Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che 

A subjective history of American communism in the Cold War era

Wednesday, Aug 28 2002
By Max Elbaum
Verso (2002), $30

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.

About The Author

Peter Byrne


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"