FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Revolutionary Communists in the US of A

It is difficult to believe today, even for someone like me who was there, that a substantial Marxist movement existed in the United States forty years ago. It is even harder to believe that this movement was seriously engaged in the process of fomenting revolution—building a vanguard party and writing programs for that party. For today’s left-leaning activist, perhaps the most difficult aspect of this history to believe is that it was the precursors to today’s Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) that was the largest such group engaged in this movement. This organization was infiltrated by the FBI and local red squads, subjected to dirty tricks and occasional brutality, and considered not only to be a serious threat to US security, but also (by some) an agent of the Maoist government in the People’s Republic of China.

Aaron Leonard was affiliated with the youth wing of the RCP, known as the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Together with Conor Galagher, they wrote the recently published book Heavy Radicals: The FBI’s Secret War on America’s Maoists: The Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980. As the title implies, this book is a history of the FBI’s aforementioned infiltration of the organization. It is also considerably more. Indeed, it is the most comprehensive history of this particular element of the post-1968 New Left currently in existence. The authors trace the development of the organization from its first meetings as the Bay Area Revolutionary Union in the San Francisco Bay Area circa 1968 to the aftermath of a series of arrests that followed the RCP’s spectacular protests against the visit of Chinese Premier Den XiaoPing to Washington, DC.91s4rJkHEvL

In between these two events is a tale that could only occur in the United States. Why? Primarily because no other nation where communism has gained even the smallest foothold has the distinction of also being the major imperialist and capitalist nation on earth. Furthermore, it would be hard to find another nation whose fear and hatred of communism in all its forms is as inbred and rabid as it is in the US. This latter reality is partially what makes the entire phenomenon known as the US New Left so remarkable. In that regard, it makes the New Left’s successor—the New Communist Movement of the 1970s and early 1980s—even more so. Max Elbaum’s 2002 book Revolution in the Air is a topnotch history of the broader new communist movement; Leonard and Galagher’s Heavy Radicals is a topnotch history of the Revolutionary Union (RU)/RCP.

As the title suggests, this history brings to light the FBI’s “secret war” on the groups discussed and the individuals within the group. The authors’ investigation of various FBI files and the report of a Congressional subcommittee that also investigated the RU reveals just how concerned the Bureau was with the group’s potential. From San Francisco to Washington, DC; from Boston to Los Angeles, it becomes clear that the government was determined to destroy the organization’s potential. What also becomes clear in the reading is that the factions within the group unwittingly provided the FBI and its agents with fodder that provoked splits and wrong turns in politics and practice.

A little sidebar here. In 1973 I attended a couple meetings of the student wing of the Revolutionary Union in the Bronx. They were then called the Attica Brigades. I moved to Maryland in March 1974. The following autumn I joined the University of Maryland chapter of the group, who were calling themselves the Revolutionary Student Brigades. The primary reason I was drawn to the group was their militant politics and their fondness for direct action. The other reason was that there were only a couple requirements to join. The main requirement was that a member be left anti-imperialist. By the summer of 1975, I was no longer in the group, mostly because I was not interested in joining the newly formed Revolutionary Communist Party. However, I worked with the group in Maryland and, after I moved there in 1977, in the Bay Area. I continued to maintain contact with RCP chapters in every place I lived until the late 1990s. Anyhow, back to that College Park group and Heavy Radicals. Leonard and Galagher relate the story of two undercover agents intimately engaged in the DC chapter of the RU/RCP in the mid-1970s. As I read their description of these agents’ work and lives during this period, I remembered friends who remained in the group voicing their suspicions to me about these two informants. I also wondered what information about my friends they passed on to their handlers. Besides that, it just plain pissed me off.

The story of the RU-RCP in the period covered by Leonard and Galagher is one of dedication to revolutionary principles and social justice. It is a commitment based on an understanding of the fundamental injustice of monopoly capitalism and imperialism, and evolved from years of political organizing trying to change that dynamic. It is set in the context of a period that saw the murderous war in Vietnam result in a victory for the Vietnamese; an antiwar and antiracist movement made of US students and working people of all races rise to victorious heights and then retreat; and a government in Washington determined to maintain and expand its power over the planet. It is a story of committed political radicals willing to give up their previous lives for revolution. Furthermore, it describes the dangers of factionalism and the pitfalls of dogmatism. The years portrayed in the text were also years of intensified police repression countered with growing cultural and personal freedom. Heavy Radicals does an exceptional job in layering these and other aspects specific to the times into a history well worth the read, even if you aren’t a historian (or a Marxist).

Ron Jacobs is the author of a series of crime novels called The Seventies Series.  All the Sinners, Saints, is the third novel in the series. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground . Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.    He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. His book Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies will be published by Counterpunch. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail