Stay Alive and Fight: Why I Joined the IMT

An ongoing series on membership in the IMT, in which comrades explain what drove them to reject the capitalist system and embrace revolutionary socialism.

This article contains descriptions of mental illness, self-harm, suicide, and the barbarism of capitalism. It is not a clean, linear story of feeling sad, then getting “fixed” by Marxism. Reality is complicated, and we need to accept this to understand it—and change it.

You could say I’ve been through the ringer with mental illness. I have lost count of all the therapists and psychiatrists I have seen, who have given me all kinds of diagnoses—depression, bipolar, borderline, PTSD, ADHD, PMDD—and about 30 different psychiatric drugs. I tried every therapy I could access, even totally bogus, pseudoscientific “treatments.” Some of it helped, but not much. I had all but lost hope that my extreme mood swings, derealization, chronic pain, and violent self-harm visualizations would ever go away.

I did not have a “chemical imbalance,” as the people who profited from selling me those drugs call it. It was also much more than “negative thoughts.” The real cause of my feelings was that being alive meant drowning in work. My adult life was spent going to school full time, usually working two jobs, usually below minimum wage. The thought of working, working, working for another 40 to 50 years while battling all of these painful symptoms would keep me in bed until 3pm on my rare days off. In addition, the shame of being someone who was supposedly unwilling to work hard made me feel worthless. And at the core, I didn’t have a basic reason to be alive. No doctor can fix those problems.

The worst part is that for those living on planet Earth without a trust fund, this is as good as it gets. And I’m one of the “privileged” ones. Other people get paid even less for even more work, die in wars, suffer gang violence, sex trafficking, etc. All that, and the idea of sitting at an air-conditioned desk all day makes me want to hurt myself? Why is it that I’ve spent thousands of dollars on therapists and doctors to complain about it, yet I’m still a mess? “First-world problems.” What a weak, ungrateful, fundamentally broken person I must be! I believed I didn’t deserve to be alive.

I met some comrades from the International Marxist Tendency in October 2019, attended a branch meeting, and had a good time. But for the few nights after, I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep. Unfortunately, one meeting was not enough to make life seem worth living. I spent hours every night researching how to die quickly, surely, painlessly, and in a way that wouldn’t hurt anybody else. It was a surprisingly difficult task. I finally picked a method and began browsing the local hardware store’s website to buy what I needed. For months afterward, I got targeted ads for those items.

Obviously, I didn’t do it. I checked into a hospital and endured the six hours of humiliating intake interviews. My rock bottom wasn’t the suicide plan—it was being treated like a zoo animal for an audience of medical students. Inside, I met a woman who previously had a lucrative small business, but got cancer. She recovered, but the medical bills drained everything she had, so she became homeless and attempted suicide. Waiting in line at the cafeteria, she turned to me and said very calmly, “This world is too cruel and I can’t live in it anymore.” I fully agreed with her, because I knew that what she went through could happen—and frequently happens—to almost anyone in the US.

I stayed for the minimum five days, faking cheer so they would let me leave. When I was in the hospital, I missed an IMT branch meeting, but resolved to go back regularly from then on. I thought, if life is nonstop pain, I’ll find a reason to withstand it. But to be honest, I wasn’t very optimistic about the IMT quite yet.

Pessimism of the “left”

My experience with “the left” in general made me extremely skeptical of any political organization. I had considered myself a leftist for a long time. Unfortunately, most “leftism” in America is incredibly depressing. Like many young people, I was completely bewitched by identity politics. It was the only option I saw other than being a reactionary, so I went all in. I was the “social justice warrior” ready to courageously bludgeon other people with shame in the form of “callouts.” I spent hours online picking fights. I’d ride my bike in the middle of the street and scream at drivers for “ruining the environment.” But all of it just made me feel more disconnected, defeated, depressed, and ashamed for hurting others too. And all the talk about “privilege”—bourgeois individualism in disguise—made me feel like it was all my fault, and I could never do enough to make up for it.

I really believed Obama would bring us hope and change. But then he bailed out Wall Street on our backs, and deported and bombed people. And Bernie lost, seemingly because of people like Obama. That hurt. It hurt even more when I learned that Bernie didn’t really lose—he capitulated. He played the game. He was on their team.

I figured I should join a “leftist” organization. I tried serving free food with a local mutual aid organization, but that didn’t address society-level problems. I joined an “anarchist marching band,” but the “rehearsals” were a complete waste of time. When a DSA chapter popped up in my area around 2017, I was excited. Finally, a socialist organization!

I identified as a socialist ever since I read the Communist Manifesto and learned that socialism would guarantee every person the necessities of life, shorten the workweek dramatically, and improve working conditions through genuine workers’ democracy. To me, that was huge. A socialist transformation of society would address the real causes of my emotional crises, instead of “reframing my thoughts.” Marx and Engels could even explain what my feelings actually were—intense alienation caused by the capitalist mode of production.

But when I went to a DSA meeting, it was the same old thing. Canvass for Bernie. Vote for this Democrat. Take a bus to the border and yell at ICE. I learned later that this chaos was called “activism” and it inevitably leads to a thing called “burnout.” People pour their hearts and souls into campaigns, then when their candidate loses—or wins and does nothing—they crash. Then they try ultraleft tactics like getting arrested on purpose. When that doesn’t work, they go right back to the Democrats. I just assumed no organization serious enough to win socialism existed.

Revolutionary optimism

When I met the IMT comrades, I thought, “well this is a lot better than DSA, but it looks like just eight people.” During branch meetings, initially I had no clue what they were talking about most of the time, even though I had read the Manifesto. It turns out you don’t become a Bolshevik in one day. At the time, I didn’t even know what a Bolshevik was.

It wasn’t immediately fun, but that actually appealed to me, because I was done f*cking around. Nobody promised shortcuts or easy answers. They never lied or tried to manipulate me. They could back up every single one of their claims with facts. They helped me learn how the world really works, and where all this suffering really comes from: it boils down to the fact that production is owned and controlled by the capitalist class, not the people who actually produce. The capitalists are the real useless, privileged people. All the guilt and shame that had almost killed me came from lies that the capitalists tell specifically to keep workers from taking power.

What really sealed the deal for me was studying revolutionary history. Miraculously, masses of people, over and over again, form their own committees and armies and fight for themselves—often, all without any Marxists around. But with no Marxists around to connect a program for societal change with the masses, these movements die off. So for me, it was a simple choice. I had to go be one of those Marxists, and go make more Marxists.

I turned into someone with unshakeable revolutionary optimism, and a stable feeling of meaning that has only grown stronger over the years. I helped turn the one small IMT branch in my area into many. Since 2019 I have had the desire to die only once, and it lasted for less time than a trip to the hardware store. The urge was quickly smothered by remembering that great events are ahead and I would never want to miss them.

Then 2020 happened. I’m not talking about the virus. I’m talking about the greatest mass movement in the history of America. A cop killed a Black man and tens of millions of Americans from every demographic demonstrated in thousands of cities and small towns. Sixty other countries followed our lead. Maybe Americans weren’t so backwards, “over-privileged,” and reactionary, after all. Maybe we could fight and win.

What if I had died, by my own choice, in 2019, and never gotten to see that? I can’t express in words how I feel about that possibility. Shock, relief, fear. No word is big enough.

Unfortunately, the movement ended up dying in the graveyard of the Democrats. Again, there was only one ingredient missing: a revolutionary leadership. Luckily, that is the one thing we have control over. We can build it.


So, I’m “better,” but still have very, very bad days. Recovery isn’t linear, and neither is human progress. If we expect constant, upward improvements, we will inevitably experience defeat. Instead, we must seek to understand how reality really works—through dialectical motion, where contradictions drive explosive change. So, years of stagnancy don’t have to be depressing, if we understand that strikes, rebellions, and revolutions are surely coming—and winnable, if we prepare properly.

The source of the unspeakable violence, exploitation, and oppression in the world, currently, is capitalism. But capitalism came, inevitably, from advances in production—the creativity and ingenuity of our ancestors. The freedom of communism would never be possible without it. Reality is both crushingly painful and wonderful.

The next couple of decades are going to be a turning point in human history. The contradictions of capitalism are accelerating. Millions have died from COVID-19, and nine million die of starvation every year. There will be more terrible recessions, mass shootings, and climate disasters.

In that sense, I dread the future, but at the same time, I would never want to miss it. Because I know that the working class, the people who are responsible for everything good in the world, will fight back. As a life-long atheist, I have total faith in our class. The only missing ingredient to help our class transform society is a conscious Marxist leadership. There are literally books written about how to build such a leadership by people who have built it before. And there are thousands of comrades organized in one International, active in more than 40 countries around the world, building it right now. Socialism in our lifetime is absolutely on the table.

It’s very simple. If you have ever felt like I did, you need to stay alive and join the IMT.

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