Editorial: Open Letter to the Incendiary Editorial Board, its Readers, Writers, Contributors, and Distribution Networks

By Former editors and writers of Incendiary News Service

Maoist criticism is essential to development, and at some point it becomes necessary to place this criticism before the people when those for whom it is intended will not listen—the Incendiary Editorial Board is deaf to criticism, and private criticism has already been issued patiently for a year by those involved with this project. We do not intend to devote the focus of Tribune of the People to exchange with our former project, instead we hope to make our disagreements clear in the practice of our reporting. This statement is intended as an introductory demarcation.

In the words of Ulrike Meinhof, a remarkably talented journalist and a less qualified guerrilla: “it is pointless to explain the right things to the wrong people. We have done enough of that.” The Incendiary Editorial Board has issued self-criticism, but has been unable to apply it. And most importantly their paper has overall developed the character of populism and right opportunism.

Making the decision to transform private criticism to public criticism did not come easy, we consider them comrades, and we support the exact same movement and deeply care for the same struggles. To be blunt, they are unfit tribunes of the people, and fall tragically short of what Lenin demanded of red newspapers, that they become the “central organ” of the entire movement. Incendiary News Service has failed in its task, and it should be criticized and replaced. Any red journalists within it should resign by sending this article to the Editorial Board and they should seek new homes with this project. Incendiary fears the facts and they fear the truth, whether they care to admit it or not. They do not maintain quality control and take no organizational efforts to train qualified propagandists.

In January of this year, Ed Dalton, a co-founder of Incendiary News resigned from the paper due to the editorial board taking liberties that reversed his political line in an opinion editorial. In response, Incendiary issued a seemingly sincere self-criticism and stated an intention to change this by embracing two-line struggles, which they have not managed to actually do. For them, two-line struggle means they are free to publish incorrect lines, and free to read emails criticizing these lines, but public struggle over disagreements is forbidden. They maintain a practice of erasing public criticism, and this is due to nothing but insecurity among them, even bourgeois journalists are less squeamish.

While negating line struggle is the biggest issue, and not limited to the experiences of Dalton, one of their own, the issue degenerates from there into outright false reporting. It is too much to expect that they embrace both the truth and timeliness. Articles are often released late, with numerous inaccuracies and falsehoods.

The paper suffers from what Chairman Mao calls the three ill winds; those are the errors of subjectivism, sectarianism, and stereotyped party writing. They have rebuffed countless criticisms of these errors, and in a few cases these would-be criticisms were in fact opportunist attacks, this habit was developed from having to defend their good content from said opportunist attacks. Eventually however, they began to see no truth at all when genuine comrades placed genuine criticism. In a few cases, the board was pressured to issue retractions and self-criticisms, however these proved to be performative and not transformative, resulting in a paper with a right-populist characteristic, which is overly reliant on bourgeois analysis with communist rhetoric.

One of the most glaring examples is a lack of fact checking, and of course posturing attempts to promote simple actions as great revolutionary feats. Incendiary has relied on unreliable writers, without regard to the importance of quality propagandists, and they have justified this with a dogma they repeat to themselves, that they are “learning by doing,” the issue with their logic is this: they have not properly learned yet they keep on doing. Those of us who are no longer willing to refuse to apply what we have learned to our work have decided to be done with the project, and we encourage our comrades still within it to do the same.

The purpose of Tribune of the People, beyond providing a better news service, with a smaller capacity at first, is to struggle tirelessly to correct the ideas of the mistaken right populists including those who control Incendiary.

Some points of contention:

A struggle was carried out to correct views on the US imperialist intervention in Venezuela which treated the government of that country as the principle enemy to expose and combat, and US imperialism was only mentioned a few times. The fact that such an article could be reviewed by the editorial board and still make it to the public is highly concerning. While it was corrected with an editorial, the original article should not have been published. 

The initial report from the confrontation with the Democratic Socialists of America in Kansas City (KANSAS CITY: Anti-Revisionist Confrontation of DSA Event Ends in Bloodshed) deliberately misrepresented the disruption to inflate the action, which demanded a public recanting. There was a frantic attempt to get the article released to spin the narrative emerging from revisionists, without a regard for soberly assessing the amateurishness of the action itself, or the paper’s responsibility to cover it with accuracy. This all resulted in a lack of basic investigation and basic fact checking.

The coverage of the death of Kevin Rosano (CHARLOTTE: Gathering Held in Memory of Comrade Mike) was also self-inflated and preposterous; it allowed legitimate mourning to falsely justify blowing the situation out of proportion, proclaiming that the deceased comrade was one of “the best fighters” in the “revolutionary struggle.” Routinely, the paper would report minor actions as if they were great revolutionary triumphs, and restate the same analysis as the bourgeois news, with added rhetoric and a disclaimer about reconstituting the Communist Party. It can all be quite tedious to read. Regarding the tragic loss of Kevin Rosano as losing one of the “best fighters” is an embellishment to say the least, and the article was full of grandiose stereotyped party writing.

Yet another glaring example is how many of the articles are received by the masses concerned, with dismissal or mocking, and how this is not taken seriously enough by the Board to warrant correction. The response from workers themselves regarding the article PITTSBURGH: Workers’ Struggle Begins at Steel Foundry, Supervisor Targeted, was that the story was factually inaccurate regarding their grievances and that the activists who targeted the manager did not go far enough. Still, Incendiary will ape up such actions with limited self-awareness. They do not actively seek to apply what the people are telling them and remain unaware in some cases. By viewing criticism as a reluctant obligation, they treat propaganda as nothing but an effort to embellish the activity or relevance of actions carried out by those the paper supports. Real support includes responsible and honest coverage; such uncritical reports only encourage replication of mistakes. This reflects a small group mentality that the entire revolutionary movement without exception has the duty to overcome.

Incendiary has not maintained a correct line on what is and is not news, the article LOS ANGELES: DSA-Backed Candidate Hosts Event at Boycotted Gentrifier Café, is an example of this error. The article promotes a line against the Democratic Socialists of America for holding an event at Weird Wave Coffee in Boyle Heights. They state that, “Protests and pickets are not the only form of community resistance that Weird Waves has faced.” Yet they are so one-sided that they fail to highlight the fact that Defend Boyle Heights (DBH) made no attempts to enforce their “boycott” with any protest or picket, making the whole thing a matter of performative observance and not actual struggle. A more accurate headline would be: DBH fails to enforce their pickets. If this story was newsworthy to begin with, which it was not. Such one-sidedness is justified by the perceived need to expose the DSA, which would have been done with a picket and instead of an article amounting to complaining that an imaginary boycott was not respected.

In many cases, criticism is taken or appeared to be accepted on the basis of who makes it, not on the basis of its content. This type of thing encourages the worst errors of the paper and sets a horrible example for the new contributors and distributors which the paper recruits. Its editorial process does not include dividing an issue into two, examining both sides and promoting the revolutionary position, it instead relies on revolutionary sounding disclaimers and rightist positions. One instance we can look to is the Proletarian History article titled The Seattle General Strike, in which the comrades default to economism when determining the strike’s failure on the basis of it not gaining the economic demands that it put forward. Success and failure are not based on this or that reform, but on the proletariat’s ability to advance the struggle and the lessons learned in the struggle. Eager to denounce anarchists, the comrades lapse into narrow economism, which is not a remedy for the nostalgia of some anarchists.

Following this trend, it is important to recall that Incendiary issued a Proletarian History article commemorating the Great October Socialist Revolution that was so bad that they could not let it remain on their site, in this article they went so far as to call General Kornilov a “fascist” even though fascism had not yet come into existence proper. This is not splitting hairs; there is a serious problem with seeking to sound more interesting by labeling anything reactionary as fascist, without regard to the actual historical emergence of fascism after the October Revolution, let alone any coherent definition of it. This trait is common enough, but it is unacceptable for revolutionaries committed to providing their readers with sound analysis. A proletarian history article must at the minimum be historically accurate.

