Engaging Bob Avakian’s THE NEW COMMUNISM:
Voices from the October 8 Book Launch
October 24, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Watch the Launch of THE NEW COMMUNISM from Bob Avakian
Featuring: Cornel West/Carl Dix, Moderated by: Andy Zee
ORDER THE NEW COMMUNISM HERE.
At the book launch in Harlem, October 8:
Carl Dix gave a passionate talk on the new book and Bob Avakian himself. He gave the audience a sense of BA’s work over the decades—the content of that work (as concentrated in THE NEW COMMUNISM), and what motivated him to do that work.
Cornel West, coming from his point of view as a revolutionary Christian, spoke on the integrity and importance of BA’s leadership and its relation to the whole “profound commitment [of Black people] to trying to understand this capitalist civilization in profound decay and pervasive decline.”
(From left) Carl Dix and Cornel West focused particularly on questions of morality and leadership, including getting into the Cultural Revolution within the RCP. Andy Zee (right) moderated.
Sunsara Taylor and Noche Diaz read excerpts from THE NEW COMMUNISM.
Revolution conducted interviews with people who attended the October 8 launch of Bob Avakian’s new work, THE NEW COMMUNISM, at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York (“THE NEW COMMUNISM by Bob Avakian Launched at Great Program in Harlem”), and also with people who attended an event in Berkeley, California, where a broadcast of the book launch was aired. Below is Part 1 of edited excerpts from some of those interviews—Part 2 is available here.
Student from New England college
On how they heard about the event:
...I heard about it just yesterday from my friend who goes to another college. I heard that Cornel West was speaking and I heard it was about the book THE NEW COMMUNISM and I hadn’t heard of Avakian yet, but I realized that it was something that I wanted to do, so I came today. So I’m very new to all this, new to these groups.
On what struck them about the readings from the book:
...With that, I believe I was struck by the recognition that it is so much easier for people of privilege to ignore what’s happening, like saying, “it’s not to my taste, it’s not pleasant,” than the people who are actually facing it. And so this idea of looking at science, looking at things as they actually are... like it’s not like you’re going to choose whether you want to buy this idea or not buy this idea or which one makes you feel the best. To have more accountability for everyone, and make more of a sense of community, like really caring about what’s going on with everyone. And really looking at things rather than trying to ignore them if they’re not easy. With that I also like want to do more to put myself in that situation and read the news more. I think a lot of the time I do ignore the news.
On what they thought of the event overall:
I thought it was really powerful, and one thing that Cornel West said that still is sticking me about how we need this belief in god or whatever kind of god or something, it doesn’t have to be god in particular but the recognition that humans don’t know everything and that you can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future and how that recognition of human fallibility is so important in doing these very radical things, is very, like, changing the structure of everything so much and to dare to do that we need to recognize that we don’t know everything. Yeah, that was really powerful.
On how they see their role in relation to the movement for revolution:
It’s made me realize that I want to prioritize my time more for this sort of thing because we all have to choose how we prioritize our time and if it’s in more of a consumer sense or not, like we have to decide what we do. So it’s not going to be like all of a sudden I’m going to become this really great communist—I’m really not even sure what that means, but it’s OK to be feeling kind of intimidated by everything, but still at the same time, like, challenging myself and actually doing things.
Graduate student at a theological seminary
When you first picked up the book, what struck you the most about it?
Perhaps Bob Avakian’s gift, among many, is his ability to take complex ideas and espouse them in a lucid manner. So having read Marx, having read Lenin, having read a number of these folks, I could see a lot of that work in the background of what Avakian was saying. But I appreciate the way in which he is able to make these concepts lucid and clear for anybody to pick up the book, as well as bringing in his own analysis and taking things further. So for me it’s just the accessibility of the text. Most people can dig into wherever they’re coming at it from. Avakian makes it plain.
How did this particular experience today affect your thinking and how you relate to the movement for revolution?
I think that especially in today’s climate, we have to be unapologetic about our principles and our politics. Unapologetic in those principles and politics that we claim and unapologetic in the way in which we work to bring about the world that we envision. So it’s refreshing to see people come out here and not try to sound “correct” or sound the way most of our pundits on TV and the radio sound. And just come out and just say, hey, I’m about trying to uplift humanity and I’m not going to apologize about that. And this is the way that I see society, this is the system that’s in place that I feel we need to critique and abolish and these are my principles. It’s refreshing to have that kind of unapologetic revolutionary energy emanating from the panelists as well as everyone, I thought, in the place. So I’ll just leave here just further inspired to continue on the path of trying to make the world a better place and stand up for what’s right. I’m gonna continue to support the Party, the way that I have. I think Cornel West is a great analog for me in terms of—we both come from similar backgrounds, as revolutionary Christians and folks who have profound respect for members of the Party. Continue to grow, continue to wrestle, continue to support each other and work together to make the world a better place.
