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Wandering Trolls and What They Teach Us

[I'm temporarily suspending my last page in the Tao of Mao ABCs to write this post––but do not despair!  The final letters are already written, and only require lay-out, and the alphabet will be finished.]

In the past month more than one troll has wandered unto this blog to gleefully inform me that marxism was a failure, that any adherence to marxism is akin to religious dogmatism, and that maybe I wasn't aware that past communist revolutions have never delivered on their promises.  Indeed, the most recent trolling happened on the comment string of a post about dogmatism in the left, a typical example of someone who imagines they are brilliant parachuting themselves into a theoretical terrain they have no interest in exploring and declaring themselves the authoritative representative of common sense.

"I will convince you that I am brilliant and you are stupid."

To be honest, I'm a little confused as to why people who are so avidly devoted to bourgeois "common sense" want to waste their time involving themselves in a comment war that no one but this blog's author will read (because, usually, they are commenting on old posts) or that I will suddenly consider myself enlightened by arguments I was also socialized into believing were "critical".  But after years of blogging (and foolishly imagining that my initial posts would never be read by anyone and thus could be as asinine as I pleased), I've come to realize that there are a lot of alienated petty-bourgeois individuals who like to spend all of their time looking for sites to troll because they imagine that people will somehow benefit from their unoriginal insights.  As I pointed out in my comment policy page, though, these insights are not very original or insightful––I've even made more than one post about these trollish "insights".

At the same time, however, I often get caught-up in arguing with these self-righteous visitors because, let's face it, we often can't help arguing with unremarkable assholes who are trying to "school" us on a history and theory they refuse to understand.  It comes with the territory, and I've even wasted my time posting about past experiences with reactionary trolls.  But the reason it often comes with territory is not just because we have been driven by some blogosphere fever to win an argument (that, it must be said, can never be won) but because, if we are anti-capitalists with some theoretical and/or academic training, we imagine that these debates are tantamount to agitation and that we can possibly win over these wandering trolls.

We can't.

First of all, it needs to be said that people committed to a counter-revolutionary ideology usually cannot be convinced by rational arguments.  This is why capitalism cannot be overthrown by unleashing an army of philosophers to convince the bourgeoisie that their reality is irrational.  Marx and Engels, after all, waged a war for scientific socialism precisely by fighting against this utopian socialist tendency.  Class struggle is not reducible to an academic debate club; you will not convince people who are unwilling to disavow an ideology that determines their reality with a good argument.  They do not want to be convinced––social being, to a very large extent, does determine social consciousness.  Yes there are gaps in this social being, ways that a different social consciousness can be promoted, but this has never been the source of revolutionary strength.  If it was, then capitalism would have fallen long ago… Even worse, the fact that capitalism hasn't fallen despite all the rational arguments to the contrary means that if we accept that the solution is simply an act of rationally convincing the enemy then we must accept that we have failed and thus communism is essentially a failure.  And yet the strength of marxism was never about this approach; it was always premised on something more concrete.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is worth examining why we spend time engaging with people who will probably never be convinced by our ideology.  For not only do we often cling to the utopian belief that we can convince them through the strength of rational debate, we also imagine that if we fail to convince them––if we don't descend to their level, walk them slowly through marxism, present a perfect argument, etc.––then we have failed as communists.  "These are the masses," we tell ourselves, "And it is our duty to convince them of the strength of communism or we have failed and are irrelevant."  This is indeed a tempting way to think about these kinds of people, whether they be internet trolls or people in the streets, and such a way of thinking is produced by the honest desire to grow a movement.

What we need to remind ourselves, however, is that organizing a revolutionary movement must begin with that section of the masses, specifically the proletariat, that possesses an advanced consciousness and that, from this point, it needs to extend its radius (which I discussed in this post, regarding Gramsci's concept of "war of position") in a counter-hegemonic manner.  People who either troll the internet in search of communist forums to bash, or reactionaries you encounter in a street demo, do not possess a proletarian consciousness: these are not the people we are trying to win over––in point of fact, they are the enemy.  Maybe some of them will be won over when a movement begins to extend its hegemony in a significant sense, but maybe also some of them will end up embracing the camp of counter-revolution.  By trying to win these people over we gain only exhaustion, frustration, and a serious amount of wasted time.  Indeed, most of them are trying to waste our time simply so they can spout capitalist nonsense and reference Ayn Rand.

In any case, the point of this post is to remind both myself and any potential troll that this is not a forum that is interested in convincing dyed-in-the-wool capitalists, or anyone committed to petty-bourgeois liberal ideology, that is responsible for convincing them of the veracity of communism.  Neither is it a forum where they convince me that their religious adherence to bourgeois "common sense" is something that is worth considering.  It is also to remind all of us that at this point we have no duty towards those whose commitment is clearly to that class that we believe should be overthrown––if they weren't so committed to bourgeois ideology, after all, why would they waste their time starting arguments with us?

Of course, despite these reminders, I'll probably still keep arguing with these petty-bourgeois schmucks…


  1. Sounds more like you lost an argument over the internet, and now can't let it go. Now you fantasize about them killing them as "the enemy". Sad macho delusions from your standard academic Marxist.

    1. Actually, the arguments that I supposedly "lost" were more along the lines of: "you're-stupid-I-don't-know-what-I'm-talking-about-and-I'm-going-to-call-you-names". You know statements about how I'm a "dirty commie", dogmatic assertions of my dogmatism (and a failure to grasp the irony on their part), and other uncritical and empty-headed garbage. As for being "macho delusions", it is a hallmark of internet machismo to pop unto a blog simply to level accusations and imagine that your empty platitudes (which again, do not constitute arguments but are nothing more than rhetorical assertions) are clever. The "macho" assertion is particularly ironic because some of the trollish comments I was speaking about were just misogynist MRA insults with wonderfully colorful and reactionary threats.

      But hey, thanks for psychologizing my motives with your deep understanding of human nature. I'm sure this "insight" can pass as a paper in a private Yankee university run by the xtian right.

    2. Of course you will never convince the people you are arguing with. In a public forum such as this one, the point is to provide a counterpoint to those watching. There are always far more readers than commenters.

      That said, I usually cannot muster the patience to deal with the naive and the ignorant, let alone the deluded and the hostile who argue in bad faith.

    3. I think most readers stop following an annoying discussion on the comment string after a while.

  2. Speaking for myself, I would have no problem if you chose not to post comments from right wing trolls. Leftist discussion lists and blogs should be limited to discussing how to advance the struggle, not reinventing the wheel. I do support your policy of allowing respectful debate and commentary among those from different leftist tendencies than yourself.

    I once lived in a city in the US where the local unmoderated Indy Media list was wrecked by a handful of right wing trolls. When many of us called for such assholes to be banned, the Anarchists running the site refused to do so. That Indy Media site no longer exists.

    1. I generally don't post comments from right wing trolls––in fact, I delete probably twenty comments a week. Sometimes I allow the odd one to appear because I think it proves something about these people (like the one I allowed on my MRA post) that might be enlightening to those who think we can have some sort of rational debate with them. But otherwise I'm in agreement with your position.


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