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Are anti-imperialists afraid of open politics?

The development of an anti-imperialist pole of attraction
within the antiwar movement requires an "open politics"
organizational model that will allow activists to "see inside"
our organization and participate and intervene in the
struggles that determine our direction.
Hi folks,

It must be stated clearly: the antiwar movement is paralyzed.

The key to understanding this paralysis -- is the internal war within the antiwar movement.

On one side of this war is a section of the bourgeoisie and its allies -- clustered around a section of the Democratic Party. These forces have immense social, media and money resources to promote their agenda. The most recent reminder of this is an article in the October issue of "Rolling Stone" magazine which gives "advice" to the antiwar movement. What kind of "advice" does Rolling Stone give the movement? Rolling Stone tells us that to be "effective" we must be "responsible" -- and support a phony "exit plan" in Iraq that would reduce troop levels a bit while leaving behind permanent U.S. military bases and a puppet government. Nor is this all. Rolling Stone also tells us that the antiwar movement must endorse the plans of various generals and support a U.S. "victory" in Iraq.

I am not making this up.

Now Rolling Stone is nothing like what it used to be. Many of the baby-boom generation can remember a time when this magazine was once something of an arbitar of what was "cool". But the significance of this article is that it demonstrates that the liberal wing of imperialism has a thousand channels to promote the liquidation of the antiwar movement. If it was not Rolling Stone -- then some other bourgeois mouthpiece would have been tasked with trying to float this crap.

And no peace can be possible with this liberal wing of imperialism. They wage war against our movement -- and then ask us to "forge a united front" with them on _their_ terms (ie: that we demand "victory" for U.S. imperialism in Iraq).

Now the other side of this war within the antiwar movement -- is composed of the overwhelming majority of activists -- who would actually like to see U.S. imperialism remove its claws from Iraq. This is our side.

The problem is that our side is not organized. Nearly all of the organization within the antiwar movement is done by the liberal-reformist coalitions (like UFPJ, ANSWER and NION) who promote Democratic Party politics or illusions in one way or another.

More than this -- our side is weak in terms of its _consciousness_. Most activists do not understand that there is a war within the antiwar movement. Most activists see the liberal movers and shakers as an "ally" of the antiwar movement. Most activists do not understand how imperialist society works -- how an entire corrupt social stratam (ie: the trade union bureaucrats, liberal-labor politicians, religious misleaders, poverty pimps, "progressive" media personalities and professional "opinion leaders") -- which is small numerically but immense in terms of influence -- is waging a systematic war to degrade the consciousness of activists and step-by-step pacify and liquidate the antiwar movement and turn it into a prowar movement -- a movement for "victory" in Iraq.

I would estimate that less than one in fifty of the quarter million or so activists who marched in the September 24 antiwar actions has a clear understanding of the war of ideas that is taking place within the antiwar movement.

This section of activists, the most conscious section, will surely grow. But it is not enough to wait around until more activists see and understand the kind of treachery that appears on the stage at antwar rallies as much as in the pages of Rolling Stone.

If we want to be effective in terms of building an antiwar movement with the power to shake society and mobilize millions -- then those of us who understand (ie: that the political and economic system of imperialism generates one imperialist war after another -- and must be eliminated) -- must get organized.

What does it mean for the most conscious section of activists to get organized?

It means we must learn to recognize one another: it means we must communicate on a regular and long-term basis and gradually find methods to combine our actions and collaborate in a principled way.

This will not be an overnite process, because there are many obstacles.

But the principle that the most advanced section of activists has a special responsibility, a solemn responsibility, to find one another -- and to develop channels of communication and collaboration with one another -- stands out -- and will continue to stand out -- as one of the most decisive tasks of our time.

It is in the spirit of encouraging communication and collaboration between advanced activists -- and overcoming obstacles -- that I describe the current state of relations between a small group of anti-imperialists in Seattle who are struggling to find ways of working together on a principled basis in spite of the fact that many of us basically do not trust one another.

Are we accountable to activists?

On October 9, eight local activists got together at a public meeting to discuss ways in which they might combine their efforts for the purpose of building an anti-imperialist pole of attraction within the antiwar movement. Most of the activists present had been involved in the recent successful effort to build an anti-imperialist feeder march on September 24 that marched on Capitol Hill before joining the reformist ANSWER rally at Westlake Square.

We all agreed that the concept of imperialism was central for the development of a powerful antiwar movement and decided that we would collaborate, under the name "Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee", on a leaflet about imperialism that we could distribute at the upcoming local November 2 events.

Disagreements have emerged between us. Whether or not we will be able to overcome these disagreements and find ways of working together in a principled way is unclear at this time.

My conviction is that the project which unites us (ie: building an anti-imperialist pole of attraction within the antiwar movement) must be accountable to antiwar activists. This means that antiwar activists must have a meaningful window into our disagreements -- so that they can play a role in helping us resolve our disagreements and encourage us to continue to struggle to find principled methods of working with one another.

When a group of activists decide to work together -- it is usually the case that they do not make their disagreements public. Making disagreements public can be a messy and inconvenient process. Why air your dirty laundry before friend and foe alike?

Because it is the salvation of our movement.

We cannot enlist the intervention of activists (which we need) if we keep secret the struggles over principles that are taking place between us.

On the contrary, we must find ways to tell activists that we believe that what we are attempting to do is so important -- that they must have the _right_ to know about the clashes of principles which are taking place as we stumble forward.

Now I must introduce a warning to all readers: What follows is my view on the issues and principles at stake. Others involved in this will have very different views. Other participants in this project may have time to post their views here -- but they also may not have time. So what you hear from me may be only a one-sided and highly biased view of a complex story. It is my responsibility to present matters in as objective a way as I am capable. Whether or not I am successful at this may only become clear with time.

The necessity of "open politics"

My conviction is that an anti-imperialist pole of attraction can only be built on the basis of what I call "open politics".

Many readers may be familar with what is called the "open source" software movement -- where anyone has the right to "look under the cover", so to speak, of the software they are using. Open politics is analogous to this in certain ways.

Any political organization that has a mass character will include within it different political trends which contend with one another over the nature and direction of the organization. Unfortunately, this struggle, which takes place in one form or another inside _any_ political mass organization -- is usually kept somewhat hidden. Often even the members or supporters of the organization do not understand the nature of the struggles which are taking place as different trends fight for the organization's future.

This is what has to end.

Will readers have the right to post public criticism?

The main disagreement that has emerged concerns whether or not the leaflet we distribute will link to a website where readers can easily post their comments, questions and criticisms. I am of the view that this is necessary. And I have made clear that I will not support with my actions a mode of literature distribution in which readers do not have the right to post public comments, questions and criticisms. What this means is that if readers cannot post their criticisms -- then I will not distribute the leaflet.

Will members have the right to a
public listing on the group's website?

I have also made clear that I will not be a formal part of any organization which does not give all of its members the right (if they so choose) to a public listing on its website. I believe that this is essential for any mass organization in which the struggle between trends will have a public and open (ie: rather than a private and secret) character.

I will keep this short because I
know that readers have limited time.

There are other things that might be said -- but the two points of disagreement above are probably the most important.

The proposal to ban me from public meetings

In response to this, one of the participants in this project (who has a lot of influence with many activists and whom I greatly respect) has proposed that I be banned from all meetings (including "public" meetings) of the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee.

Obviously I believe that banning me would be a mistake.

I have, as I noted, great respect for the comrade involved. I understand, on the basis of long expereince, that the political disease of sectarianism can distort the thinking of even the best, most determined, militant and principled activists.

Looking good vs. being good

I fully understand that making our differences public may invite ridicule from our political opponents. They may be able to point to us and say that this is what happens when you try to build a movement that is independent of the kind of liberal-reformist influence that appears in Rolling Stone and a thousand other sources which pump sewage into the movement.

"Look," they may say, "even such a small and experienced group of activists cannot talk about distributing a leaflet without attempting to ban one another from the public meetings of their common effort. How ridiculous and ineffective they are. They are acting like a bunch of amateurs."

And it would be the truth. We are acting like a bunch of amateurs.

But we cannot be afraid of looking foolish in public. If we look foolish in public -- it is because we are foolish.

However, as long as we are committed to working with one another while continuing to make our differences public, I believe this will change. Activists will help us overcome our errors. This is far more important than any ridicule we may experience. We will gradually become less foolish. We will eventually be able to overcome our amateur behavior. The ridicule will be a temporary thing. But overcoming our amateur behavior may have a long-lasting impact.

This is what stands out above all else.

If a small group of activists could successfully organize an anti-imperialist feeder march of more than 60 people last month -- imagine what we will be able to do as we struggle to discard the blindfolds which stand between us and the challenge of building an anti-imperialist pole of attraction?

What do we need from you, dear reader?

Most of what I write gets very little response from readers. I don't know if this post will be any different. There may be the usual ridicule and sarcasm from sideline critics. But that is not important. What is important are comments from the more serious readers -- who may believe that there is a need for an anti-imperialist organization which does not hide or keep secret its internal struggles and which recognizes that it cannot be effective without a constant stream of criticism from serious activists everywhere.

If you are one of these readers -- then I hope that you will say something. Until the more serious activists find principled and effective ways of organizing ourselves -- we are going to live in a world dominated completely by imperialism.

Sincerely and revolutionary regards,
Ben Seattle

Isolated from one another we are easily defeated.
Connected to one another no force on earth can stop us

Hit them where it Hurts! and related articles ...
Agitation for the Sept 24, 2005 antiwar march
. 15.Oct.2005 23:40


I completely agree and have been saying similiar things for quite a long time now. It's as if the anti-corporate globalization movement has been almost completley silent in terms of affecting the direction of the anti-war movement. Where has this utterly Revolutionary flair gone? After Quebec City things died down (because of the False Flag operation of 9/11) and ever since, true radicalism has been fractured. On the flipside, it never disappeared, but it's not what it should have become by now. It's time to take everything to the next level and pick up where we left off after Quebec. I already see signs of this occuring. Great things await.

My years of experience tell me 16.Oct.2005 14:35

Another anti-imperialist

I strongly disagree with being too open. I think people should know what they need to know. The threat of cointelpro type propaganda activities(both by government and private firms hired by corporations) is very real. When you lay all your arguments out for everyone to see, not only does the public lose respect for you but you open yourself to attacks on your credibility by moles planted all throughout the movement. These people are so talented at destroying movements that even the most well intentioned people end up working with moles.

Publishing your name publicly as the leader of a group openly calling for revolution is just plain stupid. If you ever managed to be successful, you'd be the first to go with two in the chest. Also if some names are published and others are not then it looks like the group belongs only to those people who are listed. In this case it sounds like it would just be you. I can see where the others might not want to be viewed as your followers. It's not fair to punish those in your group who posess good sense.

The public doesn't care about your conflicts or find them interesting in the slightest(other than for negative purposes) and would just get quickly annoyed with hearing/reading about your petty internal squabbles and would only view your group as turmultuous and to be avoided.

I've seen this happen a million times. Some couple years new guy riding in on a high horse comes along and self righteously declares "how to organise effectively". But which actually means the fastest track to a fantasticly bad end. Guy gets upset that no one wants to make such a stupid mistake and finding no support in the group, seeks to tear down the organisation publicly to coerce the group into compliance.

As a precautionary rule I refuse to work with anyone who advocates for such naive tactics. It looks to me as though your ego has taken you over a bit and is causing vindictive behavior because of your feeling of rejection. If I were in your organisation, I would propose your removal as well and specifically for this post. No injustice has been done to you. If you are convinced of the validity of your ill-fated ideas then you should find others who agree with you and try it out. You do not need to harm, expose, or coerce the Seattle Anti-Imperialists just because they disagree with you.

You've got a lot to learn if you want a revolution.

Open politics are necessary to puncture sectarianism 16.Oct.2005 18:07

Ben Seattle

(reply to "another anti-imperialist")

Thanks for your comments. I believe it is useful hear all the counter-arguments that stand in opposition to open politics.

Your arguments are:

1. threats from "moles" (ie: confusion that can be
created by reactionaries or government agencies)
2. the threat of death by violent repression
3. activists are not really interested in our
internal disagreements -- and will get annoyed
and feel pestered or spammed with
too much information
4. I may be trying to coerce the group into compliance
(or acting out of vindictiveness or feelings of
rejection) by making it look foolish in public
5. Experienced activists like you will refuse
to work with anyone like me who advocates
such naive tactics

Reply to arguments 1 and 2:

I am not advocating that anyone publish their real name. I argue for use of a consistent pseudonym. (I believe that more than 95% of readers understand that "Ben Seattle" is a psuedonym.) A consistent psuedonym is part of the process of developing a reputation. Reputation is important because the time and attention of readers is limited -- and they want to invest this scare time and attention with people who have been insightful in the past. Also -- when activists write using a consistent pseudonym - they tend to be more thoughtful because their reputation is on the line.

More to the point -- the problems in our movement that are the result of government or police repression are extremely minor in comparison to the problems that are the result of our lack of organization, our ignorance, reformism and sectarianism. (There is much more of an issue of harassment of immigrants -- but even this factor is small in comparison to the overwhelming damage resulting from the other factors.)

Political activity is legal at this time. Harassment exists but it is not a major factor at this time in comparison to the influence of the Democratic Party (and its flunkies) or the damage which is created by sectarianism. I believe we are foolish if we fail to "make hay while the sun shines". It is by making use of the existing openings that we best prepare for the possibility (or probablity) of repression in the future.

Furthermore -- let's be realistic about this: If you are doing anything _really_ useful right now -- the feds can most likely find out who you are with some effort. This is not an argument against reasonable security precautions (such as pseudonyms). It is an argument against letting fear and paranoia prevent us from doing what needs to be done. There are many political activists who work in countries where repression is a fact of daily life. They suffer arrest, torture and death in order to be politically active. We dishonor them if we fail to make use of existing conditions of legality to build a powerful movement here while the opportunity presents itself.

Reply to argument 3:

Some activists will be interested in the direction our organization takes -- and some will not.

As far as those who will feel spammed -- it will be necessary to be sensitive to this -- and utilize methods of making our disagreements public -- such that it is easy for those who are interested to find out more -- while avoiding having those who are not interested feel bombarded with useless information. One factor in making an indymedia post (like this one) less likely to feel like a spam broadcast -- is that it is followed up by someone like me who will respond (as best he can) with a thoughtful comment.

Reply to argument 4:

This ignores the political argument that open politics are necessary in order to create a mass organization which is deserving of the respect and attention of activists.

Arguments which focus on me as a person (or my motives as a person) tend to be a waste of time -- because it is not possible for anyone to demonstrate what their motives are. Furthermore -- that is a silly way to think about things. We don't need a machine that can somehow magically measure sincerity. We make assessments on the basis of what people do and the principles they follow. And when principles come into collision with one another (as they have in this case) we focus on the principles.

Reply with argument 5:

I believe that, if your primary motivation is the development of a powerful movement -- then you will feel inclined to work with our group if our group demonstrates that it is doing useful things. This is really the bottom line: what is our group capable of doing in the world?

I argue for open politics because I believe this is necessary in order to build an anti-imperialist pole of attraction within the antiwar movement.

An additional comment:

What none of your arguments (or years of experience) appear to address -- is the simple fact that the antiwar movement remains weak and dominated by liberal-reformist organizations and ideology because it has no anti-imperialist pole of attraction.

It is no secret, to many, that such a pole of attraction is necessary. And yet no person or group has been successful in creating it.

So why does it not exist?

It is not because of government repression.

A big part of the reason is the disease of sectarianism. Advanced activists tend to cluster into groups which put the existence and growth of their group above the interest of the movement. The material basis of sectarianism is the cutthroat competition for survival between various groups over the warm, living bodies of activists. In these conditions all kinds of manipulation and charlatanism become "normal". The cooperation between activists which is necessary to sort out the decisive questions and build the movement becomes impossible (or impractical) because each group is doing all it can to paint the other groups as "black hats" and isolate its supporters from having productive exchanges and cooperation with other groups.

I have come to the conclusion that sectarianism will be dealt a crushing blow by open politics. All the manipulation and charlatanism which are so common today -- will be punctured as serious activists link up with one another -- and public discussion and debate increasingly makes clear who is defending principles that serve the movement -- and who is full of hot air.

Sincerely and revolutionary regards,
Ben Seattle

Isolated from one another we are easily defeated.
Connected to one another no force on earth can stop us

Hit them where it Hurts! and related articles ...
Agitation for the Sept 24, 2005 antiwar march

common sense 16.Oct.2005 20:09


I agree with your analysis, Ben Seattle. You've made a number of cogent arguments here which have helped me to hone my own thinking on this subject.

I especially like the point you made about "reputation." This is such an elementary and seemingly self-evident point that it's kind of amazing how much controversy it stirs up: Just as you say, we all are mortals, with limited time on this earth, and we have always relied on reputation as a predictive factor in determining how much stock to put in the words of others. We can't possibly hope to learn all the facts that it's possible to know on any given subject before making a decision. We have to rely on our intuition and our sense of the honesty, integrity, and reliability of a source based on its previous performance. Whence the value of writers using consistent pseudonyms. Whence the importance businesses put on protecting their trademarks, etc. (We should not be so dogmatic as to refuse to learn something about human society from examining phenomena in bourgeois culture.)

I also agree wholeheartedly that, as progressives and anti-imperialists, "we are our own worst enemies," and, as you point out, the threats to us by our avowed adversaries pale in comparison to our internal problems.

I also like your analogy to "open source." It's a wonderful phenomenon to behold that computer programmers and IT professionals, working without proprietary secrets, without a top-down business hierarchy, and without the primary motivation of personal enrichment, are capable of producing software in many cases vastly superior and at less cost than commercial alternatives. I've read your riffs on this subject before, and I hope you are right that this model of technological progress could also inform our social progress. To me, the future is still very gray, but I desperately want to embrace your optimism on this. Naturally, though, there are as many reasons for pessimism as optimism, so I'm just not totally sure.

Nonetheless, we should be guided by our principles. What kind of society do we want? Because openness and transparency are values in and of themselves, we should automatically favor them, all other things being equal, regardless of how bleak and uncertain things look now, irrespective of how we proceed.

I don't have a whole lot to add right now to your thoughts -- you've obviously put a lot of work into your thinking, and I believe it will pay dividends. I just want to encourage you to continue developing your ideas and applying them in practical directions, and thought you might find it helpful to realize that there are certainly others of us reading your work who appreciate it.

I can see there's no getting through to you 18.Oct.2005 14:05

Another anti-imperialist

I guess you will just have to see for yourself. But the tactics you describe will actually be perfect breeding grounds for exactly the things that you are most concerned about.

Start your own organisation if you want to use those sort of tactics. It seems blatantly clear to me that if an organisation is requesting your removal, that they disagree with your anaylsis, and it is obviously time for you to move on and leave them alone.

Maybe repression is different in Seattle than in Oregon. I'm willing to concede that because I'm unfamiliar with the political climate there. There is a very disproportionate amount of FBI/Homeland Security funds asigned to Portland and they have to justify that budget somehow. In Portland every time a group becomes successful, a mole is assigned, and all idealogical divides are exploited the point of destruction. It's a very frustrating pattern that I have seen over and over and our community has had to adapt to that environment.
To be clear, it has been proven several times that the culprits were in fact government or corporate moles. In some cases (especially corporate ones) they don't even bother to use a psuedonym. In others they do a very good job of snitch jacketing people like you by putting you up to voicing their "concerns". If you become successful, you will face the same reality.

As for your subtle attacks on my debate style, just as you suspect I'm not some bourgeousie debate team geek. I am a human, I am a womyn, and I will speak from my heart and my experience, not from theory and ego. I am an avid reader of history, but exclusively from the perspective of those who lived it. I trust more what I experience than what I read from someone who has spent most of their life simply reading about life. I have read the books of many theorists and most of them are full of shit, they are worthless armchair intellectuals. Regardless of the attempted conditioning of people that someone who sounds intellectual must know exactly what they're talking about because they can talk a good game, I find experience, truth, and heart far more respectable and I think the majority of working class america would agree with me. I will not be shamed. Welcome to the real fuckin' world. (now look at that we've stumbled upon a class/gender issue)

Open politics are the salvation of our movement 18.Oct.2005 22:05

Ben Seattle

(--reply to Thucydides--)

Thanks for your comments.

It is knowing that my work is appreciated that keeps me going.

I hope you eventually join us on the discussion list of the media weapon community.

(--reply to anti-imperialist--)

First, thanks for your second reply. Discussion is useful and necessary.

First I should clear up an issue where you appear to be making assumptions. The anti-imperialist organization in Seattle is not requesting my removal. One of the activists who is part of this effort is doing so. He has some support for his position. I may (or may not) have some support for mine. These issues will become more clear with time.

As far as I am concerned, the anti-imperialists in Seattle do not have a real organization at this time. What we have is a temporary working relationship which is being called an organization. We have not agreed on our mission (except in vague terms) or the criteria for membership or how we will make decisions. Nor is it clear that we will be able to continue to work together. (I hope that we can.) I was opposed to calling our temporary working relationship an organization (at this time) because to do so creates confusion about what we have created so far. I am in favor of building a real organization.

As far as your concern about moles: I believe that the damage that moles can do is relatively minimal if experienced activists are organizing. Of all the problems we face, moles (and/or government repression) are number 30 or 40 down on the list. It is our own confusion, ignorance, inexperience and the terrible diseases of reformism and sectarianism that hurt us. You talk about "exploiting the ideological divides to the point of destruction". This can only hurt us if we allow it to happen. The way to deal with this is to learn how to handle our differences in calm, scientific and _open_ ways.

We will do so.

All of the manipulation by those who falsely pretend to be friends of the working class -- will be exposed as we learn to work with open methods. Charlatanism and manipulation of all kinds will no longer have any place to hide.

As far as most theorists being full of shit ... well I know a lot are. I am a theorist myself and (if you have the time -- because I know you must be very busy) I would be interested in your opinion on some of the work I have done. I have made an effort to illustrate my ideas with relatively good examples and to use clear language. I have also gone to some pains to attempt to make my conclusions accurate. Possibly the best place to start (if you have an interest -- it would be understandable if you do not considering that we are not getting off to a good start) would be the recommended reading section on the left-hand column of the page at:  http://MediaWeapon.com

I appreciate that you are speaking from the heart. I objected somewhat to the tone of your earlier comment but I find your second comment to be different. I will apologize if my words came across as arrogant. This was not my intention. It may not have been clear -- but I also have experience in the movement -- and I respect your experience.

Sincerely and revolutionary regards,
Ben Seattle

Isolated from one another we are easily defeated.
Connected to one another no force on earth can stop us

Hit them where it Hurts! and related articles ...
Agitation for the Sept 24, 2005 antiwar march

we will be judged for what we do 21.Oct.2005 23:40

more than what we say

So do it. I understand process is important, but only in effecting a goal. If you have no common vision, goals or strategies, Ben, as you stated above about not being an organization, how can you know what form of process to take? Form follows function. Where's the function? What are you here to do? What do we all have to do as anti-imperialists? Is it to "unify the peace movement?"That is not necessarily my goal- it would fall more into the region of a strategy on the way to a goal, but strategy is something made of common vision. I do not see the war as being the only manifestation of imperialism, nor the only front to fight it on, and long after the war is over imperialism will exist (i think). so it is not my goal, and if it is yours perhaps you would favor a different form of organization than myself. Should our tactics to reach the goal of ending imperialism be to reach out and unify and create support structures in physical communities? Is it to provide support for anti-imperialist struggle that is going on all over the place in different manifestations? Maybe we should all look at WHAT we have to do, and then go about figuring out HOW to do it with those who also want to do those things. I am not interested in feeling good about a pseudo-militant protest if it gets us nowhere in terms of stopping this imperialist system in which we live. I am for a revolutionary solution to imperialism- community comtrol and resistance to the empire on all fronts. Ideals sound very nice in writing, which is the attraction of theory. But practice is where we live, and we must learn from how the things we create function. process is what we create to do the things we need to do- it is not an ideal, people are not perfect, and there is not magic pill, just working and learning relationships, in my experience.

so I guess my advice about all this transparency vs. whatever it is being polarized against...is, work directly with the people you are talking about to figure out common vision. that would be transparent and accountable of you to do, instead of polarizing peole who don't know your group on the basis of inferred opacity on the part of seattle anti-imperialists. If your working group are kicking you out (which you should know if you are actually working with them) then move on and find people who share your vision of the WORK you want to do, and then work together and be patient with eachother as you figure out HOW you are going to do it. that's my two cents.