“From Ike to Mao, A Review” or How “I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Hard Left” By Stanley Rogouski
On October 11th, 2002 the Senate voted 29 to 21 and the House voted 296-133 to give George W. Bush the power to go to war in Iraq.
Forget about the conditions they put on the Iraq War Resolution to save face, that Bush had to “declare to Congress either before or within 48 hours after beginning military action that diplomatic efforts to enforce the U.N. resolutions have failed” and that “Bush also must certify that action against Iraq would not hinder efforts to pursue the al Qaeda terrorist network”. People who steal elections and think they’re on a mission from God have little trouble with annoyances like this, and every Democratic Senator and Representative who voted for HJ RES. 114 of the second session of the 107th Congress knew it. As Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said, it is important for the country “to speak with one voice at this critical moment.”
What seems to have fallen down the memory hole is the fact that on October 11th, 2002, the Senate was controlled by the Democrats, not the Republicans.
By contrast, on October 6th, 2002, a group called Not In Our Name had mounted a series of rallies against the war, including one that brought 25,000 people to Central Park in New York City, where well known cultural figures like Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Martin Sheen and David Byrne and a mavericks from the political establishment like Cynthia McKinney gathered to support something called the “Not in Our Name Pledge of Resistance”, a declaration, essentially, that on the issue of invading Iraq, Americans do not “speak in one voice”.
Not in our name
will you invade countries
bomb civilians, kill more children
letting history take its course
over the graves of the nameless.
Now for a pop quiz.
On October 16th, Michelle Goldberg, the “liberal” columnist for Salon.com wrote a blistering article attacking:
a.) The fact that Congress voted away its power to declare war.
b.) The anti-war rally in Central Park.
If you said “b” you are correct. In an article for Salon.com, 5 days after the Democratically controlled Senate put the loaded gun in George Bush’s hands, Goldberg, in an article called “Peace Kooks”, a breathless “expose” of the nascent anti-war movement that resembled nothing so much as the kind of short film that they would have showed you in a 1950s health class, cue pounding, menacing score here, warning white girls of the dangers of venturing into the negro areas of town.
Not in Our Name, Goldberg declared in a trembling voice, was not a “peace” movement at all, but a front for a sinister organization called “The Revolutionary Communist Party”. While she seemed to be a bit confused about the differences between International Answer and the RCP, she hit all the usual red baiting chords perfectly. “The International Action Center and the Revolutionary Communist Party 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.” They supported the dictatorship in North Korea. Worst of all, they were “ineffective” and were going to hurt the anti-war movement, which, presumably, would have been better run by the Democrats in Congress who had just given George Bush the authorization to go to war a few days earlier or by “liberal” journalists like herself, the kind of people who swallowed Judy Miller’s lies at the New York Times without question and who let themselves serve, essentially, as a conduit for press releases from the White.
As opposed to the usual leftist bogeymen people like Goldberg like to scare you with, Ramsey Clark, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, Bob Avakian is rarely mentioned in the mainstream press, or even by professional red baiters like David Horowitz. He doesn’t speak at anti-war rallies or make public appearances. That’s a bit funny because everybody who’s ever been involved in any kind of leftist cause has seen one and only one photo of Bob Avakian, that ubiquitous bearded face underneath the Greek fisherman’s cap on every piece of literature the RCP puts out. It’s one of the biggest running jokes on the “left”. If Martians landed in the middle of NYC somewhere and by chance ran into an RCYB member and said “take me to your leader” they would get a quick answer to their question. In other words, although, unlike Ramsey Clark, Avakian never speaks at anti-war rallies in the US and rarely, if ever, makes public appearances, he’s only partly a shadowy figure.
I have no idea if Michelle Goldberg has read “From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist” or not but if she did, she would quickly realize that Avakian does not in fact support the dictatorship in North Korea. He considers it “more of a feudal society than a socialist one.” In fact, he came close to breaking with his friend Black Panther founder Eldridge Cleaver on that very issue. Avakian never supported the Soviet Union. He thought it was a rival “imperialist” power that cynically manipulated national liberation movements for its own national interests. He is severely critical of Fidel Castro. In fact, I found myself mentally defending Castro against Avakian while I was reading the book. Avakian seems to downplay the role that the Cuban army had in helping to end Apartheid in South Africa. He does in fact support Maoist guerillas in Peru and Nepal and, unlike just about everybody else in the world, dislikes the Dali Lama. Most importantly of all, Avakian considers the current Communist government in China to be anything but “communist”. The central event in Avakian’s life, the moment in his world that is the rough equivalent of that horrible moment in the lives of most liberal Democrats, that December when the Supreme Court nominated George Bush as president and the Democratic party accepted the decision, is the day that Mao Tse-tung died in 1976 and the Chinese leadership under Deng Xiaoping rolled back the cultural Revolution, jailed the “Gang of Four” and essentially, according to Avakian, restored capitalism in China, went from being a beacon of inspiration to revolutionaries all over the world to being a giant factory full of cheap labor filling the Walmarts of America with cheap crap and lending George Bush tremendous amounts of money that allow him to conduct his war in Iraq without raising taxes.
“From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist” is attempt to answer the question why. Why did a rather typical American from an upper-middle-class family in California come to see the succession of power in China in the 1970s as more important than Watergate, the Vietnam War, the founding of Microsoft, or the invention of the Internet?
In many ways, this should be obvious. The United States is not really the only major power in the world, after all. Indeed, China, not the United States is going to own the 21st Century. Brutal state capitalists though they may be, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party isn’t stupid. Unlike the political ruling class of the United States, the Chinese Communists aren’t terribly worried about forcing their own people back to the middle-ages, into bullying them into replacing Darwin with a creation narrative from the King James Bible. On the contrary, the Chinese government is modernizing the country at a breathtaking pace, sprinting past Russia to challenge the United States on the world stage, positioning the country for the inevitable clash that is going to take place with the United States in the near East over oil.
But, then again, unlike the elegant Texas patrician Ramsey Clark, the fire breathing Irish Marxist Alexander Cockburn or the mandarin intellectual Noam Chomsky, Avakian is a rather typical middle-class American. Anybody looking for an anti-American diatribe a la Henry Miller’s “The Air Conditioned Nightmare” or a sneering, detached Olympian reflection on American culture from the west bank of Paris is likely to be disappointed. Avakian is not only a rather typical middle-class American, he actually likes American culture, not only in the ways you would expect from a leftist, like an appreciation for black culture, but in ways you wouldn’t. Avakian reads the sports pages. He follows basketball and football. If he worked in your office, you could probably get him to participate in your betting pool for the NCAA tournament in March. In fact, he’d probably be the one who organizes it. Avakian wasn’t a geek or a rebel. He was a jock. Before he turned political activist, the most important thing in his life had been sports.
Of course there’s a larger agenda to all this. Marxists affecting to love sports to connect with the people can be almost a cliché (Castro’s a baseball fan, isn’t he?). In one sense, it’s simply the communist equivalent of Rudy Giuliani wearing a Yankees hat or the president throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game. But in Avakian’s case, the love of sports goes deeper than that. Unlike Noam Chomsky, who sees professional sports as a way the ruling class manipulates the energies of the working class, Avakian grew up looking at sports as the common ground where he could meet the black men he went to school with and find himself outside of the restrictions that American society, even in the San Francisco Bay area, would put on the ways blacks and white could communicate. Indeed, for Avakian, a basketball or football team is almost a little utopian society, a place where blacks and whites could interact and, while they might not necessarily agree on everything, would be able to work out their differences within a set of rules and a common set of assumptions.
Avakian did not grow up in the ruling class like Ramsey Clark (whose father was a Supreme Court Justice) or even the upper-middle-class. Even though his father graduated from Berkeley’s law school and eventually wound up sitting on the Alameda County Bench, Avakian is a second generation white ethnic (Armenian) American not very far removed from the lower-middle-class or even the working-class. One of Avakian’s uncles wound up dropping out of college and running an auto body shop. Instead of winding up as a liberal Democratic judge who was offered a position in the Kennedy administration, Avakian’s father could have just as easily found himself running a small shop or holding down some blue collar job. Perhaps this is why there’s so little anger at American culture (as opposed to the American government) in “From Ike to Mao.” Social mobility is real in Avakian’s childhood. For all of its problems, class, race, the cold war, Berkeley in the 1950s was not the creepy, grey conformist America you see in popular culture, but a vital multicultural urban world where the United States actually seemed to be getting better, more tolerant, less divided. Huac had finally been challenged out in the open. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. The Free Speech Movement at the University of California showed how college students, far from being apathetic or ignorant careerists, cared passionately about the country they lived in, cared passionately about fighting for their own freedom. Memories of the Depression had faded and the standard of living was getting better under Kennedy and Eisenhower. Liberal capitalism looked as though it was working just fine and had the ability to right itself and correct its mistakes.
Avakian doesn’t overly dramatize his youth. Unlike a lot of college professors who used to inflict “the 1960s” on us poor kids at every turn in the late 80s when I was in college, Avakian is honest about how he was very much on the margins of a lot of the political upsurge in Berkeley in the early1960s. Unlike Tom Hayden, he didn’t travel to the south to register voters. He was too sick. He had a debilitating kidney failure in his late teens that came close to killing him. He didn’t help organize the Free Speech Movement. He gave a speech or two. He didn’t participate in the HUAC demonstrations. He heard about them from a friend. He didn’t spring from high school a full-fledged Marxist revolutionary. He slowly evolved from the son of a liberal Democratic judge who dreamed of becoming a basketball coach into a full fledged communist activist. Indeed, there’s something rather true to life about this. Nobody has that one knockout blow that turns you from a conformist to a rebel, from a liberal Democrat into a revolutionary. As opposed to the endless stream of memoirs from 1960s radicals who like to find that one big thing that really clued them into what was going on in America, getting hosed down the steps at the HUAC demonstrations in San Francisco, getting beat by rednecks in the South, coming home from Vietnam to find your country a different place, Avakian’s steps are slow and almost subconscious.
What turns Avakian from an ordinary American who likes Ike to a hardcore supporter of Chairman Mao is a succession of little events, like watching the manipulative and abusive ways high school kids get treated, the myriad of little devices they use to separate blacks and whites, the abuse of their power by the police, the “quite desperation” common to suburban America. Then there were the obvious political events, the jarring realization that Kennedy and Stevenson lied during the Cuban Missile crisis, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, but, above all, there are those brief moments where you can see the system bare its fangs.
A seemingly unimportant passage near the middle of the book gives a lot of insight.
“He told me this vivid story about being in a courtroom in New York City when they brought in this prisoner to appear before the judge and the prisoner had obviously been brutally beaten by the cops. It was so bad that the judge sort of lost control for a moment and blurted out, “god, what happened?!” Then he described how the judge regained his “composure” and went on with the ordinary business of the court as if nothing were wrong.” (Pages 127-128)
We’ve all seen similar things. Think about that unforgettable scene live TV at the Convention Center in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina, when Geraldo Rivera and Shepherd Smith, appalled at the indifferent response to the disaster, have emotional breakdowns on camera, and yet, only a week later, are right back on Fox News pimping for George Bush. Or think about how Dick Durbin goes on an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate denouncing torture, comparing Gitmo to the Nazis or the Soviet Gulags. How long did it take for Abe Foxman and the ADL and the Chicago Democratic machine under Richard Daley to snap Durbin back in line? A few days later, he was teary eyed on the floor of the Senate apologizing for having spoken the truth.
In the end, it’s not a raging Oedipal Complex that turns Avakian into a Communist. It’s the lack of one. I have no idea what Avakian thought about his father in the 1960s, although he says that their relationship was “strained” but it’s clear that by the time he writes from Ike to Mao he looks at his father exactly the way a lot of us looked at Dick Durbin when he was bullied into apologizing for telling the truth on torture, as a basically decent man whose better impulses are forced back into line by an exploitive system he both benefits from and is trapped inside, that the only way to free them is to bring down the whole system and replace it with something better.
The ghostly presence in “From Ike to Mao”, the event that shadows a lot of Avakian’s thinking so much he barely feels the need to mention it, is the tumultuous national conference of SDS in 1969. Students for a Democratic Society, which had been founded in the early 1960s and which had always included both liberals and Marxist Leninists was no longer able to hold its contradictions and burst apart at the seems into competing factions. On one side, the more mainstream liberal members (and they would include Todd Gitlin, the brain trust behind Michelle Goldberg’s red baiting article on Not in Our name and an ex President of SDS) drifted out of the radical left and into mainstream politics, the McGovern campaign, academia and the middle-class. On the other hand, the more radical members of SDS split into the Progressive Labor Party, the Weather Underground and the Revolutionary Union (the RU, the forerunner of the Revolutionary Communist Party). While Tom Hayden was finding that radical politics and social mobility were not necessarily opposed to each other, Avakian found himself traveling the country, sleeping on the couches of other activists, driving a beat up car, getting into petty scrapes with the law, a common enough image of a 1960s middle class college dropout, but, in Avakian’s case, it brings him at long last into the center of the anti-war left and the most radical side of the black liberation movement where Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton, the founders of the Black Panther Party introduce him to Mao and to the idea that the United States cannot be changed by traditional Democratic methods. American liberalism and Democracy would not fulfill itself. From this moment on, Communist China, not Berkeley would be the model, Marxist Leninism not Capitalism, the Cultural Revolution not the Great Society, Mao not Ike.
This is not an easy concept to grasp in 2005, that there have been Americans who used to look at the Soviet Union or Communist China as working utopias. But Avakian does. China, for Avakian, for all its faults and all of the nasty power struggles that went on within the Chinese Communist Party, was full of promise and hope, a genuine working utopia.
“There were all these really exciting and uplifting things. We felt the whole spirit of “serve the people” that was popularized throughout society, and we saw living examples of revolutionary transformations……Again, you think about China coming from a feudal society less than twenty-five years before that, and here you had these big changes in the relations between men and women.” (Pages 252-253)
This is not only a complex line of thinking. It’s a very dangerous one. It leaves you open to being marginalized, to being looked at as a fringe kook, to attacks by professional red baiters like Michelle Goldberg, Todd Gitlin, and David Horowitz. The McCarthyite attacks on the scholarly community in the 1950s had their desired effect. Rational debate on Mao and the Cultural Revolution is next to impossible in the United States. Like the contemporary attack on the Middle Eastern studies department at Columbia by the pro-Israeli right, the gutting of the community of “China Hands” in the 1950s and the subsequent dearth of objective scholarship have made it difficult for a lay person to question the official US government line on Mao. Most of us have been taught from very early on that Mao is as bad as Hitler, that the Cultural Revolution was mass murder and totalitarian madness, just like we’ve all been taught that Arabs are terrorists and that Israelis are righteous victims. Very few of us speak Chinese or Arabic so very few of us have a body of knowledge from which to judge these arguments. But this doesn’t stop most of us from buying the official government position anyway.
In reality it’s a lot more complex than the New York Times and David Horowitz would have you believe. Attempting to judge national liberation movements or socialist politics in the third world by the standards of American liberalism ignores the fact that American liberalism depends at least partly on an American standard of living. For most people in the world, getting politically active involves a lot more risk than going to a Howard Dean meetup, canvassing a few voters and trolling for dates. As Avakian makes clear, China in the 1960s and 1970s was only a few decades removed from feudalism and colonial domination. It was under the constant threat of attack by not only the United States but the Soviet Union as well. Only twenty five years before it had gone through a brutal occupation by Japan and an epic civil war. The level of poverty in the countryside was something few Americans could imagine.
