Revolutionary Communist Party (US)
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The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP) is a Maoist political party in the United States originally formed in 1975, which in recent years has mutated into a batshit authoritarian cult of personality centered around the guru status of Bob Avakian, who has been party chairman since its inception.
The Bay Area Revolutionary Union (BARU) originated in 1971 in California as a faction of the Progressive Labor Party that split off over interpretation of Maoist doctrine. The organization reconstituted itself as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) in 1975.
During the 1960s, Bob Avakian had been a more typical New Left activist, involved with the Peace and Freedom Party and the Black Panther Party. By the end of the 1960s, he was part of a tendency in the New Left with a hard-Maoist line, collectively known as the New Communist Movement. Within Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), this tendency made up the Revolutionary Youth Movement II (RYM II) faction, opposed to the other two main factions: Weatherman, which favored immediate violent revolution, and the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), a Maoist splinter from the Communist Party USA. RYM II and the New Communist Movement viewed a China-style revolution as an imperative, opposed to the electoralism of such Old Left groups as Communist Party USA, but also opposed both Weatherman's immediate-revolution line (it could kill you!) and Progressive Labor's more purist interpretation of Maoist doctrine.
RYM II and the PLP experienced factional convulsions over doctrinal questions surrounding the path of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In 1971, a splinter from RYM II led by Avakian joined with Revolutionary Union, a breakaway faction from PLP led by H. Bruce Franklin of Stanford University. PLP continued to favor Cultural Revolution maximalism against "revisionism" in China; BARU emphasized loyalty to the authority of Mao while China's more radical Cultural Revolution advocates were being marginalized and their former targets such as Deng Xiaoping were being rehabilitated. Later that year, a faction of BARU led by Franklin split off to join Venceremos, a militant Chicano organization that they saw as a more suitable vehicle for their doctrine of an immediate armed uprising. After Venceremos disintegrated in 1973, ex-Venceremos cadres coalesced into the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Gotta hand it to those SLA loons, though. They walked the talk of their moonbat rhetoric and died for it. BARU, and later RCP, stayed with the more conventional approach of white Maoists, trying to recruit darker-skinned cannon fodder to die for their moonbat rhetoric. That accounts for the hip-hop gangsta style of their rhetoric described below. But the racially exploitive behavior of RU gained infamy in 1975, before RCP's gangsta phase. Their intervention in the Seattle Liberation Coalition's advocacy on policing issues, derailing public functions with chants of "Arm the people, not the pigs!" and distributing flyers with that slogan and a depiction of black people holding automatic rifles, offended SLC's leader, former Black Panther Larry Gossett, sufficiently that they were forbidden from participating in SLC functions afterward.
The death of Mao in 1976 soon led to the RCP splitting in two during the late 1970s, the Bob Avakian-led faction viewing the new government of China as revisionist, the other faction continuing to support China. This split cost the RCP about 40% of its membership, who left to form the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters. The latter group's remnants are today known as the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, which itself has split into two factions. A more recent offshoot from the RCP, distraught at the party's degeneration into Bob Avakian-guruism, was the Kasama Project (see a pattern?). Being a nebulous, internet-based structure, Kasama provided a forum for radicals from a wide range of ideologies. However, its central figures were as dogmatically "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist" as the RCP. Kasama played a key role in organizing Occupy Wall Street, but as of 2016 it was dead and gone.
After the 1978 split, the RCP abandoned its early activities in labor union work, and under Bob Avakian's leadership turned into an awful unintentional self-parody. With China no longer considered the leading light of world revolution, RCP first latched onto the government of Albania, then the Shining Path Maoists in Peru during the 1980s-90s, and eventually Avakian himself, as an international revolutionary leader.
RCP tried to present a face that they figured would make them edgy and trendy in the indy rock and hip-hop subcultures. RCP followers infiltrated indy rock zines, with RCP rhetoric regularly showing up in the Bay Area zine Maximumrocknroll(MRR). The RCP's greatest success in the indy music scene was in co-opting Rage Against the Machine, with RATM performing at RCP-front functions and adopting some RCP rhetoric in their lyrics. RATM paid tribute to the Shining Path guerrilla movement in the music video for their song Bombtrack. Guitarist Tom Morello essentially regurgitated RCP's line on Shining Path, stating "It's a case of Peruvians standing up against the US corporations dominating their economy and directing the vast resources of Peru not toward the Peruvian people but toward US pocketbooks. That is the context in which the demonization of the Shining Path can be explained in the US press." RCP's attempts to co-opt the indy music scene led to confrontations with Larry Livermore, MRR contributor and producer of Lookout! Records, as chronicled in the pages of Livermore's Lookout! Magazine. RCP saw the promise of dark-skinned cannon fodder in the hip-hop and gangsta subcultures and started to adopt fake ghetto slang. They sang the praises of the 1992 "L. A. Rebellion," claiming that the defendants in the Reginald Denny case were revolutionary martyrs ("The L.A. Four") and that Denny brought about his own beating by saying something racist to the assailants.
In 1979, the RCP led a protest against Deng Xiaoping (Mao's successor, famous for Chinese market reforms) when he was visiting the US. Bob Avakian was arrested for assaulting a police officer. He escaped to France, where our hero, the second Lenin, or maybe Mao, lived in exile in preparation for the upcoming revolution. His charges were actually dropped in 1982, but he's still hiding in Paris. In fairness, the whole "culture of appreciation" thing probably works better if the lameo keeps his distance.
Yo, be down for the whole thing!
For the next two decades, the RCP was infamous for showing up at protests and trying to provoke confrontations with the police and literature written in a patronizing faux-AAVE with compulsive overuse of exclamation points. Sentences frequently began with Yo! and ended with "no matter what it takes!" America was always spelled AmeriKKKa. Whatever they were against was usually glossed over as being "up against all this shit". Serious Marxist theorists considered RCP literature with its puerile slogans to be a bad joke. When the mostly white RCP members wheat-pasted black neighborhoods with their third-grade level faux-AAVE flyers, it went beyond a bad joke and became offensive.
Internationally, the RCP formed alliances with Maoist guerrilla movements in Peru and Nepal. Their attempt at promoting Peru's Shining Path movement to U.S. progressives included a creepy film showing obviously-brainwashed Shining Path recruits marching with rifles and singing songs like "We Follow the Shining Path". If it was supposed to convince U.S. progressives that Shining Path was the cutting edge of anti-imperialism, it failed miserably. Instead, it gave the impression of Shining Path being potentially another Pol Pot situation. More recently, they have turned critical of both the Nepalese and Peruvian Maoists, the Nepalese for abandoning the revolution in favor of parliamentary democracy after they forced the monarchy out, and the Peruvians for… who knows? Probably for not subjecting themselves to the superior leadership of Chairman Bob's New Synthesis.
Besides their juvenile flyers, they issue an annual manifesto. It always tries to advance a simplistic slogan as the reason why you should join the RCP, such as "This is not the best of all possible worlds! A better world is possible!". Their solution is always found in the list of slogans at the bottom of their manifesto: "Our ideology is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism! Our leader is Chairman Bob Avakian!"
In the early 2000s, the RCP underwent a stylistic makeover and rewrote their party program. They abandoned their longstanding homophobia in which they had held for years that homosexuality was a product of the decadence of capitalism and would disappear once the socialist revolution occurred. Their newspaper, formerly the Revolutionary Worker with a heavy Third-World-proletarian look to it, became Revolution, with a slightly hip-hop, slightly arty-French look. That style was short-lived and has since been replaced with a neon eye candy style, italic all caps lettering and all, intended to grab the eye in much the same way as Westboro Baptist Church's signs do. The content remains as dumb as ever, with a veneer of rhetoric borrowed from the postmodernist left to help cash in on more trendy concerns.
Any hope that the new program would herald an improvement over the party's reputation for fake-Ebonics and dumb sloganeering was dashed when the change turned out to be for the worse. The RCP is now all about Bob Avakian, all the time. Or as they now like to call their guru, "BA". "Spread BA everywhere!" "Get into BA!" "Get to know BA!" Their current activities include promoting the book BAsics, a collection of excerpts from BA's writings complete with chapter and verse notation. The arrogation of guru status by Avakian alienated some party members who continued to see the Peruvian Maoist and leader of the defeated Shining Path insurgency, "Chairman Gonzalo," as the rightful holder of that title. The breakaway group formed the core of the online Kasama Project and the American affiliate of the Gonzalo-following International Communist Movement, the Red Guards.
In 2005, the RCP launched the RC4 tour, a speaking tour by four African Americans who tried to recruit new members among the African American community. It did not go well since the speakers' authenticity was called into question for representing a white leader and little prior contact with the community.
The Berkeley, California branch of the RCP gained some notoriety during protests of the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland when they (along with other white radicals, mostly from other cities) tried to incite a riot. The dream of gaining power on a wave of racial violence dies hard.
If you go to a demonstration for any timely left-wing cause in a major urban area, especially Chicago, you take the smallish risk that RCP (or one of their front groups) will be there, looking to recruit you, get your contact information, sell you their literature, or take your gas money. If they try to talk to you, don't be afraid to avoid them or, failing that, politely GTFO of that conversation.
Proving once again the stopped clock effect, Joey Johnson, a member of the RCP's youth brigade, burned a flag at a 1984 protest and took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he won in the Texas v. Johnson case, and all state and federal flag desecration laws were overturned in 1989 as unconstitutional infringements on freedom of speech.
