On the incoherence of ordering someone to “self crit,” the arrogance and hostility of mechanical materialists, and one reason “tankie” is a good word for these dogmatists

“Our attitude … towards others [should be] ‘to be tireless in teaching’.”
—Mao

“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.”
—Malcolm X

There is a segment of left liberals and, increasingly, of self-identified communists who are instantly extremely hostile to people who inadvertently use oppressive language, or reveal unaddressed prejudice or chauvinism. These self-identified communists immediately assume the worst of intentions, treat sincere requests for clarification as a smokescreen for refusing to change or understand, and use a disproportionate, wildly counterproductive degree of hostility in all dealings with people with any backward ideas. For many of these people, in the past it was “check your privilege! it’s not my job to educate you!” These days it is “self crit now!”* and apparently, for these self-declared communists, it is still not their job to patiently and tirelessly help the masses transform themselves to become communists.

These people are dogmatists and extremely mechanical. They do not believe in the transformability of human beings. They believe the only way something transforms is if the whole thing is attacked from the outside, or if a completely pure impulse arises within them to transform the rest. They do not believe in the Maoist method of summoning and persuading the more correct parts inside of someone to struggle against the less correct parts, thereby helping both parts transform. They do not assess the real world to determine how best to carry out struggle within it, and instead treat the real world like an oversimplified, black-and-white model in their heads, whipping whatever elements of reality don’t conform.

In particular, in the past few months, I’ve seen this behavior in the slew of new Facebook groups to emerge since Trump’s election created a surge of interest in communism, heavily in, for instance, “sounds liberal but ok” but also, as I speak, in the MLM Communism 101 group. The philosophy that insists that no backwards thinking must be allowed to exist for longer than a single moment in a communist Facebook group is not a communist philosophy. Either:

(a) this aspiration to create what amount to safe spaces in all but name is sincerely seen as genuinely revolutionary, which makes the people putting this into practice not communists (who seek to organize in order to bring in and transform the broad masses) but infoshop-creating anarcho-liberals (who believe that somehow creating spaces where no one evers uses a specific list of words or claims to adhere to certain worldviews will cause the state to crumble somehow someday); or

(b) the insistence on swiftly purging sections of the masses with backward ideas is understood as counterproductive to revolution but fun anyway, in which case those practicing it may in theory be supporters of communism, but primarily they are self-indulgent people using communism as an intellectual game for their own amusement. If we take Mao at his word at the end of “Combat Liberalism,” we should not consider anyone who puts their own comfort and enjoyment before the building of the communist movement to actually be a communist.

There is a reason that the communists who behave this way tend to be ML-revisionists–that is, they tend to be “tankies.”

Although the use of tanks to suppress reactionary uprisings is not wrong, the general sense of “tankie” as Maoists use it refers to someone who (a) refuses to recognize that socialist countries can see the restoration of capitalism without the overthrow of the communist party, and (b) therefore believes that wherever the tanks of such a socialist (actually state capitalist or even socialist-imperialist) country go, they are spreading proletarian power.

We see this same thing on the lowest and the highest levels:

on the lowest level, it is okay to be blistering hostile to someone who used oppressive language without an intent to oppress, because (a) you are a communist and act as though you always have been one, and therefore you know better, and it’s unthinkable that *any* decent person would ever have that prejudice, and (b) people who hear the correct thing once and don’t bow are committed reactionaries and need to be destroyed.

at the highest level, it is okay for a socialist country to roll tanks wherever it decides to, (a) because the country is “socialist” and its tanks create “socialist” power wherever they go, and (b) because if another country didn’t listen to every single thing the “socialist” country said, it is full of inveterate reactionaries who must be suppressed.

what we see in both cases is a distrust or even hatred of the masses, a reliance on bureaucratic/formalistic/legalistic measures to be followed up with violence if they fail, and very deeply a failure to see that the genuinely Marxist method to help people transform is to grasp the actual contradictions inside of things and from that understanding formulate a thoughtful and many-sided plan for a sometimes protracted process that, while it may include some emotional sharpness at tactical points, consists primarily of patient persuasion and debate.

Mao says, “We must be ruthless to our enemies; we must overpower and annihilate them. … We must be kind to … the people, … and unite with them.”

These dogmatists look at the people and for the most part see only enemies of the people.

* they in fact turn self-criticism into its opposite by making it an apology issued by someone who is made too wary of further hostility to ask clarifying questions so they can really dig into the roots of why and how they came to their incorrect thinking and reform. to order someone to self-criticize is contradictory–it precisely gets in the way of helping someone undertake genuine internal transformation.

what’s more on this note, “i self-criticize” is not a performative utterance and comrades really should stop treating it as one. that is, to say “i self-criticize” is not thereby to self-criticize. one can self-criticize without ever saying the words “self-criticize.” whether or not one has self-criticized is an objective fact, not a question of whether or not one has uttered this or that verbal formula. to self-criticize is to speak sincerely with a new understanding of the problem caused by one’s past actions and a new attitude toward one’s past actions. to sincerely self-criticize is to be speaking as a new aspect of oneself that has emerged that intends to maintain psychological dictatorship over the old aspect of oneself and struggle to transform that old aspect. self-criticism does not come from a person who has definitively transformed decisively from Incorrect to Correct, but from a person who has partially transformed their stand, viewpoint, and method, and desires to further transform. in order for an act of self-criticism to be genuine–to be contradictory action against one’s errors–it must be completely voluntary.

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