Revolution #159, March 22, 2009
The following was written by someone who has been actively involved in the communist movement since the late 1960’s and has closely followed and studied the experience of this movement, internationally and historically.
An Open Letter to the Revolutionary Communists and Everyone Seriously Thinking About Revolution:
On the Role and Importance of Bob Avakian
I am writing this letter in the hope that it may in some way contribute to the current discussion over the role and importance of Chairman Bob Avakian in the struggle for a communist world.
How one evaluates the role Bob Avakian has played in the revolutionary movement in the U.S. and internationally over the last almost 40 years has, in the final analysis, proven itself to be a question of how one views communist revolution itself: are you for it, or not. Not to make an absolute of this nor to suggest that at any particular point every person who is not clear on the role Bob Avakian has been/is playing, is therefore consciously against communist revolution: such a mechanical view would be both wrong and harmful. Knowledge and understanding are something in motion, they develop (as has the role Bob Avakian is playing). So it is a question of “in the final analysis”. At the same time—and as actual experience has repeatedly shown—it is objectively true and this truth will sooner or later assert itself in someone’s subjective understanding as well.
I first heard of Bob Avakian when I was studying in the U.S. in the late 1960’s and getting involved in revolutionary politics. My introduction came through two sources. The first was by means of “The Red Papers 1 & 2” which were the basic documents of the Revolutionary Union (RU), the forerunner of the RCP,USA. Some people at the college I was attending had been in contact with the RU and were circulating the “Red Papers” as important contributions to understanding how working class revolution could be made within the USA. Already at that time Avakian was being talked about as one of the main leaders of the RU and authors of the “Red Papers”.
I started reading the “Red Papers” and was quite impressed by the systematic and serious manner in which the analysis they contained was presented. This is not really the same as understanding this analysis in a deeper manner, but as stated above: knowledge develops. This was a start.
My second avenue of introduction to Avakian came in the form of two documentary films made by a group called Newsreel that were circulating at that time. One was called “May Day (Black Panther)”, and was about a May Day rally in San Francisco organized by the Black Panther Party in (I believe) 1969. The other film was called “Richmond Oil Strike” and was about a strike conducted by workers at a Standard Oil refinery in Richmond (California) and showed how revolutionaries had united with and supported these workers. Bob Avakian appeared in both these films. Especially his appearance at the Black Panther rally made a big impression on me.
As many are aware, at that time the Panthers were an important component in the leading edge of the revolutionary movement in the U.S. Their uncompromising revolutionary stand vis a vis U.S. imperialism and in the face of the most vicious and murderous repression was a key element of the political landscape in those days. I had heard that Avakian and the RU worked closely with the Panthers. But hearing about this was one thing; actually seeing it on film was something else. There was Avakian up there on the stage with a Red Book in his hand saying, “Let me say one thing to the white people in the audience...” And then Avakian went on to emphasize very powerfully that, while the Black Panther Party had taken a firm position that white people were not the enemy, this should not be taken to mean that white people were relieved of the responsibility to actively take part in the fight against the oppression of Black people and against the imperialist system as a whole. I can remember thinking: “Wow, this brother can really rap it down.”
Being full of enthusiasm, as well as somewhat impressionable, all of this was enough to convince me that Bob Avakian was going to be an important leader in any revolution that took place within the USA. In retrospect this was obviously a guess and not a scientifically grounded evaluation: a well intentioned guess, but guesswork nevertheless. No one could have then predicted how true it would turn out to be, and not just in regards to the U.S. alone.
As things developed and the key turning points of that period began to emerge, Avakian did in fact play a leading role in forging the road ahead and in “going against the tide” to take on and defeat incorrect lines and tendencies that would have taken things in the U.S. down one wrong path or another. He describes these struggles in a very lively and even powerful fashion in his memoir From Ike to Mao and Beyond, My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist.
In those days things like nationalism, adventurism, etc. had a big influence on revolutionary minded people as a lot of very basic questions had not been sorted out. People who were promoting these kinds of wrong lines often attacked Avakian personally rather than focus on the actual questions of principle that were up for debate. So what is currently emanating from some quarters is nothing new. Learning to see through these types of unprincipled attacks and focus on the key questions of political line was important training for the struggles to come. The line that Bob Avakian led in formulating and propagating, the method he employed in doing this and the fact that he never wavered in the face of these attacks played a crucial part in this training.
Even in those very formative years, given all the sidetracks and dead ends that needed to be successfully navigated to advance on a basically correct road, what would have transpired if Bob Avakian had not played the role he did? Is it conceivable that the RCP, USA would ever have been formed in the first place? And if it had, what kind of party would it have been? Without Avakian’s role, what, if anything, would have been consolidated within the U.S. out of the great revolutionary upsurge that swept the world in the 1960’s and early 1970’s?
When the coup took place in China things took a leap... one of the “great needs” that the RCP has talked about in recent documents got a lot greater. At that immediate time the extent to which this was the case was not so clear, even though it was objectively true. As he recounts in From Ike to Mao and Beyond, Avakian wrote “Revisionists are Revisionists and Must Not be Supported; Revolutionaries are Revolutionaries and Must Be Supported”. This paper exposed the revisionist line that had taken power following Mao’s death and upheld Mao’s line and the Four. It was the basis for uniting people to defeat the revisionist pro-Deng Menshevik-faction at the central committee meeting that was held to decide the question of what stand the RCP would take on the developments in China. And as far as I am aware no other Maoist party or organization in the world was able to produce such a document—unfortunately.
When you read about this in From Ike to Mao and Beyond it really comes through how deep a grasp he had of the fact that the question of a correct evaluation of the coup was, as he talks about it, a “cardinal question” on which there could be “no compromise”. Making a correct evaluation and winning the struggle in the Central Committee meeting around this question was crucial in not only keeping the RCP on a revolutionary path, but also opening up the whole trajectory of development that would follow.
All the Maoist forces that made a wrong evaluation of this question rapidly became revisionist. Almost all those who thought they could sit it out, or felt that it was all too complicated or too far away to figure out, continue—if they still exist and have not corrected this error—to suffer from the agnostic and pragmatic thinking that allowed for such a position. And even many of those who took a basically correct position on the coup, but did not ground this evaluation in the kind of deep analysis that Avakian made, had great difficulty not only in grasping Mao’s breakthroughs in understanding the contradictory character of socialism as a revolutionary transitional society, but also in taking a scientific approach to the science of revolution in general.
What would have happened if Avakian had not had the grasp of this question that he did, including the understanding and orientation that this was do-or-die with no backing down?
Around this time Avakian also wrote Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions. For those not familiar with it, this is a major work that synthesizes Mao’s qualitative contributions to the science of revolution. Although things have progressed quite a bit since then, if you look at this work you will see that Avakian does not rest content with just discussing what Mao had to say about the major topics the book deals with. When it comes to Bob Avakian and important questions of political principle, there is never even a hint of superficiality, or as he puts it in From Ike to Mao and Beyond, “When I get into something, I like to get into it deeply...” (pg. 248). (BTW, this is something that has both frustrated and infuriated his opponents over all these years. )
Each chapter of Mao’s Immortal begins with Avakian first summing up what the thinking of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin had been on these issues and then explaining how Mao had qualitatively advanced the communist understanding on the particular subject. In the last chapter Avakian, as is his fashion, deals with Mao dialectically and begins an initial discussion of some of Mao’s weaknesses as well. In other words, he deals with all this in an all-around, deep-going way. He had clearly not only thoroughly immersed himself in Mao, but in Marxism-Leninism as a whole. As it turned out, this was the most advanced effort of its kind anywhere and provided the theoretical basis for both upholding Mao’s contributions and the revolutionary experience in China as well as a starting point for further deepening the understanding of these contributions (both their positive and negative aspects).
If he had not been able to do all this, what understanding would exist in the world today in regards to Mao’s qualitative developments in our revolutionary science and the experience of socialism in China as a whole? Remember, at that time there was not only the revisionism coming from China, but there was also the dogmato-revisionism coming out of Albania which was claiming that Mao had never been a communist and China had never been socialist. As ridiculous as this may seem today, at the time this line was exerting a lot of influence among previously Maoist forces around the world. Without Avakian’s leadership, what would have happened to the RCP,USA in terms of remaining on the revolutionary road? Remember that no other party in an imperialist country was able to survive as a revolutionary party in the wake of the coup in China: not a single one—and there were many, including not a few which were much larger and more influential than the RCP at that time.
In connection with this struggle, as the RCP has documented, there was also the re-discovery, so to speak, of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? Even if this “re-discovery” was initially still mixed with the influence of economism, and it is now being summed up that over the last 2 decades new problems in this regard emerged, what would have resulted if this initial re-discovery had not been made at that time? Would it have been possible to have arrived at the current understanding of “Enriched What Is To Be Done-ism” at all?
Following this phase Avakian continued to push forward—to put it mildly. I remember when Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will first appeared. In the “Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology” he refers to this as the beginning of an “epistemological rupture”. I agree with that wholeheartedly. For some, the analysis/synthesis he makes in that document—both the methodological approach and the political conclusions—was like a bolt of lightning; others were less enthusiastic (to say the least). Those “less enthusiastic” saw this document as a kind of heresy since it criticized a good deal of the long ingrained dominant thinking within the international communist movement around the questions it deals with. Again, Avakian was going against a really big tide by applying—and further developing—the principle of “going for the truth” no matter where it leads and whom it might offend.
Conquer the World? marked Avakian’s initial barrage in what later became an all-around analysis and criticism of the method of “political truth”: a malady that has historically so inflicted itself on our movement. The way in which Avakian holds firmly to basic correct principles, and genuine advances, but at the same time breaks with convention and makes a really critical/self-critical evaluation of the history and practice of our movement up until that time is truly remarkable. I know that for me this opened an entirely new view of the history of our struggle as well as how we needed to approach things in general if we are going to get to where we want to go.
Among all the deep insights Avakian makes in Conquer the World?—and there are many—the analysis that is made here regarding the proletarian world revolution being a single integrated world process in which the international arena is overall principal is, in my opinion, a world-historic leap in our understanding of this subject. It puts the whole question of proletarian internationalism, the dialectic of defence/advance and the correct approach to evaluating the factors affecting the conditions for revolution internationally—and in particular countries—in an entirely different and qualitatively more scientific light. I agree with the RCP’s estimation that this understanding has fundamental meaning for communist strategy and tactics worldwide and in every country.
And this insight provided the basis for Avakian’s conclusion that socialism in a particular country must in the first place be built as a base area for the world revolution. This is a fundamental paradigm rupture in regards to this question: one that opens up tremendous new avenues of freedom for advancing our struggle in particular countries and worldwide. Unfortunately, far too many have—for various reasons—been unable or unwilling to take up this understanding. I think it is no exaggeration to say, that if our movement does not adopt and apply Avakian’s approach to this question, it will be impossible to get to communism.
If Avakian had not continued to advance and make these breakthroughs, what would have happened to our movement internationally? Would the founding of the RIM and the formulation of its Declaration (with the content it has) have even been possible without all this? And what direction would the RCP have taken if this understanding had not been developed?
As it has turned out, Conquer the World? was just the opening salvo in what has been over 25 years of continuing analysis, leaps and advances in evaluating, summarizing and synthesizing the experience of the communist project: the political economy of imperialism; the question of democracy; the collapse of revisionism; the question of communist morality, ethics, etc.; the role of intellectuals, art, and “awe and wonder” more broadly; epistemology and philosophy in general; revolutionary strategy in the imperialist countries; the role of the vanguard, the leadership/led contradiction (solid core/elasticity) and all the other multifaceted developments in understanding what the character of revolutionary socialism really is and how to keep it on the path to communism; and so forth... in short all of the components that have now emerged as Bob Avakian’s new synthesis.
This is not the place (nor am I the person) to try to go into all of this. But I do want to just briefly comment on one aspect: the question of how we are going to “do better next time”. First of all, the fact that Avakian has approached the evaluation of the experience of the first wave of communist revolution with this orientation is a very important positive factor in and of itself. It has been absolutely imperative for us to have waged an intense battle to defend the genuine revolutionary breakthroughs and monumental achievements made so far in the struggle for communism—of which there are many. On the other hand it has also become increasingly clear over the years that just upholding the “best of what was done before” is not enough: not enough to deeply and in an all-around way answer the critics, and enemies, of our movement, and even more importantly not enough to be able to “do better next time”.
As concentrated in the formulation “solid core with a lot of elasticity”, Avakian has broken new ground in our understanding of how to correctly utilize the contradictoriness of socialist society as an engine for propelling it forward. In my opinion, what he has done in this regard is in many ways similar to what he did in Conquer the World?, but with perhaps even more far-reaching importance and profound implications: another paradigm leap, this time in our whole understanding of and approach to the vital question of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a revolutionary transition to communism. While upholding the great advances made in the Soviet Union and, on a qualitatively higher level, in China when these countries were socialist, and building on the theoretical contributions of those who have gone before, Avakian has subjected this experience to an all-around and thoroughgoing scientific evaluation, including an appraisal of the major criticisms of that experience (from friend and foe alike).
Through his deepening of our grasp of the nature, importance and role of truth in the struggle for communism, he has developed the concept that repeatedly unleashing the whole of society in the effort to discover and grasp truth and on that basis transform reality (society and nature in general, including people’s way of thinking) on a continually deeper level is—together with the advance of the world revolution as a whole—a central element for keeping socialist society on a revolutionary path. By furthering our understanding of the meaning of “embraces not replaces” and making a seminal rupture with “political truth”, pragmatism, empiricism, reductionism, instrumentalism, etc. he has identified in a whole new way the material basis for and the necessity and role of ferment and dissent in socialist society. And this has also led to a re-conception of our understanding of the contradiction between the individual and the state under the dictatorship of the proletariat. In short, in the wake of the defeat that marked the end of the first wave of communist revolution, and the confusion this has produced over the theoretical and practical possibility of overcoming class society, he has opened up a qualitatively new vision of a revolutionary socialism as pathway to a communist future: one that is as viable as it is liberating.
Given how urgently needed all these advances have been, it is really quite difficult to take seriously those who claim that they are “not necessary”, of “minor importance at best”, or “nothing new”. Moreover, located as it is in the USA—the current strategic heart of the world imperialist system—the RCP is particularly well situated to make a major breakthrough that would provide immense assistance to the international proletariat’s worldwide struggle to emancipate itself and all of humanity. And given the quality of the leadership role that Avakian has been playing in his party for almost 3 decades, something which has again been underscored by all that is contained in the new Manifesto the RCP has recently published (Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage)—including especially what is said there about the role Avakian played in calling for a “Cultural Revolution within the RCP” to be carried out “in the midst of a Long March”: given all this, it is extremely difficult to understand how anyone consciously involved in the struggle for communism would not grasp how Chairman Avakian’s continuing leadership immeasurably increases the chance of there being a communist revolution in the USA during our lifetimes, and therefore how the role he is playing is also in that sense an extremely positive factor for the world revolution as a whole.
Some people raise the question of just who Bob Avakian is to claim to have produced such a contribution to our communist science and understanding. After all, they assert, “what has he done?” In the first place, this approach really begs the question—the issue is not one of “claims and counter-claims”. Check out and evaluate the new synthesis. Therein lies the heart of the matter and the answer to this “question”. Additionally, leaving aside the fact that Bob Avakian is far from alone in making this evaluation of his contributions, and without repeating everything that has already been said here in terms of “what Bob Avakian has done”, there are fundamental methodological problems with the “what has he done” line of thinking.
The example of Marx and the approach he took to arrive at a scientific understanding of the workings of human society and nature as a whole has been discussed extensively in other places. But briefly, Marx’s breakthroughs in this area were based on both his active participation—and leadership role—in the communist movement of his time, and a years long study and evaluation of an extensive set of data encompassing the entire world and the history of human society, as well as his critical engagement with a broad range of other thinkers and analyses. Through developing and then applying the method of dialectical materialism to process the empirical data at his disposal—and by applying his all-around knowledge of nature and human society together with his tremendous talent for creative thinking—Marx (together with Engels) was able to uncover and synthesize the basic laws of nature and society: Marxism. This included a scientific understanding of the inner workings of the capitalist mode of production as well as the need for and possibility of achieving communism. His work remains today the cornerstone of scientific communism.
As others have also pointed out, what Bob Avakian has done over the last 30 years and more is very similar. First of all, as Chairman of the RCP he has continued to provide all-around leadership to his party in carrying out revolutionary work and struggle in the U.S., as well as play a leading role in our movement internationally. At the same time, and as talked about above, he has deeply immersed himself in the historical experience of our movement; the theoretical framework that has guided this experience; the criticism and evaluations of the experience of socialism coming from all quarters; the philosophical, ethical and political debates and discourse of our times; and the new developments and challenges that have emerged over the course of the last 3 decades. The cumulative product of his work over all that period is a new understanding of our revolutionary science that “...involves a recasting and recombining of the positive aspects of the experience so far of the communist movement and of socialist society, while learning from the negative aspects of this experience, in the philosophical and ideological as well as the political dimensions...” (Avakian, Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity). This is the process and dynamic through which Bob Avakian’s extensive “body of work” has come into existence.
Just as Marx could not have written Capital by going to work in a factory, it would be equally as misguided to insist that Avakian could not have brought forward a new synthesis because he did not personally participate in all the major struggles of our movement over the course of the last 40 years. Such a thing is not possible and to suggest that it is a prerequisite for making a leap to “the stage of rational knowledge” (as Mao puts it On Practice) is to fundamentally depart from the Marxist method. In the final analysis, since this prerequisite can never be met, it would mean that no further qualitative all-around advances in the development of our science are possible.
Some of those who make these “what has he done” arguments either state, or imply, that in order to make the theoretical advances that Avakian has made, one must have first led a successful seizure of power—or at least a major revolutionary war. But this argument is, again, just another expression of pragmatism and empiricism (coupled in certain cases with a major dose of nationalism). If these same criteria were to be applied to Marx and Engels, would we not be forced to conclude that they were little more than geeky windbags? Yes, they were out in the streets in their younger days, but so was Bob Avakian. And in any case, like all other communist leaders, the political leadership they provided and their theoretical contributions were overwhelmingly based on indirect knowledge and not direct personal experience. They led no revolutionary wars and never experienced socialist society. They were not even personally present when the Paris Commune took place, the first and only revolutionary seizure of power during their lifetimes. Although their lack of direct participation in that event did not stop them from thinking they could sum it up and draw crucial theoretical and political lessons from this brief, but nevertheless earthshaking event.
And perhaps even more importantly, if followed, the wrong approaches described here would have two grievous—and interrelated—consequences. First, the objectively posed task of critically evaluating the first wave of communist revolution, of identifying from that vast store of experience the theoretical and practical advances that must be upheld and built upon, as well as the errors and shortcomings and the reasons for them, so that it will be possible “to do better next time”; that task would not be carried out. Second, without at some point accomplishing that task and given both the weaknesses of the “first wave” and all the changes that have occurred in the world since the proletariat last held state power, another successful communist-led revolution might never take place, or, if it were to happen it would, in all likelihood, not be guided with the understanding necessary—and possible—to remain on a revolutionary path for a substantial period of time.
Maybe the “who is he” and “what has he done” approach has some validity on planet “agnosticism, pragmatism and empiricism”; but here on Earth the methodology that Avakian has applied to confronting and transforming the necessity that our movement has faced in terms of analyzing and understanding the experience of the first wave of communist revolution and the developments since then exactly conforms to the basic scientific method and approach that Marx and Engels first developed and applied. And while doing this Avakian has set a very high standard by maintaining an extraordinarily principled approach to all investigation, discussion, debate and struggle—including a great respect for the contributions and opinions of others. The results are more than just excellent... they are truly momentous and path breaking.
As for the claims of “cult of the personality” that have been raised, there are a couple of points to make. First of all, this is about the need for and role of leadership, not “cults”. The need for leadership is not something imposed upon reality by communists; rather it fundamentally arises from the inherent contradictions and conditions of class society and the process through which rational knowledge develops.
There are two basic questions that must be addressed here: 1. Does Bob Avakian’s new synthesis represent a breakthrough in our science as is being put forward: yes or no? And even if you answer with “no”, you still must engage with it and explain why it is not... you cannot simply make that assertion based on some kind of non-materialist or even narrow petty arguments. (If you take a serious and systematic approach and are still not convinced, then at least your arguments will help contribute to everyone’s understanding.) And 2. If you answer “yes”, then doesn’t this present you with the necessity of helping to make both the new synthesis and its author known as broadly as possible throughout society... if Bob Avakian is really playing the role that has been talked about, then is it not a burning necessity that people everywhere are made aware of this, and all the dimensions of what it means for our struggle, their actions, etc.?
No one is talking about slavish acceptance of the new synthesis, but rather critical engagement, principled struggle and conscious understanding... this has nothing to do with “cults” or superstition of any kind, nor the promotion of some kind of infallible all-knowing leader who is beyond all criticism. In fact, what is being called for here is the exact opposite of such notions.
In his introduction to Six Easy Pieces the physicist Richard Feynman describes the “principle of science” with the following sentence: “The test of all knowledge is experiment.” “Experiment,” he writes, “is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth’. But”, he asks, “what is the source of the knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from?” “Experiment”, he answers, can provide us “hints” as to the underlying laws of nature, but to arrive at “the great generalizations”—the theorization of the underlying laws themselves—“imagination” is “also needed”.
While Feynman was not a dialectical materialist  —thus placing limits on his materialism—and did not see his work in the context of, or connected to, the struggle for communism, he nonetheless makes a very important point here; one that is equally true for developing communist theory. To make a leap, any kind of correct scientific theory, including communist theory, must incorporate an image of (conceptualise) that which has not yet come into being (or, in science, has been confirmed through experiment), i.e. it must “‘run ahead’ of practice”.
Qualitative theoretical advances in communist theory require not only the empirical data obtained through revolutionary struggle and the broadest array of other forms of practice, but also both a dialectical materialist approach and the application of imagination and vision to process and synthesize that data. Bob Avakian has repeatedly demonstrated a profound grasp of the dialectical materialist method and a “communist imagination” of exceptional quality and strategic sweep—one that is infused with a combination of scientific rigor, revolutionary romantic spirit and love for the people. He is that rare kind of radical visionary who, so far at least, has only appeared once or twice in a generation—if that often.
Furthermore, these qualities and ability did not drop from the sky in finished form. Avakian’s political development, like that of everyone else, is a product of necessity and accident. There is a great deal of contingency here. Starting back in 1969 there was absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that Bob Avakian was going to take the path he has and advance along it as far as he has gone. There were more than a few who, with not so un-similar backgrounds and qualities, and starting around the same time along the same general path, have gone astray or fallen by the wayside at one of the numerous turning points along the way. So Bob Avakian’s contributions are not the outcome of some innate genius, pre-determined inevitable course of events or “going it alone”. They are the result of a historically conditioned complex process that—depending upon a myriad of factors—could have had quite a number of much less favourable outcomes.
In closing, and if I may be allowed to paraphrase here, “Let me say one thing to the revolutionary communists in the audience...”
Especially the last point above should serve to emphasize just how unique and precious our comrade Bob Avakian is to our common cause and struggle. This is extremely important to grasp and understand.
When Mao died in 1976 it was like the whole communist movement kind of held its breath and contemplated what was going to happen: not just in China itself, but also in relation to what we all were going to do without the Great Helmsman at the head of our ranks. At that time Bob gave a speech at a memorial meeting for Mao in which he said: “So when they raise the question, who will be Mao Tsetung’s successors, the working class is ready with its answer: We will be Mao Tsetung’s successors, in our millions and hundreds of millions, and we will continue the cause for which he fought and in which he led us and to which he devoted his entire life, until that great goal of eliminating exploitation and oppression and achieving communism has finally been achieved.”
This was a very important orientation to set and statement to make in that situation. And because in the final analysis it is the masses of people who make history—who, to again paraphrase Avakian, must in the end emancipate themselves—it is also correct to say that the masses in their millions will be Mao Tsetung’s successors. But having said that, and looking back at it now, I think we also have to acknowledge that his statement was a bit one-sided.
The masses make history, but if it is to be a history that leads to a communist world, they need leadership: genuine communist leadership, including rare and outstanding figures like Mao Tsetung. So the question at that time was also: what leader or leaders were going to step forward to fill that “great need”? There is an important dialectic here. Without people capable of making exceptional contributions on the level of a Mao Tsetung, it is impossible for everyone else to make their maximum contribution and for humanity as a whole to reach the day when there will no longer be any permanent institutionalised division of labour between leaders and the led.
In light of all that has been said here it should be clear that in my opinion it is without question that Bob Avakian has, through all the twists and turns of the last 3 decades, risen to the challenge and stepped forward to fill that objectively existing role and need. He has not only stayed the course, but has produced a “body of work” containing a new synthesis of our understanding of the science of communism: a new level of freedom from which to engage and transform in a revolutionary fashion the necessity we are currently confronting. This is a tremendous positive factor for continuing and advancing the epic battle for a communist world.
Thus, for this and all the other reasons described above, we should without reservation cherish, defend and celebrate comrade Avakian: proudly and boldly make his role and contributions known to the masses of people everywhere and in that way help turn his new synthesis into a material force to change the world. We can and must declare that Chairman Bob Avakian is indeed an outstanding example of what it means to be a genuine tribune and servant of the people -- a true emancipator of humanity.
With my warmest and most heartfelt communist greetings,
1 This is not to suggest that such incorrect tendencies do not exist or have no influence today, but back then there was still a good deal of lack of clarity about whether these questions should even be evaluated on a Marxist-Leninist basis, or with some other approach.
