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.