New Communist movement

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The New Communist Movement (NCM) was a diverse left-wing political movement principally within the United States, during the 1970s and 1980s. The NCM were a movement of the New Left that represented a diverse grouping of Marxist–Leninists[1] and Maoists inspired by Cuban, Chinese, and Vietnamese revolutions.[2] This movement emphasized opposition to racism and sexism, solidarity with oppressed peoples of the third-world, and the establishment of socialism by popular revolution.[3] The movement, according to historian and NCM activist Max Elbaum, had an estimated 10,000 cadre members at its peak influence.[4]

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

The culture of post World War II America was deeply conservative, with most elements of radicalism and political leftism being suppressed through the anti-communist policies of Joseph McCarthy, which led to prosecution, detainment and blacklisting of hundreds of alleged Marxists.

The largest and most influential left-wing organization within the United States was the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA), which achieved peak influence during the Great Depression and World War II, before declining in the post war years due to a number of factors including state-repression (McCarthyism, Smith act, Rosenberg trial, etc.), as well as internal ideological schisms within the party. Members were often disillusioned by the party-leadership's official subordination to the USSR ideologically, with the party defending the numerous controversial actions by the Soviet state.

This would be a key moment in the Marxist movement in the United States and the world, with numerous ranking party members leaving the organization due to Krucschev's perceived Revisionism in pursuing the policy of Peaceful coexistence with the Capitalist West, which was perceived as a fundamental departure from the revolutionary socialism and anti-imperialist elements of Marxism-Leninism. The New Communist Movement was influenced by world events of the time, specifically the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, The French May-Day Uprising, and the Black Power movement.[5] Many of the early participants in the NCM were former members of the New Left student organization Students for a Democratic Society. The NCM emerged from numerous distinct movements in the United States during the late 1960s, with historian Max Elbaum, identifying Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Progressive Labor Party.[6]

Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party[edit]

One of the most prominent groups of the New Communist Movement was the Bay Area Revolutionary Union (later, shortened to Revolutionary Union), which was formed by activists Steve Hamilton, Leibel Bergman, Bob Avakian, and Bruce Franklin, and gained most of its membership from student radicals from the SDS.

The RU organized on a revolutionary anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist-Maoist party line, with emphasis being placed on the Black liberation struggle and the liberation of all colonized peoples within and outside the United States, this political philosophy was elaborated in the 1969 pamphlet titled The Red Papers (later known as Red Papers I, after subsequent publications).[7][8]

During the 1970s the RU began to gain influence within the anti-Vietnam War organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War/ Winter Soldier Organization with the RU dominated national council voting to controversially integrate itself into the RU in April 1975, resulting in a large number of members leaving the VVAW/WUO. The following September the RU officially voted to dissolve and reestablish itself into the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.[9]

October League[edit]

The Communist Party (Marxist–Leninist)'s predecessor organization, the October League (Marxist–Leninist), was founded in 1971 by several local groups, many of which had grown out of the radical student organization Students for a Democratic Society when SDS split apart in 1969. Michael Klonsky, who had been a national leader in SDS in the late 1960s, was the main leader of the CP(M-L).

The October League came out of the Revolutionary Youth Movement II grouping in the SDS split. During the early 1970s the OL took positions that were at odds with most of the US Left, including opposition to gay liberation and support of the shah of Iran, whose regime they saw as a bulwark against Soviet social-imperialism.

The OL established influence within some of the established civil rights organizations, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Southern Conference Educational Fund, which had been under the influence of the Moscow-oriented Communist Party USA.

In late 1975 they organized a "National Fight Back Conference," which drew 1,000 participants and was attended by representatives of the August 29th Movement, the Congress of Afrikan People and the Marxist–Leninist Organizing Committee of San Francisco. They also had a youth group called the Communist Youth Organization.

Greensboro massacre[edit]

On November 3, 1979, four members of the Communist Workers' Party (CWP) and a male protester were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party (ANP) during a Death to the Klan march, organized by the CWP. The event had been preceded by inflammatory rhetoric from both sides. The CWP had originally come to Greensboro to support workers' rights activism among mostly black textile industry workers in the area. The march was a part of that larger effort. The Greensboro city police department had an informant within the KKK and ANP group who notified them that the Klan was prepared for armed violence.

Rainbow Coalition[edit]

The Rainbow Coalition was a multicultural movement founded April 4, 1969 in Chicago, Illinois by Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, along with William "Preacherman" Fesperman of the Young Patriots Organization and Jose Cha Cha Jimenez founder of the Young Lords. It was the first of several 20th century Black-led organizations to use the "rainbow coalition" concept.

1970s and 1980s[edit]

As one of its last initiatives, SDS had begun to leave its campus base and organize in working-class neighborhoods. Radical militant groups such as Weather Underground are recognized as participants in the movement. Some former members subsequently developed local organizations that continued the trend, and they attempted to find theoretical backing for their work in the writings of Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin. Maoism was then highly regarded as more actively revolutionary than the brand of communism supported by the post-Stalin Soviet Union (see New Left: New Left in the United States). As a result, most NCM organizations referred to their ideology as Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought and rejected what they saw as the devolution of socialism in the contemporary Soviet Union.

Similar to the New Left's general direction in the late 1960s, these new organizations rejected the post-1956 Communist Party USA as revisionist, or anti-revolutionary, and also rejected Trotskyism and the Socialist Workers Party for its theoretical opposition to Maoism.

The groups, formed of ex-students, attempted to establish links with the working class through finding work in factories and heavy industry, but they also tended toward Third-worldism, supporting National Liberation Fronts of various kinds, including the Black Panther Party (then on the decline), the Cuban Revolution, and the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam. The New Communist Movement organizations supported national self-determination for most ethnic groups, especially blacks and those of Latino origin, in the United States. These organizations addressed problems of sexism and racism, partly by voicing adamant support for self-determination and identity politics, and felt that they were dealing with problems they were of the opinion had not been addressed in the groups of the 1960s. However, different NCM groups came to this similar conclusion via quite different routes.

In its early years, NCM organisations formed a loose-knit tendency in United States leftist politics, but never coalesced into a single organization. As time went on, the organizations became extremely competitive and increasingly denounced one another. Points of distinction were frequently founded on the attitude taken toward the successors of Mao and international disputes between the Soviet Union and China regarding such developments as the Angolan Civil War. The Revolutionary Union organized the founding congress of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA in 1975.

The October League organized the founding congress of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) in 1977. During this period a few other new communist movement organizations also formed new communist parties.[10]

Unlike the majority of NCM groups, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), which evolved into the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW), was formed by factory workers rather than student activists. The AFL-CIO leadership supported the Vietnam War and sought to avoid strikes, but union workers saw through this and independently organized a series of wildcat strikes. Radical Marxist and other African-American auto workers subsequently formed DRUM. From 1968 to 1971 DRUM and the league acted as a dual union, with black leadership, within the United Auto Workers. In the late 1970s a group labeled the May 19th Communist Organization was created, going on a bombing campaign.

In 1979, after the publishing of Enver Hoxha's Imperialism and the Revolution and other criticisms of Maoism from Albania, some groups renounced Maoism in favour of an "orthodox Marxist-Leninist" line similar to that of the Albanian communists. Many of these groups such as the Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee and Sunrise Collective formed together in a joint statement against the end of Chinese aid to Albania. The U.S. Marxist-Leninist Party, previously the Central Organization of U.S. Marxist-Leninists, would become the primary recognized vanguard party in the United States supported by Albania, although Albanian aid to the American communists was minimal due to fears of CIA infiltration. Other groups such as the Red Dawn Organization and Pacific Collective (Marxist-Leninist) would meet with similarly pro-Albania groups in the 1979 in an attempt to unite and form a single communist party.[11]

Legacy[edit]

The New Communist Movement as a whole became smaller in the 1980s. The militant May 19th Communist Organization was dissolved. Some organizations dissolved in the early 1980s, such as the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist). The Revolutionary Communist Party USA remains as an original product of the New Left. The Revolutionary Workers Headquarters and Proletarian Unity League joined forces to form the Freedom Road Socialist Organization in 1985, and various other new communist movement collectives and organizations later merged into FRSO. Subsequently, in 1999, FRSO split into two organizations, both of which until 2019 continued to use the name Freedom Road Socialist Organization.[12]

Homophobia[edit]

The groups and individuals representing the movement were persistently hostile towards homosexuality and homosexuals, reflecting both the homophobia within the United States, as well as homophobic tendencies within the larger international Marxist-Leninist movement, although gay rights activism was an early component of the New Left.[13] The Revolutionary Union considered homosexuality as "an individual response to male supremacy and male chauvinism."

Attitude towards the Khmer Rouge[edit]

Anarcho-communist Libcom contributor Loren Goldner sharply criticized the legacy of the NCM in a review of Max Elbaum's Revolution in the Air, accusing both Elbaum and the wider NCM movement of supporting the Khmer Rouge regime that held control over Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, before being deposed by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in the Cambodian–Vietnamese War.[14] In a 1978 issue of The Call editor Dan Burstein called for solidarity between American activists and the Khmer Rouge regime.[15]

Attitude towards the Shining Path[edit]

The Revolutionary Communist Party endorsed the Shining Path, a Maoist revolutionary group that formed from the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP) which has been leading a People's War against the Peruvian state since 1980. Critics accuse the Shining Path of excessive measures used against enemies, both real and suspected.[16] The PCP no longer supports the RCP as the latter is no longer internationally recognized as Maoist.

Influences[edit]

Organizations[edit]

Predecessors[edit]

Organizations of the 1970s and 1980s[edit]

Current descended organizations[edit]

Prominent figures[edit]

Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party (1968–present)[edit]

Communist Workers Party[edit]

  • Michael Nathan
  • James Michael Waller

Black Liberation Army[edit]

October League[edit]

Weather Underground Organization[edit]

Red Army Faction[edit]

Others[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Learning from the New Communist Movement". jacobinmag.com. Retrieved 2019-09-05.
  2. ^ Elbaum, Max (2002). Revolution in the Air. London: Verso. pp. 94–95. ISBN 9781859846179. Ideologically, this new wave of organization builders reflected the full Third World Marxist spectrum. Many - often veterans of the Venceremos Brigade - took their main inspiration from Cuba. Some identified with Third World liberation but focused mainly on one particular struggle or issue within the US. Even among those who believed that the Chinese Communist Party had presented the most comprehensive and useful framework for analyzing current realities there were distinctions. "Hard Maoists" thought only the CPC expressed modern-day Leninism, while a probably larger number of "soft Maoists" - much as they admired Mao - were not prepared to say that the Chinese CP was more revolutionary than the Cuban or Vietnamese parties..."
  3. ^ Leonard, Aaron J. (2015-02-05). Heavy Radicals: The FBI's Secret War on America's Maoists—The Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980. Gallagher, Conor A. Winchester, UK. ISBN 9781782795346. OCLC 895731467.
  4. ^ Elbaum, Max. "Maoism in the United States". www.marxists.org. Marxists.com. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  5. ^ "The New Communist Movement: The Early Groups, 1969-1974". www.marxists.org. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  6. ^ Elbaum, Max (2002). Revolution in the Air. London: Verso. pp. 59–90. ISBN 9781859846179.
  7. ^ Leonard, Aaron J.; Gallagher, Conor A. (2014). Heavy Radicals: The FBI's War on America's Maoists. Winchester: Zero Books. pp. 10–34.
  8. ^ Elbaum, Max (2002). Revolution in the Air. London: Verso. pp. 95–99. ISBN 9781859846179.
  9. ^ Elbaum, Max (2002). Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals turn to Lenin, Che and Mao. London: Verso Books. pp. 191–193. ISBN 9781859846179. It [the RU] convened a congress in September 1975 that formally disbanded RU and founded the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)...
  10. ^ Elbaum, Max (2002). "Chapter 4: A New Communist Movement Takes Shape". Revolution in the Air (Hardcover ed.). London: Verso. pp. 102–103. ISBN 9781859846179. ...Mike Clonsky and other RYM II leaders in Los Angeles formed the October League collective..."
  11. ^ "The New Communist Movement: Crises, Splits and More New Parties, 1977-1980".
  12. ^ Elbaum, Max (2002). "Appendix". Revolution in the Air (Hardcover ed.). London: Verso. p. 340. ISBN 9781859846179. Founded in 1985-1986 bringing together the Boston based Proletarian Unity League (PUL), formed in the early 1970's, the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters, and the Organization of Revolutionary Unity. The Socialist Organizing Network, a group of former LRS members, joined in 1883. FRSO split into two groups in 1999; both continue to exist, and both call themselves Freedom Road."
  13. ^ Elbaum, Max (2002). Revolution in the Air (2002 hardcover ed.). London: Verso Books. pp. 138–139. ISBN 9781859846179.
  14. ^ "Review: 'Revolution in the Air' by Max Elbaum - Loren Goldner". libcom.org. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
  15. ^ "Kampuchea Takes the Socialist Road". www.marxists.org. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  16. ^ Strong, Simon (24 May 1992). "Where the Shining Path Leads". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  17. ^ "U.S. Anti-Revisionism, Second Wave, 1956-1960 Index Page".
  18. ^ "The New Communist Movement: Crises, Splits and More New Parties, 1977-1980".
  19. ^ Elbaum, Max (2002). "Appendix". Revolution in the air : sixties radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (Hardcover ed.). London: Verso. pp. 338–342. ISBN 1859846173.

Further reading[edit]

Print[edit]

Articles[edit]

Primary sources[edit]