Critiquing Religion Without Understanding It (Part 2)

This is the second part of Pavel's review of Bob Avakian's Away With All Gods.

In Part Two of "Away With All Gods" Avakian attempts an historical overview of the emergence of Christianity and Islam and asks why fundamentalism is growing in the contemporary world. His discussion of the first relies heavily on works by two scholars of early Christianity, Bart D. Ehrman and James D. Tabor. Ehrman’s fine book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2005) explains how the Bible contains interpolated material and passages inserted by scribes; Avakian uses it to drive home the point that the Bible is a set of human documents. Tabor’s book The Jesus Dynasty: the Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (2006) is as Avakian observes more controversial. (Indeed, the whole career of Tabor, who has vouched for the authenticity of a version of the Ten Commandments carved in Hebrew letters on a boulder found in New Mexico, supposedly dating back over 500 years but thought by most archeologists to be fake, is controversial.)

Tabor argues that Jesus’ half-brother (?) James, rather than Peter, succeeded him as head of his movement but that Peter was later recognized as leader while Paul promoted a new version of Christianity among the Gentiles. Had James’ “line” won out, Christianity would have developed as a Jewish sect rather than the world religion it became (pp. 75, 80). Avakian uses this work to argue that the emergence of Christianity in the latter form was not inevitable but a matter of contingency; had Paul died earlier than he did, things might have turned out differently (p. 79).

Avakian’s main points are uncontroversial and widely accepted in secular and liberal religious scholarship on Christian history. But he gets some of the details wrong. He suggests that “the early Christians were having a lot of difficulty getting people to join their movement” because of Jewish dietary restrictions and the practice of circumcision. This assumes that “the early Christians” were seeking non-Jewish members in what was still a Jewish sect, and frustrated at their low recruitment efforts. In fact it was Paul who brought the movement to Gentiles, rejecting the requirements of circumcision and adherence to Mosaic Law for them---not because he had had “a lot of difficulty” imposing such requirements but because his “new covenant theology” obviated the old law. As the Epistle to the Galatians (chapters 1-2) makes clear, he faced significant opposition from James, Peter and John.

 

While lecturing on the “Pivotal Role and Influence of Paul” (p. 72f) Avakian continues to demonstrate his fundamental misunderstanding of something Badiou grasps very well: for Paul “…the Law, in its previous imperative, is not, is no longer, tenable, even for those who claim to follow it… [it is] a principle of death for the suddenly ascendant truth… (Badiou, p. 27).” Christians are free from the Old Testament law. That is what the Pauline “justification by faith” doctrine is all about. Avakian mentions in passing that Paul shifted “toward an essentially exclusive emphasis on faith” but associates this with “a shift from concern with this world toward preoccupation with the supposed next world…(p. 81),” missing the point entirely. The emphasis on faith was a shift from Jewish exclusivism to universalism---with extraordinary implications for “this world.”

 

The issue of the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus has always been controversial. Avakian does not really address this question, but simply notes that “this whole story of how the Jews were the ones responsible for Jesus being crucified is very improbable” and points out (validly) that the gospel accounts have always been used to promote anti-Semitism (pp. 76-7). He states incorrectly that “scholarship has shown” that the gospel narrative about Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion “was worked into the Christian tradition about a century after the death of Jesus” (p. 77). That would mean that circa 130 CE all four gospels (probably authored between 70 and 100) were altered to assert this responsibility. Avakian does not cite any scholarship on the point.

The gospels all indicate that the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate actually ordered the execution; he had the authority to do so. They also indicate Pilate did not initiate the trial and execution (the arrest was conducted by Sanhedrin authorities, although in the Gospel of John a Roman cohort accompanies their agents). Of course imputing responsibility to “the Jews” in general for the death of Jesus is illogical and worse. (The gospels sometimes do impute this; see for example Matthew 27:25, which has been exploited by Christian anti-Semites for centuries with murderous effect.) But the gospel scenario is not at all implausible: the Sanhedrin (Jewish authorities), hostile to Jesus for his harsh criticism and militant display in the Temple overturning the tables of the money-changers (Mark 11:15, Matthew 21:12-16, Luke 19:45-46), arrested Jesus for blasphemy and then asked Pilate to execute him for sedition again Rome. The Roman Jewish historian Josephus indeed wrote, in his Jewish Antiquites (ca. 90 CE) that “…Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified…” (emph. added).

In any case, one has to problematize this issue of “responsibility.” To recognize the likelihood that Jewish authorities initiated the events leading to Jesus’ death is not to attribute responsibility to Jews of the time collectively. There were obviously Christians among the Jewish population of Roman Judea and beyond, and we can’t of course in any case in any case blame whole peoples for decisions made by their leaders. But even the sweeping imputation of blame of “the Jews” we find in the gospels (especially John) has to be understood in the theological context: Christians (in a movement with increasing non-Jewish composition) understood the Jews to have rejected their own Messiah. The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE during the First Roman-Jewish War was viewed as God’s punishment of the Judeans collectively for that rejection.

In the long footnote accompanying Avakian’s statement that “scholarship has shown” that the “Jewish responsibility” story was “worked into” the Bible a century after Jesus’ death, there isn’t the citation for that assertion one might expect. Rather, there’s a long comment about how the anti-Semitism of “Protestant Christian fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson” ostensibly manifested in their support for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ film jibes with their support for the state of Israel (pp. 77-8). (The choice of words is interesting; why avoid “Christian Fascists like Falwell and Robertson”? Why leave it at “fundamentalists”? Avakian’s use of these terms is inconsistent.) The gist is: “the imperialist rulers of the U.S.” need to support Israel “as a military outpost and instrument of U.S. imperialism in the world.” Therefore---even while guided by Christian Fascists (if we follow Avakian’s earlier discussion), who embrace the anti-Semitism the RCP finds in the gospels themselves, they have to reconcile that support and Christian fundamentalism (“a rather acute contradiction”) through the Second Coming doctrine. This doctrine, rooted in the Book of Revelation, maintains that Jesus will return at the time of the Rapture following a bloody war centering in Jerusalem. Fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. are some of the most ardent supporters of the State of Israel, even though they tend to believe that when Jesus returns non-Christians will be punished for their unbelief in the Final Judgment.

There is a certain amount of truth in this assessment, and the question of Israel is sufficiently central to Avakian’s topic that one wonders why it is consigned to a footnote occupying nearly two pages. The question of why the U.S. imperialists support Israel, to a degree that many (mainstream bourgeois) analysts actually find inimical to broader U.S. imperialist interests, can’t be boiled down to the fact that it’s “a military outpost.” There are no U.S. bases there, while there are U.S. military outposts all over the world including nations surrounding Israel in the Middle East. Maybe in order to explain U.S. support for Israel we need to emphasize the vast resources of the Israel Lobby, a complicated web of organizations spanning secular Jewish Zionists and fervent Christian evangelicals who exercise enormous clout as voters and political donors. This may be an instance in which policy doesn’t stem from imperialist “necessity” but from well-organized religious (and secular nationalist/Zionist) forces.

Avakian notes the pivotal role of Emperor Constantine in the history of Christianity (pp. 63-4). He refers in passing to the fact that monotheism might have been advantageous to Roman unification “…[a]s new territory would be conquered” (p. 79). Actually, Rome was at its height; it did not after Constantine conquer and hold new territory. But it would be worth examining the value of Christianity to the process of unifying the highly diverse empire that already existed. Unfortunately Avakian, who is not inclined to find positives in the history of Christianity, does not pursue this thought.

Avakian might have added that in the course of the fourth century Christianity was legalized, standardized (at the contentious Council of Nicea, 325), and imposed on all Roman citizens (380). The state-backed orthodoxy that emerged, and the specific package of texts accepted as the New Testament, were decided politically while heterodox texts were torched and “heretical” schools crushed. Thus the Christianity that Avakian critiques is simply the triumphant version among many that had competed with one another earlier.

The Roman Empire had been tolerant of religious diversity, while the Church Triumphant viciously persecuted opposition. Avakian notes the irony of fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. complaining of their own imagined persecution (p. 69). But he surely overstates the case in asserting that from Constantine’s time to our own “in the ‘Christian world,’ life has been hell to all those who have refused to practice Christianity…” (p. 72). Here as elsewhere his measurement of what he sees as the enemy lacks perspective.

“Why,” Avakian asks pompously, “have I gone into this to such an extent (p. 81)?” His rambling answer to his own question includes (a) Christianity has exerted widespread influence on world history; (b) it was taken up as the state religion by many ruling classes; (c) it is the “favored religion” in the U.S., and there is a move by powerful forces to make it “the official state religion of America;” and so (d) it is important to understand it. It is based on earthly factors. We need to demystify Christianity, and realizing that (as quoted above) “we should not like this Jesus very much” (p. 83). “This,” he declares, “all belongs to the past (p. 84).”

The title of the next section, “Islam Is No Better (and No Worse) Than Christianity,” is self-explanatory. Apparently based on the competent scholarship of Maxime Rodinson (not cited, but included in the bibliography) it is one of the least problematic sections of the book, an effort at historical materialist explanation for the rise of Islam in the early seventh century. Avakian draws attention to the obvious: that the Qur’an justifies slavery and patriarchy just like the Bible does. The section concludes with the question: “Is the Allah of Islam any different, in any meaningful way, from “God the Original Fascist” of the “Judeo-Christian” religious tradition?” (p. 95).

I’d note that “Allah” is simply Arabic for “God” (closely related to Elohim in Hebrew) but that this deity as described in the Qur’an may, actually, be somewhat different from the Yahweh of the Old Testament, or the God the Father of the Christian Trinity. According to the Qur’an, Allah explicitly insures that the righteous Jew, Christian or Sabian, as well as the Muslim, will enter Paradise (Qur’an surah 2:62). These are “People of the Book.” (Christian scriptures in contrast, if interpreted literally, seem to consign non-Christians to hellfire.) He commands that there be no conversion by compulsion (2: 191 and 226). Even if this principle was not always observed, the general history of Islam is one of far greater tolerance than one finds in Christian societies into the modern period. In the caliphates and in Muslim Spain and the Balkans people were encouraged to convert to Islam because by the positive expedient of tax exemptions, but Jews and Christians could go about their business and even attain high posts.

These things need to be mentioned, particularly in the context of the vicious anti-Muslim campaign that has been waged recently by those promoting the supposed threat of “Islamofascism.” The RCP has appropriately opposed that campaign. But curiously, as a proponent of the “Christian Fascist” threat, Avakian does not deal with the Islamofascism topic. Perhaps a comparison of the two concepts, Islamofascism and Christian Fascism, would weaken his case about the threat the latter supposedly poses.

Avakian now turns to the “War on Terror” and the argument some of its advocates have made that Islamic fundamentalism is somehow more evil and dangerous than other forms of religious fundamentalism. He addresses the charge that there has not been separation of church (mosque) and state in Islam (p. 97). But rather than taking this on concretely---noting that there are and have been Muslim-majority states with secularist regimes, and that some of these (Mossadegh’s Iran, Saddam’s Iraq, Baathist Syria), have been specifically targeted by U.S. imperialism while it embraces the most repressive Islamic state in the world (Saudi Arabia)---Avakian argues that the separation between church and state in the U.S. is incomplete and threatened. (He does subsequently describe U.S. efforts to undermine secular regimes in the Muslim world, p. 106f, but his point there is to emphasize how fundamentalist Islam emerges in reaction to U.S. aggression.) He appropriately labels the “War on Terror” an imperialist war, and quotes his own 1997 talk contending that the “two reactionary poles” of Jihad and McWorld/McCrusade (violent anti-western Islamism and U.S. imperialism) “reinforce each other, even while opposing each other” (p. 100).

In his next section (“Why Is Religious Fundamentalism Growing in Today’s World?”) Avakian seeks an economic explanation for the question posed. He links it to the rise of the “informal economy” of the cities of the Third World, to the “very insecure and unstable existence” of the masses, causing people to look to religious fundamentalism as an “anchor” (p. 102). (In a footnote he addresses the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the U.S., among a very different stratum, the middle class [p. 104]). He observes that many who have turned to Islamism might a generation ago have been Maoists, but the communist movement in Indonesia and other Muslim countries was destroyed by U.S. imperialism (pp. 110-2). Meanwhile the U.S actively supported jihadis against the Soviets in Afghanistan (p. 107).

Suddenly the author shifts gears and without naming any names lambastes those taking “a smugly arrogant attitude towards religious fundamentalism and religion in general…” By this time, surely, some readers will want to accuse Avakian of precisely that. But he assures us, “It is a deep form of contempt for the masses to fail to take seriously the deep belief that many of them have in religion…” and it is necessary, “in the fight against injustice and oppression, to unite as broadly as possible with people who continue to hold religious beliefs” (p. 114).

Avakian proceeds to link the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, as expressed in Marxist political economy---that between socialized production and private appropriation---with the contradiction between the highly developed technology and science alongside the growth of “organized ignorance” (p. 115). The development of the forces of production does not necessarily produce more “enlightenment,” and ignorance rooted in religion can “reinforce the system of capitalist accumulation” (p. 117). These interesting, if undeveloped, points conclude Part Two.

In Part Three, the shortest and least substantial of the four, Avakian begins to develop his thesis about “Christian Fascism” which has hovered in the background so far. First he illustrates how Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all patriarchal belief systems; he has already done so but he adds further examples, beginning with the depiction of Jesus as God’s “son” and citing John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

“Let’s dig more deeply into this,” he suggests, “---what it is actually putting forward and what it is actually promoting. (p. 122).” He repeats the Genesis Creation myth, about the Fall, noting the obvious: “underlying this very verse…is the notion that humanity is all screwed up... That’s the first point to keep in mind here.”

The second point: “Why a son? And anyway, the idea is absurd. [Laughter] If you believe in God, God could have as many sons as he wanted. [Laughter]” (p. 122). But Avakian explains that daughters meant little in a male-dominated society. “To bring out the point more sharply”---as though he has made the point sharply already---“try thinking of the Bible saying: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave up his only begotten daughter.’ It just doesn’t ring true, does it? [Laughter]” (p. 123). The dismissive tone (and response of the congregation) recalls his earlier references to the Trinity.

“…Jesus,” he declares on page 27, “was not a supernatural being, part of the same substance of God, the Father, and at the same time the son of God.” A footnote on the same page states: “Here I won’t attempt to further explore the arcane Christian doctrine of the Trinity…” As though he had ever really broached the matter! Later he writes that “Nobody understands” the doctrine. “And then there’s this whole matter of the holy spirit. Holy shit, nobody knows what that means! [Laughter]” (p. 64).

Actually, we know quite a lot about what the Trinity means, and has meant, to its advocates. Not only have Christian writers explicated it from the time of Tertullian (the first to use the term, around 216), but intellectual historians have studied its relationship to Neoplatonism and Indian thought. It may all be mystical nonsense to Avakian, worthy of ridicule and an easy laugh from his flock, but it produced, in the minds of some first-class thinkers from Augustine to Feuerbach (who devotes a chapter to interesting psychological analysis of the Trinity in his Essence of Christianity of 1841, famously admired by Marx), some very creative thinking.

Here I find myself wondering again about the question of audience. Who is Avakian trying to reach? I’d suppose he would like to influence such Christian religious minds as Cornel West, Rev. George W. Webber, and Fr. Daniel Berrigan, all of whom have spoken up for him in the past. I imagine he’s not simply or even primarily addressing atheists and agnostics. There are certainly people who define themselves as Christian who are open to questioning the existence of God, but who have worked out sophisticated interpretations of Christian doctrine in their own minds.

For example, someone raised in a Christian tradition might explain the Trinity as follows. A Supreme Mind created and in some sense oversees the cosmos. That’s God the “Father.” This being is not even necessarily male, but is beyond human understanding; nevertheless, human beings have minds that derive from that Mind. This interconnection is the Holy Spirit, a dynamic ongoing interaction between the cosmic mind and humanity. Jesus, the Son, links God the Father and humanity as a divine presence on earth in human form during a brief period of human history. He was equally divine and human, and left a legacy of model behavior and ethical teaching.

Someone who thinks that way about the Trinity, encountering Avakian’s comments on the doctrine, would likely respond with the thought, “How trite” or even “How insulting.” He/she might even think he’s showing contempt for the masses, who are, I repeat, overwhelmingly Christians---people Avakian says it’s necessary to “unite [with] as broadly as possible.” How do you unite with people as you insult them?

Avakian links the Trinity to patriarchal values. It’s actually more complicated than that. There were sects in the early Christian movement that conceived of God as a Trinity of Father, Mother and Son. Or Father, Sophia (Wisdom, conceived of as female), and Son. Of course he is interested in critiquing the Christianity that won out, and one would not expect him to examine defeated Gnostic Christianities. But his whole discussion of gender in early Christianity is simplistic.

Earlier, while asserting that Jesus had accepted and promoted patriarchy (p. 20), Avakian had linked the cult surrounding his mother (the “Virgin Mary”) with the control of women and their sexuality as male property. Here (pp. 124-5) he returns to that theme. He notes quite properly (if flippantly, accompanied by [Laughter]) that there is an incongruity in asserting that Jesus was born of a virgin and yet tracing his lineage (as Matthew 1:16 does) through “Joseph the husband of Mary.” (Luke 3:23 states “it was thought” he was son of Joseph.) Avakian notes that her genealogy does not count. “Why? Because she’s a woman” (p. 124).

None of this is wrong, and it actually echoes some feminist scholarship on the Virgin Mary cult, but it is entirely one-sided. Avakian notes that Mary’s “role is to be the loving, long-suffering mother of Jesus,” which is to say, a model of oppressed womanhood. He adds she serves as “a kind of ‘intercessor’ for people in their supplications to God” (pp. 124-5). But he does not pause to consider the possible implications of the fact that Christianity wound up positing Mary as an object (maybe the most popular object) of veneration for believers, who have for centuries publicly and privately worshipped her as the “Mother of God” and the “Queen of Heaven.” Her cult may have drawn upon and absorbed pre-Christian “earth mother goddess” cults; its relationship to patriarchy in what was in any case a highly patriarchal society by the time Christianity emerged is a question worth studying.

It is significant that Paul wrote that in Christ there are “no more distinctions…between male and female” (Galatians 3:28); that he sends his letter to the Romans via a female deacon (Romans 16:1); that early Christians produced the Acts of Paul celebrating the works of Thecla, a female associate of Paul who preaches and baptizes. It is not enough to simply recount the Eve story, or cite 1 Timothy 2:11 (Pauline authorship contested) on how women should be silent in church (p. 123). The whole issue of how women were impacted by Christianity (as opposed to pre-Christian forms of patriarchal religion, or patriarchal traditions surrounding the Christian world during the last two millennia during which patriarchy has prevailed throughout class society, everywhere!) is a complex one deserving mature analysis.

Again switching gears, Avakian discusses how (male) Muslim immigrants to France from patriarchal societies in North Africa, encountering what from their “traditional framework” seems an “excess of freedom” for women, may be drawn to deeper religiosity, and how globally conditions of uncertainty cause people “to gravitate to a powerful father figure…” But since “a powerful father figure in a human form is not enough for many people,” “there is an assertion” (by someone) of “the image of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God---for whom, lo, the powerful head of state is a representative…” (p. 128).

That sort of situation in the U.S., Avakian notes, has produced the acute controversy about gay marriage, not that such marriages would “undermine and destroy patriarchy” since patriarchy “is already the case in many gay relationships” (p. 129). But the Christian Fascists’ objective in opposing gay marriage is to “enforce ‘traditional morality’” (p. 131). Avakian devotes several pages to this question, without considering the fact that many Christians without specifically fascist inclinations but inclined towards biblical literalism believe with Paul (Romans 1:26-7) that homosexual acts are “unnatural” and opposed by God and so oppose gay marriage on such grounds. It is quite remarkable that the chair of a party that up to 2000 contained language in its program about “eliminating” homosexuality under socialism can conflate this or that degree of religiously-based homophobia (or at least, opposition to gay marriage) with “fascism” at this point.

