(Note: Updated on February 18, 2017, to expand some suggestions and, more importantly, add one crucial recommendation at the end)
1. Learn the people’s history of your city. Research in your city’s archives if there are any (call your city’s library and ask if they can help you search their archives of the city’s newspapers) for any kind of revolutionary history, or the struggle of oppressed groups. If there are any notable figures who are still around, try to get in touch with them. What political campaigns got masses of people moving in the past? What was going on there in the late 60s? When’s the last time it seems like a spontaneous protest broke out among the most oppressed section of the city. What was it about?
2. Explore the demographics of your city. What are the biggest employers? How wealth and income unequal is it? Where do the pigs kill the most people? What are the most oppressed and poor areas of your city? Go see them for yourself. Do they have community centers in their neighborhoods? What kind of activities happen at them? What are people concerned about in these neighborhoods? What is the political sentiment there? Where does drug-related activity happen? Where do homeless folks gather? If you can, compare present-day income and racial demographic maps of the city versus older ones, decade by decade, and find out where gentrification is proceeding, and how quickly.
Three specific maps to look at for sure are (1) the so-called “One Dot Per Person Racial Dot Map,” (2) maps produced by the city or county government indicating wealth and income differentiation to help find the areas with the poorest residents (e.g.), and (3) land use maps (aka land development, land use, land use inventory, city plan, or city planning maps).
One specific use of the land use maps (e.g.) is, among other things, to find apartment complexes–in the U.S. context, low-income apartment complexes are often proletarian strongholds. And additionally, in larger and growing cities, workers in apartment complexes are especially vulnerable to gentrification because while those who own houses can sell them as development moves in and raises property values, people in apartment complexes have no upside to getting displaced.
3. Integrate among the masses of poor and working people. Whether you are or aren’t working-class yourself, make a habit of spending time in places where the predominant group of people spending time there is working-class. You can hang out at working-class restaurants or gather with folks at the local corner store or fast food place. Strike up friendly conversations! Use mass transit, whether bus or metro, even if you don’t necessarily have to go anywhere. Consider public parks. Consider sitting in on the sermons in working-class churches. If you’re concerned you’re not sure how to start conversations, don’t worry about it. Literally just put yourself bodily in working-class places as often as possible. You will get more and more comfortable the more you do this—and often people will strike up conversations with you. The point is that conversations frequently and regularly happen spontaneously when people are spending time physically near each other. Be very open-minded. There is absolutely no substitute for this kind of real and broad contact. Do this enough, and it will help you gain an understanding of the issues working folks are struggling against. Be wary of spending time in bars, as alcohol culture is antithetical to a good communist discipline. Also, even if it is painful and uncomfortable, take consciously and ongoingly take as big of steps as possible to dissociate yourself from any petty-bourgeois environments and social scenes you frequent; one tends to absorb the class perspective of whichever class one spends time around.
On that note, it should be said that the use of alcohol, cannabis/weed, and other mind-altering drugs is a powerful deterrent to organizing. They foster poor health, create mental inclarity, and reduce ability to focus. The social environment around their use in society promotes idleness and self-gratification. Do your utmost to become sober from these and all other mind-altering substances. Begin to create sober spaces, events, and activities that promote revolutionary politics, both for yourself and for others. This will create a pole of attraction for a different sort of life that fosters discipline, which is priceless for organizers and for a revolutionary movement. Here is a Marxist analysis of how some communist principles are related to concepts about addiction. (It should be said that this is not intended as a guide or to be in any way comprehensive–merely as something that some may find useful to think about when combating addiction.)
One more word about discipline: As Mao says at the end of Combat Liberalism; one cannot be considered a communist until one is putting revolutionary work ahead of one’s own narrow self-interest. There is nothing in the life of a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist that politics does not touch and transform to better meet the needs of the revolution. Constantly search your life for any “stuff” you want to “hide” from revolutionary transformation, and gently but firmly and persistently seek to transform these aspects of yourself. Read Five Golden Rays with any other comrades who have come to consider themselves Maoists, and have frank discussions about areas where your personal life is still getting in the way of your political work. Be real. Though organizing is not a complete solution to addiction, it is still true that the more thoroughly we build a political environment where we can devote ourselves to this life-giving work and support and care for each other as comrades, and really listen and have compassion for each other, the easier it will be to abandon narrow and individualistic habitual comforts.
4. Look for and meet organizers from the poor working-class sections of your city, whether or not they’re actually communist, as long as they are not anti-communist or committed pig collaborators. Meet other radical organizers in town. Build genuine relationships with the ones who seem sincerely committed to making the world an altogether better place and willing to listen to new ideas. Once you have a decent relationship, don’t hesitate to engage in respectful but genuine political disagreement with them. See also point 8 below for orientation on how to handle these interactions in a fashion that is both principled and productive. This will connect you with the most potentially revolutionary segment of the city and make you a better organizer.
5. Learn about the “official” politics of your city. Who are the commissioners or councilpeople or whatever? Who are the alderpeople or the mayor? Who funded their campaigns? How long have they been in office? Do they represent organized labor or land developers or whom? What are their political histories? What segment of the voting population must they please? If nothing else this will let you know who will oppose you depending on what issues you press on. What are the politics of the police department (e.g., do they prioritize appearing liberal, or are they more forceful and heavyhanded)? What are the local unions, and what are their politics? Who are the reigning nonprofits and petty-bourgeois forces that aim to monopolize grassroots politics and lead the struggles into reformism?
6. Start an agit-prop and education group in as public space a space as possible where both radicals and working-class people might go, erring toward the latter. Keep the faith, show up and be there even if no one comes. Hold discussions on issues of concern to a variety of people. If you keep it up, you will probably sooner or later attract a few people. Call it like “[City Name] Communists” or “[City Name] Communist Study Group” or “[City Name] Revolutionary Front” or something like that. Study Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Read Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong. Study revolutionary history. Study anti-imperialist revolutions from all over the world. Let your study be guided by what the members and the masses are most interested in. If someone displays racism, sexism, cissexism, and any other oppressive thinking, gently but firmly struggle with them over time to help them arrive at correct ideas (show how their own interests align with uniting with the group of people they are currently disparaging, and how much they have in common with them). Resort to kicking them out only if they are committed reactionaries, or if they become abusive. Struggle against their incorrect thinking, but don’t constantly police the masses’ language; the point is to help them arrive at correct ideas as a priority over them always using the “correct” language. Conduct these study groups in a fashion that is accessible as possible to the masses (e.g., one crucial thing is to not require reading ahead of time, but instead go around in a circle during the actual group and read the text being studied out loud). Regularly attend the meetings of any radical student organizations in your city and politely and productive contribute. If you have a chance to do so during the “announcements” section of their meeting, invite people to your group.
7. Regularly post up in a well-foot-trafficked public place at a specific time each week with a sign that says something provocative (such as “anti-cop, pro-worker”–in September 2016, some good ones might be “Fuck Trump” or “Fuck Trump and Clinton, and all politicians”; in February 2017 in Latino-majority areas, you might try “Chinga la migra” and “Fuck ICE”) and/or maybe a table with literature that is written in language accessible to the masses (consider some of the things being released by Serve the People – Austin). You will inevitably put off a few people with these bold slogans—but they will also attract people you wouldn’t otherwise attract, and these are the folks you most want to talk to, and they’ll know what you’re about. When people show up, talk to them! Talk to them person to person, having a real and living conversation. What you are looking for are their ideas—what they want to see done in the city, how things are in their neighborhoods, what they take to be the root causes of the problems in the world. Find out what their burning political questions are. If you make a good connection, get their contact information! Consider having something like coffee or light snacks to hand out for free, with a sign that says “FREE [WHATEVER].” Keep the faith in this, too—what you are doing is cumulative with this and most things in organizing. It may take someone a month to notice you, a month to take an interest, a month to think of something to say, a month to think of how to say it, a month to develop the gumption to approach you, and then two more months before you see them again. You will develop a reputation and respect by the sheer virtue of displaying a sustained capacity to give a fuck. Sign interested people up for your mailing list, and a texting list, and keep inviting them out to your group.
8a. Begin to put on events through your group. Organize speakouts, lectures, roundtables, film-showings, and protests on any or all of the following topics: liberation struggles of oppressed-nations people (that is, black, brown, or indigenous people), environmental concerns, prisoner liberation, anti-ICE/immigrant rights, promote people’s wars, anti-cop, anti-fascist, pro-refugees, anti–political repression, antiwar (that is, against imperialist wars, not against people’s liberation struggles), pro-peace (from the perspective that only the presence of justice and freedom can genuinely be called peace, so genuine peace means people’s war). This will also attract people to your group and your work, make you a better organizer, and teach you more about the city. Meetings are boring to a lot of people, but you can attract mass involvement and achieve a lot of what you hope to achieve at a meeting anyway by having an engaging event like a film-showing and then having a conversation about the would-be meeting topics afterward, using examples from the film to bring them up.
8b. A few words about how to decide what sort of events to do: Find out what the burning political questions of the masses are in your area and find a way to provide accessible answers to them from a communist perspective. Figure out what pisses them off or worries them. At the time of this writing, many people are paying spiteful attention to Donald Trump, understanding that he represents something not seen in quite a while—an openly reactionary figurehead with truly mass support in u.s. society.
Hit the ground. Talk to people. Look for places where working-class and young people vent their frustrations or share their opinions online or in other places. Eavesdrop while riding the bus. Ask working-class people open-ended political questions if they’re hanging around somewhere killing time (“What do you think of the elections?” or whatever seems like it might start an open-ended question).
Obviously this is a chicken-and-egg question to some extent—once you hit a wall with your social investigation and on-the-ground research, you will have to make a guess and then make a bold experimental action. You may not reach certainty that there is interest in events about a specific topic in your area—but if you think there might be, give it your all and do everything you can to organize it and to make it a success, advertising it with many posters in many different places, a Facebook event, and even creating a handbill and distributing it to where working-class or young people gather in public, such as at bus stops. You might even try a series of presentations. For instance, if Chicano liberation is a concern of the working class in your area, you might put on a month of events (three events, two weeks apart), and then create a poster to advertise all three, for instance:
Nov 1: History of the Chicano Liberation Struggle
Nov 15: How the criminal u.s. government stole the land of an entire people: Brown power and the need for revolution!
Nov 30: Revolutionary Chicano Groups Today
If you put that on a poster, people might miss the first one but make the second or third. It works as propaganda for people to know that you’re serious and willing to work hard. After they see enough of these posters for a variety of topics, they might decide that you’re serious enough to drop by and see what you’re about regardless of which topics you’re covering.
When you undertake these, be sure that your presentations are highly interactive. Use the mass line in everything! (P.S. That linked document is really excellent–study it!) Devise a series of questions for the audience that can help you move from point to point. When you get an answer from a member of the audience, use that as an opportunity to use their own language and concepts to make your point. Solicit concrete examples, whether countrywide or local, of the abstract theoretical things you’re discussing, which will allow it to become clearer and concrete to everyone in attendance. Always give a great deal of opportunity and invitation to the audience to participate and be involved. For an example of how your group can become more and more revolutionary and disciplined and start to transform from a loose organization into a cadre organization, read the first-year summation of the experience of Red Guards Austin.
9. The masses will keep struggling even while you are still in the process of creating more Maoists to form a collective with. It may be “spontaneous” (that is, the organizer may not understand themselves as an anticapitalist) or it may be led by reformist or revisionist organizations. There is sometimes an instinct not to promote events or struggles if the main organizers are revisionists or reformists, but this is an anti-masses line. Instead, if there is any mass character to the event at all (that is, if people who are strangers to the organizers will likely be showing up), do promote the event, and couple your promotion of the event with criticism of what you consider incorrect in the politics of the those who have organized it. And then, once you’re there, support the initiative of the masses, provide material support to help them deepen their struggle, talk with them and form ties with them, and do what you can to help a Maoist line (anti-revisionist, anti-reformist) take hegemony of the event—that is, help the event become more radical than the incorrect/reformist/backward leadership would like it to be. This will generate conflict with these organizers, but genuinely winning the masses over and supporting their struggle and helping deepen their class consciousness is primary. Your goal is to build a united front with revisionist and reformist organizers toward revolutionary goals that MLM has hegemony within, and you must criticize the revisionists and reformists in all areas where they are betraying the interests of the masses, which can only be pursued with genuinely revolutionary politics. This will allow you to win over the best of the revisionists while isolating the diehard ones who are committed to their anti-people politics. Help the masses involved see that their struggle can be accomplished best if they link it up with other sections of the masses who are also struggling, because then each can support the other and they can have twice the numbers and resources at any given time. Sign them up, stay in touch with them. Always get really people’s contact information—don’t just give them yours and wait for them to contact you.
10. Reach out for guidance! There are several MLM cadre collectives operating in the united states today, including Red Guards Austin, Red Guards Los Angeles, Red Guards Philadelphia, and Kansas City Revolutionary Collective, and mass organizations guided by Maoist principles, such as RATPAC Austin, Revolutionary Student Front – Austin, and Progressive Youth Organization – Kansas City. The Revolutionary Communist Party in canada is also an advanced and disciplined MLM organization. Contact these organizations directly via email or Facebook message and you will find comrades happy to offer advice.
11. Don’t found a collective before you’re ready. (Added Feb. 18, 2017.) Five months after this post first went up, it seems very relevant and crucial to offer this suggestion. An MLM collective should not be founded until there are at least three organizers who are not only (1) ideologically thoroughly consolidated in MLM but also (2) reliably able to devote significant amounts of time to organizing for the indefinite future and (3) experienced organizers, either having come to Maoism after having previously undertaken complex and militant political work before, or else undertaking such work after becoming a Maoist but before founding a collective.
If a Maoist collective is declared with fewer than three organizers, or with any organizers who fail to meet all three above those criteria, that collective does not actually exist regardless of whether it has been declared to exist. To go online to declare the existence of such a collective is to make the error of orienting toward the existing left rather than toward the broad masses of the oppressed and exploited. When we declare the existence of a collective, we are making a promise to the masses in our area that they now have and for the foreseeable future will have a sharp, hard, and sturdy weapon in their struggles–and we must always keep our promises to the masses, especially when it comes to something like that.
With that said, it is important to privately start doing one’s best to act like a collective before declaring oneself as one–and in fact doing so is an important part of the process of becoming one. As you gather other committed Maoists who are prospective members of your collective, begin regularly and reliably having secret meetings outside the presence of phones and other electronic devices. These meetings should be run tightly, and should feature, either every meeting or every other meeting, regular criticism, self-criticism, and criticism of the work of the proto-collective with a view to improving the work, discipline, and development of each individual member as well as the effectiveness of the unit. These meetings have the function of consolidating the line that will become the collective’s line and helping comrades hold each other accountable as everyone works to transform themselves into better communists.
It is also important to build and continuously deepen genuine unity among your would-be cadre. Whether or not you you have a good deal in common culturally with your fellow Maoists when you first begin to organize together, you should begin regularly and consciously trying to increase the amount of not-explicitly-organizational time you spend with them–that is, you should make sure you are regularly hanging out with these people, even if you have to schedule the time to hang out. Drinking or other substance use together should be strongly discouraged, and you might instead go on hikes or otherwise undertake strenuous activity with each other. The degree of unity between comrades and within an organization is a real, objective interpersonal psychological fact, and having unity is absolutely vital.
While it would be imprudent and counterproductive to try to offer a minimal reading list for an ideologically committed Maoist, it should also be said that it is not enough for a person to have heard the highlights of Maoism; a person who is genuinely a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist has a firm grasp on the three parts of Marxism–philosophy, political economy, and scientific socialism–and understands with nuance the way Mao brought each to a new level, and seeks to apply this understanding in approaching literally all questions they encounter, both in life and in organizing.
Finally, being a genuine Maoist means being prepared for struggle and to make sacrifices. It means being willing to accept the risks of militant work. It means being prepared to weather the insults and denunciations that all genuine revolutionaries receive from others who call themselves friends of the people–both from NGOists and from others who call themselves revolutionaries–as extremists, as ultra-leftists, as reckless. It also means being prepared to struggle against, lose the favor of, and draw sharp lines of demarcation against people who are flattering us and ingratiating with us–shooting at us with what Mao calls sugar-coated bullets–to try to convince us not to differ with them sharply, as we must with every last organizer who offers lines that hurt the interests of the masses.