By the Editors of Revolution
Cornel West, commenting on From Ike to Mao and Beyond
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From a letter from a prisoner forwarded from Insight Press to Revolution, commenting on Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy
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Howard Zinn, commenting on From Ike to Mao and Beyond
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Comments from a proletarian, after listening to Bob Avakian's talk "Conservatism, Christian Fundamentalism, Liberalism and Paternalism...Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton... Not All 'Right' but All Wrong!"
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Bill Martin, Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University, in introduction to Marxism and the Call of the Future
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Communist artist, commenting on DVD Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About
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Tom Harker, Free Press review
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From a letter from Joanne Rojas, proletarian woman, printed in Revolution, Aug 20, 2006
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Reverend George W. Webber, Professor of Urban Ministry and President Emeritus, New York Theological Seminary, commenting on Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality but Not Traditional Morality
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Man from El Salvador commenting on Bob Avakian at a reading of his memoir
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Elemental Magazine review of From Ike to Mao and Beyond
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Hal Perry, member of the University of San Francisco Dons NCAA basketball champions, 1955-56
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Comments by a woman after showing of the DVD Revolución in Mexico City
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San Francisco Chronicle review of From Ike to Mao and Beyond
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Carol Downer, co-founder, Feminist Women’s Health Centers, commenting on From Ike to Mao and Beyond
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Juan Gomez-Quiñones, historian and writer, UCLA, commenting on From Ike to Mao and Beyond
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Reverend Earl Kooperkamp, Pastor, St. Marys Church, Harlem, NYC, commenting on Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About
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Allen Wood, philosophy professor, Stanford University, commenting on Marxism and the Call of the Future, by Bob Avakian and Bill Martin
The situation we face—the situation the whole planet faces—cries out for change. Urgently. Look around, with fresh eyes. See:
• the bloody wars—now raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, with Iran
looming next, and no end in sight. All in the name of “safety”…and all
for the sake of empire;
• the lopsidedness of today’s world: the starvation, the agonizing—but curable—diseases, and the desperation that rages in the oppressed regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America…and the unimaginable wealth and luxury in the dominant (and dominating) nations…wealth and luxury in large part drawn from that very lopsidedness;
• the brutal oppression of whole peoples, from New Orleans to the U.S.-Mexican border to the ghettos, barrios, and reservations beyond. Oppression rooted in this country's brutal history and now taking twisted new forms…where the penitentiary replaces the plantation and the millions of immigrants are driven, before our eyes, into a new form of servitude;
• the age-old subjugation of women, encoded in custom, law, and family—and today reinforced with growing reactionary virulence;
• the enforced ignorance that squanders the potential of human beings…accelerated in these times by the mushrooming of fascist movements based on fundamentalist religion;
• and the blind pursuit of profit—the essence and the heartbeat of capitalism—that rushes headlong as the planet itself burns.
All this and more has persisted for generations. All this and more assumes ever more perverse forms. All this and more cries out for radical change.
The “conventional wisdom” says that fundamental change is unrealistic, even impossible. But in reality the most “unrealistic” thing in the world is to hope to touch things up around the edges, to put your trust in official channels and established authority, while things continually get worse. If a different—a better—world is possible, you’ve got to struggle to understand how and fight to bring it into being.
That demands leadership. And that is where Bob Avakian comes in.
Bob Avakian fought against the war in Vietnam in the 1960s, and worked closely with the Black Panther Party in the struggle for Black liberation. He was inspired by the courage and creativity of the masses who rose up in those times and the horizons they opened. He was fired by anger at those injustices and by an unstoppable drive to understand their root causes—a fire that burns in him to this day. And as he dug deeper, he saw a system, one whose very rules and workings give rise to—and indeed require—this oppression.
Then, grasping not only that things shouldn’t be this way but that they didn’t have to be this way, he became a revolutionary and a communist. He persevered, even after the high tide of revolution ebbed. He built, and today leads, a revolutionary party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA—a party that has mobilized thousands to fight against the system in different ways through the past decades and that has continued to promote revolution and communism.
