RCP vs. RCP on Intellectuals: Compare and Contrast

One of the most glaring things about the RCP is the distance between the promise and the delivery. In letter 1 (of the “9 Letters to our comrades” we call this a “disconnect.”

“Many people see this as a bewildering disconnect between Avakian “talking the talk” and his party somehow failing to “walk the walk.” But that summation doesn’t get past the superficial appearance of things. Whatever else can be said: Bob Avakian’s theorizing is an internally coherent synthesis and it is in command. The flaws that now mark the RCP’s work fundamentally arise from Avakian’s synthesis itself, from the methods and thinking it unleashes, not from somewhere else.”

The followng two positions both are lifted from the same document: the RCP’s new Manifesto. Explore the disconnect.

#1: New Synthesis’ Policy-on-Paper Concerning Intellectuals

“…Bob Avakian has criticized a one-sided view in the communist movement toward intellectuals—toward seeing them only as a problem, and failing to give full recognition to the ways in which they can contribute to the rich process through which the people in society overall will come to a deeper understanding of reality and a heightened ability to carry out an increasingly conscious struggle to transform reality in the direction of communism.
Again, as the Constitution of our Party explains:

“‘This new synthesis also involves a greater appreciation of the important role of intellectuals and artists in this whole process, both pursuing their own visions and contributing their ideas to this broader ferment—all, again, necessary to get a much richer process going….’”

#2: The RCP’s Actual Line Regarding Particular Left Intellectuals

The second is footnote 16 in the very same Manifesto document. It is written as a discussion of unnamed theoretical writers in the world today. We can speculate that it targets people like Alain BadiouSlavoj Žižek and Bill Martin (among others) — all those intellectuals who are not sufficiently enthused about the New Synthesis or who are genuinely exciting radicals of this generation about their own theories.

16. During this present period, some communists, former communists, and “fellow travelers” of communism have conjured up an eclectic brew of scholasticism, agnosticism, and relativism, which is in opposition, in some cases consciously and explicitly, to the new synthesis brought forward by Bob Avakian, and in any case to the fundamental outlook, methodology, and objectives of communism. Those who proffer this brew claim that there is no adequate theoretical framework to explain, clarify, and draw the appropriate lessons from the past experience of the communist movement and to guide practice which would avoid the mistakes of the past, as these people (mis)understand them. Therefore, the argument goes, efforts must be spent on what can only amount to endless and aimless endeavors to discover, in a realm totally divorced from revolutionary practice guided by communist principles, the necessary theoretical framework. Often this is accompanied by an advocacy, if not an actual carrying out, of practical work and struggle on the most narrow basis and of the most reformist kind—another ingredient in this eclectic brew. All this serves, at least objectively, as a rationalization for withdrawing, retreating, or simply remaining aloof from actual revolutionary struggle—struggle guided by communist theory and principles which in fact can be, have been, and are being developed, in dialectical relation with practice, in the broad and not narrow sense—struggle with a revolutionary not reformist content.

It is hardly surprising, especially in a highly parasitic imperialist country—an imperialism which literally preys on the world and billions of its people—that such a scholasticist, relativist, and agnostic orientation and approach would arise, even with a more or less communist coloration, and would find some receptivity particularly among the more privileged strata, and specifically among the intelligentsia. For, so long as one can continue to maintain that an adequate theoretical framework is lacking, one can continue to convince oneself that there is nothing wrong with refusing to make the commitment to the actual struggle for communism, a commitment and struggle which could compel one to move outside of what is, after all, the not so uncomfortable existence of an academe in the world’s wealthiest and most powerful imperialist citadel. What is being objected to here is definitely not the role of the academic intellectual per se, nor grappling in the realm of theoretical abstraction itself—which can be an important area of endeavor and can in fact make valuable contributions, in various ways, to the cause of communism, even when this does not directly involve the realm of politics and political philosophy. Rather, what is being identified, and sharply criticized, is the phenomenon of making a principle of approaching theory in abstraction from revolutionary practice and in opposition to the scientific communist, dialectical and materialist, understanding of and approach to the relation between theory and practice, as this has been discussed here. And we do feel the need to express our impatience with a certain kind of frankly unintelligible and self-consciously obfuscating fluff that passes itself off as, and all too often passes for, radical thinking in academic circles and which at times even masquerades as Marxism.”

Compare and contrast. Explore the disconnect.

Note the sputtering jealousy over “some receptivity” that others get (but that Avakian does not). Note the  mean spirited accusation of corruption by the “not so uncomfortable existence of an academe.” Note that all of it is said without seriously engaging with the theoretical views of its targerts — or “their own visions” in the “broader ferment.” And without even the simple courtesy of naming  who they are smearing with a broad brush.

Can anyone expect this party to tolerate the views of others — including when it is in power –especially  if those views sharply oppose those of the party and if they find “a certain receptivity”?

People in this conversation

  • Guest - rosa harris

    There is clearly a stark contrast between these two quotes. The it makes clear that they are only talking about intellectuals that don't cause them a problem.

    If intellectuals start raising too many questions, bringing forward new conceptions or just not getting down with the NS then watch out - as we saw with Bill Martin's post.

    Frankly this does not give me an image of a society that I would want to live in.

  • Guest - hegemonik

    I don't want to quibble here, since this is a place where ex-RCP'ers are regrouping and I've tried to stay away from some of the back-and-forth on discussions of their internal policies. But isn't this (freedom of intellectuals) one of the RCP's "after the revolution" items?

    I bring that up because I do think it touches on one of the areas where I see my generation divided, which is what role prefigurative politics plays. I'm always skeptical of the argument that we have to perfect society before revolution (if that were possible, why have a revolution?), but skeptical as well of the old "we'll handle that after the revolution" argument that defers important questions of line indefinitely.

  • Guest - q5ehh

    Avakian's cult of personality is a black hole that consumes rationality and critical thinking as it falls in on itself.

    Note that when the RCP talks about "revolutionary practice" they mean the popularization of Avakian's ideas. Note that the RCP welcomes intellectual debate as long as it isn't disconnected from "revolutionary practice". In other words, so long as discussion with intellectuals is informed by, and based on, the popularization of Avakian, intellectual debate is valuable. Otherwise it is "fluff".

    The RCP refuses to engage intellectuals in anything but the most superficial debate/discussion unless they accept Bob Avakian's "specialness", at which point there is no role for an intellectual except to promote the theorization of Bob. Should intellectuals spend their time and energy "fluffing" up the gravity and depth of Avakian's own theoretical contributions? Is that the kind of "engagement" the RCP wants? The short answer is yes. Intellectual ferment and debate that doesn't recognize the massive gravity of this little man (in a historic sense) is "fluff". They can't be more plain than that.

    The logic is clear in this instance, but this is hardly the only instance of this logic amongst the supporters of Avakian. Note that for Avakian supporters, revolutionary practice divorced from the promotion of Avakian is impossible, and thus all practical efforts that are not fundamentally about promoting "The Main Man" are "fluff".

    Sometimes it seems as if the struggles of the masses are simply "fluff" for the RCP. For them, the only "real struggle", the only "real practice", is their struggle to get everyone to agree with Avakian that the main struggle is to get everyone to agree with Avakian.

    Note all the wonderful "spirals" of logic with their "conjunctions" of bland reruns of decades (even centuries) old debates and events (Mensheviks, Bundists, Cultural Revolutions, etc.).

    As Bill Martin notes in his recent post, Avakian supporters don't give a damn about truth. If they did, they would not be railroading people with such patently untrue and dishonest assertions. All they care about is "holding it together" long enough to make a play for power, and they've decided that the best way to do that is to go into theoretical endospore mode by adhering to the dogma of "Avakian", with the expectation that in better conditions they will be able to explode onto the scene.

  • I think Hegemonik raises an important question here when he writes:

    <blockquote>"But isn’t this (freedom of intellectuals) one of the RCP’s “after the revolution” items? I bring that up because I do think it touches on one of the areas where I see my generation divided, which is what role prefigurative politics plays. I’m always skeptical of the argument that we have to perfect society before revolution (if that were possible, why have a revolution?), but skeptical as well of the old “we’ll handle that after the revolution” argument that defers important questions of line indefinitely.</blockquote>

    First on your question about the RCP: Their position on intellectuals has two sides. One concerns (as you point out) their claim (their promise actually) to handle post-revolutionary politics differently. This is done as they assert that developing an essentially-one-party state is indespensible for socialist transition. They develop a formulation of "solid core with a lot of elasticity" -- this means that the revolution needs a solid core to press ahead (which is hard to dispute, but which in their case means a monopoly of power for their party), but that it needs to be a party that is committed to unleashing "elasticity based on that solid core."

    Ok, so far so good. I think that is a set of concepts that need much more dissection (and that we, on Kasama, have not specifically critiqued yet).

    However for the RCP this also has a "prefigurative" aspect: I.e. they argue that these approaches (solid core with a lot of elasticity, and a radically new appraisal of the role of intellectuals) need to be applied now.

    And that caused the post above: what stands out about the RCP is the very very wide DISCONNECT between their promise of elasticity, tolerance, plural discussion etc. AFTER the revolution, and their rather raw and nasty response to principled differences BEFORE the revolution.

    Their methods regarding opponents and critics is (to put it crudely) very 1930s -- fully of attack on motives, full of arguing that anyone who disputes them will ultimately and inevitably slide into capitulation and betrayal, full of spit and grinding teeth, and (in the case of footnote 16) a rather naked accusations that professors in the U.S. are just too corrupt and self-serving to appreciate Avakian. In other words, they don't deal with arguments as they promised... but go for the highly personalized smear, with a taste of the anti-middleclass "revenge" politics.

    * * * * *

    As for your larger point:

    I think that we need a movement for revolution, and then we need a society of ongoing revolution and liberaton. And they are different. But in many ways the values we want to see in the future society need to be reflected (and manifested) within our movement -- or else it is hard to see how people can understand what we represent, and it is hard to see how the movement can actually implement the changes.

    In other words, it would be naive and reformist to imagine a movement where people can lead "liberated lives" -- where we have a subculture that disperses the oppression of capitalism. No, our movement unfolds under the towering heights of capitalism -- and the system will intrude and define our lives (and the necessities of our movement). This is why you need a revolution: because you CAN'T fundamentally create "safe liberated spaces" in any lasting way, unless it is on the basis of some real privilege (i.e. it can't be done for the broad masses of people, and is ultimately illusory).

    But I think the movement we are about to build must reflect our values deeply -- not just in what we say, but in how we are organized, and also in the very nature of the social relations we develop around the movement.

    Our ethos has to be one of sacrifice, dedication, plain living and hard struggle. This is not a movement for self, for comfort, for relief, for refuge, for protection. It is a movement where its activists expect repression, challenges, and a continuing need to "go against the tide."

    But... we also need this movement to RADIATE a sense of human solidarity that is missing in this society (and, frankly, was long missing around the RCP).

    People in the U.S. will not make revolution for development or more material goods. This will not be a revolution motivated by a desire for "more stuff." If anything, people want to be freed from manufactured commercial "needs," and the ratrace for things. People want and need real social connection, community and mutual human caring -- all to emerge within and against an atomized, dog-eat-dog world.

    We need a movement that clearly and boldly takes a stand against the oppression of women, and the narrow bigotries of "traditional family values." And in fact, much of the communist movement (from the 1930s on) really had a rather "don't rock the boat" approach to these questions -- pretty consciously reproducing traditional families in an effort not to offend socially conservative workers.

    And, very important, I think we need a movement that is shocking in its genuinely multi-racial/multi-ethnic character. We need a movement that profoundly and militantly stands against racial oppression -- but that itself represents a sense of the kind of community and cooperation that militant anti-racism can create. Where people are not locked in a constant squabble for identity and quotas, but where a comradely culture of solidarity and common purpose has profoundly transcended the hostilities and suspicions that divide American society (and so much of the American left).

