Other types of LARPers should be familiar to those who have spent any time on the left: Third Worldists like the Red Guards who publish incomprehensible screeds on how first world workers are parasites; Trots who show up at every vaguely progressive event selling newspapers; keyboard cult leaders with authoritarian fantasies who are obsessed with demanding ideological purity and absolute obedience; that one guy who goes everyone with a print-out portrait of Bashar Al-Assad pinned to his shirt, handing out fliers on why we need to "defend" the Taliban; third world petite-bourgeois students who love queer theory and chose kissing the ass of western academia over working with revolutionary movements in their home countries.
I could go on. Because of the modern capitalist state's extraordinary means and ability to coerce, co-opt, and outright repress any nascent revolutionary movement, we are all to some degree LARPers. This is as much a self-criticism as it is a criticism. It is difficult, if not impossible, to envision a socialist revolution in the west, let alone in the United States, without some kind of major outside support. But this is not an excuse to do nothing, and wallow in nihilism and cynicism. Any amount of education and engagement will help further our goals in the long run, even if immediate tangible results are minimal or non-existent. The following are some guidelines to help avoid the pitfalls of LARPing. Most of these are developed based on my own firsthand experiences and investigations, and should in no way be considered comprehensive or definitive.
- As the great African revolutionary Amílcar Cabral said, "Tell no lies, claim no easy victories." There is a tendency to get over-excited when discussing revolutionary theory and practice, and often it falls into the camp of romanticism. Building a viable revolutionary socialist party is hard work, and will not happen overnight. Potential comrades need to know from the start that victory is neither easy nor imminent; treating it as if it is will only attract flakes. Similarly, success must not be treated as a substitute for victory. For example, Socialist Alternative continued to trumpet Kshama Sawant's election to the Seattle city council as a major victory for socialism in the US, even though in the big picture, it meant very little, and the restraints of using bourgeois institutions as anything other than a bully pulpit emerged quickly. Instead of using her election to illustrate these points, they chose the easy way out of treating a small success as a major victory. To their credit, they have made progress in moving in the opposite direction; the SAlt website home page contains not a single article about Sawant.
- Drop the fixation on political correctness and crude identity politics. Sorry, but "queer liberation" is not the future, and attacking workers for using words like "faggot" isn't going to win you points. Political correctness is a product and tool of the ruling class. The overwhelming majority of workers don't have time to worry about if their language meets the standards of blue-haired campus activists. This is not to suggest that misogyny, homophobia, racism, and other reactionary behaviors should be ignored, but behaviors are different from words, and battles need to be picked carefully. Tone policing the single mother janitor who works all night for minimum wage isn't going to win you a comrade, but it may win you a kick in the ass.
- The Beatles may have been reactionary bourgeois popstars, but they were right when they said "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow". Look at the Communist Party of Great Britain-Marxist-Leninist; all they do is show up at rallies with giant Stalin portraits and banners. Save the Stalin and Mao for the initiated. Most people don't care about the Moscow Trials or the Cultural Revolution. They care about making ends meet. By all means, once they've been won over to revolutionary socialism, break out the Little Red Book, but until then, engage with them on their terms, not your terms. When picking material for new recruits, go for the accessible and succinct; for example, Mandel's An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory over the unabridged edition of Capital, or even short video lectures by David Harvey or Richard Wolff. Material that people can engage with when they have a few minutes of free time. There's a reason reformist organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America are growing while more theoretically robust Marxist-Leninist organizations are ossified and stagnating.
- Have a sense of humor. Few things are more alienating than being overly serious and gloomy. There's a tendency among many leftists to look down on humor, and some of that ties in with the fixation on political correctness. Humor isn't politically correct; it's often crude and offensive, but it is an excellent way to present complex ideas in a way that is accessible and engaging (I can't keep emphasizing the need to be engaging enough, it's the foundation of both recruiting and keeping cadre).
- Center women. And by women, I mean humans of the female sex (it's sad that needs to be said). Women are not just oppressed, but straight up exploited, and they bear the brunt of capitalism in a very thorough way. Many leftist organizations remain male dominated, using women as tokens, or as gophers. Denounce pornography and prostitution, and exercise vigilance against sexual harassment; transgressors should be dealt with firmly and swiftly. Since most women are mothers, and perform more labor outside their "official" jobs, there needs to be child care at events so that mothers who don't have the means to arrange it themselves aren't shut out from political activity.
- Read as much material as possible. Having good practice requires good theory, and reading Wikipedia pages isn't enough. And don't limit yourself to just reading Marxist texts, read bourgeois theorists, too. Mao was an expert on all of the major classics of Chinese literature and philosophy; he was able to attack reactionary traditionalism in such a thorough and pointed manner, because he had researched what it was he was attacking. And remember Marx studied under Hegel, who considered the Prussian Catholic absolute monarchy as the ideal form of state. If this sounds like a defense of the well-rounded classical education, that's because it is.