Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Vanguard

Behind the Split in the RCP (Part 2)


First Published: Workers Vanguard, No. 199, March 31, 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.

Last month Workers Vanguard broke the news of a terminal faction fight in one of this country’s two major Maoist organizations, the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP–formerly Revolutionary Union) of Bob Avakian (see “RCP Splits,” WV No. 190, 7 February). The issue was, of course, China after the death of Mao. Beneath a stone wall of embarrassed public silence, Avakian (a New Leftist whose Maoism derives from a romantic identification with the teenage Red Guards of the Chinese “Cultural Revolution”) had stampeded the RCP Central Committee into a “secret” position that the present Hua regime was leading China down the “capitalist road.” It was the fear of isolation from the bureaucratic rulers of “the socialist country” which impelled a grouping around Mickey Jarvis (a more traditional Stalinist who knows that left criticism of an incumbent Stalinist regime constitutes a dangerous flirtation with “Trotskyism”) to launch a back-alley-and-corridor oppositional struggle against Avakian. The fight was conducted in the proper RCP “channels.” which means that the vast majority of the membership knew nothing but vague rumors until the RCP exploded.

The minority, which has now emerged publicly as the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters, claims some 40 percent of the RCP membership (though Avakian continues to insist the split was nothing but a “handful” of cliquist deserters). And as we predicted, the factional line-up reflects the federated nature of the organization, always an uneasy alliance between the Avakian (West Coast) and Jarvis (East Coast) cliques. Though a certain shaking-out process continues, particularly evident in the Midwest and in some industrial fractions, the old cliquist ties are mostly holding fast; thus, while there is a certain murky left-right polarization between Avakian-Jarvis, the split lines are far from clearly political.

The leaders of the two sides are too compromised, too mired in their rotten Maoist politics–and above all too preoccupied with grabbing organizational resources and squabbling over the “real” youth organization (there are now two)–to make any coherent presentation of the political dispute. For the bewildered supporters of both sides, besieged with questions from the periphery, the only hope for understanding the split in their organization remains Workers Vanguard.

When WV exposed the explosion in the RCP and published lengthy excerpts from documents that only a select few had previously seen, Avakian went into a frenzy. He called down anathema on our heads, blasted our article as some kind of FBI fabrication and forbade his supporters to read it. It didn’t help. The Jarvisites were manifestly pleased to see their existence acknowledged in print. And the Avakianite ranks? WV’s newsstand sales skyrocketed as shamefaced RCPers, risking excommunication, crept through bookstores in search of the forbidden fruit.

Thanks to WV–and to the fact that hundreds of ex-RCPers are no longer bound by Avakian’s pronouncement that the organization’s China line must be kept secret–the RCP has had to loosen up; documents are circulated and sympathizers informed of the party line. But Avakian’s public response continues to be reminiscent of an ostrich. Whereas the previous Revolution made no mention of the split, the subsequent issue contains two articles on it–but neither mentions China!

An “Editorial” in the February 1978 Revolution attacks WV for “sensationalist journalism” to “spice up page one” and shakes its head over “striking similarities” between our article and the gloating coverage of the RCP’s main Maoist competitor, Mike Klonsky’s Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) [CP(ML)–formerly October League]. Always willing to believe in a conspiracy, Avakian predictably blames the Jarvisites for the leak:

Picture our Mensheviks, in league with the Klonskyites. running to the Spartacist League with cooked up tales and sensational ’scoops,’ relying on the Trots to ’spill the beans’ so that when the CP(ML) publishes ’excerpts’ from those same pirated wares, our Mensheviks can point to the Trots rather than themselves as the culprits and try to hide from their misled followers the obvious fact that these Menshevik ’leaders’ are negotiating with Klonsky & Co.

Demonstrating an instinct for organizational suicide, Avakian tries to push the Jarvisites into Klonsky’s arms, proclaiming “You deserve each other.”

Indeed the post-split motion of the Jarvis faction, despite muddle-headed political incompetence, confirms its rightist impulse toward more “mainstream” Stalinoid liberalism. But why should Avakian want to push his two substantial Maoist competitors toward a common organization to swamp his RCP? With his own followers bound together mainly by cliquist and geographical ties, schooled in an opportunism little different from what the Jarvis group will be peddling, clinging to “left” Maoist rhetoric which the RCP dares not push openly–Avakian has one hope for keeping his flocks from straying into the Jarvis camp: organizational loyalty to the RCP and distrust of the so-called “careerists” of its long-time competitor, the Klonsky organization.

Avakian shrinks from confronting the China question openly. Accompanying the short editorial which wags a finger at “sensationalism” is a lengthy front-page statement entitled “RCYB Consolidates on Correct Line.” This deals in detail with the bitter fight over the name of the youth organization, whose National Office has now emerged as the public Jarvisite bailiwick. The only hint that there might be more to the conflict than a squabble over the youth is a vague phrase or two:

As has now become clear, these people had been organized for some time as part of a revisionist headquarters within the RCP which engaged in factional opposition to the central leadership of the Party not only on the question of the communist youth organization, but many other questions as well.

In a pitiful maneuver, their meeting also decided–based on predictably little study–to take a position on a decisive question for which they had blasted the RCP for an ’undemocratic’ ’rush to judgment.’

And just what is this “decisive question”? Only those who recognize Jarvis’ “rush to judgment” phrase–or who have read WV–can be sure.

The main immediate concern of both Avakian and Jarvis was the scramble to grab up the treasuries and juggle the steering committees of the various RCP front groups. The “unity” rhetoric which is the perennial stock-in-trade of the RCP’s “mass organizations” is now as ludicrous as it is apolitical, as the “honest workers” and “anti-imperialist students” of the former RCP periphery watch their leaders trading blows and slanders. The charges range from embezzlement to drunkenness. The members of the RCP’s National United Workers Organization (NUWO) received a circular from Jarvisite NUWO head Mike Rosen which gives the flavor of the RCP split fallout:

I am also charged with ’stealing’ the membership cards. As head of the organization how could I steal the membership list? It was entirely within my authority to ensure that they were secure. When I suspected an attempt to split the organization for narrow group interests I did this. My suspicions were confirmed by [Avakianite NUWO executive committee member John] Boyd’s actions. Following the New Year when I tried to get into the NUWO office to run my normally scheduled hours from 1:30 to 4:30 I found that Boyd had changed the locks on the office with no one’s knowledge...

But the real heat has focused on the scramble to claim the “continuity” of the only front group which has any reality: the youth organization. The Cincinnati meeting where former RCP comrades dished out to each other the physical attacks usually reserved for Trotskyists was the Avakianites’ first post-split national gathering, a national youth meeting where they proclaimed themselves the “real” Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB).

Avakian’s first post-split public action was to issue a pamphlet, “Communism and Revolution vs. Revisionism and Reformism in the Struggle to Build the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade,” actually two counter-posed documents from the struggle over changing the name of the youth organization. As we explained in our previous article, this burning question was a direct precipitant of the overt factional rupture: a shadow-boxing skirmish between the Jarvis clique and the cult leader Avakian. Jarvis was the puppet-master who pulled the strings behind the scenes as elements in the former Revolutionary Student Brigade (RSB) resisted Avakian’s decree that the organization change its name to incorporate the word “Communist.” Following the name change to RCYB, Avakian declared war on the Jarvisites for their lese majeste.

The present youth pamphlet made the RCP split public through a one-page “Introduction”:

...a number of those who held this line...have persisted in their revisionism and gone still further. A small but arrogant little clique of these people have made a futile effort to use their leading positions in the RCYB to turn this organization into a pawn in the struggle against the Party and its line...
Such reactionary puffed-up but puny efforts are being clearly repudiated by the Party and by the masses of members of the RCYB around the country...

The Jarvis “headquarters” responded with an issue of something called the Young Communist, which denounces Avakian’s “attempts to pimp off the name and experience of the RSB.” In articles titled “Counterfeit Crew Unmasked–The Real RSB Stands Up!” and “Open Letter to Pipsqueak Avakian–What You Couldn’t Organize. You Can’t Steal!” the paper lays claim to the youth organization:

We condemn your attempts to split our organization. We condemn your attempts to hijack our organization for your own purposes. We condemn your cowardly attacks on our members and our national office...Brigade members under your influence attempted to organize secret Brigade meetings. Individuals representing your Central Committee have come to our meetings and declared them ’illegal.’... Since then you have released a pamphlet that claims the majority of the Brigade and the Brigade as an organization supports you. This is an outright lie. There is not one chapter on the East Coast that supports you... You don’t own our organization. Nor will you be allowed to steal it. We are the proud inheritors of the traditions of the RSB...

The paper disavows the name change to RCYB, announcing that “in order to consolidate our past successes and move to even greater victories” the group will return to the old RSB name.

The RCP majority, of course, promptly launched another youth paper, featuring a half-page box listing Avakian-loyal youth chapters. Dubbed Revolutionary Communist Youth, the paper rivals its competitor in unreadable “mass” format, mindless “fight-back” line and reliance on infantile insult. As the Jarvisites chortle over a caricature of Avakian with the caption “This short person’s got no reason to live,” so the Avakianites swell with pride over lines like “They began a downward exit so low it wouldn’t be possible to slither under a snake with a top hat on.” The main visible difference between the two is that the Jarvisite rag alternates nativist pulp journalism with fulsome salutes to the Chinese (including a picture caption saluting the eradication of “illeteracy” [sic] in China) while the Avakianite rag avoids the China question like the plague. Whereas the Jarvis article on the split lays out the group’s China-loyal liberal line about as clearly as its muddled politics will permit, the Avakian paper restricts any attempt at a systematic polemic to a rebuttal of the Jarvisites’ movie review of “Saturday Night Fever”!

Jim Crow Maoism

Avakian and Jarvis have a limitless supply of epithets to hurl at each other (the Jarvisite “headquarters” is charged by Avakian with being simultaneously sectarian, careerist, empiricist, pragmatist, maneuverist, factionalist, arrogant, narrow, departmentalist, abstractionist, absolutist, macho and hostile), but there is precious little in the way of political counterposition. While the antagonists unintentionally reveal a lot about the wretched politics shared by both factions, most of the mud-slinging has about as much political significance as a divorce hearing. “It’s all your fault,” cry Avakian and Jarvis as they “sum up” the RCP’s foundering trade-union work, the great NUWO boondoggle, the rightist drift of the youth organization, the pathetic state of internal “education,” the cynical abuse of cadres, and so forth.

Indeed, in all these areas there is plenty of room for criticism. But the hundreds of pages do not even begin to scratch the surface, and in no case do they rise above the level of tactical complaints. Never mentioned are the RCP’s real crimes against the interests of the working masses: the RCP’s bloc with racist vigilantes on the streets of Boston and Louisville; its bloc with Anita Bryant to have homosexual teachers thrown out of the schools; its electoral support for strikebreaking trade-union bureaucrats like Arnold Miller; its gyrations on behalf of government union-busting schemes; its gangsterism against opponents within the workers movement–to say nothing of its silent squirming acceptance of China’s alliance with U.S. imperialism from Angola to Iran. On all basic questions, both wings of the RCP are united in workerist backwardness and Stalinist class treason.

Of all the RCP’s betrayals on the American terrain, what remains most shocking is how a “left” organization could get itself into an action bloc with rampaging racism. To explain it in terms of the RCP’s particular unstable combination of black nationalist sympathies and workerist adaptationism is not sufficient. For other equally workerist outfits with a similar anti-integrationist line did not end up on the other side of the barricades. Much of the New Left tailed the radical black separatist mood into an anti-integrationist “separate but equal” line on education. But when the busing battle in Boston had clearly become a referendum on racism, these groups recoiled before the implications of their positions and either took no action or marched half-heartedly in the liberal anti-racist demonstrations.

Alone on the left, the RCP actually sided openly with the racists who were fighting street battles against the oppressed black masses. In Louisville, Kentucky in 1975 the RCP praised the “fightback” of Klan-led anti-busing mobs. For a while in Boston in 1974, the RCP’s Committee for a Decent Education picked up the ROAR insignia (a hexagonal “Stop” sign which read “Stop Busing”) for use on its own leaflets. And on the first day of school in 1975, they were out on the streets chanting “Stop Phase 2 any way we can.”

This episode starkly demonstrates irreparable corruption of revolutionary-minded activists who embraced “Marxism-Leninism” in its Maoist Stalinist perversion. Many of Avakian’s West Coast founding cadres were drawn from the Peace and Freedom Party, formed largely as a support group for the Panthers. And some of Jarvis’ red-diaper babies had served jail terms for participation in the civil rights movement.

The scandalous anti-busing line coincided with the Revolutionary Union’s transformation into the RCP. In “Avakian’s New Clothes, RCP: Jim Crow Maoism” we said:

The single sharpest refutation of Avakian’s grandiose claims is his courtship of the racist anti-busing movement. What kind of general staff is it whose ’overall battle plan’ amounts to competing with the Ku Klux Klan for leadership of the lynch mobs that surge through the streets of Boston and Louisville? Certainly not the vanguard of the working class! “The RU/RCP’s desire to win a niche as the ’left’ wing of the racist movement is crystal clear in its description (in Revolution, October 1975) of the KKK-led anti-busing riots in Kentucky: ’When school opened in Louisville under a new court-imposed busing plan, the spontaneous fight back was tremendous–a powerful school boycott, street demonstrations, a first day protest strike at several area plants and determined resistance to police attack’. – WV No. 81, 17 October 1975

A watershed on the race question for the Avakian group was the 1974 collapse of the National Liaison Committee (NLC), the “fusion” vehicle set up between the RU, the Black Workers Congress and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (former Young Lords), a year before the RCP founding conference. Avakian had hoped to merge the three groups and proclaim the birth of a “multinational party of a new type,” greatly enhancing his appeal in “Third World” circles.

The discussions were bogged down for months over the question of which leaders of which groups would keep what in the new organization. When Avakian tried to ram his “party-building” proposal down the NLC’s throat, the discussions broke down completely. When the RU representative to the commission went over to the BWC, the affair took on the aspect of a raid; indeed, most of the RU’s black members went out with the BWC. Many RU members, kept in the dark as usual, never knew the NLC existed, learning of the negotiations and their collapse from the BWC on its way out the door.

The RCP subsequently churned out many pages to refute “the dogmatist invention that the RU in particular and the NLC in general placed Party building on the back burner until one day the RU decided to get the jump on the opportunists and issued a Party building proposal” (The Communist, Fall/Winter 1977). In fact, so long as the black nationalists were willing to play footsie with the RU in high-level negotiations, Avakian’s line had little to distinguish it from that later dubbed “Bundism.” Though polemicizing against the ”white skin privilege” line so popular in SDS, the RU/RCP has been all over the map on the black question sometimes sympathetic to the “black belt” theory, sometimes terming U.S. blacks a “nation of a new type,” and sometimes (as in the RCP Programme) avoiding the question altogether.

Stung by the collapse of his ultimatistic maneuver, Avakian propelled the organization into a campaign against “Bundism” (black nationalism) which was as shrill as it was sudden. At an earlier period Progressive Labor had also sharply broken from nationalism, jumping over the question of the special oppression of the black masses into an abstract “black and white, unite and fight” line. But the RCP jumped further, into an ugly alliance with white racism which was to take on programmatic expression over busing in a matter of months.

What ties the RU/ RCP’s flips to its flops is a method of cynical tailism so grotesque as to allow for accommodation to the most virulent manifestations of racism. The RU was not the only petty-bourgeois New Left tendency to replace “student power” impressionism with philistine workerism. But when the wave of radical black nationalism ebbed, the RU simply threw itself into the most vulgar adulation of the working class as it is under capitalism, emulating the bourgeois consciousness of even the most backward workers. This organization–which once admonished its VVAW (veterans’ front group) activists in print on the importance of conducting their discussions in bars, being sure to drink beer like “regular” guys–possesses such profound contempt for the working class that it can embrace as natural such supposedly “proletarian” qualities as racism, male chauvinism, anti-homosexual bigotry and anti-intellectualism.

As the Jarvisites slide from self-isolating RCP “leftism” toward mainstream Stalinism, they will certainly do away with some of the more repulsive aspects of the RCP (opposition to busing, frequent recourse to physical gangsterism, and its anti-Equal Rights Amendment stance) which alienate their natural liberal bedfellows. But any who look to Jarvis for a principled exposure of the RCP’s flagrant capitulation to racism will be disappointed. In the reams of Jarvisite factional documentation, the word “busing” is mentioned precisely once (“We even held a demonstration that had something to do with busing which to this day hardly anybody understands”). Even as he was bursting out of the RCP on a trajectory which will make a “rectification” on busing mandatory, Jarvis had nothing to say about this most shocking excrescence of the RCP’s domestic “work.” A Stalinist must duck real political questions as the devil flinches from holy water.

Jam the Unions, Job the Workers

Avoidance of substantive programmatic questions extends to the disputes over trade-union work. Both sides can agree that the RCP’s “struggle” at “the center of gravity” (the working class at the point of production) is mired in hopeless economist sludge. But for Avakian/Jarvis the only interesting question is who is accountable for landing it there. All the charges of “economism” remain personal attacks; even on the most pragmatic level, we find not one word about the particular functioning of any RCP fraction in any industry, whether steel plant or garment sweatshop. It would seem that the warring leaders have wisely decided not to encourage any speculation about the grotesque oscillations between craven reformism and “militant” adventurism which constitute the RCP’s “tactics.” And it goes without saying that neither side can even obliquely address the basic questions of program and strategy which must direct the trade-union work of any serious socialist organization.

Thus both sides stand proudly on page 109 of the RCP Programme outlining the so-called “single spark method” of trade-union work–that classic New Left formulation for limiting propaganda to the most minimal struggles over bathroom hygiene and cafeteria rubber mats as the way to win friends and influence people in the plants. Through page after page of debate over the relationship of the RCP’s “Intermediate Worker Organizations” to the working class, the only difference which emerges is Jarvis’ fight against Avakian at the Founding Conference to delete the word “mainly” from the phrase: “While these organizations must be based mainly in the plants and other workplaces, their overall role is to apply the single-spark method...”

What the “single spark” method seems to boil down to in practice is wearing your NUWO t-shirt whenever you engage in your meaningless two-bit reformist “militancy.” This is supposed to solve the problem of how the organization’s minimum-program economism “links up” with a broader “political” formation–if not the RCP then at least its IWOs, UWOs and NUWOs. its “Fight Backs,” “Final Warnings” and “Breakouts.” These Potemkin Village “mass” organizations constitute the core of RCP trade-union policy, a grotesquely sub-reformist content animating a formally left-Stalinist dual unionist schema. The RCP apes PL’s endless flip-flops between going around the unions or capitulating slavishly to the existing labor bureaucrats, between adventurist actions which result only in blowing its supporters out of the plants and “left/center coalitions” with out-bureaucrats.

The problem underlying all RCP trade-union work is the inability to distinguish between a working-class institution and a pro-capitalist leadership. If the “two lines” for all Stalinists toward the deformed workers states are either adulation of the bureaucrats in power or writing off the “revisionist” countries as “capitalist” and “fascist,” this methodology applies equally badly in the labor movement. The RCP simply cannot decide the class nature of the trade unions. Behind the incapacity to defend the historic gains of the working class embodied in the trade unions (as in the nationalized property forms of the USSR) lies the Stalinist identification of the class character of an institution with the policies of its bureaucracy. If the RCP can’t get in with the labor bureaucrats, then the unions are “bourgeois” and the bureaucracy and the company are a “two-headed monster.” Thus it oscillates between sucking up to “left”-talking out-bureaucrats (and in-bureaucrats) and flatly anti-union “jam the unions” campaigns.

Even when they are at their most visibly and vituperatively “leftist,” the RCP trade unionists (most of whom seem to be sticking with Avakian in the present split) can never separate themselves programmatically from the pro-capitalist bureaucratic “reformers.” Thus when the RCP burned I. W. Abel in effigy outside the national Steelworkers convention in Atlantic City, they were expressing their tailism of Sadlowski. At Fremont General Motors in California, the RCP supporters who crawled out of the discredited Brotherhood caucus in 1974 took a year to “sum up” their previous enthusiasm for the Brotherhood bureaucrats. Last April, RCP supporters at Fremont again testified to their muddle-headed incapacity when they “summed up” the local strike with a “two-line struggle” in their own leaflet, hilariously titled, “Strike Makes Great Gains (Despite Some Setbacks).”

ILWU: RCP Tails Bureaucrats, Fights “Trotskyites”

In the Bay Area ILWU (longshore/ warehouse) the RCP supporters have amply proved their cynical willingness to even attack workers’ struggles in order to cozy up to the bureaucrats. Naturally they have voted against every immediate demand put forward in the ILWU by “Trotskyites”–from “30 for 40” through elimination of the probation period to a decent pension. During the Handyman warehouse strike in August 1976, when the ILWU Local 6 leadership called for consumer boycotts. RCP supporters voted time and again against motions by the Militant Caucus for “hot-cargoing” scab goods and for sympathy strikes. Moreover, at the January East Bay Local 6 membership meeting. RCP supporters raised only the meekest protest about the bureaucrats’ overturn of a $100 union donation voted for defense of four RCP supporters busted at a demonstration. They sat on the sidelines while the “Trotskyites” fought on their behalf. Defend the working class against the bosses? The RCP will not defend even itself when it means going up against “progressive” bureaucrats.

RCP supporters in the ILWU are a classic horrible example of Stalinist sectarianism. The fight around the bureaucracy’s motion to censure Bob Mandel, a Local 6 General Executive Board member and leader of the Militant Caucus, is a textbook case. In 1975, in the wake of a crushing ILWU defeat by southern California Boron, heralded by Fortune magazine as a model of successful scab-herding, the KNC glass company mobilized to do the same. With the Local 6 bureaucrats sitting back on their haunches and the KNC workers helpless before hordes of scabs, the strike was heading for sure defeat. But a leaflet initiated by Mandel mobilized hundreds of ILWU members for mass picketing at KNC which turned back the scabs. Not only did the RCP abstain from the struggle, but when KNC obtained an anti-picketing injunction, they helped the Local stewards’ council table a motion to defy the strikebreaking order. Nevertheless the aroused union ranks went ahead to defy the injunction, the company backed down, the KNC strike was won and the Militant Caucus was forged.

A few days later a furious Local 6 executive board voted to censure Man-del for “provocative actions.” Militant Caucus supporters scoured the Local, gained the overwhelming support of the KNC strikers and won the vote at the membership meeting to overturn the bureaucracy’s censure. And where were the RCP supporters? Not once throughout the entire KNC struggle did they make a squeak about the bureaucracy’s efforts to sabotage the strike. They refused to join in a united front to defend Mandel against the bureaucrats’ scapegoating witchhunt. Under enormous pressure, they finally voted against the. censure–a creditable act which is surely viewed as a crime by their RCP mentors.

The more political the issue, the more the RCP line prescribes betrayal. In September 1974 a two-day worldwide work stoppage and boycott of all goods to Chile was called to protest the first anniversary of the Pinochet coup. While many U.S. unions ignored the protest, it was successful in ILWU Local 10 (Bay Area longshore) primarily due to the work of supporters of the “Longshore Militant.” a class-struggle newsletter in the Local. Of course, RCP supporters had nothing to do with the struggle. Why? Because the Chinese Maoists supported Pinochet. During the coup, Peking had even closed the doors of its Santiago embassy to Chilean militants seeking sanctuary against the junta’s terror. For the same reasons, RCP supporters refused to say one word in support of the class-struggle militants’ struggle for an ILWU boycott of cargo bound for South Africa and Rhodesia following the suppression of the 1976 Soweto rebellion. When the Spartacist League subsequently initiated picket lines and dockside demonstrations, the RCP supporters refused to participate.

Everywhere the record is the same: craven subservience to the bureaucrats in the trade unions and in Peking, the substitution of face-saving nickel-and-dime reformist schemes for real struggles, sporadic adventurism to camouflage abstention from the fight to build a programmatically based alternative leadership within the unions. It is no wonder that Avakian and Jarvis can only bandy epithets of “economism” and Mao-talk formulae devoid of content. They are united in reformist betrayal of the real interests of the working people.

“Democratic Centralism”?

The wretched politics of the RCP have their concomitant expression on the organizational plane. Even among Stalinist organizations, the RCP is notable for its repulsive cultism. The tinpot despot who refers to himself loftily as “the Chair” has indulged in every high-handed abuse of his comrades. But the responsibility for the den of bureaucratic filth which is the RCP does not rest with Avakian alone. The Jarvis “headquarters” has run its operations with the same cynical contempt for the ranks. “Political struggle” Jarvis-style has always meant simply counter-cliquism: back slapping in the meetings and intrigue in the corridors, gearing up junior comrades to fight the Avakian line on secondary questions and then turning hatchet-man to smash them, rumor-mongering and invidious personalis! gossip. All wings of the RCP leadership have always understood that their primary function was to gear up the ranks for more work and seal them off from politics.

But like any other bureaucrat abruptly ousted from the seat of power. Jarvis has recently begun to squeal about Avakian’s abuse of the RCP membership. While his indictment of the RCP center’s autocratic contempt for the ranks is revealing and often downright funny (“Does anybody know if the ’War and Revolution’ campaign is over?” Jarvis inquires), his new-found concern for the members’ political development is transparently self-serving. Only the Jarvisites’ purge from their leading positions and the subsequent suspension of their power-base from membership pending “registration” could have propelled Jarvis to break from the only real “unity” the RCP has ever known–the “unity” of the clique-leaders to keep the ranks in ignorance.

For authentic Leninists, looking at the RCP’s internal functioning is like observing creatures from another planet. There are no less than eight levels of membership; the labyrinthine structure is both federated and brutally hierarchical. The formal structure is so complicated that even we do not fully understand it. Certainly many RCP members have only the fuzziest notion who their “elected” leadership is, what the functions of the various bodies are (or even what bodies there are) and which are “higher” than others, how many members the organization has and where they are, and so forth. They do know that the question of “security” is invoked as the reason why discussions are held in tiny cell meetings where there is no possibility of hearing a reasonable sampling of party opinions, why members are forbidden to visit or communicate with comrades in other branches, why the allocation of particular personnel and resources is shrouded in secrecy. They also know that debate is conducted through rigidly enforced “channels.” “Channels”–for the RCP the essence of “democratic centralism”–mean that discussion starts at the leadership level–and ends there.

In the ordinary course of events, this structure is designed to promote political sterility, theoretical illiteracy, parochialism and helpless dependence upon the decisions of a leadership whose deliberations are never subjected to membership scrutiny and criticism. But it is only under factional conditions that one can really see what this whole anti-consciousness conspiracy is all about. Jarvis unwittingly reveals the anti-Leninist core of the RCP’s “channels” when he defends himself against accusations of undisciplined functioning thus: “And the fact that almost all cadre were shocked that this line struggle was going on is proof that this struggle was going on in the regular channels.” It could not be more simply stated: the “channels” are working properly when full-blown factional conflict among the leaders is a secret from the membership!

Jarvis is suddenly screaming bloody murder that the China fight is being “resolved organizationally first,” before full discussion of the counterposed lines:

There is a world of difference between how this struggle has gone down and the past practice. The way in which the line was taken proves this. The purge of half the Party leadership [was] the same. The way in which the entire district and all its bodies have been declared illegal is not the practice of the RCP, but instead smacks of the AFL-CIO leadership. In many districts cadre haven’t even received the bulletin so that Avakian can contain the rebellion to certain areas and crush resistance in others. Cadre across the country are being told that leadership will be visiting their houses to collect the pro-China paper and they are not allowed to read it. But there is a more fundamental question than this.

The only way the question can be struggle[d] around is with several complete positions...The way in which this struggle is brought to a head is through unleashing the masses of cadre, including holding congresses. Any other approach is an attempt to first organizationally consolidate people into their channels and branches and then to use the entire weight of the current Central Committee to crush resistance politically. –“It’s Right to Rebel,” by the New York/New Jersey District Committee

Certainly this is not democratic centralism. But is there really “a world of difference” between this “struggle” and the RCP’s “past practice”? The only significant difference we can see between this “discussion” and the garden-variety operation of RCP “channels” is that Jarvis and his bailiwick have been purged–in other words, in this case there has been a split.

What is not different is the essentials: Avakian establishes the line, then the organization proceeds to “discuss” it. Minority documents can be submitted–to the leadership. Dissident positions are not presented by their leading advocates; they must be deduced from the center’s attacks. Factions are disloyal, “revisionist,” “bourgeois.” Congresses are almost never held, and certainly are not the mechanism for resolving serious disputes.

