with Brennen Ryan
1. In the previous interview, you described the history of the formation of Leading Light, or at least the North American branch. Can you go back a bit further? How were you first introduced to politics?
As far back as I can remember, I had a strong sense of justice. I remember my father, who thought of himself as a freethinker and Christian lefty, despising the Reagan administration. Even as a child in the 1980s, I remember being very upset about the irrationality of nuclear weapons. As a child, I always heard that the United States had nuclear weapons enough to destroy the planet hundreds of times over. I have no idea about the exact nuclear ability of the Western imperialists or the Soviet Union at the time, but it struck me as very strange that a society would develop the capacity to destroy all life on the planet one time over, let alone one hundred times. Seeing poverty, especially the horrific poverty, in places like Africa and Asia left a mark on me. My father’s family is from the East coast. My family used to talk and joke about the Irish Republican struggle as I grew up. One of my relatives had been arrested for providing help, jobs, documents, and money, to Republicans in the United States. One of the few memories of my grandfather I have is him joking, “You know, we’ve doubled our ammunition?” “We’re throwing half bricks now.” The other side of our family was from the poorest areas of the Carolina mountains. They identified, like numerous poor whites, as indigenous. My grandmother looked indigenous. We think we found our relative on the Dawes rolls someone with the same name, same age but we were never able to hunt down the requisite chain of birth certificates to get tribal membership. And, we never really tried. There is the joke: “What do you get when you have 16 white people in a room?” “One Cherokee.” In any case, that identification with those on the losing side of genocide, even if it was superficial or even fabricated, also gave me a sense that the world was deeply unjust.
As I reached middle school, I began reading a lot about the atrocities in Latin America, especially Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. The streets there were littered with corpses, victims of the deathsquads. I learned that the death, terror, and poverty there were very much connected to the relative level of prosperity and comfort found in the United States. My family’s financial situation was never very stable, so we moved around a lot, also moved between what is called “middle class” and “lower middle class,” the latter often being a codeword for the situation many of the poorer working people find themselves in in the United States. I became familiar with poverty insofar as it exists in the First World, especially as I grew older. Years later, some of the places we lived were big heroin areas. Even so, even as a young teen, I realized that our situation was nothing like that of peoples of the Proletarian World. I recognized very early that comfort in the First World was very much connected to suffering in the Third World. I recognized very early on that serious change was not a possibility in the foreseeable future in the United States.
In middle school, I read everything I could get my hands on, which did not make me popular. The internet did not exist as it now does, so getting information was much more difficult then. I used what money I received to buy books or magazines. Sometimes I shoplifted them. Other times, I went to the library. I read Karl Marx as best I could. I began reading about the Soviet Union. Many years later, I spoke with a Palestinian comrade about what drew him to communism. He said he had seen the red army on TV and “they seemed so strong and we were so weak.” I became interested in socialism for similar reasons. Even though later I understood the Soviet Union of the 1980s was not a model of liberation, at the time, it was something concrete I could pin my hopes on. I felt very weak, bullied a lot. So I read histories of revolution. I began to read Lenin, Che, and Mao. The owner of a local used bookstore gave me a copy of Lin Biao’s Long Live the Victory of People’s War! I found the whole idea of the guerrilla fighter very romantic.
I grew up with computers, which was somewhat unusual at the time. I introduced this line of revolutionary thought to my hacker and phreaker friends. We ran a phreaker BBS with a revolutionary angle. This was around the time of Anarchy Burger Two if anyone remembers such things. We would do Beige Boxes or hack Telstar in the late 1980s before the modern internet. We’d get huge phone chats going where we discusses many things, including revolution. At some point, some of us decided we hated the stupidity of life in the United States so much that we began plotting our escape. We began robbing stores and burglarizing homes in hopes of getting enough capital to fund our move to Latin America in order to fight empire. At one point, someone shot up a local store at night and left fingerprints. My co-conspirators turned out to be snitches. I was fingered as the ring leader. Around this time, me and my father got into a very brutal fight. As the police net closed and as tensions with my parents increased, I ran away at age 16. I ended up moving across the country and living with my brother. When I did come back to live with my parents, the police had not forgotten. I spent the last year or so of high school on probation. Even so, that did not stop my political development.
The last year of high school I joined a local gang. We fought the local racists. My old neighborhood was a big Klan stronghold. Plus, there were lots of neo-Nazis. The white laces fought the red laces, and we fought both of them. One of my comrades once pulled a realistic-looking BB gun on Nazis, forcing them to hand over their flight jackets and boots, along with their wallets. Another time, I used a hand taser on one of them at a rave club. After one of the local Nazis was shot, we had a local DJ at a club dedicate “Head like a hole, black like your soul” by NIN to the skinhead. For this, they chased us for over a year. We participated in the big anti-Klan riot on Martin Luther King Day in Denver in 1992. The Klan had occupied the capitol steps. And, at the time, that neighborhood was far less gentrified than it is now. So, it exploded. We were the ones who began the snowball and rock throwing. We felt it was our duty since we had history with some of the participants and organizers on the Klan side. The Klan leader who organized it had just been released from prison for trying to firebomb the Auraria projects. He was from our neighborhood. So was the kid who was arrested with the gun on the Klan side. I was also dating one of their ex-girlfriends, so this made them really hate me. The riot turned out to be one of the biggest in Denver history. The police could not find an escape route for the Klan. The police protected the Klan, firing tear gas and pepper spray into the crowd. The tear gas canisters were kicked and thrown back into police lines. I was there when the police car’s windows were first smashed out, then the car got tipped over. Eventually, the riot spread down the local main street. This was big news in Colorado. The police brought me in for the riot, but never charged me.
Eventually I made it through college, doing the usual college activist things. I kept reading, kept learning. I discovered Maoist groups through local infoshops. I began handing out their literature in the early 1990s. At the time, all the Maoist groups were cheerleading for Sendero in Peru. All the Maoists were competing to be perceived as fraternal with Peru, to have Gonzalo’s stamp of approval I guess. Like others, I was reading about the struggle there, reading all their documents. At the time, I thought of myself as a Maoist. I could parrot the slogans. I knew the Maoist cookbook inside and out: people’s war, united front, new democracy, mass line, cultural revolution, and so on. I was not unlike many dogmatic Maoists today. I had a very doctrinaire, but also very superficial understanding of revolution. It is the kind of ideology that can really advance you past other newbies, but at a certain point becomes a fetter on scientific progress. At the time, it was probably the best thing going, but, at bottom, it is simply not truly scientific. What drove me to Maoism then is what drives most to it today. Most people in the First World who get into Maoism do so not because they know much about the actual revolution in China. Maoism in the First World is mostly about romanticizing guerrilla struggles in the Third World. It gives people a sense they are part of something big. What Maoism provides that run-of-the-mill guerrillaism doesn’t is a kind of easy-to-use, one-size-fits-all template, a vocabulary to adds a pseudo-intellectual pretense to what would otherwise be ordinary cheerleading. It lets people mask what is essentially cheerleading for exotic guerrilla movements in a pseudo-intellectual rhetoric. It is better than nothing. And I did learn a lot from Marx, Lenin, and Mao. But, when I look back, I am somewhat embarrassed about that time. Even at the time, because I had studied rigorous disciplines in college, I realized how superficial Maoism was, I just didn’t have an alternative to it at the time. Things are so different now that we are armed with Leading Light Communism. It is such a breath of fresh air to be a part of the real revolutionary movement today, and not stuck in that kind of dogmatic straightjacket. If you are thirsty and all you have is dirty water, you will drink, but if you have a choice between dirty and clean water, you will always pick the fresh water. There is nothing more compelling that the Leading Light of truth.
In any case, it was the early 1990s, I was spinning house music at parties. One of my friends in college was from Mexico. He was a big supporter of the Zapatistas. He invited me to come live with his family in Mexico. So I sold my 1200s in order to leave to fight empire. It was in 1995 or 1996 that I left for Mexico.
2. You mentioned Maoism. What do you think of Maoism today?
I think of Maoism a lot like Maoists once used to think of Hoxhaism, as “dogmatic revisionism.” I see it as a dead trend and a dead end. Revolutions have a kind of arc. You had the arc of the Bolshevik and spin-off revolutions. That arc peaked a long time ago. It is not a living wave of social transformation, even if there are still fragments of that revolutionary defeat still out there that populate the landscape. Similarly, the Maoist arc ended a long time ago, yet you still have groups here and there that raise that banner.
I don’t think we make revolution by gathering up those fragments of defeat into some kind of opportunist unity. Those revolutionary waves were defeated for a reason. Think about it this way. If Stalin’s regime was unable to prevent capitalist counter-revolution in the mighty USSR, which spanned 1/6th of the world’s land and was the second most powerful country on Earth, why do we think tiny, poor Albania under Hoxha can? We have seen the endgame of Maoism in China, so why do we think that model is going to work in the Philippines or Peru, for example? The Bolshevik revolution took state power in 1917. Mao declared the People’s Republic in 1949. The Cultural Revolution began in 1965 or 1966, depending on how you look at it. It’s been almost a century since 1917, and a half century since the Cultural Revolution. The world has changed. The science has to change. Adapt or perish.
The next wave of revolution is not going to be made by dogmatically repeating the past. We need to learn from the past, but also go beyond it. Those who are stuck in the past really do a disservice to the masses. The imperialists, the capitalists, have not been stagnant. They have been updating their science of oppression. They have been refining their military technology. They have been recruiting brains from the best universities to staff their imperial think tanks. They have been incorporating the most advanced science in order to enslave us more efficiently. It boggles the mind that “revolutionaries” believe that the secret to success is absolute fidelity to a set of cookbook formulas from a half century ago. The way we beat the empire is by updating our science. We have to match them and beat them. This is why we always say Leading Light is not about following Marx, Lenin, or Mao. We have one supreme leader, truth. Only the Leading Light of truth will set us free. Advance, advance, advance. Fight, fight, fight.
Marxism-Leninism, Trotskyism, nor Maoism are not going anywhere as they currently exist. Marx talked about how history often repeats itself as “first time tragedy, second time farce.” Nothing that people associate with Maoism today is new. The idea that Maoism is some kind of “third, higher stage” is not a new idea. Many Maoists today think this “new stage” stuff is from Gonzalo in Peru. It isn’t. Before Gonzalo was talking this way, India’s Charu Majumdar was. And Charu Majumdar just got it from his contemporaries in China. The idea goes back to Maoist discourse that was popularized in the mid and late 1960s. The “new stage” idea is specifically from Lin Biao. It is mentioned over and over in such obscure texts as the original introduction to Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong. Yes, the “red book.” It is even in Lin Biao’s “Report to the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party” in 1969. The inability to deal with history honestly is part of the comical nature of Maoism today.
So, you have Marxs “first time tragedy, second time farce situation. The first death of Maoism was when China began reversing its radical domestic and international policies. Lin Biao died in 1971. China’s support for people’s wars around the world is replaced by an opportunistic, nationalist calculation not unlike the Soviet revisionist one. China begins aligning with the Western imperialists. This nationalist opportunism is sometimes associated with a doctrine called “Three Worlds Theory,” but the theory was really just window dressing for the practice. Domestically, Mao begins reversing the Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping is brought back. The Maoist movement took a huge hit in China and internationally. Many could not stomach China’s support for Pinochet. Many could not stomach China’s support of Pakistan and the West as they tried to starve Bangladesh into submission. Some Maoists were even promoting NATO. The international Maoist movement was thrown into confusion, which is why many ex-Maoists took “the Albanian escape hatch,” becoming Hoxhaists for a time. China slid into capitalism. Maoism died its first death. That amazing, beautiful gem, that revolution, where a quarter of the world’s population stood up and demanded a better word, was lost. It was a real tragedy for humanity. Its loss can hardly be calculated. Maoists today still haven’t honestly dealt with it. Only Leading Light has. But, today, Maoism has died again, but its death today has more of a farcical character. You have all kinds of opportunists and loudmouths seeking to lead a movement which barely exists. Maoists proclaim they have the unique ability to prevent reformist sellout, but all around Maoist parties engage in reformism and negotiation just like those of other social-democratic trends. There are a couple prestigious leftover parties that remain, and these parties bravely fight for the people. And these parties should be supported just as any progressive anti-imperialist force should. However, as brave as some of them are, Maoists are not going anywhere as they currently exist. And it is not healthy to pretend otherwise. We need to serve the people truth, not fiction. Some Maoists even raise the slogan “impose Maoism,” as if the solution to the impasse is posturing. I think it was Lenin who stated that paper will tolerate anything. Well, the internet will tolerate even more. As far as Maoism goes, for now, we let the dead bury the dead. They will come to the Leading Light when they are ready. As we go forward, the best in all trends will find their way to us. What we are offering is the Leading Light of truth, pure and simple.
3. You lived in Latin America? Did that contribute to your political development?
I spent a couple years in Mexico. I was drawn there because it was close, and Mexico was in turmoil in the 1990s due to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico has been a land of suffering and revolution for a long time, for at least a century: Zapata, Villa, Cabanas, Gamiz, right? However, the neo-liberal policies were met with an upsurge of mass resistance. The Zapatista uprising in Chiapas got a lot of attention globally. The Maya of Central America had suffered greatly from imperial violence. It is sometimes forgotten that the civil war in Guatemala between the US-backed state and the URNG was also a war between the whiter capitalists and landlords versus the darker, indigenous workers and farmers. Tens of thousands were killed by death squads and state violence there. In Mexico, the Maya areas had traditionally been very poor. This was made worse by NAFTA. In order to comply with NAFTA, Mexico had to get rid of its traditional protections to indigenous land. The Maya rebelled with the help of an old guerrilla group with roots going back to at least the early 1980s, maybe the 1970s. I can’t remember all the details of the history of the EZLN.
In other parts of Mexico, like the South Mountains, there was another group, the EPR, which was based mostly in Guerrero and Oaxaca. They go back to earlier incarnations too. They announced their existence one year after the Aguas Blancas massacre of FAC-MLN-OCSS activists. They took many by surprise when they took over some small towns and read their Aguas Blancas manifesto a year later, 1996. There were numerous other groups around too. I floated around the scene for awhile, living in Guerrero and Mexico itself. I volunteered at the Second Indigenous National Congress, in which the Zapatistas played a leading role. I was a security guard. I also attended a congress in defense of indigenous communities held by FAC-MLN-OCSS. Prior to that congress, we were driven to a crumbling building in, what I believe was, the slums surrounding Mexico. There were all kinds of people there from all over the country. Lots of indigenous and poor people. This building was a coordinating hub from which activists were then sent to various communities. We were specifically told that if we left their protection, people in the community might kill us. It wasn’t that, being from the United States, I had lighter skin so much as our delegation was from ENAH, which was a university for wealthier students. So, we made sure to stay inside the building. People drank and sang songs around a little campfire in the building. We stayed the night there before leaving to the community the next day. When we went to the community, the entire population of a couple hundred attended a huge mass meeting by FAC-MLN-OCSS. The people gave speeches, asked questions, etc. Then the huge meeting divided up into committees to tackle different issues, everything from potable water to the disappeared. At the final day of the congress, we had a big march around the small community with red flags. The FAC-MLN-OCSS congress impressed me very much at the time. It was probably the “most real” of any of my political work at that point.
Around this time, I met a lot of other people. There was a big Chilean ex-pat community that had fled Pinochet. There were many Chilean radicals. Patricio Ortiz, who had escaped prison in Chile in a helicopter, stayed in Mexico with some of my comrades around this time, although I never met him. I entered the scene after he had just gone off to Europe where he received asylum. I remember the media speculating about his whereabouts since it was such a sensational escape, an embarrassment to the military regime. Student radicals at UNAM and ENAH were organizing themselves into small, usually poorly organized urban guerrilla groups at that time. Not far from where I lived, near the ENAH where the CNI was held, cranes and other machines were being used to build a mall on top of some pyramid-type ruins. The construction equipment kept getting sabotaged, even blown up. Corporate businesses were blown up after dark. Police were being shot at at night. At least one student was shot and killed near Villa Panamericana, not far from my apartment. Mexico was especially volatile at the time with the Zapatista march. On the anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre, all of Mexico’s center was shut down because all the students from grade schools to the universities gathered there to protest and riot. All the stores were boarded up as students threw small bombs. At one point, some of us did a little training in the mountains in hopes of creating a better organized movement, but little came of it. We split on ideological lines almost as soon as we formed.
I also floated around the Maoist left, which was very much focused on the fate of the Peruvian revolution since Gonzalo had been arrested. The Maoist left was divided into many groups with very similar names that I can’t even remember. A few supported Gonzalo’s argument about waves and the need to end the people’s war, but nobody paid much attention to them. At the time, the Gonzalo letter was generally seen as a hoax. There was another group there that was close to RIM that had a big meeting on the people’s war in Peru. I went to the meeting where the presenters from Peru said all was good in their peoples war when it was becoming more and more apparent that it was not. The claim was that the arrest of Gonzalo was merely a “bend in the road.” They claimed the people’s war was leaping from victory to victory. I think this was the time when people spoke of “Red Path,” before Feliciano was captured and went over to the enemy. Anyway, at one point during the presentation, someone asked why they were so sure the people’s war in Peru could not be defeated. The presenters responded that because they had reached strategic equilibrium, they could not ever be defeated. Once strategic equilibrium was reached, the outcomes were only stalemate or victory, but not defeat. This was a ridiculously metaphysical explanation. Revolutions can always be defeated. The Bolshevik revolution and the Chinese revolution were defeated long after they had state power, long after strategic equilibrium. An older communist who was sitting next to me was trying to hold in his laughter. He said what we both were thinking, “maybe you never reached strategic equilibrium then.” They didn’t think it was funny. The joke of course is that “strategic equilibrium” in their weird, metaphysical sense can never be reached. There were also Maoists who were very critical of RIM. Some of these Maoists who agitated a lot in Zocalo had a Third Worldist outlook, although nothing really refined. I ended up hooking up with their group for awhile. All of the Mexican Maoists I encountered were in a pre-people’s war state. When I finally left Mexico, I promised to do what I could in the United States to help my comrades there.
I almost forgot. I also attended the World Youth Festival in Havana. I was not an official delegate, I just hopped on a plane from Mexico and stayed with some priests we knew there. Me and a comrade ended up crashing a lot of the official events. I’m not sure if Spain has an embassy in Cuba or not, but they do have a diplomatic residence. Myself and a comrade made friends with the daughter of the Spanish ambassador or head diplomat. She ended up swiping some press passes for us so we could attend the festival events. We visited the meetings and events. The parties were fun. We attended a cool party at the Middle East house with people dancing around a big bonfire. We got materials from Palestinian revolutionary groups. This was before many groups had web pages. We set up a web page in English for some of the materials when we returned to Mexico. At one point, there was a parade of different groups from all over the world. The North Koreans were amazingly choreographed during the march. They were also extremely nervous when talking to outsiders. When approached, they would hand you some political pins and then walk away skittishly. When the Kurds came by, I yelled “Biji Kurdistan!” They invited me to march with them after giving me a paper PKK flag to hold and an ERNK t-shirt to wear. FARC had a table where they distributed FARC swag, including posters of attractive FARC fighters and their magazine. I remember the Libyans had a big table with a poster of Gaddafi’s bombed out compound: “REAGAN = TERRORIST.” I was invited to their embassy, they said I needed to get a copy of the “green book” in English. I think they were trying to recruit people because they were really pushy. I never followed up with them.
There was a lot of prostitution in Havana, especially near the ocean front by the old hotels in “pidawa.” Typically you would be approached by pimps who would announce, “my sister likes you, you should come meet her.” I overheard some drunk guys from the US delegation to the festival talking about how great Cuba was because of all the “cheap pussy.” I didn’t want to get into a big confrontation with them but I did yell, “poverty is a great aphrodisiac, assholes” their way.
All in all, I don’t think I made the best of my time in those years. I bounced around the Mexican scene without really establishing deep roots. We were very young and liked to party a lot also. Rave music was taking off in Mexico at the time, so we went to some raves. Had fun. One of the most interesting memories I have is from Tixtla, Guerrero, a small indigenous town. There was a small disco near the city center that played Latinized, mainstream houseclub was empty, except me and maybe a dozen local, indigenous youth. In the club, they would do variations on their indigenous folk dancing to the house music. They found my liquid dancing very interesting, as I found theirs.
There is a lot I am not saying here. And I try not to dwell on the past. Although the experiences there were interesting and valuable, I think I would do things a lot differently if I could go back.
4. What do you think of your work today?
The work now is the best, most important work I have ever been involved with. Building on the whole history of revolution and history of thought, we have advanced the science of revolution in an all-round way. For the past 15 years, we have been working on this project in various forms. We have integrated scientific advances from every area into Leading Light Communism. We have the new breakthrough, the new synthesis that will really change the world. Our banner and that of the masses’ are one. We are the people. We are the future. The sword of truth is sharper than ever. We have won the ideological battle at the level of high science, it’s all about organization and logistics now.
We have gathered the brightest lights in the sky, the best of the best, warrior geniuses from across the globe, north and south, east and west. After much difficulty, we continue to assemble the the greatest revolutionary minds and hearts alive. The most thoughtful, the most daring, the most caring will be with us. We are Leading Lights, the warriors, the martyrs. We are the Leading Light, the organization of the new type to initiate the Global People’s War, to purge the world of all suffering, so that a new humanity and land will flourish. Our future is our own because we have the science, the leadership, the organization, the loyalty, the discipline, the daring, the courage to really win. There is an oath, a command that we have written on our souls: One Earth. One people. One organization. One leadership. One life to give. My life for the masses, for the land, for the Leading Light.
5. Is there anything else you want to add?
Yes, a few things. Firstly, I have left out many things. One day they will be told. Secondly, this is just my history, the history of a single leader. We have many leaders all over the world whose stories will one day be told. Although I am from the United States originally, Leading Light is a global movement. Our heroic leaders in Asia and Latin America will come forward with their own stories when the time is right. Thirdly, to those who are reading this who are not yet with us: The time is now. This is a long march period for us. We are marching every day, with heavy loads on our backs. We look forward to that day when we arrive at our base. It is time to put away childish things. The masses demand you to do your duty. The time for sacrifice is now. Donate your time. Donate your money. Donate. Sacrifice. Serve the people. Live, serve, and die for the Earth. Do everything you can, dedicate all your energy, all your power, to this victory. Right now, in the beginning, is when it matters most. The yappers will yap. The liars will lie. The wreckers will wreck. That is what they do. Don’t fall for it. Soar above it all. This is your future, your liberation too. Red Salute!