Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The New Voice

Behind the People’s Temple Sensation

First Published: The New Voice, Vol. VII, No. 25, December 11, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Since the tragic events of November 18 when over 900 people died at the People’s Temple colony in Guyana, the media has had a tough time explaining the causes for it. The San Francisco Chronicle, according to its November 21 editorial, would have us believe that “...had his (Jones) operations not been masquerading as a religion, they would have attracted the investigative attention of the authorities long before Leo Ryan courageously took it upon himself to look into them.”

The “authorities” have had ample opportunity to investigate Jim Jones ever since he started his career as a poverty pimp who preyed on the hopes and fears of poor people, especially minorities. When Jones moved to California from Indiana in 1965 with only 100 followers, he was very quickly able to buy land, acquire 11 buses, a new parsonage and a new church complete with baptismal swimming pool by the late 1960s. Jones’ followers in Indiana were mostly poor, inner-city people who were attracted to Jones for his combination promises of faith healing, free food programs and anti-racism activities. By 1971, Jones moved his operation to San Francisco and gained up to 4,000 followers.


Although there were increasing stories about the methods Jones used to intimidate and control his congregation (like beatings, torture, financial dependency, “trial runs” of mass suicide, poor living conditions and blackmail), this did not stop politicians from seeking out Jones favor. These politicians did not give a second thought as to how Jones was able to maintain churches in Ukiah, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and at the same time set up a self-contained colony of 27,000 acres in Guyana.

Politicians like Mayor George Moscone of San Francisco were more interested in Jones’ ability to get thousands of followers to give time, money and energy to his campaign to become mayor in 1975. The people that made up Jones’ political machine walked precincts, passed out campaign leaflets, and staged massive letter-writing campaigns for Moscone. When Moscone was elected mayor, he rewarded Jones with an appointment to the Housing Authority along with jobs for three other Temple members. Despite increasing reports of former Temple members who were exposing some of the Temple’s abuses, Moscone refused to start an investigation.

Jim Jones was a political force who had made his deals with such “luminaries” as Assemblyman Willie Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, California Governor Jerry Brown, former San Francisco Sheriff Richard Hongisto, HEW Secretary Joseph Califano and the late Senator Hubert Humphrey, to name just a few.

Character references by the likes of Vice President Walter Mondale and First Lady Rosalynn Carter were instrumental in gaining admittance for Jones into Guyana. One such letter was a handwritten note from Mrs. Carter to Jones on White House stationery dated April 12, 1977. It said: “Dear Jim: Thank you for your letter. I enjoyed being with you during the campaign–and do hope you can meet Ruth (the president’s sister) soon.”

Capitalist politicians will support and endorse anyone who can get votes for them. As long as someone like Jones could do political favors for these politicians, the mistreatment and coercion of his followers did not matter.


The Reverend Jim Jones created a colony in the jungles of Guyana as a showplace for his so-called “socialist” ideals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jones lured his followers to Guyana with such promises, but in fact created its opposite. Jones became the all-powerful dictator of his people through force of arms, blackmail, threats and financial bondage. Although touted as an anti-racist, Jones’ most trusted and privileged aides were white, while the oppressed majority of the rank-and-file were black. He alienated his people from their relatives and friends so that they had nowhere to turn even if they managed to escape. True socialist societies do not have to hold onto people with force, drugs, sexual blackmail and promises of “heaven on earth.” The very fact of Jim Jones’ use of religion to control and manipulate his flock precludes his being a Marxist.

Charles Garry and Mark Lane, Jones’ lawyers and supporters of the revisionist, phony Communist Party U.S.A., would have true Marxists and progressive people believe that Jones had set up a “socialist Utopia” in Guyana. Although they now denounce Jones as a “madman” who turned a good ideal into a nightmare, Garry and Lane accuse each other of having known about the militarization and brutality at the colony for a long time but kept silent.

The real purpose of the Guyana colony was to act as a focal point for fund raising and to lend substance to Jones’ “humanitarian” image, thereby greatly increasing his potential for stateside recruitment, and hence, political power. In the end, Jonestown became Jones’ refuge from the mounting evidence against him. Jones’ recent visit to Cuba and the offers of sanctuary from that country and its social-imperialist patron, the Soviet Union, are consistent with his creation of a fascist colony, not a socialist one.


It is no accident that the main supporters of Jim Jones are capitalist politicians and phony Marxists. Both groups are self-serving and do not have the interest of working people at heart. Conmen like Jones are free to prey on the poor and bilk the hopeless and desperate of all they have while the authorities, our so-called “protectors,” look the other way.

The working class must organize and use the power we have to make the changes necessary to better our lives. Reliance on poverty pimps and fanatics like Jim Jones can only lead to disaster. Behind Jim Jones stood our enemy: the capitalist class and their Establishment politicians.

(Ed. note: A few weeks ago, The New Voice received an invitation in the mail from the People’s Temple for a benefit dinner. Scheduled for December 2 at the San Francisco Hyatt Regency Hotel, the dinner’s cost of $25 per person included entertainment and speeches from Willie Brown, Jr., Charles Garry, Mark Lane, Dr. Carlton Goodlett and Dick Gregory. In spite of Jones’ flight from the U.S. last year under growing attacks, he still had plenty of endorsers.)