Lessons from One Left to the Next: Revolution in the Air Reissued
First published at Viewpoint Magazine.
“All revolutions go down in history, yet history does not fill up; the rivers of revolution return to whence they came, only to flow again.” — Guy Debord 1
Will the ongoing revival of American socialism stimulate interest in one of its lesser known antecedents? Verso Books certainly hopes so. That’s why they’ve reissued Max Elbaum’s Revolution in the Air, originally published in 2002, now with a new foreword by Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. The book chronicles the history of the US “new communist movement” (NCM) from the late 1960s through the 1980s, when thousands of young activists, radicalized by the Vietnam War, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and liberation movements in communities of color at home and abroad, embraced Marxism-Leninism and committed themselves to changing the world.
When Revolution in the Air was written, George W. Bush was President and 9/11 and the “war on terror” were still in the future. The American left was in disarray and on the defensive. Behind it were a long series of defeats — the neoliberal transformations inaugurated by Reagan and Thatcher, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its allied regimes, China and Vietnam’s increasing adoption of capitalist forms of economic development, the retreat of liberation movements across the Third World.
Nearly two decades later, the international balance of forces still favors the right, but the prospects of the US left appear to have significantly improved. Bernie Sanders’ electoral campaign saw millions of Americans voting for a candidate who openly called himself a socialist. Thousands of young people have swelled the ranks of DSA. Workers are organizing and striking. Class struggle is back on the agenda.
Elbaum wrote Revolution in the Air in 2001 to reclaim the lessons of the new communist movement for contemporary militants who, like their early sixties’ predecessors, became activists when the radical left was fragmented and weak. How relevant is this history and the lessons he draws for us now, in this new period of left upsurge?
I. Revolution in the Air’s Strength: A Clear Chronological Narrative
The greatest strength of Revolution in the Air is its compelling chronological narrative of the origins, rise, and proliferation of various NCM groups and their subsequent crises and decline. Elbaum carefully tracks the arc of NCM history from the initial burst of energy that birthed the first organizations, to the stillborn unity initiatives of the early 1970s, to the growing difficulties and splits of the mid- and late-1970s, to the decline/collapse of many groups and the movement as a whole in the 1980s.
Elbaum does a good job of identifying the NCM’s strong points:
The movement’s strengths centered on three crucial issues that – albeit in altered form – remain pivotal to any future attempt at left renewal: commitment to internationalism and anti-imperialism; the centrality of the fight against racism; and the urgency of developing cadre and creating organizations capable of mobilizing working people and the oppressed. 2
The NCM combined 60s moral fervor with a degree of 30s political realism. Its anti-imperialism “led to practical activity that materially and politically aided popular movements in other lands and that benefited oppressed people in the US by weakening the common enemy.” It “put the fight for equality at the center of its politics,” “insisted that challenging the oppression of peoples of color lay at the heart of the revolutionary project,” and “stressed the importance of winning whites to self-conscious opposition to racism.” The NCM demonstrated a dogged commitment to developing cadre and forming disciplined organizations. Emphasis on the vanguard nature of its organizational forms “encouraged activists to think in broad, long-range terms; to ponder all dimensions of the class struggle; to take their work and themselves seriously; to assume a great deal of responsibility and push themselves to their limits." 3
These strengths enabled the NCM to both significantly influence the broader left milieu of its time and to “maintain a militant, anti-capitalist current for longer than most other tendencies that came out of the upheavals of the 1960s." 4
But Elbaum is alert to the movement’s weaknesses as well — its ultra-leftism, dogmatism and sectarianism — and its fragility. The NCM was continuously buffeted by centripetal and centrifugal tendencies. Organizations sought to come together in unifying party-building initiatives and were driven apart by numerous political and ideological differences, with many smaller groups resisting the pull of both dynamics. Of necessity in a book of this length, the focus is on the major NCM formations and their initiatives. However, something of the genuine breadth and diversity of the movement as a whole is lost in the absence of more attention to the less well known, out-of-the-way groups.
The NCM preached the importance of building multi-national organizations. Yet for much of its history, groups of white communists and communists of color evolved on separate but parallel tracks — the first primarily emerging out of student, anti-war and anti-draft movements; the second out of liberation movements in the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Asian American communities. The very different origins of the movement’s two components had profound repercussions for their long-term prospects.
For all groups, the challenge was to create and maintain stable and growing organizations while implanting themselves in the working class and/or local communities. Often these tasks were summed up in the slogans “unite Marxist-Leninists; win the advanced to communism.” Both tasks proved to be extremely difficult, in no small part due to the ways militants undertook to implement them.
Every serious group, no matter how small, considered itself a new communist party in embryo (or at least a part thereof). Hence the need to formulate positions on all important issues. But the more issues a group had a position on, the more opportunities existed for differences and disagreements to arise over them — internally, in relation to other groups, and in relation to the “advanced” they were trying to recruit. Elbaum puts much of the blame for the resulting disputatiousness on the NCM’s Maoism but this is a problem that has plagued every branch of the communist movement, as anyone familiar with the fissiparous history of Trotskyism can attest.
The early NCM groups strongly identified with the Chinese revolution and the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), just as the first communist parties at the dawn of the twentieth century had strongly identified with the Bolshevik revolution and the new Soviet state — and for the same reasons. The Chinese line seemed to offer the best chance of defeating imperialism and promoting world revolution, and China’s prestige and attractiveness to revolutionaries worldwide was expected to rub off on its American supporters.
Had the NCM seriously studied the lessons of the first communist parties’ unwavering adherence to Soviet policy they might have avoided the pitfalls of this model. In the early 1930s, particularly in the depths of the Great Depression, capitalism seemed to be faltering while the USSR’s economy was taking off. The Soviet example drew many Americans to communism (“I have seen the future and it works” – Lincoln Steffens) and to the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). Likewise, the Soviet Union’s militant anti-fascist policies attracted opponents of developments in Italy and Germany who might otherwise have shown little interest in the communist experiment.
But as the 1930s wore on, Soviet prestige began to wane under the impact of internal purges and great power politics. The low point was reached in the 1939 with the Soviet-German non-aggression pact and the concomitant demand that the Communist International abandon its anti-fascist priorities. A close association with the Soviet Union now turned from an asset into a liability. Soviet prestige was briefly restored during the war years, but, with the onset of the Cold War, the CPUSA’s ties to the USSR became an enormous millstone around the Party’s neck, one that almost finished it off when Khrushchev’s 1956 secret speech on the Stalin period became public.
A similar process occurred over the life of the NCM. China’s championing of world revolution in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the example of the Red Guards — millions of Chinese young people taking history into their own hands — initially thrilled American leftists, many of whom were being radicalized in the fight against US imperialism in Vietnam. Here, unlike the post-Stalin Soviet Union, was a country ready and willing to confront the “main enemy of the peoples of the world.”
But all too soon, things began to change. In 1974, when China first put forward its “Theory of Three Worlds,” few recognized the implications for Chinese foreign policy or the impact it would have on the NCM. Step one was elevating the USSR to a “social-imperialist superpower” on the same level as US Imperialism. From there it was only another small step to characterizing the USSR as the “more dangerous” of the two superpowers, the one against whom the main fire of revolutionaries had to be concentrated. The consequences of these formulations were profound. China, whose prestige had been tied to its anti-imperialist, revolutionary stance, was now backing reactionary regimes and movements around the world if they took up anti-Soviet positions and moving toward a de facto alliance with the United States.
These policy changes, together with the fall of the “Gang of Four” after Mao’s death and the CPC’s subsequent repudiation of the Cultural Revolution, tarnished China’s revolutionary credentials internationally and sparked an increasingly acrimonious debate, not only within the broader American left milieu, but within the ranks of the NCM itself. At issue was the extent to which the movement could continue to describe itself as Maoist or maintain its allegiance to CPC positions.
What began as debate soon became a crisis, manifesting itself in different ways in different organizations. One of the largest groups — the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) — underwent a debilitating split. Other groups, forsaking the CPC, looked for an alternative leading center for the world communist movement. When China and Albania had a falling out, some found it in Tirana. Still others, identified as “anti-dogmatist/anti-revisionists,” seized on the crisis to challenge the NCM to rethink its basic allegiances and its theoretical foundations. Line of March, Elbaum’s own former group, progressively abandoned its anti-revisionist identity and moved toward openly pro-Soviet positions. Other organizations, like the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (CPML), remained loyal to China and tried to carry on as if no crisis existed.
Had this crisis erupted at a time when NCM groups were otherwise enjoying successes in recruitment and base building its impact might have been less severe. However, in this realm, too, many organizations were beginning to experience a crisis of a different character. This one was generated by the cumulative effects of their own organizational weaknesses and isolation. Disillusionment with a lack of progress was setting in, memberships were falling, and confidence in old certainties was beginning to wane.
These twin crises hit the predominantly white NCM organizations harder than those groups composed primarily of people of color. As noted earlier, white communists in the main came out of the student, anti-war, and anti-draft struggles. These were all conjunctural struggles, born of a particular moment in history and largely disappearing once that moment had passed. By the late 1970s the two main predominantly white groups — the CPML and the RCP — were feeling the combined effects of the melting away of the mass base from which they had emerged and their lack of real successes in building a new one in the working class.
The CPML, which, of all the Maoist groups, had secured the “China franchise” from CPC leaders, was most affected by the crises. 5 In 1980 it entered a terminal decline and expired the following year. The RCP, already much weakened as a result of the 1977 split, pinned its hopes on championing Mao’s legacy and defending the Gang of Four against the post-Mao Chinese leadership. But, forsaking the working class for youth and lumpen elements, its practice quickly degenerated into a series of ultra-left campaigns and media-events. Membership declined, and a growing focus on the writings of Chairman Bob Avakian pointed toward the leader-cult groupuscule the RCP would soon become.
By contrast, the dominant NCM organization of people of color — the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS) — survived for another full decade (until 1990) and seemed to avoid the twin crises. LRS was created out of the merger of groups whose leaders and members had been active in African American, Chicano, and Asian American liberation movements. These included I Wor Kuen (IWK), the August 29th Movement (ATM), the Revolutionary Communist League (M-L-M) (RCL) (formerly the Congress of Afrikan People), and several smaller organizations.
There were a number of reasons for the LRS’s success. Unlike the predominantly white communist organizations that came out of conjunctural struggles, these groups arose from struggles generated by a fundamental structural dynamic of US capitalism — the continuing exploitation and oppression of national and ethnic communities within the United States. While the conjunctural struggles passed with the passing of the 60s era, the struggles which birthed communists of color and their organizations, while ebbing and flowing, were constantly being renewed by the operations of the system itself. Abuses and injustices followed one upon another, generating new sites of resistance — fertile ground for base building and recruiting additional militants.
Moreover, many communist activists of color successfully negotiated their transition into the NCM without losing their ties to the communities and movements from which they emerged. This was true of activists like General Baker and his comrades in the Detroit auto plants who transitioned from the League of Revolutionary Black Workers to the Communist League. It was also true of many of the militants in the LRS’s predecessor organizations. Respected activists in the Chinese communities in San Francisco, New York and Boston joined IWK; leading Chicano militants founded ATM; Amiri Baraka of RCL was a nationally respected leader in the Black Liberation Movement. Coming together in LRS, these individuals and groups maintained and built on the extensive community networks and personal relationships they had forged before becoming a part of the NCM.
LRS’s handling of two other issues also enabled it to put off for a full decade the day of reckoning that devastated the CPML and RCP. First, as Elbaum notes, it was able to avoid the frequent line struggles that bedeviled or split other groups by downplaying doctrine and ideological rigidity:
New members were expected to put numerous hours into disciplined political work, but ideologically it was sufficient to express a general desire for revolution; their education in Marxism-Leninism was to be conducted once they were inside the organization. In practice this education was uneven, and for most new recruits party building remained distant from their core political identity, which was more bound up with LRS’s immediate practical work. 6
Second, the LRS had what Elbaum describes as a “more grounded perspective on strategy and tactics” for this practical work (although he fails to specifically describe or name it). 7 This perspective originated in LRS’s predecessor groups, and from the start it was a controversial viewpoint. Attention was first drawn to it in the early 1970s when one of these groups, IWK, participated in the National Liaison Committee (NLC), a party-building initiative with the Revolutionary Union (RU) and other organizations. 8 In the internal struggles that ultimately doomed the initiative by May of 1974, RU charged that the IWK was guilty of a fundamental deviation from Marxism-Leninism: Bundism. 9
RU had its own reasons for leveling this charge — it wanted to draw attention away from the serious white chauvinist errors its members had committed in their participation in the NLC and on other issues. But there was more than a modicum of truth in what the RU was saying. The IWK’s perspective on work in national minority communities (and later that of the LRS) did demonstrate a certain affinity with the one advocated by the Jewish Workers Bund, a Social Democratic Party in Czarist Russia and Poland before 1917. 10
What was this perspective? LRS understood that national oppression adversely impacted all classes in a national minority community (albeit not equally). Communists, it believed, had to be the champions of oppressed nations and national minorities, not just their working classes, fighting against all forms of national and ethnic oppression and discrimination. As a result, talk of “national identity,” “national rights,” and “national culture,” was a significant part of its discourse and figured strongly in its practical demands. Consider this headline that appeared in the LRS’s Unity newspaper: “Asians fight loss of minority status for small business loans.” It’s hard to imagine such an article being published in any other major NCM periodical. 11
Pointing out the affinities between this perspective and Bundism is not to suggest that LRS leaders were meeting in secret, poring over old Bundist documents, much less that they thought they were deviating from Marxism-Leninism. Their perspective evolved organically out of the concrete circumstances of their mass work. As their practice in radicalized strata of national and national minority communities — where nationalist ideologies were widespread and strongly held — evolved, these leaders responded, strategically and tactically, to the demands, desires, and dreams of the people with whom they were interacting. They affirmed allegiance to Marxism-Leninism, but the pull of nationalist ideology was strong. The problem with this dynamic became clear in the 1980s when the politics of these nationalists shifted to the right and pulled the LRS rightward as well.
Illustrative of the ideological dissonance of the ATM/LRS line was their position on the Chicano national question. Both groups repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy on the subject of nations and national minorities and how they were defined. Above all, this meant deference to Stalin’s writings on these issues. 12 Yet, consistent with the dominant ideology of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) and other radical Chicano groups in which they were active, both ATM and LRS argued for the existence of a Chicano nation in the American southwest. Unacknowledged was the fact that, by any reasonable measure, Chicanos did not meet the specific criteria for a nation enumerated by Stalin. 13
This adaptation to nationalism, the adoption of a neo-Bundist approach to work in African American, Chicano, and Asian American communities where the LRS was strongest, “worked” inasmuch as it was one of the main reasons for the group’s successes in organizing and recruitment. It helped sustain the LRS through the NCM’s crises when other groups were collapsing around it. But it also demonstrated the extent to which, as Asad Haider has recently written, “the political crisis of the New Communist Movement” was “overdetermined by semi-nationalist remnants." 14
Elbaum devotes considerable attention to the involvement of the last remnants of the NCM in a major political development of the 1980s — Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition and his two presidential election races of 1984 and 1988. The Rainbow Coalition’s progressive agenda, ability to galvanize people of color, and genuine electoral clout generated a favorable terrain for revolutionary activism and ideology. Elbaum shows how organizations like LRS, LOM the Proletarian Unity League, and other smaller collectives quickly recognized the radical potential inherent in this movement and committed their cadre to the effort. As Elbaum says, these groups ultimately didn’t “win leadership of the broad masses,” but they did, for a brief time, play an important role in a genuine mass radical formation, nationally and locally. 15
The NCM groups’ commitment to an anti-racist, multi-sectoral agenda, discipline, organizing skills, and expertise in agitation and propaganda were valuable contributions to the Rainbow Coalition. And the Coalition’s willingness to accept and even welcome their involvement offered them an entré into mass mobilizations not seen since the early 1970s. The hope was that the Rainbow Coalition would ultimately disengage itself from the Democratic Party and evolve into a powerful independent political force in its own right, one which could be moved in an increasingly more radical direction by participating communists.
However, NCM groups underestimated two critical factors that ultimately would doom the Rainbow Coalition experiment. First, despite all its non-electoral organizing and mobilizing components — from social justice oriented trade union efforts which crossed industrial and rural divides, evolving links with the peace, anti-imperialist, and environmental movements on issues of military intervention, nuclear weapons, and energy sources, as well as a continued emphasis on “multinational” alliances between oppressed groups — the Rainbow Coalition was primarily an electoral vehicle, tied to the election cycle, delegate selection processes, vote-getting and Democratic Party politics. 16 In the end, the former components were subordinate to and dependent upon the latter and failed to take on a life of their own. Second, in spite of all efforts to make it a bottom-up, democratic movement, the Rainbow Coalition was dominated and controlled by Jesse Jackson and his key acolytes. When, in the aftermath of the 1988 election, Jackson cut a deal with the Democratic Party establishment and decided to wind the whole thing up, the Rainbow left was powerless to stop him.
Perhaps this outcome was inevitable and nothing revolutionaries could have done would have changed it. But the failure of NCM groups to adequately theorize the Rainbow Coalition phenomenon, to grasp its limitations and strategically prepare to address them, reduced their effectiveness and didn’t prepare them for an outcome that left them rudderless. 17 In the current period, with left-wing electoral campaigns proliferating and drawing in increasing number of activists, there is a warning here for contemporary militants.
II. Revolution in the Air: Historical and Theoretical Weaknesses
If Revolution in the Air’s strength lies in its compelling narrative of the rise and fall of the NCM, its weaknesses are to be found in the historical/theoretical context in which this narrative is embedded. Here I want to touch on four issues: the notion of “Third World Marxism"; the significance of the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s; the question of whether the NCM was founded on false premises; and the question: is there a Marxist tradition worth defending?
The Notion of “Third World Marxism”
Elbaum repeatedly designates the ideology that inspired the revolutionaries who joined the NCM as “Third World Marxism." 18 He finds it in the writings of the Chinese and Vietnamese Communist Parties, Che, Fidel and the Cuban revolution, and Amilcar Cabral and Marxist-led liberation movements in Africa. 19
But was there really ever a discrete entity we can call “Third World Marxism”? Of course, no one would deny that there were distinctive revolutionary processes — powerful movements for national liberation and socialism — unfolding in the Third World in the 1960s and 1970s. Nor that they had a tremendous influence on many US revolutionaries. But revolutionary processes are one thing, and a distinct form or variant of Marxism is another. Separately (except for the Chinese Revolution) or taken together, these Third World revolutionary processes never generated a distinct independent form of Marxism, the way Maoism did. Elbaum himself is compelled to acknowledge this fact, writing:
…although the Cuban Revolution — as well as the Vietnamese CP and African revolutionaries such as Amilcar Cabral — displayed great creativity and more consistent internationalism than either China or the USSR, they neither offered or claimed to offer a comprehensive framework for the international left. 20
So why the insistence on this notion of “Third World Marxism” as a critical framing device in Revolution in the Air? One is forced to conclude that it’s because its presence functions to supersede the most obvious alternative frames. Those alternatives are the ones that the NCM itself most frequently used to describe its chief ideological influences, the ones associated with the Chinese Communist Party, namely, “anti-revisionism,” and Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought (or more simply, “Maoism”).
Elbaum’s intellectual honesty prevents him from erasing these alternatives entirely. More than once he admits that the NCM came into being with groups “intent upon constructing a specifically Maoist trend and making Maoism the cornerstone of a new communist party." 21 But Revolution in the Air nonetheless downplays the ideological centrality of Maoism and anti-revisionism through its repeated use of the “Third World Marxism” formulation.
One more point related to this issue. The inclusion of Che Guevara in the book’s subtitle: “Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che” is particularly inapposite when talking about the new communist movement. “Che mania” was a phenomenon of the broad New Left which helped give birth to the NCM, not the NCM itself. In moving away from the New Left and toward the NCM activists were turning away from Che, not toward him.
The Significance of the Sino-Soviet Split in the Early 1960s
Elbaum’s assessment of the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s that helped birth the NCM is a second point where his historical framing of NCM history falters. He reduces the split to little more than a tragedy, writing: “…the Sino-Soviet split was a disaster for the entire global alignment against Western imperialism[.]" 22
If this line of argument has a familiar ring to it, it should. After World War I, Social Democracy said exactly the same thing about the split in the international working class movement resulting from the creation of the Communist International and the first communist parties. 23 Dividing the movement in this way, they charged, was a disaster that could only benefit the capitalists and imperialists.
Of course, there is a kernel of truth in what the Social Democrats — and Elbaum — said. A kernel, but not the whole truth.
The emergence of the world communist movement out of the crisis of Social Democracy did produce numerous divisions and weaken many proletarian organizations. Was the process an ideal one? Of course not. Were ultra-left errors made by many new communist parties that impeded united working class action and helped the bourgeoisie re-stabilize capitalism in the immediate post-World War I years? Clearly, there were. Lenin was so concerned about the problem that he wrote an entire book to address it: “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder. The split in the workers’ movement did weaken it, did make it easier for capitalism to recover. And the continued divisions between Communists and Social Democrats and their inability to work together did make it easier for Nazism to come to power in Germany in 1933. Yes, a tragedy. Yes, a disaster. All this is undeniable.
But does it mean that the creation of the communist movement was a mistake; that, for the sake of unity, communists should have remained inside the Social Democratic parties and within the theoretical-political limits of Social Democracy? Those of us who identify with the tradition of international communism would unhesitatingly answer in the negative. By its betrayal of the working classes in supporting World War I, by its betrayal of the colonial peoples through its failure to fight imperialism, by its rejection of revolution in the mass upsurge of the “Red Years” 1919-1921, Social Democracy proved itself incapable of carrying forward Marxism’s revolutionary dynamic. The emergence of the world communist movement out of the crisis of Social Democracy was an historical necessity.
The question is: can the same be said of the birth of the NCM in the US and similar movements in other countries in the 1960s? In order to answer this question we need to recall the state of the world communist movement on the eve of the Sino-Soviet split.
That movement was in crisis. Beginning in the late 1920s, as a result of the victory of the Stalin group in the USSR, the Marxism of the communist movement had progressively become a caricature of itself. Instead of guiding practice, Marxist theory was reduced to the justification after the fact of policy decisions adopted independently and for other reasons by Stalin and his circle. As Althusser described it:
It was in the thirties that Marxism — which had been alive, living from its own contradictions — became blocked, entrenched in “theoretical” formulae, within a line and in practices imposed by the historical control of Stalinism. In resolving the problems of Marxism in his own way, Stalin imposed ‘solutions’ whose effect was to block the crisis which these solutions had themselves provoked and reinforced. 24
Over time, these “theoretical” formulae of Soviet Marxism became less and less useful in explaining the significant changes unfolding in both capitalist and socialist social formations. They also became less and less useful in guiding the practice of communists and other revolutionaries around the world. The crisis of Marxism was increasingly becoming a crisis of the international communist movement.
Moreover, Soviet policy operated on the premise that the primary guarantor of the future of socialism lay with the safety and security of the USSR rather than with potentially dangerous confrontations between the capitalist and socialist worlds or revolutionary struggles in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership revolts, rebellions, and mass protests represented crises to be “defused” not insurgencies to be welcomed.
An initial, inadequate acknowledgement of the crisis in the communist movement was offered in 1956, with the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and Khrushchev’s secret speech on Stalin and the Stalin period. But Khrushchev and the CPSU were unable to identify the real sources of the crisis, let alone produce an adequate theoretical response to it. Instead, they provided a superficial analysis of the Stalin years from the right, based not on Marxist concepts, but on bourgeois ideological notions, most famously, “the cult of the personality.” Here, too, an attempt to impose inadequate “solutions” could only further exacerbate the crisis.
Moreover, the Soviet Union insisted on the existence of a monolithic international communist movement with the CPSU at its head. In demanding that all other communists accept its pseudo-solutions to the crisis it also made determined efforts to block the production of alternative ones. “…Pravda once more explained that all the problems of the Communist world” could only be resolved through “loyalty to the Soviet Union’s aims, to the acceptance of its tactics and its international strategy." 25
This was the situation on the cusp of the 1960s: a socialist system experiencing growing economic and political contradictions confronting a capitalist system facing a growing tide of resistance and rebellion, especially in the Third World; a Soviet Union determined to work with Western imperialism to keep international “hot spots” from exploding; a world communist movement dominated by a party incapable of addressing the crisis of Marxism sapping its vitality.
Only one communist party had sufficient power and prestige to challenge this state of affairs — the Chinese. It broke the artificial consensus imposed on the world communist movement. It demanded a debate on a whole series of fundamental problems: the nature of war in the nuclear age; the policies of “peaceful coexistence” and “peaceful transition”; the significance of Third World revolutionary struggles; the problem of modern revisionism.
Thus began the great debate over “the general line of the international communist movement." 26 The Chinese Communist Party initially raised difficult issues and called attention to the extent to which ideas alien to Marxism had become a growing part of world communist ideology. Over time, however, the quality of their polemics declined. The carefully reasoned texts of 1962-1965 were all too soon replaced by the crude abuse and mechanical formulations of the Cultural Revolution period. These in turn were followed by the “Theory of Three Worlds.” In the end, Maoism, too, did not produce a successful solution to the crisis of Marxism. In the language of Althusser quoted earlier, we can say that Maoism, to a considerable extent, remained “entrenched in ‘theoretical’ formulae, within a line and in practices imposed by the historical control of Stalinism.” In seeking to resolve the problems of Marxism which they themselves had called attention to, the Maoists ended up attempting to impose "solutions" whose effects were to perpetuate the crisis, not overcome it. 27
But the fact that the Chinese contributions to the great debate ultimately led to a theoretical dead-end in no way negates the enormous positive impact their initial launch occasioned. The Chinese Communist Party helped inaugurate a new period, creating a breach in the monolith, exposing the communist crisis to the light of day, opening the floodgates for discussion and debate, and stimulating the conditions under which other, long suppressed, Marxist voices could once again be heard. In Althusser’s famous words, the new period, “…restored to us is the right to assess exactly what we have, to give both our wealth and poverty their true names, to think and pose our problems in the open, and to undertake in rigor a true investigation." 28
Around the world, Marxist revolutionaries took up this challenge, began their own debates, and the resulting liberation and revitalization of Marxist theory has continued down to our own day. Reducing the breach in international communism inaugurated by the Sino-Soviet split to “a disaster,” as Elbaum does, misses this critical historical dimension. No less than the birth of the first communist parties out of the crisis of Social Democracy, the Chinese challenge to Soviet monolithism was an urgent historical necessity.
Was the NCM Founded on False Premises?
The Sino–Soviet dispute helped frame the basic premises on which the NCM was founded. Elbaum notes them as follows:
• The CPSU and its allied parties (including the CPUSA) had abandoned Marxism-Leninism for revisionism.
• As a result of this betrayal, they had relinquished their role as vanguard for the working class and oppressed peoples, abandoned their commitment to the revolutionary destruction of capitalism, failed to adequately support liberation struggles against imperialism, and were failing to recognize, let alone address, fundamental problems in the world communist movement.
• Revisionism and opportunism in theory and practice needed to be repudiated and new parties created to return the communist movement to its revolutionary path.
Elbaum questions the legitimacy of each of these premises in a variety of ways. He minimizes the issues at stake, characterizing differences between the “Old Left” and NCM militants as a “clash of generations” or a matter of people talking “right past each other." 29 He repeatedly suggests that the entire anti-revisionist framework was a mistaken one, pointing out that his own former group, Line of March, “withdrew the claim that the CPSU and CPUSA were revisionist." 30
The contrast between how Elbaum writes about Chinese lines and policies (which he is quick to condemn) and how he describes Soviet ones (which he is careful to avoid criticizing too sharply) likewise calls into question the NCM’s demarcation with the CPSU/CPUSA. Elbaum uses unequivocal language in relation to the CPC. It was “clear,” he says, that “China was willing to ally with any force, no matter how reactionary, that opposed the Soviet Union." 31 He also objects to a “cavalier attitude toward the use of nuclear weapons” which he claims “characterized the Chinese Party’s outlook." 32 Maoism, he says, did “the most damage” to the NCM. 33
But when it’s a matter of the Soviet Union and the CPUSA, his language is noticeably different. Instead of saying the Soviet Union wasn’t a socialist model to be emulated, he says, “Most young radicals rejected Soviet society as a desirable socialist model” as if this was a matter of opinion rather than fact. 34 He refers to the Soviets’ seemingly half-hearted support of national liberation movements, as if there was some doubt about the issue. 35 He even feels the need to present a defense of the Soviet Union’s détente policy against NCM criticism, chiding the NCM for its “one-sided” view of the policy and for failing to “appreciate” the dilemmas facing the Soviet leadership as targets of the US nuclear arsenal. 36 Taken together, all these formulations minimize the anti-revisionist, anti-opportunist premises upon which the NCM was founded and suggest that they were shaky at best, if not fully mistaken.
The picture Elbaum paints of the CPUSA likewise calls into question the NCM’s founding premises. Flatly denying that CPUSA policies stemmed from any revisionist abandonment of Marxism-Leninism, he finds reasons to praise them. He notes that “scores of talented people” joined the CPUSA in the sixties (neglecting to mention how quickly most exited shortly thereafter). 38 He cites its insistence on the centrality of trade unions in left strategy and its valuing of connections with a layer of labor officialdom, its “large” membership of Black activists, and its “sense of the long haul.” To the extent he can bring himself to criticize the Party at all, his comments are perfunctory. He notes its blind loyalty to the USSR, its opposition to radical African-American nationalism, its cultural conservatism and its hostility to sixties radicalism. 39
Elbaum reduces CPUSA policy in these years to some kind of tragic missed opportunity:
…the CPUSA failed to engage the new radical generation as a partner-in-struggle, refused to entertain the notion that it had something to learn as well as to teach, defended Soviet actions that were backward, if not indefensible, and walled itself off from the new movements in sectarian complacency. 40
In actual fact, we now know that the CPUSA’s problems during this period were much more serious and fundamental. Far from being off-base, the NCM’s assessment of the Party was, if anything, insufficiently critical.
The consolidation of Gus Hall’s leading role in the CPUSA, beginning in 1959, had far-reaching effects on every aspect of Party life. Theoretical poverty, ideological conformity, and anti-intellectualism were the hallmarks of the Hall regime and independent thinkers were soon shown the door. Far from welcoming the mass radicalization that characterized the 60s, the Party viewed it with suspicion and disdain, actively seeking to neutralize or destroy any independent left formation it could not dominate. Hall’s absolute control and the Party’s extensive public face were made possible by the massive annual Soviet financial subsidies he secretly received, brought to him from the USSR by a bagman who also happened to be an FBI agent. 41 Hall treated these subsidies as his private slush fund, refusing to account for the money or how it was being spent, even to other top leaders. He used it to buy expensive residences and race horses for himself and live in high style, while withholding it from Party activists and members out of favor. Financial corruption and Hall’s authoritarian leadership significantly contributed to the CPUSA’s general political degeneration and resulted in a major organizational split in 1991. 42
These features of the Party’s internal life were not generally known at the time. But revolutionaries were well aware of the CPUSA’s Soviet flunkeyism, pie-in-the-sky Marxism, right-of-Norman-Thomas strategy, and caricature of Leninist political practice. 43 The hostility to the Party on the part of the overwhelming majority of the NCM was not some generational clash or a “failure to communicate.” It was a clear-eyed rejection of a deformed and bankrupt political entity. But this was not everyone’s perspective. Line of March, Elbaum tells us, “held out hopes for some kind of shift in CPUSA policy that would result in merging the two organizations." 44
Is There a Marxist Tradition to be Defended?
Ultimately, however, Elbaum’s rejection of the NCM’s anti-revisionist premises may rest on a basic ideological disagreement. If there’s no such thing as a Marxist tradition to be defended from revisionism, then the very idea of “anti-revisionism” as a founding premise or line of demarcation loses its meaning. In summing up the lessons of the NCM Elbaum expresses his own views on Marxism and the Marxist tradition. He says:
Advocates of all these perspectives [within the NCM] accepted the notion that there was one and only one revolutionary tradition and that there existed a single Marxism-Leninism that embodied its accumulated wisdom…A great deal can be learned from previous left experience… But it is an unwarranted leap from there to belief in a single and true Marxist doctrine with an unbroken revolutionary pedigree from 1948 to the present. 45
Formulating the problem in this way, it’s hard to disagree with Elbaum. But what if there is another way to understand what’s at issue here? Such an alternative can be found in Charles Bettelheim’s multi-volume Class Struggles in the USSR. 46 These books examine how the Bolsheviks, having seized state power in November 1917, fought to continue the revolution and construct a socialist society. Essential to his analysis is the way Bettelheim theorizes the worldview guiding them, what he calls the Bolshevik ideological formation.
Bettelheim argues that this ideological formation was a contradictory reality “within which a constant struggle went on between revolutionary Marxist thinking, Marxism as constituted historically, and various ideological currents which were alien to Marxism." 47 This formulation emphasizes the distinction between revolutionary Marxism, or Marxist scientific thought, and various forms of historically constituted Marxism — the Marxism of the Second International at the end of the nineteenth century, the Marxism of the Third International under Lenin, the Marxism of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, etc. — on the other.
Within each historically constituted Marxism, Bettelheim says, revolutionary Marxism has a variable place — sometimes more determinant, sometimes less. In volume two of Class Struggles in the USSR, for example, he shows how the rise of the Stalin group after 1925-26 was accompanied by changes in the Bolshevik ideological formation that “contributed to the reinforcement of ideological elements [within it] that were alien to revolutionary Marxism." 48
Bettelheim further contends:
The process of transforming revolutionary Marxism and the process of transforming Marxism as historically constituted in each epoch are not “parallel” processes. The former is the development of a science, whereas the latter is the transformation of an ideology which has a scientific basis. 49
Bettelheim’s alternative formulation on the question of the Marxist tradition enables us to do a number of things. It helps us disentangle what Elbaum has conflated. It allows us to agree with him that there isn’t “one and only one revolutionary tradition” with an “unbroken revolutionary pedigree from 1848 to the present.” Instead, it affirms that our movement has had a complex, hybrid, and discontinuous history since 1848, that there’s been a multiplicity of historically constituted Marxisms, each with its own respective strengths and weaknesses.
Holding fast to the notion of a single revolutionary tradition pretty much limited the NCM’s horizons to the “big five” [Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin-Mao], the Paris Commune, and the Russian and Chinese revolutions. As Elbaum suggests, we no longer need to don that ideological straightjacket. Now we’re free to examine our movement’s entire history with a critical eye. And we’re also now free to study and learn from a host of long suppressed or marginalized Marxists, such as José Carlos Mariátegui, Mary Inman, August Thalheimer, and M. N. Roy.
But Bettelheim’s alternative formulation also enables us to maintain that there’s another tradition, separate and discrete — what Bettelheim calls revolutionary Marxism or Marxist scientific thought. This is the tradition of the knowledge-producing theoretical system and its “accumulated wisdom,” of which Marx “only laid the cornerstones” to use Lenin’s phrase. It’s what Engels was talking about when he said, “Marx’s whole way of thinking is not so much a doctrine as a method. It provides, not so much ready-made dogmas, as aids to further investigation and the method for such investigation." 50 Given the ideological eclecticism of much of the growing new American left, now more than ever it is necessary to stress the critical importance of this tradition and the political necessity of defending it from the numerous ideological currents hostile to it.
III. The NCM’s Poverty of Theory
Speaking of defending revolutionary Marxism, it’s a sad irony that the NCM, which sharply criticized the CPSU and CPUSA for their theoretical deviations, ultimately did such a poor job of integrating Marxist theory into its own ideological formation. NCM militants may have memorized Lenin’s statement: “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” but Lenin himself would certainly have been chagrined by how poorly they understood him.
Elbaum does a good job of describing the NCM’s theoretical poverty. He cites its “never-ending quest for orthodoxy and a constant suspicion of heresy at the very center of the movement’s outlook." 51 This resulted, he argues, in a dominant mindset that “suggested that all truly important theoretical questions had already been resolved"; one that “betrayed a certain fear that too much exploration of new theoretical terrain would lead inexorably toward a revisionist betrayal of revolutionary principle." 52 The NCM’s theoretical paucity is manifest in the ways that most groups studied theory and the ways they applied it.
How the NCM Studied Theory
When the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) — long among the largest and best organized of all NCM organizations — was entering its terminal crisis, one of its leaders, Dan Burstein, produced a remarkable document reflecting on the group’s many problems and their underlying causes. 53 His description of the CPML’s flawed approach to theory could equally apply to the majority of NCM groups. “Our tendency,” he wrote, was “to look on Marxism-Leninism more as a religion than a science,“ taking “all the writings of the “Big Five” of Marxism to be gospel truth." 54
These writings were not read to learn how the authors used theory to come to their conclusions so militants could then apply the same methods in their own work. Instead, they were read to ferret out a pertinent quote that would put a definite end to any and all discussion. The language of the “classics of Marxism-Leninism” was invoked to provide “the answer” to a contemporary question, or “the solution” to an urgent conundrum. As Burstein wrote:
We have tried to build a movement around principles enunciated by Marx, Lenin or Mao in other times and places under vastly different circumstances, without ever going through a process of scientifically determining which of these principles are applicable to our struggle, which are partially applicable but need development, which are inapplicable and which new principles are dictated by our own situation. 55
The consequences of this flawed approach were several and mutually reinforcing:
• The training of most NCM cadre was limited to an introduction to the general principles of Marxism and little else. According to Burstein, “basic knowledge of the world and the class struggle” was limited. Even “many leading members of the party,” he complained, remained “much more familiar with Mao than with anything else from Marxism, and much more familiar with Marxism” than “with American history, economy, or other questions." 56
• Lack of theoretical training meant that the movement was, in Elbaum’s words, “unable to accurately assess the conditions it faced — either initially or after a few years of inevitable mistakes and misjudgments." 57 As Asad Haider recently put it, “a certain dogmatic catastrophism… prevented communists from formulating a strategy suited to their period." 58 Over and over again cadre were promised a new capitalist crisis (“the ‘80s economic crisis will make the ‘30s great depression look like a picnic”) or a new revolutionary upsurge, neither of which materialized.
• NCM groups did “very little organized theoretical or analytical work.” As a result, they had “few answers to the most pressing questions posed by the people’s struggles except in broad generalizations on such questions as the economic crisis, energy, taxes, health care, etc." 59
• The lack of theoretical work led to the mechanical adoption of a whole series of practices, organizational forms and styles of work borrowed from foreign or past models without regard to their appropriateness, the classical version of “democratic centralism” being perhaps the best example. “Out of time, place and step in our basic principles with the conditions we are working under,” Burstein says, “it is no wonder that we fell prey to a wide variety of ultra-left lines of thought, policies, tactics and forms." 60
How the NCM Applied Theory
The NCM generated numerous theoretical journals and related documents. Yet, for all the ink that was spilt, little of lasting theoretical value was produced. The movement’s forte was polemics, agitation and propaganda, and pedagogical defenses of orthodoxy.
A combination of factors contributed to this situation. Theory often took a back seat to mass activity. In 1980 Burstein complained that, for the CPML, “intellectual and cultural work was practically prohibited early on by the exclusive concentration on factory work, and to this date, has only achieved a small and unofficial niche in the party’s work.” The fear of heresy mentioned earlier also played a role. The doctrinarism of the CPML, Burstein wrote, meant “substituting the theoretical and analytical work done by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Comintern or the old CPUSA for the work we must do and fearing that to creatively develop theory based on our own practice is synonymous with ‘revisionism’ or ‘American exceptionalism.’" 61
Another inhibiting factor is the reality that theoretical work, particularly of the Marxist kind, is enormously difficult. As Karl Marx remarked, “there is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its step paths have the chance of gaining its luminous summits." 62 Genuine Marxist theoretical work is a specific form of practice — theoretical practice. It involves the transformation of raw materials (basic data, primary and secondary source materials, etc.) into a final product (knowledge) through the setting into motion of theoretical means of production (methodology, a conceptual system). It’s how Marx produced Capital, how Lenin produced Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. It’s how Gramsci worked, under enormously difficult conditions of confinement, to produce his Prison Notebooks.
Each one of these identified a set of critical problems in urgent need of analysis. None knew at the beginning where his theoretical practice would lead him or what the final product would look like. But each contributed to establishing essential tenets of Marxist theoretical practice:
- Only the “cornerstones,” the “guiding principles,” of Marxist theory have been laid. Their continuing development, correction and refinement are an absolute necessity.
- Revolutionary theory is not produced as an end in itself (“theory for theory’s sake.”) It is produced to provide usable knowledge to guide the struggle for socialism.
- It is necessary not just to develop Marxist theory in general, but to develop its particular applications in accordance with every concrete instance or issue.
- Marxist theoretical practice requires the broadest freedom of criticism and scientific investigation. 63
How at variance with these tenets was the “practice” of theory in the NCM! In most cases it began with an “answer,” a “conclusion,” or “solution” provided in advance by orthodoxy or an organization’s own political line or program. This could be anything from “the restoration of capitalism in the USSR” to the “impermissibility of factions in a Leninist Party” to the “Afro-American nation in the Black Belt south” to “the PRRWO has degenerated into a Neo-Trotskyite Sect.” Taking this pre-given outcome as the starting point, an entire ideological framework was then constructed around it to “prove,” “defend,” or “legitimate” it. The classics of Marxism-Leninism were scoured to find apt quotes that might apply; facts were cherry-picked to confirm the points to be made. Anything that might call the outcome into question was duly ignored. In the end, a case had been made, a conclusion had been “proven” — but theoretical practice this is not.
That’s why the NCM produced so little theoretical work of lasting value. There were no ready-made answers to all the really difficult questions facing the movement: what is the direction of development of US capitalism?; which sections of the ruling class are ascendant and what is their agenda?; what are the principal impediments to the development of class consciousness among American workers and how can they be overcome?, etc., etc. And few and far between were the groups willing to take up the challenge posed by these and similar questions for fear of being accused of “a revisionist betrayal of revolutionary principle” because of “too much exploration of new theoretical terrain.”
Perhaps no lesson from the NCM for the burgeoning new American left is more important than the necessity to avoid a repetition of this theoretical poverty, of these flawed practices. The left today needs comprehensive knowledge of the world we live in in order to change it; Marxist theory is indispensable to its production. As Althusser says, “without any hesitation we are convinced that the development of Marxist theory, in all its fields, is a necessity of the greatest urgency in our times, and an absolutely essential task for communists." 64
IV. Concluding Thoughts
When the NCM was born, there were a number of grizzled veterans of prior anti-revisionist formations around to offer advice and support to the newly emerging groups. Some of what these veterans had to offer was of real value; some was not. There were young people willing to listen to what the veterans had to say and others who saw them as little more than relics of a failed past with simplistic answers to questions no one was asking anymore.
We have left behind the world that saw the initial publication of Revolution in the Air. A new upsurge of leftism is occurring in this country and Max Elbaum is among the grizzled veterans standing by with advice and support as this left attempts to find its way forward. The reissue of his book is an important contribution to that effort.
This review began with a quote from Guy Debord on the permanence of revolution in human history. Revolution was in the air when the new communist movement was born. Sooner or later, revolution will return. Many in the NCM considered themselves too busy making history to spend much time studying history’s lessons. As a result, mistakes were made, wrong directions taken, that otherwise might have been avoided.
Revolution in the Air and the analyses of other NCM veterans reflect on the passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time. The next left will have to chart its own course, make its own choices. And all the history-studying in the world won’t stop it from making its own mistakes. But if lessons drawn from the experience of the NCM can make the next left’s way forward a little easier, then in some small measure the movement’s legacy will continue to share a place in the river of revolution’s flow.
1. Guy Debord in his book Panegyric, quoted in Greil Marcus, The Dustbin of History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), 78.
2. Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: ‘60s Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao, and Che (New York: Verso, 2002), 326.
3. Ibid., 326, 328, 33-34.
4. Ibid., 236.
5. In 1977 the CPC appeared to recognize the CPML as its favored “sister party” in the US. See “Unity between Chinese and U.S. Communists: CP(M-L) Delegation Meets with Chairman Hua,” The Call, Vol. 6, No. 30, August 1, 1977.
6. Elbaum, Revolution in the Air, 272.
8. For documents relating to the National Liaison Committee, including from the various parties involved (like the RU and the IWK), see the collection available at the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism Online (EROL).
9. For a discussion of the line struggle in this party building initiative (the National Liaison Committee) see the Black Workers Congress, “Criticism of ‘National Bulletin #13’ and the Right Line of the RU,” in Red Papers 6.
10. On the Bund see Henry J. Tobias, The Jewish Bund in Russia from its Origins to 1905 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972); Prophecy and Politics. Socialism, Nationalism, & the Russian Jews, 1962-1917 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Enzo Traverso, The Marxists and the Jewish Question, trans. Bernard Gibbons (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1994).
11. “Asians fight loss of minority status for small business loans,” Unity, Vol. 2, No. 13 (June 29-July 12, 1979).
12. “The National Question,” Marxist-Leninist Study Series,” Unity, Vol. 4, No. 5 (March 20-April 2, 1981).
13. August 29th Movement, Fan the Flames. A Revolutionary Position on the Chicano National Question, 1976 ; League of Revolutionary Struggle, “The Struggle for Chicano Liberation,” Forward #2 (August 1979).
14. Asad Haider, Mistaken Identity. Race and Class in the Age of Trump (London: Verso, 2018), 79.
15. Elbaum, 269.
16. A strong account of the historical forces bound up in Jackson’s 1984 campaign, the viability of the “Rainbow Program,” and the possibilities of independent socialist action going forward, remains Manning Marable, “Jackson and the Rise of the Rainbow Coalition,” New Left Review I/149 (January-February 1985): 3-44.
17. There were certainly attempts to grasp the larger strategic significance of the Rainbow Coalition from within, and the impact of communists and socialist activists might have: see for instance, the interview with Jack O’Dell – one of Jackson’s more radical advisers – in the LRS newspaper, Frontline: “Reflections on the Rainbow,” Frontline, October 15, 1984.
18. Elbaum, Revolution in the Air, 2.
19. Ibid., 3.
20. Ibid., 323.
21. Ibid., 93.
22. Ibid., 89.
23. See Albert S. Lindemann, The “Red Years”: European Socialism vs. Bolshevism, 1919-1921 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974); and International Communism in the Era of Lenin: A Documentary History, ed. Helmut Gruber (New York: Fawcett Publications, 1967).
24. Louis Althusser, “The Crisis of Marxism,” in Power and Opposition in Post-Revolutionary Societies, trans. Patrick Camiller and Jon Rothschild (London: Ink Links, 1979), 230.
25. Quoted in K. S. Karol, China, The Other Communism, trans. Tom Baistow (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), 420.
26. See, for example, Central Committee, Communist Party of China, A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement, 1963.
27. These remarks refer to China’s positions on the international communist movement. Maoism did make important contributions to Marxist theory on the class struggle and inequality under socialism. See Richard Curt Kraus, Class Struggle in Chinese Socialism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981).
28. Louis Althusser, For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1969), 30.
29. Elbaum, Revolution in the Air, 48.
30. Ibid., 274.
31. Ibid., 207.
32. Ibid., 49.
33. Ibid., 321.
34. Ibid., 48.
36. Ibid., 49.
37. Ibid., 51.
38. Ibid., 50.
39. Ibid., 49-50.
40. Ibid., 51.
41. John Barron, Operation Solo: The FBI’s Man in the Kremlin (Washington DC: Regnery, 1996).
42. For a detailed discussion of what the CPUSA was like in this period see Gary Murrell, “The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States” A Biography of Herbert Aptheker (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2015).
43. Alice Jerome and Mort Sheer, “New Program of the Communist Party U.S.A .(A Draft): ‘Pretty Pictures of Singing Tomorrows,’” Progressive Labor, Vol. 5, No. 4 (June-July 1966).
44. Elbaum, Revolution in the Air, 274.
45. Elbaum, Revolution in the Air, 323-324.
46. Charles Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the USSR, First Period: 1917-1923, trans. Brian Pearce (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976), Second Period:1923-1930, trans. Brian Pearce (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978).
47. Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the USSR. Second Period, 501.
48. Ibid., 507.
49. Ibid., 503.
50. Quoted in Tristram Hunt, Marx’s General. The Revolutionary Live of Friedrich Engels (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009) 364.
51. Elbaum, Revolution in the Air, 323.
52. Ibid., 130.
53. Dan Burstein, “Political Report (Working Draft),” 1980.
57. Elbaum, revolution in the Air, 320.
58. Haider, Mistaken Identity, 79.
59. Burstein, “Political Report.”
62. Quoted in Louis Althusser, Etienne Balibar, Reading Capital, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Pantheon, 1970), 9.
63. Adapted from the article Louis Althusser, “The Importance of Theory,” in Theoretical Review #20, (January-February 1981). A slightly modified translation of this text was later published as “Theory, Theoretical Practice, and Theoretical Formation: Ideology and Ideological Struggle,” trans. James H. Kavanagh, in the collection The Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists and Other Essays, ed. Gregory Elliott (New York: Verso, 1990), 1-42.
Paul Saba is a long-time communist activist living in Tucson, Arizona who edited the Theoretical Review journal (1977-1983) under the name Paul Costello. He is the founder and editor of the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism Online.