Grasping the Theoretical Knife: A Response to Club Jacobin

The following is a response to a critique of Kasama written for the Club Jacobin blog.

by Eric Ribellarsi

New Beginnings Need New Methods

Kasama is a communist project – which means we have united around our end goal, a radically changed and liberated world without exploitation or oppression. Meanwhile, we are engaged in a creative struggle to define the means and strategies for getting there. For three years we have tried to make a contribution toward creating a new revolutionary movement in the U.S., and a new communist pole within it.

We think that means breaking with a lot of past thinking and activity. We have pointed to two things that are missing: At this moment in the U.S., communists don’t have a core organization to unite our work, and we don’t have a creative strategy for fusing revolutionary politics with the people who rise in struggle.

To deal with these absences, our Kasama project has consciously tried to avoid two common pulls: First we have resisted rushing to form a new small sect based on pre-existing and inherited politics. And second we have resisted losing ourselves in a flurry of generic activism.

Both of those things (sect-building and generic activism) would recreate those methods and routines that have, time and time again, led scattered radical forces to stop far short of a revolution.

In the document that follows, I would like to talk about what we have been doing – which has been, admittedly, primitive and tentative. Many people reading this will be familiar with our Kasama discussion site, but may not be aware of how this site fits into building a new revolutionary movement.

As part of that, I want to respond to a recent polemic written by GM of the Club Jacobin blog – which makes a negative summation of our Kasama Project. Despite our sharp differences, I suspect part of the issue here is that some observers, including the CJ author, may honestly misunderstand Kasama’s politics or activities. And so I’m excited for this chance to clarify.

While I was a bit disappointed in the way that CJ’s piece relied heavily on speculation regarding the non-public work of the Kasama organization, mainly I am excited and welcoming of this opportunity to clarify our politics in response to this comrade.

To be fair, I believe that the Club Jacobin piece points to a number of places where Kasama has real weaknesses – we are a very young and primitive project that is just starting our theoretical and practical work. To deny this would be a mistake.  Nonetheless, we are trying to develop a common language for revolutionaries who are, often, coming from very different places and experiences, and we have made some progress in this important work.

But, at the same time I also feel the CJ piece is based on a rather different view of what revolutionaries need to be doing.

 

At the center of CJ’s piece are five basic arguments, which I will address one at a time:

The Frog Must Investigate the Sky

(1) “You may be asking: what about their mass work and daily organizing? Surely that legitimates their claim to be a political organization. And it might, if they did any. But there is precious little.”

Is it true that any “claim to be a political organization” rests on the legitimization of “daily organizing”? Can’t we perhaps answer that a claim to be a *revolutionary* political organization requires having worked out a *revolutionary* method for doing mass work? Is it true that our main, even our only, task should be to take up “daily organizing” around various demands?

 

CJ assumes that it is known how communists today should do mass work, where they should dig in, with what strategy, and for what political goal. Kasama disagrees; we do not think this is already worked out. And more: we believe that just rushing toward the current model of “daily organizing” would make the political work of revolutionaries subordinate to reform politics, NGO agendas and the Democratic Party establishment.

The assumption at work in the CJ polemic is that the main need (in this moment) is agitating a bigger movement into being, and that the main way of doing that is for activists to meet more people at the level of “issues” they already understand. ‘Just Do it’ then becomes a form of generic, routine and often reformist form of activism presented as the main (in fact often the only) task of revolutionaries.

To the contrary, Kasama believes that two absences (an absence of communist organization and an absence of revolutionary strategy) mean that there are specific tasks and contradictions facing revolutionaries in a country like the US. In other words, we contend that our tasks and goals in this period don’t simply boil down to simply getting out among the people and becoming the best fighters in various existing (or even non-existing) struggles.

To the contrary, Kasama believes that there needs to be built a culture of organizing that is wedded to a new conception of revolutionary politics. To create that, we want to combine select projects of mass work with a long-term effort at communist reconception. This means that rather than rushing forward we are also stepping back, learning from previous attempts at communist practice, while at the same time trying to draw in diverse forces to jointly consider future moves. In particular, we are working to develop new communist cores of revolutionaries, new communist strategy, and at the same time orienting ourselves to seek out fault lines of struggle upon which revolutionaries can fuse with the advanced among the people.

In other words, Kasama is not arguing against going to the people.

Nearly everyone in Kasama is involved in different forms of mass work, in various local contexts. And certainly many in Kasama have long years of practical experience that they are working to sum up and apply. Moreover, we believe that deep and active investigation is itself, at this point, an important form of mass work. 

For example, several supporters of Kasama have spent months in Nepal investigating the revolution there. Based on that, people around Kasama have begun early efforts to build solidarity with the revolutions in South Asia.

But in order for revolutionaries identify the best places to launch our common collective practice, there needs first to be careful consideration, planning, strategy, and organization. That planning has to be part of our own communist strategic goals; it will not simply ‘take care of itself.’

This is especially true in a moment like the present one when we can’t yet see clearly the outlines of those coming eruptions which will and must play a special role in mass radicalization.

Our mass work, then, must be seen not as separate from theoretical reconception; rather it needs to emerge from and be integrated into a plan for preparing an actual revolutionary movement, including forms of openly communist work (something that so much of the left has abandoned in favor of hiding one’s politics from the people in order to build the social movements).

CJ goes on to argue that without this mass work (which they would have comrades rush into without a conscious strategic orientation or serious revolutionary organization), it is impossible to do theoretical work. CJ further defends this by selectively quoting Mao:

“Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone…  There is no other way of testing truth.”

While avoiding a “war of quotes,” (a mode of argument that is generally contrary to Kasama’s approach, as such a method presumes that the “answers” to present questions are to be found ready-made in the “classic” canonical texts of the past) it is worthwhile to place this quote into context. In particular, CJ ignores the rest of Mao’s argument.

 

Mao writes that:

“All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience. But one cannot have direct experience of everything; as a matter of fact, most of our knowledge comes from indirect experience, for example, all knowledge from past times and foreign lands.”

Mao goes on to discuss a frog at the bottom of the well. This frog, he argues, is incapable of developing an understanding of the sky from direct experience because, from where the frog sits, the sky appears to only be as large as the mouth of the well.

 

We are sitting atop decades of accumulated practice that has yet to be summed up. The experience of thousands of young communists who emerged as the New Communist Movement remains to be summed up. A century of revolutionary attempts across the planet, if properly studied, offer incalculable value to our understandings.  Meanwhile, we are emerging in a new period that is rapidly changing, and these evolving social conditions need summation as well.

None of this can be correctly summed up through the direct experience of a new activist mini-sect. Indeed, much of it cannot be done through direct experience at all. It requires stepping back, and doing summation and abstraction. It requires refusing to be a frog in the bottom of a well.

What do we mean by Reconception?

In discussing Kasama’s concept of reconception, CJ’s second argument moves to dismiss the theoretical contributions of Kasama.

CJ argues:

(2) “The revolutionary Left in this country badly needs to revisit old assumptions and create new theory. The problem is that after two years the Kasama site and the Kasama project don’t really have any new theory or ideas to show for their troubles. Indeed, they seem to be allergic to actually coming up with hypotheses that could be tested by revolutionary praxis. Pick any subject: the Black Panther Party; Queer liberation; Obama; Afghanistan; Nepal; Lady Gaga. But at some point, a political organization needs to make choices: adopt view A, and reject opposing view B.”

Indeed, a serious revolutionary organization will need positions and theory that can be taken to the people. And we may end up with several revolutionary organizations taking different positions.

 

And, it is somewhat remarkable CJ doesn’t seem to see the theoretical work and ideas being presented, publicly, as various sharp poles within the Kasama debates.

I must admit my own impatience with all the necessary work of preparing for revolution – which at present all lags behind my desire for revolution.  Nonetheless it appears to me to still be necessary.

To put it another way: CJ outlines an approach to theory that would really amount to a quick negotiating between positions among current cadre over the ideas they walked in the door with.

CJ then goes on to use this vulgarized understanding of theory (and in our case, reconception) to call Kasama arrogant:

“The idea that a small organization, overwhelmingly made up of white men, can sit down and ‘reconceive’ the correct revolutionary course for this incredibly complex nation of 300 million people is — well, ‘arrogant’ would be the kindest thing that you can say about it.”

CJ seems to ignore the statement from “Shaping Kasama” (repeated in Mike Ely’s 3 Year essay):

“We should not form a little group that play-acts as the seed of a future party….We will not arrive on the scene like some magical galvanizing thunder burst to tell everyone else what to think and do. Let’s have some scientific non-messianic modesty and not perpetuate previous grandiosity. We will strain to make real contributions. There may be contributions that only we can make. And that matters. But we expect much from many other people.”

Reconception is not a simple surveying of whoever is in the room, and then rushing to a quick position based upon that. We in Kasama do not see ourselves as coming to quick facile verdicts upon which we can use to impose our new line on the people. We see ourselves as making contributions to a larger process of reconception centered within a new generation of revolutionaries.

 

Also, there is a sharp contradiction in CJ’s critique –Kasama is criticized for NOT reaching quick verdicts, and is then criticized as sectarian for even trying to reach any verdicts at all (specifically criticisms of the Obama government’s attempts at coopting radicals).

The discussions of Kasama (both public and private) have, in fact, started to make contributions to nearly every topic that CJ mentions. Just go look at the work gathered in our Kasama Readers or the Khukuri theoretical site.

This work isn’t presented as final or authoritative verdicts from some self-appointed group, but instead as arguments (made now over years) within the Kasama site – where sharp opposing poles and articulated arguments have been laid out, and then debated and further developed in full view.

Kasama has not rushed to draw premature lines of demarcation on every question imaginable. That would be the short path to a mini-sect, and we consciously rejected it very early on.

Rather, our understanding of reconception is one that envisions a synthesizing of communist theory, summations, and experience with rapidly developing and emerging new revolutionaries and fault line struggles.

Bringing from the Outside, Then Emerging from Within

CJ dismisses even the name of the Kasama Project itself as being outside the experience of “American masses.” It is part of unspoken economist strategy and assumptions. CJ argues:

(3) “The name actually does a good job summing up the problems with the organization. ‘Kasama’ is a name that will not immediately have any meaning for the large majority of Americans, including the advanced among them… What it does do is convey the idea that whatever they are about comes from outside the experience of the American masses and needs translation to be intelligible by the masses in America.”

First, do we suddenly have an “English Only” policy for communist terms and names? How is that justified?

 

Is it true that “the American masses” can’t accept things with a “foreign” name? Yoga? Feng Shui? The Karate Kid?

Beyond that, I particularly am turned off by the notion that “the American masses” need a distinctly “American” politics that is cut off from the communism of foreigners. What does this kind of casual nationalism say about learning from immigrants, or the experiences of Latin America, or China, or South Asia? And if we communists aren’t about learning from those experiences – where will the people of the U.S. more broadly learn about them?

On one hand, this thinking flirts with American chauvinism. On the other hand, it seems to accept an economist belief that all necessary ideas arise from within; from direct experiences and spontaneity. In fact, they don’t. There is much that must be brought in “from the outside.”

Communist revolution won’t be made by appealing to the narrow self-interests of the “American masses.” The communist revolution must be a conscious one; it requires the people to understand and transform the world… in order to end all forms of exploitation and oppression, not just within one nation, but everywhere.

Is the central task of communists always just, or even primarily, appealing directly to the people’s immediate situation? Even in absence of a serious revolutionary organization or a strategic orientation? Why can’t there be—in fact, mightn’t there have to be—a period in which communists make those kinds of long-range, essential, theoretical preparations while selectively engaging in initial mass work that helps train communists, identify the advanced, and forward those preparations?

The name “Kasama” implies the road we have chosen to take. It means “comrades travelling together.” It reflects the kind of comradely unity we are trying to foster among revolutionaries, and the kind of engagement that is constantly in motion and aimed at a communist goal.

And if Kasama is suspect because it comes from “the outside” – what about the concepts of socialism and communism, what about the idea of violent revolution?  Should we cast them aside too because they are not easily understood by “the American masses” which I suspect means the unawakened and intermediate, and not the more advanced (who are often intrigued by foreign experience, communist politics, and things outside their own realm)?

We call ourselves a "project" based upon our current level of development and what we see as the needs of the moment: an ongoing process of engagement, debate, investigation, summation.  When we are in a different stage, we may adopt a different name that speaks to that strategic orientation.  While we are eager for this work to progress to future stages, we feel no rush to declare our intention to move towards a specific future organizational form – because that regroupment too must emerge in connection to and on the basis of these reconception debates, that is, if it is not to fall into the traps outlined above.

Faultline Struggle is the Opposite of a Get Rich Quick Scheme

3.     CJ makes another claim, arguing that:

(4) “In keeping with the rise in sectarian sentiment and the unwillingness to engage in patient mass work, Kasama has begun to focus on get-rich-quick schemes of becoming a mass political force overnight.”

This is a misunderstanding. We have no illusion of becoming a “mass political force overnight.” And we are focused on how to emerge “from within” at future moments when unforeseen events create radicalization moments for millions. That explains our approach toward fault lines, our eagerness to investigate more this system’s contradictions, and decide where to take up protracted struggle with the potential for evental openings.

 

We in Kasama are moving beyond the simple formula of

Oppression + Communists = Revolution

Instead, we are seeking out the nodules of the advanced among the people, particularly those who are engaged in key fault line struggles, which, in our view, contain the greatest potential to produce revolutionary lessons on a mass scale and galvanize larger sections of society.

 

One example: when I was in Nepal, I learned of the way that the Maoists of Nepal identified a particular village: Thewang – as key to a revolutionary beginning (and the eventual initiation of the People’s War). This village had decades of experience in anti-police brutality movements, was home to many who sympathized with communism, and was in a particular period of police repression. It was from here that the Maobadi focused their initial work, fusing long standing demands of the people with a communist outlook and struggle for nation-wide (and ultimately worldwide) revolution.

Turning back to our US-context, such an approach means that instead of running around to organize the latest movement of the day (which past practice shows to have often achieved very little), we are asking “where is our Mississippi Freedom Summer?” We are searching for where, with our obviously limited resources at this point, we should focus our protracted communist work.  At the same time we are reflecting on the question of what methods offer the most potential for fusing with “nodules of the advanced” (and notice, we don’t consider ourselves the advanced here).

Nothing could be further from this “get rich quick scheme” label that CJ constructs out of a Kasama discussion of viral videos. To probe the question of media and information in our society, and the opportunities for political activity that these evolving systems may open for us, is not to launch a “get-rich-quick-scheme.” It is essential to understanding how to connect communist ideas with the people themselves, in the twenty-first century.

Let’s Step Off… to Make Revolution

Club Jacobin ends the polemic with a final statement:

(5) “Do some real political work… If Kasama means ‘companions who travel the road together’ — to my friends in Kasama I say step off the couch and start walking down that road for real!”

 

I can’t help but be reminded of a comment from Zizek’s recent book, First as Tragedy, Then Farce, where Zizek responds to the constant movementist demand that we “stop talking” and just “do something” by asking whether “perhaps it is time we do the right thing?” To strike upon this “right thing” of course, requires quite a bit of theoretically informed “talk.”

It is a caution: rushing into mass work without a revolutionary plan is to rush into the embrace of status quo politics.

Without endorsing its entirety, I am sympathetic to Badiou’s view that our current situation looks much more like communism’s first sequence during the time of Marx (a period where the primary task of communists focused on shaping and asserting the revolutionary communist idea, an idea whose very existence at that point in time, as in ours, is far from secure), rather than the second sequence where communists were more focused directly on questions of power and organization.

All the talk about “get off the couch” is rather crude, and very American, anti-intellectualism. It reminds me of how Bakunin mocked Marx as “man of theory,” while Bakunin posed as the “man of action.”

Let’s think over the meaning and context of this call to do something “for real” – with its special hostility to our supposedly sectarian debates critiquing Obama.  What is “real” and how different is this from the White House advisor who slammed critics on the left – saying they “need to take off their pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.”

We should collectively be wary of a pragmatic focus on “what works” in the short term, or the idea that our goal is just to fan the embers of the immediate movements into an active flame (and think about our goals later). That mood has a strategy embedded within it (often unconfessed, or even unrecognized) that harnesses the activist left to the “realistic” politics of the status quo.

What would it mean for those precious few communists in the US today, to “step off the couches” and rush to ‘do something,’ without orienting that something in terms of our communist end goal?

This is a hostility and impatience with theory, planning, conception, summation, substantive cross fertilization, revolutionary strategy, necessary distinctions, and respectful exploration of differences, which is all precisely what we all need much more of.

Let’s make a step towards revolution. Let’s develop a serious approach to build a new revolutionary movement and a new communist core. We desperately need one that is creative, serious, and aimed, not just at “getting active” but at achieving revolution. We need to sink deep roots among the oppressed, for that specific goal. Getting there, even imagining getting there, is hard work that takes real time and effort. And we need to do it together.

Let’s treat each other and our resources as the precious stuff they are.  Let us carefully choose which struggles to join now, along key fault lines that hold the prospect of touching thousands and tens of thousands and soon millions deeply in a way that prepares them to play a leading role in very radical changes.

Let’s fight along such fault lines as communists, bringing revolution openly into the mix, and let’s do it in a way where we are mutually transformed together with the people.

We have a fresh opportunity and a new beginning.  Why aim that at anything short of what some claim is impossible?

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  • Guest - Greg McDonald

    A nuanced and intelligent response. Kudos

  • Guest - Charley2u

    [moderator note: this comment, and the responses to it below have been moved to<a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/01/05/charleys-uneasy-feeling-is-the-state-itself-exhausted/" rel="nofollow"> their own thread</a>.]

  • Guest - Nat W.

    Very sharp...and compelling.

  • Guest - jp

    Ralph Nader is also asking '<a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2009/02/03/where-is-our-mississippi/" rel="nofollow">where is our Mississippi Freedom Summer</a>?':


    <blockquote>"The black swan question is whether something will erupt that is rare, extreme and unpredictable," Nader said. "It is amazing that it hasn't happened in any pockets of the country. How much more can the oppressed take before they revolt? And can they revolt without organizers? These are the two important questions. You have got to have organizers, and as of now we don't." [<a href="/http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/01/03-3" rel="nofollow">http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/01/03-3</a>]</blockquote>

    Nader's not a revolutionary, so he's imagined scenarios like 'only the super-rich can save us.' but his reading that an eruption is needed is accurate, and he recognizes this involves breaking with the democrats - more than some 'progressives for Obama' realize.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    I think Eric's response to CJs criticism very neatly underlines the crucial importance of really engaging criticisms rather than just dismissing them. Its easy enough to find weaknesses in the CJ piece, just as it is easy to find weaknesses in most political writing. Rather than focusing on those weaknesses however I think it is critical to always ask when reading a criticism "what are the strongest arguments here" and even if they aren't made well, to ask what they would look like if they were stronger. That is to say that we should as much as possible focus our attention on our critics strongest positions and not their weakest ones (though it may still be neccesary to correct certain errors of fact to prevent their entering the pool of mistaken "common knowledge.")

    The effects of focusing on the strongest arguments should be to correct and to clarify our own views. Correct in the sense of acknowledging actual errors and modifying our views, clarify in the sense of drawing out the substantive basis of real differences. I think Eric does an admirable job of doing exactly that. I would like to elaborate a little on how I see one of those differences.

    I believe that revolutionary theory must be tested in practice and that the only real purpose in developing it is precisely to inform a practice that engages the masses. There has been a vulgarization of this correct insight however that has come to be used to justify a marginalization of if not outright hostility towards theoretical work as such. This tendency is powerfully reinforced by U.S. traditions of anti-intellectualism and pragmatism that have been distilled in the Alinskyist model of community organizing. While most members of explicitly socialist organizations have a critical view of Alinskyism, I think it (and its variants) has nonetheless exercised an enormous influence on the thinking and practice of many. Often Alinskyism is dressed up with some phraseology taken from Paulo Freire's theories of popular education in ways that I think seriously contradict the revolutionary thrust of Freire's developed views, but that serve to give a radical-sounding rationale for mass organizational practices that are effectively de-politicizing.

    While I think the roots of this tendency are in the objective effects of the growth of the non-profit sector, countering it demands the development (and propagation) of a critical political analysis of the phenomena. The criticism of the so-callled "non-profit industrial complex" is really only a first step in this direction. We need to really elaborate how the non-profit model (which is very much aligned with Alinskyism and its variants) has shaped not just the political practice of those directly involved in it, but also the explicitly socialist left. And then we need to develop a strategy for developing mass work that is able to escape the powerful gravitational field of non-profit Alinskyism. And of course that is not something we can simply do in our heads or in discussions on blogs.

    It is something we have to develop in practice through experimentation. Finding the right "faultline" is not going to do this for us either. For as faultlines emerge, the resources of the non-profit sector inevitably get directed towards them precisely to prevent the emergence of forms of insurgent organization that might threaten not just this or that "target" but the system itself.

    We have used the question "<a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2009/02/03/where-is-our-mississippi/" rel="nofollow">where is our Mississippi?</a>" here to illustrate the idea of searching for faultlines.

    But we should also remember that just as SNCC was discovering the revolutionary potential of Mississippi, so was the Ford Foundation and that while the experience of Mississippi fueled a decade of social insurgency in the U.S. it was also a laboratory for the development of the counter-insurgent work of the non-profit sector which strove not to crush the movement but to channel it.

    The techniques used by the Ford Foundation in its relations with the civil rights movement have been considerably refined in the intervening decades and we should understand that no matter where we discover "our Mississippi" we will have to deal with this problem.

  • Guest - Radical Eyes

    First off: Great work, Eric. All the work that you put into this piece really paid off. I think it deserves a wide readership, for it really deals with a whole host of fundamental issues.

    Second: to echo Charley2u, I also would like to see more serious treatment of libertarian and anti-statist trends, and more discussion of the question of how we can and ought to relate to these trends.

    Third: to echo TNL, I would love to see a good article stream dealing with the NGO-establishment. I don't recall us having run much in this vein.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    From TNL’s comment #7 (with my emphasis):

    <blockquote>”I believe that revolutionary theory must be tested in practice and <i>that the only real purpose in developing it is precisely to inform a practice that engages the masses. There has been a vulgarization of this correct insight </i>however that has come to be used to justify a marginalization of if not outright hostility towards theoretical work as such….

    “…But we should also remember that just as SNCC was discovering the revolutionary potential of Mississippi, so was the Ford Foundation and that while the experience of Mississippi fueled a decade of social insurgency in the U.S. it was also a laboratory for the development of the counter-insurgent work of the non-profit sector <i>which strove not to crush the movement but to channel it.</i></blockquote>

    I am very much in agreement with what TNL’s has raised, and will add that I also very much agree with not simply dismissing critiques (sometimes outright), but examining and debating some potential stronger arguments being made. And the potential of seriously engaging in these polemics is important to clarify and sharpen things even further for us all.

    Kasama is not some homogeneous or amorphous project, and I think that by even respectfully raising the debate between Club Jacobin and Eric’s response, illustrates some uniqueness surrounding Kasama, that is also much needed among revolutionary and progressive forces. The answers are not simply there for the taking.

    The reason I am honing in on the above 2nd paragraph from TNL’s is I think it is relevatory as to better understanding our shared enemy, and what we’re up against. Would say that for some years there were attempts to outright “crush” the movement of those times, but “channeling” (and cooption) in more seemingly subtle ways much better served the interests of the rulers. (On the other hand, there were organizations, who took things to different levels, like the Black Panther Party, who were outright crushed. And this was also to send a brutal message to all those who supported a more revolutionary program in the overall movement. It always blew my mind, that in Chicago, years after the murder of Fred Hampton, and the dissipation of the BPP, the bourgeoisie left the ghost-like bldg. and remains of the BPP's headquarters for all to see.)

    But just as “SNCC was discovering the revolutionary potential of Mississippi,” (and acting on that potential) there are both potential faultlines that exist today, or represent important rumblings below the surface and we don’t have to manufacture these potentialities, with all their complexities and contradictions, and even in a non-revolutionary situation.

    My criticism, which maybe based on a subjective perception rather than some real analysis, is that what we have to get better at is real (and ultimately collective) investigation. After all, “no investigation, no right to speak.” And I would venture to say that sometimes the seeming chasm (<i>for some</i>) between theoretical struggle and practice has something to do with some lacklustre surrounding deeper investigation and materialist analysis. To my mind, developing theory serves practice, and vice versa.

  • Guest - NSPF

    Re. #7 by TNL.
    I think paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 are of tremendous strategic global value and needs to really be paid attention to.

  • Guest - Toddy

    From the lead post:
    <blockquote>Is it true that any “claim to be a political organization” rests on the legitimization of “daily organizing”? Can’t we perhaps answer that a claim to be a *revolutionary* political organization requires having worked out a *revolutionary* method for doing mass work? Is it true that our main, even our only, task should be to take up “daily organizing” around various demands?

    CJ assumes that it is known how communists today should do mass work, where they should dig in, with what strategy, and for what political goal. Kasama disagrees; we do not think this is already worked out. And more: we believe that just rushing toward the current model of “daily organizing” would make the political work of revolutionaries subordinate to reform politics, NGO agendas and the Democratic Party establishment.</blockquote>
    And then:
    <blockquote>Nearly everyone in Kasama is involved in different forms of mass work, in various local contexts.</blockquote>
    There is a need to reconcile these things, then, and to share lessons drawn from the work that answer the questions posed by Eric in the first citation. The suggestion here is that the comrades have <i>not</i> "rush[ed]" toward the current model, or that they have to some degree dug in, or that they have to some degree figured out how they should do the work. What is Kasama learning in its mass work, right now, about how to do this right?
    Should communists be consistently engaged in mass work, or should they sometimes withdrawal, entirely, to make these decisions? How do we learn where to dig in if we are not there among and with the people engaged in struggle?
    Eric goes on to rightly remind us of Mao's rejoinder about learning to see the sky--but what sky is it that he is looking at? That the comrades in Kasama are looking at? My sense is that the original critique was arguing that Kasama must test its ideas and line in practice, must test out even its attempts to suss out where to work and how--test it against the experience of the masses ("indirect")--and that we have no sense of that, from Kasama, here.
    I imagine that there is more to Kasama than this website, and thus imagine that it is possible this work is being done there. But to play its role in our ecosystem, shouldn't Kasama share those lessons, and that work? What is its contribution if not?

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    There are different roles that groups, organizations, individuals can take. I get a sense that many comrades share the frustration of many in Kasama with the current state of the revolutionary left. Any of us who have been active for more than a few years know or deeply feel (even if they are not consciously aware) that our current methods are exhausted. We, as individuals, are exhausted too, and I think some of us are waiting to be given a direction.

    Kasama is not here to give you the answers. Kasama is here, hopefully, to find the answers with you. What seems like a breathe of fresh air to our comrades is <i>not</i> that we have news answers, but that we are honest in saying, we don't know either. Those of us who work with Kasama are not united around shared answers, but around shared problems.

    Almost from the very beginning of the Kasama Project, I've felt that even if Kasama were just a short lived formation, even if it accomplished nothing else, one of the most important tasks long neglected by the revolutionary left was a place for communists, anarchists, revolutionaries, and even social democrats to come and calmly and respectfully have serious and real conversations with each other, to share and learn. If this is the only think Kasama accomplishes, then it will have played a very important role in the development of an American revolutionary movement.

    This space has value as a place for us to reflect and dig deeply into our shared problems. There is a real collective spirit that crosses what were once unbridgeable divides, Maoists, Trotskyists, anarchist treating each other as comrades. We should use this space for what it is, while we can, before we try and make it into something else.

    But that's just one communist's opinion.

  • Guest - kumaraaditya

    Interesting debate is going on. YOu have joind Khukuri also - the Neplease National Weapeon. It is the symbol of heroism and bravary. Second world war,The Gurkhas and Khukuri it has become a symbolic of heroism . NO doubt,Kasama it is a popular website . But I agree with Club Jacobin.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Great post. I've found Kasama a really important resource in terms of reconception, and far from being sectarian, it's genuinely grappling with the question of how to rebuild the communist movement as a whole.

    However, I share Gila Monster &amp; Toddy's (comment 14) frustration with the sparse reflection on mass work done by Kasama members. Seems like the project would be well-served by that sort of specific discussion. Is this a conscious methodological choice? Would like to tease that out.

  • Guest - jp

    amusing to see carl davidson argue that his "getting rid of carbon-burning and uranium burning as energy sources, and moving to expanding the green renewable sector–creating new jobs, new wealth, and a lighter ecological footprint in the process" is a more important reform than 30 for 40.

    Having belonged to one of the few unions still supporting that (although quite a while ago), 30 for 40 has a special place in my political education.

    Of course, as long as capitalism remains, capitalists will try to find ways to subvert reforms. that is as true for carl davidson's list as of 30 for 40.

    but the concept 30 for 40 strikes at workers' consciousness in a different way, allowing for concrete education as to labor value and wages.

    even neo-keynesian functionaries can and have argued for it.

    it is also important that working people's demands reverse - not just impede - the great neo-liberal reaction. 30 for 40 as a platform does that too.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    The discussion here has really bifurcated between one over Eric's response to the Club Jacobin critique of Kasama and one over Charley2U's provocative views on the state. I wish we could separate the two since they are both worth having.
    <strong>
    [Moderator note: We have moved that whole discussion<a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/01/05/charleys-uneasy-feeling-is-the-state-itself-exhausted/" rel="nofollow"> to its own thread</a>.]</strong>

    [Moderator note: we have also moved TNLs comment <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/01/05/tnl-unpacking-kasamas-priorities/" rel="nofollow">here to a separate thread</a>]

  • Guest - charley2u

    I agree with you TNL. The importance of this site, or any other site of this type, is how it lets communists relearn how to think, analyze and act like communists again. For far too long we have allowed Marx's theory to be overgrown with every sort fascist pollution emanating from Keynesian economics, the failed experiments of the Soviet Union and China, and progressive idealism.

    We have to put an end to this bullshit and declare to ourselves and everyone else that from this day forward we will be communists and we will not be afraid to state, no matter what limited daily struggles we undertake, that our aim is always to abolish of Labor, the State and Capital and realize a society founded on free voluntary association -- no matter how uncomfortable it makes our allies.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Cheers for that response.

    I do suspect the left in general needs to acknowledge and understand "non-significant results," if only to avoid deja vu.

  • Guest - celticfire

    TNL offered a great response. But I feel like people doing mass work enjoy a more-revolutionary-than-thou attitude in regards to this question, but I feel less inclined to entertain that attitude. I've been doing for years, and continue to do mass work. But like Chegitz said, what unites us are shared problems and questions, not neatly packaged solutions.

    I also feel inclined to throw some stones here, as someone that participated and lead this kind of mass work -- what progress have you made building a revolutionary force in this country, outside some admirable defense struggles against anti-immigrants, etc?

    The mass work that exists today is inadequate to even win reforms, let alone build a movement to overthrow capitalism. And this isn't Kasama's fault, and it wouldn't change direction if every member of Kasama did concentrated mass work. So heaping this on Kasama is ridiculous.

    This accusation feels like someone who is unsatisfied inviting me to be unsatisfied too. "Just do it" is a call to keep the wheels of passive apathy going, and we need a serious break with that. We need to find new ways to talk to people, engage them, struggle WITH them, but need to learn to do this without trading revolutionary communism in that process, and accepting new obscure identities palpable to the NGO universe.

    When I did mass work as a member of a socialist organization, many times people participating didn't know the people leading the groups where socialists, or Marxist. And in fact: many times there were Democrats who pushed things in a more radical direction than these closeted socialists.

    What is more, is that ideologically these socialist organizations that have a long history of dedicated, thoughtful and commendable mass work have deadened a great deal ideologically, unable to keep pace with changing concrete conditions of populations, nations and upheavals. They commemorate past leaders, but fails to engage the present ideological work. The result is an orthodox ideology that does not reflect the present (or future) reality, and ground work that is mostly just soft Democratic party work.

    Validating your failures because, hey you do mass work is self-delusional and reinforcing the problems that got us here.

    What is more is that this assumes we will find the solution to regroupment and reconception in currently existing mass work -- and that simply is not true.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    One again, we have the great post-1968 divide between 'politics as self-expression' (Charley) and 'politics as strategy'. While the former is sounding off with whatever views its likes, whether appropriate or not, the latter, including myself, can try to sort out friends and enemies, and the line of march.

  • Guest - Thomas

    I want to pick up on a line of Toddy's question that I think was sharp, and sidestepped. The comrade interestingly pointed out that while the lead paragraphs of Eric's response to the critique ask questions that would point us to concluding that a <i>priority</i> for revolutions is the task of reconception--of answering all of the many questions he raises--and <i>not</i> mass work and organizing (the "daily organizing" and "direct experience" bogeyman), he eventually goes on to say, well, you know, nearly all of us are in fact doing mass work.

    My friend Celticfire repeats it:
    <blockquote> I feel like people doing mass work enjoy a more-revolutionary-than-thou attitude in regards to this question, but I feel less inclined to entertain that attitude. I’ve been doing for years, and continue to do mass work. But like Chegitz said, what unites us are shared problems and questions, not neatly packaged solutions.</blockquote>

    Not to be blunt, but: Why? Why do mass work (of the kind that is <i>assumed</i> to be referred to by the Jacobin) at all? What is its value?

    At not one point in any of this has a Kasama comrade actually had something good to say about that work--and I'm willing to hear and engage with the idea (and struggle with it!) that there isn't anything good about it, that it's not a use of our time that makes sense given the other important priorities of revolutionaries.

    Instead, it is described as a road to NGOism, to tailing the Democratic party. Celticfire again:

    <blockquote>The mass work that exists today is inadequate to even win reforms, let alone build a movement to overthrow capitalism. </blockquote>

    Well, again, <b>why even bother doing it at all?</b>

    And, isn't this itself <i>political line</i>? It seems that way to me, and subsequently I wonder if it is line (or, if there's disagreement with that categorization, we can call it "opinion"), is it being shared earnestly with the people in the mass work that the comrades are doing.

    The most candid answer to those questions is offered by TNL:
    <blockquote>...the mass work that Kasama members are engaged in is not the product of any collective orientation on the part of Kasama. It is rather the work that individuals or small circles <b>happen to be doing for reasons of happenstance, habit and history.</b> [Emphasis added]</blockquote>

    Happenstance, habit, and history--these are the reasons why we engage in struggle? Cringing at how polemic this sounds, but I've got to say: this seems very unprincipled. Shouldn't we all have much better reasons than "happenstance, habit, and history" to engage with the people, to struggle alongside them, to walk with them, to serve them? And the line being put out here is that no existing mass work--or none thus far pointed to--does that adequately, or in a revolutionary way. While we are all critiqued for continuing to engage in it, Kasama's comrades receive a pass; they're just there, because, hell, what else do we know how to do?

    (And let me add that this presumption is itself sectarian in the way that the original critique articulated. It is as if the rest of us don't share similar questions about, or at least have a spirit if not different take of, a new communism, and the conception of a new revolutionary struggle and spirit; we have subordinated ourselves, even ideologically, to the logic of NGOs, of petit bourgeois electoralism.)

    Of course, some comrades have been engaged in <i>other forms</i> of mass and/or revolutionary work--summation (of sometimes decades-old practice that existed in the context of a very, very different United States), investigation (which is a form of important work, but is it "mass" work?), theoretical development, etc. These are all good, and I think not crediting them as work is mistaken. On the other hand, the tenacity with which work that <i>isn't</i> those things has been critiqued is uniquely interesting to me.

  • Guest - Nelson H.

    I'm willing to just agree to disagree on this point, but that won't make me think a view that the mass work being done by everyone outside the elect is a waste of time is any less wrong.

    I do believe that there are segments of the working class and the oppressed playing a vanguard role, even now in this moment when conditions are decidedly not revolutionary. I think that this is an objective fact, outside and separate from what we choose to acknowledge. And I think communists have an obligation to fuse ourselves with that vanguard, because they are the real heroes (we all know the end of that quote). I also don't think that we do this only by thinking the right thoughts, we do this by struggling alongside these folks day-in and day-out in ways that are humble and recognize that our own prospects for liberation are bound to our collective ability to make the apple fall.

    I think our inability to meet this task is what leads to failure, not the fact that we try in the first place. The history of the NCM I've learned certainly seems to bear this out in my mind.

    To return to TNL's science example, yes it is very true that tons of science produces "non-significant results." But please explain to me how the analogy makes sense of breakthroughs that happen in the course of pursuing an incorrect or unrelated hypothesis. I for one have been thankful more than once in my life for an obscure Scottish biologist's penchant for staphylococci and a lack of laboratory sanitation.

    I guess for me it comes down to knowing that I have precious few answers but full faith in the people. And for that reason alone I plan to continue to dig in, despite the pitfalls and hardships. Despite the cramps to my style in having to make mass work in non-revolutionary times and not my personal identity as a communist the defining characteristic of my engagement with certain projects.

    That isn't to deny the importance of theoretical work, but it has to remain a knife, and not become a fleshlight.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    @Thomas,

    The question, "why do comrades of Kasama continue to engage in mass work at all?" is a valid question, one that pricked at me. I think it is a real contradiction, but at least it is a conscious one. We know this isn't leading to revolution, but in the absence of being able to do revolutionary work, what else can/should we do? There are still injustices to fight. If you're lost in the ocean and surrounded by sharks, you don't say to a person in the water, "The real problem is getting home. If we do that, you won't need to be pulled up." We pull the brother or sister out of the water."

    I think there's a real danger if we were to stop all mass work. If nothing else, continuing to do mass work can keep us in contact with the oppressed. The example of Living Marxism/Spiked Online or Western Marxism and Post Modernism should not be ignored.

    I also think there is also the simple fact that, as I mentioned in my previous post, Kasama <i>does not have the answers.</i> We are just as lost as everyone else. We just know that we're lost, and we're telling our comrades, "Hey, we're lost." When we say we are looking to find the answers with you and other comrades, that's not pablum. We know we will not find correct solutions without others. This will be a collective effort, and we are only one part of that effort.

  • Guest - charley2u

    For more than a decade I have been working with a circle of individuals who are coordinating their efforts on the issue of reduced hours of work. Most of it consists of "progressive" critiques of the "overworked American" and the like. Mostly it is quite marginal to the economic discussion, but people continue to plug away. Some are producing films and books on the issue -- which are inevitably ignored and treated hostilely by mainstream economics.

    Part of it is a question of habit of sorts: I first became interested in the idea of reduced hours of work while studying the catastrophic end of the Soviet Union for my honors thesis in economics at the end of the eighties.

    Is this work non-significant? Yes, for the most part. And, much of it was in isolation and conversation with a few members of the circle. But, it has led me deeper into questions of the relation between the struggle over hours of work, politics and history. It has also brought me to my present view of what it means to be a communist.

    The two times I have posted a series of responses to this site, I am sharing the distilled experience of that two decades of sporadic mostly uneventful work.

    Would a periodic summary of that work have been the least bit interesting to others on this site? I seriously doubt it. Who wants to hear a discussion of what it means to be a communist within a circle of mostly progressive, slightly left of center activists, who mistakenly think that the problem of too much work comes down to the problem of American middle class over-consumption.

    But, in the course of my work I have done significant study of the relation between hours of work and American empire -- including uncovering the link between the determined effort to erase discussion of hours of work in the labor movement and Truman administration efforts to ensure the US had sufficient resources to fight a prolonged Cold War against the Soviet Union. Through this study I have come to re-conceptualize the State as the necessary form of superfluous labor, which itself becomes increasingly necessary to capital to offset the declining rate of profit.

    That I can share here on this site.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    What unites Kasama on this question, as I see it, is an appreciation of the importance of a certain kind of open theoretical discussion as a way to deal with some of the problems of the revolutionary left. That is to say we see a task that we think is important and we have tried with our modest resources to take it up.

    I think there is probably less unity in our views on the relative value of various other sorts of work including not just the work of other formations but probably also the work of other members of Kasama. There is, it should be acknowledged, a certain inheritance here from the RCP which tends to view virtually every kind of mass work that any other groups are involved in as hopelessly "economist."

    While I think "economism" is in fact a serious problem in a lot of mass work, I don't think that sort of blanket condemnation is particularly helpful. Revolutionaries should engage in mass work. Not neccesarily every person all the time. But without that engagement there is, I think, a pretty clear tendency for theoretical discussions to become unmoored from the conditions and struggles of the oppressed in ways that run counter to our larger purposes. Thats certainly a real danger.

    But its not the only one. Another danger is in doing a certain kind of mass work because of "habit, happenstance or history," that is to say because thats what you've been doing for years and you don't know what else to do. I've done some of that and I think a lot of us have. I'm not proud of it but I'm not terribly ashamed either. In the absence of robust socialist or communist organizations its difficult to know what to do. So we try different things or we just do what we've always done or we step back but fear that we might never step back in. Celticfire wants to throw stones. Me, not so much. I feel genuinely conflicted. I'm part of this project not because I think it represents the one true path, but because it seems like its doing some good in getting some neccesary conversations happening and because its something I am presently in a position to make a positive contribution to.

    For the record, I'm very glad that other people are organizing military families against the Iraq and Afghan wars, or organizing sit-ins against SB 1070, or building a national fight-back against the FBI raids, or fighting foreclosures, or the austerity budgets. I also sincerely want to know how socialists see the mass work of this sort that they are doing as part of a larger strategy for revolution. And even if the answer to that question is "we're not exactly sure, we're trying to figure that out as we go" I can respect that.

    What I have less patience with is the insistence that if I personally or Kasama collectively is not engaged in that or some other type of mass work, or places insufficient emphasis on that sort of work at this moment, that this is a terrible failing and makes what we are doing somehow irrelevant. Here the proof is in the pudding. Kasama is the most vibrant discussion space for revolutionary-minded folks that I know of. It continues to attract new readers, new participants in these discussions, and new people to the organization itself. Lots of those folks are involved in all sorts of different kinds of mass work, as individuals or as members of various socialist or other radical groups, but nonetheless seem to find value in the discussions they find here and are generally unable to find elsewhere.

    Do the websites have weaknesses and limitations? Of course they do. But I don't think throwing ourselves more fully into some area of mass work or reporting more on what mass work we are involved in would address those problems. Indeed it would actually almost certainly make the websites worse. Kasama has a much higher level of traffic than most other websites of the revolutionary left in the US because a crew of people has prioritized it as an area of work. Almost everything I can think of that would make these sites work better involves more people doing more of this kind of work and therefore not some other kind of work. Kasama is not just the websites, but they are I think the most important thing we are doing and I think it makes perfect sense at this stage for them to be the main focus of our energies.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    I have a simple rule of thumb. All analyses or theories that tell you that you can't do anything or that there's nothing that can be done because your line is not correct enough, are wrong.

    For goodness sake, there's at least two wars going on. If you don't have a communist strategy yet, go out and organize your neighbors to join you in demonstrating at the local seat of government demanding an end to it. You can hardly go wrong with that. Then while you're doing that, put your heads together and come up with some new ideas.

    Then knock on doors, talk to people, do some research and read a few books to widen your outlook, then do it all over again. Sometimes I think the new French philosophers get you too tangled up in their own head trips; try a few Americans for a change.

  • There is a lot i agree with in TNL's <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/01/03/grasping-the-theoretical-knife-a-response-to-club-jacobin/#comment-33332" rel="nofollow">recent comment above</a>:

    <blockquote>"I think “economism” is in fact a serious problem in a lot of mass work.... Revolutionaries should engage in mass work. Not necessarily every person all the time. But without that engagement there is, I think, a pretty clear tendency for theoretical discussions to become unmoored from the conditions and struggles of the oppressed in ways that run counter to our larger purposes. Thats certainly a real danger."
    </blockquote>

    At the same time, I would like to explore what it means when TNL writes:

    <blockquote>"There is, it should be acknowledged, a certain inheritance here from the RCP which tends to view virtually every kind of mass work that any other groups are involved in as hopelessly “economist.” While I think “economism” is in fact a serious problem in a lot of mass work, I don’t think that sort of blanket condemnation is particularly helpful."</blockquote>

    Disdain or abstention (whoever it is justified) would be problematic. For one thing, the point of everything we do is to change the world (in reality) -- and arrive at those moments where "the weapon of criticism gives way to the criticism by weapons."

    For another thing, I agree with TNL that separating any communist project from the people and from their struggles in some hermetic or protracted way would ultimately affect its character and line in a corrosive way.

    When we were very small and very new (not so long ago!) -- it was easy just to focus on initiating our work on theory and strategic reconception. As we have grown nationally, and developed organized groups, we need to develop a more coherent approach to this (a conscious "mix") -- beyond a thousand flowers approach of "local autonomy, individual activity, plus collective discussion."

    I like the approach of identifying a few particular and promising areas of engagement -- selected because
    1) they serve our larger project of preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution -- and can play a role in the work of communist regroupment (i.e. like the internationalist promotion, critical exploration and political support of communist revolution in South Asia).
    2) They are along one or two key faultlines that are most promising for future mass radicalization. (I think we should give particular attention to the struggle of immigrants for full legal rights, and key cases of police brutality, but others might emerge like student tuition struggles, or....)
    3) They are struggles that are not utterly dominated by far stronger and far more conservative forces. (I.e., taking up "health care" is to play on a political playing field that has been staked out and "spoken for" by every powerful force in society).
    4) They allow our forces to take them up in our current "widely spread out" situation -- i.e. they are not completely local.
    5) Or, in some cases, they reflect particular important events where we need to throw in with energy (for example, we need to be part of the resistance to the FBI/Grand Jury persecution of the FRSO-FB forces in the Midwest.) I even think there are conditions under which we should temporarily abandon other forms of work (theoretical or whatever) -- because of particular urgency (like the U.S. launching some new international outrage, or some important new outbreak of strategically important mass struggle.)

    We need to be quite engaged, flexible and open -- and yet not jerked around impulsively, gripped by hyped approaches that resemble panic and yet justify a kind of mindless routine.

    In other words, I'm hoping that out of this Third Year discussion and beyond, we can explore how to develop mass work in ways that run parallel to other tasks -- for example: mass work that is also feeding and feeding off of our necessary work of reconception. (this is part of the reason i see a great deal of importance to doing both investigation and summation as part of aggressive outreach broadly among the people.) It is, if anything, one of the most important and difficult controversies we face -- within the Kasama Project as such.

  • Guest - celticfire

    Comrade Thomas,

    I did not mean to leave the impression that current mass work is a waste time. I have a great deal of respect for Leftist organizers and their work. However, as has been pointed out - there are serious drawbacks and dangers to current mass work projects. For the most part, they aren't mass work, but soft election organizing. Pick any issue and you will find the same problem. My politics aren't a zen koan, meaning I am not going to toll the bell for the sake of being a monk. Why is it that brother Nelson is forced to surrender his identity as a communist to do mass work? What does it say when you do surrender that identity? The movement is NOT everything..the goal is.

    Kasama members have been humble and honest enough to say: yes, we have short comings and weaknesses. I have not heard this from the movementist side, only self-rightousness centered on their perceived "mass" work. This is not helpful nor truly honest, is it?

    The mass work I engage in is not my political focus. I do it, however for the same reasons you do. The difference is I do not expect special insights from day-to-day organizing.

    And I will add that the political work I do without needing to closet my identity as a revolutionary or a communist, and I think that in itself says a lot.

  • Guest - Charley2u

    I think the entire idea of "mass work" is mistaken; a phony concept that follows from phony assumptions about the nature of the communist movement of society. The concept, mass work, rests on these assumptions:

    1. That the revolutionary event will unfold in such a way that it will not be clear to the mass of society what must happen next.

    2. That, under these circumstances, a mass democratic entity -- a workers' government -- will emerge to decide what is next.

    3. That this mass democracy itself will be unclear on its tasks and will require the bold, clearheaded leadership of a party of individuals committed to some definite necessary course arrived at through theoretical analysis of conditions on the ground.

    4. The body of the party will be composed of the advanced thinkers of the working class who, over the preceding period, have been somehow won to an understanding of this definite necessary course, at least theoretically, and, as a result, will be able to provide the kind of leadership necessary to successfully navigate to what's next.

    5. The work communists do now is to patiently identify, work with, develop and recruit these advanced thinkers into the party in preparation for the big event.

    I think there is a chain of reasoning here that falls apart once you side with Marx who, in the German Ideology, described the "communist movement of society" as an empirical event. If indeed this communist movement of society is an empirical event, you can do away with the assumption of a workers' state. Once the workers' state has been rejected, you can now heave overboard the party composed of the advanced thinkers, and the concept of mass work itself.

    What does this leave us with? I am not sure, and haven't been sure for more than 20 years when I sat down and seriously studied "German Ideology". When I shared my conclusion that Marx saw the communist movement of society as an empirical event, and that, therefore, we communists were entirely unnecessary to this process, with a friend who was in the RCP at the time, we sat together in a kind of stunned silence. After about thirty seconds she asked me, "So what are we supposed to be doing?"

    My only guess at the time was that we could, by sharing our theoretical insights, marginally quicken the pace of this mass revolution in the consciouness of society, but that it would happen whether we were there or not. And, that is basically what i have tried to do these last 20 or so years in my area of interest, hours of work.

    Where those long years of mostly isolated work comes in handy is this crisis: I have been invited by some 99ers to participate in a legislative action to win redress of their situation. They know I am not in favor of endless extensions of unemployment compensation, or government funded employment or economic stimulus of any kind, but only in the reduction of hours of work. If they allow me, I can explain to them why UC and a WPA-like program is completely inadequate to the kind of unemployment we are now experiencing, not to mention the hidden unemployment of the swollen prison population and military.

    To those who are interested, I can also show them why any expansion of government at this point in history is precisely what we should not be doing, and why we should instead be seeking the replacement of the State by voluntary association. I doubt many will be in the mood to hear this at this point when the 99ers are in such dire economic circumstances. But, frankly speaking, they are not the only ones -- millions are in prison, and a million more are in the military. Moreover, the great mass of the unemployed will never qualify for any benefits at all. Our job is to advocate for everyone, not just those voices who are organized and visible.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    Carl,

    It is certainly not my view that "you can’t do anything or that there’s nothing that can be done because your line is not correct enough." And I don't think that is actually the argument here. Rather the argument is that building an online community for revolutionary discussion is actually doing something valuable in its own right and doesn't need to be justified by the people involved doing more mass work or talking more about that work.

    As for your advice, its a pretty standard bit of "just do it." I suppose it depends on what you think counts as "going wrong." If after five years you feel like a hamster in a wheel and the wars are still going, does that count as "going wrong"?

    The real question is how to engage in mass work in ways that bring forward the possibilities for revolution in a context in which that has proven extraordinarily difficult, in which "just doing it" has produced few returns in the form of even modest victories and high levels of demoralization. There is a certain pragmatic view here that if one just keeps plugging away at the mass work that the path forward will eventually just present itself. There is an implicit determinism in this, a sort of economist variation on the view that the correct line is just there for the taking, a vulgarized version of the mass line that suugests that the answers, while not neccesarily yet concentrated in the line of any group, are all just just lurking out there in the mass work.

    I've organized more demonstrations than I can count and attended even more than that. I've knocked on a lot of doors, passed out a million flyers, done plenty of research and read a lot of books. And one of the "new ideas" I came up with in the course of all this is that the anti-intellectual hostility to serious theoretical discussions in the US left activist milieu has produced a left largely incapable of even rudimentary stratgic thinking and that it is neccesary to build projects that counteract all that. Your presence here suggests that you recognize the value in this as well.

    Nobody here is arguing that if we just read enough Badiou the answers will make themselves clear either. Rather it is that creating spaces like this is neccesary to developing new ideas that we need to break out of certain quite clearly dysfunctional modes of operating.

    Mass work doesn't just happen, it is led by a political line whether that is explicitly acknowledged or not. Without robust explicitly revolutionary organization and theory, the mass work we do ends out being led by a political line that basically reflects the orientation of the liberal wing of the ruling class. This line has come to prevail not just in the non-profit foundation financed world of "community based organizations," where one would expect, but also in organizations that see themselves as socialist but that are themselves increasingly entangled in that world. This is, for the most part, not a reflection of concious decisions on anybody's part to "sell out," but rather of the steady accretion over several decades of small compromises made in the face of serious defeats. Radicals who "industrialized" in the 70s and somehow survived in their jobs are propelled into positions as officers in their locals, new waves of radicalized students graduate and take paid jobs as labor organizers or non-profit staffers. Over time this strata of activists in the pay of foundations and unions comes to dominate what passes for a socialist movement in this country, if not numerically then in terms of free-time and access to resources. Little by little the logic of these sorts of jobs, the intellectual and political habits cultivated by constant grant-writing, by get out the vote phone-banking, and so on, has colonized what we should call "the socialist milieu" since it isn't presently really a "movement." Admonitions to "just do it" will not break us out of this dynamic. But to break out is exactly what we need to do and that requires building up some independent revolutionary centers with their own gravity even if at first they are quite small.

    I'm not here to argue against any particular course of mass work that anybody is doing. But if you consider yourself a revolutionary and a socialist or communist and you are doing that work I really want to hear how the two are connected, that is how the mass work you are doing and how you are doing it advances the revolutionary project. I think such arguments can be made more persuasively in some cases than in others and this relates mainly to the question of faultlines.

    For example I think the question of immigration is a faultline that is likely to produce increasingly radical forms of struggle. We've seen that in the activism around the DREAM Act. There is a whole set of non-profits who have been plodding away trying to get the DREAM Act passed for years. This year the co-optive logic of non-profitized activism encountered a stronger more polarizing logic arising from the issue itself. The passage of SB 1070 and the political maturation of a whole layer of undocumented youth produced a small but important rupture as a fraction of the undocumented "came out of the closet" and started to engage in acts of civil disobedience at the same time that the law itself was being re-written in ways that many who had fought for it found repugnant. This then is an area of mass work, an honest-to-god refom struggle, with real potential for mass radicalization. The question, and this is not just rhetorical, is whether socialists involved in this work are going to push forward this process of radicalization or whether the logic of the non-profit world is going to cause them to act as a brake.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    So Charley thinks the whole idea of 'mass work' is phoney. Let's take on his points:

    <blockquote>1. That the revolutionary event will unfold in such a way that it will not be clear to the mass of society what must happen next.</blockquote>

    The first thing I'll note is that this point and all the following points are in the passive voice, with all of us in the role of observors rather than actors. Second 'what will happen next' is often unclear across the board, since the future is open and full of wild cards. So what?

    <blockquote>2. That, under these circumstances, a mass democratic entity — a workers’ government — will emerge to decide what is next.</blockquote>

    Maybe, maybe not. A mass-based fascist government may come first, and decisions about 'what is next' will likely involve NGOs and other parts of civil society in addition to government.

    <blockquote>3. That this mass democracy itself will be unclear on its tasks and will require the bold, clearheaded leadership of a party of individuals committed to some definite necessary course arrived at through theoretical analysis of conditions on the ground.</blockquote>

    Not quite. There may be more than one party. Several may work in a common front. Large sectors of the masses may be very clear on what they want. And several courses may get the job done, not just one that is 'necessary'. People will have to choose, and at times will make poor choices.

    <blockquote>4. The body of the party will be composed of the advanced thinkers of the working class who, over the preceding period, have been somehow won to an understanding of this definite necessary course, at least theoretically, and, as a result, will be able to provide the kind of leadership necessary to successfully navigate to what’s next.</blockquote>

    We should hope so, but also take into account my caveats above.

    <blockquote>5. The work communists do now is to patiently identify, work with, develop and recruit these advanced thinkers into the party in preparation for the big event.</blockquote>

    That's part of it. But they should also build strongholds and take portions of power in the existing order, as part of a training school on becoming masters of society and lighting beacons to point the way. Moveover, there may not be one 'Big Event', but a series of events.


    <blockquote>I think there is a chain of reasoning here that falls apart once you side with Marx who, in the German Ideology, described the “communist movement of society” as an empirical event. If indeed this communist movement of society is an empirical event, you can do away with the assumption of a workers’ state. Once the workers’ state has been rejected, you can now heave overboard the party composed of the advanced thinkers, and the concept of mass work itself.</blockquote>

    That's also what we call a non-sequitur, in fact a string of them. The trade union movement is also an empirical event. That doesn't mean we can do away with unions, a labor party, or a labor government, or they don't follow. They may or may not, but we can point to several in history as examples where they have.

    <blockquote>What does this leave us with? I am not sure, and haven’t been sure for more than 20 years when I sat down and seriously studied “German Ideology”. When I shared my conclusion that Marx saw the communist movement of society as an empirical event, and that, therefore, we communists were entirely unnecessary to this process, with a friend who was in the RCP at the time, we sat together in a kind of stunned silence. After about thirty seconds she asked me, “So what are we supposed to be doing?”</blockquote>

    So why did Marx and Engels take part in the First International? Why did they engage in debates and counter-proposals regarding party programs. Why even bother with the Communist Manifesto?

    Charley, you've discovered something akin to the Johnson-Forest tendency's neo-Hegelianism by walking backwards into it--You write about philosophy while blindly worshipping the spontaneous movement.

    In any case, the point of structural reform is not a quantitative expansion of government. You can expand some aspects of it, and abolish others entirely. It quality that counts here, mainly the quality of expanding the strength and fighting capacity of the workers while meeting some of their needs. And our tasks as communists in these battles, is to represent the whole, not just that part; and the future, not just the present. And all that requires that we're involved in 'mass work' as well as our theoretical and propaganda tasks

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    Mike,

    I am in basic agreement with the framework for orienting mass work that you lay out. I think the criteria or considerations you spell out are good ones.

    I would only add that I think campuses are a critical arena. While it is impossible to predict around what issues stuff might jump off, that campuses remain pretty unique arenas that concentrate very large numbers of young people potentially open to radicalization and are the least hostile environment we have for the sort of theoretical work we are arguing is neccesary. There is a sort of knee-jerk hostility to campus-focused work (in my experience almost entirely from folks who got their political start on campuses) that is another expression of the dominant culture of anti-intellectualism in the US.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    I don't have much to add to the criticism of Charley2U's comments except to note the implicit determinism that it shares with Social Democratic and Stalinist takes on this question. Each of these produce different recipes for what to do but all underestimate the critical role of agency and rupture.

  • Guest - Charley2u

    TNL and Carl,

    Your comments are significant, and there is reason to consider them. However, neither of you address the issue raised by Marx in the German Ideology that the communist movement of society is empirical. While I am not wedded to my interpretation of the meaning of his statement, it does require more than simple dismissal and silence.

    In my understanding of the term, empirical means action derived from experience and observation without intervening theory or a system of beliefs. From this I gather Marx assumed that, at least in the worst case, it would eventually become obvious to the great mass of society that the existing state and relations of production must be set aside.

    I would be happy to hear your view on this since it does occupy a significant place in the statements I made above.

  • Guest - Nelson H.

    Charley2U, I think this is an example of the "teleological" Marx. And I think we have to reject much of this as just plain wrong (it's right to rebel after all, and even the most scared of headquarters must be bombarded). Not to make this post entirely a litany of quotes, but I like Che line the best on this: "The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall."

  • Guest - Charley2u

    I would also add that Marx does not rule out a non-empirical route to this mass revolution in consciousness - and your observations regarding the First international are well taken, Carl. But, then we have to deal with the problem of the party itself, which substitutes theoretical constructs for this empirically determined truth. Marx found this problem annoying enough to declare he was not a Marxist.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    By 'empirical,' I think Marx means that it's a living, breathing movement of actual men and women, engaging in practical-critical activity. He would, in this sense, oppose it to idealism, especially Hegel's, wherein 'Communism' is an idea that marches through time.

    But precisely because it isn't idealist, but arises among real people in history, warts and all, with all the limitations and unevenness of time, place and circumstance, there is need for "mass work" as well as theoretical work, to help it grow, find its way, and give it the power of organization.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    To embellish Che's quote slightly: A revolutionary situation does indeed fall (or emerge) when it is ripe. Once that situation arises, the question becomes how to take it over into an actual revolution and seizure of power.

    In trying to understnad this debate over the role of mass work in relation to what C2u calls an "empirical event" (which I see as synonymous with a revolutionary situation), we need to perhaps question the perceived linear link between mass work in non-revolutionary times and what that work establishes when we are thrust into a revolutionary situation. In other words, what is the quality and content of preparing minds and organizing forces now that might actually build bridges from here to there?

    Clearly there have been thousands of revolts and revolutions throughout human history, so in a very important sense this is an empirical event. What communist revolutionaries have envisioned that is radically different is that proletarian revolution would be light years ahead in consciousness, with its aims of abolishing (as C2u articulated), classes, exploitation, and the State. And even here, the revolutionary seizure of power in the Soviet Union lasted 50 years and in China, 30 years; so these are complex relatioinships. The question then seems to morph into: recognizing the fluid, contingent, unpredicable, and empirical nature of a revolutionary situation, and recognizing that once a revolutionary situation emereges the possibility (liklihood?) of all previous mass work being hurled into the air... well, my point is: the qualitative nature of a revolutionary situation will quite likely present us with an empirical reality that all the mass work in the world might not have prepared us for.

    The heart of the matter for me is the transformation of communist consciousness and, while this may occur within a relatively small grouping of people, it still seems to me that the work now is to create these councils (if you will) in as many regions and locales as possible (Kasama website is one vital method), where political analysis leading to ideological clarity is paramount. For, at the risk of being crudely empirical, in a revolutionary situation the masses of people will be looking for practical answers to end war, misery, and deprivation and it will be only our revolutionary consciousness, our ability to reveal and resolve contradictions, that will distinguish us from hundreds of players in the field all pointing in a variety of directions, reactionary and seemingly revolutionary both.

    The fetish of mass work now may not have the relationship to the empirical event of a revolutionary situation that we have often assumed.

  • Guest - Charley2u

    Carl,

    So do I take you to be saying that this practical-critical activity can be undertaken by the mass of proletarians without the need for mass work and theoretical work? But that these latter forms of activity can help it avoid unnecessary obstacles to the completion of the communist movement?

    In other words, is it possible to critically separate the first, empirical, process from the second, theoretical communist, processes so as to examine the latter processes without assuming they are in any fashion a requirement for the first?

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    @C2U

    Is it possible to separate doing and thinking? As a point of abstract analysis, I suppose so. But in the life of social movements, the two usually go together.

    @TNL

    I think our difference seems to be that you place more weight on making revolution happen. In my view, most of the elements of revolutionary crises are objective factors, ie, things that happen within the old order apart from the will of revolutionaries. I stress the task of the 'war of position' in nonrevolutionary conditions, where the number of advanced fighters is rather small, but there are still mass democratic struggles for immediate and structural reforms where people can gain experience, knowledge and learn how to fight. The 'war of manuever takes a secondary role. But then when a transitional revolutionary crisis or period of mass radicalization emerges, we had something to make the turn WITH. Obviously, we will lose some people who will lag behind at that point, just as we often lose good people who try to go too far ahead and 'flame out' under current conditions.

  • Guest - Thomas

    Celticfire:

    <blockquote>[...] there are serious drawbacks and dangers to current mass work projects. For the most part, they aren’t mass work, but soft election organizing. Pick any issue and you will find the same problem.</blockquote>

    I don't think there's any significant dissent on the point that there are drawbacks and "dangers" to current mass work, especially the pull of reformism, NGOism, and a kind of simple electoralism. The road to social democracy is surely paved with good intentions. On the other hand, there's kind of an inevitability built into your logic here (and into Tellnolies'); it's as if the worst thing <i>has got to happen</i>, not that it is a possibility, existing simultaneously alongside the possibility of the best thing happening. It's not dialectical; there is no ability to change or reorient or make intervention. It is <i>just</i> one thing.

    Surely whatever revolutionary situation we ultimately face, if we ever face one, will require the organization and spirit of the mass groups which you deride, and which we have been told are worthless pursuits. Well, what energy and capacity will they be able to muster if they have become the worst that they can be?

    Don't you think the active participation and leadership of revolutionaries can make qualitative changes in the direction of this group or that?

    Celticfire says:
    <blockquote>The mass work I engage in is not my political focus. I do it, however for the same reasons you do. The difference is I do not expect special insights from day-to-day organizing.</blockquote>

    This is of course a presumed difference, one that I never suggested, and necessary for the sake of your argument. Our "side" (the "movementist side") is naive, with expectations that the enlightened wouldn't have.

    <b><i>Or</i></b> maybe we do not expect special insights from the day-to-day activity of our mass work, but instead expect there to be lessons drawn from sum practice--the overall implementation of line, the development and radicalization of members of the class, etc. I'm not looking for some kind of earth shattering lesson in each thing I do, seeking the mystical wisdom of a fetishized class of people.

    One thing I <b>do</i> expect out of day-to-day organizing is special connection and relationship to people who are drawn into mass struggle--both the active and the advanced in the work--from shared experience.

    Celticfire finishes:
    <blockquote>And I will add that the political work I do without needing to closet my identity as a revolutionary or a communist, and I think that in itself says a lot.</blockquote>

    There is of course a lot of assumption built in here, again necessary for the sake of your argument. It is as if there are no "out" communists in mass work, as if there is no "out" mass project of communist initiation. Well, in reality it is not as if these things were true. I am not closed about what I believe, and what labels I might use to call myself, and about the history of my work and why I do it. And that has not proved to be a limitation in my work--partly because I actually bother to do work, and well. Instead it has drawn interest and fomented discussion and struggle.

    And lastly I would point out that there is an assumption here that the experience of mass work is somehow universal, as if we are all able to openly quote Mao and proclaim ourselves to be communists without consequence. I doubt Portland is much of a workers' paradise, but I imagine that it is a very different political terrain from reactionary places in the South, where the consequences of saying "this union is organized by communists," or "the union's president is a Maoist" are very much framed differently. It doesn't mean that those politics have to be put aside, or that we cannot engage (as communists) with leaders in the union. But the approach is different--and decidedly so from the experience of those in other aspects of the country with different social and political (and economic!) characters.

  • Guest - Charley2u

    Carl,

    That was not my question. I asked you "is it possible to critically separate the first, empirical, process from the second, theoretical communist, processes so as to examine the latter processes without assuming they are in any fashion a requirement for the first?"

    How is this like separating thinking and doing? Are you implying that the masses "do", while we "think". Or, have you just lost all ability to make a critical argument as well.

  • Guest - Charley2u

    I will add only one more statement on this topic -- unless Carl wishes to answer my question: If you are going to discuss the question of mass work and its role in the revolutionary process, you must first strip it of all the mystical, ritualistic, garbage attached to it. I think the first step in that process is to recognize it is not, of itself, necessary.

    It can be a vital living adjunct to the empirical process society must itself go through, as long as we do not flatter ourselves that we are irreplaceable in that process.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    @C2U

    My mass work--organizing against the war, campaigning for full employment, working for certain local labor candidates for state rep, etc--is distinct from my theoretical work (the impact of the information revolution and semiconductors on Marxism and the prospects of socialism and communism) and my propaganda work (conducting study groups on socialism, writing about the Mondragon cooperatives, etc.). All three overlap to a degree, but they are not identical. For instance, some of it has the goal of expanding the size and reach of our PDA chapter and our peace group, while some of it aims at building my socialist group, CCDS.

    All of them taken together, I'd argue, are appropriate forms of mass work, revolutionary education and organization for non-revolutionary conditions. Does that answer your question?

  • Guest - land

    First I do want to say this has been both an interesting and frustrating debate.

    I like the way Eric ends: "Let's treat each other and our resources as the precious stuff they are. Let us carefully choose which struggles to join now, along key fault lines that hold the prospect of touching thousands and tens of thousands and soon millions deeply in a way that prepares them to play a leading role in very radical changes.
    and
    "Let's fight along the such fault lines as communists, bring revolution openly into the mix, and let's do it in a way where we are mutually transformed together with the people.

    The impression I get from Jacobin and others is we can just jump in and something good will happen. And if we don't just jump in then Kasama and the people and the world will suffer.

    Well I cant speak for everyone but I think most of us in Kasama are here because we have had experiences with this "Just do it - whatever" kind of approach. We want to sink the deep roots that are needed. We want to grasp a theory and hammer out a strategy that matches up with our communist goal. The articles that Kasama has written are in that direction. And there is good response from alot of people.

    Yes let's make a step toward revolution. And keep going.


    .

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    Carl,

    We have very different readings of Gramsci. I am not opposed in any way to "mass democratic struggles for immediate and structural reforms where people can gain experience, knowledge and learn how to fight." Indeed I think these are critical. But when, as you say, the number of revolutionary fighters is small, I think it is critical to choose terrain and ways of fighting that don't just teach people "how to fight" but also what needs to be fought for. It is true that the objective conditions for making revolution are beyond our control. It is also true that what distinguishes a "crisis in capitalism" from a "crisis of capitalism," as Lebowitz noted in the talk with Harnecker posted here, is the existence of subjective forces with something more than organization and a capacity to fight, that is to say a vision of a revolutionized society and an orientation to find a way to it. The role of conscious revolutionaries is different from the role of good progressive organizers in precisely this respect.

    I'm not saying that it is easy to do this or even clear how to do it in particular situations. I think it neccesarily involves much experimentation and frequent failures that can be demoralizing and cause people who start out sincerely wanting revolution to think that such an orientation is pointless and the best they can do is to build mass organizations and hope that they will radicalize somewhere down the road when objective conditions ripen. This is, as I've argued, a more pessimistic species of determinism.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    As a wise man once put it: 'Fight, fail; fight again, fail again...until their victory. Such is the logic of the people." Or something close to that.

    I've found workers fairly clear on what their pressing needs are. What they are not so clear about (and often, neither are we) is how best to organize, fight for them and win. In the ideological realm, apart from deconstructing 'whiteness,' I've found cynicism to be one of the main internalized weapons that's tough to break down.

  • Guest - Nelson H.

    @ Land (or anyone for that matter), care to respond to Toddy's very pointed question or Thomas' elaborations? Because it seems that, at least according to a post by TNL that has been promoted to the front page, y'all in fact continue this "just doing it" method "for reasons of happenstance, habit and history."

    Moreover, just because y'all may or may not have line around what is meant by "fault lines," what an emerging historic bloc will look like, where we should focus forces, etc. doesn't mean that the rest of us also don't. In fact, I'd argue it makes the fact that y'all continue to "just do it" much more problematic.

    I think I must misunderstand, because I really just cannot accept where this would take me. By knowing that a practice is not simply limiting b/c of conditions and balance of forces or potentially prone to fail, but in fact pointless and wrong, and still doing it we end up with what amounts to the intentional sabotage of whatever work among the people a communist engaged in! Not even letting people learn by making mistakes, because we've concluded that there are ZERO important lessons we can learn this way! Just “non-significant results.” I refuse to believe that is what y'all are doing, and so I have to re-articulate Thomas' request that you please provide a rationale for why y'all work in the people's struggles?

    This lack of understanding is why I am troubled when repeated attempts by those of us who have fleshed out piece-parts of a strategic framework to engage critically with y'all around such thinking are brushed off as merely "self-righteousness," as my old friend Celticfire has done here. I truly want to understand who you reconcile these seemingly-contradictory views.

    Now if you want to engage with the line on such questions others have put out in substantive ways, please by all means. I would absolutely love for this site to really engage theoretically with others' lines on the national questions, any number of other organization's positions on class struggle in this country, how we fully articulate revolutionary politics to win the liberation of humanity from patriarchy, etc. But really, outside of electoral struggles and occasionally immigration I hear the crickets far too often when I type this url into my browser.

    But still, the question Toddy first raised will remain.

  • Guest - land

    What is the question by Toddy that Nelson H. is referring to.

    I would like to engage but I am not sure what the question is.

  • Guest - Nelson H.

    Sorry: post 9. Thomas' elaborations: posts 19 and 39. Some kind of numerology at work... (j/k, about the numerology)

  • Guest - land

    The question is why doesn't Kasama share their experience????

    I think TNL answered that.

    Jed sent articles and pictures back from Nepal. Eric has shared experience and there is a summation of a program with students on Nepal.

    There is a great summation that Mike Ely did around the miners.

    There is John Steele's Where's Our Mississippi?

    I am sure there will be more as we pursue the question of faultlines.

    But what TNL says about what is interesting and what is not so significant is probably the main thing. Not everything we do deserves an article.

    But the articles Kasama does is not just to tell people what happened at the latest event. That would not really be much help or of much interest in developing revolutionary work in a non revolutionary situation

    I think more important are articles like
    what does a revolution look like in reference to Nepal. Or the article I'll FLy Away which has just been translated into Spanish. The articles by Gary Leupp. It was awhile back bu they drew a big response - the articles on sexuality. There are many more and there is a huge diversity as well as the Khukuri site for theory. And the SAREV site.

    You don't have to be out in the streets to do mass work.

  • Guest - leslie1917

    Have I missed something? Did TNL answer the question in any place other than the January 5 posting saying that publicly summing up the South Asia work would be premature and unhelpful?

    If so, could someone please direct me to what I missed.

    If not, I'm hoping TNL or someone else associated with the Kasama Project can go further.

    According to that January 5 posting,

    <blockquote>"With the exception of still quite embryonic South Asia solidarity work, the mass work that Kasama members are engaged in is not the product of any collective orientation on the part of Kasama." </blockquote>

    Even if a public summation of that work would be premature and unhelpful, can Kasama folks indicate why, even after several years, the work is "embryonic"? Is it because of the difficulty of understanding what is occurring in South Asia? uncertainty about how best to do this solidarity work? a lack of forces? conflicts between doing this solidarity work and other (more explicitly theoretical?) work? all of the previous? some of the previous? none of the previous?

    I raise this issue not to criticize the "embryonic" nature of the work but because, according to the posting, it is Kasama's only mass work that is the product of a collective orientation. Consequently, I think the answers to the questions would help specify and concretize Kasama's understanding of mass work and its relationship to the project's overall prospective on what is to be done.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    Its really not that complicated. Kasama is not presently a democratic centralist organization. It is a project that brings people together around a set of common questions and work related to those questions. Many of those people are also involved in other sorts of political work but they are not doing it it in Kasama's name or under its discipline.

    I made what I considered a frank characterization of the reasons for much of that work. Its not Kasama's "line" and I'm sure that individuals could give more specific accounts of their individual reasons. Happenstance, habit and history are not always bad reasons to do things. (Indeed arguably they account for most of what we do in our lives.) If you are part of a project thats not yet in a position to really guide mass work but you have a history of doing work in a particular sector there is a certain sense to continuing with that work if only to stay grounded, even if you don't think its a strategic faultline. In other cases you might still see a strategic value in doing work in a particular sector but not in the actual work you happen to be involved in. I'm a member of a union and there is a fight with our bosses emerging. I don't think this is a faultline struggle by a long shot, but I'll probably attend some meetings and/or demonstrations as it unfolds because I'm for people fighting the bosses. But I'm not going to pretend this is part of a grand strategy when it isn't.

    I humbly submit that this describes a fair amount of the mass work that many members of established groups with supposedly worked out strategies are engaged in as well. Not all by any means, but enough that I don't think any of this is really that foreign. People plant themselves (or are planted) somewhere for strategic reasons that don't pan out but considerations of family, health insurance, and the like make it difficult to pull up stakes, especially when you're not really clear yet whats next. So you attend the puny anti-war vigil or vote for the better slate of union officers. Its not revolutionary work and its probably not rich with lessons, but those aren't the only reasons to do things. This is perfectly understandable to me. What I don't understand is elevating it to a matter of principle that people just keep plodding on in that kind of work no matter what.

    Simply stated there are other things that need doing to get our ducks in a row for more promising moments. Research that needs to be done. Theory that needs to be hammered out. Discussions that need to be had. And frankly mass work already done that needs to be properly analyzed or reanalyzed. If people take on some of these tasks instead of some sort of mass work and are making a positive contribution, as I think we are, I just don't see the logic in criticizing that.

    That said, it is simply wrong to characterize the response to the criticisms made by CJ as a "brushoff." Lets review: First, we reprinted the thing in its entirety. It then received a quite serious response from Eric, 47 additional comments from all and sundry counting this one, and a couple pieces taken from the comments for the purpose of further developing certain lines of argument. All that in a few days. You may be unsatisfied with some of those responses or unpersuaded by the overall thrust of them. I'll freely concede that some aspects are better thought out than others. (Thats one of the ways we think "making sausage on the dining room table" helps us develop our thinking.) And comments from old friends often have layers of meaning that not everybody sees the same. But try writing a snarky critique of any other revolutionary socialist or communist project in this country and tell me what you get back. Hell, show me the socialist group that runs a discussion space remotely as lively as this. Because we need more of them.

    Engaging the lines of existing socialist groups is one of several ways that we try to get theoretical discussions going. Its not the main thing we do, because frankly we don't think thats where we are most likely to find genuinely fresh and provocative analyses. But its a piece and we are always looking for material and no doubt we have our weak areas. So if you have something in particular you think we should discuss, e-mail it in or drop a link in a comment.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    Leslie1917,

    The Nepal work is still embryonic for several reasons, including some that you name. But as I said, I think a public summation would not be helpful at this moment. It is one of the awkward aspects of having this open space that people can feel free to demand one of us anyway and that we feel compelled to respond if only to say sorry. But I think it is worth it.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    As someone who attends a 'puny' antiwar vigil every week, I manage to do quite a bit with the folks there by way of revolutionary education and expanding horizons--everything from in-depth local class analysis, to working-class internationalism with the Palestinians, and to what socialism is and isn't. We talk about all sort of things while we're standing there, waving back at the thousands who respond to our 'honk for peace' and 'bring all the the troops home now' placards and banners. We're now working on our second study group on the nature of the state. Not everyone who come to the vigil is interested in these things, but some are. Cast down your buckets where you are; revolutionary work can be done anywhere people are, even if some situations aren't quite as exciting and dynamic as others.

  • Guest - land

    Leslie 1917 and others: What is the mass work that you are referring to that you think Kasama should be doing?

    What do you think of the Kasama articles?

    Including the many articles on Nepal.

  • Guest - leslie1917

    Land,

    I didn't raise those questions to suggest that Kasama should be doing other kinds of mass work. Nor do I think Kasama is necessarily wrong to make South Asian solidarity work the only mass work in which its members engage as a result of their "collective orientation. " Just the reverse. It's precisely because South Asian solidarity work is so important that I'd better understand Kasama's theoretical perspectives if they were more fully related to the project's one area of collectively-oriented mass work.

    I respect Kasama's decision not to discuss that relationship publicly. But I also regret the decision because the absence of that kind of discussion makes it hard for me--and I suspect others--to more fully understand what Kasama supporters mean when they talk about building "a culture of organizing that is wedded to a new conception of revolutionary politics" and "combin[ing] select projects of mass work with a long-term effort at communist reconception."

  • Guest - land

    I don't know where this summation originated that Nepal is the one area of collectively orientated mass work.

    The site itself is a collective effort.

    We are trying to figure out some new things and this discussion goes on in many of the articles. Read the articles. And it is collective.

    Many of us are communists. Nepal is not just a collective effort for us. The people there are in the process of making communist revolution. And we want to understand that and support that.

    Eric's recent article replying to Club Jacobin goes into some of this. Articles posted almost very day go into this. And there are places we haven't gone but will.

    Mike has written a zillion articles opening up discussion on what kind of revolutionary movement we need. Many people have contributed in different ways.

    We are only beginning but really we have come a long way.

    And go back to Where's Our Mississippi?

    Kasama has talked about study groups. A Badiou study group was recently announced.

    I think you are downplaying what is online and want some something more visible to call mass work.

    We are not some secretive, murky group. We are not hiding in secret places with our computers.

    Go over our article on the next year. And join us.

  • Guest - Ajagbe

    we've needed something like kasama for a while. let's see where it goes.

  • Guest - Club Jacobin

    Thanks, Eric, for this thoughtful response. I'm sorry I wasn't able to reply earlier or to take part in this discussion while it was hopping.

    Folks who are still interested in this debate may want to read the reply which I have just written. It's available <a href="/http://clubjacobin.tumblr.com/post/2758404039/jacobin-vs-the-jacobites-contd" rel="nofollow">here</a>, and focuses on just a few areas in Eric's response where I felt like some more clarity was still needed.

    PS: I'm abandoning the moniker "Gila Monster" here in favor of Club Jacobin, which ought to make things a little more simple/transparent.

  • welcome back CJ. Please don't be deterred by the fact that you couldn't participate earlier. We can pick up that discussion again now that you are back.

  • I understand the thrust of the arguments made in this piece. Still it has to be pointed out that there is a dialectical relation between theory and practice. The two inform and shape on another. There is no true revolutionary theory divorced from practice. The mass line is a great example of this: from the masses to the masses. Lenin wrote that theory is concentrated practice, and Mao stressed this point as well in his essay, On Practice. What I am saying is that true theory doesn't exist in vacuum. Rather, it is born out of the successes and failures encountered in struggle. To draw a distinction between theory and practice is to create a false dichotomy. I'll say this as well: I think that reaching back to the Mississippi Freedom Summer is looking back too far. That was half an century ago. There is a flawed yet, I think, a solid example of a moment which generated a movement spawned by a movement. This would be the WTO protests in 1999. The momentum generated by the successful efforts of activists from many different fields of struggle to shut down the WTO conference sparked the modern anti-globalization movement. This momentum was only truly halted by the events of 9/11/2001. I'm not saying it spawned the kind of mass mobilization that the Civil Rights Movement did. Still, the worlds attention was refocused, if only for a time, on the actions of this movement; and people were radicalized by the events in Seattle 1999, especially young people.