(CV #43, June 2009)
Letter: The RCP: Idealist Deviation and the Cult of Personality
Correct Ideas from the Head of Bob Avakian
Democratic Centralism or the Cult of Personality
RCP's Degeneration Is a Setback
The Communist Voice replies about the history of Maoism
. Below is an email letter from an activist about the RCP, and our reply:
Subject: Critique of RCP
February 20, 2009
. This is a criticism of recent developments within the RCP. Feel free to post or comment on.
The RCP: Idealist Deviation and the Cult of Personality
. There are two guiding principles that keep any revolutionary organization on track -- upholding
Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and fighting for the interests of the people. The RCP has abandoned
both. How this occurred is very instructive.
. Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, criticized MLM for having a "mechanical materialist trend" only in the past two years, with the publication of his "New Synthesis." The RCP believes that this is an original contribution to Marxism. In fact, it is warmed over Hegelianism, the belief that human consciousness evolves separate from material conditions and is the determining factor in historical development. This is an ideology Marx defeated 150 years ago.
. An example of this is the obsessive criticism of Christian ideology in the pages of Revolution.
Avakian criticizes Christianity for having reactionary ideas and for its inconsistencies -- not
surprising since it is a tribal religion and the Bible was written over the course of almost a
thousand years. Avakian cannot accept the simple concept that "religion is the opium of the
people," that religious consciousness develops out of the terrible conditions that the masses are
forced into, and that if you want to get rid of religion don't argue with it, make a socialist
. The core of the RCP's political line during most of the Bush era was the idea that the American people faced a situation of fascism or socialism, similar to Trotsky's line in the early '30s. Avakian said that "the pendulum will not swing back," meaning that the Bush tendencies toward fascism were inevitable. He called for a "repolarization" of the people, meaning that communists should divide the masses not along red state/blue state lines but on class lines. Avakian's analysis of the danger of fascism was completely based on the apocalyptic ideology of the dominionists of the Christian Right.
. Avakian ignored three material and historical conditions necessary for fascism: 1. the bourgeoisie had not exhausted its economic and political reserves -- it still had money to buy people off and the support of the majority; 2. the Christian Right lacked a political party and military wing that could give it a degree of political independence from the bourgeoisie, as Mussolini and Hitler had; 3. the bourgeoisie had 250 years experience in ruling through bourgeois democracy, and would be reluctant to switch to fascist rule unless it was absolutely necessary.
. The RCP failed to notice that Bush cut off the neo-conservatives and the Christian Right in
2006, and was completely caught by surprise by the Obama phenomenon. They never did
self-criticism for their incorrect line on the inevitability of fascism; after the election it just
Correct Ideas from the Head of Bob Avakian
. The RCP has an idealist line that relies on theory to the exclusion of practice. If you read Revolution there are few articles that are based on organizing work that the RCP is involved in, while there are many articles by Avakian. Mike Ely criticized Avakian for being "self-referential," always quoting himself. In response, Avakian, in a recent Revolution article claimed that his ideas were so new there was no one else to quote. Lenin quoted Marx to show that he was applying Marxism to Russian conditions. Avakian quotes himself to distinguish himself from MLM. The RCP believes that correct ideas come from the head of Bob Avakian.
. The RCP has no mass line. Two examples of RCP's social practice are: at the rally in support of
undocumented workers they set up a tent to show a video of Avakian speaking; they had a sound
truck in the Latino section of Oakland where they promoted Avakian as a visionary leader.
Democratic Centralism or the Cult of Personality
. Avakian never writes about organization line. The promotion of Avakian as a visionary, the lack of a mass line, the lack of social practice, all add up to extreme bureaucratic centralism -- everything flows down from Avakian, nothing flows up from the masses.
. Mao pushed his personality cult during the Cultural Revolution because the correct line, his line, had lost control of the Party. Lenin twice threatened to quit the Bolshevik Party -- when his line, the correct line, was a minority of one over the struggle for his April Theses to make an immediate socialist revolution in the spring of 1917, and over the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in order to save the new communist government from destruction. In Avakian's case, his line is the RCP line; so what is the purpose of a personality cult? There is no political purpose -- it is completely self-serving.
. When Avakian criticized MLM for being mechanical materialist there was no discussion about it in Revolution or in their public forums that I could detect. No one demanded that he support his claim with quotes from Marx or Lenin. No one called for testing his "new synthesis" in social practice among the masses. That he could, without opposition, successfully place himself above an ideological line that created the two great events of the 20th century, the Russian and Chinese revolutions, is evidence of the RCP's total degeneration into a personality cult.
. Though they never spell it out, the RCP puts Avakianism over MLM. Though they denounce
the war, police brutality, etc. , they do not fight for the immediate or long-term interests of the
masses but want the masses to support Avakian.
RCP's Degeneration Is a Setback
. We are in a period when the basic contradictions in the world are intensifying, and there may be an upsurge in the mass movement in the U.S. for the first time in over thirty years. In the 1960s there was no communist party to guide the masses -- Maoism emerged in the `70s as the mass movement was on the decline. Maoists did not split from the CP -- it was too revisionist to produce anything. They more or less invented themselves from a variety of influences.
. I supported the RCP for a decade and believe that it was once the party of the proletariat. Avakian correctly broke with the Chinese Communist Party after the death of Mao. He also correctly abandoned organization based on factory cells in the industrial proletariat and turned toward What is To Be Done and the lowest and deepest sectors of the working class. The RCP survived as a Maoist organization for thirty years, in spite of the long ebb period in the mass movement.
. If a revolutionary situation develops in the U. S. in the future and there is no party to lead it, it will be the tragedy of the century.
A. R. G.
Subject: Re: critique of RCP
Date: March 3, 2009
From: Joseph Green
. Thank you for sending us your statement The RCP: Idealist Deviation and the Cult of Personality and for permission to post it. It makes a number of good points about the cult of Bob Avakian and the RCP's views during the Bush administration.
. For one thing, you deal with the RCP's orientation that fascism was imminent under the Bush administration, and their creating the feeling that there would be "a situation of fascism or socialism". Looking further into this, it would be useful to note the class alignments they put forward underneath their talk about fascism. They sought an alignment with sections of the liberal bourgeoisie. And in doing so, they impeded the development of an independent class movement of the working class, and hindered the communist work of showing the masses the neo-liberal class stand of the bourgeois liberals as well as of the Republicans.
. While the period of the Bush administration wasn't going to give rise to either fascism or revolution, there was still revolutionary work to be done. Communists were faced, for example, with helping the working class recover from its present disorganization and develop an independent class movement, and with dealing with the ongoing theoretical crisis of the left. But this was too prosaic for the RCP. Instead they created an atmosphere that really decisive things were about to happen, and indeed must happen -- it was supposed to be one's moral responsibility that they should happen, as the world simply couldn't stand waiting any more. In their conception, these major events were to happen hand-in-hand with the liberals.
. You debunk Avakian's cult of personality, which is a useful thing to do. There is also the issue of where this cult came from: it did not simply come out of thin air. It is one of the possible culminations of the general views set forward by RCP for years. The RCP never had a clear sense of what party-building was, and its relation to the working class. Trying to maintain an atmosphere of expectation apart from the development of the class struggle is one of the conditions that helped generate their cultism.
. The RCP comes from the activist group called the "Revolutionary Union". The RU leadership was opposed to serious attention being paid to party-building, and at first advocated that communists should be organized through a series of "pre-party collectives" that had an economist approach in how they presented themselves to the working class in the localities and at the factories at which they were active.
. You write that Avakian "correctly abandoned organization based on factory cells in the industrial proletariat and turned towards What is To Be Done and the lowest and deepest sectors of the working class." It's true that the RCP abandoned their activity at workplaces, but was their new attitude to the working class in accord with Leninist principle? Let's look a bit more closely at what actually happened.
. The RU had developed influence among workers at a number of factories and other workplaces. But, although they were able to achieve this, they didn't know how to develop political organization there, and they also misjudged various struggles they were involved in. This led them to an impasse. A crisis developed in their work, and two trends developed in the RU. One trend, which became the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters, wanted to continue the economist positions and was skeptical towards having a party, and the other trend wanted to set forward big revolutionary declarations, but had no idea had to connect this to organizing among the working class.
. Things were brought to a head by the founding of the RCP, and there was a split. The Avakian-section would be left with the RCP, but without much of its base among the working class and without much of an idea of how to proceed at the workplaces. Eventually they abandoned the factories altogether. They covered their loss of working class support with fervent phrasemongering. The RCP neither figured out the proper approach for organizing at the factories and workplaces, nor could they carry out a "protracted people's war" in the US. Their fervent declarations of the need for revolution were detached from working out the orientation for on-going struggles. They were good at creating revolutionary expectations of big events to come, and they maintained a certain support among youth and in certain movements. But the empty tactics of revolutionism without a class basis led them into an impasse. It periodically gave rise to problems as these expectations were never fulfilled, and it eventually led them to the plan of building up connections with the liberals, as one can see in the agitation carried out by "The World Can't Wait!" organization.
. Lenin, in What Is To Be Done?, advocated basing revolutionary politics on the working class, and opposed, as "economism", separating the movement into intellectuals and activists who were political, and workers who were simply interested in the economic struggle. And he pointed out that the fundamental political stand that results from economism was "let the workers carry on the economic struggle (it would be more correct to say the trade-unionist struggle, because the latter also embraces specifically working-class politics), and let the Marxist intelligentsia merge with the liberals for the political 'struggle. '" (Sec. IC) The RU, by way of contrast to Lenin's stand against economism, maintained the distinction between their organizing among the workers and their specifically communist stands. The formation and development of the RCP might have seemed to mark a change in this, but, in fact, the RCP didn't so much solve the problem of an economist approach to the masses, as reproduce it on a higher level. They didn't simply adjust this or that method of organization among the industrial proletariat, but instead abandoned any serious idea of basing the struggle on the class movement. This led them for a time into a series of anarchistic propaganda stunts to promote revolution. And, finally, their practical agitation has ended up with breathless moralistic appeals, designed to obscure the golf between the activists and the liberals.
. Avakian's cult is one of the possible outcomes of such an orientation. It creates a feeling of progress, of new, exciting developments, while in fact the RCP still can't figure out how to contribute to the building of an independent working class movement and of a truly communist party. Unlike the RU, the RCP has the trappings of a revolutionary party. But it is a party which, as you point out, suffers from bureaucratic centralism, and its theorizing is detached from mass experience and lacks a honest summation of the results of their work.
. But this is not the fault of the RCP and Avakian alone. It stems from the fact that Maoism itself had reached a crisis, and it doesn't provide orientation for how to conduct revolutionary work among the working class at the present time.
. Nor, on the theoretical front, could American Maoism provide a thorough critique of modern revisionism. The Maoist movement in the US rose out of the mass struggles of the 60s and 70s, combined with revulsion against the revisionist degeneration of the Soviet-led world movement, and opposition to the reformist tactics of the American CP, which trailed along behind the liberal bourgeoisie. But, despite the important role of the Chinese revolution, the Chinese Maoists eventually built up a state-capitalist system, just as the Soviet revisionists had. This occurred even while Mao was alive, and Maoism proved to be another variant of revisionism. So it's no wonder that the Maoist framework prevented the American Maoists from developing a firm communist theoretical basis. This was dramatically illustrated in the inability of the RCP to firmly denounce the "three worlds theory" put forward by the Chinese CP, even after the Chinese Maoists were using this theory to advocate alliance with US imperialism against Soviet social-imperialism, and also alliance with various other reactionary bourgeoisies around the world. The RCP vacillated on the three worlds theory, not liking some aspects of the three worlds theory but apologizing for other aspects, since they knew that a consistent denunciation of it would lead to questions about Mao himself, and not just about this or that deviant faction in the Chinese CP. But the penalty for not moving forward and recognizing the revisionist nature of Maoism, was that the RCP eventually developed its own form of conciliation of the liberal bourgeoisie: the RCP's rhetoric was more exciting and left-sounding than that of the American CP, but the pursuit of the liberals was just another variant of revisionist abandonment of the task of building an independent class movement.
. We have posted on our website some articles about the RCP that you might be interested in. Aside from material on the history of the RU/RCP, there is also discussion of the three worlds theory, the issue of "protracted people's war", and the fate of the Chinese revolution (a major revolution that shook the world despite the eventual outcome of building a state-capitalist regime). Links to these articles can be found at www.communistvoice.org/00China.html. One of these articles is a comment by Eric Gordon on Avakian's cultism. (See "The Maoist cultism of the RCP,USA is anti-Marxist" at < www.communistvoice.org/36cCult.html >.) And, as far as how RCP reached its present position, you might be particularly interested in a statement by one of our comrades who took part in an RU collective back in 1971, and has kept track of the evolution of the RU and RCP's work ever since. He freely gives credit to RU activists for their work in factories and workplaces in the 1970s, but deals with the political orientation that led the RU into crisis, and resulted in the RCP's bankruptcy. See "The RCP, the theoretical struggle, and the working class" at <www.communistvoice.org/26cLetters.html#The RCP and the working class>.
. I know that at present you feel that the RCP and Bob Avakian are betraying Maoism, rather than the Avakian cult being one illustration of the fate of the Maoist political line. But we agree on the need for a genuine communist party, and I would be happy to hear more about your views and activities.
. Once again, thank you for sending us your statement. I think it does a service to the movement when these issues are discussed openly and thoroughly. And I look forward to hearing more from you.
editor, Communist Voice <>
Last changed on June 5, 2009.