League of Revolutionary Struggle

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League of Revolutionary Struggle dissolved into the Socialist Organizing Network and Unity Organizing Committee in 1990.

History

The League of Revolutionary Struggle was founded in 1978 and was the result of the merging of six Marxist-Leninist organizations: August 29th Movement, I Wor Kuen, Revolutionary Communist League, East Wind Organization, Seize the Time collective, and New York Collective. Those organizations in turn trace their roots to the Congress of Afrikan People, La Raza Unida Party and other oppressed nationality organizations of the 1960’s.

Forward

In the early 1980s Anne Adams, Carl Davidson and Michael Lee were co-editors of Forward, the magazine of the League of Revolutionary Struggle.

Publications

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Getting Together Publications was the publishing company of the League of Revolutionary Struggle.

In addition to Unity /La Unidad newspaper, the publishing company also produced numerous pamphlets, magazines and a journal. Each of the publications had its unique character.

Unity pamphlets were collections of articles that had appeared in Unity/La Unidad on a particular subject. Occasionally, there were pamphlets with writings and artwork created on a special topic.

Forward began as the theoretical journal of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L) in 1979. Several years later, Forward became a journal for socialist thought, and it invited contributed articles from many activists on the left.

The Black Nation, Journal of Afro-American Thought, was a magazine that was published from 1981 to 1986. Edited by members of the LRS and led by Amiri Baraka, The Black Nation also had broad input from thinkers and activists in the Black Liberation Movement.

East Wind: Politics and Culture of Asians in America was a magazine that was published from 1982 to 1989. A diverse editorial board governed the content of the magazine.[1]

Supporting Black Self-Determination

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Eric Mann on the LRS

From former LRS member Eric Mann:

The LRS envisioned a socialist revolution in the United States as part of a world revolution in which a black nation in the American South and a Chicano nation in the Southwest would ally with the multinational working class—including white workers—and the peoples and nations of the Third World. The LRS set up a national office and ran a national newspaper, Unity/Unidad. It also had hundreds of cadres working in Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Newark, and New York. Taking seriously the Marxist slogan “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” those of us who were well-paid autoworkers—I was a member from 1975 to 1985—made non–tax deductible contributions of $250–400 a month, ensuring that the organization was staffed with comrades who, working long hours, could at least pay their rent and support their families. We set up a childcare service so women could play leading roles in the organization and so children would make friends of all races, growing up in the society we wanted to build. One of our goals was to advance cultural integration as well as economic justice.
Across the country, LRS members got jobs in meatpacking plants, molten foundries, and auto factories. Like the LRBW, the LRS was instrumental in union reform movements that challenged the UAW leadership’s class collaboration. In St. Louis the LRS built a powerful UAW black caucus in a major auto factory, and in East St. Louis, Illinois, it founded the Organization for Black Struggle, which challenged police and slumlords and recruited militant and politically conscious black youth. In Los Angeles, LRS members in UAW Local 645 led an unprecedented campaign to keep GM Van Nuys open. A large and diverse group of workers built a labor/community coalition rooted in the black and Latino communities. We threatened GM with a boycott in L.A. County—the largest new car market in the country—and built a movement so strong that GM backed down and kept the plant open for ten years. I worked on the assembly line at Van Nuys for a decade and was the chair of the campaign, a story told in my book, Taking on General Motors (1987), and in a fine film by Michal Goldman, Tiger by the Tail (1986). In Oakland black LRS cadres worked with the Transit Workers Union and in New York they helped to lead the fight against police brutality.[2]

Supporting the Rainbow

Unity March 23 1984
Unity June 20 1984

The League of Revolutionary Struggle backed Jesse Jackson for President in 1984 and 1988.Warren Mar, Organizing Upgrade, How Can the Left Participate in Electoral Campaigns? August 31, 2018:

