The CP, the Sixties, the RCP, and the Crying Need for a Communist Vanguard Party Today: Summing up a century of communist leadership, organization, strategy, and practice in the United States so that we can rise to the challenges before us.

By the Organization of Communist Revolutionaries

Neither the CP nor the RCP can be resuscitated. The CP carved out its revolutionary heart long ago, and there is no cure for zombies. Any resurgence in membership and interest it may be experiencing today reflects the pathetic reality that is internet “communists” looking for some sense of belonging. The RCP still has some revolutionary trappings, but it is so far degenerated and its organizational structure is so impervious to criticism/self-criticism that it cannot be a vehicle for revolutionary transformation. Perhaps some of its members still have hearts that beat for revolution, but their arteries are clogged and they would need to be removed from the degenerated body they are part of (the RCP) in order to even stand a chance at getting their arteries cleared and once again putting their hearts into revolution.

Consequently, the principal task before all revolutionaries in the US today is to work towards the formation of a new communist vanguard party. For the principal lesson to take from our summations of the CP and RCP is that a vanguard makes revolution a possibility, but in the absence or degeneration of a vanguard, opportunities for revolutionary advance will be lost. If our summations of vanguards past have not sufficiently sobered you up to this fact, then let us look at the consequences of not having a vanguard over the last decade as one major crisis after another drew various classes into political life and as resistance to the injustices of bourgeois rule broke out on a number of social faultlines. As with our summation of the Sixties, what follows will be a “broad strokes” summation of the 2010s, looking at how different classes responded to the major crises and political questions of the decade and what types of politics and political forces emerged.

The 2010s as a decade of revolutionary potential diverted

The financial crisis that began in 2008 highlighted several mounting contradictions, most immediately the disastrous consequences, for the masses, of the increasing financialization of virtually everything. Finance capital speculated on the housing market and the lower-level functionaries of real estate capital enticed proletarian masses into predatory mortgages with opportunities for home ownership that had been denied to them for generations. After years of massive profits for finance capital, the speculative bubble burst, and the fallout cascaded throughout the world economy, with $5 trillion in assets of various kinds wiped out. In the Great Recession that followed, the masses were essentially punished for the machinations of finance capital which they had no control over. In the US, eight million people lost their jobs and six million people lost their homes when they were unable to pay off predatory mortgages and bank loans. Both the Bush and Obama administrations proved that the bourgeois state serves capital, not the masses, with a $700 billion bailout by the federal government to prop up the very banks whose speculative actions had caused the crisis but no real relief provided to the popular classes. The crisis created by finance capital and the government’s response to it were the beginning in a series of events that spurred the generation of a widespread leftist-populist consciousness of some of the more surface-level workings of capitalism.1

Protesters in New Orleans block the entrance to eviction court in 2020.

In addition to the financial crisis caused by speculation on the housing market was the growing precariatization of different sections of the popular classes. By precariatization, we mean the various ways in which jobs have become far less stable, from the lack of unionized working-class jobs with job security and benefits to the growing ranks of freelance and gig workers to the professionalized petty-bourgeois positions now lacking their previous prestige, pay rates, and permanence. Precariatization has resulted in upper sections of the proletariat and segments of the bourgeoisified working class being pushed into the lower and deeper sections of the proletariat and many among the Millennial and Gen Z college-educated petty-bourgeoisie becoming a downwardly mobile class, no longer able to count on the stable professional careers their parents had. The downwardly-mobile petty-bourgeoisie increasingly work as adjunct professors, baristas, and by scraping together various sources of income from well-paid but unstable part-time employment.

Underneath the 2008 financial crisis and the precariatization of segments of the popular classes is the slow decline of US imperialism, especially its economic base. US imperialism enjoyed a boost with the collapse of the Soviet Union, not only through the immediate pillage of the former Soviet empire, but even more by being free to further extend its exploitative reach into oppressed countries. In the early 2000s, the so-called neocons in the Bush administration pushed for even more unbridled and permanent US imperial world hegemony, but their plans backfired. US military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan faced ongoing resistance, and while the US was bogged down with war and occupation, Russia made moves to rebuild its imperial power, China began developing its own imperialist spheres of influence in Africa and Asia, and regional challenges to US imperialist hegemony emerged or were strengthened, especially in Latin America. The US remains the top imperialist power in the world, especially by way of its military, but its economic base has been on the decline now for nearly two decades, and that cannot but reverberate back on the imperial heartland. The US bourgeoisie has failed to develop or unite around a political program to counter this decline, giving rise to mounting political instability, as evidenced by the election of Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 and his grandiose “exit” with the events of January 6, 2021.2

Unfortunately, the growing leftist-populist consciousness in the US has included little in the way of anti-imperialism—it tends to emphasize the ways in which the popular classes within the US are harmed by the workings of capitalism without understanding the ways in which imperialist plunder props up the whole system and bestows benefits on the entire US population to one degree or another. Nevertheless, that growing leftist-populist consciousness did create fertile ground for the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street (hereafter OWS) movement in Fall 2011 and especially for that movement to spread around the country and generate substantial popular sympathy. The movement itself, which began with the occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York’s financial district, mostly involved the downwardly-mobile petty-bourgeoisie, and was led, for the most part, by recent graduates of small liberal colleges who had been steeped in postmodernist politics and, with OWS, finally got the chance to put those politics into practice, along with some remnants from the movement against capitalist globalization (again, generally not from the better end of that movement).

The principal character of OWS encampments quickly became direct-democracy fetishization and carnivals of postmodernist politics and identity obsession rather than sites of class struggle against the finance capital bourgeoisie, as evidenced by the vogue for “horizontalist” organizational structures without any formal leadership positions, gender identity overtaking resistance to finance capital as a chief political concern, and, perhaps most obnoxiously, the “people’s mic” method of speaking (where, instead of using amplification, the crowd tries to repeat what an individual speaker says so everyone can hear it, resulting in slow speeches that are incoherent to most of the crowd). In this respect, OWS provided the initial set of social rituals that have served to fortify Leftist and postmodernist politics among participants in mass movements over the last decade.

Nevertheless, the OWS movement made two positive contributions. (1) It broke out of the mold of routine, permitted protest, with some confrontations with the police, and refused the loud calls to integrate itself within bourgeois political structures (“what are their demands?”). (2) It further strengthened and spread the growing leftist-populist consciousness in society, bringing open critiques of capitalism into public discourse. OWS encampments came to an end through a coordinated police assault in cities across the country—city governments were obviously in communication with each other over how to deny the movement the tactic (occupations of public spaces) on which it depended.3 Direct-democracy fetishization had its predictable consequences, and little in the way of radical, let alone revolutionary, organization emerged out of OWS. Instead, the energy of OWS was largely diverted into a repurposed and rebranded Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a previously moribund social-democratic organization, now a large but utterly tepid organization made up mostly of petty-bourgeois hipsters who identify (for various reasons, some good, some bad) with the “working class” and focused their time on the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign along with other electoral efforts. The DSA, the Sanders campaign, and other “democratic socialist” politicians have promoted a version of socialism whose defining characteristic is anti-communism, vociferously opposing principled anti-imperialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the need for revolution.

Bernie Sanders always delivered his “socialist” campaign speeches in front of the bloody rag of US imperialism.

Alongside the growing leftist-populist consciousness that manifested in the OWS movement, the oppression of Black people, in particular acts of violence and murder by police and racist vigilantes, began to generate protests that were much broader in character than they had been in decades. Police killings of Black people were nothing new to the 2010s, nor were periodic rebellions by Black and other proletarians in response to police brutality and murder (Los Angeles in 1992, Cincinnati in 2001, Benton Harbor, Michigan in 2003, Oakland in 2009). What changed in the 2010s was that the protests against police brutality and the oppression of Black people drew in broader sections of the population, rebellions by Black and other proletarians became more frequent before erupting nationwide in Summer 2020, and the oppression of Black people became a widely debated social question.

There are likely four main reasons for this change. (1) A number of incidents, from the racist vigilante murder of Trayvon Martin to the police murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many more, became national news, in part because in many of these incidents the police were caught on a camera-phone by the masses. With one outrage after another after another, a broad political consciousness that these incidents represented something systematic (however that was understood) developed and spread, and a reservoir of irate frustration that the police kept getting away with killing Black people built up. The new technology of social media provided a form through which footage of the incidents, and political responses to them, spread. (2) The election of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 raised hopes that the oppression of Black people would at least be ameliorated, if not actually ended. Instead, the system’s inability to end the oppression of Black people and the ineffectiveness of official political channels became even more stark with a Black politician in the White House, and those raised hopes turned towards rebellion. (3) The Black petty-bourgeoisie, especially those in professional and entrepreneurial occupations, has substantially grown since the 1960s but still faces significant barriers to advancing their class interests owing to the ways in which white supremacy is stamped into the functioning of US capitalism. Between the hope created by Obama winning the presidency and the way that the ongoing oppression of Black people became a widespread social question (through exposure, protest, and rebellion), the Black petty-bourgeoisie, especially those in the Millennial and Gen Z generations, saw an opportunity to advance its class interests and mounted the political stage. Prior to the 2010s, they had taken little part in protests against police brutality. (4) Growing leftist-populist consciousness and a number of significant protest movements further amplified debate over and protests against the oppression of Black people.

By far the most favorable development of the 2010s was the rebellions against police brutality in Ferguson (2014), Baltimore (2015), and then in Minneapolis and spreading to virtually every city in the US in Summer 2020 (other, smaller rebellions also took place between 2014 and 2020). Defiant displays of violent class struggle and mass combativity, these rebellions were the actions of Black and other proletarians, and prove that when those on the bottom of society move, all classes are forced to respond. The liberal petty-bourgeoisie was drawn into protests and debate over the oppression of Black people in large numbers for the first time since the Sixties Civil Rights Movement. Professional athletes, who have often avoided taking political stands, used their public platforms to speak out against the oppression of Black people in a way unprecedented in US history. Overall, through the rebellions, Black and other proletarians created favorable new conditions through struggle.

However, there was no revolutionary political force able to seize on these favorable new conditions to organize the masses for revolutionary advances. Owing to a combination of repression, political atrophy, and changed political conditions that make revolutionary nationalism a far less potent force, organized revolutionary Black nationalists in the US were too small a force to have mounted a serious intervention. The degeneration of the RCP made it unable to seize on the opportunity of proletarian rebellions despite its prior impressive political work on police brutality. None of the new, mostly small, Leftist organizations in the US were in any position, politically or organizationally, to even try to make an intervention. Some activists from or with deep links in Black proletarian neighborhoods played significant and positive roles in the protests and rebellions. However, they were weighed down by reformist politics (especially the notion that entrepreneurship is a way out of poverty), and faced substantial repression, including assassination, as in the case of Ferguson activist Darren Seals.

Enter the Black petty-bourgeoisie, or, more accurately, a specific section of them: Millennial and Gen Z (along with some Gen X), college-educated, either growing up outside of proletarian neighborhoods or upwardly mobile out of them by way of college education, and working in professional jobs or as entrepreneurs in “start-up” capitalism (i.e., not in longstanding small businesses in proletarian neighborhoods). This segment of the Black petty-bourgeoisie has many legitimate grievances with US capitalism, especially the discrimination they face and the system’s refusal to allow them an equal position alongside their white petty-bourgeois counterparts. It was the political representatives of this specific section of the Black petty-bourgeoisie who managed to dominate the political messaging of protests against police brutality and the oppression of Black people, not because they played any role in leading the rebellions (mostly they just made sure to get arrest photo-ops), but because the liberal bourgeoisie appointed them as the leaders of the mass movement through media coverage and funding. They displayed social media savvy and a mastery of “left in form, right in essence” politics (namely abolitionism)4 to build nonprofit empires, with Black Lives Matter as a great grift off of the protests and rebellions.5 Their own more narrow class interests of advancing their position in the world of nonprofit-sector activism, in which they faced discrimination and inequality, were emblematic of the narrow class interests of the section of the Black petty-bourgeoisie to which they belonged, who likewise fought to advance their class interests within their professional occupations and the world of start-up capitalism.

It is entirely legitimate, and favorable for the proletariat (if in contradictory ways), for this section of the Black petty-bourgeoisie to fight against the oppression and discrimination it faces. It comes as no surprise that it would assert its narrow class interests as the interests of Black people as a whole—this is what the petty-bourgeoisie of oppressed nations always seeks to do spontaneously. The problem was that there was no class-conscious section of the multinational proletariat under communist leadership that could assert its class interests and submerge the legitimate demands and struggles of the Black petty-bourgeoisie within a revolutionary movement aimed at the overthrow of capitalism-imperialism and the elimination of all forms of exploitation and oppression. While Black activists from or with roots in the proletariat did seek to (and still do) contend with the Black petty-bourgeoisie for leadership of the movement, they did not have the political or organizational strength to do so effectively, and were outmaneuvered by the liberal bourgeoisie’s conditional support for the Black petty-bourgeoisie. Moreover, within the broader leftist and liberal political consciousness and protest movements, a pernicious postmodernist identity politics came to the aid of the liberal bourgeoisie to elevate Black petty-bourgeois class interests and political representatives to the fore. The end result is that the protests and rebellions of the 2010s against police brutality and the oppression of Black people were seized on by a specific section of the Black petty-bourgeoisie to advance their narrow class interests, who in turn were used by the liberal bourgeoisie to diffuse and divert the protests and rebellions and steer them away from the development of revolutionary politics and organization.

We must add one addendum to this discussion of the Black petty-bourgeoisie. We have been speaking of a specific section of the Black petty-bourgeoisie to contrast it from a section of the Black petty-bourgeoisie that remains tied to Black proletarian neighborhoods. The latter are most recognizable as owners of small businesses intimately tied to the culture of Black proletarian neighborhoods, and their class interests are more directly tied to (if also in some contradiction with) those of Black proletarians. Their political representatives are not found in the nonprofit-sector activists of the Black Lives Matter variety, but in the more longstanding traditions of militant Black community activists with ties to Black proletarians, who, in the 2010s, did not receive the media spotlight, grant funding, or postmodernist identity politics points. Though their politics are ultimately reformist, their reformism tends to be more honest, as does their stand with the masses. For that reason, they can make valuable political allies for communist revolution and the mass struggles of today—though postmodernist ideology and nonprofit-sector activism have made inroads among them, as has the ideology of entrepreneurship (though with a more proletarian hustle than a start-up capitalism quality to it).

In addition to the Black national question intensifying, other national questions, tied to class antagonisms, asserted themselves in the 2010s. At the decade’s beginning, the economic contraction following the financial crisis of 2008–9 decreased the bourgeoisie’s need for labor. As usually happens when the “labor market” is at a low point, the federal government ramped up deportations of undocumented immigrants, and President Obama deported far more immigrants per year than his predecessors, totaling three million deportations during his administration, even as his campaign rhetoric was premised on “hope,” including for immigrants. The wave of deportations generated substantial protest movements and a new generation of activists among upwardly-mobile immigrant proletarians, whose hopes for graduating college and advancing into the ranks of the petty-bourgeoisie were in jeopardy. In contrast to Obama’s tenure, Trump’s presidency ramped up anti-immigrant rhetoric but decreased the number of deportations, instead focusing on preventing immigrants from oppressed countries from entering the US, in rhetoric (“build the wall”) and in reality (the ban on immigrants from specific Muslim-majority countries enacted at the beginning of his presidency). While there have been important resistance movements to deportations and anti-immigrant hysteria, these movements, and the new generation of activists drawn from the ranks of upwardly-mobile immigrant proletarians, were mostly brought into the fold of Democratic Party-adjacent institutions, postmodernist nonprofit activism, or the routinized protest of the Left.

With the US bourgeoisie seeking to boost its ability to produce oil and bolster extractive industries on its home turf in light of its failures in Iraq and the rise of rival imperial powers and regional challenges, Indigenous lands have come increasingly in the crosshairs of oil pipeline production and resource extraction over the last decade (only the latest chapter in a centuries-long history). Connecting the existential crisis confronting Indigenous people with the existential crisis caused by capitalism-created climate change, the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline sparked fierce resistance at Standing Rock in 2016. The struggle at Standing Rock was an important nodal point of the 2010s, bringing together longstanding and new generations of Indigenous radicals with the new activists generated by the OWS movement, the environmental movement, and protests against police brutality and the oppression of Black people. There was considerable determination to physically stop oil pipeline construction in the face of vicious repression by the state repressive apparatus in collaboration with private security companies. The stakes and intensity of the struggle at Standing Rock generated widespread debate throughout society and support for the protest movement; however, there was no revolutionary force capable of applying the magic weapon of the united front under the leadership of the proletariat to more consciously organize this support on the broadest level possible and direct it towards revolutionary objectives. The resistance movement at Standing Rock itself was beset by considerable internal contradictions; there were certainly more radical forces within it and lots of lessons learned about bourgeois state repression, but no solidly revolutionary force in the mix to lead it in the best possible direction.

Protest at Standing Rock against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Finally, crises and struggles in Puerto Rico and Palestine spurred protest movements and anti-imperialist consciousness in the US. The devastation faced by Puerto Ricans in the wake of Hurricane Maria (2017)—a devastation caused more by decades of neoliberal privatization and imperialist pillage than by the hurricane itself—intensified the Puerto Rican national question, with mass discontent leading to a massive protest movement in Puerto Rico in Summer 2019 that ousted the governor of Puerto Rico. Events in Puerto Rico had considerable reverberations in the US, with both the longstanding Puerto Rican diaspora population in the US and new arrivals in the wake of Hurricane Maria drawn deeper into political life by the resistance movement in their homeland.

