Friday, June 22, 2007


I'm convinced that the reason the more indiscreet Trotskyist groups, as well as the LaRouche-ites and the RCP people, sell newspapers on street corners and set up tables to talk to passers by has little to do with actually propagating the message and more to do with brainwashing people in order to bind them closer to the group.

I'm sure they get some converts that way, but think of what it does to the person selling the papers or running the table: if you're a zealous, or not even that zealous, follower of one of these groups you're essentially facing an impossible task, i.e. win over people that are hostile to your very presence. You stand out there for hours, trying to sell the paper and to engage people in conversation, facing insults, hostility, and general indifference. Since you care about the organization that you're selling the paper for the reactions of people don't convince you that it's wrong or pointless to sell the paper, rather they make you pissed off at the people not paying attention and instead convince you that the group is more right then ever.

You build up a sort of shared comraderie with other people that have gone through the same experience.

How do I know this? Beyond general observation and experience in the political arena I've gotten som every interesting e-mails from the Seattle chapter of the Revolutionary Communist Party that suggest this to me. I got on their mailing list because I bought a book from them via their online bookstore. Every once and a while an e-mail will show up in my box asking me to help out selling their newspaper, the Revolutionary Worker, at some event. Now, I'm not a member of the RCP, have never gone to any RCP meetings, but because I'm on their mailing list they're asking me this. Imagine a person who buys an RCP book, who actually cares about the RCP and has read some of their material, who gets this e-mail and goes down to whatever event these folks are going to be at. They most likely give some talking points to the guy or gal, have a little conversation, load them up with papers, and send them on their way. In the next hours they'll receive harassment, indifference, engage in conversations that might be a sign of sincere interest, engage in others where the people are honestly just fucking with them.

At the end of the day, after enduring all that, they'll either decide not to do it again or they'll emerge believing in the RCP even more. They might even start going to meetings and become a member.

It's a psychological trick. If you believe in something and you're put in a position where that belief is denigrated you'll tend to react, or may react, by getting defensive and finding yourself caring even more about the thing that's been challenged. I mean, you care about it, right? But this response, which happens normally in the course of life, can be made to happen by people who want it to happen by sending people into situations where those beliefs are almost guaranteed to be challenged.

It goes beyond just left wing and somewhat crazy sects (LaRouche)....look at the Jehovah's Witnesses, banging on peoples' doors and trying to sell people "The Watchtower" and convince them that they're sect is right. Think of Mormon missionaries in the U.S. doing the same thing, only unlike the Jehovah's Witnesses they're often far from home and living communally in a religious setting.

At the end of the stint of knocking on peoples' doors and getting insulted they'll probably be ultra-hardcore about the belief system. Since they're religions and not just political groups, deciding not to be involved after doing this work no doubt has more ramifications than just deciding not to be involved with a Trotskyist sect or the RCP.

And about the justification for the paper selling that goes that Lenin dictated in "What is to be Done?" that every group had to have a paper? Well, the Bolsheviks had been organizing underground for many years and even though they did have a paper it was highly illegal to possess, as well as to print and distribute, or write for, etc... and the Bolsheviks were an illegal underground party. They weren't exactly selling these things on street corners. Instead, the vaunted paper was distributed through an underground network.

1 comment:

the burningman said...

Aside from your note that you have no experience of what you speak of...

I always thought people produced newspapers because they had ideas they wanted to share... and newprint is a hell of a lot cheaper than video broadcast.

Lenin wasn't obsessed with newspapers, per se. But if you're curious as to the thinking behind use of media for politics, I'd urge you to actually read What Is To Be Done?.

It's not about "newspapers" so much as developing a coherent national profile and unification of a diverse, fractured movement.

I spent several years handing out papers, and I have to tell you that it taught me to view radical activism as an interactive, engaged pursuit. It is the opposite of just holding a principle as some kind of personal property, or set of consumer choices.

Challenging people is part of changing the realm of the possible.

Engaging working people about the deepest questions of life, as well as with analysis of the burning issues of the day just seems like the kind of uncommon common sense we need a lot more of.

Dismissing this, particularly when you admittedly have little idea what you are talking about is a mistake. As is equating a Trotskyite grouplet with ten members harping about 1917 with national (and international) groupings involved in politics.

The RCP, whatever fault you find with them, is certainly out there on the ground and not just peddling papers at the periphery of protests... as if there's anything wrong with that either. I always liked the sharing of information and analysis. Maybe that's because I want to change the world, including by changing what people think is possible.

A newspaper, or website, doesn't do that alone – but gathering hundreds or thousands of people for a protest and then NOT handing out information seems genuinely absurd... as if the point of protest was the protest itself.

This fear of information, this disdain for sharing... it's weird to me. I've heard it before, but I tell you it's a demand that we hobble ourselves to the "realm of the real" – not to dream.