"Fear Nothing--Be Down for the Whole Thing Tour" was emblazoned at the top of the leaflet. Underneath that: "Carl Dix, National Spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, Delivers an Urgent Message to the Youth." The tour was to hit Detroit, LA, New York, and other cities. Late last month was Chicago's turn, at the United Electrical Workers' hall on Ashland near the Eisenhower. Besides Dix, speakers were to include Joey Johnson, the man whose flag-burning case resulted in the 1988 Supreme Court decision that touched off the still-current flag desecration furor, and Sasha, described as "a ferocious female revolutionary who is driving the Los Angeles police department crazy."
When I arrive, some 45 minutes late, the program hasn't yet begun. (These things never start anywhere near on time.) A melange of people, both young and middle-aged, mill about in the entrance hall, all dressed quite casually. Kaffiyas--the checked and fringed Middle Eastern scarves--are everywhere. (One wearer tells me that the scarves signify "solidarity with the Palestinian struggle" and "take a stand against anti-Arab chauvinism.") And there are plenty of T-shirts with messages, the most common featuring a large picture of Mao Tse-tung and on the back: "Mao More Than Ever." The Revolutionary Communist Party--the RCP--is doubtless the only remaining Maoist group in the United States, and proud of it.
Getting into the small auditorium involves a going-over with a hand-held metal detector, and a box by the door contains some confiscated knives. One is advised that going out and coming back in will involve another such security check.
Inside, the audience--predominantly white, with a smattering of black faces--is seated on folding metal chairs. Banners dominate the walls: "Seize the Power! Prepare for Revolutionary War! Fear Nothing--Be Down for the Whole Thing" (the RCP's current slogans). "Support the People's War in Peru" (the RCP backs the "shining path" guerrillas). "Phony communism is dead. Long live real communism. Mao More Than Ever" (their response to the breakdown of the Soviet system).
The room finishes filling up--there are a little over 100 all told--and after an apology for delays due to technical difficulties, the event begins with some lively music and a procession of this afternoon's speakers and their bodyguards, led by several youths carrying red flags, dance-stepping in time to the rhythm. They seat themselves in the front row, and two black men in sunglasses and black berets take up positions on either side of the speaker's platform. At a table stage left, a man speaks into a microphone throughout the event, giving a simultaneous translation into Spanish over headsets. Only one or two people appear to be availing themselves of the service.
The master of ceremonies is Chicago's own Dread Scott Tyler, the flag-on-the-floor artist. He tells us that "the revolution has begun, and this tour is part of the revolution," promising that "you're gonna hear speeches that ain't gonna be no history lessons, they ain't gonna be no academia--this is gonna be revolutionary practice in full effect." He adds that "Mr. Carl Dix is gonna drop some serious science on us." His intro is followed, after some confusion (where's the tape with the music? who's gonna lead the singing?), by "The Internationale." Almost all members of the audience, as they join in the anthem, rise to their feet and put their fists in the air. It's not an uncommitted crowd.
Sasha, the first speaker, takes on the task of living up to her "ferocious" description: "The powers that be got a master plan--to hammer down, box down, and kill us off, especially the youth.... You see, all this terror that they bring out against us is for only one purpose, and that's to make us chill out, and bow our heads, and accept this way of life.... And as for me, I won't put up with this sick setup for one minute! Their time is up! And our time is now--and our time is coming."
A small woman with a lot of personal magnetism and an engaging grin, Sasha says she was born in "another part of the world," evidently the Indian subcontinent, before coming with her family to this country. Today her particular interest is in recruiting members for the RCP's youth group: "I want to be out there in the front, leading our people, and helping our people to rise up and make revolution. And that's what we got in the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade.... And what the RCYB is is a badass posse of youth that hound the oppressors everywhere, not leaving them any time, any place--always up in their face, calling them out for what they are, and leading our people to revolution. You need this organization. You need the RCYB. And you need to join with us--run with us--and you need to fight the power and seize the power. We got a place for you in the front lines."
During Sasha's speech her own bodyguard, a somewhat older woman in a black leather jacket, gets up and takes her place stage right. Meanwhile Dix's bodyguards, two white men, turn in their front-row seats to scan the crowd. They continue to do so during the remainder of the program, until Dix gets up, when they also stand and flank him as he speaks.
