Revolution #229, April 10, 2011

The Movement for Revolution, BAsics, and the April 11 Celebration

The following talk was given by a comrade at Revolution Books in NYC.

I want to open by recognizing the people who chose the quotes and supplements, translated many of them, conceptualized the layout and design, did the proofing, did the portrait, raised the money, and even in some cases hauled the book here on an airplane with them so that there could be plenty of copies to build this event... and recognizing, of course, most of all the author himself. What a wonderful achievement and powerful tool!

I want to start with a very serious point we've made a lot and made before, but which bears continual repeating and re-grounding ourselves in. In the words of our Manifesto, communism is at a crossroads where it faces the question: either vanguard of the future or residue of the past. And the Manifesto is very sharp on the stakes in that: residue of the past is not some harmless thing, but a form of "betraying the masses of people throughout the world for whom the communist revolution represents the only road out of the madness and horror of the present world and toward a world truly worth living in."

Right now, communism is caught in a political and ideological encirclement and we badly need to fight our way out of it. We can't on our own make revolution the dominant discourse in society—but we can and we'd better make it something with much more initiative, or we run the risk of the people on this planet not even having access to the only thing that can liberate them... at a time when the stakes have never been higher for humanity.

But I also want to raise the other side of the coin. Yes, our movement is fighting for its life. But it is not an entirely bleak and dead landscape we do our work on. In fact, there is plenty going on. And if a situation like that in Egypt developed here today... would we be ready? Would we be able to do what is said in the Party's statement on strategy (which is included in BAsics, by the way) in those kinds of situations where "the system is shaken to its foundations...deep cracks appear and magnify within the ruling structures and institutions...the raw relations of oppression are more sharply exposed...conflicts among the powers that be deepen, and cannot be easily resolved and it becomes much more difficult for them to hold things together under their control and keep people down"... If and when that happens, will there be a truly revolutionary movement that would be able to call the legitimacy of the system and the right and ability of the ruling powers to keep on ruling "seriously and directly into question"?

We don't need to have millions going into such a situation; but we do need, if we are going to really be able to go make something liberating out of it, thousands who have been trained, oriented and organized to lead millions. We have to get to that point. We'll try our hardest to wrench what we can for emancipation out of such a situation if it presents itself, but we don't want to sum up at the end... "if we only had really taken our own understanding seriously...."

To use the old coach's cliché, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. You don't want to somehow get the breaks that get you into the Olympic trials, only to end up regretting those days that you decided not to run up the hills because you were tired and you did hills last week and part of you felt that, really, you'd never get a real chance anyway. NO.

Which leads me to the campaign, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." This campaign is designed to break out of this metaphorical encirclement, and get into a different position. The campaign began nearly two years ago with three goals:

  1. To familiarize millions with the goal and character of communist revolution, as it has been reconceived by Bob Avakian; to inject this into the discourse in a radically creative and urgent way;
  2. To make known very broadly in society the leadership of Bob Avakian—giving people a sense of the work he is carrying out, his history and character as a rare and outstanding communist leader, and—on the broadest level—his connection to revolution.
  3. Through all this to begin forging a core of dedicated, passionate and conscious fighters for this revolution.

Now, there is a very good editorial that appeared in our paper a few weeks ago entitled "A Reflection... An Invitation... And a Challenge." And it goes quite a bit into the importance of Bob Avakian. It makes the point: BA is the single greatest resource our movement has. There's a lot of other material we've written going into why this is so, and there is this great new book—BAsics—which lets you find out for yourself. I'm not going to try to go into the depth of that tonight. I'll leave it for now at what's said in the Party’s recent statement on strategy which calls on people to make this leadership known as an essential element in that strategy:

Bob Avakian has dedicated his life since the 1960s to the cause of revolution and communism. While providing practical leadership to the Party and the revolutionary movement, he has deeply studied and summed up the world historical experience of the communist revolution and the socialist societies it has brought into being—the great achievements and the serious problems and errors—and has studied many other fields of human experience and knowledge. He has advanced the science of communism and made decisive breakthroughs in the theory, method, and strategy of revolution and the final goal of communism throughout the world. It is crucial for growing numbers of people to know about and study his talks and defend and protect take up the leadership he is providing, which opens new pathways for revolution.

Many were here for discussion of this in conferences last May—where we went deeply into this. Some of the ideas that are now being used to promote this book were developed back then. And we've made important and significant progress in this campaign since those conferences.

All this, along with other things like the activities of people in Arizona, the Carl Dix/Cornel West program, "All Played Out,"—again, some of which were not directly related to the campaign and some which were—have accomplished very important progress, but we cannot yet say that we have reversed the trajectory.

And it's at this point where BAsics comes in. If you've had a chance to read into this at all, you should be able to see that this is a potentially very powerful tool for all three objectives that we're fighting for.

BAsics, in a crisp and concise way, really gives people a sense of the character and the scope of the revolution that we're fighting to bring into being. This book really shows you what it means to make revolution in the 21st century. It gives you a map to the new synthesis of communism. Now it's a map—it's not the whole terrain itself. But like a good map, it gives you the lay of the land, it lets you know what to expect, it gives you a sense of the paths to pursue in order go deeper. And it answers, in a very powerful way, some very big and fundamental questions that are on the minds of at least tens of thousands of people today in the U.S. and many more internationally: "What kind of world are we living in?" "Is a better world really possible, and if it is what would it be like?" "What is needed to get to that different world?" "How do I understand the world around us and this process of changing it more deeply?" "What does it mean to live a moral life in this society once I have this understanding?" "And what is my responsibility—what is our responsibility—in this whole process?"

BAsics brings together, in an extremely accessible but still substantive way, what BA stands for—and you get a sense of who he is as well. There is nobody who can read this with an open mind and in good faith, and NOT come away having a sense of the sweep of the person's work and the range of the questions he's applied himself to... and the method and approach he has developed in doing this. This book—along with the memoir From Ike to Mao and Beyond and the Revolution talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About—should be a way that millions of people, potentially, can get to know who BA is and what he's all about.

But this book does something else as well, and this should not be in any way underestimated—this really does provide a big part of the basic way to train the thousands who must lead millions when, to return to the statement on strategy, there are jolts in the normal workings of things and "situations [arise] in which many more people are searching for answers and open to considering radical change." We want to get to the point and we are working to get to the point where we are bringing forward, orienting, organizing and training in a revolutionary way thousands, while reaching and influencing millions... so that, "when there is a revolutionary situation, those thousands can be a backbone and pivotal force in winning millions to revolution and organizing them in the struggle to carry the revolution through." And BAsics is a major part of that training.

I couldn't help but think, in reading over this book, about experiences I had as a radical student, when we would go in and work with the local chapter of the Black Panther Party—how at the end of the day, whatever we had been doing, we'd get together and read what the chapter leader would call a "functional quote" from the Red Book—the quotations of Mao Tsetung. And we'd get into it and wrangle together over how we saw it and how it applied to what we had done that day and how it all connected to revolution.

I mentioned this to another comrade and she told me about the first time she went to a study group led by the Revolutionary Union, the main forerunner of the RCP. They too read a quote from the Red Book and then everyone said what they thought it meant and the people who were leading it would help people get in deeper, penetrating into the essence of it and making connections. And then some people could and did go on to study the works that the quotes came from.

This book you have can and will play a similar role in the years to come... and with the communism that BA has, in important respects, taken beyond Mao. You could easily have very vibrant discussion groups, led by people with many different levels of conversancy with the material, that would take off from a single quote. Just look at the first quote in every chapter, for instance; I could imagine very rich discussions which just took off on people responding to one of those, and then yes, there being leadership but leadership that could be wielded by many different people. And you also have the source material with each quote that lets you go deeper.

Now BAsics should play a role in our own wrangling and reflection, and that will be very important. This is going to give everyone new angles on BA. I’ll tell you, I’ve been looking at lots of things anew, and from different angles, in the few short days since I got it.  But it will also be for those times when both veterans but also people who are newer to the movement take copies of the paper or some other material out to friends and acquaintances, and get hit with the questions. You know the questions. "What about human nature? What's your plan to make revolution? Don't you guys say the ends justify the means? Why are you so much against religion? What were the mistakes of the previous socialist societies—and how will you prevent them? Aren't the rulers too powerful? Can't we reform America? Why do we need leaders, and if you're all about unleashing the masses, why should we promote individual leaders?"

The answers to all of these are in BAsics, and very accessible. Those questions you get hit with will become something you welcome, because you know they're going to force you to get back into the work, in a different way, and the answer is going to be there for you.

So that's one extremely important dimension of this: training these thousands, today. And, also, through the distribution of this book attracting those thousands who WILL be trained.

But I want to return to the earlier point about BAsics also being a way for people very broadly to "get to know BA" and what he's all about. And here I want to talk about the dynamism that can get unleashed when people DO get to know this leader.

Let's look at this event on April 11, the celebration of revolution and the vision of a different world, being held on the occasion of the publication of BAsics. This focuses up our launch of this work—it is crucially important to getting this book out there. And there are lessons to be drawing from and applying what has already been done. Have people read the host committee statements or similar statements like that of Emory Douglas—and not just read them, but reflected on them and thought about what they reflect and mean? It's not "one size fits all"—it's quite diverse—and it's people bringing their own viewpoints into the mix, and changing the mix—and changing themselves, no doubt—as they do so. People are responding to this even while they are still thinking about revolution, and in some cases may feel fairly certain that such a revolution will not happen or perhaps even feel that it should not happen. They find the most radical parts of their spirit or their aspirations, but also their biggest questions, if you will, drawn forward by this person. And everyone here should be challenged and enriched in our understanding by what people are saying and raising, and by the fact that from all these diverse viewpoints, people have found themselves wanting to make this happen.

This also goes for the people performing, some of whom have also made statements and others of whom will show us that night, in their art, a great deal of how this work and these concepts of revolution and the vision of a new world move them. You can hear quite a bit of that in William Parker's version of "All Played Out." This is no small thing, and we should think deeply about the diverse places people are coming from and the different ways that they are finding to contribute, and that should enable us ourselves to do better at building this event, but even more it should give us a deeper grasp of the kind of movement for revolution we are leading, and the kind of revolution we are making. We have to grasp the depth of this, and break with the fetter in our own thinking that rules people out, that in effect says to people—for instance, well-off people, even very very well-off people—"you have no visionary or radical or justice-loving side to you"—and deprive both them and the movement for revolution of their participation and support.

At the same time, there is the latest wave of letters from prisoners. And they're bringing something different, in a lot of ways, into this. Yes, they have their own diversity, which we should value and be very alive to, but you also do get a sense of those whose life is lived on the desperate edge finding something very real and very important in BA. There are literally millions and millions with the life experience of those prisoners—to give a statistic in this "land of the free," 31% of Black adult men have felony records. There is great potential here... and for these prisoners as well, they have found ways to contribute to making this event happen.

Are we getting this? Are we understanding what's involved in something as seemingly modest as the people who made dinners in the project to raise money? Or the person who sleeps in their car but donated $400? Do we understand the potential here... and the responsibility?

And there is, or there should be, interaction between the responses from those who "catch hell in the hardest way every day from this system" and the responses of others... and again, through that whole process, something higher should ultimately emerge. This is an example of what we mean when we say that we want to build a culture of appreciation, popularization and promotion of BA. As it says in BAsics... quote #35, page 100:

When we're taking this out, and working to build this culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization [in relation to the leadership of Bob Avakian], we are not doing so in order to build a cult around a person, in some religious sense. We're doing so in order to enable people to engage the most advanced understanding we have of where society and humanity needs to go, and can go, what this body of work and method and approach has to do with that and why it's important in relation to that—why, in reality, it is indispensable for masses of people to engage with this in relation to—to serve, and to advance towards—that, and not anything else. Even the aspect, which is secondary but not unimportant—the aspect of the person Bob Avakian—is important only in the framework of, and on the basis of, being a revolutionary communist leader, the leader of a communist vanguard party which is capable of leading people toward the goal of revolution and ultimately communism—which has to continue developing its ability to do this, but has a basic foundation for actually leading people toward that goal. That is the point of all this.

Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity – Part 2,
Revolution #115, January 13, 2008

As the quote says, this aspect of BA the person, while secondary, is nonetheless very connected to this work while at the same time bringing another dimension to it: who he is as a person—his whole history and the whole way he approaches things is something that people respond to. People do sense something about how this leader sees things that resonates with them. And again, from many many different points of view.

What people should experience on April 11 should prefigure the kind of revolutionary society that can and must be brought into being. This is not a revolution—this is not an understanding of communism—that is religious. It is not millennial—in the sense that one day everyone sees the light and becomes a communist, or that we seize state power and then the party keeps expanding and one day everyone is in the party, and then there are no more antagonisms between people. It is much more dynamic. It is about a solid core and a lot of elasticity on the basis of that solid core—again, to reach into BAsics... quote #26, page 58:

In order to handle this correctly, there are a couple principles that I think are very important. One was actually articulated for me in a conversation that I had not long ago with a spoken word artist and poet. I was laying out to him how I saw socialist society and some of the same points that I'm making here about how we have to hang onto power and keep things going in a forward direction toward communism, while on the other hand there is a need for a lot of experimentation in the arts, a lot of critical thinking that needs to go on in the sciences and all these different spheres, and you have to let people take the ball and run with it, and not supervise them at every point on everything they do. And I asked him, for example: could you write your poetry if every step of the way there was a party cadre there looking over your shoulder, examining what you are writing. He said "no way."

Then, as we discussed this for a while, he came up with what I thought was a very good formulation. He said, "It sounds to me like what you are talking about is 'a solid core with a lot of elasticity.'" And I said "yeah, you've really hit on something there," because that was exactly what I was trying to give voice to—that you have to have a solid core that firmly grasps and is committed to the strategic objectives and aims and process of the struggle for communism. If you let go of that you are just giving everything back to the capitalists in one form or another, with all the horrors that means. At the same time, if you don't allow for a lot of diversity and people running in all kinds of directions with things, then not only are people going to be building up tremendous resentment against you, but you are also not going to have the rich kind of process out of which the greatest truth and ability to transform reality will emerge.

Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism, Revolutionary Worker #1257, October 31, 2004

So even as this book gives people a living if basic sense of the new synthesis, and a sense of the future society—this program with which we aim to strongly impact the atmosphere—this too must GIVE a real sense of the future society, and of the solid core with a lot of elasticity.

This April 11 program really needs to be seen in two ways. First, the program is a key way to break this book out really big. But second, the program itself is very important again in especially the first two objectives of this campaign—putting revolution back on the map in people’s thinking and making Bob Avakian a much bigger, much better known point of reference in society.

The editorial to which I referred earlier gives a vision:

We're sitting in a packed auditorium. The room is filled by masses from Harlem and other oppressed communities; students and teachers from high schools and universities around the city; some people who have traveled from outside New York City to attend the event; musicians; authors and poets; visual and spoken-word artists; journalists; scientists; progressive lawyers; activists involved in resisting various crimes of this capitalist-imperialist system; parents of those brutalized or killed by the police; and others. This crowd includes men and women, people of different ages, races, nationalities and sexual orientations. Together they take part in an exhilarating evening characterized by many diverse forms of revolutionary swagger and artistic expression... After the formal program ends, the room is buzzing as people from many different backgrounds, strata and spheres are trading questions and engaging in lively discussions and debates with one another about the event they have just experienced, about Avakian and BAsics, and about revolution and the vision of a new world. The evening models the very principles and relations—and the very type of world—that Avakian and the movement for revolution that he leads are working to bring into being.

That vision, if realized and if built off of, and if it reverberates through the media of all kinds going into and coming out of it, could mark a very important step forward—perhaps even a leap. But there is a lot of work and struggle and a lot of creativity and imagination and persistence required, and not all that much time, to make that vision materialize. This can't be done by putting our heads down and "just doing it." This too has got to be done with the vision of the new society... the solid core and elasticity... expanding the "we" in different ways...all this as part of preparing for revolution, part of hastening while awaiting. This has everything to do with influencing people very broadly but also accumulating forces for revolution—and here too there is a very important editorial in a recent issue of our paper that went into this, drawing from the statement on strategy, now posted online.

This editorial on accumulating revolutionary forces puts it this way:

When we make plans, do we comprehend the full scope of those who would want to contribute, in one way or another, and make sure that we are giving them opportunities to do so? Are we comprehending the ways that people with diverse views and levels of commitment coming together can actually create/unleash new energies? Are we building "we's" at all different levels... "we's" that interpenetrate with one another and create a whole greater than the sum of its parts?

Then it goes on to discuss the solid core in all this, which is critical to this—that this solid core has to be solid ideologically—which doesn't mean rigid, but means clear in outlook and strategy and objectives... it means grounded in... the BAsics!

The work which was clearly done in bringing forward and bringing together the hosts and the artists and the prisoners is not something different than solid core with a lot of elasticity. And that is the method we have to persevere in and deepen, in many cases, to take this to the level it needs to go.

This is what we have to do now. We here in this room have to commit to make this event be what it has to be—really fulfill what it has to do—to be something that launches this in a powerful and surprising way into the atmosphere, providing magnetism and dynamism to the effort to get this book out there and working its power and moving forward—qualitatively—in the impact of this campaign. This can be "a great night in Harlem"—this can be something historic—but that is up to the people in this room.

So I really want to speak to you personally now—to say to you that you need now to take these next two weeks and throw in on this with everything you have. If you are in a job where you really cannot or should not take a leave—if you are a teacher, for instance—then make sure that the time on this job and your time off it is spent spreading the word of this event to everyone you know... if you can take the time off, or if you can take the weekends, or extra days... then there are people here who can plug you into the crucial tasks that really have to be done to make this event happen on the scale and in the way that it needs to happen. If you got involved in this movement and got enthusiastic, but you maybe lost direction or connection or other things happened in your life, now is the time to jump back in with both feet for these two weeks at least... if you are just getting into this and are not sure of what you can do, we have ways you can contribute and learn... if you have talents or connections or initiatives you want to take, we have room for all that... if you've been into this and you are down with this, then step it up to another level for this week.

Our plan tonight is NOT to start with a big discussion, and only then organize people once everyone is leaving or about to leave. Our plan is to go directly from this talk into the organizing part, and then I'll stick around and talk informally with whoever wants to after that. So I'm going to remind people of the two points I made at the beginning about the times we're in and the reason for this campaign—to reverse the trajectory where communism is fighting for its life and get into one where it has increasing traction and attraction in society... and to prepare so that when one of those jolts talked about in the strategy statement, of the kind we are witnessing today in the Middle East and North Africa, to prepare so that there will be a movement strong enough and grounded enough to make something good out of that. And I'm going to close with a quote from BAsics... quote #32, page 65:

We should not underestimate the potential of [the new synthesis] as a source of hope and of daring on a solid scientific foundation. In the 1960s, when the Black Panther Party emerged on the scene, Eldridge Cleaver made the pungent observation that the old revisionist Communist Party had "ideologized" revolution off the scene, but the Panthers had "ideologized" it back on the scene. In the present period in the U.S., revolution has once more been "ideologized" off the scene. And in the world as a whole, to a very large degree, revolution aiming for communism and the vision of a communist world—this has been "ideologized" off the scene—and with it the only road that actually represents the possibility of a radically different and far better world, in the real world, one that people really would want to live in and would really thrive in. The new synthesis has objectively "ideologized" this back on the scene once more, on a higher level and in a potentially very powerful way.

But what will be done with this? Will it become a powerful political as well as ideological force? It is up to us to take this out everywhere—very, very boldly and with substance, linking it with the widespread, if still largely latent, desire for another way, for another world—and engage ever growing numbers of people with this new synthesis in a good, lively and living way.

Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity – Part 1,
Revolution #112, December 16, 2007

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What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond