REvolutionary STudy Guide Starting with T - History

REvolutionary STudy Guide Starting with T - History

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Tea Act (1773) - The British Parliament wished to address the financial difficulties of the British East India Company due to the American boycott of British tea. As a result, they passed the Tea Act in 1773, which maintained the tea tax from the Townshend Acts (1767), but allowed the British East India Company to undersell the smugglers whose foreign tea was facilitating the boycott of British tea. In Boston, some Americans protested the Tea Act in an incident that became known as the Boston Tea Party.

Tories - This was a term used to describe Americans who favored allegiance to Britain, also called Loyalists. The term was borrowed from the British party labels from the reign of Queen Anne (b. 1665, reigned 1702-1714). Both in Britain and the colonies, those opposing the Tories were called Whigs. In Britain, Whigs opposed the tolerance of religious dissent, supremacy of the Parliament, and anti-French foreign policy espoused by the Whigs. The terms were only approximate descriptions of the American political groups, however.

Townshend Acts (1767) - Parliament passed these acts because of the efforts of Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer (treasury) in Britain (1766-67), after whom they were named. As a result of the acts, duties were levied on colonial imports of glass, lead, paint, paper. and tea, the revenue from which was used to pay the salaries of colonial officials. Before the Townshend Acts, officials' salaries were controlled by colonial legislatures. In addition, the acts reaffirmed Britain right to use writs of assistance to enforce the Navigation Acts.

Treaty of Alliance (1778) - Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Silas Deane (1737-1789), and Arthur Lee (1740-1792) negotiated two treaties with France: the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance. Both were signed on February 6, 1778. In the Treaty of Alliance, France and the United States established a pact of mutual support and defense against Britain, and France renounced possession of the Bermudas and rejected any claim to Canada, except for the fishing areas around Newfoundland. Both parties promised not to make peace with Britain until it recognized American independence. A confidential addendum to the treaty invited Spain to join the alliance.

Treaty of Amity and Commerce (1778) - Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Silas Deane (1737-1789), and Arthur Lee (1740-1792) negotiated two treaties with France: the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance. In the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, France cut diplomatic relations with Britain, recognized the United States, gave the United States most-favored-nation status, and created a number of political and economic ties between the two countries. The treaty brought France into the Revolutionary War, providing military aid to the United States and forcing Britain to fight a war on many fronts. France's entry into the war was a decisive step toward the American victory.

Treaty of Paris (1763)
- This treaty ended the French and Indian War (1754-1763). In it, France gave Canada and all land east of the Mississippi, except New Orleans, to Britain. France's territory west of the Mississippi went to Spain, and Spain gave Florida to Britain in exchange for Cuba, which Britain had seized during the war. France maintained two small fishing islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, as well as several islands in the West Indies. Nevertheless, Britain emerged from the war the clear victors, although they were heavily in debt.

Treaty of Paris (1783) - Signed on September 23, 1783, the treaty ended the Revolutionary War. In it, Britain acknowledged the independence of the thirteen American colonies, agreed that the boundaries of the nation would be the Atlantic Ocean on the east, the Mississippi River on the west, Canada on the north, and Florida in the south. The United States received full fishing privileges around Newfoundland, and Spain received Florida. The United States Congress ratified the treaty on January 14, 1784.

Triangular Trade - These were trade routes used by colonial merchants, especially in New England. One such route had merchants selling American grain, meat, fish, and lumber in the West Indies, where sugar, molasses, and fruit would be purchased. These goods would be sold in Britain, where manufactured products would be purchased and sold in the American colonies. Another trade route involved the sale of American rum in West Africa, where slaves were purchased and sold in the West Indies. In the West Indies, molasses was bought and shipped to the North American colonies.

T3: The Teen Timeline, Chart

The Teen Timeline chart is a dynamic resource that arranges the key people, places, and events of Scripture in chronological order. This revolutionary study aid shows how all of the books of the Bible fit together to tell the story of salvation history. This chart is the cornerstone of the T3 Catholic Bible study programs.

Features of The Teen Timeline Chart:

  • The Bible is divided among 12 color-coded time periods.
  • Fourteen “narrative” books that tell the story are indicated.
  • The other 59 “supplemental” books are placed into their historical context.
  • God’s plan of salvation is traced through a series of covenants.
  • The genealogy of Jesus is traced throughout the biblical narrative.
  • 68 key events provide an outline to the biblical story.
  • Events in world history place the biblical events in “real time.”
  • The reigning world power is indicated for each time period.

The Teen Timeline —or T3— is the teen version of the revolutionary Great Adventure Bible Timeline learning system that hundreds of thousands of Catholic adults have used to learn the Bible. Dynamic teen presenter Mark Hart makes the Bible come alive for Catholic teens by unpacking God’s Word in a way they can relate to. T3 teaches teens the Bible by showing them the “big picture” of salvation history. When young students of the Bible first understand the “story,” they are eager to learn more. The net result: teens begin to wrap their minds and hearts around the Scriptures. They come to see the Bible as a relevant part of their lives.

by Mark Hart and Jeff Cavins

The Teen Timeline chart is a dynamic resource that arranges the key people, places, and events of Scripture in chronological order. This revolutionary study aid shows how all of the books of the Bible fit together to tell the story of salvation history. This chart is the cornerstone of the T3 Catholic Bible study programs.

Features of The Teen Timeline Chart:

  • The Bible is divided among 12 color-coded time periods.
  • Fourteen “narrative” books that tell the story are indicated.
  • The other 59 “supplemental” books are placed into their historical context.
  • God’s plan of salvation is traced through a series of covenants.
  • The genealogy of Jesus is traced throughout the biblical narrative.
  • 68 key events provide an outline to the biblical story.
  • Events in world history place the biblical events in “real time.”
  • The reigning world power is indicated for each time period.

The Teen Timeline —or T3— is the teen version of the revolutionary Great Adventure Bible Timeline learning system that hundreds of thousands of Catholic adults have used to learn the Bible. Dynamic teen presenter Mark Hart makes the Bible come alive for Catholic teens by unpacking God’s Word in a way they can relate to. T3 teaches teens the Bible by showing them the “big picture” of salvation history. When young students of the Bible first understand the “story,” they are eager to learn more. The net result: teens begin to wrap their minds and hearts around the Scriptures. They come to see the Bible as a relevant part of their lives.

American Revolution

Valley Forge and George Washington (M,O,T)
Learn the story of Valley Forge and about George Washington's unmatched leadership abilities.

Revolutionary War (Y,M)
From ProTeacher Web Directory

The Real Story of Revere's Ride (Y,M,O,T)
From The Paul Revers House in Boston. A quick summary of Paul Revere's ride, some trivia questions, and an interactive map to fully understand the famous ride.

Paul Revere Biography (Y,M,O,T)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Paul Revere's Ride," written in 1860 and published in 1861 in the Atlantic Monthly, transformed Paul Revere from a relatively obscure, although locally known, figure into a national folk hero. As a result, most people know him only for his famous ride to Lexington on the night of April 18-19, 1775. Revere's life, however, was a long and productive one, involving industry, politics, and community service.

Voices of the American Revolution (O,T)
Students use primary sources to learn about how a variety of people viewed the politics leading up to the American Revolution. From EDSITEment (National Endowment for the Humanities)

Join the Revolutions (Y,M,T)
A dozen activities for studying the American Revolution accessed through Wayback Archives

The American War for Independence (M,O,T)
A detailed curriculum unit by EDSITEment (National Endowment for the Humanities)

Appleseed Project (M,O,T)
The Appleseed Project is a one of a kind, national program, that teaches traditional rifle marksmanship skills as well as sharing history of the people and events that surround April 19th, 1775, the day the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.

The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (Y,M,O,T)
It recognizes the Revolutionary War Overmountain Men, Patriots from what is now East Tennessee who crossed the Great Smoky Mountains and then fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina. The website offers historical information about the park for those who cannot visit in person.

Independence National Historical Park (Y,M,O,T)
Independence Hall is the assembly hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Liberty Bell is located there as well. The website offers links and information for folks not able to visit in person.

Longfellow National Historic Site (Y,M,O,T)
Longfellow National Historic Site is the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the world's foremost 19th century poets. The house also served as headquarters for General George Washington during the Siege of Boston, July 1775 - April 1776.The website offers historical information about the park for those who cannot visit in person.

Revolutionary Money (Y,M,O,T)
Money Cut outs from each of the 13 colonies. From Smithsonian Education

Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents (Y,M,O,T)
From the Library of Congress. A look at the drafting documents to the Declaration of Independence.

The Loyalist Meets the Patriot (O)
Students studying the American Revolution usually learn from the perspective of Patriots. This activity asks students to write dialogues about the Loyalists' concerns and desires. Grades 8-12

The Timeline of the Revolution (Y)
From the Valley Oak Elementary School Experimental Community Website.

Liberty: The American Revolution (M,O,T)
From PBS. Lessons and Teacher resource guides available.

George Washington Resources (Y,M,O,T)
A teacher resource guide to studying George Washington and his impact on the formation of the United States.

Declaration of Independence (Y,M,O,T)
From US This site showcases information about the signers of the Declaration, its history, and an online version of the Declaration for students to read.

Declaration of Independence (Y,M,O,T)
From the Library of Congress - Primary Documents in American History

The Declaration of Independence (Y,M,O,T)
From the National Archives (where the Declaration is housed), this website includes images of the original Declaration and its history as well as links to other important national documents that are housed at the Archives.

The Road to Revolution Game (Y,M,O,T)
An online game about the American Revolution. Every correct answer moves you further along the timeline to Revolution.

July 4th Activity Book to Make (Y)
For younger students, this book to make includes both period and current flags, the seal of the US, a revolutionary word search, a 50 states word search, and more.

What are the best Revolutionary War Sites and Battlefields?

1. The Freedom Trail

The Freedom Trail takes visitors to Boston through a tour of sixteen sites in the city which were of importance before and during the American Revolution against British rule in the 18th century. Boston played a central role in igniting the American Revolution, also known as the American War of Independence, and the Freedom Trail contains the sites which tell its story.

The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile trip which visitors can either follow independently using the red pavement markings around the city or join one of the selections of guided tours, which last around an hour and a half. Many of these sites also form part of the Boston National Historical Park.

2. Yorktown Battlefield

Yorktown battlefield in Virginia is the location of the final battle of the American Revolution. It was at Yorktown battlefield that, on 19 October 1781, the British surrendered to the combined forces of the French and American armies, under the command of General Washington. This dramatic action marked the end of the war and was the point at which the Americans attained independence.

Visitors to Yorktown Battlefield can learn about the history of the site and the end of the Revolutionary War with tours and exhibitions including visiting Moore House, where the terms of surrender were agreed. Aspects of the site also relate to the American Civil War.

3. Bunker Hill Monument

The Bunker Hill Monument is a memorial of the Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place on 17 June 1775 between the British army and the militias of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island early in the American Revolution.

Bunker Hill Monument sits atop Breed’s Hill, on which most of the Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought, however, the battle is named after the parties’ objective goal, Bunker Hill. Bunker Hill Monument is an obelisk standing 221 feet high which visitors can enter and even climb to the top for stunning views from its observation deck. The only thing is, there are around 270 steps and no lift/elevator. The nearby Bunker Hill Museum offers a detailed insight into the war, the history of Charlestown and the monument itself, with numerous exhibits and artifacts.

4. Paul Revere House

Paul Revere House was the home of goldsmith/silversmith Paul Revere and his family from 1770 to 1800. Revere was tasked as an express rider on behalf of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. This role would lead him to perform one of the most famous rides in American history when Revere was called upon to ride to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that British forces were on their way to detain them.

Paul Revere house has been reconstructed to look just as it would have in the eighteenth century and most of the architecture is original. Tours are self guided, with panels and explanations provided with plaques and illustrations. Paul Revere House also forms part of the Freedom Trail, a tour of all of Boston’s most famous American Revolution sites as well as being part of Boston National Historic Park.

5. Independence Hall - Philadelphia

Independence Hall in Philadelphia is one of the most important landmarks in US history, being the site where the nation declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain on 4 July 1776 by signing the Declaration of Independence.

Visitors can choose from a variety of ranger guided walking tours as well as various indoor and outdoor activities. Across the road is the Liberty Bell Centre, housing the famous Liberty Bell, one of the most significant symbols of the American Civil War and formerly hung in Independence Hall’s tower. Congress Hall is next door to Independence Hall.

6. Old State House - Boston

The Old State House in Boston played an important role in the American Revolution. In 1761 the house was the scene of James Otis Junior’s famous speech against Writs of Assistance. The site was also part of the Boston Massacre of 1770, when British soldiers fired into a group of Bostonians. This balcony was the scene of happier times on 18 July 1776, when Colonel Thomas Crafts read out the Declaration of Independence to the public for the first time.

Today the Old State House is a museum of Boston’s history managed by the Bostonian Society as well as being part of Boston National Historical Park. Guided tours of the Freedom Trail – of which the State House forms a part – are available, but you can also walk it independently. A visit to the Boston’s Old State House tends to take half an hour to an hour.

7. Minute Man National Historical Park

Minute Man National Historical Park in Massachusetts commemorates the start of the American Revolution. The site includes the Battle Road Trail, the site of the first battle of the American Revolution which took place on 19 April 1775. Visitors can hike this trail or drive parts of it and a guided walk starts every day from the Visitor Centre. The next site along the way is Hartwell Tavern, a traditional pre-revolution homestead followed by The Wayside, the former home of Louisa May Alcott and other literary giants. You can only visit the Wayside with a guided tour.

8. Independence National Historical Park

Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia is home to a plethora of significant national landmarks in the US. From Independence Hall which was the site where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed and Congress Hall, seat of Congress from 1790 to 1800, to the home of Benjamin Franklin, Independence Park offers visitors in-depth insight into the founding of the United States of America.

Independence National Historical Park is spread over 55 acres within the City of Philadelphia and offers visitors a variety of ranger guided walking tours as well as various indoor and outdoor activities.

9. Colonial National Park

Colonial National Park encompasses the areas in which the English established their first permanent American colony in 1607 and the battlefield on which they surrendered to George Washington’s army in 1781, thus ending their rule. Incorporating Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield, together with the Cape Henry Memorial commemorating the location of the first British landings in Virginia, Colonial National Park offers a comprehensive insight into English Colonial America with, amongst other things, ranger guided tours and exhibitions.

10. Fraunces Tavern

Fraunces Tavern is famous for being the site where George Washington delivered a farewell speech to the Continental Army after the British had left New York in the American Revolution. Purchased by the Sons of the Revolution in 1904, Fraunces Tavern was restored to its colonial form and has since operated as a museum. Visitors to the Fraunces Tavern can view exhibits about the history of New York and of the building itself, from Colonial times through to the Revolution and the early years of the Republic.

Why I Still Defend the Red Guards

This is a guest article written by our Comrade Drew Smith, while we do not agree with all of his positions we feel that this is an insightful and critical look at very important history. Comrade Drew is a graduate student working on his M.A. in Soviet-Chinese relations and Maoist movements within the Eastern Bloc. – RGA

For better or for worse, despite the grievous suffering and the mayhem they wrought, the Red Guards were unconventional heroes of history.

Lately for my thesis I’ve been reading a lot about the Red Guard movement during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China for my M.A. thesis. True, my thesis takes place in Eastern Europe, but the Eastern European individuals whose stories I’m telling were trying to become Red Guards themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously. They were “bombarding the headquarters” of the ruling parties of their native countries and were “rebels” who were practicing Marxism-Leninism in a way that took on those who also claimed the mantle of Marxism-Leninism. Thus, for the first few weeks of this semester, I did a serious investigation into the Red Guard movement.

So far I’ve read Mao: The Real Story by Alexander Pantsov, The Battle for China’s Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution by Gao Mobo, Mao’s Children in the New China: Voices from the Red Guard Generation by Jiang Yarong and David Ashley, Fractured Rebellion: The Beijing Red Guard Movement by Andrew G. Walder, The Cultural Revolution in the Foreign Ministry of China by Ma Jisen, Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History by Alexander C. Cook, and Evaluating China’s Cultural Revolution and Its Legacy for the Future by the MLM Revolutionary Study Group. It’s been an exhausting past few weeks of painstaking note-taking, analyzing, and engagement. It’s also been a journey of myself being confronted with uncomfortable questions that go against the almost Pollyanna narrative that I was taught by the Revolutionary Communist Party USA in my youth. Now that I’m older, wiser, and no longer trapped in the traditional RIM paradigm, I can no longer simply scoff away things as “bourgeois propaganda” or “exaggerations”.

In these texts I am confronted a multitude of uncomfortable facts. There were, indeed, many actions by the Red Guard movement that were truly horrible. Thousands of innocent people were persecuted, tortured, and driven to suicide due to humiliation. Countless beautiful, priceless treasures and relics from China’s past were destroyed. By mid-1968 the entire Red Guard movement had completely fractured into literal civil war (the Red Guards in Beijing were fractured against each other from the very start, in fact) with youths waving the same banners, wearing the same uniforms, holding up the same Little Red Books while shooting each other with guns seized from People’s Militia armories. In fact, Mao himself had to suppress the Red Guards to restore order in the country. Finally, as a revolutionary intellectual myself, I am forced to acknowledge that I most likely would have been denounced (at best) by one Red Guard faction or another during the Cultural Revolution. Indeed, while the rest of the Cultural Revolution’s mass movements seem to be righteous and constructive, sometimes I’ve wondered to myself after school: do the positives of the Red Guards outweigh the negatives? Why am I a Maoist if I know that I’d most likely have gotten airplaned and dunce-capped by my students, if not worse?

Well… I’ll tell you why I continue to stand by the assertion that the Red Guards were a positive thing and that if I had been in high school or an undergraduate during that era, I’d still have joined their ranks. Real talk: when you build a socialist society, youth who don’t experience the original revolution are going to have to learn how to be revolutionaries by practicing revolution itself. Kids need to figure out what’s best for the world, who stands in the way of making a better world, and how to fight those who pretend to be their friends but are in fact their oppressors. Yes, Red Guards smashed beautiful works and buildings of China’s past, something that breaks my historian heart [side note: eventually the CCP and PLA put a stop to this in May of 1967, only a year after the launching of the Cultural Revolution]. They ransacked people’s homes in extrajudicial searches, and would burn and loot local Party and Militia offices. But these were youth, caught up in a whirlwind of energy, who were trying to figure out how to destroy an old world that had oppressed them for so long. I myself have been told by a former Red Guard that when she was a teenager, burning a local temple dating back to the Tang Dynasty and then beating the priests was exhilarating because she could finally exact vengeance on those who told her she was born a girl because of something wrong she did in a past life.

The Red Guards may have been at times unnecessarily cruel and merciless towards Party cadres and revolutionary intelligentsia, but when they went among the workers and peasants we see an enormous transformation that went both ways. The Red Guards brought revolutionary ideas to the people, ideas that were put into practice and produced great results. In turn, the masses taught the Red Guards proletarian consciousness, hard work, and humility. Red Guards became amateur medics, literacy tutors, rescue workers, and political organizers. They helped form new peasants’ committees and labor unions that were independent from the old Party brass which were able to rebel against those who abused their power in industry and agriculture.

Red Guards also broke with traditions that kept youth down such as filial piety. Could you imagine being told by the leader of your nation that it was correct to stand up to an abusive family member? I can’t imagine how amazing that would have felt in a society where Confucian ideas had been codified in everyone’s mind for millennia. As someone who came from a dysfunctional family here in America, I can only dream of what that must have been like.

Yeah, yeah, I know, revolution is not a dinner party. Every Maoist spouts that out whenever confronted with arguments against the Cultural Revolution. Yet I think another factor we need to keep in mind is that the Red Guard phenomenon was something that had never been tried before, and like any initiative of that type there’s going to be a matter of trial and error. The Red Guards fractured and spun out of control for multiple reasons, but in the end the movement was a learning experience for modern revolutionary youth and students and both historians and revolutionaries should never “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. Most of all though, we must recognize that the Red Guards initiated many other endeavors of the Cultural Revolution that produced more than destroyed. To end with a metaphor, the Red Guards may have kicked up a lot of dirt, gave many groundskeepers unwarranted ass-kickings, and smashed a lot of gardening tools, but they still sewed seeds that became beautiful gardens.

Long live the memory of the Red Guards! It’s right to rebel!

The Revolutionary War Quiz

If you live in the United States, you probably don't mind hosting a cookout and watching fireworks light up the sky each July 4th. But how much do you know about the war that originally inspired this great holiday? Take our quiz to find out!

After all, when it comes to the war for American independence, we tend to remember the most well-worn tales and famous names learned during our early school days. The Boston Tea Party. The first Continental Congress. The midnight ride of Paul Revere.

If you're thinking of the archetypal Founding Fathers, for instance, you're probably conjuring up the image of somebody like Benjamin Franklin or John Adams. Then there's Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and even Alexander Hamilton — legacies that are all still evolving today.

But there were many other unprecedented historical events and early American heroes during the Revolutionary era, all key to the course of United States history. It's not just the biggest signatures on the Declaration of Independence that matter , but also the first shots to be fired and the first casualty after war broke out. It's the stalwart support of the French and the many British attempts to stamp out the rebellion.

Lenin and Revolutionary Organization

Vladimir Lenin. This name for most radicals, militants, and progressives has largely become irrelevant. The problems, issues, and experiences of Lenin are considered to be part of another historical era in another country. Sometimes the differences are even expressed in racial terms in that white folks did that worker’s revolution stuff while people of color can’t because they do not have the privilege or do not struggle that way.

I believe that the dilemma of Lenin still remains with oppressed people and pocs today not only in Russia, but across the world. It does not matter if you are a woman, [email protected], Muslim, or Queer the themes which occur in Lenin’s life have to be taken up. Just like every oppressed group can learn from the life of Malcolm on the importance of standing up for yourself and your people, for being strong, unapologetic, etc., so can every oppressed group learn certain things from Lenin. I know this is not popular to say considering the dominance of identity politics and privilege in the American Left. But the path to liberation is not a straight and linear line.

