The recent news of a Maoist organization in Britain that apparently held members as slaves was just the type of headline that got people's attention, but for those of us who spent years in radical politics, it does not come as a surprise. I spent a short period of time with a NATLFED associated organization, and have spent a lot of time analyzing groups of this ilk since. Arguably, it's one of the core reasons this blog began in the first place. If you haven't read it, Public Eye did an excellent overview of the organization years ago, but this strange Marxist cult can still be found in select college towns across the country.
As for this Maoist group, I have problems describing the escapees as "slaves" based on what I know so far. From my time with a NATLFED associated organization, there was never a time that I saw people physically restrained and forced to stay with the organization (although the Public Eye piece does document some cases which come pretty darn close). Members are abused psychologically: you rarely eat and thus feel worn and tired all the time. They bog you down in pointless tasks and activities that keep your mind from thinking about the point of the operation. They use liberal-guilt to get idealistic young members to submit their time and money to the organization's mission. Yet, the members that remain (and I was out the door in less than three months) often stay with these groups on their own accord. Groups like NATLFED are abusive and terrible, but the "slavery" they create is in the mind of its members. I get the feeling that this Maoist organization was similar.
Here are what others have had to say about this incident and one political organizations developing cultish structures.
- Bob has some great thoughts and a link set of his own.
-Nick Cohen in top form.
- Howie's Corner had an excellent cross post at Harry's Place on the way small Marxist groups seem to take on cultish elements as they degrade.