“The Most Radical Revolutionary Leader and Scientist on the Planet Today Came Out of Berkeley High!”

by Sunsara Taylor | March 6, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


A very exciting part of the national campus recruiting tour being undertaken right now by Carl Dix, myself, and others is taking Bob Avakian’s leadership and new synthesis of communism to the students and teachers at Berkeley High. What makes this so special is that this is the high school that BA attended and which shaped him to a very great degree. If you read his memoir, you will see that Berkeley was not always the bastion of radical ideas and actions that it came to be known for. BA describes very movingly what it was like to go to high school as it was only recently desegregated, to form deep friendships with Black students he played sports with, hung out with, and formed singing groups with, and how this changed and shaped him in a profound and lasting way.

Another thing that is special about Berkeley High is that it has a really positive mix of different kinds of students. Children of professors and other high-powered intellectuals are mixed in with students who come from among the most oppressed sections of people, a mix of radical and progressive ideas and traditions with a great diversity of nationalities and life experiences. All this underscores why these students need to know about the life and example, and ongoing leadership for an actual revolution, that has been lived and is being provided by Bob Avakian, and step into the revolution that he is leading.

As part of bringing the Carl Dix/Sunsara Taylor tour to Berkeley High, we decided to make a huge poster with an enlargement of the image of BA and the words “Bob Avakian—The most radical revolutionary leader and scientist on the planet today went to Berkeley High! Learn more at RevCom.us.” We planned to take this outside the school to talk with students at the end of the day, let them know about Bob Avakian and get them into the real revolution.

One day, even before we got this big poster made, we went out to the school as it was letting out. A member of the Revolution Club agitated loudly as hundreds of students streamed by. “Do you know that the most radical revolutionary leader and scientist alive on the planet today came out of Berkeley High? His name is Bob Avakian—and he has forged a new synthesis of communism to emancipate humanity. He was shaped by Berkeley High, and if you want a world without police terror, without wars, without violence against women, you need to know about and get into Bob Avakian.”

Berkeley High School Walkout November 5, 2015

Over 1,000 Berkeley High School students walked out November 5, 2015 to protest racist threats posted on school library computers. Photo: Special to revcom.us/Revolution

Many were intrigued. In the main, there were two kinds of groups of students who stopped. Clusters of Black students who were generally favorable towards the idea of revolution and were particularly concerned about racism and police brutality as well as other injustices. And clusters of white students who tended to be much more theoretical and abstract in how they came at questions of revolution, and more skeptical and sometimes even oppositional in their attitudes.

We approached several clusters of Black friends who we could see nodding approvingly to the agitation, going more deeply into the significance of BA and how special it is that he came out of the very school that they were now attending. We got into how many of the problems still facing oppressed people today—like racism and police terror and murder—were the very things that shaped him as he was coming up and which he has gone on to put his life in the service of ending. And, how, as he took this up he came to see this as connected to ending all other forms of oppression and exploitation—that affect women, immigrants, and people all over the world who are murdered and plundered by the U.S. military as well as the way capitalism is destroying our planet.

Revolution Club at Rise Up October

Get with the Revolution Club  here


One young Black woman said, “I agree with all of that, and I like that you seem to be talking about actually doing something about it—not just talking about it.” She had learned about many of the things we were talking about in school, but didn’t see many people really fighting to totally stop them. Her friend added, “Yeah, all we’ve really done is one walkout, but now that is over.” She was referencing a walkout of about 800 students a couple months back, stemming from a racist incident on campus. BA has many times made the point that the masses of people often do not understand what they have accomplished when they do stand up, and I put this to these two young women, saying, “It was very important what you all did when you walked out! It changed how a lot of people think and shined a light on oppression and inspired a lot of people way beyond the students at this school. You should be very proud! But, then you also need to take responsibility to figure out what it will take to go forward, to make that part of a fight that can end ALL forms of oppression not only here but all over the world.”

They smiled broadly and we talked a bit more about how Bob Avakian never gave up on revolution because the problems in this world that cry out for revolution have never gotten better, and because he has done the work scientifically to identify the basis in the real world to end them, and what a difference it would make for them to learn about this more. Another Black student took extra fliers to get to his friends and said he had learned about and always been interested in the Black Panther Party and revolution, but didn’t really know much what it meant and thought this might be a way to learn more. Several of these students gave their phone numbers and email addresses to stay in touch and expressed interest in exploring setting up a Revolution Club on the campus.

As for the clusters of intellectual white students, some of them were clearly concerned about the world and injustices they see around them, but quite a few obviously felt a lot of distance between themselves and what people around the world are facing and whether or not it is really “their problem.” A group of about 15 of them were hanging around after most of the students had dispersed, waiting for rides, flirting with each other, and collectively taking turns seeing who could best rebut and/or dismiss us communists and the challenge we were putting to them.

Special Issue

People need the truth about the communist revolution. The REAL truth. At a time when people are rising up in many places all over the world and seeking out ways forward, THIS alternative is ruled out of order. At a time when even more people are agonizing over and raising big questions about the future, THIS alternative is constantly slandered and maligned and lied about, while those who defend it are given no space to reply.

Contains Interview with Raymond Lotta, Timeline of The REAL History of Communist Revolution, and more...

Read more

Two members of the Revolution Club were contending with a gaggle of these kids and at points would capture the interest of one or another, but then one of the students would loudly proclaim, “What you are talking about is completely unrealistic! It’s never going to happen... People won’t go along with that... The government will never let you get away with that! You can’t do what you are talking about, it all sounds great but it will never work.” Every time he’d say something, the Club members had a good answer, but the dynamic was hard to change. I had missed most of the beginning engagement, but after listening to this dismissal go on over and over, I challenged the main student putting it forward, “You know what you sound like?” His friends perked up and listened. “You sound like someone who has never studied physics, never studied engineering, never studied aerodynamics or the theory of gravity standing in front of a huge metal tube filled with hundreds of people saying, ‘There’s no way you are going to get that thing up in the air! It’s obviously impossible.’ In other words, you have absolutely no basis to say the things you are saying.”

People laughed and he was taken aback. For a minute he and his friends tried to press on, dismissing communism, but their arguments were made with less certainty and began to stall. After another minute, I leaned in to the one I had most directly challenged and said quietly, “You kind of agree with what I am saying, don’t you?” He nodded sheepishly and admitted, “Yeah.”

This didn’t win the students over to communism, but it did begin to change the dynamic of the discussion. They acknowledged that they would have to engage with the substance of BA’s work and measure it up against the actual reality of the world before having any basis to evaluate it. And some of them acknowledged that the substance of what his work is about—the emancipation of all humanity—was their responsibility to think about.

Still, this did not stop them—nor should it have stopped them—from throwing all kinds of questions and challenges at us. It became clear that at least one teacher in the school had been teaching about how Mao Zedong had allegedly “killed millions” because this—specifically the Great Leap Forward in China—came up independently from different students. One student brought this up and the whole group got puffed up again and pretty much accused us of denying and apologizing for a conscious human slaughter. Again, we had to tell the student who raised this that he didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. Before we could go further, he got incensed and started yelling, “How dare you say that to me? Why should I even talk to you if you call me an idiot. A minute ago, I was talking to her [gesturing to a member of the Club] and actually interested, but if you are going to insult me then I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” Patiently, but firmly, we explained that we were not making a global statement about his character, but we were responding specifically to his claim that “Mao killed millions” and if he wanted to know why, we thought that he should calm down and listen because it really matters. To his credit, he did calm down and ask, “OK, what happened during the Great Leap Forward?”

A member of the Revolution Club and myself got into the fact that famines had been incredibly common in the history of China and were one of the many reasons why a revolution was necessary in the first place. The Great Leap Forward was a plan developed by Mao to re-organize agriculture to meet the needs of the people of China for the first time for adequate food and to do so in a way that transformed the relations among the people to be more cooperative and liberating. However, several things came together during that effort that fed into a situation where millions did die of starvation. We got into the fact that the Soviet Union had lent blueprints, experts, technicians, tractors and other tools to the effort of re-organizing agriculture, but in the middle of the Great Leap Forward the Soviet Union—which had by then restored capitalism—pulled out its experts, blueprints, spare parts, and so on, which was incredibly disruptive to agricultural production.

On another level, there was one of the biggest droughts that had happened in 100 years and this drastically reduced the amount of food that was produced. And, on a third level, there were problems and shortcomings in the actual plan and approach led by Mao and the revolutionaries, largely owing to the fact that what they were doing was radically new. However, the one thing that was not at all a factor was some kind of vicious intent on the part of Mao to “kill millions” and, in fact, once it became clear that people were starving, Mao led the new socialist state to divert resources for the first time in Chinese history to reduce as much as possible the food shortage. Further, the very changes that were carried out through the Great Leap Forward contributed significantly to a situation where China was able to overcome—again for the first time in Chinese history—the food shortage problem and put an END to famines. We broke down how this was a significant part of taking life expectancy in China from 32 years old in 1949 when the revolution was made, to 65 years old in 1976 when the revolution was overthrown. All this is NOT what is taught and it is extremely important to understand, we argued, even as we want to go further and do even better next time around in making revolution.

By the time we had walked through all this, some of the friends had filtered away, but a core of them stuck around and the one who had been yelling passionately only minutes before was particularly serious and intrigued. He posed back, “So, my understanding is that socialism is a stage on the way to communism, but then in communism there isn’t a state. How does that work? How can you do things without any overall coordination?” We told him this was a great question and spent a bit of time working with him to understand that it is possible, when class divisions and oppression has been overcome, to have a government and administration without a state. A member of the Revolution Club gave the example of a pick-up game of basketball and how people all play together and don’t need someone enforcing the rules or penalties on them. They all know how the game works and that they have to play by the rules to all play together and have a good time. The student was positively impressed by this example, but then a friend chimed in and said, “But everyone wants to win! What is going to motivate people if you can’t get ahead?”

We stayed for a while longer with several of these students, with their friends filtering in and out and raising objections but then getting drawn into more serious engagement. Some clearly didn’t want to go there, but others were more open, and quite a few found themselves drawn in and interested in spite of their pre-conceptions. All this was invigorating for us revolutionaries as well as for the students.

We collected several more phone numbers and emails and made plans to follow up. As we walked back to Berkeley’s Revolution Books and discussed plans for more organized engagement with these students, we reflected on the very positive mix of students at that school and how strategic it will be to persevere in going back and forging an actual Revolution Club at this very special high school that BA came out of. We talked about the point in BA’s new work, The Science, the Strategy, the Leadership for an Actual Revolution, and a Radically New Society on the Road to Real Emancipation, of how critical thinking, even when it is directed against us, is strategically favorable and how we should want and welcome this from students, but we also have a responsibility to engage it and lead people to transform their thinking so that they bring their intellectual skills into the service of the actual revolution that is needed and possible to emancipate all humanity. And, we reflected on the positive mix that BA describes in his memoir of a very intellectual atmosphere as well as a very diverse mix of students that made up Berkeley High years ago when he went there and which still very much characterizes the place. We are looking forward to, and have big plans to get back there several more times during this tour and in the weeks and months going forward.



Volunteers Needed... for revcom.us and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

REVOLUTION AND RELIGION The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Bob Avakian
BA Speaks: Revolution Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live
BAsics from the Talks and Writings of Bob Avakian
Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism
You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation Its History and Our Future Interview with Raymond Lotta
The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need