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Interview with Paul Saba August 29, 2015

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Uncategorized.
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Interview with Paul Saba about the New Communist Movement in the US and other areas of The Left in the US.

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1. Mark P - August 29, 2015

A very interesting interview.

As well as the texts gathered in the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism OnLine, anyone interested in the New Communist Movement might be interested in Max Elbaum’s “Revolution in the Air” and Aaron Leonard and Conor Gallagher’s “Heavy Radicals”.

Elbaum’s book is a critical overview of the movement as a whole, from the perspective of a former leader of one of the last substantial groups to be formed at the end of that movement, Line of March, who now rejects quite a lot of what he sees as the movement’s sectarian impulses. Leonard and Gallagher’s book is about the Revolutionary Union, the largest NCM organisation and one of the few to survive in some form to this day. It’s now the Revolutionary Communist Party, a group chiefly notable for its bizarre adulation of its own leader, Bob Avakian, but the book is mostly concerned with its 1970s heyday, before it lost its marbles.

Kirkpatrick Sale’s “SDS” is the standard account of Students for a Democratic Society, which provided a nursery for most of the people who would go on to lead NCM groups and the messy death of which provided the background context for the birth of the NCM (and the much more famous, but much less numerous, Weather Underground).

Probably the two most important organisations in terms of shaping the politics of the NCM, but which weren’t quite part of the NCM themselves, were the Black Panther Party and Progressive Labor. The BPP served as an inspiration to the largely white members of most of the NCM groups (note most groups, not all). PL, the first numerically substantial “anti-revisionist” group in the US was the early political home of a number of key NCM activists and then later was the organisation which set the terms of debate in SDS and which most of the early NCM defined itself against.

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Mark P - August 29, 2015

I meant to finish that comment by saying that there are numberous books about the BPP, of wildly varying quality. The best of them is probably “Black Against Empire”, by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin.

Progressive Labor, a rather strange organisation which combines a great love of Stalin with a near complete lack of fidelity to specifically Stalinist politics, has outlived most of its epigones. But I’m unaware of any detailed history of the group, which is a glaring gap in the literature on American radicalism in the 60s and 70s.

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2. Mark P - August 29, 2015

A few random comments on Saba’s interview:

1) He is dismissive of much of the theoretical framework of Maoism, in its US forms particularly but also, if a little less bluntly, in its original Chinese forms. He does however let himself indulge in retrospective wishful thinking about the Maoism that could have been, had the Chinese Maoists taken other paths, had they moved towards critical reexamination rather than the restatement of old Stalinist orthodoxies with added voluntarist aphorisms. I’m of the view that it was never a significant possibility that the Chinese state bureaucracy or its intellectuals could have taken that alternative path.

2) The part about the final death of the NCM as a movement (as opposed to its continued existence as isolated splinters) in the Jesse Jackson Rainbow Coalition campaigns is interesting. The Democrats really are the graveyard of social movements, even those that start out wildly radical. He’s clearly right about the reasons why the remaining NCM groups mostly collapsed into the Rainbow – in a changed world, this seemed like the only place where they could find a “broad audience” in the 80s, and they had absorbed an uncritical view of the earlier history of the CPUSA including its rather dubious Democratic Party entanglements. He doesn’t however point to an important common thread between the CPUSA in the forties and fifties and the NCM in the 80s though, which is that their Stalinist ideological frameworks all denied any importance to working class political independence. They had no principled reasons to avoid working inside the Democratic Party, just various conjunctural and tactical reasons.

3) The Tucson Marxist Leninist Collective sounds like a very interesting discussion group to have been a part of, although an extremely ineffectual “party building” project.

4) I’d have been interested to hear about the reasons for the death of Theoretical Review.

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