Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
How often have you been told that, in America, you can be anything you want to be? That this is a free country? That as long as you work hard and make the right choices, the “sky is the limit” on what you can achieve? That if you don’t make it in this society, it’s your own fault?
But is any of this really true? For you, and for the vast majority of people on this planet?
In the weeks leading up to the publication of this issue, a crew of youth from all over the country came to New York City to put revolution and communism on the map. Since understanding the world more deeply is essential to changing it, one key element of our revolutionary work involved interviewing male and female students of many different races and backgrounds, in parks and on street corners, to get a better sense of how you view the world, how you envision your future, and what the burning questions on your mind are. These interviews served as the basis and the inspiration for the content of this special high school and middle school issue.
In the course of our conversations, some of you said you aspired to be a major league baseball player, fashion designer, marine biologist, mathematician, or pilot. Many of you told us that you wanted to work hard, earn a college degree, and be successful, surrounded by friends and family who love you.
Others of you spoke to the profound inequalities in our society, and said that the odds were stacked against you, and against entire groups of people.
However, many of you said there were no obstacles in the way of reaching your goals.
“It just takes a lot of hard work,” said X, a Black high school student, “and you can be mostly whatever you want.”
But the truth is, tens of millions of people in this country and billions more around the world cannot be whatever they want—no matter how hard they work.
For starters, if you are a Black or Latino youth in this country—especially if you are a Black or Latino male—you do not have the choice to walk down the street or sit in front of your own home without fear of being harassed, brutalized, or even killed by the police. Recent studies have shown that the pigs—yes, they are pigs, and it’s time to start calling them that again—stop and frisk hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino men every year in New York City alone.1 The vast majority of them are neither arrested nor given a summons, because even the pigs eventually have to admit they are doing nothing wrong. And those are the “lucky” ones; just ask Sean Bell, a 23-year-old Black man who died in a hail of 50 bullets fired by the NYPD and killed on the night before his wedding, or Oscar Grant, Jr., a 22-year-old Black man executed by pigs in the San Francisco Bay Area as he lay face down on a subway platform. Both men were unarmed.
When we asked Anthony, a high school student of color, if he thought there were limitations on his choices in this society, he answered that he could not walk down the street after 12 o’clock. It wasn’t robbers that he was afraid of. “I would be looked at as I’m probably up to no good or something,” Anthony said. “Police will most likely follow me wherever I’m going, just to make sure.”
In fact, this is a fear that Anthony must live with regardless of the time of day. “A couple of days ago, me and [Anthony’s friend] Vic were just sitting in the park, regular, waiting for one of my friends,” he continued. “Cops came and stopped us, thinking that we were robbing people.”
What kind of freedom, or choices, do Anthony and his friends have? They can stay inside their homes, or they can risk being harassed every time they step outside the front door. They can stand up for their basic rights to walk down the street or sit in a park, thereby risking the wrath of pigs who resent them for being “uppity,” or they can submit to humiliation and abuse in silence—and even that might not save their lives. Just ask Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant who did nothing more than pull out his wallet to show identification before the NYPD struck him down in a hail of 41 bullets.
But if you’re a person of color in America, it’s not just the police that you’re up against. The majority of you also do not get to choose what kind of education you receive, what kind of housing you live in, and what kind of job you will be hired for, all of which have a profound effect on your quality of life and your career options. Studies have repeatedly shown that Black people with no criminal record are less likely to get a job than white people with a criminal record.2 A recent study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that American schools have become more segregated every year since 1991.3 If you’re a youth of color in this society, odds are that you are condemned to overcrowded, separate and unequal schools starved of funding and then threatened with closure if standardized test scores are deemed too low. And there’s a decent chance that you have to pass through metal detectors every morning, as though you were an inmate in a prison.
So what options are there in this society for you, and for millions more like you, who are denied access to decent education, employment, housing, health care, and other necessities for survival?
You have a “choice” between selling drugs or engaging in other forms of crime in order to earn the money needed to survive... or accepting a life of poverty and starvation. And what happens to you if you “choose” the first option? Almost certainly you will be locked away in jail, sometimes for years at a time.
Actually, there is one more option our society offers you: you can join the U.S. military and dedicate your life to murdering and torturing men, women, and children in other parts of the world who are even worse off than you are.
As the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)’s new statement—“The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have” puts it: “This system has robbed so many youth of the chance for a decent life and has got far too many living, dying, and killing for nothing—nothing good—nothing more than messing up people and murdering each other on the streets of the cities here... or joining the military, being trained to be murderers on a mass scale, massacring people in countries across the globe.” (Check out the short version of this statement on page 7.)
The fact that we now have a Black president has not changed any of that.
Or, let’s look at what choices this society offers—or doesn’t offer—hundreds of millions of girls and women. If you’re a female in this society, you cannot choose to live without fear of being raped, as a woman in this country is every 6 minutes, or battered, as a woman in this country is every 15 seconds.4 You cannot choose to turn on the television or the radio, or open a magazine, without seeing yourself portrayed as a servant or sex object. In 87 percent of the counties in this country, you cannot even choose to do as you please with your own body; there is no access to abortion in these counties,5 and if the anti-abortion movement has its way, that 87 percent will soon become 100.
If you are one of millions of immigrants in the U.S. who chose to come to this country to escape desperation and poverty in your homeland, you are not given a choice about whether or not Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) kicks down your door in the middle of the night; whether or not the authorities come to your job and take you away in shackles; whether or not you rot in prison conditions too barbaric even for wild animals; whether or not you are deported and separated from your family.
If you have a different sexual orientation than the heterosexual “norm,” you are not able to choose your romantic partner without fear of being outcast, beaten, or even killed; in most states, you can’t even choose to get married.
So, for huge numbers of people in this country, there are enormous obstacles standing in the way of “being what you want to be.”
And then, there is the question—no matter what your ethnicity, economic background, sexual orientation, or gender is— of what happens even if you do achieve your goals.
You might get to be a scientist, but you won’t get to control whether your work is funded, or how the results of your work are used. You might become a teacher, but what happens when you depart from the curriculum and tell your students the truth about the history of this country, what it does around the world, and how its wealth was built? You might become a doctor, but you can’t make your hospital give life-saving surgery to one of your patients who can’t afford it.
And, even more than that, no matter your occupation, and no matter what type of life you lead, this society does not offer you the choice of what kind of world you want to live in.
The rulers of this society do not ask you whether or not billions of people on this planet should live in slums, digging through garbage dumps for food... or whether or not your government should murder and torture millions of people in Afghanistan or Iraq... or whether or not the pigs should terrorize Black and Latino men on a daily basis. These are not “choices” they give you.
Why? Because of the system of capitalism-imperialism that we live under. A system where a tiny handful of people hoard and control land, natural resources, housing, and medicine at the expense of the overwhelming majority of people on this planet. This system depends on billions of people living in slums, available to work for almost nothing. It depends on subjugating entire peoples for profit. It depends on murdering and torturing in wars launched to maintain control of land, markets, and resources.
And it depends on you accepting the idea that the system we live under today is the best we can hope for.
Fortunately, this is bullshit. Radically different societies have existed before, in the recent past, and they can exist again in the future. And despite what your parents, your teachers, your friends, and your textbooks might have told you... you can be a part of bringing those societies into being.
Referring again to our statement, “The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have”: “The biggest lie of all is that there is no other way than this system—or that attempts to really make a different way, through revolution and advancing towards communism, have brought about something even worse.”
While the choices promoted by this system are false—and sickening—there are real—and crucial—choices that you can make, starting now: You can choose to resist the many horrific crimes of this system. And you can choose to fight for a radically different society and system, and for the emancipation of all humanity.
Fundamentally changing society, on the road to liberating the people of this whole planet, is going to require a revolution. It is going to require, when the time is right, seizing state power from the imperialists in order to create a radically new system of socialism—a system in which the people, through the leadership of a vanguard party, own the land, resources, and factories and run society in order to meet people’s needs and break down oppressive relations and ideas. Socialism, in turn, is a transition to the ultimate goal of communism—a society completely free of classes and exploitation.
Within the lifetime of your parents, there was a real socialist society on this planet. A society where prostitution, drug addiction, and domestic violence were all but eliminated within a few short years... where women went from being sold as slaves and having their feet bound to playing a full role in every sphere of society, including dancing in revolutionary ballets... where children were encouraged to challenge their parents... where youth organized, with the backing of the state, to fight those in power who wanted to restore and maintain oppressive relations... where students who graduated from college were sent to the countryside to interact with, learn from, and serve the impoverished masses... where the leading morality of society was “serve the people,” not “get over” or “get rich.”
This society happened in China under the leadership of Mao Tsetung, who was in power from 1949 until his death in 1976. Mao led the socialist transformation of China, which had as its ultimate goal the system of communism. Tragically, after Mao died, capitalists came back to power in China and turned it into the nightmare of sweatshops, prostitution, and government repression that it is today. And presently, there are no more socialist countries in the world.
This means that you, together with the rest of the planet, are confronted with yet another critical choice: You can accept the verdict that, because the first few attempts at socialism were defeated, socialism could never be revived and it isn’t even worth trying. Or, you can make it your mission to learn as much as you can about the massive accomplishments of past socialist societies, and how humanity could make revolution again—one that builds on these accomplishments... and goes even further, all the way to communism.
With that in mind, there is a leader you need to know. His name is Bob Avakian.
Avakian, the chairperson of the Revolutionary Communist Party, worked alongside the Black Panthers during the 1960s, and then founded the RCP in the ’70s. He has deeply studied and upheld the experience of socialist China and its many staggering achievements, and he has also confronted its weaknesses. He has summed up that, in order for humanity to get all the way to communism, there needs to be significantly more space for debate and criticism under future socialist societies... and more room for intellectuals, scientists, and artists to pursue their fields, and to experiment, even as more and more people in society are drawn into these fields—in an overall process that serves all of society getting to a deeper understanding of what is true, and what is not. All this is part of bringing bigger and bigger numbers of people into running and continuing to transform society, including by breaking down inequalities left over from capitalism. And Avakian has reached even greater heights than Mao in understanding that communism is an international system—that making revolution in the United States, or any other country, must be carried out as part of emancipating the whole world.
Because of Avakian, revolution is real. His leadership and vision points the way towards a world where we will have the freedom to serve the people on a level that can barely be conceived today. People will be free to overturn, and abolish, racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression; we will be free to provide health care, education, and meaningful jobs to everyone in society; we will be free to create music, poetry, and art that speaks to people’s hearts and their imaginations, without having to worry if it will “sell.”
Which brings us back to choice. And back to the present. And back to you.
First, as soon as you put down this special issue, you can show it to five of your friends, and shatter their assumptions about what kind of change is necessary or possible. Next, you can distribute the statement on page 7 throughout your school and discuss it with your friends and teachers, thereby becoming an active part of building this revolutionary movement and introducing many more people to revolution and communism. Then, you can start reading this newspaper regularly, getting deeper into the revolution we are calling for, and into the leadership and work of Bob Avakian. Deepen your knowledge and understanding of past revolutionary societies, and our vision of an even more liberating future. Come to discussions at Revolution Books throughout the country (see page 15), and ask the toughest questions you can think of.
And, as you are doing all of this—and whether or not you immediately agree with all of what we are putting forward—here is something else you can and must do right away: RESIST. FIGHT BACK.
Dress in black, and come to an October 22 protest against police brutality in the city closest to you (see back page). Gather a few of your friends and classmates and wear orange jumpsuits and black hoods in front of your school to call attention to the ongoing torture and indefinite detention committed by our government. Organize a walkout to protest the continuing genocide committed by the U.S. against the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Be part of demonstrations against these wars and against torture that World Can’t Wait and other groups have called for October 5-6 (see worldcantwait.org).Be part of protests on October 11 demanding full rights for gay people.
Oh, and one more thing: Don’t forget to laugh in the face of anyone who tells you to accept the world as it is.
"And, despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some 'elite' schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in 'non-conformist' ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful. And despite the creative impulses and efforts of many, the dominant culture too is corrupted and molded to lower, not raise, people’s sights, to extol and promote the ways of thinking, and of acting, that keep this system going and keep people believing that nothing better is possible."
— From Revolution #170, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have"
1. New York Civil Liberties Union, cited by Bob Hennelly, WNYC, August 14, 2009. (wnyc.org/news/articles/138787) [back]
2. To cite just one example of such a study: Devah Pager, “The Mark of a Criminal Record” in American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 108, Number 5 (March 2003). (northwestern.edu/ipr/publications/papers/2003/page-rajs.pdf) [back]
3. Gary Orfield, “Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge,” UCLA Civil Rights Project, January 2009. (civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/news/pressreleases/pressrelease20090114-report.pdf) [back]
4. Amnesty International, Stop Violence Against Women Campaign (amnestyusa.org/violence-against-women/stop-violence-against-women-svaw/page.do?id=1108417) [back]
5. S.K. Henshaw and L.B. Finer, “The accessibility of abortion services in the United States, 2001” in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2003, 35(1):16–24, cited by Guttmacher Institute, “Get ‘In the Know’: Questions about Pregnancy, Contraception and Abortion,” July 2008. (http://www.guttmacher.org/in-the-know/providers.html) [back]
Send us your comments.
Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
From the Revolution Talk by Bob Avakian:
When we finally get to the final goal of Communism, there won’t be the relations of exploitation and oppression that are so commonplace and that mark all of society today and that we are told over and again are just the natural order of things and the way things have to be. As Karl Marx pointed out, the Communist revolution leads to what we Maoists call the 4 Alls—that is, the abolition of all class differences among people. The abolition or the end to all the production or economic relations underlying these class differences and divisions among people. The ending of all the social relations that go along with these economic or production relations. Oppressive relations between men and women, between different nationalities, between people of different parts of the world, all that will be put an end to and moved beyond. And finally, the revolutionizing of all the ideas that go along with this whole way, this whole capitalist system, these whole social relations. In place of this, what will be the guiding principles in society consciously and voluntarily taken up by people…not forced on them, but consciously and voluntarily taken up as the basis for having abolished exploitation, oppression and inequality. In its place will be collective and cooperative principles aiming for the common good and at the same time, within that, individuals and individuality flourishing in a way that has never been possible before. The first great step or great leap in the road to Communism is seizing power from the capitalists. Without that none of this is possible. But seizing power from them opens that way to making the advance to Communism.
Socialism is the new society established after the seizure of power. Socialism is three things: a new economic system, a new political system and a transition to the final goal of Communism. Let’s talk about what this will make possible right away, once power has been seized. Let’s talk about the whole different nature of socialism as a society in which the masses of people are digging up the old rotten and putrid soil of capitalism and moving forward to the goal of a Communist world.
Let’s talk about work and housing together. Look at all these neighborhoods which under the rule of the capitalist system have been allowed and even encouraged to rot. Look at the youth and others just hanging out on the street corner with nothing to do or no way to do anything that doesn’t get them into one kind of trouble or another. Imagine changing all that because now we have the power over society—we go to these youth and we say, here. We’re going to give you training. We’re going to give you education. We’re going to bring you materials. We’re going to enable you to go to work to build some beautiful housing and playgrounds and neighborhoods here for yourself and those who live here. Imagine if we said to them, you can not just work, you can be part of planning all this, you can be part of figuring out what should be done for the benefit of the people to make this society better and to contribute to making a whole different and radically better world. Imagine if for these youth, they could have a way, not just to make a living, building housing, hospitals, community centers and parks and other things people need, but at the same time, they could have the opportunity and the dignity of working together with people throughout society to build a whole better world. There’s absolutely no reason why these things aren’t possible except that we live under this system which makes them impossible.
Let’s talk about education. Imagine kids who actually wanted to go school? Imagine if they weren’t degraded and insulted all the time and treated as if they couldn’t possibly learn anything or have any important ideas. Imagine if the educational system actually told them the truth and helped them to understand about the world and history and nature and society. Imagine if it actually helped them to think critically, to challenge everything. Yes the teachers, and yes even the party and its leaders.
What if the educational system drew the kids in along with the teachers and staff and said this is a whole new society, a new world. What are your ideas about how this could all be done better? Imagine if the education combined practical things with theory so the things they were studying and learning, they would go out in society and talk to people who did those things. Or, instead of casting the old people off, like useless garbage, they invite the old people in to talk about the horrors of the old society and their experience, and what the new society means to them, and have them have an exchange with these kids in the schools. And have the students learn practical knowledge as well as studying theory learning science and grappling with philosophy.
