Revolution #269, May 20, 2012

Debate at The New School for Social Research on May 5

An important debate between Raymond Lotta and Bernard Harcourt took place at The New School in New York City on May 5. Titled “Political Disobedience vs. Revolution,” the debate was co-sponsored by the Center for Public Scholarship at The New School and Revolution Books in New York City, and was moderated by prominent sociologist Steven Lukes of New York University. The debate came on the heels of the May 1 mobilizations by the Occupy movement to retake the initiative, and at a time when the campaign of the Revolutionary Communist Party to project the vision and leadership of Bob Avakian into all corners of society, as a key element of initiating a new stage of communist revolution, is aiming to make big advances. So the debate was a timely one…and, as it turned out, a sharp and provocative one.

Harcourt, who is the chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of Chicago, argued that the Occupy movement is a response to the enormous concentration of wealth at the top that has resulted from so-called neoliberal policies of the last decades. The Occupy movement, he explained, has opened a deep well of solidarity and community. Its appeal and exuberance is very much linked with its opposition to hierarchy and domination. He emphasized that, on a societal basis, the question before us is whether a modern, complex economy will be regulated in a way that reinforces and deepens inequality, or will be regulated in a way that lessens it. He spoke about the “dangers of power and authority.” 

Raymond Lotta put forth an analysis of the workings of capitalism and the unacceptability of resigning ourselves to “regulating” the horrors of the world, whether we’re speaking of the sex trade or the environmental devastation bound up with imperialism or other horrors. He argued that revolution is needed and possible, and that there is a viable alternative to this system: Bob Avakian’s reenvisioned communism, as concentrated in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). Lotta spoke about the positive impact of Occupy, pointed to the challenges of meeting repression, and also polemicized against what he called the “mirage of leaderless-ness.” The question, he said, is not leadership or no leadership—leadership is being exerted—but what ideology and what kind of leadership are needed to transform the world into one without exploitation and oppression, where human beings can truly flourish. 

There was lively back-and-forth with the audience. And as the debate and discussion unfolded, important questions got posed and sharpened—from the lessons of the upheavals of the 1960s, to the role of alternative community and institutions in movements for social change, to whether capitalism can in fact be transformed. The debate can be viewed on video at


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