Mythology of the White-Led “Vanguard”: A Critical Look at the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
Normally going after the politically, organizationally and theoretically irrelevant “Revolutionary Communist” Party, USA, its Chairman Bob Avakian and his so-called “New Synthesis” is pretty low on my to-do list. This is because I have much bigger fish to fry out there – both on the so-called “left” and on the side opposed to the complete and uncompromising liberation of the toiling majority of humanity.
However, as a citzen of the internal semi-colonies of North America, I have always been puzzled by the desire of “Marxist-Leninist-Maoists”, specifically those who descend ideologically from the dying-but-not-yet-dead Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, to uphold the supposed past good of the RCP,USA. This has always puzzled me because while the RCP,USA was central in the formation of the RIM (though would argue entered into those relations in a spirit of opportunism and false internationalism), it was birthed on this continent through an assault on the movements of colonized peoples.
Discussions around this are why my memory has recently been drawn back to this article which has been floating around the internet for over a decade now. While it takes many of the more dubious positions common to anarchist thought, and thus makes certain attacks against the Avakianists that I do not agree with, the article does have its strengths in how it shows quite clearly how the RCP, USA and Bob Avakian have always been a mostly white boy and white girl sect attempting to either take over or shove aside the independent revolutionary movements of (New) Afrikans and Onkwehonwe in the s0-called United States.
This piece was originally written in the late 90s, by Greg Jackson of Black Autonomy.
First, a Brief History
The Revolutionary Communist Party was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1968 by current RCP-USA chairman Bob Avakian, the son of a retired federal judge, as the Revolutionary Union (RU). At the time, the Bay area was a hotbed of pro-revolution activists. In Oakland, the Black Panther Party was well established; and on the campus of the University of California-Berkeley, Students For A Democratic Society (SDS), in addition to other smaller leftist factions including several armed groups coordinated protests and other actions. Many of the smaller “above ground” white leftist organizations were absorbed within SDS; with the Progressive Labor Party (PL) (Who considered itself the “official” Maoist party in the US) constituting the largest of the Marxist-Leninist groups.
The PL had decided that their best method for building what they called a “genuine Marxist-Leninist-Maoist vanguard” was not to openly state their positions to other members of SDS, but instead seize power by getting as many of their members elected to key positions (chairman, secretary, treasurer, etc.) within the top-down hierarchy of SDS. Fearing a “coup” by PL and acting on a belief that the time was right due to the mass struggles happening throughout the US around civil rights, police brutality, and US involvement in Vietnam, the leadership of SDS formed the Weathermen (later called the Weather Underground) to escalate street combat against the police and national guard troops in a bid to jump off wide-scale insurrection by using themselves as an example. Their most noted action(s) were the “Days of Rage” in which members attacked police officers and rioted through the streets of downtown Chicago in protest to the brutality exhibited by the police during the Democratic National Convention. When this failed, they declared themselves an “armed vanguard” and began bombing targets that symbolized American domination.
Bob Avakian, then chairman of the Revolutionary Union, argued that the actions of SDS’s central leadership were “adventuristic” and “suicidal”. At the same time he argued that the Progressive Labor Party (PL) was “dogmatic” and “anti-student”. It’s interesting that almost 20 years later, the very street fighting they called the Weathermen “adventurist” for, is now advocated by current RCP members.
By the early 1970’s, the Black Panther Party, Progressive Labor Party, and Students for a Democratic Society had all but disappeared from the Bay area, leaving only Avakian’s Revolutionary union. In 1970, another member of the RU, Bruce Franklin, split with Avakian over the question of immediate armed struggle and went on to form Venceremos, an armed group which was liquidated by 1974. Venceremos argued that the people that would lead the revolution (the “vanguard”) would come from the lower classes of people of color. Avakian and the RU maintained that only the industrial workers (what Karl Marx called “the proletariat”) could be the basis of revolutionary struggle the RCP of today now claims that the backbone of a revolutionary struggle in the US will be those “with nothing to lose but their chains”; meaning not only poor people of color, but also whites of any class background.
In 1974, the RU felt the time was ripe to constitute itself as a new party. It started by first attacking two organizations it had been working with: the Black Workers Congress (BWC) and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO) the RU claimed that the BWC and PRRWO position that the traditions and culture of nationalities were important in establishing links between vanguard parties and the people they claim to serve and would shape the type of communism that was created was now “the incorrect line”; a full 360 degree turn from the earlier RU stance that had criticized the now defunct Progressive Labor Party for not taking that position!
The newly formed Revolutionary Communist party, USA had claimed in their literature that by this time they had made significant gains in support from unionized industrial labor, yet in reality what occurred was that former student members of the RU had gotten jobs at factories and then proceeded to get elected to posts within the larger mainstream unions. Their influence was marginal.
It was after the 1976 death of Mao Tse Tung and the trial of the Gang of Four by the “revisionist” (a term used by the RCP to describe Communist parties who followed the ideas of the Russian Communist party after the death of Josef Stalin) regime of Deng Hsiao Ping that the Avakian-led wing of the RCP decided to make its move. In 1977, Bob Avakian submitted a paper supporting the Gang of Four (one of whom was Mao’s wife, Jiang Jing) and denouncing the RCP central committee members M. Jarvis and L. Bergman as “economists” and “revisionists”. It was from there that the RCP split, leaving only Bob Avakian’s faction in control of the organization.
The Revolutionary Communist Party, with hardly enough members to keep it up and running, and no social base now began the process of looking for an issue that might attract some members.
Nuclear proliferation by the US and the Soviet Union, as well as issues surrounding the transportation and disposal of radioactive waste had led to large, organized demonstrations in several major US cities. It also attracted those who believed in direct action and confrontation. it was this “direct action” tendency that the RCP targeted with its NO BUSINESS AS USUAL (NBAU) campaign in early 1984. Initially, NBAU was a coalition of RCP members, anarchists/anti-authoritarians, and other activists who were disgusted with the non-violent and reformist political line dominating the anti-nuclear movement. The RCP consciously attempted to hide its involvement by acting and speaking “through” other activists working with the project in each city. Soon conflict within the party, then later conflict with other organizations and individuals would lead to NBAU’s downfall.
Within the RCP there existed two warring groups: the pro-NBAU side who felt that the campaign should work to undermine the US government and help draw workers in the group and larger movement. They believed that the NBAU project should remain anti-hierarchical and allow autonomy for all who were involved with it. The anti-NBAU people were entrenched in the hierarchy of the party. They were the long-time bureaucrats from the days of RU, as well as members of the RCP’s central committee. Their position was that the peace movement was too middle-class for NBAU to remain a part of it, instead it should be merged in full with the larger RCP and be reconstituted as the “Prepare the Proletarian Army” campaign planned for 1985.
When No Business as Usual Day of April 29, 1985 was shaping up to be the largest CRP-inspired event ever, the bureaucrats swung into action, deciding that NBAU was perfect for recruitment into their party and nothing more. They then began to denounce and drive off other activists who disagreed with their ideology and activities, including and especially their arch-rivals from the beginning; the various groups of anarchists/anti-authoritarians.
The rivalry between various anarchists and Marxist-Leninists is one that spans several hundred years and several continents. To make a long explanation filled with historical references short, the conflict rests on these issues: A state vs. No state, a Marxist-Leninist interpretation of history vs. that of the anarchists, and the need for hierarchy vs. the elimination of it. Ultimately, the fundamental point of conflict between the two groups is one that has haunted humanity since time began…personal attitudes act toward each other and as a group; with the added dimension of the fact that the ideologies of today that are a result of various past attitudes and cultural norms handed down throughout history that have shaped those ideologies.
Caution: “Professional Revolutionaries” at Work
The Revolutionary Communist Party is a “vanguardist” organization; meaning that its leaders and rank and file members see themselves as the “most advanced” politically, and that the rest of us are just here waiting for them to tell us what to do. The real revolutionary, says the RCP, comes from within the party. Yet time and time again they have shown themselves incapable of leading anyone anywhere, except to utter despair as their antics drive the most directly affected and most individuals away from coalitions that show real potential for challenging the powers that be in a given city or neighborhood. Some activists have claimed that RCP members are police provocateurs; while others simply say that party members work just as well as the average provocateur when it comes to splintering fragile ties amongst groups, thus allowing positive campaigns around serious issues to go down in flames.
During the War in the Persian Gulf, the RCP’s front organization Stop the US War Machine Action Network was expelled from coalition after coalition all across the country for repeated attempts at imposing the party’s ideological line and slogans.
When the homeless in and around New York’s Tompkins Square began taking over abandoned buildings and holding militant, often violent, demonstrations the local RCP created the “Revolutionary Homeless Organization” (rumors say they did it to get their picture in the party’s newspaper the “Revolutionary Worker”); despite being wholly rejected by the mass of predominantly anarchist squatters’ movement. In addition, not being the most directly affected, i.e. not being homeless themselves, they proved incapable of grasping the risks and potential backlash of their activities against those who actually were. And by most eyewitness accounts, they didn’t care.
In other cities their involvement around local issues has also proven disastrous for everyone directly affected by the out come of a particular struggle. However, in Atlanta, Georgia in August of 1987 their arrogant, know-it-all attitude got them more than they bargained for. During a large anti-Klan march, the local RCP posse broke off as an all white contingent and proceeded into the courtyard of a predominantly Black housing project, declaring to the crowd gathered there, “We’re here to save you [from the Klan]!” The RCP, along with the Guardian Angels, Spartacist League, and officers from the Atlanta police department were chased out of there by a hail of bricks, bottles, and whatever else angry residents could get their hands on.
More recently during the September 1994 protests initiated by homeless youth in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle, I personally witnessed RCP members shouting down homeless youth (once again ignoring the needs of the most directly affected persons of a particular struggle) as youth attempted direct democracy amongst themselves and homeless supporters through the use of a PA system set up outside of Seattle Central Community College. Local RCP activists disrupted the empowerment of the people, INITIATED BY THE PEOPLE, with dogmatic bark of “Fuck this, Lets March!” and “It’s already been decided!” The group split into two formations, one group of mostly homeless kids left along with supporters. The other group, now being led by the mostly white RCP/RCYB then marched into the Central District in Seattle, a predominantly Black neighborhood, shouting slogans as they marched behind a police car. Thus, the Seattle police officers inside the vehicle, with lights flashing, became the “stewards” or “temporary vanguard” of the RCP and mostly white crowd of activists as they made their way down Union St., on to 23rd Ave., then down towards Garfield High School.
When the plan was first announced by them I said I thought that it would be better to first create a dialogue amongst forces in the neighborhood then possibly coordinate a much larger action if brothers and sisters were into it. I was accused of being “against unity” for not seeing things their way. Wasn’t I the one whose idea it was to first consult with residents to see if they even wanted to get involved? Have any of these “professional revolutionaries” ever considered how it looks to us to see 200 or so mostly white “radicals” shouting indiscernible slogans while being led, literally, by the Seattle Police Department into a Black neighborhood?
Have any of them considered that some of our people grew up in the South or Northeast where angry groups of whites marching into the neighborhood usually means trouble? Have they considered respecting our autonomy and respectfully approaching the various groups doing work in the ‘hood and laying out a proposal, rather than attempting to (and succeeding in) insulting our intelligence with a thoughtless display of ignorant spectacle as an image of [false] “unity” that in fact drove may of our people away and may have even possibly hardened the community’s overall view on what was going on up on Broadway…as brought to them by the local media, as opposed to the participants in the struggle themselves articulating what was what, since once again the “professional revolutionaries” had all the answers despite the fact that their “leadership” was voted down with the feet of the most directly affected, as well as those who sincerely supported the fight of the most affected.
In addition, brothers and sisters ran from the scene or retreated into their homes. Those who continued on with their business as usual while ignoring the whole thing as best they could, only to be cornered by one or more of Chairman Bob’s robotic flock in much the same way the ancestors of these so-called “radicals” did with bible in hand those short 400+ years ago. They didn’t want “comrades”, they wanted converts!
Not to be out done in just disrespecting those who attempt resistance within the white community, RCP members who were working at the Lower East side location of Revolution Books took it upon themselves to explain a Cuban brother’s culture to him; claiming that “there is no tradition of anarchism outside the US”, despite volumes of written and oral history that proves otherwise; in addition to the fact that Africa is the “cradle” of all civilization as well as other evidence pointing to non-hierarchical social relations amongst some indigenous nations throughout the Americas hundreds of years before the birth of either Karl Marx or Mikhail Bakunin, let alone any of the writings expressing their interpretations of the world or their solutions.
A Bankrupt Theory + A Piss Poor Attitude + A Rigid Ideology = “Left-Wing” White Supremacy
It isn’t enough to go on and on about the actions of certain individuals in various places without taking time out for a look at the sources of such callous and backward behavior. While we here at Black Autonomy do not have time, resources, or willingness to do psychological profiles of each individual RCP member it can be assumed that much of the aforementioned behavior can be attributed to a white, middle class, patriarchal, and possibly abusive up-bringing. But all of that is mere speculation.
What isn’t speculation are the assorted RCP documents which help to illuminate what the organization is really about.
Judging from what I looked at, it appears that they adopted some of the worst in Stalinist methodology. For example, RCP chairman Bob Avakian’s defense of authoritarian vanguardist structures of political power: “There is a dialectical relationship between authority, including ‘cults of personality’, of leading people on the one hand and of collectively on the other hand”. (1) Compare it to the words of Adolph Hitler: “I do not need your endorsement to convince me of my historical greatness!” (2)
Remember what I said earlier about ideologies and attitudes?
Another “Justification” used is that only the “vanguard” (meaning RCP exclusively) can lead the masses; that only the party understands our needs. To satisfy our needs, the RCP claims that it will create a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, a world in which the formerly oppressed will rule. If this is so, why is it that “the key levers of power will be in the hands of the party members” (3), as is stated in their party program text? My immediate question upon reading this was: how can African people in this country be free according tot he RCP’s definition of “Freedom” when once again all political power will be held by mostly white, middle class, heterosexual males?
Additionally, why should I, as a poor Black man in Amerikkka, trust their “revolutionary leadership” when they make statements like “Why is the individual’s right to be left alone to do or at least think whatever they want be the highest aspiration for a person or society?” (4).
Why should I as a poor Black man trust in their “revolutionary leadership” when they are in fact racist?
In “Marxism and Native Americans”, edited by Ward Churchill, the RCP criticizes a position taken by American Indian Movement elder Russel means after a speech he gave at a gathering in the Black Hills of South Dakota in July of 1980. In their essay, the RCP takes issue with Means rejection of technology and advocation of cultural nationalism. They then point out how Indigenous cultures have been “interpreted” from the bourgeois and racist standpoint by many leading anthropologists. They then quote on of these “bourgeois anthropologists” in order to back up their own claims against Means; asserting this psuedo-scientist’s findings as if they were fact:
Perhaps means would like to be transported back some 7,000 years to the days of the desert bands of the great basin of Nevada and Western Utah to live in the ways of the ‘ancestors’ of that period. Anthropologists recently examined a cave in the area and the results of their findings were summed up in the NY Times on Tuesday, Aug 12: ‘In one of the middens (refuse heaps) the scientists found large deposits of human feces. Dr., Thomas said, it is possible that the feces were stored there for what archeologists called a ‘second harvest’. Other primitive people were known to have saved their feces so that, in time of famine, they could extract undigested seeds and other products of food. (9)
In other words, indigenous people eat their own shit, and all those who seek liberation through methods and theories that are considered counter to the RCP’s “correct” view, that are culturally different to that of the predominantly white RCP leadership and membership, are “inferior”, “incorrect” or “counter-revolutionary”. What ever happened to basic concepts such as “self-determination for all oppressed nationalities?” Why is it that the RCP is fundamentally against the independence of non-whites? There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone’s ideas, but when that is expressed as an attack on an entire culture or nationality, combined with an overall attitude of “let’s educate the ignorant savages”; what occurs is the re-introduction of white-supremacy, the ultimate counter-revolution.
While the rest of the article does mention that “Europe went rhough similar stages of development”, the basic thrust of their commentary is clear: native people are backward and need the party to lead them. Further, they just need to accept a European definition of “progress”. A definition to be provided by a party “leadership” that is white, middle class, and (obviously) racist.
And homophobic: “Once the proletariat [the party] is in power, no one will be discriminated against in jobs, housing, and the like merely on the basis of being a homosexual…but at the same time education will be conducted throughout society on the ideology behind homosexuality…and the struggle will be waged to eliminate it and reform homosexuals” (5a+b). It was this position that moved the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a lawyers group known for defending politicals for free, to oficially denounce the RCP and refuse their services to party members who get busted.
This caused a slight problem for RCP activists here in Seattle who approached the local chapter of the NLG after being arrested for “aggressive panhandling” when the SPD caught them selling their newspapers and books on Broadway Ave. E and John St. on Capitol Hill in july of this year.
Nevertheless, the Seattle chapter secured the arrested activists some legal help; only to find out later that the RCP members lied about the whole incident. They claimed initially that the police simply began harrassing them, and then arrested them. What they left out was that one of the RCP members had in fact taunted a passing police officer, shouting “Fuck you, pig!”. The officer in turn took offense and confronted the RCPer. A shouting match between the cop and other RCP members on the scene ensued, resulting in the arrest of all the RCP members and the seizing of their literature.
None of this would have mattered had it not been for the fact that the National Lawyers Guild had taken on the responsibility of supporting activists involved in the local campaign to free political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. The NLG’s resources are very limited, and the potential for other activists to not recieve legal help, or to recieve inadaquate legal help, in the wake of being arrested during a legitimate political action (as opposed to macho posturing from a position of weakness like the RCP did) was very real. How long would other activists be stuck in jail or out manuvered by a racist and classist prosecutor and/or judge if the NLG’s resources and time were taken up defending the RCP’s act of utter stupidity and individualistic settler arrogance?
Fortunately, the collective membership of the Seattle Mumia Defense Committee got tired of them, as well as other leftist wanna-be vanguard factions, and got rid of them by continuously refusing to cave in to their attemtps at domination of the coalition; unitl the frustrated (read: defeated) party members gave up and left on their own.
Getting back to the RCP’s over all political line, the party has plenty of repression in store for those of us who aren’t homosexual. Art, literature, and entertainment wil be “dominated” and “remolded” under the RCP (6). College admission will be determined by “demonstrated devotion to the revolutionary cause…as determined through discussion among the masses under the leadership of the party.”(7)
Those who worked in No Business As Usual would have known that a party take over was in the works had they read the RCP’s reasoning for a “front group”:
to unite UNDER ITS LEADERSHIP all the forces that can be united against the enemy (8).
It is no accident that all of the RCP’s front groups are predominantly made up of RCP members, no one else would tolerate their social imperialist agenda. RCP front groups include Refuse & Resist!, La Resistencia, Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB), Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Anti-imperialist (VVAW-AI), and the Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru (CSRP).
I always found it amusing how in the article “Three Main Points” by Chairman Bob Avakian, which appears regularly in each issue of the RW, Avakian speaks of how only their party can “unite all those who must be united”. I guess they can achieve that; groups of people within coalitions or at actions who are “united” in a general hatred of them for one reason or another!
I could very easlity go on and on, but I think its best to stop here and let the reader decide if what I say is true.
I wouldn’t have even bothered to write anything about these fools and con artists except that their activities are disruptive to any real campaign designed to help people and fight the state. Further, they are incapable today of organizing anything on thier own of substance due to a distinct lack of social skills and a deep down dislike and distrust of poor people of all colors; which is self-evident to anyone who has spent any time around them. And like their other white counterparts on the Left, they still continue to view the white working class as “heroes”, themselves as a “vanguard”, and us as ignorant savages who must be tamed and molded into their likeness; much in the same way their Christian ancestors believed.
The RCP may do well to in fact read the words of Mao Tse Tung, since nothing is more pathetic and sad than members of a psuedo-religious cult who don’t even know their own ideology/dogma.