Patriarchal, Christian Fascist forces in the U.S. promote corporal punishment. But, Avakian ringingly pontificates: “Let us be clear: female children, and children in general, should not be seen and treated as the property of their parents, and their father in particular. This is not the world we are aiming for…” (p. 133). There follow several pages on comments about proper child-rearing and the debate about “permissiveness,” culminating in the bold-print conclusion “we need revolution” (p. 135).

Avakian next addresses the question of why the Bible Belt of the U.S. has also been the “Lynching Belt,” and how fundamentalist religion has historically justified and abetted slavery, then the Jim Crow laws, while Black preachers in the South (Martin Luther King included) have been unable to break with the system and “cannot lead the struggle” (pp. 136-49). A brief note on “Christian Fascism and Genocide” reminds us that the Bible says homosexuals should be put to death, and that Avakian in 1998 had called Pat Robertson’s comments on crime and punishment “an unmistakable suggestion of a ‘final solution’ against the masses of people in the inner cities…” (p. 150). Ten years later, following major setbacks to the religious right, and their diminished influence in national politics as shown in the current presidential campaign, this sort of talk seems overdramatic. And Avakian has still not provided a persuasive analysis or even operational definition of “Christian Fascism.”

Part Three concludes with assertion that belief in sin and in religion in general constitutes a “slave mentality.” Interestingly enough Avakian paraphrases Malcolm X (a profoundly religious man): “I didn’t come here to tell you what you want to hear” (p. 153). What Avakian’s come to say is:

Lerner supports abortion as something that should be “safe, legal, and rare,” believing that it is “very emotionally painful” for the woman involved---something Avakian says “is not true” (p. 186). Lerner as a religious man believes in “the miracle of life flowing through us,” something Avakian ridicules to accompanying “[Laughter]” (p. 187), and even “[Applause]” (p. 189).

 

Thus Avakian targets Lerner---who has worked with the RCP to some extent (and is a Not in Our Name signatory)---for not being an atheist, not a communist, not a supporter of the RCP’s conception of the “Christian Fascist” threat. One wonders why Avakian’s polemic made no mention of Lerner’s Zionism or support for Israel’s incorporation into NATO.

The point of the entire section appears to be that while religious believers can and must play a role in making revolution (led by the RCP), at this time---when common opposition to imperialist war, mounting repression at home and the meltdown of the economy provide the basis for broad alliances---Avakian wants to focus on the popularization of atheism as a defense against the (still undefined) Christian Fascist threat.

Finally, Avakian turns to Armstrong’s book A Short History of Myth (2005) and questions her interpretation of the nature of myth. “A myth,” she writes, “…is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information [but because it gives] us deeper insight into the meaning of life” Her book begins with a discussion of the Paleolithic hunt and its relationship to organized belief and ritual, examines how in the Neolithic period the earth and agricultural labor shape myth, and how religion as we know it grows out of myth from around 800 BCE.

Obviously the “truth” here is symbolic, cultural, anthropological, psychological. When she suggests that, “We are myth-making creatures,” and we need myths to “help us realise the importance of compassion . . . to see beyond our immediate requirements. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a ‘resource,’” she is not saying we need to literally believe in gods and goddesses but making an observation about the prevalence of myth in human history. She ends up suggesting that at present the function of myth can be fulfilled by absorption in a novel. (I would add it might be fulfilled by various irrational but powerful beliefs in contemporary political life, particularly as they pertain to leaders assigned mythical qualities)

But Avakian, uncomfortable with the idea that (as Armstrong puts it) “our mythical belief was” (note the past tense) “true in some way” accuses Armstrong of “pragmatism and instrumentalism,” and “positing a subjective definition of truth” (p. 203). I doubt that she (or many Marxists, for that matter) will be moved by Avakian’s invocation of Lenin’s rejection of “philosophical relativism” as a rationale for denying any “truth” in myth. Avakian in his “away with all gods” campaign simply misunderstands Armstrong’s effort. It is perhaps appropriate that the volume end at this level of sophistication.

Avakian concludes with a reiteration that the theory of evolution is correct; that religion is the opium of the masses; that human nature is not fixed but changes over time; and that people can be liberated through socialist revolution. All true, certainly. But shouldn’t one ask why, following the defeat of the socialist revolutions in the USSR and China, people have flocked to religious movements? Why were the efforts to inculcate atheism so disappointingly partial, and so quickly reversible? Might they have been too crudely and insensitively applied, based on imperfect analysis of this phenomenon of religious belief?

Has Avakian made any theoretical leaps in this book? Or is he rooted behind, and preaching from, a pulpit of bombastic banality? He has not convinced me that he intimately understands the three Abrahamic religions very well, has given their study his best shot, or can empathize with those who embrace those religions in such a way as to disabuse them from their God-centered worldviews. He has not convinced me that Christian Fascists threaten the American people in the foreseeable future with theocracy or genocide. I’m not convinced at the end of 237 pages that this book can or should become a “major social question.”

The RCP has publicly acknowledged its “culture of appreciation, promotion and popularization” of Avakian. It’s conducting a missionary effort to promote the author as a great thinker and leader. I guess we’ll see what becomes of that.

Maybe at the end of the day Avakian believes Armstrong: “A myth…is true because it is effective.” Maybe this book and campaign will indeed “emerge onto the scene with great impact.” But frankly, my response to that is: [Laughter].

I’m with Bultmann. I think we need to demythologize. Away with all gods, indeed! And away while we’re at it -- away with all “condescending saviors.”

[end]

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  • Guest - Iris

    I have been accompanying some cadre to atheist meetups to watch reactions to this book (I havn't read it yet). Some intellectual heavy hitters at these meetings have said it was 'simplistic', doesn't talk about HOW to approach religious people with atheism in an effective way, was written 'for the choir' and is belittling, and that it doesn't stand up to other atheist canons from popular science writers like Dawkins.

    This was in a discussion that included references to Althusser, and caused discomfort with the cadre because they had never read him. Damn those Marxist theorists, they just keep popping up at Synthesis events and everywhere they go!

  • Guest - Iris

    "But shouldn’t one ask why, following the defeat of the socialist revolutions in the USSR and China, people have flocked to religious movements? Why were the efforts to inculcate atheism so disappointingly partial, and so quickly reversible? Might they have been too crudely and insensitively applied, based on imperfect analysis of this phenomenon of religious belief?"

    This is heavy, and really important.

  • Guest - Saoirse

    this may be an aside but in many ways I think Bill Maher has become to most well known atheist in America. He has a full fledge documentary on his take on god and religion coming out this summer called Religulous. Its directed by the director of Borat (and Seinfeld) Larry Charles.

    Here's a clip of Maher discussing the film on Larry King http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRO-LVi1FKU

    I am quite curious how this film will go over as I am Avakian's book. For the later I can't help but see this as a non-event.

  • Guest - Andy Green

    Amazing review. I won't have to read the book now. Christians won't read the book. I think Christianity in this country has become so watered down that I wonder why anyone would feel so compelled to write a book about how thretening Christianity is. I doubt most Christians read the Bible much. They go to church an hour once a week and that's it. If an atheist tries to convice a muslim there is no God they'll get their head lopped off. Muslims are very serious about their faith.

  • Guest - Nickglais

    Marxists are philosophic materialists not just scientific materialists. To often Marxists confound Philosophy and Science - Lenin made it clear that the Philosophic idea of something like matter did not depend upon latest development in Physics.

    Marxism is quite different from the Atheism of a Bruno Bauer or even a Ernst Haeckel down to Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.

    In a Global context the issue for Marxists is the Religion of Islam but in the US Christian Fundamentalism also poses a serious problem.

    The approach to both of them should be similar to work with them on the concrete problems of Palestine or Iraq or Poverty in the Bible Belt rather than opposing practical action with believers to an abstract opposition to Religion.

    Support the "social gospel" against dogmatic Theology whether in Christianity or Islam has the class struggle has an objective basis within Religion as well as Atheism today.

    Just look at the Free Market Social Darwinists like Schermer in the Dawkins Camp and the apologetics on Iraq coming from Christopher Hitchens.

    By polemicising against Schermer Dawkins and Hitchens we will also rediscover the Philosophic depths of Marxism and rescue it from radical bourgeois thought in which Post Modernists has sought to bury it.

    I am basically agreeing with Pavels critique of Bob Avorkian's reductionism on the question of Religion.

  • Guest - occam

    Great essay -- thorough, informative, and principled. It's long been clear to me that the structure and process of the cult of personality around Avakian <em>is itself</em> the reason why he will never be a significant public figure. He can get away with editing talks instead of writing drafts. The sitcom laughter and applause is a symptom of an internal culture where ideas never have to be polished or sharpened. The "no one understands the holy spirit" line is the quintessential example. What do you mean "no one," lone ranger?

  • Guest - orinda

    I am curious as to whether the book had much discussion of Christianity overall or just as it is manifested in the U.S. Christianity is very different in different societies. Compare the nominally Catholic but practically atheist France to theocratic Ireland. Compare the recent role of evangelical movements in Latin America to older Catholic (and pagan) beliefs.
    Have to disagree with Andy above (#4). Sure there are lukewarm Christians in america, especially in big citiies. But there are a lot of megachurches out there. It is estimated that 25% of the US population is fundamentalist (sorry, no footnotes) Thr religious right has grown under Bush but is upset that abortion is still legal.

  • Guest - Maz

    To be fair, Avakian can be very funny. Making a big deal out of the 'laugh track' (a fairly common editing note for speeches) strikes me as petty.

  • Guest - Pavel

    Maz,

    I don't think it petty to criticize the general tone of ridicule accompanying the simplistic analysis, augmented by the insertions of [Laughter]. The latter tell us that the original audience of RCP members and supporters, probably chosen very carefully to attend a talk by a person whose whereabouts are not discussed and whose talks are not publicized, responded enthusiastically to his making fun of various religious doctrines. But Avakian's not doing stand-up. His apparent intention is to change minds. My point is that his style and content inhibit that.

  • Guest - Critiquing Conspiracism

    Any contemporary critique of religion must of necessity come to terms with recent efforts of scientists such as <a href="/http://sitemaker.umich.edu/satran/home" rel="nofollow">Scott Atran,</a> author of <a href="/http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Philosophy/Religion/?ci=0195178033&amp;view=usa" rel="nofollow">In Gods We Trust,</a> and others to begin to EXPLAIN religious belief (and its persistence) by applying the tools of evolutionary psychology and cognitive science. A good place to start is 'Darwins God', a <a href="/http://sitemaker.umich.edu/satran/files/darwin_s_god_nyt_mag.pdf" rel="nofollow">New York Times Magazine article.</a>

    Another resource, in which Atran plays a somewhat dissenting, progressive role, is the 'Beyond Belief' conference of notable scientists
    engaged in a dialog on challenging religion- <a href="/http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief/" rel="nofollow">videos of the presentations</a> are available online.

  • Guest - Nando

    Audiences define what is funny. It is part of what makes humor hard. Sarcasm speaks to a choir (cuz they have to know what you believe to "get it" when you say the opposite).

    In Avakian's case (as Pavel demonstrates) his arguments are often flawed, and the laughter of his chosen audience is recorded as a way of affirming its truth and cleverness. And that laughter falls particularly flat for readers (including progressive believers) who have a sense that their views are being distorted and even mocked. [Audience gasps of recognision with nods of approval.]

    Also, in the history of the ICM, there is a long history of "injected audience participation" used to basically tell the reader how to think (and to make them feel isolated if they don't think it.) [Scattered applause, some hoots.]

    If you make a stark point (like that your party opponents are fascist dogs who deserve to be snuffed), the impact on the reader is different if the text is followed by [Wild applause]

    The audience makes an appearance in the scene, both as a player, but also as an instructor. And throughout the RCP experience, these days, we are all being 'instructed' in how to "appreciate" this work, and in the intolerable implications of rejecting it (or of critiquing it on a basis of insufficient "appreciation.")

    In that particular present context, it was hard for me not to see (as Pavel did) the injected laughter and applause as instruction, and not just reporting. The point made was not just that BA is funny (which he sometimes is), but that his particularly mocking points about religion and believers were welcome, correct and delightful.

    As an atheist, i obviously welcome the debunking of religion in general, and reactionary anti-scientific religion in particular -- but it has to be done skillfully, with the enough care that you "nail" it, not merely mock your own scarecrow of what believers "must" be thinking and doing. [Applause builds as audience rises to their feet chanting "Long Live Nando."]

    Please folks, that is just too much. Please. Just a little too much.

  • Guest - gangbox

    Nando and Pavel,

    Y'all do make a good point.

    Avakian is a hell of a writer, and, unlike most marxist writers today (think Slavoj Zizek), who tend to write in pure unadulturated Jargonese, and where trying to read their works is kinda like trying to swim through a slab of wet concrete, he actually writes and speaks in colloquial American English (albiet with LOTS of dated 1960's slang).

    In other words, he's a maoist who actually writes for the masses, instead of just the folks with MAs in Philosophy - and that's a GOOD thing!!!

    If there's one thing every person who's trying to be a communist writer can do, it's try to write like Bob does - in Plain English, instead of Jargonese!!! Leave the unreadable pseudoscientific babble for the academics!!!!

    Granted, his early works (think Mao Zedong's Immortal Contributions, For a Harvest of Dragons ect) were better and deeper than his present stuff.

    But, the whole Avakian-as-living-God piece frankly takes away from him as an author.

    I've been around the left for a minute, and it took me the better part of 22 years before I even bothered to read anything by Bob Avakian BECAUSE THAT WHOLE CULT OF PERSONALITY THING WAS A MASSIVE TURNOFF!!!

    Incidentally, I've told folks in the RCP precisely that - but they just don't get it!!

    Remember, when the capitalist roaders tried to make Mao the State Chairman (basically to shut him up by making him a latter-day living god figurehead emperor, while they actually ran the state and the Party) he OPPOSED them!!!!

    Avakian the writer would greatly benefit if he resigned as Avakian the sun king, the secular deity people have to run to catch up with!!!!

    That would really help with the whole Appreciation, Popularization and Promotion piece, probably more than anything else the RCP could do!!!

  • Guest - Nando

    you seem to be dealing with the style of his writing, not the content of his synthesis.

    In other words, compared to those academic writers (emerging from the whole climate of po-mo hyperintellectualism and occasional obscurantism), a clear presentation is a relief.

    But that is barely a basis for appraisal. And really, that is not really what we should be comparing BA to.

    Compared to the many ways people now get information and analysis (multimedia, youtube, video, etc) -- and compared to how people actually talk and think -- i don't think the style of BA is nearly as popular or clear as it should be. There is a self-indulgent style that assumes that evferyone is hanging on everyword, and that everyone approaches his utterances as part of a seamless "work" -- where the rambling self-referencing to often substitutes for an actual structure giving the presentations coherence.

    But the real issue is (of course) content, not style (even though the two content/style often reflect each other). And the content of this body of work is inseparable from the "appreciation, popularizaiton and promotion" -- as the 9 letters indicate, the approach to truth, absolute truth, relative truth, the denigration of practice, the over-blown claims of certitude and hyped predictions, and the shallowness of analysis.... all of that together forms a whole. These elements are integral to the claims for this new synthesis.

    How could someone "resign as sun king and continue as writer" -- if their writings (in both method and assertion) are the very underpinning of their own claimed status as humanity's last best hope.

    It is not like Avakian writes, and the party proclaims him humanity's savior. Avakian demands that his party view and treat him that way, and crafts his writings as the first-rank justification, defense, and evidence for the validity of that demand.

  • Guest - gangbox

    Nando,

    Style IS very important - in many ways, actually more important than content!!!!

    Slavoj Zizek might have some really good and emancipatory ideas - but I'll never know cause he writes in a dialect of Academic Jargonese that is indecipherable to that 99.99% of humanity who don't have PhDs in Philosophy!! Plus he's a truly awful writer, his work doesn't flow, it meanders like sewage in a grease clogged drain!!!

    Avakian, on the otherhand, actually writes in PLAIN ENGLISH and can actually form a well crafted sentence!!!

    Ever read Orwell's Six Rules of Prose Style?

    I have it taped up on the wall of the room where I do all of my writing, and I live by those rules when I write.

    More communist writers should do that - unless, of course, they don't care if the masses are able to read or understand their works.

  • Guest - Nando

    hmmmm. It is not the main point... but "well crafted sentences"? You obviously haven't read much Avakian. You need more "steeping."

    I urge you to reread his one sentence description of his own synthesis.... (this is how he chose to write it, and this is how it was passed on verbatum at the synthesis meetings):

    <blockquote>“This new synthesis involves a recasting and recombining of the positive aspects of the experience so far of the communist movement and of socialist society, while learning from the negative aspects of this experience, in the philosophical and ideological as well as the political dimensions, so as to have a more deeply and firmly rooted scientific orientation, method and approach with regard not only to making revolution and seizing power but then, yes, to meeting the material requirements of society and the needs of the masses of people, in an increasingly expanding way, in socialist society — overcoming the deep scars of the past and continuing the revolutionary transformation of society, while at the same time actively supporting the world revolutionary struggle and acting on the recognition that the world arena and the world struggle are most fundamental and important, in an overall sense — together with opening up qualitatively more space to give expression to the intellectual and cultural needs of the people, broadly understood, and enabling a more diverse and rich process of exploration and experimentation in the realms of science, art and culture, and intellectual life overall, with increasing scope for the contention of different ideas and schools of thought and for individual initiative and creativity and protection of individual rights, including space for individuals to interact in ‘civil society’ independently of the state — all within an overall cooperative and collective framework and at the same time as state power is maintained and further developed as a revolutionary state power serving the interests of the proletarian revolution, in the particular country and worldwide, with this state being the leading and central element in the economy and in the overall direction of society, while the state itself is being continually transformed into something radically different from all previous states, as a crucial part of the advance toward the eventual abolition of the state with the achievement of communism on a world scale.”

    Making Revolution And Emancipating Humanity, Part 1: Beyond The Narrow Horizon Of Bourgeois Right, 2007, revcom.us</blockquote>

    It has been suggested that this sentence should be read outloud for full effect -- either by yourself or with friends.

  • Guest - gangbox

    Nando,

    Well, I did say his earlier stuff was better - that is, the stuff written back in the late 1970's early 1980's, before he was annointed to God-king status!!!

    In other words, when his stuff probably actually got edited and critiqued, rather than uncritically accepted.

    But you have got to admit, Mao Zedong's Immortal Contributions and For a Harvest of Dragons ARE good books - and they explain a lot about the basic principles of maoism, and you don't have to be a PhD to understand them!!

    You can't take that away from Bob!!!

    And a LOT of marxist writers could learn a lot stylistically from early Avakian.... you CAN explain complex ideas to the masses in simple language, you don't have to mutter in Jargonese to do it.

    And you've also got to admit that Zizek in particular absolutely sucks as a writer - his work is pure incomprehensible gibberish (except, perhaps, to folks who spent a LOT of time at expensive Ivy League universities!!!)

  • Guest - Nando

    You are raising a strawman. And there is an undercurrent that the dividing line is between successful popularization of known ideas vs. unnecessary obscurantism by academics.

    I don't think that dividing line is important. I don't think it correctly (or fairly) characterizes either the work of BA or the work of the academics like Zizek.

    I am not aware of anyone disputing that the work of the "early BA" has value. But, and here is the more important point, that work is not (imho) is not really just an explanation of "basic principles." It is already then the elaborating the beginnings of a distinct synthesis (in fact, the very approach to Marxism AS A SYNTHESIS in Mao's immortal is innovative, controversial and correct -- in sharp contrast to more religious approaches to Marxism as a series of set principles, laid down correctly, and then only defended from generation to generation, with (perhaps) a few innovative points added to deal with new phenomena. (I.e. the idea the Leninism was different from Marxism, mainly or solely because Lenin was dealing with unanticipated phenomena like imperialism.)

    this simplified view of Marxism's development is broken with (to some extend) by Avakian's view of a developing synthesis (and the recent upholding of individual insight and ideosyncracy as a major ingredient in its development), even while it is still rigidly adhered to in the formulations like "three milestones" -- and the linearity behind the idea that those three milestones have now given way before a new "leap" (i.e. to BA's synthesis.)

    So this early work is not mainly successful popularization -- in "simple language" for regular joes.

    CTW is even "trippy" -- and (for once) genuinely tentative in its advancement of initial theses for discussion. And many of its themes are important, and approached in a genuinely non-dogmatic fashion.

    And finally, there is nothing wrong with theory being written in language that is sometimes hard to understand -- not everything can or should be "dumbed down." We can't confine our theoretical explorations or subtlties to only whatever can be made understandable to anyone. Some aspects of theory (political economy, philosophy, etc). will inherently be understandable (in their full complexity) only to people who have had the freedom to learn how to "grapple with ideas" at that level of abstraction. It is possible to popularize all areas of theoretical inquiry, but it is not always possible to present the full elaboration of theory in a popular form. This is part of a much larger contradiction we face in preparing ordinary people to transform the world -- that people need training to grapple with many questions at the level they need to be posed and resolved. And you can't resolve that simply be becoming a partisan of universal lunchbox simplicity...

    Again: that uncovers why the issue for me is BA's content not his style (whether or not it is popular or simple -- and it is in fact sometimes popularly written and sometimes not.)

    The implication that the key problem we face is popularization of KNOWN principles is mistaken. And the implication that this is what he was doing well (laying out "basic principles") is a misunderstanding of the content of all his works (both early and late) and their consistently tendentious nature.

    Harvest of Dragons is highly polemical -- it doesn't just "explain complex ideas in simple language" -- but it is laying out a particular way of viewing Marxism, a particular view of WHAT the "basic ideas" are.

    In some ways, i tend to think that there is an arc here (to BA's ideas) where secondary themes come to the fore, and where important questions are increasingly answered in flawed ways...
    And where the essential rejection of his views (by the rest of the ICM) both frees and compells him to present them in their distinctiveness (distinctive from what MLM has historically held, distinctive from what other Maoists hold, and distinctive imho from what our actual synthesis should embrace).

  • Guest - zerohour

    "And a LOT of marxist writers could learn a lot stylistically from early Avakian…. you CAN explain complex ideas to the masses in simple language, you don’t have to mutter in Jargonese to do it.

    And you’ve also got to admit that Zizek in particular absolutely sucks as a writer - his work is pure incomprehensible gibberish (except, perhaps, to folks who spent a LOT of time at expensive Ivy League universities!!!)"

    Complex ideas DO require a specialized language. Zizek and other philosophers do not write for the masses but that shouldn't render his ideas invalid nor our diminish our responsibility to try to deal with those ideas and encourage the masses to develop those habits of thinking. <i>Capital</i>, <i>Wretched of the Earth</i> and Newton's <i>Principia</i> are also not easily accessible to a popular audience. Do we dismiss them on that basis, or do we find ways to popularize them?

    Yes we should challenge intellectuals to find ways to make their works more popular, and cut out unnecessary jargon, but we can't be one-sided about it. Our goal shouldn't be to accept popular thinking as it is - we need to challenge people to transform their habits of thinking as well. If people are not trained to deal with complex theory, say even political economy, we are encouraging them to be dependent on "specialists".

    Your contempt for those "who spent a LOT of time at expensive Ivy League universities" is really a contempt for intellectual labor. "Keepin' it real" only serves to keep people down.

  • "Read a book?! Nah... I'm keeping it real."

    St. Rock thus spake.

  • Guest - the cold lamper

    Avakian speaks well-crafted sentences! [Laughter]

    Seriously, though, I find Avakian can be a good writer/speaker when he is <i>trying</i> to be. But he loses me when he starts giving his intimate recollections about some discussion years ago on 2changetheworld about North Korea being the only living example of "national communism," but "they don't count anyway"...not only is it hard to understand what in the world that has to do with the NBA having a single team centered in Canada, but I forget why we are talking about the NBA's Canadian team in the first place (to demonstrate the U.S.-centric nature of the NBA, with the Raptors just being the exception that proves the rule). There are too many weird (more-than)-momentary diversions like that which only tangentially relate to the topic at hand.

    Another place where Avakian loses me: his ubiquitous reminders that “we shouldn’t understand this principle I’m articulating in a [fill in the blank with seven different synonyms for “metaphysical”] way but in a [fill in the blank with seven different synonyms for “dialectical”] way.” I sometimes think that if he just cut every instance of this out of his talks, he’d free up hours of time with which he could elaborate on his points so they wouldn’t be as “mechanical, dogmatic, one-sided, one-to-one…” as they actually end up being.

    I’m not trying to be snarky or raise style over substance, but trying instead to understand what the relation between style and substance is. The sprinkling of obtuse trivia throughout his talks seems, to me, to be a symptom of his dilettantism, or more accurately his dilettantism-presented-as-science; there’s nothing wrong with “trippy-ness” in principle (see CTW!), but the flighty nature of the 7 Talks, Making/Emancipating, etc. seems more designed to give the illusion of having worked out a synthesis, while the “classic” Avakian works are (correctly) presented as the beginning of the process.

    As to the second problem: fetish of the word, pure and simple. We see this motif constantly throughout <a href="/http://mikeely.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/ninelettersresponse.pdf" rel="nofollow">“Stuck/Forging”</a>: the 9 Letters present a claim about problems with the RCP’s practice, and the RCP sends us back to some faraway corner of Avakian’s “body of work” where this practice is verbally denounced. We might as well take Bush at his word when he says “we don’t torture.”

  • Guest - occam

    Not to pile on Gangbox here, but Avakian's style is horrific, and I've always imagined that as a product of having followers transcribe rambling living-room "talks" rather than sitting down at a typewriter.

    Zizek's writing is pretty obscure, but my impression of the "Engage" campaign is that Avakian is trying to establish himself as a kind of public intellectual, so maybe the more apt comparisons would be to Zinn or Chomsky. I read both of them in high school, but still struggle with Zizek, Althusser, et al.

    Also, for what it's worth: I'm a younger radical whose first introduction to Avakain's writings is post-2001, and I find Avakian's writing (and, frankly, even much writing here on the Kasama site) to be laden with obscure jargon from the history of Maoism &amp; communism. Readers from an older generation, or who passed through socialist organizations, may be a little blind to some of that jargon.

  • Guest - Iris

    true dat (last part, especially).

  • occam:

    speaking as someone with a long history with the revolutionary communist movement (and oh so much familiarity with the "jargon").... i am curious to learn how to write in a totally different way. In a way that can connect and not build exclusionary walls. I wrote the 9 Letters in the language of our movement, bending it as much as possible to breath some life into the text... But i think we need to go much further.

    So school me and school us: what are examples of the language and passages you are talking about? what may some of us be "a little blind to"? Let's get specific, because what you mean and what we hear may not be the same things.

    Let's have a sharp and candid discussion of the "jargon" -- and lets find a way to dump as much as possible (and keep as much as necessary).

  • Guest - Englishteacher

    Looking at the statement of the "new synthesis" Nando quotes in full above--

    This is a high school English teacher’s nightmare. There is so much wrong with it it would take an hour to edit.

    “This new synthesis involves”

    [“involves” is a very vague word, as vague as “has something to do with…” It suggests lack of clarity of thought.]

    a recasting and recombining of the positive aspects of the experience so far of the communist movement and of socialist society,

    [What does it mean to “recast” and “recombine” the past? “Recast” suggests the composition of new interpretations of history. But what does it mean to “recombine” the experience of the ICM and of socialist construction? Is “recombine” unecessary here, thrown in for literary effect to amplify “recast”?]

    while learning from the negative aspects of this experience, in the philosophical and ideological as well as the political dimensions,

    [How do “philosophical” and “ideological” differ here? Could this be shortened for clarity? Why not just say, “the various negative aspects” and clarify later in separate, thoughtful, clear sentences? And why not end this clause with a period?]

    so as to have a more deeply and firmly rooted scientific orientation, method and approach

    [I think BA wants to say: “By combining a mostly positive but critical assessment of this history with some new ideas about what socialism ought to be in the future”… “we acquire a more scientic approach…” or something like that. But it’s not clear.]
    with regard not only to making revolution and seizing power but then, yes,

    [“yes” here seems very strange. But now I understand. BA’s not trying to write a prose paragraph. This is intended as poetry, or a kind of publicly recited creed. If so, I’d suggest rendering it as follows:]

    This new synthesis involves a recasting and recombining
    of the positive aspects of the experience so far
    of the communist movement and of socialist society,
    while learning from the negative aspects of this experience,
    in the philosophical and ideological as well as the political dimensions,
    so as to have a more deeply and firmly rooted scientific orientation, method and approach
    with regard not only to making revolution and seizing power but then,
    yes,
    to meeting the material requirements of society
    and the needs of the masses of people,
    in an increasingly expanding way, in socialist society —
    overcoming the deep scars of the past and
    continuing the revolutionary transformation of society,
    while at the same time actively supporting the world revolutionary struggle
    and acting on the recognition that the world arena and the world struggle are most fundamental and important,
    in an overall sense —
    together with opening up qualitatively more space to give expression
    to the intellectual and cultural needs of the people, broadly understood,
    and enabling a more diverse and rich process of exploration and experimentation
    in the realms of science, art and culture, and intellectual life overall,
    with increasing scope for the contention of different ideas
    and schools of thought
    and for individual initiative and creativity and protection of individual rights,
    including space for individuals to interact in ‘civil society’ independently of the state —
    all within an overall cooperative and collective framework
    and at the same time
    as state power is maintained and further developed as a revolutionary state power
    serving the interests of the proletarian revolution,
    in the particular country and worldwide,
    with this state being the leading and central element in the economy
    and in the overall direction of society,
    while the state itself is being continually transformed into something radically different from all previous states,
    as a crucial part of the advance toward the eventual abolition of the state
    with the achievement of communism on a world scale.

