Red Guards Austin: On Identity Opportunism
Postmodernism and its influence on the communist movement in the imperialist center
“We have come to the place where I told you you will see the grieving peoples who have lost the good of the intellect.”—Dante
What is common to all people in hell is that their intellect is now permanently overwhelmed by their narrow self-serving worldviews which can never lead them to the truth.
Real unity is established only on the basis of the interests of the proletariat in proletarian revolution. Narrow self-interest and subjectivism are two persistent errors that communists must steel themselves against, yet from the day we are born we are encouraged by all the poisons of bourgeois society to adopt a worldview that is not in our true class interests, a suicidal ideology that encourages us to place ourselves as disconnected individuals at center stage, where all human interaction and all analysis is degraded to being guided by the slogan “what do I get out of it?” Everyone in the project of revolutionary communism contends with changing this, remolding the world and ourselves in the process.
Maoism is not armed identity politics
“Postmodernism, though it can trace its roots to over a century back, in its present garb, it draws extensively from the philosophies of Nietzsche, the philosophical father-figure of Hitler’s fascism.
Postmodernism got a major boost due to the intellectual vacuum resulting from the temporary set-back to communism, resulting from the reversals in the Soviet Union and China, and a retreat of the national liberation movements that witnessed an upsurge in the 1960s and the 1970s. In the resulting atmosphere of pessimism, postmodernism found thousands of takers even from the ranks of the Marxists, demoralized by the setbacks.”—Siraj
In this process Siraj describes here, postmodernism without a doubt established hegemony in the left academic centers within the imperialist countries, becoming the default framework of analysis in most social movements and permeating online spaces and social media. It is a poisoned apple that the desperate reach for wherever there is not a readily accessible revolutionary method for analyzing and contextualizing the various specific oppressions that specific groups face.
One of the main forms postmodernism takes in leftist circles is identity politics. As we use it here, the term “identity politics” refers to a method for analyzing the world that puts identity as principal over political line. That is, it treats the opinions expressed by individuals who face oppression as the indisputable truth. It should go without saying that this method of analysis denies reliable access to the truth by throwing out the possibility that the opinion of the individual or group in question could be contradicted by a scientific analysis of capitalism-imperialism, as informed by a deep and broad examination of the facts of history.
Maoism, in its analysis of the dialectical relationship between the economic base and the superstructure, understands that class oppression causes and is influenced by a number of identities. While these identities are formed in the ferment of a white-supremacist and patriarchal society, it is a defeatist error to build a politics principally on these identities. Thus, while identities can inform a political line, what is principal must be the political line itself and not the identity. In this regard all forms of “identity politics” must be criticized and uprooted in the interest of a materialist analysis and a communist politic. Maoism recognizes the existence of specific and overlapping oppressions in the context of a nuanced class analysis and an analysis of class struggle.
Since the beginning of the end of the communist ebb that Siraj described, there has been a rise in interest around communism, not only in a more or less conscious response to the beginning of the Trump administration and the shortcomings of the Democratic Party but also more broadly due to the material conditions of US imperialism and the rise in popular right-wing ideology caused by a crisis of neoliberalism. These material conditions offer an opportunity to win sections of the masses over to MLM. At the same time, in the absence of the Maoist party we cannot offer sufficient political education to every person who gravitates toward communism. Due to these objective and subjective factors, many who call themselves Maoists or who claim adherence to MLM have deep misunderstandings and confusion about the very ideology they have come to identify with.
In this paper we can only concern ourselves with US conditions, but we feel that this analysis may prove useful for other imperialist countries where postmodernism and other bourgeois ideologies have held hegemonic influence over academics and college students. This hegemonic influence has penetrated almost every online space, especially on social media sites like Facebook and Tumblr, which like all major media under capitalism are controlled by the ruling class and function as part of the ideological state apparatus to reproduce bourgeois ideology. It is no shock that the result is that some are misled to believe that MLM = identity politics + armed struggle and militancy. Nothing could be further from the truth, but we must nonetheless examine this phenomenon in attempting to correct mistaken ideas.
In the recent historical context of the US, the Marxist-Leninist movement has largely suffered from a workerist politics (itself a form of identity politics only centered around the Eurocentric conception of workers as white men in factory jobs), failing to take seriously or properly analyze modes of oppression such as white supremacy and patriarchy. It was the sins of Eurocentricism, sexism, settlerism, and white supremacy that led so many self-identified Marxists from the previous era to a tendency of erasing oppressed groups from their analysis. None are worse about this than the Trots, left-coms, and assorted “orthodox” Marxists, who dogmatically cling to the past and draw from only a few select prophets for their so-called science.
MLM has sought to correct this failing, analyzing colonialism and the history of the United States and paying the special attention required to properly understand internal colonies, oppressed genders, and other oppressed groups. This nuance is immediately appealing to those who are recovering postmodernists: they gravitate to Maoism but have not yet mastered it as it is—as a method of analysis and guideline for action—and instead default to seeing MLM in the way that undialectical and idealist liberalism encourages us to see all ideologies: as a playbook or a set of positions that, if you generally adhere to them, you can call yourself a Maoist. We reject this principle and insist that to be a Maoist one must not only conceive of Maoism as a method of analysis but also put it into practice organizationally, and that only then should one claim to be a Maoist.
We should not, as some revisionists do, mechanically reject identity politics without any discussion. If postmodernism has been ushered into popularity on the wings of communist failure, then we must engage with these failures while simultaneously carefully trying to understand both the limitations of identity politics and the reasons for its popularity. To do this we must seek out the kernel of truth that is hidden within postmodernist identity politics.
One of the most common manifestations of identity politics is an analysis that identifies each mode of oppression as its own independently rooted system instead of correctly identifying that class oppression—driven by capitalism-imperialism’s need to exploit—is the root of all oppression. This sometimes tries and fails to correct itself with mechanisms like intersectionality that are still not rooted in a materialist class analysis. Anyone can see that oppressions intersect and overlap, but postmodernist theory cannot scientifically identify exactly why this happens, let alone what can be done about it.
The critical kernel of truth to grasp in such analyses is that class oppression frequently works through modes of oppression such as patriarchy and white supremacy, and that capitalism-imperialism as it exists in the world is continuously reproduced in the material conditions created by these oppressions. Still, it must be understood that class oppression is the principal oppression that drives the entire system. To put an end to all oppressions, class struggle must be kept as the key link, even as we understand other modes of oppression as aspects of how class oppression functions within capitalism-imperialism, as a means of making continuous exploitation possible. At the same time, these modes of oppression react back upon class oppression, mutating it further, constantly changing or updating the bourgeois methods of coercion or gaining consent. One example is the way the ruling class has proudly noted that the commander of one of the two ships that recently launched missiles to strike a Syrian airbase is a woman. US imperialism itself has embraced identity politics and intersectionality as useful mechanisms to give itself cover in and attempt to gain the consent of the American people as it plunders and kills around the world.
All communists must recognize that those who are genuinely concerned with ending these oppressions must also become concerned with the overall project of human liberation, and even with their errors we must regard them as comrades and be patient, knowing that they are coming from a place of progressive desire and thus have revolutionary potential.
Identity opportunism’s manifestation in the “left”
This paper does not have the capacity to flesh out all the shortcomings in Marxism that gave prominence to the aforementioned errors but must aim to contend specifically with the ways in which postmodernism has polluted our current movements, and in which ways it comes into contradiction with the basic law that the masses make history and must be involved organically with the communist project.
“Identity politics” has become disdained in communist circles to the point where even some of the most opportunistic identity politicians will decry “identity politics” as a scourge. Much like the word “revisionism,” the phrase “identify politics” is often used in a haphazard way that promotes confusion instead of clarity. Since there are deadly real political-economic roots that have formed and continually reproduce each specific group of oppressed people, we must seek to run our organizations in such a way that oppressed groups are represented in the leadership of our movement. To do this we must formulate lines using the mass line method of leadership, which will draw forth the most advanced within the most oppressed sections of our society.
Yet the identity politics that is most often practiced is not a set of politics that comes from a consistent desire to struggle for liberation but instead an inconsistent, vulgar identity opportunism. The identity opportunist resorts to identity politics only when it is convenient for whatever agenda they hold at that time, whatever best accommodates their self-interested careerism or quest for the spotlight. Such narrowly self-interested behavior has long been seen as unprincipled and unacceptable by actual communists—however, identity opportunism, unlike most other forms of opportunism, frequently passes unchallenged by many genuine communists because of two sincere and understandable motives: a hesitancy in new supporters of communism due to their uncertainty about what a genuine Marxist analysis of oppression looks like, and a desire that is present even in more seasoned communists to avoid repeating the chauvinism of previous generations of Marxists. But identity opportunism also very commonly finds cover through a type of sycophancy that will be discussed later.
Identity opportunists might claim, for instance, that a whole collective of Chicano activists is controlled by one white man, or that they do not have to accept the leadership of a black woman due to the fact that she is allegedly brainwashed by men—using racist and patriarchal stereotypes, in total contradiction of what they preach. We have seen both of these in attacks from opportunists in the revisionist camp.
These identity opportunists exist inside of the communist movement but also surrounding it. Many of us have witnessed or heard of liberals discouraging direct action on the basis of the presence of undocumented people, even if it is many among the undocumented people themselves who are most interested in confrontational tactics. The simple fact is, revolution is what will benefit the most oppressed, so identity opportunism is often an excuse to avoid the militancy that is materially most beneficial for oppressed groups. In essence, like all opportunists, the identity opportunist does not actually care about anything but themselves and their own personal interests—to hell with the actual masses who face whatever oppression they sometimes express concern about.
Another harmful manifestation of identity opportunism is an insistence that white comrades who are militantly organizing face no state repression. This line—in essence a call to refuse support to any comrades facing a repression that these opportunists claim can’t exist—helps to serve such comrades up to the state. No one will deny that black and brown militants face harsher repression and even murder from the state. Understanding this, we must not twist privilege into the be-all, end-all and conclude incorrectly that the capitalist imperialist state will hesitate to kill and imprison communists from privileged groups who have materially become traitors to colonialism and white supremacy. The state, especially in its proto-fascist stages, does not and cannot give a pass to any genuine communist militants.
Maoism holds that there is objective truth, that there are correct and incorrect ideas, and that ideas that conform to reality most closely are the most correct while ideas that do not conform at all to the material reality of concrete conditions are incorrect. Meanwhile, identity opportunists readily prescribe one thing for themselves and another for everyone else. Their opportunism is so deep-rooted they will often fail to struggle against incorrect lines presented by oppressed-identity people—so long as it suits them.
Call-out culture is not principled criticism
One of the worst aspects of the postmodernism in leftism is the twisting of the Maoist tool of criticism into call-out culture. Identity opportunists in particular will readily use Maoist language to dress up their counterrevolutionary concepts.
Where legitimate criticism comes from a genuine interest in what is best for the people and the people’s revolutionary advanced detachment, call-out culture rejects this principle and instead seeks to belittle and destroy others in order to gain private advantage. Where call-out culture often manifests in throwing shade, usually behind the back of the person being “criticized,” criticism in the Maoist sense is offered directly to the person being criticized. Call-out culture attacks individuals and not the ideas in their heads, seeking only scapegoats and not actual, nuanced explanations for shortcomings in the movement, and thus it relies on half-truths and lies.
Call-out culture is inherently bourgeois. Knowingly or not, the motivation behind call-out culture is personal advancement of the person making the call-out, seeking to demonstrate to everyone watching that they are advanced enough to identify errors in anyone and everyone and bold enough to offer total denunciation. Call-out culture is based on a subjectivism: individualism. It looks for targets instead of investigating reality in its full and difficult complexity, and so it jumps to conclusions and inevitably mistakes friends for enemies. The communist method of placing criticism is truly proletarian as it understands that the whole is greater than the part, the collective is greater than the individual, and the masses themselves are the real heroes. To overcome this subjectivism, one must have a good understanding of the dialectical relationship between theory and practice, as laid out by Mao in On Practice.
Point-scoring and bullying have no place in this movement and should be eradicated from our thinking. No one (communist or not) should be expected to unite with attacks against them even if they are dressed up as criticism. Such sham criticism should be rejected outright and used to expose the opportunistic motivation of the person placing it. In this way such unprincipled attacks only demarcate between revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries. Call-out culture is lazy, vindictive, and insipid and should be understood to be beneath the high moral standard that Maoists must aspire to.
