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Letter to comrade Edward (The Road to Information War)

A longer-term view of the tasks of building anti-imperialist and revolutionary organization in the U.S. in the early 21st century:
1. Work to build an open community of activists
2. Develop national reach via the internet (indymedia newswires, email lists, etc)
3. Develop theoretical tools that will allow us to think about and talk about our long-term goal
Hi Edward,

We have had a successful Mayday action. Thousands of workers
came out into the street. We distributed thousands of leaflets.
Maybe a few people will come to our next meeting.

And, with some of our immediate tasks out of the way, this is a
good time to give thought to our longer-term tasks.

* * * * * *

For the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) to serve the
movement it will need to take a long-term approach and do the
right things:

1. be open
--------------

Work to build an open community of activists
who can help us better understand the movement,
extend our reach and resolve our disputes.

2. develop national reach
---------------------------------

Make regular and consistent posts to many indymedia
sites, email lists and web-based forums -- and follow up
to respond to the best comments or criticisms we receive.

3. recognize the need for theory
-----------------------------------------

Confront the questions that need to be confronted
(including the crisis of theory) so that we can consumate
the marriage between our current tasks and our future goals.

* * * * * *

The current orientation of SAIC will eventually reach the limits
of its effectiveness (if it has not already done so). Whether
SAIC takes steps in the direction (above) that it needs to go --
depends a lot on you.

You have asked me to join SAIC. I do not understand your reasons
for this. I already assist SAIC, attend its public meetings,
make suggestions on its agitation and help distribute its
leaflets. More than this -- I am a source of the kind of
criticism which SAIC needs. There is a gap between what SAIC
does and what our movement needs. I point to this gap. This is
much more important (and necessary) than having formal status as
a member.

* * * * * *

This is not an easy time to build an organization. The
theoretical level in the movement is abysmal and there is no
widespread recognition (or hatred) of the sabotaging role of the
reformist political trends which chain the movement to the
illusions, schemes and manuevers that originate with the
imperialist Democratic Party. So the approach which I advocate
-- even if followed -- would be unlikely to yield results in the
short term.

The CVO comrades [1] advocate one path for SAIC (ie: more or less
the path it is currently following) and I advocate another path
(ie: see my three points above). They advocate planting certain
kinds of seeds in a certain way -- while I advocate a different
mix of seeds and different ways of planting. But even with the
right seeds and the right methods -- there is the question of
time (ie: it takes seeds time to sprout) and conditions (ie: how
favorable is the soil and other factors). So there is no easy
experiment that can quickly prove which path is best.

Scientific experiment (ie: practice) is the best way to determine
which path is best -- but as noted -- experiment takes time and
results are uncertain in any event. So my arguments here are
somewhat theoretical.

* * * * * *

Why do we need to build an open community?

We need a community to help us with our mission. We need extra
eyes and ears in the movement. We need a tranmission belt to
extend our influence to the movement. We need a laboratory to
help us better understand the interaction of different trends and
the ways in which the formulations of our political line are
understood. We need a school of information war. A community
can be all of these things.

A community can be a gateway for those activists who want to
investigate our views and our practice.

A community can also assist us in better understanding and
resolving our contradictions.

The community must be open because that is the nature of a
community. It must be something that is easy for activists to be
part of -- with few commitments required other than to treat
other activists with respect and a recognition that a certain
level of focus and responsiveness is required in order for the
community to work.

Within the community, projects will compete with one another for
attention. Some of these projects will be reformist-oriented
efforts which we will understand are a waste of time and are
destined to go nowhere. This is inevitable because, in many
ways, our community will be a microcosm of the larger movement -
and will reflect within itself, in concentrated form, all the
contradictions of the movement.

In other ways, we can consider a community like this to be a
primitive form of mass organization - a low-level form that is
unfocused and undisciplined. But as unfocused and undisciplined
as it is -- it may still represent a step forward for us - and
help us to learn how to build and to influence communities of
activists.

SAIC has already taken a significant step toward the development
of a community. Every article that SAIC writes is now "live" in
the form of a blog where readers can post public comments,
questions and criticisms. We need to continue in the direction
of transparency and community.

Building a community is a long term project. Such a project
requires the appplication of consistent effort over a long period
of time. The level of effort is not necessarily high - maybe
half an hour or an hour per week. But the effort must be steady,
consistent and long-term. And in the long term, it will pay off.
(This is what I believe. The community I have been working to
build [2] has not yet reached a critical mass of talent and
determination in spite of years of work that I have poured into
it. Nor is it clear how many more years it will be before such a
critical mass appears.)

* * * * * *

The case for putting more of an effort into national distribution
-- is that the real value and significance of our work can only
be appreciated by a relatively small section of activists (ie:
who have learned to hate opportunism) and 98% of these activists
are outside Seattle. Some of these activists read Portland
Indymedia -- but many do not. If we want to reach them -- we
must post to many indymedia sites, email lists and other types of
forums -- and must experiment with ways of replying (at least to
the more serious criticisms) so that our posts are not perceived
as spam.

* * * * * *

The case for developing theoretical tools that allow us to
confront the more serious questions -- is that these questions
are very important to the thinking of activists.

Activists want to know why the Soviet and Chinese revolutions
failed (ie: degenerated into police states). If we don't tell
them why these revolutions failed -- the bourgeoisie will (and
does). The bourgeoisie will (and does) claim that any attempt to
defy the rule of the market will inevitably result in: (1) a
police state and (2) low productivity (ie: poverty for everyone
except corrupt bureaucrats and jail for anyone who speaks out).