But Bob Avakian is more than that. He is someone who has persisted in confronting the hardest, most excruciating questions before humanity. In so doing, he’s taken the communist understanding of the world and how to change it to a new place. The answers he’s brought forward and the pathways he’s forged demand a serious look—a deep engagement—from everyone concerned about the future of humanity.
The Hard Questions…
the “Conventional Wisdom”…
and the Leadership of Bob Avakian
|Conventional wisdom says that revolution
is impossible in a country like the U.S.—that the rulers of this country
are just too powerful, the people in the middle too comfortable, and
the people on the bottom too ground down and divided.
There is no sense in denying that it can certainly seem that way. But if revolution is necessary—and it is—then you have to figure out, no matter the seeming odds, how it could come about. Bob Avakian has taken up this challenge. He's analyzed the deep weaknesses boiling beneath the surface of the seemingly awesome strength of the rulers. He's stayed in touch with the seething anger, the lofty aspirations, and the potential power churning within the people—even when those are suppressed or misdirected, as they typically are today. He’s shown the basis and the ways for such a revolution to reach out to and eventually win over the great majority of people in the U.S. (including most of the large middle class).
Such a revolution—to be a real revolution—must be the conscious and determined act of millions. It can only be undertaken when the system is in deep crisis and masses are convinced there is no other way. And no, that’s not where things are at… now. But it’s not a matter of sitting passively in the face of that; Bob Avakian has developed the orientation and political strategy to hasten that day, and the Party he leads devotes all its energies and creativity to that.
Fundamental to a truly communist revolution is this: the people who today are at the bottom of society, whether slaving at jobs or cast off altogether, must rise above what this system has cast them into and lead the revolution and the transformation of all society. Bob Avakian has never lost his connection to these masses. He’s never lost sight of their potential to come forward as true “emancipators of humanity,” nor stopped struggling with them to rise to this challenge. He’s never stopped searching for the ways to unleash them, to forge alliances with, to learn from, and to struggle in a good way with diverse groups throughout society… and to do this throughout the whole revolutionary process.
But it’s not just that. Bob Avakian listens to, and learns deeply from, people from all walks of society, and he brings all that to bear in strategic thinking. And he has never ceased to provide practical leadership in building movements and struggles to bring this revolutionary movement—and a “revolutionary people”—into being.
Revolution in the U.S. is needed… and it can happen. The path, the road, to this has been pointed to, and it is being forged in practice, under Bob Avakian’s leadership.
wisdom says that socialism not only didn’t work but that it can’t
work, and that “communism is dead.”
So goes the relentless drumbeat of the past decades. But is it true? In fact, Bob Avakian has deeply analyzed the experience of the “first wave” of socialist revolutions that took place in Russia and then in China. He’s dug into their achievements: for the first time in history, yesterday’s slaves and oppressed not only held power, but made breathtaking advances in abolishing the horrific ills that drove them to revolution in the first place. These revolutions took giant and unprecedented strides in overcoming inequality and injustice, in providing a better life and hope for people, and yes, in making real the working people’s actual control over society. And all this was done in the face of vicious and powerful opposition, and in an absolutely new situation, with no previous experience to learn from.
But it doesn’t—and it can’t—rest there. Bob Avakian has also thoroughly analyzed how and why capitalism was restored in the Soviet Union and China. He's examined deeply how the revolutionaries tried to prevent it, and what must be learned—positive and negative—from the whole experience.
Based on all that, he has developed a new understanding of how socialist society can and must be both liberating and truly vibrant. Like the best experience of the earlier socialist revolutions, the new revolutionary state power would be a tool in the hands of the people to suppress the forces of reaction. It would move quickly to wipe out the injustices and radically transform the inequalities inherited from the old system.
The new society would also develop an economy that would provide the necessities of life for everyone. But it would not rely on the exploitation of billions of people overseas for its “juice,” and it would not despoil the planet itself in a blind pursuit of “more, more, more.” It would develop the new economy as part of carrying through transformations that would, over time and in waves, eliminate the division of people into classes—as well as the capitalist-style relations between people, and the old institutions and ideas that would still exert a strong influence, even after the revolution. It would, of course, have to carry all this forward in the face of relentless opposition from the imperialists all over the world and the now-overthrown exploiters; and, in order to even survive, the new power would have to be able to firmly stand up to and defeat attempts by those forces to restore capitalism.
But as a fundamental part of all this, the new revolutionary power would also allow for—indeed, it would foster and encourage—dissent, and it would seek to learn from that dissent. And this includes dissent that is fundamentally opposed to the aims of the new society (so long as this doesn’t take the form of an actual, concrete attempt to overthrow socialism). This would be on a whole other scale and dimension, a difference in quality, from what has been done in the socialist societies of the past.
The new revolutionary state would mobilize people to pull together and solve problems through cooperative and collective means; but it would also value individuality and individual initiative. Even as they participate in collectively changing the world, people would also have freedom and “space,” with a constitution and laws that would clearly spell out individual rights and legal processes.
The arts and sciences and other intellectual arenas would be opened up to those who have been locked out for centuries. Artists, for instance, would be encouraged and enabled to connect with the people in a whole different way and work with the masses to create works that propel society forward. But there would also be room for artists, scientists, and other intellectuals to pursue other visions—again, even when those visions went against particular policies or even overall goals of the socialist state at any given time.
New forms of power will continually be forged through struggle to enable the masses to increasingly rule directly over society. The goal is this: to get to a society of freely associating human beings, able to consciously and voluntarily transform the world and themselves. And to get beyond a society divided into classes and all the ideas that reflect that division into master and slave. That can’t just be a distant vision, like a religious heaven. It has to set the terms for everything and be concretely reflected in actually moving toward that goal, to the greatest degree possible at any time. All this means a socialism that will be far more vibrant and diverse and, yes, far more “wild and woolly” than any previous experience.
Summing this up, Avakian has written that “[Y]ou have to have a solid core that firmly grasps and is committed to the strategic objectives and aims and process of the struggle for communism. If you let go of that you are just giving everything back to the capitalists in one form or another, with all the horrors that means. At the same time, if you don’t allow for a lot of diversity and people running in all kinds of directions with things, then not only are people going to be building up tremendous resentment against you, but you are also not going to have the rich kind of process out of which the greatest truth and ability to transform reality will emerge.” [from Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, p. 22]
Bob Avakian’s re-envisioning of socialist society and the transition to communism—this model of a vibrant society where injustice is rooted out and where debate and ferment flourish in unprecedented ways—is a new cause for hope, a new vision to aspire to.
wisdom says that communism has no room for high ideals and dreams
and “heart,” and that people need religion; or else that communism
is, after all, just another religion.
But this too is not—or should not be—so. Bob Avakian insists that communist ideology give voice to people’s highest ideals and aspirations…on the basis of the joys and wonder of seeking to know—and change—the world. And getting to the truth—nothing else and nothing less, and no matter how “uncomfortable” it may be—must be the watchword of this.
Avakian has broken new ground on the important role of ethics and morality in a revolutionary society. He’s analyzed how the basic relations of today’s society drive people to confront each other as “owners of things” and forces them to strive to profit at each other’s expense. Capitalism compels people, despite the hypocritical urgings to “love your neighbor,” into the mentality (and the “bottom-line” morality) of “look out for number one.” Communist morality, on the contrary, is based on living a life and taking actions that aim to abolish and get beyond the division of humanity into dominator and dominated, to get beyond a society where people scramble and claw to rise within that. The aim of communist morality is to get to a world in which the means to produce the necessities of life are held in common by humanity and social life itself is marked by the mutual flourishing of human beings. At the heart of communist morality is concern for the masses of people, worldwide—not only their suffering, but their great untapped potential to transform the world and the condition of humanity as a whole.
Communists are often accused of believing that "the ends justify the means." This accusation, actually, fits the morality of the rulers of capitalist society to a tee. But Avakian has not rested with that. He has argued that the means that communists choose must be consistent with and flow from the ends (ultimate goals and most basic principles). And he has insisted that this be a matter of constant self-interrogation by revolutionaries.
