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Outlandish Reading Group: Combat Liberalism

By Sam Gluck, 10 Jul 2017

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What we read: Combat Liberalism by Mao Tse-tung

Where you can read it: free online

Attendees: Sam Gluck, Harry Robbins, Aoife Comey, Chris Chrysostomou, Paul Fauth-Mayer


Introduction

Talk to anyone in Outlandish about politics and they will do so with fervour, because politics is not only on our minds but at the heart of our principles and that of the cooperative movement. In fact, if you do a quick search on the internet, you can find numerous quotes which subscribe to the idea that everything is political – from the obvious, such as who you vote for in the polls, to the seemingly inconsequential, like what your favourite flavour of crisps are.

I like Ready Salted crisps. What does that mean? They are in red packets, and I support Jeremy Corbyn, so you do the math. Maybe if we all ate Ready Salted crisps Britain would still be socialist. Ok, that’s quite enough of that… Certainly, though, the type of business one runs is political. In fact, business, with a capital “B”, as we know it, is inherently capitalistic. It is nigh on impossible to operate in opposition to this rule, but we try our best.

Through redistributing surplus to our workers as funds in our internal crowdfunding system, which can be spent on social value projects, we think we do a pretty good job of turning the typical profit-driven business model on its head. By seeing money not as an end in itself but rather as a means to an end, for investing in projects that spur positive social change (like schoolcuts.org.uk), not spending on luxurious material goods.

But what does a small pamphlet written in 1937 by the communist revolutionary Mao Tse-tung have to do with Outlandish, or its politics? Well, not a whole lot, and as you will discover from the discussion notes below it is generally seen to contain mostly authoritarian language which, as history has shown us time after time, is a favourite precursor to the birth of totalitarian regimes, which I can proudly say Outlandish is not. Nonetheless, we are always up for a challenge, and Combat Liberalism is certainly one of those.

Indeed, some of us were challenged to see some good in the text; something worth taking away and thinking about. We hope you find something like that here too.


Notes from the meeting

What did we like about it?

Aoife: The pamphlet highlights that we are all political beings without necessarily realising it, Aoife says. For example, in waking up and going to work each morning we are performing a political act, whether this is intentional or not. Aoife liked that it admits a disparity between “following” an ideology and “living” it, and said that it is not always possible to “live” an ideology due to the one which encompasses the world we live in, that may be in opposition to our own.

Chris: Chris did not like the text at all, saying its only redeeming feature was that it afforded him the perspective of another person’s view on the world, which is always valuable.

Paul: Paul liked some of the points such as not assuming the role of a bystander and agrees that if someone does or says something you find objectionable then you should do something about this, like challenge that person’s comments or actions, but he said that this can be done without the aggression with which the pamphlet is written.

Harry: There are various points in the pamphlet that Harry agrees with, for example that to listen to an opinion for which you disagree without rebutting it is irresponsible. He thinks this point and others in the pamphlet could be used in an “Outlandish Handbook”.

Sam: As someone who would describe himself and his world view as liberal, the pamphlet was a damning indictment of Sam’s person. However, he takes the text with a pinch of salt and could see it more generally as an interesting historical artefact rather than a personal attack. He agreed with a number of the points, like Harry, but only in theory and would be cautious about adopting them verbatim. He liked the conviction with which the pamphlet is written.

What didn’t we like about it?

Aoife: There wasn’t a whole deal that Aoife outright disliked, however she thought it was dangerous the way the pamphlet slips into authoritarianism, for example by directly challenging the petty bourgeoisie. She didn’t like how this kind of thinking could quickly approach totalitarianism.

Chris: Chris had read the pamphlet a long time ago and didn’t like it back then, and after reading it again he still doesn’t like it. He says there’s a reason why these kinds of texts lead to millions of people dying.

Paul: One of the things about liberalism is that it is defined differently in different countries, Paul said. For example, in Germany it means a sort of indifferent, centre-ground person, however in Canada it is closer to a social democrat. Paul didn’t like that it indiscriminately targets all of these types of liberalism. Perhaps the pamphlet is too liberal in its critique (ba dum tss).

Harry: Harry felt that the point about always following orders seems wrong and not in keeping with the rest of the pamphlet. He thought that the idea of obeying orders absolutely runs contrary to other parts, like the point about taking responsibility. Harry thinks that if you have done something wrong, you should fix it. Likewise, if someone gives you a wrong order, you should not follow it and instead follow your own best judgement.

Sam: Sam thought the pamphlet was too aggressive to be taken seriously and disagreed with a number of the points, much like others in the group.


Feel up to the challenge of reading the text yourself? Here’s the link again. Let us know your thoughts on the email address below!

Or looking for more inspiring ideas? Find out about the Creative Forces of Self-Organization.

If you have a book recommendation for our next reading group, please email us hello@outlandish.com. We would love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

– Sam Gluck