While I am not a Leninist, there are a lot of things I have learned from him. This post tries to summarize some of the basics of what can be taken away from Lenin’s experiences building revolutionary organization—a project I am committed to.


One of the most interesting and important aspects of Lenin is that there is no agreement on what the historical Lenin is, and what this means for revolutionaries who try to study and learn from his political-organizational thought and practice. In other words put ten different revolutionaries in a room and you will get ten different understandings of Lenin and what that means for today. This is so because Lenin’s political-organizational praxis reflected tensions inherent in his praxis or the very nature of what he was doing. This tension has been the center of immense debate on whether Lenin’s and the organization he was involved with, the Bolshevik Party, was a model and tool for the emancipation of oppressed people, or whether it was actually a Trojan horse for a another ruling elite. Anarchists have generally believed the latter, arguing that the Bolshevik Party was a professional class of revolutionaries, whose only interest was to lead the working class, and use their self-activity to put themselves in power. The best of Anarchism reminds this historical Lenin that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself and not a party above the working class. Anarchists (Trotskyists have written about this as well) remind followers of the Bolshevik tradition that for almost its entire history the Bolshevik Party, including Lenin, believed that while oppressed people would lead and build the new government, it would fundamentally carry out middle class/ bourgeois radical reforms. This is very different from a revolution that is supposed to be an immediate communist revolution.

Trotskyists, Maoists, and Stalinists have believed that the Bolshevik Party model is generally the correct way to build revolutionary organization and eventually emancipate the working class. Each of these three traditions—Trotskyists, Maoists, and Stalinists—has their own readings of what the Bolshevik Party did and thought. Stalinists have made a monstrous caricature out of Lenin’s legacy by understanding the party as a place where orders are given from above to mindless functionary/ revolutionaries who then instruct/ lead the masses. In this conception, the party is the all knowing organization which only has to convince the “stupid” masses of the need for revolution. If the masses are treated in such a manner, the internal life of the organization is no better, where the all knowing power of the leadership is unquestionable, where debates are limited, and being expelled for the wrong political perspective can happen at any moment. This was all justified in the tradition of the Bolshevik Party and Lenin and the appropriate quotes and actions from both were cited to prove themselves right.

The New Left initially reacted against this tradition and the rise of Anarchist thought since the 1990s is due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Stalinist parties around the world. What the trend of the 1960s and 90s show is that the Stalinist conception of revolutionary organization not only has haunted young radicals, but it is also the prominent conception of revolutionary organization that many people hold, which is a major barrier to building this project. It is no surprise that people do not want to touch this project with a ten-foot pole, when it has largely been understood along the lines of Stalinism. It is vital that the idea of revolutionary organization is clarified from such misconceptions.

I believe the Trotskyist tradition has also made important contributions to thinking about Lenin. The Trotskyist tradition comes directly out of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky participated and times led the 1905 and 1917 revolution. He worked very closely with Lenin after the 1917 revolution. This is important history to consider because Trotskyism sits on the organizational and political perspectives of authoritarian and libertarian/ direct democratic perspectives. This is so because of its close association to the from below struggles of the Russian revolution which has shaped its ideological, organizational, and political perspectives. At the same time, Trotskyism has held onto a vanguard conception of organization rooted in the historical conditions of the time. What is also important about the Trotskyist tradition is that they have been constantly at the wheel of building organization, have a lot of experience, have done this through many different periods in history, and under extremely difficult circumstances. Their experiences are real lessons to every issues I take up in this post.

Meanwhile the libertarian-Marxist tradition of Johnson-Forest Tendency (CLR James, Raya Duyanavskaya, and Grace Lee Boggs) had a much more mixed interpretation of Lenin. For the purposes of this post, Facing Reality give us a sense of what they thought of the vanguard party/ Bolshevik Party. (Although Raya had left the organization by the time FR was written.) While they were together, they generally agreed that the Bolshevik model of organization was meant for Russia and was useful under those conditions, but in the era of modern capitalism, they bent in the direction of nearly liquidating the need for revolutionary organization. One point which they did get right, is that the vanguard organization is dead. At the same time disagreements over the need for organization and intervention in movements would be the basis for future splits in this tendency.

Our Society

The need for revolutionary organization exists because society is divided into classes, or more simply speaking into the oppressed and the oppressor. But simply saying society is divided into the oppressed and oppressor does not explain how this happens. I believe historically and contemporarily, oppressors have built their own institutions. The most basic are institutions of violent coercion: the army and the police. As society has advanced the institutions have gotten more complex and at times have had to rely on less and less violence.

In the meantime, what are the institutions that represent oppressed people? Through what organizations will oppressed people fight for their own interests? Where can oppressed people learn about their own history, understand the current world, and find ways to free themselves? Most revolutionaries have responded to these questions by building revolutionary organizations. However, all revolutionary organizations are not the same. There are also other types of organizations which revolutionaries have built as well, such as networks, mass organizations, and unions.

The Contemporary Left

Individual Anarchist revolutionaries have said that there is no need for revolutionary organization. That any type of organization, even one for the oppressed, will turn into a collective overlord, which will destroy individual liberties. Another strain of Anarchists have been willing to go as far as forming networks sometimes describing these networks as a large federation. Platformists have tried to learn from the lessons of the Russian Revolution and have tried to create a hybrid organization. The results of the Platformist’s experiments in the USA are questionable in achieving their aim. Anarchists who agree with the Platform do not seem to be any more organized than those in federations. At least that is the reality of American Anarchism.

There is also a tradition of revolutionaries, ranging from Trotskyists, Maoists, and Stalinists, who in the tradition of Lenin have tried to replicate the Bolshevik model of organization in contemporary times. They have tended to look at the Bolshevik party at a given moment and tried to model their organization from that moment. This is a very difficult thing to do because taking a snap shot of the Bolshevik organization can leave an inaccurate picture. The only way to understand this organization was to see its development from the beginning to the end. The Bolshevik organization was always changing. What was policy one year would be incorrect the next year. This is so because Lenin was always thinking of revolutionary organization in relationship to mass movements, and the political and economic situation.

On Revolutionary Organization

Lenin believed that revolutionary organization was something that could not be built the night before the revolution. A look at what happened in the late 1960s and early 70s in the US, when many revolutionary organizations were built is a very important story to study. Many revolutionary organizations were overwhelmed by changing movement dynamics, overwhelmed by a lack of experience in political work, overwhelmed by not being connected to oppressed people, disoriented by political differences, and disoriented by what they were building themselves. Lack of study and planning had led to immense confusion between what were mass organizations, networks, and revolutionary organizations. The Black Panthers, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Congress of African People, Revolutionary Union, League of Revolutionary Struggle (part of the New Communist movement), the International Socialists (representatives of the new Trotskyist formations) to name some of the groupings which came together pretty quickly, but were not prepared for the precise task of building revolutionary organizations in the difficult environment of the 1970s and 80s.

Revolutionary organization is a process, meaning that it takes years to build because the revolutionary organization is a product of participating in all oppressed struggles. While some militants have argued that the time is not right for building a revolutionary organization in the United States, I have to disagree with them. The argument is that you need massive social movements and crisis of large magnitude to build such organizations. But the historical evidence shows that this approach leads to people being unprepared to build such an organization and develop a healthy relationship to mass movements and organizations. I do agree with a certain angle of these arguments which is that the dangers of revolutionaries becoming isolated and sectarian is immense when mass struggles are not breaking out. In quieter periods, revolutionaries become prophets of words only and foreground the correctness of their politics again and again, creating barriers between themselves and non-revolutionaries. This is a natural and unfortunate reality of the project. Revolutionary politics can only be understood in its full dimension of practice and theory. The practice side of revolutionary politics is the most militant of what the Black Panthers did: cop watch, setting up community health clinics, setting up a newspaper, conducting radical educational classes in the community etc. But when this is not going on, revolutionaries become increasingly one-dimensional.

Building a revolutionary organization means involving oneself in the struggles of oppressed people. People are not won to revolutionary ideas just by a revolutionary standing on a soapbox and proclaiming that the rulers suck and we need to over throw them. Nor are people won by insurrectionary and militant acts against the state or other oppressive institutions. There are no short cuts. It is through practice, struggles, victories and even defeats that people learn the way forward. It is only in this context which revolutionary organizations can be built.

Leadership Versus Vanguardism

The process of revolutionary organizations also working with mass movements and organizations also results in the training/ development of revolutionaries from oppressed layers. Revolutionary organizations are the place where oppressed people are taught to become sharper, stronger, smarter fighters in the class struggle. If the mass movement is the actual battlefield, then revolutionary organization is the key institution, which develops an activist to be the most effective organizer and militant possible. It is in the very nature of movements that people do not get time to think, assess their own actions and thoughts, and study history collectively, etc.

At the same time, Lenin has been attacked for not only building leaders, but building a vanguard organization. This is another way of saying a group of professional revolutionaries, who are separate from the class, tend to give orders to oppressed people, and are a future State/ oppressors in the waiting. My argument is that a non-vanguard organization and leaders can exist. I will admit this is easer said then done. But what if revolutionaries are rooted in the oppressed layers of society, develop a collaborative relationship with mass movements, and are against all forms of the State? This is the challenge which faces the revolutionary left today.

But this still does not answer the more difficult question if some people have to dedicate more time to political study and activity and others, does this make them professional revolutionaries with skills which others do not have? Is this a slippery slope back into the vanguardist conception of revolutionary organization? At what point does an organization become a vanguardist organization? How can these things be prevented?

Strategy and Organization

Lenin believed that the revolutionary organization was meant to lead oppressed people. At the same time the organization itself was made up of oppressed people. So it can be looked at as the advanced layers of oppressed society leading another layer of oppressed society. But what happens if the revolutionary organization is wrong on a certain political question or strategic decision. History shows that at times this actually happens and the best revolutionaries have done their best to change their party’s course, block with forces outside the party, and even break with their respective party. This is a dynamic Lenin demonstrated several times in his life.

This a crucial part of breaking the vanguardist aspects of such organizations. In political, organizational, or cultural issues different layers or forces outside the revolutionary organization can be more advanced, correct, sensible or militant. I will say that this can happen in any type of organization and it is not just revolutionaries who fall victim to these tensions. Anyone who has been involved in decent organizing knows that their organizations are not always correct and after a certain period of debating, it is sensible, and I believe actually the responsibility of good organizers to leave such groups and build new ones.

Some deeper questions remain which can be explored in the discussion section. When and how does politics become a formula and become transformed into an art? What is the difference between tailing mass movements, being a vanguard, and having an organic relationship to them? This is where politics becomes an art. At a certain point, once the fundamentals of politics and organization are learned, it is creativity, experience, intuition, will, real knowledge of the on the ground conditions and courage which shape the way forward.

