The Expulsion of Scott H. from the RCP in 1977
I, Scott H., was expelled from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, on Oct. 30, 1977, because of my enthusiasm for the mass line. Well, that’s the way I see it! A less biased way of putting it is that I was expelled because I had a very different interpretation of the mass line than the leadership of the Party did. The difference, however, is that I have proven that “my” interpretation is that of Mao Zedong! (See my book on the Mass Line at: http://www.massline.info/mlms/mlms.htm.)
Although this expulsion was an important turn of events in my own life, are the details of the struggle which led up to it of any interest to others? Well, frankly, probably not in most cases—even for most of those who sincerely care about the mass line. However, over the years a number of people have asked me exactly what happened back then, and for those who have even a passing interest in this old story I have posted many of the relevant documents. (See the List of Documents below.)
It is of course true that the expulsion itself, and much of the interpersonal animosity that developed at the time, have long since become moot. Maybe this is a good occasion to restate my maxim that I call the “Law of All Moot”, that “Eventually everything becomes moot.” Even the welfare of humanity as a whole will someday become moot—when humanity has disappeared at some presently indeterminate future date. (But perhaps not really all that far off, if capitalism continues to exist and destroy the environment at such a rapid pace.) But, in the present case, while it is true that my expulsion itself has become moot, the issue of the mass line which formed the major bone of contention at the time is still as important as ever. This will remain the case as long as the working class still exists and is in need of revolutionary leadership.
The RCP and Me
A little autobiographical and historical background may be in order. I was raised in a working-class family in a small town in Wisconsin. I somehow developed a strong interest in the physical sciences and a beginning interest in philosophical and political questions. Under the influence of books by Bertrand Russell and other people I abandoned religion and started to consider myself a “socialist”—though at that time I had only the vaguest conception of what socialism might actually mean.
I was able to attend the University of Wisconsin, and while there I started to become a real “child of the sixties” because of the developing Vietnam War and the blatant oppression of Black people in this country. I had two important—though largely conflicting—ideological influences at that time, utopian socialism, and a fascination with China and (when it came out in 1966) the great book Fanshen written by William Hinton. At first the utopian socialism won out, and I took part in a rather depressing communal experiment in Virginia. But I remained loosely connected to the continuing radicalization then going on in the larger society through the means of radical newspapers, magazines and a membership in SDS.
By late 1968 I finally recognized that the real way to change society was not through utopian experiments, but through organizing the working class to make revolution and seize political power. But how to go about doing that, exactly? How really to connect up with the workers and educate them about the need for revolution?
I started to investigate the lines and descriptions of practice of various revolutionary organizations. One group I carefully investigated was the Progressive Labor Party, which at the time was still widely considered to be a “Maoist” group. But several characteristics of PL totally turned me off, especially their opposition to the Black Liberation struggle then in high tide.
At that point I came across a little item entitled Red Papers, produced by the Bay Area Revolutionary Union (which later became a national organization, and then in 1975, the RCP). I read this from cover to cover, several times over. At first I found the support of Stalin and a few other points a little off-putting, but I soon got over that. What really most impressed me was the description of how Bob Avakian and Steve Hamilton were attempting to merge with and educate the workers in Richmond, California. I could see that their efforts were somewhat crude and experimental, but I could also see that they were doing what I thought I should be doing—learning through actual practice how to bring revolutionary ideas to the working class.
I wanted to leave immediately for San Francisco! But I had to cool my heels for a few months because my wife initially didn’t want to go. But in November of 1969 we arrived in Frisco and I tried to connect up with the RU.
The first year or so out here was a bit disconcerting. First of all the people in or around the RU that we had contact with were quite a mixed bag. Most of them were of “middle class” origin, and were either still students or only just recently ex-students. Worse, few of them had any real experience in trying to actually bring revolutionary ideas to the working class. Instead of my connecting up with people who could instruct and help me in doing this, I quickly found that as little as I already knew about such things, it was more than most of them knew.
And worse yet, many people in the RU milieu seemed to have wildly different conceptions of how to go about making revolution as compared with the program implied in Red Papers. I especially remember one planning meeting of RU people and close friends for an upcoming demonstration against the Vietnam War where all sorts of wildly conflicting notions of revolutionary strategy were put forward, but where the most popular line seemed to be one virtually identical to that of the Weathermen urban terrorist group. I was seriously shocked by this (not by the violent path being proposed, but by the foolishness of it all). I thought we were about leading the working class in making revolution!
Over the next few years things seemed to be improving in some respects, though remaining rather dubious in other respects. Fortunately the urban guerrilla warfare enthusiasts soon split off under the leadership of Bruce Franklin, and set up their own ill-fated “Venceremos Organization”. The rest of the RU then shifted to the right and into a bit of what Leninists call “economism”—that is, focusing most efforts simply on building struggles among workers over economic and other job-related issues, and a downplaying of revolutionary education.
I worked at a couple places without any other radical presence for a year or so, and made little progress on my own. At the same time I became one of the regular staff members putting out a local worker’s newspaper in San Francisco. (The RU eventually had these tiny circulation “anti-imperialist” newspapers all over the country, including three in the Bay Area alone!) As I describe in my expulsion appeal, I tried to get the newspaper to both use the mass line and at the same time to engage in some much more serious political education about socialism and revolution. This latter issue, especially, and my proposal to start a “What is Socialism?” column in particular, led to friction between me and an older RU guy in charge of the work, an ex-member of the CP. And I got removed from that work. (There was in my experience no democratic “hashing of things out” in the RU and RCP; you either totally agreed with the line and policies set from above and enthusiastically did as you were told, or else you got removed from the work, one way or another.)
Then I spent a year working full time at an RU pamphlet publishing operation, “United Front Press”, doing mostly grunt work, running presses, etc. In 1973 the RU leadership shifted me to work among Muni bus drivers and street car operators in San Francisco, despite my reluctance. (I didn’t think I was a good enough driver and might end up killing somebody in an accident. Fortunately this never happened!)
Political work at Muni had already been going on for some time, and the first comrade there, “Comrade D.”, had done what I still consider to be an excellent job getting things started. Though he is white and most drivers were Black, he merged quite well with them and led in the formation of a caucus they called “Concerned Muni Drivers”. This group focused mostly on representing the interests of the drivers against Muni management and the usual sell-out union leadership. It also put out a spirited newspaper occasionally, called “Draggin’ the Line”. (That title refers to slowing down and relaxing when the pressures to meet the unreasonable time schedules set by management get too great.)
I was the second RU member sent to work at Muni from the outside, though after a while there was a third. Just before the RU became the RCP an actual driver was recruited, and then after the Party was formed another driver was recruited. So at the peak we had a rather sizeable (for the times!) group of five comrades, plus a few close sympathizers, to work among the 1800 Muni drivers.
As I mention in the letter appealing my expulsion, once working at Muni I tried to do two things: 1) raise the low level of revolutionary agitation and propaganda then going on in the work, and 2) get our RU group at Muni to start using the mass line. However, in retrospect, though I really did try to do both of these things, I focused too much on the latter and not enough on the former.
The RU, as an organization, was probably incapable of coming to truly appreciate and use the mass line. (In part because of the petty-bourgeois class origins and perspectives of most of its members, the fact that they looked on the workers only as people to educate and not at all as people to learn from, etc.) But on the other hand, Bob Avakian, the top leader of the RU, was trying to push the organization out of the economism that was so rampant. (Despite the fact that he was also the top leader when it moved in that direction in the first place!) Under these circumstances, an emphasis by a single rank-and-file comrade on what was then being called “strictly Marxist work” (educational work of agitation and propaganda) would have found support from the top leadership (or at least Avakian), whereas a focus on pushing the mass line was likely to be seen as being part of the economism problem. (It really wasn’t that; but that is what it was apt to be seen as!)
The success in recruiting the two drivers already working at Muni was mostly due to the new ideological element in our efforts that came about when the RU/RCP leadership criticized the economism within the work at Muni, as part of the campaign against economism within the organization as a whole. But that recruitment success also depended upon the substantial previous participation of us communists in the day-to-day struggles of the workers at Muni. Drivers weren’t recruited before that period because of the lack of (or at least severe weaknesses in) the ideological/educational component in our work with drivers. But drivers weren’t recruited after that period either—even though the ideological work was greatly intensified—because the communists no longer seriously participated in day-to-day struggles together with the drivers and were thus seen as “outsiders” or “preachers” (even if they were also Muni drivers). Only during the brief period of a year or two, during which the RU became the RCP, were both essential factors in place at Muni, and thus only during that short period was any real (but limited) progress made in bringing revolutionary ideas to the drivers and turning a few of them into communists.
This extremely important concept, that we must both join up with the workers’ own day-to-day struggles, and in the course of that bring the light of revolution to them, is something that the RU/RCP has never been able to grasp. The RCP does not at all understand this even today—despite the fact that this was the approach of Marx and Engels, and despite the fact that Lenin clearly enunciated this critically important principle more than a century ago:
Why was the RU, and why is the RCP, so totally unable to understand such a critically important yet fairly simple and straightforward concept? The only explanation I have been able to think of is their class origin and background, especially in the case of their leadership. These people mostly developed their ideas and conceptions of revolutionary strategy and tasks through participation in the “middle class” student movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. And the organization has never had a solid base in the working class. Like me, from my early days as a revolutionary, they viewed their central task as bringing revolutionary ideas to the workers. But unlike me,2 they never tempered that determination by acquiring a deep appreciation for the mass line and a recognition that the workers and masses also have a lot to teach us about how to make revolution. The RU/RCP leaders, and no doubt most of the members, read Hinton’s Fanshen, Mao’s comments in the “Red Book” (Quotations of Chairman Mao Tsetung) about the mass line, and so forth, just as I did. But somehow none of that ever really struck a solid chord with them. I really do think that class background is often an important factor in determining what ideas and feelings people are apt to truly take to heart.
In the past I rarely mentioned anything about this “class background” problem with the RCP. There were two reasons for this. First of all, there have been quite a number of cases in the world revolutionary movement where opportunists played on their working-class origin to try to browbeat people from a less proletarian background into following their revisionist program. (Hey, Khrushchev and Brezhnev were originally workers too! And Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao were not proletarians!) One really can’t rationally decide between two political lines based simply, or even primarily, on the class backgrounds of those pushing the opposing lines. Second, talking about class origins often offends those who don’t themselves come from the working class, and tends to alienate you from them. As long as I really hoped to be able to get the RCP to appreciate and start to use the mass line I felt it was “impolitic” to mention their origins and development in non-proletarian milieus. Now, however, after 35 years of fruitless efforts to get them to use the mass line, I have finally given up completely on them. If my proposed explanation for why they cling so stubbornly to their main fault offends them now, that is just too bad!
My Relationship With the RCP Since My Expulsion
As I implied above, my expulsion from the RCP did not end my relationship with them. For a couple years after my expulsion the RCP members I knew shunned me and I had little contact with them. But then, gradually, some RCPers began to ask me for help on this or that in the various campaigns that the Party was taking up, and so forth.
While working with and meeting with RCP members over the years I never let up in my continuing criticisms of their approach to the masses and their failure to use the mass line. I also raised other sorts of criticisms from time to time, such as with regard to issues in political economy, and on occasion even wrote and submitted essays to them on various important issues. None of which, by the way, was ever replied to or even acknowledged after my submissions. But I kept doing it anyway, because I still fancied that the leadership just might read and consider them. Actually, I’m not even sure they ever got to the right leadership at all.3
But my main effort in criticism of the line of the RCP was to work (alas, very slowly!) on my book on the mass line. From time to time I would try to get RCPers to read the manuscript, but if they did I could never get any feedback from them about it. Oh, once in while I would get a few verbal sentences out of them rejecting my “interpretation” of the mass line, but nothing at all substantial. It is a topic that most of them seem to be unable to think about and discuss.
By the late 1980s “Comrade D.”, who figures large in the disputes which led to my expulsion, was no longer in the Party himself. Although he left for different reasons than those which led to my ouster, we then ironically found ourselves in much closer agreement on most issues again. (Politics is a strange beast!) Over the years we, and a number of other ex-RCPers as well as new folks, have worked on various projects together, although we have never had quite enough unity to get any sort of new political group started. (Too bad, in my opinion!)
Both “D.” and later other friends who were still RCP members told me that my expulsion had been summed up within the Party as having been an “error”. I asked one of them if he was aware of the comment attributed to Confucius: “He who makes a mistake and does not correct it, makes another mistake.”
Strangely enough, after another long period of my friendly cooperation with, and support of, the Party, they did make a somewhat half-hearted offer to correct that old mistake. This was somewhere in second half of the 1990s, about 20 years after my expulsion. My main RCP contact at that time suddenly invited me to rejoin the Party again!
“Well!” I said in surprise. “What about the big struggle over the mass line that I went through with the Party?” My RCP friend replied, “Nobody is around any more who remembers what that was all about.” “Well I remember!” I exclaimed. Then I explained that I could not in good conscience rejoin the Party at least until that old struggle was reviewed and resolved. “Let me ask you this,” I said. “If I were to rejoin the Party and agree to sincerely try to carry out the line of the Party, would I be allowed to keep my own opinion about the mass line that goes against the view of the Party leadership?” There ensued a long and painful silence.
“That’s what I thought!” I finally said. In theory RCP members have the right to their own private opinions which go against aspects of the Party line. In practice, they apparently still don’t really have this right, at least on major questions. “Democratic centralism” in the RCP remains, from all I have been able to gather over the years, a completely undemocratic farce.
In late 1999 the RCP announced it was beginning a major project to create a new Party programme. This initially gave me hope that they might at long last be starting to reconsider aspects of their failed line that had gotten them nowhere over the preceeding quarter century. I wrote an essay at the time expressing both my hopes and also my fears that it all might not actually turn out to be for real. (See: “On the RCP Announcement of their New Programme Project”)
Unfortunately, my fears turned out to be correct. The Party was really not reexamining any fundamental part of its line and strategy for revolution at all, and—especially—they were by no means reexamining their line towards the masses, and their almost total neglect of (or opposition to) the mass line. When their so-called “Draft” Programme came out on May 1, 2001, this became painfully clear to me, and I wrote another paper entitled “How to ‘Fake’ the Mass Line”. That paper shows my bitter disillusionment, and this was indeed for me the beginning of the end of any remaining hopes that the RCP might someday get its act together and actually be able to start mobilizing the masses in the direction of revolution.
For a while the Party pretended that its new “Draft” Programme was actually a draft, that it was open for discussion and amendment, and that there would eventually be a changed, finalized version. Almost a year after the “Draft” was published, the Party set up a Web site called “2changetheworld.info” to discuss this new “Draft” Programme. But the actual purpose was not to seek out criticisms for its improvement, but rather to popularize and propagandize the new programme, and the RCP in general.
But since the Party, with this new “2ctw” Web site in the spring of 2002, was for the first time in its history opening up its line to criticism in a public forum where it would be forced to respond, I seized upon the opportunity! I submitted a rather strong criticism of the whole manner in which the “Draft” Programme was produced. This led to defensive replies by Party members or supporters, and further responses from me. Naturally, since I was involved, the main focus of this debate soon became the RCP’s conception of the mass line versus my (Mao’s!) conception. The debate went on hot and heavy for a while, and even involved the official RCP spokesperson on the site, Dolly Veale. But then the Party decided that they’d let me go too far, and demanded that I censor myself in future postings. I refused; so the debate came to a sudden end. However, I have made the debate available—including my submissions that they wouldn’t post because I wouldn’t self-censor myself—here on this Web site at: http://www.massline.info/rcp/debate/
No RCP members were allowed to criticize the “Draft” Programme on “2ctw” or in any other public forum. In fact two different Party members told me that they were under the requirements of “democratic centralism” to completely defend the “Draft” from the day it was published. It has now been 4 and a half years since the so-called “Draft” was published and almost 6 years since the Party announced its new programme project. It is now perfectly clear that the “Draft” was the new programme, and that it was all written, decided upon, and adopted behind closed doors by the RCP’s leadership without any discussion with or criticism by the masses whatsoever. Oh, I suppose that someday, some year, they will eventually issue yet another version of their Programme, which will likely not have the embarrassing “Draft” label on it. But it will be astounding if it is really different in any essential way.
The RCP has been stuck in a hopeless rut now for more than 25 years. I am embarrassed to see how long it has taken me to realize this! But they just are not going anywhere, and will never lead a revolution in this country. They don’t know how, and they don’t even know that they don’t know how, despite spinning their wheels for all this time. They are dogmatists who simply will not learn either from the criticisms of others, or from their own prolonged failures. It is long past time for all revolutionary-minded people in this country to clearly recognize that a totally new revolutionary party must be created, one capable of actually leading the masses in struggle and one also determined to bring the light of revolution to them as it does so. Either thing without the other is ultimately worthless.
List of Documents Relating to this Struggle
2 Since I brought up the class origin and background issue, the reader may wish to know a bit more about my own story. I was raised in a working class family; my father was a county road worker and then a carpenter and my mother was a housewife and part-time worker in my grandmother’s “Beauty Shop” (which made my grandmother, but not my mother, a member of the petty-bourgeoisie). However, from an early age I had one foot headed towards the exit of the working class. Because of my interest in science in grade school and high school I supposed that someday I might become a scientist or professor or something like that. (I never did.) Still, the working class was not alien to me, and I had myself worked in a number of “hard-core” proletarian jobs (such as a construction laborer) by the time I was first forming my basic political ideas. Nevertheless, it is true that I spent a number of years in college, including a year and a half in grad school studying philosophy, and also a couple years in a utopian socialist commune (though half the time there I had to simultaneously get “outside jobs” as an ironworker, as a construction laborer (again), etc., in order to help keep the commune going). In later years, besides being a bus driver for 6 or 7 years, I ran small printing presses at the California Dept. of Insurance, worked for Southern Pacific for a year, became a computer operator and then systems programmer at a large bank, and so forth. Although computer programmers are workers, their working atmosphere and ideas are often rather like that of the petty-bourgeoisie. However, my ideas and world outlook were well set in place long before I became a programmer. In 1988, I came down with a serious case of Lyme Disease and have not been employed since then.
I am not suggesting that the fact that I was more or less from a working-class environment completely explains why I latched onto the theory of the mass line so firmly. (There were clearly other important factors, including accidents of my education and associations, etc.) But it does, I think, give a partial explanation for why I was apparently more susceptible to learning to appreciate the mass line than most other revolutionaries of my generation.
3 A friend of mine, another ex-member of the RCP, told me an interesting story in this regard. He was at one time a member of the RCP Central Committee and also a member of the Political Economy Commission, a Party group assigned to do investigation into economic questions. After doing that for quite a while he took a short vacation back to his home town where he bumped into an old friend who was also an RCP member. “What did you think of the essay I wrote and sent in on that question in political economy?” his friend asked. “What essay?” my friend asked, and said that he had never received it. When he got back to the Party headquarters in Chicago he asked one of the top leaders of the Party (in Avakian’s absence because of his self-imposed exile in France) why he hadn’t received the essay. “I didn’t think you needed to see it,” the top guy told him. “But it was on political economy and I’m on the Political Economy Commission!” my friend said in exasperation. The leader just shrugged. It is mind-boggling that this sort of thing could happen in a party which claims to be investigating society scientifically, claims to be using the mass line both externally with the masses and internally within the Party, and claims to be following “democratic” centralism. And my understanding is that this is by no means an isolated example of the internal suppression of ideas.
— End —
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