The Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee and the struggle for sobriety (part 2)
Even the most uncompromising stand against imperialist politics is not enough.
Our movement needs organization based on transparency and mass democracy. Only in this way can large numbers of activists have insight into and influence over the direction of the militant organizations which best reflect the political needs of powerful antiwar and revolutionary movements.
The article below is part of a series of exchanges that have developed over years concerning the need for a sober view of our long-term tasks.
The organization I critise below is local to Seattle. But the issues described extend to the antiwar movement of the entire country.
The exchanges since July are posted here: http://struggle.net/ben/2008/saic-sobriety.htm
The exchanges going back several years are indexed here:
The Road to Sobriety
Ben replies to Frank
September 7, 2008
My regular readers will know that I have immense respect and admiration for Frank but believe his comments are mistaken.
Frank asserts that the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) would have to work more than 24 hours a day to implement my recommendations. However, Frank fails to be more specific.
1) Is it difficult to set up an email discussion list? No. Would maintaining a discussion list require more than an hour or two per week? Only if it was done without discipline.
2) Would it take a lot of time to post a short summary of SAIC's public meetings? It would take about 30 minutes a month.
3) How about creating an annual report and posting it to leftist email lists and discussion sites? This would take more time--but would only need to be done once a year.
4) How about posting drafts of their leaflets? This could be as simple as posting to a public email list (set up for this purpose) the drafts and comments that they regularly email to one another.
5) How much time would it take to give members and supporters the right to have some form of representation on the SAIC website? This could be done by giving them links on SAIC's website and setting up a wiki (setup time is less than an hour) and linking to it.
6) How about encouraging discussion of the decisive theoretical issues? This could be done on the wiki. A disciplined pace of activity might involve interested individuals devoting one evening in each 90 day period (ie: four evenings a year) to wiki pages or threads on these topics.
Of course all of these tasks could easily take far more time than this if a disciplined approach was not used. But this is not an argument that these tasks are not necessary. Rather--it is an argument for the necessity of discipline. One example of discipline is that one of my discussion lists restricts subscribers to one or two posts per week. This encourages thoughtful comments and a higher signal-to-noise ratio.
Frank notes (correctly) that so far little has come from my efforts to create an open political community with a clean focus on the decisive tasks and a practical program of action. But this does not prove that efforts in this direction are not necessary or are bound to be futile.
My lack of success, so far, only proves that such a project is beyond the reach of a single individual with limited time and ability.
Nor does my lack of success prove that SAIC would "reduce itself to atomized individuals" were it to implement the six specific recommendations I advocate that would help SAIC overcome its isolation and build community:
1) maintain a public email discussion list
2) post summaries of its public meetings
3) create and distribute an annual report
4) post leaflet drafts and comments
5) give SAIC supporters the right to representation on its website
6) encourage discussion of decisive issues
Frank appears to believe that collective work (ie: on SAIC's leaflets) would not be possible if SAIC's work also included the tasks above (some of which involve individual initiative). Frank's assumptions are heartfelt and sincere--but this does not make them correct.
I am in the position of a messenger who delivers bad news that Frank (and others) do not want to hear. In one amusing incident at SAIC's July public meeting (no one could make this stuff up) a supporter of the Communist Voice Organization bellowed so loudly that I was a "class enemy" who made him feel the need to vomit--that the librarian had to come upstairs and close the meeting room door in order to avoid further disturbing everyone else in the building. And Frank now writes that I am a "liar" because I had written that the recent resignation of a SAIC member did not result in "a single moment of sober reflection".
Frank replies that he and other members gave much thought to this painful situation.
My description, however, remains correct: the reflections of Frank, and other SAIC members, were not sober if they failed to consider the possibility that this woman's resignation did not so much reflect on her lack of consciousness as it did on SAIC's distorted priorities and excessively narrow conception of its tasks.
Revolutionary activists must struggle to understand (in a sober way) what work is necessary and possible. SAIC is failing to take (or even consider) steps which are necessary to overcome its isolation and the isolation of many serious activists across the country.
The challenges of creating authentic antiwar and revolutionary organization are complex. I believe that solutions to these challenges will make use of the emerging revolution in communications. Frank's skepticism on this topic should be taken into consideration. But we also have a responsibility to think these things through for ourselves.
Frank's skepticism, it appears to me, is based on fear. Frank is part of a cargo cult which is unlikely to survive in the coming era of information war and political transparency.
The need to take a sober view of our long-term tasks will not go away. If we are serious about overthrowing bourgeois rule we must focus on what is decisive.