Revolution #236, June 19, 2011
"On the Occasion of
the Publication of BAsics:
A Celebration of Revolution
and the Vision of a New World"
On April 11 of this year, an amazing cultural event took place: "On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World." As Revolution newspaper put it: "Hundreds of people of diverse ages, backgrounds, and political perspectives came together in one place for an evening of jazz, funk, soul, rock, theater, dance, poetry, visual arts, commentary and film. All of it aching for, giving voice to, and infused with the possibility of a radically different world than the maddening planet we live on now. All of it unleashed by—and cohered around—the occasion of the publication of BAsics, a comprehensive yet succinct new book of quotations and short essays by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, with much of the evening's performances flowing from and a large portion of it explicitly inspired by the life and the work of Avakian."
This was an extraordinary night—a space where there was a palpable and living sense of the potential for a new world, and a feeling among people they were part of it. Our imaginations took flight and we created a space with different ways of relating. People who came were inspired and provoked to learn further... about Bob Avakian; about the times that Avakian, and other speakers that night, came out of; and about the need for revolution, argued for from different perspectives.
There was also a great deal learned in the process of organizing and curating the night, lessons that tell us a lot about the broader movement for revolution we are building and even what it means to lead in socialist society—the significance of BAsics and what can be broken open when Avakian's work is directly engaged, the importance and richness of the method of solid core with a lot of elasticity, the material basis for this and the creativity and initiative that was developed in relation to this.
I want to share some of this with the readers of Revolution.
Learning from Experience... and Taking It Higher
The idea for the event itself came out of things we'd learned more deeply through the Revolutionary Communist Party's campaign, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." This especially included the attractiveness of Bob Avakian and his work to people seriously trying to figure out if another world is possible.
We've seen this in a lot of ways, including some experience I had taking out to people an early cut of Avakian's "All Played Out." This is a 12-minute spoken word piece from Avakian where he artfully and unapologetically critiques all that is "all played out!" I shared an early version with a number of artists, including many I didn't know. People gave their thinking on the piece politically and artistically, and ideas on who else we should reach out to, how it should be released, etc.
The responses to "All Played Out" itself were in the main very, very positive. It resonated powerfully with people who want to hear someone speaking the sharp truth, in particular in relation to the basic masses and youth—speaking to them, with a challenge to "get up out of that and into this." Not tailing and not blaming... struggling with a strategic confidence... and also challenging directly those listening.
One person said he knew he was being criticized, in particular in relation to his previous support for Obama, but appreciated what was being said. One hip-hop artist said he thought about his brother (an ex-con), and that this piece spoke directly to him. "No one speaks to them or tries to reach out. All this shit about the way the world is is hidden, and if you're not on the Internet, it's like forget you, you have no way in. But this ['All Played Out'] is really speaking to this section of people." Another woman said this made her think about the "sections of Black people who have been ‘abandoned' by the system," and that while she sees the disproportionate impact on the poor and the young, she was also concerned about "how the Black middle class has both been guilty of abandoning the lower sections of Black people but also how the middle class itself is also a victim of abandonment by the system."
A number of people expressed a real sentiment of gratitude for Avakian stepping out in this way, an appreciation for his "earnestness" in this piece, and overall. And since then, William Parker—a significant jazz bassist, poet and theorist—wrote and performed a musical accompaniment that adds a great deal of power to this. You can listen to it, and read what he wrote, at soundcloud.com/allplayedout.
There were also things we'd learned from dialogues that took place between Cornel West and Carl Dix. Very broadly among those who attended there was a disgust with the current culture, an increased sense of betrayal around Obama, deep concern about the future for our youth and an excitement to hear about revolution... And there was a powerful initial response to the Revolutionary Communist Party's Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal).
The concept for the event on April 11 pulled all these threads together, comprehending the shoots that had been brought forward combined with an overall analysis of the terrain. But it wasn't just a "linear progression"—it "ran ahead" of things, and took them to another level. This event provided a form where people themselves could make their sentiments manifest—with BA's own words at the heart of a future-oriented cultural night, a celebration of revolution and the vision of a new world. There was a sense—from a very broad analysis of the whole situation—that an event on this theme would strike a chord with a whole broad spectrum of people... and it did!
Solid Core... with a Lot of Elasticity
Early on, a couple of us went with this very basic concept to a number of people who value the work that BA is doing and his overall stance. They had different perspectives, but pretty much all of them were people who feel BA and this new book, BAsics, should become much more broadly known, and should become a major point of reference in the discourse among people who are disturbed about the state of the world and seeking another, better world, or seriously engaging the question of whether that's possible. We talked with a range of these kinds of people about what we thought could be accomplished with an event like this, learning their thoughts and ideas... and a host committee and core of performers for this event came together. There were also broader forces who maybe didn't have as much unity, but wanted to be part of something that was seeking to break open the atmosphere with revolution, and thought BAsics provided an opportunity for that. All this was captured, and concentrated, in the theme and title of the program itself, On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World.
We were reaching out very broadly with this so there were also a lot of people who declined to participate for a range of reasons—and with some of these people, we got a chance to break open important political and ideological discussion. Still, some people who didn't want to participate themselves were open to assisting in different ways—opening doors to others or suggesting ideas for promotion and outreach. And for everyone we approached, we gave them a chance to find out about BA, to read quotes from BAsics, and to find out about this event... and now all this is circulating in their minds. And we've gotten back to a lot of these people to let them know how it went, in the hopes we can begin, or continue, a fuller engagement.
For those who were participating—they were engaging BA's work, the theoretical framework he's brought forward for the further advance of communism, getting into what he's saying about a strategic approach to revolution and getting into what his leadership has to do with making revolution... and they were finding their own relationship to it. For some people, this was brand new—having just been introduced to quotes from BAsics. Others had been into it for a while. But for everyone, this spoke to very high aspirations and they were inspired to contribute in a variety of ways. And through this process, we brought forward a "we" that was bigger than the communists alone, and it was different than something "the communists were doing" that others were helping with.
Now, in doing this, we didn't try to "tone down" BA—we forthrightly put out who BA is, let them engage his work... and on that basis, we opened our arms very wide to let people into the process, and learned from their wide range of contributions.
It's worth reading and reflecting on the statements from people on the host committee and others, and the interviews with participants before and after the event (go to revcom.us). There are a range of very substantive perspectives as to why people threw in to make this event happen. There are different angles and viewpoints and a richness to why people appreciate BA's work and who BA is, why they want to see it more broadly engaged in society, and why they saw the release of BAsics as an opportunity for this kind of celebration. These were a big part of bringing people into this event in different ways and, along with BAsics itself, enabled people broadly to see there is a place for them in this.
This whole process is based on the understanding and method of "solid core with a lot of elasticity."
Here's a part of BAsics that explains this further: "...you have to have a solid core that firmly grasps and is committed to the strategic objectives and aims and process of the struggle for communism. If you let go of that you are just giving everything back to the capitalists in one form or another, with all the horrors that means. At the same time, if you don't allow for a lot of diversity and people running in all kinds of directions with things, then not only are people going to be building tremendous resentment against you, but you are also not going to have the rich kind of process out of which the greatest truth and ability to transform reality will emerge." (This is quote 2:26—meaning that it can be found in the second chapter, and it's the 26th quote.)
Learning from and Involving People Widely
Another part of this whole effort that concentrated "solid core with a lot of elasticity" was the process of strategizing with everyone we could about who we should be reaching out to, how to build for the event and the character of the event itself.
To begin any of this, we had to develop enough of a vision for people to respond to. An important example in this was our experience in developing the script for the event. First, a couple of us drafted a basic vision—a few paragraphs that talked about what the night should feel like, how it should leave people, the role for quotes from BAsics and Avakian's voice overall and the range of voices from the stage including different perspectives and different art forms. We got this vision out to a number of people to get their feedback, including the host committee and several of the performers.
In response to this, one of the artists played a key role in coming up with what the shape of the night should be. He took the fact that we were having a number of jazz musicians play and that we wanted the night to have an overall coherence (vs. the feeling of a "variety show" with disconnected parts) and said the night should be in four acts like four bars in a piece of music. And each act should have a series of vignettes connected in some way by theme, each in their own way commenting on BAsics, or the theme of the night, but that also stand alone. He called it a "non-linear concept musical."
We developed the script for the night around this concept and it made the whole night itself into an artistic piece where each performance contributed to something that was greater than the sum of its parts—both because it was all connected to the theme, and because the night as a whole had shape and coherence. And on that foundation, we were able to solicit and learn from the ideas of many others with more experience in this sphere, whose contributions were also very valuable.
Sometimes, people's contributions didn't "fit" with anything we might have pre-conceived but it was important to really think through what people were saying and not just step over it because it may not have come presented in the form that we thought was best ahead of time... including because sometimes what we thought ahead of time turned out to be wrong. As communists, we need to apply our methodology to learning—and that includes learning from other people who are not communists but who may have more knowledge or insights into particular fields than we do.
Also, the different ways people come at things reflects the fact that reality does proceed through "many channels," as Avakian has expressed it. And appreciating this, and all the different ways people can contribute, enriches the whole process, deepens our fuller understanding of reality and contributes to others getting on board. For example, many people commented that they could see themselves reflected in the different perspectives spoken to in the host statements and this enabled them to see the role they could play. The whole night cohered around Avakian's work and the publication of BAsics—that was clear from the beginning. But there was space for people to find their relationship to that. This, too, was an example of elasticity... on the basis of the solid core.
We also applied this approach in how we involved people. Early on, we envisioned concentric circles of people we wanted to involve... and developed an "echeloned" approach where people we knew more closely not only got involved themselves, in various ways, but also suggested others to contact. Sometimes they would reach out directly, other times they would let us use their names... and then in a few cases, we were able to involve those people in a number of ways, including that they in turn suggested others who they might help win to become involved... and so on.
This was an important part of forging the "we" that I've been speaking to. We didn't limit ourselves to people we already knew, but worked with them to help us reach out. This in turn opened doors to people we didn't know or couldn't reach as easily. And at the same time, we did go directly to a whole lot of new people, asking them to be part of this, thinking big and reaching out broadly.
"Tasks Create Forces"
This was a complicated political and artistic endeavor... there were a range of artists participating, a broad host committee, a director to forge this into a coherent and artful piece, staging decisions, a lighting designer, sound designer, a film crew, film editors, a stage manager, a designer for the print program... and an array of other artistic and technical needs.
But we also weren't just trying to "fill tasks" narrowly. This event was part of a bigger mission to make a leap in making Bob Avakian a household name, as a part of an overall movement for revolution. So every need spoken to here was an actual opportunity to reach out, spread the word of the event, and involve people in making it happen. Every necessity was an opportunity to engage people around BA, and why the release of BAsics provided an occasion to celebrate revolution and the vision of a new world... and why all this is something the world needs. We put the needs out clearly and to everyone we could, casting the net very widely.
In Avakian's book, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, he says, "You trust the masses that if you put the problems to them you can struggle with them, learn from them, lead them and win a big section of the masses as you do this." (From the essay, "Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology: On Knowing and Changing the World.")
The book is dealing with things on a more societal level, but the method is really important to grab hold of—the needs we were seeking to fill with this event were objective needs that people could, from their perspective, recognize (both what this event was overall seeking to accomplish in the world, and whatever particular need we were setting out to fill to accomplish that including production and logistical needs). This point from BA captures the motion involved, that you're entering into a process with people where you're leading and learning, and they're learning and changing... at least "a big section" of them, through this.
An important example of this overall approach was in filling one of the more key artistic roles for the event. I'd begun to put out the word to all kinds of people I knew about this need, one of the performers gave me a bunch of names who I was reaching out to, and while people were interested, we hadn't found anyone and the search hadn't gone out broadly enough. I went to a showcase where I knew I'd find progressive-minded people who could fill this role and approached people there.
Through this, I met someone who agreed to take this on. We worked together for a couple weeks, and she was very into the event—doing a lot of research into all the participants, into BA and contributing her thinking on the shape of the night. The morning after the U.S. invaded Libya, we had a discussion about this and I showed her the powerful and righteous statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). We discussed this further, but she really couldn't get with the statement that "No good can come from U.S. imperialist intervention of any kind." She wrote me later that night that she didn't feel comfortable going forward with the project, that she felt too strongly about the need for "humanitarian intervention" and didn't feel comfortable with how firm the RCP's statement was against this.
This left us in a crunch but we knew this wasn't going to be without twists and turns! We wanted to, and made space to, involve people from a range of perspectives. But we also had to do that without going against our basic principles. I argued for this woman to continue to be part of this event and why it mattered, but I also got more deeply into the truth behind that statement about the U.S. (and Revolution newspaper provided a great many materials on this brutal reality). I didn't win the struggle, but it was essential not to compromise principle regardless of the short- term difficulty this created.
At that point, I went back to everyone I had spoken to before explaining what happened and I reached out again to all the performers. But less than three weeks away from the event, we still weren't finding someone. I called a number of theater companies, left messages for the artistic directors and talked to the people who answered the phone. At one place, the receptionist sent my email out to the staff. If people couldn't be part of this, I picked their brains about who might be able to or how to find someone who could. Most people I spoke with were interested and excited by what this event was, and what it was aiming to accomplish. Most people hadn't heard of Avakian, but upon reading a selection of quotes from BAsics, and reading who else was involved in the program... a number of people were sorry they couldn't help on such short notice. We understood that this was an important contribution for someone to make, and approached it that way, but it was also an important opportunity we were giving to someone with these skills, to be part of making this historic event happen well... and people wanted to help.
In one day, I got about two dozen names. And finally, through reaching out with several degrees of separation, we found someone who was honored and able to be part of this... and over a two-and-a-half-week period... she threw in her all!
This same basic approach was used in finding a lighting director, a film crew, animator, and editor for the film clips. Even making these specific technical needs known was important to enable others to help find people who could fill them.
Grasp Revolution, Promote Production
As I've been saying, we learned a lot through the course of this event—not just about how to put on something like this but, even more important, what people think about the biggest questions of the revolution, and how they see that in relation to what they're trying to do in the world. And those participating also went through changes in their thinking, throwing in more to make this event what it needed to be, putting their thinking, their time and creativity into making this happen. This is in part because we consciously applied a method of "grasp revolution, promote production."
This is a very important understanding from Mao that Avakian has developed into an overall strategic approach. Grasping and engaging the largest questions of the revolution, and what any particular initiative has to do with that... and on that basis, working with others to fill those needs through a moving and non-linear back-and-forth process between theory and practice.
In my communication with everyone, I would return to the importance of what we were doing, and how their contribution was appreciated and having an impact... even if briefly in an email or phone call. We're working with, learning from and struggling with people, not things... and their thinking is rich and can be a dynamic factor. It's also the case that often people don't recognize the significance of their own contributions, or of what they're contributing to. This was returned to, and deepened throughout.
Also, in my discussions with people, especially in person... we talked about the event and Avakian's work, but also the world overall, who they are, what they do and why, what they think about the need for revolution, what they know about communism... We are forging multidimensional relationships with people in the process of meeting whatever specific, concrete task is before us. And if we're serious about building a movement for revolution that can bring into being this radically re-envisioned socialist transition to communism, we can't be too busy for that.
Often, we have to do the work to weave this kind of discussion in. A lot of times, people themselves want to get "down to business," and you have to come back to these questions after walking through specifics. There isn't a formula for this, but that's my point... sometimes you have to get into the concretes with people, and then come back to the more overall discussion, drawing them out and saying why we think this kind of discussion even matters. This is opposed to a more mechanical or even dogmatic approach of talking at people and then enlisting them narrowly. With this wrong approach, we lose people, or have a hard time drawing them out and learning what they think, both about this movement for revolution but also more broadly, who they are, and learning why they're responding to this need in the context of who they are and how this fits in to what they're trying to do in the world, including as all that may be changing through the discussion and engagement. That kind of approach does not go with the kind of world we're fighting for, and we'll never get there if that's what we use.
A Different Way to Think, Feel and Be
This whole process came to powerful fruition on April 11. People brought their highest aspirations and radical defiance, their creativity and their voices to the stage that night. A number of people commented on the atmosphere among the artists—where everyone was there for something bigger than themselves and yet, the whole thing was teeming with diversity. It was a living example of what Avakian has discussed on the need for a flourishing of individuality, not individualism.
|This appeared in the printed program at the April 11 event:
Thank you to the April 11 Host Committee, including Revolution Books, who made this event possible; to the artists and performers who made it provocative and joyful; to the Harlem Stage staff for all their assistance; to the numerous volunteers whose hard work and creativity brightened our present by making this program happen and provided a vision of the future world that could be; and most of all thank you to Bob Avakian, the author of BAsics, whose words provided the occasion for this night and whose compassion, commitment to humanity, and critical spirit has never wavered in the course of 45 years.
The combination of the openness of the audibly responsive audience, the artistry and heart of the performers, speakers and visual artists, and Avakian's powerful words, passion and commitment came together in a way that made people feel what a new world could be.
This has to further be made a real part of the culture in society... and we want the relationships we've begun with people to continue, with all the many dimensions they began with. We want to learn more what people felt off the event, through working on the event, as they got deeper into BAsics, what is provoked in their thinking and what they think is needed more overall in society... and their ideas on where all this should go and how they want to contribute. And in all this—and in everything we're doing—these essential points of communist method developed by Avakian should guide our approach.
Coverage of the April 11 event itself—including a reporter's notebook, interviews with artists and others who participated, and photo slideshow—are available online at revcom.us/avakian/About-Basics2-en.html.
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