- Category: Kasama
- Created on Monday, 21 February 2011 10:26
- Written by Mike Ely
“Keep the necessary, shocking and extreme intentions,
cull the lessons from our precious common past,
seek contemporary forms of speech, conception and presentation.”
“The old socialist right was famous for saying “the movement is everything the final goal is nothing.” Kasama tries to say (by contrast) “the final goal is our start, the ways of moving there are still emerging for us.”
by Mike Ely
In another, more private forum, someone wrote:
“Okay, I’m sure I’m not the first to ask this, but what the hell is Kasama anyways? Is it a blog, a collective, a groupuscule, a study group, or what?”
Fair enough. Reasonable question.
And in answer, I tried to sketch (quickly, too quickly these days) some basic things. Obviously this is my own take on these things, and it is partial — so please add what is missing.
Part of the reason you may not “get it” is deliberate: We have tried to not be your grandfather’s communist organization — in vibe, or culture, orpresentation. We have avoided being part of an alphabet soup of groupuscules (as much as possible)… and don’t seek to define ourselves in terms of this or that inherited set of previous demarcations. We have tried not to be familiar.
Plus: We are not united around the usual tidy hair-splitting list of formulas about beliefs (dictatorship of the proletariat, democratic centralism, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, one head/three heads/five heads, principles of continuity etc.) — formulas that (however beloved and even largely correct some of them may be) can only at this moment open more questions than they answer.
Listing things in that too familiar catechistic way would be easy. We could whip up a list in an afternoon together. But that would represent precisely an approach of forming a new sect around a relatively closed (and often under-defined) set of inherited assumptions (meaning the ones that a few of us walked in with.)
The Final Goal is Everything
Kasama is first of all a communist project. It is an attempt to help contribute to building a new communist core within a new revolutionary movement.
Our unity in Kasama is first a common desire for radical change and for the most sweeping historical outcome — communism, the global overthrow of class society, the elimination of the heavy burdens of oppression, the creation of a new epoch of mutual flourishing.
We are, inevitably, involved in working through how to define and present that end goal — but at our founding meeting (in April 2008) we united around the phrase, “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions” drawn from the famous closing words of the Communist Manifesto:
“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”
So in one way, we are really trying to put communism center stage — as a goal, as an idea, as something that defines what is done now and at each stage. And (needless to say) that is rather shocking and odd in a left where (I believe) the final goal is treated as a personal nostalgia, and where sights have been so drastically lowered over the last decades. And beyond that, we mainly unite around a list of communist questions (not a pre-chewed, under-examined, inherited list of communist answers).
To be clear: This doesn’t mean we don’t have answers. We have strong views, and often elaborated ones. We have (each of us) fought for the beliefs that brought us here. But what we unite around is the need to examine them, learn and re-synthesize, and where necessary, transform.
This is a way of saying: Kasama is not a project committed to agnostic indecision, eclectic muddle or a talk-shop passivity (all of which we’ve been accused of). But we are refusing to treat un-settled questions as if they are settled, and we are refusing to promote threadbare and exhausted formulas as they were sufficient answers. And we don’t believe the answers are all somehow “there for the taking” and just need a work of popularization and application. No.
The Very Beginning of a Very Presumptuous Work
On the contrary we believe that the rising generation of revolutionaries (and as-yet-unencountered forces from among the oppressed) will have a major role (and say) in developing relevant revolutionary theory and defining the frameworks, focus and forms for a newly revolutionary section of the people.
We are at the beginning, not at the end of our work of thought and summation. And a heavy burden rests on the new generation — which often has barely started to think about these questions.
To settle verdicts too quickly would risk shallow and false conclusions — but more: it would also deny the extent to which the theory and politics we need must be deeply marked by conditions-yet-unseen, and by new people forged in future events. Our work is urgent preparation, training, initiation, reconception and regroupment — but in ways that are designed not to exclude the innovations-to-come.
Part of that means being seriously communist (in a hard-core and uncompromising way) — but to drop old communist nostalgias, exhausted jargon, a fundamentalist impulse, and intolerable know-it-all habits.
Some people assume that being non-dogmatic means being non-revolutionary, or that being militantly communist requires a form of backward-looking fundamentalism. We are determined to prove those things untrue.
Keep the necessary, shocking and extreme intentions. Cull the lessons from our precious common past. Seek contemporary forms of speech, conception and presentation.
Fighting for Theory’s Role
We believe that we are at a moment where a rethinking of communist theory and strategy is particularly urgent — and that a frenetic rush to “do it” (in the absence of real thought) will perpetuate a routinized (and rightist) activism that is only nominally connected to creating alternative society.
This has many aspects: A serious, fearless summation of 20th century communist experience (including the major socialist experiments of China and the USSR), a fresh engagement with the very difficult problems of revolutionary strategy (in a country like the U.S., in a time like the present), a consideration of work being done in the realm of philosophy (including by Alain Badiou and others), an engagement with the ways the world has changed (including by seeking to learn from those who have continued to work on modern political economy), and more.
