10 things i love and/or hate about you: notes on a recent “repudiation”

(this essay does not represent the views of For the People – Boston as a whole, merely those of one of its members. it also is not a response to the recent struggle sessions post “an open letter to the former FTP,” as this was written before the struggle sessions post was published; an actual response to struggle sessions will be forthcoming)

by kelly from ftp-boston

where do dope ideas come from? the answer should be: from potentially anyone who has put in the social practice and has experience to draw from. unfortunately, there is a very human tendency to immediately write off good ideas simply because they come from a questionable source (where questionable can mean many things, from a mild subjective opinion of ‘uncool’, to an actual serious charge of revisionism), or to endorse patently bad ideas — and to be unable to examine their deficiencies — simply because the originator has some tangible repute. compounding these biases is the inherent difficulty of evaluating ideas to begin with. that it is not possible to evaluate the correctness of an idea without first situating it within a historical (including contemporary) & material context is of course the basis of dialectical materialism. but, it is also not possible to evaluate an idea without placing it in the broader context of what is primary & secondary in a unity of opposites, and of the desires and conditions of various sections of the masses. especially in online discourse, this crucial evaluation is often short-changed by reducing ideological struggle to semantic squabbling, quarreling over word choice instead of the ideas these words are meant to communicate, diminishing line struggle to petit-bourgeois word games. moreover, too often, the response to a bad idea is simply to aim for its polar opposite, without investigating the precise reasons why an idea was bad (and therefore how to deeply combat it), but conflating causation with correlation or otherwise suffering from the logistical impossibility of isolating variables in the experiment that is communist practice.

for example, one can overcorrect “economism” by simply banning any programs that might resemble “mutual aid”, rather than addressing the source of the a ‘red NGO’ phenomenon to begin with — namely, shying away from class struggle, whether from lack of confidence, lack of ideological steeling, or lack of social investigation skills. one can attempt to fight against the relative lack of militancy seen in all “left” u.s. circles by insisting upon ‘militancy’, just to say it exists — which range from empty gestures like LARPing, to isolated acts of actual criminal consequence, whether or not they at all relate to the ideas of the masses which could make them even effective as “propaganda of the deed,” let alone armed propaganda. one can prohibit the usage of certain words associated with antimarxist schools of thinking — no matter if such words have substance outside of where they’re “commonly” seen — and not even touch upon the very real liberalism (e.g. inability to receive & act upon criticism, approaching communist organizing with an ’employee mentality’, cloutchasing) inside their organization.

this prevailing pattern of missteps will be examined in the following list of five correct and five incorrect points from a recent self-criticism which was issued for a relatively popular primer on maoism. for shorthand and clarity, “SC” will refer to the self-criticism published here, and “OP” will refer to this original post by the same author, What Maoism Has to Offer the World. each section (numbered 1 – 10) begins first with a quote from the SC, and then addresses, on the basis of that quote, prevailing trends in various spheres of u.s. maoism, as well as the ways that both good & bad ideas have been distorted. the OP has both positive & negative aspects, but its essence is primarily positive, especially due to its strong explication of the mass line method of leadership. the SC of course also has both positive and negative aspects. but while its positive aspects are more quantitatively numerous, its essence is primarily negative — not because it chooses to repudiate the OP, which is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things — but because its negative aspects are so qualitatively severe in their display of commandism, dogmatism, and white chauvinism.

i’ll start by examining some of the SC’s positive elements, which are numerous and not limited to those i mention here:

1. “[…] there is also virtually no question here of fighting or struggle. It invokes the phrase “serve the people” only to equate it with economistic programs that amount to charity—but the main form that service to the people must take is conquering”

this point of the SC is a natural place to begin, as it overlaps heavily with self-criticisms made by the recent FTP-boston summation — specifically, it addresses one of the major factors which contributed to the decision to liquidate MCP-OC’s national structure. an aversion to direct and combative struggle derived from the mass line is a ubiquitous issue within current u.s. maoist circles, so it was worthwhile for the SC to highlight the correct stance.

all things considered, however, the charge made against OP seems somewhat unfair to a post which explicitly described the party as militarized, called for the masses to be militarized, and asserted that political power can only be achieved through people’s war fought by the people’s army. OP also never mentions service programs at all in the mass line section — just once, as a historical note, in reference to the BPP (this negative fixation on the BPP merits particular scrutiny and will be further discussed in section 9).

i say that it’s “unfair” to the OP not in order to defend the post’s honor, but to debunk a tacit assumption that is shared by many both in the red NGO camp that overemphasizes “mutual aid” and by those making similar criticisms to the SC — that if you follow the mass line in a way close to OP’s fairly accurate description of the process, service provision is the natural consequence. for the red NGO camp, this natural consequence becomes a justification that they are, indeed, applying out the mass line correctly. sometimes the next “logical” step down this path is even taken, in which one assumes that doing service programs itself constitutes applying the mass line, or that the mass line just entails asking people what kind of goods they want. of course, while service programs can be an effective (though resource-intensive) method for meeting people and carrying out the social investigation that is the first step of the mass line process, they are not the logical endpoint to the mass line — especially not when correctly executing the second step, which is to recognize the advanced ideas and sharpen them using marxist theory — let alone the entire mass line.

in general, if you ask the right questions, people will tell you about serious grievances they have with all kinds of class enemies (on the other hand, if you’re giving out food and ask them “what other stuff do you need?”, you’ll naturally get an answer that furthers you down the red NGO road). if this is not the case — that is, if a group is not able to piece together a meaningful class landscape including common problems and strikable enemies even after making concerted efforts to do so  — it may be an issue of inexperience, internalized bad habits regarding social investigation, or just having too small a sample size. all of these are maladies can be greatly ameliorated by practicing the three withs: live with, work with, and struggle with the people. 

finding these opportunities for meaningful struggle is an absolute necessity, as class combat is the only thing that can even approximate training our organizations and, more importantly, the masses for the dangerous heights they will have to scale. the steeling of itself and the masses in long-term preparation for eventual war is communist party’s primary task, as the communist party of brazil (red fraction) puts thusly: 

The communist party can only be militarized through actions, principally armed ones. Soon its development and forging depends on the fact that, as a clandestine party — in which open and legal work with illegal and secret work are combined —, being clandestine for the reaction and never for the masses, it educates the masses in revolutionary violence through armed struggle, from its most rudimentary and small forms, developing in more elaborate and complex ways. This is a necessity for the parties and organizations of both the dominated and the imperialist countries. As the PCP forcefully affirms once again: “The masses have to be educated in the People’s War, on its theory and practice, because to educate them in the peace of bayonets is to allow them to continue to be slaughtered.” ​​​​​​(​Lenin and the Militarized Communist Party, El Maoista #2, (emphasis mine))

and it is knowledge of that task which leads stalin to conclude: 

Hence the necessity for a new party, a militant party, a revolutionary party, one bold enough to lead the proletarians in the struggle for power, sufficiently experienced to find its bearings amidst the complex conditions of a revolutionary situation, and sufficiently flexible to steer clear of all submerged rocks in the path to its goal. Without such a party it is useless even to think of overthrowing imperialism, of achieving the dictatorship of the proletariat. (Chapter VIII, “The Party”, Foundations of Leninism)

as such, the SC is ultimately correct to emphasize that “the main form that service to the people must take is conquering Power through struggle against class enemies.”

2. “It speaks of “building” Power rather than conquering it, and even when it speaks of the revolutionary forces having Base Areas, there is no mention of the fact that these must be conquered through armed struggle.”
in order to speak coherently about power, it is necessary to operationalize what the word “power” actually means. one of the many ways maoism differentiates itself from other wayward and eclectic political “tendencies” is its focus on a concretely defined conception of power. although diction alone can’t substitute for the essence of ideas, the form in which ideas are communicated underscores the politics of the speaker and influences the politics of the listener. for example, mao’s familiar quip “power grows out of the barrel of a gun” already implies something “built” peacefully is unlikely to be power in the maoist sense of the term. similarly, the author correctly criticizes their original post for leaving open too wide of a door for a common misconception of how communists can obtain power. “building” can have a purely conciliatory, harmonious read; someone, especially someone relatively new to maoism, can seemingly agree with all of the OP’s points in that section without challenging themselves to determine exactly how such “building” of power would occur. the verb is also inherently accumulative, which can mislead readers to focus solely on the accumulative aspect (i.e., more must be better, quantity over quality, tailism & populism).

our own organization has grappled with this issue, which was (in tandem with points raised in the previous section) central to our decision overall to dissolve our national structure. especially in the u.s. context, attempts to synthetically “build power” simply play into the conciliatory role of the bourgeois state, regardless of whatever superficial anger (in the form of protests, media attention, genuine & spontaneous enthusiasm from the masses, etc.) preceded the gains. i will cite from our summation: 

Indeed, it should be noted that the formation of the mutual aid organization did not even attend to the (now clearly stillborn) economic struggle which the pandemic generated. Our focus on an identified social need illustrates this failure; by (correctly) recognizing that food access would quickly become limited for many workers across the city, we (incorrectly) focused our work on a secondary phenomenon without engaging in practical struggle around the contradictions which drove the crisis (for example, housing or the workers’ struggle). That is, by intervening at the site of social reproduction, we, materially, carried out the function of the state apparatus or its NGO/charity auxiliary arm. While the real economic consciousness of the masses floundered and died out in false victories won under the leadership of revisionist forces, we prioritized fostering a redistributive consciousness (and, as a result, a petit-bourgeois class line) which simply facilitated the circulation of the masses’ limited resources among themselves rather than winning concessions from the enemy class. (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Mutual Aid, ‘Mass Work,’ and Communist Strategy, (emphasis mine)) 

that this error is endemic within the MCP-OC’s milieu (that is, the FTP organizations and our fellow travelers) should come as no surprise given the prominent role afforded to the strategic orientation outlined in the document “Developing Organs of Political Power.” the central axis of that essay, namely, the assertion that “outright rejection of state power leads to the creation of dual power,” is of particular concern. while its authors correctly argue that “to assert power, power must be taken,” this position is immediately walked back: “taking power” is made synonymous with winning modest concessions from the class enemy and the masses “asserting power” means for them to be organized in neighborhood committees. to be clear, even the most charitable reading should only describe such organs as a prologue to political power, and even then, only insofar as they facilitate the seizure of power through the liberation of territory over the course of revolutionary war.

hence, when lenin first spoke of “dual power,” he was referring to a growing parallel power wherein the people directly (de facto) controlled their occupied land and were able to make and enforce their own laws. notably: 

(1) the source of power is not a law previously discussed and enacted by parliament, but the direct initiative of the people from below, in their local areas—direct “seizure”, to use a current expression;

(2) the replacement of the police and the army, which are institutions divorced from the people and set against the people, by the direct arming of the whole people; order in the state under such a power is maintained by the armed workers and peasants themselves, by the armed people themselves;

(3) officialdom, the bureaucracy, are either similarly replaced by the direct rule of the people themselves or at least placed under special control; they not only become elected officials, but are also subject to recall at the people’s first demand […]  (The Dual Power)

in the “mass line” section of the General Political Line of the PCP, we see lenin’s conception of dual power being advanced as both a prerequisite and continued outcome of protracted people’s war:

For the mobilization of masses, the Party through the EGP carries forward the People’s Schools, forms the Generated Organisms and the support groups. This is a policy that is applied one way in the countryside, because that is where the New Power is being formed, and in another way in the cities. In the cities, the Revolutionary Defense Movement of the People was formed, aiming at the future insurrection.
In the countryside, where we have power, Support Bases and People’s Committees, we see to it that all the masses engage in armed participation, organized in the Party, Army and Front/State. If all the masses are not organized the New Power will not be able to sustain itself for long. Amorphous masses or power without masses organized under the leadership of the Party is not enough. 

all of this is to say, dual power is a phrase that has a specific meaning which has been bastardized by current revisionist trends within the u.s. in nearly every post-bolshevik case, dual power has only meaningfully existed in countries with areas which have already been conquered and are under the command of the communist party (via the organs of the nascent New State, part of the third instrument) — that is, base areas. there is thus a dual power, as these base areas coexist with areas which remain under bourgeois control (as such, the best examples of dual power in today’s world are found in india and the philippines). therefore, the idea of “base-building” (as popularized by the marxist center) does not follow from the connotations of “building” and the actual definition of a base area.

of course, as alluded to in the introduction, it would be wrong to overcorrect and respond impatiently to the current lack of class consciousness and armed struggle with “militancy” for militancy’s sake. as the author says themselves in the SC, “It is not guns alone that can prevent capitalist restoration, but the masses’ ability to use them to consciously further proletarian revolution.”

3. “It offers the pattern of Protracted People’s War in semifeudal countries, in which the cities are surrounded from the countryside, as the universal pattern.”

this correct statement from the SC is worth highlighting, not only because it clarifies what we are and aren’t working towards (as mao says, “before the outbreak of a war all organization and struggle are in preparation for the war”1), but also because it differentiates the particularities of ppw in a semi-feudal context from the essence of ppw in a way that is necessary to assess the universality of ppw. many who argue against ppw’s universality (for example, the artists formerly known as mass proletariat, now masquerading as the maoist communist union) treat the specific strategy of “surrounding the cities from the countryside” as the literal and only definition of ppw — a definition that almost no one who posits the universality of ppw is using. this isn’t simply a matter of splitting hairs on the semantics of ppw, or broadening its definition until it becomes useless as a concept: the key reason to combat distortions of ppw is because the anti-universality camp rarely has an answer as to how revolution should happen, beyond legalist accumulation of forces leading into an “october road” style insurrection. while it is acceptable to not know the specifics of a future revolutionary path at this time, both history and the marxist theory derived from it already indicate such a legalist-insurrectionary path does result in inevitable failure. to quote the brazilian comrades again:

Chairman Mao said: “And revolutionary war is an antitoxin which not only eliminates the enemy’s poison but also purges us of our own filth.” 

How could a “party” that is not structured and act as a clandestine party educate the masses in “revolutionary violence”, keeping all its action in the “light of day”, “at the sight of the enemy and at the reach of its hands”? Could such a party forge leaders, cadres and militants to unleash the revolutionary armed struggle as a People’s War and to lead it, while its activity is principally in full legality? Where and when, in the historical experience of the struggle of the oppressed and especially of the proletarian revolution, can we find an example for this? The history of the class struggle does not offer us such examples; on the contrary, this has been the recurrent path of capitulation and revisionism. (Lenin and the Militarized Communist Party, El Maoista #2)

as the author themselves pointed out even in their original post by saying “a better way to put it might be that the actual process that brought the Bolsheviks to victory was more like a protracted people’s war, and the insurrection in 1917 was just one part in an armed struggle that had lasted decades”, the “october road” theorizing that the anti-ppw camp rests on is a rather ahistorical account of the bolshevik revolution. once we dispel the myth that ppw by definition involves surrounding the cities from the countryside, one can convincingly argue the “october road” was itself a ppw. for example, this brief tjen folket article points out how the bolshevik revolution actually began in 1905, as armed guerilla actions through the years leading up to 1917 steadily laid the foundation for the eventual coup that some now misperceive to be a singular insurrectionary moment. chapter one of False Nationalism, False Internationalism illustrates, in detail, how finland was used as a rearguard similar to base areas in more traditional ppws, to which guerillas could retreat and from which they could launch their operations. 

or infer lenin’s own stance on ppw from how he speaks of civil war: “[…] civil war, without which not one of the great revolutions of history has taken place, and without which not a single serious Marxist has conceived the transition from capitalism to socialism.”2 and in his 1918 Letter to American Workers, he says “The American workers will not follow the bourgeoisie. They will be with us, for civil war against the bourgeoisie” and “The international imperialist bourgeoisie have slaughtered ten million men and maimed twenty million in ‘their’ war, the war to decide whether the British or the German vultures are to rule the world. If our war, the war of the oppressed and exploited against the oppressors and the exploiters, results in half a million or a million casualties in all countries, the bourgeoisie will say that the former casualties are justified, while the latter are criminal.”

4. “Here the piece robs Lenin of the glory of one of his greatest contributions to Marxism—the Party of a new type. “

the lasting tendrils of macarthyism manifest themselves in the way some parts of the international maoist movement rhetorically distance maoism from lenin, stalin, and the bolsheviks as much as possible (often in order to appeal to anarchists and other liberals). one of the most widely discussed examples of this phenomenon can be seen in writings of former anarchist joshua moufawad-paul, whose most well-known book, Continuity & Rupture, unnecessarily (and with revisionist consequences) posits maoism as a “rupture” from marxism-leninism and the “stalinist” bolsheviks. this rupture is seen as a boon and an advancement, portraying the “maoism” in marxism-leninism-maoism as a departure from dusty leninist doctrine, which allegedly did not understand that communists must listen to the masses. both the concepts and presentational style of C&R follow naturally from jmp’s academic tradition as a professor of bourgeois philosophy; his persistence at precisely categorizing maoism in the sense of both “continuity” and “rupture” lies more in the realm of theoretical aesthetics (similar to how alain badiou, son of french mathematician raymond badiou, attempts to force mathematical structures and derivations onto political questions), and his conclusions do not generate a new political line in any practical sense. as such, the book is often lauded as a primer for the uninitiated, finding particular support from an audience with a primarily petit-bourgeois class background and school of thought. 

throughout C&R, jmp lent the most credence to his “rupture” formulation from many vulgar paraphrasings of respected indian maoist-intellectual comrade ajith. however, while ajith is critical of certain implementations by stalin (as was mao), he vehemently defends lenin’s concept of the party, saying that lenin “clearly realised the need for an organisation of those prepared to be frontline activists in a revolutionary movement aimed at seizing power, those who devoted their whole lives to this task and thus acquired the necessary leadership qualities and skill.”3  ajith also correctly points out that the extent to which lenin emphasized the role of the party changed in response to changes in the material conditions, and changes in strategy “[were] not a case of Lenin going against Leninism, it was Leninism.” as maoism is a science, everything  — including party framework  — ​​​​​​​must be based on concrete analysis of concrete conditions, acquired primarily through the ideas of the masses. ajith goes on to defend lenin’s party conception against criticisms of “ultra-centralism” levied by luxemburg and trotsky —​​​​​​​ which are similar to some of the criticisms levied against the contemporary militarized party concept — ​​​​​​​saying that this type of argument “more or less negates the difference between the class and its advanced elements, between the party and the broad revolutionary movement” and overemphasizes spontaneity. he even says that lenin “displayed deep faith in the masses and a dialectical grasp of the relation between conscious steps and spontaneity within a revolutionary movement.” and so ajith makes it clear that the maoist party concept is not a rupture from lenin or leninism, or even from “stalinism”, but a rupture from the relative depths to which the international communist movement had sunk in the years between lenin’s death and mao’s ascendancy:

The term Cominternist is used because these were not errors of Stalin alone. Moreover, they contain problems of a whole period in the history of the international communist movement. We must add, there were problems of outlook and growth. Because this was a time in which communist ideology was spread throughout the world, formation of communist parties was promoted, and a truly international revolutionary proletarian movement was given form to. One of the great leaps achieved by Maoism is its rupture from bad traditions of the Comintern period, without in the least minimising its positive role. This must be further deepened. Today’s Maoist parties are, without doubt, continuators of yesteryear communist parties. But their foundations must be the heights attained by Maoism in the vanguard concept, not the outlook or methods of their past. (The Maoist Party)

much as ajith states that mao “opened up the way to a deeper, richer, understanding of the proletariat’s leading role and the Leninist party” without breaking from the tradition of lenin, mao certainly did not conceive of himself as building or leading a party outside the bounds of marxism-leninism. in fact, he quite often made comments situating the chinese communist party within the tradition of marxism-leninism, such as: “Armed with Marxist-Leninist theory and ideology, the Communist Party of China has brought a new style of work to the Chinese people. A style of work which essentially entails integrating theory with practice, forging close links with the masses and practicing self-criticism”4; “If there is to be revolution, there must be a revolutionary party. Without a revolutionary party, without a party built on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory and in the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary style, it is impossible to lead the working class and the broad masses of the people in defeating imperialism and its running dogs.”5 ; and “A well-disciplined Party armed with the theory of Marxism-Leninism, using the method of self-criticism and linked with the masses of the people; an army under the leadership of such a Party; a united front of all revolutionary classes and all revolutionary groups under the leadership of such a Party — these are the three main weapons with which we have defeated the enemy”6 (the last quotation’s delineation between the party & the united front as two separate instruments also provides an argument against jmp’s assertion that unlike the leninist party, the maoist party is a “mass party”).

the idea that lenin and/or stalin did not understand the centrality of the masses to both revolution and the general acquisition of knowledge is similarly erroneous. while mao was the first to codify the mass line, and greatly enriched our understanding of it through his practice in the chinese revolution, he made no secret of being a devout student of lenin and inspired by the bolshevik experience. as such, the OP is correct to assert that the mass line is “the method the Bolsheviks used for the most part, but it wasn’t really theorized.” lenin, for example, says the following about properly marxist work:

It is to enable the mass of a definite class to learn to understand its own interests and its position, to learn to conduct its own policy, that there must be an organisation of the advanced elements of the class, immediately and at all costs, even though at first these elements constitute only a tiny fraction of the class. To do service to the masses and express their interests, having correctly conceived those interests, the advanced contingent, the organisation, must carry on all its activity among the masses, drawing from the masses all the best forces without any exception, at every step Verifying carefully and objectively whether contact with the masses is being maintained and whether it is a live contact. In this way, and only in this way, does the advanced contingent train and enlighten the masses, expressing their interests, teaching them organisation and directing all the activities of the masses along the path of conscious class politics. (How Vera Zasulich Demolishes Liquidationism)

stalin, for his part, says this about “bolshevik leadership”, immediately before launching into a beautiful metaphor comparing the party to greek hero antaeus and the masses to his mother gaea who bore him, fed him, and provided him all of his strength:  

Contacts with the masses, the strengthening of these contacts, readiness to listen to the voice of the masses – in this lie the strength and impregnability of Bolshevik leadership. It may be taken as a rule that as long as Bolsheviks keep contact with the broad masses of people, they will be invincible. And contrariwise, it is sufficient for the Bolsheviks to break away from the masses and lose contact with them, to become covered with bureaucratic rash, for them to lose all their strength and become nonentities. (Concluding Speech of Mastering Bolshevism)

of course, were this merely a debate about legacy or historical record, it would not exactly be vital to the task at hand. the importance of the author’s criticism is not in disparaging or “upholding” specific individuals and revolutionaries, but in highlighting the development of revisionism from its germination to its terminus. unsurprisingly, those who appeal to liberalism by distancing themselves from the bolsheviks also tend to distance themselves from the bolshevized (read: militarized) communist party. as such, the debate over lenin’s role in developing the party of a new type often becomes a proxyfor debate around issues like how clandestine the party should be, the kinds of security measures it should undertake, the ratio of its size to the size of its mass orgs, its relationship to said mass orgs, the ratio of legal to illegal work, and so on. and much like luxemburg and trotsky in lenin’s time (and, ironically, many current “october road” proponents), those who criticize lenin’s party conception often overrate spontaneity, underrate the role of revolutionary violence and class struggle as a whole, and put cadre at extreme risk of state repression given the advanced surveillance and counterinsurgency techniques that the ruling class employs. 

5. “It offers the bourgeois academic idea that what makes a person “advanced” is their nominal, stated acceptance of the proposition that revolution is necessary, rather than their concrete actions and stance toward concrete class enemies, and completely ignores the question of considering a person’s relationship to production, which grants them revolutionary potential in the first place.”

indeed, relying on stated acceptance of a premise rather than actions is idealism. as referenced already in this branch’s summation, prioritizing stated positions & nebulous ‘enthusiasm’ naturally leads to attracting intermediate and petit-bourgeois elements of various flavors. of course, the more petit-bourgeois elements are in the organization, the more the organization’s culture compounds itself, which leads to a dearth of advanced and proletarian elements. this is because, while proletarians are more likely to have experience with and knowledge of particularly vile class enemies, as well as first-hand knowledge of the ways capitalism exploits and oppresses them, petit-bourgeois “intellectuals” are more likely to have been exposed to “leftist” ideas. a superficial SICA would then elevate these petit-bourgeois contacts as more advanced than they might truly be, on the basis of their receptiveness to and repetition of leftist terminology or signifiers alone (one of the surest signs of this mistake is an overemphasis on attempting to recruit college students in a brazenly opportunistic choice to put quantity over quality). the necessity of proletarian command is axiomatic, of course — we want people who want to fight and who ideally also have some idea of who needs fighting and how it should be done.

in our own milieu, the focus on a loose idea of “revolution” and “leftism” as a sign of being advanced can lead to an eclectic mix of liberals and anarchists having assumed an imprecise ‘unity’ with a “mao-ish” core. many of these people are particularly partial to “mutual aid” because, in addition to having a fairly low barrier to entry, the concept of mutual aid is very popular in “left” circles right now (which is not unintentional on the part of the ruling class; see AOC’s “guide to mutual aid,” as referenced in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Liberalism —​​​​​​​ a criticism of sorts by an author affiliated with the marxist center, correctly pushing back against the mutual aid model as a be-all-end-all). because of a combination of class stand and adherence to a “leftist” culture passed down from the bourgeoisie, they’re also generally uninterested in actual revolutionary history, favoring instead liberal academic theory produced by universities and NGOs. this is testament not only to the insidious, liberal “marketplace of ideas” —​​​​​​​ that it would be somehow disrespectful to not devour knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and that every “thinker” (irrespective of their class origin and class stand, of whether they led a people’s war or are a professor of “public policy”) is equally authoritative in guiding revolutionary thought and action —​​​​​​​ but also to lenin’s claim that some “people want to invent something quite out of the ordinary, and, in their effort to be clever, make themselves ridiculous,”7 or in ajith’s words, “slip into slander and idealism in [an] attempt to look different.”8 ​​​​​​​

in more dogmatic circles, such a petit-bourgeois mindset often manifests as an uncritical, sometimes unexamined equivalence of mere fealty to specific historical figures, events, or key phrases as the left line or what demarcates something as advanced. it values a political “purity” that is less concerned with a deep and thorough understanding of either marxism or the world at large (which by definition includes an understanding of the primacy of mass-line generated class struggle) than it is with the ability to reguritate particularly beloved aphorisms and avoid saying anything that may be interpreted as eclectic or postmodern (which for some includes anything that even approaches disparaging or decentering white or cisgender people). this leads to an underemphasis on tangible class struggle, as well as on the ideas and actual culture of the masses, in favor of things like “internationalist”9 banner drops or lectures, marxist or election-themed graffiti, newspaper salesmanship, and celebrations of communist subculture like leaders’ birthdays or communist holidays that have no historical grounding with or significance to the u.s. masses.

while many members of that milieu sneer at the mere thought of providing the masses a service, this kind of work is actually directly analogous to the “mutual aid” work they despise, just without the community service aspect. both could theoretically be beneficial as ancillary work if they were a result of applying the mass line, and/or aided in further iteration thereof (specifically, increasing local class struggle in both quantity and quality). but in their current form and primacy, both sets of tactics mainly serve to distract activists from actions that actually hit the enemy. and in practice, both usually originate not from the mass line, but from subjectivism and a fundamentally petit-bourgeois conception of politics which is beholden to the ideas and signifiers of leftist or communist subculture rather than to the masses and their struggle for power.

it should go without saying that neither form of this general deviation represents the correct application of maoism, nor do they bring maoist ideology to the masses. while the leaflets and zines in a grocery bag laudably attempt to do so, true elevation of consciousness can only be the result of struggle; the day of heroism10 speeches and trotsky piñatas​​​​​​​ suffer the same problem, with the additional issue that these signifiers are mere metonymyfor actual maoist ideology —​​​​​​​ which means they’re only as useful to the intended audience as the audience’s antecedent familiarity with maoism, thereby defeating the very purpose of education. in other words, the choices of cultural events reveal a strange assumption that people unfamiliar with these cultural signifiers will latch onto them and work backwards to the ideology; it is essentially online “meme communism” made self-serious and brought to the real world.

of course, while it’s true that evaluation of one’s level of advancement should be made according to concrete combative action rather than avowal of revolution, the fact remains that many proletarians who are down for struggle do not yet strive for revolution. solving this problem has historically been the task of the vanguard party, and lenin wrote extensively about how failure to sufficiently complete that task constitutes the error of economism (on that note, the SC and struggle sessions‘ admonishment of service provision as economist/ic is correct in essence but sloppy in form, as the economists lenin railed against were neither legalist nor averse to labor struggle). among other things, we must still use our concrete struggles as opportunities for ideological education, we must get the same people involved in multiple fronts of class struggle to reveal the systemic nature of exploitation and oppression, and we must, whenever possible, frame problems in a way that only revolution can fully solve. but because nothing can be fully learned except through practice, we must value individuals who engage in the combative struggles that allow any lessons to be truly imparted. again: this means we must consciously build our organizations to be both accessible and appealing to the deepest masses, rather than individuals with certain “revolutionary” proclivities (who tend to hail from petit-bourgeois class backgrounds and reproduce petit-bourgeois politics).

finally, while one’s relationship to production is indeed a relevant factor and deserving of its mention, the phrase “grants them revolutionary potential in the first place” hints at economic determinism and a vulgar workerism that will become evident later in the piece.

now let’s finish dividing our one into two by looking at some of the SC’s negative elements, which are fewer and further between (though again not limited to the ones i’m listing), but often intense in their error:

6. “The description of the mass line is tailist through and through.”

the OP’s conception of the mass line actually did a good job conveying the mass line’s essence —​​​​​​​ much more so than the “correction” issued in the SC, which makes a common mistake in that it does not actually describe what the mass line is so much as it prescribes, in a tautological way, that it is simply what one does, full stop. the original formulation nailed several key aspects: that the mass line is “from the masses, to the masses”; that it has three main steps, which are 1) social investigation, 2) separating ideas into advanced/intermediate/backward & sharpening the advanced ideas with marxist theory, and 3) returning the sharpened ideas to the masses as slogans & calls to action;11 and that it is an iterative process in which each action creates new conditions that require more investigation, starting the cycle anew.

even its biggest flaw is relatively minor —​​​​​​​ its description of the mass line’s iterative nature, which can easily be read to overvalue quantity at the expense of quality: “The more communists you recruit, the more of the population you can “mass line” with. And then the more of the population you can “mass line” with, the more communists you can recruit, and so on”. let’s first make clear that communists are not merely people who approve of a set of political or ideological tenets, but well-trained members of a communist party (or at least a clandestine and disciplined pre-party organization, as no communist party exists in the u.s. at present). with that understanding, it becomes clearer how this formulation can be read to imply that expansion is the always the primary goal of using the mass line. while it is certainly true that the communist party should grow over time, and that stagnation is likely sign of various errors, it is incorrect to so directly correlate party size with either the number of people that can be led or the type of work that can be undertaken. lenin states that the communist party (unlike its mass organizations) should be “where the few converge”, and in What Is To Be Done? even argues that having a smaller but more skilled nucleus allows the party to lead a broader swath of people: 

To concentrate all secret functions in the hands of as small a number of professional revolutionaries as possible does not mean that the latter will “do the thinking for all” and that the rank and file will not take an active part in the movement. On the contrary, the membership will promote increasing numbers of the professional revolutionaries from its ranks; for it will know that it is not enough for a few students and for afew working men waging the economic struggle to gather in order to form a “committee”, but that it takes years to train oneself to be a professional revolutionary; and the rank and file will “think”, not only of amateurish methods, but of such training. Centralisation of the secret functions of the organisation by no means implies centralisation of all the functions of the movement. Active participation of the widest masses in the illegal press will not diminish because a “dozen” professional revolutionaries centralise the secret functions connected with this work; on the contrary, it will increase tenfold.

speaking of the party’s health and quality, there is also a notable omission in the original post: the mass line is not just a process by which communists lead the masses, but also a method by which the leaders of a communist organization lead its members. as such, a parallel mass line process must be happening internally at all times, so that the ideas of rank-and-members (hopefully largely consisting of synthesized and sharpened ideas of the masses that they’ve come in contact with in their practice) can move upward to leadership, which then sharpens the most advanced ideas and returns them to the organization at large, to be returned to the masses, and so on. as such, leaders are not necessarily those with the best novel ideas (though having a thorough understanding of marxist theory is necessary for evaluation and sharpening), but those who are best at organizing these parallel mass line applications, as well as general line struggle within the organization:

The Party committees at all levels are bodies which exercise centralised leadership. However, Party leadership is a collective leadership and does not come from the arbitrary decisions of particular individuals. It is only by conscientiously implementing the system of collective leadership that we can correctly practise democratic centralism in the Party, and that the committees of the Party can fully play their role as nuclei of leadership in correctly carrying out all tasks. In general, there is a limit to how well a single individual can think about a question and analyse it, so that when decisions on important questions are made by one individual, it is difficult for him not to be subjective and one-sided. Only if we practise collective leadership, if the members of the Party committee reflect the opinions of the Party members and the masses in all their aspects, if they study and discuss questions from every point of view and in depth, will we be able to concentrate the wisdom of the masses to arrive at correct ideas, make decisions that conform to objective reality and avoid or diminish the risk of error. At the same time, this enables the leading members of the Party organisations to learn from each other and to move forward together. (A Basic Understanding of the Communist Party of China)

so, what does the SC replace this mostly accurate description of the mass line with? “The mass line is the Communist method of leading the masses to make revolution — there is no other way”. what does this mean? that the mass line is a communist, specifically maoist method is a matter of course. that there is no other way is also absolutely true. but by not extrapolating beyond the descriptor “communist”, by not delineating a list of criteria that can be satisfied or negated and objectively checked, this formulation naturally invites the self-serving misconception that any action taken by a communist is mass work. it invites the mistaken idea that the mass line is applied any time communists lead the masses in a direction that the communist subjectively feels is toward revolution (or, according to some, even interacts with the masses at all). put more bluntly:

if the mass line is the “communist method of leading the masses to make revolution” (because “there is no other way”), and anything one does is, from one’s own perspective, moving the masses toward revolution (otherwise it wouldn’t be very Communist to do it!), then anything one does that involves “leading” (or merely interacting with) the masses is by default applying the mass line method of communist leadership. how convenient! in this conception, the mass line has ceased to be a process by which maoists make and execute all of their decisions, and instead becomes a simple descriptor for the action undertaken or the decision made —​​​​​​​ that is, whatever our line is at a given time is “the mass line”. this is an obvious recipe for subjectivism of one kind or another, and is so inherently commandist that it removes commandism from the list of errors that can possibly be made.

of course, those with a slightly more developed but still inadequate conception of the mass line could easily counter this strawman (that some actually believe) by arguing that there is an objective criterion of truth for whether one can expect their idea to advance revolution — namely, marxist theory. this is most likely the type of response the author would give, as in the next paragraph, they quote the communist party of peru’s “mass line” section of their GPL* to conclude: “Thus there is no separating the mass line from Maoism, and from revolutionary violence.” this notion, that the mass line is whenever communists lead (or interact with) the masses in accordance with marxist theory, is an improvement over our previous one, as it is true that the mass line cannot be correctly applied (though anyone can use its general structure, so to speak) without an understanding of maoism that allows the “sharpening” step to be correctly undertaken.

as such, if one truly sticks to their theoretical guns, this new approach limits the type subjectivism that can result: now empiricist error is no longer an option, only correct practice or dogmatic error. unfortunately, it is nonsensical to “apply” marxist theory without using the correct process of the mass line in the first place, which is what lets us know how and when to apply each tenet thereof. divorced from the often ingenious ideas of the masses, all communists following this incorrect understanding can do is essentially cut and paste strategies from past experiences (“uncritical transplantation or copying from the ancients and the foreigners,”12 in mao’s words) or try to personally divine correct ideas from the sky — in either case, hoping to find correct practice by trial and error. at the end of the day, regardless of the author’s intention, this text (and many’s practice) heavily implies the phrase “there is no separating the mass line from maoism” means that the mass line is merely the sum of every other maoist dictum, when it should mean that there is no true maoism whose practice is not based on the correct application of the mass line — the mass line being exactly what turns maoism from a list of dicta into falsifiable scientific practice.

*(nb: regarding the “mass line” section of the PCP’s GPL: i often see it recommended to those looking to learn about the mass line. it is undoubtedly a vital piece of maoist theory that should be read by all aspiring communists, as it both provides relatively universal advice about the nature of mass work (which must be applied in the “sharpening” step of the mass line) as well as examples of how this mass work can look. however, in my opinion, using it to learn what the mass line is may be a source of some of these commandist misconceptions. despite its misleading name, it is not and does not contain an explicationof the mass line method of leadership, nor do i think it was meant to (the idea that it tried to and failed is part of what makes scott harrison incorrectly conclude that the PCP did not understand the mass line). much like the “military line” section is an expression of their line for the second instrument, the “mass line” section is an expression of their line for the third instrument, not a meditation on the mass line method of leadership.)

the anti-masses nature of these commandist conceptions so prevalent among certain “communists” is exemplified in the SC’s section on the cultural revolution (which also contains some truths, such as the fact that the chinese cultural revolution was initiated by the communist party):

The piece says that when it comes to identifying the bourgeoisie in the Party or in other positions of authority, the masses simply “know what’s up.” This is yet another assertion of tailism, which suggests that simply from their class position, the masses already have a kind of primordial correct grasp of politics. This is brazen opportunism, no different from that of liberal postmodernists. While of course the masses are the makers of history, if they could simply always automatically identify all their enemies and how to get organized to fight them, there would be no need for revolutionary theory—and no need for revolutionary leadership.

this is essentially a “maoist” spin on the common self-serving idea among petit-bourgeois intellectuals that knowledge comes primarily from books, and that those who are well-read should get to give orders to those who are not. rather than viewing other people as equals, it looks down on the masses, envisioning them as pawns who only “make history” insofar as they dutifully undertake the bulk of the grunt work in historical processes. in its elitism, it repeats the common bourgeois line that scott harrison warns people to avoid when he says, “Not only must you be close to the masses physically and psychologically, you must respect them. You must really believe that they know things that you do not, that you can learn from them. If you don’t believe this, then you will most likely miss the good ideas all around you.”13 mao also warns about this bourgeois error by teaching that the party should “be vigilant and to see that no comrade at any post is divorced from the masses. It should teach every comrade to love the people and listen attentively to the voice of the masses; to identify himself with the masses wherever he goes and, instead of standing above them, to immerse himself among them.”14

proletarian science, on the other hand, asserts that knowledge comes from social practice, which the masses collectively possess an essentially boundless amount of. mao assessed, “The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant, and without this understanding, it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge”15. in other words: yes, the masses do possess a “primordial” (ugh) understanding of politics; they possess both a huge amount of perceptual knowledge as a group, and a higher level of rational knowledge per individual than cynical petit-bourgeois intellectuals give them credit for. this is why, though no individual (regardless of level of ideological training) possesses exclusively good ideas, and many backwards elements do exist among the masses, the masses collectively possess infinitely more good ideas than does the tiny communist core; mao expresses this idea via the common proverb “three cobblers with their wits combined equal Zhu Ge Liang the master mind”16. revolutionary leadership and revolutionary theory are both necessary, but if the mass line is the only type of truly revolutionary leadership (and indeed, “there can be no other way”!), then all revolutionary leadership must be based on the masses’ ideas —​​​​​​​ and the only truly revolutionary theory is one which acknowledges this fact.

it is from this proletarian viewpoint that A Basic Understanding of the Communist Party of China approaches its own analysis of the GPCR: 

To have close ties with the masses or to be divorced from them (or even to be afraid of them or oppose the revolutionary mass movement) is not merely a question of method but rather a fundamental question of stand and world outlook. It is also an important question in the struggle between Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line and the right and “left” opportunist lines. All the chieftains of opportunist lines are idealists, they obstinately take the side of the bourgeoisie, always slander and despise the masses with all their strength. They deny the great role of the masses of the people as the makers of history, oppose the Party’s mass line, are hostile towards the revolutionary mass movements led by the Party and sabotage them. At the time of the First Revolutionary Civil War, the Chieftain of the right opportunist line, Chen Tu-hsiu, slandered the Chinese proletariat by saying it was “Childish,” did “not Constitute an independent revolutionary force,” contended that the Chinese people were “undisciplined,” “conservative,” and that “they would be hard to win over to revolution.” He had no faith in the power of the revolution, carried out a right capitulationist line, and brought defeat to the heroic revolutionary movement. In order to change the Party’s basic line for the historical period of socialism, Liu Shao-chi, Lin Piao and other swindlers of their type worked with all their strength to sabotage the Party’s mass line and its excellent style of work of maintaining close ties with the masses. Openly peddling the theory of “backward masses,” Liu Shao-chi opposed the mobilisation of the masses during the “four cleans movement” (160) and, during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, implemented a bourgeois reactionary line and suppressed the revolutionary mass movement. As for un Piao, he raised a hue and cry about the “theory of genius,” and shamelessly endowed himself with the title of “genius,” possessing “innate knowledge” and “innate consciousness.” At the same time he slandered the broad masses of workers and peasants by treating them like scum only interested in “getting rich and pleasure-seeking” and knowing nothing but “oil, salt, soya sauce, vinegar and firewood.” Lin Piao and his clique also propagated the nonsense that “the heroes and slaves make history together,” thus trying to make use of dual sophistry to negate the fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism. We must thoroughly criticise Liu Shao-chi’s and Lin Piao’s reactionary and idealist conception of history  (emphasis mine)

as mao’s legacy and line has won out, today’s revisionists often know better than to express their anti-masses sentiments as baldly as these historical chinese revisionists did17; this is why, for example, the SC’s author pays lip service to the fact that “the masses make history” in the middle of a rant that implies the opposite. but regardless of how they camoflouge it, those who possess bourgeois views that belittle the masses and present commandist conceptions of the mass line are more similar to both the right & “left” opportunist lines that mao and the chinese masses struggled against, than they are to a truly revolutionary position.

7. “This section also reduces all Communist organizing to the mass line.”

“In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ‘from the masses, to the masses.'” —​​​​​​​ Mao, Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership

if one correctly understands the mass line as a multi-step, iterative method by which communists make and execute decisions, all communist organizing must base itself on the mass line! (of course, if the sentence is suggesting ‘communist organizing’ itself is not ‘the mass line’, since it uses the phrase “to the” rather than “based on”, it is correct in a rhetorical way, in that one can’t equate a finished peach cobbler to the kernels of a peach tree. part of the issue with the SC is the lack of precision in how terms are used, which leaves open the possibility for rebuttals that can masquerade as clarification. i want to skip to the heart of what i see being argued —​​​​​​​ the implication that the mass line is only one “part” of communist organizing, and not seen actually as the basis on which every part of communist organizing is built).

again, setting aside the conflation between line and method, it is imperative we understand that the mass line must be used to guide all of our decisions. ajith notes, in his aforementioned discussion of lenin, the nature of administrative work and ideological training, is determined by specific concrete conditions. moreover, these conditions should be evaluated not only by communists on their own, but through the ideas of the masses (both about the conditions and about how work should be shaped), in order to take advantage of both their perceptual and rational knowledge as the raw material which communists’ marxist theory can sharpen. this is key: that sharpening is a necessary step does not negate the input from the masses as an equally necessary step. while it is true that not everything communists do will directly lead the masses into class struggle, or raise their understanding of and commitment to revolutionary violence, every step that communists take must first be based on the masses’ ideas. in fact, mao and the CCP constantly talked about the importance of the mass line even long after they had conquered state power — a time when, while class struggle still of course existed, most of their duties were bureaucratic, and revolutionary violence would not re-enter the picture in a serious way until the cultural revolution. it is difficult to argue that certain things are outside the scope of the mass line when the CCP applied the concept to everything from production to art.18

as the SC (correctly) implies communist organizing is multifaceted, the emphasis on its multifaceted nature (incorrectly) justifies why specific types of non-class-struggle activities (as referenced in section 5) should exist. one can not even pretend those subculture-centric actions are based on the masses’ ideas, no matter how “sharpened” they were. but, it would certainly be “logically” convenient to explain the existence of those activities by creating this “non mass line” side of communism organizing to house them. this is, of course, not maoism, but unscientific commandism and dogmatism. one inevitability about basing all of your work on the mass line is that there will be a specific rational and scientific explanation for all of your actions, even ones that prove to be mistakes; nothing anywhere near “it’s just what communists do” or “it will look good to our online fans / foreign communist collectives” will ever suffice. and if we want to make deep connections with broader & broader swaths of people to lead them towards revolution, we must build organizations both of and for the masses, not both of and for online communism enthusiasts. to quote again from A Basic Understanding of the Communist Party of China:

If the Party separates itself from the class and from the other revolutionary mass organisations, if its members separate themselves from the non-Party masses, this can also obliterate the Party’s character as vanguard of the proletariat, and cause its members to lose their role as advanced elements of the proletariat. In such a case, the Party would no longer be a proletarian political party.

8. “Finally, it implies that there is no place for a revolutionary news organization, which has been proved especially absurd by the Tribune of the People, not to mention the great Lenin!”

first of all, tribune’s existence proves nothing other than that tribune exists, so jot that down. additionally, to mention themselves in the same breath as lenin is absurd —​​​​​​​ not just because of the obvious difference in quality, but because the analogy removes the decision to create a news organ from historical context and relevance.

as with all properly communist work, the decision to start an all-russia newspaper iskra was based on concrete analysis of specific concrete conditions. three of the conditions of then-czarist russia were: 1. the banning of free press, which meant making & distributing an independent political newspaper would require a great deal of organizational prowess and clandestinity — from tactical considerations needed to safeguard the newspaper’s continuation, to finding creative ways of obtaining access to things like a printing press, to being able to physically evade and combat the gendarmes; 2. the masses’ organic desire for print news, as the only political news of any kind to which they had access were the czarist press and whatever underground publications could successfully evade repression, and the internet obviously did not exist (compare this to the popular mitch hedberg one-liner, “giving me a flyer is like saying ‘here, you throw this away'”); 3. the general labor struggle across the country was at a relative maxima, and there existed many marxist circles in touch with each other that could feasibly be united.

based on these conditions, iskra could efficiently serve specific purposes: the project’s undertaking and daily operation would train cadre in clandestine and illegal activity, and inspire the masses’ confidence in their competence; the newspaper itself would expose the broad masses to injustices of all types (thus helping thwart economism), in a format they were inherently interested in; and giving a common task, as well as vehicle for debate, to various existing circles who were already active in class struggle would build unity between them.

because none of these conditions are true in the current u.s. context, the idea of using a newspaper as a central organ or collective organizer (as comparing one’s newspaper to iskra implies) only reveals a dogmatic lack of creativity, and an inability or unwillingness to separate universal from specific —​​​​​​​ much less evaluate our current specifics (it is unsurprising the duality of arrogance and lack of creativity would arise from a conception of the mass line expressed in the SC, as the masses are our biggest source of creative ideas).

at a time when class struggle is at a relative ebb compared to eras like the 1960s-70s and 1920s-30s (notwithstanding this year’s inspiring george floyd rebellions and other struggles led by members of oppressed nations, as will be discussed below), the immediate task for every communist at hand should be to drum up class struggle and raising existing struggles to new heights; any other activity like propaganda or study groups should exist to serve this purpose. to quote our previous summation: 

The key lesson remains that mass work must take place within the struggle itself and not on its margins. By carrying out our organizational work outside of the struggle between the masses and the class enemy, we have neutralized our ability to effectively intervene in the real movement, generate new struggles, or win the masses over to a communist program. The revolutionary masses need new forms of organization that correspond to their desire for struggle and to the possibilities of the situation.

the milieu tribune represents undoubtedly does engage in some genuine class struggle that should not be overlooked (just as many FTP and marxist center branches do, despite an over-reliance on mutual aid programs). but redirecting potential combatants away from this struggle and into a news website’s street team is clear right opportunism, and prioritizing the creation of these street teams in cities with no maoist activity, rather than starting an actual mass org, is particularly rightist. not only is there neither evidence nor theoretical reason to believe that tribune’s existence has increased actual class struggle in either quantity or quality, the disconcerting amount of the u.s. “struggle” it does report on that consists of nothing but graffitti spottings or recountings of 2-5 people holding a banner about an international situation suggests that the milieu is potentially involved in less real mass work than it was before distributing print newspapers became such a priority. so, to the extent tribune provides centralization to its existing circle of partisans (not iskra‘s centralization between a larger and more initially diverse array of groups that were already embedded in the class struggle), it only provides centralization around a right-opportunist and dogmato-revisionist pole, especially when combined with this “movement”‘s other pervasive errors.

while the OP compellingly points out that newspaper production & distribution is actually ubiquitous in revisionist circles —​​​​​​​ and in the last several decades, there has not been a single instance of these papers increasing the quantity or quality of class struggle —​​​​​​​ i cannot and would not definitively claim that “there is no place for a revolutionary news organization”. but if a truly revolutionary news organization comes into existence, it will be because of specific present conditions & specific ideas of the masses, rather than a dogmatic desire to recreate (the abstract idea of) iskra. and it will come with a specific plan to increase local mass work in quantity & quality, rather than replace some or all of said local mass work with brand-building efforts.

9. “The piece upholds the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords as “Communist,” and (revisiting that weasel phrase) “heavily inspired by Mao.” The fact is, they were neither.”

this quote, and the SC’s entire egregious treatment of the legacy of the black panthers and the young lords, is an ill-fated attempt to overcorrect for the author’s prior uptake in the OP. the ease in which these criticisms could be disproven, and the style in which they were delivered (to the exclusion of anything else said on the matter) show that — especially combined with the sc’s quote discussed in section 10 — it is difficult to offer a charitable reading. though i only take selections from the SC at hand, like everything in this essay, it’s not meant to be a sole indictment of the author of the SC, but any who are complicit in a disturbing trend of unexamined chauvinism.

the SC claims that the panthers were neither inspired by mao nor communist, which is patently absurd. while it is undeniable that neither the panthers nor the lords were maoist because marxism-leninism-maoism had yet to be synthesized at the time, it is a matter of historical record that both were inspired by mao zedong thought, and that the panthers in particular organized under the marxism of their time — ​​​​​​​marxism-leninism, applied to the concrete conditions of black people in the united states. in Revolutionary Suicide, co-founder of the BPP huey p. newton writes extensively on how the chinese revolution and the socialist society it built inspired him. not only was he reading mao from the BPP’s inception, choosing to make the sale of Little Red Books the group’s initial fundraising activity, he was eventually invited to visit socialist china and left invigorated by the experience, writing “What is important is the effect that China and its society had on me, and that impression is unforgettable…. But I did not go to China just to admire. I went to learn and also to criticize, because no society is perfect” and:

Still, much was accomplished in that short time, traveling to various parts of the country, visiting factories, schools, and communities. Everywhere we went, large groups of people greeted us with applause, and we applauded them in return. It was beautiul. At every airport thousands of people welcomed us, applauding, waving their Little Red Books, and carrying signs that read WE SUPPORT THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY. DOWN WITH US IMPERIALISM. or WE SUPPORT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE BUT THE NIXON IMPERIALIST REGIME MUST BE OVERTHROWN.

drawing upon his knowledge of marxist-leninist theory and his experiences in china, newton, in the same book, explains the necessity for revolutionary violence as the basis for socialist revolution and party-led theoretical education for the masses. this flies in direct contradiction to the author’s charge (in the SC, quoting the struggle sessions editorial board), that the panthers “liquidate[d] both political education and armed self-defense.” moreover, to equate the panthers’ maoist inspiration in the 1960’s with the “mao-ish” deviation of today is an error of hindsight, as the panthers had no marxism-leninism-maoism to which they could refer in their times, while the eclectics of today do. while i concur with the author that the legacy of the panthers should not be muddled with nostalgia, it must also not be muddled with historically inaccurate representations of their political line.

these falsehoods shine through in the author’s “critiques” of the panthers — a brief list that is devoid of evidence or explanation. in service of serious line struggle, i ask readers to carefully examine the author’s flagrant dismissal of the legacy of the panthers. the goal is not to inoculate the BPP from any principled criticisms — just as the goal of section 4 pertaining to lenin’s party conception was not to somehow protect the sterling reputation of former leaders. as alluded to there, arguments relating to the quality or “character” of an organization or specific revolutionaries often serve as a proxy for the ideological content they represent. in this case, considering the centrality of the national question in the u.s. and the centrality of the mass line in maoism, it is vital to look closely at what the SC is actually saying. the author’s treatment of the BPP amounts to little more than buzzwords without a thorough investigation of the facts. this lazy style of critique abets revisionism, because it allows readers to dismiss the legacies of serious communist organizations through mere hearsay. there will be a more thorough treatment about the full implications of the SC in the next section. for now, we return specifically to debunking the claims made about the BPP:

​first, the author claims that the BPP “did not stand for a Communist Party, without which proletarian revolution is impossible.” they do not explain what it means to “stand for a Communist Party,” and provides no evidence that the panthers failed to do so. this point is essentially a semantic distinction that conceals the real theoretical line struggle taking place here, especially since the black panther party very much believed itself to be a party, with its ten-point platform, its rules to which all members had to abide, ideological training required of all members, the existence of an armed wing and united programs, et cetera. while their ideas regarding what we would refer to as concentric construction the three instruments were far from perfect, as the panther’s relative lack of clandestinity and eventual existence in a liminal space between militarized party & united front abetted the state’s infiltration and extermination efforts, this does not negate the fact that they did “stand for” a revolutionary party, and relative to other u.s. communist efforts were very successful in building one. on that note —

— second, the author claims that the BPP “falsely claimed to be the vanguard of revolution in the US.” this criticism contradicts the essence of their first critique: were the panthers too aspirational about their vanguard role as organizers, or were they not aspirational enough? nevertheless, the panthers were arguably the most theoretically & practically advanced u.s. communist organization since the fall of the CPUSA to browderite revisionism, if not before that as well (certainly, they were more practically advanced than any organization that has existed since). the state unleashed its fury upon the panthers with an unprecedented and unparalleled voracity, because the panthers posed the biggest threat to the ruling class. this is directly due to their wide support within the black nation, which they garnered from their explicit goal of breaking the prisonhouse of nations that is the u.s. through revolutionary violence. the panthers’ emphasis on the black nation does not negate their vanguardist potential — if this is the charge the author is leveraging, the article makes it unclear — but strengthens it, because the black nation contains some of the deepest of the masses in the country, and its total exploitation through chattel slavery built the u.s. from the ground. as mao said in his 1963 statement in support of afro-american struggle, “The evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and throve with the enslavement of Negroes and the trade in Negroes, and it will surely come to its end with the complete emancipation of the Black people.”

this contention also tacitly betrays the SC’s inability to apprehend the panthers’ approach in applying the mass line — unsurprising, given what has already been said about the SC’s conception of the mass line in previous sections. ironic to the SC, the panthers were actually a perfect group to exemplify in an introductory text like the OP: they were a clear example of the intrinsic relationship between the mass line and the three withs, and in their prime practiced the two better than any other u.s. communist organization before or after. they responded to the people’s needs and desires with struggle that underscored role of revolutionary violence, and certainly conducted “militant struggles against class enemies,” to use the SC’s own words. they demonstrated in campaigns to get justice for martyrs of racist state violence, faced down racist administrators in schools and city halls, and had armed eviction defenses & anti-police patrols capable of defending their own community — which trained the masses in the school of class struggle, teaching them to rely on combative action rather than legalistic or parliamentary solutions. and, by emphasizing the importance of national liberation all the while, they turned the masses concerns into a desires that were not only inherently political but could only truly be met with revolution. all this flowed directly from the sharpened ideas of the masses. as a genuine proletarian & nationally oppressed group, who already lived and worked among the deepest masses because they were among the deepest masses themselves, the BPP had respect for and access to many ideas from their peers. precisely because they valued these ideas & connections, they made sure to base their offices, programs, and homes in poor and predominantly black neighborhoods, and held open office hours (huey even kept his apartment open at all hours of the night in the early days) so people could come to them with problems & ideas. compare this truly proletarian (in both line and origin) stance to the petit-bourgeois, intelligentsia version of the mass line presented by the SC and similar commandists. 

while the BPP descended into relative tailism in their later years after the free huey campaign, it is not the case that their rightward turn toward overemphasizing service provision liquidated class struggle entirely, especially among the east coast panthers; containing a kernel of truth in what is overall an unseemingly exaggeration, struggle sessions‘ claim that the BPP totally liquidated their class struggle is about as accurate as an assertion that overemphasis on producing and distributing struggle sessions & tribune has completely liquidated class struggle in its own milieu. additionally, even the panthers’ service provision itself contained an element of struggle forgotten by its detractors and emulators alike. in Black Against Empire, joshua bloom explains that much of the food for their breakfast programs was obtained by picketing businesses that refused to donate and threatening to do so to others, adding a light expropriative element to the programs. in any event, to completely ignore the panthers’ entire legacy of creative and successful applications of mass line is to negate the fruits of a black proletarian application of marxism by a black proletarian organization. one has to wonder why this dismissal was made to begin with — and without, it seems, much thought.

third, the author claims that the BPP “denied the role of the proletariat as the revolutionary class.” unless the SC is implying that many black people aren’t themselves members of the proletariat as well, i can only assume this critique is in response to huey p. newton’s claim in Intercommunalism19: “The proletarian will become the lumpen proletarian. It is this future change — the increase of the lumpen proletariat and the decrease of the proletariat — which makes us say that the lumpen proletariat is the majority and carries the revolutionary banner […]”  if this indeed their reference point, then it is unscientific to evaluate an organization’s entire history of practice via a theoretical text written relatively late in their existence; this same document by newton also incorrectly strays from the path of revolutionary nationalism, but this does not negate the fact that through most of its existence BPP was clearly struggling for the right to self-determination for the black nation. and while i disagree with newton’s conclusion that the lumpen-proletariat will overtake the proletariat as the revolutionary subject, there is certainly truth in his argument that as more of the u.s. proletariat become declassed and many lumpenized (due to a combination of increasing automation, even more production shifting to semi-colonial countries, the u.s slowly losing imperialist marketshare to russia and especially  china, general capitalist crisis/collapse etc.) both the reserve army of labor and the lumpenproletariat, as well as those trapped in the nebulous “gig economy”, will play an increasingly important role in revolutionary proceedings (attempts at mass work during the current pandemic have demonstrated this fact in real time).

if the author is not referring to newton’s Intercommunalism specifically, then we must assume that they take umbrage with the idea of organizing the lumpen at all, even in addition to organizing the proletariat. in either case the author’s critique amounts to an unscientific reading that divorces the lumpen-proletariat as a class from the specifics of the economic life of black people. while there are of course many black proletarians, the general trend of lumpenization is amplified when we consider the black nation specifically, for whom lumpenization has been a primary feature of economic life since the days of slavery. one example of this lumpenization process is the phenomenon of mass incarceration, in which a “justice system” built to not only control but annihilate lower classes & oppressed nations temporarily turns those imprisoned into an extremely exploited proletariat that provides the bourgeoisie with a massive source of internal superprofits, then releases them with a criminal record which makes it exceedingly difficult to rejoin the proletariat proper. given that the effects of settler-colonialism have left with the black nation with a not insubstantial lumpen population, the revolutionary struggle for the right to self-determination necessarily includes work with and by lumpen-proletarians. rather than being a distraction from the class struggle, this revolutionary struggle to break the prisonhouse of nations is inherently part of the class struggle, as the u.s.’s superstructure and economic base both rely so heavily on the continued oppression and exploitation of oppressed nations. as such, a marxist rather than white chauvinist interpretation of their history can only conclude that the bpp’s work with lumpen was revolutionary and correct, and that while organizing the proletariat is still primary, working with the lumpen-proletariat as well — especially those of oppressed nations — is a strategic necessity for revolutionaries today.

fourth and most odiously, the author claims that the BPP endorsed “a kind of proto-identity politics.” “proto identity politics” is hardly a scientific classification for ideology; what is the threshold for it? devoid of its actual meaning and reduced to a pejorative, the author’s conception of “proto-identity politics” amounts to nothing more than accusing the black panthers of accounting primarily for the needs of black people, a charge that any communist faithfully applying the three withs to the u.s. context would take as a boon, not a detriment, to revolutionary work. mao himself, in his 1968 speech in support of the afro-american struggle (A New Storm Against Imperialism, republished by the platform of this SC themselves on june 2020), defends the approach of black revolutionaries by pointing out that the struggle against anti-blackness revealed to many white workers & progressives the common ground they shared with black people and the necessity to overthrow capitalism. demeaning the panthers’ legacy to simply a precursor to postmodern ‘identity politics’ is not only historically nonsensical, but reveals the extent to which the author’s understanding of the mass line, and the proletarian class as a whole, has been whitewashed. it ignores the need for national liberation as a revolutionary imperative in the age where imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism. it also ignores lessons from the BPP’s legacy of struggle, which highlights the necessity to organize black people around not only economic demands but national issues as well, and proves lenin’s thesis that the only path to revolutionary multinational unity (which the BPP went a long way toward acheiving) is by vehemently championing oppressed nations’ right to self-determination: “If in our political agitation, we fail to advance and advocate the slogan of the right to secession, we shall play into the hands, not only of the bourgeoisie, but also of the feudal landlords and the absolutism of the oppressor nation.”20 

as noted before, my criticism of the author’s handling of the legacy of the panthers is not meant to dwell in the realm of historical squabbling, but rather to highlight the ideological struggle represented by the SC’s remarks at its core. in their prime, the black panthers displayed a truly proletarian view of the mass line — as opposed to either the tailist red NGO model that affected their later work, or the commandist intelligentsia distortion of the mass line (some of whose proponents, in correctly defending the role of lenin and stalin against critics like jmp, attempt to become the anti-masses version of the bolshevik party that only exists in the imaginations of “rupture”-oriented maoists & contemporary “ML”s who disavow maoism completely.) as evidenced by their tenth point of unity calling for “land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace” as well as a “plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony… for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny,” the black panthers stood as a vanguard for the black revolutionary masses, who understood that the liberation of the black nation cannot be mere addendum among marxist-leninists (and, today, among marxist-leninist-maoists), but rather must be upheld as the synthesis of the demands of the advanced black proletariat & a critical demand to be organized around by anyone who dares to call themselves a communist. with this in mind, i’ll now turn to show how the SC negates the principality of the contradiction between the imperialist nations & exploited nations, and the necessity of national liberation.

10. “Again in a postmodern way, it sets the working class and “other oppressed groups” side by side, […]

true to form, here the author argues through a red herring: they would have the reader believe that their criticism is limited to their placing of “the working class” and “other oppressed people” (in the OP) on equal footing through the use of the word “and.” ironically, this semantic quibbling is a cornerstone of the postmodern critique that the SC so loathes, as it implies that simply choosing different phrasing becomes sufficient to demonstrate a change in ideological line, thus negating the primary role of practice. nevertheless, what the author’s red herring is concealing is actually a theoretical debate of incredible importance, as it pertains to the principality of national liberation in socialist strategy. a natural followup to the SC’s criticisms would have been something along the lines of, ‘any introductory text to maoism should impart upon the reader a materialist analysis of racism, colonialism, and imperialism’. on the contrary, the only thing the SC offers is nearly the opposite: a flippant dismissal of the black panthers (addressed above) that suggests black national liberation should be an afterthought at best.

to remind readers of lenin’s words on the issue of national liberation, he outlines the stance that all communists should take in his Address to the Second All-Russian Congress of Communist Organizations of the Peoples of the East: “Hence, the socialist revolution will not be solely, or chiefly,a struggle of the revolutionary proletarians in each country against their bourgeoisie — no, it will be a struggle of all the imperialism-oppressed colonies and countries, of all dependent countries against international imperialism. Characterizing the approach of the world social revolution in the programme of our Party which we adopted in March of last year, we said that the civil war of the toilers against the imperialists and exploiters in all the advanced countries is beginning to be combined with· national wars against international imperialism.” (emphasis mine). this is why the slogan of the third international was “workers and oppressed peoples of all countries, unite!”​​​21 in light of lenin’s analysis, the real issue is not that the proletariat is figured as an entity “side by side” with “other oppressed groups,” but rather that the struggle of nationally oppressed groups (which ibrahim kaypakkaya points out are not limited to those who constitute nations in the leninist sense,22 although many within the u.s. prisonhouse certainly do)​​​​​​​ for liberation is struggle against u.s. imperialism in one of its most crucial forms. to quote the 1970s-80s new communist movement group the sojourner truth organization:

U.S. revolutionaries, and particularly white communists, must understand that the national liberation-anti-colonialist struggles that are occurring within the (current) territorial boundaries of this country do not only play an important role in the development of a general class polarization. Their revolutionary significance lies not just in their potential to detonate the general class struggle – to be the little wheel which starts the big wheel moving — but in their intrinsic anti-imperialist character. It is not only on a global scale that the revolutionary movement is composed of two elements -workers and oppressed peoples – it is true specifically and concretely within the U.S. And within this country, any revolutionary who is unable to see which component is the leading one is extremely out of touch. (White Supremacy and the Afro-American National Question, (emphasis mine))

with the relative lull in the labor movement combined with the fierce struggle of oppressed people as emblemized by the george floyd rebellions, SJO’s claim regarding how obvious it is which component is leading is even more true now than it was then. and in their time, the black panthers demonstrated the inherently revolutionary nature of these struggles by raising the right to black self-determination through militancy as the synthesis of the black masses’ ideas with marxist theory. in light of this, examining racism through a materialist lens and combatting racism within our work should never be an after-thought of a maoist text, especially not an introductory one, but at its very core.

the author is correct in the urgency of identifying “the concrete origin of racism in class society” (though they fail to actually identify it themselves), but by failing to put their weight behind the correct marxist intervention — national liberation — they fail to account for the principal contradiction in the age of imperialism: that between imperialism and the nations it oppresses.23 specifically, the SC fails to acknowledge that the concrete origins of racism lie not just within class society, but specifically within european class society. in Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, cedric robinson writes, “The bourgeoisie that led the development of capitalism were drawn from particular ethnic and cultural groups; the European proletariats and the mercenaries of the leading states from others; its peasants from still other cultures; and its slaves from entirely different worlds. The tendency of European civilization through capitalism was thus not to homogenize but to differentiate — to exaggerate regional, subcultural, and dialectical differences into ‘racial’ ones.” robinson traces the history of “race” as a function of a long history of european enslavement that grew in tandem with class society and predates capitalism by centuries: from the racialization of the slavs under prefeudal relations, to their eventual incorporation into whiteness and the assignation of enslavement onto black people, in order to grow the ranks of the white proletariat at the expense of other nations, as the wealth of the european bourgeoisie expanded. 

this is especially significant in the u.s. context because the development of the proletariat in the u.s. was economically reliant on the distinction between wage laborer (typically of european descent) and black slaves & indigenous people who were defined out of citizenship; i.e., those who could sell their labor versus those who were defined by their stolen labor-power and denied political life as a result. as marxists, we understand that legal interventions, such as the formal abolition of slavery in 1865 and the recent nominal acceptance of a few indigenous treaties, are insufficient to change conditions for oppressed classes, and often do more to conceal the continuance of their exploitation. therefore, we understand (and hope our interlocutors agree!) that the legacies of settler-colonialism & slavery are very much ongoing as they continue to benefit the white bourgeoisie by exploiting the labor, resources, and land of indigenous and black peoples, denying the right to self-determination to the oppressed nations, and derailing revolutionaries and revolutionary organizations through insidious white chauvinism.

by failing to uphold the importance of national liberation and the struggles of all oppressed people, the author falls into the error of workerism, accurately identified by red guards austin in their 2017 On Identity Opportunism. workerism is a bastardization of working class politics that is, in their words, “itself a form of identity politics only centered around the Eurocentric conception of workers as white men in factory jobs.” workerist conceptions substitute a conception of the working class based on a full appraisal of the class in its myriad nations, ethnic groups, genders, and occupations with a “stock image” of a white man working in heavy industry. from a workerist perspective, nationally oppressed people’s struggles are naturally sidelined because the working class is presumed to be predominantly white, and thus, again following this reverse-identity-politics to its conclusion, stands to gain little from the liberation of the black nation. as demonstrated by the flippant dismissal of the panthers, workerism betrays the working class because it fails to take seriously many of the superstructural phenomena that justify their exploitation, and fails to take seriously the applications of marxist theory and practice to their specific conditions. thus, these organizations often fail to identify and criticize racism, even when it’s going on right within their own “party”! naturally, a communist organization that fails to fight for the demands of the oppressed nations and fails to criticize its own chauvinism will produce cadre incapable of living, working, and struggling with black & indigenous working-class people.

this is not just an innocent omission, but a function of white chauvinism itself because it views the struggles that specifically apply to black and indigenous working-class people as not worthy of study within an introductory text. when the right to self-determination is a crucial, if not the highest, demand of anti-imperialist struggle — especially in the u.s. which bases its sovereign authority and economic power off of the theft of land & subsequent denial of self-determination — to completely omit this fact is to paint one’s audience as a white one who would presumably be uninterested in national liberation. in reality, as both the black panthers and mao teach, this demand is a core point of unity that brings the advanced white masses into the struggle for anti-imperialism. to learn maoism, black and indigenous comrades must be able to connect their anti-racist struggles to the broad struggle against imperialism while white comrades must uphold this demand and learn to combat white chauvinism wherever it crops up: both the OP and their SC drastically fail at giving the reader, regardless of nationality, the theoretical and practical tools to do either.

clarity about the terms of this dispute is of the utmost importance for any anti-revisionist, as many white-led communist organizations in the u.s. have failed to understand the importance of national liberation and the right to self-determination for oppressed nations and other issues settler-colonialism thrusts upon oppressed people. in addition to perpetuating racism, this distances these “communists” from the deepest and broadest masses of people, preventing any meaningful practice of the three withs and thus robust application of the mass line. they, like the author, dismissed these demands as subsidiary to a “working class” that, we are meant to believe, would be “divided” by such nationally-specific calls. in their 1928 Theses on the Revolutionary Movement in the Colonies and Semi-Colonies (cited in johnson’s black marxism), harry haywood and n. nasanov warn against a trail of revisionism that they identify within the CPUSA by identifying that white party leaders had a habit of dismissing black sharecroppers’ demands for self-determination. their predictions became true: even as the third international made the line in favor of national liberation as clear as day, browder chose to ally himself with the “color-blind” demands of the white petit-bourgeoisie, disguising this betrayal as a “popular front” in the name of “multi-racialism.” it is disheartening but unsurprising to see this chauvinist error repeated by white “communists” to this day.

“class unity” is desirable, but it is not inherently so, and is neither a goal in and of itself nor a surefire solution to the problems that face nationally oppressed people. it is erroneous to think of “class unity” in juxtaposition with national liberation and anti-colonialism, but even if it were, choosing “class unity” over a righteous emphasis on the liberation of oppressed nations would be both chauvinist & tailist. the only desirable “class unity” — the only revolutionary “class unity” — which the BPP’s experience proves possible, is that which makes primary the struggles of oppressed people against the settler-colonial apparatus, and rallies the advanced white masses around this, linking it to their more general struggle against the bourgeoisie. this will naturally exclude more backward and chauvinist elements of the white masses, but this is fine; they should be either reformed or isolated, never pandered to.

we must acknowledge that the most advanced masses in the u.s. right now, as measured by concrete actions against the enemy, overwhelmingly are oppressed people struggling against settler-colonialism and its prisonhouse of nations (even if, due to bourgeois counterinsurgency that white “communists” inadvertently contribute to, not as many conceptualize it this way yet as previous generations did); we must not obscure the specificities of their struggle, flattening them into a generic notion of “the masses” and writing multiple articles during the george floyd rebellions arguing for the presence of a revolutionary situation that fail to once mention black people, or the intense struggles against the immigration forces that so terrorize latinos, or the indigenous nations fighting for their land and their sovereignty. we must not only actively call for the liberation of oppresed nations, but actively combat superstructural elements that aid in their oppression as well as the oppression of other ethnic minorities; we must not chant over calls to destroy white supremacy with calls to attack an unspecified “ruling class”. we must be clear about the fact that, while there do exist many white proletarians, the specific oppression of the u.s.’s internal colonies currently benefits white workers as a group, as it creates a large (though shrinking) & predominantly white labor aristocracy while also disproportionately sparing whites from the lowest ranks of the proletariat and from lumpenization; to deny this basic fact about the manifestation of u.s. imperialism in order to protect (either the speaker’s or the listener’s) white egos only delays the revolution that will by definition ultimately benefit the masses of all nations. we must emphasize the role of oppressed people not only as participants but leaders in revolutionary struggle, including acknowledging the autonomy and important role of not just marxist but non-marxist revolutionary nationalists (though we will participate in comradely ideological struggle with them, of course), rather than using calls for “class unity” to blunt their demands and ask that they become cogs in a white-led “communist” project that only sidelines said demands.

footies

  1. Problems of War and Strategy
  2. Prophetic Words
  3. The Maoist Party
  4. On Coalition Government
  5. Revolutionary Forces of the World Unite, Fight Against Imperialist Aggression!
  6. On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship
  7. Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder
  8. Against Avakianism
  9. see False Nationalism, False Internationalism‘s discussions on the ethiopian resistance against fascist italy and the Liberation Support Movement and Weather Underground
  10. which happens to be on and somehow takes priority over juneteenth for these people
  11. The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement – chapter 14: The Three Component Parts of the Mass Line
  12. Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art
  13. The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement – chapter 15: The Mass Line Method – Gathering the Ideas of the Masses
  14. On Coalition Government
  15. ​​​​​​​Preface and Postscript to Rural Surveys
  16. Get Organized!
  17. “During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it” – lenin, The State and Revolution
  18. see Peking Review’s Mass Line in Road Building, Industrial Management in China, Literary and Art Workers Must Go Among the Masses etc. etc, as well as mao’s On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People
  19. in To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey Newton
  20. The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination
  21. Liberate the Colonies!: Communism and Colonial Freedom 1917-1924 by john riddel, nazeef mollah, & vijay prashad 
  22. On the Kurdish National Question
  23. from the PCP’s “International Line” section of its GPL: “In appraising the world in this era, we see that four fundamental contradictions are expressed: 1) the contradiction between capitalism and socialism, referring to the contradiction between two radically different systems, which shall encompass this entire era. This contradiction shall be one of the last to be resolved, and shall endure after the seizure of power; 2) the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the contradiction between two opposed classes that shall also persist after the taking of power, manifesting itself in multiple ideological, political and economic forms until its resolution with the arrival of Communism; 3) the inter-imperialist contradictions, the contradiction between the imperialists themselves for hegemony in the world and it occurs between the superpowers themselves, between the superpowers and the imperialist powers and among the imperialist powers themselves. This contradiction shall be solved during the epoch of the next 50 to 100 years; 4) contradictions between the oppressed nations and imperialism which is the struggle for the liberation of oppressed nations in order to destroy imperialism and reaction, whose resolution is also framed within the next 50 to 100 years. During this time, this is the principal contradiction, although any one of the four fundamental contradictions can be principal in accordance with the specific circumstances of the class struggle, temporarily or in certain countries.” (emphasis mine)

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Mutual Aid, ‘Mass Work,’ and Communist Strategy

INTRODUCTION: ON THE MAOIST COMMUNIST PARTY

“Mass work is done within the class struggle and not on its margins.” – General Political Line of the Communist Party of Peru

In the months leading up to the eruption of the COVID-19 crisis, the central task of the Maoist Communist Party – OC had been to carry out mass work according to the slogan, “serve the people!” The main strategic orientation of this work should have been to build towards the formation of a Maoist communist party capable of serving as proletarian leadership of the mass movement, steering the struggle in a direction that brings us ever closer to a revolutionary break. Accomplishing this task first requires inserting our activists into the masses’ struggles, in order to qualitatively raise the level of class struggle and forge mass links through leading the masses in combat with the class enemy.

Lack of clarity about this orientation and the struggle to develop a strategic line on the question of party construction ultimately lead to the dismantling of the central structure of the MCP-OC at its 2020 congress. The disorganization we discovered over the course of that struggle was reflected in the formalistic centralization which defined the last year of our national work. While some of these errors can be traced to the ecletic or petit-bourgeois “Mao-ish” politics of many sectors of the former MCP-OC (ourselves included), others can only be attributed to a premature attempt to construct a national organization on the basis of a false unity around a style of work whose supposed strategic value was taken for granted.1

While the old national structure of the Maoist Communist Party – OC is gone, the struggle to construct a Maoist Communist Party lives on in the work of our newly autonomous local organizations. It is crucial for the success of that work that we remain clearheaded regarding the stage of struggle which we now face, in which all legitimately antirevisionist formations share the same daunting task: to articulate a proletarian class line as the practical application of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (understood as scientific methodology rather than a series of dictums and buzzwords) to the concrete situation in the so-called u.s.a, and to unite communist militants and the broad masses around that line through the concentric construction of the three instruments of the revolution.

As we enter into a new period of struggle, it is crucial that we seriously reflect on the style of work in question – referred to elsewhere as “serve the people program revisionism”2 – and evaluate our work according to real strategic metrics. In order to head off the possibility of our comrades taking this major step forward only to take two steps back, we offer the following summation of our work in a mutual aid organization as an exercise in self-criticism.

We furthermore advance that the central work for those formations emerging from the MCP-OC is primarily organizational. The small group left remains isolated from the masses, and has failed to develop serious unity on the basis of a real revolutionary program. This deficiency can only be overcome through the summation of (and struggle over) protracted sequences of mass work, which we define below as the practical application of the mass line method of leadership.

WHAT IS MASS WORK?

We take as our starting point the thesis advanced by the Communist Party of Peru: “in mass work the struggle for power and the struggle for revindications are two sides of the same coin.”3 In other words, the struggle for revindications, the “economic struggle,” is directly related to the political struggle for power. This is only the case insofar as the outcome of this work is agitation and organization of the masses towards the construction of organs developed with the conquest of power in mind. Building these fighting instruments requires, in no small part, direct combat with the enemy class — winning concessions or making expropriations rather than simply passing toothless reform laws or carrying out charity programs.

Accordingly, we understand the organizational/agitational aspect of mass work to be primary: the process of winning revindications should be understood as the principal aspect in the transformation of the masses into a political force under the command of a proletarian class line. Mass work, then, refers to the role played by communists and adjacent activists in organizing and agitating the masses within a given site of struggle, primarily for the pursuit of a concrete and tangible set of demands identified through the practice of social investigation and class analysis in a way that advances the long-term struggle for the conquest of political power. That is, mass work is the practical application of the mass line method of leadership.

The long term objectives of this work are to build up lasting and militant mass organization, to develop increasing numbers of people into revolutionaries and, eventually, communist militants, and to develop and apply the proletarian class line such that it leads the broad masses, rather than existing primarily as an idea in the heads of small and isolated “revolutionary” collectives.

We then arrive at the properly revolutionary-scientific – that is, Maoist – understanding of the role of mass work: “the struggle for revindications must be developed serving the conquest of power.”4 Or, according to the Communist Party of the Philippines, in reference to the construction of mass organizations: “[organization] can only be formed in the midst of mass struggles [emphasis ours].”5 The key link, as is always the case for Marxists, remains class struggle. In order to lead the deepest (and eventually broadest) masses, we must immerse ourselves among them, intervening in the spontaneous mass movements while generating new ones through the application of the mass line, and working tirelessly for the construction of struggle organizations capable of advancing a revolutionary program.

This is necessarily contrasted with the dominant style of work within our milieu: namely, NGO-style economism which, lacking a basis in the class struggle (which should be the primary component of mass work), takes the form of glorified mutual aid work, occasionally buffeted with meager attempts at consciousness raising through “political education,” typically consisting of zines or literature distributed with mutual aid goods.

While recruitment of new cadres for the old MCP-OC or its “intermediate” organizations has taken place as a result of these practices, that has been mainly as a consequence of their (often spectacular) propaganda value.

The real movement for proletarian revolution depends materially on the emergence of the proletariat as a political class equipped to lead. While the existence of the proletariat as an economic class is an objective social fact, the proletariat as a political class emerges only insofar as it takes up its role in the historical fight for political power.

This development into a class-for-itself does not emerge spontaneously from the mass movement alone; as Lenin describes, “the history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation.”6 The historical development of the working class movement is itself bound by its inscription in the social whole of capitalist society. Only conscious intervention on the part of communist militants in this process is capable of facilitating the transformation of the working class into a political force capable turning the mass movement into a protracted struggle for political power under proletarian leadership.

The content of this intervention can be nothing other than the provision of organization itself – returning once more to Lenin, “In its struggle for power the proletariat has no other weapon but organization. Disunited by the rule of anarchic competition in the bourgeois world, ground down by forced labor for capital, constantly thrust back to the “lower depths” of utter destitution, savagery, and degeneration, the proletariat can, and inevitably will, become an invincible force only through its ideological unification on the principles of Marxism being reinforced by the material unity of organization, which welds millions of toilers into an army of the working class.”7

It is only this process of organization as a class which, as a material, practical unity, gives birth to the proletariat as the leading force of revolutionary struggle; the highest form of this organization is the party of a new type, forged through mass struggle as the relation of leadership between the proletarian class line and the broader mass movement. This is why we argue for the principally organizational character of mass work, over and against propaganda work.

MUTUAL AID” OR CLASS STRUGGLE?

Given the preceding definition of mass work in the context of party building – the intervention of militants and activists in mass struggle with the aim of generating mass organizations for the purpose of class struggle under the leadership of a proletarian class line – the objective of the slogan, “serve the people!” should be understood as a call to utilize the mass line in order to organize the masses to meet their demands while merging their short- and long-term interests. This is markedly different from the conception of the slogan commonly advanced in our milieu – namely, meeting whatever demands can be met through NGO-style charity work in an effort to aid in the synthetic generation of mass (and “intermediate”) organizations.

The seemingly ceaseless accumulation of intermediate (even consciously anti-capitalist or ‘Marxist-Leninist-Maoist’!) elements by the practical work of our organizations speaks to our failure in adequately grasping the strategic questions of party construction.

Instead, by carrying out non-combative economist ‘mutual aid’ work under the banner of “serve the people!” slogans, we regularly exhaust our objective organizational capacity and misdirect our forces towards politically impossible or otherwise backwards goals. To be clear, while mutual aid – or other forms of work which prioritize meeting needs left unmet by the traditional state apparatus or other functionaries of the reproduction of the conditions of production – is certainly helpful, for a number of reasons it should not be considered the principle objective of mass work of any type. Sober strategic assessment is necessary.

Additionally, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, we are never going to be able to actually “meet the needs” of the people in general; the communist movement as it exists hardly represents a “dual power” (which, we should clarify, is achieved through the liberation of territory during armed struggle and not through mutual aid work) which could offer a viable political alternative to the reproductive arm of the bourgeois state apparatus or its NGO/charitable lackeys.

If the primary political goal of a grocery distribution program, for example, is to “feed the people,” in the current moment it will continue to run up against the fact that, practically, the structures and resources available to the NGO-complex or the state apparatus will be better equipped to meet that need.

More importantly, such a top-down approach ultimately misconceives of the role that communist leadership should play in the mass context. Approaching the problem of “mutual aid,” particularly in the midst in the COVID-19 pandemic (in which “mutual aid” organizations have taken on an unprecedented mass character!) as though the responsibility of our organizations is to provide aid obscures the importance of organizing the masses themselves, with the goal of concentric construction in mind. It reflects a petit-bourgeois political line in the ostensibly communist camp (when not outright resulting in the formation of red NGOs).

We repeat: the main objective at this time should be to quantitatively advance the overall class movement and qualitatively advance both new and existing struggles through the organic formation of autonomous8, mass-based organizations. Mutual aid work can be constructive, under certain circumstances (for example, limited forms of mutual aid can facilitate early work to develop relationships to the masses in a particular neighborhood or site of struggle, although that should always be evaluated according to the relevant organizational cost and potential benefit) but inherently remains secondary to organizational work and class struggle. Its primary political purpose should be to enhance the struggle-oriented aspects of our work via social investigation and the identification of mass contacts.

ON INVESTIGATION

It should be clear that the correct approach to this problem was not to form mutual aid organizations under a proletarian banner or with ostensibly proletarian politics as their guiding line – which has been our practice until to this point – but instead to help develop such organization from within the masses themselves, under communist guidance, and to struggle for a proletarian line within the organizations thus formed. Furthermore, these should be fighting organizations; recognizing that the proletarian class line is by definition antagonistic to the rule of the bourgeoisie and its institutions, to limit the work of mass organizations to simply meeting immediate needs is to, willingly or not, affirm the relegation of that mass work to the terrain of charity rather than the struggle for political power. Only through combat can the proletariat realize itself as a political class; wherever possible, therefore, our work should be concentrated in arenas where we are able to sharpen the contradiction between the masses and the ruling class into open conflict, or where there are clear stakes.

Examples of such arenas are tenant or workers’ struggles, or any mass struggle capable of taking on an antagonistic posture: student organizing (particularly when linked up with the workers’ struggle), anti-gentrification or anti-police work (particularly when linked to the national liberation struggle), exposing and combating sexual predators/abusers/anti-women elements, antifascist struggle, etc. These arenas share the characteristic of a possible demarcation of class camps, and therefore the capacity to help develop and win a fight against the enemy through mass mobilization for class struggle. They also share the characteristic of having a concretely defined base: in shop-floor organizing, it is fairly clear who is or isn’t an employee, for example – we can clearly delimit the external objective conditions under consideration in an organizing effort. While in reality this will always be more complicated than the simple question of whether contact A works for employer B, there is nevertheless a clear distinction between a mass campaign which has a definite base and one which does not.

Even in the case of “mutual aid” style work, there are still ways to work towards politically productive ends, but only if that work is carried out deliberately and with a strictly demarcated base and strictly defined political goals. More concretely, distributions such as these serve as sites to propagandize around the failure of the bourgeois state apparatus to carry out its reproductive function, and to initiate social investigation and class analysis (SICA); the determination of the specific external conditions, both subjective and objective, within a potential base area and the preliminary organization of the masses (in the form of popular committees around specific sites of class conflict) are the politically relevant gesture and not the mutual aid work itself.

The UCFml (French Communist Union, Marxist-Leninist) offer a helpful description of this process:
“When we speak of an organizing investigation, it refers to the Marxist-Leninist conception (condensed by Mao in the formula: to investigate a problem is to resolve it) which considers that an investigation already participates in a process of organization, which contradicts the conception of the investigation as an accumulation of documents, a prelude to all action.”9

Carrying out the SICA process requires taking seriously the essentially dual character of investigation as both sharpening the understanding of the militants regarding the external conditions in a site of mass work and as an opportunity to begin the process of organizing a base around the conflicts thus identified, not as a “first X, then Y” but by framing the investigation with the objective of organizing the struggle thoroughly in mind.

The process of investigation itself should be oriented around the construction of a coherent organizational program or set of demands, with the role of militants being to struggle for a proletarian or left-line in that context. Again, the UCFml explain, “The investigation will be organizational, not around organizational proposals, but under the general idea of a program of demands, a program of non-dispersed or punctual stakes.”10

This follows from the actual practice of the Chinese revolutionary experience; Mao wrote, “Our chief method of investigation must be to dissect the different social classes, the ultimate purpose being to understand their interrelations, to arrive at a correct appraisal of class forces and then to formulate the correct tactics for the struggle, defining which classes constitute the main force in the revolutionary struggle, which classes are to be won over as allies and which classes are to be overthrown [emphasis ours].”11

Thus, broadly, the goal of investigation should be the rallying of advanced or intermediate mass contacts within the site of struggle (whether a shop-floor or building or other potential base) in order to discern the left- and right- lines in the struggle and develop a tactics (according to a proletarian class line) which can unite the masses in order to win their demands through class struggle while raising political consciousness or fulfilling other strategic goals in the process.

THE ROLE OF OUR ACTIVISTS IN A MUTUAL AID ORGANIZATION

At the national level, our organizational missteps stem from a lack of clear strategic orientation in the regard outlined above: that improper execution of the slogan “serve the people!” according to a practice of petty mutual aid has mired many of our organizations in a particularly toothless form of economism and closed off real avenues of class struggle, leaving us without a real strategy for making revolution.

Taking a summation of the work of FTP Boston in a mutual aid formation as data for a practical analysis of mass work in the pandemic context, we will attempt to sketch once again the question of the “politics” of mass work, principally in their relationship to the work of party building, and discuss the role of our organizers in the mass organization context.

the initial situation: external conditions and the formation of the mutual aid organization

The initial proposal for the formation of the mutual aid organization emerged out of conversation between several activists from FTP and organizers from other formations (principally anarchists and some Marxist-Leninists).

From the outset, our framing revealed an incorrect approach to the question of how to initiate mass work in the pandemic context. The proposal to form the organization was based on the observation of a “real need,”: the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 crisis would mean the loss of access to a meal source for many families. The added financial burden of sourcing at least one extra meal per day, coupled with loss of income due to work closures or reduced hours, lead us to predict that many households would be facing economic pressure on two fronts, understood in terms of “cost of living.”

“Cost of living,” is, of course, a bourgeois euphemism – such a framing displaces the role of the maintenance of the laborer (a key element in the reproduction of the conditions of production) onto the working class itself, obfuscating the social fact that the “cost of living,” is always already calculated by the capitalist class in the form of wages.

Marx writes, “The cost of production of simple labor-power amounts to the cost of the existence and propagation of the worker. The price of this cost of existence and propagation constitutes wages. The wages thus determined are called the minimum of wages. This minimum wage, like the determination of the price of commodities in general by cost of production, does not hold good for the single individual, but only for the race. Individual workers, indeed, millions of workers, do not receive enough to be able to exist and to propagate themselves; but the wages of the whole working class adjust themselves, within the limits of their fluctuations, to this minimum.”12

Thus, the framing “cost of living,” re-situates a social fact of the capitalist system determined at the level of production (the minimum of wages necessary for the maintenance of the working class as a source of labor-power) within the sphere of consumption/distribution/exchange. Taken as a whole, the capitalist class facilitates this process at both ends (wages paid are used to purchase goods which complete the MCM’ circuit at the site of distribution/exchange) as a structural necessity of the production process itself.

A tension thus emerges when wages (meant to fluctuate around the anchor point of this real cost of re/production of the laborer as laborer) drop below the cost of reproduction for a sustained period of time; the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie sharpens in those instances when the process of social reproduction is interrupted in this way.

In such instances, the function of the state apparatus, to “alleviate class conflict and keep it within the bounds of ‘order'”13 is the facilitation of social reproduction until the actual economic conditions allow wages to adequately cover the necessary real cost of the maintenance of the laborer; economic crisis leads to state intervention at the site of social reproduction specifically insofar as the reproduction of the laborer is:

  1. requisite for the sustained extraction of surplus-value at the site of production; and
  2. requisite for the maintenance of “order,” that is, for preventing social unrest and the emergence of the proletariat as a political class

Thus, in such instances, the reproductive function of the state apparatus kicks in: “social welfare” programs and the NGO/charity auxiliary arm of the state steps in to close the gap between real wages and the real cost of the maintenance of the worker.

The closure of schools and subsequent loss of the state-funded school lunch program – which, notably, was re-initiated a few weeks into the pandemic – therefore marked a hiccup in the normal function of the state apparatus in ensuring social reproduction during periods of economic “instability.” Consequently, a real crisis for the capitalist order could have emerged, and in fact did emerge, but only at the level of spontaneous economic consciousness (and one which was not particularly combative, at that) rather than in the recognition of the need for a political struggle for power.14

Indeed, it should be noted that the formation of the mutual aid organization did not even attend to the (now clearly stillborn) economic struggle which the pandemic generated. Our focus on an identified social need illustrates this failure; by (correctly) recognizing that food access would quickly become limited for many workers across the city, we (incorrectly) focused our work on a secondary phenomenon without engaging in practical struggle around the contradictions which drove the crisis (for example, housing or the workers’ struggle). That is, by intervening at the site of social reproduction, we, materially, carried out the function of the state apparatus or its NGO/charity auxiliary arm. While the real economic consciousness of the masses floundered and died out in false victories won under the leadership of revisionist forces, we prioritized fostering a redistributive consciousness (and, as a result, a petit-bourgeois class line) which simply facilitated the circulation of the masses’ limited resources among themselves rather than winning concessions from the enemy class.

internal conditions

Identification of this “real need” was our point of departure; from there, we moved to assess our internal objective capacities, ultimately electing to base our operation out of a left-aligned organizing space. 15

The resources with which we were initially working were limited. We had access to two potential operational bases: an infoshop, with limited physical space, located in a rapidly gentrifying, but still chiefly proletarian, neighborhood, and a co-working space in a (petit-)bourgeois neighborhood which was historically used for punk shows and movementist organizing.

Our choice to use the co-working space as our primary site of operations was based on practical concerns – mainly, having space to work – rather than political analysis. While our preliminary investigation (focusing on which parts of the city would be most severely affected by the school closures) revealed that the area around the infoshop likely faced more immediate need for grocery distribution than the area around the co-working space we ultimately elected to use, the spatial concerns won out.

We justified this decision after the fact by citing the space’ proximity to a methadone clinic, and thus a large lumpen- and semi-proletarian population nearby, but our initial mode of distribution was incapable of meaningfully meeting the needs of that demographic. We began by offering pre-packed bags of groceries, initially sourced through collection of donations of produce from the end-of-the-night supply of an open air market, but later learned through investigation that pre-prepared food was more useful for the lumpen-proletarian population we aimed to serve. The discovery of that contradiction between our style of work and the needs of our “mass base” coincided with the closure of the open-air market due to pandemic-related concerns; we were therefore forced to shift our model and became reliant on cash donations in order to purchase groceries to redistribute, contributing to our “red charity” model while also facilitating our preparation of “no-cook” distribution bags that helped us serve people who lack access to a kitchen.

At this point, it is also pertinent to consider the subjective conditions internal to the core of organizers responsible for the initial formation of the mutual aid organization. From the outset, we grappled with the consequences of (often intense) ideological heterogeneity and limited practical experience in organizing a distribution program of this type; while we shared a broad (and erroneous) tactical orientation, as described above, our organizing committee was composed of activists from a wide number of political tendencies and only some had experience in distribution (either in the form of “Food not Bombs”-style hot-serves or in charitable, nonpolitical work). Our political differences came into sharp relief throughout numerous line struggles, especially early in our work, when we committed time and energy into determining a correct organizational structure for the organization.

Much of this debate followed from a concrete practical need which had developed out of our style of work until that point; after forming, we quickly realized that the work of a grocery distribution was divided into a number of categories, around which we set up subcommittees (which we referred to as “working groups,” including ‘Collections,’ ‘Delivery,’ ‘Distribution,’ etc.). While this decision was necessary in order to carry out our work in an expedient way, there was a consequent silo-ing of organizers into their own subcommittees. We had no clear process for broad or top-level decision making and no easy way to coordinate between various subcommittees.

In the early stage of our work, this was less problematic – we were a fairly small group and operated as a traditional coalition, with a leading council composed of a limited number of representatives from each constituent organization. As we rapidly grew in size, and took on organizers from outside of our primary constituent organizations in order to bolster our capacity, it became clear that a new organizational model was necessary.

We therefore elected to adopt a “spokes-council” model, in which elected representatives of each subcommittee sat on a central council to coordinate between their respective groups’ needs. The spokes council was vested with an ambiguous decision-making capacity, and therefore failed to meaningfully address our lack of a coherent method of leadership. It was, in essence, a flattened-out central committee structure which only moderately rectified our silo-d subcommittee structure: a central hub with subcommittees as the surrounding “spokes” on the organizational wheel.

As this became more and more obviously unsustainable, we opened debate about forming a new organizational structure that better met our needs while also allowing for coherent decision making processes. This particular question was marked by an intense line struggle between FTP’s activists and an anarchist core which had formed around opposition to so-called hierarchical structures. Notably, while the contradiction between our political analyses came into sharp relief during this particular line struggle, it emerged because we collectively identified the same set of organizational errors.

While we in FTP still reject the ultraleft “anti-authoritarian,” line, it is clear in retrospect that our own line on the structural question was also erroneous. In this case, we committed to a dogmatic error of formalist defense of “democratic centralism,” without a clear understanding of that principle or its place in the structure of the mass organization.

To be clear: democratic centralism is a political principle (“freedom of discussion, unity of action,”) and not a structural prescription. We fought obsessively in defense of so-called democratic centralism and in so doing, sparked needless conflict rather than pursuing principled ideological struggle with elements who were chiefly our allies. This speaks to a need for further ideological development of our activists, and for further study of the principle “unity-struggle-unity” as a point of orientation for our relationships to other organizers.

Especially in mass organizations – which the mutual aid organization ideally should be – the question of practical structure is absolutely critical. How we organize ourselves is part of our style of work, and decision making processes should be arranged in order to best facilitate proletarian democratic practice without sacrificing structural needs. While our division into subcommittees for specific avenues of work was a necessary and pragmatic choice, we believe that broad steering decisions should be made in the context of general body meetings to maximize participation from all elements and thereby ensure that the principle of democratic centralism can be applied in practice; meanwhile, day-to-day operational or logistical decisions should be made by leadership within whichever committees are relevant.

Part of the difficulty in this question remains that the mutual aid organization in question is not an organic mass organization. This is not a question of the class composition of the formation – which is ultimately external to the question of whether or not it has a mass character – but one of its organic relationship with the mass movement, properly understood. It has emerged not out of, but in response to, mass struggle.

As a result, it has remained composed primarily of already “radicalized” elements (many with a petit-bourgeois class background) of a variety of ideological tendencies; while its points of unity are deliberately broad and its membership procedures mass-oriented, its emergence as a “red charity” formation is a direct consequence of its being formed in isolation from the masses, an isolation which has continued even while the organization directly interfaces with them. It is a synthetic, rather than organic, organization.

The key lesson remains that mass work must take place within the struggle itself and not on its margins. By carrying out our organizational work outside of the struggle between the masses and the class enemy, we have neutralized our ability to effectively intervene in the real movement, generate new struggles, or win the masses over to a communist program. The revolutionary masses need new forms of organization that correspond to their desire for struggle and to the possibilities of the situation. Responding to this need is what is decisive in advancing, and not palliative “mutual aid” remedies.

APPENDIX: DOCUMENTS OF THE MUTUAL AID ORGANIZATION

1. points of unity

  1. We are anti-capitalists and anti-racists. The Covid-19 crisis has only revealed already existing contradictions within capitalism; impact has been most felt in working class communities, especially Black, Indigenous, and communities of color.
  2. We unite against the capitalist state and its repressive arm, the police, which occupies Black and working class communities. Even as the state offers band-aid fixes to the pandemic, we understand that capitalism is the source of our suffering. We fight for revolution and the complete abolition of capitalism and its police force. Only political power in the hands of the working class will be able to resolve the crises of capitalism.
  3. We serve the people. While we understand that mutual aid alone cannot resolve the crises of capitalism, survival programs by and for the people are a tool to build and deepen our relationships as organizers with working communities in the Boston area, to develop revolutionary leaders from within working communities, and to raise the consciousness of the working class. The capitalists and their hired thugs, the police, hate mutual aid, because it teaches the masses that we are able to care for one another; it is a glimpse into the society we could build, free from the ravages of capitalism and settler colonialism.

2. “who we are; what we do”16

We are a coalition of organizers who are united around the principle that pandemic is political. While the owning class – people like your boss, your landlord, or politicians – can afford to work from home, self-isolate and pay for treatment, we, the workers, don’t get that option. If we don’t work, we can’t pay rent; if our hours are cut, or the schools we send our kids to close, we’re left to fend for ourselves, and all this while the class who makes those decisions sits comfortably at home.

We know that the whole damn system is responsible – what the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed is not anything new, it’s just an intensification of contradictions that were always here. The rich get richer and protect themselves, while the people whose labor produces their wealth are hung out to dry. So we’re organizing to help meet the basic needs of our comrades in this time of crisis, and working to build resilient structures of working class organization that can continue to fight back against a system that depends on our exploitation.

Right now, we distribute free supplies to people who need it. We pass those out during our weekly serve, every Monday at 5:30pm at M——–, and by delivering to the people who can’t make it out in person. We run these distributions to serve the people in the ways that we can, but also because we understand the need to build political power and advance towards revolution. In order to do that, we need to get organized as the oppressed and build our ability to fight back; in order to even do that, we need to survive.

We are influenced by the Service to the People programs of the Black Panther Party, who understood that, while the problems facing the masses will not be solved without revolution, it’s the responsibility of militants to ensure the survival of the people until that moment comes; they called these programs “survival” programs, as in “survival, pending revolution.” We are not a charity, we are a survival program.

3. statement on migrant justice and the pandemic17

To our comrades –

Under no circumstances will [the mutual aid organization] ask any of our community members for identification of any kind, ever.

Our points of unity state that we are anti-imperialist and anti-racist; we are steadfastly opposed to the criminalization of human movement and the fascist notion of “illegal immigration.” No human being is illegal. The borders of the u.s.a. settler state—and all borders drawn by the euro-amerikan imperialist powers—are the product of colonial violence and we see no reason to uphold laws which enforce them.

Part of how we adhere to this point of unity is our refusal to ever ask for identification in exchange for supplies; solidarity means solidarity with all oppressed peoples. We also unite with the call to immediately free all prisoners held in immigration detention centers and cease all ICE/CBP raids, which take advantage of a global pandemic to enforce a reign of terror in our most vulnerable communities. Pandemic is political; the ongoing fascist violence carried out by ICE/CBP against immigrant communities under the cover of a public health crisis is a manifestation of this political character.

COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief all of the contradictions inherent to capitalism-imperialism and the bourgeois dictatorship; in this moment of crisis, it is the responsibility of revolutionaries to unite with the oppressed masses and topple the domination of a capitalist class which has so clearly demonstrated its lack of regard for human life. While our migrant comrades are left to die in detention centers, terrorized by fascist thugs, and our unhoused comrades starve in the streets, the enemy class lounge in their mansions. Enough is enough!

We call on all comrades to build networks of solidarity which serve the people!

Build working class power to fight imperialist power!

4. “why free stores?” statement18

what is a free store?

A free store is exactly what it sounds like. Clothes, home goods, books, safer sex supplies, and whatever else we could get, made freely available for the people. We understand the constant need for many of these items, especially for workers, who are usually too broke or tired to constantly be buying and fixing what they have.

We do this for a few reasons, not only because its good to help people out, but because we know living under capitalism is hell. Being black, latinx, a woman, or LGBT+ under white supremacy and patriarchy is hell. We are influenced by the Service to the People programs of the Black Panther Party, who understood that, while the problems facing the masses will not be solved without revolution, it’s the responsibility of militants to ensure the survival of the people until that moment comes; they called these programs “survival” programs, as in “survival, pending revolution.”

Like Huey said, “[a Serve The People program is like] the survival kit of a sailor stranded on a raft. It helps him to sustain himself until he can get completely out of that situation. So the survival programs are not answers or solutions, but they will help us to organize the community around a true analysis and understanding of their situation. When consciousness and understanding is raised to a high level then the community will seize the time and deliver themselves from the boot of their oppressors.”

So we run the Free Store to serve the people in ways that we can, but also because, as communists, we understand the need to build political power and advance towards revolution.

where does all of this stuff come from?

Most of these items were donated to the Free Store by other members of the community, the broad working masses of the neighborhood. We understand that engaging in acts of solidarity and helping out our neighbors can go farther and do more to help build the power of oppressed people than giving to a thrift store like Goodwill would (especially since they make money off of selling donated stuff to you!)

If you have stuff you want to get rid of, or you’re interested in getting involved in our work, come talk to us!

what’s the difference between this and a charity?

The Free Store is a survival program, part of a larger effort to build what we call “dual power.” Dual power means the people and their revolutionary organizations no longer need to rely on the government that serves the bosses and landlords. In order to do that, we need to get organized as the oppressed and build our ability to fight back; and in order to do even that, we need to survive. Charities, on the other hand, are not interested in truly changing the social and economic systems that create the need for them in the first place. At the end of the day, charities are basically businesses.

who are we?

For the People – Boston (FTP – Boston) is part of a nationwide network of revolutionary anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist organizations started by the Organizing Committee for a Maoist Communist Party. We believe that oppressed people have the power to overthrow capitalism. FTP serves to unite those who are developing themselves and their communities by running survival programs to help build the political power of the oppressed.


1c.f. Maoist Communist Party – Organizing Committee, ‘Developing Organs of Political Power,’ ‘So you want to start an FTP?’, etc. or Hammer and Anchor, “The difference between us and them: left and right responses to COVID-19.”

2c.f. Maoist Communist Group, “SPARC: The development and failure of a political project.” Three Documents of the Maoist Communist Group.

3Communist Party of Peru, General Political Line of the Communist Party of Peru

4Ibid.

5Communist Party of the Philippines, “On Mass Work.”

6V.I. Lenin, What is to be done?

7V.I. Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

8That is, independent of the bourgeois state apparatus and its legally sanctioned modes of “protest,” including the NGO-complex, the treacherous bureaucratic-revisionist trade unions or the social fascist parties.

9Union des communistes de France marxiste-léniniste, “Le livre des paysans pauvres.”

10Ibid.

11Mao Zedong, Oppose Book Worship!

12Karl Marx, Wage Labor and Capital.

13Friedrich Engels, The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.

14That is, the “strike wave” which rippled across the country demanding hazard pay for “essential workers.” While largely organized by the bureaucratic-revisionist business unions (themselves an arm of the state apparatus) and hardly an example of combative class struggle, the sharp increase in labor struggles at all clearly impacted the course of state management of the pandemic, principally in order to ameliorate tensions at the shop level.

15c.f. ‘Sloan McDichael,’ “Against Subjectivism & Toward Analytical Decision-Making,” for a lucid and contemporary description of the mass line method of leadership by way of questions of internal/external conditions and subjective/objective variables.

16This text, in English and Spanish, was included along with the organization’s points of unity as a pamphlet inserted into each distribution bag.

17This statement was circulated as part of a broader local push to struggle against ICE/CBP and in response to concerns raised by a mass contact regarding whether their access would be revoked if they could not produce identification.

18This document preceded the establishment of the mutual aid organization, but represents our initial, and deeply incorrect, orientation. To repeat: dual power is a question of politics, and political power flows from the barrel of a gun. The struggle for power is the principal objective of the revolution, which is to say, the objective of revolutionary war. It is not, and for good reason, the question of workers’ control or community co-operatives.