I worked on both the 1984 and 1988 Jesse Jackson for President Campaigns and was an open member of the LRS during my tenure. There was a big difference between the Jackson campaign in ’84 and ’88. In 1984 Jesse Jackson was less of a serious challenger and more of a messenger for progressives, including the African American community, that had seen the Democratic Party backpedal on all the gains of the civil rights movement won in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The new left organizations of the previous decade were mostly still in place during the 84 campaign, with a mass base in unions and communities of color.
In 1984, many of the struggles Jesse Jackson was involved in that Bill Fletcher mentions in his “Lessons for today from the 1980’s Rainbow,” were the result of the left’s ability at that time to pull Jesse into struggles and in return give him reciprocal support for his electoral aspirations from places we had a base. For the LRS, this meant striking hotel workers, striking cannery workers, support committees for miners, and visits to Chicano barrios and Chinatowns. On college campuses he visited with Asian Students, Chicano Students in MECHA, and the Anti-Apartheid divestment and anti-sweatshop movements.
Jesse Jackson deserves credit for his leadership in embracing racial justice and class inequality, but without the left’s participation, he would not have received the breadth of exposure or the depth of analysis, nor in return receive as broad a reception as he received outside of the Black civil rights movement where he had historic ties. The left, including the LRS, also challenged the lack of proportional delegates Jackson was entitled to at the 1984 Democratic Party Convention held in San Francisco. As luck would have it, the San Francisco Bay Area was the national center of many new left groups including the LRS. As a few of our elected Jackson delegates entered the Moscone Convention Center, thousands rallied outside, demanding an equal voice, based on the votes cast in the 1984 primary. That convention changed the electoral threshold required to gain primary delegates, laying the groundwork for Jesse Jackson to become a serious contender in 1988.

1988: The Demise of the New Left Organizations & LRS

It would seem from the in-roads made in 1984 that the left would have had a bigger impact and made more significant gains in 1988, but while Jesse got more votes, the organized left and mass movements were much weaker after the 1988 elections. There were two trends we underestimated or ignored. First, this country was still moving to the right. Reagan easily trounced Mondale in the general election of 1984 and George Bush, likewise, dispatched of Dukakis in 1988. Worse, the Democratic Party was also moving to the right. I agree with Bill Fletcher on the left’s wishful thinking about the Democratic Party’s consolidation under the Democratic Leadership Council, which would usher in the Clintons and later accept Barack Obama. African American Democrats, elected into local office, would follow this trend. For those of us from San Francisco, Assemblyman, State Legislator, and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown reflects this trend. By the 1980’s, Black mayors and Black municipal elected officials carried out the Democratic Leadership Council’s programs: attacking social safety nets, dismantling affirmative action and implementing the war on drugs, increasing the incarceration rates for Black and Brown people.
But the other crucial trend, which many of us in our left bubble did not realize until too late, was that while the right was on the rise throughout the 80’s, our New Left movement was on the decline. There was a big difference in what remained of the New Left between 1984 and 1988. The LRS lasted longer than most, officially dissolving in 1990. By the 1988 elections and definitely by the debate on the Rainbow’s future in March 1989, most of the New Left groups were gone. I didn’t know it at the time but the LRS was also in critical condition.
In 1984 I was a cook in a hotel in San Francisco, and an elected rank and file officer of Hotel and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 2. I pushed for Jesse Jackson’s endorsement in this capacity and as a delegate to the SF Labor Council. Most LRS members worked this way in some capacity or other. Most if not all of us were unpaid volunteers. By 1988 I was on as a full time paid organizer of the same Local. I got release time to go to work on the Jackson campaign as his Northern California Labor coordinator. I also went down to Houston to work on Super Tuesday. I worked as a full-time paid staff member of his campaign.
In 1984, the LRS was not alone in my union local; there were many cadres from various left groups in hotels and some restaurants all over the city. By 1988-89 all those organizations and by extension, their cadres were gone. In 1988, there were more leftist staff in Local 2, including from LRS, but our cadres’ anchoring our base in various workplaces were mostly gone. This was the beginning of the end for the new left organizations, coinciding with the 1988 Jackson campaign, creating the perfect storm.

