Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

“Revolutionary” Student Brigade Holds Conference: Maoists Exhume New Left

First Published: Young Spartacus, #25, September 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Over 400 predominantly student youth from collectives around the country gathered in Iowa City from 15-17 June for the first national convention of the Attica Brigade (there renamed the Revolutionary Student Brigade), which is dominated by the Maoist Revolutionary Union (RU). The convention represented the results of the efforts of the reformist RU in rebuilding a national campus-based youth movement on the attitudes and politics of bankrupt New Leftism.

Exhuming the New Left

The Attica Brigades initially were merely the “anti-imperialist” contingents in the National Peace Action Coalition annual peace crawls of November 1971 and April 1972, in which the RU participated. Seeing in these and subsequent episodic regroupments of sundry New Left-inclined youth the potential for developing a front group of the approximate character of the Third World-period SDS, the RU set about organizing Attica Brigade collectives as the beginning of “an anti-imperialist student organization.”

Raising the call “Rebuild the Student Movement!,” the first issue of the Attica Brigade paper trumpeted:

“We can learn many valuable lessons from the student movement of the ’60’s. The most important is that students are an effective force in the fight against imperialism, both when they fight for their real needs as students, and as spreaders of consciousness to the broad masses of people.” – Fight Back, September-October 1973.

Articles in Fight Back, a substantial section of the single convention document, and the keynote address of the convention (delivered by the dimly eminent former SDS Secretary Clark Kissinger) have been devoted to glorifying the heritage of the “good old” SDS, distorting the opportunist role of the Maoists and villifying the “Progressive Labor Trotskyites.”

Thus, the RU could justify an undisguised return to simple New Left vicarious Third World nationalism as the proclaimed political basis of the Brigade:

“We have two principles of unity. We support all national liberation struggles around the world, as. exemplified by the NLF-PRG of S. Vietnam. And we also support the fight of oppressed people here in the U.S.” – Fight Back, November 1973.

Students and the “Anti-Imperialist United Front”

From the period of its break with anti-communist exclusionism in 1965 until the left-right polarization and split in 1969, SDS represented the broad pole of attraction within a rapidly evolving and widespread student radicalization. The Attica Brigade, however, has been built by the RU in a period of campus political quiescence on the Maoist conception of a student-youth component of the “anti-imperialist united front.” As expressed by RU honcho Bob Avakian in his speech to the convention on “The Role of Students in the Revolutionary Movement,” the Attica Brigade “should not be narrowed down to those who are consciously for proletarian revolution” and Brigaders must “take what they have learned and link up with the masses on the campus, and unite the student movement with the broader mass movement” (as reported in Revolution, July 1974).

Although indeed often highly responsive to heightened social crisis and polarization, the “masses on campus” are a multi-class layer in society which consequently is neither inherently revolutionary nor reactionary.

For this reason the Communist International under Lenin and Trotsky rejected the conception of an intrinsically leftist or “revolutionary student” movement developing spontaneously out of isolated student struggles and independently of the hegemony of the Marxist program. The task of communists is to bring Marxist analysis and the revolutionary program to campus and youth struggles, linking them to the central, class struggle in society and always striving to advance them to conscious political partisanship with the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. To denigrate or suppress the struggle for the Marxist program is to abandon the student movement to petty-bourgeois illusions and bourgeois ideology.

But Maoists reject the fundamental Marxist tenet that the proletariat is the only consistently revolutionary class in capitalist society. The “anti-imperialist united front” is a reformist strategy, like the Communist Party’s “anti-monopoly coalition,” for pursuing class collaboration with “progressive” liberals and for tailing petty-bourgeois nationalists and the “labor lieutenants of capital” in the unions.

The RU is opposed to building the Attica Brigade as a youth organization “consciously for proletarian revolution” in program precisely because the Maoists “unite the student movement with the broader mass movement” on a programmatic basis in which the class independence of the proletariat is suppressed. Furthermore, for Leninists the united front is a tactic with a particular applicability, and not a grandiose strategy for orchestrating “anti-imperialist” or anti-monopoly forces.

The united front draws its class struggle potential from the tension between the maximum mobilization of proletarian forces and the unremitting struggle for the hegemony of the communist program against all the misleaders.

The Deeds of the Attica Brigade

Brigaders claim to “support the fight of oppressed people here in the U.S.” But where does the “anti-imperialist united front” actually lead? On the elementary class question of the cops, the sworn enemies and butchers of the oppressed, the Attica Brigade has opposed the Spartacus Youth League (formerly Revolutionary Communist Youth) demand “Cops Off Campus” in order to preserve its liberal blocs during the Berkeley “Save the Crim School” and the State University of New York at Buffalo “No Guns for Cops” campaigns. Earlier the Brigade students at Buffalo had crossed the class line entirely when they wildly cheered as “allies” some campus cops who were opposed to budget cutbacks only out of concern for “security” funds.

Tailing the anti-communist nationalists of the Third World Coalition (TWC) and Black Studies Department during the fight against budget and program cutbacks at City College of New York (CC, NY), the Attica Brigade has consistently opposed the attempts of the RCY to raise socialist slogans, and again crossed the class line by approving a CP front group-instigated cop intervention into a militant picket line to remove the menace of the RCY’s communist slogans.

Similarly, in the Farah and farmworker strike support committees the Attica Brigade has suppressed all leftwing politics and become water-boys for the sell-out bureaucrats. Exhortations about solidarity with the oppressed farm workers cannot cover the Attica Brigade’s uncritical support to Chavez’ defeatist liberal boycott strategy which has led to the virtual destruction of the union built by the struggle of the farmworkers. Nor do the Brigade’s empty slogans of “solidarity” mean much when it refuses to mention a word of criticism of Chavez’ vicious redbaiting and disgusting support to the government-grower campaign to deport “foreign” Mexican migrant workers.

The “Throw the Bum Out-Organize to Fight” committees, politically based on anti-Nixon liberalism, have demonstrated the complete bankruptcy of the Attica Brigade “mass line.” Now that the bourgeoisie has forced “the Bum” out, the Brigade left with absolutely nothing but the exhortation to “put all the bums on the run.”

And How Does Mao “Fight Back”?

Brigaders likewise claim to stand in solidarity with the oppressed of the world. But whom does Mao’s “anti-imperialist united front” include? Bandaranaike of Ceylon, after butchering thousands of Maoist-inspired youth of the J.V.P. and launching a reign of terror among the peasantry, was invited to Peking to be given a triumphal reception and an interest-free loan of 150 million rupees, and later presented as the people’s leader in Chou En-lai’s laudatory “Message to Mrs. Bandaranaike.”

Similarly, the barbarous genocide and rape of East Bengal in 1971 by Yahya Khan did not diminish in the least the stature of this “progressive” military dictator in Mao’s Hall of Fame.

While the Attica Brigade enthuses over the struggle of the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf (PFLOAG) and the Iranian Student Association, the Shah of Iran, that true friend of China, is crushing the PFLOAG guerrillas and executing Iranian students. Fight Back cowardly asserts that the Shah “can only maintain his fascist rule through huge military and financial support from the U.S.” Yes, but Mao claims that he’s a progressive!

The Attica Brigade supports the struggle in Vietnam by denouncing all reports of “North Vietnamese aggression” as slanderous imperialist lies, thus recognizing the imperialist imposed “peace” as legitimate. Despite the recent intermittent mini-offences, the Vietnamese Stalinists have historically squandered and betrayed the heroism and aspirations of the workers and peasants through the search for some “peaceful coalition” with imperialism.

The most recent guest in Peking has been none other than cold-warrior, pro-Zionist Senator Henry Jackson, who fully concurs with the Maoists that the Soviet Union represents the “number one enemy.” As the New York Times (2 July) noted: “Senator Jackson’s support for maintaining American troop levels in Western Europe is without doubt appreciated in China.” In the course of their high-level talks Chou En-lai indeed did pledge continuing Chinese support for the maintenance and strengthening of NATO, that “united front” of American imperialism!

Satisfied with his “united front” with the Maoist bureaucracy against the working class of Europe and the Soviet bloc, Jackson returned urging closer ties with China on the basis that “the Chinese could be trusted more than the Russians as international partners” (as quoted in the New York Times, 9 July). Will the Attica Brigade give the same backhanded electoral support to the anti-communist, rocket-rattling racist Democratic presidential contender Jackson in 1976 as the RU gave to McGovern in 1972?

Attrition to the Right

In its rotten attempt to rebuild the old New Left the RU has been faced with a not inconsiderable loss of membership from the Attica Brigade, including major splits in the direction of an outright reversion to undisciplined New Leftist collectives as well as the New American Movement (NAM). Although NAM seeks to rebuild the student movement around the old social-democratic politics of the early SDS, and the Attica Brigade around the Third Worldist protest politics, there nonetheless is an overlap in the loose fringes of their constituencies: political drifters, dilettantes and open reformists who are repulsed by the revolutionary left and are comfortable only with openly liberal protest politics, student powerism, tailist front-group support committees and “serve the people” social workerism. Thus, some Attica Brigade chapters have split to merge with NAM (Queens, Binghamton, Cornell) or to function as an “independent” Radical Student Union with NAM politics (Ann Arbor).

An “Anti-Communist United Front”

The most important point about the convention was that virtually all the criticisms voiced by non-RU Brigaders were characteristically anti-communist: the conscientiously simplistic Fight Back is too “sectarian”; adopting the proposed name Revolutionary Student Brigade will alienate the mass of students; the participation of RUers in the Brigades has led to “cadrefication”; and elitist vanguardism “is a more destructive problem” than “the problem of tailing the masses.”

By building a parochial “student brigade” on the basis of decrepit, discredited New Leftism and seeking to control the resulting undisciplined front group by manipulation and domination, the RU has only succeeded in creating an organization in which not only opponent ostensibly revolutionary organizations but even it is denounced! Serious RUers would do well to examine the history of the Young Communist League-led National Student League and American Student Union, organizations which in the 1930’s passed from a crude working- class orientation to open alliance with Roosevelt; and the Leninist Comintern’s formulation of youth-party relations: that the youth group should have its own independent organizational life and at the Same time be in complete open political solidarity with the communist party.

But the RU, for whose present politics the front group is the logical organizational expression, retreated before the criticisms in typical Stalinist fashion, only to later announce that the National Interim Bureau had decided to dispense with the discussion and adoption of the draft “Statement of Unity,” the main political document before the convention! Political discussion was instead diverted to a largely artificial debate over “Throw the Bum Out-Organize to Fight” vs. “Throw the Bum Out-Fight Ghetto Repression” as the main fall campaign slogan.

The only significant left criticism registered at the convention was the complaint in the report of the Antioch Brigade that “anti-imperialist” politics never seem to come forward in Attica Brigade “second-level work” (i.e., front groups) such as farmworker and prisoner support:

“This holds back the struggle because it can lead people to believe we can unite with ’liberal’ elements of the ruling class, that the system can be reformed, that the struggle can be resolved under imperialism, that the system really does work.”

But such “second-level” (that is, sub-reformist) work, the front groups of a front group, is precisely what the Brigade “mass line” is all about: the liquidation of any ostensibly revolutionary line into demands which never transgress the reform of capitalist society.

The current left posturing taken up by the RU in the welter of polemics among the self-proclaimed Maoist groups and in speeches by Avakian across the country will very likely exacerbate the anti-communist impulses within the Brigade and lead to crumbling on its right wing. As early as the convention, the Berkeley Radical Students Union (which advocates not socialism but “radical surgery” for capitalist society), under the influence of a right split in the RU in the direction of the Black Workers Congress led by two senior RU cadre working in the RSU, declined to join the new Revolutionary Student Brigade.

The Spectre of the RCY

Faced with rightist opposition within the Brigade, the RU was also clearly concerned by the left threat presented by the RCY. The “Procedures for the Convention” included in the main conference document listed eight organizations to be excluded from this “mass student movement,” the first of which was the SL/RCY. Moreover, during the convention proceedings the RCY was continually mentioned or denounced.

The RU felt compelled to schedule a workshop session on Trotskyism (which drew about 75, more than the attendance at Avakian’s workshop on “Communists in the Mass Movement”). The salient focus of this presentation was the differences and “fundamental similarities” between the “right Trots” (the YSA) and the “left Trots” (the RCY). The speaker elaborated on the “sectarian” (read: principled) intervention of the RCY in a number of campus struggles, especially the Laney anti-tuition hike and CCNY anti-budget cut campaigns, and the Delano farmworkers rally.

Those members of the RU and Attica Brigade/Revolutionary Student Brigade who are seriously committed to the struggle for socialist revolution, only the victory of which can lead to the destruction of imperialism, will be increasingly confronted by the genuinely revolutionary program and practice of the SYL, youth group of the Spartacist League. There is only one revolutionary alternative to the dead-end reformism of Maoism: Join the SYL!.