    [It still needs a lot of work. I’d get rid of the phrase “in an overall sense,” which seems like filler, and the other three uses of the word “overall,” which add nothing to the meaning. And apart from the opening clauses about combining the positive and the negative aspects of the past and middle part about giving people more space under a future form of socialism this statement is basically just a restatement of communists' traditional intentions.]

  • Guest - occam

    I'd say that discussion tends to get more jargon-heavy in the comments, and sometimes this unavoidable, or even appropriate. The discussion of <a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/04/20/zerohour-on-the-rcp-response-getting-ahead-of-itself-behind-the-curve/" rel="nofollow">Zerohour's critique</a> veered into a discussion about dialectics, and there's probably no way of being precise in that discussion without using $5 words.

    On the other hand, words don't have to be big to be jargon. Line, vanguard, struggle, materialist, instrumentalist, economist, base, forces, etc. are all used here in very specific ways that grow out of the history of communist theory. What to you might be a fairly straightforward passage will read very differently to someone not totally immersed in the MLM canon.

    Just browsing through the site, phrases like like "base areas," "line struggle," "accumulate forces," "mass line" pop out. None of them require a trip to the dictionary. And they are an efficient way to convey a complex thought to a reader steeped in Mao. But a reader like me wonders at what point holding on to language produced in a very specific time and place begins to mean you can't talk accurately about this one.

    There's the (probably apocryphal) story of the early CPUSA pamphlet: "Workers and Peasants of the Bronx, Unite!" to illustrate how sometimes foreign phrases just don't translate.

    You can choose what of that terminology you think is necessary. At this point, the word "proletarian" will seem odd to 95% of the population, but my guess is you'll want to keep using it.

  • Guest - Nando

    i think we need a glossary.

    If you want a rev movement you need to talk about "mass line" -- i.e. there are concepts needed for this process that are not known to everyone, but which are in fact needed.

    There are no "popular" words for "capitalist" or borugeoisie" -- because the dominant discourse doesn't allow for the identification of such forces. (Most people I meet think that a capitalist is someone who is for capitalism, and sometimes think they, themselves, are therefore capitalist.... so that the meaning of that seemingly familiar word within class analysis is something that needs explaining.)

    There is a wonderful passage in Bobby Seale's memoir of the Panthers ("Seize the Time") where he describes Huey musing about which words to invent and popularize. (And the panthers came up with "murdering pig police" and "avaricious business man" etc. and made these words part of everyone's street vocabulary in those times). In other words, you can decide to use and popularize new words -- if your overall speech is understandable, and if you are aware that the insertion of "instrumentalist" is not something that most people will "swing with" (without a bit of explanatoin).

    On the other hand, there need to be conversations among communists -- where a certain commonality of language is assumed, and then wielded. And there needs to be a "ramp" up into that conversation (hence the need for glossary).

    Finally, the distainful reference to "$5 words" is a bit anti-intellectual, and assumes that specialized words are used mainly for elitist effect. In fact, all serious processes in the world require some precision in language (even when familiar words are used, they are often used in deceptively precise and distinctive ways -- so that "party" is a familiar word, but its usage within Marxism means something specific at times).

    I propose we include some kind of wiki function to this site.... so that over time people can post terms and then define them.

  • Guest - gangbox

    "Zizek and other philosophers do not write for the masses"

    I'm glad you noticed that, Zerohour - but apparently you think that's OK.

    I do NOT - ESPECIALLY if you're trying to put out communist ideas!!!

    Remember, it's us the working class who are going to have to carry out the revolution that's going to be needed to make those ideas a material force.

    So, it's vital that those ideas be explained in a way that we can actually understand it.

    And that along makes your buddy Slavoj a failure as a marxist.

    Oh and also, if you really understand an idea, you can explain it in popular language.

    Here's a writing exercize for you, Zerohour - read the newspaper in your area that the bosses aim at a working class audience (like the NY Daily News in my city).

    Read that paper every day - and then, after reading it, try and write an idea expressing an element of communist ideology, but in the style and at the reading level used by that paper.

    You'll find that you come out understanding our ideas better, and you'll also be better at expressing those ideas to the audience that needs to hear them.

    Cause quite frankly, the tax bracket that can read Slavoj Zizek and actually understand what the hell he's trying to say are NOT the folks that are going to make revolution - but the tax bracket that read the Daily News WILL be the revolutionaries.

  • Guest - gangbox

    "Finally, the distainful reference to “$5 words” is a bit anti-intellectual, and assumes that specialized words are used mainly for elitist effect."

    Well, Nando, they kinda ARE...

    The big words are used to exclude certain people (the great mass of people, actually) from the conversation, so only the big shots and people from money get to make the decisions.

    Plus, on the real, the communist movement has a long history of using marxist jargon as a cover for horrible anti communist ideas - remember, Kruschev and Deng (not to mention Gus Hall!!!) justified their politics using the same jargon that you love so much!!!

    Why are y'all so resistant to actually speaking to the masses in a language we can understand????

    And why do you cling so strongly to pseudointellectual jargonizing, instead of expressing your ideas in plain English - are you afraid to talk to us or something?????

  • Guest - zerohour

    Gangbox -

    No I don't have a problem with people who don't write for the masses. I already explained why. I also agreed that popularization should be done. I DO have a problem with an a priori [does that count as a $7 phrase?] limitation on what kind of literature the masses can handle. What this amounts to is a restriction on the scope of research and the development of innovative concepts.

    "The big words are used to exclude certain people (the great mass of people, actually) from the conversation..." Technical language can be exclusionary but to surmise that it's conceived for that reason is ridiculous. they are conceived because they are describing activity that is not encountered in daily life, therefore every day words don't always suffice.

    You seem to be unwilling, or unable, to recognize that complex phenomena, like societies, will require a terminology appropriate to understanding it. Anything complex put into simple, popular form can only offer a limited snapshot of the whole. Why should the masses be content with that?

    At the same time, you are insulting people by implying they don't have the capacity, or even interest, to develop highly abstract theoretical ways of thinking so the ONLY form of literature they can have is watered down.

    As a writing exercise, why don't you do a political economy of the US in everyday language and see if you can accurately account for it's myriads of interactions and dynamics? Even if you avoid Marxist terminology, I doubt you will avoid "Wall Street-ese." While you're at it, try to <i>prove</i>, not explain the general concepts but prove, the truth of quantum physics in every day language.

    If the New York Daily News is the level of theoretical development you think the masses should aspire to, you're already gearing them up for an elitist society where the masses read what "experts" interpret for them. So people like you can read <i>Capital</i> and tell them the ABCs of economics. Forget about training them to understand it for themselves.

    As for Krushchev and Deng their bad ideas were often portrayed in plain language: "peaceful co-existence" and "to get rich is glorious." The Marxist jargon didn't fool anyone on account of its complexity, but due to its claim of Marxism. There is a tendency in the world to accept people's self-description as a sufficient description of their behavior.

  • Guest - Nando

    Many of our ideas can and must be expressed in a popular way, or (as people have pointed out) we cannot reach the people (who are "the makers of history.") Popular analysis is important. Popularization of our ideas is important.

    However....

    The revolutionary process cannot be made limiting the ideas you communicate to those that can be expressed in Daily News style. (Zerohour expressed this well above.)

    There are people who (obviously) write to obscure their ideas, and limit their audience. There are schools of thought that are self-consciously elitist, and it shows in their style.

    But I don't think anyone here is advocating or defending that. And accusing us of "clinging" to "big words" to exclude the masses just sidesteps the actual argument (and the real-world contradictions) being laid out here.

    There is also a necessary level of theoretical exploration that cannot be broken down into "Daily News" style.

    If you want to dissect the world economy (at the limits of our understanding), if you want to explore the opposing theories of socialist planning, if you want to engage many of the burning questions of philosophy... you will find that at the moment of creation and struggle these explorations cannot all be conducted at a popular level. Once key ideas are developed, it becomes more possible to break them down and popularize them. But that presupposes a preceding process where a period of specialization is in play.

    Even as you do that, of course, you need to strain to be as clear and accessible as possible. (Badiou insists that all writing should be "available" to everyone -- and he strains to express his often complex ideas in famously clear ways (especially in its native French) -- in ways in contrast with many other philosophical writers.) But that doesn't mean that it can always (through that effort) be made accessible to any literate person.

    This matters on two particular points:

    First, this Kasama project envisions an important effort at theoretical work ( a part of "reconceive as we regroup"). In style, the Kasama project is working to make that theoretical effort accessible in ways that have not previously been true. For example, there has been discussion about consciously releasing early outlines and drafts of theoretical work -- so that the materials don't suddenly "appear" only as final products, "brought down" to the rest of us mainly to be adopted. Not everyone can write theory, but everyone in a communist movement needs to be part of the process by which theoretical insights are developed and expressed.

    However, this does not mean that the theory that emerges (in what i assume will be process over time) will all be instantly accessible to anyone arriving at revolutionary politics for the first time. Theory (especially in the process of initial synthesis and debate) is not the same as agitation or exposure or the explanation of "basic principles" (whatever that means to each of us) or pedagogy of well understood concepts. The theoretical struggle is an actual struggle, a key part of the class struggle taking place in a realm and in forms that are distinctive.

    Second, there is a political issue of how revolution is made and by who.

