How Confusing Kasama Is...!


By Mike Ely

Here is a controversy:

Some people think that "if you give it a platform, you are promoting it. And if you are promoting it, you must agree with it." So they assume that every idea we "give a platform to" on Kasama must be an idea we sympathize with.

And yet we post (and debate) many different ideas -- sometimes different ideas on the same topic (like the Obama campaign, or Nepal, or the relationship between ecology and socialism).

And so that logic means that Kasama, as a project, appears (to those who have this view) deeply confused. As if we are "soft" on all kinds of notorious ideas.

Kasama is sometimes criticized using an argument that goes like this: While claiming to be a communist project, Kasama has hosted discussion that includes some well known social democrats and reformists. By "giving a platform" to such views, Kasama is "promoting" them. And by promoting them, Kasama reveals that it has sympathy with such views and is not (in fact) communist at all.

I am tempted to respond with a flippant remark,  like...

"Uh, 'debate.' Not clear on the concept? Look into it."


But flippant is not helpful, so let's break it down more explicitly -- so it becomes clear this is not confusion, or vagueness, but an attempt to regroup with a radical rupture.

Let's start here.... 

Why did Mao say "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend"? 

Was it liberalism? Was it promotion of the "free market place of ideas" -- with all its illusory and capitalist content?  Was it relativism? Was because he had secret sympathies for all one hundred?

If you have Marxism, why do you need to give legitimacy to different "schools of thought"? Or is there a strategic (and epistemological) point, both about how we will arrive at truth, and how our movement will train more and more people capable of creatively fighting their way to truths?

Want to be scientific?

We can learn some things for our political work  from debate among the natural sciences -- how scientists conduct peer review, vet of a theory, a debate the meaning of a fact. Look at the routine assumption of transparency in the discussion of practical experience (data, experimentation, evidence). Look at their embrace of necessary ambiguity, tentativeness, and partial knowledge. Look at the rather casual way that people disagree without assuming hostility. Look at the way that "a hundred schools of thought contend." 

Now let's talk about Kasama.

1) The theory and analysis we need is not "there for the taking."


People who think that revolutionary methods and theories are "there for the taking." They think right and wrong are relatively simple. And they believe THEY hold the truth. And they think  other people should "steep themselves" in that truth.

So for them "engagement" is a pretty one-way street -- it should take place on the basis of appreciation of their truths (i.e. their views). The ideas of others can perhaps sometimes be sprinkled onto THAT truth to spice it up  (like cinnamon on a freshly baked pastry). 

This is a view that Kasama rejected from its very beginning.

In fact, revolutionary theory has crawled up some funky dead ends. There is an intense and unresolved  line struggle among the organized Maoists. And there continues sharp creative struggle among revolutionaries broadly ( beyond that organized Maoist movement). 

So this is not a good time to put forward a "one way organ" -- that proclaims ITS truths and seeks to refute-or-ignore  the views of others. 

But some people think that Kasama is a "one way organ."

Meaning: they assume that "if Kasama posts it, Kasama must agree with it." 

What makes this doubly confusing is that sometimes Kasama posts DIFFERENT VIEWS on the same topic (like Nepal!), and then such people sometimes proclaim  "Kasama is very confused over very basic things. It is all over the place." 

In fact Kasama is neither confused nor vague -- Kasama it is an active communist project of reconception that is hosting a series of open debates.

In short: for quite a few people, the very idea of "reconception" among communists is so alien, that they always assume we are still operating with the previous conceptions. Let's dig into one of those previous conceptions.

2) A One-way organ is lousy for a new revolutionary movement 

Often communist newspapers only publish views they agree with. I worked on a one-way organ for 25 years: the RCP's Revolutionary Worker newspaper.

 The views in that paper were authoritative -- they were to be taken as the party's views and taken as  binding on  party members. Articles were often unsigned because they were assumed to "speak for the party" -- and the assumption was that there was a seamless unity between writers, between the paper and the party, and so on. The RCP rejected the idea of a monolithic party, but acted like they had one.

The writings in the paper generally made the process of idea-creation and decision-making invisible -- i.e. people got the endproduct of the debate  but rarely got any sense of HOW such views had been researched, formulated and decided. And it was invisible that there even was debate.

And there emerged a strange (and undeserved) assumption that there were some special qualities among those producing "the paper" that allowed them to channel the truth.  

I believe the Revolutionary Worker was an informative and sometimes mind-blowing newspaper. It played a  role in promoting important revolutionary ideas and analysis. But it rarely published  criticisms, debates, opposing ideas and not even polemics that acknowledged serious opponents. This newspaper's  "one way" nature was, in fact, training for uncritical thinking (even when its views emerged from  highly critical thinking).

This helps explain how you can have a communist movement gathered around some startlingly creative insights, yet  trains people to be doggedly dogmatic in their own thinking. 

Let's not go there again.

3)  "Chain of knowledge up and chain of command down" is a mechanical theory

There was a theoretical underpinning to this model: The RCP explained that there was an inherent flow of knowledge going on: where raw, unassimilated ideas flowed "up" to the center, and synthesized correct ideas flowed down. This flow was assumed to be inherent in the Marxist theory of knowledge (i.e. it was assumed to be "epistemological.") And it was proclaimed to be the ONLY way that truely Marxist ideas (about our experiences, and the world generally) could be formulated.

It meant that it was considered unlikely (or even "unscientific") to imagine that there could be correct formulated ideas emerging from outside the party's leadership. The assumption was that "the RCP may have been wrong on homosexuality, but it is not like someone out there was right." If ideas outside the part have "some truth" -- they would STILL need to be synthesized at the heights of the party "chain of knowledge" to ACTUALLY become "correct."

I think that view is reductionist and mechanical, and is (in fact) proven wrong by the experience of the RCP (and elsewhere). People making proposals routinely said they "disappeared into The Black Hole." And the theory that top leaders held an epistemological high ground was used as a stick to beat down (or just ignore) views they didn't agree with. ("What material basis do you have for summing that up?")

In fact, often correct ideas were being formulated "below" and incorrect ideas were "coming down." (The RCP's stubbornly unscientific views on sexuality were one experience that should be mined exactly for its  "epistemological" lessons.) 

And the assumptions and the very form defining that party's "one way organ" are inseparable from this wrong and self-serving assumptions about how correct ideas are organizationally formulated. The lack of transparency over internal debate and the lack of any "horizontal" airing of views contribute to real illusions about how correct ideas are created. (And I mean "illusion" in the sense that a magician is an "illusionist.")

Our revolutionary movement needs to debate ideas and analysis in ways that don't reinforce uncritical indoctrination but that train revolutionaries to work their way through the complex and contradictory problems of making change.

It may be, that there reemerges a future need and potential for an authoritative organ among communists in the U.S. -- but I suspect we should grab onto a different model, that is much more rich  in tentative and contending ideas,where readers are not just trained in verdicts but in the process of evaluation.

For now, hang onto this: Kasama posts ideas it does not agree with. And it often does so without providing "warning labels." 

On the contrary we think several things:

1) Revolutionary politics is not a sandbox or a sheltered greenhouse. Revolutionary activists are not children who need lots of protective padding and an information diet. People should encounter ideas straight up here on Kasama (as they will everywhere else in real life).  A new idea need not come with a warning label that says "Here is a poisonous weed we are offering as a negative example for criticism." 

2) We should expect that the truth about a set of ideas can emerge from the debate (which we will also participate in with our own strong views).

3) Ideas should be presented by people who believe in them. We don't want to only learn about ideas from the characterizations of their opponents. This means publishing wrong views, and even sometimes reactionary ones. And it means affirming the policy of publishing both sides of major debates.

4) People participating in this site may well walk away with different conclusions than we walk away with. Not only is this inevitable, it is ok. And it provides a basis for holding our next discussions on a higher and more substantive plane.  It may take quite a while for it to become clear "who is right" -- and in fact, the world is complex enough that it may never be fully clear, and in fact no one may be simply "right." This is not an argument for relativism (i.e. that all ideas are equal in their truth, and so there is no real right or wrong)... it is an argument for understanding in a much more sophisticated way how we will identify and rescue the much-needed relative truths from a morass of mythology and dogma.

4) The Thread is the Locus

We think that having substantive debate over major issues will raise the level of understanding and unity among revolutionaries -- while subjecting to all our previous views to a much needed critical bath.  It doesn't work to treat revolutionaries as if they need a world of rubber padding and warning labels. Revolution does not happen in  a sandbox or a humid greenhouse.

I confess I was disappointed when I read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's interview with Celticfire -- i thought the politics were not very good, and I thought the presentation of her views was rather superficial.

But look what happened when we posted that piece.... look at the richness of the discussion.

So that Jose M writes:

"I am learning a lot by reading this discussion. Keep it going."


And Tahawus adds:

"This is one of the more valuable threads I’ve seen here, particularly in this moment. Hopefully it isn’t derailed."


In short, we take the thread as a whole as the arena where we expect insights to emerge. Sometimes the post (that initiates the thread) is not especially deep or correct, but the thread is the locus -- and nuanced views can emerge out of that discussion.

5) Different, opposing unities will develop from our debates.

The regroupment process may ultimately produce two or three different reconceptions -- that each then are tested and further developed by their own arcs. That is certainly how it has been in the past -- in every successful revolution.  We are not assuming a process of "two into one" -- we do not view Kasama as a funnel that will get the universe of sincere radicals into one small homogenized bottle. No. I

So, let's not imagine that the Kasama Project is some seed or pole   from which the next new vanguard will (linearly over time and elaboration)  emerge.

The Kasama project is seeking to unleash a process from which new revolutionary organization will emerge -- and we will all be transformed by this process.

6) Wrong views should be engaged deeply, not suppressed.

Debate followed Celticfire's interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. In that debate, Green-RedRev  expressed some views about the impact of women's clothes on men. This provoked  the following:

"can the moderator please take “red green rev”’s first comments off?!!! women are not rape objects. these comments are completely offensive and would only give legitimacy to this 'argument' to dissect it."


We did not remove Green-Red's comments, though we too disagreed with them. I think we should dig into the view that:

"it would only give legitimacy to this 'argument' to dissect it."


First i think this is simply untrue. Dissecting an argument does not give it legitimacy, it trains everyone in how to tell truth from falsehood. And it enables people to understand (deeply) which approach to a question is the correct one.

All arguments that have social traction should be "dissected." Including racism, or the idea that provocative dressing causes rape.

This argument about "giving legitimacy" is also a "small circle mentality" -- it assumes that this idea has been repudiated and has not legitimacy because (where I hang out) it is unacceptable. So (from this subcultural view) discussing this view is just letting it in through a back door and granting it legitimacy."

But many views are generally discredited within some progressive circles in the U.S. but still need to be confronted (in society in general and, apparently, even among revolutionaries meeting on Kasama!) Just removing the offensive ideas doesn't solve that problem.

How many people can actually make a coherent answer to the racist argument that "black people are genetically different, and those differences explain the position of Black people in U.S. society." How can people finally drive reactionary ideas out of the public arena without powerful arguments (similar to what Gould did in "The Mismeasure of Man")?

This goes directly against standards promoted by some "identity politics" -- which demands that offensive ideas be banned, and argues that allowing (i.e. debating)  offensive ideas just creates a hostile and disempowering situation. It is also an approach that doesn't think ideas are really defeated by engaging them -- because identity politics thinks offensive ideas arise linearly from omnipresent "privilege" and so therefore are never really defeated or reachable by arguement (but are, at best, driven under cover). The assumption often is that you can't really win anyone over to anything -- you can only make other people shut up.

But, in fact, we will need to do a LOT of debunking of awful and offensive ideas -- to get millions of people around a revolutionary movement, and to pull a liberated society out of this one. So let's adopt energetic, non-defensive, substantive revolutionary debunking as one of our most basic modes.

Kasama does not exist to debate racists or crude male chauvinists of course -- We have created a place for debate among revolutionaries. But we need to train each other in a culture of civil debate and creative debunking -- because it is so important important for resolving "contradicitons among the people" and for a whole process of raising politicalconsciousness.

Let's confront something directly: The implications of  "suppress don't dissect" are (frankly) chillingly fascistic.

If dissecting a view gives it legitimacy -- then the way to deal with wrong views is to just shut them up (and make the people who hold them just shut up). And it assumes that we already and automatically "know" which views are right and which views are wrong. It assumes that allowing opposing views betrays a corrupt affection for them.

What are the implications for socialism? It is an argument for the wholesale suppression of ideas that "we don't like" -- and it would be suppression-without-deep-refutation.... so that we would not be opening the wounds to help finally clean them out.

It is a terrible method now. And it will be a much worse method later (if it was ever backed by state power).

7) The Kasama Project is not the same thing as the Kasama Site.

The Kasama Project is a network of revolutionaries seeking to actively reconceive and regroup a revolutionary movement in the U.S. This Kasama Site is a prominent and active effort by the Project -- to provide information, analysis and debate that revolutionaries need. And it is a way of gathering people together -- to explore politics and theory -- in ways that contributes to regrouping.

Many things are debated on the Kasama Site. Many different kinds of people post here. (Including our favorite libertarian.) But, the fact that people comment here, and the fact that we even elevate some of their comments as "posts on Kasama's central panel" -- does not mean that these are the views of the Kasama Project itself.

This would seem obvious -- but the practice of previous communists has been so rigid, and the presentation of  authoritative views has been so onesided, that many people just assume that "if it appears here, Kasama must, somehow, agree with it."

Wanna debate this?


People in this conversation

  • Guest - Zack

    <b><i>"The writings in the paper generally made the process of idea-creation and decision-making invisible — i.e. people got the endproduct of the debate but rarely got any sense of HOW such views had been researched, formulated and decided. And it was invisible that there even was debate."</i></b>

    And, I think, the opposite of this is what the Kasama site has been really good at.

    Real debate, real investigation.

    It's tough in the sense of formulating new ideas and going forward (it is a process after all) but it's a lot better than just getting pre-digested and pre-approved verdicts sent down from on high simply to just be acted on and spread and taken up... "there for the taking"/"fire your ideas, hire ours"/etc.

  • Guest - land

    Above posting on Debate and Kasama opens up alot of thinking.

    There is the more obvious and the controversial why we need debate. A good example is the Post on <a href="/" rel="nofollow">Internationalism between TLN and and Mike E</a>. There is a difference in what people are saying around betraying the people - the people of the world in different countries in relation to their struggles for national liberation. How important and what kind of leadership do we need to fight for. When do you draw the line because if you don't you will end up like South Africa. I remember an article when Mandela was released from prison. Youth and people in the townships were so excited he was going to visit. Then he visits and tells the youth to throw their weapons into the sea. At a time they are being attacked regularly by the apartheid regime. I think that must have caused some debate.

    The other debates I like are the ones between revolutionary work in a non-revolutionary situation (whatever that means) and someone like Carl Davidson.

    This debate is going to go on for a long time and we better be part of it.

    But I have to say that after a certain point I wonder how to win the debate or resolve the debate.

    And I agree that <a>Revolution</a> paper really didn't train people in critical thinking. I remember the article on <a href="/" rel="nofollow">Terri Shaivo</a>. There was huge conversations everywhere around this. But when the paper came out discussion of the <a href="/" rel="nofollow">main article</a> was discouraged.

    If there ever was an article to debate this was it. And for whatever reason debate was kind of channeled to mainly a focus on the Bush Regime and Christian fascism. Which was definitely a big part of it but the response of people couldn't just be brought to this point and left.

    I myself was infuriated with <a href="/" rel="nofollow">Carl Davidson around the Convention</a> and I could not understand why Kasama gave him as much voice as they did. But I was won over.

    And this conversation continued over to the Greece rebellion around the black bloc etc.

    So these debates will pop up over and over. Something on the new side for some of us are the theoretical debates.
    They don't exactly pop up but people bring them into the conversation.

    All for now.

  • Guest - Green Red rev

    The matter of RW and latter Revolution (that still i preferred the earlier one than the version trying to look "cool", that implies to many, many papers of many parties i've ran into. This one is more interesting.

    Beside the fact that A - Comrade Karl Marx was not in favor of "Marxism" terminology invention and, B - Mao Tse Tung Thought/Maoism's relevance are in particular applicable in semi feudal/semi colonial states, not the metropolitan imperialist ones and - C - Some thinkers even claim that occurrence of Leninism - a non Marxian (thus real Marxists would be like Rosa Luxemburg... all the way to Trotsky, Raya Danayevskaya, etc.) caused west imperialists use any means necessary including manufacturing Nazi regime, etc. to prevent

    Chair Mao said somewhere like the following: "Theories of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin can be applied all around the world. Our look upon it must not be dogmatic, but as the manual to action. Having it studied is not like parrot like repeating sentences and phrases; rather, comprehend Marxist Leninist teaching as the knowledge mean for revolution" (half from a note, half from memory. if more accurate source you had please provide, KAs. Tanx)

    James O'Conner and associates of Capitalism, Nature, Socialism have done the theoretical part of the task in On the second contradiction of socialism, or on their other good articles such as the one they criticized the slogan Think Globally Act Locally... on the scholastic way. But revolution? I wouldn't be surprised if they would be swinging somewhere between second international, anarcho syndicalist and Cafe Communists.

    What I find fair and intrinsic in Kasama - beside paying attention to real Mao oriented revolutions in the world instead of one dude ego trips - is daring to expand horizons before drawing the work frame.

    And that needs to be. Hey fellow, if you think Earth needs Liberation, leave your "front" and come and enhance the single dimensional 'structuralists' and accept the necessity of semi urban, semi rural life style.....

    And, hopefully, when supposedly a party/movement was formed, while generally preaching the party line, etc., still other views be seen by the rest to have a true democratic element next to the centralism. since many have seen enough of the latter.

    [discussion of Green Red's views on women moved to Kasama Threads.]

  • Guest - Green Red rev

    Back to the topic, the communists must deal with reality and, based on A, B and C, make dialectical analysis of things beyond labor vs capital. Machines are not necessarily our best friends all the time after all. To undo what using car has done to your weight, you go to 24 hours or Jenny Craig. Didn't you ever think of recharging some damn battery of another machine? Can factories have their own shower place so many go on bikes? Machines do not always need to be our physical comforters...
    And then there's the other element of 'neo malthusian' perspective as developed by Rene Dumont and alikes.
    Should they be discussed or abandoned?
    I'd say keep the current status alive after having party line too since, in the least it's not boring, and for the most, it's not narrow mind/sighted view.

  • I am going to move these posts on Red-green's views on women to the <a href="/" rel="nofollow">Kasam Thread we created for this purpose</a>.
    Posting them here is just off topic.

  • Guest - Green Red rev

    Thanks for the adjustment. But by any chance have you granted us a view about the Second Contradiction?

    In Germany, the founders and majority of Green Party are ex Mao Tse tung Thought fellows. That is exactly what I don't want to happen. At some point, we need revolutionary greens not adventurist ones.

    Further than that, in the US some say that dogs and cats sometimes have more rights than the homeless and poor. Then there is the Animal Rights and all that plus Animal Liberation army, etc.

    For example, friends in Food Not Bombs, only consume Vegen material or so they say. And their members belong to this or that animal rights sometimes.

    Would that be unfair if we happen to draw the line that after realizing that Vegeterialism, etc. will make their health better then suddenly they became sympathetic to animals, while they don't say a world about imperialism, etc.?

    In simple words, is there a space for these frontiers or not Ka Mike?
    I appreciate your politicaly correct above mentioned adjustment. Find a few seconds to answer this one, please.

  • I share your concern over the liquidation of communism. And I think your example of Germany (where the Greens ate the best parts of the Maoist movement) should e taken as an important negative lesson.

    You may not know this, but I attended the 1983 national Convention of the Greens in Germany, as a Maoist observor. And I watched very close-hand the final transformation of most of Germany communist revolutionaries into Greens. (and watched, at the same time, the more radical "Fundi" Greens losing ground to the emerging parliamentary-imperialist Green forces (called "Realos").

    It was a terrible experience, and these were terrible developments -- taking place in the midst of Germany's 'Hot Autumn' of mass antiwar struggle, when a broad radicalization was afoot.

    In any case, the point of Kasama (and of our debate) is to forge a reconception and regroupment for revolution. To build a communist force that can "prepare minds and organize forces" for socialist revolution in the U.S.

    And the dangers of liquidation remain very real, just as the dangers of sect-like self-isolation are also real.

    * * * * * *

    I'm not sure to make about your comments on vegetarianism and animal rights -- you seem to assume that support for vegetarianism and animal rights somehow means that people won't "say a word about imperialism."

    But that does not jibe with reality. In fact, there are forces advocating a radically different view toward life on earth (and toward animals) that have quite a clear anti-imperialist and revolutionary stand. (Bill martin gives his views on this in his recent book ethical-Marxism).

    I have views on how ecological crisis intersects with the struggle for socialism. I believe that there are important reasons why (in a post revolutionary North America) there would be important economic and ecological reasons to step away from today's heavy meat diet. Meat production and consumption today is tied in with imperialist inequality and ecological unsustainable methods. In many parts of the world, revolution will bring with it a more protein rich diet. But in the U.S., it is hard to imagine a revolution that will not mean a radical change in todays unhealthy and reactionary dietary norms -- including a critical look at current meat practices.

    when I interviewed to <a href="/’s-tar-heel-slaughterhouse/" rel="nofollow">meatcutters in North Carolina</a> -- who were overwhelmingly immigrant and african American -- they all said (over and over) that the pigs were treated better than the humans. This was of course not meant by them as an argument in favor of industrial farming, but a statement that their conditions needed radical change.

  • Guest - Green Red rev

    Re greens, it is not one way or the other necessarily. Germans did that but, take the Bolshoviks in Duma example. You don't have to sell your commie soul to get into a cabinet. That said, it is all re parlimanterian states that have nothing common with the US. For example fellows of Peace &amp; Freedom Party sometimes talk about Proportional representation, etc., for that to get into the US soil it sure takes a while.

    But re. Animals rights, Free chicken eggs, etc., I am trying to say that it is the duty of the "PARTY" to tell them that as long as the system remains, still double cheeseburger of Mac Donald will be cheaper than Mac Vegie...

    Greenpeace itself reporst that the plastic that is recycled here must go on a ship (with all its fuel pollution, discharging chems at bays, etc.) to far east Asian cheap labors at factories without regulations where six or seven month is the maximum period of new labor to stay working, must go out, get another job after semi suffocation.

    Animal rights should be gained by people's choice through common folk's understanding that the poof thing feels pain to and, has air to breath and instinct to live and reproduce with pleasure.

    But what i mean is dare you take "Second Contradiction" into Rev future Party's Main agenda to clearly explain to the masses that within the system, Greens cannot be anything better than social democrats? To have a green healthy world doing funky actions by Earth Liberation Front gives not any direct results significantly, hence they ought to consume and digest Communism? Or, as the rcp did, only give a special one issue edition of RW re ecology? Murray, James O'conner, etc. and Socialism, Nature, Capitalism, or Ecology and Feminism, etc. publications are as improtant as reading the Nation magazine or Monthly Review once in a while or, are they out of our criteria and whereabouts?

  • Guest - Rosa L.

    I truly believe that the Kasama webpage demonstrates in practice the possibilities and potential of encouraging and stimulating debates for the goal of developing a revolutionary movement in the USA.

    The policy of this webspace that Mike described before is an example of communist political practice in the 21st century. In contrast to this, RCP formally mentions that in "Avakian's new synthesis" he envisions a world where dissent and open debates should be encouraged. But in practice they act against this possibility every time they accuse critical views of being "counterrevolutionary" and when in their activities they liquidate debates by constraining the possibilities of critical views coming from the floor. Moreover, debates silenced in their press.

    As Mike said:

    <blockquote>"The RCP rejected the idea of a monolithic party, but acted like they had one. The writings in the paper generally made the process of idea-creation and decision-making invisible — i.e. people got the endproduct of the debate but rarely got any sense of HOW such views had been researched, formulated and decided. And it was invisible that there even was debate." </blockquote>

    Isn't precisely Prachanda's, Bhatarrai's and Nepalese Maoist's call for a "multi-party system under the dictatorship of the proletariat" precisely to avoid the fossilization and stagnation produced by a mono-party system?

    The RCP's practice of projecting itself as a monolithic party structure and constraining debates, despite calls to the contrary, is a microcosm of the kind of society they envision in practice. Their webpage and their newspaper are just a Bob Avakian fan club. No serious debate is encouraged nor stimulated. They censor this possibility in their media. They are "Christian-like preachers" rather than revolutionaries that encourage engagement with ideas and try to convince the masses through a two-way dialogue. To preach is not equivalent as to raise communist consciousness. RCP simplistically collapsed the two and forgot that to preach is a one-way monologue....

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