The War for Quadrant Two

Quadrant two will prove to be the quadrant of victory for the proletariat

► Whatever happened to the Kasama Project? – [WQ2.16.06.19]

Posted by Ben Seattle on June 19, 2016

Whatever happened to the Kasama Project?

Quick Summary:

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

But the apple did not fall far from the tree.

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

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

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

(more below underneath this graphic)


Additional notes:

I wrote extensively about the Kasama Project in 2010 and 2011. My work was generally not allowed on the main Kasama blog. I am giving links here to where most of it has been posted–on my older blog at RevLeft.

I am also posting (see below) some of the many associated graphics I made at the time.

But first–here is a link to Louis Proyect’s blog post on the topic, as well as some additional comments I made recently (as Ben Stevens) on facebook:

================ Louis Proyects’s post ================

Notes on the demise of the Kasama Project
Notes on the demise of the Kasama Project

================ Saturday, June 18 at 2:43pm ================

Hi xxx,

First, thanks for your reply. Your question is a good one.

> What are these hidden contradictions Ben?
> Let’s not talk in generalities since you’re
> calling this out. Please elaborate.

The way that facebook organizes the comments on this thread makes it difficult to follow, but I outlined the two most important contradiction in my reply to David xxx.

(1) There is the contradiction between (a) the need of the movement for a militant mass organization based on political transparency and (b) the cargo cult method of manipulation based on keeping people in the dark.

(2) There is the contradiction between (a) the need of the movement for independence from social democracy and (b) the fact that Kasama was based on an unprincipled alliance with a section of social democracy.

I wrote thousands of words about this, but my analysis was not available on the Kasama site (it is only posted on my old RevLeft blog–which is awkward to navigate) because Mike would delete my posts on the Kasama site.

Please feel free to follow up although it would be helpful if you were to first read my reply to David.

================ Saturday, June 18 at 2:23pm ================

Hi David,

You said:

> I think Louis (comment *down* from this one)
> is correct. Mike Ely was waaayyy too committed
> to defending the legacy of both Maoism
> ideologically and the RU/RCP experience
> specifically. By doing so he trapped his
> ability to understand it’s development in
> a kind of post-RCP dogma.

I agree with you about Mike. He left the RCP but never broke from it much ideologically. Part of the cargo cult mentality that he brought with him was a mistaken and irrational belief in the necessity of (to use Catherine’s words) an opaque & hierarchical organization.

After initially making a big splash as he used the internet to round up the dispora of ex-RCP supporters and inviting activists from all trends on the left to participate in open debate–he felt forced to gradually tighten things up and silence his critics. At the beginning he openly condemned the way the RCP made all real decisions behind closed doors. As things deteriorated he felt forced to do exactly the same thing. So he was in favor of democracy only as long as this democracy left him in charge.

This was probably the main contradiction within Kasama: the contradiction between the need of our movement for openness (ie: political transparency) and the cargo cult commitment to cult-like manipulation that cannot in the long term coexist with openness.

The other political contradiction within Kasama concerned its relationship with social democracy. Like the RCP, Mike was committed to a defacto alliance with sections of social democracy. The particular nature of the way it was done was that it could not be talked about openly and understood for what it was.

It is common in the left to attempt to create organization by gathering people together around “doing something” that will impress people–and can then be used to gather more people together–and then continuing this cycle. This approach has had some success in circumstances where sufficient pent-up outrage exists. But fundamentally, nothing real is going to be created until it is recognized that a genuine commitment to openness (and the kind of democracy that requires openness) is necessary to create the kind of organization which our class needs.

The contradictions that destroyed Kasama are not in any way unique to Kasama but more or less saturate the left. We need real organization–but the vast majority of those who proclaim the need for such an organization are in favor of either (1) creating an organization that is propped up by social democracy or (2) creating a cargo cult organization. But organizations that are propped up by social democracy will always be on the end of a bourgeois leash. And cargo cult organizations are doomed to fail and leave little but demoralization in their wake.

David asked:

> I just realized that we are talking about Mike as if
> he died a few days ago. WTF happened to him, anyway?

He is most likely demoralized and passive. It would be difficult for him to be active at this point without speaking to the colossal failure that he organized. He can either blame others or recognize that he had been committed to principles that made failure inevitable. I doubt he has sufficient humility for the later.

================ Saturday, June 18 at 5:15pm ================

… the bitter experience of activists who dedicate their life energy to assisting the revolutionary movement and organization of the proletariat–belongs to the movement. We need to learn from the experience of the past in order to avoid endlessly repeating the mistakes of the past.

During the time that the Kasama ship of fools was heading toward the rocks, I was very clear and warned about Kasama’s path to oblivion. Here are some of my public writings:

June 2011
(Notes to self, part 1) Kasama, Red Spark Collective and contradictions of the movement
(Notes to self, part 2) Kasama and the contradictions of the movement

June-July 2011
(Red Spark/ 1) New period and the internet/ primary contradictions /social-democracy
(Red Spark/ 2) The contradiction between the old and the new
(Red Spark/ 3) Why we must confront the crisis of theory
(Red Spark/ 4) The pitfalls of practice
(Red Spark/ 5) Democratic communication will replace “democratic centralism”

Jan 2011 — Ben replies to Mike Ely re: Moderation on the Kasama blog

June 2010 — (Kasama) What should Maoists do in the U.S.? (reply to David)

March 2010 — Kasama: Reply to Mike Ely on social-democracy and paternalistic community

March 2010 — Kasama — which path forward? (lots of graphics)

Sept 2010 — Mike’s tiers / defeating reformism (reply to blog), reply to recent blog postings

Sept 2010 — Recent posts to the Kasama bulletin board















6 Responses to “► Whatever happened to the Kasama Project? – [WQ2.16.06.19]”

  1. Sue Sponte said

    Dunno, not saying this is bs, but in recent years Mike was part of an ex-SWP Facebook group that has a couple hundred members where he was respected for his political seriousness and comradely manner. Not at all a sectarian cultist, rather he agreed with most of us on the need to break with that deleterious legacy. So not sure who you’re talking about.

  2. Hi Sue,

    Thanks for your comment. I will repost here the comment I just made in response to you on Proyect’s blog.

    You may be right that Mike, by his nature, was not inclined toward sectarian manipulative behavior. The problem is that he created a situation where material forces (larger than him as a person) tended to compel him to act that way.

    I should explain.

    One of the topics that sometimes comes up, in a situation like this, concerns how much of a difference is made by someone’s personal qualities–for example whether their conduct is characterized by humility or by arrogance. Clearly, personal qualities can make a significant difference–but, in my view, this is nearly always greatly outweighed by the fundamental principles that motivate someone’s actions.

    My own experience with Mike (over the internet) was not good. In his defense, however, I should add that he was probably under a lot of pressure–because he was attempting to do something that was doomed to fail–which can be frustrating.

    Mike’s basic approach was to create an organization where he was the head honcho–and made the most fundamental decisions–and would have the ability to silence the voice of his critics (such as me).

    But that is not the kind of organization which our movement needs. Our movement needs organization which is fundamentally democratic (not just for show–but to its core). This requires both openness and political transparency. Any project which is not based on these principles will eventually reach a point of stagnation because activists will be able to sense, at one level or another, that there is something unhealthy about it–and they will limit their support of the project. Activists do not want to see their life energy squandered.

    So the issue in Kasama’s failure is not Mike’s shortcomings as a person. Because if the project had been organized in a more democratic way–then someone else would have been able to step up and shoulder the load in instances Mike was weak. Rather, the problem was that the project was organized in such a way that it ended up revolving around Mike’s limitations. And the problem is that Mike (like anyone in such a situation) is only human.

  3. Akira said

    Reblogged this on The Fourth Revolutionary War.

  4. Akira said

    As someone who originally attracted to and then completely repelled by Kasama, the problem was not Mike Ely but the culture of the whole group, which was itself merely another product of the larger culture of leftist failure.

    The tendency in Kasama to operate as a paranoid and hostile in-group, and thus to eventually silence or expel everyone who disturbed the internal homogeneity of the group, was rooted in the character/pathology of almost EVERYONE who participated, not just Mike Ely.

  5. Is there a substantial article by Ben Seattle here somewhere? I cannot find it.

    • Hi there Socialist Fight. I just happened to see your post. There are a number of substantial article by me. They are linked above. It is many thousands of words, so this page can only be an index.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: