The Freedom Road Socialist Organization and the Mass Line
The Freedom Road Socialist Organization is a U.S. revolutionary group, or actually, two revolutionary groups since it underwent a split in March 1999, and both halves decided to keep the same name. The older, and I believe somewhat larger group, has a web site at: http://www.freedomroad.org The other group, which has its biggest concentration in the Midwest, and which is sometimes called “FRSO/Fight Back!” (after the name of its newspaper), has a web site at: http://www.frso.org
Both FRSOs have their origin in other revolutionary groups which were formed during the 1970s. One of these was the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters which was a group that split off from the Revolutionary Communist Party in early 1978. As I mention on my RCP page, I view the RWH folks as being mostly in the wrong on the major issues in that split. They failed to recognize that after Mao’s death there had been a revisionist coup in China. It is true that there was an element of error here on the part of the Avakian RCP too, namely absolute support for the “Gang of Four” in China, who themselves made some very serious errors. Still, Avakian and the RCP were correct in their general appraisal of what had happened in China, and the RWH forces who split off were essentially wrong. I don’t believe either FRSO group has to this day fully faced up to this old but continuing error. When the topic comes up they still tend to focus on what is clearly a secondary issue, how to evaluate “the Gang of Four”, and I don’t think they do a fair and balanced summation even there.
The other major issues in the 1978 split were about how to build the revolutionary movement in the U.S. Here too, there was some error on both sides, though the Avakian RCP seems to have maintained a much firmer revolutionary stance. On the other hand, the RWH forces, after merging with other organizations to form the FRSO groups, have done a better job in joining up with mass struggles.
Basically it seems that the pre-1978 RCP was internally conflicted, and unable to resolve its internal conflict in a way which would maintain all its major strengths and discard its major weaknesses. So the post-split RCP kept to its revolutionary staunchness and general steadiness in revolutionary orientation, but also became more dogmatic. Worst of all, it renounced the necessity of joining up with the masses in their struggles as a means of bringing the light of revolution to them. The FRSO groups, on the other hand, seem to have gone in the diametrically opposite direction. Both have been very weak in their public defense of revolution and revolutionary theory. Both have been rather flaky in their theoretical stances. The FRSO/Fight Back! group, for example, has shown some support for Soviet-style revisionist groups, while the other FRSO group has been pondering a plan of “Left Refoundation”, one aspect of which seems to envision a possible merger with various left groups (even semi-Trotskyites) with very dubious revolutionary credentials. Even if they don’t go through with such a scheme, the fact that they even considered it gives me the creeps.
However, the FRSO groups are genuinely trying to join up with the struggles of the masses. If they can actually bring revolutionary ideas to the masses in the process (and that is the question at issue) then they will indeed make a contribution to the American revolutionary movement.
The RWH and its FRSO successors have championed the “mass line”. But what exactly do they mean by it? How do they actually practice it? This is not entirely clear to those of us outside these groups. Are they actually discussing the need for revolution with the masses they work with, and doing so in a living way, or are they—as the RCP thinks—merely pretending to do so while they engage in ordinary reformist revisionism? I really don’t know the answer to this for sure, but the issues of the Fight Back! newspaper that I have seen look pretty damned reformist to me. On the other hand, the occasional magazine Freedom Road that the other FRSO published for a while had some revolutionary political content, and both FRSOs have some limited revolutionary content included on their web sites.
As I mentioned above, neither FRSO group has been very diligent in summing up the principles behind their political practice. But before their split into two groups, FRSO did prepare two documents on the mass line which were used both internally and in study groups for people they work with, and also given to friends and interested people. As far as I know, both FRSO groups still uphold the principles in these two documents.
Materials on FRSO’s position on the mass line and related topics