Stretch Before You Reach: Limits of Performative “Accountability”

“As for criticism, do it in good time; don’t get into the habit of criticizing only after the event.”

-Mao Tse-Tung, “Criticism and Self-criticism”

As a revolutionary mass organization, we welcome criticism. In fact, it is one of our points of unity. It is a necessary tool to forge us to become better comrades, but more importantly, to become a stronger organization so that we can serve the masses to our utmost capability. The process of Criticism/Self-Criticism (or C-SC) principally begins with the offering of a criticism to a comrade or organization with the intention of correcting their errors and helping them transform, not merely saving “receipts” and being petty. While it may be directed at a specific party, it can be applied to all comrades and members of an organization to prevent certain mistakes and errors. The process of self-criticism is to genuinely reflect on one’s errors or mistakes and not to get defensive, deflect, nor apologize and wallow in self-pity. Mostly importantly, C-SC cannot be done alone and it requires a process of rectification. These are fundamental requirements of C-SC. However, what we are about to delve into is an example of the exact opposite, a “criticism” sent to us that reeks of opportunism

After our recent statement against the sham politics of DSA, we received an anonymous email in regards to one of our comrades.  Given the context that 1) the comrade in reference was previously associated with DSA, left, and joined our ranks and 2) that this was just a whole day after the statement was released, we can only assume that this was sent by a DSA supporter or member. Overall, this won’t just be a response to the anonymous individual (or group) but a criticism of the weak and opportunistic nature of pseudo-“criticism” and performative accountability.

 

Blatant Opportunism

The email we received was entitled, “Racism and Ableism from your comrade [X].” (For security protocol reasons, we will not publish our comrades name, not because we fear criticism or accountability, but because as a revolutionary mass organization, we understand the risks of making public any of our identities). Attached to the e-mail were three tweets our comrade had posted six years ago, containing the n-word and the r-word. The anonymous individual/group requested that we “write a public statement” for their use of these slurs as well as post this requested statement on our website and Twitter “in solidarity with POC/disabled comrades”.

We understand that both the words in question are slurs which have been used against oppressed groups in horrific ways. If any non-black member of our group or the masses we organize with used the n-word or displayed that type of racist thinking, we would correct them immediately. In fact, we have done so repeatedly in the past. We do not intend to downplay the impact these words have.

 But where was this person/group’s criticism when our comrade initially joined STP-LA? What e-mails were sent to us then? If they truly believed this comrade had anti-black and ableist behaviors and truly cared about the good of our collective and community, wouldn’t they have contacted us immediately?

But they did not. Instead, they dug back six years to find “problematic” tweets. This shows a lack of political development and an unwillingness to genuinely confront the criticism sent in the previous polemic. It is sheer opportunism due to the fact that this was sent to us after the release of our polemic attacking DSA’s line AND because this in no way represents our comrade today. As Red Guards Austin states, ” Call-out culture is based on a subjectivism: individualism. It looks for targets instead of investigating reality in its full and difficult complexity, and so it jumps to conclusions and inevitably mistakes friends for enemies.” Furthermore, “No one (communist or not) should be expected to unite with attacks against them even if they are dressed up as criticism. Such sham criticism should be rejected outright and used to expose the opportunistic motivation of the person placing it.”

Instead of acknowledging the criticism, this person resorted to going back six years to show us tweets of our comrade using incorrect language and demanded that our comrade make a statement and apologize, all under the guise of C-SC.

This shows a lack of understanding that, with time and the tool of C-SC, people transform. No one is born a revolutionary, let alone iterating “woke” academic language out of the womb. The fact that tweets from six years ago (before STP-LA existed) appears to make the assumption that our comrade maintains continuity with this language, which they do not whatsoever. Six years ago, many of us used incorrect and offensive language, struggled with alcoholism, perpetuated patriarchal behavior with partners, and more, but this has changed as a result of C-SC and our dedication to serving the masses. We do want to clarify that if this was a serious accusation of abuse and extreme anti-people behavior, we would have taken it seriously and addressed it right away, but this is not the case.

We responded and addressed their opportunist performative accountability request and linked articles that reference C-SC, one of them being the RGA document linked above. Some of their main takeaways from our response to them were:

1) That they are not opportunists nor upholding call-out culture because they “have nothing to gain from this.”

 2) That we are dismissing “concerned POC comrades” who have “legitimate concerns” and that this makes us “reactionary” (even though we are practically all people of color, even though this was six years old, and even though this does not qualify as a serious concern).

3) That our comrades “inflammatory remarks” will get in the way of our “goals of building solidarity with POC from Boyle Heights” (even though this comrade and a majority of us are POC).

4) And this last one is so good that we have to cite the entire thing: “In your reply you suggested that this request isn’t in good faith because the tweets are 6 years old, I would suggest the concept of statute of limitations is actually a bourgeoisie concept used by police & the ruling class to avoid accountability. Should the U.S. government not be held accountable for their imperialism throughout history simply because some of it happened decades or hundreds of years ago? At what age do demeaning remarks towards POC & disabled comrades ‘expire’ exactly?” Somehow, our comrade having said the n-word six years ago is comparable to the imperialist aggression of the US, as if they have the exact same repercussions, material consequences, and body count. This is ridiculous, but before we end this section, we would like to say that it is a joke to hold the U.S. accountable. We aim to destroy it.

The Masses, Language, and Performative “Accountability” Politics

While we have addressed the details of this exchange, we would like to take the opportunity to elaborate the failure of these types of approaches and why they are unproductive and even counter-revolutionary. As revolutionaries, we firmly uphold C-SC and also understand that the economic base of society (capitalism-imperialism) shapes the superstructure (ideology, politics, etc). Of course, there is a dialectical relationship between the two, where changes in one influence the other, but the base is always primary, and especially in shaping language. With that being said, proletarians (working class) and youth from proletarian neighborhoods often use language that postmodernists (who lack any sort of praxis) consider “problematic”, without offering any analysis of why this language persists. We understand that as long as the same objective conditions exist (enforced by the dominant mode of production), so will this language. Do we condone this? Of course not. In fact, we actively combat this language and type of behavior amongst the masses whenever we see it rise up. But we would be kidding ourselves if we assumed that politics should revolve around changing language, rather than changing material conditions, which can only be destroyed through violent revolution.

 As our comrades in Red Guards Los Angeles emphasize, “No longer will we suffice with the concept of unlearning – yes, men need to improve their gender practice but without an analysis as to why sexism exists and who benefits from it, unlearning becomes performative. Performative is generally radical in speech and reformist in action. One must literally arm themselves against patriarchy and build a revolutionary movement! If one commits to fight against patriarchy but not destroy the economic base that produces patriarchal ideas and relations, what was accomplished?”

This type of performativity and call out culture is ineffective and a sham and we can see how this plays out in other larger spheres such as the question of “white allies”. Instead of being built into militants who serve the masses, white allies are told to just listen, give us their money, hold their tongues from criticism (because, of course, it is racist if they offer criticism), check their privilege and use it to “benefit” marginalized people (usually by holding their tongues & giving money), and criticize their racist grandmas, as if any of these are revolutionary. As if any of these will transform the economic base or even challenge oppression. As if this is a form of Criticism/Self-Criticism. As if this will ever change the material conditions of the oppressed masses. No, this is mere performativity and self guilt which is what this anonymous person/group wishes for us to concede to.

In the same vein, we reject this phony “criticism” since it is completely detached from the context of where our comrade is today. We will never make our comrades or the masses “apologize” for petty mistakes they made years ago just to appease the pseudo-left revisionists and postmodernists petty, incompetent, counter-revolutionary conception of performative “accountability” which serves absolutely no purpose. Better make sure we pull out the receipts on all of our core and mass members and have them apologize for every singular time they used incorrect language!

The opportunists and identity politicians will squirm and attempt to twist our words and claim that we will not criticize people who are harming the masses, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. What we will not do is expect every individual whether comrades or the masses to write-up a sham apology for using incorrect language and claim that this is serving the people. What we will do is struggle with the masses so they can master the tool of C-SC as well as build them into soldiers so that they can take power and destroy the conditions that put them in the position that they are currently in. The revisionists and postmodernists who solely orient to the “left” and academics can keep their performative “accountability” politics. We’ll be with the masses.

Further Resources on C-SC:

“On Some Points Regarding Criticism-Self Criticism”:

http://www.signalfire.org/2014/11/07/on-some-points-regarding-criticism-self-criticism-june-1973/

Red Guards Charlotte, “Without Criticism We Cannot Improve”:

https://redguardscharlotte.wordpress.com/2017/11/16/without-criticism-we-cannot-improve-2/

Interview with Allyn Rickett:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BySF5Soi1og

Interview with Allyn Rickett Part 2:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMineyQ0s58

“Rethinking Self-Criticism: What Does It Mean Today?”

https://anti-imperialism.org/2014/10/08/rethinking-self-criticism-what-does-it-mean-today/

A Handbook on Criticism/Self-Criticism:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByaCtqLr5W7XdnF5ME5NSGZBWnM/view?usp=sharing

 

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