He has also shined a penetrating light on the dangers posed by the rise of religious fundamentalism, including the Christian fascist movement within the U.S. He has shown how religion is like a narcotic, offering the illusion of relief and release but keeping people from understanding the real causes of their misery and from moving to put an end to the conditions that cause such misery. Religion, he has sharply pointed out, is one of the most powerful chains on the masses of people, helping to maintain them in an enslaved and degraded condition. At the same time, he has also pointed out that many people who hold religious beliefs are genuinely opposed to many forms of oppression and injustice and that communists, while widely and boldly promoting atheism, must seek common ground with progressive religious people and engage in healthy discussion and debate with them.
Bob Avakian has also taken on and broken with the dogmatic and stereotypical thinking and methods that have infected all too much of the communist movement. He’s stressed the need for communists, while staying grounded in their own principles and methods, to seek out dialogue with and learn from other trends, thinkers, and movements. He’s developed Mao’s principle that “Marxism embraces, but does not replace” activity in other spheres of endeavor. This means that while the communist method and approach should be applied to every sphere of human knowledge and activity, there is still a need to go deeply into the particulars of different realms of knowledge; and that communists must learn from the truths uncovered by others who are not communists and who may even oppose communism. Further, in the face of the “everything’s relative, we all have our own different truths” fashion of the day, Bob Avakian has struggled for the orientation of being firm on what we know to be true at any given time, while remaining open to the possibility that we may be wrong and seeking to learn from those who disagree with us…all to advance the deepening of human understanding of what is true.
This restless search for the truth has often led Avakian to “go against the tide.” He has stood up for truth and refused to back down, even in the face of tremendous and fierce opposition, including, at times, from within the communist movement. It’s a question of whether you want revolution badly enough, he has said, to be rigorously scientific about it.
In all, Bob Avakian is a leader intoxicated with the truth: he follows the search for the truth wherever it leads and deeply opposes mental enslavement to religious belief, superstition, and dogma—in any form.
“for all its faults, we can’t do better than American democracy.”
This is not only not true—it is a deadly illusion. Bob Avakian has shown how the deep roots of U.S. society in the enslavement of Africans and the genocide against Native American Indian people has shaped the structure and dynamics of “American democracy” down to today. Even the much-vaunted but in reality severely limited freedoms of this democracy—freedoms which are now being rapidly eliminated in the name of the “war on terror”—are founded on a platform of the most pitiless exploitation around the world and the openly draconian repression that goes with that.
The “great American democracy” is not, Avakian has written, “some classless, pure democracy, but is a system of rule, and of democracy, that is also based on the exploitation and oppression of masses of people, not only in the U.S. but throughout the world. In other words, this is a democracy that is founded on and serves the capitalist and imperialist system and the ruling class that presides over and benefits from that system.” [From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, A Memoir by Bob Avakian, p. 427]
This is not just a matter of hypocrisy, or of “promises betrayed.” In fact, this flows from the limitations and narrow horizons of even the “ideal” of democracy that is founded on the capitalist form of production. Such a democracy must, after all (and above all), protect and enforce the “right” of the individual to compete for profit and advantage against other individuals. This competition would, even if everyone could somehow start out equally in an ideal “Jeffersonian democracy,” inevitably give rise to exploitation and class polarization. Soon those who had “risen to the top” economically would, by virtue of their wealth and leisure, dominate the political life and monopolize the coercive tools—the army, police, and prisons—of the state. In other words, even the ideal of American democracy would inevitably give rise to the repressive reality of today.
Bob Avakian has deeply shown the lie at the source of the illusions that trap people in an unrealizable “American dream”…and the truth about why it has, and could only have, turned into a nightmare for so many.
|Conventional wisdom says that the huge and horrific gap between the rich imperialist nations and the oppressed regions of the world can never really be abolished; or that the only thing that can be done is for the oppressed nations to either get a better share of the plunder…or beg for handouts. And conventional wisdom insists that people can never get beyond national divisions and nationalism.|
The domination and plunder of Asia, Africa, and Latin America by the imperialist powers may be the most glaring injustice on this planet. Bob Avakian has excavated the underlying dynamics that give rise to and reinforce that. On that basis, he has provided an even deeper foundation to Marx’s principle that communists approach revolution from the standpoint of the whole world—of emancipating all of humanity—and not from that of any single nation.
