On the New Communist Movement, and Althusser

Viewpoint Magazine just published an interview on the New Communist Movement (NCM), the radical leftist Marxist-Leninist movement that emerged in the United States from the late 1960s and lasted until the early 1980s.  It is an interesting and concise reflection by Paul Saba, a veteran of the NCM, on the movement’s dynamics.  He comments on things such as the ideological influences of the NCM, the movement’s (problematic and stagnant) general approach to Marxist theory and practice, the nature of the NCM’s “anti-revisionism” and “orthodoxy”, and attempted efforts to intervene and push the NCM’s understanding of Marxism into new, innovative, and historically contingent directions.

In particular, Saba identifies the work of Louis Althusser as being central in critiquing and transcending the limitations and mistakes that the NCM made with respect to Marxist praxis.  This quote summarizes just one of the points Saba makes about Althusser’s contribution to those dissatisfied with the direction of the NCM:

Althusser and his associates taught us that the solution to the twin crises of Marxism and the world communist movement was not to go backward but forward, not simply to return to the writings of the past but to focus on using the best of the past in the production of the new. The famous quote from Althusser himself on the crisis of Marxism makes this point clearly: “What the end of dogmatism has restored to us is the right to assess exactly what we have, to give both our wealth and our poverty their true names, to think and pose our problems in the open, and to undertake in rigor a true investigation.” (For Marx)

The whole interview is excellent, and shines a light on a period in American radical history that is usually overshadowed by the New Left and the ruptures of the 1960s.  This is also reminding me to get my hands on a book about the NCM released a few months ago, titled “Heavy Radicals: The FBI’s Secret War on America’s Maoists–The Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980.  Check out this short review of the book from Marx & Philosophy. 


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