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Fueled by the Flames : Revolutionary Communist Party Sees L.A. Riots as an Opening to Be Seized

September 11, 1992|BOB SIPCHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was one of the more eye-catching newspaper headlines to appear after the riots.

"Wanted!" it declared in bright red print. "Frontline Revolutionary Fighters to Go to L.A. This Summer."

Inside the June 14 issue of Revolutionary Worker--the Revolutionary Communist Party's weekly paper--a fold-out, full-sized poster elaborated:

"If in the flames of the L.A. rebellion, you saw the first light of a whole new world, . . . then this call is to you. You should be in L.A.! And you should get down with, work with, live and fight the powers-that-be together with the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade this summer."

Members of the party and its "youth arm" made a noisy appearance Wednesday at a hearing of the so-called Webster Commission, the panel appointed by the Los Angeles Police Commission to investigate police response to the spring riots.

But there are few other signs that the call to revolution has been heeded. Leaders will not say how many young fighters have responded. Nor will they reveal the number of members already in the group, which for 17 years has stood out as a colorful, sporadically violent sideshow in the carnival of Los Angeles politics.

"Those who know don't say, and those who say don't know," says national spokesman Carl Dix, allowing himself a wisp of a smile that seems to acknowledge the melodrama of the phrase from Malcolm X.

Founded in 1975 as the self-described "party of the proletariat," the Maoist RCP is generally dismissed by political observers as an inconsequential extremist band that probably boasts fewer than three dozen active members locally.

Yet even as much of the world performs autopsies on toppled communist states, these revolutionaries see the potential for new vitality in the wreckage of Los Angeles.

When a Ventura County jury delivered its not guilty verdicts in the trial of the four police officers accused of beating Rodney King, Dix was at work on his speech for the party's annual May Day demonstration--an event with a history of unraveling into bloody clashes with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Dix immediately drafted a statement in support of "the rebellion" that members later distributed through the riot zone and at local high schools.

As he wrote, other members of the group rallied at Parker Center, where television viewers watched a multiracial crowd taunt the police and topple and torch a kiosk. From there, RCP members branched out, spray-painting their slogans on walls from South-Central to Chinatown.

"We tried to see to it that as much got up as could be done," Dix said during a June interview at a downtown restaurant.

He calmly ran through a catalog of RCP graffiti--mottoes that continue to pop up in media reports on the riots: "It's Right to Rebel," "La Revolucion Es La Esperanza de Los Desperados (Revolution is the Hope of the Hopeless)," "No More Rodney Kings."

"Anything else?" Dix asks the two men who accompany him.

"Murderers, Murderers, No More," one adds dispassionately.

Dix nods. "Right."

Police arrested several RCP and Youth Brigade members on a variety of charges during and after the riots, among them a supporter who allegedly struck a police officer with a flag stick. Beyond the actual arrests, there was "no question" that RCP members looted and set fires, Sheriff Sherman Block asserted as the rioting ebbed.

Dix won't say "yes" or "no" to direct questions about looting and arson. He terms Block's charges political and says that because the "rebellion" was righteous, no participation should be considered criminal.

"Our watchwords were, 'Unite with people in expressing their outrage,' and 'Determined resistance against the attacks of the enemy,' " he says.

While other groups and individuals have voiced the rhetoric of rebellion since April, most get mired in political, social and economic complexities when attempting to define just what sort of society they hope will supplant the one in place.

Not the RCP.

When the "dying monster" of capitalism has been destroyed, party literature explains, it will be replaced by "a new society free of exploitation and oppression of any kind"--a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist society.

The goal of the past four months, Dix says in a second interview, has been "rallying people to wage mass militant struggle against the powers today in preparation for doing what's really needed--and that's leading millions of people to rise up in mass armed revolution when the time is right."

As he talks, Dix is flanked by two youth brigade members on a concrete picnic table in a busy corner of MacArthur Park.

One is Youth Brigade spokesman Joey Johnson, the man whose arrest for burning the American flag at the 1984 Republican convention in Dallas led to a 1989 Supreme Court decision protecting such actions.

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