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December 25, 2005

Comments

the burningman

Movementarians?

I think this is my new favorite word. It's better than Activistism.

Sticking a thermometer up the butt of the "movement" is a great way to find the comfort level of activists, while totally missing what is actually happening.

The point Short Commentator makes is true enough -- but also part of what is at issue and why the "cult" is so problematic. It's political formalism. It makes the form the issue, in fact the content, over the practical application of the ideas under discussion. It is made a dividing line question, when, as Chris points out, it is a method that is highly contestable.

It's the difference between acting as guardians of an idea -- and actually leading.

Christopher Day

My apologies for my failure to sprinkle quotes from the Chairman in my posts. I was away for the holidays and didn't have them at my fingertips.

More seriously, what I found interesting about this thread was precisely the discussion of the problems of the Avakian cult, which is really a separate question from the content of Avakian's writings themselves.

If Short Commentator thinks Avakian has something in particular to say of importance on the question of the leadership cult, instead of chastising us why not enlighten us?

I've probably read more Avakian than some newer RCP members. I find enough of it provocative on important questions that I think the obstacles to its appreciation created by the leadership cult is worth criticizing. If Avakian didn't have something worth reading and discussing I wouldn't waste my time. There are a lot of sects (leftist and otherwise) with much less interesting leaders. Most of those groups don't promote their leaders the way the RCP promotes Avakian, making it much more possible to really engage what they have to say even though it is less interesting.

Burningman makes an important point here. We can argue about the RCP's practices of promoting Avakian until we are blue in the face, but the proof is in the pudding. After thirty years is it working? Is Avakian recognized as a leader by any significant fraction of the U.S. proletariat beyond the membership of the RCP and its most immediate periphery? Maybe from inside it seems like he is, but thats not how it looks to me and anybody else I know who even knows who he is. An abstract defense of the practices of promoting Avakian is no substitute for an empirical assessment of how it is actually playing out on the ground. It seems pretty clear to me that so far its been a bust. This assessment is, of course, entirely independent of any assessment of the value of what Avakian actually has to say.

srogouski

"My apologies for my failure to sprinkle quotes from the Chairman in my posts. I was away for the holidays and didn't have them at my fingertips."

_______________________________

It always sucks to be in the middle of a debate and then have Exhibit A walk into the room and make your opponent's case for him.

Of coures I could just as easily go to Atrios Eschaton or the Daily Kos and get called a Nader voting traitor who was single handedly responsible for the fiasco of 2000 if I wanted.

But the presence of problems with one group doesn't cancel out the problems in another. So I'll concede your point.

I think right now there are basically two formations on the "left".

On one hand you have the progressive wing of the Democratic Party who will be sold out by their leadership every time.

On the other hand you have a loose coalition of Marxists, anarchists, anti-war activists who managed to get half a million people to DC last September and which includes the RCP and its various affiliates.

There really is no leader in the latter group. There's a large herd of cats. The thing that's striking to me is that anybody on the progressive wing of the Democratic party could have stepped up and taken control in September and none did.

That's as important as issue as the flaws of Avakian or any other group within the second formation. The people who should be leading the anti-war movement and who could if they wanted are afraid to. The people who are stepping up to the plate don't have the ability to.

srogouski

"Is Avakian recognized as a leader by any significant fraction of the U.S. proletariat beyond the membership of the RCP and its most immediate periphery?"

I think the RCP tends to miss the whole concept of "organic leaders".

If Roger Toussaint and Bob Avakian walked into a room in NYC, who would get most of the attention?

But once again, I don't see anybody else organizing against the religious right and mean organizing againt them while assuming that they (the religious right) are essentially a home grown American fascist movement.

I think that's an important insight and probably most of Avakian's followers do more in terms of organizing against the Christian evengelicals then I do (since many are probably on college campuses and providing an alternative student organization to the usual Bible Study crap).

Short commentator

"If Short Commentator thinks Avakian has something in particular to say of importance on the question of the leadership cult, instead of chastising us why not enlighten us?"

'From Ike To Mao And Beyond: My Journey From Mainstream America To Revolutionary Communist'

And I'll tell you right now what you guys don't get. You don't get the "And Beyond" aspect of Avakian's leadership. How he's standing on the shoulders of Marx, Lenin and Mao but going off in bold new directions. And how he's on the level of Lenin and Mao.

Another quite typical revisionist formulation that you all love so much is that the 'proof is in the pudding'. People like you were telling others not to follow Lenin in 1917 when he threatened to resign from the Central Committee. The only contribution of Avakian's you like is his analysis of the current situation and the coming Civil War. This is in invaluable materialist analysis (http://rwor.org/a/029/avakian-civil-war.htm), but it is not the essence of Bob Avakian's contributions. In fact, he'd still be such a unique and irriplaceable leader even if he had not made this analysis.

Proletarian revolution has never been made in advanced imperialist country like the US. The opportunities come along only once every few generations, if that. Avakian is an important leader of the world revolutionary and international communist movement. His works are studied in the prisons, projects, student study groups, and elsewhere in the US. His books can be found among revolutionaries in Mexico, Colombia, Nepal, Iran, and Turkey.....

There is nothing slavish about following or promoting Avakian. If you are blindly following him, you are not following him at all. His work and whole methodology demands the conscious participation and initiative of many other people. There will not be a successful revolutionary movement if millions are not following him and engaging his work.

Stop complaining about the people who are already promoting his work, and start promoting his work.

You want proof? Check the numerous books and the countless work here: http://rwor.org/chair_e.htm

- From the mountaintop....


srogouski

"And I'll tell you right now what you guys don't get. You don't get the "And Beyond" aspect of Avakian's leadership. How he's standing on the shoulders of Marx, Lenin and Mao but going off in bold new directions. And how he's on the level of Lenin and Mao."

Give us some examples of how.

Because I've read "From Ike to Mao" and even reviewed it.

http://www.rogouski.com/blog/book_reviews/index.html

And I'm still not that clear where he "goes beyond" Lenin and Marx (or Gramschi or George Lukacs).

I don't think anybody's really accusing you of anything, just trying to get you to be more specific.

srogouski

"Proletarian revolution has never been made in advanced imperialist country like the US. The opportunities come along only once every few generations, if that. Avakian is an important leader of the world revolutionary and international communist movement."
________________________________

OK. You think that the US is close to "proletarian revolution".

I wish I could be that optimistic. We seem closer to fascism to me.

France in 1968 or England in the 20s or the Seattle General Strike just after the First World War all seem a bit closer.

I know the argument is that when you're in a crisis you have the opportunity to move in a fascistic or a radical direction but to me this seems to discount the long tradition of racism and cultural repression in the US.

How do you overcome that hardcore 35-40% that supports George Bush whatever he does?

And how can you mobilize the wishy washy center if the right controls the media so tightly?

Christopher Day

Sigh.

Instead of substantively explaining what Avakian has to say that is "And Beyond" we get bombast about the great leader and how great he is.

According to Trotsky (an inconveniently important guy to read on matters civil warish), the membership of the Bolsheviks dropped to around 40 circa 1911. This is a comfort to every would-be Bolshevik Party with a similarly miniscule membership just as every crackpot thinks they are Galileo. The proof IS in the pudding. We hold Lenin and Mao in high regard not just because they said the right things, but because they led victorious revolutions. Until Avakian does that I'd show a little more humility in elevating him to the pantheon.

And don't assume you know what I find valuable in Avakian. The stuff on the current situation and the civil war is all well and good but it is precisely his conversations with Bill Martin, his stuff on culture and philosophy, etc.. that I find most refreshing precisely because they seem to represent a break with the rigidity that has too often characterized the RCP's practice in the past. His thinking on the role of intellectuals and artists, the importance of contestation, etc... really does represent an advance on Lenin and Mao, an IMHO correct summation of some of the fatal weaknesses in the Russian and Chinese revolutionary experiences, but frankly it isn't one that he has made alone. One encounters similar ideas all over the radical left. What is most striking about Avakian's formulations on this is that they are coming from a party that, in its historical practice, has not really embodied this approach.

Who does Avakian read? I can guess, but he almost never says. The effect of this is to create the appearance that his "great contributions" sprang from his head like Zeus, rather than being the product of an engagement with a whole breadth of critical thinking not just by Marx, Lenin and Mao but by many, many others. This has a deleterious effect on his followers who frequently are unaware of the geneology of his ideas, and more importantly unable to check them against his influences.

In point of fact I DO promote Avakian. Not by shouting his name from the mountaintops, but by patiently explaining to hostile people why he is worth reading in spite of certain idiosyncracies (gutless editing, almost no acknowledgements of non-canonical influences, and the cult-like promotion techniques of the RCP). My point here is that I wish I didn't have to overcome those obstacles. They are big ones. Maybe I'm the only one experiencing this resistance, but I don't think so.

Short commentator

Glad you read the memoir Stan, I did find your review interesting. As for what is 'And Beyond,' Chris has referenced some of the new directions Avakian has been going in (for quite some time). Much of that material can be found on Revolution website and in the books quoted.

Stanley, you should read 'The Coming Civil War' pamphlet in its entirety. I am not being condescending, as I am reading it now too. I bring it up because I don't think you grasp what he is saying about the current situation.

And Chris: my impression based on what you've said is that you have indeed read a great deal of Avakian. But then you say stupid shit like this: "Who does Avakian read? I can guess, but he almost never says. The effect of this is to create the appearance that his "great contributions" sprang from his head like Zeus, rather than being the product of an engagement with a whole breadth of critical thinking not just by Marx, Lenin and Mao but by many, many others. This has a deleterious effect on his followers who frequently are unaware of the geneology of his ideas, and more importantly unable to check them against his influences."

Hello! Pick up any of his books or articles and check how much he references a myriad of writers and thinkers. And his whole new 'And Beyond' methodology which is unique and unprecedented (although still very much a work in progress) specifically gets at the point that because communists understand some fundamental and very important truths about the world and science does not mean that they have a monopoly on truth. The whole 'Observations' book. Even all the new stuff on the 'Coming Civil War' quotes many people. Avakian is clearly reading A LOT.

By the way did you know that the Bolsheviks went to great lengths to promote Lenin as did the Chinese with Mao? This was so that the masses of people would know what they had in their revolutionary leaders and could actually contribute and become the makers of history and masters of their own destiny. Read the piece by Avakian in memory of Willie 'Mobile' Shaw. He makes that point.

srogouski

SC. I've read the memoir, the Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones pamphlet and the Coming Civil War pamphlet. Avakian's read Bill Bennett, Jim Wallis, and John Keats. But I think Chris might be referring to other Marxist thinkers in the 20th Century, who I haven't seen him mention.

Your last paragraph struck me:

________________________________

"By the way did you know that the Bolsheviks went to great lengths to promote Lenin as did the Chinese with Mao? This was so that the masses of people would know what they had in their revolutionary leaders and could actually contribute and become the makers of history and masters of their own destiny. Read the piece by Avakian in memory of Willie 'Mobile' Shaw. He makes that point."
_____________________________

Do we really want to be using the Soviet Union as an example of a model of leadership we want to emulate?

Don't get me wrong. I'm no anti-communist and I'm well aware that Stalin and the Soviet Union were more responsible for the defeat of Hitler than the US or the UK. But this is a model of leadership that's "problematic" (to say the least).

srogouski

Or to clarify, I realize that he supports the Cultural Revolution and criticizes The Soviet Union and China after they both started reinstituting capitalism, but it's not entirely clear to me where he "goes beyond" Leninism (and it's another question altogether how much Lenin would have like seeing his body embalmed in the Kremlin as though he had been some kind of Christian saint).

Christopher Day

I'm not saying that Avakian doesn't read widely or that he doesn't sometimes mention what he has been reading recently (especially more popular stuff). What I am saying is that there is a whole world of theoretical discussion (Stan mentions Lukacs and Gramsci for starters) that clearly informs Avakian's currwent thinking either directly or indirectly, but he doesn't acknowledge it. For example, in the excerpts from conversations with Bill Martin, Martin speaks very specifically about aspects of what Avakian is saying that echo Kant (on ethics) and Adorno (on art and utopia), but it is unclear from Avakian's answers the degree to which he consciously draws on either. (My suspicion is that the influences here are less direct, but I'd like to know for sure.)

The impression that comes out of the conversations (again I haven't read more than the excerpts yet) is not of Avakian as a philosophical genius, but rather as a pretty well read organizer who is grappling with important questions and has good instincts about what direction he thinks is worth pursuing. Given the philosophical ossification of orthodox Marxism-Leninism for the past half century this is a very welcome turn. But staking it out as a basis for elevating Avakian to public mausoleum status strikes me as a big mistake. It effectively short circuits a real collective engagement by the RCP and its periphery with all the interesting stuff that other people have had to say about his stuff.

Avakian's insights on the nature of truth are great, but there is a real failure to dig into exactly how disastrous the Soviet and Chinese intellectual policies were for the development of the revolutionary movement. The whole tawdry tale of the repression of Lukacs' "History and Class Consciousness" is sadly only one of many examples. But instead of acknowledging that these are questions that have been struggled over for the past century and that there are multiple critical traditions that have arisen as dissident voices were driven from the communist movement, Avakian and his followers promote the idea that these criticisms sprang from him alone.

Finally, it is true that the Russians and Chinese aggressively promoted Lenin and Mao. A couple things should be said on this. First, this was in the context of largely non-literate agrarian societies where the reliance on pageantry for pedagogical purposes is arguably more defensible. Second, in the long run I think its clear that the personality cults erected around Lenin and Mao had pretty pernicious effects, not the least of which is the tendency to reduce substantive arguments to dueling quotations of the great leaders.

We can argue about whether it was a good policy or not in the context of Russian and China when it happened, but it is frankly bizarre in the context of the U.S. in the 21st century and, as Burningman indicated, making it a dividing line question is even nuttier.

On the run here, but I have never read anything from the RCP that made their views of Avakian a dividing line. It is repeatedly those who criticize Avakian on the internet who make this issue a dividing line.

Lenin who have been sickened by the emablming of his body, as was Mao who insisted in not be done with his body.

No one is declaring 'Avakian Thought' or other silly notions like that. Recognizing what he is bringing forward is fact.

“As an avowed anarchist, and a committed anti-capitalist, I try to learn from the lessons of history in order to devise better tactics, and recognize viable strategies for overthrowing capitalism. And while I'm an anarchist, I do recognize that in 1917 a small group of revolutionaries did achieve one of, if not the, greatest anti-capitalist transformations in world history. Indeed the Bolshevik Revolution thrilled millions of anti-capitalist anarchists around the world when it occurred, including Emma Goldman. The October revolution was led by a brilliant geo-political analyst, Vladimir Lenin. Having watched this video, I'd say if Lenin were alive today, he'd sound a lot like Bob Avakian. ”

[Alan Minsky, Senior Producer at KPFK in Los Angeles and co-founder of the LA Independent Media Center]

Stanley, read: 'Conquer The World: The International Proletariat Must And Will'.

With the whole 'death of communism' barage over the last fifteen years there is even more of a necessity to promote Avakian and his work, again, in a living and breathing natural way.

Christopher Day

"Dividing line" is too strong. At least in the normal sense of its application to mass work. It is however clearly a matter of party line. Not that Avakian is your leader or even that he is a great leader, but that he is to be promoted in this manner. Its a very peculiar way of promoting the idea that you don't have a monopoly on the truth.

It doesn't come off at all as living, breathing or natural. Rather it usually comes off like a telemarketers script -- dead, wooden and compulsory. Its a signal that a serious conversation with the give and take that one has with a person free to change their mind in the course of the discussion is just not going to happen, that even if you make a completely convincing argument that you will still get boilerplate adherence to the line in return. I understand that there are questions that demand that sort of unity, but why defense of the particular techniques of promoting Avakian rise to that standard is beyond me.

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