The Case for The Outsider

Within the world of art and music, there is a concept of “the outsider.” This concept applies to people who create idiosyncratic art or music that isn’t from a place of professional training or an attempt at seeking fame and fortune. The creative work of “outsiders” doesn’t look or sound like other art and music, but that’s not intentional. The outsider isn’t trying to do anything but express themselves and feel creatively fulfilled as humans. They often only share their work with friends and family, if they share it at all. A good example of this type of work can be found in the music by Daniel Johnston and The Shaggs.

In the world of politics, specifically within theory and practice, there is a similar phenomenon of “insiders and outsiders.” The most obvious example of “insiders” can be seen in Washington DC-based think tanks and institutions run by the ruling class. However, this theme exists even within the working class itself.

Within the working class, political “insiders” often operate theory commodification factories on platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok, attempting to create a brand based on the ideas of Karl Marx and other theorists. Their goal is in building a fandom, and in turn, attempt to make a career out of a sort of professional commentator role. These political influencers often have their own cult following on Twitch, Telegram, and Discord. These social media-obsessed thinkers operate in a very calculated way, often in bad faith, fomenting viral rage and negative engagement, like the TikTok foodies who post disgusting recipes, knowing that people will comment that the food looks gross and inedible.

Insiders react to trends and attempt to tail and take advantage of certain opportunities, regardless of what relation they actually may have, and spend a lot of their time debating and arguing with others, spreading a distorted and revisionist version of Marxism that fits their preconceived notions and ideas, which are often completely at odds with the core ideas of Marxism itself! You see these individuals implying that Marxist ideas are compatible with anti-Marxist organizations, or that we should align with anti-worker forces to advance our anti-imperialist ideas. This sort of re-framing is often done to serve one wicked goal: to water down Marxism and recruit workers into violent fascist organizations and dangerous cults.

Fully a third of the Socialist votes in normal times are, I think, cast by middle class persons who think that Karl Marx wrote a good Anti-Trust Law. I have no quarrel with that kind of propaganda — except that it does not make Socialists. My idea is to make Socialists, and there is only one way of doing that — by teaching Socialism, straight Socialism, revolutionary Socialism, international Socialism. This is what the Russian Bolsheviki did; this is what the German Spartacus group did. They approached no Socialists, but people: workers, peasants, soldiers, who did not know what Socialism was. First, they found out from the working people what they wanted most. Then they made those wants into an immediate program and explained how they were related to the other demands of the complete Social Revolution. And they explained, explained, eternally explained. Revolutionary Socialism is not a refined theory adapted to cultivated minds. There is no value in inventing new Socialist tactics merely so that intellectuals can discuss what Karl Marx would have thought about it. Revolutionary Socialism, above all other kinds, must be practical — it must work — it must make Socialists out of workers and make them quick.

A New Appeal, John Reed, 1919

The total inverse of working-class insiders are the regular workers: people who just go to work every day at a normal job. These regular workers — the outsiders — may lack a full understanding of theory, but often have a very clear understanding of tactics, and would never align with neo-Nazis and other fascist or anti-worker forces. After all, why should they? These regular workers aren’t trying to build a YouTube or TikTok career, they’re trying to survive.

We need to seek out leaders and groups whose only interest is spreading socialism to other workers. We also need to recruit outsiders with revolutionary principles, who are willing to talk with organized labor and regular working people; not insiders who spend most of their time arguing online for “likes” and “shares” or a cut of the ad revenue. We need outsiders who may lack class consciousness, but who ultimately have their hearts and minds in the right place.

We shouldn’t latch onto the most popular movement and sentiment of the time. We need to harmonize revolutionary tactics and revolutionary principles. We need to bring forward a group of ordinary people who speak simply and clearly about working-class ideas and how they stand in stark contrast to the horrors of capitalism. After all, the message is what is important, not the messenger.

Marx said theory becomes material when it grips the masses; when it becomes personal and relatable for the individual on their own terms and in their own experience, not necessarily in academic theory rooted in the words of writers and philosophers. Socialism will grip the masses when regular people understand it, relate to it, and are empowered to talk to their friends, family, and coworkers about these things in their own language based on their own experiences.

As the vanguard, we must strive to distill these concepts into relatable ideas and empower the regular people within the working class. We must stop wasting our time arguing amongst ourselves over whether or not to support the opponents and distorters of Marxism, as we see from the YouTube and Twitch streamers and the social media debate bros hoping to one day luck into a political commentator job on cable news. Our focus should be on the people whose lives are severely impacted by the alienation and exploitation of capitalism on a daily basis, not on the spectacle of commodified theory.

The theory of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin is universally applicable. We should regard it not as a dogma, but as a guide to action. Studying it is not merely a matter of learning terms and phrases but of learning Marxism-Leninism as the science of revolution. It is not just a matter of understanding the general laws derived by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin from their extensive study of real life and revolutionary experience, but of studying their standpoint and method in examining and solving problems.

The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War, from Selected Works, Vol. II, pp. 208-09, Mao Tse Tung, October 1938