Excerpt from the Interview with Ardea Skybreak

In the early part of this year (2015), over a number of days, Revolution conducted a wide-ranging interview with Ardea Skybreak.  A scientist with professional training in ecology and evolutionary biology, and an advocate of the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian, Skybreak is the author of, among other works, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters, and Of Primeval Steps and Future Leaps, An Essay on the Emergence of Human Beings, the Source of Women’s Oppression, and the Road to Emancipation. This interview was first online at revcom.us.

Q:       OK. So I thought we could kind of broaden it out now from talking about the Dialogue. But just before we do, I want to echo what you were saying about how people should really go to the website revcom.us and check out the Dialogue and really take it in, and check out the film of the Dialogue once it is available. I think your phrase about how there was magic in the air is a really appropriate phrase to describe it. So I want to echo your urging people to do that. But just to kind of broaden it out, I was wondering if you could speak in a more overall way about how you see the content and significance of Bob Avakian’s work, method and leadership. What is the significance of this in the world? And how this relates to the points that we’ve been talking about in terms of a scientific approach to understanding and changing the world through revolution.

AS:     Well, I think we’re talking about the most advanced revolutionary theoretician alive in the world today, the person who has taken things furthest in terms of the development of the science of revolution which started with Marx in the late 1800s and which was further developed through different periods by Lenin and Mao in particular. As time went on, and at every stage, there were some very significant new things that were learned and applied. There were some important new theoretical developments as well as practical advances. But I really think that Bob Avakian’s work in this period is actually ushering in a new stage of communism. And that’s both for objective reasons and subjective reasons in my opinion. Let me try to explain what I mean by that. First of all, there have been significant new material developments in the world even since the time of Mao, and the theoretical work that BA has done is capable of recognizing, encompassing and addressing those objective changes. The world doesn’t stand still and we don’t live in exactly the same world that Marx lived in, or that Lenin lived in, or even that Mao lived in, so the science of revolution has to remain dynamic and be able to continually develop, including in relation to these ongoing changes in the objective situation. But the reason I think that BA’s work is ushering in a new stage of communism is not just because of ongoing worldwide changes in the objective situation but because of the pathbreaking breakthroughs BA has been making on what we might call thesubjective side of the equation—in other words, his whole development of a new synthesis of communism and the radically different method and approach he is taking to the problems of advancing the revolution, both in this country and worldwide, which I feel represent a very significant advance in the development of the science itself and which stand in sharp contrast to the various kinds of wrong-headed methods and approaches which have plagued most of the so-called international communist movement for quite some time now.

BA’s theoretical work has deeply analyzed, sifted through, and recast the experience of the past in a way that is actually bringing forward some new theoretical components that have never been seen before, including in relation to the concrete process of building up revolutionary movements—identifying some of the key and much more consistently scientific methods and principles that must be applied in order to do this correctly (not just here, but in other types of countries as well), the key things that have to be kept in mind all along the road to revolution, leading up to the seizure of power; and bringing forward as well, again in some important new ways, some of the methods and principles that should be applied in the approach to actually seizing power, and to going on from there to build a new socialist society in such a way that it would not only truly constitute a society that most people would want to live in, but also one that would have a better chance than past such societies of not getting diverted and turned backwards, back towards capitalism instead of forward towards communism.

But here’s part of the dilemma, here’s what’s frustrating to me: most people today don’t get any of this! They don’t get the significance, literally on a world scale, of what BA’s new synthesis of communism is opening up, in terms of new possibilities for humanity. People don’t get this unless they actually start digging into these questions a little more seriously and actually start to grapple more scientifically with what’s going on in the world, and what’s actually needed.

Q:       Which questions?

AS:     Well, once again, the significance of what Bob Avakian has brought forward in relation to objective developments in the world and vis-à-vis some of the very wrong views and problems of method that prevail today among most so-called communists. Again, there was what has been called “the first wave” of socialist revolutions, which lasted up through the late 1970s, when capitalism was restored in China and the world was once again devoid of any genuine socialist societies. Marx really opened up that first stage of things in the late 1800s with his insightful historical materialist theoretical work on class contradictions throughout history and on the particular features of capitalist societies and the need and basis for revolutions to move beyond that towards socialism and communism, ultimately on a global scale. There was, in 1871, the experience of the Paris Commune, which was significant as a preliminary kind of attempt in which proletarian forces seized and briefly held power in Paris, but this really could not be consolidated for any length of time—there was not yet the conception, there was not yet the strategy, there was not yet really a vision, of what needed to happen to take it further. Obviously, the Russian revolution of 1917 was able to not only seize power, but to also consolidate power, and then go on to establish socialism and build the Soviet Union as a socialist state for a number of decades, before it got reversed and capitalism got restored there in the 1950s. And then the Chinese revolution, after the country-wide seizure of power there in 1949, and right up to the late 1970s, was able to take the process even further, before it too got reversed. So it’s important to learn from all this, both from the advances and from the shortcomings.

Lenin, who led the revolution that brought the Soviet Union into being, was a very important theoretician who, among many other important theoretical breakthroughs, developed a real understanding of how capitalism had evolved into imperialism, into a world-wide system. Those were important objective changes in the world at the time, and some of Lenin’s developments of the theory actually encompassed those changes and spoke to them in some very important ways, which I won’t try to get into here. Then, by the time of the Chinese revolution, Mao advanced things yet again, bringing forward a lot of new understanding of things, like how to get started on the revolutionary road in a Third World country dominated by foreign imperialism, and what it meant to actually wage protracted people’s war in that type of country over a period of time, leading up to the country-wide seizure of power. Some of Mao’s greatest contributions were made after the seizure of power, over a period of years, in the course of analyzing the positive and negative experiences of the Soviet Union, and in relation to the challenges encountered while working to develop a socialist society in China. Mao’s theoretical breakthroughs during those years included the analysis—the very important analysis—of what were the social and ideological remnants, the vestiges, of the old society which still exerted significant influence in the new socialist society, and his recognition therefore of the need to find appropriate ways to “continue the revolution” even in a socialist society. This was something new, that had not been previously understood or anticipated, and it marked a critical advance in the developing science of communism—a key lesson for communists to learn, and learn well, not just in China back then but everywhere around the world, and one that will be critical to have in mind in all future socialist societies. As part of all this, Mao developed critically important theoretical concepts about class relations under socialism, including the fact, that he famously popularized, that, in socialist society, “you don’t know where the bourgeoisie is—it’s right inside the communist party!” This is something Mao analyzed at a certain point in the development of socialist society, and he unleashed people to wage a Cultural Revolution, even under socialism, to advance things further. That was very important, and those important leaps and breakthroughs made by Mao have been deeply appreciated and analyzed by BA and have been incorporated into the new synthesis that BA has been developing ever since then. Despite all the major theoretical and practical advances and contributions of Mao and the striking accomplishments achieved in the course of developing socialism in China in the course of just a few decades, the fact that the revolution there did get reversed in the late ‘70s and that capitalism has been restored there was certainly a great impetus to recognizing the need to make rigorous scientific analyses of what had happened there and to develop the scientific theoretical framework of communism even further, in order to be able to handle things even better the next time around. Which is precisely what BA set out to do and the new synthesis of communism he has brought forward is very much the fruit of the work he has done in order to meet that need.

So again today, there are no socialist countries in the world. That doesn’t mean there aren’t revolutionaries or people talking about communism and socialism in different parts of the world, in different countries, even waging people’s war in some places—or people who have done so in more recent decades. But, frankly, the international situation is a mess. The international communist movement is, by and large, a mess. And it’s because of some very, very problematic lines and line differences in the international movement—some very fundamental errors that have been made in either one or another direction, and which BA has spoken to. He’s helping to sort that out. But, to be blunt, he’s basically not appreciated by the bulk of what has been the sort of old-school international communist movement. He’s very controversial in those circles. People disagree with him a lot, because there are these very wrong tendencies and trends in different countries that get away from the revolutionary road and from the path towards genuine socialism and communism but that some individuals and organizations are very invested in holding on to, it seems. And, I mean, some people actually think he doesn’t even have the right to speak about these issues because he’s not from a Third World country, he’s a white guy from an imperialist country. That’s a pitifully narrow and pathetic way of thinking. But it’s rooted not just in narrow nationalism (though that is certainly a factor), but also in the kind of devaluing of science, and of theory in general, that is so prevalent everywhere these days.

On the more positive side, I’d like to point people again to the polemics that have been written by revolutionaries in Mexico, the OCR, which can be accessed through the revcom.us site, and other things that have been written by others, polemicizing against some of these wrong trends in the international communist movement today and upholding BA’s new synthesis of communism in opposition to that. Again, people should go to the online theoretical journalDemarcations, which can also be accessed through revcom.us. These polemics point correctly to the fact that, on the one hand, you have these dogmatic tendencies…I’ll just very briefly say this: On the one hand you have these trends in the international movement that representdogmatic tendencies, that argue that you only have to rigidly “stick to the fundamentals,” that act as if there’s basically nothing new to learn (!), despite the clear evidence that the world keeps changing in many important ways that need to be taken into account, and despite the fact that there’s obviously a great need to sift through past accumulated experience in order to better learn how to avoid critical setbacks and have more successful revolutions and build more successful socialist societies. Seems kinda obvious, right? But there are more than a few mechanical dogmatic types around the world who approach revolution and communism more as a religion than a science and who therefore won’t even really examine and engage these types of questions. And then there’s the other kind of trend that basically says, “Well, there have been problems in the international communist movement and mistakes made in the past, so we’ve gotta loosen things up and just have a whole lot more elasticity and we’ll be fine”—but basically they’re going in circles and sort of rediscovering bourgeois democracy! They might as well just sign up, sign on the dotted line, to just try to obtain a few more bourgeois democratic freedoms and liberties, while essentially leaving the world as it is! This trend has very little to do with actually breaking away from the capitalist framework in any kind of fundamental sense—it often seems to be trying simply to promote the economic development of Third World countries within that global capitalist framework, and maybe just extract a few more freedoms and liberties, especially for the middle strata in the cities. But none of this is actually taking sufficiently into account the real core contradictions in these countries, the objective changes that have been taking place, and what it is that the broad masses of these countries actually need, in order to really break out of the overwhelmingly oppressive and exploitative framework under which they live.

Look, I realize that in this interview we can’t really get into all this in detail. I more just wanted to make the point that, today, in terms of the international communist movement, well, there really is no single international communist movement. There are revolutionaries and communists in different parts of the world, and, since the loss of socialism in China, to a very large degree they’ve been in disarray. In fact, it was thanks to Bob Avakian that there was even a coherent analysis put forward at the time of the coup in China and the restoration of capitalism. He analyzed what actually had happened there to set things back on the capitalist path. And he helped to forge a deeper understanding of what is the correct way to unfold revolution and socialism in the modern world. But it’s not like everybody decided to stand up and clap and agree with it—it’s been either ignored, or very contended, and it still is, right up to this day. So frankly, it is a big problem in the world that there is not even much serious and substantial engagement and wrangling with the theoretical developments of the science of communism represented by BA’s new synthesis. And it would be better if there were more unity forged on that developing foundation and basis.

Q:       So, a big part of what you are saying is that the work that Avakian has done has actually carved out a new theoretical framework for a new stage of communist revolution, has actually advanced the science of revolution.

AS:     That’s exactly what I’m saying. And I think how much it’s needed, both in this country and internationally, is pretty clear, given what is actually happening to the world and to the people of the world, and how much revolutionary change is needed. But there’s so much confusion and disarray. And there are people…look, there have been attempts at developing revolutions in recent decades in Peru and Nepal, to take two salient examples. In both those cases there were some very dedicated people who made great sacrifices and fought for years to try to have revolutions in those countries, but they have gone completely off track. And the thing is, it didn’t have to end up that way…I’m not saying that there could have been any guarantees that they would stay on track, and revolutionaries did face some very difficult conditions in both those countries. There were a lot of challenging problems that needed to be solved for those revolutions to have a chance of being successful. But the point is that there was a lot of unnecessary resistance to digging into some of the critical theoretical struggles that needed to be waged, to try to actually bring light into, shine a light onto some of the problems that were being encountered by the revolutionary struggles as the conditions in the world were changing—the conditions of the cities in the Third World, the conditions of the countryside in the Third World. For instance, the whole question of the application of solid core, with lots of elasticity based on the solid core, to those particular situations, in those types of countries, would have been extremely relevant to explore. But that kind of overarching principle is neither well understood nor even much examined or reflected on by revolutionaries in different parts of the world these days. Instead, as I was saying earlier, what you find are either tendencies towards going in the direction of brittle dogmatism and being static, stiff and controlling in a bad way; or tendencies towards throwing everything out the window by being too loose, including trying to pander to the middle strata of some of those countries and their interests–essentially advocating for what looks a whole lot like bourgeois democracy. Even if you give it the name socialism or communism, that’s not what it is.

So there’s a need for a whole world-wide engagement with some of these things. I really do believe, from my scientific perspective, that what Avakian has done is…he has really developed…on a number of key questions, he has really developed some very new thinking:about the road to revolution, about the seizure of power, about the nature of the new society that should be built up. In all of these dimensions he has carved out some very new thinking, identified some warning signs and problems to be avoided, and in particular he’s done this by highlighting the typical philosophical and methodological errors that people tend to fall into, and by drawing out the implications of the fact that if you don’t approach things with the rightmethods, there’s no way you are going to be able to bring about some truly positive advances. He’s shown this, and he’s brought out lots of concrete evidence of this, and he’s drawn on lots of historical examples to reveal patterns and show where these errors of method can lead.

In any field of science, whenever you have people who are bringing forward genuinely new thinking and really visionary analyses and syntheses, and who are critiquing old ways of thinking, old methods, old ways of approaching things, it’s unfortunately often the case that, for a while at least, their work is not understood, is mocked, and reviled, or simply ignored. The history of science–all science–is full of examples of this. And it’s a shame really…it constitutes a loss for humanity. In my view, every minute that goes by where Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism is not being seriously engaged and grappled with is another minute lost in the struggle to emancipate humanity from the horrors of this capitalist-imperialist world.

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