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Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
You Don't Know What You Think You "Know" About...
Updated April 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editors' note: This interview and "The REAL History of Communism" timeline have been updated from the versions that originally appeared at revcom.us, to be consistent with the new expanded eBook version. The eBook is available from Insight Press.
by Bob Avakian
People need the truth about the communist revolution. The REAL truth. At a time when people are rising up in many places all over the world and seeking out ways forward, THIS alternative is ruled out of order. At a time when even more people are agonizing over and raising big questions about the future, THIS alternative is constantly slandered and maligned and lied about, while those who defend it are given no space to reply. It is urgent that the questions be answered, and the TRUTH be told about the communist revolution—the real way out of the horrors that people endure today, and the even worse ones they face tomorrow. To do this, Revolution newspaper arranged for Raymond Lotta to be interviewed by different groups of people in different parts of the country, and other people sent in questions. What follows is a synthesized, edited version that draws on those interviews and adds new material since the interviews were first conducted.
Question: I’ve heard you talk about the “first stage” of communist revolution. What exactly are you referring to?
Raymond Lotta: We’re talking about a sea change in human history, the first attempts in modern history to build societies free from exploitation and oppression. Specifically, we’re talking about the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian revolution of 1917–1956, and the Chinese revolution of 1949–1976. These were titanic risings of the modern-day “slaves” of society against their “masters.” They aimed to bring about a community of humanity, a society based on the principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs,” and one 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.
Never have there been such radical and far-reaching transformations in how society is organized, in how economies are run, in culture and education, in how people relate to each other, and in how people think and feel as there were in these revolutions. Against incredible odds and obstacles, and in what amounts to a nanosecond of human history, these revolutions accomplished amazing things—and they changed the course of human history. Never before had the myth of an unchanging human nature—in which people are “naturally” self-seeking, and some people just “naturally” dominate others—been so decisively exploded.
For those few decades, a better world seemed on the verge of birth. As it is put in Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, for the first time, the “long night... the thousands of years of darkness for the great majority of humanity”—where society is divided into exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed—this was broken through, and a whole new form of society began to be forged.1
Question: But the conventional wisdom is that these revolutions were not liberating, but extremely autocratic, trampling on the rights of people... utopias turned into nightmares.
RL: Yes that is the conventional wisdom, and it is built on systematic distortion and misrepresentation... built on wholesale lies as to what these revolutions were about: what they actually set out to do, what they actually accomplished, and what real-world challenges and obstacles they faced.
Now people have a certain awareness of how they have been systematically lied to about things like “weapons of mass destruction” that were the pretext for the war in Iraq. And we’re not talking about incidental mis-admissions of fact here... the Iraq war resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and the dislocation of millions.
But all too many people who consider themselves “critical minded” are all too willing to accept the “conventional wisdom” on communism. And let me be clear, the ruling class and intellectual guardians of the status quo have been engaged in a relentless ideological assault against communism... through popular journalism, so-called scholarly studies, memoirs that traffic in the “authenticity of personal experience,” films, and so on.
You know, for several years, I have been engaged in a project called “Set the Record Straight,” taking on these distortions and bringing to people the actual truth of these revolutions. For example, back in 2009–2010, I was on a campus speaking tour and one thing we did was to set up tables on campuses with a “pop quiz” on just basic facts about the communist revolutions.2
And the students scored terribly on the quiz. That is shameful, not just because it’s a statement on higher education... but more importantly because people are being robbed of vital understanding of how the world could be radically different, could be a far better place, where human beings could really flourish.
There are real stakes here, real relevance and urgency to this now.
Question: What do you mean by “stakes”?
RL: Look at the state of the world... the unjust wars, the poverty and savage inequality, the unspeakable oppression and degradation of women. The environmental crisis is accelerating and nothing is being done to stop it. The capitalist-imperialist class in power... that holds and violently enforces that power... that controls the world economy and the world’s resources... this class and the system it presides over have put us on a trajectory that is threatening the very eco-balances and life-support systems of the planet.
People are responding, especially the new generation. We’ve seen major stirrings of protest and rebellion: the massive uprising in Egypt of 2011, the Occupy movements, the defiance of youth in Greece and Spain, the recent outbreaks in Brazil and Turkey. People are standing up. People are searching and seeking out solutions and philosophies. Various political programs and outlooks have gained influence and followings: “leaderless movements,” “real democracy,” “anti-hierarchy,” “anti-statism” and “horizontalism,” “economic democracy,” and so on.
But the one solution that is dismissed out of hand is communist revolution. Yet it is precisely and only communist revolution that can actually deal with the problems of society and the world that people are agonizing about... and that can realize the highest aspirations that have brought people into the streets.
And we are seeing the price of what it means where there is no communist leadership, vision, and program.
Take Egypt. People heroically toppled the Mubarak regime. On the surface there was dramatic change. But the military representing imperialism remains in power, and people are locked into the vise-grip of two unacceptable alternatives: Islamic fundamentalism, or some variant of Western democracy serving imperialism. The notion of a “leaderless” movement that can somehow produce fundamental change has shown itself to be a dangerous and deadly liability and delusion.3
Question: But people say that Lenin and Mao just took power for a small group. How do you answer that charge?
RL: Lenin4 in 1917 in Russia, and then Mao5 in China led parties that in turn led millions and then tens of millions of people in revolutions that went after the deepest problems of society. They applied and developed the theory of scientific communism first brought forward by Karl Marx.6 This science lays bare the source of the exploitation and misery in society—the division of society into classes in which a small group monopolizes the wealth and controls society on that basis. And it shows how all that could be fundamentally overcome and uprooted, with a revolution corresponding to the interests of, and involving as its bedrock base, the exploited class of today: the proletariat.
The parties forged and led by Lenin and Mao did two things. First, they led the masses to make revolutions... to overthrow the old system. Second, they led people to establish new structures that empowered the masses to begin to take responsibility for ruling society and transforming it... beginning the process of abolishing all relations of exploitation and oppression and all the institutions and ideas that correspond to and reinforce those relations.
Marx had uncovered the possibility of a new emancipatory and liberating dawn for humanity. He insisted that this would ultimately have to be the work of the masses themselves. And these revolutions gave living expression to that.
At the same time, you couldn’t do this without leadership—scientific and far-seeing leadership. And this lesson was paid for in blood in the first great attempt at revolution—the Paris Commune.
Question: Could you say more about the Paris Commune?
Raymond Lotta: The Paris Commune happened in 1871, during the last days of a war between France and Germany. The people of Paris had been suffering terribly... massive unemployment, food shortages, and the destruction of war. On March 18, they rose up against their “own” government. The Paris National Guard, which had radical influences within it, revolted... and sections of the city joined in an insurrection. The Guard took over the town halls of most of the districts of Paris, and executed two generals of the French wartime government.
A week later, the National Guard organized new municipal elections. A new government was created. This was the Commune. It was made up of socialists, anarchists, Marxists, feminists, radical democrats, and other trends.
Right away, the Commune abolished the old police force. It introduced radical social reforms: separation of church from state; it made professional education available to women and gave pensions to unmarried women; and it canceled many debts. The Commune established centers where the unemployed could find work. And the Commune allowed trade unions and workers’ cooperatives to take over and run the factories that the capitalists had abandoned during the war. Immigrants were allowed to become full citizens.
But it wasn’t just that a new government was taking progressive measures. There was an attempt to create a new mode of rule, a different kind of governing system.
Question: What do you mean by that?
RL: The Communards, as they were called, tried to create a political system representing the interests and needs of the workers, urban poor, and lower classes in society... those who had been long oppressed and denied political power. And they also set out to create a form of rule that operated differently from the bourgeois system. They tried to make administrators more accountable to the people who elected them; they tried to simplify government and link it more directly to the rough and tumble of the masses’ lives.
Question: I’ve met anarchists who say they base themselves on the Paris Commune—that this is their model. What would be wrong with that?
RL: Well, there were a few problems, but one big one. The Communards had gotten this going in Paris—and it was really remarkable what they were doing—but they had not decisively overthrown the old exploiting order and thoroughly destroyed the old state power. In fact, the top political leaders and the military forces of the old French government had fled to the outskirts of Paris, to an area called Versailles.
You see, the central committee of the Commune conceived of what they were doing as a municipal revolt and that they could hold out in Paris. The Communards had this idea that by creating the Commune... that this model, with its creativity in the now liberated space of Paris, would be the example for the rest of the country to follow. But this was not a correct understanding.
The French ruling class was not reconciled to its initial defeat, and it still had the power to enforce its will... notably regular armed forces.
By May, this reactionary Versailles government had amassed an army of 300,000 soldiers. On May 21, the army reentered Paris to crush the Commune. The Communards fought back heroically. But the military forces plowed through their street barricades and went on to massacre between 20,000 and 30,000 Parisians... just over the course of one week. There was a famous last stand, in a cemetery, with people literally backed to the wall. A wave of executions followed.7
Karl Marx enthusiastically supported the Commune. After its defeat, he scientifically assessed its significance and lessons. He pointed out that the Commune was positively prefiguring a new kind of state, the dictatorship of the proletariat—that the Communards were not simply laying hold of the old state machinery and trying to put it to progressive use. But he also pointed out that one of the Paris Commune’s fatal weaknesses was that it did not march on Versailles and thoroughly shatter and dismantle the old state machinery, as concentrated in the permanent army of the old order. He also pointed out that the Commune failed to dismantle and seize the assets of the Bank of France, which was financing the regroupment of the old regime and its military in Versailles.
Marx showed that every state was, in its essence, a dictatorship of the dominant class in society. That is, there may be some forms of democracy, but so long as society is divided into classes, the army, police, courts and executive power will enforce the interests of the dominant class—which today means the capitalist-imperialist class. Again, a key lesson of the Commune was that the capitalist state power has to be thoroughly smashed and dismantled... it has to be replaced with a new system of state power, the dictatorship of the proletariat. In other words, you have to dismantle the armed forces of the old system—and to establish a whole new economic and social system, you have to create a new state power that can enforce the will of the oppressed and exploited.8
And the Commune had another weakness: it did not have the necessary leadership to analyze, confront, and act on the real challenges it faced. It did not have a leadership basing itself on a scientific understanding of what it would take to defeat counter-revolution and what it would take to go on to transform society... you know, to forge a new economy and social system.
The Commune was this inspiring and world-historic breakthrough for oppressed humanity. In that fleeting moment of the Commune was the embryo of a communist society without class distinctions and social oppression.9
It was Lenin who applied the lessons of the Commune and led the Russian revolution that created the world’s first socialist state.
Less than 50 years after the defeat of the Commune, a far more sweeping and deep-going revolution takes place... in Russia. As I was just saying, Lenin was summing up lessons of the Commune, and developed the understanding of the need for vanguard leadership. Because the fact of the matter is... a key reason that the Commune couldn’t make good on its incredible potential was because of the absence of unified leadership. Some people say that was the great thing about the Commune. But the absence of leadership was one of the reasons that they got crushed... and that’s not a great thing!
Question: But what you’re saying goes against this whole view—I’m thinking about the kinds of movements that you pointed to, like Occupy—that highly organized leadership suffocates people.
RL: Yes, that’s out there, big time, and it’s profoundly wrong. Lenin developed the scientific understanding of the need for a vanguard party based on two critical insights. One, the masses of people cannot spontaneously develop revolutionary consciousness and scientific understanding of how society is structured and functions and the ways, the only ways, it can be radically transformed... from their own daily experience and struggle. Look at Egypt. People have been truly courageous in standing up, but you have all these illusions about the Egyptian military. You need leadership to bring this understanding to the masses of people. On the basis of this understanding, masses can be unleashed to consciously transform the world—and this is part of what has been proven by the history we’re going to get into. Making revolution requires science. Revolution requires passion, heart, courage, and creative energy. But that won’t change the world in and of itself... without a scientific grasp of what it takes to make revolution and emancipate humanity.
Question: And the other point?
RL: The need for centralized leadership. To actually enable the masses to break through the obstacles and what the enemy is going to throw at you, not least its military strength. And to be able to navigate through all the twists and turns, including the maneuvering and deceptions of the ruling class in a revolutionary crisis, and to lead people to actually overthrow the old order and to go on to revolutionize society. You need a strategic approach and the strategic ability to marshal all the creativity and resolve of the masses. When people do break free of “normal routine” and lift their heads, where is this all going to go? The question of leadership is decisive. And, look, there is no such thing as “leaderless-ness.” Some program and some force, representing different class interests, is going to be leading, no matter how much people might want to shun leadership. And let’s be honest: “leaderless-ness” is actually a program that is being led—and it doesn’t lead anywhere radically transformative.10
You need centralized leadership. How are you going to coordinate an uprising when conditions change and the opportunity emerges? How are you going to coordinate the rebuilding of society following the destruction of revolutionary war? How are you going to coordinate the functioning of a new economy? How are you going to coordinate support for world revolution? You need centralized leadership.
Now Lenin wasn’t arguing, “Well, we’ll just substitute ourselves for the masses.” No, the whole point is that the more that leadership plays its vanguard role, the greater is the conscious activism of the masses. The masses make history, but they cannot make history in their highest interests without leadership. Having that leadership is why the Russian revolution took place and changed the whole course of world history.
Question: So, let’s get into the Bolshevik revolution and the conditions of Russian society. In most schools, they don’t even teach the basic facts.
Raymond Lotta: It’s called the Bolshevik revolution, because the communist party was originally called Bolshevik (the word meaning “majority,” referring to the majority of forces grouped around Lenin who resolved to forge a party of revolution).
The Russian revolution took place in the turmoil of World War 1. The war started in 1914 and lasted until 1918. This was a war in which two blocs of imperialist great powers fought each other. One bloc included Great Britain, France, and the U.S. (and Russia was part of this alliance); and the other was led by Germany with its allies. They were fighting for global supremacy, particularly control over the oppressed colonial regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
This was monstrous, mechanized, modern war. Combatants were gassed, torpedoed, mined, bombarded by unseen artillery, machine-gunned. Slaughter on a scale unseen before in human history... 10 million dead, and another 20 million wounded.11
When Russia entered the war, all the major parties in Russia and most of the major parties in Europe supported the war in the name of patriotism... all except the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin. It took an internationalist stand, training people to see how this war was not in the interests of oppressed humanity and calling on people in the imperialist countries to rise up in revolution and defeat their own governments.
Most of Russian society at the time was made up of peasants. They had small plots of land that many of them worked on (almost like sharecroppers of the South in the U.S.). Conditions were very backward and people were locked into tradition. Peasants planted seed according to the religious calendar. Women faced horribly oppressive conditions.
The cities were places of crowded housing and disease.
Russia was an empire. The dominant Russian nation had colonized areas and regions of Central Asia (like Uzbekistan), and it also subordinated more developed areas like Ukraine. Russia was called “the prison-house of nations.” Non-Russian nationalities made up about 45 percent of the population, but minority cultures were forcibly suppressed and their languages could not be taught or spoken in schools.
Russia was an autocratic, repressive society. The Tsar relied on secret police, jails, and surveillance.
World War 1 intensified all the suffering in society. Some 1.5 million Russians died in the war, and three million were wounded. People were going without food. The war set off a “crisis of legitimacy” in Russian society... and a revolutionary climate took hold. Workers rioted and struck for better conditions. Women took the streets. Many soldiers refused to suppress the protests, and mutiny spread. The Tsar was overthrown.12
But the new government did nothing to change the fundamental conditions facing the masses of people... and it made secret deals with the British and French imperialists to keep Russia in the war.
Question: But it’s often said that the Bolsheviks were scheming behind the scenes and basically staged a coup in October 1917.
RL: Nonsense. The Bolshevik Party led by Lenin was prepared to act and lead as no other force in Russian society was. It had grassroots strength and organization in factory committees, in the armed forces, in the soviets. These were the illegal, anti-government representative assemblies of workers contesting for power in the big towns and cities....
The Bolshevik program and vision resonated widely and deeply in a society in crisis, upheaval, and looking for direction. The Bolshevik Party led the masses of people to see through the various maneuvers of this new regime. It formulated demands for “land, peace, and bread” that spoke to overriding needs in a situation of horrible suffering and privation—but which no other party would speak to. And in October, Lenin and the Bolsheviks led the masses in an insurrection. This was the October Revolution.13
Question: But, again, the way it’s told, the Bolsheviks were just tightening power for themselves.
RL: Look, a new state power was being created. Immediately, the new government issued two stunning decrees. The first decree took Russia out of the war and called for an end to the slaughter, and called for a peace without conquest or annexation. The second decree empowered peasants to seize the vast landholdings of the tsarist crown, the aristocratic landholding classes, and the church (which itself owned large tracts of land).
But there was a larger significance to what was happening. That “long dark night,” that darkness of exploitation and oppression, was being broken. For the first time since the emergence of class society, society was not going to be organized around exploitation. And this reverberated around the world.
In Europe, soldiers, sailors, and workers exhausted by the continuing war followed the news of what was happening in the new society. In Germany, in Kiel and Hamburg, rebel sailors of the German navy mutinied against orders to continue the war. In 1918, insurrections broke out in parts of Central Europe, and were viciously suppressed. There were many countries in Europe where revolutionary situations emerged, and in some revolutions took place. But nowhere else, other than in Russia, did revolution break through and hold on. A big part of the reason was that there was no genuine vanguard party in these societies. But because of the influence of October, new communist organizations spread to different parts of the world. And the Bolsheviks took the standpoint of spreading revolution, and promoted Marxism and vanguard party organization. On this basis, a new international body that coordinated the activity of communist parties and organizations around the world was formed—a tremendous advance for the revolution.
World capitalism would never be the same. World history had been profoundly changed.
Question: You’ve painted a picture of who supported the communist revolution in Russia. And why. But didn’t some people bitterly oppose this revolution?
RL: Yes. There was civil war between 1918 and 1921. The country was thrown into a state of near chaos and collapse.
Just a few short months after the 1917 insurrection, reactionary forces inside of Russia, representing the old overthrown order, launched a counter-revolutionary assault against the new regime. Fourteen foreign powers, including the U.S., intervened with troops and military assistance to support the counter-revolution. You know, in October 1918, when the first anniversary of the Revolution was being celebrated, three-quarters of the country was in the hands of counter-revolutionary forces. Think about that.
The new proletarian state was isolated internationally, and there were acute shortages of food and armaments.14
Here you can see the vital role of vanguard leadership. The Party took responsibility to coordinate military activity. It developed economic policies to meet social needs and hold society together. It led in creating new social institutions. The revolutionary press and other means of communication spread Marxism and the socialist vision of a new economy, new political institutions, and new values. This ignited a whole new emancipatory “discourse” in society—and this was a very powerful and positive mood-creating factor.
The new society was facing international onslaught. Yes, the economy was on the verge of collapse at times, and people were suffering. But communist leadership held strong and set out to expand and solidify and mobilize the base among those who wanted to hold on to liberation with everything they had. And people could mobilize and stand up because there were now new organs of proletarian state power that expressed their will and determination.
Question: What do you mean by “organs of proletarian state power”?
RL: That’s a good and central question. In capitalist societies, the armies, the courts, the police, the prisons, and—at the very top—the executive branch all serve the capitalists. These organs repress the people when they stand up—take what was done to Occupy, for instance—or even before they stand up, just so they “know their place” in capitalist society—like in stop-and-frisk, in New York and other cities. The legislatures are just talking shops, places to enable the different competing capitalists to wrangle out their disagreements and/or to serve as harmless safety valves for mass discontent. So you could say that those are organs of reactionary state power, or organs of bourgeois—that is, capitalist—state power. Like I said earlier, it’s a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, or capitalist class.
The socialist revolution has to set up new, revolutionary organs of power representing the proletariat. These organs of power, which should, over time, involve increasing numbers of people from both the bedrock of society and more middle class sections too, have to be able to suppress the counter-revolution. For instance, you need public security forces—but on a completely different basis, serving completely different ends, and behaving in a completely different way than what we have today. But these new organs of power also have to be able to back up the people in making transformations in every sphere, leading them and enabling them to organize their efforts in creating a whole new society on a whole new basis. This is what is meant by dictatorship of the proletariat.
The masses forged new practices in the really dire situations of all-out civil war. For instance, there was the practice of cooperative voluntary labor, where people came together to maintain sanitation and hygiene of the cities under terrible duress. People were changing human nature, pitching in together and forging new relations based on cooperation. And the new state was giving this backing.
Question: You never really hear about this civil war when the revolution is being referred to. What actually happened?
RL: The counter-revolution was defeated at great cost. One million people died in the fighting and three million more died of disease during the Civil War. Nine-tenths of the engineers, doctors, or teachers left the country. Some of the most dedicated worker-communists were killed on the front lines. And the working class itself was vastly reduced in size—by the fighting and by the dislocation and destruction, with people fleeing to the rural areas.
Bourgeois commentators act as though the Bolsheviks were taking over a country that was basically intact and that the imperialists were just benignly looking on. No, things were in this state of near ruin and the imperialists and reactionaries were coming at them. The world’s first oil embargo was applied to the new Soviet state.
But state power was held on to... and fragile as it was, the Soviet Union was still a beachhead in the fight for a new world. This had everything to do with Lenin’s leadership and the existence of a vanguard party.
Question: But there’s a line of attack that holds that the emergencies and threats became an excuse for the Bolsheviks just to betray people’s hopes.
RL: Look, this was a revolution fighting for its life, but it was a state power fighting to carry forward a social revolution. Take the oppression of women.
The revolution moved quickly to take important measures. It abolished the whole church-sanctioned system of marriage that codified male authority over women and children. Divorce was made easy to obtain. This was very important in providing women with greater social freedom. Equal pay for jobs was enacted. Maternity hospital care was provided free; and in 1920 the Soviet Union became the first country in modern Europe to make abortion legal.15 This was way in advance of the capitalist countries of the time, coming when the right to divorce was usually subject to all kinds of religious restrictions if it was even allowed at all, and where women couldn’t even vote in many capitalist countries or had just won that very basic right—and this took place just a few short years after U.S. authorities tortured imprisoned suffragette hunger strikers by force-feeding them.16 Pretty closely connected to this in spirit was the fact that the Soviet Union legalized homosexual relations.
In the mid- and late 1920s, you had something else going on too. You had struggles against patriarchal customs in some of the Central Asian republics. A lot of this was connected with oppressive Islamic... Sharia law. Women were challenging this, and the socialist state gave backing to women (and enlightened men) involved in these struggles... and was actually encouraging these struggles.
The government provided funds for local organizations of women. A big focus of struggle was the practice of arranged marriages that still persisted in different areas, and also bridal price... the payments made between the marrying families. For a while, communists from the cities went to these areas to aid the campaigns. And this got very intense at times, with backward forces attacking organizers. And local women activists came forward. In 1927, a major offensive was launched against the centuries-long practice of the forced veiling of women—an oppressive signifier, then and today in the world, of patriarchal control over the faces, bodies, and humanity of women.17
In Soviet newspapers and schools, there was lively debate about sex roles, marriage, and family. Science fiction works envisioned new social relations. And, frankly, when you compare what was going on in the Soviet Union with the state of patriarchy, enforced patriarchy, in the rest of the world then and now... this does sound like science fiction!
Never before had a society set out to overcome the oppression of women... never before had gender equality become such a societal focus. People need to know about this. People need to learn from this. We need to learn from the strengths of this, which were by far principal, especially in this period, and we also need to learn from some of the weaknesses in their understanding, which I’ll address a little later.
Question: You mentioned minority nationalities. How was discrimination being taken on? Obviously, here we are in the U.S., and racism is alive and well. But there’s a question among progressive and radical activists about whether socialism, communism, can really tackle racial and national oppression.
RL: The Bolshevik revolution created the world’s first multinational state based on equality of nationalities.
The new socialist state recognized the right of self-determination—that is, the right for an oppressed nation to separate itself from an empire or from a dominant nation and gain independence. Finland, for instance, which had been held in a subordinate position in the Russian Empire, became independent. The 1924 Soviet constitution gave formal shape to a multinational union of republics and autonomous regions. That’s why you have this Soviet union... the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which included 12 large national republics and 25 autonomous regions (and many smaller districts and other units). The new central government recognized the right to autonomy—this meant self-government, in republics and regions.
In a 1917 decree, all minority nationalities were granted the right to instruction in native languages in all schools and universities.18 There were incredibly exciting things that were happening in the 1920s and early 1930s. Many minority nationalities that had no written languages were supplied with scripts. The Soviet state devoted considerable resources to the mass production of books, journals, and newspapers in the minority regions, and the distribution of film and encouragement of folk ensembles.
Books were being published in over 40 non-Russian languages. Let’s stop right here. What’s going on in the U.S. right now? You see “English only” campaigns in parts of the country! Compare that to the Soviet Union. In the 1920s, Russians were being encouraged to learn non-Russian languages—and great-Russian chauvinism, similar to white-American privilege and dominance, was publicly and strongly rebuked as a poisonous influence in society.
The nationalities policy called for “indigenous leadership” in the new national territories. The idea was to bring forward leaders from the populations of these areas. And all kinds of efforts went into training Party leaders, government, school, and enterprise administrators from among the former oppressed nationalities.19
The persecution of the Jewish people—who, by the way, had been overwhelmingly confined to a specific area called “the Pale” under the rule of the Tsar and had been periodically subjected to lynch-mob-like “pogroms”—was ended. After the victory of the revolution, the new state officially outlawed anti-Semitism. Jews entered into professions from which they had long been banned, and occupied important positions of authority in the state administration. Theater companies performing in Yiddish were formed. During the Civil War, the Bolshevik leadership fought against the influence of anti-Jewish ideas among sections of the peasants and others.20
This spirit of combating national oppression and the active encouragement of ethnic diversity permeated the early Soviet Union. It was one of the defining features of the new society and state.
Where else in the world were things like this happening at the time? A one-word answer: nowhere. But we do know, or at least people should know, what the situation was in the United States. Segregation was the law of the land. Jim Crow was in full effect. The Ku Klux Klan marched down the streets of Washington, D.C. in full regalia during this time, and the rule of the lynch mob terrorized African-American people in the southern U.S. And in the “enlightened North,” white mobs would run amok through northern cities, killing 23 Black people in Chicago alone in one 7-day rampage in 1919, one of 25 similar outrages in that summer alone—the very year that the “Reds” were fighting a civil war to create a new world in what would be the Soviet Union.21
When Paul Robeson, the great African-American actor, singer, and radical, first visited the Soviet Union in the early 1930s, he was deeply impressed by the revolution’s efforts to overcome racial and national prejudice and deeply moved personally by the way he was treated both by officials and ordinary people in the new socialist society. Ethnic minorities weren’t being lynched in the Soviet Union like Black people were right then in the U.S. South.22 The new Soviet Union wasn’t a place where racist films like Birth of a Nation, which extolled the KKK, and Gone with the Wind, which glamorized white plantation culture, were being produced and upheld, and still are, as cinematic icons. The new culture in the Soviet Union was promoting equality among nationalities, and celebrating the heroism of people fighting oppression.
The U.S. and the Soviet Union were two different worlds.
Question: You’ve mainly focused on economic and political changes. But what happened in the realm of the arts?
RL: Well, first off, the things I just talked about were definitely political—but they also took in the ways in which people related to each other in social life, and how they even thought about the world, and themselves. And this also got reflected in the arts. From the time the revolution came to power in 1917 through the 1920s and early 1930s, there was tremendous artistic vitality in the Soviet Union. There was a lot of debate about the role and purpose and character of revolutionary art in contributing to building a new society and world.
You had world-class innovation in the arts. I mean leading avant-garde visual artists like Rodchenko and Malevich, filmmakers like Eisenstein and Dovzhenko23... were creating very exciting work fired by a radical re-imagining of the world, by a desire to radically remake the world... and doing that through all kinds of new and unprecedented techniques, like montage in film.
You know, I heard the curator of a recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art dealing with the early 20th century movement of abstract art. She was interviewed on TV and was asked about where at the time this art was actually influencing society. And she quipped: You know, the only place in the world where the avant-garde ever held state power... was the Soviet Union. She was being whimsical but making a real point.
Artists in the Soviet Union were doing incredible and pathbreaking work as part of a bold transformation of society and consciousness. One famous architect designed structures to convey internationalism; other architects and urban planners were rethinking the grid of cities and housing, to foster community and cooperation... even involving things like the redesign of household furniture.
All kinds of views and debates were reaching the public... issues of the importance and role of art, or the relation between artistic experimentation and new social relations. There were all kinds of groupings and associations of artists and cultural workers, journals, manifestos and proclamations.
And world-class artistic innovation and theoretical exploration became joined to mass needs and, if you want to use the term, “everyday acts.” Especially in the visual arts, where you had these great breakthroughs in poster art, in lithography, that aided the battle against peasant illiteracy.
There were mass campaigns to overcome illiteracy, and very quickly the Soviet population achieved high levels of literacy.
You had public health campaigns—I mean basic things like encouraging people in the countryside to practice essential hygiene—where visual artists were called on to help find ways to get the messages across. They festooned trains with bold graphics.
You had lots of open-air theater, theater to the masses. You had artists taking part in street festivals and pageants... these were very popular forms of mass cultural expression. Poets and satirists had mass followings.24
My point is that the Soviet Union was an exciting, a great place to be, in the 1920s and early 1930s. Unlike anything else on the planet.
Question: You never really hear about those things. What was Stalin’s role in all that? And maybe you could speak to what his role was overall, too. The conventional wisdom is that he was some kind of lunatic or tyrant.
RL: There’s a lot here. There is, and here I use the phrase of the historian Arno Mayer, there is this “ritualized demonization” of Stalin.25 And let me say straight up... people who just accept this “ritualized demonization” and repeat it... are victims of “brainwashing.”
We have to set the record straight and we have to look at individuals and events in a scientific way, getting at the real context: what was happening in society and the world; how they understood what they were facing; and, on that basis, what were their goals and objectives. In short, we have to demystify.
Stalin was a genuine revolutionary. The kinds of radical social changes taking place in Soviet society that I have been describing... all this was very much bound up with Stalin’s leadership. Lenin died in 1924. Joseph Stalin assumed leadership of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. Now the question had been posed in the mid-1920s. Could you build socialism in the Soviet Union? Could you do this in a society that was economically and culturally backward?
Marx had expected that socialist revolutions would break out first in the more advanced capitalist countries—because there you had a large industrial working class and modern industrial economy that could be the basis for a developed socialist economy and society. But that’s not how history developed.
Lenin said, Okay, we don’t have what was theoretically expected to be the developed base for socialism... these are the cards we’ve been dealt, we have to build socialism and create a better foundation... and we have to promote the world revolution. And the Soviet Union played the initiating role in forming an association of communist parties... this was the Third Communist International.
But the challenges actually mounted and intensified. A decade into the revolution, 1927, and the Soviet Union still stood alone, as the world’s only proletarian state... and there was no certainty that revolutions would take place in other countries. So, again, could you hold out, and carry out socialist economic and social transformation?
Stalin stepped forward and fought for the view that the Soviet Union could and must take the socialist road in these circumstances. If you didn’t do this, the Soviet Union, the world’s first socialist state, would not be able to survive. It would not be able to aid revolution elsewhere. Anything less would squander the sacrifices of millions in the Soviet Union, and betray the hopes of oppressed humanity worldwide. This was the orientation that Stalin was fighting for... and Stalin led complex and acute struggles to socialize the ownership of industry and to collectivize agriculture.
Question: Are you referring to the debate over building “socialism in one country”?
RL: Yeah. At the time, this was in the late 1920s, Stalin saw socialist construction in the Soviet Union as part of and contributing to the advance of the world revolution. And he and others in top leadership were expecting a new tide of revolution, especially from Germany. Their thinking was that the Soviet Union could help spark that new wave... although there was still going to be necessity to “go it alone” for a while.
Question: Could you briefly describe the economic situation in the Soviet Union in the mid-1920s?
RL: Agriculture was still backward, and couldn’t reliably feed the population. Industry was limited and could not furnish the factories and machines needed to modernize the economy. Russia had been a society where intellectuals were a tiny segment of the population, where only a narrow slice of the population had higher technical and liberal arts education. And, always, there was the looming threat of imperialist attack.
These were the real economic and social contradictions faced by real human beings trying to remake society and the world.
The Soviet state under Stalin’s leadership moved to create a new kind of economy. For the first time in modern history, social production was being carried out consciously according to a plan designed to meet the needs of the people and shaped by overall social aims and goals to end oppression and poverty and change the world... a plan that was coordinated as a whole. This was an amazing breakthrough. Production no longer hinged on what could make a profit for a capitalist.
I’ve talked about the “long dark night” being broken. Here in this one piece of liberated territory in the world, surrounded by hostile imperialist and reactionary powers, something utterly radical was being undertaken. Instead of being exploited by a minority, dominated by a minority of owners... instead of the social product of people’s labor and energy serving the maintenance of the division of society into classes... now there was an economy serving the needs of society and revolutionary change.
Question: But the way this is portrayed is that there was this top-down master plan imposed on society.
RL: The First Five-Year Plan in the Soviet Union was launched in 1928. The slogan of the First Five-Year Plan was “we are building a new world.” Millions of workers and peasants were fired with this spirit. In factories and villages, people discussed the plan: the difference it would make for their lives—and for the people of the world—that such an economy was being built. At factory conferences, people talked about how to reorganize the production process. People volunteered to help build railroads in wilderness areas. They voluntarily worked long shifts. At steel mills, they sang revolutionary songs on the way to work.26
Never before in history had there been such a mobilization of people to consciously achieve planned economic and social aims.
And let’s ask again: what was happening in the rest of the world? The world capitalist economy was languishing in the Depression of the early 1930s—with levels of unemployment reaching 20 and 50 percent. People were starving in major cities like New York and Berlin, and if you’ve ever seen the movie The Grapes of Wrath you get a picture of what small farmers in the U.S. faced... the richest country in the world.
Back to the Soviet Union, there was also the transformation of agriculture, collectivization...
Question: That’s one of the things that people raise to me as a negative thing.
RL: Well, they’re dead wrong. Collectivization spoke to real needs and contradictions in society... and the world situation the Soviets were facing.
We have to go back to the Civil War that I was talking about. It had caused tremendous destruction and dislocation to the economy and society. Conditions were desperate. People in the towns and cities were hungry, industry was barely functioning, and peasants were reluctant to grow crops because during the war the government had been channeling large amounts of agricultural produce to feed the army and the population.
It was necessary to restore and stimulate economic production and to rebuild transport and communications. The revolutionary leadership took certain measures, known as the New Economic Policy or NEP. These included the reintroduction of some private markets and various forms of capitalist ownership and activity—although the socialist state kept control of large-scale industry and banking. And foreign investors were allowed in. These measures were seen by Lenin and the revolutionary leadership as a temporary retreat in order to revive the economy. The NEP did that, but over time, it also gave rise to new problems.
There were food shortages in the cities, especially with the urban population growing. Land had been redistributed to peasants after the seizure of power in 1917. But through the 1920s, a section of rich peasants were gaining strength in the rural economy that was still a private-based economy of small landholders. The rich peasants, or kulaks, as they were called, had large land holdings, and were consolidating greater ownership. And the NEP had given rise to forces (the popular expression was “NEP men”) who dominated the milling and marketing of grain and finance in the countryside. Social polarization between the kulaks and the poor peasantry was increasing.27
Stalin and others in leadership felt they had to move quickly to create large units of agriculture in the countryside. This would raise productivity and surround the kulaks. It would also accelerate the “proletarianization” of the peasants, bringing more people into the cities and industry, and lessening tensions between the new society and peasants who were still wedded to private ownership.
Collectivization was a huge social movement that drew in, activated and relied on the poorest farmers as its base, and worked to involve as many people as possible. Dedicated worker-volunteers from the cities went into rural areas to forge collectives. Artists, writers, and filmmakers went to the front lines to tell the stories of what was going on. Traveling libraries were sent to teams in the agricultural fields. In some regions, farms had their own drama circles. Religion, superstition, and mind-numbing tradition were challenged.
People lifted their heads and became tuned in to what was happening in society overall. They discussed the national plans and national developments. Women, whose lives had been determined by oppressive tradition and patriarchal obligation, became tractor drivers and leaders in the collectives.28
Question: But collectivization did meet a lot of resistance.
RL: Yes. On the one hand, this had to do with the class struggle in the countryside—where you had the kulaks and other traditionally privileged forces digging in and mobilizing resistance to the changes and social forces that I’ve been talking about. That was the main thing.
On the other hand, some of this resistance was connected to mistakes that were made. Mao wrote about this in the 1950s. While recognizing the tremendous and unprecedented character of collectivization in the Soviet Union, at the same time he also had serious criticisms of how Stalin approached it. It took place before the peasants themselves had gained experience cooperating with each other, working the fields and using tools cooperatively. There wasn’t sufficient political and ideological work done, to create the understanding and atmosphere enabling peasants to act more consciously to achieve collective social ownership. And the state took too much grain from the countryside—this put unnecessary pressure on peasants and led to resentment.29
Question: Wait a minute—what do you mean by “ideological work”?
RL: I mean work to change not just what people do, but to win them over to think in new ways and to unleash their initiative on that basis to transform the world. The lives of small farmers—each person owning their own land, surviving or not by dint of their own efforts, in opposition to others who compete with them—pit them against each other, and this shapes their thinking. Stalin tended to think that if you mechanized agriculture and made it collective, people’s thinking would sort of be naturally transformed; but the whole process is way more complex than that, and you actually have to work on transforming not just what people think, but how people think, well before the revolution, AND through each phase. As I said, this was a point of Mao’s and it’s something that Bob Avakian—BA—has both built on and taken to a new level in the new synthesis of communism.
So to return to Stalin. He was trying to solve real problems in society, like how to move forward and out of private agriculture at a time when the Soviet Union was facing international encirclement. But, as I mentioned, the approach was a bit mechanical; he was seeing the creation of higher levels of ownership and bigger farms with more advanced technology as the crux of the matter... and downplaying the whole ideological dimension and not grasping that people’s values and thinking have to change, and their relations with each other in production and society have to change, and leadership has to be working on this.30
The same problem existed in the approach to industrial planning—a mechanical view that by building up socialist heavy industry, you would be securing the material foundations for socialism. But as Mao said, this was years later, “What good is state ownership of factories, warehouses, if cooperative values are not being forged?” And socialist economic development has to be oriented to breaking down gaps between industry and agriculture, between mental and manual labor, between worker and peasant. Stalin paid some attention to overcoming these contradictions, but it was seen as a secondary task in relation to creating a more modern industrial-agricultural foundation.31
Question: As I understand it, there was a clear turn towards more, if you want to use the word, conservative policies overall in Soviet society from the mid-1930s onward. Is that right? And if so, why?
RL: The Soviet leadership and masses did not get to choose the circumstances in which to make, defend, and advance the revolution. And by the mid-1930s, the revolution was under heavy assault and facing a very unfavorable and perilous world situation. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria on the Soviet Union’s eastern borders. In 1933, the Nazi party, led by Hitler, consolidated power in Germany.
As I said, the Soviet leadership had been expecting a revolution to take place in Germany. But the Nazi regime effectively crushed the German Communist Party and began to embark on a program of militarization. At the same time, pro-fascist forces had gained strength in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, and the Baltic countries, including Poland. In Spain, the Western powers stood idly, as General Franco led an uprising against the Spanish Republic, actively aided by Hitler and Mussolini. Germany and Japan had signed an Anti-Soviet Pact.
The growing danger of inter-imperialist war and the likelihood of a massive imperialist assault on the Soviet Union was profoundly shaping economic and social policy in the Soviet Union.
Question: So what were the implications of that?
RL: War was looming. And, as with all of the challenges facing the Soviet revolution, there was no prior historical experience for dealing with the magnitude of a situation like this... the likelihood of a full-press onslaught by German imperialism against the Soviet Union. Stalin and the Soviet leadership approached this in a certain way. The assessment was that there had been this big leap in socialist state ownership and the development of the productive forces. And it was time to hunker down and prepare for the eventuality of war.
There was a push for greater discipline and stepped-up production in the factories to have a war-fighting capacity. There was great emphasis on administrative measures, material incentives (paying people more to work harder), and on management technique and technology.
The radical social and cultural experimentation of the 1920s and early 1930s was reined in. It was seen as being too removed from urgent production and political tasks and too alienating of the broader ranks of workers and the newer educated technical strata that were rallying around the regime.
There was a premium put on unity in the face of the growing war threat... and unity was being forged around a kind of national patriotism.
Internationally the Soviet Union was calling for and attempting to build a global united front against the fascist imperialist powers. It subordinated, and even sacrificed, revolutionary struggles in various parts of the world to the goal of defending the Soviet Union. The Soviet leadership saw the defense of the Soviet Union as being one and the same as the interests of the world revolution.
All this was very problematic. It went against, and stood in contradiction to, what the revolution was about and to its overall main character. The revolution was facing the need to prepare for attack and war that could destroy the whole revolution. This was real and monumental. But Stalin’s approach was seriously flawed.
Question: Could you elaborate on that a little—like, how did they justify this turnaround?
RL: Well, I talked about Stalin’s tendency to see things mechanically and statically—that is, to not see how there are contradictions within societies, processes, individuals—really, everything—that may not be on the surface, but that are actually driving forward change within that thing. You know, like you look at an egg and just by going by the surface you wouldn’t know that there was this potential chicken inside, growing and growing and eventually going to burst out of that egg and become a whole different thing.
This kind of mechanical or static thinking crept into and began to increasingly color his view of socialism... that there was this socialist state that had to be defended at all costs against the onslaught he could see coming, and a lot of things got justified in the name of doing that defense which were actually undercutting the socialist character of the state.
For example, Stalin began to make concessions to parts of the population that were still very religious and traditional in their thinking, or were strongly influenced by Russian nationalism, or both. Now, yes, you were 15 years into the new society—but one thing that we have learned is that there are huge sections of the people that don’t give up all that old thinking overnight. So this presents challenges in terms of waging ideological struggle, carrying on educational work, and promoting a scientific world outlook in society, while upholding the right to religious worship. But, as Stalin saw it, you had to make concessions to that kind of thinking and those kinds of forces like the Russian Orthodox Church in order, as Stalin saw it, to strengthen unity for the war effort.
The government also began to go back on some of the earlier advances around women and gay people, for instance. Some of the tremendous, and at that point in the world unique, advances I talked about earlier—including the right to abortion—got reversed. And the rights for gay people were also reversed. And more generally the traditional family was being extolled and traditional relations were being reinforced. This was both a very serious error and also betrayed a certain lack of depth to understanding the importance of gender relations in the overall transformation of society. And this kind of thing was based again on the assumption that the socialist character of the society was more or less assured and the main thing you had to do was to defend it.
Now I don’t want to minimize in any way the scale of the threat the Soviet Union faced. Stalin and those around him were the first people to lead a socialist state, they had this tremendous responsibility to defend it, and here was the most powerful army in the world sitting next door with the leader of that army making very clear that he intended to destroy that socialist country. And let’s remember that the Nazis very nearly made good on that threat, and killed some 26 million—yes, 26 million!—Soviet people in the course of trying to do that.
I’m not saying this to justify these errors in the least. I’m saying this so that we really grasp what they faced and how in the face of that kind of huge pressure we must and we can do better in the future. And without getting into all that now, this underscores the importance of the work done by Bob Avakian in grappling with this whole experience and the way that he has approached this, and through that process developing the new synthesis of communism.
Question: What about the gulags32 and executions? When you say Stalin, this is probably the first thing people start talking about.
RL: The international situation I just described—where the very existence of the Soviet Union was in the cross-hairs—also set the context for the purges and repression of the late 1930s.
And look, when we talk about literally grievous errors, some of what went on during the period of 1936–1938 is part of what we mean. Many innocent people suffered repression: economic officials, military officers, Party members who had been in opposition in earlier years and others who were seen as potential sources of opposition, including people from the intelligentsia. People’s basic legal rights were violated and people were executed on the basis of those violations. So this was, as I said, grievous.33
Now there are two contending ways of understanding what was going on—and only one of them gets you to the truth. You can declare that Stalin was a monster, a paranoid despot who just wanted to accrue “absolute power”... end of discussion. That’s the line of attack of anti-communist historians and cold-war propagandists.
Or, you can bring a scientific approach to this moment in the history of communist revolution, to understand what happened and why. You look at what Stalin and the leadership were actually facing at that point in terms of the virtual certainty of massive attack, you look at the fact that there were indeed some counter-revolutionary groups and some elements in the Party and army who seem to have been intriguing with one or another imperialist power in the face of that, you analyze the framework they were using to understand all that, and then you evaluate what was done politically in the face of that. And if there were errors—and as I said, there were, some of them very serious—then you strive to understand what it was in their understanding and approach to those problems that gave rise to these errors.
So I want to get into what led to those errors. But before I do, there’s something else to bring to this discussion... as a matter of basic orientation. Even acknowledging the serious excesses that took place, still, what happened in the Soviet Union does not hold a candle to what happened as a result of one single event in U.S. history: Thomas Jefferson’s decision to make the Louisiana Purchase, which played a key role in expanding and prolonging slavery in the U.S.
One hundred thousand slaves, a third of them children, would be sold in the markets of New Orleans before the Civil War.34 Slaves picked cotton from before dawn to after dark. They cleared disease-infested swamps. They were worked as if they were beasts of burden. Jefferson’s slave-owning peers carried out pervasive and massive rape, barbaric punishments, and even the selling of children away from their parents. Slave owners on the Eastern seaboard, including Jefferson himself, profited greatly by the expansion of slave territory. And in the newly acquired territory, the genocide against the Indian peoples gained terrible new impetus.
Thomas Jefferson acted consciously and methodically to expand and consolidate the system of chattel slavery, literally. He created a living hell that would last for nearly six decades, all in the pursuit of empire and profit.35
Or you look at the massive amount of killings carried out by the U.S. over the past decades at a time when nobody could argue that they were facing any kind of serious threat to their very existence—and we’re talking several million killed in Korea, several million more killed in Indochina, the hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced in Iraq, all of those as a result of direct U.S. military intervention—and that’s not even touching on the many murderous proxy wars they have sponsored in Latin America and Africa—and again, for what? For the maintenance of a worldwide system of exploitation and misery.
Stalin, on the other hand, made errors, even serious errors, in a situation in which the Soviet Union was in desperate circumstances and facing dire threats. But he made those errors in the context of defending a world-shaking revolution aimed at ridding the world of slavery in its modern form.36
People have to judge any historical figure, or any historical event, in the whole context of what was taking place, what vital interests were in play and at stake, and what were the aims and objectives of the person or group in question—in order to determine the essence of the matter. At the same time, as I said, we need to evaluate Stalin’s and much of the Soviet leadership’s understanding of the tensions and contradictions in society, and their approach to dealing with this. And there were serious problems.
Question: What do you mean by that? Problems in how he was understanding things? Does this tie in with what you said earlier about a static view of socialism?
RL: Yes. Earlier I mentioned that by the mid-1930s, socialist and collective ownership had been achieved in the main sectors of the economy. The old propertied classes had been overthrown and private capitalism had been pretty much transformed.
Stalin analyzed that there was no longer an economic basis for exploitation... and therefore there were no longer antagonistic classes in socialist society. The understanding was that there were two non-antagonistic classes: the workers and the collectivized peasants, and then a stratum of new and old intelligentsia and white-collar professionals. The old ruling class had been overthrown by the revolution and civil war. As Stalin saw it, there were remnants of the old order—but, as I said, no antagonistic classes... no bourgeois forces internal to society. And these remnants of the old order... again I’m characterizing the understanding... they could only be propped up externally.
So the threat to Soviet society was seen as coming from agents of the deposed classes, cultivated and supported by foreign capital. And you had this whole discourse of foreign spies and wreckers, of plots and conspiracies from outside. There was real subversion, but Stalin tended to view all opposition in society as coming, in some way, from the outside. And the struggle against counter-revolution was seen as a kind of counter-espionage operation. It was this mindset that led to the serious mistakes I described earlier.
But Stalin’s analysis was wrong. In fact, society was teeming with class differences and contradictions. And not all coming from the outside... though, as I’ve been pointing out there was the threat of intervention and war and what’s going on in the world profoundly shapes the struggles in socialist society. All this was discovered by Mao, and on that basis he was able to lead the Chinese Revolution in a profoundly different way of handling these contradictions, and the different kinds of struggle they give rise to.37 And I’ll get into that, later in the interview.
Stalin was mixing up these two types of contradictions. You had people in Soviet society in the 1930s who were raising objections to different policies of the socialist state... really who were dissenting. But Stalin was treating all these differences as antagonistic ones, and he linked all this to external threats... to external subversion. Repression should only have been directed against enemies. But it was used against people who were expressing disagreements and against people who were making mistakes in certain responsible positions. As I said, Mao grasped the problem here and got deeper to the truth of the dynamics of socialist society. And Bob Avakian has built on this pathbreaking insight of Mao, and the experience of socialist society more broadly, and developed a deeper scientific understanding of socialist society and a more expansive vision of the importance of dissent and struggle between contending ideas in that society.
But Stalin didn’t have this understanding. And he was relying on purges and police actions to solve problems—rather than, and this was what happened during the Cultural Revolution in China... rather than mobilizing the masses to take up the burning political and ideological questions on the overall direction of society and opening things up. Instead there was this whole approach of hunkering down to defend the socialist state.
And you had this serious departure from internationalism... the Soviet Union backing away from the socialist state’s responsibility to promote the world revolution. There was this view that nothing was more important than protecting the socialist state and that nearly anything was justified in doing this—including entering into a sort of realpolitik, or political intrigue—with the imperialists. Now just to be clear, there is a role for diplomatic relations that socialist states undertake with imperialists—you can’t exist in a constant state of war, for one thing, you’re going to need to trade, and so on—but these have to be on the basis of principle... on the idea that those relations are subordinated to the advance of the revolution. But too often, in navigating that period, this got lost.38
Question: But you’ve been emphasizing the real need to defend the Soviet Union, and how this was impacting the decisions Stalin was making.
RL: Yes, but there was not a correct scientific understanding of this. You see, Bob Avakian identified—and no communist leader and theorist before him even conceptualized things in these terms—that there is this real contradiction between defending the socialist state and advancing the world revolution and at times this can be very sharply posed. This is a key element of the new synthesis of communism, in the further development of the science of communism.
You don’t let the imperialists just destroy the new socialist society. It has to be defended. But that can come into contradiction with supporting revolution in other parts of the world... in terms of where you are putting resources, how you are carrying out diplomacy, and how you are organizing socialist society, and preparing people ideologically in terms of sacrificing for the whole world revolution. So you are going to have to recognize that contradiction and learn how to handle it.
Stalin, and even Mao, later, when he led the revolution in China, tended to equate defending the socialist state with acting in the interests of the advance of the world revolution. And again, in evaluating this, you have to remember that this was the first time anyone had ever faced this situation and there was no previous experience to go on, you have to remember the real and existential threat they faced, and you have to remember that both of these leaders never caved in to imperialism and that Mao, in particular, fought for revolution and made advances in the revolution up until his very death. But this objectively amounted to putting the defense of the socialist state above advancing the world revolution.
It’s not that Stalin and Mao consciously set out to subordinate the world revolution to the defense of the socialist country. Rather, because they understood this extremely complex and sharp contradiction in a certain linear way—revolution would be won in this country, then in that country... and the world revolution would proceed through a process of defending and adding on new socialist countries—because of that understanding, they made errors in policy.
On the basis of digging deeply into this, Bob Avakian has brought forward new, scientific understanding: the principal role of the socialist state is to be a base area for the advance of the world revolution. It has to defend itself on that basis and be prepared to put its survival on the line in periods when the world revolution can make great advances. And it has to handle the real and very difficult contradictions involved correctly in all of this.39
So these are some important lessons from what was going on in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
Question: And of course, then the Soviet Union was invaded by German imperialism in 1941.
RL: You know, the history of the Soviet Union, when it was socialist, was a history of a society waging war, preparing for war, or dressing the wounds of war. In June 1941, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. They threw the most modern army in the world and most of their military might against the Soviets. Hitler made it clear to his troops that he expected them to discard every principle of humanity in what was to be a war of total annihilation.40
The Soviets fought with incredible heroism. Twenty-six million Soviet citizens lost their lives in World War 2, more than 1 of 8 in the population.
But you have this contradiction. The Soviet Union came out of World War 2 militarily victorious. But the revolution was weakened politically and ideologically. By that I mean that the errors I described above had corroded and undercut people’s understanding of the goals of communist revolution and had actually reinforced weaknesses in the way people were attempting to understand the world, and how to transform it. People were still fighting to build socialism and refusing to cave in to imperialism, and this definitely was being led by Stalin. But they also had become muddled in their understanding of the difference between nationalism and internationalism... between revolution and reform... and about what really constituted a scientific approach to nature and society.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, new bourgeois forces within the Communist Party maneuvered to seize power; and in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, a high official in the party and government, took over the reins, consolidated the rule of a new capitalist class, and led in systematically restructuring the Soviet Union into a state-capitalist society.41 This was the end of the first proletarian state.
Question: So how do you put this in perspective?
RL: The Soviet revolution was about the slaves rising up with vanguard communist leadership—and forging a whole new way to organize and run society, a whole new way to relate to the world... not to plunder and conquer it but to contribute to the emancipation of humanity. Its defeat was a bitter setback, made more so by the fact that people did not have the scientific tools at the time to understand the character and source of that defeat.
Despite the errors I’ve described, the revolution of 1917–56 represented the first steps, apart from the short-lived Paris Commune, along the road of emancipation, towards a world free of oppression and exploitation. It inspired people throughout the world. But that road has to be forged... the understanding of what it’s going to take has to be deepened and extended. It doesn’t come automatically or spontaneously. There’s a “learning curve,” if you will.
But to learn and learn deeply requires a scientific understanding of society and how to transform it. It requires the further development of that science... I’m talking about the science of communism. It’s a question of identifying and analyzing the problems and challenges in the process of getting to a classless world... and forging solutions, and developing new insights into how to understand what you are facing.
This is what Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese revolution, did... he took the project of emancipation, the communist revolution, to a whole new place of understanding and practice. This was a new breakthrough for humanity, more radical and more emancipating. And that’s what we’ll get into next.
Question: So this brings us to the Chinese Revolution in 1949. Could you say something about how the communists came to power there?
Raymond Lotta: This was a vast social and political upheaval, a mass revolutionary armed struggle of extraordinary daring and sacrifice. Mao Zedong led this epic revolution. But to understand how this revolution came to power... we have to understand its historical setting.
In the 19th century, the major world capitalist powers began to penetrate China, pushing their way in militarily and economically... and by the end of the century came to dominate China. They imposed treaties that gave them commercial advantage. They sliced China up into foreign spheres of influence, which meant that one power would be controlling, plundering, and exploiting one part of the country... and another doing the same in another part.
China had long been ruled by a monarchy. It was brought down by a revolt of insurgent military officers and civilian opponents in 1911, and a republic was declared in 1912. But the Republic was weak... and was weakened by the corrupt old order. Warlords divided the country up into their own mini-state-like fiefdoms. All this made it easier for imperialism to continue to batter its way into the country, especially Japanese imperialism.42
Question: So where do Mao and communism come in?
RL: There had been different attempts by the Chinese people to cast off this foreign control, often involving huge upheavals; there had been courageous peasant risings. But these did not succeed in fundamentally changing the conditions of Chinese society.
The Bolshevik revolution dramatically changed the equation. It awakened and inspired a section of Chinese youth and intellectuals to take up communism. The Chinese Communist Party was formed in 1921. Beginning in 1927, there was a fierce battle between the Guomindang, which had started as a nationalist party-government but had been taken over by reactionaries backed by different imperialist powers, and the Chinese Communist Party. The communist movement suffered huge bloodbaths and persecution at the hands of the Guomindang. In this setting, Mao developed and then fought for a correct political and military strategy to actually win liberation.43
A major turning point was the Long March, one of the most extraordinary military feats of the 20th century. In 1934, Mao led 100,000 Red Army fighters and communist organizers on a 6,000-mile long march to regroup and reorganize forces for revolution. They trekked through dangerous swamplands and treacherous mountains. They fought warlord and reactionary armies. They spread revolution wherever they went. When the Long March reached its destination, only 10,000 people had made it. But because of the Long March the revolution was able to go forward.44
In 1931, Japanese imperialism began to aggressively expand into China... and in 1937 it went to war with China. The Japanese military forces captured Shanghai and also took the capital city of Nanjing where they carried out one of modern history’s worst atrocities... systematically raping, torturing, and murdering 300,000 civilians.45 Japan ravaged China for raw materials... for industrial production by slave labor... and carried out horrible war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons. This was happening in the context of World War 2 of 1939–1945... as the imperialist powers sought, once again, to violently re-divide the world.
The Chinese communists were determined to fight the Japanese invasion and occupation, as part of the fight for national and social liberation. By 1940, their military forces had grown to some 500,000. Mao and the communists rallied and led the Chinese people to stand up to and fight the occupying forces of Japanese imperialism. And in 1945, they inflicted defeat on the Japanese forces in China.
But the country was devastated. Some 14 million Chinese died as a result of World War 2! Most of China’s rail network, major highways, and factories were destroyed. And just as the war ended in 1945, civil war broke out between the communist-led forces and those of the Guomindang... equipped and financed by the U.S. imperialists. After four years of intense combat, the Chinese revolution triumphed in 1949.46
But the U.S. imperialists were soon moving up the Korean peninsula and threatening to invade China itself and threatening to use nuclear weapons. The U.S. 7th Naval Fleet was stationed in the Far East. All that was during the Korean War, which started just nine months after the victory of the revolution.
The revolution came to power in these conditions. In winning this incredible victory, the Chinese revolution was a beacon to the oppressed of the world... and a target for imperialism. The conventional wisdom in the communist movement at that time was that it was not possible in an economically backward country like China with hundreds of millions of peasants to make an anti-colonial revolution leading to communism. Mao applied and further developed the science of communism in forging a revolutionary path for oppressed nations—developing both the political program and the military strategy for making a liberating revolution in such countries. And Mao’s breakthrough has had great implications for revolution throughout the world.
Question: What was Chinese society like in 1949?
RL: China was a semi-feudal society. The great majority of the population were destitute peasants, subjected to the cruel and arbitrary rule of landlordism.
The peasant rented land from the landlord who, when crops were good, might take half of the wealth created by the peasant... extracting grain as rent. In bad crop years, the extraction would be higher. The peasant kept what was left, and even in good times this generally wasn’t enough... so the peasant had to borrow from money-lenders, paying interest anywhere from 30 percent to 100 percent. And on top of this, the peasant had to pay taxes to government authorities. In famine years, which came often... peasants would be reduced to eating leaves and bark, and were often even forced into the horror of selling one of their children so others could survive. You know, famine was considered part of the normal life experience... one of the things a peasant might expect to die of... like sickness or old age.47
For women, life was a living hell. I’m talking about wife beating, arranged marriages, and forced prostitution. One of the most oppressive and hideous customs in Chinese society was the practice of foot binding. Seven- and eight-year-old girls had their feet tightly wrapped and bent until the arch was broken and the toes permanently bent under. This horrible practice was done to keep women’s feet small and forced women to sway when walking... considered erotic and aesthetic in patriarchal Chinese society. The intense pain and suffering were summed up in an old saying: “for every pair of bound feet a bucket full of tears.” Foot binding became the symbol of the circumstances of Chinese women before the revolution.48
In the cities, the situation was desperate. In Shanghai, before the outbreak of World War 2, 25,000 dead bodies were collected from the streets each year.49 In the textile factories, young women workers were locked in at night. Shanghai had also been carved up by different foreign powers.
China had an undeveloped industrial base... mainly producing light manufactured goods, like cigarettes and textiles. This was a country of 500 million people, but there were only 12,000 doctors trained in Western medicine. Four million people died each year from infectious and parasitic diseases.50 Life expectancy was 32 years. People were so desperate that you had this huge scourge of opium addiction... 60 million opium addicts.
This is why people make revolution. This is why it is necessary to overthrow the old exploiting classes, and destroy their state system.
The Chinese revolution did just that. It established a new state power, a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, based on the alliance of workers and peasants. This new state power protected the rights of the people, suppressed counter-revolution, and made it possible to carry out the all-round transformation of society and to support world revolution. In the cities and rural areas, new institutions were established at every level of society... led by the Communist Party... but involving millions and millions of the formerly exploited in taking initiative to transform and administer society.
You know, for millennia, the oppressed had been treated as no more than a pair of laboring hands. Now they had the right and capacity to stand up... and the backing of a people’s liberation army to transform economic, political, social, and cultural life.
Under the leadership of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese revolution immediately set out to change conditions.
Question: Where did they begin?
RL: One of the first measures was land reform. By the early 1950s, the new revolutionary state power had distributed 30-40 percent of China’s cultivated land away from landlord-exploiting classes... to some 300 million peasants. The Chinese land reform was the most massive expropriation and distribution of property and repudiation of debt in world history.51 This was truly a mass movement from below, led by the Party. It was different from the more top-down way that change often took place in the Soviet countryside under Stalin.
Throughout China, peasants divided up the land, tools, and animals. They confronted the old landlords. They held mass meetings to talk about how they had suffered under the old society and how they would farm in the new society. They came into political life, overturning the old appointed village magistrates, replacing them with elected councils. They began to throw off superstition and to study science. In a country where women had never been treated as equals, not just the men but women received land. The revolution had decisively broken the back of landlord oppression.52
Question: You mentioned women getting land, but how else were things changing for women?
RL: Let’s step back here for a minute. I talked earlier about what was done in the Soviet Union, especially in the first decade or so and in comparison with the rest of the world. And we have to really grasp that this question—I’m talking about the oppression of women more universally—wasn’t even seen as a “question” until the late 1700s when the first major works taking this up were written. Marx and Engels saw this as integral to the communist revolution right from the beginning, and Engels wrote a major work on it—The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State—detailing how this oppression arose and, in very broad strokes, how it could and would be eliminated in the struggle for communist society.53
So this was the most advanced understanding and practice on the planet, on the one hand, but there were still ways in which all of this—Engels’ pathbreaking theoretical work, the transformations in the Soviet Union, and even the initial breakthroughs I’m going to talk about in China—were still the first steps. First steps... but giant steps. Even something like the right to have land—this was major in the context of a country that in many ways had not yet fully emerged from feudalism.
So in liberated China in 1950, a new marriage law put an end to child and arranged marriages. The new law guaranteed the right to divorce for women as well as men. But the revolution, Mao emphasized, was about more than new laws. People were changing society through mass mobilization, but this was deeply connected with the struggle to transform oppressive social relations and backward ideas, to change values and thinking as well.
Where there was land reform, there was struggle against the treatment of women as objects of male authority, struggle against the narrow confines of the family, against the authority of the clan. Something very important in this: the Party developed a practice of relying on widows and orphans even in waging the struggle for land reform and cooperative forms of agriculture—drawing in the most oppressed and in the process drawing women much more fully into public life, and in a very dynamic way.
In society broadly, there was ideological struggle against the notion of the inferiority of women. Mao popularized the slogan “women hold up half the sky.” It was not simply a declaration of equality but a call to take on all that stood in the way of that. In less than a decade, prostitution disappeared as a major social phenomenon; the shame was lifted from those previously forced into this and a new, productive life was possible, and women could walk down the streets in major cities without fear. The practice of foot binding was ended once and for all. And all this then went even further in the Cultural Revolution, which erupted in 1966—and which I’ll speak to a little later.54
Question: You had said that China was devastated after the war. How did the new power deal with that?
RL: Mass campaigns were launched to clean up the cities. Cholera and other epidemic diseases were eliminated or brought under control. New factories and housing for workers went up. Hospitals and medical schools were constructed. By 1965, China had trained 200,000 regular doctors.55 A new countrywide educational system was created. Mass literacy campaigns were launched. All kinds of volunteers went to the countryside, and by the end of the 1950s most peasants had acquired a basic reading knowledge. This is what the revolution made possible.
The scourge of opium addiction was wiped out through mass treatment and education. People who had been addicted were now able to work productively... because a whole new economy based on meeting social need was established, including the ability to cultivate agricultural crops for the good of society. The most important thing, the most precious thing, was people and their ability to be healthy, to learn, to contribute.56
Question: So these were great advances.
RL: Yes, but the direction in which society would go... that was not settled.
Question: What do you mean by that? They had power, didn’t they?
RL: Let me go back for a second. When the revolution came to power in 1949, Mao gave this famous speech in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. He declared to the crowd, “The Chinese people have stood up.” But he also looked beyond the moment and declared that this was “but a beginning... only a brief prologue to a long drama.”
It was Mao’s poetic way of saying that the revolution couldn’t stop. It was entering a new stage of socialist transformation of the economy, the creation of new political institutions, and the forging of new values of working for the common good. The revolution had to continue.
The goal of communist revolution is to overcome the division of society and the world into classes and to create a world community of humanity. Marx used this very descriptive phrase to capture the essence of communism: “the two radical ruptures”... with traditional property relations and with traditional ideas. That’s why these early changes that I was describing, amazing as they were... were just “the beginning.”
But there were powerful forces in the Chinese Communist Party who had a very different vision. They saw revolution as a vehicle to overcome China’s economic backwardness and dependency, and to turn China into a modern, industrial power. China had been humiliated and dominated by foreign powers. They saw socialism as a means for, and in the context of, achieving national liberation and national independence.
And they came to the opposite conclusion as Mao. From their perspective, the political-social revolution essentially ended in 1949. The task now, as they saw it, was mainly economic modernization.
They were basing themselves in part on shortcomings of the Soviet Union when it was socialist. They advocated a program of rapid industrialization. Development, in their eyes, would then trickle down to the countryside. Their vision drove them in a certain direction: to concentrate resources on big and modern factories and advanced technology... to build up a big centralized planning apparatus... to create armies of experts... to motivate people through wage and bonus incentives. But here is the rub: much of their thinking actually reflected the dominant understanding of socialism in the international communist movement. They were adopting the Soviet model of development.
Question: And Mao disagreed?
RL: Yes. Mao saw the need to build up industry... but he was against the idea of rapid industrialization based on concentrating resources in the urban areas, and at the expense of peasants in agriculture. He was for developing technology, especially for technology appropriate to China’s conditions... but was against the idea of putting technology and expertise above people and their creativity. He was for improving people’s livelihoods... but against motivating people by narrowly appealing to people’s immediate material interests.
He saw this approach of the other leaders in the Party as one that would lead to the reinforcement and widening of inequalities and one that would be robbing the masses of initiative. He was searching for an approach that would actually enable the masses to gain all-around mastery of society, and to prevent new elites from forming.
You had to plan economic development, but there was a need for a different, for a more radical, dynamic, and participatory system of planning than what had existed in the socialist Soviet Union. For one thing, if China was going to be able to withstand imperialist attack and invasion, it had to decentralize industry and not concentrate development in the vulnerable cities and coastal areas; but I’m actually talking about a more profound point, having to do with drawing the masses of people more deeply into the actual process of knowing and transforming society.
So there was this contention between two camps in the Communist Party over the direction of society. These conservative forces had strength and influence in the Communist Party and in society. In the 1949–76 period, intense struggle raged at the highest levels of the Party over the direction of society, over going forward to communism... or back to capitalism.
And there’s a further dimension. In the mid-1950s, Mao and the revolutionary forces were struggling against two legacies. Bob Avakian has spoken to this.57 First and foremost they were struggling against the continuing threats and influence of capitalism and Western imperialism, which had historically dominated China and which was encircling and pressuring China. Second, Mao was struggling against the political and ideological legacy and influence of the Soviet model of development, which even before its degeneration into state capitalism had significant problems. By state capitalism, I mean a system where the factories, mines, transportation—the means of production, in short—are owned by the state, but are run according to capitalist principles of “profit in command” rather than supporting revolution and meeting social need.
Question: I know we’ve talked about this a bit, but why was this not a model for socialist development?
RL: Well, one of the problems of the Soviet approach, or model, was the view that once you had achieved state ownership of the major productive resources of society, then the key task was to develop the productive forces, to go all-out and really build up the economy. But Mao looked at it differently. He argued that this view did not actually lead to the masses changing material conditions and changing themselves... changing all the social and ideological relations of society. Instead, this model of just “produce your way” to communism, will actually lead to the emergence of a new privileged stratum that will begin to install itself in a position over the masses.
Now Mao did not have a fully formed theorization of this at this time. And there would be big struggles over the next years, culminating in the Cultural Revolution. These struggles were crucibles through which Mao began to forge a pathbreaking understanding of the nature of socialist society and getting to the goal of communism, an actually new understanding of what communism is. But at this time in the early and mid-1950s, Mao was already seeing real problems with what I am calling “the Soviet model.”
So, this was the situation confronting the revolutionary leadership in China. Would China be able to stand up to the pressures of Western imperialism, the U.S. in particular? Would it be able to resist pressures to come under the wing and control of the Soviet Union? Or could it go a different way, a liberating way?
The Great Leap Forward of 1958 began to carve out that different way. There was tremendous potential and enthusiasm for change in the countryside. And the revolutionary leadership was able to turn that into a powerful force for transformation.58
Question: There’s so much confusion and misinformation about the Great Leap Forward. What was it about? And then I’d like you to talk about the attacks on the Great Leap Forward.
RL: At the heart of the Great Leap Forward in the countryside were the communes. The communes brought together peasants in a way that combined economic activity, political and social activity, militia, and administration. This was something new. These were units of power in which the masses, especially the formerly oppressed and exploited, were exercising power under the leadership of the Party. They were changing the productive base of society, specifically in the countryside. And as they were doing this... as part of doing this, they were changing the relations between and among the people.
Now the communes came about through a process. The peasants had taken part in the great movement of land reform... they had stood up to the old landlords and gained land, implements, and livestock. But things didn’t stop there. The revolutionary leadership encouraged people to form mutual aid teams, to help each other farm and share implements... and then into cooperatives in which peasants pooled and collectively used their individually owned land, animals, and large tools... and then into bigger cooperatives.59
People were working together in new ways and seeing the benefits of working together and sharing resources. Growing numbers of peasants actually began to burn deeds to land, because they were working in and gaining security from these new arrangements.
In one rural area, peasant cooperatives joined with others to begin a vast project of bringing water across mountains to irrigate dry plains. Mao summed this up and it became a model for the communes.
Question: So what were the communes doing?
RL: People could mobilize together and unleash all kinds of energies and creativity. They worked to reclaim land, to plant trees, to construct roads. They built irrigation projects and various flood-works projects to protect against calamities. It became possible to use tractors and machinery in more rational ways to meet the needs of food production, because the land was collectively owned. And small-scale industries took hold in the countryside—fertilizer, cement factories, and small hydroelectric plants. Peasants began to master technology; scientific knowledge was spread; and it became possible in a whole new way to innovate and solve problems at the local levels. The socialist state was also ensuring that prices for industrial goods and manufactured consumer goods purchased by the communes and peasants were kept low and agricultural prices regulated at a level that aided the peasants.
In these and other ways the gaps between the city and the countryside, and between peasants and workers were being tackled and transformed. This was very important, because unequal development between urban and rural areas is a source of social and class privilege and domination. Historically, capitalist development and industrialization have involved cities draining resources from the countryside—with farmers in rural areas facing low prices for the agricultural goods they sell and much higher prices for manufactured goods they buy. These kinds of unequal urban-rural relations contribute to impoverishment in the countryside, and force many farmer-peasants in the Third World to leave the rural areas for the slums and shantytowns of the cities. This was also an alternative to, a rejection of, the Soviet approach to collectivization which unduly squeezed peasants in order to accumulate capital for industrial development.
A major feature of the Great Leap Forward was how it challenged the oppression of women. Women were no longer constrained, and contained, by the suffocating narrowness of family-based production. People came out of the household. The Great Leap Forward created communal kitchens and dining rooms, nurseries, and cooperative home repair. Women entered into the swirl of the economic, political, and ideological battle to create a new society. Old habits and values were questioned. People were struggling against superstition, fatalism, and feudal customs that still persisted, like arranged marriage.60
The communes also established networks of primary and middle schools, as well as medical clinics.
This was a way of developing self-reliance and balanced development, with technical and industrial capabilities being spread, better enabling China to resist imperialist attack and to support the world revolution.
The communes marked a leap of the masses’ direct participation in all spheres of society, relative even to what the revolution had accomplished up until then.61
Question: But if you read any of these anti-communist books or articles on the Great Leap Forward, they all say it was “insane and irrational.”
RL: Let me tell you what is insane and irrational. Corporate-based agribusiness that relies on mono-crop specialization for export and huge inputs of petroleum-based fertilizer... that harms local ecosystems and drives peasants from the countryside into the cities, into shantytowns and slums... that’s insane. Turning lands previously geared to food cultivation into land to grow fuel crops like ethanol, and the development of an export-oriented agriculture where you have exotic flowers being raised for export while poor people go hungry... that’s insane. Making countries become increasingly dependent on the world market for food staples that are subject to the vagaries of world prices... that is the height of irrationality and insanity.
When 250,000 poor Indian farmers commit suicide between 1995 and 2011, because they are trapped in the networks of global agribusiness, like Monsanto, and go into debt to pay for seed and fertilizer monopolized by these firms... that is the tragic outcome of an insane and irrational mode of economic organization that is based on profit and imperialist domination of agriculture and scientific knowledge.62
You know, I was in Manila in 1996, and people took me to what’s called Smoky Mountain. It’s a huge dumping ground, where people pick through what they can to survive, to use or to sell. There was smoke from fires and toxic fumes (that’s where it gets its name). A lot of these people were displaced peasants. And this was at a time when the Philippines was being pressured to grow so-called “nontraditional agricultural exports,” like asparagus, which people told me wasn’t mainly part of people’s diets. Some of the women who had previously grown rice but had no title to land... under these pressures to shift crops... they could no longer farm and migrated to Manila where the only work for many was in the sex trade. This is crazy.
Look, we live in a world where 18,000 children die each and every day of hunger and preventable disease.63 That’s insane.
From the standpoint of meeting people’s basic needs and developing a sustainable agriculture, from the standpoint of breaking down all these enslaving divisions... from the standpoint of what is in the interests of humanity—the Great Leap Forward was totally rational. It was an example of what Mao called “putting politics in command” of economic development... creating an economy that was serving the needs of the people and contributing to the revolutionary transformation of society.64
Through the Great Leap Forward, and later the Cultural Revolution, revolutionary China was doing something that is unprecedented in human history. This was the first time that a process of economic development and industrialization was not simultaneously a process of chaotic urbanization.
Question: But there was a famine, and it is alleged that it was because Mao was reckless, trying to do fanatical things in the countryside, just trying to get as much out of peasant labor as possible, and unconcerned about the welfare of the people.
RL: I want to speak about this, and clear the air of a lot of distortion. First, as I have explained, the Great Leap Forward was not reckless but guided by coherent policy goals. It tapped the energy and enthusiasm of the peasant masses.
Now there was a massive food crisis starting in late 1959, and it worsened in 1960. But it wasn’t because of Mao’s policies or indifference. The hunger crisis was not the result of the commune system, the diversified economic path that was being forged, or the reclamation projects. The difficulties of 1960–61, and these did reach famine proportions, had complex causes.
First, there was a sharp decline in food production in 1959. China had suffered its worst climatic disasters in a century. Floods and drought affected over half of China’s agricultural land.65
Second, the international situation took a turn that impacted developments in China. There was sharp ideological struggle between revolutionary China and the Soviet Union. As I said earlier, the Soviet Union was no longer socialist; new capitalist forces had come to power in the mid-1950s. The Soviet leadership was now trying to consolidate the international communist movement around a revisionist line. By revisionism, I mean a capitalist and anti-revolutionary outlook that cloaks itself in Marxist terminology to justify and legitimize reformist policies that do not touch the essential relations of capitalism. Mao analyzed that the Soviet Union had gone off the socialist road and was selling out the interests of the world revolution to U.S. imperialism. He denounced this.
The Soviets retaliated, by withdrawing advisors and technicians, halting aid, walking off with blueprints to unfinished industrial installations. This caused dislocations in China’s economy. There were not the expected spare parts and equipment, and the original economic plan was disrupted. In addition, the Soviets left China with a debt burden for military equipment supplied during the Korean War.66
So there was the sudden and sharp decline in food production because of this weather calamity; and then the sudden Soviet withdrawal of aid created additional strains and disruptions in the economy.
Third, there were also certain policy mistakes by the Maoists. One problem was that in many rural areas too much peasant labor time was spent on nonagricultural projects. This hurt food production. Another problem was that the communes were initially quite large; and there was also a problem of trying to organize and manage farm production, the distribution of income, and other activity at too high and centralized a level in the commune structure. More flexibility was needed.
Fourth, the top revolutionary leadership was not getting as reliable information about what was actually happening in the local areas as would have been desirable, especially as the hunger situation rapidly worsened. On the one hand, the vast changes and experimentation of the Great Leap Forward disrupted some of the established planning procedures, as well as the systems and channels of reporting. On the other hand, pressures from the central leadership to meet goals combined with the euphoric spirit of the times resulted in local leaders often exaggerating grain and other output figures. So all this combined to make it harder for leadership to get the kind of accurate picture that was needed... and this affected the ability to respond quickly.
There was a real crisis. But leadership did in fact respond. Investigations were conducted and adjustments were made. The amount of grain to be delivered to the state was lowered. Certain nonagricultural projects were scaled back, so that people could spend more time on food production. The communes were reduced in size, to create more flexibility.67 Importantly, grain was rationed countrywide and emergency grain supplies sent to regions in distress.68 Grain was imported to help the cities and to make it possible for the communes to keep more grain.
And of great importance, the commune structure, the cooperative institutions and values, actually made it possible for people to join together to deal with the problems.69
This 1960–61 famine had the causes that I’m describing. It was responded to in the way that I am describing: based on the needs of the people and the further advance of the revolution.
Let’s compare this situation with the famine that took place in India during World War 2 and that killed 1.5 to 3 million people. That famine was caused by the British government’s agricultural procurement and pricing polices during the war. This was Churchill’s doing and he persisted in these policies long after he knew the suffering that was being caused.70
And more recently, there have been—and still are—horrific famines in Africa. These are the legacy of imperialist domination and distortion of these economies... of civil wars that have been taken advantage of, if not directly fueled, by imperialism... and of global warming and its impacts, which have everything to do with the functioning of world imperialism. And in these cases of famine, “relief” often ends up further undercutting sustainable, subsistence peasant agriculture.
So in one set of cases, famine grows out of and is exacerbated by the relations of capitalism-imperialism. In the case of the Chinese revolution, the crisis of 1960–61 occurs in the context of trying to solve the food problem that long plagued China.
Question: But what about the sheer scale of deaths—there are studies that say that 30, 40, 50 million people died.
RL: Look, there’s a veritable cottage industry of inflating deaths during the Great Leap Forward. It’s based on unreliable census data and all kinds of statistical manipulation. A lot of the estimates of deaths are based on the difference between what would have been the expected normal population growth, and what the actual population was. The methods are very dubious. For instance, because of the hardships during the food crisis, birth rates fell, but some of those unborn get counted in the numbers of “excess deaths.” Or, to take another example, there was migration out of villages during the Great Leap, to some degree when the Great Leap started and later as food shortages mounted—and this phenomenon contributed to miscounts of population.71
The whole enterprise of inflating death counts serves the attack on the Great Leap Forward and the Maoist revolution more generally. And it’s important to know that census numbers used by Western scholars to calculate numbers of deaths... this census data was initially released by Deng Xiaoping. Deng had opposed Mao and led the counter-revolutionary coup of 1976. In the early 1980s, he was pushing for dismantling collective farming... and death counts and higher death counts were part of the official discrediting of collective farming that was going on.72
Often, the anti-communist Western scholars use the methodology that if someone died, that was Mao’s doing, and they didn’t just die... they were “killed” by Mao... and Mao “killed” people because he was an unforgiving tyrant.
People should go to the Set the Record Straight website, where we make available material that critiques the methodology.
The main point is this: By 1970, China was, for the first time, able to solve its historic food problem. I mean, for hundreds of years China had suffered devastating cycles of drought and privation. But now there was the ability to provide for basic nutritional needs and food security, the ability to actually have a sustainable, needs-based agriculture—not one that serves world capitalism.73
This had everything to do with the Great Leap Forward and the formation of communes. It had everything to do with the collective mobilization of people to build irrigation and flood works, to reclaim and improve land, to master new agricultural techniques, and to establish small industries in the countryside. It had everything to do with the spirit of working for the common good promoted by socialist revolution.
Question: Let’s get into the Cultural Revolution that took place between 1966 and 1976. That’s the next momentous episode of the Chinese revolution.
RL: The Cultural Revolution was the high point of the first stage of communist revolution. It is the third “milestone” of the first stage of the communist revolution... I’m speaking of the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution as the first two milestones.
Now the Cultural Revolution was eventually defeated in 1976. And China is not a socialist country today. But the Cultural Revolution still inspires and is incredibly rich in lessons. Anyone who aspires to a just and liberating society and world needs to learn about... and learn from the Cultural Revolution.
Question: But Raymond, there’s all this vilification that surrounds the Cultural Revolution. How do you begin to go at this and help people see things in a scientific light?
RL: Yes, the bourgeoisie never lets up in its attacks on the Cultural Revolution. And we have to wage a real battle for the truth because this has everything to do with human possibility. What was the Cultural Revolution about? What problems in society and the world was it confronting? What were its actual aims? What were its predominant forms of activity and struggle? What did it actually accomplish? How did society and people change through it?
To even pose these questions for serious investigation and exploration takes us to a different plane of discussion. And by pursuing and answering these questions on this scientific foundation, we do get at the actual truth of the Cultural Revolution.
Now in evaluating any historical period or figure, there will always be countervailing or secondary trends, anomalies, what have you... but the first and main question to answer is: what is principal, what is the essence of the society, or social movement, or historical figure in question... what mainly characterizes things?
The Cultural Revolution was the most far-reaching attempt in modern history, and in human history, to revolutionize and restructure a society away from all exploitation and oppression... on the basis of the conscious involvement, the conscious activism of tens and hundreds of millions of people. During the course of this, millions and millions of people revolutionized their world outlook—that is, their basic values, their approach to reality—and the whole ethos, or spirit, of society was transformed.
Question: So what was the crux of the Cultural Revolution? We hear so much about factions and struggles and criticism and people being denounced.
RL: To get at the essence of it, we have to step back. You see, Mao had been searching for a solution to the problem of the revolution being reversed. Not from invasion or attack, real as those dangers were—but being reversed from within... I mean within the socialist system itself. This was the danger that the communist party could be turned into an instrument of a new exploiting class exercising bourgeois control and domination.
You see, a new elite could gain control of the organs of state power and then adapt those organs to reinstall relations of exploitation and oppression... while the state could remain socialist in name, and some of the outward features of socialism could be kept.
This was not an abstract question in China in 1964–66.
We were talking about the Great Leap Forward before. It was a radical break with the Western and Soviet models of development. It was a blow to the bourgeois-technocratic forces in the Party. But owing to the food crisis and famine in 1960–61 and because of the industrial dislocations caused by the sudden withdrawal of Soviet aid and technical assistance, it was necessary to make certain economic and organizational adjustments. But this gave openings to conservative forces in the Communist Party who announced themselves as the “economic realists” who could get the economy where it needed to be. And they moved with a vengeance to try to undermine the policies and spirit of the Great Leap Forward.
These forces had vast organizational strength within the Communist Party. By 1964–65, they were gaining ground. They had a coherent program. They wanted to use profit measures to decide investment priorities. They wanted an educational system, patterned after the Soviet model, to turn out professional elites and “communist elites.” They were very much entrenched in the cultural realm—opera, a highly popular art form, was still dominated by old feudal themes and characters. In effect they told workers and peasants to forget politics—“leave that to the Party and you keep your nose to the grindstone, and we’ll take care of your social welfare.”
As I explained earlier, for these conservative forces at the top levels of the Party and state, the main thing was to build China into a modern, powerful, industrialized country. This is what they identified socialism with... and they pushed and, where they could, adopted policies that served that goal and program.
Internationally, the struggle with the Soviet revisionists was intensifying. Mao was leading the struggle worldwide to demarcate real revolution from the revisionism of the Soviet Union—and the Soviets were trying to isolate China. Meanwhile, the U.S. imperialists were rapidly escalating the war in Vietnam. North Vietnam borders on China, and there was a real danger at the time that the U.S. would escalate further and attack China. In this setting, some of these revisionist-conservative forces argued to cool out the ideological struggle with the Soviets. And they were positioning to adopt for China the Soviet model (which had become a capitalist system within an institutional framework of state ownership and state planning that was socialist only in name).74
Remember, we talked about how Mao had studied the Soviet experience very deeply. He analyzed that Stalin’s purges of the 1930s did not solve the problem of preventing counter-revolution in the Soviet Union. For one thing, the masses of workers and peasants were largely left passive. They didn’t develop the conscious understanding to enable them to distinguish between programs and outlooks that would propel society forward to communism... and programs and policies that would lead back to capitalism. And the Communist Party and the institutions of the state were not revolutionized by the purges.
Mao was dealing with a world-historic problem of communist revolution. How do you prevent counter-revolution, but prevent it in a way that is consistent with getting to a communist world? How do you prevent counter-revolution in a way that enables the masses to play the decisive, conscious role in changing society and changing themselves? How do you keep the party on the revolutionary road, and fight against the pulls to “settle in” and become a new exploiting class?
This was the challenge. And it was getting posed very acutely in terms of what was going on in Chinese society in the early 1960s... because these capitalist-roaders were poised to seize power.
The broader situation in society was going in their favor, if you want to put it that way.
Question: What do you mean by that? Wasn’t Mao still leading things?
RL: Look, the Party had become very calcified, with these revisionist forces having a lot of authority and influence... that was a big problem. But there was another big problem. People were too accepting of routine. You know, over the course of the previous 17 years, there had been great improvements in people’s material and social well-being. This created a certain pull, especially among those who suffered greatly in the old society, not to question things. Also, because of all that was accomplished under the Party’s leadership, many peasants and workers assumed that their leaders, if they called themselves “communists,” must be good, must be communists. And in many factory units and rural areas, people were simply too scared to criticize leadership. How do you puncture this willingness to go along with the status quo?
So this was the situation, the necessity, that Mao was facing. Mao was searching for a solution. And the Cultural Revolution marked the breakthrough. It wasn’t going to be a top-down removal of revisionist authority. It was to be a revolution that would involve and require mobilizing the masses, in their millions, from below. Through mass political and ideological struggle led by the revolutionary core of the Party, the masses could come to understand issues of right and wrong, of revolution and revisionism... and on that basis play the decisive role in politically striking down the bourgeois power centers within the Communist Party. The Cultural Revolution was about revolutionizing all of society and people’s thinking.
In deciding to launch the Cultural Revolution, Mao was taking an incredible risk. I talked about the international situation, with the U.S. imperialists in Vietnam and the Soviets’ maneuvering.
So how could you shake things up and initiate this kind of momentous struggle? Mao was looking for a source of dynamism and rebellion. Where was it in society? Mao looked to the youth. They were not, as many older people were, so much comparing things to how they used to be... but to how they could be.
Mao looked to the youth to be catalysts. Mao wanted to unleash the questioning and rebellious spirit of youth.
You had the Red Guards. These were organizations of revolutionary high school and college students and other youth. They organized protests and demonstrations. They called out university administrators for acting like overlords. They launched criticisms of various Party leaders. This was the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards helped spread the message that “it is right to rebel against reactionaries,” as Mao had put it.75
The schools shut down for a year, and the government allowed the youth to ride the trains free. They fanned out to different regions, hiking even to remote areas, meeting with people, like the peasants, whom they’d been taught to look down upon. They emboldened people to raise their heads and ask: “What policies serving what goals are in command here? Where’s the revolution here?”76
Question: Raymond, you’ve used phrases like capitalist-roaders, and maybe you should explain what this is about.
RL: Mao discovered that the roots of the problem of the revolution being reversed are in the very nature, the contradictory nature, of socialist society. On the one hand, socialism is a great leap, a leap beyond exploitation and the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Socialism makes it possible to carry out fundamental economic and social change in the interests of the masses and enables the masses to transform society.
On the other hand, socialism is a society in transition. It is a transition from capitalism—with all its class divisions, exploitation, and inequalities—to communism, a world without classes. And socialism carries the economic, social, and ideological scars of the old society. There are still differences in development between industry and agriculture, between town and country, and between regions. There is the ages-old division between mental and manual labor. There are still differences in pay, and money and price are still in use.
These “leftovers” from capitalist society contain the seeds of capitalism. Take money and prices, which are used under socialism in the exchange of goods and to assist economic planning and to help evaluate efficiency. But the existence of money and prices can also influence decision-making in a capitalist direction... towards producing according to what yields the most money.
There are also the oppressive institutions and ideas that reinforced the old society. I’m talking about patriarchy, racism, and national chauvinism. These things do not just “automatically” disappear once their material basis is undercut with the overthrow of capitalism. They actually have to be gone after in their own right. And there is also the force of habit and thousands of years of exploiting class ideas and ways of thinking.
Getting to communism requires overcoming these economic and social inequalities, these commodity relations, and these oppressive social institutions and ideas. This is not going to happen overnight. Marx actually thought this transition would be relatively brief, but this has proven to be wrong. It’s going to require a protracted and complex process of revolutionary struggle and transformation—on a world scale.
So there’s going to be struggle at any given time over how—or even whether—to transform and restrict these birthmarks of socialist society that I have been describing. Mao summed up that this is actually a struggle between the socialist road and the capitalist road... between policies and lines that would continue the advance to communism, and those that would take society in a different direction, back towards capitalism, as has happened today in China.
Now Mao analyzed that the social inequalities and differences that continue to exist in socialist society, along with the fact that money, prices, and contracts continue to play a significant role in the socialist economy, are all part of the soil out of which new privileged forces and a new bourgeoisie grow in socialist society.
And he took this analysis further. He showed that the core of a new bourgeois class under socialism is found within the top reaches of the communist party and socialist state. These are the capitalist-roaders. They fight for policies that widen these gaps and rely on methods and means handed down from exploiting class society and, because they have the power to influence how production is carried out, they actually become the concentration point of a new bourgeoisie, right within socialist society and right within the party itself. They were trying to seize power... and that’s why Mao and the revolutionary core launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966.77
You have to realize what a theoretical breakthrough Mao was making. Mao was applying Marxist categories to the political economy of socialism, and in the process extending and enriching these categories. He showed that socialist relations of production are highly contradictory, that there are bourgeois aspects within them. He showed that capitalism could re-emerge within the framework of formal socialist state ownership. And he took Lenin’s insight that “politics is concentrated economics” to elucidate how certain high-party leaders can actually become the personification of capitalist relations of production. Mao and the revolutionary leadership were putting these kinds of issues before the masses through the course of the Cultural Revolution. The revolutionary headquarters, as it was called, was leading people to study and understand the “deep structure” of society and to interrogate the fabric of society.78
You know, the anti-communist narrative is that Mao was this paranoid despot, just inventing enemies for his own convenience. No, the Cultural Revolution was about the fate of a revolution that involved one-quarter of humanity. It was monumental struggle about continuing the struggle for a new, liberating world... against those capitalist-roaders who wanted to take China back to capitalism.
Question: Could you tell us more about the feel and flow of the Cultural Revolution?
RL: It was a real revolution. It was full of invention and innovation. It inspired tens of millions but also shocked and disturbed tens of millions at its outset. It became very wild: street rallies, protests, strikes, and demonstrations. There were what were called “big character posters” going up all over the place, with people posting comments and critiques of policies and leaders. Some of these were very sophisticated, and some were simple. Public facilities were made available for meetings and debates. Small newspapers flourished. In Beijing alone, there were over 900 newspapers. Materials and facilities for these activities were made available free, including paper, ink, brushes, posters, printing presses, halls for meetings, and public address and sound systems.
Then, as the Cultural Revolution took hold among the workers, it took a new turn. Forty million workers around the country engaged in intense and complicated mass struggles and upheavals to seize power from entrenched municipal party and city administrations that were hotbeds of conservatism. Sometimes these were work stoppages, sometimes these were struggles not to stop work... sometimes these were massive demonstrations, sometimes all-night mass debates, often involving students and Red Guards. Posters were up everywhere, with crowds gathered round intently reading them and debating them... as I said, it was very wild, very revolutionary.
It got very intense. In Shanghai in the autumn of 1966, there were some 700 organizations in the factories.79 The revolutionary forces were mobilizing. These capitalist-roaders, they fought back. They had their mass organizations, they tried to discredit the revolutionaries, and they tried to buy people off with wage increases.
Eventually, the revolutionary workers, with Maoist leadership, were able to unite broad sections of the city’s population. And in January 1967, they broke the hold of the revisionist capitalist-roaders who were running the city. They seized the main municipal building, took over the communications hubs, and began organizing distribution of basic goods in the city. This was the Shanghai “January Storm.”
And what followed was extraordinary: people began to hold mass discussions and mass debates about how to run the city, about what kinds of political structures would best serve the goals of the revolution. They began to experiment with new institutions of citywide political governance. There was debate... and real challenges were being thrown up about what kinds of organs of political power, what kinds of institutions, correspond to the needs of advancing the revolution.
Big questions were getting posed and were also getting summed up at the highest leadership levels of the Cultural Revolution. For instance, how can you allow for the greatest and most meaningful decision-making by the masses? But at the same time, how can you develop institutions and structures that are strong enough to prevent counter-revolution? How can you have broad involvement and debate... but at the same time maintain revolutionary leadership and give revolutionary direction to the institutions of power?
Because you’re not just dealing with a city like Shanghai as a city unto itself, but trying to develop a system of governance and exercising power that is taking account of the larger needs of the revolution—for instance sending doctors or skilled technical personnel to other parts of the country where they might be needed... or even to other parts of the world to support revolution.
This was the kind of process of experimentation, debate, and summation going on in the first year or two of the Cultural Revolution. And eventually a new institution of political power was established, called the “revolutionary committee.” It combined great mass involvement and a special leading position played by the Party. These lessons were being applied and changes were taking place at basic levels of society... in factories, hospitals, schools and so forth.80
Mao said there could be no revolution if it doesn’t transform customs, habits, and ways of thinking. When I was talking about the Soviet Union, I mentioned Mao’s statement, “What good is state ownership of factories, warehouses, if cooperative values are not being forged?” A theme I’ve been hammering at, I mean it’s what Mao was emphasizing and what communism involves... you have to be changing circumstances and changing thinking and values. And for whom and for what: for narrow self-interest or for the betterment of humanity? People were discussing these kinds of things in the midst of the great battles of the Cultural Revolution. People were transforming society and the world, and the relations between people, and their own world outlook and understanding, in a very intertwined process.
You know, early in the Cultural Revolution, Mao made this crucial observation. He said that while the target of the Cultural Revolution was the capitalist-roaders, the goal was to change world outlook—enabling the masses to more deeply and scientifically understand society and the world, their own transformative role, and questions of ideology and morality.81
Question: What about the level of violence during the Cultural Revolution?
RL: Violence broke out at times, but that was not what Mao was calling for, nor was it the main character of the Cultural Revolution. Its main forms of struggle were mass debate, mass political mobilization, and mass criticism.
Mao’s orientation was clearly spelled out in official and widely publicized documents. In the 16-Point Decision that guided the Cultural Revolution, it was stated, “Where there is debate, it should be conducted by reasoning and not by force.”82 This wasn’t some esoteric Party document. It was popularized throughout society.
There was sharp ideological and political struggle against revisionist authority and capitalist-roaders, on a societal scale. And as I was saying, the capitalist-roaders fought back. They organized among the youth, among the workers, and among intellectuals. Look, this was a two-sided struggle.
Now with regard to the violence that did happen... first off, it’s important to understand that some of the violence that did occur during the Cultural Revolution—and as I said this was not the main way it was fought—was actually fanned by high-ranking capitalist-roaders seeking to defend their entrenched positions and to discredit the Cultural Revolution.
Also in this situation, you had Red Guards who got carried away in their zeal to rid society of bourgeois influences and committed excesses, roughing people up. You had some people who were using the Cultural Revolution to settle old scores and grievances.
Another thing that made the Cultural Revolution complicated was the fact that there were cliques, or organized groupings, within the Party that posed as supporters, even “hard-core supporters,” of the Cultural Revolution... but who were actually pursuing a different, and ultimately sharply opposed, “agenda.”
Mao and the revolutionary leaders had to lead the masses to sort things out, to sum up lessons and methods of struggle, and to consolidate gains in understanding. Acts of violence were criticized, condemned, and struggled against by the Maoist revolutionary leadership—through statements, directives, editorials, and on-the-ground intervention.
When you actually study what people who were working with Mao said and did, it is clear that they fought for people to unite around their most fundamental interests and highest aspirations, to wage struggle over principle from a lofty plane, and to help people resist getting caught up in sectarian feuds. For instance, there was a famous incident at a university in Beijing. Student activists got caught up in factional fighting, and it took a violent turn. The Maoist leadership dispatched unarmed teams of workers to help stop the fighting and help people sort out differences.83
Question: So was it just endless struggle? I mean, where was this going?
RL: Well, the Cultural Revolution went through phases. There was the period of 1966 to 1968 where people rose up, and you had the overthrow of many of these top capitalist-roaders, with all the kinds of struggles and debates that I’ve been describing. Then the Cultural Revolution takes another turn. It becomes possible to consolidate gains and carry forward with social and institutional transformation, and this is actually coming out of the struggles and experimentation going on.
And we see these great changes that take place in the basic institutions and running of society.84
Question: Maybe you could give us some examples.
RL: Okay, well, one big emphasis of the Cultural Revolution was taking up the question of overcoming, and working to overcome, the historic division between people who work with ideas and those who work with their backs. How to do this? I want to get into that whole topic more later, but for now the important thing is that in most societies this isn’t even a question—it’s just taken for granted that some people are going to work with ideas and get the training to develop those skills, and others aren’t; that’s going to lead to relations of inequality. It’s an oppressive division, and the educational system under capitalism is geared to reproducing that, and so if you just take over the old educational system under capitalism and try to spread it around, you’re still going to have this oppressive relation taking root and spreading.
So, with that in mind, the educational system was totally changed. The old teaching methods, where students are just passive receptacles of knowledge and are driven to grub for grades, and the teachers are absolute authorities—that was challenged, very sharply. Instead, the critical spirit was fostered. Study was combined with productive activity. The elite admissions policies into the universities that gave sons and daughters of Party members and professionals a kind of special track... these were overhauled. There was a big push to bring young people of peasant and worker background into those universities. After high school, students of different social backgrounds would spend two years in factories or on communes, then they would apply to college... and part of the entrance process was recommendations and evaluations by people on the communes and in the factories.85
Under capitalism, knowledge is viewed in a certain way: as a tool to gain competitive advantage over others, as a ladder to individual success, as a source of private gain and prestige. And some of this mentality carries over to socialist society, and is another seed of capitalism. Under socialism knowledge is put in the service of society and the world, in the service of a society breaking down inequalities and changing the world for the benefit of humanity, and going after, again, that very oppressive and deep-rooted division between people who are trained to work with ideas and those who are locked out of that.
Out of the Cultural Revolution came what were called “socialist new things” that reflected new socialist relations and values.
One of the most exciting breakthroughs was what was called “open door” research. Scientists would go to the countryside to conduct experiments among peasants. Research stations were set up close to the fields. Specialists from the cities alongside and with peasants carried out experiments... in hybrid grains, insect-life cycles, and other aspects of science. Scientists would be learning about the lives of the peasants and from the questions and insights of the peasants, and the peasants would be learning about the scientific method.
In the cities, leading educational institutions and research institutes developed cooperative relationships with factories, neighborhood committees, and other organizations. People came to laboratories and laboratories went to the people. You had innovative arrangements, like women from a neighborhood factory that was producing parts for an advanced computer—they weren’t working as super-exploited outsourced labor, as in the world capitalist system today, but as part of an economy serving the people... anyway, these women would be going to the research institutes and seeing how the computers were used, and people in the institutes would be going to the local factories.86
All this was about breaking down walls and social distinctions.
Question: You’re describing a very different kind of social fabric.
RL: Totally. We’re talking about two different worlds.
There was the “barefoot doctor” movement. Young people in the cities and young educated peasants were being trained to provide preventive medicine and basic medical care. They went to different parts of the countryside. They were called “barefoot doctors” because they were in the rural areas and it was very rudimentary... but this was contributing to meeting basic health needs of people. There were 1.3 million barefoot doctors.87
And this was just one breakthrough in health care practices during the Cultural Revolution. There was a tremendous push to combine traditional medicine, like acupuncture, with modern medicine. There was further revolutionization of doctor-patient relations, challenging the notion of patients as mere passive recipients of treatment. There were great advances in research and actual discovery. Insulin was synthesized.88
One of the great, untold medical stories of the Cultural Revolution concerns malaria treatment. The Vietnamese liberation fighters, taking on U.S. imperialism, were suffering from new strains of malaria—and in the late 1960s the Vietnamese leadership appealed to China for assistance. Mao initiated a major crash collective program. One group of researchers screened 40,000 chemicals while another researched traditional medicines, sending envoys to villages. An incredibly effective new cure for malaria was developed, and it only became acknowledged as a major breakthrough by the international medical community in the 1980s.89
People don’t realize that revolutionary China established the most egalitarian health care system in the world, based on the principle of serving the people, and that essential primary care was reaching practically the entire population. Life expectancy doubled, from 32 years in 1949 to 65 years in 1976.90 And by the early 1970s, Shanghai had a lower infant mortality rate than did New York City.91
In terms of innovations and transformations in other spheres. You had the practice of criticism and mass supervision of Party members, where basic people would make criticism of Party members. These were things institutionalized through the great upheavals and challenges of the Cultural Revolution.
There were big changes in factory management, the practice of what was called “the two participations”—workers participate in management and managers participate in productive labor. The old system of tight control through rules and regulations that often turned workers into no more than extensions of the machinery was challenged.
The Cultural Revolution created a larger culture, where people were paying attention to the big questions of society. The factories weren’t simply production units. They became sites of political struggle, of political study, theoretical study. Cultural troupes were formed in the factories.92
Question: Going back to your earlier argument about how you see what is a rational way to organize society depends on what kind of world you’re trying to get to, I can envision capitalists, and people who think like them, exclaiming, “That’s no way to run a factory! That’s insane!” What about the arts?
RL: There was an explosion of artistic activity among workers and peasants—poetry, painting, music, short stories, and even film. Mass art projects and new kinds of popular and collaborative artistic undertakings spread, including to the countryside and remote areas. One of the most famous of these was the Rent Collection Courtyard.93 This was a group of statues that movingly illustrated the suffering in the old society... you see the peasants handing over their meager harvests as rent and taxes. This was a joint sculptural work of students and teachers, and it was installed on site in the house of a former landlord. This kind of work reached a very high level of artistic expression and revolutionary content.94
The Cultural Revolution also produced what were called “model revolutionary works.” They were pacesetters, which people all over China could use as models in their development of numerous artistic works. Revolutionary model operas and model ballets put the masses on stage front and center. They conveyed their lives, and their role in society and history. These model works were of an extraordinarily high level, combining traditional Chinese forms with Western instruments and techniques.
And strong women figured prominently in the revolutionary operas. Where before the ballets still had that sort of dainty, delicate influence—now the ballets were infused with athleticism. So they were not only dealing with themes of women’s emancipation, but you actually saw women dancing in far more innovative and athletic ways. You were seeing new syntheses, new hybrid forms, through the creation of these model operas. So this is what was going on—and different Peking Opera companies would tour in the countryside, helping local culture groups to develop while learning from local performances.95
You know, the Cultural Revolution actually had a very big social and cultural impact in China’s countryside. There had been big changes prior to the Cultural Revolution. I talked about what happened during the Great Leap Forward, and how people’s material lives had improved. But the influence of old ways of organizing village life, the role of the family and extended family... and just the fact that life was more contained in the countryside, without the same bustle and intensity and diversity of the city... this had a conservatizing effect. Well, the Cultural Revolution began to shake this up too.96
I remember reading an account from someone who grew up in a rural village during the Cultural Revolution. He talked about how the people in his village learned to read and write by getting into the texts of plays and operas produced during the Cultural Revolution and incorporated local language and music into adaptations. He wrote about how cultural and social life in the villages changed, including sports and study, and how this gave people a chance to meet and communicate... and fall in love. A new public sphere was replacing the more narrow household and village clan.97
You know, people are always told that communism won’t work because it “goes against human nature”... that people are “by their nature” selfish. But that’s not a statement about human nature... it’s a statement about “human nature under capitalism”... what gets promoted and reinforced by a system based on competition and private ownership, where people have to compete for jobs, education, everything, even personal relationships... and where you have a system based on profit which promotes “me-first” “winner take all...”
But socialism opens up a whole realm of freedom for people to change their circumstances and change their thinking. This is what happened during the Cultural Revolution. You had an economic system based on using resources for the betterment of society and humanity. You had new social relations and institutions that enabled people to cooperate with one another and maximize their contributions towards liberating society and the world. Through the Cultural Revolution, people’s sense of social responsibility changed... a new social environment was created that valued cooperation and solidarity.
This was real and it affected what people felt was meaningful and important in their lives... and how they acted. It wasn’t some perfect utopia... but real people changing society and their ways of thinking. The slogan “serve the people” was popularized during the Cultural Revolution, and people were really measuring their lives, and the lives of others, with that in mind.98
And when capitalism was restored in China in 1976, and the old dog-eat-dog economic relations brought back... people changed back again—back towards the old “me against you” outlook. They changed not because a primordial human nature had somehow reasserted itself, but because society had changed back to capitalism!
Question: You’ve touched quite a bit on the countryside and cities. What about the policies of sending intellectuals and professionals to the countryside? This is very controversial.
RL: The policies of sending intellectuals and artists to the countryside were not punitive. During the Cultural Revolution, artists, doctors, technical and scientific workers, and all kinds of people were called on to go among the workers and peasants: to apply their skills to the needs of society, to share the lives of the laboring people, to exchange knowledge, and to learn from the basic people.
