RI Editorial Note: Thanks to the Kasama Project for these posts (overview here) discussing some of the positive and negative experiences of how Maoists in the U.S. have historically dealt with issues of alcoholism, mental health illnesses, psychoses, or anti-social tendencies that this decadent and decaying imperialist society generates, encourages, or exacerbates amongst the people. From substance addictions to schizophrenia to domestic violence – as variegated as these problems are – revolutionaries must give some more attention to learning how to better handle such issues in our movement and in our society wherever we have influence.
When confronted with a problem that we don’t know how to solve, it’s too easy for communists to throw the Red Book at it, so to speak, a phenomenon that Mike Ely describes from his experiences in the RCP. A good point to take out of this discussion is that dogma cannot be a substitute for thorough scientific investigation, neither for the science of revolution nor for all the more immediate problems we have to deal with long before we secure proletarian power. Ely discusses alcoholism was often treated as an “ideological problems” to be solved through encouraging greater discipline, study, and struggle. The irony is that the mishandling of this by some comrades was an ideological problem, but in the opposite sense than that referred to by Ely: Such dogmatic approaches to the problems of mental illness or substance addictions reflect shoddy methods of scientific inquiry, the inability to wrangle with new problems, and comfy but inadequate reliance on established dogma to resolve new challenges. Such shoddy methods are an ideological problem.
At the risk of allowing my instincts get the best of my better judgments, I’d just say that I feel like a major part of the problem is the taboo surrounding mental health issues and drug addictions. Quite frankly, such problems scare the shit out of a lot of people, especially for those who do not understand the basis for such illnesses and how they could and need to be treated. Many of those who don’t take the moral high road in relation to people suffering from such afflictions (as Ely describes, throwing the Red Book or the Bible at the problem amounts to same moralizing behaviour), often resort to denial, disavowal, rejection, and come to be complicit in the isolation that further aggravates the mental health or substance abuse issues of a person suffering.
RI reposts this material with the express interest of encouraging all comrades, activists, and organizers to seriously consider how to confront these problems not only in the interest of accumulating our revolutionary forces, but for the sake of all those suffering.
This is part of our ongoing discussion of whether communist theory has a place for psychology.
by Mike Ely
Psychology (as a science) typically includes (among other things) the study of personality development in individuals.
What is the role of family dynamics in the shaping of individual people (and their personalities)?
What is the role of such things in personal problems, including the stubborn persistence of “wrong ideas” and behaviors (including low self-esteem, narcissism, arrogance, passivity etc.)
In addition, there is within radical and social forms of psychology examination of how dominant social (class, racist, colonial and patriarchal) structures reproduce particular forms of human thinking and behavior (including destructive personal behaviors and abusive interpersonal behaviors).
Within the communist movement in the U.S. (in my experience) such questions and discussions were often simply dismissed — often in remarkably incurious and reductionist ways.
Personal problems were often considered simply “ideological” — and the solution to such personal matters of personality and inclination was assumed to be “ideological” as well (i.e. raising your consciousness, criticizing “incorrect thinking” and so on).
Example: Struggle over causes and treatment of alcoholism
Let me give you an example of some sharp line struggle I participated in within the RCP — involving alcoholism.
In general (as many of you know), alcoholism worsens over time. By the time alcoholics reach their 40s the problems of heavy drinking often erupt in acute ways (divorce, firings, declined capabilities, illnesses). Years of continuous toxic assault weaken the liver and other systems.
In the RCP we had an eruption of such problems as the 60s generation entered its 40s. Suddenly we became aware that a number of our comrades (and their families) had suffered from alcoholism all along, and there was an urgent need to discover solutions to the problem.
What also became clear was that the organization had had an inarticulated, pre-existing default approach: where heavy drinking was assumed to be an ideological problem (lack of commitment, indiscipline, hedonistic pull toward intoxication etc.) — and where the solution (tried over and over) was to encourage the alcoholic comrades to raise their consciousness, and renew their commitment and defeat alcohol based on such “ideological struggle.”
While that sounds very “red,” it is not that different from how alcoholism is viewed spontaneously in U.S. society, and (in particular) it is not that different from how many conservative religious communities deal with alcoholism (i.e. viewing it mainly as a personal weakness of will, urging people to discard their sin, and deepen their religious commitment to find righteousness).
The main difference was (to put it crudely) our organization handed people the Red Book, while the conservative churches handed people the Bible.
This did not work. It was also not “red” at all — in the sense that it tried to find solutions without a serious and scientific investigation of the problem. It was a case of uninformed prejudices and dogmatic assumptions disguising themselves as science.
Where I was in the RCP, the crew I was part of worked our way toward a very different approach: We decided to study the illness of alcoholism by investigating what medical science and alcohol treatment experts had uncovered — and then try to apply the most advanced medical thinking to our own practice.
And when you investigate alcoholism that way you discover that it is not simply an ideological problem (a choice, a matter of will and indiscipline). Alcohol does have major ideological components. But it also has genetic components, metabolic components, and behavioral components. Among those behavioral components are the socialization that people get within alcoholic families — distorted senses of “what is normal,” engrained habits for dealing with stress, complex structures of interaction with intimates etc.
In particular, we found the work by the progressive researcher Joseph Beasley (“Wrong Diagnosis, Wrong Treatment“) rather helpful (actually, rather mindblowing). And based on this kind of investigation, we started to develop treatment plans for a number of alcoholic communists (that combined many aspects).
These included urging alcoholic communists to study their own illness scientifically (meaning: we didn’t just “raise their consciousness” about the need for revolution and communist discipline, but also raise their consciousness about the objective nature, patterns and progression of their illness!)
It involved using dietary means to undermine the “sugar metabolism” that alcoholics develop (and that helps trigger relapse). It involved investigations into the allergies and malnutrition that alcoholics develop (as the result of “leaky gut syndrome” and the substitution of hard alcohol for nutritious food). And it involved protracted investigation into the personal history, development and consequences of their illness (to understand its personality, familial, and behavior components).
Since communists don’t have state power today (and because we in the very small RCP circles didn’t have the resources to develop our own group therapy structures) we urged people (after medically supervised detox) to regularly attend AA groups (which has important ways of encouraging and sustaining sobriety).
As part of our investigations, we also explored how such problems were treated in socialist China — especially during the cultural revolution. And there is quite a bit worth summing up and sharing about the techniques developed there for dealing with psychological problems (and issues like addiction and alcoholism). Without blanketly endorsing or copying all their methods, let me just add (for the sake of our discussion) that the Chinese Communists did not have any blanket dismissal of psychology (as a science) and did not consider it (in some cartoonish way) as a self-obsessed psychobabble for the over-privileged.
What emerged (when you dug into it) was that socialist China experimented extensively with forms of group therapy (for all kinds of personality disorder, like paranoia, psychotic delusions, and addictions). Without simplifying this, let me quickly say: their methods were close to what is now called cognitive behavioral therapy in modern psychology.
Different lines among communists and anarchists
I put this in the context of line struggle because the approach I’m outlining here was (to put it mildly) controversial — and was often sharply opposed with a very dogmatic and reductionist approach which reduced things to a very sharp dichotomy of matter and thought — and that (as I said above) simply put all kinds of mental and personality issues in the realm of “ideological problems.” And (having labeled things “ideological” without any real science or investigation) it was quickly possible to invent a reductionist set of solutions — which involved ideological study and struggle.
Part of this dogmatic approach also involved a very hostile view of psychotropic drugs — and a one sided “advice” that communists simply refrain from exploring pharmaceutical approaches to illnesses.
This is not just a problem among communists. I have heard of situations where activists within anarchist circles were also urged to stop medication for serious illnesses like bi-polar disorders or schizophrenia. (Others reading this certainly have know much more about how such things were handled among different anarchist groupings — and I look forward to learning about experiences beyond my own anecdotal impression.)
In the case of the RCP, we have discussed how there was almost a blanket dismissal of psychology as a science (in ways consistent in the history of this political trend).
Meanwhile, in the case of illness like alcoholism and bi-polar disorder, the RCP experience was more like a kind of checkerboard — one line would predominate in one part of the organization, and an opposing approach would predominate in another part of the organization, and where there was occasional line struggle where they collided.
Are we even allowed to explore this?
For the purposes of opening a discussion on psychology here on Kasama, my point is that there is a lot to learn by critically assimilating from the actually existing science of human thought and personality development (with all its contradictory trends and controversies).
And there is nothing to be gained by an uninformed, superficial and prejudiced dismissal of such things.
I also want to express a bit of frustration: Often when we open the door to discussions here on Kasama (for example on philosophical explorations of Badiou, or here on how communists should learn from psychology) there sometimes emerges a insistent argument that communists have no right to discuss such things, that these matters should be dispatched quickly according to previously packaged verdicts.
It is as if some communists fear coloring outside established lines. And (more the point) as if they assume their own inherited and idiosyncratic form of communist orthodoxy is some closed and finished system that must not be tampered with.
In fact we should open doors. We have every right (and responsibility!) to re-examine old verdicts. Our tasks require it.
“There are many socialisms possible, and they are not all equally or automatically liberatory.”
“This dogmatic and reductionist approach is not just wrong in these particular cases around alcoholism– but represents an overall approach that will never solve any problems, including all the other problems of making revolution and liberating humanity.”
“Think about the destruction and madness that would reign if such a line came to dominate a serious political movement? On the contrary: we need actively critical thinking, investigation, and an approach of eagerly learning about real contradictions.”
by Mike Ely
There are many things to respond to in our discussion.
But first I want to acknowledge the pain of people suffering from addictions and mental illnesses, and the incredible perseverance of those who have maintained their revolutionary commitment in the face of so much adversity (including mistreatment by some currents within the revolutionary movement).
Redbird has been a personal inspiration to me in the many years of our friendship. Hers is an illness that at times makes it difficult to separate reality from delusion — and yet with a truly relentless determination she has fought (truly fought) to understand the world and serve the people in ways we all could learn from.
Socialism, yes — but with which line in command?
Shitwit wrote his personal testimony — which is an important argument for learning from psychological science even when we have political differences with those doing that work. Then he writes:
“The answer to all addictions is a society free of exploitation.”
And on one level, yes, sure. Who here can disagree with that? On another level, I believe that is too simplistic for two reasons:
First, our movement needs to develop ways to combat addictions short of a new society. We need to solve problems of addiction within our revolutionary ranks, and we need to (as an integral part of the oppressed) help combat addictions broadly among the people in the course of preparing for revolutionary leaps and a new society.
I disagree with Joseph Ball on his calls for prohibiting both alcohol and marijuana — but I agree with him that the overuse of drugs (especially addictive ones) is a terrible burden on the people and we (as communists) need to think through seriously how to help lift that burden (through common efforts and common understandings).
But second: Socialist revolution will not simply or automatically solve problems — unless we actually solve them in specific. Socialism will not automatically emancipate women or end ecological destruction unless our movement for socialism develops specific and determined solutions to the oppression of women and the destruction of the environment.
It is not enough to say we need a new society — because there are sharp line questions about how a post-revolutionary society will lift such burdens. And the wrong lines will not do so. There are many socialisms possible, and they are not all equally or automatically liberatory.
The painful experiences listed above, about life in and around the RCP, underscore this point: that even sincere and dedicated communists can (quite simply) have a wrong understanding, and unintentionally mirror the prejudices and ignorances common to capitalist society.
A line struggle within Maoism, not some built-in dogmatic flaw
I want to repeat my earlier argument (above) that the experience of the RCP was not simply a negative one — but (on these matters and on many matters) was much more of a checkerboard of competing and colliding practices.
