‘Heavy Radicals – The FBI’s Secret War on America’s Maoists: The Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980’ reviewed by Joshua Moufawad-Paul

Reviewed by Joshua Moufawad-Paul

About the reviewer

Joshua Moufawad-Paul works as an adjunct professor at York University where he received his PhD in …


During the recent uprisings in Ferguson, members of the US Revolutionary Communist Party [RCP-USA] were arrested as ‘outside agitators.’ Part of the discourse surrounding their arrest concerned their supposed irrelevance and the ‘cult of personality’ surrounding their chairman, Bob Avakian. Indeed, entire memes are devoted to the existence of the Avakian cult. For many, the RCP-USA is a micro-sect that lacks relevance, whose members will never be more than outside agitators: it is treated as a marginal tendency amongst the US left, an embarrassing Maoist-inclined grouplet that is more a punch-line of a joke than a legitimate organization.

For those who care about the New Communist Movement (that is, the period in the 1960s-1970s in which anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist groups proliferated), though, the RCP-USA and its precursor, the Revolutionary Union [RU], once represented a significant mass movement. As I have argued elsewhere, the New Communist Movement signified a larger anti-capitalist movement than the New Left of the late 1960s, and the RU/RCP-USA was a significant representation of this movement in the United States. That is, despite the cultish weirdness that currently defines this organization, there was a time when it was a significant and vibrant movement.

Heavy Radicals argues for a similar recognition of the RU/RCP-USA’s historical importance: ‘The standard script of Students for Democratic Society [SDS] reads something like this: It arose in the early sixties full of youthful idealism, got down to the hard work of joining with the civil rights movement, transitioned to anti-war activism, became increasingly radical, then self-immolated in sectarian squabbling with a small hard core of Weatherman going off into a brief foray of infantile terrorism, while the rest of the organization faded away. It is a tight narrative, with a strong beginning, middle, and end. There is, however, a problem. Two huge pieces are left out; the emergence of the Revolutionary Union and its critical influence within the grouping, and the FBI’s aggressive and elaborate efforts to destroy the organization’ (34). Indeed, as Leonard and Gallagher demonstrate, the majority of the SDS’s most radical forces were channeled into the emergent RU, rather than the Weather Underground, and immediately became the focus of FBI counter-insurgency.

What is most interesting about Leonard and Gallagher’s historiography, though, is that it reveals the way in which a mass organization can destroy itself irrespective of state infiltration. Although it was indeed the case that the FBI infiltrated the RU/RCP-USA at an early date – working hard to encourage divisions, prevent unity with other anti-revisionist organizations, etc., this organization itself often functioned in a manner that permitted sabotage. For one thing, despite its talk of a ‘party of the new type’ (a common refrain amongst the New Communist Movement), the RU/RCP-USA tended to function like a ‘general staff of the proletariat’ and in fact worked, contrary to its professed mass-line, to prevent feedback between the leadership and rank-and-file. An over-arching tendency to rewrite its own history after damaging splits prevented self-criticism: the final split is bizarrely the event the current RCP-USA treats as one of its greatest victories (the 1978 internal struggle about the meaning of China’s change of direction), even though it meant the loss of most of its membership and the enshrinement of the personality cult around Bob Avakian.

By 1978, despite earlier splits (that, according to the authors, had served to make this organization paranoid of losing more cadre and thus helped to enshrine a mistrust for the rank-and-file), the RCP-USA was the largest extreme left organization in America. Not only was its actual membership widespread, with many of its chapters embedded in the working class (160-82), it also counted various mass organizations as party fronts – the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, the Vietnam Veterans Against The War, and the US-China Peoples Friendship Organization. Unfortunately, the unhealthy internal life of the party that had caused its past mistakes (i.e. its homophobia, its weird position on the Boston Busing Crisis) became accentuated. Faced with the failure of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the rise of Deng Xiaoping, and the imprisonment of the Gang of Four, the RCP-USA’s central committee imploded and, incapable of handling internal struggle and debate in a creative manner, the organization experienced its most catastrophic split.

