Saturday, April 16, 2011

An Interview With the Voice Collective.

This interview was conducted through a series of messages with a member of the Voice Collective and (by my understanding) was answered by multiple members of the Voice Collective (VC) collectively during their meetings. The Voice Collective is a group based in Louisiana and describe themselves as a Kasama collective.

Dustin Slagle (DS): Is the Voice Collective a new group, or is it a unification of different groups? And what conditions lead to the need to create the Voice Collective?

The Voice Collective (VC): The Voice Collective is a new group with membership drawn from a number of existing radical student organizations in our area, as well some others who have not previously been involved in these established scenes; in addition, there are others who work with us on a regular basis and are in our loop, without necessarily identifying themselves as members or attending meetings regularly.

We decided to form the group after some Kasama comrades visited our area in the Fall of 2010 to give first-hand accounts of the current communist revolution in Nepal. During this initial meeting we began discussions about forming our own Kasama collective.
The formation of the Voice Collective is just another instance of the new revolutionary upsurge that is sweeping the world. From Egypt to Western Europe to Wisconsin, masses of people are rising up in ways that we have not seen in a long time, flexing their collective muscle and getting a taste of what real people power might look like in the 21st century. Nevertheless, the existing left is on the whole unable to respond the situation and push forward with revolution. In most places, the current manifestations of revolt are in very early stages of development.

Contrast this with the "objective" or structural situation we find ourselves in. The capitalist world-system is experiencing a profound structural crisis that has been going on since the 1970s, and the recent intensification of that crisis has created the most profound crisis conditions that the world has seen since the second world war. The existing arrangement of power on the globe is intolerable, because the capitalist-imperialist world-system is leading to the destruction of the natural environment along with endless wars of aggression to create conditions favorable to capital accumulation. Capitalism continues to have little to offer the world’s oppressed and exploited majority in Asia, Africa and Latin America – the old promises of development and liberation sound increasingly hollow. At the same time conditions for the vast majority continue to worsen in the core capitalist/imperialist countries, while elites get richer and more powerful. What remains of the great class compromise of the early 20th century – typified by the welfare state – is crumbling, and there is scarcely a promise of new concessions on the horizon; in fact, as the crisis of world capitalism worsens, global elites increasingly attempt to push the burden of the present crisis onto the world’s working and popular classes in the form of budget cuts or austerity measures and increased political repression. Contradictions among the people in the form of patriarchal, racial/ethnic, heterosexist and other oppressions continue to victimize and thwart the development of most people living on the planet today. There is no hope of solving any of these problems within the framework of existing society.

With the horrific predicament we find ourselves in, there is an urgent need for the development of new revolutionary forces with a strong communist pole within that milieu. As was declared in the Communist Manifesto back in the 19th century, there is a need for forces that can overthrow and transform all existing social conditions. Conditions are becoming increasingly favorable for the development of these forces because of the various crises, and because of the irreversible decline of U.S. hegemony more specifically.

We also think that there is a special need to spread communist ideas and to build communist organization in the U.S. South. This is a key region which – because it had a distinct economic system based on slavery and was therefore systematically underdeveloped – became a political and economic colony of the North following the U.S. Civil War. The South has acted as a reserve of cheaper labor within the borders of the United States, and has provided spaces for the expansion of industries which could no longer operate profitably in the North; the South has, in effect, served as a major release valve for U.S. capitalism up to and through much of the neoliberal period, when so much industry relocated to the global South in a race to the bottom.
In many ways the South is also the frontline of oppressive measures developed by U.S. imperialism for implementation within its boarders (and sometimes beyond). There are key parts of the South - such as our own Louisiana - where whole communities and ecosystems are subjugated to the logic or resource extraction for profit, regardless of the effects. (The BP oil spill is just one dramatic recent example.)

Because of these distinctive features, the South is strategically important for the development of revolutionary forces in the U.S. Racial, national and other oppressions are also acute here, with high concentrations of blacks, poor whites and, increasingly, Latinos. The South is the poorest region of the U.S. and scores the worst on most measures like healthcare and education.
There are many people in the South who can potentially be radicalized, but there is a fundamental lack of revolutionary organization here. In the absence of such organization, there are tendencies towards conservatism and reaction which allow anti-people forces and ideologies to gain influence; as Walter Benjamin said, “Every fascism is the index of a failed revolution.” We are operating in a very conservative area of the country and state. There is much confusion even among radical people about the sources of suffering in capitalist society, and even about many of the effects. There is a general lack of understanding about the conditions which prevail worldwide as a result of monopoly capitalism/imperialism, and the role that the U.S., specifically, is playing as the leading imperialist power. In this context communist organization and education are vitally important.

DS: What are the leading principles of the VC? Does the VC follow a certain communist theory such as Maoist, Marxist or Trotskyist or any other theory?