The “it is all ideology” line was not the only line among Maoists — there was struggle and disagreement over these things among communists (just like elsewhere in society). And there were countercurrents who were conscious of the medical science of addiction (genetics, self-medicating for underlying conditions, etc.)
It is particularly worth noting that Bob Avakian fought energetically for the view that “Marxism embraces, but does not replace” thinking and scientific advances in many spheres. He argued (over many years) against the dogmatic and reductionist approach that simply dismissed the need to investigate particularities of specific problems. And he argued against the idea that communists “knew” the right way to understand anything simply because they were communists.
“And the statement I want to focus on here is where Mao said (I believe it was in “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art”): Marxism embraces but does not replace theories of physics, theories of aesthetics in art, and so on…. This, like everything else, is a unity of opposites, it contains two contradictory aspects: on the one hand, the aspect of “embraces” and, on the other hand, the aspect of “does not replace.”
This is an argument against viewing Marxism as a closed system. It is an argument for acknowledging that there is a great deal to learn from the investigations of others (often far outside the ranks of any communist movement).
And this is an orientation “of embrace, not replace” that we should include as part of a new communist beginning.
The arrogance of reductionism
In the RCP there was a powerful (and often dominant) dogmatic current — exemplified by the extremely stupid and irresponsible argument made to Redbird that she should simply stop taking medications, cure schizophrenia by raising her ideological consciousness, and view her illness as a kind of bad choice she was making.
“More galling was that this was coming from comrades who’d done no research at all into addictions or mental health issues but would then tell me how to manage my condition – usually with the sort of advice that seems like common sense but is actually totally useless.”
Think about the destruction and madness that would reign if such a line came to dominate a serious political movement?
On the contrary: we need actively critical thinking, investigation, and an approach of eagerly learning about real contradictions.
This dogmatic and reductionist approach (which Redbird, and Mountaingirl, and Andrei, Miles Ahead, and others describe here in such painful detail) is not just wrong in these particular cases — but represents an overall approach that will never solve any problems, including all the other problems of making revolution and liberating humanity. And this is done (as is described here) precisely in the name of the larger goals, of making revolution, of disregarding “the personal”, of self-sacrifice, of raising consciousness. Noble words, in the service of nonsense.
A reductionist approach to reality (and its problems) served an instrumentalist approach to people — urging everyone to think that only their immediate hyperactivity mattered, and that any obstacle to that activity was simply overcome by will.
It is shit, and will never liberate anyone. It is not just criminal toward people who have these specific problems (addiction and mental illnesses) but cropped up in many other places. (It was connected to the view that saw homosexuality as “a personal choice” and “a counterrevolutionary ideological program.”)
And it is not an accident that Avakian argues for “embrace but not replace” by drawing it from Mao Zedong himself — because that reductionism is hostile to the best of Maoism (even while it cropped up stubbornly in Maoist ranks).
In other words, it was possible to argue (from the “heights” of the RCP, by Avakian himself) for “embrace but not replace” and for serious investigation (not mindless dogma and know-it-all ignorance) — and yet have exactly the opposite unleashed within that same organization. Other part of the RCP’s line and practice unleashed and reinforced the dogmatic and voluntarist reductionism, even while it was explicitly being argued against. And Avakian himself was involved in all that — in the reductionist arguments around world war in the 1980s, around homosexuality, in the structure of the party with leaders in life-long-posts (at all levels) assuming godlike wisdom to dispense decisions without accountability.
I am arguing that there was line struggle over these matters in the RCP– and more: there will be ongoing line struggle in any future revolutionary movement over these matters. And I’m arguing we should uphold this important Maoist concept — that communist theory must embrace, but not pretend to replace many spheres of thought, investigation and practice.
“We are excavating here particular clusters of mis-leadership around mental illness. But the problem went far deeper.
“An arrogant and ignorant reductionism constantly came up around a range of other matters where overworked and very self-impressed party leaders would give quick-but-binding verdicts on (marital problems, sexuality, hairbrained schemes for political work or whatever).
“The issue here is whether to have a communist theory that embraces (but does not replace) the insights developed throughout society — or a narrow closed dogma pumped out by an under-informed and unaccountable leadership.
“The issue is also a party structure so compartmentalized (in the name of both security and theory of knowledge) that it serves to prevent accountability and fresh air — so much so that any madness can go on without being exposed or prevented.”
We have been discussing (in part 1 and 2 so far) the rejection of psychology and the biochemistry of mental disorders by some currents within communism, and the subsequent experience of people who were told that their problems (bi-polar disorder, alcoholism, paranoia, schizophrenia, depression) were simply “ideological” problems to be solved by intensified dedication and Marxist study.
by Mike Ely
“It does seem Mike that if the average party member was ill informed of the medical issues that there were no medical workers organized in a committee whose expertize could have made a qualative difference. The knowledge no doubt was there but the will to make use of it floundered.”
I appreciate the chance to clarify what was going on, and I appreciate that Dodge (who never experienced this particular line) has trouble understanding how things worked.
The issue here is not simply (as Dodge understandably assumes) party members being “ill-informed” or “lack of knowledge” or simply having a need for better access to medical workers. The issue here is a political summation that mental illness and addiction can be solved by ideological means — and there is no need for medical workers, or professionals, or pharmaceuticals etc. In addition, Communists often did end up “ill-informed” because they were sometimes discouraged from viewing (or treating) their illnesses scientifically.
Note that Redbird talks about how liberating and helpful it was when one person she knew contradicted this dogmatism, and (semi-secretly, off the grid) urged her to study her illness scientifically:
“Fortunately through all of this I had someone close to me that I could share things with that was very supportive and often told me that these people were full of shit – and he is a Maoist also. He did his best to study and understand mental illnesses and pushed me to stay in treatment and stay on my meds. He also pushed me to learn about my illness and over time I was able to understand that a lot of my personal failings were not that at all. They are not issues of line though I have had to struggle through many issues that were. We all have to do that.”
Line struggle, not mainly a contradiction between ignorance and knowledge
To describe this in Maoist terms (that are worth adopting): This conflict was not mainly “an ignorance-knowledge contradiction,” it was mainly “a struggle between two lines.“
Those lines were (on one hand) a narrow, fundamentalist, reductionist and dogmatic view of communist theory, and (opposing that) a much more scientific view in which communist theory “embraces but does not replace” other forms of knowledge and practice, and where actual medical science is deployed to solve actual medical problems.
Note again that Mountain Girl describes being told as she was discouraged from getting professional help:
“We don’t do that … you don’t need that.”
Further, there was an embedded belief that:
(a) psychology and psychiatry were not legitimate medical sciences and that they were an ideological expression of nonsensical metaphysics and petty bourgeois self-obsessions
(b) that psychoactive pharmaceuticals are (in general) harmful, sinister, and somehow opposed to being conscious. Note: Redbird’s experience of being told that her live-threatening delusions (paranoia, suicidal thoughts and hearing voices etc.) could be solved by just struggling to think clearly, and further that the use of medicines was inherently an obstacle to thinking clearly!
(c) that the problems of mental illness (addiction, alcoholism, bi-polar disorder even schizophrenia) can be solved by study of Marxism (and as described by Andrei, that a suicidal crisis could be solved by listening to tapes of Bob Avakian).
Each of these experiences captures what happened when a particular line (a particular view of Marxism and reality!) was in command. It was not simply ignorance (thought it was obvious criminally ignorant!). But it was an expression of a view of psychology, mental illness and of Marxism — which saw Marxism as replacing (not embracing!) other spheres of knowledge and practice.
Chicanofuturetense seems to express some key elements of this view that I am critiquing:
“Such a lack of focused communist vision,of not having a sense of urgency, of a sense of revolutionary prioritization, is typical of the selfish petty bourgeois — ‘my work,’ ‘my project’-first mentality which thrives and proliferates in bourgeois society. Selfishness is the rule in bourgeois society. This talk about Types:”Cop types” “Aggressive types” “Belligerent types” is in my opinion absurd, derived I suspect mostly from infantile petty bourgeois mentality. Such thinking reveals an almost total lack of understanding of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung ideology:the Laws of Contradiction, aspects, identity, social practice-class struggle. It’s class struggle my friend, not highly subjective Personality or Type struggle. I believe that by the time of achieving revolutionary power through social practice, most judgements on psychological theories will have already been resolved and decided upon through struggle-debate, struggle, criticism, self-criticism, the remainder to be decided upon by the proletariat afterwards.”
In this view, Marxism does not embrace other spheres of inquiry (i.e. respect, incorporate, guide).
On the contrary: Marxism excludes (even denounces) other spheres and assumes there are simply the terrain of the class enemy.
Methods of ideological and class struggle are (in a closed, sufficient and supposedly obvious way) all we need — and the rest (even thinking there are important mental or medical issues in their own right) is mocked as just a mountain of selfish, infantile middle-class nonsense (even “psycho-babble“) that diverts people from an essentially economist vision of “the class struggle.”
Note how in the RCP experiences, some people were told there is no time to seriously give attention to anything but class struggle. As Miles experienced it in the middle of marital abuse and a husband’s life-threatening crisis with alcohol: “Don’t ya know there’s a revolution going on in PERU?!” Or as Andrei experienced it, being ridiculed as a “selfish wimp” for having suicidal depression amid (supposedly) urgent political tasks.
These experiences are linked by a common line.
Wrong ideas can’t be medical, can they? Aren’t they merely ideological choice and will?
“It does seem that… if the average party member was ill informed of the medical issues that there were no medical workers organized in a committee whose expertize could have made a qualative difference.”
But there were in fact organized medical teams inside the RCP. The problem was (again) the unscientific line which often did not consider mental problems and addiction to be medical.
There were party medical teams for other medical problems (at least where I was) — chronic pain problems, intestinal problems, cancer, etc. They were often amateurish and frustrating, but there were also cases where party-associated medical professional brought in (in one case I know about for diabetes related dementia and mini-strokes).
My original post on alcoholism told of how it was unusual when we decided (in one part of the organization) to form such a medical team around alcoholism (i.e. when we decided to apply a medical model to addiction and mental problems, not the prevalent “ideology only” model.)
The arrogance of dogmatic know-nothingism
The issue here is an entrenched line among some American communists that: Psychology is not scientific, but is inherently petty bourgeois non-science, and that their own closed, encapsulated dogmatic form of Marxism was sufficient background to solve (or dismiss) almost any problem without specialized investigation, study and thought.
The study of Marxist “classics” (plus Avakian’s post-classic writings) were believed to prepare levels of local leadership to make verdicts on peoples mental illness and (beyond that) ideological rectification through reading those same works was also believed to be the main cure for mental illness or addiction.
As Simon pointed out, inevitably, what happens is that the uninformed, uninvestigated prejudices of those local leaderships mascaraded itself as “science” and “Marxism.”
“More galling was that this was coming from comrades who’d done no research at all into addictions or mental health issues but would then tell me how to manage my condition – usually with the sort of advice that seems like common sense but is actually totally useless. We would never tell a diabetic to ‘stop being liberal’ or ‘be more disciplined,’ so why is that acceptable when dealing with someone with a mental health issue?”
In other words, they assumed that the “incorrect ideas” of mental illness (a compulsion to drink, mania, depression, even psychotic delusions) were simply ideological, and therefore solved by “getting a deeper grasp of reality” (which in their opinion involved more study of materialist dialectics).
It is and was:
a) reductionist (in that it took one aspect of things and denied other aspects of things).
b) blind to the actual scientific discoveries in the field of psychology and medicine
c) blinded by the use of Marxism as a “closed system” (so that, precisely, it was used to replace and not embrace discoveries in other fields).
d) rooted in the idea that if you choose leaders based on “who best applies our line and ideology” they can (by instinct? by superior Marxist knowledge?) casually make all kinds of verdicts (without investigation), including on sexuality, marital problems, medical and mental problems.
It was (in fact) tied to a tradition of 1930s Marxism, which saw Stalin as a super-genius capable of setting verdicts on all kinds of matters (lingustics, military doctrine, on down to the micro-details of armaments etc.), and that approach then spawned a command structure of mini-Stalins who were assumed to have equivalent authority and insight right down the line.
It was an approach that had Stalin-era party verdicts (for example) trying to reject the developments in the field of genetics (Lysenko), relativity and quantum physics — and justified a very undemocratic and militarized form of party structure with long-serving local leaders creating “water-tight kingdoms” for themselves.
And (for the 60s generation of communists in the RCP) it meant that their view of psychology and pharmaceuticals barely developed beyond the portrayals in “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.“
One of the uninformed prejudices: It was widely believed that psychiatric pharmaceuticals were merely means to warehouse and lobotomize people (the kind of misunderstanding which comes out in Joseph Ball’s uninformed belief that they are all just “major tranquilizers” that are mass distributed based on a criminal misdiagnosis of schizophrenia.)
The organizational connection:Dogma sees no need for openness or debate
Again: What we are discussing here is not mainly just a lack of knowledge — but a particular line about Marxism — i.e. that a rudimentary knowledge of Marxism allowed leading people to make verdicts on all kinds of things without needing investigation or specialized knowledge. And if the world is so simple that a few leading people can know what to do based reading and rereading a few Marxist classics, then what reason is there for open debate, or exchange of experience, or listening to others, or organizational accountability? None. Absolutely none.
I want to expand of Dodges point about one man management:
The RCP never had any ongoing open internal journal where a range of things could be exchanged and discussed.No horizontal exchanges at all (with a few incredibly-brief and heavily-moderated pre-Congress momentary exception).
If you had an experience with bi-polar disorder there was no mechanism where it could become “the property” of the membership (and leadership) as a whole.
If a local area was carrying out a medically insane and irresponsible policy toward schizophrenic or suicidally depressed comrades, there was no place they could discuss that and get feedback (say from a medical professional in another area).
Everything was tightly sectioned off, and any reports about such things went centrally (to that hidden place universally called “the black hole”).
This lack of horizontal communication is part of the problem — because when we (in my area of work) developed a more scientific approach to alcoholism in our part of the organization, there wasn’t even an institutional mechanism by which to make it known, nor was any way (place) to struggle through the stubborn opposing lines and assumptions.
This is an example of how the very structure of the RCP’s security culture and compartmentalization (with a very strictly vertical and militarized “chain of knowledge, chain of command”) allowed very wrong and harmful verdicts to thrive unchallenged (for years).
Reductionist prejudices ruled in many ways
Part of what I’m saying is that we are excavating here particular ways that reductionism and secrecy let to terrible practice. But that same method was not just applied to mental illness!
This also came up around a range of other matters that party leaders would give verdicts on (including political practice itself, treatment of contacts, child rearing, or marital problems, or sexuality, or whatever).
This cropped up when something the internet appeared, and the stubborn conservatism of an aging leadership invented a “scientific” suspicion of this new medium. So, for example, the Revolutionary Worker newspaper was forbidden to have a public email address for ten years (from the mid-1990s to about 2006!
The issue here is whether to have a communist theory that “embraces but does not replace” — or an arrogant, prejudiced, reductionist dogma. And the issue is whether to have a party structure that is so compartmentalized that “security” serves to prevent accountability and fresh air — so that any madness can go on without being exposed or prevented.