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Kasama

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January 29, 2006

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nope

a big issue here is very different assessments on the "structures of domination within the movement."

And different assessments on the relative importance of line versus process.

I always feel like some people influenced by "identity politics" want a semi-permanent witchhunt against white racism -- on the (rather nationalist) assumption that all white people are (consciously or not) always racist (to one degree or another) and need to be treated with unrelenting suspicious.

Again (as someone mentioned) once you assume that everyone's remarks are inherently colored by "who they are" -- in a way that overshadows line -- then you are off into another non-materialist world.

Injecting another thought: the subjective idealism of identity politics is closely entwined to the subjective idealism inherent in all radical forms of bourgeois democracy (where you poll what people think in a process that doesn't inject or acknowledge or confront the issue of what is really real, or for that matter the issue of what it takes to arrive at what is really real.)

amen

Avakian in his memoir describes an interesting exchange with DH Wright (a former CPer who entered the national leadership of the RU.)

DH Wright and Avakian were struggling over the national question deep into the night. And at one point Wright jumps out with "No white person can tell me about being Black."

Avakian makes the point (then and now) -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that clearly if you are talking about perceptual knowledge, that living as a Black person means you have a profound and distinct experience -- that, obviously, no white person has. But on another level, on the level of synthesis, on line, on analysis -- the correctness and incorrectness of what people have to say is not rooted in their personal experience and (in fact) Avakian did have a lot to say to Wright (who, it turned out more and more, had a profoundly mistaken line on the Black national question, and on many related issues.)

That is one difference between perceptual knowledge and conceptual knowledge (including that which is synthesized as analysis and line). And it is a distinction that is so often blurred over -- as if people who experience oppression automatically "know about it."

And if you have ANY contact with the people you have a basis to clearly see that, in fact, experiencing something is not at all the same as understanding it.

Non Serviam

This "if at first you don't succeed in a line discussion, invoke the Avakian personality cult again" approach of RCP partisans is getting very, very tired.

Amen, you dismiss as "identity politics" a principled criticism/self-criticism that brings up a very real, very *political* (and not merely tactical) problem of the manner in which voluntarism, particularly when practiced by a dominant group ends up *distorting line*.

Really, this is just the white version of identity politics - ignore the criticism, retreat toward a given honcho, and from that honcho *don't even bother to provide actual theory* but rather use some anecdote used to show what the honcho would say. Well, to paraphrase an old scientists' saying: the plural of anecdote *is not* theory. It's just subjectivism, barely warmed over.

the burningman

Well, that's all fascinating -- but as it's going it has fairly little to do with the document in question.

There is a discussion about identity politics to be had, and it is possible to tie it into a discussion of "stage" theories of consciousness and organizing -- but I don't see that happening here.

I promise a dedicated thread in the next few weeks -- probably starting with a discussion of the "where's the color" articles by Betita Martinez, their intentions and effect. Save it.

This deft diversion is a good illustration of the point Eric was making about the unreliability of internet discussion. Hot-button rhetoric tends to derail engaged back-and-forth.

Maybe we can bring it back around.

There is an actual document posted, with analysis and suggestion.

Christopher Day

Even if this thread was something of a digression from the original document, I think its been an instructive one.

Eric should be commended for very ably defending FRSO's practice from some of the caricatures of it here. These sorts of sloppy accusations suggesting that FRSO is made up mainly of union officials and non-profit staffers seem to me a reflection of how tossing around terms like "Menshevik" saves some people the work of really investigating what other groups DO.

That said, there is also a reason that FRSO might be perceived as not arguing publicly for socialism, communism or revolution. On the one hand its a reflection of the low-profile nature of a lot of their work -- they wage the ideological battles in conversations with ones and twos rather than engaging in inappropriate speechifying at public meetings. On the other, it must be said that there is precious little in the public documents of the organization -- including the one that started this discussion -- that ever speak about socialist revolution. There is an orientation in these documents towards providing guidance to radicals doing anti-war work, and in this regard I have found most of FRSO's statements useful, but there isn't much in the way of addressing the link between how radicals conduct mass anti-war work and the larger objective of making socialist revolution. And there is even less in the way of analysis of the world situation.

I'm not convinced that the RCP's analysis of the overall world situation is actually correct. But I do appreciate that they seem to have one and to appreciate the importance of getting people to think about things at that level. This is especially so when we are in a period of such volatility

a comment

BM writes: **Well, that's all fascinating -- but as it's going it has fairly little to do with the document in question.**

1) Who says this thread is about "the document in questions"? Discussions like this are often about many things.

2) The first response to "the document in question" pointed out its lack of idealism. And off of Eric's remarks (about this "forum") people on the thread had dug into the queston of subjective idealism of identity politics and people fixated to various degrees with bourgeois democracy.

BM writes: **There is an actual document posted, with analysis and suggestion.**

Yes, but...Is the only way to respond to a document to dig in on its proposals on its own terms? Or is there a validity to respond to a criticism of its methodology (and make that the thread)?

To put it anothe way: the FRSO doc sees all freedom and no necessity on the part of the U.S. ruling class. The invasion of Iraq is just an idea, a desire, a scheme. (Which suggests they could just lay it down when the going gets rough.)

The whole analysis is imbued with unspoken assumptions about how the electoral system works, about the "agency of the state," about the likelihood of a pendulum swing back, about the idea that "low popularity polls" of the proesident means he is "on the ropes."

NOne of this is new or unfamiliar -- it is right of the pages of The Nation or Moveon.org.

And yet while this president is "on the ropes" -- he gets Alito on the court, launches a nationwide campaign to brazenly defend warrentless wiretaps, and the rest of his SOU remarks.

