Revolution #203, June 13, 2010
Reporter's Notebook from the campaign conference, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have"
Nearly a year ago, the RCP, USA launched a campaign around "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." Anchored by a powerful Message and Call from the Party, the campaign has accomplished some important things. But the campaign has not yet broken through to its main objectives—popularizing to millions the need for, and character of, revolution; making the leadership of this revolution, Bob Avakian, a household word; and bringing forward a core of new fighters around this revolution and this leadership. To deal with this, the Party called conferences on May 29 and 30 in two cities.
These conferences were very successful. People came from a number of different cities, large and small. And they brought a wide range of experience with them—experience in different forms of fighting the power and, in many cases, in beginning to take out revolution. The chemistry that came through by having people with diverse viewpoints and experience wrangle with the purposes and goals for this campaign and then, on that basis, develop ideas and plans—and in so doing, constantly returning to those larger goals and purposes—brought forward something new. For the first time there was a sense of a national campaign; now the charge is to make that real, and take it all to a higher level.
On Monday night, June 7, we will be publishing the main speech given at the conferences online, and we will be publishing more from the conferences in the future. This week, however, to give people a basic sense of and feel for what happened, we are publishing a reporter’s notebook from Annie Day, a participant at one of the conferences.
You could feel the anticipation and excitement as people were buzzing about the auditorium. This was the first day of the major conferences called by the Revolutionary Communist Party on the campaign they've embarked on, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have."
About the room in different forms and colors was a striking new image of Bob Avakian, on t-shirts, palm cards and posters. The fire-red word REVOLUTION was emblazoned on a banner on the side of a wall promoting Avakian's talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About and was something people pointed to throughout the weekend, talking about ways to get this further out there, and the impact this talk had on them. And the Message and Call of this campaign, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" was at the front of the room in Spanish and English.
Gathered here were people, diverse threads, from different perspectives and places, different levels of experience and familiarity with the revolution, but together determined to confront and transform this nightmare of a world.
DAY 1—getting in deep
The first and main speech of the weekend took us on a journey—it set the framework for the conference and the revolutionary spirit, ethos and impatience informed and infused the wrangling, discussion and debate that followed. I know I'm still playing in my mind what was said, and the challenges put to all of us.
The main themes in the talk were the stakes of the campaign and its main objectives… what this campaign has to do with making revolution—including what the RCP's strategy for revolution is in a country like this… and the relationship of the leadership of Bob Avakian to all that.
The speech surveyed the events of just the last month to remind us of the great need for revolution. Then it laid out soberly where things are at in the world and the high stakes of changing all this. "This revolution—the REAL revolution, the communist revolution—is fighting for its life." The speech laid out how we got to this point: since the defeats of the first stage of revolution (with socialism reversed in the Soviet Union in 1956 and in China in 1976) there have been over 30 years of counter-revolution, with the most reactionary to "the most enlightened" trumpeting that these experiences were totalitarian nightmares at worst, or utopian impossible dreams at best. The real, liberatory experience of all this has been constantly slandered, endlessly distorted, and entirely covered over. Even the majority of the Revolutionary Communist Party itself objectively bought into these verdicts and gave up on revolution as a real and realizable goal.
But Bob Avakian took a different road, and the talk got into that more deeply. Avakian studied this first stage of communist revolution, he dug into and defended the tremendous achievements of these revolutions—but he also confronted and deeply analyzed where they fell short and what objective problems a revolution will face going forward... and through this work, he forged a new synthesis of revolution and communism. The talk quoted the Manifesto from the RCP, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. This new synthesis is comparable to "what was done by Marx at the beginning of the communist movement—establishing, in the new conditions that exist, after the end of the first stage of the communist revolution, a theoretical framework for the renewed advance of that revolution." Avakian went on to lead a Cultural Revolution within the RCP itself over these very questions, "to not only get this Party back onto the revolutionary road, but to put it on a more profoundly revolutionary basis than ever."
Linking this struggle to what this campaign is a part of, the speaker brought us up to now: "BA saved this party as a revolutionary party; and now this party must, and can, move forward and lead people to initiate a whole new stage of communism, fighting for this understanding everywhere and using it to make revolution right here."
The most polemical part of the talk, which became a big point of discussion throughout the weekend, got into this more. "Without Bob Avakian and the work he did and is doing—without Bob Avakian and the courageous struggle he waged, and led—it is very likely that there would BE no communism today, at least no vital and viable communism. Without Bob Avakian, it is very likely that there would be no Party in the U.S. today—at least no party that is really a vanguard of revolution—nor would there be a revolutionary movement." That we have all this is really precious, and something that has to be made known throughout society. And we have to challenge people to get into, and wrangle with the work Avakian has brought forward.
The talk also called on us to challenge others—"if you are serious about fundamental change, it is the height of irresponsibility to fail to engage Avakian's work on the level it demands."
"We ARE BUILDING a movement FOR revolution"
Through the course of the weekend, we got a living sense of how the three objectives of this campaign—making this revolution known throughout society, making Bob Avakian a household name, and bringing forward a core of fighters for this understanding out in the world—can all work together to have a big impact in a concentrated period of time. We got a sharper focus on the need to get a different trajectory going in society, and much more of a feel for what that would be and how all this would be conveying to people that we ARE BUILDING a movement for revolution. This was laid out in both speeches, and pulsed through the breakouts on day one and the workshops on day two.
We all got a much deeper sense of the link of all this to a larger strategy for revolution, and to hastening while awaiting a revolutionary situation. The opening talk had gotten into how, in qualitatively different objective conditions, a revolution could be made in a country like this... and out of what contradictions today that qualitatively different objective situation could potentially arise. The Message and Call were drawn on in this regard, as was the recent two paragraphs from Bob Avakian printed in Revolution.* And all this kept circulating in our minds throughout the weekend.
The discussions on the first day were rich. People wanted to know more about the Cultural Revolution in the RCP—what it meant and why Avakian launched it. People asked about what a revolutionary situation could look like in a country like this, what contradictions it may come out of, and how revolutionaries today need to be working to bring that, and a revolutionary people, into being. There was a lot of discussion about the need for resistance and the relationship of this campaign to the slogan, "fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution." People spoke about the criminal murder of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, including people who had jumped in their cars right after it happened to attend her funeral in Detroit and went out into the neighborhoods to call on people to hit the streets, and work to connect them up with this movement for revolution.
People brought a lot of experience to bear—from the campuses and the ghettos. A college student from one of the top schools in the country later spoke about how little people in his school know about the lives of people lived at the bottom of our society, he'd never heard people talk about the anger and frustration of those who are forced into prisons, and shuttled into housing projects that themselves resemble prisons. He was trying to figure out how to bridge that gap. The need for those connections, for the "mixing and meshing" from different strata—and the ways we can go to work on that—was an important thing that came out of this conference as a whole.
There was also discussion, at times heated, to get more into what was said about Avakian. Through this discussion and struggle, it became more clear to many that what you thought of the need for leadership and of Avakian's leadership in particular had everything to do with what you think about revolution and communism. One person wrote in a survey afterwards, "I knew Bob Avakian was important, but I didn't know how important until this weekend."
We'd gone pretty far in a day, and the discussions over dinner continued. I looked over at the other end of the auditorium and a few dozen people were circling around the main speakers—people who'd been into this for under a year or so had been invited to pose their toughest questions and wildest dreams, and they did, and then they all threw in to speak to what each other had raised. "What kind of revolution is needed?" "How are people going to be part of a revolution if they're not stepping up to resist today?" There was a serious and heartfelt discussion about the divisions between Black people and Latino immigrants. Participants spoke from experience about these killing contradictions among the people, and went back and forth about how we can bring forward a whole different way.
The night was brought to a close as we packed in tight to Revolution Books. People shared their poetry, read excerpts from Bob Avakian's memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond, a few people read letters from prisoners who subscribe to Revolution newspaper. The whole room laughed appreciatively at the irony Joe Veale talked about in his letter on turning prisons into universities, "...here we are the so-called 'worst of the worst' (this was said and meant in every sense by those who held us)—they've put us in the most extreme conditions in this prison in an attempt to break us down and beat us down—and here we are not only discussing but critiquing Plato—showing how he and Socrates did not represent the interest of the people but the interest of a slave system!"
I felt soul stirred again—in that space with others setting out on a historic mission—listening to a young revolutionary reading from Avakian's memoir. He read a part towards the end where BA talks about his response to the death of Peter Tosh, "Sadness to anger; anger to intensified revolutionary energy, fired with a profoundly realistic optimism: that is what should drive us forward and lift our spirit and sights."
I heard the next day that dozens of attendees were like me... up to the early morning hours continuing the discussion, confronting the stakes of all this, and laughing and feeling the reality of the decisive difference this campaign can make in a badly bruised, and increasingly dire, world.
DAY 2—Making plans, coming out roaring
And before we knew it, we were gathered again to hear the opening speech of day two. This talk—on the foundation laid the day before—took us on a different kind of journey. It focused on the key elements of this campaign and what it really needs to look like, and involve, to achieve its goals—and by the end of it, we got a sense of how the parts could be woven together to accomplish what the world demands.
