Where Have You Gone, Bob Avakian? The Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

by Scott McLemee on November 7, 2007

It seems that the Revolutionary Communist Party has a large notice running in the latest New York Review of Books. I have not actually seen that issue yet, but over the weekend, a friend wrote to protest:

Simply staggered that you have not signed onto the full page ad in the NYRB (Engage!) demanding that the voice of Bob Avakian be projected and protected. You, who have done so much to keep Avakian before the masses. You, who have chosen not to join voices including Mumia Abu Jamal, Rickie Lee Jones, Aladdin, Ward Churchill, Chuck D, Cornel West, and Michael Eric Dyson.

Don’t you know that Martin Niemoller said that “first they came for the communists?”

Okay, my mistake. It is also true that I have neglected to blog about the doings of Chairman Bob for months now. In part, though, that has been because the Chairman went AWOL for quite a spell there. No new articles or interviews with him appeared in the party press, and after a while it became reasonable to wonder what was up. Something cardiac, perhaps? Involving rich pastries?

It turns out that he was busy writing a new book, Away With All Gods! which, to judge from an advance extract, will be like Christopher Hitchens drained of wit and strong preservatives.

But what is up with that full-page ad? One speculation I’ve heard—this seems just too preposterous, but who knows—is that Avakian might be getting ready to run for president. (Should this idea start zipping around the wonkosphere, remember, all the baseless speculation was launched here, at Crooked Timber.)

Obviously nothing of the sort was possible when he was abroad, allegedly in Paris, back in the days of the slogan “Revolution in the 1980s—Go For It!” It seems that he came back to the US circa 2001. A few years ago, I spent several months trying to arrange an interview with him, which involved numerous meetings to plan meetings with people who would meet with Avakian to determine if such a meeting could take place, possibly. I was completely prepared to have a burlap sack put over my head and be driven around in the back of a van for eighteen hours. This never came to pass.

In any case, the more strident rhetoric of yesteryear has been replaced with a sort of reinvention of the Popular Front, with the RCP reaching out to the broad masses of various classes through groups like The World Can’t Wait. This development has not failed to draw censure—with the recent Workers Vanguard headline, for example warning that “RCP Maoists ‘Serve the People’…Up to the Democrats.” The polemical knives are out:

RCP spokesperson Sunsara Taylor recently wrote a breathless “Reporters Notebook from Coachella,” gushing that the reunited lineup of Rage Against the Machine at the festival “will certainly play in favor of humanity” (Revolution, 27 May). And if music isn’t your thing, then you can always get excited about secondary colors. Thus the WCW’s initiative, “Declare It Now,” hopes “a groundswell of orange can turn into a groundswell of hope and danger—a groundswell that rises up from below and has the potential of sweeping Bush from office before his term is up” (www.declareitnow.com). Given that they’ve claimed black and neon green in the past, it seems the only color the RCP doesn’t want to be associated with is red.

Oh, snap! That’s the Spartacist League we all know and love. They’ve spent an awful lot of energy over the past couple of years trying to talk their way around the fact that their maximum leader (a figure of sub-Bob-ian charisma named James Robertson) once referred to the Kurds as “the Turds.” It’s good to see them back on their feet again.

And anyway, the Sparts do have a point. The RCP analysis and slogans over the past few years have implicitly acknowledged that if you want to oppose the “Christian Fascists” on any but a rhetorical plane, you have to work with people around the Democratic Party and otherwise put some pressure on it. Sooner or later, this means playing the electoral game somehow.

So the iron laws of history make the next step seem clear: Run, Bob, run!

{ 1 trackback }

Fruits and Votes » Prof. Shugart's Blog » Far left, take 2
11.08.07 at 12:58 am

{ 30 comments }

1

harry b 11.07.07 at 4:01 pm

Thanks goodness you’re back in the fold, Scott, and, I see, on the side of humanity. Fantastic. Can we agree to write a joint review of Away With All Gods? I’ll read the even numbered pages, you can read the odd numbered ones.

2

Scott McLemee 11.07.07 at 4:11 pm

Here’s something we might start with: The title is obviously an allusion to the “Away With All Pests” campaign. But it also calls to mind the old anarchist slogan (the title of a book by Daniel Guerin, too, I think) “Neither Gods nor Masters.” So does that mean we have to get rid of the gods but keep the masters for a prolonged historical period? Wise masters full of revolutionary spirit maybe? Who are withering away, of course.

