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.

Angela Davis, human-rights heroine?

Davis in her heyday

In June 2016, when the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art presented Angela Davis with an award for “women who are first in their fields,” we provided readers with a brief account of Ms. Davis’s accomplishments.

To wit: a card-carrying American Communist Party member from her youth, she attended Communist May Day celebrations in East Berlin when it was still East Berlin, joined the Black Panthers, and studied at Humboldt University, also in East Berlin. Later teaching at UCLA, she was fired twice – the first time for her Communist Party membership, the second time (after a judge ordered her rehired) for giving “inflammatory” speeches in which, for example, she called police officers “pigs.” After her then husband, George Jackson, a fellow Communist and Black Panther leader, was sent to Soledad State Prison for pulling off five armed robberies, Davis masterminded an effort to spring him. As we wrote in 2016:

On the lam

On August 7, 1970, Jackson’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, entered a Marin County courtroom in which another punk, James McClain, was on trial for murdering a prison guard. Jonathan brought with him plenty of weapons, which he handed to Clain and to two other convicts who were present in the courtroom as witnesses. Jonathan and the three jailbirds then took hostage the presiding judge, Harold Haley, a father of three, along with the prosecutor and three of the jurors.

Jonathan and the convicts took their hostages out of the courthouse and drove off with them in a van. Jonathan’s goal was to hijack a plane, fly the hostages to Cuba, and exchange them for his brother’s freedom. But he didn’t get that far. At a roadblock, he and his pals got into a shootout with police. Jonathan, Judge Haley, and the two convicts were killed; the prosecutor was paralyzed for life; and a juror was injured. It was soon discovered that some of the guns Jonathan had brought into the courtroom had been purchased by Davis only days earlier. Charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder and placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, Davis took it on the lam; after a few months underground, she was tracked down by cops at a Howard Johnson’s motel in Manhattan.

On trial

Her husband George having died in an escape attempt (in which he cut the throats of three prison guards), Davis was tried for her part in the attempt to spring him. The Kremlin led a worldwide campaign to paint her as mounting a courageous challenge to the capitalist system. Useful idiots like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Despite ample evidence of guilt, Davis was found not guilty. Her acquittal was later compared to that in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, in that both defendants had lawyers who successfully painted them as victims of racism.

With one of her heroes

Now world-famous, Davis spent a few years in Cuba, went to Moscow to accept the Lenin Prize, and twice ran for vice president of the U.S. on the Communist Party line. For many on the left, she served as a feminist icon and a symbol of brave resistance to racist oppression. She has taught at many major universities and is now a “Distinguished Professor Emerita” at the University of California, Santa Cruz. And her distinction has been ratified by awards, including the 2016 honor from the Brooklyn Museum.

She was scheduled to receive yet another accolade next month – namely, the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, which is presented annually by a civil-rights organization in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. But during the first week of January came a shocking announcement: Angela Davis wouldn’t be getting the award after all. What happened? We’ll get to that on Tuesday.

Lying about Israel: Saree Makdisi

Saree Makdisi

Today we’re continuing our look at Saree Makdisi, a nephew of slimy academic fake Edward Said and a vicious UCLA anti-Semite in his own right. Yesterday we glanced at a Los Angeles Times op-ed in which he served up a stunning defense of the unvarnished Jew-hatred of veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas. But Makdisi has actually been a fount of mischievous L.A. Times contributions. In another one of these propaganda tidbits, he complained about “attacks on academic freedom” and “the intimidation of students” on U.S. campuses.

Edward Said

Was he referring to the widespread harassment of Jewish students (and faculty!) by Muslims and their ideological allies? As the Honest Reporting website noted, “it is Jewish and pro-Israel (or even just neutral) students who are intimidated, delegitimized, harassed, excluded, discriminated against, held responsible for Israel’s actions, targeted with anti-Semitism, have had to hide from a violent anti-Israel mob and be extracted by the police, and been disrupted and shouted down and silenced to stop them speaking the truth to defend Israel against BDS lies.” But no, Makdisi wasn’t referring to any of this. He was referring to the fact that the torrents of anti-Semitic rhetoric churned out by himself and other academics in American universities were now being monitored and reported on by their critics. Never mind that Makdisi’s writings about Israel and the Palestinians are often riddled with lies, and that his critics quote him with meticulous accuracy.

Milan Chatterjee

The specific concern of Makdisi’s op-ed was a course at Berkeley that, as Honest Reporting put it, “distorts the history of the Jewish connection to Israel, denies Israel’s right to exist, and explores how Israel might be destroyed, no doubt making things feel even more uncomfortable and unsafe for Jewish and pro-Israel students.” Honest Reporting also quoted a student leader, Milan Chatterjee, who actually left UCLA because of the intense level of harassment he endured at the hands of Makdisi’s BDS thugs. But Makdisi expresses no concern for such kids – on the contrary, if they’re feeling discomfort it’s because they’ve been exposed to a truth. The real victims, those who are really being intimidated, according to Makdisi, are him and his fellow pro-Palestinian heroes. The Honest Reporting site had a cogent reply to this nonsense: “Tell that to the Jewish students at the UC Irvine who had to barricade themselves to escape a BDS mob trying to violently disrupt an event.”

Tamar Sternthal

In yet another oped, published in January 2016, Makdidi called for an academic boycott of Israel. Replying to it, Tamar Sternthal of CAMERA complained that the lies in his L.A. Times op-eds “would earn a failing mark on a high school paper.” As an example of his falsehoods, Sternthal cited Makdisi’s claim that “there is not a single high school in the Palestinian communities in the Negev desert in southern Israel.” Sternthal replied: “In fact, there are more than 40 high schools for Bedouin students in the Negev.” Another Makdisi lie: “Israeli universities systematically fail their Palestinian students.” On the contrary, wrote Sternthal, Israel’s Council for Higher Education runs an undergraduate scholarship program for 650 Arab students: “Why would Israel allocate millions of shekels just for Arab students simply to systematically flunk them out?” Lies, lies, lies. Somewhere up there, Makdisi’s deceit-ridden uncle Edward is smiling.

 

Chip off the old block: Saree Makdisi

Saree Makdisi

This week we’ve been hopping from one West Coast college campus to another, taking brief meetings with some of the Golden State’s more unsavory academic anti-Semites. Today and tomorrow we’ll be spending a bit more time with a particularly prominent member of that breed, namely Saree Makdisi, a UCLA professor of English and Comparative Literature.

Edward Said

Makdisi just so happens to be a nephew of Edward Said – the late Columbia University superstar who came up with the idea of delegitimizing Western scholars of Arabic, Middle Eastern, or Asian culture by accusing them of “Orientalism.” Makdisi is a chip off the old block. As he explains on his own page at the UCLA website, he writes about “the crossroad of several different fields, including British Romanticism, imperial culture, colonial and postcolonial theory and criticism, and the cultures of urban modernity particularly the revision and contestation of changed urban spaces, including London, Beirut and Jerusalem.”

A “changed urban space”: a car bomb in Beirut

That last part is particularly interesting. Talk about euphemism: “the revision and contestation of changed urban spaces.” Such as the Muslim takeover of the East End, the violent expulsion of Jews and Christians from Beirut, and the concerted effort by Palestinian Muslims and their activist academic allies to deny that Jerusalem was, indeed, the ancient capital and holy city of the Jewish people.

Makdisi is himself one of those mendacious souls who deny flat-out that Jews have any historical connection whatsoever to Judea and Samaria. A leader of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, he calls Israel an “apartheid state,” accuses it of deliberately trying to stunt the grown of children in Gaza, and has promoted as authentic those staged “Pallywood” videos in which Palestinians pretend to be abused or killed by Israelis. On his Twitter feed, he alternates between defending Muslims – terrorists included – and demonizing Jews, Israel, and America.

Emergency services at the scene of the Manchester bombing

After the terrorist attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, he banged out several tweets implying that the murders of those girls were motivated by – and presumably even justified by – American and British actions in the Middle East. Two examples:

Saree Makdisi‏ @sareemakdisi May 31

They” hate “our” values, eh? (a) what values? (b) connect the dots between violent foreign policy & domestic blowback.

Saree Makdisi‏ @sareemakdisi May 31

Car bombs in Baghdad and Kabul and yet more US indiscriminate murder of civilians in Yemen, Syria, Iraq. Connect the dots to Manchester.

He also writes regularly for several anti-Semitic websites, and has also had a number of op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, all of them about Israel and the Palestinians. In them, he’s called on Americans to boycott Israeli schools, accused Israel of a “policy of erasure,” and denied that anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism.

