Friday, 2 February 2007

The Chairman Bob Phenomenon

Sometimes, it seems, the entire purpose of the "Marxism" group on here is to indulge in endless debates on the Marxist value of Maoism. Thread after thread, the same old arguments - die4oil bawling about the fat, useless white Amerikkkan working class; trots of all kinds pulling their hair out; and henry and Jay pimping their supreme overlord, Chairman Bob Avakian of the Revolutionary Communist Party. And it was there that one guy linked, in that rather robotic manner that Bob-cultists do, to the fellow's voluminous website of rather epic talks.

Avakian's roots are typical of American Maoists - while in good old Blighty thr principal beneficiaries of the New Left '68 generation were us Trots, our transatlantic cousins looked enviously over the Pacific to the Cultural Revolution and that plump little fellow with the sharp tongue. How many Party Headquarters there were to bombard...Avakian came up through SDS, via the Revolutionary Youth Movement, and led the largest section of that to form today's RCP; a Maoist group remarkable principally for still being there, after the Sino-Albanian split and the nouveaux philosophes and everything else. As a figure, he's unassuming, photogenic for a man of his age, good looking in a beret. He swears. He watches sport. And he talks, a lot, at length.

At a lonely moment, hurting for something to listen to while playing Breakout, i found myself digging out that URL. I wanted to hear him defend maoism, preferably without the historical whitewashings one hears so often from that quarter. I wanted to see what they thought separated them from the trots and revisionists and capitalist roaders and anarchists and everything else.

What's initially remarkable is how little overt maoism actually gets into it. Oh, sure, it's fairly common currency nowadays for a far leftists to engage in some crude demagoguery and "dumb down" their revolutionism for petit bourgeois consumption. But he does not do this. He just doesn't sound particularly Maoist. The only thing that comes up to that end a lot is the Maoist view of contradictions - there are antagonistic contradictions, which must be resolved through class struggle, but there are also contradictions among the "people" (that is, the social basis of the revolution) which, although not necessarily confrontational, must be dealt with somehow to avoid serious problems further down the line. You wouldn't know it unless you already knew it.

In fact, it strikes me as rather suspicious the absence of serious issues like the historic failure of those societies Bob deems to have been "socialist", the role of cultural revolution and nationalism in Maoist discourse and so on. For a guy who can find three hours to talk darkly about the NBA being fixed (probably the best fun out of the lot of them, sort of like some crank in a bar going off on one), he sure as hell has problems with his own 'patch'. At one point he dismisses the "Trotskyite" version of internationalism before proposing as the correct path something that any Trotskyist could happily sign up to. What makes you different, Bob, apart from the specific origins of American Maoism?

What's extra interesting is the small-scale personality cult the little bastard's got going. The RCP rank and file are notorious in America for the rather "uncritical" attitude they maintain towards their bossman, and on the face of it, it's difficult to see - this is not some Greek hero, but a foul-mouthed, corner-of-a-pub hectorer of the first degree. A more down to earth political leader is difficult to imagine. However, this is exactly the holding pattern for the Stalinist "leader" figure. Zizek pointed out in some lecture that the difference between the fascist and stalinist dictator is that the latter will applaud the empty space he just vacated after leaving the podium, being as he is only the embodiment of the people's will. Stalin joked with workers on public appearances. It's just how it works.

The biggest obstacle to a serious engagement with Mao's work is Maoism as such. One cannot seriously examine Mao's view of contradictions, or the idea of a cultural revolution as an ongoing safeguard against counterrevolution, without first dropping all the Maoist baggage - endorsement of Stalin as a progressive figure, slightly David Duke esque approach to casualty figures, sectarian approach to other tendencies and so on. There may be something in it, but there won't be much left when we're done.