Watching the New BA Film at San Francisco State University—and Wrangling Over Reform vs. Revolution

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From a member of the Revolution Club:

About 10 students and two professors, including the Asian-American Studies professor who hosted the event, came together to watch the new film of Bob Avakian’s speech, Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution. Some came because they had heard about it from their professors (several professors had announced it to their students), or from class announcements we did. Others saw flyers and posters around campus. There was also an article in the student newspaper about it. A few came after meeting the Revolution Club on campus.

The Revolution Club was out on campus in the days leading up to the event, and as Trump’s attacks on immigrants and fascist violence escalated, the Club agitated and organized people for revolution, challenging them to take the first step by coming to watch this film. A lot of people took flyers and there was a lot of interest—and some haters, of course—especially on the day we stood in the middle of Malcolm X Plaza, in front of the Student Union, with a big banner that said, “We don’t have an immigration problem, we have a capitalism problem,” and did agitation about the substance of that, linking it up with the need for a real revolution and deep analysis BA lays out in the film about why this system can’t be reformed and what the strategy for revolution is. One student we met out there announced the event and passed out flyers in his class—he said that after he announced it the professor encouraged students to go—and then watched the first 40 minutes of the film on his own before coming.

The Asian-American Studies professor opened the event by talking about the 1960s, and in particular the 50th anniversary of the student strike that led to the formation of the College of Ethnic Studies at SF State. He introduced BA in that context, as someone who came from that generation and the movements of that time. He made clear that he doesn’t fully agree with Bob Avakian on everything, but that he thinks it’s important for students to engage with the ideas of BA and the Revolutionary Communist Party, especially at this time, as he put it, of rising “neo-fascism” around the world.

He thought it would be better to play shorter sections of the film and then have discussion, so we started by playing the first 30 minutes or so, where BA addresses the “5 Stops” and why each of these outrages is so built into the system of capitalism-imperialism that they can’t be stopped without getting rid of the system itself. And then we opened it up for discussion. The professor said that it stood out to him that Avakian didn’t address class oppression directly as a separate category, but that it was woven into all of the 5 Stops. He thought this was interesting and wondered what the students thought about all this, including how they saw the relation between capitalism and white supremacy. There was some wrangling about this question in relation to Trump’s social base, and whether de-industrialization in the Rust Belt or white supremacy was the main factor driving them toward this fascism.

There was also a lot of discussion/debate about reform and revolution. The professor argued that reform and revolution shouldn’t be pitted in opposition to each other, making the case for an “inside/outside” strategy. He argued that it is possible to make significant changes that affect people’s lives within this system, in an immediate way—the proposition on the ballot in San Francisco now for a small tax on big corporations in order to fund some programs for the homeless, for example—while we work for revolutionary change in the long term. While he wasn’t a fan of the mainstream of the Democratic Party, he did think that some of the new democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were promising.

A student, who said he’s a socialist and has read a lot of Marxism (including the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America that BA wrote), argued against this line of reasoning and against the democratic socialists who he said are just the left wing of the Democratic Party.

In leading the discussion, I went back to the analysis BA laid out about the unreformability of those 5 Stops, contrasting reformism with a revolutionary strategy of “fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution,” the necessity of fighting against all these injustices NOW (including fighting for things that are short of revolution, like getting these killer cops convicted, for example), but doing so in a way that is transforming the thinking of people with an understanding of the system that is at the root of all this and the revolution that is needed, and organizing people NOW in preparation for revolution. We wrangled with the experience of the Black Panther Party in this regard. And I encouraged everyone to go home and watch the second part of the talk from BA, “How we can really make revolution.”

We then watched the next half-hour or so of the film in which BA speaks powerfully, and brings clarity, to exactly the points we had been discussing: what a real revolution is, why even the very important reforms that are won under this system can only be partial reforms and are always under attack (as we are seeing very directly now!) as long as this system is in place, and the role of elections and the Democratic Party in corralling and domesticating resistance, etc.

We didn’t have that much time after this section, and a number of students had to leave at various points before it was over. But every single person left their contact info to connect with the Revolution Club. One student who stayed until the end said that her biggest concern is the situation with the environment and how things in this society are produced, and that she’s really glad she came because she’s been searching for solutions to these problems. Another student who stayed until the end said he thought this film was very important in today’s atmosphere, and he was impressed by BA’s ability to break down complex ideas and express them so clearly.

Home page for the film:

A speech by Bob Avakian

Watch the film—find out more about this speech—and get organized to spread it


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