Without a strong mass movement and base, the left is at a disadvantage in a united front electoral campaign Why is this important? I joined I Wor Kuen (IWK), a predecessor of LRS in 1974. We were growing exponentially and expanding across nationalities and geographical areas. As socialists we believed we should be based in the working class. We targeted industries to go into. I could speak Chinese and this added to my ability to organize the majority immigrant workforce. I went into HERE, because I was asked/told to. I held working class jobs as a Teamster, but working in union warehouses was still better than union restaurant work, which was immigrant based work and I was American born. I had done restaurant work in high school and hated it. I swore I would never do it again – until I became a leftist. Besides strategically placing cadre in union industries, IWK also had the line that we could run for elected union office but not take appointed union staff jobs. We explicitly opposed people who had never worked in an industry taking on union staff jobs.
By the mid-80’s, we were having a harder time recruiting into the LRS. We changed the above policies slowly. First we started taking union staff jobs, but with cadre who had at least worked in the industry. This coincided with one area of recruitment that had not totally dried up: student work, especially in some of the campuses with an active anti-apartheid movement. Many new recruits in the 80’s came from some of the elite universities. Many factory and working class jobs in the 70’s were filled by student radicals who came off the campuses in the 60’s. The LRS student recruits leaving college in the 80’s would not consider going into factories or low level service work. They did however consider going directly into union staff jobs, work as legislative aides or on campaign work with politicians. They also moved directly into municipal government jobs, another position we opposed in the early days of IWK. We felt it was difficult to fight city hall when you work there.
Some members in the national leadership of the LRS, in particular Asians from the IWK, also had ambitions to move on from revolutionary work and their educated backgrounds gave them rapid entre to Jesse Jackson's upper-echelon staff positions. The exceptions they made for the younger cadre of the 80’s on college campuses like Berkeley and Stanford fit in nicely with their own aspirations to move on. Many of the top national and regional staff positions in the ’88 Jackson campaign were occupied by not just members of LRS, but Asian Americans, formerly of IWK. This is one reason we sided with Jackson on the dissolution of the Rainbow into his personal campaign organization in 1989. His top staff members would stay with him, or with his blessing, go into local electoral campaigns of their own. This was not unique to LRS cadre. Many former members of CWP, CPML, LOM, etc. ran and won local offices after the 1988 campaign or got jobs as legislative aids or took positions as municipal bureaucrats.

New Electoral Majority

From Forward, Vol. 9, number 1, Spring 1989, pages 4 and 5.

The Jackson campaign also pointed the way towards a progressive electoral strategy, which the left needs to developas part of its immediate political program. Concretely, this means develop ing strategies to expand and shift the electorate, and breaking the so-called conservative electoral "lock" in the South and Southwest, which has upheld the right-wing edge in the last four presi dential elections.
People of color now approach 30% of the U.S. population. The changing demographics in the U.S. will make oppressed nationalities the majority in California and Texas by the turn of the cen tury, and they will comprise a steadily increasing proportion of the population as a whole.
With increased voter regis tration and participation, Black, Latino, Asian, poor white and other historically disenfranchised voters can constitute a new, progressive electoral majority. This new electoral majority, with its base in the South and Southwest and key Northern industrial areas, can make the critical difference in future elections. It provides the electoral basis for reversing the right-wing direction of American politics.
Electoral work is thus an important aspect of our work to build the mass movement against the right, and for democracy and social progress.

Peak influence

At its height, the League of Revolutionary Struggle had chapters in over a dozen cities with nearly 3,000 cadres and thousands of followers. Its newspaper, Unity/La Unidad, was published bi-monthly in three languages — English, Spanish, and Chinese. The LRS also published Forward, a theoretical journal; The Black Nation; and East Wind: Art and Politics of Asians in America.

Other Unity/La Unidad pamphlets helped invigorate the resistance to the regressive politics of U.S. capitalists led by the reactionary administration of Ronald Reagan.[3]

Slow demise

According to former League of Revolutionary Struggle member David Hungerford.

The League of Revolutionary Struggle continued the work of its constituent organizations through the 1980s. However, ideological and theoretical work was almost completely neglected after 1985 or so. By 1988 the LRS leadership had virtually become an appendage of Jesse Jackson’s presidential aspirations. Amiri resigned from the organization in protest. I didn’t agree with him about Jackson at the time but he proved to be right. But I think it would have been better if he had stayed in and continued the fight.
Gorbachev’s “glasnost” and the following crisis caught the LRS leadership completely unprepared. They refused to respond to demands of cadres to say something about the Soviet breakup. Instead they surrendered to bourgeois ideas and repudiated Marxism-Leninism. An attempt was made to continue the organization on a reformist basis, but without the discipline and sense of purpose that comes with Marxism-Leninism it simply faded away.[4]

Split

In 1990 League of Revolutionary Struggle split, with one group ( including most of the Asian comrades) dropping Maoism, and maintaining control of Unity, becoming the Unity Organizing Committee. The other faction kept a more traditional outlook, becoming the Socialist Organizing Network, which later merged with Freedom Road Socialist Organization .

References