and contrasting the opposing lines—particularly if things are on a high level, where you're really getting to the essence of things. Not focusing on minor details, and especially not on petty personal things (as all too often happens with the culture today, with all this tabloidism and rumor-mongering, and all that), but actually focusing on raising your sights up to the big questions: does this, in its main lines, correctly reflect reality, or does it not? When you see two opposing views, or lines, confronting each other, especially if this is done in a principled way—where people are actually going after the substance of what the other person or group says, and refuting it, or attempting to refute it—seeing that kind of confrontation enables people to learn in ways that they wouldn't otherwise learn. This is a critical element in people learning. Without that, people can be introduced to certain ideas; they can compare them to reality—and, yes, they can learn a great deal—but they can learn even more when, in addition to that, there is the confrontation of opposing views, and when there are polemics focusing on the essential aspects of those opposing views.

If you understand that line is an application of a world outlook and method to actually saying what should be done—what is the problem and how do we go about changing that?—then you understand that line matters a tremendous amount. If the problem is that people are selfish, then the solution either lies in doing something to change that, or there is no solution, because you can't change it. Well, that would have big consequences. But, if the problem is the nature of the system—the fundamental relations of exploitation and oppression of this system, and the ideas that go along with that and reinforce that—and the way to change that is to uproot and abolish this system and transform those relations, and transform the thinking and outlook of the people, then that leads to a very different understanding of what should be done. So, it makes a tremendous difference.

Lines, and contention between opposing lines, are not just some sort of sectarian squabbles—and they should not be reduced to sectarian squabbles, let alone to personal vendettas or personal grievances, but should be focused on the question of how do you go about understanding the world, what do you understand about the world, and what does that lead you to believe needs to be done. If things are joined on that level, and people are enabled to see what the differences are, and where the one and the other leads, then that provides a much richer basis for people who are serious—who really feel compelled to understand the world, and further to change it—to actually be able to sift through these things and come to a better understanding. Not all on their own, but through people engaging this with them and going through the process together with them of sorting this out and sifting through it.