Revolution Online, February 21, 2010

An Historic Contradiction: Fundamentally Changing The World Without "Turning Out the Lights"


Dear Friend,

We have been asked to correspond on the following question:

"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." (My emphasis)

This is an important question which goes right to the heart of the new synthesis, concentrating, as it does, a much more thoroughly materialist epistemology.

In thinking about this question–here come the communists, turn out the lights, the party is over—an example which came to mind in relation to all this is the whole Lysenko Affair, which had a very negative impact in the field of genetics and science more generally in the Soviet Union (and beyond). This is an example which Bob Avakian has repeatedly referred to in his writings and for good reason. The fallout from Lysenko continues down to today with books and articles being written about it. During the Bush regime, there were references to Lysenko in the context of criticisms of Bush's policies on science, including in major scientific journals. Moreover, as is pointed out in the speech "What IS Bob Avakian's New Synthesis?": "Anti-communists traditionally point to the Lysenko saga as proof that communism is bound to distort the truth...and to suppress intellectuals"... At the same time, as that talk goes on to point out, "some comrades in the international movement "disassociate themselves from Lysenko in a facile way, and others just ignore it," failing to come to grips with this experience as part of deeply engaging the new synthesis and the radical rupture in epistemology that Avakian has made.

Yet another dimension of the whole Lysenko thing is not only a reified view of the proletariat but a view that truth has a class character. There is, of course, no such thing as bourgeois or proletarian truth; truth itself is objective.

The Lysenko saga reflects and concentrates very serious problems philosophically and methodologically –apriorism, pragmatism, empiricism and instrumentalism–which were not fully identified and ruptured with prior to the qualitative theoretical breakthroughs that Bob Avakian has been making. And this has contributed in negative ways to the whole view of "here come the communists, turn out the lights, the party is over." As has been pointed out in "Making and Emancipating":

We must be engaging reality on as scientific a basis as we possibly can, at any given time. And, in this process, we are interacting with other people who are applying different outlooks and different approaches with different objectives. Their thinking, their objectives, their inclinations and their ideas–some of which may actually better reflect reality than our understanding at times and with regard to certain phenomenon, lest we forget—this is also part of the larger objective reality that we need to engage. It is necessary to have a scientific approach to that as well. We need to have a systematically, consistently, and comprehensively scientific approach, to everything—and the communist outlook and method provides the means to do that, if we actually take up and apply it, and don't corrupt it with religious or philosophically idealist and metaphysical notions and approaches. (p. 17)

In thinking about all this, I found it helpful to return again to the Skybreak piece on "working with ideas," including what she describes about the intellectual process and how it differs, for example, from someone building a house. At the same time, she points to weaknesses in the communist movement in terms of people not, as I would put it, [being the very best at working with ideas].

It is important, even while concentrating on important things, to be consistently paying attention to new things developing in various spheres. You have to find the time, even during every intense times, to step back and struggle with things like the "Crises in Physics" piece and other important developments in culture and art, science and other spheres. From a scientific point of view, taking a sniff at everything and being open to new things that are developing. This is something that Avakian is modeling that we all need to learn from and apply. Actually, I was struck in reading Cornel's new memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, by his constant quest for knowledge of all kinds of things, from music to art to literature and poetry to philosophy. He seems to be engaging all kinds of things, including Bob Avakian and communism (though he doesn't mention either in his memoir), with a certain outlook and method. And, of course, this is not someone who has a lot of idle time. (Speaking of music, I had a long discussion about new things in music recently with relatives in their 30s who are progressive and sympathetic to where we are coming from. It was not so much a discussion but rather an attempt on my part to learn what I could about the music that they like, especially given they are really, really into the music scene. While walking on the beach, they talked about a lot of the music that they like, mainly a lot of underground music. They really like Thievery Corporation, which I had not heard of previously. But what struck me, in addition to their extensive knowledge of underground music generally, is that they like Lil Wayne, arguing that he is the best rapper out there. There is, it seems, a lot of bad stuff in Lil Wayne and rap more generally but the point is that I have never bothered listening to Lil Wayne despite encouragement to do so from a few quarters. But shouldn't we know about Lil Wayne if he is having such an impact on the hip hop scene, applying a scientific approach to that as we do to everything. So, as is obvious from what I have written, I plan to spend some time immersing myself in Lil Wayne's body of work. What is his appeal? What is he doing that is good and what is he doing that might be negative and harmful? But the point is that we need to be engaging and learning from all kinds of things—something that Bob Avakian models—even when we are intensely focusing on other important things.)

In thinking further about the main question under consideration in this letter, I think there is much to learn from what is summed up about the women's movement and the response to that movement on the part of the new communist movement:

The women's movement coming out of the ’60s, and specifically the contributions as well as some shortcomings both in what it brought forward and how that was responded to by the broader movement as well as the broader society...

Extremely important questions were being raised and grappled with, particularly by the more radical forces within the women's movement that emerged out of the 1960s and into the 1970s, even though this was not on the basis of, and in some significant ways was objectively in opposition to, a consistently scientific approach. But economist influences and related tendencies within the new communist movement that emerged in that period, including the RU and then the RCP, worked against the correct scientific assimilation and synthesis of very important things that were being raised by the women's movement. Valuable insights and important elements of a more advanced understanding were squandered by the communist movement at that time, as a result of economist and other erroneous influences. (My emphasis)

Given the purpose of this paper, I don't want to get into all the truly rich and textured discussion of the new synthesis and the woman question in the new talk. My point here is to suggest that the metaphorical reference to "here come the communists, turn out the lights, the party is over" seem to be applicable to the approach of the new communist movement in relation to the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s. As Avakian argues in the quote above: "Valuable insights and important elements of a more advanced understanding were squandered by the communist movement at that time, as a result of economist and other erroneous influences." And what about the approach to the woman question in the Soviet Union and in China, both positive and negative, and the influences of the communist movement internationally on the new communist movement in this country? And in terms of the question of homosexuality, this is not a question that has been taken up in the history of the communist movement internationally. Our Party was able to make a qualitative breakthrough on the question of homosexuality through a convergence of struggle on all levels of the Party, while at the same time delving deeply into the theoretical work on the subject, combined with methodological grappling as part of a developing new synthesis. As Avakian sums up in Marxism and the Call of the Future: "As a result of all this—as well as methodological grappling we were doing in general, and further summation of shortcomings in the history of our movement internationally (with Stalin, the whole Lysenko thing, for example) and trying to understand more fully what led to these very serious errors of instrumentalism and reductionism and so on—all that kind of came together and we saw that, with regard to the question of homosexuality, we've been vulgarizing on many different levels." All of this, I believe, has relevance in terms of what I am responding to in this letter: "here come the communists, turn out the lights, the party is over."


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