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Tuesday, April 18, 2006 

FRSO [Fight Back]'s decent into revisionism?

Note: The following post has been revised since it first appeared on this blog. I hope that this rendition will allow for some comradely debate and real exploration of some important questions. At no point is it my intention to seem flip, argumentative or sectarian. I try to give props where they are due, and I do have a great amount of respect for much of FRSO(Fightback)'s work that I am aware of. For the purpose of the following discussion I will refer to the larger Freedom Road as FRSO/OSCL or simply Freedom Road and the smaller group (located primarily in Chicago and Minnesota) as FRSO [Fight Back].

In 1999 Freedom Road Socialist Organization suffered a split. At the time of the split many on the left posed questions concerning the future of both FRSOs (both of splitting groups continue to use the same name). The FRSO was an entity created by the union of several New Communist Movement remnants, and upon seeing its demise some claimed that split signified the closing of another chapter in US anti-revisionist, and specifically (post)Maoist, struggle in defeat. Many others had more basic questions like: Could the two groupings continue to stand as separate organizations? Was the split permanent, and if not how long would it last? How would each organization address the critiques of their former comrades in future line and practice.

Several years later, FRSO/OSCL and FRSO [Fight Back] both continue to exist. Although I'm not personally familiar with the
FRSO [Fight Back] folks, I do have several friends who are members of the FRSO/OSCL, but as best as I can tell they both continue to grow. Based on public documents and summation that I have read, they both continue to do advanced work, more grounded in actual day to day mass struggles than many, probably most other revolutionary organizations in the U.S.

Yet, from my vantage point the political differences between the two groups, and between
FRSO [Fight Back] and much of the anti-revisionist trend that produced it, continue to grow. The fiftieth anniversary of the anti-revisionist movement, as well as recent discussions by some on the left concerning this movement's present tasks, has renewed my interest in the general direction of FRSO [Fight Back]'s line concerning these issues. Since I know that some comrades in or around the FRSO [Fight Back] check this blog somewhat regularly I would like to share the conclusions that I have drawn, pose some questions for deeper exploration and hope that some conversation will take place around these issues.

I was aware that following the split, Fightback rejected the existence of anything like an international crisis of socialism, or even widespread failures in formerly socialist societies. This rejection included the dropping of the
(pre-split)FRSO document On the Crisis of Socialism, which had been adopted at the organization's 1991 congress and reaffirmed in 1997 (despite some steep opposition from the trend that would go on to create the Fight Back! FRSO), and the line expressed in both the "Introduction" and "We Stand For Socialism" sections of the FRSO/SON Unity Document.

Further investigation of recent Fightback documents shows the extent to which shift in orientation has progressed. Organizational documents elevate "Democratic Korea" (the North Korean monarchichal dictatorship) to a "socialist countr[y] where the working people rule society." In the same and other documents the organization maintains an insistence on wishing into being current-day Chinese socialism even as evidence to the contrary
continues to mount. The only mention of "counter-revolution" within China references the 1989 Tiananmen Square student uprising and general strike, but concludes that this was merely an attempt - leading one to believe that China still has functioning socialism?! My understanding of the ever so convoluted history of NCM splits and line struggles is not as strong as it might be, but do I draw an incorrect conclusion in seeing the bad line concerning the Gang of Four and the triumph of capitalist roaders after Mao's death (taken by the RWHq) followed to an even more indefensible extreme here?

Perhaps most strikingly divergent from anti-revisionism's basic orientation, they appear to have concluded that the Soviet Union had functioning socialism up until its 1991 collapse.

The adoption, wholesale, of the Anybody But Bush line by the organization is also a truly interesting development, and not because I disagree with it. To the contrary, I felt like this line was the correct one. I know that its correct use by UTK's Progressive Student Alliance brought in a large number of new fighters, many of whom have since been won over to socialism. Instead I found it interesting that Fightback, which had until that point positioned itself as the ML, anti-social democratic wing within the pre-split FRSO would take a line that many on the left (both hard-line MLM enthusiasts and nearly all Trotskists) labeled as nothing more than social democratic idealism. Given the organization's position that we need something more than the Democratic Party, I wonder how it's members now respond to the critique pushed by their former comrades who supported and continue to support the theoretical framework of Left Refoundation. Are there other methods for Party Building that differ greatly from the perspective that the self-identified socialist left cannot itself constitute the vanguard of anything?

The ABB line choice also underlined another growing phenomena concerning
FRSO [Fight Back]'s rhetoric: increasing teleological posturing. Following the election, an official statement by the organization claimed that "victory [over the Bush agenda] was certain"! This sentiment was echoed again in the 20th Anniversary statement last December in which the organization claimed that "time is always on the side of the oppressed - and time is an enemy of all systems heading for extinction." History and stugrgle are not Rolling Stones songs. Such rhetoric is not grounded in any empirical evidence, and certainly not in dialectical materialism. Sure, we need revolutionary optimism, but not determinist predications of the future.

I lay these criticisms out there, because, as I said earlier, I have a tremendous amount of respect for
FRSO [Fight Back]'s work. I don't want to see them descend into all out revisionism or start making Avakian like claims of armed struggle in 8 years, 2 months and 14 days. Yet, taken as a whole, these shifts appear to show a rather complete ideological break with anti-revisionism fundamental critique of Soviet "socialism." Class struggle does continue under socialism, socialism can be defeated by new ruling classes that grow out of these struggles, and we have seen this in the USSR after Lenin/Stalin's death, post-Mao China, and the vast majoirty of the once socialist world.

So what am I missing? Is there internal debate and disagreement around these line changes? Do these changes represent the views of organizational leadership with control over publications more than the general mood of the group's rank-and-file?

Comrades in
FRSO [Fight Back] appear to have congresses every three years, and if the pattern holds they will hold their next one in May 2007. Are rank-and-file comrades currently demanding changes in line, strategy and, if need be, leadership to ensure that actual lessons are learned from 20th Century socialism, and that a wholesale adoption of revisionist thinking by the organization does not take place?

Developments in Nepal, India, South America, the Philippines and the recent upsurge of Bolivarian solidarity here in the U.S. offer up exciting possibilities in the coming years. Now is the time for refined revolutionary theory and advanced practice, not tried and failed dogmatism.

This comment has been removed by the author.

In my estimation, FRSO(Fightback) has adopted an almost "Brezhnevite" position. It seems that there's a certain grouping in the communist movement that seeks to turn back the clock to the pre-Glasnost period, and proceed, i.e., they do not wish to address the material roots of revisionism in socialist society. Abroad, this is seen with the Belgian Labor Party of Ludo Martens, which used to take an anti-revisionist position, but now has a confused view, taking up China as a socialist country in some articles.

It's a good thing that FRSO(Fightback) doesn't want to discard Marx, Lenin, and Mao, and fall into a liquidation trap like its ideological forerunners the old LRS, and the CPML before it. Hopefully they will emerge as better than a social-democratic group.

I was looking around on Celtic's blog today for an old comment Klement had made, and I ran across this comment by Left Spot.

Although Left Spot and I have real differences concerning Left Recondition and what makes an organization's line "ML," I graciously accept his criticisms concerning my shoddy use of "Fightback" in as a pseudo-derogatory epithet.

For this reason, and since my goal of this post really is dialogue and not sectarian score-keeping I have again modified the article to replace FRSO(Fightback) or Fightback with FRSO [Fight Back].

Some would argue that FRSO has been revisionist since the Revolutionary Workers HQ split from the RCP. I would be one of them.

That said, they do some fine, non-communist mass work and are comrades in that sense.

But the choice of the Fightback (or "ML") grouping to adopt open revisionism -- which they have done -- by adopting a "Breznevite" position is truly depressing.

Who on earth wants THAT?

The communist movement is re-founding. We are witnessing its first revolution TODAY in Nepal.

So are we to be one of the "7 parliamentary parties" or a vanguard of the North American proletariat?

Are we to take up the call of the CPI(Maoist), the Communist Party of the Philippines, and separately the work of the RCP to combat revisionism?

Let's do it -- and do it like comrades to WIN PEOPLE OVER instead of castigating them for "deviations."

I can't encourage readers of these small discussion enough to give Avakian his due on this one. This is what makes him great.

What is socialism?

What are we fighting for?

State capitalism and marxist rhetoric?

Or the dictatorship of the proletariat and the world revolution?

Is socialism to be a change in managers or the assertion of popular agency on the road to communism?

The choices we make, even in our small numbers, matters more than our humility (cough) may admit.

China is not socialist. The people do not rule. Anyone who says so is deluded or a liar.

Let's separate the two.

Comrade Burningman writes:

"Some would argue that FRSO has been revisionist since the Revolutionary Workers HQ split from the RCP. I would be one of them.

"That said, they do some fine, non-communist mass work and are comrades in that sense."

RCP supporters, and anyone else who, like them, believes that doing real mass work is "revisionism," would indeed make that argument, since that incorrect idea is what the 1978 split in the RCP was fundamentally about. The 60% majority of the RCP supported that idea, whereas the 40% that left in the split, as well as pretty much the whole rest of the New Communist Movement, opposed it.

Burningman, who is very sharp on a lot of other questions, clings tightly to this mistaken idea of genuine "communist work" for reasons I haven't been able to fully grasp. The view here is that communist leadership is fundamentally about talking revolution to anyone you can get to listen to you, and calling for them to get behind you and follow your revolutionary leadership. This is arrogance distilled into a method. Almost all Trot groups apply it, along with the RCP. It is not Maoism but a form of "left" revolutionism.

The Mass Line is all about becoming one with the masses and leading them forward on that basis; it's not about calling on the masses to become one with *you*. That's a basic difference between Maoism and Trotskyism. Considering all the bad behavior by the nearly countless Trot sects that I know burningman has witnessed coming into the CUNY student movement as well as other struggles in NYC, I would have hoped that this lesson would have sunk in more thoroughly.

Burningman (along with Scott H. from massline.info) also expresses a difference around another aspect of FRSO/OSCL's (as well as FRSO [Fight Back]'s) approach. I think burningman believes FRSO should either be trying right now to turn the mass movements it works within into explicitly revolutionary movements, not work at all within movements that can't be turned into such under present conditions, or restrict ourselves to propaganda work within the latter such movements. (Burningman, please clarify this if I'm misrepresenting your view.)

This view gets some basic things wrong.

Most people (except, to some extent, in the sectors of students and educated youth from petit-bourgeois backgrounds) become revolutionaries not fundamentally through being persuaded by propaganda or by a verbal argument from someone who walks up to them and engages them at random in a conversation about revolution and communism. Most people become revolutionaries through getting involved in a struggle to change their lives, or the broader world, in some limited way. Then, through coming up against the power structures, they personally learn how the world works and who it's constructed in favor of. If conscious revolutionaries are there working alongside them in a genuine and principled way to lead the struggle forward, we can help draw out the correct lessons that both we and the masses will learn from, and advance more people into the ranks of conscious revolutionary.

This process happens within *all* progressively oriented mass movements. If we go into a movement and try to force it to become revolutionary in its entirety regardless of objective conditions, that will tend to close off the movement to drawing in new people who need to go through that process of struggle in order to have the potential of becoming revolutionaries and communists.

Any revolutionary organization worth its salt had better be in there, in *every* progressive movement in *every* sector of the masses, struggling by way of the method of the Mass Line to lead those movements forward in the direction of revolution. And real revolutionaries had also better understand that developing mass movements to a revolutionary state is a protracted process of development. (And some sectors will surely move forward faster than others.) If communists don't work in every sector of the oppressed regardless of where the movement in that sector is *actually at* under present conditions, we are abandoning those sectors we ignore to be led by reactionary and bourgeois forces. Is that what we really want?

Alternatively, if we just stand on the sidelines and tell people, "But don't you understand, this movement is useless unless it becomes an intrinsically revolutionary movement," we're no better than the Trotskyites and other opportunists out there, and will be no more successful than them in the end. We will also be incorrectly belittling the need and desire of the masses to make near-term improvements in their lives short of total transformation.

If we believe in the importance of "agency" in the revolutionary process, we should trust in the ability of the masses to learn revolutionary lessons through regular-old struggles to improve their lives--alongside conscious revolutionaries helping them draw out the correct lessons--even if most of those struggles are currently at a stage of trying to win limited gains.

I guess I can partly understand where burningman's wrong thinking comes from. Having worked within the CUNY student movement. It is an intellectual hothouse--people become revolutionary socialists, revolutionary nationalists and the like very quickly and broadly--and the movement as a whole is semi-revolutionary. Being around this environment for years, it's easy to get the idea that things are at least somewhat like this in many other sectors and locales. But the reality is that things are different, often dramatically, in most other scenes. Concrete analysis of concrete conditions, always.

One last note: It might be seen by some as a touch of hypocrisy to castigate FRSO for being "revisionist" and then turn around and caution others about "castigating [people] for 'deviations.'" We should certainly strive to avoid unnecessary antagonisms, but (assuming this comment was directed at him) I thought Nelson H.'s post, in its edited form, was pretty on point and well-formulated.

"RCP supporters, and anyone else who, like them, believes that doing real mass work is "revisionism," would indeed make that argument, since that incorrect idea is what the 1978 split in the RCP was fundamentally about."

Real, in this case meaning: working for the Democratic Party, serving as decidedly unradical (let alone communist) officers in trade unions, and being stand up militants in various social movements that accept the terms of the "real" as the realm of the possible.

Marxism is not a private language.

That, too, is part of what the split was about.

But then again, if those who think China is socialist today -- or maintain a public agnosticism on the question (ala Refoundation) -- think that "real" means whatever pragmatically gets them through the day as "activists," then again -- we have a fundamentally different undersanding of not just the "real" -- but what socialism is, and communism is to be.

I do not think all mass movements should be explicitly communist. See my coverage of Nepal and support for World Can't Wait among countless other examples.

But if you can't see the difference between WCW getting Democrats to support THEIR position on THEIR terms and essentially dissolving into, say, Jesse Jackson's pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist demagoguery -- then again, we will talk right past each other.

The RCP does not think their "base" is activists, nor do they set their sails by sticking their finger in the wind of various activist subcultures to determine what the "masses" think. Nor do they assume that reformist activists are the "advanced masses."

And, for the record -- the RCP engages in VASTLY more outreach, both on revolutionary communist and "issue" terms than just about any group I see in New York.

They just don't haunt every activist ghetto and scene.

To accept the social-democratic/anarchist definition of "sectarian" is a major mindfuck... and one I would hope organizations like FRSO (Fightback and Refoundation) should engage in force.

This is time to challenge revisionism and build communist organization that isn't looking to a permanently receeding horizon.

And by that, I'm pretty sure you know what I mean.

The RCP and its supporters aren't on the sidelines. You know this... everyone here knows this.

But communists are precious, and few in number. Let the liberals carry their own water. Let various labor institutions do what it is they do.

But to get confused that somehow what is essentially liberal today will somehow "transform under the right circumstances" into communist work is to miss not just the insight of Lenin -- but the lessons of the last 20 years in THIS country.

Regarding CUNY: I came to political consciousness in the midwest in the 1980s. I have traveled extensively throughout this country and the world, having engaged political movements in a half dozen states and so on. You are right about the CUNY movement -- and it was in challenging the real illusions of that hothouse that I moved to a revolutionary communist position.

We need to build a party -- and because of the strength of Bob Avakian's leadership, among others, we have one.

You can paint the vanguard as you wish, but it is its own fact. It will no more be swayed by the endemic cynicism, economism and movementism that DEFINE the "activist" left than it fears the repression of the state.

I agree we must be everywhere -- the question is what WE are. Are we movementists/reformists -- or are we communists?

Are we shop stewards... or tribunes of the people? And you can't blame that one on Trotsky.

Those who argue, openly or not so, that the "movement is everything, the final aim nothing" do NOT move individuals, let alone broad masses to revolutionary (let alone communist) positions. They in fact train their young in reformism.

I've been around long enough to see it.

That FRSO/Refoundation can't be bothered to even maintain a publication on a communist basis, for example.

That FRSO/Fightback supports North Korea as "socialist" and the fascists in China as essentially socialist -- is deluded at best, but I think its worse than that.

Politics is not incremental.

So, instead of castigating those who at least know where they are going, perhaps your polemic is best aimed at those who uphold the "deep" connection to the base people yet UTTERLY FAIL in their responsibility to lead, develop class consciousness and divert the spontaneous tendency towards (failed) reformism and towards a revolutionary basis.

Because that's Leninism, to say nothing of Mao. The Mass Line is a leadership method. It is not about reflecting what people ALREADY know, or what they THINK they need.

For an example -- re-read the WCW and Not In Our Name materials. And see how they have done great service far beyond the numbers that produced them in changing the terms of debate.

See too WCW's most recent open letter to the antiwar movement that's up on their site.


Burningman sums up the RCP's position as the following: a) communists are few in number, b) communists must be everywhere, except c) in mass struggles not entirely built on the terms we lay out.

It sounds to me as if the modus operandi of the RCP - dedication to the party organ, the odd spark getting lit (spontaneously, by groups outside the Party) and fanned (by the Party), and the construction of "lodestar" intellectuals (from the Party ranks) - are a line formed by process-of-elimination rather than by serious investigation of the masses and their ideas or a concentration of these ideas. The RCP thinks this method of leadership is a necessary armor against reformism. In truth, it's a sectarian straitjacket. There is no vanguard that binds itself in such a way.

As for burningman's comment that the RCP "at least know where they are going" - sure, the RCP "knows" that they're going to lead the revolution, in the same way that every sect of Christianity "knows" that they're going to be at the right hand of the Father on Judgement Day. On the smugness of the RCP, there is no dispute. The point of Mass Line as a method of leadership, however, is that neither some isolated avant garde (in the guise of the self-appointed vanguard) nor the spontaneous masses (in the form of proponents of isolated ) have it all figured out.

It's funny you should think THAT's what I'm saying.

I work for a non-partisan radical left paper, that is hardly defined by Maosim, as a volunteer for going on four years.

I work for a large municiapl trade union.

My last major engagement as an activist was with a non-communist student group (albeit one with a large number of communists within it -- including FRSO members from both factions, YCLers, supporters of the Beckers PSL, and even an RCP supporter or three or four over the years).

What I said was... as if its not right there... was that we should not become the liberals and reformists that will somehow -- magically -- transform liberalism and reformism into a socialist movement.

I said political transformation is not incremental and that liberals should carry their own water.

This is kind of a hallmark of both pragmatism and opportunism, this inability to see the difference and to call liberal and reformist work "real" and revolutionary and communist work "sectarian" or whatever.

I'm also "summing up" my position. The RCP speaks by what they do -- which from what I see is generally right on time.

Note: I give particular examples, the anonymous regurgitator sort of shoots from the hip, and mixed metaphors aside, cuts a real foot to fit a rhetorical shoe.

Comrade Burningman says:

"But communists are precious, and few in number. Let the liberals carry their own water. Let various labor institutions do what it is they do.

But to get confused that somehow what is essentially liberal today will somehow "transform under the right circumstances" into communist work is to miss not just the insight of Lenin -- but the lessons of the last 20 years in THIS country."

I would argue that we view our tasks in all social movements in a fundamentally different way.

I personally don't engage in reformist work, although the work that I do wins reforms. I engage in leadership development of the multi-national working class and students from various social strata. I actively work to challenge the backwards ideas and give support to the advanced notions that all the activists that I come in contact with possess.

I work to frame the most advanced demands that can be reasonably won at the given movement and prove to the masses that I am worth the leadership I attempt to exercise by busting-ass alongside them. And in all this work I have the pleasure of struggling alongside comrades in the FRSO/OSCL.

Sure we should demand that liberals hold their own, and one would hope that the trade-unions would “do what they do.” Unfortunately they aren’t. Does that make organizing a union from scratch in the Sunbelt where collective bargaining isn’t even allowed by current law at a place like UT Knoxville simply reformist work that should be left to liberals?

If anyone feels the answer here is yes, do you recognize that this means we leave the workers without any organization and accept that their lives will only get worse over time? Such a position smacks of class privilege (not to mention white-skin and male privilege). The alternative I would argue that we attempt is to actually root ourselves in these communities, identify and develop organic leaders, do the hard base building work that needs to happen if there is to even be a labor movement 5 years from now, and in all of this reshape our world outlooks so that the victories we win with folks (even if it’s only $750 dollar raise) are fundamentally victories for ourselves (if we hadn’t won the $750 I’d still make less than $20k/year). ‘Cause the liberals ain’t carrying their own, the people are not organized to make revolutionary demands, and yet everywhere our class cries out for change.

What I feel like this outlook on mass-work gets correct in the most correct of ways is that while the nature of work - reform only or revolution - is not going to magically change, people do. As Mao said:

“When men [sic] in society throw themselves into the practice of changing a certain objective process (whether natural or social) at a certain stage of its development, they can, as a result of the reflection of the objective process in their brains and the exercise of their subjective activity, advance their knowledge from the perceptual to the rational, and create ideas, theories, plans or programmes which correspond in general to the laws of that objective process.”

People don’t come first to revolution then jump into mass-work, at least not en masse. And any revolutionary who claims that this was true for them has either had to reformulate most of his (intentional use of the male gender here, for sure) thinking, is lying, or continues to do really shitty mass-work. Conversely, winning reforms is the best way I know of to win people over to revolution. It proves that we are smart enough to demand what we need, we are strong enough to win it, and in winning our righteous demands we have the ability to alter power relations.

Burningman, you mention that FRSO/OSCL cannot even be bothered to put out a regular publication. I have major unity with you there; it sucks that they don’t and I hope that the organization will move to rectify this error. Your points about the WCW raise another weak point of the above described method of mass work. If all, most or even many of you cadre are already rooted in base-building work that demands the better portion of their efforts and skills, you find yourself collectively incapable of responding to developing events. As G. Frohman points out, the RCP is better equipped to do just that, to fan the spark that someone else’s work lit.

I for one would argue that the cost-benefit break-down for such flexibility is 30%-70% with the 70% being bad, especially given the conditions we face. But movement builders on the left need to better grapple with that 30% if we to become and stay as flexible as we must be.

That said, I do have a good amount of respect for the work that WCW does. It does seem like they are engaging actual people, and by doing so moving many folks who are simply committed to reform closer towards revolution. Yet, at the points the sloganeering can seem more like an Anti-Flag song than actual demands. These comrades have a responsibility to use the flexibility a light load of mass work in other areas affords them. They must commit themselves to actually building movement leaders, many of whom are bound to join their organization, but to do so regardless of this outcome. A failure or refusal to do so marks a qualitative shift in the nature of this aforementioned crossing the line into out-and-out opportunism.

