Skip to main content

In Defense of Avakian and the Revcoms 

Part 2: Against Neo-McCarthyism and More

Editors’ note: This article by Paul Street, historian and author, originally appeared on January 25, 2024, at The Paul Street Report. Part 1 of the series is available here

Speakers at the New York City IWD-RiseUp4AbortionRights rally.

 

Leading Revcom Sunsara Taylor in the middle (fifth from the left) with Lori Sokol and other activists with the despicably red-baited abortion rights organization Rise Up for Abortion Rights   

Dear Readers: This is a continuation from the three-part series I started three days ago. In this and in Part 3 (next week), I respond to each of the left attacks on the RCP and Avakian listed in Part 1. If you have not read Part 1 yet, you probably should do so before reading the current installment. I always expect a fair amount left bitching, snarking, condescension, and horror when I mention Avakian and the Revcoms. It’s sad and stupid but then so is much of “the left,” whose many and interrelated afflictions I have discussed at length here and on my personal Website.

Responding to Bullshit

I am not devoid of any criticisms of “BA” and the RCP. For example, to mention an empirical difference, I question the frequency with which some Revcoms portray the naturally imperfect US Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as someone who thought that revolutionary activism was “suicide” (See my 2018 CounterPunch essay “Dr. King’s Long Assassination” for a picture of late Dr. King [1967-68] as more radical than this portrayal suggests). Over the last five years, however, I’ve become sufficiently familiar with Avakian and the Revcoms’ work and activism to confidently report that the left snarks and denunciations listed in Part 1 are baseless, slanderous, ignorant, and worse. Below I take on a handful of the left attacks, some of which carry a strong whiff of ugly neo-McCarthyism. Part 3 (up tomorrow I hope) takes on a concluding group of (I think shitty) left digs and jabs at Avakian and the Revcoms. 

Cancel-Culturing Avakian on Ancient Self-Repudiated Positions

Re: “Avakian was ass backward on gay rights up until the 90s and took awful positions in the past, like opposing the Boston bussing plan… He opposed the bussing plan b/c he thought it was an affront to (white) working class unity” (see Part 1). 

Please. Avakian’s originally poor position on gay rights, a position he dropped decades ago, was commonplace on the US and global left into the 1990s. Singling him out for an ancient “bad take” that was widespread across radical and progressive circles is creepy, especially when nobody has criticized that original position more harshly than Avakian himself. The RCP led by Avakian wrote a thorough critique of their mistakes on homosexuality and gay rights, which were errors of the entire international communist movement at the time. This repeated dig on Avakian reeks of bourgeois-liberal cancel culture at its most vile

The Boston episode was half a century ago. Avakian has long renounced the RCP’s original position on the Boston bussing program. The “bad take” brought about a split in the party, with those who led the opposition to bussing leaving the group and trying to remove Avakian! At the same time, it is either ignorant or disingenuous to suggest racism (“working class [white] unity”) on Avakian’s part in connection with that or any other episode. Avakian came to radical politics in no small part thanks to his relationships with Black people and through his association with the Black Panthers for fuck’s sake. Militant anti-racism has always been a core aspect of his political life and the RCP’s program. The RCP places critical emphasis on anti-racism, saying “racism and capitalism, you can’t defeat one without defeating the other” (the Revcoms say the same thing about patriarchy). The Revcoms grant a special role to the revolutionary potential of the inner-city nonwhite masses “who catch the worst Hell” inside the US under capitalism-imperialism. The RCP recruits and locates key offices in non-white communities (e.g. Harlem in New York and South Shore in Chicago) and has many nonwhite members.

“Not Worth the Trouble”’s Translation: Disdainful Intellectual Laziness

Re: “The list of Avakian's bad takes is long and not worth the trouble.”

The sneering statement that “the long list of Avakian’s bad takes is long and not worth the trouble” is emblematic of the simultaneously contemptuous and indolent nature of how many left thinkers respond to Avakian’s writing, speeches, and activism. “Not worth the trouble” sums it up quite well. It is mean-spirited cover for ignorance and laziness. “The long list of Avakian’s bad takes” doesn’t really exist, but it would require a bit of work (“trouble”) to concoct such a list so constructing one would be “not worth the trouble.” An honest and well-researched appraisal of Avakian’s “takes” would uncover a long list of good and revolutionary positions but finding that out would involve mental effort that reflexively anti-communist and anti-revolutionary left thinkers don’t want to make, especially when it might involve dealing with Avakian’s dead-on critiques of left delusions. A comment my old history professor Carl Parrini used to make to students back in the day seems germane here: “read a book, you might learn something.” I will make some recommendations on where to start in Part 3. 

