“A leading group that is genuinely united and linked with the masses can be formed only gradually in the process of mass struggle, and not in isolation from it. In the process of a great struggle, the composition of the leading group in most cases should not and cannot remain entirely unchanged throughout the initial, middle and final stages; the activists who come forward in the course of the struggle must constantly be promoted to replace those original members of the leading group who are inferior by comparison or who have degenerated. One fundamental reason why the work in many places and many organizations cannot be pushed ahead is the lack of a leading group which is united, linked with the masses and kept constantly healthy. A school of a hundred people certainly cannot be run well if it does not have a leading group of several people, or a dozen or more, which is formed in accordance with the actual circumstances (and not thrown together artificially) and is composed of the most active, upright and alert of the teachers, the other staff and the students. In every organization, school, army unit, factory or village, whether large or small, we should give effect to the ninth of Stalin’s twelve conditions for the bolshevization of the Party, namely, that on the establishment of a nucleus of leadership. The criteria for such a leading group should be the four which Dimitrov enumerated in his discussion of cadres policy—absolute devotion to the cause, contact with the masses, ability independently to find one’s bearings and observance of discipline. Whether in carrying out the central tasks—war, production, education (including rectification)—or in checking-up on work, examining the cadres’ histories, or in other activities, it is necessary to adopt the method of linking the leading group with the masses, in addition to that of linking the general call with particular guidance.”—Chairman Mao Zedong
First and foremost, congratulations are in order to the comrades in Tampa for not giving up organizing after such a difficult attempt at forming a Maoist collective. Every new formation will encounter many hardships that are common to collectives in any city in the US. The transition from being casual activists, or even organized workers, to becoming disciplined communist cadres is not simple. In this process of attack and retreat, trial and error, many people will come and go until a stable core is developed, and most importantly tested in class struggle. Class struggle is the furnace that forges all true communists worthy of the title.
Given that the recent document from Tampa mentions a theoretical disparity in their former project, the aim of this response will be focused mostly on the theoretical errors that existed—and in this case, persist—as well as the theoretical content of their document titled “If You Don’t Struggle You Don’t Deserve to Win.” This response is public, rather than kept private between organizations, so that others with similar mistakes might make use of it as well. The mistakes these comrades have made are certainly not exclusive to the Tampa Bay area.
Initially, many comrades were glad to see a split form in the revisionist formation that calls itself Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Fight Back!), an organization that has carried out pigwork against Maoists and covered up allegations of serious anti-women crimes. These errors and crimes, apart from being rooted in the patriarchal society that capitalism produces, are also rooted in revisionist ideology and practice. After all, revisionism is capitalist ideology that has the nerve to call itself communist. It is not surprising that their capitalist ideology produces patriarchal practice and conceals it. As always with revisionist organizations, their training of cadres, ideological development, and political education are mismanaged in the interests of maintaining revisionism, preventing line struggle, and thwarting the questioning of leadership. Any training provided by a revisionist organization should be understood as nothing but lessons in what not to think, in what not to do or believe in.
The fact that the comrades in Tampa split principally on the basis that their former comrades covered up allegations of a crime, or possibly covered up the crime itself, and that the split was not primarily over the capitalist political lines and capitalist ideology of the FRSO, was the first mistake. It should not take crimes to compel breaking with revisionism; revisionism itself is a crime against communism, against the masses. This first error shows that the comrades still have a long way to go before they can fully assess their own mistakes. Fortunately, their desire to proceed offers the chance for this to be fixed, too. Only a group with the correct ideological basis is capable of transforming itself. FRSO is not such a group. Members of FRSO should vacate on the principle of anti-revisionism first, regardless of the sordid interpersonal behavior or crimes carried out by individual or former members.
It seems that the comrades in Tampa have yet to fully grasp that all the errors they describe in their piece are rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, principally Maoism—especially in regard to the Maoist conception of the role of leadership.
This fundamental misunderstanding is most concerning and apparent in their section dedicated to their understanding of “democratic centralism.” In this section, these comrades do not manage to speak at all about actual democratic centralism or show any understanding of what democratic centralism means. This leads to the principal error these comrades still engage in—a failure to grasp leadership, both in theory and in practice, both in form and essence.
Democratic centralism is the basis for party discipline; it maintains party unity, which is based in two-two line struggle. Democratic centralism is the very thing that gives communists prestige, separating them from the anarchists, liberals, and bourgeois parties. Not only does it elevate the communists, but it also places them in opposition to all non-proletarian parties, as discussed in Lenin’s masterpiece “What Is to Be Done?” In democratic centralism, the party, or in this case the pre-party formations/collectives, are organized a certain way, with a certain structure. TMC liquidates this structure completely. Democratic centralism forms a contradiction in which centralism is principal. The result is a unity of opposites that allows freedom of discussion and unity in action. The proletariat produces its own form of organization with the party, and there are no methods other than democratic centralism with which to structure a genuine anti-revisionist communist organization.
This means that leadership is decisive for a communist organization. The only communist method of leadership is the mass line—the process in which all leaders unite the masses and their subordinates around themselves (read “Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership” by Mao). In this unity of opposites, the centralism is at the core of democracy, while both aspects act and react upon one another.
While TMC’s document does identify “ultra-democracy” as an error, it fails to do so completely. Instead of being thoroughgoing, it puts forward an incorrect policy of having every cadre hold “chair positions.” This is not a communist structure in the slightest. It is correct that every revolutionary organization should have a division of labor, allocating posts according to a sober estimation of members’ ability to fulfill their tasks, based on the objective tasks before the organization as a whole. But this is not what the former TMC is espousing with their “everyone is a chairperson” line.
“Collective leadership” is only one part of the equation. These comrades neglect individual leadership and the role of top leaders. As expressed by Chairman Gonzalo, “we base ourselves on the collective leadership and individual leadership and we are mindful of the role of leaders and how through the People’s War, through the renewal of leadership, the leadership of the revolution is coalescing and being tempered. We maintain the principle that the leadership never dies.” He would elaborate later: “Lenin had warned us of the problem of negating leadership just as he emphasized the need for our class, the Party and the revolution to promote our own leaders, and more than that, top leaders, and a Great Leadership,” and, “In Engels’ view, it is necessity that generates leaders, and a top leader.”
While every cadre should emerge as a leader among the mass movement, not every cadre can or should be a leader in the pre-party communist organization. The notion that they should all be leaders flies in the face of all Leninism, and is in reality tailist—that is to say, it is a right-opportunist liquidation of leadership better suited for anarchists or other so-called horizontalists. Leadership and principally a single leader is an inevitability of class struggle. If this process is not encouraged and carried out formally by democratic centralism, by its democratic process, in which leaders can be recalled at any time and are not awarded special privileges, then neither democracy nor centralism can be accomplished. Without democratic centralism, the leaders who do emerge will do so based on force of personality, ego, boisterousness, and/or social status—and not on political line, their ability to organize two-line struggle, or their actual merit as leaders. It should never be left up to individuals to “desire to take leadership.” A collective must elect its leaders, and its top leadership must emerge in struggle with the recognition of the organization. Eligibility for leadership is based on an assessment of the cadres’ work and history as well as their mastery of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, principally Maoist, theory.
This line of “everyone is a chairperson” did not fail due to the subjective factor of them not “being at” the desired “stage of development,” as TMC suggests, but instead due to the objective factor that this form of leadership is theoretically incorrect and at odds with MLM. This kind of thinking is a throwback to errors of social democracy that were defeated by the Leninist conception of the vanguard party. The “everyone is a chairperson” position was never part of Marxism-Leninism, and should never be allowed to be smuggled into MLM. MLM cannot accept the ideology of horizontalism. It cannot tolerate this “anti-hierarchical” deviation.