Revolutionary Organization’s Relationship to Other Organizations

I mentioned earlier that revolutionaries have built other organizations besides revolutionary organizations. Some organizations which come to mind are Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and Students for a Democratic Society. Today equivalent organizations might be anti-war groups, Non-Profits, and groups doing cop watch, etc. What is striking about these groups is that while many of them are vital, they are not the same thing as a revolutionary organization. Each of these groups take-up narrower issues and are inherently reformists. That is not a bad thing per se. In fact it is an important way which millions of people can first become involved in political struggle. The problem is that they alone cannot transcend their reformism.

Lenin argued that revolutionaries should participate in all mass struggles and organizations where oppressed people were willing to take action against the oppressor. This means that revolutionaries and their organizations have to make real contributions to the movement. This does pose many tensions and difficulties for revolutionary organization. It must have enough resources and people to actually make a difference. This is vital because this plays a role in how other organizers who are not in the revolutionary organization see the latter’s necessity. At the same time, revolutionaries cannot ignore the specific needs of their own organization.

Student organizations, community groups, trade unions, non-profits, Church or Mosque groups, and networks are important organizations which oppressed people build when they initially want to confront a problem. These groups can be very effective in fighting for the specific issue they were created to address. They can run into systemic barrier or opponents which block their goals from being accomplished. They can also have limited connections to others doing similar work. Another common problem is that the people in these groups, especially if they are young, have little historical knowledge of past mistakes and successes. They also tend to lack the massive resources needed to fight the powerful forces they want to change/ address. In periods when generalizing or broadening the struggle might actually lead to its success these groups tend to be hesitant because they do not see how we live in a inter-connected world. These tendencies can be overcome with the interaction of a revolutionary organization.

At the same time revolutionary organization without mass organization ends up isolated, and at best turns into a publishing center of ideas, or at worst a sectarian outfit. Sometimes this is the fault of revolutionary organizations because they put so many barriers between themselves and others. At other times, the economic and political conditions of a period can make for very difficult organizing, and mass organizations might be difficult to participate in let alone build. Mass movements are supported by mass organizations, and mass organizations by revolutionary organizations. This is done through painful organizing, winning over militant layers and leaders, struggling for victories and hanging in their during moments of defeat. There is no shortcut.

It should be obvious looking at US history that mass movements and organizations can be absorbed into the capitalist system. The energy and political ideals can be dissipated into the channels of voting for “progressive” congressman/ woman A or B. In such channels, the framework for discussion, strategy and even goals change and the initiative of the oppressed is lost. This usually results in a more liberal assimilation of a once radical struggle and demand. This is where revolutionary organizations can make a vital contribution to movements, by placing the interests of the oppressed over the interests of progressive bureaucrats, congress people, capitalists and even other progressive activists. The task of the revolutionary organization is to help organize the largest forces, most militant layers, with the most radical politics possible in the hopes of winning the most decisive victory.

Lastly, there is always the danger of confusing mass organizations with revolutionary organizations. Why/ how does this happen? What are some of the precise differences? How can revolutionary organization become a parasite on mass organization? And what about danger of liquidating the revolutionary organization into the mass organization?

Reform and Revolution

One of Lenin’s great strengths was his understanding that all reforms were worth fighting over and should be taken advantage by revolutionaries and oppressed people. Every reform is another inch of power, control, life, and blood taken away from the oppressor and won by the oppressed. It is vital that revolutionaries fight in these struggles. Another reason to fight for reforms is that this is where revolutionaries can build relationships with oppressed forces, demonstrate that they are the most aggressive, active, and militant advocates of radical reform.

Lenin also understood that the struggle for reforms was different from a reformist political perspective, which only understands politics as the struggle for reforms. It is critical that reforms are used to build the confidence of oppressed people, to increase their knowledge of their own powers, to show the limits of capitalist society, and to demonstrate the need for more radical and even revolutionary change. Many radicals today think that reforms are only used to buy off oppressed people. While this dynamic can be true, there has been a tradition of politics, which used reform to corner the oppressors and actually wet people’s appetitive for more change. The fact that reforms are only understood in the former manner is a reflection of how oppressed people have lost their best organizing traditions.

Perhaps the question can be asked, why the need for revolutionaries and revolutionary organizations, if reforms can be won endlessly. I argue that there is a certain limit/ amount of reforms that the rulers give in any period. After you cross that line, they will do what they did to the Black Panther Party and Malcolm. It was one thing to demand that Black people be treated equally in restaurants and when applying to jobs, but a whole other thing when Black people were demanding an end to the ghetto, the right to self-defense, jobs for all Black people, and control of workplaces by Black people.

Lenin’s writings on revolutionary organization are important for the libertarian-socialist/ Johnson-Forest Tendency Left to consider. The sad reality is that this left has made important intellectual and political contributions to the movement and to revolutionary politics, but has been unable to play a more decisive role in mass movements because of its own lack of cohesive organization. It is a tragedy of history that JFT was not able to grow. Will that tragedy continue as new shoots of movements and libertarian-socialist politics pop up in the country? This is a much longer discussion, but I felt I could not ignore such a vital lesson that my tradition must learn if it is going to be a serious player in the political life of our people. We have time and we do not have time.

Lastly, I have to say something about this current economic and political crisis, which demands the need for revolutionary organization. In the last two years any illusion about the social compact between the rich and working people has been withering away quickly. In other words many people are watching Wall Street firms give big bonuses while they struggle just to make ends meet. The rest of corporate America is making some money by making Americans work harder and lowering their wages. The “old America” where the rich and middle class pay a little more in taxes to help the little guy has been long gone. In broader terms, this is the greatest crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression. If progressive and radicals have missed this, it is only because they are disconnected from the suffering and desperation of working people today. Things are bad out there…

In this crisis, the rulers and capitalists have waged an almost systematic attack on working people in the US and abroad (seen most clearly in Pakistan and Afghanistan right now). What organizations can fight this systematic attack? I don’t believe narrow struggles of reform are possible in this period. Narrow social movements will be defeated because the rulers are not willing to give concessions. In other words they will not be powerful enough to defeat even individual capitalists because the capitalists—while they compete with each other—also know that at the end of the day they are on the same team and at this moment they are united in the fact that they don’t want to give concessions to working people.

We are living in a period where some mass activity is coming to the surface as seen in the fight against budget cuts in the UC system in California or the direct action strategies of the Windows Republic workers in Chicago. This brings us back to the points I discussed earlier of how revolutionary organization can relate to such type of activity, and how it can help build new organizational formations, which win huge reforms and push towards more radical solutions to the current crisis.

I fear greatly for the future of the American working class. One of my great fears is that it will have to fight the American rulers and capitalists on their own. That revolutionaries, progressives, and radicals will not have spent time building the links to these movements, helping them advance, and at the same time building revolutionary organization. The danger is that the movements will get huge, colossal and will even shake the foundations of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and empire, but will not have the strategic and organizational courage, energy, coordination and strength to beat the oppressors. Just because you have a big movement does not mean you will have a victory: look at the anti-globalization movement, anti-war movement, and immigrant rights to name some of the largest in recent memory. Why did they not achieve success? We need to remember the oppressors have the FBI, the police, National Guard, and much more. There are also the possibilities of cooptation which is ironically facilitated by progressives and liberals. We know that they will use all these forces to slow or break the movement. What will we build to break this cycle? They cannot be built from above or over night. They must be built starting today. We have time and we do not have time. Either way we must do it because it is the historical mission of our generation.

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I appreciate the overview Don Hamerquist has written dealing with the meaning of Lenin and Leninism for building revolutionary organization today. I think the timing of Hamerquist's essay couldn't be better for personal and historical&hellip

By our comrades in Miami Autonomy & Solidarity. *********** Why Women Should Join Political Organizations By Dolores In Miami Autonomy and Solidarity, we have discussions with people that might identify with the “left” in general&hellip

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27 thoughts on &ldquoLenin and Revolutionary Organization&rdquo

Very interesting contribution to an important issue! Lenin’s idea of the vanguard was based on a simple recognition—the working class is divided politically. In every work place , there are divisions on issues of racism, sexism, imperialism, class struggle, attitudes to unions etc. In order to move the struggle forward, those with more revolutionary ideas need to organize together to influence the whole class. As struggle picks up , there are those who are in the “vanguard” , the leading edge of the struggle. There is always a vanguard in any struggle. The only question is, will this vanguard be organized and informed by clear politics ? Lenin’s idea was not to falsely proclaim any group to be the vanguard, but to organize the really existing vanguard of the struggle, a real section of the working class and inform it with Marxist politics. If the vanguard is not organized, it will be defeated by other political forces—reformists , capitalists, sometimes fascists etc. In the last 100 years , the key lesson is that there needs to be massive , well organized socialist organization for the struggle to be successful. There have been many revolutionary situations, but besides Russia in 1917, no mass revolutionary party that could lead the struggle to victory. This meant that the revolutionary upsurges of Spain 1936, China 1925-27, Hungary 1956, France 1968, Poland 1980, Iran 1979 etc. ended in the defeat of the potential revolution. We don’t want and can’t afford for the sake of humanity to allow this to happen again! Revolutionaries should not be shy about trying to win leadership in movements—not on a bureaucratic basis of fiat, but by winning political arguments in discussion and action. Of course, we all must and will learn as we organize. We will make mistakes. But the key is to understand the need to connect up and organize the vanguard that WILL develop in struggle to be as effective as possible in leading the movement. Lenin’s Bolsheviks were 10% of the industrial workers at the time of the insurrection. We should aim for a revolutionary party of millions in the U.S. We should not let the fear of potential Stalinism prevent us from trying to win leadership for the Marxist strategy of revolution. The biggest danger today is NOT the rise of a new Stalinism, but the disorganization of the Left which could allow the Right to win. The idea of leadership expressed in the article is good—but the author makes an incorrect distinction between “leadership” and vanguard. We should openly call for the revolutionaries leading struggles–but on the basis of winning that leadership democratically.
Steve Leigh, International Socialist Organization ( writing as an individual)

………….. i feel like you didn’t take the author’s perspective seriously

A few thoughts in response:

1) I know it is dangerous to completely separate organizational structure from ideology but at the same time I don’t think they’re identical. I do think it’s possible to develop a more cohesive cadre organization with anti-state politics even though these politics have historically been more associated with anarchism than with Marxist cadre groups. (By cadre group, I mean a relatively disciplined organization of revolutionaries who train ourselves to intervene together in national politics on multiple fronts and on multiple issues, not just local single-issue activism.) In other words, we could learn from Bolshevik organizational methods without adopting the Bolsheviks’ largely state-capitalist program (it’s another whole debate about whether or not Lenin broke from this state capitalist program with his April Theses and is call of all power to the Soviets). Of course, anti-state/ libertarian socialist forces can’t just appropriate the Bolshevik organizational model wholesale because of its many flaws, especially its vanguardism. But there are a few things we can learn from the Bolsheviks: 1) their ability to bring together militant layers of workers to keep up struggles through the rise and fall of mass movements , 2) we can learn from their ability to break with the rest of the Left in order to oppose colonialism, imperialism, and World War I, and 3) we can learn from how the Bolsheviks closed their ranks more at certain points and opened them up at others in order to constantly support and draw from the rise of mass movements, etc. There are many other lessons we can discuss.

2) I agree with Will that revolutionary organization is needed to help prevent mass movements from being co-opted or absorbed back into the system. I think we can recognize this point without concluding, as the early Lenin did in “What is to be Done”, that workers spontaneously will only reach trade union/ reformist consciousness unless if the revolutionary party intervenes and brings the correct consciousness from outside.

In our own tendency’s experiences organizing with custodians, we’ve repeatedly seen how workers put forward programs and demands which have reovolutionary implications. For example, they’re not just demanding wage increases, they’re demanding more control over their jobs, less managerial oversight, control over hiring and firing, etc. Also, we have met indiviudal workers who have studied history and current events and have come to the conclusion that capitalism needs to be abolished without ever having contact with any revolutionary organization. This is all what CLR James and the Johnson Forrest Tendency called the “Invading Socialist Society” – direct democratic social relations breaking out within the shell of capitalist society, preparing to cast off that shell. One of our primary tasks has revolutionaries has been to do what CLR James advises in Facing Reality – to “recognize and record” this working class self-activity. We have done that by working on flyers with workers, organizing opportunities for workers to speak at public forums, and developing a small book/ zine with workers’ writings and interviews which we will publish shortly on Gathering Forces.

At the same time though, the custodians we are working with, and the programs and demands they have put forward through forming informal workgroups and shop floor organizations are very vulnerable to attacks from the bosses, union bureaucracy, etc. Many of them can’t speak freely and have to write anonymously, and many of them also tend to doubt themselves at times because their perspectives are constantly under assault not only by the bosses but also by “progressive” trade unionists. In order to sustain their militancy over time and to keep it from being crushed, revolutionary organization is necessary. Bringing these folks around revolutionary centers like the ones we are trying to build inside Democracy Insurgent here in Seattle is very helpful because it validates their own experiences, ideas, programs, and perspectives, and shows them that they are not alone, that what they’re striving for is part of a broader national and international struggle.

3) I’ll try to take a stab at Will’s question: if some people have to dedicate more time to political study and activity and others, does this make them professional revolutionaries with skills which others do not have? Is this a slippery slope back into the vanguardist conception of revolutionary organization? At what point does an organization become a vanguardist organization? How can these things be prevented? In my view, this is where Hal Draper’s concept of the center model comes into play (see for example: The goal of the center model as I’ve interpreted it is to pass on some of these skills and political study so that they’re not monopolized by the revolutionary organization alone.

The vision of revolutionary organization that Will lays out is certainly more centralized than an anarchist federation because it aims to make decisive and coordinated interventions in mass movement and mass organization building. For example, our circle is coordinating all our local forces together in Seattle to help build up the group Democracy Insurgent…. we are not simply each doing our own organizing and then reflecting on it together, we are trying to focus our energies so we can be more effective working together. However, we are not trying to make Democracy Insurgent into a revolutionary party in miniature, or a micro-sect. It is not just a recruitment tool for our larger project of revolutionary organization building. Instead, we hope it will be the nucleus of a possible future mass organization, with open space for multiple political tendencies. We aim to build it outwards in more and more complex layers of organization, as a place where folks new to activism can fight shoulder to shoulder with more experienced organizers, including insurgent left wing social democrats and trade unionists who are disillusioned with reformist organizations and who are beginning to look for answers beyond the limitations of social democracy, as well as various folks who have been influenced in different ways by anarchist, socialism, and revolutionary nationalism in communities of color. That way, skills are shared and passed along. Our role as revolutionaries within Democracy Insurgent is not to pre-plan everything through secret behind the scenes meetings. Instead, our role is to act as a pole, as a center, within this more complex organization, to raise perspectives and discussions, and to constantly back up, validate, and support the most militant layers of folks we are meeting and interacting with in our organizing and in our own workplaces, classrooms, and neighborhoods. The key here is flexibility and organizational complexity. We are not aiming to recruit every single person we work with to our project of building revolutionary organization. With some folks, we’ll simply pass on skills and training and experiences which they will then use to build other forms of organization, including, we hope, future mass organizations.

For example, we provide time and space for workers to study politics and history ( I’ve been meeting regularly with a rank and file militant custodian to discuss Martin Glaberman’s Punching Out and Paul Romano and Grace Lee Boggs’ American Worker pamphlet). We certainly hope many of the folks we’re interacting with will join us in building revolutionary organization, but even if they don’t they will undoubtedly end up spreading revolutionary perspectives and methods of organizing among broader layers of the working class which will hopefully have the effect of radicalizing any mass movements they will be a part of.

And just as importantly, this process works in reverse as well. Through these meetings, discussions, and common study groups we learn and grow as revolutionaries, constantly sharpening our perspectives, strategies, and tactics by learning from the self-activity of other workers around us. I have read The American Worker pamphlet several times but returning to it again with an older, more experienced shop floor militant has certainly opened up a new understanding of the text for me, which I can then share and feed back into the revolutionary organization we’re building.

there are many other unanswered questions, but hopefully this can help get us started responding to Will’s piece.

Hi Steve,
You raise some key points here. You argue that: “Lenin’s idea of the vanguard was based on a simple recognition—the working class is divided politically. In every work place , there are divisions on issues of racism, sexism, imperialism, class struggle, attitudes to unions etc.” It seems true that the working class in Russia was divided in the years leading up to 1917. There were some workers who supported imperialism and World War I and others who didn’t, some workers who were patriarchal and others who were for women’s liberation, etc. That’s why the Johnson Forrest Tendency folks (CLR James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Grace Lee Boggs, etc.) agreed that the vanguard party was necessary for the working class to win the Russian revolution. I agree that revolutionary organization was necessary in 1917 for that reason, but I’m not 100% convinced that the vanguard party was the only form, or the best form of revolutionary organization possible at that time (my comments at the end of this post start to explain why).
But in any case, the JFT argued that by the time of the 1950s and 60s, the working class was far less divided. They thought that the mass media and mass education had lead to a far higher level of political awareness and organization throughout the working class of Europe and the US. They thought that the wave of wildcats in the auto industry, the Hungarian Revolution, and eventually Paris 󈨈 showed that workers could directly build workers councils and committees (soviets) without the aid of a revolutionary vanguard party. For CLR James, this lead him to conclude that interventionist revolutionary organization itself was no longer necessary. He thought that revolutionaries should only recognize and record the self-activity of workers and we should not put forward programs and perspectives and fight for them in our own workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. Raya disagreed with him on that – she tried to directly intervene in the miner’s strike – and that’s one of the reasons they split. I would agree more with Raya on this point. I do think that the working class in the 50s and 60s was still divided by race, gender, attitudes to the union, attitudes toward imperialism, etc. and an interventionist revolutionary organization was necessary to block with large minorities of militant workers who were ready to move even if the rest of the class was not yet moving. For example, groups like the League of Revolutionary Black Workers were crucial in galvanizing Black auto workers who were at the forefront of rebellions in the 60s in Detroit.
Steve, I would agree with you to some extent, that the rebellions in Hungary 󈧼, Paris 󈨈, and Detroit in the 60s were defeated at least partially because there weren’t strong enough revolutionary organizations who could help bring the various rebellions together nationally and internationally and each rebellion got isolated in its own workplace or city. Gathering Forces recently posted Loren Goldner’s critique of CLR James’ pamphlet Facing Reality, which makes this point, and I agree with Goldner on this. (see:
I think that the working class is still divided today along the lines you lay out. I think Will recognizes this both in this post on Lenin and also in his comments on Advance the Struggle’s interventions in the mass assemblies during the Berkley walk out (for example, see: I think Will and I would probably agree that for a revolution to be successful and direct democratic it needs to involve the majority of the country, not just a minority that will seize state power and rule over the rest. In that sense, we would probably agree with anarchist perspectives on Dual Power such as those put forward by Murray Bookchin. However, Will points out that a revolutionary movement is not built overnight and even in non-revolutionary times, revolutionary organizations need to consistently block with militant minorities of workers and everyday people to advance mass struggles against capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism, and white supremacy. We need to start with a minority and work towards winning over a majority through successful actions. As Will pointed out in the comments on Advance the Struggle, we can’t wait for everyone to move to start these decisive actions. For example, if a significant minority in the Berkley general assemblies wanted to do an occupation, revolutionaries there should have blocked with this minority like ATS did, and should have tried to win over the rest of the crowd. Democracy Insurgent has done the same thing here in Seattle. For example, in the January upsurge of Palestine Solidarity activity against the Israeli massacre in Gaza, we blocked with a sizable minority of Arab and Muslim youth who wanted direct action and angry, explicitly anti-Zionist demonstrations rather than passively listening to relatively tame speeches. We gave them our megaphone and encouraged them to lead the crowd, which they did – they were able to win over about 80% of the demonstrators to do an upermitted march through downtown. We got a lot of shit from the cops and from other Palestine solidarity organizations, including various Leftists for doing that because we didn’t ask everyone’s permission first, but our main goal was to build up the confidence, strength, and power of the most militant and dynamic segments of the community in order to advance the struggle. This took priority over proceduralist and bureaucratic etiquette. For more on this, check out “Echoes of the Intifada”, the statement we put out on these events:
So in general, I agree that revolutionaries need to block with the most militant mass minorities among the working class to help push the struggle forward. Through this process, our revolutionary organizations will hopefully grow and will include the most dynamic, democratic-minded, anti-racist, anti-patriarchal, anti-heterosexist workers. If this is all you mean by a “vanguard” Steve then maybe we’re just arguing over semantics and we might actually agree. But my understanding is that for most Marxist-Leninists, the term “vanguard” also involves several other assumptions/ assertions about revolutionary organization that I disagree with (you might as well). For example,

a) the vanguard of the working class, organized in the revolutionary party, will staff the new revolutionary state that will emerge during the insurrection. I disagree with this because I am against all forms of state power, including a progressive ruling class

b) the vanguard of the working class, organized in the revolutionary party, represents the most “modern” workers, free from religion, superstition, etc., and is the social element most able to modernize the rest of the country (especially, in the case of Russia and China, the peasantry). I disagree with this because I think that religious workers and peasants can also be self-governing. I would agree with some of the perspectives put forward by Sylvia Federici, Peter Linebaugh, and the Midnight Notes Collective that the struggle against expropriation of village communes (primitive accumulation) can contribute to, support, and draw from working class struggles in the cities. There is this potential, for example, with the Zapatista’s Other campaign in Mexico. Often the struggles of peasants and of workers who have just entered into industry for the first time takes on highly religious perspectives, and I don’t think this is necessarily backwards or authoritarian. For example, in the Iranian Revolution, many of the workers who set up factory councils (shoras) were Muslim. They didn’t have the same politics as the reactionary, counter-revolutionary Islamic Stalinism of Ayatollah Khomeini. I would consider these workers the foundation of the revolution there, but much of the Marxist Left was sectarian and unable to engage with the religious politics of the revolution, which is a key reason why the revolution was crushed. Also, modernist assumptions about the backwardness of religious workers and peasants are dangerously close to imperialist rhetoric bout the need to civilize the Third World.

c) the vanguard of the working class, organized in the revolutionary party, needs to bring the proper consciousness to the rest of the working class. As I laid out in my earlier comment, I disagree with this. Workers in revolutionary organizations should affirm, recognize and record, and build off of the perspectives that other workers come to based on their own experiences. We also will learn from other workers. In fact, as Will suggests, Lenin repeatedly had to chide and argue with the majority of his fellow Bolsheviks when they acted in conservative and bureaucratic ways, and sometimes he appealed directly to workers outside the party who were acting in a more advanced ways then the so-called “vanguard.”

c) the vanguard of the working class will be organized in only one revolutionary party. I disagree with this. In a country like the US of hundreds of millions of people, I doubt that all of the most militant forces will gather in one organization. Some sort of united front, or multi-tendency mass organization will need to be built to bring together different revolutionary forces with different experiences and origins in different social layers.

Steve you may agree with this last point though, because locally you have avoided sectarianism and have not held up the ISO as the only vanguard that needs to lead the movement. If anything it seems like you’re encouraging Democracy Insurgent to see the role we’re playing in workplace and campus organizing as a vanguard role. I hope my comments here sort out a bit how some of us in DI see this – to some extent we agree with you, and to some extent we disagree. For us, the most important thing is that students and workers can be self-governing now, and we are trying to do everything we can to affirm, build, defend, and extend opportunities for this to happen. We hope to keep working with you on a united front basis to extend these struggles.

just to clarify one point in my response to Steve – when I use the Berkley assemblies or the seattle Gaza solidarity street demos I’m not assuming that the forces involved in these cases are workign class. In other words, I’m not equating or replacing students and youth (in this case a mix of middle class and workign class youth) with the working class. I’m just showing how crowd dynamics and the dialectic between a militant minority and the majority play out, in this case even with other class settings. We are seeing similar dynamics happening now with the custodians we are working with to fight privatization and budget cuts.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood Summary

Persepolis begins with a short introduction. It is an abbreviated history of Iran from its first occupation by Indo-European nomads, to the establishment of the Persian Empire, to the 1979 Islamic revolution. The author writes that the purpose of her book is to show that Iran is not a country of fundamentalists and terrorists, and that characterizations of the country by the West are inaccurate.

As a ten-year old girl, the author is forced to wear a veil to school by those that called for a cultural revolution in Iran. There are many protests both for and against this cultural revolution. Her French non-religious school is abolished and boys and girls are separated for education. Her mother protests against the changes and her picture appears in newspapers across Europe. She is afraid after that. The author believes that one day she will be the last prophet. She has conversations with God in which she imagines that there will be cultural and social equality and that old people will not suffer from pain. When she announces her plan, her classmates and teacher ridicule her but she retains the hope that she will one day be the symbol for justice, love, and the wrath of God.

She and her friends often pretend to be revolutionary figures such as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. She knows of world history because of books that her parents give to her, and her favorite book is a comic book called Dialectic Materialism, in which Marx and Descartes argue over the validity of the material world. One night, while talking to God, she overhears her parents talking about a fire at a local theater in which 400 people died. The fire, they say, was ordered by the Shah and the people plan to demonstrate. The author begs her parents to let her attend the demonstration, but they refuse because she is too young.

Marjane's father explains the history of the Revolution to her: Reza Shah had been a foot soldier fighting against the King of Persia in order to install a republic. This had been during a time when Western democratic ideals were being instituted in many countries around the world. The British had learned of Reza Shah's desire to overthrow the king and, seeing an opportunity to profit from the country's rich oil fields, the British had supported Reza Shah's plans. The British made sure he had been instituted as Emperor. Marjane's grandfather had been a prince before Reza Shah came to power and, after had been the Prime Minister of Iran. Her grandfather had become a communist, however, and had been imprisoned and tortured by being put in cells full of water. Marjane tries to imagine what such torture would have felt like.

Her grandmother visits and tells her more about the Shah. The Shah is a very harsh ruler who sees himself in the line of Cyrus the Great and other great Persian rulers. When Marjane's grandfather had been imprisoned, her mother and grandmother had been very poor, sometimes boiling water on a stove just so that the neighbors would believe that they had food. Marjane's father is missing that afternoon and the family believes him dead. He returns late to tell an incredible story about a mob that commandeered a dead man's funeral in order to protest against the Shah.

Marjane has a maid named Mehri. Mehri's parents had given Mehri to the Satrapi's as a child because they had too many children to feed. Mehri falls in love with the neighbor's son and they write passionate love letters to each other. Mehri tells Marjane all about their love for each other. The news about their relationship gets out, however, and Marjane's father finds out. He goes to the neighbor's boy and explains that Mehri is not their daughter but is, instead their maid. The boy decides not to see Mehri anymore. When Mr. Satrapi finds that Marjane had written many of Mehri's love letters for her, because Mehri is illiterate, he explains that their love for each other is impermissible because social classes cannot mix. Defiant of her parents, Marjane takes Mehri to demonstrate at the marches. When Marjane's mother finds out, she slaps both her and Mehri for putting themselves in such a difficult situation.

Many people are beginning to die in the revolution. The Shah's rule becomes impossible and so he leaves the country for the United States, a move that Mr. Satrapi interprets as the United State's greed for the world's oil. At school, Marjane and her friends try to beat up a boy that was in the Shah's secret police. The boy defiantly tells her that he is proud that his father killed communists. Marjane is told that she must forgive those that torture. Marjane gives up her "Dialectic Materialism" comics and retreats to the arms of her imaginary God friend.

After the Shah steps down, the political prisoners are released. Two of them, Mohsen and Siamak, are good friends of the family and come to visit. They tell stories of torture and imprisonment. The torturers, they say, had been trained by United States CIA agents. Marjane and her friends begin to play games in which they pretend the losers are tortured. Marjane feels badly for such games and her mother again tells her that she must forgive those that tortured.

Marjane learns that her Uncle Anoosh had also been in prison and she is proud that he is a hero of the Revolution. Anoosh had defied the Shah's rule by taking a position in a government that had declared independence from the Shah. He had moved to the U.S.S.R. where he had become a Marxist and had married. His wife had divorced him and he had returned to Iran where he had been captured and imprisoned. Anoosh tells her that her family's memory must live on through such stories.

Her father and her uncle have intense and somewhat confusing political conversations. The revolution was leftist, yet the republic is led by religious fundamentalists. Anoosh predicts that the religious leaders will soon relinquish control to the people. Many people, including some in Marjane's family, begin to move to the United States and to Europe to escape the new fundamentalist regime. Marjane's father does not want to leave Iran because he would lose his social status. The situation becomes perilous, however, and the family learns that Mohsen and Siamak's sister had been killed by the Guardians of the Republic, a kind of military police force. The former revolutionaries soon become the enemies of the republic.

Marjane finds out that her Uncle Anoosh has been arrested and is being held in captivity. Her father tells her that Anoosh has asked that she be the one visitor he is allowed. Marjane goes to see her uncle and he tells her that she is the daughter he wished he could have had. Soon, they learn that Anoosh has been executed on the false charges of being a Russian spy. Marjane banishes her God friend forever and feels empty and alone. At that moment, bombs begin to fall and the Iraq Iran war begins.

Other events begin to occur quickly. The American embassy is overtaken and the Americans are forced to leave Iran. This crushes Marjane's dream of one day going to the United States. Soon, the religious leaders close all of the universities so that the curriculum can be changed. This crushes Marjane's dream of being a famous scientist like Marie Curie. When the car of Marjane's mother breaks down, a group of men assaults her because she is not wearing the required veil around her head. Women are then required to cover their heads in public and Marjane has to lie about how much she prays every day. Marjane's parents allow her to attend a rally demonstrating against the new regime. The demonstration erupts in violence and they do not demonstrate again.

The war intensifies and one day a group of bomber jets descends on Tehran. Marjane is for the war because, as she explains, the Arabs had forced their religion and culture on the Persians 1400 years earlier. Her father believes that the real Islamic invasion is occurring in their own government. A group of fighter pilots is released from jail and they agree to fly for Iran if the old national anthem is broadcast on television. One of Marjane's friends has a father who is a part of the bombing but he is killed during the raid.

During the war, food and rations are low in the country and tensions run high amongst the people. A bombing on the border town of Abadan sends Marjane's friend Mali and her family to stay with them. Mali had been wealthy and her family must sell their expensive jewels, the one salvaged item from the bombing, in order to survive. One day, while shopping in the grocery store, a group of women sees Mali and calls her, and all refugee women, whores. Marjane is ashamed for herself and for Mali.

Young male children are each given keys by their schools. The keys, they are told, represent their ticket into heaven once they are martyred during the war. The key is their ticket to women and a mansion in heaven. One of Marjane's friends is given a key and Marjane's mother tries to tell the boy that this is nothing but nonsense that the schools are telling the children, but the boy seems oblivious. Marjane's cousin Shahab returns home from the front lines and tells Marjane about the horrible things that they do to children there. They send them out into the minefields where they are blown up and killed.

During a party to celebrate the birth of a new cousin, a bombing raid begins. Marjane's aunt becomes scared, hands her child to Marjane, and runs off. The party continues, however, and there is dancing and wine, things that are strictly forbidden by the regime. On their way home, Marjane's family is stopped by the Guardians of the Revolution. Smelling wine on Mr. Satrapi's breath, they follow the family home to search the house. Marjane and her grandmother run up to their apartment to dump out all the wine in the house. The guard, however, only wants a bribe and so the family avoids the search, but they lose all their alcohol.

Marjane makes friends with some older girls at school and one day they all sneak away "Kansas," a Western style burger diner that the regime has overlooked. They flirt with boys until a bombing raid begins and the boys dive in the gutter to stay safe. At home, Marjane's mother is upset that she skipped class and Marjane goes down to her basement where she smokes a cigarette that she had stolen from her uncle.

The war has become very bad with millions of people dying. Marjane's Uncle Taher is very stressed about the war and about sending his son overseas to avoid serving in the military. Because he smokes heavily, Taher had had two heart attacks and soon he suffers a third. At the hospital, a doctor tells Taher's wife that he must go to Europe for heart surgery, but the hospital director refuses to give him a passport. Taher dies on the same day that his passport arrives and he never realizes his final wish of seeing his son one last time.

A year later, the Iranian government reopens the borders and Marjane's parents are allowed to leave the country on a vacation. They leave for Turkey, and when they return, they bring Marjane many presents of Western culture. They sneak in a poster of the rock band Iron Maiden and the rock star Kim Wilde. Marjane goes out wearing a jean jacket, sneakers, and a Michael Jackson button, but she is accosted by two women Guardians. They threaten to arrest her but let her return home safely. Marjane does not tell her mother about the incident for fear that she will become stricter and not let her have such Western things. One day, Marjane goes out of the house to buy a pair of jeans. While shopping, a bombing occurs in her neighborhood. Marjane rushes home to find the house next to hers demolished. She sees the arm of her Jewish friend, Neda Baba-Levy, sticking out from the wreckage. She had been killed in the attack.

Marjane grows up to become a "rebel" and, after a confrontation with one of her teachers, she is kicked out of school. Fearing that the country is no longer safe for their daughter, the Satrapis decide to send Marjane to Austria to attend a French school there. Marjane spends one last night in the arms of her grandmother who advises her not to carry resentment or hatred towards anyone. The next day, her parents take her to the airport. Marjane senses that, though she will see her parents again, they will never again live in the same household. At the customs gate, Marjane turns to see her parents leave. Her mother has fainted in her father’s arms.

Why study history?

Why study history? Anyone considering enrolling in a history course must think about this question.

To study history, you should have an interest in the past – but that should not be your only reason for studying history. It is also important that you understand the importance and value of history.

The value of history questioned

In today’s world, where the focus is very much on today and tomorrow, the value of history is often questioned.

Many people are sceptical about the practical worth of history. Some question the relevance and usefulness of studying things that happened long ago. Some believe history has little or no bearing on their lives or on the world today. Some doubt the practical value of a history qualification in the career market.

All these issues deserve some thought, particularly for aspiring history students. You should know your reasons for choosing to study history. As an exponent of history, you should be able to explain and justify these reasons.

This page contains some brief points about the value and importance of studying history. It may be useful for those thinking about a history course, as well as teachers or parents advising young people about studying history.

John F Kennedy as a young history student at college

History requires a complex range of skills

Many people with a negative or dismissive view of history think it involves simple memorisation and recall of facts and dates, but little else. It is, they believe, simply knowing what happened in the past. Anyone who has studied history at higher levels will tell you there is much more involved.

History requires you to acquire and utilise many skills. History students must develop the ability to locate, study and interpret written and visual material, in order to extract evidence and meaning. They must be adept at contextualisation, analysis, problem-solving and critical thinking. History students must be strong communicators, to express their findings clearly and effectively.

History also draws on and utilises knowledge and ideas from many other disciplines, including politics, legal studies, economics, sociology, philosophy, psychology, the sciences and the arts. These skills and knowledge can be extremely useful, both in employment and in the study of other subjects.

History teaches lessons about past, present and future

For as long as human beings have studied history, cynics have dismissed it as a curious indulgence, a quaint but worthless fascination with vanished societies and dead people. This attitude was typified by American industrialist Henry Ford, who in 1916 said that “History is more or less bunk [nonsense] … the only history worth a damn is the history we make today”.

Ford’s negative view of history, while not uncommon, is narrow and misguided. History certainly does require study of the past – but this only enhances your understanding of the modern world.

Most history courses focus on timeless themes and issues – for example, the ways in which people, communities and nations interact the nature of power and leadership the difficulties of government and economic management the impact of war and conflict on societies and the relationships between different classes, wealth, capital and labour.

These themes, issues and challenges remain a constant in human societies. Only the people, places and details change.

History also provides an essential context for understanding the modern world. It is impossible to understand modern Russia and China, for example, without understanding how these societies have been shaped by imperialism, war, revolution, communism and the Cold War.

History teaches you to research and interpret

To be a successful history student or historian, you must first become a good researcher. Research is the skill of locating and gathering information and historical evidence, from many different places. This evidence can be found in a variety of forms, including documents, visual material, physical artefacts, oral and digital sources.

Historians apply their knowledge and skills to locate sources and to extract information, evidence and meaning from them. They think critically about every piece of evidence, testing and evaluating its reliability, credibility, usefulness and significance.

All this makes historians and history graduates skilled at locating, handling and evaluating information. Skills like these are not just valued in history, they are in demand in other academic disciplines and a range of professions.

History teaches you to think and problem-solve

History can be extraordinarily complex. It requires a great deal of detective work, careful thought and problem-solving. As historians locate information and evidence, they begin to build up an understanding and a ‘picture’ of the people, event or society being studied. As they delve deeper into the past, historians almost always find unanswered questions, unclear information or missing pieces of evidence.

After finishing his or her research, the historian must start looking for answers. At this point, history becomes akin to assembling a gigantic jigsaw puzzle – except there is no box or picture to serve as a guide and some of the pieces are missing. The historian must weigh up their evidence, think logically and laterally, then develop credible and justifiable arguments or theories.

History teaches you to communicate

As in other humanities disciplines, historians and history students must be effective communicators. They must develop and refine techniques to share their findings and conclusions.

Historians communicate in many different ways. Many prominent historians publish the findings of their research as books. Academic historians often write articles for scholarly journals, where they are peer reviewed (examined by other historians) before publication.

Historians can also articulate their findings in newspaper or magazine articles, interviews, lectures, symposiums and conferences or on the Internet.

History students, in contrast, usually outline their conclusions in essays and term papers, book reports, document or image analyses, oral presentations, performances, projects, slideshows and examinations. All require you to develop a range of communication skills. These skills are used and valued in other academic disciplines, as well as various fields of employment.

History prepares you for many professions

One criticism often made of history is a perceived lack of value in the career market. While commerce students go on to work in business and science students have a range of career options, a history qualification seems to offer few direct paths to employment (other than history teaching, academia or museum work).

This is an unfair representation of how useful and highly regarded history qualifications are. The skills and knowledge acquired from studying history are valued by many professions.

As effective writers and communicators, many history graduates become successful journalists, copywriters, authors, editors, content managers and marketing professionals. Being able to locate, organise and manage information has enabled many history graduates to become outstanding researchers, librarians, information managers and administrators.

Many history graduates also complete additional study to become lawyers, diplomats and public officials. Politics is another career path for history graduates, some of whom have risen to high office. History is also a useful platform for a career in the military or police forces – or for further studies in economics, business management, records management, social work or psychology.

Some famous people who have studied history at university level:

  • Joe Biden (US vice president)
  • Gordon Brown (British prime minister)
  • Steve Carell (American actor/comedian)
  • Prince Charles (British royal)
  • Sacha Baron Cohen (British actor/comedian)
  • Winston Churchill (British prime minister)
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower (US general and president)
  • Katherine Hepburn (American actress)
  • Seymour Hersh (American journalist)
  • Chris Hughes (American entrepreneur and co-founder of Facebook)
  • Kareem Abdul Jabbar (American basketballer)
  • John F. Kennedy (American president)
  • Henry Kissinger (American politician and diplomat)
  • Richard Nixon (American president)
  • Ed Norton (American actor)
  • Conan O’Brien (American TV host)
  • Bill O’Reilly (American broadcaster)
  • Samuel Palmisano (American executive, CEO of IBM)
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt (American president)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (American president)
  • Salman Rushdie (British author)
  • Antonin Scalia (US Supreme Court Justice)
  • Shakira (Colombian pop singer)
  • Howard Stringer (Welsh executive, CEO of Sony)
  • Louis Theroux (British documentary maker)
  • H. G. Wells (British author)
  • Gough Whitlam (Australian prime minister)
  • Woodrow Wilson (American president)

History creates good citizens

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, history helps create thoughtful people and good citizens.

Unlike those in fields like mathematics or the physical sciences, history students spend most of their time studying people and societies. They learn what it means to be human. They learn the value of things like ethics, empathy, diversity and social justice. They learn the risks and dangers of certain ideas. They learn about the timeless issues and problems that affect human societies, both past and present.

This equips history graduates to understand and work with the people in their own world. Studying history also creates thoughtful and active citizens who are willing to participate in the political process or in their own communities.

Many history students are also endowed with healthy scepticism. They have a willingness and capacity to question their own world – and perhaps find ways to make it better.

Outfitting an American Revolutionary Soldier

When the Americans began to fight for independence, the British government was able to provide their soldiers and weapons to combat the rebels. But the American rebels had to try to put together an army without money and without a strong government to organize that effort. Each colony raised regiments of soldiers to send to the Continental Line, the main army. Each colony also had its own militia to protect its citizens and property, if the British army should come within its borders.

Supplying the Troops

Supplying the American troops was an extremely difficult task. There were very few factories in the colonies that could produce the weapons and the equipment needed by an army. The money necessary to pay for supplies was issued by the new state governments and the new central government. But this money did not have the trust of the business people and had very little value.

Another problem was getting the supplies to the soldiers. When the Continental army was able to get supplies, they had to be shipped great distances, usually by wagon across rugged trails and roads. The wagons were sometimes attacked and taken by enemy troops or by highwaymen—outlaws.

American soldiers also took supplies from the British army. After defeating the Loyalists at Moore's Creek Bridge in February 1776, North Carolina troops seized 1,500 firearms, 150 swords and dirks, ammunition, two valuable medicine chests, and thirteen wagons. This equipment was put to use against British troops.


Weapons were the army's main concern. The most important weapon during the American Revolution was the musket—a long smoothbore gun (a gun without grooves inside its barrel) fired from the shoulder—with a bayonet attached at the end. These weapons led to a certain style of fighting in the 1700s. Muskets could be aimed and fired accurately only at a target that was within one hundred yards. So the armies fought in groups of men, organized as regiments, at close range. The enemy regiments would line up face-to-face and fire two or three volleys—a volley involved firing all the muskets at once—and then charge with bayonets. The losing regiment was either driven from the battlefield or forced to surrender.

The idea was that because the muskets could not be aimed very accurately at a distance, the regiments would fill the air with massive amounts of lead. This shower of lead would strike down many of the enemy, causing gaps in their line. The regiment could then charge through the gaps, creating disorder and panic and causing the enemy soldiers to retreat or surrender. Speed was an important factor. A trained soldier could fire a musket about four times a minute. The flintlock type of firearm fired when a piece of flint struck steel. This created a spark, which in turn set off black powder/gunpowder in the barrel of the gun. This type of gun did not work in wet weather because the loose gunpowder got damp and would not ignite. Consequently, both armies avoided battles when it was raining.

The British army used the "Brown Bess," a musket that fired one-ounce lead balls. These guns were used by American soldiers when they could be captured from the British soldiers.

When the war began, American soldiers used the weapons from their state's militia stores or from home. Recognizing a shortage, the Continental Congress and the individual colonies placed orders with American gunsmiths to make as many flintlocks as possible. Muskets were also bought from European manufacturers.

In 1778 France became an ally of the colonies in their fight against England. The French government sent large quantities of French muskets. These muskets were much lighter in weight than the British army's "Brown Bess" and fired a smaller lead ball. They were a favored weapon of the Continental soldier.

Muskets could be fitted with a bayonet that made them into a "spear that could shoot." The soldiers would use bayonets for hand-to-hand combat when they charged the enemy after firing their volleys. The bayonets had sharp points that were used to thrust and jab at the enemy.

Bayonets were brutally effective weapons, causing many of the wounds and deaths during battles.


Another type of weapon was the American long rifle. Many legends surround the American long rifle in the Revolution.

