Unity and Struggle: The BA Institute Forum at UCLA, June 5, 2017
‘Science and Revolution, Why Knowing What’s True Has Everything to Do with Getting Beyond This World of Horrors: A Presentation and Exchange on the New Communism Developed by Bob Avakian’
For humanity to advance beyond a state in which “might makes right”— and where things ultimately come down to raw power relations— will require, as a fundamental element in this advance, an approach to understanding things (an epistemology) which recognizes that reality and truth are objective and do not vary in accordance with, nor depend on, different “narratives” and how much “authority” an idea (or “narrative”) may have behind it, or how much power and force can be wielded on behalf of any particular idea or “narrative,” at any given point.
Bob Avakian, BAsics, 4:10
The Bob Avakian Institute sponsored a timely engagement on the epistemological heart of Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism on June 5 at UCLA titled: “Science and Revolution, Why Knowing What’s True Has Everything to Do with Getting Beyond This World of Horrors: A Presentation and Exchange on the New Communism Developed by Bob Avakian.” The other co-sponsors were The Ralph J. Bunche Center of African American Studies, The American Indian Studies Center, The Academic Advancement Program, and Prof. Reynaldo Macías of Chicana/o Studies.
The event included a presentation from Andy Zee, spokesperson for Revolution Books, NY on behalf of The BA Institute, with responses from Andrew Apter, Professor of Anthropology and History and Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Professor of History, both from UCLA. This was followed by discussion among the participants and some questions from the audience.
The organizing of the event and its thematic came together through discussion with a number of the participants and co-sponsors about the work and mission of The Bob Avakian Institute. There was a strong sentiment that we had to speak to the dangers of the moment we’re facing with the Trump/Pence regime while focusing on and engaging the new synthesis of communism developed by Bob Avakian. Our preparatory discussions focused on whether science—which all agreed was under attack in dangerous ways—could and should be applied consistently to human society and the struggle for human emancipation, the breakthrough which is at the heart of Avakian’s work.
The event itself held a sharp, deep and lively exchange taking off from these questions, and The Bob Avakian Institute will be posting video soon. About 50 people were in attendance including a number of Directors of several UCLA Centers, faculty, both graduate and undergraduate students as well as anti-fascist activists and members of the LA Revolution Club. After the event, a UCLA professor commented that this was a rare coming together of serious significant university centers to sponsor an exchange on revolutionary communist theory connected to the current political moment.
The three participants came together with a lot of unity and heart for the conditions of the oppressed around the world, and real concern about the dangers for humanity represented by the Trump/Pence regime. At the same time there were sharp differences about whether, on the one hand, a scientific approach is biased, too limiting or even dangerous and thus not desirable, or on the other hand, as concentrated in the breakthrough of the new synthesis of communism developed by Bob Avakian, science is essential as the most consistent, systematic, and liberatory means to understand the source of all the forms of oppression and exploitation, and on that basis, to ground and carry forward the vision and road to the revolutionary transformation of society towards human emancipation.
Andy Zee talked about the world historic importance of Avakian’s work, and the role that Avakian is playing today as the architect of a new stage of communist revolution and leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. His talk led people to confront the extreme dangers bound up with the fascism of the Trump/Pence regime and the roots of this fascist program and ideology in America, with a focus on the unleashing and cohering of their fascist social base with the narrative of “Make America Great Again, based on lies, “alternative facts,” and a false narrative of an aggrieved white male America kept down by elites, immigrants, Muslims, people of color and women. He then went into the myths of the narrative mythology of America that the Democrats tell and its variants in the progressive social movements. While acknowledging the sharply posed moral and political differences between those who advocate and enforce oppression and those who oppose it, he dug more deeply into the anti-scientific relativism and instrumentalism that underlie the method and approach that these polar opposites share. He contrasted this to what’s needed: the scientific heart of the new synthesis of communism, speaking to what science is and, in a living way, why any approach less or opposed to this, will not lead to the emancipation of all humanity. He ended his talk by going back to BAsics 4:10 which helped frame the event as a whole.
Professor Gómez-Quiñones began by going back to Karl Marx, contrasting Marx’s approach to the pessimism of other thinkers of the 19th century, including Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and others. He upheld Marx’s economic and political analysis in several concrete ways and how this laid the basis for people to see the potential for how a better world was possible. He upheld the universality of this theory in pointing to how we are all sisters and brothers under the skin. But he also raised a number of criticisms of what he argued was a Eurocentrism from Marx, including a wrong approach to the cultures of the oppressed around the world. Later, in the discussion, Professor Gómez-Quiñones talked about the uniqueness and importance of the work Avakian is doing. He made the point that we need living analysis that could bring us out of this situation the world is in. In the context of what was a brief Q&A and discussion, Professor Gómez-Quiñones did not go into an assessment of BA’s new synthesis, but highlighted that there are not others who doing work like BA, and that the work needs to be engaged on that basis.
Professor Andrew Apter began his comments with a personal appreciation for Avakian’s foundational political experience in the struggle of Black people, and told a personal anecdote about going to the same middle school in Berkeley. He argued that Marx is incredibly relevant to understanding the situation in the world today. While Prof. Apter agreed on the need for philosophy to be rooted in reality, he raised a number of concerns and differences in particular over whether science could be applied to human society in the way science can be applied to nature. He also criticized what he felt were confining, and even repressive, dangers in applying a scientific approach to human society. He argued, in contrast to the scientific method that Avakian is arguing for, which Prof. Apter critiqued as “scientism,” that critical theory provides the best framework we have today for understanding the world.
All this was joined and struggled over in the discussion.
Annie Day, the Director of The BA Institute, spoke briefly about the Institute, the importance of its mission and ways people can contribute—by becoming a Friend of the Institute, assigning BA’s work in their classes, and being a part of future events and salons.
The discussion and Q&A got into a number of different topics ranging from the significance of the breakthroughs that Marx made and how; whether Avakian has taken those further; how to understand the role BA is playing in the world today; the need for an actual revolution and what is required for that; struggle over the approach one should take evaluating the first stage of communist revolution; struggle over what science is and isn’t; questions concentrated in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America including what it will take to emancipate oppressed nationalities within the U.S., how that’s handled in that Constitution; and, underlying these differences was the philosophical, methodological difference between materialism vs. idealism.
What energized the participants, the sponsors, and the audience was how through this discussion, including the at times sharp struggle about the basis, goals and methods for change, there was shared deep unity about the horrors facing humanity and the need for people to act. In addition, there was a collective sense—coming from different and even divergent perspectives—that Avakian is making important contributions that all need to learn from and whose work needs to be known and engaged throughout society.
As this was just a beginning to the kind of discussion Avakian’s work can open up, The BA Institute looks forward to further discussions and exchanges throughout the Summer, and will be aiming to set up more panels and presentations in the Fall.