"We are also opposed to "Left" phrase-mongering. The thinking of "Leftists" outstrips a given stage of development of the objective process; some regard their fantasies as truth, while others strain to realize in the present an ideal which can only be realized in the future. They alienate themselves from the current practice of the majority of the people and from the realities of the day, and show themselves adventurist in their actions."
Mao, On Practice

comrade burningman's got some questions to answer--trivial, comical, and otherwise--in my mind. the first is: activist ghetto?

the second is: no fear of state repression? the great leadership of bob avakian led him to exile in france--in his fear of state assasination in a pathetic seven-month prison sentence--where he led the vanguard party in the united states. whatever, though. the point is simply that avakian, whose leadership, according to comrade burningman, has seen to the building of a party, did fear state repression.

the third is: RCP is everywhere? and it's the vanguard party? burningman says that RCP is what it is--and that it cannot be constructed other than what it is because it's fact by others. what *is* it, exactly, and how is it a vanguard party? aside from hawking papers and running pre-recorded tele-talks with chairman bobby a., i've seen little to any REAL work with REAL people by them.

at any rate, as a youth, i don't particularly care what the RCP was back whenever, i care what it is.

"Sure we should demand that liberals hold their own, and one would hope that the trade-unions would “do what they do.” Unfortunately they aren’t. Does that make organizing a union from scratch in the Sunbelt where collective bargaining isn’t even allowed by current law at a place like UT Knoxville simply reformist work that should be left to liberals? "

I wouldn't argue that, even if I don't think (at first glance) that this should be the first priority for organizations with limited resources/memberships.

Then I would question on what BASIS (read: line) the workers are being organized. Is is an economist line? Does it seek collective agency or collective bargaining? Is it using a CIO playbook from six decades ago that hasn't worked in at least two or three?

Does it place communists as the negotiators for contracts, etc? Or is it building class conscous (in the Leninist sense) organization and capacity?

Does it happen under the capitalist leadership of the Democratic Party, or the proletarian leadership of the vanguard political force?

I'm not saying I know how to do class-based organizaing on a communist basis in this terrain. But I'm not against it -- and I don't think the RCP is either. They certainly don't polemicize against working class militancy insofar as it exists.


The point about the FRSO publication is, despite their protestations, an ideological one -- and cuts to the quick on what I see as their ecclecticism. When they did recently run a sporadic magazine, its line was all over the place -- but at bottom it was "movementist." It was all over the place because the various movements/institutions that their cadre are embedded in (ostensibly among the "masses") are themselves all over the place.

Historical footnote for Shubal Morgan: It wasn't 7 months Avakian was facing, but over 200 years.

Ever wonder what for? About the remarkable foresight involved in "Teng Demo"? Or that maybe, just maybe, Avakian's been doing more than taking chewing on baguettes over these last two decades?

And the effect it had not just on the US communist movement, enabling a significant section of the still young new communist movement to escape the revisionist inertia that nabbed most grouplets (leading them to dissolution, movementism and even outright betrayal)...

You make jokes about communist leadership?

Of the political groups in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the chairman of the Communist Party of Peru has been held in prison for over 10 years. The leaders of the Turkish MKP were all just murdered in cold blood by 1,000 troops. Interpol has "red corner notices" on the leadership of the CPN(M) and beyond that, Jose Maria Sison faces the constant threat of deportation from the Netherlands.

Leadership is precious. If the enemy understands that, maybe it's worth taking a breath before you get too glib.

The level of shit-talking the left has put up with (and sometimes encouraged) for far too long is a mistake we should ALL get over.

You should care about history. We're living it.

From a personal examination of U.S. v. Nina K. Schiller (decided in October 1980), the citation of 240 years against Chairman Bob is personality cult bullshit.

Seventy eight people were arrested in the Deng demo. Of that, 8 were arrested with Nina Schiller and 9 arrested with Bob Avakian, arraigned and indicted. The charges originally filed against Avakian and the group he was arrested with were:

"nine counts of assault on a police officer with a dangerous weapon, one count of assault with a dangerous weapon, and one count of rioting"

Clearly, Avakian got charged in a group in which each individual was charged with all the charges of the group - not uncommon in mass arrest cases. If he'd gone to trial then, he and everyone else would have gotten 7 months, based on the stupidity of thinking Bob Avakian could take on 9 pigs on his lonesome.

But clearly, Avakian had an ass for a lawyer (he went pro se), and decided to tempt fate by challenging the indictment, which opened the door for a re-indictment - with more counts to go around.

After this, Avakian chaged tactics and demanded joinder with the Schiller into a single case. Which meant that he was open to yet another round of indictments, in which all the defendants - not just Bob - got the book thrown at them with over twenty counts each defendant. Net result - Chairman Bob (and 16 others) got a punishment exposure of up to 240 years. Punishment exposure is a worst possible scenario; 240 years is what he'd get if he were indicted in the assaults of 10 officers, use of a weapon, and several acts of rioting. Not even Huey P. Newton managed that kind of feat.

The facts are there, if you want them, and they don't point to Precious Bob being anything like a leader, but as a weak link in a criminal case prone to writing checks he couldn't cash. No wonder he spent the next two decades in Paris - if he had stayed, he would be sacked.

I’m not quite sure how this thread devolved into a dispute over Bob Avakian’s legal troubles in 1980.

I’d like to get back to the original question posed in Nelson’s post: is FRSO [Marxist-Leninist] “descending into revisionism”?

I think the answer is unequivocally ‘no’.

For the sake of clarity, I’m going to refer to the two FRSO’s here as FRSO [Marxist-Leninist] and FRSO [Left Refoundationist]. FRSO [ML] is the one at www.frso.org and FRSO [LR] is the one at www.freedomroad.org. I put [ML] and [LR] in brackets since I am adding that; neither group uses these as part of their name. I’m writing this as a supporter of the politics of FRSO [Marxist-Leninist]. I don’t speak for them, and any misstatements of their line or errors here are mine.