3

Adam Kotsko 11.07.07 at 4:24 pm

The choice between Hillary and Chairman Bob would give me pause on election day.

4

rm 11.07.07 at 5:14 pm

Maybe it’s not strictly true (considering the source), but now I’m (provisionally) disappointed with Rickie Lee Jones, Chuck D, Cornel West, and Michael Eric Dyson. I was going to be disappointed with Aladdin, but then I realized I was thinking of Sinbad. I don’t know who Aladdin is.

5

rea 11.07.07 at 5:21 pm

If Avakian ran for president, would anyone notice?

6

Scott McLemee 11.07.07 at 5:40 pm

David Horowitz would never shut up about it.

There is some kind of Bay Area-radical evil-twin thing going on with those two.

7

Delicious Pundit 11.07.07 at 5:51 pm

rm — Surely you’re not disappointed in Cornel West, if indeed he signed this? It was said of attention-needy actress Sally Kellerman that she would attend the opening of an envelope. Cornel West is the Sally Kellerman of academia.

8

Bloix 11.07.07 at 6:25 pm

I read that ad in the NYRB 3 times and I couldn’t figure out what it wanted me to do. Protect the voice of Bob Avakian? How? With throat lozenges?

9

Bill Gardner 11.07.07 at 7:06 pm

“So the iron laws of history make the next step seem clear: Run, Bob, run!”

Within Crooked Timber as a whole, right-opportunist tendencies are apparently still present. Some, afraid of the bitterness and the violence of the class struggle in the countryside, have taken advantage of the criticism of the excesses of collectivization to start criticizing, once again, the very concept of collectivization. This capitulationist position would of course only help the kulaks and other imperialist running dogs. McLemee must be expelled from the Central Committee.

10

voyou 11.07.07 at 8:18 pm

I imagine that the ad was necessitated by the distressing fact that, for the second year running, Berkeley has failed to recognize October 6th as Honor Bob Avakian Day.

11

Scott McLemee 11.07.07 at 8:20 pm

From #9 it sounds like copies of the Proletarian Hammer Tendency pamphlet Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade McLemee are actually being distributed. Well that’s just grand.

12

mds 11.07.07 at 8:25 pm

Splitter.

13

kid bitzer 11.07.07 at 9:34 pm

splitter? no, no, no.

he’s a splittist. that’s what you call him.

no party-based insult is as effective when ending in “-er” as it is when ending in “-ist”.

didn’t you learn anything at the youth camp?

14

abb1 11.07.07 at 10:29 pm

…evil-twin thing…

Yeah, though this thing isn’t exactly symmetrical. One side is all over national TV and newspaper’s editorial and opinion pages, not to mention AM radio, while the other twin is nowhere to be found. So, it sounds like your friend does have a point there. The nature needs balance.

In the French election this year hard-core communist parties got about 10% of the popular vote. 10% of the US electorate is something like 20 million people. Don’t they deserve as much notoriety as anti-inslamofascist crusaders?

15

Badger 11.08.07 at 12:14 am

the importance of this would be difficult to underestimate

16

rm 11.08.07 at 12:15 am

d.p., if I concede your point as true just for the sake of argument, I’m still disappointed.

And maybe I’m out of the loop, but I had no idea Rickie Lee Jones was any kind of left-wing activist. I guess that ignorance goes along with not knowing who Aladdin is.

Don’t listen to kid bitzist . . . he/she’s a splitzer.

17

will 11.08.07 at 12:51 am

The statement is located here:

http://www.engagewithbobavakian.org/statement.htm

It was also signed by DJ Spooky!

I’m greatly enjoying the biography given on the same site:

“Avakian’s writings are marked by great breadth – from discussions about religion and atheism and morality, to the limits of classical democracy, to basketball.”

Hence the man dunking in the header image.

18

christian h. 11.08.07 at 1:58 am

Trackback 18. calls Avakian “far left”? What have they been smoking – the man is, to misquote the renegade McLemee from his days in the Proletarian Hammer Tendency, “wretchedly popular front”. Or, to mis-apply another old pamphlet, “left in theory, right in practice”.

As an aside, the “wretchedly popular front” denunciation of the Worker’s Vanguard by comrade McLemee was likely the starting point of the central committee campaign to have him expelled. It’s not quite clear from reading Proletarian revolution and the renegade McLemee – I might have misinterpreted the accusation about “undermining the Proletarian unity about to be organised in the 7th international.”

[More seriously, TWCW is not simply a front for RCP, that's a little too simple. I'm sure most of the members I know have barely heard of Avakian, aren't even comrades, and certainly don't have pictures of Chairman Bob over their beds; they are often more anarchist or just broadly anti-capitalist in orientation.]

19

JP Stormcrow 11.08.07 at 5:49 am

Bob Avakian doesn’t hide from the world. The world hides from Bob Avakian.
Bob Avakian doesn’t run for president. The president runs for Bob Avakian.

http://bobavakianfacts.com

20

duppy conqueror 11.08.07 at 8:06 am

ugh. you’re all just talking. what is this place?
maybe, once in a while, while you’re standing outside of the movement, criticizing people who are killing themselves to wrench something out of this pile of sinking shit, you’ll get a tiny little headache and have to stop talking.

21

Henry (not the famous one) 11.08.07 at 10:16 am

Someone in the UFW Legal Department way back in the 70’s used to refer to one of the other Maoist groups of the day as CPUSA-LSMFT. Afraid the humor of that is lost on you youngsters.

22

magistra 11.08.07 at 11:09 am

I have read the statement (URL in comment 17) and I am still slightly stunned by the comment:

Surveillance, harassment, suppression, political trials, prison terms, exile and even assassination have been the fates of many revolutionaries throughout U.S. history and many of those measures have, in fact, been visited upon Avakian.

Has Avakian been exiled and then assassinated (or indeed assassinated and then exiled)? What specifically has happened to him? Or is is just that we’ve not engaged with him enough? (By the way, how much would be enough and how engaging is he?)

23

harry b 11.08.07 at 12:48 pm

duppy — don’t assume that all we do is talk. Its just all we do here (that’s all there is to do here). Nor that we feel no sorrow that people put so much work into such a fruitless enterprise.

24

Michael Bérubé 11.08.07 at 1:24 pm

CPUSA-LSMFT. Afraid the humor of that is lost on you youngsters.

Well, some of us Lucky Strike smokers in the late 1970s used to say “CPUSA — it’s toasted.” Does that help?

And never mind Cornel West! The really remarkable signature on that petition is “nineteen people at the Oct 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality demonstration in Los Angeles.” I’m so disappointed — I’d always respected the work of nineteen people, and I can’t believe they’d put their name to this.

25

christian h. 11.08.07 at 3:06 pm

duppy, I’d really want to support Avakian if he’s actually being oppressed, and I have great respect for any New Communist veterans who haven’t gone over to the dark side.

But you can’t read that statement (it reads like “Bob Avakian …. Bob Avakian …. Bob Avakian…”) and not be dumbfounded by the insane level of, well, Avakian-worship it exhibits. This isn’t made any better when comrades in the RCP act all offended when called on it (“there is no personality cult. I just happen to carry this book with a huge picture of Bob Avakian on the cover around because it’s the greatest book ever written.”)

26

Bill Gardner 11.08.07 at 3:41 pm

What Harry B @ #24 said. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by sectarianism…

27

JP Stormcrow 11.08.07 at 5:31 pm

Has Avakian been exiled and then assassinated (or indeed assassinated and then exiled)?

While under surveillance Bob Avakian has to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night half an hour before he goes to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid in prison, be harassed twenty-nine hours a day during his political trials, and pay the government to exile him, and on his way home, he gets assasinated by FBI agents who dance about on his grave singing the “Revolution”.

28

Michael Bérubé 11.08.07 at 8:11 pm

And you try and tell the young TWCW people of today that, JP — they won’t believe you.

29

Josh in Philly 11.09.07 at 9:18 am

KB#13: He’s a splittite, actually. And I say this as a witness to the Red Collective’s failed 1997 bid to control the third-floor photocopier in SUNY-Buffalo’s Clemens Hall, a tactical gaffe that caused some serious splittage.

30

Ron Newman 11.11.07 at 4:51 am

Didn’t Bob Avakian once have a railroad?

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