Revolution #194, March 7, 2010

On Thinking Outside the Boundaries of the Now: Bringing Bob Avakian into the Conversation

The following was sent to Revolution from a professor.

It has been remarkable to note in the efforts to spread the influence of Bob Avakian that "introducing" him into whatever the circumstances, turns things immediately more concrete and more serious. This is an important factor to take into account and to make the most of in these efforts—and the outcome of these efforts can have a defining influence on the world to come.

There is a growing sense among many people everywhere that we are moving through an acute phase of human history. There never has been a time like this, where the alternatives are between a course of action that is now leading to the destruction of human life, or a course of action leading to the emancipation of all humanity. It is within our capacity to create a radically different world, but we are not going to get on this high road leading in the direction of a communist world without Bob Avakian. This is because he has filled the theoretical need and developed the practical leadership without which it will be impossible to advance beyond the present capitalist-imperialist structures of society. No one else has done this. This is why when his "presence" is experienced in the many different ways it can be, his influence is unique and can immediately change the dynamics of what is happening.

And this is why, unless there is a transformative effort that successfully brings his leadership to the fore in society, things look very bleak for the world.

An exchange with a freshman student from rural Ohio captures the experience I am trying to describe. It was on the University of Chicago campus, building for the Raymond Lotta campus tour where Lotta talked on the history of communist revolution and Bob Avakian's New Synthesis to over 300 students and others. This student was serious minded to begin with and personally involved in the question of what will become of the world and what should she make of her life. She was well aware of the shroud that has been wrapped around communism, even as she was reading some Marx and Engels. What stopped her, and what directed the conversation onto a different terrain, more concrete and thus more serious, was Avakian's combination of both upholding and critiquing the past communist revolutions, and from that standpoint, and from an analysis of what is really going on in the world today, bringing forward something new. It was the something new Avakian embodies that struck her. Something new that does not dismiss the past but addresses both the upside and the downside, and brings forward a legacy in a way that creates something truly radical and truly new, that gave the conversation a concrete feeling of being for real. And it prompted a series of questions about the past, present, and the future that Lotta's talk addressed.

As our conversation turned to Avakian, she also became afraid, cautious of what pursuing this might mean for her. The fear, in this case, was a not so unusual response to the fact that when you start talking Avakian, you are going to get into ways of looking at the world and promoting a world view that are not only contrary to the accepted wisdom but also to what might be considered "acceptable" behavior, to one's peers and to the state. So Bob Avakian's vision that can compel hope and daring, can prompt an array of responses springing from things becoming immediately more concrete and more serious.

This observation of the effect of introducing Avakian into the conversation originally came from experiences in the classroom. In teaching a course on human nature and the possibilities of the future, I had been observing the way in which the approach of the students to the subject matter changed with the introduction of Avakian (via readings from "Views On Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, a Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom," concerning wants and needs being socially determined, and that there is no such thing as unchanging human nature).

In the class, we had been discussing communism in more general and abstract terms, prompted by reading Alexander Luria's Man With a Shattered World about a young communist soldier in the Soviet Union who received a severe brain injury in World War 2. Students discussed the soldier's call for a world without exploitation, oppression and war, but the discussions did not seem to reach into their personal lives, did not have a feeling of being for real. As one student put it, "While I find Zasetsky's [the soldier] final statement poignant and inspirational, I also find it a bit unrealistic… As for me, I know I will walk away from this course with a whole new store of knowledge, but this knowledge changing who I am and how I live my life is unlikely."

With the reading and discussing of these sections from "Views On…," the atmosphere in the class and the kinds of questions and observations changed. There was a sense among many that the way people think and feel about this world and the future of communism really matters.

For instance, a student wrote that the paragraph in "Views On…" on the relation between thinking and feeling "is very powerful…it raises the question, why don't we feel the passionate urge to change that [a world based on exploitation and oppression]?" She criticizes herself for fearing that something worse will come of trying to change the world, and explains, "…I feel powerless, therefore don't spend my time and energy trying to do something that I feel is futile and out of reach, but yet, I blame us as a whole for feeling that way."

The question of framework of thought becomes a big issue as soon as one steps into Bob Avakian's thinking. Wrote one student, "My hatred for the current status of the human condition has been growing for as long as I can remember, but I never had the framework of the human mind and social revolution to understand it with." Or, as another one put it, "According to Avakian, it is important to understand the circumstances and the context in which certain human thought patterns exist….The way that Avakian talks about communism presents a whole new way to think about the idea of communism and our society in general."

In these discussions in and outside the classroom, it becomes clearer the way in which there is also a very strong pull to render Avakian's thought less radical, less demanding, even less liberating. The text itself, or whatever mode of Avakian's communication, fights intensely against this pull. The struggle that can erupt immediately over whether to take the radical thrust of his thought at its word is likewise a way in which introducing Avakian brings a concrete and real world dimension to the struggle.

From another student, "He [Avakian] goes on to say that in order for real change to happen, we have to change the way people feel and think about certain things that seem unchangeable and eternal, when they in fact might be just the opposite." And finally, from a student, in response to studying the effects of brain injuries on people's thinking, "This makes me wonder what Avakian's reaction to a frontal lobe injury in him would be like. He has such a different view on the world and social structure, that unlike the other cases we have studied he may have had a completely different reaction."

Note that the word "introduce" does not necessarily mean for the first time. This phenomenon I am trying to describe also applies to instances in which Avakian, though already known, is being introduced again into the discussion and has an immediate effect on the tenor and valor of the discussion.

In a long, spontaneous conversation with two professors who have had an introduction to Revolution and Avakian, but who have not seriously pursued that line of thought, we argued back and forth in a very serious vein, essentially over the New Synthesis. Finally one of them concluded, "I'm going to go back and look again at Avakian."

There was a moment in this conversation, as there has been in a number of others recently, when I interjected with the comment that you can see now why the way we have been promoting Avakian is not cultish. The response was not cynical, but thoughtful.

To conclude: The more deeply we understand why the possibility of revolution is greatly enhanced because of Bob Avakian, why he makes revolution and communism real and possible, the more we will feel compelled to do everything we can to extend his reach, and not let advances slip away.

I remind myself that the "introducers" need to be in the same space as the one being introduced, and need to stay in that space, outside the boundaries of the present, with a concrete, serious, deep sense of this historical moment. The suffocating air of this capitalist-imperialist climate envelops us, and we need to break out of it and stay out of it, and breathe freely in an atmosphere that is truly radical, revolutionary and liberating.

Spread the Word and Help Crack Open the "Communism Debate":
Raymond Lotta Tour to Hit Columbia and Harvard Campuses in April

Raymond Lotta’s campus speaking tour, "Everything You've Been Told About Communism Is Wrong: Capitalism Is A Failure, Revolution Is The Solution," will be entering its next phase this Spring with programs at Columbia and Harvard universities.

At these events, Lotta will give a dynamic presentation on the real history of revolution and the actual promise of communism, followed by a no-holds-barred dialogue and debate.

April 8, Columbia University. 7 pm, International Affairs Building, Room 417 (420 W. 118th Street), New York City

April 14, Harvard University. 7 pm, Emerson Hall, Room 105 (in Harvard Yard), Cambridge, Massachusetts

Contact the Tour:

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