“Historically Very Reactionary”

Re: “The RCP has historically been very reactionary. If they changed, it's because they HAD to change to stay relevant.”

Wait, hold on: an explicitly communist party that has consistently called for socialist revolution and nothing less for half a century is “historically very reactionary”? That’s on par with saying that “2 plus 2 has historically equaled 5” and “love has historically been hate.” It’s straight out of the virulent anti-communist snitch George Orwell’s 1984. And it is arrogant to pretend to know that Avakian and the RCP changed their positions (long ago) on homosexuality and the Boston bussing plan not because of any genuine alteration in perspective but only to “stay relevant.” How on Earth do the accusers claim to know that? Do they have mysterious retrospective mind-reading powers? And wouldn’t any group that wished to shape history make changes if that was required to try to stay relevant?!

“A Leftish Cult”

The “cult” charge is a common reflexive “left” dig against the RCP. It is part of the neo-McCarthyite COINTELPRO-like slander that many on the left have embraced vis-a-vis the RCP. It provides an easy way of ignoring not just Avakian’s work but the excellent up-to-date reporting, commentary, agitating, and organizing advanced by the RCP on its Website, on its weekly YouTube show, out in the streets, and in its organizing centers and bookstores. Just say “cult” and you don’t have to dig into the RCP’s critique of the existing order — and of what I have called “the lame left.”

The “cult” accusation advances the idiotic and insulting idea that the RCP’s acknowledgement and promotion of Avakian as their intellectual and programmatic leader isn’t actually about his work and a real commitment to revolutionary communism. No, the slanderous charge runs, the RCP is, to quote a standard dictionary definition of “cult,” “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object” — toward Avakian. By this take, whatever Avakian might say, no matter how outlandish, would immediately become gospel among his brain-dead worshippers — his “thought slaves.” Avakian could suddenly convert to right-wing Christianity or Confucianism and Revcoms would follow him over to their “new church,” right? This has nothing to with the actual members and friends of the RCP, which include the smartest, most well-read, and up-to-date independent thinkers and activists I’ve met over more than four decades on the US “radical left.” 

“Maoist”

The term is hurled at the RCP as an insult as if it is (absurdly) understood in advance that a real leftist automatically rejects the Mao Zedong-led Chinese communist revolution of 1949-1976 and knows nothing about that revolution’s remarkable achievements in the face of imperial encirclement and hostility (including opposition from the post-socialist Soviet Union). While the Avakian-led RCP emerged as a technically Maoist party in the 1970s, anyone who bothers to look can find significant critiques of Mao in Avakian’s writings, including criticism of “class truth” (see Part 3, forthcoming) as a mistaken tendency in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and of Mao’s realpolitik foreign policy in the 1970s. (Mao, Stalin and even Lenin and Marx have not escaped critical scrutiny in Avakian’s writing and speeches, which have been consistently opposed to dogma, sacred cows, and the cultish veneration of Dear Leaders.)

On “Alignment” and “Front Group” Talk — Nice

Re:Why do you align with Revcoms and by connection with its front-groups Refuse Fascism and Rise Up for Abortion Rights.?” (paraphrasing and combining two criticisms listed in Part 1). 

Refuse Fascism Anyone?

Holy shit. The left denunciation of Refuse Fascism as an RCP “front group” (see Part 1) ought to raise alarms. That’s left neo-McCarthyism applied to a group that has been far ahead of most of “the left” when it comes to identifying and opposing US-American fascism/Republi-fascism in this century. Wikipedia accurately reports that:

“Refuse Fascism was formed by a broad ad-hoc coalition of leftists, liberals, intellectuals, artists, and activists including members of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), after the 2016 election. The RCP has said they issued the call to action which launched the group. Responding to the call, an emergency meeting which officially launched the group was convened at the Great Hall at Cooper Union in New York City, featuring speeches from Sunsara Taylor, Immortal Technique, PZ Myers, Carl Dix, and Jeremy Scahill, among others. Statements of support were sent from Gloria Steinem and Chase Iron Eyes.”

Anti-communist “front group” accusations from “the left” should not be taken lightly (see my comments on the vicious “left” redbaiting of Rise up for Abortion Rights below). Please go to Refusefascism.org and sample some among their remarkable number of deeply informative podcasts detailing, debating, interpreting, and otherwise tackling the grave social and political issues of our time. An indispensable source of information and analysis as the United States stands on the precipice of neo-fascist political consolidation in 2024-25, the RF podcast has featured a wide array of non-communist, non-radical, progressive, liberal, and even centrist voices including well known thinkers like Jason Stanley, Jeff Sharlet, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Dahila Lithwick, and Mark Joseph-Stern among many others. 

