Taking BA to Campus:
Reports from the Field, Late February

March 5, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


In the hour-long talk, THE TRUMP/PENCE REGIME MUST GO! In The Name of Humanity, We REFUSE To Accept a Fascist America, A Better World IS Possible, Bob Avakian (BA) lays out a compelling, in-depth and comprehensive answer to what we’re facing with the Trump/Pence regime and what we must do. He penetrates beneath the surface with a unique and sharp in-depth analysis.

In the last few weeks, in cities across the country, revolutionaries and others have begun a process of taking this film out broadly. This has been shown to students and professors, people in neighborhoods, with flyers passed out at events, protests, and on college campuses. And it’s been in the mix of a big national controversy about disrupting the fascist treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin.

We need to learn all we can from this, while breaking out on a whole other level in these next few weeks, continuing to focus on college campuses. What follows is a sampling of reports from this effort.

Going to a Club Meeting

One important experience this week involved a student who invited people from the Revolution Club to a newly forming “arts and activist” organization to give a presentation. They met the main organizer while they were passing out flyers on a campus. She responded to their sign, “Fight the Power, And Transform the People, For Revolution,” and wanted to know what the Club was about. The revolutionaries also learned more about what she is trying to accomplish with this new organization, and she talked about wanting to bring students of different nationalities together. That she considers everyone “her people,” not just Black people. They played a clip for her from the BA film on the spot and made plans for this next meeting.

Here’s a report from that meeting:

“A student we met on campus invited members of the Revolution Club to give a 25-minute presentation on the film of a talk, The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go! by Bob Avakian, to an “arts and activism” organization they were just forming. We went and had a really great evening and out of it made some immediate plans together for a showing of the full film at their dorm and a gathering on campus on March 1—calling on people to wear black to protest the attacks on immigrants.

“They had a full agenda including a section on next actions. We ended up taking the whole evening talking about the need for people to fully understand what we are up against, the importance of having that overall understanding, talking about the film and making plans.

“We gave a short introduction before we showed several clips from the talk. We drew from the recent editorials on revcom.us that are making the case why people should see this talk, the impact it would have if thousands watched it this month and spread it everywhere, reaching all those who hate what is happening and want it to end, how people need to understand what we are facing if we are going to be able to act commensurately. We showed ‘Free yourself from the GTF!,’ ‘There is a direct line from the Confederacy to the fascists of today,’ and ‘What must we do?’

“People responded at first in relationship to what their group was about—the need to empower people during these times, to affirm people’s worth and the need for them to be able to do this in supportive, safe spaces. Another person talked about the importance of people returning to their communities—taking the lead from those most directly affected.

“We said that it is important that we learn from the experiences of those facing ever escalating attacks, and to think about who that would include today—the immigrants, the refugees from ‘shithole countries’ and why do people come here in the first place, women, LGBTQ people, and on and on... and think about the millions in North Korea who are facing the threat of annihilation with three aircraft carrier groups and an armada in place to strike—and where is all of this coming from? You cannot understand this just from inside the experiences of those most affected. And we talked about the need to watch and spread the entire talk—describing what BA gets into, who he is and the importance of the scientific method he has developed and the understanding of the world that flows from that—as part of getting to a radically different and better world.

“So we returned to the questions that this film addresses, which we had read at the beginning of our presentation. How serious a threat does the Trump/Pence regime pose to humanity? Could fascism really happen here? What is the character of the regime—is it fascist, and if it is, what are the implications? What are the roots of this regime? Is it a terrible aberration, ‘more of the same’... or something different still? What must be done to stop it? How? Is a better world possible? And we emphasized the stakes involved in getting this right or wrong.

“The conversation changed and people started to talk about what was going on all around them and we were off and running together.

“The person who had invited us immediately went through what she knew about the history of Korea and how the U.S. actually was the reason why there were two Koreas in the first place, and how people are lied to about the Korean War and how people were killed and women raped by the U.S. military. And she said that she loved the piece on the Confederacy—that she learned a lot from the way that was broken down. Another woman described how in a class she was taking, it became clear that we really have to be coming from the interests of all of humanity, and there are really opposing moralities involved here when people actually justify the dehumanizing of other people. There was some discussion on the need for a whole different morality—objections to the fact that this has come to mean an ugly morality imposed on people by this system and perhaps this was inherent in the whole concept of morality itself—and our view about the need for a radically different morality that flows from working to get to a world free of exploitation and oppression. Someone said they hope all of their meetings are like this.

“And another person talked about all the bullshit she sees around her with people just looking the other way. And how do you deal with that?

“And then reality hit about March 5 and the end of DACA. One person talked about the raids and would you believe that ICE actually went to the Grove—a huge popular and high-end shopping mall in the middle of LA—what the fuck was that? And another person said they got a text in the middle of the night that someone she knew got picked up, and another talked about her neighbors back home who are undocumented. Then people also talked about the political repression—that the administration has threatened arrests if people just stand in a certain area or carry signs that will be construed as weapons when the UC Regents meet later this month about tuition hikes—how this is part of this fascism that we are talking about. And then someone talked about the sixth extinction and the environmental crises and really these are the terms today.

“The people in the group had a lot of heart and they said that people had to come out on campus for 11 minutes of silence for the 11 million immigrants. And yes, let’s organize a film screening. One person offered to bring the pizza and everyone said they would call on everyone they knew and their floor at the dorm where we would be doing the showing. They agreed, it’s almost midterms at their college, but this is important even if only they show up and start to really understand all of this in the way we need to. They said they would start a whole movie night—called An Act of Urgency. And talked about other movies they would show. And we returned to the questions of morality—the need to bring a new morality to this situation and challenge people. The theme of a very visible and powerful action on March 1 was What Would It Take for You to Give 11 minutes for 11 Million Undocumented. People said they needed to know the facts—that it really helped to know the facts, and we talked about the existence of this movement, Refuse Fascism, and the calls they put out with all of the facts. We said we would forward them the orientation from RF and plans—and they made plans to get this all up on social media, make flyers, and get the word out about the screening of the film and the demonstration.

“Then people wanted to know what Revolution Club was all about, so we showed them HOW WE CAN WIN and explained why we are followers of Bob Avakian, who has developed a new synthesis of communism and that communism is the scientific method applied to knowing and changing the world. One person really wanted a BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! T-shirt. We explained that people who wear this shirt agree with the Revolution Club’s Six Points of Attention. She read the points aloud and said—damn, I could be about that, and then raised her own thoughts on what kind of revolution we needed. We resolved to get into that very important discussion soon.

“The discussion went back and forth between responses to the clips they saw, making plans for a screening to watch the full talk, and making plans to organize a demonstration on March 1, 11 minutes of silence for the 11 million immigrants being targeted by the Trump/Pence regime. They got into struggle over identity politics, the situation we’re facing, people drawing from what they understand about this situation, and all sharing their agonizing and fears. They returned to discussion of the talk throughout this, and also talked more about the mission of the Revolution Club: making an actual revolution to get rid of this whole system, and talked about who BA is and the work he’s doing.”

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Going to Professors

Professors can play a critical role in this whole process. One professor at a city college, for instance, has watched the talk and set up for her students to watch it and discuss it in a class on fascism and authoritarianism. The following reports give a sense of what some professors are thinking right now and how they’re seeing the film.

“Liberals and outrage”

“He really, really appreciated BA’s comments on liberals and thinks there needs to be a deeper and more serious critique of liberals, who, in his opinion, are just rolling over not just for Trump but for the whole ideological offensive. We met right after Laura Ingraham’s comments about LeBron James: ‘Shut up and dribble.’ ‘Where was the outrage in the white media? It made it through a couple of news cycles and disappeared, and even then was rather muted.’ He also wanted there to be more on the media in general... One of his first comments about the talk was that he would like to have seen more on attacks on the media and the role of the liberal media’s complicity in the consolidation of power.

“In his own way, he is grappling with the question of ‘how did we get here?’—especially how did we get from the 1960s to today. Even though he was not deep into the Black radicalism of the 1960s, he was profoundly affected by the climate it helped to create. He commented on the ‘unbelievable aversion to radical change’ that permeates the climate today... He liked the revcom.us review [of “Agents of Change”] and we talked about the difference between the students then and now, how the students at San Francisco State (and Cornell) acted on the moral imperative of the moment and were not consumed by ‘how many votes in the Senate do we need to win over,’ and that, for the most part, this is missing from students today, but then it is missing from society in general. This led him into reflecting on the difference now in sustained human relations between today and the 1960s—even the hippie movement, returning to the land, the deep and reflective discussions that led youth to strive for radical change rather than to avoid it. It’s not like it is not going on today but it does not characterize the campuses or society in general....