They have accomplished absolutely nothing before or since, including Bob's "New Synthesis" (ask at your peril).
The golden era of flag-burning ended for Joey on July 4, 2019, when he and another RCPer learned that flinging burning material around on a public street, exposing people, including Capitol Police officers, to burn hazards, is frowned upon by authorities. It doesn't matter if the burning material is a flag or used diapers; you can't do that.
Not unlike other American leftist groups (e.g. the Workers World Party, now the Party for Socialism and Liberation, with A.N.S.W.E.R.), the RCP has
created a number of front groups to aggrandize themselves with money and labor from people who would never join them otherwise had a hand in founding multiple coalitions dedicated to particular topical issues. These include:
- World Can't Wait, an organization initially founded in 2005 by Debra Sweet, a vocal proponent of Bob Avakian. Aimed to create public pressure for George W. Bush to be removed from office, citing the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, and torture at Guantanamo Bay. Eventually, they shifted to generally opposing the Christian right on abortion, immigration, gay rights, etc.
- Stop Patriarchy, a now-defunct anti-pornography and SWERF group founded by Sunsara Taylor, a writer for Revolution. Infamously drew the ire of Texans for Reproductive Justice for staging "Abortion Freedom Rides" through Texas in 2013 and 2014, sucking attention and money away from Texas-based organizations, as well as alienating PoC and sex workers with distasteful language such as "forced pregnancy is female enslavement" and claims that sex workers are never truly sex workers by choice.
- Refuse Fascism, an organization founded in 2016 that tried to make up for the lack of success of World Can't Wait by pushing for Donald Trump to be removed from office. Shares an office with World Can't Wait at 305 W. Broadway in New York City.
- RiseUp4AbortionRights, an organization founded in 2022 aiming to stop Roe v. Wade from being overturned. Was called out even more swiftly than Stop Patriarchy for their inappropriate tactics and imagery by reproductive justice and socialist organizations across the US.
- YO! DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE! FIGHT THE POWER!
- IF YOU'RE DISSING THE SISTERS, YOU AIN'T FIGHTING THE POWER!
- FREE CHAIRMAN GONZALO, NO MATTER WHAT IT TAKES!
- YO! AMERIKKKA MUST BE DESTROYED!
- NO NAZIS! NO KKK! NO FASCIST USA!
- WOMEN ARE NOT INCUBATORS! FETUSES ARE NOT BABIES! ABORTION IS NOT MURDER!
- BURN THE AMERIKKKAN FLAG, NO MATTER WHAT IT TAKES!
- REVOLUTION IN THE '80S. GO FOR IT!
- FUCK THIS SHIT, NO MATTER WHAT IT TAKES!
- DARE TO STRUGGLE DARE TO WIN, FOLLOW BOB AVAKIAN!
- GET TO KNOW BA! GET INTO BA! BA IS YOUR FRIEND! FOLLOW BA OFF A CLIFF! GRAPE KOOL-AID BAaaaaaby!
- NO! FASCIST "SPEECH" WEEK!
- NO! WHITE SUPREMACY, MISOGYNY, DEPORTATIONS, XENOPHOBIA AND WAR!
- NO! TO THE TRUMP/PENCE FASCIST REGIME AND ITS PARADE OF GHOULS!
- IDENTITY POLITICS WILL BLOCK THE WAY TO *ACTUAL* REVOLUTION!
Marx and Mao are probably both rolling over in their graves at this travesty.
- Official RCP, USA website
- Another official RCP, USA page
- The Judean People's Front
- The People's Front of Judea
- Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism Online - skip the Enver Hoxha material and follow the links about the New Communist Movement instead, for all kinds of history and scanned rare publications. The origins of what eventually became the RCP can be found in the "Red Papers".
- Website of the Bob Avakian Institute, a nonprofit based in Chicago’s Near West Side neighborhood with a more blatant aim to shove Bob’s work in as many faces as possible
- Bob Avakian's book 'The New Communism' which is hailed as a masterpiece by his followers (read, worshippers)
- The Two Bobs: A Note on Cults of Personality by Justin Erik Halldór Smith (March 25, 2012).
- How Maoists Are Like Scientologists by Mark Oppenheimer (01/28/2008 09:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011) Huffington Post.
- Rage Against the Machine - Bombtrack (Official Music Video) YouTube
- Rage Against the Machine fights the power and storms the pop charts by Greg Kot
- The Humanist: "Humanity and the Planet Come First!" by Debra Sweet. "One of my biggest heroes is the revolutionary leader Bob Avakian, who said that the means and the ends of any movement for revolution must be completely consistent."
- Texans for Reproductive Justice: "We Oppose The Stop Patriarchy 'Freedom Ride' In Texas"
- Texans for Reproductive Justice: Letter of Concern
- Statement Against RiseUp4AbortionRights