“Our cadres must show concern for every soldier, and all people in the revolutionary ranks must care for each other, must love and help each other.”
– Mao Zedong, “Serve the People”
In an attempt to determine a starting point from which real revolutionary organizing could take place at UT Austin, we spent our first months as an organization investigating and analyzing many of the problems that students faced on our campus. After a number of interactions with fellow students, it became apparent to us that the university’s existing healthcare structures were failing to meet the mental health needs of our fellow students. The personal experiences of a number of our members further affirmed this fact.
As a revolutionary organization, RSF holds that our role is not to simply make demands from the University, an institution that we know cares only about profits and not its students. Rather, we must build alternative institutions that are run by and for students themselves.
As such, we are officially announcing the launch of our Revolutionary Mental Health Program. The RMHP’s aims are to lend emotional and social support to its participants and to offer a political understanding of mental health and its relationship to capitalism. Because the program is still in an embryonic stage, we are calling for the help of those with experience in the mental health industry to assist in its growth and development. In addition to describing the program itself and the process by which we deemed it necessary, this document outlines a preliminary theoretical understanding of the relationships between capitalism, alienation, and illness. These relationships are too complex to describe in a document as brief as this one, as they are also mediated by structures like heteropatriarchy and white supremacy. We hope to explore these more complicated interactions in depth in future documents.
The RMHP program
Though we are not ourselves licensed psychiatrists or therapists, we understand that capitalism has not, does not, and will never create whole and healthy people. Thus, lending social and emotional support to our comrades and to our fellow students is a central aspect of a successful fight against mental illness and against capitalism.
The RMHP hopes to provide a group environment in which participants feel validated, safe, and supported within a community of people that understands or is committed to understanding the problems that they face in their everyday lives. By providing participants with a consistent and supportive community of comrades who care deeply about one another, we hope to combat the alienation that we students face as a result of being at a university as enormous as UT.
Additionally, we aim to further the political understanding of the our fellow students by tackling the question of why there exists so little emotional connection in a society full of so much wealth. Exploring this question will necessary lead us to the conclusion that we must organize, and organize along explicitly anti-capitalist lines, to bring an end to this system.
Overall, RSF’s Revolutionary Mental Health Program hopes to serve as a base of student power that can address the immediate social and emotional needs of our fellow needs and offer a revolutionary understanding of society. In so doing, we hope to help create healthier individuals and stronger organizers who can continue to build bases of student power in other aspects of student life.
That said, this program is still in its very beginning stages, limited to small trial groups that we are administering and participating in with the aim of arriving at a better grasp of how to undertake this endeavor. We are currently working with several graduate students with experience in social work, therapy, and psychology, who are guiding our group sessions and ensuring that they work smoothly. However, while an overwhelming amount of people have expressed interest in participating and leading the program, we currently lack the resources with which to accommodate such a large demand.
This being the case, we are calling for all who know how to facilitate or are interested in learning to facilitate group therapy sessions to reach out to us in order to develop the program such that we’re able to serve an increasingly large section of our student body. Our Revolutionary Mental Health Program has a lot of room to grow, but we hope that it forms one of the many bases of student power necessary to make the University of Texas into a people’s university.
The mass line and conditions of UT
At the heart of the way that the Revolutionary Student Front works is a method of organizing called the “mass line,” which may be summed up by the slogan of “from the people, to the people.” The mass line guides what kind of work a revolutionary group carries out and how they do it. It states that revolutionary organizers must develop solutions to the social problems that oppressed communities themselves express concerns about, and base these solutions on the ideas that these communities themselves devise. The mass line protects against missionary forms of organizing, in which organizers impose solutions to the problems that they subjectively deem most pressing.
However, because we are revolutionaries and our goal is to win people over to a revolutionary perspective, we must go beyond simple charity work. In addition to meeting people’s needs, our methods of addressing these social problems must do so in a way that offers a more clear political understanding of these needs and why they remain unmet within this system. Creating a program or campaign that can achieve both of these goals is necessary for advancing revolution, for working this way ensures that we are making revolutionary theory relevant to people’s everyday lives. Revolutionary organizers aim to develop programs that the community that they serve may take up as its own. If the proposed program fails to gain traction, organizers must go back to the drawing board and discard any unnecessary aspects as needed. Should the program truly meet the needs of the people and succeed, it will form a new basis of community power and autonomy, functioning as a spark for the development of other types of grassroots institutions.
Keeping the method of the mass line at the forefront of our practice, we began conducting our social investigation in the fall of 2016. We tabled, held town halls and conducted regular meetings in order to talk to fellow students about the problems that they faced in their daily lives. We saw many recurring themes in our conversations with fellow students, including the issues of tuition increases, the increasing cost of student housing, lack of transportation services for commuting students, and finally, a notable lack in the quality, availability, and depth of UT’s mental health and counseling services. Many of the folks that we spoke to said that they had experienced absurdly long wait times, dismissive therapists and counselors, and services that, at best, worked to solve problems only superficially. Furthermore, for students whose conditions necessitated extensive time in counseling, the cost of mental health care — beyond the handful of free sessions that the CMHC offers students — prevented them from continuing their treatment.
According the Center for Disease Control, in 2014, suicide was the second leading cause of death among people in the 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34 age groups. Lack of public resources, social stability, and funding drives thousands of youths to suicide each year, and afflicts millions more. According to UT’s Center for Mental Health and Counseling, 18 percent of undergraduate students have seriously considered suicide during their time at college, and 8 percent of undergraduate students have attempted suicide. The fact that nearly one in every ten students at UT has attempted suicide speaks volumes about the dismal state of our mental health resources here on campus. The rising rate of people of all age groups suffering from mental illnesses also sheds light on an uncomfortable truth about life under capitalism. In order to build a world free from mental illness and social isolation, we must understand how capitalism produces these disconcerting ways of life.
Capitalism, alienation, and illness
As humans, we are social beings that live in a social world that is produced by our labor in relationships with other people. It follows that the nature of these relationships are conditioned by a dominant social structure and the social relations that this structure necessitates. In order to understand the conditions from which mental illness arises, we must examine the way that capitalism as a political, economic, and social system structures our interactions with one another. To do so, we must take a look into the way that we create the goods that fulfill human needs in a capitalist system.
Capitalist society is divided into two primary classes: the worker, who has nothing to sell but their ability to work, and the capitalist, who owns the tools or instruments necessary for the production of a good. While the worker relies on their ability to work for survival, the capitalist depends on the worker’s labor for the production of goods, the profit of which allows the capitalist to expand their enterprise. The market, which requires competition between capitalists, forces individual capitalists to engage in a constant process of expansion and accumulation.
Despite the fact that the worker performs the labor necessary to produce goods, the capitalist’s ownership over the instruments necessary to make those goods allows the capitalist to claim legal ownership over them at the end of the production process. The worker is then given a wage in exchange for their labor. This wage, however, is not representative of the value of the product that the worker creates with their labor; rather, it is constricted such that it covers only the monetary value necessary for workers to keep coming back to work. That is, the capitalist pays the worker only enough money to cover food, housing, a limited amount of education, etc. This is how the capitalist makes a profit.
As such, while the relationship between the worker and the capitalist appears on the surface as a voluntary exchange, the relationship between capitalists and workers is fundamentally exploitative. The worker is forced to participate as a merely mechanical cog in a production process that is not of their choosing, in order to produce a commodity that they don’t own, for profit that they do not have access to. The entire process of production takes the appearance of decisions made by a force entirely foreign and alien to the workers, disconnecting them from their own essence as creative and free human beings. Additionally, since workers are not producing for the real needs of other human beings, but for the need of the capitalist to accumulate profits, they are alienated from realizing themselves as part of a complex, cooperative social system where their work provides for others and the work of others provide for them.This set of conditions is what Marx calls alienation.
The relationships between capitalist and worker, and between worker the production process, lead to a generalized condition in which workers produce only to survive, and survive only to produce. These relationships, which we are forced to participate in in order to survive, structures our relationships with other people, be it with the capitalist that forces us into this relationship, or with our fellow workers, with whom we must compete with in our struggle for survival. Capitalism, then, necessitates a culture of hyper-individualism and an atomistic relationship to the world around us. Its requirement for the profit that we create negates our needs for a whole and healthy life, for meaningful and productive relationships with the people around us.
It’s no wonder, then, that our society is rife with depression, anxiety, and various other mental health disorders.
Mental illness, deprivation, and categorization
In addition to this basis of alienation, capitalism leaves workers with the bare minimum, if even that, to survive on. Marx notes in “Wage Labor and Capital” that “the price paid for labor is equal to the amount of labor needed to (1) keep the laborer alive, (2) train the laborer, and (3) create new laborers, that is, support the worker’s family so more workers can be created.” Nothing more. So contrary to what people will say, capitalism is not a meritocracy where people are paid according to their contribution, but are paid only enough to keep themselves barely alive and functioning. But as we know, capitalism is often unable to provide us with a “livable wage”, leaving nearly 20 million people to die from hunger and preventable illness every year. For those who do manage to survive, life is a constant economic conflict. The meager wages that we are forced accept in exchange for our labor is rarely enough to pay for housing, to pay for the enormous cost of healthcare, and to keep up with student loan payments. Simply living our day-to-day lives is a heavy economic burden that our wages are only seldom able to pay for.