VC: This is a big question which we take seriously. We are a communist group that emphasizes our goal, that is, communism, a society that has moved beyond classes, the state and the various forms of structural domination and oppression that hold most of humanity in bondage. We are guided by a radical vision of human liberation. Rather than shying away from a "big" liberatory political project, because it is either too totalizing or impractical, we affirm the need to be guided by that sort of ideal. It's cliché, but we need that now more than ever.

That being said, we are keeping an open mind about various currents of revolutionary communist thought as well as other radical trends and breakthroughs in thought which have taken place in other spheres, like the academy or the radical queer movement. Like others in the Kasama network, we are committed to communist reconception and the struggle to find a new road. This means that we are less willing to be defined by old verdicts and demarcations which might limit our reconception, such as the contradiction between defenders of Trotsky on the one hand and Stalin on the other. This does not mean that we jettison the need to develop more correct ideas, or marginalize the question of line. Rather, we are elevating the question of line by recognizing the struggle to arrive at effective line as being complex, problematic and contradictory. There is no easy road to correct ideas, just as there is no easy road to fundamental social transformation.
At the same time we all draw heavy inspiration from the body of experiences and ideas which have come to be called Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. But we recognize even the question of inspiration as problematic, because if we do draw from Mao’s thought and the experience of the Communist Party of China, for instance, it is always a question of which aspects do we draw from, how do we draw from those aspects in our own situation, are there paths opened up by that thought and those experiences that the actors themselves didn’t even pursue, and so on.

DS: What are some of the short term, midterm and long term goals of the VC?

VC: Our short term goals include self-education, as well as conducting revolutionary education among the broader community in Louisiana and among students. We are trying to raise awareness about prevailing social conditions while propagating the idea that revolution is necessary. In all our work we are striving to put the idea of communism back on the table. We work openly as communists. We are facilitating radical networking. Our efforts in this direction are explained more in response to question five.

Our midterm goal is to unite with other revolutionary forces and to contribute to the development of new communist theory that can provide much needed guidance for the emerging revolutionary forces.

Our long term goal, of course, is to help create conditions for an actual revolution – for the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. There is much groundwork that needs to be done.

DS: The VC is a Kasama collective, what does that entail? And what lead to the decision for the VC to join the Kasama Project?

VC: At this point our involvement with the wider Kasama network has consisted in in-depth online discussions with various people in the Kasama network in regard to revolutionary theory, communist history, and group formation etc., in addition to a strong special relationship with our sister Kasama collective – the FIRE Collective – in Houston. In our several months of existence we have had two series of inter-group discussions with FIRE, and these have been transformative experiences for all involved. We look forward to developing relationships with other Kasama collectives as they emerge, like with the Red Spark Collective in Washington state.
At this point, being a Kasama collective is not like being a branch of another communist party. Since Kasama is working towards a reconception of communist politics, the organizational structure is still very open. This is really attractive for us in the Voice Collective because we have the space to experiment boldly and learn from our local circumstances, while engaging with and being shaped by the broader network. Conversely, the rest of the network – as well as anyone else who is interested – can learn from what we are doing. This type of structure at the present time allows a great deal of room for the broader network to experiment with methods tried out by individual collectives, and to test their strengths and weaknesses, or their general applicability. This puts us in a good position to contribute to the formation of new effective communist theory, strategy and organizational forms for the contemporary world situation.

We were originally attracted to the Kasama Project via the website, and then through our interactions with members of the FIRE Collectives and Kasama comrades from other parts of the country. We were impressed by the energy that the organization exudes. We are attracted by Kasama’s commitment to a deep reconception of communism, while maintaining a bold commitment to the need for revolution following a long period of defeat for the revolutionary Left (and the Left in general). We are impressed by the high level of open and creative discussion, as well as a willingness to engage with other forces who may have markedly different views.

Comrades in Kasama also evince a strong internationalism and tend to focus in on the changing world situation in a creative way as well as learn from living revolutionary movements such as the Maoist movements in India and Nepal, or the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. We feel that the open nature of Kasama gives us a real opportunity to shape the development of the organization, and therefore the development of the revolutionary movement in the U.S. more generally.

DS: What will the VC do to set itself apart from other communist organizations and what will the VC do differently from other organizations to be more successful?

VC: Although the collective is still quite young, there are distinguishing aspects of our approach so far. Perhaps most importantly, we have emphasized dialogue as a central feature of communist praxis, from the very beginning of our work together.
There are a number of reasons for this; a couple of key people in the organization have been highly influenced by critical pedagogical (or educational) theory, advanced by thinkers like the radical Brazilian educator Paulo Friere. Like Friere, we do not assume that the people are a blank slate and that current revolutionaries have all the answers. Rather, we assume that the people have varying levels of understanding about their own situation and the nature of our oppressive society - that we will learn from the people as well as teach – in short, that the process of making revolution is one of mutual transformation through practical struggle and study. This kind of mutual transformation has figured prominently in many discussions around Kasama, and this is one of the things that has attracted us to the organization.

In conjunction with critical pedagogical theory, our work is informed by the Maoist method of the mass line, which is based on the idea of learning from the people, synthesizing their ideas in a dialectical engagement with revolutionary theory, and bringing these ideas back to the people in an effort to hasten while we await revolutionary upsurges of the masses.

We try to be modest in our approach to the people in general and among other current revolutionaries and radicals. We do not presume to have all the answers, and in fact think that such an attitude shuts us off to growth and development; it also shuts out the voice of the broad masses, the very people who are supposed to be empowered by communist revolution. The Zapatistas have a saying, “Walking, we ask questions,” which typifies much of our approach (or at least we hope). Forward movement and change are necessary, but that’s not possible without a continual revaluation of methods and tactics.

With these principles informing our work, we started right from the beginning with a dialogical movement outwards. Some of us have previous experience with radical movements in Louisiana. There are long histories of struggles in this state and region, and these are histories that we need to learn from. However, we have discovered a general geographical fragmentation, in which radicals cliques in various parts of the state do not know what is going on elsewhere, and collaboration is mostly primitive. There is a strong tendency for struggles and interactions among people engaged in organized struggle to remain quite local.

In addition to studying various communist texts together and talking with contemporary revolutionary intellectuals like economist Minqi Li, we have embarked upon a concrete investigation of the conditions of Louisiana and the Gulf South, and this work involves meeting and networking with various people and especially radical forces in the region. By building radical cores here, we are striving to transform our own small city into a radical hub for Louisiana, connecting people in surrounding cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans. We have opened up conversations and collaborations with small pockets of communists in a larger neighboring city, for example, who have different organizational affiliations. We have hosted discussions with Palestinian solidarity activists and prominent anarchist groups in another city. We are also opening dialogues with students at surrounding universities by showing documentaries on campus and bringing in speakers, from local activists to representatives of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. In this work we are maintaining an open mind about what we can learn from one another, all the while clearly and strongly declaring our own communist politics among the people we meet, without being dogmatic and preachy.

In an attempt to better understand and connect with the communities that surround us, we have also begun community service in conjunction with the anti-capitalist student group at the local university, including tree planting at the public high school; and again, we are doing this work openly as communists. In the near future we plan to host community speak-outs to provide spaces for oppressed and exploited people of various sorts to talk together, interact with local revolutionaries and struggle together to come to better understand the world that they are part of. This is all with the goal of helping people to become subjects, that is, individuals who – with others – can critically look at and creatively transform our shared reality. Through these processes of investigation, cross-pollination among radicals and revolutionaries in the region and providing spaces where ordinary struggling people can have a voice, we hope to facilitate the birth of a new radical upsurge inside the United States, while helping to create a new New Communist Movement that can draw important lessons from the past while making important breaks with theory and methods which fail to connect with real people’s lives at best and form a recipe for new oppressions (and capitalist restoration) at worst.

DS: What are some groups and parties that influence the VC (for example the BPP, the young Lords etc)?

VC: We have been influenced by our own experiences in various radical and activist organizations, such as the anti-capitalist student group at the local university. These experiences have given us some solid ideas about what to do and what not to do. We have also been inspired by radical traditions in New Orleans, and through our concrete interactions with New Orleans groups, which have played important roles in developing movements in the city after the capitalist-made disaster that followed hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We are interested in looking as far back as old slave rebellions, like when a slave army descended on New Orleans in 1811 bent on establishing a black republic in the heart of Dixie. There is much to learn from and to be proud of in the state of Louisiana. We are very interested in expanding this legacy.
At the same time we are communist internationalists. There exists in society a dialectic of local specificities and things which are truly universal (including aspects of struggle and revolution). On the international scale we are quite interested in current developments in Latin American countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, for instance. Like many in Kasama we are particularly interested in the current struggles being waged by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Communist Party of India (Maoist). We are interested as well in the work of other parties involved in protracted people’s war in southeast Asia, including the Communist Party of the Philippines. We also draw inspiration, of course, from past historical experiences of the Communist Party of China, and the Russian and Vietnamese revolutions etc.

Historical U.S. groups like the Black Panther Party for Self Defense are certainly important inspirations for us, and in recent years we have had conversations in our city with former Black Panther Party members from California but especially from the movement in Louisiana, including all of the Angola 3, two of whom are still locked up because of their political activities in the working plantation known as Louisiana State Penitentiary. Some of use have been influenced profoundly by the work of Malcolm X. We are also paying close attention to other communist groups working in the U.S. today, such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the two versions of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. There is much to learn from dialogue with all these groups, even if there are important differences among us.


It is also exciting for me to report that during the time that we were conducting this interview that another Kasama collective was declared in Washington state called the Red Spark Collective. You can find their unity statement here.

For further information they also posted a "Taking First Steps" Post where they set out their plan of action and what they stand for.

Written by; Dustin Slagle

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