How One Becomes a Communist
F. Anton Drozdov
What does it mean, to become a communist? Is it a declaration of one’s principles, of their newfounded ideals? Or perhaps is it a nuanced journey, one that requires extensive investigation from the self, and of the texts and material realities? I intend to determine this process, and simultaneously destroy the conceived notions of the anti-intellectuals, who have decidedly labeled themselves communists despite lacking most, if not all, the necessary qualifications of being communists.
I admit I didn’t give the process of becoming a communist much thought, but as I glanced back at my trajectory, from social democrat to Marxist-Leninist (budding Maoist), I had realized that the development, like all other material progressions, followed a dialectical path of transition, of dissipation of previously held beliefs (theses) following their being faced with counterargument (antithesis), a challenging notion, which in turn brought about a new understanding (synthesis) of capitalism and the historical significance of class struggle.
So why is it important to document such text, the path from reactionary to revolutionary? The answer lies in the observation of who and what organizations call themselves communists. After extensively looking into these “communist” entities, it became evident that many had simply adopted the moniker, the title of communist, with no understanding of how they had reached such a point, and no understanding of what it meant to be a communist. They had it deemed their “political awakening” an adequate eventuality to their becoming communists. Of course the process is not this simple, the most successful communist revolutionaries have never been the individuals who were communist in name and reactionary in deeds. They were extensively read Marxists who studied the correct methods of praxis, of organization and struggle.
What does it take to become a communist; what does it mean? Let us observe.
Dialectics and the Transition to Communism in Theory
The first thing to consider regarding the transition from reactionary to revolutionary politics is how the process is itself dialectical in nature, and follows the equational process of “thesis being met with antithesis, whose resolve produces the synthesis”. There are two ways in which the antithesis is born, ways in which it shall foment itself materially, and then theoretically (that is, in the mind).
- Physical observation
- Reading of revolutionary texts
1)The first way that antithesis presents itself is through physical observation. This is more difficult to attain, as the long held beliefs, the theses we hold dear, often cloud our judgement of the surrounding dysfunctionalities of the mode of production that we are subservient too. Nonetheless, observation shall be the first method to achieving an antithesis. The individual might witness events (or read of them) that bring to light extreme questioning of the previously accepted beliefs. This challenging of ideals, cognitive dissonance, as we might refer to it, acts as a catalyst to political deviance, to an extreme questioning of the material realities. However, this alone shall not provide the synthesis of adopting communist ideals. And this is where many of our case studied individuals fall short in their self-labeling as “communists”. They have stopped short, at the observation of dysfunction, and determined that their anti-establishmentarianism is sufficient in declaring oneself a communist. It is not.
Historically, the anti-establishmentarians have come from two camps, the communists and fascists. The fascists have too divested from the center line of political activity in the capitalist mode of production, but for alternate reasoning than the communists. The fascists have concluded that racial, sexual, ethnic and/or religious groups stand at the sources of their ills, rather than the bourgeoisie, rather than the dictatorship of capital. Thus, they embrace the demagoguery of tyrants, of capitalists who harness the anger of these infantile-minded individuals, and weaponize it to carry out atrocities as we have observed in the past. The other camp of anti-establishmentarians typically are what we would call the communists; those who understand what breeds the oppressive structures of capitalism, the bourgeoisie and capital. Of course this is merely an over-simplification for the purposes of highlighting the two major routes of ideological expansion once the antithesis of observation is presented. Within each group there lie many sub-factions of thought, of sciences and anti-sciences (within the communist groups, that is), which I shall not cover in this text, as it is not the purpose.
In this regard, the mere presentation of antithesis in the form of observation is not sufficient grounds for finalizing the process of becoming a communist, but rather a spark to light the path, as in this way we are not completed with our journey.
2)The second way antithesis presents itself is through the reading of text. Often, one may be introduced to the revolutionary texts that contain within them the critiques of capitalist political economy, and that may present methods of organization and struggle. They contain the primary sources of revolutionaries struggling in the immediate historical sense. However, the question is then whether or not merely reading these texts shall render one a communist? I declare no, but the details shall be have to be further observed later. In a brief sense it lies in the necessity to not only read, but interact with the texts, the necessity to implement specific methods of understanding of the text, ways to better cement and declare the bases of understanding, beyond a shallow sense.
These two methods act as conduits to transition in thought, in a dialectical manner. However, the path of observation to radicalization, as I may have perhaps alluded to, requires further analysis, as it is certainly more nuanced in nature than that of the reading of revolutionary theory.
Antithesis in Observation
The antithesis that is brought to fruition from observation is more lethal in the path it leads one down, as it itself is not sufficiently enough to warrant the self-declaration as a communist. This follows the same trajectory of the priests of the theory of spontaneity. The preachers of this theory have employed petty dogma and anti-scientific analysis to not only incorrectly analyze the progression of the state and authority throughout history, but also to simultaneously declare themselves communists, despite having no coherent, scientific plan to counteract the systems put in place now. Thus they taint the names of the scientific socialists.
These individuals adopt theories of spontaneity because their investigation involves only observation, or the surface level understanding of events. Similarly, their observation may entail the brief reading of these progressions, but only on the understanding that they simply occurred, not why or how they occurred. The proponents of these theories are communists the same way the proletarian declares themselves a capitalist, purely nonsensical. They are dogmatists and utopians, and thus are useless in the building of the party and revolution. They lack fundamental class consciousness, and instead believe that crisis shall draw the masses to revolt, rejecting the class character of struggle.
The “observationists”, if you will (the individuals who halt their antithetical investigation at observation), believe their observation of the world is the consummation of their path to becoming communists. Reality tells a different story; that observation is merely the beginning, the catalyst that must drive the individual towards revolutionary theory, and connect it to their observations. Only then will they develop the necessary class consciousness and materialist understanding of history to drive their praxis in a productive direction of building a class character to organization and struggle. As J.V. Stalin aptly put it in The Foundations of Leninism:
“Theory is the experience of the working class movement in all countries taken in its general aspect. Of course, theory becomes purposeless if it is not connected with revolutionary practices just as practice gropes in the dark if it’s path is not illuminated by revolutionary theory, but theory can become a tremendous force in the working class movement if it is built up in indissoluble connection with revolutionary practice; for theory, and theory alone, can give the movement confidence, the power of orientation, and and an understanding of the interrelation of surrounding events; for it, and it alone, could help practice to realize not only how and in which direction classes are moving at the present time, but also how and in which direction they will move in the near future. None other than Lenin uttered and repeated scores of times the well-known thesis that: “without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”¹
Ultimately, the greatest pitfall of the observationists is their lack of understanding of the basic principles of communism. What this leads to is the compromise, the concession of, or the initial lack thereof, communist ideals. As their “revolutionism” ends at observation, they shall find no ills in unity with the fascists, who too have ended their analyses at observation (achieving varying conclusions of the sources of dysfunctions of course). Thus we have dogmatism and anti-intellectualism evolving into fascism. These “communists” believe in the logical negotiation with illogical people. Much like one cannot negotiate with the forces of nature, the “communists” cannot negotiate with the fascists. Their belief in being able to do so shall prove their downfall, but in the process their unfortunate strengthening of these fascist forces. Therefore the ideological fight against these “revolutionaries” must be vicious, precise and lethal. They may concede, but we must not.
Antithesis in observation is incomplete, and must be furthered with the investigation of these antitheses through revolutionary texts. The mere observation of exploitation does not bring to light the sudden understanding of the main tenets of Marxist theory: “historical materialism”, “dialectical materialism”, “surplus value” and the “class struggle”. It merely raises questions. Those questions must be answered such that one may evolve into the communist. Only the texts can do this, as they alone can crush the previously held dogmas of the anti-intellectual positions, the ideas that all human behavior is equatable on the same plane of criticism.
The observationists fall short in that they rely on dogma to analyze the material conditions surrounding them. In their minds, the actions of humanity fall within the same definite denotations, rather than existing in their own contexts, affecting their immediate material conditions different ways. Engels, in his vital work “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”, highlights an important point in this regard, specifically referring to human violence, its meaning and what it indicates:
“This new German philosophy culminated in the Hegelian system. In this system — and herein is its great merit — for the first time the whole world — natural, historical, intellectual — is represented as a process, i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development; and the attempt is made to trace out the internal connection that makes a continuous whole of all this movement and development. From this point of view the history of mankind no longer appeared as a wild whirl of senseless deeds of violence, all equally condemnable at the judgement seat of mature philosophical reason and which are best forgotten as quickly as possible, but as the process of evolution of man himself”²
The observationists, in rejecting the investigation of dialectical, scientific analysis, rely on their metaphysical dogmas to analyze the world, and must be pushed past this point of mere observation, and to the point of investigation of text.
Antithesis in the Reading of Revolutionary Texts
Apart from the presentation of antithesis through observation, one may find that the counterargument arrives through reading of revolutionary theory, typically following observation. Of course this shall be more difficult, but more effective, than the reliance on observation, as the willingness to investigate the texts in itself serves as a greater catalyst to revolutionization, but regardless this method of antithetical introduction more often than not is greater in effect to guiding one to the communist ideals. The observationists fall short in their reliance merely on observation, however here we shall analyze those who have successfully moved past this point and towards the revolutionary theory, as a means to answer the questions raised by observation.
The revolutionary texts are greatly misunderstood, even by the self-declared communists, often because they have no comprehension of what lies within the spines of the books. Their reliance on observation is rooted in the belief that “one need not to investigate the texts to understand exploitation when one sees it”. Of course, as I have greatly emphasized before, the revolutionary theory does not contain the mere claims of the existence of exploitation and misery, but rather it addresses where such institutions arise from and why. It presents a clear cut analysis of the entities that oppress the current subjugated classes, the proletariat etc. The observationists are merely concerned with the synthesis, but reject the analysis of the thesis and antithesis, the social conditions and contradictions that gave rise to said syntheses; rather, they continually imagine the endpoints of struggle, but reject the scientific drafting a path towards them towards those endpoints. Thus, the text becomes essential in illuminating this path.
Resolve of Contradiction Through Synthesis
Regardless of the conduit through which antithesis is presented, the resolve of thesis and antithesis into synthesis most often comes through an exercise of the ideals, of taking the theoretical ideas presented, and putting them into material praxis, at which point the observation of their synthesis shall determine success or failure, and whether or not a correction of course must be taken.
Ideals and their Exercise
The path to becoming a communist is not simply developing its ideals, but rather of progressing from an idealist to materialist development of the communist principles. The implementation of praxis is the synthesis, the resolve of the contradictions that are at war in the ideological plane; that is, when one is presented with antitheses to their theses, it does not guarantee the outcome, the resolve into new synthesis, and so praxis provides the method of syntheses, as we have seen with comrade Stalin with regards to Marxism-Leninism, and comrade Gonzalo with Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. To better understand this idea of the synthesis of ideals in the material world, let us propose a simple, comprehensible example.
I have often returned to the use of the analogy of the construction of a house, and I shall do this once again, as it proves useful and simple. Suppose the architect drafts a blueprint of the house. They have created a plan, an outline for the project. The builder then tells their friends, their family, the neighbors etc. that they intend to construct a house and present the blueprints as proof. Have they built the house? No. Thus, assuming the individual in question is a novice builder, they have not truly embraced the title of builder until they have completed the task, even if in part (laying the foundations, the concrete etc.), and are solely a builder in name. The builder understands what is required to construct the home, but they have not synthesized these basic fundamentals into material alteration of the world, rather maintained them in words. Their deeds shall then determine whether or not they have stayed true to the blueprints, the measurements and tools laid out etc.
In this way the individual develops their ideology not solely through extensive study of its literature, but through the acting on its impulses as well, through synthesizing what is being presented in the text. This distinguishes the words from the deeds, the charlatans from the comrades, the “philosophers [who] have only interpreted the world”, but who have not changed it. The actions of the “communists” reveal the lack of coherent theses and antitheses, as their syntheses are lacking in revolutionary character, and are often in the forms of undirected violence, of disorganized, petty organizational habits that resemble the failed khvostism, or tailism. These individuals, in failing to cement their praxis with theory, act upon meaningless impulses that have no blueprint, aiming their organization not at the involvement of the masses through direct organization, class agitation and education, but through disconnection from the masses, and the self-appointment of themselves as the revolutionary leaders. They fundamentally lack the proper understanding of the emergence of leadership, where it comes from and how to validates itself. They lack the consent of the masses, rather choosing to forcefully bring into being a “party” that serves no other purpose than reactionary journalism and advertisement of revolutionary aesthetic and petty words.
The communist must understand that the translation of theory to material exercise must follow the ideals presented in the revolutionary texts; the praxis must be illuminated by a political line, drawn by the contents of the theory. In his eulogy to comrade Norman Bethune in 1939, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung wrote the following regarding the communist spirit, and what often is lacking in this regard:
“Comrade Bethune’s spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his great sense of responsibility in his work and his great warm-heartedness towards all comrades and the people. Every Communist must learn from him. There are not a few people who are irresponsible in their work, preferring the light and shirking the heavy, passing the burdensome tasks on to others and choosing the easy ones for themselves. At every turn they think of themselves before others. When they make some small contribution, they swell with pride and brag about it for fear that others will not know. They feel no warmth towards comrades, and the people but are cold, indifferent and apathetic. In truth such people are not Communists, or at least cannot be counted as devoted Communists. No one who returned from the front failed to express admiration for Bethune whenever his name was mentioned, and none remained unmoved by his spirit. In the Shansi-Chahar-Hopei border area, no soldier or civilian was unmoved who had been treated by Dr. Bethune or had seen how he worked. Every Communist must learn this true communist spirit from Comrade Bethune”³
What Chairman Mao insinuates is the necessary acting upon comradery, upon the ideals of class solidarity, otherwise the “communists” fall to tailism or elitism. They either engage in disconnected organization (that is, organization conducted behind closed doors “on behalf” of the masses, but not involving them), or they revert to khvostism, dragging behind the masses instead of organizing them into forming a leadership that stands at the front of the people, that sees further ahead, and for the first time gives the proletariat class identity in the form of the revolutionary guard, the party.
These are the mistakes the self-declared communists often make, and their actions, their implementation of their extremely limited scope of their comprehension of revolutionary theory is then exemplified in their flailing efforts to exercise the ideals of their limited understanding onto the material world, which again reverts to elitism or tailism. Ultimately, we shall be vindicated in our statements and criticisms regarding the infantilism of the self-labeled “communists”, as their praxis, their organization and struggle, shall inevitably lack the character of class, and shall fall to the two aforementioned failures.
Interactions With Text
It may seem rather ambiguous as to what I refer when I say “interact” with the texts. I intend to lay out exactly the methods of interaction with the texts, and how one must behave to further develop class consciousness and become a true communist.
Essentially, there comes a point when acknowledging the laziness of passive reading is vital. There absolutely exists this idea of reading with no substance, with no retention. It is all but uncommon, and must be rooted, identified and corrected. The ways one might more actively interact with text borders on what some might consider extensive analysis and self-reflection. It is not so simple as flying through the text in one sitting, but rather taking its sections, dissecting it and actively placing energy into understanding it. There are typically three ways of doing this, and they are as follows:
- Repetition of reading
- Explanation of text to third parties
- Synthesizing text into action, and observing the results, calibrating as necessary
Repetition of Reading
The easiest method of interaction with the text involves the enforced repetition of the texts. It is no secret that the contents of the revolutionary theory is often confusing, difficult to understand. This is only natural when thesis is presented with antithesis. How can one simply reject their previously held beliefs in an instant? They may not.
The initial reading of text brings the initial light, the spark, that shall inevitably strike some interest, though it may certainly not be fully grasped. The singular reading of the text will not suffice, as it once again has violently opposed the individual’s theses, and must be further understood. The antithesis holds no power unless it is grasped, as it must be in this context. Any effort to reject repetition, and thus to reject the complete understanding of, the text, is to be ignored, as it can only harm the intentions of radicalization, the intentions of becoming a communist.
In the early phases of revolutionism, the principled scientific socialists had begun their introductions to the dialectics of Marx and Engels. To any apprentice, these conceptions are impossible to grasp in the beginning stages of radicalization. Thus it is required that the serious radicals take further actions, which shall include one of three things: re-reading, explanation and praxis.
Explanation of Text to Third Parties
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” (Albert Einstein). The basic implication of such a statement is that the highlight of true understanding of text, the ideal interaction with it, is dictated by the individual’s ability to regurgitate the information to a third party. The mere intake of text does not signify the comprehension of said texts. Rather, it is signified by the ability to clearly and easily compile the information into units of information, which might then be relayed to a separate entity.
Interaction with text requires the individual weaponize the information for the purposes of spreading consciousness of class antagonisms to the general population. In this way, one of the most important tasks of the communist is conversation. But how might they go about engaging in conversational radicalization if they themselves are not versed communists? We do not trust the engineer to explain the tenets of heart surgery, and as such we must not trust the untrained individual to claim themselves as the communist, nor trust them to relay their incomplete information to the masses. The desire to be the priest of the communist words has presupposed the necessity of first being read and understood on the texts being preached.
The explanation of revolutionary theory to fellow proletarians shall inevitably determine the comprehension of the texts. If incorrect, the individual must correct course, re-calibrate, return to the texts and re-read (as mentioned above), and eventually return to explain once again this content, now more simply, correctly. Thus, the text is understood, and the proletarian is one step closer to becoming fully communist.
Synthesizing Text Into Action and Calibrating
As I have reviewed the implementation of ideals into practice, I shall remain brief in the following explanation. Essentially, this involves the intuitive application of not only major organizational tactics, but also societal ones as well. In reference to the quotation from the eulogy of Norman Bethune, given by Chairman Mao, it was evident that comrade Bethune was not only a revolutionary in his organizational and military tactics, but so too in his human methods.
The application of revolutionary text must involve not only the integration of methods of organization and struggle, but also methods of human solidarity and interaction. Comrade Che Guevara has already touched upon this on his theories of “the new man” under a socialist mode of production; an individual who possesses the qualities of loving their fellow comrades, those who have always been in the same positions as them. The individual who would die for their comrades.
The communist understands that imperialism breeds elitists within the ranks of the proletariat, sowing division among the workers themselves. They understand that imperialism brings to light the opportunism that has plagued the revolutionaries of the past. The communist rejects these opportunist tropes, replaces the elitist narratives, and replaces them with extreme solidarity and love for the suffering masses. The communist utilizes the texts of liberation to build not only a revolutionary guard, but a revolutionary personality. They put the immortal words of the theorists into action, and though we do not require one put themselves into positions of lively sacrifice, it is deemed necessary that the principle communist not only fight for the proletariat, but with the proletariat. The grandstanding of the “saviors” must be replaced with the integrated, interwoven cooperation within the masses, to coalesce its power into the cadres and thus revolutionary guards.
It is the monumental task of the existing principled communists to bring into their ranks a mass influx of proletarian troops, of greatly enlightened, class conscious working people. However, before one may become the conduit of such education, they must themselves obtain the necessary bases to emerging a communist.
The task of becoming a communist is no self-declaration, it is no “individually mandated policy”, but rather an epoch in one’s existence. Much like the modes of production themselves transition into great periods of history, and are not based in policy, so too does the individual undergo this similar transformation. The immediate declaration as a communist is illogical, and fails to address varying contradictions that remain in the psyche of the disheveled proletarian.
The communist becomes so through arduous transition, prolonged efforts to cement a way of life, outside of organizational efforts. The power of solidarity is brought to the center, and in tandem with practice of organization and struggle, the communist weaponizes all the artillery of the masses, brings them to the arena of class, race, gender etc. struggle. The communist understands how one must reach communism, not by spontaneous eruption, but through transitional, historical development. Only once this understanding of progression is achieved can the individual approach the final stage of their communist development.
Once communist theory and its practice have been lived and breathed, then the communist is born.
¹J.V. Stalin, “The Foundations of Leninism”, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow 1953
²Frederick Engels, “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”, Revue Socialiste 1880
³Mao Tse-Tung, “In Memory of Norman Bethune”, December 21, 1939