Woman who learned of the event on Cornel West’s Facebook page
The most important thing I got out of the whole experience is that the system doesn’t work. It’s working. It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. This whole “the system is broken thing” is wrong... I wish this had gone another two hours, there’s so much to talk about.
Short, incremental change might make things better but in the long term, we can’t change without fundamental change. During my undergrad, my major was law and society, and we had to write a paper questioning whether law can fix injustice. My topic was mass incarceration, so I got involved with the Stop Mass Incarceration Movement, and I got introduced to BAsics. I’m a law student, so I don’t have a lot of time on my hands but this is something I want to put some time in. I come from the South Bronx... I’ve been questioning whether elections themselves can bring meaningful social change. I was a big Bernie Sanders supporter, I believed in his cause. But now after hearing a lot of the things that were said, I’m wondering if somebody who is elected to the office of presidency could actually do anything within the system we’re living in. The answer is becoming a little bit more clear to me and the answer is no. I’m starting to think revolution might be the answer. I’ve got THE NEW COMMUNISM in my book bag.
Black man from Baltimore
Of the readings today, which ones did you really like, or which ones really struck you?
Leadership. Leadership—I’ve always been interested in leadership is because what usually happens to our dedicated leadership, the sacrifice that they make. So I make a concerted effort to support the leadership. So I thought that the comments at the very end by the guy from Revolution Books, Andy [Zee], were very succinct. People are going to talk shit. They’re going to talk shit about Bob, they’re going to talk shit about the Party. And we ain’t going for it. We will correct them and we will encourage them to join the revolution.
Professor at a theological seminary
What was your familiarity with Bob Avakian before this? Had you gotten the book?
I’ve read some of his earlier work. I haven’t read this one yet but I’m really excited to read it and I appreciate his giving a science and strategy to communist revolution because the revolution won’t be televised—it must be organized. And that takes thought, both understanding the structures of neoliberal capitalism, how to dismantle it and how to rebuild an economy that the seven billion people of the world are all stakeholders in and can achieve a level of economic equity, social harmony, and ecological sustainability that is vital to the future of the planet.
What about the discussion between Carl Dix and Cornel West?
I like when Carl Dix talked about the fact that the logic of the capitalist civilization plays itself out in rape culture. And given the fact that yesterday was the release of the Trump tapes where he bragged about trying to sexually assault a married woman—that Trump tape is deeply disturbing and unveils, it makes visible, those who are rendered invisible in our society—women, Blacks and Muslims, who Trump is against because he’s trying, his project is animated by the white masculine... And what I appreciate about Bob Avakian is that he is saying that all people matter, all people are valuable, sacred, and should be treated with economic dignity. When we analyze the injustice of the neoliberal capitalistic system, revolution entails not just interpersonal love but systematic economic reform.
Young man from Queens, New York
I actually came because a friend of mine—we had argument with a bunch of other people on Facebook about the role of voting and it got pretty heated and he said, you know what, how about everyone come up to this event up in Harlem this weekend. So that’s why I’m here. I had no previous knowledge of who Bob Avakian is or anything about this new book. And we came—me and my girlfriend and my friend and his girlfriend, four of us. It was really, really interesting; heard some views that I hadn’t been thinking about in a little while. Not all that I agree with, but I think that that’s the best place that you start to learn, where you start to disagree and start to question. So I got the book and I look forward to reading it.
Was there anything in the readings that stood out for you... anything that surprised you?
Not so much in the readings, but when Brother West mentioned, I guess, criticisms of communism, in the context of some of the actions that Stalin did. And he said, people need to put those decisions and those acts in the context of the time that Stalin was living in and the things that were happening in the world at that time. I think not enough in this particular forum was discussed about the importance of voting in this election and the context around that; the context of what certain alternatives might be if we opt out from voting. And I think that was missing from the discussion.
Well, the context here was the need for revolution, to “overthrow, don’t vote for, this system”—that anything less is going to keep the whole framework of this oppressive system intact.
Well, that is one alternative, but I don’t know if that is going to work... but I’m going to read the book. I’m going to try and learn as much as I can from it. I come from a family of “socialists”—my mom, my aunts are from the West Indies—I remember their discussions about revolution. My mom worked for a radio station in Guyana and was fired for praising some of Castro’s initiatives. These types of conversations, these ways of thinking, aren’t foreign to me. I guess something that’s just thoughts that have been removed from my thought process recently.
That kind of gets me to my last questions—because this program today is certainly re-introducing these questions into your thought process. And I find it really interesting how you ended up here. So how did this experience affect your thinking and how you might relate to this movement for revolution?
I’d like to get into the nuts and bolts of this particular book, to see what this new science of revolution is really about, and the science of communism. I guess when you hear, before hearing the term, “political revolution” in the context of the Sanders campaign, it was more so—OK, I hear that but that’s not real revolution. So I guess, before coming here today, when I heard that word, it was like in one ear and out the other. And now, maybe I have a little bit more to work with.
