- Category: Kasama
- Created on Monday, 05 January 2009 14:20
- Written by Nando
In 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.
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.
“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?”