But the key is the matter of “channels.” The Bolshevik principle that leading comrades have the responsibility to debate their views first in the Central Committee has nothing in common with the RCP’s “channels”; in this Stalinist sewer of bureaucratic privilege, minority leaders conduct their “struggles” behind the closed doors of “higher bodies”–and then must carry the majority line into the “lower bodies,” under discipline to smash any who resist “the line” of “the Center.” Thus the only RCP member who can ever criticize the politics dictated by Avakian is a rank-and-filer who has heard no debate among the leadership and knows in advance that every authoritative cadre is duty-bound to smash him. Now Jarvis, predictably making his bid to become an “RCP with a human face,” is busily decrying the anti-democratic implementation of the China discussion as out of step with “past practice.”

Life in the RCP is worse than stultifying; it is degrading. The dismal failure of the “self-study” campaign is attributed to the sluggishness of the membership rather than to the cynical leadership of a Stalinist organization which ordains that members will have political contact only with the handful of people in their cell. Those who want to know what is going on in their own organization are reduced to swapping rumors and horror stories. Political debate is the preserve of the chosen few; the rest are voting cattle, to be seen and not heard, to feed the egos of the Avakians and Jarvises. The “bottom line” front group is the RCP itself. Consciousness is the enemy. The logical conclusion of the RCP’s hideous travesty of “democratic centralism” is the physical gangsterism practiced against working-class opponents and now against supporters of the competing factions.

Stalinism: Syphilis of the Workers Movement

The frictions and recriminations over the RCP’s domestic disasters might have remained indefinitely submerged in the Avakian-Jarvis marriage of convenience which has always been the RCP’s “principle of unity.” But the death of Mao and the resulting turmoil among Maoist sycophants trying to pick the winner among the warring cliques of the Chinese bureaucracy severely exacerbated the RCP’s internal tensions. And when the RCP’s arch-rival Mike Klonsky clinked glasses with Hua Kuo-feng in Peking, celebrating the awarding of the Chinese imprimatur to Klonsky’s CP(ML), it was the beginning of the end for the RCP. The detonation of Hua’s explosives–the split which is now spewing shards of RCP trade-union fractions, youth chapters and assorted front groups all over the political map– was really only a matter of time. As we forecast:

Klonsky’s getting the Chinese ’franchise’ represents a watershed for the American Maoist movement. For years rival Maoist groups in this country–in particular the October League [now CP(ML)] of Klonsky and the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) led by Bob Avakian–have been able to claim the mantle of Maoist orthodoxy for their divergent lines and pronouncements on an entire range of political issues.
But the game is over. Peking has picked its flunkey. And the big loser is Avakian... No matter where it might turn, the RCP cannot escape a deep political crisis. – Young Spartacus, September 1977

Stalinism without a country is an unhappy and deeply unstable phenomenon. For a Maoist, “socialism” equals China and the defense of China equals the policies of the incumbent bureaucratic regime. How that regime could then back Klonsky’s organization as the leadership which all American “progressives” must support is a question for which the RCP can have no answer.

Indeed, it is not likely that there remain many individuals in either wing of the fractured RCP with sufficient political backbone, critical intelligence and residual subjective revolutionary will to confront the real political issues which have brought them to their present crisis. Whatever subjective revolutionary fibre some members may have possessed when they joined has been worn away by years of class collaboration and apology for Stalinist betrayal. In the hundreds of pages of split documents, politics is buried under a mountain of brain-rotting Mao-thought and practiced indifference to elementary revolutionary principle.

When the New Left/Maoist tendency developed in the 1960’s it embodied a certain primitive hatred for U.S. imperialism, particularly for the liberal bourgeoisie who waged war against the workers and peasants of Indochina. But these petty-bourgeois radicals’ adoption of “Third World” nationalism and Maoist Stalinism set them on a collision course with their decent instincts. As followers of Mao and his adolescent flatters in the U.S.–Avakian, Klonsky and the rest–the New Leftists learned to operate in the political sewer system of Stalinism.

The Maoists learned to justify every reactionary twist and turn of Chinese policy. They learned to dress up the narrow nationalist interests of the Peking bureaucrats in a rhetoric of praise for “socialist China.” On this basis they swallowed China’s support for two-bit butchers and big-time dictators: Bandaranaike of Ceylon, Ayub Khan of Pakistan, the Shah of Iran, Chile’s Pinochet. If Mao sought a bloc with Nixon, then the U.S. Maoists prated about “openings in the West” and the “strategy against the two superpowers.” The Chinese Stalinists want a stronger NATO, so American Maoists must discover that their own bourgeoisie–which the New Left had once grasped was the most deadly force of monstrous reaction against the colonial peoples–could be “used” by the “bastion of socialism” against the “main enemy,” “Soviet social-imperialism.”

It was an education on a small scale–not unlike the one received by an earlier generation of Stalinists, who learned about the “People’s Front” with the “progressive” Roosevelt. It was an education in forgetting the elementary Leninist principle–doubly important for revolutionists in the citadel of world imperialism–that the main enemy is your “own” bourgeoisie.

So when South African military forces backed up by U.S. imperialism confronted African nationalists and Cuban troops in Angola, U.S. Maoists were ready. They blasted Cuba as the “capitalist” shock troops for “Soviet social-imperialism.” This was a crucial lesson in betrayal for the RCP, many of whose cadres had come to politics inspired by the example of the Cuban revolution, some of whom had even helped cut sugar cane with Cuban comrades in the early New Left expeditions. Now they had come full circle, abandoning the defense of the gains of the Cuban revolution to the “social-imperialists”–and, of course, to the Trotskyists.

One of the most important lessons learned in the Stalinist training ground for betrayal is the anti-Trotskyist reflex. Both clique leaders understand that the only truly left challenge comes from Trotskyist opposition to Stalinism. And Jarvis uses the standard technique. First, lie about what Trotskyism is and what Trotsky said. Then invoke the ghost of Stalin to denounce your opponents and “Trotskyites.” Hua denounced the “Gang” as “Trotskyites.” The CP(ML) denounces the RCP as “Trotskyites.” Avakian denounces Progressive Labor as “crypto-Trots.” Now Jarvis denounces Avakian as “Trotskyite” because he says “socialism failed” in China. Tomorrow Avakian may turn around and charge that Jarvis and Teng are “Trotskyites” because they are “for modernization.” And so it goes.

Jarvis: Right in Form, Right in Essence

What is going on in the RCP is more than the usual Trotsky-baiting. The charge of “Trotskyism” is the Jarvis clique’s central political characterization of Avakian. In the time-tested Stalinist tradition, any criticism of the ruling bureaucracy of the “socialist country” is “Trotskyism.” The great fear is that even Avakian’s shamefaced step back from adulation of the infallible rulers of the Chinese “fatherland” opens the road to PL-land:

Shall we, who as the RU exposed PL as Trotskyite counterrevolutionaries follow their footsteps down the road to hell?... Shall we join the Trotskyite anti-China chorus, do the job of the bourgeoisie from the left?... “While the battle to resist this trend away from working class concentration, towards a safe but harmful left idealism and Trotskyite interventionism has been going on for quite a while inside the party, it has not been general knowledge among the cadre, although many cadre have resisted and protested. But it has come to a head over the China question, and as such has both concentrated a trend into a gallop, and has demanded that we make common cause with PL, WVO [Workers Viewpoint Organization], Spartacists and other Trots...
On the basis of the correct stand of those who opposed the frantic head-over-heels rush to catch up with the Sparts. all opposing have been removed from their posts. –“China Advances...”

The absolute identification of the interests of the international proletariat with the policies of the bureaucracy is central to Stalinist ideology. For Jarvis, only one “proof” of the “revolutionary” nature of the Hua regime is required: it is in power in China. And the “counterrevolutionary” character of the “Gang” is the inescapable conclusion from the fact that it went “from very big to very small very fast.” Jarvis quotes Avakian’s allegation that “the followers of the Four... number at least in the tens of millions” and makes a most revealing reply:

His faith is touching, but it is no substitute for evidence on this question. Even if his fondest dreams are true, in China this is a mere handful. It takes 45 million just to give you 5 percent of the people. –“China Advances...”

Jarvis’ recourse to the numbers game is more than just pragmatism. The line that “900 million Chinese can’t be wrong” is a central Stalinist argument. Since the status quo is basically immutable, just label it “revolutionary”–after all, you don’t want to be a “Trotskyite pessimist.” Of course, one could argue with about the same degree of correctness that 13 million U.S. workers organized in the AFL-CIO can’t be wrong when their “leaders” organize CIA trade unionism in Latin America!

For a Stalinist, the only source of satisfaction is indeed the smug assurance that one’s presumed co-thinkers are lording it over the masses Somewhere in the world. It is certainly true that the revolutionary optimism of Trotskyism, based on the Marxist analysis of the revolutionary capacity of the international proletariat, has nothing to do with the Stalinist “optimism” that magically transforms bloody betrayals into “victories” with a wave of the pen.

According to Jarvis’ attempts at “theory,” the core of “Trotskyite despair” is Trotsky’s insistence that socialism cannot be built in a single country. This was not only Trotsky’s position. Lenin explained that “Socialism means the abolition of classes. And classes still remain and will remain in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat” (Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat). Thus socialism–the classless society–could be established only on an international scale based on an international division of labor. Lenin and Trotsky understood that if the dictatorship of the proletariat–a workers state–were established in Russia, it would be a transition to socialism only if the revolution were internationalized through the victory of proletarian revolution in the West.

Stalin’s “Socialism in One Country” was precisely the ideology of despair. With the defeat of the German revolution, a consolidating Stalinist bureaucracy propounded “Socialism in One Country” as the justification for its parasitic existence and for its reactionary policies aimed at ensuring that new revolutionary upheavals would not arise to threaten its detente with world imperialism.

The trajectory of the Jarvis grouping as it flees the so-called “high road” of Avakian’s RCP is clearly to the right. Pulling back from Avakianite ultimatism. pushing for an ever more economist “mass line” in the front groups, holding high the horrible example of “leftism” PL style, shrinking from the word “communist” in the mindless-activist youth organization, decrying the RCP’s “isolation”–Jarvis seems to have at least a fuzzy idea of what he doesn’t want.

But the great bugaboo of “isolation” cuts two ways for an American Maoist. If Jarvis wants to avoid “isolation” from the Chinese regime, he must do something far more difficult for him than dumping his residual hesitations about the Maoist line that “Soviet social-imperialism” is a greater danger than the U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie. Something more distasteful than doing a deal with Klonsky. He must accept isolation from the left-liberals and soft-core Stalinists of the U.S. rad-lib milieu–the old New Lefters, the professional fellow travelers of the Guardian “critical Maoists,” the “anti-dogmatic” Stalinoids whose outlook most closely dovetails with his domestic political line.

Jarvis’ most serious immediate problem will be to hold his own supporters. Deeply discredited by his maneuverism and his collusion in the RCP’s deliberate conspiracy of silence against its own membership, Jarvis’ authority has suffered a catastrophic erosion and could be recouped only by the elaboration of some kind of political perspective to arm his demoralized ranks. This is precisely what the “Revolutionary Workers Headquarters” cannot provide. Its political life-span will be however long the Jarvisite cadres’ vengeful hatred of Avakian suffices to prod them into political activity.

Avakian in Dangerous Waters

Bob Avakian is not a Trotskyist, not even a “shamefaced” one. He is not moving toward Trotskyism. He is not even PL, which for a period moved into an eclectic, idealist leftism which we termed “Trotskyism with a pre-frontal lobotomy.” He is simply trying to find an explanation within the framework of Maothought Stalinism for China’s selection of Klonsky rather than Avakian as its U.S. running dog. But in raising any question that the Chinese leadership has deviated in any way from “Marxism-Leninism,” Avakian is drifting through dangerous waters.

Avakian’s method is pure Mao thought: if his clique is not ensconced in the Forbidden Palace, then “socialism” has failed, the Constitution is “fascist,” and so forth. Even this simple-minded substitution of moralist impressionism for materialist analysis raises more questions than it “answers.” And for Maoists it poses a defeatist imperative. Avakian is faced with the deduction that China has gone the way of Russia; sooner or later, the necessary conclusion must be that China should not be defended against U.S. imperialism. That really does raise the spectre of PL.

Avakian is trying desperately, with ludicrous attempts at secrecy and mostly with political evasion, to stave off this development. But for a Stalinist the revolutionary alternative is even scarier. To make fundamental criticism of the policies of the ruling bureaucracy while defending the gains of the revolution against imperialism (and if in China, why not in Russia?) comes much too close to real Trotskyism.

What Trotskyists defend in the USSR (and China) is not those platitudinous exhortations which pose as “ideas” but the material conquests of the revolution: the socialized (collectivized) property forms, the economic basis for the transition to socialism. And this, no matter which bureaucratic clique is running the show. Because the Stalinist bureaucracy usurped political power from the proletariat as part of a political counterrevolution, while resting upon the property forms suited to proletarian rule, it has a dual and contradictory character. On the one hand, it will defend in a limited way the economic basis upon which its parasitic privilege rests; on the other, it seeks the most dangerous accommodation with imperialism, from “peaceful coexistence” frauds to support for NATO.

The Trotskyist program calls for the unconditional defense of the collectivized property forms of all the degenerated and deformed workers states against counterrevolution and imperialist attack. The restoration of capitalism in the USSR would be a historic defeat for the international proletariat. For a true Leninist, the defense of the USSR and its socialist property forms is inseparable from the revolutionary struggle to oust the anti-working-class regime which dismantled the soviet democracy of Lenin and Trotsky, which turned the Communist International into an instrument of counterrevolution, and which daily undermines the defense of the revolution by disorganizing the economy, fostering nationalist divisions among the working people, oppressing every stratum of the masses and feeding the restorationist lusts of imperialism. Only this proletarian political revolution can bring about the united front of the workers states against imperialism.

Neither Avakianites nor Jarvisites can distinguish between defending “socialism” and supporting the treacherous bureaucrats in Peking against the working class. Similarly, neither can draw the class line in the U.S., where both politically support the union bureaucrats while refusing to defend the unions from the capitalist state’s union-busting. As we said to the members of the RCP at the time of their youth conference last November:

In the past the Stalinist predecessors of the RCP attacked Trotskyism for its refusal to hail Stalin’s Russia as a ’workers paradise.’ But in the name of upholding the Stalin tradition the Maoists have written off the gains of the October Revolution and have attacked Trotskyism for supporting so-called ’Soviet social-imperialism.’ “Likewise, until recently the RCP has scrambled to be loyal apologists for the Maoist bureaucracy in China. Given the present political trajectory of the Avakian tendency, we may soon find ourselves attacked by these Maoists of yesterday for our unconditional military defense of the gains of the Chinese revolution. – Young Spartacus, December 1977-January 1978

Are there any members of any wing of the RCP prepared to confront the fundamental question that split the Communist movement: “socialism in one country” vs. revolutionary internationalism? Jarvis has grabbed for the Hua regime, with its pro-NATO foreign policy, as his political calling card. If some ember of hatred for the U.S. bourgeoisie still burns in some RCPer, that spark would most likely be found in the Avakian wing. But to find them might take a bit of looking. Maoists who swallowed Angola may choke before they allow the words “Mao’s counterrevolutionary foreign policy” to escape their lips. Certainly Jarvis has Avakian’s number when he says of the RCP majority:

They have said in private for the past year that China’s foreign policy under Hua is, if anything, a little better in its handling of the two superpowers. Now, when Peking Review 45 comes out with not one new and significant difference from the foreign policy for the past many years, they call it a marked departure from Mao...–“China Advances...”

After Angola, few RCPers can be expected to have the political courage to re-examine the Stalin-Trotsky split. But this is their only chance for survival in revolutionary politics. This was the course undertaken by the Communist Working Collective (CWC), the Buffalo Marxist Caucus and many other former Maoists whose efforts to confront the crucial questions facing Marxists led them to the revolutionary Trotskyism of the Spartacist League. In his “Letter to a Maoist,” a CWC spokesman described the barrier his group had to break through before they could even ask these questions:

We have all floundered about for three years now seeking in Mao Tse Tung Thought a revolutionary alternative to the revisionists...
We had to work against our prejudices when we began to examine Lenin’s Collected Works. We, quite literally, had lost the ability to read what was on the printed page...
The attempts that we made to sum up the Third International or the Russian experience never even reviewed the most comprehensive critique of that experience extant–the writings of Leon Trotsky. A Great Wall had been erected through a generation of Stalinists through terror, slander and falsification to turn Trotskyism into a no man’s land where travelers proceeded only at grave peril...
... On the mental screen of Stalinism our turn toward Trotskyism will simply confirm the worst imaginings and predictions of the opportunists. The ideological struggle, complete with ’splitting and wrecking’, has ended up in the swamp of Trotskyism only one step removed from the bourgeoisie, disillusionment, or even police agentry–so the story goes ad nauseum. Stalin did his work well. He mined and booby-trapped the path toward Marxism and then annihilated those who stumbled reaching it...
Our collective fought a key fight with the Dogmatic Tradition which proved to be the main methodological obstacle to even an investigation. We did so without knowing where it would lead us.... –“From Maoism to Trotskyism,” Marxist Bulletin No. 10”

But it appears to be too late for the Avakianites, and hopeless for the Jarvisites. The former are drifting into PL-land and economist obscurity, in the no-win situation of trying to recruit to their China line in guilty whispers. And the latter must either gravitate toward Klonsky, lose themselves in the swamp of “critical Maoist” dilettantes or drop out of politics altogether. Mainly, these rotten reformist formations will split and split again. And as they cannot confront and reach the revolutionary politics of Trotskyism represented by the Spartacist League, their disintegration is, as the homiletic Mao might say, not a bad thing but a good thing.