Lessons Learned From a Year of Our Political Work and Notes on the Way Forward

In order to learn from our organizing efforts, rectify our errors and come up with our plans for the future, members of Revolutionary Youth Alliance drafted a summation of our political work over the last school year. We voted not to publish the full summation publicly to ensure the security of our members and avoid reactionary interference in our work. Instead we’re putting forward these general conclusions so that others can learn from our mistakes and have a better idea of what we’re planning to do in the future.

j20posters
Young revolutionaries in the belly of the beast

Main Problems

Most of our problems stemmed from not understanding and utilizing the mass line. We did not immerse ourselves among the masses. Our mass outreach put us in contact with some revolutionary students, but it was limited to the largely petit-bourgeois student body. We did not perform a thorough class analysis of Ann Arbor, so we didn’t know where exactly working-class community members work, live, and spend time. Instead, we relied largely on protests put on by other organizations to meet people. This error goes hand-in-hand with our failure to identify a fixed site of struggle. We tried to organize the whole school at once instead of identifying and reaching out to proletarian students or university workers. Because we did not conduct mass line work, we were also unable to create concrete long-term goals. For example, the Protection Not Police campaign had vague ideas about community self-defense, but we did not have contacts within the communities affected by state violence and fascist terror, and, importantly, we did not know what they wanted and needed. In order to stand in solidarity with the masses and elevate their power, we must be embedded with them and know them and their struggles. We did not do this, which is why our campaigns could not get off the ground.

RYA made internal errors as well. To a degree, we suffered from commandism. Decision-making largely fell to a core leadership group, contrary to the principles of RYA and of communist organizing. Not enough emphasis was made on democratic centralism, which would require all members to vote on actions, and if an action were approved, all members would be required to carry it out for a period of time, and afterward, the whole membership would assess and critique it. This issue was caused by a lack of formal structure to our meetings. A clear structure could encourage all members to consider key questions and provide their understandings.

The root of RYA’s problems this first year is simply a lack of experience. Through criticism, we are able to carefully consider exactly what we’ve been doing wrong, and then we must find specific solutions to address our errors so we can improve as an organization.

Future Goals, Plans, and Direction

Since most of our problems stemmed from not putting enough emphasis on the mass line, we have a number of ways we want to try reaching out to proletarian students around U-M and dramatically increase the amount of contact we have with them. Our goal is to locate (or create) as many avenues as we can for working-class students to gather and share their concerns collectively. In order not to spread ourselves too thin, we will work on a class analysis of our conditions in order to locate a fixed site of struggle that we can focus our energy on. To carry out the mass line effectively it’s important that contacts be created and that we establish ourselves in the community.

It is also important that general members of the organization receive training in order to carry out mass work. Before doing social investigation members should be educated on the general political line of the organization (including points of unity, platform, constitution, and some further details on the theory) and educated on the PEPSI (Personal, Economic, Political, Social/Cultural) method of social investigation. That way all members will be able to answer questions about RYA and explain our org confidently and they know what the right questions to ask are.

Last year we did not put enough emphasis on developing a revolutionary culture. We are trying to build a whole new world, which means we need a new way of thinking and interacting to go along with that. We want to foster an atmosphere of discipline and accountability, but also solidarity, cooperation, mutual aid, selflessness, and humility—the opposite of the capitalist culture we’re leaving behind. We will start holding social events weekly or every two weeks for members to bond in such an environment and help new people feel secure coming into the organization. It’s also important for students to get out of the stuffy petty-bourgeois atmosphere of the University and engage more with the community. Internally, we will put more of an emphasis on criticism and self-criticism and integrate this into our regular meeting structure.

To deal with the problems of commandism and a lack of democratic centralism it is important that we keep stack during the meetings and set goals for when we meet. It may be helpful in some cases to have people take turns speaking during a meeting to make sure everyone has a chance to speak and and feels comfortable so they can participate meaningfully in decision-making. We will also send out points to consider before the meetings for people to think about. To properly exercise democratic centralism, we’ll create a time frame for a decision to be carried out once we’ve voted on it so we can see what its effects were, then reconvene, criticize the decision, and vote again. That way we can study our actions scientifically.

Antifascism statement: On the “March Against Sharia”

Last week, fascists across the nation took to the streets to protest against Islam under the guise of “anti-Sharia.” This was clearly an attempt to draw in “moderate” conservatives and right-center liberals who used the facade as a justification for their white supremacist violence, as it is much more socially acceptable to be “anti-Sharia” than anti-Islam. Of course, those who attended these events had no idea what Sharia actually is. It was truly ironic to witness neo-Nazis waving American flags and complaining about alleged anti-semitism, slavery, and lack of women’s rights in Islam, as if their entire ideology wasn’t embedded in them.

Fascism marks the decay of capitalism and the mirage of “individual liberty” and “freedom” that comes with bourgeois democracy. Under fascism, the forces of the state are turned inwards onto its own population to violently suppress and exploit the most vulnerable segments of the population as scapegoats, as part of the hypernationalism and xenophobia that goes along with it. Fascism builds off the structures formed by capitalism, such as the centralized state, patriarchy, racism, colonialism, etc.

Of course, the only sustainable way to fight against fascism is through organized revolutionary action. Fascism can only be (and has only ever been) defeated through revolutionary violence. It is useful to remember that 80% of all Nazi soldier deaths during WWII were inflicted by the revolutionary Red Army. This comes in opposition to the normalized liberal narrative of bringing change through electoral politics and voting. Revolutionaries and anyone who considers themselves a “leftist” must cast aside all illusions that simply voting for a new candidate in 2020 is going to stop fascism, as voting is likely the least meaningful political action one can take. Hillary was just as much of a white supremacist as Trump, and the entire foundation and status quo of the US is rooted in white supremacism. Electing certain officials to office doesn’t change the structure of the system, and ultimately classes rule—not individuals. The u.s. is standing on over 200 years of slavery, genocide, and war, and electing just another face or another platform cannot realistically change this, regardless of how much a certain candidate may want to. Thus, we must move past the myth of electoral politics bringing about concrete change, and confront our problems with the power of the people—not the power of the bourgeois system.

The fight against fascism is a fight for self-defense and the protection of the people.

 

On the demonstration in Lansing

Fascists brought their racist rally to Lansing this Saturday and some members of Revolutionary Youth Alliance participated in shutting them down and screwing up their plans. This march brought a number of problems to our attention that we felt needed to be addressed.

Firstly, security is something of critical importance for antifascists in the modern world, where smartphones are omnipresent and the internet is a greater part of public life. Facial recognition technology has gotten a lot better and people have been identified through this software and arrested before. Doxxing (putting people’s personal informatoin on a public internet forum) is a real threat to antifascists who are willing to engage in militant demonstrations. Comrades have been harassed before by pigs and fascists alike because they did not pay enough attention to security. As a general principle in RYA, we think think that any time you go out in public for a revolutionary action where you might be drawing the attention of pigs or reactionaries, you should always wear a mask. Keep yourself and your comrades safe! But we also need to use the fascists’ tactics against them. They’ll try to dox us, so in response we need to dox them right back.

It’s important not to underestimate the enemy or take chances with them. We’re not here to debate with them, we’re here to shut them down and deny them a platform. Trying to debate with fascism is liberalism, like thinking that you can solve the world’s problems through discussion and intellectual arguments. We have nothing in common with people who think genocide is a good idea.

Though we outnumbered the fascists and reactionaries, we were still unfortunately outgunned. There was a fear of escalation as a result among the side of the antifascists that seriously needs to be dealt with. Our tactics should always be “10 against 1,” we should never have to take chances if we can help it. That is not to say that it was wrong in this instance to fight back, of course it was the right thing to do, but mass mobilization and showing up are absolutely critical.

A more militant perspective needs to be taken at rallies like this. The left needs to get serious about self-defense and keep pace with (and eventually overtake) the fascists. Liberal chants aren’t going to be enough, it’s important to mobilize as much of the community as possible under proletarian leadership and politics to defeat fascism.


Guest post

To go along with this statement we are publishing a guest post on our website from a supporter of our organization who was able to show up to confront fascism with us in Lansing, titled “Counterdemonstration in Nazi Land.”

Guest Post: “Counterdemonstration in Nazi Land”

This post was written by a supporter of Revolutionary Youth Alliance and as such does not officially reflect the political line of our organization. Still, we think the perspective the author provides is valuable and we’re hosting it for others to enjoy. This is the first of hopefully many more guest posts to come.

 

Saturday, June 10th, Lansing, Michigan

 

“Is that police?”

“What?”

“There. The ones with the guns.”

“Those are the fascists,” Comrade Thomas said. “That’s the Michigan Militia.”

I blinked. “Oh.” Well then.

I didn’t recognize the fascist crowd when we were upon it because there were so few of them. I did notice the people with automatic rifles, though, because they were facing us, standing still, and wearing camo uniforms. They seemed very self-righteous and proud of themselves.

The police did not tell the fascists to leave, nor did they seem interested in photographing, profiling, or arresting them. What they did do was create a 1.5-ish meter gap between us, achieved by propping up orange and white folding signs and stringing two lines of police tape in front of each crowd. On the folding signs were the words “PUBLIC SERVICE” across the top, which I thought was ironic.

While we chanted We love our Muslim neighbors and glowered at the fascists, I wondered how many of them were actual genocidal maniacs (the self-aware Nazis) versus how many were just local racists that felt like doing something on a Saturday (the not so self-aware Nazis.) I searched the small but growing crowd across the rift to look for them. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but assumed I would know it when I saw it. Swastikas? Pepe pins, maybe? Let’s check it out. A detail that stuck out to me was the recurrence of the American flag, which I thought was interesting. I remembered the call-and-response chant we did on the way there about racists belonging in “Nazi Land,” and Thomas sarcastically employing a curious tone of voice, saying, “What’s Nazi Land?” (America, I guess.) I spotted a narrow post with a celtic cross printed at the top, propped up by a white man with a fuzzy brown beard and gas station sunglasses. Ah. There’s one, I thought.

I implicitly decided to buddy with comrade Sam (read: follow them around.) Sam intimidated me because I was acutely aware of how much smarter they were than me. However, they were also the person I had spoken to the most by far out of everyone I knew in RYA, which I felt gave me permission to be clingy for a couple hours. They didn’t seem to mind; antifascists, in my experience, don’t tend to mind it when people need help or support–or, in my case, somebody to cling to at their first counter-demonstration.

When we migrated to the front–an exciting place to be–to our immediate left, a comrade was in the middle of yelling at the fascists and not caring about her slow steps forward. Her waist tugged the yellow police tape taut. That made me a little nervous. I imagined her breaking that tape, followed by images of red spray, diabolical machinery noise, and screaming. I poked her bare shoulder with my index finger, wanting to beckon her back a little, but she didn’t notice. Only then two chauvinist pigs on the other side of the gap started yelling at her about female hysteria, and I didn’t want to invalidate her anger like how they were doing. Okay, know what? Fine, I thought. Let whatever’s going to happen happen.

“I’m taking away your seven. You’re a six,” one of them said, spitting his words out like he was punishing her. His friend, holding an American flag on a pole, gave a throaty laugh. The sound was vaguely reminiscent of a stalling engine. “There was a bitch with a mask on handing out fliers and taking pictures over there. She was an easy two.”

I remembered hearing high school boys rate the high school girls on a scale of 1-10 similarly, carelessly, and I remembered all of the violence at the hands of men that some of my female-identifying comrades and friends have told me about. Violence from misogyny, from entitlement, from dehumanization. I stared at the men across the line and thought violent thoughts.

It wasn’t just this one comrade; there was a lot of shouting all across the gap in front. It wasn’t unbearably loud, since the fascists had maybe 30-40 people and we had upwards of 60, but the raised voices less than two meters in front of my face made it a lot to absorb at once. My takeaway was that the fascists are very full of misunderstandings about the city of Dearborn, Sharia law, the Quran, the gays, and clitorises, and are very very emotional (rabidly angry) about all of it. At one point, I saw a Nazi with a yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flag point at a comrade holding a sign that read “HALAL” on it in English letters: “Is that ‘halal’?!” He screamed, “Is that fucking ‘halal’?!” At this, a stranger with a violet bandana came up next to me and started shouting back at him. “Shut the fuck up, you Nazi piece of shit! Fuck you, you fucking Nazi!” I turned my head and looked up at him. Standing profile to him, I could see his eyes behind his sunglasses; they were the color of unforgivingly cold weather. I saw fury. I wondered who he was thinking of at home.

When I started acclimating to the commotion, I thought about the people they were talking so much shit about–Muslims, mostly. That was the point of their demonstration; to come together and have an Islamophobic ass-wiping party. My mind went back home, to the people who make home; Muslim friends, queer-trans friends, immigrant co-workers, and my immigrant family, and I looked across at the crowd and thought of violence again.

At around 1:00, we marched away from the fascists and went back the way we came. Most of us left, but maybe 15-20 comrades stayed behind. I was somewhat worried for their safety, but told myself that the Michigan Militia wouldn’t fire at unarmed antifascists because that would make for bad press. While we walked, I reconvened with Elizabeth, a comrade I met at the May Day festival the previous month. Elizabeth reminded me of my (very nice) old kindergarten teacher, so naturally, I puked up all of my thoughts on her on the way back. I talked about how caring for the people has to be the same thing as hating some people sometimes, and how I was stupid for not really getting that before today. She occasionally validated me with a breathy-voiced “yeahhh…” and a sympathetic nod. I noted dependence on others as a motif for the day.

On the walk back, I remembered how I tried to distinguish the blatant fascists from the moderate fascists. I realized that the fascist that “felt like doing something on a Saturday” is the same fascist that was holding up a Celtic cross, who is the same fascist that was rating our female comrades on 1-10 scales, who is the same fascist that started screaming after reading the word halal.  As we came to the parking lot where we’d started from, I looked at the people giving each other water and sharing food. I looked around at all of us and felt safe. For placebo confidence, I threw my head back like I was drinking a shot, inhaled the atmosphere, and I looked up.