How about we all refuse fascism regardless of who did and didn’t form RF? Lefties might want to appreciate the remarkable extent to which current events are proving the accuracy of Avakian’s longstanding warnings about an incipient Amerikaner fascism while validating RF’s original position in spades. Having just consolidated his position atop the Republi-fascist Party with sweeping caucus and primary victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Cuz the Militia Guys with AR-15s Don’t Want to Hurt Me” Trump is making little effort to hide his fascist sentiments. He is openly channeling Hitler in public statements that get a shocking pass from his own party, including all his top and easily vanquished contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. 

Trump’s 2024 campaign rallies open with singing by incarcerated January 6 rioters, who he calls “patriots” and promises to pardon once he returns to power. Trump vows to crush political enemies, who he calls “Marxist vermin,” to suppress independent media and to deploy the military to quash protest. He tells his fascist hate rallies that he will be their “retribution,” their vengeance, and that he wants to deport all socialists, Marxists, and communists from the country. He absurdly calls the capitalist-imperialist Democrats “radical left” and ludicrously claims that the Marxist “radical left” has taken over the American educational system.

Trump has called for the extra-judicial execution of suspected shoplifters. His campaign pledges to build giant concentration camps for “illegal” migrants and asylum-seekers. He says his former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair should have been executed for reassuring China that the US would not start a nuclear war after January 6. Trump promises to invade Mexico and says he wants to be a “dictator for one day” (whatever the F that means) because “I want to build the wall and drill, drill, drill.”

Trump mimics Mein Kampf by claiming that non-white immigrants are spoiling white American pedigree and stock — “poisoning our blood.” Also flat-out Hitlerian is Trump’s palingenetic nationalist “stabbed in the back” rhetoric claiming that the biggest threat to the “greatness of America” is “internal” — the supposedly “radical Left Democrats”/ “vermin.” After calling socialists and communists “vermin” in New Hampshire last month, Trump further represented the spirit of Hitler and Mussolini saying that “The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within.”

What do you do with “vermin”? You exterminate them. It’s an eliminationist word choice with full-on genocidal implications particularly in light of Hitler and the Nazis’ use of the term to justify the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, the federal judiciary from the Supreme Court down is stocked with Christian fascist Trump appointees, the 2024 Senate election lineup favors Republi-fascist takeover of the nation’s upper legislative chamber, and 20-plus “red”/Trumpist states make revanchist policy in abject defiance of majority national opinion on numerous key policy matters including abortion rights, gun safety, voting rights, and the right of children and young adults to receive proper schooling about racism and sexism in American history and society past and present. 

The Republi-fascist majority in the US House has just collaborated with bipartisan Zionists to force the resignation to two presidents of elite ruling class Ivy League universities (Penn and Harvard) on false charges of anti-Semitism.

The demented Christian Republi-fascist/Trumpist governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, is openly defying the Biden White House and even the majority Christian Fascist US Supreme Court, producing a Little Rock (1957) or even a Fort Sumter (1861)-like moment along the Rio Grande. In a remarkable act of neo-Nullification, Abbott has ordered the Texas Military Department to continue to refuse US Border Patrol access to Eagle Pass, a section of the border where Texan authorities have strung up deadly razor wire to block “illegal” immigrant migrants and where those authorities have coldly let a migrant mother and her two children drown. Abbott’s determination to up the level of racist and nativist bloodshed in open rebellion against Washington could spark an armed conflict between “states’ rights” fascism (which draws on a racist tradition dating back to Black chattel slavery and the Civil War) and the US Department of Homeland Security — this while Trump has ordered the Republi-fascist-controlled US House to block any bipartisan deals with Biden on “border security,” no matter how reactionary. 

“Texas will not back down,” Herr Abbott X’d five days ago. As the smart liberal Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch writes:

 “It felt like no coincidence that Abbott’s tough talk came on the same day his party’s wannabe dictator, Donald Trump, won a commanding victory in the bellwether New Hampshire primary that all but ensured him the GOP nomination this summer…Republican voters in the Granite State ranked immigration their number one issue (it is a border state ... with Canada), and Team Trump along with Abbott seem eager to milk a fascist-style war against these brown-skinned ‘invaders’ between now and November…The small-d democratic institutions that could at least ameliorate this humanitarian crisis at the southern border are failing, miserably. None more so than Congress, stymied by the GOP’s ability to thwart legislation. Biden has worked to forge a compromise that would adopt some of the Republicans’ more draconian strategies, in return for gains like more immigration judges to handle asylum cases and quicker work permits for refugees. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told a closed-door caucus that Trump has told his GOP allies to block any positive action at the border that might aid Biden. Apparently, more bloated corpses will boost the party’s odds in November… equally concerning …is the incredibly shrinking Supreme Court. Constitutional scholars seemed shocked that four of the court’s six conservative justices would side with Abbott on what should have been a slam-dunk unanimous case for federal authority on the border. It bodes poorly for the rest of 2024, when the high court will be making life-or-death-for-democracy decisions about Trump’s many legal tangles.”

Hmm…were Avakian and the Revcoms perhaps on to something when they warned about the rise of a US version of fascism rooted in a toxic mixture of capitalism-imperialism, white supremacism, male supremacism, hyper-nationalist American supremacism and fundamentalist Christianity in 2016 (and going back to the 1990s in Avakian’s case)?! I’ll have much more to say on that topic in future issues of The Paul Street Report. In the meantime, would any leftists like to Refuse Fascism?

The Loathsome Red-Baiting of RU4AR

Speaking of neo-McCarthyite “front group” charging, just one of Rise up for Abortion Rights (RU4AR) three founding members, Sunsara Taylor, was a Revcom. The other two founders — Lori Sokol and the legendary New York City-based abortion services provider and abortion rights activist Merle Hoffman — are leading non-communist feminists. Ms. Hoffman is openly skeptical of revolution, which she identifies with “toxic utopianism,” but rightly agrees with Taylor that the Republican assault on women’s right to an abortion is a Christian Fascist campaign to impose the ”female enslavement” of “forced motherhood” and that serious resistance to this effort required flooding the streets and public squares with masses of outraged people who reject “business as usual.” RU4AR quickly emerged as the leading force calling for militant mass resistance to the well-telegraphed Dobbs v Jackson ruling. RU4AR’s action-backed criticism of the cringing denialism, electoralism, legalism, and direct-service-ism of the Democratic Party-captive “choice” establishment led to RU4AR being viciously slandered, COINTELPRO-style, by that establishment and its friends in left and liberal media. I exposed and countered this despicable left hit-job (whose signatories included a chapter of the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America for God’s sake) last year (see Paul Street, “Why is ‘the Left’ Red-Baiting Rise Up for Abortion Rights on the Eve of Fascist Destruction,” Counterpunch, August 1, 2022.) The neo-McCarthyite assault on Rise Up provided sick cover for the liberal choice “movement’s” failure to properly demand that the patriarchal Biden administration respond to the Dobbs decision by using its real power to provide free, safe, and legal abortions on federal properties and via the federal postal system in all 50 states. One need not be a communist or any other kind of radical to join RU4AR in condemning the mainstream “choice” establishment’s decision to reject mass action and to lamely play along with the Biden Democrats’ cynical determination (evident even before the well-telegraphed and in fact leaked ruling) to use the Dobbs decision as a get-out-the-vote weapon (“Roevember”) for the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Quoting as “Aligning”

The ripping of me by “leftists” for RCP “alignment” because I have on occasion quoted and cited the Revcoms and Avakian on CounterPunch and The Paul Street Report is telling. I’ve probably quoted the “anarchist” Noam Chomsky more than one hundred times in my writing over the last quarter century. Do I therefore align with Chomsky? Sometimes yes, as with his powerful, voluminous, and detailed critiques of US imperialism past and present and his excellent empirical work (with the late Edward S. Herman) on the role of US corporate media in the “manufacture of mass consent” to US imperialism. I “align” with Chomsky when (for example) he calls Donald Trump “the most dangerous criminal in history,” when Chomsky points out that US backing for the genocidal occupation and apartheid state of Israel is about the strategic interests of US imperialism and not just the Israel Lobby, when Chomsky says that capitalist corporations are fundamentally pathological institutions, and when Chomsky notes that US-led NATO imperialism provoked Vladimir Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine.

