On the Importance of the Bookstore Sessions Digging into BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!, and the Overall Link Between Theory, the Two Mainstays, and Accumulating Forces for Revolution

May 22, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us



Editors’ Note

Between May 10 and May 17, several hundred people in four cities came out to the speech “Where We Are in the Revolution.”  This speech focused on the seizure of power through revolution as central and put forward measuring everything that we’re doing from the perspective of hastening, while awaiting, the opportunity and ability to do that.  It took as its foundation the scientific method and approach, as further developed by Bob Avakian (BA), and the strategy flowing from that.  At the end, a powerful challenge was posed to each and every person there to step up, in a big way, their level of understanding of, and commitment to, the movement for revolution with the Party at its leading core.

Right now, it is very important to follow up off these speeches.  This means getting back to people and involving them in the movement for revolution and the whole process of Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution.  A key part of that process—an essential element of it if it is actually to BE for revolution—are the two mainstays: digging into and popularizing the works and leadership of Bob Avakian (BA), and the website and newspaper, revcom.us/Revolution.

Unless these two mainstays are at the core of what we are doing, then the movement will drift into something less than—and ultimately in opposition to—real revolution.

In that light, we are publishing excerpts from something written by a young revolutionary responding to the speech and focusing in particular on the importance of the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!  The vision in here—of the showings and discussions of this film as a key element of the solid core of this movement—along with the discussion on the importance of theory are important to dig into.


Introduction: What Does This Letter Address, and Why

The question of how we are working to accumulate forces for revolution has been one of the biggest questions on my mind for awhile now, in an ongoing way.  This has been all the more true following the release of the two new talks from BA and the recent “Where We Are in the Revolution” presentation.  In the two talks from BA, as well as the “Where We Are in the Revolution” speech—and in considering the synergy between these—one thing that stood out to me is a heavy emphasis on the need and tremendous importance of accumulating forces for revolution.  This need should be framing and informing all of the revolutionary work that we are doing, and we should constantly be measuring how we are doing at accumulating forces for revolution as one of the most key forms of evaluating how we are doing overall in terms of hastening while awaiting the changes that make revolution possible. 

See times and places for sessions on film at Revolution Books locations here.

There is a fundamental and crucial distinction between evaluating whether our line is correct, or adapting/watering down that line, based on “getting numbers of people”—i.e. economism, which is unscientific, harmful and deadly and will lead us quickly off the path of revolution—versus consistently working to get numbers of people on the basis of a correct line and constantly evaluating scientifically how we are doing at this, which is essential if we are going to get to the point of actually being able to make a revolution: In order to get to the future conditions where it would actually be possible to go for the seizure of power, there will need to be a core of thousands of people who are prepared to lead millions and millions of people who are conscious of the need for revolution and determined to fight for it.  We don’t have this situation now, so we had better be working on it. Furthermore, to speak specifically to the question of the party: as the “Where We Are…” talk put very plainly—and as BA speaks very bluntly to in BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!—either the party is going to grow, or there is the risk of it being rendered “out of the game” for awhile, owing to a variety of forces that include the forces of age and repression.

In addition to the fact that the two talks from BA and the “Where We Are in the Revolution” talk objectively put a lot of emphasis on accumulating forces for revolution, there is also the fact that the event I attended—and hopefully, this was true in other cities as well—seemed to draw a significant number of newer people, as well as people who perhaps have been more at the margins, rather than the core, of the movement for revolution.  The people who came to this talk heard a tremendous presentation of what this revolution is all about: the fact that this revolution is serious and for real; the obstacles this revolution is up against that must be transformed to make that revolution; the fact that a basic framework and strategy has been developed, and the leadership is there, to overcome those obstacles; a very blunt exposition of the urgency for the party at the core of the movement for revolution to grow; and a challenge for people at all different levels to get with, or further with, this movement for revolution and the party.   Afterwards, at the reception, the room seemed to be alive and buzzing with energy.  It struck me that there was a lot of momentum, a lot of potential for new forces to get with the movement for revolution and for people already with it to get deeper with it. 

In short: this presentation seemed to me to pose a specific opportunity and responsibility for us to make a leap in accumulating forces for revolution coming off this event, while the two talks from BA in synergy with the content of the “Where We Are in the Revolution” presentation objectively posed very sharply the need—in this immediate period, and in an overall sense—to be working to accumulate forces for revolution and to measure how we are doing this.

In this letter, I wanted to speak to a few points about how we are looking at the process and method of accumulating forces for revolution, and also raise a couple of concrete ideas that are radically simple yet, in my view, really critical for how we are working to accumulate forces for revolution.  And I wanted to contrast that a bit with how I think we have often looked at this process in the past.  And I want to highlight the specific—and I think far too often overlooked—role and importance of the bookstore sessions digging into the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! in relation to the process of accumulating forces for revolution.

Thoughts on How We Are Conceiving the Process of Accumulating Forces for Revolution

I might be wrong, but my sense is that we have often conceived of accumulating forces for revolution in a narrow way, and mainly in a practical sense: What are we asking people to do? What tasks are we asking them to take up?  What events, programs, actions, meetings or discussions are we inviting them to attend or participate in?   Very importantly—what struggles, going up against the power of reaction, are we mobilizing them to undertake?  I think this has at least sometimes led to a situation where we meet people who are interested in the movement for revolution, and we follow up with them a few times in various forms (phone, email, in person), inviting them to come to or be part of a bunch of things that are coming up…and sometimes, I have gotten the sense that we tell people about several things at once that we are inviting them to do, or to be part of.... And then, if these masses don’t respond, or if they don’t come to what we are inviting them to, I worry that they sometimes fall through the cracks, or that we consciously or subconsciously conclude automatically that they are “not interested” in the revolution. 

However, once again, I think this is an incorrect—and narrow—conception of accumulating forces for revolution, and of how we should be working with people.  By that, I do not at all mean that it is unimportant to be searching out and providing practical “on-ramps” for masses to get involved in the revolution, or that we should create obstacles to them doing so, or that we should not be unleashing the masses to take up important tasks that are part of building this movement for revolution.

However, if we conceive of accumulating forces for revolution strictly—or even mainly—in terms of “what are we asking the masses to do” in a narrow and mainly practical sense, I think we are failing to grasp the essential fact that Bob Avakian has pointed to, that “theory is the dynamic factor in ideology.”

Here is an excerpt from the really important piece, “THE NEED FOR COMMUNISTS TO BE….COMMUNISTS,” where BA speaks to theory as the dynamic factor in ideology:

Theory is the dynamic factor, because how do you change your ideology, your world outlook? How do you change your understanding of a question, how do you even change your sentiments about things?  Think about that, how do you actually change even your sentiments?  You do so if and when you come to understand something in a different way, especially if you are a person trying to be scientific, trying to actually achieve the great things that we are setting out to achieve—which require a scientific approach to achieve (even if we don’t always remember that).

Does this not speak to a crucial dimension of our overall revolutionary work, and of our work with the masses—the need to be leading and struggling with the masses to change their ideology, their world outlook, their understanding and their sentiments?

Related to this point, I was thinking about the excerpt from this paragraph from the strategy statement:

All this can enable the revolutionary movement, with the Party at its core, to confront and overcome the very real obstacles in its path… to advance and grow, through ongoing work, and through a series of critical leaps in times of sudden breaks and ruptures with the “normal routine”… to prepare the ground, and accumulate forces, for revolution—and have a real chance at winning. It is how thousands can be brought forward and oriented, organized and trained in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation… and then, 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.

I think it is important to note that this paragraph does not say: “….how thousands can come forward, be ‘around’ in some general sense, doing things.”   No, it says: “…how thousands can be brought forward and oriented, organized and trained, in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation.”

So how are we working to bring people forward, orienting, and training them in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more? 

The two most importantnot the only, but the two most important—vehicles through which we are doing this are: 

1) The body of work, method and approach, and leadership of BA 

2) Revolution newspaper/revcom.us.

These are obviously not the only two elements of how we are working to bring forward, orient and train people in a revolutionary way: We are carrying out a full ensemble of revolutionary work, and as laid out in the recent "Where We Are in the Revolution" presentation, the different elements of this ensemble—the BAE campaign; the two mass initiatives; building support for and involvement in Revolution Books around the country; spreading Revolution/revcom.us, to name a few key dimensions—must work in synergy with each other.  All of these, and other dimensions of our revolutionary work fighting the power and transforming the people for revolution—everything we do, in short—must be part of working to bring people forward, orient, and train them in a revolutionary way.

 But again, the two most important and decisive means through which we are bringing people forward, orienting, and training them in a revolutionary way are: the body of work, method and approach, and leadership of BA and Revolution newspaper/revcom.us  

Why is this so? Well, this goes back to theory being the dynamic factor in ideology.

It is worth actually thinking about the following question for a minute: 

Where are people going to get the most advanced understanding of: the horrors, suffering and outrages confronting the world, the source of all this and the ways in which these different outrages, horrors, and forms of suffering are linked; the capitalist-imperialist system behind these horrors, and the contradictions, laws, and dynamics of that system; why revolution is necessary and why it is possible; what the material basis for that revolution is, and who are the key forces for that revolution;   the strategy and method for that revolution; and what we must be doing today to work towards the conditions where an actual revolution would be possible; the key contradictions and obstacles that must be transformed in making revolution; the goals of the revolution and the type of radically different society and world that is necessary and possible; the leadership we have for the revolution we need?   

And where are people going to get the most compelling and inspiring challenge and invitation—to step forward and be part of this revolution, as they are learning more?

It is through the body of work, method and approach, and leadership of BA and Revolution/revcom.us.

Now, in terms of the relationship between theory and practice, I think—broadly speaking—that there are two basic errors that could be fallen into. And what these errors both have in common is incorrectly separating theory from practice.   The first error, essentially, is scholasticism: i.e. studying theory in an academic way that is divorced from practice, divorced from working to actually change the world. Here, I think of this guy in the 1960s or 1970s that BA mentions in his memoir. This guy was religiously and dogmatically reading all of Lenin’s works, in a way divorced from actually changing the world. One day BA said to him, “What are you up to?” and the guy replied, “Volume 41 (!).”   Today, the form is sometimes less gross—it can take the form of “learned disputations” and treating theory as some sort of “secret temple of knowledge” that sustains what amounts to an alternative lifestyle—but it is just as pernicious.

However, the other error is to elevate practice above theory, and to fall into an orientation of “do, do, do,” thinking fundamentally in terms—and leading others to think fundamentally in terms— of carrying out practical work, taking up practical tasks, but neglecting the role of theory as a guide to practice not only in an immediate sense, but in an overall sense.

And I will say that my impression is that within the movement for revolution, within progressive and radical circles (and so-called progressive and radical circles), and within society more broadly, this second trend—the undervaluing of theory—is the far more common of the two.

And this is a real problem. For one thing, a person’s theoretical understanding will even influence the degree to which they are motivated to take up different forms of revolutionary practice, and their understanding of why this is important and what it fits into.

However, even more fundamentally, taking up revolutionary theory is essential in order for people to have an ever-deepening scientific grounding in the overall need, possibility, basis, strategy, method, pathways, and goals of the revolution.   

As a variation of my point a few paragraphs earlier, there are again two very harmful errors that we could fall into in terms of how we are approaching the relationship between theory and practice in the process of accumulating forces for revolution. And, once again, both of these errors amount to severing theory from practice: 

1) To act as if until someone is “well-versed” in revolutionary theory, and the new synthesis of communism in particular, they can’t really contribute or play a meaningful role in the movement for revolution.  This orientation would be wrong, unscientific, and really harmful, and it will prevent us from breaking through the deadly gap between how small the revolutionary forces are currently and how big they need to and can be.  In short, we will never bring forward, orient and train thousands in a revolutionary way while reaching and influencing millions with that kind of thinking or approach.

2) To act as if as long as people are “around” and “doing stuff,” it isn’t really that essential for them to get into revolutionary theory, and the new synthesis of communism in particular, and to take up the two mainstays.   We will also never bring forward, orient, and train thousands in a revolutionary way while reaching and influencing millions with that kind of thinking or approach; we might bring some people forward, at least for a time, but we won’t be orienting and training them in a revolutionary way. And, sooner or later, they most likely won’t be “around” or “doing stuff” either.

This brings me to the specific role of the bookstore sessions in which we view and discuss the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!.

The Role of Sessions on the Film
in Accumulating Forces for Revolution

To pose a provocative question:  Have we been/are we conceiving of and approaching these sessions on the film as a key part of accumulating forces for revolution?

Well, we should be!

This film is exactly what the quote from one of the filmmakers says it is:

“Yes, this is a film, but that is not its essence. This is a daring, substantive, scientific summoning to revolution. 6+ hours that can change how you see the world and what you do with the rest of your life.”

Instead of saying “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that quote before,” let’s actually take a minute to stop and reflect on what this quote is saying, and what the implications are...

 There is a lot more I could say on this, but if we really think about what that quote from the filmmakers is speaking to, the reality captured there is sufficient to explain why getting into the film is an essential dimension of accumulating forces for revolution.

Here, I will only add an echoing of the very related point from the “Where We Are in the Revolution” talk about how this film is an incredible introduction to this revolutionary leader and a form through which BA breaks down, in a very accessible way, his pathbreaking advances of the science of revolution.

So, that is in terms of the critical importance of this film itself.  And then there is the specific importance of the ongoing sessions at the bookstore digging into the film.

On the one hand, getting into this film and getting it out in society in all kinds of ways is really critical, for the reasons spoken to above.  As Revolution/revcom.us has spoken to, there should be all kinds of showings of this film, large and small, in projects, campuses, barbershops, and many, many other locations, as well as people purchasing the film and watching it individually and in small groups. 

However, there is a particular importance to these ongoing sessions at Revolution Books providing people with an opportunity to dig into this film collectively and systematicallyWe should be looking at these sessions as a chance to collectively, as a team of scientists, study and grapple with the work of the most advanced revolutionary scientist on the planet, discussing and struggling over how to understand the content and significance of this work, and deepening our own grasp and application of this science.

Is this not an essential part of the process of bringing people forward, orienting them, and training them in a revolutionary way? 

