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imperialism & war | political theory

The Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee and the struggle for sobriety

Even the most uncompromising stand against imperialist politics
is not enough. The antiwar and revolutiony movements require
a sense of sobriety that is not possible without working
for political transparency and an open community.
.......... In honor of those who have fallen:
.......... SAIC and the struggle for sobriety
.......... (and a high productivity of labor)
.......... in the antiwar and
.......... revolutionary movements
..........
.......... Ben Seattle -- July 17, 2008


They were the best people. They were the most clear-sighted,
determined, dedicated and politically conscious people. Now
they are dead--all except Frank and me.

Ray, Joe, Mohammad, Anthony, Danny, Fred, Maggie, Molly, Pat
and many others were the people who inspired me when I was
new to struggle--who allowed me to believe that a small band
of determined comrades, armed with a scientific
understanding of society, could assemble a revolutionary
mass organization with the ability to mobilize the immense
energies of the working class for the overthrow of the
economic and political system of imperialism.

Now they are gone. Of course, they still live and breathe,
in a technical sense, if you want to be nitpicky. But they
are lost to the struggle. Politically, they are dead: rubbed
out, not by bullets, but by a sense of futility and
hopelessness; by a feeling that revolutionary work at the
present time is useless.

The few words above are the story of my youth (not a wasted
youth by any stretch--on the contrary a truly excellent
preparation for my work today).

Why did I remain active in struggle when so many comrades,
more dedicated and disciplined than me, have fallen?

Most likely, it is simply because I was in the right place
at the right time. I could see something the others could
not.

The war of ideas, organized on a mass scale, will be known
as "information war". And information war is bound to emerge
as the central organizing principle of the class struggle.
The 21st century, more than any period humanity has
witnessed, is destined to be a century of information war.

For whatever reason, I have seen this with a bit more
clarity than many others. I want to do everything possible
to prepare for the gathering storm which, I believe, will
sweep away the rule of society by the social class, the
bourgeoisie), which is dependent for its existence on the
circulation of capital.

But I must return to the theme of my story.

My determination to learn and apply the lessons from the
loss of my former comrades surfaced during a minor
confrontation at the most recent public meeting of the
Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) [1].

SAIC (for those who are unfamiliar with it) is certainly
the best organization of its kind in the Pacific Northwest
(and most likely in the entire country). It is distinguished
by its work distributing large quantities of skillfully
written leaflets which, with clarity and consistency, target
the influence of the liberal-imperialist illusions which
currently hold the antiwar movement hostage.

More specifically, SAIC works to break the antiwar movement
from its current state of dependence on the various
social-democratic and "socialist" flunkies in orbit around
the left-wing of the imperialist Democratic Party. It is
the politics of class struggle and independence from
imperialist influence, manipulation and control that,
above all else, our movement needs.

But there is also a problem with SAIC. Any organization
which stands up to the blackmail and slander of the
mainstream reformist antiwar organizations will face
the immense pressure of isolation. Overcoming this
isolation and bringing class-based anti-imperialist
politics to activists and to the movement requires making
full use of the emerging revolution in communications.
It requires creating an organization which is accountable
to activists and which "belongs to" activists--who must
have the opportunity to intervene (by means of knowing
what is going on and by giving public voice to their
opinion) in the struggle for the direction of the
organization and the principles which must guide it.

And this brings us again, patient readers, to my story.

On the agenda of the SAIC meeting was a brief summation
of the significance of the resignations of two members of
SAIC.

One of these people was a supporter of the PLP [2], a
sectarian group at odds with another sectarian group, the
CVO [3] which, for all practical purposes, charts the course
of SAIC. The guy from the PLP had been around SAIC for a few
weeks.

The other person to resign was a woman who quit,
essentially, because she felt that the sacrifice of her time
to SAIC's agenda and program of work was not producing the
kind of results which left her feeling enthusiastic and
encouraged.

For two years of her life, this woman had devoted a
substantial portion of her free time to SAIC. One might
think that her resignation might have resulted in at least a
single moment of sober reflection.

Not a chance.

All present at the meeting (with the exception of me)
concluded that this woman's resignation was a result of her
own inability to see and appreciate the value of SAIC's
current methods and current work (which are mostly centered
around creating and distributing leaflets).

I had a different view.

I have often criticized SAIC's obsessive focus on short-term
goals and what I call SAIC's "next leaflet--next 60
days--keep people excited--urgency addiction" orientation
[7]. This orientation allows SAIC to do much useful
work--but it fails to address many of the real needs of the
movement. This inevitably leads to demoralization because,
sooner or later, supporters realize that the organization
lacks the ability to have significant impact over the long
term.

I said that SAIC was wasting ninety percent of its potential
because its priorities were screwed up. I said it was
inevitable that this would create a crisis of confidence and
demoralization. When supporters of an organization are
wasting ninety percent of their precious life energy--they
may not fully understand all the details--but they will
sense, even if at a subconscious level, that their time is
being wasted.

Whatever its shortcomings, SAIC remains the best organization
of its kind. And, for this reason, I support it in various
ways. But I do not support it blindly and, over the years [4]
I have publicly criticized SAIC's failure to:

(1) make a commitment to building an open community of
supporters,

(2) make greater use of internet forums on a national level,

(3) be more politically transparent,

(4) take a long-term view of its tasks, including those
theoretical tasks which are decisive for the revolutionary
movement.

More concretely, I advocated that SAIC:

(5) distribute a political summary of its work to activists
and activist organizations at least once a year (making wide
use of electronic forums) and ask for and publish feedback
and advocate that other organizations create, publish and
discuss similar summaries of their own experience

(6) maintain a public email discussion list

(7) publish summaries of their public meetings in postings
on their blog, so that readers can more easily understand
(and publicly comment on) SAIC's priorities and the
confrontation of agendas which is inevitable in any
genuinely mass organization.

(8) Give all members and supporters of their organization
the right to some form of representation on its web site --
so that the politics of the people and political trends
within SAIC can be public and the SAIC web site can
represent and function as the union of its members' politics
rather than the intersection or "least common denominator"
everyone can agree with.

(9) Post drafts of their leaflets as these leaflets are
developed, along with summaries of the related discussion
(to the extent that time allows) so that other activists can
better understand how high-quality political agitation is
created and participate in this process.

(10) Encourage discussion and debate concerning how society
can exist and function without the political and economic
system of imperialism (and the capitalist system of
production for profit which makes imperialism inevitable) in
order to help overcome the universal belief that the only
alternative to the existing system of bourgeois rule is a
corrupt police-state), such as the former Soviet Union or
China, where a single party holds a monopoly of power and
can suppress the voice of its opponents.

There is no guarantee, of course, that the measures I
advocate would have prevented either of the recent
resignations. But I believe that such measures would expand
the scope of SAIC's work and provide a more effective
vehicle for the systematic engagement of a larger number of
activists on a wider range of levels This conforms to the
needs of the movement and would better position SAIC to gain
experience (and attention for its politics) in the coming
era of information war.

It goes without saying, of course, that my views were not
warmly received at the SAIC meeting. I was accused of being
"passive and demoralized". It was pointed out, correctly,
that my own efforts to help build an activist community with
its own practical program of work have, so far, come to very
little [5]. But such a response, and the general failure to
recognize that SAIC's priorities are distorted, are what one
would expect from a dysfunctional organization.

Nothing about SAIC is going to change in the short term.
This is an organization so obsessed with control that it
refuses), in a world of interconnection, to link to its own
MySpace page [6] from the website which it advertises on its
leaflets.

Even the best, most determined and most conscious groupings
of activists, in order to protect their sense of mission and
purpose, will often surround themselves with a protective
cocoon of myth, illusion and self-deception. We
underestimate the significance of this factor (in a period
in which the revolutionary movement is paralyzed by a crisis
of theory) at peril to everything we hold dear.

The only realistic and reliable way to overcome
self-deception and maintain a clean and sober perspective is
to strive to develop a depth of humility equal in magnitude
to our confidence in our principles and the boldness of our
vision. This means, above all, that we must ask for help
from one another for the purpose of keeping ourselves
honest. We need mass criticism. Mass criticism is a matter
of life and death. Mass criticism equals victory. The lack
of mass criticism equals defeat.

Our defeats and our victories, our strengths and our
weaknesses (large or small) must be publicly discussed), in
real time, in the light of day.

This is what will strike a chord with other activists (who
want to see a mass organization where the conflicts
concerning which principles and agendas will guide the
organization are not concealed with smoke and mirrors).
These activists will help us recognize and correct our
errors and maintain sobriety in a society (and in mass
movements) saturated with intoxication and illusion.

Only by correcting our errors will we be able to touch the
heart of god. Our god is the working class and the oppressed
of our country and the entire earth. This is the source of
infinite reserves of energy and consciousness which will
eliminate imperialism (and the system of bourgeois rule from
which imperialism is inseparable) from this planet and bring
forth a world of peace, abundance and authentic culture and
community for all.

Some of the good comrades of SAIC (or the CVO) may object to
my airing "dirty laundry" or making SAIC "look bad" and so
forth. My reply to them is to simply say, again, that we
need to take a sober view of our long-term tasks. And, in
the long term, the antiwar and revolutionary movements will
never be truly powerful until they confront the need to
build organization on the basis of genuine mass democracy.
And this will prove to be inseparable from the concepts of
political transparency and information war.

Ben Seattle

posted at  http://struggle.net/Ben/2008/saic-sobriety.htm
Public comments are welcome on the "Party of the Future"
(POF) open email lists and the wiki maintained by the
Media Weapon community-in-embryo at  http://MediaWeapon.com

Notes:

[1] SAIC, Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee
 http://seattleaic.org/
[2] PLP, Progressive Labor Party
 http://www.plp.org/
[3] CVO, Communist Voice Organization
 http://communistvoice.org/
[4] Real organization cannot be built on a foundation of sand
 http://struggle.net/mass-democracy/
[5] The Media Weapon community-in-embryo  http://MediaWeapon.com
[6] SAIC myspace page:
 link to profile.myspace.com
[7] See the illustration (below) of the Covey activity
matrix from my 2007 annual report
 http://struggle.net/Ben/2007/covey-saic.gif

unfortunate choice of words 19.Jul.2008 06:41

maybe another article

From the headline I figured this was somebody calling out the SAIC as a bunch of drunks.

alas, poor Ben, I knew him well 22.Jul.2008 20:05

Yorick

actually it's Ben that is drunk