November 13, 2009

Lotta asks students to reconsider communism

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

Lotta, on a “Setting the Record Straight” tour organized by Revolution Books, criticized current scholarship on revolutions in Russia and China, and presented a favorable analysis of Chairman Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.

The tour is meant to “challenge the conventional wisdom that communism is a failed project,” said Sunsara Tayor, a writer for Revolution newspapers and the talk’s moderator.

“Some of you want to stop the imminent environment emergency, teach in an inner city school, create art,” Lotta said. “But no matter your passions and convictions, you cannot escape a capitalist logic that shapes everything around us.”

He added, “We need a different system—a total revolution. Exactly at a time when capitalism is in crisis, at this moment we are told we can’t go beyond capitalism but can only tinker around the edges. It’s as if there is a warning label affixed to the discourse on human possibility.”

Lotta said he wanted to “clear away confusion” about socialism and communism. “It’s amazing what passes for intellectual rigor on communism,” he said.

In one paper Lotta presented, Mao was quoted as saying that in order to modernize China, “half of China would have to die.” Lotta traced the quotation back to Mao’s original speech, claiming Mao was making an argument for slowing the pace of industrial projects in China in order to preserve life.

Lotta chose to speak at to University of Chicago because it’s a place where questions of capitalism are openly debated, Taylor said.

In the question-and-answer session, audience members interrupted Lotta to respond to him. According to Taylor, the question-and-answer session here was the most heated of Lotta’s campus tour.

“The University of Chicago is right in the thick of it,” she said.

In response to a question about people emigration under Mao, Lotta said, “Compulsion is not a bad thing.”

“There is a positive side to compulsion in social policy,” Lotta said, citing the end of segregation. “This is what a society needs to function.”