Israel’s ever more vicious occupation of Palestine, continued seizure of Palestinian land, and its military assaults on Gaza, all backed up with US military aid and political support, continued to spark heroic resistance by the Palestinian people over the last decade. A new generation of Palestinian activists in the US has stepped onto the stage, rejecting compromise (such as the Oslo Accords, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, and the fantasy of a two-state solution) with Israeli settler-colonialism and US imperialism, and, to a lesser degree, also rejecting routinized protest by US Leftists. Among the many protest movements that have emerged in the US in the 2010s, the rejuvenated movement in support of Palestine has made the important contribution of developing and spreading anti-imperialist consciousness.

The deepening crises of capitalism-imperialism on multiple fronts, from international setbacks to financial collapse and precariatization to climate disasters to national oppression, not only generated substantial protest movements within the US, but also sharp conflicts within the bourgeoisie over what political program could offer them a favorable resolution to the crises and reverse the decline of US imperialism. Mainly, the bourgeoisie had no solid resolution or promising political programs. Enter Donald Trump, whose popularity indicated a lack of confidence in the existing political order among sections of the bourgeoisie and wide segments of the popular classes, and the growing appeal of fascist politics. Trump did not exactly have a coherent program, and was always in part a grifter serving his own narrow interests, which is ultimately what lost him support from much of the bourgeoisie—people in top government positions are supposed to look out for the interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole, or at least whole sections of it. However, Trump’s presidency did draw, into key government positions, a number of fringe bourgeois elements with more radical solutions to the problems the bourgeoisie was facing, from John Bolton, intent on pulling the US out of established international institutions and arrangements of the imperialist world order, to fascist strategists, such as Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, bent on re-ordering domestic politics in the US along the lines of open white supremacy.

Trump’s refusal to play by the established rules of bourgeois politics is what enabled him to outmaneuver bourgeois politicians and institutions beholden to those rules, to the utter shock of his opponents, and indicates that those established rules are no longer that effective for the bourgeoisie and are widely considered illegitimate by many sections of the popular classes. The class to whom those rules are most legitimate—the liberal petty-bourgeoisie—not surprisingly was the class most outraged at Trump’s desecration of their holy church of bourgeois-democracy, and came out in opposition to Trump in massive numbers. This was a significant development that could have been seized on by a communist vanguard to swing large sections of the liberal petty-bourgeoisie over to the side of the proletariat. Doing so would have required a mastery of the magic weapon of the united front under the leadership of proletariat, using the militant protests of high school students as the leading edge and a class-conscious section of the proletariat as the leading force to move sections of the liberal petty-bourgeoisie to lose their faith in bourgeois-democracy (even while the proletariat would have had to lead the liberal petty-bourgeoisie in a mass movement objectively in opposition to fascist attacks on bourgeois-democracy).6 Instead, the liberal petty-bourgeoisie’s faith in bourgeois-democracy was reinforced when, in Winter 2016–17, activists who could reliably bring protests back into the safe channels of bourgeois-democracy were appointed as mass movement leaders (e.g., the Women’s March) and some Democratic Party politicians made (largely symbolic, but unusually more combative than normal) showings of opposition to Trump’s rhetoric and policies. Both the decades-old and newly generated organized forces of the Left proved utterly inept at taking the widespread outrage at Trump’s presidency and mobilizing it into a sustained, militant mass movement, at best holding some large mass meetings and protests in the months after Trump’s election and then returning to their position as small, ineffectual forces of ritualized opposition.

Nevertheless, while no revolutionary movement emerged in the Trump years, political conflict sharpened. Fascistic forces, from avowed white supremacists to the fratboy-Far-Right Proud Boys, were emboldened to manifest themselves in public rallies and to recruit considerably. The August 12, 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia demonstrated the danger posed by these organized fascist forces, who violently attacked counterprotesters, resulting in one anti-fascist, Heather Heyer, being killed by a fascist who drove his car through a crowd of counterprotesters. The attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election result with the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol showed the real dangers, growth in numbers, and tragic comedy of the Trump-era Far Right. The rise of fascistic forces has been opposed by the broader movement of opposition to Trump’s presidency and especially by quasi-anarchist antifa activists, whose fighting spirit ranges from impressive to macho-performative and who have been weakened politically by the decline of the revolutionary anarchist tradition in the US since the early 2000s and the way that postmodernist politics have seeped into the anarchist movement.7

Trump’s fascistic politics resulted in the liberal petty-bourgeoisie being more deeply and numerically drawn into protests against police brutality and the oppression of Black people, as they could more easily connect the latter to the presidential administration in power and to the crumbling of bourgeois-democracy.8 The #MeToo movement, which exposed and challenged the ways that men, especially men in positions of power, have all too often gotten away with rape and sexual assault, drew on a deep reservoir of fury among women built up over generations, but its breadth undoubtedly also had to do with the fact that Trump himself represented exactly what #MeToo was protesting. Climate change became an even more urgent social question as Trump pulled the US out of already tepid international agreements to scale back carbon emissions and bourgeois policies to move away from fossil fuels, generating sizable protests, especially by high school students. Powered by a combination of fascist ideology, misogyny, and reactionary American gun culture, the growing epidemic of mass shootings, especially at schools, also generated a substantial protest movement by high school students.

One crucial summation to make from the 2010s is that high school students, of different classes, have come out, wave upon wave, in eruptions of protest against a variety of injustices. This trend continues down to today, with high school students playing the most advanced role in the 2022 protests against state government bans on abortions upheld by the Supreme Court. The reason that high school students have often been the leading edge of the resistance movements of the last decade and brought a spirit of defiance in the face of each concentration of injustice is that their faith in bourgeois-democracy, indoctrination in postmodernism, and stultification in the sterility and dogmas of the Left have yet to be consolidated. They are unburdened by the weight of bad traditions and refuse to accept the state of the world as it is. However, if they are not given compelling communist analysis of the injustices they correctly despise and organized into a revolutionary movement that can put their defiant energy to proper use, they will either join with postmodernism, the Left, and/or bourgeois-democracy as a loyal opposition to the bourgeoisie9 or capitulate by way of nihilism, a growing, dangerous, and understandable trend in light of the lack of a revolutionary movement in the face of numerous existential crises.10

The 2010s, the decade of revolutionary potential diverted, ended with two societal crises: a deadly pandemic utterly mishandled by government and public health measures, and the wave of proletarian rebellions and mass protests sparked by the police murder of George Floyd, started in Minneapolis and spread to cities across the country. While in both cases, the entire US population was brought into political life, no revolutionary force had emerged in the 2010s that could lead the masses anywhere good. The Leftist answer to the pandemic was to do “mutual aid”—in reality charity efforts that were a pittance compared to the charity efforts of the bourgeoisie.11 The mass outrage at the failures of the healthcare system and the inadequacies of government measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and minimize the death toll was not mobilized into a mass movement capable of forcing the bourgeoisie to meet the demands of the people. The Far Right proved the most successful political force at responding to the pandemic, increasing its following by propagating conspiracy theories and opposing any and all public health measures, the latter an attractive political program in a country where libertarian politics have long been a deep part of the political psyche. The liberal petty-bourgeoisie found renewed faith in bourgeois-democracy, blaming Trump and his followers for the COVID-19 death toll, embracing Dr. Fauci as their hero, and praising the CDC with a “trust the science” narrative not much better than QAnon conspiracy theories.12

The Summer 2020 rebellions and mass protests were the product of mainly three dynamics: (1) the failure of any government reforms to ameliorate, let alone stop, the routine police killing of Black and other proletarians even after waves of protest and the Ferguson and Baltimore rebellions, (2) widespread frustration at government handling of the pandemic, including pent-up social energy during pandemic restrictions and shut-downs that was bound to explode one way or another, and (3) the liberal petty-bourgeoisie’s willingness to conditionally support, or at least not condemn, the rebellions and to join in with mass protests owing to a decade of public exposure of police brutality and the oppression of Black people and the fact that Trump was in office.

Black and other proletarians along with rebellious youth, especially but not only from the proletariat, played the leading role in the rebellions. But in imperialist countries like the US, where the proletariat is numerically a minority of the population, even if a significant minority, and when there has not been a revolutionary movement in decades, the proletariat tends to only exert itself and its class interests in powerful but fleeting moments of rebellion. The progressive and liberal petty-bourgeoisie have far more experience at exerting, and are given more freedom to exert, their class interests and outlook when protest movements rock society, and the liberal bourgeoisie is adept at using this fact to deflate the impact of rebellion and prevent rebellion from paving the way for a sustained revolutionary movement. And that dynamic is exactly what played out in Summer 2020, from the “left in form, right in essence” calls to defund and abolish the police by postmodernist and Leftist activists to the paltry reforms offered by Democratic Party politicians. It is a maddening fact that there was no advance in forging revolutionary organization among the masses in the wake of the rebellions. And so the 2010s came to an end after several large waves of protest movements, the most powerful and widespread proletarian rebellions in fifty years, and increasingly antagonistic political debate and conflict throughout society, but without a class-conscious section of the proletariat exerting its class interests or a revolutionary movement contending with the reformist programs and petty-bourgeois class outlooks that dominated the mass movements.

Thought and forces bolstered and generated

In order to fully come to terms with why the 2010s was a decade of revolutionary potential diverted, we must take stock of the ideological and political thought and organized forces generated that diverted revolutionary potential towards dead ends. Our starting point must be a seemingly counter-intuitive but absolutely accurate conclusion: the growth of a large Left in the 2010s was mostly a negative dynamic, for it blocked the emergence of revolutionary politics and forces.

For the most part, the growth of the Left in the 2010s was the product of new organizations (or, in the case of the DSA, revamped old organizations). Several longstanding Leftist organizations—the International Socialist Organization, for example—miserably failed to sink their opportunist teeth into the new generation of Leftists, became increasingly irrelevant, and disbanded (usually by way of a rape scandal within their organization). Good riddance. A few longstanding revisionist organizations managed to garner waves of new recruits by making some cosmetic changes to appeal to 2010s Leftists or tapping into an odd nostalgia for past Leftist movements—the PSL, for example, recruited a number of dogmatists who spend most of their time on the internet, as did the old CP and the FRSO. But the overall trend has been towards new formations superseding the old.

However, the new organizations created by 2010s Leftists and postmodernist activists did not represent an ideological and political rejection of crusty old revisionism and reformism. In some cases, they were a step backward—Black Lives Matter (as an organization), for example, embraced postmodernism in opposition to radical and revolutionary traditions in the Black liberation movement. Black Lives Matter did (temporarily) edge out some of the more reformist Black political forces, such as Al Sharpton, including by way of slightly more militant street protest tactics, but did so largely out of careerist ambitions, in the process replacing an old reformism with a new reformism.

At best, 2010s Leftists rejected some of the tactical sterility of the established Left, such as boring protests in Washington, DC that stayed safely behind police barricades. The one positive outcome of this was more confrontation with the police. Other than that, the strategies and tactics taken up, particularly charity work masquerading as mutual aid, proved no less sterile. Organizationally, 2010s Leftists tended to reject national organizations or much in the way of collective discipline, embracing localism, decentralization, and a social clique mentality. In the short run, this may have freed them from the weight of stale traditions, but in the longer run it consolidated insular political outlooks and failed to produce organizational forms that could take responsibility for mounting political interventions with nationwide impact.

Ideologically and politically, the 2010s Left has been weighed down by “Pac-Man politics,” postmodernism, and abolitionism. The journal kites, which—full disclosure—our organization co-initiated, has been waging relentless polemics against these trends. To understand these trends, let us quote at length from the kites editorial committee’s “Kick ‘Em While They’re Down” (published in kites #3, 2021), which constitutes an important complement to this summation of the 2010s.

Pac-Man politics is the belief that

like Pac-Man chomping pellets, you can gradually eat away at the institutions of capitalism until the system crumbles and can be replaced with new, “bottom-up” institutions that the Left has been fertilizing. Pac-Man politics has its reformist and “radical” varieties. In the former, getting progressive officials elected, especially at the local level, will gradually eat away at the bourgeoisie’s monopoly on state power. In the latter, mutual aid networks, tenant organizations, general assemblies, etc. will increasingly meet people’s needs and supplant the bourgeois state. In more sophisticated (but no less wishful) versions of “radical” Pac-Man politics, this gradual “bottom-up” building of counter-institutions will be able to take a leap when a major crisis causes the capitalist system to collapse, and the people have no where else to turn but the counter-institutions Leftists have created—like that moment when Pac-Man gets extra big and fast and is able to not only chomp more pellets but also vanquish the ghosts that were stalking him.

All varieties of Pac-Man politics rest on the illusion that bourgeois state power does not need to be decisively overthrown through revolutionary civil war.13

Postmodernist politics have their origins in the work of Michel Foucault and other French philosophers, and came to dominate liberal academia and nonprofit activist organizations beginning in the 1980s, thus having a substantial impact on the thinking of 2010s Leftists (most of whom went to college and many of whom work(ed) at nonprofit activist organizations). As the previously quoted “Kick ‘Em While They’re Down” explains,

Postmodernism is a broad term for a philosophy and politics whose defining features include a rejection of any universalist project of liberation (especially communism), a heavy dose of relativism, an emphasis on “discursive practices” over material transformation, personal moral choices elevated above collective struggle, an emphasis on lifestyle and cultural changes, and the obnoxious use of ever more idiotic terminology. The main effect of postmodernism has been to transform people’s political commitments to being about themselves rather than the world—hence the explosion of increasingly narrow and petty-bourgeois forms of identity politics…

What is often called identity politics, as well as the concepts of intersectionality and privilege, can be more accurately described as the application of postmodernist philosophy and politics to the question of identity. Understanding one’s position in society can be a radicalizing experience if it pushes us to examine the deeper workings of capitalism-imperialism and the various forms of oppression those workings generate and perpetuate. However, identity understood through the prism of postmodernism has only generated self-obsession, self-cultivation, and elevating the desire for a sense of belonging over the struggle to change the world, in effect turning the exploration of identity into an inertia rather than a transformative process. At worst, identity has become a commodity to use in the oppression Olympics and an excuse for the liberal petty-bourgeoisie and Leftists to use people with the “right” identities to promote reformist politics.

Abolitionism is the “delusion that you can somehow abolish prisons or police—crucial repressive apparatuses of the bourgeois state—without overthrowing bourgeois rule”14 and has obvious affinities with Pac-Man politics. Most “abolitionists” mask paltry reformist programs involving shifting some government money from policing to community programs with the radical-sounding rhetoric of abolishing the police, hence our labeling of abolitionism as “left in form, right in essence.” Pac-Man politics, postmodernism, and abolitionism have provided Leftists with convenient escape mechanisms with which to sound and appear “radical” without ever confronting the need for revolution and the challenge of how to overthrow US imperialism.

Various conceptions of socialism were also popularized in the 2010s, from an electoral socialism of the DSA/Bernie Sanders variety to the models offered by several Latin American countries over the last two decades to horizontalist (anti-hierarchical) conceptions such as workers’ councils to dogmatic nostalgia for the former Soviet bloc to the idiotic elevation of any country currently in contradiction with US imperialism or with substantial state ownership of the economy as a socialist paradise. All of these conceptions of socialism accept commodity production and exchange as the basis of society, in effect seeking social reforms and better material provisions for the masses on a fundamentally capitalist economic base. What has yet to be popularized is the Maoist conception of socialism: a transition period, marked by ongoing class struggle and the step-by-step elimination of commodity production and exchange, towards the final goal of communism.15

To the ideological and political lowered sights of 2010s Leftists, we must also add the negative impact of US culture in the 21st century. From pervasive self-promotion on social media to the Tinderification of social relations, commodity relations, literal and conceptual, have seeped more deeply and grotesquely into US culture over the last two decades. For example, it is now commonplace to call the normal expectations of friendship “emotional labor,” and ghosting—dropping out of communication with no explanation—has become socially acceptable behavior, even among close friends and political comrades. Amplified by social media, the increasing commodification of all social relations has further removed people in the US from any sense of collective obligation to one another. While many individuals abhor these cultural trends and try their best not to partake in them, there has yet to emerge a coherent counterculture rebelling against commodified social relations and the capitalist institutions that prop them up. Worse yet, the Left that developed in the 2010s generally embraces these heightened commodified social relations.

The ideological, political, organizational, and cultural deficiencies of 2010s Leftists have left them with basically three forms of activity: (1) Joining spontaneous outbreaks of protest but without any intent or ability to lead them, then complaining that those outbreaks of protest were co-opted by reformist forces and the liberal bourgeoisie, and then repeating this process with the next outbreak of protest. (2) “Mutual aid” and other small-scale, localized “community” efforts, such as “tenant organizing,” that never connect deeply or politically with the masses, in large part because of a condescending attitude that treats the masses as only being capable of concern for their most immediate needs and narrow interests. (3) Producing “discourse” in Leftist echo chambers, in the form of social media posts, podcasts, YouTube channels, and mediocre online journals and “news” outlets. (We will get to the more recent trend of unionization efforts and labor struggles below.) Profoundly missing from this list is integrating with the masses, carrying out revolutionary political agitation among the masses, and leading sustained mass movements guided by revolutionary politics.

In fairness to 2010s Leftists, they did not have much in the way of revolutionary political and organizational resources to draw on. Inside the US, the traditions of revolutionary communism, revolutionary nationalism among oppressed nationalities, and revolutionary anarchism had sharply declined or degenerated by the 2010s, severing the new generation of Leftists from past generations of revolutionaries. It does not help that arrogance and know-it-allism, bolstered by internet culture, are pervasive among 2010s Leftists, so few among them take initiative to learn from past generations.

Internationally, by the 2010s, the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement had collapsed16 and the revolutionary people’s war in Nepal that was rapidly advancing in the early 2000s was betrayed and brought to an end by some of its leaders. The revolutionary people’s wars in India and the Philippines have yet to become significant political questions in the US. The revolutionary national liberation struggles that inspired the Sixties generation are largely a thing of the past, for reasons elaborated on in our summation of the Sixties. There are important exceptions to this general trend, especially Palestine, and the struggle of the Palestinian people has been an important positive influence on 2010s Leftists. Not surprisingly, inside the US, many of the better political organizations to come out the 2010s are based among what we might call “diaspora rebels”—youth whose family homelands are oppressed by imperialism and have decided to align themselves with the struggle of their homeland against imperialism—though they are still weighed down by postmodernist and Leftist politics. Generally speaking, the sharper the struggle in the homeland against imperialism (as in Palestine and the Philippines, for example), the more radical the diaspora rebel organizations are. However, organizations of diaspora rebels have yet to seriously take up the question of revolution in the US, which would ultimately be the best contribution we in the US can make to the anti-imperialist struggles in their homelands.17

Phony Maoism Is Dead… Long Live Real Maoism!

What about the fact that several organizations and probably a few hundred people (or maybe even more) among 2010s Leftists started calling themselves Maoists? Unfortunately, beyond phraseology and aesthetics, there is little recognizable as Maoism in their political thinking and practice or, for that matter, the way they live their lives. None of them carried out the Maoist imperative to integrate with the masses and ideologically remold themselves in the process, and none of them wielded the mass line to organize the masses in class struggle, with the possible exceptions of a few short-lived get-rich-quick schemes. Their political understanding of “Maoism” was an eclectic mix of Pac-Man politics, postmodernism, and Maoist lingo, and/or book-worshiping Trotskyism which used the banner of Maoism to proclaim their revolutionary purity in opposition to other Leftists. Perhaps a few people who genuinely wanted revolution started calling themselves Maoists in the 2010s, but the “Maoist” milieu they joined likely turned them towards dogmatic idiocy.

The 2010s pseudo-Maoist trend got its start when a few dozen City University of New York students were brought together in an organization called Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee (RSCC). RSCC’s main initial leader had been kicked out of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade because he spent all his time reading books, exuded arrogance, and refused to take up any real political responsibilities. RSCC mainly served to bolster the egos of its leadership, who used the organization as their sexual playground—conduct that results in serious and potentially violent repercussions in any real Maoist organization.18 When RSCC and the so-called New Communist Party – Liaison Committee’s leadership had started imploding, a few small organizations emerged out of it in New York who either did charity work in proletarian neighborhoods and called it the mass line or went the route of book-worshiping Trotskyism as their inner essence with a Maoist outer appearance.

Through RSCC and social media, the pseudo-Maoist trend spread among some Leftists in other parts of the country. The so-called Red Guards based mainly in Austin, Texas used the mantle of Chairman Gonzalo and the revolutionary people’s war in Peru to make lots of bombastic declarations, attack other Leftists, and produce lots of dogmatic drivel. They never took the shining path of Gonzalo and the Communist Party of Peru of persevering in taking revolutionary politics to the masses in order to recruit and train cadre and build mass support to launch people’s war. Conveniently for the Red Guards, Gonzalo had been in prison since 1992 and the people’s war in Peru fizzled out in the 1990s, so they could proclaim fidelity to a communist leader and revolution without ever having to directly measure up their own politics and practice to them. Other pseudo-Maoists, such as the “For the People” organizations and various ill-conceived “pre-Party” or pretend-Party formations, pursued the path of charity work masquerading as revolutionary organizing and wrapped postmodernism and Pac-Man politics in Maoist lingo. This “mutual aid Maoism” was the opposite end of the same stupidity as the so-called Red Guards—both were united in their total condescension towards the masses, inability to lead any significant political struggle, and refusal to break with Leftist thinking to become communists.

None of the 2010s pseudo-Maoists led any significant mass struggle, carried out social investigation we can learn from, or produced any worthwhile theory. Instead, they had the negative effects of promoting an at best confused and at worst opportunist masquerade of Maoism, turning many people off from Maoism by virtue of their extreme dogmatism, and turning “Maoist” into a social media identity. They all practiced the principle “tell lies and claim easy victories,” as exemplified in boastful social media posts about ephemeral and exaggerated “mass work” and “practice.” Politically and organizationally, there is nothing to build off of from their efforts, and individuals who imagined they became “Maoists” in the 2010s would have to go through a considerable process of ideological remolding, entirely rupturing with their political past, to join the Maoist tradition.19 The only reason we bothered to briefly address the phony Maoism of the 2010s here is to clear up the confusion they have created, including among comrades outside the US, and to help clear the path for real Maoism.

What would it take to build a vanguard?

So where does our summation of the 2010s leave us? No organized revolutionary forces emerged out of the 2010s.20 The subjective situation is abysmal, but the objective situation is highly favorable, if challenging. The cascade of crises and eruptions of mass protests and social conflict that defined the 2010s is unlikely to let up anytime soon, providing ripe, though complicated and challenging, opportunities for the development of a revolutionary movement. The missing ingredient is the communist vanguard party, so the question is how to build one.

Clarifying the aims and objectives, strategies and tactics, of communist revolution is the most essential process to gathering, organizing, and training the forces that will become a communist vanguard party. Towards that end, the Organization of Communist Revolutionaries has contributed several important documents, all available at Our Manifesto lays bare the need for revolution, sets our sights on the final goal of communism, clarifies the socialist transition to that final goal, and presents initial strategic thinking on how we can build the subjective forces for revolution. Our Membership Constitution sets ideological standards for what it means to be a communist and lays out an organizational framework for serious democratic centralist organization. Our two manuals, “Drawing Blood: A Guide to Communist Agitation” and “Looking Back to Face Forward: The Role of Summation in the Revolutionary Process,” provide training in crucial tools of communist political practice. While these documents by no means answer all the questions of how to make revolution and how to build the forces to do so, they do provide a starting point and methods for answering these questions. The journal kites continues to clarify the communist world outlook from all others in the course of delving into key strategic questions and offering concrete analysis of key contradictions in the world today.

Seeing as the Organization of Communist Revolutionaries is at present a very small organization, and unfortunately there are no other organizations of serious communist cadre in the US right now, the immediate need is to develop serious communist cadre acting under a unified plan. To be clear, developing communist cadre is not a matter of what people declare themselves to be, or, worse yet, what their social media profile proclaims. It is a matter of ideological training and remolding, integrating with the masses, and getting experience in organizing and leading mass struggle. As communist cadre, we must be firmly rooted in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, but without an ounce of dogmatism. We should have reverence for our communist tradition, but we must also be critical and innovative, learning deeply from the past and from revolutionary experiences around the world, and being ruthlessly critical of our own practice in order to figure out how we make revolution in the present. This is the process everyone who wants revolution must embark on right now if we are to build a communist vanguard party. And the communist vanguard party we are working towards must have nothing in common with the various shades of revisionist, Trotskyite, Leftist, and postmodernist formations that claim to be communist.

The initial wave of communist cadre committed to building a vanguard party will have to go against the tide, refuse to take refuge in the Left, and endure the howls of the jackals of opportunism that will seek to tear them down. Until there are enough cadre to make a strong material force out of a revolutionary line, joining with efforts to build a vanguard party will require the ability and commitment to discern a revolutionary line from all others. Through the course of the twists and turns, advances and setbacks, of the Chinese Revolution, Mao remained steadfast in his belief that a correct line will eventually prevail in practice, but that can take time, and more specifically, enough people won to a correct line. Often it takes witnessing and experiencing the failures of incorrect lines before people come around to a correct line. Many would-be communists today use the excuse of the lack of proven practice to refuse to discern line as line, and fail to appreciate, let alone join in growing, the initial, fragile shoots of practice led by a correct revolutionary line. They are awed by social media posturing and localist efforts that get a little bit of temporary traction, worshiping spontaneity, not seeing beyond immediate results, and dashing from one political organization to another like suburban high school cliques jumping from one fashion trend to the next. To put it another way: what is needed right now are not flakes and flights of fancy, but steadfast communists who can see beyond appearances and have the farsightedness to commit to persevering in making a correct revolutionary line a material force in the long term.

Where will cadre of the quality we are talking about come from? When it comes to 2010s Leftists, we can at best carry out a salvage operation, sifting through the wreckage to find the few people who might be capable of being repaired. Mainly, we need recruits who have not been substantially tainted and ruined by Leftist and postmodernist politics. We need to open up many streams of recruitment, but there are principally two approaches we must take: (1) Assign cadre to carry out focused social investigation and political agitation among specific sections of the “lower and deeper” proletariat, in the process identifying key class antagonisms around which we can lead those masses in class struggle, and through the entire process, develop the consciousness, organization, and fighting capacity of the masses and recruit the best of them as communist cadre. We emphasize laser-like focus on specific sections of the proletariat because without a sizable Party apparatus and a robust proletarian media empire, broad agitation among the proletariat in general, while always worthwhile, is unlikely to lead to recruitment and organization. (2) Go “younger and less indoctrinated,” to rebellious youth who have not yet been thoroughly indoctrinated in Leftist and postmodernist politics. There is fertile ground for communist organizing in the waves of defiant protests by high school students. Tapping into them will require the agitation that resonates with these youth, the ability to lead these waves of protests in a revolutionary direction, and developing a communist youth organization to train such youth as communists and through which to recruit them into the vanguard.

If some Leftists want to join us in these efforts, we should welcome them, while sharply struggling with them to rupture with Leftist politics and remold themselves, and show up on time. If they cannot fully remold themselves, we should give them the options of becoming principled supporters of a genuine communist organization or stepping aside and getting out of its way.

Where do labor struggles and unions fit in?

What about the uptick in unionization efforts and labor struggles in recent years? Is this where we should focus our efforts to develop communist cadre? First, let us examine the objective contradictions giving rise to unionization efforts and labor struggles. Austerity measures, deindustrialization, precariatization, and new forms of exploitation by tech capital over the last several decades, combined with conscious government policy weakening the power of unions, have sharpened the contradiction between labor and capital in the US. The post-WWII relative social peace in the US rested significantly on a section of unionized, bourgeoisified workers in factory conditions, and that section has greatly diminished in numbers as manufacturing moved to the oppressed countries.

Recent labor struggles and unionization efforts have arisen mainly in the following forms: (1) Long-time sections of unionized workers, among the upper sections of the proletariat, bourgeoisified workers, and lower sections of the petty-bourgeoisie, fighting back against the ways that capital and government are upending the relatively stable class positions they have had since WWII. Teachers’ union struggles and strikes of the last decade are one pre-eminent example of this trend. (2) The expansion of unions and labor struggles to sections of the working class where unionization was previously not so common and to newer industries that have not yet been unionized, in particular among service workers, immigrants, and people exploited by tech capital. This has been going on for several decades, exemplified by Justice for Janitors in the 1990s and the 2010s Fight for Fifteen campaign among fast food workers for a living wage. More recent trends along these lines are efforts to unionize sections of workers employed in the new industries created by tech capital, such as Amazon warehouse workers and ride app and delivery app drivers. (3) The downwardly-mobile and precariatized petty-bourgeoisie deciding to identify their plight with unions and the working class—a mix of postmodernist identity politics in the form of workerism with legitimate grievances against the effects of precariatization. Unionization efforts among adjunct faculty at universities, graduate students, and Starbucks workers exemplify this trend, with the latter example intersecting with the expansion of unions to the service industry.

Chicago Teachers Union members and supporters rally during the 2019 teacher strike. The Chicago teachers waged significant strikes in 2012 and 2019 against the privatization of public schools by way of charter schools and budget cuts.

Where these labor struggles and unionization efforts involve the lower and deeper sections of the proletariat, generate antagonistic struggles and contend with repression, and/or take up political in addition to economic demands, they create more favorable ground for communist intervention. However, the fact that they are labor struggles involving the direct exploitation of labor by capital does not make them inherently any more important, from the strategic perspective of communist revolution, than other struggles in society. A hallmark of revisionism, especially in imperialist countries, has been the presumption that strikes, unions, and labor struggles are automatically more significant than urban rebellions, prison struggles, political mass movements over social and cultural conflicts, student movements, etc. Today’s new generation of Leftists, who often have a strange nostalgia for a past that cannot be repeated (the “good old days” of militant labor struggles a hundred years ago), are simply reviving this crusty old revisionism in new clothes in their over-enthusiasm for labor struggles and unions.

The communist way to relate to labor struggles is as firm WITBDists, i.e., from the perspective of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done?, as tribunes of the people, not trade-union secretaries. Among other things, that means maximizing and radicalizing the political impact of labor struggles. For example, struggles by teachers’ unions have raised questions and sometimes issued demands concerning not just their own economic conditions but also the overall gutting of public education and its intellectual and social effect on students, especially those from proletarian backgrounds, and communists should seek to push those questions and demands towards a crisis of legitimacy that exposes the nature of the bourgeoisie’s education system and its role in maintaining bourgeois rule. Struggles by graduate students and adjunct faculty at universities, by contrast, have tended to stick more to economic demands (better wages, benefits, and job security) and at best raise questions about the dictatorial power of university administrations, but have yet to challenge the role that liberal postmodernist academia plays in fortifying bourgeois rule, and how class stratification and careerism among professional intellectuals is part of that, or how the “diversity, equity, and inclusion” mantra in academia has failed to challenge the rule of white supremacy in any substantial way.

Practically speaking, there are basically two ways for communists to relate to labor struggles: (1) Relating to existing labor struggles and unionization efforts through social investigation, gathering and developing contacts of the more advanced within them, communist journalism, and building broader support for the struggles. (2) Getting jobs in workplaces that concentrate large numbers of “lower and deeper” proletarians and have the potential for sharp class struggle and carrying out political work among those proletarians. Besides Amazon warehouses, this includes heavily-immigrant workplaces with conditions of sharp exploitation, such as meatpacking plants in the Midwest and the “factories in the fields” in the agricultural valleys of California. The fact that very few Leftists of the 2010s generation have gotten these types of jobs says much about their inability to integrate with the masses—while they would greatly benefit from the discipline required in these jobs, few of them could handle the physical labor.

How many cadre to devote to labor struggles—from a WITBDist perspective and no other—is a question that can only be answered within the structures of a democratic centralist organization with clear strategic priorities based on what will most advance the development of the subjective forces for revolution. Whether communists should be organizationally involved in existing unions and/or create and lead new ones can only be figured out in relation to concrete circumstances, but exposure of the workings of capitalism-imperialism,21 developing the class-consciousness, fighting capacity, and organization of the revolutionary proletariat, and sharpening class antagonisms to the maximum degree possible must always be the principal goals, not securing positions as union hacks.

Nuts and bolts

Part of what makes a communist vanguard party a vehicle for leading a revolutionary movement, the violent overthrow of bourgeois rule, and the socialist transition to communism is that it functions based on a unified strategic plan with a division of labor to carry out that plan. A vanguard is the sum total of many different fronts of ideological, political, and organizational work as well as time-specific campaigns based on conjunctural contradictions, all of which are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. While uniting a substantial number of cadre ideologically, politically, organizationally, and strategically is the principal aspect of forming a vanguard, that unity takes shape, develops, and becomes a material force through the capabilities, practical tasks, and deployment of those cadre. Here, let us take a more “nuts and bolts” approach to what the construction of a vanguard looks like.

First and foremost, a vanguard needs leadership, on all levels, from a central committee to local leading committees to unit chairs, that is capable of applying the science of revolution to the challenges of making revolution in the US. That leadership can only be developed through a combination of concrete experience in the class struggle and the study of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and the history of revolutionary movements around the world as well as broad engagement with various intellectual and cultural trends. In addition, specialists and experts must be developed to provide analysis and lead specific spheres of work. Leadership cannot be declared, but must be developed and trained. Given how far we are “coming from behind” to build a vanguard party, comrades will have to step up to fill big shoes as quickly as possible, without being put in positions they are not yet capable of.

Organizationally, the backbone of a communist party must be able to withstand the repression of the enemy; it must function outside of the eyes and ears of the political police and develop the capacity to function clandestinely. This applies to internal communication structures, organizational hierarchy, and the use of the “need to know” principle. Cadre must be vigilant in following security procedures and reporting security breaches. Understanding how the bourgeoisie’s state repressive apparatus is using new technologies to track and surveil people must inform security procedures, though security is above all a question of political line. A section of the vanguard party needs to be developed that functions “quietly,” i.e., does not carry out open political work, but functions organizationally and builds ties with the masses in ways that are unknown to the enemy. It goes without saying that it is impossible to function “so wisely, so well” that the enemy cannot destroy the vanguard without firm ideological dedication on the part of all Party members, in opposition to individualism, careerism, and opportunism.

The vanguard party must establish a mass base first and foremost among the proletariat. At this stage, we are talking more about quality than quantity—sinking roots in specific sections of the proletariat, building mass organizations, and rooting Party organization among the masses—although some degree of quantity is necessary. The center of gravity of the vanguard’s political work must be among the basic masses who constitute the bedrock social base for proletarian revolution. Secondarily, the vanguard must develop organized ties among all sections of the people, which will provide the basis for expanding the Party’s work and influence in the future.

At this stage in the game—the process of building a vanguard—broad influence is not a particularly fruitful endeavor, as broad influence without the ability to consolidate organization from it will not contribute much to the principal task of building the vanguard. However, we should take advantage of opportunities for mounting bold political interventions with wide impact that can also train cadre in the art of political interventions and make advances in recruitment and developing the united front under the leadership of the proletariat. Deciding when and where to devote cadre and leadership to mount such interventions must be finely calibrated so as not to abandon ongoing work of entrenchment within the proletariat.

The principal vehicle for developing the emerging vanguard’s broad influence will be the creation of a proletarian media empire22 with wide reach among the popular classes. Such a proletarian media empire will also serve to give cohesion to the subjective forces of revolution, training them in the communist world outlook through concrete analysis of the latest events and controversies in society, and providing a means by which comrades in places without strong Party organization can connect with and plug into the work of the vanguard (the latter by contributing content to the proletarian media empire). We will have to develop this proletarian media empire piece by piece, but it should be a goal towards which we are actively working. Ultimately, our proletarian media empire must rival those of the liberal bourgeoisie (MSNBC, CNN, etc.) and the fascistic bourgeoisie (FOX News), both of which have spent several decades cohering, ideologically and politically, tens of millions of people around the world outlooks they promote.

A variety of other political tasks, from leading particular mass movements, to cultural and artistic creation, to working within the bourgeoisie’s ideological state apparatuses, must also be cultivated based on the capabilities of the cadre recruited, opportunities that emerge, and strategic priorities determined by leadership. While the breadth and reach of the Party’s political work must grow over time, all of it must be rooted in a democratic centralist structure and serve revolutionary strategic objectives.

What glues the various tasks undertaken by Party members together, and what signals, politically, the leap to a Party, is the development of a Party Programme. In other words, the collective process of developing a Party Programme will be the final step in forging a new vanguard party. A Party Programme needs to have an analysis of US society and the various classes within it, a strategy for making revolution in the US, and a plan for the socialist transition to communism. It must provide real answers to the problems of the masses—how communist revolution would solve specific social problems. A Party Programme can only be developed through a collective, systematic process of social investigation, research, and widespread discussion and debate. The revolutionary strategy it enumerates must be a synthesis of practice, both our own practice and the practice of previous generations and comrades around the world, and projections based on that practice. In other words, the strategy must be based on both what has proven effective and what we can project based on an estimate of what it will take to move from what we have achieved to what it will take to make revolution. Practically speaking, a Party Programme is a booklet that explains the politics and policies of the vanguard party. The Party Programme must become a material force in society in two ways: (1) Party members must carry out the strategy it enumerates,23 testing and enriching it through practice, and (2) the Party Programme itself must be widely distributed, read, discussed, and debated and become a point of reference for anyone asking how social problems can be solved.

While forging a vanguard party is principally a qualitative process, a quantitative process of growth must accompany and give expression to the qualitative. To put it in numerical terms, a communist organization of a few dozen cadre would start to become a recognizable political force on the national stage, with developing local branches in a few cities, focused work among a few specific sections of the masses, and a few different fronts of political work and mass struggle. A vanguard party with a few hundred cadre would be a political force capable of making interventions with national impact, having fully functioning branches in several cities, and having a variety of different political work. At that stage, it could devote attention to organizational development, several well-developed fronts of political work, and broad influence. A vanguard party of several thousand cadre could make interventions that shape the outcome of national events, have large branches in major cities and many small branches throughout the country, have a wide variety of political work in many different political and cultural spheres, and be the nucleus of potentially tens of thousands of basic members and/or hundreds of thousands of organized ties, i.e., a serious numerical force that can be wielded towards revolutionary objectives. The development of serious and capable cadre remains decisive even with substantial quantitative growth—there is a dialectical and mutually reinforcing relationship between Stalin’s point that the cadre are decisive and Mao’s insistence that the masses are the makers of history.

Some particularities that the construction of a new vanguard in the US needs to pay attention to

A Party Programme cannot be a general statement of communist principles, and a strategy for revolution cannot be merely a declaration of what worked somewhere, sometime, in the past. We must develop a strategy and programme based on the concrete conditions of the US and figure out how to move through the contradictions as they are. What follows is an outline of some key questions and particularities that a communist vanguard party in the US would have to pay attention to. It is by no means a comprehensive account of all the questions that must be addressed or a ranking of priorities, but is intended to focus our attention on the key challenges before us, including for the purpose of social investigation, research, and practice towards the development of a Party Programme.

The US has been the top imperialist power since the end of World War II, and that fact has considerable ramifications for communists in the belly of the beast. On a moral and political level, we need a firm proletarian internationalism in our ranks and propagated broadly, and we need specific anti-imperialist political work aimed at weakening the imperialist bourgeoisie’s maneuver room and challenging the masses to take a firm stand against their own ruling class. Imperialism provides a strong material basis for chauvinism and anti-communism among the people and opportunism within the mass movements (hence the large number of opportunist organizations and individuals, or, the Left). Consequently, to practice our principles of proletarian internationalism, we will have go against the tide among the people and wage a pernicious struggle against opportunism.

Flowing from the spoils of imperialism, there is a large petty-bourgeoisie in the the US and the real proletariat is numerically a (significant) minority of the population. This has strategic ramifications: the proletariat is somewhat isolated—surrounded by the petty-bourgeoisie—and this isolation weighs down on its ability to exert its class interests. Skillfully carrying out the united front under the leadership of the proletariat and taking advantage of opportunities for swinging sections of the petty-bourgeoisie over to the side of the proletariat will be essential for not only winning the revolution, but also for enabling the proletariat to break out of its isolation. While the vanguard must be first and foremost rooted among the proletariat, it cannot take a narrow approach and must also find ways to develop organized ties and influence and lead mass movements among other classes.

Related to the preceding two paragraphs, bourgeois-democratic illusions run especially deep in the US, and need to be fought with ideologically and politically. The development of a revolutionary movement will necessarily involve a mass rupture with bourgeois-democracy. Such a mass rupture is likely to first come about politically, as sections of people lose faith in the ability of bourgeois-democracy to favorably resolve the conflicts in society and can be brought under a revolutionary leadership capable of resolving those conflicts towards the desired outcome. But this political rupture must be followed up with an ideological rupture, at least by a significant number of people, with not just the bourgeois electoral system, but the underlying principles and narrow horizons of bourgeois-democracy overall.

The US bourgeoisie has led the way in building an impressive regime of preventive counterrevolution. We will need to analyze and theorize the functioning of this on a deeper level and develop strategies and tactics for how to breach it. Since this regime of preventive counterrevolution is always in flux and is radically reconfigured after periods of rebellion, we need to get a step ahead of the bourgeoisie if we are to create a revolutionary situation rather than allowing social rebellion to give way to (temporary) social peace.

Nonprofit activist organizations and academia are the political and ideological apparatuses dominated by the liberal bourgeoisie that are used to ensure the allegiance of the progressive and radicalized petty-bourgeoisie, and some of the proletariat, to bourgeois rule. The communist vanguard needs to break this allegiance mainly in the “positive” sense of developing an alternative—a revolutionary movement. However, we will also have to use “negative” methods to expose the bankruptcy of nonprofit activist organizations and bourgeois academia by way of polemics. We will need to expose the reformist programs of the nonprofit activist organizations, and the ways their politics and methods demobilize the masses. We need to train youth who can enter college able to contend with postmodernism, recruit some professional intellectuals who can contend “from the inside,” and, most importantly, develop a militant student movement under communist leadership that can shake the campuses and bring out the wrath of the postmodernist ideologues (i.e., let them reveal themselves to be subalterns of the liberal bourgeoisie).

A particular feature of the US is its vast culture and entertainment industry, which has global reach and significance and considerable hold on the attention, and thinking, of people in the US. The culture and entertainment industry plays a crucial role in bourgeois ideological indoctrination, but can at times be a site of contention, as demonstrated by the widespread protests among professional athletes in the last decade against police brutality and the oppression of Black people.24 The culture and entertainment industry employs a large number of people in all class strata of society, and creates a common but variegated culture among the US population, i.e., its creations are the most common topics of everyday conversation. A vanguard in the US will need to analyze and theorize the culture and entertainment industry, engage, from a communist perspective, with the societal conversations and controversies it generates, and take advantage of openings within it, including through political work and recruitment among people who, and deployment of cadre to, work in the culture and entertainment industry. On the latter, openings most often arise when new forms of culture and entertainment are in the ascendance, as demonstrated by the CP’s cultural reach in the 1930s and more recently by the explosion of progressive and even radical content as streaming services have challenged the dominance of television and movie theaters (think of recent offerings on Netflix and Amazon such as When They See Us, Black Mirror, The Man in the High Castle, or The Boys).

White supremacy and the oppression of Black people remains the lynchpin and Achilles heel of US imperialism, giving rise to the sharpest mass struggles within the US, including violent rebellions. A cornerstone of developing a Party Programme and a strategy for revolution must be an analysis of the Black national question made through broad social investigation among the masses, study, involvement in mass struggles, and dialogue and debate with Black intellectuals, artists, political and community leaders, etc. The essentials we have from past communist analyses of the Black national question are strong and overall correct foundations, but we need to analyze the changed conditions and make communist revolution a real programmatic answer to the question of how to end the oppression of Black people. A correct and nuanced analysis of the Black national question will in turn be pivotal for making analyses of other national questions in the US: Indigenous, Chicano, diaspora, immigrant, etc.

Revolution in the US could likely be tied to developments in Mexico, but also to events in oppressed nations with a strong relationship to the US, such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, and other Caribbean nations as well as countries in Central and South America. Crises in those countries, especially those whose economies are deeply tied to the US, could “spill over” into the US, and revolutionary movements in those countries could inspire a revolutionary movement in the US. To maximize the potential for revolutionary spillover, a communist vanguard must carry out political work among the immigrant populations in the US from the countries in question and link the struggles in their homelands with the struggle in the diaspora.

There is considerable regional variation within the US as far as social makeup and culture. The most obvious difference is “red vs. blue” states/regions, but other variations include big cosmopolitan cities vs. smaller cities, cities in decline vs. cities with new growth industries, agricultural belts, and different immigrant populations in different regions. The strategy for accumulating the subjective forces for revolution will have to be grounded in these regional variations, with different social faultlines and sections of the people assuming different degrees of strategic importance depending on local conditions.

Finally, contention between what can broadly be described as the liberal vs. conservative-turning-fascistic bourgeoisie will likely shape US politics for some time to come, unless it is decisively resolved one way or another. Struggles over many social antagonisms, such as the oppression of women, will be substantially impacted by this contention. A communist vanguard must have the strategic firmness and tactical flexibility to take advantage of contention within the bourgeoisie, without picking a side, to bring sections of the people who are brought into political life and mass movements by that contention under communist leadership. This will at times require developing and fighting for programmatic demands short of revolution, but we must not then stop short of revolution.

* * *

As a very small organization, it is bold, crazy, or both for us to put forward a challenge to forge and a basic plan for building a new communist vanguard party. We do not have the numbers or organizational capacity yet to make good on this challenge. We are recruiting. Moreover, to anyone who desires revolution, who yearns for the day when US imperialism is brought to its knees, when the suffering it perpetrates and perpetuates around the world is brought to an end: It is time to get serious. It is time to take up the task of building the most indispensable tool for overthrowing US imperialism, the communist vanguard party. If you have studied our documents and have substantial questions or disagreements, it is your responsibility to develop these questions and disagreements to the plane of line struggle, so that they can contribute to figuring out how to make revolution. We have never claimed to have it all figured out. What we will claim is our dedication to figuring it out, no matter the difficulties and setbacks along the way. For the masses the world over need nothing less from us, and that is the responsibility we take as communists.

1The proliferation of social media certainly helped spread this leftist-populist consciousness, but we should be careful not to overly credit a form through which it spread, and instead prioritize the underlying material conditions.

2For more on the slow decline of US imperial power and the US bourgeoisie’s lack of a coherent political program, see “Kick ‘Em While They’re Down” in kites #3 (2021).

3The tactic of occupations was in large part inspired by the Arab Spring and the occupation of Tahrir Square in Egypt, where the stakes of the struggle were much higher than in the US. Unfortunately, post-OWS, many activist in the US have made a fetishization of this tactic and rendered it ineffective; in New York City, there have been numerous failed attempts to occupy public outdoor spaces in Lower Manhattan that were either quickly prevented through repression and/or never managed to have the galvanizing impact that OWS did and fizzled out.

4See “Defund, Abolish… But What About Overthrow?” in kites #2 (2020).

5See “Abolish Grifterism” in kites #5/6 (2022).

6Notably, the RCP’s Refuse Fascism initiative, had it been more successful, would have only reinforced the liberal petty-bourgeoisie’s faith in bourgeois-democracy.

7It is tempting to raise the slogan “make anarchism rebellious again.”

8In this regard, there is a lesson in the contradictory nature of bourgeois-democratic illusions. On the one hand, the liberal petty-bourgeoisie was wrong in tying the oppression of Black people to the crumbling of bourgeois-democracy, for white supremacy and the oppression of Black people has been a central pillar of bourgeois-democracy for the entire history of bourgeois-democratic rule in the US. On the other hand, the particular situation of Trump in office meant that the liberal petty-bourgeoisie’s bourgeois-democratic illusions pushed them to join the mass protests against the police killing of Black people, which could have been seized on by the class-conscious proletariat and its communist vanguard to then struggle with the liberal petty-bourgeoisie to cast off its allegiance to bourgeois-democracy, if, of course, there had been a class-conscious section of the proletariat and a communist vanguard to do just that.

9Notably, this tends to happen relatively quickly when radicalized youth enter college, and is the reason why high school students played such an advanced role in the 2010s protest movement but college students did not. Seriously, outside of the Palestine liberation movement and a few relatively isolated cases, we cannot think of any instances in which college students played a leading-edge role in the protests movements of the 2010s, a situation rather unlike the Sixties that we need to radically transform.

10Probably one of the best attempts to address this contradiction, sharply posed among youth, between nihilism and determined resistance in the face of existential crises is provided by the band Rise Against in their 2021 album Nowhere Generation and its 2022 followup EP, Nowhere Generation II, not only in the poetic rather than agitprop quality of their lyrics, but also in their music’s unique combination of hardcore punk, emo, and power-pop balladry that seems perfect for expressing both ends of the contradiction. Rise Against has long been exemplary at taking the pulse of and powerfully addressing the existential questions of youth (yes, some non-communist artists also practice the mass line even if they do not know it), something that would-be communists would do well to learn from.

11To put it in stark terms, Trump’s stimulus checks were far more valuable to the material well-being of the masses than Leftist “mutual aid” efforts.

12It is worth a reminder here that a few decades ago, Fauci denied access to experimental but effective AIDS medications as gay men in particular were dying in droves from AIDS.

13In addition to this quote from “Kick ‘Em While They’re Down,” a further elaboration the problems and pitfalls of Pac-Man politics can be found in Kenny Lake’s “Revolution Has Vanished” in kites #5/6 (2022).

14In addition to “Kick ‘Em While They’re Down,” see also “Defund, Abolish… But What About Overthrow?” in kites #2 (2020).

15The Maoist conception is not a departure from, but a further development of, socialism as it was conceived by Marx and Engels and further developed, in theory and practice, by Lenin. How Stalin and the Soviet Union under his leadership fit into this conception is a bit more complicated, but basically: the Maoist conception upholds the Soviet Union under Stalin’s leadership but with strong criticisms, and those criticisms in turn provided the basis for socialist China’s ruptures with erroneous tendencies in the Soviet Union under Stalin’s leadership.
Some readers might say “hey, wait a minute, some 2010s Leftists have been promoting the Maoist conception of socialism.” To them, we answer: There are basically two pseudo-Maoist conceptions of socialism that have found a little traction among small groups of mostly online Leftists in the last decade. One is a Badiou-inspired bourgeois-democratic conception which insists that the “Party-State form” is an anachronism that suffocated the revolutionary energy of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), obviously in stark disagreement with Mao’s leadership of the GPCR and the need for the vanguard party and proletarian dictatorship. (Badiou himself is, of course, more sophisticated and experienced than the new crop of pseudo-French, pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-Maoists in the US—his work is worth engaging, even if we have considerable disagreements with it.) The other is a transfer of “mutual aid Maoism” to some idealist notion of the masses in their “communities” taking care of their immediate needs themselves and eventually supplanting bourgeois rule that way, entirely divorced from the revolutionary seizure of power or the exercise of proletarian dictatorship. For an actual Maoist conception of socialism, see our Manifesto and, of course, study the history of and theory produced by socialist China (that is, China in its socialist years from 1949–76).

16See Hinton Alvarez’s “Exceptionally Serious Responsibility” in kites #4 (2021) to understand the significance of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement.

17There is a legitimate question of whether the political and organizational focus of diaspora rebels should be on supporting the anti-imperialist struggle in their homelands or making revolution in the country in which they are a diaspora population. The correct resolution likely involves some merging of the two, and a strategic recognition that bringing down US imperialism would lift a great weight off of the oppressed countries (for example: could the state of Israel exist without the support of US imperialism?).

18Sexual misconduct by men, up to and including rape and sexual assault, has been quite widespread among 2010s Leftists. The reasons are simple: in the context of a society in which rape culture thrives, opportunist organizations are bound to attract opportunists, including sexual opportunists, and when there is no process of ideological remolding to join a supposedly revolutionary or communist organization, members of those organizations are bound to bring in, and never be challenged to rupture with, predatory sexual behaviors. By contrast, in the Maoist tradition, patriarchal thinking and behavior have consistently been struggled against, recruits into communist organizations have gone through a rigorous process of ideological remolding, including in relation to the woman question, and sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and rape have not been tolerated. To put it another way: the RCP, to its great credit, never had the problems with sexual misconduct and rape that 2010s Leftists, including the pseudo-Maoists among them, have had.

19For those who want to commit to such a process, Kenny Lake has produced a series of articles clarifying Maoist principles: “On Infantile Internet Disorders,” “Malcolm X Didn’t Dish Out Free Bean Pies,” “Revolution Has Vanished,” and “Tin-Man Maoism” in kites # 1, 3, 5/6, and 7, respectively. Oh, and, there’s this thing called the Red Book

20Our own organization was formed at the end of the 2010s, in part out of a recognition that we needed to take responsibility for developing revolutionary forces given the lack of them. However, ideologically and politically, the Organization of Communist Revolutionaries is a product of the 1990s and 2000s, giving us the good fortune of not being raised up in the muck and mire of 2010s Leftist and postmodernist politics.

21To give a current example: in the unionization struggles erupting at Starbucks coffee shops, an important role of communists would be to expose the exploitation of people in the oppressed countries that fuels global coffee production, an exploitation far more bitter than the gross, burnt taste of Starbucks coffee (seriously, how did such bad coffee become so popular?).

22Thanks to comrades in Canada for inventing this term.

23Yes, that is a diss on the RCP.

24That is not to say that athletes themselves are mere entertainers, but that professional sports is an entertainment industry.