What evidence does Nelson garner to try to make the case that FRSO [ML] is ‘descending into revisionism’? First, that that FRSO [ML] does not uphold the Crisis of Socialism statement. Second, that FRSO [ML] refers to north Korea and China as socialist countries. And third, that FRSO [M-L] refers to the 1989 Tiananmen Square student uprising in China as an attempted counterrevolution.

Nelson raises some other issues (position on 2004 election, ‘teleological posturing’) that I’ll address after these main ones.

First, I’d say that it’s interesting that a supporter of FRSO [Left Refoundationist] would accuse FRSO [ML] of ‘revisionism’. Because ‘left refoundationism’ itself is about as textbook a case of revisionism as one could think of. Left refoundationism fundamentally negates (‘revises’) the Marxist-Leninist view of the revolutionary party, in favor of a hazily-defined amalgam of socialist groups and individuals. Left refoundationism is eclecticism defined.

I have heard of the Left Refoundationist supporters refer to FRSO [ML]’s politics as ‘Stalinist’ and ‘orthodox’, but before Nelson’s post I don’t remember having heard supporters of Left Refoundation make the claim that they are the true anti-revisionists and that FRSO [ML] is revisionist. I don’t think they have much ground to stand on, organizationally or politically, in throwing the charge of ‘revisionism’ around.

The Crisis of Socialism

It is true that FRSO [ML] does not uphold the statement on “the Crisis of Socialism”. Nelson seems to think this statement embodies anti-revisionism, and therefore FRSO [ML] not upholding it is evidence of revisionism. While the statement makes some good points, its overall verdict on socialism in the 20th century is defeatist and is fundamentally wrong. The worst error of the Crisis statement is that it sums up all the efforts of socialist revolution in the 20th century as an overall failure. I quote: “overall the experience of building socialism in the Soviet Union must be summed up as a failure. All subsequent socialist revolutions have drawn to a great extent from the Soviet model, and the crisis of socialism is not confined to the Soviet Union.” This is straight-up wrong, and is drenched in the confusion and defeatism that much of the U.S. left succumbed to around 1991 when the statement was first adopted. This line writes off as a failure all the gains that were made and new ground that was broken in the experience of almost half the population of the world in building socialism in the 20th century.

The Crisis statement also puts forward this odd formulation: “Generally speaking, while the world's peoples hate imperialism, they fear socialism.” Do the folks in FRSO [Left Refoundationist] really believe this to be true in 2006? Even if one claims it was true for a brief historical moment in the early 1990s, it is clearly untrue in 2006 (as large sections of Latin America move sharply left, as ‘socialists’ get elected in various countries, as the CPN(M) verges on revolution in Nepal, etc.) The Crisis statement doesn’t show any way out of the supposed crisis of socialism; followed to its logical conclusion, the only way out is to reject Marxism-Leninism and adopt a different kind of ideology. Indeed, Left Refoundationism was originally pitched inside FRSO as a post-Leninist theory (see www.frso.org/about/theses.html )

Socialist Countries?

Nelson also points to FRSO [Marxist-Leninist]’s line that Cuba, China, north Korea, Vietnam and Laos are socialist countries as supposed evidence of FRSO [M-L]’s revisionism.

Well, as ‘lao hong han’, who I believe is a supporter of FRSO [Left Refoundationist] wrote in a comment on Comrade Zero’s blog (see www.comradezero.blogspot.com/2006/04/on-anti-revisionism-and-unity-in.html ), “It is not the case that the Freedom Road Socialist Organization / Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad--as distinct from FRSO [Fight Back]--argues that there are no actually existing socialist countries. FRSO/OSCL adopted a resolution at (IIRC) its 1997 Congress upholding Cuba as a socialist country. This has never, to my knowledge, been rescinded.”

So, if FRSO [Marxist-Leninist] is revisionist for upholding Cuba, then FRSO [Left Refoundationist] is too. (or as I believe, they are both correct in upholding Cuba as a socialist country).

And if they believe that Cuba is socialist, I would ask what FRSO [Left Refoundationist] sees as the distinction between the political economy of Cuba and that of, say, Vietnam, and why one is allegedly socialist and the other is allegedly capitalist. But I don't imagine that FRSO [Left Refoundationist] has a worked out organizational line on such questions.

I think it's one of the drawbacks of a 'left refoundationist' type of approach, that it can easily end up in eclecticism, rather than having a coherent line that can be proven right or wrong in practice. So for example Cuba is called 'socialist' in a resolution at one Congress, but all countries that drew on the Soviet model are summed up as an overall failure in the 'Crisis of Socialism' document. So is Cuba a socialist country to be upheld, or is it an overall failure that therefore provides mainly negative lessons, or is it an overall failure that is to be, for some reason, upheld anyway?

As for north Korea, China, and Laos, does FRSO [Left Refoundationist] have a line on these countries? Or does it have no organizational line but individuals have a range of views on them?

As for Tiananmen in 1989, would anyone deny that there were forces prominent, including some of the leadership, in the 1989 student movement that were aiming for Western-style capitalism? And that forces within the Chinese Communist Party that supported moving toward Western-style capitalism were working very closely with, and supporting, the protests? Clearly there was more to Tiananmen than that, and I don’t claim to do justice here to the complex and contradictory nature of all the forces involved. But it’s not incorrect to say that those events were supported by powerful forces (within and outside the CCP, and within and outside of China) that were aiming toward the overthrow of the Communist Party and toward the adoption of Western-style ‘democracy’ and capitalism. In other words, counterrevolution.

What is Revisionism?

