Originating in 1969 as the Bay Area Revolutionary Union (BARU), this group eventually became the Revolutionary Union (RU) and then the Revolutionary Communist party (RCP) in 1975, at which time it probably had under one thousand members and chapters in about twenty-five states. The principal founder, Bob Avakian, was still unquestioned leader in the 1990s, although for more than a decade he has been residing in Europe. An organizer for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the San Francisco area and a writer for RU's newspaper, the Bay Area Worker, Avakian was elected to the eleven-member National Interim Committee of SDS at the organization's last convention in 1969, when he was in the thick of the fight for control. The Revolutionary Union, as it was known then, brought a large group to the convention to fend off a similar takeover attempt by the Progressive Labor party.
According to Noel Ignatiev in the Encyclopedia of the American Left, the RCP
passed through several regroupments and splits, with some of the veterans of the Black Workers Congress (some of whom had earlier been influenced by the Revolutionary Action Movement) and with the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization and the August 29th Movement in the Southwest, eventually emerging in 1975 as the Revolutionary Communist Party, which at its peak attained a membership of 500-700. 1
A 1972 congressional report contained testimony from undercover informants in the Revolutionary Union. The FBI had identified branches in some twenty- five localities of nine states, and estimated the total membership at four hundred. 2 The Hoover Institution figured that the RCP's 1978 membership was 2,000, with chapters in eighteen states. 3 The difference between this last figure and Ignatiev's demonstrates the general unreliability of alleged membership figures for extremist organizations.
This organization is one of the few that has never wavered in singing the praises of Mao Tse-tung; it long has considered China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of the mid-1960s to have been among the most positive events for true Communists everywhere. According to Francis M. Watson in The Alternative Media: