Reading Groups and Political Education

Against abstract communism and abstract political education.

Communists love to tell people about communism. Communism is the best, we feel, because it’s the ideology for everyone and everything. If people just understood communism better, they would become communists, and to add a slight dimension of nuance, the more they understand communism, the better communists they will be.

The more people there are who understand communism better and are therefore better communists, the more communism will be out there, in the political world; the more this occurs, the more that we grow as a consequence, and the more that we grow, the more we win, right? On the surface, this seems to make some sense. But in political reality, this has failed time and again as various (often theoretically relatively advanced) organizations have come to mean very little and even disappeared because of a rather vulgar approach to political education.

There are three inter-related reasons why producing reading lists and challenging ourselves to make sure everyone just reads everything on them does not produce much in terms of real communist politics. These are three problems with the reality of communist politics which have made political education difficult for many of us, but which in turn, ought to inform how we rethink political education to make it possible going forward:

1) Communists don’t actually influence non-communists very much in the US at present

Communists’ immediate practical tasks are always limited by the organized forces we control and are allied with. These allies often include non-communists, and although practical agreement on work to carry out means they would be among the most useful recruits, unless we are particularly savvy at convincing others or they are already particularly inclined towards the idea of identifying with communists and learning more about communism, this means that a certain amount of our work and potential recruiting is done among people who, to put it bluntly, don’t care about the nonsense theory we’re always spouting.

This problem is very real and likely the experience of many readers. It is such a real and pronounced problem that many communists decide to simply hang out with other communists, do political work that involves only communists, recruit people primarily or even only in so far as we can convince them to be communists, in short: that old time Evangelical Protestant Communism, if you will.

As tempting as this is, it is both politically unserious and, ironically, not especially “orthodox communism”. The Manifesto, after all, implores us to eschew sectarianism:

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

Chapter 2 of the Manifesto

…to work with non-communists, even non-proletarians if need be, for our common revolutionary democratic goals:

In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.

In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.

Finally, they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries.

Chapter 4 of the Manifesto

…and above all else, we are not taught to conceptualize a struggle between communists and non-communists, but between oppressors and oppressed:

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed

Chapter 1 of the Manifesto

None the less, we do have a distinct political identity and theory. We are our own subjectivity for a reason. What this means, then, is that we have to on some level carry out political agitation and propaganda, to politically educate and lead, often to people who do not want what we are selling. Producing a list of the “must reads” of Marx, such as the above quoted Manifesto, for example, somewhat fails us when our first task with so many is convincing them it is worth reading Marx, to say nothing of convincing them to do further reading and thinking to contextualize and properly internalize the essential arguments!

This problem, of trying to understand how to get the basic ideas, and ultimately, the structured arguments found in communist texts, into the heads of people who simply do not care at all at present, actually leads to the second reason why setting ourselves a static syllabus and curriculum to go out to the masses with actually undermines the work of political education.

2) Communist theory is not metaphysical, but exists from and for social reality

Communists cannot be “world-denying” in our communism. Communist ideology and theory does not recognize a world outside communism and accordingly cannot recognize a communism “outside the world”. Communism rather is a particular logical and ideological outlook on all the various intellectual and practical problems the world faces. Ignorance of and disinterest in apparently “non-communist” topics of education will weaken and not strengthen our theory and practice, and consequently our identity as communists.

Communists should set an example in study; at all times they should be pupils of the masses as well as their teachers.

Mao Zedong

Whether we realize it or not, all of us had a particular path before communism that led us to become communists. The context varies a great deal from person to person just as it does from country to country or era to era. Maybe you had a lot of political radicals as teachers who normalized critical thinking and even radical theory. Maybe you were involved in union work and communists you worked with managed to get through to you in context. Maybe you were one of those fortunate “red diaper babies”, but even then, so many children of communists turn out apolitical or make excuses, so even there, you weren’t simply born into ideological awareness but lived a certain kind of life and had certain points of contact that made your parents’ ideology stick.

Just as there is no precise prefabricated model for how someone first embraces the ideology of communism, so too can we not posit a formula for how to introduce it to others. You can use your experience and the experiences of others as rough guides, looking for indicators of who to approach and how, but even then there will be no guarantees.

But communist ideology will be spread socially, and you must view those you seek to recruit, and indeed those already recruited in need of education, in terms of the personal and social journey they are on, and not simply as a computer in need of updates with certain drivers you can find on a checklist. Because there are factors you can only know through social discourse and practice, factors relevant to the people you’ll be interacting with and the social context in which you will be interacting with them.

3) An ignorant communist cannot produce enlightening education

Communists and non-communists in political struggle together face many practical problems and questions. We must be armed not only with ideology in the abstract but also education of diverse other kinds: labor laws, political history, gender politics, cultural savvy for better ability to communicate, multiple languages (such as Spanish, for example), knowledge of biology and chemistry necessary for health and first aid, wilderness survival, local criminal codes, digital opsec, arms training, the list could go on and on.

Communists are always learning these things and ought always to be teaching others these things as well. A chief concern of this piece is the frequent great error that many communists and those interested in communism often make, of assuming that a single coherent “political education” reading list can arm us for all possible questions and struggles in practice. As the above general list makes clear, a really functioning organization cannot be educated for practical politics simply on a list of Marxist classics alone.

So what does this mean for us in terms of formulating an organizational culture of political education? Do we simply recommend our cadres to read and know and teach everything to everyone? This does not feel more satisfying than the usual answer to simply digest all of Marx and Lenin.

Reading groups: what should they read, why, and how.

Reading groups should be established with great frequency among a functioning organization. These should meet at least once a month and ideally once a week. They can meet online but ideally in person, for reasons of opsec and reasons of breaking us out of the isolation which the internet and Covid have helped encourage on top of the existing trend of atomization of social life endemic in capitalism.

But what should they read?

A theoretically advanced cadre should be charged with seeding these reading groups, and part of their theoretical know-how should be demonstrated in a general knowledge of the Marxist classics, particularly Marx and Lenin. However, it is not their immediate task to instill in the whole group the reference texts and phraseology of our most preferred thinkers as if we were Christian missionaries of a bygone era teaching Pagans the four canonical gospels of the New Testament.

Indeed, a reading group should be formed not because a group has been identified which might be receptive to Marxism as such, but because a group has been identified who want to have a deeper discussion about politics and the world such as it exists. The choice of reading should in fact be chosen on this basis.

Let’s begin with an example of how and when to engage with canonical Marxist texts in social and political context:

People who decide to become communists are often instructed to read the Communist Manifesto, but even they often find its relevance opaque, even if they won’t say so out loud. In spite of critiques we might direct at this text (which Marx himself was unsure about writing due to the problem of producing a formal document outlining, as if this can be done across historical context “what communists believe”), both in terms of its inability to reckon with the outcome of the 1848 revolutions (as they were at that moment in progress) as well as issues of tone (particularly around gender), it is still very relevant in terms of its concise ability to describe the communist outlook towards the non-communist world. But again, precisely because it was written in a historical moment we no longer inhabit, this fact may be less than obvious to the reader.

Rather, we might recommend this text precisely when questions of political alliances, and the limitations of potential political allies is raised, and then suddenly this often formally read but rarely digested text suddenly becomes more relevant to the reader: the whole of the fourth chapter serves as an excellent rebuttal to those who try, in a sectarian fashion, to discard all political trends which are not explicitly communist as “bourgeois” when Marx is very clear that we must support the democratic content of their politics (both in an anti-fascist and national liberationist sense), while also distinguishing ourselves in our own politics even as we “support every revolutionary movement”: our lack of opportunism, our communist difference, is revealed not in rejection of the non-communists, but in carrying out our politics with “the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time” at the forefront of our decision-making and in determining our propaganda and agitation.

But just as Marxists are concerned with diverse allies and political movements, so too can a Marxist reading group be focused on works which come from diverse backgrounds. In the current climate of often violent transphobic discourse dressed up and hidden behind the claim of “radical feminism”, a Marxist leading a reading group can help arm our fellows with ammunition with which to disarm reactionaries who seek to divide the oppressed in practice precisely by reading radical feminist texts with a critical eye:

For example, the reader may not agree with all of the arguments and conclusions of Andrea Dworkin, for example, but this most fierce of second wave feminist theoreticians has every reason to be revived in reading groups today, precisely for her situating of anti-patriarchy politics as systemic and economic. In engaging with defenders and detractors of feminist theorists, it is important to have a firm grasp on the theoretical terrain on which one is arguing. A true return to source materials is key to making more convincing, coherent, and all-encompassing arguments. Memetic absorption of terms, even by those of us with correct positions, does not always suffice, neither for winning over real friends or defeating rhetorical enemies.

So how then should we read?

Too often, political education is treated as a matter of reading the approved texts and memorizing the correct ideas. This is wrong. Political education isn’t about being able to pass a multiple-choice text on Marx and Lenin, it’s about learning how to think. We should engage with a broad stream of thinkers and texts, and have faith in our ability to work out what is correct. If we want to change the world, we must be able to engage with it without having to consult a rulebook.

Reading recommendations, reading lists, these things should be emergent. A seasoned Marxist theoretician doesn’t have a pre-ordained list of texts to get through in a specific order, but rather chooses what to read when based on intellectual and political conditions of their own real experience. So too should we not recommend on the assumption of a “one-size-fits all” Marxist education: we must be familiar with the people we are educating, their concerns, and the direction their thinking is going. We must be directly socially engaged with their political activities and concerns leading them to textual engagement, with the discussions taking place around said texts, and with the next steps of practical political engagement implied by this pedagogical exercise.

In fact, with in-person and especially individual discourse, this should be extremely easy to do, but many of our communists, being too enamored with the counter-cultural “edginess” that comes with being a Marxist in the United States, will often simply recommend Marx and Lenin to their friends in a mindless fashion without any concern for whether or not this is done in such a way as to actually pique their interest. On an individual level, it is actually very easy to watch this method fail: Some of us have personally been asked by friends “oh, you’re a Marxist? what should I read to understand Marx?”, and replied with the Manifesto or the first part of Capital or some such, only to have those friends never become organized, never follow up, and continue to roll their eyes at our politics, even if some of those friends briefly fashionably identified as Marxists to look clever.

By contrast, many members of functioning Marxist organizations got their start in political education by arguing with organized Marxists about Foucault, or Gramsci, or Federici, or for that matter Ali Shariati. In such cases, the more theoretically advanced Marxists from whom they learned often didn’t say “don’t read that, read someone else instead”. In some cases they approved of the thinkers under discussion, in others they didn’t. The key ingredient was in identifying the essence of the author’s argument and its relevance to the young recruit’s social life and political interests. Mastering this ability creates a real and vibrant dialogue between people, and within an individual person’s mind as they learn to think more critically.

When we speak about dialogue, it bears mentioning that dialogue happens in the group setting also: a reading is assigned and then the group meets so as to discuss what they read. This discussion can involve asking clarifying questions of a group leader, but this is not a group leader’s most important task: rather it is to facilitate debates between participants, to tease out of them what the reading made them think of, both of which may lay the groundwork for the start of or changes to practical work with those involved, as well as suggestions for further reading to further explore the ideas being wrestled with.

Over time, participants will become more eager to recommend reading that has been troubling them themselves. This is also to be encouraged, even sometimes when a group leader considers the text in question “bad” or it deviates from the Marxist canon: negative lessons are also lessons, and much of the time can be rather good ones. When one reads non-Marxist texts, one also allows for the “less Marxist” with whom we might share reading groups to see that ours is not a sectarian worldview, but a scientific one, which in turn invites them to be more open when we propose reading, for example, Engels or Kollontai on gender politics.

Why read?

Reading groups are an ongoing dialogue and process with the participants. It is important to consider their prejudices, fight against them, and in doing so show how our worldview actually allows, in the final instance, for a more complete summation of the perspectives found in the manifold particular texts in which they are already interested. The point is not that people need to read (or need not read) any particular text or group of texts. The question is who is going to read what, when, why, and how.

Note that just as our political struggle is not (and never has been, per the Manifesto quotes above) a struggle to unite all communists against all non-communists, but rather we believe that communism is the ideology which can in the final instance most properly unite all oppressed in struggle against all oppression, so too does education in the service of this rely on the question of how to awaken and unite various forms of political consciousness and may draw on diverse thinkers and textual traditions.

If one’s aim is to become a theoretically advanced communist, one should thoroughly familiarize oneself with as much Marxist literature, particularly the classics, as possible. But if one’s aim is to be maximally useful as a political educator armed with the aforementioned Marxist knowledge, one should work resolutely to familiarize others with critical theory touching on all social issues. One should work to draw connections between them and show how, rather than tell that, Marxist theory can unite, systematize, and weaponize all critical approaches against the system which is ultimately the target of all criticism.

Recommended further reading: “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paolo Freire

Nontraditional Unionism (part 2)

Though we outlined the local stage in great detail in Part 1, let us start with a quick review. First, you have identified, joined, created or coalesced a group of progressives and socialists organized around a particular population (we have assumed these are tenants, the houseless, or incarcerated people). Second, this group has been guided towards “solidarity” organizing, doing mutual aid, advocacy and protests as necessary but has focused on not just incorporating the affected population into your work but in organizing this population for themselves, so they are elevated from tokens and representatives that may be co-opted into leaders of their own communal struggle, with their own “union” organizations. Finally, the solidarity group and the union(s) it has organized have a strong, cooperative relationship based on mutual respect, where the union can begin to lead itself but the more seasoned organizers of the solidarity group still provide guidance and push back against reactionary tendencies that may flare up.

The next stages of the struggle must necessarily be spoken of more broadly. These stages will be shaped by the successes and setbacks of previous stages, the specific organizational decisions made and forms chosen, and on the subjective class and political consciousness of the masses, the unions, the solidarity organizations, and the elements of leadership of each of these.

This is not to say that we can make no plans; indeed, we must make thorough plans if we are to succeed. We merely point out that plans for these stages must be flexible and dynamic, responsive to specific developing conditions and not static or dogmatic, and must be constantly reanalyzed as we approach them to bring them in line with the conditions as they change – and as we change them.

We must also avoid the trap of assuming that these stages are discrete, that each group will pass cleanly from one stage to the next. At all times, local stage activity will be relevant as tenant solidarity groups organize more and more buildings into unions, prison solidarity groups expand their contacts inside or make contacts in other nearby prisons and jails, and houseless solidarity groups continue working to meet the needs of their union and non-union houseless populations and bring the latter into the former.

It may be that some groups see an opportunity to begin connecting stage organizing relatively quickly, perhaps even prematurely by our prescription, while others take longer to enter into the connecting stage. Adapt the plan to your organizational needs and conditions while maintaining the core focus on unionization and solidarity over advocacy.

Continue reading “Nontraditional Unionism (part 2)”

Notes Towards the Re-Rioting of Pride

As Pride month draws to a close, I think about all the “first pride was a riot” t-shirts I have seen this June. The shirts and the slogan have now become an early summer tradition of the US left, alongside rediscovering Juneteenth, the sharing of Frederick Douglass’s speech on July 4th, and commenting on how as hot as this summer is, they will become literally unbearably hot if we do not actually overthrow capitalism and imperialism.

Tradition is not always bad. We have our own traditions. The aforementioned slogan is certainly a good one. The referenced rioting is even better.

But in many locations across the US, including in some of the most densely populated coastal cities with a disproportionate share of the queer-and-out working class, one does not feel the riotous energy. Pride month often has, despite the apparently popular wishes to the contrary, the energy of an officially mandated period of relative tolerance for queer summer fun.

Obviously, no one can be individually blamed for not simply declaring, launching, willing a riot into existence. If we could do this, we would do it constantly and with great enthusiasm, an enthusiasm with a popular basis easily observed at the outbreak of actual spontaneous riots, in which to this day queer youth play a visible and considerable role, often confronting those same cops face to face in spite of the latter’s heavy weaponry, legal sanction to use force, and de facto guarantee of getting away with “excessive” use thereof.

Debates rage over the inclusion of cops in parades, but even where the debate is settled for the anti-cop side, uniformed cops at any rate are frequently seen around and walking through pride events without direct challenge, only with the scornful gaze of participants.

But there is a problem here: queerness is understood (rightly) as an axis of oppression and accordingly a potential focal point of organizing, young queer people are increasingly politically radical and conscious about diverse issues, and yet queer political agitation and organization is surprisingly reserved in the US at present.

Behind this lie several interconnected objective and subjective factors, which I am briefly outlining my thoughts on per request by comrades, a modest set of notes towards further discussion and action.

Continue reading “Notes Towards the Re-Rioting of Pride”

Juneteenth and Its Place in Revolutionary Politics

In a few days, Juneteenth will be upon us. At first glance, this holiday may appear to be of little concern or political significance. But in actuality, this holiday is one of the most crucial dates on the calendar of revolutionary socialists in the United States, and we must understand why.

What is Juneteenth? What does it mean and why is this a question worthy of exploration? 

Continue reading “Juneteenth and Its Place in Revolutionary Politics”

Crown Him with Many Crowns: Dominion Theology in the United States

Over the second half of the twentieth century, Evangelical Protestantism has been transformed from an insular world-denying religious movement into a powerful political movement currently ascendant within the Republican Party and within the federal judiciary. Dominion Theology, or Dominionism, is a movement dating to the beginning of the 1980s which is based around the view that certain forms of Christianity must dominate society and the state. Early forms of Dominionism were tied to Christian Reconstructionism, a theocratic ideology in which much of Jewish Mosaic Law would be enforced by the state. As it is practiced today, however, it is more simply the theocratic politicization of Evangelical Fundamentalist Reformed Protestant Christianity.

This goal of Christian dominance of US and ultimately global society has multifarious particular instantiations. It is described (originally by Pentecostals, including by Trump-aligned Pentecostal pastor Paula White) in terms of seven “mountains”: religion, economics, media, entertainment, (the previous two are merged in this essay, and are mostly worth distinguishing to preserve the religiously-important number seven), education, family and government.


Evangelicalism dates back to the First Great Awakening of the mid-18th century. Oddly enough from today’s perspective, it is not in itself necessarily a political movement. One of its tenets is called “activism” but this was not historically a term referring to political activity. In fact, many of those most fervently supportive of the United States’ constitutional secularism could be categorized as Evangelical. This activism carried in itself, however, the potential to negate the movement’s staid quietism.

Continue reading “Crown Him with Many Crowns: Dominion Theology in the United States”

Why are the “Patriotic Socialists” Wrong?

Recently, a new ideological tendency has tried to gain inroads among the U.S. left. Calling themselves “Patriotic Socialists” and gathering mainly online around a handful of Twitch streamers and YouTubers, this small but irritating tendency has made themselves the frequent subject of leftist discourse. They are defined by an insistence that one must be an American patriot to be a communist, and argue that to be in any way critical of American patriotism is to be somehow “anti-proletarian.”

Despite their frequent streams and posts, this trend is not especially strong or influential, not in terms of actual organization of masses or attempts to penetrate the existing organized left. Indeed, the “Patsocs” are mainly known through social media where they are regularly mocked and ridiculed by rival leftists of diverse ideological commitments, and themselves mainly repeat the mantra that you need to be patriotic to reach “ordinary people”.