What the RCP-USA post-1980 conceives as the moment of its greatest triumph – when it upheld the legacy of the Cultural Revolution by defending the Gang of Four and branding Deng a revisionist roader – was simultaneously the moment of its degeneration. Those who were on the other side of this split, who did not fully agree with the Avakian-led faction’s characterization of the Gang of Four as a revolutionary force, broke the organization when they left. Indeed, Leibel Bergman, one of the founding members, found himself pushed out of the Central Committee simply because he thought there needed to be a more nuanced analysis of what had happened in China, rather than an open embrace of the Gang of Four. Such nuance was disallowed; Bergman’s faction would soon be conceptualized as a ‘pro-Deng clique’ despite the fact that he had also been opposed to Deng’s rise to power (208-9).

Hence, by the end of 1978 the RCP-USA found itself in a decline from which it could not recover. Not only had it lost more than half of its organizational strength, it lacked the ability to understand the deep-seated reasons for this loss and thus could not correct its course: ‘On one level the period from 1978 through 1980 was one where [the RCP-USA] attempted to recover from its most serious schism and maintain its vibrancy. On the other, the steps it took to overcome what it had identified [wrongly] as the shortcomings of the pre-split organization would seal its fate as a marginal group in the larger political universe. Along the way it would endure a wave of political repression – including the killing of one of its members – along with the exit of a large number of veteran cadre’ (224). This period was also the period in which Bob Avakian, now the sole remaining founding member, would consolidate his position as party chair and launch the eccentric cult of personality that has now become synonymous with the RCP-USA.

If I have any complaints with this thorough exposé of the most significant organization of the US New Communist Movement – the only historiography that has thoroughly traced the rise and fall of an organization that is currently known only because of the characteristics it developed when it began to degenerate – is that it is sometimes hampered by cold war ideology. For example, when it mentions the importance of William Hinton’s Fanshen it feels the need to claim that this book, which examined the Chinese Revolution’s development in a single village, demonstrates ‘an absence of more critical scrutiny’ (114) without any arguments as to why this is the case; it feels inherited from a particular historical discourse that the works of Hinton, among others, exist to challenge. (Although, it is worth noting, the authors ended up provided an interesting factoid that I did not expect: Hinton was himself a member of the RU/RCP-USA.) These tangential endorsements of a hegemonic narrative about Chinese Communism, all of which lack any citations or logical arguments, were somewhat cloying to encounter since they detracted from an otherwise clear-headed narrative.

Despite this problem, though, Leonard and Gallagher’s historiography reads as a grand political tragedy: it is the story of an organization that, despite significant state interference, temporarily became the primary force of revolution in the United States, and then, also despite state interference, imploded and became a marginal grouplet. Apprehending this tragedy should provide the contemporary left with several useful lessons.

The first lesson, and one the authors indicate at the outset, is that the possibility of state intervention in anti-capitalist organizing is timely: ‘determined, organized resistance and political repression are intimately intertwined … particular actors and repressive agencies have shifted … [but there are] certain things that stand as universal’ (3-4). Although the state is not always responsible for the ultimate fate of a resistance movement, it will still work diligently to infiltrate any such movement and accentuate whatever internal contradictions it discovers.

The second lesson is that we might have more to learn from the anti-revisionist New Communist Movement than the New Left, since the former actually produced a larger movement than the latter. I would argue, though similar histories have yet to be written, that the New Communist Movement in other countries also possess a rich and valuable, but no less tragic, trajectory.

The final lesson is that we can learn from the internal deficiencies that led to the RCP-USA’s degeneration. This lesson is connected to the second lesson: on the one hand, we cannot discount the significance of an organization that is unified in theory and practice because such a unity leads to the kind of growth that frightens the ruling class; on the other hand, we need to be aware that authoritarianism and dogmatism are always challenges that such organizations will face.

1 June 2015


  1. As someone who was active in the left from 1968 to the present the historiography presented is a limited one chuck full of the anti-communist positions of RYM and Weatherpeople.

    SD continued in a limited form as the worker-student alliance organizing on campuses throughout the country, the communist left, later developing into INCAR and taking on Academic Racism, Progressive Labor continued to work on the hard task of entering and giving leadership to working-class struggles in Auto – while the industry was in free fall and the left position n China remained hat of Progressive Labor, not the comical and increasingly cultish RU/RCP.

    Sorry if you can’t accept that, but PL still grows here and around the world, still has the clearest analysis of the world situation, while the rest are mired to reacting to work de nets and improvising on old revisionist themes.

  2. Hello,

    Yes I agree that the RCP-USA has grown increasingly comical and cultish, and I indicated that in this review. This review is a reflection on the book’s claims, not whether or not I can “accept” your position because, to be clear, I do not live in the US. Also, your last statement about what I can or cannot accept, when I was presenting the argument of the book, seems a tad bit sectarian and maybe directed by a germ of the same sentiments that are now quite extreme with the RCP-USA.

    If you have a problem with the book’s argument, which I was summarizing, then read the book and argue against its sources rather than claiming that your group is more significant than an other group (which we all know has become quite comical), since neither myself nor this book was interested in arguing for the continued viability of the RU/RCP-USA.

  3. An important part of the RU/RCP’s degeneration not touched upon here concerns the very process by which the Party constituted. In 1974 when the RU felt the time was right to constitute itself as the RCP it began the process for launching assaults on two organizations representing the Afrikan and Boricua internal colonies in the amerikan empire: the Black Workers Congress (BWC) and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO)

    The RU claimed that the BWC and PRRWO position that the traditions and culture of the empire’s internal colonies were important in establishing links between vanguard parties and the people they claim to serve and would shape the type of communism that was created was now “the incorrect line”; a full 360 degree turn from the earlier RU stance that had criticized the by then defunct Progressive Labor Party for not taking that position!

    The RCP also had bad blood with several other revolutionary nationalist organizations. The African People’s Socialist Party had running conflicts with the Avakian grouping. As an older APSP cadre recalled to me recently “oh, Avakian. Yeah they kicked their asses everywhere”.

    The RCP’s White leftism and social-colonialism became truly frothing at the mouth with its verbosely racist assault on Russell Means, then a leader in the American Indian Movement.

    So the RCP from its inception has placed itself within the White leftist, social-colonial trajectory of the overwhelming bulk of the historic and current “left” in north amerika. While this problem is ongoing (see recent RCP conflict with colonized activists in the so-called united states) it goes ack to its birth.

    In a country that is best understood as a string of settler-colonies that grew into a settler empire, the RCP since Day 1 has opposed the legitimate aspirations for national liberation of Onkwehón:we, Xican@s, Michif, Boricua and Afrikans, struggles whose success form the fundamental prerequisite for the establishment of a revolutionary new society on Turtle Island. In this light it is hard to say that the Avakian clique was ever, ever a genuinely revolutionary formation.

    Enaemaehkiw Thupaq Kesiqnaeh,
    National Chair, Indigenous People’s Liberation Party-Kanada

  4. I was delighted to see the publication of this book, and after a close read I believe it makes a genuine contribution.

    In a nutshell: The most radical forces emerging from the 1960s are simply made invisible or treated like crazies. As a result, social democratic histories of SDS act as if it is its “early days” (of social democracy) are its best, and the radicalization that accelerated among its leaders and members was a descent of sheer madness. (Which is an upside down history in every respect!)

    It is worth resurrecting the RU in its own right, and giving it a significant place — as a sincere and energetic attempt to consolidate a political carrier and revolutionary organizing center out of the previous mass upsurge. Those of us who awakened in the 1960s found ourselves on a political landscape with few markers or mentors, because the “old left” suffered from so much self-delusion and conservatism.

    And, in a certain sense, the RU/RCP was envisioned as an encapsulated bearer of revolutionary politics over the difficult times separating one conjunctural upsurge from another. The fact that a second conjuncture didn’t happen within the first two or three decades of the RCP virtually guaranteed that it would become a cinder — but that was not their fault, and nor was it prerdained.

    If there had been a second political crisis of some kind in U.S. society (in say, 1985) the history of the RCP might well have been much more interesting.

    In the midst of my overall support for Leonard and Gallagher, it is perhaps inevitable that I would find various points to contest. It is hard to see your own personal experience converted into “history” — and there will always be a part of you that complains at various points “Oooooh, that’s not quite how it was.”

    Some points to raise:

    1) Leonard and Gallagher state several times that they believe the RU/RCP was penetrated at the top. But I was unable to find in their work any convincing evidence. It may be that DH Wright was an agent (he was certainly toxic in every other way that matters!) — but he left in 1974, and the RCP went on for another thirty years. I don’t believe they were penetrated at that level. And would be curious to see any evidence.

    2) There is an assumption that IF the RU/RCP were penetrated (say at the Central Committee level) that therefore all their secrets would be known by the FBI. I believe that is also not true. That organization was compartmentalized in a way our authors don’t seem to appreciate. There were many complex operations and project conducted by the RCP that obviously were not known to the FBI — and that speak to the fact that their penetration was not effective (even if they at various times had operatives at various levels). Certainly their Cointelpro slanders were more effective than their internal penetrations IMHO.

    3) There is a narrative that says that the RCP lost significant chunk of its members in the 1978 and were thereafter destined to marginality. (This is also the narrative of “Revolution in the Air” — another history of the New Communist Movement.) It is true that the RCP lost forces as a result of that split. But there were (over the next two decades) major initiatives of various kinds that are quite interesting and revealing — organizing projects into housing projects of every major U.S. city, a concentrated focus on organizing in the most devastated sections of LA after the 1992 rebellion, and a key role in initiating and leading the Mumia Freedom campaign (and there are others).

    It is not the case that the history of the RCP naturally ends in 1980. And it would be valuable for some of us to sketch the history of the following years.

    4) A lot of the discussoin of the RU/RCP get minor details and facts wrong. That is perhaps understandable in any history, and it is perhaps not particularly distorting. But there are, in various places within the book (and even i nthis discussion) glitches of fact.

    Just to give some examples:

    “Hinton was himself a member of the RU/RCP-USA.” Hinton was a member of the early Revolutionary Union (RU) but never a member of the RCP. He left in 1972 in a dispute over the elections where he (like the BWC, Leibel Berman and the Vietnamese Workers Party) advocated communists working for McGovern.

    “Indeed, Leibel Bergman, one of the founding members, found himself pushed out of the Central Committee simply because he thought there needed to be a more nuanced analysis of what had happened in China, rather than an open embrace of the Gang of Four.” That is a very strange distortion of the history. Leibel was many things, but not particularly nuanced. And his position on the 1976 coup was solid and fairly mindless support for “whoever” was in power in Beijing. This position (which was pro-Hua, but also quickly pro-Deng) was a disaster for Leibel’s own new organization (the RWH), since the new leading group in China quickly moved to destroy the Peoples Communes, disarm the worker militia, jail or depose figures form the GPCR, open the country to “foreign” (read: imperialist) investment, and more.

    “This period was also the period in which Bob Avakian, now the sole remaining founding member, would consolidate his position as party chair ”

    Avakian was never the “sole remaining founding member” of the RU — not in 1980, not now. The person writing this is simply not familiar with the facts.

    ” In 1974 when the RU felt the time was right to constitute itself as the RCP it began the process for launching assaults on two organizations representing the Afrikan and Boricua internal colonies in the amerikan empire: the Black Workers Congress (BWC) and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO)”

    This is deeply confused. In 1972, when the RU sought to form a new communist party, it entered a protracted period of negotiations and common work with an array of other Maoists groups (including the BWC and PRRWO, but others as well). That unity process did not go well (in ways that are documented in the Heavy Radicals book. On some key matters of politics and organization, there were (quite simply) different lines that proved (in the end) not to be reconcilable. Leonard and Gallagher think that this was heavily a result of police activity — I’m not so convinced. DH Wright obviously played a sinister and toxic role in destroying fragile attempts at unity. But (for my part) I think that overcoming political difference would have taking more time than anyone was willing to give the party building process. In any case, it is simply wrong to imply that the RU/RCP initiated its party building process by launching “assaults” — the disagreements came after protracted (two years) of hope-inspiring attempts that crashed. (I won’t go into other claims in the comment by Enaemaehkiw Thupaq Kesiqnaeh, but lets just say: line by line it is an uninformed repeat of untrue claims.)

    I urge everyone to read this book, Heavy Radicals — i think there is much to gain from it, and a whole larger discussion to be had about what to learn from the New Communist MOvement of the 1960s.

  5. Com. Ely may not wish to discuss the other points i raised (does he choose not to recognize the RCP’s brazen racism in its attack on Russ Means, eventual self-criticism not-withstanding?) however, the nature of the RU/RCP’s break with the BWC and the PRRWO has been discussed a number of other times in the decades since.

    For example, the “Statement on the Merger of the Bay Area Communist Union into the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters” from September 1979 notes:

    “In time, an ultra-left line emerged within the RU and came to dominate its thinking and practice. By 1974, it had become consolidated within the organization and was the basis for the sectarian proposal to the National Liaison Committee (RU, The Black Workers Congress, and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization) to quickly form a “new communist party” before others beat them to the punch. It was also the basis of the chauvinist and false campaign against the “bundism” of the BWC and PPRWO, launched when these organizations refused to follow the RU’s baton. In the course of this campaign, the RU reversed its earlier correct position upholding the independent revolutionary potential of the Black national movement, adopting much of the same sort of line it had boldly criticized in struggling against the Progressive Labor Party previously.”

    Others, such as Com. Greg Jackson of the Black Autonomy Federation have also discussed this (see his long circulated article “Mythology of the White-Led “Vanguard”: A Critical Look at the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA” from which my initial mention of the RCP & BWC/PRRWO was more or less quoted)

    So yes, it is true, as Com. Ely noted that the RU/RCP did indeed attempt to work with the BWC and PRRWO in the NLC. That however does not change the ultimate social-colonial and White chauvanist nature of the incipient RCP’s attack on them.

  6. @Enaemaehkiw: The book does deal with the break with the BWC and the PRRWO and the theoretical gymnastics the RU/RCP engaged in to switch its line. The reason I was unable to deal with it in this review (which was limited to 1600 words) is because it’s more complex due to the fact that a lot of the split was exacerbated by DH Wright, the representative in this context, who said and did pretty toxic things in this context things that apparently violated the RU/RCP’s CC position and created divisions rather than unity. The authors suggest DH Wright might have been an agent, but also admit he might have just been a shitty sectarian, but in any case there’s a lot about this, and other things, that I wasn’t able to cover in the review. Yes, I would agree that part of the RU/RCP’s negative internal life has to do with aspects of settlerism/eurocentrism, but this is bigger than the RU/RCP and has to do with a longer history of the left, but that did crop up in the NCM to its detriment––something I plan to get into with my review of Biel’s revised *Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement* which is precisely about this.

    @Mike: a review is limited by the book and the truncated form caused by word strictures. The phrase about Hinton that used RU/RCP was due to the fact that, after the authors mentioned Hinton was a member of the RU, there was no mention of the precise date when he exited. The comment about there being no more founding members was imprecise: what I meant was the people the book cites as the key founding members (Hamilton, Bergman, Avakian, Franklin). Finally, my comments about Bergman’s “nuanced” line is also, since this is a review, based on the material: the book claims his position was initially more nuanced, and not the way in which it was characterized (and cites evidence in this regard) as “pro-Deng”, but became decidedly less nuanced as the debate persisted (I axed mention to it losing its supposed nuance, just as I axed a lot of other things, when I was editing down the draft), and if this is incorrect then so be it but it still the position taken by the book, and I was reviewing the book not trying to comment on historical details that I wouldn’t know otherwise.

  7. JMP writes: “I would agree that part of the RU/RCP’s negative internal life has to do with aspects of settlerism/eurocentrism,”

    Honestly, I would be very curious to hear this elaborated in some detail. What “negative internal life” (in particular) are you referring to?

    How was that “life” marked by “settlerism”?

    What are the facts here? And how (exactly) do you have a sense of what that “internal life” was like?

    And I say that, obviously, as someone who went though that “internal life” in various places and in all its various stages of development.

    First, let me say that, in contrast to other early communist groups, the “internal life” of the RU was quite on the positive side.

    It is well known, and documented, that at a certain poiint, the RU adopted a position that gay people could not be members. Before that, the RU (in my area) recruited gay and bisexual people out of the local Gay Liberation Front. And this over time let to a practice of “red closet” that was obviously painful and wrong for those targeted. And (as part of our summation of the RU/RCP we have worked to excavate that history, and set the record straight.)


    At the time, this was also the “internal life” of all the other communist groups (with the notable exception of the Workers World Party — who quite early and admirably recognized the importance and radical potential of the struggle for LBGT rights).

    However, if we are talking about other aspects of “internal life” — I’d like (again) to ask, what exactly are we talking about?

    For example: The process of “going up to the party” in the RU (the debate, the strategic discussions, the democratic forms used) were quite positive in 1975. I participated in various ways (writing papers, attending a regional conference, etc.) And there was a lot to admire and uphold about that process.

    (Though, unfortunately, I think that the line that emerged, in 1975, to mark that new party was several notches to the right of where it should have been, and represented a kind of onesided workerism that misread the times and the contradictoins. But that is a question of overall line, not “internal life.”)

    And let me say, as communist active in various alliances with other groups, our “internal life” was quite an improvement over those of our close allies. For example, the Black Panther Party applied physical punishment in responses to breaches of discipline. In various areas, members were punished by beatings, or confinement to closets. In one notorious case (in Chicago) a Panther (later exposed as a key police agent) build an electric chair — to administer shocks and punishment to members.

    So, in the primitive movement of the time, there was (as we all could see) a kind of “internal life” lifted from the “Lumpen” scene that cropped up (occasionally) within the other movements around us.

    I sat in a “fund raising meeting” in 1972, where we debated how to get the money together for an important project, and someone stood up (from another organization) and announced: “Give me those five sisters over there for an evening, and I will raise all the money we need.” So let me suggest that the “internal life” of that man’s organization was probably a bit different from our own!

    And if we are talking about the BWC and PRRWO, in this context, I know (for a fact) that you would find an “internal life” that became more and more troubling. They went on (from 1974) to form a allied formation called “the Revolutionary Wing” that descended into a kind of madness. They ran off most of their members in an intense, unending internal witchhunt for “conciliators” — and applied a system of criticism that (at least at times) included shaving peoples heads and forcing them to sit in freezing bath water.

    My point is not to negate ANY of these groups — who overall made significant contributions. Certainly we all know that the Panthers’ heyday were a uniquely successful moment of revolutionary politics in the U.S. — which is rich in lessons for us today.

    But if you want to critique the RU’s “internal life” (without really knowing a thing about it) — especially in the context of the movement of THAT time…. let me just suggest that you are opening a historical can of worms that will quickly suggest a much more complex reality.

    BWC and PRRWO were very important political formations. The attempt to unite in 1974 was (I believe) the most important and promising moment of the New Communist Movement. And I believe the inability to unite (to form a genuinely communist and multi-national party) was a tragic and missed opportunity. And (if we are going to dig into it) I think (with the advantage of hindsight) that the only possible way of avoiding failure would have been to adopt a much more protracted and patient process of regroupment — including common work and comradely discussoin over several years.

    However, anyone who wants to reduce the problems of 1974 into a cartoon shadow play (where the BWC and PRRWO were merely defending themselves from some kind of invented “settler” assault) don’t understand the issues, and don’t understand how primitive and flawed ALL the players were. This was a very early attempt of regroupment by organizations that were (themselves) very new, undeveloped, and conflicted.

    And again: these are complex events that happened rather long ago. And we should have the nuance and sophistication not to think that understanding them is easy or quick….

    There are no quick easy roads to truths. I urge dialectics, more dialectics. and some materialist respect for facts and complexity.

  8. JMP, my point above was not to rip you for factual errors or mistaken verdicts. It was something different: I was pointing out how difficult it is to avoid such errors when dealing with historical events — especially when they deal with little-documented matters, and when they describe events that unfolded in semi-secret (and both the FBI disruptions and the RU/RCP campaigns were carried out quietly.)

    Still it is valuable to get it right — especially on the larger, more cardinal matters. I.e. is there any evidence that the RCP infiltrated at the highest level? And if so, does that suggest that communist security culture is self-deception?

    There is a whole generation of communists whose sense of “combating the political police professionally” (Lenin’s description) is very primitive — and one of the political line questions involved is the (false) verdict that “there is nothing you can do, so why pretend.”

    Also, I just want to repeat that I appreciate the book deeply — I think it is a sincere, constructive and quite thoughtful excavation of a much neglected experience. If I have disagreements with the authors on this-or-that point, well that is natural and part of the ongoing discussion that the book’s authors have now stimulated.

    And I appreciate your effort to publicize the book, and inform radical audiences that it exists.

    With that in mind, let me respond to a few particular points you made in response:

    JMP writes “@Mike: a review is limited by the book and the truncated form caused by word strictures.”

    I suspect that you will recognize that it is not true. My review of Heavy Radicals will not be limited by the book — and quite often reviewers do the work of research to be able to evaluate a book’s verdicts and documentation.

    You want to repeat that Leibel wanted a “nuanced” position on the Chinese coup? Well then where is his “nuanced” document? It doesn’t exist. At the central committee meeting that debated the events in China, the opponents of the coup presented detailed and sophisticated analysis. The supporters of the coup presented the habits of the old Communist movement: Whatever comes out of the Father party, whoever wins, whatever they say — we should bow to their authority. It was a very unnuanced point of view that could be (and was) expressed in a paragraph. And this can be confirmed by stepping outside of “the book” for a second, and just looking at the available documents.

    JMP writes: ” The phrase about Hinton that used RU/RCP was due to the fact that, after the authors mentioned Hinton was a member of the RU, there was no mention of the precise date when he exited.”

    I suspect the authors don’t know when he exited, or what the line questions were. His membership was never publicly announced, and his leaving was never documented in print.

    JMP writes: “The comment about there being no more founding members was imprecise: what I meant was the people the book cites as the key founding members (Hamilton, Bergman, Avakian, Franklin).”

    Your phrase is a minor inaccuracy, and my point is simply that it is hard to “get things right” without doing the real work. (And that our co-thinkers generally should learn to be cautious about drawing superficial conclusions after reading one book, or one document.)

    Here you confront the fact that people often assume that the public faces associated with a revolutionary organization are the core of its leadership. Quite often that is not true, and a serious revolutionary organization should (for reasons that I assume are obvious) have central leaders who are not known publicly.

    JMP” Finally, my comments about Bergman’s “nuanced” line is also, since this is a review, based on the material: the book claims his position was initially more nuanced, and not the way in which it was characterized (and cites evidence in this regard) as “pro-Deng”, but became decidedly less nuanced as the debate persisted.”

    I won’t repeat my comment (above) that a reviewer is not constrained by the material being reviewed, and more, that it is a bit naive to promote specific claims by a book (and assume that they were true).

    Let me get into a different matter: You are (unintentionally) confusing two things.

    1) Did Leibel enter the disagreement over China’s class struggle with a demand for a “nuanced” position? The answer there is no. Leibel was an advocate of adopting the Comintern “package” whole-cloth, and one of the defining(and less-admirable) features of that package was a long habit of mindless “whateverism.”

    2) Was Leibel’s position simply “pro-Dengist”? Meaning: Should we be nuanced in describing what their position actually was. And of course, we should be fair and precise in descibing what their position was.

    The counterrevolutionary coup of 1976 was carried out by a set of leading figures determined to reverse the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolutoin, and end Mao’s political approach to continuing revolution. Who were they? Well, first, of course was Hua who, after Mao’s death, became the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. He was a weak figure who had previously played little national role in the intense class struggles. Behind him was Ye Jianying, then the head of the military, and the central figure of the coup.

    Where was Deng in this? He had been removed from posts in 1974 (after a major counterrevolutionary incident where the demand for the coup was made in public).

    So, in one sense, one can say that Leibel (and his circle) were AT THAT MOMENT “pro-Huaist.” Including (importantly) they promoted Hua’s (rather paper thin) claims that it was Hua and the coup-makers who were really following Mao’s path.

    There is a famous moment, right after the coup, where some people noticed Deng sitting in a Beijing restaurant, and asked him what he thought they should do. Deng quipped “Keep criticizing Deng Xiaoping.” In other words, for the time being, he urged the coupmakers to pretend to be pursuing Mao’s path, as they consolidated power, as they jailed the Maoists, as they went though the PLA unit by unit.

    Then, in December 1978, the pretense started to just fade away, and Deng Xiaoping (the notorious co-target of the Cultural revolution and author of the state capitalist “4 modernizations” program) was openly reinstated at the height of power. He had been, in ways documented and undocumented, the power behind the new government.

    What was the position of Leibel and the RWH on the reemergence of this notorious revisionist at the height of power? They pursued their “whateverist” policy — they embraced it, they justified it, they pooh-poohed any concerns about “the capitalist road” — as the peoples communes were dismantled, as agricutlure was re-privatized, as the worker militia were disbanded, and as (more and more openly) the post-coup government openly rejected any pretense of following Mao’s road of continuing the revolutoin.

    So let’s be precise: At the time of the coup, Leibel was pro-Huaist. When Hua was discarded by the real power in china, Leibel (and his organization) became pro-Deng. Now (to be nuanced) it was a big problem for them when the Chinese government started openly dismantling socialism, denouncing Mao, reversing verdicts. All over the world, pro-coup forces (who had once been part of the Maoist movement) fell into confusion, disarray, and (above all) silence. And they crumbled as organizations.

    Some of them (to their credit) started to call out the more and more open restoration of capitalism. Bill Hinton (who had fallen into some of the worst revisionist madness about a world alliance with U.S. imperialism) suddenly reversed his own verdicts — and wrote a series of scathing analyses documenting the destruction of socialist relations after 1978.

    Leibel himself fell silent, was sick with the disease of alcoholism and died — and I am not aware what his views ultimately ended up being. But his circle both upheld the coup, and generally tried to uphold Mao, Hua and Deng (in a confused and contradictory mix, that is not so different from the revisionist Chinese party today). Some of them ultimately had to concede that troubling capitalist elements were in power in china (though I don’t think they say clearly “how” that happened), and some of them think that China is still socialist (I met one of them for the first time this month at the Left Forum and had a fascinating discussion of how someone can still justify all that.)

    So….. to sum up:

    Leibel’s approach to china was anything but nuanced: It was classic Comintern “whateverism.” You were trained to have a rubber mind, and switch views quickly to conform to “whatever” came out of Moscow, and then (after 1963) out of Beijing.

    We, on the other hand, should have a nuanced view of Leibel’s trajectory: It *started* as a support for the brutal military coup by Hua Guofeng and Ye Jianying, and then (by 1978) shifted to begrudging justification of Deng’s emergence at the power-center of the post-coup state.

    It was a wrong, and frankly counterrevolutoinary position. It promoted a method that hated critical thinking. When we (at the time of the split) would seek to engage and debate those alligned with Leibel, what stood out was that they were incapable of debating the issues…. they didn’t know anything about China, or the coup, or the core issues of capitalist restoration in the twentieth century…. The split was a kind of “voting with your feet” over what kind of communist movement we were going to have. And on the side of the RWH there was a remarkable mindlessness, and blindered focus on the trade union day to day.

    My best childhood friend (David Sullivan, who is mentioned extensively in Heavy Radicals) went with the RWH, and in my last exasperated discussion with him (in 1977), he blurted out “What’s so wrong with allying in various ways with U.S. imperialism?” (literally, those were his exact words). And I realized that he and I were on very very different roads. The difference was not that subtle or nuanced…. see?

    JMP writes: “I was reviewing the book not trying to comment on historical details that I wouldn’t know otherwise.”

    Sure. I understand that. But many people will (like you) be reading the book and not have any way of judging these events OTHER than what they draw from that account. That’s why I’m injecting a discussion that is NOT based on “the book” but on the reality we are all seeking to sum up.

    This is not mainly about “historical details” — it is about “how do you make revolution? In China? In the U.S.?” And, importantly, what lessons can we learn from how the RU/RCP dealt with the criminal FBI repression and disinformation?

    Thanks for engaging with me in this comradely exchange.

  9. Very interesting review of what seems like a very interesting book, and interesting comments posted above also.

    I don’t know if people are aware of it in North America, but the work of Bob Avakian is known internationally amongst what may be called the Maoist left. Bob Avakian’s proposals and work were discussed, with much disagreement, among the RIM parties and groups. I have met, somewhat to my surprise, people in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka who all know Avakian’s work and have read his books. CC members and intellectuals of both Indian and Nepali Maoist parties have written developed criticisms and polemics with the RCP USA over a number of years. These polemics and line struggles are also worth looking at.

  10. “The second lesson is that we might have more to learn from the anti-revisionist New Communist Movement than the New Left, since the former actually produced a larger movement than the latter. I would argue, though similar histories have yet to be written, that the New Communist Movement in other countries also possess a rich and valuable, but no less tragic, trajectory.”

    In fact, I believe we still have much more to learn from the history of the RU/RCP.

    Viewing the history of the RU/RCP from the angle of the FBI’s (not so) secret war, is both an advantage and a disadvantage. I would be interested in a fuller exploration of the years in which the RU worked with and had respectful relationships with a variety of other NCM organizations, and I think an entire book could be written about the various written vehicles used by the RU including the variety of newspapers across the country led by RU members, the gradual consolidation of those papers into a national newspaper, the theoretical journals including Red Papers, and even the posters used by the RU/RCP.

    And as has been stated above, the RCP has continued after 1980 with a great deal of practice to discuss.

    Of course, I agree that much more could be written and learned from the histories of other organizations in the NCM.

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