Leonard and Gallagher’s Heavy Radicals

Heavy Radicals: The FBI’s Secret War on America’s Maoists Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980

Aaron J. Leonard

In the late sixties and early seventies, many young American leftists began drifting away from the amorphous politics of the mainstream anti-war movement and towards a sort of militant leftism influenced by Moa. They formed first cadres, and then parties. Many of them dropped out of college to work in factories in a idealistic attempt to organize and revolutionize the working class. There were many, many of these formations in those days (and I am informally gathering information on them on this page). But perhaps the largest, was the Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party whose early history is tracked in this fascinating book.

 

Combining the first hand experience of former member Aaron Leonard, and the research skills of FOIA expert Conor Gallagher, the authors piece together the story of the formation of the RCP from the remnants of SDS and some old, dissent, Communist party members. They also document, more thoroughly than I have ever seen, the extreme lengths the FB.I. went to in order to thwart the RCP’s work.

 

The main players in the early days of the RCP were a fascinating group: Leibel Bergman, a life long radical and Communist Party veteran, a decade older than the other founders, he was the early theoretician and backbone of the group. Though he’d seen every split and problem an organization like the RCP could anticipate, eventually, he couldn’t keep the group together. Steve Hamilton, the prototypical sixties radical, coming of age in the Berkley Free speech movement Hamilton moved on to the anti-war cause and then, Maoism. Bruce Franklin, a radical academic who would have a large effect on the sixties turn to militancy both inside and outside the RCP. And finally, Bob Avakain, the son of a progressive judge, hanger-on to the Black Panther Party, and the man with whom the RCP would come to be inextricably linked. These men would go on to work with scores of men and women across the country to try to build a communist revolution in the U.S.

 

It was a completely crazy idea from the beginning, but one can admire the ambition.

 

No surprise, they failed. In the scheme of American politics, the RCP was never big. It was never in a position to actually challenge the state. And yet, as outlined here, the state spent enormous resources trying to destroy it. FBI agents and informers spent years tracking the group attempting to sabotage the group, even going so far as to form their own organizations.

 

It makes for a fascinating story, especially if the history of the American left is an interest. But I wish the authors had continued the story to the present day because after the fractures circa 1980, things started to get really, really weird.

 

Odds are if you know of the RCP at all, you know it as a bizarre sectarian group built around a cult of personality of Bob Avakian. No one, not even on the far left, takes it seriously as a political force anymore. How this well meaning, if misguided, group of leftists went so far astray would be an interesting story to take to its conclusion. I hope someone does.

 

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About seanv2

Scholar, gentleman, jock. I run the website Milo and the Calf. There you will find the Boston Qualifier Questionnaire where runners share their stories of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. You'll also find my thoughts on endurance sports, ancient history, Judaism, and hundreds of book reviews.
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