Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 3, 2017

Demythologizing Old Bolshevism

Filed under: revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 8:08 pm

Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev: best taken with a grain of salt

Something has been nagging away at me for the longest time about Lars Lih’s attempt to establish a kind of bloodline for the Bolshevik Party, with Marx begetting Kautsky and Kautsky begetting Lenin like patriarchs in the Old Testament. For those who embrace the heretical theory of Permanent Revolution, the bloodline naturally includes Trotsky. As should be obvious, this sort of pursuit is exactly how we end up sect formations rather than revolutionary parties.

Eric Blanc has written the second in a series of articles arguing against the idea that Lenin somehow dumped his old beliefs that Russia needed a democratic revolution that was “bourgeois in its social and economic substance” rather than socialist as he put it in “Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution” in favor of something similar to the theory of Permanent Revolution. I am quite used to these arguments by now but what caught my eye is his title “A Revolutionary Line of March: ‘Old Bolshevism’ in Early 1917 Re-Examined”. Line of March, of course, was the name of a Maoist sect in the 1980s founded by Irwin Silber who used to write dogmatic film reviews for the Guardian, a defunct American radical newsweekly. The “line of march” is basically the same concept as “revolutionary continuity”, a term that was bandied about in the Trotskyist movement around the same time. It is a way to establish your sect’s pedigree going back to Karl Marx.

The SWP’s cult leader Jack Barnes came to identical conclusions as Lih and Blanc in the Fall of 1983 when he broke with Trotskyist traditions and defended the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” in an article titled “Their Trotsky and Ours”. Like a lot of the crap churned out by the SWP in this period, it is not online. (Contact me if you want a copy.) For Barnes and some non-Stalinist groups like the Democratic Socialist Party (now the Socialist Alliance) in Australia, they saw Lenin’s view of the revolutionary state as “algebraic”. In other words, it could progress so rapidly from a “democratic” to a “socialist” phase that it amounted to the same thing. The darn thing could make your head spin. Whoa there. Supposedly, both Russia in 1917 and Cuba in 1960 were solutions to this algebra problem.

For Barnes, dumping Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution was key to becoming integrated into a New International of his florid imagination that included groups like the FSLN, the FMLN and the ANC. I wonder if the fact that Nicaragua, El Salvador and South Africa are solidly neoliberal under governments led by such formations might cast doubt on the usefulness of Lenin’s slogan (I doubt that it can really be called a theory). In 1959, Castro described the victory over Batista as rejection of what had happened for the better part of a century in Latin America: “Only half a revolution. A compromise, a caricature of a revolution.” I don’t know if this amounts to the same thing as Permanent Revolution but Castro was as determined to break with capitalism that year as Lenin was in 1917.

Obviously, Lih and Blanc have little in common with Jack Barnes. Their interest in the details of Bolshevik history is purely scholarly and mostly of interest to the people who read “Historical Materialism” and “Science and Society” where debates over the finer points of Bolshevik tactics from day to day in 1917 have a certain purchase.

All proportions being guarded, it is interesting that Barnes imposed a bureaucratic gag rule on the SWP membership after this ideological turn that was like the one Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev imposed on the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. Basically, agreeing with Lenin’s slogan became a litmus test. If you agreed with Trotsky, you were singled out as an enemy of the party and eventually expelled from the CP in the USSR or Barnes’s minuscule sect.

The Triumvirs (as Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev were known) could not tolerate criticisms of their increasingly bureaucratic and anti-working class policies that were hated at the factory floor level. The NEP had generated class antagonisms and oppositions were forming to restore the democratic norms of 1917 and reallocate more funds to wages and other benefits. Workers assumed that Soviet democracy meant the right to criticize those at the top to win their demands, even if they had been Lenin’s most loyal lieutenants.

Indeed, it was their “legitimacy” as Lenin’s second in command that gave them a cudgel to use against Trotsky, who only joined the Bolsheviks six years earlier. That Lenin had referred to him corrosively, as was customary in Russian Marxist polemics, was to their advantage.

Trotsky first raised his criticisms in a short work titled “The New Course” in December 1923. Chapter five addressed the “line of march” question that he called “tradition” and that I would additionally describe as hide-bound tradition:

The undeniable fact that the most conservative elements of the apparatus are inclined to identify their opinions, their methods, and their mistakes with the “Old Bolshevism,” and seek to identify the criticism of bureaucratism with the destruction of tradition, this fact, I say, is already by itself the incontestable expression of a certain ideological petrifaction.

The shit hit the fan with “The New Course”. Using their control of the apparatus, the Triumvir whipped up a campaign intended to first isolate and then drive out its critics. Whether Barnes consciously looked to the Triumvirs for inspiration, this was the policy he carried out against his critics in the SWP who had the temerity to defend the theory of the Permanent Revolution—most of them veterans of the party who had “tradition” on their side.

A year later, a big fight broke out over Trotsky’s “Lessons of October” in which he addressed the questions posed by Lih and Blanc’s critique. Chapter two is titled “The Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry– in February and October” and gets to the heart of the matter:

Any further movement toward the attainment of power inevitably had to explode the democratic shell, confront the majority of the peasantry with the necessity of following the workers, provide the proletariat with an opportunity to realize a class dictatorship, and thereby place on the agenda – along with a complete and ruthlessly radical democratization of social relations – a purely socialist invasion of the workers’ state into the sphere of capitalist property rights. Under such circumstances, whoever continued to cling to the formula of a “democratic dictatorship” in effect renounced power and led the revolution into a blind alley.

In 1983, Frederick Corney wrote a book that was a collection of Trotsky’s “Lessons of October” and the response of his ideological adversaries. Among them, only Kamenev’s “Leninism or Trotskyism?” can also be read online. You can get a feel for the virulence of the anti-Trotsky campaign (that was a campaign against the masses as well) from these spittle-flecked sentences:

The petty bourgeois elements, in exercising this pressure upon our Party, naturally seek the weakest link in the chain, and as naturally they find this weakest link where people have entered the Party without being assimilated to it, and are possessed by a secret conviction, leaving them no peace, that they are more in the right than the Party, and that it is mere narrow-mindedness on the part of the Party, mere conservatism, tradition and adherence to this or that clique in leading positions, which prevents the Party from learning from its real saviours, such as Comrade Trotsky.

As is generally the case, when you can’t answer a fellow Marxist through data and logic, you can always rely on smearing them as “petty bourgeois”.

In fact, Trotsky did everything he could to avoid giving the appearance that he wanted to take over the Communist Party. In 1923, when Lenin was incapacitated by a series of strokes, he could have used the party leader’s authority to confront the Triumvirs. Lenin had become convinced that Stalin was a Great Russian Chauvinist, who despite his Georgian origins, had treated Georgia and Ukraine as Russia’s colonies. A year earlier, Lenin had written a “Testament”  that minced no words about Stalin. In his private discussions with Trotsky that year, he said that he was preparing a “bombshell” against Stalin and anybody who was in a bloc with him, including Zinoviev and Kamenev.

The Georgian [Stalin] who is neglectful of this aspect of the question, or who carelessly flings about accusations of “nationalist-socialism” (whereas he himself is a real and true “nationalist-socialist”, and even a vulgar Great-Russian bully), violates, in substance, the interests of proletarian class solidarity, for nothing holds up the development and strengthening of proletarian class solidarity so much as national injustice; “offended” nationals are not sensitive to anything so much as to the feeling of equality and the violation of this equality, if only through negligence or jest- to the violation of that equality by their proletarian comrades.

Eric Blanc refers to this period as one in which Trotsky was right to oppose bureaucracy. However, that did not excuse being “wedded to Trotsky’s interpretation of early 1917, which is clearly contradicted by a wide range of primary sources”. I find this a little difficult to understand. If Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev had a better grasp of the tasks of the Russian Revolution than Trotsky in 1917, how could they end up becoming so determined to destroy its legacy in a series of maneuvers that smacked of back room capitalist politics? If “Old Bolshevism” was so susceptible to bureaucratic degeneration, maybe Trotsky was wise to keep his distance from a “tradition” that discouraged independent and critical thinking. This is a question that Eric Blanc should consider carefully as the author of an article critical of Bolshevik policies toward non-Russian nationalities. I should add that Blanc faults Trotsky for not opening an offensive against Stalin in 1923 over the national question. Whether or not he should be faulted is secondary to coming to terms with the character of “Old Bolshevism”. Trotsky eventually came around on such matters in his articles on Ukraine in the late 1930s after all, while Stalin—the quintessential Old Bolshevik—had the blood of Ukraine’s millions on his hands.

It turns out that the debate over Permanent Revolution did not come to an end after Trotsky’s expulsion and exile. Karl Radek, who had supported Trotsky in 1923, eventually caved in to Stalin like Zinoviev and Kamenev before him and became one of his worst flunkies. In chapter seven of “Permanent Revolution”, Trotsky takes up his defense of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry that the Stalinists were applying rigidly to China.

By 1927, Stalin had abandoned any notion of Lenin’s slogan having an “algebraic” quality. He reverted not just to the Two Tactics article but Second International stagism that posited the need for an extended period of capitalist development in countries like China. If China needed a bourgeois revolution, what better way to bring this about then to put the Communist Party at the disposal of the KMT? At this stage of the game, Plekhanov was the primary influence on Stalin even if he gave lip-service to Lenin’s slogan.

On April 12, 1927 Chiang Kai-Shek carried out a massacre against Chinese working-class revolutionaries in Shanghai that was facilitated by the Kremlin’s alliance with the KMT and the subordination to it of the Chinese CP. Bukharin, who had become Stalin’s chief ideologist in the late 20s before he too was purged and killed, came up with some remarkable formulations. He told the Fifteenth Soviet Party Conference (October 1926) that it was necessary “to maintain a single national revolutionary front” in China as “the commercial-industrial bourgeoisie was at present playing an objectively revolutionary role.” For his part, Stalin warned the Communists about trying to establish Soviets in China.