Of course we can say here that many people who are not organizationally or intellectually committed to Marxism or socialism as such, “ordinary people” so to speak, are already very critical of US patriotism. Conversely, even the less advanced sections of the masses are to be organized and indoctrinated by Marxists in order to change, develop, and advance. Our aim is to make them more revolutionary, and for reasons that don’t need repeating to almost everyone reading this, the retrograde politics of the US “Patriotic Socialists” are not the direction we need to go.

When even the arch-opportunist CPUSA can take a firm line against you for being chauvinistic and pro-state, clearly you are beyond the pale of the left.

Why discuss them then? Certainly not to engage them in debate: they are basically an in-group cult that repeats the same vague truisms ad nauseum and are developing a Trump-esque worldview where complex conspiracies allow the reactionary things they support and cheerlead to somehow serve a grand plan that will somehow bring “socialism” to the US. I personally advocate that they be blocked and ignored, unless you happen to have a real social connection to some unfortunate soul who is partially in their orbit.

I had initially not wanted to see them discussed further myself, but I did find some weakness in much of the responses by well-intentioned leftists to the “Patriotic Socialists”, principally focusing on the name as a problem, either in and of itself or due to its similarity to “National Socialists”. The basic issue I take with this critique is that, while it is true that socialism is its own goal over and above nationalism and patriotism which are often impediments to that goal, this focus on the name both buries the real problems for the application of the name in context, on the one hand, and the ways in which similar terminology, in other contexts, is significantly less problematic. I will deal with these separately and in brief.

Continue reading “Why are the “Patriotic Socialists” Wrong?”

Statement on the Buffalo Massacre

This past weekend, a white nationalist terrorist carried out a massacre in Buffalo, New York. The killer’s own published manifesto makes crystal clear the genocidal zeal and demographic panic induced fanaticism which motivated this base act of public murder, which he live-streamed so as to strike fear into the targets of his hate and for the amusement and inspiration of other thugs like himself.

The manifesto’s obsession with the white nationalist “great replacement” theory is particularly disturbing in its timing with the impending Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, as while believers in this theory rejoice at their chance to turn everyone they understand as a “fertile white woman” into a baby factory for their deranged racialist worldview, fascist militias are stepping up deadly attacks on groups they consider “racial enemies” with the same underlying motive. Biden’s election, much touted as an antidote to the fascist trends encouraged by Trump and those close to him, has self-evidently not changed their goals or means or confidence in pursuing both.

Continue reading “Statement on the Buffalo Massacre”

Abortion, the Supreme Court and the Socialist Movement

On the evening of May 2nd, POLITICO published a shocking leak of a draft majority opinion of the Supreme Court in the upcoming case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, showing the court poised to strike down their previous ruling in the famous 1973 Roe v. Wade case that abortion was constitutionally protected at the federal level. The news is infuriating, a triumph decades in the making for the reactionary Evangelical anti-abortion movement, and a terrible blow to women everywhere who already fight daily against all manner of assaults against their bodily autonomy, but the unplanned and premature manner in which this news was delivered is most welcome indeed, for it has given movements and the masses something that has previously not been present at the top level of judiciary politics: space and time, however limited, to act.

Continue reading “Abortion, the Supreme Court and the Socialist Movement”

The Ukrainian Crisis and the Imperialist World System

The entire US left is reacting to the shocking invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The reactions are varied and reflect a vigorous discourse which we are pleased to see includes many positions not constrained by Cold War biases and “campism”. There is a broad consensus that Russia’s behavior, no matter the pretext, went far over the line, as is the view of many Russians who identify with the communist movement, even many we might analyze as right opportunist.

Unfortunately, not all on the US left are able to take a similarly circumspect position of condemnation of US imperialism, which has been and remains the most powerful imperialist center in military and economic terms alike. We have witnessed prominent representatives of the left call for sanctions against Russia, which would have an escalating effect, when as purported socialists and internationalists their immediate practical duty should to call for the disbanding of NATO and other actions that would have a deescalating effect.

In the midst of the practical discussion, there is also a theoretical discussion over whether Russia today qualifies as an “imperialist country”. In general, the trend is for those who advocate sanctions against Russia to assert that it is, so as to position Russia and the US on equal footing. For those who take a revolutionary defeatist stance on US imperialism, there is also a trend to assert that Russia is not an imperialist country, which naturally is partially motivated by a need to provide extra theoretical justification beyond revolutionary defeatism for opposing US escalation.

We have already said that many of the latter category none the less correctly join their Russian comrades in condemning Putin’s aggression, and we of course emphasize that it is not only wars carried out directly by imperialist centers which we condemn, but all wars except wars of defense and liberation on behalf of the poor and oppressed, which in fact serve to secure real and sustainable peace.

Continue reading “The Ukrainian Crisis and the Imperialist World System”

Nontraditional Unionism (part 1)

by Kurt Marlin

The communist movement in the United States faces no shortage of problems, but in recent years the most glaring is a lack of vision. Many left tendencies have big dreams and no qualms articulating them, but then engage in practices wildly insufficient to the world-historic tasks they claim to work toward. The theoretical connection between houseless mutual aid or tenant organizing and the mythical “revolution” or “general strike” is often no more substantive than the link between dream and waking. We cough up short term plans when we need to, for a particular campaign or movement, but long or even medium term plans resemble the get rich quick schemes we shun more than a coherent, practicable strategy that can be carried out to advance the struggle for liberation.

Many communists see this deficiency but, in a classic error of sectarianism, they too often respond with broad criticisms of the tactics or practices being employed rather than concrete criticisms of ways to do it better. Some of these so-called communists stand aloof and criticize mutual aid as “red charity” that will never lead to working class power, which fortunately shields them from ever organizing an event that puts them at risk of speaking to a worker. Others offer up the same criticisms while dutifully doing the work they criticize as not “revolutionary” enough or saying it can only be done by joining their “vanguard” with its very real authentic mass base. This leaves the masses unlucky enough to be in contact with them with the impression that communists are nothing but scolds and haters. At least the anarchists have a utopian dream; all the communists do is whine about how it’ll never work.

If any of these vanguards do truly have a road map for their political practice, they don’t do much to share it beyond the confines of their own group. Some of these are small and local enough that the apparent lack of strategy can almost be excused, but others are big enough that they must either be hiding their strategy’s deficiencies from criticism or, worse, have none, moving forward with whatever they have been doing without attempting to educate their members on the importance of understanding the struggle in its totality and working consciously toward a real goal along a solid path. This latter issue is certainly the problem for smaller formations. The general rule for this kind of organizing has been:

To work half-heartedly without a definite plan or direction; to work perfunctorily and muddle along–“So long as one remains a monk, one goes on tolling the bell.” This is a ninth type.

Mao Tse-Tung, Combat Liberalism

We speak here from a position of guilt: much of our own practical work has involved this vague sort of popular but uncritical mutual aid, or aimlessly pushing forward community organizing projects similar to what we see in other places but largely disconnected from them. We have struggled to “do the work” and we have struggled to promote an anti-revisionist communist theoretical line, but rarely do we manage to combine the two. Far easier, more comfortable, to muddle along, than to truly stare the behemoth of capital in the face and dare to struggle and defeat it, to formulate a clear, concrete, present day plan for victory and subject it to the ordeal of scientific testing in the laboratory of social practice.

Enough! We have seen a million calls for unity with no substance, for action with no thought, and a million more criticisms of the same. Developing a long term strategy for the final victory over global capitalism-imperialism requires a revolutionary vanguard party, a real one and not a cliquish pretender to the name, but we will not develop this vanguard via short term activist campaigns and endless coalitions. Only by concretely organizing among the masses with a clear, successful and articulated strategy for the medium term will we achieve this goal.

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