The same in science. Right now science often scares people. It’s intimidating. You’re taught that you can’t possibly understand these things. That it’s all mysterious. It’s not the scientists’ fault. Or at least not mainly. It’s the kind of society we have and the way in which they want people to be divided into different classes, groups and castes so that some people use their minds and other people can only use their bodies or just waste away, or die fighting in a war. Imagine if science were brought to everybody and made the exciting thing it is for everybody. Struggling to investigate and learn about the world and the way it works and all the different things both here on earth and in the far—what the religious people call the heavens. Imagine if here in the realm of science, the scientists got together with the “ordinary people”—with the students in the school, with the workers in workplaces, and talked to them about science, drew them into scientific experiments and investigation, got their ideas and found out the questions they wanted to know about the world, then worked out ways of people uniting together and cooperating to develop experiments and investigation in science that pursued these things. Imagine if science like education and all these other parts of society actually were serving to transform a society to get rid of oppression, exploitation and inequality and to help the people throughout the world wage a revolutionary struggle to do the same.
Imagine if we had a whole different art and culture. Come on, enough of this “bitches and ho’s” and SWAT teams kicking down doors. Enough of this “get low” bullshit. And how come it’s always the women that have to get low? We already have a situation where the masses of women and the masses of people are pushed down and held down low enough already. It’s time for us to get up and get on up.
Imagine if we had a society where there was culture, yes it was lively and full of creativity and energy and yes rhythm and excitement, but at the same time, instead of degrading people, lifted us up. Imagine if it gave us a vision and a reality of what it means to make a whole different society and a whole different kind of world. Imagine if it laid out the problems for people in making this kind of world and challenged them to take up these problems. Imagine if art and culture too, movies, songs, television—everything—challenged people to think critically, to look at things differently, to see things in a different light, but all pointing toward how can we make a better world.
Imagine if the people who created art and culture were not just a handful of people but all of the masses of people, with all their creative energy unleashed, and the time were made for them to do that, and for them to join with people who are more full time workers and creators in the realm of art and culture to bring forward something new that would challenge people, that would make them think in different ways, that would make them be able to see things critically and from a different angle, and would help them to be uplifted and help them to see their unity with each other and with people throughout the world in putting an end to all the horrors that we’re taught are just the natural order of things. Imagine all that.
[This] is not a fantasy. These are the things that have been done in the socialist societies that have existed—or they’re the things, that on the basis of that experience, we have summed up and are learning more deeply need to be done. This is all possible. It’s not some pipedream. This is what happens when the masses of people rise up and take control over society and this is what waits to be done.
The text here is excerpted from the section “Imagine…a new society—Healthcare, work, education, science, etc…” which is part of the film of a talk by Bob Avakian, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About. Both this excerpt and the entire talk (and Q&A session) can be seen online at http://www.revolutiontalk.net/films/. The “Imagine…” section is in Session Two.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
The Revolution We Need...
The Leadership We Have
A Message, And A Call, From The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
This Is NOT The Best of All Possible Worlds…
And We Do NOT Have to Live This Way
For posters, audio, and other materials, click here
"The land of the free, and the home of the brave." "The leader of the free world." That's what they always say about this country. But this is a Big Lie.
The truth is that we live under a system that, from the start in this country, built up its wealth and power by enslaving millions of Black people, stealing land from Indians and Mexicans through war and genocide, and working many people, including children, literally to death. It is by such murderous means that this system has expanded "from sea to shining sea" across this continent—and around the whole world.
It is a system of capitalism-imperialism…a system in which U.S. imperialism is the most monstrous, most oppressive superpower…a system driven by a relentless chase after profit, which brings horror upon horror, a nightmare seemingly without end, for the vast majority of humanity: poverty and squalor…torture and rape…the wholesale domination and degradation of women everywhere…wars, invasions and occupations…assassinations and massacres…planes, missiles, tanks and troops of the USA bombarding people in faraway lands while they sleep in their homes or go about their daily lives, blasting their little children to pieces, cutting down men and women in the prime of life, or in old age, kicking down their doors and dragging them away in the middle of the night…while here in the USA itself the police harass, brutalize and murder youth in the streets of the inner cities—over and over again—and then they spit out their maddening insults, insisting that this is "justified," as if these youth are not human beings, have no right to live, deserve no respect and no future.
Throughout the world, as a result of this system, a billion people or more go hungry every day…with many facing the threat of starvation. Hundreds of millions of children are forced to work like slaves and to live in putrid slums, in the midst of garbage and human waste. Waves of immigrants, unable to live in their own homelands, travel the earth in search of work—and if they find it, they are worked until they can hardly stand and are forced into the shadows, with the constant fear that they will be deported and their families broken apart. Growing numbers of people cannot find work at all now, with many losing their homes as well as their jobs, while others are worked even more mercilessly. Everyone is lured and driven to consume more and more, at the cost of ever-mounting debt and the loss of any sense of larger purpose or meaning to life or any deeper connection with other human beings. Many are being pushed to the edge…growing numbers are going over the edge, often lashing out in crazed desperation.
Young women in the millions are traded like cattle and forced into sexual slavery, shipped across countries and continents, while women everywhere are degraded, demeaned, and brutalized in a thousand ways—beaten and raped in huge numbers, treated as objects of sexual gratification and breeders of children instead of full human beings. The idea of an intimate loving relationship with another human being is made into a sick joke, perverted into a property or commodity relation, weighed down by repressive patriarchal tradition and denied or restricted for people of the same sex.
The environment and human destiny itself is being taken to the brink of disaster.
All this because of the dictates of this system—because of its stranglehold on humanity. All this while technology and wealth exist on a scale and in forms never before imagined—technology and wealth produced by millions, billions, throughout the world who are nameless and faceless to the powers that be—technology and wealth that could and should be a resource belonging to humanity as a whole and used to meet the needs of people everywhere for a decent and ever-enriched material, intellectual and cultural life.
Look at what this system is doing to youth right here in the USA. For millions in the inner cities, if they are not killed at an early age, their likely future is prison (nearly 1 in 8 young Black men is incarcerated, the prisons are overflowing with Blacks and Latinos, and this country has the highest rate of incarceration of women in the world). This system has robbed so many youth of the chance for a decent life and has got far too many living, dying and killing for nothing—nothing good—nothing more than messing up people and murdering each other on the streets of the cities here…or joining the military, being trained to be murderers on a mass scale, massacring people in countries across the globe. A system which offers millions and millions of youth no greater purpose, no better fate, than crime and punishment, or to become a mindless killing machine for the system itself—that alone is reason enough to sweep this system from the face of the earth!
And, despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some "elite" schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in "non-conformist" ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful. And despite the creative impulses and efforts of many, the dominant culture too is corrupted and molded to lower, not raise, people's sights, to extol and promote the ways of thinking, and of acting, that keep this system going and keep people believing that nothing better is possible.
Look at the lies they constantly tell us—with all their honeyed words about "democracy" for the people and "human rights," while they are ruthlessly dictating over people, with force and violence, all over the world, and right here at home. Oh, and now they come on with Obama…to make us think they will be bringing some kind of change for the better. But Obama represents this system, and all this system can bring is more of the same: more torture and torment, more oppression and brutality, more war and destruction.
Some say this is all "god's will" and we just have to "put it all in god's hands." But it was not some god that got us in this situation…and it won't be some god that will get us out of it. The truth is, there are no gods…and we don't need them!
It is this system that has got us in the situation we're in today, and keeps us there. And it is through revolution to get rid of this system that we ourselves can bring a much better system into being. The ultimate goal of this revolution is communism: A world where people work and struggle together for the common good…Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings…Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.
This revolution is both necessary and possible.
This capitalist-imperialist system is in crisis…This system is bankrupt…This system is rotten to the core…This system is based on ruthless exploitation…This system commits so many monstrous crimes, and causes so much unnecessary suffering. We do not need to be sacrificing even more to "rescue" this system. This system needs to be swept aside…its crimes against humanity stopped cold…its institutions dismantled, and replaced by ones that empower people to build a new society free of exploitation and oppression.
The biggest lie of all is that there is no other way than this system—or that attempts to really make a different way, through revolution and advancing toward communism, have brought about something even worse. The wretched of the earth have made revolution and started on the road to communism—first in Russia and then in China—and they achieved great things in doing so, before they were turned back by the forces of the old order. We are here to tell you that not only has this been done before, but we can do it again—and even better this time. This is the truth that is covered up and lied about, but we have the facts and the analysis to back this up—tremendous historical experience has been summed up, scientifically, and is there for us to learn from and build on.
It is up to us: to wake up…to shake off the ways they put on us, the ways they have us thinking so they can keep us down and trapped in the same old rat-race…to rise up, as conscious Emancipators of Humanity. The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world…when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness…those days must be GONE. And they CAN be.
"But people are too messed up. It's just human nature for things to be this way, and it can't be changed."
Yes, it can. It has happened before—when people have risen up to make revolution. It can and must be done again—and it can and must go even further. We, in our millions and millions, can change ourselves and fit ourselves to rule and remake society in the interests of humanity—but we can do this only as we fight to change the larger conditions, to throw off oppression, as we join with others, throughout the world, to change the whole world. This is what our Party means when we say: Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution.
"But we are not in a position to make revolution in this country…they are too powerful, and they will never let us get that far." No one is more aware than our Party of the difficulties, the risks and the dangers, in making revolution. We are out here working for this every day. We know the price that has to be paid…and we know it is worth it, and that giving our lives to this is more rewarding than anything else. We know that they want to stop this revolution—crush it and bury it before it can really get going again…but we also know that a fight can be waged, and that we can have a chance to win the fight, to make this revolution real. And, yes, it is true—now is not yet the time, in this country, to go all-out to seize the power away from those who rule over us and to bring a new power, serving our interests, into being. But now IS the time to be WORKING FOR REVOLUTION—to be stepping up resistance while building a movement for revolution—to prepare for the time when it WILL be possible to go all out to seize the power.
Revolution can be made when there is a revolutionary situation, an even greater crisis in society as a whole: when people in greater numbers come to deeply feel and understand that the present power has no legitimacy…that it serves only a handful of oppressors…that it uses lies and deception, corruption and completely unjust force and violence to keep this system going and "keep the people in their place"…when millions see the need to fight to break this power and establish a new power that can bring about the changes that people desperately need and want. For a revolution, there must be a revolutionary people, among all sections of society but with its deepest base among those who catch hell every day under this system…people who are determined to fight for power in order to radically change society, to get rid of oppression and exploitation. But the point is this: we cannot, and we must not, sit around and wait for "one fine day" when this revolutionary situation comes about and a revolutionary people comes on the scene. No, we must—and we can—work to bring a revolutionary people into being…to enable people to see why they should put no faith in this system, and should not live and die in a way that keeps this system going…but instead should devote their lives to resisting oppression and building up for the time when we can get rid of the cause of all this oppression. Using our Party's newspaper, Revolution, as the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for this whole process, this is what our Party means when we say we are hastening while awaiting the revolutionary situation, preparing minds and organizing forces…for revolution.
All this is not possible without leadership. But the thing is…There is leadership.
In Bob Avakian, the Chairman of our Party, we have the kind of rare and precious leader who does not come along very often. A leader who has given his heart, and all his knowledge, skills and abilities to serving the cause of revolution and the emancipation of humanity. Bob Avakian came alive as a revolutionary in the 1960s—taking part in the great movements of those days, and especially working and struggling closely with the most advanced revolutionary force in the U.S. at that time, the Black Panther Party. Since then, and while many others have given up, Bob Avakian has worked and struggled tirelessly to find the way to go forward, having learned crucial lessons and built lasting organization that could continue the struggle, and aim to take it higher, while uniting with the same struggle throughout the world. He has kept on developing the theory and strategy for making revolution. He played the key role in founding our Party in 1975, and since then he has continued the battle to keep the Party on the revolutionary road, to carry out work with a strong revolutionary orientation. He has deeply studied the experience of revolution—the shortcomings as well as the great achievements—and many different fields of human endeavor, through history and throughout the world—and he has brought the science and method of revolution to a whole new level, so that we can not only fight but really fight to win. Bob Avakian has developed the scientific theory and strategic orientation for how to actually make the kind of revolution we need, and he is leading our Party as an advanced force of this revolution. He is a great champion and a great resource for people here, and indeed people all over the world. The possibility for revolution, right here, and for the advance of the revolution everywhere, is greatly heightened because of Bob Avakian and the leadership he is providing. And it is up to us to get with this leadership…to find out more about Bob Avakian and the Party he heads…to learn from his scientific method and approach to changing the world…to build this revolutionary movement with our Party at the core…to defend this leadership as the precious thing it is…and, at the same time, to bring our own experience and understanding to help strengthen the process of revolution and enable the leadership we have to keep on learning more and leading even better.
If you have not heard about this—if you don't know about the revolution we need and the leadership we have—that is because those who now hold power do not want you to know…they keep this from you, or lie about it when they can't keep word of it from getting out. And it is because our Party itself has not, until now, been consistent enough and bold enough in getting the word out, and acting on it.
BUT WE ARE CHANGING ALL THAT—STARTING NOW.
We must spread the word to every corner of this country…giving people the means to become part of this revolutionary movement, and organizing into this movement everyone who wants to make a contribution to it, who wants to work and fight, to struggle and sacrifice, not to keep this nightmare of a world going as it is but to bring a better world into being.
We mean what we say, and we will not back off or turn our backs on what we have started, on the people who need this revolution. We will keep coming back and digging in, to strengthen this movement for revolution, to build up the bases, spread the influence and organize the forces we need to make revolution. We will not be scared off, backed down or driven away.
A WHOLE DIFFERENT WORLD, A MUCH BETTER FUTURE, IS POSSIBLE. WE HAVE WHAT WE NEED TO FIGHT FOR THAT WORLD, THAT FUTURE.
IT IS UP TO US TO GET WITH IT AND GET TO THE CHALLENGE OF MAKING THIS HAPPEN.
As our Party's Constitution says: "The emancipation of all humanity: this, and nothing less than this, is our goal. There is no greater cause, no greater purpose to which to dedicate our lives."
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Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist
At that time, the basketball coach at Berkeley High, Sid Scott, was a Christian fundamentalist. He was always lecturing the players about religion. He was also a big racist. Every year when I was in high school, and even before I got there, the starting team would always be three Black players and two white. My friends and I used to always talk and argue about why this was, because while sometimes there were white guys who should have been on the starting five, a lot of times you could easily see there were five Black players who should have started, or at least four. I thought that this coach’s thinking went along the lines that if he had four Black players and one white on the floor, the four Black players would freeze out the white guy, so then they wouldn’t all play together—even though, of course, this was ridiculous. And if he had five Black guys out there, he figured all the discipline on the team would break and it would just be an undisciplined mess—also ridiculous. And he couldn’t have less than three Black players because it would be so outrageous, given who was on the team and how good different players were. This is how I used to analyze this.
But when I would discuss this with a lot of my Black friends, including ones on the basketball team, they would explain to me very patiently, “Look, man, it’s not just Sid Scott, it’s the alumni and all that kind of shit from the school, people who have more authority around the school, they don’t want an all-Black team out there. So this coach, yeah, he’s a racist dog and all that, but it’s not just him.” And then I would argue, “No it’s him, he’s a racist dog.” And, of course, they were much more right than I was.
My friends and I would go to each other’s houses, stay overnight at each other’s houses, and we’d talk about this kind of stuff all the time—especially the more the civil rights movement was picking up and the more this carried over into all kinds of ways in which people were saying what had been on their minds for a long time but were now expressing much more openly and assertively. One time, when I was a senior in high school, our school got to play in a night football game. Now, we didn’t get to play many night games. They would always be afraid there’d be a riot at the game, because of the “nature of our student body.” I think this was the only night game we ever played. We went on a bus trip to Vallejo, which is maybe 20, 25 miles from Berkeley, and the bus ride took about an hour.
During that time and on the way back after the game I was sitting with some Black friends of mine on the football team, and we got into this whole deep conversation about why is there so much racism in this country, why is there so much prejudice and where does it come from, and can it ever change, and how could it change? This was mainly them talking and me listening. And I remember that very, very deeply—I learned a lot more in that one hour than I learned in hours of classroom time, even from some of the better teachers. Things like that discussion went on all the time, on one level or another, but this bus ride was kind of a concentrated opportunity to get into all this. A lot of times when we were riding to games we’d just talk about bullshit, the way kids do. But sometimes, it would get into heavy things like this, and there was something about this being a special occasion, this night game—we were traveling through the dark, and somehow this lent itself to more serious conversation.
I was not part of the social life that a lot of people with whom I’d gone to junior high were part of. There were girls who actually liked me, but they would say things like, “You know I like you but I can’t go out with you because you hang around with all these Black people,” and things like that. And that instantly made me not want to go out with them anyway. There were things that were explicitly said like that, and then sometimes you could just tell the deal by the way people acted. And all this was being shaped by the larger things going on in society and the world. Whom you were even attracted to and whom you were interested in going out with, whom you were interested in as a girlfriend, and whom you wanted to be friends with—this was being shaped, or heavily influenced, by these larger things going on.
There were taboos. You didn’t date “inter-racially.” You didn’t do that. There were a few kids in my class who did, and they took a lot of shit for it. In my senior year, there was one girl that I was very fond of, who was in glee club with me, and we went out for a little while. She was actually the head of the one Black social club in the school. Now it was a rule that every social club had to invite at least the president of every other social club to whatever function they had. So she was invited to a New Year’s Eve dance sponsored by one of these white social clubs, and she asked me to be her date for that. I said sure, ‘cause we liked each other. So we went, along with another couple, two Black friends of hers. Of course, there’s this whole tradition that on New Year’s Eve you give your date a big kiss when it strikes midnight. So, at the dance there was all this tension because we were there and we were dancing together the whole night, and hanging out together, just like any other couple would. Except…I could tell as it got to be 11:00, 11:15, closer and closer to midnight, this palpable tension was in the air: “What’s gonna happen when midnight comes?” When midnight came, she and I gave each other the biggest imaginable kiss—both because we really liked each other, but we also really wanted to make these people eat it. So we had a great time doing that! But it was a big deal. The tension there was very real.
Of course, I got called things like “nigger lover” and I didn’t get invited to join these social clubs—which was nothing, because I wouldn’t have wanted to do that anyway. But whatever ways in which I was “ostracized” and “outcast” among the mainstream whites was really nothing compared to what my Black friends went through. From the time I was a junior in high school, there were four of us who hung out together: Matthew, Joel, Hemby, and me—two of us white, two of us Black. We were always hanging out together. One time Matthew, who was Black, really had a crush on this one white girl; he wanted to ask her out and finally he worked up his courage and asked her out. And she told him, “Well, you know, I’d like to go out with you, but my parents and my friends…” and all this kind of shit. That was much more painful than anything that happened to me—it was very painful for me, being his friend, and it was the kind of thing that I know left a deep scar in Matthew. It was just horrible and excruciating, and the scars of that were much deeper than anything that happened to me.
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Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
Two years ago I thought the Revolutionary Communist Party was some weird cult of people who wanted to bullshit me into believing in “their truth” and their take on reality. I used to think they brainwashed my younger brother. I hated how they focused on Bob Avakian as a leader, I fucking hated leaders, I would say “Leader! What the fuck makes you think I need to be led, you can be a sheep if you want, I’m not oppressed, it’s all in how you see it, the system has no control over me, I can change and shape my own reality and create positive energy for the world, because people need to be spiritual warriors to fight ideas that control the human mind.”
At one point, my brother gave me his copy of Away With All Gods! When I got this I tossed it in my closet and thought, “Fuck you, Bob Avakian, you will suffer for your negative ideas!” I did not consider myself religious in terms of organized and institutionalized religion (i.e. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.). I understood the horror and history of what organized religion brought to humanity, but believed that I should go about finding the true essence of spirituality, whether God, Creator, or Higher Non-Material Power. I believed that this higher power was in a few people, not all, and was determined under how the individual put out positive energy, and that all the horrors that took place through organized religion was in false attempts to find a higher power. See, at that time, I was sure that the reason people suffer is because God put us here and it’s up to the individual to find her or his spiritual path to positive ideas; to be free and feel the higher power in them. And to suffer was a blessing, that meant God had a profound purpose for that person and was testing their spiritual strengths; to build them into and create spiritual warriors to free people’s minds.
One day I was cleaning my closet and decided to read a little bit of Away With All Gods! and it said something like, “if god was real what a monstrous god he would be.” I read less than a paragraph and slammed it shut, it took me out of my comfort zone and I tossed it in the closet and piled a bunch of crap on top of it (because I didn’t want its negative energy to affect me).
But I had been facing a life-changing crossroad. I had failed in maintaining and understanding what it was to be in an intimate relationship with my fiancé of two years and we broke up. I moved out and later lost my job and I related the two in the sense that since my negative ideas caused pain to my fiancé (in the sense that she was emotionally hurt), this pain was negative energy that caused me to lose my job, and then I thought “God is just testing me.” Later her mother died from cancer; this caused her emotional pain to grow and it did not help, this made it harder for us to be “one” again. We stopped talking, I could not find a job and had a month to find a job or I would get kicked out of the place I moved to. I thought I would have to sell drugs again and live in shanty motels until I could get a job and a place.
One day that month I was on the floor in tears, drunk, screaming in the pillow trying to remove negative energy from my mind so that I could pray. “YOU ARE BEING TESTED BY GOD, BE A SPIRITUAL WARRIOR!!” Then in anger, I let all my anger come out, I gathered it all, everything, and yelled “STOP FUCKING TESTING ME!! Why me? I am positive but I still suffer, you must be a monstrous god.” There I stopped, and I jumped up and started throwing shit everywhere looking for the book Away With All Gods! I found it and began to read and I fell asleep with the idea that there is no god and that reality is one and it is not controlled or under the watch of some non-material higher power, and it felt fucking liberating.
The next day I woke up and thought “Man, God is going to be pissed that I read that and thought that shit,” but the thoughts were still there in my mind and I tried to suppress it. But later that week I was watching this talk on the universe with Stephen Hawking, and he quoted a Saint, I forget which one, who said, “What was God doing before he created the universe? Was he creating Hell for people who thought of such questions?” The second question in relation to the first question fit perfectly the idea that if god was real what a monstrous god he would be, but the first question is what immediately helped me come to the conclusion that there is no god or higher non-material power and all other forms of superstition. Because I thought it’s true, if god was real there was a time of nothing, a time of no time and of no space. Then I thought nothing where, and what was god doing before that, and what took him so long to do it or did he do it as soon as he was created? Then I thought who or what the fuck created god, because creationists say that something with such delicate and intricate features has to be created (i.e. earth, humans, etc.) so then what created god and what created that and on and on? Then I remembered my first time even slightly doubting the existence of god. When I was about 13 I heard an episode of The Simpsons where Homer says “Could Jesus (god) microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it?”
Now stick with me I’m going somewhere with this. Even at that young age I had a slight view into understanding that there is no god. You see if god could not eat the extremely hot burrito that means he can’t do everything, and if he can’t make it hot enough it means he can’t do shit, which proves his non-existence. Now I understand this is not the most scientific explanation but it was part of my process in becoming an Atheist.
I strongly feel that before getting into Communism as a Science, I had to break with spiritual tendencies because they come out of the greater framework of religion and all the chains that go along with it.
So I began to read the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, and I feel that the first five pages had answered all the false ideas of Communism I had. But there was still a lot I did not understand and had to dig into.
Sometime later there was a conference to discuss revolution and communism and how to go about bringing this to the masses of people. The first day I went, I just sat and listened. Later that night people were talking and my younger brother asked me what I thought about the day, so I told him that I liked it and loved that there was people from all over that wanted a new society. Then he asked if I had any questions and I said that I did not because I felt I agreed with everything that was said and that I had many questions but I felt they were being answered as I read and listened and ended with saying that I do understand what is being said.
Then he said “That’s the thing I don’t think you do, because if you did you would be asking questions, it’s part of the science.” I didn’t respond, I got angry and walked upstairs as others began to talk. I could not sleep, I was thinking “Why is my brother such an asshole?” Later I began to read the RCP Constitution while debating on whether or not I would go to day two of the conference or go to work the next day. I was reading the part on the duties of the members “Communists do not join the party for a career or an ‘alternate lifestyle,’ but to lead the masses to make revolution.” (Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, page 18) That’s when I realized that first I am a communist, then as a necessary and legal way to make money, for food and shelter, I am a food runner at a restaurant. I made my decision and was ready for sleep.
The next day I was at the bus stop on my way to the conference and I began to read the duties more fully and dig into it. “Party members actively report to their units, and to leadership, what they are learning and thinking. This includes their wrangling with questions of theory and strategy and big developments in the world, reflections on culture or science, as well as their summation of experience gained in particular work and the thoughts and views of the masses. Party members have the responsibility to systematically and scientifically analyze all this in reports, and to participate in developing strategic conceptions for different arenas of the party’s work.” (Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, page 19)
Reading this I realized that in fact I did not understand, but I still had no questions, once again I read and agreed and ended up with no question. So I posed to myself this question, “why don’t I have any questions?” I had no answer for myself, I told myself that I will find an answer to why I had no questions but in that time I would explain what I learned and what I think of communism. That day I gave all my ideas and thoughts on what I was thinking, and during a break I was speaking with Sunsara Taylor. I told her of the question of why I have no question. She related it to how I am coming out of, and am in constant pull back to, religious tendencies and all the chains that go along with that.
I began to realize as we talked that I was not asking questions because in the past when I read spiritual literature, I was (even though I didn’t notice it then) not allowed to ask questions and debate these ideas, I just settled for it and picked certain things and threw out the ones that didn’t make sense or that I questioned, instead of getting into the questions and contra-dictions and debating them in accordance to reality and humanity, not just individual beliefs.
That day helped me understand that I can’t go to revolution and communism as my next religion, in terms of a dogmatic utopian look of communism as certain and inevitable without contradiction. I also have to break with what Away With All Gods! calls “Salad Bar Christianity” in terms of all ideas, I must break with what I call philosophical-saladbarism, I must look at things that are based in reality for what works for humanity instead of what I feel sounds good. After that I was able to be part of the conference instead of on the sideline and I feel I got into Communism as a science, from party leadership to democratic centralism to dialectical materialism to historical materialism. That exploded my mind in the most liberating sense and I felt I finally had a launch pad grounded in a scientific method of communism based in reality and for making realistic revolution and a true emancipation of humanity.
I had gotten into the theory very deeply in the conference and felt that it was time to practice it on reality, see for myself how it applies to reality and take back what I have learned and synthesize it and go deeper into the line and its application to the world.
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Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
The Twilight Books
The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer has become a craze and obsession for millions of young women. Over 70 million books have been sold. It’s been translated into 37 languages. The four Twilight books have set records as the biggest selling novels in 2008. It’s a major cultural phenomenon.
Twilight is the story of Bella coming of age in the small town of Forks, Washington. Bella is alienated from mainstream America and “normal human life.” She falls in love with a vampire, and he with her. However, his attraction to her is based almost entirely on his intense, almost overwhelming desire to drink her blood and take her life. Repeatedly, and lacking any subtlety, she swears that she would rather die than give him up.
The tagline for the Twilight film is, “If you could live forever what would you live for?” Most readers we’ve talked to find the answers in this book—love and to be a wife and mother—are romantic and positive. It is like millions of young girls are in an abusive, unhealthy relationship with this vampire character, but they think that it’s “true love.” When a character and cultural work come to so represent what is wrong with relationships in this society, under this system, when a story like this becomes so emblematic of the oppressive chains on humanity that need to be broken and gotten rid of for good, when something like that comes along, we are called upon to stage a literary intervention.
So, we hatched a literary scheme of our own.
We imagined a different character, Jay, who befriended Bella in her hometown and stayed in touch after Bella moved to Forks. As events unfolded, Bella shared everything. As a good friend should, Jay replied to her, with an arm around her shoulder, and often with some uncomfortable truths.
I still can’t believe that you moved to a town named after an eating utensil! I mean really, Forks, Washington?!? Anyway, I just want you to know that our little crew of misfits and freaks really misses you and we hope you won’t forget us. Sugar, write back. I want to know everything that’s going on.
All the best,
There is absolutely no reason to blame yourself. Just because “the most beautiful guy you’ve ever met” freaks out around you and tries to withdraw out of biology class doesn’t mean that it’s your fault. People, especially guys, can act odd for a number of reasons, hormones perhaps, I don’t know? What I do know is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up. Bella, you’re a smart, creative and funny person. Anyone who’s worth you spending your time thinking about should relate to you on that. If you and he had actually had any interaction besides staring at each other, then maybe it would be worth trying to figure out what happened. But seriously, glaring at you is not reason enough for you to fall for him.
So you’re in love with a vampire. I usually don’t judge your choices in guys, but you should re-think this one. I have no problems with human/vampire relationships. It’s just that I have a problem with relationships in which one partner dominates and controls the other. How come he won’t let you drive your own car and physically forces you to let him drive? How come he has to pick you up and carry you around? How come he forbids you from going places and visiting your friends? You’ve said that you give in because he’s so charming and you think this is romantic. But it seems that you’re just another possession to him and even if he puts you on a pedestal like a “prized possession,” he’s still not treating you like a human being. All of this overprotection is not love manifested. It’s control, Bella, and that scares me.
I mean, you were able to make your own decisions and had your own thoughts and ideas before Edward. How come things are so different now?
Bella, Bella, Bella,
I’m not against Edward because he’s a vampire! It’s just that the more I hear about your relationship with him, the more it troubles me.
You’ve said that your relationship with Edward was different because you were the one pursuing Edward sexually, that he was pushing you away. He even told you that he doesn’t want to have sex before marriage because he is fearful of taking your “virtue.” Well, for starters Bella, your “virtue” is not tied up into your sexuality. A virtue is a character trait or quality valued as being good. So being kind is a virtue and so is standing up for justice. But a woman’s virginity or lack thereof is neither good nor bad. It’s not a quality, character trait or a virtue. It just is what it is.
You know that I grew up being taught that sex before marriage was a sin. But as I get older and I’m starting to think for myself, things that I once believed to be true don’t seem that way anymore. Like, why is it so important for women to be virgins but not men? I mean, have you questioned Edward’s virtue? Probably not and if you did, it would seem weird because men are expected to have sex but women aren’t. We’re teenagers! We’re supposed to be figuring out who we are and experimenting and sex is a part of that. At least that’s what my aunt Martha said. You remember her, don’t you? She’s the one that claims that in the Woodstock movie during the Richie Havens set, when the camera pans the audience, you can see her left arm? Anyway, I’ve been hanging around her a lot lately, and she says that people can be intimate on a number of levels and that sex is just one of them. She says that sex is natural and can be beautiful when shared with people who truly care about each other. And she says that passion can be a good thing. That it means we’re alive and we can feel and that we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. But she also says that friends and friendships are just as important as relationships—even more important—and it’s no good when people got all lost and caught up in just one person, all the time, and forget about everything else.
Look, I get that a lot of the sex people our age have is all about using women’s bodies in gross ways and then talking bad about them after. And, obviously, sex that is not voluntary, that we feel pressured into and that we don’t want to be a part of, is not beautiful. So we shouldn’t feel bad about ourselves if we’re not ready or just don’t want to.
Sometimes I just get so tired of talking about all of this. I mean, think about how many hours we’ve spent talking about sex. Is there nothing else going on? What about global warming? What about the polar bears? I saw this documentary where they are having a harder and harder time finding food because the North Pole is melting. Shouldn’t we be thinking about this stuff way more than who we are dating?
I thought things were weird enough with you meeting and hanging out with vampires, but now I’ve gone and met some communists. Yeah, real communists! They were hanging outside of school and I had never met a communist before so I wanted to see what they were like. I bought this one copy of “A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity.” It was pretty heavy. There was this one point that says, “Imagine if, instead of being a place where people’s need for love and compassion is so often frustrated and even mocked, families themselves were undergoing a radical transformation. Imagine marriages and partnerships forged on a truly voluntary basis in a context where love, respect, compassion and equality were increasingly characterizing the way people related throughout society.”
I’m like, my friend Bella totally needs to read this! (I’ll send you a copy.) Then I was like, this couldn’t happen but they were like, actually, this was increasingly happening when they had revolutions before. I kept asking all these questions about how society changed and how people changed because I had never heard of any of this before. People often tell me that I ask too many questions and that I’m too opinionated, especially for a girl, but these communists were actually interested in what I had to say and they kept asking me questions as well. They were challenging me on what I believed and were asking me what kind of future I wanted to live in. No one ever asks me what kind of world I want to live in, and to be honest, it was hard to imagine the kind of future society where people would relate to each other as that particular quote reflects.
But they kept challenging me, saying that I have a role to play in figuring all this out and doing something about it. They actually believe that things could be different now. It was something else!
All I hear from you now is Edward, Edward, Edward. You’re like a broken record and no one should have to dance to that song. Edward is jealous and possessive, and it’s not romantic, it’s creepy. He won’t let you be friends with other boys and follows you around in his car. It sounds to me more like Edward is a stalker. This whole idea that we can’t just be friends with guys anymore really pisses me off. I mean, ever since I grew breasts, it’s like all the guys we used to hang out with don’t remember where my eyes are!!
Edward says that you are his life and his soul. Isn’t that a lot to put on another person? Why can’t he have his own life, and you have yours and sometimes they are shared? This kind of relationship where you sit around and obsess over each other is boring to me already and will get boring to you too after a couple months, let alone an eternity!!
And what about you? Where is the Bella I used to know who talked about changing the world, wrote poems, played soccer and cooked up some mean chili and cornbread? I have all these things to share with you about the world—about how we could actually make it better—but I feel that you’re all shut up in your never-ending drama with Edward.
You keep insisting that love is not rational. I know, feelings are not “rational” in the way that algebra is or a logic puzzle. But even when you feel something, you still have to think it through, like whether it’s a good idea or not. And sometimes, when you really think something through and understand it differently—you start to feel different about it too. Like, remember how mad I was when my parents got divorced. Especially with my mom. I couldn’t believe that she made us move and I was so mad that she wouldn’t just forgive Dad. I mean, I know he was wrong. But why mess up my life? It’s a little embarrassing now, but I can’t believe how angry I was with her! The truth is, I don’t want my mom to be stuck in a marriage with a man who treats her badly. When I really thought about it, her choice wasn’t really between the “perfect family” and divorce—it was between a really miserable household and one that was different. Now, I am actually proud of my mom.
I’m just saying, sometimes even with our really strong feelings, we still have to examine them.
But I’m thinking, like, Bells, relationships should not be the ONLY thing in our lives; they shouldn’t even be the main thing! We should be about a whole lot more with this time we have on the planet—making a whole new world, and whole better world. Think about it…
Wow! It’s been so long since I’ve heard from you! What, like a year now? I know you were upset at me over my last letter and I wasn’t sure that you’d write again but it’s good to hear from you...
Congratulations on graduating high school!
So, now you’re not only married, but you’re pregnant!?!?!
I’m really worried about you. I have half a mind to get on a plane and bring you back here for a weekend. Don’t you think it’s strange that your life has become all about Edward and this fetus you’re carrying? It’s like you’re choosing to enter into these oppressive relations and you don’t have to. At first, you were defining yourself in relation to Edward, and now it’s in relation to this fetus you’re carrying and I’m like, this is not a progression.
And then you tell me that not only are you pregnant, but that the fetus you’re carrying is killing you.
I just don’t think that women should have to continue with a pregnancy because it’s the so-called responsible thing to do. That’s the wrong decision to make because there’s nothing “to take responsibility for” just because you had sex.
And besides, just because women become pregnant, doesn’t mean they have to have a baby. Bella, we’re not breeders! Becoming pregnant is not magic and not some gift from god. Hello! It’s all about sperm meets egg. That’s just a natural fact. Maybe if you were paying more attention instead of only flirting with a guy who has constant urges to kill you in biology class....
Can you believe it? I used to think that abortion was an “abomination,” but a lot has changed and I’ve learned to look at the world different. And you know, abortion is NOT murder. It’s a medical procedure. And in this case, it can save your life. Your life matters. It matters to me, and it should matter to you—much more than any fetus.
Bella, we’re young. If I got pregnant, I would have an abortion and not look back. I’ve got dreams, Bella. I am passionate about so much sometimes it feels like I can hardly contain myself! Skateboarding! Music! Theater! Ending world hunger! I want to read every book and see every movie. I want to write poems about truth and life and revolution and love, to look around and get to know the world, however long I have in it. I want my life to be about something. At night I lie awake and think about being part of something that’s really going to be different. The world drifts through my mind sometimes in nightmares that are as real as any vampire or werewolf, probably more so, and outrageous dreams that this ever-changing world could really change for the better, in big ways and small. The moonlight seeps into my eyes in the dark, I can’t help but get up in the quiet of the night and look out at the city through my window, and sometimes for a moment there is a feeling that could only be called possibility.
Bella, this should be the beginning of so many things—not the end. For us, and for all kinds of people on this crazy, complicated planet. Why not wake up, Bella, and join me in taking responsibility for all this?
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Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
Waking Up and Shaking Off:
"[W]ars, invasions and occupations…assassinations and massacres…planes, missiles, tanks and troops of the USA bombarding people in faraway lands while they sleep in their homes or go about their daily lives, blasting their little children to pieces, cutting down men and women in the prime of life, or in old age, kicking down their doors and dragging them away in the middle of the night…" This is a glimpse of the reality exposed by the RCP's statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have"—just a glimpse of what the U.S. Military carries out across the globe, a glimpse of what is covered-up, lied about, redacted, misrepresented, or re-written throughout history.
I was oblivious to this basic fact when the Army JROTC cadets and their instructor showed up during my lunch period one day to promote their high school program. Even in 8th grade, looking at my prospects for the future and the situation I was in, what they were offering had a pull on me. I grew up in a middle-class household—the situation was nowhere near the desperate conditions of poverty that people face around the world, but my parents had gone bankrupt while I was younger, they had some debt and the money for my college education just wasn't there. Besides, I wasn't going to ask. It's not that my parents were particularly stingy, but when I was growing up it made me feel guilty to ask for things, even basic things—it was a strange mix of not wanting to come off as ungrateful for what I did have and looking at our relationship as a series of commodity exchanges. The way I saw it, I had totally relied on my parents for over a decade, they had spent so much time, effort and especially money on my development, I didn't want to burden them with even the thought of accumulating more debt in order to put me through college. I sure as hell didn't want to take out a loan and end up paying it off for 20 years. My grades weren't that great, and I wasn't exactly studious, so I didn't expect to be able to get any scholarships. Joining the military in order to get money for college seemed like a logical choice.
I didn't talk to the cadets but a friend of mine picked up one of the pamphlets they were passing out. He said he was going to be in the JROTC program in order to get out of P.E. I looked the pamphlet over and saw that being in JROTC for a couple years during high school would enable me to skip ahead a rank once I joined the military; since it was more and more appearing as "the best option," it made sense to get some elective credits, and get a step ahead with some training before I ended up joining after high school. So, when the time came to select courses for our first year of high school, a few of my friends and I decided to sign up together. Out of the few of us, I was the only one who expected to join the military, the others were doing it for the credits or were undecided at that point and wanted to check it out. We had all quit abruptly or left the program by our junior year.
JROTC at my school was mainly made up of people who were seen as misfits for one reason or another; some were a bit socially awkward or very timid, some were adamant about not taking P.E. (because they disliked physical activity or didn't want to change in the locker rooms). We were not very academic, nor were we popular—especially on Wednesdays. Wednesdays were the days that we had to "dress-out"—shine our patent leather shoes, iron our green pants and shirts, wear our caps outside, salute any cadet officers we saw, have our uniforms inspected and generally carry on as representatives of the JROTC. I hated Wednesdays. I didn't even let my girlfriend see me in uniform; I would manage to be conspicuously absent at our meeting spots and the lunch table and if I saw her coming I would flee. I found it excruciatingly embarrassing to wear our version of the Army uniform. It was not exactly "cool" (people would yell and call us "pickles" or otherwise insult us), it was not comfortable wearing a green suit and tie in algebra class, and you had to be hyper-attentive because if you spilled anything on yourself, wrinkled your clothes or otherwise messed up your uniform, you would get marks off and probably a lecture during inspection. Unfortunately, it wasn't unpopular because we were representing and being trained in preparation for service in an imperialist force of armed thugs which was just beginning to invade Iraq but, instead, because what we were doing was very different, it took discipline, seriousness, and the uniforms were less than fashionable.
There were some things I liked about it however: P.T. Team (basically a track team for JROTC), learning how to march and drill (which involves a lot of coordination between people), and there was some camaraderie to it among the cadets.
We spent a lot of time in military studies class both learning about the military of the United States (rank, chain of command, drill instruction, how to lead small units) as well as training in other general skills (marksmanship, first aid, survival training, map-reading) but throughout all of this, the process was devoid of any discussion of what this training was actually for, what the nature of the U.S. military actually is and what it was being sent out to do in the world. These fundamental questions must have been seen as unimportant to our preparation in the program, and we were not conscious of the need to get into those questions; the atmosphere was lacking any kind of political ferment or philosophical wrangling, not only in JROTC but in my high school as a whole.
While I had charted and began following a particular course, I was yet unaware that larger forces in society and the world had the potential to radically alter the direction of my life and what it was going to be about.
At first, instead of becoming active around and conscious of the horrors being perpetrated by the United States in 2007 (my junior year), I became attracted to resistance through learning about something that had gone on 161 years earlier. I found out about Henry David Thoreau and how he resisted through a play based on his early life up until his first night in jail; he went to jail in 1846 for evading taxes. He refused to pay taxes to support the United States government because it was waging an unjust war against Mexico at the time. The Mexican-American War was supposedly started by the claim that Mexico had 'shed American blood on ... American soil'; however it was actually a war fought to expand the territory of the United States. It was through encountering that long past act of defiance which challenged me to look at what was going on around me and my role in the world very differently. An alternate course was developing... but I would not come to explore it more fully until a year later.
When a Marine recruiter called me at home in the first semester of senior year—my stomach dropped. They were offering what I expected, it was the choice I had anticipated making, coming to me, but it was unsettling. The military option I had braced myself and prepared for, what I had been intending to do for years, the prospect of 4 years of obligatory service and possibly fighting in a war, this was becoming serious. I met up with the recruiter after school. He told me about how much he loved the military, moving around the country, the money and getting to use a car from the recruiting office; he told me about what enlistment would entail and told me about some of my job options based on my test scores—I picked a position as a translator and initiated the process. A few weeks later I went into the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station), took a thorough medical exam, a written test, filled out the paperwork for enlistment and gave an oath—this oath supposedly sealed the deal—I was going to the military, or so I thought.
This process came on somewhat unexpectedly—up until the point where they called me I had planned on going to the military but I wasn't exactly overflowing with initiative for seeking them out and signing up. Once they called I felt unsure and scared, but I felt like I had to follow through with the plan I had made, because the factors leading me to that course of action remained the same and because no alternative was presenting itself in a forceful or well-developed way. However, all of this did compel me to think about this decision and its implications more deeply.
I started talking to people about the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and I tried to research more about the underlying causes of the war and what were the real aims and objectives propelling it—"spreading freedom and democracy" seemed to be a more and more unlikely explanation as I studied the real history of the United States and its military excursions around the globe. I was becoming more interested in getting politically involved when I got a sense of the injustices going on in the world and because I met people around Revolution who were both telling the truth about the war—that it was in the service of expanding and consolidating U.S. domination of the world—and that there was a great need for people to actively resist the crimes of the exploitative system behind all this, capitalism-imperialism, and to organize for a revolution which could put an end to this system.
They told me about the protest that was being called for by World Can't Wait, to march on the Pentagon in opposition to the "murderous and utterly illegitimate war in Iraq" and I felt like there was no way I could miss out on something so bold, so daring and so righteous! I immediately investigated the travel costs and made plans with a friend to go together. We were exhilarated by the opportunity to stand with the people of the world against the war. We were ecstatic to travel halfway across the country, and meet completely new people who also felt the urgent need to fight and struggle, to protest and resist. We were immensely excited to play a part, not only of immediately ending the war but driving the entire Bush regime from office... and then we were temporarily de-railed.
We overlooked the fact that our parents had no intention whatsoever of letting us go that far on our own. However, we were able to hook up with Revolution distributors and go to a protest being held on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, March 19. This was very new to me at the time, it was very challenging and intimidating to not only be at my first protest but to try and bring revolutionary politics (which I was not incredibly familiar with at the time) to thousands of strangers. It was also very meaningful and thrilling because I was sharing Revolution newspaper with people and the things I had learned in a relatively short period of time about the system of capitalism we live under, that it was the cause of so much unnecessary pain and suffering and that we needed a revolution to get rid of it. This experience propelled me to both want to learn more about the world and also to change it in the interests of humanity.
But I didn't get it yet. I thought I could be for a better world; for a revolution to get to socialism and advance towards communism; and somehow that those desires and aspirations could survive my decision to join the U.S. military. I thought that I was "strong-minded" enough not to be ideologically twisted into what they wanted me to be.
Fortunately, someone I knew around Revolution challenged me to confront reality on this, and they called me out on what I was doing: putting my individual need for college money (promised by the military) above the lives of the tens of thousands of people this system crushes every day. I did not understand what I was doing in that way. I felt that because I was opposed to the war and the system politically and because I wasn't "supposed" to be in battle due to the fact that I chose to be a translator, that I could get an education and be in an even better position to fight for revolution and communism.
I was dead wrong, but I didn't think so; I felt like they were being intrusive. Who were they to challenge what I had been planning to do for years? I thought it was frustrating at the time that they were making me question what I was doing, that they kept inviting me to meetings and confronting me on what the military does and has done to the masses of people around the world and what it meant for me to be joining up with that. To the extent that what they were saying influenced me, it brought up many more questions: how to get out of the military, how to get an education, where I was going to live in order to not stay at home, and whether I could be a part of consciously fighting and preparing for communist revolution.
This was very difficult because they refused to let me ignore what I knew; they were calling on me to act on what I understood to be true, to rupture from a path and a way of thinking motivated mainly by my own, narrow self-interest and to take my life in a completely different direction.
This person struggled with me very fiercely around the real nature of the military—that it exists to violently enforce capitalism-imperialism—and that joining with it in any capacity means serving this system, actively taking part in plundering and destroying people around the world, whether I ended up being sent to war or not. This really struck me because at first I hadn't put it together—if you're working for the military (whether you're repairing the tanks or actually driving them and firing the cannons) you are functioning as a cog in the overall juggernaut of death and destruction, known as U.S. imperialism. This is what I didn't understand at the time, I thought that if I could get out of combat then it would just be like getting any other job. However the way they posed this and drew together the links, they didn't let me avoid reality like that. They showed me the connections between those supporting the war logistically: military police, technicians, translators (those making sure the military machine was working) and those carrying out its purpose: infantry shooting people down, pilots dropping bombs, and soldiers in tanks firing cannons.
This person also did the work to help me find a way out of the agreement that I had made; as a high school student in the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP) even though I signed the paperwork at the recruiting office, and swore an oath, as long as I didn't ship out for boot camp, they couldn't make me into what they want, like the RCP statement says, "a mindless killing machine for the system itself."
The fact that this person was very persistent, passionate and scientific was decisive; they were not only walking me through what it would mean to be a part of the military, but that they were also showing me a different pathway, something worth dedicating my life to and worth sacrificing my life for: the emancipation of humanity.
A few months later I joined the Revolution Club in my area and began committing myself to communist revolution.
Nobody should make the mistake I almost made. If no one had been there to struggle with me, I would probably be in Iraq or Afghanistan kicking down doors and terrorizing people, in jail for refusing orders, or dead. If it makes you sick to think about the crimes against humanity being committed right now by the military, you have a responsibility to let your friends and the world know. It is up to you to confront your friends, challenge convention, go meet some of the JROTC youth or people who might be attracted for whatever reason when the recruiters show up; you have to let them know what this military is actually about and what it is carrying out in the world. You have to put this to them sharply: is it worth it? To live and die for empire, to check your humanity, to suppress the feelings of compassion you might have for human life being snuffed out or irrevocably scarred by torture—for a fucking paycheck and a college education. That's disgusting! Not one more generation fighting and dying, trading their humanity for blood money, becoming assassins for a brutal empire—all of this serves only to more deeply reinforce the current world order and the violent domination of humanity by a handful of ruthless exploiters. This way of life is intolerable and you have the responsibility and opportunity to put an end to it.
Spread this issue of Revolution to everyone you know, spark debates at the lunch table and in the classroom around the big questions being posed in the world: "What are we going to dedicate our lives to?" "Could the world actually be different and better than this?" "What role do students have to play in bringing about a radically transformed world?" Organize some of your friends and print up pictures of what the military actually does, so the next time the recruiters show up, you can pass them around at lunch and expose them for what they are doing: bamboozling youth into fighting for the same system that got humanity into this mess in the first damn place. And when you do any of this, write in to Revolution and tell us about it—what happened, what were people saying and thinking, and how did things change in your class/neighborhood/school, etc.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
What You Told Us:
The Stolen Lives Project documented 2,000 people killed by police in the ’90s, and police continue to kill people. We are all Sean Bell—killed by police in New York City. We are all Oscar Grant—killed by police in Oakland, CA. And then there is the everyday way police come down on youth all the time. The following are excerpts from interviews done by Revolution.
Bryan: “One time I was in Burger King with a bunch of friends, and we were waiting for some people. So we’re sitting there, and there’s people making noise on the other side. [The manager] decides to call the cops, right? So we’re like ‘Alright, we might as well wait till the cops get here and just be out.’ So everybody’s leaving, and just as I’m about to leave, the cops stop me. They’re checking me and everything. I’m like ‘Why did you stop me?’ They was like ‘Oh, you look suspicious.’ I’m like ‘How am I looking suspicious?’ ’Cause the way I dress when I’m outside, I don’t dress like some thug dude. I dress just like an Oldie pretty boy… I was like ‘You know what? Check me. Check me. Just so y’all can see if I got something on me.’ They check me, and realize that I have nothing. So they’re looking at me all angry and everything ’cause I didn’t have anything.”
Princess, 15: “I was watching on the news, this man was standing, and then these two cops just came and started harassing him and punching him in his face, and the man didn’t even try to fight back. They were trying to arrest him for doing nothing. I could see police officers think they have the authority to do whatever they want to other people, just because they’re police officers. That’s not right….”
Anthony: “For me, it’s always the same cops that stop me, proving that it’s always the same cops that’s watching me. And they always stop me using the same excuses, same things. Proving they’re either watching me, or they’re trying to make sure that the one fault that you do—whether it’s jaywalking across the street or throwing a bottle towards the garbage can and not picking it up—they’re going to try and stop you, try to catch you in that one flaw.”
X: “One time I was standing in front of my building, and they came up—it was a DT car, and they thought I was a drug dealer... I’m just a kid, so how would you think—and the real ones was right across the street from me. Like, they knew who they were, but they just came up to me. I’m like ‘Wow.’ If my mother wasn’t there—she was getting in the car—I probably would have been in jail or something for something I didn’t do. And then the other time, they threw me on the car ’cause they thought I was somebody else. The description clearly said the opposite of what I had on, but they claimed that I went upstairs and changed my clothes. So I was like ‘Whatever.’”
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If the police have... sweated you at school
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Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
We received this from Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:
“I’m just glad I know which way the revolution is, because the way I see it, revolution is my only hope. I’m a 22-year-old Mexican and Black male. I’ve been held captive for almost 8 years now in CYA and CDC [California Youth Authority/California Department of Corrections]. The last grade I completed of school was the 7th. I’ve accumulated a dozen “violent felonies” trying to live as long as I have, inside and outside prison. Fortunately, I’ll be released in a coupla years. If it hadn’t been for discovering MLM [Communist theory] and the support and inspiration Chairman Avakian and the RCP have provided, I don’t know what the fuck I’d do with my life once they release me from their clutches, except fall back into the same mode of hustlin’ and jackin’ or trying to gain an advantage over my fellow proletarians for the crumbs we snatch from each other trying to survive and feed ourselves.”
The PRLF urgently needs your help to keep providing revolutionary literature to prisoners like this one. There are more than 180 prisoners on the waiting list for subscriptions.
Head to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF) website: http://prisonersrevolutionaryliteraturefund.org
Available now—new materials for fundraising and spreading the word. Learn how you can donate and help raise funds. Download PRLF’s new flyer, a packet of letters from prisoners, and read appeals from donors and supporters.
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Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
Revolution received the following correspondence:
It’s been a week since we began taking Revolution to the campuses and we’ve begun to have a real impact, we have met a lot of people, learned a lot – and have a lot of lessons to draw in order to go forward.
All week we set up right across the street from the main building where freshman orientation was going on. We had a Revolution Books table with big red flags waving high up in the air and a vivid display of enlarged photos taken from the special issue of Revolution newspaper that featured "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." These photos confront hundreds of people a day with the vivid nightmare that the world is today for literally billions. They show an eight-year-old girl in Bangladesh slaving away in a battery factory... a Black man somewhere in America with his face pressed into the ground as two police officers kneel on his neck... an old man carrying the limp body of a young girl whose life has been stolen by U.S. war planes and occupation in Iraq... a man in Guatemala reduced to scavenging amidst others’ waste and garbage to scratch out any kind of existence...
And, they show images of revolutionary China – a whole epoch of tremendous liberation that people have been lied to about – as well as a whole display of the works of Bob Avakian who has done the work over the course of decades to develop the framework to go even further towards liberation than even the best of the revolutions in the past and is leading this process today.
All this is quite a challenge to the students who walk past. We live in a society and a culture that systematically covers over – and encourages people to avert their eyes from – the horrors caused by this system of capitalism-imperialism. Further, we live in an intellectual climate where not only outright reactionaries spread the BIG LIE that communist revolution has led only to disaster, but where this has been picked up and repeated even by many progressive and radical-minded people. And far too few people among all sections of society have heard of, let alone substantively engaged, the work and leadership of Bob Avakian who has rescued this history and built upon it to figure out how we can do even better and go even further.
At times when the flow of people is greater and we have more people volunteering at our table, one of us will climb up on a chair and hold one of the enlargements and agitate, calling on students to look at the pictures and come check out the revolution.
Among those who stop (it is hardly surprising that most students don’t stop, but a significant number do), it is striking how much openness as well as how much ignorance exists about revolution and communism. Most express anguish over the things that are portrayed in the pictures and many let us know that they, too, have tried to figure out why these things happen and what can be done about it. Some have more developed theories and some are just starting to think about these questions. But almost no one, even among those who have read some Marx or other "Marxist scholars," has yet seriously engaged genuine Marxism or has any sort of dialectical materialist understanding of why the world is the way it is and how it can be changed.
Most students who express their theories to us for why humans suffer so much focus in on the level of the individual. One argues that, during their early development, children begin to be indoctrinated with society’s norms and that because the individual child will never achieve those exact norms, this is the source of suffering. Another student, with a different theory, is similarly rooted in examining society through the atomized experience of individuals. He argues that when children are very young they have no sense of self but as they grow they come to realize that they are separate from others around them. He argues that it is when the child realizes that they are not the most significant thing in their mother’s life, that the father is more loved by the mother than they are, that constant frustration is generated by never being able to fill their mother’s needs themselves the way they initially grew up perceiving that they did.
With each of these students – and others like them – we have gotten into great debate and discussion.
One of these students gives the example: "How many movies have you seen, or cards or commercials, where the image of ‘love’ is depicted by two lovers running towards each other on a beach?" But then, he goes on to explain, that idea of love that everyone is raised on doesn’t really correspond to how people really experience love in their lives. And it is this gap between the ideal and the reality that causes people to feel anguish and suffer.
I tell him that not only do I think he is grappling with something important, but that I think it is extremely important that he is striving to get to the root of the problems, not just dealing with things on the surface. But then, I go on to explain that while it is true that there often is a gap between societal ideals and what people’s real lives are and that this can be a source of suffering, that there are much deeper and more defining contradictions than this. For instance, I pose to him, why are the societal norms (or "ideals" as he put it) what they are in the first place? Why, for instance, was it considered "ideal" for whole sections of white people to become slave-owners and plantation-owners at a certain point in this country’s history? And why did that "ideal" change? Further, even when that was the ideal, the real problem was not that there was a gap between that "ideal" and the reality of many white people’s lives – it was the system of slavery itself that gave rise to that ideal that was the problem.
The guy listened really intently and asked for clarification at several points. Then he made clear that he thought slavery was a true horror, but that perhaps I wasn’t seeing that, "People create systems like slavery, or launch wars, or do other destructive things because they are unhappy because they cannot achieve an ideal that is defined by society rather than just being defined in relationship to themselves only."
I wanted to make clearer that he was getting these two things inverted (that really the "ideals" of any society and the gap between those ideals and most people’s lives, flow from and are shaped by what kind of system there is, not the other way around). And the more he laid out his thinking, the more it got me thinking further, so I gave a different example. I told him that sometimes what is considered "ideal" changes, including sometimes people fight to change this and sometimes the projection of new ideals does not add to people’s suffering, but helps to uproot it. I gave him the example of the Model Operas that were developed and performed during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In particular, I focused on how women were portrayed in those works – as strong revolutionary fighters and leaders. For a country that was coming out of hundreds of years of feudalism where women were viewed as less than human, these new ideals – together with the new revolutionary society that corresponded to those ideals – were part of enabling women to be free in ways before unimagined.
He paused for a moment as he considered what I was saying and he said he’d never heard anything positive about the revolution in China. So we talked for a while about what this revolution was and how it changed things for a billion people. And we got into how that revolution was reversed in 1976, to make clear that we are NOT upholding the kind of "sweatshop of the world with pockets of obscene wealth" that China is today. I told him that this experience was the most liberating humanity has seen yet and he has to find out the truth about this that has been kept from him. Then I told him about how Bob Avakian has deeply summed up the experience of this and other revolutions – both the tremendous achievements and the shortcomings, as well as broader spheres of human endeavor – and advanced the science of revolution.
My statement that revolution and communism are a science brought out a whole new host of questions and controversies with him. He brought out questions about early childhood development, about how it is that young people get the message about what it means to be human or to experience different emotions. He wondered whether we are really in a position to say that the girl in the battery factory in Bangladesh is really unhappy if that is all she has known and maybe we are just imposing our own "ideals" on her. I told him this was completely outrageous and told him that, while it is the case that you will put up with a lot of horrors if you don’t think anything else is possible, it is not the case that any humans find it to be fulfilling to have to send their children into dark and dangerous slave-like work conditions or watch them starve to death. I went further and talked about how many people we’d met over the summer out in the ghettos and barrios who had looked at the picture of a Black man being brutalized by the police and said, "That’s what they do to us." During all this I was rather sharp, not unfriendly, but I challenged him to really confront the implications of what he was saying.
From here, he disagreed when I said that the conditions the majority of humanity is locked in are truly oppressive, degrading and squandering of human potential and happiness. He said that may be my opinion, but there is no such thing as an objective way to evaluate the conditions of humanity. So, I responded by starting with a basic fact: there are approximately 6.3 billion people on this planet. He acknowledged this. Over 2 billion live on less than two dollars a day. He agreed. In 28 countries there have been food riots in the last year and a half. True, again, he agreed. Many of these countries actually were food-producing countries and had plenty of food but wouldn’t give that food to their people because it was for export in an imperialist-dominated global economy. Here, he seemed at first like he was starting to get uncomfortable. Then, he said, "Okay, I get what you are saying. Those things are mathematically true." So we continued, at each step I would take him deeper into what causes all this to be the case – and at each point I made him acknowledge that my statements were of the type that could be verified by examining reality.
This last discussion, about whether objective reality actually exists and, further, whether we can understand it scientifically has proven to be a big recurring theme among many students. One big way this has come up is that over and over again we have struggled with students that there is a relationship between understanding why the world is as it is and figuring out how it can be changed. That communism is not just "our thing" that we want to convince people of – or that they should wish us luck with. But, that there is only one way to liberate humanity – communist revolution – and this is a statement they cannot dismiss because it sounds "dictatorial" of us to insist that only we have the answer. Instead, they have to actually examine what we are saying and hold it up against the real world – not in a simplistic or superficial way, but in a scientific way.
We went back and forth on this for a while and you could tell that this guy was enjoying the exchange as much as I was, and that he was coming at it from a genuine place of concern for humanity and the planet. In the meantime, many new people had been passing through and now several stopped near the table. He gave a donation for the paper and his phone number and email and hung around listening for a little while longer as I began to talk with the others.
With the other student I mentioned above I asked him what he was basing his theories on. He replied, "Psychoanalysis." I asked him to break down for me where he got that from and at first he got very defensive, "Well, if you don’t agree with psychoanalysis then you obviously won’t agree with what I am saying." I told him I don’t think that is the right way to proceed. It’s better for me to actually hear what he has to say and try to understand it, and he should do the same thing with me, and we should measure all of it up against the real world and evaluate and learn in the process. This seemed a little surprising to him – probably on one level he didn’t expect this from a communist but on an even deeper level this is not how most people approach the world these days and perhaps this was new to him overall. After he walked me through more of his thinking about how people’s suffering comes from discovering that their fathers are more significant to their mothers than each child believes they are when they are young and forming their identity, he explained that this is why communism – even if you get rid of all classes and relations of oppression – will never work. He kept insisting that the problem (which he was claiming to have identified) is "deeper" than just class society.
So, I posed back to him how he thought this could be the most defining thing about humanity when it has so clearly been the case that there have been all kinds of different ways that human societies have been organized. His theories were drawn from a certain period of human history where there have been certain forms of family relations. We talked about societies where the family was very different than we know it, where there was not nearly such importance placed on the paternity of the child and the elevated status of mother-child bond. After this, he admitted that his theories only applied to people who are generally "in the West" and fit the family structure he is describing.
But, when I pointed out to him that this meant that his theory does not disprove the potential of communism to overcome all social antagonisms as he claimed it did, and especially went on to explain the deeper dynamics of society that determine even what shape the family will take and how it emerged, he objected in a very similar way that the previously described guy did. He immediately objected to the notion that I could make such "macro" statements about the world as a whole. It was fine, he explained, for him to restrict his theories to our society and ones that are similar, because those are the only ones we really can understand. And, because there is not necessarily a link between, or there are not necessary deeper dynamics that are universal to, our society and the many very different societies that have been.
I recount quite a bit of the exchange with these two different guys because there is a lot that was fairly typical. They were very concerned about humanity and what was portrayed in the pictures, but they really weren’t even thinking in terms of a system to explain why things are this way. Further, while they recognize that the horrors in the pictures are real, the more we talked the more it became clear that they really underestimate, or probably are just completely ignorant of, how truly desperate and degraded and bitter the lives of the vast majority of humanity really are. Another thing was how deeply interested they were in hearing from people who were serious about understanding and changing the world. They seemed to appreciate both our perspective of being on the side of the wretched of the earth, but also that we struggled with them over questions of philosophy and meaning, epistemology and science, the need for political resistance and mass ferment, as well as history and the potential for the future. One of these students was the furthest thing from politically radical, but he was deeply concerned about humanity and eager to engage with people, even us communists, over how things could be changed. The other student was someone who considers himself extremely politically radical and is active in building resistance to globalization and state repression, but was similarly stuck in theories that are not radical and at first was much more reluctant to engage with real communists like us. But, in many ways, they were extremely similar in their ideological and political framework and in their need to encounter and really engage with scientific Marxism to even understand the very questions they were up against and grappling with.
Where we have set up there is a very good mix of people who come through, many of them students but also a lot of people from all around the city. This is very advantageous and we’ve been trying to maximize the strengths of what different people bring to this. At one point while I was up on the chair agitating about the need for revolution and for people to learn the truth about communism and find out about Bob Avakian, a young Black man whose girlfriend works in the area came right up and said, "Man, me and my friends were just talking about this." I gave a brief overview of what the statement ("The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have") gets into for him, but I did this loud enough so that others walking past could hear, and a few more people stopped.
I ask the young guy if he’s ever heard of Bob Avakian and he shakes his head no. So, I get down off the chair and I say to everyone, but especially him, that if he is for real about revolution he has to come over to the television we have set up right now and check out this leader. He grabs a chair and we turn on the Revolution DVD to its very opening, "Postcards of the hangings."
For about half an hour this young man sits rapt by Avakian’s speech. Behind him two other Black youth, a young woman and a young man who are both getting their G.E.D.’s nearby, stop by to listen too. Soon, two female students draw closer and listen in. The crowd itself became something of a magnet to others, many who stop just for a moment and keep moving, a few who stay for a little while. Watching this video with people seeing it for the first time, I get a renewed appreciation for how damning Avakian’s exposure of this country is. He speaks with great passion against the horrors of the lynchings, and appropriate disgust for a culture that celebrated such barbarity. Then, his phrase, "This is the history of this country. This is just a small part of the history of this country." It hits very hard and I see heads nodding.
After this section, the young guy says that everything he had heard was true and it made him sad and it made him angry and he really liked the guy who was talking. I took a minute to make sure we got his phone number and email address and then told him about what all was covered in the rest of the DVD and that the whole thing is available on line now. But, before he left, I insisted – and he seemed very happy to oblige – that he sit and watch another section of the DVD where Avakian imagines what a liberated society will be like. As he continued watching and others stopped in, I went to the other end of our set-up and climbed back up on the chair. When I looked back there were about fifteen people gathered around our table in various knots – some watching the DVD, others taking in the photo spread and some engaged in discussion and debate with the revolutionaries staffing the table.
This proved to be the biggest scene we’ve been able to create thus far around the table. It continues to be the case that most students just keep on walking as if we weren’t even there, as if they cannot hear our words at all or see our pictures. It is clear that a lot of students don’t want to look at all this, but it has also been important for us to recognize that even while we need to challenge people sharply, this challenge should not be merely to "get down with the revolution" but to actually critically engage the revolution and not accept the "received wisdom" that this is the best of all possible worlds. There is an importance to challenging people to THINK about the world and their responsibility to it and to engage the answers and the leadership we have to get out of this. It is the first week of school and students, especially freshmen, are quite overwhelmed by everything new they are encountering all at once – and revolution and especially communism are not exactly familiar or favorably looked upon territory for most students. Over time, we have seen that some people who initially walked by are stopping and engaging.
The second day three young guys came up to the table at the end of the day and said, "We’ve been walking past you over and over, now we want to come and find out what you are doing here." The next day, as we were walking up to one of the dorms several blocks away, a group of students passed us. One of them blurted out, "Hey, are you the communists? Let me get one of your fliers." He wouldn’t stop and talk because his friends all kept going without him, but this indicates something about some beginning impact we are having beyond the students we’ve yet spoken to.
Another student who stopped by the first day announced that he was "more of a Chomsky guy" and he wasn’t sure that the entire system needed to go, he considered himself more moderate. When I got into how the world will not fundamentally change without revolution and began to get into how it can change radically with a new revolutionary state power leading to communism, he immediately asked, "Are you an authoritarian?" I paused for a second and explained that I didn’t think that was the right distinction. The RCP is a vanguard party and I absolutely am convinced that it is only with a revolutionary vanguard that the masses can make revolution and that after the revolution, to not establish a new state power and defend what has been won, would be a criminal betrayal of the people. Further, I explained, in that new revolutionary society there needs to be the institutionalized leading role of the communist party or else you are still going to just be handing power back over to the imperialists to do their worst with. I explained that the question is not whether or not there will be leadership or state power or authority, but what is the content and nature of that leadership and state power and authority and where will it lead. Ultimately our goal is communism – that is a world without social antagonism and classes, without states and without any institutionalized leadership – but to get there you need a state of a different kind.
He kept saying that this notion of having a new state really made him uncomfortable. That if you really want to get rid of states and leaders you can’t be fighting for a new state and promoting a leader. I challenged him that the question cannot be whether something makes him uncomfortable or not, but what is really needed to get humanity free and this is a question of science. It is also from this perspective, of really developing both the most thoroughgoing method of science and scientific communism and of applying it to developing the strategy for making revolution and the framework for advancing the revolution after it is made, that the leader we have, Bob Avakian, really is precious. Avakian has dealt with the biggest questions of communist revolution, including one that this guy is putting his finger on – between leadership and led.
We got into the fact that socialism is three things: a new economic system, a new kind of state, and a transition from capitalism to communism. That there is a big contradiction between leadership and led all along the way and the fact that you have a Party leading and a new state power can be turned into its opposite, into something that reverses the revolution and represses the masses of people. However, it doesn’t have to turn into that and Avakian has really fought to maintain the orientation, and to deepen the scientific foundation of the understanding that, without revolution and a new state power the world will continue as it is and get worse under the rule of capitalism-imperialism. And, from this perspective and with these aims, Avakian has gone further than anyone before him (including building on Mao but going beyond him as well) in figuring out how to continue the revolution after the seizure of power and dig up the real roots for capitalist restoration and break down the division between leadership and led and lead to the withering away of the state when that becomes possible.
With this guy, and with quite a few others who raised similar questions (a LOT of people raised these similar questions) I took things back to the time after the Civil War in this country. We discussed how after that war, there was a need for federal troops to be posted in the South if the newly freed slaves were going to not be immediately re-enslaved. These troops weren’t doing the kinds of things that slave-owners and racist white mobs were doing – they weren’t raping the women of those they were suppressing or selling the children out of the arms of their parents. They were merely preventing the overthrown slave-owners from re-enslaving Black people. And, as soon as the troops were pulled out and sent West (to help carry out criminal acts of genocide against the Native Americans and to put down strikes of railway workers), the former slave-owners and Confederate Army regrouped and instituted over a hundred years of neo-slavery and KKK terror.
The need for a new state power does not arise because communists are "statists" or power-hungry. Communists want state power because we recognize that without it humanity cannot begin to set out on the process of freeing itself – ending police brutality and the criminalization of Black youth as a whole, putting an end to the terror and destruction the U.S. inflicts on the globe, launching massive campaigns against the violence against and degradation of women, beginning to repair the environment, establishing a whole new revolutionary culture, teaching real science in public education, and so much more. I told him that no one has dealt more thoroughly, though, with the element of what he was raising that is really important than Bob Avakian. Later that day, I looked up the clip in the online version of Avakian’s Revolution talk where he gets into why attempts to do away with the institutionalized leading role of the communist vanguard under the dictatorship of the proletariat would only lead to disaster ("Overcoming the Scars of the Past"). I sent the guy an email with it, telling him I took our conversation very seriously and that, just as I had said, Avakian has spoken to this very deeply and he needs to check it out.
The next day, this same guy came back. I didn't notice him at first until he was deep in conversation with someone else at our table. All I heard was him say, "Yeah, I got an email from you guys already," and then I saw that they talked for quite some time.
There were others, though it doesn’t seem to be quite as many, who approached us more from the end of a burning desire to see resistance to the outrages going on. One young white guy stared for a while at the image of police brutality and then asked if I had heard of the guy who was shot face-down on the subway platform in Oakland by police on New Years. I said yes, and showed him the centerfold in Revolution newspaper that week with Oscar Grant’s picture along with others who were killed by police. He got really excited and wanted to hang this up as a poster in his dorm and expressed a lot of interest in organizing for the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality. He said he tries to pay attention to what is wrong with the world and that he grew up in a place that was mostly filled with Fox News drones.
I asked him what he knew about communism and he replied, "Not much, but it’s gotta be better than this system." He and several others, once we started asking people to support the revolution even as they were just meeting us, gave several dollars for his newspaper instead of just one. Then, he ran off to get his best friend and bring him back by the table to talk to us as well.
One of my favorite exchanges happened when I was up on the chair agitating. A young guy came up to look at the pictures and ask why I was associating those pictures with the need for communism. Obvious, they were very bad, he agreed – but he didn’t see how that meant we needed communist revolution.
Before I could get more than a few words out, another guy came up and started cautioning this young man that he shouldn’t listen to me. The second guy says, "Let me ask you. If there is a big stack of plates that has problems in it, what makes you think we should throw them all up in the air with the expectation that when they come crashing down to the ground again things will turn out any better than they are now." I calmly responded, "If I thought that analogy had anything to do with what an actual communist revolution is, I would answer that question. But really, society is not organized like a stack of plates and, while a revolution does spring all of society into the air, a communist revolution does not merely let things come crashing back down however they may."
I pointed again to the photos, but again before I could really get a thought out, the new guy was saying, "Of course I think those things are horrible, but that does not prove that we need the kind of revolution you are talking about." So, we went back and forth for a while about how these photos weren’t just "bad things" or products of human nature. I argued that they are rooted in the system of capitalism-imperialism and that these things have been overcome and can be overcome even more thoroughly in the future through communist revolution that socializes the means of production, re-organizes the economy and international relations based on meeting people’s needs and overcoming the scars of capitalism. This new guy then launched into a whole tirade against communist leaders making promises that they will change everything and then turning into tyrants and I went back at him with how wrong it would be to make revolution and not lead society forward. I got into the real dynamics that led to both the profoundly liberating experience in China when it was revolutionary as well as the dynamics that led to the restoration of capitalism.
Every now and then, the first guy would ask me a question, but the newer guy would cut him off and begin again to caution him about all the dangers he was sure would arise from communist revolution. Next, this newer guy began to advocate the path of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. We had quite a fierce argument over these guys. I told him that this is spoken to quite thoroughly in the Revolution talk by Avakian and then explained that India’s formal independence from Britain, while a very just and important thing, really has not liberated the people of India. Further, this independence wasn’t won by Gandhi. First, the British empire was in decline all over the world at that time, this was a larger dynamic than just the movement led by Gandhi (we walked through various places like Iran and parts of the Middle East). Further, there were other, much more decisive struggles for national liberation raging in India at the time of its independence, including armed struggles in which many people very heroically fought and sacrificed. This guy, even while he was extremely bent on preventing anyone from taking me seriously, himself had to step back and consider what I was raising about India. Clearly, he had never considered what was the larger context in which Gandhi was operating and that other factors might have played a bigger role. He acknowledged quite a bit of what I was arguing and then shifted his argument to Martin Luther King in this country. So, I argued forcefully that MLK was not the decisive force in the struggle to overcome official Jim Crow in the South. Finally, I argued that in both the case of Gandhi and MLK, the rulers of this system are the ones who have elevated and mythologized the role that Gandhi and MLK played precisely in order to keep people who see injustice and want to fight against it locked within the framework of their system.
At this point, the first guy asked how much the paper was and I told him. As he pulled out his wallet the new guy turned to him with more conviction than anything he had said yet and started wagging his finger, asking, "Do you know where that money is going to go? Are you sure you really know what it is that you are supporting?" The new guy kept reaching into his wallet and explained, "I just spent all kinds of money on all kinds of books because it costs something for those books to be made and it is worth it to me to learn what is in them. How would this be any different? She is saying a lot of stuff I have never heard and it seems to me that one dollar is definitely a reasonable amount to pay to find out more. Besides, after listening to you and her argue and argue, I have to say that this is the best dollar I have spent since I have been in this country."
Turns out the guy was a student from Israel and after he bought the paper he stuck around for another twenty minutes or so, checking out the photos, listening in at times on other exchanges and coming back again to ask a couple more questions before he left.
Another thing that was interesting, not on the level of an overall pattern or trend yet, but worth taking note of were two young Chinese women who we encountered separately but who both were very open to, if not semi-favorable towards, Mao. One was a freshman who grew up here and described herself as an anarchist. She said that, growing up, both her parents and her grandparents would constantly quote Mao to her and that they loved Mao. She said she felt that any kind of leadership was a problem and overall thought that there had been too much chaos and disruption in the Cultural Revolution and that this had been caused by Mao. When I asked her what she thought the Cultural Revolution had been about, it was clear that she really didn’t understand that it was both about preventing capitalist restoration and about transforming world outlook and breaking down the divisions inherited from class society. We spoke for quite a bit about how the contradictions Mao confronted in the GPCR (Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution) were not of his own making, but that he was responding to contradictions that any revolution will have to respond to and that abolishing leadership will not avoid those contradictions. She had an especially bad impression of Jiang Qing (Mao’s wife who has been slandered probably more than anyone else involved in the Chinese Communist revolution) and I explained some of what she had done that was so pathbreaking in forging a new revolutionary culture.
For a young woman whose first comment was that she is an anarchist who doesn’t like the idea of parties and leaders, she was remarkably open to grappling with what the nature of revolution is and why we say leaders and parties and revolutionary states are necessary. As she got ready to go, I posed to her that the kind of exchange we had been having needs to break out much more broadly among students overall, as well as resistance to the crimes of this system. She agreed whole-heartedly and said she was open to signing some of us into the dorms so that we can get out fliers and talk to more students.
The other young Chinese woman we met when we were going to one of the dorms. She was outside with a group of Asian students and they were not speaking English. We gave them the short statement and asked them where they were from. At first they were reluctant to talk and continued speaking to each other, but one by one they opened up. One kid announced to us that he was from Shanghai and then everyone laughed. A young woman looked at us and said, "He’s not from Shanghai. I am."
We explained that we are revolutionary communists and that we uphold Mao Tsetung and are getting out this statement. We made clear that while there are pockets of glitter and obscene development in China today, overwhelmingly things have gotten tremendously worse for the people as a whole since capitalism was restored. Immediately she started gushing about how divided China is, even Shanghai. She said some places people live so wealthy but then there is like a line that you cross and all of a sudden it is worse than poor. That everyone is talking about how great things are there but really most people don’t realize what it is like for the majority, including young women who are bought and sold. She quickly agreed that there needs to be a new revolution there and we began talking about what we are doing with the whole campaign around, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." She didn’t stick around long (all her friends were breaking up and going other places) but she gave a way to be contacted and before the group completely left one of them suggested a place to go where we might find more people who are interested.
We have met a fair amount of "activist students" as well. These students varied a lot, but there tended to be among them a sense that they thought they already knew what we had to say. Or, that it is fine that we are doing "our thing" and they will just keep about doing "their thing." Some said, "Oh, yeah, I am involved already," and declined to even get the paper.
One group of three young men came up to ask if we would put fliers for an upcoming anti-globalization protest on our table. When we got to talking one of them says, "Okay, so why don’t you tell me what Bob Avakian’s new synthesis actually is. I am always hearing, ‘He’s got a new synthesis, he’s got a new synthesis,’ so what is it?" This was pretty interesting, both that he had heard about it a lot and that he didn’t really have any sense of what it is. Also, he seemed to only be partly asking, partly he seemed to be dismissing us as making claims with no substance. But, we took him seriously and framed our answer in the historic juncture described in the new Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party. That the first wave of socialist revolutions have come to an end and we are at the beginning of a new stage and Avakian has stayed rooted in and deepened the scientific understanding that communist revolution is needed, and that this requires both a vanguard party and the dictatorship of the proletariat to get to communism, and he has upheld and built upon the many tremendous achievements of the revolutions of the past, but he has also summed up the shortcomings and errors. That his new synthesis on revolution and communism includes ruptures in the political conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition to communism that includes a greater role for dissent, ferment and a rupture from having an official ideology, ruptures in the realm of philosophy in terms of pragmatism, reification, and epistemology, and the development of a strategic approach to revolution in advanced imperialist countries in a world that has changed significantly since the time of Marx and even Mao.
With these students it was extremely difficult to get them to really engage, to stop and listen and not to just jump out and play "gotcha" every time I mentioned leadership or a new state. They posed that they didn’t want to lead or to follow and that people need to be able to unleash themselves. One of them posed that the state can only operate as long as everyone feeds into it and that if they pull out and others pull out and form alternative ways of organizing and being and defining themselves, it will lose its power to function without the need for a revolution or a new state. I picked up the photo of the 8-year-old Bangladeshi girl and asked how them "opting out" of the system affects her. Or how it affects the 80,000 cotton farmers who have killed themselves in the last decade after going so deeply into debt after structural adjustment programs forced on them from imperialist globalization. One of them acted very offended and acted like I was trying to win the argument by just appealing to emotionalism and sensationalizing this girl’s suffering. I argued back that I had made a substantive point, and went deeper at how the ability for people in this country to "unplug" has everything to do with being at the top of the imperialist food-chain and cannot be separated from the conditions of those like this girl and others in the sweatshops and fields and war-torn lands all over this planet. Further, even our ability to be engaging in ideas the way we are, debating theories and studying them, has to do with having had access to certain training and conditions of life that most of humanity is denied. Don’t we have a responsibility to include the rest of humanity in our discussions of theories and not erase them?
One student kept implying that I was just opportunizing off these people’s conditions to make my point, but another one of the students considered what I was saying. He argued that these people do matter, but went back to the revolution in China. He argued that, even if everything they did had been as good as I said, it really doesn’t apply to us in this country. That was a peasant country where women’s feet had been bound and life expectancy was 32 years before the revolution (points I had just made to him) and they carried out land reform and other measures, but this country is different and those lessons don’t apply.
I acknowledged that there are vast differences, but that there are also things that are universal, most particularly that one class or another will rule and it needs a state that enforces its form of economy and social relations. More particularly, that socialism is a transition to communism with a state that is different than any previous state in that its purpose is to enforce the ability of the proletariat, led by its vanguard, to abolish classes completely and along with that the need for such a state. Further, that until communism is achieved worldwide there is the basis for capitalist restoration and the roots of this, in the material base of society and the leftovers of capitalism along with imperialist encirclement external to the socialist countries, as well as the means for digging up these roots is something that Mao discovered and this applies universally. This is something that Bob Avakian has deeply studied and built upon, going even further than Mao including, in some ways, rupturing even with aspects of Mao.
This was all extremely difficult to get any of these students to engage and with three of them throwing questions out one on top of the other it was a bit of an unsystematic discussion. One of the students next threw out that he disagreed with the vanguard party so I asked him what he understands the point of a vanguard to be. He explained that it was to "provide a division of labor for making revolution" and went on to explain how this meant that some were leading and making decisions and some were carrying those decisions out. I told him he was completely wrong and really didn’t really know what he was talking about. I told him that a vanguard party exists because the scientific understanding of the basis for and methods for making revolution don’t arise spontaneously, they have to be studied and worked at and further, that those who most need revolution and most need to be the backbone of the revolutionary struggle are most frequently locked out of the ability to work with ideas and develop this scientific theory. So, those who do have their hands on this understanding at any given time need to be organized to continue to learn in the most systematic and scientific way collectively and to connect up this science and method as well as policies and political movements with the masses who need to and can be emancipators of humanity. This is not a contradiction we "willed into being" but one that we recognize and the vanguard party is a means of working our way through that.
He posed that if you have a vanguard leading a new society it can just turn into new oppressors. I posed back that if you don’t, you have the nightmare of capitalism and if you do, you have the danger of what he was describing but you also have the potential to resolve this contradiction in a forward-moving direction precisely because of the work of advanced revolutionary leaders like Marx, Lenin, Mao and now Avakian.
This discussion went for quite a while and began to involve others of us at the table. These students didn’t get won even to get the paper and frankly they were smug in a way that is really inappropriate for people who claim to be serious about wanting to change the world for the better. But still, as they were very politically engaged and came asking us to tell them what Bob Avakian’s new synthesis is, we felt it had been very important and worthwhile to go into things quite deeply with them. They began with an air about them that seemed rather dismissive and by the end they still were vehement in their disagreements, but there was some sense from them that they had encountered something of substance and not just the stereotypes of what communists are supposedly like.
Overall, among those who have studied some works of Marx (or, perhaps more often these days, who have studied the works of other scholars who claim to be Marxists), it is striking how much Marx’s works have been taken piece-meal and severed from the coherent science of Marxism that he founded. Whereas Marxism discovered the coherence of human history – with each generation inheriting the ways in which society organized itself to produce and reproduce the material requirements of life (food, clothing, shelter, the ability to rear the next generation, etc.) from the last generation and then transforming and passing them on to the next generation – many students see Marx’s work as only applicable in describing economic relations that more or less conform to forms of capitalism that were emerging in Marx’s time.
Whereas Marxism discovered that the there is a relationship and dynamism between the ways in which the economic modes of production are organized in any society and the culture and ideas and forms of governance and states that arise on that foundation, many students are convinced that Marxism has nothing to say (or nothing that isn’t crude and mechanical to say) about things like culture and ideas and art and love. Whereas Marxism established that the entire history of humanity has been the continual transformation of "human nature" – the overwhelming majority of students (those who have studied some Marx and those who haven’t) have had it drummed in to them that things are the way they are today because of some unchanging and unchangeable "human nature" that is narrowly self-interested, lazy and greedy.
Whereas Marxism discovered that the fundamental contradiction in the way human life is organized in the world today – the one that is most at the root of, and plays the most shaping role in relationship to all the other contradictions – is that between socialized production and private appropriation of what is produced, most students understand Marxism to merely be about getting better conditions and wages for those who labor. And, whereas Marxism discovered that the next revolution, the one that can resolve this fundamental contradiction in the interests of humanity, is the communist revolution leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition to the abolition of classes and the achievement of communism... and whereas the reality is that this dictatorship of the proletariat has been, and will be even more as Bob Avakian's new synthesis is taken up and applied in the world, an extraordinarily vibrant and lively society which not only meets people's most basic needs but also unleashes tremendous debate, dissent and intellectual, cultural and artistic ferment as people dig up the vestiges of capitalism and transform themselves in the process... most students have learned that communism is an idealistic utopian dream which cannot really be achieved and that the dictatorship of the proletariat is when the communist leaders try to impose their impossible ideals onto people with ever-increasing force and repression.
Overall, it has been necessary to ask people what they are talking about when they reference Marx or communism because it is really wrong to assume we are even talking about the same thing. And it is precisely by engaging what it is they think Marxism is that we are able to get them to recognize that they don't "already know" what we have to say, and to struggle for them to engage what Marxism actually is.
There were many other types of people that we met. Many international students are stopping, curious that there are communists and wondering how this is going in America. Many say, "We have communists where I am from," but are really referring to revisionist trends of various kinds. Quite a few young radical-minded people describe themselves as anarchist, or anarchist leaning even where they don’t seem to have studied anarchism deeply. Still, most of these young people are very open to hearing what we have to say about that and discussing it. One kid said to us about seven times that he is truly surprised that we have any hope at all in humanity.
A Pakistani guy came and we had a big struggle over what Bob Avakian has referred to as the "two outmodeds." (Bob Avakian has written, "What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these ‘outmodeds,’ you end up strengthening both.") This Pakistani guy hated what the U.S. had done to his region, including building up the Taliban in the first place, but now really supported the drone strikes and felt the U.S. had to take responsibility for ridding his people of what it had wrought. When I posed that the two outmodeds strengthen each other even while opposing each other he couldn’t help but agree. Still he insisted that the U.S. needed to get rid of the Taliban. I got into this quite a bit deeper, exposing how the U.S. is actually working through many of the clerics and Islamic fundamentalist forces, even elements of the Taliban, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Then he backed up and said, "Well, I like the idea of revolution, but I am here on a U.S. scholarship. Basically, I know the hand that feeds me and got me out of that country where I could have been one of those kids caught up in this mess. So, I guess, I really can’t say anything about this country." He posed that maybe he could use his education to do some good for his country when he returned later.
At this point, I read him the paragraph on education in the Statement: "And, despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some 'elite' schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in 'non-conformist' ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful." He paused for a long time and said, "I’m really going to need to think about that." He bought the paper and promised he would read the whole thing and come back if he agreed. He didn’t give any contact information and was clearly weighing whether he wanted to have any recorded contact with the revolutionaries.
On Friday night, after a week on campus, we called a meeting for all the people we had met to learn more, pose their questions, and begin strategizing about how to break out the debate and ferment over revolution on this campus. Among those we met were several of the people we had had the most in-depth discussions with. Five were the friends of the Israeli guy who said that buying the paper had been the best dollar he’d spent. They all had strong sympathies with the Palestinian people and half of them were Palestinians who had grown up in Israel. They themselves had just met recently and all seemed to have different takes on that conflict (one woman said it that we’ll never sort out all the history, we just have to look forward, another argued that history matters and that Israel has no right to exist).
The biggest questions that emerged were whether it is right to promote an individual leader and whether you need a revolutionary state, whether communism has proven itself to be a disaster. We began by making some remarks, basically along the lines of what is in the statement, walking through it but also the juncture described in the Manifesto and how this statement and campaign is part of making a beginning of a new stage and beginning to lay out why Bob Avakian is so central to that. Then we went around and everyone introduced themselves, said why they were attracted to revolution and the biggest question they had about it. Two art students had questions about why we make such a big deal out of Avakian, mainly from the perspective that we shouldn’t. One Palestinian guy explained that he was "the son of an ex-communist" and posed that he wanted to know what we are making revolution against. Later, he elaborated, "We are told that communism has proven itself a failure, how do you answer that?" A young Palestinian woman posed that she couldn’t see how you can get people who are under occupation to make revolution, the occupation just weighs so very heavy on everyone that it seems almost impossible, plus – this theme developed more as the meeting got going – all kinds of people have listened to all kinds of leaders promise change and revolution over and over again and it hasn’t made any difference and things keep getting worse. Basically, "Why should we believe you?," even though she was very interested and even hopeful that we would have a good answer.
The Israeli guy who had invited this group posed that he felt really strongly that he has only ever received one side of the discussion, and even observed that in academia they only teach you one side ever, about communism. He felt he had to know more about it and that listening to me and others debate that guy at the table the other day had been truly fascinating so he felt he needed to come and he invited his friends.
In the discussion, the question of whether revolution is really possible in a country like this came up. One art student posed that there are no people who really know they are oppressed or really want revolution bad enough. A young revolutionary who was there from off-campus disputed this by talking about the conditions of many of the masses we’d been out among over the summer. He did some important exposure about this, but then came back to the fact that the art student was raising an important contradiction. We went for a while into the strategy for revolution – and tied in how Avakian was key in developing this and this was part of the answer to their other question about why we put so much emphasis on him.
There was a big discussion about whether the solution to people’s problems was subjective (something that one of the art students posed) or whether the problem and solution are linked and exist objectively in the real world and must be studied. And there was a continuous fight on our end to make clear and give people a sense of what type of revolution we are going for, to lift people’s sights to what is really achievable with the dictatorship of the proletariat. We tried to bring that to life for people in contrast to the world we are in and to take people’s questions on in that context.
Also, there is a need with everyone – both at the meetings and then overall at the table, this is worth noting – to struggle with people that they have to get on the inside of making this revolution and solving these problems, including real ones they put their fingers on. We ourselves cannot accept, and we have to get good at making this case compellingly to others, the approach people spontaneously take where they want all their questions answered first before they get involved or want to go further in the engagement. More, the terms need to be – if you don’t want the world as it is, you need to be digging into this and helping spread it and any problems you come to along the way (for instance, the huge middle class in this country and how that makes revolutionary situations less frequent) need to be ones you get into with us, learning what this Party has to say about them and applying yourself to helping solve them. Difficulties and challenges about this revolution – including questions of the potential for capitalist restoration after the revolution, or contradictions bound up with the need for leadership – are things you should be helping to solve and to engage with the solutions that have been pointed to by Bob Avakian’s new synthesis, they are definitely not reasons not to make revolution. Obviously, there is not an absolute here and people will want their questions answered and we should go as far as we can with that, but there is a basic challenge that we have to be putting to people early on and consistently that communist revolution is the way out and get into it yourself and take up the problems posed in this from the perspective of helping to solve them, not as excuses to leave the world as it is.
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Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
We are thrilled to announce the online launch of Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian, starting on Tuesday, September 1, 2009. This four-part film will be going up online. There will also be selected clips posted that day on YouTube.
The film thoroughly goes into the kind of revolution we need—and it gives people an up-close-and-personal experience with Bob Avakian, the leader of the revolution. He lays it all out in a nine-hour speech—and then goes into three hours of question-and-answer dialogue with the audiences. It’s all there—full of heart and soul, humor and seriousness.
Posting this film online opens up a new opportunity for people to dramatically expand the major and multifaceted campaign recently announced by the Revolutionary Communist Party calling on people to join with “the revolution we need… the leadership we have.”
Online millions and millions of people are searching for the truth, and watching videos, short and long. Some of these give part of the answer; but some of them—including some of the most popular—give people bullshit answers, pointing people in the wrong direction and spreading poison. There is nothing online like THIS DVD of Bob Avakian’s: nothing that answers the questions of why we are in the situation we are in... what is the source of the problem... and what is the nature of the solution. Nothing that gets at these questions as deeply, thoroughly and truthfully as this. Here and all over the world, people need to see this video. And wherever people are debating these big questions...this film needs to be in the mix and part of the debate.
To make that happen, this launch needs to be A BIG DEAL. And you are needed to accomplish this. Imagine… on Tuesday, September 1, people on Facebook and MySpace linking to the new Revolution film website being set up, embedding the clips on their page and encouraging others to do the same… blogging everywhere, tweeting… text blasts and email lists reverberating with the news of this launch. This would coincide with postcards passing hand to hand in neighborhoods and during freshman orientation at colleges and schools across the country… signs and posters appearing in dorm rooms, housing projects, community centers, coffee shops, laundromats and barber shops. This kind of launch could have an exponential effect—making the presence of this talk online known to many thousands on Day 1. And on the weekend of August 22-23, when there will be another major effort to get out the statement, “The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have,” there should also be an effort to sell and show the DVD very widely.
And that’s just the beginning… Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About will be capturing people’s attention in many different ways… Clips being projected on the sides of buildings or neighborhood lots and folks going home to catch the full talk... debates and discussions breaking out and then people sending the links to all their friends. The views on the YouTube clips should grow to where thousands and thousands are watching this and spreading it to their friends… ultimately going viral on the net.
Getting in on this and doing the work to make this happen is a way many, many people can join in and contribute to this movement for revolution.
And the work begins now. Call your friends and the people you’ve been meeting taking out this message and call: “The Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have” the last few weeks. Play them a clip of the DVD, go to YouTube and look up the short film, “Next Stop… Revolution.” Talk with people about this campaign, the message and call from the RCP. Get everyone organized to be part of launching this Revolution talk online on September 1, 2009. Collect as many email addresses as you can and prepare to send out the links to the film.
On September 1, 2009, look for clips from this talk on YouTube and before then, check revcom.us for promotional materials and the announcement of the Revolution film website. Promotional materials will be available on Thursday, August 20.
Get with and be part of launching the Revolution film online.
We must spread the word to every corner of this country… giving people the means to become part of this revolutionary movement, and organizing into this movement everyone who wants to make a contribution to it, who wants to work and fight, to struggle and sacrifice, not to keep this nightmare of a world going as it is but to bring a better world into being.
—“The Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have,”
Revolution, #170, July 19, 2009
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Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
West and Dix Open Up the Dialogue:
On July 14, 650 people filled a Harlem auditorium completely, and an overflow crowd of at least 100 more gathered on the streets outside, to hear, "The Ascendancy of Obama… and the Continued Need for Resistance and Liberation: A Dialogue Between Cornel West and Carl Dix."
In his promo video for the event—which has now been viewed more than 3,000 times on YouTube—Dix, a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, set unmistakably clear terms:
If you're somebody who doesn't want to hear straight talk on these questions, I suggest that you just stay your ass at home on July 14, and I feel sorry for you. But if you're somebody who's concerned about the state of humanity… if you hate the fact that these wars for empire continue whether it's Bush or Obama in the White House... if you feel it in your gut every time that you hear that the police have killed another unarmed Black or Latino youth and gotten away with it… if it really bothers you that women in this so-called "best of all possible societies" face violence and sexual assault in horrific numbers… and you wonder what, if anything, can be done to deal with these and other problems that people face, then you need to be out on July 14, and you need to spread the word and challenge others to be there as well. It's that important.
In the days and weeks leading up to July 14, the Revolutionary Youth Summer Project—a collective of 20 young people from across the country who have arrived in New York City to build a revolutionary communist movement—had done extensive outreach in Harlem to mobilize people for the event. The team took to the streets with sound trucks, banners, red flags, and plenty of newspapers and leaflets, as well as a portable DVD player with which to show the YouTube video. In their chants and agitation, the youth emphasized that Obama was a representative of the same imperialist system that has always committed brutal crimes around the globe, and that people should therefore not support Obama. One chant went: "Barack Obama is part of the system/commander in chief of imperialism/fuck that shit, no more confusion/what we need is revolution!"
Some people, like a young Black man visiting from Atlanta, dug this message: "That's all I needed to hear!" he exclaimed enthusiastically, when one youth told him that Obama's presidency was nothing to celebrate. Others did not like what the young revolutionaries had to say, and suggested that they take their message "downtown," or "to Long Island." Some were just taken aback. "Say that again!" a young woman of color exclaimed, after one of the youth repeated the statement from Dix's video that those who felt Obama's election constituted a revolution had "lost their muthafucking minds." Her tone seemed to be partly a challenge (as in "I dare you to say that again!") and partly a sincere desire to hear the statement repeated.
Heading into the program, then, it was clear that Dix's message—as well as the event it was promoting—had a powerful polarizing impact: it had the potential to push away those unwilling to question what Obama's presidency really represents for the people of the world, to draw forward those who were willing to engage this question, and to compel people in both camps to take note that new terms were being boldly thrust onto the scene.
With their presence at the Harlem Stage of City College's Aaron Davis Hall, the hundreds who turned out—whether or not they had literally seen the video clip—embraced the spirit of Dix's challenge: Yes, they did want to hear the truth about Obama, and the crimes of their government. And no, they did not wish to accept the world as it is as tolerable.
Conversations with a handful of people in the building's lobby, before the dialogue began, suggested an atmosphere of excitement, curiosity, and anticipation.
Christianne, a 26-year-old waitress, said she had found out about the program during a recent visit to Union Square, during which she encountered volunteers with the Revolutionary Youth Summer Project.
"In talking about what I see wrong with the world, and what I'd like to see happen, and my inability to come up with a solution, this seemed right up my alley," Christianne said. She added that she had watched Dix's three-minute video in Union Square.
Christianne said that she wasn't going into the event with particular questions in mind, nor expectations of specific issues on which Dix or West would speak.
"I'm just going to see what piques my curiosity," Christianne said.
Sara, a 31-year-old white school teacher in the Bronx, said it was West who had drawn her to the event; she said she wasn't familiar with Dix at all. Sara described West as a "smart" and "provocative" speaker. Asked what she thought about the event's title, Sara replied, "I find it intriguing," and indicated she wasn't completely sure what it meant; she suspected its implication was, " [We have a] Black leader, but that doesn't mean we stop fighting."
Inside the auditorium, Bob Marley's "Emancipation Song" played as the beginning of the program drew near. Its opening lyrics—"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our minds"—were quite fitting for a night in which one central theme expressed from the stage was that the people must take the responsibility of resistance into their own hands; that it is wholly unacceptable to be suckered into complicity with the crimes of our government simply because a Black president is now presiding over those crimes.
Shortly after 7 pm, Sunsara Taylor—a writer for Revolution newspaper, and one of the two moderators for the evening—stepped to the podium. She noted, to applause from the audience, that the event was being broadcast live on local progressive radio station WBAI, before promising an informative and thought-provoking discussion.
"We're in for a journey this evening," she said, as she introduced her co-moderator, the longtime radical journalist Herb Boyd.
"Welcome to City College," Boyd began. "Welcome to Harlem. Welcome to the revolution."
Boyd suggested that the theme of the evening's program was quite relevant to the history of Black experience in America.
"Resistance and liberation—those have always been operative words in the African-American canon and lexicon," Boyd said, adding that Dix and West were well qualified to address those topics. At that point, the two featured speakers walked onto the stage, hand in hand, to loud applause; some members of the audience rose to their feet.
Dix was the first to speak, and as was the case with his YouTube video, he wasted little time establishing clear terms of discourse. "What we're doing tonight is important," Dix began. "We're not gonna pretend Afghanistan is the good war."
The crowd responded with delayed, yet sustained, applause.
"We're not going to give Obama a pass for his Cosbyesque attack on poor Black people," he continued. "What we are going to do is get at reality as it actually is, and as it needs to be transformed."
And with that, a critical conversation happening virtually nowhere else was underway.
In the first part of Dix's speech, he laid out his analysis of the euphoric reaction to Obama's election, and contrasted that with what Obama's victory actually means for Black people and the people of the planet more broadly. Dix alluded to his "lost their muthafucking minds" statement from the YouTube video. At the Harlem Stage, Dix made clear that he stood by that assessment, but added that he wanted to address the underlying reasons why so many people were euphoric. Traveling with his family to the eastern shore of Maryland, which he described as "Mississippi further up north," Dix had to watch his 40-year-old father be addressed as "boy" by a white teenager. He witnessed the city of Baltimore close down its swimming pool, rather than integrate it.
"I know about the white supremacy of this setup," Dix said, "so I understand why people seeing a Black person elected president would get swept up." However, Dix added that while he understood the excitement over Obama's victory, he "did not and do not share it."
Obama's victory, Dix said, was serving to conceal the essence of this system of imperialism and the crimes it commits, and to solicit acquiescence to the system's crimes from people who would not have accepted them under any other president. As an example, he referred to Obama's recent speech in Ghana, during which the president demanded that African people and nations assume responsibility for rectifying their suffering. In so doing, Dix pointed out, Obama sought to mask the legacy of slave ships, the brutality of European colonists, the manner in which imperialism has consistently plundered Africa, and the murderous proxy wars carried out by the U.S. and other imperialist nations; the message Obama delivered, Dix said, was that the real cause of the plight of African peoples was that their governments were corrupt.
"This is a concentration of the role that he's playing," Dix said of Obama's speech.
The next section of Dix's presentation focused on the status of youth under imperialism, and the implications of Obama's presidency for those youth. Dix took on the commonly-expressed sentiment that, even if Obama himself does not represent anything good, at least having a Black man in the White House will inspire Black youth to achieve. In actuality, Dix said, Obama's victory will only suck youth into supporting a system that has condemned them to failure; the real doors that will open to these youth, Dix said, are the doors to the military recruiting centers, the jails, and the courthouses. On top of that, Obama attacks the oppressed youth and blames them for their conditions.
"It was bullshit when Cosby said it, and it's bullshit now," Dix said, to applause.
The final part of Dix's speech focused on what humanity needs to get beyond a system that thrives on torture and wars for empire, spawns massive disease and starvation, ravages the environment, violently subjugates women, and offers millions of youth no better fate than death or jail: revolution. Drawing on the RCP's new statement, "The Revolution We Need, the Leadership We Have," Dix told the crowd that the system of imperialism needs to be swept off the planet, with imperialist institutions replaced by revolutionary institutions. He explained that in past revolutionary societies, such as China under the leadership of Mao Tsetung, monumental and previously unthinkable advances had been achieved quickly under the guidance of a state that served the people; for instance, China went from a society where prostitution was pervasive to one in which the practice had basically been eliminated, and from a country where hundreds of millions were addicted to opium to one in which there were essentially no addicts. Dix went on to say: "Now revolutionary power in China was overthrown when Mao Tsetung died. But Bob Avakian has taken up the understanding that Mao developed and led the Chinese revolution on the basis of and developed it even further and that puts us in position to not only make revolution again but go farther and do even better with it the next time."
Similarly, Dix said, youth in modern imperialist societies who were immersed in the poisons of gangs, drugs, and religion need to be challenged to instead devote their lives to revolution, changing themselves in the process.
Dix finished by quoting the late Oscar Brown's poignant poem, "The Children of Children," and asking: "What is going to be our answer to the children of children all over the world?"
While he clearly did not share Dix's revolutionary communist perspective, West united with the need for resistance and repeatedly commended Dix for being a powerful voice for the oppressed who was willing to sacrifice his life to fulfill that role. "I am here," West said, "because at this particular historical juncture, we have got to create a space for principled criticisms of the Obama administration."
During an electrifying speech that often moved the audience to loud applause, as well as to appreciative laughter, West applauded Dix for driving home the message that humanity's goal should not be to place a Black man at the head of an empire that continues to heap horrific suffering on the vast majority of people of color.
West then walked the crowd through the process, and reasoning, behind his own decision to become a "critical supporter" of Obama's campaign. West joked that when he saw Newsweek heavily promoting Obama early in his campaign, "my suspicion was not just doubled, it was cubed." He then described speaking to Obama on the phone, and asking him if he would be true to the spirit of political activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Phil Berrigan. "I'll do the best I can," West quoted Obama as saying.
During his presentation, and then during the Q and A ,West argued that his concern for the world's oppressed compelled him to support Obama; he presented his decision as a tactical choice motivated by a desire to fend off the forces of fascism embodied in the McCain/Palin ticket and to end the age of Reagan-style conservatism. At one point, West argued that if McCain and Palin had emerged victorious, the dialogue he and Dix were having might not have been possible.
West mused that when Obama won the election, he was "relatively content," rather than euphoric. He added that the same factor that motivated him to support Obama—West's concern for the fate of humanity's downtrodden—moved him to be immediately critical of Obama after the election. For instance, West angrily ran down the list of Obama's team of economic advisers.
"Here comes Larry Summers!" West said. "Here comes Robert Rubin and his crew!" West contrasted Obama's $700 billion bailout to banks with his demand that the impoverished "pull themselves up by the bootstraps." And he condemned Obama's foreign policy team as a crew of "recycled neo-imperialists," as well as Obama's silence in the face of Israel's massacre in Gaza.
One of the more stirring moments of the program came when West, after alluding to the vicious FBI and CIA repression of resistance and revolutionary movements in the 1960s, sarcastically acknowledged the likely presence of federal agents in the room—"We know the CIA and FBI are here; we welcome you," he said, to thunderous applause and laughter—and then proceeded to put them on notice that the people in the room would continue to resist the crimes of their government, and to hold the government accountable for these crimes, and would not be deterred.
This was the sort of bold, unapologetic seizing of the political and ideological offensive that can give heart and courage to many people.
"We end with a call to action," West concluded, praising the young faces in the front row who were part of the Revolutionary Youth Summer Project. "You have to make reform and revolution a way of life."
After West concluded, Taylor returned to the podium, and said, "If you can believe this, now it's going to get really interesting."
She was right. During the Q and A from the moderators, and then the audience, both the unity and differences between Dix and West came into sharper focus. Taylor began by asking each speaker to describe his views on democracy, given that each of them had spoken of America's foundation of wars, slavery, and genocide. West stated very bluntly that, while he agreed that the U.S. was an empire, he believed in the "expansion of forms of democracy within the capitalist project," while Dix referenced Bob Avakian's three sentences on democracy in arguing that speaking about democracy in a society divided into classes was "meaningless and worse," and that the key questions that must be posed are which class is ruling, and whether the democracy it employs reinforces, or works to eliminate, class divisions.
"America was founded on slavery and genocide," Dix said, "but it was also democratic."
He went on to point out that American democracy was based, from its origins, on the violent exclusion of entire groups of people, and that it was on that basis that democracy was extended to one particular group—white men. He also reminded the audience that the American form of government involves dictatorship, not just democracy: when did the American people get to vote on ending the wars in the Middle East? he asked. Dix further stated that the goal of revolutionaries was not to "perfect" the system of U.S. imperialism, which commits crimes all over the world; it was to end that system.
Two of the five questions from the audience focused on the relationship between individuals transforming themselves and the overall transformation of society. The answers to these questions brought out further differences in the viewpoints of Dix and West. In response to an evacuee from New Orleans who argued that "revolution takes place internally," West largely agreed: After saying that talk of revolutionary overthrowing was "not my language," West added, "First and foremost, we have to muster the courage to bear witness to the system of evils inside of us."
Dix, on the other hand, essentially argued that West had the relationship between societal and individual change reversed: "It is through the course of resistance that we will change," Dix said. To illustrate the point, Dix drew on his own personal experience as a war resister who served time in Leavenworth prison rather than serve the imperialist army in Vietnam. When he was drafted, he faced a series of choices: He could serve in Vietnam; he could flee to Canada; or he could stay in the U.S. and be part of the resistance. He chose the latter course of action, which then set him on a radical (and eventually revolutionary) pathway.
The next question, asked by a young Black woman, was simple but profound: "How do you resist?" Within both Dix and West's responses was a sense that the decision to resist could come about in many different ways, and take many different forms. Dix said that the specific event which fills an individual with a strong sense of injustice and compels them to act politically could be a global issue, like the U.S. wars for empire, or it could be something more local and immediate, like seeing police harassing youth on the corner. As an individual resists, Dix said, their eyes start to open, and they realize that the atrocities against which they are acting are not isolated acts, but rather systemic. Dix said his orientation was to resist on the basis of putting forth that revolution was the solution to the particular problems being fought, and to unite with others who were genuine about resistance even if they did not agree with that view.
West drew an analogy between becoming involved in resistance and falling in love: As one enters into either process, an old part of them dies and a new part of them is born. West said that people can resist in a lot of ways, including through art; he cited Nina Simone's use of song and Talib Kweli's use of hip-hop as forms of fighting the power.
Towards the end of the program, there were two moments that exemplified the spirit of unity amidst struggle (friendly struggle with one another, and fierce struggle against the status quo), and the spirit of lively exchange, that characterized the evening. First, Dix broke out into a rendition of the Isley Brothers' version of "Ohio," with the opening lines: "Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'/We're finally on our own/ This summer I hear the drummin'/ Four dead in Ohio/Gotta get down to it. Soldiers are gunning us down. Should have been done long ago."
The audience clapped in rhythm along with Dix, and cheered when he finished. West leaned over and embraced him.
"That was one of my favorite performances of my lifetime," a young white woman would say after the event. "And I'm 22 years old."
A moment later, West said that the reason he reads the works of Bob Avakian and wrestles with him is not because he is a communist but, "He is a certain kind of human being who has raised his voice and in his project that includes communism, I see some character, I see some quality of service to the poor, I see those who are concerned to sacrifice, I see a willingness to wrestle with deep issues that the mainstream does not want to wrestle with, including mainstream intellectuals."
While it is, of course, crucial to win as many people as possible over to the need for communist revolution—and the need to take up Avakian and his work on that basis—it is also crucial to building a revolutionary movement that broad sections of people, including those who are not communists, support, engage, and defend Avakian. The fact that West, a prominent and influential Black intellectual, made the public statement that he did, even though it will likely make him the target of unprincipled attacks from reactionaries and some "progressives" alike, is a big deal, and potentially an important opening in creating a culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization of Avakian and his work.
In between questions from the moderators and the audience, Clyde Young of the Revolutionary Communist Party delivered a moving and convincing argument for the critical importance of revolutionary theory in general, and Revolution newspaper in particular. Young's speech was in tune with one of the major lessons of the program overall, which is that one of the first and most important steps in building revolution—or even mass resistance—is widely spreading the understanding of what fundamental change really means, and what it will require.
Since the event was a fundraiser for not only Revolution Books, but also the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF), Young placed particular emphasis on the impact that spreading revolutionary consciousness can have within the nation's penitentiaries.
Young recalled digging into the works of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, and immersing himself in revolutionary theory, while serving a 17-year prison sentence. At the time, he said, Revolution newspaper did not exist, so he had to break down and interpret works like the Communist Manifesto on his own. "Today," Young said, "Revolution is a lifeline for many, many prisoners behind walls."
Young told the crowd that Revolution newspaper frequently received letters from prisoners who were wrestling with the works of Avakian, and of the party in general. And he said that the paper had the potential to powerfully transform people, and the way they viewed the world; forging unity, rather than needless division, among different sections of the oppressed.
"Just changing the color of the president won't get the job done," Young said. "What we have to do is change the world. But to change the world, we have to understand it."
At the close of his presentation, Young informed the crowd that the newspaper subscriptions of 400 prisoners were due to expire after the month. He asked if anyone in the crowd was willing to donate $500. One person raised their hand to indicate they would be willing if two others stepped forward as well. Huge applause emanated from the crowd when the third and final donor stepped forward.
Young then asked if anyone were willing to donate $100, in order to buy three subscriptions for prisoners: at least two people stepped forward.
After the program ended, it was clear that people of many different strata and perspectives had been energized, inspired, and stimulated by the event; they had been provoked to think about new questions, and about old questions in new ways. Audience members expressed appreciation that they had the opportunity to hear frank, critical discussion of Obama and his presidency, in addition to blunt exposure of the reality that his ascendancy had not altered the imperialist system or halted its crimes.
"It was amazing!" a middle-aged white woman said of the program. (She seemed anxious to get where she was going, and efforts to have an extended conversation with her were unfortunately unsuccessful.)
"I'm new to this," she continued. "I'm not a revolutionary. I'm not a communist. I found them [the speakers] both very articulate and very real and true. I was surprised how much I agreed with them."
Asked to elaborate on why she said she was "surprised," the woman responded, "I'm a very centrist kind of person."
A young Black bank employee who was born and raised in Newark, and who described himself as a "freethinker," was very enthusiastic about both speakers. "It's so appropriate, what they're saying in terms of our view of Obama," he said, "the euphoria of a Black man in the White House, but the bottom line is he presides over a very racistand oppressive system."
"I thought the discussion was relevant in terms of creating that space to talk about Obama," another young Black man said. "Not the person, but Obama the president and what it means to the revolution or class struggles or different issues we're facing now. It's definitely timely, since Obama's been in office for more than six months now. It's good to have people who are out there thinking critically about how is Obama being the first African-American president going to address the issues that are systematic within the United States and capitalism."
He added that he was unfamiliar with Carl Dix before the event, and said he very much enjoyed hearing a person of color put forth a communist viewpoint. "I think I never really thought of the communist party as being relevant in American politics, to be honest with you," the man said. "I had nothing to disagree with them, it just seems like a relic of the past. It's kind of refreshing to see that there are people who are trying to create a paradigm shift, essentially, and not just look within the system and try to tinker with things within the system, but really say the system is inherently structured to perpetrate everything we are against."
Jenny, a 51-year-old white artist from England, said she wished she had heard more clashes between the speakers. "I thought they were being more careful of each other," Jenny said. She said she was quite familiar with both Dix and West going into the event, and that she knew they differed over the question of revolution; she felt that difference had been muted during the event.
"I suppose the main thing they were trying to focus on was Obama," Jenny said, "and I think it was useful that they did that for a lot of people."
Jenny agreed with the speakers that Obama's presidency was sucking many people into supporting the crimes of this government, and constituted a significant obstacle from the standpoint of building resistance to these crimes. However, she said that she viewed revolution as impossible.
"Why?" she was asked.
"Because I'm a pessimist," she said, with a laugh.
Asked to explain that sentiment further, Jenny replied, "The U.S. and the whole system that it perpetuates, I don't believe it's possible to end it the way you guys think it could be ended."
"Why?" Jenny was asked again.
"It's too powerful," Jenny replied.
Jose, a 21-year-old Latino student at Baruch College, said the roughly two-and-a-half hour event had held his attention the entire time.
"It was very stimulating and thought-provoking in the exchange of views that was shared by the audience, and of course Cornel West and Carl Dix," Jose said.
Jose, too, said he was already quite familiar with West—but not Dix—heading into the program. "But I'll start looking into him after the show," Jose added.
Asked what he thought of the speakers (particularly Dix, since he was far less aware of him going in), Jose said he was struck by Dix's emphasis on the need to radically change ideas and institutions, rather than simply looking to politicians to bring change.
"His point of view on society, and his approach to society, is new to me," Jose said.
However, echoing a comment made by the freethinker from Newark, Jose added that he still wasn't clear about what ultimate solution Dix was advocating. "I didn't understand what type of revolution he wanted to bring," Jose said, wondering if Dix envisioned means such as protest or civil disobedience as vehicles to implement radical change.
After the RCP's revolutionary strategy was explained to him—“hastening while awaiting" a revolutionary situation by working now to win millions of people over to understanding that the atrocities committed against the people of this planet stem from a common system, and that revolution is required to overcome that system, thereby laying the foundation for the people to actually make revolution when there is a crisis in the system—Jose said that he had more clarity on the question.
The young white woman who had raved about Dix's impromptu singing performance was equally thrilled about the event as a whole. "It was exhilarating," she said. "It was awesome. I got chills so many times just listening to people speak with so much passion about things that they really believe in. To hear other people say that they would die for something that they believe in, and to be talking about a poor working class, is a conversation that most people don't even consider because they don't belong to it. And I feel like I very much belong to it."
A few moments later, she spoke powerfully to the impact a program like this can have on those in attendance, and those who learn about the event after the fact.
"I think that for people to be talking about this stuff," she said, "versus all the trivial, superficial shit that goes on in everyone's daily lives—to find other people who want to have a conversation that's meaningful—is refreshing.”
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