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January 22, 2008



Well-written and interesting critique, accessible even to those of us who are not immersed in MLM lingo. Hopefully it can get through to those folks in and near the RCP so they can get to doing more useful work than promoting the Big Chief.

Where are you at in all this, JB? Seems like you are in a bit of a political transition yourself, and it would be interesting to hear about it.


Occam – I'd say the world is in a "bit of political transition", not just me or Maoists. I believe the RCP was the most serious, sustained effort to build a communist party in this country worth the name. If the RCP is basically a vehicle for promoting Avakian as humanity's last, best hope – then I've really got better things to do.

It's a shame, but not, I think, a total waste. Even today the RCP is not a one-trick pony, and I don't see them as enemies or simply some quirky sect over in the corner. Hardly.

But they are not interested in drawing together the revolutionaries of the United States, or really developing beyond the personal control/PR of Avakian.

If that's really their bottom line, which it is, then I think those of us who want to bring forward both a "new synthesis" in terms of Marxism and play a role in the fraught political moment we all inhabit – we'll have to look elsewhere than the RCP.

Where these Nine Letters go... we don't know yet. But to have that discussion I'd like to encourage anyone stopping by here to pass these on to anyone who should read them. That includes present and former members of the RCP, fellow travelers, non-RCP revolutionaries uninfected by "political identity" politics... anyone really looking for the new world through the shell of the old.

So, yeah – I'm in motion, but I'm not alone. Here we are, yet again, at the beginning of an audacious task.


Something about the whole fervent search for a "new synthesis" has me worried.

If we accept that the RCP is a failed Party, then we have to look deeply into why it is a failed Party.

9 Letters has definitely opened that up for discussion.

But in reading 9 letters and thinking about the RCP, we know:

There hasn't been a real attempt to apply Maoist methodology in America.

If that is the case, why should we all be looking for a new synthesis when the old one was never carried out?

It seems like the kids in the RU desperately wanted to do just that, but the situation quickly turned into defending the "one hope." And that was that.

If we don't grasp that; what will be the consequences of the 9 Letters of now, or the "New" Avakian tomorrow?

9 Letters starts from pointing out things that have already been pointed out on this blog and elsewhere and gave them some coherency. That's a good starting point.

Is 9-letters a new "synthesis"?

Do we need a synthesis?

Maybe we should try applying MLM to our political aspirations today before chucking them to history in search of our new "synthesis," or the next guy who promises revolutionary salvation.


Interesting read.

I have both partial agreements and partial disagreements with the contents of these letters. I've not read it all just yet, but I have some major difference of the content of the discussion on religion in these letters. Could be my "militant atheist" bias, though.

Mike E

Look forward to that discussion of religion and those differences.

Red Heretic

I'm sad to see you in this camp Jed. Anyway, here goes:

Ely's pamphlet is long and complex, and I don't think that blogs are really the place to post a thorough critique. Nevertheless, I want to criticize what I view as the key line in Ely's pamphlet.

Mike Ely begins with "A painful place to start: The RCP has not developed, ever, a mass partisan political base for revolutionary communist politics anywhere, among any section of the people."

Well, more than a "painful" place to start, it is a classical economist place to start. Mike Ely formulates partisan bases organized under the wing of a vanguard party as the cardinal question in bringing forward a revolutionary movement. Mike Ely's attack on the New Synthesis is a negation of decisive role of consciousness, and a negation of Lenin and "What is to be Done?" All the while, Ely cries about Enriched WITBD-ism being a negation of Lenin's "What is to be Done?" To quote Bob Avakian on this question:

"But there is an essential reality and truth to Lenin’s point when he insisted that the wielding of a newspaper is the better part of preparation—ideologically, politically, and organizationally—for the eventual struggle for the seizure of power. How is the wielding of a newspaper the better part of such preparation? This has to do with the role of consciousness and the relationship between consciousness and people taking initiative in struggle. Lenin’s point in What Is To Be Done? is not that communists don’t need to organize the masses in various forms of struggle to resist the abuses and outrages of the system; and not that we should never issue “calls to action” to enable the masses to wage such political struggle and resistance. But, Lenin rightly insisted, the most important thing we need to do is bring to light and bring alive for people who are oppressed and exploited, and who are dissatisfied in various ways with this system—to bring to light and bring alive for them the actual nature of this system, and how the things which are weighing down on them, or which outrage them, interrelate to each other, and how they are all rooted in the very nature and functioning of the capitalist-imperialist system; how to understand correctly, scientifically, not only what is exposed in this way but also how all the different class forces in society (and the world as a whole) figure into this larger picture of the functioning of the system, and (without falling into mechanical materialism) how, and why, different classes and strata tend to respond to different events in society and the world.

And, as Lenin put it, if this is really done in a powerful way, in a way which—metaphorically speaking—draws blood, sharply penetrates beneath the surface of things and gets to the core and essence of things, this will fill people with (in Lenin’s phrase) “an irresistible urge to act” politically. It will call this forth far more powerfully than all the direct calls to action that we might make—as important as that is on many occasions—and in a greater way than our directly organizing masses of people to carry out various forms of political struggle and resistance, as important as that is as well. And an important extension of Lenin’s basic point is that what people see as tolerable, or intolerable, is dialectically related to what they see is possible or necessary (or, on the other hand, what they come to see as un-necessary—or no longer necessary—no longer something they just have to put up with and endure)."