Helen Thomas

Some of his L.A. Times op-eds deserve special attention. In one of them, published in 2010, he defended notorious remarks that had recently been made in an interview by the Lebanese-American White House reporter Helen Thomas. The Israeli Jews, Thomas said, should “get the hell out of Palestine.” Thomas added: “Remember these people [Palestinians] are occupied. It’s their land. It’s not Poland, it’s not Germany.” When asked by her interviewer what the Jews in Israel should do, she said: “They should go home. Poland. Germany….. And America. And everywhere else.” Makdisi, being as slick a customer as his uncle, defended Thomas in a cagey way, with sentences like this: “One does not have to agree with Thomas to note that her remark spoke to the ugly history of colonialism, racism, usurpation and denial that are at the heart of the question of Palestine.” No, her remarks spoke to the bigotry of a nasty old woman who refuses to accept that there have always been Jews in the Levant, and that Israel, not Poland or Germany, is indeed their ancestral home.

More tomorrow.

No peacenik: Tom Hayden

As we saw yesterday, Sixties radical Tom Hayden, who died on October 23 and was remembered in one obituary after another as a champion of peace, was, in fact, the very opposite of a peacenik.

1968-dnc-chicago-riots
1968 Chicago riots

Here are a few more highlights. In a 1967 article in the New York Review of Books, he served up detailed prescriptions for organized urban bloodshed. That same year, contemporaneous observers blamed his incendiary rhetoric for “causing nearly a week of rioting” in Newark. During the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, he encouraged civil disruption in the form of “spreading nails on a highway” and firebombing police cars. At Berkeley in 1969, he led a “training center” where would-be revolutionaries were taught to use firearms and explosives. Also in 1969, he took part in a “war council” in Flint, Michigan, at which he and some of his comrades officially declared war against America and called for “violent, armed struggle.”

hayden1
Hayden the politician

To be sure, after the madness of the 1960s dissipated, Hayden shifted gears. In the 1980s and 90s, he got himself elected to the California legislature, taught courses at Harvard, UCLA, and elsewhere (despite having no degree beyond a B.A.), and gave speeches at innumerable universities.

gospelBut he remained a radical rabble-rouser. In 1996, quick as ever to embrace a trendy left-wing cause, he wrote his own book on environmentalism, The Lost Gospel of the Earth, even though he had no expertise whatsoever in the field and absolutely nothing original to say about it. Echoing Kirkpatrick Sale’s vapid, ultra-PC Conquest of Paradise (1990) and other recent contributions to the genre, Hayden drew an embarrassingly crude contrast between the perfectly saintly American Indians and the unwaveringly evil Europeans. “His descriptions of Indian virtue and wisdom,” wrote Vincent Carroll in a review for the Weekly Standard, “are no less monochromatic than his most gullible exhortations on behalf of the Viet Cong – if anything, they are more so.”

wto_protests_in_seattle_november_30_1999
Seattle riots, 1999

And so it went. In 1999, Hayden encouraged street riots to protest World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. In 2001, he blamed the 9/11 attacks on American imperialism. In 2005, ever eager to socialize with America’s enemies, he met in London with Iraqi terrorist leaders; afterwards, his naivete as intact as it had been decades earlier, he wrote an article painting these ruthless jihadists as gentle, peace-loving patriots. When Hugo Chávez died in 2013, Hayden wrote: “As time passes, I predict the name of Hugo Chávez will be revered among millions.” In 2014, he declared in an op-ed that the Cuban Revolution had “achieved its aim: recognition of the sovereign right of its people to revolt against the Yankee Goliath and survive as a state in a sea of global solidarity.”

hayden3
Older, but not wiser

How to sum up the life of a man who combined moral depravity with sheer doltishness? Carroll made a couple of good points in his review of The Lost Gospel. Citing Hayden’s “dreadful sanctimony and self-absorption” and air of “moral superiority,” Carroll wrote: “one continuously marvels that a man of Hayden’s superficiality has played such a prominent role in left-wing political thought for more than 30 years.” But we can’t say we’re too surprised: after all, Hayden was far from the only narcissistic, barricade-charging ideologue of the 1960s who was treated as a cultural hero in the decades that followed and whose fatuity, ferocity, and malice were transformed, in his obituaries, into wisdom, peacefulness, and love.