Harvard Crimson Censors Ad Challenging Anti-Communist "Scholar" to Debate
Last fall, as part of the RCP's campaign to popularize the "Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," Raymond Lotta began a tour of campuses. Lotta's tour has been challenging the almost universal "official story" in the universities that communist revolution has been a failure and disaster. The tour is titled "Everything You've Been Told About Communism Is Wrong: Capitalism Is A Failure, Revolution Is The Solution."
Lotta will be speaking at Columbia University in New York and Harvard in Boston in the next ten days. Now, in the midst of the building controversy, the tour has encountered open censorship. The Harvard Crimson—the student newspaper at Harvard University—is refusing to print an open letter from Raymond Lotta to Roderick MacFarquhar, challenging MacFarquhar to a debate. MacFarquhar is an influential historian of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and a professor at Harvard. And—as the censored open letter explains—MacFarquhar's "writings on the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 concentrate and put a scholarly gloss on the 'official narrative' on the Cultural Revolution as chaos and killing. It is a bogus narrative that not only perpetuates ignorance about the real aims, real experience, and real results of the Cultural Revolution—but one that also contributes to the grave constriction of critical thinking and critical inquiry about whether a radically different and emancipating world is possible." ("An Open Letter from Raymond Lotta to Roderick MacFarquhar: 'I Challenge You to Debate the Truth of Communism, And to Defend Your Distortions About the Cultural Revolution, Before the Harvard Community.'" Available at revcom.us, and in this issue of Revolution, p. 14)
Raymond Lotta released this open letter to Roderick MacFarquhar two weeks before he was scheduled to speak at Harvard University on April 14. In his open letter, Lotta offers to dispense with his talk altogether and "turn it into a public debate with Professor MacFarquhar."
Lotta's open letter was submitted as a paid advertisement to the Harvard Crimson. The business manager for the Crimson said the ad will not appear because Crimson President Peter Zhu has deemed it "too controversial." When pressed, the business manager objected to the language in the letter that MacFarquhar was spreading lies. When challenged by a supporter of the tour that this was a legitimate and well-documented challenge to MacFarquhar's scholarship—that it was indeed spreading lies—the business manager said, "Well, the decision's been made." It is significant that the Crimson never notified the organizers of the tour that they were refusing the ad—the organizers themselves only found out when inquiring why it had not yet appeared on Thursday, April 1; that the Crimson management never provided, or offered to provide, the organizers with regulations or pre-existing institutional standards for paid ads; and that the Crimson never offered alternate language for the ad.
A substantial intellectual, academic, and political challenge is issued... on a question central to any real engagement with or acting on the state of the world... It is submitted as a paid ad. And it is censored from the Harvard student newspaper for being "too controversial," and contesting the truthfulness of the scholarly claims of a professor at the institution.
What does this say about the intellectual atmosphere (or lack thereof) at what is supposed to be one of the elite universities in the United States? The truthfulness—or lack thereof—of scholarly claims should be open to vigorous contestation. The fact that revolutionaries have to resort to a paid ad to get their views aired is outrageous enough. To then refuse even this—with virtually no notice—is outrage on top of outrage.
The message and call from the Revolutionary Communist Party, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," describes the overall situation in U.S. schools: "[D]espite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some 'elite' schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in 'non-conformist' ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful." (The entire message and call is available at revcom.us.)
The censorship of this ad by the Crimson is exactly an example of one way critical thinking that goes up against "the fundamental needs and interests of the system" gets ruled out of order.
The fact that this is happening at Harvard increases the stakes of all this. The Harvard Crimson is not just another campus newspaper. It is, by its own account, "the nation's oldest continuously published daily college newspaper," with a "a rich tradition of journalistic integrity" that includes having two editors who went on to become presidents of the United States (John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt).
One could go on and on about the kinds of outrageous lies and oppressive values that are not considered "too controversial" in the "rich tradition" of what passes for "journalistic integrity" in the mainstream media. In that light, the Crimson's rejection of this advertisement represents gross hypocrisy and outrageous trampling of basic principles of critical thinking and free speech. It must be protested by all who claim to support those principles.
The Biggest Lie of All
But this is not just any censorship. The refusal to print Raymond Lotta's open letter serves to promote the ultimate lie—that humanity has reached what a bourgeois pundit once called "the end of history"—that capitalism is here to stay, and any visions and agendas for social change must be locked in that constraint.
As we stated above, there is an official verdict that communism has been, and can only be, a failure and a disaster. That verdict is fundamentally based on misrepresentations and lies, but it is institutionally enforced in all kinds of ways, including through putting a "scholarly gloss" on the official narrative in academia. And then, when that verdict is challenged, such challenges are declared, and "automatically" perceived as "too controversial" because... the powers-that-be have decreed that communism has been and can only be a disaster.
As the RCP's message and call says: "The biggest lie of all is that 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."
Breaking Open the Debate
Lotta's campus tour has already provided a glimpse of the potential to challenge the "official verdicts" on communism. The tour has taken Lotta to UC Berkeley, UCLA, NYU, and the University of Chicago, the last of which witnessed a spirited discussion and debate attended by some 300 students.
And several respected experts in the field of Chinese studies and other areas, coming from different views about socialism and communism, recently signed an open letter noting that Lotta has been "challenging liberal intellectuals who are influential proponents of anticommunism, as well as scholars of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, to debate him in the public square." The letter continues, "For Lotta's challenge to go unanswered perpetuates what is essentially a one-sided conversation in the university—and robs people of a special opportunity to compare and contrast analysis over a question with enormous stakes: what does historical experience reveal about the possibility for remaking society and changing values through revolution?" And this letter and signatories encourage students and professors to "engage with Raymond Lotta's work and analysis, and to bring their most deeply-felt questions and concerns about revolution and communism to his programs." ("An Open Letter: Engaging With And Debating Raymond Lotta On Communism," available at revolutionbooksnyc.org/engage-with-raymond-lotta.htm)
Organizers of the Harvard event are developing plans to get the word out and challenge and protest the banning of the ad. A leaflet version of Lotta's open letter with a banner headline saying "CENSORED!" and an explanation of the refusal of the Crimson to run the ad is beginning to get out on the Harvard campus, and beyond. The leaflet version of the open letter was passed out to participants at a seminar at Harvard, where it was personally presented to Roderick MacFarquhar by one of the organizers of the Lotta tour.
Lotta at Columbia—April 8
Meanwhile, at Columbia University, Lotta has issued an open letter and challenge to Jeffrey Sachs, the lionized Columbia professor who heads the Earth Institute at Columbia and is a leading advocate of a "humane capitalism." (See revcom.us/i/196/0325flyer-3.pdf.) As the message and call quoted above states, Raymond Lotta is going to put forward the facts and analysis to back up what the RCP says about socialist revolution—its great achievements, and the ways "we can do it again—and even better this time."
Raymond Lotta will be speaking at Columbia University on April 8, 7 pm, Altschul Auditorium, International Affairs Building, and at Harvard University on April 14, 7 pm, Emerson Hall, Room 105.