We’re told that going to the countryside was a form of persecution. But having workers and peasants come into the universities and having professionals go to the countryside—this was not about rewards and punishments. One of the objectives of the Cultural Revolution was to break down the cultural lopsidedness that existed in China. It was a social situation in which artists, intellectuals, and professionals were concentrated in the cities, and in which their work was often carried out in ivory tower-like separation from the rest of society, especially from the 80 percent that lived in the countryside.
The policy of sending professionals to the countryside has to be seen in the larger social-economic context of Maoist China’s quest to achieve balanced and egalitarian development. In the Third World, there is a crisis of chaotic urbanization and distorted development: overgrown and environmentally unsustainable cities with rings of squalid shantytowns; massive inflows of rural migrants who cannot find work; economic policies, educational systems, and health care infrastructure skewed to the well-off in the cities at the expense of the urban poor and the people in the countryside.
The Cultural Revolution spawned society-wide discussion about the need to narrow the inequalities between mental and manual labor, between city and countryside, between industry and agriculture, and between men and women. Breaking down these inequalities and gaps was part of a process of overcoming social division and advancing society’s knowledge and understanding and capabilities—for the benefit of society as a whole.
Question: I see your point about inequalities between the cities and the countryside. But why was there such an emphasis on sending intellectuals to the countryside? Some people allege that intellectuals were simply being ordered to take part in physical labor and farming and working in factories, and that was it. How do you answer this?
RL: What’s really important to grasp here is that the Cultural Revolution was addressing this world-historic question... of the great gulf between mental and manual labor, which I was talking about earlier and which I want to get into more deeply now.
Now most people today take it for granted, or as a given, that there will always be some people who mainly work with their backs and hands, and those who work with their minds. And it’s certainly true that this divide has existed for a long, long time. It goes back thousands and thousands of years and emerged with the division of early human society into classes.
So there has been this condition of human society in which intellectual life and activity, responsibilities of administering and running affairs of society, artistic and cultural endeavor... these things have been the province of a very tiny slice of society. But this is a product of the way human society has evolved and developed, especially since the emergence of classes and economic systems of exploitation in which a small section of society controls the labor and the product of labor of others... it’s not “hard-wired” into human beings.
The division between mental and manual labor has two big effects.
One is that people engaged in these forms of “mental labor” have certain advantages and privileges... even to just to be able to engage in this activity, and there is a superior social status that goes with that. Obviously there are the rulers of society, who have control of the means of enforcing oppressive rule: to preserve systems of exploitation and to reap the rewards of the labor of others. They monopolize the major decision-making in society. Their status is, yes, that of rulers, and the contradiction between mental and manual labor in this case is an antagonistic one. But even people who are not ruling but engaged mainly in mental labor... they still have advantages and social prestige.
As for those engaged in manual labor, they are kept in a subordinated position, “good for their hard labor” and then tossed off. And historically, manual labor has been devalued and looked down upon.
But there’s another negative effect of this division of labor. It stunts the all-around development of the individual. The masses of working people are spending the bulk of their hours doing just that, working... and working in conditions of drudgery, repetition, and often under the whip or mastery of others. They don’t have the chance to engage in the realm of working with ideas, to gain an understanding of society, and to take responsibility for managing the affairs of society. Meanwhile, those who are mainly engaged in mental labor are generally cut off from productive activity... and this stunts their all-around development and understanding of the world. People in the towns get cut off from the natural world, while people in the countryside can lead very isolated lives and become wholly immersed in the struggle with nature.
Now the founders of the science of communism, Marx along with Engels, saw this division of labor and the class antagonisms that it reflects and reinforces as a key problem that the communist revolution has to overcome. They envisioned a future communist society in which a new and higher unity of mental and manual labor is achieved—where people are both productive and creative. But getting there is a complex process... and as with so many other issues we’ve been discussing, if I might put it this way, we “learn about the learning curve” through the first stage of communist revolution.
The Soviet Union under Stalin tried to deal with this mental-manual contradiction in certain ways. One of the biggest initiatives was to promote people of working class origin into positions of management and authority, with resources devoted to training and educating workers. This was a great advance over the old society. But you know, simply putting workers into administrative positions doesn’t in and of itself solve the problem. For one thing, these administrative positions are themselves embodiments of production relations that carry the seeds of capitalism. For another, as Mao pointed out, if these workers have a bourgeois world outlook, then, from their new positions, they can be acting against the broader interests of the masses, becoming “big shots” of “humble origins.”
The Cultural Revolution was going at the mental-manual labor contradiction differently. For instance, as I mentioned, it was not just putting workers in management positions but revolutionizing the whole concept of management. And in addition to undertaking differing tasks and responsibilities, the masses were being led to take up the big social, political, and ideological questions of society and the world. So the mental-manual contradiction was being worked on in a fuller way in the Cultural Revolution than had been the case in the Soviet Union. It wasn’t just “promote the workers.”99
The policy of sending educated youth and intellectuals to the countryside was another important part of this. Enabling intellectuals to learn from the life experience of basic working people and to share knowledge, and to get a living sense of how their intellectual work was part of a larger project of transforming and revolutionizing society.
And this was very exciting and very meaningful for lots of people. There’s a professor of literature I know who grew up during the Cultural Revolution. As a young woman she went to the countryside... and she’s written about this. She came from an intellectual background in the city. She worked alongside peasants, she studied local languages, she got into theory with peasants. And for her, this was an incredible and life-transforming experience... a life of purpose that doesn’t exist for young people in U.S. society.100
Question: But people will tell you that, in a country like the U.S., you can make your purpose out of your own lives.
RL: Look, in 1968–69 in the U.S., if you were a young man without a college education or deferment, there was a good chance you’d be drafted into the army to commit genocide against the Vietnamese people. That’s a life of purpose? In China, young people and professionals were going to the countryside as part of creating a new world.
You know, I remember after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, there were all kinds of people—nurses, engineers, drivers, all kinds of people—who wanted to go down there to help. But it wasn’t possible, at least not on a large scale... that’s not how U.S. society is set up. I mean, it’s not an economic-social system where real social priorities inform what happens in society. I also remember how during the Easter break following Katrina, college students from different parts of the country went to New Orleans to join with the masses in rebuilding their lives. But this was small scale and very temporary.
Imagine a society where this is the norm, not the exception. Where people have the capability to work for the common good, to apply their skills and energy to this, and where social decisions are being made to further that. Imagine a society where that kind of impulse we saw with Katrina is given backing by the state power... even as that power is careful not to “suffocate it with support”... in other words, there has to be room for people to try new things and go in new directions.
As I pointed out earlier, in revolutionary China educated people were called on to apply their skills to the needs of society, to share the lives of laboring people, and to learn from the basic people. And great numbers of youth and professionals answered the Cultural Revolution’s call to “serve the people” and go to the countryside and set examples for others. There was an appeal to people’s higher interests and aspirations of serving the people.
And this was made a mass question: What’s more important, that a skilled doctor have the “right” to a privileged life in the city, or that health care be made widely available, so that people in the countryside have a right to decent care? This was a major question, because on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, 70 to 75 percent of government health expenditures were concentrated in the cities, where only 20 percent of the population lived. But by the early 1970s, you now had a situation where, at any given time, about one-third of urban hospital personnel were in the countryside, in mobile teams.101 This was a tremendous thing.
But great as these breakthroughs were... still, there were problems in how this contradiction between mental and manual labor was being worked at... in how Mao and the revolutionary leadership were approaching overcoming the differences between intellectuals and other sections of society, especially the formerly oppressed and exploited.
Question: What kinds of problems?
RL: This is something I’m going to get into later, when we talk about Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism.
But in terms of the policy of sending intellectuals to the countryside... it was strongly guided by this idea of “remolding the intellectuals.” This was problematic. Now, that phrase, “remolding the intellectuals,” which was used in China at the time, doesn’t mean anything like the anti-communist translation: “force the intellectuals to stop thinking.” It involved struggling against elitist attitudes. But the approach was one-sided. As though the intellectuals, just because they were engaged in mental labor and had associated privileges... were a source of problems in society. And their values and thinking, those of the intellectuals, were being singled out.
There was one-sided emphasis on overcoming the division between mental and manual labor—from the side of overcoming the privileges and prejudices of the intellectuals. Now there are elitist attitudes and values of intellectuals stemming from the particular position they occupy in society. But workers and peasants are also influenced by bourgeois ideology, including resentments towards intellectuals, or bowing down to them. Everyone’s thinking must be transformed... as part of becoming emancipators of humanity.
What I’m saying is that the Cultural Revolution, overall, marked a real advance in working on the contradiction between mental and manual labor. It was pathbreaking. But it wasn’t the full synthesis needed. And we can get into this more later.
Question: There are these memoirs about how bad it was to go to the countryside and how people suffered. What should people make of these memoirs?
RL: Let me emphasize this about memoirs... and any historian worth her salt will tell you the same thing. While some memoirs actually can capture and analyze the main lines and trends of the whole historical period the author lived through, most tend to be limited to what the author directly experienced. Memoirs are not, in general—and again, there are and can be exceptions—works of scientific investigation and synthesis. Memoirs don’t necessarily capture the broad, diverse, and complex social canvas that is history... or get to the essence of different and contending social and class forces, of programs and outlooks that get battled out in society and the world. That doesn’t make them useless... they can shed light on certain things, but we just have to be aware of what they are... what their limitations are. There are bigger social dynamics, and these are the context for everyone’s individual experience.
Now when you get to a situation like the Cultural Revolution, where there was huge social upheaval and this included some people losing privileges and others being the victims of excesses in what was overall a righteous cause, it gets very complex.
You know, I was reading a discussion on memoir literature by J. Arch Getty. He’s an historian of the Soviet revolution. And he made the point that you would never attempt to understand a major event like the French Revolution through personal stories... you know, the telling of “here’s what I went through,” or “what I heard,” etc. But somehow, he went on to point out, when it comes to the Soviet revolution during the Stalin period, it’s perfectly permissible to make grand analytical generalizations on the basis of history-by-anecdote.102 And the same applies in spades to the Cultural Revolution. You can’t understand all of what we’ve been getting into in this interview, in terms of the mainsprings and main character, as well as the complexity, of the Cultural Revolution... through memoir literature.
It’s important to keep this point of methodology in mind.
In addition, there’s the fact that only a certain kind of memoir, those that are the complaints of those who saw their privileges come under attack during the Cultural Revolution—these are the memoirs that get promoted in U.S. society, in the schools, what have you... as part of the bourgeoisie’s ideological assault against communism. It’s as if someone from another country were to try to understand the 1960s and 1970s, without knowing anything about the whole history of slavery and Jim Crow and then further oppression and discrimination in the northern U.S., solely by reading the memoir of a white person denied admission to a college that had an affirmative action program for minorities. (See “A Reader Responds to ‘What’s Wrong with “History by Memoir”?’”)
Question: Raymond, let’s move on to the course of the Cultural Revolution. You’ve talked about these two phases of the Cultural Revolution—the big upheavals of the early years and then some of the consolidation and transformation. What was going on in the later years of the Cultural Revolution?
RL: The Cultural Revolution began in 1966—and then it went through these phases I’ve described. And by the early 1970s, the class struggle was sharpening. It was a complex situation. There was resistance and opposition to the Cultural Revolution from reactionary forces. Among the masses, there were the really radical-minded who were fighting to defend and carry forward the Cultural Revolution... there were those who were with it some of the time and not so excited at other times... and there were backward people who just opposed it.
Most importantly, the capitalist-roaders were mobilizing continually around their program... even as they had suffered these big setbacks and defeats during the early years of the Cultural Revolution.
Mao had analyzed that the two roads that open up after the seizure of power, the capitalist road and the socialist road... this is not a situation for a few years or something. It is a defining feature of a relatively long socialist transition period. And, as Mao also emphasized: who wins out... that’s not a settled question, until you actually get to communism and overcome the division of world society into classes.
Mao kept warning of the danger of capitalist restoration. The masses have state power under socialism, but the revolution has to continue. As we were talking about before, you’re dealing with the scars of class society—with continuing differences between town and country, with the lingering hierarchy of specialization, with money still playing a role in the management of economy, with the fact that there is that gulf between mental and manual labor.
There is the influence of old ideas and values, of the force of habit... of going along, bowing to convention, keeping to “tried and true” ways, and so on. The position of women in society, achieving the full emancipation of women, and waging struggle against the roots and persistence of patriarchy in its many forms... this is a crucial question of the socialist transition.
This is what faces the revolution in power.
Question: You’re talking about the general character and the general challenges before socialist society. But what did that mean at the time, in terms of these phases of the Cultural Revolution?
RL: The specific situation, the concrete juncture facing the revolutionaries, was very difficult from 1973 until 1976. And it’s not just what was going on in China at the time. There was the whole international situation, and how this was interpenetrating with and impacting the class struggle in China. I can only touch on some of the key aspects of what was going on.
Let me start with the international situation in the early 1970s. There was a growing danger of war, including the possibility of an attack on China by the Soviet Union. People might not know... but by the early 1970s the largest concentration of land troops in the world was on the Chinese-Soviet border, with two armies facing each other. At the same time, there had been developments in China, including outright betrayal, among some people who formerly played a leading role in the Cultural Revolution. This created a great deal of confusion among people, and this had to be sorted through and understood.
One of the defining challenges facing Mao and the revolutionaries in this period was how to confront this danger of war and at the same time keep the Cultural Revolution going. You see, a grouping of capitalist-roaders associated with top party leaders Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai was trying to seize on this sharp and fraught international situation to put an end to... to reverse the Cultural Revolution. They were arguing: “enough of this Cultural Revolution, we need to get down to the business of creating a modern army and efficient economy.” By which they meant a capitalist economy and military. They were fighting for their program at the top levels of the Party... and mobilizing social forces in society.
They still had vast strength in the Party, in the government, and in the military. And they appealed to the masses in a certain way. They were saying that if China plugged into the world economy, society would be better off: living standards of the basic working people would rise, China’s economy would be strengthened, and would be in a better position to meet the war danger. They appealed to the young people of more privileged backgrounds that the Cultural Revolution was robbing them of “careers.”
Mao and the revolutionary headquarters in the Party were mobilizing the masses to confront this situation that I am describing. Leading the masses to defend the new changes in education, including enrolling young people of worker and peasant backgrounds in the universities... leading people to defend the revolutionary cultural works, like the operas... the new types of management in factories... the whole thing we talked about in terms of young people going to the countryside.
It was a complicated struggle that the revolutionaries were waging. They were calling on people to defend these “socialist new things” in the face of efforts by the capitalist-roaders to discredit and undermine them... again in the name of stability. And the revolutionaries weren’t just arguing to defend what had been gained through the Cultural Revolution but calling on people to go further in the struggle to revolutionize society and people’s thinking.
They were promoting the study of Marxist theory. They were exposing the program and line of the capitalist-roaders. They were raising to society the great stakes... for the masses in China and for the cause of communism... the great stakes of this struggle to beat back the attempts by the capitalist-roaders to reverse the achievements of the Cultural Revolution. There were outbreaks of protest—some organized by the capitalist-roaders... others by the revolutionary masses against them. The revolutionaries looked, always, to mobilizing the conscious activism of the masses in this complicated struggle.
The struggle went through sharp twists and turns. And as it wore on and intensified, the mood among sections of the masses was affected. Some people who had gone along with the Cultural Revolution in its early phases were now beginning to tire. This is the reality of the class struggle. But in the face of all of this, the revolutionaries fought very hard in the struggle—to bring out the issues and to re-seize initiative.
This was “Mao’s last great battle.” It was heroic... it was epochal.
It was also in this period of 1973 to 1976 that Mao and the revolutionaries he led made important theoretical contributions to our understanding of the nature of socialist society, the class struggle under socialism, and the goal of communism. The revolutionaries also made some secondary mistakes and errors... and these too carry important lessons.103
These are just broad brushstrokes here. If people want to get a deep analysis of Mao’s “last great battle” and its lessons, they should look at works of Bob Avakian like The Loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of Mao Tsetung, Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions,104 and Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will.
When Mao died in September 1976... that was the signal to the reactionaries within the Party. In October they staged a military coup. They immediately moved against the revolutionary core at the top levels of the Party and deployed troops in key parts of the country. There was resistance. But the suppression was quick and harsh, with large numbers of arrests and executions.
Socialism in China was defeated. The first stage of communist revolution came to an end.
Question: Raymond, we’ve discussed the first stage of communist revolution in some depth and you’ve brought into sharp and vivid focus these unparalleled transformations and achievements... and some of the problems as well. But at the end of the day, there was this defeat. What did that mean at the time and where does it leave us today?
Raymond Lotta: The defeat in China was a real turning point. There was confusion, shock, and disorientation in the international communist movement—I’m referring to forces generally describing themselves as Maoist. And you had this kind of response among broader radical and progressive forces as well.
Not a few so-called communists went along with the new leadership in China. They pointed to the apparent support that the new leadership had among sections of the Chinese masses... and were fine with the lip service paid to socialism and communism by the capitalist roaders who had staged the coup. Others sank into bewilderment and demoralization. Still others wallowed in the agnosticism of “who’s to say, who’s to know” and elected to “sit it out”... or just went on as though this massive reversal didn’t really matter that much.
It was in these circumstances that Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, rose to fill a great and historic need: to make an accounting both of what had happened in China and the responsibilities this placed on genuine revolutionaries.
In 1977, BA wrote a comprehensive analysis of the coup. He explained that a revisionist line had won out in China. He exposed how this line was expressed in various spheres. He delineated the fault lines of the class struggle in China, and how this got concentrated at the highest levels of leadership. He upheld Mao and his closest followers, the so-called “gang of four.” And he waged a very complex and very principled struggle to get the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA—the party he led and leads today—to take a correct stand on this issue, despite some very underhanded opposition by a faction within the RCP.105
No one else in the world undertook this kind of analysis and evaluation. BA deeply confronted reality in its complexity, and drew scientific conclusions: the proletarian revolution suffered its second great loss... first the Soviet Union and now China... and it’s on us, the genuine communists, to learn, to sum up, and to go forward.
In the period following the coup... I’m talking about 1977–79... Avakian also wrote the book Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions, in which he synthesized Mao’s qualitative contributions to the science of revolution, the most important being the theory and practice of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
BA brought scientific clarity to this crucial juncture and began to open up and chart the path to go forward. He defended the great accomplishments of Mao and the Chinese revolution, while digging deeply into the experience not only of China but of the whole first stage of communist revolution.
Question: So what does this say about what happened in China?
RL: With the benefit of the work of summation that Bob Avakian did undertake over the next three decades, we can now see more clearly two aspects of why there was this defeat. On the one hand, there were powerful objective factors working against the revolutionaries in China. I mentioned how the danger of war was affecting the situation and class struggle in China. And on a world scale, the force—and forces—of capitalism are still stronger, materially and ideologically, than those of the newly arising communist revolution. And this gets reflected within socialist society.
But there is the other aspect of what happened in China. The objective factors do not fully explain the coup. There were real problems and shortcomings in the approach and conceptions of Mao and the revolutionaries. These shortcomings were not... and I repeat they were not... the primary cause of the defeat in China. But they did contribute to the defeat.
Again, this evaluation of the relationship between objective and subjective factors and the understanding of what these shortcomings are... BA worked and fought to develop this. It’s a summation bound up with 35 years of deep and scientific wrangling and synthesis, which has led to a new synthesis of communism.
Question: Could you take us forward from the period after the coup in China?
RL: Essentially, BA begins this process of deep exploration and critical examination of the first stage of communist revolution, indeed of the whole communist project, with the work Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will, which was written in 1981. From here he continued to probe and make new discoveries. And in the more than three decades since the counter-revolution in China, Bob Avakian developed and brought forward a new synthesis of communism.
And he has been doing this, I might add, against the backdrop of the bourgeoisie’s relentless ideological assault on communism.
So let me turn to the new synthesis. It is a new, comprehensive framework through which to pursue the communist revolution. And the key link is a breakthrough in the scientific method and approach. If we are to understand and change the world in the highest interests of humanity, then we need science... we need to understand how the world really is and how the world can actually be radically transformed.106
Avakian has also further developed the internationalist framework of communism—remember, I talked about the errors made by both Stalin and even Mao on this and how those errors ended up undercutting their own efforts to defend and advance revolution—and he’s made extremely crucial advances on revolutionary strategy.107
But given the topic of this interview, I want to focus on a few key points that mainly pertain to the exercise of power and the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition to communism—even while these points I’m going to speak to reflect Avakian’s breakthroughs in method, especially the need to go unsparingly for the most comprehensive possible understanding of the truth, and the ways to get at that. And even what I’m going to get into can only touch on the richness and depth of how the new synthesis is going at these questions.
Avakian has brought forward new understanding about how power is exercised in socialist society. It is encapsulated in the formulation, “solid core with a lot of elasticity,” and it’s crystallized in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) that the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA has published. How do you hold on to power, and keep society moving in the direction towards communism... and at the same time—and this is integral to the process of getting to communism— unleash the whole of society in the effort to grasp reality and the revolutionary potential within reality to transform it and bring into being a far different and far better world?
This is about socialism as a vibrant and dynamic transition. It’s about discovering new truths and utilizing the unresolved contradictions of socialist society, like the question of the full emancipation of women... utilizing these contradictions as an engine for propelling society forward. And doing this together with the advance of the world revolution.
BA has emphasized that intellectual work and intellectual and cultural ferment are vital to the kind of society that socialism must be... and in getting to communism, to a world without classes. Intellectual work adds to the store of knowledge of... and about society and the world. The ferment and debate of intellectual life, and the application of the scientific method to problems and the critical thinking that goes with that... this is something that is essential and indispensable for the masses... for the ability of the masses of people knowing the world ever more deeply and being able to transform it ever more profoundly... and to transform themselves.
Intellectual ferment and dissent contribute to the critical and exploratory spirit that must permeate socialist society, to uncovering problems and defects of socialist society... and to interrogating it on all levels.108
Question: So how does this apply to the experience of the Cultural Revolution?
RL: Well, this was not fully appreciated by Mao. As I said just before, there were tendencies in Mao’s orientation to see intellectuals, and again these tendencies were secondary... to see things more from the side of their ideological problems... and not to fully appreciate the ways in which intellectual activity can contribute to the atmosphere needed in socialist society—to the kind of society that people would want to live in and thrive in.
Look, you are not going to overcome the great divide between mental and manual labor if you are not unleashing intellectual ferment and providing real space and scope for that—at the same time that you are moving in some of the kinds of directions of the Cultural Revolution... breaking down social divisions and enabling intellectuals to understand the continuing inequalities of society and to see themselves and their work in the broader light of bringing a new world into being. Again, Mao did not have the full synthesis on overcoming this great divide in human history, even as the Cultural Revolution was an historic breakthrough.
Now one of the main purposes of the Cultural Revolution was to enable people to learn to distinguish between the capitalist road and socialist road. And here we come back to some of the points I was getting into earlier about intellectual ferment. You had this unprecedented flowering of debate and wrangling that went on during the Cultural Revolution. Remember I was talking about all those newspapers and great debates and wall posters. But great as that was, there was still a certain confining... a certain limiting of dissent. I’m talking about the range of debate and flowering.
You know, in China during the Cultural Revolution, communism was the “official ideology.” And while you had this incredible opening up of debate... still, certain trends and currents of thought were not going to get a hearing—because there was still this official framework and discourse, if you will, even as things, as I’ve been explaining, were getting very wild and blown wide open.
There’s a problem here. Not everyone was a communist... and it won’t be the case in socialist society. You have to create a situation where there is ease of mind and the ability to raise criticism and dissent... even, as Avakian emphasizes, from points of view opposing communism and socialism. The socialist state has to not only protect dissent—including dissent against socialism itself—but foster it!
And this is what’s paradoxical... really a contradiction. You see, this limiting approach in revolutionary China to dissent actually worked against the Cultural Revolution. It worked against enabling the masses to really comprehend all the views out there... uncovering all the contradictions... with the masses learning through the richness of debate, even from viewpoints opposing socialism.
Now this is not a risk-free orientation. You’re really on a razor’s edge. Because there will be the capitalist-roaders and varieties of counter-revolution working against you and seeking to overthrow you, and seeking to utilize this dissent in those efforts.
Avakian identifies the great challenge, in an interview from 2012 entitled What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, where he poses a critical question that arises out of the first stage of communist revolution... and that the new synthesis has broken through on:
How do you give the correct and necessary priority to the fundamental needs of the masses of people in society—especially those whose needs have been trampled under, under the old exploitative system, economically, socially, and politically and culturally—while at the same time not undermining the necessary intellectual and cultural ferment, creativity, and even dissent that’s essential in order to have the kind of process in society where both the masses of people as a whole, and also the leadership of the party and the government, is learning from this whole process, including the criticisms that are raised and the unconventional ideas that find expression in intellectual endeavor, and in the field of the arts, and so on—so that you have a richer process.109
That’s a huge breakthrough, part of a larger breakthrough based on deep study and wrangling which is the new synthesis, and it provides a real basis for hope on a solid scientific foundation.
Question: Raymond, we’ve covered a lot of ground. Any final words?
RL: We’ve talked at length about the whole first stage of communist revolution—of the really epochal struggle to bring a whole new world into being. And we went into great depth in particular on Mao and the Cultural Revolution, the high point of the first stage of communist revolution. And, yes, it was defeated. But what’s remarkable is not that they lost power in China nor before that in the first attempt in the Soviet Union. No, when you think about what they were up against internationally and in terms of the birthmarks of the society in which they came to power... when you approach this with a scientific view of all that... what is truly remarkable is how long they held power and how far they got. What has to be celebrated is what a tremendous contribution this was to the storehouse of human knowledge and the reality of human possibility.
But we can’t just do that. Look, for all we went into, in one sense I barely scratched the surface here. People need to dig more deeply and scientifically into the great achievements and lessons of this first stage, and they need to get much more deeply into the new synthesis of communism that Bob Avakian has brought forward. And all that has to be marshaled in the struggle we face right now—to really transform this whole world, which is a horror, but which really doesn’t have to be this way. The whole history of communism thus far shows powerfully that the world does not have to be this way, that there is nothing inherent in human nature that dooms us to this, nor is the ruling class we face all-powerful. And the whole thrust of the new synthesis shows how, yes, we can make revolution AND we can go further and do better this time.
It all comes back to this: the world urgently cries out for radical change, for revolution. And correctly grasping the REAL character, the liberatory character, of the first stage of the communist revolution AND immersing oneself in the contributions of Bob Avakian in summing up that stage and providing direction for a new, even greater one is critical and necessary... to continue on and to make leaps in the journey out of that “darkness” of class society. It’s about the need and basis for a world in which human beings can truly flourish. And it’s about all of us rising to the great need before us: taking up this science and using it to transform the reality humanity faces.
1. Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2009). [back]
2. The “pop quiz,” “Everything You’ve Been Told about Communism IS WRONG: Capitalism Is a Failure, Revolution Is the Solution,” is at the Set the Record Straight website. [back]
3. For an analysis of the uprising in Egypt and the need for genuine revolution, see Samuel Albert, “Egypt, Tunisia and the Arab Revolts: How They Came to an Impasse and How to Get Out of It,” Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic, no. 3 (Winter 2014). [back]
4. V.I. Lenin was born on April 22, 1870 and died January 21, 1924. He was the leader of the Bolshevik Party, which later became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In 1917, amid the turmoil of World War 1, Lenin led the Russian revolution that overthrew the old oppressive order and created the world’s first socialist state. Lenin’s contributions to the science of revolution include the decisive importance of the vanguard party, an analysis of the development of capitalism into imperialism, and a deep understanding and insistence on internationalism and the nature of the state. [back]
5. Mao Zedong was born on December 26, 1893 and died September 9, 1976. In 1935, Mao emerged as the clear leader of the Chinese revolution. He forged the strategy of people’s war. When the People’s Liberation Army marched victoriously into Beijing in 1949, Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. In 1966, Mao initiated the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Mao made vital contributions to the science of communism in philosophy, political economy, art and culture, and other spheres. But his greatest contribution is the theory of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. [back]
6. Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, and died on March 14, 1883. Karl Marx made a world-historic breakthrough in human understanding. Marx brought forward the comprehensive, scientific historical explanation of the development of human society. As for capitalism, Marx identified its basic contradiction as that between socialized production and private ownership. This contradiction is resolved through proletarian revolution which overthrows capitalism and moves forward to eliminate all oppressive class and social relations and thinking. Marx described this revolution to achieve communism, a world without classes, as involving the “two most radical ruptures”: with traditional property relations and with traditional ideas. [back]
7. The classic eyewitness account of the Paris Commune is Prosper Lissagaray, History of the Paris Commune of 1871 (London: Verso, 2012). Other useful histories include Frank Jellinek, The Paris Commune of 1871 (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1965); and Carolyn J. Eichner, Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune (Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ. Press, 2004). The creative film reenactment by Peter Watkins, La Commune (2010), is fascinating viewing. [back]
8. Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1970). [back]
9. An important overview of the significance of the Commune and related controversies within the international communist movement can be found in “The Paris Commune in Perspective: The Bolshevik and Chinese Revolutions as its Continuation and Deepening,” in the Appendix: “Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That,” in Bob Avakian, Phony Communism Is Dead... Long Live Real Communism, 2nd Edition (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004), 141-156. [back]
10. For relevant analysis, see Bob Avakian, “A Reflection on the ‘Occupy’ Movement: An Inspiring Beginning... And the Need To Go Further,” Revolution, November 13, 2011. [back]
11. For background on World War 1, see Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire (London: Abacus, 2010), Ch. 13; and Raymond Lotta, America in Decline (Chicago: Banner Press, 1984), 174-187. [back]
12. For a brief account of the societal setting of the Bolshevik Revolution, see Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution 1917–1932 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987), Ch. 1. [back]
13. For an account from a participant in the October Revolution, see John Reed, Ten Days That Shook The World (New York: Penguin Classics, 1919). The 1928 film directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein, October: Ten Days That Shook the World, is available online. The 1981 film Reds by Warren Beatty, available on DVD, is a fictional account of Reed’s life set against the backdrop of the extraordinary sweep of the Russian Revolution.
See also, The History of the Civil War in the U.S.S.R., Vol. 1 (New York: International Publishers, 1937); and John L.H. Keep, The Russian Revolution: A Study in Mass Mobilization (New York: W.W. Norton, 1976). [back]
14. On the Civil War, see E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917–1923, Vol. 2 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1985); Bruce W. Lincoln, Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989). [back]
15. On Bolshevik policy and practice, see for instance, Richard Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860-1930 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1978); and Wendy Z. Goldman, Women, the State & Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917-1936 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), 1-58. [back]
16. The 2004 film Iron Jawed Angels focuses on the suffragette movement in the U.S. in the 1910s and tells the true story of the arrest of a group of women protesters and how they were force-fed when they went on hunger strike. [back]
17. See, for instance, Marianne Kamp, The New Woman in Uzbekistan: Islam, Modernity, and Unveiling under Communism (Seattle, WA: Univ. of Washington Press, 2008); and see also Adrienne Lynn Edgar, “Emancipation of the Unveiled: Turkmen Women Under Soviet Rule, 1924–29,” The Russian Review 62 (January 2003) for discussion of the struggle against “bridewealth” and other such feudal-patriarchal practices in Central Asia. [back]
18. On the Bolshevik revolution’s approach to and achievements in expanding education to minority nationalities, ensuring equality of languages, and promoting instruction in native languages, see, for example, Jeremy Smith, “The Education of National Minorities: The Early Soviet Experience,” Slavonic and East European Review 75, no. 2 (April 1997). [back]
19. See Terry Martin, Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (Ithica, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 2001) for important factual material on nationality policy and practice in the Soviet Union from 1917 until the end of World War 2. [back]
20. See Arno Mayer, Why Did The Heavens Not Darken (New York: Pantheon, 1988), 55-89. For a narrative and visual account of the establishment of the Jewish Autonomous Region in the Soviet Union, see Robert Weinberg, Stalin’s Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1998). [back]
21. See Cameron McWhirter, Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012); and Robert Whitaker, On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation (New York: Random House, Inc., 2008). [back]
22. See Philip Foner, ed., Paul Robeson Speaks: The Negro and the Soviet Union (New York: Citadel, 2002), 240; and Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson (New York: Knopf, 1989). [back]
23. Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenko (1891–1956) was a painter, sculptor, photographer, and graphic designer, a founder of constructivism and Russian design. Kazimir Severinovich Malevich (1879–1935), painter and art theoretician, was a pioneer of geometric abstract art. Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (1898–1948) was a film director and film theorist. Alexander Petrovich Dovzhenko (1894–1956) was a screenwriter, director, and film producer. Eisenstein and Dovzhenko pioneered Soviet montage theory—the cinematic technique of stark and rapid juxtaposition of images through editing. [back]
24. On experimentation in the arts, see Vladimir Tolstoy, Irina Bibikova, and Catherine Cooke, eds., Street Art of the Revolution: Festivals and Celebrations in Russia, 1918–1933 (New York: The Vendome Press, 1990); William G. Rosenberg, ed., Bolshevik Visions: First Phase of the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia, Part 2 (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1990); and Richard Stites, Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989). To view representative artworks from this period, see the website for the 2013 Museum of Modern Art exhibit, Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art. [back]
25. Arno Mayer, The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2001), 607. [back]
26. On the early experience of planning and socialist industrialization, see Maurice Dobb, Soviet Economic Development (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1948), chapters on the first and second five-year plans; E.H. Carr and R.W. Davies, A History of Soviet Russia: Volume 4: Foundations of a Planned Economy 1926–1929 (New York: Penguin, 1974); and, out of print but well worth searching for, Anna Louise Strong, The Stalin Era (New York: Mainstream Publishers, 1956). [back]
27. Dobb, Soviet Economic Development, Ch. 9. [back]
28. For informative accounts, see, for example Maurice Hindus, Red Bread: Collectivization in a Russian Village (Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ. Press, 1988); Lynne Viola, The Best Sons of the Fatherland: Workers in the Vanguard of Soviet Collectivization (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989); and Strong, The Stalin Era. [back]
29. See, for example, Mao Zedong, A Critique of Soviet Economics (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977); and “On the Ten Major Relationships (April 25, 1956)” in Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, Vol. 5 (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1977), 284-307. [back]
30. There was a famine in 1932–33 in the Soviet Union. Stalin has been accused of intentionally causing the famine to punish the Ukrainians. Why this is wrong and not factually based is gone into in Raymond Lotta, Research Notes: “The Famine of 1933 in the Soviet Union: What Really Happened, Why it was NOT an ‘Intentional Famine’,” at the Set the Record Straight website. [back]
31. On the Soviet approach to socialist construction and how Mao would rupture with it in very significant ways, see Raymond Lotta, Introduction: “Maoist Economics and the Future of Socialism,” in Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism: The Shanghai Textbook on Political Economy, Raymond Lotta, ed. (Chicago: Banner Press, 1994), iii-xlv. [back]
32. “Gulag” is shorthand in Russian for “Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Labor Settlements,” a system of prison and labor camps. [back]
33. In part on the basis of the experience of previous socialist societies and what Bob Avakian has summed up on the importance of the rule of law and protection of the rights of the individual, the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) abolishes the death penalty, and sets out strict procedures for how it could only be temporarily used during war, invasion, insurrection, or other such extraordinary circumstances. Further, people will not be jailed or repressed just for raising disagreements with government policy, or with the socialist form of government—an actual crime will need to be proven.
For more on the legal system in this Constitution—again, drawing on Bob Avakian’s summation of the achievements but also the shortcomings of the previous socialist societies—see the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2010), at revcom.us.