Despite the tendency to reduce Permanent Revolution into a formula for immediate socialist revolution at all times and under all conditions, Trotsky was quite cautious about the possibilities that existed in China. In the chapter on China in “Permanent Revolution”, Trotsky bears little resemblance to the caricature his adversaries such as Kamenev drew, which at times makes him sound like a Spartacist League member:

Does it follow from what has been said that all the countries of the world, in one way or another, are already today ripe for the socialist revolution? No, this is a false, dead, scholastic, Stalinist-Bukharinist way of putting the question. World economy in its entirety is indubitably ripe for socialism. But this does not mean that every country taken separately is ripe. Then what is to happen with the dictatorship of the proletariat in the various backward countries, in China, India, etc.? To this we answer: History is not made to order. A country can become ‘ripe’ for the dictatorship of the proletariat not only before it is ripe for the independent construction of socialism, but even before it is ripe for far-reaching socialization measures. One must not proceed from a preconceived harmony of social development. The law of uneven development still lives, despite the tender theoretical embraces of Stalin. The force of this law operates not only in the relations of countries to each other, but also in the mutual relationships of the various processes within one and the same country. A reconciliation of the uneven processes of economics and politics can be attained only on a world scale. In particular this means that the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat in China cannot be considered exclusively within the limits of Chinese economics and Chinese politics.

I doubt that any of this will have much impact on Eric Blanc who is fully committed to rehabilitating the irredeemable. “Old Bolshevism” was nonsense back in the early 20s and even more so today. If you read Lenin’s “Two Tactics” followed by Trotsky’s “Results and Prospects”, you’ll find the differences striking. This is primarily a function of the articles serving different purposes. Lenin was writing as strategist. As is the case with most of his writings, the concern is over “what is to be done”. If he spent little attention to making the case for a working-class dictatorship over capitalist property relations theoretically, it is because he assumed his readers were familiar with Marxist theory that posited successive and distinct modes of production. Keep in mind that Lenin’s introduction to Marxism came through the writings of Plekhanov.

Plekhanov’s stagism looms large over Lenin’s early work on the development of capitalist agriculture in the Russian countryside that probably articulates more of a classic historical materialist analysis than anything he ever wrote and that catapulted him into the front ranks of Russian Marxism. In works like the 1908 “The Agrarian Question in Russia Towards the Close of the Nineteenth Century”, Lenin described the task of the Russian revolutionary movement:

The agrarian question in Russia towards the close of the nineteenth century has imposed upon the classes of society the task of putting an end to the old feudal past and sweeping clear the landowning system, sweeping clear the whole way for capitalism, for the growth of the productive forces, for the free and open struggle of classes. And this very struggle of classes will determine the manner in which this task will be accomplished.

Clearly, this is not in accord with Trotsky’s theory of combined and uneven development, which constitutes the theoretical basis of Permanent Revolution and conceives of societies existing midway between the major stages of social history and that incorporates features from both. As I began writing about the Brenner thesis, nothing could be more obvious than Western European nations in the 1500s having both feudal and capitalist aspects. As is evidenced in the most recent scholarship on the “transition” debate, scholars such as Alex Anievas and Kerem Nisancioglu are indebted to Trotsky’s dialectical understanding of social history even if Lih and Blanc fail to see much use in it. Perhaps their tendency to be so narrowly focused on Bolshevik history has put blinders on them.

This leads me to another point that is poorly understood in these debates. For Lih, there is a tendency to make an amalgam between socialism and the Soviet state. To sustain the idea that Lenin never projected anything more than a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, he cites Lenin’s articles written in April 1917 that only mention socialism in fleeting references and primarily as “steps toward socialism”. He notes approvingly what Menshevik historian Sukhanov said about October 1917 and socialism:

Was there any Socialism in the [Bolshevik] platform? No. I maintain that in a direct form the Bolsheviks never harped to the masses on Socialism as the object and task of a Soviet Government; nor did the masses, in supporting the Bolsheviks, even think about  Socialism … In general the central leaders of Bolshevism were evidently firmly bent on carrying out a Socialist experiment: this was demanded by the logic of the situation. But once again—before the eyes of the masses—they did not dot any of their I’s.

This misses the point entirely. Neither Lenin nor Trotsky were interested in whether Russia would conform to some fixed social science category like “socialism” as October 1917 drew nearer. Instead their focus was on the class nature of the state that ensued. In September 1917, Lenin wrote what was essentially his greatest contribution to Marxist theory: “The State and Revolution”. This was an examination of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which put the emphasis on the character of the state rather than the means of production. This meant the working class becoming the ruling class and putting restrictions on the freedom of other classes to pursue their own agenda both politically and economically. Did this mean that when the soviets became the new state in 1917 that socialism had begun? Keep in mind that Lenin quoted Marx on this question: “Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”

It is highly problematic to see the USSR in terms of fixed categories like “capitalist” or “socialist”. In “Revolution Betrayed”, Trotsky tried to define the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union is a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism, in which: (a) the productive forces are still far from adequate to give the state property a socialist character; (b) the tendency toward primitive accumulation created by want breaks out through innumerable pores of the planned economy; (c) norms of distribution preserving a bourgeois character lie at the basis of a new differentiation of society; (d) the economic growth, while slowly bettering the situation of the toilers, promotes a swift formation of privileged strata; (e) exploiting the social antagonisms, a bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrolled caste alien to socialism; (f) the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the toiling masses; (g) a further development of the accumulating contradictions can as well lead to socialism as back to capitalism; (h) on the road to capitalism the counterrevolution would have to break the resistance of the workers; (i) on the road to socialism the workers would have to overthrow the bureaucracy. In the last analysis, the question will be decided by a struggle of living social forces, both on the national and the world arena.

Given Trotsky’s superior analytical tools and the example he set of resisting both capitalist exploitation and bureaucratic misrule, it is impossible to sidestep the question of why his movement has failed to gain any traction. This has a lot to do with the movement’s inability to bridge the gap between theory and practical politics, mastery of which Lenin was second to none. In my earlier reference to Lenin being focused on immediate tasks of the mass movement, I would only add that he was far more adroit in movement building—something that was beyond Trotsky’s grasp. Ironically, Trotsky’s organizational principles were adopted from Zinoviev’s “Bolshevization” Comintern in 1923 that served both the Triumvir’s need to bureaucratically control the international communist movement as well as Trotsky’s rather purist ideas about building revolutionary parties that have proven sterile.

My advice is to read Trotsky to help you understand class dynamics in the capitalist world and Lenin to help you work with others to build a mass revolutionary movement to transform that world. But best of all, build a new movement that does not worry about a “line of march” or “revolutionary continuity”. It is up to us to rethink Marxism and make it applicable to 21st century realities. In other words—become the New Bolsheviks.

January 19, 2017

Assessing an assessment of the defunct Kasama Project

Filed under: revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 10:02 pm

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The article below by “chegitz guevara” is being posted in full since it appeared originally on FB, a medium some people understandably might choose to abjure. The author is a rather ubiquitous figure on the Internet left who might have even been on Marxmail or the Marxism list that preceded it. I honestly can’t remember. He attributes the collapse of Kasama to the decision made to turn it into a cadre organization. Surprise, surprise. He also takes issue with my article (https://louisproyect.org/2016/06/19/notes-on-the-demise-of-the-kasama-project/) that questions the use of the word communist, an argument I have made on occasions after reading points made eloquently by Michael Lebowitz. In fact, the Kasama Project was too consumed by the Marxist-Leninist regalia of hammers and sickles to ever emerge out of the communist cocoon. My comments are in italics.

Whither Kasama?


by chegitz guevara

(The Kasama Project ceased functioning over a year ago, without issuing any formal statement. This note, by one of its original supporters, represents his own viewpoint only, and is shared as a point of information. The struggle continues.)

At Kasama’s peak, we were the target of an FBI raid and Glenn Beck’s radio and TV ire. We had a million page hits a year on our blog. We had comrades who were part of struggle in living history. We were sending comrades to Nepal and Greece, the Jackson, MS, to investigate the struggles there first hand. We brought together communist and anarchist forces up and down the West Coast for the Everything for Everyone festival. Our comrades played key roles in Occupy around the country (including the Occupied Wall Street Journal). We were in discussions with a number of different organizations for a merger of post Occupy communist organizations. People who weren’t in Kasama, and who were even opposed to our politics said we were the must read communist blog. And then one day, Kasama went silent….


It’s been more than a year now since the demise of the Kasama Project. It happened quietly, and to most of the members, unexpectedly and without warning. One day we learned that much of our leadership had quit over the previous months. A handful of us tried to keep going, tried to keep the blog running, but it was only ever a handful of what was left.

Depending on whom you ask, you’ll get a different story as to why things went south. This is mine. If you’re looking for salacious details, for dirt, for sectarian infighting, you’re going to be disappointed. Kasama was the best organization I was ever in. I don’t regret it for a minute.

To understand why Kasama folded, you must understand what K was. Depending on whom you asked, K was: a bunch of hard Maoists, soft Maoists, social democrats, liberals, anarchists, Marxist Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyites, the RCP-lite, a cult, pigs, or the communist plot behind Occupy (thank you Glenn Beck). None of that was completely true, some of it was completely false, and some of it was a little true.

The truth is, few, if any, ever fully understood K, whether inside or outside the group. Everyone tried to pigeon hole us, figure out what we were. Hell, we didn’t even know what we were. We were an experiment. We were riding the tiger trying to figure it out. If anyone who wasn’t in Kasama tries to tell you what K was, they’re either lying or don’t know what they’re talking about.

For me, the loss of Kasama was both expected, and a bitter blow. If you weren’t around at the beginning, you may not understand today how so many people felt about K, even today, after over a year of relative silence, and years of decreasing activity.


When the Kasama Project began, or rather, when it fired it’s shot across the bow of Bob Avakian and his cult, the Revolutionary Communist Party, Facebook wasn’t a factor in people’s lives. The internet left was in their own isolated email groups and on MySpace, on RevLeft.com. The Socialism group on MySpace had 10,000 subscribers, and one day in December of 2007, everyone started discussing Nine Letters to Our Comrades, aka, The 9 Letters.

Unlike many other papers announcing breaks with a previous organization, The Nine Letters didn’t announce a split, the formation of a new organization. It didn’t dish dirt, but talked about systemic problems, a slow degeneration, opportunities missed, mistakes made, and a failure to sum up lessons learned.

The one comment I read again and again from people reading The Nine Letters was, that sounds exactly like my organization. The 9L was a general indictment of the whole of the left, dealing with the problems of one particular organization. And the effect was like Luther nailing his theses to his church door.


I’d personally known Comrade Mike Ely, under whose name The Nine Letters were penned (though he was not the sole author). In Chicago, I’d been part of the New World Resource Center collective, an all-points-of-view-on-the-left bookstore. “Mike the Maoist,” as we all knew him, would come in about once a week or so, and buy a copy of every new communist and socialist paper, and often talk to the comrades in the store. We all liked and respected him, even though we disagreed. He was very respectful to everyone there.

One day at the bookstore, Mike asked me one day what I knew about the Chinese revolution. Now, as a Trotskyist (at the time), I had a position: that it was a anti-colonial, national bourgeois revolution, socialist in name only, blah blah blah. I opened my mouth to say just that, and I realized this was a teaching moment. I had an opportunity to learn something. Instead I said, “Nothing really. What can you tell me about it?”

That was not the answer Mike was expecting and it caught him up short. Then he got this twinkle in his eye like the Coca Cola Kris Kringle and said “wait here.” He went through the bookstore (my bookstore!) finding various books for me to read. That’s the kind of person he is. When he’s talking to you, he’s giving you his full attention. He gives you the kind of respect that you don’t often see from anyone these days. And people respond to that.

Mike encouraged and challenged comrades. When I wrote about the events leading up to the Haymarket Massacre on an email list, he mentioned it a few months later, and said what he liked about it, and then offhandedly mentioned it made him think about something that the article wasn’t about, how natural disasters often give birth to revolutionary struggle. That’s the kind of comrade he was and is. It’s no secret Mike was the heart of Kasama, and probably the driving force.


When The Nine Letters came out, I reached out on the blog, talked about what I felt it represented. I engaged on the blog, and there was a very different kind of discussion. On most forums where different tendencies of socialists engaged, then, like on Facebook now, the discussion was typical of the internet. At best, people were talking past each other, cherry picking points to “score” against your “opponent,” engaging in all the worst habits.

On the Kasama blog it was different. People considered each other’s arguments, wrote to each other respectfully, disagreed as comrades. That wasn’t accidental. There was heavy moderation, and the worst excesses were removed, people were gently reminded to engage better.

That manner of discourse began to spread out from Kasama. As I wrote internally at the time, if K only lasts a few years, if we did nothing but change the way communists speak to each other, then it served to advance the struggle. And comrades around the world oriented to that kind of discussion. When the blog went down for renovation, people who did not agree with us, kept asking us when it would be restored. For its first four years, the K blog was averaging a million page hits a year. K mattered.


One other important thing Kasama did was to help bring back the word communist. While so much of the left was shamefacedly referring to itself as “revolutionary socialists,” K was openly and proudly communist. Something that Louis Proyect, in his recent obit on K considers an error, a problem, that we need to abandon the term permanently.

Decades ago, after I had split from a tiny Trotskyist sect called The Spark, a comrade I knew from my time in the group told me about her experience at work lunch, where she and the other women would talk about current events. She didn’t call herself a communist, but she expressed a communist point of view.

Eventually one of the other woman at the table said, “You’re a communist!” and got up and left the table. The other women were like, “All that stuff you were talking was communism? You’re a communist?” She said, “Yeah, I’m a communist.” They said, “Tell us more.”

People aren’t stupid. They’ll figure you out. If you’re a communist, but won’t own the word, then you’re ashamed of it, and people will see that too. And I’m not ashamed. I’m proud to be a communist. And Kasama was proudly communist.

That was our politics: communism. Not Maoist communism, not left communism, not Trotskyist communism, but communism. We had ex anarchists, ex Trotskyists, Maoists, left communists. There was no ideological litmus test, no tendency to which we had to swear allegiance. We were communists. We were for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. We took the “scientific” in scientific socialism seriously. We understood the place that making mistakes and being wrong has in getting to better answers, to a deeper understanding.

We were more interested in figuring out the questions that needed to be asked, than coming up with a set of ready answers. And that, and communism, were the golden threads running through the blog. It wasn’t just politics. It wasn’t just politics we agreed with. We often posted stuff we disagreed with, in order to engage with it and understand it, and our own thoughts better. People always asked why we let a “reactionary” like Carl Davidson post, but they never saw that people like Carl and others served to help us develop and clarify a revolutionary communist politics, in distinction to reformist politics. And not just politics, but music, art, discussions of movies, scientific advances.

[In my original article, I explained why the word “communist” should be put to rest. Let me restate it succinctly. Marx used the terms socialism and communism interchangeably but after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the term communism became synonymous with the Comintern parties that were flawed at the beginning and by 1927 irredeemably so. For most young people, the term is inextricably linked to Stalin, Mao and the leaders of other parties associated with the Soviet bloc. It means political repression, bureaucratic privilege and more importantly for people trying to build a new left a way or organizing that hearkens back to the inflexible and self-destructive “Leninist” model. Frankly, I am not convinced that the term socialism is that useful either now since it is so much associated with the Sanderistas and the Scandinavian countries he identifies with. It is practically synonymous with the welfare state and hardly appealing except as an alternative to the dreadful neoliberalism associated with Blair, Obama, Hollande, et al.

Without going into too much detail, I believe that the name of a new left party will emerge out of the concrete struggle and shaped by the consciousness of its frontline fighters. For example, if Jesse Jackson had been much more like MLK Jr. and had come to the realization that the Democratic Party had been a dead-end, he might have been inspired to create something called The Rainbow Party that would have been a framework for revolutionaries to operate in (not as an entryist tactic but to sincerely build an alternative to the two capitalist parties.) Leaving aside the flaws of Syriza and Podemos, this is the path that the left in Greece and Spain have followed. Obviously, there have been both objective and subjective problems that have made Syriza dysfunctional but as a model for us on the left in the USA, it had much more to offer than small self-declared vanguard formations calling themselves something like the Communist Workers Party with a website festooned with hammers and sickles and red stars.]


Internally, at first, Kasama seemed a lot like a hospice for people escaping the cult of Bob Avakian. Whatever those of us outside the Revolutionary Communist Party thought of it pretty much from the 80s onward, those inside were engaged in a serious struggle with capitalist society. The rest of us might be trying to organize workers for better wages and conditions, they were in streets of D.C. in a pitched battle with the police … even in the hospital to which the injured of both sides were taken. They were in one of Chicago’s worst projects, Cabrini Green, organizing people against the evictions and destruction of their homes. The Chicago Police labeled the RCP a criminal gang because of this effort. However disconnected from reality those of outside the RCP thought they were, they were serious. And they were even more serious in the 70s. If people think the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, that we were the RCP without Avakianism, well, that’s not really a bad thing to be.

[This reflects the kind of ultraleftism that plagued the Kasama Project from the start even though for some people this kind of tactical militancy meant much more than theoretical clarity.]

Being in an organization like the RCP does things to you. It was (is) a cult, like much of the revolutionary left. You need time to come to terms with your life, with how you were treated. For the first few years of K’s existence, we didn’t rush to repeat that experience. Rather than purposefully, the organization grew organically. We didn’t order the creation of locals. When the FIRE Collective declared itself a Kasama collective, it was a bit of a shock to me. In my mind, we were still in the, let’s figure out what the fuck happened to communism phase. And then Red Spark was created. And then One Struggle, which wasn’t a Kasama collective, but we all read and discussed Kasama, and several had direct relationships with Kasama. And so on. Each one different, each set of comrades in and around Kasama, figuring out their own way.

I think that openness to experimentation, to allowing comrades to figure out how to contribute to Kasama, to planting that communist flag, was the best thing about K. But it never sat well with some comrades. Both inside Kasama and outside it, there were those comrades who thought we needed a more cadre style organization, and pushed for it. Two years ago, that impulse got a full head of steam.

I wasn’t specifically opposed to it. But I always felt that impulse was more ideologically driven, ‘this is what a communist organization should be,’ rather than being driven by, ‘this is our analysis of the moment, this is what we think the organization needs to be to respond to that moment.’ As K geared up to have its first convention, I asked the questions, ‘why this? why now?’ and never received an answer.

From the very beginning there was a problem with that plan. The size of Kasama had been over estimated. The willingness of comrades who couldn’t make the convention to switch to a cadre mode of organizing wasn’t that great (the fact they couldn’t rearrange everything to come to a conference should have been a clue). The new leadership and the membership had two different realities. And as that dawned on the new leaders, they began to drift away, one by one.

I’m not saying some of them weren’t engaged in difficult, and emotionally draining work. They misjudged the organization’s membership, as well as the political moment in the U.S.


I’ve shared this with others, and I’d like to add a bit about the push for a more cadre organization, as has been explained to me. Hopefully I’ll do it some justice. From what comrades who knew more than I, Kasama was reaching the limits of what it could do organizationally, and was beginning to slowly fade. Some people left, some of those who stayed were either never that active or began to lose energy (we had not a few grey heads). Even I noticed that.

What the hope was, was to change Kasama into more of an Iskra type organization, with more investigation of struggle, using the blog to do “revolutionary social investigation,” investigate the fault lines in this society, and aid struggle there. But, we lacked the capacity to do so. The people with the knowledge to do this didn’t have the time or energy, and those with the time and energy didn’t know how to do this, therefore, we needed more of a cadre type organization to build our capacity.

Another, and much more serious issue also needed to be addressed, that of male chauvinism and supremacy. Towards the end, there were a couple serious cases that had to be investigated and dealt with. I wasn’t part of the process, so I can’t tell you anything about it, but all of those who were on the investigative committee resigned. They engaged in their work with the seriousness and commitment such a task requires, and in the end, it drained them.

With their resignations, we discovered that only two of the original seven chosen at the convention to lead the organization were still in the organization. More people drifted away, with only a handful desperately scurrying to try and hold things together. But that was a task beyond us.

[I can’t add much to this since it is stated in a somewhat cryptic manner that I tend to associate with the Kasama Project unfortunately. But it is clear to me that the comrades never understood that Kasama should have never operated as a group per se. The most promising thing about it was its open-endedness that they obviously decided to ditch in favor of forming RCP II. I have been at this “regroupment” business for 33 years now and expect to be at it until I die. In many ways, it is nothing but a continuation of what Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman were trying to do in the 1950s. If you don’t take the long view of history, you will burn out rapidly.]


You might ask, where was Mike in all of this. Part of the reason for the convention and the election of new leadership was to give Mike a break from running Kasama. Mike announced he was taking some time off running the blog to write a book or two. This all happened in his absence. And let’s face it, if we couldn’t manage to keep the organization going without him, there wasn’t an organization even if he had been there.

I’m not putting the blame on the membership. And I’m not putting the blame on the leadership for the failure of the organization (though abandoning us when things got tough, I’m still upset about that).

Kasama outlived, just barely, the political moment that gave birth to it. It was an expression of what led to Occupy, a revolt, not just against the system, but against the tired, stale, ossified, sects that claimed to be communist, or, “revolutionary socialist.” Dozens of new anti-capitalist collectives appeared just before and in the wake of Occupy, and Kasama was the north star of that moment.


All of that is a sort of history of Kasama, tho. It doesn’t tell you what we were about. Why were we so vital? And what was the real weakness that lead to it’s demise.

An anarchist friend of mine describes the fall of the USSR as a blow from which the world has yet to recover. He likens it to being hit by a blow which knocks you senseless, in which you’re completely disassociated with reality. You’re not even trying to get back up, yet, you’re still unaware of what’s just happened.

In 1970, capitalism was on the ropes. One third of the world’s people lived under socialist government, revolutions were winning around the world. In the imperialist centers, there were massive antiimperialist movements and struggles against the old order. It would be impossible to conceive at that moment, the situation in which we are today, with the world’s first workers’ revolution overthrown, with capitalism ruling in China, Vietnam, and the United States victorious and straddling the globe like a colossus.

Kasama set its primary task the question of, what happened? How did we go from winning to total defeat in the span of a generation? What was there to learn from twentieth century socialism, both positive and negative? How can we build a twenty first century communist movement?

All the old ideas had failed, regardless of their theoretical and explanatory power. Old dogmas needed to be shed. We needed to relook at everything. Retest ideas we thought were solid. Look at old ideas once rejected. Consider the context of everything. Examine what worked and why, what failed and why, and what has changed.

Unlike every other communist organization, Kasama didn’t pretend to have THE answers. We had questions. This was Kasama’s power, why it was so appealing to so many.


Kasama’s power was also its weakness. An organization with answers can organize people around those answers. It’s much harder to organize around a question. A lot of people called Kasama a talk shop, and that’s not completely unfair. Given the state of people recovering from the Avakian cult, the fact that most of us didn’t live anywhere where Kasama had more than a couple comrades, Kasama was often largely a virtual network.

Many of us were also stuck in our previous modes of organizing and thinking. If Kasama didn’t pretend to have THE answers, many comrades in Kasama still operated as if we already had the answers, answers we’d learned in previous groups, when we needed radical new thinking. This is a weakness we never overcame, and I think the change Kasama made was rooted in this failure to overcome outmoded ideas.  As time went on, it became more and more difficult to make Kasama move. It was becoming ossified in its own form of disorganization. Kasama needed to change, but the change and the discussion were rushed in some ways, and rather than being healthy, ultimately broke the network.

I think the change we made was a mistake. I think Kasama functioned best as a network of comrades who participated in the struggle in their own ways, as way of putting ideas and culture back into the communist left, as an ideal to strive for. We needed to change, but we made change the wrong way.

[This is the takeaway from this article. “I think Kasama functioned best as a network of comrades who participated in the struggle in their own ways, as way of putting ideas and culture back into the communist left, as an ideal to strive for.” That is exactly what was needed and it is too bad that the Kasama Project lost sight of that.]


Everything has a birth, growth, decline, and end. Revolutionary organizations are no different (and some of them need to realize that). If an organization exists for more than a couple decades without participating in a revolution, it’s ceased being an organization for revolution, and has become an organization for self-perpetuation. It’s become its own reason for existing. While I am sad Kasama is no more, I am glad it ended well before it became its own purpose.

It’s said in show business you should end leaving your audience wanting more. Kasama did that. We ended before we became a stale, ossified sect. But we still need a Kasama. The tasks Kasama tried to carry out still need to be carried out. The revolution waits for no one.

Lal salaam, comrades!

Post Script: I want to mention a last word here about organizational security. In Louis Proyect’s laughable obit on Kasama (to which this is a rather belated response), he calls us obsessed with paranoia and security.

[I will never get over Mike Ely telling me not to videotape him at the Brecht Forum as if he would end up in Guantanamo if I put it up on Youtube. Pure infantile ultraleftism, as demonstrated further in his talk when he or his comrade Eric thought that driving a car through the front door of a bank in Greece amounted to anything.]

Like I mentioned at the beginning, Kasama got raided by the FBI when the Feds were going after the anarchists in the Northwest. In fact, K was the first raided. Glenn Beck was regularly calling out the name of one of our comrades on his program, as the mastermind behind Occupy and the link with The Coming Insurrection. And that’s just the stuff I’m gonna mention.

And not all the threats to K were from the state or the right. Some very disturbed, left wing individuals made credible threats against the lives of some of our members. A comrade’s mother was doxxed, by a “comrade.” And that’s just the stuff from the left I’m gonna mention.

And two people very close to us were murdered (though not for political reasons).

As Louis should remember well from his own life, revolutionary politics is not a game, even if some so-called comrades don’t take it seriously.

June 19, 2016

Notes on the demise of the Kasama Project

Filed under: Maoism,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 6:43 pm

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 2.38.06 PM

I had been suspecting for some time now that the Kasama Project was finished but finally got confirmation of that yesterday from a FB friend named Ben Stevens who I had contact with as Ben Seattle during the early days of Marxmail. The RCP alluded to below in Ben’s post is Bob Avakian’s cult (I use the word advisedly), the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Whatever happened to the Kasama Project?

The Kasama project emerged at a time when the internet was making it possible to bring together many scattered and isolated activists who had been around the RCP, but who had problems with the RCP’s cult-like nature. Kasama emerged boldly proclaiming that it would organize in a more open way, and be accountable to the movement.

But the apple did not fall far from the tree.

Now the project appears to have collapsed–with no accountability whatsoever to the movement concerning what happened and why. Of course, being around for a while, I can guess at the likely scenarios.

Kasama, like most cargo cults, was based on the principle of attempting, as an organization, to keep its political contradictions “secret from the class enemy”. By some strange coincidence, this principle is also useful in concealing the incompetence, hypocrisy, deception and manipulation common to cargo cults.

In practice, this principle requires attempting to keep political contradictions secret from the movement. And, as this happens, the true nature of these contradictions is inevitably concealed from members and supporters–and they cannot be resolved. Eventually there is nothing but gridlock, paralysis, demoralization and depolitization. This is often followed by collapse into (1) passivity, (2) social democracy or (3) sectarianism.

Kasama Project founder Mike Ely showed up on Marxmail in 2007 after Bob Avakian’s name came up in a thread on Maoist critiques of the RCP. In a way, Ely was never able to transcend that approach even though he always claimed that the goal of left unity was uppermost. I don’t think he had a secret agenda only that he was incapable of rising to the occasion. You can even get an idea of the limitations from the very name that is explained on their website: “The name Kasama: In Tagalog, a language of the Philippines, Kasama is the word for the companions who travel the road together — in this case, the revolutionary road.” This sounds nice but it hardly addresses the state of class consciousness in the USA that is so different from the Philippines that has had revolutionary guerrilla movements going back to the Theodore Roosevelt period.

Ely posted excerpts from a critique of Avakian that struck a chord with those of us who had left the American SWP:

Problems of dogmatism, self-isolation and political fantasy — that have always plagued the RCP — are now in command to a new degree. The heart of this is how the RCP’s central leader, Bob Avakian, is seen and promoted.

In place of the mass line, there is a one-sided stress on telling — in patronizing ways. The fetish of the word morphs into the fetish of the leader and tries to “vault over” the complicated processes by which people really decide what to think and how to act.

Leaders dream up grand schemes out of whole cloth — without forming alliances, constituencies or trained networks over time. They don’t have their own base to bring to the process. They “plan” to reach millions without actually organizing thousands. We should be suspicious of such contrivances and “get rich quick” schemes.

So given that kind of analysis, which was reminiscent of what Max Elbaum wrote about the “New Communist Movement” (ie., Maoism) in “Revolution in the Air”, I wondered if Ely might eventually play a role in steering the left out of the sectarian ditch that had made it so ineffective for decades. It was never possible unfortunately. Let me try to explain why:

  1. An inability to fully theorize the “Leninism” question:

Since the Kasama website has fallen into disrepair, some of the key documents there are no longer downloadable. Fortunately, they can be read on the “Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line” section in MIA, including articles by Max Elbaum. That is where you will find Ely’s “Nine Letters to Our Comrades” from which he excerpted passages for Marxmail.

In this 72-page pamphlet, the words “democratic centralism” appear only once and only in a comment that the RCP had a militarized version of what Lenin advocated. Furthermore, the term “Leninism” only comes up as part of the label “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism”, a sign that Ely had not quite gotten to the bottom of what was destroying the left. The term “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” is nonsensical. Throughout the 9 letters, it is mentioned continuously without once considering the main lesson of Elbaum’s book, namely that a new approach was necessary.

  1. Ultraleftism

Despite his on-target critique of the RCP, Ely carried a lot of its baggage with him, particularly a fetish over militancy. For him, revolution was synonymous with violent protests. He romanticized guns, particularly the urban guerrilla mystique of the Black Panther Party. Oddly enough, he reminded me a bit of Farrell Dobbs, the leader of the SWP who was largely responsible for the “turn toward industry”. Peter Camejo once told me that Dobbs could never get over the idea that the radicalization that would finally culminate in the overthrow of American capitalism would largely have the characteristics of the 1930s CIO organizing drives in which he played a key role as Teamsters organizer.

When Ely would reminisce about the Panthers, SDS street battles, etc., he struck me as embodying 1960s nostalgia in the same way Dobbs related to the 1930s. I would say that unless you are open to the specific characteristics of the class struggle in the period you live in, you will inevitably go wrong.

  1. Clandestine norms

Five years ago Ely and fellow Kasama Project notable Eric Ribellarsi were giving a talk at the now defunct Brecht Forum in NYC, a victim of rising real estate prices rather than dogmatism, that was meant to introduce the project to a broader audience. I took the trouble to bring my video camera down there with me to record the event and help publicize it but Ely nixed it because it might be used by the cops. The idea that the FBI had no idea what Ely and Ribellarsi were up to was nonsense. Furthermore, they were not like Syrians or Iranians whose identity had to be protected. Instead it was just a silly acting out of notions of what it meant to “go up against the man”. Ely also could have given me the green light to record the audio but probably preferred to sustain the illusion that they were operating in Czarist Russia in 1902 or something.

I should add that Ely’s talk betrayed the ultraleftism that would keep the Kasama Project from reaching its potential. He talked about how the Greek left was “getting things done”, which meant how some guy drove a car through the front door of a bank. Considering the horrible disunity in Greece that makes effective action against the austerity regime so difficult, the last thing that is needed is tactical militancy. Instead it is figuring out how to create a united front of the ex-members of Syriza still committed to socialism, the KKE, Antarsya and the anarchists so that the social power of the masses can be effective. For that you need a mastery of Marxism and a subtle understanding of strategy and tactics, not driving a car into a bank.

  1. Grandiosity

It was rather telling that the Kasama Project started to sink into oblivion at the very moment it was issuing proclamations that had all the sorry pretensions of all past attempts at launching a new Leninist party. Timed with a new version of the website, it was filled with embarrassing bombast:

Organization, Regroupment, and Strategic Conceptions

The oppressed and exploited majority of humanity cannot win liberation, the communist future cannot be conquered, without revolutionary communist organization. The kinds of organization that we will need will vary depending on the tasks and the time. We draw on the rich and varied organizational experiences of previous generations of revolutionaries but also understand that the forms we develop must answer to the new and radically changed conditions that confront us in the 21st century.

We are committed to building a country-wide and multi-national organization of communist revolutionaries within the U.S. that is both serious and flexible, disciplined and anti-dogmatic, grounded in history and alive to what is new in this world. We do not believe that we are that organization yet or even that we necessarily constitute its nucleus. But we are seeking to help bring it into existence. We seek to regroup scattered revolutionary communist forces, not just the remnants of previous efforts but also, and more importantly, the new ones propelled forward by new struggles, and to forge along with them the organization that we need.

Serve the people, power to the people

We are guided by love for the people. We seek to embody a different way of living, the possibility of a different future. Communists should promote a style and aesthetic of humility, caring, militancy, universalism, a living radicalism, critical thinking, a deep practicality, and a respect for the planet’s life — its people, its many species and its biosphere generally. We should make a movement for total human emancipation seem like the most practical, radical, and loving thing in the world.

Only the people in their millions can make a socialist revolution in the United States. The organization we need will require the fusion of presently scattered conscious revolutionaries with whole sections of the oppressed in a process of mutual transformation to constitute a revolutionary people. We strive to identify the faultlines in this society along which struggles that have the potential to facilitate such a fusion are likely to break out and, as our forces permit, to support and initiate organizing projects to begin that process.


I have a complete different take on the tasks facing the left. To start with, we have to drop the term communism once and for all no matter how much that will disappoint Jodi Dean.

We have to speak to people in terms that make sense to them. Socialism does not have the connotations that communism does even though for Marx and Engels they are interchangeable. But even if socialism is a more viable way of describing your goals, it is much better to articulate a program that focuses on the failure of the capitalist system to provide for our needs—in other words the kind of proposal just adopted by the Green Party.

We also have to recognize that organizational initiatives have to be based on objective conditions. The most urgent need right now is a broad left party that can begin to draw in the millions of people that have grown sick of the two-party system. If nothing else, the Sanders campaign indicated the dynamics at work that make such a goal realizable. It takes a committed core of a thousand or so people to move that process forward. It is the goal that the North Star website tries to promote and that is consistent with the state of class consciousness in the USA.

My recommendation for those who agree with that perspective is to check out the Socialist Convergence conference in Philadelphia being organized by the Philly Socialists, a group that is in the vanguard of political organizing today—in the genuine sense of the word.


March 26, 2016

The “We Can” Moment in Vijayawada, South India

Filed under: india,racism,repression,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 4:32 pm

A guest post by Vijaya Kumar Marla


 Kanhaiya Kumar, President of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union. 

Usually any charged atmosphere with a large number of people can metamorphose in to a frenzy and mob violence. But in Vijayawada (capital city of the state of Andhra Pradesh), on the evening of 24th March 2016, a large number of people had gathered in anticipation of hearing Kanhaiya Kumar, the rage among youth and students of this country. His posters are on display everywhere, as we reached the city from the airport.

I was accompanying him on his trip from Hyderabad to Vijayawada. When he got down from the airport bus at the arrival lounge, the appreciative glances of the policemen deployed there towards Kanhaiya could not escape my attention. Is this the same Kanhaiya Kumar who had recounted his tête-à-tête with police while he was in Delhi’s Tihar Jail on trumped-up charges of shouting anti-India slogans in his university, in his now famous address at JNU on 3rd March? I think that conversation of Kanhaiya with a constable in the jail and the way he recounted it has an impact on policemen all over the country. After all, day-in and day-out we often come across politicians blaming police for brutality and atrocities, which are not entirely without substance. But an incisive analysis and comment by a young man just released from jail, saying that the police are also ordinary human beings like us and that they are helpless in many aspects when they had to practice their profession under heavy stress and the mention of their meager wages has had an impact on the police. Lo, here is a young man, charged with sedition and beaten up by goons in the presence of full police force and being hounded in the social media and the net, and now being accompanied by police escorts as if he is a top law maker, all the way from airport to his meeting place.

I have not seen so much love and hatred being displayed against one man in the Internet. The venomous hatred appears to be mostly manufactured in the IT office of the Hindutva (Rightist Hindu) brigade. There are no limits on indecency and anyone who objects to the foul language on display is immediately targeted. Sometimes, I wonder, all this spewing of venom and attacking everyone will not work against the Hindutva brigade? What about all the laws about decency on the net? Or do they not apply to the net-storm troopers of the ruling party? On our way to the meeting hall, we found hundreds of people lining up with garlands at many places to greet this young man. He had to stop at a few places to greet them and receive the flowers. TV cameras were hounding us throughout our journey, even as we signaled to them that Kanhaiya is not in our car. As we neared the meeting place, it was a thorough chaos. The whole traffic in the area is jammed with vehicles and we had to make our way by foot, snaking through bikes and parked cars. We heard a commotion, with two not so young men, in saffron scarves, being pushed out of the meeting hall.

By that time, Kanhaiya was safely escorted inside by a big team of red shirted volunteers. I have seen thousands of young people wearing white T-shirts with pictures of Rohit Vemula and Kanhaiya. The police were trying to halt the Leftist youth from charging on to the two BJP youth wing men, who tried to raise anti-Kanhaiya slogans. An obviously working class woman in her forties was seen shouting at the BJP men and urging the Leftist students to trash them. That was the general mood outside the hall. And such scenes are not uncommon in a politically active city of Vijayawada. As we were ushered in to the hall on the first floor, we found the huge hall jam-packed with students wearing Rohit-Kanhaiya T-shirts and redshirts. From the badges they were wearing, I could gather that they belong to various student organizations, AISF (CPI), SFI (CPIM), PDSU (CPI-ML) and a sprinkling of NSUI (Congress). There were many elderly and middle aged people, obviously from Leftist parties. The National Secretary of CPI, Dr. K. Narayana was seen standing near the wall.

I was seated near-by where he was standing and I had seen people offering him their seat. He politely refused and I had seen A.P State Secretaries of CPI and CPM sitting in the audience, as mere spectators. Then there was commotion again, as a lone BJP youth tried to shout some slogans, but he was quickly overpowered and I have seen him losing his shirt in the mêlée. He was picked up by the police and taken away. I have seen the large hall completely jam-packed, with almost half the people standing along the walls, as there were no seats. With soany thousands of people inside, he hall was hot and stuffy, with the mercury touching 43°C (110°F) outside. I am recounting this as a spectator to the event. The press had given undue coverage to the BJP youth who tried to shout slogans unsuccessfully. This sort of a political friction is not unusual at many places in India. Kanhaiya Kumar was the main speaker and as he was invited to speak, he asked whether he should speak in Hindi or English. The audience chose Hindi, which was surprising.

But from the response he got, I understood that Hindi films had their effect on the people of Vijayawada, where only Telugu is spoken, unlike in Hyderabad. He started with the attack on universities by the BJP government and charged that the upper class mindset could not tolerate poor students from backward regions and lower castes entering the portals of the hallowed institutions such as JNU and HCU and learning to question the prevalent inequalities and social discrimination. “Besides our subjects, we also learn and discuss issues that affect our lives and I believe this is a part of our process of enlightenment. We don’t want to go to the streets shouting slogans. Given a peaceful atmosphere, we would like to spend our time in class rooms and in the library. It is they who are preventing us from continuing our studies. They want to limit the intellectual space in the universities all across the country to the cage of Hindutva ideology and we are opposing this process of indoctrination.”

The ruling ideology of Hindutva wants to create binaries of ‘us vs. them’ in the name of Bharat Mata (Mother India). Whoever does not say, “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Hail Mother India) is anti-national, they allege. But we say, our Bharat Mata is not the same as your Bharat Mata. Your Bharat Mata is a glamorous lady, bejeweled and wearing a saffron sari, symbolizing the rich. Our Bharat Mata is a Dalit  (untouchable caste) woman, emaciated, wearing rags and working in the fields under the hot sun, a mother who struggles to feed her children, a mother who works as a village social worker, a mother or sister who works in the factories, drives a bus, pilots an airplane.. This is out Bharat Mata.” He said that he had met Rohit Vemula’s mother (The Dalit scholar who had committed suicide unable to bear the brunt of social discrimination in Hyderabad Central University in January this year) and told her that he will continue the struggle until social discrimination ends. We want Left and Dalit voices to come together.

Besides this unity, we are struggling to build a broad rainbow coalition of all oppressed working people, who have to fight this communal and neo-liberal virus with all the might we could gather. This is a long fight, but the victory will be ours. He further said that India has 700 million young people and Modi had captured power promising Rs. 150 thousands in everyone’s bank account from recovered black money and 100 million jobs. This is a false promise and now he and his government have to face the ire of the youth for their deceit. Modi says that he will build a modern India with Hi-Tech industries and make India the world’s manufacturing hub, with the slogan of “Make-in-India.” I question him, when 75% of young job aspirants in this country have less than 5th standard qualification and they cannot get a job in any modern industry, how are you going to provide 100 million jobs.

The previous government under DR. Manmohan Singh and now Modi’s government are cutting expenditure on education, cutting down assistance to poor and lower caste students. Unable to bear the cost of private education, they are leaving schools. Unless the government spends a large amount of money on public education and health, it is questionable how you can prepare the youth to work in modern industry. He stressed the need for Left Parties to come together, putting aside their differences. He said young people of his generation, those who are born after 1985 could not understand why the communist movement had to split into so many splinter groups. “Let us come together, put aside the differences of the past and start talking to the people about their problems in a jargon which they understand.”

His appeal struck a chord with the thousands who were listening to him in rapt attention. There was a thunderous applause of approval. Having seen for the last 45 years how the various Left groups fought pitched battles among themselves, it was a pleasant feeling for me to see them sitting together and listening to a young man, young enough to be their son, urging them to bury the past differences and come together to fight the bigger enemy. I have seen leaders of various Left groups embracing each other and recalling the good old days when as young men, they fought together under one flag. At the end of his hour long speech, he recited the now famous song that he sang at a meeting immediately before his arrest on February 11, 2016 at Jawaharlal Nehru University. It goes like this:


Aazadi (Hind/Urdu for freedom)

Aazadi from Hunger

Aazadi from poverty

Aazadi from unemployment

Aazadi from capitalism

Aazadi from Manuvad (BJP’s Hindu politics)

Aazadi from caste discrimination

We don’t want freedom FROM India, we want freedom IN India

There was a thunderous clapping and shouts of Aazadi (freedom) from the participants, young and old. It was electric movement, highly charged with enthusiasm, a markedly noticeable charged feeling that “WE CAN” fight together and defeat the bigger enemy, the fascist BJP.


Kanhaiya Kumar addressing his fellow students at JNU, Deli on March 3rd 2016, immediately after his release from Jail on trumped up charges of sedition. The address was telecast live on all the TV channels till midnight and it is reported that it is the most viewed even in recent time. This speech had elevated him to national level politics and he had become a rage among youth.


Kanhaiya Kumar singing his famous Aazadi (freedom song)

Picture5A student demonstration in Delhi demanding the release of Kanhaiya Kumar and his friends.



Kanhaiya Kumar being roughed up by BJP goons in the presence of police in the Delhi Court premises on 15th February 2016.


A BJP goon boasting about his group’s attack on Kanhaiya Kumar in the Indian Court in the presence of police. He was let off within hours of his being taken in to token police custody.


 A BJP/RSS version of Mother India                   


Picture10 Picture9

The Left’s image of Mother India (representative) 


Kanhaiya Kumar addressing the Vijayawada Meet of united Left Students 


 A section of the participants, with the leaders of various CPs in the foreground  

August 11, 2015

I was wrong on the Cochranites in 1971–dead wrong

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 5:07 pm

In my article on “Why does the left suck so badly”, I referred to the Cochranites—a group organized as the Socialist Union that published a magazine from 1954 to 1959 called the American Socialist. The two main leaders were Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman, who had left the Trotskyist movement in order to build a new non-sectarian organization that in many ways anticipated the development of groups like Solidarity in the USA or European parties such as Podemos or Syriza.

I became convinced that such an approach was necessary after reading Peter Camejo’s “Against Sectarianism” in the early 1980s and worked with him to build a new non-sectarian movement through the auspices of the North Star Network. Like the Socialist Union, the North Star Network was short-lived but the ideas it stood for lived on.

Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com posed a question to me after my article appeared:

I was very interested to read your contribution to an ancient issue of the SWP’s internal discussion bulletin a polemic aimed at the Cochranites: I’d provide the link but I’d have to wade through a ton of material and I just wanted to let you know it’s online. It would be equally interesting to read a commentary by you on your old self, as revealed in that yellowing document. (The SWP’s internal discussion bulletins are posted on the same site as the speech you link to in this post).

As it turns out, Justin was referring to my article that was a contribution to the 1971 preconvention discussion in the Socialist Workers Party. The irony is that both Peter and I considered the Cochranites to be rightwing renegades from Trotskyism at the time, even though we would later adopt positions 180 degrees in the other direction. To my knowledge Peter never wrote anything about the Cochranites (he was much more of a speaker and an organizer than a writer) but I am quite sure he would have agreed with me. Peter did mention the Cochranites in his memoir but there is little evidence that he understood their importance:

At fourteen I told my mom I was now a socialist. She told me to go out and play. I asked permission to go from our home in Great Neck on Long Island to New York City to attend a meeting of the Socialist Union. To my amazement, as I look back, my mother said it was okay but that I had to be back by 10:00 p.m. I traveled alone on the Long Island Rail Road to my first meeting. I’d imagined that it would be in a huge hall with thousands of workers with red banners or something along those lines. As it turned out I was the first person to show up, so I sat and waited. Only about fifteen people came. I later learned that the Socialist Union, led by Bert Cochran, had broken off from the Socialist Workers Party in 1953. They were very nice to me. I couldn’t understand anything they were talking about but I could tell they supported the poor and were in favor of equality. The small size of the meeting didn’t turn me off. On the contrary, I thought, I need to find a way to help because the socialists are so outnumbered.

My own conversion to what amounted to neo-Cochranism took place shortly after I launched the Marxism list in 1998 when I noticed that someone named Sol Dollinger had become a subscriber. I sent him a note asking if he was related to Genora Dollinger, who was best known as Genora Johnson, the leader of the Women’s Auxiliary to the UAW in Flint, Michigan. It turns out that Genora was his late wife and that both of them were members of the Socialist Union. Sol put me in touch with Cynthia Cochran in New York, who was Bert’s widow. That led to my frequent visits to her apartment on the West Side to discuss the Cochranite legacy and to pick up copies of the American Socialist magazine to post to the Internet.

Before I turn my attention to the piece I wrote on the Cochranites 44 years ago, it would be worth putting the 1971 convention into context. This convention was both an endorsement of the “new radicalization” analysis of the SWP and a fairly brutal attack on the Proletarian Orientation Tendency that was not happy with it. I was in the Boston branch of the SWP at the time, where Peter Camejo was assigned to do battle with the POT that constituted probably around 40 percent of the branch. They were a majority at one point but the national office had taken the bureaucratic liberty to transfer in people like me to make sure that they were stifled.

The SWP argued that the new radicalization was going to be different from that of the 1930s that was based in the unions. In a nutshell, it considered the social movements to be as important as the trade union struggle. For the POT, the main complaint was not so much orienting to the Black struggle et al but the failure of the SWP to assign any serious forces to the union movement—which was true. At the time any challenge to the party apparatus was considered disloyal and eventually all of the POT members were either expelled or left in disgust. The irony, of course, is that within a decade after this fight in the party, the SWP leadership would not only adopt the POT line but take it in the most extreme direction arguing that any new upsurge in the social movements would take place strictly through the trade unions. As an indication of how stupid this line was, the party went from nearly 2000 members in 1981 to what it is today—a hundred or so men and women in their 60s and 70s utterly disconnected not only from the mass movements but from the planet earth.

Turning to my article, I am not sure why I referred to the POT misrepresenting the Cochranites but I suspect that it might have been their members making an analogy between the “new radicalization” analysis and the approach of the Socialist Union, which was one of breaking with Trotskyist orthodoxy. Frankly, except for the brief period between 1965 and 1975 or so, the SWP never thought outside the box. It was always a party that had a deep workerist dynamic, always hoping against hope that the 1930s would return.

In any case, the purpose of my article was to prove that having a working class composition was no guarantee that you would remain revolutionary. I wrote:

The Cochranites in Detroit were primarily industrial workers, especially auto workers with deep roots in the trade unions. Many of them had been leaders in previous union struggles. Also in the Cochranite faction were some supporters in New York who had more of a middle class type background and composition.

Within the Cochran faction there were two groupings. One was led by Mike Bartell in New York. Bartell, the least important leader of the Cochran group, was adapting to Stalinism. After the victory of the Chinese CP and the Yugoslav CP and the growing fear of a third world war because of the cold war some Trotskyists thought Stalinism would be forced to play a revolutionary role or was already playing a progressive role. Bartell wanted to concentrate on maneuvering within the CP periphery. Cochran’s base was in industrial cities like Detroit. Cochran reflected an adaptation to the trade union bureaucracy. He was primarily interested in maneuvering within the trade union bureaucracy.

Bartell and Cochran had one thing in common. They were opposed to continuing as a Trotskyist party. They were opposed to Leninism. They were liquidationists who no longer believed the revolution needed a party. Both wings of the Cochranites were hostile to doing political party building work such as holding forums, running election campaigns, selling The Militant. The basic question of the 1953 split with Cochran was over whether we need or do not need a Leninist party.

Of course the Cochranites were right. We do not need a “Leninist party”, at least understood in terms of what James P. Cannon stood for. The whole purpose of the Socialist Union was to serve as a catalyst for regroupment rather than to position itself as the nucleus of a Leninist party. Indeed, one of the major activities of the Socialist Union was to organize forums to address this need. For example, in 1956 the Socialist Union organized a regroupment forum in Chicago that drew 800 people. Among the featured speakers were Sidney Lens and A.J. Muste who would become key leaders of the antiwar movement about ten years later. Cochran’s speech to that gathering is on the American Socialist archives. His words seem as pertinent as ever:

What we have to ask ourselves, I think, is this: Is it possible now in the light of the dolorous experience of American radicalism, and the greater knowledge we possess today of the Russian experiment, is it possible to look at Russia from higher vantage ground, and from the viewpoint of our own American needs even if we have some differences in our precise appreciations? Can the Left free itself from unthinking idolatry and the whitewashing of Russian crimes against socialism; and, on the other extreme, from the embittered hostility which misses the epic movement of historic progress, and can see in the Soviet bloc only the anti-Christ of our time.

IN other words, I am making a plea for sanity, for more mature judgement, for deeper historical insight, for an end to Left bigotry and Babbittry, for a cease-fire in our own cold war, for an effort at cooperation, and where possible, reconciliation.

If we do not regroup our effectives, if we cannot integrate our work, then it may be that the present radical movement in this country, from one end of the spectrum to the other, will go under in the flood, and a new generation will have to build a socialist organization from the ground up.

If we can find the inner resources to unravel this knotty riddle of our lifetime, then we have the chance to reconstruct the movement on sturdier foundations and along more mature lines, and the challenge of democratic socialism, compelling and clear, can again be flung into the market place—where it has unnecessarily been absent far too long.

August 9, 2015

Why does ‘the left’ suck so badly?

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 6:27 pm

This week a person I have had some contact with as a result of my participation in Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism website posed this question to me: “Why does ‘the left’ suck so badly?”

He went on to say:

Saying right off the bat that “the left,” “progressives,” “liberals”, along with the Greens and the Sanders people and some of #BlackLives matter seem to be such a gigantic mish-mash that “the left” doesn’t even seem like a good name, like maybe there shouldn’t even BE a name. And that’s before we get to other kinds of organizers for the unions and the environment, and then the Marxist groupuscles, and the anarchists, and the co-op people… Anyhow, I’ll use “the left” as a shorthand for the seething mish mash.

I’m asking because of the ridiculousness of the comments we had on Greece; you saw them. So many pom pom wavers, so few analysts, and even fewer people who took action. (I mean, any sort of action at all, like organizing a small relief effort.) So many people saying “it’s easy,” if only we — by which they mean others — had the will! (Granted, I’m not a doer either, but I am an excellent blogger, and I am doing what I am good at.)

It’s the same deal with the Greens, who given a golden opportunity to sit outside every Sanders rally with a sign-up table and leaflets, seem to have collectively decided that the ticket to winning is saying how evil Democrats are (true, but irrelevant) and how inferior Sanders is (also true, also irrelevant). Then again, Sanders saw the ball, picked it up, and ran with it… And they did not. So perhaps that is the problem for them. Anyhow, they’re still smarting over Nader in 2000. 15 years ago. Not kidding!

This is an ancien regime, fin de siecle moment if ever I saw one, and virtually nobody on “the left” seems prepared to take advantage of it. Of course, there are powerful forces arrayed against “the left,” but then there always are, aren’t they? Until there aren’t…

Is it that so many on “the left” are academics, and the fights are so vicious because the stakes are so small? Or that too many of them have hostages to fortune, as families and possessions they think twice about losing? Is it that TINA applies in the world of ideology, as well? That (for example) we don’t think of — and we saw this in Greece — of the ATM machine as a tool of political domination, or even as a tool at all? (More like a natural resource or a mechanical device.) Is it that identity politics divides many, many people who ought — on “class” (wage vs. owner) interests — to be united? Could it be medical, in that we are literally too fat and too depressed and fucked up because of our horrible diet? Successful corruption, in that the elites still have the power and the money to co-opt the leaders? All of the above? What, what?

And then of course we look to Europe, where if “the left” was a thing in Europe, Syriza would had some assistance.

I can’t think of a historical precedent for things being this fucked with no alternative presented….

Like I said, I can’t formulate the question properly….

Thanks for any analytical tools you have to offer!

It probably makes sense for me to limit my answer to the part of the left I am most familiar with, namely the socialist left that I have been connected with organizationally or ideologically for nearly a half-century.

If you look at the broad historical record, you will see a steady decline from the early 1900s when Eugene V. Debs received six percent of the vote in 1912. Back then there was obviously no such thing as a Communist movement since the Russian Revolution had not taken place. But within five years, the Communist movement would supplant the Debs-type parties that existed everywhere. If you’ve never seen Warren Beatty in “Reds”, I recommend the film for its pretty accurate description of what happened in the 1920s as “Leninist” type parties sprouted up everywhere.

In my view, despite all the good that these parties did in fighting for much needed reforms such as the right to form trade unions and opposing Jim Crow, they undermined the authority of the left by functioning as cheerleaders for Joseph Stalin. In the late 1930s the CPUSA had close to a hundred thousand members and was a powerful presence in the trade unions, civil rights movement, and even elected member Benjamin Davis to the NY City Council. But after the Khrushchev revelations, the party lost the bulk of its members. Of course this mass exodus was facilitated by the McCarthyite witch-hunt that made membership in the CP a risk to your livelihood if not your freedom.

When I came around the left in 1967, the CP was a hollowed out shell with an aging membership. For young people like myself, the party was not an option. Some of us became Trotskyists and others joined Maoist groups since their militancy seemed appropriate to the period, which was one marked by massive opposition to the Vietnam War and ghetto rebellions. It was fairly easy to believe back then that the USA would have had a revolution long before 2015.

What we had not properly analyzed, however, was the sea change that had taken place since the heyday of Debs’s party and the dominance of the Communist Party in the 1930s. Workers in basic industry such as auto, steel and rail were enjoying a high standard of living and job security. There was almost no reason for them to become revolutionary, even those who were most oppressed like the Black and Latinos. For workers, the overwhelming need was to get a good union contract that kept pace with inflation, not to join a tiny group that had as its goal a repeat of 1917. The deeper the identification with 1917 of such groups, the more difficult it was to grow. Those that have relative success today tend to avoid the mumbo-jumbo. Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative group, got elected to City Council in Seattle not by pledging to organize a Soviet but by promising to fight for a $15 minimum wage.

Given the worsening economic conditions in the USA that weigh most heavily on Blacks and Latinos, there are signs of motion—the large crowds for Bernie Sanders among them. Unfortunately, the Sanders campaign—even though he made a record of Debs’s speeches in 1979—is tied by an umbilical cord to the Democratic Party. The burning need is for a third political party to the left of the Democrats that can bring together everybody who feels the need for fundamental change even if they are by no means convinced that a socialist revolution is necessary. That is why I have argued for the need for something like Syriza or Podemos in the USA even though Syriza is widely seen as a failure today, especially by those living as if it were still 1917. In essence, you have to be able to make a distinction between the decisions the leaderships of such parties make in the heat of battle, especially when they are facing much more powerful enemies such as the ECB and the IMF, and how they are organized.

Organizationally, a group like Syriza had the advantage over the “1917” left because it did not impose an ideological straightjacket on its membership. The same thing is true of Podemos whose leader Pablo Iglesias urged the left to engage with people on their own terms:

When the 15-M movement [the anti-austerity movement in Spain] first started, at the Puerta del Sol, some students from my department, the department of political science, very political students — they had read Marx, they had read Lenin — they participated for the first time in their lives with normal people.

They despaired: “They don’t understand anything! We tell them, you are a worker, even if you don’t know it!” People would look at them as if they were from another planet. And the students went home very depressed, saying, “They don’t understand anything.”

[I’d reply to them], “Can’t you see that the problem is you? That politics has nothing to do with being right, that politics is about succeeding?” One can have the best analysis, understand the keys to political developments since the sixteenth century, know that historical materialism is the key to understanding social processes. And what are you going to do — scream that to people? “You are workers and you don’t even know it!”

The enemy wants nothing more than to laugh at you. You can wear a T-shirt with the hammer and sickle. You can even carry a huge flag, and then go back home with your flag, all while the enemy laughs at you. Because the people, the workers, they prefer the enemy to you. They believe him. They understand him when he speaks. They don’t understand you. And maybe you are right! Maybe you can ask your children to write that on your tombstone: “He was always right — but no one ever knew.”

In your query you mention the Green Party. They are certainly not without their problems but I don’t think it would be fair to say that they “suck”. I think that they are running very principled and effective campaigns that relate to the concerns of the average person such as the right to drink clean water and be spared the horrors of global warming. In some ways they are a throwback to the Debs campaigns of the early 20th century.

The weakness of the Greens and the left in general is not exclusively their own fault. We are living in a period that is hostile to social change. The difficulties in finding a job—the conditions that face the “precariat” or contingent labor force—does not translate into class solidarity since people tend to seek individual solutions. If you’ve ever seen Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me”, you’ll remember that laid off workers in Flint were not thinking in terms of mass action to reopen the plants under workers control. One man told Moore that he was moving to Texas where supposedly there were more jobs while a jobless woman raised rabbits for sale as meat. The only recent sign that people were ready to move collectively was Occupy Wall Street, which lost momentum after public spaces were finally cleared of youthful protesters. So you can say that there are contradictory tendencies today, one propitious for the left and one that breeds indifference and retreating into personal salvation.

You can expect this state of affairs to continue for some time to come. But when it begins to change, it can take place rapidly. In 1929, an economic disaster led millions to move collectively to change society. In 1965, the war in Vietnam and ghetto rebellions transformed the lives of many thousands of young people, including me. I doubt that there is anything that will happen on that scale until after I am dead and gone. But when it does, the pace of events can often find the left desperately trying to catch up. In 1909 Karl Kautsky, the leader of the Socialist Party in Germany, described how the tempo cam change almost overnight:

But the rate of progress increases with a leap when the revolutionary spirit is abroad. It is almost inconceivable with what rapidity the mass of the people reach a clear consciousness of their class interests at such a time. Not alone their courage and their belligerency but their political interest as well, is spurred on in the highest degree through the consciousness that the hour has at last come for them to burst out of the darkness of night into the glory of the full glare of the sun. Even the laziest becomes industrious, even the most cowardly becomes brave, and even the most narrow gains a wider view. In such times a single year will accomplish an education of the masses that would otherwise have required a generation.

My only purpose today is to convince young people today on the left to avoid the mistakes of the past, which ultimately boil down to mechanically applying the “lessons of 1917” to the USA or any other revolution for that matter. We have to learn to speak in the language of American society and relate to the deepest felt needs of the average person. Frankly, it might be more useful to study the sermons of the new Pope than V.I. Lenin.

From 1954 to 1959 a group led by Bert Cochran and Harry Braveman put out a magazine called the American Socialist that I am trying to emulate in my own modest way. Bert and Harry (not to be mistaken with the Piels brothers) were a bit ahead of their time in advocating a similar approach. The fact that they dissolved the group in 1959 is not an indictment of their approach, any more than Alexis Tsipras buckling under to the German bankers. Conditions often favor the rich and the powerful after all.

Long after they were gone, their words remain relevant. In trying to create a movement of the left that was rooted in the American experience, they were the continuators of Eugene V. Debs and Karl Marx for that matter who was immersed in the reality of working class life. In 1955 Bert Cochran gave a speech introducing the American Socialist magazine. They still ring true:

I AM convinced, in the light of this reading of the American scene, that there is a real need for genuine American radicalism. By that I mean a movement that understands this country, that is sensitive to the feelings and aspirations of its people, that knows how to establish communication with them and how to make itself heard, that has the ability to come up with drastic structural solutions which recommend themselves to significant bodies of people as meaningful and realistic. I don’t mean by radicalism, the pettifogging, the quotation-mongering, the pseudo-Marxian profundities, the dogmatics, the circle bickerings and soul-destroying factionalism which have distinguished, I am afraid, all of us on the Left for the past years, and which carry a heavy onus of the responsibility for our ineffectiveness and disintegration. I know that a new important radicalism will arise in this country in response to the needs that exist and are due to become more pressing as time goes on. Whether the existing radical circles will play any role in this coming development is another question.

The past year hasn’t shown any progress but there has been a lot of churning and soul-searching. That’s a good sign. It shows there is still some life in the old carcass. When the time comes that you don’t even react to disaster, than you know that rigor mortis has set in. I don’t see that the discussion has produced a comprehensive meeting of the minds as yet, or that any new key ideas have been produced, and some have shown themselves to be remarkably impervious to floods, fires, famines and earthquakes. But there has definitely been, so far as I can observe, a sorting-out process, and, for many, a limited consensus of thought established.

If I may be permitted to draw my own design of the consensus that I believe has been achieved, I would state as the first proposition that the day of organizing a radical movement in this country as a branch office of the Russian concern—is over; and thank God! And that is true whether it is a branch office that gets its instructions from Stalin or Khrushchev or Lenin or Trotsky. This country is too big, too diversified, too self-sufficient and self-confident, it has too many people, it has too powerful a tradition of its own to tolerate a radicalism whose source of inspiration or whose hidden allegiances reside abroad. We can be friends of socialist achievements wherever they take place, and we can practice international labor solidarity on behalf of a common cause without surrendering the dignity of our independence and without losing our bearings that socialism in this country, as in all major countries, will only be won as a manifestation of its own national will.

July 10, 2015

The Lives of American Communists After Communism

Filed under: Counterpunch,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 11:34 am


The Lives of American Communists After Communism

When history moved beyond the Cold War, it became possible for historians to develop a more nuanced understanding of the role of the Communist Party in American society. Books such as Mark Naison’sCommunists in Harlem during the Depression and Maurice Isserman’s Which Side Were You On?: The American Communist Party during the Second World War treated party activists as men and women organically linked to the great conflicts of the 20th century in which they played major roles. There were of course scholars like Harvey Klehr who continued to insist that they were automatons serving almost as foreign agents but it was difficult to square that view with the evidence found in the new historiography or in films like “Seeing Red” or “The Good Fight: Story of The Abraham Lincoln Brigade” in which people like Bill Bailey talked about their experiences in the party, including the time he tore down the Swastika flag from the mast of a German luxury liner in 1935—anticipating the young woman who recently tore down a Confederate flag in South Carolina.

As a former member of the Trotskyist movement I found myself identifying very strongly with the experiences of these dedicated veterans of the CP left even though I had a much different ideological background. When I read Vivian Gornick’s The Romance of American Communism not long after dropping out of the Socialist Workers Party, I was struck by how similar my own experience was to that of ex-CP’ers, particularly those who took factory jobs in the hope of converting workers to the socialist cause. Gornick’s book combines her own reflections with oral histories, mostly those of rank-and-filers, including Karl Millens who recollects “Going into Industry” (a term we used as well) in brutally frank terms:

What can I tell you about the years in industry? They were, for me, slow, imperceptible, pointless death. I spent seventeen years working beside men I never had any intimacy or shared experience with, doing work which numbed my mind and for which I had no physical facility. Its sole purpose was to allow me to grow close to the men and be ready to move when a radically pregnant situation arose. Well, I was never close to the men and no situation arose, at least none I would ever know how to move into.

I looked up this passage in Gornick’s book a few days after I read what the late Gladys Scales had to say in A Red Family: Junius, Gladys & Barbara Scales,  an oral history collected by Mickey Friedman that is an essential contribution to understanding the Communist experience.

The Party knew they had talented people and used their talents, yet many stupid things were done with people. One was a period of “industrial concentration,” where intellectuals and students were taken out of school and put into factory work. They were going to organize the workers. First of all, they stuck out like sore thumbs. You can’t take an intellectual and put blue jeans on him and make him look like a worker. The workers didn’t particularly trust him. They weren’t really at ease and neglected their own talents. It was like putting a square peg into a round hole.

Gladys was married to Junius Scales, a man I met in 1997 at his mountaintop home in Pine Bush, NY about a half-hour’s drive from Woodridge, the tiny village where I grew up. Not long after I interviewed him, I read his memoir Cause at Heart: a Former Communist Remembers, a book that I consider to be the finest ever written about the Communist Party experience. Reading “A Red Family” reminded me of why Junius has remained a hero of mine ever since reading his memoir. Born into a blueblood family in North Carolina with a thirty-six room mansion, and with a grandfather who was a “big slaveowner”, Junius Scales seemed like the last person in the world to join the CP but as Karl Marx put it in the Communist Manifesto, capitalist crisis can often lead some to betray the class they were born into.

read full article

May 20, 2015

Call for Papers: Toward a Mass Party, Bernie Sanders

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,third parties — louisproyect @ 9:31 pm


How will we achieve a mass socialist party, or mass left party, in the USA?  If we have a special opportunity to do so in this specific era, how will we manifest those possibilities?

Electoralism is a particular theme here at North Star.  However, we are happy to entertain alternative routes to a mass party, especially in response to this call.  But instead of just rejecting or critiquing the electoral path, we would prefer pieces that outline your path, your model, articulated in detail!

This is also an opportunity to discuss the 2016 elections broadly — how should we interact with the recent Electoral Action Conference’s network?  Could we get some report-backs on that?  Should we contend the 2016 elections?  Local, Congressional, Presidential, both/any?  Jill Stein?  Vermin Supreme?  What kind of politics?  Let it rip.

And that guy Bernie Sanders.  He talks about class war, he’s running for President.  He has a huge following, he openly identifies as socialist, he is all but a veritable Ron Paul of socialism, and then he has to kick us in the groin by running as a Democrat.  Not that this is a surprise, but as the meme goes, It’s Happening.

Support/oppose?  Join the campaign?  Condemn it?  Engage the conversation without giving support?  Why/why not?

Send submissions to: submissions.northstar@gmail.com

May 8, 2015

A report on The Future of Left/Independent Electoral Action in the United States conference

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,third parties — louisproyect @ 4:30 pm


Two time Mayor of Richmond and member of he North Star Network in the early 80s

For those of us involved with the North Star project, last weekend’s conference on “The Future of Left/Independent Electoral Action in the United States” could only be seen as an important step forward for left unity. With 200 people in attendance, it was a harbinger of future developments moving us closer to the birth of a new anti-capitalist party that can finally express the yearnings of protest movements like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and the fight for a $15 minimum wage for social change.

Half of the editorial board of North Star was in attendance at the conference, including me (I was not able to attend the Sunday sessions unfortunately). In addition Mark Lause gave a tremendous talk comparing the Progressive Party of Robert La Follette to Debs’s Socialist Party and Matt Hoke handled the online streaming of the event.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=12264

April 8, 2015

Naomi Klein, Jodi Dean and the debate over “Green Keynesianism”

Filed under: economics,Global Warming,Green Party,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

this changes everything

Despite its obvious intention to challenge the corporate-dominated status quo, some Marxists fault Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” for supposedly straddling two opposing and mutually exclusive systems: capitalism and socialism. For every criticism, there has been a defense of “This Changes Everything” from other Marxists, including those who have had long-standing affinities with the critics–thus demonstrating that deep divisions do not have to stand in the way of a unified movement. As such, the debate is a reminder that as long as our primary focus is on challenging capitalist rule, there is no reason why we cannot air out our differences in the public arena without the schisms that have harmed out movement in the past.

In a December 30, 2014 Jacobin article, Sam Gindin praises Klein for attacking capitalism as the source of climate change but faults her for leaving too much “wriggle room” for capitalist reform. By hammering away at “villains” such as the Koch brothers et al, the left can effectively let the system off the hook. While Gindin does not identify her as a Keynesian—the term that is widely identified with the leftwing policy studies base of the Democratic Party—he leaves the impression that she is not much different than Bill McKibben. When he writes that “It is one thing to ask how we can organize ourselves better to register our dissatisfaction and to pressure or lobby corporations and states to modify some of their ways within capitalism”, it is clearly a warning that Klein’s agenda is one of capitalist reform.

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