    So we don't "prefigure" mainly by creating a mini-society without oppression -- a series of subcultures or "safe spaces" -- or by developing "process" that can nitpick every problem out of the room. We need a movement of revolutionary thought and action that displays the values and potential of liberation -- while we fight for a society where this promise and dreams will (in fact, at along last) be realized.

    We are critiquing a political trend that has developed a real snarly hostility toward the people, that seems focused on "serving the party" not serving the people, and that proclaims an open and engaging approach to new ideas while its practice is glaringly different.

    As we emerge from that process, we should maintain our commitment to never reproduce those disconnects. And I think we should constantly ask ourselves whether the movement we are creating, and the people we are attracting, and the strategies we are developing, could actually lead a transformation of society in a liberating direction.

  • Hegemonik writes:

    <blockquote>"I don’t want to quibble here, since this is a place where ex-RCP’ers are regrouping and I’ve tried to stay away from some of the back-and-forth on discussions of their internal policies.</blockquote>

    I don't view Kasama as a place where "ex-RCPers are regrouping." Not at all. Most people within the Kasama project were never in the RCP itself.

    The "regrouping" we conceive of needs to draw in serious revolutionaries, and will involve (some) ex-RCPers but can hardly be limited to that (even now).

    If anything, the RCP has less and less relevance to what we are doing -- except for the fact that this particular line struggle (breakout out of the RCP) is intimately tied to a much larger struggle taking place among communists internationally.

    I think the sweep of the left is a failure. And the problems we dissect (around the RCP) apply generally -- though the general problem of the left is the abandonment of revolution and communism (and any vision of an alternative society), while the RCP is more trapped in a self-strangling sectarian dogmatism.

    So I see no reason why you should stay away from any of these discussions. Doesn't the "regroupment" include you? and if not, why not?

  • Guest - N3wDay


    Just to add a bit to what you said. I think a defining struggle, on top of the problems of social relations, commercialism etc, will undoubtedly be the environmental question. I cannot overstate it's importance. In fact I think it could be one of, if not THE defining issue that polarizes a country like the U.S.

    Market forces have proven too slow to address problems such as global warming and ecosystem destruction. In marine ecosystems we're not talking about a few fish here, but the entire collapse of the fishing industry, which means mass starvation of people and depressions for numerous economies. Even with the massive amount of cushioning we receive in a country like the US, we will regardless, not be able to escape the reverberations of such catastrophes.

    Not only do these questions threaten our very existence, but even more so then say nuclear or biological weapons, they expose the failure of the anarchic production system of Capitalism. With production developed to the level it is today, capitalism is truly proven outmoded.

  • N3wday:

    The approach of the RCP to environmental matters has been slow, partial, and begrudging....going all the way back to formative days (when the RU emerged at the same time as earthday, without any appreciation of it all). Reluctant, even dismissive. There has recently been more lipservice, but still, these matters remain at the margins of thinking and preoccupation -- in a way that misses the urgency of what is happening.

    The new ecological understandings and crises have a huge impact on how people should look at capitalism -- which is profoundly uncontrolled and utterly reckless in its plunder of the biosphere.

    Socialist sustainability needs to be at the core of what we believe and advocate. And elaborating that, in both theoretical and popular ways, is a major task facing our movement.

  • Guest - hegemonik

    In brief reply, Mike: my point was that having never been a member or even peripheral supporter of the RCP, I didn't know the "inside baseball" of internal policies or way these things played out internally – even if I'm familiar with the broader line debate in and around the RCP. So basically, I wanted to speak to the line rather than to the internal policy.

  • Sure, i know what you are saying.

    But that is part of the line question: This is not about anecdotes or "inside knowledge." This is not about "inside baseball" or of a particular summation of that. This is not about "settling accounts" with this or that organization (or this or that cluster of people with a wrong line).

    These discussions, and the experiences shared, are part of the line struggle over how to proceed. People are speaking bitterness in various threads, in ways that are moving and revealing. this is positive, but hardly just for them, obviously. This regrouping is not about the RCP -- because who wants to regroup the RCP! Not me.

    It is about the revolution, the revolutionaries, and ultimately about serving the people.

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