“..To link oneself with the masses, one must act in accordance with the needs and wishes of the masses. All work done for the masses must start from their needs and not from the desire of any individual, however well-intentioned…There are two principles here: one is the actual needs of the masses rather than what we fancy they need, and the other is the wishes of the masses, who must make up their own minds instead of our making up their minds for the” [ “The united Front in Cultural Work”. Selected works, Vol. 3, pp.236-37. Taken from “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung’]
Additionaly, if they are going to continue to claim the legacy of the Black Panther Party as their own (Bob Avakian worked closely with panthers David hillard and Bobby Seale as a member of SDS and later the RU; the continuous repetition on this fact is one of their patented recruitment tactics), maybe they should try reading what Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton had to say about groups like them (paraphrased):
When Bobby Seale and I came together to launch the Black Panther Party, we observed many groups. Most of them were so dedicated to rhetoric and artistic rituals that they had withdrawn from living in the 20th century. Sometimes their analyses were beautiful but they had no practical programs which would translate these understanding to the people… “Any action which does not mobilize the community toward the goal is not revolutionary action. The action might be a marvelous statement of courage, but if it does not mobilize the people toward the goal of a higher manifestation of freedom it is not making a political statement and could even be counterrevolutionary. [“On the Defection of Eldridge Cleaver from the Black Panther party and the Defection of the Black panther Party from the Community; April 17, 1971”; taken from “to Die For The People”, by Huey P Newton; pg, 46]
The RCP might also try reading what newton said about white radicals, their relationship to Black revolutionaries, and their role in a revolution in the US:
As far as I’m concerned the only reasonable conclusion would be to first realize the enemy, realize the plan, and then when something happens in the black colony-when we’re attacked or ambushed in the black colony-then the white revolutionary students and intellectuals and all the other whites who support the colony should respond by defending us, by attacking the enemy in their community…
As far as our party is concerned, the Black Panther Party is an all black party, because we feel as Malcolm X felt that there can be no black-white unity until there first is black unity. We have a problem in the black colony that is particular to the colony, but we’re willing to accept aid from the mother country as long as the mother country [white] radicals realize that we have, as Eldridge Cleaver says in “Soul on Ice”, a mind of our own. We’ve regained our mind that was taken away from us and we will decide the political as well as the practical stand that we’ll take. We’ll make the theory and we’ll carry out the practice. It’s the duty of the white revolutionary to aid us in this. [“Huey Newton talks to the Movement about the Black Panther Party, Cultural Nationalism, SNCC, Liberals and white revolutionaries.”; taken from “The Black Panthers Speak”, edited by Philip S. Foner.]
Or, in the words of Malcolm X:
I tell sincere white people, ‘Work in conjunction with us..each of us working among our own kind.’ let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do…and let them form their own all-white groups to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist. Let sincere whites go and teach non-violence to white people. [Malcolm X; taken from “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, as told to Alex Haley.]
NOTES: 1. Avakian, Bob. “A Horrible End, or An End To the Horror?”. RCP Publications 1984. pp.210
2. Rauschuing, Hermann. “Graespraeche mit Hitler”. pp.141
3. New Programme and New Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. pp. 103
4. Free I, “Community Center Raided”. Love and Rage, April, 1990
5.a. Programme, pp75
5.b. programme, pg. 77
6. Programme, pf. 84-92
7. Programme, pg. 83
8. Programme, pg. 114
9. RCP “Searching for a Second Harvest”. From Marxism and Zative Americans” (edited by Ward Churchil). South End Press 1983. pg 45
OTHER WORKS: Straw, Jack. “The Strange History of the Revolutionary Communist Party” Shadow Press.
Eyewitness accounts from activists in Atlanta, Seattle, Houston, and New York City.
SPECIAL THANKS TO: The Black Fist Collective, FBCP-Atlanta, Amor Y Rabia, Love and Rage RAF, and the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
Posted on October 8, 2011, in Internationalism & Solidarity, National Liberation, White Leftism & Neocolonialism and tagged Bob Avakian, Revolutionary Communist Party USA. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.