Interview with KPFK Radio Interim Program Director
On the Dialogue Between Cornel West and Bob Avakian: “This is two people bringing their A game”
January 12, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On December 19, 2014, the last day of the winter fund drive on KPFK in Los Angeles, Interim Program Director Alan Minsky joined host Michael Slate on The Michael Slate Show to talk about “Revolution and Religion: The Fight For Emancipation and the Role of Religion—A Dialogue Between Cornel West and Bob Avakian.” A four-CD set of the audio recording of this historic Dialogue that took place on November 15, 2014 at the Riverside Church in New York City was offered as a thank you gift for people who called in to support the show and the station; $3,100 was raised in the course of the show. What follows are some of the comments Alan Minsky made during the show about the West-Avakian Dialogue.
Alan Minsky: Cornel West was a professor of mine. He not only was a professor of mine, he was my counselor. He was one of the people in a “legal team.” We were arrested in a political demonstration on our college campus. There were six of us. We had to face the executive committee of the university for our actions, which were doing the right thing, basically. And we got to choose, so we decided to pick a dream team from the faculty who would defend us, and one of our six was Cornel West. And while they deliberated after the trial, as it were, I was sitting out there talking to Cornel West on the way in which the South African revolution—which was ongoing—how much it fit into a classical Marxist paradigm. So that’s what I did while they deliberated. So he was a counselor of mine, and a professor in a previous class.
Michael Slate: What about this Dialogue?
Alan Minsky: What I love about this, and what I try to do as program director at KPFK, whatever the political angle people are bringing, I want to see people bring their “A game.” This is two people bringing their A game. People might look at someone like Cornel West and think he’s just an on-off switch because they see him so much in the media.
But think about what it means for Cornel West to be speaking at Riverside Church, with Bob Avakian. This is a guy who campaigned for Barack Obama, and yet had enough integrity very quickly to criticize Barack Obama, and then it went really sour, and the criticisms continued. So now he’s up talking at Riverside Church and the question on the table isn’t just a better world beyond the capitalist world we live in today, but challenging his very core beliefs.
So you want to see Cornel West, understand going in that he’s got to bring his A game, and then have him deliver his A game—his A game, not somebody who usually is just a decent communicator, but this is Cornel West bringing his A game.
It’s a very, very rich text. When I heard about this event, it was on the radar screen and then I finally heard it—and Avakian, too. He doesn’t back down on his critique of religion, either, in the course of the entire thing.
I was listening to the first clip you played, and Avakian does a very interesting rhetorical strategy. He combines the critique of the present and then a vision for the future. And he actually combines them rhetorically by saying these are the horrors of the present that will not be in the future society that we hope and dream to build.
Michael Slate: You’re talking about what they pose, and they’re calling on people to face this, but what they came together to talk about was also how do you do this. There was a lot of very deep thought that went in there.
Alan Minsky: Sure. In fact, the very framing. Again, Bob Avakian, probably familiar in talking about revolution and for taking the side of it, and you throw in religion, and obviously someone who’s a very declared atheist throughout his career, and then when religion is tossed on the table, along with revolution, it really becomes revolution and the condition of man. So there’s a deep philosophical component to this. And then the inverse of that is true. Cornel West having to respond in the same manner—deeply philosophically, but also the social critique and the vision of the future from Cornel West.
Michael Slate: Pacifica [Radio] recorded this Dialogue. And you were critical to it.
Alan Minsky: And they did a damn good job. It’s a beautiful recording.
Michael Slate: And when I first talked to you about this, you immediately went, “We’ve got to get this.”
Alan Minsky: I want people to bring their A game, and I knew that this document, the document being the text of the speeches, the way it’s played out over KPFK as audio, that’s what it would deliver.
After the clip of Bob Avakian and Cornel West answering the last question from the audience posed at the Dialogue was played during the show:
Alan Minsky: Cornel West there, telling the story about John Coltrane, and the Coltrane family remains very close to KPFK. We are a place that continues that legacy, the revolutionary aesthetic legacy of John Coltrane here at KPFK.
Make sure this radio station continues so we can continue to bring you revolutionary voices, both aesthetic and political and a combination of the two... It’s a thank you gift that will open your mind. You’ll think about the society we live in. You’ll think about a better society that can be built. It’s not just bringing an A game, but it’s bringing an A game about the very core issues that we have here at KPFK, that we focus on in our public affairs, critiquing the society without turning a blind eye to any of its faults—and contemplating a better future.
The thing too about revolution vs. reform, I don’t know who out there really thinks that revolution as an animating and inspiring concept has gone away or will go away. I always say about Britain, after World War 2, that social democracy was pushed a little further down the road than it ever was here in the United States, National Health and all that. You would never have gone to the working class houses of Manchester, Lancaster, Liverpool, and confused them with the palaces in West London. There was no point at which there wasn’t class inequality, [at which] there wasn’t class oppression. So whatever degree to which you think reformed capitalism can produce a truly better society, it’s always going to fall short of something other than capitalism. So pick this up, challenge yourself, think about revolution, hear what two revolutionary thinkers are thinking in late 2014, what their thoughts are about revolution and building a post-capitalist society, and then challenge yourself to think you can get there any other way. It’s a challenge! I’m not saying there’s a right answer I’m giving you. That’s a challenge.
KPFK is committed to bringing forward the revolutionary. We’ll bring the A game of liberal reformers. We’ll bring the A game of revolution in the current context of where we are in this country. But we’re not going to be silencing revolutionary voices. We’re going to be bringing them forward, we’re going to be challenging our listeners to think about a better world in our time on this planet, and how we get there and what the barriers are to getting there.
People are talking about why I don’t do what a lot of people have done who have worked at Pacifica and parlayed their experience here into working elsewhere in the media, at the “public radio” stations in Southern California. For me it’s pretty simple. If I’m going to be told that I’m going to have Exxon-Mobile’s voice on the radio and we’re not going to have revolutionary voices, I’m not going there.
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