Student who came with their City College class on civil rights movements
Well, I actually honestly loved Professor Cornel West’s speech and the fact that he said that it’s catastrophic and problematic. It’s problematic and that had a very... there’s different distinctions between that and the fact that he brought in... there’s this thing about the media where they’re portraying these Muslims, especially he talked about Muslims... there’s this portrayal that they’re rebelling and ISIS is doing all this. Not that we’re agreeing with what ISIS is doing, but it also makes you think about, well, why are these people reacting the way they are? Because you think about it—over in Afghanistan and Iraq you have that... Americans are taking over their world over there and no one sees that as such a bad thing and you’re looking at this as, well, they’re the bad people. And you’re creating this animosity over here and where you’re seeing Muslims as terrorism. I think that it’s good that Professor West pointed that out and said that we need to think that it’s the difference between problematic and catastrophic. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but it did make a difference to us. It made sense to me about what he said. And I think a lot of people... it’s good that we came out today and heard people speak about this and the new communism and what it could possibly.... Because I’m very much skeptical about will the new communism work. I’m not sure... will it work? ...because we’re so engrossed into this capitalist society that it seems impossible to bring us out from that because it’s been so long. I’m actually excited to order the book.
How they see their role, in relation to the movement for revolution:
[Carl Dix] said that it has to do with a lot of... it’s not only reading it. You actually have to be analytical about it and think critically and being able to participate in that... not just read about it and know it. You want to buy it and taking on that leadership and talking to other people about it. Like you said, it’s not only just being a liberal. So it makes you think—these are not just.... It’s different because you actually have to be participating in these revolutions if you want something to actually...if there’s [going to be] a difference. There’s a lot and I’m trying to let it process into my head. He did say a lot of things that reminisce with me and I have to think about it on my train ride because I have an hour-long train ride to go home.
Latino Student from Berkeley
What did you think of the readings from THE NEW COMMUNSIM?
I liked them a lot. I think they are really eye-opening. It’s easy to speak about revolution without having a plan. Their talks really show how this is not just a whim, it’s really planned, there’s evidence toward this, it’s not just talking, there’s like years and years of study that’s been put forward toward this cause, that we are ready for this, that there is a plan to follow, and that there’s actually, if everything goes according to a plan, it will create actually a better society for people.
...I liked the part about the book on [BA reading] Capital, and how it used this complex language, because many times when I read books that deal with these topics, like government and politics, I feel like they are trying to keep us away from it, so yeah, I actually could identify with it, it’s like they’re not trying to communicate with us, like they are not intending for us to actually understand it. I think if we really want to change the world, we have to take our time and work through the system, actually understand what’s going on with the system, understand what’s wrong, learn what we need to do to change it.
What did you think of what Carl Dix and Cornel West said?
Actually I had to leave during Cornel’s presentation cuz I needed to. But Carl’s presentation, I loved it. I love how he speaks about the story of the Party, I love how he speaks through history, I love how he quoted the BAsics, how he was saying, how Bob Avakian says, just because he’s a white man, if they’re expecting him to be apologetic about getting a position of leadership that they’re gonna be disappointed, because he’s not gonna adopt an apologetic posture. And I think that’s something really important. A group of oppressed people need leadership and we should not apologize because we don’t look like the group. He also said, in the same quote, he doesn’t feel sorry for the people that are being oppressed, he sympathizes with them and feels their pain, but he doesn’t feel sorry because he knows that they are capable of change, and he doesn’t expect anything less from them than change, because he believes... why believe that they are capable of anything less than change? That’s very important. I believe that many times the media portrays victims just like that, like they need our support, they need this and that, and I think that actually like takes away from part of their humanity, of their possibilities for a better future. Like we believe they need help, but believe that they are actually able to provide for themselves, their own help, to make a better government for themselves. This is something really important.
Any comments on what Cornel said before you left?
From what I heard, the thing that I liked the most was when he was talking about how Bob Avakian is not like this god-like entity, he recognizes that he’s just another human being, that he’s just another individual. But after having all these years of studying the revolution, that his voice has evidence to back it up. Like, OK, yeah, we understand that he’s just an individual, but he has 50 years working on this, he has the experience, he has the preparation, so why not hear him, why not understand that he has the capacity to be talking about this?
Well, now you got THE NEW COMMUNISM! What are you going to do as a result of this program?
First I want to read, to finish reading the book. I want to understand his plan. From what I’ve been seeing, I totally agree with the main points. If I end up agreeing with the main points in the book, I will speak about it with my friends, like when we are speaking about politics. I was never really involved in politics before this year. Many of my friends actually are the same, like they are not really involved in politics, like me. I always disagreed with the two-party system because why choose one or the other? People seem to forget that there are more than two candidates because of how the media portrays everything, only focusing on Democrats or Republicans. So I will speak with my friends to convince them that there are other options. You don’t need to vote for one or the other. You can be part of the change.
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