Founded in 1985, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) is a revolutionary socialist and Marxist-Leninist entity that is today rooted “primarily in the labor movement, the African-American struggle, the gay and lesbian movements, anti-intervention movements, and the student movement.” It grew initially out of a merger between the Proletarian Unity League and the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters, two members of the New Communist Movement, which was inspired by Mao Zedong and other communist revolutionaries worldwide in the 1960s and 1970s. FRSO’s name derives from a term that was widely used in the antebellum South, where opponents of slavery commonly referred to the Underground Railroad as the Freedom Road. The development of FRSO was further shaped by its subsequent mergers with the Organization for Revolutionary Unity (1986) and the Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective (1989).
Also in the 1980s, FRSO supported the political campaigns of Jesse Jackson and Harold Washington “while working to build the Black liberation movement and the struggle for African American political power.” From the ’80s through the mid-2000s, the Organization helped lead many protests and demonstrations against “every war of every administration—from Reagan to Bush, Jr.”
In 1994 FRSO merged with the Socialist Organizing Network, whose roots were “primarily in the liberation movements of oppressed nationalities and national minorities (Chicano/Latino, Asian American, and African-American) and the labor movement.”
In 1999, FRSO split into two separate groups: FRSO/Fight Back and FRSO/OSCL (Organizacion Socialista del Camino para la Libertad).
FRSO reveres most highly “the primary theoreticians of Marxism-Leninism”—Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. It “also value[s] the contributions of other socialists such as Amilcar Cabral, Fidel Castro, and Ho Chi Minh who applied Marxism to their own conditions,” and seeks to “learn from Marxist-Leninists in the United States, such as William Z. Foster and Harry Haywood.”
Viewing America as an irredeemably racist “oppressor nation” where “white privilege” is ubiquitous, FRSO maintains that “national oppression is at the heart of U.S. economic, political and ideological traditions, and the oppression of the African American people in particular has been central to the U.S. class struggle.” By FRSO’s reckoning, only a “revolutionary leadership” that is “multinational” in nature can put an end to this ugly state of affairs. Reasoning, further, from the premise that “the exploiters simply won’t step aside peacefully,” FRSO asserts that its revolutionary foot soldiers “must be prepared to advance our interests and defend [the people] by any means necessary.”
FRSO notes that it grew out of “a political tradition that is not religious and sees organized religion primarily as a tool of the existing order, encouraging oppressed people to seek salvation in the hereafter rather than justice today.”
In May 2001, FRSO comprehensively laid out its worldview and major objectives in a Unity Statement contending that:
- “the downfall of governments in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, and the rise of the United States as the sole superpower,” were “setbacks” to the “revolution” and “struggle” on behalf of socialism;
- “capitalism—as a system centered on private accumulation and profit—is inherently a system of inequality, injustice, and war”;
- “under capitalism, a handful [of people] that own the factories, the mines, corporate farms, and the banks control the wealth that the majority produces”;
- “a social system where social wealth is not in the hands of a few billionaires, but is controlled by the people,” is preferable to capitalism;
- “capitalism continuously seeks cheaper labor costs,” and values “the rights of property over the rights of people”;
- “capitalism is a system of violence,” and “poverty is built into its operation”;
- “capitalists will stop at nothing to maintain their wealth and power”;
- “U.S. capitalism is … racist capitalism, based on white supremacy”;
- “the U.S. was built on land stolen from indigenous peoples and by the labor of enslaved Africans”;
- “the capitalist class has kept the working class of this country divided along racial lines since colonization”;
- a central feature of capitalism is “the imposition of a differential in the treatment of white people over people of color”;
- “the white supremacist world-view” promoted by capitalism “is internalized among oppressed nationalities/national minorities, producing self-hatred, and self-destructive behavior”;
- “the racist view of the world promoted among white people is constantly reinforced by the institutional racism of U.S. society”;
- because capitalism “for five hundred years … has everywhere rested on colonization without and racist oppression of its minority nationalities within its borders,” the “freedom struggles of the African-American, Chicano, Native American, Pacific-Islander, Asian American, and Puerto Rican peoples have been the driving force of the people’s struggles in the U.S.”;
- “capitalism, together with male supremacy, intensified the subordination and degradation of women”;
- “capitalism also manipulated family life and sexuality to ensure its control over the working class”;
- “the fight for women’s genuine liberation and equality is one of the central components of the communist movement”;
- “countries that have had socialist revolutions have seen huge gains for women in terms of political representation and participation, as well as increased rights such as easier access to jobs outside of the home, easier access to divorce, and increased reproductive freedom”;
- “the Right wing has mounted a full-scale assault on the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, seeking to dehumanize in order to justify persecution and the denial of basic human rights”;
- “rather than buying into narrow definitions of family, we must support full legal and social acceptance of all forms of family”;
- “corporate greed has polluted the air, destroyed the ozone layer, poisoned the waters, and drenched our food with dangerous chemicals”;
- “our survival necessitates public control of technology and production and the elimination of the blind consumerism that causes us to squander so many of the world’s resources needlessly”;
- “socialist countries such as Cuba have developed innovative and forward-looking environmental policies and programs to conserve natural beauty and resources while creating alternative models of development that don’t destroy the earth”;
- “it is clear that capitalism’s need to continually expand and consume more resources is a threat to the ability of the Earth to continue to sustain life”;
- “only conscious socialist planning by all of society” can save the earth from the ravages of capitalism;
- “the U.S. government’s imperialist wars” seek mainly “to re-divide the world”;
- “human needs cannot replace profit as the driving force of society unless the people control their workplaces, their schools, their neighborhoods, and the institutions of government”;
- “capitalism threatens any hope for social justice, peace, and human dignity”;
- capitalism breeds “mass hunger, disease, environmental destruction, poverty, and economic collapse”;
- “socialism is the only solution for the future of humanity”;
- “Marxist-Leninist theory and practice” is necessary “to guide us in making revolutionary change here in the United States”;
- it is vital to “organize in the trade unions to fight for workers’ rights, higher wages, and for an end to racist, sexist and homophobic discrimination in the workplace”;
- “all workers” should be organized, including “the unemployed, the homeless, undocumented immigrants, and prisoners”;
- “the fight for welfare rights” is “an important struggle within the working class”; and
- “a united front against imperialism” must consist of a “strategic alliance of the multi-national working class and oppressed nationality movements at its core and the proletariat in the lead.”
In May 2002, FRSO was a signatory to an anti-Israel, anti-American Resolution Against Zionist and Imperialist Aggression in the Arab World. This document condemned:
- “the terrorist war of Zionism against the Arab-Palestinian people and their sacred rights”;
- “the Zionist occupation and colonisation of ”Arab land in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria”; and
- “the imperialist genocidal embargo of the USA and Great Britain against the Arab-Iraqi people and the preparation of a new imperialist war in the Gulf.”
Meanwhile, the Resolution favored:
- “an independent Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital;
- “the unconditional return of the Arab refugees to their lands and homes; and
- “the liberation of all the anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist prisoners.
To view a list of all signatories of this Resolution, click here.
In 2004 FRSO published a Statement on National Oppression, which amplifies many of the themes in its Unity Statement:
- “Since it is the system of imperialism that profits from and causes national oppression, only the overthrow of this system can end national oppression.”
- “[M]onopoly capitalism is built on both national oppression and the exploitation of the working class.”
- “The United States has conquered the indigenous peoples of North America, Hawai’i and Alaska. U.S. imperialism has taken their lands, suppressed their culture and carried out genocidal policies.”
- “U.S. imperialism brought peoples from Africa, Asia and Latin America to the United States. They have worked as slave and semi-slave labor, their lands and homes stolen, their communities terrorized and their culture degraded.”
- “National oppression in the U.S. is white supremacist national oppression. This white supremacist system propagates ideas of European superiority and other racist ideologies and allows the white population of the U.S. to hold relative material advantage over the oppressed nationalities.”
- “The masses of people of the oppressed nationalities in the United States are workers, who suffer from capitalist exploitation.”
- “Only socialism, which ends capitalist exploitation and brutal racism, and which endorses the liberation and equality of all nations, can improve the lives of the masses of people of the oppressed nationalities, and end all forms of national oppression.”
- “[O]nly the working class can lead this united front in a revolutionary direction towards the overthrow of imperialism. The working class, especially the lower and middle strata, has the least interest in the system of imperialism, and the most to gain from revolution.”
Given the depredations that capitalism allegedly visits upon nonwhites, FRSO supports the right of “separate African-American revolutionary parties” to fight for “self-determination for the African-American nation” via “the establishment of an independent African-American nation based in the South.”
Similarly, FRSO explains that “as a result of historical developments since the annexation of Mexican land by the United States, there emerged an oppressed Chican@/Mexican@ nation of Aztlan.” And the Organization supports “the right to self-determination up to and including secession for that nation.”
By logical extension, FRSO backs the “struggles of national liberation for all other nations brutalized by imperialist oppression whose homelands are within the borders of the United States, such as the Native American nations of the US, the Hawai’ian nation and the Puerto Rican struggle for national independence.”
Though FRSO has mostly contempt for the “bourgeois parties” that comprise the mainstream of American politics, the Organization has chosen to become engaged in electoral politics as a practical means of advancing the “the people’s interests”—particularly via collaboration with the Democratic Party. But FRSO generally views the Democrats as insufficiently radical to serve as a suitable “vehicle of revolution,” thus it supports the establishment and growth of “progressive, independent Third party efforts.”
FRSO is led by a National Executive Committee in which each member is elected to a specific responsibility, and national commissions and work teams that guide the work in particular sectors. Moreover, the Organization currently has districts in about a dozen U.S. cities, and its larger districts are subdivided into units based on their areas of focus—e.g., a community unit, a student unit, and an anti-war unit.
According to FRSO, its member rolls consist of about 46% “oppressed-nationality cadre,” 44% women, and 20% LGBTQ. In an effort to raise these percentages, the Organization is “actively engaged in a transformation process aimed at changing [its] composition to become a majority oppressed nationality, and a majority women.”
The FRSO website provides links to the websites of a number of radical organizations, among which are the International Action Center, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and School of the Americas Watch.
Dozens of left-wing groups currently function as FRSO fronts. Many of these fronts are allies of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement; economist and investigative journalist James Simpson has identified some of them (FRSO fronts that are allied with BLM):
- National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA): seeks to develop “women-of-color leaders” to help domestic workers—who are disproportionately female and nonwhite—gain political power and promote “concrete change”; gave money to CASA de Maryland and the Institute for Policy Studies in 2013; has received funding from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Oak Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Soros Funds, and the Surdna Foundation.
- People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER): promotes “social change” by empowering “those people who are most affected by the problems of society”—specifically, “low-income and working class people, people of color, women, queer and transgender people”—to “lead a movement of millions to eradicate those problems”; evolved from the now-defunct revolutionary communist group STORM; has received funding from the Akonadi Foundation, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation, the Hill-Snowden Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and the Tides Foundation.
- Right to the City Alliance (RTTC): a nationwide network that opposes inner-city “gentrification” that displaces “low-income people, people of color, marginalized LGBTQ communities, and youths of color from their historic urban neighborhoods”; has received funding from the Akonadi Foundation, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Margerite Casey Foundation, the Soros Funds, the Surdna Foundation, and the Tides Foundation.
- School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL): strives to “lay the groundwork for a strong social justice movement by supporting the development of a new generation of organizers rooted in a systemic change analysis—especially people of color, young women, queer and transgender youth, and low-income people”; claims to have trained 679 organizers in 2013; has been funded by the Heinz Foundation, the Akonadi Foundation, the Hill-Snowden Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and the Tides Foundation.
- Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI): “educates and engages African American and black immigrant communities to organize and advocate for racial, social and economic justice”; has been funded by the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, and the Soros Funds.
- Advancement Project (AP): describes itself as a “civil rights law, policy, and communications ‘action tank’ that advances universal opportunity and a just democracy for those left behind in America,” meaning nonwhite minorities; has been funded by the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, James Irvine, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Soros Funds, the Tides Foundation, and the Vanguard Public Foundation.
- Movement Strategy Center (MSC): dedicated to “transformative movement building” and “equitable distribution of resources”; has been funded by the Akonadi Foundation, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, the Soros Funds, the Surdna Foundation, and the Tides Foundation.
- Dignity and Power Now (DPN): claims to seek “dignity and power of incarcerated people, their families, and communities”
- Labor/Community Strategy Center (LCSC): works to “build consciousness, leadership, and organization among those who face discrimination and societal attack—people of color, women, immigrants, workers, LGBT people, youth”; is headed by Eric Mann, a former Weather Underground leader who exhorts followers to become “anti-racist, anti-imperialist” activists.
- Black Left Unity Network: a Marxist-Leninist organization that supports a variety of communist causes
- Black Workers for Justice: “believes that African American workers need self-organization to help empower ourselves at the workplace, in communities and throughout the whole of U.S. society to organize, educate, mobilize and struggle for power, justice, self-determination and human rights for African Americans, other oppressed nationalities, women and all working class people”
- Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ): “a national alliance of U.S.-based grassroots organizing groups organizing to build an agenda for power for working and poor people and communities of color”
- Causa Justa/Just Cause: a Black/Latino solidarity organization that aims to build a “multi-racial, multi-generational movement … for fundamental change”
- Hands Up United: works for the “liberation of oppressed Black, Brown, and poor people through education, art, civil disobedience, advocacy, and agriculture”
- Intelligent Mischief: an African-American organization that “design[s] [projects] that critique the current status quo and re-imagines the possibilities”
- Organization for Black Struggle (OBS): seeks to “build a movement that fights for political empowerment, economic justice and the cultural dignity of the African-American community, especially the Black working class”; is affiliated with the Communist Party USA; is allied with Black Workers for Justice and the Advancement Project.
- Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee (RSCC): is dedicated to “uniting revolutionary-minded youth and students throughout the CUNY system in NYC”
- Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ): a “national network of groups and individuals organizing White people for racial justice”; quotes BLM co-founder Alicia Garza‘s assertion that “We need you defecting from White supremacy and changing the narrative of White supremacy by breaking White silence.”
- Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE): seeks to “reduce and eliminate structural barriers to social and economic opportunities for poor and economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color”; is led by Anthony Thigpenn, a former Black Panther and board member of the Apollo Alliance.
As evidenced by these numerous ties between FRSO and BLM, Black Lives Matter is in essence a project of FRSO. Indeed, both FRSO and BLM were prominent at the Ferguson, Missouri protests in the aftermath of the August 2014 police shooting of black teenager Michael Brown. Moreover, FRSO created a Black Lives Matter button.
All three of BLM’s co-founders have been employed by, or affiliated with, some of FRSO’s aforementioned front groups at various times. Specifically:
- Alicia Garza has served as a special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA); executive director of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER); a board member of School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL); and board chair of the Right to the City Alliance (RTTC).
- Patrisse Cullors, who was trained by former Weather Underground leader Eric Mann, founded Dignity and Power Now (DPN) and has served as its director.
- Opal Tometi is affiliated with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI).