Arguing and Propagandising
As communists and leftists, you will need to do a lot of debating and arguing in order to fully convince someone to abandon their reactionary views and join the worker's movement.
We, leftists, particularly in the west, are facing extreme opposition from all sides. Communists face opposition from social democrats and neoliberals, as well as from other leftist sects that they are in disagreement with. In this page, I will be explaining why Leftists face such opposition, how to counteract it, and some criticisms of other sects of the wider Left.
The capitalist class and its allies are hostile to any form of working-class movement. In the United States, the Red Scare and McCarthyism have dealt a serious blow against working-class politics and organising, a blow that will take serious efforts to counteract. Our enemy is crafty, they have learned from the October Revolution in Russia. They are aware of the danger it posed to them, and are desperate not to repeat their errors. Fortunately the capitalist class, in all its arrogance, is growing lazy and incompetent. We have another chance, and it starts with how we talk to people.
Capitalism might seem like a powerful enemy, but better men and women have come before us and beaten them. Ursula K. Le Guin put it best:
We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.
She is right. It is possible to resist and overthrow the capitalist class. How we do that will not be discussed here.
Now, to begin: knowing yourself.
Ideological and practical education
In order to properly engage and convince the people, you must have views you have thoroughly researched and hold with firm conviction to be true. How do we know what views are correct? Mao Zedong says it well:
They [correct ideas] come from social practice, and from it alone... Once the correct ideas characteristic of the advanced class are grasped by the masses, these ideas turn into a material force which changes society and changes the world... Man’s knowledge makes another leap through the test of practice. This leap is more important than the previous one. For it is this leap alone that can prove the correctness or incorrectness of the first leap in cognition, i.e., of the ideas, theories, policies, plans or measures formulated in the course of reflecting the objective external world. There is no other way of testing truth. Furthermore, the one and only purpose of the proletariat in knowing the world is to change it. Often, correct knowledge can be arrived at only after many repetitions of the process leading from matter to consciousness and then back to matter, that is, leading from practice to knowledge and then back to practice. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge, the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge. Among our comrades there are many who do not yet understand this theory of knowledge. When asked the sources of their ideas, opinions, policies, methods, plans and conclusions, eloquent speeches and long articles they consider the questions strange and cannot answer it. Nor do they comprehend that matter, can be transformed into consciousness and consciousness into matter, although such leaps are phenomena of everyday life. It is therefore necessary to educate our comrades in the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge, so that they can orientate their thinking correctly, become good at investigation and study and at summing up experience, overcome difficulties, commit fewer mistakes, do their work better, and struggle hard so as to build China into a great and powerful socialist country and help the broad masses of the oppressed and exploited throughout the world in fulfilment of our great internationalist duty.
In order to argue properly and avoid embarrassing yourself, you will need to make sure you have conducted extensive research on your ideological choosing, as well as taken a look into how your opponents' minds work. Find out the logic of neoliberalism and find a way to counter it. Finding counters to common talking points will go a long way. Despite this, you must avoid assuming you know another person's beliefs. This is a crucial point, as we will go into later.
One of the best ways to make yourself ideologically stable and correct is to read theory and engage in praxis, or practical action. It is a tired point, but you actually do need to do these things. It is only by actually organising that you can find out what ideas are accurate and convincing.
There are countless leftist works on Marxists.org, you have no excuse for not reading them. Here's some recommended works for people trying to learn about Marxism-Leninism:
- The Principles of Communism, By Friedrich Engels. A great, simple introduction to Communism, what Communists aim to achieve, and the Communist worldview. I mean, the book is in dot point format, for Marx's sake.
- The Communist Manifesto, By Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. A more advanced and more in-depth look at the Communist worldview and what Communists must do.
- Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, This book is critical for understanding how Imperialism worked and works today. In over 100 years, very little has changed, and this book (plus a little research on your part) is great at unveiling the horrors of Capitalism and how Imperialism works. With a little digging on your part, you can make a very effective anti-imperialist appeal and break the illusion, to show the true brutality of Capitalism on he exploited parts of the world.
- On Protracted Warfare,  By Mao Zedong. This work is good at exploring the strategic revolutionary aims of Communists, and explore how exactly Communists aim to win an armed insurrection. While times and warfare has changed, strategy has not, and Mao's words are still relevant today. The most important takeaway from this work is that we can win.
- Marxism and the National Question,  by Joseph Stalin. A relatively easy-to-read essay by Stalin that explores what is Nationalism, where does it come from, and what is to be done about it, as well as other questions such as "What is a nation?". Great reading for anyone living in a Colonial nation such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and America.
- The State and Revolution,  by Vladimir Lenin. I absolutely cannot stress this enough, this is absolutely one of the most important works any Leftist should read. Deals with the nature of revolution and revolutionaries, how Bourgeois propaganda works and how it warps even the minds of the most ardent comrades, and is in general a great way of explaining exactly what revolution entails and the nature of the Bourgeoisie.
So, to start, you must be educated in order to begin educating other people. In truth, you never reach a point where you know all there is to know. You are always learning, always hearing new perspectives. The test comes in what perspectives you take on board, and which ones you disregard. As you learn more, read more and do more, you will get better at this.
How to Argue
One of the first things you will have to learn is that everybody thinks they're right and that by default, most people see an attack on their opinion as an attack on themselves. That means that you're going to have to treat every single opinion you come across with respect, or at least you'll have to feign respect, regardless of that opinion, if you want to have a chance at convincing another person. It doesn't matter what you think of the other person's political opinions, you will have to tolerate them - and more than that, you will have to entertain the possibility of them being correct - if you want them to listen to you as well.
As Communists, we are usually on the backfoot, constantly having to defend ourselves, our ideas and our accomplishments. In order to turn the tide and make the masses question themselves instead of us, to get someone to listen to us, we first need to listen to them. We must play in time with the mood of the masses and whoever we might be talking to.
Arguing without making enemies
Let's say you have a friend or someone important in your life who you want to share the worker's cause with - but they're a Neoliberal who supports the Democratic Party. Or, in another scenario, you've met a new friend with opposing political views - say, they're a Trump supporter - but they're willing to listen to your perspective. How do you convince them and maintain your personal relationship?
Well, the fact that you have a personal relationship with them is already beneficial, it means they're a little bit more likely to listen to you. Here are some tips on how to radicalise a liberal who happens to be your friend:
You're not there for a fight
You aren't. You're not there to disseminate and dismiss everything they know and hold to be true. You can't convince someone to be a communist overnight, that's just not how it works. It's not what happened with you, is it? We, everyone reading this, became a Communist after some time, around a year or more of learning, questioning, asking, thinking and experiencing. Wether it was our bosses or landlords taking advantage of us, or it was ourselves noticing trends in the world around us. With this in mind, think long-term. A single conversation most likely isn't going to change their world. But what you can do is inject an idea, a perspective, a way of thinking or an argument that might go against their capitalist worldview, something for them to chew on and either attempt to refute (at which you'll have to provide a counter-argument) or accept and go one step closer towards Marxism.
- Don't get frustrated or talk over the top of the other person. In the passion of debate you might get frustrated or exacerbated, repeating a point that they should've understood by now, but something isn't clicking. If you get frustrated, however, this will only make things worse. You'll simply make yourself look foolish and irrationally angry, and the other person will take you less seriously. Keep calm, keep your composure. If you get frustrated or emotional, your argument will fail. Now, if the other person gets frustrated or emotional:
- Upwards Inflection to de-escalate conflict. An "Upwards Inflection", also known as upspeak, is a feature used in the English language where the last few words of a sentence are in a rising intonation, as if the speaker is asking a question. Here is an example [external YouTube link]. This can come off in a variety of ways, so make sure that when you use this it's always in a calm and respectful manner, always treating the opposite party as an equal, rather than a child being lectured.
- Slow down how you talk. You're not Ben Shapiro. He might be good at speaking fast enough so that his audience doesn't notice the logical fallacies in his arguments, but, more importantly than that, it's unconvincing. Slow down how you talk, make yourself as clear as possible. This is good for de-escalating tension as well, and a good way to enforce it is to force yourself to take a breath before each sentence.
- Learn to take a joke. With more conservative-minded people, they may occasionally crack a joke at your expense. Usually this comes in the form of "No food lol" or something related to authoritarianism, Venezuela, the DPRK or China and so on and so on. This is fine, and, if they do this and you take it in good jest, then, they will be more open and willing to listen to you, cracking a joke yourself is also a good way to de-escalate tension.
Here's an example of the points mentioned. In this video Trevor Noah is interviewing Tomi Lauren, a political figure of the far-right. Notice how she is aggressive and almost attacking Noah, yet, he expertly uses the techniques above to defuse the situation and make his point - and notice how she is almost agreeing with him.
Communists cannot be created artificially, they can only be made by will. A person must decide to be a Communist, not be pressured into becoming one halfheartedly.
- Steelman, not Strawman. "Strawmanning", or "Strawman Fallacy" is a logical fallacy in an argument wherein the arguer creates a fictional representation ("Strawman") of the opponent and argues against their arguments, rather than the actual opponent. This is an absolute no-no and you should never, ever do it. What you should do instead is something called "Steelmanning", which is attempting to understand the opponent's point of view and arguments as much as possible and represent them in good faith, with the best possible intentions. This will go a long way to securing trust between you and your opponent, and will help you create an effective argument to best radicalise your opponent. Instead of attacking what you think is their argument, attacking their actual argument and challenging their actual beliefs is the only way to change their mind. A good way of doing this is repeating your opponent's arguments back to them in your own words and allowing them to explain them to you. Do not advance until you get a confirmation. If you do this, it shows your opponent that you're listening to them and what they have to say, and they will, subsequently, listen to you. Don't use the words "So you're saying", though. That never works.
- Protracted People's Argument. Much like how Mao probed KMT lines for weaknesses, you should probe their arguments for weak points they can't completely back up or inconsistencies and logical fallacies. More often than not, people find themselves believing in doublethink or Cognitive Dissonance, holding two opposing viewpoints in the same value and upholding both as correct. More than Orwell's "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery", real world examples could be "Obama deserved his Nobel Prize, even though he bombed hospitals". Probe for inconsistencies like that and force them to confront them, and present your solution to the new dilemma they face if they cannot adequately and confidently answer.
- Frame your disagreements as Questions. Disagreeing with someone is a hard blow to them, especially in politics. We as Communists find it horrific that there are some who unironically support Capitalism, or Fascist Dictators, or Kings and other tyrants. But, we need to frame our disagreements as Questions, such as:
"I don't think the Police are Racist"
"So, what do you think of this data that shows they are?"
- This way, you're not making it clear that you do disagree with the notion that the Police aren't Racist, you're instead questioning their belief and presenting yourself as a neutral party. It's very important to not be aggressive when doing this. You have to make sure that, from the tone of your voice to the words you choose, you are being as calm, rational, and nonpartisan as you can. This leads into the next point on going on the offensive.
- ↑ Mao Zedong, (1963) "Where do correct ideas come from?", Marxists.org. Link
- ↑ Friedrich Engels, (1847) "The Principles of Communism", Marxists.org. Link
- ↑ Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, (1848) "Manifesto of the Communist Party", Marxists.org. Link
- ↑ Vladimir Lenin, (1916), "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", Marxists.org. Link
- ↑ Mao Zedong, (1938) "On Protracted Warfare", Marxists.org. Link
- ↑ Joseph Stalin, (1916) "Marxism and the National Question", Marxists.org. Link
- ↑ Vladimir Lenin, (1917) "The State and Revolution", Marxists.org. Link