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Taking Out "A Question Sharply Posed, by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, NAT TURNER OR THOMAS JEFFERSON?"

May 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Challenging People with "Nat Turner or Thomas Jefferson?" at a Large Campus

We went to a campus on what was basically the last day of finals, which means the end of the semester, so the foot traffic was pretty slow. Plus it was drizzling on and off. But despite all that, we did accomplish something on campus. On a fence we hung a three-paneled sign: "Nat Turner or Thomas Jefferson, Slave Rebellion or Slavemaster, Where Do You Stand?" Some people engaged with us. We got out 15 copies of Revolution, and got a $2 donation. And importantly, we felt that we did change the way people look at communism and their relationship to it.

Standing with the slave rebellions against the slave system wasn't all that controversial for most we talked with (some were surprised that Jefferson had so many slaves, but it is not a big secret to many that he was a slave owner). And taking it a step further in pointing out that although those rebellions weren't always "pure" in their targets, they were a just response to the very cruel and oppressive slave system, made people think some. But once people acknowledged this, and sort of took the right side of this divide, posing to them the parallel to the first efforts at communist revolution vs. the criminal capitalist system really made them think.

First off, even understanding (or not forgetting) that those socialist societies were not the result of some vague left-wing "takeovers" in which the masses of people were just pawns, but were brought into being in the first place by, as BA puts it, "the oppressed rising up against the oppressive system and seeking a radically different way" is challenging the "conventional wisdom" about the history of the communist revolution.

But also, there is a compelling logic to what BA is saying: if it is right and moral to support those slave uprisings, "even with certain errors and excesses" against oppressors who "bring down wanton brutality and very real terror, on masses of people, to enforce and perpetuate their system of oppression," then, by the same measure, it is right and moral to support the first efforts at communist revolution, "even with certain errors and excesses," against oppressors who today are carrying out the most despicable crimes against humanity. We found that people from many different points of view, if they were honest, were provoked by this.

And especially at a time when the capitalist system has shown its bloody hand in the horrific garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, the dividing line BA calls on people to stand on the right side of is clearer to see, and more compelling. We struggled with people, on this basis, who claimed to be "neutral" that there is no such thing, and this too made people want to find out about communism. A number of people who bought Revolution were those for whom, before they encountered this, communism and revolution were perhaps "the furthest thing from their mind(s)."

Then there were a smaller number of people who had thought about a communist alternative who were excited to see that there is a real communist movement. One woman recounted her experience at a small Christian college: after encountering anti-communism, she wanted to find out the truth about that history, and wrote a paper on it. For making a caveat in her paper that she found very little that she considered honest and accurate at her school library, she got punished with a C—her only one ever—which only made her want to find out more. She took a small bundle of papers to get out to others and wanted to get involved.


Getting BA's "Nat Turner or Thomas Jefferson?" Challenge Out in the Community

Our crew took BA's "Nat Turner or Thomas Jefferson?" challenge out in a largely Black community and to the county jail on Sunday. We did a sound truck in a housing project we have been to a lot. Many people came to their doors to find out what was going on, and we ran into a lot of different responses. As on the campus, people had never looked at the question of revolution from this perspective and it really got people thinking in a different way.

Several people who bought the paper off this said they don't really think about these things much. One youth in a car was really intrigued by the challenge. He knew about Nat Turner, but didn't really have any understanding of the revolutions of the 20th century. The link provoked him to ask his mom for money for the paper. A while later, he ran up to us to get a second copy. As they drove away, they waved at the revolutionaries.

The point about "excesses and errors" made people think about the complexities of struggle, and how it relates to rebellion and revolution. Most knew something about Nat Turner's Rebellion, but were shocked to hear that they had killed the slave masters' children as well as the slave masters. They were also shocked to know that Jefferson, who they were led to believe was a representative of freedom, owned 600 slaves during his lifetime. People didn't know much about the communist revolutions, especially their overwhelmingly positive nature, but raising this question in relation to them provoked people to want to know more.

Several people expressed pessimism about revolution. One woman in her 40's said, "Revolution is dead... it's over!" Another guy said, "You can't win." However, these people were engaging with the revolutionaries on this issue, and it raises the importance of getting "On the Strategy for Revolution" out there in a much bigger way.

We ran into a lot of controversy over religion, and through the course of discussion dividing lines shifted in some cases. A group of guys sitting on a stoop were only mildly interested, and at first did not get the paper. Then, when a controversy erupted over religion across the street, they didn't want to talk. One of them said, "You need to be here when the cops are messing with us," looking at the crew as outsiders. But he wouldn't engage on that. When we ran into a couple of those guys later, we approached them, and told them part of the movement for revolution is about building up the strength of the people in the neighborhoods to deal with that... that we have the basics of what we need to make revolution, but that what is missing is you! We talked about the initiative against mass incarceration and the Blow the Whistle movement that is part of this. This led to some struggle over the strategy for revolution, and they got a paper and a copy of "On the Strategy for Revolution."

Throughout the day, including at a store in the 'hood, and at the jail at night, we ran into people who wanted to hook up, or in one case re-hook up, with the revolutionaries.

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