Nando on Kasama: Engagement and Audience

mao3In the following commentary, Nando argues for engaging  mainly on the terrain of today (though he does so without elaborating much what that means specifically  around questions of strategy, critique of trade unionism and economism, internationalism, theory of socialism etc). And he opposes another  rehashing of familiar line questions from the 1920s and 30s -- especially if not done on a new basis informed by our vantage point in the 21st century.

by Nando

I think we need to engage widely.

And by that I mean: radical and revolutionary people in the U.S. need to be making new connections that are rooted on real, and substantive discussions. We need a mood and a moment of thinking our way out of a situation of relative political marginality. Within that larger process, our particular Kasama Project has some plans, some forces, some hopes, and some specific emerging politics. 

And it needs to be an engagement of forward movement (not stereotypical messages hurled from one trench into another).

I think we need to engage people with many different ideas  -- including forces that we don't expect to agree with or unite with organizationally.  After all, we will certainly learn from people who we won't (overall) agree with. Example: I am, like others, having my thinking and assumptions shake around (in a good way) by the  previously-banned revolutionary philosopher Alain  Badiou, without "becoming a Badiouist" in some overall way.

I think that engagement needs to be mainly on the terrain of today, not the terrain of previous fracture lines. (Again for example: I'm more interested in reading Badiou's new book on Sarkosy, than excavating old disputes with his UCFML over 2nd worldist French nationalism.)

I have some interest in comparing notes with people who are highly familiar with Anarchist politics and history -- but I have little interest in rehashing Kronstadt or what happened to this or that Vietnamese Anarchist group in the course of the Vietnam War. How will we discuss the recently posted article here on Kasama (critiquing the Comintern in the Spanish Civil War) without falling back into sterile debates over "Who shot John"?

I think this applies in general to the engagement of people across the lines of "historic trends" -- anarchism, new leftism Z-mag style, Trotkyism, etc.

 

I suspect such engagement has value, but limited value. And our main audience (for Kasama) certainly can't be consolidatedcadre activists of other political trends. (What a thankless project that wold be!) Seeking to forge regroupment mainly across THOSE lines (especially of whole groupings across those lines) is stillborn. (I.e. the lingering schemes for a Solidarity and FRSO marriage are a fantasy that doesn't bother understanding the players involved.) We can't naively expect that (to our surprise) old divisions will suddenly prove negligible.

But let's leave some room for surprise: many people are frustrated with the dead end that revolutionary politics finds itelf -- including their own previous politics -- and may be willing to shake themselves loose from those confines. 

The main audiences of the Kasama Project:

I'm all for looking outside the holler and not rushing to marry Boojie.

Meaning: I think our main audiences should be the huge numbers of radical forces who are not (yet) associated with one or another trend, and not socked into one or another of the (rather self-isolating) "activist communities." The hope for new revolutionary politics in the U.S. is that this society is going to produce waves of people seriously thinking of forcing through radical political alternatives (to end imperialist war, to end poverty, to create ecologically sustainable civilization, to break the grip of seriously outmoded ideas, roles and prejudices.)

If there isn't a growing body  of radical people, especially among the youth, then our plans will tread water until there is.

Engage on the terrain of today, not the terrain of 1924 or 1936 or...

First because : “been there done that” — i.e. as a movement we have “been there.” There is value for individuals (and new communists and radicals) to explore these historic issues and line struggles — but even there the value arises when it is done inthe context of the question of today.

Second, we need to approach these line questions in a contemporary way because the terrain has clearly shifted. Few forces take their stand on the basis of lines forged in the 1920s, and those that do are often too dogmatic to matter. Many trotskyist forces have taken their distance from Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution (including the Workers World Party and the U.S. Socialist Workers Party) — so revisiting that 1905 theory may not be worth the time. The fact is that trotskyism is not a single current at all, and has become highly diffuse — with very little cohesion both theoretically or organizationally. It is worth exploring where some of these current now stand, and their own evolution makes it pretty worthless to go back to the Soviet theoretical disputes of 1924-27.

third, many of the main theoretical stands of “orthodox” trotskyism took bodyblows from history. (See my accompanying post: History's Cruelty Towards Trotskyism)

Cutting a Gordian knot

Where does that leave us:

First, we do have a theoretical-historical work to do.

Maoists never produced a serious historical summation of the Soviet Union (of the 1930s, of the great line struggles and purges, of the adjustments made to confront hitler, etc.) some starts were made (including by Avakian’s critique of the Popular Front, 7th Comintern congress and the subordination of the international communist movement to Soviet state interest and foreigh policy.)

But there is clearly more to do, and the Maoist algebra of “Stalin: 70% right, 30% wrong” is a verdict still in search of a serious accounting.

Second, in the absense of that new work, I would personally shy away from any repeat of the old familiar debates between Trotskyism and so-called “Stalinism.” because it has been done (endlessly, endlessly, endlessly…. often poorly, sometime well).

Some people find nothing more personally envigorating than debating old questions using very old arguments…. (as for me, when I see this I just think “don’t feed the trolls".) And for those who want to know more about those old arguments, they can just go download the old books that discuss them.

More important: to do such an engagement with the early Soviet line questions right, it would have to be done on a new basis (a basis that includes further critical summations of the sweep of communist experience in the twentieth century). If we are fighting for a new synthesis, why spend a lot of time repeating some very old verdicts squeezed out by our own previous and rather dated syntheses?

The RCP’s Red Papers 7 ("How capitalism has been restored in the Soviet Union and what this means for the world struggle" written 1974)— did some state-of-the-art communist analysis of Soviet social imperialism. But one of the truly disappointing parts of it was the crudelyuncritical insertion of official Soviet verdicts on the line struggles of the 1930s. This  stuck out like a sore thumb -- as a lapse in both scientific methodology and integrity.

Third, we need to engage people emerging from Trotskyism who remain seriously interested in revolutionary politics — and really, the most interesting things to engage them on do NOT include fighting over verdicts on classic Trotskyism and the linestruggles of 1926.

Bill wrote:

“It might not be a matter of Trotskyism itself having something to contribute (on the other hand, why rule this out per se?…), but why not some people who came through that experience and who themselves were looking for ways to radically change the world?”

 

Dig in.

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  • Guest (Kal)

    <i>I’m all for looking outside the holler and not rushing to marry Boojie.

    Meaning: I think our main audiences should be the huge numbers of radical forces who are not (yet) associated with one or another trend, and not socked into one or another of the (rather self-isolating) “activist communities.” The hope for new revolutionary politics in the U.S. is that this society is going to produce waves of people seriously thinking of forcing through radical political alternatives (to end imperialist war, to end poverty, to create ecologically sustainable civilization, to break the grip of seriously outmoded ideas, roles and prejudices.)</i>

    I think this is very much correct. Time and struggle will leave some of the groupings of the revolutionary left behind, and raise others to many times their current size; the time for the forging of alliances will be when there are real forces to join them. Those who think their present grouping is *the* nucleus of the revolutionary party are deluded; but regroupment in the present conjuncture is a dead end, a waste of energy.

  • Guest (Andreimazenov)

    Something I wrote a while back, but relevant to the discussion:

    Many people feel that the Left should just simply unite into one big party/organization to defeat capitalism, and should put aside all differences until that goal is accomplished. My understanding of the whole "left refoundation/regroupment" outlook is that it basically says, "Look, the reason 'the Left' hasn't been able to accomplish various things, the reason we've suffered different kinds of defeats is because we're too divided, we're too busy fighting among ourselves - so let's put our differences aside, unite, and stand together in the fight. This division is our main stumbling block, and if we could stand together, we'd have greater success."

    This approach, in my experience and in researching it, seems to ignore crucial ideological and political differences between different groups. Such as:

    * Who is the enemy? Is it "the Right?" The imperialist bourgeoisie? Middle-class people who buy into the consumer culture?

    * How does fundamental change come about? Voting? Demonstrations to pressure the government? Revolution?

    * What should our goal be? What should our strategy and tactics be to achieve this goal?

    To organize some kind of broad-left party that doesn't agree on these questions seems counter-productive. With major differences like these, on what basis would you even decide what to do day-to-day?

    Of course, in broader struggles, like the Anti-War movement, the struggle against police brutality, the fight against the roundups of immigrants, the struggle for abortion rights, etc., we should unite as broadly as possible - not only with various "left" groups and parties but with churches (&amp; synagogoues &amp; mosques), student groups, unions, and other individuals and organizations that want to take on the enemy in this field of battle.

    Also it seems the idea of "Left Refoundation/regroupment" is a strategy for uniting the left - not for uniting the masses.

    It assumes that certain people are down for the struggle, and we have to create a broader grouping of those people before we can go forward. But in reality, there are literally millions (and tens of millions) of people here in the US who hate a lot of the shit that's going on (the war, round-ups of immigrants, etc.) who aren't hooked up with any left groups or organizations. There are many more who have a basis to be won to this position. Our focus should be on reaching out to them.

    In reality, the "left" in this country (at least as how it's usually viewed by groups pushing this "refoundation/regroupment" strategy) is relatively small. Only a small minority of people in this country have even heard or most of the various left parties. The point is not to be pessimistic or to view this as an unchangeable reality, but right now, the main problem isn't that millions of people are lined up behind the banners of these different left parties and if only they could get together, things would really roll.

    And even if that was the case, there'd still be a need for political and ideological struggle. I mean sure, we all hate the capitalists, we all want to stop the war and the detentions, maybe we all even have some generally anti-capitalist viewpoint; but if the group I'm down with has a strategy of "create public opinion - seize power - prepare minds and organize forces", while the group you're down with sees a massive voter registration campaign as what we need now, we can't just throw that all in together and work as some indivisible, unified whole. Maybe we can both build for an anti-war demo, but we have some major differences that means we won't be doing the same things a lot of the time, and we need to have some serious ideological struggle.

    For example, genuinely revolutionary communists try to lead and organize the masses to take on all the outrages that the system brings down on us today and does this as part of building for revolution when the conditions are right. They'll work with all kinds of people on a principled basis if doing this is in the interests of the people. They'll do this even with people they have serious political and ideological differences with. But they won't try to obscure or "liquidate" these differences.

    The "Left refoundation/regroupment" people don't seem to see it this way. They want to liquidate these differences so that the Left can be one big happy family. However, this mindset doesn't deal with important life-and-death questions - it just avoids them.

    In conclusion, I think we need to keep in mind that the process of building unity amongst Communists around a correct political line is not so easy... Communists cannot just ignore significant line differences amongst each other, and it takes a great deal of struggle over correct ideology before unity is usually achieved. Simply uniting on common goals and forgetting our differences almost always leads to quick disintegration and even WORSE disunity than before.

  • Guest (land)

    The beginning is "we need to engage widely." "Radical and revolutionary people need to be making new connections that are rooted in real, and substantive discussions."

    This is what Kasama needs to be and what I think it is.

    At times and I am a culprit here alot of us fail to enter into these discussions. There are good reasons and bad reasons and I wish for all of us we fight through on this.

    One of the posts I carry around with me is on internationalism. The discussion "<a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/tnl-mike-e-our-starting-point-is-the-world/" rel="nofollow">Our starting point is the world</a>" landed on the point - we must not betray the people. But only after a picture is painted of the complexity of the formidable obstacles that people are up against.

    If you live in Gaza you may not live through the week.

    Going back to the Internationalism article: In the post by Mike E he says "It is not just a matter of what you do (meaning I think revolutionaries) but it is also a matter of where it leaves the people (and what happens to the revolutionary people you have helped and are entrusted with)

    There are many revolutionary movements who have "finessed their way" into a non-revolutionary end.

    And there is the choice that people face. Sometimes you have to choose between life and as Mike puts it "surviving as a domesticated house cat."

    He says "These matters have to be fought out in the concrete. You can't deduce the correct path from tidy formulas and case studies of past revolutions."

    In the name of the possible you could end up finessing your way to betrayal.

    The post ends with "Sometimes we fight under extremely difficult conditions and, and our task is to fight for communist revolution under those difficult conditions - not to go to something else."

    The something else is often what is easiest or seems more possible.

    This is why our discussions do matter now. The terrain is constantly shifting. Ideas become outmoded and you are still in the sphere of outmoded ideas and you miss what you should have seen. We need new theories for the new forces, the radical forces that need a new world.

  • Guest (hegemonik)

    In response to Andrei: there's been much cast on to Left Refoundation as a strategic orientation here that comes from the baggage of "regroupment" in the sense of mergers of existing Left groups.

    <a href="/http://freedomroad.org" rel="nofollow">Freedom Road</a> adopted "Left Refoundation" rather than "regroupment" was a purposeful one. Regroupment has tended to be a mechanical process of going through basic lines of organizations, reordering executive bodies, etc.

    This is something which totally inadequate to the problems of the 21st Century in which Left forces are weak overall; it's shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. So as we wrote back in 2000, in "<a href="/http://freedomroad.org/content/view/16/1/lang,es/" rel="nofollow">Meeting the Challenge of Crisis and Opportunity: Left Refoundation and Party Building</a>":

    <blockquote>By party building, we mean creating a party that learns from but that will be very different from the older models. Our task is not simply to take part in a new wave of socialist organizing. Nor is it solely to build resistance among the masses, though both tasks are essential. But in order to strengthen resistance at the base, as well as offer a viable challenge to capitalism, we need to lay the foundations for a socialist party.

    […]Party building, therefore, will be a broader task than organizing existing Marxists and others on the Left. Party building has to include the task of encouraging and supporting broad-based theoretical exploration and development, Left-wing culture, opposition to imperialist corruption, and the building of bridges between generations of activists. Activist work mainly helping to develop the mass movements can also help bring about a new party. The Party we want to help create must be rooted in the day-to-day struggle of the masses. </blockquote>

    Another of Andrei's misconceptions is on Left Refoundation as an approach toward party building vis-à-vis line -- by name, the idea here is that Left Refoundation = liquidation of line for the sake of burying differences over it. Or at the very least deprecation of it. That is for me the exact <i>opposite</i> of what Left Refoundation has meant for revolutionary line in theory and practice.

    If we submit that line (as something superstructural) becomes a material force when grasped by the masses, then our aim is to have our line grasped by the masses. If we want the masses to grasp it, then we'd best be sure that it <i>can</i> be grasped -- namely, by treating line as something that should inform <i>living</i> theory and practice.

    This has meant, for us, a willingness to speak about line with a broad set of organizations and individuals, some more oriented toward mass based forms and some solidly party oriented. Should we demand that they fill out a checklist of ideological bugaboos before we even break bread? Should we demand that they liquidate their ideas at the door?

    This would be simple reductio ad absurdum, were it not that we were all aware that such a back-assward method has been a point of pride for the RCP, in which to even hear about Avakian's vaunted epistemological break or New Synthesis you need to sign up in advance to the idea of Avakian as High Calibre Assault Theorist.

  • Guest (Adrienne)

    I am very grateful to see this outline of who Kasama's intended audience is, and who exactly you're aiming to engage with.
    I'm fairly sure after reading this article and the follow up comments that socialists who hold views like my own are probably not likely to be welcome here.

    I happen to be one of those who feels that the left in America has been doing quite an excellent job drawing dividing lines between individuals and groups of the left, and that our reduced numbers have resulted in an exceedingly poor track record of uniting with the broad masses overall. Indeed, I consider this to be a fact that is glaringly, tragically obvious.

    In my view, mass political consciousness is likely to be developed most effectively by combining patient, well-focused and consistent work among the masses, IN COMBINATION with a broad dissemination of revolutionary socialist agitation and propaganda. This is because I believe that there is a dialectical relationship between struggle and consciousness, and that the two can’t or shouldn't be isolated from each other.

    When socialists do isolate them by focusing in a lopsided manner more on consciousness, I think it basically eliminates their ability to give leadership among the masses of the working class, which in turn, greatly reduces their ability to effectively agitate and disseminate propaganda. Additionally, and in my observation, this kind of lopsidedness also has an unerring tendency to lapse into idealist analysis that directs things almost exclusively toward a narrow segment. Namely: toward the advanced, and non-working or barely-working youth. I honestly do not see how a revolutionary situation could ever truly emerge in this nation if the broader masses are going to be for the most part overlooked, or ignored.

    In other words, I consider it highly doubtful that a revolutionary situation is going to suddenly one day emerge from a cataclysm that jolts the working class awake, bringing on a complete transformation of public opinion that will cause millions and millions to be won over by the agitation and propaganda of any small sectarian force that has had little or nothing to do with their day-to-day lives, needs and struggles up until that moment.

    “Create public opinion – seize power – prepare minds and organize forces” is exactly the sort of phrase that comes off as elitist and adventuristic to a socialist such as myself. Because for me it clearly signifies a break with the dialectical relationship between consciousness and class struggle, and shows no link to what can be firmly and unshakably established when the masses gain direct experience in struggle.

    Anyway, while my search for a trend that won't sneer at opinions or ideas like mine will now go on, allow me to say that I've enjoyed the debates I've had with several who post here regularly, and I wish everyone involved with the Kasama Project the very best of luck with their present and future audience and engagements.

    Not wishing to be a fly in your ointment, I'll now keep out of these debates -- though I'll probably still lurk here in order to read some of the interesting articles.

    Regards,
    Adrienne

  • Guest (celticfire)

    I think discussion of how revolutionary groups, or even blogs, news, people, etc. relate to each other during non revolutionary situations is telling. Things like the Revolutionary Summer are expressions of revolutionary, not unprincipled unity.

    My honest observation is that the RCP ditched some basic Maoist tenants throughout their history, slowly. I'm thinking about the Mass Line during the struggle with the "Mensheviks." Or democratic centralism...somewhere.

    So naturally, those who have been politically guided by the RCP at some point, would have an understandable skepticism of things like the the Rev. Summer school. If Kasama is to move past these limitations, it would seem in her interest to move closer to forums like these.

  • Adrienne writes:

    <blockquote>"I am very grateful to see this outline of who Kasama’s intended audience is, and who exactly you’re aiming to engage with.
    I’m fairly sure after reading this article and the follow up comments that socialists who hold views like my own are probably not likely to be welcome here."</blockquote>

    Adrienne, I am a bit confused about this. The post that starts this thread represents the view (and actually a proposal) by one person in Kasama. It says

    <blockquote>"Meaning: I think our main audiences should be the huge numbers of radical forces who are not (yet) associated with one or another trend, and not socked into one or another of the (rather self-isolating) “activist communities.” The hope for new revolutionary politics in the U.S. is that this society is going to produce waves of people seriously thinking of forcing through radical political alternatives (to end imperialist war, to end poverty, to create ecologically sustainable civilization, to break the grip of seriously outmoded ideas, roles and prejudices.)"</blockquote>

    In other words, it is an argument against focusing on expedient organizational mergers. It is an argument for orienting toward radical and revolutionary people broadly (not mainly those alreaddy affiliated with identified trends).

    Why is that an argument that should make you feel unwelcome?

    On the question of consciousness and struggle... I think that the gathering of forces (for radical change) happens on several levels. There is a specific task of gathering together forces who (in a serious and partisan way) have decided to become active organizers of revolutoinary and communist politics (and who share a relatively high level of unity about where society needs to go). And there is a different task of repolarizing politics, generally, in society -- so that radical, socialist solutions become a pole around which millions have aligned themselves and are preparing to fight through.

    In some ways, I don't think you can accomplish the second unless you have made some progress around the first. And (of course) the organized revolutionary forces take on a different bulk and mass once their politics strike a deep resonance among millions (i.e. they become "parties" in a very difference sense, and representatives of sections of the people in a far more real sense).

    I would be interested in hearing you elaborate, somewhat more, the following thought:

    <blockquote>"'Create public opinion – seize power – prepare minds and organize forces' is exactly the sort of phrase that comes off as elitist and adventuristic to a socialist such as myself. Because for me it clearly signifies a break with the dialectical relationship between consciousness and class struggle, and shows no link to what can be firmly and unshakably established when the masses gain direct experience in struggle."</blockquote>

    I have always thought that the slogan "Create public opinion – seize power" left out the whole work of creating broad mass organization, new layers of radical leaders, living connections among the people (and alliances between sections of the people), which made an actual revolutionary transformation possible. There is more to revolutionary preparation that ideas and then the attempt. And for that reason I have always embraced the important addition of organizing struggle, accumulating forces, learning through experience, going through the process with organic links to sections of the people, creating living roots among the most discontented and oppressed etc.

    But that doesn't seem to be the objection you are raising, you seem to be objecting to the very idea of promoting communist ideas (evangelically! enthusiastically! creatively!), and the very idea that revolutions are made (conceived, led, organized, in close connection with objectively unfolding crisis and the actions of other class forces.)

    Is the issue "spontaneity"? If people spontaneously (i.e. in an autogenerating sense) create socialist politics and programs out of the process of class struggle, then it is unnecessary for someone to set out (plan, train, work...) to promote communist politics per se. (Struggle for minds, gather forces who are united around revolutinary politics etc.) IF people can become revolutionary on their own, through their own life experiences and struggles, in ways that are sufficient for pushing through the actual changes.... then there is no need for special organizations (plans, programs, structures, cadre training, summations etc.) of communists.

    But in fact, while all kinds of outbreaks and uprisings happen spontaneously (eg. the LA rebellion!)

    I mean: just step back and take in the immensity and brazenness of what we are attempting:

    It is hard to imagine the development of a serious politics that can actually transform the USA (!) from an imperialist powerhouse to a socialist base area in the world without a great deal of thought, special organization, preparation, organized popularization, repeated summation and adjustment etc.

    How do we make the idea of a socialist society *real* enough and *attractive* enough that literally millions are willing to throw in (risk, sacrifice, fight, die, drop everything else) to make it happen?

    The system will (spontaneously!) generate discontent and opppression. It will thwart the hopes and dreams of millions. It will crush lives (dry up savings, snatch back pensions, abandon whole cities and rural areas to waste, discard the young, and injured, and aging.... and so much more). It will renege on its promises, and make harsh and outrageous demands. It will have people shot down in the streets randomly, and pursue the undocumented systematically...

    It will do all this (and more).... But will that experience SPONTANEOUSLY produce a movement that has a socialist objective? It will sponteanously produce many millions of seriously pissed off and politically alienated people. It can shatter the Democratic Party between those who spit on the people's interests and those who ARE the people.

    But the process of forging all this tinder and discontent into a movement that can ACTUALLY create a new society, requires an organized communist core with deep organic ties among the population (and one that actually has a plan and a vision that corresponds with reality - not fantasy).

    Imagine the process of erecting a new socialist state in parts of north america -- of undertaking a planned socialist economy (that actually works, both in the sense of promoting egalitarianism and ending poverty, and also in the basic sense of providing goods and services and employment).... how do you imagine creating a movement (over the next five years, say), that can realistically take power and carry though such changes?

    Can it bedone without "reconceiving as we regroup" and then "prepare minds and organize forces"?

  • You seem to assume, Celticfire, that Kasama (as a project) was "skeptical" of the Summer school, and perhaps even that Kasama stayed away.

    In fact. Kasama was not invited to participate in the Revolutionary Summer school. We are not sure why. I imagine that if we had been invited, we would have done so as an organization. As it was several individual Kasama supporters attended.

  • Hegemonik writes:

    <blockquote>"Regroupment has tended to be a mechanical process of going through basic lines of organizations, reordering executive bodies, etc.</blockquote>

    It is work to create a common language.

    Clearly when Kasama says "reconceive as we regroup" it does not mean (by regroup) a mechanical process of merging organizations and jostling for leading positions (!). On the contrary.

    There is no serious revolutionary organization in the U.S. that has the potential of stepping as an active far-sighted player onto the national political stage and gathers hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions of people around itself.

    It was horribly frustrating for the 60s to erupt and to have at our disposal no revolutionary organization -- and have to create whatever we could from scratch. Many of us had hoped that out of the sixties (its lessons and its human materials) we could forge such a revolutionary organization and thereby put the people in a much better position for the "next" crisis -- the next time U.S. imperialism had its spine stretched over a barrel and the people were in a mood to rise up.

    Unfortunately this has not happened. In part because the years passed without a new crisis, and because the organized revolutionary sparks could not sustain themselves as living creative political projects under those conditions.

    So we need to regroup. And regrouping is not some simple matter of "hoisting the flag" -- it is not a matter of branishing a few well-known communist principles (as if by embracing them we have actually proposed something for this moment).

    It requires reconceiving the revolutionary project -- with full respect and engagement with the lessons of the past AND the particularlies of this time and this place.

    I think we need to regroup to reconceive -- i.e. come together are communists and revolutionaries FOR a very open-ended process of research, polemic and analysis. And that process does not require a ticket for admission.... and specifically it does not require that we all agree (at the door) what we will decide once we start stirring the pot.

    It is not a matter of gathering the usual suspects and going through the usual left rituals (protest, response, small group consolidation, differentiation before engagement etc.)

    I am curious to understand more about what Hegemonic writes when he says:

    <blockquote>"If we submit that line (as something superstructural) becomes a material force when grasped by the masses, then our aim is to have our line grasped by the masses. If we want the masses to grasp it, then we’d best be sure that it can be grasped — namely, by treating line as something that should inform living theory and practice."</blockquote>

    On one level, who can disagree with that? Especially if (as I'm sure Hegemonik agrees) we understand how much we (as communists) have to learn "from the masses" (including in the process of developing a strategic plan, a line).

    But i wonder... is it enough to say "our aim is to have our line grasped by the masses."

    Our aim is also to have a line (a plan, an orientation, a set of final goals, a vision of where we are going) that corresponds with what is possible and necessary -- a plan that actually will solve the horrific problems facing the people (not just here but all around the world).

    Many things can (potentially) be grasped by "the masses" (meaning: many things can be made palpable, dumbed down, attractive).... but I am also deeply concerned that our plans actually represent a serious plan for transforming the world.

    Often (in the name of being accessible to "the masses"), plans are put forward that are more-or-less a mirror of what is currently understood, or politically fashionable. That to me is a tailing of the "spontaneous" -- and it can get you a hearing and a following, but (as a method) it won't get us a revolution.

    I don't assume hegemonik disagrees, but I'm just expressing that talking about organic ties, and talking about being "grasped by the masses" -- without having in your hands a quite practical and visionary plan for sweeping radical change.... well it is a plan for movementism (for a series of resistance movements that involve socialists, but that produce no socialism.)

    Hegemonik writes:

    <blockquote>"This has meant, for us, a willingness to speak about line with a broad set of organizations and individuals, some more oriented toward mass based forms and some solidly party oriented. Should we demand that they fill out a checklist of ideological bugaboos before we even break bread? Should we demand that they liquidate their ideas at the door?

    "This would be simple reductio ad absurdum, were it not that we were all aware that such a back-assward method has been a point of pride for the RCP, in which to even hear about Avakian’s vaunted epistemological break or New Synthesis you need to sign up in advance to the idea of Avakian as High Calibre Assault Theorist."</blockquote>

    Setting aside a little hyperbole, hegemonik is essentially right -- first that revolutionaries should "break bread" with all kinds of people (engage them, learn from them, influence them, unite with them, bicker with them) over a long, long period of time (as a method that will continue over the horizon).

    In general, this has meant that the RCP has been very bad at "uniting with people" -- inflexible, abrupt, inattentive, disrespectful, and often crudely indifferent to the ideas and concerns of broadly progressive people. There was potential in many "mass initiatives" of the RCP (Refuse &amp; Resist, VVAWAI, La Resistensia, NION, WCW, and more) -- but as we now know better (after years of sharp line struggle) there was a powerful line in play that had a very self-defeating sense of what "proletarian leadership of the united front" meant -- seeing it as something that is announced going in, as something that is structurally guaranteed within coalitions, as something that is equated with a rather simple hegemonic influence of the RCP itself, etc.) And this was (as we now know) tied to requiring a kind of "appreciation" (for communist leadership, and a specific communist leader) as the precondition of "engagement."

    The recent hostile language of the RCP (repeatedly describing Obama supporters as "<a href="/http://revcom.us/a/151/question-en.html" rel="nofollow">koolaid drinkers</a>" -- as if they are just voluntarily gulping down poison, and committing suicide in a stupid and pathetic way) is just the most recent example. It misunderstands the complexity of what people are thinking and doing -- and pays no attention to the ways people are actually going to learn through the events that lie ahead. Both unity and struggle -- both clearly and patiently arguing for a materialist understanding of events (and the class nature of someone like Obama) but also doing so in a way that "goes through" a complex processes together with the people -- in order to emerge at the other side with high levels of consciousness and revolutionary organization.

    The RCP is (as most of us understand) a starkly negative example -- combining self-delusion with inherent sterility. And here Adrienne's warnings about "elitism and left-adventurism" are well taken -- because the result is a small dedicated group that has isolated itself, puffed itself up, and launched itself, over and over again, as a substitution for "the masses."

    But really, there are two separate questions here:

    The first is the need for "breaking bread" -- i.e. an openness to discussion and learning, and a general sense of community among progressive minded people (in their millions). Of showing some genuine humility, as we start to conceive and build a revolutionary movement from the ground up. We need to learn from others and also learn to work with others (without expecting them to "fire your ideas and hire ours.")

    But there is also a question of what basis should revolutionaries unite on, what forms of organization should we build (among communists), what should our program be, what should our demeanor, style, language be? Who should we root ourselves among, and how should be grow those roots? Where should we position ourselves to be most useful and most accessible when fracture lines of this society generate large numbers of people seeking radical solutions?

    Seeing this as two questions requires a distinction between communist organization and the broader movements of the people. And whether to see this as two distinct questions is itself a question of line.

  • Guest (R)

    can someone speak to what contributions Badiou has made? Haven't had the opportunity to read his stuff.

  • Here are some essays that have appeared on Kasama evaluating Badiou:

    * <a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/12/02/badiou-and-the-event/" rel="nofollow">When Everything Seems to Change: Badiou and the Event</a> by John Steele

    * <a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/07/07/badiou-the-communist-hypothesis/" rel="nofollow">The Communist Hypothesis</a> by Alan Badiou

    * <a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/03/30/badiou-another-take-on-revolutionary-theory/" rel="nofollow">Alain Badiou: Another Take on Revolutionary Theory</a> by John Steele

    * <a href="/http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/12/05/lazarus-badiou-amid-the-cracks-and-gaps-of-marxism/" rel="nofollow">Lazerus: Badiou Amid the Cracks and Gaps of Marxism</a>

    There is more.... several more of Badiou's essays have been posted on the site (you can search by author under "categories" in the right hand column)... but these few diverse posts will give you a sense of what people in our discussion have been thinking.

  • Guest (land)

    A communist organization or movement and a broader movement of the people are two. At this time anyway. In this country.
    But why can't you have a communist analysis of the focus of what is the broader movement of people -- an analysis that would build the communist organization.

    Or a revolutionary process within the broader movement that would contribute to bringing people into the communist organization. This has been tried. Not always so well.

    But even the attempt would give it a certain backbone. To possibly win

    In the 60's we did win some battles. There was more combativity.
    There weren't debates over the black bloc.

    It would be good to have more discussion on what it means as the 9 Letters says on the meaning of discarding the heavy baggage.

    <blockquote>"We need to discard ruthlessly, but cunningly, in order to fight under difficult conditionsl We will be traveling light, without baggage, and clutter from earlier modes of existence. We need to preserve those implements that serve the advance, against fierce opposition, toward our end goal. We need to integrate them into a vibrant new communist coherency - as we thrive on the run."</blockquote>

    This is very profound. And I am still not sure exactly what it means.

  • Guest (land)

    Just to be clear.

    I am not saying in the above statement how can we build a movement that can win?

    We do want to win. I certainly have no enthusiasm for just getting out there.

    But as communists what needs to be done to bring in the revolutionary people both today to radically change the world and for the future.

  • Guest (chegitz guevara)

    On the critique of refoundation and regroupment, I think Nando correctly understand the problems with how this has played out (Solidarity, FRSO, etc.) but I think he ignores that these comrades are grasping at something real, that the communist movement lacks a critical mass. Regardless of whether our analysis of events and actions that should be taken are correct, we simply are too small to do anything with those ideas. In order to get to that critical mass, most groups attempt to recruit new members, but the main activity is recruitment, so that recruits are sent to recruit people to recruit people etc. It's a Sisyphean task that burns most people out and leaves many organizations no larger than before, with most headed in the wrong direction.

    We still need more people in order to be able to intervene in existing struggles in any kind of meaningful way, however. In South Florida, the situation of socialists is even starker than other parts of the country. There are two socialist groups who have enough members to carry out minor tasks, the Party of Socialism and Liberation and the Socialist Workers Party. The later refuse to work with anyone, but PSL often turns to other comrades to ask for help in organizing this or that event. I have no illusions that they would do the same for us, but that isn't really the point. The point is, we need each other to get things done, even if it is only PSL's events, and it's aid I happily give.

    On the other hand, a number of us who are either unaffiliated or members at large of other groups have come together to create the Miami May Day Alliance. So we have a member of Workers World, a member of the ISO, a Haitian revolutionary, a couple of revolutionary Greens, a number of unaffiliated comrades, two SP members (including me--and thus including a Kasama comrade). We work together in order to be able to do anything. Of course we have disagreements, but most of them aren't relevant to the work we want to do. We have no illusions this will lead to a merger of all these groups, but we do have hopes that it might be a positive example to other inspire comrades around the country as a way for revolutionaries to work together. (I will have to write something about this.)

    How we achieve the critical mass is one of the biggest dividing questions in the movement today. Do we recruit? Do we regroup? Do we do good works in other movements (like the Rainbow Coalition)? Do we attempt electoral activity? Do we form coalitions? Do we attempt some combination of the preceding? Kasama, unlike many other groups, doesn't pretend to have the answer already. We don't even know if there is a single correct answer. What we have, however, is the intellectual honesty to see that we don't know and the moral courage to face the unknown.

    your comrade,

    chegitz guevara
    SUN! SURF! SOCIALISM!

  • Guest (RW Harvey)

    At the risk of being predictive: we may be closer than ever to the horizon of a revolutionary situation developing in America. Let me be clear that the components of such a situation are: the rulers cannot rule in the same way (both ideologically and militarily) and the masses of people cannot live in the same way (both ideologically and materially).

    What takes this situation over into an actual revolution is the existence of an organization that can provide an new vision of life (ideologically) and can lead the masses in physically overthrowing the old regime and its forces -- usually during a civil war.

    What makes the above situation potentially a socialist revolution as opposed to an overthrow by the forces of reaction, is the existence of an organization with a revolutionary socialist vision and plan.

    The masses who cannot live in the same way will likely follow any force that promises them the ability to continue living IN SOME WAY! Reactionaries can do that, and revolutionary communists must be able to do that, but with the vision of a new society firmly in mind.

    "Create public opinion, organize forces, seize power" would be my way of re-writing this. This does not rule out joining in struggles, but it places the primary emphasis on changing consciousness with clear and consistent ideological antidotes to all of capitalism's portrayal of reality; something that must be done whenever joining/leading struggles.

    More importantly, changed consciousness IS a form of organizing forces for the coming revolutionary situation, and it is the only way to seize power and create a radically new, socialist society, rather than simply taking revenge.

    Our work needs be preparing for the time when US bourgeois democracy looses its purchase amongst the masses of people (which, at least for the near-term, has only been strengthened with the election of Obama) by continuing to expose the ideology of the imperialists as best we can and dialectically sharpening our revolutionary line and analysis in the process.

  • Guest (carldavidson)

    RW Harvey says:

    <blockquote>More importantly, changed consciousness IS a form of organizing forces for the coming revolutionary situation</blockquote>

    You can use 'IS' as a verbal rivet all you want, but it still doesn't make the two sides of this hang together.

    Even the old English proverb, 'If wishes were horses, beggars would ride' at least uses the subjective mood. But then, it's trying to make my point here.

    You'll have to do better. Assertions don't carry the same weight as arguments.

  • Guest (Adrienne)

    Mike, you wrote:

    "Adrienne, I am a bit confused about this. The post that starts this thread represents the view (and actually a proposal) by one person in Kasama."

    Ah, I had thought (wrongly I guess) that this post was something of an Official Kasama Project Statement on who your audience should be, and who you wish to engage with.

    "In other words, it is an argument against focusing on expedient organizational mergers. It is an argument for orienting toward radical and revolutionary people broadly (not mainly those alreaddy affiliated with identified trends).

    Why is that an argument that should make you feel unwelcome?"

    Well, Nando's outline sounded to me as though Kasama was looking more toward an audience that would be comprised mostly of young people, or those who could be considered blank slates ripe to receive a very specific brand of radicalization.
    The fact is, I'm far too mature to qualify for either designation (I'm 46), and while I haven't been a part on any specific trend for quite a awhile now, I've never stopped thinking and learning about socialism -- and all sorts of other things too. So, I'm far from blank. I've also remained involved with various kinds of activism in my community, so when I saw the phrase: "(rather self-isolating) “activist communities.”" that naturally raises my hackles a bit.
    As for not wanting to keep posting comments among comrades that won't welcome them, it is not because I seek friendly agreement for all my opinions, nor am I reluctant to engage in debate, but I think it's more that I've reached a stage in my life where I not only don't want to waste a lot of my own time in endless argument, but don't want to cause others to waste their time, either.

    I'd like nothing better than to play a part in actually moving things forward in this nation -- but the truth is I'm not at all interested in any sort of a narrow sectarian trend that requires no input from it's membership, since I believe that heads nowhere -- and has been for a very long time. Besides, if comrades aren't allowed to give creative input, I consider that an insult to our intelligence.

    Now, to address the issue I have with the phrase: “Create public opinion – seize power – prepare minds and organize forces"

    It isn't the various individual ideas covered within that phrase that really bug me about it. No -- though something that does really bother me is the sheer elitist, arrogant tone of it, as well as it's smack of cheesy sloganeering. I'm always creeped-out by that kind of thing.
    The other problem has to do with the fact that it's got those ideas all crazily twisted up and put into a totally bass-ackwards sequence!
    The fact is, Organizing Forces and Preparing Minds should automatically come first, yes? And this goes for socialists (in order to have the ability to wisely lead the masses) AND applies to the masses we wish to organize among and prepare (so they will also be fit for leadership).
    If we're firmly entrenched among the masses doing all that organizing and preparing, Creating Public Opinion will come as a matter of course. It won't be something that we'll be sitting around on our asses trying to dream up, or chaotically try to grasp onto. Do you know what I mean?
    As for Seizing Power? That is going to take a lot of us, doing a lot of good and thoughtful work among ourselves, and among the masses. Together, we and the masses, can seize power.

    So, I hope that explains my thinking on this a little better.

    "How do we make the idea of a socialist society *real* enough and *attractive* enough that literally millions are willing to throw in (risk, sacrifice, fight, die, drop everything else) to make it happen?"

