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December 25, 2005


The People's Seder!

What up, kid! This is better than Chinese take-out and a Xmas day blockbuster!

G News

In a previous post you said "Their [WW & PSL] politics are exactly the same, and there has been much consternation among analysts on the left who cannot figure out why there was a split. From cursory interviews with members of both factions, I can't figure it out either."

The split was because the WW party wanted to (and did) run a candidate for the presidency & those who left didn't. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true.

When you look at how many times the splits of SWP have split, it's not that suprising.

Red Spam

Anyone else think there's something more than a little ironic in Avakian's combination of criticizing religion while getting his group to promote him as a guru?

I read the link here to the memorial for the RCP organizer in LA and it seemed to argue that Avakian is a stand-in for Christianity. Bad plan.

non-RCP maoist

The problem with Bob Avakian is that he (I can only assume) honestly believes socialism is in your head and not on the ground.

Every time I read something he writes I pretty much agree. Until I realize the basic content of his leadership is teaching his "followers" to idolize him.

What a fucking waste.


Well there's certainly some hero worship of Bob Avakian around the RCP but I don't think it quite rises to the level of adulation Bush gets on the right. No-one in the RCP as far as I can see talks about Bob Avakian as the representative of God.

I think maybe at its worse it stems from the fact that a lot of RCP/RCYB members are in their late teens/early 20s and getting their first exposure to Marxism. Avakian says a lot of pretty general things and its easy to project your own ideas into what he says.

What I see as a bit more interesting than that far right or even the RCP is the liberal Democratic cultishness around the Clintons. It's one thing for someone like Bob Avakian to make a general statement that you agree with and give him perhaps a bit too much credit for the idea. It's quite another thing to let personal admiration for a "leader" to make you swallow your pride and follow a party line in spite of the fact that you disagree with everything it says.

To me it looks something like this.


Bob Avakian: Class struggle is important. Christian fascism is a serious threat.

RCYB Member: Oh my God, this is genius. Buy his books.


Bush: God told me to invade Iraq.

Young Republican: Any moonbate who disagrees with this is a traitor and should be shot.

Left Democrats:

Clinton: I'm up on stage with the Bush family here in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina because I think it's important to show unity.

Left Critic of Clinton: I think it's wrong for Clinton to stand with Bush.



CelticFire, one of the best commie blogs out there since it got rolling, has a short piece up now on Leadership and Critical Spirit:

Merry Christmas peoples!

Good to see communists talking about this stuff. Ever notice how the same folks who get mad about Avakian don't have jack shit to say about Jack Kennedy? What about the "Deaniacs?"

The real issue is that communism is supposed to be dead and all the liberals and soft-sell socialists think commies should just shut up.

Avakian is arguing that socialism is about the people, but they never engage his ideas and pretend they don't exist... like they have any new ideas of their own!


"Good to see communists talking about this stuff. Ever notice how the same folks who get mad about Avakian don't have jack shit to say about Jack Kennedy? What about the "Deaniacs?"

It's not so much the Deaniacs but the fact that the Democratic Party (and this includes those on the left) can't get past Bill Clinton.

They can't act because the right wing of the Democratic Party is waiting for another Clinton (a conservative Democrat who won't threaten the ruling class) and the left is afraid to challenge them (for fear of being lumped in with the people who voted for Nader in 2000).

So you get stagnation and the Democratic Party isn't taking advantage of their own grass roots.

The cult around Bush is self-evident and goes without saying and it has a lot of followers in the media. Watching Chris Matthews chide Frank Lautenberg for his "9/10 mentality" (Lautenberg suggested that if you want to spy on people maybe you should get a warrant) was chilling.

friend of a friend

Just because Bush promotes a leadership cult doesn't mean we're supposed to immitate that. It's wrong, and is part of why he's a reactionary.

Socialism comes out of people or it's nothing at all. Teaching the advanced to spend their time promoting infallible leaders isn't going to teach people how to think and fight.

We already have Christians doing that. The RCP is a lost cause. They think it's more important to worship their dear leader than get involved in real movements in real communities.

They'd rather fail than listen.

I do like Avakian giving it to the Xtians -- nobody really talks like that these days. I'm still not putting his picture up and droning on about his latest xyz essay/audio/video/telepathetic missive.


"Teaching the advanced to spend their time promoting infallible leaders"

I'm not quite sure I see anybody in the RCP doing that.

I work with the WCW but I'm not a member of the RCP and I often point out where Avakian was mistaken (the Boston bussing riots, for example) and don't catch a lot of hostility.

By contrast, I've got tremendous amounts of hostility among types for criticizing the Clintons. I tend to see left Democrats getting so defensive about Bill Clinton that any kind of remark that he may not have been infallible is likely to get you accused of being a Naderite and pretty much iced out of their community.

