Set the Record Straight Tour Comes to Harvard University

Revolution #41, April 2, 2006, posted at

On February 23, Maoist political economist, Raymond Lotta delivered his talk, “Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World” at Harvard University. The audience included students from diverse fields, including economics, anthropology, and romance languages. There were students from Eastern Europe and a few visiting scholars from other parts of the world. A member of the Harvard Medical School faculty emceed the program.

The Harvard program was the third leg of the “Set the Record Straight” speaking tour by Raymond Lotta that has already gone to the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA. The Set the Record Straight project is taking on the lies and distortions leveled against communism and the whole experience of socialist revolution in the 20th century. It is presenting facts and analysis about the great and unprecedented accomplishments of the socialist revolutions of the Soviet Union (1917-1956) and China (1949-76). And it is popularizing Bob Avakian’s exciting vision of communism.

We are constantly told that “this is the best of all possible worlds…the only possible world…and you might as well accept it.” There is a constant ideological drumbeat that communist revolution only leads to nightmare. A whole generation of young people has only heard this summation of history and human possibility. Many contemporary radical and progressive scholars who were part of or were influenced by the ferment and upheavals of the 1960s have also have been affected by this attack on communism. There is a belief that socialist revolution is deeply flawed.

Raymond Lotta’s speaking tour is designed to stimulate an honest and urgently needed conversation about the real experience of socialism--the overwhelmingly positive achievements, as well as shortcomings and errors--in order to point the way to a far better future for humanity.

There was considerable “buzz” at Harvard about the program. There was broad distribution of thousands of leaflets, postcard announcements, and a “pop quiz” that challenged people’s knowledge about social achievements in China during the Mao years, especially the Cultural Revolution. Hundreds of small posters went up in buildings and kiosks around campus. Ads were placed in the campus newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. A few days before the program, Lotta had a lively interview about socialism and its relevance to today’s world on the MIT campus radio station.

People on campus built for the program in various ways--getting the word out on listservs, talking it up among friends, and getting postcard pluggers out in different departments. A teaching assistant in Chinese history planned to make an announcement about the program in class, but was prevented from doing so by the professor (who happens to be a prominent China scholar).

Raymond Lotta’s speech explains what communism is really about. It examines the rich and complex experience of building liberating societies in a world dominated by imperialism. Lotta picks apart many standard misconceptions and distortions about revolutionary policies, like sending intellectuals and students to the rural areas during the Cultural Revolution. Lotta discusses what he calls “the learning curve” of proletarian revolution: how Mao learned from and advanced beyond the Soviet experience, and how Bob Avakian is summing up this whole “first wave” of proletarian revolution and bringing forward a radical new model of socialist society.

This was a challenging talk for many in the audience. People raised important questions: about the Great Leap Forward and whether Mao should have done it differently; about why the revolution was defeated in China after Mao died. A professor from a nearby university took issue with Lotta’s assessment of Stalin. Someone wanted to know more about political rights and political debate under socialism, and how different Marxist trends would be treated.

Harvard is one of the world’s leading research and learning centers. As an elite school, it feeds policy recommendations and personnel into the ruling institutions of society. But it is also place where big and innovative ideas are taken up and debated…where some progressive and radical thinkers work and have influence…and where many students want to gain and contribute knowledge for a better world. There is a great deal of anti-war sentiment on the campus.

Harvard is a place of political debate and controversy. The same day Lotta spoke, Niall Ferguson, a prominent British historian and unapologetic booster of Western empire and America’s Iraq war, gave a lecture. Two days before Lotta’s speech, Harvard’s president, Lawrence Summers, had resigned under pressure. He had alienated many progressive faculty by demeaning the scholarship of Cornel West, a leading African-American intellectual, and suggesting that intrinsic differences in the scientific aptitude of men and women explained why there were not more women in scientific professions. After Summers stepped down, various forces and conservative commentators accused his faculty critics of “political correctness”--a conservative code phrase for the continuing influence of the ideals of the 1960s and progressive scholarship on campuses.

This is the atmosphere in which Set the Record Straight is promoting discussion and debate about communism’s past and communism’s future and is having an impact. And Set the Record Straight is learning from the questions and disagreements raised by people, from research and analysis of others, and from suggestions offered by people building for and coming out to the events.

All this shows the great need and the great potential for the Set the Record Straight project.

Setting the Record Straight

The project to "Set the Record Straight" is inspired by the writings of Bob Avakian.

The purpose is to take on the distortions, misrepresentations, and supporting scholarship that hold such sway in academia about the first wave of socialist revolutions, in the Soviet Union in 1917-1956 and China in 1949-1976.

Against the facile verdicts that socialism has been a nightmare, or at best a terribly failed experiment, we are bringing forth the real and historic accomplishments of these revolutions, especially the lessons of the Cultural Revolution, without papering over mistakes and shortcomings.

The idea is to stir debate and discussion as to why these stand as vital, if initial, experiences at building liberating societies. At the same time, we are bringing forth what Avakian has been pointing to, in terms of where we have to do better and what it means to take the communist project to a whole other level of understanding and practice if it is to be viable and desirable in the 21st century. In short, communism is alive.but also developing.

We are undertaking a wide range of activities: fact sheets, articles, mass leafleting, forums, etc.; and we are networking with progressive scholars and want to learn from the diverse insights of others.

We are seeking to influence both students and professors and scholars.

We want to contribute to creating an intellectual current that challenges the slanders and superficial summations, that insists on truthful examination of what these revolutions were actually striving to accomplish, the difficulties they faced, and what they were able to achieve, and that sees the relevance of all this to the deeply felt desire of so many for a radically different world.

You can contact "Set the Record Straight" at:

PO Box 981
Chicago, IL 60690-0981

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