We have sought to discover a way to be organized (and generate an emerging degree of common belief), yet maintain an open (not closed) approach to ideas and politics. And we assume our project is transitional i.e. that we will help give rise to something together with the contributions of many others. In other words, we are not a “pre-party” formation (though perhaps somewhat more of a post-party formation).
A Communist movement that can (finally!) learn to listen?
Perhaps this is odd to say: one of the defining features of our political culture is a belief in listening — in learning from others, from opponents, from the people, from people working along tracks parallel (or contrary) to ours. That formal commitment to modesty of course contrasts to the rather immodest habits of many of us… but so be it.
Put another way: The old socialist right was famous for saying “the movement is everything the final goal is nothing.” Kasama tries to say (by contrast) “the final goal is our start, the ways of moving there are still emerging for us.”
Organizationally we are organized in either collectives or work groups (so that we have early collectives in several cities, and a number of non-geographic work groups — like our moderator teams, theoretical projects, common work on South Asia’s revolutions, investigative/reporting work teams etc. We participate in communist study groups in several cities — and we need to do much more of this. (I am personally part of a challenging study of Alain Badiou taking place here in Chicago, where luckily I can sit as a student to others who have dug in ahead of me.)
We are using ways of allowing individuals in many scattered areas make their contributions without having to be connected to a local collectivity.
I would guess that we have folks who identify with our project in ten or twelve cities in the U.S. (and a number of places internationally). We have several websites (including Kasama main, Revolution in South Asia, Khukuri theoretical site and several sites maintained by Kasama collectives).
One of the most encouraging parts of the last years has been how interest in our road has been expressed by the activity on these sites.
Kasama also (naturally) has some internal means of discussion and debate (which I don’t need to elaborate here).
Internationalism is an important and defining feature of our common work: both in the sense that (I believe) we think there is a tremendous amount to learn from people around the world, and also because we think that the world has become much more tightly entwined (economically, politically ecologically) so that our kind of revolutionary change requires thinking from the standpoint of humanity as a whole.
I also want to mention our take on technology: Our coming movement needs to be on the cutting edge. Personally, I believe the digital distribution of ideas is facilitating a leap that can only be compared with the invention of the printing press in the 1400s. The communist movement somehow “missed” (or threw away) its chance to fully exploit radio and television when they were young — but we must not miss the opportunities created by the current break up of centralized media. The aging of the 60s new left has produced too much cranky and generational indifference to the new media — it is intolerable, and we won’t tolerate it.
This awareness of social media may have become a commonplace understanding now (finally, after the Twitter revolutions of the last year), but we revolutionaries have not yet seriously started to engage in how we can harvest all this for the people — without exposing everything and everyone to the state.
Investigation into Fault lines: For a Communist Conception of Practice
We are working (in various beginning ways) to identify key places to initiate common campaigns of communist political work (developing approaches of investigation, a concept of what such communist work would be, a revolutionary strategy to embed
that work within, identifying places along key political faultlines to concentrate our rather fragile forces etc.)
Obviously the point of our work is to chart and then pursue revolutionary political practice (in ways that actually connect with people and have the potential for helping to change the world).
As for Origins…
Obviously I come out of a lifetime in the RCP,USA, and a few other people do. In one sense, Kasama is a project build on (or at least out of) the experience of Maoism within the U.S.
But our membership is probably less defined by a common RCP experience than than you think. the RCP’s post-2003 move to the loony margins blew away most of their periphery — both youth and intellectuals. And a number of those forces have been pretty energetic around Kasama (i.e. not former RCP members but people previously interested in revolutionary communism within the U.S.)
Over the last years, we have spoken about “shaking the tree, to see who comes.” And mainly those who have come are revolutionaries of a new generation, with few experiences or investments in the previous communist movement. This is both a strength and a weakness.
A number of people around Kasama come from other places (I.e. non-Maoist “traditions”) — including former anarchists, Trotskyists and movementist activists of various kinds. This is extremely important in ways you can imagine — cross-fertilization is desperately needed.
Our project is not organized in a democratic centralist way — there is no unifying position on each question that anyone is required to uphold. And our structure and lines of leadership remain (still) rather primitive — and will probably need some development over the next year or so.
One of the things that surprised me about the Kasama Project was precisely how my own critiques of the RCP (in the 9 Letters to our comrades) rang true to people who felt frustrated with other similarly-exhausted political schema. So our call to
“reconceive and regroup” and our focus on critical thinking and fresh approaches has appeared (to some at least) as offering a way to solve some long standing problems.
We have written some things that talk about our project.
One place to start may be: Shaping the Kasama Project: Contributing to Revolution’s Long March
Another place to look is our “reading clusters” (which speak for themselves):
Feel free to speak here about your own view of Kasama. And if you are interested, feel free to contact us at our email (or in person — including at the coming Left Forum). We are eager to work with you, learn from you, and if possible find deeper forms of unity.