Call-out culture is particularly endemic among those who have no political lives outside of social media. Their error is all the more sharp because there are no consequences without accountability to viable organizational structures, and there is no one to face up to for making criticisms that benefit no one but themselves (and, objectively, the state).
The vilest practitioners of call-out culture are unorganized wreckers who posture as or fancy themselves as leaders of the movement with an amount of arrogance that would be comical if it weren’t so destructive. Many such people believe that call-outs can actually materially isolate individuals—or even entire organizations—who may be in error. This is not how political isolation works. It must be understood that a decision to isolate is not to be taken lightly and cannot even be carried out without power—to isolate you must be able to confront and to enforce a verdict. When the enemy benefits more than the masses do from someone’s call-out, that person has failed the people and switched sides. The state loves nothing more than the Trotskys of the world denouncing the International Communist Movement while pretending they are part of it.
For people facing great difficulty trying to become organized where they are physically located—or, much more commonly, for those who refuse to try—spending a great deal of time on leftist social media is very common. And for people who pay so much attention to other leftists online, resorting to call-out culture is a persistent danger—because it is normalized, and because it is easier (in the short term) than remaining principled and going about things the right way. Here the right way means investigation, practice, and bonds of unity developed through struggle, all of which require patience, research, and painstaking commitment.
Pandering sycophants: Self-deprecation is not self-criticism
Most of us who have spent some time on leftist social media have witnessed white people, flocking around internet guerrillas fighting a holy war against perceived privilege, trying to score points with oppressed-nations people (or others who face oppression) by pandering to their every viewpoint to the point of becoming full-blown sycophants who no longer even bother to try to hold a political line of their own. Whether implicitly or explicitly, those doing this pandering have failed (or refused) to understand that although privilege exists along the lines of oppression, privilege and exploitation are two different things. Having made this mistake, they fear (or proudly announce) that they are in essence always and automatically the enemy. Whether due to sincere mistakes or gross opportunism, these people are afraid to disagree even on a principled basis with bad lines or mistaken ideas being put forward by their oppressed counterparts.
This is not what we encourage when we speak of the necessity of representation of oppressed groups in the leadership of our movement. It must be said loud and clear: pandering is racist (or sexist, etc.). It is an expression of chauvinist paternalism because it regards oppressed-group comrades as too fragile to confront their own mistaken ideas or challenge and correct their own errors. It denies the chance for serious corrections to be made by those being pandered to. In this mess, the correct line is never struggled out and the organization (or, more likely, online friend club) will stumble around in circles.
Maoism holds that there is a correct line and that it can only be found through struggle against incorrect ideas, incorrect ideas that every single person without exception will bring with them into the communist movement. These correct lines must also be systematically corrected, tested, and reformulated. Sycophants cannot struggle; they cannot be a useful part of any liberation movement, whether for national liberation or to end patriarchal oppression. They most often become accessories to petty-bourgeois ideology existing within oppressed groups. They have in essence abandoned the revolutionary project (and the revolutionary truth that one divides into two) in order to become what they see as good allies. But being a comrade means holding each other accountable, supporting each other, and criticizing each other when we make mistakes.
The flip side of the corruption of criticism into call-out culture is that self-criticism from sycophantic “good allies” becomes a self-deprecating act that is altogether performative. In the ranks of those who persist in believing that MLM = identity politics + armed struggle, self-criticism is most often nothing more than a halfhearted apology, self-deprecation, or a quick act of appeasement for anyone watching who lacks their own privileges.
They turn it into a hollow formality that is not only useless but actually harmful to the task of self-remolding. Performative self-criticism smuggles errors on to the next mistake or crisis. It might touch upon errors or even go into them for the sake of performance, but it does not offer any meaningful or lasting change. There is almost never a genuine dissection of themselves into two—in essence, it refuses rupture. Much as when drug addicts admit to their loved ones that they have a problem in order to get those people off their backs so they can continue using in peace, they have not truly admitted to themselves that they have lost control to drug use and do not yet rationally comprehend the extent of their addiction. Organizations and collectives must fight hard against performative self-criticism by exposing it consistently.
The nature of this society is rooted in capitalist exploitation, so the default attempts at self-criticism from untrained cadres will take on this performative character out of an assumed peer pressure and a social tendency of bad faith in the critic as well as a lack of faith in the process of criticism. People engaging in this error have sold themselves (and their comrades) short and will stay in the filth of narrow self-interest unless rupture with the bourgeois self takes place. Performative self-criticism is endemic among all identity opportunists and is not unique to the sycophants but is also often carried out by those they pander to.
True communist self-criticism always dissects the good from the bad, the bourgeois from the proletarian, the correct from the incorrect, and so on. Self-criticism relies totally on the laws of dialectical materialism, and for this reason it cannot be casually carried out in the absence of a theoretical perspective and most often requires organizational structure. This paper lacks the scope to fully explain the right way to carry out criticism and self-criticism, so in order to learn more we encourage our readers to closely study the book A Basic Understanding of the Communist Party of China and pay attention to the chapters “The party’s principles of the ‘three do’s and the three don’ts’,” “Party discipline,” and “The ‘three great styles of work’ are a fine tradition of our party.” This book has been made available in print by our supporters at our request so that it can serve as a training manual for all revolutionaries who wholeheartedly seek to make Maoism their guiding ideology.
Patronizing elitists and online professors of perfect discourse
“Marxism does not require accolades from intellectuals indulging in some sort of benumbing exercise, that cannot augur well for the people mired in poverty and exploitation or the people facing imperialist onslaughts.”—Siraj
One persistent major error in the US “left”—one that is especially evident among those who call themselves communists but are not part of any group with an actual existence away from the internet—is a tendency to focus on word choices, splitting hairs instead of analyzing the actual substance of political line and content. These types of people compete to see who can say the wrong things in all the right ways, admonishing those who are not trained in their hyper-critical and elitist language rules. In practice this amounts to an ongoing condemnation of the masses, whose method of speaking and choice of words is often anathema to these online professors of perfect discourse.
To them ammunition can be found almost anywhere, and they make their perception the thing that determines reality, placing themselves at the center of things. Regardless of what they declare their intentions are, in political practice such people rarely encounter the masses, and their methods can only form insular cliques instead of establishing the many strong links with the masses necessary to build the party. God forbid anyone makes an error or becomes “problematic,” lest they be “isolated.” This is not the communist principle of serving the people; it mistakes common or popular language for material abuse and in the process drives the masses away from studying and learning revolutionary politics. The real tragedy is that these hair-splitters themselves have almost no grasp of the communist stand, worldview, and method, and yet they pose as authorities on how others should communicate and behave. This is uninviting and ugly behavior, undemocratic and counterrevolutionary. It can lead only to favoritism and bankrupt and self-serving competition in oppression Olympics.
A communist must pay attention to the content of someone’s communication and work to grasp the essence and not allow themselves kneejerk reactions or hair-splitting technicalities. A communist must regard the masses with faith and confidence, bringing them forward instead of pressing unrealistic and incoherent codes of conduct from above. Society is transformed by violent revolution against the economic base and is continuously transformed afterward by continued revolution in the superstructure in the form of cultural revolution. We have seen the backward brought up by world historic revolutions—for instance peasant men in China who promoted foot-binding ending up joining the Red Army. We are correct to assume that their methods of communication were also “problematic,” yet as communists the CCP did not write off or isolate the peasantry as a social base for revolution—if they had there would have been no revolution and the imperialists and capitalists would have prevailed far sooner. This hair-splitting inevitably treats the masses as enemies and fails to understand the relationship between culture and capitalism-imperialism. Whether they admit it or not, they act as though it is possible to transform society without armed struggle and without the participation of the masses. They do not seek unity and it is “not their job to educate” the masses. We have even seen some self-proclaimed communists asking to be paid before they would be willing to explain mechanisms of oppression to new supporters of communism. These running dogs have taken the capitalist road from the very beginning, instantly failing to be communists, never amounting to anything but elitist counterrevolutionaries.
The conclusion of the line of identity opportunism
Perhaps the worst crimes of identity opportunism lie in its expert ability to conceal itself and poison comrades against each other. It utilizes ultra-leftist methods to push forward rightist lines. Because of this, identity opportunism harms oppressed groups the most by opportunistically using their oppression for narrowly self-interested ends. What is in the interest of all oppressed people in the US is the simultaneous and concentric construction of the three instruments of revolution—the party, the people’s army, and the united front—and identity opportunism greatly harms and impedes this construction.
Rejection of discipline, making excuses, and calling those who try to help “abusive”
Identity opportunism, like all manifestations of postmodernism in the left, rejects communist discipline. Notions like “not policing the bodies of drug addicts or their choices to use” and “children can consent to sex” (actual arguments made by identity opportunists!) are all based on extreme individualism that has become fully reactionary. Communists are not libertines. We are not libertarians who place the individual above the collective—we place the collective, the party, and the masses above all. Because of this principle, we must submit to discipline, and we do not make excuses for indiscipline or seek to use identity to apologize for a lack of discipline. Even those of us with disabilities know well that we have to self-criticize when we make mistakes, that we cannot refuse to work to correct our errors because of our disability and hide from criticism the way identity opportunists persistently seek to do. We use our individual oppressions and lived experience to spur ourselves forward in the cause of liberation, never as an excuse to not do the work that all communists must do. We confront the enemy regularly and do not put our own self-interest above the interests of the masses.
Communist discipline is indispensable; it is one major aspect of the historical successes of the revolutionary project, and without it nothing could be accomplished. We are convinced through practice that anyone, regardless of ability, can raise their level of discipline. We seek to understand and transform society, not to become anti-social extremists who are unpalatable to the masses. We do not seek to act as if social interaction exists outside of the capitalist system. And to deal with the contradiction of living in and being influenced by a wretched world that we seek to completely transform, we rely mainly on discipline: we submit to the majority and the leadership of our organization. That being said, it must also be stated that the majority is not always correct just by being the majority. In many historical instances, a minority held the correct line; for instance, China and Albania were correct against the majority who submitted to modern revisionism. Even if the majority of collectives in our movement upheld the false principles of the identity opportunists (thankfully they do not), we would not give in or abandon our ideology—we would only struggle to correct the course and improve our discipline. Adherence to the values of democratic centralism serves our entire movement well—and by that same token, it is ludicrous to pretend we must submit to the leadership of random unorganized people. Doing so would be thoroughly rightist, yet people definitely do exist who, on the basis of identity politics, would make such a ridiculous demand.
The proletariat has nothing to gain from postmodernism and opportunism, so clear demarcations must be made in the unwavering service of the class.
On internet conduct
Unlike comrades who walked the revolutionary road before us, we face the historically unique phenomenon of the internet and in particular the popularity of social media. There are a great number of complexities, but it is up to us to analyze this in its historical context and develop codes of principled online conduct.
Needless to say, for many reasons the internet breeds bad-faith engagement. It lacks the real and sharp consequences that would face wreckers on the ground (resistance and even immediate physical risk). And, more generally, because online it is very difficult to engage the people one encounters in a thoroughgoing and all-around way, online interactions very often take on a shallow, make-believe, lighter-than-air character. These conditions have been fertile ground for identity opportunists and other charlatans who seek the limelight. There is no shortage of megalomaniacal YouTube “Maoists” to demonstrate this. Many social media accounts are nothing but “sock puppets” of individuals seeking amusement or shallow praise, and all too often self-declared communists organizers are in reality neither communists or organizers. So many people online feed on the circus of online debates and gleefully await the next round of vicious drama. In the past they might have contented themselves with teen dramas or soap operas, but today they are into actively stirring up internet drama. The US more than any other country has a major problem with these types, and the only way to neutralize them is to not take them seriously, to never entertain them, and to set higher standards for placing and receiving criticism—in short to not stoop to their level of toxic interaction and bad-faith mudslinging, reckless labeling, and so on.
We do not get to take either ultra-left or rightist approaches when it comes to the internet, nor do we get to ignore the fact that the masses themselves use social media, and that plenty of people discover communist politics in online spaces—we just have to contend with this terrain with dignity and in a principled and productive way. In seeking to not undervalue the role the internet plays, we must not overvalue it either. Many seem to engage in either overemphasis or near-total avoidance with no balance between the two. Inactive Facebook pages belonging to self-declared “collectives” and even “parties” do not accurately represent organizational capability and should not be confused with real communist organizations. What’s more, a lack of internet presence does not indicate a lack of practical activity. Many of our cadres do not use social media at all, yet they are expected (by lots of those who do) to be abreast of all the recent internet drama, and in some cases we have been criticized for not submitting to the requests of people we do not know. A lot of so-called leftists who seem to exist only on Facebook have fancied themselves to be something like the Comintern! They see themselves as beyond needing the democratic centralism of any actual organization and think their subjectivist analysis made from a distance is the be-all, end-all verdict on issues materially affecting organizations. Coaching from the bleachers is nothing new and it is not unique to the internet—nonetheless these overinflated egos must not be encouraged in our movement. Anyone can find three Facebook friends, start a group chat or Google hang outs, and call it a collective—but this does not constitute a legitimate and real organization with mass links, and no matter how many online arguments one gets into, materially one still will not be serving the people.
On a similar note, it should be said that even for well-meaning individuals who come to communism mainly through the internet, it is easy enough to accidentally deceive oneself into thinking that the small sample of people one encounters online can reveal something about the broad masses. For instance, one may start to think that the masses of working people are already very familiar with communism, or (if one encounters many reactionaries) that they are all already dead-set against communism. In truth, there is no way at all to meaningfully grasp the realities of what the working-class people in one’s own locality want, think, and care about without going among them and uniting with them. An even greater risk—one that is more obvious and more difficult to justify, but one that seems to trap just as many people—is the belief that in order to be a communist, it is enough to simply sit on the internet, making memes or call-out posts. But to be very clear, as Mao says in Combat Liberalism, one cannot call oneself a communist unless one looks upon the interests of the revolution as their very life and subordinates their personal interests to those of the revolution. To be a communist requires unimaginably more than following one’s own whims on leftist social media.
While social media can be a trench of struggle, it is not to be confused for anything near the most important one. Social media chats, Google hangouts, and message boards are not places where real communist revolutionaries discuss organizing—we have more secure methods of communication, and comrades who are confused on this point will have difficulty handling technology responsibly, and would put themselves at great risk from the state should they actually accomplish any radical work.
On the subject of security, many would-be communists who spend a lot of time on social media should think carefully before sharing their personal information in ways that are very normalized online, even among the working-class masses. Many well-intentioned comrades are putting themselves at risk of being harassed, doxxed, or worse by fascists because of how loose they are with identifying and personal information of all kinds. It is astonishing and yet commonplace how many people—despite having many people on their friends lists whom they do not know personally—frequently post up-to-date pictures of themselves, provide information about places they frequent, and even offer up intimate psychological and emotional details that fascists (and the state) could easily make use of to manipulate them. To make matters worse these same people tend to openly discuss which organizations they are part of or worse yet who else belongs to other organizations. This only shows the limitations of their own experiences and the low level of development of their “organizations.” If they wrongly feel no threat from the state or its growing fascist supporters, then it would seem they have no interest in becoming an actual threat to this oppressive system.
Postmodernist academia has without a doubt infected online spaces and social media, and it has brought with it the primary mandate of bourgeois academia to present “interesting takes” or “new” frameworks—an institutional mandate that is not based on scientifically struggling to change the world, but instead on social climbing and the profit motive. No matter how “interesting” these approaches may be, they lose all credibility when put into practice, and in truth they are toothless concoctions of bad ideas strung together to look like something radical and new. Old ideas must always re-dress themselves, but underneath, these “new” paradigms are always just more bourgeois bullshit.
There is nothing inherently wrong with turning to the internet for social and political interaction, and we understand the many ways that online interaction can be helpful, so we are far from decrying all interactions on social media. But we seek better ways to utilize it that can benefit the people—and not just boost the egos of individuals trying to build personal brands, competing with each other over the small pool of easily impressed admirers. The online following of our social media accounts and our blog are due completely to our-on-the ground work and our theorization of this work.
By that same token, those who spend a great deal of time on social media should bring a profound skepticism to the hyper-individualistic culture that is normalized in these spaces. By no accident whatsoever, social media corporations and their supporters constantly propagate a culture that encourages users to look for shallow idiosyncrasies about themselves to polish up and turn into a spectacle, to seek approval from people they often barely know. This habitual and compulsive narcissism is completely toxic to a life oriented toward and in service of the broad masses.
In an even greater hazard, among many self-identified leftists online, there is a culture of mutually offering uncritical praise and comfort among people who cannot possibly actually know in a substantive fashion what is going on in each other’s lives. This practice is completely corrosive to the genuine communist method—if we are making errors, we should seek to understand them and struggle to change them, not to fool ourselves thoroughly enough that we can be placated by distant acquaintances.
Once one has realized that capitalism is nothing but decadent and poisonous and that communism is a necessity, it is natural and understandable that one would seek others who understand this with whom one can vent and share frustrations—especially if the only ideologies one encounters in one’s life away from the internet are liberalism and reaction. However, the communist movement is not a subculture, and in fact to treat it principally as an escape is to pervert it into its opposite. Marxism is not a collection of comforting cultural touchstones for people who have become enlightened—it is and has always been about embracing struggle. Capitalism is an intense force for commodification, and just as it made Che Guevara t-shirts in the past (both to promote a mythic symbol of revisionism as well as to rip away the revolutionary aspects of Che himself), it now makes what might be called “communism-themed” meme groups that are, paradoxically, full of people sheltering themselves from the broad masses. This widespread phenomenon should be criticized sharply.
This is not to say that there is no room for humor or even memes about the communist movement. In fact, just as fascism has spread in part because of the propagation of alt-right memes, people have also been led toward Marxism through first encountering communist memes. How can we handle this contradiction—what sort of communist memes are helpful? They are helpful if they consciously attract people toward communism without trivializing it or downplaying what it means to be a communist; if they provide recuperation and validation to comrades engaging in difficult and necessary political work; and if they promote proletarian culture and reveal the atrocities, degeneration, and hypocrisies of the bourgeoisie and their faithful servants. But to give too much effort, seriousness, and legitimacy to the project of making memes is not beneficial.
We have been justly criticized by comrades and enemies alike for having members and supporters who were too antagonistic with people on social media, and we have taken those criticisms and have ceased all such behavior and now seek in-person contact for settling disputes and carrying out struggle, or other means when in-person contact is not possible. We no longer operate in the echo chambers of “Leftbook.” We do not entertain the endless speculation and nitpicking that passes for politics on websites like Tumblr any more than we entertain the viewpoints of right-wing trolls on sites like reddit. Facebook is not where serious issues in an organizational sense will be hashed out, and our membership no longer enters into petty arguments with do-nothing internet intellectuals.
In cases where we have been unfair with genuine comrades and painted them with the same brush as we did bad elements, our members have self-criticized to them directly and tried to make amends, and in the future we will proceed humbly and with better faith. It must also be understood that as a collective that is very active in material struggles in the streets of Austin, we do not have the time to respond to every single critical comment or attack made by individuals on Facebook. This is not because we do not care about what people think of us, but it is outright impossible to engage with every single person on an individual level the way we do with people who have organized themselves into legitimate collectives. By that same token, we also cannot pretend that collectives that have not managed to get organized and carry out sustained principled work deserve our immediate attention. Struggles for unity must take place around practical activity and mass work, not the occasional action or attending of random demonstrations, and certainly not around a carefully constructed online presence.
Identity opportunism propagates itself primarily via the internet and finds its primary trench in online spaces; its “support base” is people who seldom organize among the masses and have all the time in the world for internet feuds. Identity opportunism likes to hear its own cries of outrage echoed back to it from faint-of-heart online followers. Fortunately, many of these types cannot muster a crowd to save their lives and so they should be understood for what they are: people who say substanceless nothings just to hear themselves speak. The masses do smell the shit that these charlatans spread as “communism” and they will never want anything to do with it. We aim to continue using social media to propagate our work and hold that one should not be propagating without work to back it up. Strategy and lines must be formulated from actual practice, and overvaluing whatever one happens to encounter on social media in this regard is disastrous.
While identity opportunism is rooted in postmodernism, we must also note that postmodernism itself is not in stasis. Nonetheless, it cannot surpass its own roots in metaphysics. Maoism, as a Marxist and materialist science, stands resolutely opposed to metaphysics and must not be allowed to degenerate into any formula espoused by postmodernism. Identity politics in both its well-intentioned and opportunist forms must be guarded against, and Maoists must seek to unify the broad masses around the goal of taking power for the class. Any project or analysis that claims to do this without interest in the well-being of the broad masses must be clearly exposed as fraudulent and reactionary.
Build the party on the firm basis of a materialist analysis!
Expose opportunists and reject postmodernist charlatans!
—Red Guards Austin, 2017