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January 22, 2007

Comments

the burningman

Put another way, we don't have to "live up" to the "communist tradition" by reproducing the limits of the past as the failure of the future.

ShineThePath

I think I can point out some naive comrades on Myspace who probably never touched a book of Marx and have described Communism in such terms.

Lets face it, this "vision" by AVakian isn't something "new" or indepth...this is not the vision of Marx nor Lenin, it is more of the vision of Proudhon or the early French Socialists. Not to say that such a vision is something to fight for, but 1)It isn't scientific 2) Its nothing new 3) It ignores the most important realities of Socialism...and yes the socialism that existed that was "economism," as well...I wonder why by Avakian's own insight he has yet to characterize USSR as such yet.

On the single spark collective website, in an aritcle by a Mexican Maoist, Chavez Lopez I think, he categorizes this basic unapologetic utopianism as "Lennonism." I think that is a good insight on the basic fundamental ideological shallowness of RCP. The ideology of Lennonism, the practice of commandism.

Its outstounding that throughout this "vision," Avakian doesn't recognize the class struggle...but various symptoms of it. I think it is illuminating where Avakian and RCP are taking this line of thought.

ShineThePath

"characterize the USSR under Stalin" is what I meant

the burningman

"I think I can point out some naive comrades on Myspace who probably never touched a book of Marx and have described Communism in such terms."

Send me their emails. I'd love to meet them. No doubt cynical eyes often find the naive everywhere.

leftclick

Shine, I thought he was reflecting on how to conduct the class struggle on better terms than was done in the past. One of the tragedies of the ICM is that we have not been able to bring these elements into greater play.

He didn't specifically indicate class struggle it as the primary contradiction in socialism, but those of us familiar with Avakian's thinking should be able to take it for granted. This is like those who harp on the fact that Lenin never mentions the party in State and Revolution so he must have either considered it to be marginal or he was confused. Both interpretations are wrong. The works have to be taken in conjunction with each other. Marx wrote very little about communism. Therefore, he must not have been a serious advocate for it, right?

For those not familiar with Avakian's position on class struggle under socialism, I'm sure BM can point to other posts so people can get a better sense of it.

As far as "utopianism" goes, we need more of it. Not as a replacement for scientific thinking but as part of the poetic, creative impulse that can help us envision a better world than this one.

Lenin once approvingly quoted the writer Pisarev: "The rift between dreams and reality causes no harm if only the person dreaming believes seriously in his dream, if he attentively observes life, compares his observations with his castles in the air, and if, generally speaking, he works conscientiously for the achievement of his fantasies. If there is some connection between dreams and life then all is well. Of this kind of dreaming there is unfortunately too little in our movement. And the people most responsible for this are those who boast of their sober views, their "closeness" to the "concrete", the representatives of legal criticism and of illegal "tail-ism"." Shine, it looks like your argument is "nothing new."

Marxist science must be driven by the utopian impulse, the desire for a radical "something else" that does not yet exist. Otherwise we're arguing for a society in which we mobilize people to just be administrators and bureaucrats over their own lives. This would only be repeating the mistakes of the past.

leftclick

Even if it's not completely novel, I don't know what other communist/socialist leader is emphasizing this today: "This is a more fundamental transformation than simply a kind of social welfare, socialist in name but really capitalist in essence society, where the role of the masses of people is still largely reduced to being producers of wealth, but not people who thrash out all the larger questions of affairs of state, the direction of society, culture, philosophy, science, the arts, and so on."

Control of the means of production needs to be understood as a means not an end, to the revolutionizing of all social relations, not just economic ones.

ShineThePath

I never said my argument was anything new, its the same argument Marx had with Lassalle, Proudhoun, and others who would use the poetic flurishes to cover up their basic unscientific conception of Socialism and the class struggle.

No one is saying "don't dare to dream;" however unlike Lenin, Avakian is not putting his fantasies into the political reality of the experiences of Socialism itself. He is not winning and "creating public opinion" because essentially his methodology is more of that a righteous cleric than a 'sober' Maoist. So go ahead, right poetry if you like, but don't think that that can make up for your lack consistent and materialist political vision.

The fact that it is rarer and rarer to find Avakian to mention the class struggle is in my opinion consistent with the RCP line on the issue itself. Its no coincedence that Revolutionary Worker turned into merely "Revolution." It wasn't about going beyond workerism, but betraying the fundamental conception of what drives society...the battle with Capital. It is apart of the strategy to "create public opinion" by merely focusing on the intellectual circles in Universities and forfitting winning the masses outside of it.

Hey...I am dreaming too! And I want to build on the experiences and lessons of Socialism of the 20th century...but is it such a great stretch of the imagination that only BA is doing this. I mean come on, do you realistically think people are sitting down and considering how to do it exactly like Stalin or Mao? I don't think Stalinists are even that shallow...what is important is what to learn from the ICM toward its practical appliance to a new revolution...like what Prachanda is doing, and what BA is not. Its nice just to "imagine all the people"...but people are dealing with the now too, as well as concretely dealing with the ICM.

Oh...and burningman...on the young revolutionaries out there, go on Myspace to find them..I have no real time to just link you to their hundreds of profiles. Am I cynical? No...I don't believe so, the point I was making is that Avakian hasn't said anything of great brevity in this old article.

Emma Lemur

Hundreds of profiles identified as revolutionary?

That's interesting. Doesn't have to be that way. Sounds intriguing, if I gave a hoot about MySpace. Enjoy, enjoy.

BA is saying, think about what you're really in this for.'

Think about what you're really in this for.

Emma Lemur

This is the argument Bob Avakian is having with the American left without calling names.

What are you in this for?

RJ Maccani

I'm a regular visitor to this blog but haven't posted much because I worry that I'll fail to be able to be on-line enough to properly engage in the great back-and-forth that usually comes with a compelling comment/post.

I'm gonna give it a shot, though, to draw attention to what the Zapatistas are attempting to do with the Sixth Declaration, the Other Campaign, and the Zezta Internazional. And it is quite relevant to the conversation here.

Unfolding now is a living example of a movement that is premised on the self-activity of the oppressed and their direct seizure of the means of production, and it is both poetic and rooted in the actual activity of "masses"...certainly more of a relevant example than the latest Avakian essay, no?

Hassoun

Few years back I fell asleep with my glasses on. When I woke up I spent quite a while searching for my specs, not realising I had them on. Sometimes things are so big, so close to you and so in/on your face that you fail to see it.

It’s amazing to talk about class struggle and not recognise what Avakian is doing in THIS talk is an ideological two line struggle, if you like, over the nature of socialism. And you won’t get there unless this vision has a bearing on what you do today in order to get there tomorrow.
Can you contrast this talk with what Mao (in the book edited by Paul Sweezy) and Chang Chung Chiao had said on the nature of socialism and the DP, and show us where he has departed - in a negative sense - from their understanding?
Hassoun

christopher teret

I read this site pretty often, and I really appreciate the meatiness of the discussion and the politics, but I have to say that the removal of "worker" from the RCP's paper reflects something that sort of bugs me about discussion on this site also.

Being a union electrician in the state of Maine, it is all too clear to me that there is still an industrial proletariat that exists in this country that you all don't seem to engage with. I know people like me have a lot of privilege relative to the non-union immigrant worker, or masses of incarcerated black youth, but I also know that blue-collar workers in Maine are completely dissatisfied with the Bush administration, with this country's deindustrialization, and a lot of other things, but there's not a lot of left voices speaking to them/us.

I believe in the importance of the world-historical kind of theory that Avakian is talking about here, but I also think it's worth noting that up here, there is no FRSO, no RCP, not even World Can't Wait, but there is a CPUSA presence. That might not reflect priorities, but I think it does, and I think that workers are as important as intellectuals, and I happen to be both myself.

Hassoun

To “shine the path”

You also talk about methodology and say the RCP/ers have deviated from the correct one. I’m not going to defend them here for they are more than capable to do it themselves. But you can’t sit in a glass house and throw stone at others. You should know that if you want to convince anyone, there is two ways:

1) Repeat enough number of times and through different podiums even when the discussion is about something else and some people will say oh, where there is smoke, there must be fire. They get convinced no matter if the allegation is true or not. Remember a few days ago a lot of people were nearly convinced that the CPN(M) was anti-gay and ready to write open letters? Imagine what better “proof” than that the enemies of people would want. Couple of years ago the Italian prime minister and Media Mogul was repeating as a matter of undisputed fact that Mao and Maoists ate bambinos. Chang Kai Shek would have been proud of his own genius if he were alive. This method, in our hand invariably behaves like a Boomerang. It will never ever advance our cause.

2) If you have a point about something or someone, you go through a process of showing the how; the why; and the where of it to arrive at the statement you want to convince others of. Sort of like the maths exams where you won’t get a mark if you just write the answer without going through the steps to prove it.

But what have you done so far in this thread?
“point out some” imaginary or real “naïve comrades” and say Avakian thinks like them.
Prudhon’s vision, unscientific, not new, ignores realities of socialism, Lennonism, Commandism, does not recognise class struggle, and sees only the symptoms of it. And then you “think” you have “illuminated the line of thought of Avakian and the RCP”?

Some ten years ago a few people, including some ex-RCPers, resorted to the first method on the internet and ended up way beyond some accepted norms of behaviour. They even speculated on Avakian being old, bald and ugly. They did a lot of damage to themselves and others who could otherwise learn something about Maoism and get drawn to it. Now I know this web log and the contributors are not like that. And that’s a tribute to Burningman and nearly all the participants in the debates here, including you. And frankly this is why I visit here and try to learn something.

Even if you think the RCP and Avakian are so beyond pale that it’s not worth the time to show them, really show them the errors of their way, whatever that may be, you should still strive for the second method.
If you really want to “shine the path” you have no other choice.
Hassoun.

leftclick

I can't find RCP's original rationale for the name change but let's try to get into it to see what it reflects.

Revolutionary Worker can refer to two things: people who work to make revolution happen and workers who are revolutionary. Those two groups don't always necessarily overlap. However, most people tended toward the latter interpretation. This would be at odds with the party's insistence on the United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat. The working class would still be the guiding force of revolution but all other sectors must be mobilized to play as full a role as possible. This is in contrast to Trotsky's idea that workers lead, and everyone else should just passively fall in line.

Revolution refers to the process of liberation. An open process which can take on many forms depending on the concrete situation, and the mix of revolutionary forces. It's less reductive and refocuses the question on the task, not the agents.

Lenin was right, the question was, and is, "what is to be done?" A question that requires better answers than the ones we've inherited.

leftclick

Shine, Lenin was talking about you.

Materialism can also be academic and lifeless. You might be dreaming too but I suspect it's of workers going to meetings, and implementing decisions and finding ways to improve productivity - just like a good proletarian worker should ;)

Dialectical materialism understands that once a concrete situation exists, political line and vision is what will propel it in any given direction. This insistence on narrowly focusing our attention on the 'concrete' is just a means of naturalizing economics. Do we want a revolution just to take over factories?

the burningman

RJ, I'm pretty sure you've read La Sexta, and I had this sneaking suspicion that you hadn't gotten around to this.

Let me go at it a different way. What do you think a "state" is? What is a "party"?

What can we learn from that fated moment of Mexican history when Pancho Villa met Zapata in Mexico City, and lacking any conception of what to do there, they went home?

Abdicating on the center of power, not just local autonomy had a deep effect on how Mexico developed in the coming years. For the lack of guerrilla interest in tackling "the four alls", the Mexican bourgeoisie was as interested in state power then as they are now.

And they deploy it. On Oaxaca, crushing the popular assemblies and scattering the movement, arresting the leaders, torturing and raping to sow fear.

What is it to say that "the sky cannot change"? Meaning, what is it to protest and promise, but refuse to deal with the very apparatus that guarantees the dictatorship over the Mexican people?

Autonomy, like communism, is just a word. What autonomy beyond its assumption that the center is the enemy? If I "autonomously" set up a factory in Brooklyn, do my goods somehow transcend the market? Do our relations of production exist outside of the workers need to pay rent to landlords (or mortgages to bankers)?

I don't think so. And here – right here – is where Avakian's central point comes to us. It is not unique to him, or entirely novel, but what of the distinction between the social welfare state and socialism?

Is this socialism an impossibility? Ontologically?

-------

But there's more common ground here than you might be picking up on, and I mean this in the most practical and immediate sense.

In Mexico, the EZLN has adopted the Other Campaign, and is demanding the ouster of the current Calderon presidency.

In the USA, Avakian and his party are pushing to "drive out the Bush Regime".

In Mexico, they tell us not to trust in or subordinate the popular movement to the center-left.

In the USA, they tell us that the Democratic Party will continue the Bush agenda, and that popular resistance is the way to go.

In Mexico, the EZ has gone beyond the simple declaration of their own autonomy to unite with a variety of community and radical organizations.

In the USA, the RCP more than recognizes that it is not the sum of the movement, and has spent considerable energy trying to get not just self-described radicals into resistance, but has looked to the broad millions to spark new possibilities.

----

Both organizations exist outside of Oaxaca, for example, and both absolutely support the people's just struggle there. Both refuse to integrate into the bourgoise state.

And they might have something to teach each other. In this talk by Avakian, he is problematizing "the revolution" in a way that is different from Marcos in that it doesn't put it off the table except in rhetoric. Avakian is going where angels fear to tread.

