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Remembering John ‘Tito’ Gerassi

In the early 20th century the great Russian Communist revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin, commented on the death of his German contemporary, Rosa Luxemburg, referring to her as an eagle. Unfortunately for Queens College and this world, another eagle has passed: John ‘Tito’ Gerassi. I will talk to you about how high this eagle has flown in his life.

Tito was a senior professor of political science at QC but he was so much more than this. Tito earned his Masters and doctorate in the London School of Economics. Prior to becoming an academic, Tito was a revolutionary who had seen and experienced struggle. This is what he brought to the table to his students, including myself. Tito was very big on existentialism because he was very close with the French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. He knew humans raise questions concerning their purpose in life, and eventually we discover this questioning, is the one thing that we have in common, and it’s up to us to collectively find the answers. Eventually this leads one to the conclusions that capitalism and imperialism should be smashed because they favor the individual over the collective. Unlike establishment liberal academics who value so-called ‘objectivity’, he knew that academics still perform a politico-cultural function in preserving/justifying the capitalist/imperialist system. And this is what made Tito different: he taught not only for the purpose of explaining how the world works but he taught with the purpose of liberation.

His revolutionary convictions, worldviews and beliefs were steeled by what he had seen in his life. As a youth he witnessed one of the most horrible crimes, the lynching of a black youth. When telling us this story in class, he would burst in tears. During his service in the Korean War, he saw how a sergeant made US soldiers indiscriminately shoot innocent women and children crossing a bridge. He worked as a New York Times correspondent and participated in the Cuban revolution along with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. He had seen firsthand how the imperialist ‘amerikan’ empire dropped bombs on Vietnam. He met Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap who were both head of the revolutionary forces which defeated ‘amerika.’ In ‘amerika,’ he was active in fighting against the police riot in the ’68 Democratic National Convention at a time when all people of color in this country and worldwide were fighting for their liberation. He earned his battle scar when a cop hit him with a baton in his lower spine. From then on, Tito lost his sense of touch on his soles and hands. He became friends and an influence on a convicted felon, George Jackson, in San Quentin, who became a black revolutionary communist in prison and joined the Black Panther Party. Speaking of the Black Panther Party, Tito was actually named “honorary black man of the month” and he was a white guy! When Tito wasn’t in the revolutionary front lines, he wrote books like ‘The Great Fear in Latin America’, or the revolutionary anthology, ‘The Coming of The New International’ which has found itself in the hands of many revolutionary prisoners stuck in ‘amerikas’ prisons/gulags.

It is this experience and revolutionary fervor that Tito brought to the students at QC. He wanted for there to be real change in ‘amerika,’ nothing less than a revolutionary civil war waged by the poor and oppressed against the rich would be needed. He was never scared to say ‘amerika’ is the biggest terrorist regime which oppresses people outside and inside of it. He was never scared to express that the police were enemies of the people because they were allies of the rich. An anti-zionist, he exposed the lie of Israel being a so-called “Jewish and Democratic state” when it is nothing but a giant racist military base for ‘amerika.’ He would back every single argument and claim, with evidence. If students challenged him, he would show them why they were incorrect. It was in his classes I read books like ‘Lockdown Amerika’ by Christian Parenti, ‘The Israel Lobby’ By Mearshimer and Walt, ‘Democracy for The Few’ by Michael Parenti and ‘Wretched of the Earth’ by Frantz Fanon. We were also exposed to the works of Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Rosa Luxemburg, Mao Tse-tung, Jean-Paul Sartre, Che Guevara, Amilcar Cabral, Robert F. Williams, Emma Goldman, George Jackson and Maurice Merlau-Ponty.

Tito was very close to me because I am a revolutionary just like him. One of the most important things he did for me was assist in my political development. Before I met Tito, I was already a communist, specifically a Guevarist. Tito described himself as an Anarcho-Communist. But through his guidance, I literally felt myself growing, which I can’t say for any other academic. I am sure that other former students can also say the same. After knowing and studying with him for a close 4 years, I went from a Guevarist to an Autonomous communist to a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist.

Tito was overall a very good guy. He always made the class laugh with his jokes and stories. He was a goofy old guy, easy to get along with. Some of his favorite things to do were watch documentaries and drink wine. In a mundane, boring academic setting, Tito made learning enjoyable and fun. Since his passing, there has been a drastic change at QC which many of my other friends and I have felt.

What is sad is that Tito’s passing hasn’t been given the recognition it deserves. Tito lived an amazing life and more people should know about it. Another question that should be asked is why  aren’t there more revolutionary professors with Tito’s worldview? The only place people will usually encounter differing viewpoints is at the university level. But Tito’s viewpoint, that of a revolutionary, is unfortunately not present and is directly/indirectly stifled. As I said before, Tito was an eagle who flew and still continues to fly high. And more than anything, he would want for us to create more eagles to keep on flying high toward victory for the people.

 

The author chooses to spell ‘America’ with a ‘k’ to verbalize his opinion that the U.S.A has a white supremacist nature. Letters to the editor are un-edited and the opinions expressed within are not representative of the opinions of The Knight News.

Luis Henriques is a senior at QC and a double major in Political Science and Sociology. 

 

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