Anti Intellectualism Hurts the Left and Insults the Working Class

I have noticed time and time again at multiple meetings, protests, and other organizational gatherings that there is a haste in several leftists to abandon intellectualism and academics. Either intellectualism is synonymous with whiteness to some of these people or their is this sentiment shared by many leftists that intellectualism is inherently alienating or off putting to the working class.

I reject these notions and I implore my comrades to reject them as well.

I am not unsympathetic to leftists who have a distain for academia and the intellectual jargon that comes with certain avenues of socialist theory, nor am I blind to the exclusion that academics has perpetuated. It is true that academic rhetoric has been used as a tactic for class elevation rather than for the improvement of ones community. To put it blutnly, people under our current capitalist system view education as a method for moving up the class scale. Instead of a degree being a symbol of your knowledge it is often used as a symbol of your class.

There is also a predominance of white supremacy in all, and I repeat all, institutions born under a capitalist system. This includes our schools, universities and even our unions and leftist organizations. As such the intellectualism that is attached to these things has a predominate tendency to enable white supremacy and I am sympathetic to that fact as well.

However the notion I reject is that the working class are incapable of comprehending intellectualism, that in order of our programs to be considered “accessible” they must be dumbed down. This is the notion I reject. One reason I reject this is because distain for academia is a right wing value, and in turn enabling distain for it by the left is a validation of a right wing talking point. Our job as leftists is too disprove the right wing, not validate it. “The poor are to stupid to organize and rise up,” is an inherently capitalist right wing sentiment and when we perpetuate the idea that the working class cannot comprehend intellectual topics or jargon then we are validating this sentiment.

What is even worse is that distain for intellectualism insults the working class. “Intellectual” should not be equated with “inaccessible.” I do think this is where most leftists are coming from when they express annoyance with intellectualism. It is not that they have a distain for intellectualism itself, but rather it is that they want our program and interpretation of socialism to be as easy to understand as possible in order to foster and build a genuine mass movement. I think that is a fair sentiment.

However, too often than not I see friends and comrades equating the idea of making our work “accessible” with dumbing it down. This is reprehensible. I acknowledge that we need a shift in our jargon, and adaptations to our rhetoric need to be made in order for our socialism to be relevant to the working class of the 21st century, but this does not mean we need to insult the working class in the process. To argue that something is inherently “too intellectual” or “too academic” for the working class is to say that the working class are incapable of complex thought and that intellectualism or academia is too good for the working class.

Nothing, I repeat, nothing, is too good for the working class.

It is also nearsighted to reject intellectualism when you are a leftist organizer because it ignores a very large part about the reality of the 21st century working class. The truth is that most members of the working class today do in fact have some degree of post k-12 education. The existence of the student debt bubble is evidence alone that most people who qualify as “working class” are indeed educated to some degree. Therefore the working class of the 21st century is perfectly capable of intellectualism or of comprehending academic rhetoric because most have already gone through the realms of academia.

My comrades who want to make things like our program and jargon more accessible to the working class are in the right to do so, yet it must be remembered that “accessible” does not mean “dumbed down.” I refuse to insult the very people I want to organize by giving them a program that condescends to them.

It is true that intellectualism has been used to intentionally exclude people, especially non white people. Many of our oppressors have used academics and intellectualism to openly exclude non males and non whites from their ranks. In short, they have used their education and jargon as a method of control rather than as a method of liberation. I think this is another place where our anti academic comrades are coming from when they express distain for intellectualism, and I am sympathetic to this outlook as well.

However I also think that to synonymize intellectualism with whiteness erases the numerous non white intellectuals, such as W.E.B Dubois, bell hooks, Angela Davis, and Cornel West, who have graced us with perspective and theory in manners that are both complimentary to the working class’ capablities AND are accessible to those in the working class who have not undergone a secondary education. We cannot counter erasure with more erasure!

Socialist programs and rhetoric in the 21st century need to adapt, and to adapt they need to be made accessible to the masses. However “accessible” does not have to equal “anti intellectual.” I said it once in this piece and I will say it time and time again until I am dead, nothing is too good for the working class!

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3 Texts that Leftists Should Read That Aren’t About Leftism

We can read Marx, Rosa, Lenin, and all of our leftist favorites until we’re bleeding and vomiting theory. However, there are texts that leftists, especially leftists who consider themselves organizers, should read which have nothing to do with leftism. Despite lacking our theoretical lens they do still bring a depth of important knowledge that many people who organize are lacking.

Reading texts that are pertinent to us and our praxis is important to developing our organizing abilities and the scope of our message. However if we supplement our knowledge of socialism with these other texts, then we can all be better organizers and then there will be no stopping the coming Red Tide.

So here are three non leftist texts that leftists and organizers should be familiar with:

1. Declaration of Independance, The Constititution, Bill of Rights, and All Amendments

Please don’t quit reading the article! I am not advocating for the watered down social democracy that comes with the all too common liberal American acceptionalist fetishization of the founding of America. Nay, far from it. I am suggesting we read this material because we need to know what we are up against. We need to know what the law of the land actually if we want to cultivate it for revolution. In war one makes no assumptions about the enemy, and information is the key to winning all wars. Make no mistake, we are indeed locked in a class war against racism, ablism, and patriarchy. Therefore we must take nothing for granted. We easily can point out the inherent racism and patriarchy in the documents written by white slave owning men, but eventually you get to a point where that is merely stating the obvious. What will help us win is understanding the laws written by these agents of colonialist elitism so that we can show how revolting they really are. We need to know what the enemy will use against us when we point out how “free” this world actually is. As said in the Art of War, “information is the key to victory.”

And speaking of the Art of War…

2. The Art of War

Everyone should read and reread Sun Tzu’s Art of War. It is a sort of unofficial guide to successful organizing against your enemy. It emphasizes strategic thinking over reactionary thinking, a problem that the left needs to expiedently address. We are quick to protest and react when we see an injustice in our workplace or our community and we should be, however we often forget certain truths about our capitalist enemy when we put all our energy into our reaction instead of figuring out their tactics.

We forget such truths as, “Appear at points where the enemy must hasten to defend,” an example of why workplace and general strikes are more effective than symbolic marches or gestures. Or for those who romanticize anarchic revolts over anything peaceful or procedureal, they could learn from Sun Tzu’s words, “the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s army without any fighting… he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.” Do not get me wrong, I am not against armed or militant uprising, I simply do not romantize it nor should any leftist. Because it is even in the Art of War that a physical battle, “is nothing to take lightly, and must always be a general’s last resort.”

3. Robert’s Rules of Parlimentary Proceudre.

Those in organizations such as the Democratic Socialists of America are familiar with this debate all to well. On the one side you have people who refuse to use Robert’s Rules because they find the language problematic or they simply reject structuralism in their organizing, not to mention those who find the jargon all together inaccessible and therfore they are alienated from the decision making body. There is also the fact that in order for Robert’s Rules to be effective you need a strong and knowledgable chairperson using them. This in turn forsakes the people who our society has taught they need to be quieter and meeker than others. Others favor Robert’s Rules as a way to streamline decision making and assure that meetings are productive and follow a sense of structure.

Personally I am on both sides of this issue, I will defend Robert’s Rules as a tool as much as I can but I am not insensitive to how alienating or regressive it can be at times. Robert’s Rules is effective yet it is often used to silence people who try to speak truth to power. I think the balance that is needed is making the language more open and accessible while acknowledging that Robert’s Rules does not have to be followed for every single decision made by a democratic body.

However every leftist and organizer should familiarize themselves with Robert’s Rules for similar reasons as to why they should study the Constitution. We have to know the enemy to defeat the enemy, and a harsh truth is that our enemy, in the form of the legislative bodies in this country, use Robert’s Rules. From city council meetings to Congress, this parliamentary procedure is what gets used to run their meetings and the people who are less knowledgable about it are at the mercy of the knowledgable. The enemy is dependant on our ignorance of the law and parlimentary procedure to keep us subjected to their rule. If we come to any governing body with knowledge about the materials they use against us, then we are forcing the enemy to “hasten” to defend a place they did not think they would have to defend.

So there you are, three texts that leftists and organizers should read which have little to do with leftism but still make one a better leftist for knowing them. In order to defeat American Imperialism we must understand the documents which American Imperialism is founded on. In order to defeat our enemy we need to acknowledge that this is class war and we therefore need the knowledge that wins a war. In order to defeat our political enemies we need to understand the procedures that they exploit in order to silence us.

If we want to win, we need to do our homework.