First Published: Workers Vanguard No. 176, October 7, 1977
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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CHICAGO–Things have not been going very well of late for Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Its scandalous support to racist anti-busing mobilizations had made it something of a pariah on the American left. Then its Maoism brought further discredit when China lined up with the Pentagon and white-supremacist South Africa in Angola. To top it off, after years of shamefacedly apologizing for the sordid betrayals of Peking foreign policy, this August saw the official China franchise go to its arch-rival, Mike Klonsky’s October League (now the Communist Party [Marxist-Leninist]).
It was in this context that the RCP. decided to throw all its resources into building NUWO (National United Workers Organization), hoping that some flashy, phony “mass work” would bolster morale inside the party and make up for losses on the international scene. So it was with all the cheers, foot-stomping and “fightback” hoopla these Maoist workerists could muster that the new RCP front group was launched in Chicago over the Labor Day weekend.
Months of work went into the conference, and with over 1,000 people pulled into Chicago for the event it looked at first as if they might be able to pull it off. Held in the Great Hall (!) of the Pickwick Hotel, the conference kicked off with five solid minutes of chanting “The People United Will Never Be Defeated while Chairman Avakian grinned down from the balcony in satisfaction. In a demonstration of hoary Stalinist manipulative techniques, politics were downplayed at first, and the participants were warmed up by front-loading the sessions with movies, solidarity telegrams, testimonials and so forth. The expectation was that in the final hours the RCP would be able to ram through its program with perfunctory “discussion,” the hands would be raised and after a song or two the crowd could be safely packed back into the buses and sent home.
Things didn’t turn out quite that simply, however, as the RCP’s best-laid plans to avoid political discussion and debate kept going awry. For the better part of two days, through some two dozen workshops and plenaries, the organizers spent their time dodging sticky questions from both the left and right. By the end, only the chairman’s heavy gavel and the RCP’s majority voting bloc kept the conference from turning into a shambles.
Avakian & Co. had thrown their nets wide and drew in a disparate catch– opponents on the left, union militants who were shocked at the RCP’s Jim Crow line on busing, liberal moralists with a plethora of quack proposals and backward workers who blamed unemployment on “illegal aliens.” For the most part it went well enough until these contacts were allowed to open their mouths. Even guest speaker Buddy Cochran, the mechanic who drove his sports car into a July Fourth KKK rally in Plains, Georgia, caused a moment of embarrassment for the “communist” organizers of the conference. Cochran, who is the RCP’s big defense case at present, told the audience that what really got him riled up was when the Grand Dragon “called Jimmy Carter a slang name.”
The real trouble began in the workshops. A predictable stumbling block was the issue of busing, particularly since the conference took place only a few days before school opened in Chicago amid a full-blown racist mobilization against a sham “voluntary” busing plan. Discussion in the discrimination workshop was focused on “affirmative action” schemes while the RCP handed out a resolution calling for evaluating desegregation plans on “a case by case basis.” The resolution, which opposed the Boston “forced busing” plan, was approved in the workshop without discussion.
The pandora’s box was opened at the Sunday plenary during discussion of plans for a “march and rally against attacks on minority nationalities and divide and conquer schemes” over lunch break. An RCPer stated that, while the Chicago plan was presently supportable, it “will later be turned into forced busing.” This didn’t go down well, as one Latin woman rose to ask why anyone would oppose busing, and a West Coast auto worker remarked that “there should be no such thing as black schools and white schools. We ought to fight for that.”
The RCP was not about to fight for desegregation, but it was feeling the pressure. The day before it had handed out a list of chants for the demonstration, including such slogans as “Divide and Rule, We Say No–Forced Busing Has to Go!” By the time the march snaked its way through the deserted Loop on Sunday afternoon, however, all the anti-busing chants had mysteriously disappeared.
If the Jim Crow Maoists had a hard time explaining to militant black workers why “forced busing” was bad, they fared no better with their opposition to demands for full employment. The discrimination-workshop chairman catered to all sorts of liberal schemes, such as the proposal by one politically raw contact for a “week of fasting” to really “hurt” merchants and another’s call for laws to enforce early retirement in order to make more jobs. But when one participant proposed that NUWO endorse the slogan “Jobs for All,” all hell broke loose.
