Revolution Online, February 21, 2010
An Historic Contradiction: Fundamentally Changing The World Without "Turning Out the Lights"
"Making Revolution, Emancipating Humanity" emphasizes that the new synthesis is not the mere "pasting together" of that experience on the one hand, and the criticisms on the other hand. Running the good plays and discarding the bad plays. "It is not an eclectic combination of these things, but a sifting through, a recasting and recombining on the basis of a scientific, materialist and dialectical outlook and method, and of the need to continue advancing toward communism, a need and objective which this outlook and method continues to point to—and, the more thoroughly and deeply it is taken up and applied, the more firmly it points to this need and objective." There is continuity with the first stage, and it builds upon the tremendous achievements, but there is also a significant rupture with shortcomings in the first stage of the communist revolution. As the Manifesto concentrates and points out, the Chairman has brought forward a whole theoretical framework for the renewed advance of the communist revolution. Without all communists the world over steeping themselves in and carrying through on this new synthesis, there will be no way to initiate and then carry through on the next stage of the communist revolution.
"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."
There are a lot of ways to come at this, but to begin...
One thing this passage initially brings to mind is the point made in "Dictatorship and Democracy"...the statement from abroad "I firmly uphold those societies, but I wouldn't want to live there." (I don't have the exact quote in front of me.) During the Cultural Revolution in our Party, this point was perverted and distorted to serve a (bourgeois democratic) vision of socialism as utopian idealism/flowering of individualism, but the point itself was getting at both the great achievements and the actual, and serious, shortcomings and errors. Why do a lot of people look at our project this way: "here come the communists, turn out the lights, the party's over"? First, there is the continual onslaught of verdicts about the disaster and failure socialism has been. And this intersects with certain illusions people have in this society. This is a system where the imperialists accumulate vast amounts of wealth based on the superexploitation of people world over, a certain portion of that wealth is able to be, and certain resources are, devoted to research and intellectual work (including through grants and such). On this basis, there is an illusion of being able and a certain freedom to experiment, work with ideas in this society. And where this exploration and work isn't allowed, when it is suppressed and thwarted, the answer people look to is framed within and stays within the confines of commodity relations, and the extension of bourgeois right. That the answer lies within the confines of capitalism and the world as it is.
But, leaving that aside for the moment, there have also been serious errors at the same time as there have been great achievements. Particularly with regard to intellectuals and intellectual work. The linear, march-in-lockstep approach to transforming society and moving to communism, which gave rise to the stifling and strait jacketing of thought in many instances, limited and circumscribed the unleashing of the masses (especially the intellectuals and artists) and held back (or prevented) their going off in different directions in terms of working with ideas, experimentation and creativity. Directions which might have been counter to the main ways in which the genuine communists were struggling to lead things...and which certainly did not serve or appear to serve the immediate goals at any given time. I remember a story someone from China told of a close friend of his, a graduate student in mathematics, who was active in the '60s and '70s in support of the revolution in China, but left the movement. His reason: that in China work wasn't being done in his field of theoretical mathematics; it was not seen as so immediately useful—and his friend disagreed. But in actual fact this work is very valuable and part of getting to the truth. Of knowing the world and transforming it. There were definite tendencies to class truth, but truth has no class character. And people's class outlook and line does not "naturally" correspond or have more validity because of their class background. The Lysenko example still stands out—and there is much to learn from the errors of this instrumentalist approach and what was done to the whole way of thinking came off of that. In contrast to the epistemological breakthroughs concentrated in the new synthesis.
As the Manifesto says, there was a pronounced tendency in the first stage of the communist revolution to see the intellectuals as a problem—and not to recognize the essential contributions they will bring to the revolution and to the new society and transformation of that society. (Though that too will not be linear, but full of contradiction and it will pose great challenges to us.)1 And this went together with the reification of the proletariat (and oppressed).
The discussion in the new talk [Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces For Revolution] about the intellectuals and the solid core you are forging speaks to a very important dimension to this question of the intellectuals (coming from different backgrounds) in the leadership/core of the Party and beyond. There is the need for us to become on a higher level the political and literary representatives of a class. And more than that to bring forward a solid core (in essence intellectuals) both drawn from the proletariat, but also from those who are already in the intelligentsia. We face the need to win over a section of intellectuals acutely in making revolution today...and this is only a glimpse of the necessity in the future!
While holding firmly to the solid core—and not giving up state power—and constantly working to expand that solid core (through many channels), as much as possible, diversity and room to breathe must be given to the intellectuals, artists, and others. There is the attraction of the positive rights as discussed in Making/Emancipating.2 Bringing forward and aspiring to people's desire for a better world...in which people do confront necessity and will be struggling to wrench freedom out of that, but where this will no longer be done through class, exploitative and oppressive relations. Where 4 alls will be no more.
While the twists and turns to reaching this society will be many—and will be wrenching—and will require going to the brink of being drawn and quartered, many times—this is the kind of society where everybody would want to live...
One thing I have been thinking about is the question of the united front all the way through...with the orientation, method and approach of solid core and elasticity at the heart of forging that united front. Forging and leading the united front will be a process and go through waves. My thoughts are not well worked out...and I think I have been viewing this in a pretty mechanical way...so this is pretty limited and initial. The united front will need to encompass and comprehend the maximum amount of elasticity, on the basis of an (expanding) solid core. And it will be a process which takes different forms—and goes through waves. And while there will be all the way the application of the first mouthful sentence, what I mean by viewing this mechanically is that carrying through this united front all the way through is not reducible to advancing this or that program and uniting people around it. Though certainly there will be plenty of times when there are concrete challenges posed to society as a whole or to large sections of society, and "united fronts" around given programs forged, but applying the approach of unleashing the maximum elasticity on the basis of the solid core. Of leading a whole broad process of mobilizing people to understand and transform the world, and finding the ways to put our arms around all that. All existing within a specific (and changing) world/international context.
There will be the particularity of the parachute closing in a revolutionary situation—when many different strands and streams of protest and rebellion, of opposition to the current order are drawn together around the revolutionary leadership and core—and unite around a practical program for radically changing society and meeting the felt needs of people diverse political trends and/or are neutralized and in disarray. And, while socialism should not be viewed as a linear process, with a succession of cultural revolutions, there will no doubt be revolutionary junctures in the transformation of society towards communism where there will be some aspects of the parachute closing. But the parachute will also open up and things spread out with all the differences, diversity, and contradictions. There will be the unresolved contradictions, on many levels, which will help to drive things forward. There will be demands for society to actually change and meet people's economic, cultural and social needs (a monumental task.) There will be different strata with different ideas about what society should be and there will be great diversity and people going off in different directions. And, at the same time, when the parachute opens there will be the pulls to settle in.
Leading all this will be challenging and complex. And absolutely requires the multi-leveled, multi-layered map. I have returned many times in the past months to the section in "Basis and Goals" on Living with and Transforming and continue to wrangle with this. Correctly applying solid core and elasticity, of grasping this dialectic, will be at the heart of moving ahead.
* * *
The more you wrangle with the content of the new synthesis—in all its aspects—the more what we are—and need to be—doing today comes into sharper relief. This is life and death. We must take this out into the world and make this a powerful material force, ideologizing revolution and communism onto the scene, on a higher level. We must initiate that new stage for real. It brings into sharper relief the need to actually make the links between today and tomorrow. To proceed on the basis of—and to bring to people that vision of how the world could be. And to more firmly grasp the role that bringing this vision to people plays in bringing them forward. The content of the new synthesis and the actual contradictions and vexing problems it is addressing, are the framework from which we must be proceeding and doing our work today as well as in the future. How must we go about making these great leaps? What is concentrated in solid core with a lot of elasticity must be grasped and applied all throughout this process of making revolution. It is not a approach for later or some catch phrase. It must be a living application of the new synthesis (as concentrated in the Manifesto).
The objective situation—and the obstacles we confront—is what it is...and there is no point in trying to make out like it is different. It is what it is—and it can be transformed. As the "Driving Forces" talk discusses, when you grasp the multi-leveled nature of reality, and the importance of the unevenness in things, then you can work on those contradictions to move all of that forward.
Making revolution is not a linear process at any stage. There are many channels through which the world changes. And through which people will come to revolution and communism. Communism springs from every pore and people will gravitate to revolution in many different ways. And we need to work on all these levels, and be able to put our arms around all that and lead it forward. And the process of bringing people through the OHIO is not a predetermined (or one size fits all) path. Even as there are questions of orientation and approach—and lessons—to sum up. Enriched What-Is-To-Be-Done-ism comprehends all our work...it is an ensemble. Fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution. (Though, within this, and as a part of summing up and learning from what we have accomplished thus far, one thing I feel we need to continually return to is that we can never underestimate the importance of ideology and ideological work.)
How are people going to be mobilized, and come to confront reality as it actually is, learn about the world—and the future that is possible? How are they going to be unleashed to make revolution? Is it through dogmatic lecturing to "set people straight" or revisionist spoonfeeding? ("here come the communists, turn out the lights, the party's over") Or is it through opening up space for people to advance ideas and to have them discussed. Space for people to wrangle (and at times sharply struggle) over the nature of society and the world and how to analyze and understand different developments in the world and the interests and programs of different classes? And discussion of big questions of line and outlook and epistemology? And how to make revolution? And all the while finding the ways for them to contribute to the revolutionary movement. And it has to involve the masses themselves increasingly—including collectively—taking responsibility for being a part of—and unleashing and leading—the contestation, contention and struggle—and for bringing others forward. It is a good thing when the masses jump into the struggle and join things with each other. We should encourage that and let it rip, rather than, having the comrades jump in to make the 'more correct' argument (which is not always more correct at all); it is in the course of struggling things out in these ways that people learn and also forge some comradeship.
We urgently need and must work for a scene that is alive with revolution. Where people who are working with us are actively engaging with all the big questions...and where there is (systematically and consciously) a multi-leveled Grasp Revolution, Promote Production approach. Holding firm to—and expanding the solid core in and around the Party—and on that basis unleashing a lot of things.
In forging a core now, we should appreciate the unevenness in things, which, as the Chair emphasizes, is the basis and potential for change...in this case, within the collective of people who have stepped forward in different ways (as well as in different individuals themselves), the questions that are being raised...the debates that people do want to engage in—and find the ways to not only work with people and draw them into making revolution. One young person concentrates challenges worth thinking about. On the one hand, he is clearly attracted to the revolutionary thrust of our work (and fighting the power); he speaks often of the power and importance of the Message and Call. But, he is also heavily—and very consciously—into metaphysics. And he is trying valiantly to reconcile these two opposing world views. And politically he is coming from identity politics (not in contradiction to the metaphysics) and argues for a postmodernist approach to looking at the different narratives. There is a lot of struggle ahead over many, many questions, but this must be done not by tailing him, or by proof-texting or just dismissing his thoughts. Not just stomping on them. But by frankly listening to what he has to say and his ways of looking at the world. And then, proceeding on the basis of the solid core of our line joining the questions on the highest level possible, comparing and contrasting these opposing world views. Both in a sweeping way, and in their particularity. And, this means study and work on our part. However things end up developing with this person, there are some lessons here.
The unevenness among people being drawn towards us, which is objective, is a source of motion and development that we must work on. It is not a problem that different people come at things from different places, look at things in different ways, go off in different directions, and work things out with each other. And every contribution people make on many fronts (as well as the criticisms and differences they have) will not be "predictable" or stereotypical and need to be recognized. And as we lead this process, we should be good at learning (including seizing on opportunities to unleash wrangling and contention) and promoting this mix. Of understanding more deeply how people think—and why they see things the way they do. And we need to be good at knowing when to pull the reins in tight in today's conditions (although this is on a whole different level), and insist on a particular analysis, position or way of approaching and doing something—and when to let the reins play out. This process is full of tension, but I think we are learning that the more we put the big and small contradictions (when appropriate) before those we are working with, and give them a sense of what we are trying to figure out and why, the more they themselves take up trying to solve problems (and are trained in the process). This is one element of grasping revolution and promoting production. Of course, there are far bigger questions involved in making the revolution, but this is a glimpse how we can and must put those questions before the masses and enlist them in collectively finding the solutions. It will and should be full of twists and turns, but it should also be a rich, living process that enables us to get at the truth. And it cannot be a "happenstance" process, where spontaneity just takes its course. It must be led, systematically on the basis of the solid core, but not in this dry and lifeless way that takes all the excitement out of discovery and changing the world.