I recently reviewed (again) some of the CVO's theoretical work on
what they call the "transition to socialism". It was quite poor
-- at least in relation to answering basic questions that
activists have. The CVO is unable to provide a reliable
explanation of what "socialism" is -- much less give any clear
idea of the transition to this thing which they are unable to
either define or explain. In particular, the articles include no
_mention_ whatsoever of the decisive role of _democratic rights_
in making it possible for the working class as a _class_ (ie: not
just an organization which claims to represent the class) to
actually run and control the economy, culture and politics of the
new society.

The CVO, like other cargo-cult organizations, appears to regard
democratic rights as an article of consumption in the political
economy of post-bourgeois society. As such, the fundamental
democratic rights of speech and assembly are regarded as optional
- as dispensable - as being _undeserving of mention_ in a series
of articles supposedly focused on the "transition to socialism".

A serious approach to revolutionary theory will make clear that
the opposite is true. Democratic rights are more than an
_article of consumption_ in future society - they are fundamental
_means of production_ that make everything else (in particular
the security and stability of working class rule) possible.

Only by making use of democratic rights can the working class
prevent the degeneration of its state. Hence democratic rights
are not simply a goal of workers' rule -- they are the essential
weapon necessary to defend workers' rule. Without democratic
rights the workers' state is living on borrowed time.

Lenin was _acutely_ aware of this.

The CVO article, however, falsely claims that Lenin never
discussed the possibility of the ruling party/state degenerating:

> Lenin never dealt with the issue of the degeneration
> of the regime and the loss of its character as a
> revolutionary representative of the masses. The
> regime might be overthrown, but he assumed that
> if it could hold power, that it could maintain its
> status as the voice of the masses. [3]

The truth is the exact opposite. Two months before his stroke in
1922, in his last major address to the party, Lenin warned the
11th Party Congress that "the real and main danger" was that
everything might degenerate along bourgeois lines [4].

What is the significance of this?

The significance of this is simply that it removes much of the
mystery concerning what happened and why. Degeneration was the
"normal" course of events which could only be successfully
opposed with assistance from _outside_ the apparatus (ie: with
assistance from the independent actions of the masses). But this
requires that the masses have the fundamental rights of
independent speech and organization.

If we want activists to have confidence that a world without
imperialism (ie: bourgeois rule) is possible -- we must make
clear that there are achievable material conditions in which such
a world will not be hanging by a thread -- but rather will be
secure. These material conditions include a society where
democratic rights are used on a daily basis to mobilize mass
opposition to the inevitable incompetence, hypocrisy and
corruption that will emerge even within the people and principles
which guide their own state.

The exercize of these rights, by the masses, to secure their
victory -- must be as easy as breathing -- because these actions
are the breath of society -- bringing needed oxygen (ie:
transparency) to every corner in which bacteria begin to gather.
Lenin's 1917 revolution was suffocated due to a lack of oxygen.
This is why it died, as Lenin knew was the real and main danger,
with a whimper rather than a bang.

We cannot build our movement around the goal of a world in which
society -- and everything which we have fought and sacrificed for
-- is in danger of suffocation -- in which everything is hanging
by a thread. Our goal must be victory.

-------------------------------------------------
We cannot ask the working class to sacrifice
for this struggle if we cannot hold up the light
of theory and illuminate the path to victory.
-------------------------------------------------

This is why it cannot be the period of martial law (ie: the rule
of a single organization with the power to suppress its
opposition) which might conclude a possible civil war -- but the
period _after_ in which the working class makes daily use of the
fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization to
defend its role as master of society -- which we must recognize
as workers' rule (or, if you will, the dictatorship of the
proletariat).

Unfortunately the CVO articles are "sealed off". There are few,
if any, ways that correct criticism of these articles can be
brought to the attention of readers of the CVO journal. (Of
course anyone can write to Joseph and submit a criticism to this
corrupt gatekeeper - but such criticism is unlikely to see the
light of day.)

* * * * * *

I am not sure, Edward, what any of this means to you.

One of your concerns, as I understand it [5], is that you want
more activists to come to SAIC's local meetings and participate
in its activity. This appears to be one way to measure the
success of our work and gauge our potential to influence the
antiwar movement in an anti-imperialist direction. I share your
concern. I can't guarantee that the path I advocate will
address this concern in the short run. But I believe that this
path will help us to connect with serious activists nationwide
because:

1. We can make systematic efforts to make ourselves known to
them.

2. We can learn how to answer their questions and address their
concerns (even if we cannot prove by any kind of spectacular
local success that we understand how to build the antiwar
movement).

3. We can build an open community of activists where the two
diseases which most cripple the antiwar movement (ie: reformism
and sectarianism) can be successfully fought.

* * * * * *

On the other hand, if we don't do the right things -- then not
only will we fail to build the movement -- but our own ability to
take action will tend to be undermined -- as we are eventually
overwhelmed by demoralization, cynicism, apoliticism and
passivity.

* * * * * *

The path I advocate (which I will call the path of information
war) is not something with which any of us have a lot of
experience. As we work on this path we will stumble many times.
We will make many mistakes. We will get a lot of things wrong.
This is inevitable when you are trying something which is new.
But we can learn from all of our mistakes.

Yes -- if we use public forums or email lists to discuss and
debate among ourselves -- we will sometimes look like fools. Big
deal. We will look like fools because sometimes we _are_
foolish. We will look ignorant because sometimes we _are_
ignorant. But this is also the fastest (and ultimately the least
painful) route to _overcoming_ our ignorance and foolishness. I
therefore assert that it is ignorant and foolish to avoid this
path.

* * * * * *

The "tried and true" methods which the CVO comrades advocate
represent a path that is well-travelled. It is easier to go on
this path -- because all the methods and techniques are
well-established and debugged -- the pitfalls have been learned
in decades of experience. But this path is also limited in terms
of what it can do. The result of this path tends to be sterile
organization which is largely closed off to the life of the
movement.

Leaflets which give an anti-imperialist analysis of the news and
expose the treachery of the reformist trends -- are certainly
necessary -- but they are not enough. We must harness the power
of the emerging revolution in communications to take our message
far and wide and build open communities. We must _integrate_ our
message -- and our analysis of current events -- with a clear
vision of our goal (which means we must have enough respect for
theory to develop tools that will allow us to think about and
talk about our goal).

Until we take these steps -- until we forge this new path -- then
as long as the movement is at its current level -- nothing is
going to change.

Sincerely and revolutionary regards,
Ben Seattle
 http://struggle.net/ben
May 1, 2006

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

Below:
* Notes for article
* Additional background for readers
* Further reading
* Follow-ups
* A note to Indymedia readers who want a response from me

------------------------------------------------------------
Notes for article:
------------------------------------------------------------

[1] The majority of the supporters of the Seattle
Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) are also supporters
of the Communist Voice Organization (CVO).

The SAIC website is:  http://SeattleAIC.org

The CVO website is:  http://CommunistVoice.org

My criticisms of SAIC (including this letter) are
online at:  http://struggle.net/mass-democracy

[2] The Media Weapon community currently makes use of
the pof-200 and pof-300 discussion lists and a wiki.

[3] See the 2nd to last paragraph in "State capitalism, Leninism
and the transition to socialism (part 3)" at
 http://home.flash.net/~comvoice/14cStateCapitalism.html

[4] Political Report of the Central Committee
of the RCP(B), March 27, 1922 (pages 286 - 287)
 http://www.marx2mao.com/Lenin/EC22.html

[5] This paragraph was modified as a result of email exchange
between Edward and me. The original version can be seen
at:  http://struggle.net/Ben/2006/506-ben-2.htm

The entire exchange can be found in the "follow-up"
section for my "Road to Information War" article at:
 http://struggle.net/mass-democracy

------------------------------------------------------------
Additional background for readers:
------------------------------------------------------------

Lenin was incapacited by a series of strokes beginning in May
1922 and his political life ended completely ten months later.
Two months before his stroke, however, in his last major address
to the party, Lenin warned the 11th Party Congress that "the real
and main danger" was that the ruling party/state might
degenerate. Lenin quoted an article written by one of the
enemies of the revolution, named Ustryalov, who asserted that the
degeneration of the Soviet State into an "ordinary bourgeois
morass with communist flags inscribed with catchwords stuck all
over the place" was merely a matter of time and "evolution".
Lenin warned that:

"We must say frankly that the things
Ustryalov speaks about are possible.
History knows all sorts of metamorphoses.
... This is the real and main danger"

Readers may want to know why, if Lenin understood the need for
democratic rights (and the danger that the lack of such rights
posed to revolutionary society) he considered it necessary to
suppress these rights (even within the party) in the period
following the end of the civil war.

Lenin's argument was that this suppression of democratic rights
was necessary becasue otherwise, in the extreme conditions of the
time (ie: a shattered economy, famine -- and a majority peasant
population that greatly resented the emergency measures such as
the confiscation of surplus grain) the bourgeoisie and landlords
(who had just recently been defeated in the civil war) would have
been able, within a matter of months, to press for elections,
remove the Bolsheviks from power and replace the Bolsheviks with
opportunist political trends which would have (1) made all kinds
of fraudulent promises in order to get elected - and then (2)
surrendered power to the bourgeoise and landlords.

Lenin argued that before essential democratic rights could be
reestablished - the shattered economy (which had been destroyed
in the civil war) must be restored in order to lessen the
dissatisfaction of the peasant majority of the population. Lenin
estimated that it might take 10 years (or even 20 years) before
the shattered economy could be restored. Unfortunately, in the
absence of the organized mass struggles against corruption (that
were not possible in the absence of democratic rights) the ruling
party/state was unable, during this lengthy period, to maintain
its character as a revolutionary representative of the masses.

It was bad enough, of course, that Lenin's 1917 revolution was
suffocated. The internal suffocation of this revolution shaped
all the key events in the rest of the 20th century. But what
would be worse - would be if we failed to recognize the need to
clarify our theory - the need to toss in the trash the so-called
"marxist-leninist" principle (established by the exploiting class
that took control of Soviet society) that identifies workers rule
with the rule of a merged party/state that suppresses its
opponents. We must recognize -- in theory -- and in thousands of
articles which must be written and posted to every corner of the
internet - that workers' rule corresponds to the period (1) after
bourgeois rule is decisively broken and (2) during which the
working class makes daily use of the fundamental democratic
rights of speech and organization to defend its role as master of
society.

------------------------------------------------------------
Further reading:
------------------------------------------------------------

Lenin's attitude toward these questions in revealed in many of
his writings in 1921 including his speeches at the 10th Congress,
his famous article "The Tax in Kind" and in various less
well-knows works such as "Letter To Myasnikov"

Related work by Ben Seattle:

Seventeen Theses on the Destiny of the Revolution in
communications and the Concept of Workers' Rule

"The concept of workers' rule is central
to the development of a progressive movement
which is conscious and organized. The power
of this concept to clarify our tasks is fully
equivalent to the power of Darwin's theory
of evolution to understanding biology or
the theory of plate tectonics to understanding
geology. Without this concept, we are reduced
to feeling our way forward (and sometimes
backward) in the dark. With this concept --
the lights are on."
-- Thesis # 3 --  http://struggle.net/17

Politics, Economics and the Mass Media
when the working class runs the show
 http://struggle.net/ALDS/essay_153_content.htm

This short essay gives a good overview of a number
of key questions and also serves as a quick
introduction the principle of the "separation of
speech and property" which will be used by future
workers' states to draw the line between commercial
media (which will be regulated by the state) and
non-commercial media (which will be unregulated).

