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On Combat Liberalism [part 3]

As promised, I am going to conclude my series on Mao's Combat Liberalism.  The first entry discussed the first five examples of liberal behaviour; the second discussed examples six through eight.  This concluding entry, then, will examine the final three examples.  Although I will probably return to this topic of communist behaviour in the future, this will be the final entry in this specific series.

Indeed, I think it must be said that communist behaviour, as briefly discussed in this small essay by Mao, is something that should concern everyone who would call themselves "communist" even if they do not belong to the historical trajectory of marxism-leninism-maoism.  For while Maoism has more of a theoretical history in examining the behaviour of communist cadre (after all, part of its moment of rupture/continuity is the fact that it grasps how ideological socialization produces generations of people who, even under socialism, might behave in a bourgeois manner and so become, even unwillingly, capitalist roaders), one would assume that communists of all marxist creeds would think that it is important to think about how communists should act differently from capitalists.

If we want people to accept that communism is better than capitalism, and have nothing to offer them but theory and the claim that socialism is better, then this should be proved in our actions as well as our words.  People should see that we are different than the average capitalist––that we are not petty, selfish, extremely individualistic, judgmental, etc.  And yet, at the same time, we need to appear as principled, disciplined, and unwilling to dilute our politics with reformism.  While there are those leftist who come across as arrogant assholes––condescending and holier-than-thou––there are also those who, in their desire to be liked by everyone and to appear as "respectable" and "reasonable", will hide their politics, participate in reformism, tail the masses, and act in an extremely dishonest manner.  This second type of behaviour, however, is just as condescending as the open arrogance because it is another type of arrogance; it is premised on the belief that the masses, many of whom have not had the same educational privileges, are incapable of learning and so must be catered to in the most patronizing manner.

With this in mind, it is appropriate to turn to the ninth type of liberal behaviour…

Example #9: "to work half-heartedly without a definite plan or direction; to work perfunctorily and muddle along."

In some ways, I think that this disdain for discipline and principles comes from the condescension discussed above.  It is, after all, far better not to have a plan when it comes to our behaviour amongst the people if we do not want to represent our principles in a disciplined manner.  Better to just work incoherently, never really figure out the political goals we want to develop, and hope that the masses will figure out the correct plan and direction by themselves.  Have some demonstrations that have no goal aside from being demonstrations, produce documents that have no direction aside from lowest-common-denominator reformism, and make things up as we go.  Or get involved in a movement such as #occupy and do nothing within this space except to praise its spontaneous spirit and celebrate its lack of direction.

In other ways, though, this behaviour, though perhaps originating in condescension, is just part of how many leftists in this society have been socialized into acting.  Indoctrinated by movementist ideology, we have been taught not to think through working-plans, political goals, a structured approach to our political action.  We drift from event to event, imagining that we are doing something important when all that is happening is just another event: they do not add up, not really, even if we would like to pretend that they do––a ship moving aimlessly around the ocean, no matter how many times it has managed to boldly withstand storms, is still an aimless ship.

All we do is set plans for this or that event, a way to navigate a temporary current, or at the most we plan for some moment confined within reformist boundaries.  In Ken Loach's film, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, one of the characters says that "it is one thing to know what you're against, but it's quite another to know what you're for."  Meaning here: it is one thing to organize against aspects of capitalism, but far more difficult to organize around how we're going to get rid of capitalism altogether, what we're going to replace it with, and how we're going to build this what.

And just so none of my readers think that I'm setting myself above this example of liberal behaviour I will confess that I am also guilty of muddling along, with either confusion or half-heartedness, and I am trying very hard to break with this behaviour and think according to a more structured plan of political working.  This is very difficult because I've been trained to think only of moment-to-moment, or crisis-to-crisis, politics.  Go to this event, that demonstration, this rally, that direct action… Figuring out all of these could possibly figure into a larger project: this is something I am only beginning to think through. But all of us need to do this thinking through and we need to do it now.

Example #10:  "to regard oneself as having rendered great service to the revolution, to pride oneself on being a veteran, to disdain minor assignments while being quite unequal to major tasks, to be slipshod in work and slack in study."

Back to the arrogance!  Liberal behaviours like this example are the ones that stand out and the ones that overtly cause dissension within revolutionary organizations or, just as importantly, turn people away from these organizations.  And we all know, just like the fourth example of liberal behaviour (discussed in the first entry in this series linked above), people who believe they have "rendered a great service to the revolution."

These are the people who, because they imagine they are extremely important leftist veterans because they were arrested at x rally (that did little more than expend energy on lawyering), or helped organize y coalition (that nobody really remembers anymore), disdain any sort of work that does not promote them as individuals.  Instead they always want to be in charge of everything, will lead meetings even if they were not asked to lead them, and who are disinterested in ideological training because, "hey man, I don't need to study theory behind what I do because I'm doing it."

Thing is, these types of people really are unequal to major tasks––the only important major tasks being the tasks necessary to organize a revolution.  For if they were equal to these tasks, and based on the fact that these types of people emerge from and disappear into the mainstream left every year, then they would be instrumental in the initiation of a revolutionary movement.  Except these types of people, who are extremely populous in my social context, are in abundance and they are not really part of any revolution movement except the movements in their own delusional minds.

Just saying.

Example #11: "to be aware of one's own mistakes and yet make no attempt to correct them, taking a liberal attitude towards oneself."

This is a type of liberal behaviour that is often connected to the above example.  We are generally not that unaware to be completely ignorant of our personal problems.  Rather than correct these problems, however, we like to pretend that they aren't problems.  Better to point out the problems in others and give ourselves an easy pass: no self-criticism, a refusal to be self-aware, and the terrible need to point out the problems in others rather than the problems in ourselves.

The larger point is that all of us are guilty of expressing, at some point in our lives, bourgeois ideology. It is, after all, the ideology to which we're born––even if we come from an exploited and oppressed class we have been socialized in a capitalist world and we often see bourgeois values, as much as we hate them, as our values.  And if we don't realize that we're seeing ourselves reflected through the mirror of bourgeois ideology then we are incapable of grasping and correcting our mistakes.  For in the end we all desire to treat ourselves liberally, to concentrate on the mistakes of others at the expense of our own, whether we are openly arrogant or meekly condescending.

So in the end it comes back, as always, to the self and how this self might possibly get in the way of "serving the people".  And if we are communists we must learn how to serve the people, rather than serving ourselves, and to think otherwise is elitist.  A revolution cannot be about our individual self, no matter what barricade wet dreams we have, because a revolution is a mass movement.  And if we're revolutionaries for our own personal egos, then why the hell do we care about revolutions in the first place?  Might as well just renounce leftism and try our damnedest to be good capitalists––competing with other individuals and trying to bourgeoisify like every other self-proclaimed capitalist out there.

This is why, as Mao writes near the end of this small essay:
"Liberalism is extremely harmful in a revolutionary collective.  It is a corrosive which eats away unity, undermines cohesion, causes apathy and creates dissension.  It robs the revolutionary ranks of compact organization and strict discipline, prevents policies from being carried through and alienates the Party organizations from the masses which the Party leads.  It is an extremely bad tendency."
And those who would think otherwise, who would scoff at this sort of criticism, are those who refuse criticism, who glory in bourgeois individualism, and would reserve the right to put their own feelings and sentiments over those of the masses.  Hence the fear of the self-proclaimed "socialists" over any challenge to liberal-bourgeois notions of "free speech" and "free expression."  Hence the disdain of so-called "radicals" who cringe at the thought of being "sent down to the countryside."  Hence the self-righteous scoffing of these socialist-liberals whenever their oh-so-special individual opinions are challenged.