A Tribute to Leading Light founder Prairie Fire
by Jacob Brown
BRENNEN “PRAIRIE FIRE” RYAN ~ THE LEADING LIGHT
Please read more about Brennen’s life, thoughts, and work here:
Even before he became a communist in his youth, Brennen Ryan was indignant against oppression and actively fought against it. During his time as a high school youth in Colorado, Brennen would stand up to and physically resist those few students who would bully him and other students. When he was resisting the oppression of certain teaches and administrators in high school, however, he used different tactics. Brennen would recall how he spent a whole semester in high school refusing to speak… to anyone! Call it a one-person speech strike.
Brennen also got into dance music and the rave scene in his youth, and even did some gigs as a DJ. Live electronic dance music, from the massive raves with thousands of people to the smaller dance club events, would shape the sub-culture of communist projects organized by Brennen in the years following. He loved animals and embraced a vegetarian lifestyle, abstaining from eating meat.
After high school, Brennen would study philosophy at the university. It is here where Brennen’s genius was first unleashed in the fullest. He would spend days in the university library, reading book after book, including the classical material that the hipster pseudoradical “Marxists” in First World academia would treat contemptuously. Brennen’s grasp of revolutionary history, the limitations of contemporary and classical Marxist theory, as well as the development of new theory and the re-discovery and retooling of old theoretical tools began from this period of massive mental labor tackling thousands of pages.
As a human being who would burn with indignation against oppression, Brennen Ryan became committed to the communist cause for global equality and total human liberation, and stood with the masses of the global poor resisting US imperialism and their lackeys. His travels took him to the state of Chiapas in Mexico, where he participated in the Second Indigenous National Congress in solidarity with the EZLN in 1996. During his time there, Brennen exposed the soft underbelly of the EZLN’s sectarianism towards other communist militants in the region, and put aside any romantic notions about the period after the Chiapas uprising.
While living and traveling in Mexico for awhile, Brennen made contact with some Maoists and learned about the People’s Wars going on the Third World, the popular echoes of the legacy of the Maoist revolution in China decades ago. He traveled through Cuba after leaving Mexico, his appreciation for the communist martyr Che Guevara and the gains of the Cuban Revolution made solid, though not romanticizing the “socialism” of any state that had long past its revolutionary moment in history.
Brennen ended up living in Albuquerque, New Mexico for awhile, getting involved in leading a street dealing crew for cartels. It was here that Brennen became known as “El Hector”. He saw no other way to build a massive war chest that a People’s Army would need, anti-social consequences aside. Of course, other active militant groups in the world, then and today, do not shy away from the illegal economy. To this end, Hector would show video documentaries on the Communist Party of Peru (the “Shining Path”) to the runners and muscle on his team in a serious attempt to politicize them. Nevertheless, this kind of road is fraught with contradictions and risks for the international communist movement, and the organization Hector had led in Albuquerque was ultimately smashed by the state.
Back in Denver, Hector remained politically active. He co-founded a Maoist organization called “Red Solidarity”, where Denver cops had tried to frame him for various militant activities. The frame jobs were such an egregious violation of Hector’s right to due process that even the prosecutor complained to the sitting judge about the blatant political persecution being led by the Denver Police Department.
While not being harassed by the pigs and their local snitches, Hector also committed himself to distributing “MIM Notes” as well as materials from the Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru (CSRP) in Denver. Shortly after, Hector started writing articles and engaging on left-oriented online forums. He participated in the Cheyenne Freedom Movement, worked with the Mexican National Liberation Movement, and was a key organizer of the 2008 “Re-Create ’68!” disruptions on the Democratic National Committee in Denver while leading the first incarnation of the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement alongside Antonio Moreno and Nick Brown.
Along with Maoist comrades Shubel Morgan, Serve the People, Amihan Malaya, and End Imperialism, Hector founded the internet forum “It’s Right To Rebel!” and later the blog “Monkey Smashes Heaven”. It was in this space where the Hector we knew became our comrade Prairie Fire, and where he first started to write about and discuss the ideas that would later become the all-around advance in revolutionary science known as Leading Light Communism.