He’s shown how revolution in a country like the U.S. would have to go about truly breaking with its international domination and exploitation, so deeply embedded in its present structure. And he’s gone into the problems confronting the oppressed nations in making revolution and overcoming that oppression. He’s developed the principle that new revolutionary governments, even as they defend themselves against attack from imperialists, cannot pit that defense against supporting revolution elsewhere; they must not “settle into the status quo” but struggle instead to spread revolution across the world.
Bob Avakian grew up with a bone-deep hatred for the ugly racism and white supremacy that festers at the root of American society. For over 40 years he’s fiercely upheld the struggles of oppressed nations and nationalities and tirelessly fought against American chauvinism and white supremacy and racism. This is something he won’t give an inch on—something at his very core. At the same time, he has also refused to water down internationalism or bring anything less than that to the masses or movements of the oppressed nationalities. He’s constantly sought the concrete ways to unite the masses of all nationalities in struggle against all oppression—including, as a dividing line element of that, the manifestations of white supremacy. He’s put it straight out that there’s nothing “sacred” about the borders of the U.S. and welcomed immigrants into the struggle. He has insisted that a new revolutionary state in the U.S. would have to first “raise up the bottom,” and put overwhelming emphasis on wiping out the legacies of racism and white supremacy. And he has developed a whole approach as to how that would be done.
Bob Avakian, through his ideas and his practice and his life itself, has shown that the divisions of people into oppressor and oppressed nationalities and races is not something eternal, but something deeply embedded in the imperialist system…and that this can and will be overcome through fierce struggle against that oppression and those divisions, as part of making revolution and bringing in a communist world.
Emancipating All of Humanity
Bob Avakian has given great emphasis to the fact that ending the oppression of women must be one of the most crucial parts and one of the fundamental aims of the communist revolution. There are those who insist that it is right and necessary for men to dominate and rule over women—that this is the way things are, and are meant to be, and nothing can, or should, be done to change this. And there are others who oppose this but do not recognize that the oppression of women is deeply rooted not only in thousands of years of tradition's chains but also in the basic relations, structures, and institutions of "modern" capitalist society. Cutting through all this, Bob Avakian has made clear:
The oppression of women and the domination by men over women do not result from the "will" of some non-existent "god" and is not "the natural order of things." Nor is this something which can be uprooted without the most radical changes in human society. In reality, this oppression and domination arose together with, and as a key part of, the division of human society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited; and, in turn, the ending of all forms of exploitation, the abolition of all relations of master and slave, is completely bound up with the elimination of every aspect of inequality between men and women and all the ways in which women are dominated, degraded, and demeaned. The emancipation of women is a vital, crucial, and absolutely necessary part of the revolutionary struggle to emancipate all of humanity and bring a radically new and far better world into being.
The Necessity of—
and the Great Challenges Posed by—
More than anyone, Bob Avakian has pointed to the answers to the excruciating questions now posed before humanity and shown the pathways to solve the agonizing problems. As part of that, he’s invited as many people as possible into the process of figuring it all out—in order both to truly find the answers and to prepare the masses to rule. He is a leader for these times…a truly revolutionary leader with a truly revolutionary vision and method.
“Where are the leaders?”
Here is a leader, one you urgently need to check out, engage with, and follow.
Yet some people chafe at the very idea of a leader. They warn of the dangers—and there are dangers—posed by concentrating power in the hands of a leader, or of a vanguard leading party, and go on to say that we should not have leaders.
But society is still divided between those who are trained to work with ideas and have access to those ideas, and those who have been denied that training and access. As long as that is true, some people will exert disproportionate influence on society. Some will, in other words, lead others. This division will only be overcome—and the necessity for and character of leadership radically changed—with the abolition of that “mental/manual” division between people with the achievement of communist society.
Until that time, the need for leadership—especially for those seeking to really change the world—is life-and-death. Just think seriously about what we are up against and what it will take to actually make and carry through a revolution. Then think about the complexity involved in both carrying forward the transformations of the newly-born revolutionary society and simultaneously defending it against powerful foes…all in an atmosphere of wrangling and upheaval. Can all this be at all realistically conceived of without tested leaders to guide and navigate the way?
The question, then, is NOT “leaders vs. no leaders”—the question is what kind of leaders, with what kind of goals and methods. Bob Avakian himself put it this way: “Whom you choose to follow, whom you look to as a leader, has to do with what they represent, what road they are on and, fundamentally, what kind of world they are working and struggling to bring into being—or, to put it another way, where they will lead people who follow them.” [From "Do the Masses Need Bill Cosby’s Scolding or Do They Need to Leadership to Put an End to Oppression?” available online at revcom.us]
Bob Avakian has fought for and further developed the principle first brought forward by Lenin: making revolution requires a vanguard party, that is, a tested leading group basing itself on communist ideology. And if it is truly a vanguard, Avakian has added, it must serve to unleash the conscious initiative of the masses in transforming all of society.
At the same time, history has borne out that there is a real danger of such a party becoming an oppressive instrument itself, especially when in a position of authority. Avakian has deeply explored why this is so, and what can and must be done to correctly handle this extremely difficult and complex problem. And he has struggled to make all this widely known, so that the masses themselves will not just be aware of this problem but will have a scientific understanding of it. The people must be in a position to not only “hold the leadership accountable” but to step by step advance, in concert with materially transforming the world, to eventually overcoming and transcending that gap.
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Other folks know that we need leaders, but they agonize over the way that leaders who seem to really be for the people can get taken out by the powers-that-be. Or, to be frank, by the way that leaders can sell out.
As for selling out, anyone can lose sight of the real aspirations, creativity, and energy of the people that are constantly suppressed and distorted by this system. Anyone can lose their connection to the masses.
But not everybody does. The thing about Bob Avakian is that he has never lost sight of those aspirations and creativity, or stopped cherishing that connection. Moreover, he has done everything possible to make his method and approach and everything that he’s learned “the property” of the people. He has challenged people to rise to their best, in the service of humanity and revolution, and has fought to give them the tools to do that.
And he has done all this in the face of great personal risk, and with tremendous personal and political integrity. He has never failed to confront and go deeply into mistakes. Through all this—and in very dark times, when all too many others gave up—he has continued to lead a genuine revolutionary communist vanguard, the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. He has never “settled in”…he has never ceased questioning the world and the revolutionary project itself…and he has never stopped seeking to make revolution. And he has persisted and persevered and gone deeper into that orientation for nearly four decades.
That says something.
There has never been a leader like Bob Avakian in this country. Never one who has so consistently and so deeply confronted and grappled with the deepest questions before people…and never one who fought so hard and so systematically to involve the people themselves in that grappling. Beyond that, this leader belongs in a deep and real way to the people of the world: at a time when the “science of revolution” demands a leap in its understanding in a number of crucial realms, he has stepped forward to fill that great need. The contributions that we have outlined here are essential to the further and future advance of the revolutionary cause and communist project; they are a treasure for humanity.
Extraordinary leaders like Bob Avakian are rare; they are precious to the advance of humanity; they must be cherished and defended. The American system has an extremely ugly history of repression, frame-up, and even assassination in this regard, and they have a doctrine to go with that history. That poses a serious and acute challenge to anyone who cares about fundamental social change. We cannot allow a situation where the oppressors have a sharper understanding of what Bob Avakian represents than the people who hunger for a different, better world! Again, this voice must be heard and this person defended.
This can be done—if people stand up for him, now. We who burn for revolution or even for basic change of any kind have to make clear to the powers-that-be that “if you come after him, you will first have to come through us.” Those who differ, even sharply, with some of the main premises of Bob Avakian’s work—but who appreciate his contributions and thinking on the questions of the day—also need to step forward and make clear that they value his voice and that they will defend his ability to keep functioning and continue his work. All this can create the conditions in which it is possible for Bob Avakian to continue to contribute and to lead, for the benefit of humanity.
This is a challenge to which we must rise.
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To return to where we began—yes, these are dark times. But these are not days without hope. At a time when dreams of liberation are ruled out of order, when the onrushing madness of the day seems to foreclose on the future, and when humanity’s options seem close to running out…someone has stepped forward to proclaim a different way and to point to the path forward.
Listen to that voice… engage with that person… take that path.
By the Editors of Revolution
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