------------------------------------------------------------
Follow-ups:
------------------------------------------------------------

Frank, a supporter of SAIC and CVO, has written a 2200 word
reply to the first two points of my 3 point program for SAIC.
Frank's reply is posted in the "follow-up" section for my
"Road to Information War" article at:
 http://struggle.net/mass-democracy

------------------------------------------------------------
A note to Indymedia readers who want a response from me:
------------------------------------------------------------

If I just post this article to a few Indymedia newswires
without taking the time to follow up and reply to comments
-- then many readers may regard this post as a form of
political spam.

On the other hand -- it usually takes me a week or ten days
to create thoughtful responses to comments, questions and
criticism that I receive. And this newswire post will be
old and in the archives (and without an audience) by then.

So -- I have created a web-based forum on
the page where this article is posted at:
 http://struggle.net/ben/2006/501-to-edward.htm

You can post your thoughtful comments, questions and
criticisms to that page -- and I will reply (if you
indicate that you would like me to) within ten days.

Postings will not be screened prior to becoming public
(ie: what you post will immediately become public just
like here on Indymedia) however I will delete posts
which are (a) racist or (2) lack political content
and consist of personal insults. This gives you the
right to make your views known immediately and to
challenge anything I say that you believe to be
bullshit -- while also maintaining a signal-to-noise
ratio that makes discussion useful for serious activists.

This also gives you the opportunity to see comments
from readers in other parts of the country. And
the forum gives you the ability (if you want to)
to pass your email address to me (in a way that is
not visible to spammers) so that I can contact you
when I have had time to respond.

Many readers like what I write -- and many others
believe what I write is total garbage. Whether you
love or hate my work -- I am interested in your
thoughtful comments -- and I will respond.

Sincerely,
Ben Seattle -- May 14, 2006

homepage: homepage: http://struggle.net/mass-democracy

Replying to Ben 14.May.2006 21:21

post by Frank mail@communistvoice.org

Dear Ben Seattle,

Thank you for submitting your letter for publication in "Communist Voice".

You give your criticisms of the way the SAIC is organized as the
main reason for your letter to Edward. On this question I shall consult the SAIC comrades as to whether they think that a discussion of the nature of the SAIC would be of general interest at the moment.

But you also spend a good deal of time on your view of the
Communist Voice Organization. One might think from some of the
expressions in your writing that you sympathize with or support, to
This or that extent, the aims and work of the "Communist Voice" journal and the Communist Voice Organization. But as far as I could see, you don't have much regard for our work. You refer to the CVO as a "cargo-cult organization"; and you think you can brush aside our work on the transition to socialism, and by implication on other matters as well, by finding one isolated individual point or other where you think we are wrong.

I would be interested to know which left-wing groups and
theoretical journals you regard as having done serious work concerning
the transition to socialism and other theoretical issues, work which
You can't simply brush aside as easily as you brush aside our work. It
Might help move discussion forward if you would say which articles by others which you believe are serious. And I would like to know if you have submitted your letter and other articles to these groups and their journals, and whether they have published them. If they have rejected them, I would be interested to know why.

It is also quite a serious matter that, when it suits some purpose of yours, you make very prejudicial remarks in your letters, without any concern for their accuracy. For example, you write to me that the Marxist-Leninist Party collapsed because it "failed to confront the crisis of theory". In fact, as you are well aware, due to your past association with the MLP, the MLP laid a great stress on theory. It devoted itself to the anti-revisionist struggle, both the theoretical side of this struggle as well as the practical organizational side. Although the MLP was a modest-sized group that was extremely active in agitation, demonstrations, and organizing activities, it pushed forward very hard on the theoretical front. It held that theory and practice should be intimately related; and it was acutely consciously of the theoretical crisis of the left-wing movement. The MLP didn't just restrict theoretical work to a handful, but it brought the entire MLP into this work, and not just members of the MLP but as many supporters and sympathizers as it was able to. People around the MLP were mobilized, when possible, not just into studying the theoretical views of the organization, but doing theoretical and historical research and helping the MLP develop new views.

The Documents of the Second Congress of the MLP of late 1983 give
some idea of the sweep of MLP activity, the breadth of its theoretical
interest, and its serious approach to the anti-revisionist struggle.
The Second Congress documents dealt with the conception of the class
struggle and how it develops, the issue of party-building, the specific analysis of various mass movements, the different stages of revolution in different countries in the world, the need to foster different norms of relations among revolutionary parties than those common at the time, the history of and fight against the main revisionist and opportunist trends, etc.


