What a Communist Beginning Might Look Like

This is an excerpt from a longer comment.

"A three tier model: Iskra project, Pravda project, Faultlines projects."

by Mike Ely

 

My own view is (to put it very very crudely) that we need a three tier model -- that distinguishes three very different levels of projects — in order to accomplish the work we face:

1) We need an Iskra project — i.e. a process by which communists and revolutionaries engage and clarify their levels of unity and their forms of organization. It would both be a space where this work gets done — and a pole within a much larger terrain serving as an attractive force for those most radical. It is dangerous to make the sausage right in the middle of the restaurant, but i think that’s the kind of public transparency and access that is needed (especially given the particular contradictions of our regroupment process).

This creates a space within which we attract, create, unite, organize and train communists (even as political practice impacts each of these things it its own way). The Iskra audience is conscious or aspiring revolutionaries. It provides a scaffolding alongside which organization can be developed. It starts as a process of discussions among revolutionaries -- within which a communist pole can be seen and out of which distinct trends can develop -- where radical views can be seen in engaged contradiction to each other, and where such clarifications can (hopefully) help a whole new generation of radicals develop their views and build  organized formations to implement and test those views.

Iskra (Spark) was a newspaper written by exiles and smuggled into Russia that helped define and organize a skeletal communist organization that prepared for more revolutionary times. This involves engagement of theory, revolutionary strategy, questions of organization and approaching macro-events with the intent of clarifying line controversies among communists. Since we live in such a post-newspaper world, the early 1900's Iskra newspaper  is not an example about form, but about function.

2) We need a Pravda project — we need to develop a popular way of delivering news and analysis to large numbers of people in a way that connects with them and helps bring them to an increasingly revolutionary understanding of the world and their own role.

How to do that, whether it is possible to do right now, what it would look like, how it would be different from the media of other political trends (Democracy Now, the Nation, etc.) — these are issues we have not even scratched yet.

This is a quite difficult project to conceive and initiate -- and one that has not been seriously attempted in a country like ours in a long time.

The revolutionary writer Lu Hsun once argued that to produce truly great work you needed a truly great audience.

The discovery of a really-existing potential audience is one of the preconditions for a successful Pravda project - in ways that will shape its media form, its vernacular style, its focus, its levels of unity, its graphic vibe and so on. In other words, you can't start to apply the mass line on a broad scale without the accretion of a revolutionary people out of real cracks, pockets and radical divergences within the political landscape.

Pravda (Truth) was a daily communist newspaper in St. Petersburg's 1912 working class upsurge that helped forge a revolutionary core for the events that followed World War 1 -- it played this role of connecting people very broadly with a communist view of events and politics. In our conditions this has to be many-to-many, not the traditional one-to-many of newspapers — which means we have a heap of creative thinking to do about forms and methods.

3) We need a series of Faultline projects — in which communists and revolutionaries organize (and reorganize) themselves to deeply engage the struggles of oppressed people along key (objectively existing) faultlines of the society. And this is obviously not just/mainly a matter of commenting on those struggles, or announcing “If we were running this show, this is what we would be having people do.” It is a matter of actually engaging, participating in, building, where necessary initiating and helping to transform the struggles against key crimes of this system — especially those that have the potential for actually drawing significant sections of the people into political life (in ways that collide with this system and its status quo). Revolution requires material force overthrowing material force — and revolutionaries need to actually organize material forces (prepare minds and organize forces) even in a non-revolutionary situation. Preparation for future crisis is not solely (or even mainly) a mental/theoretical preparation among revolutionaries — but also involves preparing networks, connections, alliances, core forces, as well as ideas that can bind millions under unforeseen new situations.

A key issue for an Iskra project is discussing “how to do revolutionary work in our time and place.” And that revolutionary work involves (imho) precisely involves Pravda project and faultline projects.

We have previously talked about "reconceive as we regroup" -- where reconception involves a critical reworking and creative development of communist theory, and regrouping involves the emergence of a new revolutionary movement in preparation for future conjunctural events. A great deal of this reconception is focused within the "Iskra" side of this schema -- though clearly once we succeed in developing faultline projects (out of the current local work that most communists are engaged in) there will be a great deal of testing and struggle over how to apply and revise what we have theoretically developed. As soon as possible, the Iskra side needs to start to discuss and sum up communist work (both the rich work of the past, and the beginnings in our present).

Dig in.

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  • Guest (worker antagonism)

    What are the lines of demarcation here?
    On the Left today there are of course widely divergent tendencies:
    You have Maoists,Trotskyites, and Anarchists and various "independent" Marxists,( also with vary wide divergence within each of these tendencies).
    Now I think its very possible for a certain degree of practical unity to develop within the antagonistic,( as opposed to the social democratic Left), however the reality is certain viewpoints lead to differing concepts of political work and different strategic conceptions.
    I don't think it will ever be possible to unite the revolutionary Left within a single project of regroupment, the divergences are too wide and can't be blamed on "sectarianism" alone.
    Real issues of world view and historical perspective are involved.

  • I think different trends will inevitably emerge from the processes we now undertake. A new revolutionary movement will not (cannot) emerged from some "unity of the existing left" project -- for all kinds of reasons that are worth discussing. Let me put it like this, WA: I don't think we are limited to two choices: a) try to unite the current existing trends into one mash, or b) stay divided up along the currently existing silos.

    On the contrary, I think both of those approaches would be a deadend and a waste of time. And i think that most of the "raw material" for a new revolutionary movement is outside the existing left silos. And I think the form and functioning of those silos make it harder to connect with many people.

    Let's get out of this skin we're imprisoned in. That part isn't particularly hard. You climb out and walk away together.

    The truly hard part is not reproducing the forms that have seem familiar and comfortable <em>for us</em>, i.e. for the "left activists." Once you climb out of a once-attractive silo -- there is a strong pull to re-form something quite like it. And many people joined organizations assuming that someone (somewhere?) had figured out what to do -- and realizing that wasn't so means assuming a great deal of new responsibility.

    I find that a great many people have never really confronted what it means when you don't yet have a revolutionary movement or an organized revolutionary core -- because suddenly the initiation (and before that the preconception) is itself a difficult series of conceptual and collective tasks. No autopilot here.

    It will require some real ruptures (for all of us), and also require the emergence (now) of new and attractive communist approaches (and culture and method) that help people rupture with sterile older ones.

    I think our critique of the RCP (in the <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/pamphlets/9-letters/" rel="nofollow">9 Letters to Our Comrades</a>;) has some potential applicability to a much wider array of exhausted formations. And Kasama's decision not to form some new mini-sect is (potentially) an approach that might have applicability to people restlessly thinking of abandoning a much wider array of exhausted formations.

    But beyond that starts the real creative work -- and one that might start by identifying who around us (or who internationally) is now doing the most innovative revolutionary work .

    The lines of demarcation that will define a new revolutionary movement (and its divergent trends) will emerge from the problems and controversial solutions that now need to be identified. "Reconception and regroupment" involves identifying and exploring <em>different</em> solutions to common problems, and on that basis uncovering what will become the lines of demarcation among us.

    I don't think it can be pre-ordained -- i don't think the list (of future basis of unity) already exists somewhere. In other words, I don't think the lines of demarcation (within a new, currently non-existent revolutionary movement) are simply the addition of the last two centuries of "lines of demarcation."

    I think that the forces we need to congeal will come from many different experiences and previous viewpoints, and I suspect that all of us will be transformed by this process.

    I think the attempt to build trends largely (solely?) based on lines of demarcation from the 1920s (or 1890s) has some fundamental problems, and some terrible outcomes.

    What do YOU think of Kronstadt? of the Popular Front? of the Bolshevik ban on factions? Can we form a new rev movement through that kind of checklist discourse -- that focuses the verdict-making process in a series of remote times and places.

    I don't think a real revolutionary movement and a new communist beginning can work like that. In some ways the "widely divergent tendencies" of "the left today" are going to be shed, not vindicated.

    <strong>As an historical example:</strong> SDS was an important incubation chamber for the New Communist Movement -- there were lines of demarcation that emerged in SDS debates... but its not like someone said ahead of time (at the entrance to SDS) what the lines of demarcation would be or should be. This was somehting that emerged organically (sometimes well, sometimes not) -- dividing PLP's WSA forces from the RYM forces, dividing the RYM forces into rival trends, and so on. Often on extremely important grounds -- but not on the basis of "lines of demarcation" inherited from the early 1900s, from the 1920s or the 1930s.

    I have some personal speculation about what key lines of demarcation will be -- for example how to respond to the Obama presidency is one such thing.

  • Guest (jp)

    obama's ascension has reduced social democratic methods to unprecedented levels of absurdity, producing some grotesque offspring. abandoning the safety of the democratic party umbrella does seem a necessity. what will shift the left to the left? there is no argument so blind as to support everything we say we oppose.

  • Guest (worker antagonism)

    For example in terms of "lines of demarcation", I would ague that saddling the rearticulation of the communist project with a more or less convoluted defense of the "shock modernization" strategies of the "socialist" states in the 20th Century can only lead to comprehensive political disaster.
    That does not preclude friendly relations with those holding other positions in practical work, it is however a ideological dividing line and a defining element of strategic perspective.
    Likewise on the international scale, does one organize more or less critical support for the various incarnations of the Latin American Left or denounce them as counter revolutionary factions of capital?
    There are similar issues with the struggles in South Asia and so on.
    And its not just a matter of endless sectarian arguments about obscure and musty historical moments ( I agree, there is far too much of that), its a very basic question of what we even mean when we use the words "socialism" or "communism".

  • Guest (reader)

    I agree with the general orientation, and now is the right time time to develop a new Iskra (as you put it).

    One question that jumps to mind is whether we need to take into account the creation of dual-power institutions among the masses as a strategy for exercising some kind of limited political power while the old state is still there (things like the workers, soldiers and peasants councils in Russia from 1905-1917, or in this century, the Zapatista communities in Chiapas and Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa).

    You mention in this article that doing political work on major faultlines of society is "obviously not just/mainly a matter of commenting on those struggles, or announcing 'If we were running this show, this is what we would be having people do.'" The groups that *are* working on these major faultlines today in the United States, if there are any at all, are totally focused on keeping them within the bounds of the current political setup.

    There are things that a revolutionary movement would desperately need in order to take things all the way, and at the same time give the masses a sense that there is another political setup, actually existing in some kind of embryonic form. Today it's not possible to bring all this into being out of thin air, but we can look at a few examples.

    There are things like urban farming (having a network of food distribution that relies on collective labor of people in the neighborhood on all the abandoned lots that plague many American cities today -- some people in Detroit and other places are doing this), copwatch-style program not tied into a "citizen's review board" though as many reformists would like -- at the same time developing some type of volunteer security force among the proletariat in the neighborhoods, afterschool programs and collectivized childcare services (having a system where people trade tickets or something to free up many women who are stuck with taking care of kids), or organizing committees to move people back into foreclosed homes as has been done in Miami as the kinds of programs that would emerge alongside the development of a real revolutionary movement in this country.

    Without a network of alternate institutions like these to sustain a revolutionary movement, I don't think that there would be the framework in place to have the basis for a new state power. Unless it be created instantaneously at a certain point when everything hits the fan?

  • Guest (Timo)

    When trying to create a "Pravda project," we run into some serious problems. I think that our ability to spread information is so great right now via the internet, and people of my generation use the internet non-stop, however at the same time, from my experience, many young people today are so indifferent, so depoliticized. Its seems to me as if the resources and tools are their, much of the audience is there, but they don't give a shit, or the people who already care are so pessimistic or cynical. But at the same time we know younger people can be mobilize (and demobilized) as we have seen during the last presidential election.

    A lot of the internet use with younger people is social networking. People share links of youtube etc over these sites. And I think for a beginning point for a "Pravda project" we should better utilize social networking because that where major traffic is at, however even that runs into problems as we have seen pages getting taken down on facebook, or videos pulled from youtube, basically the censorship problem.

    I think all the pieces are there, the tools, the audience etc, but we need to figure out how the hell to put this puzzle together.

    I think we should also consider ways to "break into" if you will, the internet spaces people frequent. This might sound ultra-left or adventurist to some, but I think we should utilize a mix of things like hacking and multimedia to help bridge the gap between the resources we have through the internet as well as the "sleeping" audience of young people who use the internet. Just imagine if we could hack the Google homepage, and have it play a short powerful documentary, or some form of media exposing some aspect of capitalism! Think of all the people who would see that! Or what if a modern equivalent of the Nixon tapes were to be leaked, but not on wiki-leaks, but were the first thing people see when they log onto Google!

    just some thoughts.

  • Guest (Rafael)

    readers point is interesting. we want to get to that dual power situation as soon as possible, I share your enthusiasm, but it should be built upon very sharp lines also that would be ready to shift to building upon future faultlines when they rupture. coop farming, deprivitizing housing are important aspects, but we don't want to go down the road of economism - How would people actively embrace communalism within the framework of building a new society that embraces the oppressed internationally, in different sections of the oppresed, while keeping focused on the most accute faultlines, while dealing with being wage/family earners. What a task whew.

    Anyways good to see this project maturing.

  • Guest (( ))

    I always agreed with Marx's claim that the primary weapons of the workers were the ever expanding means of communication. Althought I think mobile-phone related networking would be an ideal way to reach the masses (esp. in the third-world), we should obviously utilize the internet to the utmost in our struggle. There are so many tools: search engines, forums, paypal, youtube, blogs, wikipedia, online shops, databases, archives, etc. that can be utilized to a much greater degree than currently is occurring.

    For example visually appealing viral (esp. youtube) videos which inform the viewer of the struggle against capitalism can easily be created by anyone who bothers to learn the necessary skills (the programs are free). Look for example at the videos created by GOOD magazine, bigbrotherstate.com, knife-party.net, RSA Animate or TED: they all have hundreds of thousands of views, yet probably weren't created by an expensive advertising team. You could combine that with the Pravda idea by making online news videos.

    Similarly a lot of people can be informed/converted through online forums. They offer an opportunity for long-time interaction between the same individuals, the possibility to lay out arguments rationally, and the safety of anonymity. I've myself been converted by being impressed of the arguments and knowledge of a comrade on a forum.

    Another area where I feel there is enormous potential is in Wikipedia. A lot of students have started using it as their starting point in understanding the world. Currently a lot of sources and counter-claims could be added to most of the social-science articles, and blatant right-wing slander and lies curtailed through criticism. Even inserting a small section within an article with a dissenting view can push a lot of people towards dissident politics and a more critical understanding of the world.

    Finally although this has been discussed before and is kind of off-topic, I find that the issue of democracy and the public's oversight and direction of society and the economy should be addressed with regard to the internet and party building therein. If we wish to create mediums and organizations with continuity up to the building of socialism, we need to think in advance of how to create such forms which nurture values and structures which will strengthen the movement (i.e. criticism, self-criticism, democracy, etc.).

    <cite>I don’t think it will ever be possible to unite the revolutionary Left within a single project of regroupment, the divergences are too wide and can’t be blamed on “sectarianism” alone.
    Real issues of world view and historical perspective are involved.</cite>

    I think another issue is that face it: the first-world working-class has been bought off with slight concessions between the end of the 19th and the middle of the 20th centuries (which grew due to unequal exchange and some other concessions to unions) and then demoralized, sold a pro consumer-capitalist world-view and left in vertigo. Although the collapse of the USSR and the (perhaps partially resultant?) scale-back on social expenditures and wages is starting to prove to the formerly passive western workers that capitalism never really had a human face.

    If there seems to be an overwhelming difficulty in getting people to care about your politics there's a good chance that whatever demographic you're addressing simply isn't in a position in which what you're saying is blatantly evident to them in their life. For example I don't think one would have a difficulty finding listeners to revolutionary politics in South Africa, Egypt, Indonesia, Guatemala or Uzbekistan.

  • Guest (Bob H)

    Lot's of good ideas in ()'s post above. I think if we really want a modern-day Pravda we need something like the <i>The Daily Show</i> but with radical politics and deeper exposure.

    Isn't there an effort to make a conservative alternative to Wikipedia? We could use a "Leftipedia" for politics and history -- with at least 10 different Stalin articles where all the major left historical views on him could be spelled out.

    Some pet projects I want to get off the ground someday is to try dig up some of the best threads on various left blogs and mailing lists and archive major postings by topic. So, for instance, if you look up a topic like "dialectics of nature" you could follow several threads and postings from over the years from dozens of forums. In essence an aggregator for some of the best discussions and postings from left sites.

    Another site I'd like to see is a collective dissection of conservative and liberal thinkers and writers. It would be useful to be able to click on some thinker's name (e.g. F. von Hayek) and find various articles critiquing his theories. Think of it as a collective debunking of bourgeois theory and ideology.

    It seems like the left's only successful example of crowd sourcing is marxists.org, and I've always disliked the way it's skewed towards Trotskyism. Still a great resource, though.

  • Guest (( ))

    @ Bob H

    Marxists.org is awesome as an archive, but it would be a lot better if users could write articles commentating on a specific or a group of articles on the site. So for example if you scrolled down on "The Revolution Betrayed" you could have various supportive or critical commentaries on the work with reference to say party documents, Trotsky's letters and official soviet statistics. Or the same with say the first international, Marx and Bakunin.

  • Guest (Paul Saba)

    Mike, I like your three levels, but I think missing from the framework is another level that is critical to the long-term success of the other three. That is, a "theoretical practice" level in which communists can engage in the essential work of critically examining our theoretical legacy, further developing what remains valid in a rigourous manner, and testing and refining it through the elaboration of "concrete analyses of concrete situations."

  • Paul: I agree. And I see our significant theoretical tasks as part of the Iskra project, which is why I wrote:

    <blockquote>"This involves engagement of theory, revolutionary strategy, questions of organization and approaching macro-events with the intent of clarifying line controversies among communists."</blockquote>

    Still theory has its own specificity, and needs to be a semi-autonomous project, so that may not be the way to look at it. Perhaps it is a fourth "level" -- I see it as a major part of the discussion and debate that communists/revolutionaries need to have among themselves.

    On a minor point: I don't use the Althusserian term of "theoretical practice" -- for a number of reasons.

  • Guest (Bread and Roses)

    IMHO,

    4) We need a Yang Ban Xi project: i.e. we need didactic, revolutionary arts and aesthetics (art theory). In other words, we need to struggle within the superstructure at the level of ideology as well as the base, so we need art, music, film, theater, dance, and literature that emerge from our movements (Faultlines) and organizations (Iskra), prefigure the world we envision, and critique existing social, political, and economic relations. To this end, we need to engage with emergent artistic forms that are produced by and for the people, especially those that are rejected by the ruling class as legitimate artistic expressions like slam poetry and graffiti.

    It should be creative, going beyond the boundaries of socialist realism to transform as well as to teach.

    It should connect artists, organizers, and movements across time and space, allowing them to share ideas, problems, techniques, and new creations.

    Although there are various excellent collectives (Art &amp; Struggle: http://artandstruggle.com/) and institutions (Brecht Form: http://brechtforum.org/) that are already engaged in this type of work, their reach is fairly limited to their respective geographic areas. The Yang Ban Xi project I'm imagining would have the ability to disseminate and engage on a much larger scale and would work closely with the 3 projects enumerated by Mike E.

    Just a thought.

    *Yang Ban Xi (translated as "model operas") refers to the 5 revolutionary operas, 2 ballets, and 1 symphony that were produced during the Cultural Revolution in China by Jiang Qing, Mao's wife. The project was intended to be an experiment in communist aesthetics.

  • Guest (Contrarian)

    The movement also needs a new outlandish Yippieism of a new type be realistic demand the impossible wing.

    On immigration, it is not enough to go beyond the Dream Act, or call for complete unconditional amnesty--someone should openly actively call for all the oppressed people of the world in their millions and tens of millions to travel here and help us change things.

    On the Native American front, some Native American Nation should announce that it is reopening its enrollment roles and that all who breject the ways of the white man are welcome to join. Read Lies My Teacher Taught Me for some of the history of how some early colonist in north America, including Massachusetts and Florida, went "native" and were very welcome by Native Aerican nations. (This can be combined with a call for other oppressed people to come here--not seeking U.S. citizenship, but citizenship in a native American nation.

    In the arena of law, what if the4re was an effort to gather hundreds of thousands or a million signatures on a filing to be made at the U.S. Supreme Court, not demanding equality before the law, but declaring that it is clear that the Constitution and its laws serve only the rich and that those who are filing no longer wish to be bound by it, and waive its so called "protectionws" as meaningless? Or what if entire commun ities tried to file mass bankruptcy petitions to discharge their supposed debts, such as mortgages, car loans, credit card balances?

    What if people started peoples banks that paid no interest, charged no interest, allowed for the creation of jopint accounts with an endless num,ber of names on them so that people could pool their money?

    What if a group put forth the slogan "All Men and Women are Brothers and Sisters" and went about formally adopting each other as family members and demanding recognition as such? What if they tried to adopt every orphan in Iraq? As a group?

    What if a chain of business were started in different cities called "Public Bathrooms" given the many places where human beings without money can't even find a place to pee? Whaqt if these storefronts offered free coffee anmd sandwiches, but only for those who use our bathroom?

    Crazy? Maybe. But much less crazy thajn the vile anti-human system we have now.


    Just one or two of these things could shake up people's thinking and assumptions. A lot of such performance art by deed went on in the 1960s. We need a bit of this again. In fact, I would argue that we need a lot of it.

  • Guest (Contrarian)

    In the arts, some of the writers and musicians opposing copyright and DRM in media and openly sharing their work for vfree on the Internet are nascent shoots of communism, albeit in some instances unconsciously. This needs to be made explicit.

    Cuba, in the early days of its revolution, declared that it would ignore international copyright law as to textbooks, which was righteous, as such knowledge beloongs to humanity.

    Repeal the copywrong laws.

  • Guest (Contrarian)

    Brother Abbie Hoffman, back in the 60's, had a great sense of how to do such things to shake up people's minds and conceptions--things like vthrowing away money at the new york stock exchange, running a pig for president, etc. The BPP serve the people programs, for all their problems, also had an aspect of this. Why shouldn't breakfast and health care be free? (or housing, or ...).

    yeah, we need an end to the particular imperialist wars, out now is a great demand, but shouldn't someone be calling for dissolving the military and eliminating the u.s.'s nukes?

    Yes, we need an end to police brutality and murder, but shouldn't someone be calling for disarming the cops and arming the people? I remember when Rage Against the Machine went on Saturday Night Live with one of them wearing an "Arm the Homeless" t-shirt.

    Why are we letting the tea party right wing assholes have hegemony over the pro-gun and anti-tax sentiments thaqt many people feel? Why aren't some leftists trying to move such forces in an anti-racist anti-capitalist direction? No one have any ideas on this? Think outside the box.

    "If they give you ruled paper, write the other way."
    "No More Absentee Poetry!"

  • Guest (balzac)

    Creating a leftpedia or what have you seems like a project which would devolve into the typical factional infighting where the engagement which is supposed to be happening with oppressed peoples is instead with a long argument between Trotskyists whose theoretical engagement ends in 1938 and hipster anarchists who worship all things Crimethinc. Many members of the left are very good at arguing with each other and substituting personal disagreements for theoretical contributions, and I think this would just create another forum for that time, especially since these oftentimes have more to do with staking out ideological positions (and cults of personality or hero worship) than with critical engagement itself. The most critical efforts must be geared towards outward engagement, as any theory developed without the contributions of significant struggles (and the leadership of oppressed peoples themselves) will be petty and useless. Too much focus on history in getting people interested makes it appear communists worship a dead ideology (and it's true, because a number of them do, or at least they vulgarize it to a point where it's zombified and meaningless) and in the end they resemble the proselytizers who try to convert people to their cultish Christian sect. This isn't the case, obviously, but I think a lot of young people look at it this way.

    I think a concerted project dealing with Wikipedia articles (say, on the Russian Revolution - something I have worked on myself) and cutting out all the right-wing hysterical crap has the potential to be useful and at least in correcting the widespread misconceptions about communism and revolution in general.

    ( ) made the point about forums, and that's something I've recently discovered myself. I don't know how far it goes - whether the interest that's sparked in a forum successfully translates to real engagement, at least a decent amount of the time - but the environment provided by forums seems like a great place for bringing up these things, and I think that many folks who are forum junkies out there like to see rational, well-reasoned, and intelligent discussions and conclusions, and we have a practical monopoly on these.

    Bread And Roses also made the point that we need an aesthetic or a theory of what communist art (and I mean 'art' in the broad sense) will be and is, and this is something that has been taken up a number of times, some great examples being Lukacs and the Situationist International - and I think the work taken up by the SI (like the derive, detournement, psychogeography, etc.) has the potential to speak to and radicalize a lot of the post-industrial, post-tech boom folks whose middle-class dreams are permanently shelved. The more radical bits of queer theory have also tended to providing a critical - and sometimes communist - aesthetic: people like Samuel Delaney (who writes literary theory as well as science fiction) and Kathy Acker are good examples. I think we will need many aesthetics, many theories, etc., and if a radical aesthetic pluralism is the base, then the homogeneity of something like Soviet socialist realism will never be an issue, and we will also be capable of speaking to millions (if not billions) more people.

  • Guest (balzac)

    I'd also add that I think a lot of these ideas seem to be bent on appealing to white middle class people (my own suggestion of the SI especially), and I think this is something we should keep in mind, especially since the cultural, social, and lived experiences of oppressed people of color (especially black folks) are markedly different than what is considered the 'norm' in our society - and I think communists, socialists, anarchists, etc., have very often reproduced this norm in their appeals to and work with oppressed peoples. So keeping our eyes open for the whiteness of some our ideas and their presentation is going to be of enormous importance.

  • Guest (Bob H)

    @Balzac: I think one of the problems with Wikipedia, especially with anything remotely political, is that you get "edit wars" where people keep trying to impose their view. I think recently wikipedia had to start using full-time editors with special privileges to counteract that.

    What I think would be useful is allowing the different lines to have parallel interpretations of the same subjects. The Anarchist, Trotskyist, orthodox ML and Maoist views on Kronstad, for instance, will all be quite different. When people get interested in history and theory they often want to understand the different points of view. Making it explicit and in one place might make it easier for people to sort these things out; plus you can use page view counts to get a sense of where people are at.

    Broadly speaking, I'd like to see two kinds of web resources: one where the left can collect its history and ideas, and one where bourgeois ideas and thinkers can be skewered, where we can go to for "talking points" when we're not experts on some reactionary somebody throws in our faces. A lot of that information is out there, making it easy to find and use is another matter. Forums are great, but they are scattered and hard to search.

  • Guest (Rob Cypher)

    Admittedly, most of this stuff is too obscure or radical for me to follow, but WHY would you want to emulate Mao's wife in regards to cultural writings? The woman is a pariah in her own country thanks to the "Gang Of Four" trials that were held after Mao died. She was considered to be little better than the wife of South Vietnam's last premier (the one who used to laugh whenever she saw Buddhist monks set fire to themselves in protest).

  • Guest (Sam)

    Why does everything on this site seem to talk about "beginnings," and other messianic language, as if the rest of the left is dead, unimaginative and/or useless. That was the presumptuous tone of the Patrick Ryan piece too as well, which claimed to speak for a whole generation of young revolutionaries who are exhausted with and breaking out of the "old" organizations. He is of course entitled to his view, and there are others who undoubtedly feel the same, but come on -- spare me. I come by here occasionally and always get the impression that Kasama editors believe they are the only ones on the left who think seriously about political strategy and the historical experiences of the left.

  • Guest (Otto)

    Bob H;

    If I understand you correctly you’re pointing out that a lot of common people will not know who all these Demarcation people are (Trotsky, Stalin) and will be more interested in good jobs, health care, homes, etc. The experienced revolutionaries can deal with the complex theories that make Trotsky, Stalin and the anarchist movements important. That I would agree with.
    Rob Cypher

    Jiang Quing is a hero to those who recognize that she was a woman in a “good ol’ boys club.” She has been vilified by Deng and people who wanted to overturn any understanding of the cultural revolution and its goals. She was defiant and never sold out as most of her other comrades and she faced death rather than relent on her beliefs. To many of us she is a major hero. Even some right-wing biographers learned to respect her after reviewing her trial and her courage against that system.

  • Guest (jfsp)

    Hitting the nail on the head, most working class people do care about jobs, health care, etc...they don't want to hear about Trotsky and Lenin. A lot of today's youth probably don't know who they are anyway. People turned to Obama for Hope, he got enough votes to be elected President, these are the people who need to be reached. Obama's team were very astute in the use of the internet to gain support and donations, what they did should be studied (I'm sure the Republicans are).

  • Guest (RW Harvey)

    Nothing, I repeat, nothing opens the doors of revolutionary change until the system fundamentally ruptures -- you know, until the rulers cannot rule in the same way, the people cannot live in the same way, and there is an organization to lead them beyond either simply reconstituting the old or being subsumed by paralysis and thereby rendered mere carrion for whatever reactionary forces are attemtping to reorganize.

    It behooves us to ponder/imagine what "the same way" really constitutes, how elastic it is in the U.S., and what "not in the same way" might involve.

    Theoretical demarcation and grounding? Excellent. But if this inhibits apriori the ability to respond to and lead in an emerging, rapidly changing situation, then what is the point?

    Specific analysis and agitation around current faultlines? Excellent.

    Raising consciousness? Absolutely.

    But let us not be so purist and frightened by charges of "pragmatism" or "bowing to the day-to-day needs of the masses" that we fail to recognize that when the day arrives when "not in the same way" becomes paramount, these may be the very first questions that displaced and disillusioned people ask and whether or not revolutionary forces can adequately answer them will determine if the "old way" is pushed past or restored.

    In other words, what we theorize today will not, I repeat, will not look anything like what a revolutionary situation will present.

  • RW harvey raises a number of important points... including:

    <blockquote>"It behooves us to ponder/imagine what “the same way” really constitutes, how elastic it is in the U.S., and what “not in the same way” might involve."</blockquote>

    And I agree with RWH that the "same way" may end up referring to things we don't expect, and may involve demands for changes we didn't anticipate.

    RWHarvey also wrote:

    <blockquote>"what we theorize today will not, I repeat, will not look anything like what a revolutionary situation will present."</blockquote>

    I think this is true... and has repeatedly been true in the past.

    But I think there is an analogy to planning before a battle: All military science points to a paradox: no plan survives contact with the enemy, and victory is often dependent on the quality of your planning.

    You need a logistical plan, and you need to implement it to gather logistical supplies. You need a plan for deploying your forces. You need a tactical plan. etc. But then, once any major battle starts, the combatants discover that important details are unanticipated. Things often spin out in ways that no one expected. That's why intelligence leading up to a battle is so important, and why command and control is so important in the battle-- and that's part of why why warfare is both science and art.

    You <em>needed</em> that series of plans based on your best guess of the coming situation. And you <em>needed</em> to align forces and resource based on those plans. And THEN the colliding commanders <em>need</em> to adjust EVERYTHING rapidly as the new situation unfolds in the concrete.

    RWHarvey writes:

    <blockquote>"Theoretical demarcation and grounding? Excellent. But if this inhibits apriori the ability to respond to and lead in an emerging, rapidly changing situation, then what is the point?"</blockquote>

    I don't think that theory need inherently lock us into verdicts and patterns. But we do need to fight for a flexible mind, a truly dialectical method, and a criticial and self-critical theory. And all of that is part of our theoretical process -- developing a theoretical method that does not operate as a series of blinders.

    And, further, we need an analysis and we need to act on the analysis -- even if it ends up being "wrong" in this-or-that aspect.

    (Lenin's major 1905 analysis of a coming Russian revolution, "<a href="/http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/tactics/index.htm" rel="nofollow">Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution</a>," proved to have major problems as the real-world alignments emerged.)

    To return to the military analogy for a second: No one should use the unpredictable nature of a <em>coming</em> battle as an excuse NOT to formulate detailed logistical and tactical plans. Any force that did that would <em>always</em> suffer defeat. And that is part of why irregular forces (mobs or local militia) are almost always beaten by regular forces.

    Acting on such plans is part of seizing the initiative -- which is crucial to victory. And (not surprisingly) much hangs in the degree to which plans foreshadow reality -- even if not perfectly.
    <strong>
    A micro example: </strong>When different left forces sent cadre to "salt" the coalfields at the end of the 1960s, some NCM parties assumed that the cutting edge would be in areas where the miners were still <em>unionizing</em> (i.e. Kentucky and Harlan County)... so they sent their cadre there. In fact, this was exactly wrong: the struggle became most intense in the most <em>highly</em> unionized coalfields (of southern West Virginia where the RU/RCP had sent their forces. That is why the movie "Harlan County" starts focused on the unionization struggle of one small mine in Kentucky, but suddenly veers and "discovers" the much more significant and illegal struggles of tens of thousands happening next door in the central unionized coalfields. Other left parties ended up moving their people from Kentucky to West Virginia, <em>after</em> the first massive wildcats had come and gone. It was an example of diverse forces making very different predictive analyses about the nature of the class struggle and its likely points of eruption (based on different ideological and political lines).

    <strong>And to bring the military analogy back to politics: </strong>This is why we revolutionaries need perceptive analysis and creative preparation now, and we <em>also</em> need brilliant innovation as things unfold. Anyone who limited to non-revolutionary work during non-revolutionary times will simply be lost when something else becomes possible.

  • Guest (Cultural Animal)

    As my best art teachers always told me, you must thoroughly ground yourself in technique and then cultivate the spiritual freedom to meet the moment with utter sincerity.

  • CA writes:

    <blockquote>"As my best art teachers always told me, you must thoroughly ground yourself in technique and then cultivate the spiritual freedom to meet the moment with utter sincerity."</blockquote>

    Exactly.

  • Guest (RW Harvey)

    Mike writes: "You need a logistical plan, and you need to implement it to gather logistical supplies. You need a plan for deploying your forces. You need a tactical plan. etc. But then, once any major battle starts, the combatants discover that important details are unanticipated. Things often spin out in ways that no one expected. That’s why intelligence leading up to a battle is so important, and why command and control is so important in the battle– and that’s part of why why warfare is both science and art."

