Revolution #161, April 12, 2009

Spreading Revolution and Communism at Tavis Smiley’s State of the Black Union 2009

We received the following letter from a reader:

A team of us went out to the 10th Anniversary of Tavis Smiley’s State of the Black Union 2009—held at the LA Convention Center on February 28. The theme: “Making America As Good As Its Promise.” 6-7000 people were expected, we estimated perhaps 2000 showed up. There was an exhibit area where Libros Revolución had a booth; however, this was in a lower parking lot, away from the main hall where the panels occurred, so there was very, very little foot traffic. So, right from the beginning we decided to distribute the newspaper #144 [“The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need“] outside of the main hall—that’s what we overwhelmingly focused on throughout the day. We printed up 500 leaflets that excerpted the main article from “The Promise of Change... The Rules of This System... And The Revolution We Need“ (#153), and got most of these out in the morning and late morning—an effort to “provoke” those in attendance with the content of that piece, and promote the Libros Revolución booth, Revolution on-line, and encourage people to talk with us.

We distributed 182 copies of #144 for $162 and in addition there were 4 short-term subs sold, one year sub, and one 10-week sub/DVD combo.

While this was an overwhelmingly pro-Obama crowd, this was not a group in agreement with notions of a post-racial America. One of our team was able to hear all the panels and said that the panelists, from different angles, thought Obama represented something good for Black people and for America, but everyone wanted to critique the “post-racial” America line, and there were panelists who took on the “no more excuses” thinking, with Michael Eric Dyson setting terms with “yes, there are no more excuses... to hold Black people down.” In a certain basic way the newspaper connected with these sentiments—there wasn’t a lot of “don’t tell me about something I already know” when it comes to the oppression of Black people and there was significant openness to the newspaper.

Principally though, the paper both connected and provoked and challenged people. This was an overwhelmingly Black middle strata crowd, many educated people, Black professionals, and a good number of Black women in their 20s-40s, as well as many men of different ages. Our agitation challenged people’s views that this system is reformable; that elections could be a road to fundamental change; and we challenged ideas that Obama could solve this problem of national oppression, or bring anything good for humanity as the head the imperialist U.S. And—I think most importantly—we argued that revolution in the U.S.—something far more radical and fundamental than reform or elections or Obama—was required, needed and possible.

People with significant illusions who were deep into Obama (and who clutched very tightly onto the supposed “hope” that Obama brings) wouldn’t, in the main, buy the paper. There’d be grandmothers talking to young men... the young men might say “you are taking away my hope” after hearing our agitation, and the grandmothers would then say to these young men “don’t let them take away your hope” and there’d be discussion over the difference of false hope and the real hope (exposing how the oppression and crimes were rooted in a system), and need for revolution and not reform—a number of these people turned down the paper, but were challenged.

That said, our agitation on key points in issue #144—the relation of the history of national oppression of Black people and the growth of capitalism and imperialism; how slavery was foundational to the U.S.; how the oppression of Blacks can be found in the DNA of this system, etc.; why the tremendous struggles hadn’t won even equality or upended discrimination to this day (and why new forms of oppression keep going on and arising)—all this did bring to people something different than the spontaneous understanding. This reality not only contrasts with an understanding of the problem as just racism (which is important) but sharply provides a contrast between a view that would only fight for reform (or that we’re in a situation of slowly evolving ideological change on this) versus revolution.

Interestingly, after hearing our exposure, some people asked “are you saying the people can’t change...?” They felt it was positive that a lot of white people voted for Obama. Our response was, “No, we were saying the system can’t and won’t change...“ and there was struggle off of this, about not settling for a situation where there were certainly positive currents among white people but where there is, in reality, a not insignificant reality of racism, and even more deep an economic system and superstructure that exists that enforces national oppression and spreads hateful messages about the Black masses. Yes, people, including whites, could change—we pointed to the section in #144 on the lessons of the 1960s—but revolution was needed to get to a situation where state power would back those who want to truly and fully uproot and end the oppression of Black people.

Many people bought papers who straight up didn’t agree with the revolutionary solution, but were grappling with what we put forward. They’d raise, “then you’d have to educate the masses... they’d have to know what to put in its place...“ which were very important points and we got down on how this is true and this opened the door to talking about how there needs to be a core of millions educated and trained in Bob Avakian’s new synthesis—including the need for a powerful enough section of people who are trained scientifically, and how this underscored the role of the newspaper now.

People might say “I’ve seen how revolution isn’t the answer...“ and they might talk about what happened after the 60’s, or more sweeping issues of communism, and one said “are you talking about John Brown because I don’t agree with him...“ This provoked discussion on the necessity for millions, not scores or hundreds or thousands, to be won to a revolutionary position to contest with the U.S. imperialists and have a chance at winning revolution and the need to be scientific about revolution, which includes the understanding this isn’t about revenge but the emancipation of humanity. Putting the question of the need for revolution at the center of things (and not leaving it at the unreformability of the system)—contrasting this with Obama in some places as part of this—changed the discussion and underscores the importance of doing this more powerfully and consistently in our work, such as the events we’ve been holding “On Making Revolution in the U.S.”—carrying this dialog through more consistently. That certainly means getting back to those we met and engaging them on this, and developing ties with them on this revolutionary basis.

Some of the panelists upheld religion and got a positive response from significant sections of the crowd at times. I found that people more deeply religious would sometimes listen respectfully, but then say they thought the answer to problems was spiritual and not buy the paper.

While some panelists wanted to criticize this “post-racial” idea and take on the “no more excuses” assaults, it is also the case that no one challenged the view that we need to “help Obama” and do that by “holding him accountable” and saying “he can’t do what needs to be done without us.” This line of thinking, along with viewing things from the framework of being American, wasn’t challenged from the stage by anyone and it did reflect what a number of people were saying to us.

We’d talk about #144 [“The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of this System, and the Revolution We Need”] and say this is the history of America (and do exposure) and explain how this shows the need for revolution and they say “we are part of the history of America” and agree with the exposure but draw a different conclusion and there’d be struggle over whether the U.S. can be reformed or not. This wasn’t a deeply patriotic sentiment but there was some deeply ingrained and involved (and convoluted at times) thinking about “getting in” and the assertion of the “American” aspect of African-American, if you will, and this is one way it got expressed—which is of course very explosive given both the crimes the U.S. continues to commit against the people of the world and direct at the Black masses specifically as part of that.

Especially toward the end of the day we were getting a number of people asking us “whose paper is this”—they hadn’t gotten it yet and wanted to know (and may have been weighing whether to get it)... but there was also a “testing” going on—this was communist and they wanted to hear that and were interested. Some rejected it and were then challenged about engaging this perspective, some still declined but others changed their minds, and others didn’t reject it but said they did not agree with communism and then explain they did want to check this out and see what we had to say—they were open to the analysis, and to communism though (right now) this wasn’t their perspective.

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