Revolution Online, February 22, 2010

An Historic Contradiction: Fundamentally Changing The World Without "Turning Out the Lights"


Recently Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, drew attention to the following contradiction and then invited some people associated with or with responsibility in regard to the Party to respond with their thinking on this contradiction. Avakian wrote the following:

In the polemic against Alain Badiou's political philosophy in the online theoretical journal Demarcations, the following concise indictment is made of Badiou's ultimate reformism, and of reformism in general:

"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."

All this embodies a real, and profound, contradiction that we must continue to wrestle with.


We are excited in this issue to run the following responses to Avakian's invitation.1

1. Editor's note:

The following replies were originally written as personal letters and hence assumed a certain "common language" between Bob Avakian and the correspondent. As a result, there is a lot of "shorthand" used. Sometimes the meaning of these terms are explained in context, or are otherwise clear; at other times, this may not be so. Some of those terms include:

New synthesis: the basic breakthrough in communist theory developed by Bob Avakian, in the dimensions of philosophy and method; internationalism; the character of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of socialist society as a transition to communist society, including the particular concept of "solid core with a lot of elasticity"; and strategic approach to revolution. [For more on the new synthesis, see especially the Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.]

The 4 alls: this formulation was often used to drive home the all-round character of the communist revolution by the Chinese communists who sided with Mao during the last battle to prevent capitalist restoration in China. (Capitalist restoration began with a military coup that occurred shortly after Mao's death in 1976, in which Mao's closest followers—including his widow Chiang Ching—were arrested and/or killed.) Marx's formulation (from The Civil War in France) was: "This Socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations."

The two humps: this is a formulation from Bob Avakian's mid-'90s talk "Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World." These "humps " refer to the process of 1) getting to the point where the forces of proletarian revolution are strong enough to seize power in a particular country; and 2) getting to the point internationally where the overall "balance of forces" has shifted in favor of the proletariat and the question of actually getting to communism comes more directly onto the agenda.

The "Ohio": the "Ohio" process borrows a metaphor from the Ohio State marching band and its routine where the band members spell out "Ohio" in script in a marching routine in which the first members of the band traverse through, and spell out in turn, each letter of "Ohio"—the point being that people who come around the revolutionary movement go through a process of development.

Class truth: this refers to the notion widely held in the international communist movement that "the bourgeoisie has its truth, and the proletariat has its truth," as if truth itself had a class character. In reality, truth has no class character; an idea is true to the degree that it accurately reflects the objective world. Bob Avakian is the first communist who identified and criticized this notion of "class truth," which ends up constraining and ultimately blocking the search for what is really true.

The proletariat, due to its position as a class which has nothing to fortify in the present order, has every interest in being as thorough-going as possible in getting to the truth of things; and the science of communism, and its outlook and method of materialist dialectics, is the best method for getting at the truth; and in these senses it can be said that communism is both partisan and true. But it does NOT follow that communists are always correct in their observations and conclusions, and that non-communists are never correct; relatedly, all statements must be judged on the degree to which they correspond to reality, and not who says them or what (often narrowly conceived) interest they seem to serve.

Reification: literally, turning a process into a "thing." As it applies to the proletariat, this refers to a view, also more or less explicitly unchallenged in the communist movement until Avakian's criticism, that confounded the fundamental interests of the proletariat as a class and the sentiments, views, and programs that conformed with those fundamental world-historic interests with the position, sentiments, views and programs that find a following among this or that section of the proletariat at any given time.

Reductionism: a philosophical method that reduces complex phenomena to a single determinant cause—e.g., reducing the causes of complex social behavior to a gene (or set of genes) and ignoring the social factors that come into play in shaping social behavior and constraining the forms it can/might take. This is linked to positivism, a philosophical school that limits the search for truth and the scope for statements about the dynamics of reality to immanent causes. Such views are often contrasted to the metaphor used by Bob Avakian of truth being like a multi-level, multi-layer, constantly moving map.

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