    Gangbox writes:

    <blockquote>"Remember, it’s us the working class who are going to have to carry out the revolution that’s going to be needed to make those ideas a material force."</blockquote>

    Well, that is mainly true.
    However...

    When we say "the masses are the makers of history" we don't just mean the working class. In many countries (though not the U.S.) it includes peasants as a major class. But it also includes (in this concept "the masses") student and intellectuals (and also people in the middle classes etc.)

    This is not just a matter of "the working class" in some solitary way.

    More....

    "The masses" can't do this with their current level of understanding. They too need to be transformed. And one of the key ways that "the masses" need to transform is their ability to deal with the challenges of actually RUNNING society. You can't organize socialist planning with a series of articles and manuals written in Daily News style.

    So not only do some levels of theory and politics NECESSARILY happen on a relatively high and difficult level -- but this is a sphere of thinking and work that working people need to rise too. There needs to be the development and training of groupings of revolutionary working class intellectuals (i.e. communist cadre) studying, applying AND developing this kind of work.

    So arguing that everything has to be broken down to the CURRENT level of mass understanding... is an argument for underestimating (or abandoning) the some of more difficult challenges posed by the rev process. And (to be blunt) it is a kind of "working class identity politics" that glorifies "the way we are" (and loses sight of "what we must become.")

  • Guest - Ulises

    Gangbox:

    Avakian speaks and writes in "plain english" like a hack lawyer, which is to say, he doesn't.

    I for one have a lowly bachelors degree at a state university, and I can understand both Avakian and Zizek, with differing degrees of work. In general I'm not interested in being pandered to or patronized with "popular" language (whatever that is). I think people should get a dictionary or ask someone for help, and specifically read texts that are hard for them to understand, if they want to learn something. Those who think that everything needs to be written so a highschool graduate "gets it" on the first try, are people that aren't interested in education, but in proselytizing and slogans. I think one of the worst things that happened in the past was that rich and complex ideas were vulgarized for the sake of "popular understanding". Instead of actually promoting popular understanding, this instinct has served to obstruct understanding.

    On Zizek:

    Zizek has done more to put communism into the discussions of intellectuals and the Left in general than anyone else alive today. I would simply note his publication of a series on important revolutionary texts by Mao and Lenin, amongst others, and his attempt to revitalize Marxism in his own work "The Parallax View", to say nothing of his regular talks. Put it this way, there are far more people interested in reading or rereading the history and theory of the Communist Movement as a consequence (oops, I mean "because") of the work of Zizek in putting those ideas on the agenda. The impact of Avakian, on the other hand, has been mostly negative in that it chases people away with its bizarre cult of personality and it's sophomoric articulation of ideas.

    At any rate, we shouldn't be satisfied with either of these contributions, but should be seeking to make our own contributions to advancing a revolutionary upsurge in today's world. And forgive me if I think a proudly obscurantist dismissal of intellectual works and theory (as jargon) is a bad place to start for making significant contributions in that particular area.

    Last point, if you think Zizek is hard to read, try Hegel.

  • Guest - Iris

    Besides high school graduates, what about the many in the proletariat who don't even have that, or who are only functionally literate? I think the discussion about helping the people transform their level of literacy (and dealing with elitism) is really important, but at what level? Gangbox, would you set the bar at functional literacy, which many people in the deeper prol posses? What if they accused you of elitism for choosing a 9th grade reading level?

  • Guest - Iris

    Oh, and glossaries are a great idea.

  • Guest - Nando

    iris:

    I think that you are right. Huge swathes of the key "backbone forces," including especially poor youth, are excluded by print in general (for reasons of both literacy and culture). This is not universal, of course, there are highly literate people in every part of the population -- including among ghetto and barrio youth -- and they are a particularly crucial force for leveraging the whole.

    However, on your point: I think we need to go multimedia... the "what-is-to-be-donism" of today needs to involve (and be weighted towards) podcasts, videos, rap as griot, internet radio.

    Agitational, exposure and even a lot of the analysis side of our work needs to leap off the printed page.

    And we need to rethink the strategies of "press as collective organizer" (which has not worked that well in the last half century, and is working less and less well).

    And we need to think through (in a way that no one has yet done) how to handle "new media" in an environment defined by hostile forces.

    This site has started using youtube, etc. But this is JUST scratching, just hinting at, what needs to be done.

  • Guest - Sam

    Nando,

    I do agree that we need to be much more effective on the multimedia level. Something I've been thinking about were free radio stations.

    Much of the "backbone" of our struggle (at least in my town) don't have internet access, nor the time to take the bus all the way to the library and back home. This poses an acute problem.

    Newspaper agitation is still incredibly valuable, but I think becoming adept at using forms of mass media is necessary that is accessible to the less wealthy levels of the populace is necessary.

    I know a revolutionary that gained quite a name for himself by doing local exposure over a public access TV station. We need to be there.

  • Guest - zerohour

    Podcast?

  • Guest - Iris

    Shit, would I have to own an iPod first? (lol). In my city, I constantly run up against the fact that tons of people have no computers, let alone internet access.

  • Guest - zerohour

    That's true, but tons of people DO have iPods and computers - I'm just trying to expand on our range of possibilities here. There's no need to limit ourselves only to media that everyone's going to have. Otherwise, even this blog would be a waste of time.

  • Guest - gangbox

    One final word on Jargonese, from George Orwell:

    (i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

    (ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

    (iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

    (iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

    (v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

    (vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous

  • Guest - zerohour

    It is the case that if revolutionaries want to effectively popularize our ideas, we need to be able to communicate in clear language without insulting the intelligence of those we speak to. This is not an easy task. The culture of the left does include terminology that we take for granted, but is not part of everyday life. At the same time, ordinary language can convey a great deal of content at a basic level, it can be problematic as well. Orwell, in the <a href="/http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm" rel="nofollow">essay you extracted those points from</a>, notes the difficulties with words like <i>democracy</i> and <i>fascism</i>. Most people support the former and despise the latter but have no clear idea of, or agreement on, what they mean - not even on the left. A further substantial discussion would require more time and exposition but the introduction of unfamiliar concepts like "oligarachy". Are you seriously suggesting that people should not be encouraged to expand their intellectual frameworks?

    Orwell's essay had two concerns: that bad writing reflected unclear ideas, but when it is bad <i>political</i> writing, may suggest an attempt to deceive the masses, which I think is your concern. Leaving aside the issue of unclear ideas, how do we deal with the issue of deception? The only reason to deceive the masses is to deprive them of the means to make informed decisions about their lives, and even challenge the power structure in the process. I don't believe the left does this, but we sometimes lazily rely on rhetoric as a substitute for thoughtful argument and this does not produce nay new insights, nor does it involve larger numbers of people in the process.

    So should ALL leftist writing be geared towards the masses? As revolutionaries, we should be concerned with understanding the world and its complexities. At the same time, we need to be aware that our educational system combined with mass media, works to condition people to avoid deeply thinking about anything - from their immediate living and working conditions to deeper questions of politics, philosophy and science. Instead people are provided with self-help ideology, mysticism and consumerism to explain and give "meaning" to their lives. In this context, it is important to find accessible ways to reach people and motivate them to take collective action in the streets and to study. If they don't take up the latter, they will never be able to understand that their problems don't just come from some shitty boss, greedy landlord, macho homophobe, asshole boyfriend, but is part of imperialism and its culture. Nor can they conceive of a better alternative beyond getting good laws passed or politicians elected. In this process they will encounter some <b>necessary</b> jargon. What would you substitute for "the organic composition of capital"? Something Avakian once said has always stuck with me: we must want revolution badly enough to be scientific about it. I don't think RCP adheres to this anymore in reality, but it is correct.

    The assumption that using jargon-free language renders it transparent, reflects modesty and an understanding of the needs of working people, is exactly what right-wing populism relies on. Whether it's coming from billionaire Ross Perot or George W. Bush, it encourages an anti-intellectualism that serves the power structure well. During the Buch-Kerry contest, one way in which Kerry was attacked was that he was too "French", too "intellectual." Unlike Bush, who's proud of his "C" average in college, often stumbles on "big words", and encouraged us to go shopping as a political gesture against al-Qaida - if you don't buy those shoes, terrorism has won!

    Revolutionary theory isn't just about accumulating facts but producing frameworks to account for the relationship between facts. Without this process, it would be impossible for previous advances of Marx, Lenin and Mao to have been made, but it will be impossible for us to go further. But shouldn't the people be involved in this process? If not, then who? It should be noted that Orwell was able to take apart pompous arguments because of his intellectual training.

    If we want genuine liberation that does not reproduce some of the errors of the past, we need to help the masses raise their understanding, not help imperialists keep them at their present level.

  • Guest - gangbox

    Zerohour,

    I happen to believe that you can explain quite complicated ideological concepts in everyday language.

    In fact, if you REALLY UNDERSTOOD the concepts, and were used to explaining them to regular folks, it would come easy to do so.

    Jargonese, on the other hand, is a way of CONCEALING those ideas from the workers and farmers, as if we deliberately did NOT want them to understand those concepts.

    And Jargonese isn't just a question of $ 5 dollar words - it's also a question of being verbally dishonest, and actually concealing from ourselves what we really mean.

    For insance, it's one thing if our Nepali comrades were to say plainly "well, we don't thing socialism is possible until the far distant future. So for now, we're fighting for capitalism, an elected president and developement through foreign-owned sweatshops. That's what we want you to pick up a rifle and fight and die for."

    That would be BRUTALLY HONEST and would accurately reflect the CPN(M)'s actual line.

    You might be hard pressed to get any farmer's sons or daughters to die for that - but then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing after all, considering how profoundly fucked up that line is.

    But instead, you talk about "NEW DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTIONS" and such, and you can get farmers to die objectively for the benefit of the progressive wing of the Nepali bourgeoisie.

    Similarly (except without the killing and dying part) the CPUSA used to talk about "fighting the ultra right" rather than "voting for the Democratic Party because we think they are the lesser of two evils".

    That would be HONEST.

    And aren't we communists supposed to be all about the truth???

    Frankly, all the marxist jargon gets in the way of us honestly saying what we believe in and fight for.

    And let's be honest, more often than not, our politics really aren't that scientific at all, they're really pragmatic.

    And that's been true for a very long time in our movement.

    For instance, was the RCP's old line on the gay question REALLY based on "science"????

    Or based on pandering to homophobia, both in the broader society and within the party itself - including perhaps Chairman Bob's own homophobia???

    Now, if they were to have said in plain language "you can't be a gay communist cause we don't like being around gay people, and the straight masses don't like gay folks either" that bad line might have been exposed and corrected a whole lot earlier.

    Instead, it was presented in marxist jargon, and that bad line went on and on and on to the point where it had to be changed (basically because it became a public embarassment ESPECIALLY for the RCYB folks doing political work on college campuses!!!)

    And that is probaby why the line got changed - for the pragmatic reason that the line was an embarassment and an impediment to recruiting (especially among the young college students that the RCP prefers to do political work among).

    Of course, the RCP couldn't actually say that - so they had to tune up the Jargonese, and come up with a marxist rhetoric-drenched reason for the line change.

    And this has been how our movement REALLY worked for a long long long time, and, in your heart of hearts, you KNOW THIS IS TRUE!!!

    So, perhaps if we spoke in plain English (or plain Nepali, or plain Hindi, or plain Spanish, or plain Tswana or whatever language it it the workers we're trying to reach speak) we could ourselves be more intellectually honest about that.

  • Zerohour writes:

    <blockquote>Something Avakian once said has always stuck with me: we must want revolution badly enough to be scientific about it. I don’t think RCP adheres to this anymore in reality, but it is correct."</blockquote>

    This is an important insight and a sharp quote. It is not however from Bob Avakian -- it is a quote from Gert Alexander, a much respected veteran comrade who in the 1960s helped found the early Revolutionary Union.

    (This was mentioned, in passing, earler on <a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/02/14/to-you-and-all-the-worlds-lovers/#comment-1220" rel="nofollow">this site</a>.)

  • Guest - zerohour

    You don't need much jargon to be deceptive, and even less to be self-deceptive. Take your post.

    You say: "I happen to believe that you can explain quite complicated ideological concepts in everyday language" as if we had a disagreement, as if I hadn't already made this point.

    Then you persist in ignoring the question of whether a deep analysis of the world requires specialized language and whether such work needs to be done. If all Marx ever said was "exploitation is horrible, workers should overthrow the bourgeoisie" he'd be just another socialist. Marx's great contribution in history was to do a rigorous communist analysis of capitalism. To do that, he couldn't just spew out assertions, he had to prove his point. He needed a jargon and a way of thinking not accessible to ordinary people. Did he waste his time? People have rebelled against capitalism from the beginning, you don't need theory for that. But what they will replace it with, requires a detailed understanding of its fundamental dynamics, not just what its effects are. This cannot be done with everyday language.

    The next question you failed to address is the theoretical level of the people. If the people are to run society, is their present level of understanding adequate? Shouldn't we encourage people to learn as much economics, philosophy, ecology, science as they can, or should we implement a three-track system: experts to generate knowledge, prole-intellectuals [like ourselves] to popularize it and the masses who passively consume it? Sounds liberating, who can resist?

    More egregiously, you distort the line and practice of the CPN[M]. Their line is communism. Period. The need to put the armed struggle on hold, call for elections and build an capitalist economy is a tactical necessity brought on by concrete conditions. It is no more a "line" than the NEP was. For the last three years they have clearly and consistently explained their rationale in their own literature and in interviews. It doesn't appear that you have even bothered to understand their reasons, or historical conditions, before passing judgment. You might want to keep in mind that they are coming out of a semi-feudal system, emphasis on the feudal. You can't accept that the Nepalese people actually support their program, so the CPN[M] must have deceived them, despite all evidence to the contrary. This reflects a contempt for the Nepalese people.

    RCP's bad line on homosexuality wasn't mainly reflected in communist jargon, but good old every day jargon like "decadence" and its association with anti-social criminality.

    So you see, deception doesn't require jargon at all. Tried and true tactics like misrepresentation and selective avoidance of key questions will still do the trick. But I don't think deception is the main thing in your argument either, I think it goes back to something you spoke about in an earlier post about advocating "masculinity."

    Masculinity is associated with dominance - no way around it, and commies didn't think that up. That's what being a "real man" is about, just ask your fellow workers. Bound up in that is a need to compete. Perhaps that explains why you have three exclamation points at the end of your sentences - it seems like the equivalent of putting your finger in one's face. That's not about facilitating discussion or learning, just winning, and it often leads to careless argument and sometimes, disrespect.

    You don't even see that we actually agree on the need for popularization. We just don't agree on what it's for.

  • I think gangbox illustrates the contradiction well in his own post:

    gangbox starts with:
    <blockquote>"I happen to believe that you can explain quite complicated ideological concepts in everyday language."</blockquote>

    Ok, i'll bite: how would you say "complicated ideological concepts" in everyday language?

  • Guest - land

    I want to read the article and the comments a little later but just going over some things very fast in the comments I think it is striking how Bob Avakian writes in two different styles. And there are references to this. And it has to have something to do with what is currently the line of the RCP.
    The New Synthesis and some other recent things are just not written in a way that people can read them. It is necessarily theoretical but it is not written in a way that conveys that this is important for people to read. It is not that everything has to be written in a very simple way but there is no attempt to make it readable.

    Earlier things were very different. I remember his reply to someone around 1980 asking him why is the RCP supporting the Iranians when Avakian has all these charges on him and when it is definitely not popular to support the Iranians. (after they took over the embassy in Iran)

    He said look if we didn't support the Iranian people this party would not be work supporting and I would not be worth defending.

    And now there is silence around Nepal.

    It is not a question of being intellectual or "writing for the masses."
    People do read.
    It is not just intellectuals who want to read revolutionary theory.

    I want to write more but first I want to read over the article and comments.

    Thanks l

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    <i> But the gospel scenario is not at all implausible: the Sanhedrin (Jewish authorities), hostile to Jesus for his harsh criticism and militant display in the Temple overturning the tables of the money-changers (Mark 11:15, Matthew 21:12-16, Luke 19:45-46), arrested Jesus for blasphemy and then asked Pilate to execute him for sedition again Rome.(emph. added).
    </i>

    Rudyard Kipling wrote an absolutely brilliant story about the chaos surrounding the sectarian wars inside of Judaism and early Christianity in the First Century AD.

    It's called "The Church That Was At Antioch."

    Not surprisingly, Kipling writes from the point of view of the Roman occupiers.

    Kipling's point is that First Century Judea was a lot like British occupied India or, to bring things up to date, American occupied Iraq. There were hundreds of small, militant religious sects all trying to play the Roman authorities off against one another.

    From the Roman point of view, it was impossible to keep track of them all. The constant threat of disorder was terrifying for the Roman occupiers. Decisions were made on the spot and often badly. Side with any one of the sects and it could get one of your soldiers knifed in the marketplace.

    A must read. It's on Project Guttenberg.

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    <i>Ok, i’ll bite: how would you say “complicated ideological concepts” in everyday language?</i>

    "Bullshit" :)

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    I haven't read Away With All Gods.

    But it seems to be a simple republishing of "Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones" and the "God The Original Fascist" article.

    What would merit republishing the same ideas?

    Well, Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones was publshed before militant atheism had gone mainstream, before Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and Sam Harris had become media stars.

    Hitchens and Sam Harris of course are neoconservatives, pro torture, pro imperialism, and Islamaphobia. Bill Maher's more of a mainstream left liberal.

    Is there anything in this book which specifically addresses Hitchens, for example, and points out how militant atheism can be abused and used for reactionary purposes, anything that clearly and specifically rescues the idea of militant atheism for socialism?

  • Nah, Stan. it is not a republishing of "PFAPOB" or "god the original fascist." It is a reprint of two speeches by Avakian, morphed together. The book PFABOB is a separate (and different piece) -- which associates conservative christianity with imperialism (i.e. the pulpit of bones) and criticizes the underlying reformism of liberation theology (by textually dissecting a work by Wallis).

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    <i>It is a reprint of two speeches by Avakian, morphed together. </i>

    Sorry. I made the wrong reference. Your summary felt familiar and I forgot about the two speeches, which I've heard.

    I was sympathetic to Avakian's line of thinking back during the Terri Schiavo incident (where the Democrats were refusing to take any stand at all) and where it did look as if the Christian right had significant power.

    But it would seem that you have to take into account new facts on the ground (like the voters' overwhelming rejection of Sarah Palin last November and the use and abuse of militant atheism by Hitchens) if you're going to put out another book.

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    <i>Complex ideas DO require a specialized language. Zizek and other philosophers do not write for the masses but that shouldn’t render his ideas invalid nor our diminish our responsibility to try to deal with those ideas and encourage the masses to develop those habits of thinking. Capital, Wretched of the Earth and Newton’s Principia are also not easily accessible to a popular audience. </i>

    But Thomas Paine, for example, did express "complex ideological issues" in straightfoward language "for the masses."

    I think we have to look at the issue of language in its historical context.

    Was Thomas Paine simply better writer than, for example, Hegal or Marx? Or was the fact that Paine was writing in the middle of a revolutionary upsurge and Marx, for the most part, wrote in isolation during a historical downturn, partly responsible.

    During a revolutionary upsurge, history tends to throw complex ideas into the public debate and they tend to get hammered out a lot more clearly than they do during a downturn.

    Take even this issue, religion. Why do these threads on Kasama get 40-50 comments when similar threads get 1 or 2? Isn't because the ideas are already out in the public, that they've already been defined by Bush's attempts to bring right wing Christian ideas into the mainstream?

  • [moderator: A response to comments made here was <a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/a-communist-dispute-over-terri-schiavo-where-were-the-fundis-were-wrong/" rel="nofollow">posted as its own thread</a>.]