I know I haven’t taken my search for a political party to the next level yet, but I’m still waiting to hear back from the ISO and I’m determined not to continue until they have a chance to make their case. While we’re waiting, I’ll give you little post about my recent adventures at RevLeft.
RevLeft is an online forum for, as the name suggests, Revolutionary Leftists. You can start a conversation or respond to various discussion threads on any one of the forum’s many topics, you can enter groups specifically tailored for various schools of Marxism or specific subjects, and you can even chat with other online users (though I myself never made use of that). You can connect with leftists all around the world from pretty much every single tendency or political background. You can hear young Communists offer fresh perspectives and you can listen to veterans share their experiences. Whatever you’re looking for, if it has anything even remotely to do with the radical left, it can be found here.
So why then is RevLeft such a miserably awful site?
Well, there’s a lot to get through, so let’s do this point-by-point.
Thousands of Discussion Threads, No Discussion:
First, there’s the general attitude of pretty much everyone there. Remember how I was just talking about discussion boards? Well I was taking some serious liberties with the term “discussion”. Conversations on RevLeft tend to look something like this:
You can start a discussion on anything- anything, and within a few posts it’ll turn into a fight with all the nobility, restraint, and dignity of a demented octogenarian attacking a raccoon with a sponge. You could be talking about your favorite food, and before you know it, you’ll be called a reactionary (more on that in a minute) trapped in a petite-bourgeois mentality.
And maybe it’s understandable- in our current situation, Marxist and the ideals of the Far Left tend to appeal to a certain kind of personality type. You put a bunch of naturally anti-establishment people into a room together, arguments are bound to break out. Still, RevLefters tend to go crazy with it. Really, the only way to avoid controversy is to go with a tried-and-true slogan, which while lacking any actual meaning or substance, is going to get a thumbs up from everybody.
Discussion Topic: How much should we as Marxists being working through established institutions (government, education, etc.)? What’s the acceptable cut-off point before we compromise our ideals? Can we work through established institutions at all?
XxXPrairieFireXxX: Down with imperialism! Long live the people’s struggle!
Discussion Starter: …Not really what I was asking…
Immortaltechnique4prez: So what, you’re not against imperialism? Screw you Capitalist lapdog!
You get the idea. And it brings us right into the next problem with RevLeft.
My Cult of Personality is Bigger than Your Cult of Personality:
Remember how I mentioned that you can join groups based on various Marxist tendencies? Yeah, well, those aren’t so much ‘groups’ as they are cults. If you’re a Trotskyist/Stalinist/Maoist/etc. than Trotsky/Stalin/Mao/etc. was a hero of the revolution who could do no wrong and anyone other than Trotsky/Stalin/Mao/etc. is a crypto-Fascist and an enemy of the people. Whenever you bring up any major Communist (or pseudo-Communist, depending on your perspective figure), things are pretty much guaranteed to rapidly descend into a shouting match between side A and side B.
XxXPrairieFireXxX: Does anyone ever feel that insert-obscure-Maoist-here isn’t really appreciated?
TrotskyRocks: Insert-obscure-Maoist-here was a Maoist and therefore a tool of an oppressive regime that backslid on the ideals of Marxism. Of course insert-obscure-Maoist-here isn’t appreciated!
E-Goldman88: Whatever- Trotsky was an authoritarian! You’re all dictators!
Immortaltechnique4prez: Trotsky was a hero! He and Lenin were the only real Communists! Stalin hijacked and destroyed socialism!
Hoxhaist: I’m with XxXPrairieFire, insert-obscure-Maoist-isn’t appreciated. Kind of like Hoxha.
XxXPrairieFireXxX: Shut up. No one likes Hoxha.
Reactions to the Reactionaries:
Further up, I mentioned the word “reactionary”. I’ve talked about it in other posts, but just as a review, the word “reactionary” is a term used to describe a person who, while claiming to be Leftist, is opposed to the revolution/struggle of the workers/etc. It’s an insult most comparable to “heretic”. And it’s a word that the good people at RevLeft can’t go two paragraphs without.
XxXPrairieFireXxX: You Trotskyists are reactionaries.
TrotskyRocks: No, you’re a reactionary.
Hoxhaist: No, you’re a reactionary.
E-Goldman88: You’re all reactionaries.
Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration there, but the word is used a lot, and almost never is there any justification for it. It’s just a blanket insult that gets you out of any argument by stripping your opponent of his credibility. So long as there’s the threat of someone using the “R” word, there’s never going to be an open, honest discussion on RevLeft (or indeed, any Marxist forum).
All Tendencies Are Equal, But Some Tendencies Are More Equal Than Others:
In spite of the wide variety of skirmishing tendencies on RevLeft, there are pretty strict regulations on who gets to post on the main forums. Primtivists and Third-Worldists are both considered to be “Opposing Ideologies”, and prevented from having access to the main forums, groups, etc. While I don’t agree with a lot of what Primitivists believe, and while I consider Third-Worldists to be wrong on many counts, I don’t get why they’d be kept out. The justification people kept giving me was “Primitivists and Third-Worldists are reactionaries”, and whether that’s true or not, I don’t think we’re qualified to make that distinction. As I pointed out above, we’re calling everyone who doesn’t agree with us “reactionary”, how to do we know that we’re not wrong? It really seems to be arbitrary- the admins (the unelected moderators of the forums) have decided that certain groups don’t meet their qualifications for “Revolutionary Leftist” and that’s the end of it.
It’s all part of a greater problem of RevLeft:
Bad Attitudes Towards Learning
When I reviewed the Kasama Project, I noted that they had one of the best attitudes towards education I have ever seen. RevLeft, on the other hand, has one of the worst.
First, many on RevLeft seem bent on over-thinking everything. While there are plenty of good discussions to be had on RevLeft, for everyone one of those there are three topics that push the boundaries of intellectual frivolity. Don’t get me wrong- I’m all for theoretical exercises, but there’s such a thing as taking it too far. People are trying to advocate or disprove passing comments made by already obscure leftists, and again, while any expansion of knowledge is good, the theoretical has to be balanced with the applicable.
Second, many residents of RevLeft seem to have fallen into an attitude that I’ve encountered with many Marxists. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, but it’s something like an intellectual meritocracy. Education isn’t viewed as a collective venture we’re all partners in regardless of our level of experience, but as a rigid ladder. Let me explain it this way: at my university, I recently took a course on Shakespeare. The professor of this course taught us pretty much his interpretation of Shakespeare, but any attempt to challenge his views were smacked down with “I’ve been studying Shakespeare for years- once you have as well, then we’ll talk”. The same problem seems to pop up a lot in RevLeft (and in Marxism in general). “I’ve been studying this aspect of Marxism for years, once you’ve spend time reading _________ and __________- then we’ll discuss it. Until, accept my teachings.”
See, I’m not sure there could be a worse approach towards education. This idea that knowledge is something that can be categorized and structured and ranked- it seems deeply counter-revolutionary. Yet it’s a problem in RevLeft, in Marxism, and in education as a whole. But like I said, unless you’ve reached a certain level, you’re theories, questions, comments, and criticisms are dismissed.
In spite of RevLeft encapsulating some of the worst qualities of the revolutionary movement, I’m still grateful that I spent time investigating it. First and foremost, even with all that’s wrong with it, there are still decent conversations to be had on RevLeft- even if you do have to look for them. Second, it’s a great comfort to me to have seen RevLeft. I used to be plagued with the fear that I was nothing but an armchair Marxist talking about revolution, but never actually doing anything. I’m not saying that I’m some revolutionary hero- far from it. All I’m saying is that I could be worse than I am now, and I (if no one else) can take some comfort in that.