    In my opinion, by engaging with the masses in their day-to-day lives, needs and struggles. And btw, if we don't do so, we really aren't going to know how to lead them to a better future, and the masses aren't going trust us to lead.

    "But the process of forging all this tinder and discontent into a movement that can ACTUALLY create a new society, requires an organized communist core with deep organic ties among the population (and one that actually has a plan and a vision that corresponds with reality - not fantasy)."

    Exactly! I couldn't agree more.

  • Guest (land)

    To Adrienne - you qualify for Kasama.

    I don't think it is just up to us to make communism something people will give their lives for.
    It is up to us not to betray the people.

    There is no one message. There is a history. For me alot of it comes from revolutionary CHina times. But mainly I see it as we are making history. Not in some Pollyana way but we are taking a clear look at the situation and throwing the debate open.

    Personally I think the left is kind of over. Something new is needed.


    But there does need to be a revolutionary organization. Otherwise it is fantasy.

  • Guest (RW Harvey)

    Dang, Carl, after reading your post above (#16) I am beginning to feel like you're stalking me. I do understand your die-hard struggle to smother what you perceive as idealism with the thick and airless blanket of joining the practical, day-to-day struggles of the masses.

    Perhaps I can help you by proudly declaring that if it is idealism to emphasize the role of consciousness in the struggle to transform society toward revolutionary communism rather than simply invert one form of oppressive social relations for another... then I proudly wear the mantle of idealist.

    Perhaps after so many years of being in the struggle it is easy for us to forget just how we became conscious about the need for revolution, just how many streams of experience, of images, of readings, of conversations, interpenetrated with our tempermanents and our basic desire to end injustice.

    When I saw the police dogs and fire hoses unleashed on Black people in the South I ached to end those horrors. I had no idea how to, but that ache soon became a desire to find out, to talk and study and get involved in some way.

    I attended my first demonstration against the war in Vietnam because I saw it as nothing more than a way to cut school that day. Little did I know that I would be galvanized to devour all I could read about US imperialism's actions in Southeast Asia.

    So, consciousness can be raised by any number of events and experiences, and it can be raised towards revolution or lowered towards reaction.

    It is little more than fetishizing the day-to-day struggles -- in the sense of giving something the power of magical talisman -- to continually hold them up as the thing that will enable the masses to trust revolutionaries and follow them to storm the strongholds of the bourgeoisie. It smacks of some deep-seated effort to assuage misplaced guilt that we are not of the masses and that revolution is not in their interests, a remnant of the charge of "outside agitators." It ultimately reflects as well a deep-seated fear of the masses "finding us out."

    Once again, idealistically perhaps, I advocate doing everything in our power to expose imperialism, to envision a socialist future, and in the process organize forces IDEOLOGICALLY for the overthrow and for the running of a new society.

  • Guest (Carl Davidson)

    Fair enough. I remember those fire hose and dogs, too, and we only had 12 on my first antiwar action, around the Cuba missile crisis, with a bunch of ROTC cadets heckling us. But consciousness in one thing, while organization is another.


    You can organize forces 'ideologically' for revolution, whatever that means to you; I'll organize them politically and economically, starting with what they're ready to recognize as their own battles, small or large, but by no means staying 'stuck' there or anywhere else.

    But I take my theoretical work very seriously, not only doing some year in and year out, but also organizing around it, too. We're having our annual North American Global Studies Association gathering, the eight one I believe, in Florida. You're welcome to submit a contribution to the discussion. See http://net4dem.org/mayglobal

  • Guest (chegitz guevara)

    Hey, that's just down the road.

  • Guest (Adrienne)

    Land:

    "To Adrienne - you qualify for Kasama."

    Thanks, Land. I guess I'll have to take your word for it. (though I can't help noticing that Mike didn't reply to either one of our comments.)

    "I don’t think it is just up to us to make communism something people will give their lives for.
    It is up to us not to betray the people."

    I agree.

    "There is no one message. There is a history. For me alot of it comes from revolutionary CHina times."

    I'm aware that many of you here are Maoists. My background has been Marxist-Leninist, though I've read a certain amount on Mao and China. I'll likely need to do at lot more reading.
    When in Rome, as they say. ;^)

    "But mainly I see it as we are making history. Not in some Pollyana way but we are taking a clear look at the situation and throwing the debate open."

    It does seem necessary.
    LOL. Yet look at the slag-fests that have been taking place in some of these threads! Well exemplified by RW Harvey and Carl Davidson's exchange in this particular one. It's like the world might be suddenly thrown off it's axis if either one had to admit that they've both made excellent points -- because clearly consciousness and political/economic organizing are both extremely important things. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, I think the relationship between the two can't even be separated or isolated from one another. Well, they can be, but that seems to only throw things totally off kilter in any given trend we could name.

    "Personally I think the left is kind of over. Something new is needed."

    Can you explain what you mean by "kind of over"? Personally I've always thought that the real problem was that the left has never truly gotten started in this particular nation. Though I fully agree that trying something new seems pretty vital.

    "But there does need to be a revolutionary organization. Otherwise it is fantasy."

    Absolutely. Maybe the Kasama Project will give birth to such an organization.?

    PS. to Chegitz Guevara, who wrote: "SUN! SURF! SOCIALISM!"
    Are you by any chance a fan of instrumental-surf music? If so, you might be interested in a once a month (or so) podcast I've been djing for awhile. Link: http://www.surfguitar101.com/modules.php?name=Podcast

  • Guest (chegitz guevara)

    Comrade Adrienne,

    The surf I speak of is simply the waves. I live within bike riding distance from the beach down here in Florida. The wealthy haven't taken all the good spots yet.

    That said, I do love surf music. I'm downloading now.

    your comrade,

    chegitz guevara
    SUN! SURF! SOCIALISM!