Monday, May 28, 2012

Vatican Reprimands U.S. Nuns' Social Justice Work: How Might Revolutionaries Orient Themselves to Such Things?


We all know the saying that politics makes for strange bedfellows—or at least seemingly strange ones. It’s trite, but it is something that we’re going to have to get used to and get sophisticated about, if genuinely mass upsurges are again on the global agenda. The motleyness of the Occupy movement has put questions about this at the forefront of my mind. Mass movements are sometimes-bewildering assemblages of people, ever shifting in relation to one another and to common enemies.

What does it mean to do communist work in the midst of a mass movement? What is communist leadership? How do we orient ourselves to diverse forces and, more grandly, what does it mean to form a historic bloc of forces which can carry through radical revolution that will transform people's lives and lead to real liberation?

One important but under-theorized dimension of this is the question of how revolutionaries should relate to progressive and even radical religious people. And, on the obverse of that: What is the best way to isolate hardcore reactionaries of a religious bent?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Buy Our First Zine on Etsy! "Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom"

Buy it HERE!

As our work begins on the second zine, we have decided to put our first zine on Etsy.  We chose Etsy (as opposed to Lulu or other online options) as we have the ability to create our zines on a case by case basis, therefore preventing overproduction.  Not only that but we’re able to produce and print our zines here at our Collective home base and send them out to you personally.  We handle the paper, staple it, put it in our own (recycled!) packaging material, get in our car, and send it off to you.

The world is not yet ours: Reflections on the movements of 2011

[Note: This essay was originally distributed, as a printed handout, at on October 6th,  the first day of #Occupy New Orleans. Because our attentions have been elsewhere, this piece was not made available online until now. This statement appeared at the bottom, along with a link to Kasamaproject.org: The author of this essay is part of the Voice Collective, a new communist grouping based in Louisiana’s Northshore region. The views expressed here are the author’s own, and are not meant as a definitive statement of any larger entity. The Collective is a member group of a larger U.S.-based revolutionary communist formation called the Kasama Project.]
 
by Brer Fox

The movement that began in New York this September is rapidly spreading to cities across the country, and it has now reached New Orleans. As Mao Tse-Tung used to say, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.” Indeed. Perhaps this feels truer in 2011 than it did in 2010. And it certainly feels truer now than it did in 2009, 2008, and most of the other years that many of us can remember. This Occupy Wall Street movement has characteristics distinct to the U.S. situation, and the permutations which it is taking in each specific location have even more distinct features (the U.S. is not Tunisia, and New Orleans is not New York). However, there are deep continuities amongst all the movements around the world which are part of the dramatic upsurge of 2011—the third year of the greatest crisis of global capitalism since World War II.


This unfolding is both frightening and exhilarating. As we observe and participate in it, we must take time to ask big questions, and to articulate basic realities of our situation, no matter how obvious they may seem to those of us who have already developed radical perspectives of various kinds. It is necessary to do this in order to deepen our own understanding, as well as to shape the incredibly-important realm of discourse. Especially if this movement grows to a significant size, there will be a struggle to determine the truth of this historical moment. And you probably do not have to be convinced that there are powerful forces in our world which are not sympathetic to mass popular upsurges (and, let’s face it, to the mass of the world’s population itself).

For this reason I am taking the time, right now, to reflect on a basic characteristic of all these movements: They all, of course, involve occupations. We should take a philosophico-critical step back and think about the concept of occupation and what it implies.


So what about this word/idea/practice, occupation? Sometimes to occupy can simply mean to be in a position or in a location. But a fundamental sense of the word which is pertinent here is to be in a position or location to which one does not belong. When we say that the U.S. occupies Iraq, for example, we mean that a foreign country has extended its presence in a territory which is not its own. It is an alien force operating there. Similarly, a popular mass of people occupying a building, a square or even a city are an alien force. In the sense of the word which is relevant here, it is clear that people cannot occupy something that already belongs to them. It must, therefore, belong to some other.

This is precisely the kind of language that Marx uses in the section entitled Estranged Labor in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. In describing the fundamental nature of the proletarian situation, Marx says:
If the product of labor is alien to me, if it confronts me as an alien power, to whom, then, does it belong? To a being other than myself. Who is this being? […] If the product of labor does not belong to the worker, if it confronts him as an alien power, then this can only be because it belongs to some other man than the worker.
Though the world has changed immensely since 1844, it is still clear that the proletarians of the world do not own their own labor, or the wealth which they create collectively on a vast scale in bourgeois society. They are compelled to toil, and the surplus they produce is stolen by a small elite. In the language of the Occupy movement, the proletarians belong to the 99%, and make up its greater part.

By extension of these facts, it is also clear that the world in general does not belong to the 99%. More and more of life is privatized, from ideas to genetic code to the water supplies upon which we all depend. In the wake of the current global crisis of capitalism, the U.S. government has bailed out incomprehensibly-huge banks but has done almost nothing for the majority of the population. On the contrary, governments around the world have imposed austerity measures on the mass of their populations. And there is not a ray of light on the horizon – at least not coming from above. (Some analysts of the capitalist world system, like economist Minqi Li, believe that capitalism has run out of the space that it once had to maneuver, and that something like the class compromise exemplified by the welfare state is no longer possible, even in the most “advanced” capitalist countries.)

In short, it is clear that this is not our world. It is someone else’s. It belongs to the 1%.

As this movement develops, we should keep in mind the profound yet simple fact that we do not occupy what is already ours. The very language and mode of the movement (the logic of occupation) demonstrates that, irreducibly, our cities, our towns, our streets, our homes even, are not ours. Everything that we see around us is not ours. If BP can poison an entire ecosystem, then even our bodies are not ours. We can’t change any of this within the framework of existing society. A generation is awakening and can feel it.
Isn’t it all absurd and horrifying? Aren’t universities supposed to be for students? How is it that students can occupy buildings on a campus? Shouldn’t those buildings already be theirs? How can we occupy the cities that we live in? Shouldn’t those cities already be ours? How can we occupy the places where we work? We’re the ones who keep those enterprises going!

It should nauseate us that we have built a world that isn’t ours. It’s a disgusting fact.

We are the vast majority and we are the creators of wealth, yet the world belongs to some other. In this society we are a part that is not a part. Or we are a part that is just a part (in the sense of a replaceable cog). We are apart.

Now let’s think about this. In the contemporary United States (and, I believe, in many other countries) there is an intensification of the contradiction between a relatively “native” proletariat and foreign proletarians who are coerced into entering the country by global capitalist development (NAFTA etc.) and are then illegalized. In the mainstream political discourse they are named as alien, yet are essential to the functioning of the existing set-up. They are a part that is radically not a part. Their humanity is denied in countless ways.


Their situation is, of course, different from that of the more “native” proletariat. They experience particular forms of oppression and exploitation, which are nevertheless part of a continuity that extends through the experiences of the mass of the population.
The Occupy movement shows, however, that as soon as the native proletarians attempt to affect politics in a real way a strange homology between the two camps comes into view. We are all revealed as aliens in our own land. And we are all, increasingly, illegal.
The proverbial black youth in an inner city knows what it is like to be alien and illegal. And yet they were born here.

In San Francisco, lawmakers recently attempted to illegalize sitting and lying on sidewalks. Who would be affected here, the 1% or increasingly broad strata of the 99%?

In New Orleans, right now the authorities have begun enforcing ordinances that prevent ordinary people from putting up flyers around the city. They brutalize and arrest Mardi Gras celebrants who parade without a permit. They stuff us into the cells of Orleans Parish Prison like Sanderson Farm chickens © crowded into little rows of cages.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but everywhere we turn we see more walls. Where can we go to express ourselves or experience something that is our own, except in the recesses of our own minds with headphones blocking out the world around us – a world that is in every essential sense not ours? Where can we feel free to move and love how we want to love?

This great drive to occupy that is sweeping the country is a direct reflection of our existential situation. And it’s not a good one. We are aliens and we are illegal.

But at the same time it is clear that this society cannot go on in the same way. The world that we know is finished, though it continues to stumble forward like a cartoon character who has stepped off a cliff and has not realized that s/he must fall. This is a time to think about the future, and imagine the possibility that society can be organized in an entirely different way. We must, paradoxically, return to where we have never been before. In this movement, when we chant, “our streets,” “our bridge,” “our city,” what we must mean is that these can be ours, and that they will be ours if we take them. These statements are performative, in the sense used in linguistics. We are instating a reality, or bringing it into existence.

But to make this a reality is no simple matter. To a large extent we need a revolutionary politics that we have not got. It is not just that much of the theory, strategies and tactics of the existing Left(s) is inadequate to our present world situation (and in many places the “Left” can barely be said to exist). Even more fundamentally, perhaps, politics are not simply “detachable.” I.e., they are not transhistorical totalities that can be conjured up from the past (much less from out of nowhere), ready to be put to work in the present.

On the contrary, effective politics—politics whose real existence is the practice of masses of people acting on a real, contemporary situation—does, in fact, have an organic relationship with that contemporary situation. Rest assured, I believe that we desperately need Emma Goldman, Bakunin, Marx, Gramsci and Lenin today. (Feel free to accuse me of schizophrenic eclecticism.) But those revolutionaries helped to create a living politics in their own time, even as they drew upon already-existing currents of revolutionary thought.

It is up to us now to create our own living politics. And we should aim high. We need intellectual modesty, but it is also a time for big ideas, that is, for politics which are guided by an incredibly radical vision of a different kind of society. Now is not the time to orient ourselves to making little changes to the status quo. We must start at the beginning again.

Voice Collective: Louisiana Students target ALEC

Originally posted to Kasamaproject.org, August 8, 2011

by the Voice Collective

On Friday, August 5th, the shadowy non-profit membership organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held its national conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. ALEC is a far-right organization that brings together private sector policy advocates and state legislators. The group acts as a networking medium, while performing other functions like helping members develop model laws for state legislators with the interests of capital in command.
The penetration of the organization into the U.S. political system is great, with legislative members coming from all 50 states, along with scores of former and current gubernatorial members. ALEC’s motto is

“Limited Government, Free Markets, Federalism.”


Jase Short has written:
“…the enormous influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has come to the attention of some courageous activists. Thousands of pages of documents from ALEC have been leaked to the Center for Media and Democracy, unveiling some of the true machinations behind the kind of draconian anti-labor, anti-environment, etc. laws that have descended upon states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee. The website alecexposed.org has been set up by the Center for Media and Democracy in order to provide updates on the intelligence gathered about this shadowy organization’s activities, and The Nation magazine ran an entire issue almost solely dedicated to exposing ALEC and its power.”
Louisiana activists and revolutionaries are taking a stand, however. (It’s perhaps worth mentioning that the current national chair of ALEC is Louisiana Representative Noble Ellington). Members of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge have taken the lead in organizing a protest march in attempt to draw the public’s attention to this organization and the work that it is doing with political and business elites to unleash new waves of authoritarian and austerity measures.

The demonstrators convened in New Orleans and marched to the Mariott Hotel, where the ALEC conference took place.

We in the Voice Collective commend the work of LSU SLAP and the other organizations and individuals in this coalition. The members of SLAP, especially, have done a commendable job in the months since they formed early this spring in spreading a proletarian class stand amongst the people of Louisiana, all the while advocating a break with the Democratic Party and stressing the need to form organizations independent of either of the ruling national parties. We of course believe that we need new, specifically revolutionary organizations in the U.S. today, but at any rate we think that it is significant that SLAP has worked so energetically to open this conversation up amongst all the people they work with.

Secondly, we uphold the spirit of this protest precisely because it helps reveal the thoroughly rotten and fundamentally undemocratic nature of the U.S. political system. Now is a good time to attack illusions, and batter down the widespread (but wavering) ideological pretensions that the U.S. government somehow represents the broad masses of the people, and that it is not the instrument of a powerful and tiny capitalist elite.

ALEC is just one mechanism by through which real decision-making occurs in this country, without the participation (or even the knowledge, oftentimes) of the mass of the population. In this regard, the role of ALEC as an anti-popular and anti-democratic force is like the Tea Party, in that it’s a sham “independent” entity, apparently comprised of concerned citizens who have just as much democratic right to make their voices heard as anyone else. In capitalist America, we are taught that class, gender, race, sexuality etc. do not matter, and that all voices are ultimately equal. We even allow corporations to make unlimited donations to political campaigns because, after all, they have a right to “free speech,” too.

In reality, concentrated power does matter; those who control   vast amounts of wealth, for example, dominate (or exercise hegemony) in the political sphere. ALEC is a tool of the elite to control the rest of society. There is nothing democratic about it. Similarly, the Tea Party is not a spontaneous, grassroots movement, but is rather funded by titanic corporate and financial actors. This is not unlike the way that the quick rise of the Fascists in Italy came about in part because of members of the capitalist class poured huge amounts of money into the Fascist organizations, because they were afraid of the increasing working class militancy in the country.

Thirdly, we applaud the work that SLAP and this coalition is doing because it increases the consolidation of progressive and radical forces in the south of the U.S., which we believe is strategically important. By bringing people together concretely, and spreading information, they are assisting in the radicalization of the struggling people of this region. They are demonstrating not only against ALEC, but are spreading the idea that resistance is necessary and good. The old Maoist slogan was, “It is right to rebel against reactionaries.” We need that sentiment now more than ever.

Our hope is that news of this march travels far and wide—that it inspires people throughout Louisiana, the U.S. South, the United States and beyond to fight back and develop a vision of how to move beyond the framework of existing society.

A Communism that is power to the people

The following are notes developed for Brer Rabbit’s RED Hot Summer Study Group (a project of the Voice Collective in Louisiana).
Originally posted to Kasamaproject.org, June 15, 2011

Communist vision: With agency and mass politics at the center

By Brer Fox

Early on in our work as an actual collective there was a meeting between Louisiana folk gathered around the Kasama Project and a number of local anarchists. The anarchists were tasked with leading this particular discussion and they initiated an introductory exercise: Everyone had to say what they fear most.
The various revelations were thought-provoking, but there was one response that resonated with me profoundly. A charming anarchist organizer, five years my senior, said:
“What really terrifies me is the thought that most people only get to feel like real, creative subjects for fleeting moments in their lives, instead of every day. This makes me incredibly sad.”
Over the past few months this remark has haunted me—acting as a somber lei motif running through the varied, sometimes frenzied and depressing moments of my life (including work and interpersonal relations); and on the other hand it has had a very encouraging effect. I have been inspired.

It has prompted me to think more deeply about regrouping for and reconceiving the communist movement for a real revolutionary transformation of society. It has made me look more closely at the features of existing society while asking with a somewhat new emphasis what—fundamentally—is communist revolution supposed to look like, and what sort of results are we going for?


What I am going to say here is by necessity basic (I don’t have exact prescriptions of what we need to do), and shouldn’t be surprising. Nevertheless I think that it is something worth saying, and rather often for that matter, considering the general weakness of the global Left after decades of setbacks and which exists as scattered fragments and dead-ends, with flowers of hope jutting up here and there. It is important for forging a revolutionary politics that can connect with real people’s lives here in our own time.

My basic points are as follows:

1) Existing society radically limits the agency of the vast majority of people, giving them little control over the basic conditions of their lives. They are systematically prevented from re-constituting their society, that is, building the world anew as the current set-up becomes more and more odious.

2) At its very heart, communist revolution must be about overturning this state of affairs, that is, empowering the people in their masses to take control of their own lives by re-constituting society on a fundamentally new basis (and this is only possible with communist revolution).

3) Overall, communist revolutions that have resulted in the establishment of socialist state power have not brought about such an empowering of the masses in sustained ways, but we must study the historical sequences in which there have been important struggles over the soul of socialism, in the form of the acute development of the basic contradiction between the bureaucratic-authoritarian tendencies and the genuinely liberatory dimension of 20th century socialism as it developed within the context of the party-state (the Chinese Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is the highest or most developed example in the pages of socialist history).

4) Many existing socialist and communist organizations still do not adequately deal with the question of mass agency, and do not emphasize it as the core of the revolutionary vision.

5) In this period of reconception and regroupment, there should be theoretical and organizational struggle to re-emphasize this part of the revolutionary vision and deepen it. Let’s put it at the center. Let’s make it inform all our communist preparations and let’s exude this yearning and vision in our interactions with others. As Matthew says in the Gospels, don’t light a candle and hide it under a bushel.

Where we are right now

Right now we are in a unique position to reconceive and rebuild the communist movement worldwide. There are several features of the current period that should be grasped in this regard.

1) For several decades now the world has experienced a revolutionary low tide. We are still only just beginning to emerge from this trough, though it is not completely clear whether we are in for another dip or whether things are going to pick back up in a huge way. Nevertheless, this does mean that we have an opportunity for deep reflection and thinking. For the most part around the world, we are not utterly occupied with raging street battles and so on, and are not forced deep underground. We have some time for things like study groups and reading circles, as well as more direct forms of investigation connected with on-the-ground organizing.

2) We know that most existing strategies aren’t yielding much in terms of results, though we shouldn’t be overly voluntaristic here and underestimate the conjunctural nature of mass upsurges (the Russian revolution was possible in part because of WWI, the Chinese revolution overlapped with the sequence of the Second World War, etc.)

3) We have a hell of a lot of historical experience of revolution to draw from—more than any previous generation of revolutionaries. And we have an incredible ability to access this information and discuss it. We can study everything from the Paris Commune to current uprisings in the Middle East. Lenin didn’t have the benefit of knowing the history of the USSR or what would happen in Vietnam during the 50s, 60s and 70s. We do.

4) Even though we have been in a lull period for some time now, that is undoubtedly changing. Major national polls are showing that the up-and-coming generation in the U.S. is increasingly critical of capitalism and are more open to alternatives. Communist, socialist and radical organizations across the country are experiencing growth (though, unfortunately, not as dramatically as the far Right). This slow but exciting trend has even been discussed recently in the New York Times, which is not exactly known for its detailed coverage of the radical Left. [link] Then there is Wisconsin. There is the Middle East and North Africa. There is India and Nepal. There is Greece and Spain.

I claim that for communists this is a time to ask big questions about the communist project. The opportunity is ours. Let’s dare to be really bold and uncompromisingly radical. What will be the leading visions of our movement?

Part of this involves rethinking the communist movement’s relationship to the question of mass agency. On one extreme, there are groups and tendencies out there which have very rigid—though often nice-sounding—conceptions of what socialist democracy should look like; some of these one-sidedly reject the experiences of actually-existing attempts at socialism, as though these were monolithically bureaucratic, technocratic and authoritarian historical sequences without a hint of liberation and mass participation.
But to the other extreme, there are far too many groups and tendencies out there which seem to have jettisoned any vision of socialism and communism that puts human liberation—real empowerment—at the center. Is that really too idealistic?

Fundamentally, are we for liberation, or not?

This jettisoning is, in my view, one of the most problematic developments that we encounter in the existing communist landscape, and these groups, like others, are growing and are getting a hearing among some segments of the people. If some who openly identify themselves as communists declare that the Kim Jong-il’s Korea is a vibrant example of socialism, why would masses of people want to join our movement, and what will our movement be about? Why would large numbers of people be moved to overthrow the shitty conditions of U.S. and other societies for the type of system that they have built in the DPRK? In short why would people—and why should people—trade old oppressions for new ones?

Marx and Engel’s vision in the German Ideology

In our attempt to think agency afresh, it is important to revisit the ways that communists have dealt with this problematic in the past. Marx and Engels discuss agency at length in part one of the German Ideology, for example, in a way which I find particularly exciting. I realize that the “early Marx” is not regarded highly in some quarters, but there is a core here whose spirit—I believe—should infuse our communist movement. We should exude the aspiration that people—consciously, collectively, can be in control of the basic conditions of their lives and of the direction that their society is taking.

In the German Ideology, Marx and Engels say that in historical society so far the social order confronts people as something foreign and fundamentally out of their control. Even though human beings (especially past generations) have created this order, it confronts us as a godlike power to which we are ever subjugated. We are produced as subjects by institutions that are bigger than us and give us little room to breathe. None of us chose class society. None of us chose racial, gender and sexual oppression, but we are trapped in them like someone who has wandered into an expanse of thorns and becomes more entangled the more s/he tries to free herself. Or more accurately, it is like being born into a world of briars, and having to survive in what little spaces are available for movement, grasping what we can find here and there. In our desperation, we have to be cruel and cunning to maneuver in such a world. We are not like rabbits who can glide through the thorns with ease, or like a bird in the air or a fish in the water.

Marx and Engels say,
“This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.” (53)
They go on:
“The social power, i.e. the multiplied productive force, which arises through the co-operation of different individuals, since their co-operation is not voluntary but has come about naturally, not as their own united power, but as an alien force existing outside them, of the origin and goal of which they are ignorant, which they thus cannot control, which on the contrary passes through a peculiar series of phases and stages independent of the will and the action of man, nay, even being the prime governor of these.” (54)
This is how Marx and Engels characterize previous and existing historical society. It is nothing short of a nightmare vision of the world in which we live, and I think that the accuracy of such a description will ring true to the people we encounter as we work to build a new revolutionary movement. As we have discussed over and over again, it certainly rings true for those of us in this study group.

To use my own experiences as an example, when I look back at the institutions that I have been involved in throughout my life, lack of agency is a primary feature that runs through it all. I attended public high school in a small Louisiana town with a black population over 60 percent and a poverty level well above the national average.

The school felt more like a prison, with bland uniforms, high fences and police officers always on duty to make sure that people didn’t step out of line. A culture of ultra-conformity pervaded all spheres. There was nothing resembling a diversity of classes to choose from and education was utterly non-participatory. Students had no say in shaping the curriculum and were in fact treated like blank receptacles into which expert knowledge was to be deposited. Students were tracked early on for either university education or whatever else was available—probably prison or minimum wage jobs (Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the entire U.S., making the “school to prison pipeline” analysis especially pertinent here).
When I went to a local state university the situation wasn’t altogether different. The ubiquity of the police was even greater—the university, of course, had its own police station, and on one occasion I found myself laying against the hood of one of their cars as they felt up my junk just for walking in a park at night. That’s pretty typical, and not the worst example of police abuse. But it is amazing how we have learned to take such outright authoritarianism for granted. I guess that twelve years of primary education and authoritarian home life prepare us pretty well for the “real world.”

At the university a greater diversity of courses were offered, but overall, students were not real participants in shaping their education. With occasional exceptions, especially in graduate programs, students did not have much say in shaping their curricula, and were instead—much like in high school—treated as blank slates to be deposited with information as they were processed through this highly-bureaucratic, late-capitalist institution. Overall, it was an education that failed to connect with real people’s lives in transformative ways. My most positive experiences within the university system centered around student organizing and discussion with professors and instructors in the interstices of the educational system. These were examples of us going very much against the grain, and were not part of the institution’s normal functioning.

Then the current economic recession set in and Governor Bobby Jindal’s state government started pushing through devastating austerity measures. There were severe, and ongoing, cuts in education and healthcare. University students from around the state formed anti-budget cuts groups on their own campuses, came together in a coalition, made headline news rallying at the state capital. Faculty at various schools threw their support behind the students’ initiatives. Unions and primary educators became involved.
And what was the result?

The budget cuts continued. Departments were closed down. Professors and staff were fired. Funds dried up. Commercials appeared on the state universities’ radio stations featuring university system leaders delivering an eerily-fascist, or even perversely religious, message. They literally said that everyone who was concerned about the budget cuts needed “to have faith in their leaders” and that everyone would have to pull together during some tough times, and that the system would certainly come out better than ever and would be more efficient. That was such a relief! It’s wonderful to see American democracy in action.
There was no response to the movement from the state government’s various apparatuses—no engagement, no dialogue. It was clear that students, faculty, staff and concerned citizens had no real voice in what was happening. Cuts were going to continue. Well, that’s not entirely true. Just before the first (and largest) rally at the capitol, Louisiana’s number one newspaper, the Advocate, ran an article featuring state police Colonel Mike Edmonson. He said that there would be a large police presence at the capitol in case “anarchist fringe groups” decided to “cause some problems,” in which case they were “going to act pretty quickly.” He went on to say, “We’ll have enough [security] to control the crowd. But I don’t want to make it look like a police state.” Perhaps look is the operative word here. To Colonel Edmonson’s and the state police’s credit, this is more engagement than the student movement got from the other branches of state government, and about equal to the engagement of the university system bureaucracy (remember the fascist radio announcements).
My experiences in the workforce have been about as inspiring. I’ll describe them, at the risk of belaboring my point even more. In the late neoliberal U.S. economy, it is becoming increasingly clear that the university is not the ladder of social mobility that it was for some time. Most college graduates I know are not working in their fields, and in fact most are either chronically unemployed, or are underemployed, working part-time, low-wage jobs.

My first job prospect when I departed the university setting was working with seniors at a health unit in a very rural, majority black parish. It’s the sort of place where there just aren’t any jobs. Nevertheless, it looked like they were going to be able to hire me at the health unit. I started working there as a volunteer and I absolutely loved it. It was something that I could see myself doing for years, and I bonded deeply with those who came there for help. I stayed on for a while as a volunteer, while it became more and more apparent that I was not going to be hired. The hospital system was a target of budget cuts and there was nothing that could be done. They were cutting back, not expanding. This experience really made me feel my lack of agency.

Then I spent time working at a family-owned rural grocery store that had been around since the late 1930s. In fact it was owned by members of my own extended family, started by second-generation Sicilian immigrants who, like others of their generation, were able to rise from poverty by using a reserve of family members as a ready labor force, ultimately going from non-Whites to becoming part of the White petty-bourgeois establishment during the post-war years when social mobility was dramatically more attainable for certain sectors of the population.

I am not idealizing the petty-bourgeoisie, but we live in a capitalist system, and it is important to recognize the role that they have played in the culture and life of this country. In small towns and rural areas, especially, the appearance and disappearance of a little enterprise is no small thing. The petty-bourgeoisie have been movers behind local festivals, for example, which offer some break from the dreariness of everyday life under capitalism. They provide spaces for people to interact with others, so forth and so on.

By the time I started working in the store after several years of being a student worker it was on its last legs. In just over a year the business withered to an unsustainable level. Around a month ago the store closed for good. The family has sold off a few beef cattle and is ransacking the old service station that used to be connected to the store for scrap metal. (Just yesterday, the station’s roof collapsed, resulting in yet another financial liability.) This is the more genteel version of a more general phenomenon around these parts. Even further down in the food chain, rag-tag bands of teenage boys are known to be stealing the doors off people’s house trailers and so on, to get the copper inside.

This is obviously not a good situation for me, but it’s also pretty depressing to see the larger social fall-out amid an overall scene of grinding rural poverty. For one thing, people lost jobs, and some of those people had worked for this business all their lives. There aren’t many jobs out there to replace the ones lost, and there is, in fact, a world of difference between petty-bourgeois paternalistic exploitation and the kinds of exploitation one would experience working for Wal-Mart. Exploitation is exploitation, but a worker is in a different situation when their boss knows all their kids’ names, and will personally loan them money, for example, rather than being just another face in a low-wage workplace with an insanely-high turnover rate.
On top of that, the store’s primary customers at this point were older people who had been shopping there all their lives, and for whom the store was a principle venue of social interaction (picture the cultural desert of a town that has a prison but not a coffee shop, especially for people who can’t get around well) and very local low income people, many of whom do not have access to a motor vehicle. Lots of these folk shopped at the store because it was relatively easy to get to on foot. In an environment characterized by horrendously inconvenient and unsustainable rural sprawl, having such a place to shop was very important for these people. Now they are forced to walk or bike much longer distances to get the things they need in a humid subtropical climate where summer temperatures hover around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Today the heat index was 114. This is what the ongoing process of advanced monopolization looks like; it is an irreversible feature of capitalism and it speeds up during economic crises. In this immediate local case, the appearance of Wal-Mart on the scene is predominantly to blame.

I could certainly go on about the deleterious consequences of the store’s closing (and am actually inclined to do so) but let’s allow this to suffice: A principle theme of the process I just described—like the others—is that, fundamentally, the ordinary people involved in the organization in question, either as member-participants or as community affected, had no say in the changes that were occurring. For all intents and purposes they were subject to the machinations of largely-invisible elites and titanic economic forces seemingly beyond anybody’s control. This is everyday life for most people.

Again, in the German Ideology, Marx and Engels point out the strangeness of such a situation, where the human-made world seems to act upon us like an alien power. Using the example of trade, they say:
“…how does it happen that trade, which after all is nothing more than the exchange of products of various individuals and countries, rules the whole world through the relation of supply and demand—a relation which, as an English economist says, hovers over the earth like the fate of the ancients, and with invisible hand allots fortune and misfortune to men, sets up empires and overthrows empires, causes nations to rise and to disappear…” (54-55)
When the whole of society is structured around production for private accumulation, then our world is continually swept up by forces seemingly out of people’s control. But powerlessness to shape human reality is most acute for the economically exploited and oppressed majority, who are continually the victims of all kinds of horrors, and who are systematically excluded from institutional arenas in which they could shape the course of change.

A communist vision for the 21st century needs to ground itself in deep awareness of this fact:
That powerless is a principle feature of life for the vast majority of people in capitalist society, and powerlessness takes a multitude of forms depending upon where people are geographically, where exactly they fit in the economic order, and how their lives are penetrated by the many systems of oppression, the list of which we are now so used to reciting like an incantation, perhaps in hopes that we will chance upon a magical combination of words and we will all rise up to cast these chains into the flaming rubbish heap of history. Such is the level of our desperation.

Secondly, a communist vision for the 21st century needs to ground itself in a deep commitment to reversing this state of affairs. We need to affirm that the socialist revolution we’re working towards will put the masses of people in control of society. Again, in the German Ideology, Marx and Engels complement this ugly assessment of actually-existing society with their conception of communist society:
“…with the abolition of the basis of private property, with the communistic regulation of production (and, implicit in this, the destruction of the alien relation between men and what they themselves produce), the power of the relation of supply and demand is dissolved into nothing, and men get exchange, production, the mode of their mutual relation, under their own control again.” [Italics added] (55)
When we speak of communism amongst ourselves and all the people we encounter, these guiding ideals should never be far from the surface.

The Maoist Rupture: Putting mass politics in command

The project for a new society that Marx and Engels elucidate in the German Ideology is unequivocally radical, and hinges on profound commitment to increasing human agency on a mass scale. This has, overall, been the intention driving the communist movement across the world. But as we are reconceiving and building up the rudiments of new revolutionary forces, let’s also be unequivocal and sober in our assessment of how we got where we are today.

We must not leave critique up to anti-communists on the Left and Right. We must accept that despite incredible achievements in the social, political, military, economic and cultural spheres, 20th century socialist regimes—overall—were not effective at creating conditions for mass agency. There are many reasons for this, including factors internal to the movements themselves and because of imperialist interference. Some revolutions started out promisingly (Russia, China) and descended into authoritarian technocracy and ultimately capitalist restoration, while other regimes were imposed from outside (e.g., the socialist regimes in Eastern Europe) and had no mass basis to begin with (which is not to say that there weren’t homegrown, even vibrant, communist movements in these places).

By the time the Chinese revolution was seriously underway, the first socialist state power—the USSR—was already far down the road of authoritarian bureaucratism. It had achieved much, and there were subordinated elements of mass agency in the society, but its overall trajectory was not in the direction of liberation.

Mao and those of similar mind in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were aware of the problem of bureaucratization early on in the course of the Chinese Revolution. At the end of the Long March (a major retreat of the Chinese communists from their rural base area on the northwest side of the Jinggangshan mountains) the CCP set about creating a new base area in the backwater of Yan’an. The communist movement was in shambles and they were forced to build it from the ground up. This base area existed from the mid 1930s until the late 1940s. As they created a vibrant revolutionary state and society in miniature, the issue of bureaucratization came to the fore, as it would repeatedly for the duration of the revolutionary period in China. In his seminal 1940 essay, On New Democracy, Mao did not hesitate to address the increasingly bureaucratic nature of the Party’s work. He identified bureaucracy as a killer of revolution.
In Maoist theory, it is made clear that the real object of socialist development is the actual transformation of social relations. Developing forces of production is not an end in itself. As historian Rebecca E. Karl put it in her 2010 biography of Mao,
"For Mao, the whole point of the revolution was the practical one of creating the conditions for the masses to transform their own lives.” (118)
 The history of the Chinese revolution is an amazing one, and it is important to note the vast and exemplary extent to which the revolution was successful in marshalling the participation and creativity of the masses. Besides the theoretical orientation of the Maoists in the Chinese communist movement, a principle factor in the mass-based character of many revolutionary sequences is the concrete way in which the revolution developed. The Chinese revolution was not a brief insurrection leading to a coup, but rather a multi-decade process in which the communist movement grew among the people (the majority of whom were peasants), transforming actual relations and consciousness on a large scale before the CCP took state power in 1949.
Nevertheless, by the mid-1960s the CCP was well on its way to becoming as rigid as its Soviet counterpart. Right-wing tendencies among the Party bureaucracy and elites were leading the way. Proponents of this road were emphasizing stability, order, authority and economic development as opposed to fundamental social transformation. (It is partly understandable given that China was emerging from disasters of the Great Leap Forward period, but the non-revolutionary trajectory was discernable to the most radical revolutionary leaders.)

The Maoists developed a powerful analysis through which they sought to show how class struggle continued under socialism, the transition period between capitalist and communist society. They came to believe that, in regard to socialism (as it was developing within the context of the party-state), the party bureaucracy itself was the breeding ground of a new elite, a proto-capitalist class who would thwart the aims of revolution and restore capitalism. (Though these capitalist restorationist tendencies were not seen as necessarily conscious or part of a vast counter-revolutionary conspiracy, as line differences were conceived in Stalin’s USSR.)
The Maoists, of course, turned out to be right. In post-Mao China, the restoration of capitalism proceeded at a rapid, though controlled pace, showing simultaneously that, being a transitional phase combining elements of both capitalism and communism, socialism’s revolutionary gains can be reversed; and that, despite what seemed so clear in the pro-capitalist euphoria that followed the collapse of nearly all of the socialist regimes, democracy is not the natural shell of capitalist economy.

The struggle of the Maoists against the bureaucratic rightists in the CCP reached its apex with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, an amazingly complex and contradictory historical sequence which lasted from 1966-1976 (the year of Mao’s death) based on one periodization, though the main phase was from 1966-1969. On the one hand the Cultural Revolution was an elite power struggle among top Party leaders who were fighting over the course that Chinese economic, political and cultural development would take. But it quickly became a mass movement of students and workers—and this was the Maoist leaders’ intentions. For an all too brief flowering, the people in their millions were struggling over political theory, forming a dizzying array of independent student and worker organizations, criticizing Party bureaucracy and exercising power to fundamentally change the direction of Chinese society. They were taking revolution into their own hands. They were becoming political agents in extraordinary ways that dramatically highlight the hollowness of claims about democracy made by capitalist and actually-existing socialist regimes then and now.
It is difficult to overstate the degree to which the Cultural Revolution constituted a rupture with the hegemonic vision of socialism that had reigned for so long. Even more dramatically than their counterparts in the West, the revolutionaries of 1960s China were reviving the struggle over the heart of socialism and the communist project—a struggle that had been repressed for far too long.

In order to gain from these experiences so that we might reinvigorate the communist movement today (and put mass agency at the center) I think that we must appreciate the Cultural Revolution’s full weight and world historic import. I am in agreement with Alain Badiou’s assessment in The Communist Hypothesis when he argues that the fact of the Cultural Revolution indicates the effective end as a viable emancipatory strategy of the previous phase of socialist revolution embodied in the form of the party-state. (In Badiou’s terms the party-state strategy is saturated, that is, filled to its limit, exhausted, spent. It belongs to a previous historical sequence and not to a future one.)

For the most part the actors in the Cultural Revolution did not envision themselves as attempting to overthrow the party-state order, but rather as attempting to revive the Party and put it on a revolutionary footing once again. But the actuality of the Cultural Revolution, as Badiou explains—and as I said towards the beginning this article—represents the highest development anywhere of the contradiction between the genuinely emancipatory dimension of 20th century socialist revolution and the form of the party-state. The formation of independent revolutionary organizations, and non-party-based administrative apparatuses (e.g. the Shanghai Commune) constitute a tentative going-beyond what was possible or even thinkable in the previous socialist hegemony. The Cultural Revolution was in excess of the party-state, even as it was part of the party-state sequence, and even as it ultimately failed to yield a sustainable alternative. The contrast between this moment in Chinese history and the return to law and order afterwards shows just how excessive (in the best and worst sense) the Cultural Revolution was.

In his letter to Slavoj Žižek (also included in the Communist Hypothesis), Badiou argues convincingly, I think, that those of us working to revive communism today should take the Cultural Revolution as our starting point. It is a problem which poses questions for us to solve. 1917 was the historical answer to the failure of the Paris Commune, its “real historical answer,” (274) as Badiou puts it. In his view, the Cultural Revolution is our Paris Commune, a Sphinx who asks us to solve the contradictions of Leninism in order to move ahead with the next phase of revolutions. This Sphinx asks us basic questions: What is revolution? How can socialist revolution result in mass agency? What is the nature of the new revolutionary institutions; are they to remain static and entrenched, or are they just provisional mechanisms for creating a different set of conditions in which new forms of agency can be developed? What organizational forms will be best suited to the next phase of revolution, and how will they be different from one location to another?

On this last question, I am not as quick as Badiou to declare that the revolutionary party as such is saturated, even if the one-party-state, for us, is a dead end. I think that the experiences of contemporary revolutionaries in India, Nepal, and parts of Latin America are showing that the revolutionary party has not lost all utility, and can still be a powerful vehicle for mass movement. But I am convinced that we must seriously problematize how previous revolutionary parties have been structured, and how the party is to relate to the people and the state. I think that we must also work towards a flowering of new revolutionary organizational forms that can exist alongside revolutionary parties, and therefore prevent the identity of party and state which, in my view, inevitably leads to bureaucratic and authoritarian degeneration. All of this is necessary if the next revolutionary sequences are to be based on a mass politics that can sustain itself over time. My strong suspicion is that even with the taking of state power, these sequences will have to be a lot more anarchic than many 20th century Marxists and their progeny have supposed.

Wrapping up…

I suspect that I’ve made my points clear, and perhaps too repetitiously, so I won’t attempt to sum everything up here. I will just close with a few final comments geared towards fleshing out my intention.
Largely what prompted me to prepare these notes for the Brer Rabbit Study Group—as I hinted at in the very first section—is my concern over certain trends and organizations that are gaining a voice today among the U.S. communist movement and who have a decidedly non-emancipatory view of revolution. I am disturbed by their politics in a most visceral way. There is much that I find genuinely nauseating. How many other people have had this same reaction? How many other people get turned off of radical politics generally—and revolutionary communist politics, most importantly—at precisely a time when our movement needs to be growing? I find it troubling when I’ve been told by long-time radical activists that I’m the first communist they ever met and liked. Doesn’t that suggest that our movement has some big problems?
In a recent discussion Kasama’s Jed Brandt put this particular problem in a rather polarizing and elucidating way. I applaud this. He said,

“Some people don’t make the distinction between the iron fortitude that is required to dedicate ones life to serving the people and the kind of iron will that is required to drive a tank over a crowd of unarmed people.”
This is a point which needs to be very much at the fore as we attempt to revitalize the communist movement!
A Study Group participant made a comment in a similar vein. We were discussing what it means to be a revolutionary today, and how figuring this out is a big problem characterized by a great deal of uncertainty. There is much disagreement about how revolutionaries should be, and what they should be doing in our present circumstances. He accepted this relative uncertainty as a real condition that we must confront, but suggested that we have some pretty strong indications. He commented that there are “degrees of freedom” within which we can, with some conviction, be said to be revolutionary, and that there are certain territories into which we might venture that are indubitably “something else.” Applauding at something like the Tiananmen Square massacre would be one of those something elses, a point at which our conception of socialism becomes indistinguishable from fascism, and we plummet headlong from revolution to reaction and even barbarism.

Entering into this new period of uncertainty and upheaval, let’s be clear on these points: We are for revolution and we are for liberation. We are not for something else.
If we care about real people and their lives we must be able to accept that the vast majority of people on the world has rejected authoritarian socialism. We can’t deny the lived experience of people who were rejoicing in the streets when the Berlin Wall came down, for example. People don’t want that, and communists today should not either. This kind of nostalgia and dishonesty is not helping our cause one bit.
Finally, let’s revisit Mao’s famous quotation,

“The masses and the masses alone are the motive force of history.”

This idea is key. We should read this, on the one hand, as a banal statement of fact (historical change occurs because of the productive activity of millions, and now billions, of people); but at the same time we should understand this statement as a prescription—performatively, as they say in linguistics. It is a reality that we are trying to bring about. For it is true that masses of people are pushing this cart along, but they are not yet doing it as consciously and voluntarily organized agents. It is up to us to make this happen. It will require tremendous effort and sacrifice, because all the forces of the existing world are pitted against such a rupture with the previous course of human history. But as far as I’m concerned, if we are not going to try, I’d rather not go on living.

Sources

  • Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis (London and New York: Verso, 2010).
  • Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology: Part One, ed. C. J. Arthur (New York: International Publishers, 1970).
  • Rebecca E. Karl, Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World: A Concise History (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010).

An Interview With The Voice Collective

April 16, 2011

This interview originally appeared on the communist blog, the Hong se Sun.


This interview was conducted through a series of messages with a member of the Voice Collective and (by my understanding) was answered by multiple members of the Voice Collective (VC) collectively during their meetings. The Voice Collective is a group based in Louisiana and describe themselves as a Kasama collective.



Dustin Slagle (DS): Is the Voice Collective a new group, or is it a unification of different groups? And what conditions lead to the need to create the Voice Collective?

The Voice Collective (VC): The Voice Collective is a new group with membership drawn from a number of existing radical student organizations in our area, as well some others who have not previously been involved in these established scenes; in addition, there are others who work with us on a regular basis and are in our loop, without necessarily identifying themselves as members or attending meetings regularly.
We decided to form the group after some Kasama comrades visited our area in the Fall of 2010 to give first-hand accounts of the current communist revolution in Nepal. During this initial meeting we began discussions about forming our own Kasama collective.

The formation of the Voice Collective is just another instance of the new revolutionary upsurge that is sweeping the world. From Egypt to Western Europe to Wisconsin, masses of people are rising up in ways that we have not seen in a long time, flexing their collective muscle and getting a taste of what real people power might look like in the 21st century. Nevertheless, the existing left is on the whole unable to respond the situation and push forward with revolution. In most places, the current manifestations of revolt are in very early stages of development.

Contrast this with the “objective” or structural situation we find ourselves in. The capitalist world-system is experiencing a profound structural crisis that has been going on since the 1970s, and the recent intensification of that crisis has created the most profound crisis conditions that the world has seen since the second world war. The existing arrangement of power on the globe is intolerable, because the capitalist-imperialist world-system is leading to the destruction of the natural environment along with endless wars of aggression to create conditions favorable to capital accumulation. Capitalism continues to have little to offer the world’s oppressed and exploited majority in Asia, Africa and Latin America – the old promises of development and liberation sound increasingly hollow. At the same time conditions for the vast majority continue to worsen in the core capitalist/imperialist countries, while elites get richer and more powerful. What remains of the great class compromise of the early 20th century – typified by the welfare state – is crumbling, and there is scarcely a promise of new concessions on the horizon; in fact, as the crisis of world capitalism worsens, global elites increasingly attempt to push the burden of the present crisis onto the world’s working and popular classes in the form of budget cuts or austerity measures and increased political repression. Contradictions among the people in the form of patriarchal, racial/ethnic, heterosexist and other oppressions continue to victimize and thwart the development of most people living on the planet today. There is no hope of solving any of these problems within the framework of existing society.

With the horrific predicament we find ourselves in, there is an urgent need for the development of new revolutionary forces with a strong communist pole within that milieu. As was declared in the Communist Manifesto back in the 19th century, there is a need for forces that can overthrow and transform all existing social conditions. Conditions are becoming increasingly favorable for the development of these forces because of the various crises, and because of the irreversible decline of U.S. hegemony more specifically.
We also think that there is a special need to spread communist ideas and to build communist organization in the U.S. South. This is a key region which – because it had a distinct economic system based on slavery and was therefore systematically underdeveloped – became a political and economic colony of the North following the U.S. Civil War. The South has acted as a reserve of cheaper labor within the borders of the United States, and has provided spaces for the expansion of industries which could no longer operate profitably in the North; the South has, in effect, served as a major release valve for U.S. capitalism up to and through much of the neoliberal period, when so much industry relocated to the global South in a race to the bottom.

In many ways the South is also the frontline of oppressive measures developed by U.S. imperialism for implementation within its boarders (and sometimes beyond). There are key parts of the South – such as our own Louisiana – where whole communities and ecosystems are subjugated to the logic or resource extraction for profit, regardless of the effects. (The BP oil spill is just one dramatic recent example.)
Because of these distinctive features, the South is strategically important for the development of revolutionary forces in the U.S. Racial, national and other oppressions are also acute here, with high concentrations of blacks, poor whites and, increasingly, Latinos. The South is the poorest region of the U.S. and scores the worst on most measures like healthcare and education.

There are many people in the South who can potentially be radicalized, but there is a fundamental lack of revolutionary organization here. In the absence of such organization, there are tendencies towards conservatism and reaction which allow anti-people forces and ideologies to gain influence; as Walter Benjamin said, “Every fascism is the index of a failed revolution.” We are operating in a very conservative area of the country and state. There is much confusion even among radical people about the sources of suffering in capitalist society, and even about many of the effects. There is a general lack of understanding about the conditions which prevail worldwide as a result of monopoly capitalism/imperialism, and the role that the U.S., specifically, is playing as the leading imperialist power. In this context communist organization and education are vitally important.

DS: What are the leading principles of the VC? Does the VC follow a certain communist theory such as Maoist, Marxist or Trotskyist or any other theory?

VC: This is a big question which we take seriously. We are a communist group that emphasizes our goal, that is, communism, a society that has moved beyond classes, the state and the various forms of structural domination and oppression that hold most of humanity in bondage. We are guided by a radical vision of human liberation. Rather than shying away from a “big” liberatory political project, because it is either too totalizing or impractical, we affirm the need to be guided by that sort of ideal. It’s cliché, but we need that now more than ever.

That being said, we are keeping an open mind about various currents of revolutionary communist thought as well as other radical trends and breakthroughs in thought which have taken place in other spheres, like the academy or the radical queer movement. Like others in the Kasama network, we are committed to communist reconception and the struggle to find a new road. This means that we are less willing to be defined by old verdicts and demarcations which might limit our reconception, such as the contradiction between defenders of Trotsky on the one hand and Stalin on the other. This does not mean that we jettison the need to develop more correct ideas, or marginalize the question of line. Rather, we are elevating the question of line by recognizing the struggle to arrive at effective line as being complex, problematic and contradictory. There is no easy road to correct ideas, just as there is no easy road to fundamental social transformation.

At the same time we all draw heavy inspiration from the body of experiences and ideas which have come to be called Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. But we recognize even the question of inspiration as problematic, because if we do draw from Mao’s thought and the experience of the Communist Party of China, for instance, it is always a question of which aspects do we draw from, how do we draw from those aspects in our own situation, are there paths opened up by that thought and those experiences that the actors themselves didn’t even pursue, and so on.

DS: What are some of the short term, midterm and long term goals of the VC?

VC: Our short term goals include self-education, as well as conducting revolutionary education among the broader community in Louisiana and among students. We are trying to raise awareness about prevailing social conditions while propagating the idea that revolution is necessary. In all our work we are striving to put the idea of communism back on the table. We work openly as communists. We are facilitating radical networking. Our efforts in this direction are explained more in response to question five.
Our midterm goal is to unite with other revolutionary forces and to contribute to the development of new communist theory that can provide much needed guidance for the emerging revolutionary forces.
Our long term goal, of course, is to help create conditions for an actual revolution – for the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. There is much groundwork that needs to be done.

DS: The VC is a Kasama collective, what does that entail? And what lead to the decision for the VC to join the Kasama Project?

VC: At this point our involvement with the wider Kasama network has consisted in in-depth online discussions with various people in the Kasama network in regard to revolutionary theory, communist history, and group formation etc., in addition to a strong special relationship with our sister Kasama collective – the FIRE Collective – in Houston. In our several months of existence we have had two series of inter-group discussions with FIRE, and these have been transformative experiences for all involved. We look forward to developing relationships with other Kasama collectives as they emerge, like with the Red Spark Collective in Washington state.

At this point, being a Kasama collective is not like being a branch of another communist party. Since Kasama is working towards a reconception of communist politics, the organizational structure is still very open. This is really attractive for us in the Voice Collective because we have the space to experiment boldly and learn from our local circumstances, while engaging with and being shaped by the broader network. Conversely, the rest of the network – as well as anyone else who is interested – can learn from what we are doing. This type of structure at the present time allows a great deal of room for the broader network to experiment with methods tried out by individual collectives, and to test their strengths and weaknesses, or their general applicability. This puts us in a good position to contribute to the formation of new effective communist theory, strategy and organizational forms for the contemporary world situation.

We were originally attracted to the Kasama Project via the website, and then through our interactions with members of the FIRE Collectives and Kasama comrades from other parts of the country. We were impressed by the energy that the organization exudes. We are attracted by Kasama’s commitment to a deep reconception of communism, while maintaining a bold commitment to the need for revolution following a long period of defeat for the revolutionary Left (and the Left in general). We are impressed by the high level of open and creative discussion, as well as a willingness to engage with other forces who may have markedly different views.

Comrades in Kasama also evince a strong internationalism and tend to focus in on the changing world situation in a creative way as well as learn from living revolutionary movements such as the Maoist movements in India and Nepal, or the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. We feel that the open nature of Kasama gives us a real opportunity to shape the development of the organization, and therefore the development of the revolutionary movement in the U.S. more generally.

DS: What will the VC do to set itself apart from other communist organizations and what will the VC do differently from other organizations to be more successful?

VC: Although the collective is still quite young, there are distinguishing aspects of our approach so far. Perhaps most importantly, we have emphasized dialogue as a central feature of communist praxis, from the very beginning of our work together.

There are a number of reasons for this; a couple of key people in the organization have been highly influenced by critical pedagogical (or educational) theory, advanced by thinkers like the radical Brazilian educator Paulo Friere. Like Friere, we do not assume that the people are a blank slate and that current revolutionaries have all the answers. Rather, we assume that the people have varying levels of understanding about their own situation and the nature of our oppressive society – that we will learn from the people as well as teach – in short, that the process of making revolution is one of mutual transformation through practical struggle and study. This kind of mutual transformation has figured prominently in many discussions around Kasama, and this is one of the things that has attracted us to the organization.
In conjunction with critical pedagogical theory, our work is informed by the Maoist method of the mass line, which is based on the idea of learning from the people, synthesizing their ideas in a dialectical engagement with revolutionary theory, and bringing these ideas back to the people in an effort to hasten while we await revolutionary upsurges of the masses.

We try to be modest in our approach to the people in general and among other current revolutionaries and radicals. We do not presume to have all the answers, and in fact think that such an attitude shuts us off to growth and development; it also shuts out the voice of the broad masses, the very people who are supposed to be empowered by communist revolution. The Zapatistas have a saying, “Walking, we ask questions,” which typifies much of our approach (or at least we hope). Forward movement and change are necessary, but that’s not possible without a continual revaluation of methods and tactics.

With these principles informing our work, we started right from the beginning with a dialogical movement outwards. Some of us have previous experience with radical movements in Louisiana. There are long histories of struggles in this state and region, and these are histories that we need to learn from. However, we have discovered a general geographical fragmentation, in which radicals cliques in various parts of the state do not know what is going on elsewhere, and collaboration is mostly primitive. There is a strong tendency for struggles and interactions among people engaged in organized struggle to remain quite local.

In addition to studying various communist texts together and talking with contemporary revolutionary intellectuals like economist Minqi Li, we have embarked upon a concrete investigation of the conditions of Louisiana and the Gulf South, and this work involves meeting and networking with various people and especially radical forces in the region. By building radical cores here, we are striving to transform our own small city into a radical hub for Louisiana, connecting people in surrounding cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans. We have opened up conversations and collaborations with small pockets of communists in a larger neighboring city, for example, who have different organizational affiliations. We have hosted discussions with Palestinian solidarity activists and prominent anarchist groups in another city. We are also opening dialogues with students at surrounding universities by showing documentaries on campus and bringing in speakers, from local activists to representatives of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. In this work we are maintaining an open mind about what we can learn from one another, all the while clearly and strongly declaring our own communist politics among the people we meet, without being dogmatic and preachy.

In an attempt to better understand and connect with the communities that surround us, we have also begun community service in conjunction with the anti-capitalist student group at the local university, including tree planting at the public high school; and again, we are doing this work openly as communists. In the near future we plan to host community speak-outs to provide spaces for oppressed and exploited people of various sorts to talk together, interact with local revolutionaries and struggle together to come to better understand the world that they are part of. This is all with the goal of helping people to become subjects, that is, individuals who – with others – can critically look at and creatively transform our shared reality. Through these processes of investigation, cross-pollination among radicals and revolutionaries in the region and providing spaces where ordinary struggling people can have a voice, we hope to facilitate the birth of a new radical upsurge inside the United States, while helping to create a new New Communist Movement that can draw important lessons from the past while making important breaks with theory and methods which fail to connect with real people’s lives at best and form a recipe for new oppressions (and capitalist restoration) at worst.

DS: What are some groups and parties that influence the VC (for example the BPP, the young Lords etc)?

VC: We have been influenced by our own experiences in various radical and activist organizations, such as the anti-capitalist student group at the local university. These experiences have given us some solid ideas about what to do and what not to do. We have also been inspired by radical traditions in New Orleans, and through our concrete interactions with New Orleans groups, which have played important roles in developing movements in the city after the capitalist-made disaster that followed hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We are interested in looking as far back as old slave rebellions, like when a slave army descended on New Orleans in 1811 bent on establishing a black republic in the heart of Dixie. There is much to learn from and to be proud of in the state of Louisiana. We are very interested in expanding this legacy.

At the same time we are communist internationalists. There exists in society a dialectic of local specificities and things which are truly universal (including aspects of struggle and revolution). On the international scale we are quite interested in current developments in Latin American countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, for instance. Like many in Kasama we are particularly interested in the current struggles being waged by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Communist Party of India (Maoist). We are interested as well in the work of other parties involved in protracted people’s war in southeast Asia, including the Communist Party of the Philippines. We also draw inspiration, of course, from past historical experiences of the Communist Party of China, and the Russian and Vietnamese revolutions etc.

Historical U.S. groups like the Black Panther Party for Self Defense are certainly important inspirations for us, and in recent years we have had conversations in our city with former Black Panther Party members from California but especially from the movement in Louisiana, including all of the Angola 3, two of whom are still locked up because of their political activities in the working plantation known as Louisiana State Penitentiary. Some of use have been influenced profoundly by the work of Malcolm X. We are also paying close attention to other communist groups working in the U.S. today, such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the two versions of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. There is much to learn from dialogue with all these groups, even if there are important differences among us.

(THAT CONCLUDES THE INTERVIEW)

It is also exciting for me to report that during the time that we were conducting this interview that another Kasama collective was declared in Washington state called the Red Spark Collective. You can find their unity statement here.

For further information they also posted a “Taking First Steps” Post where they set out their plan of action and what they stand for.

Why Communism, Why Revolution?

April 2011

At a time when most radical and progressive forces in the U.S. have abandoned “big” liberatory projects like movements for socialism and communism—dismissing them as unrealistic or untenable—we affirm the need for a new communist movement.

Manifestations of the Arab Spring, 2011
World capitalist society is reaching an impasse. Capitalism is an economic system based on production for profit; it is a form of society in which all values, and even life itself, are subordinated to the profit motive—for the endless accumulation of capital. This system is literally jeopardizing the continuation of life on the planet by creating ecological crises, while continuing to lock the world’s majority in Asia, Africa and Latin America in dire poverty and oppression; for decades these people have been told that capitalist development would bring prosperity, but this is impossible, because capitalist development is always uneven development.

The capitalist system is not an abstract play of ideal markets, but is a real, historical system; and it is absolutely true that this world system—and therefore capital accumulation on a world scale—has proceeded through colonial and imperialist projects which involved slavery (as with Africans in the U.S. South and other parts of the Americas); genocide (as with the indigenous population of the Americas); and plunder of natural resources on truly continental scales (as was the case in all the colonized parts of the world, and continues to be the case with the imperialized zones of Africa, Asia and Latin America).

In short, the wealth concentrated in places like North America and Western Europe is directly correlated with the impoverishment and brutalization of the world’s majority. All the while the masses in the “wealthy” imperialist countries like the U.S. get poorer and more miserable, as the world imperialist system has less and less to offer them. Breathing space is disappearing everywhere. The much-touted Golden Age of Capitalism which followed WWII for the people in these countries is long over. Instead of the rising living standards that many Westerners experienced in the 50s, 60s and 70s, we have falling living standards for most, and an increasing concentration of wealth at the top; in the U.S. the disparity in wealth today now exceeds that of the late 19th century. So much for the argument that capitalism, prosperity, freedom and democracy go hand in hand!

That argument does carry some weight, if we realize that capitalism indeed provides those things for an elite few. Marxists recognize that the political system in capitalist society is always a dictatorship of the capitalist class over the rest of the population. This is because whoever holds power socially and economically also has power (or hegemony) politically. Those with power also tend to run society in their interests. For this reason, we will never be able to solve the massive problems that hold humanity back unless we have socialism, that is, some type of system in which workers and oppressed people hold the reins of political power and reorganize the economy and all social institutions in their interests. That would be society run for the interests of the majority. This can only come about through revolution for two reasons: The existing rulers will not go peacefully (our society perpetuates and defends itself through repression and violence and because, as Marx and Engels explained in Part 1 of  The German Ideology, the class overthrowing the old order “can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages, and become fitted to found society anew.”

In the Marxist vision, communism is the society that follows socialism. It is the liberation of humanity as a whole, and that this precisely the kind of bold goal that we in Voice Collective believe must be revived. At this point in history, the truly utopian fantasy is the belief that humanity can continue down its current path, that this system with its crises, perpetual war, horrendous oppressions and wholesale destruction of the natural environment is sustainable. Realistically, we need an entirely different system.

Communism is a kind of society in which classes and what we currently know as the state has been abolished. Communism is a society in which humans are free to associate and produce the means of their lives—including cultural expression—in ways which are empowering. Communism sweeps away all the ridged hierarchies of class, racial and gender oppression; it tears down the political regime of patriarchal heterosexuality and allows human beings to remake the world as we wish to see it. Only with communism will we be able to realize collective freedom and ecological sustainability, because we will have democratic control over all social institutions, including the economy.

No modern society has reached communism yet, though some—highly constrained by imperialism and internal political contradictions—have taken tentative steps toward socialism. In the Voice Collective and Kasama Project we are ready to help create a new communist movement that is willing to truly merge with the people and be transformed by them. We are ready for vigorous debate and a refusal to submit to old formulas and dogmas. There is much for us to learn from the experiences of past communist and other movements, but together we must struggle for a new road in a new era. We know that revolution is necessary, but how to get there is an open question. For that reason, we are very interested in the revival of struggle that is occurring in the world today, during the worst crisis of capitalism since WWII. Popular revolts have spread through the middle East; at the same time, movements have been fomenting in Western Europe and North America. Socialist and left-leaning movements have actually come to power in many countries in Latin America, and Maoist communist forces are making huge strides in southeast Asian countries like India and Nepal. In the U.S., too, recent polls have shown that more and more Americans (especially young people) question the desirability of capitalism as a system. As Mao Tse Tung said, “There is disorder under heaven; the situation is excellent.” But in order to take advantage of our moment in history in which a real revolutionary rupture can occur, we must learn from one another and get organized wherever we are. The existing Left is not up to the task. There is much that we must build from the ground up. The Voice Collective has been created precisely to contribute to this endeavor.