This document represents the consolidation of our experiences and analysis as the Revolutionary Student Front (RSF) in our failed attempt over the course of 2017 in organizing the Revolutionary Mental Health Program (RMHP). The primary goal of this program was to address the mental health needs of students in a way that would primarily serve to politicize and strengthen them, to become more committed to revolution and more capable of carrying it out. The RMHP was intended to be run primarily by students, and to be oriented toward serving the needs of working-class students in particular. While we certainly learned a great deal from this initiative, we cannot classify it as anything but a failure. We hope this document will help others understand why we came to the decision to end the program, as well as provide lessons for other revolutionaries on how to carry out the mass line in the process of serving the people and building revolutionary power for the working class.
The RMHP was born out of a process of social investigation during our first semester as an organization in the fall of 2016. We set about determining what aspects of life were being neglected by the capitalist administrators of the University of Texas (UT). Naturally, we also set about gathering ideas from students on how these problems could potentially be solved without resorting to begging for handouts from university bureaucrats, whose class interests are always against those of the working class. Through many hours of discussion with students while tabling and at our public meetings, and through regular contact with disgruntled students, we uncovered numerous pressing needs facing the general student body and working-class students alike. From this point, we sought to determine a site of struggle that would appeal to the sections of the student population most ripe for radicalization and to develop a plan to address those needs in a way that would politicize these students, with the goal of course being to make them into active fighters in the revolutionary class struggle.
Out of all the needs we had brought to our attention, we determined that the accessibility, funding, and quality of mental health care for students on campus, particularly for working-class students, was a site of struggle where our organization could make a substantial impact. We drew from students’ ideas to start a student-run mental health program as a means to fulfill these needs, and attempted to consolidate them with what we believed to be a sound political analysis. We began theorizing what a “revolutionary” mental health program would look like in practice. While it was, and still is, very clear to us that mental health resources are woefully inadequate for students at UT and for the working class as a whole, the later sections of this document will explain in detail why this was an incorrect starting point for us as a revolutionary organization. Ultimately, we launched the program in the spring of 2017 and operated it for approximately six months before we made the decision to end it in September of 2017.
Both in its conception, as well as in its execution, RSF fell into grave errors in the course of operating the RMHP. Primarily, we see the program as a whole to have been rooted in an incorrect theoretical understanding and subsequent misapplication of our fundamental principle of the mass line. And so just as one would not continue construction on a house after realizing it was being built on sand (or, in our case, on the wrong lot entirely), once we had recognized our errors (laid out below) we knew the best way forward was to discontinue the program altogether. While failure can be painful and at times discouraging, our organization recognizes the truth in Mao Zedong’s words that “any newly born thing has to experience difficulties and setbacks in its growth.” Obstacles and errors are a natural part of growth, and revolutionaries do not let failures, setbacks, and defeats overcome our fighting spirit. Instead, we take joy in the criticisms that our comrades offer about our errors and seek to learn from these criticisms so that we can correct our practices and mold ourselves into better revolutionaries. RSF’s goal is, above all, to serve the people. We do not hesitate for a moment to do anything that will strengthen ourselves as fighters for the people. We are deeply grateful for the various comrades who have contributed their criticisms to help us along the path that led to the materialization of this summation.
The Program and Its Implementation
Formation, Study, Formulation
As mentioned, the RMHP was initially born from the raw idea of a “student-led mental health group.” We knew that this concept alone was, of course, not enough to start off a revolutionary program. There are plenty of existing mental health support groups on campus facilitated by students, and they by no means make revolutionaries, so neither would a group that is run by revolutionaries but which in essence functions the same. The hope that revolutionary politics will be transferred to participants through osmosis alone is pure idealism and foolish thinking. The way that mental health support and services operate in our society is fundamentally bourgeois—that is, it serves to smooth over the potholes of capitalism, making it stronger, letting it live longer, and making it more entrenched in our behaviors and thinking. Bourgeois mental health practices cannot be made into revolutionary mental health care by simply rebranding and repackaging them as “revolutionary.” Revolutionary mental health support means sharpening the contradictions between capitalism and those whose mental states are affected badly by it. This doesn’t mean that we want things to be worse for those suffering from mental illness, but instead that we wish to draw attention to the irreconcilable contradiction between our mental health and our political-economic system. To create revolutionary mental health care, it is necessary for revolutionaries to construct qualitatively different methods than those that currently exist. The primary method of combating the symptoms of mental illness that we face under capitalism must be organizing those suffering to come into violent class conflict with the system that creates their illness. This is the only path for such individuals to move toward a society without such widespread illness.
Knowing this, we sought ways to develop the raw idea into a revolutionary one. Over the winter of 2016 and in the early spring of 2017, the leadership of RSF spent a significant amount of time studying the work “Turn Illness into a Weapon,” which recounts the experiences of the Socialist Patients’ Collective (SPK) of the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in 1970. This text, though it helped inform our theoretical understanding of the relationship between illness and capitalism, was lacking in concrete summations of how they put their understanding into practice. Perhaps this omission was intentional on their part, since being Marxists, they knew as well as we know that we cannot copy and paste methods from one time and place onto another expecting similar results—we must always make concrete analyses of concrete conditions. On the other hand, Mao Zedong carefully laid out the principles of guerrilla warfare as they applied to Chinese conditions and had faith that those revolutionaries reading him outside of China would have sense enough to learn from the particular conditions of the Chinese situation and draw out universal lessons from them that could be applied in other situations. No explanation of the particular conditions and tactics of the SPK in Heidelberg could be found in their text beyond their vague principle of “political agitation” as their means of therapy. Ultimately, this left us with essentially no preexisting history or experiences to draw from and apply to our work. Apart from the SPK, no formalized attempts have been made by revolutionary organizations specifically to address the issue of mental health under capitalism. In retrospect, this should have been a warning sign. Instead, we took it as a bold challenge—to attempt to do what few if any before us had done.
As an organization, up to this point, we had very little theoretical knowledge of what the process of the mass line truly consisted of, and we had even less experience carrying out this process ourselves. Following our study of “Turn Illness into a Weapon,” we faced a roadblock in the early spring of 2017 on how to make the leap from our knowledge about how mental illness is conditioned under capitalism to a practice that would make mental health practices serve revolutionary means. Eventually, this gave way to a restlessness in the leadership of our organization. Even though all we knew about was, on one hand, the theoretical side of mental health deprivation under capitalism and, on the other hand, the practices of bourgeois mental health, we thought that only by putting our current knowledge into practice and struggling over time would we would come to a better understanding of how to formulate a truly revolutionary program. However, just as one can’t learn to build socialism by practicing capitalism, one also cannot put bourgeois mental health services into practice and expect to learn revolutionary mental health, no matter what the subjective outlook is of the individuals trying to do so. In fact, it is just the opposite. Even if an individual considers themselves a revolutionary, getting more deeply involved carrying out bourgeois mental health practices will almost always serve as a hindrance to adopting any sort of revolutionary outlook on mental health.
So then, pushed forward by our childish impatience, we formally announced the formation of the RMHP, complete with our rudimentary theoretical understanding. We set about cementing the program into place late in the spring of 2017. The RMHP began with one small Closed Session group, made up of 4–6 individuals who met on a weekly basis practicing a fundamentally bourgeois sort of group talk therapy among otherwise revolutionary individuals. From the very outset of the program, we imported a non-student individual who was involved in other revolutionary organizations in Austin to facilitate the group’s discussion. The initial goal of this was to serve as a kickstarter for the RSF leaders who were taking the lead on the RMHP to develop a better understanding of how to go about basic therapeutic procedures (handling trauma, inter-participant conflict resolution, etc.). In addition, we believed this person’s prior experience in the field would give them an improved understanding of how to develop a program that was led by politics and not by service program work. This process of integrating people with backgrounds in bourgeois social work and therapy, incorrectly thinking that their experience would offer the expertise that the program needed continued over the entire existence of the RMHP to the detriment of the program and its participants.
Throughout the existence of this group and into the summer and fall sessions, the fundamental techniques and practices of the groups remained the same. There were two main techniques employed in Closed Sessions and Open Sessions, known as “circling” and “authentic relating.” Essentially, these techniques placed an immense importance on developing deeper interpersonal ties between individuals through helping them learn how to better communicate with each other and understand each other’s personal difficulties. The goal of this process was to find greater interpersonal unity and understanding among participants and allow participants to see struggles with mental health not as individual experiences but as shared ones that are also deeply interconnected with other aspects of society. These techniques also included aspects of “social exercises,” which focused on participants asking and answering difficult questions about each other, and were often an uncomfortable trial. The way that these social exercises were geared, however, were focused on personal relations. For example, the participants might form a line and move from one partner to the next, answering the question, “What do I think that you think about me?” These sorts of exercises often brought discomfort and, in retrospect, offered a kernel of correctness that could have been pushed forward, politicized, and developed into a revolutionary exercise. They could have, for instance, been developed to increase our comrades’ comfortability with making and receiving political criticisms and making self-criticisms about our work and behaviors. However, with the focus remaining on personal relations, the result was a perpetual liberal focus on interpersonal unity over political unity. In group discussions, the degree to which one’s personal issues were able to be linked with patriarchy, white supremacy, alienation, and other pillars of capitalism was limited. A liberal hesitancy meant that the solution to these issues, found only through participation in class struggle, was never actively put forth to participants. The result was an insular circle of back-patting and uncritical affirmation, where participants were consoled but given no real help to prepare them for carrying out war against the illness ailing them and against the conditions at the root of these illnesses.
As this first Closed Session came to a close at the end of the spring semester, a number of changes within the program’s structure took place. First, we hosted our very first Open Session of the RMHP, which was meant to incorporate all individuals into the RMHP who could not commit to participating in weekly Closed Sessions but nonetheless wanted a place where they could come. Again, we took the circling and authentic relating techniques as a basis for this program and watered them down so they could be made to fit relations between two complete strangers. The facilitation of this style of group was made possible only with the importation of another non-student organizer who had experiences in a New Age–style therapy and mindfulness-centered group exercises. This first Open Session was extremely well-attended, with many participants excited for our new venture into the field of mental health. Unsurprisingly, in retrospect, the vast majority of these people did not return to another Open Session. And on top of that, with the natural exodus of students that comes with the summer break, rather than take time during the summer to step back to examine our experiences with bourgeois mental health practices and reformulate our program, we pushed forward in attempting to further develop the program as it existed. We continued with the Open Sessions weekly throughout the summer in addition to having one Closed Session per week.
By summer, the program was developing into a broader project, drawing in people who were not previously involved with RSF but who were interested in helping to guide and/or administrate our initiative. The continuation of the program throughout the summer entailed an enormous amount of work on a near-daily basis for the organizers involved in its administration. Along with the expansion came the further integration of the previously mentioned non-student facilitators as key factors in determining the direction of the groups and program. Because of our belief in the quality of their experience with bourgeois mental health practices as well as their centrality in the facilitation of the program, these people were often given undue deference in their guidance of the program. This resulted in us leaving the program to settle further and further into its toothless, liberal methods. Over the course of the summer, the problem of how to place politics at the helm of the program was one constantly brought up at every administrative meeting, despite no concrete answers arriving from the discussions. Though at times there was a minority voice that resisted the politicizing of the RMHP altogether, the majority of us recognized the necessity to not only bring politics into the program, but make it the key aspect. We realized during this time that the RMHP as it was being run was not achieving this end by any means, and the question of politicization constantly racked our brains. Over the summer months, we could all tell that no progress was being made on this goal, no matter how many times we slammed our heads into the wall. We didn’t yet realize the truth stated earlier in this paper: correct ideas about revolutionary mental health practices cannot be derived from carrying out bourgeois mental health practices. Nonetheless, we continued on, working half-heartedly without a definite plan or direction, with the liberal thinking that “so long as one remains a monk, one goes on tolling the bell.” We were convinced that one day, after countless hours of knowingly walking in the wrong direction, we would somehow stumble upon the correct path or have it magically appear before our eyes.
This painful process continued throughout the summer and into the beginning of the fall 2017 semester, when the majority of RSF members and students returned to campus. Without any more clear of an idea on how to make our “revolutionary” program truly revolutionary, we still wearily persisted. Several weeks into the semester, it was determined that one of the non-student facilitators at the center of the program was using the influence and power of their position over others in the group for their own self-serving ends, leading to their expulsion from the RMHP and severe discipline by their organization. This situation, though it was not one of abuse or violence, placed participants in the program at risk, and is ultimately an error that we as RSF take responsibility for and take very seriously. We received warnings from other organizers outside of RSF about the inherent dangers of integrating non-student organizers into the RMHP, which was full of younger and more vulnerable individuals. Despite this, we overlooked such warnings because we placed an undue amount of trust in individuals without the consideration that they could possibly misuse their position of power.
Following this debacle, we still continued onward for a few weeks, assuming that the removal of the New Age practitioner would help the push toward politicization of the program win out. Different members of RSF took lead over the facilitation of the Open Sessions, and the integration of politics into the framework of the sessions began to take place. That is, the framework itself was not being changed into a revolutionary one, but politics were being thrown in as a necessary addition so as to fulfill the title of a “revolutionary” program. Instead of being left out entirely, the politics of the program instead became an afterthought, where time would be set to answer questions as a group and contemplate explicitly on the role of capitalism in our day-to-day lives. Just as revolutionaries running a program that calls itself revolutionary does not in fact make it revolutionary, a program with a little red political tail pinned on the end of it is not revolutionary either. In all programs that serve the people, revolutionary politics must remain firmly in command because, again, our politics, which have the ultimate aim of carrying out revolutionary war, are the only thing that will bring about the conditions necessary for doing away with alienation and exploitation altogether.
In mid-September of 2017, after about 3 weeks of continuing on this path, we received a detailed, thoughtful, and damning criticism of the RMHP from close comrades that caused substantial reflection on the realities of the program. This criticism brought us to realize that despite our months of practice, we were still no closer to developing a program for how to wage war to overcome our mental health issues in a revolutionary way. We determined that continuing forward along the path of using bourgeois mental health practices was not only unhelpful in any way for overcoming mental illness, but it was in fact actively putting many participants in a worse position than they were before. Additionally, we determined that for our organizers and the revolutionary movement in Austin as a whole, the RMHP was not strengthening our capacity to fight and improve ourselves. On the contrary, it was an enormous detriment that siphoned our time and energy and left us weaker in the face of the enemies that we so frequently come into conflict with. We then publicly announced the end of the RMHP.
Our first major error of many appeared early in the winter of 2016, before we had even begun to build the RMHP. RSF, starting with a tiny handful of people, had not been in existence for even a semester. Despite this, we had grown a significant degree in that time, but we were nevertheless impatient for more growth. We held the incorrect belief that in order to be an organization that properly operates according to the mass line, we must rapidly develop a mass base of supporters and members. We valued the quantity of individuals and our work over the quality. We believed that central to being a “mass organization” and seeing the rapid growth we sought was having a specifically mass-based program that could serve the people. We thought the only way we could claim to adhere to the mass line was to have something to show for it. This conception bred a mentality that placed the production of things, programs, or work in general as taking priority above the correct political trajectory and development of the program and our organization—this is an error we refer to as “productivism.” For a revolutionary organization seeking to destroy the existing social system, the development of trust and ties with a community and growing a sustained number of quality supporters and members is by no means something that can be built up overnight or over one semester. Particularly for those who live in the belly of the imperialist beast, the process of building a popular movement to destroy capitalism is an arduous and lengthy effort. No matter how large a movement is, if it is not guided by a correct and scientific political approach, it will fail to seize power and overthrow the ruling class. If the working class is not guided by this correct approach, its outbursts will at best rattle the chains binding the working class, not shatter them. By prioritizing the desire to start up a mass-based program without regard for making a careful, correct analysis of the political basis of this program or what results would come from our course of action, we worked in a way that ultimately went against the long-term interests of the people we work for. All initiatives led by a revolutionary organization should have the interest of building revolutionary forces and bringing the people deeper into the class struggle as its priority. The “service,” or direct material aid given by these initiatives must always take back seat to the political aspect—this is what differentiates a revolutionary organization from a nonprofit charity that happens to wave around red flags. The error of productivism made itself apparent from before the conception of the RMHP through to its end. This fact clearly reflects a tendency among the organization as a whole that must be rooted out for our work to continue along a correct path, since it would be ludicrous to separate the politics of the program from that of the leading organization. The error of productivism is, above all, a disease that eats away at the revolutionary heart of an organization and can never lead it down the path of revolution, but only waste people’s time and reinforce capitalism.
In practice, this productivism was behind many of the ways that the program operated as well. It also served as a breeding grounds for liberal misconceptions among the organizers that proved dangerous to its participants.
First, after we hit a wall in our attempts to properly theorize the program, we justified our attempts to move forward and “just do it” with the thinking that correct ideas (about how to treat mental health in a revolutionary fashion) would come only through social practice. The maxim that correct ideas come about only through social practice remains true, but, as we said before, carrying out bourgeois mental health practices will not suddenly yield answers about revolutionary mental health practices. The maxim holds true in that we are closer to those correct ideas now than we were in the past, and have determined 101 ways to not run a revolutionary mental health program, but at no point in our time operating the RMHP, or even currently, did we have the correct ideas. Our hurried mentality—prioritizing obvious, tangible action of some kind rather than undertaking the best work we could that was truly militant and revolutionary—cost us a great deal of time and energy for a program that was not only doomed but which also caused us serious setbacks as well.
Second, since none of the initial organizers with RSF had experience with handling mental health or therapy groups, we saw it necessary to import “experienced” non-student organizers from outside of campus to help facilitate the actual running of the groups. We saw the production of the service (the sessions) as key over developing the self-sufficiency of the program. In reality, this hindered the development of our student organizers, who in fact managed to take control of the groups with very little interruption when the off-campus organizers were no longer in command.
Our seeking of “experienced” outsiders also reflected this productivism in our analysis of what the nature of their experience was. Was it experience with revolutionary therapy? Certainly not. It was experience with, and ideological commitment to, bourgeois therapy. We mistakenly thought there was significant overlap between the practice being imported and revolutionary practice, in terms of the skills and outlook necessary to carry them out. But this could not be further from the case—the two are actually direct and antagonistic opposites: Revolutionary therapy places politics at its center. It demands struggle and breeds resilience and strength, and wins people to unite with their real friends to take up the struggle to destroy their real enemies. To quote “Unnatural Disasters” by Red Guards Austin, revolutionaries “exist to fight in the rift between the people and the state.” Revolutionary therapy exposes the way the capitalist state leaves the masses to suffer and die of mental illness, sharpening the contradictions between the people and the ruling class. Bourgeois therapy places individuals at its center, concedes to unprincipled peace, and breeds complacency and weakness. It enters the rift between the state and the suffering people and sews it up, treasonously restoring the ruling class’s ability to harm and control them.
During the weekly meetings of the RMHP organizers, even though politicization was always a pressing issue, the question that was never answered was, “How do we move our groups forward along the revolutionary path this week?” Time was instead constantly spent addressing the questions, “How are we going to keep the groups running consistently, on time, with prepared facilitators, etc.?” With the program just barely keeping its head above water, we were perpetually focused on keeping the group from drowning for one more week. The importance of the program’s continuation took precedence over taking a step back and spending time analyzing how things were being done. We had the incorrect belief that because participants seemed to be pleased with how the program was going, the program seemed to be running relatively smoothly—and that since we were staying constantly busy with something going on from week to week, we must be on the right track. Suspending the program periodically to allow us time to make these analyses would have been useful, just as concluding it has been, in looking deep into the real problems of the program and their solutions. However, this way of looking at things would have completely gone against our productivist mindset of, “If we aren’t consistently doing work and continuing this program nonstop from week to week then we are completely losing face and credibility in the eyes of the participants.” Revolutionary programs should never start from a desire to simply do things, and never fall into the dead end of mere charity work. Above all, they should be advancing the political level of those we serve primarily through bringing them into struggle, and heightening the overall level of class struggle in our cities.
This truth points to yet another, profound error in our productivist thinking. Overemphasis on the tangible services provided by programs like the RMHP reflects a woefully incorrect, inadequate understanding of the material impact that revolutionary ideology has on people and their mental health. Throughout the program, we held the conception that the RMHP should strive for a balance between politics and material support, walking a tightrope with a stick that needed to be equally weighted on both sides. However, as Karl Marx stressed while explaining the interconnected relationship between theory and material force, “material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” And when it comes to a revolutionary understanding of handling mental health, this understanding is utterly critical and cannot be understated.
At the height of the postmodern age, when the most visible functional alternatives to capitalism, the People’s Republic of China and the USSR, have long since slid backward into capitalism, a political fog has rolled in, leaving the people disoriented and hardly able to see their hands in front of their faces. With seemingly no route forward, and with the crises and contradictions of capitalism crushing the people further, this political fog begins to suffocate the people, who are desperately crying out for a solution. This bleak historical situation is only further cause for anxiety, depression, and various other mental health conditions that drive us further into the depths of despair. Being a revolutionary organization, we believe the way to lead people out of this fog is to put our revolutionary theory, developed over the course of history, into practice. With the light that our politics brings, we are able to progress through the fog and help guide the people past the dismal conditions of contemporary life. For everyone who understands and accepts the scientific and correct nature of this theory and the power it gives us to find and follow a path that will bring us out of this hell, the material effect this light has is tremendous and cannot be confined to “ideology.”
The prevailing bourgeois order encourages us at every turn to indulge in an ugly, narrow, addicted pleasure-seeking, to lead lives fixated on ourselves and feeding our cravings. What’s more, through its many institutions the ruling class belittles and rules out as pathetic or juvenile the idea that there is another way to live. This is just one more cruelty that the ruling class inflicts on us—leading us to betray ourselves into living undignified lives. The revolutionary struggle to destroy capitalism is the only real force on earth to offer an entirely different way of living—a way that sees that our own good is bound up irrevocably and permanently with the good of the broad masses. Fully embracing the revolutionary struggle carries us into a perspective and a way of acting in the world that is decisively not focused on our own narrow selves or our cravings—a fundamentally dignified way of living that is humble but ferociously dedicated. Since a large part of what people struggle with in their mental illness is a sharply negative self-conception, taking up revolutionary struggle concretely and decisively transforms people’s self-image, due not to any illusion or simple reframing of perception but rather to the fact that, materially, who they really are has been radically transformed.
In a world devoid of apparent meaning, full of seemingly unpredictable horrors, revolutionary theory brings the people understanding, hope, and a will to push forward that gives life to those formerly lifeless and hopeless. The cause of building revolution, which revolutionary theory informs, gives us reason to wake up in the morning and push through day by day. Because we understand this theory, we know there is no other way to exist in this world beyond doing what is necessary to destroy the society that oppresses us so that we may build one that does not. Our knowledge of and commitment to this revolutionary path goes beyond giving us the mere will to live and strength to wage war to suppress our mental illnesses—it steels us to face death itself and give our lives for the people and for the revolution whenever it is demanded. And exactly by facing death squarely and accepting it as an inevitability in every life, we find that our perspective is broadened, and a path is opened to a virtually unlimited field of action for forging a path out of this dark and bloody world.
In regards to mental health, once theory is truly grasped by people, it does just as Marx said: it creates a material force, the strongest force that exists when it comes to aiding us in our struggles with our mental illnesses and overcoming the obstacles we face because of them.
Thus, there is no reason that the political side of the RMHP should have taken a back seat, or been left out entirely, if we truly wished to give material assistance to the participants. Liberals and postmodernists balk at the idea of using a mental health program to push politics, but it is only unconscionable because they adhere to an ideology that is negative in spirit and can serve only to thicken the fog. Meanwhile, we who have taken up this ideology ought to be partisans, and we must reject utterly the idea that it is in any way harmful to spread our ideology and seek hegemony for it in all places. Just the opposite. Any reluctance to share the ideology we know to be scientifically correct—an ideology that is life-affirming because it is the sole method for understanding and ending the problems that confront us—can only be the result of that residual hand-wringing liberal squeamishness, an adherence to a pacifying, stultifying, and ultimately strangulating etiquette that keeps us alienated from each other and from the truth. Who are we doing a favor by pretending we do not see that our ideology is correct, and therefore all-powerful? Who are we doing a favor by leaving those we meet lost in this miserable fog full of listless people with no sure convictions, even if sharing our ideology means struggling to shake them out of a stupor? Is it not more paternalistic to believe that someone cannot bear to hear a new idea that contradicts what they believe? In stark contrast to the liberal outlook on politics, revolutionary ideology is positive in spirit, and putting this ideology into practice is the only means of beginning to truly burn off the fog and light the way out for the millions of sick, depressed, and oppressed people.
And ultimately, our productivism reinforced a toxic liberalism that festered in the group for weeks and served to cover up the above-mentioned case of an inappropriate relationship between one of the non-student facilitators and another member of the program. Considering the delicate circumstances surrounding the RMHP, where mental health issues and vulnerability are out in the open, improper behavior by those with positions of influence or informal power cannot be tolerated. This situation was known about for several weeks by many facilitators-in-training for the program and one of RSF’s program administrators and was kept hidden from other program administrators. When this situation finally came to light, it was quickly resolved. The non-student organizer was removed from the RMHP and their organization was notified about the situation so that a disciplinary process and serious method of correcting this person’s thinking and behavior could be undertaken. The reason that those who knew about this person’s conduct did not bring it up to the collective was that they were concerned with the program collapsing if this person was not around to facilitate and hold it up. Could there be a more stark demonstration of our productivism than this fact? In practice, concern for the stable functioning of the program clearly came before not only the politics of the program but even the safety and well-being of others involved and participating in the RMHP. Our single-track thinking exposed RMHP participants and effectively endangered them by knowingly having this person in the presence of someone who might have exploited their vulnerabilities. This sort of liberalism is absolutely unacceptable for any revolutionary organization, and it betrays the cause of the organization and the people. All participants in the group sessions where this non-student organizer was facilitating were notified shortly after the incident, and this organizer is still in an extended process of struggle and rectification with their organization. As for the organizers with the RMHP and RSF who kept their knowledge of the incident under wraps, they were criticized thoroughly and their rectification has been resolved at this time.
If a program’s functioning is entirely contingent on one person’s participation, particularly if that person acts as they did, then the program deserves to drown. Thus another aspect of productivism is the individualistic idea that we should “just let everyone do what they’re naturally best at” without regard for the overall needs and development of the organization. Because we recognize, and have seen in practice, the truth that revolutionaries can become corrupted and take up bourgeois ideas and practices, we must be ready to remove these leaders from their positions at any point and replace them with comrades who are sufficiently experienced to handle their positions. We can’t narrowly restrict ourselves to the position of soldier or politician. We must be both politician and soldier, confident and able to take up whatever task required for the organization. To be an effective revolutionary, a skilled writer cannot devote themselves merely to writing—they must also learn to speak well, punch hard and shoot well, work hard, design propaganda, communicate well with others, and so on. This is true not only because of the fact that revolutionary leadership is not free from corruption, but also because our enemies—the fascists and the state—target and wish to eliminate our membership and leadership. For one who lives life truly as a revolutionary, particularly in an era of rising fascism, there is no shortage of people who wish to see them dead. The revolutionary constantly carries their life lightly on their fingertips. As Chairman Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party of Illinois said, “I believe I was born not to die in a car wreck or slipping on a piece of ice, or of a bad heart. . . . I believe that I’m going to die as a revolutionary in the international proletarian struggle.” The knowledge that prison or death awaits us as revolutionaries aiming to destroy capitalism should be enough to encourage us to develop our organization in a thorough and well-rounded manner, making ourselves replaceable at every turn. This was not the case for the RMHP, and it fed into our failures enormously.
For those that were most involved in the operation of the RMHP, it was an enormous commitment that left them little time to contribute to the broader revolutionary movement in Austin. While these tasks were gladly taken up with the belief that the program was advancing the revolutionary cause by caring for the mental health of our comrades and those we serve, we can now see that it was in fact entirely devoid of any revolutionary character, offering no real solutions to mental illness. The RMHP drained our organizers and participants of time and resources that would have been better spent toward initiatives that would develop our strength to not only defend against fascism, but also to study, be among the people, and develop our organization in preparation for the necessary violent battles to come. Of course, we never abandoned these efforts entirely. However, we lost valuable ground by spreading ourselves thin and focusing a great deal of effort on a program that was not rooted in service of the revolution.
The Mass Line
With our incorrect, productivist ideas as a starting (and ending) point, we set out from our first semester to conduct the first step of the mass line. This step dictates that we must gather the various scattered and unsystematic ideas of the people about the issues affecting their everyday lives. We thought that the result of this process would necessarily be to identify an area of struggle that affected people the most and build a program centered around the goal of addressing this specific need.
The “Survival Programs” of the Black Panther Party were the Panthers’ attempt at carrying out the mass line in their communities, and we uncritically adopted their methods. There are many reasons this approach was incorrect.
Most fundamentally, if we begin from the idea that there needs to be a program whose central purpose and reason for existing is to provide some specific tangible aid, it will by that fact alone not be able to put politicization first. Even if there is an intention and desire for politicization and recruitment to occur within the program, the overall life of such a program will inevitably wind up subordinated to the logistical needs of continuing to provide that tangible service. An organization cannot have two central tasks.
Huey P. Newton says about the Party’s Survival Programs, “We called them ‘survival programs pending revolution’, since we needed long-term programs and a disciplined organisation to carry them out. They were designed to help the people survive until their consciousness is raised.” These programs brought necessary services to the people, including free breakfast for children, sickle cell anemia testing, and cooperative housing, among many other services. Before the advent of the non-profit industrial complex, these programs were the first of their kind run by revolutionaries to serve the people and integrate themselves among the people of their neighborhoods. What the programs lacked, unfortunately, was an ability to go beyond merely helping people to survive and bring the necessary revolutionary politics to the people so the masses could be organized into a revolutionary force. Always at the center of these Survival Programs was the service being given and not the politics, and the raising of political consciousness was always put off until some later time.
With the rapid development of non-profit organizations and NGOs in the US over the past decades (leading US NGOs to become the world’s 10th largest economy over Canada), the fact that providing services in and of themselves do not constitute revolutionary action has become far more apparent. To refer again the principle that revolutionaries should operate within the rift between the state and the people, it is no coincidence that doing work to sew up this rift has become such a lucrative industry — it’s a growing necessity for the ruling class as the monster of US imperialism grows more monstrous and grotesque. With prominent former leaders of the Black Panther Party like Elaine Brown themselves betraying the revolutionary cause and working as non-profit CEOs today, the inevitable conclusion of the Survival Program’s orientation is all the more apparent.
On top of this, we as revolutionaries must never come into our work with preconceived notions of what tactic should be pursued. It’s a fact, as Mao said, that “the masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant.” When we recklessly dive into taking up huge endeavors without any knowledge, or worse, totally incorrect knowledge about how to solve the problems of the people, we both actively harm the interests of the people and showcase extreme arrogance. In this case, we set out with the desire to serve working-class students who needed mental health services by simply having a “revolutionary” program attached to RSF. From there we attempted to fit whatever ideas or particular problems the people were facing into this framework. If they had been facing hunger, it would have been a “revolutionary” food program. If they had been facing homelessness, it would have been a “revolutionary” housing program. This approach is completely backward and is attempting to fit square pegs into round holes. It isn’t until we gather the ideas of the masses, along with analyzing them in the context of our conditions, that we can determine what the best course of action will be.
Given this, we should not have taken it as a given that this type of mental health program was the best way for a revolutionary organization to serve the mental health needs of the people. On the surface it may seem like a given that, for revolutionaries, combating deficiencies in mental health care among the people means developing programs, clinics, groups, and so on to meet that need while using revolutionary politics to guide its methods. But thinking that this course of action can actually address the problem flies in the face of the realities we are actually confronted by. For example, with the question of homelessness, since there are four empty homes in the US for every homeless person, they could all theoretically be given debt-free homes by a revolutionary group with a substantial amount of power or money. For a brief instant, homelessness would have been eradicated. But since the questions of unemployment, low wages, lack of education, mental health, drug addiction—along with all other forms of ruling-class oppression that confront them—are not simultaneously being addressed, the vast majority of these people would return to homelessness in a very short time. The adoption of the “service program” style of work reflected a continuation of the productivist mindset, narrowly thinking that the services and immediate benefits we brought to people were of the greatest value in the fight for resolving that particular need as well as the needs of revolution.
The same principle applies to mental health, which in retrospect should have been blatantly obvious given our position in our statement announcing the formation of the RMHP. We stated, in agreement with the SPK’s theorization, that under capitalism, everyone is ill (obviously to varying degrees expressed in different ways). Capitalist social relations necessarily entail social alienation, and these relations are at the root of most mental health issues. Thus, unless the question of how to bring about the destruction of these capitalist social relations is at the forefront of any attempt to combat mental health issues, our practice is doomed to be qualitatively no different from the bourgeois mental health service system or that of the slimy nonprofit organizations. We instead believe that the more helpful path for any person’s mental health is to become involved in class struggle. The alienation, despair, and depravity that capitalism imposes on our lives are best countered not by programs like the RMHP, or any other Survival Programs. In a world where nearly every aspect of our lives is controlled by the capitalist class, the only truly free and liberating act that can return any sense of meaning to our lives is rebellion through revolutionary violence. It is simultaneously the only free action and the necessary action to destroy capitalism and the conditions oppressing us and develop a classless society.
Even more deeply, we must understand that if we begin with the wrong idea about how to address the questions, the subjective will of the organizers will not change the objective qualities of the organization’s work. An organization that sees an unmet need among the community and truly places politics first will not simply adopt the model of the existing bourgeois institutions—in this case, group talk therapy sessions. Placing politics first will lead us to qualitatively different forms of addressing the issues altogether.
And this brings us to the question of what it truly means to place politics first. We understand the central task of revolution is the seizure of power through armed force. The class character of all of our initiatives can therefore be assessed only by asking whether, objectively, they are subordinated to successfully advancing our ability to wield revolutionary proletarian violence to settle the question of power through war. For instance, in an area where the capitalist state has collapsed and can no longer play any role in meeting people’s basic economic and social needs, for the new revolutionary order to meet those needs concretely, and in a fuller and more all-around way than the old state ever did, can in itself win support for the revolutionary forces that will allow its overall political-military endeavors to be all the more effective. Therefore, providing services that would otherwise, in a context of bourgeois power, constitute economism would in fact, in a context of proletarian power, constitute revolutionary work, because in that context they would be forming the embryo of administrative institutions for the new revolutionary state.
Under the new state, these needs will not be addressed in the same way as in the old bourgeois state – the question of homelessness will not be detached from the questions of work, addiction, mental health, housing. Likewise, the question of mental health will not be divorced from its related issues, along with the issue of revolution. The work done by the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C) in Turkey to combat drug addiction in popular neighborhoods in Istanbul where they have largely won power through military force is a testament to this fact. In these neighborhoods, the DHKP-C operates clinics called Centers for Struggle and Liberation Against Drugs, where addicts can enter into not into bourgeois rehabilitation, but proletarian rehabilitation. In these clinics, those in rehabilitation are offered political education, education in production (in fields like carpentry, welding, etc.), and social integration into a revolutionary community who works tirelessly to fight violently against the fascist Turkish state. Through these methods, the DHKP-C is able to address the question of addiction by reintegrating addicts into all realms of social life and, most importantly, push them forward into the revolutionary struggle that pushes drugs and addiction on the whole people.
Outside of this context, where the capitalist state, including in its manifestation as NGOs, still has power, a different case exists: constructing such service-oriented programs is either a redundant or inevitably economistic task. If the demand is, for instance, to address mental health problems among the masses, then the best solution to the demand simply comes through the integration of participants into the struggle to build red power. In this case, no separate program should even exist because any such program would be redundant—the purpose of the original revolutionary organization was already to do exactly what the new one would be doing. The task of that organization should not be to create programs, but create campaigns to stress the interrelated nature of struggle for revolution with the fight against illness. On the other hand, if the demand is for something like food and basic necessities that cannot be addressed immediately by revolutionary struggle, then for reasons we discussed above, it is doomed to the economism of the Survival Programs. In either case, we see that we should not be constructing stand-alone service programs. Instead we should take the path of, first, building the political instruments that we already scientifically know are needed in order to destroy ruling-class power and construct a new, proletarian state and then orient the way we wield those tools based on our concrete analysis of the concrete economic and social needs of our communities.
Though we still do not know for certain the correct path to concretely deal with mental health in a revolutionary fashion, we are certain it has nothing at all to do with the bourgeois therapy–style practice preferred by liberals and faux-radicals. The freedom and necessity of rebellion means physically preparing ourselves to fight for the purpose of advancing toward the initiation of a revolutionary people’s war. The importance of this physical preparation in combating mental health issues cannot be understated either. Physical training has a positive influence on one’s mental health far beyond the endorphin release that the biological determinists emphasize—it makes us more mentally disciplined, willing to struggle with our bodily limits, and overcome difficulties in a way we once thought impossible. What’s more, every time we thwart our urges to engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms and, in their place, practice healthy coping mechanisms instead, we carry out what Red Guards Austin refers to as “contradictory action,” materially transforming our actions and thought patterns so that a way of living takes over that advances our health along with the revolutionary cause and leaves little room for unhealthy, reactionary thoughts and actions. Physical training and all such transformations that increase our all-around discipline make us more prepared to carry the light of the revolutionary ideology that will lead the way out of the swamp of capitalism.
Contrary to popular belief, individualistic and indulgent “self-care” and condescending back-patting offered by liberals will not make the despair of life under capitalism any easier, nor will it give meaning to our existence. Whether they realize it or not, the people promoting these types of solutions are prescribing death for the people and especially for the working class. They kill us with sugar-coated bullets, justifying our self-destructive escape into addiction (of all various sorts) because “everyone deals with things their own way,” or because “it’s not our fault we’re like this.” Being stabbed by the sharp truth is infinitely better than being shot by these sweetened lies. There is no other option in the face of addiction, mental illness, and poverty but to reclaim our health and our lives by fighting tooth and nail for it. This fight necessarily entails armed conflict and mobilizing the people in a war against the capitalist state. Revolutionary organizations should serve as schools for war, preparing their organizers and the people through vicious struggles, open street battles against fascists and the state, and clandestine militant action in preparation for the building of a people’s war. The RMHP did not serve at all to prepare our organizers or the participants for this task, but in fact served the opposite task: weakening us mentally and organizationally and strengthening the capitalists and reactionaries by comparison.
The second issue with the orientation of service programs in their economistic form, particularly for revolutionary student organizations, is the fact that students are not homogenous in their class background or class stand. Despite how much an organization’s service program might appeal to and draw in working-class students, since the politics will always be secondary to the service, these programs have a great potential to draw in people who also actively stand unapologetically on the side of the capitalists or fascists. This is detrimental to our movement in two ways. First, we may be unwittingly giving aid to our enemies, which goes entirely against the principles of the war that we hope to initiate one day. More importantly, we are exposing ourselves, especially in the case of a mental health program, to an enormous security risk that can be exploited by fascist groups as well as the police and FBI. By sending individuals undercover to a service program like the RMHP, where they can’t be reasonably denied (unless they are too stupidly obvious) since the primary aspect of the program is “service,” there is a great deal of sensitive information that can be gained about local organizers that fascists and the FBI would love to use to attack and undermine the revolutionary movement in our city. The FBI’s COINTELPRO program used by the state to attack the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton are a key example of the way this vulnerability can be exploited. By having an extensive folder on Huey P. Newton, which included psychological files related to his medical history, they were able to turn Huey from a revolutionary into a drug addict by strategically targeting his weaknesses and setting up scenarios where they knew how he would react, using this to their advantage. Though the fascists aren’t nearly as organized or crafty as the FBI at this point, sensitive information regarding mental health that might have been discussed at RMHP sessions would have been of great value to any person trying to grasp where the weak points in our movement are and how to best exploit them. When it’s the case that our organizers and comrades from other organizations in Austin who we support are being arrested and deliberately targeted by the state as well as fascists, this was a serious error that could have served our movement up to the enemy on a silver platter.
Third, since our orientation as an organization is not toward students as a whole (because the category of students is made up of several classes), we do not seek to serve students, but to serve the working class, a section of which are also students. Universities as capitalist institutions serve to create an ideological and material divide between sections of the people, indoctrinating students with bourgeois propaganda and ideology and offering the opportunity at class ascension into the bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie. During their time at the university, even students from working-class backgrounds can very easily become detached from the proletarian experiences that defined their youth and gave them reason to rebel. The universities stand behind an ivory paywall, with the vast majority of the working class kept outside of its gates. Any organization that claims to fight for the proletariat must move toward the destruction of this wall and to the integration of proletarian student interests with the interests of the broad sections of the proletariat outside of the university. Any initiative of the student population, whether it is in the form of glorified bourgeois clinical practices like the RMHP or whether it has an apparently revolutionary character, cannot claim the title of “revolutionary” if its perspective stops at the walls of the university. University activists, especially in Austin, are often rightly accused of being holed up in the safe spaces of the university, unable to connect with the working-class people outside of academia. Those people outside the walls are in reality far more willing to take up the tasks of revolutionaries than the average academic, but their ideas are discounted by the university activists. For campus-focused activists, because the working class doesn’t speak and present themselves how these activists would like them to, or because they aren’t perfectly progressive on every issue, uniting with the people is impossible. Attempting to create solutions for mental health that appeal purely to working-class students gives us a one-sided, subjectivist view on how to seize upon the demands of the working class as a whole. Had we taken into consideration the interests of the entire working class outside of the university and their ideas on how an organization should handle mental health, we would have ended up with an entirely different product. If we had pitched the idea of the RMHP as we’d conceived it to these folks, we would have been rightly met with derisive laughter, because on paper and in practice, the RMHP bred liberalism, a disdain for struggle, and weakness overall. Initiatives that successfully inspire the people and bring them into the class struggle must instead breed discipline and strength, and struggle for transformation, which the working class gravitates toward and desperately needs if it hopes to seize power and win control over their lives.
Naturally, the proletariat is the revolutionary class under capitalism, and all work that we do should be primarily oriented toward their needs. The working class, as an essential part of their existence as the exploited class, experiences vast degrees of cruelty and oppression. Their role in the production process breeds alienation through which they are disconnected from their reality as fundamentally social beings. Given that workers also work for a wage that is only a small portion of the value that they create in the production process, they have limited access to health care in general and especially mental health care. Because of these conditions and many others that ensure their oppression, the working class is made to bear the excruciating pains of mental illness under capitalism. Though mental illness affects the working class to a particularly strong degree, they are not the only class that experiences these troubles. The petty bourgeoisie and members of the bourgeoisie—though they are sometimes well off enough to ignore their dreary existence for significant amounts of time, drowning their alienation in luxurious parties, travel and vacation, and other escapist ventures—also experience this alienation because of the existence of class society. One aspect of what demarcates the working class from the other classes in this field, however, is their ability to access bourgeois mental health services because of both financial and time resources. The petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie, though they as a whole are subjected to the mental hardships of capitalism less than the working class is, are able to take money out of their pockets or time out of their days and spend an hour or two every week talking about their mental health. Mental health programs in their bourgeois clinical or group therapy forms, like the RMHP, are oriented far more toward the petty bourgeoisie rather than the proletariat. The working class rarely has any way to avoid remaining face to face with its ongoing mental hardships, and unless their conditions are severe, workers are condemned to either “tough it out” or face starvation and homelessness. We saw this same pattern of inaccessibility based on class for bourgeois mental health services at UT.
The central difference between these classes’ relationship to mental health, however, is the freedom that proletarian individuals find through engaging in violent struggle against the existing social system that exploits them. The bourgeoisie can never have such radical freedom because it would destroy the social basis for their existence as the bourgeoisie. Yet we must underline that we ourselves never overcame this unequal access to mental health care in our programming, since we did not ever progress beyond a fundamentally bourgeois structure for addressing the problem. Only a fundamentally different method, one that seeks transformation through the revolutionary violence that is completely inaccessible to those loyal to the bourgeois order, could truly be accessible and appealing to the working class.
People from the working class, if they have time at all to devote toward their mental health, would never willingly give it to anything like the RMHP that will not help them fight against their debilitating conditions. The working class don’t want to “hug it out” or spend time digging deep into their past to find out which childhood traumas are affecting them today. They want to understand the contradictions as they exist currently and how to destroy them so they can continue to live and fight. These lessons could not be taught with the safe space liberalism promoted by the RMHP. The RMHP adopted and encouraged the worst of bourgeois group therapeutic practices and meshed it with the feel-good liberalism so prominent among the left and especially in academic spaces. In its form as basically group therapy, the RMHP physically isolated us from the class we aim to orient toward; and in essence, in how it dealt with this therapy, as an isolated bubble of confidentiality separated from participants’ realities, the program did not have a working-class orientation. The SPK, in taking up the issue of mental health, had in mind the goal of drawing in and radicalizing the petty-bourgeois student population through their experiences with capitalist alienation. These experiences should be seized upon at a certain point in the development of our movement after we have consolidated the most advanced and seek to win over the intermediate classes like the petty bourgeoisie, who waver between their commitment to the bourgeoisie and to the proletariat. While in our context these petty-bourgeois students are the most numerous population in our university, they are not the section we should orient toward primarily because they do not constitute the most advanced sections of the people. We must always reaffirm our commitment to the working-class students of our university and the broad proletarian youth and workers.
Another crucial error that we made occurred during this step of the mass line was while we were accumulating the ideas of the masses. This crucial error was failing to consider whether mental health was the area of work that would be most effective given the context of our conditions and current stage of development as an organization and movement. A concrete assessment of our conditions—of the movement and sentiments of the people, the movement and progress of the enemy forces, and so on—must be made to determine which set of demands, along with our method for struggling for them, will actually move the people most quickly toward destroying the reactionary forces and capitalism. For instance, in the time that we were operating the RMHP, we knew that fascists the world over were becoming more openly organized and militant. The spreading of fascist propaganda on the UT campus and the horrific events in Charlottesville, along with violent physical confrontations with fascists in Austin over the summer of 2017, made us more than aware of this fact. For some time, fascists have been training in hand-to-hand as well as armed combat. They have been physically training themselves and gathering forces to prepare for a war that we on the left have largely contented ourselves to remain unprepared for. Many on the left have even taken this disgusting pacifism as a virtue, whether through the tired liberalism of non-violence or through the more insidious postmodern attempts at “combating hypermasculinity”, which only reinforce violence and power as inherently masculine qualities and thus throw out the possibility altogether that women should even wield violence in service of destroying patriarchal capitalism. In order to combat the growing reactionary forces, we must build organizations and individuals with the fighting capacity to actually defend our communities from fascist violence. The goal of every initiative and program launched by a revolutionary organization should be for the purpose of recruiting fighters into its ranks and forging them in the fiery furnace of class struggle. Because of this, we must orient our recruitment efforts toward drawing in fighters who are ready to physically and mentally engage in the class struggle and are healthy enough to carry on this fight continuously. There are plenty of people among the masses ready to take up this fight and sacrifice their time, energy, and even lives to destroy the threat of rising fascism and capitalist domination. Orienting recruitment toward those suffering from qualitatively more intense mental illness, a population whose conditions in general serve as barriers to reaching the point of being continuous fighters (we say “in general” because many of the best organizers in the revolutionary movement and our organization also suffer from these conditions) does not accomplish the task of drawing from the most advanced sections of the people. This is especially true when we produce a program that does not at all help people suffering from mental illness to actually wage war on their conditions. In a period when we are still consolidating our forces for the war against capitalism, we must gear ourselves toward bringing in the ready-made fighters and not toward a section of the population who still have many barriers still to overcome to participate at the same level and intensity as the former group. We should be clear that we affirm that those who suffer from the oppression of mental illness have an immense capacity to be transformed into the most fierce and dedicated organizers; their oppression, like all who experience it, breeds a desire for resistance, and for the strength to carry out that resistance with. We do not discount the importance of continuing the effort to improve our understanding of mental health as revolutionaries so we can make ourselves into increasingly strong organizers and so that we can better serve the people by dealing with mental illness in a truly revolutionary way. And we also affirm that it is exactly through making this prioritization that we can most quickly produce a strong revolutionary movement that can seize power and begin to fully serve those facing qualitatively more intense mental illness and most quickly begin to find actual answers to their difficulties, rather than simply reproducing the same bourgeois methods that fail them.
Though by this point it may be obvious, but it deserves attention nonetheless, that our next major error was in a misapplication, or straight up non-application, of the second step of the mass line. This step tells us that after gathering the ideas of the masses, we must concentrate these ideas from their scattered and unsystematic state and develop them into a political line, campaign, or initiative that is capable of advancing class struggle. In the course of developing the RMHP, we never actually carried out this step, though we believed we did. Rather than synthesizing the ideas of the people, in the raw form of the student-led mental health support group, and molding it into a new form of proletarian struggle for mental health, we opted to simply take the methods as they were suggested and tack on the words “revolutionary.” We never really progressed past the first step of the mass line; we simply took one of the existing ideas we had gathered, did not meaningfully change it, and spread it as-is. Since the mass line is primarily a method of leadership, this error in the mass line is known as a “right deviation”—simply following the demands and methods of the people as they are rather than acting as the leading edge that guides the working class to cut forward through history with a scientific understanding of how to overthrow capitalism. We supposed that by having a “revolutionary” mental health program guided by a revolutionary organization that maybe sometimes would talk about how capitalism informs the contradictions of our mental health, that this represented a qualitative advancement of the ideas from their unsystematic state to their consolidated, scientific state. In retrospect, this was a laughably naive and juvenile error, reflecting a butter-handed grasp of the mass line and of how to actually apply revolutionary theory on the ground. A correct application of this second step will give us the correct way to carry out and achieve the demands of the people (which, again, will be qualitatively different from the bourgeois forms the RMHP emulated). An incorrect application, or non-application, will lead us into the perilous pit of liberalism that constituted the actual practices of the Open and Closed Sessions of the RMHP.
On that point, the exercises and techniques used for the RMHP sessions were purely interpersonal and devoid of any contextualization within politics. While these exercises created a space for participants to “get things off their chest” and often felt cathartic for those involved, we cannot say that they effectively did much else. They provided no way forward out of the mire of mental health issues and offered only temporary comfort—and what’s more, by dispelling frustrations harmlessly rather than scientifically organizing the people’s pain and anger into a weapon, they actually stabilized the ruling-class order. As an organization, it is a necessity for us to bring in and unite all individuals who can be united with. However, principled unity does not come through simply understanding each other and forging deeper personal ties. Principled unity on a personal level, but more importantly on a political level, comes only through struggle. We know that we cannot transform ourselves by remaining comfortable with the way things stand. Growth is achieved through struggle, and struggle is inevitably uncomfortable. The program even built liberalism into its very structure by adopting things like anonymous feedback and criticism forms, when it is clear that for revolutionaries, all criticisms should be made openly and directly. Additionally, we also adopted a strict policy of confidentiality in group sessions, knowing that this policy was standard in traditional bourgeois support groups and would create a more comfortable environment for participants to open up to others. This may seem like a basic principle of mental health groups, but in reality, this only contributes to the liberalism and disconnect between the daily life and problems of participants and the practices of group sessions. This sort of policy leaves little room for people to be supported and encouraged to struggle and overcome their problems outside of these confidential safe spaces. It instead produces situations where the only work that could be done is in the groups themselves.
The technique of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which informed many of the methods of the RMHP, seeks to promote mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. In our mangled variation of DBT, we placed nearly all of our emphasis on mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness, while neglecting distress tolerance and emotion regulation. This reflects our tendency to both uncritically adopt bourgeois therapeutic measures as well as to prioritize the aspects of those measures that promote comfort and uncritical affirmation at all times, as opposed to transformation through difficult and uncomfortable struggle with ourselves. It taught participants to shy away from discomfort and reject struggle entirely, creating little more than a “safe space” for us to share our problems and find temporary relief from our daily lives. Simply helping each other feel better, even while doing it in a context where we are able to explore the effects of capitalism on our mental health, is not a transformative or revolutionary act. The RMHP, like all bourgeois mental health, essentially served as a means for those of us seeking help with our mental health to become more comfortable with our unhealthy conditions. It taught participants to find coping mechanisms for life under capitalism, but not how to prepare ourselves for the battles that lie before us that we must fight in order to truly cure ourselves. As a whole, these methods of mental health care, though they can be helpful for some, serve to smooth over the contradictions between capitalism and the working class, and not sharpen them. This is no different from the work of nonprofits and NGOs, only in this case it was led by a revolutionary organization. In essence, the program was what we can refer to as a “red charity”—a revolutionary program in name only, and not in practice.
We believe that while we can temporarily relieve some of the pain that life under capitalism brings through support and solidarity, there will never be truly healthy individuals under capitalism. We will never free ourselves from alienation until our societies are built around the needs of the working class. The healthiest that one can be under capitalism is becoming a revolutionary partisan in the class war—by harnessing the agency we find in the violent struggle to destroy the systems that make us unhealthy. It is only through this process that we are able to find purpose, reaffirm our dignity, and combat the feelings of helplessness and self-loathing that accompany nearly every mental illness.
There is no greater service to the people than equipping them with the tools necessary to once and for all do away with capitalism and organizing them into a revolutionary force capable of taking power for themselves and for all oppressed and exploited people. In order to transform ourselves into revolutionaries in service of the working class, we must go through arduous struggle to rupture with the self-serving interests that capitalism and university student life promote, and dedicate ourselves fully to revolution. We must struggle against the lack of discipline and self-destructive coping mechanisms that so many of us have come to rely on to ease the pain we suffer due to exploitation and oppression under capitalism. The RMHP did nothing to teach participants how to struggle against our illnesses and the conditions that produce them; it did nothing to build healthy coping mechanisms, discipline to fight against our unhealthy coping mechanisms, and a clear vision of how to move forward with the destruction of capitalism.
The mental health of our comrades and the masses should never be taken for granted, and we must find ways to truly meet their needs. However, our understanding of the contradictions underlying mental illness tells us that they cannot be overcome through programs such as the RMHP. Because of our methods and errors, the fight for revolutionary mental health did not prove to be the fruitful endeavor we thought it would be, although we have arrived at a much greater understanding at this point of the sort of work that must be done to fulfill these needs. We do not wish to discount the pain that those of us struggling with our mental health experience as a result of this wretched system, but the people deserve better than what we have tried to give them. We will apply the lessons we have learned to continue combating mental illness within our own organization.
Standing Up, Standing Tall
We are grateful to all those who put their trust in us by taking part in this initiative, and to those who helped us in its development and the many comrades who have offered us the criticisms necessary to help us see our errors. We also realize the politics of a “revolutionary” program cannot be divorced from the politics of the entire organization. Productivism within the RMHP speaks to productivism within RSF; rightism and liberalism within the RMHP speak to rightism and liberalism within RSF.
We recognize that in RSF’s existence, there are essentially two clearly demarcated periods. The first was our first semester as an organization, composed of militant antifascism that enabled us to pack rooms with people eager to get involved. This represented the necessary building of forces for war against the enemies of the people that are growing stronger daily. The second period was our second and third semesters, which were almost entirely watered down by our focus on developing the RMHP and sorting out its aftermath. This period represented the desire for “peaceful coexistence” with the enemies of the people, attempting to develop and grow our cause without making attacks on the organizations and institutions that serve as enemies to the interests of the proletarian revolution. The release of this summation reflects our commitment to once again wave the red flag and go on the offensive against all these enemies of the people.
We have said multiple times throughout this paper that the goal of a revolutionary organization must be to prepare its organizers and the people for an all-out, actual war against capitalism. Our organization will serve as a training school for revolutionary war, and the only way we can learn how to make war is by making war. We will never learn to carry out war on the massive scale that will be required by a revolutionary guerrilla war unless we constantly prepare ourselves on the path to that point by carrying out militant action, propaganda, and battles on smaller scales. This is what differentiates revolutionaries from the cowardly “socialists” who have a historically ignorant view of the building of the Bolshevik Party and the Russian Revolution that drives them to put off militant confrontation with the enemies of the people until their forces reach a certain breaking point where they can storm the Winter Palace with hardly a shot fired. Because our forces can only be built through the militant, violent struggle against the enemies of our class, we know that these fretful cowards will never reach that point. Making war will prepare us for the war to come, rally around us and bring into our ranks those who realize the necessity of violence to achieve a classless society free from exploitation, and unmask the real enemies of the people. We reaffirm our commitment to the principle of revolutionary violence that is necessary to confront the enemies of the people—the university administration and its bureaucrats, the reactionary bourgeois students, the abusers and rapists, the fascists both on and off of our campus, the NGO bloodsuckers, and the phony “revolutionaries” whose book worship and tepid denunciation of the capitalist system drain the rebellious fervor from the people who are unfortunately drawn into their circles. This summation marks our return to our revolutionary roots and expresses our desire to take up violent struggle in service of the people. Peaceful coexistence with capitalism is an impossibility for revolutionaries; peaceful coexistence with capitalism and its auxiliaries means violence against the people. The actions to come in the following year will draw clear lines in the sand between revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries. We will make no apologies for the necessary violence of our struggle and will spare no sacrifice for the battles to come because we are revolutionaries committed to the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a classless society. We live for the people, we fight for the people, and we die for the people. This is what it means to be a revolutionary and this is what we uphold from this point until the final dying breath of capitalism.
REVOLUTION MEANS WAR!
REVOLUTION UNTIL VICTORY!
Revolutionary Student Front—Austin