Iris on 9 Letters: It's Like the Sun is Out

I found out about the 9 Letters by chance--got a flyer at a New Synthesis event. I am not in the RCP but work around it, at the Revolution Books in my city, sell Revolution paper, read Bob Avakian, etc.

I actually read everything on Avakian and the RCP at Kasama when I found out about the 9 Letters 2 or 3 weeks ago! I have read the Letters several times and feel urgently that they barely scratch the surface of what needs to be done to "move forward"--as you yourself implied about them (I think).

Some associates and I decided with some trepidation to bring the letters up to a comrade--someone core to the Party--because I was disturbed by what I read in the letters--mostly because they resonated with me. I have always felt that theoretically, BA's work is not that rigorous in its scholarship (compared to theory in other fields that I have studied in). His stuff is also not on the level of a "Lenin" or "Mao"- or at least I don't think so. I am new to Communist theory generally, and am also afraid to criticize his work in front of cadre.

My comrade reacted very strongly to our questions. We were shocked (now I'm not sure why any more) to find out that they had known about the 9 Letters since they had come out and hadn't told us about it at all. They said that you were a member who, over your time in the P, turned his back on making revolution. It was said that you were not really a Maoist or a sincere party supporter – but suddenly quit the party and attacked it.

It seems like a way to discredit anything an 'apostate' might say. They said you were unprincipled because you were trying to pull people away from the P, the only rev com org in the belly of the beast. They seemed very agitated, didn't answer our questions fully and generally disappointed us in our inquiries--mostly because we know this person to be very dedicated, thorough-going and intellectual.

What if, in the 90's, a closeted RCYB cadre decided to break with the Party over their line on homosexuality--and openly criticized the P over the line, which was terribly wrong? Would this be unprincipled, even if they had struggled over it?

What is unprincipled? The party supporters we are talking to cannot answer this question directly.

I thought the RCP was a really important organization in the US, and I don't want to weaken it per se--but make a stronger organization. I'm quite young and wasn't around when BA made the whole ground-breaking analysis of post-Mao China (and thusly, I am not sufficiently reverent, I suppose).

I have argued (to a brick wall) that the 9 Letters are an important, restrained polemic that needs engagement--at least in group discussion! I feel like I have many issues with BA--his rambling style, self-citations, mysterious absence, the Paper's shrill headlines and goofy posters--but that I need more theoretical study to really deal with BA. Where should I start?

I am also confused about the RCP recent statement that "theory can and should run ahead of practice"... I didn't interpret your polemic as being extremely empiricist (as in, 'we need to touch and feel the results of theory before putting it out there'; this has been said by cadre about your polemic).

Its time Communism were treated as a serious vision of a better world in this country--I want to help make that happen.

No Revolution Without the Youth

I was born after 'Conquer the World' was published, so a summation of the RCP, as some have mentioned on Kasama seems helpful. An expanded discussion over whether the 9 Letters were empiricist or not--as some supportive posters and cadre have suggested seems like it could be productive as well (maybe this stems from the limited nature of the Letters?).

Some analysis of Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade and youth dynamics with the RCP would be great as well. I have had the uneasy feeling that the RCP is a relic or is sort of stultified.

Like describing BA's correct analysis of post-Mao China is enough to get me on board...this, to me, is not vibrancy.

Getting to youth seems like an essential task for revolutionaries, and the RCP's failure in this is huge. I live in a world whose very survival is staked on the End of Capitalism! What does it mean to build a movement where youth feel that being political and having agency is possible and means something, where you don't find yourself trying to 'break down' someone's "incorrect initial reaction" that the RCP is cultish?

I would also just like to say: simply reading another view by revolutionary communists has seriously been a breath of fresh air and has led me to study more seriously. It is like the sun is out: you don't have to be in the RCP to 'qualify' as a communist.

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  • Guest - zerohour

    "An expanded discussion over whether the 9 Letters were empiricist or not–as some supportive posters and cadre have suggested seems like it could be productive as well (maybe this stems from the limited nature of the Letters?)."

    As they did with "The New Synthesis", Party supporters misrepresent the 9 Letters. 9L is not a counter-synthesis, but an initial critique of RCP. It does not claim to have worked out positions in many areas. Rather it serves as a starting point for discussion that may move arrive at such a synthesis.

    One simply has to look at this website to see that it is not "empiricist" or anti-theory. On the other hand, where is the engagement with Zizek or Badiou in the pages of <i>Revolution</i>? These authors have been publishing for a couple of decades now.

  • Guest - Linda D.

    Your post raises a variety of questions and issues that are important to consider, discuss and struggle over. For one thing, the essential role of youth in the overall revolutionary struggle. Don't know if you have read--
    “It’s a Sin” (a discussion of why he left the RCP’s youth organization RCYB)" by Andrei, but in case you haven't think you'd find his post helpful in unraveling some of your own questions, in particular about methodology and two-line struggle.

    "I live in a world whose very survival is staked on the End of Capitalism!" is a wake up call! It reminds us of the urgency and our shared responsibility to make your "clarion call" a reality.

    A Ray Charles song keeps going thru my head…”Unchain My Heart,” but in this case, it’s like “Unchain my Mind.”

  • Guest - shively

    Could we get further into the empiricist claim. A summation or criticism, despite the fact that it is not a whole developed synthesis, could be considered empiricist (or not). I have been wondering myself why this some have called the letters empiricist. i realize what the concept is, but is that applicable? i was thinking that people are reading the section on no base areas as looking at the fact that there are little results and thus the whole thing is fucked, without looking at the difficult conditions in which we are operating. But that is not what is being done. i think mike explicitly stated that the main reason that RCP has not suceeded is the objective conditions. But in looking at this, one cannot dismiss the subjective role, and its character and aims, in those objective conditions. Isn't summing up practice without looking at the subjective factor missing the complexity and very harmful?

    In other words, I don't see the empiricism in the letters as obvious, but do think would be good to have a discussion on what empiricism actually is and what it looks like. It seems so easy to fall into modes of thinking that are actually limited and not thoroughly (as much as we can) grasping the complexity of the world. Afterall, most of us haven't been trained in materialist dialetics!

  • Guest - shively

    correction: i don't see the empiricism in the letters.

  • Guest - zerohour

    Their claim is based on their notion that theory must run ahead of practice. This has been addressed here:

    http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/03/23/more-unofficial-notes-getting-avakians-synthesis-and-getting-beyond-it/#more-550

    It seems that any theory that tries to explain present conditions, and is subject to verification by practice is "empiricist". This inability to differentiate "theory", a framework that attempts to systematically explain phenomena, from "<b><i>a</i></b> theory", which is theory applied to a specific field, reflects their shoddy thinking.

    This is the only way they can justify their New Synthesis, in which their summations about the past points exclusively towards a potential future practice, somehow leapfrogging over the present. They made cursory summations of the problems of socialist revolutions, but no evaluation of how communists won over the masses to revolutionary politics to begin with, or how they failed to. That would actually have some implications for current practice, but that's too empiricist, right?

    This would be alright if the NS weren't presented as a breakthrough in communist theory, that all communists must treat as a cardinal question.

  • I think that theory must often run a head of practice -- that is one aspect of things.

    Want to build a bridge? Your theory has to precede your practice.

    the problem is that it is only oneside of the dialectic. And overall theory lags practice and emerges on the basis of the synthesis of practice.

    and that practice can be summed up from afar (from a different time and place) -- the way Marx summed up the Paris commune, or the way Mao summed up the restoration of capitalism... practice should not be viewed narrowly as personal, direct, tactile practice.

    However: it is still wrong to approach this one-sidedly. Mao did have protracted experience in the contradicitons of holding power (as a revolutionary communist) that made it possible for h im to grasp the Soviet changes.

    It is an overestimation to believe that it is possible to literally sovle the world-historic problems of socialist transition merely by "looking at the history" of our process (from books), without any practice holding state power and actually working with these complex contradictions.

  • Guest - Sean S.

    "It is an overestimation to believe that it is possible to literally sovle the world-historic problems of socialist transition merely by “looking at the history” of our process (from books), without any practice holding state power and actually working with these complex contradictions."

    I feel this is a cop-out, and gives too much leniency to people who HAVE grasped that power and mucked it up. People far too often look at the individual in question, as opposed to the position he holds. As Marxists we should be abundantly aware of this; no matter whose the Boss, its all the same. So when we talk about "complex contradictions", what were really talking about is the inability of leadership, historically, to either put down or destroy the very mechanisms and tools to which the state, birthed as it was by capitalists.

    Theres all sorts of rationalizations for this (the revolution must saved! we have to wait until X thing happens! we must preserve unity! etc etc adnauseum), and we see it repeated throughout the history of Communist states, and then when things devolve and reverse themselves, people act surprised. But is it any wonder? The question is not "how do we wrestle with these contradictions" but how do we quickly as possible heave them overboard. No more rationalizations, excuses, accusations of "ultra leftism" and "idealism".

  • Guest - zerohour

    Sean -

    I understand your impatience to overthrow oppressive relations, but I think you are underestimating the scope of the problems facing past revolutions, and that will face future revolutions.

    Complexity isn't just a cover for consolidating class power, but a designation for real world problems that overlap and exist at all scales from the local to the international. Previous revolutions have had to face the rebuilding of devastated infrastructures, defense against external attacks and internal subversion, while constructing new social relations. The solutions to these problems were, and are, not self-evident or easy because they were trying to build new societies on different principles, in the midst of an imperialist-dominated world.


    The problems don't primarily stem from individuals or their positions, but from class relations that haven't been completely swept away and couldn't be in their historical conditions. Individuals in power represent different arrays of class relations. Solving these problems isn't just a matter of deciding to "just do it" because such solutions are not as self-evident as you make it sound. What does it meant to construct a viable socialist economy? What practices will facilitate popular initiative and what will hamper it? How far should such initiative go? What is the relationship between party, state and masses and how should it shift? These are no answers here that are both easy <b>and</b> useful.

    We all want to get rid of exploitation and oppression as quickly as possible, but it's not clear what "possible" means, and we should all be extremely wary of tempting shortcuts.

  • Guest - Sean S.

    "We all want to get rid of exploitation and oppression as quickly as possible, but it’s not clear what “possible” means, and we should all be extremely wary of tempting shortcuts."

    And we should be wary of people who delay it. I'm not underestimating or denying concrete hard facts, or being "idealistic" (something apparent in the tone of your post), but rather assaying the troubling and almost always reoccurring problem of leadership that is considerably more conservative than the base which its ostensibly represents.

    This is not being glib, because we can even witness this sort of thing going on in even reformist trade unions, where leadership, in all of its far-seeing glory, goes and sabotages contracts, strikes, and the like. I point you this article about <a href="/http://bensonsudblog.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-democratic-centralism-sterns.html" rel="nofollow">the current spat within the SEIU </a> mostly to highlight that if people who talk a radical game, can't achieve something better and more transparent than corrupt business union leaders than we have failed.

  • Guest - tellnolies

    Sean,

    Of course there is always a problem of "conservative leadership" but the relations between revolutionary leadership and the base can be extraordinarily complex. Its easy to insist that the leadership is more conservative than the base but it begs the question of why the supposedly radical base doesn't produce or find more radical leadership. It is easy to confuse momentary expressions of radicalism on the part of the base with a willingness or capacity to follow through. Its one thing to get a crowd to cheer for a call to expropriate everybody better off than them, its quite another to deal with their discontent when all the doctors and engineers have fled the country, there's a cholera epidemic and the bridges are falling apart. You see there is an extraordinary variety of ways to muck things up. You can muck things up by acting too cautiously or too rashly. There isn't a simple rule of thumb that says "go fast" or "go slow." Rather there is work of really grappling with the particularities of a given situation, making choices with incomplete information and under intense pressure.

    The longer you regard such talk as "rationalizations" the longer you delay actually thinking through the complexity of these problems in ways that might be helpful in not mucking things up in the future. The idea that the ultimate failure or defeat of every revolution can just be chalked up to the conservatism or opportunism of its leaders is a tidy and self-assuring posture that does little to actually prepare us for the ways these issues come up concretely as real conundrums. This is one reason why the discussions here of the unfolding revolutionary situation in Nepal is so valuable, it reminds us afresh of the practical difficulties involved in what we are undertaking and compels us to ask how we would deal with them.

    What I am more wary of than either leaders who rush or leaders who delay is those who come to verdicts on these matters too easily.

  • Guest - zerohour

    Sean =

    I think you are collapsing different factors into a single dynamic of "conservative leaders vs. radical masses" when there's a lot more going on.

    Your equating of union leaders with revolutionary leaders is a good example. The conservatizing aspect of union leadership in has to do more with its location in an empire than with personal characteristics of union leaders. Union benefits are tied to the fortunes of empire. Workers may want, and certainly deserve, more but as long as they do it within the union framework, they will face objective institutional limitations compounded by leadership deception and corruption.

    Leaders of socialist nations, have to deal with problems on much larger scales, and their constraints are of a different order. I've enumerated them in a previous post above so I won't repeat myself. When you look at the struggles around the NEP or the Cultural Revolution, it should be evident that "leadership" is not monolithic and that there is great struggle to determine policy. It is not always clear to what degree the parties in the argument are deliberately trying to subvert revolution and which are sincere in intent to further socialism. Was Bukharin planning to lay a road to capitalism and take socialism off the table? I don't believe so, nor do I believe that of Trotsky.

