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Liberalism and Internet Leftism: the meltdown of "Maoish" Rebel News

Although much has already been made of Maoist Rebel News' [MRN] public youtube meltdown, and indeed a very good blow-by-blow analysis of everything leading up to this meltdown has been written, I still believe it is worth examining here.  Not to internet "ambulance chase" (in this case, I'm not even sure what that would accomplish) but because the MRN meltdown is significant insofar as it can teach us something about correct communist practice.

For those unaware of MRN and what I am speaking of, here is a quick summary of what happened: Jason Unruhe, the person responsible for MRN (a youtube channel that promotes a "maoish" analysis of public events) was challenged on his use of homophobic language; he refused to recognize the criticism and attacked his accuser, going so far as to imply she was a pseudo-feminist simply because she dared to mention gender; he released a youtube video defending his right to privacy and use anti-queer language, arguing that the use of this language did not make him homophobic and that anyone who attacked him was a liberal (something that was, it must be said, rather ironic since his rant was, in many ways, a perfect expression of liberal behaviour); he equivocated between right-wing critiques of maoism and critiques of his behaviour (thus poisoning the well so as to claim that anyone who critiqued him must be either a liberal or reactionary); he mocked the woman who critiqued him while appealing to his feminist credentials.

But the reason I take this public meltdown seriously is because MRN is an internet presence that presume to represent a maoist ideology (as is this blog), the author lives in the same country as myself and seems to identify publicly as a maoist, he mentions the PCR-RCP in his rant for some odd reason (at least he was clear that he was not affiliated with them in any way), and the way in which he defended himself––along with the responses to his behaviour––can teach us something about the practical issues of being communists.

The most obvious problems outside of Unruhe's desire to defend his liberal right to use chauvinist words without censure have already been pointed out by others including the aforelinked analysis: the rejection of criticism/self-criticism (a hallmark of maoist ideology); the promotion of a bourgeois notion of the private sphere; a defense of rugged individuality that led Unruhe to almost proudly declare his lack of affiliation with any revolutionary party.  So the initial chauvinism of MRN––his desire to have the right to use certain words just because he likes them––is contingent on a concrete [mis]understanding of communist praxis.  So we should learn something about praxis through the MRN meltdown; even if this public display of personal arrogance had been about something else, it would still be necessitated by this fundamental and material problem: a complete rejection of communist practice that can only lead to liberal behaviour.

Most importantly, the meltdown was about defending the right of an individual to remain immune from comradely criticism; it was a defense of liberalism and yet, in the moment of its defense, was wont to call all of its critics "liberal" simply because Unruhe appears to assume that any criticism of his position, which in this case was simply his private right to use a certain word that had offended others, is essentially revolutionary simply because he believes it to be so.  Not only was this an obvious rejection of criticism/self-criticism––an unwillingness to be even marginally self-reflective––but it was also defended by Unruhe's bizarrely proud claim that he did not belong to a party.  Indeed, he even went so far as to claim there could be no real maoists in North America, appealing perhaps to an understanding of third worldism that, at least I would assume, even most third worldists would find cringe inducing.

But someone who claims to be a maoist should recognize that one is only a communist if s/he: understands the importance of being part of a revolutionary organization and aspires to be involved, in some way, with a revolutionary party; desires to serve the people rather than hirself; accepts the need to be held to account by the party and the masses.  One is not a maoist simply by dressing in communist drag and confining hir activities to a youtube channel (or blog for that matter), and this is simply an historical fact: collective life, for the historical communist movement, has always been treated as far more significant than individualistic life.  Willful isolation can only lead to an atrophied politics where one is trapped in hir private echo chamber, consistently validated by the repetition of untested and disconnected ideas.

So this is a problem that goes far beyond MRN.  Internet leftism is hampered by this dilemma since so many online communists are writing and debating from the isolation of home [and in my case really late at night], fiercely devoted to our often unquestioned positions that we only assume are critical.  We often do not have a chance to experience line struggle and criticism/self-criticism which can only happen in a full and thorough sense outside of the online world in an organization that is trying to embed itself in the masses.  After all, our arrogance online does not belong in a healthy organization or amongst the masses; organizations that treat people with arrogance and disdain are organizations that degenerate and sometimes collapse.  In the online world, even after public meltdowns, we can still keep our arrogance: we do not always know the people who critique us, our responsibility is dispersed, we can easily get rid of one unpopular identity and replace it with another, and our politics can remain abstract.  The fact that Unruhe seems to reject the possibility of participating in a communist organization in his social context might indicate that he wants to remain beyond organizational criticism by eschewing collective life.  That is, by eschewing communism.

At the same time, however, there is a tendency to self-righteously denounce those who make errors and treat them as beyond rectification.  This is the legacy of identity politics that, regardless of its initial aims, has begun to devolve into a praxis of denouncing people who use the wrong words and do not behave according to politically correct standards.  In this context some people are generally treated as if their essential privilege places them beyond rectification.  In this context the use of problematic words are treated as a meter of political worth; we often forget that this language idealism obscures a very real politics: sometimes people who lack a certain access to a privileged language, due to their class position, will say fucked up things even if they do not believe the politics these words often express; sometimes people who know all the right words will actually have fucked up politics that they are able to hide, due to their class privilege, with the correct language.  If we actually plan to involve ourselves with the masses then we can't complain when they speak in the wrong way and don't understand the politically correct rules of speech––what should be most important for us is whether or not they understand why the material circumstances that produced these problematic patterns of speech are wrong and must be smashed.

So the fact that the MRN meltdown was initiated by criticism he received for the use of a problematic word is not the problem; the problem was his incorrect behaviour where, instead of trying to make sense of the criticism, he decided to publicly advertise his right to exist beyond criticism and that this right is somehow properly maoist.  In a word: liberalism. Unruhe rejected all criticism, the basic principles of collective life, and defended his "right" to be erroneous.  He made proud proclamations that he was not part of a party, demanding to be exempt from critique, and reified the bourgeois private sphere.  Then he tried to argue that it was liberal to point out his liberalism, which is really quite laughable but maybe understandable considering his apparently willful isolation.

Of course, it needs to be said that self-righteous chastement of MRN may also be part of the same problem: imagining that we are also incapable of errors, and that the rectification of those who "cross the line" is impossible, means that we have placed ourselves beyond critique.  I know that I have often made errors and, though it is sometimes very difficult for me to admit this fact, I am certain that if I did not possess some level of a collective life that held me to account, I would also be in danger of vanishing into the false certainty of an echo chamber.

Is it possible for Unruhe's behaviour to be rectified?  Yes: no one is beyond rectification.  But this would require self-criticism, a willingness to deal with his behaviour, and most probably an organization capable of demanding that he be held to account––something he would also demand in return.  So if he wants to be a communist in practice rather than simply in theory, then he should try involving himself in a revolutionary organization in his social context rather than making the typical LLCO excuse to do nothing. [Update: the accuracy of this statement about the LLCO has been questioned by a commenter… this was a spurious statement and I should be clear that the LLCO does not make excuses to nothing regardless of what I think its line amounts to.]  But this should also apply to all of us who define as communist.


  1. Excellent.

    I posted this in the forum he had this particular meltdown (which I co-administer) and on a related forum. I think it visits in less worked out way some of the same themes you explore here. Of course, my language was more sharp - I was facing a breakdown of that particular community (which is a united front of sorts) - I do fully unite with what you raise here in a better form.


    Maoist Rebel News is not Maoist. Here are a few reasons:

    1) Maoist believe in collective action. While an individual maoist might for a number of reasons not be active in an organization, maoists believe in organization. Anyone who wears as a badge of honor not being beholden to an organization or organizational line is not maoist.

    2) Maoists believe in "Combat Liberalism" as the guiding text - and in particular the practice of criticism and self-criticism. His defensiveness, easy dismissal, and inability to accept criticism and make self-criticism is alien to maoist practice.

    3) The maoist movement took a long time to adopt and accept queer equality. But once it did, it did so impeccably. For example, the NPA has had gay marriage for over a decade now. Language such as "faggot" is unacceptable.

    4) Maoism is a diverse camp filled with line struggle, but it does recognize the existence of different forces. His denial of the existence of a maoist movement in North America puts him at odds with reality and betrays a book worshipy way to approach reality. "Oppose Book Worship" is a maoist principle.

    1. These are all good points, though of course they would be ignored by someone who thinks they are beyond criticism––I think it was quite clear that, in his rant, he disagrees with point (2) and thinks that he's a champion of queer equality (which gives him the right to use certain words) so he would just think point (3) doesn't apply to him. I also think point (4) was rather typical of someone who's "maoism" is little more than a youtube channel [some sort of basement third worldism] and I found it quite amusing that the PCR-RCP was mentioned in his his rant. But yeah, I think all of this is dependent on your point (1).

    2. Yes, this is not direct at him, but at people who thought he represents some sort of voice inside of Maoism - something we now must struggle against.

      I was surprised that even as this particular community rose as one to criticize him, a surprising number thought this was a limit of maoism, that is that maoism as a movement had fucked up line on queer issues and language. While this might be true on history (and by no means exclusive to Maoism inside the left), it is not true today, at least not in general.

      A maoist trained (rather than book learned) in the tradition wouldn't normally respond to line struggle in the way he did and, fundamentally, not appealed to reactionary ideas of liberty to do so.

      I think this shows there is an arena of struggle in the internet that maoists have no done a good job to approach. I never gave much credence to him until this incident made me rethink this.

    3. Yeah, the fact that he does seem to have some recognition as a "maoist" amongst internet leftists is the reason why I wrote this post. As I said he would ignore your comments, he would probably ignore this post and everything else that is even moderately critical of his liberalism.

      Also, and this is a tangent based on a good point you bring up here, I get really annoyed when people complain about maoism's history of reprehensible homophobia as if this history is exclusive only to maoism. Every tradition has been anti-queer, and even the ortho-trot sparts, who like to claim they maintained a pro-gay line, did so in such a weird manner that they would not allow their members to be openly gay. Even the anarchists have had their macho anti-gay ideologues. But I digress...

    4. Yes, irritating indeed. I chalk it up to one thing:

      They never had state power or dual power - which amplifies the problem for us: we actually had the opportunity to implement fucked up crap well beyond the confines of a tiny propaganda sect.

      I like comparing it more to the bourgeois State in this sense: the NPA has gay marriage and did so long before most bourgeois States did. And in Nepal, the comrades had to correct their line based on ferocious line struggle, in spite of the rest of the left still mostly holding up to retrograde ideas.

      Maoism shows itself as capable to listen to, and implemented resolutely, the struggle of the masses - which included the struggles of queer people. The others for the most part, tailed, often in terrible ways.

      In fact, the few Trot forces who were advanced on this topic, were forces which always has an eclectic infatuation with aspects of Maoism - the Marcyites and the Mandelists.

      I have no idea if you have read this, but this is good oral history, from a comrade Who Was There, offering a personal view on the topic in the USA MZT, ML, and MLM forces in the last few decades:

      (Of course, the RCP mentioned in the Avakian one)

    5. Well said, SKS. I see the video has been removed by You Tube.

  2. Yea I was somewhat disappointed by his behavior and admittedly surprised, as there was one occasion where he did self criticize on an issue but perhaps that video was a couple years old. Still, despite his revisionism and third worldism I still enjoyed some of his videos because they provided a decent source of news from an alternative perspective and that he was good at providing concise, logically coherent explanations of complex aspects of Marxist Political Economy, which does show that to an extent he is capable of doing good mass work if he were to put his mind to it. So although I disagreed with him on a fair bit I could still watch him despite the ideological difference because at the very least the differing perspective could add to my perspective. However now I have the moral dilemma that I have whenever I want to read the Northern Star, that is, do I even want to support this person by giving them ad revenue or attention? Well, perhaps using the Northern Star as a comparison because Jason is still better to watch from an ethical standpoint, and that there really isn't anything good on the Northern Star, so maybe reading the IMT's page is a better example. It's quite a pity.

    1. Obviously it is not as if he should be written off: self-criticism and rectification, as I indicated, can reconcile people and we always have to keep in mind that he is not the only person guilty of this behaviour, and thus avoid self-righteousness. I'm not entirely sure that there was great coherence to some of his explanations of political economy. His bizarre use of the term "dialectical" in this video is a good paradigm example of a failure to understand basic concepts (he was using it basically to claim that his use of homophobic language is somehow "dialectical" because it is unified in his opposing beliefs of anti-homophobia… all contradictions aren't necessarily dialectical). In any case, for all I know he'll make a video about this critique...

    2. "all contradictions aren't necessarily dialectical" yes!

      And dialectical contradictions are gradient spirals, not ying-yangs. Contradictions resolve themselves, they do not simply exist in equilibrium.

      Essentially his defense is fascist dialectics: "courage to live in anti-thesis", as Arthur Moeller van den Bruck (who coined the term Third Reich) put it.

      In fact, I have been looking at his videos, and they are among the most vulgarized explanations of Marxist political economy around. I recognize the need to simplify - but there is simplification, and then there is simply saying something entirely different because one doesn't understand the complex ideas.

      When he gets it right, its a broken clock that is right twice a day - there is no real method or understanding.

      Besides, as has been shown repeatedly, he often plagiarizes (that is, copies while claiming authorship) stuff from other sources, including more than once from the cultrots at WSWS (something no maoist in their right mind would ever do).

  3. >One is not a maoist simply by dressing in communist drag

    lol he got read

  4. Another machoite bites the dust. Good riddance.

  5. >> we often forget that this language idealism obscures a very real politics: sometimes people who lack a certain access to a privileged language, due to their class position, will say fucked up things even if they do not believe the politics these words often express; sometimes people who know all the right words will actually have fucked up politics that they are able to hide, due to their class privilege, with the correct language.

    Thank you very much for pointing this out. This is especially important to understand in daily agitation.

  6. This was a great post. Took all the words out of my mouth and then added a whole bunch more. I agree with oskar, that paragraph is one all leftist should read.

    1. Thanks! Haven't heard from you in a while... hope things are okay.

  7. LLCO has never advocated "doing nothing." In fact, they have produced numerous documents that state the contrary in vary obvious ways. You claim to be some kind of "Maoist," yet you should take a cue from Mao: No investigation, no right to speak. Either you are a loud mouth, sectarian who doesn't bother educating himself or you openly lie. Either way, the falseness of your characterization is transparent to anyone with any familiarity with the LLCO. Here is one document on the topic entitled "Resistance in the First World": Here is another one with very specific advice directed at "lone comrades": Here is a public document outlining the LLCO's orientation toward the Occupy movement. Whether you agree with it or not isn't the point. The point is that the LLCO was obviously engaging with the movement to push a left pole: I could post another dozen documents that outline what kind of action LLCO thinks is possible in the First World. However, I ask you to find one single document where they advocate "doing nothing." Of course you won't because you can't.

    1. Fair comment. That was a throwaway line and not an analysis of the LLCO, but even still I should have been more specific as to what I meant––because I have read those documents and I am not "lying" but understand them in a certain way. I should have semantically qualified what I meant, which has nothing to do with whether or not the LLCO "advocates" doing nothing which, I agree, is clearly not the case.

      My argument is not that the LLCO "advocates" doing nothing (because clearly it advocates a whole lot of things) but that what it advocates results in doing nothing aside from maintaining a web presence, that gets spottier every year, and putting out documents advocating a whole manner of things. To claim, then, that it is engaging with the occupy movement simply because of a document it puts out is to pretend that it is actually doing something outside of propaganda and internet agitation and there is zero evidence of this, as there should be (and is) for any organization, even clandestine ones, engaged in class struggle. So unless the LLCO is a blanquist organization that has secretly embedded itself in multiple fronts––which is another problem––then what it is advocating pretty much does result in doing nothing aside in a concrete manner.

    2. More weasel words from JMP.

      What you said is very clear, you said “…making the typical LLCO excuse to do nothing.”

      There is no cryptic meaning there. You are (falsely) claiming that LLCO makes excuses to do nothing, which it plainly does not. Since you claim to have read LLCO’s documents on the topic. That’d make you a lying loudmouth rather than an ignorant one. LLCO advocates “resistance in the First World.” Even if you were not obviously trying to weasel out of what you plainly said, your bullshit still doesn’t fly. How exactly does advocating “resistance in the First World” lead to “doing nothing”? The truth is that it doesn’t. Just because you don’t know anything about LLCO doesn’t mean that they simply maintain a web presence. I could be as unprincipled as you and announce that because I do not personally see your work, you are just an online yapper who runs a half-assed blog who does nothing. I would not presume that. LLCO’s “spotty” web presence is significantly outranking both your blog and the RCP Canada that you seem to affiliate with. If LLCO is “spotty,” what does that say about your outfit?

    3. Here's the thing: there was no cryptic meaning intended. I believe I began my last comment by pointing out that your intervention was fair. Now I have added an edit to clarify why that single sentence was inaccurate. In my previous comment, though, all I did was give a brief explanation as to the thinking that led to that spurious and over-general statement. If you want to interpret it as an attempt to weasel out of what I said (which was only a sentence and not a thorough analysis of the LLCO––it wasn't even intended to be) then it is up to you. Like I said, I should have been clear about what I meant since the sentence, as you noted, was a problem.

      As for explaining the thought process behind that spurious sentence, which I felt needed to be explained but you somehow felt is "weasely" to do so, I'm sure you know that my argument is not reducible to claiming that "resistance in the first world" means "doing nothing"––obviously it has to do with my thoughts about the LLCO's practice and it would be dishonest for either of us to claim that this theoretical difference does not exist. Now I could be wrong in my understanding of the LLCO's practice amounting to nothing, and utterly wrong about the LLCO having a praxis that extends in a significant manner beyond the internet, but that is a different issue altogether and had nothing to do with this article, though it was indeed connected to that throwaway line. I gave a very brief explanation of my reasoning, and I sincerely doubt that you're unfamiliar with this argument, but it clearly is another issue altogether. As you yourself said "whether you agree or not with it is not the point"––fair enough, I've qualified my position.

      Now stop trolling… Because if I am just a "lying loudmouth", "an online yapper who runs a half-assed blog", then I'm really not worth your time, am I? Indeed, I will use the same yardstick to measure your next response (if there is one) rather than waste my time any further with what seems to be quickly devolving into an exchange of insults that you have initiated based on a single sentence that, again, is not even close the main point of this article and has now been edited based on your qualifications: if your next comment is like this one––that is, if it lacks any significant argument but is simply a rhetorical jumble of insults, then like any troll comment it will be deleted.


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