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Marxist Missionary Cults

Ever since I started this blog, I've complained off-and-on––sometimes humorously and sometimes with outright annoyance––about the cultish "marxist" groups that tend to afflict the broad left like an unfashionable sweater.  Anyone who has spent time as an activist is very aware of these ultra-sectarian groups, of their dogmatic "holier-than-thou" attitudes, and how they make the lot of us look like backwards weirdos trapped somewhere between 1840 and 1915.  And anyone (such as myself) who has spent a lot of years encountering these self-satisfied dogmatic cabals has learned that it is: a) generally unproductive to engage them because it is usually impossible to have an honest debate with close-minded zealots; b) better to ignore them, treating them as quaint and amusing, and hope that they will go away.

Quite often they're the subject of leftist "in-jokes", sort of like how one would laugh at an embarrassing family member.  Around ten years ago, I used to have a group of friends who thought it was the height of entertainment to go to Spartacist events where the only other people in attendance would be the members of other Trotskyite sectarian groups (some who had split from the Spartacists) who only showed up to engage in inter-sectarian fights––all great fun for my friends who usually attended slightly inebriated, giggling at the back as they observed a war of theologies.

But after so many years of tolerating these uncritical dogmatists––who have shown up at events put on by other groups and/or coalitions since as far back as I can remember to repeat the same tired slogans, to start arguments, and to try and poach members from other groups––I am getting rather tired of their behaviour. Maybe this is because, after half a decade of choosing to avoid them and successfully avoiding/ignoring them at demonstrations and rallies, I have now had them force their unwanted attention on me in the same way that Mormons and Jehovahs Witnesses bug me outside of subways and on street corners.  What has stopped bugging me for half-a-decade is bugging me again: no wonder the rest of society thinks communists are nut-jobs, and that the bourgeoisie can sell the lie that "communism is just another religion", with these people still hanging about.

Workers Vanguard is "the Watchtower" of the communist left

Listen: when I say I don't want to buy a copy of Workers Vanguard, don't hover over me repeating yourself, staring at me with glassy-eyed fanaticism, and flipping anxiously through pages of said paper asking me if I've read your stupid and simple-minded analysis of historical events.  Stop coming to events you didn't help organize when you only plan to be a nuisance, blocking off hallways and trying to poach activists––learn how to organize something of your own that isn't attended by your own members and isn't an excuse to just talk at people.

Really, a part of me is amazed that these sorts of groups continue to exist, but obviously without growing and retaining pretty much the same numbers (give or take a few) of active members as they had fifty years ago.  I'm especially amazed that they are able to take themselves so seriously when the rest of the left see them as a joke.  But another part of me is not entirely amazed: I have referred to them as cults, as missionary marxists, and as dogmato-revisionists who think "that there is some sort of pure communism outside of time and space, and that they are the elect capable of reflecting and understanding this perfect theory […] they have abdicated a scientific view of revolutionary theory in favour of religious superstition."

In other words, groups like the Spartacist League are cults, marxists in form but religious fanatics in essence, and should be treated as such.  In the rest of this entry I will explain, point by point, why these tiny little trotskyist sectarian groups are the marxist equivalent of cults.

A. Dogmatism #1: mechanical application of doctrine

The inability to understand classical marxist theory as anything other than a collection of "sacred texts" demonstrates, as I have complained before, the religiosity of these cults.  Rather than making sense of the historical method, by doing the hard work of interrogating the dialectical interplay between the interplay of the universal and the particular, these marxists assume that what is expressly written by Marx (filtered through Trotsky and whatever "experts" write their newspaper articles) is mechanically correct.  A one-to-one relationships between doctrine and the concrete world is assumed; critical thought is abdicated in favour of rote repetition.  Abstract categories replace the concrete: this is idealism, not materialism.

Take, for example, the simple-minded and offensive claim that peasant revolutions are "petty bourgeois" because peasants are "petty bourgeois."  Blasted out of the original social context, treated as a truth existing above and beyond the material world, this position originates from how Marx and Engels sometimes examined the class consciousness of the peasantry in nineteenth century Europe.  But even if Marx and Engels were correct in their assessments of the European peasantry (and how dare anyone argue that the gods of communism might be wrong here and there!), universalizing the class content of the nineteenth century European peasantry to the rest of the world is a dogmatically mechanical, rather than critical, application of thought.  A peasantry still existant in a cohering capitalist mode of production is not the same as a peasantry persisting in a capitalist formation on the periphery of world capitalism.  One would expect that these dogmatists, with their obsession with doctrine, would have some notion regarding Lenin's analysis of imperialism, but this is assuming that we can even call cultish dogmatism "marxism-leninism."

B. Dogmatism #2: rote repetition rather than critical thinking

Ever deal with a religious fanatic standing at your door and trying to convert you?  You probably recall how they tended to pepper their sales pitch for salvation with random quotes from their favoured religious text.  Same thing with these marxist cult groups: and they like to repeat these quotes for comfort, as if they have the power to channel Marx from beyond the grave: Praise Trotsky!

(On a side note, it's funny when they get their quotes wrong.  Several months back a Spart quipped about humans making history, but not in circumstances they please, and then assigned this quote to Theses On Feuerbach.  When I told him it was actually from 18th Brumaire on Louis Bonaparte, he refused to believe me––he was utterly convinced that I was essentially incapable of the same knowledge of Marx.)

If something exists beyond the sacred texts, beyond what is only acceptable as proper "marxist" thought, then it is unworthy of investigation.  All critical and academic literature and theory that emerged after the 1950s might as well not exist because revolutionary theory ended with the death of Trotsky.  Thus, if you mention concepts outside of this religious canon (i.e. "eurocentrism", "anticolonialism", "patriarchy", etc.) then you are immediately speaking in terms the cultists refuse to investigate.

Although my knee-jerk reaction to this sort of dogmatism is to demand critical thinking––to point out that the mindless repetition of quotes is not only idealism but an argument from authority––I know that our dogmato-revisionist friends will simply reply by dismissing critical thinking as petty-bourgeois.  Critical thinking has been done for us by Marx, Engels and Trostky, thus there is no point in learning to think critically.  Clearly this defines the mindset of a religious cult: don't think through the principles, don't engage with the material world, the real thinking is complete and simply waiting to be applied.

C. Recruitment strategy

Like a cult, groups like the Spartacist League tend to recruit people who are a particular type of social outsider.  No, not oppressed minorities or extremely exploited proletarians, but misanthropes––the kind of people who experience the petty-bourgeois alienation of not being "cool enough" who are excluded from the social circles of their class because of supposed "nerdiness" and other bullshit reasons.

Cults prey on social misanthropes.  Being social animals, all of us desperately want to fit in––to find a group or groups that will accept us.  Cults have always relied on a recruitment strategy that targets the socially excluded, often converting suburb kids who are unpopular in highschool and brain-washing them with a dubious notion of "friendship".

D. Proselytization rather than organization

These groups generally refuse to organize, preferring to go to events organized by others and using these events as an excuse to preach their specific brand of leftism.  So if you have a coalition of leftists gathering around some anti-imperialist cause, most of whom are on the same page, these folks will show up simply to tell everyone why they're "stupid", hoping that their self-declared cleverness will snag them more members.  Refusing to organize outside of the student and left movements organized by others, they function only to preach a "pure" marxism and poach people mobilized by others.

The claim is that they are protecting a pure marxism and if they just preach "the good news", the masses will be won over by their gospel and eventually join them.  Thus they can always maintain a distance from organic movements (this way they can't make mistakes, and their slogans can remain untainted), but "intervene" in the way that Mormons and Jehovahs Witnesses intervene on your daily life by ringing your doorbell.

Years ago some leftists used to argue that groups like the Spartacist League were most probably police agents: after all, why would someone waste so much time proselytizing in such a way so as to disrupt events that others worked hard to organize?  But the truth is that, while the police might need to invent them if they didn't exist, these groups are simply so invested in missionary dogmatism that they actually believe disruptive proselytization is the same as organization.

E. Persecution complex

The anti-capitalist left often has good reason to feel persecuted: the state is trying to maintain its power and does go out of its way to arrest and imprison leftists.  And yet these marxist cults aren't the groups being arrested (because they aren't doing anything that really threatens the state), so the fact that they always act as if they are being targeted for their "radicalism" is similar to those religious groups who feel that they are not growing because of some pernicious conspiracy.

The thing is, since the rest of the left finds these groups annoying, then they create the terms for their persecution complex.  And since they feel like they are disliked because they are "more clever" and "more revolutionary" than everyone else (nobody can understand how brilliant we are!), they are able to reconfirm their own existence by imagining that this is some form of oppression.  By assuming that the reason they are disliked is because they are right and everyone else is wrong, the more they are disliked the more they feel they are correct.  This is precisely how adherents to different forms of religious fundamentalism think.

Let's be clear: you're not being "persecuted"––people just think you are annoying and disruptive.  The state is not trying to infiltrate and ruin your movement because your movement has done nothing in recent memory to challenge the power of the state.

In any case, as should be evident from the tone of this post, I am tired of interacting with people and groups who are the communist version of Moonies.  Being a critical leftist, I enjoy friendships and long-standing intellectual debates with comrades/friends from various left-wing traditions: anarchists, autonomists, draperites, trotskyists and post-trotskyists, other maoists, indigenists, african nationalists, even stalinists.  I think it is important to interact with people from various leftwing traditions, to support their initiatives and events, because I think it is important for us to learn from each other.  Although I have a theoretical commitment to a specific political line, and am convinced that it is correct in principle, I am also aware that there is always a chance that my commitment might be proved wrong–-indeed, the reason I became committed to a marxist-leninist-maoist position in the first place was because of an open-minded and critical investigation and interaction with various traditions and organizations.  In all my years as an activist, however, I cannot recall one conversation with a member of one of these missionary groups, in almost fifteen years of activist experience, that has been fruitful and/or politically relevant.  Hell, even when I used to try and end conversations that were going nowhere by saying "let's just agree that, despite our disagreements, we're all communists and allies of some sort" I would usually be told that I was wrong because "we" are not "all communists" because only they are "true" communists.

As much as I don't want to celebrate those moments in marxist history where extremely dogmatic trotskyites in third world contexts were targeted, whenever I walk away from conversations with dogmato-revisionists I can understand why this happened.  Ho Chi Minh might have been theoretically inaccurate by claiming that the small cabal of Vietnamese trotskyites were "worse than fascists", but the statement was a long result of having to deal with people who were organizing against the peasant-based anticolonial revolution because it was "not properly communist".  And if future revolutions throughout the world are going to be hampered by people with this sort of ideology, who resist revolutionary movements and end up siding with the oppressors in practice if not in theory, then it is clear that these marxist cults are more problematic than a leftist in-joke.


  1. I agree completely. The mindless dogmatism of these sectarian groups helps give Marxists a bad name. By conforming to the cartoonish stereotypes many people still have of communists as fringe nut jobs, groups like the Sparts are absolutely counterproductive for those of us engaged in the hard work of organizing. I really just could not comprehend the mentality of so-called "Marxists" whose only concern is to demonize and disrupt the work of other tendencies, but your insightful post helped clear up the mindset of this type.

    IMO, the best way to quickly discredit a Spart who may be interrupting your conversation with a third person is to mention their support of NAMBLA. Last time I tried that the guy took the bait and asked what the problem was if there was consent on both sides. Insane.

    1. As much as they are cartoonish (and their support for NAMBLA is reprehensible), at the very least they are worth admiring (though in qualified sense) for refusing to be respectable marxists, like so many of us, who just want to be accepted by the dominant ideological milieu. Unfortunately, their refusal to be respectable tends to take the form of ideological dogmatism which is just bloody annoying.

  2. Comparing the dogmatic leftist sects to the more "realistic", rational marxist left is like comparing born again christian fundamentalists to the tea cosy christianity
    of the church of england. What you're actually comparing in both cases is merely
    different degrees of obsessional neurosis. Marxist governments in the twentieth century came to power in a vast range of different circumstances and potentialities
    and in every case they fucked up totally or "succeeded" by restoring capitalism.
    Belief in the "revolutionary potential" of the "proletariat" is intrinsically no
    more or less rational than belief in jesus and anticipation of the second coming.
    We don't need "correct interpretation" of marx any more than we need "correct
    interpretation" of the bible or koran. Future revolutions will be made by people
    who are atheistic with regard to all gods including marx and lenin.

