Revolution Books: A Bookstore for the World. Coming to Harlem. What It Is, Why It Matters, How You Can Help Make It Happen.

A Talk by Andy Zee, Spokesperson for Revolution Books

Updated September 14, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


On August 17, Andy Zee, the spokesperson for Revolution Books in New York City, gave an important talk on the mission of Revolution Books and the campaign to reopen the store in Harlem.

Over the summer, Revolution Books successfully conducted a $30,000 Indiegogo fundraising effort. Between now and the end of October, an additional $30,000 must be raised to complete the renovation of the new storefront. All this is part of a multilevel campaign to raise $150,000. Revolution Books is needed more than ever, and your donation counts tremendously. To donate, go here.

Following is a slightly edited version of Andy Zee’s talk.


Thank you Will, and thanks again to the Revolution Newspaper Reading Group for their moving presentation of their donation raised on the streets of over $700. Thank all of you, for coming out tonight to join in the great effort to re-open the national flagship Revolution Books in Harlem, NYC. We look forward to hearing your ideas, what you are expecting from the store and your questions, This is a bookstore that only exists to transform the world and that takes people.

Last week, the Revolution Newspaper Reading Group set up a six-foot table right in front of the storefront of the new, under-construction, Revolution Books at 437 Malcolm X Blvd. They set up enlargements of posters from Revolution newspaper, one of which features 48 innocent people whose lives have been stolen by police forces across the country. While they were reading and talking, a young boy walked up and stared hard at the poster. Will asked him what he was looking at, and he pointed to the portrait of this sweet girl, her braids threaded with blue and white plastic beads: this is Aiyana Stanley-Jones, just seven years old; and the boy asked: "they killed that little girl too?" Aiyana was shot in the head by a police officer in her living room while sitting on the couch with her grandmother, who told of seeing the light go out of Aiyana's eyes.... But then, the police handcuffed and held her grandma for several hours. And then they admitted that they had raided the wrong house. Do I have to tell you that the only cop tried for this crime was let go in a mistrial?

Will asked the boy how old he was. "SEVEN." Will then asked: "What does this make you think?" The boy said: "I think the police just want to kill us."

What kind of society does this—routinely? Why does this happen? What can be done about it? Is another society possible? And how? These are not easy questions. But they have answers. Revolution Books is where this bitter and brutal reality, where these stories are told and probed. Where not only the immediate circumstances—the proximate causes—are exposed, but the underlying systemic reasons that such outrages keep happening over and over again are revealed. And more, not just why this happens but that there is a way out and a way to get there.

Recently, Bob Avakian, who you just saw in an excerpt from the film of the event at Riverside Church last November, REVOLUTION AND RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion; A Dialogue Between Cornel West and Bob Avakian, and whose work and leadership are at the foundation of Revolution Books, wrote:

There is the potential for something of unprecedented beauty to arise out of unspeakable ugliness: Black people playing a crucial role in putting an end, at long last, to this system which has, for so long, not just exploited but dehumanized, terrorized and tormented them in a thousand ways—putting an end to this in the only way it can be done—by fighting to emancipate humanity, to put an end to the long night in which human society has been divided into masters and slaves, and the masses of humanity have been lashed, beaten, raped, slaughtered, shackled and shrouded in ignorance and misery.

I'll repeat: "...The potential for something of unprecedented beauty ..." through the fight "to emancipate all humanity, to put an end to the long night in which human society has been divided into masters and slaves ..."

This is real. And, there is no place else—no other site, no other bookstore, where there is consistent engagement with the biggest questions facing humanity, and which holds the possibility of connection to the movement for revolution.

Something beautiful—a world with a radically different economy, with different values, a different form of government, social relations and a whole new way of thinking grounded in knowing the world as it actually is and transforming it with the aim of not only meeting the needs of the people of the world and protecting the environment for future generations—but a world where all the social relations that Bob Avakian spoke of in the "What if" film clip that we just saw are being worked on collectively and consciously. The vision of this society, the means to struggle together for it, is what drives the staff of Revolution Books, it is what we model, and all this is grounded in the new synthesis of communism developed by Bob Avakian which is not only a goal and the mission of a party and movement with a strategy to achieve that goal... it is most of all a scientific method and approach to probe, engage, understand and transform reality.

Press conference to reopen Revolution Books

Revolution Books' new space at 437 Malcolm X Blvd. (Lenox Ave.), Harlem, NY. Photo: Revolution Books.

Let's look further into what we have been discussing already this evening: one of the most glaring moral and political challenges of this moment in this country—the epidemic of police murder of Blacks and Latinos—a scourge that has been going on for decades, intensifying year after year, but then, when the people of Ferguson stood up last summer, the equation began to change. At Revolution Books people can connect with the movement aimed at putting a stop to this. We are going all out to promote Rise Up October: the Massive Mobilization to Stop Police Terror & Murder on October 24 here in NYC and the program to build this with Cornel West and Carl Dix in 10 days on August 27th at First Corinthian Baptist Church here in Harlem.

But as important as resistance is, the political landscape is not only shaped by the upsurge and directly fighting the power. There is also a tremendous wealth of intense and deep work—scholarship and art, poetry, plays, essays, novels, sociology, history and philosophical works flourishing about the historical and lived experience of Black America. And revolutionary theory is being further enriched and developed drawing from all of this work.

Work that includes The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist, Alice Goffman's On the Run, a powerful, important work for which she has come under fire for standing with the people whose lives she profiles. Ebony and Ivy by Craig Steven Wilder and Master of the Mountain (about Thomas Jefferson—revealing the unvarnished brutality of his slaveholding and spreading of slavery) by Henry Weincek (and both of these authors have spoken at Revolution Books); and Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me. All of these works are available at RB along with the opportunity to engage informally over a cup of coffee or at a program.

At RB we do not shy away from controversy. When Michael Eric Dyson attacked Cornel West in a vicious piece in The New Republic, RB held a panel discussion right away. Indeed, whenever something major breaks in the news—when you get done screaming at the TV—you need to get yourself over to 437 Malcolm X Blvd., to the new RB. When Hurricane Sandy hit hard, shutting down the city, RB was open the next day, flashlights, candles, whatever it took. People made their way there and people were being dispatched to the hardest hit areas. And, RB did the same in the weeks and months after September 11, 2001.

Reading Circle Outside Revolution Books

A "Bookstore Without Walls" while the store space is being renovated: here the Revolution Newspaper Reading Group meets to discuss the July 20 Revolution editorial, "An Audacious Plan... And the Ways to Make It Happen." The group raised $700 towards the renovation costs, collected from Harlem residents on the street in front of the new under-construction store, at the Harlem Week street fair the previous weekend, from residents of a West Harlem housing project and including $225 from a used book sale a few weeks earlier. Photo: Revolution Books.

The oppression and the liberation of Black people in America and the role of that struggle in the emancipation of all humanity is not the only subject at Revolution Books. This is a bookstore for the whole world:

Women: their lives here and around the world revealed through art and scholarship, rooted in a bedrock understanding that the liberation of women is both decisive to and a measure of the total revolution in human society and relations between people that is needed to emancipate all of humanity.

The Environment... Immigrants... We could talk all night about each of these subjects. This, the whole world, is what you find at Revolution Books.

The role of religion around the world today: where humanity is caught in the mutually reinforcing vise grip between Islamic fundamentalism and imperialist predation—that is, the bloody jaws of what this capitalist-imperialist system, especially the U.S., does to people here and around the world. All this and more is available and explored at RB. The history, the philosophy, the revolutionary theory, the stories, the poems.

And, we have fun: Arturo O' Farrill, the leader of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, an incredible Grammy-winning artist—did a program where people learned about the roots of jazz in Africa, and how that fused with Latin and African-American music—bringing this alive with performance on the electric piano. RB held discussions with playwrights and authors from the New York Theater Workshop. When they did a play about Palestine, Food and Fadwa, which took place around a dining room table, we turned the bookstore into a dining room and had a tremendous Palestinian meal and a great discussion exploring the topic of Israel and Palestine over breaking ... well ... hummus and pita (laughter). Films and poetry nights, we've had new and old school tap dancers. What goes on at Revolution Books will stretch your imagination trying to encompass it all.

Volunteers are renovating the store

Volunteers are working to renovate the store. Photo: Revolution Books.

All of this is engaged at Revolution Books with the scientific method and approach that is at the heart of the new synthesis of communism developed by Bob Avakian. This is not something mysterious. It is a method that anyone can learn—looking at and digging into the world as it actually is, working to discover and understand the underlying dynamics such as how society develops and functions. This gives life to the liberating spirit of Revolution Books. More, it foreshadows the far greater freedom that is possible through revolution—where people are no longer slaves to a world where might makes right, but instead, on the basis of understanding the actual reality we face, people can collectively discover and act to carve out the freedom to change that reality in the interests of all humanity. Able to do so without being constrained by competition over what is "my idea" and how can I market it—against all others.

We have said that Revolution Books is a bookstore about the world and for a whole new world. I have just been catching up with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 2006 prize winning book, Half of A Yellow Sun, an incredible novel set during the Biafran War in Nigeria. We have had fascinating and moving readings from Junot Díaz and Edwidge Danticat, and the great Kenyan writer, Ngῦgῖ wa Thiong'o. The new Revolution Books will expand its Libros Revolucion section. Underlying this is the understanding that either the whole world gets free, that is, we all get to a communist world, or no one does. (applause)

I know that for many people this is new, and you might be thinking, "Whoa, there's a lot of communism here!" (laughter) This runs right up against everything we've been taught, everything we've learned here in the belly of the capitalist empire, and it runs right up against what people have learned about communism living here in the belly of the capitalist empire. But, as Bob Avakian put it in the Dialogue with Cornel West, listening to the rulers and defenders of this system talk about communism is like hearing a summation of the Civil War told by former Confederate generals, so you need to look deeper.

The new synthesis of communism is based on decades of work Bob Avakian—"BA"—has done summing up the positive as well as the negative experience of the revolutions of the 20th century, most especially in the Soviet Union and China up to the death of Mao Zedong, and learning from a breadth of human experience so that we can do even better in the revolutions of this time. As you are learning about this, agreeing or disagreeing with different aspects of it, or even a lot of it, I think you can see the really tremendous difference it will make for Harlem, for New York, for the whole world, for there to be this vibrant intellectual, cultural bookstore at the center of a movement for revolution, soon, with your participation, to be re-opened on Malcolm X Blvd.

What People Are Saying About Revolution Books

RB opens the big questions that tug you awake late in the night and looking at the morning news. Hanging out at Revolution Books, coming to a program, joining a discussion or just sitting and reading or watching one of our films, opens eyes to see beyond the limits of the terrible present. For, without the scientific spirit of discovery, critical thinking, poetic spirit and engagement with revolutionary theory and a broad spectrum of intellectual, cultural and scientific work— all of which Revolution Books brings together in a very special way, allowing people to connect to the movement for revolution and its leadership—no matter how heroically people fight, no matter how passionately people expose and denounce the current state of the world, it will stay the horror it is for the great majority of humanity.

Tonight, we are at a pivotal point in the fight to save and re-open Revolution Books. There is one week to go in the Indiegogo campaign—which is one leg in the multilevel fundraising that RB is undertaking. There is just over one month until the store is aiming to open during the week of September 22.

There is a lot to do—funds to raise, a store to be renovated, books to be sold on the street, people met and invited to be a part of the store, programs set up and a grand opening planned. All of this needs one big ingredient: all of YOU.

The key issue right now is raising funds and raising people to donate and spread the Revolution Books Indiegogo campaign.

And, we have run up against some things. We have been struggling with trying to reach people during the New York summer diaspora—where those with some financial means and time off—especially teachers and professors, writers and artists, leave the city for far-flung areas to create new work and to rest. We have also been struggling with a defeatist viewpoint that is all over the creative community in New York City, that all the cutting-edge cultural places must necessarily fall victim to gentrification and new technology. And, at the same time, because RB borrowed and raised just enough money to rent the new store on Malcolm X Blvd., a lot of people think, "No problem, that's great, you'll do wonderfully there." Well, you can go by the new space and see that we have not yet done the renovations. We need your assistance and donations to do that. Or, some people think that because RB has been around for 37 years it will always be here. These are things we need to talk to people about.

For RB to have the funds to re-open; for RB to pay rent, order new books, afford the promotion to let the whole world know where it is, requires lots and lots of supporters: donating generously to Indiegogo this week, becoming sustaining "Friends of RB" going forward, and coming to the store to buy books and attend programs when it opens.

People have asked about the $30,000 Indiegogo campaign and the bigger $150,000 financial goal. The situation is this: half of the $150,000 is what it took to close the previous store in Chelsea, and to sign the lease for the new store on Malcolm X Blvd. Not the typical business model—but we raised and borrowed this money and signed a lease in the spring because we felt that without a definite new location it would be real difficult to go forward. And we did so before having all the funds necessary to renovate and restock. Part of the story is that I was walking down Malcolm X Blvd. (Lenox Ave.) and saw the sign for rent at 437 Malcolm X Blvd. I called Clark Kissinger, the manager of RB, and we looked at the space and said: "We can't pass this up." I think you can see the difference it makes to have the space.

Since some of the funds to rent the new store will have to be paid back after it opens, we will need to build a huge network of people who know about and support Revolution Books—with a lot of people coming to the store to buy books. Hundreds and thousands of people are needed to support and become sustainers of RB, meaning they donate monthly or regularly. Revolution requires people, and Revolution Books is a great place to start winning the support and the involvement of people like you right now.

Then, the other half of the $150K fundraising campaign is for the renovation and re-stocking of the store with new books. The Indiegogo campaign is one part of raising those funds. It will provide enough money to sign contracts and get the materials and the renovation started. Together with all of you we are seeking out different forms of support for the new store—in volunteers and donations of material, books, AV equipment and more. And very important—Revolution Books needs PATRONS—those who can donate $10,000 or $20,000. There are a lot of people out there with those kinds of resources who can be won to see the difference this store makes. We need help meeting and reaching out to these people.

The key thing right now is talking to many, many people. Reaching out to them, yes, through media and social media—an article just went up today on the website, DNAInfo about the store—but then talking to people face to face or on the phone, to seal the deal.

Let me close here with what I said when we announced in May that we had to close the store in Chelsea, when we had, at that point, only an eye to move to Harlem:

Think of the difference it will make to have Revolution Books re-born in Harlem, able to dramatically expand its programming and stock of books: changing people and changing the world. Take up the Indiegogo campaign and reach out to all kinds of people this week and ask them to:

Dig deep into their pockets, their hearts, and their consciences. To DONATE and SPREAD THE WORD— to be a part of opening up a broad understanding of why the world is the horror it is for the majority of humanity, how the world could be radically transformed; raising sights to a radically new society, and giving people an opportunity—an invitation—to act on that understanding, to be a part of the great and historic endeavor of revolution:

There is a place for everyone:

Humanity Needs Revolution

The Revolution Needs Revolution Books

and tonight what we are gathered here to talk about is that

Revolution Books Needs all of You!

Thank you very much for coming and now we want to get into your questions and ideas.



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