Writing for the masses

Those who write from a communist perspective need to do so in order to be read and understood by the masses. A comrade pointed out that one of my own pieces, “On the necessity of combating social chauvinism/conservatism within progressive and revolutionary movements”, sounds too much like an undergraduate paper. This is an extremely important critique because unless our material is written for and read by the masses, then it amounts to nothing but hot air. Refusing to be understood by the masses – indeed, refusing to understand that this is the only reason that communists should write as communists – is a form of petty-bourgeois impetuosity and a form of liberalism. Or, to put in terms that the masses might be more familiar with at this historic juncture: a dog-wank.

Now, having said all that, and recognizing the need to avoid pompous, academic-sounding and/or impenetrable language, we should not dumb down our message. We must have faith in the ability of the masses to understand complex social phenomena, to be able to grasp the material relations that define class exploitation and oppression, and to see through reactionary garbage. To come to a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist perspective on these things, we must of course help them, but we should not ever talk down to them. The masses are not stupid children, and we should not condescend to them, trick them or engage in opportunist shenanigans for cheap short-term gains. If we are serious communists, then we must always remember that we are part of the masses; we serve the masses wholeheartedly. We are the best friend and weapon they yield in their historic mission to emancipate humanity. All of this absolutely necessitates that we view our task as a deadly serious one rather than as an adventure, and that everything we do strengthens the revolutionary consciousness of the masses and is done in their interests. This, obviously, extends to our agitation and propaganda, to our literature and to the words we use. All must be chosen with care, and for maximum effect in the class struggle against capitalist-imperialism. Sloppy language means handing the bourgeoisie a gift.

But having said that, we also need to understand that the masses are struggling to survive everyday, and that by virtue of that, they cannot all be expected to be geniuses in the science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and that there are certain messages that we can focus on above others to gain the support of the people. That must start with us being among the masses, listening to their problems, understanding how they view things, and learning from them. It means tailoring our message to the concrete conditions that face the working class.

Communists who fail to heed these lessons will invariably fail in their tasks. They will wonder why the masses are not listening to them, but in fact the fault lies not with the masses but with these comrades, who through impetuosity and impatience, through being too focused on books and too isolated from the masses, will churn out pamphlets that will find no traction among them.

On the relation between revolutionary theory and practice, and the necessity of revolutionary science

“Theory is the experience of the working-class movement in all countries taken in its general aspect. Of course, theory becomes purposeless if it is not connected with revolutionary practice, just as practice gropes in the dark if its path is not illuminated by revolutionary theory.”

— J. Stalin, “The Foundations of Leninism”, Chapter 3 – Theory

This quote by Stalin encapsulates an extremely profound truth already developed by Lenin and other revolutionary communists: that revolutionary practice cannot be a blind rummaging around in the dark, but must be guided by a theoretical underpinning that is itself grounded in practice. While communists cannot anticipate every event given the extreme complexity of society, they can at least avoid ignominious defeats for the working class by steering clear of blind alleys and dead ends. Revolution is not an adventure or a game; it is a deadly serious application of politics, and class politics at that (which is itself the most serious politics).

Some leftists, such as Noam Chomsky and other radical left-liberal reformers, don’t (and can’t, given their reformism) quite grasp this. While recognizing the need for proper tactics in struggle, they are extremely soggy on the issue of the relation between tactics and strategy (roughly, they have no strategy), are weirdly enamored of “non-violent struggle” and “leaderless struggles” (Chris Hedges quipped that the “genius” of movements like Occupy Wall Street “lies in its lack of leadership”), and are given to the mantra of “working within the system to see what it can deliver” (one might have hoped that by now, after many decades of being personally involved in popular struggles and critiquing US imperialism, Chomsky would have gotten the message that the capitalist-imperialist system has run up against its limits in terms of what it can deliver to the working class, and that this system is a danger to all life on this planet and must be thoroughly destroyed, not debated away. If people like Chomsky want to continue fumbling around with perpetually “seeing what the system can deliver”, that is their business, but serious revolutionaries should not take their line as anything other than the semi-pacifist petty-bourgeois deviation that it is).