Sometimes no, as when Chomsky has in recent years oddly refused to call the obviously fascist Trump fascist (that has hopefully changed with Trump’s rhetoric having gone openly Hitlerian [see below]), when he has exaggerated the working-class composition of the Trump base (something the monumentally moronic New York Times columnist David Brooks keeps doing), when he has repeatedly identified as an “anarchist”/“libertarian socialist” (Affliction #9 in my 2023 “Lame Left” series), when he upholds the absence of charisma as a left virtue, when he absurdly calls Lenin a “counterrevolutionary,” when he says it is bad-because-“authoritarian” to make bold pronouncements on what is to be done, and when he ends up advocating a reformist and social democratic politics despite his anarchist values. I “align,” yes, with Frederick Engels and others in the revolutionary communist tradition who oppose frankly childish anarchist and workerist delusions about skipping straight to the abolition of authority and state power without the intervening forces of a revolutionary party, a revolution, and a socialist state equipped to defeat counterrevolution1

“Anti-Democratic”

Avakian and the RCP have been consistent longtime critics of formalistic Western bourgeois/capitalist-imperialist democracy. They simultaneously point out that bourgeois democracy is a superstructural cloak for an underlying many-sided capitalist class dictatorship, that a revolutionary socialist dictatorship of the proletariat would be far more egalitarian and in line with real popular sovereignty than bourgeois democracy at its best, that revolutions involve no small amount of authoritarianism (inherent in the taking, keeping, and wielding of state power for socialist purposes) and that a communist-led socialist revolutionary government must be prepared to reject majority opinion if necessary on core matters like example, socialist state ownership and control of core economic institutions and (of critical existential significance in a time of rapidly escalating capitalogenic global warming) keeping fossil fuels in the ground.1

 

_______________

Endnote to Part 2:

1. Regarding anarchism/“libertarian socialism,” revolution, “democracy,” and authoritarianism, Frederick Engels said it very well in 1872, in a passage that Avakian has approvingly quoted: "A number of Socialists have lately launched a regular crusade against what they call the principle of authority. It suffices to tell them that this or that act is authoritarian for it to be condemned... the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. ..Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?...Therefore, either one of two things: either the anti-authoritarians don't know what they're talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reaction."

Avakian’s 1986 book Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? is a major work of Marxist political theory asserting that “there is something far more subversive, something far more liberating, than democracy.” Avakian argues that:

democracy is not an end in itself but a means to an end; it is part of the superstructure of society and conforms to and serves a particular economic base; it arises in certain historical conditions and is generally associated with the bourgeois epoch, it never exists in abstract or pure form but always has a definite class character and is conditioned by the fundamental relations between classes; and, finally, democracy has a distinctive role to play in the socialist transition period but will wither away, with the state, with the achievement of communism, and be replaced by qualitatively higher forms of political organization and participation.”

 

 

Help Make 2024 Our Year—a Year of Revolution! 
Donate to Revcom.us

From the genocide in Gaza, to the growing threat of world war between nuclear powers, to escalating environmental devastation… the capitalist-imperialist system ruling over us is a horror for billions around the world and is tearing up the fabric of life on earth. Now the all-out battle within the U.S. ruling class, between fascist Republicans and war criminal Democrats, is coming to a head—likely during, or before, the coming elections—ripping society apart unlike anything since the Civil War. 

Bob Avakian (BA), revolutionary leader and author of the new communism, has developed a strategy to prepare for and make revolution. He’s scientifically analyzed that this is a rare time when an actual revolution has become more possible, and has laid out the sweeping vision, solid foundation and concrete blueprint for “what comes next,” in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America

The website revcom.us follows and applies that leadership and is essential to all this. We post new materials from BA and curate his whole body of work. We apply the science he’s developed to analyze and expose every key event in society, every week. Revcom.us posts BA’s timely leadership for the revcoms (revolutionary communists), including his social media posts which break this down for people every week and sometimes more. We act as a guiding and connecting hub for the growing revcom movement nationwide: not just showing what’s being done, but going into what’s right and what’s wrong and rapidly learning—and recruiting new people into what has to be a rapidly growing force.

Put it this way: there will be no revolution unless this website not only “keeps going” but goes up to a whole different level!

So what should you give to make 2024 our year—a year of revolution? 
Everything you possibly can! 
DONATE NOW to revcom.us and get with BA and the revcoms!    

Your donations contribute to:

  • Promotion of BA on social media and the Bob Avakian Interviews on The RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show 
  • Strengthen revcom.us as an accessible, secure, robust website able to rise to the challenge of meeting the extraordinary demands of navigating the storms and preparing for revolution in this pivotal, unprecedented year
  • Fund revcoms to travel to national “hotspots,” where extreme contradictions are pulling apart the fabric of this country and creating the possibility of wrenching an actual revolution out of this intensifying situation
  • Expand the reach and coverage of revcom.us
  • Printing and distribution of key Revcom materials including the Declaration and Proclamation