The issue of people not taking their roles seriously is also an issue of incorrect understandings of leadership. Lack of leadership causes and allows comrades to carry out their tasks insufficiently or unsatisfactorily, because cadre cannot be sufficiently trained without leadership. This aversion to the communist theory of leadership is not an error exclusive to TMC; it is found in many new collectives. This is due to the default and abysmal liberalism inherent in the US “left.” Most have been indoctrinated in this anti-leadership position, which is in reality subtle and not-so-subtle anti-communism.
On the question of combining the general with the specific, Mao explains that communist cadres must be good at uniting with the masses by issuing a general call to the masses (as well as to their subordinates) and that they must follow up on that call. This is the process in which people are united around leaders, in which cadres can stand as the spinal column of the mass movements. This same reiterative process allows for demoralized, defunct, or corrupt cadres to be replaced by the advanced masses who are developed into communists. The comrades of the former TMC would do well to master this concept and apply it to all their future work. All who are interested in carrying out communist work should closely study “Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership” as well as the chapters on replacing cadres found in the book A Basic Understanding of the Communist Party of China. The latter was republished in the US recently with the explicit purpose of confronting the contradictions that new communists and their supporters face. It has served as a great tool in the broader MLM movement in the US.
The lack of organized leaders and a top leader produces continued mistaken formulations such as “we did not understand that we are all leaders of the collective.” This formulation liquidates communist structures completely. It is true that in communist organizations, leaders do not think for the general membership, because no communist is without critical thinking—communists are not robots carrying out orders mindlessly. In any case, leadership is tasked with the responsibility of synthesizing the experience, ideas, thoughts, victories, and mistakes of their organization, and hence fixing the problems and moving forward along the revolutionary path. To do this, leaders carry out the mass line within the organization (via democratic centralism) and outside of it. Not every member is a leader, not every member can be a leader, and not every member should be in leadership of the party. Instead, labor must be divided sensibly, and leadership must be good at inspiring those around them and following up on their work. Future implementation of the “we are all leaders” line will only result in the same issues that limited the collective’s past work and ultimately dissolved it. Any attempts at founding a new organization will fail, too, unless this mistake is corrected. The conception of democratic centralism and leadership must be corrected in order to carry out rectification—to do this, studying the Marxist classics is a necessity.
We Maoists know discipline directly relates to democratic centralism. The chapter of Chairman Mao’s Quotations regarding party discipline focuses mainly on democratic centralism. The TMC summation separates these two into different sections. All of their errors in discipline can be seen as connected to their still unchecked liberalism, which means no proper leadership is produced, no general calls are made, and no timely follow ups occur. Lenin taught that discipline must be enforced in various forms, including fines and, in severe cases, expulsion from the party. This is how the party holds its members accountable. It is not left up to the individual. This error, volunteerism, is the error seen over and over again in this summation as well as the ideas they base their plans for future work on.
Another major error that stems directly from what in essence constitutes an avoidance of leadership is what could be called the “self-care” line regarding mental health. This line is in command of the reformulated Tampa Bay “Serve the People,” a project that must be criticized as a counterfeit. This “STP” has poached the name of the countrywide STP organization but lacks its principles and any relationship to it. If comrades wish to carry out mass community service work or service programs, they should be encouraged and supported in doing so, just not under the same name as Serve the People, which is already an organization. If comrades wish to affiliate and accept the leadership of this organization, they should do so in a principled way and through the correct channels. By taking up the name while lacking affiliation, they present themselves to the masses falsely. Had the Tampa Bay comrades developed a correct understanding of leadership and rejected the tailist view of anarchists, they would agree with this principle. They would alter their presentation. STP is not an anarchist project; it is not a free-for-all the way Food Not Bombs is; it is not a project that anyone can take up simply by calling themselves STP. This is because STP follows the leadership of organized communists and advanced masses. It is attached to the MLM party-building effort. STP has democratically determined to authorize and vet potential and new branches. To not even seek the consent of the much bigger existing STP shows a level of individualist entitlement that is beyond the pale.
If the Tampa Bay comrades were to call their project “Refuse Fascism,” people would associate them with the revisionist RCP-USA, and they would be rightly criticized for this distortion and poaching. By taking the name STP, they have taken up a ruse that is dishonest and unprincipled. The same can be said for their visual counterpart in Brooklyn, the revisionist “STP” in Tacoma, and others who have changed their names or dissolved when confronted. These charlatans should either accept the leadership of STP and its parent organization Red Guards or else they should forge their own path, under their own name that correctly reflects their own projects and not the projects given prestige by organizers in cities like Austin, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, and Houston.
Had comrades in Tampa reached out to experienced MLM formations outside of their city and accepted guidance from those who have successfully overcome or avoided the errors listed in their summation, they would have already hardened themselves against the notion of “self-care” that commands their new project. The hesitancy or outright refusal to seek or accept guidance from those who have proven their merit in the practice of mass work is nothing but liberal individualist anti-communism, with a tinge of anarchist lack of principle. Had they been receptive to support, they could have learned a great deal from the failures of the Revolutionary Student Front’s mental health program. It seems localism prevented them from studying the content of RSF’s summation.
In all of TMC’s “summation” of mental health and their vows to move forward on this trench, they forget synthesis. They never state a single communist position in regard to mental health. They say that “comrades cannot leave their rooms for days,” yet the experience of every other collective would indicate that this can be overcome, provided they receive the proper kind of support and political guidance to overcome their barriers.
The issue of mental health is often closely linked with the issue of drugs. This issue is avoided by TMC, and no examination is given to the broader phenomena facing our class and the masses. TMC does not present their readers with a dialectical viewpoint. Their collective failed to produce a line on this matter, showing a liberal avoiding of the need to formulate a materialist analysis on mental health issues and how they often produce and reproduce cycles of self-medication. All “self-care” lines smuggle in liberalism. They allow and apologize for substance abuse by fostering bourgeois indulgence, which actually not only harms individuals (the self) but also harms the collective as a whole. It is true that struggle must be carried out against mental illness—but this cannot be accomplished with postmodernist frameworks like “self-care” or “safe spaces.” These comrades should learn from the mistakes and mishandling of the questions of drug use and mental health as exhibited by the failures of the revisionists in Portland who claimed to be Maoists, as well as their subsequent liquidation.
“We tried uniting with other Maoist collectives throughout the US. This was an error because we were not consolidated or unified amongst ourselves.” This formulation rejects organized internal line struggle, and it also rejects external line struggle with the broader movement. It is clear from this quotation that TMC was formed prematurely and should not have claimed to be MLM cadres. They do not understand the critical principle that external struggle for unity with experienced collectives helps encourage internal line struggle and strengthens their unity. This is a fact evident in all the collectives that have not only survived but flourished under the Red Guards banner. Exchange of ideas and difficulties between groups can help all concerned; isolationism and localism are backward positions. Internationalism strengthens parties; internationalism allowed the Peruvian people’s war and the theory it produced to strengthen unity in other parties outside of Peru, consolidating them to the red line. In the same way, solidarity and struggle with groups outside of Tampa would have helped consolidate them to and unite them around the red line. This is something they have still not accomplished or even seen value in.
There is a common mechanical error in the line that “we must put our local first then reach out,” rejecting leadership and experience in favor of localism. Localism, like individualism, cannot see a thing dialectically. As dialectical materialists we understand that countrywide struggles for unity strengthen each collective and consolidate local organizations. Any organization that claims to exist for the purpose of building the party must break with localism and understand that whoever doesn’t carry out struggle in order to rise together will likely fall alone. They will not always notice the errors that are likely to destroy them. It is not sensible to insist on repeating mistakes that others in the movement have already learned from and corrected. This is also a rejection of synthesis.
Once capitalism was restored in the Soviet Union, Mao sought to correct their mistakes preemptively in China, with cultural revolution as the synthesis. It is correct that communists must be willing to make mistakes and that they must take risks, and that they must learn by doing; however they must not reject historical materialism by refusing to learn from documented mistakes of other or more experienced comrades. There are Maoists in this country already ahead of the Tampa comrades by a long shot in terms of party-building as well as mass organizing, and it’s foolish to cling to localism instead of learning from and receiving the support of the advanced formations.
Every new formation without exception is eventually going to lose some members. TMC frames each loss as a “split,” yet they make no mention of the political or ideological differences and issues behind the so-called “splits.” A member or a few leaving an organization is part of the process of trial and error, of developing a collective; it is inevitable and must not be confused with an organizational split. Sometimes people leaving is a good thing, as Lenin stressed—better fewer but better. In other cases it can genuinely be a difficult loss that can be hard to manage, and of course efforts must be taken to prevent such a loss. Where the summation falls short (and this is a big criticism) is its failure to even mention the need to train advanced masses to become communist cadres. This is one of the main reasons communists carry out mass work to begin with, and TMC seems unclear on their purpose for existing.
Ignoring the need to train the masses to replace old cadres is failing the masses. This must be evaluated as a subtle anti-masses sentiment rooted in bourgeois politics. It is an inability to grasp the mass line, which is also an issue of improper leadership. A Maoist organization, if it is worth its name, must be from the very start concerned with training the masses, with learning from and then teaching the people. This is how communists steel the masses in class struggle. For all their localism, TMC fail to provide their readers with anything resembling a concrete analysis of their local conditions. It is as if they skipped ahead, seeing no need to perform any social investigation or class analysis of their city.
Training the masses to become cadres makes it so that the loss of a few members is not a crippling blow. In a revolutionary organization, members will inevitably be sent to prison or killed, and many will just fall off. To not be defeated by this, communists must remember that it is the masses who make history and the party that must lead them. The only answer is that advanced masses consolidated around leadership must be brought up in an organized way into the party structure.
If “advanced” members of TMC felt as if the project was going nowhere, they should not be faulted for leaving a dead-end organization. What they should be criticized for is failing to take people with them on the way out in order to form a new core with the advanced masses. No evidence is provided to indicate this was even considered. In the whole section dedicated to losing numbers, no mention is made of any effort to gain numbers, which begs an answer to the question, were they ever engaged in mass work? And if so, to what end? Their understanding reveals a bad subjectivist viewpoint.
At the forefront of this section is not the political line that is in command but the hurt feelings of those who stuck around. Hurt feelings are no basis for analysis and should find no place in a summation, because they offer no synthesis and are not based in a scientific approach.
When discussing issues with “Revolutionary Youth Organization” the documents stumbles into major error in terms of the lessons they derived. They claim to have “reached the limits of student organizing.” This is an incorrect and deeply troubling analysis. From all evidence, they seem to have accomplished and attempted very little to no student organizing with RYO, let alone “reached its limit.” Failing to actually organize working-class students is not the same thing as reaching the limits of this sort of work. This failure is their flaw and not an objective flaw of student organizing.
A materialist analysis of students would prove to anyone that job scarcity has increased the anger and frustration of students, replacing their hope for class ascension with a potential interest in Marxism in many US cities. Thankfully the Communist Party of Peru, which launched its refoundation from a university campus, did not see the “limitations” that TMC apparently does. What they saw was that the educated youth often could not secure employment with their degrees and instead could be mobilized against the capitalist and semifeudal system of injustice and poverty.
The entire “summation” lacks any summary of organizing. There is almost no mention of anything they did practically or what they intend to do now that they have issued this document. This is especially clear in the section dedicated to RYO. They present student organizing as “futile distractions,” a viewpoint reflecting a class stand that only offers up working-class and radicalized students to the mercy of liberals and revisionists, ceding the university trench of combat to agents of the enemy. Universities are a site of class struggle, unless of course we are to believe that class struggle exists only off campus.
It is true that student movements that focus only on their campus issues (localism again) with no broader political view can become a futile distraction, but only if one is unwilling to challenge these views of economism and tie one’s struggles to the political struggle for power of the proletariat. In short they are distractions only to the distracted who are unwilling to lead and educate the masses. Communists must always challenge incorrect ideas wherever they are, and campus is no exception. In this case TMC blames the student masses for not on their own having transcended the organic economism that exists in all types of mass struggles.
When it comes to student work TMC has not even tested the water, let alone reached the limits. Austin and Kansas City Maoists have developed and led large and militant student organizations with a degree of success, which puts these student organizations at the forefront of all US student groups in terms of tenacity and bravery. These campus trenches are first of all not trapped on campus. Their fighters branch out to support citywide work. They are struggles in which students are trained to one day become Maoist cadres. The students in these cities must be consciously developed with the political leadership of the communists and not left to chance.
Contradicting themselves, in the very same paragraph where they claim to have met the limit of student organizing, TMC also claim that they “never put in enough work,” saying that building a student movement along the correct line “took too much time.” Are readers to believe that working-class students who face class struggle on campus are just not worth the time or effort? A discouraging position indeed, but which is it? Did they meet the limitations or not put in enough work? You cannot do both. It is certain that reaching the limit (something Austin and KC have not done) would require at least far more work than TMC have put in.
The working-class students in Tampa deserve far better than what TMC and the local revisionists they split from have provided. These comrades should have discussed student organizing with people who know what they are doing, like PYO and RSF as well as the Red Guards in those cities. Had they done this they would have seen greater success, but this too requires time and effort. It requires far more than just making prop Facebook accounts no more real than a town in a spaghetti western movie. Enough with sham organizations already—the masses deserve better, and revolutionaries must be challenged to meet that need.
The reader is left with no clear answer as to what these comrades plan to do differently. The lessons they have derived from their admitted mistakes are incorrect, and they have not come close to harvesting the truth. How do these comrades plan to meet basic organizational requirements this time around—requirements like making meetings, setting deadlines, and following through with the work? Their document offers us very little in this respect, but it expects good faith from its readers, assuming people are just not going to ask these questions. The document does the opposite of illuminating a way out of their trap and instead it indicates that all the same errors are still very present and still dominating their thinking and approach to not-organizing and calling it organizing. The same bad political line is still in command.
The statement closes saying two months were devoted to consolidating politics and political line, but what this line actually is ends up being obscured. By reading the document critically with a basis in MLM, one can only come to the conclusion that a rejection of leadership is still at the core of the political line of the new rebranded Tampa Bay Revolutionary Collective.
The future of the “STP” in Tampa Bay is dubious at best, as it is at odds with and an insult to the countrywide party-building effort, which will only negatively affect future unity, compromising their ability to work with the real Maoist movement. This fact is lost on the comrades in Tampa, and this should be a wakeup call to them so they can seek to rectify this mistake and repair their reputation with the Maoists. The reader is promised a “genuine Maoist collective in Tampa Bay,” yet these comrades persist along the very same road taken by the localists and opportunists of Portland and St. Louis—both of whom collapsed under their bad political lines—while the actual MLM movement has only grown and grown more consolidated around key issues. They end claiming that they will seek unity with “existing Maoist collectives”—great, which ones? Because nowhere in their documents do they really explain what they mean by “Maoism.”
The lack of practice combined with a lack of clear theoretical positions and their failure to grasp leadership are certainly at odds with what most of the revolutionary world means when we say Maoist. This is not intended to tear down anyone or discourage their work; it is intended as a lantern for comrades who have wandered far and desperately need to find their way back to the revolutionary road to communism. If the revolutionary movement suffers in one local, revolutionaries elsewhere in the country must offer blunt and direct advice and criticism. Best of luck, Tampa. Please take this advice.
Unite on the ideological basis of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, principally Maoism, and be clear about what this means!
Uphold and defend correct organizational principles and a correct understanding of communist leadership!
Let the red line conquer the white in Tampa and the world!