By Bob Avakian
Revolutionary Worker #1139, February 17, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
The RW is currently running this series of excerpts from an unpublished work by RCP Chairman Bob Avakian,
The RW is currently running this series of excerpts from an unpublished work by RCP Chairman Bob Avakian,"Great Objectives and Grand Strategy." Although written over a year ago, this work--and these excerpts in particular--contain much that is very relevant to the current crisis and war. This is the 13th in this series.
In the Democracy book (Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?) the point was made that it is wrong to have this sort of metaphysical determinist view--which, in some significant aspects, Stalin expressed, for example--that, in some pre-determined, pre-destined way, all of history has been leading up to communism.* But, at the same time, as Marx said, there is a certain coherence in human history. And there is a certain "historical threshold" to which the development of human society, in all its complexity and its diverse forms all over the world, has brought humanity. There is a material basis--the basis has been laid through the development and struggle of human beings and human society to this point--for actually making the leap to world communism, and it makes a tremendous difference to humanity at this stage whether or not that leap is made. But if you step back "too far" from human beings and their society--or, more fundamentally, if you do this without being rooted in the viewpoint and method of dialectical and historical materialism--you will not be able to grasp this, and then you can get drawn into cynical individualism.
Once more, what's required is finding the right synthesis--which corresponds to the outlook of the proletariat and its revolutionary program at this stage in history. That is the point that is stressed in Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones: while we can't say that the morals and more generally the ideology of the proletariat are universal, in the sense that they could be applied at all stages of human development and in all forms of human society, they do have--and this is extremely important--they do have a universality precisely in this era of human society and precisely in relation to what humanity stands on the threshold of: the leap to communism. To fail to grasp this will lead one to fall into (or to be stuck in) relativism philosophically, and into other things which at least objectively pose themselves against that leap to communism. Here again is the profound importance of Lenin's point about the difference between recognizing the relative within the absolute, on the one hand, and falling into relativism on the other. Without maintaining that crucial distinction--and without basing yourself on dialectical materialism in an all-around way--you will lose your bearings and your understanding that in fact humanity has come to a world-historic threshold--not that it was necessarily bound to arrive at this threshold, in some religious or other idealist and metaphysical sense, but that it has arrived at the point where it is "poised" to make a world-historic leap.
* Note: If you read, for example, the Jared Diamond book Guns, Germs, and Steel, it makes the point, rather convincingly I believe, that there is no real basis for saying that sedentary agriculture, settled agriculture, as a way of life, was somehow "superior" to the foraging or gathering and hunting life of people who, in some cases, occupied a territory and then were pushed aside by people who developed settled agriculture. Diamond makes the point that, even in terms of the life of the people--how hard their life was, and what they had to do in order to get sustenance--you can't necessarily make the case that settled agriculture was an "advance" over gathering and hunting society. But the point is that there were real reasons--and he does speak to these, and analyze them, in some depth--why, in large parts of the world, this mode of settled agriculture (and then what it gave rise to eventually, in terms of industrialization and all that) won out over the gathering and hunting society of small groups of people.
On the other hand, while overall Guns, Germs, and Steel is a very interesting and welcome book with a lot of materialist analysis of history, someone really needs to talk to Jared Diamond about the fact that his facile denunciations of the Cultural Revolution in China (statements like "some idiots decided to shut down education for several years!"--which Diamond made in a talk I saw on videotape) reflect a woefully inadequate and distorted understanding, and/or highly subjective impressions, of the monumental questions, and struggles, involved in the Cultural Revolution--including the struggle to transform the educational system in order to make it more fully serve the masses of people and their mastery and revolutionization of society.
There seems to be an unfortunate tendency among many otherwise insightful intellectuals to uncritically accept some of the more crude and shallow distortions and slanders of the experience of socialist transformation so far. Such people need to be challenged when they depart from and make a mockery of the methods and principles they apply in grappling, in a deep and many-sided way, with some profound and world-historic problems. Especially when it involves what has become "conventional wisdom" these days about things having to do with communism--things "everybody knows" (or assumes) to be true, without any real or substantial basis, and in opposition to what is actually true--this phenomenon of intellectuals like Diamond lapsing into uncharacteristically shoddy methods is really rather widespread--and, unfortunately, unchallenged, or not challenged nearly consistently nor compellingly enough. People like Diamond need to know that this kind of "lapse"--even if it might correspond to some of their own predilections and more deeply-held prejudices--is not correct, and not acceptable.
It is one thing to disagree with communism, philosophically and/or politically, or to have criticisms, even sharp criticisms, of particular policies and practices of socialist states--or even the "socialist project" as a whole--on the basis of having seriously looked into these questions. With that there can be and should be dialogue, "engagement" and struggle. It is another thing to make pronouncements about major questions like these on the basis of profound misinformation and without even caring (or caring to know) that one's pronouncements are based on notions, but also on methods, that are wildly in conflict with reality and with a serious approach to engaging reality. Such ideologically lazy, flabby, and slipshod methods not only fail to meet the high standards of dialectical materialism but even fail to meet the standards to which people like Diamond subscribe and aspire in much of their own work. Again, this is especially disappointing and frustrating because there is much that is very valuable and challenging, in a positive sense, in Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. This kind of glaring discrepancy and lapse in methodology should be a "lever" for a larger dialogue and struggle with people like this, as part of an overall approach of unity-struggle-unity.
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