Maoism in the United States
Up to this point our study of Trotskyism and Maoism in France and
the United States has revealed three different movement configurations.
In France there are three major Trotskyist groups with differing
positions on organizational patterns, issues, and tactics. On the
other hand, a single party has been and continues to be dominant in
the world of U.S. Trotskyism, with no other Trotskyist group matching
it in size or scope and level of activity.
Until the mid-1970s the French Maoist movement was split between
those holding to an anti-hierarchical conception of Maoism and those
holding to a hierarchical or more traditionally Leninist conception.
By the late seventies, the anti-hierarchical Maoists had just about
completely faded from the scene, leaving three dominant hierarchical
Maoist groups. The following examination of the Maoist movement in the
U.S. reveals that one group dominated in the 1960s but tied its
fortunes too closely with those of the Students for a Democratic
Society (SDS). It suffered badly as a result of the struggles within
SDS, and two new Maoist organizations emerged which, along with the Guardian
newspaper, became the dominant forces of U.S. Maoism for most of
the seventies. We will examine the changes for the 1980s in the
Let us then begin with an examination of the origin and evolution
of the first Maoist group in the United States, the Progressive Labor
Like the French Maoist movement, the U.S. Maoists can trace the
origin of their movement to the early 1960s and the impact which the
Sino-Soviet split had upon communist parties in Western capitalist
On June 1, 1962, approximately fifty members and ex-members of the
U.S. Communist Party who felt that the Chinese position was correct,
and that the Moscow-oriented Communist Party leadership was wrong in
supporting the Soviet position, met at the Hotel Diplomat in New York
and founded the Progressive Labor Movement.
In its first three years of life the Progressive Labor Movement
invested its energies in several activities. It defied the State
Department ban on travel to Cuba and sent plane-loads of young people
there. Upon their return from Cuba these people defied the
inquisitorial House Un-American Activities Committee. Progressive
Labor attempted to organize Black workers in the ghettos. It also
attempted to lend support to the miners' strike which broke out in
Hazard, Kentucky in 1962 and to the defense of the Black associates of
Robert F. Williams in the Monroe, North Carolina kidnapping trial.
Finally, the Progressive Labor Movement dominated an anti-war,
anti-imperialist group created in May 1964 called the May 2nd Movement
(M2M). The M2M adopted the "Out Now!" slogan, which the
Trotskyist-dominated Student Mobilization Committee (SMC) used, as
opposed to the Communist Party's "Negotiate Now!"
But from the very beginning there were severe recriminations
between the SWP and the Progressive Labor Movement (PLM). While both
groups adopted the "Out Now!" slogan, the Progressive Labor
Movement urged draft resistance while the SWP urged people to go into
the armed forces and do political work. Moreover, in both the Hazard,
Kentucky and the Monroe, North Carolina actions the SWP accused the
PLM of placing its own organizational and publicity interests above
the interests of those whom they claimed to be serving. Progressive
Labor, on the other hand, lumped both the SWP and the Communist Party
in the same "revisionist" camp. Only on the issue of Cuba
were they all in agreement for a time. However, Progressive Labor was
to completely reverse itself on that issue, as Castro's ties with the
Soviet Union and hostility with China increased.
The organization grew rapidly. By 1964 it was claiming six hundred
members and in the spring of 1965 eight hundred. The decision was made
to transform itself from a movement to a party and at the first party
convention, held in the summer of 1965, one observer cites estimates
of from one thousand to fourteen hundred members.
Almost immediately after the first convention, in February 1966, the
tactical decision was made to dissolve the M2M, to tighten
organizational discipline, and to enter the Students for a Democratic
Society. This again represented a very different strategy from that of
the SWP and YSA, which concentrated their attention on the Student
Mobilization Committee and remained outside SDS, while criticizing it
for insufficient attention to the anti-war effort.
The Progressive Labor Party (PLP) differed from almost every other
tendency within SDS in that it was a child of the Old Left and very
anti-counter-culture. It was attached to a fixed version of Marxist
thought. It felt that if one wished to relate to the workers one had
to be like the workers. Counter-cultural generational differences were
viewed as middle class phenomena with no relevance to the world of
workers. Progressive Labor militants therefore adopted styles and
patterns of social behavior which would not appear strange to workers.
The men had short haircuts and both men and women dressed "neatly."
They refused to use dope, not because of a fear for police action
against them--which was the SWP's usually stated reason--but because
workers would not respond positively to people who did that kind of
thing. Needless to say, they were conspicuous among the more
counter-culturally inclined delegates at SDS meetings.
The first political thrust which the PLP attempted within the SDS
was a position paper presented in the spring of 1966 advocating a
"Student Power" which would connect the efforts to gain
student control over universities with those to put an end to war in
Vietnam. The presentation of a program by a group with a fixed
ideological analysis and program obliged others in SDS, most of whom
were still very "anti-ideological," to come up with some
kind of coherent statement of where SDS should go. It was at this time
that Carl Davidson, an SDS "old-timer" who was later to
become a Maoist himself, presented his alternative text "Toward a
Student Syndicalist Movement, or University Reform Revisited."
Kirkpatrick Sale stresses the indigenous influence upon Davidson's
thinking, "the original syndicalists, the Wobblies--and his own
experiences at Penn State and Nebraska."
As one who heard Davidson present and discuss the position at a
meeting on student power in May 1967, I was struck and continue to be
struck by the similarities between the concept of student syndicalism
as it was developed by militants within the national student union in
France (UNEF) and the proposals of Davidson.
The difference between Davidson's position and that of the PLP was
clear. Davidson seemed convinced that (1) the university was the key
institution for social change, and (2) students could gain control of
the university. The PLP on the other hand felt that one could join the
issues of university control, the war, and capitalism but that
Davidson's formulation was not supported by any solid theory and would
amount to students sticking their heads in the sand of the university.
To take over the university (even if one developed a strategy whereby
one could do that) is simply not equivalent to taking over the world,
the PLP argued.
Shortly after it formed, in March 1963, the Progressive Labor
Movement had issued a text of its program entitled "Road to
In December of 1966, approximately eight months after it had offered
its "student power" proposals to SDS, the Progressive Labor
Party issued a revised "Road to Revolution--II." While the
party did not yet completely turn against the NLF in Vietnam, it
warned of the dangers incurred by the NLF's acceptance of Soviet
assistance and clearly suggested that the Vietnamese refuse to accept
the assistance. One of the effects of the new statement was to split
the PLP itself. Kirkpatrick Sale contends that most of the people lost
to the movement were West Coast and Canadian militants who also
comprised the bulk of the non-students in the PLP.
I have no data to substantiate the latter assertion, but it is clear
that after the 1966 split PLP strength was concentrated on the East
Coast and in Chicago.
In any case, by its own admission the PLP was not recruiting well
among workers, and if Sale is correct in asserting that it lost most
of the non-students it had in 1966, this self-proclaimed vanguard of
the working class was in serious trouble. In a summary of a PLP
National Committee Meeting in January 1969, one reads the following:
But because our party may have 50% or 60% or even 90% of its members
working in trade unions does not necessarily mean that we will have
become a proletarianized or working class party. While we have
concluded that the objective conditions are certainly ripe and full
of class struggle out of which workers can be recruited to our party,
whom have we been recruiting? It is mainly teachers, welfare workers
and students, independent radicals and professionals. This is good,
and should increase. But whom have we NOT been recruiting?
Industrial workers (except in rare instances).
This was particularly serious since the propagated strategy of the
PLP at that time was that the revolution would have to be built upon
the organization of union caucuses among industrial workers, and that
it was particularly the super-exploited Black workers who were the
"key revolutionary force."
Given the surplus of students and the scarcity of workers in the party,
the PLP decided to conduct a "work-in" in the summer of
1967. This was simply an attempt on the part of members of the PLP to
secure summer employment in factories and militate among the workers
on the order of some of the summer projects of the ex-GP in France.
This project was not much of a success either. In a reassessment of
their past strategy, in August of 1969 the party wrote:
One of the big mistakes we made was to perpetuate the old C.P.
notion of sending students to work in industry. We thought it was
only their revisionist politics that made a shambles of the "colonization"
plan, and that since PL's line was correct our students in industry
were guaranteed success. But we had made only a superficial analysis
of the problem.
If the actual attempt to send students to work in the factories was
not a success, the PLP claimed a very impressive reception extended to
its new newspaper, Challenge-Desafio. The party reported that
the fortnightly paper, printed in both English and Spanish, had
reached a circulation of 100,000 by 1970 and that over half of the
purchasers of the paper were "workers on the job."
But selling newspapers and mobilizing workers are two different
things. The PLP had tried to shift from a "student power" to
a "worker-student alliance" strategy. Its strength, however,
was still in the universities, and particularly in the eastern SDS
Over half of the Harvard SDS chapter was PLP in 1967, and of the
approximately two hundred voting delegates at the SDS National
Convention in the summer of 1967 approximately forty or fifty were
disciplined PLP members.
By the fall of 1967, Sale estimates that the party had one thousand
In terms of a group with a fixed ideology, they were without rivals in
In that fall of 1967 there was a curious rearrangement of positions.
Davidson and the dominant SDS leadership was turning away from the
exclusive reliance upon students and gaining control of the
universities (students were seen as the "new working class"
in the student syndicalist approach of Davidson) and going toward a
program of resistance against imperialism on all fronts.
The PLP, however, began assuming a position which some
characterized as "right-wing opportunism." It urged students
to stick to the question of university complicity, to confine their
activities to the campuses, and to avoid confrontations which might
alienate both the student body and the community. This was justified
by the lesson learned in the summer of 1967, i.e., the necessary
groundwork had not been laid for joint student-worker "resistance"
to U.S. imperialism, and workers were not prepared to follow students
who marched into the factories. The PLP turned its attention to two
separate strategies of base-building, one focusing on the campuses and
the other on the worker milieu. It advocated the first of these
strategies within SDS.
A new configuration of forces within SDS began to emerge. The PLP
was forcing prominent people within SDS to develop firmer
organizational bonds even if they had no really firm ideological
commitments. In the summer of 1968, before the Chicago confrontations,
the PLP delivered a stunning defeat to those in control of the
National Office (NO) of SDS. With no more than 25 per cent of those
attending the convention actually PLP members, the party led the way
in defeating both the vague program offered by the NO and attempts of
the NO to get a more centralized structure accepted by the convention
so that the NO could more effectively combat the PLP.
Frustrated in their attempts, the NO made a very drastic move. One
of the problems which the League for Industrial Democracy had with the
SDS (while the latter was still the former's youth affiliate) was the
non-exclusionist policy of SDS. And this became a cardinal principle
for SDS--no one was to be excluded from the organization. At this
convention, however, the national officers attempted to convince the
delegates that the PLP was an external organization which was
attempting to frustrate the SDS's revolutionary efforts. It was clear
that the majority of delegates was not agreeable to a move for
expulsion, and the national officers did not force the issue to a vote.
Although the PLP was not capturing control of SDS its actions were
having very definite effects. It had at least contributed to pushing
the whole organization to the left. By the spring of 1968 virtually
all of the national leaders considered themselves "revolutionaries."
Bernardine Dohrn, elected Inter-Organization Secretary in the spring
of 1968, had declared herself to be a "revolutionary communist.''
She and almost all of the other members of the NO sincerely believed
that the PLP's "right-wing opportunism" was obstructing the
revolutionary work of SDS.
Virtually all of the NO people, who a couple years before had been
ideologically vacuous, were evolving toward either the Weatherman
position, as Dohrn was, or toward some non-PLP variant of Maoist
The other effect was to force the hand of the NO people into taking
organizational measures which would be viewed by the non-committed
delegates as undemocratic or somehow improper. The first move was the
declaration that the PLP was an external group and the seeking of
approval by the delegates for greater organizational control. As we
have seen, the NO suffered a defeat. The second move of the NO was to
advance a slate of candidates for the top three offices in SDS. Again,
this violated the norms of the organization. The PLP knew that this
would be viewed negatively by the delegates and tactically refused to
present a slate of its own. The NO slate won the offices, but only by
virtue of lack of competition and at the cost of further offending the
sensibilities of the uncommitted delegates.
The confrontations in Chicago during the Democratic National
Convention late in the summer drove a further wedge between
Progressive Labor and the National Office. At first, the approach of
the National Office was to make an appeal to the supporters of Senator
Eugene McCarthy to recognize that electoral politics within the
two-party system would not result in fundamental change. But when the
NO leaders actually saw the turnouts in the streets and in Lincoln
Park, they shifted their appeal from the McCarthy supporters to the
masses of young people who were there to protest the whole affair. The
National Officers became involved in the confrontation politics of the
streets. The PLP, on the other hand, reacted to the August
confrontation in Chicago in a fashion similar to the reaction of both
the Maoist UJCML and the Lambertist Trotskyist OCI to the French
uprising earlier in the summer. The PLP claimed, as had the above
French groups faced with the barricades of Paris, that the revolution
could not be made by students facing off against police but only with
the participation of the working class. But the confrontations in
Chicago were not followed by anything like the massive workers'
strikes in France which then led the French Maoists to go out on
"Long Marches" to support the workers occupying their
In 1968 confrontation politics was at its height in most of the
Western industrialized countries, and youth groups which opposed it
tended to be viewed as traitors to the revolution and to their
generation. The verbal, physical, and litigational attacks from the
establishment (and in France this included the Communist Party) were
becoming very serious, and the tolerance of opposition from young
people in "Old Left" groups was diminishing rapidly.
And in the eyes of the NO and many of the rank-and-file SDSers the
anti-confrontation, anti-drug, short-haired, highly disciplined PLP
people were just as "Old Left" as the Communist Party of
which they were originally a dissident faction.
Moreover, the PLP was coming apart at the seams. On the East Coast,
and particularly in New York and Philadelphia, some PLP people were
quitting and/or being expelled for developing a separate analysis of
the working class. At the June 1968 SDS national convention, some of
these people from the SDS chapter at Columbia University, who had come
under the growing influence of an older former Trotskyist and SWP
member named Lyndon LaRouche (alias Lynn Marcus), formed the Labor
While the Labor Committee group was expelled from the Columbia SDS
chapter later in the year, its influence spread geographically and it
was to evolve into one of the most bizarre formations ever to appear
in American politics. The name was changed to the National Caucus of
Labor Committees (NCLC).
On the West Coast the PLP's fortunes were also declining. While the
organization took over the Berkeley SDS chapter after the former
leaders of the chapter led a sit-in to gain university credit which
the university was refusing for the course being taught by Eldridge
Cleaver--a sit-in which did not accomplish its goal and which resulted
in numerous arrests--the PLP found that it had taken over little more
than itself. The non-PLP militants in the chapter walked out and
formed the Radical Student Union, the first step in the creation of an
organization which would replace the PLP as the largest and most vital
Maoist group in the United States.
Thus, while the PLP was able to embarrass the National Office at
earlier SDS meetings, its proposals at the October 1968 National
Council meeting (450 people attended) went down to a resounding
By the National Council meeting of December 1968, the opposition to
the PLP had coalesced under the name Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM).
By this time the PLP had reversed itself on a number of positions
which drove the wedge in even further. After first supporting the
cause of Black nationalism as espoused by the Black Muslims,
distinguishing between "revolutionary" nationalism and
"reactionary" nationalism, the PLP adopted the position that
all nationalism was reactionary. It continued to see Black industrial
workers as a key revolutionary force, but it opposed all separatist
Black movements. It opposed busing as a Southern plot to drive a wedge
against Black and White workers. And it denounced confrontations
designed to gain university open admissions, the institution of Black
studies programs, and affirmative action programs for the hiring of
Black or minority teachers. Its own pet projects at the universities
were an anti-ROTC program and the curtailment of university expansion
into urban communities, the latter being a particular favorite of its
important contingent at Columbia University.
Its position on women was similar to that on Blacks. Women were
terribly exploited within the capitalist economy, but it would be a
serious mistake to separate the struggle of women from that of the
working class as a whole. The object of a revolutionary group should
be to hold the working class together, not to separate it into
subcategories. The positions of the SWP were thus seen to be
completely opportunistic. If there was a separatist movement to be
found, be it among Blacks, Latinos, women, or people of homosexual
preference, the PLP viewed the SWP as always willing to jump on the
bandwagon without any theoretical analysis of how this division of the
working class was going to maximize the chances for a successful
In the international arena, the PLP turned completely against the
Cubans and the Vietnamese revolutionary movement. As the Cubans moved
closer to the Soviets and as relations with China deteriorated for
that reason, the PLP--the first group to send young people down to
Cuba in defiance of the State Department ban (the Venceremos Brigade
was only created in 1969, seven years after the PLP had sent its first
group to Cuba)--designated the regime in Cuba as
"bourgeois." On the issues of minorities, women, and Cuba
the PLP moved to the positions which had been taken even earlier by
the Trotskyist Spartacist and Workers Leagues, which had separated
themselves from the SWP. But whereas these Trotskyists had written off
the Cuban Castro regime in 1962, the shift in the position of the PLP
began about 1966.
Even more difficult for the SDSers to accept was the position on
the National Liberation Front in Vietnam. As we have seen, the PLP
created an anti-war group, the M2M, which it abolished when the party
entered SDS. This abolition was tactical and in no way indicated a
negative attitude toward the Vietnamese NLF. As late as March 1969,
the Opening Report of the PLP Pre-Convention contained the following
People's War in Vietnam has proven its invincibility. The Vietnamese
people are giving a profound demonstration in revolutionary action.
We cannot say too many times how this revolution has inspired and
encouraged anti-imperialist and revolutionary developments the world
over. We have been in the forefront of compelling the U.S. to get
out of Vietnam now, despite all obstacles, and this has shown our
class consciousness. Internationalism, the support of the
revolutionary process everywhere and the subordination of the local
struggle to the over-all class struggle, is a sign of growing
maturity. In the final analysis internationalism, the knowledge of
the fact that the working class and the oppressed people are united
in a common cause and against a common international enemy, gives
the working class a great deal of leverage. It enables the
revolutionary forces on a world scale to concentrate their strength
against a common enemy as well as to vigorously develop the
revolutionary process at home. Obviously our complete support of the
people in Vietnam has helped our struggle at home. This struggle has
not only raised our own consciousness but also raised the
understanding of millions of our people.
We would be foolish to overlook setbacks in the international
movement that took place in this period and not try to summarize
what they mean. Counter-revolution has scored several significant
temporary victories: Indonesia, Algeria, Cuba and the complete
transformation of class power in the Soviet Union and in all the
eastern European countries except Albania. Additionally, U.S.
imperialism has launched attacks in the Mid-East, Latin America and
Generally speaking, we should view the international
revolutionary movement in this way. Because of the importance of the
Cultural Revolution in China, and the overwhelming significance of
Vietnam, the international movement is strategically stronger.
Marxism-Leninism is stronger because it is more thoroughly developed
than ever before. The concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat
has been clarified and strengthened. People's War has been proven to
be a vital contribution to the arsenal of Marxism-Leninism. The
understanding of how to fight revisionism in a revolutionary party
by clarifying the relationship of the party to the people is
invaluable. Three little words--"Serve the people"-if
properly understood and applied, are a weapon for the working class
of incalculable force. So, in fact, if the international movement is
smaller in numbers than before, its development is higher than ever.
Newly emerging revolutionary forces all over the world can benefit
enormously from the Thought of Mao Tse-tung. They can avoid the
mistakes of Indonesia, the Algerians, and the Arab world, to mention
The statement, of course, reflects the disenchantment of the PLP
with Cuba. The rejection of "the Algerians" and the "mistakes
of Indonesia" also represent reversals of past support for both
the Ben Bella and Boumedienne regimes in Algeria and the Sukarno
regime in Indonesia. At this point, all the PLP had left in the
international arena were the Vietnamese revolutionaries, China, and
China's Eastern European ally, Albania. Of course this was still more
than anything that the Trotskyists could offer as models in terms of
However, almost immediately after this statement was issued, the
PLP began to turn away from the Vietnamese. In "Program for Black
Liberation" in February 1969--not even a year after the above
statement praising the Vietnamese was issued--the PLP drew an analogy
between its willingness to support Black separatist movements if the
ruling class moved to destroy them physically, even though it thought
that they were not revolutionary, and its support for the Vietnamese:
This is our attitude in regard to Vietnam. Though we no longer
believe that the Vietnamese leadership is fighting for the
dictatorship of the proletariat, we support the efforts of the
people against imperialism and demand that the U.S. get out now
regardless of what type government the Vietnamese wish to set up. We
also call upon the Vietnamese workers and peasants to fight for the
dictatorship of the proletariat as the only way they can determine
their own destiny.
Six months later the party took a much harder line toward the
Vietnamese. In a document entitled "Revolutionaries Must Fight
Nationalism," published in August 1969, the PLP contended:
The Vietnamese leadership, at least in large measure, became
enmeshed in Soviet "aid." They were passively on the side
of the Soviets in the China-Soviet struggle. The Vietnamese
enthusiastically supported Soviet and other revisionist parties'
policies that didn't directly involve China. As you recall, the
Vietnamese were the first to hail Soviet aggression against the
Czechs. We have always been puzzled by never reading about or seeing
any statement from the South Vietnamese communists. What was the
communist role in the NLF? We did see the ten-point program which
was hailed by the Soviets. This program didn't speak of socialism.
It proclaimed "neutrality" as the aim of the NLF. The
program was typical nationalist propaganda: vaguely anti-imperialist,
neutralist, and advocating a vague coalition government when the
U.S. was out of Vietnam.... The ten-point program is a variant of
the Dimitrov "popular front" theme of the 7th world
Congress of the Communist International. It envisions the peaceful
transition to socialism. The theory is first to win the victory of
the popular front and then move somehow to socialism. The line of
peaceful step by step reunification of South and North Vietnam
through means of negotiations is also variant [sic] of the
peaceful-transition-to-socialist theme. Is it any wonder that the
ten-point NLF program is everywhere hailed and supported by the
revisionists? How is it possible for revisionists and
Marxist-Leninists to unite behind the same program? Only by
sacrificing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which is the very
heart of Marxism-Leninism.
Further along in the document a scathing analogy is drawn between
the NLF strategy and that pursued by the communists in Indonesia:
As Stalin once mentioned, in regard to other national leaders, they
run to the imperialist camp when they are threatened by their own
people. In other words, when the Indonesian people were getting too
close for bourgeois comfort, Sukarno, like other nationalists,
betrayed workers to the imperialists. At the moment, Indonesia is
tied to the U.S. and Russia. The people are in dire straits.
Millions are dead or dying. The masses are learning the hard way the
results of "revolutionary" nationalism. When the
Indonesian people fight their way back to political power it won't
be by relying on the nationalists, no matter how big they talk or
even seem to act sometimes. And no fake national program will lead
to their rise to political preeminence. NLF-type liberation programs
will take radicals right to the graveyard. They will be next to the
heroes of Indonesia who have paid a stiff price so others won't make
the same mistake.
The previously-referred-to December National Council meeting was
extremely bitter, and victories were won by very narrow margins. The
PLP's position that racism should be seen as a device at the disposal
of the ruling class to divide workers won over the RYM's objection
that racism also infected the working class and that Blacks were in
the revolutionary vanguard. On the other two issues, RYM won the day.
Michael Klonsky, SDS's National Secretary for 1968-69, successfully
defended the RYM proposal (whence the name RYM) that SDS try to move
out of the student milieu into the larger youth milieu. This offended
the PLP's "workerist" orientation. And the RYM position on
women, which contended that the oppression of women under male
supremacy was even greater than the oppression of working people in
general, but which stopped short of urging separatist organizational
attempts to combat that supremacy, won over the PLP's contention that
the sexual contradiction was secondary to the class contradiction.
The PLP suspected that there would be a move to expel them. Klonsky
assured them that that was not the case and indeed no such move was
made at the December meeting. But between that meeting and the SDS
convention the following June, the PLP attacked the Vietnamese NLF,
the Black Panther Party, and the Black student movement.
1969 CONVENTION AND BIRTH OF POST-PLP MAOISM
The convention sealed the fate of both SDS and the PLP. Prior to
the convention the anti-PLP forces which had gone under the name RYM
split into two groups, RYM I and RYM II. RYM I was what was to become
known as Weatherman. RYM II was dominated by people who were more
conventionally Marxist-Leninist. In the early days of the convention,
however, they remained in an alliance to defeat the PLP. As the ground
rules of the convention were being laid, the alliance was defeated by
the PLP on two purely procedural points.
The PLP did not have anywhere near a majority of the delegates on
the floor. Their victories were a result of their ability to convince
uncommitted delegates that their positions were better than those of
their adversaries. Nevertheless, the NO panicked and sought assistance
from outside the ranks of SDS. The strategy backfired in their faces.
Members of the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the Chicano Brown Berets,
and the Black Panthers were all invited to address the convention. The
leaders of all of these organizations, as one would expect, attacked
the contention of the PLP that all nationalism is reactionary. And
things went very well for the NO until Rufus Walls, Minister of
Information for the Illinois Black Panther Party, decided to address
himself to the question of woman's liberation. He asserted that
Panthers believed in having women in the movement; they believed in
"pussy power." He also informed the delegates--and the NO
people were, of course, quite beside themselves--that "Superman
was a punk because he never even tried to fuck Lois Lane." Walls
was followed by Panther Jewel Cook who, after hitting at the PLP for
not leading any fights on the campus, declared that he too was in
favor of "pussy power." And then he repeated a line which
Sale attributes first to Stokely Carmichael during the old SNCC days,
namely that the position of women in the revolutionary struggle is
The entire meeting was thrown up for grabs with PLP and the
uncommitted delegates shouting "fight male chauvinism" and
the NO people huddling, trying to figure out what to do in the face of
this disaster. Jared Israel of the PLP took over the microphone and
told the delegates that this fiasco illustrated the contrast between
the PLP's principled positions and the completely unprincipled and
untheoretical politics of the NO. The NO managed to squelch a proposal
that there be a full-scale discussion of what had occurred and of the
problem of sexism.
The next day the PLP presented their proposal "Less Talk, More
Action--Fight Racism" and it was attacked by both RYM factions.
That evening Jewel Cook of the Panthers reappeared to read a statement
which the Panthers, the Brown Berets, and the Young Lords had all
signed and which had the personal approval of Panther Chairman Bobby
Seale. Agreement was secured from the floor to turn the microphone
over to Cook to read the following statement:
After a long study and investigation of Students for a Democratic
Society and the Progressive Labor Party in particular, we have come
to the conclusion that the Progressive Labor Party has deviated from
Marxist-Leninist ideology on the National Question and the right of
self-determination of all oppressed people.
We demand that by the conclusion of the National Convention of
Students for a Democratic Society that the Progressive Labor Party
change its position on the right to self-determination and stand in
concert with the oppressed peoples of the world and begin to follow
a true Marxist-Leninist ideology...
If the Progressive Labor Party continues its egocentric policies
and revisionist behavior, they will be considered as
counter-revolutionary traitors and will be dealt with as such.
Students for a Democratic Society will be judged by the company
they keep and the efficiency and effectiveness with which they deal
with bourgeois factions in their organization.
Cook then attempted to go into an extemporaneous attack on the PLP.
The PLP delegation, however, took up their cries of "Smash
redbaiting! Smash redbaiting!", "Read Mao!", and "Bull-shit!
Bull-shit!" The NO supporters retorted with the Panther slogan
"Power to the people!" to which the PLP responded
"Power to the workers!" Unable to continue, Cook and his
Panther cohorts walked out of the hall. Jeff Gordon of PLP then
marched to the rostrum with a group of PLPers and announced to the
convention that the PLP had no intention of being intimidated out of
At this point, Bernardine Dohrn, of the RYM I faction, took the
microphone--apparently without prior agreement by other NO people--and
announced that a decision on whether or not coexistence with the PLP
within SDS was possible had to be made. She invited all delegates who
wished to discuss the problem to gather in a room adjacent to the main
hall. The PLP attempted to get the people to stay in the hall. Sale
estimates that of the fifteen hundred delegates, perhaps two hundred
gradually filed into the other room while the PLP chanted "Sit
down!", "Stay and fight!", and "No split!"
Nothing was decided on that Friday. On Saturday the RYM leaders met
with their supporters again. It was apparent to the uncommitted
delegates that they had to make a choice of meeting with the
PLP--which was now busy carrying out business and passing motions in
the absence of the RYM people--or meeting with the RYM group. At this
point the organization was de facto split. By this time the
RYM group had about six hundred supporters while some of the
uncommitted and Old Left groups, such as the Spartacist League and
stayed with the PLP in the main hall. By an approximately five-to-one
majority the RYM group decided to violate both the principle of
non-exclusion and the SDS constitution, which stated that expulsions
would require a two-thirds vote of the National Council. They then and
there voted to expel the Progressive Labor Party.