But first it's time to play a new rap song, "Burn, Baby, Burn," a song inspired, according to Dread Scott Tyler, by "the whole war over the U.S. flag--to put that flag in the righteous dustbin of history where it belongs." As the song plays, someone passes the hat while Tyler exhorts the crowd to give.
Then it's Joey Johnson's turn. Besides flag burning, Johnson also wants to advertise the youth brigade--"'cause I believe that the RCYB and the RCP are the most revolutionary organizations in this country.... We want to bring forward a whole new generation of revolutionary youth that is hard-core devoted to the revolution, and can become selfless fighters for the revolution, so we can be battlin' the powers back even harder, and gettin' ready for the revolutionary war at the earliest possible moment." Finally Johnson introduces the event's main speaker, Carl Dix.
Dix, a soldier in the late 1960s who did time in the stockade for refusing to go to Vietnam, does not seem a naturally dynamic orator. But he tries. "We gotta get down, brothers and sisters. We got a lot to talk about, we got a lot to get down over.... Now we do face a shitload of problems, brothers and sisters. But they all boil down to one fundamental problem, and that is that the powers that be and their armed killers in society have got a monopoly on armed force. They got the guns in their hands. And they use those guns to mess over and oppress and exploit people here and all around the world. That's the fundamental problem that we face, brothers and sisters. And the solution to this problem is pretty clear. I mean it ain't no mystery. We gotta snatch the power to decide and determine our lives from these bloodsuckers, take the guns out of their hands, and put it in the hands of the people, and go on and build a new world.
"I mean I'm talkin' about risin' up in revolution, and not stoppin' there but goin' on and totally remakin' society, buildin' a new world, one where the people have got the power, where whites don't lord it over people of color, where men don't suppress and dominate women, where one nation doesn't rule much of the globe. I'm talkin' about the classless communist society, brothers and sisters. That's the solution to the problems that we face today."
The goal is very simple and clear, as is the route to reach it. Dix feels no need to expound on the methods or ways by which revolution would provide solutions: "These problems aren't mysterious, and they ain't that hard to solve, either, and understand. What stands in the way of doin' anything about it is the powers and their profit system.... Once we get rid of them through revolution, then we'll be able to get rid of all these problems."
The crisis in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe also receives short shrift: "None of this means that communism is in crisis. What's in crisis is restored capitalism--that's what they really got in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and China today." (The RCP holds that the Soviet Union ceased to be socialist and became capitalist after the death of Joseph Stalin, and similarly in China after the death of Mao Tse-tung.)
The room is hot and close. Dix is sweating and pauses to mop his brow, but does not remove his trademark cap. The bodyguards don't take off their berets. No one removes a kaffiya. Midway through Dix's speech the RCYB flag--it shows a youth with raised rifle, silhouetted against a large red five-pointed star--slowly falls from the wall where it's been taped.
"You see, our party's got a plan for revolution, and we've got the organization and the leadership to carry that plan out." If neither the plan nor the organization is very much in evidence on this Saturday afternoon, the emphasis on leadership is. "Our Ideology is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Our Vanguard is the Revolutionary Communist Party. Our Leader is Bob Avakian." So says one of the banners on the wall. And now Dix takes up that topic.
"Now think on this--have you ever wished that there was a leader who really had the people and their interest in his heart, someone who wouldn't sell out or desert the people and was fearless in the face of any- and everything the enemy could throw at us? Well we've got a leader who's that and more--Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party and the revolutionary movement in this country."
There's more, of course.
At the end of his speech, Dix leads the assembly in call-and-response chants: "I am a revolutionary." The crowd repeats the sentence. "I ain't afraid to die fightin' to free the people." This litany is repeated. Then it's Sasha's turn: "I am not afraid to die to overthrow the system.... I am not afraid to die for a better world that is real communism." The audience repeats each chant.
Tyler reappears at the podium. "All right! OK, as we said, there's gonna be an informal get-together where you can talk to Joey and Sasha right now. And in about 20, 30 minutes, after Carl Dix gets his voice back after droppin' such serious science for so long, you've got a chance to talk with him too."
I didn't stay.