Oakland resident Max Elbaum has written a detail-laden account of American revolutionary communism, a political trend born inside the protests of the 1960s. The author, who participated in the radical movement he analyzes, outlines the history of several serious attempts to build competing "vanguard" (i.e., professionally led) communist groups in the United States. Elbaum says that the Marxist-Leninist trend failed to become a significant political force because its several thousand practitioners were trapped inside "ultra left" dogmatisms that effectively kept them from "serving the people."
The author relies upon archives, interviews, and his own memory to tell the story of how young Americans -- black, white, and Asian -- once looked to Third World socialists for political guidance, even orders. Unfortunately, Elbaum has a veritable toolshed full of his own ideological axes to grind. As the erstwhile leader of a now-defunct organization, he doggedly promotes his party's agenda -- which treated the U.S.S.R.'s invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 as an act of liberation -- as the best politics his generation had to offer. Important theories and organizing practices that Elbaum dislikes, principally Maoist, Trotskyist, and black nationalist, get short shrift. In addition, he all but ignores the radical feminism that was a touchstone of revolutionary communism. Despite the book's rampant subjectivism, however, it should still be of interest to those looking for lessons in how not to organize a revolution.