Revolution #180, October 25, 2009

An Open Letter from Raymond Lotta to Tony Judt and the NYU Community on the Responsibility of Intellectuals to the Truth... Including and Especially the Truth About Communism

Tony Judt is a well-known professor at New York University. This is an open letter addressed to him by Raymond Lotta.

This letter was written before I had learned of Tony Judt’s health condition. His difficult situation is saddening and of great concern. At the same time, the debate around the ideas that he stands for remains an urgent one.

I invite members of the NYU community to a talk I will be giving on October 26 at 7:00 p.m. at the Cantor Film Center titled “Everything You Have Been Told About Communism Is Wrong.” I will be deconstructing the core lies spread about communism and surveying communism’s real past, real lessons, and real prospects for the future.

I address this letter to Professor Judt in particular because in the past period he has contributed towards opening up intellectual discourse and critical thinking in certain arenas, including about Zionism.

But I also address this letter to Tony Judt because he has at the same time been doing the opposite. When it comes to the signal political breakthrough of the 20th century—that the “wretched of the earth” rose up and made revolutions in the Soviet Union (1917-56) and China (1949-1976) that represented the first and historic steps towards creating a communist world without exploitation and oppression—when it comes to this most important question, Professor Judt has actually contributed to the perpetuation of ignorance. He has contributed to the grave constriction of critical thinking and critical inquiry by repeating and reinforcing “official verdicts” and hackneyed distortions about communism.

In his 1998 commentary on The Black Book of Communism, Judt asserts: “Communism and Nazism are, and always were, morally indistinguishable.” Under both regimes, Judt argues, “whole categories of people, real or imagined…were exterminated not for anything they had done, but just for being who they were.” To which I can only respond: you are wrong, you are spreading lies, you don’t know what you are talking about, and you are causing great harm.

One of the authors of the anticommunist The Black Book who subsequently dissociated himself from the Introduction to the text told Le Monde: “death camps did not exist in the Soviet Union,” and “the more you compare communism and nazism, the more the differences are obvious.”

Tony Judt seeks to buttress his case that communism has been a political failure and moral disaster with the outrageous assertion that “the facts and figures [in The Black Book]…are irrefutable.” But such “facts and figures” ostensibly documenting communism’s “crimes” can be readily refuted. The only problem is that no one is allowed to seriously do so in the public square. Such is the weight and influence of the institutionalized conventional wisdom about communism.

I intend to crack open debate and change this situation with my talk at NYU, as well as  through other events. I will show that this received wisdom is built on lies and misrepresentations about the aims and methods of communist revolution, and about the actual historical-social conditions they faced and sought to transform. I will show how humanity made unprecedented leaps in moving beyond the “long dark night” of exploitative and class-divided society.

The stakes of this discussion are very high. These spurious verdicts about communism lower sights and constrain discourse and exploration about how the world could be radically different. In short, these verdicts reinforce the oppressive status quo and its conventional wisdom that the best we can do is tinker around the edges of contemporary capitalism.

Tony Judt’s account of communism as a closed and totalizing system of thought intent, as he says, on “solving the problems of mankind in one stroke” is not only a grotesque and pedestrian distortion. It also effaces the reality that the communist project is a developing one that has learned from previous experience and mistakes in conception and practice. In fact, as I will show in my talk, Mao Tsetung effected a major rupture with Stalin’s approach to building a socialist economy and confronting counter-revolution. Mao developed new understanding for continuing a revolution that seeks to change people’s material circumstances, along with their thinking and values, through their ever-more conscious activism.

But my talk will not confine itself to a defense of the past. Most importantly, I will be discussing the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian. Yes, revolutionary power must be held on to: a new state power and the overall leadership of a vanguard party are indispensable. But leadership must be exercised in ways that are, in certain important and crucial respects, different from how this was understood and practiced in the past. This new synthesis recognizes the indispensable role of intellectual ferment and dissent in socialist society. Indeed, socialism must be a place where a Tony Judt can and must have the ability to articulate and disseminate his views, and where there will be great debate about these views as part of the struggle to understand and change the world.

Again, I extend an invitation to all of you to attend my talk.

To anyone seriously concerned about the state of the need to come and bring your toughest questions.

To the many students at NYU who want to dedicate their lives in one form or another to the betterment of humanity but who have never heard a coherent and spirited defense of the past, present, and future of the communist project…you need to come.

To those who want to defend this system…you need to be there too, because I am taking on all comers.

Raymond Lotta


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