By NAT WINN
When explaining the Kasama Project’s orientation around reconception, our new statement of unity says:
We study history not to confirm what we already think, but to learn from those who have struggled before us. We also know that every revolutionary wave is new and that each generation must reconceive the communist project in the face of new conditions as well as in the light of previous successes and failures. The need for communist reconception is especially important in view of the failures and defeats suffered by the socialist revolutions of the 20th century. We do not believe that there is a ready-made body of revolutionary communist theory just waiting to be picked up and applied by us. We take seriously the need to develop new theory and new practices in response to new conditions.
With this in mind, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to write articles with an orientation toward reconception and an understanding of the necessity to develop new communist theory and practice.
A couple of questions come to mind, along with some initial thinking.
If reconception is an actual goal or function of a collectivity or communist group then how does that relate to how we write and to what type of articles we post on a website or publish in a journal?
Are we looking to just have “interesting new content on our site”?
Or should the articles we produce be consciously attempting to coherently reconceive communist theory?
Are we writing to uphold and discard things in relation to old verdicts, or are we writing to uncover from our social investigation, whether the social practice we reference when we write has created something that we can adapt, learn from, and adopt as part of the new synthesis we are setting out to develop?
Kasama has been grappling with some of these questions, but I think these questions are important for all revolutionary and communist groups who are working toward developing strategy that can lead to a communist organization that can viably contend for political power through revolution.
What is social practice?
When we talk about social investigation, this means going out and seeking to learn from a broad range of social practice.
Social practice refers to the political struggles of various social forces (and classes), but it also refers to a broader range of things. Social practice involves learning from all realms of accumulated human knowledge including from developments in science, philosophy, art, music, military strategy, and much more.
Social investigation can include the recent Baltimore trip that some Kasama comrades took to learn from the people living in West Baltimore. It can mean engaging philosophers like Badiou and Althusser. It can mean going onto college campuses to work with students and professors to learn from their insights into the social (and class) structure of the US, international relations and geopolitics, new developments in biology or physics, or going into factories, WallMarts, or Fastfood joints to learn about struggles in the work place. Historical research is also an important part of social investigation and of learning from previous human experience and knowledge.
All of these different areas of social practice are places where social investigation can be done and of course these are places from which we can forge links with and “fuse” with sections of the people. These are also all areas of human knowledge and practice from which we get the raw material to develop new theory relevant to our revolutionary aims in the 21st century.
What does this mean for communist writing?
It seems to me that when we write with an orientation toward the necessity for reconception (or new communist theory and practice), there are certain things that we should look to avoid and certain things that we should aim for.
I don’t think that at this early stage of a new communist movement that communist journalism should seek to “keep up” with the news cycle of the mainstream capitalist media. Sometimes we will want to speak about powerful events, like the uprisings of poor Black youth against police brutality, the wars in the Middle East, or the struggle of women against patriarchy in India or on college campuses in the United States. This is fine and good. However if our main focus is on developing new theory and strategy, our communist writing should not be focused solely on agitational statements regarding such events, but more on seeking to learn from such events.
What are the ideas and popular slogans emerging from the event? Who are the different social forces in the field? Where are the politically advanced located? What is the potential and opportunity for communist politics to emerge out of the event? What opportunities do imperialist war (including by proxy) present for revolutionary resistance by social forces constituted in response to such wars?
Of course a big part of being able to write like this on such events is immersing ourselves in particular struggles, movements, and communities. The above mentioned trip to Baltimore and a trip by some Kasama comrades to the Rio Grande Valley to talk to some of the immigrants living there are a beginning process of developing an understanding of the potential sites for areas and contradictions with society, that produce forces who are potentially amenable to communist fusion with sections of the people.
Book research and grappling strictly within the realm of theory is also an important part of our work. In relation to more theoretical pieces, I think a similar orientation is necessary. When we are writing about history, philosophy, political economy, science, or art – our framework should not be one of “a defense of previously held verdicts” or “rejection” based on (for example) a conflation of a given theorist’s political affiliations with that theorist’s actual theoretical project. Here an insight of the French philosopher Althusser, what he referred to as a ‘second reading’ becomes critical. This refers to not just reading a text one time filled with our own prejudices, but to go back again and tackle it on its own terms while trying to find the gaps, unspoken questions, etc.
I would propose that whenever we are writing about theory we should be looking at things with an eye toward what ideas we can adapt or learn from in developing our new theory. Such theoretical writing should also be a collective enterprise and should seek to reference past articles and discussions, within our own organizations and those of other communist groups as part of a process of developing deeper unity and synthesis and of working toward a collective sense of strategy and stronger forms of organization.
To say that there is a need to develop new theory and new practice in order to develop the type of organization and strategy needed to make revolution in our current times, and to cohere around a project that sees the development of such theory and practice as one of its main aims, creates certain implications about what we write and how we engage in writing.
Writing with an orientation toward the need for reconception is about engaging the broad range of accumulated human knowledge and practice and on the basis of that, making proposals within a collective framework about what areas of knowledge and practice can be adapted, learned from, and adopted within a new communist synthesis. This is a process that can work both within and across organizations as part of working toward a communist organization that can truly contest in the realm of real politics.