Posted by: exiwp | September 9, 1986

After the Revolution: A Documentary (1986)

(Originally published in Practice: The Journal of Politics, Economics, Psychology, Sociology & Culture, Fall 1986)

This is a documentary on “After the Revolution,” the tenth annual Marxism and Mental Illness event (MMI) of the Institute for Social Therapy and Research, which took place in New York city on June 28, 1986. It excerpts the keynote talks of Dr. Lenora Fulani, Dr. Lois Holzman, and Dr. Fred Newman of the Institute’s Board of directors [and indented] dialogue from the play From Gold to Platinum, which was the centerpiece of the event; and a post-production discussion of the play by the writers, directors, actors, producers, and production staff.

Lois Holzman: This past Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives approved $100 million in military aid to the counter-revolutionary forces working to overthrow the democratically elected, socialist led, progressive government of Nicaragua to murder innocent people. Although I was not surprised, I had many emotions when I heard this news. First, I was furious. I was worried about our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua, who have had to put all their energy, brains, money, and time into defending their revolution, at the expense of rebuilding their country. I was ashamed to be associated with the ugly, arrogant, macho United States. And, I was proud to be a communist.

I am aware that whenever I say the word “communism” people begin to squirm a little. And we must understand why; because a major reason why this anti-human, undemocratic, and vicious contra aid bill passed is how afraid our people are of that word—communism. It’s a very loaded term a code word, a symbol—but even more, the word communism functions for the powers that be like a cattle prod—it shocks our people into acquiescence. Why should our intellectual yearnings, our cultural curiosity; our search for humane solutions to the practical problems of our lives end at the U.S. border? Why must they be suspiciously and forcefully checked? Why are we not allowed to learn from the people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America who are using Marxism and communism to eliminate hunger and illiteracy—who are using Marxism and communism to build hospitals, schools, and cultural centers in the towns of their countries?

The bourgeois media in this country work overtime to have us believe that there are worlds of difference between the wants, needs, and desires of Americans and those of our neighbors; that we are more advanced than they are; that we are superior to them; that Marxism and communism are for inferior people. What kind of ideology thwarts our natural inclination to seek out what is common, what is shared, our natural desire for internationalism? What kind of ideology maliciously thwarts as in the case of the blood-thirsty U.S. press coverage of the tragedy of Chernobyl—our natural need, quite simply, to care? It is an ideology of the rich, the powerful, the greedy—not an ideology of the broad masses of our people.

But let’s not be fooled by a word; let’s look under, behind, in, around, and through the word at what communism really is. Communism is a system of living, of societal organization—of economics, psychology, teaching, learning, working, playing, shopping, eating, sleeping, and loving—that is not based on the exploitation of one person for the benefit of another. This doesn’t mean it’s perfect, heaven, utopia, or nirvana. Communist and socialist societies are as imperfect as human beings are fallible. But communist society doesn’t depend for its very economic existence on exploitation, oppression, profits, or scarcity in the way that U.S. society does. In a communist society, such things are treated as serious problems, not as normal human behavior.

The Institute for Social Therapy and Research has put this tool of working people—the science of Marxism—to work in America’s inner cities—practically and actively—to solve the critical problems of illness, madness, poverty, and illiteracy. Is it working? Growing from 20 patients in Social Therapy on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 1978 to 500 patients in Social Therapy all over the country in 1986 says it’s working; a 600% growth in gross income over 8 years to a projected annual revenue of $964,717 in 1986 says it’s working; 1,475 members of Healthy Clubs in New York, Boston and Philadelphia says it’s working; the 6,425 people who have come to the Castillo Center for theater and gallery events and parties says it’s working; and the 38 children who attended the newly opened Barbara Taylor School this year and the 2 who just graduated says it’s working.

Dan Friedman: As a performer, I know that the audience listened and responded to every line in a way that most audiences never do. People laughed and clapped in a way that showed a real connection with what was going on; they were really paying attention. I’m told that 100 people walked out, which means that 600 stayed, which sounds like a great percentage. The other way I know about how the audience responded was that we talked to them. The night after the performance, I was talking to two women from Jackson, Mississippi, one of whom is middle class, the other a tool and dye maker.

The middle-class woman stayed up the whole night, she was so upset by the violence, and the class polarization. But she wanted to talk about it. What she wanted to talk about was what her role would be in the revolution, if there could be a place for her. I said, “You heard it in the last line of the play—it’s not your pedigree that counts, it’s your politics!” She was very pleased to hear that again.

The other woman, the white working class woman, was so moved by the play and so enthusiastic, it blew me away. It gave me a sense of how we are actually out organizing, and the class is responding to it, to that play. Other things that happened were among our own organizers. For example: Nancy Hanks, a NAP organizer in Philadelphia, called up and read me a poem about her own life and how it related to MMI. People are talking about how they were moved and agitated and upset and inspired.

Fred Newman: We’re talking about a new social vision. In point of fact, it’s impossible to do the kinds of things that we do every day of the week in Harlem, in East New York, in East Los Angeles, in Jackson, Mississippi, and all over the country without a social vision. We’re not simply about helping our children to be healthy just so this society can make them sick again. We’re not about educating our children so they can live in a society that denies them the opportunity to use their learning and creativity. We’re not about simply providing services in order to make it easier on the people in City Hall, in Albany, and in Washington, who would like nothing better than to get away without providing any services to poor people. We provide those services because we and you, our children and friends, have a social vision, and we intend to build and service and work every day until that social vision is realized. That’s what we’re about.

Lois Holzman: Let me share with you a personal experience. In 1980, I spent 3 months living in the Soviet Union. I was an exchange psychologist from Rockefeller University, where I had been doing research in education and psychology.

At the time I went I was not very politically sophisticated. In my naiveté, and in a typical American exceptionalist manner, I felt at first that I was “more political” than a lot of the Soviet citizens I met. I expected that they would speak about politics all the time. What I quickly came to realize was that progressive politics was totally integrated into the lives of the Soviet people; they grew up politically progressive; it came to them naturally. I saw a society that was run very differently from our society—it’s a society organized for the benefit of, and from the vantage point of, the working class.

People were very open, and when they spoke about what was wrong with how things worked in their country and they spoke about these matters very passionately—they did it not from the perspective of the individual, but from the perspective of how to get the most for the most people. It was a striking contrast to how our society teaches us to understand and talk about what’s wrong here in the United States—to say I can’t get a job; I can’t get ahead; I don’t have what I need to live; I can’t make it.

The other Americans who were studying or working in the Soviet Union would insist on making a separation between the personalities of the people they met and the conditions under which they lived. In other words, they loved the Russian people, but hated their society. These brainwashed Americans never asked themselves how the Russian people got to be the way they are; they never seemed to make the connection between the Soviets’ caring, their concern for peace, their friendliness, and the society they lived in—the society that they produced and that produced them. They could not see that they had a different understanding of the world and a different approach to solving problems and getting things done.

In the Soviet Union I saw schools that are organized to teach kids as much as they can, because their talents, skills, and productivity are needed to build the country. I saw a system organized with the needs of the total person in mind—with factories that included day care centers, theaters, libraries, and schools. I saw the handicapped trained and treated as productive and contributing members of society. I saw at work a way of approaching life that is profoundly different, so that even the most common experiences are not the same, even something as common and seemingly universal as standing on a line. Shopping lines, movie lines, subway lines, bus lines—they are as long, if not longer, in Moscow as in New York. But is the line the same? Is it the same experience (does it have the same social meaning) to wait in line 15 minutes to buy meat for dinner in New York as it is in Moscow?

In New York the line exists as part of a system to increase profits for the owners. Our frustration and anger as we wait is not just in our heads—it’s a real outgrowth of the antagonistic relationship between us—workers and consumers—and them—owners and profiteers. In Moscow, the line exists as part of a system that is designed and committed not to making profit for a few, but to eliminating scarcity and feeding everyone. And that requires the collective participation of every citizen in the effort. The felt experience of waiting on line in Moscow is very different—it may not be pleasant, but it is not antagonistic.

Fred Newman: Several years ago, I gave a talk at that forum called “The Psychology of Communism.” As a result of that talk, I got a phone call from a guy named Bob Lassiter in Tampa, Florida, who has an afternoon radio talk show. He called me up and he said, “I heard about your ‘Psychology of Communism’ talk. How would you like to be on the air and answer questions about communism? You be in New York, and I’ll call you up and people will call in with questions for a couple of hours. And I’ll make you one guarantee—if anybody gets really hostile, I’ll shut them up.” So I said, “Don’t shut anybody up, I’m down for whatever people want to raise, just let them call—it’ll be great!”

On the first two hour show, Lassiter, who’s a nice, liberal sort of fellow, gets on the phone and says, “Before we begin, I have a question for you, Dr. Newman. Why do you call yourself a communist? You seem like a bright fellow. Don’t you appreciate that people would be less offended if you didn’t use that word? Why don’t you put out your ideas and not say that you’re a communist?” I said, “Well, Bob, I think that’s a good question. There are many reasons I call myself a communist, but the first reason is that if I didn’t, everyone else would. All you’ve got to say is you believe that the people of Harlem should come before people getting rich and someone will call you a communist. If you say that people have a right to a job or that they have a right to decent health care, someone will call you a communist. But I’ll confess that I also do it for another reason: I do it because I like to shake you up.”

I think it’s very important to teach people that we can no longer afford to be brainwashed, to cringe with fear, as Lois was saying, when we hear that word. So we did the show and some people were hostile and some were friendly, and Bob Lassiter kept calling me back month after month to do more shows. In fact, he now speaks of me—I’m on again in 2 weeks—as “the resident communist.” I’m the resident communist of Tampa, Florida—can you believe it? That’s mind boggling!

Eva Brenner: I have many things to say, but the overriding experience that I and many other people had from being involved in this event is a feeling that revolution is really possible. A lot of people who were there had never heard of us, but saw the flyer on the street, and my sense was that we created a sense of “maybe this is possible.” If it did that, I think it was very successful. My roommate was talking about her political development and she said, “I really want to come out more as a leader, like Betti from the Bronx [a character in the play].”

It felt like people were treating these folks on the stage like they were comrades, everyday friends. That changed a lot of my perceptions of what characters are. In the avant-garde where I come from, people watch at a great distance and are not really being there with you. It raised a lot of things about identifying with someone, but identifying in a totally different way than the bourgeois way, where you identify with these petty emotions that are very uninteresting and actually detract from a historical view of reality. The play accomplished a lot on that level.

Tom D.: I think, just on a pure feeling level, it was really an enormous success. At the end, the joy of people on and off the stage, the level of energy, was just tremendous. I’ve experienced that feeling maybe two or three times in my life. People were floating.

SARAH: It’s funny. When I was in college we used to go to the demonstrations supporting the revolutions in South Africa and the Congo and Mexico and we used to wonder if it could ever happen here. If we could win one here, we’d be winning for all the other revolutions around the world. If not, it was dear, even back then, that the capitalists would blow the world away. And then we did it. We made a revolution. I still find it hard to let that in.

Lois Holzman: Each year, as we at the Institute apply Marxism to mental illness, stress, cancer, homophobia, racism and ethnic divisions, illiteracy, sexuality, unemployment, drug addiction, and many other crises and problems of everyday living, welcome to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the relevancy of Marxism and the power of this different world view.

Lenora Fulani: In 1986, the Harlem Institute for Social Therapy and Research, located on 125th Street and Seventh Avenue in the landmark Theresa Hotel, serves as a model in its practice of medicine and therapy of how to build among the Black, Latino, Jewish, gay, and oppressed populations of this country a deeply needed, deeply missed, most inclusive, and dramatically empowering sense of community. And this community is not just any old community. The right wing in this country teaches a sense of community based on a thinly veiled message of deep and awesome hatred of the oppressed. Our community is based on the power of and love for the oppressed.

What is taken out as the Harlem Institute in a form that is powerfully and passionately digestible is a sense of community based on our social vision, with a growing recognition that building a sense of community for the liberation of oppressed peoples in this country means going all the way.

This sense of community is not new to people of color. African American historians teach us of African communalism, the collective spirit that dominated the work and lifestyles of our people before the European raping of the African continent; a spirit that has been profoundly visible in the struggles of our people in contemporary Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, the Congo, and South Africa as they shape African communalism into a tool of socialism and communism in their fight for liberation and freedom. It is a spirit, a vision, a sense that appeared time and time again in the struggles led by Martin, Malcolm, and the Black Panthers. It is raising its head again in the response of our people—people of color, Jews, gays, progressives in the community of independent institutions of which the Institute for Social Therapy and Research is proud to be a part.

America has deprived its people of a sense of community. A sense of community, like a sense of history, has always been denied to the people of this country by the people who run it. Black folks are denigrated as a people who don’t stick together; Blacks and Latinos and Asians as people who can’t unite because we come from different cultures; and Jews as people who do stick together, but only for themselves. The truth is that those who rule this country have spent millions of dollars and millions of conniving hours murdering grassroots movements, leaders, and peoples, and doing all they can to destroy our sense of community, solidarity, and history.

Allen Cox: One thing I really enjoyed as a performer was the audience’s support. It allowed me to come out more. Not only the people that I know through the political community—but my aunt was there and told me that she took a friend with her and they stayed through the whole show. She said her friend called her up and said, “Oh, you hanging out with the commies, huh?” But they laughed about it and my aunt said she really enjoyed it. She said she took pride in how well I had done, and she enjoyed other folks too. It gave me an opportunity to talk about communism in a way that I haven’t been able to even begin talking about it before with her.

Fred Newman: That is, for me, one of the really important things about the whole play. I’m very interested in making it possible for people to even hear the word “communism” and associate it with some of the more ordinary things, like people being conflicted, happy, sad … so at least you can get a foot in the door, you can talk about it. No small part of what’s problematic about organizing in this national sector is you can’t even get past the word, it has such incredible connotations. One thing I was concerned to do was really break that down. I thought that was powerful. Some people were really polarized around it, because they don’t want to hear the word. But in a sense, it makes the word human. Here’s a person who’s really human—and a communist. That’s very heavy, in an American theater and in American life.

Lois Holzman: Look around you. Virtually all of us here tonight have been touched by Marxism—some a lot, some a little, some for a long time, some just recently. Our community is evidence of its usability in contemporary America. Tens of thousands of people experience daily what we’ve built. Social Therapy is available in clinics from Boston to Denver, from Jackson, Mississippi to Los Angeles. The Harlem Institute has doubled in size this year, as Black people in that community, together with gay people, women, and Latinos, have claimed Social Therapy as their tool for empowerment. Thousands of people have come to the Institute’s Castillo Cultural Center’s events and thousands more have participated in Musicruises on the Hudson River and talent shows we help to produce. Hundreds have taken classes at the Jackson Luxemburg School and visited our medical clinics.

Lenora Fulani: How do we build this sense of community, based on our progressive social vision, in our day to day practice at the Institute for Social Therapy and Research? One way is in our use of Social Therapy, a drug free, group oriented approach to the treatment of emotional problems that is also steeped in a recognition that our problems—mental illness and the emotional stresses of our lives—are social in their origin.

Social Therapy is an empowerment therapy that we use to create an environment where people can come to know who they actually are. I remember when I first began practicing at the Harlem Institute, I was taken aback that poor people and addicted people in our Medicaid groups would come in with descriptions and misunderstandings of themselves and their problems that were straight out of Reagan’s mouth; the Black and Latino professional middle class would come in with understandings from Ozzie and Harriet and the Cosbys and would ask, “Why me?” as if they were not also Black and Latino; and gay people would display no sense of having made a radical move that seriously challenges some oppressive institutions of this society.

The power of Social Therapy is that people—poor, working class people, middle class people, people of color—are pushed to work on their emotional problems as who they are in the world, not as isolated and alienated Freudian ids, egos, and super egos, but as people with histories. It is this process that has led to the growth of our clinics, and this process goes along, long way in creating a sense of community.

BETTI: if we lose this one, we lose the Bronx again. The Bronx was capitalism in sick decay. We were left to rot, to starve—to kill each other. We were left to die by the capitalist motherfuckers. But we didn’t die and we didn’t kill each other. We organized. And then it was our time to let them die. And we did. So now they want it back. They want to rule over the decay of western civilization. Let them rule over hell.

Lois Holzman: Of all the profound and extraordinary achievements we’ve seen in this past year of growth, I want to share with you the significance of the Barbara Taylor School, which opened in September of 1985 in Harlem, because this school can be understood as a synthesis of all that the Institute is doing. At the Barbara Taylor School, young people—our future—are treated not as individuals who must compete for knowledge, nor as individuals whose limited store of development and promise will taper off somewhere in their early teens. They are not treated as victims—poor, Black and Latino youngsters who, as “disadvantaged” and “deprived” (to use some other oppressive words of the powers that be), need a supportive environment to “to catch up” to their white, middle-class peers. The students at the Barbara Taylor School, ages 3-13, are into some very serious business. They are participating in a bold experiment in education. They are being trained to be leaders—all of them, not just the best or the brightest—in liberating themselves, their families, and their communities from the racism and classism of this country that keeps them “remedial.” They are participating in learning and developing in the way they must if they are to change the world into a place for them and their communities to grow.

All of the advances of radical and Marxist psychology and pedagogy are being brought to bear on the building of the Barbara Taylor School. Especially useful are the brilliant insights of the Soviet psychologist, Lev Vygotsky. Let me take a minute or two to explain. The way we are taught to understand development and learning in this society is totally individualistic. In the 1960s, progressives tried to address the failure of our schools to teach kids anything. They tackled the form and the content of teaching—peer and team teaching were introduced; the authoritarian teacher/student relationship was critiqued; Black Studies and culturally relevant curricula were introduced.

But none of these approaches challenged the fundamental bias inherent in the schools that all learning depends on development; as a result, we have students and teachers alike believing that you can learn only as far as you’ve developed. Once you’ve been labeled with a low I.Q., forget it! Vygotsky challenged this he said it was all wrong, all very individualistic and distorting of how social human beings really are. Learning, he said, can lead to new development. People don’t stop developing at age 5, or 16, or 21, or 40, or 90—they can go all through life developing, changing, and growing.

It’s our current society—not our human nature—that limits our growth and development. What is empowering about Social Therapy and social learning is that they break down these constraints and limits on our development and on the collective power that human beings have. That is what is empowering about the Barbara Taylor School, too. Its goal is to initiate and re-initiate development by teaching children how to use whatever is available to collectively break out of the roles and constraints that limit them.

Kids learn all kinds of dirty words at an astoundingly early age. But one very clean word that the powers that be consider a dirty word and that kids don’t learn is class. They are sensitive to its impact, but cannot name it. When kids tease each other about where they live—for example, in a tenement, a project, or a shelter—or pick as their best friend the best dressed, they are responding to the deep class divisions of this supposedly classless American society. All of us, not just kids, make judgments instantly on meeting someone new, and what class someone represents is part of that judgment, although it’s not necessarily conscious. We are allowed other identities—woman, man, Black, Latino, white, Asian, Jewish, gay, straight—but are deprived of our class identity and history.

It’s important to see why and how this has evolved in the United States, and how it serves to keep working people and oppressed people impotent and underdeveloped. For once we see that there is such a thing as class, we are open to seeing that there is a class politic. We are open to seeing that the politic of the working and oppressed of the world is the politic of socialism and communism. Denying class denies this politic; it denies the need for the world view and social vision that I have been speaking about and that we have been building with at the Institute for Social Therapy and Research. Our therapy clinics, schools, medical centers, legal services, plays, boat rides, and talent shows are not just services for working people but are fundamentally different methods of treatment—representing a different class interest. They are services based totally on the needs of the working class, of oppressed peoples.

Lenora Fulani: We have been told by the powers that be that nothing good or powerful is to come out of the Harlems of this country. We do not agree. The new leadership of our country is coming from the Harlems, and we are putting our money and labor where our mouth is by building the institutions that make the expression of that leadership possible. The Harlem Institute, since 1983, has grown annually at a rate of 91%. This has led to the recently completed expansion of our therapy offices and medical clinic, and we’re still growing! This month, the Community Clinics in New York City did a record breaking 35 intakes.

I can’t tell you what it means to me to see Black and Latino sisters and brothers—middle class, working class, and poor—open up secrets that they’ve kept for years, secrets of incest, affairs, gay relationships, drug and alcohol addiction, dirty thoughts, possessions, obsessions, self hatred, self doubt, inadequacies, humiliations, and failures; to hear adults, who grew up as foster children and who were taught that anything they got was more than they deserved say, “I, too, can have something,” to hear macho men talk about homosexual relationships in their adolescence, and for the first time raise their heads as they recognize that it was the most intimate they’ve ever been with anyone and is not something to be ashamed of; to hear Caribbean Americans weep for the first time of their mistreatment at the hands of Black Americans; to hear Puerto Rican men and women—in English and Spanish—make demands and stop being invisible; to see the chronically ill get healthier from getting the proper dosages of compassion and ruthlessness, not drugs; to see poor Jews in the Bronx fight back against the vicious anti Semitism that says you can’t be Jewish and poor; to see gay people come out, straight people loosen up, women be powerful, men struggle to be intimate, and poor people kick ass!—all from the vantage point of us, our people, our community, being empowered.

CARMEN: The greatest days of my life were when we moved through Orange County. Luis and I worked flame throwers. We torched the mansions; the smug, slick, sunken living room mansions of the California rich, the Anglos who had stolen Aztlan from us a century and a half before, who had walked tall in their cowboy boots, who had forced us into their garment shops, their electronics factories, who had forced us to pick what was now their fruit, in their fields, and huddle in shacks that they provided, who had left us to our zoot suits and low riders and took our young girls into their homes as maids, to clean for the lady of the house and to fuck for the man. Yeah, those were my glory days, Luis’ glory days, when we burned them out and blew them away. I saw the ghost of Ronald Reagan slinking around in the ruins, and I laughed at him.

Pam Lewis: When Allen was talking about his aunt, I was remembering that in the very first couple of rehearsals we all tried to be superhuman, militant characters, the image of what we thought a revolutionary was supposed to be. We all tried to say our lines like a Black Panther: “I’M BETTI THE BRONX BOMBER!” Like that. Fred had to really push us to get in touch with the fear and the pain and the craziness, it was a fight in the rehearsals. If we had done it the other way, people would have been so bored. We were trying to prepare our characters so the audience could identify with communism immediately, but we tried to play stereotyped roles of what we understood revolutionaries to be, as opposed to people who were crazy and scared, which is who communists are. I’d like to share that with people, because I don’t know if people know that we had that fight. I think that allowed the audience to be more conflicted, and they had to deal with us more, and be more intimate with us.

Fred Newman: There was something I said to a number of people in sharing some of my post-MMI impressions that people had a hard time with, so I want to throw it out again. I think that the way the communists in the play appeared (though obviously in a dramatic and exaggerated form) is how we, as organizers, appear to other people right now. I think that people who organize, who are political, who are progressive at this point in time, in this country, are viewed by others as profoundly crazy.

I think having to look at that raises all kinds of stuff or people—even people who have been progressive organizers or communists for a long time. I think we all have a need to see ourselves as being perceived in a certain way, but I don’t think that’s the way progressives are perceived, and I think it’s a very valuable learning experience to have a hard look at that. I talked to a number of people, and I could see these strange looks on their faces when I raised this. I just want to throw that out.

Dan Friedman: I oversaw the improvs by dozens of groups within the political community, and then I transcribed those improvs into scenes, and then we had a meeting—Fred Newman, William Pleasant, Marian Grossman, and myself—to figure out how to make the distinction between the adventure story (which is the narration) and the dramatic scenes (the learning scenes as we call them). I said, “They should be very stark, all in gray, intensely lit; it should feel like a pressure cooker,” and Fred said, “Yeah, all that good. But the communist characters should all be insane.” I said, “What?” But I found when I went home to write it that I understood the craziness of all those characters. I wrote those scenes in record time.

But acting them was a different matter. I found it was really hard to do my character, Ira, crazy. Like most of the other actors, I was “acting crazy” by acting angry. Then one night in rehearsal, Fred said, “Dan, you know that crazy little laugh you have sometimes…?” That was the key to Ira s craziness. But I had a hard time sustaining it, particularly in the introductory monologue where I say, “I’m from a radical Jewish trade-union family.” I wanted the audience to like that character and to respect him, not to think he was a lunatic.

Finally, between the final dress rehearsal in the afternoon and the performance that evening, I had a discussion with Gloria Strickland, who played Carmen, and what she was saying was how excited she was to be in the show because it was a way she could directly serve the class. When she said that I thought, “That’s right. I’ve got to be crazy for the working class tonight—that’s what I have to be.” But I was really fighting against every instinct of mine. The highlight of the night for me was when I said to Betti, “You had a breakdown? What do you think the rest of us are, sane?” And the audience laughed! People saw me afterwards and said, “I was so relieved to find out that you knew it!” That was a real turning point for the audience, in terms of being able to go with us as communists. “Okay—they’re crazy, but they know it.”

BETTI: Grace was just comforting me. If I kissed her, it was because I needed to. I needed to calm down. I had gone crazy.

IRA: You had gone crazy? What do you think the rest of us are, sane? In case you haven’t noticed, I’m stark raving mad! Have you ever listened to Hanif? He talks about his father as if he were still alive! Carmen sees ghosts. Doesn’t that strike you as just a little bit crazy; and what about Eddy B. there? He was a crazy motherfucker! He was the mad dog, remember? Every one of us is a lunatic, Betti. What else could we be? We’re destroying the old reality and we haven’t built the new one yet. You’ve got to be crazy to make a revolution. But insane or not, we stay on guard duty!

Pam Lewis: Along those lines—I remember how people told me afterwards that they really wanted me to stop moving around and saying everything twice. It made them nervous. One thing I experienced as a performer on the stage was the conflictedness of the audience. We’ve talked about how nowhere else would you have these different kinds of people in the audience—Black working class, white working class, Latino working class, Black middle class, white middle class, Latino middle class—all these people in the audience sitting next to each other, and the White Fathers would say things and some people would laugh at them. If a white person laughed, the Black person sitting next to him might say, “What the fuck are you laughing at?” I really experienced the conflictedness of the audience and I could hear people I knew laughing and being conflicted. I could literally hear the laughing going, “HA, HA, HA … ha, ha … ha…” You could really hear that! There was a Black man up front who literally laughed at everything Dorn, the leader of the White Fathers, said. Everything, until he said, “We’ll make Blacks want to be slaves.”

Fred Newman: There was a lot of stuff going on in the audience. It sounded like a Yankee/Red Sox game! I think it’s a very conflicted experience, watching people being crazy—people who are dedicated, caring, giving things, moving, but also hopelessly idealistic. I think the experience people have, specifically in this national sector, is, “Why would you be doing something that’s hopeless?” People associate tremendous commitment to something that is hopeless with insanity. That’s almost a working definition of insanity. If you work morning, noon, and night to do something that’s hopeless, people say, “You must be crazy!”

I think people are socialized to perceive that. The U.S. government has spent millions and millions of dollars to do studies on how revolutionaries are crazy. They treat revolution as a form of mass insanity. A lot of so called academic leftists get grant money to study the relationship between insanity and revolutionary activity. For me, it was incredibly important to put that right up in front of everybody. In directing, I found it very hard. The rehearsals were really a wipe out.

CARMEN: That dude over there is a man and he’s Jewish and I’m Chicana and Beth’s Black and you’re lesbian, and the White Fathers don’t care about the subtle differences one fucking bit. To them we are all red. And you know what, comrade? They’re right about that. We’re red. That’s all that history will record where we stood on this fight. Not your fight with the labor aristocracy, not Hanif’s fight with European culture; not nothing but that we did in the fight to save the human race; socialism or barbarism—life or death; that’s it.

Fred Newman: I had a great year this year. I learned a lot about culture. My dear friends, my comrades, my colleagues—there’re too many to name but they’re sitting all around the auditorium—I want to publicly thank all of you for teaching me about culture. I think we tend to regard culture as simply a poem, or a play, or some music, as something that just entertains us. But culture is much more powerful than that. Culture is about teaching us how to see, and if we let the people who control culture in this country teach us how to see, we’re going to see how they want us to see instead of seeing what we need to see. Culture is about the reorganization of seeing—how to see, how to look, how to understand, how to actually visualize differently.

Some people say, “Well, how could that be? Don’t we just look out and see whatever is there? Isn’t seeing a natural kind of thing?” No, it’s not. There’s nothing natural about it. We are socialized to see what they want us to see—unless we create our own culture so that we can see as we want to see, which is what we’re doing at the Otto Rene Castillo Center for Working Class Culture.

Eva Brenner: For me, from Gold to Platinum represents a real advance. It represents a summation of the work that’s gone into the Cultural Department in the last 9 months, and in another way, the play itself represents a change. If the people see a popular story that they can get into, they are going to start to demand more of it.

I kept raising over and over again, “How come we’re doing it this way, we only have 3 week to put this together!” and Fred said, “The issue isn’t doing it right, but doing it.” It’s a fight that has been going on in the Cultural Department; a fight between the primacy of aesthetics or the primacy of politics, and I think it has to be brought out more into the open. We did what needed to be done, and we did it together instead of criticizing each other all along the way. Politics won this battle.

Roger Grunwald: In your talk, Fred, you said that culture is a way to make people see better or differently. One of the feelings that I had during the show was that I got a better sense of myself as an artist … I’ve never had an opportunity to be an artist and an organizer at the same time, and I got a real sense of being part of this organizing tool to help people to see. I don’t know what it did to my performance, but I think there was something there. There’s something different going on for you as an actor when you’re apart of something that’s helping to change things. It’s a new feeling for me.

Tom Drumgold: As an actor I have a lot of friends from the theater and I told them I was going to be doing this and they said, “It’s about what? You’re playing a fascist?” The first question for an actor is always, “Are you going to get paid?” Then after you tell them what you almost always tell them—“No, I’m not,”—they say, “Well, what are you doing it for? Are you going to get agents to come to see you?” There is political theater in this city, but not very much of it, and artists don’t see much point in doing it. So they do think you’re crazy.

