Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
"Radical Revolt" Against a Revolting Culture
This is correspondence received from one of a group of the young revolutionary communists who are organizing "Radical Revolt" Against a Revolting Culture, Tuesday, August 30, 4-8 p.m. at the Shrine World Music in Harlem, 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., New York.
I was very excited to read "A Plan to Shake Up and Wake Up the Campus" in Revolution #242. I would urge anyone who has not yet read this article to do so and anyone who has to re-read it, and people in both categories to study it. I can't nearly do justice in this correspondence to everything that struck me about that piece, but here are a few key things that stood out: I thought the piece spoke with a lot of radical simplicity to the nightmare that humanity is up against and the liberating pathway out of that nightmare that has been carved by Bob Avakian. I felt the article powerfully captured the "agonizing irony of the time we live in": namely, that communist revolution is largely off the map and absent from people's thinking at a historical juncture in which the necessity and possibility of this revolution has never been greater and the leadership for this revolution is there. Very much intertwined with that point, I thought the article really drove home the urgency and stakes of introducing Avakian, his work and leadership to millions of people now as a decisive element in building a movement for revolution, and to the particular role that the new book BAsics—a powerful concentration of Avakian's entire body of work—can play in putting this revolution and its leadership on the map and bringing forward and training a new generation of revolutionaries. And of course, flowing from all this, I thought the piece laid out some really crucial and exciting plans for getting BAsics out into society in a huge way, especially among the youth, starting with the special issue of Revolution on BAsics that comes out August 23 and the printing of 100,000 copies of that issue.
One of several passages from the article that I thought succinctly concentrated all this: "We actually have answers for what people face—the only real answers—and we have the leadership to make those answers real, if people take those answers up and follow that leadership."
With all this in mind, I wanted to write in about something new and exciting that is being kicked off, which I think is both very much related to the points and plans put forth in the article and very important in its own right as part of building a movement for revolution: A "Radical revolt against a revolting culture" inspired by BAsics.
This new radical revolt takes inspiration from—and represents one important expression of—what Avakian calls for in BAsics 3:24:
"A genuinely radical, liberating revolt—as opposed to a reactionary 'rebranding' and celebration of parasitism—must be fostered among the youth in today's conditions, a revolt within which the need is powerfully raised for a new society and a new world, which will move to eliminate the urban/suburban contradiction, and antagonism, in the context of the transformation of society, and the world, overall and the abolition of profound inequalities and divisions—opposing, overcoming and moving beyond the parasitism which is such an integral and indispensable part of the operation and dynamics of imperialism, and has reached such unprecedented heights in 'late imperial America.' In short, we need, in today's circumstances, a counter-culture that contributes to and is increasingly part of building a movement for revolution—in opposition to a counter-revolutionary culture. We need a culture of radical opposition to the essence of everything that is wrong with this society and system, and the many different manifestations of that; we need an active searching for a radically better world, within which revolution and communism is a powerful and continually growing pole of attraction." (BAsics 3:24)
I am proud to take up Avakian's challenge and take responsibility for helping to kick off, develop and spread this new radical revolt as part of bringing into being a whole new "counter-culture that contributes to and is increasingly part of building a movement for revolution—in opposition to a counter-revolutionary culture." I am writing partly in the hopes of inspiring many others—including those who may be very new to this movement for revolution or even picking up a copy of Revolution newspaper for the first time or reading it online; those who have been following the movement for revolution "from the sidelines" for awhile; and those who are already heavily involved in building this movement for revolution—to grasp what this radical revolt inspired by BAsics is and why it is so critical, and to check out and be part of it in a wide variety of ways.
I am also proud to answer the call to "Shake Up and Wake Up the Campus" by helping to introduce whole new generations of students to Bob Avakian and to the BAsics, starting with the several-week saturation of the special issue of Revolution aiming to reach tens of thousands of students in the next several weeks.
And I think there are definite and important connections between these two initiatives.
As it says on the back cover of the book: "You can't change the world if you don't know the BAsics." "Meeting" Bob Avakian and learning the BAsics can dramatically transform how entire generations of students understand the world they live in, what kind of world is necessary, possible and desirable, what it will take to get to that world, and their own responsibility and morality in the face of that. It will let these students know that we are building a movement for revolution, we have the leadership we need for this revolution, and they need to get with that revolution and follow that leadership. It can inspire many of these students to do exactly that, in different ways and on different levels, starting now. This new radical revolt inspired by BAsics, in turn, is an important vehicle through which many new people—including whole new sections of youth and students—will "meet" Bob Avakian and learn the BAsics.
To get a sense of this, think about the historic night of April 11 in Harlem—"On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World." As "And Now…A Glimpse of Spring, A Reporter's Notebook on April 11 in Harlem" in Revolution # 231 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." As a result, people experienced Avakian and what he's brought forward in a new, broad and multifaceted way. While the idea of this new radical revolt is not to duplicate April 11, we are going for that same basic dynamic.
More broadly, this radical revolt can inspire, unleash and give voice to a widespread questioning and defiance of the world as it is and an envisioning and celebration of the world as it could be. It can play a big role in showing people that there is no "permanent necessity" to the way things are. All this, in turn, is critical in terms of building a movement for revolution, accumulating forces for that revolution, and bringing forward the thousands who will reach and influence millions today and then lead those millions to make revolution in a future revolutionary situation.
To be clear, this obviously does not mean that everyone who is part of this radical revolt will be a revolutionary or be approaching it from the standpoint of building a movement for revolution; in fact, for this new form to be what it needs to be and have the impact it needs to have will require a lot more elasticity than that, with people from a broad range of perspectives being part of this for a broad range of reasons and contributing in a wide variety of ways. But I would add two points: One, it is important to keep in mind that people do not become revolutionary communists according to a formula, in one fell swoop or along a linear pathway; art and culture can play a very important role, as part of a mix of things, in shaping how people see the world in an ongoing and continually developing way. In fact, if you read From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey From Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, A Memoir by Bob Avakian, you will see that artistic, cultural, and intellectual ferment—while obviously one of many factors in Avakian's development—played an important role in his becoming first a radical and then a revolutionary communist and then the most advanced revolutionary communist leader on the planet. And a deep and ongoing appreciation of the need for and role of art and culture, "awe and wonder" and "poetic spirit" is a major element of how Avakian has re-envisioned and advanced revolution and communism and a big part of what makes him the rare and precious leader that he is. Secondly, even while clearly not every individual who is part of this radical revolt will be—or become—a revolutionary, this new culture as a whole can nonetheless be an important part of building a movement for revolution.
On that point, consider this quote by Avakian from "Making Revolution And Emancipating Humanity":
"But, fundamentally (and, so to speak, underneath all this) freedom does lie in the recognition and transformation of necessity. The point is that this recognition and the ability to carry out that transformation goes through a lot of different 'channels,' and is not tied in a positivist or reductionist or linear way to however the main social contradictions are posing themselves at a given time. If that were the case—or if we approached it that way—we would liquidate the role of art and much of the superstructure in general. Why do we battle in the realm of morals? It is because there is relative initiative and autonomy in the superstructure. And the more correctly that's given expression, the better it will be, in terms of the kind of society we have at a given time and in terms of our ability to recognize necessity and carry out the struggle to transform necessity." (See p. 11, in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008)
Think of John Carlos and Tommy Smith raising their fists for Black power at the 1968 Olympics. Think of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit." Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Nina Simone's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free." John Lennon's "Imagine." Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Public Enemy's "Fight the Power." Green Day's "American Idiot." These are but a few individual examples of the powerful and lasting impact that radical art and culture can have in changing how people see the world around them. More broadly, think about the role of things like Woodstock—and the whole 1960s upheaval and counter-culture it was a part of—in terms of helping to unmask the illegitimacy and immorality of this system, and putting forth far a different and better moral authority, ethos, and set of values and relations among people.
But this is a key point: This radical revolt that is being kicked is not about creating "radical culture" in its own right, or trying to duplicate radical cultural expressions of the past, or putting forth a utopian vision of how we wish the world could be, even while this actually needs to involve many people who are viewing things and contributing from these standpoints. But at the core of this radical revolt is BAsics—a concentration of Avakian's liberating, scientifically based understanding and vision of a whole new way the world actually can be—a communist world free of all exploitation and oppression—and everything that is involved in getting there.
As Avakian says in Part 2 of "Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon" (see Revolution #233 for this excerpt):
"So here again is the great need for a 'cultural revolution': what I've referred to as a mass revolt—with youth as a driving force—daring to defy and repudiate the oppressive, degrading and suffocating relations, values and morals of this system, and those who enforce and uphold all this; being, in opposition to that, in many different ways and to the greatest extent possible, a living embodiment of new and liberating morals, values, relations and culture, as well as a growing force of resistance against the continual outrages and injustices of this system. And those who consciously, scientifically understand the need for revolution to do away with the system and bring a new, radically different and better system into being, with the ultimate goal of a whole new world, a communist world, must foster and breathe further life into this 'cultural revolution,' with all the creativity and imagination, the questioning, ferment and upheaval that this would, and should, involve as part of building a movement for the revolution we need—fighting the power, and transforming the people, for this revolution—aiming for nothing less than to do away with this system and actually bring that new world into being."
Everywhere you look, the need and the basis for this—and for winning people to be a part of it—is visible. If, for any length of time, you just walk down the street, turn on the TV, browse the Internet, flip on the radio, spend some time talking with people or listening to conversations at a coffee shop or bus stop, you will be greeted by a culture and society of brutality, cruelty, consumerism, commodification, competition, degradation and oppression. And you will be greeted by the fact that there are many people—especially youth—who hate all this, feel suffocated by it, and would jump at the chance to be part of something that goes up against this bullshit and raises people's sights to something far loftier and more liberating.
Recent coverage in Revolution newspaper has also brought this very sharply to light. For instance, I was really struck by the two-part article "End-of-Year Conversation with Black High School Students: Deeply Interested in the World...Acutely Aware this System Has No Future for Them" (see Revolution #240 and #241). The article's observation that "These young people basically hate most of their life," was incredibly damning of this system, culture, and society and what they do to the youth. Among the other things that hit me were the palpable frustration of these youth with what they are taught (and not taught) in schools, and with the pervasive superficiality and consumerism of the culture; the constant brutality, degradation, and harassment they face at the hands of the pigs; the sense of suffocation they experience—and to some degree are conscious of—as a result of dominant societal gender roles and relations; and their defiance and hunger for engaging big ideas and a vision of a completely different way the world could be. Actually, even the title of the article alone gives a powerful sense of both the need and potential for this new radical revolt. And then we have to think about the fact that the conditions and sentiments of these youth in many ways speaks for tens of millions of youth in this society.
Or, returning to the piece "A Plan to Shake Up and Wake Up the Campus," the article's analysis of the dreary, repressive and stifling climate that increasingly characterizes college campuses was very heavy. The quotes in the piece from Darren Fleet's article in Adbusters give a sense of how the phenomena and ethos of parasitism and suburbanism have taken pronounced expression on these campuses, with the sick dog-eat-dog commodity relations of this system penetrating into every aspect of campus life. The Revolution article then put forth an insight I thought was really important, including as it relates to this new radical revolt:
"This description is all too accurate. Yet beneath the surface, and in response to this, there are yearnings and stirrings for something radically different that cannot find air to breathe without what we are bringing. BAsics being powerfully in the mix will draw these sentiments to the surface and begin to challenge the dominant ethos and culture with some certitude that things should not be—and don't have to be—this way. These campuses badly need shaking up. These campuses sorely cry out for the movement for revolution. These campuses are way past ready, whether the students know it right now or not, for...BAsics."
On August 4, at Revolution Books in New York City, there was a significant, if initial, glimpse of what a "radical revolt against a revolting culture" inspired by BAsics can look like and unleash. The evening witnessed art, culture, and performances centered on the theme of BAsics 3:16 ("An Appeal to Those the System Has Cast Off") and the letter from a prisoner, "The Conditions at Pelican Bay May Shock the Public." The recent hunger strike of prisoners at Pelican Bay and other prisons throughout California demanding an end to torturous conditions figured heavily into the evening. Some of the performances that night, which in different ways gave voice to the theme, included: Readings of BAsics 3:16 in English and Spanish as well as the "Conditions May Shock the Public" letter; a poem that a woman wrote and read about a person she knows who is on death row; a short poem a revolutionary had written on a banner sent to the hunger strikers that spoke to police terror, mass incarceration and the criminalization of a generation and the need for revolution as envisioned by Bob Avakian to do away with all this; the reading of a quote from former Black Panther George Jackson about the vicious repression of revolutionaries by prison authorities followed by a quote from Mao's Red Book about the role of art in making revolution; a poem in Spanish speaking to the conditions that prisoners face as well as their ability to transform into emancipators of humanity; a performance condemning this country's vicious history of racial oppression, from Jim Crow segregation to the present; the reading of BAsics 5:11 ("There is a place where epistemology and morality meet...") followed by several statements of support for the hunger strikers written by prominent people in different spheres; the reading of "Letter to the Hood," a poem written by a prisoner at Pelican Bay which calls on the oppressed masses to rupture with the bullshit this system catches them up in and get with the revolution and speaks to the role of BAsics in enabling them to make that rupture (see Revolution #240); and a video recently shown to tens of thousands of people at the L.A. Rising Festival with the audio of Avakian's "No more generations of our youth" quote from his talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, accompanied by a beautiful slide show with photos of youth.
Again, this was an exciting but also initial experience. This radical revolt is just getting off the ground. It needs to get much bigger and much broader. And many people are needed to be part of making this happen.
The next installment of this form will be:
Inspired by BAsics: from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian
An afternoon of Spoken Word, Music, Art
"RADICAL REVOLT" Against A Revolting Culture
August 30 at Shrine World Music in Harlem, (Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd between 133rd and 134th Streets), from 4-8 p.m.
If you are in the New York City area, you should come to Shrine World Music on August 30 as part of helping this radical revolt go to another level. And you should invite as many people as you can to come with you. More broadly, whether or not you are in New York, you have an important role to play in this. One key way you can help take responsibility for developing and spreading this as part of building a movement for revolution is by writing into Revolution newspaper, even if what you write is brief: Share your thoughts or questions about this new radical revolt. Share your ideas—both for the August 30 program, and in an ongoing way for this new culture we are forging.
To close with another quote from Part 2 of Avakian's talk "Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon"—and specifically the section titled "A Radical Revolt Against a Revolting Culture" (See Revolution #233 for this excerpt):
"All this is not just of minor or secondary significance, but of strategic importance, has strategic implications, in terms of repolarization—for revolution."
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