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Sunday, April 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

Revolutionary Marxist Students aren’t revolting yet

Guillian Paguila / Thresher

By Noah Berz     2/20/24 9:56pm

All five students I approached outside Brochstein Pavilion last Saturday had the same answer to my question. Had they heard of the Rice Revolutionary Marxist Students? Nope, not really.

With only three regularly attending members, Rice RMS occupies an unassuming presence on campus that only a handful of students are aware of. 

The club was founded by its current president Zachary Katz, who said his interest in Marxism was sparked by Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. 

“I was wondering why someone [like Sanders], who has general policies that are good for people, like healthcare and less tuition for colleges … [would] not be successful in his presidential run,” Katz, a Brown College junior, said. “I was thinking maybe the answer is not working within the system that we have in the U.S., and then I started learning more about socialism.”

When Katz started at Rice in fall of 2021, he said he noticed a lack of any leftist political presence on campus. In December 2022, with the help of some Houston-based alumni from RMS chapters at other universities, Katz began putting up flyers around campus and spreading the word about a new Rice RMS chapter, hoping that it would catch on. Regular weekly meetings began the following spring. 

Rice RMS is part of a national organization with study groups at nine universities, now including Rice. The RMS National Committee designs curricula for study groups and publishes a biannual political magazine called “Red Horizon,” presenting a Marxist perspective on a range of current events and issues. But according to National Committee member Aleksei Kassa, student involvement is low nationwide. 

“Overall in the country right now, we see pretty low levels of student involvement in politics, with a few exceptions once every three or four years, such as what we see [with] Palestine demonstrations or Black Lives Matter back in 2020,” Kassa, a junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said. “For each university it’ll be somewhere between two to four students leading the study, and then you’ll have three or four students who attend regularly.”

Rice RMS co-head Maheen Majumdar said he blames busy schedules, campus culture and social media for low political involvement rates at Rice and other universities. 

“There’s a lot of things that go against the active involvement of students within political life,” Rice RMS co-head Maheen Majumdar, a highschool classmate of Katz and UMass Amherst alumnus, said. “For example, as a student I had a lot of busywork, and I know that’s true for students at a lot of universities and especially true at Rice. 

“I think there are different negative social trends that go against [political involvement] too,” Majumdar continued. “Party culture and general pleasure-seeking with hookup culture …  [and] social media, which is just like, ‘I get my politics by just scrolling through Twitter a little bit and not actually engaging with the material.’” 

Katz said it’s also possible that students just don’t understand what RMS is really about. 

“The name is Revolutionary Marxist Students, and when people hear ‘revolution,’ they might think that we’re trying to put on a revolution, like, immediately … but that’s not what we’re trying to do,” Katz said. 

Members say Rice RMS is primarily concerned with finding engaging ways to teach and discuss Marxist theory and analyze past socialist revolutionary struggles with students at all levels of understanding and experience. 

“We’re not just lecturing these students about what the key concepts are, but trying to get them to try to think and understand how these concepts click together with what [they] already know, and maybe if [they] don’t have any background, how do [they] begin to get a foundation on these concepts?” Majumdar said. “That involves being able to have little discussions throughout the presentation, asking questions, commenting, bringing questions to the table from your reading and really engaging with the text and the material in a more active way.”

RMS leaders also encourage students to put what they’ve learned in the club into practice after graduation rather than focusing solely on the promising careers and white-collar jobs that their classes may prepare them for.

“We encourage students to not automatically take the careerist path, where you work a white-collar office job for a big company after you graduate,” Katz said. “There have been RMS students at other colleges who have graduated and have decided to devote most of their time to being a labor organizer.”

Rice RMS has also collaborated with other groups both within and beyond the hedges to plan larger events, such as last semester’s “Anti-War Teach-In” event preceding the Baker Institute’s 30th anniversary gala. The event was hosted in partnership with Rice Students for Justice in Palestine, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Palestinian Youth Movement, the Houston Democratic Socialists of America and the Rice Asian Diasporic and Asian American Research Collective.

Careerism, social media politics and college life in general — Katz and Majumdar say many things may deter today’s students from the ideas that Karl Marx championed. But for those already involved in RMS, choosing to weave the study of Marxism into everyday life is a no-brainer.

“Marxism has been a great tool for revolutionaries in the past, people wanting to change the world around them,” Kassa said. “If you are someone who recognizes those very real injustices, those very real problems of the world, why not try to commit yourself to starting learning how to make it better?”

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