It was formed by former members of the Revolutionary Youth Movement II (RYM II) faction of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) after that group fell apart in 1968. Robert Avakian was just one of many activists who turned to Maoist ideas, which they refered to as Marxist-Leninist, and began organising in the Bay Area of California. He and others soon formed a Bay Area Revolutionary Union (BARU).
BARU expanded nationally with great rapidity in the next couple of years as of the various groups coming out of SDS it was the first to seriously attempt to develop itself both at the theoretical level, with the publication of Red Papers 1, and the first to seek to sink roots into working class commuitities and struggles. As a result it was able to absorb a series of similar local collectives which had developed out of SDS.
Such rapid expansion was not without its problems however and in 1971 a senior leader of the Revolutionary Union, as BARU had been renamed when it had developed a nationwide structure, Bruce Franklin led a section of the group in a split based on semi-anachist ideas that were characterised by many as voluntarist. The new group was named Venceremos, showing the continuing influence of the Cuban Revolution on many New Leftists, and was to last for only a short time collapsing in 1973.
As a result of criminal indictments in 1981 stemming from a demonstration at the White House against Deng Xiaoping, RCP National Chairman Bob Avakian and other RCP leaders fled the United States and have been living in France and England ever since. The RCP remains active in both the United States and Western Europe. It is considered by its critics to be a very centralized and authoritarian group.
The RCP is a participant in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), which is a grouping of revolutionary Maoist parties and organizations around the world, including the Shining Path and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).