Voices from West Baltimore in the Wake of the 2015 Rebellion and Bourgeois State Intervention
In the summer of 2018, a mixture of communists and those interested in walking the revolutionary road traveled from a handful of cities across North America to meet in downtown Baltimore, Maryland for an intensive three-day social investigation into the concrete conditions of the Black proletarian masses of West Baltimore in the aftermath of the 2015 rebellion. The rebellion—a culmination of festering frustration and rage due to the dispossession that accompanies deindustrialization,1 explicit and implicit racism, the occupation of residential areas by police known for their brutality and corruption,2 a rampant drug economy, and regular violence—was sparked by the murder of 25-year-old Freddie Gray by members of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD).
Over the past year and change, a rapid succession of crises have gripped North America. The pandemic has brought premature death to over half a million people and the agonizing pain of losing loved ones to so many more. All the while, people have been forced to bear the additional hardships of social isolation, unemployment, evictions, and the despair of facing an uncertain future in which there may be no return to a state of “normal” for many. George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police was the spark that ignited protests and rebellions all across North America, as the righteous anger at a system whose police routinely murder Black proletarians and other oppressed people boiled over after nothing has changed despite so many killings caught on camera and so much talk of reform.
Some readers of kites, particularly class-conscious proletarians in North America and our international audience, may be confused when they encounter the terminology and slogans used by postmodernist activists and academics in the US and Canada that are alien to their life experience and to common sense. In order to assist such readers in making sense of the nonsensical language trafficked by postmodernists and develop their ability to contend with postmodernist ideology and politics from a communist perspective, kites has come up with the following translation guide. The terminology and slogans popular with postmodernists are translated into what Fred Hampton called plain proletarian English, guided by a Dave Chappelle-inspired insistence to “say what you mean.” We believe it is appropriate to mock people who claim to be about ending oppression but insist on using alienating grad school language that seems to serve the purposes of separating postmodernists from the masses, policing people for the words they use, and mistaking the use of convoluted terminology for intelligence. “Performative wokeness” (to use postmodernist language against postmodernists) has nothing to do with real liberation.
An Interview with Comrade Kiran (Mohan Baidya), General Secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (Revolutionary Maoist)
The following interview will appear in kites #4, which is due out sometime in late spring of 2021.
In the 1990s, when the ruling classes were proclaiming the permanent victory of capitalism-imperialism in all corners of the globe, a small cadre of revolutionaries in remote, landlocked Nepal dared to prove them wrong and waged 10 years of revolutionary people’s war that shocked local and international observers and inspired a generation of rebels around the world. Led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN (M)), this people’s war was able to mobilize the masses in the largely agrarian country against forms of oppression both archaic (caste and national oppression, mass landlessness, and semi-feudal agriculture) and horrifically modern (labor export, including the widespread sex trade of girls and women) as well as against a ruling system that reflected those contradictions: a parliamentary monarchy.
An Interview by Kersplebedeb with Kenny Lake and Amil K. from the kites Editorial Committee
KERSPLEBEDEB: What is kites? Who produces it?
Kenny Lake: kites published its first issue in January 2020, aiming to fill the need for communist theory and strategy for revolution in North America, and to do so in a way that wasn’t full of the same old dogmatism. Two organizations, Revolutionary Initiative (RI) in Canada and the Organization of Communist Revolutionaries in the US, took the initiative to start it. An editorial committee, consisting of comrades in the US and Canada, was formed in 2019 to take responsibility for producing kites. We published our second issue in October 2020 and our third is being released now in February 2021.
Amil K.: I’d like to elaborate on what kites is by discussing dogmatism versus the practice of developing revolutionary theory.
To start us off, I think dogmatism is a trap. I see Left dogma serving much of the same function as the “opiate” of religious dogma: it can be a real salve to the conscience for any and all trying to cope with the daily assaults and alienation of bourgeois society. And that’s what makes it a trap. It’s a safe and predictable retreat. I think this is where the tendency towards “book worship” springs from. The problem, however, is that deep within that comfort zone of “theory” disconnected from practical activity the dogmatist is still wading in the nihilistic rot of bourgeois society, with no real faith that proletarian revolution is possible.
Click on cover image for printable PDF of this manual from OCR.
During his struggle with the economists (those Marxists who restricted their political work to struggles over the immediate conditions of exploitation at the factory), Lenin, in his seminal work What Is to Be Done?, wrote:
A basic condition for the necessary expansion of political agitation is the organization of comprehensive political exposure. In no way except by means of such exposures can the masses be trained in political consciousness and revolutionary activity.
This manual will serve as a political and technical guide to communist agitation. Agitation is the process by which communists systematically lay bare the instances of oppression and exploitation that the masses face on a daily basis and point to their source in the system of capitalism-imperialism. Communists distinguish agitation from propaganda, the latter being a lengthier examination of an issue or question in an all-around way, paying attention to the history as well as the motion and development of a contradiction. (This communist definition of propaganda differs from the more general and usually negative usage of the term propaganda as any political text or art that aims to persuade or manipulate its audience.)
The Role of Summation in the Revolutionary Process
The great helmsman of the Chinese Communist Revolution, Mao Zedong, elaborated a four-step method for guiding revolutionary practice:
1. Make a plan. 2. Carry out the plan. 3. Sum up the experience. 4. Make a new plan.
This didn’t just spring from the grand intellect of Mao, but was forged through the tremendous sacrifice of millions of Chinese peasants in revolutionary struggle. It’s what communists lived by when they were engaged in revolutionary warfare against feudal warlords, the Japanese imperialists, and the Guomindang comprador-bourgeoisie for two decades. It’s a crucial part of what made the Chinese revolution victorious.
kites is a theoretical and strategic collaboration among communist revolutionary organizations and individuals throughout North America. This journal unites us in the project of cultivating a revolutionary people across North America that sees the urgency of overthrowing capitalism-imperialism and in struggling for a communist future. To all those who share this fundamental aspiration with us, we say: let’s get serious about orchestrating the conditions of possibility to make this happen.
When we ride on our enemies is the third part in the four-part series The Specter that Still Haunts. Part four will appear in kites #4. Originally written in 2015 and published in Uprising (which was a theoretical organ of Revolutionary Initiative’s), the whole series can be found at revolutionary-initiative.com. Click here for a printable PDF of this article.
The (communist) movement is in its very essence an international movement. This means…that an incipient movement in a young country can be successful only if it makes use of the experiences of other countries. In order to make use of these experiences it is not enough merely to be acquainted with them, or simply to copy out the latest resolutions. What is required is the ability to treat those experiences critically and to test them independently. He who realises how enormously the modern (communist) movement has grown and branched out will understand what a reserve of theoretical forces and political (as well as revolutionary) experience is required to carry out this task.”
-Lenin, What is to be done?1
Since the death of Mao Zedong and the subsequent capitalist restoration in China, communist people’s wars became, to one degree or another, contenders for power in the Philippines in the mid-1980s, in Peru in the early 1990s, and in Nepal at the beginning of the new millennium. The people’s war led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) was deemed by the Indian Prime Minister in 2005 to be the country’s greatest internal security threat, and the CPI(Maoist) has made great strides in its military capabilities and organized mass base over the last several decades. While none of these people’s wars reached the level of strength necessary to launch an all-out assault aimed at seizing power nationwide, in at least two instances the communist-led revolution became the phenomenon most impacting those particular countries—the subjective factor, more than anything else, began to determine the objective situation.
In the 1990s, aside from militant protests and a willingness to go head-to-head with riot police perhaps best exemplified in the 1999 protests that shut down the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, anarchists also carried out their own forms of social programs intended to meet people’s needs. When the black bandanas came off, 1990s anarchists in the US were growing vegetables in “guerrilla gardens” and offering vegetarian meals to the homeless through local chapters of Food Not Bombs. The guerrilla gardens never seemed to bear fruit when it came to establishing connections with and providing food for the communities in which they were located (and nowadays city governments often fund official community garden programs). Food Not Bombs varied considerably from city to city, but some chapters did forge connections with homeless people, and its actions politicized the question of hunger and access to food.1
Founded in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Food Not Bombs was guided by a simple but compelling political message concentrated in its name: military funding in service of imperialist wars was enormous while, even in the imperialist heartland, people went hungry. This political exposure of hunger and imperialism was delivered alongside an effective method of providing food for the homeless and anyone else who needed it. Food Not Bombs chapters collected food from friendly local supermarkets (often co-ops or other hippyish places) and bakeries that would have otherwise been thrown away due to its impending expiration date, cooked hot meals with it in a donated space (someone’s house, a church, etc.), and made this food available in a public location outside once a week or more. The food was all vegetarian, partially because collecting and cooking meat that was past its prime would have sooner or later resulted in gastric disaster, and partially because many participants in Food Not Bombs were vegetarian. Food Not Bombs made its food available without the typical “server” and “served” distinction and without securing permits, and turned its food distribution into political events.