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Cults of Personality

A couple days ago a friend sent me the link to the infamous, and unintentionally hilarious, Bob Avakian Burning Man article that the RCP-USA published, without any irony, over a year ago.  Apparently people are still encountering this article and wondering whether it was intended as a joke: members of the RCP-USA "popularize" revolution by going to the neo-hippy festival, Burning Man, and postering the highway with pictures of Avakian.  Because, the argument goes, Avakian's face somehow equals revolution; it is the platonic essence of revolution and, I suppose, one just needs to contemplate its existence in order to understand the necessity for communism.  Rereading this article, and again being struck by the dogmatic mindlessness of its writers, I could not help but be reminded of the numerous times I've encountered certain RCP-USA members and been flabbergasted by their glassy-eyed and uncritical cultishness.  (I say "certain" members because, occasionally, I'll meet older members of the organization, who were around before the rise of the Cult of Bob, who seem to be able to think for themselves and have read more than writings by or about Bob Avakian.)

Encountering this sadly hilarious article for the third or fourth time caused me to again wonder how an organization that claims to be revolutionary ended up devolving into a quasi-religious organization centred around an embarrassing cult of personality.  Although I think the RCP-USA, even at its height, has always had serious ideological problems (i.e. its shameful lapses on both indigenous and queer self-determination), there was a time when it had some right to the label "revolutionary communist".  So how the hell did it degenerate into a cult devoted to a second-order thinker who, at no point in time in USAmerican radical history, was leading the masses in revolution?  More importantly: why have so many revolutionary organizations throughout the world ruined themselves by constructing (and sometimes with more legitimate reasons than the one given by the RCP-USA) cults of personality?

Whenever I've asked Avakian-worshipping members of the RCP-USA about this problem, however, I've always been met by defensive hostility.  Their first knee-jerk response is to argue that questioning the cult of personality is "bourgeois".  Of course, their only justification for this response is that the bourgeois media complains about cults of personalities as part of its overall anti-communist struggle and so therefore, since I'm also complaining about the same thing, I must be "bourgeois".  And when I argue back that maybe, on the contrary, it is the height of bourgeois individualism to endorse a "great man" theory of history, they tend to lapse into a monologue about how, if it was 1910 and I encountered Lenin, then I wouldn't realize how great he was.  This of course hinges on whether or not Avakian is the same as Lenin.

Moreover, and this is the most important fact, Lenin would not be Lenin if there was no world historical revolution in Russia: there would be no such thing as Leninism (as a universal development of revolutionary science) because there could only be Leninism-as-Leninism through the crucible of revolution.  If the Bolsheviks had not seized power then we would have to say that Lenin's theory, though perhaps interesting, was a dead end.  Even more importantly: what we call Leninism is a theory for which Lenin, as an individual, is nothing more than a cipher––a world historical revolution is more than one person, theory does not just emerge from the brain of a single individual but emerges as the end result of a collective process, and we know that Lenin did not make revolution all by himself, alone with maybe a gun, but was rather part of a larger world historical process.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that the theories that push revolutionary science further often require someone to write them down, to engage in polemics, and concretize an ideology, we often do tend to get caught up in erroneous and bourgeois ideas about individual brilliance.  But the Lenins and Maos of the world are just living end-results of a longer process, the last links in an unrecognized revolutionary chain,  able to finally provide a concrete analysis of concrete circumstances because they happen to be in the right social position at the right time.  To imagine otherwise is to pretend that individual humans are outside of history, that there are such things as "philosopher-kings" or ubermenschen that stand above the herd.

Still, whenever we are faced with those individuals who possess the privilege to unify theoretical concepts and rise to positions of leadership (sometimes for good reasons, other times for not-so-good reasons), because we are conditioned to think that individuals and not collective people, make history, we often capitulate to greater or lesser degrees of individual worship.  The RCP-USA's Cult of Avakian is just history repeated as farce; there are earlier and more tragic examples.  The cult of personality around Stalin, the cult of personality around Mao… The codification of the cult of personality, by Enver Hoxha, where it was actually argued that cults of personality were revolutionary and politically necessary.  (And as much as the RCP-USA has a history of ideologically struggling against Hoxhaite theory one cannot help but notice how it has adopted similar arguments regarding the personality cult.)

Even if we could argue that the adoption of these cults of personalities made sense (i.e. Mao Zedong was the leader of the Chinese Revolution, and other revolutionary leaders who have been accorded cultish devotion were also "heroes" for the masses), that does not mean they possessed any lasting benefit for the revolution.  The Cult of Mao, after all, was used during the Cultural Revolution by even the enemies of Mao's political line; the fact it came to stand over and above revolutionary politics was useful for counter-revolution.  Or the intentional fostering of the Cult of Gonzalo by the Sendero Luminoso meant that, once Abimael Guzman denounced the Peoples War, the revolution collapsed: the great leader cannot be wrong because he stands outside of history––his possible betrayal can never be grasped because, if he is the revolution itself, how can he betray himself?

And yet, when it comes to groups like the RCP-USA one must ask why, if these groups have not led any revolutionary process let alone seized power, the theoretical output and the groups' practical activities, are concentrated around a single personality.  The Cult of Avakian is not alone in this phenomena; Avakianism is not the only ism that imagines, without a revolutionary process or revolutionary consummation, that the ideas of its great leader constitute a new avenue of revolutionary theory far in advance of any proof.  There was no Leninism before the Russian Revolution; there was no Maoism before the Chinese Revolution.  Pretending otherwise is to ascribe the present to the pre-revolutionary past and assume that the individuals behind these molar isms were destined, simply because of the power of their mind, by heaven to succeed.

Furthermore, it is also far too easy simply to point the finger at those groups that actively foster cults of personality and imagine that the rest of us, because our elevation of individual organizers and intellectuals is not so crudely obvious, are beyond criticism.  The cult of the individual often takes a more pernicious and sublimated form, pushed under appeals to collectivity and consensus; even in those groups that self-righteously lambast others for capitulation to a daddy figure there might still be a single individual whose word is doctrine, whose opinion matters more than others, and who treats collective organizing as nothing more than a reflection of his own ego.  (The he is intentional because such individuals are usually male.)  For at this conjuncture, drenched as we are in the filth of bourgeois individuality, it is always easier to subordinate our collective interests to the desires of whoever appears to be the hardest working and/or most intelligent comrade rather than, as we need to do if we have any hope of overthrowing this nightmare, building a structure that will transform everyone into leaders.


  1. this is probably the major reason why I've never been able to take either kasama or mike ely seriously. someone who spent a year or so in the organization and gradually grew disillusioned, withdrew, etc. I can accept. but ely was in there for ten years, wasn't he? and ten years, considering how wretched the rcp must appear from the inside (we've only got the outside view and its bad enough) is a really astonishing length of time, and I cant help thinking that his differences with the rcp aren't as significant as he makes them out to be. how could he have been in the rcp that long (during the 90s, I think, when the cult of bob must have already been in full swing) while disagreeing with it that fundamentally?

    I could be completely wrong because I haven't read veyr much of his stuff (just a pamphlet of his and a few articles) but when I've still got a stack of good reading reaching to the ceiling 'website of RCP-USA veteran' is of pretty much no interest.

  2. As far as I know, the association of Mike Ely with the RCP,USA has been more close to 30 than 10 years.

  3. Here is another funny piece by the RCP when the cult began to spike. Hilarious use of their identity politics and worship of their savior Bob.

  4. Wow. This is sadly hilarious: African American and Latino communities will be revitalized through the genius of Great White Father Avakian.

  5. In your article you state "Abimael Guzman denounced the Peoples War", on what information, documents, etc. do you base this assertion ???

    1. More accurately: he seemed to denounce the PW due to the statement he appeared to release from prison. This is the denunciation I'm talking about: the demand to stop the PW and move forward to peace accords. This is pretty much a historical fact, and I'm surprised you are asking for information regarding this when it is, well, known by everyone.

      Now, whether or not he actually wrote it, or wrote it under coercion, is up for debate. Personally, I think it was either manufactured or written under coercion, but that was not the point I was making with this article. My point was that, due to the cult of personality around Gonzalo, the statement fractured the movement: some people just accepted it immediately due to an uncritical acceptance of everything Gonzalo said; others didn't.

  6. Avakian is "Jim Jones " and RCP is cult . Remember RCP members must turn over all their
    money so Avakian can live high off the hog French Rviera in France in a mansion. Remember
    cult leader Jim Jones also claimed to be revolutionary communist too. Lyndon Larouche cult
    leader as well and Fred Newman. Remember all Jim Jones folowers of People Temple denied
    they were a cult a month before suicides and killng at jonestown ! Did you know Avakian has a
    harem too

    1. Although I do believe there is something unfortunately cultish about the RCP-USA (so your comment here is not really some challenge to what I wrote), I do think there are a number of problems with this comment. First of all, Jones did claim to be some kind of revolutionary socialist but the whole Peoples Temple thing was never entirely communist––it was always openly religious, and saw itself as a religious organization (though in the early days it depicted itself as some form of liberation theology), which makes it different from the RU/RCP-USA which was, at one point, a significant communist movement that did not conceive of itself in a religious manner. Moreover, it is not really correct that RCP-USA members "must turn over all their money" so Avakian can enjoy some sort of high life in a mansion in France: i) there is no evidence he was living in a mansion in France; ii) the money used to pay for Avakian in his so-called "exile" (which, of course, was pretty silly) would have come from the regular dues; iii) he's been back in the US for some time now, so nobody is turning over their money to support him in France. Speculating about whether or not he has a "harem" seems like just that: speculation. It's not something you can really prove except for just saying that you heard this from some guy who knows a guy who knows a guy.

      While we can and should critique the cultic aspects that have developed over the course of the RCP-USA's political degeneration, we should do so according to actual facts rather than basing this critique on speculation about membership dues and a supposed harem. There's still a problematic (and silly) cult of personality around Avakian with or without proving these assumptions.

  7. I generally distrust the use of personality cult most times I hear it because it has little to do with questions. It's used exhaustively in tandem with a certain culture industry type of critique that is quite a superficial attempt to pathologize certain movements based entirely on aesthetics. It's really detached from function. Having the pictures of Avakian isn't really a personality cult nor is the Burning Man stunt, it is just another recruiting tactic which might seem foolish, but that's just the Party's branding, which is as relevant to their theoretical output as the colour scheme. Anti-Communists and even some Communists will try to vituperate people for nothing else than having nice pictures of people they admire. The problem is that the available theoretical output is exclusively BA's and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of criticism from the party members seem like the real problem. The PRC-RCP in Canada doesn't have this problem, but one things it lacks is the openness to expose disagreements on ideological matters. Yet this is evident in the MER-RSM and their struggles against TERF ideology.

    My method for gauging the measure of a personality cult is if they publish too many transcripts of the leader's talks in book form. Editing is important for effective communicating, and everyone should look over their own work carefully and reflect on what they intend to do as opposed to keeping not hallowed verbatim.

    1. I think you're a little confused about the PCR-RCP's lack of an openness about a willingness to expose ideological disagreements. The problem with TERF ideology in the MER-RSM is a problem of the MER-RSM, which is a mass organization that, yes, established by the PCR-RCP, also has its own autonomy. A few people joined the RSM in Montreal with a TERF position that actually was against the MER's own constitution and so were eventually booted out, and a discussion happened about this at the MER's own congress. None of this represented a line struggle within the party, at least that I know about.

      Otherwise, yes there are always ideological disagreements within any party but there are no line struggles I know about, and no reason to "expose" things for principled reasons. There is also the problem that its theoretical output has slowed, though it's picking up, so it has lacked the organ to talk about ideological disagreement in any significant manner. My main point here, though, is that when you're talking about the PCR-RCP's "ideological disagreements" you're just talking about a disagreement within a mass organization that was public, or at the very least its business, and otherwise it appears you don't know what you're talking about. Should it write more on ideological matters that are controversial? Yes: but the lack of theoretical output as of late is something it is trying to address.


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