On Choice, Revolution, and a “Rare, Special, Unique” Cult

Image by Gayatri Malhotra.

The public attack, by a number of women’s and pro-choice organizations, on the Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights group (founded last January), can be interpreted as a classic case of Red-baiting. And it is that, surely, in part. That was my first reading.

Anytime someone’s accused of “exploiting civil unrest to recruit followers,” there’s likely some Red-baiting involved.  If you hear about people “known for swooping into town and leeching off of existing…grassroots efforts across the country,” you’re probably hearing more of the same. These are variations of the old “outside agitators” theme, first directed (I think) at communists (or alleged communists) such as the Freedom Riders, swooping down from the north on segregated southern communities and “exploiting” black unrest to further their own (communist) cause in the early 1960s.

Obviously, those making such accusations do not embrace the Marxian dictum that the fruit of the battle is not in the immediate result of the struggle, but in the increasing unity of those struggling—around truly revolutionary politics. Or the Leninist dictum that the revolutionary party becomes involved in all kinds of struggles, on the premise that the masses learn through such struggles how capitalism is the fundamental problem, and how it needs to be overthrown. At least they do so if guided by revolutionary leadership.

I can also see why even quite radicalized activists might honestly question these propositions, for various reasons not limited to backwardness, ignorance, and willful obstructionism. Nobody becomes a Marxist-Leninist overnight; most people don’t do it at all, and when the revolution comes, most participants might not self-identify as such. There are surely pro-choice activists who have wrestled with Leninism and rejected it, and their position should be respected. But for pro-choice groups to exclude Marxist-Leninists (even ostensible ones), just for being what they are, and for not hiding their lantern under a bushel, is in my opinion indeed reactionary.

It also struck me on first reading that the signatory groups were unfairly conflating the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (which now likes to be called “the Revcoms”), with the two organizations Resist Fascism and Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights. These, while surely generated by the RCP, are launched, like all such generated groups, with a committee of signatories of some founding declaration that includes prominent persons outside the RCP or its near orbit. There’s nothing wrong with any of this in principle, if done without deception and heavy-handedness; it is what communists need to do.

The letter-writers’ facile identification of RU4AR with the RCP is not supported by Zoe Warren, a member of RU4AR, who was interviewed on MSNBC last month. She lit into a spontaneous, eloquent condemnation of the Democratic Party’s efforts to raise funds in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. The clip went viral, which is good. Video of Protester Outraged at Biden Fundraising Off Abortion Gets 5M Views (newsweek.com) An Intercept journalist, having noted the RU4AR tee-shirt worn by Warren’s companion during the interview, contacted Warren by phone and asked her what connection she had to the RCP.

“I’m not a member of the Revcoms and I never have been and I don’t plan to be,” she replied. “When I first got involved with Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, I didn’t know they were associated with Revcoms, and when I found out, it was a little concerning.” She adds: “I believe that Rise Up is doing something that no other organization is really doing right now, and that is calling people into the streets to do something they might not have done before, which is demand more from their government than they are getting,”

She also opined—in opposition to a comment by RU4AR leader Sunsara Taylor: “We most definitely need to vote, and we most definitely need to vote for Democrats because we do live in a two-party system and they’re our only option.” In this case I think Taylor right. and Warren wrong, but that is not the issue. Clearly this particular member was attracted without realizing the group’s close connection to the RCP, and finds it somewhat “concerning.” But she unites with the efforts of Rise Up to get people into the streets. Just as she might unite with such efforts by the anti-imperialist war organization World Can’t Wait, and with Refuse Fascism, both acknowledged to have been formed at RCP initiative.

It would be unfair to say that anyone “swooped down” on her or is “leeching upon” her. This is. again, mere Red-baiting.  Any member of an RCP-generated organization will soon find that the party people want to exercise maximum line leadership. They believe their line is “correct” and “scientific,” shaped by the “New Synthesis of Communism” developed by of their leader, whom they genuinely believe is the greatest human alive, and on whose leadership the international communist movement “hangs by a thread.” (The international communist movement in the real world for its part disagrees and has generally parted ways with the RCP.)

But it’s possible to be a member of an RCP-generated organization and reject all this. And to suggest that RCP-generated organizations be shunned as a rule is, again, basically a form of anti-communism.

But This Is Not Only About Red-Baiting 

But those endorsing the letter so far—NYC for Abortion Rights, Reproductive Justice Collective, United Against Racism & Fascism (NYC), Fund Abortion Not Police, Feminist Colleges (NYC), Shout Your Abortion, Washington Square Park Mutual Aid, Buckle Bunnies (Texas), Mujeres en Resistencia (NY/NJ), Abortion Access Front, Reproductive Freedom Fund (NH), The Jane Fund (Massachusetts), Reproductive Rights Coalition (Charlotte, NC), Tigers for Choice (Texas), Chicago Abortion Fund, National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund, SWOP Brooklyn, Brooklyn People’s March, Forward Midwifery, SMAbortionActivists, New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Women’s Information Network of NYC (WIN-NYC), Chicago DSA Socialist Feminist Working Group—do not sound to me like a list of anticommunist McCarthyites or Trump followers. And the issue of a personality cult in the RCP is real.

(I cannot comment on the letter’s allegation that “RevCom and its fronts — RiseUp and Refuse Fascism — are notorious for raising tens of thousands of dollars and using those funds to pay RevCom leadership, and to purchase marketing materials (to raise even more money).” This is the first I’ve heard that charge, but having been made, the accusers should adduce some evidence for what they call “notorious” exploitation by RCP leaders of their generated organizations. The accusers owe that much, you’d think, to the allegedly exploited, including Rise Up’s co-founders Merle Hoffman and Lori Sokol.)

 But back to the cult. The RCP bridles these days against charges one exists. ST_BA_Not_Cult_Leader_leaflet_0.pdf (revcom.us) This is because, while the RCP has been accused from the nineties at least of being a personality cult, it has become too big an issue to ignore. If in fact the party relies on groups like Refuse Fascism to build its membership—in itself perfectly reasonable—those groups become much less useful if they’re shunned on account of the allegation. (Just like the homophobia inscribed in the party’s program of 1979 was only addressed when it impeded work among youth appalled by the RCP’s backwardness on the issue, so here the personality cult is addressed only belatedly and defensively. And just as the RCP insists its homophobia was never homophobia, it insists its personality cult is NOT a personality cult.)

One thus has difficulties reconciling this position with that revealed in Avakian’s partial autobiography, published in 2005 (the sale of which was a party priority for a time). In it, Avakian recalls the following, which occurred ca. 1979:

“I remember…being challenged by someone interviewing me—I believe this was on a college radio station in Madison, Wisconsin—who asked insistently: ‘Is there a “cult of personality” developing around Bob Avakian?’ And I replied: ‘I certainly hope so—we’ve been working very hard to create one.’”

In the 1990s the RCP Central Committee (composition unknown) passed two resolutions, only much later publicized, pronouncing Bob Avakian a  “special, rare, unique, and irreplaceable” person, of the “caliber” of a Marx, Lenin and Mao. (This was around the time that the Maoist movement in Peru, centering around Abimael Guzman, collapsed. Guzman had built an amazing peasant-based army controlling one-third of Peru, attaining “strategic equilibrium” with the enemy, had portrayed himself as the “Fourth Sword of Marxism,” and had created an extraordinary personality cult around himself before his capture in 1993, which caused the movement to crumble almost immediately.)

The committee (again, composition unknown) meeting somewhere on earth pronounced Avakian deserving of a “culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization.” That meant, among other things, integrating Avakian into every political cause and conversation, as the occasion arose, working his name into every political statement or column, even if unnecessarily and awkwardly, just to include the name—in a word, popularizing the man as the distillation of, or shorthand for, the Marxist truth. (I was once told that it was common in the organization, informally, to refer to the “culture of appreciation” simply as “the cult.” Sort of like a military abbreviation.)

 But here’s Avakian today, indignantly refuting the “ridiculous, ignorant, and irresponsible accusation” that he’s the center of a cult! Bob Avakian Speaks to “Cult”: A Ridiculous, Ignorant, and Irresponsible Accusation | The Bob Avakian Institute. And the RCP itself (in the form of Sunsara Taylor) bristles against the ridiculous accusation; see “Bob Avakian Is Not a “Mad Cult Leader”: He Is a Deep Thinker and Profoundly Thoughtful Leader.”  ST_BA_Not_Cult_Leader_leaflet_0.pdf (revcom.us)

Arguing that Avakian is “not a mad cult leader” (as though anyone’s suggested he’s clinically so), Taylor confidently corrects those holding such notions:

“No, BA is a very deep thinker and profoundly thoughtful leader. As he stated in his recent ‘Open Letter to the Theoretical Physicist Lee Smolin,’ BA ‘has dedicated his life to an understanding of human society and its historical development, and the potential and active struggle for its emancipating transformation—and more specifically as someone who has taken up and applied Marxism/communism to these fundamental questions, precisely not as utopianism but as a scientific method and approach…’

So that settles the matter, doesn’t it? BA wrote to a world-known physicist that he’s dedicated his life to understanding human society. So how could he be a cult leader? For the referenced open letter, see here. AN OPEN LETTER TO THEORETICAL PHYSICIST LEE SMOLIN | The Bob Avakian Institute.

Here Avakian corrects the well-known physicist’s statement, in the epilogue to one of his books, that he had “lived through the ecstatic utopianism of the 1960s” and “witnessed the collapse of the very different Marxist utopianism and the revelations of the violence that that dream imposed on its peoples.” Avakian indignantly declares, “I cannot help but be struck by how completely misguided, highly inaccurate and frankly irresponsible is the statement of yours purporting to pass judgment on the experience of what you incorrectly identify as ‘Marxist utopianism.”” Odd that Taylor would cite Avakian’s self-serving self-description, in a self-serving and unsolicited letter to a major scholar, to set people straight about what BA really is.)

As Queen Gertrude frankly told Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Because despite all these protestations and denials, there most certainly IS a personality cult.

(Interestingly, in a commentary penned by Avakian following the death of Abimael Guzman in Sept. 2021, the RCP leader made no mention of the personality cult among the Peruvian revolutionary’s errors, or associated it with the abrupt, unceremonious disintegration of his powerful movement; Guzman’s flaw, rather, according to Avakian, was in embracing a theory of “historical inevitability” that he himself in his “science” has overcome.)

On the death of Abimael Guzmán, “President Gonzalo” | revcom.us

Examples of the Avakian Cult 

There are too many manifestations of cultism to cite. But these are representative.

In 2011 the party published a book of Avakian quotations (cf. Quotations of Chairman Mao). It seemed designed to supersede the 1985 volume Bullets (the bullets being excerpts from Avakian’s writings), which had been wrapped, like Mao’s Little Red Book, in a handy water-resistant plastic cover (although this one was gray).  This one lacked the fancy wrapping and, unlike the Chinese text, was divided into chapters and verses (cf. the Bible) for easy exegesis. It is cleverly called BAsics, meaning presumably the basics of Avakian’s thought.  Sunsara Taylor has done much to “take out” these quotes to the masses, as shown here. Sunsara Taylor on Bob Avakian’s BAsics 1:13 – Bing video  Please watch it yourself to fully appreciate its somber religiosity.

The black screen displays in white letters the text, identified as BAsics 1:13.

“No more generations of our youth, here and around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they’re born. I say no more of that.”

We see Taylor, apparently addressing activists, although the videos are intended for everyone. “We’ve been working with this quote, we’ve been taking this quote out. But I really think that it’s important that we ourselves, and then with the masses, take every opportunity to get deeper into what this quote means. It’s actually very rich, and it would be important to break this down on radio and streetcorner discussions, in different ways among each other, about what it fully means. So I’m gonna walk through this. BA is saying  “no more generations of our youth…” Think about it! How many generations have there been…?”

 “Every part of it has layers and layers of meaning…” Thus with the all seriousness of a Sunday schoolteacher explaining a scripture passage to credulous children, Taylor goes through the “quote,” line by line, explaining at the end that  “I say no more!” is especially important, because BA isn’t just anybody, but a COMMUNIST leader!

Another example—the one the RCP really, really gets upset about —for 25 years the party articulated, through its most fundamental document (its program), an overtly homophobic line. There’s no mistaking it, and it’s worth repeating, if only because under Avakian’s leadership the party maintained it up to 2000:

“Socialist society will wipe out the decadence of capitalism in all spheres. Prostitution, drug addiction, homosexual and other practices which bourgeois society breeds, and the bourgeoisie promotes to degrade and enslave the masses of people, will be abolished.”