In 2010, Hector called for the gathering around the world of those communists upholding the body of ideas called “Maoism-Third Worldism”, in order to form a brand new organization with the most advanced scientific communist ideas, dedicated to serve the people of the world. The original Leading Light Communist Organization was formed in the middle of June, 2010, in the Colorado Rocky Mountain range. The founding of the LLCO, and the democratic selection of Prairie Fire as its First Chair, was the beginning of further breaks with the Maoist doctrines we had taken for granted in the 21st Century. Prairie Fire spearheaded these breaks, facing skeptical resistance from even solid comrades upholding “Maoism-Third Worldism”, including myself. Some comrades fell away or were pushed out for not recognizing the changes to the science of revolution that needed to be made, including myself. I know that I had to spend some time away from the organization I co-founded, and find out for myself the dead dogma of “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” in real world practice.
So what are the breakthroughs that Leading Light Communism represents? Let us watch the video of a speech that comrade Prairie Fire made in 2011, called “Walk This Road With Us”, and I will explain afterwards:
#1 – Re configuring social classes in the 21st century into two main camps: The bourgeois “First World” and the Proletarian “Third World”. This is done by sidelining the Labor Theory of Value as the way to determine who is the revolutionary subject. This has precedent, as the Maoists in China targeted the party leadership of the CPSU and the “capitalist roaders” in the party as a “red bourgeoisie”, even though neither the likes of Khrushchev or Deng ever owned a factory. Similarly, even though progressive class alignments and specific development stages existed during both the before and after the seizure of state power in the Soviet Union and People’s China, these periods (USSR 1917-1956, China 1949-1976) are still referred to by anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist historians as “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. A social group’s “relationship to the means of production” is no longer an adequate way to characterize said group as a distinct social class in the 21st Century. Since WW2, the an increasing majority of workers in the First World do not own the means of production, yet they have far more to lose from an equitable revolutionary socialist redistribution of global wealth than the majority of peoples in the Third World do –who in contrast have everything to win from such a revolutionary transformation.
#2 – Global People’s War — Lin Biao’s pamphlet “Long Live the Victory of People’s War!” was just the beginning. The concept of Global People’s War represents the the most advanced theory of class struggle 21st Century. Although “Global City” and “Global Countryside” are still applicable to the to the strategy for world communist revolution, the old Maoist People’s War strategy surrounding the cities from the countryside within a single Third World neocolony is no longer universally applicable. Wars of national liberation will still play a role, but communist politics will increasingly assert itself in the 21st Century on a more pan-Third World basis against a mostly united First World empire, similarly to how certain Islamist, pan-African, and pan-indigenous formations have been oriented in recent times. Taking the experience of the Iraqi resistance against the American and British imperialist occupation, and the experience of the Lebanese resistance to the Zionist entity in 2006, Prairie Fire saw how shifting demographics in different Third World countries would shape how the various People’s Wars of the 21st Century will be waged. The growing of slums surrounding the neocolonial megacities in the Third World, as well advances in the imperialist counterinsurgency technology and tactics in the current era, make a more unified “city + countryside” revolutionary strategy increasingly in the Third World, instead of chiefly relying on old Maoist People’s War doctrine.
#3 – Communism as a regulative idea — Putting aside Hegelian dialectics and teleology, embracing communism as a regulative idea. “Marx avoided the problem [of a socialist distribution based on the Labor Theory of Value alone] by ascribing historical necessity to the trends he saw around him.” Nevertheless, we know that socialism can and has been reversed in its course toward communism. Our revolution is not written in the stars, it is not “historically inevitable”. Look at the ruling party of China today, or the ruling party of the Soviet Union after WW2. They also have ascribed “historical necessity” to their lack of drive to build a communist world. Firstly, a communist regulative idea means that billions of “unproductive” slumdwellers are part of the real proletariat in the 21st century will receive their fair share of the global social product under a worldwide New Socialism. Secondly and just as crucially, a communist regulative idea will be able to guide the Proletarian World, led by the Leading Light, to continue the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat in the 21st Century. Thinking of communism as a regulative idea allows us to make communism a truly constitutive idea in our daily practice, but without the historicism. While other Maoist / post-Maoist thinkers like Alain Badiou would write about communism in such terms, only Brennen Ryan’s systematization of this as the living scientific practice of Leading Light Communism is what takes this out of the hands of the First World academic “left” and into the hands of the Third World proletariat as a weapon.
The original speech that this video was based on was given at a festive live gathering in Denver called “Z-Days” in 2011. Along with the theoretical breaks with Maoism and the continued growing interest in LLCO in Southern Mexico and the Indian subcontinent, aesthetic and cultural breaks followed this event for LLCO comrades in the First World. The global LLCO cells, both in the Third World and First World, started moving away from the fetishization of failed or stunted national liberation movements in the Third World and the niche “left” trends around gender and national identity from the First World academy and activist milieu. The original front group in the First World for the LLCO, the “Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement”, remained stuck in this Western-centered political trap despite its pretensions to “Third Worldism”. I should know, as I was there as I tried to keep the old “MIM” alive through this latter incarnation of RAIM for the better part of a year.
The front group for LLCO that would replace RAIM and the MIM-styled basketcase it became by something with much more promise behind enemy lines, inspired by the “Z-Days” gathering; Global Equality. Through Global Equality, the Leading Light Communists within the First World could gather up some of the stolen resources from the Third World proletariat and give it back as reparations to the masses, with Leading Light Communists in the Third World in command, uniting with the masses to build the New Power and the Global People’s Army.
Under Prairie Fire’s leadership, the Leading Light Communists within the First World would stop waxing poetic on failed revolutions in the Third World or engage the toxic bourgeois politics of identity opportunism coming from First World academia, as well as playing role playing games with red flags where there is no real proletariat. Instead, Leading Light Communists would set up progressive, anti-imperialist, and ecologically conscious community spaces where we can bring like minded people in the First World together while building material solidarity and cultural links with Leading Light Communists and the masses of people in the Third World. As humble as these efforts were in Denver initially, this organizing experience was especially important for the confidence and morale of aspiring serious communists, youth and veterans of the struggle alike.
Hector’s original operational vision for communist revolution first focused on Mexico, as that was familiar territory for him to engage with the masses. However, the theory and practice of Leading Light Communism as presented in the public works of Prairie Fire would first catch on with veterans of the class struggle in Bangladesh. LLCO – Bangla Zone was established in early 2012, and built Dual Power institutions for the masses that exist to this day.
With the LLCO proudly flying the Red Flag high while supporting LLCO – Bangla Zone and the Anti-Imperialist United Front in the Proletarian Third World, and using its front in the Bourgeois First World for material solidarity, the global organization had in place the original “Grand Strategic Plan” as comrade Prairie Fire called it. However, this path was also a terribly slow grind in terms of being able to do fundraising for the Third World Leading Lights and expand the Global Equality spaces in the First World at the same. As someone who was indignant against oppression and desiring to make revolution, Prairie Fire was both obsessively and correctly focused on amassing the biggest war chest as quickly as possible.
Nevertheless, Hector’s path to speeding up the progress of the revolution was fraught with contradictions. The resumption of his politicized drug trafficking alienated many comrades, despite earning him admiration for willingness to openly defy the state. Where we saw a situation where the confidence the masses had in us would be undermined, even as we would attempt to practice the mass line. Hector rather saw drug cartels as being the way to actually earn the confidence of the masses, in the same way that certain bandit gangs in lore are viewed by the masses as folk heroes.
Other aspects of the criminal underground like prostitution networks was something explored for a time, but ultimately rejected. Hector had internalized the ethical communist regulative idea to such a degree that he could not engage in the kind of male chauvinist manipulation of women that being a pimp in the sex industry entails. Strong-arm robbery was a another path never returned to, as the previous experience led straight to state repression. In short, forays into certain kinds of criminal activity by famous revolutionary movements of the past would not be something Hector would try to duplicate.
Even if Hector was correct about cartels, he himself had too many contradictions that make being a successful dealer a solid reality, the primary one being his own years-long addiction to heroin. Hector first became addicted in Albuquerque, during his first stint as a communist militant drug trafficker, and his addiction alongside his involvement in the trade led him to being incarcerated numerous times. “Don’t get high on your own supply” was a cardinal rule in the game that Hector could never totally adhere to, leading to him becoming vulnerable to strong-arm robbery by rival dealers and police repression.
Hector would sometimes brag about how the best of Prairie Fire’s writings were written while he was under the influence of a cocktail of hard drugs. However, the brilliance and correctness of comrade Prairie Fire’s line renders the whole notion as irrelevant as the lack of meat in Hector’s diet while writing. The core ideas are either correct or not, AND THEY ARE CORRECT!
The real issue with comrade Hector’s drug use and dealing was the danger it put the Third World proletariat in, as well as demoralizing Leading Light Communists all over the world who were won over by the ideas of Leading Light Prairie Fire. In addition to demoralizing the solid comrades, the state was waiting in the wings to eliminate the Leading Light Communist movement in its infancy. One thing PF and I found fascinating in our recollections together in the months before his passing is how the state took such a huge interest in our organization, despite all our bumbling and amateurish errors. The ideas were indeed a spiritual atom bomb that attracted interest from serious comrades in the Third World, despite all our mistakes as First World people trying to insert ourselves into the future of class struggle in a serious and intentional way.
The material consequences for Hector’s own personal life were realized in 2016. Key comrades in Denver with the keys to the website “llco.org” were taken out by the state, and the global public’s access to the writings of Prairie Fire. Hector’s engagement and family plans were also cut short. His other comrades effectively abandoned him, or sought to pass judgement as a means to justify their own seizure of Leading Light media resources, rather than offer legitimate criticism so that comrade PF could be restored to glory. Whatever contradictions I had with Hector beforehand, I felt it was my duty to rejoin the organization I co-founded with him in order to keep his life’s work in the public sphere. The post-PF group running “llco.org” was able to make this happen to their credit. To their discredit was the increase of “pop psychology” character smearing, erasure of due credit to Prairie Fire for his authorship, and general subterfuge coming from this small group rather than principled line struggle. Regardless of whatever the mediocre 4-person clique currently running “llco.org” would like to continue to trash the man who founded the organization, Leading Light Prairie Fire will never be as dead as they are.
After getting out of jail and off probation for the last time, Brennen had acknowledged his errors, started his recovery, and stopped using opiates. I had separated from the anti-PF group running “llco.org”, and we were working on a brand new Grand Strategic Plan together as comrades and brothers. We had devised a semi-underground action plan that mitigated the anti-people contradictions of his previous activity, while inserting ourselves culturally as a serious and tight organization dedicated to recruiting the bravest Red Soldiers. With this new plan and with a clear head on his shoulders, Brennen began training and preparing for revolution again. Addiction specialists say the most dangerous part of a heroin addict’s recovery is when they are clean for months, and then suddenly relapse. Brennen passed away on April 17, 2019. He was found to have overdosed by his local family. God damn the social disease of opiate addiction that stole our comrade from us. Alas, our comrade rests, leaving his comrades to honor Leading Light Prairie Fire and fight for the living.
It is true that Prairie Fire’s particular line-of-march the so-called “Grand/Great Strategic Plan”, was alienating to many of us who co-founded and promoted the organization early on. The “narcorevolutionary” was simply not our path, and our concerns about the anti-people effects of this path were not adequately addressed by comrade Prairie Fire. It clearly also did damage to our comrade’s propensity to have a healthy and stable family life with children, while remaining steadfast in the struggle. And in the end, it took his own life. Nonetheless, while Brennen could be difficult in how hard-headed he could be in pursuing this path, he was absolutely correct about the stuff we had thought was valuable in communist organizing just wasn’t working in the 21st Century. Looking back, I cannot blame him for attempting to break the orthodoxy around everything involved in the struggle, even when he got it wrong.
No aspiring revolutionary is perfect. Brennen’s contradictions made him like Moses in the Hebrew scriptures, laying out the new foundations the New Power but not actually entering the Promised Land himself. Without our brother and comrade Prairie Fire with us, the old contradiction-wrought Grand Strategic Plan as well as the re-envisioned Grand Strategic Plan I designed with him without most of the problematic baggage has come to its end. and it is our responsibility to make do with what we know best to contribute to the struggle. As to those who spread false rumors about him, discredit his writings, or simply trash him, it is a matter of what Lenin referred to as “chickens never soaring to the height of eagles”. They are not, and never have been, Leading Light Communist material.
It comes to us…will you unite with me to be the Leading Lights, carrying on Brennen Ryan’s REAL legacy? It falls to those of us who seek a free and equal world, where we take care of each other and our Planet as one big communist family, to continue to be Leading Lights in the struggle towards that glorious end! 2018 has proven that hundreds of millions of workers will unite and strike to shut down the capitalist-imperialist global economy. Communism is not some far away paradise, but a living idea in the minds and hearts of the Global Poor!
Wherever we are, let us build the New Power and forge ourselves into the People’s Warriors we need to be to bring this world into being. Communism, with a healing planet and equality between peoples, is there for the taking!
This is LEADING LIGHT COMMUNISM, Brennen’s gift to the world’s masses of poor peoples, the international proletariat! May they find victory wielding and sharpening this mighty weapon to make revolution! Red Salute, comrades! Our Day Is Coming! Let us spread many Prairie Fires!