By the Organization of Communist Revolutionaries
In this document, we present our summations of the politics and practice of the two communist vanguard parties that have existed in the United States—the Communist Party, USA (hereafter CP) and the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (hereafter RCP)—as well as briefer summations of the revolutionary movement that emerged in the late 1960s and the decade of revolutionary potential diverted, the 2010s. It is our intention, through this document, to give the CP and the RCP a proper funeral by celebrating their accomplishments, acknowledging the difficult challenges they faced, coming to terms with their shortcomings and errors, and grieving their loss all so we can move forward. In life and in politics, giving the literal and political deceased proper funerals is necessary so that we are not haunted by the past or doomed to repeat its mistakes and instead can form a healthy relationship with our ancestors.
Our summation of the CP explains its formation and early years, but gives greatest attention to the “red decade” of the 1930s, mining its practice during the time of sharp class struggle and mass discontent that flowed from the Great Depression for the political lessons we might learn from it. We analyze the growing revisionism in the CP that led it into the swamp of capitulation during World War II, after which point there is little, if anything, positive to learn from the CP. For that reason, our summation pays less attention to its history since 1945, and virtually no attention to its history since 1956.
Our principal sources of information on the CP are books written by historians, some sympathetic to its politics, some rabidly anti-communist. The relative value of these books, for our purposes, derives not so much from their political perspectives but from the degree to which they are based on thorough archival and other research. Secondarily, we consulted CP and Comintern publications. Since the CP did not produce much in the way of impressive revolutionary theory or strategic doctrine, we believe that its formal documents are not particularly helpful for current generations of revolutionaries to study. We focus our summation on its practical efforts and discern its line more from those practical efforts than from its publications. If we had the time and personnel to devote to systematic archival study of CP records and documents, that would have enriched our summation, but our purpose is to draw political lessons, and we will leave it to professional historians to further excavate the details of CP history.
On the Sixties, there is no shortage of summations by participants, journalists, and historians on the mass movements and radical and revolutionary organizations of the time. Our own summation is intended as a synthesis of the key political lessons, not a detailed account of the revolutionary decade. Our focus is on the revolutionary movement and revolutionary organizations that emerged in the Sixties, not on the broader mass movements and reformist and radical organizations (which are worth studying in their own right, but are beyond the scope of this document). We offer an appendix of sources on Sixties revolutionary organizations at the end of this document that those who want to get deeper into this history can consult. Our understanding of the Sixties flows from our own study of these sources, but also, and more importantly, from extensive conversations with revolutionaries of the Sixties generation. Since our aim is to provide a broad synthesis of the key lessons we have learned about the revolutionary movement of the Sixties rather than details, we have not cited our sources within our summation.
By contrast with the CP and the Sixties, little has previously been written about the history of the RCP for three main reasons: (1) The RCP itself has failed to produce much in the way of public summation of its political work. (2) Understandably, people who came into political life in the last fifteen years judge the RCP by its current and recent politics and conduct, which does not compel them to look into its previous history. (3) Owing to a combination of anti-communism and opportunism, the achievements and impact of the RCP from the 1970s to the early 2000s have been ignored, unacknowledged, and slandered by many US Leftists. Indeed, for most people reading this document, the story of the RCP will be almost completely unfamiliar.
Making matters worse, the only books devoted to the RCP and its forerunner, the Revolutionary Union (RU)—Heavy Radicals: The FBI’s Secret War on America’s Maoists (2015) and A Threat of the First Magnitude (2018) by Aaron Leonard with Conor Gallagher—cannot be trusted as historically accurate or politically useful narratives.1 On the latter, the authors of these books are driven by a rather petty variety of anti-communism to paint the RU/RCP as at best naive and at worst lunatics for daring to make revolution in the US, no doubt a justification for their own capitulation. On the former, the authors base most of their information on FBI reports garnered through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and, worse yet, presume that these documents must be accurate. This is a dubious—or, more accurately, idiotic—method of historical research. Most obviously, the FBI has a long history of fabricating misinformation for the purposes of slandering and destroying revolutionary movements. But in addition to deliberate misinformation, FBI agents frequently get things wrong when spying on revolutionaries, as any revolutionary who has gotten documents on themselves through FOIA requests can attest (seriously, everyone we have talked to who did so has hilarious stories about blatant inaccuracies in the FBI’s “intelligence”). Moreover, FBI agents are careerists attempting to work their way up the ladder, and, like all careerists, would be motivated to provide their bosses with what would please them, reporting exaggerations and inaccuracies in the process. The bottom line is that Leonard’s and Gallagher’s books cannot be trusted politically or factually, and those pompous fools should be driven out of any real discussion of revolutionary history.
Our own main sources of information on the RCP are extensive conversations with a number of former RCP members and supporters who have not embraced anti-communism and the RCP’s publications, especially the Revolutionary Worker newspaper. We have not cited the conversations for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with security and protecting individuals from potential repercussions, so readers will have to trust us, especially when it comes to the RCP’s internal functioning. On any of the public events we discuss, the interested reader can consult issues of the Revolutionary Worker published during the time period in question.2 We believe our portrayal of events to be accurate, but our focus, more than anything else, is on politically assessing the RCP’s strategy and practice and offering the lessons, positive and negative, that we and future generations of revolutionaries can learn from it. In short, our aim was to write a political summation, not a scholarly history.
One important distinction we make in our summations of the CP and the RCP is between formal line and operational line. The former refers to the stated political line of a communist party, while the latter refers to the political line carried out in practice. Ideally, the two should be one and the same in a communist party, but in reality, there is always contradiction between formal and operational line. Accounting for this contradiction is crucial to making a materialist analysis of a communist party; focusing only on a communist party’s statements of political line, the documents it published, will not offer a full picture of, and can even obfuscate, its practice.
The concluding section of this document is more than anything else a challenge to all those serious about revolution to take the lessons learned from these summations and bind together in an effort to build a new communist vanguard party in the US. To understand why such a vanguard is absolutely necessary, we offer a “broad strokes” summation of the mass movements and political forces generated during the 2010s, a decade of revolutionary potential diverted.
As is the case with any historical narrative, there are undoubtedly some factual inaccuracies and errors of interpretation in this document, and we look forward to hearing criticisms and corrections and to seeing others deepen our summations with more detailed accounts of particular events. Nevertheless, we are confident in the thorough process of research behind our summations, especially the countless hours we have spent in conversation with revolutionary elders over the years and the collective political discussion and line struggle that went into developing this document. Moreover, given the urgent need to bring together revolutionaries in a process of building a new communist vanguard party in the US, we cannot wait around for some impossible-to-achieve idealized perfection before we publish this document. The time is overdue to sum up the century of communist organizations and revolutionary movements that have come before us so that we can rise to the challenges before us today.
1The RU/RCP is also addressed in Max Elbaum’s anti-communist diatribe, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao, and Che (2002), another book whose main purpose is to slander those who dared to try to make revolution in the US.
2The best archive of the Revolutionary Worker is available at bannedthought.net; you can also consult the RCP’s current website, revcom.us.