What I have been struggling to say, why I want to scream at people to read “Reform Our Study,” here is how I can put it. Let’s start here: we are literally, literally at war. There are fascists who want to kill us, who know many of our names and faces. Even if they don’t, they would love to kill someone they learned is a communist, or an anarchist, and they don’t care how good an organizer you are—they would like to see you bleeding out from a gunshot. But there is an attitude that many self-identified leftists go around with in their daily practice, in the attitudes that they take as they move through the world, that is basically not sober—it is like people are very drunk, or like children, wandering through traffic. The middle class is like this—it is frivolous and unserious and lighter-than-air in the same way that drunk people are. And for almost all of us, we live in situations where people are not actively trying to kill us. What I mean is, we are not guerrillas whose whole life concretely revolves around combat to the death. And so, Marxism teaches us that because we are living in this type of environment—surrounded by people who are modeling this lack of sobriety for us and being unavoidably seduced into indulging in some of the distractions and comforts that surround us—we are actively having our consciousness influenced to live in a less and less sober way, to pay less and less attention to the deadly danger that we are in.
Nothing is stationary in this universe. It is moving backward or moving forward. Every few days I read a short set of reminders I wrote for myself to keep this in the forefront of my mind, because I know as a Marxist that my mind is being influenced to forget this danger. This is what Mao is talking about when he says that you have to regularly, indefinitely, sweep a room to keep it clean, but a comrade pointed out to me that an even better metaphor is working out regularly. You will not stay mentally where you need to be in a genuine way, in an actual way, unless you are regularly, repeatedly, habitually bringing the truths of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to your mind. You are going to die one day, and it could be any day, and that should never be far from your mind. You could get killed any day—so how do you want to live? Because forgetting this does not change whether you’re going to die, or when—all it means is you have the same amount of time to live, but you’re being less conscious with how you spend it.
This is what I have been dying to say to people when I try to tell them that they are not yet Maoists. You are not a Maoist if you have simply read the tenets once and agreed with them, never taking them up again. If you were a Marxist, in fact, you would grasp that this is true. Your mind is not a book, it is so much more like a muscle. It does not qualitatively change, it does not become a tool for applying Marxism simply from reading Marxist works once. You have to live with the ideas of Marxism, breathe with them, learn them more and more truly through practice—bring them to every part of your life, repeatedly, intentionally, indefinitely. You can’t let one single part of your life go free of the ruthless criticism that Marxism will bring to it. This is very close to the essence of what makes Marxism Marxism—how you practice thinking is what makes you a Marxist or not. And this criticism applies just as much to first-day Maoists who treat MLM like an identity as it does to academic-ass revisionists who have read Lenin’s complete works, and Althusser and Lacan. They imagine that being a Marxist is treating their brains like a sheet of paper that they can write the titles of the books they’ve read on it, and that makes them a Marxist-Leninist. No, your brain is a muscle, you are either living and breathing with MLM, or you are not a Maoist. In this sense, I am barely a Maoist if I have ever been one yet. But if someone doesn’t understand that this is how it works, they have no chance of becoming a Maoist at all. And they have no chance whatsoever of being a revolutionary, which means providing leadership, which can only come from thinking through problems with a mind that has made Marxism not just a stamp in your passport, but the air you breathe.