by Eric Gordon
(CV #36, Sept. 2005).
. The Revolutionary Communist Party USA is a product of the mass movements of the 1960's. Many of its founders, including their leader, Bob Avakian, came out of the student movement of the time, particularly the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). When the RCP was founded in 1976, the formation of a new communist party of the US working class was being widely discussed among the most serious revolutionaries. But, although the party was organized under the banner of anti-revisionism, it was in fact a new revisionist party, taking up Maoism from an elitist petty-bourgeois stand characteristic of their approach then and since, and they cling to their Maoist ideology as a dogma. At first they pandered to backward ideas among the workers from the right, then they entered a phase of left economism, or left trade unionism, and then, in the late 1970's, abandonment of working class organizing altogether while furiously waving the red flag. (1) True to its Maoist ideas, the RCP's picture of socialism is bureaucratic state capitalism ruling over the masses in their name, and the equation of state ownership with a socialist economy.
. Today, revolutionary ferment in society, and the study and debate of revolutionary theory, have yet to make a new upsurge. Every group calling itself revolutionary is small, with anti-revisionists (Marxists in more than name only) being the smallest of the small. In these conditions the RCP is a significant force in the left-wing movement. They get their strength, partially, because of the weakness of the anti-revisionist trend. They attract activists through revolutionary posturing in the anti-war, anti-racist and other popular movements, posing as the most revolutionary force out there. Yet, their leftism is illusory, because their greatest source of strength is through alliances with the liberal bourgeoisie, and to make those alliances, they must drop their revolutionary phrase-mongering and fall back to liberal emotionalism. In other words, for all their left posturing, their petty bourgeois outlook and their alliance with the left wing of the liberal bourgeoisie drives them to refuse to wage a real struggle against the liberal and opportunist politics dominating these movements.
. One feature of the party that stands out is their adulation for Avakian. May 1st of this year the
RCP introduced a newly formatted, renamed newspaper called Revolution to much fanfare. In
that issue they pour on the worship of Avakian particularly thick, but examples abound elsewhere
also, in other issues before and after, on the web, and in talks. RCP members refer to themselves
as "comrades and students of RCP Chairman Bob Avakian", and argue that "if you want to
change the world . . . you need to know Bob Avakian". They talk of the need to "cherish him
and defend" him, because "a leader like this only comes along once in a great while". We are
called on to read his memoirs and listen to "the whole 11-hour DVD set" of Bob Avakian
speaking, and hold parties to view it with everyone we know. One article describes an immigrant
working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, who takes his one day off on New Years day to travel to
the Rose Bowl parade and "tell people about Bob Avakian", and claims that in the projects in LA
people now greet each other by "putting their fists to their hearts and shouting out, 'B. A. '".
Someone even "begins to cry as he hears of the future envisioned by Bob Avakian -- 'People need
this kind of leader to unleash their creativity'". One acolyte is quoted on their website saying "if
Lenin were alive today, he'd sound a lot like Bob Avakian". (2) At demonstrations, these students
of Avakian have chanted "The earth is quakin'/ Follow Bob Avakian/ The empire's shakin'/
Follow Bob Avakian!"
Defense of the cult of Bob
. As much as they might like readers to believe that this adulation arose spontaneously, it didn't. Avakian is a skilled self-promoter. He uses all sorts of demagogical techniques to show his supposedly great wisdom and depth of knowledge: name-dropping, referring to "back in the day", and tossing around "communist"-sounding phrases like "dialectical relationship" and "unity as well as opposition". Avakian tries to bolster this cultism by spinning a theoretical web around it. (3) He argues that people give more weight to the arguments put forth by "people who have established themselves within any field or institution as some kind of authority". According to him, in revolutionary politics, this is positive and should be fostered. He labors to assure us that he doesn't support tyrannical cults, "no matter whether they represent the proletariat or not", or cults in which "certain individuals stand outside of the party and the overall interests of the proletariat; that they can substitute their own individual will or whims." What he doesn't do is talk about the class basis of those tyrannies, or what will prevent the RCP brand of cultism from devolving into the tyrannical cultism of Stalin or Mao.
. His argument rests on the correct proposal that particular ideas carry a certain prestige due to their having held up to criticism and shown their correctness in practice; this assertion is uncontroversial, one relevant example being the writings of Marx and Engels. Yet, the RCP turns this on its head: both in their theoretical justifications and in their practice, rather than analyzing the difficult questions today, instead they seek to build up their prestige, and hope no one will notice the emptiness of their answers. In fact, because they are so devoid of answers, this cultism is the only basis on which it is possible to promote Avakian's work and that of other RCP "theorists".
. For example, they don't have a serious analysis of the revolutions in either Russia or China, or how and why they ended in repressive state capitalist regimes. Instead, they provide pat answers: in the Soviet Union, "when Stalin died in 1953, capitalist forces inside the Communist Party, headed by Nikita Khrushchev, staged a coup"; in China, "after Mao died in 1976, rightist forces, led by Deng Xiaoping from behind the scenes, staged a coup . . .". (4) The fact that both these countries were already repressive regimes with little or no mass participation in political life at the time of these "coups" is a fact to be apologized away, as "mistakes" Stalin made, or outright denied, as in their enthusiasm for the Chinese Cultural Revolution. By contrast Marx and Engels studied the revolutions of their time deeply, and communists today need to do serious study of the revolutions since. They also studied capitalism as it existed in their day. While the basic principles they discovered about capitalism then still apply today, capitalism has developed since then. Lenin furthered their study, but capitalism has developed since Lenin's time too. Communists need to draw lessons from these developments to effectively fight the struggles of today, and the RCP has no answers here either. They also don't have any serious ideas about how to develop a proletarian movement independent of the Democrats and their allies. Instead, their answer is fear-mongering and cultism, and assertions of how really, really revolutionary they are. Marxism can't be satisfied with providing simple answers. It has to continually test and retest its basic methods and standpoint by applying them to new questions, and breaking new ground.
. In place of this, on the one hand the RCP tries to promote a sense of panic, with accounts that "history is full of examples of people . . . passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined" and that if "things are left in the hands of those in power, we could be living in a world where old traditional shackles meet new technology. . . . This horrible vision would be a society where modern-day imperialism would be run by religious fanatics. Your worst nightmare meets your worst nightmare" [their emphasis]. (5)
. On the other hand, they seek to promote a sense of security, that all of the questions are being studied and answered by a wise and thoughtful Avakian. The above quote continues: "But today, at the very moment we are haunted by a new 'Dark Ages' mentality, the communist project is going through a Renaissance, as Bob Avakian has reimagined the process of socialist revolution. We have a fighting chance. . . ." Another example is from an interview, posted to several indymedia web sites, of Sunsara Taylor, a frequent contributor to the RCP newspaper:
"Because I have followed and studied Chairman Avakian I do have answers and something to say to people! To know that there is somebody that we can have so much confidence in let me tell you, things can get really crazy in the middle of such an intense struggle. . . . It's easy to stress out in the middle of all this, but it's important to step back for a minute and see that our Chairman is leading us to solve all these problems. He's somebody who is voluntarily and very eagerly saying that he will give his life to the people and there's a lot riding on what he does. But he doesn't stop and complain. He solves the problems and he leads people to solve the problems. I try to emulate that and it makes a big difference". (6)
. The message is clear. RCP members don't need to think, don't need to ask questions, don't need to "stress out" about anything, because Avakian is going to answer everything which needs to be answered.
. In the "Individual Leaders . . ." article and elsewhere, in place of really grappling with difficult questions, he repeatedly uses pseudo-dialectics to make it sound like he is doing so. In this technique of argumentation, he makes two contradictory statements and calls it "a dialectic", but makes no effort to talk about how they relate to each other. Then he simply picks whichever side of the so-called-dialectic suits his needs, and ignores the other. One critic on the web described this as waving the "dialectical magic wand".
. For example, he brings up the "dialectical relation" between cultism and "initiative and creative critical thinking among party members and the masses following the party", but says nothing more about the question. Cultism stifles intellectual initiative among the masses, but Avakian finds it more convenient for his argument to say "dialectical relation", and then prattle on about "the positive and necessary aspect" of cultism. In the same article, he states that "on the other hand . . . truth . . . in the beginning is always in the hands of the minority of people" and that "Mao makes the statement that people should follow whoever has the truth in their hands." He raises this point a couple of ways, and then again simply returns to his discussion of the supposed positive nature of cults. Again, he doesn't discuss the relationship between the two ideas.
. These and several other examples in that article alone, clearly show that his aim is not to shed
light on the question, but to obscure the emptiness of his arguments, to assure his readers that he
is really thinking about things deeply, to sound "communist" and thoughtful, and to make what
are often very simple-minded, empty and wrong arguments seem deeper and richer and more
all-sided. Real dialectical materialism is a tool to understand and clarify the laws by which
change occurs. Simply stating two contradictory things and saying they have a "dialectical
relation", and then choosing one (the "unity" between cultism and mass initiative) and ignoring
the other (the "opposition" between them), clarifies nothing except the speaker's opportunism,
and actually serves to obscure reality. (7)
Roots of the cult of Bob
. The issue is not simply that all this adulation of Avakian is unattractive, or that his wind-baggery deserves to be held up to ridicule. The issue is that cultism is really antithetical to the entire aim of communism. A communist party, a real one, not the mockery of one handed down to us by the legacy of revisionism over the last 75-80 years, is a collective endeavor to tear down the elitism and privilege which arise from class society, by tearing down class rule. Trying to do so by making a virtue of elitism and privilege is not the way to do it. A real communist party must be founded on the equality of its members: equality of rights within the party, and equality of responsibilities to the class. A working class party is a collective endeavor in which everyone has the right to be heard out. After a full hearing of a question, once decision is made, all have the responsibility to carry out the decisions of the party, although they may always raise the question again later if they still disagree with it. Cultism, in which one "comrade" is held up for adulation while others describe themselves as his "students", cuts against this spirit.
. Their lack of proletarian party spirit, the elitism which comes with their cultism, the weakness of their arguments, all reveal their class orientation. Their practice shows it too: they do not organize among the workers. Doing so is difficult today, given the current lack of ferment in society, and few groups do much of it. But the RCP has given up on the workers entirely, and for the most part dropped even mention of the working class in their writings. In their Draft Programme (one of the few places they do mention the proletariat), they talk of fighting against a "reactionary polarization" created by the bourgeoisie, and they say that "the proletariat, through the leadership of its party, seeks to bring about a 'favorable repolarization', by waging a 'fight for the middle'." The phrase 'fight for the middle" is a euphemism; what it really means is ignoring the workers, and focusing on other segments of society, the petty-bourgeoisie and left-liberal Democrats.
. They go further, and argue that this "fight for the middle" is really the hardest and most revolutionary work: "if the proletariat writes off potential allies, if it shrinks from waging that 'fight for the middle', as difficult as it is, then it will fall short in making revolution". They argue that for its part, the bourgeoisie is also fighting "to enlist the support of the middle strata . . . seeking to convince them [the proletariat] they will have no allies when they fight back". This entire discussion sounds as if a) they believe that the proletariat is already completely behind them and does not need to be organized, or b) their declaration that they are the party which is leading the proletariat is sufficient, and it isn't necessary to take any action to actually lead the actual workers, or c) that by waging this fight for the middle, the RCP will convince the workers that they do have allies (in the kinder gentler imperialists, the liberal Democrats, mind you), and this will give them courage to organize themselves. (8)
. A practical example of their abandonment of working class politics for left-liberalism is their current call to "Drive out the Bush Regime" quoted above. It reads in part "But silence and paralysis are NOT acceptable. That which you will not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn -- or be forced -- to accept. There is no escaping it the whole disastrous course of this Bush regime must be STOPPED. And we must take the responsibility to do it." While it is always good to fight against Bush, the arch-imperialist, this sort of guilt-tripping emotionalism is the stock-in-trade of the left-liberals, and it reflects the RCP's attitude toward the masses as backward and bought out, and as hopeless as a revolutionary force. This event is called for November 2nd, a Wednesday, the anniversary of Bush's reelection. It talks as though tens of thousands simply HAVE TO walk out of work and classes, or disaster will ensue. Meanwhile, even though it makes a reference to there being "no savior from the Democratic Party", it makes no mention of the imperialist nature of that party, and no mention of the class which both Bush and the Democrats serve, the bourgeoisie.
. While it is possible to find common ground in certain struggles and at certain stages during the struggle, between the working class and sections of the petty-bourgeoisie, the RCP approach -- abandonment of working class politics and organizing primarily among the petty-bourgeoisie, while still trying to pose as Marxist -- requires them to extract any class analysis from their writings, leaving little but empty emotional and moral appeals and sophistry, and because they are empty, the only way left to promote themselves is by cultist appeals.
. So they have adopted this cultism for a number of reasons. In order to hide the tame liberal reformist politics they're hawking, to hide their real class allegiances, and to try to sound so very revolutionary, they talk of Avakian as "a pathbreaking Marxist thinker" who has a "vision", and who has "reimagined the process of socialist revolution", one who "we can have so much confidence in", and therefore don't need to "stress out" about the difficult problems of building a proletarian movement. Instead of organizing among the workers, their focus is on making themselves appealing to left liberals and petty-bourgeois radicals, and on drawing their strength from the left Democrats, summed up under their slogan "Unite all who can be united". <>
(1) The CVO website has some information which touches on this history in somewhat more depth. See http://www.communistvoice.org/25cLetters.html, in the section titled "Reply: the RCP-USA, Maoism, and the Three Worlds Theory" and http://www.communistvoice.org/26cLetters.html, in the section titled "The RCP, the theoretical struggle, and the working class". The issue is not simply that they took up revisionist Maoism. Other groups also took up Maoism at the time, including the trend which later became the CVO. (Return to text)
(2) Http://rwor.org/a/1246/bob_avakian_video_comments.htm. The RCP fails to seriously examine the ideas of Lenin in any way, they simply invoke his name as a yardstick by which to measure and promote Avakian. (Text)
(3) This argument is laid out in "Individual Leaders and the larger interests of Society and the People" by Avakian, in Revolutionary Worker #1222, 12/14/2003, and available at http://rwor.org/a/1222/ba2dem.htm. (Text)
(4) "The 1917 October Revolution: How the Bolsheviks Seized Power", http://rwor.org/a/v19/930-39/931/octrev.htm and "Remembering William Hinton (1919-2004)", http://rwor.org/a/1253/mao_china_hinton.htm. Another way they fail to take theory seriously: their claim is that two major revolutions of the 20th century were overthrown by a coup from within the party upon the death of the party leader, but they have little to say about how future revolutions might prevent this fate. They seem to consider Avakian infallible; maybe they think he's immortal too. (Text)
(5) The first quote is from the flier for their current campaign, "Drive out the Bush Regime". The second is from Revolution #1, 5/1/2005, p. 3. (Text)
(6) "Glimpsing a Liberated Future with Chairman Avakian", http://colorado.indymedia.org/newswire/display/9119/index.php. (Text)
(7) He sometimes takes this rhetorical trick to humorous extremes, such as the example from an interview:
"There is a particularity that they are talking about with Mississippi too. Andrew Sullivan can find a church in New York or Washington, but he will have a hard time finding one in Mississippi. There is a particularity to Mississippi. Malcolm X was right in making the point, 'Stop talking about the South -- as long as you're south of the Canadian border, you're south. ' But still there is another side to it. There is still a South. My point about the bible belt and the lynching belt -- how they are the same -- is not that the South is the only place they have ever lynched people, but there is a point there" (Revolution #1 p. 8).
. In this case he has managed to obscure his meaning entirely. (Text)
(8 ) Draft Programme of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, in the section "The united
front under the leadership of the proletariat", p. 54 - 56. <> (Text)
October 16, 2005.