Revolution #267, May 1, 2012

Bob Avakian and the New Synthesis of Communism: The International Dimension

The following is from a speech given at various locations around the country in the spring of 2008, titled "Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: WHAT IS BOB AVAKIAN'S NEW SYNTHESIS?" It has been slightly edited for publication.

Now again, I need to give a little background. Marx and Engels called on the workers of the world to unite. The material basis for that call was that capitalism had not only ushered in the epoch of modern nations and nation-states but the existence of the world market; and that the proletariat was a single international class and had to transcend the division into nations, as well as classes, in order to reach a world without antagonisms between peoples.

By the late 1800s monopoly had come to dominate the advanced capitalist countries, and banking and industrial capital had merged into huge financial blocs; these nations had begun exporting not just goods, but capital itself to the less developed nations. They were building factories and railroads in those countries and drawing them into "modern life" in a new way. Competition among the great powers for spheres of influence intensified, as did militarism and war to back that up; and all this has continued and intensified down to today, through the two world wars—which together took over 60 million lives!—and then the triumph of the U.S. in the so-called Cold War against the Soviet Union. Production today is more than ever international in character; but ownership, control and organization of capital is still rooted in separate, and contending, nations—and these nations are still basically divided into oppressed and oppressor.

Oppressor nations like the U.S. don't just plunder oppressed nations like Mexico. Instead, the entire economy of an oppressed nation is tightly integrated into the imperialist accumulation process on a subordinate basis—warped and disarticulated to serve that process. Crises now find expression as intense geopolitical conflicts over redivision of the world between the imperialist powers, conflicts that can erupt, and have at times erupted, into conflagrations—as they did in the two world wars. These wars posed heightened opportunities for revolution… though if you were empiricist or positivist, it appeared to be the opposite, since at the outset of World War 1, for instance, the whole movement, with the notable exception of the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and a few other forces, collapsed into betrayal.

At the same time, these wars performed the function of "classical crises" under capitalism: the destruction of the old framework of accumulation, which had become too fettering, and the forging of a new one. Avakian led in deepening Lenin's analysis of imperialism and this too ruptured with what had become the dominant line in the communist movement—a view that imperialism was in a general crisis and was headed straight to collapse.

Based on this, Avakian developed the principle that the class struggle in any particular country was more determined on the international plane than by the unfolding of contradictions within a given country somehow outside of, or divorced from, that context. The revolutionary situation that enabled Lenin to lead the Bolsheviks to seize power arose out of an international conjuncture of world war that radically affected the situation in Russia and enabled a breakthrough to be made; Lenin's internationalism and his qualitatively deeper grasp of materialism and dialectics enabled him to see this possibility when, initially at least, everyone else in the leadership opposed the idea of going for revolution. Similarly, the Chinese Revolution occurred in a specific international context of World War 2 and invasion from Japan.

Now you can pervert this to mean that you can't do anything if the international "balance of forces" is unfavorable. That's not true—and revolution, or even revolutionary attempts, within specific countries can radically affect that balance of forces. But you are playing in an international arena, and you have to understand the dynamics on that level; the "whole" of the imperialist system is greater than the sum of the separate nations that make up its individual parts.

So you can't understand it from "my country out"—and doing it that way is another example of positivism, by the way. And you can't see internationalism as something that you "extend" to other countries; the whole world has to be your point of departure. You have to come at revolution in "your" country as your share of the world revolution. Communists do NOT represent this or that nation; we're (supposed to be) about eliminating all nations, even as we know we're going to have to "work through" a world where there will be nations for a long time yet to come, even socialist nations, and where there will have to be a whole period of first achieving equality between nations in order to transcend them. But through that whole period, the communist movement has to keep its "eyes on the prize" of a world community of humanity, and relate everything it does to that.

Ironically, if you do come at it from "my country out" you will miss the real possibilities of revolution in the particular country in which you happen to be located. You won't see how unexpected upheaval in this or that part of the world, or this or that aspect of the system can afford openings that can be seized upon. You'll be mentally landlocked, so to speak, in nationalism, and you won't even see the basis to wage a successful struggle for national liberation. And that landlock has been part of what's led to conservatism and, even worse, capitulation in times of great danger... but, yes, times in which there has also been great potential for revolutionary advance.

This whole wrong approach was consolidated in the context of a situation in which the Soviet Union came into being encircled by antagonistic imperialist powers attempting to strangle it, climaxing in the Nazi attack which took over 20 million Soviet lives. Defending the first socialist state was a real necessity. But this defense existed in contradiction with—in relation to—the necessity to advance revolution in other countries at the same time. In failing to recognize or denying the existence of this contradiction, the Soviet Union all too often sacrificed, or tried to sacrifice, the revolutionary struggle in these countries to its own defense. And this same blind spot sort of persisted, frankly, in Mao even as Mao was overwhelmingly internationalist in his basic orientation. If you don't recognize this as a contradiction, and if you don't come from the foundational fact that imperialism has integrated the entire world into one and that the revolutionary process is an integrated, worldwide process—even as different countries have their own discrete, if interrelated, revolutions—you won't have a chance of solving this.

Avakian was far from facile or scholastic in his criticism; he insisted on a full appreciation of what the socialist states actually faced. But on that basis, he delved into what they thought they were doing and why, and made a searching criticism of their theoretical understanding.

As part of that, Bob Avakian developed the principle that the proletariat in power must "put the advance of the world revolution above everything, even above the advance of the revolution in the particular country—build the socialist state as above all a base area for the world revolution." He also very importantly formulated the principle that revolutionaries have to at one and the same time seek to make the greatest advances possible in building the revolutionary movement and preparing for a revolutionary situation in all countries, while also being alert "to particular situations which at any given point become concentration points of world contradictions and potential weak links…and where therefore the attention and the energy of the proletariat internationally should be especially concentrated." Here I will refer people to several works in which this is deeply gone into—Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will and Advancing the World Revolutionary Movement: Questions of Strategic Orientation.

Beyond that, Avakian upheld and deepened Lenin's understanding that the division of the world between imperialist powers and oppressed nations had given rise within the imperialist powers to a section of the working class, and an even bigger section of the middle class, that not only benefitted materially from the parasitism and plunder of imperialism, but came to politically identify with their imperialist masters. He followed out Lenin's point on the need to therefore base yourself among those sections of the masses that did not benefit so much or were, in any case, more inclined to oppose imperialism. And this means that communists have to be willing to be unpopular and to go against the tides of national chauvinism within the imperialist countries—whether it take the form of really nasty outbreaks or pogroms, or the equally murderous form of passive complicity.

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