Workers Vanguard No. 1004
8 June 2012
Freedom Road Socialist Organization: Democrats Loyal Maoists
(Young Spartacus pages)
American Maoism died a shameful death 40 years ago when Mao Zedong warmly embraced President Richard Nixon in Beijing at the very moment that U.S. warplanes were bombing Vietnam. But the Maoist group Freedom Road Socialist Organization never got the news. In New York, Freedom Road (not to be confused with its identically named and equally reformist split-off in the Midwest that publishes Fight Back!) mostly works through a front group called the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee (RSCC). The keystones of Freedom Road’s identity are guilty liberalism and an appetite to liquidate into any “movement” regardless of its program or purpose.
Freedom Road’s origins are in the right wing of the U.S. Maoist movement, in particular the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) of the megalomaniacal Bob Avakian. The fragmentation of the Maoist organizations naturally followed the death of Mao in 1976 and the resulting power struggle in the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy. While Freedom Road’s founding cadres doubtless pride themselves on having (eventually) broken from the repulsive cultism of Avakian to form the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters (RWH), its political line remains defined not only by the reformism and class collaboration of Maoism but also by the particular “theoretical” contributions of Avakian’s organization.
In line with these traditions, the Freedom Road reformists tout their bogus “anti-imperialist” credentials while simultaneously embracing unity with a wing of U.S. imperialism, namely, the Democratic Party: “We have worked on national campaigns focused on the Democratic Party, but only when they help to promote an anti-racist and pro-people agenda” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” freedomroad.org, 24 August 2005). No less than the Republicans, the Democratic Party is a bourgeois party. No socialist worthy of the name would give even critical support to a politician whose program explicitly upholds the continuance of this inherently racist and oppressive capitalist system.
Freedom Road supported Obama for president in 2008. Its National Executive Committee declared before the election, “If Obama wins it will be in celebration and preparation to push him as much as possible to take progressive positions and move policies in the interest of working class and oppressed people here and outside of the U.S.” (29 October 2008). Freedom Road proclaimed with “enormous pride and joy and hope” after the election that “Obama’s Americanism is obviously preferable to live under and provides the more favorable terrain for the struggles of the working class and the oppressed.” Their article muttered only the most parenthetical caution about Obama’s vow to escalate the murderous occupation in Afghanistan (“Savor the Victory, Get Right to Work,” 11 November 2008).
Today—after Obama’s administration has deported well over one million immigrants, fulfilled his campaign promises in Afghanistan, bombarded Libya and Pakistan, repeatedly bailed out Wall Street on the backs of the workers, and escalated attacks on civil liberties like Bush on steroids—Freedom Road in age-old opportunist fashion is muting its praise of “Obama’s Americanism.”
Kneeling at the Altar
of Black Democrats
The pro-Democratic Party tradition of these fraudulent “socialists” dates back to their 1985 founding, a fusion of RWH and a group called Proletarian Unity League (PUL). Writing about a later fusion, Freedom Road said, “Our organizations have extensive experience in electoral campaigns, having worked in the Jesse Jackson [1984 and 1988 Democratic Party] Presidential campaigns, in the Rainbow Coalition, and on local campaigns and issues” (“Unity Statement,” June 1994).
From his earliest days in the civil rights movement, Jesse Jackson acted as a fireman brought in to douse the flames of black revolt and herd angry people back into supporting the Democratic Party. Notably, he enlisted early on in the racist “war on drugs,” demanding harsher laws and applauding prosecution of “offenders.” Jackson infamously proclaimed, “We’ve lost more by dope than by the rope.” Thus, in the despicable Booker T. Washington tradition, Jackson laid the blame on black people for their oppression while belittling the struggle against racist terror, exemplified by the lynch rope.
Today the consequences of the “war on drugs” are plain to see: the racist cops are given the go-ahead to stop and search millions of black and Latino youth at will and hand them over to be ground up by the capitalist courts and prisons. Freedom Road and its forebears, and indeed all those opportunist “leftists” who built support for Jesse Jackson, have their own little share of responsibility for the mass incarceration resulting from the racist “war on drugs.”
Nothing could be further from the mind of Freedom Road than learning anything from history. Indeed they continue to promote the lie that the real gains for the working class and oppressed are won through the ballot box, not through struggle: “Electoral politics has been and will remain an important realm of political struggle for working people, to improve their daily lives” (ibid.). No better than the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Workers World Party and so many others who falsely claim to be socialists, Freedom Road uses the black Democrats as the wrapping in which to package its support for this capitalist party. If anything they are more open about it: the ISO for example normally stops short of explicitly pushing the ballot box as a vehicle for political “struggle,” while of course pandering to illusions in the Democrats by celebrating Obama’s victory.
The prominent role of black politicians in the Democratic Party is a direct result of the bourgeoisie’s need to derail the explosive struggles of the civil rights movement of the 1960s by teaching activists to look to the federal government and to the election of Democrats to bring supposed liberation from racist oppression. Long before Obama, black mayors were installed in one major city after another to put a lid on the ghetto upheavals, which were a desperate response to the inability of formal civil rights gains to address the ingrained social oppression and discrimination that black people endure in racist America.
Supporting the Democrats stands fully in the tradition of Stalinist class collaboration, as practiced by Maoists as well as by the formerly pro-Soviet Communist Party (the latter has been in bed with the Democrats since Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” in the 1930s). The search for an illusory “progressive” wing of the bourgeoisie actually dates back to the Russian Mensheviks. Ruthlessly combating the Menshevik program, Lenin and his Bolshevik Party fought for the independent mobilization of the proletariat and against the illusion that any wing of the imperialist bourgeoisie could play a progressive role.
Publicity Agents for
During the populist Occupy protests last year, Freedom Road mouthed empty platitudes against “the danger of the Occupy movement being coopted by the system, particularly by the Democratic Party.” But the whole point was to stave off any notions of breaking with the Democrats entirely: “There is in fact an equal danger in a political line that says we should have nothing whatsoever to do with the Democrats in any way” (“The Occupy Movement: Lessons for Revolutionaries,” 30 October 2011). Long before Occupy came into existence, Freedom Road redefined “socialism” as “full democracy and some form of public direction of the economy” (1991 “Unity Statement”), a notion that would probably meet with approval from the vast majority of liberal Occupy activists. In truth, socialism is about eliminating scarcity worldwide through international socialist revolutions that smash capitalism and install the dictatorship of the proletariat.
On March 17, comrades of the Spartacist League exposed Freedom Road’s reformist program at this year’s Left Forum in New York. The Left Forum was a three-day event sponsored by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which seeks to turn angry Occupy protesters into voting cattle for the Democrats. At a workshop titled “The Occupy Motion and the Revolutionary Process,” featuring Freedom Road spokesman Eric Odell and two speakers from the League of Revolutionaries for a New America, the panelists fatuously hailed the petty-bourgeois Occupy protests as a “revolutionary process.”
Against Odell’s claim that the Occupy protests were “implicitly anti-capitalist,” a Spartacist comrade pointed out that these protests were petty-bourgeois and populist, submerging any working-class component into the so-called “99 percent”—a term that treats workers, their supervisors and the cops as all part of the “middle class” with supposed common interests. He explained that the program of the Occupy movement “was to clean up and reform capitalism” and achieve true “democracy” for all within this hideously exploitative, class-divided society. Our comrade noted that we defended the Occupy protesters against the cops and intervened into the protests with our revolutionary program in frank opposition to Occupy’s pro-Democratic politics, which Freedom Road tails after today. He exposed the supposed “socialists” on the panel for not even mentioning the Democratic Party, which is a dead end for struggle.
Odell replied by exhorting the audience to put its faith in the wisdom of the Occupy protesters. “The collective wisdom of the masses is greater than any one smart person or even any single organization.... We just need to get out there and build the movement.” Bolshevik leader Lenin had nothing but contempt for the reformists of his time who “kneel in prayer to spontaneity, gazing with awe…upon the ‘posterior’ of the Russian proletariat” (What Is To Be Done?). Freedom Road gazes with awe upon the posterior of the petty-bourgeois liberals. Another comrade at the workshop pointed out that the “movement” Freedom Road was busy building in 2008 was the movement to elect America’s next top war criminal.
The “Mass Line”:
During the March 17 workshop Odell offered his organization’s theoretical justification for its craven reformist cheerleading: the so-called Principle of the Mass Line. In his presentation Odell defined this “principle”: “Revolutionaries should get out and work and struggle among the masses, on the same level as them.... You don’t stand on the sidelines and hector the masses or get so far out in front of them that they don’t follow you, or run along behind them trying to catch up. We believe that this principle applies everywhere, in all situations.”
The “mass line” is nothing but warmed-over social-democratic reformism. It is a justification in different words for the time-dishonored minimum-maximum program exemplified by the practice of the German social democracy, which became infamous for voting for war credits for its own bourgeoisie during the first imperialist world war. According to this “principle,” actually arguing the need for socialism is reserved for occasional Sunday speechifying, while the real program is pushing the idea of the reform of capitalism in political work all day and every day.
In the hands of Freedom Road, the “mass line” is an explicit justification for telling people whatever you think they want to hear: you can enthuse over Obama or accommodate to the suicidal idea that cops can be allies of Occupy activists, while you can put on a more left face if you happen to encounter somebody who is what Freedom Road calls more “advanced.” Needless to say, the ISO and innumerable others are quite capable of doing exactly the same thing without having a “theory” to justify their opportunism.
What Freedom Road seeks to be “on the same level” with is thoroughly bourgeois consciousness. Marxists, on the contrary, seek to break the hold of bourgeois ideology on the working class and oppressed masses. We are indeed “far out in front” of the masses in our principled opposition to voting for Democrats or any other capitalist party. But when class struggle heats up and consciousness changes, the workers will remember which party told them the truth they did not want to hear at the time as well as which groups flattered their bourgeois liberal prejudices as “revolutionary.”
Freedom Road will eagerly ditch its “divisive” socialist pretensions and blend into the movement like chameleons. In response to a Frequently Asked Question on their Web site, “Why don’t I see you with banners and papers at demos?” they admit they have no print newspaper and add, “Overall we probably err in a ‘movementist’ direction—focusing on the broad movement and underplaying our own independent public face.” A leaflet distributed at the March 17 workshop baldly stated, “The socialist Left must be prepared to entertain the idea of a ‘front’ of parties.... The assumption that there will only be one leading party constitutes idealism and dogmatism” (“The Life of the Party: Thoughts on What We Are Trying to Build”). Many parties, many programs: Freedom Road will meander down any path except the road to revolution.
“Anti-Imperialist People’s Front”: Maoist Formula of Class Betrayal
We fight for the defeat of U.S. imperialism and for the right of all nations to self-determination. Unlike Freedom Road, we give no political support to capitalist governments, including those in the oppressed countries. Successful struggle against U.S. imperialism in the underdeveloped countries requires workers revolution to overthrow the semicolonial bourgeoisie, which ultimately relies on the imperialists and will unite with them at every turn to destroy revolutionary struggles that threaten their rule. We defend the Colombian FARC, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and other guerrilla forces against state repression. But we do not extend political support to such petty-bourgeois nationalist groups, which are hostile to the perspective of workers revolution to overthrow capitalism. Nationalism serves to tie the proletariat to its “own” bourgeoisie. Motivating the burning need for proletarian unity on an internationalist basis, Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “The working men have no country.”
What Lenin explained in The State and Revolution about the centrality of the proletariat is no less true in the Third World than in the imperialist countries: “Only the proletariat—by virtue of the economic role it plays in large-scale production—is capable of being the leader of all the working and exploited people, whom the bourgeoisie exploit, oppress and crush, often not less but more than they do the proletarians, but who are incapable of waging an independent struggle for their emancipation” (emphasis in original).
Freedom Road has embraced just about any left-talking capitalist politician or party, from President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela to the African National Congress in South Africa. Freedom Road’s political support to neocolonial capitalist rulers, to anti-proletarian petty-bourgeois nationalist movements and, not least, to the Democratic Party of U.S. imperialism are all positions cut from the same Maoist cloth.
While hostile to the Soviet bureaucracy after the Sino-Soviet split, Mao and his cothinkers were no less devoted to the Stalinist fiction of building socialism in a single country (in the case of the Maoists, of course, the country was China). Opposing the Leninist program for workers revolutions worldwide, Mao sought to buy the neutrality of the world bourgeoisie toward China by eschewing revolutionary struggle abroad. Like the Kremlin Stalinists, Mao pursued a policy of class collaboration with supposedly “progressive, anti-imperialist” capitalists in other countries, ostensibly to secure bourgeois democracy in the “first stage,” with socialism relegated to some mythical future stage.
One example of the devastating consequences of such reformism resulted from Mao’s and the pro-Chinese Indonesian Communist Party’s (PKI) support to Sukarno’s “anti-imperialist” capitalist government in the 1960s. Exactly as the pro-Soviet Stalinist parties themselves had done for decades, the PKI politically subordinated its supporters to “brother” Sukarno rather than fighting for a socialist revolution against imperialism and capitalism. The pro-Communist workers were politically disarmed and defenseless when U.S.-backed reaction overthrew the Sukarno regime and slaughtered over a million people in 1965-66—workers, peasants and members of the ethnic Chinese minority. The largest Maoist party outside China was obliterated. The Stalinist/Maoist formula of “two-stage revolution” has been put into practice in Spain, Chile, Egypt, Iran, and so many other countries: the first stage is the communists’ political liquidation into bourgeois-nationalist forces. The second stage is the slaughter of the communists and advanced workers at the hands of the bourgeoisie.
Mao’s program of “peaceful coexistence” with “friendly” capitalist governments led China straight into the arms of U.S. imperialism. In 1972 Mao and President Nixon sealed an alliance against the Soviet Union while American bombs rained over Vietnam. Freedom Road’s forebears proudly saluted Mao’s alliance with the U.S. and railed against “Soviet social-imperialism” as a greater enemy of the workers and oppressed of the world than the mass-murdering U.S. imperialists.
In contrast, we Trotskyists fought for the victory of the Vietnamese Revolution, without placing political confidence in the Vietnamese Stalinist leadership, which had handed power back to the capitalist rulers in the southern part of the country in 1954 and sought to make deals with the imperialists almost up until the final military defeat of the U.S. forces. Our fight for revolution abroad went hand in hand with pursuing the class struggle at home, as we fought to win antiwar militants to forthrightly oppose the capitalist system. In contrast, Stalinists, social democrats and other reformists built platforms for Democratic Party politicians who espoused “peace” in Vietnam only because the U.S. was losing. As Trotskyists we defended the gains of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, calling for workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracies and establish Lenin’s program of international proletarian revolution.
Guilty White Liberalism
Serves Racist Rulers
We reject the liberal illusion that black equality can be achieved under capitalism. We champion every struggle against racial discrimination and seek to imbue other anti-racist militants with the understanding that black freedom requires nothing less than smashing the capitalist system and constructing a socialist society into which black people will be fully assimilated as equals.
This perspective is flatly counterposed to Freedom Road’s petty-bourgeois black nationalism, a defeatist acceptance of racial segregation. Freedom Road advances the idea of an independent “African American nation” in the South, a utopian fantasy that would deny blacks their birthright: the wealth and culture of this country that their labor along with that of other workers has created. Simultaneously, they push community control of the crumbling inner cities, a reactionary line compatible with the idea that black cops will be less devoted than their white counterparts in doing their job for the capitalists to repress the ghetto masses.
A particularly repellent contribution to anti-Marxist “theory” by the Avakian RCP as well as PUL was the notion that white working people and their bosses are somehow united in “white privilege.” This is an application of the position of the old New Leftists and right-wing Maoists that the working class in advanced capitalist countries has been “bought off” and can never play a revolutionary role. Among other things, it served as a justification for rejecting any potential for revolutionary struggle to break out in the imperialist countries.
Freedom Road continues to proudly trumpet the “white privilege” line as one of the “keystones of our identity.” Arguing that white workers must be won to renouncing their “privilege,” Freedom Road joins bourgeois liberals in viewing racist ideas among white workers as responsible for racial oppression, thus providing an alibi for the capitalist system. It is the bourgeoisie that profits from the double oppression of black workers and the division of the working people along racial and ethnic lines. Freedom Road’s “theory” also mimics the constituency politics of the Democratic Party, which pits workers of different ethnicities against one another in fighting for crumbs from the capitalists’ table.
In the same reactionary idealist vein, Freedom Road and its RSCC front group deflect the anger of oppressed minority students away from the capitalist system and instead blame teachers for the oppressive, stifling hellholes that are America’s segregated ghetto schools. The RSCC platform states, “We want teachers who suppress progressive and revolutionary ideas to be removed.” This is a despicable call to purge teachers and is of a piece with the nationwide crusade against the teachers unions, spearheaded by the White House and directed in New York City by Bloomberg’s administration. We side with the teachers unions against the wholesale attacks on public education, including the attempts to shred seniority rights and tenure.
The systematic job discrimination, decrepit and overpriced housing and rampant cop terror that afflict most black Americans are materially rooted in the capitalist system, in which the mass of the black population is segregated at the bottom of society. Obviously, some white workers accept the racist rulers’ lies of white superiority and black inferiority, especially in this period lacking in class struggle—due in large part to the venal pro-Democratic union bureaucracy and its longstanding indifference to black oppression. Just as obviously, such prejudices do not shower “privilege” on white workers, on the contrary they work to their detriment. In the 1890s, revolutionary Friedrich Engels observed that the U.S. bourgeoisie is so skilled at using prejudice to divide the working class “that differences in the living standard of the workers exist, I believe, in New York to an extent unheard-of elsewhere.”
White workers, along with black, Latino and Asian workers, have lost their jobs in the current economic crisis and suffer bankruptcy and homelessness in staggering numbers nationwide. Thus white workers have no material stake in the perpetuation of this incredibly unequal society. Any serious strike on the part of the multiracial proletariat will undercut, often dramatically, the racism and other forms of bigotry that infect and cripple the working class. Ultimately, breaking down racial barriers requires the leadership of a revolutionary vanguard party intervening into social struggle to win the working class to reject the supposed inevitability of capitalism and fight for a socialist system, which alone can satisfy the needs of all working people and the oppressed.
With its support to the capitalist Democratic Party and its “mass line” adaptation to prevailing bourgeois consciousness, Freedom Road swims with the regressive ideological flow. The Spartacist League/U.S. and the other national sections of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) swim against the stream, fighting to break the working class and militant youth from the false consciousness that obstructs the struggle for new October Revolutions. Exposing the fake-Marxist pretensions of other organizations is crucial to removing the obstacles to workers and young radicals seeking a revolutionary alternative to this system of exploitation, poverty, racism and war.
On White Privilege and the RCP
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1006, 3 August 2012
Our YSp polemic, “Freedom Road Socialist Organization: Democrats’ Loyal Maoists,” (WV No. 1004, 8 June) apparently hit its mark. Thus, we find FRSO’s Eric Odell taking to cyberspace with gems like this from a 14 June posting: “I don’t think it’s correct to say that FRSO ‘in the main’ supported Obama. I think the majority of individuals on the National Executive Committee at the time did, but within the organization as a whole people were all over the place on the question.” (Odell, of course, as he states in a later posting, is a member of that august body, the FRSO NEC.)
However, we made a sloppy formulation in the piece, i.e., “A particularly repellent contribution to anti-Marxist ‘theory’ by the Avakian RCP as well as PUL [Proletarian Unity League] was the notion that white working people and their bosses are somehow united in ‘white privilege’.” The forerunners of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) certainly associated themselves with the wing of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) that embraced “white-skin privilege” and the RCP still sometimes trots out that same anti-proletarian position. But it did not consistently ply this line, nor did Avakian originate it.
“White-skin privilege” was particularly associated with Noel Ignatin (now known as Ignatiev). Ignatin and Ted Allen’s pamphlet White Blindspot & Can White
Workers Radicals be Radicalized? (1969) includes a polemic against Progressive Labor Party (PL), which would become the principal factional rival of the New Left Maoist wing of SDS known as RYM. Our own origin as a youth organization was in the 1969 SDS split, when the SL critically supported the PL wing as a subjectively pro-working-class tendency to the left of the likes of Avakian, while forming our own Trotskyist oppositional caucus within this wing of SDS (see our pamphlet Youth, Class and Party ).
However, Avakian & Co. were surely not applying “white-skin privilege,” but rather a type of “Jim Crow Maoism,” when they blocked with rampaging white racists on the streets of Boston in 1974 against school busing to achieve minimal integration, infamously headlining their newspaper: “People Must Unite to Smash Boston Busing Plan.” Small wonder that during the 1970s, one can find them polemicizing against “white-skin privilege.”
At bottom, the political line of the American right-wing Maoists in the late 1960s, following Frantz Fanon, was that the working class in advanced capitalist countries was “bought off” by the spoils of imperialism and hence one could look only to the Third World masses for any revolutionary potential. This outlook changed somewhat after the May 1968 general strike in France. When the Avakian group made its turn to tailing the working class, it adapted to the most backward consciousness—e.g., through its grotesque line on Boston busing.
As for the FRSO, what we wrote about their embrace of this guilty white liberalism is utterly correct. Maybe those FRSO cadres who originated from the RCP are still doing penance for the Boston busing line. In any event, their “white privilege” line today has more to do with quasi-religious moralizing than with a Marxist program for the liberation of the black masses as a strategic component of a third, socialist, American revolution.
The Avakianites, as we noted in our article, “Behind the Split in the RCP, Part 2” (WV No. 199, 31 March 1978) have had two, three, many lines on the black question, all of them wrong:
“In fact, so long as the black nationalists were willing to play footsie with the RU in high-level negotiations, Avakian’s line had little to distinguish it from that later dubbed ‘Bundism.’ Though polemicizing against the ‘white skin privilege’ line so popular in SDS, the RU/RCP has been all over the map on the black question—sometimes sympathetic to the ‘black belt’ theory, sometimes terming U.S. blacks a ‘nation of a new type,’ and sometimes (as in the RCP Programme) avoiding the question altogether.”
Thus, our polemic against the FRSO unwittingly gave Avakian too much credit for originality and for having any consistency.
Yours for new Octobers,