Set the Record Straight Tour Hits UCLA and UC Berkeley
Revolution #024, November 27, 2005, posted at revcom.us
In October, the Set the Record Straight project hit the University of California-Berkeley and UCLA campuses. This was the first round of Raymond Lottas national campus speaking tour: Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World. The political and ideological climate cries out for this project. Here we are: unjust war in Iraq and the "normalization" of torture, half the planet living on less than $2 a day, strangulation of the Earths ecosystem, natural disasters like tsunamis and hurricanes that become social disasters. These are the workings and outcomes of world capitalism. Growing numbers of people are concerned about the state of the world and the fate of the planet. Do things have to be this way?
No, they don't. There is an alternative. Not some wishful ideal but a real world alternative: socialism and communism. The socialist revolutions in the Soviet Union (1917-56) and China (1949-76) accomplished great and unprecedented things. They opened liberating vistas that humanity can build on.
But people are bombarded with the message that "socialism has failed" and that capitalism is the "best of all possible worlds, the only possible world, and you might as well accept it." The drumbeat is unrelenting: "sure, capitalism may do terrible things, but if you try to organize society in a fundamentally different way, its going to lead to a totalitarian nightmare."
For a whole generation of young people, this is basically what they've heard about socialism. Peoples sights are low and kept low. Its as though a ceiling were placed atop their heads: "socialism, you don't want to go there." Even intellectuals shaped by the 1960s radical ferment have become deeply influenced by this "conventional wisdom." Thirty years ago, the charge that communism and Nazi-ism are equivalent would have been sharply contested; today, it gets over much more. And then you have this sordid character assassination, the book, Mao: The Unknown Story, getting massively promoted, with idiotic lies that Mao was worse than Hitler!
The Set the Record Straight project aims to turn this ideological onslaught against communism into a two-sided debate about communisms past and communisms future.
Getting the Message Out
Raymond Lottas current speaking tour is part of meeting this challenge. He sets forth the communist vision of a world without classes and any kind of oppression. He puts before people the actual historical record of socialist revolution in the Soviet Union and Maoist China. His speech rescues from distortion and slander what these revolutions were setting out to do, what they accomplished, and what lessons they hold for today.
Lotta talks about how Mao learned from the overall positive Soviet experience, summed up shortcomings and errors, and opened new paths for going further and doing better in making revolution. And how Lotta talks about Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, is summing up this whole "first wave" of socialist revolutions and bringing forward a vibrant vision of socialism and communism that corresponds to the highest interests and aspirations of oppressed humanity and where human society can actually go.
At UCLA, Raymond Lottas talk was co-sponsored by the Chicana/o Studies Department, the Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies, and the Cultural Affairs Commission.
An ad for the speech ran in the campus newspaper. There was massive leafleting with a "pop quiz" produced by Set the Record Straight (see thisiscommunism.org). The quiz tests peoples knowledge about social and economic change in Maoist China. Many students (and professors too) find out how little they actually know about the great things socialist China accomplished under Mao. Here they are told that Mao cared nothing about human lifebut life expectancy doubled, from 32 to 65 years during the Maoist era. Its said that Mao didn't care about education but literacy in fact vaulted from 20 percent to close to 80 percent.
The publicity and leafleting for the UCLA program stirred a lot of discussion about what communism is, whether people by nature are greedy, what kind of intellectual life would exist in socialist society. Set the Record Straight seeks to promote exactly this kind of broad, ideological debate.
The campus reactionaries took notice and alarm. They harassed students receiving Set the Record Straight leaflets. On the day of the speech, the campus Republicans wrote an anticommunist rant in The Daily Bruin of UCLA attacking the speech and the two departments sponsoring it: "these two centers [must] either regain a sense of legitimacy, or risk being replaced by departments that do not dedicate themselves to historical revisionism and ideological hegemony." Set the Record Straight replied in The Daily Bruin, pointing out that these threats are part of a "concerted, reactionary assault on academia to muzzle critical thought and dissent in the university."
Amidst this controversy, some 80 people came out to hear Lotta. Most were undergraduates, and many from Chicana/o studies. Important questions were raised by the audience, including: do communists think the goal of revolution justifies any means -- no, the means must be consistent with and help actualize the goal; what about the treatment of artists and policies towards Western culture in Maoist China; how might the family change under socialism; will people still have their own homes; how will political opposition be treated under socialism? One student commented that she really liked how Lotta exposed the lies and methodology underlying the bogus charges that Mao and Stalin were responsible for 100 million deaths.
Berkeley: Ideological Battle Over Mao
In the last month, the University of California, Berkeley has been the scene of ideological battle over Mao and the socialist experience in China.
On October 19, Raymond Lotta spoke, sponsored by the African American Studies Department. 120 people attended. For many of the students, this was their first exposure to a systematic presentation of the aims and accomplishments of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions. One student remarked that she had never before heard anything positive about the Cultural Revolution--and the speech helped her see that during the Cultural Revolution people were involved in political debate and political struggle over real issues.
Meanwhile, the School of Journalism has been sponsoring events attacking Mao and the Cultural Revolution. On November 7, they brought in Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, authors of Mao: The Unknown Story. Their book is a vicious tirade against Mao, the Chinese revolution, and communism. Its interesting: the bourgeoisie keeps saying, "communism is dead," but if it is, why do they work so hard at trying to kill it?
Mao: The Unknown Story is having a very negative effect in society. Its lies and methodology must be aggressively exposed and refuted, and Set the Record Straight has issued a statement on the book (see thisiscommunism.org).
People going into the Chang/Halliday book program at Berkeley were leafleted with this critique and the "pop quiz." There was considerable interest in both. Part of the reason is that the book is so extreme in its vilification of Mao that even people who have differences with Mao are raising questions about the book and are open to critical commentary.
During the question-and-answer, one person drew applause when he said that the authors single out Mao for using violence, but look at what the U.S. is doing in Iraq and around the world. About a third of the audience consisted of Chinese and Chinese-Americans; clearly, many were disturbed by the authors total negation of Mao and the Chinese revolution. Supporters of Revolution Books raised points about Maoist Chinas tremendous achievements in health care and combating the oppression of women. Not one favorable comment was raised from the audience about the book. After the formal program ended, discussion continued.
The interest and controversy generated by the Set the Record Straight events at Berkeley and UCLA, and the publication of Chang and Hallidays attack on Mao, underscore the urgent need and great potential for Set the Record Straight. It has to reach many more campuses, publications, and arenas of society.
As Set the Record Straight puts it, a real conversation and debate about the real experience of socialism is needed in order to point the way to a far better future for humanity.
Coming soon! Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World.
Revolution will begin a serialization of this speech by Raymond Lotta.