I have written pieces before about the toxicity that personality cults have on the left. As much as I do love the words of Lenin, Trotsky, and Rosa, as much as I appreciate the dedication to ideology that several of my comrades have, I have a cold sobering reminder for all of us;
You are not Lenin.
You are not Emma Goldman.
You are not the socialist that you love and idealize, and you never will be.
So many people on the left are quick to tear apart or derail perfectly sound material gains in favor of an ideological purity, a purity that is often attached to a loyalty they have for their favorite leftists who have long slipped from our realm and into the realms of the historical dialectic. What many modern leftists often forget is that the leftists of the past are just like the leftists of now, they are products of their time and place and are trying to make the most gains for the working class within their time and place.
This is why it is foolish to write off organizations like DSA on purely sectarian lines. People who say that “electoral politics has no effect” ignore the fact that the GOP dedicates all of their resources to voter suppression. If voting had no effect it would not be such a constant target of the capitalist class.
At the same time people who put all their efforts into electoral matters can forsake material gains for workers, this can happen if a self identified leftist ignores a communities need for mutual aid or when a leftist writes off all forms of direct action as street theatrics. It can even lead to the erasure of people who make up the majority of the working class such as women of color, indigenous people, trans people, and sex workers because these are groups who are often the most forsaken in electoral matters in America.
There is a time and place for mutual aid, direct action, and seizure of state power, and to reject anyone of those tiers for purely sectarian reasons is to insult the people you hope to radicalize. You cannot scream revolution while refusing to meet the material needs of the working classes, especially since the working classes is predominately made up of people who are constantly facing erasure as mentioned in the paragraph above.
This is the reality of the world we live in, we live in a time when socialism is in a position to both gain genuine state power and can provide genuine material gains for the working class in America. Neither can be foresaken and we cannot afford to put hero worship ahead of our material realities and we risk forsaking everything if we do not make our doctrines relevant to the time and place we are in. Our doctrines should be attached to achieving communism, adaptable to the times, and applicable to those whom seek liberation. The doctrines we use should not be attached to hero worship for a single leftist thinker or interpretation of theory. Remember, it is never just about the individual, it is about our power as a collective, sectarian personality cults hold us back from collective power.
I love Lenin, but his arguments came from Russia 1917, not America 2019. I am not saying there is nothing to learn from socialists of days past, quite the contrary to be honest because there is much to learn from them and it is the duty of every leftist political organizer to study the history of our movement as much as possible. The thinkers who are so often deified were trying to make sense of the world and change the world of their times. This is our task and it is still what we are doing today. There is plenty that Lenin can teach us in 2019, but what Lenin cannot do is be the guiding light for all organizing and decision making, nor can Trotsky, Rosa, Mao, Stalin, etc. and so forth.
I must emphasize this point, I am not saying these classical theorists have nothing to teach us anymore. The comprehensive study of communist theory, history and applications is a must in order for us to develop a doctrine of socialism that works for the here and now. Socialism and the road to communism must be applicable in order for it to be doable for a mass movement which can be turned into a revolution, and to make it applicable it must be adaptable, not stuck in a form of doctrine locked to the popularity of the author.
We need to be thinking about material gains and revolutionary stepping stones in 2019, we need not be evangelical newspaper salespeople with dead eyes and souls with zero understanding of Alexandira Ocasios Cortez’s politics.
The same goes for any anarchist, socialist, or communist whom their organizations have made into deities. Even Marx, we must make our efforts about the collective, not just the individual elaborating the collective.
What we need to is to adapt our theory to the present while learning the lessons of the past and using them to guide us to our future. This is not an easy task for socialist and communist organizers but it is a task we must take on. Marx himself said that “Everything moves, everything is subject to change.” So must it also be true with his own communist doctrine. I do not want people to think this is a rant against centralization or having a doctrine, or in any way a rejection of the works of Marx or any classical leftist thinker. What I am saying is that our doctrine needs to be applicable to the times we are in to best meet the needs of the working class. When you attach the doctrine to a single individual, it is almost impossible to adapt that doctrine to meet those needs. This is hero worship and it breeds sectarianism, period.
We owe it to the people we seek to radicalize, who we hope see revolt, to meet them where they are, and to build them up to where they could go. We need a socialism that is fluid, adaptable to the times, a socialism that speaks to peoples needs not one that merely preaches to them old doctrines which do not engage them. We need an intersectional communism, a socialism for the 21st Century.