There is a utilitarianism and a pragmatism in the assumption that the key thing with a document is to vet its proposals (and views a discussion of the methodology of this trend as a diverion, or perhaps doesn't even see that the discussion is actually ABOUT the "document in question." )

Final point: Chris is exactly right -- here is a discussion of how to be "antiwar" that doesn't give any importance to preparing the ground for a leap to a new society. For many people THAT is the main point. How do we discuss "proposals" seriously from outside that framework -- other than to point out the framework they are in?

a comment

i didn't mean

2) The first response to "the document in question" pointed out its lack of idealism.


I meant

2) The first response to "the document in question" pointed out its lack of materialism.

a comment

I did not understand any part of Non Serviam's remarks. (Maybe its me, maybe its Non Serviam.)

Take this part:

**Really, this is just the white version of identity politics - ignore the criticism, retreat toward a given honcho, and from that honcho *don't even bother to provide actual theory* but rather use some anecdote used to show what the honcho would say. Well, to paraphrase an old scientists' saying: the plural of anecdote *is not* theory. It's just subjectivism, barely warmed over.**

Huh?

(I'll ignore the cheap equating of leadership with "honchos" -- since I assume we can all see what that is about.)

The story that "Amen" recounted is precisely the theory here. Since the discussion is not narrowly about various views on the Black national question (that DH and BA may have fought over). This is a discussion of identity politics: and BA gets right to the heart of a key methodological problem with Identity Politics: the inflation of personal and direct experience **over** indirect experience.

For Identity Politics, direct experience is so paramount and so personal -- that no one who has not experienced it can even speak, or challenge, or question. And (i assume this is obvious) when epistemologically indirect experience gets demoted to un-important, then theory, synthesis, objective analysis and even common language falls away.

We have each "identity group" raging behind the Trojan walls of their own experience, with unique insights that others must accept without question.

And this is, of course, what identity politics in general (and here we HAVE gone far from Eric's off-hand remark, or FRSO) leaves as its legacy. Nothing is left of politics is self-determination -- and self-determination becomes an ideological thing -- the narrow right to define the ideas about "your oppression." (And politics, i.e. really in the real world determining what is going to happen programatically, just falls away... since everything is turned inward in a scramble over whose subjective summation gets to rule.)

This was not Amen's anecdote without theory. This was BA's memoir getting to the theoretical heart of that issue, using an anecdote. (And I have found much in that old struggle over Bundism, as I learned about it, that is startlingly, refershingly relevent and penentrating theoretically today, where the theoretical discussion over ending national oppression has been so vicerated by identity politics.)

Eric Odell

The various responders coming from the RCP point of view appear to have been well trained in erecting and demolishing straw men. This has been their main method of argument all the way through. "a comment"'s posts are just more of the same.

They also repeat their failure to apprehend the basics of dialectical materialism that characterized the very first comment by "reply1."

"Nope" wrote: "Again (as someone mentioned) once you assume that everyone's remarks are inherently colored by "who they are" -- in a way that overshadows line -- then you are off into another non-materialist world."

Nope is arguing here that line somehow emerges free from any entanglement with the surly bonds of earth. In Nope's view, there is no relationship between the material process through which ideas develop and the ideas that take shape out of it. Nope is arguing the *precise opposite* of dialectical materialism here. This is in fact a very stark metaphysical idealism.

Nope puts line and process in a metaphysical bipolar opposition to each other. FRSO and I get depicted -- incorrectly -- by Nope and others as believing that process is everything and line is nothing. Nope asserts that, instead, line is everything and process is nothing.

Let's take a look at the article from MR on Stephen Jay Gould that burningman has recently posted. It says, "Marx was well aware of human fallibility, and, like Francis Bacon and other scholars who laid the foundations for modern scientific thought, he argued that to overcome this fallibility we must explicitly recognize the social and psychological factors that inevitably distort our perceptions of the objective world." There is no magical means, not even through declaring allegiance to MLM or to Bob Avakian, that allows one to shake free of this fact.

The reality is that there is neither a metaphysical identity nor a metaphysical opposition between line and process. There is a *dialectical interrelation* between the two. The process within which line struggle occurs (prominently including the class, nationality, gender, etc. of those involved) plays a fundamental shaping role in the line that emerges. Conversely, of course, the line that guides that process of line development and struggle will determine what kind of process occurs and how productive it is.

I submit this whole discussion as an object lesson in both aspects of that interrelation.

Non Serviam

"a comment":

Leadership and honchoism are not one and the same. BUT they're not mutually exclusive either. Partly because leaders (with their contradictions) operate through the masses, and partly because masses (with their many contradictions) operate through leaders.

To wit: Lenin was a leader. Mao was a leader. Each was turned into a mere "honcho" in the hands of Nikita Khruschev and Lin Piao - a hollow demigod for the purposes of capitalist-road demagogues. These phenomena are exactly what the last stanza of the Internationale - "No saviour from on high delivers" - warn us against, and you ignore it at your own (and the masses') peril.

"Amen" brought up a moment of anecdotal information from Avakian's memoir. Now, leaving aside the question of whether the anecdote is factual or made of whole cloth, anecdotes are not theory -- that is, they're entirely subjective, framed by both the passions of the moment and the accumulated passions at the time of the writing. Then further, we have the problem of anecdote v. anecdote: Avakian says one thing. I am sure that Wright would say quite another thing. The theory then becomes merely a question of a subjective "who do you believe?" or even more subjective "who do you WANT to believe?", rather than who has been proven correct objectively.

In short, what you and Amen, are leading toward is the very thing they've condemned: that is, treating an already subjective anecdote and filtering it further through your own subjectivity. This problem - of treating theory as simply a "narrative" - is the very basis of identity politics and other post-modern claptrap. That it is the "narrative" of a white person (filtered through the subjectivity of another white person) does not make it any less identity politics - and if anything, that this replicates the everyday nonsense of "Great White Man" narratives that pass for History lessons (e.g. teaching about the American Revolution through some convoluted "narrative" about George Washington and his cherry tree) just makes it all the more noxious.

Now, none of this is to knock Avakian for writing his memoirs - indeed, I was personally thrilled that previously opaque history was made a bit transparent. But it has to be understood in its proper context - as a fundamentally *agitational* material (for the RCP) and *propaganda* (for the audience beyond the RCP) that is sprinkled with theory.

Putting it forth as a primarily theoretical document, on the other hand, makes the same mistake as identity politicians and cultural nationalists like Maulana Karenga, made with presenting Autobiography of Malcolm X as a theoretical rather than an agitational and propaganda text.

nope

I wrote: "Again (as someone mentioned) once you assume that everyone's remarks are inherently colored by "who they are" -- in a way that overshadows line -- then you are off into another non-materialist world."

Eric writes in answer: "Nope is arguing here that line somehow emerges free from any entanglement with the surly bonds of earth. In Nope's view, there is no relationship between the material process through which ideas develop and the ideas that take shape out of it. Nope is arguing the *precise opposite* of dialectical materialism here. This is in fact a very stark metaphysical idealism."

I am accused of arguing-by-strawman. But in reply I just ask that people read these two paragraphs carefully.

Eric : "Nope is arguing here that line somehow emerges free from any entanglement with the surly bonds of earth."

Actually no. I didn't argue that, and don't.

i am arguing that some people think WHO YOU ARE defines the value of what you say, not the CONTENT of what you say. A

nd that IF (IF!) you go there, you are off in a non-materialist world (where theory, truth, synthesis, and even changing the world fade in importance).


Eric writes: "In Nope's view, there is no relationship between the material process through which ideas develop and the ideas that take shape out of it."

Talk about strawmen! Look again at what I wrote.

The issue is not whether process matters but WHICH PROCESS AND STANDARDS are the ones needed to arrive at truth. The issue is that some people (apriori) insist on a particular process -- separate from whether or not that process will produce truth.

(You are going into battle during the Chinese revolutionary war.... Mao is leading, which is one of the few factors on your side... and someone says: "I think we should have a woman leader for a while." Because Mao after all was classically trained and educated, he was a male in a patriarchal society... Can you imagine what the soldiers would think of such a proposal? Those who genuinely wanted to win and overthrow all oppression -- including that of women in China and the world! Process over line -- that is what we are discussing. Where the content and correctness of mao's line is less important that the petty bourgeois democracy of having a woman leader for a while.)

(Or let me give you another example: Workers World Party put out a book on Harpers Ferry -- a key battle that opened the door to the U.S. Civil WAr. This battle was conceived and led by John Brown -- one of the great revolutionaries of U.S. history. But this was a white guy leading a movement for the emancipation of Black people -- and this fact is deeply offensive to people trained in identity politics. So what does WWP do? They write the book about one of the Black lieutenants of John Brown, and raise him to the level of Brown -- not because this actually reflects reality in a truthful way, cuz it don't. But because it fits their sense of how things should have been, and it reflects the standards that they think should be applied now.)

In fact, identity politics has no interest in truth --- and often no belief in objective reality. The point of process is to empower, to avoid offense, to grant formal equality, to promote relativism, to create feifdoms... and to raise direct experience and perceptual knowledge above synthesis.

So what is the relationship between process and ideas (or, more importantly, between process and the emergence of correct ideas)?

I will say this -- if we try to "develop ideas" in a process that WEIGHS ideas by identity group, not by their relationship with reality -- then we truly have a process that guarantees incorrect ideas.

Then Eric, in a relatively clear way, deacribes how he sees this issue:

"Let's take a look at the article from MR on Stephen Jay Gould that burningman has recently posted. It says, "Marx was well aware of human fallibility, and, like Francis Bacon and other scholars who laid the foundations for modern scientific thought, he argued that to overcome this fallibility we must explicitly recognize the social and psychological factors that inevitably distort our perceptions of the objective world." There is no magical means, not even through declaring allegiance to MLM or to Bob Avakian, that allows one to shake free of this fact. The reality is that there is neither a metaphysical identity nor a metaphysical opposition between line and process. There is a *dialectical interrelation* between the two. The process within which line struggle occurs (prominently including the class, nationality, gender, etc. of those involved) plays a fundamental shaping role in the line that emerges. Conversely, of course, the line that guides that process of line development and struggle will determine what kind of process occurs and how productive it is."

There is much to say about this. (some of which I wrote above).

But let's just leave it at this: There is a great body of postmodern writing that exposes how even the most advanced thinkers of any field and time are marked by the limitations of their time (and the available experience).

This is of course a truth -- and it is true of communists as well as other people who seek to understand the world.

Marxists see this as part of the dynamic between relative and absolute truth -- where we struggle to understand the dynamics of the world (in order to transform it) but where (by the nature of things) we can only grasp it partially. There is always more to learn, there are always errors on various levels to overcome, there are always understandings that prove contradictory and relative.

But there is a tendency (and haven't we all seen it?) to use that to open the door of relativism. Where it is said: "We are all marked by our prejudices, so what are you but an expression of the prejudices of your class, background and time." Where ideas are not compared to reality, where correct and incorrect fade to irrelevance, and where the point to be made is that we actually can't approach the truth because we inevitably remain trapped in the subjective walls of our own experience and background.

Of course process matters -- for example democratic centralism (remember that?). That is not just an organizational form made necessary by the hostile conditions of class struggle -- but is also made necessary by a materialist epistemologically -- where the summation of practice can only be done. And one key point in democratic centralism is that the views of people are not organized by "social and psychological factors."

No. lines and ideas should be rather ruthlessly evaluated by what they will mean in the real world (using the method of "compare and contrast").

To put it another way, the following words are just a way of putting YOUR views into the mouth of Marx: "Marx was well aware of human fallibility, and... argued that to overcome this fallibility we must explicitly recognize the social and psychological factors that inevitably distort our perceptions of the objective world."

ACtually Marx's main point in his work and methodology on this was NOT that we needed to endlessly navel gaze at our "social and psychological factors" (puleez!) But that we needed to climb the steep and difficult slopes of science to grasp its breathtaking vistas. How do we become as objective as possible? by agonizing (in a "self-cultivationist way") over our class background and white skin privilege? Puleez again.

We need to do the work -- grapple with reality in its motion and contradiction, actually apply scientific methods, including criticism and self-criticism, ruthlessly sum up practice and past experience (in light of our communist goals).

The communist approach is precisely not to sequester various comrades according to "social and psychological factors" (women here, gay people there, black folks over here) and then assume that "your factors make you better suited to understand this...."

The CP was notorious for the idea of "class instinct" -- which meant that ideas were evaluated exactly by "social and psychological factors" -- as if the ideas of "working class comrades" should be weighted more heavily, and the ideas of "petty bourgeois comrades" should be subject to premanent suspicion... and so on. (While in fact their whole method was a arather systematic assault on ALL critical thinking and real communist theory.)

This quote from Eric and the whole argument it is part of is PRECISELY familiar because it is so common and axiomatic among identity politics.

*****

Let me just add, that though Eric and NS seem oddly pissed in this whole exchange -- i'll repeat what someone said earlier: that there is a lot of "talking past each other" -- where the critique of ideas is seen as personal affront.

Speaking for myself, I am learning from this. I think there is value to the exchange. I don't find it "tedious" and I think anyone reading it carefully and with an open mind will be able to sort out that there are real differences here about how to approach and understand reality.

In that light, i have to say that everything NS types out amazes me, because it seems so obviously mistaken (on the surface, even) that I have trouble understanding how someone could write it.

For example his response to Amen. Amen was commenting on Avakian's argument against identity politics (which Avakian told in the form of a remembrance of an early meeting with DH WRight.)

NS writes: "Amen brought up a moment of anecdotal information from Avakian's memoir. Now, leaving aside the question of whether the anecdote is factual or made of whole cloth, anecdotes are not theory -- that is, they're entirely subjective, framed by both the passions of the moment and the accumulated passions at the time of the writing. Then further, we have the problem of anecdote v. anecdote: Avakian says one thing. I am sure that Wright would say quite another thing. The theory then becomes merely a question of a subjective "who do you believe?" or even more subjective "who do you WANT to believe?", rather than who has been proven correct objectively."

I can't imagine how anyone can think this.

There was a theoretical point here -- that BA was making. It was about the difference between perceptual knowledge and synthesised theoretical knowledge.

Now, BA made that theoretical point in the FORM of an anecdote embedded in a memoir.

But the point is theoretical.

This anecdote is BOTH a description of a particular moment in time (the conversation between DH and BA) and in it BA makes a theoretical point (in what he said to DH, and then in the retelling of that remark to us.)

And (though NS doesn't seem like he gets this) the truth or falsehood of the theoretical point is independent of the "narrative" (i.e. the story itself). BEcause, after all, the question of whether or not Avakian is right about how synthesized theoretical knowledge is different from perceptual knowledge is NOT DEPENDENT ON whether or not DH Wright would agree with the story of how that evening went.

And talk about strawmen: NS writes that "putting [this memoir] forth as a primarily theoretical document...."

I don't think Amen treated this memoir as a theoretical document. He merely made the point that there was one story there that made a relevant theoretical point. And there are many such points made in that memoir, though that is not its primary purpose -- and neither is its point "agitation" or "propaganda" as NS claims. This book is the story of a person, a leader, who he is, how he developed, what he cares about, what influenced him, what he has done. It is a memoir by a communist leader and about that leader. And it is quite personal in many ways for that reason even though (obviously) the life of this person is entwined with political events and insights throughout.

Christopher Day

Eric and Non Serviam's comments are on point. I read that passage in Avakian's memoir and I winced.

I didn't wince because Avakian was arguing that a white man could have a better line on the African American national question than a black man. Obviously this is true. What made me wince was precisely the idealist separation of line and practice.

It is easy to knock down tha strawman of "identity politics" reduced to sloppy relativism. But its not a serious engagement with the very real problem of who participates in what organizational forms and discussion spaces and how revolutionary leadership with roots in oppressed communities is developed And thinking that it is, thinking that this is what the issue is about, is itself an expression of white chauvinism.

I don't know DH Wright, but I suspect that the reduction of his philosophical position to that of a cartoon of a freshly radicalized 19 year old nationalist with a chip on his shoulder is probably a bit wide of the mark. As an anecdote it doesn't pass the smell test, but in TELLING it (putting it in a published memoir no less) Avakian comes off as very arrogant. Taken at face value Avakian's "point" isn't wrong, but it isn't deep either, and the fact that he thinks it is deep, and that he thinks it cuts the gordian knot in a serious dispute on the national question within a revolutionary organization says much more than what Avakian probably thinks this story conveys.

Christopher Day

Nope makes the point that "the truth or falsehood of the theoretical point" (in Avakian's story) "is independent of the 'narrative' (i.e. the story itself)."

And indeed it is. But the point that Nope seems to miss is that the story, precisely because it is a story, contains meaning in addition to the truth value of the theoretical point. It contains information that helps us see what Avakian thinks are the practical implications of the theoretical point.

I use anecdotes to convey theoretical points all the time, but I understand that by doing so I leave myself open to having what I say evaluated as narrative and there isn't anything intellectually slippery in doing so. Indeed such challenges are critical precisely for figuring out what the real practical meaning of a theoretical conclusion is.

Nobody here is arguing for the kind of identity politics that nope is attacking. So the arguments made against them don't really matter. They might apply to someone else (and indeed they do) but they aren't grounded in a real attempt to investigate and understand what the politics of FRSO actually are. They are rather arguments against a mythologized version of those politics as nope presumably learned about them from the RCP.

nope

just some points:

"a white man could have a better line on the African American national question than a black man. Obviously this is true."

This is a point in question. and I note you agree with Avakian on this. And (need I say) it is not "obviously true" -- it is rather controversial.


"What made me wince was precisely the idealist separation of line and practice."

How so? Avakian had years of protracted personal practice around this -- and led an organizatoin that was deeply involved in such practice.

Further line does not develop in some linear way "from practice" of the people involved. To develop a correct understanding of the Black national question relquires more than "practice" -- it requires study of history, and current politics, the economic structures of the u.s. past and present, and a study (for example) of the national question thorughout the world. (One issue of that time was whether the Black national question in the u.s. was a "colonial question" and whether African American people lived in "the colony" -- with all the strategic and political implications that analysis would have brought with it, or whether they were "an internally oppressed nation within a multinational country."

Chris writes: "It is easy to knock down tha strawman of "identity politics" reduced to sloppy relativism."

I don't think that pointing out the sloppy relativism of identity politics is a strawman. It is rife and ripe. Here in NYC i saw it first hand in SLAM (just to mention one place among many). I can't imagine you didn't.

"But its not a serious engagement with the very real problem of who participates in what organizational forms and discussion spaces and how revolutionary leadership with roots in oppressed communities is developed And thinking that it is, thinking that this is what the issue is about, is itself an expression of white chauvinism."

Did something get cut out of this paragraph? I'm not sure what "the issue" is in some unique singular sense. I do think that identity politics and its awful effects is AN issue that pulls progressive people toward fragmentation, impotence and reformism. To me identity politics is the ideological superstructure of "don't come between me and my cut of the pie, mutherfucker."

Chris writes: "I don't know DH Wright, but I suspect that the reduction of his philosophical position to that of a cartoon of a freshly radicalized 19 year old nationalist with a chip on his shoulder is probably a bit wide of the mark."

Hmmmm. Well, no "cartoon" was presented in what I wrote -- nor I'm sure in BA's anecdote. DH Wright was not some fresh 19 year old! But a rather notoriously cynical hard-bitten ex-CP who was one of the older people in that movement. And further, as I pointed out, this quoted by me as a point around perseptual vs. conceptual knowledge -- not really some comment on DHWright personally (let the dead bury the dead).

"As an anecdote it doesn't pass the smell test, but in TELLING it (putting it in a published memoir no less) Avakian comes off as very arrogant."

Wow. The "smell test"? So now you can identify and reject analysis and events without data (or even a pretence of a counterstory?)

"Taken at face value Avakian's "point" isn't wrong, but it isn't deep either."

First, it is significant that you say it "isn't wrong." I note the unity.

As for whether it is deep: All the chatter about "white left" and "white leaders" is not influential where you are? There isn't an assumption among some that "until we get ourselves together and develop some of our own leadership, nothing is possible?"

There aren't people around you who think leadership should be apportioined by gender and nationality? Or that positions on gay politics should be determined first by a gay caucus?

How many people around you understand that the Black liberaiton struggle can (and hopefully will) be led to victory under the leadership of a communist (who happens to be of Euro ancestry)?

Look, let me put it like this: Many analyses of black liberation emerged from the 1960s (Huey, Eldridge, James Foreman, karenga, Malcolm, Baraka, Jesse Jackson, Harry Haywood, Stokely, even Lani Guenier.... and Bob Avakian). How controversial is it to point out that Avakian's analysis of Black liberation stands head and shoulders above anything else that developed -- that it alone charts a road from hellish oppression to liberation. And it alone wrangles correctly with the profound (real world) contradictions of self-determination in a multinational state, the question of oppressed nations and a single multinational working class, the issues of multiple revolutionary parties vs a single vanguard, the question of how to unite the movement for socialism with the movement for national liberation... and so on.

I'll tell you what I think: I think that not only would that be controversial but shocking for many people you work with... not mainly because they are familiar with his work on this and have an opinion. But because the very deeply ingrained assumptions of identity politics have trained some forces to reject (apriori) the notion that a "white man" can cut through the shit, and chart the way to Black liberation and socialism.

This runs against the current of a powerful (and too-rarely challenged) trend. And that is what makes BA's seemingly-simple point to DH so deep.

Liberation takes conceptual knowledge -- the steep slopes of communist theory -- which is not the same of knowing deeply what the experience itself is (however important and painful and exhilerating that direct experience is!)

The explanation of what is wrong about identity politics philisophically isn't deep?

Well it was for me. it was an "a-ha" moment for me. (Which is why i repeated it.)

To quote you (not BA) -- for me at least, it did "cut a gordon knot" that had locked my own views up in a dead end.

Chris writes: "Nobody here is arguing for the kind of identity politics that nope is attacking."

No one here thinks leadership should be apportioned by gender and nationality? Or that communist organizaitons should have gay caucuses? Or that it is inherent that correct strategic thinking on Black liberation can only come ("organically") from within the Black community and some future ferment there?

Really?

Chris writes: "They might apply to someone else (and indeed they do) but they aren't grounded in a real attempt to investigate and understand what the politics of FRSO actually are. They are rather arguments against a mythologized version of those politics as nope presumably learned about them from the RCP."

Just to be clear on this: I have never heard anyone from RCP discuss FRSO. Ever. Simply never heard it. I'm not sure why, but perhaps they don't think is FRSO significant. More the point, they odn't live (mentally) in a thought world defined by other "left" trends. (I have never heard anyone dig far into WWP either, etc.)

So I think you are projecting.

As for myself, I don't pretend to know or sum up FRSO's practice.

I was responding to what was written here -- the assumptions about forums "dominated by white educated men" and then the subsequent remarks.

Eric's statement was a particular sharp capsulation of identity politics for me

"The reality is that there is neither a metaphysical identity nor a metaphysical opposition between line and process. There is a *dialectical interrelation* between the two. The process within which line struggle occurs (prominently including the class, nationality, gender, etc. of those involved) plays a fundamental shaping role in the line that emerges."

The idea that in a line struggle you have to "prominently" calculate the class, nationality and gender of the participants and that this ispresumed to "plays a fundamental shaping role" in the development of politics. (And there is, not surprisingly, no mention of reality -- of actually grasping and developing ideas that correctly reflect the real world, and can be tested and refined on that basis.) This (and similar statements in this thread) are precisely what I consider to be "identity politics," pretty sharply and clearly laid out.

How fully such views permeate and defeine FRSO generally -- perhaps others will speak to it. I couldn't speak to that, and wouldn't want to muddy the water with speculation.

nope

for clarity:
I didn't intend to post here regularly... so just grabbed whatever name i wanted when i posted.

But since we have a thread... let me mention that I posted as both "nope" and "amen." grabbing whatever nick came to mind.

I'll stick to "nope."

Shoulda done that earlier... but I kept thinking this thread would end.

the burningman

"Nope" -- if you're going to post from time to time, you can get a better name than that!

Most interesting to me in this discussion is not the question of identity politics, per se.

-----

Does sectoral work, say among the working class or oppressed nations, need to take place primarily along the lines of what it is that defines the "identity" of that grouping?

So abortion defense is conducted among women, anti-police brutality with young Black and Latino men, econimist organizing among workers...

This is a crucial question -- particularly when the cardinal questions in society are deeply political.

Is "black power" the means to black liberation? Or is "feminism" the philosophy of ending the gender caste system once and for all?

Or are the forms of social oppression deeply and intrinsically bound up (in a Gordian knot!) with the entire system?

Can we win partial victories against social systems? Even if we can, what would be their content if the system remains intact?

Can't gains (such as the broad acceptance of women's role in public life) be brought back within the system of imperialism? Haven't they been since the sixties more or less?

This is the question of "leading from the middle" versus "re-polarization," as argued by Avakian.

The noticable paucity of identity-based formations in the post-911 climate needs to be discussed.

I watched many students at CUNY, for example, attempt to continue organizing around access issues to higher education while students were arguing about immigrant detentions, war and how to defeat Bush. What would seem to be the "issue" that speaks to "everyday people" was in fact not -- because everyday people don't just have everyday concerns.

I also don't think the issue is whether or not to have mass organizations/movements organized among affected groups. That's going to happen -- the question is the political lines those groups carry out.

nope seeks a name

good questions.

In particular you are getting at the strategic implications.

Black liberaiton will not (fundamentally and ultimately) "come from a Black thing." Though it will involve power for the masses of Black people.

The point communists make (including Mao himself when he spoke on this) is that Black liberation will come from a broad alliance of the masses fighting for socialism and (as a central part of that) for an end to national oppression.

Haven't you even had trouble discussing this with people influenced by identity politics and nationalism?

They often can't even "go there" -- in part because the idea of "liberation" is so tied to "self" that it is hard to imagine anyone else really supporting (or dying for) the liberation of Black people.

And the logic of that kind of nationalism is pessimism and capitulation (i.e. you just see the U.S. as a majoritarian sea of opponents.)

the burningman

Well, Malcolm X didn't just see a "majoritarian sea of opponents" -- he re-cast black liberation in an international framework.

Who's the minority then? Imperialists and those who profit from it, or the masses of people around the world?

This is a deep lesson for those of us in the belly of the beast that has deeply internationalist implications.

I've had experiences where we can't "go there," but I really have to add something else.

I've experienced know-it-alls who didn't know much coming into movements to explain how simple it would be if we all did XYZ. They were overwhelmingly white and male. I've been guilty of it myself.

Two things I learned from working with the Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM) was that "politics" is about real human relationships, not just ideas we adopt; and that people from oppressed (colonized, racialized) peoples need to learn how to lead. I've heard that called identity politics, and I don't believe that's right.

I've never been a partisan of terms like "people of color leadership." Leading where? Who? How? In NYC, we have Al Sharpton "leading" black people and Denis Rivera brokering 1199 for upstate political gain. Do they "represent" the people? Does their line?

Learning to see through demagogic appeals to the LINE that various leaders put out is a big part of how we're building a revolutionary movement. Challenging narrowness is important -- but recognizing that "truth" isn't partial or identity-based isn't the same as demonstrating it.

poster formerly known as nope

I note your experiences.

I don't doubt that you have (like me) run into know-it-alls (dogmatists who are lazy bones, commandists stepping off the carriage without investigations).

In my experience some have been "white and male" -- though I have also met some very narrow apriorists black nationalists who fit your description. It is not a matter of "social and psychological" factors mainly, but line.

Wanna oppose dogmatism? fine. Wanna try to solve it by having a two or three tier movement (a kind of reverse hierarchy) -- that is wrong... because it won't solve the problem. (As you point out with your point about "leadership where?"

Avakian talks aobut the "second model" ( rwor.org/a/021/avakian-three-alternative-worlds.htm ) that sees no further than turning this oppressed society upsidedown. ("Others have grabbed, let me grab too.)

So i'm not doubting the problem you mention, but I am raising that identity politics doesn't solve it. Nor do the other forms of "self-cultivation" that lie at the heart of Eric's posting.

that people from oppressed (colonized, racialized) peoples need to learn how to lead. I've heard that called identity politics, and I don't believe that's right.

You write: "politics is about real human relationships, not just ideas we adopt; and that people from oppressed (colonized, racialized) peoples need to learn how to lead. I've heard that called identity politics, and I don't believe that's right."

I think this is confused at best. Politics is about power, fundamentally -- seizing and wielding state power to emancipate humanity through continuing revolution. And so (while it is undeniable that it involves "real human relationships"), a burning and decisive issue is also which line leads -- where is this struggle going, for what. And that is about ideas. The idea that "politics is relationships" is confusing at best -- and doesn't break with the eclectics Eric raises about process and line.

We are not partisans of the Kantian imperitive -- where the immediate human relation becomes an inviolate diktat. We think ends determine means, but we don't think "the movement is everything, and its personal relationships determine where we end up."


You say "people from oppressed (colonized, racialized) peoples need to learn how to lead."

You have left out the question of the proletariat, and the mental-manual contradiction which is fundamentally at the heart of the issue here. (Not just or mainly Fanon psychology of colonized people... etc.) And yes, that is a real issue -- where the people need to "make themselves fit to rule" through a difficult and unfortunately protracted process -- that starts now and continues through the whole socialist transition. Yes, i don't consider that concern "identity politics."

But it is also not solved THROUGH idenity politics (simply declaring that the oppressed lead, and whatever they spontaneously think and want represents that leadership.) Think about where that leads over and over (as the example of the CP fanning working class economism as a club within its own ranks shows.)

NonServiam

"Self-cultivation" didn't come up in any of Eric's posts, PFKAN, and in that you continue to use a strawman, "When did you stop beating your wife?" argument.

And as for your reply to burningman: you've missed the point. I believe it safe to assume that burningman knows that the overthrow of the bourgeois dictatorship comes through revolution - and that the revolution is itself an exercise of power.

But what burningman hints at is that the power of a revolution comes from the joining of the vanguard party to the masses. If one takes one's time in reading Mao, rather than glossing over it, one sees that he described it precisely the way burningman just did. Take this passage (from "On the Chungking Negotiations"):

"All comrades going to the front should be mentally prepared, once there, to take root, blossom and bear fruit. We Communists are like seeds and the people are like the soil. Wherever we go, we must unite with the people, take root and blossom among them. Wherever our comrades go, they must build good relations with the masses, be concerned for them and help them overcome their difficulties. We must unite with the masses; the more of the masses we unite with, the better. We must go all out to mobilize the masses, expand the people's forces and, under the leadership of our Party, defeat the aggressor and build a new China."

Note that the portion about the leadership of the Party comes AFTER taking root and blossoming, through good relations, unity with the masses, in helping them overcome their difficulties. And moreover, that Mao was careful to choose his phrasing - it is NOT that the leadership ends the difficulties, as if by fiat. It helps the masses, so that the masses themselves overcome their difficulties.

This is the human relationship that burningman was talking about. To deny the necessity of this human relationship is to deny the necessity of the masses to the revolution.

the burningman

...which would, of course, be Trotskyism.

I'm tempted to call the poster "formerly known as nope" by a new name: "The Negation of the Negation."

Somehow I think he'd take issue with it. ;-))

He is going to make me defend Fanon, and probably a few other people like Ella Baker... and Mao Zedong.

Capitalism isn't an ideology. It's a social system that produces VARIOUS ideologies which all follow its logic, tendency and limits.

The idea that socialism is an idea is very dangerous. It can confuse things tremendously by the seduction of a clear light in the mind.

Thano Maceo Paris

I wanted to add some comments to this discussion specifically targeted at a core theme of the position paper, namely the election cycle and the relationship of the social movements to the election cycle. First I just want to preface this by saying that I have a lot of love and respect for FRSO and I want this to be taken in that spirit. I draw a lot of inspiration from what they do and feel a deep political unity with them around the core principles of left refoundation, and the key to socialist revolution as the fight against white supremacy.

Some of what I'm going to say may come off as being derived from a sectarian line of argument but I'm going to do my best not to fall into playing that role. It's a bit confusing and at one time I misunderstood it myself-maybe I still haven't completely gotten it.

This is a seriously misleading document and it reflects in my view a basic contradiction in the political line of FRSO on electoral politics and the Democratic Party. If you read the two main FRSO Unity Statements you'll see that they state that they support political action independent of the two capitalist parties, the development of a labor party, and efforts toward making the system here in the US more multiparty etc. They also state that they support efforts to put pressure on politicians, and hold others accountable to a progressive political program. This involves supporting progressive forces in the Democratic Party.

The problem is that only the last part of their position that I've referred to here in my last sentence really finds full expression in their political practice. FRSO endorsed and played an active part in building Jesse Jackson's campaigns in '84 and '88 but it has not done similarly with any other national third party effort. (In general FRSO has not been involved in building the Greens.) This is not to say that individual members have not voted for such candidates--but as far as putting its organizational weight behind such efforts--it has largely not--based on what I have seen.

I view the question of the Democratic Party on the left as a touchstone one of sorts that has broader implications beyond the voting booth. I think that we saw this very graphically in the last election with the conservatizing effect that ABB had on the anti-war movement. For me this is mainly a question of breaking with the two capitalist parties and the political framework that they represent--not support for a 3rd party like the Greens per se--Bob Avakian has an excellent talk on this called "The Pyramid of Power". This basic theme is also taken up in a great RW article on Howard Dean.

Anyway, if you read this FRSO paper you will see that they make seemingly serious warnings about the dangers of this for the anti-war movement. The problem is that they fudge the central political issues here. Let's take a close look:

In the next six months we are going to feel enormous pressures to bury not only such legislatively targeted efforts, but our whole movement and our main demands deep, deep, deep. What we face in 2006 is a coming together of factors into an objective push to subordinate the anti-war/anti-occupation struggle to the liberal cause of breaking the Republican stranglehold on government.

The traditional institutional and social base of the Democratic Party -- social reform and humanitarian organizations, the lawyers, the trade unions, the Black establishment, the liberal petty bourgeoisie -- are desperate. They have to block the losses that another two years of Republican control of the executive, legislative and, increasingly, judicial branches will bring with them. And they don't want to provide targets for the Republicans' most likely line of counterattack, baiting the Dems as wussies, traitors, cut-and-run artists, soft on terrorism.

From Will The Occupation End

There are a couple of things to check out here. First FRSO credits MFSO and others with leading grassroots legislative lobbying efforts that have created political space for more Senators and Representatives to criticize the war and call for an “exit strategy”. It is tactics like these grassroots lobbying efforts that FRSO signals are in danger of being buried in the run up to the election. The reality is that “grassroots lobbying” and an election centered strategy share a similar overall outlook—and play a basically similar role in the anti-war movement. I was at a Georgia Coalition for Peace and Justice meeting two or three days ago and this very issue came up. The central danger in terms of the election is not backing off of grassroots lobbying-It’s backing off of mass street mobilization, strong counter recruitment and other direct action tactics that put the real heat and pressure on politicians. During the last election cycle UFPJ used voter registration, and related tactics as cover for this error. I’m also going to say something here that won’t be popular. You can lobby politicians all you want—They will really feel the heat when you refuse to vote for them or build your own political platform and efforts without relying on them. This is the historic lesson of the MFDP (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party).

Connected to all this is the alignment of political forces that FRSO lays out. They see MoveOn, DailyKos, Air America etc as “locked in combat with the DLC centrists”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. These forces are fronting for the DLC, and providing cover for them. A Sociology teacher once explained to me that the death squads, and contras tactics unleashed in Central America actively helped to shape and frame the Arias Accords “transition to democracy”—you have similar interrelationship of forces happening here. Some of the same people who started Air America were involved in the Christmas Coup Corporate takeover of Pacifica. As for Democrats criticizing the war it’s principally been criticism of the prosecution of the war, not the decision and commitment to go to war itself. Linked to this is the very real possibility that an end to the “occupation” won’t be an end to “the occupation” as such but to the US occupation-and its continuation by other means (i.e. the UN, Arab client states in the region etc). Many people will remember the “Vietnamization”/”Cambodianization” strategy under Nixon: “It’s “their” problem let them take care of it themselves and let us save our behinds”.

This is and has been one of the main debates in the ruling class that we saw in ’04 with Kerry calling for rebuilding the ‘coalition of the willing’—and now Bush invoking training and equipping the Iraqi army in the State of the Union. It would be the worst kind of betrayal if anti-war forces go to sleep on this fact and feel they can close up shop after the US leaves. We should keep in mind the example of the Catholic peace activists who even after the School of the Americas was renamed under Clinton have continued to engage in mass civil disobedience and campaign for the closing of that hideous institution.

Even putting all this in context I think that this statement represents a step forward for FRSO insofar as I really cannot recall any similar public statement issued by the organization to this effect in ’04 when ABB sentiment was at its height. This is another aspect of my differences with this paper. It asserts that the left got nothing for supporting Kerry who still won’t call for an end to the occupation—But did this stop members of FRSO from voting for and campaigning for Kerry—Or for calling for people not to waste their time on that effort then? No, it did not. They also praise the Nation magazine for taking a stand of “-- no support for any politician, no matter how critical the race may seem, who does not call clearly for an immediate end to the US occupation of Iraq.” As someone who supported and campaigned for Nader in ’04 I find this incredibly hard to swallow. The Nation and the rest of the liberal establishment abandoned him that year in spite of his call for an end to the occupation. The Nation ran a headline saying words to the effect “Ralph Don’t Run” and gave the campaign next to no positive press. I don’t equate support for Nader with applying the stand described by FRSO but I do think that the opposition and hostility to Nader on the part of the Nation was linked to their basic lack of principle on this question. For more on this see the article “The Camejo Vote” By Louis Proyect , and “Canceling a Subscription to the Nation” by the same author off the web site www.marxmail.org under the link to the archive of his articles, under the American Left section.

The unfortunate aspect of this is that they essentially open a back door to this same error. This is evident when they say that: “The traditional institutional and social base of the Democratic Party -- social reform and humanitarian organizations, the lawyers, the trade unions, the Black establishment, the liberal petty bourgeoisie -- are desperate. They have to block the losses that another two years of Republican control of the executive, legislative and, increasingly, judicial branches will bring with them. And they don't want to provide targets for the Republicans' most likely line of counterattack, baiting the Dems as wussies, traitors, cut-and-run artists, soft on terrorism.”

First of all, again, this is an inaccurate description of the “traditional institutional and social base of the Democratic Party”. The Democratic Party has a much longer, and substantial tradition in the US agricultural slaveholding south than many of the constituencies that are mentioned in that list. That’s something that changed relatively recently, post WW2, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But to bring it up to ’06 we could talk about the insurance companies, law firms, and the multinational communications media outlets that also have ties to the Democratic Party. They are right that Blacks, Latinos, and trade unions have to block the losses that Republican control will bring. The problem is that working for the Democrats will not do it!

Two very last points: FRSO talks mainly about ending the war from the perspective of forces within the US, and glosses over political and military developments within the resistance to the occupation in Iraq itself—and throughout the Middle East really (esp. Palestine). I say this in particular regard to the implications for national liberation struggles in the post cold war era. To me this reflects a wrong/incomplete application of the mass line. Chris Day hints at this shortcoming in one of his posts in this thread.(See the ORU pamphlet on the RCP for an example of the reverse problem.) Obviously our struggle as revolutionaries within the US is an international one, and should be treated and carried out as such. (I do believe the scant mention of Arabs, Muslims, forced deportations, and related attacks on the foreign born, here are linked to this.) Lastly I want to emphasize that I am not against working with liberals, and forces that aren’t fully anti-imperialist in their political consciousness, obviously there were many such folks around the Nader campaign. I just feel that when we engage with these forces we have to do so in a way that challenges and pushes them forward in much the way that the World Can’t Wait movement is doing right now as opposed to accommodating and adapting to them.

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