Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
Taking Up the Revolutionary Challenge on May 1, 2009
Last week's issue of Revolution put out a challenge for May First—the international holiday of revolution, a day of revolutionary rededication and celebration. The challenge called on all who refuse to accept that this world we live in now is the "best of all possible worlds" to dig into the two key works published in that issue: the beginning section of Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage: A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and the first of a series of excerpts from the new talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP: "Ruminations and Wranglings: On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning." And a call was put out for people to take up the challenge of "getting this issue of Revolution out into society widely—everywhere people are protesting, thinking critically, rebelling in anyway against the way things are."
Revolution received correspondences from several cities about how this challenge was taken up.
SF Bay Area: Immigrant Rights Marches and School Walkouts
From Revolution readers
In San Francisco and Oakland, several groups organized May 1 marches and rallies for immigrant rights and to stop the ICE raids. Despite the heavy rain, about a thousand people came out for the day, including many Latino youth from high schools and colleges. There was a group of youth from a city north of San Francisco who had been organizing around 9/11 Truth who were really against the "America first" stuff and had a healthy distrust of the system. We got them the May Day issue of the Revolution newspaper, and they were interested in the challenge embodied in the new manifesto from the RCP, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage.
The turnout this year was far smaller than in years past. Partly this was due to the weather, but it was also fueled by the reactionary and unscientific anti-immigrant atmosphere whipped up around the swine flu that discouraged many immigrants from stepping out that day.
A group of people who identified themselves as FMLN supporters were anxious to talk about revolution, but didn't have a clear understanding of the harm being done by revisionism in El Salvador. But they also didn't see the recent FMLN electoral victory in El Salvador as the end-all of what they were fighting for. [FMLN, which waged an armed struggle against the U.S.-backed regime in the 1980s, won elections in March for president and vice-president.] With these people, we highlighted and got them issue #160 of Revolution newspaper with the front page "On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Replay from CPN[M], 2006)." One of the FMLN supporters bought a copy of the Spanish-language edition of Bob Avakian's book Away With All Gods! as well as the new Manifesto from the RCP. He said his son had told him about Away with All God!s and now that it was available in Spanish, he was eager to get a copy for himself.
On the march in Oakland, the Revolution Club members displayed their slogan, "Humanity Needs Revolution and Communism," on a banner and led chants that called out this whole damn system and painted a picture of an entirely different world: "¿Un mundo sin fronteras? ¡Si se puede! ¿Un mundo sin barreras? ¡Si se puede! ¿Un mundo comunista? ¡¡SI SE PUEDE!!"
Also on May Day, there was a walkout in the morning that drew from three different high schools in Oakland. They marched to city hall for immigrant rights and for justice for Oscar Grant, the young Black man who was shot in the back on New Year's Day by the police. 50 students from UC Berkeley also held a May Day protest and march and then took the train to Fruitvale station in honor of Oscar Grant, who was murdered there four months ago.
Houston: Taking out "Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage"
From a reader
Challenging people with the Manifesto from the RCP helped break open the thinking of many people we reached out to. It challenged many of them, and also others with varying degrees of familiarity with the RCP and Revolution, to deepen their thinking, and in some cases to work more closely with the party. People talk with each other about what's going on in the world all the time, but don't see any way out. This issue put some rays of light in there, and opened up thinking on potential and possibilities of change.
The Manifesto got out at different events and to different sections of people—but its central message that another world is not only desperately needed but possible resonated widely. On April 30, Sunsara Taylor and Robert Muhammed (southwest regional coordinator of the Nation of Islam) conducted a vigorous exchange on religion, politics, and morality before an SRO crowd of about 250 people at Texas Southern University law school; this event also kicked off some intense efforts by teams of people to get the Manifesto further distributed in key areas throughout the city: Cinco de Mayo celebrations in barrios; the "Art-Car Parade" that draws huge crowds; some universities and a high school, housing projects and sprawling apartments in neighborhoods preyed upon constantly by police.
One immigrant at a Cinco de Mayo concert in the park said "everything you're saying is really striking a chord with me, but I've never heard anyone talk like this before." He said that all of his friends just accept the way things are, they never think about things being different. He got both the paper and the Manifesto, and is interested in coming to the weekly Revolution discussions. We also met a couple of Chilean leftists at the concert. One of them got the Manifesto right away, and also bought a subscription on the spot. His friend also wanted the "Revolution in Ideas…" issue. Both spoke to how they saw the situation in Latin America and the world. One said that he saw the U.S. going down as an empire. His friend said that people around world are fed up with the U.S. Another guy, in his 20s, got the Manifesto and was clearly looking for alternatives. He said that he didn't think Obama could do anything different than previous presidents, because he's just someone else in the same position, controlled by the same interests.
At the Art Car Parade, we met an interesting mix of people. One guy, who described himself as a "stone-cold capitalist," came up to us and dug out a couple of bucks to get the paper. He felt compelled to check this out, saying that this is something different, something new, that people are talking to us about communism. A young Chicano low rider gave $5 for a bundle of papers, and wanted us to contact him further. He said he has friends who would be interested. What grabbed him was the front-page headline about "the historic breakthrough." He wanted to know what that was all about. He was representative of a number of more working class people who are disgusted by the way things are, and feel that the way things are is just intolerable.
Another important aspect of taking out the May First issue is how it raised all kinds of questions about the first wave of communist revolutions. A young guy who got the paper, said he argues with friends about whether communism has anything good to offer people. He feels people only hear one side. Others were intrigued about what we were saying about the accomplishments of these socialist societies. This is not the "narrative" they've heard, and many feel compelled to check it out, especially in these turbulent times.
A lot of people were struck by the point that things haven't always been this way, and don't have to stay this way. "The Long Darkness…" section of the Manifesto challenges the framework people have been taught that there's always been someone dominating others. This is very powerful, and cannot be underestimated—especially when it is combined with how we've come to the point where this is no longer necessary, and we have the means to end class society once and for all. Giving people a scientific understanding of the development of class society, as this section does, really resonates with people. Several times we pointed out that billions are starving in a world where we have the means to feed everyone, how it is only capitalism that stands in the way, and how socialism can resolve this basic problem. You can see how this reality hits people from all different strata.
A lot of this really connected with people in the proletarian neighborhoods—both this issue and the previous one on "The Revolution in Ideas…." When you bring revolution and communism to the masses, it raises all the big questions. Many people are kind of shocked to meet people who don't believe in god, or capitalism. People do attempt to find their way under this system, and even will justify this, because they don't see an alternative. But the points above really grabbed people exactly because it broke out of the framework of this system. Several guys in the 'hood responded, "wow, never talked with anyone like this…people talk about what's wrong all the time, but not that there's something that can be done about it." Talking about the big questions of revolution and communism also brought up—but in a larger context—the shit people have to deal with every day. There is a lot of anger at the police brutality and outright murder that is constant. A number of people have pointed out that it has escalated since Obama's election, and they were shocked to hear that he sent condolences to the families of the cops killed in the Bay Area, but not to Oscar Grant's family. Another guy, who now works steady but has been in prison and had to struggle all his life, got the paper, and spoke to how the youth really need this.
This issue also struck a number of people who have been reading the paper for a long time. One social justice activist said that this was "an impressive issue." He especially liked how the paper used photos and captions to break things down. A woman who has some background in Marxism, said she really needed to get into "this article on Marx" ["The Long Darkness—and the Historic Breakthrough"]. She has come to a number of events recently, and heard people talking from a perspective she hadn't heard before, and wanted to dig into this more.
Chicago: Revolution Was in the House!
From a correspondent
For a number of years, Chicago has witnessed massive outpourings on May 1st of immigrants and others demanding rights for the undocumented and an end to the vicious La Migra/ICE raids. And that demonstration took place again this year, but with some new features. First, the size was significantly smaller—a few thousands as opposed to tens of thousands. While this reporter is not in a position to sum up all the reasons for the decline in size, one factor definitely was the lack of support this year from the local Democratic Party machine. In the past Mayor Daley had welcomed the march. This year the city pressured the organizers to cancel by using the excuse of combating the "swine flu epidemic." But the organizers, to their credit, would have no part of that. They told the city, "We will cancel the march when every sporting event, movie showing, church service and class is cancelled." Since that wasn't about to happen, the march went on.
Another new thing was the relative absence of American flags from the march. There were a few, but not the nauseating flood of previous years. Plus there was another flag in the house—the red flag of revolution. Sandwiched between a huge scroll of the Constitution in front and banners covered with the Virgin of Guadalupe behind, a bold RCP-led contingent stepped out—challenging people to raise their sights and to becoming emancipators of humanity. While our contingent wasn't that large, it had a big impact. Our presence was striking—people marched as a block, all in black T-shirts with the beautiful masthead from Revolution newspaper emblazoned across the front and "revcom.us" across the back. Two giant banners proclaimed "Somos seres humanos, exigimos un mundo mejor, no aceptaremos ninguna forma de esclavitud." ("We are human beings. We demand a better world. We will not accept slavery in any form.") and "Humanity Needs Revolution and Communism, Not a Better Imperialism" (in English). Other people carried giant red flags, while paper sellers fanned out among the crowd as we passed through.
And the contingent had a beat! What people heard was right in sync with what they saw. Powerful chants—with catchy rhythms, in both Spanish and English. "We don't have a problem with immigration. We have a problem with capitalism!" (a big favorite) "Revolution is what we need... to emancipate humanity!" And more. The bold message definitely resonated with some. A group of high school kids went crazy as we went by. People sought us out to get red flags. Members of surrounding contingents started to take up our chants. And an anarchist even invited us to join their contingent (to which we declined, but suggested "let's talk first"). For others, however, it presented a challenge—like the woman who felt compelled to defend her view that people already know everything they need to know, so activists should just focus on "building communities." But agree or disagree, there was an undeniable loftiness and seriousness to what we were doing that drew people's attention. And this was clearly felt within the contingent itself. A young Latino went around to non-Spanish speakers to help them get their Spanish pronunciation right—because he felt it was that important for people understand what we were saying.
Paper sellers took out the issue of Revolution with the excerpt "The Long Darkness and the Historic Breakthrough" from the RCP's Manifesto Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. And this issue definitely connected with a politically advanced section among them who were surprised and excited to find a revolutionary party right in heart of U.S. imperialism. One seller commented on how more than a few people peppered her with questions—"What is your party about? Who is your leader? Where are you from?"—while grabbing up the paper. A similar experience happened with some people from India. While with the Black masses, the experience was more contentious. A seller summed up that a number of Black people along the route got the paper because they see this system as completely screwed up—but they still had the question "aren't those Mexicans taking our jobs?" Since there wasn't much time for talk, sellers encouraged people to dig into the paper itself for answers to their questions. Another seller was asking college students in the march if they had read the original Communist Manifesto. And, particularly with those who had, she challenging them to get Revolution and dig into the RCP's new Manifesto which lays out what has been learned in the 150 years since then about how we can emancipate all of humanity. One student who got the paper agreed repeatedly with a seller's description of all the horrors caused by the U.S. government, while steadfastly maintaining that "we still have to force them to live up to their own Constitution."
As one seller summed up, "among the Latino masses the idea of revolution—whatever they may think that means—has a lot of appeal." Paper sellers are planning to go back into Chicago's main Latino neighborhoods in the coming weeks to build off the connections that were made at the march.
After the march, much of the contingent got together to sum up what we had accomplished. And the discussion also helped people deepen the understanding of how this was a critical part of building a revolutionary movement. First off we talked about the importance of our contingent clearly being about a revolution to emancipate all of humanity. This was completely different from the orientation of all the other forces involved who mainly focused on specific issues. A young person who is quite new to revolution actually captured this difference quite well when he said, after listening to numerous speeches from the stage about workers' rights. "Yeah, the way they treat you at work is fucked up, but we're talking about something way bigger than that."
The second point was that while, yes, we did get a positive response from many people, overall communism is still extremely controversial. And not just with the people who wouldn't buy Revolution or even engage us, but also among those who are in some ways drawn to the idea of revolution. This got us to a third point—what a huge difference an advanced revolutionary force makes in bringing people the understanding they need to act upon their desires for a better world. We talked about what we had accomplished with the modest numbers we had, and the qualitatively greater impact we could have had if our size had just been double what it was. How much stronger would our presence have been? How many more copies of Revolution could we have gotten out? How many more people could we have engaged and gotten to know?
Which led to our final point—we all really have to be communists to expand that revolutionary core. We have to challenge people to shed the blinders imposed by this system. We have to respond with substance to their questions and disagreements, while helping them see the world more scientifically. And we have to draw on Revolution newspaper and the works of Bob Avakian to lay out for people why communism is exactly what we need—based on summing up the enormous achievements of past revolutions, as well as their real weaknesses, and struggling with people to see how we can do much better next time. That is the immediate challenge we face. And our meeting ended with the youth planning to get together soon to begin systematically digging into Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage so they can meet that challenge.
Los Angeles: Marching During the Day, Celebrating in the Evening
From readers and distributors of Revolution/Revolución
On May 1, thousands of people, predominantly immigrants from Mexico, Central America and Asia poured into the streets in half a dozen marches throughout Southern California. Numbers were much smaller than the mega-marches a few years ago, but there was much enthusiasm, punctuated by the raucous chants of high schoolers who had walked out of a number of schools, with some teachers in the mix. The main chants kept things well within the framework, like "Obama Escucha, Estamos en la Lucha" and reflected the sentiment of pressure politics (pressuring Obama for immigration reform).
We organized teams and took out the RCP's Manifesto and the May 1 issue of Revolution. There was heavy promotion of Obama-lade, but we found people who were open. There were youth and students who were very unsatisfied with the politics coming from the stage. One college student said, "This is making me sick. Why are we begging Obama? We didn't do anything wrong!" And sections of youth found the tone of the marches politically suffocating. We engaged young people (and others) who argued for reformist solutions, and we got into why a revolutionary movement that aims for communist revolution is far more "realistic," and meaningful, than trying to "get in" on this capitalist way of life or pressuring the system to be more humane.
We got into discussions about what we mean exactly by communism and revolution, what do we think about Cuba, Venezuela, and of the recent election of the FMLN in El Salvador. While we united with the desire of people to end the vicious attacks on immigrants we raised the possibility of another future, refusing to accept the horrors that are captured in Part I of the Manifesto, talking with people about how the world doesn't have to be this way, and demanding instead that another world is possible. What attracted people most to our message about revolutionary May 1st was the vision of fighting for a whole different world, in contrast to begging Obama for change. One Black college student who had joined the march as it passed by (he said he'd done a report on the original Communist Manifesto in his class recently) was carrying two American flags ("because I'm American," he said), like many of the other marchers. He listened to our agitation on why the American flag represents oppression and why we need to stand with the people of the world, and ended up tossing the flags into the trash. Some marchers bought the Manifesto, and others took bundles of Revolution newspapers.
Later that evening the teams who had been in the streets in the daytime, along with other masses, came to a revolutionary May 1 celebration and dinner hosted by Libros Revolución which highlighted the RCP's Manifesto and also commemorated the lives of two RCP comrades, Damian Garcia and Willie "Mobile" Shaw. [Editors' note: Damian Garcia was a RCP member who was assassinated by police agents in L.A. in April 1980 while organizing the people for revolutionary May 1st. Read Bob Avakian's statement on Damian Garcia at revcom.us/s/damian2009_e.htm. Willie "Mobile" Shaw was a RCP member in Watts who died in November 2005. A statement on his death by RCP Chairman Bob Avakian is available online at revcom.us/a/027/avakian-statement-willie-shaw.htm] It was an inspiring evening that featured readings from the May 1 editorial in combination with video excerpts which gave the audience a "visual" history of the revolutions that were led by Lenin and Mao and included images from the Cultural Revolution in China. There was also an excerpt shown of Bob Avakian's Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, and What It's All About DVD where he talks about imagining a different society. This was followed by a very moving reading of his statement on the occasion of the death of Willie "Mobile" Shaw and an excerpt from Avakian's memoir From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, where he talks about the murder of Damian Garcia. This was done in the spirit of "living a life with meaning," which Bob Avakian speaks to in his most recent work, "Ruminations and Wranglings: On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning."
We ended with a toast to the Chairman's path-breaking contributions to Marxism and his re-envisioning of revolution and communism, along with the point from the "An Open Letter to the Revolutionary Communists and Everyone Seriously Thinking About Revolution: On the Role and Importance of Bob Avakian" that because of his continuing leadership, the chance of there being a communist revolution in the USA during our life times is immeasurably increased.
New York: Planting the Red Flag at May 1 Immigrants Rights March
From a reader
Over one thousand people defied heavy rain—and a climate of fear around a possible swine flu epidemic that was at a fever pitch in Queens where two schools were closed—for the immigrants' rights march in New York City. There were sizable numbers of Salvadorans who came from Hempstead. Large contingents came from areas that have been centers of attacks on immigrants over the past few years, coming from as far away as Long Island and Freehold in central New Jersey. Make the Road New York and Ecuadorian organizations that had organized marches against the brutal murder of Jose Sucuzhanay last year in Bushwick (in Brooklyn) had contingents. There were groups of jornaleros (day laborers) there who have been confronting round ups where they gather for work, reflecting the ominous cooperation between police and immigration. Besides people from dozens of countries throughout Latin America, there were immigrants there from Africa and Asia. A number of organizations of Philippines immigrants mobilized a powerful presence.
It was an important expression of the continuing movement for immigrants rights amidst the continuing attacks—which was viciously confirmed the following day, as an all-white jury acquitted those who had beaten to death Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania last summer.
We planted the red flag amidst this gathering, taking the May First issue of Revolution into this crowd. Many marchers came from countries where May 1st is the official "labor day," and there were those who welcomed a more radical message that called on people to be emancipators of humanity.
Some people voiced opposition to the continuing wars, torture and other crimes carried forward with Obama. There were those who recognized that the steps taken by Obama so far have been bad for immigrants, but some argued that at least Obama "listens" to the people and people should "pressure" him to act. Some even argued that because his aunt came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant; Obama would be particularly sympathetic toward immigrants—a dangerous illusion and recipe to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie. We had some valuable discussion about Obama's role as commander in chief of U.S. imperialism, and just how decisions are really made in the top levels of power.
Despite heavy rains that made broad distribution difficult, over 150 copies of Revolution were sold. There was a lot of interest in the excerpt from the Manifesto in the May Day issue; four people bought the pamphlet with the whole Manifesto, and one bought the Spanish edition of Bob Avakian's book Away with All Gods!. Hundreds of flyers for the Revolution newspaper open house and organizing meeting the next day got out.
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