Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Convention in San Francisco

Struggle Over “Gang of 5” Hits USCPFA

ACC Cover

First Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 13, October 1978.
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.

The fifth national convention of the US-China Peoples Friendship Association, held in San Francisco over the Labor Day weekend, was the scene of intense class struggle. In spite of the best efforts of the national officers of the Association to pretend that there was no burning issue and that the convention should be just “business as usual,” it could not be, for in fact a revisionist coup has indeed taken place in China. This point was driven home by the delegates and observers upholding Mao Tsetung’s revolutionary line and the role of the Four who fought for it right up to this coup.

The questions dominating the concern of friends of the Chinese people throughout the world, “Has there been a revisionist coup in China? Is the line of Mao Tsetung being repudiated?” dominated the hallways, workshops, and educationals of the convention, and burst into the plenary sessions. These questions and how to answer them were the central concern of both those documenting the revisionist coup as well as those supporting the new regime.

Since its founding in 1971, the Friendship Association has grown steadily, fueled by the perception of literally thousands of people that China was opening new vistas for mankind and in fact represented the future of human society. This did not mean that all those who came forward to build friendship with China were won to Marxism or even considered themselves revolutionary. But the great majority were sincerely attracted by the fruits of socialist revolution, in particular the “socialist new things” created and strengthened in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Communists Helped Build Association

Communists, members of the Revolutionary Union (and later the Revolutionary Communist Party) were instrumental in the formation of the earliest local Friendship Associations in 1971 and played a significant role in the creation of the national association and in the building of locals across the country. Representing the stand and outlook of the working class, they correctly supported a broadly defined friendship organization which welcomed as members all those who supported the building of “people-to-people friendship based on understanding.” Yet while recognizing the China friendship work as a task in its own right, for communists building people-to-people friendship cannot be an end in itself. To do so would have meant slipping inevitably into Utopian schemes of peace through universal brotherhood and reformist hopes of grafting socialist new things imported from China onto the dying body of U.S. imperialism.

For the working class, the significance of the China friendship work lay in its broad dissemination to people of all classes and strata of the example of socialism in practice (the rule of the working class for the purpose of transforming society and reaching communism), and, secondarily at that time, the building of popular support for China, which would act as a material force in deterring aggression against China by U.S. imperialism. For Marxist-Leninists in particular, China stood as a bulwark against modern revisionism and the experiences of the Cultural Revolution had truly enriched the science of Marxism-Leninism concerning the nature of class struggle during the period of socialism.

But the important and progressive role played by the Association for several years had necessarily to come to an end with the revisionist coup in China. For while communists and all progressive people support people-to-people friendship with, say, the Soviet Union, they would not belong to and build the Soviet-American Friendship Council which serves to prop up and prettify the ugly features of Soviet social-imperialism.

An association based on building friendship with the Chinese revisionist rulers can only become a roadblock and obstacle to the struggle in China as well as in this country. In fact, the only progressive action to be taken in the China Friendship organization today is to leave it, to urge its disbanding, and to heed Mao’s 1965 call to “resolutely expose and fight” any revisionists who should they usurp power in China.

Home-Grown Revisionists Strengthened

The Association was, from the beginning, the scene of a sharp struggle between two lines. Those in Association leadership who pushed a rightist line constantly tried to appeal to and build up tendencies among quite a few Association members to be pessimistic about the revolutionary potential of the U.S. working class, while hoping for a little progressive effect by “soft-selling” China to the American public. (“We don’t talk about politics, we just let the example of China speak for itself.”)

The line of communists working in the Association was not only to build the Association broadly (among different classes and strata) but also to go into questions deeply. That is, rely on the masses as the main force and strive to deepen people’s consciousness and understanding of events and class struggles unfolding in China. Communists fought for the line that China’s socialist system be shown to the masses in this country, and that an understanding of the class struggle in China to advance along the socialist road toward communism be taken out to the American people. Similarly, communists always stressed that the basis for friendship was the common interests of the peoples of all countries. Without this basic understanding friendship would remain shallow and could be mobilized for reactionary ends with the changing events in the class struggle both in the U.S. and China.

By contrast, the revisionist line held that people were “turned off” by talk about socialism, that the Association was not a political organization, that the primary task was the normalization of state-to-state relations (and this should be pushed on the basis of “jobs and peace”), and that the most important people to reach were the “opinion makers” and leading figures of the bourgeoisie. One former officer of the Association even went so far as to distribute a paper holding up the NAACP as the model which the Association should emulate! Of course whenever threatened by exposure from the Left, these rightists would always lapse into loquacious demagoguery about “outreach to workers and minorities.” Rightist tendencies within the Association also looked to China’s “opening to the West,”–especially as spearheaded by Chou En-lai–as a source of strength for their own desire to be “leftists” safely attached to a wing of the U.S. imperialist ruling class.

As long as the working class held power in China, the Right in the Association was somewhat held in check by the rank and file. But with the revisionist coup, they gained powerful backers. In short order the tourism program jumped to 5,000 a year (a budget of $1.4 million!), a lobbying office was opened in Washington, and the ranks of paid staff began to swell. At the same time, the thousands of enthusiastic members who had joined out of their excitement for the new China found they had less and less of a role to play. Instead of programs and discussions going into the revolutionary changes in new China, people were offered the opportunity to collect signatures on petitions for normalization.

Struggle at the Convention

While the great majority of activists in the Association have experienced worries and questions about the new direction in China after Mao’s death and the arrest of the “gang of four,” the questions were not formulated sharply until the Revolutionary Communist Party summed up the nature of the reactionary coup and began a systematic educational effort on the principles of scientific socialism and the contributions of Mao Tsetung and the Cultural Revolution. By the time of the Convention, a solid core had been consolidated in the Association with the determination to raise this central political question openly at the Convention.

On the first day, delegates streamed in past a 30 ft. billboard advertising the up-coming Mao Tsetung Memorial programs. Through leaflets and by word of mouth, delegates were invited to visit the “Gang of Five Hospitality Room” in the hotel where a slide show on Mao Tsetung was being presented and Chinese literature from before the coup and RCP literature were on sale. The officials of the Association began to panic quickly, and in violation of the Association by-laws expelled one member of the National Steering Committee (NSC) from that body for participating in a press conference (together with the Chair of the host San Francisco Local) which denounced the revisionist coup in China.

By the opening plenary, the whole Convention was buzzing with the debate over China and how to respond to those in the Association who were openly supporting Mao and the Four. A guest speaker, Dr. George Hatem, (who had previously in a printed interview called Chou En-lai “the most beloved of the Chinese leaders”–clearly over Mao) tried to open an attack from the podium. Now he quipped that some people at the Convention wanted to support “four isolated people” instead of the “masses of Chinese people.” Observers rose chanting “Five! Five! Mao Makes Five!” Dr. Hatem beat a hasty retreat from the podium.

When the venerable revisionist, and chairman of the Association, Frank Pestana launched into an attack on Sue Becker of Seattle, the NSC member purged the day before, delegates again took to the aisles and would not let the session go on until Becker was given an opportunity to respond. And when refused an opportunity to read a statement to the convention on behalf of those delegates and Association activists supporting Mao, the statement was immediately distributed throughout the hall in written form.

Grasping at straws, Association officials could only respond by putting up national Co-Chairperson, Unita Blackwell (the Black woman mayor of Fayette, Miss.). Dipping into the reactionary bourgeois nationalism and white guilt-tripping of the type well-discredited in the ’60s, Blackwell attacked the pro-Mao forces, likening them to the KKK, and haughtily announced, “You can’t be for revolution unless you are for me!” She then listed the various advisory panels to which she has been recently named by President Carter. Such are the forces being “liberated” by the wide-open reactionary line of the Association.

But in spite of all attempts to bar the distribution of literature from the floor and filibuster through sessions with preselected speakers upholding the revisionist line, the same political questions came up again and again from the floor: “How can dissolving the revolutionary committees be called upholding Mao’s line? How can the mercenaries of the French Foreign Legion be called the friends of the people of Africa? How can building up the productive forces be the main task of socialism? What was Mao’s analysis of Teng Hsiao-ping?” And so on. In the end, the Association officials were forced to announce that a planned visit to the Convention by an official Chinese delegation had had to be cancelled “because of the atmosphere in the Convention.”

That atmosphere, one created through struggle, was one in which no one could get up and expound the revisionist line without having to answer sharp and political questions. Afraid or unable to answer these questions, and denied a pep-rally reception, the visiting Chinese delegation found discretion the better part of valor.


Quite characteristic of their political outlook, the leadership of the Association made absolutely no attempt to defend the new revisionist leadership in China. Instead they vainly sought to change the issue to that of “disruption” of the Convention. While it is certainly true that the revolutionaries supporting Mao’s line were from time to time “disruptive” (indeed, revolution itself is sometimes disruptive!) it was also clear to the delegates that such disruption occurred when it was necessary to force the airing of the opposing viewpoint. In truth, what the officials of the Convention actually considered disruptive was the powerful and–if constantly cut short–reasoned and documented presentation of the working class analysis and stand. And what they objected to was the “disruption” of their revisionism and their turning the Association into an appendage of reaction. When one delegate speaking for the leadership said that the pro-Mao forces don’t have the right to cry “fire” in a crowded theatre, a speaker replied, “What are you supposed to do if the theatre is on fire?”

The debate on the plenary floor was most instructive. The Convention listened quite attentively as delegate after delegate rose to detail the line of Mao and the Four and how it fundamentally differs from the revisionist line of Hua, Teng & Co. You could have heard a pin drop as the statement of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party summing up Mao’s behests right after his death was read to the body by a pro-Mao delegate. As if recognizing the truth themselves, not a single speaker for the Right in the debate had the courage to deny that a Rightist coup had taken place in China or to even argue that the policies being implemented by the new regime were correct or in the interests of the Chinese people.

Instead there was speaker after speaker giving little testimonials on how their region or their caucus had voted overwhelmingly to expel the pro-Mao forces. The powerfully corrosive effects of revisionism were strikingly revealed in this parade of degeneracy. The spokesperson of the “minority caucus” charged that the criticism of revisionist leadership of China was “national chauvinist” and the RCP was “racist” for approaching minority delegates as individuals to struggle with them over the political issues. A Menshevik professor lambasted the pro-Mao forces as dogmatic and likened their pursuit of political principle to the quest for the “Holy Grail.” An Association official who supports the line of the CPML complained that the RCP was trying to intimidate Association activists by putting up posters all over the country!

Disgust for this kind of political cowardice was eloquently expressed on the plenary floor by a delegate from Cincinnati who sarcastically remarked, “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to organize a tour!”

In voting on the various resolutions, the program of the Right won by a large margin. While it is true that a number of pro-Mao delegates had their credentials lifted in pre-emptory purges just before the Convention and were forced to sit in the observer section, this was a minor factor. But then the supporters of Mao and the Four had not come to the Convention to win votes, run for office, or secure staff jobs, but to raise the political issue of the revisionist coup in China. And in this they clearly succeeded.

Despite the appeals by Association officials to “ignore the disrupters” there was a big attendance at every showing of the Mao slide show and people always stayed to discuss the events in China. While the majority of delegates were not prepared to accept the conclusion that revisionism had indeed temporarily triumphed, they were still deeply concerned by what they see going on and were hungry for serious discussion of the issues–a discussion which was obviously being thwarted by the Association officials.

Nonetheless it is important to sum up why the majority of the delegates, who joined the Association overwhelmingly because of the socialist path China was taking, voted with the organized revisionist leadership. The first reason lies in the class composition of the Association, which is overwhelmingly petty-bourgeois. In this period of dying imperialism and parasitic capitalism, many members of this class are powerfully drawn to revolutionary ideas. The growth of the Association itself in its first years is testimony to this. They have played and will continue to play a progressive role in exposing and fighting against the big bourgeoisie with whom they have many contradictions. On the other hand, they bring with them into the struggles of the masses all the weaknesses and prejudices of their class. These include the tendency to vacillate in the face of adversity and a powerful attachment to reformism and “practical politics” (i.e. staying well within the bounds of the established system). Suffering from constant degredations of their own position in this society, they nevertheless share a common fear of the proletarian dictatorship with petty bourgeois elements in China, and generally approve of the “freeing” of intellectuals and scientists and the new social esteem in which they are held by the revisionists.

Secondly, the level of knowledge of scientific socialism is very low in the Association. In general “goulash communism” is accepted as the real thing. It is widely believed that once your country is freed of foreign domination, the basic task of socialism is to develop the productive forces and provide a better life for the people. To criticize this bourgeois-democrat-to-capitalist-roader orientation is seen as “wanting to keep the Chinese poor for the sake of political ideology.” The failure to educate activists on the nature and importance of the class struggle during socialism lies with the shortcomings of the work of communists in the Association and was in no small part due to the influence of the Menshevik line which wanted to confine work in the Association to just being the “best friendship builders.”

Thirdly, hundreds of activists are still visiting China on Association sponsored tours. What they see there are the fruits of socialism created by the people of China under proletarian leadership, the great bulk of which–while under attack–have not been destroyed yet. And the people with whom they come in contact, principally intellectuals and cadre, are universal in expressing support of the new regime. Here it is especially difficult to get beyond the appearances of things and get to their essence. For example, the fact that the massive campaign against the Four still continues is often taken as evidence of continuing support for the new policies rather than an obvious political need to combat the continuing support for Mao’s line among the masses.

Finally, Chinese officials have made it abundantly clear to the Association that no liberalism toward the supporters of the Four (and hence Mao) will be tolerated. To fail to purge supporters of the Five would inevitably mean an end of the tour programs (which Pan-Am may get anyhow), which in turn would eliminate the entire budget of the Association, paid staffers and all. Those who have serious questions, but are not prepared as yet to make a final judgment, are clearly not ready to break formal relations with China and end the Association in its present form of operation.

Thus while an important victory was won in forcing to center stage the issue of the coup in China, a controversy and debate which would not have occurred without the active intervention of revolutionary forces, including the Revolutionary Communist Party, only a relatively small percentage of Association members are likely to take the immediate step of resigning from the Association. Nevertheless, as events in China, in the world, and in the Association continue to unfold, more and more members will find irreconcilable contradictions between the revisionist line in power in China and the reasons for which they were attracted to socialism and to revolutionary China. As this happens activists will continue to leave the Association and take up new and progressive tasks in the society.

For its part, the Friendship Association will complete its transformation into a funded staff operation on behalf of the Chinese government in cooperation with U.S. imperialism. The future of the US-China Peoples Friendship Association can be seen today in the atrophied form taken by the Soviet-American Friendship Council, now that the Soviet Union has completed its “Four Modernizations.”