“China was still a backward country, it was only a few decades removed from feudalism and domination by imperialism—a society where, for generations and centuries, the masses in the countryside were barely hanging on and millions were starving, even in better years.” (Page 253)
The standing armies and high-tech security states in the west, the gigantic wall that separates white, European Jews in Israel from poor brown skinned Arabs, the system of checkpoints and border crossings between the United States and Mexico, the single roads that make it so difficult to get from the banlieus to downtown Paris, the enormous amounts of money spent on police forces in the United States, none of these things just rose up by accident and all of them have reasons for their existence a bit less noble than protecting people from crime or terrorism. According to the CIA’s Fact Book (which we can presume is not a radical leftist organization), the United States in 2001 consumes 19.65 million barrels of oil per day, over 4 times as much as the Chinese, who consume 4.956 million barrels per day. The lowest 10% of the population in the United States have 1.8% of the wealth, the highest 10% 30.5%. Cuba, which we’re all supposed to think is “totalitarian”, has an infant mortality rate of 6.33 per 1000 live births. Iraq, which we’re all supposed to think is on the road to democracy, has an infant mortality rate of 50.25 deaths per 1000 live births. In oil rich Iran, part of the “axis of evil”, we have a per capita income rate of $7,700 per year. In oil rich Iraq it’s $2,100.
The economic differences between the privileged in the first world and the poor are staggering and the privileged know this. Most of us don’t. Unlike people in the poorer countries (who face guns and F-16s), most middle-class white Americans are kept in line through slight of hand and media and ideological manipulation. Most of us believe that the amount of money you have has come kind of moral component. The poor simply don’t want to be rich, or, since there’s a huge income discrepancy between whites and blacks, the poor have some kind of genetic inferiority that explains why they are somehow naturally suited to being at the bottom. Media images of the third world tend to dehumanize. Violence in the Islamic world is explained by religious generalizations (Muslims are violent) and not with any reference to class and political oppression. When a white middle class American breaks though his or her ideological blinders and sees the truth, he/she must be dealt with harshly. The Republicans and their surrogates at the cable news networks spent an enormous amount of money doing opposition research on Cindy Sheehan. Every misspoken word, every familial problem, every mistake she made was broadcast on Fox News or on CNN for the world to see. Rachel Corrie, the American college student killed in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army looked exactly like the kind of typical blond, middle class American girl who would get 24/7 news coverage had she gone missing in Aruba was all but ignored by the mainstream media and subjected to a savage campaign of posthumous vilification by the Likud Party and their surrogates on the American right. What upset them were her letters from the horrifically poor, militarized town of Rafah, which very clearly outlined the class differences between Palestinians and Israeli Jews and vividly described the economic violence against the Arabs that is a prime motivation for their support for terrorist groups like Hamas.
The rich do not look kindly upon people who question white skin privilege, even if it’s their own and any “liberal” who looks nostalgically back to the pre-Patriot-Act days of the 1960s as some sort of golden age where the government kept its nose out of peoples’ business and avoided persecuting political dissent would have a rude awakening if he studied enough history. By the 1969 national conference of SDS, the liberal optimism Avakian describes from his childhood is gone. At the moment of its seeming triumph, the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Great Society, American liberalism created a savage backlash that reverberates with us today. George Wallace had run a strong third party campaign in 1968 based on an alliance of racist working class northern whites with the south and gave the Republicans the model for their Southern Strategy. The radical right wing Republicans had fully recovered from their disaster of 1964 to begin the process of taking over the party and to lay their groundwork for the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Feminism and gay rights, seemingly triumphant at the time of Roe vs. Wade, would give birth to a resurgence evangelical Protestant movement that eventually worked its way into the center of the American government.