    1. I'm not sure what your point is here. Obviously I have a problem with some sort of religious devotion to the purity of "correct interpretations" of revolutionary theory. At the same time, though, a non-dogmatic and anti-revision approach to revolutionary theory does not begin by claiming that Marx and Lenin are gods, just as a physicist wouldn't claim that Newton and Einstein are gods. In this context there's no problem in being a rational marxist. In fact, dismissing marxism altogether is itself a form of arrogant, and often quite ignorant, dogmatism with some sort of faith in an abstract revolution that can be anything we want it to be.

    2. My point is that "rational marxist" is an oxymoron just like "rational
      christian". How much more evidence of marxism's failure as a revolutionary theory do you need for christ's sake? To paraphrase brian of nazareth
      "You're an individual!You don't have to be a marxist anymore!"

    3. Here's an idea: instead of parachuting in here and repeating the same uncritical nonsense that every petty-bourgeois dilettante at the centres of capitalism has been socialized into thinking, why don't you read what has been written here specifically on your [dogmatic and extremely religious] claims? Marxism didn't "fail" just because of the failures of past revolutions: the point is that these revolutions were successful to a certain degree and then encountered historical facts they were incapable of solving at the time. Each world historical revolution went further in solving these problems, and now we have to piece together accurately what was successful and what the precise nature of these failures were.

      The argument beginning with Marx has never been that the revolutionary methodology of historical materialism can easily solve the problem of capitalism, but that we learn through a long process how to approach this solution. Your claim about "evidence" is as asinine as a some baron in feudal England telling a merchant-capitalist: "how much more evidence of capitalism's failure do you need for Christ-sakes" three hundred years before capitalism succeeded in securing its hegemony. Point being: if you're just going to repeat dogmatic platitudes, and not try to think critically through the anti-communist ideology you've inherited let alone engage with anything else on this blog specifically (and maybe the entire realm of leftist critical thought generally, or the entire history of revolutionary theory and praxis), then you're just trolling. You can call "rational marxism" an oxymoron all you want, but that doesn't make it so––all it does is just make you very good at repeating ruling class ideology and imagining that it is common sense. I have a low tolerance for this kind of uncritical thinking that masquerades as critical; it's like dealing with creationists. Educate yourself before commenting again.

  3. The Workers Vanguard is known as the worker's bible because it is the only
    true expression of working class revolutionary spirit in this country.It
    never lies. I assume from your name Moufawad that you are probably a counter-
    revolutionary Lebanese "christian" of the same type that massacred Palestinian
    women and children in the refugee camps.Your deceptions will be unmasked!
    Victory to the Palestinian Revolution!
    Repatriate Carlos to Venezuela!
    Defend the deformed workers state of North Korea!
    Long live the international proletariat and its vanguard the Spartacist League!

    1. I'm going to assume this is a joke. If it is not, then its dogmatism is hilarious.

      But if it isn't a joke...

      1) Actually the part of my hyphenated name that is "Lebanese" comes from my partner. She is Palestinian-Lebanese and has that name because of her Lebanese father who was, actually, a Lebanese-chauvinist fuck who she hates. She identifies more with her Palestinian side of the family but hasn't legally changed her name because she is not allowed because she was born in a Palestinian refugee camp where they didn't issue birth certificates. She also made a professional name for herself in the arts with that last name so it isn't worth changing.

      2) If you've read anything else on this blog you would realize that I support Palestinian self-determination. The Sparticists do not support Palestinian self-determination and are in fact colonial chauvinists in their analysis. Long live the PFLP that would think the Spart analysis is shit.

      3) But I really do think this is a joke with your comments about Carlos, bibles, and the Spartacist League being the vanguard. You never know, though, with Poe's Law and all… I mean, how is it possible to satirize the Sparts when they exist as self-satire? A comrade on another blog ran into the same problem with someone claiming to be a member of the RCP-USA…

    2. You are surprisingly ignorant of the facts.
      1) You say my comment about the famous Carlos is a "joke" yet you
      claim to be a supporter of the PFLP. Do you not know that Carlos
      was in fact a close comrade and protege of Georges Habash and
      Waddi Haddad, and in fact led the external operations group of the
      PFLP in Europe in the mid 1970s. Do you think the defence of an
      imprisoned comrade is a joke? or are you just embarrassingly ignorant?

      2)The PFLP is not and never has been a supporter of "Palestinian
      self-determination". You only have to look at a map and add up the
      total number of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and the refugee
      camps to see that even if the zionists withdrew behind the 1967
      borders tomorrow there is not enough room to accommodate more than
      a minority of the Palestinians in a "Palestinian State" based on Gaza
      and the West Bank. The "two state solution" is and always has been
      BULLSHIT and has always been opposed by the PFLP for that very reason.
      The Popular Front has always advocated a ONE STATE SOLUTION whereby
      Arabs and Jews would live together in a secular socialist state with
      equality for all citizens.This of course presupposes that all land and
      property stolen from Arab citizens during and since the wars of 1948,
      1967 and 1973 will be returned to its rightful owners. Once the free
      lunch at Palestinian expense comes to an end a large part of the Jewish
      population will no doubt emigrate to its true spiritual home, the USA.
      (I doubt that Russia, Poland etc. would be happy to take them back.)

      If you have a genuine interest in the Marxist-Leninist ideology of the
      PFLP and other revolutionary groups I suggest that you start by reading
      the Communist Manifesto by K.Marx and F.Engels and when you feel that
      you have understood the basic ideas you can progress to a popular text
      such as J.Stalin's "Foundations of Leninism" which is an excellent
      introduction to Marxist-Leninist ideology written especially for those
      like yourself who might find the original writings of Marx, Engels and
      Lenin a bit difficult. Also keep in mind Chairman Mao's dictum "seek
      truth from facts". In other words STUDY THE FACTS OF HISTORY so you do not
      make a fool of yourself as you did with your ignorant comments about
      the PFLP.
      Victory to the Arab Revolution!
      Free Shigenobu Fusako and all imprisoned comrades of the Japanese Red Army!
      Death to the bourgeois/ fascist insect and its fake-trotskyist spawn!

    3. Good lord you are a dogmatist, and you seem to have some bizarre understanding of what I believe.

      1) I thought you were joking because of the strident and cliched way you mentioned Carlos who probably would despise your ideology, if you are a Trotskyist, in the first place. Also Carlos was a member of the PFLP-EO which split from the PFLP and not the PFLP proper (he split with Haddad), and actually I've defended aspects of Carlos' legacy on this blog when that terrible movie was released.

      2) What I mean by Palestinian self-determination is clearly different than what you think I mean. And, by the way, I am opposed to the two-state solution. Did I say somewhere that I am not? In fact, unlike your dogmato-revisionist Trot group, I have a long history of actually organizing around the one state political line with organizations such as Al-Awda, something your organization has never done because you don't really organize. So by self-determination I mean anti-colonial self-determination, and in the context of Palestine I believe that does mean a one-state solution. How you could argue that "self-determination" which can mean a variety of things, and has meant a variety of things historically (Lenin uses national self-determination in his writings on the national question different from how bourgeois theorists use it), somehow implies I'm agitating for a two-state solution [and again I've written about this elsewhere on this blog] is hilarious.

      3) Obviously I have read the Communist Manifesto, as I have read Foundations of Leninism, as I have spent a large portion of my life reading these theoretical texts and the history surrounding them. You really do seem to assume a lot, putting words in my mouth that I never said and making bizarre conjectures. The only person making a fool of themselves is you, especially since if you bothered to read anything I've written, you'd see that not only have I read these texts, I understood them whereas you, with your intellectual elitism, sound like some hackneyed moron who is incapable of even reading comments on a blog string.

      4) But here again I am certain you are trolling because no self-respecting Fourth Internationalist would tell me to read Stalin's Foundations of Leninism. If another asinine comment of this type appears, utterly uncritical and filled with unfounded and spurious insults that sound like they are written by a child who imagines s/he is some sort of brilliant professor, then according to my comment policy they will be removed. And if you aren't a troll, and seriously meant all of your cracked assumptions about what I think, then your removal will simply be an act of removing an ignorant dogmatist from a forum that requires people understand what they read, think critically, and demonstrate that they are marxists rather than cartoon characters.

    4. "Comrades, what is the most dangerous deviation of all?
      It is, of course, the Centrist deviation." - J.V. Stalin
      (Speech to 17th Congress of the C.P.S.U., 1934).
      Citizen, you are a work-shy, armchair "revolutionist" and
      an intellectual coward. I cannot waste any more time on you.

    5. Okay, I know I said I would moderate you but, yeah, now it's clear that you are joking (because no Trot would cite Stalin). Hilarious trolling, comrade––I almost snorted tea out of my nostrils.

    6. Didn't the late Isaac Deutscher say that he'd like to see
      public statues of both Stalin and Trotsky in Moscow's public
      parks? So what if I'm an ecumenical trotskyist? I just hope
      this doesn't get back to the League!

    7. Lol…

      Did he really say that? Well, Deutscher was eventually despised by the most orthodox elements of the Fourth International (and responded by mocking them in his biographies of Trotsky), so I could see him saying that. And really, they do belong together––maybe their statues should be glaring at each other from across each park in which they are built.

  4. A Maoist complaining about cult like practices of other groups is kinda funny. Maoists tend to be some of the most dogmatic leftists out there. They can not defend their arguments from a Marxist basis so they always try to shift burden onto real Marxists by grasping at any straw they can find. IE you claiming that Trots/Leninists mechanically defend Marx. Marx is rarely in need of any defense, it stands on its own. What some writers have done is application to circumstances of the times. Understanding the the current global situation of capitalism, the systems of oppression of the working class, and imperialism from the most developed capitalist states is necessary for any socialist. Without a continuous narrative about how capitalism isn't just being misapplied, that it is actually destined to end up failing, the working class will continue to be lulled by the lies of upward mobility. Maybe if you would get your nose out of Mao's little red book of senseless ramblings, and understood Marx and Lenin, you'd know this though.

    1. How is my nose precisely in Mao's "little red book" and how do I not understand Marx and Lenin? Where have I not said on this blog that Marx needs to be applied to particular circumstances––actually, this point was made by Mao just as it was made by Lenin. Indeed, my point here is that dogmato-revisionists (often of the Trot variety, but there are other varieties and some, yes, are even "maoist") take what was an application of particular circumstances and keep acting as if it applies to them today and that the letter of Marx, rather than the spirit, needs to be preserved.

      There is nothing in this article are anywhere else on this blog where I maintain some "lie of upward mobility" or reject the notion that capitalism, based on its own logic, leads to crisis. In fact, I have argued just that at various points. Therefore your comments are not only ignorant, but are rather insulting considering the amount of time and effort I've taken on this blog and in my academic life to "think through" Marx and Lenin.

      Your claim that maoists cannot defend their arguments is just speculative nonsense, the kind of anecdotal musing that would never count as a scientific argument. What arguments can't they defend and how are they "shifting the burden unto real Marxists"? This entire reply is not a critical engagement with anything I've written but just a bunch of garbage that shows no understanding of: a) what Maoism is (hint, it emerged in 1988 as a theory, before that there were innumerable "Maoist Zedong Thought" organizations that were classified as "maoist" without any real unity to their thought), which I've written about here before; b) what the red book is/was (maoists and scholars who study China don't see the red book as a source of authority considering it was authored by Lin Biao)––actually I haven't read the red book through nor do I intend to because, unlike you, I read the original source articles; c) what I actually wrote here and elsewhere––hilariously the only real arguments (or hints of real arguments because they were just rhetorical complaints, really) that you've made (I don't understand that the particular application to concrete circumstances [note how I've turned your idealist language into something that actually resonates with Marx and Lenin], I don't believe in the crisis theory of capitalism [I've removed your supernatural use of the word "destiny" which is idealist nonsense, try the word "necessity" which Engels emphasized]) don't contradict anything I've said anywhere.


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