Revisionism is the revision (in fact the negation) of the revolutionary core of Marxism, while still claiming to uphold Marxism. The main revisionist attacks on Marxism have historically been attacks on proletarian internationalism (support for one’s own ruling class during World War I); denial or revision of the Leninist theory of imperialism (Kautsky and ‘super-imperialism, for example); denial of the need for communist organization, and denial of the need for a Leninist party (various anarchist, Trot and social democratic critics); the belief in peaceful transition to socialism (Second International, Khrushchev, etc), and also very importantly, the negation of the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat (myriad social democrats and right opportunists claim to be Marxists but are against the dictatorship of the proletariat).

Is FRSO [Marxist-Leninist] guilty of any of these things? The answer is ‘no’. In fact FRSO [Marxist-Leninist] is notable in clearly opposing all of the above revisionist dangers. Unlike the left refoundationists, FRSO [ML] clearly upholds the Leninist model of a party. And FRSO [ML] is working toward the creation of a new Communist Party based on Marxism-Leninism that can lead revolution in the U.S. I don’t think anybody familiar with it can deny the exemplary internationalist solidarity work that FRSO [ML] participates in and leads, around Iraq, Palestine, Colombia, the Philippines, and anywhere that the people are fighting for liberation. That work is done on a consistent, anti-imperialist basis. FRSO [ML] clearly supports a revolutionary road to socialism – and actively supports the forces around the world fighting for liberation and socialism.

FRSO [ML] correctly identified the revisionist potential in the Crisis of Socialism statement. While the statement itself still uses the term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, the line there can be easily interpreted to in fact be a negation of the dictatorship of the proletariat that is virtually indistinguishable from earlier social democratic or anarchist critiques of Marxism-Leninism. And that is where some ultimately went with it – the need to “refound” based on something besides Marxism-Leninism.

For example, the Crisis of Socialism statement says this: “The dictatorship of the proletariat is at heart the ever-expanding organization, expression and, when necessary, enforcement of the popular will at all levels of society, in order to gradually eliminate classes and exploitation. Strengthening this class dictatorship--and not the state apparatus itself--is the essence of the socialist transition, and mass socialist democracy--not state repression--must be its linchpin. We identify socialism first and foremost not simply with public ownership of the means of production, but with the cultivation of mass participation in and control over economic, political and social institutions and structures.”

On the one hand, the general sentiment expressed here is good – socialism is about the people themselves taking control over their lives and over all aspects of society. Right on. But the vague pro-people sentiment of anarchism is also good in general; the line put forward here is virtually indistinguishable from 150 year old anarchist and idealist critiques of Marx. This line sounds good but doesn’t provide any new insight about how to deal with the real, difficult contradictions that communists have faced and will continue to face in fighting for power and when they are in power. It sounds intriguing, but what does it really mean to “strengthen the class dictatorship and not the state apparatus itself”?

The second part of this quote is carefully worded, but it comes dangerously close to removing Marxism from it’s historical materialist basis. By saying that socialism is not first and foremost identified with the economic base (such as public ownership of the means of production) but instead primarily with “cultivation of mass participation and control…” (superstructure), it borders on placing itself outside of 150 years of Marxist understanding of the historical development of productive forces and production relations, and how the development of productive forces and changes in production relations creates the basis for proletarian revolution and socialism. I don’t think this is necessarily what the statement intends, but I think it’s an ultraleft position (identifying the superstructure as essentially primary over the base under socialism), which they share with the RCP.

Mao deepened the Marxist understanding of how under certain conditions, changes in the superstructure can reflect back on and help bring about changes in the base. That can work both ways – pushing things forward to advance socialism, or driving things backwards toward capitalism. But it is taking things too far and is an error to then identify socialism primarily as a question of superstructure. Yes, errors and revisionist policies in the superstructure can cause great damage and are a great danger to socialism, paving the way for the restoration of capitalism. And it will not be possible to advance from socialism toward communism without the broad masses (not just the party) actively participating and pushing things forward. No doubt. But when socialist countries make mistakes or follow erroneous (and even revisionist) lines, or even follow policies that are erroneously repressive, they do not immediately become capitalist countries because of it.

So does upholding Cuba, Vietnam, China, north Korea and Laos as socialist make FRSO [Marxist-Leninist] guilty of revisionism? No.

They are countries that had socialist revolutions, and that exist in a world surrounded by imperialism. FRSO [ML]’s view on the socialist countries recognizes that there is class struggle under socialism, and that there are serious contradictions within those societies (like in all societies). Two documents put out by the Workers Party of Belgium (with which FRSO [ML] generally shares a good deal of unity) addressing the questions of revisionism and the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, “Proposal for the Unification of the International Communist Movement” (see www.wpb.be/icm/95enprop.htm ) and “On Certain Aspects of the Struggle Against Revisionism” (see www.wpb.be/icm/2005/selected_reading_list/Dir95_India_Seminary_LudoM_1995_EN.doc ), make clear that Khrushchev and those that came after him generally advocated and implemented revisionist lines and policies that weakened socialism in the USSR and weakened and divided the international communist movement (with some nuances and complexities of course). The above-named documents correctly identify revisionism as the main danger to the international communist movement. What happened in the USSR and Eastern Europe bears that out.

But there is a difference between on the one hand recognizing that there is revisionism inside a party and that there is a two-line struggle within a party for the capitalist or socialist road, and on the other hand claiming that the economic base of the society has reverted to capitalism or that the law of value dominates in a country that claims to be socialist. And there is a responsibility to overall defend the gains of socialist revolution from attacks that would overturn those gains entirely and hand the country over to imperialism and bring about Western-style capitalism, as happened in the Soviet Union.

That is not revisionism. That is carrying out an internationalist duty to defend the gains of socialist revolution, even in cases where they have been seriously compromised and weakened by revisionism.

‘Teleological Posturing’

Nelson doesn’t like the language in some recent FRSO [ML] statements, referring to ‘teleological posturing’. I had to look up what that meant. Here’s wikipedia’s definition: “Teleology: (telos: end, purpose) is the supposition that there is design, purpose, directive principle, or finality in the works and processes of nature, and the philosophical study of that purpose.” Nelson uses as examples the following quotes from recent FRSO [ML] statements: "victory [over the Bush agenda] is certain" and "time is always on the side of the oppressed - and time is an enemy of all systems heading for extinction." Well, if you want to throw out anything with ‘teleological’ tinges, with ‘revolutionary optimism’ that proclaims that history is moving toward socialism and then communism, you’d have to throw out Marx, Lenin and Mao entirely. There’s not even a need to cite quotes from them – if you’ve read them you know what I mean. And by the way it’s true, capitalism is heading for extinction -- either through socialist revolution or through the extinction of the human species that capitalism may bring about.

The 2004 Election

Nelson says he agrees with FRSO [ML]’s “Dump Bush” line on the 2004 election, but he expresses surprise that FRSO took this line. First I think it’s important to say that an organization claiming to want to lead a socialist revolution should be reasonably expected to take a coherent position and provide some leadership to mass movements on key questions of the day. Not necessarily on every question, but at least on the big ones.

The 2004 election was certainly a “key question of the day” for the left in the US. Every group I know of took some position or approach to it, except FRSO [Left Refoundationist]. Why didn’t the Left Refoundationists put out a public position on the election? I can only figure it’s because they don’t have political unity. Nelson expresses agreement with FRSO [ML]’s line of “Dump Bush”. Meanwhile another prominent person associated with the Left Refoundationists publicly and repeatedly took a sharp line against voting for Kerry to dump Bush.

To me this drives home the problem with the Left Refoundationist approach for a revolutionary organization, as opposed to democratic centralism and other basic M-L organizational principles. If your members and close supporters are putting out different positions on such a key question of the day, how are you providing leadership that the people can even understand, let alone take up? A “Dump Bush” line may have been correct or incorrect (I agree with Nelson that it was correct), but at least it’s a coherent position that can be carried out and summed up afterward. FRSO [Left Refoundationist]’s inability to carry out a coherent approach on the 2004 elections is not a good sign.

Nelson is surprised that FRSO [ML] took a “dump Bush” line on the 2004 elections, since I guess he expected a more dogmatic or ultraleft approach. All I can say is that FRSO [ML] is using Marxism to assess time, place and conditions. I think it’s clear in retrospect that FRSO’s line was basically correct. They didn’t campaign for Kerry (and thus spread illusions), but they were able to see that a defeat for Bush in 2004 would have been a good thing for the people’s movements. To me FRSO’s “dump Bush” line speaks well of the group’s ability to use the mass line, to unite with the anti-Bush sentiment among the advanced while refusing to spread illusions about Kerry and the Dems. FRSO put out the “dump Bush” line consistently throughout it’s work. To me that is a good sign that FRSO [ML] is using the basic tools of Marxism-Leninism to guide their work.


I think Nelson is wrong that FRSO [ML] is revisionist. FRSO [ML] has successfully steered away from the many varieties of revisionism that have confounded many other groups. I think that compared to the alternatives, FRSO [ML] is the most advanced revolutionary organization in the US. FRSO [ML] is grounded in proletarian internationalism and Marxism-Leninism, incorporating key contributions of Mao Zedong and the Chinese revolution. FRSO [ML] engages in dynamic mass work using the mass line better than anyone else on the US left (to be fair, FRSO [Left Refoundationist] has some mass work I’m familiar with that is also very good). FRSO [ML] maintains a regular bilingual publication (Fight Back Newspaper www.fightbacknews.org) that highlights advanced experience in mass struggles around the country and world. And FRSO [ML] sees the need for Leninist organization and is building toward a new communist party to lead revolution in the US. That is not revisionism – that is Marxism-Leninism.


Posted by leftspot

This is terribly depressing to me that burningman still insists on upholding Avakian the way he does. It hasn't taken me long to figure out his "leadership" is at odds with much of MLM.

From Avakian's views on the state  and democracy, he is a living example of what is wrong with the ICM. He uses the Republic of Iran as a formal example of what a socialist state should be structured like. What really annoys me, is when Avakian says shit like "the proletariat and its vanguard communist party's leadership" -- is one long description of HIMSELF.

The cult of personality needs to be dropped like a bad habit, so does the one-party state idea. And on a much insignificant gripe - can he not type or write? Why are all his articles "transbribed talks"?! WTF? 

Posted by celticfire

It doesn't help that these discussions when they turn to Left Refoundation reflect a very superficial understanding of it. Left Refoundation does not and has never ment the unprincipled merger of groups on the left. While principle unity and mergers can happen left refoundation is more than that. Left Refoundation means first of all a revolutionary transformation of the left addressing why in many ways why the left, and in particularly the socialist left is so not rooted deeply in the working class and why its leadership and membership very often is so white. Left Refoundation means not a simple rehashing of formulas and phrases of revolutionaries of the 20th century but developing the foundation for a revolutionary movement of the 21st century based in the realities of our current situation. It confronts the reality that socialist are very often removed from the advanced fighters of the oppressed nationalites, the youth, women and other sectors. I would hold that the theory around left refoundation is based on a marxist-leninist analysis in the 21st century. The theory around Left Refoundation does not negate the need for a revolutionary pary but points to the need to develp a revolutonary milue that is infused with the energy and power of the advanced forces of the working class, people of color, women and other exploited and oppressed sectors.
The theory and practice of Left Refoundation is not a regroupment theory or a theory of liquidation. It does challenge the mountain stronghold mentality of groups on the left who in their blinders pretend that by themselves, all 20, 200, or 2000 of them are a vanguard and they don't have to acknowledge that other forces are out there rather than engage in real line struggle around real issues confront the effort to build a counter hegemonic movement that will shift the balance of the current neoliberal imperial concensus. 

Posted by Roberto Amin

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