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(Notes to self, part 1) Kasama, Red Spark Collective and contradictions of movement

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Notes to self on Kasama, the Red Spark Collective (Seattle)
and the contradictions of our movement

Hi folks,

A supporter of the newly formed Red Spark Collective, here in Seattle, asked for my opinion on their founding documents (ie: their unity statement and report on first steps) four weeks ago. Since that time, this topic has consumed me. The Red Spark Collective was formed in support of the Kasama project--with which I have a fair amount of experience, both as a former contributor and as a constructive critic.

I have found it difficult to reply to this young comrade for several reasons. It is essentially impossible to deal, in an intelligent way, with the Red Spark Collective without also dealing with:

(1) the Kasama project and
(2) what the Kasama project is attempting to do, and
(3) what is holding the Kasama project back, and
(4) the contradictions that have left the revolutionary movement,
.... in all the countries of bourgeois democracy, paralyzed and helpless.

My problem is that I find it impossible to write a single sentence without experiencing a flood of memories, and emotions, of battles won and lost: the loss of my own organization (the Marxist-Leninist Party, in 1993) and the experience of witnessing (just as the revolution in communications, a weapon which, in the hands of the proletariat, will prove to be of unimaginable power, was beginning to emerge) the most fearless and dedicated comrades fall into either cult-building or total passivity.

Everything, of course, is connected, in an infinite number of ways, to everything else. And yet, of all the contradictions in the movement--some are important and command attention from those who have made up their minds to change the world--while other contradictions are basically just noise.

I have done a lot of writing about all of the elements of this story, including topics related to the crisis of theory and the nature of the organizations which our movement needs. What is new, for me, in the present situation, is that conditions in the movement have matured to the point where it appears necessary that I assemble everything together in a way that is concise, understandable and compelling; that is calm and without a lot of the excessive drama that is typical when activists attempt to confront deeply rooted contradictions.

This post will not be the product of that effort. The product of that effort will (hopefully) come soon in a different post--one that is shorter, less scattered, more organized and easier to read. This thread will consist of notes (mainly to myself, but also open to public comment) that will help me sort out what is important and what is not.

This thread is very much "under construction". I will add, delete and modify fragments, in public, because, after four weeks, there is too much that has to come out.

-- Ben

Material that requires comment or analysis:

From the Red Spark Collective:
from the Kasama Project:
from me:
  • (see below)
(to be continued ... )


  1. Ben Seattle's Avatar
    My adventures as a constructive left critic in the Kasama community

    Some links relevant to my efforts to function as a constructive left critic on Kasama,
    including two periods when I was not on moderation and could participate in discussion
    on the same basis as others. Eventually it became clear that any work I did on Kasama
    would remain invisible to the overwhelming majority of the Kasama community.

    ........ Note:
    ........ (blog) = Kasama blog,
    ......... (bb) = Kasama "threads" bulletin board (a separate site with less than 5% of the readership of the blog)

    This was my first major collision with Mike. It concerned our attitude toward the imperialist Democratic Party.
    I contacted SAIC activists and requested them to participate in this discussion, and two of them (Frank and
    Autocritique) did.

    Mike posted this to the blog without comment. He later said that it was so obviously wrong that there was no need to comment

    Mike considered my participation on this thread to be "spam" and put me on moderation
    (ie: a 3 day wait to see if what I attempt to post will be simply deleted or inserted into
    the middle of the thread where few readers will see it).

    As it became obvious that Mike was deleting my posts as "discussion killers" and "spam" because they were (supposedly) too long, too short, too authoritative, too confrontational, too repetitive, contained links or (supposedly) failed to make a sufficient effort to "engage", and as Mike became increasingly abusive in our exchanges of private email (including multiple threats to permanently ban me from the Kasama community) I realized that we needed to find a way to make use of the experience of members of the Kasama community to resolve this conflict in a way that was of benefit to the development of the community. I therefore asked Mike to create a thread where moderation disputes could be discussed in public. In response, Mike created the above thread. I then posted to this thread, giving facts to support my view that Mike's abitrary moderation actions against me were were making it impractical for me to link up with other community members who shared my concerns or to participate in determining the future direction and development of the Kasama project and community.

    In response, Mike deleted my post with the excuse that discussion of moderation disputes is not allowed on the one thread which is (supposedly) devoted to discussing moderation. Mike then claimed on this thread, in May 2009, that I (along with Greg Gangbox) had (supposedly) refused to obey the site's rules. Naturally, I am not allowed, on that thread, to say what I will say here: Mike is not a reliable reporter: his account of these events represents evasion and something considerably less than a half-truth. Moderation, of course, is necessary. But there needs to be a way for the community to become involved in helping to resolve moderation disputes. Mike, unfortunately, is dead set against this. I believe the reason for this is that Mike recognizes that these kind of democratic practices might unleash forces which would pull the community in a political direction to which which he is deeply opposed.

    The Kasama group appears to have eliminated
    the class struggle and class politics from
    its mission statement in a bid to be "respectable"
    and acceptable to a strata of social-democratic activists

    (47 posts over 4 pages, including Ben Seattle, Doxus, Rawthentic, Selucha, Zerohour, Chegitz Guevara, Tantivy, Eric and Mike Ely)

    Mike made a blog entry from one of my comments on a different thread. Mike took me off moderation at that time (I believe) because it was embarassing to him that he was not allowing me to participate in a discussion on the blog that was based on my own work.

    This post represented an effort by Mike's alter ego (ie: Nando) to oppose the materialist view, advanced by Marx, that the victory of the working class is inevitable because it is the only way to overcome the relations of production that restrict the development of the productivity of labor. A number of people opposed Mike's social-democratic view in the comments section (including me, in posts number 6, 22, 28 and 31). I believe that it was because of my participation in this thread, that I was put back on moderation.

    In particular, in my last post (# 31) I attempted to draw the attention of Jan Makandal (someone who had also opposed Mike's views) to the larger issue that there was a need to develop a consistent, coordinated and conscious effort to oppose social-democratic ideology on Kasama. I did this by posting a link to the discussion on the Kasama "threads" bulletin board which talked about this topic at greater length. I believe Mike considered this an attempt to "divert discussion" and, as such, "desrespectful to the Kasama culture".

    This represents a major (and only half complete) article. I wrote about principle 6 (related to the struggle against the reformist influence) as a debate was taking place on the blog concerning whether "revolutionaries" should be part of the imperialist Democratic Party. Since I could not participate on the blog (because of the 3 day "moderation" delay and the constant threat of being permanently banned from Kasama) I "participated" with comments (and political cartoons and graphic images) here instead.

    Rather shamelessly, Mike then used (without attribution) one of my political arguments (and associated graphic idea) in the blog discussion. It is good that my argument and illustration found its way into the discussion on the blog--but I would have preferred to participate directly, with my own words.
    Updated 10th June 2011 at 04:48 by Ben Seattle
  2. Ben Seattle's Avatar
    ---- (part 2) ----
    My adventures as a constructive left critic in the Kasama community

    (note: because posts are limited to 10k characters, I am continuing here)

    The political roots of my dispute with Mike and the Kasama leadership:

    • RCP Cries "Wolf" over Fascism (February 2005)
      Hysteria about "fascism" serves to hide
      the essential role of the Democratic Party in
      the political and economic system of imperialism

    Before Kasama was created, I publicly challenged the RCP over the hysteria
    about fascism in their leaflet that led to the "World Can't Wait" campaign.
    At that time, Mike Ely and much of the Kasama leadership was in the RCP.
    The RCP did not reply directly to me (or my posts on a dozen Indymedia sites)
    --but they were defended by Carl Davidson, who would eventually help create
    "Progressives for Imperialism" (wait...stop...I got that name was
    Progressives for Obama as the Chief Imperialist)

    Today, Carl can post links or quote himself on the Kasama blog, while Mike
    makes any excuse he can think of to justify keeping activists like me from
    participating on the blog. I believe that Mike and his crew created Kasama
    to continue the RCP's fundamental politics (ie: make an accommodation
    with social-democracy while continuing to maintain a r-r-revolutionary
    appearance) without the burden of Avakian (who finally totally slipped off
    the deep end into a messianic cesspool).

    My dispute with Mike may have the superficial appearance of a simple argument
    between him and I. But I believe it can only be understood as a conflict
    between political lines that stand in irreconciable opposition. This 2005
    article vividly illustrates the opposing positions.
    I also made the following two posts on Khukuri, the nifty, so-cool theoretical site of Kasama:

    Have you ever wondered what this "Leninism" is that you have heard so much about?
    Wonder no more! This nine thousand word (and very authoritative!) article is by
    Stephen D’Arcy on "Leninism" is totally incomprehensible. But I have taken
    the trouble to study it. What does it tell us? "Leninism" means we allow
    the liberal flunkies of the bourgeoisie to tell us what to do. At least that is
    what most readers would learn from this article, if they had the patience to read
    nine thousand words of made-up terminology. John Steele selected this article.

    Incomprehensible jargon is the enemy of understandable ideas and clear purpose in our actions

    My post was so clear that the moderator, John Steele, promised he would delete the next one like it.
    I make it look easy, of course, but the truth is that it takes hard work to achieve this level of recognition.
    I also made two posts to this blog on RevLeft (where Mike is not able to delete my posts):

    Last week, Greg Gangbox (another left critic who Mike had driven away from Kasama)
    found my post above and added his own comment:

    [FONT=verdana][FONT=verdana]I'm "Greg Gangbox" and yes, you're right, Mike Ely's petty tyranny [/FONT][/FONT]
    [FONT=verdana][FONT=verdana]and delete key veto approach to the internet [/FONT][/FONT]
    [FONT=verdana][FONT=verdana]drove me away from Kasama.[/FONT]

    [FONT=verdana]I have better things to do with my time than grovel before [/FONT]
    [FONT=verdana]yet another egomaniac running a tiny leftist sect.[/FONT] [/FONT]
    Part of the background here is that Greg and I had explained
    and opposed, to the best of our modest abilities, the reformist
    character of the World Can't Wait campaign back when Mike
    Ely was still carrying water for the chairman. Both Greg and I have
    enough experience to understand how things work, and we are
    independent. That appears to be why Mike keeps us off his blog.

    I went through the exercize of asking Kasama if they would forward a message
    to RW Harvey, who had posted to the Kasama blog to oppose the idea of
    revolutionaries working within the imperialist Democratic Party. As expected,
    Mike replied and told me to go to hell.

    This illustrates what kind of community Mike wants to build. It is a community
    where an activist like me is allowed to communicate with an activist like
    RW Harvey or an activist like Jan Makandal only with the permission
    (or on topics approved by) the leadership team. This is how a paternalistic
    community functions. A central authority controls who talks to who and about
    what topic. The opposite of this is a self-organizing community, where an
    activist like me would be able to talk to any other activist on any topic.

    See graphic I created (below) to illustrate this decisive difference.

    A paternalistic community is highly vulnerable to abuse of power by
    the central authority, which can control communications between
    members and ban members who are effective critics. A self-organizing
    community, on the other hand, is far better able to defend itself against
    the abuse of power. The significance of this distinction, in the development
    of a revolutionary community, will become more clear with time.

    Mike claimed he has a "light touch" in moderation.
    Mike deleted my reply with his light touch, so I posted it here.
    I present my conclusions in Part 3 (below) but, in the meantime, as an "information theorist"
    I created a graphic which illustrates the difference in the flow of information between a
    paternalistic community and a self-organizing community.

    A parternalistic community has a "single point of failure". This means that if the central authority
    becomes corrupt--then the entire effort is doomed--because it has no way to defend itself.
    A self-organizing community, on the other hand, is robust in the event of the failure of any of its parts.

    Next post: my conclusions
    Updated 9th June 2011 at 13:01 by Ben Seattle
  3. Ben Seattle's Avatar
    ---- (part 3) ----
    My adventures as a constructive left critic in the Kasama community

    Conclusion 1: Mike has a Fear of democracy

    Mike will tolerate and encourage "left" critics if they are fools (because this helps Mike look reasonable).
    But Mike does not want experienced activists like me (or Greg) to be part of the Kasama community
    because our actions there threaten to unleash forces which he fears. If Mike cannot find some excuse
    to reduce participation from someone like me, he will either exaggerate some problem--or simply invent
    one--as justification for keeping me on permanent moderation and under the constant threat of
    a permanent ban from the entire community.

    Mike is dead-set against allowing the Kasama community to know about or participate in resolving
    moderation disputes. This is why Mike will not allow discussion of moderation disputes in the one
    thread which Mike has repeated claimed is for the purpose of discussing moderation. By repeatedly
    claiming that there is a thread to discuss moderation--and then refusing to allow moderation disputes
    to be discussed on that thread--Mike's actions have taken on a character that is fraudulent.

    Mike's actions, in being untruthful to the Kasama community, reveal that he is afraid of the Kasama
    community which he has spent so much time gathering together. The Kasama leadership group, which
    backs Mike to the hilt on this question, has also revealed that (1) it also is afraid of the Kasama community
    and (2) it is nothing but a rubber stamp which is unable to challenge Mike.

    Mike is a good man. He works hard to build the Kasama community. And Mike
    has a lot of useful insight in the development of a revolutionary community.
    But the actions of Mike (and the Kasama leadership) also reveal a weakness
    that will limit any effort to build a community of revolutionary activists
    who think for themselves: a fear of democratic rights or mass democracy within
    the community. The impact of this appears to be small now. It will eventually hit
    like a ton of bricks.

    Conclusion 2: Mike wants to be acceptable to social-democracy

    Mike's complaints against me are not without some materialist basis.
    At various times, I have repeated arguments, quoted myself, posted
    links, and made posts that were too long. But Mike (and many of
    the activists who post to Kasama) have done this exact same thing.

    Kasama, as a political formation, has become large enough to
    be subject to the same polarizing forces that will impact
    any political formation in class-divided society. Kasama has
    a "right opposition", best represented by Carl Davidson
    ("Progressives for Obama") and his allies and followers, who
    give us pretty "marxist" words to justify linking up with
    (and accepting direction from) the "progressive" section of
    the ruling class.

    Kasama also has a much less well developed "left opposition"
    that would like to see the Kasama community develop in a
    revolutionary direction. This left opposition consists of
    activists who take a more revolutionary position in some of
    the debates on the blog. But the more conscious and experienced
    section of this left opposition, who have greater clarity
    about what is going on (like Greg and me) have been prevented
    from posting to the blog (by moderation and threats) for
    behavior that is totally acceptable from the right opposition.

    Carl Davidson can post to the blog. I cannot. This is not
    because I post links and Carl does not. Carl posts links
    also. This is not because I sometimes repeat my arguments
    and Carl does not. Carl sometimes repeats his arguments
    also. Ditto for Mike. Mike posts links and repeats, etc.

    The difference is that I have enough experience to understand
    what is going on. The difference is that I have enough experience
    to make an effort to link up with others within the Kasama
    community to develop an organized and coordinated opposition
    to the social-democratic pressure pulling Kasama to the right.

    This is the real reason that Mike exaggerates relatively minor
    incidents: Mike understands that I know how to be effective.

    The politics that drive Mike's actions (it appears to me) is a
    striving to create a community that can call itself "revolutionary"
    and yet still remain acceptable to social-democracy.

    To many with a certain ideology, this represents the best of all
    possible worlds: the "revolutionary" edge of social-democracy.
    That has long been the political position of the RCP, from which
    Kasama emerged. The apple, as they say, does not fall far
    from the tree.

    That, at least, is the explanation that makes the most sense
    to me, and best fits everything that I have seen. Many readers,
    of course, will disagree.
    Updated 9th June 2011 at 03:46 by Ben Seattle
  4. Ben Seattle's Avatar
    ---- (part 4) ----
    My adventures as a constructive left critic ...

    (some of the many graphics I created to illustrate my posts on the Kasama bulletin board)

    Below: Artist's conception of the perils facing Kasama and similar projects.
    Many comrades see the danger of sectarianism, because in some ways it
    is closer to their daily activity. But the danger of reformism is actually far bigger.
    And reformism and sectarianism usually combine (see Avakian caricature below)
    to gobble up ambitious projects until there is nothing left but broken dreams and
    cynical hacks.

    Below: reduced-size version of some of the many graphics I used to illustrate posts on the bulletin board section of the Kasama site:

    Below: Artist's representation of Reformist and Sectarian diseases

    Below: A good example of how reformism and sectarianism combine: the RCP's "World Can't Wait" campaign

  5. Ben Seattle's Avatar
    I hope, soon, to post comments on the following Kasama document, titled "Sites of Beginning":

    .......... Part 1: Are Communist Openings Structural or Evental?
    .......... Part 2: Nodules of the Advanced
    .......... Part 3: Creating a Revolutionary Subject

    This, I believe, will get to the heart of the matter. Together, with comments on this document, I must describe, as best I am able, the contradictions of our movement.

    But, first, a quick note:

    I have described, in the posts above, the contradiction that led to the present situation, where I am prevented from participating on the Kasama blog. I have described this first, not because it is important, but mainly to get it out of the way. It is not important, by itself.

    Let me put this another way:

    My exclusion from the Kasama blog, by itself, is a small problem.
    However, it is a symptom of a big problem.

    All of this will become clear with time.

    So, having said that, what are the principal contradictions of our movement? What are the contradictions which we must grasp, and resolve, in order to move things forward?

    As I see it, we must focus on two contradictions:

    -- 1 --

    The contradiction between the need of the revolutionary movement for independence from the reformist ideology, tactics and social strata, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the pathetic and dysfunctional organizational forms that this independence has, so far, taken.

    -- 2 --

    The contradiction, in the movement, between the old and new way of doing things, with the old way represented by "fortress-like" organizational forms based on their ability to keep secrets and hide dysfunction, and the new way as being based on open and democratic communities and networks, political transparency and making effective use of the internet and social media.

    So now a few comments:

    These two contradictions can be expressed in many different ways. I am sure the particular words or phrases I use will develop. But, basically, we can see that the first contradiction describes the problem, and the second helps us see the solution.

    I was thrilled to see the report of the Black Orchid Collective because this represents motion and development in the movement aimed at resolving the first contradiction: here is an organization that has openly defied the reformist misleaders and made a concrete and powerful effort to place this opposition on a conscious basis. And yet this organization is also determined not to become the kind of typical cult that usually emerges when a group of activists begin to realize the depth of the rot in our movement and attempt to take arms against it.

    And I am thrilled, also, to see the impact that the revolution in communications is beginning to have on the more serious section of the movement.

    Oxygen is steadily increasing

    Activists today are going to achieve many forms of success that eluded activists of the 1960's (and the period since the sixties). This will not be because the activists of today are smarter or more dedicated than the activists of the past. I believe the fundamental reason for this is a change in the environment. There is more oxygen in the air today. I use the term "oxygen" as shorthand for the ease with which people can communicate information and ideas.

    The oxygen in our atmosphere, so to speak, is steadily increasing as the cost of digital hardware approaches the price of sand and the cost of software approaches the price of air. Some of the factors in the recent upsurge in motion against the police murder of John Williams help us (as I noted earlier) appreciate the magnitude of the coming transformation of the terrain of the class struggle:

    .... (1) the examples of the unfolding Arab Democratic Revolutions
    .... (2) the capture and widespread viewing of the video of the murder itself
    .... (3) the facebook invitation that led to the largest local action, and
    .... (4) the various blogs that make discussion between serious activists practical.

    The end of childhood

    For many decades, the best parts of the revolutionary left have, unfortunately, bore more than a passing resemblance to the childrens' crusade.

    The good news is that, as a result of this increase in the ability to easily communicate information and ideas, everything else is going to change. We will overcome our isolation. We will overcome our ignorance. Our movement will be losing is child-like, immature character as we enter a period where all the sects begin to evaporate.

    As this is happening, we will also learn to better understand, and confront, the movement powerbrokers who are controlled by our class enemy.

    And, the icing on the cake, will be that, as we learn to collaborate in focused and determined ways, we will be able to resolve the crisis of theory that has led to the paralysis of our movement. We will understand the nature of the society we are trying to create--and the nature of the revolutionary mass organizations that will allow us to connect to, and tap into the energy of, untold millions. And we will understand, in a materialist way (ie: rather than on the basis of hope, hype and abstract or religious faith), why our victory is inevitable.

    It is an exciting time to be alive. And I am deeply grateful to have an opportunity to participate in the struggle that will be unfolding in what, I believe, will be the proletarian century.

    Ben Seattle --
    [FONT=Arial]Information war wants to be free to serve[/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial]the struggle to overthrow bourgeois rule[/FONT]
    Updated 16th June 2011 at 09:44 by Ben Seattle
  6. Ben Seattle's Avatar
    Continued here on part 2:


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