Consequently, working-class students and working-class people live in a constant state of economic precarity, often fueling feelings of hopelessness and despair. In addition to these conditions, the narrative of the “American dream” fuels the idea of a non-existent “meritocracy” — that if you work hard enough, you can become rich beyond your wildest dreams. As a result, those that struggle to make ends meet on a regular basis are encouraged to think of themselves as failures and of their problems as a result of their own faults. This ideology prompts working-class people to look inwardly for a cause of their suffering, instead of looking outwardly at the society that not only allows for their misery, but depends on it.
The only cure for abjection in a capitalist system is to sell one’s labor to whomever will buy it. Capitalism has never, does not, and will never view the workers upon which it depends as anything but sources of potential profit.
Furthermore, the degree to which society categorizes, stigmatizes, and deems mental health disorders “illnesses” to begin with depends on the degree to which the individuals who live with these disorders are capable of generating profit. The more a given mental health disorder prevents a person from engaging in production for profit, the more seriously the disorder is stigmatized and treated as a serious affliction. For example, Narcissistic Personality Disorder — a serious condition that often causes serious harm to those afflicted with it and their loved ones — runs rampant among corporate CEOs, who habitually disregard the needs of their workers in the name of personal gain and profit. In fact, it has been proven that corporate CEOs with narcissistic personalities actually make higher profits than their non-narcissistic counterparts. As a result, despite the detrimental effects that NPD wreaks upon one’s interpersonal relationships, its ability to encourage competitive and profitable activity renders it a disorder unworthy of research funding. Finding a solution to NPD is deemed unimportant and not a priority.
By contrast, because depression often leads to high employee turnover and poor performance in the workplace, depression is stigmatized as a condition that requires an immediate solution. Hence physicians’ willingness to prescribe pharmaceuticals for the sake of resolving these issues as soon as possible, providing a superficial and individualized solution to a problem that is structured and determined by society writ large. If a disorder renders workers unable to make it to the workplace to make profit for the capitalists that buy and depend on their labor, its treatment is considered an immediate priority.
Capitalism forces workers into conditions that render mental illness almost inevitable ,while also creating the paradigm through which mental illnesses are perceived, treated, and accepted as illnesses at all.
We do not, of course, attribute every form of mental illness to capitalism or to capitalist socialist relations. While several forms of mental illness stem from actual physiological imbalances, the capitalist social relations that structure our lives force those who deal with such imbalances into impossible conditions. In addition to the alienation, the depravity, and the stigma that capitalism wreaks upon the lives of those with genuine physiological imbalances, those who suffer from such disorders must also deal with an economic system that refuses to offer them treatment unless they are capable of paying enormous medical fees. If a pill can’t fix it, then only outrageous amounts of money will.
Breaking the chains and turning illness into a weapon
Of course, it’s not enough to accept these conditions as a matter of fact. It’s not enough to come to the conclusion that capitalism creates emotional and social deprivation. It is the responsibility of those that are oppressed by this system and understand its conditions to use revolutionary theory and to engage in revolutionary organizing in order to change these conditions. In order to destroy this deceased system, those who realize that another world is possible and necessary must act to make that world a reality.
This situation, however, presents its own particular contradiction: How can organizers go out create institutions of people power if they themselves are downtrodden by these alienating and oppressive conditions? In order to solve this contradiction as part of the broader political struggle against capitalism, it’s necessary to fight against the oppressive conditions of mental health under capitalism. We can only build a world without social alienation by propagating revolution, and we cannot propagate revolution without actively overcoming the oppressive mental health conditions that we are faced with.
Our use of the mass line and our understanding of mental health struggles under capitalism lead us to the conclusion that we must form our own solution to this problem. Though we clearly think that UT’s Center for Mental Health Services ought to have more counselors, more therapists, shorter wait times, and a wider range of programs at its disposal, we also know that we cannot depend on these structures of power to meet our needs. As part of the capitalist system, UT’s administration will always place the prospect of profit before the needs of its students and its workers no matter how much we petition or plead.
While we hope to pressure the University to provide more resources for students struggling with their mental health, the primary aspect of the RMHP lies in building an institution that works on a basis that is fundamentally different from that of the University – on that of the needs of people and not of profit. RSF is looking forward to what the RMHP can bring for our fellow students and for the revolutionary movement at UT, and hopes that, with the participation of our fellow students, we may advance our understanding of how to create a better campus and a better world.
Build the RMHP, build student power, build revolution!
Revolutionary Student Front – Austin