What I feel is a pressing necessity is to have a more scientific understanding and evaluation of the people we are working with and, from a strategic perspective and with a strategic approach, to systematically work to bring them through the OHIO. And we have to think in those terms—not running "hot" or "cold" on people depending on how they are responding to us. To do the work if you will. This will not be a linear or predetermined process, but neither should it be left up to spontaneity. And it cannot be accomplished from the "inside of an area of work" out. There are all kinds of critical questions which do come up in the course of putting out the paper (big questions and big questions of line) which we do and should be even more putting before people, but this is still not sufficient. All these people are on different levels...and coming from different experiences and we have to pay attention to that and to unleashing a positive dynamic between and among people (as a whole), but there are also some threads to grab ahold of—and there should be systematic work around the Manifesto with all those who are stepping forward.
So those are a few thoughts...
1. "As you move to uproot the soil that gives rise to capitalism and move beyond the sphere of commodity production and exchange—the law of value, the great difference between mental and manual labor, and all the production and social relations and the rest of the "4 Alls" characteristic of capitalism—you are going to run into conflict with the interests of intermediate strata. And how to handle that, through the whole long transition from socialism to communism (which, again, can only happen on a world scale), is going to be a very, very tricky question and one that's going to require a consistent application of materialist dialectics, in order to be able to win over, or at least politically neutralize, at any given time, the great majority of these intermediate strata—and prevent the counter-revolutionaries from mobilizing them, playing on grievances they may have, or playing on and preying on the ways in which things that you objectively and legitimately need to do may alienate sections of the petty bourgeoisie at a given time. And here again there is a real contradiction—which can become quite acute at times—between the necessity that you are, in fact and correctly, imposing on the petty bourgeoisie, while not exercising dictatorship over it, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the countervailing spontaneity and influence of the larger social and production relations which exist and which you have not thoroughly transformed—and, along with that, there is the larger world, which at any given time may be mainly characterized by reactionary production and social relations and the corresponding superstructure. You are not going to be able to deal with all this in such a way as to not only maintain the rule of the proletariat but to continue the advance toward communism, unless you can correctly handle the principle and strategic approach of solid core with a lot of elasticity." (Basis/Goals) [back]
2. "What about the 'right' of the masses of people in the world to explore scientific questions? What kind of economic structure and culture—what kind of production and social relations, and what kind of superstructure—is necessary for that, and does that correspond to? Again, only a communist world. With the kind of division of labor that has existed in and has characterized every form of class-divided society—and in particular societies ruled by exploiting classes—there is no real right for the masses of people, for the great majority of society, to explore scientific questions. It doesn't exist for them. A few individuals here and there may emerge from among the masses and change class position, if you will, and be able to do that as their life's work and avocation. But for the masses of people there is no such right. The very functioning of the economic base, in dialectical relation with the superstructure—the dynamics of capitalist accumulation and the workings of the corresponding political system, the educational system, and the dominant ideas propagated throughout society, along with the division of labor that's bound up with all this—make it impossible for the masses of people to have the "right" to explore scientific questions.
"And what about those who presently do have the ability to do this? What about their 'right' to explore scientific questions in a whole new social context and framework, where much greater numbers of people are increasingly being freed and enabled to do this as well? What about the ability of people—even those who are presently conducting scientific work—to carry this out in a much more unfettered (not absolutely unfettered but qualitatively more unfettered) way, freed from the constraints imposed by exploitative and oppressive relations in society and the corresponding ways of thinking? What about that? What about having a situation where you're not scrounging around for grants on the basis of having to vitiate your own scientific project by presenting it in a way that meets the requirements of the ruling class—for example: 'This will help the Defense Department.' What about that 'right'?
"The point is not that in communist society everybody will do everything—or will want to do everything—all with the same emphasis, or passion, or in the same way. There are and there will always be differences among human beings, and certainly this will be so—and will be consciously recognized and given expression, in a qualitatively greater way than ever before—in communist society. Not everyone will want to be engaged in science all the time, or in politics all the time. But the barriers and social divisions that presently exist and are characteristic of exploitative society will have been overthrown and surpassed." [back]
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