I've had very little contact with anarchists because, quite frankly, they tend to be paranoid and closed off to the point of total isolation.

Christopher Day

No Condescending Saviours

This is a disappointing line of argument. The degree of fawning over Clinton or Dean or Bush is variable. Some liberals are as described above. Some aren't. But really, is this the standard by which we measure the practices of a communist organization?

The RCP's promotion of devotion to Avakian is weird and anti-democratic. The slavishness of it varies among RCP members, but the important point is that it is consciously promoted.

Avakian is IMHO an important thinker who deserves to be read seriously. But the cult built up around him actually undercuts that in several ways.

First, people are reluctant to read him precisely because of a healthy desire not to partake in cultish activities.

Second, even folks like myself who respect his analysis are reluctant to cite him because it requires patiently explaining that we aren't actually members of the cult, which is usually not worth the grief.

Finally, the cultishness seems to be an obstacle to good editing. Almost everything I've read by Avakian could be a lot tighter. So much of it seems like it was read into a tape recorder and then transcribed verbatim (in fact a lot of his stuff is transcribed interviews and speechs). In my experience there is a blindness on the part of RCP members to the resulting excess of verbiage.

The consequence of all this is that Avakian's writings seem to be a continuous monologue rather than part of a real conversation. Ditching the cult around Avakian would make it much easier to have a serious critical discussion of the things he has to say, many of which are important and often enough not being said by anybody else. Instead the only "dialogue" with critics we get is Avakian's periodic responses to letter writers ("an anarchist," "a Christain" etc...) who do not really represent worthy opponents, but rather serve simply as an opportunity to elaborate the one true path.

The U.S. left suffers from a posionous anti-intellectualism that communists need to overcome by creating a genuine culture of study, debate and discussion. Avakian seems to recognize this intellectually in much of what he has been sayiong recently, but the practice of the RCP around him completely contradicts this understanding.


Christopher. You seem to be making two arguments.

1.) A leftist or communist organization has to be held to a higher standard than the Republicans or Democrats.

2.) The RCP as an organization is more cultish and less Democratic that other leftist or communist organizations.

The first argument seems a little strange in light of the fact that the Republicans and Democrats have genuine political power. Communists and leftists in the United States really don't. The RCP or the Greens aren't going to do much damage. At worst, they'll just marginalize themselves. A Clinton or Bush cult on the other hand is genuinely dangerous.

For the second argument I'm not sure what to say. You probably have more experience with the RCP than I do so you've probably seen things that I haven't. But there's a touch of the strawman about your argument. Most people in the RCP haven't met or seen much of Avakian, so cult's probably a bad word. I've always looked at a cult as an organization that controls the everyday details of the lives of its members, not promotes some kind of overly enthusiastic attitude towards a writer's books.

If your definition of a cult were applied across the board, most graduate students in most big universities would be cultists. I've seen as much cultish devotion to Stanley Fish or Jacques Derrida's writings as I've seen toward Avakian's.


In fact, I'd have to say I notice a certain "cultishness" about Christopher.

1.) He demands perfection. Anybody involved in the RCP falls desperately short of his high standards.

2.) He understands "the master" better than the rest of the master's followers. The rest of you don't understand Avakian's critique of anti-intellectualism on the left. Christopher does.

3.) The harsh, authoritarian tone. Christpher's arguments brook no debate. He declares. He doesn't question.

4.) The style of prose, as though he were pontificating from the mountain top. "This is a disappointing line of argument."

Hmm. Maybe Christopher is Bob Avakian himself playing a little joke? Probably not. It's more likely that Christopher is squarely focused on the mote in someone else's eye to see the beam in his own.

Christopher Day

Is the cult around a Bush or Clinton more dangerous than the one around Bob Avakian? Obviously it is. In this respect they aren't comparable. My concern with the cultishness surrounding Avakian doesn't arise from fear that he's going to drag us al into some sort of Jonestown or any other such lurid nonsense. Rather my concern is the damage the cult does to the viability of the revolutionary politics advocated by Avakian and the RCP.

The term cult has many connotations and I am reluctant to use it here because of its association with brain-washing religious sects like the Moonies. But in the broader religious sense of the veneration of an icon or a leader I am hard-pressed to find a better word. And it is certainly the case that in academia certain fashionable intellectuals enjoy a similar status. But that hardly seems to me a serious defense of the RCP's deliberate policy of promoting veneration of Avakian. Indeed it seems to me a pretty good argument against the practice. The fawning over leading intellectuals in graduate programs is, in my view at least, a reflection of the class character and function of those programs.

My problem with the cultish qualities of the RCP's treatment of Avakian is that they sabotage the revolutionary content of much of what he has to say by undercutting the process of teaching people to think critically for themseleves and by obstructing the collective discussion of revolutionary theory beyond the confines of the RCP or its central committee.

I sincerely apologize if my tone or attitude is overly harsh in a manner that would reproduce the very thing I am criticizing. I want to make these criticisms as comradely as possible. The relationship between leaders and masses is a complicated one and difficult as hell to navigate. I think some of the choices made by the RCP in this regard have been seriously mistaken. Saying so is not a demand for perfection, nor a proclamation from the mountaintop. But calling it so does seem like a good way to avoid the content of the criticisms.


Cult is a loaded word and it can be used to describe Apple users (the cult of the Mac) as easily as it can be used to describe the followers of Jim Jones or David Koresh.

There *are* true cults that are important in American politics. Opus Dei, for example, takes complete control over its core members, finances, living space, diet, sexual practices, everything.

Yet Hillary Clinton sees no problem appearing at a joint press conference with Sam Brownback, who's a well known Opus Dei supporter.

The problem I see with Bob Avakian (and with people who read too much Derrida or Noam Chomsky) is that they take general points and give their favorite intellectual too much credit for it. A lot of what Avakian says has also been said in a variety of ways by other Marxists. A lot of what Foucault said was anticipated by Emerson.

So if you have people who put someone like Avakian up on a pedestal and talk about everything he says as if it came from the mountaintop, then it's difficult to figure out what precisely he's saying that's different from other people on the left. I suppose I could ask the typical RCP member how Avakian is different from Noam Chomsky or Alexander Cockburn and I bet a lot might not be able to immediately give me an answer. But this is more of a fan club/hero worship than a cult. I have my criticisms of the RCP but cultishness isn't really one of them.

Where I really disagree with you is the impossible standard of perfection you're demanding from Communists that you wouldn't demand from Republicans or Democrats. And I don't think I'm just avoiding the point. I think it's a lack of focus on the real problem. I'll work with RCP members, or Chomskites, or with International Answer, or even Russ Feingold, as long as I agree with what they're saying and respect what they're doing.

What I really like about the RCP is its willingness to articulate an (extremely harsh) attack on the religious power structure in the United States. Robert Ingersoll would have liked them (and he was a Republican). HL Mencken might have gone after religion in the same way that Avakian is. As far as I'm concerned, the left wing of the Democratic Party is far too concerned about offending the religious power structure and a lot of other Marxists just ignore it altogether.

Religious authoritarianism is behind perhaps the largest mass movement in the United States. In fact, the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Protestants and most of the major Jewish organizations have been transformed into political lobbying groups.

If the Bob Avakian fanclub is bring this up and nobody else is, why knock it?

Christopher Day

I'm not arguing against working with the RCP, nor that their veneration of Avakian is the greatest sin committed on the left. On the contrary I've participated in many RCP-initiated actions and I encourage others to do so. I think most RCP members could give a decent rap about what distinguishes Avakian from Chomsky or any of several other left intellectuals. Its clear enough to me.

It is precisely because I am sympathetic with much of what distinguishes Avakian from a lot of the rest of the left that I feel compelled to criticize the cultishness that I see. It isn't subtle and it isn't unconscious. Its deliberate. RCP members would reject the description of "cultishness" but they are quite willing to defend the practices I have in mind: the persistent promotion of Avakian as a great revolutionary leader at almost every opportunity. This actually makes perfect sense if you think the RCP really is the nucleus of a future mass revolutionary movement in the U.S.. This is not my view. I think such a movement, if it arises (and I hope it will), will arise from the unification of a number of groups, some of which probably don't even exist yet.

Promoting the veneration of the leader of one still quite small organization is an obstacle to the kinds of discussion between presently dis-unified groups and individuals that is a precondition for broader unity of revolutionary left forces in the U.S., let alone broad effective working unity with NON-revolutionaries in the resistance against Christian fascism.


Damned Script ate my whole well thought out post.

But what I was arguing is that what makes Avakian interesting is not that he's going to lead a mass movement (you have to be out in public to do that and slowly build credibility) but that he's able to get published and earn a living outside of academia and outside of the major publishing houses.

In some ways, he anticipates the Daily Kos and people like that.

And I don't think this is anything to sneeze at looking at the way the right is going after left academics.


Promoting the veneration of the leader of one still quite small organization is an obstacle to the kinds of discussion between presently dis-unified groups and individuals that is a precondition for broader unity of revolutionary left forces in the U.S., let alone broad effective working unity with NON-revolutionaries in the resistance against Christian fascism

Speaking of an alliance with non-revolutionaries against Christian fascism, do you really think they're going to fight Alito and fight for Roe vs. Wade.

I'm pessimistic about that. I hear a lot of noise in left dem circles about how it would be better to let Roe vs. Wade be overturned, how it will drive people to the Democratic party.

Christopher Day

There is nothing particularly novel about Avakian's means of making a living. He is the leader of a revolutionary political party supported by the dues of its members and the money they raise selling literature.

Liberals and Dems are not homogenous. I think its worth noting splits in their ranks. Some are ready to fight to the death for Roe. Others are willing to completely abandon reproductive rights. Part of the importance of action coming from radicals and revolutionaries to their left is that it can compel the wavereers to take a stronger stand.

Bush is vulnerable now and a Scalito defeat is possible. The fight within the the Dems over whether to fillibuster him, however it turns out, may well reveal important fault lines for the future.


Liberals and Dems are not homogenous. I think its worth noting splits in their ranks. Some are ready to fight to the death for Roe. Others are willing to completely abandon reproductive rights.

And this is a sea change from 15 years ago, when they were largely homogenous in their willingness to defend Roe vs. Wade.


I guess this doesn't take certain HTML tags.

Anyway, I find it astonishing that you're defending the liberal Democrats for being "split" over Roe vs. Wade.

That's progress? That's an opportunity?

Would you say the same thing if they were "split" over the Voting Rights Act?

For most of the 80s and 90s, the Democratic Party had a mantra. Sure, we're conservative on economics, but vote for us because of the Supreme Court. Vote for us to save Roe vs. Wade. Vote for us to keep the country secular.

You don't hear that much anymore do you?

In fact, it's almost considered bad form in certain liberal Democratic circles to mention the Supreme Court. After all, Kaine won in Virginia because he knew how to "talk about faith" (of course they conveniently leave out of the fact that Corzine won in New Jersey by campaigning heavily against Bush's position on stem cell research). I'm also seeing a disturbing tendency in the Democratic Party and it's affiliate groups (like NARAL or Move On) to argue that Roe vs. Wade isn't that important. Or that it would be better to get rid of it because then people would vote for the Democrats. Or that Alito isn't the key. Stevens is (they omitt the fact that he was born during the administration of Warren Harding).

Instead of looking at static positions, look how the Democratic party has evolved over the past 10 years. It's retreat on every front in the area of culture.

Christopher Day

I'm not defending the liberal Dems. Everything you say about their retreat is true. But failure to see the splits in their ranks on theses matters IS a failure to see opportunities to radicalize people. There is massive discontent among the liberal rank and file with the Democratic Party leadership. This discontent is confused and incoherent usually, but it too is a new phenomena just as worthy of our attention as the capitulation to the Christian Right by the leadership. Like it or not there are a hell of a lot more liberals than communists in the U.S. these days and any serious resistance to the Christian fascist will have to include a substantial fraction of people who presently identify as liberals (as well as big sections of folks who are currently politically out of the picture altogether, particularly amongst the poorest sections of the working class).


"I'm not defending the liberal Dems. Everything you say about their retreat is true. But failure to see the splits in their ranks on theses matters IS a failure to see opportunities to radicalize people."

Talking about splitting liberal Democratic ranks is fine, but if there are people in that party who are liberal on the surface *and yet* are willing to surrender someone's rights to get votes, you really have to wonder how deep their liberalism goes.

If liberal Democrats are willing to compromise on Roe vs. Wade, is their liberalism real? To me you saw a good warning in the Transit Strike. The majority of people who live in NYC are liberal Democrats and yet the support or lack of support for the strikers broke down along racial lines, not party lines.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't see people who are nominally liberal willing to take any risk or any action to support something so basic to liberalism as the seperation of church and state and you'd be foolish to depend on them.

Remember that scene in Braveheart where Wallace realizes Robert the Bruce won't fight? That's how liberal Democrats make me feel every day. It's not that I'm pissed that liberal Democrats won't fight for socialism. It's that they won't fight for their own values.

And I'm not going to fool myself.


Or to clarify, I guess I'd have to ask how much people in the Democratic party who say they'll fight for Roe vs. Wade actually will.

Is there really a split in the Democratic Party?

After seeing what happened in November, when the election in Virginia got a lot of coverage (especially Kaine's "faith") and the election in New Jersey (and Corzine's nationalizing the election and running against Bush's reactionary views towards stem cell research) dropped down the memory hole, I'd have to wonder about the Democratic elites.

I would guess that the elite in the Democratic Party has already written off Roe vs. Wade.

Short commentator

Stanley and Christopher you both seem honest yet, in this entire exchange neither of you ever address, deal with, quote, or even reference anything Bob Avakian has ever written or said. Stanley, you sound foolish talking so much about what you think Avakian and the RCP say but never address what they actually say. Re-read your posts. Check your method against Avakian's or Revolution newspaper.

Props to Burningman for posting the talks and letting people listen and learn. You guys listen, but need to learn a lot more from Avakian. Reading many of these low-level philistine debates about Avakian is like watching movementarians bicker.

Oh, you can also learn from Bill Martin's method.

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