    True. Imagining that this will likely be quite localized and developed "on the run" (and certainly not on FaceBook), I wonder what people even think might possibly happen when a revolutionary situation thrusts itself upon the U.S.? At the risk of being charged ahistorical (or worse, exceptionalist), Russia 1917, China 1949, and Cuba 1959 will be of no use to wrapping our heads around what we will face. There will be no Winter Palace to storm, no Sierras from which to make forays, and no regular "Red Army" to take the field (except perhaps in the final phases, if we are victorious. Perhaps we had better study the conditions within failed states, or present-day Iraq to better represent what we may be facing. Seizing/controlling D.C. or N.Y.C. will unlikely mean the entire edifice will fall into our hands. Historical analogies are helpful when they truly are analagous; dreams and fantasies must be measured against some semblance of reality...

    Finally, Mike writes: "This is why we revolutionaries need perceptive analysis and creative preparation now, and we also need brilliant innovation as things unfold. Anyone who limited to non-revolutionary work during non-revolutionary times will simply be lost when something else becomes possible."

    This is absolutely right; get this wrong and we get the whole thing wrong. Here is the heart and throughline that actually unites Iskra, Pravda, and Faultlines and here is where our sharpest debates and analysis must be. In that spirit I see the September 11th mobilizations as the leading edge right now...

  • History isn't only valuable when it offers analogies. Russia, China and Cuba have much to teach us not because a revolutionary situation in the US will follow any of those patters but because, along with other revolutionary experiences, they reveal persistent common problems as well as underline the need of every revolution to innovate. Each of those revolutions, for example, had to deal with the problem of developing its own military capacity. The specific conditions and solutions varied considerably, but its a good bet that any revolution in the US will confront a similar sort of problem, though of course involving very different scales and military technologies. Studying historical experiences helps us appreciate the sorts of problems that might be thrown up and the range of responses to similar problems. This gives us a departure point for asking how such problems would look in a revolutionary situation in the 21st century United States. Imagining such scenarios in turn helps us begin to formulate plans which, as Mike has pointed out, are both crucial and likely to fall apart in a real revolutionary situation.

  • Guest (Jay Rothermel)

    An Iskra-type project/proposal instroduced at the Detroit USSF:http://www.workers.org/2010/us/socialists_unite_0701/

    ....What might be some of the fundamental points that could serve as the basis for a new socialist unity?

    • No reliance on the Democratic Party

    Amongst such points would certainly be an understanding that the strategy of trying to build a left pole within the Democratic Party has, time after time, only served to tie the left to the prevailing position of the Democratic Party leaders. And their position is to defend and promote capitalist and imperialist interests.

    Many of us appreciate the enormous historical significance of the election of the first African-American president, Barack Obama. Moreover, we are mindful of how important this development is to the African-American people. We are also aware that right-wing, neo-fascistic groups like the Tea Party are waging a dangerous, racist campaign against Obama that activists cannot be indifferent nor neutral about and must be on guard to distance themselves from.

    The fact, however, remains that Obama represents U.S. imperialism. Part of the ruling class support for Obama’s presidency is their calculation that he can keep a lid on the working class and the poor, and either stop or restrain the ability of the people to take to the streets and defend themselves against unemployment, cutbacks and all of the other attacks that are intensifying. This aspect of Obama’s presidency is the most problematic for the working class movement.

    If there is no strong fightback from the working class, especially during a capitalist crisis, racist and neo-fascist elements will seek to fill the vacuum — diverting what should be a rising class struggle into a campaign against immigrant workers, the poor, oppressed youth, women and lesbian, gay, bi, transgender and queer people.

    • Solidarity with oppressed peoples — support the right to self-determination

    For this reason, the central principle of socialist unity must be real solidarity with Black people, Latinos/as, Asians, Arabs, Muslims and Native Indigenous people, and their right to self-determination. Without such solidarity, no united movement is possible. This principle must be extended to women and the LGBTQ community.

    • Anti-imperialism &amp; internationalism

    These should be high on the list of unifying principles. U.S. imperialism does not wage some bad wars and some good wars. All imperialist wars and occupations are for imperialist interests. The greater this understanding, the stronger the movement will be.

    A new socialist unity must strengthen internationalism. Workers, the oppressed and poor people everywhere must know that they have steadfast class allies in the U.S. Internationalism means the defense of revolutionary governments like Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It also means support for national liberation struggles, such as the Palestinian people, and all who are fighting imperialism — from Haiti to Venezuela and Bolivia; from Iraq to Afghanistan, Iran, Africa to the Philippines.

    • Centrality of the working class

    Socialist unity needs to be centered in the struggle of the working class. Ultimately it is the advancement of the multinational working class, no matter where workers reside or what their immigration status is. This includes the unemployed in the communities, schools and prison; those in the workplace; the organized, unorganized and undocumented of all abilities.

    The times oblige serious revolutionaries to find the basis for concentrating their forces on a higher level.

    The larger the steps taken in that direction, the brighter the prospects for revitalizing the social forces that are essential to making the social revolution that makes the new world possible.

  • Guest (chegitz guevara)

    Going back and looking at this anew, it looks a lot like the 3 tiered model that One Struggle and Miami Autonomy and Solidarity use.

  • Guest (chegitz guevara)

    Specifically, mass level, intermediate level, and revolutionary level. How very curious we came up with the ideas at roughly the same time.