by Paul Street
This article by Paul Street, historian and author, originally appeared at Counterpunch.org, August 1.
There’s nothing new in United States history about the slanderous demonization of those who step up and fight to make a better world from the bottom up. From at least the Molly Maguires (1870s) and the Haymarket Martyrs (1880s) through the rise of the House Un-American Activities in the late 1930s, the 1950s McCarthy terror, and the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO war on Black and New Left leaders during the 1960s and 1970s to Donald Trump’s description of George Floyd protesters as “radical Left terrorists who want to destroy our country,” those who lead the struggle for progress have long been subject to smears that encourage and justify repression.
Libelous Red Baiting and “Cult”-Charging
Still, it’s bracing and a little bizarre in 2022 to see an anti-Communist jihad launched from “the left” (see below) against an organization that has been fighting to defend something commonly identified with mainstream liberalism: the right to an abortion.
I am referring to recent attacks directed at Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights (RU4AR), the organization that has led the struggle against the Christian Fascist war on women’s right to control their own reproductive lives. Each of the charges made against the organization is false and libelous, including preposterous and baseless claims of financial corruption, anti-transgenderism, anti-gayness, indifference to the need for abortion services, and indifference to the plight of people caught up in the horror of prostitution (what some liberal progressives offensively call “sex work”).
None of the false claims made against RU4AR is more provocative and chilling than the claim that it is nothing more than a “front group” for the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which is in turn described as “a cult” under the spell of Bob Avakian.
The “evidence” for this accusation consists of the facts that one of the group’s three co-founders, Sunsara Taylor, is an open RCP leader and Avakian follower, and that RCP members (“revcoms”) have been visible and vocal at RU4AR rallies.
The “communist front” claim is a ridiculous insult to Taylor, who makes no effort to hide her politics. It is an even bigger affront to RU4AR’s other two esteemed feminist founders, neither of whom are revolutionary communists and both of whom are capable of picking movement allies with eyes open: the legendary founder of Choices Women’s Medical Center Merle Hoffman and Lori Sokol, the executive director of Women’s e-News.
The red and cult-baiting is unjustly offensive also to the tens of thousands of concerned and active citizens who have taken up RU4AR’s calls for mass action and civil disobedience because the calls match their sense of what is required in the battle against the female enslavement that is forced motherhood.
Is it really surprising and problematic that revcoms have followed Taylor into RU4AR? Consistent with Avakian’s writing and speaking over decades, the RCP has long and correctly placed the struggle against patriarchy (along with the struggles against white supremacy and against Christian fundamentalism) at the center of its fight for socialist revolution. It would be bizarre if revcoms had not rightly taken up RU4AR’s fight for abortion rights.
The “cult” charge is rooted in a slanderous identification of leadership with slavish devotion to a single individual. Do RU4AR’s “left” haters think JPMorgan Chase is a “Jamie Dimon cult?”? Do they honestly believe that RCP members would continue to follow Avakian if he became a Christian nationalist, a Marine Le Pen supporter, a climate denier, and/or a Rastafarian who claims that covid vaccines are “the work of the devil”? (One can agree or disagree with Avakian’s politics and theories, but anyone who has had any serious contact with the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist RCP knows that the “cult” charge is ridiculous and contrary to Avakian’s consistent call for people to study, organize, and unite broadly across sectarian and ideological lines.)
What “Socialist Feminists” and Other “Grassroots Repros” Did the Day After Roe Fell
Perhaps the most curious and telling thing about the attack is that it has come initially and mainly from “the left.” The lead red-baiting anti-communist attackers have been the liberal and progressive journals Jezebel and The Intercept, and 23 “grassroots repro” groups led by the self-described “intersectional socialist-feminist collective” New York City for Abortion Rights (NYC4AR).
Here’s something to reflect upon: one day after the US Supreme Court tore up women’s constitutional right to an abortion in the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, NYC4AR didn’t produce and disseminate a critique of the decision and a call for mass resistance. No, it put up and spread an elaborate Instagram post making all the ridiculous and baseless charges mentioned above. It called for the shutting down of RU4AR, the one group that has called people into the streets to demand legal abortion nationwide for the last eight months, going back to when the Supreme Court first heard oral arguments on Dobbs.
That’s how NYC“4AR” responded to the undoing of Roe v. Wade.
Here are the names of the groups that signed NYC“4AR”’s hate post, issued one day after Dobbs: Reproductive Justice Collective; United Against Racism & Fascism (NYC); Fund Abortion Not Police; Feminist Collages (NYC); Shout Your Abortion; Washington Square Park Mutual Aid; Buckle Bunnies (Texas); Mujeres en Resistencia (NY/NJ); Abortion Access Front; Reproductive Freedom Fund (NH); The Jane Fund (Massachusetts); Reproductive Rights Coalition (Charlotte, NC); Tigers for Choice (Texas); Chicago Abortion Fund; National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund; SWOP Brooklyn; Brooklyn People’s March; Forward Midwifery; SMAbortionActivists; New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; Women’s Information Network of NYC (WIN-NYC); Chicago Democratic Socialists of America Socialist Feminist Working Group.
