Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
Making Revolution and Communism – and the Raymond Lotta Speaking Tour – a Really Big Deal on Campus
The following is a correspondence from readers:
Before writing more specifically about what we've been doing the last three days on this campus, I want to indicate how helpful—actually, essential—last week's editorial on how making the Raymond Lotta tour of campuses a REALLY BIG DEAL was. As part of taking our work on this particular campus to a whole different level, and with a better overall direction, a group of us really steeped ourselves in that editorial and struggled to grasp what it was calling for in opposition to lesser visions and other methods. While there is a LOT in that editorial that we found helpful and necessary to follow, almost paragraph by paragraph, the most essential thing was for all of us to confront the historic moment we are in, as captured in the Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. The editorial begins with a quote about how, when it comes to the subject of communism, it is as if the creationists have taken over society as a whole... including the biology department. We really have to confront this and set our sights on taking this on, turning this around, and not trying to side-step it. In particular, we had to really dig into and "get with" the part where that editorial compares and contrasts:
"In such times, it would be much more important to have hundreds on campus actively taking notice of and entering into debate around the viability of communism, than to just attract a few score or so of the already interested to hear Raymond Lotta. Of course, we do want those who are already interested to come as well—but our point in putting it this way is that these speeches need to be part of creating a situation where the 'already interested' are part of a larger mix of ferment, mass debate and intellectual excitement that is simmering and bubbling...and where that situation, even on several campuses to begin with, spreads to other campuses and to society as a whole. We're aiming at getting a whole different dynamic going, on campus and in society overall."
We had to shift, even more fully, from a conception of just going out and finding the people who were interested and organizing them to get into the movement for revolution – and really aiming to change all of society, starting with a major breakthrough on the campuses as a whole, and bringing forward a core in the context of that. This really does have to do with whether we are confronting what it means to fight to begin a new stage of communism, or if we are just falling into old routines and ways of doing things and "doing our thing" on campus or anywhere else.
On this basis—in just a few days we have begun to accomplish a great deal...
The campus we've been at is particularly open and there is a tremendous amount of freedom in this. We've been able to walk into classes and make announcements to hundreds of students at once. Some professors let us do this and sometimes we just do it after most students have filled in their seats and before professor arrives. Some don't let us make an announcement and so we flyer and move on.
We picked out classes with hundreds of students each, many in subjects that might attract progressive students, others that are just big and/or likely to have many freshman. We've been quite successful—making agitational announcements in probably 15 classes in the last three days and speaking to probably 2,500 students who were seated and listening. In a couple classes, small numbers of students applauded. Our announcements have varied, but also gotten better. We use the title of Raymond Lotta's talk, "Everything You've Heard About Communism Is Wrong. Capitalism Is a Failure, Revolution Is the Solution," and we make a big deal about who Raymond Lotta is and what it means that he is coming to this campus. We make the point that if you dream of a better world and wish it were possible, come with your toughest questions; if you want to defend capitalism or to argue that communism has been a disaster; you should come too because Raymond Lotta is taking on all comers. We make the point that it is not acceptable what passes for "intellectual discourse" on campuses—including by many professors—when the subject is communism and that you, the students, have been lied to about the things that matter most.
We give out flyers for Raymond Lotta's talk with the short version of the RCP's statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" printed on the back. We also distribute the new survey/quiz testing people's knowledge of communism with no answers but with a place for people to leave their email address and phone numbers. We tell students we'll collect the quiz after class and email them the answers and other information.
The first two days, I sat in on a number of classes—both to learn more about the terrain and in hopes of finding ways to speak up or engage from the floor.
While we are looking to challenge lies being told by professors about communism, we have not allowed ourselves to get bogged down doing extensive research on everyone who teaches and what they have written. More, we've gone out very broadly with what we are doing and are seizing on the openings that emerge when various professors or other people on campus dismiss or denounce what we have to say.
Already, it is becoming the case that people are frequently coming up and saying, "Yeah, I've heard about this." Or, "You were in my class the other day,"... or, "in my dorm"... etc. Most are not super into what we are doing, but some are provoked and interested in coming and helping to spread the word. Beginning saturation can be discerned. One student today told one of us, "Yeah, my frat brothers were telling me about this," and took a stack of flyers.
The first day we went to campus, there was no plan and so no table. The next day, we had a table on the main campus walk and did a lot of flyering. But it is hard to make a big deal on this walk, where there are scores of clubs and tables competing for the students' attention. Today, we made a much bigger deal of ourselves. We got out in the walk during high traffic class change and started agitating and we had other people flyering and many more students stopped and took flyers. It was still a minority, but we were much more taken seriously because we were taking ourselves seriously. Students responded better both because we were making this program by Lotta "A Very Big Deal" and because by now many students had run into this multiple times.
Two young women came up and one said, "Yeah, I took the quiz in my class the other day. I am so glad you are doing this." They agreed that they've been lied to and should find out the truth about communism. So, I got into how the lies are just repeated and repeated, even in the academy and that this shouldn't be allowed to be taught. One woman backed up, "No, people with different views should be allowed to teach." I quickly clarified that it was fine for people to teach different perspectives and opinions, but that is not what I was talking about. I walked thru what Raymond Lotta does in his youtube on Chang/Halliday book, Mao, the Unknown Story (how they take a quote from Mao completely out of context to make it sound like he didn't care if half of China died, when actually he was warning against exactly that), and the two women gasped, "WOW." Then they agreed, "Yeah, lies shouldn't be taught."
We also had made a poster that had the quote from the statement, "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have": "...despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some ‘elite' schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in ‘non-conformist' ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful."
Then at the bottom of this poster we put a big box with the speech title, Lotta's name and the time and place of the event. I brought the women to the table and had them read it. They really agreed and nodded. One took four of these posters to put up around her next class. Both gave their email addresses. One said she was so disappointed in school, she thought it would be more radical but it is not. At one point I told them that Raymond Lotta is the leading expert in the world on the actual history and how to sum it up of the Soviet Union and China when they were revolutionary, that he has extensively immersed in this for decades. One of the women looked up and asked, "Well, what about Bob Avakian. Isn't he your leader?" This was great and unexpected. I told her it was a great question and then got into how Avakian is analogous to Marx, he has forged a deeper framework of the whole science and revolutionary movement of communism, and this new synthesis is something that has and needs to even more set a framework for revolutionary work and advance of millions. Lotta is someone who, having studied and taken up that framework, has gone into this particular history with a depth and rigor and having dissected the charges and excavated the history in a way that is unique. I made the analogy of his work more to Engels who wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Engels couldn't have written this work without taking up Marx's overall breakthroughs and framework, but then Engels did that particular work, not Marx. These women were really taken by this. It seemed they were getting an appreciation for communism being a science in a new way, not just, "Which leader are you most adherent to and most promoting?"
Another guy came up and said, "Okay, what are the lies I have been told?" I again used the lie that is taken apart in Lotta's youtube video. Then the guy raised a lot of particulars of the Great Leap Forward in China in 1958 and about the communes and cooperatives. He actually knew quite a bit of particulars about the Soviet Union and how they did agriculture and China and how they did, but was fundamentally wrong. He insisted that Mao Tsetung killed millions and that the Great Leap Forward was a total disaster. I responded by digging into the many things that came together during the Great Leap (the biggest climatic disruption and drought that China had experienced in 100 years, the Soviet Union pulling out their experts and blueprints and equipment that completely disrupted the development of infrastructure, as well as some real shortcomings in the leadership provided by Mao which was NOT flowing from his lack of concern for people's hunger, but from this being the first time anything like this had been attempted anywhere), but that the communes formed during the Great Leap did lay the basis for being able, through adjustments and learning off that, to solve China's hunger problem for the first time ever. This was more real than he seemed to anticipate and while he wasn't won over he did stay a lot longer than he had clearly intended to. At the end, he looked at flyer for the date and said he would try to come.
We had the Raymond Lotta youtube clip set up to show on a TV all day and showed it to students. Overall it was a minority of students who stopped to watch it, but those who did were very impressed with it. This youtube has double impact: people get a concrete sense of having been systematically lied to on a scale and with blatancy that they never imagined, and they get a sense of who Raymond Lotta is, which is very essential to building a buzz and having people get exactly what a big deal it is that he is coming to their campus.
A lot more is being, and needs to be, done to plug Raymond Lotta and the date of his event to make these a big deal themselves. Sometimes we just call out the date and say "Raymond Lotta, right here on this campus. Then we add the title of the speech and various other riffs. Mostly it is just a fast stream by us at class-change time, but agitating this way has the effect of people feeling they need to know what the big deal is about this person and this date, then they get the mention of communism and capitalism from the title. But the fact of an event, something coming in particular, grabs them more than just topic would alone.
One students said, "I've been wondering how long it would take for me to attend my first communist meeting when I got to this campus." So, then we got into who Raymond Lotta is and what the speech will be. We got into the importance not only of the topic in some general sense, but that this is THE event to be at, for the already-interested and those who weren't before.
The in-class announcements have had big impact. Some students commenting that they were really impressed by the passion and wanted to find out more (seems mostly the moral certitude that strikes some of them, content as well as general curiosity about communism among some, others think we are off the deep end, but all seem pretty respectful and hear us out). We make a big deal about taking on all comers... this is both provocative and lends credibility to the whole atmosphere, that Lotta is not afraid of any challenge.
One professor said, "Communism, that's worse than Nazism." He has 250 students and we decided to go back to his class next week when it meets again with the fact sheet contrasting communism to Nazism from the Set the Record Straight project and say, "Your professor said communism was worse, this is an outrageous lie." Then we'll hand out the factsheet and event flyer and publicly invite the professor to attend Lotta's speech and make his argument there.
We decided also that we need to more take this event to the department of Asia Studies. We will put out a flyer from the STRS website about the economic and social achievements under Mao together with the flyer for the speech and hand it out to all the Asia studies classes we can find, hoping to provoke response and interest which we will then further relate to as part of blanketing more broadly.
Today a young woman told us her professor made a comment in his class that, "There are people handing out some flyer about communism and they are crazy and you should just ignore them." She said this made her more curious about our flyer and she got one and told us time and place and name of professor. We'll be visiting that class.
There is the beginning saturation and a beginning sense of profs feeling need to respond which we aim to take further.
There are a few students who are becoming very active in helping build for this, but we need to really pay attention to involving these guys not just in doing things but engaging more fully and wrangling with the campaign and how to involved other students, etc. Also, there are many new students we are meeting every day and we need to be better at involving them in spreading this even as they learn more.
There will be a challenge to figure out, we are starting to get real traction, how this continues to escalate and get greater traction and crescendo at the event and not crest sooner than that or lose momentum or die down. We have to stoke the controversy beginning to break out and work with many more students to take this up. Really involving students is key to getting to places we cannot be and in having other students begin more and more to see this taken up by their peers, not just from outside. Even things like writing Raymond Lotta and date on white board before class makes a big difference (this is an idea one student came up with when we asked what he thought he could do).
Another way we intend to build momentum is with a big release of the quiz results—both on campus and in the student newspaper.
—Addendum from another person who was at the table a lot:
Our table had the youtube of Raymond Lotta taking on Chang and Halliday playing for hours. The enlargement of the "Think you know about communism and capitalism?" quiz enlarged to poster size, attracted attention, as did the literature with Revolution newspaper, including prominently the issue featuring "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," and literature from Bob Avakian. The title of Raymond's upcoming speech, "Everything You've Heard About Communism Is Wrong. Capitalism Is a Failure, Revolution Is the Solution," was enlarged on a posterboard. Sometimes we carried it with us as we went out into the crowds of students to agitate and to talk to them.
Too many still passed by, eyes averted, not even acknowledging we are there. But there are many who are open to engaging on one level or another and from different angles. We are starting to stir up a response from students who vigorously disagree with us and advocate for backward positions—at least some seem to be at the point where they can no longer ignore us, and are coming to argue. One guy was incensed at question #6 on the quiz:
"Before the Holocaust, the majority of the world's Jews lived in east-central Europe. What was the only country in this region during the 1930s and World War 2 where Jews were not persecuted, deported, or exterminated—and where official government policy was to outlaw anti-Semitism and protect the rights and safety of Jews?"
The fact that the answer was the Soviet Union infuriated this guy, who argued and then came back the next day with 4 or 5 others who wanted to debate. The ensuing discussion over what approach the Russian revolution actually started with toward the Jews—and other oppressed nationalities in old Russia, the prison house of nations—and how the communist revolution in its early days systematically attacked all of those inequalities and the chauvinism that went with them (complicated by the fact that all of that has long since been reversed with a vengeance) was something these guys had never heard and had a hard time believing. The point here is not to get deeply into the complexities of this (we told them to come and bring their question to Lotta), but that this kind of debate stirred things up and drew others into the mix.
The fact that "Raymond Lotta is coming" is beginning to percolate through the campus – one woman student came to our table and told us that her professor has warned her political science class about our leafleting classes on the campuses. Word seems to be circulating among and it seems at least some of the professors feel that this cannot be ignored. In this case, the professor's "warning" had actually piqued this student's interest in just what these leaflets were saying, and she now wants to help take this up.
It is strikingly true even among most of the students who are glad we are out there and who think that what we are doing is good, that they tend to identify "socialism" with government intervention in the capitalist economy and with social reforms—that the radical vision of rupturing with capitalist relations and ideas is something they have never heard of. We talked to one student who, after hearing the title of Raymond's talk, said "I'm a libertarian." We asked whether he was a rigid, hard core libertarian or someone who would consider other ideas and thinking. He said he was definitely the latter, and we went off into a whole back and forth about his views of "ideal capitalism" vs. the reality of this system. After a while, we posed to him that part of what he did not understand was how liberating and good the real socialist societies had actually been—that this has been completely suppressed and buried and his generation knows almost nothing about it. We talked about what the revolutionaries were trying to do in the Cultural Revolution—and what that had to do with their aim to go beyond all classes and states. He had never heard of all of this, and though he still had basic disagreements, he said that he found the whole discussion very exciting, and that he would probably come to hear Lotta. We asked him to talk to his friends and to bring them—that he should tell them why he thought these ideas should be engaged and that Lotta was "taking on all comers" and they should come with their questions. He agreed to take a small stack of flyers.
In another interesting reflection of the times, a business student from Japan looked at our flyer and said that he really didn't think socialism was right, that he liked and agreed with capitalism, including morally—but he added, "there is this big crisis right now with the U.S. banks and that makes me think—without that I would not even be talking to you." And after promising to seriously consider coming to hear Lotta, he said that he had to run—he smiled and said he had to go attend a lecture on business economics.
The more we got out there with the table—the better and sharper our agitation (which focused around come hear Raymond Lotta, and the title of his talk), and the more of a scene we created the more students took our flyers and came forward to engage with us. We summed up at one point that for the program to be a success we needed to enlist many students to be part of this—and that many of these would not take this up on the basis of anything close to full agreement with Lotta, but on the basis of recognizing the importance of understanding the failure of capitalism, beginning to confront the lies told about communism, and revolutionary solutions, they could take up bringing others to this event. And we have started to enlist people to do just that.
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