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SEP Election Campaign is not deserving of enthusiasm or support

An assessment of some of the strengths and weaknesses
of the current electoral campaign
of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP)
Background for those who have just tuned in:

For those who have not been following the action --
Marik responded to a post [1] on Portland Indymedia (pdximc)
by the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) which criticized
the International Socialist Organization (ISO) for
promoting the Green Party.

The Green Party is part of the social-democratic
(ie: reformist) political trend which is controlled by
the ruling bourgeoisie. The mission of the Green Party
is to become the bourgeoisie's shining new vehicle of
political deception once the Democratic Party is used up
and has become too discredited to fool any activists.
The Green Party will likely wait until the antiwar
movement becomes powerful and militant -- and will then
paint itself in "radical" colors in order to help the
bourgeois political machine suck the energy and
militancy out of the movement.

This is how bourgeois politics works. The Green party
serves the bourgeois political agenda and the "marxist"
ISO serves the Green Party agenda.

It is all highly corrupt. Naive activists typically
act as the foot soldiers who carry out the day-to-day
work of promoting this sleazy political deception.

The SEP (which posted this exposure on numerous Indymedia
sites) is organized by the trots who bring us the World
Socialist Web Site (ie:  http://wsws.org ). The WSWS people
oppose the reformist sabotage of the antiwar movement --
but they are also cargo-cult Leninists -- which undermines
their ability to see clearly and to oppose, in a more
effective way, the reformist sabotage.

The SEP post on Portland Indymedia, in addition to opposing
the ISO promotion of the Green Party, also promoted their
own electoral campaign.

Marik criticized this campaign from the angle that it may
be promoting reformist illusions more than it is fighting
them. Some people from the SEP responded and a number of
strong and weak points were made. I promised to review
the exchanges and offer my own opinion.

Here it is:

SEP Election Campaign is not deserving of enthusiasm or support

Hi Marik,

Ok, I read your exchanges with the SEP supporters on the pdximc
thread and gave some thought to this. You make a few basic
errors -- but your criticism of the SEP position is also correct
in important ways.

When I first saw your initial pdximc reply to the SEP -- I
concluded that you were mistaken -- and that the SEP was correct
(or, at least, mostly correct). However after reading the
exchanges that followed -- and looking at the campaign material
on their web site -- I have revised my opinion.

What is most interesting to me is that an activist like you, with
comparatively little experience in all this -- found some big
problems in the central campaign of a relatively experienced
anti-reformist group that considers itself solidly based on
marxism. This tends to show that even relatively inexperienced
activists -- when armed with powerful principles -- can penetrate
the layers of evasion and self-deception used by cargo-cult

This is good news. The left political ecosystem is,
unfortunately, saturated with all kinds of evasion and
self-deception. Activists who recognize this can often feel
overwhelmed. But powerful principles (and the ability to bring
these principles to the attention of other activists via the
internet) hold potential to cut thru the deception.

Truth is always concrete

Before describing your correct criticism and making an assessment
of SEP's electoral campaign, however, I would like to clear
things up about an error which I believe you made. We should get
this out of the way so that readers don't get hung up on this and
become unable to follow the rest of the story.

Marik -- June 23:

> Isn't socialist voting just as much of a dead-end
> as voting for either of the imperialist parties?

Not necessarily.

The key thing here is that we must be careful about making
sweeping generalizations.

Truth is always concrete.

The distinction between the abstract and the concrete comes up,
for example, when reformists accuse us of being in favor of

The simple fact is that in some situations violence is necessary
while in other situations it is not. It is as simple as that.

Ordinary people (ie: not infatuated by pacifism) understand this.

The election campaigns that take place in the United States are
mostly either corrupt or meaningless. A good recent example of a
genuinely marxist election campaign is hard to find. But this
does not mean they cannot exist. We must look at each situation
concretely and take account of all factors which may impact the
consciousness of the masses. If, on balance, the consciousness
of the masses (in relation to the principles which are most
important) is raised -- then the campaign is of benefit to the
working class.

And if, on the other hand, the consciousness of the masses is
degraded -- then the campaign is not worth shit.

But in any event we must soberly look concretely at all factors
-- and try (as best we can) not to overlook any important factor.

* * * * * *

Elections can be useful in various ways. In some countries, for
example -- elections represent a legal way by which a leftist
party can communicate ideas to the masses. This can even be
true, in various ways, here in the U.S. For example, on the SEP
website I saw some articles defending the SEP against attempts to
suppress distribution of their campaign literature on campuses
and on public sidewalks. One might think that such would not be
necessary -- because in the United States we have the first
amendment guaranteeing the right of free speech. But the right
to free speech exists only because we fight for it.

So the SEP election campaign may provide a means for the SEP to
distribute their literature in ways that otherwise could be
suppressed by the state.

That could be one factor.

There are many other factors: including the simple fact that
elections are one way to draw attention to your agenda -- such as
an immediate and complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

And (in situations different than what exists now -- when it is
possible to actually win elections) victory in elections can lead
to press coverage and many opportunities to throw sand, so to
speak, in the bourgeois political machinery that normally
operates so smoothly.

For example, in my "scenario for the overthrow of bourgeois rule
in the U.S." [2] I include, as one of the steps, a complete and
sweeping electoral victory by the working class. It is also
clear, from the scenario -- that the electoral victory does not
bring the working class to power. But the electoral victory (and
what follows) accomplishes something else which is very important
-- it drives home to many tens of millions the real situation
they face (ie: it raises their consciousness).

I have listed above some factors on the positive side of the
equation -- where an election campaign can be used to raise the
consciousness of the masses.

But there are also negative factors that can go the other way --
that degrade the consciousness of the masses.

This is the essence of your criticism of the SEP campaign -- that
the campaign itself, by its nature, promotes (or reinforces) the
illusion that the working class can come to power by electoral

So, in order to assess whether or not your criticism of the SEP
campaign was justified -- I looked at the SEP website.

I conclude that your criticism is accurate.

SEP claims it has clean hands

The SEP does not actually claim, in their election literature,
that the working class can come to power by electoral means.
Hector Cordon thinks that this means the SEP is innocent of
promoting illusions. He says:

> I challenge Marik to reproduce any statement from
> any document of the SEP's or its website that states
> that we are seeking a parliamentary road to socialism.
> Accusations abound while documentation is non-existant.

Hector overlooks a key principle concerning the ideological
struggle against the bourgeois world view.

The real political message of any group (as it is understood by
the majority of the people who read it) is as much about what is
left out as what is said.

Our political arguments are not written on a blank slate.
Readers carry with them the specific illusions that the ruling
bourgeoisie heavily promote and which, for that reason, saturate
our society.

ANY AMBIGUITY in any political statement or analysis will
typically be understood by the majority of readers in ways that
are in alignment with the dominant ideology.

So if the SEP carries out a campaign to elect "socialists" and
says (as they do) that "our aim is not the reform of capitalism,
but its replacement with a socialist system" -- then the
overwhelming majority of readers will understand this as meaning
that capitalism can be replaced by socialism by means of electing
socialists instead of capitalists.

Hector can argue that SEP has clean hands. The SEP only says:
"A-B-C-D-E". It is the bourgeoise and its flunkies, he can
argue, who complete the political equation and say: "F-G-H-I-J".

But this is a corrupt argument.

We live in a class society and all of our political work must
reflect this simple fact.

If the SEP campaign literature confronted, in a more direct way,
the illusions in "democracy" that are bound up with the electoral
system -- then my assessment of the campaign might be different.
I am not saying that a genuinely marxist electoral campaign is
not possible. I am saying that the SEP campaign is not such a

* * * * * *

So my conclusion is that the essence of Marik's criticism is

Now there may be other factors involved. The SEP's campaign may
raise the consciousness of the masses in some ways. For example,
many who learn about the campaign will be exposed to the idea
that the working class needs to have a party which stands for its
interests rather than the interests of some section of the

And, to be fair to the SEP, it is not necessarily trivial to
estimate the relative political weight of the various factors.

However, the problem with the campaign that Marik identified --
that it promotes a view of how our society works that is
fundamentally an illusion -- is extremely serious. If we believe
that we live in a democracy -- or that we can somehow (if we try
hard enough) force our existing institutions to represent the
will and interests of the people -- then our basic view of how
our society works will be very fucked up -- and these wrong views
will undermine our views on _all other_ tactical and
organizational questions -- including the key issue of opposing
the influence of the social strata (ie: the trade union
bureaucrats, liberal-labor politicians, religious misleaders,
poverty pimps, "progressive" media personalities and professional
"opinion leaders", etc) which are essentially in orbit around the
political needs of the bourgeoisie.

For this reason I do not consider the SEP electoral campaign to
be deserving of enthusiasm or support.

SEP fails to work for broadest possible discussion

The SEP campaign has other problems also.

The SEP website says: "We want to develop the broadest possible
discussion on the SEP statement".

However the SEP's actions indicate that the development of the
broadest possible discussion is not a very high priority.

The SEP does take some actions to promote discussion. They do,
for example, post statements on Indymedia lists -- and may reply
to discussion (which is certainly good -- and should be

But this discussion is limited by the nature of the localized and
temporary Indymedia newswires. For example, I learned of the
pdximc thread because I discovered it (and also because Marik
posted news of it to the pof-200 email list). But how many
_other_ useful threads on this topic exist elsewhere? Where are
these threads indexed?

Should I try to find these threads with google? This is not
always practical for many reasons. For example google indexes
are often not up-to-date.

Building "the broadest possible discussion" means we must do
better than to rely on google.

The other problem with Indymedia threads -- is that they fall off
the front page of Indymedia after a day or two -- and then lose
98% of their audience.

I could not participate in the pdximc thread because it typically
takes me at least ten days to say anything intelligent.

If the SEP really wanted "the broadest possible discussion" --
then they would maintain a public bulletin board or blog in
connection with their web site. Then someone like me could see
what _other_ critics of SEP have views that are similar to those
of Marik and me. And, similarly, these other critics would be
able to easily become aware of the criticisms and arguments that
Marik and I have made.

But the SEP does not appear to have the time or resources for
such a project. Instead they appear to have the time and
resources to make an appeal to the Supreme Court (of the
bourgeoisie) that it should hear their arguments.

We judge the real priorities of individuals and groups by their

* * * * * *

I will also mention another big problem with the SEP electoral

This is a campaign for a "socialism" that cannot be explained
other than to talk in the usual vague and meaningless
generalities about wealth serving to benefit the masses. There
is the usual empty bullshit about corporations being public
utilities and the need for planning. But the crisis of theory
(that has left the revolutionary movement paralyzed) is
completely ignored. All the cargo-cult organizations ignore this
crisis. None of them can see it. Ordinary people understand
that historical attempts at "socialism" have resulted in police
states with no democratic rights and low productivity. Ordinary
people (and a great many activists) are not inclined to sacrifice
for "socialism" without any effective reply to the bourgeoisie's
line that all attempts to create a world without capitalism are
doomed to follow this same path of degeneration.

The simple truth is that we cannot build a mass movement around
the goal of ending bourgeois rule without developing a minimal
amount of clarity concerning what comes afterward.

Sincerely and with revolutionary regards,
Ben Seattle
* Antiwar agitation and cartoons
* The open struggle over the decisive tasks in antiwar movement
* For a democratic and accountable Indymedia: proposals/criticism
* The email lists of the Media Weapon community needs you!


[1] pdximc post:

[2] "A scenario for the overthrow
of bourgeois rule in the U.S. in
the middle of the 21st century"

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

I did not know this history.. thanks.. and I pointed out... 03.Jul.2006 04:34

a cascadian

in another post I had pointed out how we need to merge environmental concerns with social responsiblity, but had no clue of this other history to the SEP (did not even know they had a history).


I still think we need to create a Green Socialist Party or a Bioregional Cooperative Party... if we NEED parties... personally I HATE political parties. As George Washington reflected on political parties:

"They serve to Organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force--to put in the place of the delegated will of the Nation, the will of a party; often a small but artful and enterprizing minority of the Community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public Administration the Mirror of the ill concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the Organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common councils and modefied by mutual interests. However combinations or Associations of the above description may now & then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the Power of the People, & to usurp for themselves the reins of Government; destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."

"I have already intimated to you the danger of Parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on Geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, & warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally."

"This Spirit, unfortunately, is inseperable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human Mind. It exists under different shapes in all Governments, more or less stifled, controuled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy."

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders & miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty."

"Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common & continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage and restrain it."

"It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded Jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot & insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence & corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country, are subjected to the policy and will of another."

"There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the Administration of the Government and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true--and in Governments of a Monarchical cast patriotism may look with endulgence, if not with favour, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate & assuage it. A fire not to be quenched; it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume."