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Campus Communist a Low-Key Agitator

April 18, 1985|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — It was a typical spring day at Cal State Long Beach.

On a large grassy area in the middle of campus, a reggae band played to students lounging in shorts and T-shirts. On a patio nearby, two amateur comedians entertained amid lazy sales of books and jewelry.

And sitting at a folding table on the sidewalk, Steve Cook and a comrade passed out literature advocating Marxist revolution.

"There's a lot going on today," said Cook, 25, gazing out over the myriad activities around him.

Among visitors to the table this particular day: Rudi Krause, a 30-year-old self-described "free-lance student" who said he was suing Los Angeles County for attempting to murder him by falsely arresting him.

"He once accused me of attempted murder because I was smoking a cigarette within five feet of him," explained Cook after Krause had left.

Another visitor was Henry Kerr, an 81-year-old Baptist evangelist with printed yellow "tickets" good for free admission to "spend eternity in the lake of fire with the devil and his angels." He gave one to Cook.

"They're usually out here condemning me with pitchforks," quipped Cook of the people he calls his "friends from the religious community."

All in a day's work for Cook, the best-known communist on campus. He doesn't mind the occasional ministrations of the religionists, he said, for between and among them are the open-minded and curious with whom he truly wishes to commune.

Cook wasn't always a communist, of course. A native of England, he became involved in leftist politics at age 14 after participating in demonstrations against the repatriation of Third World workers then entering Britain in great numbers.

About 10 years ago, he moved to the United States and now lives in Long Beach. He studies linguistics at CSULB and last year helped form the university's 19-member Young Communist League chapter, which he now heads. Although organizationally and financially independent, the league, based in New York, generally adheres to the political philosophy of the Communist Party USA, of which Cook is also a member.

Does Not Advocate Violence

"We believe that the socialist countries, including the Soviet Union, represent the greatest hope for peace in the world today," Cook said. Although his group does not advocate violence, he said, it expects socialism to one day be established in America through a "mass movement in the streets."

In 1985, that translates into opposition to such things as U.S. intervention in Central America, racism, Reaganomics and cutbacks in domestic social services. On campus, Cook interprets it to mean solidarity with ethnic minorities, opposition to the presence of ROTC, advocacy of a student-run bookstore and promotion of the idea of a community control board to oversee activities of the campus police.

Cook's stand on these issues was relatively unknown at the university until he decided to run for student body president as a communist. Late last month he received 215 votes, about 5% of those cast. His politicking made him something of a celebrity on campus, where he became the focus of articles in the student newspaper and an object of some notoriety among students.

"I had the opportunity of speaking to a lot of people I wouldn't have otherwise been able to talk to," he said of the campaign, which he considers a success despite the loss.

But a few weeks after the election, Cook and his folding table have become just another exhibit in the carnival of campus life. "Most people will take a copy of the newspaper," he said of the occasional browsers who stopped briefly at the table. "After all, it's free."

'Marxist of Another Flavor'

Some are fellow travelers. Like Max Gundy, 74, who became active in the Communist Party two years ago after retiring from the printing trade and drops by the campus periodically to sell copies of the party newspaper. And Richard Karr, 33, who wears a Soviet army belt buckle as a "juvenile act of protest against apathy, conformity and commercialism" and calls himself a "Marxist socialist of another flavor" than Cook.

With some of these, the bearded communist argues doctrine. With others he is dogmatically condescending. "Counterrevolutionary," he says of another communist group that he has heard is attempting to start a chapter on campus. "Progressive, but certainly not revolutionary," is how he dismisses Karr.

The mild-mannered Cook takes on an air of utter seriousness when discussing matters of principle and ideology. Contrary to the public perception of today's campuses as hotbeds of conservatism, he claimed, there is an "undercurrent of anger" among students regarding Reagan Administration policies. "People are becoming a lot more open to socialist and communist ideas," he said, as the distant strains of reggae wafted pleasantly in the air.

Indeed, some of those pausing to browse at the table said the chance to talk with a communist was a new one for them.

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