Also, You Would Get Matching Funds

by Scott McLemee on December 20, 2007

Santa came a little early this year. The single most exciting possibility in American politics remains, of course, the idea that Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA might emerge from the underground to campaign for the office of President of the United States. Alas, my appeal to him to do this has so far gone unanswered.


Instead, all we’ve had lately is a very long speech in which Chairman Bob talks about himself in the third person. What’s necessary is “a culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization around the leadership, the body of work and the method and approach of Bob Avakian,” he says. Well, sure. But first you sort of need a reason to call a press conference. This is where the 24 hour news cycle is your friend. From a single spark….

In the meantime, Mike Ely, a former editor of the RCP newspaper, has come out with a cogent and thorough critique (pdf) of Avakian’s recent writings and the entire cult(ure) around him.

All irony to the side, I must say that this is a pretty interesting document, and so is the rest of Ely’s website. It is clearly the work of someone whose Maoism comes by way of Godard and Badiou as well as the RCP’s idiosyncratic Gang of Four-ism. For those who are interested in that kind of thing, it is the kind of thing they will find interesting. Thanks to Santa’s elves for bringing it to my attention.



Christopher 12.21.07 at 12:48 am

As one of “those who are interested in that kind of thing” I did indeed find Ely’s polemic interesting. Its actually a very refreshing document to read and while it is a critique it strangely speaks well of the RCP that someone of Ely’s obvious intellectual caliber was able to remain inside so long, even if ultimately he found it untenable.

Ely takes seriously Avakian’s claim to having a “new synthesis” in ways that nobody outside the RCP really could. The result however is an unexpectedly fruitful engagemnt in which Ely takes Avakian apart and without exactly advancing his own alternative vision of a revolutionary politics for the 21st century sharply poses many of the key questions.

This is not a short document, but its worth the read and thankfully Ely is a good (and often funny) writer as well as a provocative thinker.


julian 12.21.07 at 4:02 am

I knew some RCP folks in the early 90s, here in Los Angeles. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, I think they and their writings need to be shunned. They refer respectfully to the works of psychopaths like Abimael Guzman. That’s all you need to know. Who cares if their critiques are “cogent and thorough”?


Shawn Crowley 12.21.07 at 7:35 am

All these Bobs confuse me. But the Church of the Subgenius makes more sense than the RCP. The RCP always seemed to be a last step before becoming a scientologist or a LaRouchie. But poor Chairman Bob, he doesn’t even have Albania anymore.


Michael Bérubé 12.21.07 at 1:41 pm

This is sad. Only three (now four) comments? Clearly people are failing to Engage! with the voice of Bob Avakian. Scott, what do you say we take out a full-page ad in the New York Times?


MaxSpeak 12.21.07 at 1:47 pm

I tried to read the critique. But. I. Just. Couldn’t.


Scott McLemee 12.21.07 at 1:50 pm

Michael — It’s been done. Imagine! Chuck D must have kicked out some big bucks to make that happen.

What bothers me is the dearth of YouTube videos. Anytime someone puts one up, it gets taken down. (There was footage of him at one point singing a Dylan song: freewheelin’ Bob-on-Bob action.) You can find a documentary about the Panthers, however, in which he thanks them for inspiring everyone to recognize the need for leaders. I believe this was the birth of a theme.


harry b 12.21.07 at 5:00 pm

I take the low level of comments to be a sign that most of our readers, like me, are trying hard to resist this box of delights at sucha busy time of the year. I’m quietly cursing McLemee for his effort to derail my life.


Hidari 12.21.07 at 5:41 pm

I see from the piece linked to that Avakian has had an ‘epistemological rupture’ which perhaps explains how he can ‘come from within’. A remarkable trick. No wonder the Feds are after him.


Michael Bérubé 12.21.07 at 5:59 pm

Michael—It’s been done. Imagine! Chuck D must have kicked out some big bucks to make that happen.

No, no, that was the New York Review of Books. We need to do it again, even bigger. In fact, two pages might be necessary.


Bruce Baugh 12.21.07 at 6:19 pm

Hidari: “I see from the piece linked to that Avakian has had an ‘epistemological rupture’ which perhaps explains how he can ‘come from within’.” Isn’t that one of the things they warn about in commercials for natural male enhancement products?


sam 12.21.07 at 8:45 pm

Hmmmm…Nice to see some people engaging with Bob’s work, although I’m not sure if the original entry is a joke or not. If you want Bob Avakian to run for President, then, as he says in one of his “7 Talks”: “You missed the whole point!”

The critiques Ely raises are interesting, yes, but don’t seem to hit on any fundamental misdirection of the RCP…seems to focus around the theme that ‘because there isn’t a huge following, something must be wrong with the line’…but then goes on to say how NO rev. organization has mass support now. Seems like Ely is falling into what Lenin criticized as “Truth as an organizing principle”…In other words, if it works…it’s true! Therefore, if it’s NOT working, must be false. I’ll admit I didn’t read all of Ely’s work, but that seemed a theme from what I scanned.


dadanarchist 12.21.07 at 9:28 pm

I have to admit I missed out on the RCP when I was younger and more actively engaged in subversive activities – the various newspaper-selling cliques hadn’t really made it as far west as Portland, OR, so all there were were various types of anarchists and ecologists.

When I moved to NYC for grad school, though, I was pleasantly surprised to learn of these new species of leftists and their newspaper-selling skills – the SWP, WWP, RCP, ISO, etc. Oh, the acronyms! It’s like the New Deal.

One day in Union Square, I listened to two bright-eyed young RCPers – they could not have been much older than 19 – and they told me all sorts of wonderful things about the Party, and especially about Chairman Bob.

Later I saw Chairman Bob’s movie and the RCP been my favorite leftoid sect ever since.


JP Stormcrow 12.21.07 at 9:47 pm

That “R” logo of the RCP is really quite spiffy. I think a branded line of golf shirts etc. would do quite well.

But what I really want to know is where does he stand on MySpace & Facebook?


Christopher 12.21.07 at 11:31 pm

My guess is that Ely is not going to spend the rest of his years “engaging” Avakian and the RCP. He obviously has personal reasons to do so that not everybody shares, but I think his critique is more interesting than his subject matter (if perhaps a less fruitful fountain of material for snarky commentary). The tininess of the RCP is a departure point for reflecting on its failures. It is NOT the main point of the piece by a longshot. Ely really is taking on much more than the obvious inadequacies of Avakian-Thought. His argument is that Avakian’s self-styled “New Synthesis” is far too shallow to really deal with the failures not just of the RCP but of the whole international communist movement. Unlike many others who make such observations, however, he remains committed to the larger notion of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. I find this refreshing, if admittedly a little earnest for the peanut gallery gathered here.


Scott McLemee 12.22.07 at 1:08 am

The gist of the New Synthesis seems to be that, well, yes, the concentration camps and show trials and suchlike really were very unfortunate, and Bob will definitely try to make sure it won’t happen again.

That is a great relief to know. But he has to promise. And it has to be a “cross his heart, hope to die”-type promise, because otherwise it doesn’t count.

I am very earnest, Christopher, about Stalin’s “grievous errors,” as Avakian calls them. Errors? Gosh, that does sound serious.


Christopher 12.22.07 at 3:21 am

Yeah, I’m not here to promote Bob or his “New Synthesis.” Much less Avakian’s feeble distancing from Stalin’s “errors.” But I do think Ely takes the question much more seriously. Which is why I’m sorry to see his thoughtful critique of Avakian just lumped together with that which it critiques.

I don’t want to take away from the comic opportunities presented by Avakian’s latest speech either. But I do also think that its unfortunate that the state of the revolutionary left in the U.S. is what it is, and thats why I welcome smart and earnest attempts like Ely’s to go beyond pointing out what is laughable about the RCP and trying to figure out what it might take to reconstitute a revolutionary left on a sounder basis, which, as I think Ely makes clear, means, among other things, a much more serious confrontation with the Stalin-era than Avakian seems interested in.


a very public sociologist 12.22.07 at 3:17 pm

Are all organisations with the RCP monicker bonkers? Ours over here was completely gaga. Just ask Frank Furedi.

Btw, I hope you understand that by calling into question the genius and (great) helmsmanship of chairman Bob that CT will shortly be host to dozens of Avakian acolytes defending his good name and the veracity of the New Synthesis!


Doctor Memory 12.23.07 at 7:13 am

Scott: Huh, what’s Chuck D’s involvement with the RCP? A Google search for Chuck D RCP turns up this very crookedtimber post as the #1 hit, and the only other real mention is a bulletin board post mentioning him talking at some RCP-cosponsored event in Harlem a few years back.


josh 12.23.07 at 10:13 pm

Chuck D was one of a number of signatories of an ad in the NY Review of Books on the importance of listening to Bob Avakian, and not letting his courageous voice be repressed by the authorities (which seems not to have been prompted by any actual attempts at such suppression, but nevermind …); see here, if you must:


Doctor Memory 12.24.07 at 12:13 am

Josh: huh, interesting. Long list of names there, including a few (depressing) surprises. The RCP’s, um, idiosyncratic organizing tactics being what they notoriously are, I wonder how many of those people are aware that they’re listed as signatories?


Doctor Memory 12.24.07 at 5:58 am

And as a postscript, I am annoyed to note that the full lyrics to the Philadelphia Anarchist Boys Chorus’ immortal ode to the RCP, “Bye-Bye Vanguard”, are apparently not available anywhere on the interwebs. So I can only treat you all to the tiny snipped that I happen to remember from many years ago. To the tune of “Bye-Bye, Birdie”:

We’re not taken in by Bob Avaaaaakian /He’s just like all the rest, and he’s mistaaaakian.

Blow your dogma out your ass /You don’t know the working class.

Bye-bye, Vanguard, bye-bye!


Doctor Memory 12.24.07 at 6:00 am

Argh, CT ate my markup. Ahem. To the tune of “Bye-Bye, Birdie”:

“We’re not taken in by Bob Avaaaaakian /He’s just like all the rest, and he’s mistaaaakian.

Blow your dogma out your ass /You don’t know the working class.

Bye-bye, Vanguard, bye-bye!”


Don Garner 12.25.07 at 3:09 pm

Shame on all of you for treating this so lightly! Chairman Bob Avakian, our Great Helmsman who will someday lead the American Shining Path, has been praised by no less than Howard Zinn and Cornel West. So you might want to rethink your petty-bourgeois counter-revolutionary mockery, especially in light of what happened to Maria Elena Moyano .

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