Unfair! says the party, to remind people NOW, when we made self-criticism over 20 years ago! It’s OBJECTIVELY COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY to deliberately bring that up, NOW, just to make our precious revolutionary leadership look bad! (But for years the RCP was saying it was a ridiculous misrepresentation to say the line embedded in those sentences was anti-homosexual. when it was really just against the degrading bourgeois PRACTICE of homosexuality. See the distinction?  Homosexuals under socialism would be free to put that degrading past behind them! Compare the Evangelicals’ “conversion therapy.”)

The party published in 2000 a “self-criticism” of the program wording on homosexuality, but it was more a pompous defense of the party’s “scientific” approach, which supposedly had required lengthy study of the issue of homosexuality, and thus the quarter-century delay, before making any changes. It reiterated the party’s long maintained (and absolutely irrelevant) contention that homosexuality does not solve the problem of women’s oppression.  (That’s called ‘changing the subject.”)

In his autobiography Avakian takes credit for leading the party in making this “self-criticism.” (Thus without taking credit for the legacy of homophobia in his party, Avakian takes credit for rectifying the line error.) There are no personalities within the party known for their contributions to the discussion; it’s all about the evolution of the leader’s mind.

Around the same time (2000) the RCP circulated a draft for a new program, which you can find here. https://revcom.us/s/programme_e.htm For months there was a lively website with input “from the masses” to finalize the program. There was much criticism, including some of Avakian, much of it expunged (due to the rule to avoid “personal attacks” on named persons). The website disappeared and apparently the project of soliciting mass input was abandoned. But in lieu of a collectively produced program, the RCP offers something much better: Avakian’s own Draft Constitution for a future country, published in 2010. CONSTITUTION For The New Socialist Republic In North America (Draft Proposal) | revcom.us

The document’s preamble modestly mentions “the vanguard role of the Revolutionary Communist Party–with its theoretical basis in the science of communism and the further development of this science through the new synthesis brought forward by Bob Avakian” that made the revolution possible. This is supposed to be nothing less than the future Constitution of this country, or at least to provide its basis: it begins with a tribute to Avakian for making it all possible. But no, they say, this is not a cult; and how ridiculous to assert such!

What Evidence for Collective Leadership? 

Little is known of the RCP Central Committee. Some might say that’s as it should be, given the security situation, and that even to ask is hostile. So suppose you have faith—yes, like religious faith—that there indeed IS a CC, and it engages in lively debate (“two-line struggles”). But other than vague reports of a “Cultural Revolution” undertaken (“under the leadership” of Avakian) within the party in the early 2000s, little is known about those struggles. RCP supporters are clueless about the workings of their party; they know that Avakian is the leader, and that he is brilliant, and issues regular statements to provide orientation. But they cannot name other party leaders, identify differences, or explain why there is no party program approved by the CC but rather Avakian’s utopian document and ongoing communiques.

Having issued few publicized resolutions on anything else, the current party is unquestionably one of cult-like appreciation and promotion. Its activists can be expected to promote the “culture” they insist is not a “cult,” because for them the culture is the cause of the revolution, of socialism, of equality headed by this “special, rare, unique, and irreplaceable” individual per decision of the Central Committee. Avakian, the Party, and the revolutionary masses comprise an inseparable sacred trio, not unlike the Three Persons of the Trinity. To challenge any one of them is heresy.

In real communist theory, the party engages in social investigation, comes to understand the grievances of the masses, and develops strategy to organize against those grievances while keeping the ultimate goal of socialism in view. The Chinese Communist Party concluded by the late 1920s—after protracted struggle on the issue, and opposition from the Comintern—that it must take leadership of the swelling peasant movement, and rely on the peasantry as the “main force” of the revolution (as opposed to the small urban working class).

The “mass line” is determined by debate throughout the party, at all levels, and finally by the Central Committee, which while not infallible, is the highest concentration of revolutionary consciousness available. Maximum discussion and debate produce the “line” that, once determined by the center, becomes the public position of every member of the party. This is my understanding of Leninist democratic centralism.

The RCP indicates that such a process led the Central Committee to conclude that Avakian was of  Lenin’s caliber, and issue a resolution to that effect. (As the North Koreans explain it, such a process operating in the Korean Workers Party led to the posthumous naming of Kim Jong-il as “eternal secretary general” of the party in 2012.) But one must question whether democratic centralism is operative in such cases, and note that in general such cults work against Leninism.

What one sees in the RCP is not democratic centralism but a cult of personality. Avakian’s writings or taped messages serve in place of Central Committee reports; if you ask what the party’s line is on this or that issue, you will be almost surely be referred to an Avakian text. For practical purposes, his thoughts ARE the line of the party.

We see a “Bob Avakian Institute” with academic pretensions; a library of repetitive, pompously self-referencing writings (or transcribed musings) and videos of rare appearances in highly controlled settings, with an unseen applauding audience. (The official term for this is his “body of work.”) We see Avakian citing Avakian for support in his footnotes.

Avakian is not a particularly charismatic figure, but one might suppose he’d show up at the occasional demonstration and take his turn at the mike. Instead he is the Hidden Imam, whose mystique lies in his very absence. And even the party’s insistence that his whereabouts must of necessity be secret—amplifying as it does the sense that the man is so important and hated by the bourgeoisie that his life is always in danger—adds to this mystique.

Avakian’s last public appearance I’m aware of was in 2015, at a Harlem church whose trustees had agreed to host a “dialogue” on “revolution and religion” between Cornel West and Bob Avakian. The trustees protested afterwards that Avakian had hogged the stage and that the event was anything but a “dialogue.”

The folks bussed to the event by the RCP cheered Avakian, predictably; he had not been seen in public since leaving for France in 1980, so followers were in ecstasy to see the man in the flesh. But as the allotted time passed, and Avakian continued to lecture about how bad things are (as though he had to remind the audience, or as though he felt his own eloquence so exceptionally stirring that HIS rephrase of commonly felt pain was particularly meaningful for the world), catcalls were heard. Many had come to hear West, who was left with less than half an hour to speak after Avakian’s two. The church trustees were angry, feeling misled. But the RCP was ecstatic. Avakian had reappeared so dramatically! In a historically Black cathedral in Harlem! With a respected African-American scholar and theologian friendly with the party! The optics were great.

A video of the day’s program was circulated (sold) by the RCP almost immediately, the mounting, embarrassing catcalls from the audience had been omitted. The video showed a gracefully aging Avakian describing the horrors of contemporary capitalism, sounding much like a thousand other people but anyway “out there” on stage, acting like he was in charge. Never mind that there was no real “dialogue” on religion and revolution. Who cares if the church space was rented under misleading pretexts, and that Angela Davis (the “lower-case” communist) was upset? Or that one sympathetic journalist had observed frankly that “as he talked about all the various problems in the world, Chairman Bob didn’t build to anything: there was no arc into theory or transformative analysis. As he moved on to other problems, it began to feel worn.”

Never mind all that. For the party, it was a breakthrough in the culture of appreciation, promotion and popularization. In other words, the personality cult, which needs to be understood for what it is.   

Avakian: A “Plainly Ridiculous” Charge 

In Avakian’s recent, ringing refutation of the nasty charge, he begins as follows: Bob Avakian Speaks to “Cult”: A Ridiculous, Ignorant, and Irresponsible Accusation | revcom.us

“Among some “progressives” and self-proclaimed “leftists,” as well as certain academics, students, and others, the accusation is thrown around that I am a “cult leader” and that those who follow and work to apply the leadership I am providing—the new communism I have brought forward—constitute a “cult.” This is plainly ridiculous.”

(Question 1: Oh? PLAINLY? The party officially embraces a “culture of appreciation, promotion and popularization” of Avakian, but it’s plainly ridiculous to call it a cult? Note the disrespect for human intelligence here.)

(Question 2: Do only well-educated people make (“throw around”) the accusation? Is questioning of cults (of all kinds) especially associated with leftist intellectuals? If this were so, would it not say something positive about intellectuals?)

(Comment: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!)

“It is readily refuted by the actual reality of what we are all about.”

(Question: Is “we” here “we the party,” or is this a papal “we”? Is this about what the party is “all about,” or what Avakian’s “all about”?)

“It is also highly irresponsible—all the more so in the extremely intense and continually intensifying situation in today’s world, with (as I have put it, in a recent work) the prospect of something terrible—or something truly emancipating: an actual revolution.”

(Comment: “Intensifying situation” is a very vague term. Was the situation not intensifying 10 or 20 years or 30 ago? And to suggest everyone lay off the cult accusations, because they impact the situation one way or another, seems a kind of scare-mongering, does it not? The Doomsday Clock has risen from 23:57 to 23:58. Do you realize how irresponsible that makes criticism of Avakian?)

Seriously. When such a figure starts saying, “Hey, I’m clearly NOT a cult leader,” and wonders why people are even saying such unscientific things about him, we are dealing with a cult leader. Perhaps he genuinely thinks that by his solipsistic pronouncement, he has “readily refuted” the charge, to the average rational human’s satisfaction. But read his “Ridiculous, Ignorant and Irresponsible” piece and draw your own conclusions.

Avakian in this “refutation” lectures on how science is an evidence-based process, while a cult is based on dogma that can’t withstand critical examination—as though this were actually the real issue, and a truth unknown to the Chicago DSA Socialist Feminist Working Group, or United Against Racism & Fascism (NYC), or The Jane Fund in Massachusetts.

Avakian continues: “The accusation that to be a revolutionary, based on the new communism, somehow constitutes being part of a ‘cult’: This flies in the face of the actual reality, and is a despicable insult—not simply, or mainly, against me, as the alleged ‘cult leader,’ but beyond that an insult to all those who, at great personal sacrifice, are also taking part in, and making important contributions to, the process of applying, and further developing, the new communism…”

(Comment: “The new communism” here refers the “New Synthesis of Communism” as developed by the “special, rare, unique, and irreplaceable” Avakian himself. It is rejected by almost all self-defining groups in the world, many of which think they themselves have produced new forms of communism. Anyway, the groups criticizing the RCP and RU4AR are not saying that being a revolutionary, and believing in any form of communism, means being a cultist. No one is saying that. That particular conflation is not the issue, and to equate leeriness about the RCP with anticommunism is more than irresponsibly tendentious.)

(Comment 2: Nobody is saying that being a revolutionary means being part of a cult. Few know what being “a revolutionary, based on the new communism®” is, so this is an invitation to read Avakian’s writings explaining it. No one is even saying being a revolutionary, based on this “new communism,” is cultic. Since “new communism” is scarcely a household word, usefully vague, conveying an up-to-date version free of the baggage of the past, why would progressive, often Marxist, people in the movement have a problem with it? Again, the criticism of the cult can’t be conflated with anticommunism, or even anti-“new” communism. But if on investigation the “new communism” born out of Avakian’s brain—enshrined in his Draft Constitution beginning with its tribute to himself cited above—looks like a cult, Avakian would be arguing in effect: The accusation that to be a revolutionary based on my cult is to be a cult member is a despicable insult to me. In which case, keeping it all hypothetical—the masses might say: So what?)

(Comment 3: What I hear here is: “You’re not just attacking me by accusing me of a cult, you’re attacking the whole party, by implying that its estimation of my caliber is anything other than scientific! And don’t distract those making those sacrifices for the future new communism—which I myself have sketched out so scientifically—by planting doubts in their minds about my leadership!”  Fair paraphrase?)

Common Sense 

People in cults are temporarily deprived of common sense for the duration. After withdrawing from the cult’s oppressive control over their lives, they tend to feel liberated, if somewhat foolish. There are perhaps millions of Trump supporters now wondering, “How could I have ever had so much faith in that man?” It’s the same with Rev. Moon and the ridiculous Unification Church. Or Scientology. Anyway, when you’re in cult mode, you can’t bear to hear the accusation. It’s too painful to conclude you’ve been deeply wrong and misled.

But if it walks like a cult, and talks like a cult, and behaves like a cult, it’s a cult. I personally think this personality cult has seriously damaged a once important political force. But I’m also aware that there have been communist parties infected by personality cults—including those of Stalin, Mao, and Guzman—that played positive roles in history DESPITE such baggage. And being mentally hobbled by a cult doesn’t necessarily prevent one from contributing to a revolutionary movement. Even if you’re hopelessly dogmatic, rhetorical, sectarian, and pursuing a separate agenda, you should, if you’re honest, be able to work productively with progressive organizations. If not, and you become commandist, you deserve to be shunned.

(“Commandism,” in Mao’s usage, means “overstepping the level of political consciousness of the masses and violating the principle of voluntary mass action.” According to Mao it is “wrong in any type of work.”)

But the RU4AR, and Refuse Fascism, World Can’t Wait and other groups established at RCP initiative, are NOT the same as the RCP. They aren’t necessarily dogmatic and sectarian, or even paying that much attention to the RCP per se. Their members are not generally involved in the cult, to say nothing of any “pyramid scheme.” It would be insulting to Merle Hoffman and Lori Sokol to suggest such.

If the letter attacking RU4AR forces debate on the cult issue—first among RCP members most affected in their work by the mounting attention that others give it—it can only be a positive thing. The party could survive the loss of the cult, if there are actual Marxist-Leninists on the Central Committee, if there is in fact a Central Committee. You’d think there’d be an ongoing debate within it, about how plainly ridiculous the cult is, and how damaging it is to an organization that claims to be the vanguard of the masses. Some must imagine, just as a mental exercise, a party without the cult and the current priorities shaped by the “appreciation, promotion and popularization”  orientation.

The statement of Zoe Warren (who finds RCP ties “concerning”) still rings true to me: “I believe that Rise Up is doing something that no other organization is really doing right now, and that is calling people into the streets to do something they might not have done before, which is demand more from their government than they are getting,” If I see them on the streets of Boston I will happily follow, so long as we’re on the same path.

By Way of Conclusion: Some “Special, Rare, and Unique” Suggestions 

In no particular order:

1. Do not unfairly conflate organizations, attempting to tar all with the same brush. It’s unfair to the members, who are most likely good, honest, sincere people.

2. Strive for socialist revolution, assuming that when the time comes, the RCP, if still around, will likely play a more or less positive role. It has impressive organizational capability and practical experience. Despite high turnover due to burnout and disillusionment.it retains a determined core, and on most issues is on the right side. The RCP-generated Not in Our Name and World Can’t Wait were the most radical and anti-imperialist of the organizations against the Iraq War.

3. Do not conflate “daring, disruptive protest,” such as occurs daily around the world, with the RCP. Disruption is good! Revolutions sometimes result from daring, disruptive protest, but very seldom from electoral politics alone. But such protest can make limited gains if not guided by a revolutionary party, rooted in the masses, able to communicate with people, not coming off as automatons and zombies.

4. Call the Avakian cult for what it is, and criticize it. Let the RCP respond to any such criticism—any perceived attack, I should say, since they can be remarkably thin-skinned—with indignant pronouncements that you are OBJECTIVELY and SCIENTIFICALLY WRONG, and moreover OBJECTIVELY COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY! Maintain your sense of humor in the face of such absurdity, and laugh in the faces of the cultists when appropriate. Let the cult issue be exposed, debated and defended publicly.

5. Demand, without assuming anything yourself, that the letter-writers justify the following charges they’ve made about the handling of funds:

6“Similar to its parent group RevCom, RiseUp’s only goal appears to be gaining more followers in order to raise more and more money. Both essentially function as pyramid schemes that prey on social movements.”

“RevCom and its fronts — RiseUp and Refuse Fascism — are notorious for raising tens of thousands of dollars and using those funds to pay RevCom leadership, and to purchase marketing materials (to raise even more money).”

The letter thus suggests that by clicking on the “Donate” button on the Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights site, you may be paying “RevCom leadership.” Home Page – Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights.

These are—I want to say “obviously”—very serious accusations. I’m clueless on the facts, and doubt the accusation. But why is it that I can just imagine how such use of such funds might be explained if in fact it occurred? The (objective, scientific) explanation might be that, to achieve the revolution needed to make abortion available legally by demand, without apology, it was necessary to pay some people’s rents by those donations, so they could continue to lead the revolution. Makes sense?

Surely the donating masses understand that, or if they don’t, it’s because they’re narrowly focused and not thinking scientifically.  Cults addle the brain and produce moral confusion. They are dangerous for their own adherents.

6. Realize that we need a revolution, now more than ever, but that we don’t have the requisite party yet, and that former party models, such as the Russian or Chinese, must be creatively rethought in the internet age. (Lenin wrote What Is To Be Done? in 1902, in conditions for party-building far different from those today.)

There hasn’t been this much interest among youth in Marxism in this country for decades. The system is in greater crisis than usual and cannot go on as is. The people will not tolerate the mounting attacks. The basis for a radical mass party, that rejects liberal-democratic electoral politics in favor of direct anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist action, exists. But a crude personality cult, particularly as it becomes more exposed, is unlikely to become that party.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu