The Avakian cult invades UCLA

UCLA

As if America’s colleges – especially those in the University of California system – weren’t already in the grip of far-left political ideas, members of the Revolutionary Communist Party of America targeted UCLA earlier this month with an aggressive recruiting campaign. As Arik Schneider reported at Campus Reform, they descended upon the campus dorms, where they “set up signs, handed out flyers, and wrote out chalk markings.” They ignored orders to cease and desist, staying at the dorms for hours spreading their call for “an actual overthrow of the system” through an armed “proletarian revolution” and replacement of the current government a “New Socialist Republic of North America.”

Bob Avakian

Of course if you’re a regular reader of this site you know who would be in charge of that “socialist republic”: Bob Avakian, who, as we’ve seen, started his career as a Stalin- and Mao-loving community organizer in northern California, where he tried to win workers over to Communism. In 1968, he and some pals founded the Revolutionary Union, which a few years later, under his sole leadership, became the RCP. Avakian is the real deal: visiting China in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, when millions were being executed by the state for the crime of ideological impurity, he pronounced it “wondrous”; in the decades since Mao’s death, Avakian and his party have persistently proclaimed Mao’s – and Stalin’s – greatness and, bemoaning the collapse of the Soviet Union and the watering-down of Chinese Communism, have declared that they, the RCP, are Communism’s true torch-bearers, and that Bob himself is Stalin’s and Mao’s natural heir.

Ed Asner

If it sounds like a creepy personality cult, that’s because it is. RCP members are typically worshipers at Bob’s throne, proclaiming the urgency of armed insurrection one minute and the greatness of Avakian the next. Yet Bob isn’t just some marginal clown who has given a bunch of losers somebody to look up to and persuaded them to spend their time barging onto college campuses and handing out his flyers. He has friends and admirers whose names you know. A couple of years ago, when he placed an ad in major newspapers protesting Trump’s “Fascist America,” the signatories included actors Ed Asner and Debra Messing, comic Margaret Cho, playwright Eve Ensler, director John Landis, and novelist Alice Walker. Cornel West is a buddy of Bob’s, and Michael Eric Dyson is a fan.

Avakian with Cornel West

How did the recruiting effort at UCLA go? The good news is that even many left-leaning students at UCLA, including some for whom Marxism is an attractive concept, recognize RCP for what it is and want nothing to do with it. “I’m a Democrat and I absolutely cannot stand the Trump/Pence administration but these people are out of their minds!” a sophomore biochem major, Jenai Blazina, told Schneider. But she added, rather unsettlingly: “I want to think they’re harmless fools but they keep recruiting more and more people.” One wonders how many new members the RCP found at UCLA. Never underestimate the degree to which ideas that seem to you insane and extreme can gain the allegiance of people whom you think of as intelligent and sensible. Today’s laughable crackpot can be tomorrow’s dictator.

Che as Jesus?

Everyone’s favorite psychopath.

We’ve been working the Useful Stooges beat for a few years now. We’ve been at it so long, in fact, that you might imagine that we’re no longer remotely capable of being shocked by the high levels of self-delusion, evil-worship, and all-around moral depravity of which some of our fellow homo sapiens are capable. On the contrary, even we do the occasional double or triple take.

Kunzel’s book

Consider this story, courtesy of Arik Schneider at Campus Reform. On April 4, David Kunzle, a professor emeritus in art history at UCLA, gave a talk under the auspices of that university’s Department of Religion. In the talk, based on his book Chesucristo: The Fusion Image and Word of Che Guevara and Jesus Christ, Kunzle described Che as a “hero of the Cuban Revolution” and a “quasi-divine cosmic force.” Sharing various artworks in which Che is depicted in Christ-like fashion, Kunzle said that “Che Guevara, once the epitome of armed struggle, has evolved to an avatar of justice, peace, and love, as Jesus always was but no longer is exclusively.” Both Jesus and Che, maintained Kunzle, were leaders of “armed guerilla struggle[s].” Kunzle further stated that “[a]s God created light – is light – Che is radiance” and that his nickname, Che, is a “sacred trinity of letters.”

Still a bestseller.

Now, the fact is that in the half century since his death, images of Che Guevara actually have become iconic. We don’t deny that this makes the topic a legitimate subject of study for historians, social scientists, and students of art. Kunzle might have performed a genuine and multifaceted public service if he had been thoroughly honest about the life, ideology, and actions of Che Guevara, a bloodthirsty murderer who was dedicated to promoting a totalitarian dictatorship, and had provided a legitimate scholarly account of his posthumous transmogrification, on millions of t-shirts, posters, and other objects, into “an avatar of justice, peace, and love.” It doesn’t sound, however, as if Kunzle brought to his UCLA discussion very much in the way of aesthetic judgment, moral perspective, or historical objectivity. Yes, we gather that Kunzle realizes that there is at least some degree of tension between this image and the original reality. But the term “armed struggle” is so insufficient as a means of summing up the totality of Che’s career that it amounts to sheer whitewash. Did Kunzle, one wonders, use the word torture? Did he mention summary executions? Did he say anything whatsoever to indicate an awareness of Che’s profound sadism, the unbridled enthusiasm with which he butchered innocents by the score? Apparently not, especially given that his presentation “was followed by a thirty-minute Q&A period, where some of the attendees mentioned their own visits to Cuba and one faculty member ruminated on his experiences personally meeting Guevara.” The audience, reported Schneider, “appeared to approve of the depiction of Jesus and Guevara, going so far as to call the latter individual a ‘martyr’ in some of their own remarks in the Q&A portion.” It sounds, in short, like a lovefest, a fan club meeting, an exercise in nostalgia for the early days of the Castro Revolution.

The catalog for Kunzle’s 1997-98 exhibition

Schneider writes that “Kunzle seems to have hosted the talk at least once before, in 2011.” In fact it turns out that his interest in – obsession with? – this topic goes back a long way. Over two decades ago, in 1997-98, the Fowler Museum at UCLA held an exhibition curated by Kunzle under the title Che Guevara: Icon, Myth, and Message. And more than two decades before that, in 1975, Art in America ran an article by Kunzle about Che posters. As for Kunzle’s other writings, their topics include murals celebrating the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, art associated with Chilean Communist guerrilla movements, and Soviet film posters. Are you sensing a theme? Then there’s the fact that, in articles and reviews written before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Kunzle, in accordance with preferred Soviet and Maoist usage, routinely referred to Communist tyrannies as “revolutionary” societies and to the nations of the Free World as “bourgeois countries.” His politics, then, are clear enough. And his decades-long attraction to the idea of Che as Jesus is manifest – and, yes, even after all these years, shocking in its utter abhorrence.