The American government was actively persecuting opponents of the Vietnam War. From the well-known electronic surveillance of Martin Luther King to the dirty tricks campaign against Jean Seberg to Nixon’s cheering of the construction workers who attacked the anti-war demonstration on Wall Street, there was no halcyon pre-Patriot-Act American government that respected civil liberties. Indeed, American history in the 1960s reads like one long body count. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy were all gunned down in spectacularly public assassinations. Black neighborhoods erupted in riots and were savagely beaten down by national guardsmen with shoot to kill orders. Student protesters were assassinated at Kent State and Jackson State. And, while there’s no real proof, of course, that Malcolm X or Martin Luther King were set up by the FBI, the FBI’s treatment of the Black Panther Party certainly makes it reasonable to ask the question. The murder of Fred Hampton by the police in 1969 while much less known than the Kennedy or King assassinations rocked the radical and anti-war communities and was a clear cut case of the assassination of a political dissident by the American government. Avakian’s white skin and middle-class family was not going to protect him from a similar fate, as he makes clear in from Ike to Mao, since not only did the FBI have an extensive case file him where high ranking officials in the FBI are quoted that Avakian was the kind of “extremist” they needed to come down on “hard and with innovation”, he found his movements monitored around the clock by the police and with sinister overtones.
“Later we did a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiry……This one guy in particular wrote up a whole diagram of our house, indicating though which windows someone could see different things going on in the house; and, of course, you have to think, the implications are pretty heavy, what is the purpose of drawing up diagrams like that? To my understanding, that kind of diagram was used by the police in the murder of Fred Hampton in Chicago.” (Page 325)
Keeping this in mind, it’s not hard to understand why a left-wing activist like Avakian, seeing political and cultural reaction in the air and watching the American government come down hard and violently on political dissidents, would be attracted to a radical superpower like China with a leader like Mao, who had survived a 6000 mile long march through an epic civil war only to gain power and triumph over his enemies. As the Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver said to the young Avakian when Avakian asked him who the picture (of Mao) was. “This is the baddest man on the planet.” Indeed, Mao had the same appeal for a lot of radicals in the 1960s that John Brown had for the abolitionist movement. After being beaten down and bullied by their enemies for years, here was a man who knew how to fight back hard on their own terms and win. And here was a superpower run by people of color that could slug it out punch for punch with white imperialist powers like Russia and the United States and which was willing to support revolution by brown skinned people all over the world against colonialism. China would always be a place to go to hide for awhile if you really did begin to feel as if the FBI were planning to turn you into the next Fred Hampton.
Unfortunately for Avakian, finding Maoism in the late 1960s was a bit like becoming a fan of the Seattle grunge scene in late 1993. The seeds of its destruction and cooptation were already present when Avakian first visited China in 1971. While the descriptions of Communist China as a utopia in “From Ike to Mao” often feel sketchy or stretched to make a point, Avakian’s dread over the power struggles between leaders of the Chinese Communist party (going on behind the scenes) has a vividness and honesty that make for gripping reading. You feel his disappointment at the cancellation of the big rally in Tiananmen Square almost the way you’d feel disappointed by a Yankees game being rained out when you were 12 years old and you follow along with his attempts to ferret out the truth of what’s going on (The big rally is cancelled because of a conflict between Mao and one of his top lieutenants) the way you’d follow the protagonist in a good detective story. You join in with his attempts to rationalize the way the local party members would “filter” information flowing down to the masses because, like Avakian, you’re reluctant to give up hope that the dream of the Cultural Revolution and of a revolutionary superpower would go on. But Avakian is too honest to go on fooling himself and he begins to admit that China was taking on a lot of the same qualities as the old Soviet Union. It was turning into a revolutionary superpower devoted to its own imperialist interests, supporting the ruling class in Pakistan in order to play power politics against the Russians, turning its back on revolutionaries who genuinely needed their support. In the end this would prove fatal to the dream of Maoism as the Nixon administration deftly exploited the rift between Communist China and the Soviet Union to open the enormous country up to western exploitation and Mao’s opponent Deng Xiaoping was able to seize power and savagely persecute Mao’s followers after his death in 1976.
Avakian’s life back in the United States was becoming just as grim, as he fell out with his mentor Leibel Bergman and the RU descended into factional disputes between Avakian and his rivals led by Micky Jarvis and what Avakian calls the “Menshevik Faction” (doctrinaire old line Communists). In the end, Avakian would go into exile but in France, not China and what motivated this was a protest, not against the government of the United States, but the Communist government of China. Leading thousands of his followers through the streets of Washington DC to protest the visit of Deng Xiaoping to the White House, waiving red flags and Little Red Books, Avakian is set on by the DC Police and the march is violently broken up and in a way that’s familiar to anybody who’s participated in the anti-war movement recently, the cops wildly inflate the charges against the people they arrest. Instead of summonses for disorderly conduct, there are charges of conspiracy and assaulting police officers and possible prison sentences amounting not to days or weeks but decades. Avakian applies to immigrate to France as a political exile and in an almost surreal chain of events is accepted. One almost wishes Avakian had taken more time with these later passages. They feel rushed and almost hamstrung compared to the earlier parts of the book where he describes his youth in Berkeley. You almost feel him writing in a straight jacket in order to avoid giving ammunition to his rivals on the left (who, unlike Goldberg, know who Avakian is and will tend to amount more effective attacks than just try to scare you with the false idea that he supports the government of North Korea). You want to know more about the trial and more about his transition from life in the United States to life in France. Indeed, the spectacle of a hard core Communist going into exile for protesting a Communist government in the United States (which is defending that Communist government) could make for a plot so wonderfully surreal that you could imagine it coming out of a novel by Conrad or Graham Greene. One really wants to see a sequel to “From Ike to Mao” called something like “From Telegraph Avenue to the Left Bank. How a Sunny California Boy Learned to Love the Parisian Rain” that goes into more detail and his trial and exile.
So that’s where it stood for two decades, with Avakian living somewhere in Paris, unknown to the American mainstream and well known on the American left (where everybody had seen that one photo of him in the Greek Fisherman’s cap), and his followers building up their little empire of Maoist bookstores and subscription base for their newspapers like every other Marxist Leninist Party, hanging out at liberal and leftist events and generally annoying passers by with their claims to be the one and true way to Revolution.
But that all changed in 2000 and in 2002 under the Bush administration when American liberalism collapsed in a way more suddenly and spectacularly then the World Trade Center on 9/11, allowing an election to be stolen from them without protest then voting away the powers of Congress to give George Bush the authorization to wage a preemptive war in Iraq. Indeed while the right is busy mopping up the last few vestiges of liberalism (flushing them out of their spider holes where, upon capture, they sadly protest that they want abortion to be “safe legal and rare” or that they “support the troops”), the hard left, the very people who split SDS in 1969, have enjoyed an almost astonishing resurgence, something that’s been ignored in the mainstream media (outside of the few red baiting articles like the one in Salon). The only real opposition to the war in Iraq, to extrajudicial detentions, to the Christian right is being led, not by liberal Democrats but by Communists. Bush’s real opposition does not consist of the Clintons Clintons or Howard Dean or the DNC but of people like Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, Alexander Cockburn and Bob Avakian. While the Democrats cower in fear that someone might call them unpatriotic, International Answer, Not in Our Name and World Can’t Wait have led massive demonstrations with diverse crowds drawn from all walks of American life. The demonstration against the war in Iraq in September of 2005, while ignored by the Democrats, came close to half a million people, matching the largest demonstrations against the Vietnam war in the 1960s. This is the real legacy of Avakian’s quixotic protest in 1980 and of the tradition of Marxist Leninist organization that came out of SDS. One only hopes they can keep it together long enough to end the war in Iraq and keep the Christian right from getting even more power over American life. Those annoying people who used to do nothing but sell newspapers are now the ones leading the opposition.
And really, if the Michelle Goldbergs of the world don’t like it, let them find their courage and stop surrendering to the most dangerous government and the most extremist president this country has ever seen. It’s hypocritical, in the end, to accuse people of supporting “totalitarianism” when you’re too gutless to protest the murder of 100,000 people in Iraq, the end of Roe vs. Wade, and the infiltration by the Christian right of the very center of American power. Take your “Support Our Troops” magnet off your Prius. Stop talking about how abortion should be safe, legal, and “rare”, or just shut the fuck up.