by Connor Willis
Ideology is not something that can be taught. Ideological development is a process that responds to the material conditions of society and individual’s lives. Propaganda is a powerful tool for disseminating ideology as it can cut ideology up into small easily digestible pieces. This can raise some problems. When the responsibility for making sense of snippets of ideology is up to normal people, they may misinterpret it by putting it in the context of their lives. Propaganda from many sources of many different ideologies can be smashed together by people who don’t know better. Joshua 4 Congress is an example of this. His congressional campaign was a mess for many reasons, some out of his control, most not. I do not think he is a grifter. Using a patchwork ideology created from a combination of personal experience and twitter propaganda, he tried to apply an inconsistent ideology on the world. This failed partially because of the lack of context leftist propaganda online has. To stop this in the future, ideology and propaganda must be tied to real-life social struggle. Before I get to Collins, I would like to reflect upon ideology and how it relates to propaganda. The analogy of theoretical terrains created by J. Moufawad-Paul is helpful here.
When explorers came to the new world, they had no maps. They simply had the land in front of them. For our purposes, imagine that these continents are theories. This continent can be any theory: Christianity, quantum physics, or historical materialism. When a philosopher comes to one of these theoretical lands it is their job to act as cartographers to create the maps that give these lands context and meaning. Ideologies are examples of these philosophical maps. For example, communism is based on historical materialism. Ideology is created to give meaning and direction to revolutionary movements based on these theories.
In our modern-day, ideology is difficult to teach cohesively. Social media has made propagandizing easy. Many people with varying levels of good faith and knowledge create propaganda to influence the creation of individual’s ideological maps. Propaganda is like giving a scrap of an ideological map to a person. There is little context to this map so it is up to the receiver of the propaganda to make sense of it. For people just learning about ideology, this can be helpful. A danger, however, arises in the context of modern leftist politics, or the lack of real-world leftist politics. There have been spontaneous events that draw mass appeal such as mutual aid and protests, but no long term ideological struggle. There are several groups of people created based on their level of consciousness concerning ideology: non-ideologues, naive ideologues, and embedded ideologues.
Non-ideologues are regular people. Most people are non-ideologues. They are heavily exposed to propaganda, both corporate and political, and an ideology coherent enough to justify everyday life. This ideology is “common sense”, a cultural creation designed to justify the current system. There are different levels of involvement in a society that require different levels of ideology. Moderates and people who stay outside the political system entirely are usually non-ideological.
Naive ideologues are those who have a basic understanding of an ideology, but it is not coherent enough to apply effectively. This is the second-largest stage. Most people in this stage have their ideology from a combination of propaganda and personal experience. It is difficult for these people to create new ideas, and if they do, they may not be correct. This stage of development is the stage most people on twitter are at. There are a few people who develop ideas, but most people are just there for the ride (10% of tweeters make 80% of the content). Some people here believe they truly understand ideology. Your ideological map is not coherent enough to do much with, but it can help lead one to do correct things. Think of this map as a culture’s dominant common-sense ideology but with radical parts inserted. This can evolve into eclectic crazy ideologies that do not make sense. Building off of what others are doing and reflecting on its varsity is required.
Joshua Collins is an example of a naive ideologue. He mentioned multiple times that he had not read any political theory. All of his understanding of socialism came from personal experience and twitter. His ideology was a combination of multiple incoherent sources: liberal propaganda, socialist of many divergent tendencies, and personal experience. When he tried to apply twitter ideology to the real world, it fell apart. Realistically, no politician in their good mind would support it. It's only popular on twitter. So is running a third party. No one cares about third parties. I understand that this was new and stressful, but from the perspective of the development of ideology, Joshua Collins was not prepared to do this. He tried to change in the last leg of the race, but he got blown out in an election he could have had in the bag.
I use the term “embedded” ideologue because it describes the main difference between them and naive ideologues: struggle. These people are embedded in the struggle for their ideology. This is just as true for fascists and liberals as socialists. They have a real understanding of their ideology not only in pieces in scraps but as a whole map that can be defended against other ideologies. This can look different for each ideology. Liberal and conservative ideologues are active in democracy; fascist ideologues in gangs and militias, socialists in cadres. Political struggle takes many forms, but in general, it is how ideology is applied and develops. Practice is applied theory and theory is created through practice. Incorrect ideology is created through incorrect practice ( ie. losing elections or having a mass line without a base).
Embedded ideologues are those who develop into the final step. Though people can spontaneously move from being non-ideologues to naive ideologues, it is not possible to move from naive ideologue to embedded ideologue. One must be in struggle, even if it is intellectual struggle. People who read and actively interact with theory can move from being naive to embedded ideologues. However, being purely in intellectual struggle can lead to dogmatism and eclecticism.
Joshua Collin’s campaign was riddled with mistakes, but what can be learned? For socialists, we must understand the relationship between theory and practice. If one wants to understand theory, they must struggle. They must read and interact with theory. If they can, they must join socialist groups and fight for what they believe. If one does not have a grasp on theory, you will move into eclecticism very quickly. That is what we see from Collins’ campaign. In short, socialists need to read books (of a variety of tendencies) and act in real life (not twitter) to understand socialism. As we have seen, to not understand our struggle is arrogant and doomed to failure.