[While many other books on the movements of the 60’s and 70’s in the US have either ignored or dismissed/denounced the role of Maoism in the United States, this announcement of a forthcoming book, “The Heavy Radicals: The Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980” by Aaron Leonard (to be published in early 2014), promises a detailed look and critical assessment of revolutionary Maoism (as practiced by the Revolutionary Union and the Revolutionary Communist Party-USA) and its impact on a variety of politically radical movements and popular struggles, from campuses to workplaces to anti-war, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist campaigns in those tumultuous times. We expect the difference of this approach will stimulate much interest, which we look forward to, and debate, in which we expect many will engage. — Frontlines ed.]
Announcing “The Heavy Radicals: The Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980” by Aaron Leonard
The Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party was the largest Maoist organization to arise in the United States in the tumultuous period of the late 1960s early 1970s. This is acknowledged not only by other Left political trends, but also by the Federal Government, which had it as subject of no less than four Congressional Hearings in its key years. Oddly though it largely stands outside established histories of the period; it is not taught in the academy, appears hardly at all in academic papers, and is passed over in the more popular books of SDS and sixties radicalism.
The reasons for this are manifold. The organization is victim of its own discipline that had little interest in promoting its history beyond whatever campaign or controversy it was involved in at the moment. Further those leaving the organization were circumspect in talking about their time there — either out of standing respect for the group’s discipline, a desire to move on with their lives, or the belief that a return to “the mainstream” necessarily involved disassociating themselves from their sixties revolutionary past, or some combination of each.
There was also a penchant for the established media and other institutions to promote more sensational trends. Group such as the Weathermen — while more marginal, were ideologically more amenable as emblematic of the ‘madness’ of extremes or despair of fighting for lost causes. It is also the case that the dominant culture in the United States has no interest promoting the concept of domestic revolutionaries embracing Maoism and undertaking the long term work of preparing for insurrection in a highly developed capitalist country.
Yet the fact remains that a significant Maoist formation did come about. In contrast to many who became radicalized quickly and near as quickly were in decline by the early 1970s, the RU/ RCP was ascendant in the same period. Indeed it attempted, not entirely unsuccessfully, to penetrate layers of the mainstream of U.S. society, including sections of the working class, and imbue it with a new radicalism. This stands as a counter-narrative to the dominant one of the sixties; that of activists rushing pell-mell back to accommodation with that mainstream as soon as the Vietnam war was over.
The death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the corresponding turn in China from a socialist to a market economy would bring all that to an end. From 1977 on the group would unergo first a major political schism, then a period of prolonged – but never final – disintegration. The reasons being not just the tectonic shifts in the global terrain, but the too often blind adherence to questionable (and worse) principles and methods the communist movement had brought forward historically.
Regardless, for a time this group cohered some of the most radical elements of the day. Indeed, to attempt to understand the upsurge of that period without understanding the role of the RU/RCP is to miss something important. For all its faults, and they were significant, the RU / RCP was the most influential component of the New Communist Movement. Further, contained in the RU/RCP’s story are hard garnered lessons and crucial experience essential to those who today dare to envision a radically better world. Whether one is curious, sympathetic, or detractor; this book will serve as a primer and surprising window into a heretofore overlooked critical player in a wild and insurrectionary time.