Revolution Online, February 21, 2010
An Historic Contradiction: Fundamentally Changing The World Without "Turning Out the Lights"
"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."
Some thoughts on winning and holding power—and letting the lights blaze brightly:
How do we avoid that dynamic—which is not only a matter of bringing in a more lively and vibrant society than we've been able to in the past, but of actually getting to communism? How do we, instead, construct society in which the pathways to getting to communism are increasingly opened wider, and cleared where they are blocked and calcified—even as power is firmly held onto?
The key to this lies in the new synthesis, applying its various dimensions. But the new synthesis is not just a more lively way of getting to communism—it is the difference between getting there and, sooner or later, being turned back, with the restoration of exploitative and oppressive capitalism.
To begin with, epistemology. In going back over "Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition To Communism," it is striking that that is where it begins—with the real challenge of working with ideas in a critical and creative way, while being a member of a vanguard party, and with the contrast between a communist approach to other viewpoints and "proof-texting." With the talk on epistemology later reprinted in Observations, this is elaborated. I won't repeat all that here—but it is really illuminating, and stimulating, to just refresh and recall some of what is laid out there. The question of "class truth" vs a "methodology that lets you get at the truth more fully"... of whether the intellectuals "are basically making trouble for us..."—all these are gone into here. I believe that much of the ability to synthesize something higher—and again, all this ultimately comes down to much of the ability to keep the pathways to communism opening wider, in a process that includes tributaries that branch off and then rejoin the main flow and current, to keep going on that road and not back to the past—flows out of the insights that can be grouped around this question of epistemology.
In short, do you need to be challenged, to be engaged, with vigor? And not just "you" in the sense of the vanguard—is this (vigorous debate waged by the most ardent advocates of contending views, initiatives and ideas coming from all quarters, an open ideological struggle in which people who do not believe in communism are not compelled either by law or social pressure to clothe their ideas in that fabric) the only way—the only way—that society as a whole can come to a deeper understanding of the truth and through that whole process transform the world and transform itself and its own outlook, sensibilities, morality, aesthetic—its own consciousness and humanity—in the process?
In this I want to highlight a certain point in the epistemology discussion:
It's not like Mao didn't have a lot of that, but it's a little bit different way, what I'm putting forward. You trust the masses that if you put the problems to them you can struggle with them, learn from them, lead them and win a big section of the masses as you do this.
and this is related to a point a bit later:
That’s the synthesis of partisan and objective. Either we actually believe the most fundamental truth about capitalism and communism is what it is—either we have a scientifically grounded understanding of why communism should and can replace capitalism, all over the world—or we don't, in which case we end up fearing the truth.
Now all that carries with it the demand for a lot of work. I believe that this is importantly linked to the "parachute point"—which is really a recognition of the truth of the matter... that most people do not make the leap to ideologically becoming communists simply through participating in, or being alive during, the socialist revolution, monumental and unprecedented as that revolution is. This is not to deny that such an experience will act as a crucible, that it will change people's outlooks and approaches to life in ways that are incredibly transformative. But people will still have other ideas, other ways of proceeding to the questions.
This I think relates to the tremendous importance of that (metaphorical) depth charge of a passage in the "Dictatorship and Democracy" talk:
But what about this question of official ideology that everyone has to profess? Well, I think we have more to sum up about that from the history of socialist society and the dictatorship of the proletariat so far.
With regard to the question of the party, I think two things are definitely true. One, you need a vanguard party to lead this revolution and to lead the new state. Two, that party has to have an ideology that unifies it, an ideology that correctly reflects and enables people to consciously change reality, which is communist ideology.
But, more broadly, should everyone in society have to profess this ideology in order to get along? No. Those who are won over to this ideology should proclaim it and struggle for it. Those who are not convinced of it should say so. Those who disagree with it should say that. And there should be struggle. Something has to lead—the correct ideology that really enables people to get at the truth, and to do something with it in their interests, has to lead; but that doesn't mean everyone should have to profess it, in my opinion. And this is just my opinion. But it's worth digging into this a bit, it's worth exploring and wrangling with the question. [Observations, "Three Alternative Worlds," pp. 15-16]
I went back as part of this and tried to find the constitution of the People's Republic of China that they passed in '74. The best I could do was Chang Chun-chiao's commentary on it, Mao Makes 5. Here is what he says, in discussing the first important revision between '54 and '74:
Starting from the preamble, the draft revised text records the glorious history of the Chinese people's heroic struggle. "The Communist Party of China is the core of leadership of the whole Chinese people" and "Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought is the theoretical basis guiding the thinking of our nation"—such is the conclusion which the people of our country have drawn from their historical experience of more than a century and which is now inscribed in the General Principles of the draft.
The first statement is correct, but the second is not, or is at best open to serious eclectic interpretation, in that it implies or certainly leaves itself open to the interpretation that the people of the nation are all, or overwhelmingly, proceeding from the "theoretical basis of MLMTT." This was, and would be in any future revolutionary society even several generations into the transition, a fiction. And fictions, especially so-called "useful fictions," if taken literally do grave damage in the long run, and sometimes before too long; they mask the reality you are confronting. Such fictions blind you to the actual unevenness of phenomena, and hence blind you as well to the (multiple) pathways of potential development pertaining to any given phenomenon (and its interaction with the multifarious other phenomena of the world). If you say that this theoretical basis guides the thinking of the nation—and while there are world-views or ethoses that have initiative in a nation and could be said to guide it in that sense, it seems to me that this formulation is definitely open to implying that all or the vast majority of the people in the nation are into this, or should be into this—then people who disagree with that are either going to go silent and withdraw or else "learn the lingo" and figure out how to use it to mask, and advance, narrower interests.
The fact that most people do not and will not for some time proceed from this ideology is one of those unresolved contradictions that is a tremendous potential source of dynamism in socialist society. In the section of Raymond Lotta's recent speech on the environment reprinted in the newspaper, there is discussion of the need to actually cut production.1 While I note that Lotta is rethinking that point (there is the question of the character of production, and there is also the necessity posed to the new state by the need to defend itself and the need for some level of industry to do that), there will still definitely be a need for a different kind of production, a different level and type of commodity consumption, and a radical change in living standards and expectations and aspirations, etc. Terms will be set; but if this is just imposed on people it won't really take. There will need to be a tremendous amount of struggle and ferment in the superstructure around questions of morality and human nature—where people struggle over and define what kind of people they are going to be, with what kind of morality, outlook, etc. The role for art in this (and I have been thinking a lot about the particular crucial role of art in the synthesis of the visceral and theoretical) will be of great importance, as will be the role of free-wheeling debates and discussions and so on with people coming from all kinds of views... Actually, it is worth going even more deeply in regard to the character of participation of people like Arundhati Roy—on one level, they could be unleashed in many ways but it is also the case that they, or people like them, will tremendously complicate the process. The party will be struggling with masses over questions of outlook and ultimate goal, and non-communist intellectuals—proceeding from a whole host of places—will have their own ideas, and this will dramatically enter into the swirl, even as counter-revolutionaries will be trying to operate in the midst of the whole thing. In the short run this can pose problems in actually accomplishing transformations that will literally be crucial and this can even threaten the grip on power—but the "bet" here is that the understanding of reality that comes out of it will be immeasurably deeper and the whole process of sharp debate by ardent advocates will much more involve masses in comparing and contrasting and figuring out what is really true and what corresponds to the largest interests of humanity so that the ability to distinguish between black cat and white cat (which is ultimately what the state power of the dictatorship of the proletariat [DOP] must rest on) will be strengthened.
A lot of this will turn on questions of internationalism—and how will it be, what will be the process, where people in this country will come to viscerally feel a connection to people in the Himalayas, for instance, who are already being devastated by global climate change? Avakian, in that same talk, raises the question of the contradiction embodied in the need to have people demonstrate in favor of Vietnam in China during the GPCR... well, again, if you don't rely on what they relied on—education plus the influence of the party—but instead throw it open, it can become another source of vibrancy, of "keeping the lights on"—for will you plunge into the fray in ways that actually involve people in wrangling over and coming to feel differently about their connection to people in other parts of the globe fighting imperialism and trying to make revolution? (One of the great things about the ’60s in this country was the way in which a whole section of the youth came to not just oppose the war but to viscerally identify with the Vietnamese.) At the same time, there will be real stakes involved in actually winning those struggles.
The analogy of Remember the Titans (also referred to in that talk) is interesting too in this regard—there was a ferment that worked itself into that situation as things "took"—the surfer/hippie/somewhat gender-bending kid, the role of the working-class white kid from Bayonne... there was a feeling of "the lights getting turned on" in what could have been a very stultifying scene if the only thing that had happened had been the Denzel Washington character imposing authority (even as a certain coercive authority was necessary to even start the whole process and set it in motion and even as that authority with the power of coercion was necessary to continue to "backbone" it). So if you pursue that, for a minute, there is a way in which the many channels can both get unleashed and given more room to develop with good leadership, and also ways in which that in turn becomes part of what is potentially favorable for the leadership to keep things going in the direction of communism.
Another example: in a salon that we did about two weeks ago with eight people of very different levels of partisanship and even basic acquaintance with what we're all about, another comrade introduced the idea that there would be, in socialist society, autonomous regions of the oppressed nationalities in which there would be autonomous control over education, culture, etc. Someone raised a question about this and we went into a bit more deeply why we would do that and what it would look like and how it would relate to the society overall, and then someone else (who's been around for a while) disagreed and raised that "wouldn't that just feed a lot of nationalism, and if you did that, how would you prevent women or even gay people from having their own autonomous regions?" And again, the whole question of "no official ideology" (but a vanguard leading the new state that IS united around communist ideology) and the parachute phenomenon and all that as a potential source of vibrancy came into play—for the fact is that if you unleash all kinds of people into thinking that this is THEIR society and that THEY have a role to play in making the world anew, even while you are struggling with people to take up communist ideology (and hopefully that struggle is being carried out in an inviting, involving and illuminating way) but have not yet won most of them to it, people are going to be flooding into political and social life with all kinds of notions and different ideologies (or at least influenced by different ideologies) including nationalism and feminism... and while we should be aware of the openings that presents for counter-revolutionary forces, why should we quake at that? (This relates to the guppies/sharks point in that epistemology discussion with comrades [see Observations].) Why shouldn't we and why wouldn't we welcome the opportunity to join things with people who are into nationalism or feminism as part of their search for a way to remake society without oppression, or at least without particular kinds of oppression—to work side by side with them, to discuss things, to debate, to learn and lead...? If our shit is so right, we should certainly be able to join it with people who are into those other trends and learn a hell of a lot in the process—and it will be a much more interesting way for many many people to work out for themselves what IS the ideology that can lead to a world without oppression than if the only way they get it is in hothouse atmosphere, or where that ideology itself is given a place of privilege in the discourse that goes beyond "setting the terms" and actually veers into "monopoly on the truth" (or at least a "special purchase" on the truth)—which HAS been a problem pointed to by the new synthesis.
That "monopoly on the truth" has been, I believe, a major factor in "turning out the lights." And the fact that we don't and won't claim such a monopoly is a major part of the "no" in the answer to "aren't you going to be just another version of the Islamic Republic of Iran? yes and no"—one reason that the future society is not going to feel like the IRI because those leading the society are not going to labor under the illusion, and force others to labor under the illusion, that they have a monopoly on the truth or anything more than a methodology that enables them to get at the truth more fully (and we will have to be vigilant to combat the latter sliding into the former, by dint of people's tendencies to mush things together and the powerful pull of spontaneity in situations where state power is in the balance and you really are in danger of going over the brink and actually being drawn and quartered).
Why should we be scared of something analogous to autonomous regions being set up for women who just don't want to deal with men for a while? Why can't that—and why can't the autonomous regions for oppressed nationalities—be a source of vibrancy in the society, interacting with (and sometimes not) the larger society, bringing different challenges, some focused on eliminating a particular form of oppression and some going further afield (and even the questions of national oppression and women's oppression should not be narrowly construed in a way walled off from other big questions) and not just letting different contradictions come out, but striving to "surface them" when we can sense they are roiling underneath... all this should not be reduced to some sort of concession but should be seen as a potentially genuinely exciting element of socialist society!
Related to this epistemological point: there is a discussion in Observations in the chapter "A Scientific Approach to Maoism, A Scientific Approach to Science" that also pertains to this point—the question of resisting the pull toward "turning out the lights," of being scientifically grounded enough in why that will cut against the further advance toward the truth (through zigs and zags) and, hence, the further advance to communism and will eventually lead to the return to capitalism.
Are we going to have a scientific approach to our science or not? This doesn't mean we are retreating into "contemplative philosophy"—just thinking about, or contemplating, things for its own sake, in the sense of not trying to change the world. What I have tried to bring forward is a different way of approaching understanding and changing the world, including that I took the Mao formulation about "embraces but does not replace" and developed it more in terms of the whole dialectical process between Marxism and other schools of thought. What I am arguing for, in regard to "embraces but does not replace," is a very complex thing. It is a very dynamic thing. It is grounded in the understanding and orientation that, ultimately and in a fundamental sense, we can and should embrace everything. Marxism is a way of engaging all of reality, not just some parts of it. [p. 83]
And then Avakian goes from there to get into "Communism and Different Schools of Thought." He states that "it is actually good to have a clash of schools of thought. At this stage [note: I understand "this stage" in context to refer to the whole period before the emergence of communist society] it is even good to have the clash between Marxist and non-Marxist schools of thought. Not because Marxism is not capable of ultimately embracing everything, but because you don't want to turn it into a 'closed system.' And while all Marxists should learn to think as creatively and critically as anybody—or more so—it is also good, for this whole period, to have the dynamic between that and people who are not Marxists, or at least not consistently Marxists."
I just have to ask, do we all realize just how new and how radical this really is? How Mao's insight into "embrace/not replace" has been qualitatively opened out into this much more expansive and much more materialist (and non-religious) vision of how humanity will change the world and itself? And do we realize, and are we conveying, and actually applying right now, how much this can be a source of vibrancy and ferment and not just not turning out the lights, but keeping them brightly blazing?
Here is a vision of a society in which radical debate flourishes in every sphere—because, again, nobody has a special purchase on the truth and there is no requirement that ideas pass through any sort of ideological strainer in order to be judged as potentially true, or even admissible to the discourse—no "strainer," that is, other than rigorous scientific research and debate to test their correspondence to reality... and in which communist thought grows through interacting and contending with and, ultimately, synthesizing and encompassing the best of different trends... though even this latter point, which rests on a view of communism as overarching, would itself be controversial... And a good controversy at that. (Well, obviously, there are material constraints on what can be published and filmed, etc. and there is the constraint of bogus theories that have clearly proven to be false... but I'm focusing on a different point here.)
This is the only way that masses will come to the communist stand, method and outlook in any kind of well-grounded yet "agile" way. People will learn through research and debate (as well as other kinds of practice), through comparing and contrasting—and as regards debate it will be debate with consequences, debate that spurs people to go deeper on their own, and with others, etc. because it will be urgent to know, as deeply as possible, just what the "truth of the matter" is. Independent journals, on-line threads, conferences, salons, free-lance seminars... the flourishing of a certain kind of civil society which would precisely roil and be alive with great debate and discussion...all this can be and will be part of a whole different society. It will pose challenges—how not to "lose the whole thing,"—but it will also compel a much more scientific approach throughout society.
This relates to that example above about nationalism and feminism. Can communism hold its own? I think that there will actually be a flourishing of some nationalism and feminism, and I also think there will be the potential for a fruitful contention/collaboration between those trends and communism (here the recent talk's emphasis on how it would have been better to have engaged the theoretical work being done by feminists back in the day applies). A tension, yes, but (what should be and can be) a fruitful tension ... for so long as these contradictions are unresolved, they will find expression in different ideological tendencies, different roads forward contending for followings among masses... and so long as things are unknown, there will be different schools of thought that arise to inquire into and explain them, different methods and advances in method (in part spurred on by deeper understanding of objective reality—just as advances in physics spurred on different advances in method, including most recently in the piece done a year ago in the paper from BA re: "Crisis in Physics, Crisis in Philosophy"). And so long as the four alls have not been abolished, these differences will ultimately reflect different classes, and some of these challenges could give strength to other class forces, to directions that would take, if pursued, things back toward capitalism. But again—this is the best way for society as a whole, and the people making up that society, to get at the truth... it does require leadership, and it puts more challenges than ever on the solid core... but it is the only way to go. If you can't rule something out of order by fiat (and we shouldn't want to), then you—and everyone else—are going to have to work a lot harder, to get at the truth and to get at the underlying contradictions behind what is being thrown up in this grand debate and ferment. But the more and better we learn to do this, the more the lights will go on and blaze.
How WOULD you handle the low turnout at a demonstration of international solidarity (to refer to the example given in the "Dictatorship and Democracy" talk)? You could rely on social coercion of greater or lesser severity... or you could do what we have to do now, which is to figure out why the fuck that is happening and try to transform it. It's funny, and it's been remarked on many times by Avakian—when you don't have state power, you can't really get anything done without winning people to it, and that requires work. How many times has the Chair returned to, and led us to return to, the problem of the paralysis borne out of the pyramid configuration politically and the underlying parasitism of U.S. society (among other things), and gone at that from so many different angles? We continue to work on that question of winning people to actually take action around the abuses and the whole direction of society...
I also think that some of what is being gotten at in the importance of a constitution applies to this. Both the guarantee of rights and giving people a sense of the rules of the game... but also the struggle that will be involved—the mass ferment and debate—in the process of changing the constitution. That's something I want to think about more, but you can envision a whole debate when you do that about where society should go anyway, what should be our goals as a society, what set of rules and procedures can best encompass without unnecessarily constraining that, how do the organs of power at any given time actually concretely relate to getting to the 4 alls and in what ways are they beginning to pose themselves against that, etc. That kind of debate and struggle can be tremendously involving and many new waves of people can come forward through that sort of thing...
* * *
A word on the development of dialectics by Bob Avakian. In the history of our movement, too many things have been combined together to conceal contradiction and unevenness. Mao brought this out in Stalin's denial of the existence of antagonistic classes in socialism. But it was more pervasive than just that. The combining of the party and masses (not that anyone said that they are the same, but there were tendencies to treat them the same—e.g., democratic centralism as the form of organization not just for the Party but for the society as a whole, or communism as not just the ideology of the Party but also the ideology of everyone else)... the combining of the proletariat and the truth (or the wrong sort of understanding of the "partisanship" of communist ideology)... these ideas all serve to conceal contradiction, unevenness and even antagonism even as they seem to finesse it. Mao's rupture was tremendously important—his contributions stand out all the more in historical perspective—but he was going up against a whole system of thought that was intertwined with a whole way of leading and "running" society, in a mutually reinforcing dynamic. He inherited a system of thought that went along with that whole model and was wrong on some essential points. It is not that Mao did not make tremendous advances and truly immortal contributions in the dialectical method, especially in the grasp of the fluid interpenetration/struggle of all things, the role of leaps and ruptures, etc. and, importantly, the rupture with some of the metaphysics and idealism, and mechanical materialism, that Marx and Engels carried with them, despite their own monumental rupture. But there are still important ways in which the dialectical method and approach brought forward by Avakian more sharply interrogates and illuminates reality—e.g., the multi-layered, multi-level map; the role of unevenness; etc. The recent talk, for example, takes three vexingly difficult questions, all of which have been scenes of real setback or at minimum cruel (relative) stasis over the past decades... and shows the teeming life beneath the ice.
* * *
A few further points, written a little later:
In the salon referred to above, people first listened to the "Imagine" section of the DVD and then question 21 on the q/a of the 7 talks, which goes into the differences between society being organized on the basis of democratic centralism, and what Avakian has been working on with solid core with a lot of elasticity (and this also includes a point on funding Amy Goodman, and what goes along with that in terms of "complicating things"). I had made a point early on in this salon about Copenhagen and the ability to actually deal with this being fettered by capital and enforced by the state, and the crying need for revolution and a whole new state power to actually deal with this. And everyone roundly agreed. And then, later, the other comrade leading this brought in the Amy Goodman point referred to in that q/a, and the need to fund her even as she would be opposing you, at least in part...and everyone again roundly agreed, even more firmly—like, of course, why ever would we not? But then the other comrade raised "but what if the Amy Goodman mobilizes people to oppose your plan to save the environment?? What if people, or a lot of people, don't want the lower consumption of commodities as much of what we would need to be doing would entail...and you are waging struggle with them... and then Amy Goodman comes into the mix and says you're going about it all the wrong way? Or what if someone like Howard Zinn opposes doing things to aid revolutionary struggle in other countries on a pacifist basis?" "Ohhh..." and people began to get a different sense of the complexity and stakes of what this is all about.
I think to a certain extent there is an analogy to the fact that if we are able to actually gel a core of students today around our line, as part of a larger ferment on campuses, it will actually be part of stimulating the growth of other trends of thought...though it would be more dialectical than that in how the interplay between other trends gaining adherents and our solid core taking root and growing would actually go. In fact, this salon itself was an example of solid core with a lot of elasticity... though there were only eight people besides myself and this other comrade, they came from a range of outlooks and experience, including at least one or two who had not yet seen the Imagine section. But we were able to lead this in a spiralling sort of way where people were able to get their ideas out on the floor, test them out against each other (and against, or better said in the context of, what was being said in the DVD and audio, which we at times brought it back to), and work things through to where everyone participated on a level in grappling with what would be the character and contradictions of socialist society that stimulated everyone and put people in a mood to get into this more. It was the furthest thing from dull.
It is worth noting here that a major feature of this salon was debate and discussion over human nature and whether it can be transformed... and the role of state power, and what kind of state power, in that transformation. This was in large part conditioned by, and wrangling with, why people were so passive these days, so tuned out, so uninvolved not only in politics but in any kind of ferment whatsoever—and how and whether you could actually ever make a revolution, and how much people needed to change in order to do that and whether they could change and how to get them to change. We didn't say "yeah, but that's not what we're talking about" or "oh, okay, if that's what you want to discuss then let's discuss that and forget about the agenda" but instead we were able to listen to people, to let it run a bit, and then to see where their very real and important concerns did relate to the larger project that is the new synthesis, including in its dimension of what kind of state power, and how that state power envisioned the transformation of human nature (in a different way than "engineering human souls" or a narrowly constrained party-masses dialectic that would leave out, and eventually suppress, the different kinds of initiative that people would be hungering to take, the contending schools of thought, civil society, etc).
This question of human nature also came out in a very interesting salon that another comrade and I led right before New Year's—this one with people who are more consistently working in the core of various Party-led initiatives or else interacting with the Party in consistent ways. This was a very lively salon, focused on part IV of the Manifesto and in particular the elements of philosophy and DOP in the new synthesis, and also a bit (as part of that) on Bob Avakian the person. One person is a psychologist and is very much grappling with how much can we change people now and some of what he openly recognizes as perhaps illusions to exaggerate how much this can be done short of a new state power...this went along with, on his part but it also came out when others tried to speak to this, something of a difficultly in imagining how that power would work, what it would "look like"... and getting into this in different ways was important and illuminating. And then, off another question, we got much more deeply into the question of dictatorship and democracy (and the point which we really should popularize, of "democracy—it's just another dictatorship!").
People really do need to know—and we need to both have a better sense of and more clearly articulate—what this new power will do. We need to imbue people with a much more living sense, now, of how state power will be a very good thing, something worth sacrificing everything for, something crucial to hold onto... and give them as well a living sense of our understanding of how to make sure it remains worth holding onto. A more living and concrete sense of the vast difference between bourgeois and proletarian dictatorship... and bourgeois and proletarian democracy. To put it another way, a more living and concrete sense of what we mean by solid core with a lot of elasticity... both through discussion and through their lived experience of working with us (and there is still much to improve on both fronts). Because again, the more that we are doing all this now... really fitting people to be emancipators of humanity now, to the greatest extent we can... the better shape we'll be in at that future point when the opportunity presents itself to NOT let the world go on as it is, and the better shape we'll be in to keep the lights blazing.
* * *
One exciting thing about the new synthesis is the implication that we do NOT have a pre-formed or static vision of what the "new man" (to use that term from Guevara that was prominent in the ’60s) will be... we don't know exactly what the first human born in a time when the 4 alls really are abolished, when the "no mores" really are "no more" will feel and act like... but instead that this will be the work and the outcome of people themselves, increasingly and consciously struggling with those 4 alls as the lodestar, over "what kind of people are we? what does it mean to be human? where are we trying to go?"
This leads to another source of "brightness"—the struggle to forge a new morality, and the closely-related struggle to transform human nature.2 This struggle was embarked on in China in a way that really broke new ground. I heard a talk given by the curator of the exhibit on art of the GPCR at the Asia Society last year—he had been an urban art student in 1949 and taken up the revolution, and then been struggled against, sharply, during the GPCR. While far from a supporter of the GPCR or Mao, neither was he a mindlessly bitter opponent, and when one of us asked him a provocative question it sort of surfaced some latent "socialist morality" in him. Then another person in the audience commiserated with him over the fact that he had produced all this very popular art during the '50s and '60s, and never gotten personal credit for it, let alone money. He replied, well, yeah, that was true, but you have to understand—none of us really cared about that back then—we were more concerned with serving the people.
In other words, there really was a different morality that people took up, fairly broadly, and this took a leap with the GPCR (and here too you could hear this in the talks that Bai Di and Dongping Han gave). At the same time, I think that in future societies this needs to be much more consciously and creatively taken up by the masses, and as something to struggle over. Is there an analogy to the socialist constitution? Just as the constitution at a given point will correspond to the level of development of the struggle for the 4 alls, so too with the morality... and this will be in motion, and not static, and there should be ferment and debate and initiative in this realm as well, as there will be with the constitution, and nodal points when things take a leap. With the constitution, that will culminate in re-writing; I don't think we're going to want to codify morality in quite that way, but there are, I think, ways that you can see how this works.
Not to digress too much, but this is a very critical fluid feature of every revolutionary struggle and even radical upsurge. The U.S. Civil War, actually, featured two very different moral visions of what is freedom and what is justice and what it means to be human, and the protagonists in that conflict self-consciously understood it this way, even if they didn't get the class relations at the bottom that were shaping those antagonistic views. This is reflected in the ways that the major Protestant denominations split in the years going into the Civil War. Arno Mayer asserts in The Furies that competing moralities and notions of what it means to be human were arrayed against each other in the French and Russian revolutions (he also argues that the revolutionary moralities in both cases took on the character of religion, which seems maybe overdrawn in the latter case but also has an element of truth—Stalin's mummification of Lenin's body being one example of religious trappings).
Even the hippies and earlier the beatniks—weren't those different moralities? There were other things going on, but these were also cases of a generation declaring that the dominant morality was bankrupt, ridden with hypocrisy, and, at best, lacking all relevance. The hippies were a very spontaneous phenomenon—there was no Moses delivering a worked-out new moral code with 613 commandments. But there was still something different in the moral sphere there, with its own art, styles and beauty standards, sexual morals, education, views of work and money, and it did pose and was surely perceived as a challenge by the larger society and the authorities of that larger society (interesting how hippie boys walking around with long hair in particular drove cops and reactionaries up the wall—with one of the favorite witticisms of the reactionaries of the period being "how do you tell the boys from the girls?"). Looked at from the vantage point of not turning out the lights, there's probably quite a bit more to mine from that whole hippie phenomenon. In any case, the society we're talking about should be generating those kinds of challenges, even as there is a solid core that is itself both taking initiative within that whole sphere as well as keeping its big arms around, while letting rip, the ferment that does bubble up.
There is a particular and very important role of art in all this. I find it interesting that two very important movies of the past year—Avatar and, earlier, District 9—both (among other things) challenged the audience on what, indeed, does it mean to be human, and in a very visceral, and literal, way (in District 9 in particular the audience is purposely led to find the aliens repulsive and then finds their allegiance shifted through the course of the film). And both, I think, succeed in making people re-think their assumptions, including their moral ones. To the extent that there will be a flowering of that—and there is every reason that there should be one in the kind of new society we are talking about/struggling for—people will be stimulated to be constantly thinking and re-thinking these questions.
There will be lots of spheres where this gets joined, both in relation to sharp political events and junctures, and in its own right. Internationalism will surely be one such sphere. The woman question will be another. In the latter in particular, people will not limit themselves to debate but will want to live their morals, with experimental communities of different kinds that found themselves on different social relations (as happened, to a limited extent, in the ’70s)... Some of these will bear fruit and some will not, but there has to be room for this sort of thing, and a leadership that knows how to let this run and at the same time encompass it and learn from it for the larger direction, even as it will at times run against immediate needs and goals in some short-term senses. The state power in U.S. society, faced in retrospect with what were truly wonderful and wondrous challenges and all kinds of creativity in every sphere, had very little to respond with other than repression and relentless commodification. A lot of very creative impulses were essentially either crushed or else "starved out," left to die on the vine.
What forms are brought forward to rear children... what kinds of romantic/sexual relationships develop between people ... how to "maximally emancipate" in these spheres while dealing with, and transforming, the very real (but also, as Mao insisted, the relatively fluid) constraints of the material base of society—all these will be living, and lively, questions in the new society. Just as art works like Revolutionary Road bring the relationships of the former periods under sharp interrogation, in part to unearth things that continue to assert their influence today, so too will there be artworks pointing to the roots of still-unresolved contradictions and insistently raising the question as to how much has really changed. And just as other art works like Woman On the Edge of Time project themselves as far as they can into the future to both deeply critique the relations of today and inspire, so too will such works have an even more profound scope and influence in the future society... giving expression to the restless frustration that many will feel even with what at one point were truly advances.
Art, I believe, is critical today and will be critical in the future in giving people a visceral sense of "what it feels like" to be someone else. That is for sure not its only function, and it should not be reduced to that... but it surely is one important function, and it is accomplished in many different ways and in every sphere (including absolute music!).
Which is not to say that this sphere is "ours" or something, that art as art somehow naturally leads you to communism. There is also art that hardens the heart, that reinforces the narrow, and there will be art in the future that will be very very mixed—with one and same work encompassing both revengism and/or pining for elements (and relations) of the past, and loftier sentiments simultaneously. And there will be, literally, the art of the past—which has all its limitations, but cannot just be tossed into the trash can. But here too—let's set terms... and let it contend. For surely art that more truly reflects future possibility can surpass that which insists on dwelling in and ultimately extolling the land of limits and the defense of privilege.
To close: none of this is possible without state power. We want state power. But we must at the same time, remember why we want it and what it must ultimately serve. To quote "The End of a Stage – The Beginning of a New Stage: Mao More Than Ever!":
If it is true that without state power all is illusion, it is no less true that the whole purpose of proletarian state power is to continue the revolution and advance to communism—and without this, state power itself will become an illusion for the proletariat!
1. In addition to his discussion of cutting consumption, and other points, some of Raymond Lotta's points on the new synthesis, the socialist society, and ecology are important, I think—what will be NEEDED in order to advance, not just what the state will have to put up with while "holding its nose"...
[From Lotta's speech:]
One of the things that Avakian has been emphasizing is the importance of intellectual, scientific, and cultural ferment in socialist society. Science must be freed from all the institutional fetters and constraints of capitalism that I mentioned earlier—like the commercial imperative, the role of the military, and so on and so forth.
On the one hand, socialist society will need to mobilize scientists, engineers, and ecologists to work on enormous problems such as the environment. There will be need to organize great mobilizations, great efforts and enormously focused projects to address the kind of calamitous situation we face. But society and humanity will also require far-ranging research, new thinking, and experimentation that will not be so directly related to these focused projects, because of the enormity of the environmental problems and because we need to understand more. And this experimentation must also be supported and funded. Science must be unfettered.
And at the same time, science must be uncloistered. There is the knowledge that comes from basic people in workplaces and communities. And socialist society must be promoting all kinds of cross-pollination of understanding and experience: meteorologists and engineers exchanging knowledge about the sciences and scientific method with basic people getting into science, while professionals will be learning from the insights and the aspirations of basic people.
Science will be popularized in society. The great debates among scientists and ecologists about how to solve the problem of global warming, about its scale and how it is developing——these debates, these discussions, these insights will be popularized and taken up in society. Socialist society, through the socialist state led by a vanguard party, will need to establish priorities in development: in reconfiguring industry, in allocating funds and materials and protecting natural resources.
We will need to create sustainable cities. We will need to develop agricultural systems that do not cause undue harm to the environment, that allow for technologies and practices that can be locally adapted and fitted to particular conditions—and that can deal with changes in climate, that can innovate, and that can respond to changes in need.
We will have to meet the great and immediate needs of the masses of people—to pay focused attention to those who have been at the bottom of society, their needs and requirements—and at the same time we're going to have to be developing an economy that is no longer based on fossil fuels, and that's going to require extraordinary innovation and extraordinary effort. It's going to require a correct understanding of priority and how to mobilize and unleash people to address these problems.
But these policies, and indeed the very direction of society, all of this must be debated out broadly in socialist society. And the unresolved contradictions of socialist society, the fact that there still are social differences between professionals and intellectuals and those who are mainly working with their hands, the fact that in socialist society there is the need to use money and price in some forms, the fact that in socialist society there are still gaps in development between regions, still tremendous social struggles and ideological battles to wage to overcome patriarchy and the legacy of the oppression of minority nationalities. The fact that we don't have all the answers to the environmental crisis.
All these kinds of things in socialist society will bring forward questioning will bring forward new ideas will bring forward protest, dissatisfaction, struggle and even upheavals. Is this a good or a bad thing?
Well, Avakian sees this as a driving force for continuing the revolution. And specifically with regard to the environmental crisis, he has spoken of what he calls the Arundhati Roys under socialism. As people know, Arundhati Roy had been in the forefront of struggles against the construction of environmentally destructive dams in India. Will Arundhati Roy and people like her still be able to protest under socialism? Avakian has emphasized that socialism must be a society where dissent is not only allowed but encouraged and valued. And people like Arundhati Roy must also be looked to—in order to help develop solutions to these very deep and serious environmental problems, even as there will be ideological struggle over issues of socialism, communism and where humanity is headed and needs to go.
This is all part of the process of getting at the truth of society and the world, of promoting critical thinking in socialist society, and enabling the masses to more deeply understand and more profoundly transform the world. And this will get very tense and wild at times, including protests and upheavals that can destabilize society. But all this is part of the process of getting to communism. Maximum elasticity and experimentation—without losing power, without losing the revolution and everything it means for world humanity. You need visionary communist leadership, a solid core, as Avakian calls it, to lead this complex process forward. [back]
2. We also did a salon during this holiday period with some party members focused on the new talk. One comrade at one point, really invigorated and stimulated by what she had been reading on the woman question, raised that this posed the question of a whole sphere of struggle around morality in socialism to her in a different way. "What will the morality actually be around teenagers experimenting with sex?" Yes, that is true, that will be very contentious and rich—but don't we have to right now be struggling over and forging answers to that question, if we are even going to be able to get to state power? And shouldn't the process of doing that be a "lights-on" process that will give people a sense of what it would be like with a whole different power...and be part of "fitting them to rule?" All the way back many years ago, I remember the Chair raising the point re: fitting the masses to rule that this can't wait until after the seizure of power. [back]
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