Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

RCP Split Leaves Maoist Youth in Dark

Behind the Fake “Communist” Youth Debate

First Published: Young Spartacus, #63, April 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“The future is ours if we dare to take it!” It was with this optimistic theme that the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) not too long ago staged the razzle-dazzle national conference where its front group, the notoriously juvenile Revolutionary Student Brigade, was “transformed” into its formal youth affiliate with the new “upfront” name Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB).

But now, only four months later, the future in fact looks pretty bleak for these maverick Maoists. No sooner had RCYBers resumed their old publicity stunt “fight backs” in their new r-rrevolutionary COMMUNIST T-shirts than the RCP exploded over their heads in a dramatic split which ripped what once had been America’s largest Maoist tendency right down the middle.

Thrown into a severe political crisis by the power struggle which erupted within the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy after the death of Mao, for well over a year now the RCP has been a time bomb of explosive contradictions. Refusing to hail the purge of the so-called “Gang of Four” by China’s Chairman Hua Kuofeng and the subsequent “rehabilitation” of twice-purged arch-“capitalist roader” Teng Hsiao-ping, RCP “Chairman” Bob Avakian commanded the organization to take an “ostrich positron” on the events in China. But, while its head was buried in the sand, another part of the RCP’s anatomy was quite prominent. In almost no time the RCP became the laughingstock of the left – and quite justly so.

With the entire membership of the RCP forbidden by fiat from “The Chair” to discuss the China issue internally or even privately, the RCP leadership more and more came to resemble a byzantine cellar of subterranean maneuvers, invidious gossiping and palace intrigues rivaling in their own puny way “business as usual” in the Forbidden City. The crisis brewing within the RCP leadership was sharply intensified when Peking unexpectedly granted the Maoist franchise long coveted by the RCP to its arch rival: the ever-slavish Communist Party (Marxist Leninist) [CP(ML)] led by the decidedly dim-witted Michael Klonsky.

But in January the long-simmering factionalism finally boiled over when RCP leader Mickey Jarvis mobilized a sizable minority of disgruntled pro-Hua elements in cliquist warfare against the pro-“Gang” Avakian and his “Headquarters.” At once the RCP fractured along . long-established clique lines inherited from its predecessor organization, the Revolutionary Union (RU), which originated through the amalgamation of Avakian’s Bay Area workerist collectives with Jarvis’ East Coast chunk of the campus-derived RYM II (the wing of Students for a Democratic Society which coalesced explicitly in opposition to the serious though crude pro-working class orientation of Progressive Labor). lt was not at all surprising, therefore, that in the recent RCP fight and split Avakian held the West Coast and the majority of the RCP trade unionists, while Jarvis had his base in the East Coast and the youth organization.

After having kept the ranks of both the party and the youth completely in the dark about the sharp political polarization within the top leadership, Avakian and Jarvis each grabbed what they could get from the RCYB. In January Avakian, perhaps figuring that the youth could be his if he only dared to take it, pulled together a national meeting of the RCYB, excluding the membership of most chapters and regions which had already lined up behind Jarvis. When the Jarvisites attempted to enter the meeting, Avakianite thugs viciously set upon them with chains, baseball bats and black jacks, sending one woman to the hospital in critical condition.

But Avakian turned out to be the big loser in the raiding of the youth organization. Jarvis managed to pull out a majority of the RCYB: the entire national office, two-thirds of the National Political Committee, 85 percent of the membership in the Midwest and virtually the entire East Coast. Resurrecting the old name “Revolutionary Student Brigade” (RSB) the Jarvisite youth have published a first issue of The Young Communist which announces their rebellion against the RCP and its “egomaniacal chair” (complete with a savage caricature of the “Pipsqueak Avakian” captioned: “This short person’s got no reason to live”). For their part the Avakianite youth have retained the name RCYB but have retitled their press Revolutionary Communist Youth.

The Truth Comes Out

No doubt many of these Maoist youth, who suddenly found themselves selling a new newspaper are still stunned, wandering about without the foggiest idea of exactly why the RCP and RCYB have violently split but nevertheless expected to snarl and “walk bad” whenever they encounter former comrades who ended up on the opposite side of the blood line. How was an RCYB member to know about the political storm which was raging within the RCP leadership? Bureaucratically stage managed by the RCP, the founding convention of the RCYB was held in a carnival-like atmosphere where disco dance contests and much-encouraged macho posturing substituted for serious political discussion, even on the controversial question of the name and nature of the “new” organization.

News of the split thus understandably hit the RCP/RCYB ranks like a bombshell. But the membership didn’t learn about the factional polarization and the split through their own internal bulletins or even from the pages of the RCP’s Revolution. Both the Avakian and Jarvis wings conspired to keep their ranks completely in the dark about the depth of the political crisis that was wracking the RCP.

Many RCYB members had what for them probably was the absolutely humiliating experience of first hearing about the RCP/RCYB split from Spartacus Youth League activists on campus. Some just gaped at our comrades in silent disbelief or confusion; others heatedly dismissed the news as “Spart slander,” But, in fact the only place they build find the story of the split, documented with quotes from the internal documents which they didn’t even know existed, was Workers Vanguard. More than a few RCYBers, some gladly, others grudgingly, bought copies of the Workers Vanguard with the front-page exclusive, “RCP Splits!” (WV No. 190, 27 January 1978).

And what a shock it must have been for RCYBers to find out for the first time exactly why the RCP leadership told them absolutely nothing about the real political differences which were tearing the organization apart! Here RCYBers could read the report to the RCP Central Committee by Avakian where “The Chair” ruled that the youth organization – supposedly the communist youth section of the RCP! – could be told no more about the party’s “line” on China than other “people not close to us, including opportunists”:

“In talking to people outside the Party we must draw distinctions. We can speak about our whole line on this [developments in China] only to people very close to the Party and who can be trusted to grasp not only the line, but the reasons we are not expounding it publicly ...

“The RCYB, because of its nature [!], should not have a line on this question (though, obviously [!] Party members within it have a line). Only those closest to the Party within the RCYB should be told our full position as outlined above. Within the RSB generally, our line on China should be the same as our broad public position.” (added emphasis) “Central Committee Report,” Vol. 3, No. 1.

Although at each other’s throats over what line to take on China (or whether even to take a position), both Avakian and Jarvis maintained a “united front” against their ranks, especially the younger members whose lack of “realism” and “experience” (read: cynicism and political corruption) might lead them to speak about the unspeakable or object to the objectionable. Both before and after the split the Avakianites and Jarvisites have sought to keep the hot issues out of the youth and to line up their ranks on the basis of appeals to parochialism, favoritism, old cronyism and the like.

What Hit the Fan

Not since the 1969 split in SDS has New Left Maoism in this country been shaken by such a profound crisis as what has detonated the RCP/RCYB. Posed point blank for the .. RCP/RCYB was what for any serious self-proclaimed Maoist tendency should be a fundamental political question: whether the heirs of Mao are “capitalist roaders” or “beacons of Marxism-Leninism” – or neither. For a Stalinist organization such as the RCP to place a question mark over its “socialist fatherland,” even if only doing so tacitly, calls into question its entire political raison d’etre: identification with a Stalinist bureaucracy which is allegedly “building socialism.” It raises the thorny problem of coming to grips with how the revolution was betrayed-since for Stalinists the very question is almost synonymous with Trotskyism.

Even though the RCP/RCYB has split, both the Avakianites and the Jarvisites are still trying at all costs, to avoid this central question. While on the eve of the split mounting pressure from the Jarvisites forced Avakian to show his anti-Hua hand among the top leadership of the RCP, since then the Avakianites have continued to maintain Their stonewalling public silence on China. Nowhere in the first issue of the unreadable Revolutionary Communist Youth can there be found even a single reference to the People’s Republic of China, much less any open solidarity with the purged “Gang.” The only response this “consciousness lowering” rag can make to the Jarvisite Young Communist – which openly expresses its general pro-Hua line – is an attack on its favorable review of the popular film Saturday Night Fever!

It should be obvious to anyone not blinded by the syphilis of Stalinism that “The Chair” doesn’t have a leg to stand on, at least as far as China is concerned. But evidently Bob Avakian is so megalomaniacal that he actually believes that he can build a Maoist party along the lines of a Masonic society cautiously revealing the “secrets” to the chosen few. Perhaps the best reply to such delusions of grandeur comes not from. Marx or Lenin but from Abraham Lincoln: “It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.”

If Avakian is philistine to the point of absurdity, then Jarvis is equally cynical. While Bob Avakian undoubtedly takes quite seriously the idealist claptrap which Mao concocted to rationalize intra-bureaucratic power struggles and revolving-door purges (“class struggle” in the cranium), Jarvis is a more savvy Stalinist who realizes the advantages of being “flexible” – meaning willingness to “go with the flow” in Peking even if it requires leaving behind starry-eyed New Left illusions in the radical-egalitarian rhetoric and heroes of the Cultural Revolution. Thus, the Jarvisites have reaffirmed in carefully guarded language their basic allegiance to the ruling Stalinist oligarchy in China, accepting with “reservations” the restoration of the durable Teng to the summits of power.

No doubt the Jarvisites will keep their China line abstract and general, at least until they determine whether their relations with the Chinese can be patched up one way or another. If their bid to crawl back into favor with the ruling clique in Peking succeeds, the Jarvisites no doubt will quietly drop their “reservations” about Teng presumably along with their cracks about “short people” who “got no reason to live.” But should their overtures to the , Chinese prove to be abortive, then Jarvis has a Whipping boy already waiting in the wings.

“Historic Struggle” over T-Shirts

In their respective statements on the split both the Avakianite and Jarvisite press have each gone through contortions to either avoid or downplay the China question. Instead, both sides scribble endless pages about how central to the split was the controversy over changing the name of the youth group at the time of the last conference. But in reality the “battle” over what to call the new youth group was only a skirmish-significant, but still subordinate to the larger polarization over the China question. It was significant not so much for the positions advanced by each side: Avakian, the inveterate New Leftist, was pushing for the youth to be more flamboyantly “up front” about their “communism,” while Jarvis, more attuned to the mood of the RSB in the aftermath of the Kent State “victory” last spring, wanted a more ”mass” image. What was more important was that Jarvis used the youth dispute to try to mobilize the youth in opposition to Avakian.

When the dispute over the name question broke out, Jarvis evidently ran around lining up non-party youth in the RSB to back his position. Despite considerable sentiment in the youth for the Jarvisite-backed “mass” orientation, Avakian rammed through his position by cracking the whip over the party members in the youth who were balking at the “Party’s line” (i.e., Avakian’s line).

At the same time, however, the short-lived dispute over the name of the youth organization did reveal something about the appetites of the two wings of the split. For Avakian, putting “Communist” in the name of the group had nothing to do with a change in program but was simply another gimmick to attract publicity; Its “up front” profile was simply for shock value. Just listen to Avakian making his case for “Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade,” for the T-shirts as opposed to “Youth In Action” or “Revolutionary Youth Brigades”:

“ ... 10 people wearing Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade T-shirts means more than 50 people wearing YIA T-shirts or even 25 wearing RYB T-shirts (1/3 of them not being reds, and many of the other 2/3 not wanting to say they are!) ... ” – “On the Question of Building a Young Communist League”

Avakian got his way on the name question by squashing his opposition before the convention, and the RCYBers got their little red T shirts. But “because of its nature” the RCYB didn’t get a word about the real dispute in the party and couldn’t have a line on China.

On the other side, Jarvis wasn’t at all counterposing seriousness to silliness with his proposal for a “broad,” “mass” youth organization. Not satisfied simply with infantile political exhibitionism “masterminded” by Avakian, Jarvis wants a more staid Stalinist youth group which can attract a much broader layer of campus “progressives” (translate: liberals).

Neither side of the split has been able to show how its differences with the other over the youth question were anything more than secondary. On the one hand, the RSB of Jarvis claims that the conference which founded the RCYB was right-on; its only shortcoming was adopting the Avakianite name proposal. On the other hand, Avakian feebly tries to pin on the Jarvisite youth leadership responsibility for positions and practices which have always characterized Avakianite youth work. It really takes the hyper-pneumatic ego of an Avakian to accuse the Jarvisite RCYB leadership with substituting flashiness for politics (for example, choosing campaigns by asking, “How will it spin?”)!

High Road-Low Road

Avakian’s RCP/RCYB will likely degenerate into a leader-cult sect which is organizationally sectarian, politically opportunist and programmatically very unstable. A clear break with the Hua regime and an attempt to generalize the implications of such a split would have brought the RCP right up against the spectre of Trotskyism. What lies before Avakian’s RCP/RCYB is the choice between a slow political death PL-style or the unappetizing prospect of championing “socialist” Albania as the only beacon of hope for the socialist future. The cynical option of a policy of public silence no longer exists as the open split has been splashed across the pages of the left press and there are now two very similar but rival youth groups competing on the campuses.

The Jarvisites face an uncomfortable choice. With the smell of fresh blood in the air, Klonsky’s CP(ML) issued its call for “Marxist-Leninist” unity. Though they no doubt pride themselves on the more “critical” posture which they have maintained over the years in the RCP they have to face the hard facts. Klonsky has the franchise.

Many of the Jarvisites may maintain illusions that they can barter directly with the Chinese to get them to change horses. But Peking didn’t pick its American comrades on the basis of proven capacity to lead the working class or any other such thing. What the Chinese want is a reliable press agent that will justify their every twist and turn. And the slavish CP(ML) has stuck it out through thick and thin defending each and every betrayal of the clique in power in Peking. There is no longer any room for two Peking-loyal organizations in the U.S. Either the Jarvisites resign themselves to irrelevancy, or they get the Chinese to broker an entry into Klonsky’s CP(ML) on the most favorable terms possible.

In the immediate period ahead, however, the differences between the RCYB and RSB will most likely appear incomprehensible to American college students confronting the rival organizations. The sharp invective which has characterized the polemics between the RCYB and the resurrected RSB is completely incommensurate with the apparent points of political dispute (a rumble over the film “Saturday Night Fever”?). It is a telling indictment of the bankruptcy of New Left Maoism that both the Avakianites and Jarvisites are happy to see the real differences over China buried beneath a rubbish heap of apolitical charges and secondary issues. What reveals the fundamentally cliquist Stalinist character of the way the rival wings of the RCP lined up and split the youth is the fact that not only China has been ignored but also all other fundamental issues which have confronted the RCYB, in particular, the questions of special oppression. Many raw youth recruited to the RCYB on the basis of its trendy New Left activism manifestly found it difficult to accept and to defend the Avakianite tendency’s philistine-workerist opposition to busing for school desegregation, to the ERA and to democratic rights for homosexuals. It was revealing that at the founding conference of the RCYB a significant minority of the participants expressed general support for the ERA and more than a few were visibly upset when keynote speaker Avakian likened the capitalist class to a “bunch of faggots” (because the bourgeoisie doesn’t fight its own wars).

Even before the conference pressure from ranks unhappy with the RCP’s categorical opposition to busing as a “bosses’ plot” forced the leadership to adopt a more weasly position (admitting that hypothetically and in the abstract some busing plan of the future might be supportable). By the time of the conference the busing issue was sufficiently hot that the leadership canceled the scheduled workshop on school desegregation.

Youth in Question, but Youth Can’t Question

Of course, the Jarvisites now wax indignant over how the political differences in the party were not revealed to “the Brigade” and fought out in the youth as well as the party. But just who, pray tell, among the Jarvisite clique ever fought for the dispute to be brought before the party ranks, not to mention the youth. On the contrary, Jarvis has defended how the dispute was confined to the top leadership! After the fact lip service to party democracy aside, the Jarvisites have the same attitude to the youth as the Avakianites. For both, it’s just a question of who’s getting jobbed at the moment.

Despite his howling about how Avakian has stomped on the youth, Jarvis has set up the RSB so that he is in the position to do exactly the same when he feels like “kick in’ ass.” Why have the Jarvisite bulletins from the RCP fight not been published for the RSB? Where has Jarvis repudiated the traditional Stalinist practice of imposing discipline on party members who are also in the youth preventing them from raising their differences in the youth organization?

The SYL, as a disciplined Trotskyist youth organization, is organizationally independent and politically subordinate to the Spartacist League. The political subordination of a genuinely Leninist youth affiliate organization reflects the recognition of the necessity of one democratic-centralist vanguard party, which embodies revolutionary continuity and the revolutionary program, to lead the struggle of the working class for state power.

Taken together, the SL and SYL constitute a common movement, each of which discusses all disputed questions which confront the common movement and, being bound by the discipline of the common movement, each of which is obliged to carry out all decisions which are arrived at. Given these conditions within the SYL, SL members who are also members of the youth organization do not function in the SYL as a disciplined fraction, in relation to nonparty youth members.

Political subordination – in the Leninist model – implies the possibility for the youth to politically influence the decisions of the party through an exchange of representatives on all party bodies, from top to bottom. The youth organization is a training ground for professional revolutionaries. Organizational independence and full rights of political discussion within the ranks of the youth organization are critical to the development of future party cadres. A special section of the party for youth is a recognition that youth are a specially oppressed group in capitalist society.

Each successive generation comes to communism in a different way and by other paths than the previous generation. It is the task of the youth section of the party to teach the new generation how to apply Marxism to the unique conjuncture of problems that they face. The anti-Marxist politics of the RCYB and the RSB are not suited to this task.

Plague On Both Your Houses

The main point of divergence between the RCP/RCYB and the Jarvisites is which wing of the Chinese bureaucracy to back or to oppose. Both accept the basic framework of Stalinism in which policy and privilege are determined by endless power struggles of the bureaucratic caste that rules over the working class. Both adhere to the counterrevolutionary doctrine of “socialism in one country” and the idealist notion that the class character of the state is determined by the ideas in the heads of the bureaucrats in power.

Both Avakian and Jarvis have nothing but contempt for the membership of their organizations and the youth organizations. Both share equally the responsibility for the bureaucratic morass that was the RCP. As “leaders” in this Stalinist organization their main function was to goad the membership into endless sub-reformist activism while sealing them off from politics. Avakian and Jarvis alike understand that the only real left challenge to their brand, of Stalinism is the principled politics and revolutionary practice of Trotskyism. So both the Avakianite and Jarvisite leaderships try to inoculate their young members against the politics of the SL/SYL by drilling crude kneejerk anti-Trotskyism into their ranks.

The Stalinist politics of both wings in the RCP split totally identify the interests of the international proletariat with the anti-revolutionary politics of the ruling bureaucracy, although each has its preferred clique. Criticism of the ruling clique immediately conjures up the spectre of Trotskyism, which most of the cynical cadres of the RCP will avoid like the plague.

But the wrenching experience of the recent split and the blatant abuse and manipulation of the youth comrades should propel any who joined the RSB/ RCYB with the mistaken idea that it would fight U.S. imperialism and make a revolution to reject this school of politics. Now is the time for those who want to devote their lives to building a genuinely revolutionary movement to crawl out of the muck and mire of the degenerate clique politics of the RCP and examine the program and politics of the SL/SYL – the continuity of Marxism-Leninism in our time.