But this self-described moral teacher and disciple of Socrates and Christ has nothing to say about the collusion of progressives in the worst episode of mass murder and human oppression in recorded history. Instead, West is the proud co-chair of the “Democratic Socialists of America,” an organization that defines its position on the left as “anti-anti-Communist” — that is, opposed to those who opposed Communism and supported America’s Cold War against the Soviet gulag. West is also an enthusiastic member of the academic movement to resurrect the ideas that inspired Communism, burnishing the escutcheons of such Stalinist intellectuals as Gyorgy Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, and Eric Hobsbawm, all heroes of the current university establishment. West himself is the author of books devoted to this resurrection project, including Black Theology and Marxist Thought and The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought,his first book.
West is a cheerleader not only for corrupt but intellectually worthy Marxists but also for Maoist charlatans such as Bob Avakian, the American founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party, a violent fringe cult. Calling himself “Chairman” as an homage to his hero, Avakian is the author of such inane titles as Mao Tse-Tung’s Immortal Contribution and Radical Ruptures: or Yes, Mao More Than Ever, along with an autobiography, From Ike to Maoand Beyond. Its preface, written by a member of the cult, credits Cornel West with inspiring the book: “A short time back, Cornel West, speaking to the important role Bob Avakian has played in the fight against white supremacy and in relation to the quest for a radically different world, suggested to Bob that he think about a memoir of his life so far.” When the book was completed, West provided his comrade with this blurb: “Bob Avakian is a long distance runner in the freedom struggle against imperialism, racism and capitalism. His voice and witness are indispensable in our efforts to enhance the wretched of the earth. And his powerful story of commitment is timely.”
BROTHER TO ANTI-SEMITES West’s emergence as a prominent public intellectual occurred in the 1990s and was facilitated by his decision to assume a role as a bridge builder between blacks and Jews at a time of crisis between the two communities. In August 1991, an orthodox Jew named Yankel Rosenbaum was killed in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn during a race riot that also featured cries of “Death to the Jews” and an incendiary anti-Semitic speech by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton was also prominent in a second attack, inciting his followers to lay siege to a Jewish-owned store in Harlem to drive out the “white interloper.” The store was set on fire by a member of Sharpton’s organization and seven customers and employees — all black and Hispanic — died in the flames.
These incidents were accompanied by blatantly anti-Semitic outbursts from prominent literary and political figures in the African-American community, including, of course, Amiri Baraka, as well as Jesse Jackson (who referred to New York as “hymietown”), Sharpton, onetime SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael, and Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan, as usual, went the extra step: “You [Jews] are wicked deceivers of the American people,” Farrakhan ranted on one occasion. “You have sucked their blood. You are not real Jews (who everyone knows were black). You are the synagogue of Satan, and you have wrapped your tentacles around the U.S. government, and you are deceiving and sending this nation to hell. . . . But if you choose to crucify me, know that Allah will crucify you.” It only made matters worse that in 1995 Farrakhan was able to organize a “Million Man March” on Washington, attracting to his podium mainstream figures in the African-American community, including Martin Luther King III and Cornel West.
The legitimization of anti-Semitism in public discourse so soon after the Holocaust was a profound shock to American Jews, who were also disheartened by the fact that such bigots remained prominent national figures instead of suffering the kind of social ostracism that would have been the fate of whites who had made similar comments against blacks. West stepped into the middle of this kulturkampf as one of the few black figures willing even to recognize that black anti-Semitism might be something to be concerned about. “As to anti-Semitism the first step is to get our community to acknowledge that there is a problem,” he wrote in a book published in 1995.