Dorhn, who was the driving force in the schism, and several other
RYM leaders were charged or charged themselves with drawing up the
bill of particulars against the PLP.
It read as follows:
The Progressive Labor Party has attacked every revolutionary
nationalist struggle of the black and Latin people in the U.S. as
being racist and reactionary. For example, they have attacked open
admissions, black studies, community control of police and schools,
the Black Panther Party and their "breakfast for children"
program, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.
Progressive Labor Party has attacked Ho Chi Minh, the National
Liberation Front of South Vietnam, the revolutionary government of
Cuba--all leaders of the people's struggle for freedom against U.S.
Progressive Labor Party, because of its positions and practices
is objectively racist, anti-communist, and reactionary. PLP has also
in principle and practice refused to join the struggle against male
supremacy. It has no place in SDS, an organization of revolutionary
For all these reasons, which have manifested themselves in
practice all over the country, as well as at this convention, and
because the groups we look to around the world for leadership in the
fight against U.S. imperialism, including the Black Panther Party
and the Brown Berets, urge us to do so, SDS feels it is now
necessary to rid ourselves of the burden of allowing the politics of
the Progressive Labor Party to exist within our organization.
That Saturday night the PLP agreed to suspend its meetings to hear
what the RYM had decided. With the security forces of both groups
poised to prevent physical attack, Klonsky, Rudd, and Dohrn mounted
the platform and Dohrn took the microphone to recount the misbehavior
of the PLP and to inform its members and those who sided with them
that they were out of the SDS. She then led the RYM followers out of
the Chicago Coliseum where the convention was being held. The next day
the PLP continued to hold its convention--which it claimed was the real
SDS convention--in the Coliseum, while the RYM people held their
convention--which they claimed was the real SDS
convention--in a church not far from the Coliseum.
The Progressive Labor Party continued to claim for a while that
their "Worker-Student Alliance" group was the real SDS. But
the organization was effectively isolated from other groups. Moreover,
it was unable to accept the shift of the Chinese from an
uncompromisingly hostile posture toward the United States to a much
more flexible and friendlier policy. In 1971, the PLP decided that
China was, in fact, a capitalist country ruled by a "red
The party continued to operate with a very small membership, in the
same position as the Trotskyists in that it had no models in the real
world of political regimes.
The demise of the PLP as a force to be reckoned with in the
American radical youth movements in no way spelled the end of Maoism
in the United States. The irony of the situation is that several
Maoist organizations were born out of the attempt to contain the PLP
within SDS. Thus what began as a fight against an Old Left
Marxist-Leninist group by an amorphous and ideologically vacuous
ensemble of New Left forces within SDS ended as a fight between the
still-Maoist PLP and a coalition including anti-PLP Maoists and
RYM II, Weatherman's partner in the battle against the PLP, was not
completely Maoist. But most of the major figures in it were or were
well on their way to becoming Maoist. Michael Klonsky had sharpened
his political perspective during his 1968-69 leadership position in
SDS and would work within the Maoist Los Angeles Marxist-Leninist
Collective after leaving office. RYM II slated Bob Avakian, who had
already formed the Maoist Bay Area Radical Union, to replace Klonsky
as SDS National Secretary. RYM II's candidate for Educational
Secretary was Lynn Wells, a close associate of Klonsky who had worked
with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and the Southern
Students Organizing Committee, who would lead the Maoist Georgia
Communist League after she and Avakian were defeated by Weatherman
candidates Mark Rudd and Bill Ayers. Former SDS national officers
Clark Kissinger (National Secretary 1964-65) and Carl Davidson (Inter-organizational
Secretary 1967-68) also supported RYM II and went on to become
important figures in later U.S. Maoism. After his SDS days, Kissinger
went on to become a major figure in the U.S.-China People's Friendship
Association and a very close associate of Avakian if not actually a
member of his party. After his SDS days, Davidson immediately became
an editor of the Guardian, until 1975, when he joined the
group headed by Klonsky. Thus, while having little impact on
Trotskyists, the SDS experience was crucial in the development of U.S.
OVERVIEW OF U.S. MAOISM IN THE 1970s
After the 1969 confrontation with SDS and the departure of the PLP
from the ranks of Maoism, the forces headed by Avakian and Klonsky
provided the major organizational thrust of U.S. Maoism. Avakian and
Klonsky have been at the helm of the two largest Maoist organizations
in the United States, the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP) and
the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), or CP (ML) respectively.
While there has not been the fundamental distinction between
hierarchical and anti-hierarchical Maoism that we have seen in France,
the larger picture of U.S. Maoism has been in some senses even more
complex. The three major reasons for the complexity have been the
impact of the racial and ethnic issues in the United States, the
abstention of the Chinese from taking sides in the conflicts among
Maoist groups in the United States until the summer of 1977, and the
emphasis upon decentralized city-wide or community political
organization that is largely lacking in France but is an important
heritage of the 1960s in the United States.
The result was many more groups than found in France. These include
the RCP and the CP (ML), which will occupy our attention in the next
section, the numerous small groups and collectives spread out all over
the U.S.-China People's Friendship Association, and China Books and
Periodicals, Inc., with book and literature distribution centers in
New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. But the most important Maoist
structures in the United States which have no counterparts in France
were the racially or ethnically specific groupings and the Guardian
(1) Racially or Ethnically Specific Groupings
The Third World orientation of Maoism has had as one effect the
fortification of Third World identities among Maoists of Third World
heritage in the United States. As we shall see in the next section,
Maoists attempt to deal with Third World heritage under the rubric of
"nationality" rather than that of race or ethnicity. One
organizational manifestation of this was the presence of ethnically or
racially specific separate organizations, as well as various attempts
to group these organizations under umbrella coalitions.
While Klonsky and Avakian found themselves on the same side as the
Black Panthers in combatting the PLP in 1969, the Panthers did not
claim to be a Maoist organization. And, while the California Communist
League (later to become the Communist Labor Party or CLP) was founded
in 1968 largely by Black and Puerto Rican former Communist Party
members, it was not a completely separatist organization. Rather the
origin of Black Maoist organizations was based upon the political
evolution of militants in other Black organizations. Among these were
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Black
Workers Caucus movement, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers
which had created the Revolutionary Union Movements. The best known of
these movements was the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM)
which attempted to organize Black workers within the Dodge automobile
In 1970, former SNCC militants, other radicalized students and
former students, and a lesser number of workers formed the Black
Workers Congress (BWC), the first clearly Maoist Black political
organization in the United States. For two years the League of
Revolutionary Black Workers maintained a direct organizational
relationship with the BWC. In 1972, a split occurred between the two
but some of the League's members transferred affiliation to the Maoist
Approximately two years after that, the BWC itself split apart in four
Another Black Maoist organization was created in the mid-1970s.
This was an outgrowth of the Congress of Afrikan People (CAP), headed
by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). Baraka had begun community organizing
in Newark in the mid-1960s. At that time he was a Black cultural
nationalist. He was active in the 1970 election campaign of Mayor
Kenneth Gibson in Newark. After falling out with Gibson prior to the
mayor's 1974 reelection, Baraka moved away from cultural nationalism
and over to a Maoist position. Baraka carried over his unique (for
American Maoists) electoral orientation by calling for a very broad
united front anti-capitalist "national people's convention"
to be held in the spring of 1976, a convention which was supposed to
select a presidential candidate.
Not long after Baraka issued his convention call, the CAP became the
Revolutionary Communist League (Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought).
Still another Black Maoist organization was the Revolutionary
Workers' League (RWL), which grew our of the earlier African
Liberation Support Committee. It was part of an umbrella group of
"nationally" specific Maoist organizations called the
Revolutionary Wing. The Wing was created in 1975 and lasted for about
two years. Joining the Black RWL in the Wing were Puerto Rican,
Asian-American, and Mexican-American groups.
The Puerto Rican group within the Revolutionary Wing was the Puerto
Rican Revolutionary Workers' Organization (PRRWO). Unlike the Black
RWL, the PRRWO traced its lineage back to a group which was active in
the anti-PLP campaign within the SDS, the Young Lords Party. Before
aligning with the RWL in the Revolutionary Wing, the PRRWO had been
very close to the Black Workers' Congress. Their shared perspectives
included a commitment to the proposition that there are two kinds of
nationalism, revolutionary and reactionary, and that the kind that
they were advocating respectively for Puerto Rico and the Black Belt
South was indeed revolutionary. They also had similar views concerning
school busing; it was seen as an integrationist and reformist plot.
Finally, they agreed that none of the multinational Maoist groups in
the United States gave sufficient recognition to the fact that
non-White workers and workers of Third World heritage, who are the
victims of both national and class oppression, showed the greatest
revolutionary potential. Despite this critical distance from the
multinational Maoist groups, the PRRWO and the BWC together had gone
through a phase of working relationships, first (in 1972-73), with the
RCP's predecessor organization, the Revolutionary Union, and then with
the Communist League.
The Chicano and Chicana organization, the August Twenty-Ninth
Movement (ATM), participated briefly in the Revolutionary Wing. But on
two concrete issues, it parted company with the Black and Puerto Rican
affiliates of the Wing. First, it favored compulsory busing in Boston
while reserving the right of individual Blacks to choose if they wish
to be bused. Second, it supported the struggle for the Equal Rights
Amendment while the other affiliates opposed ERA. While the ATM was in
the Wing, these differences led critics to argue that it was not a
principled coalition. "Instead of ideological struggle, a liberal
'detente' prevail [sic] among them."
Two Asian-American organizations did participate in the Wing. One
was the San Francisco-based Wei Min She (WMS). It was very close to
Avakian's RCP. But WMS did not seem to last much longer than the Wing
itself, two years at most. At least some of its militants then went
directly into the RCP. Another largely Asian-American group
participating in the Wing for only a brief period was the Workers
Viewpoint Organization. Led by a former PLP member, it originally was
called the Asian Study group.
An Asian-American Maoist group that rejected all ties with the Wing
was the New York and San Francisco-based I Wor Kuen (IWK). It had
participated in the 1972-73 relationship with the Revolutionary Union,
the PRRWO, and the BWC which was called the National Liaison Committee.
But it became quite alienated from these groups and thus avoided the
Wing, which included some of the same groups. Along with the Chicano
and Chicana ATM, which had partcipated in the Wing for a short period.
IWK created the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L) in 1978. This
latter organization was very close to Klonsky's Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist),
the great multinational rival of Avakian's Revolutionary Communist
Party. IWK thus had been very critical of its Asian-American rival,
Wei Min She, for its close ties to Avakian's party. After the demise
of Wei Min She, the IWK began to focus its attacks on the Workers
Viewpoint Organization, the only one of the Asian-American groups that
was truly a national organization.
French Maoists have not had to deal with anything like this
terribly complex network of racially or ethnically specific Maoist
organizations. Immigrant workers in France have clear national
identities and the confusion between race, ethnicity, and nationality
is certainly less of a problem, although racism is not. Moreover,
although the Trotskyist SWP calls for the creation of a separate Black
political party, it is within Maoism and not Trotskyism that such
separatist organizations have actually manifested themselves. Neither
the RCP nor the CP(ML) wanted these structures or would think of
advocating them like the SWP has. For these "multinational"
Maoist parties, such separatist organizations muddied the waters and
had a debilitating effect upon their own organizations.
(2) The Guardian
The Guardian is a weekly newspaper which played an
important role in the development of U.S. Maoism. It differs from the
French paper l'Humanite Rouge in that until the late 1970s
the Guardian did not attempt to establish any organizational
base, whereas l'Humanité served as a cover for the PCMLF
during its nine years of clandestine activity. Moreover, there is no
newspaper without an organizational base which has performed the same
quasi-clearinghouse function for Trotskyists as has the Guardian for
The Guardian was originally created to support the
presidential campaign of Henry Wallace in 1945. In the 1950s it
condemned the prosecution and conviction of the Rosenbergs and
denounced the U.S. role in Korea. In the 1960s the paper opposed U.S.
policy on Cuba, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic. It also supported
the national claims of the Palestinians.
In 1968 executive editor Irwin Silber succeeded in attracting SDS
national leader Carl Davidson to the Guardian. Under the
leadership of Silber and Davidson, the Guardian moved still
closer to the Chinese interpretation of Marxism-Leninism and away from
what they regarded as the revisionism of the Soviet Union and the
various national parties which support it.
In the early 1970s, after the Progressive Labor Party had denounced
Mao and before any of the present Maoist parties had declared
themselves to be parties, the Guardian called for the
creation of a "non-revisionist Marxist-Leninist" party in
the U.S. While the pages of the Guardian had always been open
to a multitude of different groups which wished to express themselves
on various subjects, in 1973 the editors turned over its pages to
various currents and groups for a discussion of the specific question
But the paper itself did not become involved in the actual dynamics
of party-building at this time. In its masthead the Guardian described
itself as an "independent radical news weekly." It announced
that it would continue to remain independent of "one or another
tendency in the movements."
The editors summed up what they saw as the paper's role at that point
Seeing the creation of such a party as the historic task of our time
is not to suggest that the Guardian proposes to organize
such a party in the near future. We do not think that a news paper,
by itself, can organize a revolutionary party. Such a party must, of
necessity, be rooted in the working class, be multinational in
composition and can only come into being out of the collective
experience of those directly engaged in mass struggle.
But the Guardian can play an important role in providing
the information and analysis that will help to develop revolutionary
consciousness towards the objective of bringing a party to birth.
Approximately two years after this was written, however, the
differences within Maoism were crystallizing and they manifested
themselves within the Guardian. Initially there were charges
that some of Avakian's people had "infiltrated" the paper,
charges denied by Avakian.
More importantly, the relationship between Silber and Davidson was
severed. The immediate catalysts for the split between these two
people--who had worked together for eight years--were the positions
which Silber took in the editorial pages of the Guardian on
Black nationalism and on Soviet and Cuban support of the MPLA in
Angola. Because both of these issues will be dealt with in greater
depth further on, suffice it to say here that Silber's positions
amounted to (1) a rejection of the idea that the racial question in
the United States could be dealt with in terms of nationality and (2)
a defense of Soviet and Cuban assistance to the Angolan MPLA as a
counter to long-standing U.S. involvement there and the more recent
South African involvement. This was, of necessity, coupled with severe
criticism of the Chinese position on Angola which, in Silber's eyes,
placed the Chinese in a position of de facto ally of the U.S.
and South African governments. Davidson, on the other hand, saw
Silber's defense of the Soviet and Cuban intervention in favor of the
MPLA as encouraging political fragmentation along tribal lines, rather
than unity in Angola. To Davidson, this demonstrated a chauvinistic
presumption vis-a-vis a Third World country. Because Silber
was backed by a majority of the Guardian staff, Davidson
resigned and went into Klonsky's group.
Since Silber's position on the racial issue, particularly his
rejection of Black Belt nationalism,
was closer to that of the Communist Party than other Maoist groups,
and since his position on the international situation portrayed the
Soviet Union more favorably than do the Chinese or Albanian positions,
the Guardian was viewed by the other Maoist groups as moving
toward a "revisionist" position, but not yet quite there.
That word was reserved for the Communist Party itself, which has a
positive view of Soviet socialism. The Guardian does not go
that far. It was thus "centrist."
Nevertheless, this "centrist" position meant isolation
from the Maoist groups with which the Guardian once had close
contacts. This isolation moved the Guardian closer to its own
independent initiative at party-building, a complete reversal of its
1973 role. In a supplement to the June 1, 1977 issue, the Guardian
enumerated twenty-nine "principles of unity for a new party"
and announced that it was going to establish a national network of
"Guardian Clubs" which would help sustain the paper, engage
in local political action, and become a vehicle for party-building.
But, from the perspective of most of the other self-designated
Maoists, such an organization would represent, at best, a current of
"ex-Maoism." If this was an appropriate designation for the Guardian
in the late 1970s, it was not alone in the ranks of ex-Maoism.
The Progressive Labor Party, while much smaller and less active than
it once was, still continued to exist after its repudiation of Mao.
Another such grouping was the Central Organization of U.S.
Marxist-Leninists, which had decided that China was on the road to
capitalism and that Albania was the last hope for really-existing
regimes as role models in the contemporary world.
And finally there was the Communist Labor Party which, in one
observer's eyes, "floundered ideologically after its founding
congress in 1974, and now exists in the general orbit of Communist
Party politics, a polite but unwanted left-opposition to the CP."
The Guardian's attempt to serve as a vehicle for party
building was a failure. But the most impressive aspect of the Guardian
has always been its performance as a newspaper. Despite the
internal conflict to which it was subjected in the 1970s, and its
isolation from other Maoist movements with which it formerly had
contacts, the Guardian in October 1977 had virtually the same
circulation that it had in November 1973.
It had a wider circulation than the papers of any of the other Maoist
organizations and it certainly did a better job of reaching out beyond
the ranks of the already committed Maoists or even Marxist-Leninists.
It has become an institution on the Left and was read, respected, and
relied upon throughout the 1980s as a news source by many who still
might not not have accepted its theoretical stance or its specific
RCP AND CP(M-L)
As pointed out in the last section, the Revolutionary Communist
Party, USA and the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) continue to be
the two largest "multinational" Maoist parties or groups to
have been founded in the history of the United States. They both go
back to the late 1960s, and their founders were involved in the effort
to prevent a PLP takeover of SDS. Only the CP(M-L) really had deep
roots in SDS, however. The RCP founders intervened in the 1969
convention merely to block the PLP.
The RCP began as the Bay Area Radical Union, centered in the San
Francisco Bay area. The group was formed in 1968, intervened in the
SDS situation and published the first of its Red Papers in
1969, and changed its name to Revolutionary Union (RU) approximately a
year later. In 1972 it made two important organizational moves. It
came together with the Black Workers Congress and the Puerto Rican
Revolutionary Workers oganization in an umbrella group called the
National Liaison Committee. This attempt was short-lived. The
Committee collapsed in 1973.
More enduring was the creation of a student affiliate called the
Attica Brigade, named after the prisoners who had risen up at New
York's Attica Prison and many of whom died when Governor Nelson
Rockefeller gave the order to quell the rebellion with arms. Together
RU and the Attica Brigade engaged in a number of activities, including:
uncritical support for the peace proposals of the Vietnamese
Provisional Revolutionary Government (as opposed to the SWP's
unconditional support for their struggle against American intervention
but severe criticism of the PRO's programs and proposals), support for
a number of labor strikes and boycotts (including those of the Farah
Workers and the United Farm Workers), entrance into work settings to
agitate and discredit the union leadership,
prisoner support work, a campaign against appearances by Professor
William Shockly who propagates a theory of the intellectual
inferiority of the Black race, and a "Throw the Bum Out"
Nixon impeachment campaign which was careful to tie Nixon in with the
capitalist class as a whole and to leave no illusions that Congress or
the liberals could be relied upon to do what was necessary.
The most dramatic exploit of the Attica Brigade was the seizure of
the Statue of Liberty by twenty of its members on the evening of April
19 1974. They held it overnight to dramatize the demand that Nixon be
impeached and "to expose the fact that Nixon represents the
monopoly capitalist ruling class."
The Statue was selected because it "represents the patriotic
facade which tries to cover the oppressive and exploitative nature of
the society in which we live."
The Attica Brigade was heavily concentrated on the East Coast. Two
months after the seizure of the Statue of Liberty, in June of 1974, a
convention was held in Iowa City to form a new student group which
would be spread throughout the country. Approximately four hundred and
fifty students from some eighty colleges and universities across the
country then launched the Revolutionary Student Brigade (RSB), perhaps
the most militant and action-oriented national grouping on U.S.
campuses in the 1970s. Among its more notable actions were the
organization of the "Off Our Backs" demonstration in
Philadelphia in the spring of 1976, participation in the conflict to
prevent the destruction of the International Hotel (the I-Hotel, the
home of many aged Asian people in San Francisco's Chinatown), and the
1977 confrontations over the decision of the administration of Kent
State University to construct a gym on the site of the killing and
wounding of anti-war demonstrators by the Ohio National Guard during
the Vietnam War.
In 1975, RU became a party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
(RCP). It expanded its organizational network further. During the
spring 1976 Philadelphia action, it created a web of youth--as opposed
to student-- organizations, called Youth in Action in most places but
Youth United in certain localities. The first major action of this
group, as distinct from the Revolutionary Student Brigade, was an
August 1977 demonstration for jobs, on Wall Street. In the fall of
1977, 1,428 people were assembled for the founding of a workers'
organization, United Workers Organization. A little later, in November
of 1977, approximately 650 people from Youth in Action, the
Revolutionary Student Brigade, and some who had not been previously
affiliated came together in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois to form a new
youth organization combining both students and non-students, the
Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade.
Aside from these organizations of its own creation, the RCP played an
important but divisive role which resulted in a split in the Vietnam
Veterans Against the War.
The Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) or CP(ML) had its origins in
RYM II within SDS. Two years after the defeat of the PLP and the
demise of SDS, the Los Angeles Marxist-Leninist Collective, in which
national officer of SDS Michael Klonsky was an activist, the Georgia
Communist League, and a number of Black, Chicano, and Middle-Eastern
groups came together at a conference in Texas. The result of that
meeting in May 1971 was the creation of the October League.
The October League was a late bloomer. It was clearly smaller than
the RU/RCP, and it was not very visible. It did not have a student
affiliate. In late 1975 the organization began to stir with the
addition of Carl Davidson to its ranks, and with the creation of a
small press, Liberator Press, to publish pamphlets and books. In 1976,
it created two other major structures, the Communist Youth
Organization and the National Fight Back Organization, which was its
"mass organization," i.e., one which people could join if
they simply agreed with its general goals. It was deliberately not a
workers' organization like the RCP's United Workers Organization. In
fact, the CP(ML) attacked the RCP for committing the joint sins of
"dual unionism and syndicalism" by setting up an
organization designed to pull the most militant workers away from the
unions into a workers' organization distinct from the vanguard party.
There were two spin-offs from the National Fight Back Organization.
Both were created in 1977. One, the Southern Conference Educational
Fund, was simply a southern branch of the National Fight Back
Organization. Secondly, there was the Jobs or Income Now Coalition (JOIN),
which was initiated by the National Fight Back Organization.
In the summer of 1977, two major events occurred in the life of
this organization. Michael Klonsky went on his fourth trip to China.
And the October League became the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist),
with Michael Klonsky as chairman of the party, just as Avakian was
chairman of the RCP. The trip and the party constitution were not
unrelated. For while the Chinese had never shown an open preference
for any American Maoist group over another up to that point, the
Chinese regime clearly indicated such a preference for Klonsky's group
this time, and welcomed it into the network of parties and groups,
including the PCMLF in France, to which it gives such recognition.
As will be seen, there were political reasons for the Chinese
action but even the SWP's paper, The Militant, could not
restrain itself from expressing surprise, given the disparity of level
of activity and almost certainly of size of the two organizations.
However, the CP(ML) undoubtedly tried to use the recognition itself as
a resource to keep up the momentum it had developed in 1976 and 1977.
It immediately began planning for the establishment of
Marxist-Leninist Unity Committees to pull together those unaffiliated
Marxist-Leninist collectives and groups which were scattered over the
country. The CP(ML) also turned its attention to organization on the
campuses which, up to this point, had been relatively ignored by the
party, to the advantage of the RCP's Revolutionary Student Brigade.
The fact that the CP(ML)'s predecessor organization, the October
League, was smaller than its counterpart, the Revolutionary Union
which became the Revolutionary Communist Party, and that it did not
form the organizational network and the liaisons with other groups
that the RU and RCP did, does not imply that the organization was
totally inactive. In fact, it engaged in some of the same campaigns
that the RU/RCP did, but with fewer resources. It was active in the
campaign to impeach Nixon, it supported the Farah and United Farm
Workers labor actions, it gave its uncritical support to the peace
proposals of the Provisional Revolutionary Government in Vietnam. And
like the RU it gave at least verbal support to efforts at change
within the United Mine Workers Union and the United Steelworkers of
America, although it was attacked by the RU for giving such "reformers"
as Arnold Miller and Ed Sadlowski "full support" while the
RU gave them "critical support."
Similarly, it participated in the campaign to prevent the gym from
being built on the site of the Kent State shootings. But it did not
act in concert with the RSB. As one CP(ML) militant expressed it to me:
"We were at the same place." But in at least one action to
which the October League made a major commitment, they were not at the
same place. That was in Boston, and the campaign in favor of busing,
which the RCP rejected. Later both the CP(ML) and the RCP, as well as
virtually every other organization on the Left, turned their attention
toward and organized around the high rate of unemployment.
In historical retrospect, Jim O'Brien sees the high point in
activity of the RU/RSB as its sustained support for the Farah strike,
while that of the October League was its leadership in a less
nationally publicized strike in Atlanta, Georgia. This was the 1972
wildcat strike of mainly Black workers who were protesting racial
discrimination at the Mead Packaging Corporation. Black OL members
initiated the strike, and the elected chairman of the strike committee
was an OL member. O'Brien sees this strike as giving the OL the
necessary confidence to work in industrial settings. However, the very
limited gains won and the lack of support of most of the White workers
convinced the OL of the need to work through the unions as well as on
the shop floor.
The CP(ML)'s attack on the RCP for "dual" unionist"
tactics was a logical extension of this commitment.
Internally, there was a moralistic tone to both organizations which
is absent in the case of French Maoist organizations or Trotskyist
organizations. They seemed to be trying to emulate the natural
simplicity, or the asceticism--depending on one's point of view--of
the Chinese. The constitution of the RCP required its members to
"uphold proletarian morality," while the constitution of the
CP(ML) required members to "live a modest and exemplary life,
governing private life by the principles of communist morality."
The strictest interpretation of this has been applied by the
Revolutionary Communist Party. Both people practicing homosexuality
and men and women living together outside of legal marriage have been
seen as violators of "proletarian morality." The RCP has
viewed homosexuality as "bourgeois decadence," and leaders
of the RCP have been known to refer to the capitalists as "faggots."
In the case of non-marital cohabitation, a member of the RCP explained
to me that the tactical question of relating to those outside the
party was secondary. Primary were the RCP's opposition to frivolous or
exploitative relations among people, and the legal rights and need for
a family of children. The RCP position on this was thus the exact
opposite of the French Trotskyist Lutte Ouvriere's position
The CP(ML) objected to "decadent 'counter-cultural' lifestyles."
It too was a defender of the family. The attack on such lifestyles on
the part of the CP(ML) was particularly interesting because of this
group's roots in the initially very counter-cultural SDS. Its
evolution has thus been in the exactly opposite direction of the VLR
and GP currents of French Maoism. When this writer pressed some
militants in the CP(ML) for a more precise definition of "decadent
'counter-cultural' lifestyles," the response was "homosexuality,
free love, rural communes and other forms of escapism." When
asked if people who were homosexuals or living together without being
married would be barred from membership, the response was was that
people would not be asked if they were homosexuals--that would be
their business--and that some people live together without being
married because of the welfare system. They claimed that they just did
not want their members living in a "promiscuous" or "decadent"
way. And here the problem of offending working class people, which was
so pressing on the minds of the members of the anti-counter-cultural
Progressive Labor Party in the late 1960s, was mentioned as a major
concern. And they certainly would not tolerate any of their party
members engaging in campaigns in defense of the rights of gays and
lesbians on the order of those of the SWP.
Finally, "feminism," aside from being "a
petty-bourgeois ideology that serves the interests of imperialism,"
that directs women's energies toward trying to get a larger slice of
the pie for a minority among their ranks, and that attacks men (rather
than the capitalists) as a major enemy of women, was also seen as
advocating "decadent 'counter-cultural' lifestyles."
There was no disagreement between the two American Maoist Parties on
this score and, once again, they are differentiated from the
Trotskyist SWP and from the French Maoist VLR. Given this definition
of "feminism," one could not be a "feminist" and a
member of either of these organizations.
Nevertheless, both organizations did claim important contingents of
women. Precise membership figures are organizational secrets. The
larger organization, the RCP, probably never had over 1,000 members,
while the CP(ML) probably had a membership between one-third and
one-half that of the RCP.
Approximately 50 per cent of CP(ML) was female, and just under 50 per
cent of its Central Committee in the late 1970s was female. Eileen
Klehr, the Vice-Chairman of the party--and they insisted upon the
traditional terminology, arguing that substance is more important than
words--is a woman. In the RCP, a bit over 25 per cent of the members
The issue of the role of the women has been a sore point between
the two organizations, and this goes back to the CP(ML)'s roots in RYM
II within SDS. In 1974, the RCP's predecessor organization attacked
the October League, or rather counter-attacked.
Further, then as now, these opportunists [the leaders of the
October League] screamed that the RU was "male chauvinist,"
because we sharply criticized RYM-2's mechanical policy that its
leadership bodies must have at least 50 percent women, and we opposed
RYM-2's mockery of the united front which reduced it to a gimmick,
with positions like "women are part of the united front and men
must repudiate their male privilege in order to join women in the
In 1975 and 1977, this writer attended meetings sponsored by RU and
RSB which involved panels of speakers. No woman was a participant on
either panel, although at the 1975 meeting the people who distributed
leaflets and attended to the literature table were almost all females.
The women enthusiastically applauded after the men finished their
speeches. It is inconceivable that either the SWP or the CP(ML) would
have permitted this. On the other hand, of the ten people on the
presiding committee of the convention to found the Revolutionary
Communist Youth Organization in November 1977, three were women.
As might be surmised from their history, both parties drew from the
same age group. Most members of the parties--as distinct from their
youth and student groups--were in the 25 to 35 age group. The most
prominent leaders in the late 1970s were in their mid-thirties and in
the CP(ML) were SDS veterans. But the CP(ML) was very proud of at
least three older activists who had been in the battles of the
thirties and who ranged in age from sixty to eighty, the latter being
the former Black militant within the Communist Party, Harry Haywood,
author of the book Black Bolshevik.
Finally, something should be said about the physical location and
the publications of the organizations. Both parties were headquartered
in Chicago, although they both had initial roots in California. The
RCP has its roots in the Bay Area Radical Union in the San Francisco
Berkeley area, and the October League was based in the Los Angeles
area in its early years. Although both parties rented space for their
party activities, the addresses were not public information. People
who wished to contact these parties outside of their public meetings
or events were obliged to do so either through the post office box
numbers of their publications or, in the case of the RCP, through the
campus offices of the Revolutionary Student Brigade.
Aside from public meetings and events such as demonstrations, it is
precisely those publications which were the parties' major
communication link within the parties and with those outside. There
were internal documents which were secret to those outside but there
was also quite an array of publications for public consumption which
was distributed at events, through China Books and Periodicals, Inc.,
through more general radical bookstores, or through subscription.
Both parties published theoretical journals. The CP(ML) published Class
Struggle. It was begun in 1975. The RCP started its journal, The
Communist, in October 1976. However, prior to the appearance of The
Communist, the RCP (and the RU before it) had issued its
theoretical positions in the form of a series of Red Papers which
go back to 1969.
The CP(ML) also published a newspaper called The Call. It
was originally a monthly paper, but it became a weekly in 1976, about
a year before the formation of the party. The major newspaper of the
Revolutionary Communist Party is Revolution, a monthly.
However, in approximately twenty cities cells of the RCP put out a
separate newspaper called The Worker. This was an impressive
and rather unique enterprise, because the edition was different in
each of the cities. It was heavily oriented toward labor problems in
the particular area. Certain editions contained special national
supplements. And, like virtually all of the Maoist newspapers (the Guardian
is an exception), each issue contained an English and a Spanish
section. Finally, there were two papers geared to students and youth
which were associated with the RCP. One was Fight Back, the
newspaper of the Revolutionary Student Brigade. Prior to 1977 it
appeared regularly but by 1977 its appearance was sporadic. In 1977 a
paper called Young Red also made its appearance. It too was
sporadic, appearing four times in 1977.
Curiously, Young Red seemed to be a paper which was
initiated by people in or around some of the Youth in Action groups
and over which the party leadership had virtually no control.
The nature of the CP(ML) publications has thus been very different
from that of the RCP. The CP(ML) put out fewer publications, but on a
more regular basis. Moreover, just as the CP(ML) criticized the RCP
for the creation of the United Workers Organization (the charge was
dual unionism, syndicalism, and general economism), so the CP(ML) was
critical of the RCP for publishing one paper for party cadres and
intellectuals and a watered-down trade unionist paper for workers,
which is what the CP(ML) considered The Worker to be. The
CP(ML) was proud that it published the same theoretical journal and
weekly paper for everyone.
While neither the RCP nor the CP(ML) had a publishing operation
anywhere approaching the SWP's Pathfinder Press, they did have much
more modest publishing operations. RCP Publications published a small
number of pamphlets. The CP(ML)'s Liberator Press also published a
small number of pamphlets, but in addition tried its hand at longer,
book-length manuscripts written by party members.
MAJOR DIFFERENCES AMONG U.S. MAOISTS
In the previous section, one major difference between the RCP and
the CP(ML) was noted. This was the more negative attitude toward union
work and reformist union leaders on the part of the RCP, and its
attempt to create a separate workers' organization and a separate
network of newspapers aimed specifically at workers. It was because of
this that the CP(ML) accused the RCP of dual unionism, syndicalism,
and economism. The RCP responded with charges of opportunism for what
it regarded as the CP(ML)'s uncritical support of basically reformist
leaders within the unions. It will be recalled that despite the
difference in context (i.e., influence of the Communist Party and
unity or fragmentation of the labor movement), in France both Maoists
and Trotskyists differ among themselves on how to relate to the unions.
The Maoist UCFML has refused to work within any of the unions, and Lutte
Ouvriere has engaged in outright attempts to form a competitive
union within Renault. The other groups differ over which unions to
work within and how much emphasis to place on union work.
In the absence of the anti-hierarchical as opposed to hierarchical
division between Maoists which manifested itself in France, there were
three other theoretical and/or issue areas over which the RCP and the
CP(ML) had serious differences. They were: (1) the international
situation, (2) the "national" question, and (3) the Equal
Rights Amendment. While the focus of the following discussion of these
questions will be on the adversary positions of the RCP and the CP(ML),
the positions of others will be included where they round out the
variety of Maoist perspectives.
(1) The International Situation
For a considerable length of time now, the international positions
of China have not made life easy for Maoists in either France or the
United States. Particularly difficult to deal with and justify--both
internally and vis-a-vis others on the Left--were such Chinese
measures as support for the crushing of rebels in Sri Lanka, the
reception of President Nixon in China while bombs were still falling
on the Vietnamese, support of the Pakistanis during the war over
Bangladesh, the refusal to sever ties with the Pinochet regime after
the coup in Chile, and support for French and U.S. intervention in
Africa. Even back in the mid 1960s, one French Maoist group thought
that it was practicing good Maoism by supporting the Gaullists. While
this group disgraced itself among the Left by jumping the gun and
going a bit too far, there was an element of prophecy in its move.
Prior to the clear articulation of the Theory of the Three Worlds,
based upon Lenin's concept of the law of uneven development, Maoist
organizations had to choose to follow or not to follow Chinese
diplomatic positions and moves. But it was a question of loyalty to
the Chinese regime for what it had accomplished in China, and
supporters were hard put to find adequate theoretical justification.
The Theory of the Three Worlds was an attempt to provide that
justification. While it may not have been much of a positive factor
conducive to unity among French Maoists, at least it was not very
Few French Maoists accepted the Albanian criticism of the theory.
While the PCR(m-1) could not accept Chinese support for French
involvement in Zaire, it granted the theoretical points and attacked
the Albanian position. This was a virtual precondition to its
negotiations for reunification with the PCML. In the United States, on
the other hand, the explicitness of the Theory confronted some people
who were capable of overlooking some of China's diplomatic positions,
or even rationalizing them, but who simply could not accept the Theory
of the Three Worlds. In this case, the Albanian rejection of the
Theory greatly encouraged the U.S. opponents.
The most severe criticism of the theory came from Irwin Silber of
the Guardian. In 1975, Silber had severely criticized the
behavior of the Chinese in Angola, where he felt that they had engaged
in an "objective" alliance with the United States and South
Africa to thwart Soviet and Cuban initiatives. Silber saw these latter
initiatives as counters to pre-existing and longstanding U.S.
initiatives in Angola. This was the straw that broke the camel's back
in terms of the relationship between Silber and Carl Davidson, the
latter terminating eight years of work on the Guardian and
going into the CP(ML)'s predecessor organization, the October League.
In July of 1977, the Guardian, under Silber's editorship,
took a very clear position on the Theory of the Three Worlds. It
rejected the thesis that the Soviet Union and Soviet "social-imperialism"
was the main danger to the world.
Seven months later Silber attempted to explain the Chinese position,
which he continued to reject, on the basis of the conclusions drawn by
the Chinese from the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the
defeat of the United States military in Vietnam.
The first demonstrated the willingness of the USSR to invade a country
on its borders. The second demonstrated that there was now a country
on its Asian border which, with Soviet assistance, was strong enough
to resist even the massive U.S. military might. For the Chinese, the
defeat of U.S. imperialism came at the price of an additional presence
of Soviet social-imperialism on its very borders. Worse, from the
Chinese perspective, this time there was a battle-trained Asian army
to back it up. While understanding and attempting to explain the
Chinese fear, Silber thought that it was exaggerated, driving the
Chinese to untenable positions.
In the July article, the Guardian also rejected the
Albanian position that both superpowers, the USA and the USSR, were
equally enemies of the oppressed peoples of the world and that "it
is impermissible to join with one superpower (the US) against the
The Guardian summarized its position:
We hold that US imperialism is the main enemy of oppressed peoples
and nations of the world, not both superpowers equally. We also
believe the Albanian statement underestimates the progressive
character of the nonaligned movement. At the same time, as we have
been saying for the past two years, we are particularly aware of the
danger of class-collaboration of our own movement stemming from the
thesis of "striking the main blow at Soviet social-imperialism."
However, while criticizing the Albanian position on the equally
dangerous nature of the two superpowers and its underestimation of the
progressive character of the nonaligned movement, Silber did see the
positive aspect to the Albanian opposition to the Chinese position:
The importance of the Albanian position is that it is a dramatic
step in opposition to the class-collaborationist consequences of the
"three worlds" theory. And the Albanians have been
unrelenting in their opposition to NATO, the European Common Market
and the neocolonialist strategy of the US and its West European
allies. Objectively, therefore, Albania's attack on the "three
worlds" theory represents a move that will ultimately
strengthen those who see US imperialism as the main enemy.
The Revolutionary Communist Party's reading of the law of uneven
development told it that the Albanian position was correct, that the
two superpowers were equally dangerous. Moreover, on one point the
Albanian party, the RCP, and the Guardian seemed to be in
agreement. This was their position that while the competition between
the two superpowers posed the threat and the danger of a third world
war, such a war was not inevitable.
The CP(ML) accepted the Chinese position that such a war was
It will be recalled that this latter position was one put forward by
the Trotskyist Pablo as part of his "war-revolution" concept
developed during the early period of the "Cold War" between
the Soviet Union and the United States.
The RCP added insult to injury to the Chinese by contending that
their view of the Soviet Union as the superpower more dangerous to
China itself was correct because of "geographical proximity, the
defeats inflicted on US imperialism in Asia, China's exposure by
propaganda and by example of the New Czar's socialist cover, the
USSR's overall position of being on the offensive, etc."
In other words China, because of its particular position, was more
menaced by the USSR, but this did not justify a universal
interpretation of the law of uneven development which, by comparison,
downplays the menacing nature of U.S. imperialism.
The CP(ML) completely accepted the Chinese position on the theory,
and this was largely responsible for the Chinese recognition of the
CP(ML) as a fraternal party. This left two areas of agreement between
the CP(ML) and the RCP on the international situation. First, there
was agreement that the Soviet Union is a state capitalist system (not
just a degenerated workers state a la Trotskyism) practicing
social imperialism. Second, there was agreement that the revolutionary
vocation had passed to the Third World, and that Maoists were thus
placed in a position of doing "revolutionary work in a
non-revolutionary situation." The latter position is the exact
contrary of that taken by the Trotskyist Spartacist and Workers
Leagues, as well as by the Trotskyist SWP since its adoption of the
Long Detour analysis. It will be recalled that that analysis--advanced
as a minority position which was rejected by the French Ligue and
the rest of the international majority of the United Secretariat in
1974--contended that there had not been a successful revolutionary
movement in the Third World since those of China, Cuba, and Vietnam,
and that the revolutionary vocation had come home to the capitalist
industrialized societies where the "objective conditions"
resided. The estimate of U.S. power by the SWP was also greater than
that of the Maoists. And the Third World orientation of the Ligue in
France helps explain why that section of the United Secretariat could
have some relations with Maoists of the GP or even PCR(m-l) variety,
while both the RCP and the CP(ML) have had nothing but contempt for
the American SWP.
Nevertheless, two very concrete differences emerged out of the
different assessments of the superpowers put forward by the RCP and
These regard the attitude to take toward Third World revolutionary
struggle and the attitude to take toward alliances in the Second
World, specifically NATO. The CP(ML) refused to call for the overthrow
of any regime in the Third World. It accepted the Chinese premise that
the Third World countries regardless of the nature of their present
leadership, are being victimized by both U.S. and Soviet imperialism.
That is an "objective" situation in which they find
themselves. Neither pro-Soviet nor pro-U.S. leaders can will
themselves out of this situation. Ultimately these countries will be
forced to unify with each other in an assault against imperialism. By
definition, such an assault will be progressive. The moves of the OPEC
countries to extract better oil prices from the industrialized
countries were seen as part of this inevitable evolution. The CP(ML)
held that its responsibility was to call for the overthrow of only one
regime in the world and that was the capitalist regime in the United
States. It was up to the working people in each of the Third World
countries to decide the proper course of action for their own country
during the struggle against the two superpowers.
The RCP rejected this position. It, like the Guardian, argued
that distinctions must be made within the Third World and that
revolutionary movements against clearly reactionary regimes should be
supported. Even before the Theory of the Three World had been clearly
articulated and the two American groups had become parties, this issue
had been a sore point between their predecessor organizations,
Revolutionary Union and October League. All along, RU/RCP had been a
strong supporter of the struggle against the Shah of Iran. When the
Shah visited the United States in July of 1973, RU demonstrated
opposition in solidarity with anti-Shah Iranian students. The October
League (or CP(ML)-to-be) refused to express itself. It saw the Shah as
an anti-Soviet force in the Middle East.
