Revolution Online, February 21, 2010
An Historic Contradiction: Fundamentally Changing The World Without "Turning Out the Lights"
I hope this finds you well. Much appreciation for "Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution."
Great assignment—right to the heart of the heart of the matter:
"And the world stays fundamentally unchanged. Capitalism-imperialism continues humming in the 'background,' crushing lives and destroying spirits in its meat-grinder of exploitation. And the horrors continue unabated."
This is our standing and powerful refutation of every other trend in the world. On the other hand, the way that a lot of people look at what we're about—and not entirely without justification—is: "Here come the communists, turn out the lights, the party's over."
In persistent and profound ways, precisely this contradiction presents itself as the core question of whether or not there is another way the world can be.
A range of issues are posed. In broad thematic strokes: 1) What are lights that must not be turned out? 2) Why is overcoming the lopsidedness, the inequalities, the depredations, the oppressive social relations linked to "not turning out the lights?" Is this just a matter of history and a current need to address the "negative" perception of communism—because people popularly have a certain (mis) understanding of communism as the fight against inequality full stop (and particularly in the economic sphere) and have also imbibed the dominant ruling class summation of the first revolutions—or, does the relationship between common abundance and a political, cultural, & intellectual vibrancy reflect something more at the root of the transformations that need to be made, in people and circumstances? 3) "Bringing into being a world as vibrant politically, intellectually and culturally as it is abundant materially for the billions of human beings that make up that world" conveys a broad and inspiring vista of a world to want to live in and struggle to achieve, and this poses the great need and potential to popularize this vision—arrayed against the real horrors of the world as it is, as well as the paltry vision for humanity of bourgeois democracy and bourgeois ethics that underlie the present world. This concentrates the attractive and compelling force of the vision and morality of communism. 4) How did the first socialist states do on this account? Both the slanderous, erroneous summation of this experience and the real shortcomings pose sharply the question of: "at what cost?" What historical experiences do we need to excavate more deeply? 5) How can we do better the next time? How can we understand even more deeply and scientifically our freedom and constraints in leading humanity all the way through socialism to a communist world?
First off, without the New Synthesis the questions don't even get on the table. Objectively, they are. But, as questions to be seriously grappled with and acted on, not at all. This is at once reflects the encirclement and the stakes. It concentrates why it is that the new synthesis is truly the source of hope of daring today.
More, the method and approach of the new synthesis, in their full and multi dimensions in epistemology and philosophy—in its deepened and new understanding of dialectics reflect a deepened scientific approach to reality, and, on that foundation a more comprehensive, inspiring and materially grounded morality and ethics; all of which are a revolution in human thought. While there is continuity with the essential methodological breakthrough of Marx, as further developed by Lenin and especially Mao, the new synthesis is not a matter of course correction and/or addition, but when taken as an integral whole, indicates new pathways for social imagination, thinking, and transformation of consciousness and the material world.
On a personal note, in many ways, I am at a juncture of just beginning to be able to take all this on board in a comprehensive and integral way. I say this not for reasons of modesty, but to indicate that when something this new comes along but because it takes working with the new to really comprehend the profundity of the rupture, and, because it is a continual struggle against prevailing methodologies. The new always has to fight against the old. This is new, and we have the exciting, and very high stakes, responsibility to clear the path for this to take root and flourish.
I have been thinking a lot about the continuity and rupture of the new synthesis. We are picking up on and continuing the fight for a communist world. We are not setting out to lead a different revolution. It's an incredibly inspiring legacy to build on. You have led in deeply interrogating and learning all we can from the breakthroughs as well as the shortcomings of the first stages of communist revolution. Revealed in just this approach, the deepened scientific core of communism is more firmly grounded.
In this context, the Cultural Revolution Symposiums and the Raymond Lotta speaking tours are of enormous political significance, and the process they have begun must be geometrically broadened and deepened. There is the basis for social movement among scholars and others in defense of the first stage—but, it is clear that these efforts will be incapable of learning more deeply what needs to be learned and thus contribute to launching a new era of revolution, if not led and undergirded by the scientific framework of the new synthesis.
