From Wide-Eyed Idealism to Revolutionary Optimism: Why I Joined the IMT

Industrial exhaust and the clattering of trays and prepackaged food fill the air. The adults clamor around the ovens and stoves, calling to each other in broken English and Tamil. The kids, bleary-eyed and sluggish, slowly place the frozen hash browns on a baking sheet. It is four in the morning and there are only two hours before breakfast is served in the homeless shelter. All the adults believe in what they are doing. After all, how could this not be helpful? It’s inconvenient, tiring, and unrewarding. It must be making a difference.

As a child, I volunteered in a local homeless shelter, run by a religious organization. I thought shelters served as temporary housing for the homeless. I was only partly right.

Homeless shelters give you a place to sleep, but not a place to stay. It’s the farthest possible thing from stable housing aside from no housing at all.

As an example, homeless shelters in New York require clients to be in the building by 8:00 pm if they’d like to keep their bed for the night. If not, they must wait until two in the morning. They are then woken up at 5:00 am and forced to leave within two hours. Possessions are not properly stored, there is little to no privacy, and everyone is crowded into a small space. This isn’t a rehabilitative service and can in fact perpetuate the problem of homelessness rather than solve it.

Volunteering at homeless shelters may seem noble, but it’s unproductive. They operate like a business and there’s no incentive to provide decent accommodation or well-thought-out programs for employment and a transition to permanent housing. Like every other social program under capitalism, homeless shelters are constrained by the fetters of the market. As a result, homeless shelters are a feature of the problem, not a real solution. It’s no accident that the number of homeless shelters in the United States increased by nearly 2% in the past year as homelessness rates also grew around the world.

My volunteer work in these shelters was motivated by a sincere desire to improve society and my religious convictions. I believed such efforts were effective because they had the most immediate effects. But these services actually drain one’s energy and direct attention away from revolutionary forms of struggle, such as the fight for guaranteed quality housing for all. As I grew older, I sought alternatives.

Volunteering at homeless shelters may seem noble, but it’s not a real solution. / Image: KOMUnews, Flickr

The sun beats down on my neck as I drag my aching feet down yet another parched street. In my hand I clutch campaign fliers and I mutter my prepared statement over and over again until I am sure I will remember it under pressure. I walk up to the house on my left and give a firm knock on the door. As the door opens, I breathe deeply, crack a professional smile, and begin.

In 2018, I volunteered for the campaign to reelect David Bonaccorsi to the City Council of Fremont, California. Bonaccorsi was running on a platform of affordable housing and against “excessive development.” He pointed to his campaign to save the local bowling alley as evidence of his commitment to protecting community-valued businesses against this “excessive development.” Essentially, he argued, we need affordable housing but shouldn’t build it just anywhere. People still want their restaurants and movie theaters. It was a politically expedient promise.

His main opponent was Jenny Kassan, a politician campaigning to keep developers out of Fremont. This was an attractive position for locals at the time, as there was a general sentiment of NIMBYism—Not In My Backyard. The idea was that new developments are a poorly-designed product of greed as developers come in to cash a check and go back to their mansions in the hills, lowering the property values of homes in the process. Many saw this as a thinly veiled racist dog whistle.

This was a classic example of bourgeois electoral politics. Democratic and Republican Party politicians are stewards of the capitalist class. Both candidates had carefully crafted policy platforms that actually limit the expansion of affordable housing programs. Any developments that resulted were to be confined to high-transit areas and their quality was constrained by their profitability.

By this point, I had exchanged my divine faith in the priest for my liberal faith in the politician. It was just as misplaced. A third party must emerge if everyday Americans are to feel truly represented. At the time, I didn’t realize what form that third-party must take and what its program must be. I didn’t realize that it must, in fact, become the first party. I looked at several examples but did not yet see a viable path forward for struggle—a mass workers’ party with a socialist program.

Two-Party System
I had exchanged my divine faith in the priest for my liberal faith in the politician. It was just as misplaced. / Image: Socialist Revolution

Twenty-three students packed into the gallery in a D.C. district court watch as Judge Royce Lamberth condemns a Black man to six more months in prison for not reading the fine print on his release papers. His own lawyer exclaims: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” My throat swells.

In twelfth grade, I was enrolled in a competitive civics program called We the People, where we learned about the American government and its philosophical basis. I felt that understanding how the system worked was important if I was going to change it.

I had sunk into bourgeois pessimism. I was personally demoralized by the persistent inaction from on high. Most movements got a fraction of what they needed—just enough to clear the streets. What was the point? So, I resigned myself to the study of government and pursued a career in think tank research to find a solution. But I felt no real purpose.

Later on, a left-wing academic I am close to talked enough sense into me to turn me back into a “Berniecrat.” But my political development was still incomplete.

Thousands of miles away from my secluded suburban home, the first embers were lit. Protesters chanted “Black Lives—Matter!” to an accompanying drumbeat. They were shrouded in the Minneapolis night, but the streetlights and the police sirens made them clear as day. There was a spotlight on their rebellion. The sparks flew and before long, the Third Precinct erupted in flames. I felt a fire in my belly as I watched on my phone, wishing I were there. It was finally happening. Look what a few days of near-insurrectionary activities had brought us—something decades of parliamentary cretinism could not.

Events play a critical role in the radicalization of the masses. The George Floyd uprising played such a role in my political development. I could no longer say that protesting was ineffective as I watched a nationwide mass movement unfold before my eyes. Even my hometown took the streets and I joined them. I was moving further to the left.

So much was happening, and yet we were confined to our homes, as a global pandemic raged on. I went online and spoke to friends about these events and found myself increasingly frustrated with liberal identity politics. I was also conducting a research project for my major on the history of race and drugs in the US. After months of research and many rewrites, I stumbled upon a connection: class. It was not a new discovery, but it changed my worldview. Racialized drug policies impacted several nonwhite populations in the United States, but the commonality among them was that these populations were working-class. This shaped my politics going forward as the lockdown finally lifted.

I joined the IMT because every other answer to the problems we face rang hollow. / Image: Socialist Revolution

The gloss on the magazine cover glimmers on a sunny September day as my comrades and I set up our table. We speak to anyone interested in learning more about socialism. The exhilaration I feel as I discuss our ideas and perspectives is a propelling influence. As they write their name and contact info on our sign-up sheet, I smile. I’m proud to be a socialist.

On my way home from work at the University of Minnesota, I met a full-time revolutionary from Socialist Revolution who was postering near Wiley Hall to advertise a public event they were organizing. I was interested. I asked him about the event and about Bernie Sanders, of whom I was skeptical. In a friendly way, he confirmed my distrust of “saviors” like Bernie and informed me that the event would take place behind the Coffman Student Union. I decided to attend and found that regardless of my ideological confusions, my inclinations were far more in line with these socialists. After eight months of careful consideration, I found that not one of their activities as an organization is without a practical necessity on the road toward building a mass revolutionary workers’ party. I knew I had to join.

I joined the IMT because every other answer to the problems we face rang hollow. Volunteer programs within the confines of capitalism are ineffective. Bourgeois electoral politics and public policy are mere instruments of class oppression. Class independence, in this epoch, becomes a historical necessity. If we are to stand a chance in fighting homelessness, racism, imperialism, gender discrimination, and homophobia, we must build the revolutionary apparatus for us to do so: a mass workers’ party with a socialist program.

Only a class-independent party of the proletariat with a bold Marxist leadership can lead the coming revolution to its victory. What we must do today is build our forces. Poverty, inequality, and scarcity will become distant memories once we eliminate the profit motive. If, like me, you are tired of the time wasted on impractical solutions, join the IMT. We have nothing to lose but our chains. Let the ruling classes tremble!

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