Webster University senior Jesse Smith considers himself a Marxist, Leninist and Maoist. He tried to start a progressive club on campus last semester. When that did not work out, he decided to join The Progressive Student Organization of St. Louis (PSO-STL).
PSO-STL was founded in January 2016 as an organization uniting revolutionary and progressive-minded students throughout the St. Louis area.
The organization’s website says PSO-STL is politically united based on its points of unity, works for the attainment of its platform, and operates according to its constitution.
Smith said his interest in progressive ideas started with studying Marxism and Marxist philosophy.
Some of Smith’s classes at Webster briefly touched on Marx, but he decided to study more in-depth on his own.
“I read in the library, I read online, I just studied a lot myself,” Smith said. “The fact that [Marxism] is a revolutionary weapon ideologically is the biggest thing that drew me to it.”
Smith said he had an interest in Marxism, but it was not until one or two years ago when he became more radicalized politically.
“From there, it grew into more,” Smith said. “I had a couple other radical friends. I became connected with them and some others. What I try to emphasize is putting into practice; really doing something about it and trying to unite progressive students.”
Chairman of PSO-STL Christopher Winston, who is a student at St. Louis University, also considers himself a Marxist, Leninist and Maoist. He said the idea to start PSO-STL began with him and his friends.
“A few friends of mine and myself noticed a lack of a St. Louis organization with the intent of uniting revolutionary-minded students in our city,” Winston said. “The purpose of [PSO-STL] existing is to fill that gap. Our purpose is to be a revolutionary, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-misogynist, anti-xenophobic mass organization.”
Although he said he always leaned left politically, it was not until the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson that Winston began what he calls his “radicalization process.”
“I was leaning toward the left for quite a while now,” Winston said. “[Ferguson] was my tipping point, though. And now here I am.”
Both Smith and Winston identify as Marxist, Leninist and Maoist.
Marxism was developed by Karl Marx’s followers to form the basis of communism. Leninism is defined as Marxism interpreted and applied by Soviet premiere Vladimir Lenin. Maoism is based on the communist doctrines of Mao Zedorg as formerly practiced in China.
PSO-STL’s platform includes nine points, all of which address issues among St. Louis schools.
Winston said anytime the platform mentions St. Louis schools, “we mean any educational institution in St. Louis: public, private, city, county, high school, college, community college, all of them.”
Winston said PSO-STL’s program directly addresses the “need of the revolutionary youth.”
“Our purpose is to get out there and work in the community and on campuses and carry our program and to serve the people,” Winston said.
PSO-STL has about seven members, but is looking to gain more.
Smith said organization and unity is very important for putting ideas into practice.
“The studying is essential, but practice is equally as essential as theory,” Smith said. “The theory is there for the purpose of putting it into practice.”
With controversy surrounding the presidential race, PSO-STL posted an article titled “Bernie Sanders Cannot Liberate Us” on its website. Winston said the organization holds the position that true change can only come from the masses of people.
“We believe that the masses of people are the motive force in the making of history,” Winston said. “The type of change that we need and the type of change we want to see isn’t going to come from one political candidate.”
Although Winston said Sanders cannot bring about revolutionary change himself, Winston said he would like to see Sanders become president.
“Now, is Bernie Sanders the most aggressive candidate in the race? Would I like to see him as president above people like Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz? Most definitely,” Winston said. “But you have to keep these things in the front of your mind that change cannot come from the president. You can have reforms that come from them, but radical change and revolutionary change only comes from the masses of people.”
Holding a progressive view is not always easy, Smith said. He said although it can be difficult going into political debates quickly with others, it is necessary for progress.
“It’s something where it’s always going to be a little bit hard to deal with,” Smith said. “It can lead to isolation. I wouldn’t say people react negatively, but they don’t necessarily act positively either. The reactions are usually just a little bit surprised or unconcerned.”
To learn more about PSO-STL, visit www.progressivestl.wordpress.com.