2 I cannot deal here with the aspect that has been raised in different documents published by Avakian and the RCP in which it is stated that in some regards the founding of the RCP was, due to the influence of economism, both a great advance as well as its “low point”. It was obviously much preferable to have a “low point” from which one could build, than “no point” at all.
3 This refers to Mao’s four closest leading comrades during the Cultural Revolution and at the time of his death. Their arrest was at the heart of the counter-revolutionary coup staged by Deng Xiaoping and the other revisionists in China.
4 The main documents of this struggle were made public by the RCP in the book Revolution and Counter-Revolution: The Revisionist Coup in China and the Struggle in the Revolutionary Communist Party USA..
5 In Revolution and Counter-Revolution where the main documents of the RCP leadership are published along with those of the “Jarvis-Bergman Headquarters” (Mensheviks), there is the paper “China Advances Along the Socialist Road” (sic). In it the Mensheviks characterize as a “coup” the Central Committee meeting at which Avakian was able to win over a majority to support his position on China. They even go so far as to complain about the fact that his paper had been circulated to the top leadership—including them—before the meeting; as if being open and above board is something negative. They proceed to discuss the reasons why they did not do more “to put real roadblocks in the path of the Chairman”. In trying to explain this “failing”, and why, at the end of the debate at the Central Committee meeting they actually voted for the position put forward by Avakian, and only afterward decided to “rebel”, one of the reasons they give is, “...our fear of having to take on The Chairman in a big face to face battle...” Was this self-described “fear” due to Avakian spending his evenings watching Bruce Lee movies, so if anyone disagreed with him at a meeting he could pull out the nunchucks and do a number on them? Or was the Mensheviks’ “fear” a result of the fact that Avakian takes positions based on solid analysis and is ready and able to present them convincingly and defend them tenaciously; whereas for their part the Mensheviks were just blowing smoke? (See Revolution and Counter-Revolution, pg. 143-4)
6 Also around that time there were major programs held in New York and San Francisco at which Avakian explained the exact course of events that led to the coup in China and enabled it to be successful. This was published in a pamphlet called The Loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of Mao Tsetung.
7 I might add here, and just to emphasize the point, since that time not a single party of major consequence has been formed in an imperialist country. People could give some thought to why this has been the case, what it means that in what is currently the world’s most powerful imperialist country a genuine communist vanguard does exist and what this has to do with the role that Bob Avakian has played.
9 The point here is not to try to “rate” these things vis a vis one another, this is a question of the development of knowledge and understanding: the former actually laid the basis for and helped lead to the latter.
10 As he further describes in Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, this involves “opening up qualitatively more space to give expression to the intellectual and cultural needs of the people, broadly understood, and enabling a more diverse and rich process of exploration and experimentation in the realms of science, art and culture, and intellectual life overall, with increasing scope for the contention of different ideas and schools of thought and for individual initiative and creativity and protection of individual rights, including space for individuals to interact in ‘civil society’ independently of the state—all within an overall cooperative and collective framework and at the same time as state power is maintained and further developed as a revolutionary state power serving the interests of the proletarian revolution, in the particular country and worldwide, with this state being the leading and central element in the economy and in the overall direction of society, while the state itself is being continually transformed into something radically different from all previous states, as a crucial part of the advance toward the eventual abolition of the state with the achievement of communism on a world scale.”
12 Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher, by Richard P. Feynman. Richard Feynman was a prominent U.S.-American physicist in the post-WWII period until his death in 1988. In 1965 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in quantum electrodynamics. Six Easy Pieces is a collection of introductory physics lectures originally delivered in 1963. The entire passage reads: “The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth’. But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself,
helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations—to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess.” (pg. 2, all emphasis in the original).
13 Feynman, as far as I know, did not consider himself a dialectical materialist. But to achieve the insights into quantum mechanics that he did, he obviously had to take a generally materialist approach to reality. For example, he also makes the following comment: “If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis... that all things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.” (ibid., pg. 4, emphasis in the original.)
14 In Ike to Mao and Beyond Avakian provides a rich description of the overall interplay of necessity and accident at work here: his childhood family life and the illness that could have killed him; his initial personal, social and cultural influences; entering political life at Berkeley in the early 1960’s; the radicalising experience of meeting Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver; the influence Leibel Bergman had in pushing him toward ML and communism; the founding of the RU and the RCP; etc.: a fascinating account of his life, the times and the influence his interaction with people and events had on him—and vice versa.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.