Destroy the “subculture of communism,” make yourself truly appealing to the working class

A relatively recent thread in the Marxist Center group on Facebook was about a meme Bhaskar Sunkara shared about how the left is too weird. In the main post and many comments, they tried to convince themselves why they’re all fine as-is and don’t need to change, for various reasons.

But the existing left is weird, and that is a problem, and I very much recognize the problem in myself also. Because there is MLM as a set of understandings–and this framework can be rephrased and conveyed in every language and in every culture, just as mathematics can. And then there is US leftism as a culture. And far too many people mistake “US leftist culture”–the inherited ways of communicating, the aesthetic, the norms and customs–for the “math” itself.

The existing left is so up its own ass with its own culture, with ~ ? w e i r d ? ~ internet culture and other varieties. Fuck communist memes. Fuck the fetishization of historical figures and events. An unbelievably intense individualism–so pervasive it’s invisible to people like the air they breathe–is the opium that prevents people from seeing just how badly they need to abandon all of this shit. People need to sober up and quit playing in traffic. People need to quit treating the existing left like a place to retreat to. We should be NOTHING LIKE radical liberals. Foster hobbies that put you in spaces where true masses of people are, especially working-class people. Leftism as a culture should be cancelled for anyone who aspires to be a Maoist. And when it’s rebuilt, as I heard a comrade brilliantly put it recently, it should be the advanced segment of proletarian culture, not its own thing completely alien and self-alienating from the working class.

The people’s wars in India, the Philippines, and Peru all had foundational “intellectuals going to the lowest segments of the toiling people” efforts. Geographically we may not have to travel as far as they did, but the cultural break we make should be just as decisive.

Let the Mensheviks embalm themselves–we need to keep destroying whatever is stale or irrelevant in ourselves, over and over again. And it will be uncomfortable, and we need to stay uncomfortable forever. We need to not hold anything back when criticizing ourselves and each other. That is the only way we will become and remain the living force in the world we need to be.

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Killing “leftist” fragility: The roughness of the working class is the power that drives history

Many self-identified leftists, even people in the MLM orbit, are way too squeamish, way too easily hurt or upset. And not all but most of these people have not spent a lot of time—if any at all—with people in the lower sections of the masses. These self-id’d leftists would find it hard to handle how proletarian people often behave: They are often crude and direct. They do not use PC language. They are often enough angry and raw and intense.

To be frank, I think most of these self-id’d leftists don’t realize what a huge hindrance this helpless surrender to sensitivity is, and actually imagine that it’s a virtue. I honestly think they imagine that as they win working-class people to revolution, they will soften them, “civilize” them, make them gentler and more like Leftbook or radical-liberal Tumblr says people should be: You are valid!

This is exactly the opposite of the truth.

The violence, the rawness, this isn’t a side effect, not just something unfortunate that petit-bourgeois people must reluctantly tolerate. Get it straight: it’s the fuel of everything we’re doing. It is in fact the exact power that makes the toiling people the motive force in the making of history. This fire is exactly what we should be seeking out. This anger is what rebellion is made of. There will not in a million years be a people’s war without it.

If you claim to be a revolutionary, comrade, you are asking for *war*. Mao was being polite when he tried to tell you that revolution is not a tea party. He meant that revolution requires unbelievable emotional and physical pain. It requires us to ultimately accept even people we’re fighting alongside being curt with us. This is not to say that we shouldn’t struggle to be good to each other—we should, but it is rarely the primary aspect. And most important at all times is that our politics are as correct as they possibly can be.

MLM is not an identity, and treating MLM as an identity means you are not a Maoist or even a Marxist

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.

A crucial point in adapting the wisdom from spiritual traditions into Maoism

From A Basic Understanding of the Communist Party of China:

“To conscientiously change our world outlook and completely adhere to the Party ideologically, we must also plunge into the three great revolutionary movements of class struggle, the struggle for production and scientific experiment, and strive to change our world outlook in the process of these struggles. Facts show that only by standing in the forefront of class struggle and the two-line struggle can we grasp and make use of the characteristics and laws of class struggle in socialist society and increase our ability to distinguish genuine Marxism from sham. On the question of remoulding one’s world outlook, Liu Shao-chi peddled his trash on “self-cultivation” and advocated “shutting oneself up in one’s little room.” Lin Piao contended it was necessary to “launch revolution in our innermost being.” This nonsense totally negates the importance of social practice as well as the importance of studying Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought to remould one’s world outlook; it is pure idealistic apriorism.”

This post should be considered as part of an ongoing examination on this blog, the latest in this sequence of posts:

On Maoism’s ability to incorporate and be strengthened by what is sometimes called spirituality

Some more discussion of how “spirituality”/”the science of wisdom” fit into Maoism

Some reflections on my path toward communism, and some thoughts on methods and motivations for going onward

A few thoughts on what the bourgeoisie think the masses want, what everyone really wants, and not telling comforting lies about lives that stray from communism

The need for methods for cultivating deep and intense communist enthusiasm

To lose fear of sacrifice and death can allow one to think more clearly and be a better servant of the people

“What counts in war is not … the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit.”

The tensile strength of steel, the power of the heart muscles, the electronegativity of oxygen, the density of an engine block, the tightness of the bolt that locks the arm to the axle.

The assembly of our anatomy, impermeable at every point where it is not carefully tapered. The long and numerous pathways of chemical synthesis, learned through the pain of four billion years of mistakes.

The internal logic of every contradiction does not wait, does not mind, does not care. Not a bit of friction is handwaved out of existence, not a speck of momentum is ever ignored.

Not one atom in the universe will forgive your tiredness, your desire for rest from this precision. Not a thing is not always exactly, pristinely what it is.

We must learn tirelessly, learn as the self-playing instrument that is every living organism has learned, must pay and pay with pain and death.

As we strive to make ourselves into a mechanism to remove either the blood or the guns from every reactionary in the world, our love must move us to a ruthless vigilance.

When they come to kill you, if your rifle is not clean, if your magazines are not loaded, or you don’t know how to shoot, or you don’t know how to keep calm and aim and fire, or your comrades aren’t well rested, or aren’t trained themselves, or you haven’t drilled until it is second nature, or you have not designated a sentry, or if the sentry is distracted,

then you will die and your comrades will die, and the political economy you have learned, and the mass ties you have made, and your skill in leadership, and your knowledge of the enemy’s strategies will be destroyed, gone in a moment—like a dream—

and the proletariat of your country will once again lose its central nervous system, and the guns and the training and the coordination will be all the reactionaries’ for another few decades.

Or if you have dealt unflinchingly with the truth, exactly as it is, then we will move on, one step further toward the inexorable, exacting harmony struggling to be born here and everywhere on earth.

To lose fear of sacrifice and death can allow one to think more clearly and be a better servant of the people

dead already

I recently made a post where I wrote, “I think we need [methods] to get people to rise up to become the bravest and most disciplined versions of themselves, in a way that doesn’t compromise their intellect but actually grants things that the intellect has sought but not found through any other avenue and thereby cleans, nourishes, and strengthens the intellect.”

I think one thing—and possibly one of the most important things—that will strengthen and purify the intellect in this way is the removal of fear: fear of sacrifice, and fear of death.

Because fear blocks you from considering certain things:

Immediately, it blocks you from considering the viability and validity of courses of action that may lead you to risk sacrifice or death.

But maybe even more importantly, it also blocks you from considering certain more general possibilities or theories that, if they were true, would lead you to feel it was necessary to risk sacrifice or death (e.g., accepting the validity of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism entails accepting the truth that protracted armed revolution is necessary for the liberation of humanity).

I could be way off base, but I think the way this works is mostly that the subconscious often “goes on ahead” and scouts things out, tentatively investigating the logical conclusions of theories and courses of action, and if those conclusions look scary after a quick investigation, we become emotionally disinclined toward consciously exploring that theory, either angry or afraid of it. And in this process our subconscious only more rarely investigates and tells us about the possible fruitfulness of accepting and embracing these theories and courses of action.

And I mean this in a deep and philosophical sense. We already know that in the bourgeoisie, their fear of sacrifice is part of what causes them to miss important basic aspects of human psychology and therefore to fail to understand the fundamental laws of motion of human society and history. I think that to the extent that communists also fear sacrifice and death, it prevents us from observing and understanding deeper aspects of those same laws. But we must grasp them as deeply as we can, because without that we have nothing.

Mao wrote, “Dialectical materialism is in the service of the proletariat.” And so if something leads us to a more true grasp of the material facts, it serves the people.

And so then the question is about what will allow one to reduce one’s fear of sacrifice and death. Ultimately I think it entails living in a way that has truly incorporated the facts that:

(a) You have deep motivations that are often in contradiction with more shallow and immediate cravings, and you will live the life you are most deeply satisfied with by living as completely as possible within those deeper motivations and basically ignoring the more shallow and immediate cravings.

(b) Your well-being is bound up in how well the broad masses of people are doing, so in a very real sense the broad masses of people are you (that is, materially, your “self” really does include them). Put another way, you get the same results caring for the broad masses as you seek when you care for your own body and mind, so in this full material way, they are part of your self.

And these are really two aspects of the same thing, because those deepest motivations are best met by wielding one’s creative labor in a way that serves the people.

(Edit: Let it also be said that you are going to die one day no matter what you do. You could die today. When you confront yourself with this knowledge regularly and force yourself to look directly at it, the question of “How do I want to live my life? Who do I want to serve?” becomes a much more real and meaningful question than “How can I avoid death and loss?” because that question is literally and truly nonsensical.)

If you live within this knowledge, you will be in a mindset that fears sacrifice and death the least, because you will be in a state of minimized concern for your short-term pleasures and your own immediate physical body.

You may object that you can’t well have those deep motivations met if you’re dead, but can’t meet them at all ever if you never let your fear of sacrifice and death slip from you. And the iron truth is, no amount of fear will prevent you from dying one day one way or another, so the question is how you want to live the life you do have.

And I don’t want to pose as someone who has definitively mastered these fears, at all. But this is without a doubt the truth, however scary, and something we as communists should move toward and embrace enthusiastically.

Mao says it again and again:

“I agree with this slogan, ‘First do not fear hardship, second do not fear death.’”

“Give full play to our style of fighting—courage in battle, no fear of sacrifice, no fear of fatigue,”

“Be resolute, fear no sacrifice.”

Or Gonzalo:

“Fear? I believe that fear and lack of fear form a contradiction. The point is to take up our ideology, and unleash the courage within us. It is our ideology that makes us brave, that gives us courage. In my opinion, no one is born brave. It is society, the class struggle, that makes people and communists courageous—the class struggle, the proletariat, the Party, and our ideology. What could the greatest fear be? Death? As a materialist I know that life will end some day. What is most important to me is to be an optimist, with the conviction that others will continue the work to which I am committed, and will carry it forward until they reach our final goal, communism. Because the fear that I could have is that no one would carry on, but that fear disappears when one has faith in the masses. I think that the worst fear, in the end, is not to have faith in the masses, to believe that you’re indispensable, the center of the world. I think that’s the worst fear and if you are forged by the Party, in proletarian ideology, in Maoism principally, you understand that the masses are the makers of history, that the Party makes revolution, that the advance of history is certain, that revolution is the main trend, and then your fear vanishes. What remains is the satisfaction of contributing together with others to laying the foundation so that some day communism may shine and illuminate the entire earth.”

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Some thoughts on *Boyhood*, “following your dreams,” intimacy, and geometry

i once pointed out to someone that the question of how many limbs evolution can give a creature is bounded by geometry. a (for the sake of the argument) spherical creature with an infinite number of limbs has no limbs—there is so little space between them that it’s back to being a sphere. the amount of limbs on a creature determines the limits of the axes through which each limb can rotate and—and i’m no mathematician, so maybe this amounts to the same—the region of space to which each limb can reach (because the more other limbs there are, the more other limbs will be in the way).

a few nights ago i watched Boyhood, and while others have gone into problems like its default whiteness and so on, another of the more pernicious aspects i found in it is the way it promotes this bourgeois notion of “following your dreams.”

sure, it problematizes this a little bit with the way the mom character has that quick breakdown moment and expresses dissatisfaction with the trajectory of her life and her apparently successful career, but ultimately the film doesn’t dwell on it long enough for you to know whether this dissatisfaction is fundamentally because of the hollowness of “following your dreams” (and this idea is undermined from the start anyway, because her stated motivation for going back to college to pursue this career is for more financial stability, so it leaves open the question of whether this was even actually her dream).

but like the whole thing ends on this really optimistic note of the protagonist going to college, unbelievably full of potential, shimmeringly iridescently full of potential. he is following what he loves, which incidentally is his gift, which incidentally is financially opening doors for him in life. it’s a lot like the fairy tale of the romantic One True Love: that you have a Calling that is going to make you holy and beautiful and loveable and an honorable fixture of history in the textbooks and if only you dare to reject social norms hard enough, you will get it.

i won’t lie, i was such a sucker for this idea (or one very similar to it) for so long. it was always particularly beautiful to me, and it still has an enticing power. but you see how it removes politics from the question. it’s strictly metaphysical, which is just fine if you’re firmly located in the u.s. middle class, because then the world really does look to you like achieving A Life Worth Living is just a question of willing your art-dream into reality long and hard enough. it is a way of enticing people into a pursuit that is fundamentally congruous with capitalism (“make your art from a pure enough place in your heart and you will find financial success without having to compromise your vision one inch,” it argues to young people, regardless of the fact that that is never the real outcome) and fundamentally threatened by class struggle (because you might be told that society cannot afford to grant you the material resources and free time to fine-tune every aspect of your lifestyle according to your metaphysically derived sense of style, because it needs those resources to feed starving people and otherwise transform society). and what a monstrous society it is that constrains these purest-dreaming dreamers.

and what is particularly brutal is something one of my comrades pointed out: part of the official story is also that your success in finding, honoring, embodying, and enacting this Special Gift in yourself is a prerequisite for other people even wanting you around, whether platonically or romantically.

so in a society where we are all already (a) emotionally starving for want of intimacy-calories generally; (b) emotionally malnourished of specific emotional vitamins because society especially disallows the sharing of certain particular aspects of each individual’s inner life; and (c) emotionally poisoned because we are forced to pretend to feel so many things that are completely untrue for us emotionally … in such a society, the dangling of this carrot that you can simultaneously (a) be true to yourself and (b) (whether you understand it in these terms or not) find nourishing and healthy intimacy as part of the process and then also (c) be nothing but praised by all of society from top to bottom, appreciated like Shakespeare by both bourgeoisie and proletariat alike—it’s so irresistible that i was afraid to open up the box of my nostalgia while watching that movie. i had to hang “petty-bourgeois dreams are hollow and poisonous” like a huge sign over my mind as a precaution as i explored all the feelings the film reminded me of about what i used to want and dream about.

and it got me thinking like, well if the fairytale premise of all of this is not true, if there’s no solid and unbroken soul with pure ore of Special Gift that goes infinitely far inward, what is the material reality behind what society promises young petit-bourgeois individuals they will get to do? and what is it that we actually want, when we desire intimacy? because it is speaking to a real felt need. but also, obviously, there is neither a solid core to your mind nor is there some Totally New Essence magically united with your physical matter at the moment of conception that guarantees each individual’s idiosyncrasy.

it occurred to me as i was close to sleep last night that the answer to this question is also a question of geometry. we interface with lots of people, and our specific relation to production requires certain aspects of ourselves to make relatively temporary and superficial contacts with all these people. and so then we make these particular aspects of ourselves sort of bland and clean so that they can interface easily with many different types of people in many different places in society.

so, first, instead of having a core, you are like an onion, and you just have a deepest layer—a thought-pattern that is conscious of (that is, it contains reliable representations of) all “above” thought-patterns, but which is itself not consistently represented in any “deeper” thought-pattern. (you can try to share intimacy about some inchoate semi-patterns you may notice that lie beneath that lowest layer, too, by “free-writing” and hoping a pattern is revealed in the process, but really, the further down you go, the brokener and gooier it gets, the less discrete any thought gets, so the idea of “personality” existing that far down doesn’t make sense, because thoughts at that depth are so impersistent and changeable.)

and second, it’s not that you have a pure soul that you’re born with and you only show a few people, but rather that, inevitably, you will have some thoughts/thought-patterns/parts of yourself that you show many people (your “face”), and then you will have “inner”-er thoughts/thought-patterns/parts of yourself that manage those more clean & bland “outer” thoughts/thought-patterns/parts of yourself. and those close to you, your friends and family and romantic/sexual partners, will get to see the inner you who can’t help but develop more idiosyncratic thoughts about what it’s like to undertake the task of hiddenly and secretly managing your “face.”

that is, instead of a Totally New Essence buried in your soul, there are instead thought-patterns inside of you that, inevitably, statistically, by nature of what it is to exist within a society, you will show fewer people, and in fact *can* show fewer people, because they will be things harder to see because in order to see them, a person has to have shared similar experiences to you in society—and from a materialist perspective that means they have to have occupied similar spots to you in relations of production and reproduction, and have had similar cultural experiences. even if suddenly all your previously innermost thoughts became known by the world and they loved you for them, you would develop new innermost thoughts about what it’s become like to manage your outer thought-patterns, your “face,” in this strange new world where everyone knew what were until recently your deepest secrets.

it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable and necessary to have intimacy or self-expression; it just means intimacy and artistic expression aren’t what they’re made out to be by bourgeois society—interactions with and expressions of a Unique Soul. this is critical, too, because among other things it means (a) the broad masses of people can learn the skills of what bourgeois society wants to say are unreplicable Geniuses; (b) the idea of a One True Love is shown to be an absurdity and so, therefore, is the bourgeois idea of the family; (c) you can maybe talk saps like the one i used to be (and the one i still have banging around inside of me) out of thinking that they have some Perfectly Rare Beauty that they owe it to themselves to express in depoliticized art, the rest of the world be damned; and (d) if you are struggling to find intimacy, well, your inner self is in motion—you can change your inner self into one that will make it more likely to mesh with others’ inner selves. you do not have to believe yourself barred from the connection you are starving for on the mistaken idea that maybe you were just born with a particularly rare Soul.