There should be a contagious spirit and culture permeating and radiating from the movement for revolution, which these sessions at Revolution Books viewing and discussing BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! are THE PLACE TO BE.   These sessions should be magnetic, with both “veterans of the movement for revolution” and newer people not only coming, but feeling compelled to bring new people to what should be lively, accessible sessions.  Yet this has not been anywhere nearly enough the orientation—at least as it has struck me.

I suspect that two factors at play in this negative tendency might be:

  1. The overall devaluing of theory I described above—which, again, is rampant more broadly in society and among progressive and radical circles/ so-called progressive and radical circles, and which also takes expression within the movement for revolution.

    This could take the form of “having other stuff to do” and therefore not attending the sessions.

  2. A related, perhaps at times even subconscious feeling of: “Well, I’ve already seen and gotten into the film, so it’s not that important for me to go to these sessions.”

These two approaches fail to grasp and apply the understanding that what is concentrated in BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! is a living science—in fact, the most advanced revolutionary science there is—and that this science must be studied, and ever more deeply grasped and applied to radically transforming the world, in an ongoing, never-ending way; not a set of principles or facts to merely take in once and then “check off,” or to memorize in a dogmatic way.

 Furthermore, a related point: We are not carrying out our revolutionary work in isolation from the rest of society (if we were, it wouldn’t be revolutionary work!).  This means that the revolutionaries are not somehow immunized against other social and class forces and outlooks, and dominant/unscientific ways of thinking.  So, this only heightens the importance of digging into, and living in, the revolutionary science, leadership, and method concentrated in BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!

So, I really think that we, as a movement for revolution, need to make a collective rupture in terms of recognizing, acting on the recognition, and leading others to recognize that the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!—and these sessions on the film at Revolution Books—are a vital means of our work to accumulate forces for revolution. The aforementioned “place to be” spirit should permeate and radiate within and from all elements of the ensemble of our revolutionary work.

Let’s go!

Quick Concluding Thoughts and Concrete Suggestions for Our Work to Accumulate Forces for Revolution—Now, and In An Ongoing Way

Again, none of what is written above is meant to downplay the great importance of providing people with practical on-ramps and means to be part of the movement for revolution as—not instead of, not only after, but as—they learn more about this revolution. 

It is essential that we constantly be seeking out, and working/inviting/struggling together with masses to figure out ways and enable them to step forward and be part of this revolution in all kinds of ways, many of which were pointed to at the end of the "Where We Are in the Revolution" talk:  Through donating to and in different ways being part of the BAE campaign and committees; through donating to, and in different ways contributing to and supporting Revolution newspaper/revcom.us; through taking up and in different ways being part of the two mass initiatives (including directly going up against reaction); through volunteering for, and in different ways supporting Revolution Books;  and much more.

Why did I keep putting “in different ways” in bold type?   Because I also think it is very important that we not look at people’s practical involvement in the movement for revolution—i.e. the practical dimension of accumulating forces for revolution—in a narrow way either.  This practical dimension doesn’t just mean people standing on a street corner selling the newspaper or passing out palm cards, nor is it just a matter of how many things we invite people to that they attend, even while we obviously need people doing all of those things and all of those things are very important.

However, when people step forward to bake cookies or pies for the BA Everywhere committee; or donate to BAE or to sustain the newspaper or support the bookstore; or to defend a clinic or fight back against a police murder or some other outrage; or contribute ideas, questions, thinking to the movement for revolution, these are also all just a few examples of very important means of practical contributions to the movement for revolution!

We should also have our ears open for—and explore with masses newly coming forward, asking them directly for their ideas about—ways they may be especially interested in and capable of contributing practically to this movement for revolution.

However, as we are doing all of this, and no matter what particular practical ways people are contributing to the movement for revolution, we should be directing them to the two mainstays. We should be urging and struggling with them to get into BA, and we should be connecting them with Revolution/revcom.us

With that in mind—and while this is obviously not, by any means, exhaustive, even in terms of how we should be connecting people with the two mainstays, let alone in terms of our full ensemble of our revolutionary work—for all of the reasons spoken to above, here are 3 basic, yet very important, things that I think should be happening with everyone who steps forward in and around this movement for revolution—both in this immediate period, and in a more overall sense:

  1. We should be inviting people to—emphasizing and explaining the importance of, and working with them/struggling with them to see the importance of—the ongoing sessions at Revolution Books (as well as similar sessions held directly in neighborhoods of the oppressed) around the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!.

  2. More generally, we should be working with people, and emphasizing the need/importance for them to purchase copies of and get into BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! and BAsics, and providing the means for them to get into these works collectively—with us and with others.

  3. We should urge everyone to get a free e-subscription to Revolution newspaper, and to in other ways get consistently hooked in with, and consistently stay tuned to, Revolution newspaper/revcom.us             

I am going to end this letter there.

Let’s go!


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