Think about that: Roe is reversed and one day later, 23 “grassroot repro” groups (many backed by corporate-bankrolled corporations and financial institutions), including a part of the Chicago DSA chapter, are seen with their names affixed to a COINTELPRO-like assault on the group that led a six-month nationwide protest campaign under the slogan “Post-Roe, Hell No!”- an assault issued by a group that actually calls itself a “socialist-feminist collective.”
What did you do the day after Roe fell, dear reader? RU4AR members led rallies outside the Court chanting “This decision must not stand, legal abortion across the land!” Literally from the minute the ruling came down, they called for its reversal and for the Biden administration and Congress to use their powers to make abortion legal and available in every state in the country.
How “communist cult” of them!
The Instagram attack, trolling RU4AR across the Internet (through the dark magic of hashtags) like white on rice, is surely one of the most sordid episodes in the history of what passes for “the left” in the 21st Century USA. It’s called doing the work of the right from “the portside.”
Other takers have included the sensationalist pop-cultural Daily Beast and the masculinist “guy culture” zine MEL Magazine, which proudly includes a bold section on “Dicks.”
Undeterred by alliance with the far right, the “left” red-baiting and “cult”-shaming of RU4AR has more recently been disseminated by the “socialist Twitch streamer” and “progressive Democrat” Hasan Piker, who recently repeated the vicious and moronic claim that RU4AR is an “anti-trans hate group.”
How COINTELPRO: fomenting progressive division and ratting out revolutionaries and radicals, setting them up for repression from fascists within and beyond the state.
On the Eve of Fascist Consolidation
This attack is especially reckless and insidious because of the historical moment in which it is taking place. As RU4AR has insisted throughout, the Dobbs decision is a leading judicial battering ram in a many-sided fascist offensive meant to eviscerate what’s left of bourgeois democracy and rule of law in the U.S. The “left” smear campaign against RU4AR comes amidst the most egregious systemic attack on US democracy since the Civil War. This is unprecedently perilous moment, with the liberal and moderate center unable to hold. Republifascists are marching forward across “red” America and preparing to seize triple-branch national power over the next two and a half years. The country is saturated with assault rifles and other lethal firearms, dangerously concentrated in the hands of a determined and paranoid right-wing. Attacks like the ones recently launched on RU4AR play into the repressive hand of the state and the right. They put lives at risk
This is how liberal and “left” outlets, groups, and individuals like “socialist-feminist” NYC4AR, the 23 “repro” groups, the Chicago DSA Socialist Feminist Working Group, Jezebel, the Intercept, and Hasan Piker spend their energies in this moment? Seriously?
Which brings me to the money question: WHY? What on Earth would compel liberal and “left” writers and “activists” to launch an anti-Communist jihad against an organization that has been fighting fiercely to defend and expand abortion rights?
There are ten basic reasons:
+1. Ideological, organizational, financial, and political commitment to insider strategies of elite lobbying and major party electioneering: the very same failed, top-down approaches that RU4AR rightly denounces as insufficient and inadequate, indeed as complicity. Beneath this commitment lay longstanding professional and liberal class fears and distrust of the masses and the financial umbilical cord linking many “repro” and “choice” NGOs to corporate-captive foundations that are tied into the neoliberal corporate and imperialist Democratic Party – that is, to the vaguely liberal wing of the ruling class, which has no interest in RU4AR’s mission of sparking masses to march to disrupt business (rule) as usual in the streets and public squares. As a leading Chicago RU4AR activist tells me, “Our ‘left’ attackers’ commitment to a status quo that is going over to counter-revolution” means “going after those who would dare to stand up to the status quo (Rise Up) and even call for its overthrow (Revcoms).”
+2. Fury at being called out for their advance surrender to the reversal of Roe v. Wade. As the Chicago activist told me last week: “Their thesis was ‘We can’t organize to stop SCOTUS from doing whatever it’s going to do, we can only rely on the Democrats.’ Rise Up had a very different narrative:
‘We won abortion rights by mass struggle, that’s what will shake the powers-that-be into stepping back from their woman-hating assault. Raise questions about the legitimacy of their institutions!’ Rise Up PUT THE LIE to the mainstream choice and ‘repro’ groups’ whole narrative. It was on the ground organizing tens of thousands to try to save Roe from the start, beginning last January.”
Indeed. Had the “left” pro-choice groups joined RU4AR, they might well have helped rescue Roe or at least significantly limited the damage.