But, what has been striking me on a whole new level of late—particularly in thinking about beginning a new stage of revolution, building on and scientifically understanding the previous stage, and at the same time considering all of this in the context of the present world with it's increased inter-knitedness and acute and very deep contradictions—is just how radical a rupture the new synthesis actually is. There is no other way, or at least no other way that leads anywhere but back to the horrors of this world and retreat into relativism and agnosticism and to political and ideological complicity with imperialism, to understand the world as it is and as it could be without the breakthroughs in method and approach, in epistemology and philosophy, that are concentrated in the new synthesis.
Here, I can say that I (and probably a wider we) are at the beginning of [a] really internalizing the liberating and more scientific conception (and reassertion of) of freedom as the recognition and transformation of necessity, and [b] working with and swinging with the new understanding of character of contradiction as unevenness and the implications of that on how to understand the motion and development of contradiction as concentrated in your article "The Crises in Physics, Crises in Philosophy and Politics." Comprehending this provides a much deeper materialist understanding of the multi-layered non linear approach to change, particularly to comprehending the complexity of revolution, now and under the DoP (dictatorship of the proletariat). Also in this regard, once the cul-de-sac and instrumentalism of class truth is ruptured with, along with thoroughly breaking with the accompanying reification of the proletariat, then possibility opens up for a proletarian revolution and dictatorship that could actually get to communism.
A last introductory comment on leadership. Now, and implications for a society where great elasticity is possible but only on the foundation of a solid ideological leading core. Speaking of today first, the new synthesis provides the theoretical framework; there are particular breakthroughs on key questions ideological, political, strategic; and there is the continuing political/strategic guidance provided. But, there is the tangible intangible that comes from having a revolutionary leader who embodies and concentrates not just these necessities for the revolution, but more whose heart is with the people; it's palpable, this too, is a source of hope and daring. This is not the paper to reiterate the goals of the campaign, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," but in fighting for people to even consider revolution, which today seems so impossible, if not implausible to them, underlines the centrality of projecting this leadership as intrinsic to making a new beginning at this time and place. Jeff Haas, Fred Hampton's lawyer, makes the point in his book, that Fred Hampton made everyone around him do better and reach farther than they otherwise would, or would even conceive they could. In a far greater dimension, and on a whole other level than 21-year-old Hampton, this is what we have in Bob Avakian, and it is at this moment in history totally bound up with whether or not there will be a revolution and more, a revolution not only does not turn out the lights, but creates a new state and new society through which a communist world can be fought for.
These points are not just prefatory to a discussion of a communist revolution that does not signal "lights out," but are essential to its realization—including that the more broadly the New Synthesis & BA (Bob Avakian) are popularized, and in that context getting out there with our full ensemble, the more that new forces, and broad forces, can be brought into the process.
Here I am only going to be able to begin getting into the issues posed. The question here has everything to do a materialist understanding of human nature—can people change and how does that happen; how to effect that change in a way that leads to flourishing of all of humanity; why and how is it possible for humanity to fight for a world of freely associating human beings, a communist world where people consciously and voluntarily transform themselves and the objective world? Why is this not a violation of human nature, but instead a path that humanity could take for it's own transformation as part of transforming the material conditions of the world through revolution? Why are changing circumstances and changing people possible and dialectically linked?
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What are the lights that mustn't be turned out? When I have raised this contradiction in conversation, people seem to know just what I mean. That we are raising this contradiction, in this way, is refreshing and provocative. Curiosity is piqued—is there a way to overcome the horrific forms of oppression in the world without "turning out the lights?" The people who I most intersect with—public intellectuals, writers, and even more often the broad audience attracted to Revolution Books (including students, young professionals and even some more basic working people)—all express wanting a world with vibrancy, color, light, community—indeed, a full life. Especially here in the U.S., with mass culture and entertainment, people of all strata can imagine this, even if they do not live it; and indeed they feel dissatisfied, often empty, and alone (this is especially so for the advanced). And, yet, communism is, as Sunsara Taylor put it, the farthest thing from their minds,
When you get more deeply into this question, different people, different social groups and ultimately different classes have different views of what a vibrant individual and social life could and should be.
For some, not turning out the lights means being left alone—the negative freedom described in Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy. Being free to pursue self interest. In this paper I will need not spend time excavating this strain of libertarian/anti-totalitarian, Arendtian thought.1 This has been done incisively in Democracy Can't We Do Better than That? and elsewhere. However, the strains of this are also woven through the sentiments of people who attempt to come at this question from a more social and progressive point of view as well—particularly when weighed against the absolutism of the fascistic elements of U.S. society, and against the (mis) understanding they have of the previous socialist experience. Adding complexity to the argument is that while it is fundamentally false that the revolutionary period in the Soviet Union and especially the Chinese Cultural Revolution were "lights out" societies, they were deeply limited, at times tragically so, on exactly this point.
An individualist "don't tread on me" understanding of and approach to this matter is not only a tendency of the petite bourgeoisie, but is broadly expressed by the basic youth, no where more so than in the pop culture: music/video games/movies—and, given the situation the system puts people in, and the ideological crap thrown at the youth, it takes the form of not just "leave me alone," but of aggressively having to fight for every inch of turf and self against everything and everyone else.
There is at the same time, a deep yearning and impulse towards a society characterized by cooperation and quest for something higher. The resonance of John Lennon's "Imagine" gives testament to this—even as it can be maddening to watch NYC's Bloomberg preside over the Times Square New Years Celebration while this song is played for the million gathered and 100 times that watching on TV. [The appropriation of, and contradictory impact, of art is not the subject here.] The seeking of relief, community and purpose in religion, underlines the decisive importance of boldly taking it on, criticizing its reactionary content and crippling ideological impact and counterposing it to the far more inspiring morality of sense of belonging and living a life that matters that revolutionary communism represents.
I particularly like the following from "The Role of Dissent in a Vibrant Society;" [from the book Observations] as an encapsulation of communism:
"... it will no longer be a question in society about whether one group of people is going to oppress and dominate another. We will have moved, both in material reality and in the thinking of the people, beyond the point where that is even a possibility, because the economic and the social conditions have been brought into being and, together with them, the political structures and culture have developed in such a way that the idea of one person, or one group of in society, exploiting and oppressing another will be understood to be outrageous, absurd—and impossible."
And, as you have put it, the revolutionary process of getting there must and can be truly liberating and a far better society than this. This must characterize the revolutionary movement today, to the maximum extent possible — including as we ceaselessly popularize and embody a revolutionary craving for state power and fighting edge of preparing for the time when revolution will be possible. Certainly, everything we project now about the radically new state power must convey it's liberating character—including popularizing that this is revolution that must continue to communism, as a viable entirely new form of human social organization. And, the character of the revolutionary struggle must also embody our goals, even amidst all that will confront it. We should underline (ie, further popularize) the beginning of the Appendix of the Constitution that: "Communism is both a science and a revolutionary political movement. It is also a goal—not a utopia, but a liberating goal whose potential basis lies within the situation that confronts humanity, a situation where a leap is possible to radically different and much better world."
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One point I have been trying to make in speaking to this question of "not turning out the lights" is that the communist ethos, the vision of the DoP (dictatorship of the proletariat), the vision of communism, are not only poles of attraction but are integral to its realization. This communist ethos is a powerful and transformative force. It needs to find expression today, with the new revolutionary state power on a whole other level—both in its propagation through many different means and mediums—art, theory, discussion and debate, and it needs to inform and to the maximum extent possible undergird all the different forms of social organization from the schools, to the community, to workplace, and the army and governing institutions. There is much to learn from the Chinese Cultural Revolution, but with the New Synthesis all of this look and be qualitatively different.