While fighting for an orientation of understanding the critical role of consciousness, I'm not at all trying to negate the importance of partisan neighborhoods and organization among the proletariat. We very much need those things, but let's look at this situation soberly. First of all, we live in the world's sole imperialist super-power. Class contradictions here have been dramatically blunted. Making revolution here is the hardest fucking thing in the world.

In that context, we should note the bold new call that Avakian has brought forward as a part of the New Synthesis to address this very question. Avakian has called for a mass movement of Revolution Clubs and brought forward this new formulation of "Fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution." Any discussion of the organizing of partisan neighborhoods has to be done in the context of the RCP's new line and new mass movement of Revolution Clubs that are springing up all over the country. Mike Ely hasn't even said a peep about these.

I encourage people to study Avakian's peice of the Revolution Clubs and "Fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution" here:

Red Heretic


I feel the need to criticize your line here. I think there is a serious element of dogmato-revisionism here.

I don't believe that if you took MLM and dogmatically applied it to virtually any other country in the world, that you would ever have a revolution. The concrete conditions for revolution are not the same! No where in the world do you have exactly the same contradictions as existed in the Chinese revolution. Things are much more complex than that.

It takes serious revolutionary communist leadership to develop and synthesize the science of MLM to the concrete conditions in any given country. We need a bold and daring new synthesis that can lead to a revolution in a country like the US, with a real chance of winning. What we DON'T need is MLM turned into a stale dogma.

Mao is not the new Jesus, and the classical texts of Marx, Lenin, and Mao alone will never get us to communism.

Mike Ely

I have cross posted Red Heretic's comments onto the Kasama site so that his views and critique can be read (and discussed) by people there.

Sean S.

As a person not coming from a communist perspective (rather, as Lenin would call it so insultingly, "infantile left wing communism" ie. anarchism) I find most of the critiques in the 9 letters interesting, in the same way I've found similar critique letters of other organizations (such as the ISO and the SWP in the UK). But they, like this criticism, frustrates me because its still missing the forest for the trees; namely that despite the obvious lacking of the whole MLM perspective, it still insists on going on that way. I feel at times, as if somehow everyone just missed the years of critical theory being developed in the forge of actual events; the rise of autonomous marxism out of the Italian Hot Summer, Situationist's out of the '68 French revolts, etc. Whatever the hell is going to come out right now. Most of it is chucked out because it takes place here, and not in a romanticized third world revolution, but its valid, and is more apt to solve our problems here than adopting the Shining Path.

the burningman

Hey Sean, I know what you're saying but I really do have to disagree.

Theory is always being developed, and I haven't "missed" it – nor do I think many communists have. The lack of interest in anarchism among communists has to do with it's essentially religio-ethical nature. That is to say, as anarchists do insofar as they address these things at all – that immediatism and assorted ecstatics do not substitute for the facilitation of broader, political change. Lenin's diagnosis was spot on and has more than stodd the test of time. Ultra-leftism in form is acquiesence in essence.

Many of us take an active interest in things like Situationism, for all of its utter stupidity, eurocentric myopia and so on. Italian autonomous marxism is also of interest, and as should be mentioned – in both of the historical moments which gave rise to these trends – it was revolutionary communists who were out there on the streets fighting! Not just painting clever slogans, but organizing and trying to give organizational, conscious form to inchoate movements.

If you read the Nine Letters, it is exactly NOT about adopting a simple, straight line – but beginning an "audacious task" that goes far beyond the authors of these letters.

Yes, here we are. Yes, (to me) Marxism-Leninism as a received dotrine does not offer us some laid-out path. But no, that doesn't mean abdicating materialism, a dialectical (transformative, contradictory) understanding of the world. It doesn't mean adopting a religio-ethical shrug as program.

It means experiementing, struggling, interogating, organizing and, yes, even engaging in public theorizing.

I see no "romanticizing" of some "third world" revolution here, or anywhere among the post-Avakian Maoists. Maoism in our understanding was not about some mythical quality the "Third World" has as neo-proletarian stand-in. Rather, Maoism developed internationally and in China as anti-Revisionist Marxism, which is to say Bolshevism, which is to say revolutionary communism.

That specter is still haunting the world, and the that specter is what we seek to give form.

This is the opposite of doctrine, of sectarianism or dogmatism – which my reading of Situationism and contemporary (and historical) anarchism shows is hardly the special provence of MLM.

I encourage you to bring your ideas to the Kasama site.

Sean S.

I don't know, exactly, what religio-ethico nature you are talking about, as I am sure I have not gone to Mass recently or sat in a coffee shop bemoning the lack of universal morality. Nor am I exactly sure why immediacy (defined as the smashing of the state, blood brother to capital and its perpetual twin) is bad either.

What I do know, is that your statement that "Revolutionary communists" (which I presume you mean MLM oriented) were involved in either May 68' or the longer simmering tensions of Italy, is absurd on its face, like saying the Soviet tanks in the streets of Hungary were there to save the revolution the people. Flipping through Storming Heaven, a fairly lengthy review of the development of autonomous marxism in Italy, I see nary a peep about Maoists, and what there is about Lenin is their development COUNTER to his writings. As for '68, theres enough books documenting that movement to clearly show that, again, Leninists and Maoists were almost nowhere to be seen, certainly not in any vanguard of their own making.

This is a critical point, and belies the almost constant opportunism that you yourself point out as "[giving] organizational, conscious form to inchoate movements", that if following Lenin's examples, means right into the Gulag.


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