The nub of the difficulty to come, once the Theory of the Three
Worlds was completely articulated, can be seen in the RU's response to
the October League back in 1974:
Thus, while it is necessary and correct for the People's Republic of
China and the Chinese Communist Party to make certain agreements and
compromises with imperialist and reactionary states, primarily to
make use of contradictions between the two superpowers and in that
way strengthen the overall united front and the people's struggle
for liberation and socialism, it is not correct for communists in
other countries, including the US, to do the same thing.
While the Chinese make certain agreements with the Shah of Iran,
it does not follow that the revolutionaries in Iran should let up
even in the slightest bit in their efforts to mobilize the people to
overthrow the Shah. And revolutionaries everywhere should not let up
the slightest bit in explaining to the workers and oppressed people
in their countries who the Shah is, what he represents, why the
Iranian people are rising up to overthrow him, and why the exploited
and oppressed people of all countries should support the Iranian
people's just struggle.
Finally, we want to say categorically that the rightist line OL
is beginning to push forward on the international united front is
certainly no service to the People's Republic of China. In fact, by
using China as a cover for their rightist line, OL is aiding the
Trotskyites and revisionists (i.e., the USSR and the supportive
Communist Parties) who are vehemently attacking the Chinese and the
international and revolutionary united front line the Chinese have
been instrumental in developing.
The CP(ML) also took a position on the Second World that the RCP
was unable to accept. Like its French counterpart, which took its cues
from the Chinese regime, the CP(ML) viewed NATO as a positive
anti-Soviet force in Europe and emphasized the "objective"
contradiction which exists between the Second World countries and the
United States. The Second World countries in Western Europe have this
dual character of being at once imperialistic themselves but
threatened by the hegemonic United States. Since even that hegemonic
power is less dangerous than the Soviet Union, and since the Second
World countries in it have a dual character which renders them
potential allies of the Third World, the CP(ML) was supportive of the
existence of NATO, and adamantly against any attempt to dismantle it
As might be expected, the RCP, which saw both the U.S. and USSR as
equally menacing, opposed both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. While the RCP
was prepared to admit that there are certain contradictions in the
relations between the Western European countries and the United States,
it still contended that the Western European members of NATO "are
basically in the camp of US imperialism,"--a
position taken with even less qualification by the Guardian. To
make its point that it would not choose sides in any war between what
it views as the two equally imperialistic superpowers and their
alliance partners, the RCP adopted the slogan "We Won't Fight
Another Rich Man's War."
This was a slogan of the Second International before World War I, one
which was not completely adhered to.
The CP(ML) tried very carefully to accept and follow the foreign
policy line in both Maoist and post-Mao China. Its refusal to declare
its support for revolutionary struggles elsewhere, which was
characterized as rightist by the RU/RCP, had been sanctioned by the
Chinese party. This had given the CP(ML) the courage to hurl the
charge of "revisionist and Trotskyite political line" back
in the teeth of the RCP. In fact, its attacks on the RCP bore a
striking resemblance to the attacks of the Chinese leadership against
the "Gang of Four":
The RCP would do well to compare its line today with that of the
Trotskyites in the late 1930's. They too, claimed to "defend"
the socialist Soviet Union in spite of its "nationalist"
errors. They too, declared all imperialist powers "equal
enemies" and opposed the concept of the main blow. They, too,
falsely set "class struggle" in opposition to the national
liberation struggles in the colonies. They, too, ranted and railed
at the parties of the Communist International as "social-chauvinists"
and "class collaborators."
But as long as the RCP continues to pursue its revisionist and
Trotskyite political line, it will continue to isolate itself from
the genuine Marxist-Leninists worldwide and oppose the actual
anti-imperialist and revolutionary struggles of the world's people.
The RCP long remained silent on the fate of the "Gang of Four,"
while the CP(ML) joyously celebrated their public humiliation. The RCP
would only concede that it had been "studying the matter."
(2) The "National" Question
As we have seen, the two largest French Maoist organizations have
not done battle with each other over the Theory of the Three Worlds in
the same way that the major U.S. Maoist formations have. And, while
regional national sentiments have been difficult for the French
Maoists of the GP variety to conceptualize, the "national"
question in France has had nothing like the divisive impact upon
Maoism that it has had in the United States.
There are two reasons for this. First, racism and the conflict
which it engenders permeate to the very core of American society in a
way that French regional sentiments do not. Secondly, there is the
heritage of Comintern intervention on the "national question"
in the United States, an intervention that came about because of the
unique importance of this question in the United States.
In 1928 and 1930, the Comintern adopted resolutions which contended
that U.S. Blacks, then referred to as Negroes, constituted an
oppressed nation with their territorial home in the Black Belt South.
There was by no means unanimity on the question within the U.S.
Communist Party. But this was a period during which Stalin was
conducting a purge of the Lovestone leadership and other dissidents.
Stalin favored the Black Belt position and was in no mood to tolerate
further opposition from the Americans. The Communist Party itself
subsequently repudiated the position, but those who followed Stalin's
theoretical guidance, like the Maoists, have found it impossible to
avoid dealing with the Black Belt Nation thesis.
Without going into detail on Stalin's work on nationality, several
points must be made to indicate the origin of much of the present
difficulty which Maoists face on this question, to the point that it
has been the most serious divisive issue among U.S. Maoists over the
longest period of time. It divided Maoists well before the Theory of
the Three Worlds entered the scene.
First, Stalin's writings on the national question, particularly Marxism
and the National Question and The National Question and
Leninism, are among his most important contributions to the
larger body of Marxist-Leninist thought. He engaged in this endeavor
largely because of the practical necessity of coming to terms with
separatist claims which were being directed to the Soviet party by
Jews and Armenians. He specifically rejected the claims of the Jewish
Bund for recognition of a "national cultural autonomy" for
Jews who were not territorially concentrated.
Stalin's definition of a nation was "a historically evolved,
stable community of language, territory, economic life, and
psychological make-up manifested in a community culture."
A deficit of one of these attributes would mean that the people
concerned could not qualify as a nation. Since Garveyism was striking
a responsive chord with its nationalistic appeal, the Comintern and
the CP/USA attempted to offer U.S. Blacks what seemed to them to be a
less escapist national option than Garvey's "Back to Africa"
national solution. This was the consideration of the states making up
the Black Belt, where approximately half of the U.S. Black population
was concentrated in 1930, as a Black Nation.
Second, Stalin drew two distinctions which might make sense but
which certainly complicate the application of any definition or theory
of nationalism. The first is the distinction between nationalism and
the more concrete form which it might take. Thus the distinction
between "autonomy, federation, or separation" cannot be
determined outside of the "concrete historical conditions in
which the given nation finds itself."
Secondly, there is the distinction between the right of a particular
claim to national determination and the interests of the proletariat
within the national grouping.
One can have a right but be ill-advised to exercise it under certain
Third, Stalin's theory of nationality became an integral part of
two other Stalinist conceptions which were very important for Mao. The
first is the conception of revolution in stages, a conception rejected
by Trotskyists. The two major stages were socialism in one country,
and socialism, or the dictatorship of the proletariat, on a world
scale. The second conception was that of "cultural revolution."
By the latter he meant a program of education and literacy in peoples'
native languages. During the stage of socialism in one country and
during the initial period of the stage of socialism on a world scale,
national traditions would be taught and equality among nations
recognized. Over time, however, and concomitant with the development
of a world socialist economy, Stalin foresaw individual national
differences and languages giving way to a common language and
Stalin's theory of nationalism therefore contained important
distinctions at each stage of the revolutionary process, as well as
distinctions over time. Nationalism which advances the interests of
the working class is important at the early stages, but ultimately the
universalistic vocation of Marxism-Leninism will render such
nationalistic distinctions obsolete.
U.S. Maoists have been caught between the devil and the deep blue
sea. They are not yet even at the stage of socialism in one country.
So they have a good period of recognition of national distinctions
ahead of them. Moreover, despite the fact that the Black population
has shown a heavy pattern of outmigration from the Black Belt states
to the northern urban areas since 1930, there was indeed a resurgence
of Black nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. If Black dialect could
meet the language criterion established by Stalin, how could the
question of territory be handled?
There has been a simply incredible variety of responses to the
problem. We have already seen the shift of position on the part of the
Progressive Labor Party, which first distinguished revolutionary
nationalism from reactionary nationalism and declared the nationalism
of the Black Muslims to be revolutionary--only to turn around to a
position that all nationalism is reactionary and all manifestations of
Black separatism detrimental to working-class unity. In the 1970s,
there was a wide range of options which were being concurrently
The extremities were represented by Irwin Silber in the Guardian
and the Communist Labor Party. Silber completely rejected the
"Black Belt Nation Thesis." He argued that the Black Belt
national concept ignored fifty years of U.S. historical development
during which there had been tremendous Black outmigration from the
area, as well as "the historically tested Marxist proposition
that only 'nations'--not racial groups, tribes, national or ethnic
minorities, religious groups, various social substrata, etc.--have not
only the right, but the ability to exercise self-determination."
Silber argued that the "scientific" arguments put forward
by recent proponents of the Black Belt Nation thesis were a sham and
hid the subjective reasons for their holding on to it. The major
"subjective" reason was the "White guilt" of
Maoists of New Left origins, whose experience in class struggles had
been largely shaped by the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war.
He argued that one need go no further than Stalin's definition to see
that Black people today do not constitute a "nation."
The Communist Labor Party, formerly the Communist League, outdid
even the 1928 and 1930 Comintern positions. Its slogan was "independence
for the Negro Nation," leaving no doubt as to the specific form
which nationalism was to take. And it extended the territory concerned
to all of the thirteen states of the old Confederacy, a territory
which exceeds that which is usually referred to as the Black Belt. The
citizenship of all the people in these states would be that of
Aside from these two positions, virtually every other Maoist group
has had a difficult time dealing with the issue. The Black Workers
Congress and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization first
moved close to the RU/RCP's position in the early 1970s, but then
broke with that and moved closer to Communist League, and then broke
At its 1973 Congress, the October League took a position on the Black
Belt, but warned readers of the resolution that its position did not
comprise "a complete analysis of this important question... [but
rather] a summation of the experiences and the study of our
organization up to that point."
This caution is similar to the one issued by the ex-GP Maoists in
France regarding their positions on nationalism in Occitanie and
Brittany. Finally, RU/RCP has admitted errors and modified its
position over time.
The later positions of both the CP(ML), formerly the October League,
and the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) hung onto the Black Belt
notion, at least nominally. The CP(ML) was the less equivocal of the
two organizations. It supported the rights of Blacks or Afro-Americans
(it used both terms) to secede "to their historic homeland in the
Black Belt South."
However, the qualifier was added that "Recognition of the right
to self-determination does not mean that our Party advocates or
supports separation as the solution to the Afro-American national
question, nor does it mean that it will give its support to every
bourgeois secessionist movement...The CP(ML) supports only those
national demands which weaken imperialism and enhance the unity and
fighting ability of the [working] class."
This position, which distinguishes between reactionary and
revolutionary nationalism, stood in contrast with the CP(ML)'s
acceptance of the Chinese position that the Third World as a whole,
despite regime differences, is a world revolutionary force.
The CP(ML) made two additions to the original Black Belt position
of the Comintern. First, it recognized the outmigration of Blacks from
the Black Belt into urban areas. Thus, without renouncing its support
of the right to self-determination within the Black Belt, the CP(ML)
also supported "a policy of regional autonomy which will enable
Black people to exercise a high degree of self government and build
equality and multi-national unity under the proletarian dictatorship"
in Black urban concentrations.
Secondly, it extended its support of the right to self-determination
to Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and the
native peoples of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, the Virgin Islands,
Hawaii, and the rest of the U.S. -held Pacific islands.
The RCP claimed to support the right to self-determination in the
Black Belt, but it has certainly been less enthusiastic than the CP(ML).
Prior to the formation of the party, Revolutionary Union put forward
its position of Black people constituting an "oppressed nation of
a new type."
The heart of our analysis is that on the one hand Black people are
an oppressed nation of a new type--overwhelmingly workers, dispersed
throughout the US, but concentrated in urban industrial areas, with
real, but deformed class structure. But on the other hand, Black
workers, making up the majority of Black people, are part of the single
US working class. And further, as we have said consistently in
the Red Papers, "the essential thrust" of the Black
people's struggle has not been for self-determination in the form of
secession, but in the fight against discrimination, the denial of
democratic rights, violent police repression, and against exploitation
and oppression as members of the working class suffering caste-like
oppression within the class.
Aside from this rather unique definition of "nationalism"
within either a Marxist or a non-Marxist framework, RU was evasive on
the Black Belt question at this point in time (1974). It held that
those who put forward the right of self-determination as "the
essence of the Black liberation struggle"
were wrong and archaically agrarian, while Blacks within and without
the Black Belt were becoming urbanized. As far as RU would go at that
point was to contend that: "The RU does not think it is correct
to absolutely rule out the possibility of a reconstitution of Black
people in the 'Black Belt,' or even the establishment of a separate
state there, on the condition, of course, that it was voluntary and
Approximately one year later, in 1975, a little different
presentation appeared in the constitution of the newly formed RCP.
Here the words "oppressed nation of a new type" gave way to
"an oppressed nation, but under new conditions, and in different
relation to US imperialism than its colonies (and neo-colonies) in
Moreover, the RCP was now prepared to declare that "the working
class and its Party upholds the right of Black people to return to
claim their homeland...The proletariat and its Party in the US upholds
the right of Black People to self-determination, the right to secede
from the rest of the US and set up a separate state in the general
area of the 'Black Belt'."
But here the RCP distinguished between defending a right and
advocating that it be exercised. The CP(ML) stated that distinction in
its program, but did not then go on to oppose the exercise of the
right. Not so with the RCP. It contended that "The proletariat
and its Party does not advocate this separation for Black people nor
favor it under present and foreseeable conditions."
Moreover it declared in the same constitution that "the right of
nations to self-determination does not apply to Chicanos,"
that the proletariat will aid Native Americans in land development
"probably in some cases under conditions of regional autonomy,"
and that "Hawaii today is part of the US, and the Hawaiian
people's struggle is part of the US proletarian revolution."
But the clearest statement of RCP misgivings over nationalism is
contained in an article in the Fall / Winter 1977 issue of The
Communist. There the author writes: "Nationalism, no matter
how progressive or revolutionary, in the final analysis ends up by
saying my nationality first.''
And, a little further along: "But a communist must never
compromise the stand of his class first and above all, as say opposed
to his people first and above all. When all is said and done this is
the watershed between Marxism-Leninism and nationalism even of the
most refined and progressive sort."
The RCP has been very harsh in its treatment of those who, in its
opinion, cross that line and end up on the other side of the watershed.
All Maoists hurl such epithets as "metaphysical," "subjective,"
"mechanical," "empirical," and "petty-bourgeois"
or "petty-bourgeois moralizing" at those who take positions
which they believe to be "objectively" incorrect. But the
RCP has gone even beyond that on the national question. Itself the
victim of accusations of "Trotskyism" hurled by the CP(ML)
on the Three Worlds question, the RCP has accused such widely
divergent organizations as the Progressive Labor Party on the one hand
and the Black Workers Congress and Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers
Organization on the other of exhibiting Trotskyism or of taking on
"Trotskyite features" in their handling of the national
The CP(ML) was viewed as completely "opportunistic" on the
question, and was accused of using the same methods as the "revisionist"
Communist Party and the "Trotskyite" SWP.
Indeed, there are some interesting comparisons to be made between
the CP(ML)'s positions and those of the SWP. First, Trotsky himself
indicated considerable interest in the Black Belt position.
But the closest the SWP has come to taking a position on the issue was
its "Freedom Now" Resolution adopted at its 1963 convention.
While not specifying the Black Belt, the SWP took the position that if
Blacks should opt to be a separate nation, the SWP would support them.
Until that time, the SWP would neither advocate nor oppose Black (the
Resolution said "Negro") national self-determination. Thus
while the Black Belt is not specifically designated, and while the
question is not broached in the Transitional Program for Black
Liberation, which deals with the creation of a separate Black
political party and community control, the "Freedom Now"
Resolution is certainly closer to the CP(ML)'s position than to the
RCP's highly negative attitude toward Black national
self-determination "under present and foreseeable conditions."
Secondly, the "regional autonomy" position in areas of
urban concentration brought the CP(ML) close to the SWP's position on
community control. In fact, the Los Angeles segment of the CP(ML),
which was one of the strongest and from which Klonsky himself came,
had been active in the struggle for the separate incorporation of East
Los Angeles. The CP(ML) did not insist that forces for community
control accept Marxism-Leninism as a precondition for the CP(ML)'s
support. But it withheld that support if it felt that the issue was
being exploited by minority politicians to enhance their own careers
within the system, or if it was designed to enrich a segment of the
minority population at the expense of the rest.
Finally, the SWP and the CP(ML)--and the October League before it
became the CP(ML )--found themselves on the same side of an issue of
major salience to the broader American public: school busing. Both
groups not only supported busing in their publications but also were
active in the Boston demonstrations in support of busing. Typical of
the mode of operation of both groups, the SWP participated in a
broader umbrella group in Boston during the 1973 and 1974
demonstrations, while the October League formed its own Fred Hampton
Contingent, which was named in honor of the Chicago Black Panther
leader slain in his bed by Illinois State's Attorney Hanrahan's police.
The RCP, however, was very far from the SWP's positions in this
area. While the RCP denied that its position on Black nationalism
resembled that of the Progressive Labor Party during its "all
nationalism is reactionary" period, there are similarities. The
RCP contended that the PLP took a "one line" position, that
it did not "divide things into two." Thus the PLP went from
the single-minded, dogmatic position of uncritically supporting the
cause of Black nationalism as espoused by the Black Muslims to the
exact opposite of denouncing all nationalism. The RCP, on the other
hand, claimed to "divide things into two," to attempt to
separate out the progressive from the reactionary aspects of any
phenomenon. However, as we have seen, the most recent stands taken by
the RCP have greatly accentuated the negative on the issue of Black
nationalism--or any other nationalism.
Moreover, the RCP, placing itself at odds with virtually every
other "multinational" group on the U.S. Left, shared the
anti-busing position of the PLP. The headline on the October 1974
issue of Revolution, the RCP's monthly newspaper, read:
"People Must Unite to Smash Boston Busing Plan."
Like the PLP back in the late 1960s, the RCP viewed busing as a
divisive issue which was raised by the capitalist establishment to pit
Black against White workers. It argued that busing would do nothing to
remedy the insufficiency of resources endemic to all of the public
schools in Boston. It argued rather for an end to discrimination in
housing and better appropriations and facilities for all of the Boston
schools. In the eyes of the RCP, the most vicious aspect of groups on
the Left supporting busing was that the attacks of these groups were
directed against the racism of White workers to the point of calling
for action against these "White racists" by the
establishment's police forces. The RCP contended that by supporting
the establishment politicians' strategy of dividing the White from the
Black working classes, those groups were completely separating the
struggle over racism or the "national question" from the
class struggle. And they were doing so in a way that would prove to be
fatal to the latter.
(3) The Equal Rights Amendment
There was no disagreement between the RCP and the CP(ML) on the
issue of "feminism." Unlike the SWP, which presented
feminism as being perfectly compatible with Marxism-Leninism, and
which had recruited an important segment of its membership from women
who had originally been politicized by exclusively feminist
organizations or around exclusively feminist issues, the RCP and the
CP(ML) both denounced feminism as irreconcilable with Marxism-Leninism.
However, on the specific issue of the Equal Rights Amendment there
was disagreement between the two Maoist organizations. Once again, the
CP(ML) in its support for the ERA found itself on the same side as the
SWP on an issue of major salience in American politics. The RCP found
itself taking the same position as the Communist Party/USA until 1977,
when the CP/USA switched from a con to a pro position on ERA.
The position of the RCP was that the struggle against women's
oppression should "center around inequality and discrimination."
The major thrust of the demands should be for equal pay for equal work,
free child care so that women would not be isolated from production
and class struggle, paid maternity leaves with no loss of seniority,
an end to forced abortion and sterilization, and the right to safe and
voluntary birth control and abortion.
But another demand was "Oppose the 'Equal Rights
Amendments'--fight to defend protective legislation and extend it to
In 1974, the RCP's predecessor organization, Revolutionary Union,
launched an attack on the Industrial Welfare Commission of California
for using that state's equal rights legislation as an excuse to do
away with protective legislation which workers had fought so hard to
gain. It contended that "the ruling class, as can be seen by what
is happening in California, is using the ERA to step up its attack on
protective legislation, as part of its frantic, overall efforts to get
out of the crisis it's in by squeezing even more profits out of the
While both the CP(ML) and the Guardian agreed with the RCP
that there was such an attack on protective legislation in California,
they argued that the use of equal rights laws for that purpose was a
perversion of the intent of those laws, and that there was more to be
gained than lost by the adoption of a nationally binding amendment.
The RCP, on the other hand, saw the destruction of protective
legislation for workers as precisely the intent of "equal rights"
laws or amendments when they are adopted by capitalist governments.
Thus, on both the issues of busing and ERA, the RCP saw capitalist
plots afoot to divide the working class and to destroy the protective
legislation which it fought so hard to gain. On the busing issue, it
stood virtually alone among the multi-national or multi-racial groups
on the Left. On the issue of ERA it shared the position of the
Communist Party until 1977, but was later isolated from it as well as
from most of the other Marxist-Leninist and social democratic groups
in the United States. To many of these groups, the RCP looked more and
more like the PLP which it fought so hard against. Its purist Left
analyses brought it into agreement with the ballast of the Right on
specific but highly salient issues within the U.S. political context.
The most obvious difference to be noted between U.S. Maoism and
French Maoism is the absence in the United States of anything like the
anti-hierarchical variant which existed in France up to the mid 1970s.
U.S. Maoist organizations have all been traditionally Leninist in
their mode of organization. Variations within U.S. Maoism have tended
to be more sharply focused upon specific issue differences than in
Moreover, while the French hierarchical Maoist groups have differed
on questions of union strategy and international issues, they have not
attacked each other as savagely as the major U.S. Maoist groups have.
The PCMLF and the PCR(m-l) have been trying to come together, and
managed to run a joint list in the 1978 legislative elections. The
UCFML has taken its own positions, but has been conscious of not going
out of its way to offend either the Chinese regime or the other Maoist
groups in France.
Two factors have encouraged the higher degree of antagonism and
fragmentation within the U.S. Maoist movement. First, the two largest
French hierarchical Maoist formations, the PCMLF and the PCR(m-l),
share the same roots. The PCMLF came out of the French Communist Party
and the PCR(m-l) came out of the PCMLF. The reason for the latter
rupture was not so much issue specific or even theoretical. It was,
rather, that the people who formed the PCR(m-l) felt that the PCMLF
had simply become too inactive after it had been banned. The U.S.
CP(ML) and RCP, on the other hand, did not come out of the same
organization, and their militants never agreed on basic issues. These
two U.S. organizations grew out of the New Left of the 1960s, and the
only time that they ever acted together was in the attempt to break
the power of the Progressive Labor Party within the Students for a
Democratic Society. Once they finished that attempt, they presented
each other with the same kind of aggressive confrontational posture
they had often directed at others.
The second factor which has encouraged antagonism among U.S.
Maoists is the salience and intensity of feeling surrounding the
specific issues over which they have differed within the U.S. national
context. The question of how to deal with racial and ethnic
heterogeneity has been no less divisive among U.S. Maoists than it has
been of the society at large. It was central to the battles with the
Progressive Labor Party in SDS, to the differences between the major
Maoist formations which succeeded the Progressive Labor Party, and to
the growth of racially and ethnically specific Maoist groups in the
United States which could not agree among themselves on how to resolve
the "national question."
Another such issue is that of sexual oppression. Within SDS, at the
end of 1965, women had begun to press their claims for a greater role
and for men to come to grips with the question. By 1968 women's groups
and caucuses had formed within and without the organization, and the
latter were trying to pull women out of SDS and into directing their
energies entirely toward women's liberation. It was in this setting
that some of the RYM Maoists fought the PLP's contention that the
oppression of women represented a secondary contradiction. And even
though the two major successors of PLP in the world of U.S. Maoism
both denounced the SWP's encouragement of "feminism" in the
form of separatist organizations and different lifestyles, they too
differed markedly on how each of them treated women within their own
ranks. Although the CP(ML) was headed by a man at the very top--that
veteran of so many struggles with PLP in SDS, Michael Klonsky--in the
late 1970s the second highest position was held by a woman, and the
organization had a strong tradition of sexual parity among the
remainder of its leadership positions. For this it has been ridiculed
and attacked by the RCP, in which male dominance is much more apparent.
Finally, the salience of the issue of the Equal Rights Amendment
throughout the late 1970s further widened the gap over the sexual
question, both among the two major Maoist formations and even among
some of the "national" Maoist groupings.
Further aggravating matters, U.S. Maoists have been particularly
affected by the elevation of the USSR to the position of number one
world menace within the Theory of the Three Worlds. For U.S. groups,
this carried with it a shift of priorities on one's home turf. It has
meant, in effect, taking the same positions as those on the
anti-Communist Right in supporting U.S. anti-Soviet initiatives. While
the RCP was comfortable taking positions (for different reasons, to be
sure) on busing and ERA that were the same as those of most of the
forces on the Right in the United States, it drew the line at what it
regarded as a counter-revolutionary foreign policy. The Chinese regime,
which intervened in the context of U.S. Maoism very late compared with
its interest in France, complicated life for Maoists who were already
trying to operate in a very difficult context.
Despite the intense conflict, U.S. Maoists have had some impact
upon the larger political milieu. The Progressive Labor Party did play
an important role in pushing the Students for a Democratic Society
into a more specifically Marxist and anti-imperialist position. It
also was the first U.S. group to send young Americans down to Cuba for
a first-hand look at an attempt to build a socialist society. The
Revolutionary Union, and then the Revolutionary Communist Party which
succeeded the PLP as the largest U.S. Maoist group, has played an
extremely important role on the U.S. Left in the post-SDS years. Among
Marxist-Leninist groups, its student affiliate and that of the
Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party were the most active on campuses
across the country. Until the very late 1970s, social-democratic
groups were virtually extinct in this setting, and the Communist
Party's attention seems to have been concentrated largely in urban
areas. In many cases the RCP's Revolutionary Student Brigades and
SWP's Young Socialist Alliance were the only organizations present on
campuses in a position to provide the organizational and tactical
know-how--as well as the dedication and discipline necessary to get
work done--when events or issues stimulated desires to respond on the
part of a wider segment of student bodies. In terms of specific areas
of involvement, James O'Brien points to the RCP's support work for the
Farah strikers as its major accomplishment. I would add to that the
RCP's steadfast support for the anti-Shah Iranian student movement in
the United States.
At the very end of the 1970s, a new drama was unfolding within
Maoism. In France, the PCR(m-l) joined the "officially"
recognized PCMLF in a denunciation of the Gang of Four, and the
furthest that UCFML would go was to say that the evidence presented
against the Gang was thus far deficient. There was therefore, no real
defense of the Gang of Four among the major French Maoist groups. Bob
Avakian and the majority of the Central Committee of the RCP in the
United States, however, finally decided to push for a public defense,
and charged that China's new leaders were taking China on a
revisionist, capitalist road. This position, of course, brought
Avakian and his followers one more step along the route taken by the
Progressive Labor Party.
Despite the fact that the RCP had been repudiated by the post-Mao
Chinese leadership's recognition of Klonsky's CP(ML), a large minority
on the RCP's Central Committee could not accept the defense of the
Gang and the direct attack on the Chinese leadership. The organization
split. The majority faction led by Avakian retained control over the
party. But the minority, which became known as the Revolutionary
Workers Headquarters, retained control over many of the Revolutionary
Student Brigades in the East and Midwest. In 1978, these dissident
Brigades issued the following public statement to the Chinese:
Two Octobers ago the Chinese people turned a difficult situation
arising from the death of Chairman Mao into an important victory by
defeating the counter-revolutionary Gang of Four. Aware of the two
classes, two lines, and two roads you continue your heroic march
down the socialist road. Through this struggle communists in China
and worldwide gained greater understanding of the tasks of the
working class under socialism. This victory placed the future of
China more firmly into the hands of the Chinese proletariat. Once
again the Chinese people and Party proved capable of conquering all
In the US students and all revolutionary people watched events
unfold closely. China has meant much to the American people. It has
year after year proved socialism superior to capitalism. It was the
salvos of the Cultural Revolution that led to Marxism-Leninism being
reborn in the United States. And once again socialist China was a
beacon as the defeat of the Gang of Four prepared us to remove a
counter revolutionary bane in our own ranks. This bane which
commanded a slight majority of the leadership of our party were the
US kissing cousins of the Gang of Four. Their control prevented us
from expressing support for the defeat of the Gang of Four earlier.
It was necessary to break their control of our ranks to continue to
stand with the Chinese revolution.
To turn against China now is to turn against revolution. This we
would never do. Therefore we are determined, even if apologetically
late, to now take the opportunity to express our warmest
congratulations and most militant solidarity. Today greater than
ever before the words of Mao ring loud, "We have stood up. Our
revolution has won the sympathy and acclaim of the people of all
countries. We have friends all over the word."
The repercussions of this split within the largest Maoist
organization in U.S. history, and the continuing developments in all
of the major U.S. Maoist formations in the Reagan years of the 1980s,
are explored more completely in the Epilogue.
1. Kirkpatrick Sale, sds (New York:
Vintage Books, 1974), p. 64.
2. For an SWP criticism of Progressive Labor, see
Mary-Alice Waters, Maoism in the U.S.: A Critical History of the
Progressive Labor Party (New York: Young Socialist Publications,
3. Sale, sds, pp. 218-219.
4. Ibid., p. 292.
5. After this was written, Davidson confided to
the author that he had gotten the idea from the Quebec student
6. Both this and the revised "Road to
Revolution-II" have been published in Progressive Labor Party, Revolution
Today: U.S.A., A Look at the Progressive Labor Movement and the
Progressive Labor Party (New York: Exposition Press, 1970).
7. Sale, sds, p. 332.
8. "Improve Our Base Building," cited
in Revolution Today, p. 72.
9. "Black Workers: Key Revolutionary Force,
February 1969," in Revolution Today, pp. 268-278 and
"U.S. Workers: Key to Revolution, August 1969," Ibid., pp.
322-325 and 343.
10. "The Future is Bright, June 1970,"
in Revolution Today, p. 347.
11. The breakdown given by the PLP of purchasers
of a single issue of Challenge-Desafio in 1970 is as follows:
"workers on the job"--53,000; "in working-class
"Gl's"-- 2,000; "high schools"--3,000;
"professionals"--2,000; "subscriptions"-- 1,000;
"at rallies"--4,000; "in Puerto Rico"--5,000;
"Canada and other foreign"--4,000. Total: 100,000. Printed
on the last page of Revolution Today. If these figures are
correct, they must represent the world record for a Far Left
publication. A 20,000 to 30,000 circulation is quite good.
12. Sale, sds, p. 358.
13. Ibid., p. 397.
15. Ibid., p. 465.
16. Ibid pp 450451.
17. Ibid., pp. 475-476.
18. The NCLC was extremely anti-Soviet; it
denounced the Black Panthers; and it supported Albert Shanker's New
York chapter of the American Federation of Teachers against community
control of the schools. In 1973, it announced a campaign to physically
annihilate the Communist Party of the United States. In fact, it
conducted violent raids against other groups on the Left as well,
including the SWP. At this point suspicion began to develop on the
Left that it was a government or business-supported group. After a
couple of months, it announced that it had succeeded in annihilating
the American Communist Party and it attempted to make contact with
groups in Europe (including the French OCI) to accomplish the same
there. On August 15, 1973, it held a meeting of the
"International Caucus of Labor Committees" in Stockholm. In
1976, it created an electoral arm, the U.S. Labor Party. It was able
to afford prime national television time for its presidential
candidate, Lyndon LaRouche. It has also been able to afford to publish
its newspaper, New Solidarity, in nine different languages and to
distribute it abroad. It is scientific and technological in
orientation and is a staunch opponent of the anti-nuclear power
movement. The SWP has accused its members of acting as police
informants and provocateurs against that movement.
19. Sale, sds, p. 486.
20. "Report Opening the PLP Pre-Convention
Discussion, March 1968," in Revolution Today, pp. 18-19.
21. "Program for Black Liberation, February
1969," in Revolution Today, p. 265.
22. "Revolutionaries Must Eight
Nationalism, August 1969," in Revolution Today, pp.
23. Ibid. pp. 293-294.
24. Sale, sds, pp. 508-510.
25. The best source known to this writer on the
1969 convention is Sale's sds. All of the material on the
convention prior to RYM's walking out is based on chapter 24 of Sale's
book. This writer got to the convention only after the walk-out had
taken place. It should also be noted that Carl Davidson is now in the
process of writing a book on the SDS experience which will differ in
some important respects from Sale's interpretation.
26. Sale, sds, p. 567.
27. Cited in Sale, sds, pp. 568-569.
28. Sale, sds, p. 570.
30. See Chapter 4, on the International
31. Sale, sds, pp. 571-572.
33. Cited in Sale, sds, p. 573.
34. Pauline Mak, "Some Maoist Groups in
America: Experiences of the First Decade," unpublished paper
written at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, December
35. This phenomenon is absent in Trotskyism both
because of its highly theoretical nature and the absence of any
regimes and living or recently living who could capture the
imagination of people in a variety of decentralized contexts.
36. D.B., "Marxism, Nationalism and the
Task of Party Building: History and Lessons of the National Liaison
Committee," The Communist 2, no. 1 (Fall/ Winter 1977),
38. Amiri Baraka, "Radical Forum," Guardian
27, no. 21 (March 5, 1975), p. 17.
39. Sherman Miller, "'Revolutionary Wing or
Anti-Party Bloc?," Class Struggle, nos. 4-5
(Spring/Summer 1976), p. 7.
41. See I Wor Kuen, "Criticisms of Workers
Viewpoint Organization on Party Building," I.W.K. Journal, no.
3 (January 1976), pp. 38-78. Workers Viewpoint Organization later
changed its name to the Communist Workers Party. It conducted a
militant anti-Ku Klux Klan campaign in the South. On November 3, 1979
national attention was focused on the organization when five of its
members were shot to death during an anti-Klan rally in a low income
housing project in Greensboro, North Carolina. A number of Klansmen
and U.S. Nazis were arrested and charged with the crime.
42. The Next 25: Yesterday, Today, and
Tomorrow," Guardian 26, no. 7 (November 28, 1973), p.
44. Irwin Silber, " 'Revolution' Polemic
Deceives No One," Guardian 27, no. 23 (March 10, 1975),
45. See pp. 218-22.
46. Guardian Staff, "On Building a
New Communist Party," Guardian, special supplement, 29,
no. 34 (June 1, 1977), pp. 51-8.
47. Jim O'Brien, "American Leninism in the
1970s," Radical America, special double issue, 11, no. 6
and 12, no. I (Winter 1977-78), p. 55.
49. From October 1976 through October 1977, the Guardian
printed an average of 21,712 copies of each issue and actually
distributed an average of 20,562. "Statement of Ownership,
Management, and Circulation," Guardian 30, no. 1
(October 12, 1977), p. 20.
50. On the history of the National Liaison
Committee from the RCP's point of view, see D.B., "Marxism."
51. The Red Papers #6 attempts to
analyze and self-critique RU's agitation and creation of a
counter-workers organization to discredit the union in the new bulk
mailing centers in New York City. See RU, The Red Papers #6: Build
the Leadership of the Proletariat and Its Party (Chicago:
Revolutionary Union, 1974), pp. 122-126.
52. Ben Bendell, "'Revolutionary Student
Brigade' Formed in Iowa," Guardian 26, no. 38 (July 3,
1974), p. 7.
53. "Attica Brigade Seizes Statue of
Liberty," Revolution 2, no. 4 (May 1974), p. 1.
55. The name proved to be divisive. A faction
within the RCP and RSB objected to the word "Communist" in
the title, arguing that this was not the party and that the word would
drive away young people whom they hoped to recruit. They argued that
the name should simply be the RYB on the order of the RSB. The
majority of the RCP's leadership, including Avakian, charged the
dissidents with insulting American youth and with reraising a question
on which they had been defeated before and during the November
convention. See "Arrogant Clique Suffers Defeat: RCYB
Consolidates on Correct Line," Revolution 3, no. 5
(February 1978), pp. 1, 18-19.
56. Ruth Gifford, "Waging Class Struggle in
the Trade Unions," Class Struggle, no. 8 (Fall 1977), p.
57. "The October League (M-L): A Cover for
Revisionism," Revolution 2, no. 7 (August 1974), p. 12.
58. O'Brien, "American Leninism," pp.
59. CP(ML), Documents from the Founding
Congress of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (Chicago:
CP(ML), 1977), p. 156 and RCP, Programme and Constitution of the
Revolutionary Communist Party USA (Chicago: RCP, 1975), p. 169.
60. CP(ML), Documents, p. 142.
62. O'Brien estimated the RCP's membership to be
"probably around 600" (p. 56) and the Workers Vanguard
estimated it to be from 600 to 700 (Workers Vanguard, January
27, 1978, p. 1). The latter estimate, however, could have been based
upon the former, which strikes this writer as a bit low. It should
also be kept in mind that these estimates did not include militant
members of student, worker, youth, or veteran's affiliates who were
not party members. The fact is that the RCP has been one of the most
successful organizations on the American Left, if not the most
successful, in turning people out at a national level for its own
demonstrations or founding conferences. O'Brien estimated that around
3,000 people attended the RSB national demonstration in Philadelphia
in July of 1976 (p. 57), that 1,428 people attended the founding of
the United Workers Organization and that approximately 650 attended
the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade conference the following
year. This, coupled with the publication of The Worker in
approximately twenty cities, is an impressive demonstration of
capability for a group on the American Left.
63. "Narrow Nationalism: Main Deviation in
the Movement on the National Question," Revolution 2,
no. 10 (November 1974), p. 22.
64. A more precise break-down of that committee
is four Black males, three White males, one Asian-American woman, one
Puerto Rican woman, and one White woman. One member of the RCP
reported to me that at most of its functions there have been
approximately one-third non Whites.
65. In the late 1970s, the CP(ML) began to open
its own bookstores in several cities.
66. "The China-Albania Split," Guardian
29, no. 42 (July 27, 1977), p. 16.
67. Irwin Silber, "China's View of the
Superpowers," Guardian 30, no. 10 (February 15, 1978),
68. "The China-Albania Split," p. 16.
70. Silber, "China's View," p. 21.
71. The Albanian position was that there was
"the direct danger that mankind will be hurled into a third world
war." Reprint of "The Theory and Practice of
Revolution," an editorial appearing in Zeri i Popullit, organ
of the Central Committee of the Party of Labor of Albania, July 7,
1977, p. 9. The Guardian's position was that "While
imperialism's drive for war is inexorable . . . it is possible in
today's world to transform the liberation struggles of oppressed
peoples and the peace sentiments of the masses into a powerful
material force capable of preventing war." "On Building a
New Communist Party," p. 5-6. The RCP was not as direct as Silber
in the Guardian, but in its publication War and
Revolution (Chicago: RCP, 1976) such a war was always referred to
in a conditional verb tense.
72. CP(ML), Documents, p. 103.
"The contention and uneven development between the two
superpowers is bound to lead to a new world war. . . it is inevitable
that there will be a war."
73. "Two Superpowers: Equally Enemies of
World's People," Revolution, 2, no. 10 (August 1977), p.
74. "The October League (M-L)," p. 22.
75. "On the Three Worlds and the
International Situation," Revolution 2, no. 9 (July
1977), p. 10.
76. RCP, War and Revolution, pp. 17-22.
77. Eileen Klehr, "How RCP's 'Theory of
Equality' Serves Soviet Social-lmperialism," Class Struggle, no.
8 (Fall 1977), p. 50.
78. Joseph Stalin, Marxism and the National
Question (New York: International Publishers, 1942), p. 72.
79. Ibid., p. 12.
80. Ibid., p. 25.
81. Ibid., p. 24.
82. Joseph Stalin, The National Question and
Leninism (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1952),
83. Ibid., pp. 27-29.
84. Irwin Silber, ". . . Fan the
Flames," Guardian 27, no. 36 (June 18, 1975), p. 8. For
a reprint of Silber's entire series of articles on the issue and
Davidson's criticism of Silber's position, see Carl Davidson, In
Defense of the Right to Self-Determination (Chicago: Liberator
85. Irwin Silber, "On the National
Question," reprinted from the Guardian in Davidson, In
Defense, pp. 70-85.
86. Documents on the conflict between the BWC
and RU can be found in RU's The Red Papers #6.
87. Quoted in "The October League
(M-L)," p. 16.
88. CP(ML), Documents, p. 129.
89. Ibid., pp. 129-130.
90. Ibid., p. 129.
91. RU, The Red Papers #6, p. 11.
92. Ibid., p. 110.
94. RCP, Programme and Constitution, p. 122.
95. Ibid., p. 123.
97. Ibid., p. 129.
98. Ibid., p. 133.
99. Ibid., p. 138.
100. D. B., "Marxism," p. 157.
101. Ibid., p. 158.
102. Ibid., pp. 127-169.
103. See Leon Trotsky, On Black Nationalism
and Self-Determination (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972).
104. Neither the CP(ML) nor the RCP has been as
open to alliances with other groups as have Trotskyists or French
Maoist groups, such as the GP or the PCR(m-l). Both CP(ML) and the RCP
took part in demonstrations to stop the construction of the gym at
Kent State University. But both participated "separately"
without acknowledging the participation of the other. The same is true
of their work in the U.S-China Friendship Association.
105. "People Must Unite to Smash Boston
Busing Plan," Revolution 2, no. 9 (October 1974), p. 1.
See also "Boston Busing Struggle Sharpens," Revolution 2,
no. 10 (November 1974), pp. 1, 20-22, and "Narrow
Nationalism," Ibid., pp. 14-15, 22. The latter article is
primarily an attack on the CP(ML)'s predecessor, the October League.
It will be recalled that the Black and Puerto Rican affiliates of the
Revolutionary Wing opposed busing while the Mexican-American ATM
106. The Communist Party made a major
investment in the creation of a women's organization, Women for Racial
and Economic Equality (WREE). It did not, however, have enough control
or influence over WREE to prevent the organization from supporting
ERA. It was therefore presented with the hard choice of pulling out of
WREE, opposing WREE on a major issue, or following the lead of WREE.
It chose the latter.
107. RCP, Programme and Constitution, p. 141.
110. "The October League (M-L)," p.
111. It will be recalled that the positions of
the Black and Puerto Rican affiliates of the Revolutionary Wing were
identical to those of the RCP, with which they had a previous
relationship, while the Mexican-American ATM, which was not involved
with the National Liaison Committee, took the pro-ERA position of the
CP(ML) and the Guardian.
112. The Young Communist 5, no. 3
(March 1978), p. 2
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