The Very Idea of Communism.

draftprog-2tI am posting here this Open Letter from Raymond Lotta of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA to the attendees of the upcoming Birkbeck ‘On the Idea of Communism’ conference (see here) because I really like the critique implied in the phrase ‘back to the 18th century’ thinking. I can of course understand why the comm-fest programme could not be changed late in the day to accommodate BoB-thought. I mean, even Jean Luc Nancy seems to not have a formal place: in the program he just seems to be ‘in attendance’ – I hope he gets a chair to sit on, or maybe he has his own TV show and will do a roving reporter thing?? People have complained that its too expensive – 100 quid for a spot in a 900 seat hall, you do the math – but I think its a bargain just to be able to hear all these pundits, and to see letters like this appear as well. If we could just knock over a few of the big banks… [oops, the boards of directors of the banks already did that for themselves – 1.5 million a year ain’t a bad salary – gnnng]


13-15 Dear Colleagues, The convocation of an international conference on the Idea of Communism is certainly salutary.

The world cries out for revolution. It would only make sense that Bob Avakian’s new synthesis be part of a major discussion of the idea of communism. But thus far, a presentation about this new synthesis has been unacceptably excluded from the program of the conference.

Communism is at a crossroads.

In the face of the reversals of the revolutions in the Soviet Union and China, we have seen a range of political-ideological responses that tend to fall into three broad currents:

First, there are those who religiously cling to the experience and theory of the first wave of socialist revolution of the 20th century—not summing up problems and shortcomings, not moving forward, but circling the wagons.

Second, there are those who ignore or dismiss real scientific analysis of the contradictions of the socialist transition. They look for inspiration and orientation even further back into the past–to the 18th century and the proclaimed democratic and egalitarian ideals and social models of the bourgeois epoch. One has to ask what it signifies that at a conference ostensibly addressing the “idea of communism,” Rousseau, Kant, and Jefferson are defining reference points. Where does that take you in the world, and didn’t Marx (and Marxism) effect a rupture with all that already? The only difference is that now this is being labeled communism.

Third, there is what Bob Avakian has been doing. He is not only the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, which has its sights set on the revolutionary seizure of power and the radical transformation of society, but also a visionary theorist. He has been acting on the understanding that communist revolution is the only way out of this madness and horror, and taking up the challenge of forging the path forward and further developing Marxism as a living and critical revolutionary science–so that communists are indeed a vanguard of the future, not a residue of the past. This involves a more scientific and visionary sense of communism, a reenvisioned model of socialist society and exercise of leadership, and related issues of epistemology and ethics.

For Avakian, there is both continuity with the first wave of socialist revolution in the 20th century, whose high water mark was the Cultural Revolution, and rupture with wrong conceptions and methodology. This includes continuation of Mao’s ruptures with Stalin but also, in some respects, rupture beyond the ways that Mao himself was influenced, though secondarily, by the dominant mode of thinking within the communist movement under the leadership of Stalin. Avakian’s writings and talks can be accessed at

Given that the Idea of Communism conference is very much within this “back to the 18th century” framework, it would be highly important that a presentation representing Bob Avakian’s new synthesis be heard at this conference. It would also be highly important that other theorizations be interrogated and contested from this standpoint.

Again, the world cries out for revolution and the emancipation of humanity. What is the actual content of communism? What is the necessary theoretical framework for going forward? It is in this spirit of gaining clarity that I call on the conference organizers to include a talk on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis as part the formal program. I would be quite willing to give such a presentation. I also call on speakers and participants to bring their influence to bear.

For a new world,

Raymond Lotta

7 thoughts on “The Very Idea of Communism.

  1. Confernce program subject to change:


    13th/14th/15th March 2009

    Logan Hall, Institute of Education
    20 Bedford Way London WC1H 0AL

    Friday March 13

    2pm Costas Douzinas – Welcome

    Alain Badiou Introductory remarks

    Michael Hardt “The Production of the Common”

    Bruno Bosteels “The Leftist Hypothesis: Communism in the Age of Terror”

    Peter Hallward “Communism of the Intellect, Communism of the Will”

    Jean-Luc Nancy will be present throughout the conference and will intervene in the discussions.

    6 pm End

    Saturday March 14

    10am Alessandro Russo “Did the Cultural Revolution End Communism?”

    Alberto Toscano “Communist Power / Communist Knowledge”

    Toni Negri “Communisme: reflexions sur le concept et la pratique”

    1pm Lunch

    Birkbeck institute for the Humanities

    3pm Terry Eagleton “Communism: Lear or Gonzalo?”

    Jacques Ranciere “Communists without Communism?”

    Alain Badiou ”Communism: a generic name”

    6pm End

    Sunday March 15

    10am Slavoj Zizek “To begin from the beginning over and over again”

    Gianni Vattimo “Weak Communism?”

    Judith Balso “Communism: a hypothesis for philosophy, an impossible name for politics?”

    Concluding Debate

    2pm End


  2. The conference looks interesting in so many ways. The RCP(USA) seem to have that peculiarly maoist quality of being unembarrassed of their virtual worship of living party leaders. I remember the Peruvian communists wanting to have the party constitution affirming the status of the leader as not only supreme in authority but virtually unquestionable in principle. And that didn’t end up so good.


  3. We have successfully campaigned for free entrance for this conference so ALL welcome!

    I truly believe that because the rapidly snowballing conference was understaffed it has meant that it was an oversight that there wasnt the offer for ‘each according to their means’ offer.

    See you there?!!


  4. Dear John,

    At this very moment I am sat at a computer terminal in the largest academic library in Europe. What has just happened has meant I have had to sit down to recover from the shock.

    In this very building there are 6 million books alone, a figure which jumps to 15 million if several of the other associated buildings are included.

    Anyhow, to my right are the shelves covering everything to do with or related to Marxism. Red primers and commentaries numbering in the hundreds fill my field of vision.

    But lo! What cannot I lay my hands upon in this revolutionary section? Bad Marxism, surely not!

    In my horror I have searched and searched the catalogue…

    ” Bad Marxism ” = 0

    ” Hutnyk ” = 0

    Rest assured comrade, when I have got my breath back , I will storm the Director’s office on floor three and occupy it until these heathen goody two shoe Marxists are overthrown.

    RED SALUTE!!!! ;-)


  5. So, the conference was significant, even exciting. Full house every day. Our host Kostas happily announcing that the ticket was the hottest that weekend, even as Michael Jackson’s O2 Arena seats sold out. Slavoj Žižek’s talk on sunday morning was received with a wave of almost cult like adulation. Other speakers efforts were mixed. Consensus is – from a survey of the many people I talked to – that Alberto Toscano’s paper was the most interesting and important. Other people denounced the whole show as bourgeois ‘fair-weather’ communism’ or ‘confusing’, a ‘circus’ (where were the trapeze acts?). There were several different critiques of Badiou for his views on China (no applause for his comments on the cultural revolution, while every other comment, inane or not, got a clap from at least someone). The RCP USA circulated a polemic, others muttered under their breath that he was dull. All in all, obviously a touch paper for something – most other speakers and commentators, especially Slavoj, referred to him. If Badiou today represents the present leading edge of interest in communism, this means trouble for all of us since, some say, rather than pursue an active project of revolutionary struggle he has capitulated to abstract hope. This may be a valid accusation: from his comments we can diagnose his ideas on the ‘failure’ of the cultural revolution, and on the State Party form, as dangerously misleading – they pander to people who think communism is about purchasing the correct books for display on one’s bookshelf. We cannot only read (very well translated) philosophy and interpret our way to a new world, the point is to change it.

    All in all I think the most important thing is this conference happened, there is a strata within the 1000 that turned up to a conference named ‘the idea of communism’ that will hear something more. A move from abstract conference going intellectual work to more practical work becomes more attractive to more people… Slavoj was dead right to quote Beckett – ‘fail again, fail better’.


  6. If nothing else – and it was much more than nothing, whatever problems might be canvassed (see here and here and here) the Idea of Communism conference succeeded in getting Radio Four to discuss the C-word seriously, with Žižek in very fine form – here.


    Next time, we make with the party project too. (And somehow I think this event, for all its flaws, redeems the Žižek project as pretty fine circus ringmastery. Good effort SZ.


  7. Spivak is already being scouted for the main role in the bollywood version of Driving Miss Daisy…1st class all expenses paid globe trotting just ain’t her thing anymore, she’s getting back to her ethnic roots.

    From BBC News:

    The Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, has been launched in India.

    Costing just 100,000 rupees ($1,979; £1,366), the Nano will now go on sale across India next month, with deliveries starting in July.

    Tata hopes the 10-foot (3-metre) long, five-seater car will be cheap enough to encourage millions of Indians to trade up from their motorcycles.

    Tata owner Ratan Tata has described the Nano as a “milestone”. Analysts say it will not make a profit for six years.


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