Among the issues dealt with by the MLP and its predecessors were:


a) the theory of three worlds. The very formation of the MLP was
tied inseparably to the campaign waged by the Central Organization Of
US Marxist-Leninists against the three worlds theory, then promoted by the Chinese Communist Party and the Maoist movement worldwide. The COUSML didn't simply oppose various of the reactionary consequences of the three worlds theory, but promoted a deep study of the political basis of this theory. The COUSML connected repudiation of the three world theory to looking into the basic Marxist-Leninist teachings on revolution and on organization. It also looked into the historical roots of the three worlds theory, such as what weaknesses in the world communist movement contributed to the rise and spread of three worldism. This led the COUSML and then the MLP to a renewed study of the history of the world communist movement.

b) The MLP carried out a study of the immediate post-World War II
line of the world communist movement, that is, the line between 1945
And the death of Stalin. This showed that various of the errors that came out blatantly in the three worlds theory had much earlier roots. This study played an important role in exposing the real nature of
Stalinism, and changing the previous views of the MLP and its predecessors about Stalin; it also helped refute the views of the Party of Labor of Albania that Stalinist views are the alternative to three-worldism and Chinese revisionism.

c) The MLP carried out a study of the change in line at the
Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935. This showed that, while certain adjustments in the line of the world movement were needed in the mid-30s, the Seventh Congress went overboard and took up liquidationist positions. This study was based on a major examination of what was happening to the world communist movement in the mid-30s and of the needs of the fight against world fascism. It included major studies of the events in France and of the Spanish Civil War. This study was another part of a growing refutation of Stalinism.


d) The COUSML and MLP carried out repeated studies of united front
tactics, seeking to distinguish correct united front tactics from
capitulation to reformism. This included a study of the lessons taught
by the first four congresses of the Communist International concerning
the united front. It also included close examination of the united
Front work of various organizations, and of course it eventually included the study of the Seventh Congress of the CI.

e) The MLP carried out a study of the line of the world communist
movement between the 6th and 7th Congress of the CI, showing the
overall revolutionary features of the line and certain rigidities and problems.

f) The MLP carried out a good deal of work refuting Trotskyism. It
developed a critique of Trotskyism that was distinct and different from the Stalinist critique of Trotskyism. This critique has been continued and improved by the CVO, and it shows that Trotskyism is, in large part, simply the flip side of Stalinism.

g) The MLP carried out a good deal of analysis of the economic
history of the Soviet Union. It showed that there was no fundamental
change in the Soviet economic structure between the time of Stalin and
that of Khrushchov, thus refuting the Maoist view that it was the rise
of Khrushchov that was restored capitalism and was the turning point in the Soviet Union. It carried out a good deal of study of Soviet
developments of the 1920s and 30s, and in the course of this, it saw
The need to examine the question of the transitional period between the socialist revolution and the actual achievement of full socialism. But the MLP did not come to a conclusion concerning this period of Soviet history, nor did it get beyond a certain point in thinking about the transitional period. This work has been pushed forward by the CVO, which has verified the state-capitalism nature of Stalinism; deepened the study of the economic features of revisionist state-capitalism in Russia, Cuba and China; laid stress on shown the economic difference between revisionist state-capitalism and the transitional economy of a workers' regime; and sought to bring to the fore the overall conception of the transitional economy.

Above I have emphasized its theoretical work concerning the
general line of the world communist movement, but the MLP was also intensely interested in particular questions concerning different fronts of work.

h) For example, the COUSML and MLP paid a good deal of attention
to a number of theoretical questions that arose concerning the struggle of the Afro-American people. The COUSML opposed the socialist
segregationism which certain Maoist groups put forward as the alleged
anti-revisionist approach to the struggle; in line with this, the
COUSML fought the anti-busing movement, rather than supporting it, as did certain sections of the Maoist movement. The MLP also devoted attention to whether there was a Black Belt nation in the south which deserved the right to self-determination.

i) Another example is that the COUSML and MLP made an extensive
theoretical study concerning directly in the working class, with
particular attention to what to organize at the factories, the
relationship of the economic and political struggle, the relationship
Of the immediate struggle and the goal of socialist revolution, the role of party-building, and the line towards the trade unions. The results of this study can be seen in the documents of the Second Congress of the
MLP.


One could continue on and on.


You, Ben, are aware of this and more. But you have no little
interest in most of this theoretical work. That is your right, of
course. But it is neither honest nor honorable when you deny the
existence of this protracted theoretical work of the MLP, work that --
until its final period of decline and dissolution -- was closely
Related to and motivated by its organizing work and its anti-revisionist stand. The MLP took seriously the theoretical crisis of the movement, and it strove hard to overcome this. It is your right, of course, to disagree with the stands of the MLP, and to oppose the anti-revisionist viewpoint which it put forward. But it is dishonest when you pretend that this theoretical work and ideological struggle did not exist.

You not only pretend that the MLP wasn't deeply involved in
theoretical work and anti-revisionist struggle, but you also disregard
the theoretical work of the CVO. You adopt a frivolous attitude to it,
believing that it isn't necessary to take it seriously because you
Think you have found a factual error in a series of articles about the
transitional period between the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the
achievement of a classless society. You don't bother to address the
many issues raised by these articles, but crow about this single supposed factual error. And you don't bother dealing with the many other theoretical articles in the CV -- no, you wave your one factual error for all its worth.

This is not a serious approach to theory or with dealing with the
theoretical crisis of the left. It is empty posturing.

CV articles contains a great deal of valuable material concerning
the transitional period between the revolution that overthrows the
capitalist class and the achievement of a classless society. CV
Articles have dealt with this from many different sides, including the
following:

a) We have opposed the revisionist view that the state-capitalist
regimes, although not fully socialist regimes, are regimes part-way
along the road to socialism. We have put a good deal of work into
showing that state-capitalist regimes are not transitional regimes
moving towards socialism, but are another newer form of capitalist
regime. We have done this through careful analysis of the economic
nature of these regimes, and not simply by asserting that we don't like what the state-capitalist regimes have done, or what they say, or how they have oppressed the masses. We have looked to see whether there is an economic basis underlying how these regimes have behaved, and we believe we have shown that there is.


b) As part of this, we have made a careful study of the nature and evolution of the Russian economy and the Cuban economy, as well as some partial studies of the Chinese economy. We have shown that underneath the veneer of planning, these economies are subject to anarchy of production. We have shown that the problems facing these economies weren't simply some bad plans or some unfortunate errors or bad conceptions on the part of their leaders, but followed from the basic economic structure of these economies, and hence these problems
continued and intensified even when these economies overcame the initial startup problems. We have thus shown that the lack of an actual workers' control in these economies affects the basic structure of the economies: it isn't simply that one can have a transitional economy with or without the workers' control, but that whether the workers actually exercise control affects the basic character of the state sector and of the economy as a whole.

c) We have not only carried out historical studies of these
economies, but we have also carried out a study of the Marxist views on this subject, and the evolution of the views of the revolutionary
working class movement on the transitional economy. For example, we
Have examined the basic thinking concerning the transitional economy from the days of Marx, through Kautsky's "Day After the Revolution", and to the Leninist plans at the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution, and on through War Communism and NEP. We have also examined and repudiated various of the later Stalinist and Trotskyist theories.

d) We have deepened the criticism of anarchism by dealing
closely with its economic basis. For example, our critique of the
economic experience of anarchism in the Spanish Civil War shows that
The Spanish anarchists didn't actually overcome the state and market
economy and commodity production, but only thought they had. This verifies the Marxist critique of anarchism. Like you, the anarchists of those times boasted loudly that they had overcome capitalism and coercion, while preserving in reality that which they despised in slogans.

e) We have carried out further theorizing, beyond that achieved
by the Soviet communists, concerning the transitional economy. We have not simply repeated the slogans and views of the past, but have tested them against past revolutionary experience, modified them as needed, and developed new views. This theorizing takes account of the economic
history of the last century, and shows that it is Marxism, not anarchism, that continues to show the path towards a classless,
communist society.

f) One result of this work is that we have been able to provide a sharp repudiation of the Trotskyist theories that believe that state
ownership in itself, whether or not the working class is free or enslaved, is the economic basis of socialism. This is also a repudiation of similar Stalinist theories.

No doubt various CV articles, including my own, do have some
Errors of detail and other problems. As for errors of detail, they will be corrected when pointed out. But this hardly suffices to overthrow the main standpoint of these articles. In such a vast work, mistakes are inevitable -- and indeed, our work is not the final word, but only an indication of a path to be pursued further.

Moreover, in this case, it turns out, you are wrong about the
factual error. You didn't bother seriously reading the article you were criticizing, and you are mistaken about what it claimed.

You write that "the CVO article, however, falsely claims that
Lenin never discussed the possibility of the ruling party/state
degeneration", and then triumphantly cite the words of Lenin at the 11th Party Congress that the Soviet regime faced dangers and that it might be replaced by a bourgeois regime.

But what the CV article pointed out was that Lenin never dealt
with what communists should do if the Soviet regime lost its revolutionary character. And in fact, Lenin didn't do this at the 11th Congress. He did sharply point out the dangers to the Soviet regime posed by the economic nature of the NEP, the resulting struggle of classes, and the possibility of Russia degenerating into what the bourgeoisie would recognize as "an ordinary bourgeois state". And this reinforced the point made repeatedly in various CV articles about economic measures of a NEP-style economy having class consequences, and about Lenin holding that they did.

But Lenin didn't discuss the possibility of the development of a
new exploiting class in the Soviet Union, rather than the restoration
of the old bourgeois system. And he did not discuss what should be done if the Soviet system itself lost its revolutionary character. He simply called for struggle against the dangers posed by NEP for the regime. This was a call not only of practical, but of theoretical significance. But it is not the same thing as discussing what to do if, due to lack of mass support, it was impossible to have a revolutionary Soviet
regime.

We are anti-revisionists Marxist-Leninists not because we hold
That communist theory was finished and complete with the death of Lenin. Marxist-Leninist theory does not consist of simply repeating Marx and Lenin's phrases, nor does it mean regarding Marx and Lenin as
infallible. Instead we hold that revolutionary theory must continue
growing. It must be repeatedly tested anew, and further developed, by
taking account of the experience of the revolutionary movement, and by
using it in the revolutionary struggle.

All this may not be clear from your paraphrases of the article, or from the brief quotes you give. Perhaps too my writing could have been clearer in certain places. But here is a more extended quote from the passage you refer to, which is the next to last paragraph of the
article. The general drift of what it is raising should, I think, be
clear:

"...I think that by the end of NEP, the Soviet Union had already
decayed quite far into a state-capitalist country. Moreover, even while Lenin was alive, there are still a number of questions about NEP. One issue is that the Bolshevik government may have already irretrievably lost sufficient mass support to be a revolutionary government near the beginning of NEP, which would have doomed any economic policy. Lenin never dealt with the issue of the degeneration of the regime and loss of its character as a revolutionary representative of the masses. The regime might be overthrown, but he assumed that if it could hold power, that it could maintain its status as the voice of the masses. Whether the regime had become permanently detached from the masses while Lenin lived, or only after his death, in any case he didn't theorize on the issue of what communists should do in this case. I don't deal with the practical assessment of NEP here; however I believe that the sounder theoretical framework about state-capitalism sketched in this article should be helpful for such a study."

Now let's look at Lenin's remarks at the 11th Congress. He stated:

"...I am in favour of supporting the Soviet government,' says
Ustryalov, although he was a Constitutional-Democrat, a bourgeois, and
supported intervention. 'I am in favour of supporting Soviet power
because it has taken the road that will lead it to the ordinary
bourgeois state.'

"This is very useful, and I think that we must keep it in mind.
...
We must say frankly that such candid enemies are useful...We must say
frankly that the things Ustryalov speaks about are possible. History
knows all sorts of metamorphoses.....

"There have been many cases of this kind; ...The enemy is speaking the class truth and is pointing to the danger that confronts us, and which the enemy is striving to make inevitable. Smena Vekh adherents express the sentiments of thousands and tens of thousands of bourgeois, or of Soviet employees whose function it is to operate our New Economic Policy. This is the real and main danger. And that is why attention must be concentrated mainly on the question: 'Who will win?'...the fight against capitalist society has become a hundred times more fierce and perilous, because we are not always able to tell enemies from friends." Lenin, "Political Report of the Central Committee of the R.C.P.(B.)", March 27, 1922, Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 286-7)

Here Lenin stressed sharply the dangers of the NEP period. He
talked about the seriousness of the question of "who will win?" and of
the problems caused by the need to rely, in the economic and Soviet
apparatuses, on large numbers of bourgeois. But he didn't say what
should be done if the communistshad irretrievably lost the support of
the majority of the masses; and he only saw the defeat of the
Revolution in light of the old bourgeoisie, such as the Smena Vekh adherents, coming back.

You also have another criticism of CV and this particular series
Of articles. You write that I fail "to discuss, or even mention, the
necessity and decisive role of the fundamental democratic rights of
speech and organization in making the dictatorship of the proletariat a reality in the period following the overthrow of bourgeois rule."

In actual fact, CV articles lay great stress on the democratic
rights and demands of the masses. We have dealt extensively with the
issue of democratization, democratic revolutions, and the role of
democracy in the present world. We have vehemently opposed the
Stalinist state-capitalist methods and laid stress on the need for revolutionary parties, movements and regimes to actually be based on the masses, not simply in word, but in deed. And our articles on the transition to socialism lay stress on the importance of the actual control, in fact and not simply in name, by the masses over the economy. They point out that state control of the economy isn't sufficient to have social control, and they point to the question of the actual control by the masses over the economy, the politics, and so forth. This is not a side point of these articles, but a key part of the anti-revisionist critique developed in CV.

Apparently, however, the problem is that you don't see any
connection between the control of the masses over the economic and
politics and their democratic rights. Nor apparently do you see the
building of revolutionary organization, both party organization and
state organization, as an essential part of the masses expressing their will. In your sectarian way, you simply assume -- and repeat over and over again -- that you are the only one who is sincere about the democratic rights of the masses. You think that if you just say it loud and often enough, people will assume it must be true. You pretend that CV articles aren't concerned with the democratic rights of the masses, and that the CV imagines that a shackled, bullied, and intimidated working class might yet be said to have control of the economy.

But, aside from your pretext that you are only one who supports
the rights of the masses, there's another reason why you claim not to see any connection between social control of the economy and politics of a country and democratic rights. In the picture of the society which you have laid forth, the masses do not really have social control over the economy as a whole. You restrict their economic rights to being able to direct their own little piece of the economy, and campaign against idea that the masses can control the economy as a whole. You regard that central planning or formal authority must always be tyranny, Stalinist super-centralism, and incompatible with freedom. This is a key point of your theory about future society; it's one of the reasons you described this vision, at one time, as "cooperative *anarchy*"; and it is indeed fully in line with anarchist illusions.

But would the future society you envision guarantee the democratic rights which you profess to support? There is no reason to believe it would. There are many reasons to believe that it wouldn't. You ignore the fact that, if the masses lack control over the economy as a whole, they may well lack free speech and other rights as well.

For example, consider the picture of "cooperative anarchy" which
you drew in a lengthy article of February 3, 1995 ("Seattle #76: Why is Joseph afraid of consciousness"). In this society, it is acceptable for any group of people to put any restrictions it wants on those who want to take part in "its" factory or workplace. There is no guarantee of anyone's right in these workplaces. The workers who are suppressed by the restrictions of the dominant group in an enterprise would have to seek out some other small part of the economy that was more congenial to them. But there is no guarantee that one could even do what one wanted in one's private piece of the economy. That's because, having established their own individual power bases, differing groups of people would then apply economic and social pressure against each other in order to compel the losing side to carry out the will of the stronger side. One workplace would seek to pressure other workplaces; and a dissident group inside an enterprise could stage a strike or even engage in sabotage. As you yourself describe it, taking up the question of how disagreements would be resolved, "the answer is kind of simple: the various sides *fight it out*. This would kind of be like a war..." (emphasis as in the original). And indeed, you describe a situation which the different enterprises engage in boycotts of each other, deny each other needed materials, keep technical information secret, and so forth. You call such a war between independent economic units "social planning", but it actually is just the marketplace anarchy of production. (Excerpts from your description of "cooperative anarchy", and a commentary on it, can be found in my two-part article in "Communist Voice" #4 entitled "Left-wing neo-conservatives", part one: "the reflection of neo-conservatism in socialist thinking" and part two: "The mailed fist behind the anti-authoritarian phrase". The term neo-conservatism is used in these articles to describe what is more commonly called neo-liberalism.)

Your letter to Edward lacks serious theoretical content; and it is basically a spam-like repetition of things you have written over and over. You do not deal seriously with anyone having a different point of view than your own. So whether I accept it, or excerpts from it, for publication will depend mainly on whether the SAIC comrades think that it is useful at this time to have a general discussion on the points raised by your letter, or whether your letter somehow otherwise kicks off a useful discussion on some points of interest.

Joseph Green
editor, "Communist Voice"


build the movement 16.May.2006 06:17

mb

Why the heck do you folks refer to the working class as an other to be led? Don't you work for a living?

This post is so freaking un-intelligible I can hardly understand it. What I do understand is that it makes me feel like I have nothing to do with anti-imperialist struggle and I don't appreciate that. The socialist organizer William Morris said that the form of your work follows it's function. If the form of your work is a four page (minimum) long rant about the relationship between communist theory and the crisis of communist working groups in-ability to identify with the broader struggle, then maybee the function of your work is alienation. I AM NOT arguing that the working class isn't intelligent enough to understand this "stuff" I'm aguing that the complexity of your message serves one interest, alienation. If you really give a damn about making your ideas accessable, then do so.

The entire debate is framed within "the crisis of theory" when what's going on is a crisis of "practice." People have been arguing on the treadmill of academia for centuries about the difference between art and craft, theory and practice GET OVER IT! Please!

Alienating? Yes. Complex? Probably only for those unfamiliar with Ben 17.May.2006 06:55

Frank

I'm not sure if mb's comment is directed at the Ben Seattle letter, the reply, or both---although it appears to be both. But it's obvious that mb is frustrated, particularly with the post being un-intelligible. So maybe, I hope, I can make some things more intelligible about it.

First, when Ben writes that "the current orientation of SAIC will eventually reach the limits
of its effectiveness (if it has not already done so)" he should actually be writing that "Ben's 10-month long effort to ensnare the SAIC into his sectarian MWC/struggle.net project to allegedly lead the entire movement has reached the limits of ITS effectiveness." No one in the SAIC is enamored with this brilliant scheme, and I doubt that anyone in Seattle is. So, since Ben has reached the end of his effectiveness in Seattle, he has posted this "very important" letter on ten(10) Indymedia sites around the country, presumably to promote himself and his website stuff.

The letter "to Edward" says nothing that we around Seattle haven't heard over and over and over, and likewise rejected. Me and Edward briefly replied to it locally on the SAIC related issues, but neither of us are interested in spamming Indymedias with our replies because we don't think the contents would be that interesting or helpful to activists elsewhere.

I posted Joseph Green's reply to Ben because I thought it adequately showed the emptiness of Ben's huffing and puffing against the CVO, but mainly because I hoped that it might inspire some reader to look more into the issues it raises, including the transitional period between the overthrow of the bourgeois state and communist society, and even correspond with us about them. (Since I think these are issues of interest to activists elsewhere I posted this reply to four sites, but refused to chase him around the country.)

Ben writes that the SAIC's orientation perhaps has already reached the limits of its effectiveness, but what is this orientation? I think it's to go to the workers and youth with anti-imperialist politics and organize, build an anti-imperialist pole of attraction in the anti-war and other progressive movements, etc. Thus, to say that we've reached the limits of effectiveness in doing this is absurd. We've hardly started, hardly begun scratching the surface! But no, says Ben, we should take up his orientation. And what is that?

(1) "Be open". We're plenty open and always have been. But in Ben-speak we're not open because we're not working to build his MWC.

(2) "Develop national reach". Certainly we want to link up with other anti-imperialists in the country. But this has to be based on continually developing our own work and experiences here, it has to be done in a patient and stepwise fashion, and we have to believe that others also are gaining valuable experience, and that they too have revolutionary ideas and work that we can learn from. But what Ben means by national reach is using software to blast our ideas all over the Internet, and then having debates or discussion with anyone that might respond.

With our present size I think this would effectively eliminate us from organizing among the masses. Instead we would be a detached debating society. And if we were two or three times larger I think it would be wrong to have this be anything but a very secondary or subordinate activity.

(3) "Recognize the need for theory". As presently composed all members of the SAIC do theoretical study on their own and/or as members of a communist study group. More, they thirst for more theory. Moreover, I believe, and I think all members believe, that without revolutionary theory we cannot truly have a revolutionary movement. Hence we're always encouraging people to really study revolutionary works, including sometimes in our agitation. But what Ben means by recognizing the need for theory is recognizing the need for HIS theory. And what is his theory? "We have a crisis of theory"!

For more than ten years Ben has been shouting this, but has he done anything to resolve his crisis? (It really is HIS crisis.) Well, since the mid-90s he's been stuck with the vision of a future society (his "cooperative anarchy") that's a nightmarish reproduction of the present society minus the state and, supposedly, markets and money. Ben's real crisis seems that he can't find many partners with whom he can debate this vision with, or who believe that shouting that the workers need democratic rights is theoretical work.

On the question of uniting theory and practice, Ben unites his theory with practice, while the SAIC unites its quite different theory with practice. Thus, since the beginning of April the SAIC has written three leaflets aimed at helping develop the immigrant rights movement by clarifying some of the crucial issues; and it has gone among the working masses to hand them to 6,500 people. It had a banner (Workers of all countries, unite!") and small marching contingent at May Day. It has continued to develop links in the local area. Some members did a little Internet work. And it has now outlined a program of work which will take several months to accomplish, with every member taking up some writing project. Ben's MWC did no practical work during this period. Ben himself helped distribute the SAIC leaflets on May Day---which was helpful, and the right thing to do. But his real interest is not this kind of work. It's just an "immediate task to be gotten out of the way" so that he can go back to spamming our ears with his sectarian nonsense, and, if we won't listen, spamming other people's ears around the country.

I don't agree that there's a "crisis of theory" in the way Ben means it, but I think it should be pretty obvious that the revolutionary movement continually throws up theoretical problems that must be solved if it is to advance, and that the movement is in crisis until they are solved and the new ideas become the motivating ideas of the movement on whatever the issue is.

I don't understand what is meant above by "crisis of practice", although whenever there's such a crisis it would seem to be inevitably bound up with ideological or theoretical problems as well.

By the way, if it wasn't clear above, the reason I posted the reply by Joseph was not to have a debate with Ben.

Wassup, mb?