The rifle was a long gun made with grooves inside its barrel which made it more accurate than a musket. It was very accurate up to 300 yards and thus was a powerful weapon in the hands of scouts and skirmishers. American riflemen were so feared that some British officers were advised to remove the gold trimmings from their coats. However, the rifle was a slow weapon to reload and did not have a bayonet. A rifleman could be overtaken quickly by dragoons—troops on horseback—or by men with bayonets. North Carolina riflemen participated in defeating the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Small Arms

The armies also had small arms—weapons that could be carried in a soldier's hand. These included pistols, sabers, and other spear-like weapons called spontoons and halberds. Often these weapons were carried by officers and sergeants as a sign of rank. Officers, particularly, carried smallswords. Dragoons were equipped with pistols and sabers. For North Carolina mounted troops, sabers were often made from steel saws by local blacksmiths. Pistols were rare.


Also very important to the armies was artillery—large guns mounted so they could be moved easily and fired by a crew of men. Artillery included field cannon used on the battlefield, cannon used in forts and on ships, and cannon called howitzers and mortars used to drop bombs into a fort or a confined area such as a ship. North Carolina had artillery companies at various places throughout the war. It also sent an independent artillery company to the North Carolina Brigade with General George Washington's army.

Equipment of the Continental Army Soldier

During the war, Continental soldiers were the core of the American Revolutionary war effort. These were the men that General Washington and Congress depended most upon. Congress raised the Continental army by calling on the individual states to organize regiments of soldiers. North Carolina was asked to raise two regiments of five hundred men each. Eventually it sent ten regiments of infantry to the Continental Line. These regiments were formed into a single brigade called the North Carolina Brigade. This brigade joined Washington's army in 1777.

The Continental infantryman had equipment that was like that of the British soldier. In addition to a musket, he carried on his right side a leather or tin cartridge box that held twenty to thirty rounds of ammunition, a musket tool, and a supply of flints. On his left side he carried his bayonet in a leather scabbard attached to a linen or leather shoulder strap. Each soldier had a haversack, usually made of linen, to carry his food rations and eating utensils. The utensils usually included a fork made of wrought iron, a pewter or horn spoon, a knife, a plate, and a cup. He also had a canteen of wood, tin, or glass to carry water. A knapsack held extra clothing and other personal items such as a razor for shaving, a tinderbox with flint and steel for starting a fire, candle holders, a comb, and a mirror. Soldiers also often carried a fishhook and some twine so that they could catch some fish when they were near a lake, creek, or river.

Equipment of a Militiaman

The Continental army often used the local militia to help out. The militia, made up of male citizens over sixteen years of age, was the defense force of each state. Regiments of militia were called up for service by the governor or the commanding general to serve for a campaign or for a period of time as needed. These soldiers were told what equipment they had to bring with them.

The militia soldier carried equipment that looked different from that of the Continental soldier but that usually performed the same or similar function. His knapsack was generally made from linen or canvas and sometimes painted. His haversack and canteen were usually similar to those used by the Continentals. He also had an ax and a blanket.

A militia rifleman carried his rifle, knife, tomahawk—a light ax, water bottle, a powderhorn for his black powder, and a hunting pouch that held other shooting supplies. Sometimes a patch knife, used to cut a patch of cloth, and a loading block, which held patched bullets enabling the rifleman to load quicker, were attached to the strap of the hunting pouch. In addition, a charger measured the amount of powder to put into the rifle when loading.


Uniforms were a vital consideration to the armies. During this period, battles fought with black-powder weapons would produce enough smoke to make it difficult to see more than a few yards. Clouds of thick smoke would form over the battlefield. It was important to distinguish between friend and foe. Because the smoke was white, bright colors were used for uniforms. The British wore, for the most part, red and scarlet uniforms the French, uniforms of white and differing shades of blue and the Americans, dark blues and browns.

Congress did not adopt a Continental uniform until 1779. However, soldiers attempted to have clothing similar to the others in the company or regiment. Many volunteer companies entered the war in uniforms purchased by themselves or their commanders.

The uniform of the American soldier was made up of:

  • a hat, usually turned up on one or three sides,
  • a shirt made of linen or cotton,
  • a black leather stock, worn around the neck,
  • a wool coat, usually with collar, cuffs, and lapels that were a different color
  • a waistcoat or vest, usually made of linen or wool,
  • a pair of wool, linen, or cotton trousers, either breeches that were gathered just below the knee, or overalls,
  • stockings, and
  • leather shoes.

Congress adopted brown as the official color for uniforms in 1775. But there was a shortage of brown cloth, so some regiments dressed in blue and gray. In September 1778 Congress received a large shipment of uniforms from France. The North Carolina Continental Line regiments received blue coats faced with red collars, cuffs, and lapels. In October 1779 Congress adopted regulations requiring North Carolina troops to wear a uniform made of a blue coat with blue facing and laced with white around the buttonholes.

North Carolina troops frequently were without proper uniforms, but the most difficult item to supply was shoes. In 1777 officers from one regiment appealed to Governor Richard Caswell for help, stating that the men were "without blankets or tents or shoes." The governor noted that many of the privates of the Independent Artillery Company were barefoot. The winter of 1777–1778 was a hard winter for the American soldiers. Driving rains turned to snow and sleet, causing great suffering to men without shoes. General Washington wrote: "You might have tracked the army . . . to Valley Forge by the blood of their feet." Eventually the government was able to supply the necessary shoes to the North Carolinians.

Hunting Shirts

Along with the American long rifle, the American hunting shirt became famous in the American Revolution. It was generally made of homespun linen and cut in a long overshirt or wraparound style. It had rows of fringe around the edges and fit loosely so the wearer could move easily. Favored by General Washington, it was frequently worn by both Continentals and the militia. In 1776 Washington described it: "No dress can be cheaper nor more convenient, as the wearer may be cool in warm weather and warm in cold weather by putting on [additional clothes]. . . . "

In 1775 when the North Carolina Congress raised a battalion of ten companies of minutemen, or militia, it called for these men to be uniformed in hunting shirts. General Washington stated that a man wearing a hunting shirt created "no small terror to the enemy who think every such person is a complete marksman." Aside from hunting shirts, the militia usually wore homespun wool coats in a variety of colors and patterns and waistcoats, breeches, and stockings.

Equipment for the Camp

Equipment for camp was vitally important to the soldier's comfort as well as his life. Probably the most important piece of camp equipment for the American soldier in the American Revolution was his blanket. It protected him against the cold, and, when he did not have a tent to sleep in, from the moisture in the air. It also served as an overcoat when a soldier did not have one. Blankets were usually made of wool, and Governor Caswell considered them a priority when he supplied the troops.

Tents provided protection from the cold and rain. They came in various sizes, generally depending on the occupant's rank. The officers' larger tents were called marquees. They were made of canvas or heavy cotton, usually about ten feet across by fourteen-feet deep by eight-feet high. By comparison, a private's tent was about six-and-one-half–feet square by five-feet high. It was expected to hold five men.

Feeding the army was difficult, especially during the winter. When the army was marching or on a campaign, soldiers were given a type of biscuit or hard bread and ears of corn. Sometimes there was a packet of cornmeal and, when available, some dried beef. Baggage wagons carried the provisions and rations in front of the North Carolina soldiers as the men marched. This was done so that when the campsite was reached, the men could pick up the rations from the wagons as they passed by.

In camp, cooking utensils were necessary because food was issued in raw form. A set of cooking utensils was usually issued to every six or eight men. This included a kettle, cooking forks and spoons, and often a water bucket. Soldiers usually provided their own forks, spoons, and knives to eat with. They also needed a plate, usually made of wood or pewter, and a drinking cup. In the North Carolina Brigade, soldiers were not allowed to put any of their personal property in the baggage wagons when they were on the march. They had to carry their own blankets, kettles, and other personal items.

In 1777 it was ordered that each soldier would receive one pound of flour or bread, one and one-half pound of beef or pork, and one quart of beer per day. Each week he would receive five pints of peas, one pint of meal, and six ounces of butter. Vinegar was issued on occasion and rum was issued to those men working around the camp and on guard duty. It was recommended that the men should always boil or roast their provisions.

Supply Shortages

Often it was hard to get supplies, and the shortages hurt the war effort. The North Carolina troops planned an expedition to Georgia and Florida, but it failed for lack of supplies. One officer defended General Robert Howe of North Carolina, stating that the public was "throwing a thousand reflections on the General and the army for not marching to attack the enemy and storm lines, without provisions and without ammunition." The officer elaborated, "What can be more cruel than crowding eight, ten, and twelve men into one tent, and oblige those who cannot get in, to sleep in the heavy dews?" Ten to fifteen men were using one camp kettle and six to eight men were sharing one canteen. Sometimes when supplies were issued, there was confusion as to whether they were meant for the Continental Line troops or the state militia regiments.

With poor shelter and food, and lack of sanitary conditions, thousands of soldiers fell seriously ill and many died. Overcrowding in tents and hospitals caused the diseases to spread. Soldiers sent to hospitals with one disease often acquired a second one while they were there. In an effort to prevent sickness, the North Carolina Brigade was often ordered to clean their camp and warned not to throw bones and scraps of meat around their tents. The troops were ordered to keep themselves as clean as possible. Eight pounds of soap was distributed each week to every hundred men. A general order in 1777 called for the North Carolina Continental troops to shave their beards and to be properly dressed in regimental uniforms.

The Continentals and militiamen from North Carolina were never supplied as well as some of the soldiers from the wealthier or more industrial states. However, they seemed to make up for their lack of supplies and equipment with their willingness to endure hardship. At Valley Forge during the cruel winter of 1777–1778, the North Carolina Brigade had the lowest number of desertions of any state although it was the poorest in provisions and clothing. Perhaps by this time, the North Carolinians had grown accustomed to doing without.

After General Cornwallis retreated to Wilmington and then to Virginia in 1781, the North Carolina militia generally controlled the state and its resources. Food and equipment were supplied more regularly to its troops fighting in South Carolina and elsewhere. After Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington in October, the shortages the Carolina troops experienced were due more to a general feeling that the war was over and North Carolinians did not have to worry so much about supplying the army.

Additional resources:

Cole, David. Survey of U.S. Army Uniforms, Weapons and Accoutrements. U.S. Army Center of Military History. 2007. (accessed February 25, 2013).

"Just the Essentials: Clothing and Equipment of Revolutionary War Soldiers." Minute Man National Historical Park. National Park Service, U. S. Department of the Interior. 2009. (accessed February 25, 2013).

North Carolina American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. 1976. The American Revolution Bicentennial: four great events in North Carolina. Raleigh, N.C.: [The Commission.

Rankin, Hugh F. 1977. The North Carolina Continental line in the American Revolution. North Carolina bicentennial pamphlet series, 12. Raleigh: [North Carolina State University Graphics].

Volo, Dorothy Denneen, and James M. Volo. 2003. Daily life during the American Revolution. The Greenwood Press "Daily life through history" series. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

“Guilford Courthouse, 15 March 1781” by H. Charles McBarron. U.S. Army Center of Military History.

“Survey of U.S. Army Uniforms, Weapons, Accoutrements.” Courtesy of US Army Center of Military History:

Holmes, Richard. 2002. Redcoat: the British soldier in the age of horse and musket. New York: Norton.


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