I'm interested in talking about and learning from the EZ. But...

Not only do we have to "do better," but so do they – which they've recognized in some important ways. I'd rather do my part to develop an effective solid core here than valorize the EZ. I think they'd rather we did that as well, wherever Marcos is "shitting" these days...

a friend

Christopher, if you're up in Maine then like everyone you have to build where you are.

If you're interested in meeting folks who can help where you are, then just get in touch.

I'm pretty sure you'd be surprised what day-to-day work the people commenting here are engaged in.

Get in touch, open a new front!

Christopher Day

I think its wrong to say that Marcos puts revolution "off the table except in rhetoric." Marcos is a complicated and contradictory figure and I don't want to get into defending his every utterance, (believe me, I don't) but I think this misreading is significant.

Marcos's capacity to excite in peoples minds the possibility of the kind of society Avakian is talking about here is profound and has had an enormous impact on the imaginary of the Mexican left and Mexican society as a whole. (Something that practically oozes out of all the great movies by mexican directors that have been coming out for the past several years.) I don't think Marcos has any doubt about the need for a revolutionary upheaval to sweep away what is rotten in this society and to clear the way for something in which the masses, in all their wonderful variety, really participate in "thrashing out" how society moves forward. What he does doubt, and with good reason, is the value of a method of presentation that has so clearly exhausted itself. Avakian may be speaking in a more visionary way than the leaders of other Marxist groups (though you can get plenty of this sort of thing drinking homebrew after hours in a dozen anarchist spaces across the country), but the manner of presentation completely contradicts the supposed spirit of the thing in ways that rightly set off alarm bells for lots and lots of people who are just as sincere in their desire to realize that vision. What Marcos is constantly doing is trying to find ways to really talk to all sorts of different people about their dreams of another world and the importance of acting with others to realize them. But in order to do so he has to let go of the idea that he is some sort of super-genius who brings the "view from the mountains" to the benighted rabble. Marcos is not lacking in ego by any stretch of the imagination but he understands that the process of "unleashing the masses" to really thrash out the direction of society begins here and now and not after they have followed him the the seizure of state power.

I don't disagree with anything that Avakian is saying here, but I've spent too many nights shooting the shit with all sorts of people to think its so earth-shakingly new or that it really confronts the enornmous problems that it raises. The idea that simply meeting peoples material needs in the manner of a welfare-state is an impoverished vision of socialism is an elementary insight going back at least to the First International. Marcos understands much more deeply than Avakian that the realization of this sort of vision requires the development of a new way of doing politics that goes beyond what has been done previously by the ICM. What that "new way" actually is, is a much tougher nut to crack. I don't imagine for a second that the Otra has cracked it anymore than the RCP has. But I do think the Otra is considerably less burdened with attachments to habits of the "old way" than the RCP, and this has a lot to do with Marcos's understanding of the dialectical relationship between the content and the presentation of his ideas.

If this were simply a question of comparative literary talents I wouldn't come back to it. Marcos is not a humble man and the EZLN is not afraid to promote itself aggressively, but they have an important understanding of their own limitations. Like many I find their refusal to say and do certain things I view as neccesary, just as maddening as many here. But the truth of the matter is their method, while not yet having produced a unified nation-wide revolutionary organization, has very successfully produced a kind of broad ferment quite unlike anything that any group or groups has been able to do in the U.S.. And until we do, I think our main approach to the EZLN should be to learn from them. And whether Marcos or the EZLN play the leading role in it or not, this ferment greatly improves the prospects for the emergence, sooner rather than later, of the kind of healthy revolutionary organization that Mexico really needs.

the burningman

Shooting from the hip means I shoot myself in the foot more often than I'd hope.

Let me re-phrase it: Marcos isn't putting "revolution off the table," but his apologists certainly are – and that is what has largely framed the adulation of his "every utterance."

Not everyone, not always – but essentially.

Chuck Morse

That was a very good post, Chris. I agree with you.

RJ Maccani

Hey BM,

Something both you and I know is that we can't act like Mexico and the USA are two sovereign entities...or that any "state", for that matter, is sovereign. That's one big reason why we are interested in what is happening in the countryside and capital city of nepal, or in all of south asia and the phillipines...or in the zapatista-controlled regions of Chiapas and all of Mexico...and beyond...because these things are all connected and interpenetrating. So my attention to the Zapatistas is no different from your attention paid to the CPN(M), except that the Other Campaign has a considerable constituency in the USA and that the Zapatistas intend to come here and organize as well. In this sense, I think there is a more realistic chance of the Zapatistas and the Other Campaign transforming what is going on here in the USA than of Avakian and the RCP...or the CPN(M)...and thus worthy of more attention from us.

But I don't think we should waste much time holding our reference points up against each other, trying to see which one is bigger, better. I know that both of us are quite excited to know that there are many strong left movements on the ascent throughout the world right now...this is a good thing.

In regards to your question around my understanding of the "state" and the "party" well...these are words of course, and they may mean different things to different people so I appreciate your request for a definition of both :-)

A "perfect state" would be that entity which exercises a monopoly over violence within its borders...and a "party" is a group of people (no matter how large or small or heterogeneous) who seek to control or "be" the state. There is much more to say about "the state", of course, and that is indeed why so much has been written about it...I provide this brief summary of "state" and "party" here so that I can move on to my next point...

I agree with you BM that I think that we have more in common than perhaps is commonly understood...and I don't think that Marcos, or the Zapatistas, or the Other Campaign are leaving "the revolution" to the realm of practice...and I think they are putting it into action much more effectively than Avakian or the RCP, although both tendencies certainly have something to say to eachother.

And you raise the specter of Zapata and Villa as if you wanted to get into a discussion of "past is prologue", but I know you don't...you've said as much in previous comments to this post. There is much to learn from history...and, in this way, we don't have to repeat it.

Although you might call yourself "a communist", I wouldn't call myself "an autonomist"...and neither do the Zapatistas, who have never imagined that their own attempts at self-determination were the limits of their horizon of struggle...

...and the struggle in Oaxaca is also not over.

When we've discussed some of these questions in the past--and before the Zapatistas released their sixth declaration--I argued that what the Zapatistas understood, and what they were undertaking, was a massive exercise in popular, political education. I think they are on to something, and I'm in no way saying they are the only ones...what they are on to is that "the state" is not sovereign and that a monopoly on the use of violence is not the only hinge upon which history turns. They are recognizing capitalism as a social relation, as well, and are placing priority in this realm...without abdicating political, economic or military considerations.

So I have some questions for you:

* Why do you think that Avakian and the RCP, USA are more relevant to us in developing a solid core here in NYC, or the USA, than the Zapatistas and the Other Campaign?

* What do you see as the key differences in their theory and practice?

* What should our relationship be to these two forces (the Zaps and the RCP,USA?)

I really like you, BM, cuz there's too much liberalism out there around these things that many of us are hungry to debate and dialogue around...I hope I've given you something worth chewing on here :-)

RJ Maccani

A clarification:

When I wrote "I don't think that Marcos, or the Zapatistas, or the Other Campaign are leaving "the revolution" to the realm of practice"...what I meant to say, of course, was "...leaving "the revolution" to the realm of rhetoric"
...
But I see now, that BM has already retracted this assertion himself...

Christopher Day

I think RJ makes a very important point when he notes the fact that the Otra has a larger constiuency in the US than any other revolutionary-minded project does at present and this should be reflected in the sort of attention we give it. At the same time we need to be real about the fact that the Otra is a product of the political reality of Mexico and that its reach into the U.S. is ancillary. Its real effects in the U.S. are likely to be primarily inspirational.

shawn

Which brings us to the obvious question, why is there so much coverage of Avakians writings on this blog, or soooo much debate around the obvious lack of political relevance that the RCP, USA represents right now. (Yes, as BM points out, its true that their influence far outweighs the few hundred cadre that are actually members but this is not really the point).

When BM, who i like and respect as well, posts some update on Nepal or a new essay by "the unmentionable", there is a ton of discussion. When he brings up Mexico, or even the middle east, there is really no larger strategic discussion, outside of when it turns to ultra-left debates around "the nature of FRSO" or something else relatively obscure.

I guess my question is, why are so many in the MLM blogosphere (and the larger world be extension), so consumed by the (again relatively) irrelevant, as it relates to working people here and now in the US?

Chris points out that the La Otra's reach into the U.S. is mostly "ancillary" but with 12-15 million recent immigrants into this country, many of them active in some way during the massive streets protests last spring, are you sure this does not deserve a little more attention then who carries the correct line on the term "revisionism" ?

r. john

shawn: "Which brings us to the obvious question, why is there so much coverage of Avakians writings on this blog, or soooo much debate around the obvious lack of political relevance that the RCP, USA represents rigt now."

My simple answer is that your starting assumption is deeply mistaken. Not only is Avakian and the RCP "relevant" -- they are the hope for snatching something radically different and better out of the mounting madness.

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