    If even the most revolutionary leadership is more "conservative" than the masses we need to critically assess both sides of the equation, not just assume that the masses are automatically correct. I think we can sympathize with popular desire, without assuming that the people always know a better way forward or that leaders are always holding things back. One controversial example of this was the Shanghai Commune in which the people wanted to reorganize Shanghai along the lines of the Paris Commune. Mao had it dissolved. His argument is that it was a more appropriate model for a classless society. In the context of world imperialism and the continued existence of capitalist roaders in China, its model of complete transparency rendered it vulnerable to reactionary subversion. It may have <i>seemed</i> radical but if fully adopted, could have disastrous consequences.

  • Guest - Sean S.

    <i>question of why the supposedly radical base doesn’t produce or find more radical leadership.</i>

    There's a good answer to that one; because there not allowed to LEAD, or generally discouraged, gulaged, banned, or considered seditious. The banning of factions, the militarization of labor, the overruling of the Soviets; all these things and more corrupted and defeated the revolution years before the rise of Stalin. In fact, they paved the way. When Stalin stepped up, the iron glove was already there; he simply put his hand in it.

    <i>What I am more wary of than either leaders who rush or leaders who delay is those who come to verdicts on these matters too easily.</i>

    Cute.

    <i>Your equating of union leaders with revolutionary leaders is a good example. The conservatizing aspect of union leadership in has to do more with its location in an empire than with personal characteristics of union leaders</i>

    And there is a conservative element inherent in taking control of the machinations of the state, so I'm not exactly seeing where the difference is. The state, and its character, are not neutral tools to be wielded; they in and of themselves produce very specific relations between people, and especially, leadership and the masses. Most people would agree the communist party's of the world, at one point or another, were revolutionary in orientation. And its noticeable where the break in their history comes from; entry into parliament. Theres lots of arguments why they did this, back then, and now. And most of them are the same rationalizations that you, and other posters, have put up; external constraints and factors, a fear of imperialists over-running the country, a fear of capitalist roaders, a fear of this and a fear of that.

    But is this any different than the sale of external threats sold to us by imperialists now? The threat of terrorism, the threat of rape, loot, and pillage, the threat, in the end, of failure itself. Just because someone slaps a red-star on their head doesn't mean I'm going to all of a sudden buy the same old arguments that external terrors are the reason why we must curtail this and that. I would hope that most people wouldn't buy this schlock, no matter how "Far-sighted" a leadership claims to be.

    <i>His argument is that it was a more appropriate model for a classless society. In the context of world imperialism and the continued existence of capitalist roaders in China, its model of complete transparency rendered it vulnerable to reactionary subversion. It may have seemed radical but if fully adopted, could have disastrous consequences.</i>

    A classless society, oddly enough, is what we're shooting for, not a party taking power, which seems to be most peoples definition of "Success". And your example is only a valid one, if of course China were a shining beacon of Communism today; but it isn't, mostly for the reasons why I've described. The lack of, or ineffectiveness of, organs to keep leadership responsible to masses. Ostensibly this was what the Cultural Revolution was supposed to solve; increasing and diversifying the theoretical and practical base of the party so that a coup attempt would NOT be successful. It didn't achieve that, for a number of reasons, but many of which could be chalked up by the lack of direct influence of the masses on the leadership,

  • Guest - zerohour

    Sean -

    You seem stuck on this narrative of socialist history in which all problems [external and internal] were simply exaggerated in order to provide an excuse to suppress the power of the masses. You seem to imply that either the masses are always right, or that even if they are wrong, all their desires should be enacted because it would be relatively painless to deal with the unintended consequences.

    If I'm wrong, please clarify the underlying premises of your claims.

  • Guest - Sean S.

    Zerohour-

    This is not what I'm saying, but I was responding to what I felt was a far too lenient view on the choices of leadership in the past, characterized in my response to Mike's post. Various Party's have asserted things like "70% right, 30% wrong" about certain historical figures, for their own reasons, mostly for justifying a kind of "Papal Infallibility" for fear of undermining authority or faith in a Party apparatus. As individuals who are, as I presume most are on here, coming out of or rejecting currently existing organizations, we shouldn't be so kind.

    My views on the history, and the rise and fall of movements, is probably a tad more negative than yours, or as it seems, most of the people on this site. But I think arguing about the history may be a dead end; maybe we should run through some thought experiments as to the very external factors some brought up. What IF cholera and devastation affect large segments of society in a post-revolution society? What if, as some have suggested, all the doctors flee? I would be interested in seeing this discussion, and what ideas, no matter how broad, on how to deal with these issues.