Revolution #207, July 18, 2010

SNAPSHOTS: Revolution in the Mix at U.S. Social Forum

In June, as anger over that murder of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones simmered in the abandoned Detroit ghettos, over 10,000 people came to Detroit for the U.S. Social Forum. The movement for revolution was in the mix. Following are snapshots from what that was like…

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On the opening day of the USSF, a couple thousand people marched through Detroit to Cobo Hall where the USSF was held. A correspondent described the crowd:

People from Boston who took up the fight to get arrest records expunged… Young Asians living in Connecticut trying to find community in a town where they are being jacked up by the police… a young white guy from the Detroit area who said he wanted to see a society based on justice and peace … a group of young Black women from Boston fighting for services for the youth because "they say we are the future, but they refuse to help us get there." So much enthusiasm for creating a different society. Yet it was like Sunsara Taylor recently described the situation on college campuses: "Communism is the furthest thing from their minds."

Revolutionaries at the USSF were determined to change that. They insisted on everyone getting the Message and Call from the RCP, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." Some 10,000 copies of the Message got out at the conference, several thousand more in the community. Not quite enough for it to be impossible to ignore, but plenty enough to stir things up. The image of Bob Avakian—on t-shirts and hand cards artfully posted up in batches—made an impression. And a huge billboard on the main highway leading to Cobo Hall promoted Bob Avakian's talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About.

All this challenged the thematic framework of the USSF and the thinking of those who attended. People came with genuine desire and strivings for a better world—which is why the revolutionaries put so much stress on being in the midst of this. Most of those at the USSF are involved in trying to address many problems in society, ranging from persecution of immigrants to drastic cutbacks in social services. They had important experiences, insights and ideas to learn from and unite with and raised big questions for debate. But the particular solutions, and the overall conception of the USSF, were terribly out of synch with the actual magnitude and depth of the horrors and challenges facing humanity at this moment in history. "Solutions" and frameworks ranged from "You can't change the whole world" to "It's not desirable to change the whole world" so instead you have to work within the margins and build up the new, build up the alternatives. One theme that was constantly repeated: "We aren't just resisting, we are developing solutions," or "alternatives." Even setting aside the fact that there is hardly "too much resistance" going on these days, the "solutions" and "alternatives" being proposed were embedded in the existing capitalist system and the kinds of relationships and thinking it engenders. These proposed "solutions" didn't even measure up to the kinds of problems that people at the Forum were identifying.

And many people seemed not to be aware of, or were "tuning out" huge crises in the world—the U.S. wars of aggression in the Middle East, the oil catastrophe in the Gulf, the ongoing wave of police murder against Black and Latino youth… Revolutionaries and others, including activists from World Can't Wait, struggled with people to confront these horrors, both in terms of strategic solutions, and in terms of immediate action and protest. Both World Can't Wait and activists around the Gulf Catastrophe held small but important protests during the USSF.

As the revolutionary message got out broadly, people began to become more conscious of radically different frameworks on what is the problem, and solution. As that process developed, things got more controversial, and at times more heated. There was a widespread tendency to deny the reality that everyone and every trend has an agenda of one kind or another, and the question is what is that agenda, and where does it lead. And that was closely tied to controversy over the promotion of Bob Avakian as a unique and precious revolutionary leader. As all these questions got sharpened up, there were opportunities for important struggle. There were people—a small section—who gravitated towards radical and revolutionary solutions. For many more, seeds were planted in their thinking and they at least became aware there is a movement for revolution. Those seeds will be important as the real world of capitalism-imperialism imposes choices on people in the future.

Several workshops with participants from a revolutionary communist perspective were a chance to sharpen up these questions, and engage more deeply. Sunsara Taylor debated the editor-in-chief of $pread magazine on "Sex Work or Sex Slavery: The Empowerment Debate," which contrasted revolution to uproot the oppression of women and the conditions that give rise to the massive sex "industry" with a model of empowering individual sex workers and leaving the system intact. Alan Goodman was part of a panel on "Israel's crimes against Gaza and the Role of the U.S." where he reported on experiences taking out Bob Avakian's quote "After the holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel." Someone in the audience argued the quote is offensive and unnecessarily confrontational, when what they felt is needed is "information, not confrontation." That led to debate over whether the quote was true, which deepened people's understanding of the illegitimacy of Israel and underscored how important it is for this quote—which concentrates such important, but often hidden and obscured truths—to be promoted. A workshop presented by the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund on the battle against the ban on Revolution newspaper in California prisons attracted a number of people who committed to take up the fight against the ban when they returned to their home areas. A workshop/debate sponsored by Revolution Books on microlending attracted people who sincerely believe in, and are actively involved in microlending, as well as those who feel there is something wrong with it but wanted to learn more. From different angles, both panelists devastatingly exposed how micro-lending further impoverishes and traps those who it claims to be helping and then a robust debate broke out over whether revolution is realistic or "too far off."

In another workshop, Raymond Lotta participated in a panel on "Copenhagen, the Environmental Emergency and the Future of Humanity," along with Maggie Zhou. Zhou, a molecular biologist, organizer of Climate SOS, and national committee member of the U.S. Green Party, presented scientific data on climate change and argued, from her political perspective, for the need to act urgently so that measures could be taken to drastically limit carbon emissions. After the provocative presentations, the first round of questions and comments focused on facts, figures, and tactics like boycotts and protests. Lotta broke in: These things can be important, but he challenged people to look, seriously, at the scope of the problem—the nature of the problem, and address what he was arguing as the only real solution. The tone of discussion got more urgent, and interesting. One woman said she had seen a poll that indicated people feel it's easier to imagine the end of humanity than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. Another woman asked, how would "post-revolutionary society" in the U.S. deal with the fact that it will take more than a revolution in one country to fix the planet? Lotta emphasized that it will not be a post-revolutionary society, it will be a revolutionary society, and he broke down what that means. And he spoke to how Bob Avakian's new synthesis represents a leap in understanding the world revolution, even as it is made overall country-by-country, is a world process, and that serving that world revolution must be the highest priority of a revolutionary society, and how that relates to the great challenge of rescuing the environment.

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More or less unique among forces at the USSF, the revolutionaries fought to break down the gulf between those inside the USSF and the community, from the perspective of bringing forward positive synergy for revolution.

Revolutionaries were part of a march the day after the USSF of over a hundred people in downtown Detroit to oppose the murder of Aiyana Stanley-Jones by Detroit police. Very few of the USSF participants were aware of this police murder, and it was important that the revolutionaries struggled with people at the USSF to join the march—and some did. Chants in the march included "No Justice, No Peace," "Justice For Aiyana Jones, The Whole Damn System's Guilty." And, in the face of the authorities trying to blame Aiyana's family for her death, the march included a chant from a vigil in Aiyana Stanley-Jones' neighborhood earlier that day: "Aiyana Jones she has a name. Her family is not to blame. The system is wrong. We gotta be strong."

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