Revolution #181, November 1, 2009

Thoughts on the Raymond Lotta Tour: Going All Out and, Yes, Making This A Very Big Deal Indeed

We are now midway through the Raymond Lotta speaking tour. Lotta has spoken to audiences of a little over 200 at University of California at Berkeley and New York University (NYU), a majority of them students. Two more engagements remain, the UCLA this Tuesday and then at the University of Chicago on November 11; additionally, there is the potentially very significant symposium on China’s Cultural Revolution at Berkeley next weekend. It is with the spirit of marshaling the lessons learned thus far to maximize these last engagements—and, more important, the overall impact and import of the tour as a whole—that we are contributing this initial summation to “Spreading Revolution and Communism.”

It’s important to return to the editorials announcing this tour—“Bringing Revolution to the Campuses—A Strategic Mission of Any Revolution Worth Making” (issue 174) and “The Raymond Lotta Campus Tour: A Very Big Deal Indeed” (issue 177)—in assessing these initial results, and planning for the rest of this tour. The latter editorial opened with an unvarnished assessment of the state of the campuses: a real communist and revolutionary alternative is essentially not contending—anywhere. Yet the campus is critical to making revolution in the larger society. On the basis of that understanding, and of the larger urgent stakes we face, we set out to make this Raymond Lotta campus tour a means to “crack open mass debate and ferment on the campuses on the questions of socialism and communism.”

At the same time, there is an important relation between this tour and the overall objectives of the campaign around “The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have.” This campaign aims to really put revolution—THIS revolution—before millions; to make Bob Avakian a household word; and to draw forward a core, even if relatively small at first, on a mission to fight for this line and make it a reality. Changing the overall atmosphere on campus, and beginning to draw forth a number of students as part of that core, contributes to that in a necessary and powerful way.

Those working to build this Tour need to constantly step back to those strategic goals as the framework for what they are doing. In that light, we cannot look at the different stops of this Tour as more or less “self-contained events.” The effort at each campus has to build on and amplify what’s gone before, and those working to make these events “a very big deal” on a particular campus have to understand it as important, yes, for the scene on a given campus—but even more so for the impact that it can have more broadly. The “very big deal” editorial made the point that we are aiming for a “mix of ferment, mass debate and intellectual excitement that is simmering and bubbling...and where that situation, even on several campuses to begin with, spreads to other campuses and to society as a whole. We’re aiming at getting a whole different dynamic going, on campus and in society overall.”

By this point, as we have gotten a deeper sense of the trends and currents in students’ thinking, we’ve developed different materials. In addition to the quiz on the history of communist revolution with which we began this, there has been the open letter to the liberal anti-communist NYU professor Tony Judt from Raymond Lotta; Sunsara Taylor’s open letter to students at NYU (now also up on Youtube); an unpublished op-ed piece written for the student paper by an NYU student; a new flyer that speaks more directly to the concerns of students and gives a sense of the questions that will be addressed and argued out; etc.

There has also been some debate sparked: initial coverage in the campus paper at NYU, followed by an all-out op-ed attack on Lotta’s speech, and Lotta’s response to that attack. But these should not be seen as particular to NYU; they should be utilized on every other campus—they are all very relevant. They don’t have to be “replicated;” Tony Judt, for instance, in many ways stands as a symbol of the liberal anticommunist professor, and the letter to him can, with an introduction, be used with many professors and intellectuals, wherever they teach or work. This letter to Tony Judt in a very powerful way poses the provocative challenge called for in our editorials; it needs to get out there.

Similarly, students at every campus will be able to see themselves in the open letter/youtube by Sunsara Taylor (“The Furthest Thing From Your Minds”). And the controversy generated by the Lotta speech at NYU—the attack and reply—should be seen as part of the controversy we are trying to build nationally, not as an isolated thing.

To be sure, it would be very good if students and professors at other schools join the fray with their own e-mails, letters, youtubes, etc. It would be excellent if there were point-counterpoint debates at these universities, either leading up to or in the wake of the speech. Those building the tour at UCLA and University of Chicago (and in a different way, people working on the symposium on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution coming up at Berkeley) will be learning new things, and should definitely both write to this site and rush into print otherwise. But materials like the ones mentioned here actually reflect some of what has been learned thus far, and really should be widely and very vigorously used, now. 

The more that we learn about, reflect on and more deeply understand the ideological terrain, and the more that we effectively speak to the questions on that terrain, the deeper will be the engagement with students. This can be seen in the questions from the NYU event, which are now part of the main flyer. But to do this well, we need to do more than just stand out in the plaza flyering, or even giving announcements in classes. We need to become much more part of the feel and flow of campus life—going to movies on campus, to club meetings, to programs, and not just flyer but stay to listen, learn and wrangle. Sometimes, it’s important to just listen and ask questions. At other times, you will be able to make connections between the content of the event you are at and the overall campaign around this tour. The point is to become more a part of things, while still bringing this unique thing we are bringing—this speech, and everything that goes with it.

There are people interested in this—this we have found. But sometimes those working to build the tour end up asking too much of people who are in fact just getting acquainted with these ideas—and as a result it begins to feel like too much of an all-or-nothing proposition to them, and they drop away. Conversely, all too often we have stepped over ways that people can contribute, even if they are beginning or modest ways, because they don’t fit in to what we think we need to do (or really do need to do). It is a challenge—and one we have to do much better at—to enable and facilitate the means for increasing numbers of people to be involved in the campaign in ways that correspond to their level of understanding and unity at any given time. And yes, there should be struggle with people (and not only [or mainly] over how much time they will devote to this or how far “out front” they will get on this); but this should take place in an atmosphere where they have room and "air" to learn and where, through their own experience, combined with good leadership on our part, they can deepen their understanding and commitment. On this point in particular, those of us building the tour need to devote much more systematic attention at doing better. Right now, this requires special focus.

Here we want to turn to what should be another major component of this: the leadership of Bob Avakian. When you take the measure of the heavy odds we are facing, and when you turn to draw up a list of what the people have going for them in the face of that, the very first thing on that list is Avakian’s leadership—what he’s brought forward in the realm of theory, how he leads this party politically, and what he models in regard to method and personal example. The DVD of his major speech Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, And What It’s All About, as well as his memoir From Ike To Mao...And Beyond should get out much more broadly onto the campuses, in different ways. The fact that this DVD is now on the net should be made widely known. At the same time, there is tremendous potential importance for Avakian’s book Observations On Art And Culture, Science and Philosophy to make a big impact on campus and among intellectuals more generally.

Another important element in this whole mix: Raymond Lotta himself actually is a “very big deal.” Working in the framework developed by Avakian, Lotta combines a unique and far-ranging scope of knowledge on the history of socialist revolution with a very good understanding of Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of the communist project; that is to say, what has been accomplished (and the facts about what are the real, as opposed to invented, errors), as well as how humanity can do better the next time that there is a successful communist revolution. In line with this, we should be looking for openings in the media for Raymond Lotta as part of this tour, and we should understand that there are more than a few professors who can be won to recommending this speech to their students (as has already been shown to be the case, even in a beginning way).

One real weakness thus far has been use of the net. We have only begun to break this onto Facebook, for instance. Nor have we really penetrated the blogosphere. We need to learn in this realm, and draw people forward who can teach us...and who, on their own, can be unleashed to spread this, in different ways.

A critical arena for advance: fund-raising. For example, there are plenty of professors who complain a lot about the state of today’s student body. Okay, they may have a point. But they also have a responsibility: what are they going to do about it? Are they going to support a tour that is actually beginning to crack open the atmosphere, to get out the truth, to generate debate and controversy and bring in some oxygen? Whether they agree with everything Raymond Lotta says or not, are they going to back up someone with the courage to go against the accepted wisdom, to live a life of rigor and honesty and revolutionary commitment, and set that kind of example? Well, not if we don’t challenge them to! And the flip side is that people can feel very happy and unleashed to participate in supporting the revolution in this extremely important way. Every group of people working on this tour should be setting goals, and developing projects, to raise funds.

In all of this, people should be creative and innovative. Develop—and send in—your experiences with street theater, talks in classrooms or at big meetings, use of materials already developed and ideas for new materials. There are only a few weeks left, at this point—but there are plenty of “very big deals” that have happened that have come from nowhere, in less time than that. There are very real ways in which this idea—communist revolution, at a time when people yearn for something different but have, in very real ways, been kept away from this powerful idea and any real knowledge of this amazing historical experience—can connect in different ways and on different levels with many, many more people. There is a very great necessity to connect it, in all those ways and on all those levels.

It is up to us to do the hard thinking, the scientific summation, the creative and daring innovation and the hard (but imaginative) work to make it happen. The revolutionary movement can be in a significantly better place by December—depending on what we do.


Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond