On October 12th, 2019, I realized with some confidence that I’ve been involved with some of the most fucking miserable organizations that Marxism in the US has to offer. Without a doubt, there are a lot of worse, individual organizations steeped in corruption, abuses, and scandals but such as it is, my experiences have been so thoroughly demoralizing that the concept of groups achieving even small logistical tasks is incredibly impressive to me. The fact is that most organizations would be able to avoid strolling into a union hall to disrupt a DSA event, many of them would be able to avoid a shitty fistfight in the process, and in that event, none of them would be proud of that: the Maoists are special, though.
In the weeks following the action, between the DSA’s histrionics and the Maoists’ bizarre triumphalism, I felt like I was losing my fucking mind. For one thing, I was planning to eject myself from the mass organization I was in; for another, I felt like no one understood how absurd and stupid the entire event really was. At some point, Cosmonaut published some bullshit article comparing the Maoists to “Sorelian fascists,” which caved to the Maoists’ mystique by inventing a threat that literally didn’t exist. This article, in particular, pissed me off so much that it provided the impetus for writing “Pigheadism”. While this is a kind of comprehensive critique of US Maoism, it’s also in large part written against the organized left and its self-inventions.
At any given point, the organized left builds its own mythologies to either substitute for its own significance or justify its continued existence. Without political power, these are all useless. The KCDSA action was a farcical episode of this on a small scale: while Incendiary invented a bloody confrontation against the revisionists, the revisionists invented a crouching victimhood under treacherous Red Guard fists. On my end, I struggled to find anything positive or opportune in the hour and a half I wasted that day. I couldn’t care less about anyone involved or the distinctions they drew between each other. Over the following few weeks, I often thought about how much breath and brainpower was being wasted on it all. It was a mercy that people gradually decided to make fun of it as the pearl-clutching phase passed.
After the initial post went around, the Maoists got a hold of it and called me out personally through Incendiary, with a blurb from my dude Fellow-Worker accusing me of essentially being crypto-Weather, which I responded to with a handful of relevant notes I’d written immediately after the action. Later, I also found out that the RWM members I referred to as “the Couple” were summarily cut off by all their activist friends as a result of their former association with the Maoists, in spite of their non-involvement in the action and their denunciation of it. A couple months later, Incendiary was thrown under the bus by the cadres responsible for Tribune of the People, who singled out the KCDSA action as an example of its atrocious editing and fabrications.
October 12th proved to be a wildly destructive failure even months after its occurrence. It was just a small window into how bad things really are, and why nothing is getting better.
A BRAWL IN THE UNION HALL; OR, A CASE STUDY IN FLIGHTISM
The more I think about the KCDSA action, the less I think of it. There are about three main levels to pick apart: the political, the ideological, and the military. This was a failure on all levels, and perhaps archetypal of the Maoists’ national and strategic failures overall. Given my direct experience and participation in the action, it’s very easy to imagine the same mistakes repeated, over and over, in all the Maoists’ areas of work.
Let’s be clear about one thing: the immediate political objective of the action was to disrupt the KCDSA meeting by any means necessary. There was a plan in place to disrupt in a purely nonviolent capacity — to bar anyone from entry, give our little speeches, confiscate their print materials, and leave. All violence would be contingent, purely self-defensive and consciously legal. However, the very obvious thing was that our leads on the action were eager to provoke a physical confrontation. I knew that if the KCDSA put up any resistance, the situation would escalate quickly into a free-for-all. No one else seemed to be really prepared for that. As I was in the prep stage of launching a line struggle, everything would’ve fallen into place for me if the action was a total bust. So I neglected to say anything.
I figured if they were at all serious about doing this, they would send two or three people inside to scare the hell out of the social democrats, trash the place, and leave. To me, the action was just a rote application of Communist thuggery and it felt very pretentious to think of it as anything else. Irrespective of whether it was a good tactic or not, I thought the best way to approach it was by reducing the chances of resistance, causing the maximum amount of damage and a minimum of harm, then leaving quickly and safely. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to plan and follow through with the action, that’s what I would’ve told you — but I neither planned the action nor am I really a Principally Maoist.
It must also be said that the action followed in the wake of a long series of tactical failures and disappointments. The Maoists in KC haven’t managed to get their mass organizations in working order, so they tend to retreat into “strategic” or “ideological” imperatives simply to assert their presence. In doing so, they continually overestimate the competence and commitment of their membership. Basically, this consists of quickly planning aggressive PR stunts, throwing as many “bodies” they can into the mix, and rediscovering that since those members have no real experience doing anything, they aren’t quite cut out for these “propaganda actions.” Or rather, they frame it through hackneyed CSC-session lingo as a series of individual “errors” that prevents them from discovering the general problem of inexperience. Like many Marxist groups this relegates their mode of thought and activity to propaganda alone.
Of course this all contributes to the motivation behind manufacturing spectacular confrontations with “ideological rivals” — the impotence, the erectile anxieties. The Maoists seem to have the expectation, or current delusion, that they must be, or are, the vanguard of the proletariat even with just one, two, three years of experience — not to say development. Any and all reality checks to this belief are anathema to their existence. Just ontologically crippling.
The Maoists spent some months preparing to confront the KCDSA this way, trying to muster the forces, strike at an opportune moment, etc.. That they would end up disrupting a DSA event was a foregone conclusion from the moment I became involved and I was conscious of this. However, what did the Maoists intend to achieve outside of some vague and charitable notion of “conquering hegemony” from a political standpoint? I didn’t really know this myself until after the action. In fact, the principal objective was to publicly assert an “ideological break” with the DSA. In a general sense, this meant that the action wasn’t really political and couldn’t be assessed as political activity.
The action’s relation to recent events in which the DSA had directly fucked over my mass organization, Revolutionary Workers Movement, was totally coincidental. This wasn’t a reprisal or a tactic — only propaganda, only ideological in essence. In fact, if it was a cut-and-dry reprisal I would at least support it from a tactical viewpoint, even if it was a horrendously bad tactic. Nope. The Maoists will never see it that way. They think and act only in propaganda pieces.
I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself but I think through the account on Incendiary one can get a broadly accurate summary of how it all went down logistically. I won’t dwell too long on it. The main omission and lie in that account only have to do with one bystander from the neighborhood who followed us in, then left after the main speech (presumably with more questions than answers), and the fabrication about the confiscation of the projector. I cannot emphasize enough that we never even touched their projector. The projector was instrumental to the event and if we had taken or destroyed it we would’ve actually succeeded at the task at hand. We didn’t, the event went on, and we failed. Actually, I was the person who trashed their laptop, who immediately self-criticized for not taking out the projector instead, who pointed out that if there was any one thing that would’ve sealed the deal on their event — it would’ve been the fucking projector. And it’s not like no one noticed this, since so many Maoists feel the need to lie about that element in particular.
And the military aspect? Military, what. Militarily, we presided over a brawl that was far less graceful than the average bar fight. Many Maoists were taken aback by the sudden turn of the confrontation. They were somewhat frightened and very unsure of themselves or what to do. Some shouted in dismay and confusion, others jumped into the fight immediately, my liaison and I held firm and waited for orders. Besides myself, I can’t say for certain how many were truly unsurprised when Carl took the first swing, or at least managed a controlled response to the melee’s outbreak. I should also note that two other DSA members took potshots at the Maoists in the middle of it all, managing to snatch or rip three masks clean off in the process.
One might accuse the Maoists of loving violence. This would be inaccurate. To me, love implies a far more complex and mature relationship. The Maoists are simply infatuated with violence. They’re receiving their first sloppy handjob from violence, and political violence at that. They don’t, and can’t, know where it leads, how awkward or embarrassing it looks, they don’t care about context or consequences — all they know and care about is how good it feels.
When Carl was baited into swinging, our leads on the action jumped at the chance to redeem the failures, mistakes, and inadequacies of their recent past. One was, himself, properly amped up for the occasion after getting pissed at the bystander on the street for following us and asking questions before we masked up. Later, after we regrouped, he said something to the effect of: if Carl died from his wounds, we would’ve scored a historic victory against social fascism and “the movement” would see us through. Dude, shut the fuck up, I thought. You’re overcompensating because you just realized this is the first time you’ve gotten your rocks off doing this shit. And you so desperately want it to be the coolest thing you’ve ever done.
At the same time, Carl, a macho man of the same measure and caliber, got everything that was coming to him. The macho mentality permeates the organized “Left,” and there’s really no escape from this. For many people, machismo is hardcoded into the way they think about violence or broadly speaking competition as a whole. This can be controlled but never disciplined, so the problem consists of marking out a clear distinction between casual beatings and military actions. The Maoists constantly conflate the two and this played a large role in the unmitigated failure of the action. Its violence wasn’t coordinated, organized, nor disciplined; it was emotional and erratic. Its catalyst was ultimately a square-up to see who was the “bigger man.”
A week later, my hopes of launching a line struggle and a strategic reassessment were dashed completely at our debrief. For my part, I received “commendations” for destroying the laptop in spite of my objections. This was standard self-congratulatory bullshit, all told. What was revealed, however, was that the Maoists — even the hardcore — weren’t involved in the study of military matters, they had no drills, they didn’t spar, and they certainly didn’t attempt anything to give substance to their pretension of militarization. This finally destroyed my last shred of hope or respect for any one of them or their activities.
Following my involvement in a previous failed action, I then criticized leadership’s expectations that a group of underdeveloped political workers would be able to mobilize and agitate effectively in an action that was announced and planned with less than two days’ notice. I related to my liaison that the Royal Shakespeare Theatre has rigorous rehearsals before opening night, even if the actors know the play by heart, and it was unreasonable to expect his comrades to simply fall in line with operations with little to no preparation. “No,” he replied. “There’s no excuse. They’ve been doing this for a year and they should be prepared.” Well, shithead, how do you prepare without consistent preparations or militarize without militarization? The answer is you fucking don’t — you just assume an action is gonna go down some type of way and then try to salvage all the pieces afterwards with no fucking regard for accuracy or practicality. This is precisely what the Maoists do.
Any Maoist action, in its exclusive role and function as propaganda, requires an attendant propaganda apparatus to pick up all the awkward little pieces in its wake and use them to construct a favorable narrative. That the Maoists seemed capable of media spin was slightly impressive to me at one point, since it suggested a healthy amount of cynicism in their political outlook. Today I can say that this is no longer impressive because none of them are conscious of this cynicism.
The Maoists eagerly believe their own bullshit, they type it all up, then disseminate and gleefully consume their own propaganda daily and weekly. This crude, adolescent art of the spin relies on spontaneous (and to some extent self-acting) mobilization of apologists and the sanctimonious moralism of the organized “Left,” working together to produce a spectacle with the sole aim of making the Maoists look controversial if not good. Dysfunctional actions, or politics, must be painstakingly reframed by much smarter people, narrated in much more graceful terms, in order to mold the image of a “dangerous and cutting-edge movement.” The truth is, on the streets and in our meetings, the lights are on but nobody’s home.
Maoist politics, and especially these actions, aren’t guided by any sort of intelligence or maturity; they’re guided by the reckless presumptions of the dilettantes leading their cadre formations. Any action is simply “correct” because the Maoists agreed with themselves that it was better for the ideological task of “consolidation” to take precedence over any other activity. Any activity that serves “ideological consolidation,” no matter how bad it looks or its political effects, are absolute and “strategic” goods. While the idea of maintaining brute supremacy over Communist ideology holds over all else, any loss incurred in the process will be perceived and acted on as if it was a concrete gain. The task of the propagandist — the Incendiary guy — is to cover their asses in the process, clean up their messes, and smooth over the flagrant incoherence of their thinking and activity.
Sanctimonious leftists, quick to outrage and keen to add color to their moral lives, play a special and initial role in enlarging the Maoist myth. The recent Cosmonaut editorial branding the Maoists as out-and-out fascists who “must be stopped” provides a key example of this. To legitimize the Maoists as a threat to all progressive organizations is to be provoked, to essentially agitate and propagandize for them. On the ground — let me tell you — this not only inspires the Maoists more to fall into their idiotic and juvenile brutality but enables their delusions of grandeur. Same thing for macho “champions of the people,” like Carl, who are further inspired in their self-serving aims and actions. In the end, no one really benefits but the Maoists, who at least take away whatever political capital they can get from this controversy.
The other function that the anti-Maoists embrace is far more critical and useful, in deriding and mocking these actions as the pathetic stunts that they are. This does far more to liquidate the Maoists’ gains in the long run because it flattens their cliche “any PR is good PR” line. Ultimately, the organized “Left” vacillates between these two approaches, opportunistically and frivolously, which leaves them at a loss to comprehend or counter the Maoists from a political standpoint.
THE CULT OF THE PROLETARIAT
PYO-KC and by extension the KC Maoists have always held a special place in my heart. Without the foundation of the Progressive Youth Organization in late 2015, I might not have found the courage to organize on my own. Its existence in my hometown seemed to prove that it was possible for a militant Communist group to emerge anywhere, at any time, in spite of a stagnant political environment, and potentially thrive in it. (In practice, this later proved only partly true.) At the time, I had no clue of its relationship to the Kansas City Revolutionary Collective and it took me nearly a year to figure out their connection. When I finally figured out that the PYO-KC was, in fact, the KCRC’s first mass organization, my respect for PYO didn’t diminish; instead, my regard for the KCRC increased immensely. This was how, beyond the then-recent split of the NCP-OC/LC, I came to follow the Maoist collectives in their development and respect them as a whole.
During the 2016 election, PYO quickly asserted themselves as the militant contingent of the local anti-Trump demos. They led groups of their members, sympathizers, and stragglers in radical chants, attempted skirmishes on police lines, and openly exposed liberals as “collaborators and enemies.” In two short demonstrations, they had established themselves as willing and capable of putting up resistance to both the stagnant liberal contingents and the police columns. One incident from their contingent sparked a brief and quite stupid controversy after one of their members had allegedly punched a police horse in the face, Mungo-style. In reality, as she later informed me, she had only slammed and pushed against the horse in a desperate act to keep the mounted division, which was in the process of trampling her comrades, away from the frontline skirmish.
In any case, PYO presented a cogent and militant alternative to pervasive stagnation and passivity on the local organized “Left,” for a long time represented by the IWW and — god help us — the Green Party. At that point, I was closely familiar with the disappointments of the “Left” in KC, so the immediate appeal and reason of such an organization was profoundly clear to me, even as I was nearly 300 miles away in another state. In thought and in the streets, the PYO-KC was like a revelation to many local radicals. As a result, the organization absorbed 45-50 new members almost overnight, retaining them for some months afterwards. On a political level, they reached the apex of their activity when at the anti-Muslim Ban demo they broke through the liberal contingents and cops, then stormed the KCI airport with some 60 people.
Whether it was a conscious policy or just plain circumstance, the PYO-KC subsequently settled into the nearby UMKC campus as their main organizational hub. This, of course, gave rise to a dependence on students as their sole reserve of recruits and activists, necessarily shifting their political focus to campus issues for the most part, if not exclusively. They organized rapidfire campaigns, of which there were a handful, against notable abusers in the student body and the reactionary policies of the administration. The two main tactics they employed were office occupations and private/public harassment of their campaigns’ subjects — students, faculty, administrators. I can’t say how successful they were but the impression I got from their public summations and personal anecdotes was that these actions were all conducted deliberately, with a certain practical clarity and a basic adherence to discipline. The main problems they faced during this period were the rashness and indiscipline of the students and, broadly speaking, what essentially amounted to an encirclement campaign by the administration to ban them from campus and dissuade students from joining them. Throughout all this, they made consistent attempts to reach out to the broader student population and integrate political education into their activities among them.
Month by month, as they studied documents from the MLM movement (especially the Revolutionary Union’s Red Papers), their numbers dwindled down towards the 30-35 range and they maintained this kinda standard until their demise roughly two years later. Conflicts inevitably erupted between the anarchists, Maoists, and left-liberal stragglers in the group. The KCRC found it prudent to take the reins at that point, to bind the PYO closer to its ideological line. Members split off into “committees” (or rather, fractions) under Maoist leadership with their own areas of work, such as the Proletarian Feminist Committee (which organized regular self-defense courses). To absorb and develop new recruits, the KCRC formed the STP-KC in emulation of the examples in Austin and LA. STP-KC’s formation was also an attempt to redirect energies towards mass work and propaganda. This process and its logic were elaborated in — surprisingly — stark clarity in “The New Political Line of the Red Guards KC,” following the KCRC’s rebrand.
In practice, this process proved much clumsier than anticipated. The KCRC’s basic program was to take in new recruits from PYO and rapidly cadreify them through STP. This required a kind of “buffer zone” between the two organizations, in which cadres and recruits could operate with some freedom, which would weed out the incompetents and put everyone who was willing through the political wringer. This took the form of volunteer work in a community center which was only possible to access through a coalition with a few other political organizations and NGOs. The work in the community center was promoted as a form of “proletarianization” for the bulk of their petty-bourgeois recruits. The coalition which served as the gateway, as far as the KCRC was concerned, was simply an unpleasant side effect of acquiring access to volunteering. They tried to limit the coalition’s political significance as much as possible, regardless of the possibility that it might be (and later did) comprise the determining factor in that political juncture.
On the other hand, STP-KC went about organizing marginal charity events and searching for leads on tenant struggles, utilizing the same tactics and methods of work employed in PYO. They were limited significantly by their reliance and engagement of only one tenant and one landlord at a time, then launching attacks with little to no support but amongst themselves. It was around this time that they, for some reason, had the ill-advised idea to “develop” their contacts “ideologically,” trying to hold study sessions with them one-on-one, isolated from any of the groups or their activities. Ultimately, the tenants they tried to “develop” didn’t really give a shit about their ideology, which frustrated the KCRC. One by one, here and there, they lost every contact because, in every case, they had appointed just one person to keep in touch with tenants. If the member charged with communications fucked up or just dropped out, boom, that was the end of the “struggle.”
It was at this time that I finally met them all, face-to-face. Mainly, I remember having a fairly candid discussion on political experience with the comrade who was later appointed my first liaison with the Red Guards KC. I observed and studied their manner of work, their outlooks, and their approach to organizing. I was genuinely struck by their sincerity and compassion. I came away from the exchange conscious of their shortcomings but very eager to adapt and impart their positive qualities to my work in our organization down south. Overall, I was optimistic about their development and future.
However, contradictions soon flared violently between the Maoists and the IWW in the coalition. The KCRC was also at odds with the NGO that owned and operated the community center, which in their eyes was undermining their political work by overwhelming them with “chores.” This all appeared as the foremost threat to their political development; their authority was imminent, not pending, and their leadership was nigh if not already established. The plainly opportunistic maneuvering of the IWW and their frustratingly “apolitical” relationship to the NGO wasn’t perceived as a general political problem to be solved; to the Maoists, it was a blow towards sabotage, an enemy action, they would have to avoid or deflect. In reality, the Maoists weren’t politically isolated or alienated from this area of work: they willingly and consciously divorced themselves from it in order to elevate their status elsewhere. They chose retreat over the conquest of the conditions of political leadership from within. Their later engagement with the ILPS followed similar lines, a frustrating experience where they acquired a sharp disdain for the Communist Party of the Philippines and Joma Sison in particular.
(One particular Maoist jumped down my fucking throat about this line of argument, in reference to my own experiences, at an otherwise pleasant dinner. I felt like this “insight” was really just United Front Tactics 101. Funnily enough, it turns out the Filipino comrades had espoused an eerily similar line when the Red Guards KC attempted to join ILPS. The Maoists were incensed that they had to share a coalition with a bunch of revisionists and opportunists, which they harshly criticized the ILPS for enabling. Then they abandoned the ILPS conference harboring a lot of resentment against the Filipino Communist Party as a whole. This was how I found out about the whole debacle, in full, in the first place.)
At this juncture, and due to many other internal/external factors, the KCRC forged a much closer working relationship with the increasingly popular and polarizing Red Guards Austin. I couldn’t tell you the extent of RGA’s direct or indirect influence on the leadership of the KCRC, but at this point they had definitely fallen into a kind of ideological mold and political position that was exceptionally suited to Austin’s strategic/tactical orientation. The RGA had a perspective and tactical schema that could capitalize on the whole “Paper Maoist” stereotype, specifically the paranoid mindset and thoroughgoing isolation that comes with it. All this is to say that I’m fairly certain that their relationship and KCRC’s later embrace of the Red Guards came about organically rather than, say, as a product of crude intrigues, as was the case with the notorious Portland Maoist Group.
The most common critiques of the Red Guards schema are pretty self-evident: the constant confusion of non-antagonistic and antagonistic contradictions, the ultra-left “hypermilitarism” — but as accurate as they are, they only scratch the surface. These two critical failures are, in fact, subordinate to three broader and deeper issues: the ultra-left commandism, the flightism, and the wholesale distortion of dialectics into backwards thinking. The primary objects of critique, now firmly embedded in the image and myth of the Maoist, only comprise a kind of superstructure emerging from all the internal and external shit — all the contradictions — that form the base of real Maoist thought and activity.
Foremost is the distortion of dialectics. Dialectical thinking, taking an example from Grampa Mao, might be conceived as something like this: “How can a bad thing be a good thing?” This isn’t some rote statement or assertion but rather a question, a problem, that supposes the development of a process beholden to the qualities or characteristics of Bad Thing and Good Thing, as well as whatever subjective qualities we have on hand to scrutinize and mold them. To make the bad into the good requires a calculation and an interrogation of both aspects and our ability to perceive and ultimately affect the thing’s transformation. Within this process, it’s never a certainty that this bad thing will really transform even with our interventions. However, through careful thought and continuous efforts to apprehend the object and act on it, to see the reverse and obverse and work on this process from all angles, a bad thing may turn into a good thing. The supposition has far more to do with the rigor and tactility of the process than the bluntness of its aims; dialectical thinking provides only a method, not a solution.
For the Maoists, the unity of opposites is only the identification of the one with the other. By a combination of mysticism and poor reading comprehension, they’ve come to believe that bad things are simply born “good things.” In fact, there is zero distinction between the good and the bad, there’s no fundamental process that transforms them. “Bad Thing may have happened but I know it’s actually Good Thing,” they might say, without so much as explaining how or why to anyone, ever. Their basic supposition is that since there seems to be a direct correlation between the good and the bad in their unity, there’s basically no necessity for a transformative process in thought or, especially, action. The bad will kind of just flip over to the good, the good will inevitably flip to the bad, and “in the long term,” nothing bad — no matter how significant — will ever fail to be a good thing. This is the essence of their “revolutionary optimism.” When shit hits the fan, Maoists must also rely on “the long term” to indefinitely suspend the resolution of any tricky contradiction or problem that requires some diligence or circumspection. In “the long term,” their arrested development will just work itself out. Also in “the long term,” entropy will provide all lifeforms with the ultimate solution to the problem of mortality.
Their logic operates on a basic dissonance between themselves and any given political situation. Take, for example, their problems with the community center and the coalition. There was a clear window of opportunity for them to secure their immediate objectives and aims with minimal losses, even if it would’ve required some diplomacy and restraint in the process.
Instead, they signalled a retreat from political struggle and the separation of themselves from a key position that enabled them to acquire experience in mass work that could’ve potentially equipped them to lead. To them what was fundamental was that they retained ideological hegemony in, and leadership over, a much smaller circle with far fewer ties to the working classes. This appeared as the most revolutionary of all possible political actions because it was the most ideologically potent. From that point on, all subsequent “political” actions were increasingly characterized by a collective flight from engaging with real situations and people into the hollow comforts of insular propaganda circles in which ideological consolidation, and concentration, became the sole determining factor of one’s “political development.”
Throughout my stint with the Maoists, their anecdotes were littered with casual references to “comrades,” even instrumental ones, who “dropped off” for reasons none of them could adequately explain. It wasn’t that they could frame it in terms of “friends or enemies” either; there was simply an absence. The Maoism of days past was populated by this handful of faceless members and the unknowable compulsion that drove them to abandon the heads of these organizations. I imagine that “solid core,” a narrowing circle, the remnants undaunted and unaware, resolutely muttering to themselves: “Fewer but better fewer.”
These particular variables contribute to an internal and external policy of what my Maoist comrade calls “ultra-left commandism.” Their dogmatic strictures, increasing insularity, and separation from the vicissitudes of political life leads directly into absurd strategic reasoning and tactical incoherence on the political level. Above all, it enables an echo chamber to see good reason, of which there’s very little or none, in orchestrating sequences of weak “propaganda actions” against their supposed rivals with mounting audacity. The decisions of the leading cadre formations are never questioned nor are they explained. They may be criticized but never changed. These actions simply happen and the continued goodwill of leadership depends on their happening, on the presumption of their necessity. This is avidly combined with their pretensions of “militarization” to produce something like a very shitty and nerdy street gang.
In subsequent months, the newly-rebranded Red Guards KC faced a major fiasco when they arrived at an anti-fascist demo fully and openly armed, where they were quickly encircled by cops and told to disarm themselves. They had been in violation of a city ordinance that forbade the open-carrying of chambered rifles. Receiving the orders from the pigs to dischamber their rifles, many discovered they had no idea how to do this. The police were more than willing to help them and amiably instructed the Maoists on the how-to of it all. This also preceded a squabble with local anarchists and the IWW which, for its part, was pretty much rhetorical in essence.
Later that year, 2018, the PYO-KC announced their first public event in months after almost a year of quiet, in which they had planned to disrupt a Trump rally at a local convention center. Within a week, many members were contacted by the FBI and the KC Counterterror Task Force. The feds singled out 2 members in particular and hung misdemeanor charges over their heads, stemming from a UMKC campaign earlier that year, in an obvious ploy to knock them out of the activist game for good. These members folded and stonewalled the PYO from that point on. What little I know about the incident was that no one was truly prepared for any of these pressures, as minimal as they were, and many flaked almost immediately, fearing exposure. As far as I know, no one was ever busted, only intimidated. As the PYO-KC called out “state repression,” they were in fact being destroyed by a lovetap. The organization officially dissolved shortly after, with only half a dozen of its remaining members having integrated into STP-KC.
This was the juncture in which I finally became involved with the Maoists. In the aftermath of the PYO-KC’s implosion and the RGKC’s embarrassments, they were in the midst of restructuring and adapting to their losses. Ultimately, they were attempting to rebound and trying to seek out new areas and methods of work, even while maintaining the same strict adherence to fundamentally batshit trains of thought.
“SOME MOTHERFUCKER’S ALWAYS TRYING TO ICE-SKATE UPHILL”
After several weeks of dipping out on failed actions, and on the count of non-participation, my rectification was ordered by the cadres. Naturally, I deferred. Rectification was needed to establish a certain level of goodwill so that the members of Revolutionary Workers Movement, especially the leadership of the cadre formation above it, would hear my criticisms and struggle with me in good faith. This required lies, manipulations, maneuvering, and above all a strict adherence to the accepted rhetoric. That is, it required the usual craftiness of diplomacy. In working my way back to a baseline this way, and on the advice of a comrade out of state, I also hoped to garner the support of the more indecisive comrades, meet with them one-on-one, and establish a very deliberate political relationship with them, which I’d regrettably neglected to do up until that point.
First, I think it would be prudent to remark at length about my liaison’s character and history, since for a long while I did muster some respect for him as a person.
On the class level, my liaison (whom I’ll refer to as Fellow-Worker) had a fairly typical white, suburban middle-class existence, the first child of a newspaper columnist and author, without many troubles in his early life as far as I knew. While he rarely worked between high school and university, he was deeply active and invested in his own education, which had taken up all of his energies and career up to that point. He had majored in theology, naturally dabbled in philosophy, and later he’d taken up classes in political science.
He had the distinction of attending a private school deep in the southwest which had been founded by hippies and organized along egalitarian and communitarian lines. Essentially, this meant that the power over the faculty, the property, curricula, and campus activities was divided between the student body and the administration to some degree. This was when Fellow-Worker first became active in student politics and started to approach Marxism. Around this time, he also came into contact with an environmentalist who had been active during the Green Scare, who cut the figure of a kind of mentor among the student activists there. After this, he moved on to an Ivy League school to complete his studies and pursue a PhD in religious studies.
Anyway, he soon started to burn out on his studies, briefly delving into alcoholism. This was when he made a clear break from the Ivy League milieu and into Communist politics. While visiting his family, he struck up a relationship with the KCRC, only a handful of weeks after I first met them in person, where he studied and became active with them for a time. He then moved to Chicago, took up a series of blue-collar gigs, then tried and failed to organize a Maoist collective there but struck up numerous contacts among various Marxist organizations and parties. (I recall, when he first related that period to me, he compared me to his closest comrade in their political efforts up there and called me sharp.) After running aground in Chicago, he moved to KC, trained and landed a union job in electrical maintenance, and started running with the then-rebranded Red Guards KC.
Fellow-Worker was around my age, twenty-five or six, and he carried himself with some dignity and maturity. In his attitude, he was enthusiastic but perpetually frustrated; in outlook, he was genuine but never completely candid; in thought, he was collected but ultimately uncertain; in perspective, he was struggling to adapt the professionalism and neatness of his personal life to the overwhelming naivete, confusion, and demands of his newfound political one. Politically speaking, he wasn’t above bullying or undercutting comrades inferior to the cadre formation but he didn’t yet degenerate into a personality; he was too awkward and blunt in his political maneuvers but clearly had the capacity for developed political thought; he was long-winded in his speech and overconfident in his own grounding but he had an eagerness to educate others and learn from them to some extent; he was rigid and overly strict but he had a high level of discipline and he showed some dedication in cultivating self-restraint.
Fellow-Worker had a “class conscience,” an acute form of class guilt, and a certain determination to prove himself a proletarian. Being a bit of a proletarian myself, in terms of both background and living on the lower end, I suppose I always wanted to assure him in some indirect way that that wasn’t how class worked and he ought to capitalize on his ruling-class education, upbringing, and perspective for the good of the movement. Though, I felt edgy about indulging in the kind of “proletarian identity politics” that’s particularly rife among the Maoists.
While he presumed a lot of me, specifically my dedication to the Maoists’ own ideological line, I felt he never tried to flatter or manipulate me — at least not consciously. Whenever he would lie about, exaggerate, or cover up the Maoists’ successes or fuckups, in order to appeal to my sensibilities, I got the impression that it was only because he believed it; not because he simply didn’t respect my intelligence. He was too educated not to rationalize it all in that way, even if he wasn’t smart enough to cut through the bullshit himself.
This is all to say I sympathized with him a great deal. I saw quite a bit of my past self in our political dealings, favorably and not. Fellow-Worker was relatively new to all this, so I felt I’d do him wrong if I simply condescended to him, even accidentally, at any point in our work with Revolutionary Workers Movement. I wanted to ground our mutual political work in trust and respect before I offered any significant advice or small tips and tricks, which I was anxious to do at times. Sometimes I found him encouraging, sometimes I wanted to wring his neck and rant at him like a fucking lunatic. This was the source of equal tension and commitment in our political relationship, and by extension, in my relationship to the RWM and the Red Guards.
It was at one of STP-KC’s rare public events that I first met him and all the other KC Maoists, that is, the hard core. The event was put on in a park in the central-southeast part of town, where renovated, two-story townhouses mingle with decaying, post-war homes.
In KC, immediately after breaking out of downtown, you’ll quickly find that your surroundings disintegrate: newly paved sidewalks crack away into jigsaws of broken concrete; well-kempt lawns simply fade away into desiccated soil; your tourist traps and fusion restaurants give way to an agglomeration of fast-food places and dollar stores. In much of Kansas City, there are either islands of these ancient homes in oceans of post-modern prefab houses or the inverse. This park was in the latter sort of area, nestled on a large hill overlooking the block. They had congregated in a gazebo at its peak, which opened up to a clear view of seven KCPD cruisers (I always called them “prowlers”) lining the street below.
“You see this?” the man who came to be known as Fellow-Worker interjected to the small throng of attendees, pointing down at the pigs below. “We can’t even put on a peaceful get-together in the park without the state watching us! Clear intimidation tactic.”
Speaker-Soldier, a leading comrade in the STP-KC, continued his address. In so many words, he elaborated a new strategic focus for the group, which intended to structure and organize propaganda campaigns through a system of brigades. The general idea was that STP-KC would set up a brigade of 3-5 comrades, send them out to develop specific complexes or blocks, and launch propaganda offensives against landlords and left-liberal coalitions like KC Tenants. Through this struggle, of course, leadership would emerge organically, form the base of a new brigade, and so on. The leading group in STP-KC and the brigades would all be organized according to democratic-centralist principles, with a view towards maximizing their level of discipline and militancy at every step and developing their contacts towards “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, principally Maoism” (or what I’ll refer to as US Maoism).
The politico-military aspect was pretty well-emphasized but perhaps exclusively focused on armed propaganda alone; the more economistic tasks of organizing tenants and winning demands were, I think, minimized and ultimately subordinate to the development of armed propaganda, the whole politico-military aspect. The US Maoists are deeply averse to the typical economistic work that demands longer term and thoroughgoing political work among the proletariat, fighting for minimum demands, winning reforms, etc., in which the politico-military aspect doesn’t play an immanent role. Within US Maoist ideology, reforms are instead conquered through revindications; strictly speaking, reforms don’t play a single part in their political demands.
These revindications correspond to an overwhelming and immanent military movement of force, i.e., the People’s Army, and comprise a primarily indirect consequence of securing politico-military gains outside of the bourgeois state and society. For example, the expansion of the guerrilla zones that were liberated and organized during the Peruvian People’s War and the intensification of armed propaganda campaigns in Lima triggered responses by the state to attempt to alleviate the destitution of the peasantry and relax their grip on the labor movement in the cities, which enabled the further advance of the New Power at the time.
That was the process of revindication, rather than reform. It’s through this theory that the US Maoists have typically come to believe that engaging in reforms or economism on any level, in any way, is inimical to a revolutionary process. On some level, anti-Maoists have a tendency to misunderstand revindications as a rejection of political (or economic) struggle, which is inaccurate. The US Maoists are involved in political struggles, just ones on their own terms which make it difficult for them to advance or others to tango with them.
Among the crowd, a plant from KC Tenants briefly interrupted the comrade’s spiel, bumbling around some point about what they were doing for single Black mothers. Speaker-Soldier, who was Black himself, patiently and confidently warded off the bad faith argument he was about to be dragged into. The plant from KC Tenants was maneuvered back into her usual nervous silence. (As I later found out, this comrade was a speaking coach and tutor.) During a lull, Fellow-Worker pointed to the pigs again and repeated what he said before, now with some added exasperation.
Sitting at a bench with him and a few others, I shook my head a little and thought, “God, dude, don’t overplay it. Just the one time was good enough.” My ratty bangs were being throttled by the wind and my hands were stuffed into my jacket pockets. A cigarette wavered limply between my lips while I trained my eyes on a tactical van that was parked catty-corner to the column of prowlers facing the crest of the hill. My interest in repression and surveillance easily overran my patience for the speeches and the speech-makers; more time watching and thinking about the pigs than the grand strategic vision of US Maoism, I mean. From time to time, I’d awkwardly crane my neck around to see if there was anyone I knew there and I noticed a couple, then I would briefly wonder where the rest of them ran off to over the past couple years.
When one goes to these kinds of events for the first time, or one of the first times, it’s usually a bit difficult to pick up on just how many people are part of the organization or outside of it. After the main occasion, I figured out that the whole in/out division was something like three out, including myself, and twelve in. Apart from myself, the only attendees outside of the Maoist milieu were one of their tenant contacts and the anxious plant from KC Tenants. As I introduced myself to Fellow-Worker and a couple of his comrades, many of them started to congeal around us; suspicious of me but ultimately interested in who I was and what I had to say. To them, I related a handful of my experiences and my candid misgivings with US Maoism, though I expressed a lot of interest in getting involved with STP-KC and doing real mass work for a change.
It was then that Fellow-Worker started to describe a then-unannounced, and unorganized, project called the Revolutionary Workers Movement, which I immediately jumped on. The intent behind it was essentially to extend and adapt STP’s program to workplace struggles and conduct mass work between the major industries in KC; the goal in the long term was to produce and develop an organization resembling something like the Red Brigades. I was ecstatic about it all, I expressed my interest in conducting social investigation/class analysis and actually, politically, engaging with other workers, and I told him I would love to keep in touch about it. This was how I was organized into the Revolutionary Workers Movement. After this, I barely even saw STP-KC except in joint actions or propaganda events.
I met the Couple at my first RWM meeting. They were married, quite sweet, and on the ideological side of things they were primarily Marxist-Leninists. They shared quite a bit: including a history with the KCDSA and joint responsibilities in facilitating a more Marxist-oriented study group around it, but they were also equally timid and apprehensive. Like I was, they were somewhat intimidated by the Maoist milieu but their concern was chiefly ideological, while mine was political in essence. I believe they were afraid of being rejected out of hand by the arbitrary strictures of US Maoism. On the other hand, the thing that I feared coming in was the Maoists’ potential political talents. While the Couple struggled with the overbearing “lines” and discipline of the US Maoist ideological center, I struggled with calculating and moving either with or against their political center, or lack thereof. Anyway, none of us came out satisfied in the end and we both broke with the organization on similar but fundamentally different lines.
Among the “outgroup” in the RWM, there was only myself and the Couple. The remainder were leading cadres with a decent amount of experience in the KC Maoist milieu. Our meetings were guided and carried, mechanically and unswervingly, by Fellow-Worker and his decisions ultimately approved by its leading committee, comprised of himself, Pig-Buster, and another more distant cadre. These were all true believers, unelected and unchallenged, whose decisions would always fall in perfect accord with the US Maoists’ presumed general political line and would be carried out by the mass of the organization itself. Lacking knowledge and experience in their specific matters, I had no problem deferring to them.
As long as the program showed promise and leadership displayed a steady hand in developing the organization and engaging with the people, I have no issue whatsoever with tolerating that kind of authoritarianism. However, the issue with this specific form of authoritarianism, a centralism without tangible democratic principles, is that it’s more often than not consciously employed to mask and perpetuate thoroughgoing political sabotage and ideological corruption. This was the case with the Maoists.
In any case, the program did show promise at first, even with its faults. Revolutionary Workers Movement was technically a mass organization, though its hardline democratic-centralism betrayed its intentions as more of a working fraction. It was technically a mass-line organization, but its established politico-military purpose had skipped several steps in the mass line in the process. RWM was a vanguard formation but it didn’t lead; it presumed to have already engaged with the proletariat but its premises were never rooted in the practical needs of the working class movement; it claimed to implement social investigation/class analysis but, like any old Trotskyite group, it favored recruitment and retention over engagement and development.
What we intended to do was preside over the organization of politico-military brigades at the point of production; what we actually did was pontificate over the formation of propaganda teams at bus stops. Considering Fellow-Worker’s year-end, maximum goal of “having 30 people supporting each brigade leader,” I feel more than comfortable treating our failures with the contempt they’re owed, as a product of ideological platitudes more than political realities. After all, this was an ideological formation, a little propaganda club. Revolutionary Workers Movement was not a fucking “partisan war-machine,” even though I actually did wish that I could play my own part in building one. The materials simply aren’t there for it.
As two other committed Maoists later joined us, our main core at its height was comprised of about seven people. The gist was that Fellow-Worker expected us to raise ourselves up to the level of professional agitators and organizers within a year. Just one part of this process required a rather rudimentary system of reports on our coworkers and workplaces, sent to cadre leadership on an initial, bimonthly, and annual basis. They were attempts, in only one aspect, to conduct SICA in our workplaces, but it wasn’t the principal one. The primary aspect of reporting work consisted of monitoring our coworkers and identifying the advanced among them. In practice, this meant we would pick out the most seemingly “radical” of our coworkers and inculcate them with propaganda via study groups on Struggle Sessions and Incendiary pieces. The object was to convert them wholesale into good little US Maoists, which would of course lead to recruitment and cadrefication.
Even from the start, my main point of contention was that, at our present level of political and ideological development, we needed the SICA aspect of these reports to be the principal one. We needed to be versed in that process to truly identify the advanced and recruit them. We needed extensive development before we could even think of intensive development. In my mind, the key was always to investigate, develop scientific outlooks, and properly root ourselves within the various struggles of proletarians before we could have the capacity to truly organize and guide them. We probably needed to defer to the working class before we could lead them in anything, for anything. We were looking to come into direct competition and combat with yellow unionists and, for their part, they were competent professionals. So, there had to be some critical recognition of our own immaturity and inexperience in these kinds of things.
I brought this to the leading cadres’ attention so many fucking times, only for my concerns to get handwaved away. They would imply or accuse me of being too contemplative, too intellectual, and too empiricist. I attempted to clarify that the extensive process I was suggesting wouldn’t even negate or pull us away from our politico-military tasks, agitations, propaganda campaigns, or any other political actions. I tried to make the case that this sort of development would, in fact, reinforce our practical efforts immensely. But nope, shot down again and again.
This was also the case with my focus on security and repression. Once I’d learned about the counter-terror wing of the KCPD and their surveillance and repression of what was described to me as “literally every group left of the Democrats,” I’d volunteered my interest in researching their tactics and capabilities. I singled out a professor who apparently advises the unit and asked for his name on three different occasions, so I could study his works; I was always stonewalled. Attempting to bribe them by letting slip that I knew how to doxx people in exchange for the professor’s name, they still wouldn’t budge or help me out in this regard. The Maoists, in fact, displayed very little interest in keeping the pigs and feds at bey, or even understanding them. I would’ve found this more suspicious if they weren’t so eager to flaunt their own incompetence and ignorance in every area of work.
This was displayed spectacularly when Pig-Buster, an otherwise nice and reserved person, and another comrade went stickering some bus stops one day. As I heard it from the latter, some supervisor for the KC transit system caught them and started taking pictures of them. No big deal. The supervisor went to go fetch a nearby cop but instead of splitting, the two comrades kept hanging around. Pig-Buster started escalating with the supervisor and the pig but more the pig than the supervisor. Both comrades were then cuffed in the middle of the sidewalk, Pig-Buster yelling and insulting the pig as reinforcements arrived. Initially, they were charged with destruction of public property but when asked for names, Pig-Buster volunteered their street names instead of their legal ones. In the end, they were also charged with providing false information. They received some fine for a couple thousand dollars and are still awaiting trial with a six-month diversion, which is a little more than half way up by now. This episode effectively obliterated our ability to put up stickers.
Finding they shared neither my values nor my ideals, I never trusted any of the Maoists individually. However, it took me a long time to distrust them collectively. The more the leading cadres indulged the ideological project of the “Committee to Reconstitute the Communist Party USA,” the less I felt that they were invested in organizing and helping working people. The more I was put on the spot for actions that had nothing to do with us, the more I found myself lying to wiggle out of them, using whatever bullshit I had on hand. My only real sentiments were tied up in the premise of the Revolutionary Workers Movement and its potential. Even in parting, I still struggled to let go of its fantasy and future.
I think of the political organization as a war-machine; one that all members must subordinate themselves to individually, and a vehicle through which the collective subordinates themselves to the class struggle. I rate leadership very highly as well; leaders must be chosen and held to account for their ability to keep the machine in working order, and to keep its human transmission belts from slipping out of the historical currents of struggle. Use whatever means necessary to keep the machine functioning: it doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to be fair, but it does have to work and win. As a leader, Fellow-Worker was ultimately an inept one: his feigned competence and warped ambition had simply suited him for cadre leadership in the Red Guards. Again, this was combined with my sympathies towards his very real, adolescent frustrations in politics.
From week to week, there was some other contact to track down, some other aimless crack at propagandizing and proselytizing; in every single case, the object dissolved into thin air. We forced ourselves, in some roundabout way, to justify or rationalize why we checked the Riot channel for updates and directives. Fellow-Worker, in his political life, was nothing more than a purely corrupt ideologist for a purely corrupt ideology.
The CR-CPUSA itself does and doesn’t exist, even though its schemes objectively liquidated whatever good was left in our organization. All developmental efforts within the former Red Guards and their mass organizations are increasingly trending towards the formation of this national section at the expense of very tactile and practical work at the local level. This is work that gives necessary political developments their substance and local cells their unity. The ideological work of the CR-CPUSA, mobilized under phrases like “quality over quantity” and “ideological consolidation,” is quickly overtaking every single productive effort and gain that could possibly come about through quiet and diligent mass work. In essence, the CR-CPUSA is cannibalizing itself in its own preconception. The Maoist party isn’t even in embryo; it’s just a twinkle in some dumb asshole’s eye and he’s already itching to blink it away.
The last instance in which I felt any slight enthusiasm for our work in RWM was at the height of the UAW strike. I volunteered my time and effort, eager to skip out on work and totally willing to lose my job doing it, towards talking with some workers on the picket line. I wouldn’t get the chance because, after their second visit to the line, Fellow-Worker was embarrassed that we couldn’t muster more than three comrades to scope it out so he cancelled on us. Afterwards, word got around that the KCDSA had us promptly banned not only from the line but from the SEIU union hall we’d once booked for an event. They spread rumors that we were anti-union and looking to get workers to abandon the UAW, which was a crafty bit of opportunism on their part. When Fellow-Worker suggested I attend the KCDSA action, I initially believed it was a poorly-conceived reprisal from RWM to the KCDSA. In fact, I played my part in the action under the belief that it was direct retaliation against their opportunism.
Eluding all common sense, however, the action wasn’t a reprisal; the action was a public move towards the establishment of CR-CPUSA efforts in Kansas City and the KCDSA’s opportunism hardly even factored into it. When I’d agreed to play along with the action as a part of my rectification, I had designs on RWM, to maneuver the organization away from the lofty bullshit of the CR-CPUSA ideologists and try to put it on track with the class struggle with the support of, presumably, the Couple and perhaps another Maoist who might share my interest in turning it into a functioning war-machine. So, when I committed to the action, I believed I was contributing to the faultlines and accelerating the contradictions of RWM specifically rather than being used as a prop for the CR-CPUSA’s theatrics. I was wrong.
Whatever petty ambitions I had with regard to the Revolutionary Workers Movement revealed themselves to be so fucking tedious, circular, and illogical in relation to that milieu of incompetent zealots that, between pulling shifts and just plain living, I absolutely wasn’t willing to beat them at their own game. I’m too tired and too fucking miserable to play it, so I left. I left with nothing, for the most part, except for a lot of weird memories and minor regrets. I’m only thankful for my fundamental distrust of them because today I know just how manipulative, brutal, and abusive they’ve been to other comrades and friends who’ve opened themselves up to the internal culture of the US Maoists. I’ll leave it to them to let their stories out; to tell how they conned themselves, too, in varying degrees and different ways but ultimately just the same as I did. As for myself, I feel as if this little episode has barely left a dent in me. I feel like I’m back on the right track now.
When I started out, I believed in the movement, or rather I believed a movement existed which could simply absorb me and put me to work doing something useful for real-world struggles. Regardless of its evident shortcomings, I believed that there were certain sectors of communist organizations that were highly competent, conscious, and willing. Because I overrate my own thinking and logic, I believed that the processes of the many organizations which comprise the movement were far more complex and thoroughgoing than they actually were. Any good faith that I held with any organization and its members was invariably used against me or proved such a handicap to my initiative and confidence that I could no longer follow through on anything I believed was right, but this was also an acute political failure.
At any given time, I held two fundamentally contradictory ideas: that it was imperative to accomplish what I believed was necessary and that subordinating what I believed was necessary to a given organization was imperative. It was only later that I summoned the will and due cynicism in order to fight for what I believed in but by then it was too late. Ideologically speaking, my romanticism and faith had simply conjured a historical movement I felt I had to humble myself to, but in doing so I only ever flattered myself and others. I guess the open secret is really that there is no such movement, that these organizations were even worse than my lowest and most cynical expectations, and that the people in them, facing very few obstacles themselves, only prove an impediment to each other and their ideals. From within, it has always come to me as a tragedy; from without, I know it’s always been a farce.
Over the past three years, various Marxist organizations have tried and failed to capture the imagination of popular, progressive forces after Trump’s election had disoriented them, and galvanized them to seek out systemic alternatives to staid political thought and activities. I saw dozens and dozens of people, mainly young women, enthusiastically offer their support and labor to socialism and communism. They eagerly sought out capable organizations that would harness their energy and creativity towards political power and insurrection; educate them in politics and bring them closer to mass struggles, to the people; to give them a voice and manifest their collective will. In my first year of activity, I had an intense drive and desire to remain sensitive to their needs, to realize them, but at the same time, I unnecessarily overrated the obstacles I found in my organizational work: the necessity of psychologically and politically breaking with the macho-dogmatists around me at the time. At any time, I simply could’ve broken away, as I did much later, but instead I only apologized for them; I hoped I would be able to change them around in good faith but in fact I only suspended my criticisms and interventions indefinitely in my apologies.
These new comrades were all in their own way betrayed and silenced by the failures and abuses of the bureaucratic bastard-elite of this “movement,” the organizations — new and old — which drain the life and fervor of the unorganized for their own venial power-plays and aimless propaganda campaigns. They were condescended to, dismissed, ignored, and their energies slowly snuffed out. The Marxist left, and the organized Left in general, comprises not a growing and maturing revolutionary body but an increasingly insular parasitic mass which feeds on the revolutionary spirit of the unorganized masses and capitalizes on the proletarian aims and sympathies of the new working classes; stringing up the desiccated corpses of the Bolsheviks and Senderos, marionette-like, in their grotesque agitations to flatter their own self-importance.
I was part and parcel of this process in my time with all of them, more complicit in their workings than critical of them in fact. It’s only in my writings and hindsight that I can even begin to articulate my hesitations, frustrations, and hatred of my recent past and present. This is something for which I feel a good deal of guilt, shame, and regret. Remarking on one of my recent, critical accounts of my time with the KC Maoists, a comrade of mine said: “Where was this person for the past year? Why wasn’t he there with you?” I couldn’t tell her on the spot, but I can tell you now that this person was locked away in my head, unnecessarily suppressed out of fear of rejection and isolation under the cover of “garnering the mutual respect and trust” of my “comrades”. Now I understand that the most significant aspect of criticism is having the courage to strike at all.
Enraged but timid; combative but complacent; resistant to the overtures of ideologists but ultimately pliable out of sheer pragmatism. Barring a few exceptions, these internal contradictions have characterized my relations to every Marxist organization with whom I’ve been involved. As a result, the bulk of my so-called “political work” has accumulated and sloughed down to my feet in a mass of wasted efforts and self-acting stresses. The very few small things which I’ve been able to produce, for which I feel some pride, I have had a tendency to romanticize and overrate; relative to the laziness and intractability of the organized Left they have only seemed like superhuman efforts. Now, I no longer think so highly of my thoughts nor my activities.
The vast majority of the organized Left in this country is a diseased anachronism. There are many comrades who, like myself, have simply acknowledged and apologized for its shortcomings, immaturity, and isolation; who nonetheless find and embrace opportunities to engage with people and help them get organized, to help them in their real daily struggles. I have a lot of sympathy and respect for them even if their position seems as fundamentally precarious as mine always was. However, the mass of the Left isn’t at all comprised of these well-meaning comrades but rather confused, naive, and backwards narcissists, or rather ideologists whose primary distinction is their narcissism. White chauvinism, individualism, dollarism, settlerism, opportunism, misogyny, transphobia, and thoroughgoing social parasitism, truly the Amerikan Way, play commanding roles in characterizing the real dysfunctions and relations that give substance to the many structures among the IWW syndicalists, Red Guard Maoists, DSA social-democrats, Marcyite Marxist-Leninists, all the Trotskyite splitters, and the various Anarchist collectives.
Years back, I believed the Left ought to be destroyed, not only on account of its weakness and irrelevance but also for its political and ideological sins — or more appropriately, its hollow, circular nostalgia for the dead past and all its mystical allegiances and superstitions. My special sympathies for the Red Guards were mainly directed towards their violence against the Marcyites and the DSA, which came to me in the form of entertaining and flamboyant punishments for their misleadership and abuses. I thought it was good that they ought to be punished for bad politics, and I got a pretty good rise out of that kind of chaos. On the other hand, if my involvement with the Maoists in the brawl at the SEIU union hall was anything to me, it was a serious Pagliacci Moment; but it was also a vindication of my past sentiments.
Standing over Carl’s bloodied head, writhing over the smattering of flyers we’d thrown about, while the Maoists pummeled his face into the floor, I felt nothing but a profound sense of ennui. The brawl was total, macho emotionalist nonsense; its actors, including myself, impotent and irrelevant to the daily on-goings of the capitalist status-quo, especially in revolt against it; the so-called political or ideological character of the KCDSA action itself was a total vacuum, public fodder for what would later become just another distracting piece of controversy and then mockery on the Left. I once felt that the Left ought to be destroyed for its irrelevance, perhaps from the outside, but now I realized that they were more than capable of destroying themselves from within, in their ignorance and insignificance. Whenever I start indulging any juvenile fantasies of “revenge,” they’re always, and reasonably, dashed by a return to this epiphany of mine.
Aside from this, I found I had participated, was also used to some extent, as an unquestioning thug to perpetuate some juvenile, myopic drama that had persisted between the Maoists and so-called anarchists in KC, for which I felt unsurprised but also very frustrated. Beyond “politics,” beyond “ideology,” on the Left there are invariably only cliques and personalities, immovable and unchanged, which struggle only for themselves; with and for their maladapted capitalist mentalities and their imperialist lifestyles. For the Leninist in me, this is their principal and highest “political sin,” for which my only corrective is abandonment and escape to the real, practical, and somewhat chaotic world of the unorganized working classes; to become a free-agent to all those who struggle, in their own way, however they can, against the imperialist state and capital.
Insofar as the word itself carries any significance, I am a proletarian from a relatively poor white family. This is to say, my drive towards politics is one of a fundamental self-interest. All my life I looked at my family, the friends of my family, the family of my friends, all my friends who hustled, prostituted, and labored to survive at the risk of their bodies and freedom. I looked at myself, my hunger and squalor, my violence and anger, how the police and the bosses and the state and the education system mistreated me, all of which seemed to rise up in me like bile, congeal and solidify into an explosive hatred in all its unreason, unfairness, and brutality.
I recall so much confusion and pain in the trembling faces and voices of my friends, which tore me up on the inside without end; I knew I could never “save” them, but I wanted to make things right for them so badly and I wished I could give them answers, concrete and practical. I recall I was outside the Greyhound station when I saw a young Black girl accosted by the pigs and searched for drugs; while she shouted and cried, they drove her into the ground, cracking her jaw on the pavement and cuffing her without so much as saying a word — commanding her only to submit. I feel I wandered for some years thinking and doing as much violence as I could manage towards the world and whatever or whoever deserved it, so I could live to see one without. I feel like I still am.
In anarchism, I did nothing; in Marxism and Marxism-Leninism, I did nothing; in Maoism, I did nothing. These distinctions, all told, are meaningless and the only difference has been time, much of which has been wasted. My first branch chair in the PSL always used to say that speaking to the unorganized masses was like feeding baby birds; the truth has in fact been the inverse. I have spent a disproportionate amount of time digesting the ideas, commentaries, and criticisms of all the people I’ve engaged with on the street, among my friends, and regurgitating them, perhaps “beautifying,” them for the benefit of ideologists who barely care to listen, much less hear them. My Maoist liaison used to say that it wasn’t necessary to “reinvent the wheel” in every theoretical and practical endeavor; my experiences have demonstrated that the people who parrot such aphorisms wouldn’t even be able to tell you what the fuck “the wheel” even looks like.
I’m tired of this. I’m tired of the pretensions and rhetoric. I’m tired of the personalities and milieus. I refuse to interact with this melange of bourgeois communists and socialists and anarchists any longer. I’m tired of being tokenized, in their bizarre little ways, and having my good faith being taken advantage of. I’m sick of building walls between myself and the working classes any longer, who I’ve always gotten along with better than these snide, petit-bourgeois bullshitters and posers. I can no longer call myself a communist or a socialist in good conscience, and anyone who does, who doesn’t already have my sympathies, will have to earn my trust and confidence same as anyone else. And they’ll have to try much harder now.
All ideology, all politics, all ideals, are only weapons in service of the revolutionary classes and people. Equipping them with such key things presupposes a level of integration, trust, and confidence that the Left will never achieve by its very character, structure, and nature. Classes, communities, and nations are the sole root of change, and I intend to do everything in my power to work within them rather than severing myself from them, and from the real world.
“LET US BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING, AT THE ROOT OF CHANGE…”