Jack Stauder: a radical’s disillusionment

A professor of cultural anthropology named Jack Stauder made headlines last fall when he made a remarkable admission: he was no longer smitten with Marxism.

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Jack Stauder

Stauder, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, told a website called The College Fix that he’d been a radical socialist ever since his undergraduate days at Harvard. The son of a Colorado and New Mexico rancher, Stauder had gone to Harvard, where he started off as an American history and literature major, direct from Las Cruces High School. He was not a typical Harvard boy, taking off a year after his freshman year to do construction work and serve in the Marine Corps reserves. Returning to Harvard, he studied under the great historian Perry Miller and completed his undergraduate degree in 1962.

stauder-bookHe then pursued graduate studies at Cambridge University on a Marshall Scholarship. Having shifted his area of interest to cultural anthropology, he did several years of field work in Ethiopia, receiving a Ph.D. in 1968 with a dissertation about an Ethiopian tribe, the Majangir. He then returned to the U.S. to teach at his alma mater, where a course he taught, entitled “Radical Perspectives in Social Change,” engendered massive controversy. The year was 1969, and Marxist radicals had not yet taken over American college faculties. Stauder, in the words of a profile that appeared that year in the Harvard Crimson, had a very clear identity: he was “[t]he instructor with the radical course.” The course “split both the Soc Rel Department and the University community” and led to his arrest. Yet he kept his job, becoming one of the founders of what can now fairly be described as the ideological establishment that rules the humanities and social sciences in American universities.

stauder2Years after his season of scandal, however. Stauder actually began traveling to nations in which Marxism had been put into practice. The result? “I gradually became disenchanted with Marxism by visiting many of the countries that had tried to shape their societies to conform to its doctrines,” he told The College Fix. “I was disillusioned by the realities I saw in … socialist countries – the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, etc.” He added: “I came to recognize that socialism doesn’t work, and that its ‘revolutionary’ imposition inevitably leads to cruelty, injustice and the loss of freedom….By combining actual travel with the historical study of socialism and revolution, I succeeded in disabusing myself of the utopian notions that fatally attract people to leftist ideas.”

In all, he visited scores of countries over the decades, Marxist and otherwise. And he also began to spend a great of time in his native Southwest, where a return to his roots “helped my transition away from the leftist ideology that exists in the intellectual atmosphere of university life….By spending my summers in the Southwest in the company of rural working people, farmers and ranchers, I developed perspectives on the real world very different from those that prevail in the academic world.” Stauder’s observations and conversations convinced him that human beings “feel the need to believe in something, and when intellectuals abandon traditional religion, as most have done, they tend to seek substitutes” – and, all too often, find them in virulent ideologies.

Well, he’s right there. Too bad he didn’t wake to all this decades ago. But better late than never. Congratulations on your awakening, professor, and may you spread your insights to many students in the years to come.

The economic Rasputin behind Venezuela’s collapse

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Alfredo Serrano Mancilla

On this website we’ve covered the ongoing and ever worsening nightmare that is chavismo frequently and from a number of angles. One name we’ve failed to mention so far, however, is that of Alfredo Serrano Mancilla, who was described recently as “the man behind Venezuela’s economic mess” – not exactly the most coveted label of our time. The Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional said that it’s “entirely” thanks to Serrano that the nation “continues to insist on the economic models of socialism in the 21st century, despite the queues, shortages, and inflation.”

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José Guerra

Who is Serrano? A native Spaniard, he studied economics in Barcelona and Quebec, then relocated to Latin America along with several other anti-capitalist economists in search of the opportunity of putting their theories into action. According to the Wall Street Journal, they were soon “advising leftist leaders in Bolivia and Ecuador on economics, setting up social programs and the drafting of new constitutions.” José Guerra, an opposition legislator and economist, told the Journal that “Serrano is a typical European leftist who came to Latin America to experiment with things no one wants at home: state domination, price controls and fixed exchange rates.” In 2014, Serrano “established a think tank in Ecuador called the Latin American Strategic Center of Geopolitic.” (Although its think tank identifies him as “a professor at eight universities across Spain and Latin America,” the Journal managed to establish that he was not on the staff of any of them.) He also reportedly holds the title of coordinator at a Spain-based group called the Center for Political and Social Studies (CEPS).

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Hugo Chávez

His contribution to the trainwreck of Venezuela began relatively recently. In his 2014 book, The Economic Thought of Hugo Chávez, he lavished praise upon the late president’s social and economic planning. His view, as summed up by the PanAm Post, is that “the socialist economic model of the 21st century is unquestionable, and that any failure is the result of attacks from the opposition.” Pause to contemplate that one for a minute: in 2014, by which time the writing was already on the wall for the Venezuelan economy, this guy – a professional economic consultant – was prepared to get up and say that the solution to the country’s problems lay not in changing course but in doubling down. It was beyond idiotic – but it impressed Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, himself an idiot, who has called Serrano “a man of great courage” and “a very intelligent, very qualified man who’s building new concepts for a new economy of the 21st century.” He’s even dubbed Serrano “the Jesus Christ of the economy.”

Venezuelan acting President Nicolas Maduro raises his fist during a campaign rally in San Carlos, Cojedes State, on April 4, 2013. The presidential campaign to replace Venezuela's Hugo Chavez formally kicked off Tuesday, with Maduro -- Chavez's hand-picked successor -- battling opposition leader Henrique Capriles for the forthcoming April 14 vote. AFP PHOTO / JUAN BARRETOJUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Nicolás Maduro

Next thing you knew, Maduro was slavishly following every last one of Serrano’s aggressively radical prescriptions. Among them: the government expropriation of private property and seizure of private businesses, the promotion of “urban agriculture” on people’s apartment balconies, the inauguration of a Soviet-style system for supplying goods to consumers, and the Maoist-style practice of forcing city residents to work on state-owned farms.

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Grigori Rasputin in 1916

In addition to formulating all these suicidal policies, Serrano wrote speeches for Maduro in which the president vigorously defended them and refused to let humanitarian aid into the country (a position apparently rooted in a good old Stalinist-style desire to “hide the crisis” from the outside world). And while Maduro has followed this Rasputin’s advice, he’s utterly ignored other insiders who’ve urged him to undertake more conventional, market-friendly reforms to halt economic collapse. We can only hope that when Venezuelans finally do take their country back, Serrano – along with Maduro – will get the payback he deserves. Unfortunately, like so many other Western socialists who love enjoying their own prosperity and privilege as much as they love engineering other people’s poverty, he’ll probably get away with his destruction, beating a hasty retreat back to Spain, where he can continue to spread his terrible ideas in academic books and university lecture halls.

GBS: So versatile that he loved Hitler and Stalin

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George Bernard Shaw

Dublin-born George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), author of such works as Caesar and Cleopatra, Pygmalion, Saint Joan, and Man and Superman, was widely considered the best playwright of his time, and is often described as the greatest playwright – with the exception of Shakespeare – in the history of the English language.

He was also a man of many opinions. He famously opposed vaccinations and crusaded for simplified spelling, among many other causes. He was an early member of the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party, both of which promoted socialism in the United Kingdom. To his credit, he was an early supporter of women’s rights and interracial marriage. Less attractively, while some intellectuals and artists in the West loved Hitler and hated Stalin or vice-versa, Shaw went on record as admiring both of these bloodthirsty dictators – not to mention Lenin and Mussolini, too.

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“Really interesting statesman”

He called Lenin “the one really interesting statesman in Europe”; in 1931, he met Stalin and came away with the impression that the strongman was “a Georgian gentleman.” Two years later, during the deliberately engineered Ukrainian famine, or Holodomor, in which several million people died, he wrote a letter to the Manchester Guardian defending the Soviet Union from what he called “slander” in the British press.

The same year, he greeted Hitler’s rise to power by calling him “very remarkable,” denied that Hitler was out “to establish a military hegemony in Europe,” and accepted the official German verdict that the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933 – likely a false-flag operation by the Nazis – was the fault of Communist opponents of the Third Reich.

Adolf Hitler, Austrian born dictator of Nazi Germany, 1938. Hitler (1889-1945) became leader of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) party in 1921. After an unsuccessful coup attempt in Munich in 1923, for which he was briefly imprisoned, Hitler set about pursuing power by democratic means. His nationalistic and anti-semitic message quickly gained support in a Germany humiliated by defeat in World War I and the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles and, from the late 1920s, suffering from economic collapse. Hitler came to power in 1933, and persuaded the Reichstag (parliament) to grant him dictatorial powers. He proceeded to crush opposition both within his own party and throughout German society, and set about re-arming Germany. Hitler's aggressive policy of territorial expansion to secure 'lebensraum' (living space) for the German people eventually plunged the world into the Second World War. A print from Kampf um's Dritte Reich: Historische Bilderfolge, Berlin, 1933. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
“I have backed his regime…to the point of making myself unpopular”

“The Nazi movement,” Shaw once wrote, “is in many respects one which has my warm sympathy; in fact, I might fairly claim that Herr Hitler has repudiated Karl Marx to enlist under the banner of Bernard Shaw.” In a 1935 letter to an Austrian colleague, he asked that his best wishes be communicated to Hermann Göring and noted that “I have backed his regime in England to the point of making myself unpopular.”

While he did criticize Hitler’s emphasis on anti-Semitism, Shaw was hardly free of that poison himself. Far from it: as Saul Jay Singer demonstrated at length last year in an article for the Jewish Press, the playwright was “an open and rabid Jew-hater.”

shaw2For example, Shaw accused Jews of “craving for bouquets” and called it “a symptom of racial degeneration.” He called Jews “obnoxious creatures” and pronounced that “it would have been better for the world if the Jews had never existed.” He described Jews as “the real enemy” and defended Hitler’s mistreatment of them as a reasonable “product of mass discontent over Jewish wealth.” And in 1933 letter to the New York Times he proposed that the Nazis should “make it punishable incest for a Jew to marry anyone but an Aryan….Instead of exterminating the Jews, he [Hitler] should have said, I will tolerate Jews to any extent, as long as no Jew marries a Jewess. That is how he could build up a strong, solid German people.”

But if Shaw was awfully fond of Hitler, he was even more of a fan of Stalin. More tomorrow.

Joris Ivens: Stalin’s and Mao’s Riefenstahl

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Joris Ivens

Today, a quick look at Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens (1898-1989). He started out making short experimental films in which he sought to capture atmosphere, much in the way of an impressionist painter. He also helped establish Amsterdam as an early center of filmmaking, and helped bring directors like René Clair and Sergei Eisenstein to the city.

EH5408P c.1937-1938 Ernest Hemingway with a film cameraman and two soldiers during the Spanish Civil War, 1937-1938. Photographer unknown in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
With Hemingway and two soldiers in Spain

Then, in 1929 and again in 1931, he went to the USSR. He was hooked. And he started making propaganda pictures. Song of Heroes (1931), about industry in the city of Magnitogorsk, promoted Stalin’s Five-Year Plan. In 1936 he relocated to the U.S., where the next year he screened his film The Spanish Earth at the White House. The movie, funded by a consortium of left-leaning writers including Lillian Hellman and John Dos Passos, was a paean to the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Ivens presented the Republicans as uniformly fighting for liberty – ignoring the fact that many so-called Republicans were, in fact, Marxists who enjoyed the support of the Kremlin and who sought to turn Spain into a Communist satellite of the Soviet Union. It was transparent wartime propaganda, but it attracted the participation of many top-flight talents, including Marc Blitzstein and Virgil Thomson, who composed the music, Ernest Hemingway, who wrote and read the voice-over narration, and Jean Renoir, who did the French-language voice-over.

Three years later, Ivens did the same favor for Mao Zedong that he had for Stalin in The Spanish Earth, releasing a film, The 400 Million, that told the story of the Second Sino-Japanese War, emphazing the contributions of Mao, his compadre Zhou Enlai, and their Communist cohorts while underplaying the role played by Chaing Kai-shek and his anti-Communist Nationalists.

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Frank Capra

In 1943, at the height of World War II, American director Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life), who had been asked by the U.S. War Department to make a series of films entitled Why We Fight, invited Ivens to direct a movie for the series about the Japanese. Ivens was soon fired, however. Why? For (no kidding) making the movie too pro-Japanese.

Ivens left the U.S. in the 1940s, and before long was living in Stalin’s newly conquered and Communized Eastern Europe. During the Vietnam War, he made a couple of pro-North Vietnam documentaries. In 1967, he won the Lenin Peace Prize. And he spent six years in the 1970s making How Yukong Moved the Mountains, a more than twelve-hour account of China’s Cultural Revolution, in which millions were removed from their jobs, torn from their homes and families, tortured, “re-educated,” and/or killed. As it happened, Ivens – by now a profoundly convinced Communist and close friend of Mao and Zhou – thoroughly approved.

It is telling to observe that Ivens’s lifelong cinematic efforts on behalf of Stalin and Mao did not prevent him from being treated in his homeland as a local hero. In 1989, he received a knighthood from the Dutch government. Shortly afterwards, he died. Such was the life of Stalin’s and Mao’s Leni Riefenstahl.

The Maoist behind decades of race riots

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Carl Dix

While Bob Avakian has worked hard to make himself the mystery man at the head of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), his co-founder, Carl Dix, who serves at party spokesman, has been the RCP’s public face. He’s led a career crowded with varied activities, though his ideological compass has remained constant: he’s always supported Maoist and Stalinist revolutions (in, for example, Nepal, Peru, and the Philippines), always expressed solidarity with convicted cop-killers (such as Mumia Abu Jamal and Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, né H. Rap Brown), always been determined to stir up violence against the police. As his bio at the RCP website puts it, he “believes in world revolution” and “has actively opposed U.S. imperialism” throughout his career.

In 1981 he moderated an event called the “Mass Proletarian War Crimes Tribunal,” which pretended to prosecute the U.S. government for its purported imperialism and international atrocities. That same year, when some of the Americans who’d been held hostage in Tehran for over a year sued the governments of the U.S. and Iran for damages in a Los Angeles court, Dix and a group of his followers were outside the courthouse accusing the hostages of war crimes.

(FILE FOOTAGE) April 29, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots, when a jury acquitted three white and one hispanic LAPD officers in the beating of Rodney King following a high-speed pursuit. Thousands of people rioted in LA over the six days following the verdict.
An image from the 1992 L.A. riots

In 1992, Dix led a group of RCP agitators who played a key role in instigating the riots in Los Angeles that followed the verdict in the Rodney King case. Flyers distributed throughout the city carried a message signed by Dix calling on blacks to react to the verdict by waging “revolutionary war.” Not only did Dix and his comrades instigate the riots – they took part in them, looting stores and committing arson at several locations around L.A. Before the L.A. riots were over, more than 2300 people had been injured and 58 had lost their lives. (As one news source wrote at the time, the RCP had been “’working’ the various ethnic and immigrant groups for years” and during that time had celebrated every May Day by whipping up violent confrontations with the police.)

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Carl Dix and Cornel West

Dix has long worked in partnership with the so-called public intellectual Cornel West, a former professor at Harvard and Princeton. Together they led a successful campaign to end the NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” program, which had helped make New York the safest large city in the United States. In 2011, they founded the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) to “stop the slow genocide of mass incarceration” and “the police murder of Black, Latino and other oppressed peoples.”

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Dix and friends in Ferguson

In 2014, it was Dix & co. that fomented riots in New York City, Oakland, and Ferguson, Missouri, after the grand jury decided not to prosecute police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, a black man. Innumerable protesters in these cities carried signs bearing the RCP’s web address, and Dix himself was on the ground in Ferguson, where flyers bearing Dix’s byline described Wilson as a “murdering pig” and called on the public to block traffic, take over university buildings, stay away from work, and so on.

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Dix and Quentin Tarantino marching together against “killer cops”

In 2015, when police officers from around the U.S. called for a boycott of Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie because the director had described cops as murderers, Dix came to Tarantino’s defense, comparing the police to Mafiosos.

Last year he led a group that burned a flag outside the Republican National Convention, explaining helpfully to a reporter that the action was a “political statement about the crimes of the American empire. There’s nothing great about America.”

Debra Messing’s favorite Maoist?

This week we’ve been covering the life of Bob Avakian, longtime head of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP). An ardent promoter of the ideas of Stalin and Mao, he’s been a staple of the left ever since the 1960s.

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Bob Avakian with Cornel West at Riverside Church

And he’s still out there slugging. In November 2014, Avakian broke with his longtime secretiveness to appear onstage with his good buddy Cornel West, the former Princeton and Harvard professor and frequent guest on Real Time with Bill Maher. The event took place at Riverside Church in New York City and was billed as a discussion about “Revolution and Religion.”

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Carl Dix

In fact, there was less discussion than there was haranguing by Avakian. After being introduced by his underling Carl Dix, who told the audience that the RCP leader had “brought forward a new synthesis of Communism,” Avakian – in the windy oratorical tradition of Fidel Castro and any number of other Communist dictators – stood at a lectern and ranted for two hours straight without saying anything particularly interesting or original. (Israel, he charged, is guilty of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.”) Then he and Cornel West sat down together and talked for almost two more hours, with Avakian, again, taking up most of the time pontificating. The RCP paid $70,000 for a full-page ad in the New York Times promoting the event.

mao-zedong1In June 2015, a student journalist at Harvard, Gram Slattery, probed the RCP, which drew his interest because of its bookstore in Harvard Square. Despite efforts to arrange an interview with the Dear Leader, he didn’t get to meet Avakian, but did get a sit-down with another party leader who, echoing RCP doctrine, dismissed the “narrative that Mao was a mass murderer, that he was personally responsible for 50 to 100 million deaths,” and asserted that Avakian “has dedicated himself to looking at what actually happened” in Mao’s China. Avakian, stated the RCP member, is “precious for humanity.” The RCP, reported Slattery, clung fast to “its reverence for Mao” and its defense of Stalin. (In the party’s view, “the Soviet Union went downhill once Khrushchev took over.”) Slattery also pointed out that the RCP, for a long time, had regarded Peru’s Shining Path terrorists – who “executed thousands of peasants and even took to torturing deviant Marxists in the early ’90s” – as role models.

inthenameofhumanityposter17x22-600-enAvakian ain’t down yet. He and his party have made a big splash since the election of Donald Trump. It was the RCP that was behind a widely published campaign to stop a Trump presidency before the inauguration.The centerpiece was an ad headlined “We REFUSE to accept a Fascist America!” It was signed by (among others) actor Ed Asner, activist Bill Ayers, comedian Margaret Cho, playwright Eve Ensler, director John Landis, actress Debra Messing, novelist Alice Walker, and (of course) Cornel West. One wonders how  many of them knew they were part of an initiative run by unreconstructed Maoists.  

To promote the campaign, West and RCP co-founder Carl Dix appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News on January 5. You can watch the interview below. Perhaps the highlight was when Dix likened Trump to Hitler. Interesting words indeed from a representative of a party that still celebrates the glorious legacies of Stalin and Mao.

Which, by the way, brings us to the question: what is Carl Dix’s story? We’ll get to him tomorrow.

The man who’s even too radical for The Nation

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Bob Avakian

Yesterday we met septuagenarian Bob Avakian, who’s spent his adult life as a Communist radical. Since 1975, he’s been head of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP), which holds aloft the torch of Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong – and, not least, of Avakian himself, who has striven to make himself the center of a personality cult modeled on those of Stalin, Mao, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and the Kims in North Korea.

Cornelius Pettus, owner of Payless market, throws a bucket of water on the flames at next-door business Ace Glass on 4/30/1992. Hyungwon Kang / Los Angeles Times.
An image from the 1992 L.A. riots

A high point for the RCP was the 1992 race riots in L.A., in which party members – who had relocated from Massachusetts to southern California for the purpose – sought to stir up racial discontent and transform it into full-fledged revolution. That’s not all. One reporter has conclude that in the 1990s, the RCP probably “penetrated the underground punk rock world” and even “owned a punk rock club in Houston.” In a 1994 interview with SPIN, Tom Morello, the lead guitarist of Rage against the Machine, apparently recommended an RCP bookstore and “vigorously” defended Shining Path – leading one to wonder whether Morello had fallen under the influence of Avakian and company. Another punk group, Outernational, featured RCP spokesman Carl Dix in a music video. The cultivation of celebrities and the effort to develop a personality cult around the founder are among the things that can make the RCP look very much, at least from some angles, like Scientology.

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Michelle Goldberg

After a period of relative quiescence, the RCP jumped back into action after 9/11, becoming a major behind-the-scenes player in such antiwar groups as Not in Our Name and ANSWER. One antiwar group, The World Can’t Wait, appears to have been “entirely a creation of the party.” All these groups, notes Gram Slattery, “managed to rise to prominence in large part because few people actually knew of their affiliation with the revolutionary left.” Even a columnist for The Nation, Michelle Goldberg, had harsh words for the RCP, writing in 2002 that its members “aren’t just extremists in the service of a good cause – they’re cheerleaders for some of the most sinister regimes and insurgencies on the planet.”

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Todd Gitlin

Goldberg wasn’t alone in her criticism: over the years, Avakian gradually came to be viewed by many on the left at as something of a relic, an oddball, and an embarrassment to the movement. A decade or so ago, Todd Gitlin, the prominent sociologist and former SDS leader, cited him as an example of “the ludicrous feebleness of the unreconstructed left.” But while Avakian may be a bit of a clown, he’s no fool: a few years back he managed to get plenty of well-known academics to sign a New York Review of Books ad defending his right to free speech – even though nobody was trying to deprive him of free speech.