Fred Newman: What we are trying to do, and what I think we did successfully, was to openly caricature sanity. The fascists were sane. They were kind of the ultimate, sane Americans. It was like stripping away the veneer of liberalism, even conservatism, and saying, “Here’s good old fashioned, American logic.” In one of the scenes, there’s an interplay about how fucking people over is the American way.

MASTER GENERAL DORN: You just don’t realize who you are. You are a White Father, a founder of the Aryan Nation of North America. Think about it: a pure white America. There’ll be nothing to hold us back. All the commies we find we’ll murder. Some real white folks [will] have to be sacrificed too—they were red dupes. But Jews, niggers, and spics—watch out. The Jews go with the commies—every mother’s son. I mean that, you two. If a man’s got one drop of Jew blood then he goes to the gallows. As for the Blacks, we kill all the worthless ones—that’s kids and old ones. There are a lot of smart Negroes too, educated ones. We won’t need them either. The rest—the bucks and the bitches—we put to work until they drop. They’ll wish they were slaves when we get our hands on them. Give this program about 10 years and America will be pure as snow.

TRENK: After that, we can take on the world.

DORN: And our great grand kids will sing about us as the white men who wiped communism off the face of the earth.

WHITWORTH: It’s a pretty picture, but I’m worried about right now. What if the Russkies and the rest decide to intervene in the civil war after we get the bombs?

DORN: Then that’ll just be the end of the world—just put it like that. High stakes today, white men. You got the balls?

TRENK: What the fuck, huh?

DORN: That’s the spirit that made America great!

Fred Newman: The audience really responded to that. “Goddamit, that’s right; that s the essence of the American way!” The fascists came off much more rational and sane than the communists. They showed a kind of consistency with the reality of what America is. There was a way in which—and I think we intended for this to happen—a significant element of the audience could relate much more easily to the fascists than to the communists. The communists were really tough to relate to. They were out of their minds! The fascists even seemed to be much closer to each other a sort of buddy buddyness that was vulgar and foul, but did show a certain kind of togetherness that was rather lacking among the communists—until their social practice brought them together. I was thinking about that quote from Marx where he says that the process of working class revolution goes from defeat to defeat to defeat—to ultimate victory. I was very self conscious of that as we were doing the play.

IRA: Never a straight line. History never moves in a straight line. It zig-zags. History moves like a drunkard. It staggers, it lurches, it stands still for a moment, frying to focus. What we’re in now is a zig, or maybe a zag. It’s no end. This doesn’t mean the end. Was Auschwitz the end? Was Leningrad the end? Was Soweto the end? What end? What are we talking about an end for? We’re too close to talk about losing. We’re so close we can smell it—it smells a little bit like fresh coffee early in the morning. We’re so close we can hear it singing. Do you hear it? It’s singing out in the woods. We’re so close we can feel it breathing next to us at night as we sleep. We’re that close. That close to ending the 5,000 year old nightmare. Ending class society. Ending poverty. Ending all the pain. It’s as close as Omaha. As close as those gas tanks.

Fred Newman: What people saw on that stage—simply in terms of a grouping of white actors up there and primarily Black actors down here, in a way that was interactive—was a profoundly conflicted aesthetic experience also. Because ordinarily you can see plays that are primarily white with one or two Black actors, but it’s obviously a white theater. On the other hand, you can see Black theater, which might sometimes include someone who’s white. But the notion of seeing the stage set up as we did as that kind of conflict—I think that raised tremendous issues for people in the audience.

Some people were strongly identified with feminist or nationalist elements of the politics, and were really getting into that and then they suddenly realized that they’d come with this other person who was upset by their reactions: “Wait a minute—when we go out for coffee later, this might be a tough discussion.”

One of the things that was interesting to me was how many people talked about having a hard time with the violence. I found that really striking in view of the fact that there was shockingly little violence in the play. At one level, the first 5 minutes of almost any television show that you see had more violence in it than that entire play. I think that people were actually responding to the conflictedness and calling it violence. Their way of covering that was to identify the conflictedness, in some way, as violence.

Lois Holzman: I recently got a very moving letter from a dear comrade I met on my trip to the Soviet Union. We’ve kept in touch these past 6 years and he’s kept up to date on the growth of our political community. Let me share what my friend and your friend Sasha had to say about the significance of our work: “The growth of the Institute for Social Therapy and Research is the basis for optimism and hope. In spite of Reaganism, neo conservatism, and world pessimism, there are some forces on the planet that are strong and healthy. I think that the nations of the world are sometimes in need of Social Therapy on a global scale.” A simple yet profound recognition of the vitality of Marxism—that here in the belly of the beast, “our lives, our history, our language must shape it.”

Marian Grossman: Ricky Flores and I did the first improv session in the Bronx with the Bronx Healthy Club. I remember feeling very nervous and sort of defensive. On my way there on the train, I was thinking of the worst scenarios—that I was going to read the play and people were going to say, “Oh my God, what is this communist stuff?” What we did was lay out the scenario up to the scene we were going to work on, and it was a wonderful experience to watch the people in the room, who were predominantly working-class Black women in their 40s and 50s, start to smile at the parts about the Army of the Poor taking over. That experience organized me. I realized that the class was ahead of me, that I was much more conservative than these working class women, and that people really wanted this vision of the future. When Pam and I went to Reverend Harvin’s church, it was the same thing. We got up there and Pam said she was the Bolshevik Bronx Bomber, and she got a huge round of applause! That was without any lights, sound or costumes. That was just the idea of an American revolution!

Lenora Fulani: We are about communism, class, culture, and community. Over the past several months, we have been discussing these matters at Institute staff meetings. We have been asking each other about the social vision that guides, inspires, and informs us, in our day-to-day work from Harlem to East Los Angeles, from Jackson, Mississippi to Boston, Massachusetts. Because that vision, that class vision, that community vision—yes, that communist vision—that new way of seeing, is no abstraction. It is a moving, vital force everywhere we go. We talked about a future America and how it would come about. I knew I would not be there to see it, but it did not matter because it would be ours.

Bill Pleasant: I thought it would be important to do the play in a way that people could take on their fantasies. When I go to sleep at night, the first dreams I have are revolutionary dreams—striking back at Reagan and things like that. I know that everybody has those dreams, in one way or another. I wanted to take those dreams, that rage—you know, just when you’re going to sleep and you’re thinking, “I’ll get those motherfuckers!” and say, “Okay, now I can see it.” I think that’s extremely explosive, because we have the tactic to actually organize it.

Dan Friedman: An important aspect of the play was the collective fantasy aspect. Do you know half the people I meet now call me “Ira?” The day before MMI, of course, I was a nervous wreck and I ran into Ed Costa. He said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “Oh, I’m just nervous about tomorrow.” He said, “You shouldn’t be thinking about tomorrow, you should be thinking about 3 years from now when you’re in Madison Square Garden. You know, Fred is always talking about how the fascists in Europe were able to organize people culturally and give them a vision, and the Left wasn’t. It’s going to be this very exciting revolutionary vision that the working class is going to be really excited about.” We have all shared this collective fantasy, and so have 600 other people. And I think that gives us a sense of community and makes that social vision all the more real.

Fred Newman: It’s very important to not get into thinking that the play represents some kind of homogeneous statement of the broader political community, or even of the whole working class. In fact, what’s most exciting about the play is that it continues to live as an element of a very complex and contradictory community experience. That means that people will say, “I can go to the Barbara Taylor School—no problem at all—but I can’t touch From Gold to Platinum.” Some people will say, “This is great therapy, I’m getting a lot of help, but that play was very tough.” The play is, in fact, an extension of the poles around which we evolve the contradiction of political community. If you start to look upon the play in an overstated way, as a “consolidation” piece, you actually rob us of what’s most significant about the play. That’s exactly what it wasn’t. It was designed to be provocative, and it was.

If what we wanted to do was consolidate the whole community, we wouldn’t present that program. There’s a whole other program you can present to do that job. But it is not our concern, culturally, to consolidate—our concern is to be provocative, to provide a certain political pole to intensify and deepen the dynamic of the contradictions. Don’t throw that out! That’s why the play was so powerful—because it raised so much. I think that some of the people who probably had the most extraordinary experiences were the hundred who left! They walked out into the street saying, “Gee, I really like working with those folks, they’re nice people but what the hell was that?”

That’s what I think was significant about it, and that’s what I think is significant about a great deal of the cultural work that we’re doing. It forces the issue. It forces us to extend beyond the very narrow tunnel vision that people want to have relative to some of the things that we’re doing across the city and across the country. The political situation in America today is contradictory. On the one hand, people feel the pull to support that which is progressive, but they also feel incredibly cynical. People say: “You’re crazy, it’s hopeless, a waste of time. I’m sorry you rang my bell today. All you’re doing is making me feel guilty—now I’ll have to go for three more sessions this week because I feel more guilty than ever, seeing you out there ringing doorbells when I haven’t done anything in 10 years. That makes me feel terrible!” That’s about where three fourths of the population of this country is at.

Dan Friedman: One middle class woman said to me, “The bottom line is: I don’t trust communists. But you people are the best organizers and the best human beings I’ve ever met. I have to go with that.”

Fred Newman: Right—that’s until she doesn’t, and you have to remember that. It’s a process, a pulsating, social/political process.

Lois Holzman: For those in power, science is a conservative method for discovering such truths as keep them in power. For those of us not in power, we must see that our lives, our children’s lives, our neighbors’ lives, our friends’ lives, the life of our people, the life of our class, depend on a new science for discovering such truths as change the world and place the disempowered in power. When our children are sick, we must ask not how can we make them healthy consistent with keeping Ronald Reagan and his profiteering friends in power. We must rather ask: How do we make our children healthy? We must use all that is available to empower our people. And if the fear of a word—of the word “communism”—keeps us from helping our children to be healthy, then we must overcome that fear. For our class has nothing to fear from communism. Mr. Reagan and his wealthy friends have much to fear. I hope they are frightened to death.

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