There were sharp comparisons made throughout—the difference of waging this campaign as a campaign and what difference it makes that people you're trying to involve understand their participation is part of making a national and concrete impact vs. coming off like you're just timelessly and aimlessly "doing what revolutionaries always do." Or in the discussion on the importance of the statement (which was returned to throughout the conference as a whole) "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," a comparison was made between "saturation" and just getting out a lot of fliers. Saturation is where this is pushed "enough into people's worlds that they have to engage this and have their assumptions challenged by it and to create a situation where people are wrangling with each other about it—and where we are operating in that whole mix."
Plans were announced to distribute one million copies of the RCP's Message and Call over the summer—actually saturating festivals, and key neighborhoods across the country. And to get out 200 in 10, that is 200,000 statements in 10 days off the conference starting Friday, June 4. There will be regular reporting on Revolution newspaper's website about how this is going so people across the country can, in real time, learn from each other's experience—positive and negative—and see how we're doing in relation to our goals.
Another important and sharp comparison was the difference between being what Avakian has called "completely outrageous…and yet eminently reasonable"—posing a provocative and radical challenge. This is very different, the talk went on, than "incrementally grooowiinnnggg a moooovement." In talking about this on the campuses in particular, the talk summed it up this way, "There are young people on these campuses who are searching for a way to contribute to changing the world—but they don't think communism is the way to do it. If we are going to provoke them to not only rethink but to get into this—we need to build on and do even better at both hitting hard at their deeply held assumptions in ways that cannot be easily dismissed and speaking to people's highest aspirations."
The talk returned to the importance of unabashedly modeling a culture of appreciation, popularization and promotion around Avakian. The speaker went on to pose it sharply, "If you are proceeding from humanity's need to get free it can ONLY be a good thing that there is a leader who has solved or pointed the way towards solving the biggest problems of the revolution. If you are proceeding from humanity's need to get free—you will be EAGER to get into this leader."
She laid out, and called on people to further develop, key elements of the plan in relation to making Bob Avakian a household name over the next few months. These include major promotion of this new BA image, getting the Revolution talk seen on the streets and on the net to where its presence is on a qualitatively higher level, and an early fall release of a back-pocket-sized book of quotations from BA called BAsics.
The talk went through other important parts of this campaign—the work on the campuses, building the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund and fighting the ban of Revolution in at least three prisons. She talked about the need to expand the distribution and reach of Revolution newspaper—online and in print, and the need for Revolution to play a bigger role as a collective organizer for this movement, and this campaign. The orientation around fundraising—and the need to develop a culture of fundraising—was taken up throughout the day, and someone in the plenary suggested this approach as an example of being both "utterly outrageous and eminently reasonable," "Hi, I'm with the revolution. We intend to run a whole different and better society, and we're raising $___ to put revolution on the map, would you contribute towards that?"
One of the things I noted in hearing the speech, and have been thinking about in the days since, was the loud applause when the speaker announced that "soon the RCP will be publishing a new constitution of the future socialist state." I think it was felt among all of us, how much more real this could make what's meant in the beginning of the Message and Call, "This Is NOT The Best of All Possible Worlds… And We Do NOT Have to Live This Way!" It can, as Avakian himself discussed, project on a whole higher level, and in the mix of all these parts of the campaign, an alternate authority to the brutal current order.
Working On—and Leaping Into—"Key Concentrations of Social Contradictions"
Another point made in the talk was brought to life through the conference itself. "This campaign is to build a movement for revolution to really impact and change the whole world. It is not a self-contained process—and we need to be interacting with the quickly and sometimes sharply changing larger world." Late Saturday night, BP announced that their "top kill" strategy to stop the oil gush didn't work. When this was announced Sunday, a wave of anger swept over the room, and conference organizers in our area decided to add a workshop on this at the last minute (one had already been scheduled in the other city). Dozens attended to figure out how to both build resistance to this catastrophic crime and in that, make known and give living emphasis to "the revolution we need and the leadership we have." An attitude and orientation which emanated from these conferences was the determination to "fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution." Living spirit and concrete plans were given to the point in the Message and Call, "The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world… when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness… those days must be GONE. And they CAN be."
People talked about being in Detroit around the murder of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and needing to return to continue protests coinciding with, and bringing that into the U.S. Social Forum later in June. People talked about going to Arizona this summer to protest—and fight to reverse—the fascist anti-immigrant laws. One woman talked about a prison being built in her area and how she was determined not to let this pass, and plans were discussed to fight to overturn the ban on Revolution in the prisons and to get down to New Orleans with concrete demands around this oil catastrophe—to put resources into stopping the leak and involving volunteers in cleanup (something BP and the U.S. government are currently preventing).
Welcoming Controversy…And Responding To Attacks
Stepping out in all these kinds of ways will be controversial, and at times unpopular. We know that, and also know provoking controversy over questions that will otherwise be off the table and absent from people's thinking is part of what we want to get going. The second talk made an important point in this regard, "The only people who are afraid of controversy, who want to seek to avoid controversy, are the people who think that the status quo is just fine. The way people are thinking is just fine. The ways they are acting is just fine. The massive crimes being done to the people all over the world and to the planet itself are just fine. That's not acceptable!"
Before the plenary discussion began, the conference leaders took a moment and recognized some of the people in the room who'd come under attack or been arrested in the context of the movement for revolution—for posting a flyer for a Raymond Lotta speech on an elite campus, for agitating against the murder of Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Harlem, for standing out against the censorship of communists at an Ethical Humanist Society event, for calling out the illegal and abusive actions of the police while they were violently arresting someone on the street... one by one these people stood up and we applauded. Yesterday's speech was echoing in my mind once again, "People got to see, and they have to stand up with, the revolutionaries standing firm and fighting back when we come under all the different attacks that the system comes at us with, and we have to mobilize them to make every assault politically boomerang against the enforcers of oppression, as we turn these attacks into a way for more people to hear about and come together to defend this new movement." This became a running theme of the conference.
Percolation, Chemistry and Pushing Out
One of the big aims of this conference was to get a lot of percolation going on—people all straining together to figure out the different forms through which the goals of this campaign will be accomplished. What's it really going to take to pose a radical, societal challenge on every front? The thinking on this got uncorked on a way higher level. Getting people together—with different levels of experience and knowledge, different backgrounds and interests—we were able to break the atomization that weighs people down. People were able, in a different way, to step out of the confines of today and proceed from what it's really going to take. And having these challenges put before us collectively, we were able to bang on the problems we face together.
Ideas built off other ideas, people got wild, imaginative…and concrete. When proposals emerged, people ran with them and thought about how they'd impact and interpenetrate with other ideas and other parts of this campaign. People who'd never raised money had further thinking on plans and approach, those without net knowledge learned from those with, and even after the workshops were over, people were intensely discussing further ideas. What about an all-day fundraising web telethon? Can we raise money for billboards for this BA image, and if we advertise a website on the billboard, we can fundraise for others to sponsor their own billboard. A call for essays from prisoners to write on, "what to the prisoner is your 4th of July." A BA day in the early fall, maybe to coincide with the release of BAsics, a video of testimonials from different kinds of people, "I'm into BA because..." And a lot more... The collective political imagination was broken open, and through that collective process, people came up with thinking they would not have, off on their own.
As the sun was setting, we gathered for closing remarks, and to meet one last challenge together. In order to print 250,000 copies of the Message and Call for this initial ten days of saturation, we needed to raise $8,000. In an earlier break, one person had given $250 and they were asked to stand. The question was asked who could match that contribution, and one by one people stood until about 15 people were standing... then who could give $100 and again, people stood one by one. One person was able to give $1,000 and a hat was passed for those who could give in smaller amounts and the announcement came in, $7,960 was raised... two more hands were thrown up to give the rest for a full $8,000. One person echoed how I felt, "This showed people were serious and that we ARE going to do this." At the same time, we had to understand that this was only seed money—this had to lead to massive fund-raising from the masses themselves in all kinds of different ways and at every level of society.
We poured out into the warm night—saying our goodbyes, some getting ready for a long ride, others making plans to be part of the local teams this next weekend—and I was thinking about something one of the main speakers said as we closed. "Whether they know it or not, the people of the world are counting on us. Counting on the hundreds at these conferences to involve the thousands, to put this before millions." And I was thinking of this great need, and the basis to fill that... I heard a fellow participant say excitedly, "damn, we got some shit to do!" Yes, I thought, and while this won't be a straight line ahead, we've got some shit to do it with!
* The two paragraphs referred to here were published in Revolution #202:
"At every point, we must be searching out the key concentrations of social contradictions and the methods and forms which can strengthen the political consciousness of the masses, as well as their fighting capacity and organization in carrying out political resistance against the crimes of this system; which can increasingly bring the necessity, and the possibility, of a radically different world to life for growing numbers of people; and which can strengthen the understanding and determination of the advanced, revolutionary-minded masses in particular to take up our strategic objectives not merely as far-off and essentially abstract goals (or ideals) but as things to be actively striven for and built toward.
"The objective and orientation must be to carry out work which, together with the development of the objective situation, can transform the political terrain, so that the legitimacy of the established order, and the right and ability of the ruling class to rule, is called into question, in an acute and active sense, throughout society; so that resistance to this system becomes increasingly broad, deep and determined; so that the "pole" and the organized vanguard force of revolutionary communism is greatly strengthened; and so that, at the decisive time, this advanced force is able to lead the struggle of millions, and tens of millions, to make revolution. " ("Some Principles for Building a Movement for Revolution," by Bob Avakian) [back]
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