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.

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