Letter in Response to Criticism of Incendiary’s Style Guide

By the Author and Editor of the Incendiary Style Guide

It was brought to the attention of the Tribune of the People that the style guide from the defunct paper Incendiary News was leaked online, causing confusion and a variety of rumors. Tribune of the People reached out to the former editors of Incendiary and asked for comment and received the following letter which we make public for all to consider. The views of the former Incendiary staff are their own and do not speak for Tribune.

We would firstly like to thank the Tribune of the People Editorial Board for bringing criticism of the Incendiary style guide to our attention. We are happy at any opportunity to rectify damage that our failed project has imparted among progressives and revolutionaries and to combat postmodernism as well as revisionism, which is the main danger to the revolutionary movement in this country. We also believe it is important to counter what appears to be an opportunist attack on the Maoist movement in the US.

We do not characterize this criticism as opportunist solely by its content. In fact, it is partially correct in that our position was not fully outlined, and we do have room to self-criticize. We touched on this subject of postmodern terms lightly in our style guide, and if we had given it more attention, then the current confusion may have been avoided. As the drafters of this document, it was our responsibility to represent the political line that had been determined through struggle and to educate our members on it adequately, however we did not go into the reasoning behind our analysis enough or explain it sufficiently from a theoretical standpoint. At the same time, postmodernism is dominant in the US, and political debate around these postmodern terms and their effect on our struggles is inevitable for revolutionaries and a necessary task for those serious about fighting for socialism.

We characterize this criticism as opportunist because it comes from someone hiding behind an anonymous and unverifiable Twitter account, who takes shots at a dissolved newspaper in order to scare people away from Maoism. It’s not clear whether the person or people behind these tweets are the same as those who leaked the style guide, which was explicitly an internal document, but whoever did it failed to object or place criticism at the time it was originally sent out, which is also a form of opportunism and liberalism.

We emphasize that it was an internal document not because we have anything to hide, but because it gives context to the way it was written. Discussion and debate around postmodernism and its terminology were open and frequent among the Incendiary support committees, at least among the ones that were practicing Marxism. The manual was not produced out of thin air but as a result of line struggle within the organization. We certainly did not ban people from using these terms outside the publication, nor ban them from living or identifying a certain way, etc. We were holding a political line, one which is not articulated in the manual as well as it could be, but also one addressed exclusively to our members, who were aware of the internal debates more than those outside the organization.

As a newspaper striving to be revolutionary, we felt it necessary to demarcate Incendiary from postmodern publications and to not peddle postmodernist language in order to preserve the Marxist content of our paper. Political line is everything. While we cannot go fully into why we prohibited every single term listed in the guide here, we can explain why generally we oppose postmodernist language. The purpose of postmodernism is to divide, not unite, and this is the effect these terms have in their mainstream use. It turns the stratification of the working class inward on itself—an attempt to transform the desire for equality and hatred of the ruling class into an antagonistic contradiction among the people. They do not serve revolution. We stand by this position as we made clear in the guide.

With regards to the term ‘cisgender’ specifically, this term was created in the 90s to serve as an opposite to transgender people. Some may use the term with good intentions, for example to highlight the discrimination that transgender people face, but ultimately the term does a disservice to the majority of trans people, whose oppression is rooted in the same exploitation as that of other working people. “Cis,” in common usage, is often used as a derogatory remark to describe people who do not ‘get’ gender, meaning the vast majority of people who have not been exposed to radical feminist or postmodern ideas on gender. Postmodernism was created to undermine Marxist organizing and unity among the people, and this case is no different.

There is no established materialist or Marxist argument for viewing gender as a set of social traits. The oppression of women is rooted in private property, as Engels theorized in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Their inclusion in production sets the stage for their emancipation through socialist and cultural revolution. This is a materialist view of gender unlike the postmodernist take, which proposes that changing the way a person self-identifies is enough to resolve the oppression of women and end it. Women’s emancipation can only come about with the incorporation of women into class struggle, to overthrow and destroy the root of their oppression. It is the postmodernists and bourgeoisie who emphasize the contradiction between women and men, in order to obscure the root of women’s oppression.

Incendiary, for all its faults, defended equality for trans people and was resolutely against discrimination and bigotry. That is why we find the Twitter user’s comparison of us with the revisionist ‘Revolutionary Communist’ Party to be the most ludicrous of all their allegations. It is not based in any sort of fact, but hopes that readers will make the jump from our criticism of postmodern terms to those real cases of abuse. This is shameful opportunism. We will accept criticism of Incendiary (in fact we encourage it and have publicly self-criticized for numerous errors), but we will strongly oppose any attempt to frame Incendiary as reactionary or its board as bigots. Our hatred is reserved exclusively for the bourgeoisie, their lackeys, and US imperialism.

By clarifying the context of our criticism of postmodern terms and our position, we do not intend to put an end to this matter but to stimulate intellectual debate and theoretical discussion on the matter. As a defunct newspaper, we see the need for this theoretical discussion but are in no place to facilitate it. This letter is not meant to be a polemic but to simply state the facts behind the style guide and to defend Maoism from opportunism.