This was instantly ruled an “unfriendly amendment,” and an RCPer rushed to explain that ”we don’t have to promise everybody a job.... That’s a bunch of bullshit. Everybody ain’t gonna get a job.” Similarly, RCPers in the auto workshop quickly quashed a discussion on a proposal to fight for 30 hours’ work for 40 hours’ pay. There would be no such “Trotskyite” nonsense in NUWO only the most sub-reformist demands which in no way challenge the capitalist system!
By the Sunday plenary the circus atmosphere had vanished, along with Chairman Avakian’s smile. A revised agenda was handed out and the trade-union program quickly pushed through. But after lunch the fireworks began. Throughout the weekend the RCP hadn’t breathed a word about China, not in a single document, presentation or floor intervention. Obviously it was afraid that someone might ask about the “Gang of Four” or Klonsky’s prized handshake with Chairman Hua. Instead, the conference organizers figured they could demonstrate their Maoist loyalties by virulently denouncing the Soviet Union.
Thus in the final session a major resolution on “The Threat of War” was distributed, calling for struggle against the “ruling exploiters” in the USSR and railing against Russian “aggression and war preparations.” The sharp contrast to the vacuous workshops the day before stunned the uninitiated. Moreover, halfway into the session a speaker moved to delete the anti-Soviet passages. “I think we can all agree,” he said, “that the USSR is not the same as the United States and has in fact helped workers and progressive causes in Cuba and Africa.” Cleverly playing on the apolitical atmosphere fostered by the RCP, he ended: “The NUWO is a domestic organization and it doesn’t have to take a position on a question like this.”
Whoops! In an instant the mask of apolitical economism dropped, and the roomful of “fellow workers” suddenly became a meeting of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Pounding for order, the chair announced that the hall had to be emptied in 45 minutes, explaining poker-faced that “I really don’t want to cut the discussion off but we are pressed for time.” For the rest of the session, one RCPer after another crawled out of the closet. One wanted the anti-Soviet section to stand because his friend Eddie, a working-class youth killed in Vietnam, “would have wanted it that way.” Another explained that anyone could tell Cuba was capitalist because a guy in his plant paddled 80 miles on a rubber raft to get to the U.S.!
After these appeals to the most despicable anti-Communist prejudices, the question was called, the proposed deletion defeated –and an extra hour’s time found to continue the meeting. But the RCP wasn’t out of the woods yet. Figuring they could pull things back together by a non-controversial resolution against deportations of foreign workers, the organizers were shocked to hear an auto worker declare that his entire shop was opposed to Mexican workers “taking jobs” from Americans. Amid hissing and booing against this chauvinist remark, the chairman ruled that further discussion would be deferred to local chapters and the session was ended.
A Stalinist outfit in the process of losing its “socialist fatherland,” the RCP today looks a lot like Progressive Labor (PL) at the time of its break with China in the late I960’s. NUWO itself resembles nothing so much as the happily defunct Workers Action Movement (WAM) launched by PL at that time. Like PL/WAM, the RCP is banking on recruiting raw workers to its NUWO on the basis of militant economism and thereby warding off the dismal prospect of becoming a sect of apologists for “socialism in one country” – without a country.
But PL split from Maoism at the height of China’s popularity with the New Left, which took a certain degree of backbone. Avakian & Co. have blundered into a corner where they find it impossible either to endorse the return of “capitalist roaders” to power in Peking or to support the ousted “Gang of Four.” Moreover, it was Peking which dumped the RCP rather than vice versa. And if WAM offered workers little more than empty “fight the bosses” rhetoric, at least it limited itself to that instead of pushing rabid anti-Sovietism as its calling card.
Failing to generalize its critique of Maoism into a Leninist opposition to Stalinism, PL’s red flags, May Day marches and substantial membership have nearly disappeared, leaving in their wake a nationally isolated, eclectic Stalinist sect. The RCP will fare no better, and it is doubtful that even a second “historic conference” of its NUWO will ever be held.