Red Papers 8 - July 4, 1976 - "Battle Of The Bicentennial"

The July 4th Campaign was a nation-wide organizing effort which called on the people to stand up to the bosses call to celebrate the 200 years of their rule in the USA. Three slogans led the campaign: We’ve Carried the Rich for 200 Years. Let’s Get Them Off Our Backs; Jobs or Income – Now; We Won’t Fight Another Rich Man’s War.

The demonstration, which united over 3000 people in the march on July 4th, was a great success both for its size and for its overall social effect.

Where once the rulers could run out their national unity line with no opposition, with the call to demonstrate against their Bicentennial plans, an opposition pole began to take shape. New conditions were created based on practicing the mass line. In Philadelphia the ruling class first ignored the march. This became impossible because the campaign roused the aspirations of the people. Then the government attacked: Rizzo, the mayor of Philly, called in 15,000 armed federal troops; the federal government called for special investigations of the marchers; and the national focus on the Bicentennial celebration was switched from Philly to New York, in large part because of the campaign and demonstration.

The July 4th campaign was a very important event in the history of the RCP. It represented taking the political stage with the working class and battling the class enemy. The campaign at one tine or another went toe to toe with the class enemy on a number of political and ideological fronts. Objectively the campaign affected and curtailed the bourgeoisie’s plans to celebrate the 4th and in particular had a large effect on the “celebration” in Philadelphia.

For this to happen in the conditions we summarized earlier, the RCP had to develop and deepen line as well as to fight the enemy in close quarters amidst rapidly changing conditions. Because this was done well, the campaign itself was looked to by many cadre as a guidepost or a model of how communists should work in uniting with the sentiments and aspirations of the masses, concentrating these aspirations into a leading political line to change the world.

The proposal for the demonstration was made in December ‘75, two months after the formation of the Party. The need to take up the Bicentennial was summed up and the proposal was developed by the same comrades who are now being attacked as the “revisionist headquarters” and the center of the economist line.

Learn By Changing the World

To develop the line for the July 4th campaign, the RCP analyzed society as a whole: increased economic problems of the bourgeoisie, their need to paint over people’s cynicism and distrust of the government, their calls for patriotism hand in hand with steps toward war, particularly given the experience with the Vietnam war, etc. And the RCP used Marxism to uncover the laws governing the development of the Bicentennial ‘76 and how it was part of the overall class struggle in the U.S. As the RCP took this general line and developed particular policies to move the class struggle forward in the shops, cities, neighborhoods and schools, our overall line on July 4th deepened as well as our overall line on leading the working class and masses toward revolution. In taking this out to our fellow workers, certain errors arose in the work which were in contradiction to the political character of the day and the bourgeoisie’s plans for the Bicentennial. As we gathered more experience, which in turn deepened and developed our understanding of the nature of the July 4th demonstration and the working class movement as a whole, we were able to sum these errors up and make moves to correct them.

Did the economist wind stop blowing in the course of this? Were the cadre suddenly cured of rightism? No - What was happening was that based on practicing the mass line and going into the questions raised above - our line on the 4th was deepened and the cadre were further armed with a revolutionary political line. Rather than leadership attributing the problems in the work to the outlook of the cadre (and increasingly, of the masses) the leadership went into the actual problems in mobilizing people around the line. This then was summed up and the line adjustments made (not without class struggle) and the RCP united around a deeper understanding of what we were doing. This and not a lecture, allowed us the best opportunities to link the current situation with the rule of the rich, the laws of the system and the need for them to be knocked off the stage of history. This process is what communist leadership is based on, as it said in the first July 4th internal Party bulletin:

"Comrades must discuss thoroughly this bulletin and ways of implementing it, based on the preliminary ideas below. It is key that we root this discussion in summation of the sentiments and ideas of the masses and that this process of discussion, implementation, and summation be reported up through regular channels so that we can avoid being off the wall (idealism) and effectively apply the mass line."

As the initial bulletin came out, it brought to the fore a number of problems in our work - isolating the ‘economic’ contradiction from all others in society, fear of being “weird” by taking an issue like this into the plants, unions, etc. This came out in dozens of ways: in building for regional conferences, in the extent of widespread agitation and propaganda, to making the campaign into a battle in our shops, neighborhoods, etc. In one way or another the tendency was always to render the campaign into a campaign for palpable results. This came out mainly in two forms. One was to build a “jobs demo” on July 4th instead of seeing the UWOC petitions and the jobs demand in the context of the overall demonstration, to be brought out as one of the particularly rancid “running sores” of the bourgeoisie’s 200 years of rule. Another was to see it as a “build our movement” demonstration, instead of seeing that July 4th was an actual battle against the bourgeoisie and that it was only in the course of waging the struggle that our movement would be built.

In addition to this, there was the question of how to turn our understanding of objective necessity - the bourgeoisie’s necessity to use the Bicentennial to paint over 1001 abuses and sores of capitalism - into our freedom to expose the underlying class relations and point the finger at their rule as the source of everything rotten in society. This requires not bowing to spontaneity, but the creating of new conditions through the implementation of a correct political line.

In the working class the main form of resistance to the Bicentennial was cynicism or just ignoring the whole show. In this situation the content of the actual attack that the “celebration” represented and the potential new strength to the people the struggle could bring all had to be gone into again and again. Through this process the actual conditions of life of the workers were brought to bear to tear away the mask of the call for national unity.

This last problem and all the other contradictions spoken to before it can be resolved only through the integration of the science of Marxism-Leninism with the actual situation in the U.S. In the July 4th campaign, because we proceeded from the actual situation, the situation with the enemy and the people, and on that basis developed and deepened line, things moved forward.

The high road represented the task of using Marxism-Leninism to sum up the development of the contradictions and develop political line to resolve the contradictions so the Party could continue leading the class forward. The overall sum up of the campaign clearly brings out how the correct resolution of the contradictions developed and deepened the overall line of the Party and moved it along the socialist road:

"Politically what we can learn from all this is that if we restrict the building of actual struggle of our class to only economic struggle or substitute things such as build-our-movement for taking up the political attacks on our class, we will inevitably fall into the economist line criticized by Lenin many years ago. ‘Economic struggle (around wages and working conditions) for the workers, political struggle (around broad social questions pointing to which class rules) for the intellectuals.’ This comes up again and again when we fail to see in the struggles the workers are waging today against the effects of capitalism, the seeds of all-around battle waged by the workers on all fronts against capitalist rule, To develop the working class movement, as it exists today, in this direction, we have to bring the light of Marxism to the economic battles (center of gravity): and we have to seize every opportunity to build off of and advance the understanding and organization of the working class by taking on broader social questions, not as we decide the workers should face them, but as these questions actually present themselves to the workers and provide a basis to draw the workers into activity.

"Building a workers movement to overthrow capitalism can come only as we seize on every opportunity to do this, based on the actual contradictions, and in doing this strive to fulfill all three major objectives set out in our Programme: ‘to win as much as can be won in the immediate battle and weaken the enemy; to raise the general level of consciousness and sense of organization of the struggling masses and instill in them the revolutionary outlook of the proletariat; and to develop the most active and advanced in these struggles into communists, recruit them into the Party and train them as revolutionary leaders.’" (July 4th sum-up bulletin.)

One last point. It was also during the July 4th campaign we developed our line around “waging big battles with small forces.” (By the way, the story that the so-called “revisionist headquarters” made this the heart of the 1976 CC report is a barefaced lie, and comrades who worked with those now being attacked should use this as one more reference point as to who truly seeks truth from facts - who are fearless materialists and who aren’t.) Their contempt for this concept shows their contempt for the mass line - grasping the key issues of concern for the masses, the vulnerable points that the bourgeoisie is trying to cover up (moves to war, unemployment, housing in Philadelphia, etc.) and concentrating these particular phenomena into a general line that sums up the felt needs of the masses and exposes the class relations of capitalism. This enables relatively small forces to have far greater political impact and influence than their numbers. This question, which is always important, is particularly critical in doing revolutionary work in this period, given the present relatively small number of conscious forces and the present level of struggle among the masses. This ran through the campaign and the four days of fighting the bourgeoisie itself in D.C. and in Philly.

July 4th was an excellent living example of the use of the mass line and revolutionary theory. Comrades learned from it throughout the Party and it mainly had a good effect on our work both in terms of immediate advances off the demonstration and in terms of what the Party learned overall.

Slaves of Necessity

Because comrades now in the RWH were under attack for giving leadership to economism, because the July 4th campaign was a source of rich lessons in the Party’s political line, and because of the absurdities in the rectification bulletin put out by the current RCP leadership around the source of economism in the Party’s line and practice, it is necessary to point out the role of different forces in the Party during this campaign. And since it was the first major line struggle in the RCP, these roles are fairly clear.

Those who held the strongest and most stubborn economist lines are now those who are the chief supporters of Avakian’s left idealist line. In a rush of economism coupled with sectarianism, they lined up against the demonstration on the basis that it was a distraction from the work in the center of gravity. (How easily they’ve flipped into seeing the center of gravity as a distraction from the “political struggle”!) They said that if we had to go we should keep the workers out of it and leave it to the students or the professionals. And finally, they hid behind the argument that there would be so many other groups demonstrating in Philly that a demonstration led by a correct line would get lost in the confusion. (So much for the “high road;” no wonder these guys gave up.) It was also at this time that a number of these forces had one excuse or another why not to go ahead with May Day demonstrations.

Just as this economist bent clouded the necessity for and the potential to make advances with the July 4th campaign, it also made it nearly impossible for these forces to develop the campaign when they were finally won to do something.

Instead of leading the work in their respective areas they became slaves of necessity. As the class was not spontaneously fighting against the Bicentennial and there was no ongoing social movement to unite with, the campaigns in these areas were caught in a state of paralysis. Because of their economism, these forces failed to leap beyond our general line on the 4th. This meant they failed to develop policies and plans based on our line but rooted in the particular contradictions, policies and plans which would lead the advance forces to create new conditions through struggle and make the campaign into the actual battle it potentially was.

The failure to break with this economist line on July 4th and in other areas of the mass work laid the basis for these forces to become demoralized and disoriented from the masses. In this they were easy prey for those in the top leadership of the RCP with their determinist justifications for past errors in the work and their call for more consciousness-raising and general bullshit “line discussion” among the masses as the real work of communists in this period.

The five CC members who were responsible for politically developing the campaign, leading the four days of activities and providing political summation were all removed from their positions in the Friday night massacre. All are now members of the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters.

We were sure that Avakian and Co. were going to start screaming about “using July 4th as capital.” In fact, they’ve gone further than that. In their desperation to figure out ways to discredit the “revisionist headquarters” who were the ones leading the campaign, they are now scrambling for ways to discredit July 4th itself. Grasping for straws as they get pulled down by the weight of their own opportunism, they’ve now come up with the following gems: Jarvis was an economist and pragmatist. The only reason he picked up on July 4th in the first place was it touched a chord in his New Left ‘60s sensibilities and his whole approach to the campaign was to build it based on what worked in the old movement.

Secondly, they’re reversing the summation of the practice of the demonstration itself, now saying we were more interested in avoiding busts than in having the working class mount the political stage. In fact, the particular tactical retreat they are referring to was absolutely correct. Holding the rally which was called off on July 2nd would have isolated us from the community (where the Democratic Party machine had set up a phony neighborhood committee against us) and would have definitely meant a police attack. This would have jeopardized the main march on July 4 and would have kept the workers from “mounting the political stage.” At mass meetings that night people united firmly behind the decision. In fact, it increased their confidence in the leadership and the demonstration. Finally, these dogs are throwing the whole campaign out the window, with their new District Organizer for Pittsburgh announcing “the whole campaign failed to fulfill the 3 objectives.” All this flies in the face of reality and is an insult to every RCP member and worker who took part in the campaign. We are confident that comrades will understand the seriousness of the situation, study the bulletins (particularly the first and the sum-up), and sum up with the science of Marxism the campaign which they had direct experience in. Was economism promoted or opposed? Was pragmatism promoted or opposed? Didn’t the line and practice during the July 4th campaign make a major contribution to the development of the RCP’s line on a number of key questions?

Now we get from Avakian that the “bourgeois headquarters” was in command during this period and while maybe they could organize a demonstration, the real victory of July 4th was the fight against economism which Avakian, even though he was “sick” at the time, made major contributions to.

Aside from the fact that Avakian had very little to do with the campaign (particularly by comparison with his role in the NUWO campaign) the victory of July 4th was not primarily against economism, but in using the RCP to practice the mass line. Because this was done economism was dealt a blow by arming the comrades with line and not by Avakian’s warnings to remember the revolutionary goal.

July 4th should be an encouragement for leadership to lead by going into the problems and questions of the masses. July 4th should be an example to the cadre of how we can unite with the sentiments of the masses both not to be crushed and to break through - to get some freedom and liberation and to have the desire for freedom power the day to day struggles and build them deeper and stronger. This process is the lesson of July 4th, this process is what the RCP should have been building off the experience of the campaign,

But as we shall see, the experience around July 4th was not deepened although there were calls to do so. And this was in 1976, not in 1978 after the “revisionists” had been exposed. Thus, even back then, the thing to sum up off the campaign, according to Avakian, was that there was still a lot of economism and pragmatism around that had to be hit straight on.

Now we can only guess what the new summation of the campaign will be. But one thing is for sure - it won’t be held up as a model for fusing socialism with the workers movement and developing the functioning of the Party. In fact Avakian would say that economism was not even diminished a little bit, although he fought the good fight. Those comrades in the RCP should think about the fact that if such a summation had come down after the campaign, there certainly would have been a lot of disagreement and questioning. Now that a “revisionist headquarters” has been uncovered, does this automatically change what happened during the July 4th campaign? We don’t think so - what is being changed is the line on how to work as communists in this period.

One final note on the role of Avakian himself in this period. Avakian supported the call for the demonstration and argued against his sworn followers who then argued against doing the campaign. But in the period of building of the campaign, Avakian was in a state of severe demoralization and disorientation. In fact, his condition was so serious that several other leading comrades from around the country had to spend time protecting him from himself and driving or walking him around the neighborhood, listening to hours of tearful self-doubt, to get him into the real world, if only physically. He spent long weeks in a hospital when doctors could find nothing wrong with him and spent long hours with a psychiatrist every weekend for months.

We make a point of this for three reasons: first, because he now makes the argument that he played a big role in this period in leading the struggle against the economism that was cropping up in the campaign. “Proof” of this is an article he wrote in Revolution on the “Day to Day Struggle and the Revolutionary Goal.” It was useful in the campaign, but for this article to be seen as a major breakthrough shows a little idealism about the power of the printed word, not to mention downplaying the work in the campaign as well as the task of translating the article into practice and deepening it.

Second, the fact that his withdrawal as any type of functioning chair was brought on very much by demoralization and doubts about the objective situation of the U.S. working class and his ability to play a leading role given the situation - which was not “political enough” or “just plain too hard to deal with,” The response of Avakian, the master theoretician with not a pragmatist bone in his body, was similar to many cadre who also had to go up against the present situation. For the cadre the blame was put on them for being rightists - but in the case of the CHAIRMAN, the reason was the objective situation had not developed to the same political level as his brain.

The real story of how Avakian freaked out and became the Tom Eagleton of the Marxist-Leninist movement because the situation was hard should be of some comfort to the cadre who were told it was only economists who were having trouble in the period. But the point is that the difficulty of the period caused Avakian to define the period in a determinist way (not much could be done) and to retreat from the necessity of the real world to the free unobstructed flow of ideas in the stratosphere.

This is the third and key result of the Avakian retreat in that it had serious and far reaching implications for the overall line of the RCP. Avakian in fact, reflected in a concentrated way the characteristics of many p.b. [petty bourgeois] radicals, as were laid out in the RCP Programme (page 90):

"…many of these petty bourgeois radicals resist the working class, even as they rebel against the ruling class. This is not surprising. The petty bourgeoisie, especially petty bourgeois intellectuals who are divorced from productive labor and the masses of workers, tend to be politically unstable. When they take up a revolutionary position they tend to bounce between adventurism - the attempt to bring down the system by themselves - and conservatism - awe of the power of the ruling class and pessimism about the possibility of overthrowing it. When the struggle of the masses is advancing they are inclined to overestimate its present strength and look for quick victory. When the mass movement is temporarily set back they are inclined to overestimate the strength of the enemy and doubt the possibility of victory at all."

Avakian’s brand of “political instability” increasingly caused the RCP to deviate from the task of joining with the working class struggle as emphasized at the Founding Congress. So instead of putting politics in command of the economic work, Avakian left the cadre in the RCP to figure out what to do on their own. But for Avakian the easier (and therefore more important task) was to keep his work on the level of rational knowledge so he could play the political role that was best suited to a man of his mental ability and stature in the Party (not to mention his personal state of mind.) What this did to the leading line and functioning of leading bodies is not too hard to determine. The line would be developed outside of an analysis of concrete conditions and its implementation would be done based on local experience only since the Center (especially Avakian) did not see the need or have the desire to sum up the line as it was developed to deepen it. This tendency would become clearer and clearer in the work of the campaign to build the National United Workers Organization.

For all these reasons the summation of the positive work around July 4th is key to understanding the development of the line in the next period of the history of the RCP. For while the campaign was an overall positive event, the task of building it tested everyone in the RCP in the face of the real world. This test brought forward the enthusiasm and determination of the cadre and the masses to break through, but it also posed in a very sharp way, questions about the nature of the task of leading and of transforming the leadership in the process of the actual class struggle.

In 1976, the year of Bicentennial hoopla, a coalition of workers, veterans and students called for a July 4th demonstration in Philadelphia, proclaiming “We’ve Carried the Rich For 200 Years, Let’s Get Them Off Our Backs!” 3000 demonstrators from 40 states crisscrossed the city for 4 days in “demonstrations on wheels.” Their call read, “As we have always fought them, we will fight them on the day they choose to celebrate their blood-soaked rule.”