Revolutionary theory provides us with certain generally applicable lessons based on the bitter and hard-won experience of centuries of class struggle. Of course, these lessons must be tailored to the particular concrete conditions that prevail in any one country in a particular historic epoch, and no revolutionary movement can be exactly the same as any other. Each country has its own particular configurations of class power, levels of class consciousness among its oppressed and exploited classes, and different contradictions among the exploiting classes. In formulating proper tactics and strategy as they relate to a particular country, one must have a good (that is, realistic) idea of these conditions and how they in turn relate to the world situation, the avenues available to the revolutionary classes, how these classes can take advantage of contradictions among the exploiters, etc. If we take revolution seriously, we must be serious about developing it as a science – a science put into the hands of the masses for the purpose of making revolution – and to view society as the proper laboratory in which it is tested and refined. Revolutionary science, the evolving, integrated whole of practice and theory, aims to link the universal to the particular, and through social struggle, the building and organization of the organs of struggle, and the development of correct political line, to further develop itself so that it may contribute to and link up with the concrete struggles of the masses elsewhere (who will in their turn, in the particular conditions facing them, distill that which is useful, discard that which is not useful, and arrive at a new revolutionary summation).

Those who ignore these truths do as at the peril of the proletariat and peasantry in its historic mission to overthrow class exploitation; at the peril of overthrowing and smashing the capitalist-imperialist system that dominates humanity.

Petty-bourgeois, pacifist, liberal and revisionist lines will only succeed in making the masses perpetually chase their own tails, leading them straight back into the jaws of the enemy. This is because they lack a clear understanding of the need for strategy, of the need for science, of the need for deadly serious class politics with a clear, uncompromising end goal. Faced with this task, they often retreat back into the camp of the enemy, imagining that capitalism can be reformed out of existence, that the task ahead can be done using Twitter and co-ops, that an accommodation can be reached with imperialism, that Leninism is itself a deviation while their own petty-bourgeois impetuosity on the one hand, and opportunism and vacillation on the other, will hold the key. They will, in other words, continue to mislead the masses into doing the equivalent of throwing water balloons at the brick wall of the dictatorship of capital. Revolutionary science, on the other hand, equips the masses to build a giant hammer to smash through the wall , to suffer no more excuses.

Let’s build and wield the hammer; let’s stop throwing water balloons.

On the necessity of combating social-chauvinism/conservatism within progressive and revolutionary movements

We must firmly oppose and fight against social-chauvinist attitudes in the communist movement. Social-chauvinism in the hands of the peoples’ progressive organs of struggle is theoretical detritus dumped on the heads of the masses and a massive disservice to many comrades who are engaging in concrete struggles against atavistic/religious prejudice from the refuse of history. It is the continued persecution of homosexual, women and non-white comrades on the basis of atavistic trash. Social-chauvinism is the recreation of class divisions within the movement, it is the failure to tap into the contradictions of bourgeois society to broaden our ranks by drawing in people who are doubly or triply or quadruply exploited because of their skin color, nationality, gender or sexual preference. It is a lack of seriousness in the politics of revolution and is really just acquiescence to “traditionalist” and religious refuse from the sewer of human history. It is the implacable enemy of emancipation; it is the retention of class oppression within the household; it is the embodiment of irrational and anti-scientific notions; it is the lurid expression of base desires and catering to the lowest common denominator. It is rummaging in filth in the attempt to elevate garbage on the basis of ugly male bluster and bravado. It is assistance lent to the bourgeoisie, who are either lent a helping hand in further persecuting segments of the working class in the interests of dividing us against one another, or of casting themselves as the saviors of those segments of the working class (and therefore of casting the peoples’ revolutionary organs as the real reactionaries). It is, in many ways, really a way to tell the working class to drop dead.

For these reasons, a commitment to social-chauvinism and conservatism is a commitment to turning ourselves into a joke in the eyes of the masses. It is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and to hand victory on a platter to the bourgeoisie. It is to defile ourselves as revolutionaries who serve the people and to become traitors who confuse the people, waste their time and deliver them to fascist politicians who then take up where we left off in peddling moral and theoretical detritus.

To oppose someone on the basis of their sexuality is to oppose them for no good reason; it is to cater to atavistic, feudal and religious backwardness, at the expense of and over and above the revolutionary vitality of the present movement. It is to dilute and fail to draw upon the resentments that capitalist society produces, on the thoroughly reactionary basis of attempting to preserve for oneself the benefits of the class relations that these oppressions embody. It is to behave like pitiful petty-bourgeois foot soldiers who expect their “due” for hardships suffered in the course of the revolution, and at the expense of other human beings and comrades who they should have been united with in common struggle in the first place.

Social-chauvinism, in short, is poison; utter, unambiguous, vile poison. It is a Trojan Horse laying in plain site, invited into our camp and ready to spring on us the seeds of our own defeat and to help perpetuate the hegemony of capital.

Social-chauvinism within the communist movement is a form of rank opportunism and tailism: tailing behind whatever sentiments the working class may have at a particular moment in order to curry their favor in the here and now, rather than developing the revolutionary consciousness of the working class and linking the short term to the long term.

As Lenin noted:

The opportunist does not betray his party, he does not act as a traitor, he does not desert it. He continues to serve it sincerely and zealously. But his typical and characteristic trait is that he yields to the mood of the moment, he is unable to resist what is fashionable, he is politically short-sighted and spineless. Opportunism means sacrificing the permanent and essential interests of the party to the momentary, transient and minor interests.” —V. I. Lenin, “The Russian Radical is Wise After the Event” (Oct. 18, 1906), LCW 11:239.

Let’s not have racist communists who will fight the class war only to fight a race war. Let’s not have sexist communists who will fight the class war only to reassert their feudal “rights” as men to keep women down, to maintain women in their “roles”, to cast domestic violence as a “private” matter. Let’s not have homophobic communists who will fight the class war only to call for and act as enforcers for hetero-supremacy. Therefore, to all those who are reading this, I say: resolutely work to expose and overcome conservative and reactionary deviations in your movements. Work to overcome that which dilutes the revolutionary and emancipatory character of peoples’ organs of popular struggle. If you see a male comrade making lurid remarks about women comrades, or a white comrade making belittling remarks about “SJWs” or denigrating black and Latino workers as “anti-white”, patiently but clearly explain why their position is a poison to the cause they claim to be championing. Explain why, in the long term, their position is self-destructive and strategically stupid.

Having said all that, please understand what I am NOT saying: I am not saying that because we support women’s emancipation, the rights of homosexuals and an end to racism, that we should support bourgeois imperialist politicians donning the mantle of these causes. We should not degenerate into imperial chauvinists when, for example, Hillary Clinton makes some pronouncement about women’s liberation. We should never side with imperialism, no matter what humanitarian or progressive garb it is wearing. As Che said: imperialism is not to be trusted, not one iota! We should never side with “our” imperialism against the comparatively minor imperialism of the Russian state on the basis of support for persecuted homosexuals in Russia. Women’s rights, homosexual’s rights, the rights of people of color: none of these causes should ever be beholden to support for imperialism. We support the struggles of the Russian working class, but we do not support all of its backward ideas. We support the struggles of homosexuals and women in Russia, the struggles of revolutionaries fighting to bring clarity on the questions to the Russian masses, but not by hiding behind “our” imperialist governments’ military confrontations with Russia. It is the duty of all communists to oppose, undermine and bring about the defeat of the imperialist wars waged by “our” imperialists. We ruthlessly oppose the bourgeois notion that the highest honor is to serve “one’s own” imperialist country. As the Indian Maoist peoples’ armed forces say, “To die for the masses is loftier than Mt. Everest! To die for the exploiters is lighter than a feather!” Those of us who live in the imperialist centers must serve the victims of imperialism and those under its foot at the expense of the interests of “our” imperialist bourgeoisie; when we begin aligning with and cheering on the imperialist bourgeoisie, we become despicable traitors to the world’s masses, enemies of humanity and worthless renegades more concerned with our own comfort and well-being than with the emancipation of the world’s masses.

Finally, I am NOT saying that racial and sexual politics should take “precedence” over class politics. I am saying that in our struggles, in our recruitment efforts, in our agitation and propaganda, we should stress the relations between race, sex and class and how these inter-penetrate; we should explain and reveal to the working class (and make concrete to them through their own experiences) how class relations produce racist and sexist attitudes and how these attitudes in turn reinforce and buttress class oppression and exploitation. A crude and exclusive class determinism and focus is as inappropriate for guiding the work of an authentic revolutionary communist party and movement as one that smothers over class realities in favor of a cozy accommodation with imperialists who dangle identity politics in front of women, homosexuals and people of color in order to curry their favor. We oppose all such opportunist trends. We are for identity politics, but not just any identity politics; we are for an identity politics that properly situates class and imperialism in relation to class and sex, that listens to and prioritizes the struggles of the most marginalized and oppressed, that brings their perspectives into our movement and gives those people who are multiply oppressed by capitalism, sexism and social-chauvinism a leading role in these movements, rather than dancing around their experiences as “something that the working class doesn’t give a shit about” (note also that the latter sentiment is in fact a contemptuous slur against the working class, in painting it as a social force that cares only for its own immediate material satisfaction. Yes, the working class may at present be mostly concerned with its own immediate problems, but this is nothing to emulate; it is a thoroughly reactionary, bourgeois perspective instilled into the working class in the course of living in a bourgeois society, and that is something that we must fight resolutely to overturn. The point, from the perspective of revolutionary Marxism, is to fight to turn the working class into a force for universal emancipation rather than merely one that aims to put food on its table, pay its medical bills and then be done for the day. Otherwise, we just end up handing the working class over to gutter racist trash like Donald Trump who promises to be “pro-working class” through the lure of pigging out at the imperial trough, “bringing back jobs” and destroying the environment. And what’s the message there? That it’s alright for the working classes in the imperialist centers to benefit from the plunder and oppression of the semi-colonial countries so long as American workers (white heterosexual ones, at least) can pay their electricity bills and put food on the table? No, this is simply imperial-chauvinist opportunism, something that binds one to the imperialist bourgeoisie, whether one votes for an atavistic garbage monster like Trump or for a reformist-liberal “socialist” like Bernie Sanders (who aims to open the imperial franchise to people of color).

The only remedy, the only consistent and truly universal and emancipatory program for doing away with racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, religious-chauvinism and capitalism is to unite the working class around a revolutionary movement and party that focuses on all issues that affect it, encompassing both “strictly economic” problems, to problems having to do with race, sex, culture and other forms of identity, and to link all of this to the question of imperialism. A revolutionary checklist would have to ensure that:

1) If the movement is focusing on economic problems but ignoring and even belittling other problems, and taking social-conservative and chauvinist takes on them, it needs to be rectified.

2) If it is focusing on issues of race and sex but ignoring those of class, it needs to be rectified.

3) If it is addressing both social and economic problems faced by the working class, but airbrushing over the core question of imperialism, it needs to be rectified.

If these negative currents are not fixed, these movements will collapse, become diverted to serving reactionary and/or imperialist ends, and will become useless husks in so far as revolutionary politics are concerned, mere playthings in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Those who fail to heed these warnings are themselves taking a bourgeois stand by refusing to engage with material reality and instead mistaking their personal wishes and prejudices for reality. They are partaking in soothing delusions about the task at hand by cutting corners and doing shoddy workmanship on the vehicle of communist politics. The working class doesn’t need any more soothing delusions in this world of imperialist war, environmental despoliation, brutal and hateful class divisions and theoretical muddle; it needs a strategic outlook that brings a scythe to bear against all backward and bourgeois trash and binds together all progressive social struggle into a colossal fist to smash this disgusting capitalist system, and all its filth, once and for all.