A core methodological point is that while the foundational principle or goal of communist morality is consistent, of achieving a world where "From each according to their ability to each according to their need" is realized, the forms and expressions that lead in that direction under socialism will undergo change through the course of changing the material conditions and transforming the world outlook of people. In the discussion with Bill Martin the point is made that "serve the people" itself will evolve as the class configuration and class struggle progresses under the DoP. And, this must be battled out through intense ideological and political struggle in the course of making the underlying changes in all the institutions as well as in how society produces its material requirements, including how it does so on a world scale without exploitative relations.
Socialism and the state power must lead in the transformation of the relations of production—breaking down the enslaving division of labor to the maximum degree at each point. Making radical transformations in social institutions and social morés—from breaking down divisions among different nationalities and between men and women. Radically transforming education—access to it and the form and content of teaching. Unleashing the masses of diverse strata around all of this—not only the formerly suppressed and oppressed masses from the bottom of society, but unleashing the professional strata as well. And, all this requires state power to back people up, including up against opposition—open, as well as in the form of different groups and strata expressing a lack of enthusiasm for the new changes, or who exhibit an alienation from the political and social spheres, and/or evidence a desire to just settle in. We have to wield this state power in a way that unleashes the suppressed as well as the latent creative power of the masses to re-build society on a whole new basis and in a new way without at the same time throwing everyone else up against the wall, and without at the same time, letting the opposition or even the inertia lead to losing it all. This requires going at these contradictions in the new way indicated by the new synthesis. Will there be no role for campaigns that do, at times, potentially hold the balance of the future of socialism within them? Indeed, but getting the right relation between leading, and even the positive compulsion of different forms of persuasive coercion as well as matters of law, and not compressing everything into the current imperative while maintaining in even acute situations an atmosphere of real dissent. This is new, and needs to be worked on more today.
Backing up a bit again to the role of communist and socialist morality and methodology—foundational to the communist ethos is a materialist understanding of how the world works, and as an expression of this, the broad propagation of science and a scientific approach at the core of the leading force in society. The more that this methodology in its living dimensions is taken up and propagated it too can become a material force in forging the new in an atmosphere of great engagement and contention. Again, a society that comprehends and values that freedom lies in the recognition of necessity and its transformation, and not an ethos of my interests calculated and adjudicated against your interests is the highest good, is essential to leading through the complexity of all this.
The pursuit of truth about the world in all its dimensions—the desire to know the world as part of the process of transforming it and its people, is a foundational principle of the new socialist society—one that leads to communism. Curiosity, science, and imagination projected and finding real expression in policy and as core values is essential for a vibrant society.
These values, this method and approach does not take place in a vacuum, but in the crucible of acute struggle. I have presented this ethos and methodology as motivating, and as a powerful ideological forces — as expressions of as well as means towards a society where indeed the lights are not out, but where there is lots of air. Yet, discussing these important ideological factors their mainly in their own right, can somewhat flatten the actual dynamics of socialist society, and can evade the real crux of a vibrant socialist society that is on the socialist road to communism.
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The most common fear, or concern expressed by people today, which is not without justification (as the assignment put it), is that in the crucible of the continuing class struggle—to further uproot the old institutions, habits, and thinking, all of which will for some time take place in a world of hostile forces, traditional thinking and habits, and, in this country on a whole different, initially far more limited material foundation than the parasitic imperialism afforded — there will be a tremendous pull for the ruling vanguard party to say, and enforce, its "our way or the highway" (if not worse). This goes along with the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. [Here I am not going to dissect the bourgeois-democratic outlook and methodology of that.] And, people express concern that there will be an atmosphere where even those who disagree with the direction or policy, feel compelled to agree — either to get along, or even, as reflection of their agreement with overall goals of the revolution and out of a self sacrificing motivation (as with many in the purge trials), and who will then not speak out and fight for what they understand to be true. And, there are concerns that there will be no room for private or civil space—and that this too, would be a society without air, hence, life.
While today these concerns get expressed and people's vision of socialism is filtered through the lens of the present world—well within the confines of bourgeois right, nonetheless, these are essential concerns that from the vantage point of getting to a communist world, cried out to be addressed.
The new synthesis is an incredibly powerful and radically new approach to all of this. Again, it strikes me anew that this is not, as it is put in the Manifesto a mere adding on to what already existed, but a new synthesis—an integrated whole, providing a basic approach and structure within which to tackle and work on many of the acute contradictions that are posed beginning now, and developing a core that can lead and unleash others to work on this all the way through.
I have been thinking about ferment—and the type of ferment and dissent needed under the DoP to get a rich process going where lots of ideas are flying, where not only are divergent ideas exposed so people can learn from the debate, but where the new can be discovered. There is a deep strategic, and foundational epistemological understanding concentrated in the point that dissent should not just be tolerated but fostered. And, all the more when we understand that this is not a debating club, but actual class and social forces fighting to expand and break down the barriers that have long held down and which now must be shattered, to raise up those formerly locked out and locked up, while at the same time restricting various expressions of bourgeois right to the maximum extent possible, and that all of this occurs against a backdrop of real and at times conflicting needs and desires on the part of different sections of the people. In this context, I found the point you went into in more depth this past year about the contradictions posed by the fact that the proletariat is no longer the oppressed class under the DoP, and that different class and social alignments will emerge and be required in the course of the struggle to realize the 4 Alls, very provocative—in terms of how to recognize and mobilize all positive factors for continuing the revolution—unleashing and leading these forces, while comprehending that class struggle will not diminish and the danger of counter-revolution remains.
In thinking particularly about the unresolved contradiction of women's oppression and its centrality to the emancipation of humanity, in light of Part 3 of your new talk, the truth concentrated in the slogan: "unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution" will continue to be a positive dynamic that must be real under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Being a person who finds concentration of slogans extremely helpful in organizing my thoughts, I am thinking of the Clash lyric: "Anger can be power if you know how to use it." This is certainly a crying need right now—on our side—a lot more anger up against acquiescence. But, this must have expression and value in socialist society.
We will need a dynamic in society and a culture and an ethos that is constantly bringing forward the untapped and suppressed fury and creativity of those people stemming from the contradictions that have been long suppressed, and the righteous anger and deep concerns about how things are (and have been), and how people think they could or should be. And, all of what people think and want will clearly will be pulling in lots of different directions, some not positive at all. The value of dissent is it's unleashing of all of that, both enabling people broadly to learn to discern policies and proposals different world views expressed through art and other expressions and wrestling with where they lead (ultimately, and sometimes not so ultimately, the road back to capitalism or the socialist road forward). At the same time, this dissent also holds the potential to reveal the new—that which hasn't yet been discovered or understood. We need an atmosphere in which the crucible of really engaged ideological and political struggle (taking place in new mass forms as well as through contested mass elections) is recognized by the leadership and increasing wider sections of the masses as being essential to providing the air for discovery.
What brings in the air may well be in the form of outrage, even against those leading this. And, at times it may well be wrong—including when people you want to rely on, and maybe have relied on, now disagree.
How to let that process go, having the air for that discovery (and even that rage, perhaps directed against you) without being quick to correct, let alone suppress, without losing a grip on where society needs to go, and certainly without losing state power. There will be a need to be setting basic terms of where things need to go, giving support to those who want to go there—struggling to uproot and abolish the old social and class relations and traditional thinking—while doing so in a way that combines the ethos, energy, enthusiasm, and excitement of society where the collective and common good of all is forged and modeled by a core with a conquering scientific spirit infused with the vision and imagination of communism. This core will need to model and help forge a climate where a critical spirit and materialism that deeply comprehends and critiques the material, social and ideological ties that bind to the past with a firm grasp of the future potential.
All of this is a radical rupture from the discourse in today's world—including for the intelligentsia that today values ferment and rational and scientific discourse, as well as has a broad vision of the value of art and the life of the mind. But, today this process can only (or, at least, overwhelmingly) takes place through structures and processes, as well as the corresponding outlook that views and is constrained by ideas as intellectual, private property. [Much more use has to be made now of the short polemic on the free market place idea in the Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy pamphlet—in the context of the whole work, and I believe it stands up and is extremely important in its own right].
Today, the new forms of communication and dissemination of information—the new media—are changing with incredible rapidity, influencing and shaping for better and worse how people receive and process information. This new media and forms of networking—even when they strain to break free of the prevailing economic and social relations that have previously dominated the distribution and sharing of knowledge—are constantly and fundamentally constrained by the outlook and structures of this system. In a new society, all of this can have a radically new form and content. Today the new media has made people more connected on a world scale than ever before, yet simultaneously, never more acutely atomized.
Here, I have been thinking that there is at least an aspect where we should view this new technology as, in part, productive forces that are constrained by the prevailing relations that revolution will be re-forged and unleashed in unimagined ways under socialism.2 At the same time, the new digital media and networking function as integral to the superstructure and will be an important forum for ideological struggle, and in new ways with real potential under a re-envisioned DoP.
There are many within this world whose social imaginations, including in this arena, should be tapped right now—for revolution and for communism—contributing to making revolution today, including working with the party on a vision of this in a whole new society. The "Wired" utopian internet thesis need to be critiqued, but the people comprehended and brought forward around the potential that is concentrated in the new synthesis [These people who can be involved and unleashed now we need to approach not just to help us by building/designing our web sites and helping catch us up on new networking technology—but more fundamentally unleashed to the new synthesis, Bob Avakian, and the whole Communist movement — including working and theorizing in that sphere, and then, yes, working with on effectively and imaginatively using the new technology as part of the revolutionary movement today].
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Well I set a time limit for writing this and I have exceeded it, yet I feel I have just scratched the surface. For one thing, there is a lot more playing with and working through the 4 tasks of the solid core. What does that look like as it unfolds? Second, in "Views On" there is a whole discussion of law and the Constitution—really understanding why that is so essential for there to be liveliness and ease of mind, while at the same time understanding that as the revolution develops, the old constitution will become outmoded. This will not be a process of simply making amendments—modifications to a static core that corresponds to existing production and social relations—but, will at intervals require radical ruptures and new constitutions, whether or not the product of new cultural revolutions. And, related to this is the scope for individual rights, and the flourishing of individuality within a new collective framework. Third, really having a society that is led with the modalities, structures, and methodology of solid core with a lot of elasticity, a new state that is led by a party with a solid ideological core and that is determined and focused on advancing on the socialist road, but which understands that this will not happen without an approach which comprehends embracing and be prepared to let things really rip as part of the process of moving towards the abolition of the state in line with advancing on the realization of the 4 alls. What are the implications of this in relation to things like pacing, tempo, and the emergence of junctures that may require all out cultural revolutions? And, what will these junctures and future Cultural Revolutions look like, with the method and approach of the New Synthesis? Fourth, how do you know (and of course, you can't know for sure) when you are at the brink of being drawn and quartered, and not past it? Back to the professors question of—you say you want to do it this way, but when it comes down to it, you won't be able to. We have said that we can't get to communism any other way, yet and still, the contradiction is perhaps the most acute we have to anticipate.
I must close. Know that you have my warmest affection and appreciation.
My best wishes for the New Year in every way, including particularly that we succeed in our campaign. This decade, at last, with our party revitalized on a revolutionary foundation, has the potential, to birth a new revolutionary force on the planet that will bring about a world that will set humanity on a course towards its full emancipation.
1. 2 asides— In a recent New Yorker profile of John Mackey (Whole Foods CEO) as an admirer of Ayn Rand he critiques her for bad branding by telling people its all about selfishness, when the term: "enlightened self interest" would afford better marketing.  At Revolution Books and at conferences I have run into more younger people than before with various strains of libertarian views—a product of not just political phenom like Ron Paul, but it seems to be around and about in the culture and the arts, more than in past decades. [back]
2. I did not have time to go back and look at Notes on Political Economy and your talks from that same period, where I seem to recall you may have said something similar in the context of a criticism of not taking a fresh look at this new information technology. [back]
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