Revolution #175, September 6, 2009

An Open Letter to Students: Make a Difference for Real

When we are young, there are times when we look out on the world and wonder why it has to be this way, why society is so seemingly insane. Questions nag at us, late into sleepless nights… Do we really have to live like this? Why do people treat each other the way they do? Why do children go hungry? Why does it seem nothing is ever done to change things? Why are so many living in poverty and despair? Why is there so much desperation and so little meaning?

For millions of youth around the country, for the next few weeks you’ll be packing up your stuff, moving into the dorms and going out on your own. You won’t have a curfew or your parents listening in on your phone calls. Your classes aren’t going to revolve around the next standardized test, and you’ll meet people from all over the U.S. and the world with different life experiences and views. You’re looking at your life and what it’s going to be about, where it’s going to go. You’re trying to figure out what your relationship to the world will be.

I remember when I was starting college in a big city. I looked for people who were questioning things, who were dissatisfied with the way things are. I looked for people with a burning desire to find the answers that I agonized over…only to find that I was living in a time where a whole lot of that kind of thing was NOT going on among students. And still today, the atmosphere on campuses is pretty deadly when it comes to questioning, debate, and resistance.

As the recent statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party puts it, “despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some ‘elite’ schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in ‘non-conformist’ ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful.” (“The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have,” Revolution #170, July 19, 2009)

Opening Up the Atmosphere—Letting in the Oxygen

We can’t change all that without a revolution. But we can change the atmosphere on campus, starting here and starting now. And that’s what we aim to do this fall, when the revolution comes to a campus near you! We’re coming to break open the stifling atmosphere and change the terms of debate. We’re bringing a powerful, and controversial, new message and call—“The Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have,”—and we’re asking you to check this out…to discuss this with us…and to participate in breaking open the debate.

This message and call boldly declares “this is NOT the best of all possible worlds and we don’t have to live this way.” It shows what’s behind the unnecessary suffering on this planet, and how a real revolution to sweep all this away and establish a socialist society, with the goal of a communist world, is both needed…and possible. This call brings to people the leadership of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.

Yet what most people have been told, what most people in this country believe, what “everyone knows”…is that socialism and communism are horrible. Well, the fact is, you have been lied to. Lied to about what socialism and communism are all about, lied to about what happened in the past when socialist societies existed in the Soviet Union and China, and lied to about the possibility for not only building on those experiences but doing better. And to be honest, people have far too quickly accepted those lies.

When I got to college the only thing I knew about China when it was socialist was from my 10th grade world history class where our teacher assigned us to read the book, Wild Swans. I did not think that communism was a good thing after reading that, certainly not anything worth fighting for. But by the time I was in college I had some skepticism about mainstream America and some critical thinking that led me to feel I didn’t know enough about Mao and China to draw the conclusions that were the “accepted wisdom” about the Chinese revolution. I certainly didn’t like capitalism, and when I met the revolutionary communists, they had compelling arguments about why the world is the way it is and they argued with real substance that communism is the solution. So I went to the communists I had met and told them I was interested in learning more about the revolutions of the past.

As I learned more about this history and with some studying and some debate, I came to find out that none of what I had been told was true. I also learned how the book Wild Swans was only one of a whole barrage of literature, promoted by the U.S. and the current, anti-communist Chinese government, to distort, lie and defame Mao and the Chinese Cultural Revolution—and to justify the return of capitalism in China. (In fact, for a view of what that Cultural Revolution was really like, you should check out the series we are running—including in this issue—of a speech and Q&A with Dongping Han, a Chinese man who lived through that revolution in the countryside and the author of The Unknown Cultural Revolution—Life and Change in a Chinese Village.)

One thing the statement, “The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have” answers is exactly what communism is. “A world where people work and struggle together for the common good…Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings…Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.”

Let the Debate Rage

But some say, “Look, communism is a good idea, but it never works in practice.” Others argue, such a world just isn’t possible because of a “hardwired” never-changing “human nature.” Many argue that communism is totalitarian, or there is no freedom of speech, or role for the individual.

There are real answers, with real facts, analysis and substance, that refute these charges. And this generation has not had a chance yet to actually hear these answers. The debate over questions this important really needs to be cracked open—on campuses especially. Upholding and getting out the truth on all this—and showing how we can do better and go further than these previous revolutions—is a big part of what Bob Avakian’s leadership is all about—and you should check out what he has to say about this on

And the facts on the past, present and future of this revolution will also be the focus of a major speaking tour that is going to the campuses this fall. This tour will feature Raymond Lotta, a revolutionary expert on China and communism and the leader of the Set the Record Straight! project ( We intend to make this speech a big deal on campuses—to “raise the ceiling” of people’s horizons and charge up the whole atmosphere of debate about a whole different future. And we need you to be part of this—checking out the DVDs of Bob Avakian…getting into Raymond Lotta’s speech (…and seeking and demanding answers from everyone—including, indeed especially, us communists…and refusing to be bound by the conventional wisdom.

Making a Difference… For the Better

This brings us back to the question of whether or not you can make a difference in the world. You can, but not in just any old way, and definitely not by getting behind the system that’s the problem. Today’s generation has been called upon by Obama to take up a “spirit of service.” This encompasses a range of things from local “grassroots” volunteer work, joining the Peace Corps, and joining the army.

But what does this really mean? I saw so many students out at the Obama inauguration, getting into the culture, volunteering, watching all the YouTube videos of celebrities and artists optimistically telling us change is here. On one level, I can understand why this is appealing. People don’t want to go along with the “me first” compete-or-die mentality today. Students and youth especially want to be part of making the world a better place.

Yet all of this “spirit of service” stuff is well within the parameters of keeping the world as it is. On that level, this is disturbing. What does it mean to work for this system, to keep this system going and even to kill and die for it in the U.S. military that is carrying out all kinds of crimes around the world? Here’s how the RCP statement puts it:

We live under “a system of capitalism-imperialism...a system in which U.S. imperialism is the most monstrous, most oppressive superpower...a system driven by a relentless chase after profit, which brings horror upon horror, a nightmare seemingly without end, for the vast majority of humanity: poverty and squalor...torture and rape...the wholesale domination and degradation of women everywhere...wars, invasions and occupations...assassinations and massacres...planes, missiles, tanks and troops of the USA, bombarding people in far-away lands while they sleep in their homes or go about their daily lives, blasting their little children to pieces, cutting down men and women in the prime of life, or in old age, kicking down their doors and dragging them away in the middle of the night...while here in the USA itself the police harass, brutalize and murder youth in the streets of the inner cities—over and over again—and then they spit out their maddening insults, insisting that this is ‘justified,’ as if these youth are not human beings, have no right to live, deserve no respect and no future.”

So I say, ask yourself this question when Obama talks about a “spirit of service”: In service of who, and in service of what?

Just What Is “Realistic”?

Some people tell me, “Oh, you may be right…but revolution isn’t really possible.” But nothing is more unrealistic than thinking that small, incremental efforts at patching up a sick system can hold back the tidal wave of suffering that it requires for its ongoing functioning—the unending, grinding exploitation endured by billions, the foreshortened futures and spiritual deaths that it visits on people in every corner of the planet, and now the looming environmental catastrophe.

In fact, it’s not only unrealistic to think a spirit of service for this country is going to change the world, it is harmful because you’re actually misdirecting your anger and frustration and putting your energy and efforts in service of the system that’s the problem!

What is realistic, what the world needs, is revolution. The idea that this is not possible even if it were desirable—that too is another big lie, and one which we intend to combat this fall with substance, facts and imagination. The fact that we have a leader like Bob Avakian who has gone deeply into these big questions greatly heightens the chances to make the kind of revolution we need—and again, we urge you to get into what he’s all about, both through the DVD, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, and his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist. Here’s the point: we want you to be part of all this, checking it out, getting into this debate on whatever level you feel, raising your questions and contributing your insights and actions, following the truth wherever it leads, and being part of making this a major question.

Finally, we are going to be talking with you and working with you to actually take on the crimes of the system, even as we discuss and debate the source and solution. Get with us on October 5 and 6, when we take on the torture and war carried out by the U.S. government… join with us on October 10 and 11, when we fight for the rights of gay people in D.C....and be part of the resistance on October 22, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.

Every generation leaves its mark on the world. Will this be another that goes by, accepting the status quo, making its peace with the system and even embracing it? Or will this be the generation that breaks out of that with a core of people taking up revolution? Think about what it would mean for students to be talking about the biggest questions humanity faces, not just quietly among a few, or with those rare and important professors who aren’t afraid to foster critical thinking and challenge the mainstream, but if all this was going on in a mass way throughout campus. Think about if the ideas of radical revolutionary change, of a whole new world, were in the air on campus and had some space.

It makes a difference right now, when people come into, in different ways, a revolutionary movement that is beginning, not only on campuses but in the prisons, ghettos and barrios, the cities and suburbs—spreading throughout society, taking on a life of its own. The revolutionaries are here, and there’s something new that’s beginning. You owe it to yourself, and to the people of the world, to check it out and get into it.

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What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond