Red Guards Austin: A Year Summation of the Life of a Militant Maoist Organization in the U.S. Central South
Prologue: The Liberalism of the Austin Left
The earliest configuration of what was to become Red Guards Austin (RGA) was no more than three comrades who were gradually gravitating towards Maoism at various levels of development. We were still in the process of searching for an outlet for our revolutionary longing in the form of a preexisting “party.” Through careful study and consideration of both local and countrywide leftist groupings, we had come to the conclusion that no such organization existed that could constitute a party, let alone one that had firm ideological anti-revisionism, mass work, and the clear participation and leadership of women and people of oppressed nations. We were adrift, leaning on our past experiences as anarchists, animal rights activists, and workers to help us develop into active communists. The first hurdle we faced was due in part to our class backgrounds: none of us had finished high school, let alone received a college education, unlike most of the white middle-class left we had encountered in Austin. We became revolutionary communists out of a dire need for revolution, spurred on by our low social status and difficult economic conditions. We were quickly disillusioned by the pomp of local university leftist organizations and had experienced nothing but alienation from them in the past.
Austin Responds to Operation Protective Edge / Attack on Gaza
The most common ground we all shared was solidarity with Palestine, and so we appeared as a small group at a Gaza solidarity demonstration in the summer of 2014. This was during Operation Protective Edge in July, when Israel launched a military operation against the Gaza Strip. We stood out due to our insistence on wearing masks and our willingness to publicly display the red flag. Although two of our three were already Maoist, we agreed to represent ourselves as anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists due to our level of theoretical understanding at the time. That first day out, the local news channels made sure to utilize the “sensational” footage of the three of us in keffiyehs with Palestinian and red flags. This prompted some interest from the left and people began hitting us up asking what group we were with. We had no answers to give them and had not even formally settled on a name. What we began to learn was that there was a void in Austin and that we should push forward as open communists learning from the experience as we go, come what may.
We needed a name and to consolidate our ideology, understanding that ideological consolidation is an ongoing process through line struggle within the organization. We devoted time to internal study, discussion, and so on. We landed on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM) once we came to understand it as the third and highest stage of Marxism, synthesized in the people’s war in Peru by Chairman Gonzalo. The name could stand to wait a little longer.
Our next effort was to reach out to other Maoists both locally and countrywide. We had been paying close attention to the split in the New Communist Party Organizing Committee and were (at the time) glad to see the larger section of the split go on to form the Liaison Committee for a New Communist Party (NCP-LC). These comrades would be essential to our growth and development as communists, through both their solidarity and advice. On the local front, prospects looked grim. The International Socialist Organization (ISO) attacked and disrupted smaller groups from their independent kingdom on the University of Texas (UT) Austin campus. They were known to have been the gatekeepers of activism on campus and hostile to anyone except organizations they could control. We did manage to get in touch with some committed and good comrades in the area whose tendencies we did not agree with but who were principled and committed to the idea of a more militant Austin.
We ended up attending the film screening for A Southern Patriot, which in spite of the name is a documentary about Anne Braden, a noted civil rights activist and labor organizer in the U.S. South. As Maoists, we uphold the principle of open criticism and self-criticism to be one of the cornerstones of our practice and noticed that when we criticized the film’s liberalism our criticisms were taken as personal attacks. Eventually we managed to have a more intimate, in-person discussion with the filmmaker, who then took our criticisms well and informed us of a lot that the documentary was unable to do. It was the discussion after the film where a clear division was taking place between those in attendance and those hosting the event. Bourgeois and proletarian relationships emerge from all social relations, and in this case the hosts sat above the audience in what seemed like arrogance, making the discussion fairly awkward for those in attendance. An ISO member talked about the shrinking black population in Austin and how the other group he was part of was having a hard time attracting black members.
As activists closely following the rebellions in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of 18-year-old Mike Brown, we tried to push for a demonstration in response to the grand jury’s decision not to prosecute the officer, Darren Wilson. The demonstration was to correspond with the countrywide call made by activists on the ground in Ferguson. We were discouraged by a member of the ISO’s People’s Task Force (PTF) and told, “Don’t bother. No one will show up anyway” and that “they were too busy around the case of Larry Jackson Jr. to do anything relating to Mike Brown.” Our argument to unite the countrywide with the local was ignored in favor of business as usual, and help in organizing was denied.
Anarchists comrades who had a similar experience with the ISO-PTF in the past reached out to us about organizing a grand jury response demonstration even if the local gatekeepers refused to take us seriously. After a few discussions, we committed to at the very least provide the masses of Austin with a space they could use to gather and demonstrate, even if we had no way at that time to lead any significant action beyond the creation and promotion of the event. For two weeks we printed and distributed fliers and promoted the event online. Since no one knew when the grand jury announcement would be made, we acted as if the demonstration could take place any day and feverishly organized, seeing it as an opportunity to put our ideas into practice. As the online event page swelled to large numbers, the media began to notice, and online hordes of liberals began spamming the page with “safety concerns.” The police responded by holding very public riot drills in front of the planned location of the demonstration. The media did not hesitate and immediately reported on the police’s intimidation propaganda and helped it spread. The whole drill was nothing but a show of force to scare the people into a docile rally.
We had all agreed that the response rally should be held at the police headquarters (HQ) for two reasons: first, because the police should be the target of demonstration since what was happening in Ferguson was a larger issue than just Mike Brown’s death but was in fact a rebellion against police systematically killing black people for any offense or no offense at all; and second, because of the need to break with the Austin tradition of holding every rally at the capitol regardless of the particular issue at hand out of some tired habit and an obedience to business as usual.
We also agreed that our organizing experience was limited and that we were unprepared for anything of this size and therefore that we should let it develop organically and determine where to encourage struggle as events emerged. Concerned liberals swarmed our main organizers, who were both women of color, demanding that we remove the demonstration from the police HQ and instead relocate it to the capitol. We were divided on this issue and the comrade in charge of the event page caved and switched the location to the capitol. This caused a near-split where the Maoists threatened to hold our own demonstration at the police HQ anyway. After struggling internally, the correct line won and we united around the original agreement to have the demonstration at the police HQ. We made several errors at this point.
On the day of the demonstration, just moments before it was set to take place, we were approached by community organizers who wished to speak. We agreed, since the only planned speaking would be done in the form of an open people’s mic. This was a near-disaster since the “community organizers” ended up being pig apologists and advocates of “all lives matter” nonsense. This should have been rectified by rebuttals and struggle from the people themselves, but the liberals co-opted the event by controlling the mic and went against our wishes. Fortunately, they disappeared from the demonstration as it turned from an unpermitted rally into an unpermitted march. In spite of the large numbers, we failed to achieve any level of resistance or even civil disobedience.
Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Freedom Road) correctly criticized the event on those grounds in their article in response to the Ferguson grand jury demonstrations around the country. The article, however, went further, into the realm of opportunism, by alleging that we had no “black leadership,” an allegation they knew for a fact to be false. From the experiences of organizing the demonstration, the response from the left, and the internal line struggles, we knew that we had to settle on a name and publish a self-criticism and rebuttal statement without hesitation. The statement was signed by Red Guards Austin.
1. Emergence through Struggle
Turn the old world upside down, smash it to pieces, pulverize it, create chaos and make a tremendous mess, the bigger the better!
The above words were the closing lines of a statement issued by revolutionary students during the opening years of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). The statement was signed “Red Guard.” This was the first use of the term in China by rebellious youth who would later shake the very foundations of the country and swell to mass organizations collectively numbering in the millions. Their words were our motto.
What is a red guard? The original red guards were revolutionary armed units of volunteers that greatly assisted the Bolsheviks during the Great October Revolution in Russia. The name would live on to become infamous or renowned (depending on your class) during China’s GPCR. They would lead the struggle against revisionism by taking the advice of Chairman Mao Zedong to “bombard the headquarters” and throw out those who wanted to return to capitalism (called “capitalist roaders”) within the Chinese Communist Party, continuing the revolution under socialism. The name has been used three times before us in the United States, all three times offering inspiration to our group. The first was the Red Guard Party from San Francisco, founded in 1969 by Chinese American youth who were inspired by the Black Panther Party and adhered to Mao Zedong Thought. The second time the name was used was around the same time, by the Peninsula Red Guard, which was a group of militant students who attacked the Stanford ROTC building in 1968. This group would go on to help found the Bay Area Revolutionary Union, which would later become the largest Maoist party in the U.S., the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, before degenerating into obscurity. The third and most important influence was a new organization, Red Guards—Los Angeles (RGLA), which was born from a split with the youth wing of the revisionist Communist Party USA. This split was cemented when anti-revisionist comrades from oppressed nations were expelled from the party for challenging the white chauvinism within the party itself. The Southern California Young Communist League (SoCal YCL) truly earned the name Red Guards by their willingness to attack the revisionists and the reactionary line within their own party. We had been following this struggle, cheered the split, and were inspired to adopt the same name when RGLA declared its line to be Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and joined the NCP-LC.
Our next task was clear. We knew that we had accomplished something because of our ability to draw crowds and also because our work with anarchists had started to bear fruit in the form of increasing support and interest. We now had to keep the momentum up and increase the pressure on the police by relying on the masses. The small left in Austin had been composed of the same 15 to 20 people doing the same flat demonstrations for some time. If we wanted to achieve a more militant environment we would have to draw new people out from the east side, where we lived and worked. Furthermore, if we wanted revolution, we had to both learn and teach revolutionary theory. As Red Guards, we knew that revisionists would be one of many obstacles to be overcome. The history of liberalism had stifled many in Austin for years. It sat like a suffocating pillow on the face of young radicals who rather than rebel were turned into bored, half-awake dues-paying members of the ISO. At this time there was no other group willing to continue organizing against the police in solidarity with countrywide movements.
December: Combining the Local Issues with Countrywide Issues
For a second time we approached the ISO-PTF members about continuing organizing around black lives in correspondence with the countrywide call. We were again rejected and told that it was not worth our effort. But nonetheless we were invited to a PTF-organized rally on behalf of Larry Jackson Jr., a black man who had been murdered by the Austin Police Department (APD) officer Charles Kleinert. We argued that in spite of the work being done, relatively few people knew who Larry Jackson Jr. was and that his case was part of a larger issue and should be combined with the countrywide movement. We were as usual dismissed and ignored, if not laughed at in some cases. But after our previous event, there was no denying the need to combine the countrywide and local issues and talk about the local victims in that context. Our suggestions were finally heeded even though the PTF was still unwilling to work with us in any real capacity. However, we were asked by one PTF member to bring out one of our red banners bearing a hammer and sickle to the demonstration set for December 5, 2014.
The tactic we had been pushing worked. The PTF, who in the past had only drawn crowds of less than 40, this time managed to draw upwards of 500 people. The protest took place in front of a closed and vacant courthouse just like the past Larry Jackson Jr. demonstrations. The difference was this time they included the countrywide call on behalf of Eric Garner, which had been closely followed by most of the country. Our position on the events of that night was written up and printed in a flier that we passed out at the next demonstration, and it is still available for reading on the Red Guards Austin page on Facebook. However, it is worth noting that we no longer seek to give the benefit of the doubt to the rightists/opportunists within the ISO. At this event only two of our members were in attendance, and as requested we brought a red banner with the hammer and sickle and the timeless quote from Chairman Mao Zedong “Dare to struggle, dare to win!”
This banner and a flag, as well as our red bandanas, were signifying marks of our organization. Right-opportunists in the U.S. have for a long time bought into anti-afcommunist rhetoric that makes them think the international symbol of workers and peasants will “scare off the masses.” We find this to be a ridiculous throwback to the days of the Red Scare and nothing more than that. On the contrary, the open communist symbols brought many enthusiastic young rebels to our side during actions and generated a lot of interest in our ideology. But more importantly, we were shown support from average workers who were not professional activists. This demonstration was set to go just as the rest of them had, with the same speeches going on for too long from the same group of college professors, members of Nation of Islam, and other usual faces, saying the same things they had been saying a week or two before—only this time to a larger audience.
This was a different crowd, however, and the people grew anxious for action and were not content with just standing around outside an empty courthouse listening to people talk. We picked up on the energy from the beginning, talking to the crowd, seeking support from the more militant people in attendance. In good faith we approached the PTF leader who had shown defeatism in the past and asked for their support in taking and holding the Congress Avenue Bridge. His response was predictable and matched with our past experience with him: he told us, “We don’t have enough people to take the bridge,” that “we would all be pepper sprayed,” and that they “were not even planning for a march.”
Resolute with our faith in the people, we proceeded to take the streets with or without the support of the organizers, who were, at that point, attempting to bring the rally to a close as quiet as the empty courthouse. We began by chanting things that were not on the PTF list of approved chants and used our flags, banners, and bullhorns to halt traffic and usher the crowd out into the streets. Since then, the same ISO-PTF opportunist has claimed responsibility for turning the rally into a march. He might do well to go watch the video footage on Red Guards Austin’s Facebook page to see who was doing what. (It was brought to our attention that after RGA and supporters blocked traffic and got people into the streets the ISO then tried to mobilize volunteers to attempt to lead the march.) We then used the banner he had requested to maneuver around the police escort and lead the crowd to the bridge, which we held for almost 15 minutes. True credit for this action then and now goes only to the people of Austin who were fed up with toothless demos, who began making the call to take the highway and ultimately shut it down. At this point a member of the ISO who had taken over the bullhorn decided that the highway might be too dangerous of an idea and called a vote. While we take no issue with voting and getting a feel for what the people want, this implementation of the tactic was only used to stall and broadcast a direction to the police, who would either prevent an action or turn the whole thing into a parade with a police escort in the front. We knew the strategy of the APD to be one of low-intensity warfare. They aimed to improve their image among the people in a liberal city by avoiding cracking heads and making arrests and by instead “allowing people to protest safely.” This way they could promote themselves as a tolerant, progressive department and whitewash their crimes past and present.
This strategy, combined with the call for voting and recounting the votes that the ISO did not like, bought plenty of time for the cops to block off a path and keep the march as tame as possible. Eventually, after the third count, the ISO leader decided that the majority vote went to the group wanting to march down 6th Street to the police HQ. Upon arrival, the majority of the crowd again voted to shut down the highway. This time the ISO leader threw the voting out altogether and informed everyone that “we will all be arrested.” The police, much like the ISO, felt the need to come over and voice concerns about our “safety.” At this point Red Guards Austin and supporters pushed for the vote to be honored and demanded we take the highway. This was a turning point where the old liberal left began to decline and the new younger, militant left began emerging. Nonetheless, the ISO managed to kill the energy of that night and lead the demonstration back to the courthouse, and the mood had changed; the high energy of the crowd was no longer present and the march went slowly and quietly back to the courthouse. We were approached by a lot of people who were disillusioned with the “leadership” of the ISO-PTF that night who began showing serious interest in RGA. Our next planning meeting and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM) study group would be standing room only. A radical pole had emerged.
Our planning meeting was on how we as a community could attempt to break with the old ideas and bad leadership of the ISO-PTF. We decided to attend any event and any meeting hosted by either group. We knew that PTF had mass members who were not yet corrupted by the ISO, so we sent supporters into their meeting, which was on the same night as ours. As the PTF met, the ISO leaders used redbaiting tactics and created the idea that communists and anarchists were basically out-of-town agitators bent on making them all unsafe. The same person who asked us to bring the banner publicly denounced us for bringing the banner, a position he has doubled down on since the messages between us had been screen-capped. They had agreed to enlist marshals to protect their next demonstration from the threat posed by the “anarchists and communists.” These marshals, mostly ISO members, were going to be wearing armbands reading “PTF.” When we questioned what qualified them as marshals and what training they had received, we were ignored. Our response was to enlist our growing support and membership base to become anti-marshals by wearing our own red arm bands with the letters “FTP,” PTF backwards, which stood for “fuck the police,” a slogan they had decided would be forbidden at their demonstration. At this demonstration the untrained and overwhelmed PTF marshals were unable to notice or remove a man flying a U.S. flag as well as a swastika arm band. Ironically, it was a Red Guard who seized the offensive racist material and kicked the man out of the demonstration. We were subsequently called “ultra-leftists” by members of the ISO. This time, the demonstration marched from the capitol to the police department, a route they were now comfortable with taking since the police did not mind. Things changed when activists, instead, shut down the access road in front of the police department and the pigs began mobilizing against us. This began as ISO-PTF called for a die-in, but as tensions mounted, the same ISO member, who was also a college professor, got on his bullhorn once more and led the crowd away behind their police escorts. RGA and members of the black community of Austin’s east side were attempting to hold the street. We determined, agreeing with the people who remained, that without the bulk of the crowd—having been abandoned by the ISO—there was no point in standing off with the police.
After this demonstration the contending lines of left and right became clearer and mass members of the PTF began coming to regular RGA MLM study groups. When our supporters who were also PTF members began pushing for a coalition that could better organize against the police, the ISO leadership intervened and stated that there was no way they could work with us because, according to them, we were “Stalinists.”
While this allegation is false and an attempt to mislabel us, we still feel it necessary to make a few points on the matter. Firstly, “Stalinism” is not a real tendency but instead refers to the application of Marxism-Leninism during a specific historical period. The term is often used to mislabel Maoists, who, ourselves included, have many criticisms of the Stalin period and Comrade Stalin himself. This is not the platform or time for laying out a Maoist criticism of Stalin or his time as leader of the Soviet Union, however, considering the source we will say that we take the intended insult as a compliment. It was, after all, Comrade Stalin who led the only socialist country in the world to defeat the strongest fascist threat the world has ever seen, Nazi Germany. If defending the historical contributions of Stalin while criticizing his errors is enough to bar us from a coalition, we should also be grateful that the ISO or their particular tendency has never managed to mislead a revolution, as they would surely have been defeated by whatever enemy they faced—if not by the defects in their theory then due to fact that they refuse to work with others and instead work against them.
At first the ISO attempted to poach our black members, especially one of our leaders, who is a black woman, all while claiming that white skin privilege was a myth and that the social status enjoyed by whites was due to “the hard-earned gains of the labor movement.” At this point the poaching tactic had failed miserably and they degenerated into using classic misogynoir against the same women they tried to recruit by saying that “she is brainwashed by men.” This attitude emerges from the patriarchal tendency to disregard the genuine leadership of women comrades, insisting instead that they have no politics of their own. Pressure mounted from RGA supporters, anarchist comrades, and more militant organizers for black lives, and as a result non-PTF demonstrations began taking place around the holiday break. These included more militant anarchist-led interventions that were able to disrupt rich shopping centers and Whole Foods stores. These actions were supported by RGA, and we took an active role in defending comrades from police harassment. Through this period there were demonstrations weekly, if not more frequently, and the ISO began to slowly be removed from hegemonic control as their commandist, right-opportunist line was further exposed.
The struggle between RGA and the Austin branch of the ISO must not be misunderstood to be sectarian infighting, as some critics would frame it. In all such battles there will emerge a left and right who come into contradiction with one another. The two cannot mutually coexist without struggling to overcome the other. From this struggle, correct political lines emerge. The ISO is a well-funded organization that is centered mostly at and around universities. In Austin they assume a dominant role in many spheres of activism. While our initial attempts were to work with them on issues such as police brutality, any unity proved impossible due in part to their commandism and unwillingness to struggle (that is, to debate as a way of determining the correct line). Their interests were not and are not with the masses of people from oppressed nations but with their own professional activism, which they sought to keep acceptable to the police in order to continue recruiting on campus and generating dues. They are unwilling to become fighting representatives of the people. RGA was met with nothing but attacks from the Austin ISO from the very start, and we hold that this was actually a good thing; the attacks helped us develop real political lines that were capable of serving the people. RGA, on the left, was drawn into contradiction with the rightists of the ISO not by design nor simply due to theoretical differences but due to opposing practice.
2. January Storms
The successive demonstrations organized by anarchists, RGA, and our supporters continued on through the new year. We sought a balance between large mass demonstrations and small lightning-strike demos where fast militant actions could be achieved. Together with anarchists who issued the initial call, we ushered in the new year with a New Year’s Eve demo where a small, committed group took advantage of the lack of police presence at the Travis County Jail. The prisoners’ new year is a sad, defeating time where the holiday takes on grim features. The new year holds the same bars and the same oppressive laws that they suffered from in the year before. The routine process of criminalization means that the majority of those in jail are not committed criminals but rather workers of our own class who have been targeted for being black or brown, or sometimes white and below the poverty line. Since these comrades could not come to a New Year’s Eve party, we brought the party to them. Part of the struggle we wage against police violence must also include targeting mass incarceration. We brought fire, burned flags, and set off fireworks for those locked up. Our chants and explosions echoed off the parking garage, and those kidnapped by the state came to their small windows raising fists in salute! Eventually the police arrived as we were already leaving and due to our masks they could not determine who did what. Frustrated by the fireworks being shot in their direction, they backed down and we all celebrated our New Year’s Eve the only way we know how: in an act of rebellion.
For this action, we were denounced by plenty on the left, both locally and online, for being ultra-leftist. In response we can say only that those making this charge have never had to spend a holiday in the grim confines of the Travis County Jail, and that everything looks ultra-leftist to a right-opportunist. Ultra-leftism is a charge all Maoists face at one time or another, but our practice in this case and others does not fit the criteria. Ultra-leftism is defined by going “too far ahead” of the masses or refusing to unite with all who can be united with. All of our actions had some level of mass participation and support from the beginning—even at modest amounts. We maintained that a communist organization must be oriented towards the people. As far as an unwillingness to unite with others, that charge falls short too, because we enjoyed supportive relationships with very different tendencies, from socialists to anarchists, even Trotskyists and Third-Worldists. We were and have always been willing to struggle for unity around specific issues. To be clear, unity without struggle is unprincipled and a waste of time. We know who our friends are and who our enemies are.
Through struggle sessions and study groups held by RGA we determined to uphold the line that we should continue orienting ourselves toward the masses by drawing from the historical lessons of the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and other groups of the New Communist Movement that had implemented Maoist Serve the People (STP) programs. Additionally, we were intentional in adding that these programs must uphold the lessons of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution by keeping revolutionary politics in command to prevent degenerating into an NGO (non-governmental organization)—that is, into a politically toothless charity nonprofit. These programs must expose the inefficiency of the capitalist system while meeting a real, previously unmet need of the people with a program that has revolutionary content. We began preparing in January with regular STP meetings.
The regularity of demos had decreased but we still maintained our commitment to the struggle in Austin and attended the ones held by other organizations. We were disappointed that in spite of the large turnout for MLK Day, the organizers had invited pig supporters who demand “unity” between the black community and the pigs who were killing them. There was some vague talk of “revolution” from some of the speakers, who eventually just told the diminishing, bored crowd to register to vote. Finally, to no one’s surprise, the organizers let the crowd go to participate in the sanctioned march to the capitol. At least there we were able to get our banner dropped from the top floor.
RGA maintains that no fascist should ever be given a platform and that any and all fascist propaganda should be destroyed and removed. This includes those of the “third position,” who claim that they are neither left nor right but nonetheless promote class collaboration and hyper patriotism. This category describes the libertarian conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and his tabloid, websites, radio shows, and so on.
Austin has been a breeding ground for such right-wing ideas for at least the past 20 years, where over a span of time Austinites saw a lone wingnut with a public access show grow into the multimillion-dollar monster that is InfoWars. Through discussion at mass meetings and study groups, the decision to combat distribution of their magazine was reached. We decided to hold a block party that would serve the dual purposes of removing the fascist material from circulation and at the same time launching our STP program. This block party would also be a donation drive for our upcoming STP free store. Local bands were to play, including revolutionary hip hop duo the Potential Threats.
Revolutionary organizations should seek to serve the people on many fronts. This means making life materially better and sometimes making life more enjoyable. It also means promoting revolutionary proletarian art and culture, creating radical alternatives to apolitical spaces, and bringing the masses into direct contact with the revolutionary organization.
The party was a success, with more than 100 in attendance, and our STP program was launched with the burning of every issue of InfoWars in town. Since then physical distribution of the magazine has stopped. Burning of fascist literature is nothing except a gesture if done by a few isolated communists. It becomes more than a gesture when it involves mass participation, which transforms a hollow gesture into a mass action. The credit, as always, goes to the masses who were no longer willing to tolerate the distribution of such material on their streets and got rid of it in responding to our call. Also we should mention the hard work put in by antifa (anti-fascist) comrades who have been carrying out militant ideological and physical struggles against fascism in the Austin area for more than a decade. Without them our work would not have been possible. While we would not come into direct open confrontation with the InfoWariors or the open right wing for several more months, this event marked the beginning of a larger struggle—both the anti-fascist campaign and the STP program.
We agreed to take small steps in launching the program and to start by doing small pop-up free stores to distribute the goods we had acquired for the people of Austin’s east side. At the first free store, we gave out coats to children of undocumented parents on a cold February day near a local school. This small attempt humbled us before the people who struggle every day in the face of predatory capitalism, being displaced by imperialism only to be pushed out by violent gentrification and its enforcers: the police.
In order to teach the masses, you must first learn from them. To learn from them, you must first be among them. To be among the people is to struggle beside them. Unlike our actions prior to this, we were met with a clearer understanding of what Chairman Mao meant when he coined the term “serve the people.” We saw the necessity of such programs by the way we, as open communists, were received by the people of the east side.
The month of February was filled with activity, such as actions against Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) centers in Karnes County, Texas, where women detainees are raped by guards, and against private, for-profit prisons; actions against anti-choice bigots; and meeting with a delegation of comrades from the Indigenous People’s Liberation Party (IPLP), who came to Austin to meet with us due to our mass work, the role of women leadership in our group, and our revolutionary politics. We were the only radical left group in Austin that met their criteria. We extended solidarity to those comrades in their fight against settler-colonialism, especially in occupied Aztlan. While significant differences exist between our groups, we believe that they can be struggled out in the interests of building a new communist party and uniting around the necessity of revolution that alone will break the U.S. prisonhouse of nations.
International Working Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8, most of the time in the form of “Women’s Day,” a shortened form to fit the agenda of bourgeois and liberal feminists. Although we had an event planned for months to celebrate the historic contributions of revolutionary women comrades, the local women’s center took offense that our event was to be held on the same day. Upon closer inspection, we learned that this NGO, which was promoting a watered-down philosophy masquerading as feminism, was actually funded by corporations, including a private arms manufacturer. Just like their ideology, their practice excludes oppressed-nationality women. By accepting such funding they ultimately sided with imperialism. The inclusion of women at the top of the patriarchy is not feminism since it is at the expense of women who are droned and bombed to death with the weapons produced by their financiers. This experience was one of countless examples that illuminate the fact that women’s liberation can only be achieved through revolutionary war, and that women of the upper classes have an interest in continuing the oppression of proletarian women.
In spite of pressure from those who benefit directly from imperialism as compradors to other women (that is, as treasonous collaborators with the capitalist class), we remained committed to proletarian feminist practice and proceeded with our event, which was held March 8 at MonkeyWrench Books. We held a panel event called “Women Hold Up Half the Sky,” which featured women comrades from various tendencies and organizations who spoke on the lives and contributions of notable women revolutionaries, including Anuradha Ghandy, Assata Shakur, Chiang Ching, Frida Kahlo, Helen Keller, Lucy Parsons, Leila Khaled, and Emma Goldman. The histories of International Working Women’s Day as well as the ongoing participation of women on the front lines of guerrilla struggles in the world today were also discussed. The event was standing room only in spite of rain and traffic. Male comrades took women leadership and were tasked with providing food and refreshments to those in attendance. It is not enough that an event should promote feminism in the form of ideas—it must also put those ideas into practice. The panel was diverse in order to represent various women’s struggles correctly. We heard from black women, working-class white women, trans women, and Palestinian women comrades who all have dedicated their lives to struggling on multiple fronts to combat patriarchy both in capitalist society and within the left. Shortly after this we were invited by the anarchist art collective Underground Sketchbook to give a short talk and show a documentary on the people’s war in the Philippines in solidarity with the CPP, NPA, and NDF.
3. Serving the People
On April 4, we held a large free store on a reclaimed vacant lot on Austin’s east side, where we served more than 100 community members while engaging them in discussions around issues of gentrification and police abuse. We had sought out high-quality work and interview clothing, shoes, work boots, diapers, tampons, children’s clothing, and toys. The event had been heavily publicized on handbills and fliers the week before to ensure mass attendance. We had a large U-Haul truck filled with goods for the community. We made several mistakes regarding the set-up as well as in the distribution of goods. Our first error was in giving anything away before the set time of the free store. The gentrification in Austin is so bad that the community is in dire need of such programs, and due to these conditions we were overwhelmed at the start by large crowds of people whom we were unable to fully engage with. Some indiscriminately grabbed whole racks of clothing to resell. Through an organized effort of our volunteers we were able to reel the whole thing in and managed to bring order to the event, ensuring a more conducive environment to community discussion and an equitable distribution.
Our STP program was dedicated to the principle of “solidarity not charity.” Solidarity cannot mean a vague ideological support. It must mean sharing the same struggle, the same hardship, the same fate. It means being among the masses and struggling to expose the inadequacies of capitalism and linking them to the class struggle. Charity seeks to give from above and creates a victim mentality among the masses. At best, charity can only soften the blows of capitalism while helping capitalism prolong its existence by failing to expose the contradiction between the rich and the poor due to its lack of revolutionary practice. Serving the people does not start or stop at giving out goods and services. It must include arming the masses with the science of revolution, which is at this time only MLM. Politics must be kept in command of all things, including the relationship between the revolutionary organization and the people. All such programs should embody the slogan “from the masses to the masses” and in practice serve to mobilize the community into looking out for each another against the violence of gentrification and the police, drawing up the most committed into the ranks of the revolutionary organization.
Too much of the left sits looking at its own reflection in the lukewarm waters of its past shortcomings, never penetrating the surface to see what is rotting beneath, orienting its statements and activity inward, toward itself, as if the small currently existing left could be the motive force of human history instead of the masses themselves. By breaking away from the practice of caring what the “left” thinks and instead engaging in struggle alongside the people, we found that the masses themselves were far more revolutionary than many of the “communists” we knew. Among these people, we never heard the tired old ideas among the “left” that the police could be reasoned with, that we had to obey laws and seek permits, or that the history of anti-communism in the U.S. meant that we should always hide our true colors. Our primary error was that we were unable to sustain regular free stores of this nature with the resources available to us and instead had to settle for more random pop-up stores happening on short notice, preventing the formation of regular relationships among the masses. We succeeded in creating space among the people and began to establish trust and a favorable opinion that would continue to help us correct our errors and develop politically. The most important lesson of this type of mass work is that the revolutionary organization needs to be where the revolutionary people are: on the streets, in the parks, at bus stops, in community colleges, and so on, and not among the elite and privileged on university campuses or tucked away in safe, middle-class neighborhoods on the west side of the highway. Even failed mass programs offer more to an organization than any amount of lectures, petitions, or book clubs.
Without mass work a supposedly “revolutionary” organization can only look out and see the face of the toothless left staring back at it. It becomes uncritical of itself, arrogant, and worse yet nothing more than intellectual posturing far removed from the specific conditions it exists in and wishes to overthrow. We can fight and lose and learn to fight again, or we can lose ourselves and our revolution by liquidating into book clubs and debate clubs; with the former we have hopes of winning, while with the latter we turn revolution into an intellectual hobby floating above and away from the actual class struggle—rather than a necessity for our survival.
The Mass Line
Without the consistent application of the mass line it is impossible to develop real revolutionary praxis. While MLM is a universal and invincible science, it is worth nothing unless revolutionaries seek to apply it to their specific conditions, which means the application of the mass-line approach to organizing. This means collecting the diverse, unsystematic ideas of the people then condensing them through revolutionary theory and returning them to the people in the form of policy and programs. The people act as the judge, and what fails will be left aside, and the process starts all over again, until our ideas and practice are forged together into a blade capable of penetrating the armor of the most fierce and dangerous enemy the world has ever seen: U.S. imperialism.
In order to complete this first step we have to be among the people and serve the people. Without them, we are nothing. With them, we are unstoppable, with the strength to move mountains and the courage to destroy all existing social relations and replace them with free and equal ones that can only emerge through revolutionary struggle. For those who will embrace the mass line, all will come; the party, the people’s army, and the united front are all fruits of the mass line being applied correctly. This is what we mean by politics in command.
On the choice of illegal free stores, we hold that all the fruits of labor are the property of the people. It is only the laws of the bourgeoisie that restrict access to these fruits. The same is true for spaces in the east side, which are being bought up at an alarming rate while the poor are forced out into the suburbs so that new white, young, wealthy tenants can be brought in. When this process starts, the presence of police in the community escalates and the pigs themselves become an occupying army. On one hand, this is a new type of gentrification that has spread as a model from places like San Francisco and Brooklyn. On the other hand, this is business as usual for a settler-colonial country like the U.S., where the police, who originated as slave catchers and strikebreakers, can continue hunting and killing the people on behalf of the class they serve. The agents of colonialism have long been at work forcibly moving black and brown bodies to create white neighborhoods; the whole country was built on this model. In such conditions we find it would be wrong to ever ask for permission to hold space, just as we refuse to ask for permits to march on our own streets. We aim to take back space with such actions. In the long term, we aim to take all the spaces at gunpoint from the very same pigs that evict us now. We find public parks to be the next best locations to be reclaimed spaces, since in the context of gentrification we lose many parks outright, and the ones that are left we no longer have access to. The act of operating outside the legal system has the added benefit of preventing the degeneration into NGO-like behavior and the right-opportunism that comes with being a nonprofit.
The expression of mass work pushed forward by RGA was taken up by other Maoist organizations across the county, who would launch their own versions, in many ways improving upon our efforts. Most notable among these is Serve the People—Los Angeles (STP-LA), a mass organization launched by RGLA with participation from the East LA Brown Berets as well as radical high school and middle school students. In Boyle Heights, East LA, and Echo Park, STP-LA operate a free grocery program for the people, as well as community BBQs and free stores, all with a clear emphasis on revolution, community-building, and the fight against gentrification.
4. May Day
The fires lit by the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, had been taken up by the people of Baltimore who rose in rebellion over the death of Freddie Gray. The official organizations that had been participating in or organizing around Black Lives Matter (BLM) rallies had once again failed to take charge on organizing anything themselves.
RGA had already planned to organize a small action on May l, International Workers’ Day. It happened that May l was the day that the indictment (or lack thereof) would be announced. Once again we were propelled into action by the need to create space for the expression of the people. RGA formed a coalition consisting of comrades from our mass organization and study group and anarchists whom we had always relied on. It was agreed that we would push for a large militant demonstration with mass participation from the workers of the east side. We understood from prior experience that as anticipation for the event grew we would face the threat of co-option from liberals as well as from the right-opportunists of the ISO. We knew that this must be prevented at all costs. The tactic of the police thus far, as mentioned before, had been attempting to escort marches and tolerating small actions of civil disobedience, which allowed them to create a reputation for themselves as being “good cops.” We agreed that we should work to deny them the ability to create this impression. Through struggle sessions we concluded that there would be no pre-announced route but that instead cadre and volunteers would be tasked with guiding the demonstration in a snakelike pattern through the city, outmaneuvering the pigs and disrupting as many streets as possible. Acts of disruption, resistance, and disobedience were plotted in advance. The ISO-PTF were saying they would be “providing a speaker” for the event even though none of them ever contacted the actual organizers in the May Day Brigade. Once we received the information about their planned co-options, they were informed by RGA leadership that if they attempted to mislead the demonstration they would be silenced and removed but that otherwise their presence was welcomed and encouraged. For a week prior to the event date, we printed hundreds of posters that went up across the city, and volunteers passed out handbills to the people of the community. The majority of organizing was done at the street level instead of on the internet.
The Facebook event page was set up and maintained by representatives of the May Day Brigade. It was agreed upon in advance that the organizers would not publicly engage with liberals who insisted that we hire marshals and request permits. The comments poured in, and doubt tended to focus on the event picture, which was a photograph of young black radicals attacking a police car. The tone was set. The event was honestly promoted for what it was: solidarity with the Baltimore rebellion. Photos were posted to the event page of a banner, which was dropped from an overpass somewhere over I-35 during rush-hour traffic, declaring solidarity with Baltimore and calling for the city to be shut down for Freddie Gray. The people were responding with enthusiasm. The meet-up was to take place at Palm Park, just west of the highway, and the media were already perched trying to find out who the organizers were. We refused to talk to them, but several ISO members posed for the cameras as usual and had a little time to sell their newspapers before we arrived. We showed up after a sizable crowd had already gathered. We then passed out red and black bandanas to the people and explained briefly why activists wear masks, and they were accepted with enthusiasm.
Our group led the demonstration out of the park, frustrating the media’s efforts to secure interviews and forcing them to run backwards in an attempt to photograph the front of the march. This march was clearly of a different tone and posture than any of the ones that came before: young east-siders had come out with the communists and anarchists, and we were pissed. The march started though a gentrified section of downtown, where white, wealthy onlookers peered out of high-rise balconies, with looks of concerned fear on their faces, while more than 200 people joined in chants like “people over property—fuck your democracy,” “one solution—revolution,” “Baltimore, we got your back,” and “fuck their justice, make them pay—that won’t bring back Freddie Gray.” Pigs on mountain bikes attempted to provide police escort and block off streets only to be frustrated by a sudden turn. Wealthy tourist areas were targeted with disruption, 2nd Street was blocked off, and dinner was ruined for several white folks. The march continued in erratic patterns through the city as the sun began to wane.
Austin is known for its large congregation of bats, which come out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge every night during the summer months. These bats, through no fault of their own, attract hordes of predators to that bridge: wealthy, white tourists. These spectators got a show they had not bargained for as hundreds of angry demonstrators took over the bridge. A few of them aimed the occasional racist comment at protesters, which earned them a swift punch in the face from lone demonstrators, who would leave the crowd—at one point knocking two bigots out cold—only to quickly rejoin the ranks. After taking the bridge and shutting it down for the second time this year, comrades circled around with red flags flying and burned the imperialist U.S. flag in front of many astounded and uncomfortable spectators. The burning of the flag was a symbol of black anger and militancy, a clear way of saying that this country is at war with black people and that black lives should matter, as well as a protest against U.S. imperialism overseas and colonialism at home. That butcher’s apron was burned for the crimes committed against the people in its name, for every occupied land that it flies over, and especially for the people rising in rebellion in Ferguson and Baltimore, who also burned it in their acts of protest. The chants after that included “Palestine to Baltimore—we won’t take it anymore.” The connection between imperialism abroad and the prisonhouse of nations at home was being made. The flag-burning had the effect of weeding out most of the liberal participants, leaving a militant core of activists in command of the majority who stayed behind. Before the ISO leadership abandoned the march they found themselves in the back with the same toned-down chants they had been using all year. Most of their leaders left with the liberals and later expressed discomfort about the flag-burning, showing that their concern for an imperialist flag outweighs their commitment to those on the ground.
When Maoists lead, we must do so through the people. We must carefully gauge the level of intensity and engagement among the people, pushing actions that correspond with that level, raising it as we go along, and not going so far ahead as to put people at risk nor tailing so far behind as to dampen the anger of the masses or stifle them into boring, pointless activities. Protesting will not change the world in any way whatsoever, and we are fully aware of this fact. We do not lose ourselves in activism or movements that alone are incapable of taking power; we heed the words of Comrade Gonzalo when he said, “Without power all is illusion.” Demonstrations also follow this general rule and are merely a display of popular support as well as a way to generate a more militant trajectory among the people. In short, protests are demonstrations of how much power we wield together, of how successful our work among the people has been. When we strike it must be with the weight of the people behind us. Whether our strike is small or large, we must always have the people at heart. The demonstration march shut down more downtown streets and then found itself back at the police HQ. This time the demand to take the highway arose again from young black women who came from the east side. They asked for Red Guard support, and we promised it.
A small number of bicycle police had already secured the onramp to I-35, but they quickly found themselves surrounded by masked activists. The woman leading the charge was immediately pepper-sprayed by a nervous and visibly scared pig. Comrades on the ground responded and forced the pigs back. One RGA supporter de-arrested the fallen comrade and helped her to a Red Guard who was prepared and treated the pepper spray. Tensions mounted as the smaller but angrier crowd stood off with the trembling pigs. Kids with masks who came from an eastside neighborhood threw handfuls of gravel into the faces of the pigs in retaliation for the pepper spray attack. RGA and other May Day Brigade comrades held the front line against the police, and the chants turned into “oink oink bang bang” and “racist violence better stop—execute those killer cops.” The tone had changed from protest to resistance. During all this, an offended white person took refuge behind a line of cops, where he felt safe making racist comments, only to have the glasses plucked from his face and broken in half. Eventually police backup arrived and the crowd returned to the park where we started, glad to finally have done something more than protest outside an empty courthouse or a closed police HQ.
The struggle between left and right had culminated in a left victory that night. Afterwards, more supporters came forward from PTF supporting the May Day for Freddie Gray action. The liberal/right-opportunist glass ceiling began to crack. The ISO had lost some of their legitimacy, and their hegemony was broken. It is though the masses that those who tend to dampen revolution will be pushed back and their cheap tricks will be exposed. No amount of debate can accomplish such a task—they simply have to be out-organized. Communists have a responsibility to our class to offer and earn leadership. This was our most successful demonstration to date, and we got to witness some of the stifled energy of the masses being unleashed upon an unsuspecting city. The potential for militant action in Austin has not yet been realized, and with the correct approach much more could be achieved. This was just a modest effort put forward by a small and dedicated coalition.
The media being present turned out to be a double-edged sword, and photos of the flag-burning made the local papers and evening news. Organizing in the U.S. South in any militant way can be dangerous due to the overwhelming amount of white reactionary forces, from paramilitary organizations to the KKK, explicitly targeting communists with a high level of anger and violence. To make matters worse, reactionary conspiracy theorist Alex Jones covered the march in a story and broadcast it across the country in “an impromptu report.” The racist tone of his segment was apparent to any and all but his supporters as he declared “communists lead march against Baltimore police” and referred to the demonstrators as “so-called minorities, Arabs, and Muslims.” Every white supremacist in the greater Austin area began taking notice of the communist specter that was haunting Central Texas.
5. The Clinic Defense
Of all RGA’s actions, our clinic defense action has been the most debated, talked about, and criticized, easily generating the most inquiries from supporters and fellow travelers alike. We hope that this section will suffice to put the most common questions to rest and state our view before the people. First we must go into a few facts that give context to this action.
Reproductive rights have been under attack from the Texas legislature for years, and the issues around reproductive rights have taken on a high-profile character, corresponding to an intense level of struggle. Simply put, the state of Texas has emerged as one of the most reactionary, regressive lawmakers in the country, set to reverse the Supreme Court verdict on abortion access, closing down the majority of clinics in the state. We have all been active for years in the arena of defending access to abortions. We stand firm on our position that abortion should be not only easily available but also free of charge, and that all social stigma faced by those seeking abortions should be combated. It is our position that these laws specifically target the working class and particularly women of color. The large-scale clinic closures force women to travel long distances to receive the same procedure that used to be available nearby. Forcing them to miss even more work and sometimes travel out of state, this disproportionately affects working-class and poor women, while wealthy, upper-class women can easily travel to clean and safe clinics. Those with limited or no resources are ultimately forced to have children they do not want or cannot care for; they are given no options but to endure the trauma of unwanted delivery or to resort to unsafe, sometimes deadly back-alley procedures.
The struggle around reproductive rights is a form of class struggle. Capitalism does not and cannot concern itself with the well-being of children born into economically depressed households. The reactionary rhetoric around “life” is nothing but a raw hatred toward women, as is obvious from the fact that these same bigots favor privatization of everything, welfare cuts, lowering an already low minimum wage, cutting or eliminating low-income housing, and other assorted violence against the poor. These conditions make it difficult to impossible to raise healthy children in a stable environment, creating a growing need for abortion and contraception.
A fetus is not a baby. A baby can survive independently, while a fetus is a part of the body of the woman who bears it and it is hers to do whatever she wants with it. The right’s false concern for fetuses is made clear by the lack of concern for actually existing babies and children, whether it is those they support droning to death in imperialist wars or those at home who go hungry due to welfare cuts or struggle through the school-to-prison pipeline or suffer in hopeless poverty, all while these pigs in suits sit comfortable and well fed in the Texas state capitol.
Planned Parenthood has come under particular attack by the right both in and out of office. Reactionary anti-choice groups have produced and released phony “exposé” scare films and fake evidence. This false “evidence” was enough to convince the state of Texas to launch raids on several Planned Parenthood locations across the state. Here the religious right creates fear, which the government then acts on to restrict even further the diminishing reproductive rights of women in Texas. This is hyper-patriarchal reaction, repression, and harassment, a model that others have already attempted to apply to other states using Texas as a precedent.
These facts make abortion access and reproductive rights particularly important issues for communists to take up. It was these conditions that informed our practice.
“Black Lives Matter”?
As this document has hopefully already made clear, RGA emerged through the struggle for black lives. We were and are active partisans in the movement sometimes referred to as Black Lives Matter, although we do not endorse the official organization using that name. It is important to make the distinction between the organization and the movement, which we will address in later sections. The movement in Austin is where RGA was firmly entrenched and continuing to put in work.
A false Black Lives Matter demonstration was organized by white nationalist-fascist Alex Jones, set to take place outside of a Planned Parenthood. This was worse than just an opportunistic co-option of the name BLM; the whole event was designed to remove the blame from the pigs who murder black people in this country on a daily basis and instead place it squarely on black women who choose to exercise their rights. These reactionary, overwhelmingly white men had announced only two days prior that they would be protesting. Their imagery included pictures of Margaret Sanger with men in Klan hoods as well as, even worse, pictures of dead black babies—not fetuses. Community members as well as our supporters were outraged and started talking immediately with other activists in the movement about organizing a counter-demonstration of some form.
The Day of the Protest
Although Alex Jones, InfoWars, and their supporters placed the blame squarely on RGA and at the time we were willing to take credit, this was not an RGA-planned action and we did not act alone. We came out as individuals on short notice with comrades from other organizations, a few supporters, and some friends. Our plan of action from the start was to focus on the women who are psychologically abused, attacked, and/or berated by this type of anti-clinic protest. We planned to offer our services in escorting them to and from the clinic and defending them from the mob if necessary. We were following the leadership of women comrades who had lots of experience in performing this task before. It is for this reason that we decided not to wear masks as we normally would have.
With such short notice that this attack on the clinic was to take place, we were unable to mobilize our support base or to organize a public counter-event. With women comrades taking leadership on the one hand but only a few of our cadre present on the other hand, we committed to defend the clinic as best we could. We were able to secure some support from antifa comrades who had prior experience confronting Alex Jones. These comrades had volunteered to blend in with the reactionary crowd and be our security, unbeknownst to the fascists themselves. Our primary error in regard to the clinic defense was our failure to reach out to the comrades and supporters in the mass organization and seek their participation and support. In retrospect, we see the severity of this mistake and have self-criticized before the comrades in question. This is the only instance where charges of ultra-leftism against us are at all valid.
Our numbers all in all stood at less than 10—the right, in contrast, had mustered nearly 50 reactionaries, who varied from war vets, churchgoers, neo-Nazi boneheads, off-duty police, to libertarian-fascist conspiracy theorists. In spite of our calling the clinic in advance, the security guard—who later turned out to himself be a supporter of Alex Jones and InfoWars—refused to allow us access to serve as escorts. According to this rent-a-pig, no one was to go in or out of the building while the “protest” was taking place. This in turn forced us to change our tactics. If we were to be unable to serve the people by shielding patients from the mob, we would instead black out and obscure the racist, anti-woman hate speech displayed on their signs and banners. To do this we used large tarps of roofing material taken on short notice from a nearby construction site. We had agreed that when this tactic wore out we would attempt to disrupt, frustrate, and shut down the efforts of the fascists.
The people should never have to be subject to racist propaganda, and there are no exceptions to this rule. There can be no free speech whatsoever for fascists or other racists. This stance is a matter of community self-defense. In practice it means ideologically and physically confronting fascism wherever it arises. As in the game whack-a-mole, whenever they poke their heads up we must be there, never hesitating to bash them back down, preferably with the biggest hammer possible. The tactic of obscuring their messages was successful to a degree for some time. It would have been even more successful if we had secured larger numbers.
This type of counter-demonstration against the right is considerably different from the typical liberal- or left-led march. It involves being up close to some of the most vile and bigoted pigs, who will always do and say the worst things, with full immunity from their cousin pigs in uniform. These reactionaries put special energy into tormenting and harassing women comrades—from hurling vile and sexist epithets to rape threats to physical aggressions and sexual harassment. All comrades on the ground looked out for one another and would physically defend one another when physical transgressions were made. One of the undercover comrades had to break cover and leave in one instance where the situation called for booting one reactionary into the highway. At other times comrades had to put their bodies between the women comrades who were targeted and the reactionary creeps who targeted them. We all knew what was possibly in store and were prepared to put ourselves at risk due to the specific importance of defending this clinic. This went on for the better part of two and a half hours. At many points reactionaries would lash out furiously when we totally blocked their propaganda from being seen by oncoming traffic. The tactic began to tire due to our small numbers and the escalating need to stay close to one another as the physical threats grew.
Our numbers increased with the arrival of a few other supporters of women’s rights, but still we by no means matched the increasing number of reactionaries. Alex Jones arrived late to his own demo complete with an entourage of camera operators, personal security, and sound people. His personal security was plain-clothed and particularly aggressive, including the head of security, who was a former marine. The decision was made to disrupt his “news” show by taking up a position between him and his cameras; we linked arms to prevent being isolated in the crowd and proceeded forward, when a miniature riot erupted.
Some of the criticism and attacks we have received from the left are foolishly based off of the propaganda produced by Alex Jones and InfoWars, all of which leave out one crucial fact: we responded to being attacked and did not initiate any violence ourselves. While we were linked arm-in-arm, one of us was grabbed around the throat and choked by none other than Jones’s head of security. Another comrade was quick to respond: she wasted no time in grabbing the man, who was twice her size, throwing him headfirst into an iron fence. Several of us had already been shoved, punched, or pushed by reactionaries at that point—so we fought back. In the midst of these conditions one supporter (who was never a member of RGA) took the opportunity to rush Jones and take his microphone. The first attempt by this comrade failed, but he was successful on his second attempt, combining his snatch-and-grab with a quick jab to head reactionary Alex Jones, taking and breaking his microphone while fighting off multiple assailants in the process (we have since heard that Jones sold the microphone cable for hundreds of dollars). Away from the cameras, a chase ensued, and this comrade was tackled by multiple reactionaries, and other comrades had to physically remove them. In this struggle a few RGA cadre were detained by uniformed pigs. The pigs had them detained for about half an hour but were unable to capture the only comrade who could possibly have faced charges. After the pigs failed to obtain any worthwhile evidence they were forced to release the detained comrades. In spite of all of Jones’s bravado on camera, when he was faced by those he had threatened multiple times, the first thing he did was cry for the police. Jones and his editors manipulated every bit of footage they had acquired to skew events to their liking, spreading them into at least four different broadcasts. The pigs ordered the detained comrades to leave upon threat of arrest, having them walk back through the mob. This separated our ranks. The two comrades who were forced to leave were followed closely by a group of fascists for almost a mile. This group was composed of a few ex-military-type wingnuts, the cameraman and writer for Alex Jones, and a few neo-Nazi boneheads. When another comrade drove her car to pick up the two who were separated it was the cameraman who acquired her license plate number, and in short time Jones and his supporters would publicly post her personal information, including her name, home address, place of employment, and so on in a form of harassment known as doxxing. While we all made it out safely, for the most part unscathed and without arrest, the reactionaries busied themselves spamming our online pages with racist, sexist, homophobic, and nationalist filth, including threats of personal violence.
The Right in Austin
Threats had already started to come in since the May Day action. “White lives matter” and “stop white genocide” fliers had already been found taped above our May Day posters in Austin’s southeast side. Much information about the growth of white reaction can be found in the timely article “All Lives Matter: White Reaction in Austin, TX.” This environment, combined with prompting by Alex Jones and his false narrative as well as his doxxing of our members, brought several of us under threat of attack. These threats from right-wingers came both directly and indirectly to members and supporters of the organization.
In the U.S. South, all militant organizers are faced with some level of threat from the right, one of the most clear-cut examples being the Greensboro Massacre, where the KKK murdered members of the Communist Workers’ Party and got away with it despite the murders being caught on camera. Today the tradition of activists being threatened by right-wing terrorists continues, as the whole country watches the KKK maraud around making threats at Missouri State University, making our point clear that not even campus radicals are safe from attack.
We must make our position on this clear, and, furthermore, we believe, this position should be taken up by other comrades in the revolutionary left as a general line: we will not stand for another Greensboro Massacre! If we are to come under attack from the right, we have the right and the responsibility to fight back! If we are to face martyrdom, let us make a brave and firm stand, and let us be as prepared as possible in this battle. Self-defense is an area most of the left still struggles to grasp, partially due to the current left’s inward-facing orientation, which mires it in intellectualism and posturing, and partially due to its related tendency to tuck itself away onto university campuses—but also due to right-wing domination of several key areas where resources for defense are made available, such as gun shows and so on. These habits and conditions must be challenged and obstacles must be removed or bypassed.
The right is well armed, well funded, has discipline and sometimes combat experience, and is aligned with the interests of the state itself and is given immunity as a result—in conditions such as these, the left simply cannot afford to ignore the question of armed self-defense, nor can we put it off with the right-opportunist line that “conditions are not right to begin training” or fall into the foolish idealism of thinking that since we operate aboveground and within the law then we are somehow safe.
We also must express that the best self-defense comes in the form of correct politics and a corresponding political line. The best self-defense is our strong principles that we must never stray from as communists. The biggest danger to the organization and those within it will usually come not from the outside but from within: without discipline, more often than not self-defense will turn into its opposite—adventurism. With this understanding, individuals within the organization who had come under direct threat of violence took it upon themselves to arm. This was not a collective decision or put to a vote that could turn into a policy; however, the comrades who armed were ideologically supported by all RGA comrades. Lack of training and experience made reaching a collective decision improbable, but those with working knowledge of firearms and past experience in using them made sure to be fully prepared in the event of an attack, and they were committed to defending themselves and other comrades to the finish from any attempt on our lives or well-being. It should also be mentioned that Texas has fairly relaxed gun laws and has not passed an assault weapons ban, as some states have. Since other states with less-relaxed laws can make conditions very different we encourage comrades in such states to figure out how to best defend themselves. Self-defense is not a revolutionary act in and of itself since we cannot bring about class power from individual gun barrels. To take class power we must mobilize the masses and arm them with the science of revolution, taking power through protracted people’s war. We make clear distinctions between this scenario and self-defense.
After we were doxxed and tensions mounted, our MLM study groups were moved from place to place, week to week, never happening in the same location two times in a row and being invite-only events. Several of us also switched houses, taking every security precaution within reason to prevent any scenario in which comrades would be forced to use arms in defending the organization. We understand fully that the state and its laws are the administrative wing of the class enemy and do not exist to serve us or our class, the proletariat. On the other hand the state will most often stand to protect the right wing and fascists, whom it seeks to use to its advantage in its ongoing efforts to suppress communism. Therefore even following the laws to the letter and exercising our legal rights is not going to offer us any legal security when it comes to defending ourselves in court. We simply have no faith in the system that we seek to one day destroy.
Throughout the end of May and most of June these were the conditions we had to operate under. This however did not prevent us from continuing our regular work. In the latter part of May we wrote and issued a statement of solidarity with Comrade Ajith, an ideological guide and leader of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned party. Ajith was captured by the Hindu fascist government after himself being forced underground. We were the first U.S. Maoist organization to issue such a statement, and it has since been translated into Farsi and published abroad. After May Day we issued a media blackout and denied many requests to be interviewed on both the radio and internet. We were also the first organization to widely and publicly share the information of Eric Casebolt, a pig in McKinney, Texas, who was caught on camera assaulting and abusing a young black girl at a pool party. In our experience, external repression of the sort we faced can be used to temper and strengthen the revolutionary organization. In short, Comrade Mao was correct in saying that to be attacked by the enemy is a good thing.
6. Fourth of July: RATPAC Party and Sexual Violence within Revolutionary Spaces
RGA was asked to volunteer as security for the “Fuck the Fourth” event being put on by the Revolutionary Alliance of Trans People against Capitalism (RATPAC) and we were glad to participate. For the most part the evening was a success and only a few people were asked to leave. It was after the fact that a video was brought to our attention that had unintentionally captured a sexual assault. Our full statement on the matter is available here. We fully stand by our decision to handle things as we did and feel our original statement is sufficient in explaining this position. Gendered violence is commonplace in all spheres of U.S. society and the left is sadly no exception. We hope that our response serves as the start of something and not the end of it. In taking such action and issuing the statement, we hope other comrades will treat future incidents similarly and take a hard line on gendered violence to begin rectifying the abysmal and reactionary way that these issues have been swept under the rug in the past. Unfortunately, we as a movement lack the basic requirements for rectifying predatory individuals, who are far too common among the people, and so these individuals must be barred from any and all revolutionary and progressive spaces. When it comes to the task of uniting the advanced, bringing up the intermediate, and isolating the backwards, these individuals simply cannot be considered the advanced.
Upon our release of the statement, the assailant’s supporters rushed to defend him, automatically assuming his innocence. This is a common occurrence and one that we cannot allow to take root in our thinking as revolutionary communists. We must hold ourselves to such principles as that we can distinguish between friends and enemies, and that we are able to fully investigate such a situation before issuing a position or taking an action. We must always take the victim’s word and through the facts seek truth. In this process we must be transparent about what we are doing. When an investigation is taking place we must never pretend that nothing has happened. Other organizations have made the error of handling all these matters in secret and in doing so have protected the assailant and not the victim or potential victims. Meanwhile, some revisionists have taken the approach of harboring offenders in their own ranks and silencing any and all questions on the matter. Such organizations can never emerge as a vanguard, and their vile practice helps serve reaction—these cowards are unworthy of the title communist; they should be exposed, repudiated, and denounced. Let us instead offer brave spaces, where victims are protected and those who have assaulted them must hide in fear. Let us earn the title of communist by upholding the banner of proletarian feminism and fighting for women’s liberation under that banner!
7. Line Struggle in BLM: Black Lives Matter? Or Black Liberation Movement!
RGA has criticized the official Black Lives Matter organization in Austin (BLM-Austin) for several things that bear mentioning in this document. First, the “organization” started as a Facebook account run by one person, who dishonestly pretended to be an organization. Eventually this was rectified, and we are glad that there is now more than one voice behind BLM-Austin. Second, this founding individual has engaged in snitching to the media by alleging that our comrades from the 1312 Project are or were engaged in illegal activity, which is simply untrue. This individual has also had multiple sit-downs with the police chief and has collaborated with them, all while refusing to work with black radicals. Third, BLM-Austin has used misogyny against black women comrades, both RGA members and supporters. Fourth, BLM-Austin has posted anti-abortion propaganda—which is anti-woman—on their site, which is disgraceful to the movement.
BLM as a countrywide organization has engaged in plenty of opportunism and has sold out the struggle. Petty-bourgeois professional activists who see this struggle as “street art” have all but killed the movement and mutated the energy around the Ferguson and Baltimore rebellions into corrupt and toothless organizations that tail the Democratic Party. We see this as a form of movementism, and this is only one problem among many, illustrating the need for revolutionary leadership through the masses of people. For this leadership to be truly revolutionary it must also be the leadership of a communist party—the party of the proletariat, which is the only class who can lead the revolution. We still stand resolute with the cause of black liberation and uphold the historic and inspirational efforts of the rebels in both Ferguson and Baltimore—who rather than sitting with the police or running for office instead torched police cars and shut the cities down, grabbing the whole country’s attention. It was these efforts that the petty-bourgeois “leaders” of BLM have capitalized on and in doing so have made a brand name for themselves.
We have compiled the preceding sections of this document to lay bare our work, as we hope some of it can benefit other organizations, whether in lessons from our errors and faults or from our modest victories. This should serve as our official take on the organization from the beginning to now. This statement comes a little late, as the organization has been on official hiatus for several months while we determined which course we would take in regard to the life of the organization. During this period we made no official statement, and this silence has been used by opportunists who emerged to offer suggestions on “what went wrong.” None of these opportunists have bothered contacting us to ask what was going on and instead strung together their wild imaginings and suspicions into some interesting but false scenarios. However, as Mao said, no investigation, no right to speak.
In our experience, external repression and hardship only strengthen a revolutionary organization, while internal contradictions hold a more serious danger and should be handled carefully. This is true for individuals engaged in work with such organizations as well. Although we have all experienced revolutionary fatigue from the high level of struggle we engaged in, that was not a deciding factor determining our hiatus. Periods of low-level struggle can be just as difficult to navigate and can cause demoralization and feelings of defeat, which if not guarded against can create disunity. All radical organizations face these conditions and we are no different. There is no truth whatsoever to the lie that we “collapsed” due to “ultra-leftism.” These are rumors used by those who know nothing, most usually only to justify their own inactivity or to push their own right-opportunist lines. In reality RGA had managed to push back the suffocating weight of liberal hegemony and fight to employ more militant and diverse tactics and was successful to a degree, where other radical organizations had failed in the same effort. While other rumors are not specifically worth mentioning, we should first clarify a couple of points: First, RGA has not collapsed, disbanded, or quit in any sense of the word. We entered a three-month period of hiatus, in which time we formulated a strategy of reformation. Part of this included sending leadership to Los Angeles (among other reasons) to gain knowledge by working with more experienced comrades there, in the interests of returning to our work in Texas. Second, there have been no ruptures, splits, or major political disagreements among members, nor have any of our members been “kicked out.” Some members who were in need of time off to better their political work have been granted that and are still active revolutionary communists. Other members who have moved from Austin remain committed to the project and continue assisting comrades in their new locations.
Reformation includes bringing in new members, whose energy and enthusiasm have been essential in continuing the work we do. It means advancing these comrades ideologically and practically so that they can assume greater responsibility and leadership roles. It means having patience and taking time outside of the public eye as well as undertaking disciplined work in place of some of our more bold street actions like those discussed in this document. This reformation also means breaking with some old ideas, individuals, and organizations we had associated with in the past that proved detrimental in one sense or another in favor of establishing better unity with the most radical and militant formations and individuals in the Austin left. It means uniting with all those who can be united with in real practice, not just on paper, and breaking with all those who favor empty ideological similarities while avoiding struggle and participation in community projects. From this we hope to see the emergence of a vibrant, diverse, and even more militant movement in Austin, one that can outgrow fully the stale and sometimes backwards thinking of those who tried to dominate our collective struggles, forcing us to tail behind the tamest section of the movement. These phony leaders have been so discredited in the eyes of the people that even in our hiatus period they were not able to fill any of the vacuums we may have left.
We look forward to another year of struggle, to doing our part in the community and in the streets, one in which the level of intensity escalates into even higher stages, stages where the rightist and tailist voices of phony leaders are drowned out by the loud chorus of the rebellious masses and the revolutionary leadership that emerges to guide them!
On Objective Conditions
Austin is a transient city. As a college town, it historically has a large revolving door of students, who tend to leave upon graduation. Gentrification also has the effect of forcing inner-city working-class people, especially those from oppressed nations, to migrate to the suburbs, and they are replaced with whites from the upper classes. These two conditions come together to make organizing in an environment of stifling liberalism all the more difficult. On top of that, due to the massive increase in population, lots of people do not have shared history as a community and tend to individualize issues facing the community. Austin is a party town, where most “activists” spend their time talking drunk politics at bars. This is not conducive to serious political work, and the culture around it has had a very detrimental effect on every activist group in Austin’s left. Austin is seen as a “liberal oasis” in a conservative state. This in reality only means that it is a culturally petty-bourgeois town, where most working-class jobs are service industry and have a high turnover rate, making the population of workers even less stable. The rapid gentrification of the east side has made rents unmanageable and many parts of it undesirable to organize, since it is now mostly white petty-bourgeois, with only a few remaining neighborhoods near the center of the city that maintain a real proletarian composition. These few places are beset on all sides by the violent march of real estate, and developers sit like vultures waiting to bring in their unaffordable housing and exclusive (white) cafes and bars. These neighborhoods are key sites of struggle, where the workers find themselves cornered and forced to either fight or move.
It is conditions such as these that have forced us to reconsider a few points. First, we must make a clean break with UT campus organizers, who by their own class interests are part of the problems that Austin workers face. We must also work against the cultural norms of Austin’s left, whose center of gravity is usually based around the bars and clubs they frequent. We must address the role this plays within the activist community and seek to provide alternatives. Second, in order to establish a firm base among the most heavily affected sections of our class, the existing neighborhoods that maintain a proletarian character must be prioritized, and we must retreat from areas where the urban removal projects have taken over. Our strategy on both points should address the cultural and economic conditions at play and seriously develop a new pole of militant activism.
On Subjective Conditions
We hope that this document will at least put some questions or persistent lies to rest. After periods of intense struggle there usually follows a low period where many supporters and participants get back to “life as usual” and no longer fill the streets. This is something that happens in Austin like clockwork and thus it affects organizers and their ability to replace themselves. Internal contradictions and crisis striking at a low point in our struggle combined with the fact that RGA has always been a small organization has made the process of recruiting and developing ideologically advanced Maoists a fairly difficult aspect of our work. The decision to take a hiatus came about due to very active members being forced to take jobs in their fields outside of Austin as well as a biking accident and family crisis affecting others’ ability to organize at full strength. One of our major errors was the failure to have mass members and supporters ready to immediately continue our work in this condition. It was determined best to take a step back. During this time our cadre on the ground in Austin continued their work with others and the process of reformation began taking place. Marxism holds that gradual, imperceptible, accumulative changes over time result in great ruptures or visible, qualitative changes, and this is true for all things in both nature and society. On the one hand, we ran ourselves to exhaustion, but on the other hand, in the process, something new emerged. This new thing is a stronger collective tested against high and low tides, violent threats, and opportunism. We hold that it is only through participation in struggle that one can call oneself a communist and that any intellectual claim on the word is devoid of its most crucial aspect: the class struggle. As we have entered our second year and taken the time off needed to replace lost members and re-accumulate our own strength, we stand committed and ready to fight. It is the responsibility of any revolutionary to prepare the masses for their own roles in the revolution, making ourselves replaceable. There is no greater act of love than picking up the rifle of a fallen comrade and continuing their battle, and this is the relationship between the revolutionary and the masses.
We all agree that the primary task for revolutionaries in the U.S. is to build the party, through mass work and the application of the mass line. We know that the only party capable of overthrowing the existing order would by necessity have to emerge as a vanguard through the people and their struggles, and that this party would have to be guided by the science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and take power via revolutionary violence, applying the universal truths of protracted people’s war to the specific conditions of the United States. We are committed to this understanding and continue to struggle for these goals. We seek to struggle for unity with all progressive elements of society and in particular to unite fully with all genuine Maoists. In Austin we seek to apply MLM and grow in the process. It is our goal to see Red Guard units pop up everywhere, in every major city and small town, so that these units can struggle and unite to work toward the formation of a new, real revolutionary party in this country.
Always towards revolution! Build up the Red Guards!
—Red Guards Austin, February 17, 2016