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.

Danny Glover’s annual Castro fix

danny-glover-cubaLast August, we profiled action-movie star Danny Glover, with a focus on his chummy relationship with the late Hugo Chávez and his even chummier camaraderie with the not quite late Fidel Castro. Unlike some other celebrities who’ve befriended the Cuban autocrat, Glover doesn’t skirt around the unpleasant little fact that his bosom Caribbean buddy is a totalitarian dictator. On the contrary, Glover has said explicitly that the reason he likes Castro so much is that he “admires Havana’s Communist regime.”

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With Castro on an earlier visit

And the affection, we noted in August, is mutual: Glover has been a frequent guest on Castro’s prison island, where he’s been presented with awards and feted at film festivals. In 2012, he told a “reporter” for the Cuban government’s propaganda apparatus that the Castro Revolution is characterized by “an extraordinary will to find truth and to reveal the new human being, the new man and a new woman.” This chillingly deluded utopian rhetoric about “new” this and “new” that is, of course, part of the stale old rhetoric of Marxism, a mark of the True Believer who’s neither able nor willing to let go of the Big Lie. Glover’s devotion to the Castro regime is warmly reciprocated: he’s been an honored guest at several film Cuban festivals and has been presented with a number of Cuban awards.

Glover’s latest visit to Castro’s prison island, which took place in November, was breathlessly recorded by “reporters” for the official Cuban “news media,” one of whom praised Glover’s “commitment to truth and justice” and noted that the actor had been making the pilgrimage to Cuba for some twenty years, each time returning “with an open heart,” prepared “to listen, to learn, and to grow.”

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With Gerardo Hernández

During his visit, Glover was reunited with one of the Cuban Five, the “hero” Gerardo Hernández. Who? Quick flashback: the Cuban Five were a quintet of Cuban spies who, sent to Florida to infiltrate Cuban-American groups, were arrested in 1998, found guilty in 2001 of conspiracy to commit espionage and murder, in addition to a couple of dozen other charges, and put behind bars. The Castro government originally denied vociferously that they were spies; two years later it admitted that they were. One of the five was released in 2011, another in 2013; the remaining three, including Hernández, were finally shipped back to Cuba in 2014 as part of President Obama’s efforts to improve relation with Cuba. By that time the five spies had become another terrific anti-American propaganda tool for the Castro government, whose official line on them was – and is – that they “served long and unjust sentences…for warning their country” against anti-Cuban terrorist acts that were purportedly being planned in the U.S.

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Glover at a 2014 event to free the Cuban Five

Glover, who’d visited Hernández several times in his California prison cell, noted on his arrival at Havana’s José Martí Airport that he’d also had the honor of belonging to the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five (which is linked in the U.S. to the far-left group ANSWER). He spoke with admiration of the five admitted spies’ awareness of “their responsibility to humanity.” He’d seen in them, Glover declared, “the bridge to the world of justice and equality that we want to build.”

That wasn’t all. According to one of the Cuban “reporters” who met him at the airport, Glover enthused over “the work of the internationalists of this island that brings the light of solidarity to remote places” and praised “the helpfulness of the services provided by Cubans to the Latin American nations.” Either the official Cuba press was putting words in the Hollywood star’s mouth, or else Danny Glover has done a first-rate job, over these last two decades, of learning to speak the Orwellian language of Communist totalitarianism.