For an exploratory essay on what was going on in the Soviet Union during the period of the purges, see An Historic Contradiction: Fundamentally Changing The World Without “Turning Out the Lights”, Letter 9: “When the Lights Went Out... Really Went Out: Further Findings and Reflections on the 1930s, ” at revcom.us. [back]
34. Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2001). [back]
35. On Jefferson and slavery, see Henry Wiencek, Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013); and see Bob Avakian, “A Question Sharply Posed: Nat Turner or Thomas Jefferson,” Revolution, April 14, 2013. [back]
36. The spurious anti-communist theory of “totalitarianism” equates Stalin with Hitler, communist ideology with fascist ideology, and the dictatorship of the proletariat with fascist regimes. This theory is built on grotesque distortions of the actual historical experience, and the actual goals and methods, of the communist revolution. And it is a crucial part of the bourgeoisie’s ideological arsenal, particularly the notion that communism will only lead to a “utopia-turned-into-nightmare.”
To understand why this theory is wrong, and the world outlook that informs it, see the comprehensive refutation of Hannah Arendt, perhaps the leading proponent of this theory, in Bob Avakian, Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? (Chicago: Banner Press, 1986), 167-190; also see the refutation of Karl Popper, another influential theorist of “totalitarianism,” in Bob Avakian “Marxism as a Science—Refuting Karl Popper,” in Making Revolution And Emancipating Humanity, Revolution, October 21, 2007. [back]
37. Mao Zedong, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” in Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, Vol. 5 (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1977), 384-421. [back]
38. For an overall evaluation of Stalin, see Bob Avakian on “The Question of Stalin and ‘Stalinism’” in “The End of a Stage—The Beginning of a New Stage,” Revolution magazine (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1990), 13-18, at revcom.us. [back]
39. Bob Avakian, “Conquer The World? The International Proletariat Must and Will” (1981); Avakian, “Advancing the World Revolutionary Movement: Questions of Strategic Orientation,” (Spring 1984); and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal); all online at revcom.us. [back]
40. On the Soviet Union in World War 2, the military struggle against German imperialism, and Stalin’s role in leading the Soviet war effort, see Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin’s Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2006).
On the roots and nature of World War 2, see Raymond Lotta, America in Decline, 205-219. [back]
41. On the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union in 1956 and the subsequent development of the Soviet Union into a social-imperialist formation, see Raymond Lotta, “Realities of Social Imperialism Versus Dogmas of Cynical Realism: The Dynamics of the Soviet Capital Formation,” in Raymond Lotta vs. Albert Szymanski, The Soviet Union: Socialist or Social-Imperialist? Part II, The Question Is Joined (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1983). [back]
42. For background, see Jean Chesneaux, et al., China From the Opium Wars to the 1911 Revolution (New York: Pantheon, 1976). [back]
43. A classic account of this, based in part on interviews with Mao, is Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China (New York: Grove Press, 1961). [back]
44. Dick Wilson, The Long March (New York: Viking Press, 1972). [back]
45. Iris Chang, The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II (New York: Basic Books, 2012). [back]
46. See Han Suyin, The Morning Deluge: Mao Tsetung & The Chinese Revolution 1893–1954 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972); Rana Mitter, Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937–1945 (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). [back]
47. On the incidence and horrific toll of famines in pre-revolutionary China, see Walter Mallory, China: Land of Famine (New York: National Geographic Society, 1926); and Carl Riskin, China’s Political Economy (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987), 24. [back]
48. See Elisabeth Croll, Feminism and Socialism in China (New York: Schocken Books, 1988), Ch. 2. [back]
49. Jonathan D. Spence and Annping Chin, The Chinese Century (New York: Random House, 1996), 84. [back]
50. Fredric M. Kaplan, Julian M. Sobin, and Stephen Andors, Encyclopedia of China Today (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 233. [back]
51. See William Hinton, “The Importance of Land Reform in the Reconstruction of China,” in Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment, Fred Magdoff, et al. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 216.
By the early 1950s, radical land reform led by the Communist Party and based on peasant mobilization had effectively disempowered the old landlord classes. See John G. Gurley, China’s Economy and the Maoist Strategy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976), 236-241; and Maurice Meisner, Mao’s China and After: A History of the People’s Republic, Third Edition (New York: Free Press, 1999), 90-102. [back]
52. This description draws from William Hinton, Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008). This is a riveting micro-study of Mao’s agrarian revolution in its economic, social, and ideological dimensions, focused on one village. Hinton stood with the Chinese revolution but took a very wrong stand with respect to Mao’s last great battle of 1973–76, condemning the so-called “gang of four” who in fact championed Mao’s line and played a leading role in fighting to prevent capitalist restoration and continue the revolution.
Other valuable works about the agrarian revolution include: Isabel Crook and David Crook, Mass Movement in a Chinese Village: Ten-Mile Inn (New York: Random House, 1979); and the novel by Yuan-tsung Chen, The Dragon’s Village: An Autobiographical Novel of Revolutionary China (New York: Penguin Books, 1981), which tells of land reform work in the 1950s. [back]
53. Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (New York: Penguin Classics, 2010). [back]
54. Western studies written in the 1970s on the struggle for women’s liberation in revolutionary China include Croll, Feminism and Socialism in China; Delia Davin, Woman-Work (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1976); and Claudie Broyelle, Women’s Liberation in China (New York: Harvester Press, 1977). [back]
55. See Kaplan, et al., Encyclopedia of China Today, 233. [back]
56. See C. Clark Kissinger, “How Maoist Revolution Wiped Out Drug Addiction in China,” at revcom.us. [back]
57. Bob Avakian, “The Cultural Revolution in China... Art and Culture... Dissent and Ferment... and Carrying Forward the Revolution Toward Communism,” Revolution, February 19, 2012. [back]
58. Mao’s differences with the Soviet model and his articulation of an alternative model of and profoundly dialectical approach to socialist economic development, drawing from the experiences and lessons of the Great Leap Forward, can be seen to be taking shaping in Mao Zedong, A Critique of Soviet Economics. [back]
59. Articles written in China at the time about peasant experimentation and the development of and struggle for higher forms of cooperation were collected in Socialist Upsurge in China’s Countryside (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1957). Mao wrote prefaces and notes on this collection, in Selected Works, Vol. 5, 235-276. [back]
60. Li Onesto, “When Revolution Has its Day, People See Things a Different Way: How Collective Childcare Liberated Women in Maoist China.” Revolutionary Worker, May 10, 1998. [back]
61. For documentation and analysis of the Great Leap Forward and the communes, see Isabel and David Crook, The First Years of Yangyi Commune (New York: Routledge, 1966); Han Suyin, Wind in the Tower: Mao Tsetung and the Chinese Revolution 1949–1975 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), Ch. 8; Keith Buchanan, The Transformation of the Chinese Earth (New York: Praeger, 1970); and William Hinton, Through a Glass Darkly: U.S. Views of the Chinese Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006). [back]
62. P. Sainath, “Farmers’ Suicide Rates Soar Above the Rest,” The Hindu, May 18, 2013. [back]
63. UNICEF, Levels and Trends in Infant Mortality, Report 2013. [back]
64. Some of Mao’s important talks and speeches at the time of the Great Leap Forward are collected in Roderick MacFarquhar, Timothy Cheek, and Eugene Wu, eds., The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao: From the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Asia Center, 1989). [back]
65. See YY Kueh, Agricultural Instability in China, 1931–1991: Weather, Technology, and Institutions (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995). Chinese weather station data are summarized at http://www.famine.unimelb.edu.au/weather_stations.php. [back]
66. See Han Suyin, Wind in Tower, Ch. 9-11 on the Sino-Soviet split; and Riskin, China’s Political Economy, 130-131, on the Soviet aid withdrawal. [back]
67. See Buchanan, Transformation of Chinese Earth, 130-131. [back]
68. See Franz Schurmann, The Logic of World Power: An Inquiry into the Origins, Currents, and Contradictions of World Politics (New York: Pantheon, 1974), 330-331; and Han Suyin, Wind in the Tower, 170-171. [back]
69. See, for instance, Dwight H. Perkins, Agricultural Development in China: 1368–1968 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1969), 303. [back]
70. Madhusree Mukerjee, Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II (New York: Basic Books, 2010). [back]
71. For an overview of the sensationalistic claims and dubious statistical methods, see Daniel Vukovich, “Missing Millions, Excess Deaths, and a Crisis of Chinese Proportions,” in China and Orientalism: Western Knowledge Production and the PRC (New York: Routledge, 2011).
Also see William Hinton, Through a Glass Darkly, 241-257; and Utsa Patnaik. “Republic of Hunger,” in The Republic of Hunger and Other Essays (Pontypool, UK: Merlin Press, 2008). [back]
72. Joseph Ball, “Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward,” Monthly Review, September 2006, available at monthlyreview.org. This study also presents an important methodological critique of the ways that “statistical results” for the “massive famine thesis” are reached. [back]
73. One Western scholar of agriculture in China, writing in 1975, characterized revolutionary China’s breakthrough in food production and distribution this way: “First, China seems to have succeeded in eliminating the most extreme fluctuations in farm output, although several decades more of experience will be needed to fully confirm this achievement.... Second, the rationing of essential foods means that all people are guaranteed their minimum requirements as long as nationwide supplies are adequate. One does not see the phenomenon in China of rich areas holding onto large surpluses while tens of thousands are dying elsewhere in a famine region. Because China has largely solved the food distribution problem, both over time and between people, the nation could suffer through a fairly prolonged period of output stagnation before people began to suffer serious malnutrition. The same cannot be said of many other less developed nations.” Dwight Perkins, “Constraints Influencing China’s Agricultural Performance,” in China: A Reassessment of the Economy, A Compendium of Papers Submitted to the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975), 352-353. [back]
74. The Soviet revisionists, from the late 1950s until the collapse of the Soviet Union, were promoting a model of “socialist” development for countries of the Third World to take up. They gave aid towards its construction and various forces gravitated to it. One such country is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Its leadership has at various times called itself socialist-communist, but in fact this society has nothing in common with socialism or communism. There is state ownership, a system of social welfare, and forms of “worker participation” and “worker democracy.” But North Korea is in essence a militarized, paternalistic society ruled by a narrow stratum of bureaucratic state-capitalists. It is a society where the masses are kept in a passive and stifled state.
To learn about the difference between genuine socialism and the kind of society that exists in North Korea or in Cuba, see Bob Avakian, “Three Alternative Worlds,” in BAsics from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2011), 67-70.[back]
75. See the interview “Running with the Red Guards: Memories of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” Revolutionary Worker, December 22, 1986. [back]
76. Jan Myrdal and Gun Kessle, China: The Revolution Continued (New York: Pantheon, 1970) especially pp. 75-108. [back]
77. Some of the important theoretical work done by the Maoist revolutionaries in China on these themes is collected in Raymond Lotta, ed., And Mao Makes 5: Mao Tsetung’s Last Great Battle (Chicago: Banner Press, 1978). [back]
78. See the summation in Bob Avakian, Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1979), Ch. 6. [back]
79. See Elizabeth J. Perry and Li Xun, Proletarian Power: Shanghai in the Cultural Revolution (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997). [back]
80. See the discussion in Raymond Lotta, Nayi Duniya, and K.J.A., “Rereading the Cultural Revolution in Order to Bury the Cultural Revolution,” in “Alain Badiou’s ‘Politics of Emancipation’—A Communism Locked Within the Confines of the Bourgeois World,” Ch. IV, Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic, no. 1 (Summer–Fall 2009). [back]
81. See Mao Zedong, “Speech to the Albanian Military Delegation,” at www.marxists.org. [back]
82. See the “16 Point Decision,” “Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” (Adopted on August 8, 1966), in Important Documents on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1970). [back]
83. The struggle in Tsinghua University is recounted in William Hinton, Hundred Day War: The Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972). See Part III. “The Working Class Intervenes.” [back]
84. For an overall analysis of the Cultural Revolution, see the interview with Bob Avakian, “The Cultural Revolution in China.” On major events and turning points of the Cultural Revolution, especially in its early phases, see Jean Daubier, A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1974). [back]
85. On the Cultural Revolution in the countryside and its effects on education, including the vast expansion of secondary schooling, see Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Educational Reforms and Their Impact on China’s Rural Development (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), 88; and Suzanne Pepper, “Education,” in The Cambridge History of China, Vol. XV, Roderick MacFarquhar and John K. Fairbank, eds. (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991), 416.
For a more general discussion of the transformations in education, see Ruth Gamberg, Red and Expert: Education in the People’s Republic of China (New York: Schocken Books, 1977). [back]
86. See Science for the People, China: Science Walks on Two Legs (New York: Avon, 1974). In the 1920s, the richest evidence of human evolution the world had ever seen was unearthed: Peking Man. After the revolution, Peking Man was part of the movement to bring science to the people: the story of human evolution was a lesson in Marxist philosophy offered to the masses. See Sigrid Schmalzer, The People's Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2008). [back]
87. See Part 2 of the interview “Running with the Red Guards: Memories of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” On the “barefoot doctor” movement as part of an integrated system of health care, see Teh-wei Hu, “Health Care Services in China’s Economic Development,” in China’s Development Experience in Comparative Perspective, ed. Robert F. Dernberger (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1980).
See also the documentary film, The Barefoot Doctors of Rural China, produced by Victor Li, available on YouTube; and Revolutionary Health Committee of Hunan Province, A Barefoot Doctor’s Manual: The American Translation of the Official Chinese Paramedical Manual (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1977). [back]
88. For an overview of health care in revolutionary China, see Victor W Sidel and Ruth Sidel, Serve the People: Observations on Medicine in the People’s Republic of China (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973). [back]
89. See Donald G. McNeil, Jr, “For Intrigue, Malaria Drug Gets the Prize,” New York Times, January 16, 2012; and “Malaria: Rediscovered Cure,” Médecins Sans Frontières, April 24, 2013, at msf.org. [back]
90. Penny Kane, The Second Billion: Population and Family Planning in China (New York: Penguin Books, 1987), 172 and Ch. 5. [back]
91. Victor W Sidel and Ruth Sidel, Serve the People, 256-258. [back]
92. Through the Cultural Revolution, there were, as mentioned, great breakthroughs in the understanding of the political economy of socialism and in how to develop a socialist economy in a revolutionary way towards revolutionary goals. This understanding is concentrated in an important textbook written in China in the 1972–76 period and available in an English-language edition as: Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism (Chicago: Banner Press, 1994). The afterword essay focuses up the innovations in planning and provides empirical documentation of the impressive economic gains that were achieved through the Cultural Revolution: Raymond Lotta, Afterword: “The Theory and Practice of Maoist Planning: In Defense of a Viable and Visionary Socialism,” 279-332. [back]
93. Sculptures of the Rent Collection Courtyard (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1970). [back]
94. The baseless assertion that China was a vast “cultural wasteland” during the Cultural Revolution is part of the conventional wisdom of our times. A recent study by Paul Clark, The Chinese Cultural Revolution: A History (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008), discusses in great detail opera, film, dance, the visual arts, literature, poetry, and drama and shows that the Cultural Revolution was in fact a period of great and unprecedented creativity, innovation, and collective artistic production. Although this work suffers from some anti-communism and the author works within a frame of nationalist modernization, it is a valuable and well-documented study.
On poster art during the Cultural Revolution, see Lincoln Cushing and Ann Tompkins, Chinese Posters: Art from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2007). [back]
95. The scripts of some of the model theatrical works can be found in Lois Wheeler Snow, China On Stage: An American Actress in the People’s Republic (New York: Vintage, 1973). See also Li Onesto, “Yang Ban Xi: Model Revolutionary Works in Revolutionary China,” Revolution, June 18, 2006.
See also the essay on two of the model ballets, by Bai Di, “Feminism in Revolutionary Model Ballets The White-Haired Girl and The Red Detachment of Women,” and watch the film of the Red Detachment of Women ballet. [back]
96. See Jan Myrdal, Return to a Chinese Village (New York: Pantheon, 1984); Jack Chen, A Year in Upper Felicity: Life in a Chinese Village During the Cultural Revolution (New York: McMillan Publishing Co., 1973); and Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008). [back]
97. See Mobo Gao, “Debating the Cultural Revolution: Do We Only Know What We Believe,” in Critical Asian Studies 34 (2002): 427-430; and Mobo Gao, Gao Village: A Portrait of Rural Life in Modern China (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai’i Press, 1999), Ch. 9. [back]
98. What this meant in terms of lived experience is conveyed in such reflections as: “We had a dream that the world can be better than today,” Set the Record Straight interviews Wang Zheng, Revolution, September 3, 2006; and Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution; see also the video of Dongping Han on BookTV, at booktv.org. [back]
99. Important theoretical articles produced during the Cultural Revolution on the question of revolutionizing management are collected in Stephen Andors, ed., Workers and Workplaces in Revolutionary China (White Plains, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1977). For a study written from a different political-ideological perspective that casts light on the revolutionization of management: Stephen Andors, China’s Industrial Revolution: Politics, Planning, and Management 1949 to the Present (New York: Pantheon, 1977). [back]
100. For accounts like this, see the valuable collection of essays by women who grew up in Maoist China: Xueping Zhong, Wang Zheng, and Bai Di, eds., Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 2001). [back]
101. Teh-wei Hu, “Health Care Services in China’s Economic Development,” 234. [back]
102. John Archibald Getty, Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933–1938 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), 4-5. [back]
103. Documents from this struggle are collected in Raymond Lotta, ed., And Mao Makes 5. [back]
104. Bob Avakian, The Loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of Mao Tsetung (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1978) and Mao Tsetung’s Immortal Contributions (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1979). [back]
105. See Revolution and Counter-Revolution: The Revisionist Coup in China and the Struggle in the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1978) for Avakian's analysis and the key documents of this struggle. [back]
106. For more on BA’s breakthrough in the science of communism, see “Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World,” “Communism as a Science,” appendix to the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2008), Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, Part 1: “Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right,” and Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon, Part 1: “Revolution and the State,” at revcom.us. [back]
107. For more on BA’s development of internationalism, see Advancing the World Revolutionary Movement: Questions of Strategic Orientation; for more on strategy, see Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, Part 2: “Everything We’re Doing Is About Revolution,” and “On the Strategy for Revolution,” a statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party, at revcom.us. [back]
108. Bob Avakian, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005). [back]
109. An Interview with Bob Avakian by A. Brooks, What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2012), at revcom.us. [back]
The short-lived Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian revolution of 1917–1956, and the Chinese revolution of 1949–1976 were titanic risings of the modern-day “slaves” of society against their “masters.” Against incredible odds and obstacles, and in what amounts to a nanosecond of human history, these revolutions accomplished amazing things—and they changed the course of human history. For the first time, the long dark night of humanity—the period when society has been divided into exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed—was broken through. A whole new form of society began to be forged.
Capitalism became dominant in Europe and brought tumultuous political, economic, and social change. Bourgeois (capitalist)-led revolutions rattled the old order only to replace it with new forms of exploitation and oppression. From Britain to Russia, tens of millions of laborers were violently driven from the countryside into rapidly expanding cities. Death among workers from cholera and other diseases was widespread. A million Russians died in the cholera epidemic in 1847–1851. It was common for children—often orphans—to work in factories 12-14 hours a day.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels released the Communist Manifesto. It revealed for the first time that “the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases” of human development. Another, far better world was possible for all humanity. The Communist Manifesto called on workers of all countries to overthrow capitalism and establish socialist societies with the goal of a world without classes.
In March, workers and lower-middle-class and other sections of the population in Paris, France, rose up against the capitalist regime. The French army was driven out of the city. Revolutionaries established the Paris Commune. The Commune separated church and state. Workers seized and ran factories abandoned by capitalists. The Commune aimed to empower the whole population in running society. Women played an important and heroic role in the uprising and brief development of the Commune.
The old regime regrouped its military forces and launched a savage assault on the Commune. The Commune was drowned in blood, and the message from the old regime was clear: never again will have-nots rise up, never will socialism and communism come to power.
The Commune announced to the world that the oppressed and exploited were taking the historical stage to scale the heights of human emancipation. Marx enthusiastically supported the Commune. He saw it as an historic first attempt to bring about a new form of class rule and a new mode of governance—the beginning outlines of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But he also pointed out that one of the Commune’s fatal weaknesses was that it did not move decisively to thoroughly shatter and dismantle the old state machinery, concentrated in the permanent army of the old regime. To establish a whole new economic and social system, you have to create a new state power that can enforce the will of the formerly oppressed and exploited.
With the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, workers, peasants, and others were sent to the front lines to slaughter each other in a war fought by blocs headed by Germany on the one side, and by Great Britain and the U.S. coming in later on the other. This was an imperialist war for global supremacy, and particularly for control over the oppressed colonial regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Some 10 million soldiers died in that war.
The Russian communist leader V.I. Lenin fought to uphold and learn from the inspiring experience of the Paris Commune, from both its strengths and its weaknesses. He identified the need for, and forged a vanguard communist party—known as the Bolsheviks. Lenin and the Bolsheviks stood out from all major parties in Europe for going up against “rally around the flag” patriotism that swept up sections of the masses in the imperialist countries to support and fight the war.
Lenin called World War 1 an imperialist, “predatory, plunderous” war. People in Russia suffered terribly under the autocratic tyranny of the Tsar (emperor). It was an imperialist country but the vast majority of people were desperately poor peasants. In October 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks led a mass armed insurrection that swept the old regime from power. The revolutionary uprising was based at first among workers in Russia’s major cities, and then swept into the countryside, uniting especially with the poorest and most oppressed among the peasants.
The new revolutionary government immediately issued two stunning decrees. The first took Russia out of the war and called for an end to the slaughter and for peace without conquest or annexation. The second decree empowered peasants to seize the vast landholdings of the Tsar, the aristocratic landholding classes, and the church (a large landowner).
A new world was in birth—for the first time since the emergence of class society, a society was not organized around exploitation. The Bolshevik revolution reverberated and inspired the oppressed around the world. Revolutionaries worldwide forged communist vanguard parties. The Soviet Union was attacked furiously by capitalist-imperialist powers—with slanders and guns. Fourteen foreign countries invaded to crush the revolution, and they allied with reactionary defenders of the old order in Russia.
Devastating civil war raged for three years. The “Red” Soviet forces fought heroically against “White” counter-revolutionary forces. By 1921, revolutionary rule was established throughout the Soviet Union.
Lenin led the Soviet Union until his death in 1924. After Lenin’s death, Joseph Stalin, a great revolutionary, led the Soviet people to build a socialist society and economy. In 1928, the Soviet Union launched the first “Five-Year Plan.” Millions of workers and peasants were fired with the spirit of “we are building a new world.” In factories and villages, people discussed plans: how to reorganize production and the difference it would make for their lives—and for people of the world—that such an economy was being built. People volunteered to help build railroads in wilderness areas. Workers voluntarily worked long shifts. At steel mills, they sang revolutionary songs on the way to work. Never before in history had there been such a mobilization of people to consciously achieve planned economic and social aims.
All this was in extreme contrast to the capitalist world wracked by the Great Depression. The unemployment rate in the U.S. was 24 percent in 1933. In the Soviet Union, there was essentially full employment and the Communist Party mobilized society to meet critical needs.
Pre-revolutionary Russia had been an empire—known as the “prison house of nations.” The dominant Russian nation had colonized areas and regions of Central Asia (for instance, Uzbekistan), and also had subordinated more developed areas such as Ukraine. Non-Russian nationalities made up about 45 percent of the population, but minority cultures were forcibly suppressed and their languages couldn’t be taught or spoken in schools. Jewish people were periodically subjected to lynch-mob-like anti-Semitic “pogroms.”
After the victory of the 1917 revolution, most of these nations and nationalities would become united in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Resources were dedicated to raising the living standards for Central Asian nationalities, and promoting their previously suppressed and dismissed cultures. The educational system, media, and cultural institutions raised consciousness about conditions of oppressed peoples and combated prejudice. The new state officially outlawed anti-Semitism.
In the first 10 years of the Bolshevik revolution, a vast social revolution transformed Soviet society. Men no longer had absolute patriarchal authority under the law over wives and children. Women received equal pay. Maternity care was provided free. The Soviet Union was the first country in modern Europe to make abortion legal. All these changes were momentous in their own right, but were part of a bigger vision and mission to build a new world free of all exploitation and oppression.
A major focus of socialist transformation in the Soviet Union was the liberation of women. One high point: on International Women’s Day, 1927, the Communist Party launched a movement to overthrow deeply rooted, brutally oppressive traditions imposed on women in the Central Asian Soviet republics, including marrying young girls to old men, and men having multiple wives. In Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan, women were backed by the revolutionary state to cast off heavy head-to-toe coverings of horsehair and cotton that Muslim women and girls over the age of 9 or 10 were forced to wear in the presence of men outside their families.
Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933. By the late 1930s, the Soviet Union was in the crosshairs of the powerful German imperialist military, which was driven to crush and dominate the Soviet Union. The new socialist society faced an extremely dire situation.
In 1939 World War 2 broke out between two blocs of imperialist powers that sought to violently re-divide the world. Contending blocs were headed by Japan and Germany on the one side, and the U.S. and Britain on the other.
The Soviet Union defeated invading German troops at the epic Battle of Stalingrad in 1943. Some 26 million Soviet citizens lost their lives in World War 2. The Soviet Union was victorious but suffered great devastation.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, new bourgeois (capitalist-imperialist) forces within the Communist Party maneuvered to seize power. In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, a high official in the party and government, consolidated the rule of a new capitalist class and led in systematically restructuring the Soviet Union into a capitalist society, while calling itself socialist. This was the end of the first proletarian state.
Communists worldwide were confronted with the necessity to sum up, learn from, and advance off this experience. This great challenge was taken up by Mao Zedong, leader of the Chinese Revolution.
Before the 1949 revolution, major capitalist powers had carved up and dominated China economically and militarily. The great majority of Chinese people were destitute peasants, subjected to the cruel and arbitrary rule of all-powerful landowners. With frequent famines and savage exploitation, peasants often faced starvation and sometimes ended up selling their children so that others in the family could survive. Women were subjected to wife-beating, arranged marriages, forced prostitution, and foot binding where young girls' feet were brutally wrapped and bent to keep them small and "attractive" to men. The situation in the cities was desperate. In Shanghai before World War 2, 25,000 dead bodies were collected from streets each year. In a country of 500 million people, only 12,000 doctors were trained in Western medicine. Four million people died each year from infectious and parasitic diseases. Life expectancy was 32 years. There were 60 million drug addicts.
This is the situation in which people made revolution.
Mao Zedong helped found the Chinese Communist Party—the vanguard leadership for the Chinese revolution.
Mao led 100,000 Red Army fighters and communist organizers on the Long March—a 6,000-mile dangerous trek through swampland and mountains to regroup and reorganize from massive repression and to spread the revolution. They fought warlord and reactionary armies. Only 10,000 people made it to the end of the march, at Yenan in northwest China, but the revolution was able to go forward. Mao, now the clear leader of the Chinese Communist Party, forged and applied a path to seizing nationwide power and establishing socialism—a path that included the military strategy of protracted people's war.
In 1939, World War 2 broke out. In 1937, the Japanese had invaded and occupied large parts of China. In the context of this, and with their eyes on the prize of seizing nationwide power, Mao and the Communist Party led the war against the Japanese occupation. The Japanese forces were defeated in 1945. Immediately, civil war broke out between the communist-led forces and the reactionary forces of the Guomindang, backed by the U.S. imperialists. After four years of intense combat, the Chinese revolution triumphed in 1949.
The Chinese revolution established a new state power, a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the heart of which was the alliance of workers and peasants. This new state power protected the rights of the people, suppressed counter-revolution, and made it possible to carry out the all-round transformation of society and to support world revolution. In the cities and rural areas, new institutions were established at every level of society, led by the Communist Party, and involved millions and millions of the formerly exploited in taking initiative to transform and administer society.
With state power, land reform was carried out as a revolutionary mass movement. A new marriage law gave women the right to divorce. Mass health and educational campaigns were launched and widespread opium addiction was eradicated.
The Great Leap Forward was launched in socialist China. Communes in the countryside brought together tens and tens of millions of peasants to collectively work the land. Beyond that, the communes combined economic, political, administrative, militia, and social activity.
People’s energy and creativity were mobilized and unleashed. Communes worked to reclaim land, to plant trees, construct roads, and build irrigation projects and flood-works projects. Use of tractors and machinery became more rational because land was collectively owned. Small-scale industries were developed, such as fertilizer and cement factories and small hydroelectric plants. Peasants began to master technology and scientific knowledge. In these and other ways, gaps between the city and countryside, peasants and workers, and mental and manual labor were reduced.
The communes have been blamed for a major famine in 1959–60. But the reality is that the communes did not cause this famine. And by 1970, due in large part to the changes made possible by the People’s Communes, China had solved its ages-long hunger problem. This was because the communes and whole socialist economy established a reliable system of food production and of food supply for the people for the first time in Chinese history.
Women’s oppression was challenged. Communal kitchens, dining rooms and nurseries allowed women to enter the battle to create a new society. Old habits and values that still persisted, such as superstition and fatalism, were struggled against, as were feudal customs, such as arranged marriage.
Communes were a leap in the masses’ direct participation in all spheres of society and in changing relations between and among the people.
In part based on summing up the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, Mao saw that the Communist Party could be turned into an instrument of a new exploiting class. And in fact, there was sharp struggle in the leadership of the Communist Party between a core of revolutionaries led by Mao and, on the other hand, certain top leaders in the Party and state—“capitalist-roaders”—who had been gaining strength and were working to overthrow socialism and bring back capitalism.
To deal with this, Mao and the revolutionary core launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966. The Cultural Revolution marked a breakthrough in dealing with a world-historic problem of communist revolution—preventing counter-revolution but in a way that enables the masses to play the decisive, conscious role in changing society and changing themselves: not a top-down removal of capitalist-roaders. Through mass political and ideological struggle led by the revolutionary core of the Party, masses played a decisive role in politically striking down the bourgeois power centers within the Communist Party. The Cultural Revolution was about revolutionizing all of society and transforming people’s thinking and values.
Young revolutionary activists, the Red Guards, played a key role in initiating and spreading the Cultural Revolution. This struggle was full of invention and innovation: street rallies, protests, strikes, and demonstrations. "Big character posters" went up all over the country. These included large-type protest posters plastered everywhere, where people criticized policies and leaders. Public facilities were made available for meetings and debates. Small newspapers flourished. In Beijing alone, there were 900 newspapers. The revolutionary state made available materials and facilities for mass political activity and debate.
The Cultural Revolution took a new turn. Forty million workers around the country engaged in intense and complicated mass struggles to seize power from entrenched conservative municipal party and city administrations. There were work stoppages, and sometimes struggles not to stop work.
Shanghai, autumn 1966: some 700 organizations existed in the factories. Revolutionary forces mobilized and capitalist-roaders fought back, attempting to discredit the revolutionaries and buy people off with wage increases.
Revolutionary workers, with Maoist leadership, united broad sections of the city’s population. In January 1967, they broke the hold of the capitalist-roaders who were running the city. They seized the main municipal building, took over the communications hubs, and began organizing distribution of basic goods in the city. This was the Shanghai “January Storm.”
People held mass discussions and mass debates about how to run the city and what political structures would best serve the goals of the revolution. They experimented with new institutions of citywide political governance.
The struggle against women’s oppression was a big part of the “revolution within the revolution.” Mass campaigns launched during the Cultural Revolution criticized feudal Confucian and capitalist thinking that uphold exploitative, oppressive, and unequal divisions in society.
In contrast to today’s world culture, which degrades women as weak or as sex objects, during the Cultural Revolution model operas and ballets put the masses on stage front and center, with women as physically and ideologically strong central characters. Popularized throughout the country, these works conveyed people’s lives and their role in society and history.
Young women in their millions participated in the broad revolutionary struggle. Women and men mobilized to fight against women’s oppression as part of building a new society. And in building socialism, women were unleashed to “hold up half the sky”—not only in the fight against their own oppression but in the struggle to transform and liberate all of society.
Before the Cultural Revolution, popular culture like Chinese opera was dominated by feudal and bourgeois themes and characters, and capitalist-roaders in the Party promoted this.
The Cultural Revolution ignited an explosion of artistic activity among workers and peasants—poetry, painting, music, short stories, even film. Mass art projects and new kinds of popular and collaborative artistic undertakings spread, including to the countryside and remote areas.
Teams of cultural workers were organized to travel to remote areas, carrying bicycle-powered generators to show movies and work with peasants to create and perform plays and concerts. The vast majority of people—Chinese peasants—had never seen a movie or a play, or had a chance to participate in cultural activity on this level. Artists moved to the countryside, they lived and worked with—and learned from—the peasants, and in turn taught art to the peasants. In this way, not only was fresh and lively revolutionary culture created, but divisions between city and countryside and between laboring people and artists and intellectuals were being broken down.
Education was radically transformed during the Cultural Revolution. Rote “teaching to the test” style teaching methods were challenged, and a critical spirit was fostered in schools. Study was combined with productive activity. Admission policies made it possible for children of peasants and workers to enroll in the universities. Struggle was waged against the bourgeois-elitist idea of using knowledge for competitive advantage over others, individual success, private gain, and prestige. Instead, knowledge was to be used in the service of the revolutionary struggle to remake society and the world for the benefit of humanity.
“Socialist new things” reflected and promoted new socialist relations and values. “Open door” research brought scientists to the countryside to conduct experiments among peasants. Scientists learned about peasants’ lives and from their questions and insights; peasants learned about the scientific method. Educational institutions and research institutes in cities developed cooperative relationships with factories, neighborhood committees, and other organizations. People came to laboratories and laboratories went to the people.
In what was called the “barefoot doctor movement,” educated urban youth and young peasants were trained to provide basic preventive medicine and health care. There were 1.3 million barefoot doctors who lived in the countryside and contributed to solving people’s basic health needs.
In revolutionary China, artists, doctors, technical and scientific workers, and many other educated people were called upon to go among the workers and peasants: to apply their skills to the needs of society, to share the lives of the laboring people, and to learn from them. Great numbers of youths and professionals answered the Cultural Revolution’s call to “serve the people” and to go to the countryside and set examples for others.
Mao kept warning of the danger of capitalist restoration. The masses had state power under socialism, but the revolution had to continue. But socialism emerges with the scars of class society, and struggle must go on to overcome this—or else society will be dragged back to capitalism, as has happened today in China. The Cultural Revolution raged for 10 years, through complex twists and turns.
When Mao died in September 1976... that was the signal to the reactionaries within the Party. In October of that year, they staged a military coup. They immediately moved against the revolutionary core at the top levels of the Party and deployed troops in key parts of the country. There was resistance, but the suppression was quick and harsh, with large numbers of arrests and executions.
Socialism in China was defeated. The first stage of communist revolution came to an end.
The defeat in China was a real turning point. There was confusion, shock, and disorientation among everyone in the world who had looked to China as an inspirational model. It was in these circumstances that Bob Avakian (BA), Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, rose to fill a great and historic need: to make an accounting both of what had happened in China and the responsibilities this placed on genuine revolutionaries.
BA brought scientific clarity to this crucial juncture and began to open up and chart the path to go forward. He defended the great accomplishments of Mao and the Chinese revolution, while digging deeply into the experience not only of China but of the whole first stage of communist revolution. He deeply explored and critically examined the first stage of communist revolution, indeed of the whole communist project. And in the more than three decades since the counter-revolution in China, Bob Avakian developed and brought forward a new synthesis of communism.
Because of Bob Avakian and the work he has done over several decades, summing up the positive and negative experience of the communist revolution so far, and drawing from a broad range of human experience, there is a new synthesis of communism that has been brought forward—there really is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the crucial leadership that is needed to carry forward the struggle toward that goal.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
by Bob Avakian | November 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, An Interview with Bob Avakian by A. Brooks.
If you step back and think about it, no wonder they slander communism so much. If you presided over a system that has such glaring, howling contradictions and disparities in terms of how people lived, a system which denied a decent life to the majority of humanity, and weighed them down with tremendous oppression and superstition and ignorance, while a relative handful in a few countries lived a life of unbelievable luxury—but, more than just luxury, they continued to accumulate capital while they fought with each other over who would beat out the other through this exploitation and accumulation of capital—if you stood back and looked at that... Imagine if you said to somebody: go to a drawing board and draw up the way you think the world should be. And imagine if somebody went to the drawing board and painted a picture of the way the world is now, and they said: this is the way the world should be. I mean, there would be tremendous howls coming from all quarters of humanity, saying: What the fuck— that's the way you think the world should be, with these tremendous disparities and people, little children, dying of cholera and malnutrition and other things that could be prevented easily, while a small number battle each other to accumulate more and more wealth from the suffering of this mass of humanity—that's what you think?!
Anybody who would actually draw that up on a board should actually be—and would probably be—rightly accused of criminal insanity. And yet, here's a class of people, the capitalist-imperialist class, that presides exactly over a world that way, and argues it's the best of all possible worlds. The only reason that people don't—masses of people don't, right at this time—say, "this is criminal insanity" is because they've been propagandized and conditioned to believe that, in fact, this is the only possible way, and that the radical alternative to it that does exist, namely communism, has somehow been a horror and a disaster. And it's not hard to see why the ruling class of capitalist-imperialists would employ a lot of people to propagate that idea everywhere they could. If you presided over such a criminally insane system, you would undoubtedly do the same.
The entire interview is available here.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
November 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Some people reading this interview may be saying to themselves: "Ok, Raymond Lotta says these socialist societies were incredibly liberating, and that all these amazing things happened. But my teacher... my textbook... that magazine article I read... my friend whose family is from Russia... everything I have ever learned or heard about these societies... says that they were nightmares. How do we know who's telling the truth? Why should I believe Raymond Lotta?"
Special Edition of Revolution:
Read it online at revcom.us or get it in print from your local Revolution newspaper distributor.
In response, two quick points must be made right away:
First, it's not a question of what Raymond Lotta says vs. what your teacher, or textbook, or friend, or magazine article says. There are not two, or three, or four different competing "versions" of reality; there is one reality. In other words: Either something is true, or it's not. Either something is in line with reality, or it isn't. Either something happened, or it didn't.
Second, here's how you definitely don't decide what's true: By looking at what most people think. Very often what most people think is wrong! For example: At different points in the history of the world, most people thought that the earth was flat... that the sun revolved around the earth... and that slavery was completely natural and acceptable... and most people today still think that god created human beings and all life on earth. 0 for 4!
But then this leads to the question: How do we tell what is really true, and who is really telling the truth about communism?
The short answer to this question is: Be scientific. Examine the evidence, and examine the methods and criteria being applied.
More specifically: Examine the evidence being offered, and criteria and methods being applied, in this interview with Raymond Lotta to argue that the past experience of the communist revolution was principally emancipatory... and compare and contrast this with the evidence (or lack thereof) being offered, and criteria and methods being applied, by those who tell you communism was a nightmare.
There is a basic question that you should ask yourself again and again as you read this interview and compare it to everything you've heard and been told and will again encounter about communism: Who is proceeding scientifically here, and who is not?
Now, what does it mean to be scientific, or to proceed scientifically? And why is this important? Being scientific means starting from, and consistently returning to, reality. It means doing that as opposed to starting from conventional wisdom, what one wants to be true, what one subjectively "feels," or one's prejudices and preconceptions about what is true.
As Bob Avakian has put it:
Let's not mystify science. Science means that you probe and investigate reality, by carrying out experiments, by accumulating data, and so on; and then, proceeding from that reality and applying the methods and logic of rational thought, you struggle to identify the patterns in the data, etc. you've gathered about reality. If you're approaching it correctly, you're struggling to arrive at a correct synthesis of the reality you've investigated. And then you measure your conclusions against objective reality to determine if they are in correspondence with it, if what they sum up and predict about reality is confirmed in reality. That's the way breakthroughs in science have been made—whether it's in the realm of biology, like the understanding of evolution, or whether it's things about the origins of the universe (or the known universe), like the Big Bang Theory, or whatever. That's the process that goes on, and the question is: is it scientific? That is, does it, in its main and essential lines, correspond to reality?
—From What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, An Interview with Bob Avakian by A. Brooks
And why is it so important to be scientific? Because this is the only way to actually get to reality and to continue learning more about reality. To return to the examples given earlier: where would we be if Copernicus and Galileo, or Darwin, or the Abolitionists who fought against slavery, proceeded from "what everybody knows," or decided that no one could really say what was true, or what was right and wrong, that there was no objective reality but simply "different versions" of that reality, or that truth depended on one's individual perspective?
Now, to be clear, the point is not that if someone is applying a scientific method—and the communist method of dialectical materialism in particular—that automatically means everything that person says about communism is true, or that everything anti-communists say is not true. In fact, at the heart of the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian is an understanding that while the communist outlook and method represents the most systematic, comprehensive, and consistent means of arriving at the truth, this does not mean that communists have a monopoly on the truth, or that those who are not applying this outlook and method are incapable of discovering important truths. Rather, with anything that anyone says, the test should be: Does this, in fact, correspond to reality?
But it is also the case that with this interview, as is the case with literally anything that one reads about any topic, everyone who reads this is not going to be able to independently verify every single statement made or fact cited. And if you just look things up for yourself, without an eye towards all the points being made above, you are—to be blunt—going to run across a lot of lies and bullshit and unsubstantiated garbage about communism and not know what to make of it.
So, again, as you are reading this interview with Raymond Lotta and comparing it to everything you've been told about communism, consider the question: Who is proceeding scientifically here? And who is not?
Let's compare and contrast how Raymond Lotta discusses the Great Leap Forward in revolutionary China with how a recent New York Times article—which is representative of the standard anti-communist account of this experience—approaches the Great Leap Forward.
If you read how Raymond Lotta talks about the Great Leap Forward in this interview, you will notice that he consistently applies the method of proceeding from, confronting and probing reality, and the complexity and contradiction within that reality. He starts by talking about the context—the situation within China and the world as a whole—in which the Great Leap Forward was launched. He addresses the challenges Mao and the Chinese revolution were faced with, and the problems and obstacles they were trying to solve and overcome. He addresses the basic question of why Mao initiated the Great Leap Forward and what its goals were. He speaks to what the Great Leap Forward accomplished. And he does not shy away from, but rather directly engages and refutes, the anti-communist accusations that "Mao was responsible for tens of millions of deaths" through the Great Leap Forward, illuminating where these charges and figures come from and exposing how anti-communists both inflate the numbers of deaths and also treat the deaths that did occur as people "killed by Mao." And in terms of the massive food crisis that hit China, Lotta does not attempt to cover up or shy away from this, instead explaining the various actual causes of this food crisis, the mistakes that the Chinese leadership made, and the ways that this leadership learned from and corrected these mistakes. And the basic criteria Lotta is applying to evaluate all of this is: To what degree were the Chinese communists seeking to—and to what degree did they—advance in the direction of overcoming all exploitation and oppression and the ways of thinking that go along with that?
It is very instructive to compare and contrast how Lotta approaches the Great Leap Forward in this interview with how it is approached in the New York Times article, "Milder Accounts of Hardships Under Mao Arise as His Birthday Nears" (October 16, 2013). In contrast to the interview with Raymond Lotta, which is consistently proceeding from, probing, and synthesizing the lessons of reality, the Times piece is proceeding from and returning to what "everybody knows."
The tone for this article is set in its opening sentence, which claims: "The famine that gripped China from 1958 to 1962 is widely judged to be the deadliest in recorded history, killing 20 to 30 million people or more, and is one of the defining calamities of Mao Zedong's rule." Right there, you have a combination of at least three standard anti-communist methods in a single sentence. 1) Toss out a huge number of deaths without offering any actual evidence for the claim, which the Times never does in the article. 2) Be sure to blame those deaths on communist leaders—again, evidence not included. 3) Use phrases like "widely judged" to convey the impression that "everybody knows" the above two points to be true, thereby freeing you of the burden of having to offer any evidence.
From there, in addition to putting forward snarky, distorted, and crude misrepresentations of what the Great Leap Forward was seeking to accomplish and the reasons it was launched—read how Raymond Lotta explains this in the interview, and then compare it to the Times' characterization—the basic method of the Times article is to lean on the "everybody knows" crutch over and over again, instead of offering any evidence or reality-based analysis to support its claims. For instance, the article refers to a mathematician, Sun Jingxian, whom the article says "asserts that most of the apparent deaths were a mirage of chaotic statistics: people moved from villages and were presumed dead, because they failed to register in their new homes." But the article never even attempts to show why what Sun says is inaccurate! Similarly, the Times refers to a book by Yang Songlin, whom the Times identifies as a "former official," who argues that the numbers of deaths in the Great Leap Forward have been severely inflated, and that the deaths that did occur were caused mainly by "bad weather, not bad policies." But again, there is not even an attempt by the Times to show why what Yang says is not true.
We are not commenting one way or another here on Sun Jingxian and Yang Songlin, or their specific claims and methods. Rather, we are pointing to the Times' methods here, which is to start with what "everybody knows," and then measure everything else against that, rather than actually probing and investigating reality and using that as the yardstick to measure what is true.
The method, and message, of the Times article is clear: When it comes to negative things about communism, if someone said it, it must be true. If someone didn't say it, say it now. And if it can be claimed that lots of people say it—well, all the better!
Pieces like this article, which again is one of many examples that could be given, train people to think that Mao sat around and said: "Hmm, how can I implement a policy that will cause the most people to starve?" Among the things you would never know from these anti-communist slanders and methods is that there was mass starvation and mass inequalities in China before the Chinese revolution; that Mao launched the Great Leap Forward with the aims of overcoming mass starvation and inequalities, radically transforming social and economic relations, and developing the Chinese economy in a way that would reduce, not widen, the gap between the cities and the countryside; that within 20 years of the Chinese revolution, everyone in China indeed had enough food to eat; and that the deaths that occurred in China during the Great Leap Forward were principally caused by a massive famine that gripped China as a result of the floods and drought that affected over half of its agricultural land, by hardships caused by the Soviet withdrawal of aid to China, and by mistakes that the Chinese leadership made in that context—NOT by some insane and evil plot by Mao to starve people!
Again, compare all this—and many other examples you will unfortunately encounter of anti-communist methods and accounts—to the evidence that Raymond Lotta presents and the methods and criteria that he applies, in this section of the interview, and in fact throughout the interview.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
November 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Question: But what you're saying goes against this whole view— I'm thinking about the kinds of movements that you pointed to, like Occupy—that highly organized leadership suffocates people.
Raymond Lotta: Yes, that's out there, big time, and it's profoundly wrong. Lenin developed the scientific understanding of the need for a vanguard party based on two critical insights. One, the masses of people cannot spontaneously develop revolutionary consciousness and scientific understanding of how society is structured and functions and the ways, the only ways, it can be radically transformed...from their own daily experience and struggle. Look at Egypt. People have been truly courageous in standing up, but you have all these illusions about the Egyptian military. You need leadership to bring this understanding to the masses of people. Making revolution requires science. Revolution requires passion, heart, courage, and creative energy. But that won't change the world in and of itself...without a scientific grasp of what it takes to make revolution and emancipate humanity.
Question: And the other point?
RL: The need for centralized leadership. To actually enable the masses to break through the obstacles and what the enemy is going to throw at you, not least its military strength. And to be able to navigate through all the twists and turns, including the maneuvering and deceptions of the ruling class in a revolutionary crisis, and to lead people to actually overthrow the old order and to go on to revolutionize society. You need a strategic approach and the strategic ability to marshal all the creativity and resolve of the masses.
When people do break free of "normal routine" and lift their heads, where is this all going to go? The question of leadership is decisive. And, look, there is no such thing as "leaderless-ness." Some program and some force, representing different class interests, is going to be leading, no matter how much people might want to shun leadership. And let's be honest: "leaderless-ness" is actually a program that is being led—and it doesn't lead anywhere radically transformative.
You need centralized leadership. How are you going to coordinate an uprising? How are you going to coordinate the rebuilding of society following the destruction of revolutionary war? How are you going to coordinate the functioning of a new economy? How are you going to coordinate support for world revolution? You need centralized leadership.
Now Lenin wasn't arguing, "Well, we'll just substitute ourselves for the masses." No, the whole point is that the more that leadership plays its vanguard role, the greater is the conscious activism of the masses. The masses make history, but they cannot make history in their highest interests without leadership. Having that leadership is why the Russian revolution took place and changed the whole course of world history.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
November 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Raymond Lotta: In Europe, soldiers, sailors, and workers exhausted by the continuing war followed the news of what was happening in the new society. In Germany, in Kiel and Hamburg, rebel sailors of the German navy mutinied against orders to continue the war. In 1918, insurrections broke out in parts of Central Europe, and were viciously suppressed.
There were many countries in Europe where revolutionary situations emerged, and in some revolutions took place. But nowhere else, other than in Russia, did revolution break through and hold on. A big part of the reason was that there was no genuine vanguard party in these societies. But because of the influence of October, new communist organizations spread to different parts of the world. And the Bolsheviks took the standpoint of spreading revolution, and promoted Marxism and vanguard party organization. On this basis, a new international body that coordinated the activity of communist parties and organizations around the world was formed—a tremendous advance for the revolution.
World capitalism would never be the same. World history had been profoundly changed.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
November 19, 2013 | BA Everywhere | revcom.us
Letter from a reader,
I had a recent discussion about BA Everywhere that I wanted to share with your readers. BA Everywhere is the mass campaign to raise major funds to project Bob Avakian's vision for a radically new society and his works into every corner of society. This was a brief exchange with someone who is propertied and I thought was a good example of how you can join – very briefly – the differences people are raising and bring it back to the need for BA Everywhere.
I just had a couple minutes with him. We were at an event where there was discussion about mass incarceration, and in particular the imprisonment of those later found to be innocent. I introduced myself to him and referenced the event that just happened, saying something about how this was just one of many reasons we need a revolution and need to examine revolutionary solutions, and I said that I would like to talk with him about the revolutionary leader, Bob Avakian and the fundraising campaign to get his work throughout society. He responded that he wasn't sure that was the case (the world needing revolution), there are things like The Innocence Project or these people who have been let off. "Really the world is a pretty good place." I responded with something like, "C'mon man, the world may not be able to sustain human life for much longer because of the deep environmental emergency... billions of people on the planet don't have enough to eat, with millions dying of curable diseases. It's a nightmare, but it doesn't have to be this way."
He did agree with this, and then I added that all this is coming from a system and he said, "What system?" I explained: a system of capitalism-imperialism, a system of mass exploitation and profit above all else. He answered, "Yeah, but what else is there? Communism has certainly failed." He went on that he thinks people should be allowed to fail and communism doesn't allow that and it attempts to make things too monolithic. I answered briefly: "First, I'm sorry but you're just wrong about communism – its history and even what it means. This was an emancipatory, if too brief, lived period in human history. And second, you should get into the work of Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party who has brought forward a new synthesis of communism, building on the best of that history but also where there were shortcomings and errors." I added, "Look, in our society, people aren't 'allowed to fail,' they are crushed in body and spirit at every turn, they are tracked and forced into failing at every turn."
He replied, "Yeah, but maybe this is just human nature." "No, it's not," I said, "the only thing you can say about human nature is its great plasticity, human nature has changed qualitatively in different societies at different times in human history." He actually agreed with this and said he thought I was right.
He added that maybe one thing we could agree on is that there are just too many people on the planet, and we need some kind of population control. I said that the ironic thing is that there are actually enough resources on the planet to meet the needs of everyone alive today, but the problem is the system that is enforced – which rests on exploitation and generates these huge global differences and mass immiseration. He said he didn't agree, and repeated his last argument about there being too many people on the planet and the need for some kind of population control. That maybe China has gotten this right, including now they fine people for having more than two kids. I explained first that China has been a capitalist country for 40 years as socialism was reversed there in '76, but then said what it is a good example of is that any changes you make along these lines – without uprooting the system of capitalism – go through these old relations of exploitation and oppression, and if you look at it now, there is mass female infanticide* in China.
He responded, "Ok, but what would you replace it with." I had in my hand a copy of the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) and handed it to him. He read the title out loud and laughed, saying, "Oh, pretty good." I explained that this was a concrete and sweeping framework for a whole different state power and a whole different system and that it's foundation is the work that Avakian has done – there really is a different way the world can be. He said he would definitely look through it, and thanked me. Also, somewhere through this part of the discussion, I talked about the suffocating terms of everything in society and how we are working to change that right now through BA Everywhere – changing what people think is possible in terms of human society and revolution.
I returned to what I opened the discussion with, that we are in the midst of a major fundraising campaign – BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make – to get Avakian's vision and works out into society in a major way, to really change very broadly what people see as possible and desirable, to really uncork exactly this kind of debate and discussion. I said: "You don't have to agree with everything I'm arguing for, but breaking this open throughout society can make a huge difference," and I said some more about this. I also said I'd like to talk with him more seriously about this. He answered that he would look through what I gave him. I also gave him my business card which he put in the Constitution. I asked again if he had a manager, publicist, agent... someone I could really follow up with? He did then tell me where I could follow up, and I asked again, "and it will really get to you there?" He said, "Yes;" and we shook hands goodbye. As he was walking away, he said with a smile, "I'll say one thing, you've certainly got tenacity." And thanked me.
I've now written a follow up letter where I talked more about BA Everywhere and asked for an appointment where we could talk more seriously about BA Everywhere and about giving a contribution to impact society in a major way.
* Editor's note: The letter uses the term "infanticide," but what is actually being referred to is gender-specific abortion and other anti-woman measures, not actual infanticide. [back]
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
November 21, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Here’s an idea for people wanting to do something on Black Friday around the BA Everywhere campaign. We are planning on getting permits to table at two malls in our area. One of the malls is in the inner city and is anchored by a Walmart. The other mall is way fancier and is in a more upscale area where middle class and wealthier people shop.
Our plan is to sell BAsics; the films BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! and STEPPING INTO THE FUTURE, On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World; and Revolution newspaper subscriptions as Christmas gifts that really count for something. Don’t forget to take out bundles of the special issue of Revolution "You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future," and let people know where to find the revolution—at revcom.us.
Another idea is that if the mall does not allow people to sell things outside their stores, then you can sell BAsics and Revolution paper subs for prisoners using the PRLF non-profit status, which malls in our area will allow.
So, let's turn Black Friday into a Red Friday with BA Everywhere and have some real fun that day. Call your friends and all those who want to do something meaningful to be a part of this day. Then afterwards, people can gather, have dinner together, and watch a movie.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
By Sunsara Taylor | November 21, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Congratulations are in order for all who raised their voices, donated money, and went into the streets to defeat the outrageous proposed 20-week ban on abortions in Albuquerque yesterday! This is a win not only for the women of Albuquerque, or even just for the women of New Mexico. Your work has won a victory for women, and the men and others who value women's freedom, all over the country as two out of only four doctors in the country who provide late-term abortions practice in Albuquerque.
On the same day, however, the Supreme Court allowed to stand a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans which forced as many as 15 clinics to close altogether or to stop providing abortions to women who need them throughout Texas while the legal challenges to a completely bogus law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals works its way through the courts.
Despite the claim of the Supreme Court majority opinion, this was not a ruling simply on whether to respect the judgment of a lower court as to whether or not to implement a law while it was being appealed. First, the law is outrageous and illegitimate and never should have been allowed in the first place as it serves absolutely no medical purpose and only exists to deprive women of their fundamental right to abortion. Second, allowing the law to be implemented even as it is working its way through the courts will do irreparable harm to tens of thousands of women throughout Texas, many of whom will not be able to access the abortions they need safely and will either risk their health and lives or be forced to have children against their will. Third, this ruling will do irreparable harm to many of the clinics which have been shut down; many will end up closing due to inability to pay rent and staff during the months when they are deprived of income from operating. Thus, even if the law is overturned these clinics will be permanently closed or put in financial ruin.
The claim by the Supreme Court majority that this was just a procedural ruling changes nothing about how vicious an attack this is on women! The fact is, like the hospital admitting privileges law itself, the most dangerous and common attacks on abortion rights these days are hammered into place under the cover of “procedural” changes. Other examples are the clinics which have been forced to undergo tremendously costly renovations or to close to comply with unnecessary new health codes or laws which interfere with doctors ability to administer medication abortions in line with the most up-to-date medical consensus. The Supreme Court ruling today is yet another vicious attack on women's rights, masked as a “procedural” ruling. Only this one is from the highest court in the land!
What do these two contradictory developments (the victory in Albuquerque and the outrageous and vindictive ruling from the Supreme Court) reveal?
Most fundamentally, they reveal that this system—its courts, its law enforcement, and its politicians—cannot be relied on to protect the rights of women and other oppressed people. They reveal the deep rooted patriarchy that is woven into the foundation of this system and they reveal the relentlessness of the current drive to push women back to the days of being openly treated as property of men and breeders of children.
This is true not only of the Supreme Court ruling, but also of the development in Albuquerque. Some might find that confusing to hear, since the Albuquerque 20-week abortion ban was defeated. But, while the victory in Albuquerque reveals the tremendous and widespread support for women's reproductive freedom, the very fact that women's right to decide for themselves when and whether to become a mother was put up for a vote is completely illegitimate and totally outrageous. It is as outrageous as it was for the state of California to vote to deny the right of LGBT people to marry during “Prop 8” and it is as outrageous as it would be for a city or state today to vote to reimplement racial segregation.
All this, together with the ongoing daily, hourly violence against women (1 in 3 women will be beaten, raped, or sexually assaulted during her lifetime) as well as the other towering crimes of this system (the slow genocide of 2.3 million people incarcerated, the devastation of the environment that threatens to end life on this planet, the massive repression, spying, torture, drones, and other imperialist aggression, and the putrid, me-first culture of consumerism and conquest), most of all reveals the urgent need for Revolution and Nothing Less!
It is not tolerable, nor is it necessary, to continue to live this way—watching as every ounce of social justice that was wrenched from this system during the 1960s is vindictively snatched back, watching as women, Black people, immigrants, the poor around the world, and the planet itself are slammed backwards. The only reason this continues is because of the system of capitalism-imperialism that rules over us. All of this can and will be changed through genuine communist revolution. Bob Avakian has re-envisioned this revolution, through many decades of tireless and deeply scientific work. Here is the Constitution for the NewSocialistRepublic in North America (Draft Proposal) which lays out concretely the kind of truly liberatory society which is realizable through this revolution. As just one measure of what that society will be like: this society will not only guarantee women's right to abortion, but it takes as a central and driving mission of the society as a whole to fully uproot all vestiges of the oppression of women, of LGBT people, of Black people, Latinos and other oppressed groupings. It does this as part of advancing to a global community of genuinely freely associating human beings without social antagonisms of any kind. There is no excuse for anyone who cares about the future of women, and of humanity as a whole, not to dig eagerly and deeply into his work, not to spread his work, and not to join in the struggle to make a whole new, liberated world real.
Further, what these two contradictory developments in the fight for abortion rights (the negative Supreme Court ruling and the Albuquerque victory) show is that there is a basis, and a tremendous need, to mobilize the enormous reservoir of tens of millions of people across this country who do not want to see women enslaved to forced motherhood, and the many more who can be won to that position, to stand up and resist and to do so now! This is necessary if we are to hasten the development of a situation where a real revolution can be made and transform people very broadly in their thinking and morality in line with the world that we want. And, even if you are not yet convinced of the need for revolution and even if you are coming at this from a different perspective, this is necessary to beat back and defeat this grotesque and unrelenting war on women.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
By Rigel Kane | November 21, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
There is a vicious movement in the halls of power, in the churches, and on the streets that has taken hold. While some people are motivated by religion to seek an end to the plethora of injustices in the world today, the Christian fascist anti-abortion movement must be directly opposed if we are ever going to see a day when women can decide their own futures, dream unfettered, and participate equally with men in society, without fear. And ultimately, we must challenge religion itself as a method and an ideology, and dig deep into how it plays into the very real and truly horrific economic, political, and social situation we are in, here and around the world.
In the waiting room of a free medical clinic in Albuquerque, the only healthcare available to undocumented people and indigenous people from a nearby reservation, we talked to two women about abortion, while another listened in. Both women believed abortion was murder, though one was convinced that women must have the right in more situations than just those that are life-threatening. Before we could get very deep into it, the two women were called in by their doctors.
The woman who had been listening said she agreed with the woman who thinks abortion is definitely wrong, but women must have the right to decide for themselves. We kept talking, and it was striking how vehemently she believed both things: abortion is murder, she's never had an abortion and she never would, but women MUST have abortion rights.
Then she told us her daughter had been gang raped. They never identified the perpetrators. Her daughter was pregnant. She insisted her daughter have the baby, and she would help take care of it. She said, somehow, it must have been God's will and somehow, the pregnancy must be a blessing. Rape in her mind was not a justification for what she was convinced was killing a child. Her daughter was convinced to carry the fetus to term and be a mother, despite her trauma. Then she got a genetic test. The fetus was riddled with abnormalities, too many, this woman told us, to list. It was very unlikely the child would live very long at all, and it would be a huge life change and financial impossibility for the whole family to care for such a child. At this moment, she stopped telling her daughter she must have the child and everything would be okay, and told her it was her choice. It was going to change everything, and she needed to want to care for a suffering and dying child if she were to give birth.
Her daughter gave birth. The child died three and a half years later. Three and a half years of struggling to survive, thousands of dollars of debt for medical care, unspeakable trauma from a gang rape with nothing approaching justice or resolution, and watching this young person, who really should have never been a person by all moral and scientific standards, suffer until his early death. The family was devastated.
There is a movement that has gained traction in recent years, that claims this should be the fate for all women in this situation. When asked about pregnancy from rape, powerful Republicans, Operation Rescue/Save America abortion protestors, staff at "Crisis Pregnancy Centers," pastors, priests, and maybe people you know will respond with, "Why should the child pay for the crimes of its father?" In this way they erase women, women like this woman's daughter, dismiss them as less human than an unbreathing, unthinking clump of cells in a womb, and condemn them to nothing less than a life of tragedy. This disproportionately affects poor women, young women, and women of oppressed nationalities, but it also affects how society views and treats all women, and how all women see themselves. This movement fetishizes a fetus to justify a position for women in society that can only be characterized as slavery and subordination. Right now, they are codifying these values into law with "Personhood" amendments (giving a fertilized egg more rights than a woman), with TRAP laws (medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics that result in clinic closure), and with 20-week bans based on pseudo-science about "fetal pain" like the one we are in Albuquerque to oppose. This is not fundamentally separate from the right wing movement in the UN that is banning condoms on HIV-ridden countries in Africa and whipping up violence against LGBT people under the banner of "freedom of religion," or the dehumanization and criminalization of Muslim people by Christians that justifies to Americans the bombing of mosques and the wars of imperialism and drone attacks in the Middle East, nor the Islamic fundamentalism that is choking women to death with its own repressive theocracy, and leading those who would rise up against imperialism into more oppression.
But what of the particularity of the conflict in the hearts and minds of so many today, in this country, around abortion? Why does the phrase, "It's complicated" heralded by Planned Parenthood resonate with so many people? And why, wherever we go, do we hear the same sounds of the torn on this issue: "Abortion is wrong, but women MUST have the right"?
This is the sound of everything that people are led to believe by the method and conclusions of religion—everything that these people were raised to believe and still hold dear to this day—colliding with reality. Religion and traditional morality running up against the real people they have known and loved who found themselves in desperate situations and needed abortions. The belief that there is some master plan from the time of conception dictated by an imaginary and wrathful being, running up against the tragedy of lives lost to illegal abortions, self-induced abortions, and forced motherhood. The cultish and objectifying belief that motherhood is the highest duty of a woman along with the fear of being "dirty," "impure," a "sinner," and going to hell to burn forever, running up against the actual facts that real women, real human beings, are so much more than breeders and if they do not have this right, in reality, their stories are one version or another of the same unnecessary tragedy.
When Stop Patriarchy went two weeks ago to Jackson State University, a couple miles away from the only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi, the sound was the same. In a predominantly Black college, where many students were coming out of low income, oppressed, and abandoned neighborhoods, getting pregnant for a woman would likely mean you are going to be a single mother. In the center of the racist and in many ways still segregated South, where the mass incarceration and police brutality that so quickly replaced Jim Crow laws continues to grind away and "disappear" young Black men at astonishing rates, and where religion is so deeply embedded in the culture, this conflict is very real.
One young Black man we approached who was in his late teens said immediately he was against abortion. We continued to talk to him and learned that his cousin got pregnant in her early teens, and he begged her not to get an abortion. He deeply believed, based on how he was raised, that God has a plan for everyone and abortion is murder. He said he begged and broke down in tears at times, and finally convinced his cousin not to have an abortion. She became a mother. A year later, she was pregnant again. He was distraught. He saw her struggling with the one-year-old she had, barely able to survive. To him, the reality of the situation was unavoidable. He gave her a ride to the abortion clinic.
The sound of this conflict, of the acceptance of religion as a viable method for understanding reality—and ultimately the way that this system encourages and legitimizes this very confusing, submissive, guilt-inducing, and frankly terror-driven way of understanding the world—crashing into what humanity needs to survive and to thrive, is a sickening sound. It's the hissing sound of the dreams of millions of women evaporating into totally unnecessary tragedy. It's the whine of male entitlement that is instilled in so many men from an early age, the same entitlement that justifies rape, as well as other forms of domination and forcible control of a woman's body (such as forced sterilizations). It's the nerve-wracking tone of the men who want to do the right thing in the world finding themselves paralyzed and unable to choose a side, while the women they know and love are shamed into silence. It's the scraping sound of the graves of women being dug by smug and hateful fascists, theocrats, and ruling class demagogues while too many people with so much potential are rendered helpless. Marx said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses" and he was fucking right on.
It is imperative, now more than ever, that everyone who believes women must have the right to abortion—with or without guilt, in some circumstances or in all of them— find ways right now to openly fight the powers that are working quickly to abolish the right altogether. But it is also imperative to still the nauseating hum of a people paralyzed by an illegitimate ideology, to openly challenge and struggle over religion as we fight this through. More Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Pagans, and other religious people should support women's liberation, and some do. But more oppressed people, as well as others, must cast off the chains on their minds and hearts that have been locked into place by religion. More atheists should openly challenge religion, in the spirit of shattering oppression with science, with a real urgency and understanding of the real potential of people to rise up and re-make the world, and in the spirit of love for humanity and intolerance of its incessantly brutal exploitation for the profit of the few, here and around the world. That static noise of tragedy and paralysis does not have to be the soundtrack to human existence.
We can understand reality! Not all of it, and not all at once, but collectively, and scientifically, there is the basis for humanity to advance in great leaps, as dynamic beings that create and discover for the common good of society, as responsible caretakers of the planet, as humans who argue and learn and produce for the needs of others as well as ourselves, and as lovers, fighters, and thinkers. In order to get to a place where that is the direction of things, we must make a revolution and free humanity from the cage-like network of exploitative production—from the sweatshops in China to the prisons in the U.S. to the garment factories in Bangladesh to the prostitution rings throughout Eastern Europe and South Asia to the mines in the Congo to the fields full of immigrants right in the backyard of middle class America—the very same network that justifies the destruction of the planet for profit, and the brutality and dehumanization of people through the cruel enforcement and grinding reinforcement of that network. And a real part of this process is to interrupt the religious static with the very real, very liberating, trumpeting call of a future unfettered from the past.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
From A World to Win News Service
November 21, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
November 18, 2013. A World to Win News Service. Following is a November 9 media release from the Information Bureau of the Communist Party of the Philippines. (ndfp.net) For more on typhoon Haiyan, see "The Typhoon in the Philippines... and the Destructive Unnatural Forces of Imperialism" in the November 14, 2013 issue of Revolution (revcom.us).
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today extended its sympathies to the millions of people affected by super-typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), which ravaged provinces in Eastern and Central Visayas, in Panay, Negros, Masbate, Mindoro, Palawan, and other islands, as well as in areas in Eastern and South Eastern Mindanao, Northern Mindanao and provinces in Southern Luzon.
At the same time, the CPP called for mass mobilization across the country and abroad to generate emergency supply and funds for rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts. The CPP called on ''people in the areas least affected by the storm to extend maximum possible help to the people who are most in need of emergency assistance.''
Yesterday, tropical storm Yolanda barrelled across the Philippines, leaving a wide swath of destruction. Yolanda is considered to be among the strongest typhoons ever to hit land, and
one of the most powerful of storms over the past 30 years.
The CPP said that among the areas which were devastated by the strong winds are revolutionary base areas which are within the scope of authority of the provisional revolutionary government, and in the areas of operation of the New People's Army and other revolutionary mass organizations.
The CPP also pointed out that many of the areas ravaged by the typhoon were those recently hit by powerful earthquakes where people were most vulnerable to the strong winds and rains.
''These areas are among the most impoverished in the entire country, where the majority are poor peasants, unemployed farm workers, small fisherfolk and indigenous peoples,'' said the CPP. ''They have long been abandoned by the reactionary government and will not be among its priorities for assistance.''
The CPP said it is still awaiting detailed reports from its local committees, as well as mass organizations and NPA units in the areas.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
From A World to Win News Service
November 21, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
November 18, 2013. A World to Win News Service. The following statement was issued by the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist Leninist Maoist). Since then the Islamic Republic of Iran has continued this wave of executions in Kurdistan and other regions of Iran. (cpimlm.com)
Habibullah Golparipour, a young Kurdish activist who has been in an Islamic Republic prison for three years, was executed onOctober 23, 2013 in Orumieh, north-west Iran, and lost his dear life. Accused of anti-regime activities and connections with anti-regime groups, he had been in prison since October 2009, following the uprising that erupted after the presidential election. He endured the difficult conditions that the regime's mercenaries have created for prisoners, including intense tortures, and spent long periods in isolation. But he did not give in to the regime's brutalities.
At the same time, it has been reported that 16 Baluchi political prisoners were executed on October 26 in reprisal for the killing of 18 regime mercenaries in Saravan (a city in Sistan-Baluchistan Province, Iran, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan) the day before. This is not the first such crime of the regime and will not be the last. Iran is the prison of nations. National oppression is a major pillar of this regime and we will witness such crimes as long as the exploiting classes are in power. There is a long list of youth in Kurdistan, Baluchistan and Khuzestan provinces waiting to be executed, and at the slightest sign of unrest in these regions, some will be hanged.
Following the Saravan incident, Hassan Rouhani, Iran's new president, the so-called champion of "heroic flexibility," assigned the Interior ministry to form a special commission in cooperation with security forces to confront "rebels." Furthermore, the prosecutor-general of Zahedan (the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province) justified the executions by saying "We warned that we would retaliate!" [BBC reports no evidence that any of the executed had any connection with the death of the border guards.]
As the Islamic regime continues to display "heroic flexibility" with the West, it is also stepping up its oppression and crimes, including the executions of youth, and the poverty of the people is becoming even more intensified. This is the regime's internal reaction to the crisis in the Middle East. There is no doubt that these criminal acts are indications of the bankruptcy and failure of a totally rotten regime that is hoping to extend its disgusting life a little longer.
The struggle of the oppressed nations against national oppression will once again demonstrate that the Islamic regime will reap what it has sown.
The regime's viciousness and brutal plans should not and will not go unanswered. We call on workers, students, women and youth to convert the memorial ceremonies for Habibullah Golparipour and other martyrs into exposures of the crimes of the regime. This struggle must be turned into an effervescent political scene. It is with a real revolution independent of imperialists and reactionaries that we can give these crimes the response they deserve. The Islamic regime's vicious plans more than ever carry the signs of its fragility. They carry the signs of earth-shaking events and bloody battles that are on the way, battles that should put revolutionary violence on the agenda to settle accounts with the Islamic reactionaries and overthrow their state system with the goal of a society without oppression and exploitation.
Down with the Islamic Republic of Iran! Long live the right of self-determination for oppressed nations! Long live revolution! Long live communism!
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
Raymond Lotta | November 25, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The following is an excerpt from a recent article by Raymond Lotta, "On the 'Driving Force of Anarchy' and the Dynamics of Change: A Sharp Debate and Urgent Polemic: The Struggle for a Radically Different World and the Struggle for a Scientific Approach to Reality." In this excerpted section, Lotta discusses the environmental crisis, including what the recent climate negotiations have been really about. We urge readers to dig into the whole article, which examines crucial issues of political economy and methodology in the international communist movement, which are also "issues of concern, theorization, and contention in broader progressive political and intellectual-academic circles, issues of profound import and moment."
* * * * *
On May 9, 2013, the Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Hawaii recorded that the carbon dioxide levels in Earth's atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million. The last time Earth supported so much carbon dioxide was some three million years ago, when there was no human life on the planet. Climate science has established that a rise in the Earth's temperature beyond two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels could lead to irreversible and devastating climate change.
The capitalist industrial revolution beginning in the 1700s, the leap to imperialism in the late 19th century, and the enormous acceleration of environmental stresses of the mid-20th century through today have created a dire environmental emergency.*
The impacts are already with us: extreme climate events (unprecedented floods, cyclones, and typhoons), droughts, desertification, Arctic ice melting to its lowest levels.
Meanwhile the imperialists continue to make staggering investments in fossil fuels, with an ever-increasing share going to so-called "unconventional" oil and gas reserves (hydro-fracking, deep offshore, tar sands, heavy crude, and shale oil, etc.). Global climate negotiations, most significantly Copenhagen 2010, go nowhere.
On the one hand, oil is foundational to the profitable functioning of the whole imperialist system. Six of the 10 largest corporations in the U.S., and eight of the 10 largest in the world, are auto and oil companies. On the other, oil is central to inter-imperial rivalry. Major capitalist firms and the major capitalist powers—the U.S., China, the countries of the EU, Russia, Japan, and others vie with each other for control over the regions where new fossil-fuel sources are to be found: in the Arctic, the South Atlantic, and elsewhere.
Rivalry among the great powers for control of production, refining, transport, and marketing of oil is in fact rivalry for control over the world economy. U.S. imperialism's military depends on oil to maintain and extend empire, to wage its neocolonial wars and to maintain its global supremacy. And, right now, one of U.S. imperialism's global competitive advantages is exactly its growing fossil-fuel capability: in 2012, the U.S. posted the largest increase in oil production in the world, and the largest single-year increase in oil output in U.S. history.
None of what is happening (and not happening) in the sphere of energy can be understood outside the framework of the drive for profit and intense competition and rivalry at the enterprise, sectoral, and national-state levels in the world economy and imperialist interstate system.
The most salient characteristic of recent climate negotiations is the fact that they have been sites of intense rivalry among the "great powers"—on the one hand, unwilling and unable to make any substantive moves away from reliance on fossil fuels; and, on the other, pressing climate-change adaptation into the tool-box of competitive positioning (the Europeans and the Chinese, for instance, having advantage in certain renewable energy technologies).
And not just energy: the major powers are engaged in sharp global competition for the planet's minerals and raw materials. It is a scramble for the reckless plunder of Earth's resources, or as one progressive scholar has called it, "the race for what's left."
The emergence of China as the world's second largest capitalist economy, with its demand for resources and its growing international reach, is a major element in the ecological equation. Its growth has been fueled by the massive inflow of investment capital over the last 20 years, and that growth has been a major, if not the major, source of dynamism in the world economy. And China is now the largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
The real threat of unstoppable climate change is part of a larger environmental crisis. The planet is not only on a trajectory towards massive extinction of species but also the collapse of critical ecosystems, especially rainforests and coral reefs, with the threat of cascading effects on the Earth's global ecosystem as a whole. There is the real possibility of Earth being transformed into a very different kind of planet... one that potentially could threaten human existence. No one can predict the precise pathways and outcomes of what is happening. But this is the trajectory that we, and planet Earth, are on.
Why are tropical forests being wiped out by logging and timber operations? Why is soil being degraded and dried out by agribusiness, and oceans acidified? Why is nature turned into a "sink" for toxic waste? Because capitalism-imperialism invests, speculates, trades, and roams the globe treating nature as a limitless input to serve ever-expanding production for profit.
* See the special issue of Revolution, "State of EMERGENCY: The Plunder of Our Planet, the Environmental Catastrophe, and the Real Revolutionary Solution," April 18, 2010, at revcom.us. [back]
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
November 25, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
The other day we were at a high school where there has been a lot of controversy about the movement for revolution. A group of students was hanging around after school and we handed a flier to one of them. Her friend told her not to read it and snatched it out of her hand. We gave her another one and challenged the friend. We asked him why shouldn’t she read it and he wouldn’t say. We told him we are about making revolution and emancipating humanity, and asked him what he was about. He wouldn’t be serious at first and wouldn’t engage, was playing around and being silly. We did a little agitation to the group about how if you want to play, then play, but if you care about humanity and want the world to be different than how it is now, then get serious and get into this revolution.
A few more students walked up and one said, “I care about humanity,” and asked for the flier. We gave one to each of the three who walked up. The one who had snatched it from the young woman told these guys, “Don’t read that. I’m serious.” They asked why not, and he said seriously, “it’s communist.” I said yes it is, we’re the communists, and asked what he knows about communism.
The guy who had walked up asking for the flier said, “I know about communism.” He went on to say communism is where people are equal and where you can leave your door open at night and not have to worry. His friend said communism doesn’t work. I asked, why do you say that? Look at the Soviet Union. What about it? There is no Soviet communist party that exists any more. What is the evidence you have that causes you to draw the conclusion that communism doesn’t work? He decided to turn the question around: you tell me why communism worked in the Soviet Union.
I drew from the points in the recent interview with Raymond Lotta. What kinds of changes were going on in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, and the mistakes they made in the face of the challenges they confronted. They were all listening. I talked about how Mao learned from the shortcomings of the experience in the Soviet Union, and Bob Avakian today has learned from all of this experience and brought forward a new synthesis of communism so we can make revolution and bring into being a better world.
The main guy who had been telling everyone not to read the flier didn’t have much more to say at this point. The other youth were getting ready to leave. The ones who were more interested could have been challenged more sharply to get involved. We pointed them to the revcom.us website and encouraged them to go there to learn more about this and whenever they are seeking out the truth about what is happening in the world and why and what we can do about it.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
November 27, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
What follows is a new version of a previously posted article which incorporates some changes to more correctly express the relationship between the leadership of BA and the prospects for revolution.
Life is an unrelenting horror for billions of people around the world. It doesn’t have to be this way, there is a way out of the madness, but people do not know this.
Why do 10 million children die every year from preventable disease? Why are the earth’s atmosphere and water being destroyed? Why are women subjected to rape, assault, and degradation on every continent? Why are millions of Black and Latino youth in the U.S. going through life with a target on their backs with the prospect of prison more likely than college? Why did the election of a Black president in the U.S. not change any of this, and in some ways made it worse?
Why? Because what drives every nation on every continent is a dog-eat-dog system. A system driven by competition over who can viciously exploit the people and the resources ever more ruthlessly. Wars are fought, laws written, people jailed and suppressed to enforce and reinforce these relations. All this misery, all the outrages that people agonize over, have their common source in the system that dominates the world today—capitalism-imperialism.
But, can you get rid of it?
Yes. This way of life is no longer necessary. There is a whole other way humanity could be. A world where people could work and struggle together for the common good... where exploitation and all forms of oppression were no more and where people could flourish and live lives worthy of human beings. This is communism. A society that can only come about through a great, liberating revolution as the first step to emancipate all of humanity.
The basis for revolution lies within the very nature of the capitalist system itself—the very sharp contradictions within this system which it is incapable of resolving and which repeatedly give rise to great suffering and crisis, including at times acute situations when the system is shaken to its foundations. Whether the contradictions and crisis of this system can be transformed into a revolution depends in great part on far-sighted, scientific revolutionary leadership. With this understanding, the importance of the leadership of BA, and the new synthesis of communism he has brought forward, stands out.
The first communist-led revolutions in Russia and China were defeated in 1956 in the Soviet Union and then in 1976 in China after the death of Mao Zedong. At this juncture, BA stepped up to scientifically analyze these first liberatory revolutions in order to deeply understand and draw from this experience so that humanity could move forward again. BA faced an analogous situation to that of “Marx at the beginning of the communist movement—establishing in the new conditions that exist, after the end of the first stage of the communist revolution, a theoretical framework for the renewed advance of that revolution.”1 Learning from the path-breaking achievements of these first revolutions and digging deeply into their shortcomings, including at times serious errors, along with drawing from broader human experiences, BA developed a new synthesis of communism that is an advance in the science of revolution that in several dimensions is a radical rupture beyond what came before, enabling humanity to do even better going forward.
A key breakthrough in Bob Avakian’s new synthesis has been the development of a viable strategy to be able to make revolution to get to a new society. BA leads a party that is actively working today to prepare millions to carry out that strategy and realize the vision of a new world when conditions emerge to do so.
For these reasons, communism today means BA’s new synthesis of communism. People need to know about this. Putting communism on a more scientific foundation, we have a deeper understanding of the problem: the life- and spirit-draining profit system, and the solution: a new era of revolution to thoroughly uproot and overcome all forms and relations of exploitation and oppression, domination, and degradation throughout the whole world.
People need to know BA so that they have a vision of a whole new world, an understanding that the horrors of today need not be forever. People need to hear this not in whispers or off in some niche to the side of society, but as a point of reference and a contending pole in society. This needs to resonate deep into the neighborhoods of the oppressed, be known and debated on the campuses, become a source of controversy in the media, given backing by respected prominent voices of influence—by all kinds of opinion makers. In short, BA needs to become a revolutionary pole with impact and influence penetrating all quarters of society. The BA Everywhere campaign will make BA a household name and, in so doing, make this revolution known. This requires huge sums of money. That is why BA Everywhere is a multi-faceted fundraising campaign to involve and bring forward thousands of people to contribute and be a part of raising these funds with the stakes being no less than whether or not humanity is going to suffer needlessly under the vicious workings of capitalism.
The widespread promotion and popularization of the new synthesis of communism that BA has brought forward, and what is embodied in his leadership overall, is a crucial part of preparing minds as well as organizing forces for revolution. In this period BA Everywhere is the concentrated focus of the work to carry out that promotion and popularization. It is the leading edge now of a whole strategic process interacting with objective developments in the world through which the movement for revolution and the party that is leading the revolution gets built; a process through which a revolutionary people takes shape; a process which can hasten the understanding of people broadly that the system is the problem—with its leaders and structures seen to be illegitimate and through which millions can come to see that this revolution is the solution to the horrific and intractable problems that humanity faces. If people broadly do not know there is another way the world could be—with a vision and plan for a far better society that would actually be liberatory; and know and respect that there is a plan and a leadership to make that real; that there is a whole other way to think about, understand, and act on what is the problem and what the solution is in the world today, then the world will stay as it is—destroying lives and crushing spirits.
BA and the new synthesis of communism sets the goal, context, and framework for all the different elements of revolutionary work in today’s situation—preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution. Without this, no matter how much resistance and struggle is waged—against mass incarceration, against the oppression and degradation of women, against the wars, torture, and mass police state spying, against the demonization and deportation of immigrants, against the accelerating, wanton destruction of the environment—the source of these outrages, capitalism-imperialism, will continue to give rise to the same oppression in even more grotesque forms. Without the vision and plan for a new society and the strategy to get there, all the “movement building” and struggle will become aimless and reformist, serving to reinforce this horrific system—which is the problem—rather than serving to build up the understanding and the forces to finally do away with it.
BA has written:
“...what people see as tolerable, or intolerable, is dialectically related to what they see is possible or necessary (or, on the other hand, what they come to see as un-necessary—or no longer necessary—no longer something they just have to put up with and endure).... the more that people grasp that this is not the way things have to be, but only the way things are because of the workings of a system—a system which is full of contradiction—the more they can feel, and will feel, impelled to act. Lacking that, even our best efforts at mobilizing them to act are going to eventually run into their limitations and be sidetracked or turned around into their opposite, into something which actually reinforces the present system and the sense that nothing can be done to radically change things.”2
Looking back over the past decades since the 1960s and early 1970s, the reality that there was not a revolution in this country even after all the upheaval of that time, as well as the loss of the first socialist revolutions, weighs heavy, even if unexamined, on people’s consciousness of the possibility of revolution. Getting out now in a big, bold, contending way with BA’s new synthesis and with BA Everywhere is key to people beginning to think about how society actually works, seeing things from the vantage point of the whole world—coming to understand what the sweatshops in Bangladesh have to do with whole generations of Black and Latino youth being treated as superfluous, suitable only to be locked up; opening eyes so that people find common cause with the oppressed of the whole planet. Even more fundamentally, sharply delineating that either this system continues with what it does to people and the planet or there is the road of this revolution—in reality there are just two choices—enables more and more people to see revolution not as some far-off dream but as something to be actively and urgently worked for.
This applies and matters internationally. Look only to Egypt to see how urgently people need a materially founded—that is, a scientific—framework for a new, emancipatory society and the strategy to get there. And, how without it, not only is the struggle being drowned in blood and jail, but disillusion spreads there and globally because people don’t see another way.
A key part of how to build the movement for revolution is fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution. Fighting the power, standing up and refusing to be crushed, helps people to raise their sights—propelling them to look out beyond their daily grind. But again, without transforming their thinking about why these abuses keep happening, why those who govern and rule this society cannot and will not redress these enormous injustices, why this system can only keep doing what it is doing, in short, without having a scientific understanding of the problem and the solution, which is concentrated in BA’s new synthesis, then all this struggle will only lead to new outrages and a sense that you can’t change the world—that what is must always be.
In the course of the BA Everywhere campaign, people should learn about the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal),3 which is a plan for a new kind of state power that would be organized with radically different aims, morality, laws, a qualitatively different and greater justice than what exists anywhere in the world today, and a plan and structure for society that would be overcoming all the oppressive social divisions of the past, and is a living, concrete application of BA’s new synthesis of communism. Imagine this being debated up against the U.S. Constitution—an enshrinement of the principles of exploitation—and you get a picture of the difference that BA Everywhere can make.
BA Everywhere puts revolution at the front and at the center of preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution. There needs to be a situation where growing numbers of people from all strata are seeking out and want to be a part of or to support the movement for revolution. For this to develop, people need to see and know there is a way—that there is the leadership, organization, vision, and a concrete plan for revolution. This, the real solution to casting off the millennia of oppressive society, the leadership and work of BA, being way out in society, known everywhere, hastens the development of a revolutionary people and a situation where revolution could actually be possible.
* * * * *
There is a very real objective basis, and need, for broad numbers of people, from many different parts of society, to take part in and contribute to BA Everywhere. People will have varying levels of agreement and disagreement with what is represented by the new synthesis and BA, but can at the same time recognize—or be won to see—the importance for this to be out there in a big way creating major impact in society, playing a significant and positive role in influencing and raising the level of what people think about, discuss, and debate regarding human possibility and the kind of future that would be both desirable and achievable.
Those who are raising funds for BA Everywhere should expect, welcome, and engage in healthy struggle over the big questions while finding the ways for people to contribute even as they are engaging what it’s all about. Fundraisers should recognize that people will come to these conversations with all their preexisting assumptions and ways that they think about the world: Is the world today the product of a flawed human nature or the nature of the system? Is it a god’s will or fate? Weren’t the past attempts to radically remake society really bad and unworkable?4 And most critically, what sort of world is really desirable, viable, and possible? Isn’t U.S. democracy a perfectible society and model even if it is imperfect today? Often these ideas have to be brought to the surface, articulated in the discussion, so that they can be joined and so that people are able to see what is real and true and what is not. It is, after all, true that society at this stage of human history is either going to be organized in accordance with the vicious exploiting dynamics of capitalism, or be organized on the basis of communist principles that are leading to a world community where all forms of exploitation and oppression are being overcome.
Fundraising for BA Everywhere necessarily involves transforming the thinking of blocs of people. And that’s a good thing. It’s a big part of the whole point—the campaign is raising big funds so that revolution is in the air. Now that would be a big societal change in thinking. People can see and be won to the importance and difference that BA and what he represents being widely known and debated will make even as they have not yet resolved their thinking about what they agree with and what they don’t. People can appreciate, desire, and support the political, cultural, and intellectual ferment and process that will be unleashed as BA increasingly becomes a point of reference in society. On the basis of good ideological struggle over the heart and soul of what BA and the new synthesis of communism means for the future of humanity, and as people come to see the positive impact this being out in the world can have, people can unite with and contribute funds to make this possible.
In What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, An Interview with Bob Avakian by A. Brooks, speaking of the BA Everywhere campaign, Bob Avakian said that:
...people are fully capable of holding two thoughts in their head at the same time.... [They] can feel that they personally don't know that much about, or maybe don't agree with parts or much of what is actually embodied in the new synthesis of communism and my body of work and method and approach overall, but they can at the same time feel that it would be very important for these ideas to be projected broadly into society and for many, many more people, in all corners of society, to be actively engaging and debating these ideas as part of generating a much greater and much loftier wrangling with the question of, once again, "whither humanity?" What is the situation humanity is confronted with? Why are we confronted with the situation we are today? Is there a possibility of radically changing it? Does it need to be radically changed? If so, how?
Even people who may not agree with or may not know that much about the new synthesis of communism, for example—many, many people, thousands and thousands of people—can get actively involved in and be motivated to be part of helping to project this into all corners of society. They can find their own level, so to speak—as long as the way is provided for them to find their own level—to participate in that, with that kind of contradiction in their own understanding, and in their own approach.
There are millions of people from all strata who are agonizing over the state of the world—and each of us reading this article can think of family, friends, and colleagues who feel this way, because we all live in this same social reality with its truly massive, horrific suffering, injustices, and devastation that is continually generated by the workings of this system. Recognizing this should open up huge vistas of places and people to take the BA Everywhere campaign, from concerts and plays, to schools and campuses, to churches and libraries, to museums and cultural festivals, in the media and on the Internet, and into the projects and neighborhoods.
Achieving this—BA Everywhere—will require truly massive fundraising, on a mass scale among people of different strata, including major donors.
This need for massive fundraising comes into sharp relief with even just a moment of reflection and real reckoning on what it will take to get BA out to ALL corners of society. Just think of what is spent for the advertising budgets to attract audiences to major films involving known Hollywood actors. Then, think about what a large-scale promotional campaign for the films Stepping Into the Future...and BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live would cost. Consider too what it would cost to sustain and support teams of full-time young volunteers for a nationwide campaign, or to really get thousands of copies of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian into the prisons on a mass scale, and then to make known the response. The amount of money required starts not just adding up, but multiplying, quickly.
Raising money for BA Everywhere is bringing something new onto the political landscape that will accelerate the whole process of building a movement for revolution, giving a living sense and involving people from all strata, transforming the thinking of different sections of people impacting on the whole atmosphere. These are times that require radical thinking and radical solutions. People can recognize and support how BA Everywhere makes that possible.
BA Everywhere should be, and can only succeed if it is a mass campaign infused with imagination, defiance, and community in all it does. These are times of great peril and great potential—potential that is currently constrained by people not knowing that there is a viable revolutionary solution. That can—and will—be changed through BA Everywhere. Millions and millions will come to know of BA, and that there is a way out of this madness and horror. Society will resonate with big dreams and a living, growing potential of fundamental change and the emancipation of humanity.
4. See the special Revolution/revcom.us issue: "You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future." [back]
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
"I feel really inspired. First of all, it is really well done. It weaves Bob Avakian and the ideology and all that behind it with the performances, with the speakers, with the history... it had me captivated."
—Someone active in arts and events.
"...you can find inspiration and uplift in this [film], and possibly come away with a whole different mindset if you open yourself up to it. For me, it really did inspire me and gave me a little bit of hope that what I'm doing artistically, while not commercial, is on the right track. It's uplifting, and uplifting that there is room for me in this type of revolution."
"I'm excited for the screening in December because [the film is] very diverse... I think it'll touch base with a lot of issues and bring forward the problem and solution... The most important thing I got from watching this film is that change needs to come. I would recommend it to others because it will show them what they need to see, it will give them the truth and won't hide or sugarcoat it. This is the truth, now you do what you think is right... people will change, will react to it."
These are just some of the comments from a diverse range of people after watching the documentary film Stepping into the Future—On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World, which will be screened in release celebrations on Saturday, December 7, in New York City and Wednesday, December 11, in Los Angeles.
Stepping into the Future takes off from an event on April 11, 2011, where hundreds of people joined in a thrilling taste of revolutionary possibility at Harlem Stage in NYC. BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian—the handbook for revolution in the 21st century—had just been published (and today is in its second printing and as a free e-book). To mark the occasion, musicians, dancers, poets, actors, visual artists came together with revolutionaries and activists from the 1960s down to today for a cultural event titled "On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World."
Harlem Stage soared with revolutionary joy as hundreds of people, young and old, of different backgrounds and diverse political viewpoints, were taken on a journey: lifted off their feet and touched to their cores as they traveled through the night of jazz, funk, soul, rock, poetry, dance, theatrical readings, and visual arts all woven together with deep revolutionary insight from archival film of Bob Avakian, readings from his BAsics, and commentary from voices who have been on the front lines for decades. As Revolution newspaper wrote at that time: "All of it aching for, giving voice to, and infused with the possibility of a radically different world than the maddening planet we live on now."
The New York celebration and screening of the film Stepping Into the Future will include special performances by Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and Abiodun Oyewole; directors' Q&A with Annie Day and Andy Zee; and a reception.
This film is the story of that night—the reflections of the artists and participants—what inspired them, their hopes and dreams. In one hour and 15 minutes, you feel and understand the depth of transformation that can take place when the revolutionary vision and framework developed by Bob Avakian, which is concentrated in BAsics, sets the stage—here for an evening—yet foreshadowing the potential for a whole new world. The film features tastes of the performances at Harlem Stage, and the urgency, uplift, humor, and beauty of the night comes through a compelling narrative of the deep concerns of the artists and presenters about the horrific state of today's world, the lies and the crimes of America, the importance they see in revolution and in BA's voice being known throughout society—why that matters and their hopes for what this could mean for the future of humanity.
In the initial smaller screenings, people have been deeply impacted by this film. For people who have never seen or experienced Bob Avakian and the impact of his words, this film is an inspiring introduction. In the documentary, jazz composer and musician Matthew Shipp comments: "Avakian talks a lot about revolutionaries having a poetic imagination, so it was really good to see that idea within the context of an event that has to do with the political or philosophical idealism of revolution."
A number of people have commented about getting to see BA develop over the years, learning how long he's been committed to revolutionary change and how he's persevered in the face of great difficulty. The reggae musician quoted at the beginning said, "[The film] gave me the impression that what is available for revolution is really possible. There's a very scientific method, there's theory, there's also the idea of a very structured plan that's available for those with consciousness and it can open up that consciousness also."
A couple of artists commented on how the film makes you recognize the brainwash of this culture and society and impels you to want to find out more about this revolution and BA. Others have said how much this went up in the face of the incorrect conventional wisdom about what communism is and the exciting and liberatory culture people should be striving for today. There have been comments on how moving it is to see this whole range of people who are putting their lives on the line for something so much bigger than themselves. A number of people have talked about how rare it is to see the range of nationalities, viewpoints, and ages... all inspiring and challenging each other... bouncing off of BA, challenging people to get into BA, and working towards real change in their words and in their art.
Imagine this multiplied throughout society... reverberating through people's hearts, changing their thinking and lifting their hopes. Imagine people coming together to experience this—the forging of something new up against all the degrading culture and in-it-for-self mentality. And imagine this part of fighting to go somewhere... building a movement for revolution... and as part of the mass campaign to raise major funds to project Bob Avakian and his vision for a radically new society and his works into every corner of society: BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make!
Stepping into the Future shows this with life, voice, and diversity. You feel what is possible for all of humanity with the real potential of revolution and a beginning understanding of the new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA... and it gives you a living, heart-beating, and foot-stomping feeling of what can change if BA were really everywhere... a contending pole in society right now up against all the exploitation, mass immiseration, and low dreams of the world as it is.
Right now, we are in the middle of a major two-month effort to make a serious leap in this campaign—to raise the kind of serious funds required to truly impact society, making BA a household name. These celebration premieres are coming at the perfect time and should be a tremendous impetus in this drive, raising funds and making known what this is all about, and what can be broken open with BA Everywhere—the inspiration, the intolerance and outrage with the needless suffering today, the debate over what is the source of all the suffering and torment that is plaguing humanity in this system of capitalism-imperialism, and what is the solution: revolution and the new synthesis of communism developed by BA, who is leading a movement to make revolution in today's world. There is great joy in coming together to forge the new—the debate, discussion, and dreaming of what is possible for humanity... and the serious understanding of what we are up against in fighting to bring this into being.
This is what BA Everywhere is about... and what should be brought together coming into these December screenings, and brought to a whole new level through reaching throughout society and raising lots of funds through all this.
Anyone seriously agonizing about the state of the world should be in the house at the celebration premieres on December 7 and December 11. People should be buying their tickets, spreading the word and getting unleashed themselves in all kinds of ways... to contribute funds to BA Everywhere, to bring their friends to these events, to get out word about these screenings and BA Everywhere on social media and more. There should be a movement of house parties coming off these screenings through the rest of December, mass fundraising efforts of yard sales, candy sales, collecting change jars—or for those with much greater resources, contributions in the thousands and tens of thousands and serious sit-down meetings to discuss this.
Along with Stepping into the Future, there should be screenings of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live; sales and discussions of the new special issue of Revolution, "You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future," sales of BAsics, BA's memoir, and more. And these screenings should be just the beginning of efforts over the next year to get these films way out in society: small film festivals, cable TV, and more. And there will be an opportunity for people to volunteer to be part of these efforts at these screenings (or by writing to email@example.com right now).
On December 7 and December 11, step into the future... a future people would actually want to be in... a future that really could be.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
by Orpheus Reed | Updated December 8, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The 19th United Nations (UN) "Conference of the Parties" (COP) talks on global climate change concluded on November 24 in Warsaw, Poland.
Just as these talks were about to begin, typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda slammed into the Philippines. Haiyan's wind speeds were the highest ever recorded in world history. Its devastating storm surge was made worse by the higher ocean levels brought by global warming. Thousands upon thousands were killed, whole villages swallowed up by the ocean. Four million people have been made homeless and are suffering from lack of food and water.
While it's not possible to say Haiyan was directly "caused" by climate change, its power was quite likely enhanced by the warming oceans. Climate scientist Michael Mann recently wrote that scientific models "suggest more frequent and intense storms in a warmed world" and that "a number of scientists suspect that recent storms like Sandy and Haiyan exhibited characteristics outside the range of natural variation." And higher ocean levels caused by global warming make the damage to coastal areas from such storms worse. There is much other evidence that climate change is already causing more extreme weather events, such as heat waves and droughts.
Filipino climate negotiator Yeb Saño announced in an impassioned plea at the start of the Warsaw conference that he would fast until the delegates made real agreements to do something to stop climate change. Saño said, "What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness, right here in Warsaw." Climate activists around the world joined Saño in his fast.
The delegates at the conference gave Saño a standing ovation. And then the conference proceeded and accomplished nothing to stop, or even seriously address, the climate emergency already wreaking havoc on the planet and its people.
The stated purpose of these UN climate talks, which have been held every year for 19 years, is to stabilize greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide—CO2—and other gases that cause global warming) in the atmosphere "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference with the climate system." Instead, these talks have obstructed, and even sabotaged, any actual agreements to put binding cuts on greenhouse gas emissions.
This past year, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere broke the 400-parts-per-million barrier, a level not seen on earth in three million years. And over the 19 years of talks, the damage and danger caused by climate change has become substantially worse.
There was a "partial deal" struck in Warsaw. This in theory sets up ways to help fund the development of green technology and some payments to poorer nations for damage caused by climate change. These countries have done the least to cause the problem but are suffering the worst. The deal also involves continuing to work toward forging a climate "agreement," in talks in Paris in 2015, that would supposedly result in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Even if such an agreement were to come about, it would not even take effect until 2020!
Waiting until 2020 is insane and criminal. Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that time is running out to stop the planet from a global average temperature warming above two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). A rise of two degrees C in the global average temperature will mean terrible changes in a world that is already greatly impacted by climate change from only the .75 degree C average temperature rise that has occurred over the last 100 years. But two degrees C is the uppermost limit that temperature rise must not exceed if catastrophic climate change is to be prevented. All experts agree on this, and this goal is written into the already existing climate agreements from past talks.
To keep below the limit of a two degree C rise would require drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, beginning immediately and continuing until fossil fuel burning and other practices that spew gases into the atmosphere are almost completely phased out and replaced by green energy technologies over the next decades. So putting off any agreement until 2020 is deadly inaction.
Furthermore, the plan for the Paris agreement is supposedly based on each country coming forward with plans for how much they want to cut their own emissions, and then the other countries looking at the plans and deciding if these are enough. The proposals for cuts by the U.S. and European Union are nowhere near what are needed to stop the worst of climate change. Other countries, like Japan and Australia, actually even took back promises to make emissions cuts they had agreed to previously!
Even as the Warsaw conference was going on, scientists with the Climate Action Tracker website showed that if the current pledges and policies on greenhouse gas emissions cuts of the world's governments are added up, they would result in nearly a four degrees C temperature rise and possibly more.
An article in the UK Guardian quotes from a presentation by climate scientists Alice Bows and Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester in England. According to Bows and Anderson, if there was a global temperature rise of 4 degrees C, the hottest days on earth would be 6-12 degrees C (about 11-21 degrees F) hotter, sea levels would rise by 80 centimeters (over 2.6 feet) or higher, and the yields for key crops like corn, wheat, and rice would drop by as much as 40 percent.
As Dr. Bows notes, "Those sorts of things would be absolutely devastating—they would be catastrophic.... There's a widespread view that four degrees could be incompatible with organized global community and would inevitably lead to conflict and disruption and could potentially be beyond adaptation. Ecosystems are already being threatened—at four degrees we have irreversible impacts on ecosystems."
These talks are not an arena where the world's people and scientists are gathering to deal with what is in reality a global climate emergency. Instead, they are another arena where each of the main players is vying to advance its own interests at the expense of the others, driven by the vicious and cutthroat drive of capitalism for economic profitability and strategic power. None of this has anything to do with saving the planet. (See "Climate Negotiations and 'Big Power' Rivalry")
As the talk shop charades continue at these conferences, the big powers scramble to find and burn even more "unconventional" and carbon polluting fossil fuels. (See "Check It Out: The Race for What's Left: The Scramble for the World's Last Resources, by Michael Klare")
The Warsaw talks, like climate conferences in the past, were extremely divided and contentious, reflecting the intense divisions that exist in the world: Divisions among the imperialist powers like the U.S. and the European Union that have overwhelmingly caused the climate crisis through their relentless burning of fossil fuels. Divisions between these imperialist powers and rising capitalist powers such as China and India, who point to the U.S., the EU, and Japan as mainly responsible for causing climate change, but who are only maneuvering to increase their own positions and power in the capitalist shit pile. And divisions between all these world powers and the governments of the poorer oppressed countries dominated by imperialism. It is in these poor and oppressed countries where the majority of humanity lives, where millions are already suffering the impacts of climate change, and where hundreds of millions will be the most devastatingly impacted as climate change continues.
Here's the reality that everyone needs to confront: The capitalist-imperialist powers have set the world on a trajectory that will cause immense and almost unimaginable disruption and suffering to people everywhere and to the whole amazing fabric of life on this planet. The system has locked the world into a trajectory that threatens ecosystems worldwide and even the eco-balance of earth itself. This trajectory—if it is not ruptured out of—could potentially threaten the future of humanity itself.
There were significant protests at the Warsaw talks. Three thousand people from around the world converged on Warsaw in protest at the conference site. Greenpeace hung banners on government buildings to condemn the Polish government, which hosted a world conference on the use of coal at the same time as the climate conference. And hundreds of environmentalists with non-governmental organizations walked out of the climate talks in protest.
These protests are important, but they largely remained confined to speaking of the horrible situation and demanding changes—and seeing the way to do this still as putting pressure on these world powers and other governments to act rationally, to "end the madness," as Yeb Saño said.
But what is required is a rupture out of this framework that sees the solution as coming from appealing to or pressuring these criminal capitalist powers who have shown themselves utterly incapable of doing anything about this crisis. What is needed are urgent efforts by millions of people who are being impacted by climate change and millions who care about the environment and humanity's future, to develop truly massive political resistance to the criminality of these regimes and the system of capitalism-imperialism. To fundamentally stop the deadly direction we're on, we need to wrench the world from the framework and domination of world imperialism through revolution and establish new socialist systems that immediately move away from fossil fuel production.
What is required are radical and immediate measures to move away from use of fossil fuels, to leave oil and coal in the ground, to immediately mobilize all resources, technology, and people to bring forward alternative, green, and sustainable forms of energy in service of the needs of the world's people and to protect, preserve, and stop the destruction of species and ecosystems. Economic production under this system would be consciously and collectively planned, based on the interests of humanity and ecosystems, not driven by capitalist profitability and the "workings of the market" which have brought the world to the brink of disaster.
This is what's needed. Time is long past for anything else or any other approach. There is a way to do this all over the world, through communist revolution—a re-envisioned communist revolution that is possible because of the work of Bob Avakian (BA). The new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA opens up a way out of the horrors we face today to a world where humanity could flourish and that would be based on sustainable ecological principles where people act as caretakers of the planet and work to mitigate the damage already built into the climate system by the insane workings of capitalism. (See "Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development.")
In response to those who say, "That's not realistic"—what's truly unrealistic is to believe that this current system and its representatives will do anything other than leave the planet's environment and humanity fucked.
The science on global climate change and the danger is clear. The trajectory this system is taking things is apparent. We are at a point where it's unacceptable for people who see this and know that systemic and radical changes are required, to lock themselves in self-delusion that working through or "pressuring the system" to change its ways is all that's necessary or possible. We must start from the reality of the level and urgency of the problem and what is truly required to create a situation where this can be addressed. And it's also unacceptable for people to allow despair about the immensity of the problem to lead to a refusal to look at the whole picture and end up clinging to their "comfort zones" while working for change on a small scale. There is a way forward—and a strategy for this revolution in the U.S. (see "On the Strategy for Revolution," a statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA). Yes, this will require hard struggle and sacrifice—but nothing less than revolution is required.
New socialist systems brought about through communist revolution won't magically transform climate emergency—because there is a momentum to the global climate changes that have already built up and will continue. But such a revolution is the only thing that can allow humanity to quickly move to begin dramatic changes that will have an actual chance to prevent the most catastrophic damage that is coming, unless such changes are made.
We need to fight and struggle to develop massive, uncompromising political resistance to the main and critical ways this system is destroying the environment right now. This resistance needs to be stepped up to stop as much destruction as possible—but fundamentally, if this mass resistance isn't increasingly part of the whole movement for revolution, the trajectory of catastrophe can't be averted. This is the only hope for preservation of ecosystems and humanity's future. The resistance needs to be built urgently, and it must be linked to hastening the time when a revolution can be made—to start the process where we can work in common to do everything we can to prevent the worst of what climate change will bring and allow the climate system to stabilize and natural ecosystems to come back.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On Friday, November 22, the National Black Theater of Harlem hosted a benefit, featuring Grammy-winning jazz musician Arturo O'Farrill, to raise money for the STOP Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN).
About 150 people came out for what was to be an amazing night. This was a very diverse crowd—Black, white, Latino, and Asian, young and old, people from the projects along with middle-class people, students, activists, and revolutionaries. A host committee of 17 people—including Dr. Cornel West, journalist Herb Boyd, Mimi Rosenberg, actor Gbenga Akinnagbe, and Dr. Antonia Cedrone, along with longtime committed antiwar and anti-repression activists, professors and others—threw in to make the event a success. The STOP Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) had called for fundraising to enable the network "to enter 2014 on the offensive to reach millions, change the way people view mass incarceration, and bring many of them into this movement." People from all walks of life stepped up to this call in beautiful and inspiring ways—raising funds, lifting spirits, and creating art that celebrated resistance so urgently needed in these times.
Beautiful cards were created to promote the event with this quotation from Arturo O'Farrill:
..In my own small way, I'll use my voice, I'll use what I have, the platform that I've built, the orchestra, the music, the records, the composing, everything I can do, I aim towards the purpose of letting people know that things have got to change. It is the most important thing a person can do.
— Arturo O'Farrill
Welcomes were given by Alejandrina from STOP Mass Incarceration Network, who spoke in English and Spanish, and by Nabii Faison, the director of the National Black Theater. The Reverend Stephen H. Phelps of Riverside Church co-mc'ed with Jamel Mims of the NY Revolution Club and the STOP Mass Incarceration Network.
Arturo O'Farrill's performance was the culmination and centerpiece of the evening. O'Farrill is a world-renowned, two-time Grammy award-winning jazz composer and performer. Dedicated to musicians, he devotes tremendous attention to music training and education and working with young musicians. He performed with a six-piece band that came together for this night, including two of his sons.
Before playing, O'Farrill spoke movingly about what brought him there. He told about becoming a jazz musician, getting more and more well-known, playing on bigger and bigger stages, winning awards, yet feeling that more was required. He said: "Artists have a responsibility to report back to the people what is going on in the world. And what I saw in the world was freaking me out." He talked about the NYPD murder of Ramarley Graham in the bathroom of Graham's house—and how his own son was the same age at that time, and he knew he had to speak out.
He said, "We live in a horrible age, we live in a terrible police state." But still, "I was one of those people who thought, 'What can I do? I'm just a musician.'" But he came to the conclusion that his music and his renown could be a platform to influence other people, and that now he has to do all he can to bring the message of change through his work and voice.
Arturo O'Farrill's band did an extended set of incredible music. Jazz aficionados and those who knew nothing about jazz all came away deeply moved. His set included a mournful and painful "prayer" for the families who have lost children to police brutality, which then segued into the urgent chaos and conflict of Arturo's "Stop and Frisk Blues" followed by a moving lyrical piece, “The Moon Follows Us Wherever We Go” composed by his son, Adam O'Farrill. Arturo O'Farrill described how his father (the famous jazz artist Chico O'Farrill) and his family of musicians have all believed in erasing the boundaries between different kinds of music, and he powerfully transcended categories to reach inside people, grabbing hold of the pain and rage as well as a lyrical humor and soaring beauty.
Near the end of his set, O'Farrill spoke about what holds back other artists from taking a stand, noting that once he started to do this, "People on Facebook and critics were panning my albums for referring to AmeriKKKa—triple K." He alluded to pervasive government spying and repression. He said that "not enough of us in the jazz community speak out. I know a lot of jazz musicians are lovely people... but we're scared, because if you speak out... you can get in a lot of trouble.
"But that's no excuse."
The program leading into Arturo O'Farrill's performance was begun by the Reverend Phelps, who told of being asked to join Carl Dix and Cornel West in getting arrested two years ago to put their bodies on the line to stop the NYPD stop-and-frisk program. He spoke of the prisons and of being in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Drawing from this, he spoke of the moral necessity to act to stop mass incarceration: "It's going to take a long time—it's going to take people putting their lives on the line, because the systems and structures of power do not change without that, but if enough people do that, they cannot stand against it."
Carl Dix—co-founder of SMIN and a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party—spoke of the mass incarceration, stop-and-frisk, racial profiling, police murder, and all the other manifestations of what he described as "a slow genocide that could easily speed up," and he challenged the audience to be part of ending this: "Out of tonight a message has to emanate, not only throughout the city but throughout the country, the whole society. No more to mass incarceration. No more to 2.2 million people in prison. No more to 80,000 of those in prison being subjected to the torture of solitary confinement. No more to the five million former prisoners being treated as second-class citizens in this society. No more to Black and Latino youth being treated as criminals by police, guilty until proven innocent... if they can survive to prove their innocence. No more stop-and-frisk. No more 'Driving while Black. No more police swarming people for the crime of walking while Black, or—this is racist vigilantes doing this—for the crime of going to the store for Skittles and iced tea while Black, or searching for help after an auto accident while Black. To say 'No more' and mean it means we have to bring forward a movement of millions from all different backgrounds who are involved in saying no more to these abuses, and saying it and meaning it."
Dix said, "Through revolution, we can get rid of this system and end the slow genocide of mass incarceration and all the other horrors it enforces on humanity—the attacks on women, the wars for empire, the devastation of the environment and more." He said that there is the leadership needed for this revolution in Bob Avakian, BA, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA: "BA has studied the experience of the previous revolutionary societies and developed a new approach to revolution and communism. We have a plan and strategic approach to getting ready and in a position for such a revolution in a country like this. And we are building a movement for revolution."
The humanity of the criminalized generations and those lost to police murder was alive in the house, drove the performances, and they were named on the stage: 19-year-old Renisha McBride, murdered by a shotgun blast to the head when she sought help from a Dearborn, Michigan, homeowner after a traffic accident; the victims of "shop-and-frisk" in NYC—Black people arrested in department stores for making purchases that store security deemed "too expensive" for Black people. Juanita Young and Nicholas Heyward Sr., who both lost sons to police murder and have fought for many years for justice and to stop police brutality, were in the house and recognized from the stage. The felt loss of Ramarley Graham and Trayvon Martin, and the outrage unleashed and the injustice of their killers being set free by the "justice" system, wove through the performances and the anger of the audience. And the audience gave a lot of love and appreciation to Carl Dix, Noche Diaz, the Reverend Phelps, and others who came together two years ago to begin the mass civil disobedience to STOP stop-and-frisk and build the resistance that has begun to take shape to STOP all the police brutality, mass incarceration, and criminalization of a generation.
Jamal Joseph spoke preceding the performance of the IMPACT Repertory Theatre, which he founded. Joseph is a former Panther, author of Panther Baby; A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention, and a Columbia University professor. IMPACT is a company of Black youth of all ages who come together to use their art to "change the world in a positive way." Jamal Joseph spoke with a forceful eloquence of the necessity for militant resistance to oppression. When he asked the 20 members of the IMPACT group who were arrayed in silent tableau behind him how many of them had relatives who were in or had been in prison, all of them raised their hands. Then the troupe—kids of every age, shape, and size—performed songs and raps of their own words in choreographed numbers that captured not only the energy of the streets, but also the sense of collective strength and joy that comes from commitment to resistance to the day-in and day-out oppression of this system.
An ensemble of actors read excerpts from letters that prisoners have written to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, traversing the ground from a 32-year-old prisoner who said, "I will likely die here, in this cell" but who was looking forward with hopeful anticipation to the statewide prisoner hunger strike in California, through the growing unity of prisoners of all nationalities during that strike, and the growing consciousness of the roots of mass incarceration in the capitalist-imperialist system, and the need for revolution together with people around the planet, to bring about a better world for humanity.
Other moving moments included Noche Diaz, a member of the New York Revolution Club who has been in the forefront of SMIN and the movement to Stop Mass Incarceration, expressing the "honor and privilege" of urging people to donate to SMIN; Jamel Mims of SMIN, who performed two rap pieces he wrote as a contribution to forging a new culture that calls on people to create a new world with new relations among the people, rejecting the degradation and objectification of women in particular; and Kaseem Walters, a young rapper from the Brooklyn neighborhood where 16-year-old Kimani Gray was murdered by police last year, performing raps that included beautifully choreographed signing for deaf people.
After the formal program ended, there was an informal reception marked by enthusiastic discussion about what had just happened, about what the music touched and moved in people, and about the importance of having more evenings like this with art and culture that breathes resistance and revolution. People wrestled with the challenge to build a mass movement of millions with the breadth and determination to wage a society wide fight to put a stop to the slow genocide of mass incarceration. Conversations turned to revolution as well—grappling with the deep need and desire to bring about a world where, as one of the prisoner letters and Carl Dix said, no more generations of our youth will be criminalized, harassed, degraded, and murdered by the system and its enforcers.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
By a reader in the San Francisco, Bay Area
Oakland, California. On a public bus ride home from high school one afternoon in early November, Luke “Sasha” Fleischman was catching a little nap. Sasha woke up on fire! Was there a terrible accident with the fuel tank of the bus rupturing and spilling flammable liquid through the bus which subsequently lighted—a terrible disaster? No. Another human being set the sleeping 18-year-old Sasha on fire, then got off the bus and ran. Sasha struggled to put out the fire but wasn’t able to. Passengers rushed to help and put out the fire, saving Sasha’s life. Sasha’s skirt had been set ablaze which caused second-and third-degree burns to Sasha’s legs which means months of surgery, skin grafts, etc. Sasha was just released from the hospital this past week and will continue to need treatment for some time.
Sasha’s gender orientation is agender, or gender neutral—Sasha doesn’t identify as male or female.
There was an immediate outpouring of support for Sasha from Sasha’s friends and the community around Maybeck High School in Berkeley, California where Sasha is a senior. Maybeck is a small, private, college preparatory high school that tries to make room for all forms of diversity in its student body. Support also came from the school that Sasha’s alleged attacker attends, Oakland High School. OHS is the oldest public high school in Oakland, with a student body that is 96% Black, Latino, and Asian. Some of the students come from middle class families and many more come from the poorer neighborhoods of such as East Oakland and the Fruitvale district. Students there are very familiar with police brutality and at times have walked out to protest murders by the police, such as the murder of Oscar Grant and others. Some students also walked out in the past in protest against the war in Iraq.
Sasha got some tentative support from the family of the alleged attacker, too. But up to this point there has been little discussion of Sasha’s attacker’s motivation. Only a short police statement saying that the attacker admitted to police that he is homophobic, which the youth’s attorney now says was coerced from his client.
Where did this idea come from that anyone who doesn’t appear “normal” should be attacked? Because he/she doesn’t appear in step with the traditional norms of society, he/she should be burned? We don’t know the motivation of the high school student who attacked Sasha. But we do know that attacks on gay and transgender people (LGBT in general) are increasing, including murder.*
A San Francisco Chronicle article quoted Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay Straight Alliance Network saying that “I was horrified by what Sasha had gone through, but I was heartened by the response...so I was struck by the dissonance. It’s that jarring contrast between support and rejection that presents a larger message about where we are as a culture.” The article went on to say, “few would dispute that gender nonconformity is taking a more prominent place in culture. More than 60 percent of public high schools in California have gay-straight alliance clubs on campus...”
In a dramatic and wonderfully defiant action, pretty much the whole student body of Maybeck HS (including faculty and staff) had a “Skirts for Sasha” day, which was colorful, stylish, and lots of fun. Oakland HS students have raised over $1,300 for Sasha, are wearing “NO H8” buttons and had made “Be Yourself” signs. In addition, they have held speak outs, and an anti-bullying assembly was held at the school. Students at Maybeck HS, Oakland HS and others organized a “Stroll for Sasha” march originating at Oakland HS and following the route of the 57 bus which Sasha was riding when attacked. These are great developments and need to be applauded, actively supported—and built on.
*See report of National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs 2012, page 58 and elsewhere.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
After watching the discussion between Sunsara Taylor and Dr. Willie Parker* at Revolution Books, we decided that there needed to be a quick and dirty protest at UC Berkeley to draw attention to the emergency situation unfolding around abortion rights. We sent out a mass email, called the folks we knew, and tried to call on the women's studies department and others to take part.
Five folks who had been around the movement for revolution and two who are fairly new to it went out to the center of campus with a banner that read "Abortion Rights Emergency; Texas—Mississippi—Albuquerque; Stop the War on Women," Revolution newspaper, and a banner for students to sign. We agitated at the lunch rush about the speed at which this essential right is being stolen from women, that this was about, as Sunsara Taylor said in the discussion, whether women will be seen as full human beings or reduced to breeders.
We also talked about how this was part of a larger war on women and a system of patriarchy that could only be done away with through revolution. We distributed palm cards for the upcoming showing of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!
The response from students, women in particular, was positive—many coming over to find out more, to sign up, and to sign the banner. One woman, who was walking with her daughter, responded to the agitation that this would mainly affect poor women and women of color and would steal their futures and foreclose on their lives. "FUCK THAT! That's what I'm gonna write on this banner." Her daughter invited us to speak to her women's empowerment group on campus. A young man said he really agreed with the main message: "People shouldn't be able to impose their religion on other people, the separation of church and state is so important." A lot of people, women in particular, were attracted to the banner and some took pictures.
There was one very enthusiastic young woman who had a lot of agreement, but as we talked she had a lot of questions as well. "Why do we emphasize abortion so much? What about contraception?" "I can get behind the abortion on demand, but I don't know about the 'without apology' part, what if the woman regrets it." She was confusing, as many people do, the strong feelings related to making a major life decision with the guilt that comes from feeling you've done something morally wrong, which comes from the propaganda that you're killing a baby. "It's really good what you're doing, but what people need to be doing is dealing with those Republican states, because we all agree here." Just as we were explaining that there is actually a lot of confusion about abortion and why it's worth fighting for, a young Asian woman with a cross on her neck came up literally crying and asking how could we be saying what we're saying, "I'm a straight-A student, and if my mom had had an abortion, I wouldn't be here." I guess the bad students should have been aborted.
One Latino guy was very concerned with the anti-science part of the fundamentalist movement, spreading ignorance, but saw it too much as being the fault of the Republicans. We talked about how the Democrats have mainly been going along with this and consciously not mounting any serious fight to halt it.
We were able to meet up with a couple students later that evening off of this protest, one of whom, an atheist religious studies student, has started BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, and is reading Bob Avakian's Away With All Gods! They were both very excited about the showing of REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! and took cards to turn some friends on to the film.
* Editor's note: Dr. Willie Parker is one of the two heroic abortion doctors who regularly fly to Mississippi to provide abortions. On October 27, Dr. Parker (via Skype) and Revolution correspondent Sunsara Taylor discussed this state of emergency and what people can do to turn the tide. The video is available at http://vimeo.com/77949722. Readers should also check out the "Revolution Interview: Dr. Willie Parker, Doctor at the Last Abortion Clinic in Mississippi" by Sunsara Taylor. [back]
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On November 25, a university "rally" of hundreds was held in response to a racist hate crime on the San Jose State University campus. Some students wore duct tape over their mouths as a symbol of their protests against racism being repeatedly ignored, as well as the fact that no students had been scheduled to speak at this rally! The University President Mohammed Qayoumi spoke (offering apologies for having "failed") as well as the NAACP. Students were finally given the podium after making their demands known.
Some of the students raised their fists at the foot of the statue honoring former Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos who raised their fists at the playing of the national anthem during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. (According to The Nation, SJSU is known to many as the birthplace of Black athletes' protest in the 1960s.)
Starting in August, a series of racist incidents began when a Black freshman was racially harassed by his four dorm roomates who were white. They called him "3/5" or "fraction" in reference to the U.S. Constitution's definition of a slave. They displayed a Confederate flag and Nazi memorabilia on their wall; they frequently locked him in the room; and once collared him with a bike lock, throwing away the key.
Although other campus officials knew about these incidents from parents and other dorm residents as far back as October, nothing was done until protests broke out, and only then were they even suspended by the campus. The District Attorney Jeff Rosen has now charged the racists with misdemeanors. (In a sidenote, a former Santa Clara County judge wrote in the San Jose Mercury News that NOT filing the charges as a felony sends a message that these crimes are "not serious.") In essence, the university and the DA were dismissing it as a "prank" or "joke."
But these types of incidents go back a long way at San Jose State University. According to the San Jose Mercury News, "Gary Daniels [of the Black Unity Group] said black student groups had tried for a year to meet with [University President] Qayoumi, and that they had sent him ideas for making black students—who make up about 3% of the student body—feel safer and more welcome on campus." At the rally, Black and other students of color complained of having their programs inadequately funded, and their requests ignored. One of the speakers at this rally was Denise Johnson, whose son Gregory was found dead at a fraternity house in 2008. Although the death was ruled a suicide, she believes it was a hate crime!
The anger of many students remains strong; although one student noted "look at all these other students just walking by. This should have stopped the university in its tracks. It should have been shut down!" One Latino student said, " Hell, this is unacceptable. These things can not be tolerated. No one should have to put up with this. These things are aimed at all of us. These things jump lines."
More demonstrations are planned for next week.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
December 4, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In all of our work, it has been very important to emphasize that we ARE building a movement for revolution, and that all that we do must proceed from the strategy for revolution that the Party has put forward. In line with that strategy, it is also decisive that we build the Party as the leading core of that movement for revolution.
If there is to be a revolution, there must be a revolutionary party.
All those who see the burning need for revolution, who are working to build the movement for revolution, need to confront the reality that without a strong vanguard party, without the Revolutionary Communist Party, there can be no revolution in this country. And without new forces stepping forward now to build and strengthen this Party, there will not be the strong core of leadership that the revolution must have.
As the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA puts it:
"Making revolution against a powerful and vicious enemy—and going on from there to bring into being a whole new world, without exploitation and oppression—is an incredibly challenging and complex process! Such a revolution requires leadership; it requires an organization with a sweeping vision, a scientific method to analyze reality and how to go about changing it, and serious discipline. An organization that can awaken and unleash the revolutionary potential of the masses of people, direct their outrage against the real enemy, and loft their sights to the emancipation of all humanity. An organization that can chart the path through extreme ups and downs, and dangerous twists and turns. That organization is the revolutionary vanguard party. Only with an organization such as this can the masses rise to the historic challenges, and win their emancipation."
There is such a Party—the RCP, USA—led by its Chairman Bob Avakian.
This Party is built on and takes as its foundation the new synthesis of communism that has been brought forward through the body of work and method and approach of Bob Avakian. The fact that BA leads this Party is a huge strength for the revolution and for this Party, and one that must not be squandered. The members of the RCP, USA are united in their profound desire for a radically different and better world, and their understanding of the need for revolution to get to that world. They have dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to revolution, and on the basis of that they channel their individual abilities and passions to the cause and needs of this revolution.
The statement On the Strategy for Revolution correctly argues: to prepare the people and to hasten the conditions for revolution, and for the revolution to have a chance of winning, there must be leadership, and there is leadership. But there is work to be done...
"To support and strengthen our Party as the overall leadership of this revolution. The more our Party’s revolutionary viewpoint and strategy is spread and gains influence throughout society...the more that people come to understand and agree with what the Party is all about, and join its ranks on that basis...the more the Party’s 'reach' extends to every corner of the country...the greater its organizational strength and its ability to withstand and to lead people forward in the face of government repression aimed at crushing resistance and killing off revolution—the more the basis for revolution will be prepared and the more favorable the chance of winning."
"The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA has taken the responsibility to lead revolution in the U.S., the belly of the imperialist beast, as its principal share of the world revolution and the ultimate aim of communism. This is a great and historic undertaking–and all those who yearn to see this happen should rally to and support this vanguard, working together with the party, building support for it and, on the basis of taking up the cause and outlook of communism, joining it.
"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."
(from the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA)
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
December 5, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
We encourage readers to continue to write on the special issue of Revolution with their thoughts and ideas for taking it out.
Letter from a Reader
I want to share some initial thinking—including on radically simple campus plans—around the recent special issue of Revolution newspaper, #323, November 24, 2013, "You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About ... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future."
First, a quick word of appreciation. I have been carefully reading and studying the interview with Raymond Lotta and am learning a lot from HOW he goes at the questions from the interviewers—not only picturing in the abstract, but also feeling transported to and "living in" the social reality confronted and changed by the past revolutions and socialist societies—all of which contributes to the sweep of this experience, and is approached from a scientific 'macro' vantage point of what these revolutions faced, what they were trying to accomplish and transform, and how they went about doing it, guided by what leading conceptions, method and approach.
I feel this gives a very living—and scientific—sense of these revolutions, their theoretical breakthroughs and what they accomplished against great odds, and where and how they fell short ... and while truly momentous and breathtaking, the need to and how we can do better and go further the next time around. I also particularly appreciated the sharp contrasts with societies ruled by the very people who relentlessly slander and spread lies about the communist experience, with all its problems and shortcomings, truly a "far better world."
Second, my basic thinking was that even as campuses wind down the fall semester and precious few days are left on the academic calendar, we should take a big stack of these special issues, go to the campuses and as we approach and talk to folks about the massive multi-faceted fundraising campaign to get BA Everywhere. We should get this issue in the hands of professors, graduate and undergraduate students, administrators and others. We should also get this issue to everyone who over the last decade has raised any questions and/or objections about these experiences of communist revolution in the Soviet Union and China—whether sincere and wanting to learn, or informed by the pervasive slander, or as is so often the case, just ignorantly and uncritically parroting "conventional wisdom," or otherwise.
This does not require a whole "production" involving hours of preparation but individuals and groupings can do this rather simply - and quickly - at times of their convenience—with a basic, friendly but challenging, approach informed by the title, because the vast majority of intellectuals today, including and especially on these campuses ... Don't Know What They think they know about... this experience. Distributing this issue is not—and should not be—"antagonistic" but it does challenge what and how folks think ... and this particular question is high-stakes, having everything to do with whether this is the "best of all possible worlds" or a radically different and far better world is possible—and what is the "... REAL path to emancipation" as the title so eloquently states.
Given these stakes, for people of conscience, and/or agonizing in some aspect about the state of the planet and humanity, the challenge can be put to people on the moral and intellectual responsibility—and courage—to follow through on their convictions, to learn—for themselves, and with the right method—what is true and what is not, how to correctly and scientifically view and assess these first attempts of humanity to consciously free itself. As it says in the important sidebar article in the same issue "But How Do We Know Who's Telling the Truth About Communism", "you definitely don't decide what's true... by looking at "what most people think" which unfortunately is the dominant criteria today.
Get the issue to people on the campuses, referencing, tell them to read it over the winter break, and you want to hear their thoughts, either over the break or when school reopens. This special issue can be transformative in changing the thinking of blocs of people on this question—and part of opening the lids on and changing the discourse on what kind of society and change is desirable and possible.
Third, and briefly in closing, it is important to realize, in the real world, the positive dynamic with the fundraising this is, and for BA Everywhere—because these questions on the past communist revolutions addressed in the main interview generally arise rather quickly in any serious engagement with what BA represents and has advanced in the new synthesis of communism—and the kind of atmosphere, ferment and process this special issue can potentially unleash in different scenes and among people, the thinking it transforms, and new pathways it creates and opens up to raise the kind of funds needed to project BA Everywhere.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
December 5, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a Reader:
I went to church on Sunday morning with a young woman student I've been getting to know. She hesitantly invited me to church—she didn't want me to be uncomfortable since I'm an atheist. I told her we unite and struggle with religious people—which seemed to relieve her angst.
We went to an all Black church. Previously, she relayed that she used to be Catholic but didn't like the atmosphere (mainly that it was not helping or speaking to the problems of the community). She went online and found a baptist church which she was attracted to because it seemed to be helping out the community (including in the prisons).
My friend and I were probably the only non-Black people in the church. It seems to be made up of mostly middle class Black people. The service itself was really draining because of all the personal responsibility, the individualism, upward mobility, and the sinful nature of people kind of thing running through it. By the end, the pastor emphasized how his love of God and the church goes beyond funds—since he gets paid well by the Sheriffs Department. The whole service reeked of BAsics 4:18—"Let's call it what it is—it is slave mentality, with which people are being indoctrinated. All this 'thank you Jesus!' is a slave mentality." There were people kneeling on the floor praising God and Jesus for their life. People blamed themselves for all their suffering. And, there were several references to women having their rightful place with God. So, I made it a point to discuss the service with my friend. Besides, forthrightly condemning the role of the police (including in neighborhoods like the one in which the church in located)—I was very curious to know what she thought of the service itself.
She said a month ago she might have taken in all the things the pastor preached about (even as she's always been hesitant about the patriarchy). But, for the past month—since meeting the revolution—she can't easily swallow everything the preacher is saying. Even while she still likes the things the church does in so far as helping out the community (i.e. painting houses, decorating the neighborhood, etc.), she can't agree with the personal responsibility—since she now knows the problem is systemic and it's not real that everybody can just pull themselves up from the bootstraps. These were important points to get into: (1) why the masses of people look to religion, (2) how will religion look like after the revolution, and (3) a scientific method and approach as oppose to a leap of faith (in particular the struggle and stand for truth). These were points she never thoroughly thought about—let alone ever walked through with anybody.
When we talked about religion being the opiate of the masses OR the heart of a heartless world - she deeply thought about this...I think she's drawn to religion because she does not have a scientific understanding of the world and sees all the suffering in the world and is attracted to people who are changing it (even while it is confined within the framework of "the community"). In further drawing out the need for a scientific world outlook, I forthrightly talked about BAsics 4:18 in speaking to the world outlook masses take up (sometimes directly short of a scientific understanding of reality). I said that on day one after the revolution praying will not be outlawed but asked her to think about the transformation she herself is walking through (due to the head-on intervention with reality).
This led into a whole discussion on plasticity and the capacity of people in being able to change. She said she does believe people can change by simply looking at her own transformation. I asked that she imagine magnifying her experience—where masses are beginning to encounter a scientific understanding of reality: how that would change their thinking and how that would transform society. But, the need to stand on what she understands to be true even as she's open to being proven wrong.
We talked some about her comments of "helping the community" and the difference of doing some good in a messed up world or fundamentally and radically changing the world. She read "Reform or Revolution, Questions of Orientation, Questions of Morality" by Bob Avakian in Revolution newspaper, and we walked through some of the points in it. Mainly drawing from the example of Doctors Without Borders doing heroic, important, and admirable work. But, to argue that this is the most that can de done—is wrong. I drew from her example of the church doing "good" in the community—but is this really dealing with the enormity of the problem? I also drew from the example in the article where BA makes an analogy based on Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court—going back to a time when there is a huge plague and the difference between putting towels on fevered foreheads OR storming the compounds where the antibiotics which could cure it are being held and seizing them.
This led to larger questions particularly around the real possibility of winning a revolution. As she put it: "their military is strong how will it be defeated?" Subsequently she thought out loud over the different questions popping into her head. Instead of trying to immediately and directly respond to her questions—I suggested she go to the source: get into BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! and BAsics (and referenced chapters speaking to her direct question—especially the On The Strategy for Revolution). The main point I got across was that the questions she's raising are big and important questions and there are serious answers to them—which people have never really engaged, thought about, or ever heard. This provoked her to get further into the readings.
We talked some about the special issue of Revolution newspaper on The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation— which she was excited to get into.
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
December 5, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Today, the Revolution Club was part of a wild scene on campus, with over 100 students taking on a reactionary Christian fascist. There is a newly forming Revolution Club at this college that has been getting together for just a couple weeks. A few veteran members of the Revolution Club along with a writer for Revolution newspaper went out to their meeting to get more into what this Club is and why. While there are different levels of understanding of those attracted to this Club, one thing that stands out is people are searching and looking for an alternative way of understanding and changing the world. At the most recent meeting questions began to get informally tossed around: why is communism so slandered? What about religion or the military? Can there be gradual change? Students really wrestling with why things are the way they are and can there be another way to exist and be (as a whole).
Usually students silently trickle into the meeting but this time on their way in, several students referred to the Christian anti-abortion and anti-gay demonstrator on campus. People talked about there being a scene developing with students surrounding this lone guy, some challenging and a lot just watching.
People at the Revolution Club meeting seemed really agitated, commenting on the signs that this lone guy was holding: "homosex is a god damned sin" and "abortion is a god damned sin" on the other side. We had planned to get more into the slogans of the Revolution Club to more solidly forge this on campus, and were going to get into the important questions raised at the beginning. But as people were talking about what was going on, those leading the meeting asked people if we should get into this questions more later (as important as they are), and go be part of what was happening, and chant this motherfucker down by challenging his shit. People very quickly agreed and were eager to see the club doing this kind of resistance; it seems, the majority hadn't participated in a demonstration before; and they all wanted to see revolutionaries in action. We quickly practiced our chant: "without this basic right women can't be free, Abortion on demand and without apology!" And we walked into a scene of about a hundred students; chanting—we ripped things open on a different level.
There were all kinds of people there—a group of gay students and gay rights supporters, atheists and secular students, people who were religious but didn't like this kind of bigotry and a lot who were just watching what was happening. Some people were quietly taking him on but when we got there, we started doing loud agitation along with the chanting—getting into the stakes of the fight for abortion, what's wrong with the shaming of gay people, and what this kind of religious fundamentalism represented and why it needed to be taken on. We also agitated about the need for revolution, that people should find out more, hook up with the Revolution Club and find out about the revolutionary leader Bob Avakian.
People cheered as we came in. Along with our agitation, we were calling on people who were taking him on to do it more loudly. One student just stood there agitating "false prophet, false prophet." There was a pretty defiant group of gay youth and their supporters who really got in the fascists' face. At one point, they started chanting "anal sex, anal sex." Or others were yelling out, "God loves homosexuals!", two young gay women kissed right in the face of this Christian fascist and this got resounding applause from all those around.
Many started off curious as to what was going on and quickly had a strong opinion against what was being said by the Christian fascist. Others were arguing we should just ignore this guy and let him be. But people's vocal defiance is what had the initiative that day.
Along with his hateful bigotry against gay people, this fascist vocally upheld patriarchy. In response to the revolutionary who writes for Revolution newspaper, he said, "this is an example for all women of what not to be" and went on that he wanted to clarify some things about patriarchy. He said, "patriarchy is a good thing, women need a strong father and a strong god." This was very helpful self-exposure about what this guy's true program was about. A young guy student yelled out, "no, men and women were created equal." And this outraged a lot of the young women who said they were more than this and echoed what the revolutionary said about being full human beings. This fascist said literally that women should be in the kitchen—this is usually followed up with barefoot and pregnant, as one of the club members added, speaking to the crowd to illustrate the type of horrors in store for women in his vision of the way things should be. We also agitated that fetuses are not babies and abortion is not murder. And made clear that the fight for abortion isn't about babies but about the control of a woman's body.
There were some who really upheld this and others who disagreed. One young guy was both mad at the fascist and mad at us. He pleaded with the fascist that god was supposed to be about love and this guy was going about it all wrong, but also argued against us, saying that it was "selfish to kill the life inside you." We argued that a woman's life mattered more than a bunch of cells that was not yet a human being, that a fetus is subordinate to the life of a woman and that without the right to abortion women will be no more than slaves, with their lives and dreams foreclosed. At a certain point, a young woman said quietly, "yeah, we need abortion to be free and this guy is totally wrong for trying to shame women." Others took this on by arguing about the need for abortion when it comes to rape.
At one point, a woman who seemed to be in her 60s walked right up to the fascist and put her finger in his face, "Fuck you!" she said, "You're a hater!" She marched off but before she left the crowd, turned back around and said, "I'm a professor and I love what you all are doing." And then one more time for good measure, looked at the fascist and gave him the middle finger saying again, "Fuck you!"
There was also debate about the bible and the existence of god. We said there is no god and that we need liberation without gods. This was controversial amongst some students. Some tried to counter the fascist by saying the bible is about god's love and god loves all of us, but the fascist responded that the bible does actually say homosexual acts are sinful and should not be allowed and that women should serve men. On this—he was actually correct and we said so. This is what the bible says—which is why no one should look to that dark ages bullshit. There were other students who took on this biblical garbage as well. One student dramatically illustrated that there is no god by saying: "If there is a god, let him strike me down NOW." He then fell to the ground and pretended to be "smited." This got a lot of laughs from the boisterous crowd. A few others called out other kinds of fucked-up shit and ridiculousness in the bible, including that according to the bible it's sinful to eat shellfish. To this, a young gay student joked loudly about wanting to eat lobster and commit acts of sodomy. Someone appeared with flyers for the Secular Student Alliance which they're trying to form on campus.
Our agitation about communism was also real controversial. The fascist kept calling us communists as an insult but this was more self-exposure on his part. We agitated loudly about what communism is and who BA is and why people need to check him out. A lot of people defended capitalism but had a lot of questions about communism and why we uphold that. And this discussion was going on amidst all the joyful rowdiness of the crowd.
Students seemed to really appreciate the revolutionaries stepping in: many gave us hugs and cheered and we unleashed a lot of debate when we got into what it will ultimately take to end patriarchy—a communist revolution. We passed out palm cards about the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!
We held up Revolution newspaper and some wanted copies of the paper: one student said: "is this about socialism, I love socialism." Another student bought a copy of Revolution newspaper and held it up defiantly to block the Christian fascist. Other students were caught up on the conventional wisdom of the communist project. While they didn't agree with much of what is going on today, many don't actually know that much both about the real conditions people live under today and even less about there being the possibility of a real, radical alternative. It took struggle to break through—which did occur with many in the conversations young revolutionaries had with the students. A group of students who called themselves capitalist had much to say about communism and its supposed horrors. A member of the club challenged them by asking them what about capitalism and its horrors and why aren't they loudly proclaiming the need to end a system of mass incarceration and murder of millions in this country and worldwide. While nothing was settled amongst many in the conversation they were compelled to rethink long held beliefs.
We made a call for people to join the Revolution Club on campus and several left a way to get in contact. Through this, those who've just begun to work with the Revolution Club were also announcing their next meeting and letting everyone know who they were with. They were also part of the debate with the Christian fascist and other students—including about the horrors of the world today and the need for something totally different.
A lot of the students had out their cell phones, videoing the whole thing, and a number of people said this was the most fun they'd ever had on campus. People really appreciated the debate and there was truly righteous ridicule of this dark ages fascist.
After about an hour and a half, the crowd was pretty thinned out (as students had to get off to class), and the campus security walked the fascist off of campus. Groups were standing around continuing the debate and discussion and the Revolution Club was letting people know about how to hook up with the revolution and getting a way to follow up with a number of the students. We also announced the event this weekend where people with the movement to Stop Patriarchy are doing a report back from being on the ground in Albuquerque taking on the anti-abortion fascists there.
As we were leaving, one young guy came up to the revolutionary who'd been doing a lot of the agitation and said, "I think I'm in love with you," really appreciating the defiance and revolutionary spirit.
This was a scene rarely seen on campus. It was a truly great beginning and something that needs to spread—on that campus, amongst students overall, and broadly throughout society.
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution!
Revolution #323 November 24, 2013
Updated December 6, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95. In the coming period, revcom.us/Revolution will have more reporting and analysis of the significance of the struggle against the brutal racist apartheid regime in South Africa with which Mandela was so closely associated, Mandela's role in that, and the nature of South Africa today. But at this moment, the following are five points of orientation: