What is the root cause of the problems of the world, and what can I do about it?

Q: What is the root cause of the problems of the world?

A: Capitalism (that is, the political-economic system we currently live in, in which the infrastructure is owned by private individuals and groups instead of everyone in common, and therefore in which political-economic decisions are made according to what will bring the most profit to those individuals and private groups). From the first moment of capitalism’s existence up to the present moment it has sustained and exacerbated poverty, oppression, war, and ecological destruction. It cannot exist without these things, and if we want an end to them, we must move to a system of a democratically run planned economy.

Q: Can capitalism be reformed away peacefully, or through legal methods?

A: No. This has been attempted many times. All such attempts involve attempts to move people, resources, and infrastructure beyond the reach of the profit system. This invariably hurts the profits of the capitalists of the world, and every single time their profits are significantly reduced, they use their control of the political system to ensure that violent repression is used to smash the movement against the profit system, thereby returning the people, resources, and infrastructure back to the disposal of the profit system.

Q: If such a movement must invariably be confronted with violent attacks, how can it survive such violent attacks and still succeed?

A: Capitalism depends on the existence of a working class. Without a working class, there would be no one to prop up the capitalist class, and their entire system would fall apart. Therefore, the capitalist class cannot act to harm the entire working class. Thus, a movement to end capitalism that merges itself with the working class, and which is harbored and concealed within the working class, cannot be destroyed.

Q: How can a movement to end capitalism merge itself with the working class?

A: By carrying out a method of organizing called the mass line.

The essence of this method is “from the masses, to the masses.”

The mass line combines and acts upon two important truths: the masses are endlessly creative, and they are the true makers of history. We also believe that organizers are necessary for the victory of any mass movement. The mass line acknowledges both of these crucial facts.

The mass line has three steps:

1. Gather all the diverse and sometimes contradictory ideas and demands of the people.

2. Analyze them using an understanding of revolutionary theory, revolutionary history, and revolutionary experience in order to sharpen the people’s ideas and demands into programs, policies, and slogans that meet the immediate needs and demands of the people in a way that also (1) strengthens and deepens the people’s political understanding and (2) promotes the long-term interests of the entire global working class.

3. Go deeply among the people and spread these programs and ideas. Then, keep and improve the ideas that have been proven correct because the people have adopted them and made them their own—repeating this process over and over.

This process continuously grows and strengthens both the movement and its participants, deepens the connection between the organizers and the masses, attracts members of the masses to become organizers themselves, and raises the masses’ overall political consciousness.

Q: What does the practice of the mass line look like?

A: There are movements in India, such as the Communist Party of India (Maoist), and in the Philippines, such as the Communist Party of the Philippines, which have undertaken this method for many years and are now major forces for the end of capitalism in those respective countries, on track to end capitalism within a couple of decades.

Q: What about in the united states?

A: One of the most successful anticapitalist movements in recent history, the Black Panther Party, especially from 1966 to 1969, was very consciously practicing something much like the mass line, which was the source of both its community self-defense programs to meet the black community’s urgent need for security against a violent and racist police system, and their breakfast for children program, meeting people’s basic biological needs in order to allow them to focus on organizing their own lives rather than remaining at the mercy of a system that wants them desperate. This factor, this conscious practice of meeting the community’s needs while politicizing them and helping them take increasing self-directed control over their own destiny while defending themselves against capitalism’s and white supremacy’s attacks, was what led to the rapid growth of the BPP during this period of time. Their abandonment of this practice was what led to their disintegration.

Q: Is anyone carrying out the mass line in the united states today?

A: Organizations such as Serve the People – Los Angeles, and Serve the People – Austin are very consciously trying to undertake this strategy. STP-LA has been at it for longer and is steadily growing among the most oppressed and exploited section of the working class. STP-A has been going for a shorter time but is also showing promise.

Q: What can I do if I want to participate in this personally?

A: Study Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Probably the single best resource available for that is the MLM Basic Course.

If what you read there makes sense to you, either join, found, or support a Maoist collective in your area that intends to carry out the mass line.

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A fatal criticism of the anarchist road to communism based on the necessity of the party in order for society to transform itself after the revolution

When we are discussing differences between Marxism and anarchism, we are talking about how to move from our current, incredibly crooked society, to one where the culture and material environment make it so that literally all humans are raised so that there is no major discrepancy between what will lead to their own personal flourishing and what will lead to the flourishing of the rest of humanity. that’s definitely a long-term project. nonetheless, i think what happened in China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and the kinds of changes that we saw then, were the closest humanity had ever come to that fundamentally new type of society.

i think that the changes that have to take place require a party.

i think this because the changes that must happen to make this new world a reality cannot happen without an apparatus that the lowest and the deepest sections of the old society can make their own and use to push all of society through the material and ideological restructuring necessary to abolish the mechanisms that had formerly perpetuated their oppression. we need a coordinated way to do that, to collectively gather an understanding of our problems and then apply it to every part of society

no anarchist school of thought proposes a mechanism for this kind of holographic, top-to-bottom self-conscious alteration of society led by the most oppressed. all the anarchism i’ve ever heard of would de facto leave local variations in power among the people virtually unchanged. i believe these inequalities are the seeds of a return to capitalism, both in the way they do not challenge ideological and social hegemonies of some segments of the population over others (e.g., men over non-men, those who have been trained to do intellectual labor over those who were trained only to do manual labor) but also in the way they also disallow a coordinated and unified change of the physical, built environment.

additional verbiage:

without a party, the ongoing class struggle necessary even after the revolution cannot be systematically undertaken. A party is necessary to continuously collect the ideas of each and every part of the proletariat, especially the lowest and deepest sections, so that the proletariat has the best, fullest possible understanding of itself. Only with this comprehensive, all-around, full-spectrum, top-to-bottom picture of itself can the proletariat consciously remake itself and the world, both physically and culturally, to proceed ever more fully toward communism.

more verbiage:

in general there are two different conceptions of what it really means for the state to disappear going on in anarchist thinking vs. Marxist thinking.

anarchists imagine that the deal with wanting statelessness is “there’s somebody out there who wants to tell me what to do, and i’m not gonna do it.” this is in fact a capitalist/liberal notion of statelessness based on the idea of lone individuals getting hounded for scientifically inexplicable reasons and the idea that the masses out there are somehow prone to oppress.

the Marxist idea of statelessness recognizes that we have to take all the world as a global system and cure the whole thing of the patterns that lead to oppression, which–because the patterns of oppression prevailing in each part of the world are extremely historically entangled with the patterns of oppression prevailing in each other part of the world–requires gathering understandings from the whole world in order to transform each and every last part. we won’t get free by just little bits withdrawing here and there and them running their own show–we’ll get free by transforming everywhere into a well-functioning and cooperative and harmonious whole.

so, anarchism is like “let’s withdraw so no one oppresses me.” communism is like, “let’s dissolve the very root that leads to oppression to begin with, and we won’t need to “withdraw” because we will dissolve the distinction between withdrawer and withdrawee.

one of the most obvious examples of the necessity here is in coordinating reparations from imperialist “centers” to the previously most heavily exploited “peripheries.” such a complicated task will without a doubt require global coordination, but in fact the true eradication of white supremacy and patriarchy from every spot in the heart of every human being on earth will require even more subtle, complex, and elaborate coordination.

for a little bit more elaboration on this process, check out “The role of the people’s party under socialism in the masses’ conscious transformation of themselves: A metaphor with holograms”

for some brilliant discussion about what the economic transformations that must be undertaken in order to completely abolish structural inequality would look like, and what we have learned about how concretely to undertake them from the experience of socialism in China, check out “Capitalist and Maoist Economic Development”

for some equally brilliant discussion about the shortcomings of even the most thoughtful anarchist proposals for post-capitalist economics, check out the PCR-RCP’s “The Myth of Self-Management”

A response to the claim that we must dismantle industrial society to survive as a species

I posted a link to my post “The ecocide at the heart of capitalism” to /r/collapse and someone responded that we need to dismantle industrial society. I wanted to link my response here, because I thought it expressed something I had thought before but never put into words:

i agree that virtually all existing industrial processes cannot remain, and even that you may be completely right that a total dismantling has to happen–though that remains to be seen.

if any aspect of global civilization is to survive, we need to find a way to rectify literally every single aspect of the global economy into harmony with the earth’s natural processes, which includes such seemingly radical steps as the end of all mining, and finding a way to recycle 100% of nonrenewable materials such as metals. i think there are probably clever organic ways to do this, such as plants that can leach metals from the soil.

that may just be impossible, but no one can say that for sure yet.

i also think that, given the course of human history, simply consigning ourselves to pre-industrial society doesn’t seem like a solution–plenty of deforestation and environmental devastation happened before heavy industry as well. i don’t think ending all industry will increase our ability to enter into harmony with nature.

to my mind, the only possible viable solution is to dramatically contract our production processes while using technology to make those few aspects of it that we decide to preserve 100% sustainable.

a very tricky road to walk, but i believe it is the only one that doesn’t lead to human extinction. anyone who doesn’t care about human extinction has a different goal than i do, and we probably don’t have much common ground to find.

Some thoughts on the nature of the rightness of rebelling against reactionaries

predict

since our corrupt society twists us and makes us crooked, forces us to grow distortedly in poisonous soil and too little light, then it is literally rebelling against reactionaries that rectifies us, that makes us purer, that helps us bend back upright and become better and stronger and as we naturally would be, instead of remaining distorted versions of ourselves. it is *rectifying* to rebel against reactionaries.

and not only that, but to rebel is morally upstanding. to rebel frees not only ourselves but it weakens the reactionaries, freeing those around us as well. it is noble to rebel. it is loving to rebel against reactionaries.

to rebel is right also because it is wise. it is prudent to rebel, because when we rebel, reactionaries are weakened, giving others more room to rebel as well. their rebellion in turn liberates us more, and allows *us* to rebel even *more* thoroughly, and so on. to rebel is wise because it is the way toward universal freedom. it may seem like listening to our fear and being timid is prudent, but in fact it is ultimately a recipe for defeat and failure. we can only win if we fight. we will never be free unless we rebel.

it is rectifying, loving, and wise to rebel against reactionaries.

On the relationship between reform and revolution, and reactionary reforms vs. revolutionary reforms

I just wrote this in a comment on the MLM Communism 101 page, and I thought I expressed it pretty well, so I wanted to share it here. Credit to a friend of mine in RAIM for a status she wrote that really helped me grasp what a revolutionary reform looks like (the one about ending solitary confinement).

As the RAIM comrade put it, revolutionary reforms are reforms that increase the fighting power of the working class more than they do that of the bourgeoisie, or in a way that doesn’t concede anything (or at least anything of meaning) to the bourgeoisie.

Solitary confinement is a very good example, because it is a way that they lock up and torture the proletariat’s greatest leaders. Winning those leaders back to be able to engage with the masses, even if in prison, is a great victory for the working class.

My claim is not that *all* advancements in the condition of the working class overall help the bourgeoisie. I am arguing that *some*, and *in the long term*, are *overall* more helpful to the bourgeoisie than to the global proletariat.

For instance, if we could disarm the police or end solitary confinement, that would simultaneously improve workers’ situation in the here and now AND make the bourgeoisie weaker. This is true for both the short and long terms.

And in the short term, they are almost all better. If we were in a near-revolutionary situation and a working class guided by a revolutionary party was pushing for a social democratic program, that victory might be an overall positive thing, because it would give an already potent working class more resources to work with, to allow it to more probably consummate its revolution.

However, I believe all historical evidence shows that some worker demands, if not granted in near-revolutionary situations where the working class has become armed and guided by a party, can overall serve the bourgeoisie’s agenda more than the proletariat’s. I believe the social democratic program is an example of this.

. . .

> would you have opposed limiting the 12h work day? payed vacations? minimum wage?

Those demands were being made in an increasingly revolutionary situation by a not-yet-much-corrupted working class. I think they were good demands in their time that were building the proletariat’s strength without sapping much of its revolutionary energy.

But at this point, there are defenders of those concessions even among the bourgeoisie, and there have been since at least FDR’s time. Large sections of the bourgeoisie see a value in having a comfortable imperialist-country working class for a variety of reasons.

> where is the line drawn?

I think the question you’re asking here is, what should communists be doing? Like, where should *we* draw the line, in terms of what we support? The line can only be drawn based on historical analysis.

Basically, since we are in a non-revolutionary situation, we have to assume that these reforms will stick around for a long time and have their long-term effects. This means that pushing for social-democratic reforms is probably overall harmful for the proletariat’s position in the global class war.

So I do not think we should support economistic reforms like Fight for 15. Let the SEIU and other lapdogs of the bourgeoisie fight for that. We should not spend any resources on it.

If we do voice support for any, it should be for more political ones, like ending solitary confinement or disarming the police, or for justice for migrant workers.

I think there is a blurry line where it can be good to voice support for resisting austerity efforts. But I need to study this specific question more, and I also think it might be a really nuanced thing where you see what the masses are demanding, especially the lowest and deepest section of the proletariat.

In fact, that’s one of the most important things to look at: as a comrade of mine was just pointing out earlier, while it *looks like* the demand for universal free tuition helps the whole working class, in practice there are all sorts of hidden expenses and obstacles that mean the poorest and most oppressed section of the proletariat actually do not have any better access to education as a result. It is a demand that helps the labor aristocracy, and doesn’t really help the lowest and deepest sections of the proletariat at all.

This is much the same with the question of raising the minimum wage, because the lowest and deepest sections of the proletariat are also the most unemployed, and are the quickest to be fired, so a higher minimum wage is not as helpful as it might seem to the most revolutionary sections of the working class.

But truth be told, I don’t think this whole question is as important as it might seem.

It is not super important because currently, we do not have the power to meaningfully participate in the electoral arena at all. If we were as big as the Communist Party of the Philippines, we might have the power to win those kinds of more political reforms through the work of the united front.

But I sincerely believe that for every imperialist country in the world right now, the primary task of communists should be carrying out the mass line among the lowest and deepest section of the proletariat, Black Panther Party-style, in order to build an uncompromising underground revolutionary party that is providing leadership to a united front and which is carrying out people’s war, or preparing for it.

We cannot build this by participating in electoral movements first. That is precisely what they want us to do. Our first work is to build self-reliant, disciplined, theoretically advanced people power that can survive no matter what laws are passed.

* * *

I was making this explanation as a way of defending a claim I had made earlier:

Welfare capitalism is a strategy that imperialism has used to stabilize itself, and in that way has only deepened capitalism’s grip on the world. . . .

The workers of the Scandinavian countries (those who are citizens, at least) now have even less reason to struggle against capitalism, and more reason to align themselves with imperialism than ever.

Welfare capitalism is twins with fascism. They are both strategies that bring the workers of an imperialist country into tighter alliance with that country’s bourgeoisie while making the super-exploitation of outside workers all the more brutal.

On the motivation for a soldier in the class war

tell me, tell me what it was to live and then die in the people’s war in 1946.

tell me. tell me what it is to live and die and not see communism.

the rest of us vicious souls want to know more about what it is to live and die
and get somewhere close.

do you know, lenin?
do you know how we love you?

you burnt everything you were, and we love you for it.

malcolm x, you burnt everything you were, and we love you for it.

there are tens if not hundreds of millions of you setting matches to yourselves, and it speeds us along.
who will praise you? who will love you?

i have no idea, but i myself who am living, who am setting a match to myself, i swear to god i will make it count for you.

* * *

In Marxism we say that the working class struggles for liberation not out of some idea of moral superiority or because it is the right thing to do, but because it has no choice. Everyone who is in the working class is there because of a denial of options, a denial of any other choice in life. They won’t even let us eat unless we work.

So the working class is a group of people who struggle to bring about a new world, to liberate itself and thereby everyone else, for purely “selfish” motivations: to have a materially better life.

But then there’s this open question:

It’s one thing for the working class to struggle because there is a material gain to be had in it, whether it is better food and shelter or good medicine or whatever. But it is another thing to lay down one’s life for the class struggle. The logic of “the working class struggles because they want a better life” doesn’t quite hold up for those individuals who risk or even willingly give up their lives–they will see none of that material gain. So what is the motivation for a soldier in the class war?

Obviously not nothing. There have been so many brave people to do it that it probably doesn’t make sense to abandon material analysis when it comes to this question.

I think it makes sense to instead recognize that non-objects can still have value–in fact that much of the value that seems to inhere in an item (such as a status symbol) is actually in the social relationships (such as esteem) that that item grants us. The working class doesn’t want medicine because we value the aesthetic beauty of the arrangement of atoms that make up the medicinal molecule–we like it because it feels good, it alleviates pain, it helps us. We want better relationships, to ourselves and to those around us. We want to be better people, among better people.

So it is that sort of “material benefit” I  think a soldier in the class war enjoys, and that is why they are willing to risk everything to do it. Amilcar Cabral really makes most of the point that I would like to make:

Consider these features inherent in an armed liberation struggle: the practice of democracy, of criticism and self criticism, the increasing responsibility of populations for the direction of their lives, literacy work, creation of schools and health services, training of cadres from peasant and worker backgrounds—and many other achievements. When we consider these features, we see that the armed liberation struggle is not only a product of culture but also a determinant of culture. This is without doubt for the people the prime recompense for the efforts and sacrifices which war demands. In this perspective it behooves the liberation malovement to define clearly the objectives of cultural resistance as an integral and determining part of the struggle. (source)

And on that same note, a really good comrade of mine pointed out something similar recently: to some extent, we are communism. We are communism as it emerges into history, onto this earth. We in our hearts and among comrades are already the liberated base areas where a new world is being made.

Being among comrades who are consciously seeking to constantly re-make and improve ourselves through self-criticism, who are constantly seeking to be as good as we can to each other and to the masses, to become as brave and radical as we possibly can, and that we are actively helping each other to do this through loving criticism–well, that is a very real compensation.

And finally..

I fully expect to be swallowed up whole by history, to live and die and not see the new society I’m working to bring about. But I feel good about doing the work. I look back and see how long and hard so many people have worked in the past to get us closer. There are so many heartbreakingly brave and hard-working people who went through so much just to get us where we are, people whose names I know and so many more I will never know. I am honored I have the chance to make their sacrifice worth something. I am honored knowing that I am doing my humanly best to make them proud.

I read this recently in a document put out by Red Guards Austin:

There is no greater act of love than picking up the rifle of a fallen comrade and continuing their battle. (source)

And maybe this is even stranger to say, but I think about all the peasants who rose up over the past few thousands of years, before communism was possible, these people buried in history whose struggle nonetheless slowly but surely built up a consciousness for the toiling people as a class. I look back at them, and realize that I am one of them. And when I look back at them, I want to pump my fist and shout and cheer them on. Yes! That is what I hope I would have done in their shoes! And because I am trying to be one of them, I feel cheered on alongside them by something that is bigger than me, by those ahead of me, in the better world, looking back at me along with everyone else who fought, and I am proud and grateful to be among them, to have had a chance to serve, to have run as hard and as fast as I could while I was on this earth.

.

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A not so terribly long and hopefully somewhat engaging story about how a libertarian became a communist

became a communist

You may have heard me summarize these events before, but this is *far and away* the best I’ve ever told the story. I feel re-inspired and reinvigorated just for having retold it like this, so I wanted to share it.

I used to be a libertarian. Like, a pro-capitalism, pro-market person who also wanted drugs and gay marriage to be legalized, and u.s. interventionism to be ended as much as possible. I started off as a Democrat when I was like thirteen because my parents were both Democrats, but then I read Ayn Rand when I was fifteen and then I also read this book “In Defense of Global Capitalism,” which is full of statistics that I found very convincing about why cutting regulations and lowering tariffs is best for everyone in every way. But I wasn’t *trying* to be an asshole or like a puritan Christian, and I believed in personal freedom, so I supported some “socially progressive” stuff. But I was also an outspoken advocate of “free markets” and such.

Virtually the only anticapitalists I would encounter for years were lifestylist anarchists on a college campus who, I don’t even remember what they said. I do know from time to time they would mention Chomsky or Howard Zinn, because I remembered those names when I started exploring on my own later. But they pointed out how this or that aspect of government policy was being corrupted by a corporation. For a while that just deepened my libertarianism, because the standard libertarian response is like, “Well, then if we just got rid of the government, then it couldn’t be corrupted.” The ideals of anarchism (“no gods, no masters”) made sense to me, but I wasn’t ready to abandon capitalism, so I became an anarchocapitalist.

But like, at the same time, the more I learned about the history of the time before government regulations, that seemed even *worse*. So on one hand I didn’t want government programs or regulations to stop, but I was also a quick advocate for removing tariffs and such, and believed that all arbitrary authorities should be destroyed.

It was a pretty contradictory position, and I didn’t see a solution, so I was pretty cynical for a while, even as the people around me continued to pour information about the greed of corporations on me. And I never stopped paying attention to electoral politics and geopolitics, even while I continued to not be able to draw any new conclusions about it, because I at least wanted to know what was going on in the world.

At a certain point, I also started to have the good fortune of the women around me starting to share their personal experiences of being oppressed as women, and I came to realize that patriarchy was real, and massive, and overwhelming. It made me incredibly sad once I realized that virtually every single woman on the planet had to go through the harassment and violence that my close friends were experiencing. I am a white nonbinary person who passes as male and as heterosexual from a mostly middle-class background–I had simply never encountered that knowledge before. I knew our society was unequal because–duh–how come there aren’t the same number of men and women senators and CEOs? But once I heard how violent and cruel the system was that created those effects, and from people I knew were not lying, how could I ignore it?

From there I got interested in feminism, and from there into what is called social justice in general. I learned about the history, gravity, depth, and brutality of white supremacy. Learning about white supremacy and the disparity of wealth between white and black people in the united states led me to believe that a huge part of a solution to the problem would simply have to be massive economic redistribution, regardless of my skepticism of government intervention. And I saw that the power structure DID seem to be racist and sexist. And I noticed that a lot of the people involved in social justice were interested in left-leaning politics, and sometimes even critical of capitalism itself–and meanwhile most of the libertarians I had bumped into over the years denied the reality or severity of patriarchy and white supremacy. I found myself consorting with people on the left end of the political spectrum more and more. And I liked them more, they were simply kinder and funnier.

And somewhere along this timeline, I graduated from college and had to take a job that did not pay well, and which I hated. I was poorer than I had ever been. I had to find ways of scraping by in every aspect of life, from living in bad housing to eating as cheap of food as I could find. I learned what it is to *constantly* worry about money. I learned how hard it is to find a job with any kind of security or personal enjoyment. And then the recession in 2008 hit, and they cut the pay at my job, and I got even poorer. To be poor is terrible, and I wasn’t even *close* to absolute poverty by global standards.

So then four things happened at roughly the same time:

First, I was lucky enough to have the internship that I’d had for two years help me land a salaried job, which paid quite well (at least for the area I was living in), plus it gave me benefits. I realized just how fucking stressed I had been about being poor, and realized that inevitably part of what keeps poor people poor is that existing in such deprivation is self-perpetuating. It’s like gravity–the closer you are to absolute poverty, the harder the forces pulling you down are. Meanwhile, with this new job, I had passed above an important economic line. I found it easy to keep saving more and more money, and saw how that could help me climb even higher if I wanted to. I saw on a personal level how, once you get above a certain amount of wealth, there’s a feedback loop that lets you keep getting wealthier.

Second, Occupy was going on. I started to hear lots of theories about what was going on in the world, including more anticapitalist stuff. Nothing too severe. A friend of mine happened to be reading “Debt: The First 5,000 Years.” Well, the concept of debt itself was being talked about a *lot* around that time, and I had heard people saying that book was interesting, so I decided to read it. More on that in a second.

Third, in fact while I was reading “Debt,” I went to what is called the Rainbow Gathering, a basically anarchist gathering in the forest where no money is exchanged, and anyone who shows up can eat for free. But they are asked to work, getting water, digging latrines, etc. in order to support the whole thing. There is a lot wrong with Rainbow, but it was an overall positive experience for me (probably because I am white and pass as a man). I met some incredibly kind and compassionate people there, and I saw an entirely different way of running society–one where people do things for each other because they love each other and they love the community and society that supports them. A society where each individual’s self-interest becomes expansive, and they recognize that their own personal flourishing will be fostered most by a society in which *ALL* people are flourishing.

The fourth thing is I watched the film “Malcolm X.” I’ll go more into that in a minute.

So, “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” is basically a history of class society. It tells again and again how the system of loans and interest crushed peasants and other laborers deeper and deeper into the ground with each passing generation, and how periodically they would rebel and force the debts to be erased, only for the cycle to start again. I started to grasp the structure of history, that ruling/owning classes and working/non-owning classes were very old indeed.

So at this point, I kind of already knew. I wasn’t quite ready to admit it, but I knew. I had basically already been chipped away at enough, but the “break” hadn’t happened yet. I had heard of “A People’s History of the United States” for forever. It’s mentioned in the movie “Good Will Hunting,” in fact. I kind of knew what I would find in that book after having read “Debt,” but I had never really had an interest in reading “A People’s History” up to that point in my life. So then I read it.

The heroes of “A People’s History” are anti-imperialists and anticapitalists from basically beginning to end. I would say now that the book has major shortcomings and problems, but for me at the time it really picked up right where “Debt” left off, and helped me see that the modern ruling class was really no different from the one that had emerged thousands of years ago. I saw (or came to believe, at least) that the root of the problem was that concentrated wealth is concentrated power, so if we want a free, non-oppressive, and truly democratic society, we simply have to disallow concentrated wealth.

Well, that basically meant I had become a communist, or at least that I believed communism would be good. I was pretty timid about it for a while, but after I finished reading “A People’s History,” I was ready to call myself a socialist, at least. And I was also ready to say that if nothing else, in order for the wealth to be sufficiently equalized, the political-economic system had to come under the power of the people, whether or not capitalism was entirely abolished. In short, I had come to believe in the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, though I had not yet realized that was the right term for it.

But once I knew I was a socialist, well, how convenient–there was a branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in my city. So I showed up to one of their meetings, and I met people who actually spoke respectfully and knowledgeably about Lenin and the Russian Revolution.

They also eased my transition by basically agreeing with all of my prejudices and stereotypes about the USSR under Stalin and the PRC under Mao that capitalist society had drilled into me.

And so although I have learned more, since then, and now uphold the USSR under Stalin and the PRC under Mao, I think it helped my transition into revolutionary socialism by having my first exposure to Leninist ideas come from people who didn’t also immediately try to tell me that the USSR and the PRC were overall good during those times instead of Very Very Bad (as I had always been told by basically everyone I had ever met in my life, and every TV program and movie I had ever watched, and every book I had ever read). So I was ready to listen.

As an aside, I think this is part of why there are so many Trotskyists in the First World, also–because they are willing to recognize that capitalism cannot be reformed and will have to be overthrown, but they can’t touch the third rail, they can’t break the taboo. Stalin is compared to Hitler, and Mao is even worse. No one wants to become a Hitler apologist, and upholding the contributions of Stalin and Mao feels like that’s how people will start to look at you. And many do, in fact. But it’s not as bad as I was worried it would be.

So it took me maybe a year, still, after showing up to that ISO meeting to accept, as they were telling me, that capitalism could not be reformed, and that a revolution was necessary. And what the folks at the ISO branch said about the necessity of the working class getting organized and powerful also made sense, so I recognized the need for some kind of hierarchical party, even if the end goal was a stateless society.

So about Malcolm X. Well, getting that salaried job gave me both the time and emotional reserves to try to focus on improving my mental health for, really, the first time in my life, instead of just scraping by. And a lot of my friends had gotten into practices like meditation, and also into some elements of wisdom traditions (the sort of stuff Ram Dass, Hazrat Inayat Khan, and Jiddu Krishnamurti talk about, for example) like trying to be present, and trying to be humble.

And I realized that there was tremendous validity in many of these practices–these practices worked, they helped me feel better. My whole life I had never understood why anyone would want to kill their ego–isn’t my ego me? Why would I want to kill me? But I realized that wasn’t what they were talking about. The ego is my bullshit delusions of grandeur, as well as my self-hate. I realized that I had been both aggrandizing myself and despising myself, when really I could let go of both, and it would be a lot better for me, emotionally. And I saw how addiction played into all of this–how people turn to addiction to treat their stress and pain. I saw how all the world was consumed with addiction to this or that. I myself was addicted to masturbating and watching porn, as well as to alcohol and cigarettes, as well as to looking at silly stuff on the internet. Even self-aggrandizement itself is an addiction, and I came to despise how arrogant I had been. I came to despise the whole of capitalist culture, and it was easy for me to see how capitalism REQUIRED us to all be addicted, consumed by these things. It was so insidious–capitalism poisons us spiritually. God, I want to cry just thinking about it. Capitalism rots our souls out, it seduces our well-intended desires into addictions, and then turns us against each other to achieve them.

In Rainbow Gathering, they refer to the outside world as Babylon. This comes to them via Rastafari, which calls the police and white supremacist, consumerist society Babylon. And the Rastas themselves got the term from the Bible. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people spend a while being a captive and oppressed people in the kingdom of Babylon. When Christianity came along it used this story as a metaphor–sin (which, to me, as a basically secular person, I was able to understand as being caught up in selfish, bullshit, addictive, egotistical desires) was Babylon, and Christ was the way out of Babylon.

I was also reading Dante’s “Divine Comedy” at the time and taking a course on it with a *really* good scholar of Dante. In Dante, there are some beautiful lines about freedom from sin, or what I took as freedom from addictive desire. At the beginning of “Purgatorio,” the second book in the “Comedy,” the protagonist has just crawled through the bottom of Hell. And Hell, in Dante, is a place where people are tortured by the sin they succumbed to in life. They are mocked and destroyed over and over again by the thing that caused them to turn from humility and expansive love to cold, narrow, inward-looking selfish love. And Hell is this dark, gray place, with no colors except for like blood colors and shit colors and pus colors.

And so the protagonist, at the beginning of Purgatory, he crawls through the center of the earth, out the bottom of Hell, and he’s on this island, and the sky is full of color, and it’s morning, and the sun is just rising, and the waters of the ocean are pure and he can wash himself clean of all the soot and shit and blood he’s gotten covered in going through Hell. And there’s this line,

“We were going along … like one seeking the lost path and, until he reaches it, feels he walks in vain.”

I felt like I had been looking for the right path my whole life, not even knowing if it was real or not, and oh my God, I had finally found it. I found it spiritually and politically all at once.

So watching “Malcolm X,” I saw this same story in him, in fact, even more intensified. Malcolm X had been involved in a lot of crime as a young man, and went to prison. And he was very addicted and self-serving, but then he meets members of the Nation of Islam in prison. And say what you will about them now, they helped Malcolm save himself. They helped him realize all the stuff I had been talking about. He, too, found spiritual meaning and political purpose all at once. Malcolm X was an incredibly inspiring figure for me. I had come to hate white supremacy, so when in the movie he writes, “Please tell Elijah [Muhammad] I have dedicated my life to telling the white devil the truth to his face.” I was like, “HELL yeah.”

So realizing that I had always heard that Malcolm X was this really bad person, when in fact he is one of the most amazing people ever to live, well, that was just about it for me and this society. I wanted to overthrow it. I realized it had destroyed all possibility of my having a genuinely good, decent life on this earth, because it had twisted and corrupted literally everyone and everything. I wanted to serve the people to work to help free us all from it, as Malcolm X had. Nothing else would do it for me.

I sobbed at the end of that movie when I realized what a great human being we had lost in Malcolm. Though I cannot relate as deeply, not being black nor living through those times, I feel like I really get it when Bobby Seale, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, heard that Malcolm had been assassinated and in rage and anguish said, “Fuck it, I’ll make my own self into a motherfucking Malcolm X.”

Very few people will ever be as great as Malcolm X, but I want to serve the people with all my heart. All the various contradictory purposes and desires of my life up to that point became aligned at that time and all pointed in the same direction. I am going to give my life to the communist movement, and nothing could make me happier than the great luck I have had in being given the opportunity to do so.