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The Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) was formed in 1985 as many of the Maoist-oriented groups formed in the United States New Communist Movement of the 1970s were shrinking or collapsing. The FRSO tried to solidify some of these groups into a single organization that would have some longevity.
The component groups of the FRSO saw ultraleftism as the main error of the New Communist Movement and attempted to reverse what they saw as that movement's excessive divisiveness and sectarianism. The FRSO was founded by a merger of two organizations - the Proletarian Unity League and the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters in 1985, and then a subsequent fusing with the Organization for Revolutionary Unity in 1986. The FRSO later absorbed other groups too, including the Amílcar Cabral-Paul Robeson Collective in 1988 and the Socialist Organizing Network in 1994.
The FRSO supports self-determination, up to and including independence, for African Americans in the Black Belt Region of the U.S. South, Chicanos in the U.S. Southwest and the Hawaiian nation in the Pacific Ocean. Much of the theory regarding this comes from the African American Communist Harry Haywood, as laid out in resolutions at the Comintern in 1928 and 1930. The FRSO's position on the national question is a defining feature of its politics.
In 1999, the FRSO split into two competing organizations, each retaining the organization's name. Each of these groups considers itself to be the only legitimate Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
In the 1980s, members of the FRSO and its predecessor organizations worked to build the Rainbow Coalition, and supported both of Jesse Jackson's campaigns for the presidency of the United States (1984 and 1988). They also worked on the successful campaign to get African-American progressive Harold Washington elected as mayor of Chicago in 1983 and reelected in 1987.
In the 1980s, the FRSO also played an important role in the U.S. student movement. Particularly the FRSO played a role in leading the Progressive Student Network (PSN), a national, multi-issue, progressive student activist organization.
From the 1980s through the mid-1990s, the FRSO published a magazine called Forward Motion, which previously had been published by the Proletarian Unity League, one of the FRSO's predecessor organizations.
FRSO played a role in the anti-war movement that emerged in 1990 in opposition to the Gulf War. FRSO also helped build the reproductive rights / abortion rights movement in this period, including the massive 1989 demonstration in Washington DC.
In response to the fall of Eastern European governments, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, two distinct positions began to emerge within the FRSO on how to assess the socialist countries. One position saw the events of 1989-1991 as indicative of a deep crisis in socialism that required what they called "left refoundation". The other position continued to assess the experience of socialist countries as essentially positive, and saw their defeats as the result of revisionism, not as a crisis of Marxism itself. This side continued to identify itself as Marxist-Leninist. At the organization's 1991 Congress, the group's highest decision-making body, a document explaining the official position of the organization was adopted entitled "On the Crisis of Socialism." This document was reaffirmed at the 1997 Congress. This internal division solidified throughout the 1990s until the organization split in 1999.
In 1994 the Socialist Organizing Network (SON) merged into FRSO. SON was formed out of the disollution of the League of Revolutionary Struggle in the late 1980s, and included those who had been in LRS that still considered themselves Marxists (most of the LRS leadership had rejected Marxism when they decided to disband the LRS).
The merger between FRSO and SON technically marked the creation of a new organization, as at the time it was seen as a merger of two equal organizations into something new, rather than SON being incorporated in the FRSO. Therefore, for a brief time the merged organization was called "Freedom Road / Socialist Organizing Network", including both organizations' names, with the possibility existing that the merged organization would adopt an entirely new name. A new name never came to fruition, so the name reverted to "Freedom Road Socialist Organization". But the 1994 FRSO Congress, at which the FRSO/SON merger was formalized, was referred to as the First Congress of FRSO/SON.
Socialist Organizing Network's publication Moving Forward was published by the FRSO for a short period after the merger. The FRSO continued to sporadically publish Forward Motion during the 1990s. In 1998, the FRSO's Chicago District and Minnesota / Madison District began to publish a Midwest regional newspaper called Fight Back! News.
In 1999, FRSO split into two groups, each retaining the organization's name. For a time after the split the two identically-named groups were identified by their respective publication's name — Freedom Road Magazine (which was started by the Freedom Road (freedomroad.org) group shortly after the split) and Fight Back! Newspaper (which had been started as a region newspaper by Mid-western districts pre-split). This led to the use of "Freedom Road Socialist Organization [Freedom Road]" and "Freedom Road Socialist Organization [Fight Back!]". The parenthetical terms are not used by either group to describe itself - both groups consider themselves to be the only legitimate Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
For the remainder of this article, the two groups will be identified by their website address in order to remain objective, as neither group accepts any of the parenthetical qualifications of their name. The Freedom Road Socialist Organization [Freedom Road] will now be referred to as FRSO (freedomroad.org), and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization [Fight Back] is now referred to as FRSO (frso.org).
The two groups split principally over the proposal by a section of FRSO's membership in 1999 that FRSO adopt a Left Refoundation strategy. The Left Refoundation strategy was advocated by those who saw Marxism as in deep crisis. The aim of the statement and strategy was to further elaborate a response to the "crisis of socialism". It called for the construction of "a new type of political party" to unite with advanced sections of the masses, stressing collaboration across the left over strict adherence to Marxism-Leninism. Within the FRSO (freedomroad.org) group were proponents of the Left Refoundation statement and strategy and others while the FRSO (frso.org) group rejected it, characterizing it as an abandonment of Marxism-Leninism.
The Freedom Road Socialist Organization group that publishes Fight Back! News is associated with the website frso.org. The FRSO (frso.org) continues to explicitly uphold Marxism-Leninism. The organization operates according to democratic centralism, and it upholds an anti-revisionist political line towards the world communist movement. The FRSO (frso.org) actively maintains friendly relations with many Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations around the world, and they annually participate in the International Communist Seminar.
The FRSO (frso.org) puts forward a unique strategy for revolution in the United States, which is "to build the strategic alliance between the multinational working class and the oppressed nations under the leadership of the proletariat and its party." The FRSO (frso.org) builds toward the creation of a multinational, revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Communist party in the U.S.
The FRSO (frso.org) continues to uphold much of FRSO's pre-split line on the African-American, Chicano and Hawaiian national questions, supporting self-determination for the African-American nation in the Black Belt South, the Chicano nation in the Southwest and the Hawaiian nation in the Pacific Ocean. The organization puts forward the line that "a single, unified, multinational communist party is needed to build the strategic alliance" in place of the pre-split unity document's "support and encourage[ment of] the independent organization of oppressed nationality revolutionaries and progressives, where they have determined it to be necessary," support which extends even to the formation of communist parties of a single nationality.
Unlike FRSO (freedomroad.org), the FRSO (frso.org) continues to uphold Joseph Stalin as one of the "principal theorists" of Marxism-Leninism, along with Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and Mao Zedong. The FRSO (frso.org) recognizes Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and China as socialist countries. It also maintains close relations with the Workers Party of Belgium (WPB), participating annually in the WPB's International Communist Seminar—one of two U.S.-based groups to attend in 2006, along with Workers World Party. The FRSO (frso.org) support national liberation movements in Palestine, the Philippines and Colombia, and they stand in solidarity with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). The FRSO's (frso.org) continued solidarity with the national liberation movements in Colombia and Palestine in particular remain a defining feature of the organization since the 1999 split.
The FRSO (frso.org) is active in the labor movement, the oppressed nationalities movements, the immigrant rights movement, and the student movement. They actively participate in the new Students for a Democratic Society.
FRSO (frso.org) has held organizational Congresses in 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2010.
At the 2001 Congress, FRSO (frso.org) adopted a new version of their main Unity Statement, since the pre-split version did not explicitly mention Marxist-Leninism.
At the 2004 Congress, FRSO (frso.org) produced a new statement on the National Questions in the U.S., which they said, "represents a concluding step in placing our organization on a Marxist-Leninist basis."
At the 2007 Congress, FRSO (frso.org) released a document titled "Class in the U.S. and Our Strategy for Revolution." They stated that this document would be the first piece of a larger organizational political program, the other parts of which are still in the process of development. Freedom Road has historically not had an organizational program, instead having a "Unity Statement". Historically it is more common for communist parties and organizations to have a program. At the 2007 Congress, FRSO (frso.org) also released a document titled "The Movement Against the War in Iraq: A New Period and Our Tasks."
FRSO (frso.org) held their Sixth Congress in 2010. This Congress produced a statement from the organization, a main political report, and seven resolutions on different areas of struggle, including the immigrant rights movement. The FRSO statement from the Sixth Congress emphasized unprecedented growth and gains in advancing the struggle in the labor movement, the student movement, the oppressed nationalities movements, and the immigrant rights movement.
On September 24, 2010, over 70 FBI agents simultaneously raided homes and served subpoenas to prominent antiwar and international solidarity activists in Minneapolis, MN, Chicago, IL, and Grand Rapids, MI. The FBI agents seized computers, books, written material, cell phones, family portraits, clothing and other items that they deemed political. FBI agents also visited and attempted to question activists in Milwaukee, WI, Durham, NC, and San Jose, CA. The search warrants and subpoenas indicated that the FBI was looking for evidence related to the "material support of terrorism".
In the process of raiding an activist's home, FBI agents accidentally left behind a file of secret FBI documents showing that the raids were aimed at people who were or were suspected of being members of the FRSO (frso.org). The documents revealed a series of questions that agents would ask activists regarding their involvement in the FRSO (frso.org) and their international solidarity work related to Colombia and Palestine.
On January 12, 2011, members of the newly formed Committee to Stop FBI Repression held a press conference in Minnesota revealing that the FBI had placed an informant inside the FRSO (frso.org) to gather information prior to the raids.
A federal judge unsealed the FBI's extensive documents collected during its nearly three-year surveillance of the FRSO (frso.org) on February 26, 2014. At 104 pages, the documents revealed that the FBI placed an informant around and eventually inside the FRSO (frso.org) during and after the 2008 protests at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, St. Paul. The informant, named Karen Sullivan, attempted to craft a case that the FRSO (frso.org) was materially supporting the FARC and the PFLP with their anti-war and international solidarity activism.
To date, no charges have been brought against members of the FRSO (frso.org).
The FRSO (frso.org) has published various pamphlets and flyers, including many topical pamphlets on different areas of struggle. In April 2009, the FRSO (frso.org) published a pamphlet entitled The Immigrant Rights Movement and the Struggle for Full Equality, which put forward a class analysis of the immigrant rights movement and looked at the movement in relation to the Chicano national liberation struggle.
Freedom Road (freedomroad.org) continues to uphold the line FRSO adopted in 1991 (prior to the split) encapsulated by its organizational document, "On the Crisis of Socialism". This document was adopted in light of the collapse of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe and the crushing of the pro-democracy movement in China in 1989. It stressed an interpretation of Marxism-Leninism as a scientific ideology of socialist revolution rather than as an orthodoxy or dogma. The document restated FRSO's support of the dictatorship of the proletariat while clarifying its line against the interpretation of this concept as a "massive repressive state apparatus over and above the people." The latter interpretation, the group argues, led to counter-revolutionary tendencies taking hold in the Soviet bloc states and in China after capitalist restoration. According to an article on its website, "Toward a Critical Reassessment of Maoism," this is a problem it also sees in "Stalinian Marxism" or Stalinism.
FRSO (freedomroad.org) continues to uphold FRSO's pre-split line supporting full self-determination for the Black and Chicano/a nations in the South's Black Belt Region and Southwest (Aztlan) respectively, including "support and encourage[ment of] the independent organization of oppressed nationality revolutionaries and progressives, where they have determined it to be necessary" up to and including the formation of communist parties of a single oppressed nationality. Its theoretical materials stress the "intersections" of these struggles, with each other and with the struggles of feminism, LGBT liberation, and the labor movement; that is, oppressors and forms of oppression and goals that they hold in common. FRSO (freedomroad.org) argues that such "intersections" highlight the necessity of building a united front of the movements of the multi-national working class and those of oppressed communities and nationalities, toward the aim of revolution. It has summed up this line as "Organizing All the Oppressed To End All Our Oppressions."
FRSO (freedomroad.org) held organizational Congresses in 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009. The 2003 Congress produced the document FRSO/OSCL's Strategy for a New Historical Period. This document states that, "The main task of socialists in this period is to win a significant minority of the US population to oppose the program of planetary military control, or empire, which Bush and company are implementing. We must win a subset of this significant minority to be fully anti-imperialist. Anti-empire and then anti-imperialist practice — both of which include opposition to white supremacy within the US — is the key link for building a socialist movement in the US."
In 2006, FRSO (freedomroad.org) began to officially call itself "Freedom Road Socialist Organization / Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad", using both the English and Spanish names together. In an abbreviated manner the group refers to itself to as "FRSO/OSCL" or "Freedom Road/El Camino".
FRSO/OSCL's Strategy for the Coming Period: 2010-2013 was produced at the organization's most recent Congress in 2009. This document discusses the present moment as a time when the left confronts three intersecting crises: the ongoing economic crisis, the political crisis which includes a waning of hegemony for the capitalist state, and the ecological crisis. The strategy points to several places for socialists to make interventions: left refoundation work that deepens relationships and collaboration with other organized and social movement Left forces, sharing a renewed vision of socialism broadly as part of communications and propaganda work, bringing an analysis of the crises and counter-hegemonic demands to mass work in the peoples' movements, an emphasis on participation in the rebuilding of the anti-war movement within the US, strategies for electoral work, and building a lens of ecological justice into all aspects of the organization's work.
FRSO (freedomroad.org) began publishing Freedom Road Magazine in 2001. They ceased publication of it in 2003 after publishing three issues. At that time they declared they would focus more on web-based publications and flyers and pamphlets. They have not published a regular newspaper or magazine since 2003, but do publish a monthly enewsletter Forward Motion.
In 2007 Camino Press published The Cost of Privilege: Taking on the System of White Supremacy and Racism. The book represents theoretical contributions to the understanding of the national questions within the US, white privilege and intersectionality from the creation of the white race over three centuries ago up through present day struggles.
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