In early 1968, H. Bruce Franklin and Stephen Charles Hamilton formed the Bay Area Revolutionary Union (BARU) after a split in the Maoist Progressive Labor Party stemming from disagreements over the path of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and incipient rapproachment with the west. Bob Avakian led a small group from a split of another Maoist Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) spinoff into BARU soon after its formation. In 1971, Franklin led a more militant faction of BARU out the organization to join Venceremos, leaving Avakian in a leading position within BARU. Avakian played a key role in uniting several similar local collectives, with the long-term goal of forming a new Communist Party. The new nationwide structure induced BARU to change its name to simply the Revolutionary Union (RU). Avakian was elected to the central committee of the RU shortly thereafter. The RCP claims that of the various groups coming out of SDS, it was the first to seriously attempt to develop itself at the theoretical level, with the publication of Red Papers 1.
In 1974 RU started publication of their newspaper Revolution (renamed Revolutionary Worker in 1979) and in 1975 RU reconstituted itself as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). After the death of Mao in 1976, the RCP lost about 40% of its membership in a 1978 split over alignment with the new Chinese leadership. Avakian led the faction that rejected what they considered a counterrevolutionary coup against Mao's allies, and the split left him as undisputed leader of the remainder of the RCP.
In January 1979 Avakian and 78 other Party members and supporters were arrested and charged with various crimes in connection to a militant protest against Deng Xiaoping's visit to the White House. 17 demonstrators, including Avakian, were charged with multiple felonies which would carry a combined sentence of up to 241 years. After the RCP and its supporters waged a mass campaign for political, legal, and other support for the defendants, the charges were dropped in 1982, by which time Party leadership had decided to go into exile, with Avakian applying for political asylum in France, where he remained for many years.
The RCP organized May Day 1980 rallies in 16 cities across the U.S., including in Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Seattle, and Washington D.C. Weeks before the May Day demonstrations, RCP member Damian Garcia and two others climbed the Alamo, tearing down the American flag from its pole, and raising the Red Flag in its place before being arrested. Shortly thereafter, on April 22, 1980, Garcia was stabbed to death while organizing in a Los Angeles housing project. At the time, police said that Garcia's murderer was gang-affiliated, while RCP insisted that he had been assassinated by the state in retaliation for his action at the Alamo. Avakian remarked in his memoir that Garcia's murder was "very clearly tied in with police agents...it was an attack on our Party..."
In 1983 Avakian was one of the founders of the now-defunct Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), an international grouping of Maoist parties. The RIM published A World to Win news service from 1981 to 2006, but since its dissolution the publication is now updated on the official website. In 2017, A World to Win was restructured to "a more thorough-going tool for revolution based on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism".
RCP branches opened Revolution Books stores in major US cities and became a presence in protest movements. Flag-burning by RCP members led to the Texas v. Johnson case. RCP regarded the 1992 Rodney King riots as legitimate political rebellion and advocated for the defendants in the Reginald Denny beating case. RCP advocated for international Maoist movements such as the Shining Path guerrilla movement in Peru.