Active Investigation On An Elite Campus

April 23, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


We want to share some thinking and some experience on trying to wrestle with how to do things a little differently. This is on an “elite” campus where we have done some work to make a big push around the talk from Bob Avakian, “The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go,” as part of a plan around breaking new ground in working toward our #1 strategic objective. Over the last couple weeks we’ve had some rounds of discussion among the club here about the letter “The New Communism Could Change Everything... IF,” the prospectus from The Bob Avakian Institute, the article from “A Plan to Change Everything,” and the Q&A from BA’s talk “The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go” that have both informed and helped form our plans.

Doing Things a Little Differently at One Campus

In doing some initial planning for getting out BA’s talk “The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go!” and, to quote the editorial on BA week “the whole BA thing” on a University campus, we watched the Q&A on students from the BA talk. In there, he gets into the significance of students, and also points to some things we need to learn more about in terms of what is going on among students (not just what they are doing, but also what they are thinking/talking about), and the need to contend more with frameworks (with the examples of identity politics and individuals given and discussed there).

We are working to wield that Q&A more in how we are approaching the campus. The club had been to this particular campus a number of times before where we have done agitation and “made a scene,” including playing BA’s talk over a sound system, which has been important, but we had found it very difficult to get students to stop and engage with us.

So we thought to mix it up—instead of setting up with loud agitation we would try setting up a simple folding table with some of BA’s books and some of our fliers, thinking this might have a more invitational feel where people would want to come up and engage. We have now tabled a few times and while we are not yet drawing large numbers of students, some have stopped and engaged us. A few examples.

A freshman stopped to tell us that he had listened to some of BA’s talk after getting a palm card on campus and didn’t really agree that things with Trump were as bad as BA’s says. We had some back and forth about this, and it turned out he knew a good deal about Hitler’s rise to power and had to agree that there were some startling similarities. It was not like he was won over, but this gave him some food for thought.

We had heard that freshman at this school are required to read some Marx and asked him about this. He said that some freshman do read Marx, it depends on what track you chose. He was not on that track, but had read some Marx on his own. This led into some discussion about the new communism that BA has brought forward.

We told him how in the Q&A, BA talks about college and the “life of the mind” and how he wondered if students still wrangled with ideas like he did when he was a student. The student said it depends on the school. Part of why he chose this school is because there is a lot of discussion of big ideas. He said at dinner in his dorm there is always lots of wide ranging discussion and debate.

He also said that there are ways that people talk about big ideas on line, too, in Facebook chat groups. He said he is really into film, especially Stanley Kubrick, and is in a discussion group about film. He was surprised to learn that we were entering into the debate around the film Black Panther. He got a pamphlet we had made of Noche Diaz’s article “Black Panther, A Breath of Fresh Air, or Poisonous Gas” and was even more intrigued when we told him there is some controversy over aspects of this, including how to evaluate Eric Killmonger, at revcom. He gave us a way to stay in touch with him.

A graduate student from India stopped by the table saying he knew a lot about communism. When we pointed out THE NEW COMMUNISM and told him how what BA has brought forward is very controversial including internationally, he was intrigued. He said he would go on line to to learn more about this. He said he would check out BA’s talk on line also. He told us some places to go on campus where he thought we might be able to get some faculty to help us get a space on campus for film showings.  There are a lot of foreign students at this school and after this engagement we decided to add Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage: A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to our table.

A man from Sudan who was visiting his daughter who attended the school was surprised to run into communists at the university. He looked through various books asking questions about each and decided to buy a copy of BAsics to take home to Sudan. When he realized he could access from Sudan he said he would stay in touch that way.

Having BA’s book The New Communism up right where it is very visible has been important. A couple students passing by asked, “The new communism? What was the old communism?” This led to a brief back-and-forth in response and to grappling among ourselves how to bring this out succinctly and well. We decided to go back and study “What Is New in the New Synthesis” from Ardea Skybreak’s book Science and Revolution.

One woman who got the palm card for the film, said when she saw the title of BA’s talk, “You are preaching to the choir.” She, too, thought Trump and Pence should go but assumed we were talking about voting in Democrats in the fall. This led into a discussion over what Refuse Fascism is calling for to stop this regime and how it is up to the people to drive them from power. She said she would watch the film online commenting that if they can jail their president in Korea, maybe we can do that here. “You are preaching to the choir” is something we run into quite often. We are looking forward to getting out the new palm card with the challenge, “A regime that could destroy civilization. You think you know...but you don’t.”

A retired staff person from Brazil told us he felt between a rock and a hard place. There are fascists in power in Brazil and in the U.S. He said he had voted for Lula and had some hope for him but now he has turned himself in and he too is caught up in some bad stuff. He said he lived under the junta there when he was young. He refused to take a palm card for the film. It turned out that he already had a photo of it in his phone from a poster on campus to remind him where to go watch the film.

During this time, we also learned about a regular meet up of philosophy students where people just hang out and talk. A couple of us went one day to check it out and ended up having some interesting discussions. These were all grad students, one was actually doing a dissertation on Freedom and Causality, and we learned about what questions he was looking at (he was taking on arguments of determinism, biological determinism, and the role of consciousness) and we also talked with him about BA and the new communism where one of the breakthroughs has been  how to understand freedom and necessity. It’s not very often when you can get into things on that level with people who have a working familiarity with (and deep thinking on) concepts like teleology and determinism etc... Also interestingly, one of these philosophy students wanted to get straight into how could a revolution be won in a country like this. He said he has talked to Marxists and Socialists and he finds it interesting, but never had anyone actually deal with how you could make an actual revolution.

We are now starting to make plans for BA week and learn from our experience so far in doing this. One idea we have is to do a survey. We have not figured out all that we would ask but one question would be asking if students engage over big ideas with each other and what they talk about it.

A Note About the High Schools

There was another wave of national walkouts against gun violence, and where we are there were several schools (around 20?) that walked out and converged for a march in the city. has pointed out that this is a time when certain circles of youth are coming alive to the world and encountering big questions, and this is an opportunity to jump into the mix. For example, at a number of schools we’ve encountered students who have faced some opposition from authorities both in the school and police for organizing walkouts and protests around the question of gun violence.  While this has had the effect of discouraging some (maybe even many), it has also had the effect of posing the question to some of stepping outside a comfort zone, having to take risks to follow through on what they feel needs to be done. This provides heightened openings, yes, to talk about the substance of the articles on about mass violence being as American as apple pie, and the history of white supremacy generally as well as specifically vis a vis the NRA, but also to talk about the whole world, the world of ideas, and Bob Avakian’s new communism.

In one school we talked with some organizers of the walkout about revolution and BA, including that BA is a contended question, and later on in the day one of these young men who we’d talk to jumped in as we were talking to others about all this and was proudly saying [paraphrasing] “Yeah, I like controversy. If you’re gonna be about revolution, you’re gonna have to be controversial. Can’t do anything without controversy.” While being somewhat jovial and fun this actually contributed to the spirit of engagement and seriousness. Through the course of the walkout, we got out word about the Film, about BA, to hundreds from many different schools, and toward the end were able to have rounds of agitation that drew people out to listen and even speak about larger questions.




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