Revolution #231, May 1, 2011

Looking Back at Wielding Mao's Red Book and Getting BAsics out into the World

From a reader:

Like many others, I am thrilled to have in hand this major ideological tool with BAsics. Getting this book by Bob Avakian out there for people to wrestle with is going to be important and fun, and I think even game-changing, giving people a sense of what's possible that this system and its rulers have ruled out of order, taking on all the outmoded ideas which this system has instilled in people, holding so many folks back from seeing the world as it is, and on the basis of that changing the world through revolution. This I think will be both situation- and life-transforming. I know a little bit about this since there was something that came out that was situation- and life-transforming for me and hundreds of millions around the world.

I want to take people back to a time when revolution was in the air—the '60s—and what it meant to have a popularly written and accessible-to-all tool—the Quotations from Chairman Mao; popularly known as the Red Book. In our city in the mid to late '60s we had a China Books store where people could literally pick up cases of the Red Book in different languages and sell them for 25 cents for the miniature version (which had all the quotes but was even smaller than pocket size), and the pocket size version which was sold for 50 cents; afterwards we would bring the money back to China Books and get more. When I was first introduced to the Red Book I was in my junior year in high school, and I read it as if my life depended on it. What caught me was how radical it was, taking on my own limited assumptions about the world and how much this leader—who was hated by my government like he started the bubonic plague—so loved the people. I had seen the movie Spartacus a few years prior, and I thought this Mao was the present-day Spartacus, but only Mao won a revolution and was spreading his ideas throughout the world for people to do likewise.

Everyone in the peace group at my high school purchased one from me, and I even got a couple of them to come to demonstrations with me to sell it. I would agitate in the demos around the Vietnam War, the Black liberation struggle, telling all how this Red Book actually had answers to the problems we are facing in our own movement.

In 1968, I attended a very conservative college and met a few people who were into revolution. While we had our own radical newspaper, in our office we had boxes of the Red Book at all times, and even on this campus we sold hundreds of copies of them, including to the president, dean, and head of security of the college, in many cases the same people we lambasted in our radical school newspaper. I remember the head of security stopping me in the hall admitting "Okay, maybe this IS what they needed in China, but it would never work here." Most importantly we went to the students and professors, and we would have knock-down drag-out ideological arguments with them, always with the Red Book ready to pull out of our back pocket asking people if what he is saying in it is true or not.

People should know that even though revolution was in the air, it was still among a tiny percentage of students and youth and it wasn't the currency more broadly, and we too had to take on a whole lot of backward ideas: e.g., men's attitudes toward women, Americans' attitudes toward other peoples like the Vietnamese, and Black people in this country, could things really change through revolution. Showing students what this communist leader said about youth was quite eye-opening, and they would think about and contrast what authorities—many times their parents—would say about "the damn drugged-out, flag-burning hippie youth who are ruining our country" with what Mao said in the Red Book in a whole section on the youth. The love and confidence young people got from Mao was quite moving, especially his talk to youth about going against convention. We had a couple of students answer what we were doing with the Red Book in the mainstream college newspaper saying how crazy were these Maoists on campus and writing their own critiques. We got written critiques from the president of the college, as well as the head of security. But the effect was electric. This started all kinds of debate in the quad of our school. Out of this many people joined our collective and a significant number of us found out about an organization called the Revolutionary Union through the publication of Red Papers that started in the Bay Area of California by this guy Bob Avakian who also loved Mao Tsetung. WE WERE NOT ALONE!

I sold around 2000 Red Books during this period of high tide of radical struggle, and it really was a thing of protesting and demonstrating all day and meeting, debating strategy and reading all night.

So today revolution doesn't have the same social approbation like it did in the '60s, and no one has gotten a handle on that contradiction better than this leader Bob Avakian—"it is what it is and it can be transformed, through struggle," which is why BAsics is so important for us. Look at the essay in BAsics on "Reform or Revolution: Questions of Orientation, Questions of Morality," where Avakian addresses this social approbation point. Think about all the backward ideas that are holding young people back today which are addressed in BAsics; think about what these same youth are confronting and can't get a hold on WHY everything is so fucked up, and then think about what it will mean to meet a leader who has been the best listener and challenger of these same youth, opening up possibilities for a different future.

And then think about all the ways BAsics can be utilized: there shouldn't be a demonstration against the government where BAsics is not at; there shouldn't be a major campus that doesn't know about it—where possible going to tables in cafeterias getting into the content with students and having major readings of it in college quads; there shouldn't be a project that doesn't get it (maybe driving in a car in certain neighborhoods with a loudspeaker announcing, reading from and then selling it); and the most important factor are those among us now who understand what we have here in Bob Avakian, making him a household name, always on the lookout for those who want to join in now and be part of this movement for revolution we are building. Here's a great introduction to how you can take part.

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