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imperialism & war | political theory

What kind of organization does the antiwar movement need?

An organization capable of overthrowing the system of imperialist rule cannot be built on a foundation of sand. Only principled, transparent and long-term collaboration between serious activists can:

(1) organize a decisive break from the
confinement of liberal-imperialist politics,
(2) mobilize the masses in their millions and
(3) chart the couse forward to a world without
imperialist war or capitalist exploitation
Why do we need organization?

We need organization because without it we are powerless.

Individual activists, acting on their own, can do very little to overcome their isolation and effectively challenge the domination of the antiwar movement by the big coalitions which, in ways large or small, have allied themselves to liberal-imperialist political trends.

Only by combining our energies can serious, militant activists develop a clear alternative to liberal lesser-evil politics and bring this alternative to the attention of activists everywhere.

The antiwar movement can never become a powerful social force until it breaks free from the straightjacket of the bourgeois politics which are promoted by a reformist social strata (ie: liberal-labor politicians, trade union bureaucrats, religious misleaders, poverty pimps, "progressive" media personalities and professional shapers of "public opinion") which is dependent on the bourgeoisie and in orbit around the Democratic Party.

* Organization is the difference between a demoralized movement attempting to elect the establishment savior who will betray us next -- and a movement which decisively breaks from liberal lesser-evil politics.

* Organization is the difference between an antiwar movement which appeals to the conscience of liberal-imperialist politicians -- and a movement which works to raise the consciousness of the masses.

* Organization is the difference between a movement that revolves around the hope of getting coverage on CNN -- and a movement which builds its own network of leaflets, newspapers and websites that connect to the masses.

* Organization is the difference between the hope of going back to the mythical "democracy" that supposedly existed before 9-11 -- and the recognition that we live under a political and economic system which is imperialist to its core -- and which will launch one brutal war after another until it is overthrown.

* In summary, organization is the difference between defeat and victory.

We must recognize obstacles to organization

But there are several obstacles to effective organization. We must talk about these obstacles frankly and openly.

Obstacle # 1 -- Not understanding who
to unite with and what to unite around

The first obstacle to effective self-organization by activists -- is the lack of a clear understanding of what kind of activists and, more importantly, what kind of agenda, we must organize around.

If we are not clear on this -- we will end up with organization which is either (a) focused on unrealistic and demoralizing schemes to influence the powerful or (b) paralyzed by conflict and infighting between those who want an alliance with the reformist social strata and those who see the need to break with this strata.

Effective organization in the antiwar movement must revolve around an agenda of independence from (ie: breaking with) the entire reformist social strata and the reformist ideology which this strata promotes.

Breaking from the reformist ideology requires that we recognize the nature of the society in which we live. We live in a society ruled by the capitalist class (also known by its scientific name -- the bourgeoisie).

As long as the bourgeoisie rule society they will launch one imperialist war after another.

The only way to end this system of endless imperialist war -- is to end the system of bourgeois rule.

Activists have many different views on how bourgeois rule can be overcome (ie: whether it can be gradually reformed away or can only be eliminated by means of a revolutionary mass movement of millions). Activists also have many different views concerning how society will organize itself in the period after bourgeois rule is eliminated.

Activists who hold a wide range of views can play an important part in building the kind of organization which we need so long as they recognize (a) the necessity of breaking from the influence of the reformist social strata and (b) that the primary focus of the antiwar movement must be to tell the masses the truth about the need to end the entire system of bourgeois rule.

Other than the two core views above -- all other ideological divisions within the antiwar and/or anti-capitalist movement (ie: between anarchists and "authoritarians", between trotskyists and maoists, between this and that) are minor.

Obstacle #2 -- overcoming sectarian and
undemocratic methods of organizing

The antiwar movement needs a mass organization which includes activists with a wide range of views concerning the path forward. It will be inevitable, due to the crisis of theory and the profound ignorance which saturates our society -- that many wrong views (or views which are only partially correct) will exist in and around this organization. It will, therefore, be necessary to develop methods of sorting out, on the key questions, which views conform to the needs of our time.

It is the practical experience of struggle which determines which views are valid. But the experience of struggle is of no use if it cannot be talked about, summarized, debated and understood.

Our movement is weak at this time because activists are being kept unaware of the experience of struggle.

In a healthy revolutionary mass organization the experience of struggle would be known through calm and scientific discussion and debate.

Unfortunately the left (as it currently exists) is largely made up of groups which are engaged in an intense dog-eat-dog competition with one another over the warm, living bodies of activists who are new on the scene and are looking for some organized force to hook up with. These activists fuel, with their money and labor, the growth (and the centralized staffs) of the groups which are competing with one another for survival. In these circumstances of cut-throat competition -- the need for principled, transparent and long-term collaboration and for calm, scientific discussion and debate -- is discarded by these groups -- in favor of various forms of manipulation -- with each group attempting to isolate itself from healthy criticism. In this process, supporters of these groups, who are often intoxicated by sectarianism -- cast critics as "black hats" and respond with word-twisting, contempt, scorn and insults.

Most, if not all, of these groups -- in spite of the often considerable amount of useful work which they do -- have a poorly developed internal intellectual life -- and manifest many of the characteristics of a cult (including the expulsion and isolation of critics).

Multi-tendency organizations or coalitions which include supporters of more than one of these groups are typically characterized by (a) a form of unprincipled peace in which the important issues are never discused and (b) unprincipled manuevering and bloc voting (in which one group will pack a meeting with its supporters -- who will all vote as a unified bloc) in an effort to get their way and maximize their recruitment of new blood.

Informal organization must grow like a tree

Because of the widespread manipulation and other unhealthy features of even the best of existing organizations -- many of the best activists are justifiably mistrustful of organization and, as a result, are currently isolated from one another.

This situation needs to be overcome. But we cannot move forward without taking into account the many existing unhealthy organizational practices.

My conclusion is that the kind of organization which our movement needs -- is organization which is somewhat informal and highly democratic in nature. We must make it easy for the best activists to get to know one another over the long term -- and to work together and compare experience. We must make it difficult for the control freaks to silence, intimidate or isolate critics.

Real organization can not emerge from any kind of "get rich quick" scheme -- it must develop on the basis of healthy principles and grow, over the long term, like a tree.

A real organization will develop around a core mission and program. But for this core mission and program to serve the needs of our movement -- it must be developed in an open way.

We need a form of organization where competing ideas and agendas are put on the table and defended in a calm and open way -- and there is open (ie: public) principled discussion and debate concerning the fundamental path forward. We need to develop the concept that we are accountable for our actions -- that we are committed to answering questions and replying (calmly) to public criticism from other serious activists. We can assist one another by developing a tradition of publicly reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of one another's leaflets. We can deepen our understanding of key issues by discussing and developing, in public forums, joint statements and resolutions. We can make use of the emerging revolution in communications to bring the principles that matter to increasing numbers of activists so that we can reach a critical mass

And our developing community of activists can develop a focus on our real tasks -- not by means of threats of isolation -- but through passion and a recognition that we are here to fight.

The Media Weapon community

My own work to build organization along the lines I have described above is focused on what I call the Media Weapon community. At the present time, we are more of an email list than a real community of the kind which is needed. But we may develop over time. If you liked this essay, then you are the kind of person we need in our community. And we welcome you to check out our work and our email list.

-- Ben Seattle --  http://struggle.net/ben

Isolated from one another we are easily defeated.
Connected to one another no force on earth can stop us
.. 26.Aug.2005 12:23


So in other words, we need to pick up where we left off after Quebec City?? Well, duh!
We also need to learn from our mistakes, especially those of exclusion. We need to reach out to people in poor communities, which includes, if not especially, the American Indian activist community which is already active, yet for the most part, still solitary in their struggles. That desperately needs to end. We need to unite.

Depends what you mean 26.Aug.2005 18:17


An organization is a way to make a bunch of people do what they are told. To make them do what somebody else wants.

It looks like unity because a bunch of people are acting together. It feels like unity because a bunch of people are acting together. But it is really obedience.

Organization is how the liberal-imperialists co-opt the movement.

It is not true that we are powerless without organization. We are powerless when we don't act. To become powerful, we need only act.

When we submerge ourselves and give up our power to an organization, we do not become powerful at all. The organization becomes powerful. The people whom the organization obeys become powerful. We become powerless.

There are other ways of acting together than organization.

It is not true that we can not overcome our isolation. We are isolated when we hold ourselves alone. We need do very little, only talk to another and listen to another.

When we talk with each other, we learn what each other wants. Often we learn a better understanding of what each we want. We learn to act in concert, multiplying the power of our individual acts.

The overthrowing of imperialist rule cannot be built on a foundation of obedience. But on principled, transparent and long-term collaboration among autonomous persons. Freedom cannot arise among the masses mobilized in their millions. But among powerful individuals acting in concert.

We overcome liberal-imperialist domination by refusing to obey the organization.

so, "media manipulation," 26.Aug.2005 19:40

gonna tell us about your better idea?

> There are other ways of acting together than organization.

This may just be an ideological dispute over terminology.

Ben, you might want to decide whether you want to debate "anarchists" who think "organization" is evil or whether you're just going to address yourself to folks who don't have this little hang-up.

hoohaa 26.Aug.2005 21:13


"An organization is a way to make a bunch of people do what they are told. To make them do what somebody else wants."

Really? in every case? What if the organization is one that forms its decisions based on general consensus, the will of its members? True democratic discourse. Your above statement is one of misinformation.

yes yes, but 26.Aug.2005 21:16

uniting is not conforming

Actually what he/she says makes a lot of sense. However, the term organization doesn't necessarily have to be built on a hierarchical system of practice. It can be one, as above said...too harshly, one based on consensus "rule" which would mean that all are included, and thus, NOT a matter of obedience...but true agreement. Let's not quarrel over wording here...there's too much to do.

Democratic decision-making 27.Aug.2005 04:22


Two problems I've seen in the anti-war movement are the lack of
understanding of capitalism and the lack of a democratic process
of decision-making. A thorough analysis of the historical
events that have led to the many imperialist wars is essential
to being able to counter this tendency. An embrace of democratic
decision-making is just as essential to a healthy movement. Not
everyone will have the information, knowledge, experience and
insight that is needed. Only through collaboration of ideas of
many thoughtful people can a strong movement emerge. Reading
Marx will help with a better understanding of the forces behind
capitalist acquisition and using a consensus model will help bring
democracy to otherwise misdirected movements.

Consensus has one fatal flaw 27.Aug.2005 22:24


Consensus (as practiced) assumes there is one right answer. Just like the Pope and the President preach.

One set of theoretical assumptions, eg belief in God or Historical Necessity, might lead one to believe that. Another set of assumptions make it obviously false.

People who believe they cannot know the future typically conclude that there is no right answer that can be known beforehand, and therefore that as many likely answers as possible should be entertained and pursued, at least not foreclosed, for as long as possible.

For these people, a proper consensus would have several groups split off to follow different reasoning -- each group wishing other success, indeed lending every assistance. Afterall, the other may prove more successful.

When was the last time you participated in such a consensus?

Have you ever objected, "but we haven't consensed yet to choose only one answer"?

Nobody would tolerate engaging in a struggle session to choose what flavour of icecream cone to buy. Each chooses his own. If we refuse to tolerate totalitarianism in trivia, why would we tolerate it in materia?

PPRC like to talk about marching back and forth in front of politicians' lairs. Arissa likes to talk about more asserted activities. I have argued with both. Sometimes they will fall back on "this is what we want to do". Frankly, I believe that is a valid reason. And it is a valid reason for each of the hundred groups between them and not between them.

However, "this is what we want you to do" is not a valid reason. Nor is "we know the future, we alone hold the truth", unless they can point to a burning bush or something to back up their claims.

When the person above, 'gonna tell us about your better idea?', shows me a miracle, I will listen closely. Until then, I will assume he is just another authoritarian twit, who has no interest in discussion or consensus, except as cover for imposing his own nonsense on anyone foolish enough to allow him that cover -- "you might want to decide whether you want to debate "anarchists" who think "organization" is evil or whether you're just going to address yourself to folks who don't have this little hang-up."

I guess consensus has two fatal flaws.

consensus is bullshit 28.Aug.2005 04:35

one thing we agree on

I see, just another "authoritarian twit," just like the other 95% percent of humanity (at least) who think you're talking nonsense. The refrigerator that keeps your food from rotting in your quaintly individualistic home could never have been built without hundreds of years of "organized" activity, by any definition consistent with the history of the English language. You're being insulting and silly. I don't begrudge you your hyper-individualistic fantasy world, but it's not relevant to the one the rest of us live in.

ad hominem attacks 28.Aug.2005 06:13


These ad hominem attacks (authoritarian twit, your
hyper-individualistic fantasy world) show much about
the ability of these posters to engage in an
intelligent discussion.

The main point was that the movement needs to understand
how important it is to practice democracy on the local
level if they ever want to see it practiced on a larger

Yes, you may like chocolate ice cream and I might like
vanilla but before we can get ice cream that we both
like we need to listen to each others ideas. Too many
have been in this "for me" culture so long that they
do not see the importance of collective intelligence.
If we cannot agree on which ice cream to buy then we
are stuck with the insignificance of out individual

The organization method that eschews collective descisions
is the totalitarian method not the one that seeks to
collect a consensus of ideas.

spider 28.Aug.2005 17:58


Stop arguing and read what I wrote.

We must not only listen to each other's ideas but listen accurately.