Learning from the Life of Amir Hassanpour

by KJA

July 19, 2017

Like many so many others, I was saddened to learn of Amir Hassanpour’s passing. The grief comes not only from a recognition of all that Amir has done for the communist and revolutionary movements in Iran and the Middle East and more broadly. My grief also stems from that fact that Amir had so much left to say and to do. Even though he left some precious tools for us to use, we will now have to carry on the fight without him.

Amir was, on one level, “typical” of the revolutionary intellectuals who were active in the 1960s. He was an enthusiastic participant in and advocate of the revolutionary national struggles that were then sweeping the world from Kurdistan and Palestine to Vietnam and Brazil. As a student he jumped into the rebellion and intellectual ferment then going on in the United States, France and other countries of the imperialist world. And all of this was heightened and put on a scientific footing by Mao Tsetung and his leadership of the earth-shaking Cultural Revolution in China which was showing in vivid colour the possibility of advancing toward the final goal of a society that finally surpasses all class divisions and all of the rotten relations and ideas that correspond to capitalist exploitation. Amir became a communist, a Maoist, and devoted his considerable talents and energies into the struggle to bring about a communist world.

Amir himself pointed out that “Even many of the nationalist movements regarded themselves as ‘advocates of Mao Tsetung Thought’ and ‘socialist China’, without being actually attracted to communism.” How true this observation is! A great many of the previous “advocates of Mao Tsetung Thought” dropped any such pretention when, after the 1976 coup d’état in China, the party and state leaders themselves violently and vociferously turned against Mao’s communist politics and ideology. Looking back from today, we can see that this phenomenon was even more pronounced and pernicious.

It was not only the pro-China nationalists of Kurdistan or Africa who turned against communism. Among the Maoists of the time, scientific communist ideology lived alongside other, non-communist, politics and world views. It can be said that, in a sense, the forty-year period since the destruction of the revolutionary communist bastion that was Mao’s China has been a whole process of “Maoism dividing into two”. On the one hand, the revolutionary, scientific kernel at the heart of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism has been rescued, corrected where necessary and has been raised to new heights; on the other hand, the secondary weaknesses that coexisted in the previous Maoist movement have become hardened, consolidated, fossilized into political currents (both open revisionism and sometimes “left” dogmatism) that have nothing to do with revolutionary communism and indeed are viciously opposed to it.

Herein lies a great contribution of Amir and a painful loss for the great political and ideological struggle that has begun in all its fury but has not yet won basic victory. Amir was one of many activists and intellectuals from the previous communist movement all over the world who have been confronted with the phenomenon of “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism dividing into two”, even if few understand it that way. What distinguishes Amir from most others who went through much of the same experience, is the openness and eagerness with which he grappled with the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian and Amir’s efforts to side with and promote this new communism.

Amir made important contributions in different revolutionary and intellectual domains in over five decades of activity. Confronting the process of “Maoism dividing into two”, learning to sift out what was essential and correct in our previous understanding and to reject the wrong, the harmful, the non-scientific thinking has not been so easy for most of us who lived that shared experience, even with Avakian shining light on this very contradiction. In this perspective, the power and importance of Amir’s firm adoption of a political position in favour of the new synthesis, despite having to wage a protracted battle against a cruel disease, stands out all the more sharply.

I personally came to know Amir only in the latter years of his revolutionary activity. While I had a number of fruitful and invigorating discussions with Amir, I also realize how much more there is to learn from his thinking. I was very moved to read, over the last few days, an English translation of one of Amir’s last articles, “A Discussion on Scientific Knowledge” from a talk he gave, as I understand it, to some young Kurdish activists in Paris only one year ago and printed in a collection of Amir’s writings done by the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). Amir’s article shows a great deal of insight into crucial questions facing revolutionary intellectuals of all generations. It is not only a declaration in support of the new synthesis of communism, it is also a living example of how the new communism helps us make sense of the political and intellectual currents of the recent decades and how our new, higher level of scientific understanding renews and strengthens the revolutionary commitment to transform the world. I encourage everyone to read it.

In the article mentioned above, Amir recounts how he would combat the influences of post-modernism and identity politics among his students as well as their disdain for Marxism as a “grand narrative”. As he put it, “I would declare that: yes my narratives are grand but I wished they were even grander.” Amir Hassanpour’s narrative is grand indeed, and his thirst for “even grander” is more than something to appreciate: it is something precious to emulate and strive for. Let us learn from Amir and devote our energies, our intellectual capacities, our enthusiasm and our creativity to the cause of communism, as Amir did, until his last breath.

(A regular contributor to Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic)