For those who follow such goings-on, I want to acknowledge the decision of the Marxist Center — a project I worked on for several years and have been associated with — has voted to dissolve itself. I was not present at the vote, nor was the vote undertaken at my instigation, but I concur with the assessment of the comrades who took on the responsibility to dissolve the collective; I believe they made the right choice. The project had run its course, and although several of us had attempted to resuscitate it, the best thing to do now is to accept it has come to its conclusion.
Anytime a revolutionary project ends, it is worthwhile to summarize its trajectory and highlight lessons learned from it. For the Marxist Center, our fortunes very much paralleled the left resurgence which took place between the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020. I have analyzed these trends elsewhere, in an essay I’m hoping will soon see publication. For the present purposes, I will confine myself specifically to comments about the Marxist Center. My analysis here represents only my own views, not that of any organization, and I’m sure others will contest specific interpretations of events. Other comrades have important perspectives and I hope all of us who were involved engage in a thorough summation of the project. I only hope we draw the right conclusions.
The idea of the Marxist Center (MC) came out of discussions between a handful of communists in 2016-2017, culminating in a conference in 2017 between a variety of locally-based socialist collectives. The early MC adherents supported the strategy of base-building which was a program advocating socialists embedding themselves within sites of working class struggle — at workplaces, in neighborhoods, etc. — raising socialist ideas and helping to organize with the class against their immediate class enemies: bosses and landlords.
The makeup of the network were an oddball assortment (I mean this in the best way possible) of small local collectives that did not wish to follow the Democratic Party electoralism of the DSA, and were also not members of the legacy left of groups such as the now-defunct International Socialist Organization (ISO). The largest of these groups were, charitably, a few dozen. Most were consisted of less than ten members. The list of groups fluctuated significantly over the years, as a number of groups dissolved and new ones would join. My own group, Philly Socialists, grew from around 100 members to over 300 by the end of the Trump years, but our organization was by no means typical. On the whole, Marxist Center never counted more than around 600 members.
After officially founding Marxist Center as an organization in late 2018 at a Colorado conference, we set to work in attempting to build up infrastructure to support local collectives organizing. Some collectives immersed themselves in base-building projects — generally tenant organizing, but there were some labor organizing efforts as well. Many groups also participated in social movement activism such as protests, political education events, etc. A number of groups struggled to figure out ways to engage in their communities. While we sometimes tried to support these comrades, results were mixed. Feedback we received from some organizations were that our interventions were positive: we listened to the issues they were dealing with, and sometimes were able to offer ideas about possible ways to address them. Other groups and individuals chafed at these interactions, and prized their organizational autonomy over any attempts to build collectively.
These issues came to a head at our 2021 convention, in which several comrades proposed a measure to eliminate at-large membership as a category in Marxist Center. This question touched on differing theories on how to support and build new revolutionary collectives: should we focus our efforts on supporting the existing collectives? Or should we support individuals who are trying to start up new collectives or provide guidance and support in the event that their location is not conducive to the formation of a new collective at this time?
However, the prospect of a de facto disenfranchisement of a big chunk of the active membership base (at-large members constituted the second largest bloc of members, after Philly Socialists) provoked strong reactions. Disagreements escalated and coalesced in two opposing camps: those who favored MC as a loose network, primarily for the purposes of sharing our experiences, and those who wanted a more coordinated organization which could act with greater common purpose.
While the at-large proposal was delayed out of convention, and eventually (August 2021) voted down, by then it was clearly too late. Distrust had been engendered within the network, and a number of the “autonomist” groupings began either formally disaffiliating or informally dropping out. This was coupled with larger political difficulties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it posed to in-person organizing, the ebbing of the George Floyd rebellion of 2020, and eventually the co-option and quiescence of left forces after the election of Joseph Biden in November of that year. Many organizations dissolved in 2020-2021, and a number of members floated off into the DSA (which, whatever its politics, had the advantage of people and resources) or simply dropped out of politics altogether. There was also a campaign against MC members by state security agents, a situation which probably shouldn’t be spoken about with cases pending, but the truth of which will likely come out in the wash in the years ahead.
By January of 2022, it was clear to those remaining that continuing to push forward the Marxist Center would not be the best use of our time. Again, I support the decision of the MC leaders who took on this responsibility.
By way of lessons learned, when I look back on my own personal efforts, as well as the fortunes of the group collectively, I find a few takeaways.
Beware the path of least resistance. Although I had cautioned of the dangers of activist networking, and promoted the idea that communists needed to go among the masses, I wasn’t able to figure out a strategy of building socialist organization on a national level which was able to bypass the activist left. In retrospect, it probably would have been more worth our while to focus on building up nationwide tenants and workers associations (we were heavily involved, along with other forces, in the foundation of the Autonomous Tenants Union Network (ATUN), and many of our strongest chapters founded and still run affiliated tenants unions). The possibility of a nationwide revolutionary collective — a party — can probably only emerge out of deeply-rooted base-building efforts.
Find ways to overcome distance. For Philly Socialists, our most compelling reason to join the Marxist Center was the need to find allies outside of our own city. The idea was to cast a wide net and see who we could meet. Ultimately this proved to be insufficient. This problem was exacerbated by the pandemic, which precluded travel and in-person gatherings.
I want to take full responsibility for any role I played in this process which led to the failure of the project.
To comrades in Philly Socialists, I was the staunchest advocate for building relations outside of Philadelphia. My position was (and remains) that our local efforts will eventually founder if they aren’t linked together with a project that is nationwide in scope. Creating a national network was my idea, and I led the effort for several years. I argued for this course of action against other comrades who cautioned about the fickle and lackadaisical nature of much of the activist left. You all were right, and I was wrong. The problem of our organization’s isolation remains and it will be on the next generation of leadership to determine a way out.
To comrades in the Marxist Center, I am sorry I failed you. Many of you put your trust in me, as the most visible leader of the network. Many of you made great efforts as part of our shared vision for the organization. I worked very hard to realize that vision, but I fell short. The only thing I would like to impart to you is this: don’t give up on revolutionary politics. A revolutionary organization has dissolved, but revolution remains the only path to salvation for those of us living in the United State of America. Don’t fall completely into reformist quiescence; I know most of you will continue to engage in important base-building organizing efforts in the months and years ahead. I worked alongside a number of really incredible comrades, and will continue to invest my effort into the project of revolutionary socialism. I hold grudges toward none, even if we were on opposite sides of important questions. Where we failed, others will try again and succeed.
The rebellion of 2020 was proof positive that social change — and ultimately the overthrow of the Washington regime — will not come about without mass struggle. Neither can we hope for the Democratic Party to deliver us from the rising threat of fascism. Whether or not we can head off the challenges of today in time, the next generation will review our failures and chart a more radical course, of that I am sure.