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(revised) 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
Hi folks,

In response to discussion on Portland Indymedia (see:
 http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/08/323634.shtml )
I have added about 800 words to this essay.

For the benefit of new readers I have included here the
entire article. Everything after the first paragraph
under the subhead "The Media Weapon community" is new.

The current plan is that this essay will take up 3 pages of
a planned 8 page (ie: two 11 x 17 folded sheets) leaflet for
Sept 24 in Seattle.

Suggestions and criticism are welcome.

-- Ben

============================================================
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.

All activists who oppose the war in Iraq are welcome to join our
community by subscribing to our pof-200 email list. We also
welcome those who we criticize in this leaflet. We need a
movement where thoughtful criticism flows in torrents like water
in a thunderstorm - and where all activists have the right to
reply and to defend their views.

------------------------------------------------------------
Does polarization weaken
the antiwar movement?
------------------------------------------------------------

Some say we intend to weaken the antiwar movement by splitting it
from its "natural ally" - the left wing of the Democratic Party.

We reply that the antiwar movement can never become powerful
until it turns its back on the imperialist Democratic Party and
all of its flunkies - and focuses one hundred percent of its
attention on raising the consciousness of the masses.
Some say that we intend to polarize the movement. Our reply is
that, in a class-divided imperialist society, polarization of the
movement is inevitable. We work so that this inevitable
polarization takes place in conditions of maximum consciousness
and clarity - so that the struggle between imperialist and
anti-imperialist politics within the antiwar movement - is no
longer hidden from activists - but is dragged into the light of
the sun.

------------------------------------------------------------
We welcome reformists
------------------------------------------------------------

We welcome to our community even reformist apologists for the
policy of alliance with the imperialist Democratic Party. Our
experience has been that the struggle on our email list against
the influence of these apologists for imperialist politics - has
been a powerful factor in waking up subscribers to the true
nature of reformism and a valuable source of experience in
principled polemical combat.

------------------------------------------------------------
We welcome sectarians
------------------------------------------------------------

We also welcome supporters of the various sectarian "socialist"
grouplets and anarchists of all kinds (including the most
immature). Our community is not afraid of people with a chip on
their shoulder or their head in a place that can't be reached by
sunlight.

Our email list has not had problems with flame wars or
word-twisting, time-wasting know-it-alls - because we limit
subscribers to one post per week (or two posts per week for
activists who march in antiwar actions) and require subscribers
to act toward one another with respect.

We know that all trends include activists with some level of
enthusiasm for doing the right thing and we want to accelerate
the process of separating what is healthy from what is not. We
want to be a refinery for the movement.

------------------------------------------------------------
We are here to fight
------------------------------------------------------------

The Media Weapon community is intended to be an ecosystem which
reflects and refines all the contradictions of the movement.
This means that we want our community to include representatives
of all political trends and currents of thought in the antiwar
movement. We understand that any time representatives of
opposing political trends are gathered together - struggle is
inevitable. That is fine with us. We are here to fight.

We understand that not all trends in the antiwar movement have
the stomach for an open, public principled fight for their views
and agenda. Our response to this - is to work for the day when
only those trends with the ability to openly fight for their
views can expect to gain mindshare in the movement.

------------------------------------------------------------
Like stars from galaxies
------------------------------------------------------------

Any member of our community has the right to propose any project
which they believe will be of value to the movement. And any
member has the right to participate (or not) in any project.
This follows from the fact that we are a community of autonomous
individuals.

However we also understand that the challenges of the antiwar and
anti-capitalist movements can only be successfully confronted by
activists who are united by serious discipline.

There will be a need for groups with serious discipline and these
groups may eventually emerge as smaller subsets of activists
within the context of the broader and looser community we are
creating. This broader and looser community may help to guide
the development and evolution of healthy principles, such as
political transparency, that are essential for the emergence of a
genuinely revolutionary mass movement.

If the development of disciplined organization is essential to
confront the demands of our time - then possibly the Media Weapon
community may play a helpful role in the emergence of such an
organization - by bringing into closer proximity an increasing
number of serious, militant activists.

Nature provides for us the example of galaxies which give birth
to stars when isolated atoms and molecules begin to concentrate
in regions of higher density. Prehaps, in an analogous way, the
Media Weapon community may eventually give birth to the mass
revolutionary party of the future.

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

Disclaimer: I have used the word "we" in connection with
describing the Media Weapon community. It is therefore necessary
that I make clear that my views are not necessarily
representative of the views of anyone else in the Media Weapon
community. The views in this article are my own. I use the word
"we" in the conviction that, in the context of the aspirations of
activists in the movement as a whole, I am not alone.

------------------------------------------------------------
Isolated from one another we are easily defeated.
Connected to one another no force on earth can stop us
 http://MediaWeapon.com
------------------------------------------------------------

homepage: homepage: http://struggle.net/ben

I Loved Your Article... 08.Sep.2005 12:27

and you are raising an incredibly timely and pertinent issue

Unfortunately, it is also an ongoing issue that has been around as long as there has been a "left" to speak of, in the US and elsewhere.

I notice your emphasis on organization-- this need would only arise in a social context whereby some sort of "disorganization" or anti-organization theory is becoming problematic and needs to be addressed. And so it is-- In the words of "ontological anarchist" Hakim Bey, "Any form of 'order' which we have not imagined and produced directly and spontaneously in sheer 'existential freedom' for our own celebratory purposes-- is an illusion" (Immediatism 2).

I love a lot of Bey's stuff-- I think he is right on when he talks about the origin of value in desire and so on. But as a viable political strategy-- well, he doesn't really believe in "viable political strategies"-- to him, this is just another form of reification, alienation, a deadening ossification of the vibrant and fleshy messiness and chaos of creativity, of life itself.

But unfortunately, while the young, middle-class hippie types are tripping and partying and raving on his words, the right wing is organizing. They are efficient in their organization because they organize in the traditional, top-down ways but speak a populist language. They appeal to country, to god, to the authoritarian psyches of their followers. Not to mention, they control the major centers of power in our country at the moment. A formidable foe.

I agree wholeheartedly that the left, whether it wants to or not, is thrust into this battle against not only capitalism and elitism, but now also against theocracy and authoritarian fascism. I also agree that the left needs to be an "ecology" and I think that is a beautiful and incredibly precise word to use to describe the optimal organizing style of the left. I understand that we need celebration and joy and exuberance as part of our movement, in fact as the essence and goal of our movement (dare I use those terms, "essence" and "goal").

However, because the problem of the relationship between the democratic-party "left"-- ie. the liberals-- and the progressive/radical left has been an ongoing problem for decades, if not a century, I feel that to prolong this ongoing mini war needs to be resolved. Forever, socialists have been calling for a complete break from the democratic party. And, forever, people have been unwilling to do so. Not only the vested-interest, DLC-types, but even genuine progressives like Wellstone, Sharpton, Kucinich, Lee, and so on... there are many rank-and-file democrats like them that are now coming to a point of serious self-criticism, and it's about time! You get democrats like Thom Hartmann, David Sirota, and others who are publicly and harshly criticizing the complicity of the democrats in advocating policies that harm people in this country and around the globe in countless ways.

I wrote a blog entry about a month ago that addresses these issues, and would like to offer it as a compliment but also as a contrast to your call for organization and a break from the liberalism:

The Wheel Theory of Social Change

One of my greatest concerns on the left is that we cannot agree to disagree. This is a surprising facet of those whose values are similar enough to constitute a movement, yet different enough to spawn numerous, often bitter feuds that keep us weakened, marginalized, and with minimal access to power. These feuds often hinge around tactical disagreements. Or, they are simply matters of degree-- reformist vs. revolutionary type arguments.

I propose a simple metaphor for the left to see each faction as constituting a particular location along a spoke of a wheel (or, perhaps, several spokes!), with some taking up the location closer to the center of the hub, which in this metaphor represents the mainstream, and others locating further out on the wheel. Each person is free to choose his or her location in the overall movement for change, and this will be selected based on individual philosophies and conclusions drawn from independent analysis, personal tastes and aptitudes, and so on. I think we need to see each other as all contributing to a turn of the great social wheel, and stop arguing amongst each other regarding which tactic is the "best" or the most pure or the least "bourgeois" or what have you. We also need to stop resorting to personal attack against those who come to different conclusions than ourselves about what is the best possible strategy for accomplishing change. This includes removing the stigma attached to certain factions by other factions (for example, democrats are still all-too-horrified by the word "socialism" or "militant" or "revolutionary" or even "Green." Conversely, militant socialist green revolutionaries utterly dismiss anyone who associates themselves with the democratic party. This kind of fear, stigma, and dismissal is what is killing the left, and it is killing any genuine hope of consistent progressive change toward genuine participatory democracy. It plays right into the hands of the right-- we need to make their red-baiting completely ineffective by refusing to fear the labels associated with it.

The metaphor of the political spectrum, as one-dimensional as it is, has been quite effective in describing the positions of various political philosophies and their understanding of political power. The republican party has, with minimal exception, been able to embrace the entirety of the right half of the political spectrum, from the most moderate to the most extreme and once-marginal right-wing perspectives. The left, however, refuses to do so. The moderates are horrified and ashamed of the far left and its various liberation movements; and the far left is, at this particular moment, incredibly ambiguous about its relationship to the moderate left.

I know that, being the free thinkers that we are, we are never going to see eye to eye on every issue. In fact, there may be fundamental theoretical differences on certain sweeping matters (like, do we keep capitalism, or scrap it? Do we need a state? Is nonviolence a viable strategy for political empowerment? Some of these go as deep as questioning the logic of statist stratified civilization itself, of language, of the concept of 'right," of binary gender constructs, and beyond); these may never be resolved. But they don't need to be. We need neither to shy away from such theoretical and often quite intellectual questions, nor do we need to be hindered by them. We do not need "ideological unity" like the extreme right wing has. What we need is the ability to accept ourselves as we are and make it work for us. This might sound like a nice little new-age cliche, but while we continue to bicker and banter amongst ourselves, the right wing continues to consolidate its hold on political power.

We are in a multifaceted movement that is made up of many types of people with many different agendas. Some have narrow and specific goals-- end the war in Iraq, demand the right of gays to marry, protect our national forests from encroachment by the timber industry, etc. There is nothing wrong with having this pinpointed focus on one particular issue-- it is often more effective than trying to invest every demonstration and every organizing effort with a broad agenda based upon some overarching theoretical analysis. On the other hand, such broad analyses are necessary in order to understand the systemic relationships between each of these disparate issues, and to further the cause of genuine democratic change in which everyone's rights are protected, our freedoms are preserved and/or expanded, and our land and the non-humans among us are guaranteed consideration in our systems of thought and doctrine. Neither approach is "wrong."

Some prefer to "infiltrate" and reclaim the democratic party. Some have abandoned all hope of such reform and have sought out third-party solutions and the campaigns (IRV, proportional representation, campaign finance reform, abolition of the electoral college) that are prerequisite for political power to come within the reach of a third party. Some have rejected party politics altogether, in favor of artistic communication, direct action and grassroots organizing. Some turn to our legal system as a locus of change, some work outside of it, and some have rejected it as inherently flawed and skewed toward the wealthy and powerful. Some focus on the media, some on militarism and pacifism, some on the political system and the constitution, some on corporate power and its economic impact, some on women's rights, some on gay rights, some on the sovereignty and rights of first peoples, some on the rights of various ethnic minorities, some on the environment, some on animal rights and welfare, some on children, some on the abolition of poverty. Some are classical liberals who adamantly defend the values of our founders, the representative republic they founded, the documents they enshrined in our history. Some challenge these values, from a variety of perspectives (anti-colonial, feminist, socialist/anarchist, deep ecological), in some cases in very fundamental ways. Some subscribe to established faiths, some are "spiritual, not religious," some atheist, agnostic, some secular and not very concerned about spiritual matters.

At some level, each of these concerns is connected. But we do not need agreement upon a fully articulated theory about the nature of these interconnections or a unified strategy in attaining our goals. Let us embrace the reality of the left as it is right now. Let us embrace each other where we are, politically, socially, and philosophically speaking. Let us recognize that our common desires are so much greater than our tactical and theoretical differences. We are all working to turn the wheel of history in the direction of democracy and existential sanity, and we don't have all century to do it. Let us trust that we will work out the details along the way, that there is plenty of room for varying, ever-changing, and even contradicting philosophies in our movement, that we don't need a fundamental truth to sustain us and push us through this thing. We are the ones doing the pushing, and this is all the philosophy we need. Now, wherever you are along the spoke of the wheel-- give it all you got, and PUSH!