+3. Jealousy. RU4AR has challenged the “choice” establishment’s appeasement with great talent and élan. Thanks in no small part to the skills and experience of its revcom-affiliated volunteers, RU4AR knew and knows how to organize and stage powerful, attention-grabbing actions and rallies. It demonstrated these abilities in militant fashion, shaming by both word and deed those “abortion activists” who chose submission, passivity, and cynical electoral politics and fundraising over serious resistance in the half-year leading up to Roe’s reversal.
+4. Turf protection: fear of losing membership and contribution ground to a new, militant and attention-grabbing organization that rightly undertook provocative direct actions along with dedicated popular recruitment to mobilize mass popular opposition to the emergence of the post-Roe era now upon us.
+5. Click-bait: salacious conspiracy-mongering attracts eyeballs and subscribers. Charging RU4AR with “hijacking” a legitimate liberal cause in service to a mysterious “communist cult” is a bright shiny object, irresistible to some writers and editors even or especially at some “left” outlets.
+6. Historical and experiential ignorance. Perhaps this is too kind (it probably is), but the McCarthy era and COINTELPRO are distant memories for most people younger than 70. It strikes me as possible that some if not many of RU4AR’s haters have little to no idea that they are walking in some very ugly historical grooves by engaging in an anti-communist witch hunt. Not to overdo the “forgive them for they know not what they do” line, but they have likely also had relatively little if any exposure to serious Marxist-Leninist thinkers and activists like Avakian, Taylor, and the revcoms, something that makes them prone to paranoid-style narratives on “communists under your bed.”
+7. Failure to grasp the dire historical moment. The “grassroots abortion activists” and “democratic socialists” attacking RU4AR do not understand and in some cases deprecate RU4AR and the RCP’s observation that we are now facing a fascist section of the ruling class that is growing and poised to come back into power with literal vengeance. This fascism-denial and indifference is part of why they see no problem in recklessly joining the right (e.g., the Daily Caller and Law Enforcement Times) in denouncing communists within the abortion rights movement.
+8. Fake-“socialist” inability to grasp the necessity of revolution. RCPers within and outside RU4AR consistently and (in this writer’s carefully considered opinion) rightly call out “democratic socialists’” pitifully tame commitment to incremental and economistic reformism – and their refusal to break with the underlying system and parties of capitalism-imperialism. It’s questionable whether RU4AR’s “socialist” haters even grasp the critique. As the aforementioned Rise Up activist tells me: “DSA is so settled into the imperialist U.S. status quo and so mired in the ‘fight for more’ of the spoils of empire that they can’t see any need for let alone possibility of an actual revolution. (I’m not sure they care or know of let alone understand RCP’s and Avakian’s critique of social democracy.) They’re too busy being ‘realistic’ and that’s their stance toward the loss of Roe: they’re being ‘realistic’ and Rise Up is just ‘showboating,’ they think. And now their non- or anti-revolutionary position has gone over to active counter-revolution.”
+9. Sleepy “woke” uber-identitarianism: the utterly false claim that RU4AR is anti-transgender is intimately related to the preposterous notion that one “excludes” transgender people (who account for a tiny percentage of pregnancies) when one makes the obviously correct observation that the Christian fascist war on abortion rights is fundamentally a patriarchal campaign to deepen the oppression and control of women and girls. It’s another example of “oppression Olympics,” a noxious spin on bourgeois identity politics claiming that “trans men are more oppressed than women and girls so that’s who we have to center our politics on.”
+10. Desire to appropriate RU4AR’s tactics and absorb them into the dismal Dems’ top-down insider strategy. Some mainstream “choice” forces are now, post-Roe, deploying the green bandana, the Latin American abortion rights symbol popularized in the USA by RU4AR. They are also getting arrested outside the Supreme Court, as did RU4AR activists before the Dobbs decision. The mainstream trick here is to take these effective tactics without admitting that they were pioneered by a militant organization that included – what horror! – communist activists and a communist co-founder (Sunsara Taylor). The establishment NGO groups now wearing green and engaging in civil disobedience are trying to deceptively attach their approach of “there’s nothing we can do, vote blue no matter who” to a symbol of real resistance. They are trying to cover up the capitulation of the Democratic Party to this fascist assault on the basic civil and human rights of women and girls.
Such is the grotesque and tortured “logic” behind the sorry spectacle of the shameful “left” neo-McCarthyite attack on the nation’s leading abortion rights organization in the wake of the Dobbs decision – an organization that would not have been formed had the country’s reigning Democratic Party-affiliated “choice” groups not chosen to surrender in advance – please see Karen Attiah’s remarkable Washington Post editorial “ ‘The Art of Losing the Abortion War,’ for Our Dear American Leaders” – to the end of Roe v. Wade.
Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).