The original version of the Proletarian History of the Greensborough Massacre utilized subjectivism, using the martyrdom of those slain as an excuse to avoid their political line, by referring to the slain as both Communists and revolutionaries without observing the fact that the Communist Workers Party were supporters of the arch-revisionist Deng Xiaoping. This was conveniently left out by both the writer and the editors until struggle was brought forward, at which point they ultimately edited the article. With most issues of this nature, unless held accountable with struggle, being leftists or holding the red line is not important to the Incendiary editors. At least not important enough to have a lasting effect on their editorial process.

The most recent instance and the tipping point for those involved with this project is the pandering to the bourgeois narrative regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in their editorial World Economy Heads Towards Recession as Coronavirus Declared Pandemic, a headline that is itself conciliatory by the fact that it does not expose right away the true role of the virus as a scapegoat to conceal the already-present economic crisis. When they get to this topic several paragraphs in, they do not do it any justice. Before even getting into the issue of the imperialists using COVID-19 as a distraction, the Editorial Board quote a bourgeois source on increasing death tolls, setting the tone of fear of the virus and not resistance to imperialism. The only acceptable headline for such an article would expose the machinations of imperialism and at the same time, inoculate people against them. Instead, the authors seek to use fear and insecurity as motivators, exactly like the ruling class does. This viewpoint is both lazy and irresponsible.

Instead of stating the truth, that it was not out of concern for the people, but in the interests of the ruling class to declare COVID-19 a pandemic, the comrades just bandy about the foolish and postmodernist notion that the pandemic has been “weaponized,” this vagary is almost meaningless. Incendiary literally placed the need for revolutionary activity at the bottom of their infographic, behind handwashing, and basic sanitary hygiene, effectively tokenizing revolution behind these common sense bourgeois instructions that are no different than those issued during the regular flu season, with no meaningful plan of action for revolutionaries struggling to organize the people in such harsh depression conditions. The mobilization of the masses is more important than ever in our lifetime, yet it does not rank a mention from the Incendiary Editorial Board. The fact remains, and will be elaborated elsewhere, that imperialism has not simply used the outbreak as an excuse, they have declared a pandemic because it is in their interests to do so.

Info graphic prescribing populist platitudes with vague “revolutionary” content added to save face

Incendiary fails to be upfront with the fact that even bourgeois economists have long predicted the economic crisis that the world has entered, and they ignore the latitude provided by the state with all emergency decrees. Their squeamishness is evident in their apprehension to call things as they are, instead of speaking openly about the depression, the Editorial Board still clings to the imperialist terminology of “recession” which is nothing short of a downplaying of the severity of the crisis. This all disarms the people and allows the maneuvers of imperialism to go undetected. In spite of these issues being brought to the attention of Incendiary in advance, and the fact that revolutionaries the world over have already produced valuable analysis days before the sluggish and conciliatory Incendiary article was produced, the Board still found it appropriate to prioritize repetition of bourgeois analysis with added revolutionary jargon.

Revolutionaries and especially centralized revolutionary news organs must be vigilant at exposing the machinations of the state and multi-state imperialist groupings. They must be fearless and understand that no “pandemic” is as deadly as imperialism. If Maoists are correct to insist that imperialism itself is a paper tiger, then these views must also extend to COVID-19. The reader deserves better analysis and improved synthesis, the nascent revolutionary struggle in the US deserves a better voice.

We aim to become this voice with patience, attentiveness, and initiative instead of sluggish perfunctory motions, with modesty instead of posturing, with a viewpoint from examining contradictions instead of mechanical inference, and most importantly with courage and honesty. Tribune of the People includes some of those who have made the above detailed errors, and so we take collective accountability while giving assurance that these errors will not be allowed to continue.

We understand that we start with a fraction of the networks and resources possessed by our old newspaper, armed only with a passion for the revolutionary struggle and the understanding that the truth is always more revolutionary than any distortion. What we lack in terms of reach will be overcome by our class position, relying on the masses and using the mass line. We understand that this will take work and time, and so we humbly proceed. We ask for support and contribution, whether it be financial, editorial, or literary, with physical distribution or just sharing our online articles far and wide.

Let the struggles commence!

  • Tribune of the People

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