Political Growth and Self Criticism

I’ve been trying for a month and a half to write a few criticisms of trends and organizations within the socialist left in the United States, and I have for the most part failed to create anything that I’m happy with. One reason why I have struggled with this is that my politics over the last few months have shifted greatly and I have not really been open or forthright about the details of that shift. As this shift has occurred, I have sought to pull back from social media and to generally attempt to make myself less of a personality in online socialist subcultures. While this has been great for my mental health, I feel like I owe some explanation for the changes in my politics. I also feel like I need to write out some self-criticism regarding some of my previous writing and use of social media, not only so that I can be transparent about my own errors, but also so that others might learn from my experiences.

For quite some time now I have had a fairly sizable following within left wing internet subcultures. This originally came from Tumblr, where my piece Gender Nihilism: An Anti-Manifesto gained a fair bit of popularity among a certain part of that site’s anarchist subculture. That piece gave me a platform that I hadn’t expected, and in many ways I’ve been riding the fallout of that piece blowing up for the last half a decade.

I have, of course, written some strong criticisms of that piece in the time since it first gained some popularity. In the time sense I moved from anarchism to Marxism both for ideological reasons and as a result of experiences in organizing within the former tradition. I eventually moved over to twitter where I gained a fairly sizable following rather quickly, tweeting and writing from a Marxist-Leninist perspective.

My use of twitter was never particularly well thought out. I had a general sense that I wanted to use it to spread political ideals and engage in exchanges of ideas, but I never separated that use of the website from my use of twitter as sort of a personal diary to broadcast myself personally to thousands of people. This made for an extremely messy situation where for many who followed me, my politics were caught up with my personality, for better or for worse.

This was ultimately an extremely individualist way of engaging with social media. My mood and personal desires were the primary driver of what I posted, and that often meant that what might be otherwise interesting political content got caught up in personal disagreements and drama. I also often used the site as a platform to lash out against other users, often because of various frustrations in my own life that I had no outlet for. This meant that whatever useful political ideas I might post and promote were inherently wrapped up with my often caustic and unproductive personality. This ultimately undermined my ability to effectively use social media in a productive political manner.

This is a problem that extends far beyond my own use of social media. Many communists have social media “brands” that revolve around their personality and their politics. This use of social media confuses propaganda and education of strangers with personal self promotion, and entangles them in ways that undermine the political development of many involved in these online subcultures. These subcultures are dominated by cliques constructed around various left wing personalities, and political disagreement becomes a proxy for personal distaste and disagreement. The ideology which one subscribes to begins to do very little to express ones actual real life praxis or theoretical outlook, and instead begins to function as a subcultural map marker that displays allegiance to one clique or another.

This individualist form of social media use is not merely the result of personal failure on behalf of individual communists, of course. Social media by its very design is built around self promotion. The endless search for likes and retweets is central to the experience of twitter, and evokes a real neurochemical response for users. Those of us who consider ourselves to be revolutionaries and communists must assess these realities and adapt accordingly. For many years I had failed to do so.

Because of the way that ideological disagreement becomes conflated with personal disagreement, I allowed the dynamics of social media to prevent me from furthering my political development for quite some time. Having integrated myself into an online Marxist-Leninist subculture that was largely dismissive (often cruelly and mockingly) of other perspectives, I found myself unwilling to consider that I might be wrong about some things, and that others might have things they could teach me.

In particular, I spent some time refusing to engage with the ideas and criticisms of those who subscribed to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism or generally forwarded an anti-revisionist perspective. This refusal stemmed largely from the fact that I was part of an internet subculture which mocked these perspectives, and also because I found the personality of many MLMs and anti-revisionists to be arrogant and annoying. This conflation of personal disagreements with political disagreement undermined my ability to be self critical of my own ideas and practices, and caused me to ignore many critics who I should have listened to.

During this period of time I also began to podcast as a cohost of Red Menace. While I am very glad to have started this podcast, and consider it some of the better political education oriented work I have helped create, I made some mistakes with my orientation towards it. For one, in deciding to do a video component of the podcast, I put my face and name on the project in a way that once again re-asserted my individual personality alongside the politics being pushed. This was a mistake for the reasons I previously outlined, but it also was bad from a security perspective, as keeping updated videos of myself online alongside discussions of revolutionary theory is in retrospect an obviously ridiculous idea.

Another more complicated matter that I feel is worth addressing is my relationship to patreon as a means of staying afloat. During my time on twitter I created my own personal patreon for my writing, and I also benefited from patreon donations from Red Menace’s own patreon. I still receive monthly support from both these patreon pages, and although I also work a normal job, the cost of living where I live along with student debt means that I am reliant on these sources of income in order to stay afloat month to month. While I don’t think use of patreon and crowd funding is an inherent mistake for communists to engage in, it poses a few issues that I want to discuss.

Relying on the support of patrons has often caused me to second guess writing certain criticisms or discussing certain topics, for fear of losing patrons. For some time I avoided honestly engaging with anti-revisionist perspectives because I suspected that my patrons would not like it. Reliance (even if only partial) on sites like patreon to get by creates a complicated situation where certain economic forces weigh on political output. Ultimately I have chosen to still pursue the political writing I am interested in despite these concerns, but I think that as Marxists, we need to recognize that sites like patreon create economic pressures and incentives that can hinder political development. Ultimately my hope is to someday be able to get by without patreon support for this reason, but in my current situation this is not an option. In the mean time, I am trying to remain aware of the political influence that reliance on patrons creates, and I am trying to make sure it does not undermine my writing.

Over the last few months, I have really begun to reassess my relationship to social media on the whole. This has coincided with simultaneous decisions to seriously engage with the literature promoting Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and anti-revisionism, to study the history of the various Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutions being waged around the world, and to engage in a deeper study of the development of anti-revisionism in the United States.

Upon engaging with these things honestly and in good faith, I found myself being challenged politically. I will not currently get into all the factors that have influenced my political development in the last few months, but for many reasons I have found myself convinced of the need to center anti-revisionism in organizing, and I have begun to understand the ways that Marxism-Leninism-Maoism represents a grounded and successful iteration of Marxism.

As I have begun to take anti-revisionism and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism more seriously, I have found myself re-assessing my relationship to social media. Several comrades advised me that I should take security more seriously and begin to dissociate my social media from my personal life. In response to this, I deleted every tweet on my twitter and have significantly cut back on my use of the site. I have mostly focused on using my account and its following for more focused and less personal threads about Marxism and anti-revisionism. I also deleted social media under my real name.

Over the last several months, many comrades have helped provide me with guidance regarding anti-revisionism and Maoism, and have helped me begin to deepen my understanding of Marxism and revolutionary strategy. I have become quite impressed with the extent to which Maoists oppose the sorts of individualism which plague the socialist left, and I have worked my best to try to internalize those criticisms. The actions I have taken in terms of my use of social media and my role as a public proponent of communism have been in light of these criticisms.

These decisions have been very positive from my perspective. Social media was a huge source of mental health decay and distress for me. I took online political disagreements and subcultural drama very seriously and it often weighed extensively on my anxiety and made it hard for me to focus on real life work and organizing. Since disconnecting from social media, I have found myself feeling much less anxious, and much more free to express political ideas that fall outside the consensus in any given online socialist clique.

I believe that stepping back from self-promotion and branding on social media has not only made my life better, but has made me a better communist. It has helped me to combat my own individualism and recognize the centrality of the real movement for communism over my own or anyone else’s personal online brands. It has caused my to begin to interrogate the way that capitalist technologies like social media are designed to encourage bad security practice and to create unhealthy social dynamics between comrades.

In addition to modifying my use of social media, my cohost and I have decided to remove the video component of Red Menace. I believe that this will help in decentering our personalities and instead help in centering the revolutionary theory we are promoting and discussing. This also has security benefits as it means we are no longer broadcasting up to date video of what we look like to the wider internet.

As things currently stand, I think that I have built too large of a platform for my writing to be totally dissociated from my personality, but I am actively working to combat the conflation of the two. This is a process and I am still thinking through what that looks like. I still rely on patreon to get by as well, but I am trying to be more cognizant of the strings that are attached to that reliance.

As communists, we need to have honest conversations about social media and the types of subcultural self-promotion that social media encourages. I hope that I have explained some of my developing views on the issue. I also hope this explains the change in tone and content for my social media over the last few months. I have made many mistakes in the last few years and been prone to liberal individualism and self promotion. I hope to avoid that going forward and I write this self-criticism in the hopes that documenting my own errors and the actions I am taking to correct them can be helpful for other communists.

I am profoundly thankful to the many comrades who have challenged me to be a better and more self-critical communist over the last few months. We should all take those challenges more seriously so that we can better commit ourselves towards the cause of communism. I intend to write more on my turn towards MLM and anti-revisionism at a later date, but providing a self critical analysis of my previous mistakes seems like something I ought to do first.

As always, I am thankful to my patrons, who (as I have expressed very clearly in this piece) actively help me stay afloat. Your support and solidarity means the world to me, even if capitalist technologies complicate and mediate our solidarity:

HN, Al Ostapeck, Nathaniel Hedman, Joey O James, SomeStorm, Comrade Grinko, Diogenes, Josh Bohde, das chunk, Cassandra Feli Citas, Kara Black, Rohan, silverwilt, Judith Cylon, Communist Histories, Bloo Burry, Gregory, Kikola, Tris Harper, Jose, Terry, Mason, Klara, Cody J Miller, Layne Lebahn, Always your comrade, Josué Casillas, Bradford, d-lang, Sarah Hennessy, Jonathan reasor, Jason, Izzy Demmon, Nicole Woodruff, Lynn Avery, Andrew Medina, Matthew Thurman, Liam Kelly, Max Harley, jordan, hoxsie, Cassandra, Stephen A. Goss, beatrice, seл comradelyuda, jen m.m., Winter Amygdala, Devin Fitzpatrick, alex baldwin, Edith Lagos, Z9, Vicky Zhuang, EVV, Charles shropshire, Ryan W, Nicky Clark, Kaylee Forge, Kasmira Stockton, Nathaniel, Keisi, James, Lituchy, Finch Byrd, Matthew Kennedy, Triskaideka, Birye Dee, Nicholas Collard, em jacob, Fordham, Jamison, Ordway, Kyle Riedemann, M. G. R., Ricardo Friaz, Jay Armitage, S. J. Fujimoto, Dexter Theodore, Joséphine, GUERMOUH, August Sonereal, Kelly Zahos, Sholei, Zachary, Isaac Ryanide, pSilver, Thalie Barnier, Seph Mozes, Jared Wilwerding, D Koenig, Kate Brenna, Janel allen serafini, Emma Kinema, Emrys Olivier, jordi pardoel, Anahí Cardona-Pérez, Lavender Samyavadi, Mike W, Phil Shepard III, Richard Pilbeam, Jelly Bean proley, mcproleface, Lauren H, velvetswamphag, Cora Cole, Ellisif E, Rafael Amarante, thursday, Abigail S., Leslie Roth, Darcy W ,Alice Crowe, Justin Matthew, Lemay May, P. cerb, Claire, Alexandria, Zachary Stueland, Heather, Redacted, Elizabeth, Fred, Julia Foster

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