Revolution #177, September 27, 2009
The Raymond Lotta Campus Tour:
A Very Big Deal Indeed!
“Imagine a situation in which Christian fundamentalist creationists have seized power, in the academies of science and in society overall, and have proceeded to suppress knowledge of evolution. Imagine that they go so far as to execute and imprison the most prominent scientists and educators who had insisted on teaching evolution and bringing knowledge of this to the public, and they heap scorn and abuse on the well-established scientific fact of evolution, denouncing and ridiculing it as a flawed and dangerous theory which runs counter to well-known ‘truth’ of the biblical creation story and to religious notions of ‘natural law’ and the ‘divinely ordained order.’ And, to continue the analogy, imagine that in this situation many intellectual ‘authorities,’ and others following in their wake, jump on the bandwagon: ‘It was not only naïve but criminal to believe that evolution was a well-documented scientific theory, and to force that belief on people,’ they declare. ‘Now we can see that it is “common wisdom,” which no one questions (so why should we?), that evolution embodies a worldview and leads to actions that are disastrous for human beings. We were taken in by the arrogant assurance of those who propagated this notion. We can see that everything that exists, or has existed, could not have come into being without the guiding hand of an “intelligent designer.”’ And, finally, imagine that in this situation, even many of those who once knew better become disoriented and demoralized, cowed into silence where they do not join in, meekly or loudly, in the chorus of capitulation and denunciation.
“The temporary defeat of socialism and the end of the first stage of the communist revolution has had many features and consequences that are analogous to such a situation. Among other things, it has led to lowered sights and low dreams: Even among many people who once would have known better and would have striven higher, it has led, in the short run, to acceptance of the idea that—in reality and at least for the foreseeable future—there can be no alternative to the world as it is, under the domination of imperialism and other exploiters. That the most one can hope for and work for are some secondary adjustments within the framework of accommodation to this system. That anything else—and especially the attempt to bring about a revolutionary rupture out of the confines of this system, aiming toward a radically different, communist world—is unrealistic and is bound to bring disaster.” (Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, RCP Publications, 2009, P. 18-19.)
Nowhere is this sharper than on the campuses. And yet the campuses play a strategic and necessary role in making revolution, in innovation and in the search for truth more generally. Without ferment and a truly radical movement on the campuses, and among intellectuals generally, there can be no revolution. Recognizing and truly coming to grips with this situation for what it is—in order to radically transform it—is urgent.
In this editorial, we want to focus on the upcoming campus tour of Raymond Lotta, which is the focal point on campus of “overturning the verdict on communism, introducing a new generation to the leadership of Bob Avakian, cracking open mass debate and ferment... and organizing a new generation into the movement for revolution.” (Issue #174, “Bringing Revolution to the Campuses—A Strategic Mission of Any Revolution Worth Making,” August 30, 2009) In doing so, we again want to speak both to all those who have taken up this campaign, in one way or another—and to invite others to join in grappling with the challenge as well. Lotta will be giving a speech entitled, “Everything You’ve Been Told About Communism Is Wrong, Capitalism Is a Failure, Revolution Is the Solution.”
In particular, we want to get into the importance of this tour to “cracking open mass debate and ferment” on the questions of socialism and communism. The metaphor with which we started this editorial—a situation in which creationists have seized power and suppressed real science—actually applies pretty directly to what we face. In such times, it would be much more important to have hundreds on campus actively taking notice of and entering into debate around the viability of communism, than to just attract a few score or so of the already interested to hear Raymond Lotta. Of course, we do want those who are already interested to come as well—but our point in putting it this way is that these speeches need to be part of creating a situation where the “already interested” are part of a larger 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.
Pathways to Change
Having laid out in unvarnished terms the serious and substantial challenges we face, we should look as well to the openings and opportunities within the situation—some of them even posed by the obstacles themselves.
Let’s begin with the fact most students don’t know anything about communism, and that what they do know—or, rather, what they think they know—is wrong. Even as this is so, it coexists with a certain openness to engagement on this, in part because it has been ruled so off the map. If you can find the ways to shake people up about the most commonly accepted “proofs,” you can begin a serious conversation on this. To take one example, go to the video that Raymond Lotta posted on YouTube, “Raymond Lotta-Everything You’ve Been Told About Communism Is Wrong.” Mao Tsetung led the Chinese revolution and made towering contributions to the cause of human emancipation. Yet the conventional wisdom on Mao is that he was a mass murderer, akin to Hitler. And the work that “everyone knows” is the authoritative source of this is Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. But when people see how Lotta pulls back the curtain on one particularly egregious fraud the authors of Mao: The Unknown Story perpetrate, and when they see how he exposes Chang and Halliday’s method in doing so, this stops them in their intellectual tracks, so to speak, and gets them to look at things anew.
Or take the controversy about Obama right now, where racist thugs and fascist lunatics call him communist or socialist, and where almost all of those who defend him do so on a basis that implicitly accepts, and reinforces, the idea that being a communist is a bad thing. Without falling into focusing on Obama, which would be a distraction from the main purpose, revolutionaries should put out very boldly: “Obama is no socialist or communist—we ARE—and YOU should be, too. Come hear Raymond Lotta explain why.”
Or think about this: no decent person ever says “Naziism—great idea but couldn’t work.” But people, especially many young people who are not so locked into the way things are, very often say this about communism. They see, on some level, the insanity of today’s society and the ways in which this capitalist system causes disaster. At the same time they have accepted, without ever being exposed to real communism, what our message and call (“The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have.” issue #170, July 19, 2009) says is the “biggest lie of all”:
[T]hat there is no other way than this system—or that attempts to really make a different way, through revolution and advancing toward communism, have brought about something even worse. The wretched of the earth have made revolution and started on the road to communism—first in Russia and then in China—and they achieved great things in doing so, before they were turned back by the forces of the old order. We are here to tell you that not only has this been done before, but we can do it again—and even better this time. This is the truth that is covered up and lied about, but we have the facts and the analysis to back this up—tremendous historical experience has been summed up, scientifically, and is there for us to learn from and build on.
The content of “doing it even better”—the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian—can be a tremendously liberating and mind-opening factor in this whole debate and discussion, speaking in depth and with real substance to the questions that honest people do have about the previous revolutions. As Avakian himself has emphasized:
[I]t is very important not to underestimate the significance and potential positive force of this new synthesis: criticizing and rupturing with significant errors and shortcomings while bringing forward and recasting what has been positive from the historical experience of the international communist movements and the socialist countries that have so far existed; in a real sense reviving—on a new, more advanced basis—the viability and, yes, the desirability of a whole new and radically different world, and placing this on an even firmer foundation of materialism and dialectics....
So, we should not underestimate the potential of this as a source of hope and of daring on a solid scientific foundation. (“Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity,” Part 1, Revolution #112, December 16, 2007.)
If on this foundation we can open up debate, if we can open up ferment, if we can spark thinking on those terms—and the sharper the debate, the better—then we can begin to fight for this. If we can engage students in really thinking about all this, then—but only then—we have a fighting chance. For an example of how this can work, see “Taking Revolution to the Campuses” [in the “Spreading Revolution and Communism” section at revcom.us].
You see, the bourgeoisie really does dominate the major media and the schools, and it spreads its distortions and lies into every corner of society. But we have one (very big) thing going for us. To again quote our Manifesto:
But all this has not done away with reality: the reality of how the world is, under the domination of this capitalist-imperialist system and the daily horror this involves for the great majority of humanity—or the reality of what communism actually represents for humanity and the possibility of making new breakthroughs and advances on the road of communist revolution.
Bringing home this reality—in a very bold, living, scientific way that takes on people’s toughest questions, in a way that shakes everything up and has some of the flair and fun and gusto to it that actually should be part of this revolution —this is what the Raymond Lotta tour is all about.
Issuing a Provocative Challenge
This speech by Raymond Lotta will and must pose a provocative challenge to those who have accepted and spread the verdicts on communism, particularly liberal and progressive professors. This speech must be built in a way so that it is something that people cannot just blow off, but feel they must confront. We want students who follow these professors to feel compelled to come and find out the real deal, to defend their professors with everything they’ve got—to check out a compelling speech by Raymond Lotta, and engage in scientific give-and-take over what is really real.
Finding the ways to issue this kind of challenge is a crucial element to making this speech a really BIG DEAL. But HOW this is done is very important. Such a challenge must be done aggressively—but with the right kind of aggressiveness. Ad hominem attacks—that is, going after people who have been spreading lies in ways that attack them as individuals—have nothing to do with what we’re about and do more harm than good. And just shouting at people, with no substance, doesn’t convince anyone. Of course neither does backing off and backpedaling at the first sign of opposition or debate! What we DO want to do is to very provocatively pose the real deal to some of these professors—especially those who have influence among the more progressive students—using substance and scientific method to hammer home that in repeating these anti-communist slanders, “you’re wrong, you’re spreading lies, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and you’re doing a great deal of harm!”
Some particular attention should also be focused on “China scholars” who have pushed out the official story that slanders and distorts the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the revolutionary leader Mao Tsetung. Again, this should be done in such a way—with boldness, and substance, that captures the imagination—that people feel compelled to come—and that these scholars feel they HAVE to defend their work, and contest what Lotta will be saying.
A Wild Mix
The Raymond Lotta speaking tour should be anything but a linear, step 1-step 2-step 3, recipe. It should be the furthest thing from a self-contained exercise, carried out by a handful of people, no matter how dedicated and hard working they may be. On the contrary: for this to come off in the way it has to, we need a “wild mix” of different people and different kinds of activity.
To begin with, Bob Avakian has often emphasized and returned to the positive interaction between intellectual and political ferment in the middle strata of society, and revolutionary activity and sentiments from those on the bottom. This should find expression in this effort as well. Those who have lived life at the bottom of American society—those who face police brutality and criminalization as a fact of life, who risk their lives to cross the borders only to live in the shadows, who have no future other than to slave or be cast off and even blown away—have much to teach students, even as they have much to learn. When people from those sections of society begin to come into political life, their coming on to the campus can be invigorating for all sides—and we should work to maximize this feature of the Lotta speaking tour.
Another important channel of change can be through the interaction between the media and the campus. The bubbling ferment heading into these programs should be the occasion for advance media coverage, and coverage of the event itself, and this in turn should reverberate back onto the campus, each amplifying the other. The orientation and approach laid out in this editorial should open up new thinking on possible openings in this sphere.
In addition, while the particular campuses where Lotta will be speaking are the main base that the programs will draw from, and require real concentration, we should also “spread the contagion” to other campuses, and high schools as well. Students will go to where things are happening; they don’t confine themselves to the boundaries of their own campus, and neither should we in our thinking.
Finally, and most important: there are many people coming from many different kinds of understanding and levels of commitment, who must be part of making this happen... or it will not happen on the scale it needs to. There should be all kinds of different ways that people can be part of creating this wild mix, all leading to the program itself—whether by spreading materials, hosting dorm meetings, being part of posses that take out materials—which do not require them to feel convinced of the whole program, let alone able to argue it out with others. Indeed, there should be many who build and contribute to this in many ways who are still working through whether they agree with this or not, but want to have a real chance to engage with these ideas and see others engage with them. Those at the core of this campaign will be needing to learn from, and foster, all kinds of activity—in other words, they must be able to unleash a great deal of elasticity on the basis of the solid core of this speech, and everything it will be concentrating and contributing to.
There is no sense in kidding ourselves—we are coming from behind on this. But if we really confront the terms of the situation with science—that is, with an open-eyed but sweeping and deep-going analysis of the reality we face, in a way that can reveal the possible pathways and channels of change, even possibilities that may seem counter-intuitive from the angle of conventional thinking—then we can actually accomplish the important goals bound up with this speaking tour. So let’s take on this serious task... and let’s have some fun as we do.
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