“He wanted to watch the Q&As at the end of BA’s talk, and we talked briefly about doing that together, and that he would think about students he might be able to watch the talk with. He understands there is a challenge to him and he wants to take it up.”

“The need to address American chauvinism”

“I went to the office of one professor who was happy to meet with me and told me he had watched the film a while ago (I did send him an email with the film). He said he was planning to write a response (and still plans to). He said BA talks about all the things that need to be told to people, and he thought what BA does was very important in opening up a dialogue in society because those are important questions of the day. He especially mentioned the point BA addresses on American Chauvinism. [He] thought the GTF is holding people back and people need to overcome that.

“He was surprised to hear that there was a very thoughtful breakdown of the film—the clips and the trailer and the Q&As. It seemed that when he watched the film, he just went directly to it but missed the other parts on the website. So we used his own computer screen and walked him through the box that comes with the film on the website. He was delighted to see that. He said he could show some clips in his classes to students and in that way encourage [them] to watch the whole film. He also said he was planning to spread the clips and the film to some other profs he knows would be interested.

“Then he told me an idea brewing in his mind: He was planning to pull a few other profs into a committee to plan for academic sessions devoted to understanding the politics of key parties (including left parties). He said that among these parties, he certainly included the RCP. He said once this project gets materialized, he will let us know so we can attend these sessions and let students know about the political line and goal of the RCP and BA. (He also proposed that he sit down to talk about more things with a representative of The Bob Avakian Institute.)

“Another professor I talked to had watched the film a while ago but not recently. ... He said from what he could recall, BA raised many deep and insightful points that are very important to change the political climate today. He also did not know there was the box that shows breakdowns of clips and Q&As. [He] was open to showing these to some students whom he considered ‘advanced’ in political thinking, and said he could also recommend the film to some profs he knows. ... He [has] hope for the youth—he said this was due to the high school students’ activism in the wake of the shooting in Florida.”

“Despair... and a basis for optimism”

“X promised to watch the film over semester break and I reminded him again, before I saw him, that the purpose of seeing him was to discuss the film. He still hadn’t watched it, as he had promised he would. When I saw him, he caught me up on the deteriorating atmosphere at his school, which I will describe below, but also said he STILL had not watched the film. So, much of our discussion was probing him about why, and waging struggle with him about this. Till the end of the discussion he was resistant to the thought that he was resisting going where BA would take him. He did finally say that part of the problem has been struggling with how does he be the teacher he must be for his students. He is fighting off feelings of despair and aloneness among his colleagues, and feeling either crushed, or ‘fuck it, I’ll just stand out there by myself and get shot down.’ So without replacing the film, I tried to take him to what is in it and why BA is addressing this problem of what is wrong with the liberals, why millions of people voted for Trump and what that has to do with the whole history of the country, classes and white people, and why people will always be foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit unless they understand the objective existence of classes and the outlook of those classes that exists in every program and the reactions to Trump.

“Off this, I was able to talk with him about why BA does objectively change everything and the real problem that this has been ruled out of order among intellectuals when millions of people need to know about this. And why it is not just a question of time and being overwhelmed, but why it’s wrong for the engagement with this not to rise to a level of priority when no one else is speaking with this clarity and analysis. I will say that I think X seeks us out because he said he knows we will keep him honest.

“What he is telling us about the situation at his school is outrageous. He went into instances of outright censorship of literature and posters publicizing events critical of the regime. Last semester, you could not utter the word fascist, and this semester, you can’t even utter the word Trump in a negative way. He is planning on calling this out, and he has been warned by other faculty that he should not take his position as a given, to which he says, ‘What do you know that I don’t?’

“It seems to me that we are entering times when the problem with liberals is actual collaboration. Silence equals normalization of violence and complicity. He should not have to stand out there by himself, and there is the basis to collaborate with other colleagues who are willing to step out and RADICALLY take this on. We are working to get him together with others.

“On the film, he promised to watch it with an eye to who he can pull together in a salon to watch it, and to let us know his thoughts on the film when we meet next. We ended up having some good struggle about Angela Davis, both about her role, which he does not see, given his ecumenical stance, but more importantly the travesty that Avakian’s work has been effectively marginalized. How do we change this? He had a number of ideas which were important. X says that one of his attractions to BA is how optimistic he is, and I think he really appreciated our discussion of why this has to do with BA putting communism on a much more scientific foundation and the struggle in the Party over this: why there is Cultural Revolution in the Party and the difference between being able to see the underlying reality versus populist epistemology, the idea that reality is determined by what people think.”

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Going everywhere... putting the talk in people’s hands

One of the things we’ve learned is that you can reach a lot of people with a simple and welcoming style of going broadly, and learning as you go. Grab a smartphone or tablet and a speaker... go up to people sitting in a cafe, at lunch tables, knock on professor doors... wherever. Tell them who you are, and that you’re part of a national campaign to make a big deal out of this film, telling them the title (you may want to carry around a big sign as well). Ask if they can take a few minutes to watch a clip from this film that provides the most serious analysis there is for the rise of the Trump/Pence regime and what we have to do about it. Again, this is just the beginning of the process, but it can contribute to having a broad impact and learning more deeply from people, as well as beginning to involve those who are more interested.

Here’s an excerpt from some of the experiences with this approach:

I spoke to a group of three students manning a table outside of the Student Union and showed them clips on the phone screen. One of them wanted to watch the clip, “There is a direct line from the Confederacy to the fascists of today.” After watching it, a couple of them showed a lot of interest, saying “that is really true.” One student had a question: “Aren’t the Democrats fighting the regime now? I heard that they are counting on the midterm election.” Instead of answering that myself, I “let BA do the work” in answering. I showed them the clip about the Democrats. The student who had asked the question said he agreed with BA, that the Democrats are just resisting on narrow terms. I asked them if they wanted to watch another clip and they said they did. Then I showed them the clip on “Order or Justice.” Off watching that, one student commented that whatever law the regime sets up is not necessarily for justice, and we got into a discussion of how in the past, any justice needed to be gotten outside of the boundary of law. The students talked about how they learned from history that was the case with the civil rights movement. They had to go to class, but were really interested in digging into all this further. So I went through showing them how to get to the website and how to get to the film online.

Another instance was walking into a lounge of the Ethnic Studies Center. There were six students there, eating lunch. After the intro, I asked them if they wanted to see some clips. They wanted to and they used the room’s computer to get to the website and we watched a couple clips. After watching the one on the “GTF,” the “Great Tautological Fallacy” about America, one woman said, “That is really true, this American chauvinism, I know a lot of friends are affected by this, not in openly reactionary way but implicitly, like what BA says.” She also said, “This clip is really provocative and I like it.” She then followed by, on the spot, sending the film and the clips to her friends through her cell phone. A couple students had to leave for classes and a few stayed to watch the clip of “Order or Justice.” They said they have supported the Black Lives Matter movement and were involved in a big political struggle on campus last year, and they all showed concern about the upcoming deadline for DACA. I told them about Refuse Fascism and its plan for protests on March 1. These students all said they would watch the film after school. We also talked some about maybe gathering some of the undergrad and grad students in this center to discuss and watch the film at another time. The guy said if he can gather people he would let me know next week.

There’s another experience on another campus where people put a portable TV on a rolling table and played it amplified on the main walk for a while. This captured attention and cohered a small crowd with handfuls of people debating all throughout the day. This was very positive because it got a broader debate going with new people who’d just seen the clips arguing with others about the reality of fascism. Not everyone came out of this agreeing with what they’d just heard, but it stirred things up and attracted attention with a lot of people pledging to go back and really dig into the talk and Q&As themselves.

Obviously, not everyone we approach will be interested, but we also shouldn’t be narrow or have preconceptions about this, but we should struggle in a good and open way. Here’s an interesting exchange in this regard:

Some people who were sitting and studying would say with varying degrees of rudeness, “I’m not interested” when I went up to them. I would ask, “Do you know what it is?” A couple people told me, “I’m just not political.” I coulda just got pissed and called them a good German or something, lol, but tried a different approach... I would ask them “What are you studying?” One of them told me, Business and Chinese... I want to move to China to do business. I said look, man, Trump is bringing the whole world closer to nuclear war than we’ve been since the Cuban missile crisis. Whether you’re an activist or not, don’t you think it’s important to understand the dynamics of what’s happening in the world, especially as someone that’s studying the language and economics of one of the countries being targeted by Trump’s America First program? This actually broke down his wall, and he opened up a little and said he was interested in checking out the film.

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In the middle of the fray

Another aspect of our approach should be paying attention to—and intervening—in the midst of different controversies, new attacks from the regime, debates and discussions centering on the regime. In relation to all this, we should get out among people quickly—connect people up with the BA talk on the rise and roots of this regime, and BA’s work overall... while also linking this up with the reality that this is a fascist regime and can’t be fought issue by issue or outrage by outrage, but by driving the regime from power.

After Trump’s “shithole” remark, the question of why people came to the U.S. in the first place became a big point of struggle, which BA spoke to with contempt for this system and heart for the masses of people, laying bare the deeper reality. In the aftermath of the disruption of the Mnuchin event, people are paying attention to intervening in the discussion on social media with clips and links to the BA talk, and on this even more could be done.

At a rally on a campus on March 1, after the 11 minutes of silence for 11 million immigrants, someone in the Revolution Club and Refuse Fascism gave a substantive pitch for people to come to a screening they were holding right after the demonstration. They posed the questions and then laid out some of what BA argues in the film, getting a lot of appreciative snaps (this campus’ version of applause) and cheers.

They had a small screening, but those who did come got very deeply into the discussion of what was so different and needed about this analysis—up against the argument that it couldn’t happen here, or that we should rely on “normal” political channels, or just be concerned about our own identities. A number of people who couldn’t come made a point to go up and get palm cards so they could watch it for themselves.

There have been events on the Trump/Pence regime where, during the Q&As, someone intervened from the floor in a compelling and substantive way, talking about the need for revolution, ultimately but how right now, there’s a certain stage we have to go through in confronting that this is a fascist regime and organizing millions into the streets to drive it out. They then pointed people to the BA talk and argued for why people need to get into it. A number of people came up to them afterwards expressing interest in watching the talk themselves, and potentially getting it to others.

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Wielding different strengths

One of the strengths that you can build on: there are people who are not students who are partisan to BA and this revolution, who have also resonated with this talk. This includes people with a lot of experience catching hell under this system, experience that students might not be familiar with and should learn about. Have we talked with them about being part of an outing on campus, why it matters, and the role they could play?

Speaking to another level and on a different note: it’s a great strength that there is a non-profit institute, The Bob Avakian Institute, organized for educational purposes to promote Avakian’s work throughout society. Given the world-historic breakthroughs concentrated in BA’s work, this institute has a very big role to play in working for that to have impact broadly throughout society. They can also co-sponsor classes and discussions, make materials available and be a resource for the promotion of and engagement with BA’s work. Professors and students, including grad students, should know this institute exists and be feeding in their responses to BA’s work, ideas for further promotion and financial contributions to support the work of The Bob Avakian Institute.

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Why focus on campuses?

Finally, let’s pull back the lens some and ask: Why focus on the campuses at all?

The campuses themselves are critical as centers of intellectual life and struggle and we should be making special efforts for this talk to be seen and have impact. Students, including grad students, are still developing their thinking, not so stuck in old ways, and open to asking the biggest questions about the nature of society and future of humanity. This is actually why the fascists have been working so hard to suppress all this, attacking progressive professors, trying to suppress protest on campus and building up a fascist social base from within academia.

Society—and this is true today and will be true tomorrow, in a revolutionary society—needs a place where new, unconventional and mold-breaking ideas emerge and get taken seriously, tested, debated and fought over, and refined in that swirl of experimentation, criticism, and struggle; if the schools aren’t living up to that role today—and they’re not—then let’s be part of changing that with the most revolutionary ideas on the planet!

Even more: There won’t be a revolution without a revolutionary student movement and reaching into the intelligentsia more broadly. This is a hallmark of the new communism,1 having to do with how understanding the world in all its complexity and contradiction is a critical part of any revolution worth making, and how wide ranging intellectual ferment impacts the whole process and mixes and meshes with the struggle of the most oppressed. And if you’re serious about revolution, you have to think strategically about the impact different sections of society can have on each other, and on all of society. (See HOW WE CAN WIN—How We Can Really Make Revolution.)

* * *

Right now, students and intellectuals coming from all kind of perspectives have an essential role to play in the struggle to drive this fascist regime from power and the struggle for a better world. But what they understand can make all the difference. We should be getting out this talk to people in a big way, learning from the approach BA takes: solid core with a lot of elasticity, based on the solid core. There should be a lot of fluidity in our approach—proceeding from reality, in its motion and development, and the larger interests of humanity’s needs and measuring things up against this as we go.

See Bob Avakian’s book THE NEW COMMUNISM, in particular the section “Epistemology and Morality, Objective Reality and Relativist Nonsense” in Part 1, “Method and Approach, Communism as a Science.” [back]

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