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“Challengers” releases in theaters on April 26.
Review: “Challengers”
Published April 13, 2024

Opinion: Are you a communist? Then fork over $65!

I spent two weeks trying to understand leftist infighting and I emerged none the wiser.
Image by Ava Weinreis
Infighting among campus Communist groups have reached a fever pitch.

I didn’t think much of it when posters of Karl Marx’s face were plastered across Dinkytown this summer.

Then, they started to spread.

No lamp post from the East Bank to the West was unscathed, the signs all but wallpapered the Washington Avenue bridge. I couldn’t escape their beady-eyed symphony, all begging the same question: are you a communist?

I was even less surprised when they were systematically defaced. Overt communist recruitment campaigns are not historically considered popular messaging. I passed it off as material evidence of typical political polarization until I looked closer at the graffiti, another leftist was responsible.

Image by Kelly Rogers

Just as quickly as they would crop up, accusations of racism, homophobia and allegations of sexual assault scrawled on the posters would follow. One sign read, “The IMT blames victims and supports rapists!” These were hardly benign complaints.

The group behind the Marx posters is called the International Marxist Tendency (IMT). As their name suggests, they are active across the globe. The exact same posters have been documented on college campuses in Ireland, France, Germany and Greece, to name a few. 

I contacted every known student-led leftist group, including the IMT, hoping to learn more about the state of leftism on campus and gain insight into the credibility of the claims made in the poster wars. Only two of them were willing to go on the record.

“We are simply the student group of a larger organization known as Socialist Revolution, which is the United States section of the International Marxist Tendency,” said Cal Zeman, a senior member of Students for Socialist Revolution (SRS). SRS is a part of the Minneapolis chapter of the IMT.

The word “simply” is generous. Zeman estimates the total membership to be about 4,000 people across 40 countries.

“We are working to, you know, fight capitalism, like we think capitalism needs to be overthrown on an international basis,” Zeman said.

Exactly how they plan to accomplish that is still up in the air. Postering sessions, meetings, tabling, reading groups and other student events are the main focus of their efforts here at home. The larger organization boasts a robust selection of printed materials that range from books to newspapers and magazines they sell to pay for office space and other overhead costs. Analyzing theory seems to be at the heart of their model. 

The IMT hosts a Marxist School every year and entry fees range from $20 for students to $60+ if you find yourself in the “solidarity” bracket. It’s meant to serve as a primer on the values and stances of the organization. The advertisement discloses financial support is available to those who are unable to pay the entry fee. The two-day event takes place in cities across the country and includes three meals. The Minneapolis event took place during the last weekend of September. 

These fees are a recurring theme. To be considered a member, you pay dues. The options on their website range from $25 to $500 a month. All of the merchandise and reading materials are also sold to raise money for the organization. How that money is distributed is unclear. 

When asked about the posters, or rather the opposition to theirs, Zeman cited “reactionary University students,” who were “not [the IMT’s] biggest fans.” They rightfully did not disclose who was leading the opposition to their presence on and around campus, so my search continued.

A QR code on one of the retaliatory signs linked to a document detailing allegations against the IMT. It was signed by Miles Chiernov — a person who does not exist.

Image by Kelly Rogers

The last organization on my list, Twin Cities Revolutionaries, was my only hope. When they denied involvement in the campaign against IMT, I thought my story was toast. Hours later, I received an email with the subject line “Miles Chiernov.” 

I knew I’d hit the jackpot.

“I don’t really feel like we have anything to hide,” Zack Müllerleile said, undergraduate neuroscience student, former IMT member and the person behind the Miles Chiernov pseudonym. “We just wanted to formulate … very straightforward information about things that we thought we should point out to other progressives.”

He was joined by Alex Rodriquez for our interview, a fellow defector-turned-organizer with the John Brown Revolutionary Society (JBRS). Rodriquez joined the IMT online from his rural hometown in Kansas in 2021. He moved to Minneapolis from Kansas last October after attending the Marxist school. 

Müllerleile was recruited on the University of Minnesota campus in 2022. He, like many college students, was searching for a community. Throughout their time in the organization, the two guessed they had contributed well over $2,000.

“Allegedly, it’s going toward building an office in Britain,” Rodriquez said. “That’s what they’ve been saying for years.”

“The honeymoon stage … lasted about six months,” Müllerleile said. The two began communicating their differences of opinion and noticed a change in the way they were treated by other members of the organization. “We tried to stay in the organization up until we were removed for basically not being the rank-and-files.” 

The pile of disagreements continued to grow. IMT leadership wanted to distance themselves from the label of “feminist” and often criticized vulnerable groups like sex workers, people who used drugs and transgender people, Rodriquez said. 

“Whenever we tried to bring these up with other members, especially leadership, we were basically patronized and told … we didn’t know what we were talking about,” Rodriquez said. 

They decided to leave after they expressed concern about allegations of sexual assault from a chapter in Canada and were met with aggression, Müllerleile said. The IMT denied these allegations, pointing to a public statement published by the group in response to the alleged incident.

I try to hold onto a healthy dose of skepticism when navigating these conversations, knowing people are complicated and egos are often involved in political groups. But the more I’ve looked into the IMT, the more I saw similar patterns of the same behaviors that turned Rodriquez and Müllerleile away.

An email from five members of the British section outlined their departure from the organization following experiences with sexual misconduct. Another student from Warwick University in England wrote an op-ed titled “Inside university Marxist societies: One student’s escape from a campus cult.” More evidence of their contradictory nature can be found in many corners of the internet. 

“They’re trying to appear more active and revolutionary to … naive audiences of college leftists,” Müllerleile said. 

Since leaving the IMT, both Müllerleile and Rodriquez have joined the JBRS.

“It’s not sectarian to say that sexual assault is wrong,” Rodriquez said. 

Quite frankly, he’s correct. The poster wars may seem futile, but they reveal a much larger wake-up call for aspiring radicals on campus. If you want to be taken seriously, ditch the dogmatic obsession with Soviet-era slang and stop giving your money to this bottomless pit. There are plenty of ways to care for your neighbors that do not include a multi-level marketing scheme cloaked behind a hammer and sickle. 

The IMT is an embarrassment to leftism and should not be allowed to operate on campus. It is dangerous and deeply unserious at a time when the need for a functioning workers’ party is more critical than ever.

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