Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Raymond Lotta Replies to Keith Jamieson: On Communism, Stalin and Historical Accuracy

Keith Jamieson’s fevered account of my November 11 talk “Everything You’ve Been Told About Communism Is Wrong” deserves a reply (see the Chicago Weekly, 11/18/09, linked below). Since the historical part of my talk focused on Mao and the Cultural Revolution, and since there is insufficient space to reply to each and every allegation from Jamieson, I want to make some points about the historical role of Stalin.

Jamieson cites statistics about deaths during the Stalin era. Leaving aside the bogus and easily refutable claim that the Soviet government “caused the death of some 15 to 20 million people,” Jamieson provides no social or historical context. It’s history by body count. It’s as though one could understand the causes and significance of the French Revolution or of the U.S. Civil War by reciting numbers of the executed and killed (why not blame Abraham Lincoln, that obstinate defender of the Union, for the deaths of 700,000?).

So how does one evaluate Stalin in larger historical perspective--with historical accuracy? Stalin’s achievements as a revolutionary leader, his methodological shortcomings, and his errors, some of which had grievous consequences, are all part of the first wave of socialist revolution that opened new historical possibility for humanity in the first half of the 20th century. This historical experience is part of the “learning curve” of the communist project.

Following Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin stepped forward to lead a process of transforming, on a socialist basis, a backward and largely agrarian society (not that far out of its feudal past). Stalin articulated the need and basis for forging a socialist society that would contribute to the emancipation of the oppressed and exploited on this planet.

There was no blueprint, no previous historical experience, for how to develop socialist industry and agriculture. Nor did the Soviet leadership get to choose the circumstances in which it would undertake this bold experiment.

The Soviet Union faced unremitting imperialist encirclement and counterrevolution from within. In 1918-20, Western powers supported reactionary, ultra-nationalist forces in the Russian Civil War, and intervened with finance, arms, and troops (though by Jamieson’s statistical reckoning, the Soviet government is responsible for all the deaths incurred both by the fighting and industrial-agricultural dislocation of that conflict).

But in the face of these challenges, and under Stalin’s leadership, an extraordinary process of radical economic and social transformation took place in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

This had incredibly liberating effects for women breaking free of the oppressive bonds of church and patriarchy, for people of the former oppressed nationalities (who enjoyed forms of regional autonomy and could carry on educational instruction in native languages), and for the creation of revolutionary culture. The working class was activated to remake industry and to change the relations of production.

By the mid-1930s, the international situation had grown perilous for the Soviet Union. In 1931, Japan had invaded Manchuria; not long after, Hitler consolidated power in Germany; conservative and pro-fascist forces had gained strength in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Rumania, and the Baltic countries, including Poland; in Spain, the Western powers stood idly as General Franco’s 1936 uprising against the Spanish Republic was actively aided by Hitler and Mussolini; Germany and Japan had signed an Anti-Soviet Pact.

The growing danger of inter-imperialist war and the likelihood of massive imperialist assault on the Soviet Union (and some 25 million Soviets died as a result of the Nazi invasion of 1941) was an important part of what set the stage for the purges and executions of 1936-38.

The standard story line is that Stalin was a paranoid despot inventing conspiracies and fabricating enemies in order to consolidate absolute personal power and to exact total submission from the population. But the fact is that Stalin was fighting to defend the world’s first and only socialist society against real threat.

As international tensions grew, Stalin and the revolutionary leadership had reason to be concerned about the state of the party and the armed forces.

Counterrevolution inside the Soviet Union was real: economic sabotage, assassination of party leaders and activists, diplomatic subversion, reactionary social movements in places like the Ukraine. Various political oppositions emerged within the high party leadership, and the reliability of regional party leaderships was also a source of worry. In the 1920s, Soviet and German military officers had collaborated as part of government-to-government agreements involving training and transfer of weaponry—and now, in the face of the war threat, there was growing concern about the reliability of the high-officer corps.

Stalin was not going to allow the socialist Soviet Union to go back to capitalism, or to cave in to imperialism. The problem was that Stalin sought to deal with danger of counterrevolution and imperialist onslaught with a kind of “fortress socialism” approach.

In society and economy, a premium was placed on order, discipline, and everything for production. Repression, which should only have been directed against enemies, was increasingly used against people who were merely expressing disagreements with policies or even with socialism--or making mistakes in their capacities as administrators and leaders.

In 1937-38, there was a wave of purges, arrests, and executions. Individual rights and due process were violated in an atmosphere of conspiracy and intrigue. Not only did innocent people suffer, but also the Soviet Union became an increasingly cold and conformist society--with people looking over their shoulders, “watching what they said.”

But it was not some pathological hunger for power on Stalin’s part that produced this outcome. Rather, it was a question of outlook, understanding, and method. Mao Tsetung pointed out that Stalin failed to distinguish between two types of contradictions under socialism: those among the people and contradictions between the people and the enemy. Stalin did not differentiate between, on the one hand, active efforts to undermine and overthrow the socialist state, and dissent and opposition on the other.

It was Stalin’s inability to correctly distinguish and utilize different methods in handling these two different types of contradictions--suppression and punishment for counter-revolution; and persuasion, debate, and ideological struggle in resolving contradictions among the people that led to the harsh excesses of the late 1930s. The masses did not gain the ability to understand why new capitalist forces arose under socialism, nor of the forms of mass struggle needed to combat these forces.

Stalin had a mechanical approach to Marxism and towards socialism. He saw socialism as a society that would march forward, almost in lockstep, towards classless communist society. But as Bob Avakian has envisioned in a whole new way, socialism must be a society of great swirl, dissent, and experimentation. Stalin’s mechanical view of socialism was also a factor that underlay the purges, arrests, and executions of 1936-38.

Here it is important to clarify that Stalin did not kill millions. Some 680,000 executions took place in 1937-38—but this total represented 87 percent of all death sentences carried out “for counterrevolutionary and state crimes” between 1930 and 1953. By 1939, this wave of arrests and executions was a put a stop to by the Soviet leadership.

Mao’s Cultural Revolution was a very different matter. Here is the “learning curve” of the communist project. Mao summed up Stalin’s mistakes. The Cultural Revolution was a struggle against a new capitalist class and a struggle to keep the revolution on the socialist road. But rather than resorting to administrative and police measures from on high, Mao mobilized the masses from below to take up the burning political and ideological questions of the overall direction of society. The principal forms of struggle of the Cultural Revolution were mass debate, mass criticism, and mass political mobilization. Society was opened up rather than shuttered. Indeed, no modern society has ever seen this level of mass political debate and political transformation.

The purpose of my speaking tour is to stimulate discussion, debate, and critical thinking about the first wave of socialist revolutions and to help people learn about how Bob Avakian has been reenvisioning the communist project. Keith Jamieson is incredulous that historians would so pervasively misrepresent this historical experience.

But the fact is: people have been lied to about communism. The dominant and self-serving narrative in capitalist society prevents people from accurately understanding what the revolutions in the Soviet Union and China set out to do, the real obstacles they faced, the extraordinary things they accomplished, and their real problems and shortcomings. Why should this be any surprise? After all, the legitimacy of this system rests on the notion that capitalism is the best of all possible worlds, or the “end of history.” And let’s not forget that the American people were systematically lied to about the Vietnam War (that cost the lives of at least two million Vietnamese people) and fed a bill of goods as to why the U.S. had to invade Iraq in 2003. In the late 1960s and 1970s, there was huge ideological struggle and new research undertaken to expose America as an empire and its real origins in genocide against the Native Americans and the enslavement and subjugation of African Americans.

The world cries out for revolution, for emancipatory change. That’s what’s riding on the search for the truth about socialism and communism: we can create a radically different and better world.

One last factual point. In my University of Chicago talk, I mistakenly referred to Eisenhower threatening socialist China with nuclear attack in his 1953 inaugural speech. I meant to refer to veiled threats in Eisenhower’s 1953 State of the Union address—where Eisenhower asserted the “retaliatory power” of the U.S. and stated that the Seventh Fleet would “no longer be employed to shield Communist China.” On May 20 1953 at a National Security Council meeting, Eisenhower concluded that if the U.S. were to pursue more effective action vis-à-vis North Korea, the war would need to be expanded beyond Korea and it would be necessary to use atomic bombs if the Chinese and North Koreans did not sign the Armistice Agreement (this message was to be relayed to the Chinese through third parties). As additional warning, missiles with nuclear warheads were transferred to Okinawa in early spring 1953. On November 6, 1953, NSC document 166/1 spelled out that in a conflict with China, U.S. power “employing all available weapons, could impose decisive damage on the Chinese Communist air force and its facilities.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lotta asks students to reconsider communism - The Chicago Maroon

Lotta asks students to reconsider communism - The Chicago Maroon

Lotta criticized current scholarship on revolutions in Russia and China, and presented a favorable analysis of Chairman Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.

By Aviva Rosman
Published: November 13th, 2009  

In a talk that was part history and part Soc class, scholar and activist Raymond Lotta spoke to a packed room in Kent Hall Wednesday, advocating the return of communism to the intellectual agenda.

Read the full article HERE.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Raymond Lotta on Tibet During the Cultural Revolution

Speaking at New York University, Raymond Lotta answers a question about Tibet during the Cultural Revolution. COME HEAR HIM at Univ of Chicago, WED, 11.11 7pm, Kent Hall, #107.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Open Letter to Tony Judt from Raymond Lotta

Raymond Lotta at Univ of Chicago
Wednesday, November 11, 7pm, Kent Hall, Room 107

An Open Letter from Raymond Lotta to Tony Judt and to the Broader Academic Community: On the Responsibility of Intellectuals to the Truth... Including and Especially the Truth About Communism

Note: Two weeks ago, I issued this letter to Tony Judt, the prominent scholar of 20th century history and political thought, and to the broader academic community in New York City on the occasion of my campus tour “Everything You’ve Been Told About Communism Is Wrong.” I will be giving this speech here at UC this Wednesday evening. In the talk, I deconstruct the core lies spread about communism and survey communism’s real past, real lessons, and real prospects for the future.

I am issuing this letter in slightly edited form to the University of Chicago academic community because Tony Judt’s slanders and misrepresentations of communism are widespread and emblematic of an orientation and method found not only among outright reactionaries but also, and unfortunately, among intellectuals and social critics with progressive pretensions or even progressive intentions. What they all have in common is the uncritical acceptance of distortions about communism, a refusal to reckon with the actual historical experience of communist revolution in a systematic and scientific way, and a refusal to approach this experience in the spirit of searching for the truth, including with a healthy skepticism towards “conventional wisdom” (what “everyone knows”).

I invite members of the UC academic community to a talk I will be giving on November 11 at 7:00pm at the Kent Hall (room 107) titled “Everything You Have Been Told About Communism Is Wrong.” I address this letter to Professor Judt in particular because in the past period he has contributed towards opening up intellectual discourse and critical thinking in certain arenas, including about Zionism.

But I also address this letter to Tony Judt because he has at the same time been doing the opposite. When it comes to the signal political breakthrough of the 20th century—that the “wretched of the earth” rose up and made revolutions in the Soviet Union (1917-56) and China (1949-1976) that represented the first and historic steps towards creating a communist world without exploitation and oppression—when it comes to this most important question, Professor Judt has actually contributed to the perpetuation of ignorance. He has contributed to the grave constriction of critical thinking and critical inquiry by repeating and reinforcing “official verdicts” and hackneyed distortions about communism.

In his 1998 commentary on The Black Book of Communism, Judt asserts: “Communism and Nazism are, and always were, morally indistinguishable.” Under both regimes, Judt argues, “whole categories of people, real or imagined…were exterminated not for anything they had done, but just for being who they were.” To which I can only respond: you are wrong, you are spreading lies, you don’t know what you are talking about, and you are causing great harm.

One of the authors of the anticommunist The Black Book who subsequently dissociated himself from the Introduction to the text told Le Monde: “death camps did not exist in the Soviet Union,” and “the more you compare communism and nazism, the more the differences are obvious.”

Tony Judt seeks to buttress his case that communism has been a political failure and moral disaster with the outrageous assertion that “the facts and figures [in The Black Book]…are irrefutable.” But such “facts and figures” ostensibly documenting communism’s “crimes” can be readily refuted. The only problem is that no one is allowed to seriously do so in the public square. Such is the weight and influence of the institutionalized conventional wisdom about communism.

I intend to crack open debate and change this situation with my talk at the University of Chicago, as well as through other events. I will show that this received wisdom is built on lies and misrepresentations about the aims and methods of communist revolution, and about the actual historical-social conditions they faced and sought to transform. I will show how humanity made unprecedented leaps in moving beyond the “long dark night” of exploitative and class-divided society.

The stakes of this discussion are very high. These spurious verdicts about communism lower sights and constrain discourse and exploration about how the world could be radically different. In short, these verdicts reinforce the oppressive status quo and its conventional wisdom that the best we can do is tinker around the edges of contemporary capitalism.

Tony Judt’s account of communism as a closed and totalizing system of thought intent, as he says, on “solving the problems of mankind in one stroke” is not only a grotesque and pedestrian distortion. It also effaces the reality that the communist project is a developing one that has learned from previous experience and mistakes in conception and practice. In fact, as I will show in my talk, Mao Tse-tung effected a major rupture with Stalin’s approach to building a socialist economy and confronting counter-revolution. Mao developed new understanding for continuing a revolution that seeks to change people’s material circumstances, along with their thinking and values, through their ever-more conscious activism.

But my talk will not confine itself to a defense of the past. Most importantly, I will be discussing the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian. Yes, revolutionary power must be held on to: a new state power and the overall leadership of a vanguard party are indispensable. But leadership must be exercised in ways that are, in certain important and crucial respects, different from how this was understood and practiced in the past. This new synthesis recognizes the indispensable role of intellectual ferment and dissent in socialist society. Indeed, socialism must be a place where a Tony Judt can and must have the ability to articulate and disseminate his views, and where there will be great debate about these views as part of the struggle to understand and change the world.

Again, I extend an invitation to all of you to attend my talk.

To anyone seriously concerned about the state of the world...you need to come and bring your toughest questions.

To the many students at UC who want to dedicate their lives in one form or another to the betterment of humanity but who have never heard a coherent and spirited defense of the past, present, and future of the communist project…you need to come.

To those who want to defend this system…you need to be there too, because I am taking on all comers.

Raymond Lotta

Raymond Lotta is a Maoist political economist, author and contributing writer to Revolution Newspaper. His writings can be found at www.revcom.us He can be contacted at lottaonyourcampus@yahoo.com

Raymond Lotta: Everything You've Been Told About Communism Is Wrong

Raymond Lotta discussing his Fall 2009 lecture tour "Everything You've Been Told About Communism is Wrong: Capitalism is a Failure, Revolution is the Solution." Here, he refutes some of the lies in "Mao: The Unknown Story" by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Raymond Lotta interviewed on The Michael Slate show

Raymond Lotta featured for the full hour on The Michael Slate show, listen HERE.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Raymond Lotta's response to NYU student newspaper column published today


Marxist scholar reponds to WSN column
by Raymond Lotta
Published November 2, 2009

David Ryan Williams takes the fast, easy and blind road in responding to my speech, "Everything You've Been Told About Communism Is Wrong." Williams ignores the facts and mindlessly repeats the standard lies about communism. These lies can be easily refuted. The only problem is that no one is allowed to seriously do so in the public sphere. Such is the weight and influence of the institutionalized "conventional wisdom" about communism.

Read the rest HERE.

Communism far from utopia ideal
by David Ryan Williams
Published October 29, 2009

Communist revolutionary Raymond Lotta may have a point — everything we've been told about communism is wrong.

Except Lotta and his cabal believe Marxist revolutions humanely emancipated the masses and can do so again in the U.S. with the "firm grip" of a new socialist revolutionary.

Such thinking is antithetical to actual history. Communism as a form of governance, despite whatever affinity liberal professors and students may have for this utopia of collectivism, is worse than anything conceived in our worst nightmares.

Read the rest HERE.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Raymond Lotta: In Response to Op-Ed in NYU's Student Newspaper

This is in response to an op-ed from David Ryan Williams, entitled "Communism Far From Utopia Ideal" which appeared in the 10.29.09 issue of the Washington Square News. It can be read HERE.

David Williams takes the fast, easy, and blind road in responding to my speech "Everything You've Been Told About Communism Is Wrong," just ignore the facts and mindlessly repeat the standard lies about communism. These lies can be easily refuted. The only problem is that no one is allowed to seriously do so in the public sphere. Such is the weight and influence of the institutionalized "conventional wisdom" about communism.

ITEM: Williams says there was no dissent under communism. Has he heard of the Cultural Revolution in China of 1966-1976? Here was debate and protest on a scale unseen in any modern Western society: mass meetings and demonstrations, political struggles to overthrow oppressive authority, and people from all walks of life scrutinizing and critisizing leadership and policy in society. In Beijing alone, there were over 900 newspapers. The "Maoist regime" opened meeting halls, provided supplies for wall-poster debates, and even allowed students to ride the trains free-- so that people could take part in this movement.

ITEM: Williams alleges "genocide" against Cossacks in 1919. This is flat-out untrue. Williams conveniently omits the salient fact that a civil war was raging in the Soviet Union! This civil war was instigated by anti-communist reactionaries in the Soviet Union-- aided by France, the U.S. , and other Western powers seeking to destroy the new socialist society. Cossack armed forces were part of this violent counterrevolutionary assault. And it was in the context of a brutal civil war that military and civilian deaths took place. Would Williams charge Abraham Lincoln with genocide for waging the civil war against the confederacy?

ITEM: Williams alleges that Stalin killed 20 million. Williams cites no reliable data. The fact is, there was no ethno-genocide in the Soviet Union; nor was there political genocide. Even one of the authors of the notorious anti-communist bible The Black Book of Communism who subsequently dissociated himself from the book, had to admit in Le Monde: "death camps did not exist in the Soviet Union." Williams includes deaths owing to famine caused by rationing in his mythical body count. Two famines did take place in the Soviet Union: one the result of the dislocations caused by the civil war (1918-21); the other (1932-33) the result of an actual decline in production. Rationing was not the cause of these famines-- but was part of a food distribution system and a response to emergency, along with other measures, designed to save lives.

The lies and distortions David Williams repeats are pervasive in the media. They are reinforced in the university, where the search for the truth and critical thinking are supposed to go on. All of this gravely constricts the discourse about why another world is necessary and possible. I challenge Mr. Williams, and I challenge any professor or scholar, to a public debate about what communism stands for and its actual history, about religion and communism, and about socialism versus capitalism.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Not a Footnote In History: NYU student on Raymond Lotta

Before I came to NYU, I had some dim, vaguely formed ethical qualms with the world around me. As materially comfortable people in the undisputed superpower of the world, it’s sensible to assume us Americans, particularly those of us fortunate enough to be economically and physically comfortable would be a contented lot, however this is not the case. We seem to exist in a baseline state of vague, disaffected malaise, moving through our lives and approaching our respective educations with only the bare minimum of effort and enthusiasm. Abroad, our collectively unenthusiastic, consumerist lifestyle has placed billions of people in squalor, poverty, and financial enslavement.

What I was feeling particularly guilty about was my inability to work towards any kind of solution to these problems. Their magnitude is staggering, and I felt I could never possibly effect change for the better. This was when I met the Revolutionary Communists.

The reaction most people, myself included, have when they discover Communism is still being advocated is a sort of befuddled disbelief. Isn’t Communism a relic of the past, a disproven failure? According to some, yes. Others, including Revolutionary Communist Raymond Lotta disagree. Incidentally Lotta will be holding a conversation at the Cantor Film Center on October 26th.

I am uncertain about Communism as a viable form of social organization. Most of my present knowledge seems to say that it is not. This knowledge however, was taught to me by an education system with a vested interest in ensuring that students become contributors to the present economic system, which is increasingly evident is not in the best interest for most of us. In the wake of economic collapse there is much thought about how to amend and fix our system, but very little on whether it is a success which deserves to exist. I believe this question deserves to be re-examined, and Lotta is one of only a few people doing so.

As I said, there is much in Communism which I doubt, or at least need convincing of, which is why I plan on attending the conversation. We are in higher education first and foremost to learn, and I want to learn about Communism from those who consider it a topic worth consideration and serious examination, rather than from educators who consider it a footnote of history.

So what should we do? If the dismal results of the pop quiz on basic, well-documented facts about the history of Communism taken by hundreds of randomly polled NYU students is any indication, we need to learn more, and from different sources than we got our ‘common knowledge’ on the subject. (Over the past two weeks, over 300 people took a simple, multiple choice quiz on the history of the communist revolutions of the 20th century. On average correct answers were given only 53% of the time.)

If you feel as I do, that there can be a better world than this one, or if you believe Communism is a broken system, you should be at this conversation, to contribute to the creation of knowledge, the whole point of our education.

Ryan Johnson
NYU Class of '13

TOUR DATES - LA and Chicago

Tuesday, November 3, 7pm
Room 2160E UCLA Broad Art Center
240 E. Charles Young Drive: Park in Lot 3
(213) 488-1303

University of Chicago
Wednesday, November 11, 7pm
Kent Hall, Room 107
1020 E. 58th Street (On the quad)
(773) 489-0930, revbookschi@yahoo.com