LORD'N'BONDSMAN ON A CAR RIDE, LORD'N'BONDSMAN IN THE BAR & GRILL
Like any organization attempting to build from top-to-bottom, for instance a pyramid scheme, the big parties effectively rely on recruiting the most vulnerable people to fill their ranks. There’s nothing really wrong with this, yet, since these are technically parties of oppressed and working people. However, the leadership of a nascent branch isn’t going to bring in the average cleaner or one of the few remaining factory workers, or student activists and intellectuals, but the people who are already embedded in communism in its subcultural form. This means people who are, primarily, extremely online and, secondly, passively invested in mostly aesthetic notions of communism itself.
Even as someone who was/is partially this type of person, I can say without a doubt that the average recruit plucked from this milieu is basically going to be fucked up in some way. This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, just a general observation that anyone who’s half-self-aware is going to make, maybe a prejudice. The problem is that, invariably, that this subculture attracts and reproduces a reserve of usually nice, but ultimately credulous, nerds whose present political configuration consists of winning Facebook arguments at best.
Under conditions of intense atomization and imperialist decline, the collective drive for social-class organization is becoming more frantic as it becomes more necessary for identification and basic psychological well-being. The reality is we were left with no institutions, communities, or cultures to call our own, as working class and oppressed people. Essentially we have to search rather blindly for alternatives, or try to cobble together our own, or else we live and die alone as individuals or mere members of a family unit. This is a mass-psychological issue, in spite of its root cause in social alienation and imperialist complacency. The subcultural communist milieu, like a lot of online communities, is in the middle of this psychic tension between atomized personhood and communal life. Usually, members in leadership positions understand this completely.
As I’ve seen personally in a handful of cases, the party leadership will intervene on this kind of dilemma with a more or less ready-made alternative, which is its own internal life. The process of initiation into that life is, however, one of passive acceptance, and the exigencies of internal party life generally emulate the passive investment of time and energy into “Bro, we are Communist, problem?” memes, for example. At face value, this is boring, bog-standard organizational work but the real, practical activity of the party in this moment upon its subject is, from a more critical perspective, an act of pity for a dying social order engineered by a cabal of political hucksters flying red flags. The retention of these particular members, their trust, and their unwavering support for the party’s given status quo is basically guaranteed out of this original, conscious act of psychological wish-fulfillment.
The new members scuttle into this social organization, like a fan club, to fulfill a psychological necessity with no concrete way of rendering that necessity into political action nor subjectively transforming the party’s purely social character into an expressly political one. On their own, these people are obviously totally capable of independent and critical thought as individuals. However, this psychological relationship to the party, which is consciously bred by higher membership, and the basic ideological ignorance of collectivity and community, which is reproduced by imperialist mass-culture at large, has a disastrous tendency to strangle independent and critical thought as Marxists, within a self-described Marxist organization. (This phenomenon also tends to push slightly inconvenient ideological struggles from the party itself to a peripheral zone at a “healthy” distance from it. This usually means those struggles hit Twitter and the meme pages until the party’s members are just so overwhelmed that it stops any attempts at practical work dead in its tracks. More on this later.)
This, in turn, has a depressing effect on the internal democratic processes that are meant to take place within the party’s centralized body. Ironically, this produces a situation in which members can change any little aspect of the outside world that they choose, within reason, but they’ll never be able to change any little aspect of a party that’s supposed to change the world. Members will be relieved from one point of psychological tension, only to get twisted into another, perhaps worse, one. In real life, this subsequent contradiction is translated into emotional outbursts against external dissent (substantial or not), depression during periods of counterrevolution elsewhere in the world, despair when unexpected events on a world scale seem to deviate from generally optimistic party analyses, or legitimate terror when more pessimistic party analyses are vindicated.
About an hour after a Syrian military airport was bombed by the US, accompanying further threats to escalate against the government’s areas of control, I was invited to the PSL’s planning event for a picket the next day. I got there to find that everyone was already wasted and in varying forms of frantic distress, except girlfriends who were quietly babysitting them (More on this later.), between rehearsing the chants they were e-mailed. One particular member was sobbing, and he kept telling me that World War 3 was ready to spark off. He said he didn’t want to get drafted and die, or witness that level of suffering and destruction in his life. Having followed the whole clusterfuck for years, as well as the weak left-wing opposition to the intervention, I patiently explained to him that the US was going to look worse for swinging its dick in front of all the other imperialist powers, if anything it was simply going to advance its legitimacy crisis, and, besides that, the Syrian people and progressive forces in the region would immediately stop fucking around and resist if it all came to an inter-imperialist ground war. It was half-truth, half white-lie, but it managed to calm him down from a full-on panic attack.
In my mind, the whole point is not that there’s a growing population of atomized individuals coming into the communist movement who are joining these organizations to fulfill a need that imperialism neglects, or even actively destroys; the point isn’t even that the parties are conscious of this and maybe prey on people’s psyches to retain membership, which is politically justifiable; the point is that these parties are incapable of giving its members the power to think, criticize, and act as Marxists, especially within its own processes. Instead, history is an uncontrollable lever that pulls itself, and two seconds later you watch helplessly as untold thousands die in pain. That’s a drastic failure of party leadership and an irresponsible, immoral misuse of the party itself.
If the party itself isn’t actionable, it can’t be political. If the party isn’t political, every member below a certain threshold is psychologically and intellectually disarmed. They’re essentially at the mercy of whatever “National” says and whatever local does.
Any fucking moron can compare these aforementioned issues to a cult, which we tend to hear all the time. With the exception of the RCP-USA, the parties are no more cultish than marketing teams, only the parties are a magnitude less successful than marketers are for all intents and purposes. Any organization of people can decompose into an oppressive husk from its original role and function in keeping them together. This is a process that occurs more or less organically when an organization has no demonstrable grounding, direction, or principles, which is a general problem any kind of organizer has to contend with.
The compounding problem with that is democratic centralism is supposed to solve that first, basic problem and it’s supposed to work at least most of the time, with constant activity, a degree of fungibility, and a clear margin of error that it derives from the political life of the proletariat. Without politics in command, both the democratic and centralist aspects will fall away and ossify into a mostly static hierarchy of “some people” who claim to be important authorities, plus maybe a few people who handle the money. This was one fairly key aspect of the ideological crisis within the Soviet bloc, and the rot is clearly present in the big parties.
For the PSL, the constitution demands seven full members to officially start a branch. A candidate has to go through 13 courses of “political education” to become a full member. If you’re lucky and somewhat dedicated, it’ll take 13 weeks to become a PSL member; if not, it could take months due to the fact that you’ll have to catch virtual or physical classes on each subject you have left lasting about an hour and a half to two hours on free weekends. Sometimes the schedules are just completely off. While virtual classes are proctored by people from “National”, the physical ones are outlined, taught, and proctored by the locals. This is broadly considered a security measure but that’s just a silly idea for a lot of reasons; it’s basic ideological training stretched over 13 courses, with an emphasis on basic. Rather than its technical utility as a security measure, it’s more useful as a means of keeping membership low, inert, and sustainable. This is reasonable for bigger cities but, outside of them, emerging locals have to fight an uphill battle for recognition and regularized party support. Dues and donations usually go straight to the national treasury, most likely to service the big cities. Additionally, the incentive to actively bring the relatively large communist subculture into the realm of full-membership retention is evident in this situation, even if it’s not issued by directive.
I mean to point out, in part, that even the “big parties” with arguably the most clout are very, very small and they’re probably going to keep being that way. The movement in this country, between X number of disparate organizations, probably numbers about 200-300 active cadres altogether. Numerically, it’s extremely weak. Accordingly, it’s also insignificant as a political force. Ideologically, if cadres aren’t just mistaken for dying members of an obscure historical society, they’re generally going to be impressionable, especially as the movement gets younger over time. Finally, there’s a general consensus that the coming immolation of the planet, as well as a crisis of imperialism, will enable the movement to grow rapidly and exponentially over the next 15 years, in which time younger leadership will replace the old.
Now, certain special individuals will notice something, even if they don’t fully know it; which is that hegemony within the movement itself hasn’t been consolidated by a dominant communist tendency or organization and, relative to the movement’s size and net inexperience, a single person could potentially dominate that hegemonic force itself and develop the party, and the course of political conquest, in the “right” direction during a sweetspot in its growth. Those special individuals are called narcissists or careerists, or both. Unfortunately, at the moment, they’re generally local leadership or prominent organizers rather than isolated rank-and-file party members.
They’re the cadres who, in the last instance, decide to make somewhat manipulative, and sometimes ethically challenging, decisions in the process of recruitment and internal politicking, as well as consistently draft and send reports to national-level leadership on basically everything that’s going on. These reports are taken as gospel without a contradicting account or complaint, but sometimes with them too. Sometimes a liaison from “National” swings by the local branch chair’s apartment for a few days and just goes home after that; if you’re lucky, they bring some books and make you pay for them.
These liaisons mainly look over the reports, check on local political activity, and tend to feel the room for the internal dynamics of the branch for about an hour. The best I can describe it, it’s like an inspection call from Child Protective Services when an abusive parent actually has their shit together. The ratio of real, institutional power between a national-level organizer, or a member of the Central Committee, and local leadership is so disproportionately small compared to the gap between the rank-and-file and local leadership that putting faith in the party’s own constitutional procedures and codes of discipline is basically just total idiot logic for most of the people involved. The party can’t command actually existing trust or faith from its members without clearly earning it. Whether or not local leadership is taking advantage of a disciplinary code built on fucking pinky-promises is immaterial because the power to do so will definitely be felt by the leadership, and more perceptive members will feel uneasy wondering when, maybe not even if, leadership will abuse it.
As for those cadres as individuals, I haven’t met a single one who didn’t have an educated, professional background, and generally quite a bit older than the people they organized. I would understand a pragmatic decision to support and elevate leadership or solid organizers with business experience in lieu of political experience, in very isolated cases, but this particular demographic seems to be a countrywide phenomenon. To most people, they’re likely very adept organizers; dedicated, energetic, supportive, and whatever. However, if you’re young or look impressionable, they’ll try to trick you and lie to you, either because that’s all they know or they want to feel clever. These people know how to establish their presence in a room, flaunt their confidence, and casually put people down to whittle away at their visible insecurities. In these initial one-on-one meetings, if they aren’t simply ambitious then they’re selling a product dressed up as a Marxist party tailored to your particular taste in ideas. This, again, would be fine insofar as the party held some ground for future cadres to build off of, and insofar as cadres had no ambitions or desires that could weather a communist platitude or two.
As for the younger, expanding section of the communist movement, who have essentially slipped into the psychological relationship with the party mentioned earlier, these cadres appear striking and magnetic. Their role and presence within a sufficiently small local is tantamount to the embodiment of the party. Among other things, this is a byproduct of a rote and fetishistic understanding of a party, or even authority at large, coming from a now deeply-rooted aesthetic and memetic process. They would be incapable of consummating this deliberately paternalistic relationship without a strong authority figure to represent and maintain it, even if it wasn’t party line. They then tend to be charmed and railroaded into an ideological, and sometimes intellectual, dependency on such leadership as a matter of the leadership’s personal preferences and attention-seeking, which quickly homogenizes the topic and trajectory of most, if not all, relevant discussions.
At this point, the party branch, as far as it’s developed, is simply a vessel for personalities rather than a tool for political action. It doesn’t act or progress in any direction. There’s a top and a bottom to the organization and it’s been established that they don’t move, or change. Everything is locked in place by a mixture of pathological and social pressures. After gaining some supporters, local leadership like this thankfully won’t desire any more power over cadres. Their narrow individualism simply rejects the responsibility of leadership, for the image leadership commands in a social environment where people have very little freedom to do what that environment was designed for.
Every once in a while, we’re forced to respect the history of proletarian revolution, and especially its leaders within that history, before we try to strip it for parts without an ounce of sentimentality. Most people go the extra mile to miss the second part and decide deification is the same thing as respect. No matter what head people stick in a portrait frame, they’ll eulogize about the significance of that particular head and what it did when it was still, really, attached to a living human body. What’s frustrating about this isn’t that it’s some spectacular, ritualistic gesture; it’s frustrating because it’s a very standard ritualistic gesture usually deprived of the prescient and useful content of their ideas, or their application.
The sheer ideological damage of recasting leaders into celebrities, for ourselves and within what exists of an internal communist culture, has played a large part in contributing to fetishist conceptions of socialist power and reproducing a bourgeois outlook on leadership, which is reassembling itself in new organizers and leaders. New popular notions around communism – communists being, of course, flattered by an inkling of popularity without understanding the fucking notions – have turned bourgeois stereotypes inward, and this process has most likely managed to regress and corrupt even basic preconceptions of communist politics by vindicating and championing anti-communist myths as historic victories.
Last year I found out that cartoonish, arbitrary authoritarianism had simply become a part of a younger generation’s expectations of communism, as followers. New waves of opportunists and careerists can and will easily capitalize on this phenomenon, as leadership clearly cut out to live up to the whole range of expectations. These are the people who are already trying to start more branches of Marxist parties from the fucking Stone Age, that are neither ideologically nor technically equipped to educate members or investigate and discipline abusers. They’re very old party-forms that structurally, if not socially, engineer their own periodic crises through arrogant, bureaucratic paper-shuffling and paranoid flailing. Additionally, I don’t think the older cadres can even imagine the world or the people around them getting substantially worse before they die. That’s sad.
As a result, the big parties are likely facing a future of collapse before any movement can hit its stride, but in the meantime, they’ll likely have half of their new branches established as a series of communist-themed master-slave dialectics mediated almost exclusively through Kim Jong Un memes. There is no resolution. Just a guarantee that Daddy Stalin jokes will simply become more real as time goes on.