Note: This essay, published by the ‘Revolutionary Study Network’ on February 24th 2023, is a response to an essay we previously published by the unrelated ‘Revolutionary Study Group’. I am not affiliated with either group and post their pieces for the sake of study and struggle. These remarks have a confusing amount of overlap with this piece we recently re-posted. I have removed the direct quote of Kevin’s piece, but retained the overlapping passages in the body. The footnotes are messed up but I can’t be bothered fixing them :]
Edited and arranged by Carrie Vargas of the RSN Preparatory Committee.
[While this document is the result of developing many of the criticisms first raised by Kevin/Lotta in their Critical notes regarding the RSG statement1, Kevin is not a part of the RSN. This piece presets the views of the Prep Committee of the RSN and engagement should be addressed to the Prep Committee. -Editors Note]
The recent article by the RSG presents itself (in spite of apparent intentions to clarify the situation in the US by describing precisely how the former-CLM members intend on moving past the errors of the CLM) as a caricature of what was already an embarrassment calling itself a revolutionary organization. Essentially, the document’s issue lies in the anti-Marxist method of making conclusions without proper investigation. This is something Engels condemned in his ‘Anti-Duhring’ nearly 150 years ago when he said “without analysis, no synthesis”. The consequence of non-dialectical thought is to fall into the same petty bourgeois theoretical muddles and political vacillation of the CLM. The following response aims to break down their text and show just how little the RSG trend has departed from the errors of dogmato-revisionism, and how lacking a thorough understanding of the basic fundamentals of Marxism results in the most flagrant phrase-mongering with no sound content. This also intends to briefly touch on the RSN’s current position while an exhaustive critique of the CLM trend and its vacillating revivalists in the form of RSG is left for future publication.
Critiques of the RSG Statement2
“In spring of last year, Tribune of the People News and several adjacent organizations dissolved due to opportunist leadership.”
The statement begins with a false claim which characterizes the side-stepping position of the piece. It may seem like mincing words, but the organizations did not dissolve due to opportunist leadership; they dissolved because there was no real basis for the continued existence of the organizations.
What sort of advanced organization just ceases to exist and floats off into the wind without a word spoken? Were there no leaders willing to take up the task of picking up the pieces once things fell apart? Was there not a single revolutionary left to go against the tide and openly speak their mind against this group of pretenders? Clearly not. Once the ragtag group of bureaucrats failed to keep the whips cracking, there was nothing left. There were hardly any genuine ties built between its cities and rank-and-file members independently of organizational diktats. There was no sense of individual leadership and responsibility built among those who fell under its sway and were still left standing. It was an organization led by kingly bureaucrats which produced the very same at almost every level.
As defined in Mao’s On Contradiction, the fundamental contradiction of a thing determines the essence of the process and will not disappear until the process is completed. Whereas, the principal contradiction’s existence and development determines or influences the existence and development of the other contradictions and plays the leading and decisive role. In our analysis, the fundamental contradiction of the CR-CPUSA led Movement (CLM) was the task of building/reconstituting a communist party.In this process, the main aspect was the abject failure of the organization to develop in this direction and the product was the organization’s dissolution. The principal contradiction throughout most of the organization’s history was between the Jared clique and the membership; in this contradiction, the clique played the leading role. The resolution of this contradiction through the resignation of the vast majority of the membership also led to the resolution of the fundamental contradiction as the organization ceased to exist. What is key is that they implemented bureaucratic measures from the beginning which cemented their control of the organization and enabled them to eliminate any revolutionary trend within the organization that could right the ship through two-line struggle. The group was rotten to its core.
While at the end of the organization there had developed individuals in some cities, e.g. Pittsburgh, who stood up and correctly spoke out, but as with this statement, they could not grasp the contradiction as a whole. In the wake of the collapse, the principal contradiction centered around what to do next, to either build a genuine communist movement or do something else. Because of the actions of both the clique and the membership there were no leaders that could take-up the mantle to build a genuine movement from the CLM organizations. We would contrast this to other exoduses of decrepit organizations where the ex-membership were able to struggle to develop a new revolutionary grouping. For instance, the communist split from the Socialist Party of America which went on to form the CPUSA.
“We are the largest and most active grouping to emerge from the old movement, consisting of a closely-knit national network of organizations in more than a dozen cities.”
The claim that they are the largest and most active grouping is the same claim that the Red Guards/CR-CPUSA made to attract people to their banner, not based on the quality of their work and program, but instead based on their size and “activity.” They didn’t want people paying attention to what their activity actually accomplished, but instead to the superficial aspects of how large they claimed to be and how busy they appeared online.
The boastful inclusion of this statement sums up the positive characterization of the RSG’s assessment of the entire Red Guards-Committee to Reconstitute (RG-CR) period. For them, the work of the eight years between 2014 to 2022 on the whole was a positive contribution to the advance of Marxism in this country. All that they see as necessary is to lop off the ten heads at the top and continue on as they were meant to. This is despite the fact that it took many months for any group or individual to even make a public claim regarding the nature of the collapse3. As of now, no organization can produce, as the statement admits, a genuinely comprehensive account of the errors (or even their ‘positive’ contributions!). The petty bureaucrats-to-be see themselves as the heir to the throne without daring to question upon what ground it was constructed. They sit firmly in the “left” opportunist camp, seeking their place in the sun, and dare not struggle too hard to dig at the fundamental questions of Marxism lest it disrupt their ascent to short-lived relevancy. This RSG fit themselves neatly into the camp of the Left Opportunism within the revisionist CLM trend.
“We sincerely appreciate the encouragement the CI statement offers to make this long-overdue clarification…unfortunately a plausible interpretation is that it directly endorses these opportunists.”
Here the unconsolidated ‘left opportunism’ of the domestic movement is trying its best to reconcile with the consolidated ‘left opportunists’ of the international movement without even realizing the balance of forces. The official international wing of left opportunism in the US will not allow itself a loss so easily. Does the RSG think they are in control here? The CI says it clearly: “the CR-CPUSA continues to be the only recognized organization that represents the struggle for the reconstitution of the Communist Party in the United States, and we urge all comrades to develop internal two-line-struggle”4. Is the RSG the CR-CPUSA? No. As far as the CI is concerned, they are among the liquidationists.
That said, we have made an interesting observation since the RSG article was published. The CI-IC statement on the “Actions Carried Out Worldwide on the Occasion of the Announcement of the ICL5” has included not only actions presumed to be from the old CR clique, but also actions taken in cities like Eugene, Oregon (one of the cities where the RSG is active). This suggests that the CI might entertain some path toward recognizing the RSG in the future. If this is the direction that things proceed, we can reasonably assume it is because the RSG has demonstrated in this statement and their lack of actions to expose the CLM that they are willing to play ball with the CI and ICL in the same way Jared’s CR was.
“…these opportunists, who have committed crimes against members of the movement and refused all self-criticism, instead doubling down on their anti-people positions.”
When the RSG later insists on the metaphysics and sexist chauvinism of the American movement in particular, one questions if they even delve deep enough into this issue to read the theoretical publications of the most prominent members of the CI, such as the Committee Red Flag (the ‘leader’ of Maoism in Europe). If they did, they would understand that the ideological positions of Jared on this issue are not unique, but are rather a watered down version of the chauvinism exemplified by such trash as Klassenstandpunkt’s “The Ideological Decay of Imperialism”6. These ‘anti-people positions,’ now made concrete with the founding of their phony international (the ICL), are at the very heart of the ideology which now proclaims itself to constitute the political-organizational center of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism in the world. If anyone imagines they are disagreeing with Americans alone in rejecting these ideas, they are woefully oblivious.
“The liquidation comes as a result of the mass rejection by hundreds of comrades of an opportunist leadership of no more than ten people who were responsible for egregious anti-people actions.”
This statement elucidates and strengthens the first charge we levy against the RSG’s claim of opportunist leadership. It is, of course, correct to call the ‘left opportunists’ a clique, but what this subjectivist error does in effect is minimize the numbers and prevalence of the clique’s errors to the largest degree possible. This is done to help those in the middle-management of the bureaucrat organs to evade responsibility for their failures and to evade a full-sided look at things. How do ten come to control hundreds in the first place? Are the hundreds so weak that they cannot simply overthrow the ten and seize their weaponry? Evidently not. What’s primary is the political essence of the CLM, an erroneous outlook that existed from the beginning and was never theoretically exposed or struggled against by the RSG. By focusing on individuals rather than their ideas, the RSG is dismissing content for form. They thusfar appear to have fallen into the trap of following Jared’s teachings without Jared. This parallels the liquidation of the CPUSA in 1944 which set the stage for William Z. Foster to carry-out Browderism without Browder in the reformed CPUSA in 19457.
“A full evaluation and synthesis of the problems of opportunism and revisionism is a pressing task.”
Is it “a pressing task” or is it ‘the pressing task’? “At any one time there can be only one central task, supplemented by other tasks of a second or third order of importance.” This lack of clarity seems comical even to those familiar with basic bourgeois methods of organization. If a fraudulent company goes bankrupt, defrauding its investors of all their money, does it make any sense at all for an investor to continue doing business with a company under the same name if the new heads themselves admit they cannot really grasp the full errors of the fraudsters?
The RSG recognizes that they need to analyze the problems, while at the same time coming to a ‘synthesis’ (poorly explained on account of their amateurishness) that can only come about from the said ‘full evaluation’; this is to dismiss the line struggle, to conciliate with opportunism in practice, and to dismiss the ideological consolidation necessary to conduct even a preliminary analysis. They’re struggling to reinvent the wheel. For our part, we do not claim to have achieved the necessary ideological consolidation necessary; however, we have sufficient understanding to refute and criticize the claims of the RSG.
“The main ideological error of the old leadership was a metaphysical, mechanical world view, most egregiously in their ideas about the masses and their own place among them. To be blunt, they were utterly convinced of their own intellectual and moral superiority.”
Do tell, on what basis does the RSG intend to rectify the error? What is the correct world view and how is it consistently applied? Because it for sure isn’t applied here.
“Ultimately, these political errors were carried out in organizational methods that can only be described as gangsterist and lumpen.”
Like everything in this statement, this touches only the surface. Fundamentally the errors of the RG-CR were petty bourgeois actions masquerading as ‘hard’, ‘disciplined’, and ‘militarized’, giving them a lumpen appearance. They were dogmatic errors – a middle class fantasy, playing copycat of the forms and styles of past organizations in order to replicate the success that those organizations garnered in their specific era. This is the laziness and lack of creativity that only the petty bourgeoisie can produce given their disconnect from their real world. Ultimately, this description of bureaucratic commandism can only be described as petty bourgeois dogmatism.
“As a result of the opportunists’ mistreatment and abuse, many comrades who were in various levels of organization in the movement are burnt out, pessimistic, and demoralized…”
Placing blame on the excesses and contingent errors again misses the main thing: the movement did not conduct a concrete analysis of the situation, and through a subjectivist outlook sprinted headfirst into tragi-comical errors. Plenty of these errors are admissible and can be (and were, for a time) weathered by individuals who believed that the organization nonetheless earned victories on the whole. The essence of the “burn out”, “pessimism” and “liquidation” that they allege is that in reality these comrades recognized the movement had little to no stock among the people. Once outside the narrow social sphere of these organizations, it becomes obvious to all what a poorly-constructed Potemkin Village they had been living in before.
“One example of this [dogmatism] is with the ideological organ, Tribune of the People. Over time, quantitative measures such as number of newspapers sold were emphasized over mass work centered within the trenches of class struggle. This was a mechanical application which failed to grasp Lenin’s concept of a “scaffolding” which acts as a collective propagandist, agitator, and organizer.”
This analysis inches closer, but is also a dismal failure. The quantitative measures, quotas for production and distribution, etc. were not the fundamental expression of dogmatism. The dogmatism in reality lies from lifting Lenin’s words from the path of the Russian revolution and applying it uncritically to the course of the American revolution today. Organizations are tools; you don’t screw in a nail with a hammer; you use the right tools based on your analysis of the situation.
All this and yet not even a sufficient explanation for the similarity in conditions which made the US in 2020 and Russia in 1902 unified on sharing the most pressing organizational task: the concept of a newspaper or centralized internet news organ as the necessary base upon which to build a movement to form a Communist Party. If one has half of a critical mind and awareness about the distinctness of our circumstances and the balance of forces in the world today, they should question why the organizational suggestions of Lenin do fit our conditions rather than why they do not. Lenin gives us the principles and methods by which to think and apply our creativity yet we opt to simply mime his words, bastardizing his method at the same time we use his words.
Even a limited study of the Russian movement will show that in fact our movement is more akin to the 1886-1894 period of Russian Social-Democracy as opposed to 1902. By 1902 there were over a dozen Marxist organizations around the country with years of experience in political agitprop, composed of study circles and leagues of struggle. By that point most have become grounded enough in the fundamentals to both analyze local conditions and politicize workers on that basis. There was also a variety of brilliant analyses of Russian political economy (e.g The Development of Capitalism in Russia by Lenin ) from which a party program could be based upon. In the US today, we have none of this. No study circles experienced in successful mass work, agitprop, or class analysis. Most can’t grasp even the most basic of Marxist principles, such as the dialectical method of analysis– which is completely lacking in the RSG’s shamefaced conciliation with revisionism.
Our movement is more akin to the early stages of what Lenin described as the “1st period of the social-democratic movement”8. This is a period of truly beginning from the beginning, where former Narodniks and new sympathizers of Marxism began consolidating around the fundamentals of Marxism in the composition of study circles. These study circles put understanding and disseminating the essential questions of Marxist political theory first, and then began seeing how it could be applied to Russia. This involved developing experience primarily through study, complemented by local agitation (mass work).
“The leadership failed to operate with democratic-centralism, principally centralism.”
This a nonsense thesis which amounts to phrase-mongering. Either they are trying to assert that centralism was the primary aspect that the leadership failed to implement, a sentiment contradicted by their own explanations; or, they are using stereotyped language and parroting the language style of the Communist Party of Peru and arbitrarily emphasizing centralism because it is generally ‘principal’.
“Centralism is in the first place the centralization of correct opinions.”
Centralism is, in the first place, the centralization of opinions solicited by means of democratic struggle in order to determine their correctness.
“The leadership did not solicit the ideas of the lower bodies or provide them sufficient time and material to hold genuinely informed deliberation on the direction and decisions of higher bodies. Instead, they made decisions in advance and only held discussions as a formality, while seeking out and punishing any significant dissent. They did not place trust in the masses, instead relying on the imagined intellectual supremacy of the main leaders. They disdained democracy because they viewed everyone else as inferior.”
All this is true, and thus as we inferred earlier, the RSG cannot be so confused as to believe the issue was primarily centralism; it must be that they’ve merely used the stereotyped language they learned from Jared and the CI.9
“Others whom we consider friends are now seriously questioning international organs like Communist International and even Maoism itself, especially the essential questions of maintaining an organizational center and centralism itself.”
And who among these friends wouldn’t cast the darkest shade of doubt upon this “International” when they have the sense to see the ideological, practical, and organizational links between the American revisionists (the Jared clique) and their reactionary counterparts abroad (especially the German “Committee Red Flag”).
While some may indeed go so far as to question the principles of organization and centralism, this is yet another illustration of the utter lack of ideological understanding among the former CLM. It is an understandable reaction to their experiences, but it is one that can only be rectified through an actual educational program. It is doubtful that those paying close attention question the principles of organization and centralism so much as they question the methods of these juvenile authors in putting the cart before the horse and insisting that, as if by some sort of magic, stringing together individuals into organizational structures is the same thing as answering the questions demanded by organization.
“We will comment briefly on what possibility there is for unity with the old leadership…”
In this section, we must digress on the basis of the assessment of the leading individuals and the movement that they led. Mao in On Contradiction criticized dogmatism as those who “do not understand that after knowing the common essence of things, we must go further and study the concrete things that have not yet been thoroughly studied or have only just emerged”10. In other words, even after we understand a universal principle, we still have to regularly reevaluate the concrete conditions in order to understand how it can be applied in new contexts. As for empiricism, in On Practice he states that empiricists fail “to understand that, although the data of perception reflect certain realities in the objective world, they are merely one-sided and superficial, reflecting things incompletely and not reflecting their essence”11. In other words, overemphasizing the importance of practice, and rushing into conclusions based on one-sided outlooks (whether it is idealist in the sense of half-baked theories of revolutionary struggle or materialist in seeing practice as primary in the form of ‘mass work’), results in incomplete understandings of the objective world which manifests in various forms of opportunism. Lenin defines opportunism in a variety of his texts, but he states clearly here that “Opportunism is opportunism for the very reason that it sacrifices the fundamental interests of the movement to momentary advantages or considerations based on the most short-sighted, superficial calculations.”12 In other words, opportunism means subordinating oneself to their one-sided outlook and as a consequence sacrificing the interests of the proletariat for that of the bourgeoisie, regardless of one’s intentions.
From the beginning the RG trend had practiced both left and right opportunism, principally left opportunism, justified by outright revisionism of the fundamental principles of Marxism. In other words, this is a theoretical vulgarization of Marxism screened by militant demagogy which manifested in absurd practice that damaged the movement more than it could have ever developed it.
The fact that these rats nominally uphold Maoism is not an excuse for paving over irreconcilable contradictions between Marxism and revisionism which have been proven concretely and undoubtedly. We must remember the crucial words that revisionism, reaction, and imperialism must be fought inseparably. The RSG is aiming to fight real revisionists in the US who pervert both the theory and the practice of scientific socialism. By leading their movement into the dustbin of history, the Jared clique has, in all effect, thrown their lot in with the reactionaries. Though the principle of curing the disease to save the patient is always true, it is dangerously naive to treat their crimes against the Communist movement as something which is not dangerously infectious and warrants their isolation to the highest degree due to the existing movement’s susceptibility to their viral ideas. This is making the same CLM error of confusing antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions, enemies with friends, just in reverse. The devotion of this significant section of thought towards questions on their rectification and reintegration is worrying in that it provides the plausible notion that these revisionists can regain power through the RSGs own channels. Fool me once…
“As for anyone who may be currently supporting the old leadership who themselves have committed no abuses, they are encouraged to break with them as soon as possible and come forward with an honest self-criticism: they will receive a patient and even-handed assessment of what it will take for them to continue in the movement.”
We must ask, to whom is the RSG referring? To the new people that the old leadership is attempting to recruit, those who likely know nothing of their crimes and the struggle that took place? Or to people who may know of the crimes and disregard the exposures by dismissing them as unimportant?
Instead of struggling with the trend politically, the RSG encourages people to please stop upholding abusers. Comrades of the RSG, you only paint yourselves to be clowns like this! You belie your intentions and reveal again that your main issue with the trend was the abuse and mistreatment, whereas you continue to uphold its political line.
“This is why we need to understand the good in order to understand the bad. We must deepen our understanding of dialectical materialism and aim at political development at all levels of organization as a central task.”
This is mere phrase-mongering. Earlier the pressing task was evaluating the errors of opportunism and revisionism, now the central task is claimed to be deepening their understanding of Dia Mat and aiming for the political development of all levels. There is no explanation given to what is meant by “[aiming] at political development at all levels.” It is at best an empty phrase meant to sound as though they are improving, without any concrete metrics. If the RSG’s intention is to truly recognize the centrality of deepening their understanding of Dia Mat, then we offer our encouragement and hope to see that development reflected in their future writings.
“We must unite and reorganize the movement through two-line struggle and rectification of previous errors.”
It is said that we must unite and reorganize through two-line struggle. But where is the two-line struggle? It seems to us that the two lines are between those who will continue the work of the CLM under another name, the RSG, and those of us who want to form a solid basis for a genuine movement, the RSN. Further, there is nothing in the entire document that speaks to how the RSG will “[rectify] previous errors.”
“The US Maoist movement is making significant advancements in uniting, deepening our ideological-political development, and engaging in class struggle without them.”
No evidence is given to this claim. Are these “significant advancements” not worth mentioning? Based on this writing, there is no indication of any ideological or political development since the CLM collapsed.
“We conclude by commending the founding of the International Communist League. We greatly appreciate the concern and suggestions from the international communist movement about the revolutionary movement in the United States.”
Finally, the whole statement offers the most conciliatory remark to the leaders of international left-opportunism. The “concern” and “suggestions” of the CI were outright reactionary and made against those of us who reject the so-called CR-CPUSA. It has been over a month since we published “Liquidate What, Exactly?” and we have received no response either directly nor on the website of the CI. They have not retracted nor amended their statement. It should be more than apparent that they are consciously choosing to stand behind the revisionist and abusive clique.
“We need to divide the good from the bad. Claiming that all the various prior organizations and ideological organs in the Maoist movement to reconstitute the CPUSA were entirely ideologically bankrupt is harmful to efforts to reorganize the movement on a solid footing. Arguing that everyone involved in the dissolved organizations should never organize again is a mindset based in the same metaphysical thinking of the opportunist leadership. If we proceed from an assumption that any previous organizations were entirely failures, then we risk concealing the true nature of those failures behind platitudes about revisionism and blanket accusations unsubstantiated by a concrete analysis of concrete conditions.”
This is precisely why we must expose exactly how the CLM has always been ideologically bankrupt, and how it developed over the course of those 8 long years. To not repeat the errors of the past that RSG seems to keep slipping into is exactly why grounding ourselves in study of the fundamentals, to “begin from the beginning” applied in our context, is key to moving on to take the correct path of building a revolutionary movement in America. This is the task of all serious Maoists in the US today. Losing sight of this task by this or that fancy, be it the mass struggle (tailism), economic demands (economism), protest or menial work (productivism), and so on are all expressions of the same right opportunism that has plagued American communists for as long as there have been communists in America. Now the CLM has only added adventurism, sectarianism, and commandism to the list of left opportunism American communists can now describe as a first-hand experience. We must move past our shameful heritage in the ICM, and we will never do so without studying the fundamentals! If the RSG calls themselves a closely knit network of organizations composed by study circles, then they should act like it! All aspiring communists should perform due diligence in investigation before exercising their right to speak!
1. Kevin/Lotta’s critical notes can be found here.
2. The RSG statement can be found at the Struggle Sessions and Red Guards Austin Blog.
3. Way back in October of last year we exposed leaders of the clique while the RSG still refuses to even name them in their writings. While we were by no means the first to expose the Jared clique, the RSG has yet to make any public effort to do so.
4. A Statement of the Situation of the Maoists in the USA.
5. Actions Carried Out Worldwide on the Occasion of the Announcement of the ICL.
6. The Ideological Decay of Imperialism.
7. For those who would like to know more about the CPUSA’s fall to revisionism and what is meant by “Browderism without Browder,” we recommend George Harrison’s the Crisis in the CPUSA and Supplement to the Crisis in the CPUSA.
8. What is to be done?: Conclusion.
9. In case the authors did not make a mistake or other readers aren’t as knowledgeable on this subject and thus truly believe that centralism is principal as claimed, we provide the following rebuttal.
In the unity of opposites which constitutes democratic centralism, it is true that things occupy a principal or secondary position – centralism, in general, occupying the former. However, to maintain that centralism is principal while providing such a wealth of evidence for the myriad of ways in which democracy was suppressed and effectively non-existent may be evidence of their own metaphysics. We should remember the basics taught by Mao on the interrelation between the primary and secondary aspects of a contradiction:
“The principal and the non-principal aspects of a contradiction transform themselves into each other and the nature of the thing changes accordingly. In a given process or at a given stage in the development of a contradiction, A is the principal aspect and B is the non-principal aspect; at another stage or in another process the roles are reversed–a change determined by the extent of the increase or decrease in the force of each aspect in its struggle against the other in the course of the development of a thing.” – Mao, On Contradiction, section IV
Stifling democracy, in turn, stifles centralism. But the writers here jump one step ahead. Which of the two sides is the essential matter here? Clearly, the non-existence of democracy within the organization upon which to construct centralization. Any other conclusion is incomprehensible. In other words, there was bureaucracy posing as ‘democratic centralism’ where in fact there was none, neither democracy nor centralism in any Marxist sense.
We should understand that, on the whole, the ‘principal’ character of centralism was upheld in the CLM under circumstances where it was necessary to recognize democracy’s leading role. While this does mean that there is an error in understanding the dependency of centralism on democracy, this does not mean that the error was principally one of centralism – it remains first and foremost an error of the means taken to exterminate democracy at every level.
10. On Contradiction. Section III.
11. On Practice. Paragraph 17.