Put this in wrapper
The Future Transparent
Will a workers' state be a brutal police state
or a machine controlled by workers?
Are we paralyzed by fear of violent and brutal repression?
Or defiant, courageous and determined
to win victory with mass-based information war?
In George Orwell's famous novel about the ultimate in totalitarian repressive states, the hero/victim, Winston, is confronted by his greatest fear: ravenous rats poised to gnaw their way into his abdomen. To save himself from such a grisly and painful torture, Winston succumbs to the ultimate capitulation and degradation: he fully accepts and believes that 2 + 2 = 5. Winston not merely gives verbal agreement to this simple perversion of arithmetic--he believes it. In doing so, in abandoning once and for all any shred of revolutionary courage and integrity, Winston demonstrates his love of big brother.
Of course that is fiction. Let's look at the real world.
Exaggerated comparisons notwithstanding, the fictional world of Orwell's 1984 is a considerable distance from the Western bourgeois democracies of 2002--in which activists can say what they want on Indymedia.org and organize spirited protests against the so-called "war on terror", the coming war for Iraq's oil and other crimes of the ruling bourgeoisie.
Yes, the ruling bourgeoisie and its servile mass media grievously distort the news and ridicule and marginalize protest. Yes, activists are sometimes arrested and beaten (or even tortured or shot down in the streets--as happened last year in Italy and happens much more often in many countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America). But the conditions of life and struggle for most activists with the means to read these words--are considerably more favorable than the bleak, if not hopeless, prospects of Orwell's protagonist.
But if our conditions of struggle are more favorable than those of Orwell's hapless Winston, how much more damning is the abject failure of the progressive movement today to face up to the crisis of theory which paralyzes the movement to create a better world?
It is true that the theoretical problems faced by the left are more complex than 2 + 2. But neither, if truth be told, is the crisis of theory beyond solution in the light of present knowledge--were it to be confronted with a fearless scientific spirit.
The failure of the left to confront the crisis of theory is a product of two factors: (1) theoretical weaknesses in the thinking of serious and militant activists and (2) intellectual cowardice and dishonesty (ie: denial).
I assert that this second factor (ie: denial--a lack of intellectual honesty and courage) is the primary factor in the thinking of many activists. To illustrate my assertion I will outline here, in a series of short and easy-to-follow principles, the outline of a solution to the crisis of theory.
Some activists may prefer to believe, along with Winston, that 2 + 2 = 5. Other activists will have the courage and integrity to recognize the principles which follow (and/or to assist the development of these principles with scientific criticism).
Ringing a bell
I want to make these principles clear, just like I was ringing a bell. For this reason, I will present some of these principles as a series of "laws" which, I assert, correspond to the material conditions of the modern world.
Now some may agree with my "laws". And some may think they are nothing but bullshit. But love them or hate--it is my intention, dear reader, that you remember them--that they stick in your mind like a song from the radio that you can't get out of your head. And if this bothers you--well, you know what do to: if you are reading this in email--delete it now--and click elsewhere if you are reading this on the web. And if you continue and find what follows to be outrageous bullshit, self-promotion, charlatanism and so forth--well, you are welcome to come to the website where this is posted:
and publically post your scientific refutation for the world to see. (And while you are at it, use the "bullshit meter" to rate this essay--I am interested in popularizing the use of the bullshit meter).
Bourgeois rule is the problem
The most fundamental problem of the current era is that the world is run by the bourgeoisie. Imperialist wars, racial discrimination and violent repression, the impoverishment and degradation of large sections of the masses, the destruction of irreplaceable ecosystems--are all inevitable under bourgeois rule. The "better world" that the militant, revolutionary section of the left wants to see--is a world without bourgeois rule. (It is also a world not dominated by a ruling minority of any kind--including the kind of exploiting class that ruled in the former Soviet Union or that rules currently in China.)
But the ruling bourgeoisie is itself an inevitable product of the capitalist system which spontaneously creates this ruling class as the circulation of capital follows its own laws and comes to dominate the economic, cultural and political life of society. (Just as the "command economies" of the former Soviet Union and current China led to the spontaneous creation of the ruling classes there.)
The crisis of theory
The crisis of theory that has paralyzed the movement
for a "better world" -- is that the left has proven itself
unable to describe, in a way that is realistic, what this
"better world" will be like.
I assert that the creation of this better world can only be a product of a mass movement which has such a creation as an explicit and conscious aim. I assert that we cannot create this better world until we first resolve this crisis of theory. I express this assertion, in more precise terms, in my first "law":
Ben's first law
The movement for the overthrow of bourgeois rule can
only become a mass movement when it demonstrates
that it understands the conditions of modern society
well enough to describe, in a realistic way, how,
within the context of modern conditions, the working
class can run society better than the bourgeoisie.
My first law is simply another way of saying that we can't get where we want to go until we know where we're going. But it also has a deeper point: We can't expect the masses, who have their own lives and struggles that command their attention, to get very excited about the prospect of creating a better world if the section of activists who are militant and revolutionary haven't yet proven they understand modern society well enough to make it clear that such a better world is more than an idle daydream.
Who's afraid of "red fascism"?
Now the first conclusion we can draw from my first law is that it blows to hell the contention widely held in anarchist circles that the so-called "Leninist" groups of today represent an eventual physical threat to militant anarchists whom they will supposedly exterminate on the magical day they come to power.
I am not exaggerating when I argue that such fear-mongering circulates in anarchist circles. I have seen numerous claims, on email lists, in public meetings, in public leaflets, in posts to infoshop.org by its owner and even in the first post of my debate opponent, Daniel, that "Leninists", should they come to power, will shoot, kill or imprison anarchists. Such claims are based on the historical experience of Russia in the 1920's and Spain in the 1930's, where anarchists were harshly suppressed. To make such a claim in the context of 21st century societies with modern economies, however, proves that the anarchists who make such claims share the identical deluded thinking of the so-called "Leninist" organizations that they supposedly oppose with so much fervor.
Deluded thinking is mirror-image
of "cargo cult Leninism"
Those who have been following the posts on the Anarcho-Leninist Debate on the State site will know that many of these so-called "Leninist" organizations are characterized by delusions of becoming "the ruling party" in a society where this party enjoys a monopoly of political power. (The RCP, USA is a good example of this kind of group--half revolutionary organization, half religious cult).
The problem here is that such a society would be worse than an ordinary bourgeois democracy because any such absolute rule by a single party could only take the form of a police state characterized by lower productivity of labor (ie: the creation of far fewer goods and services in society as a whole) than ordinary bourgeois society.
Should we therefore be afraid of one of these so-called "Leninist" parties coming to power?
Not according to my first law.
According to my first law, none of these so-called "Leninist" parties could ever come to power--because they are unable to describe, in a realistic way, how society would be run better if they were in charge. This should be elementary to anyone who thinks about it. Workers are not morons (a fact that seems to have escaped our "cargo-cult Leninists" and our similarly deluded anarchist fear-mongers). Workers will not sacrifice for the purpose of installing into power any organization that intends to rule all of society like feudal lords.
Hence, according to my first law, there is zero threat from any of these supposedly "Leninist" organizations. The only way one these organizations could come to power--would be if the bourgeoisie (in the face of a huge crisis that called for a murderous fascist regime) installed them in power. But in the (highly unlikely) event that the bourgeoise felt compelled to install some cult as a fascist regime--they would make use of a group that actually had such aspirations and potential to be reliable from the point of view of protecting fundamental bourgeois interests (ie: the LaRouchies) rather than a group on the left.
Antagonism rooted in competition
Now I don't want to imply by anything I have said above that principled anarchists do not have legitimate grievances against groups on the left that call themselves "Leninists". On the contrary I believe legitimate grievances exist. It is in the interest of the revolutionary movement, however, to understand these grievances on a conscious level; to describe and explain these grievances with scientific language and concepts. On the surface, it would appear that the political conflicts between anarchists and "Leninists" today find their roots in the past. But it is probably more accurate to say that it is the other way around. All this sturm und drang about historical events of the 1920's and 1930's is rooted in the antagonistic competition that flows out of the presently existing objective situation.
These so-called "Leninist" organizations are in competition with one another and with the anarchist movement over the warm, living bodies of young, militant activists who (having seen the naked hypocrisy of US imperialism as it prepares a war to complete its domination of middle eastern oil) are fired up with outrage and determination to change the world. These young, militant activists are the lifeblood of militant (and pseudo-militant) organizations and, as they awaken to revolutionary political consciousness, they are looking for some trend to link up with.
Competition between political trends frequently leads to the phenomena known as sectarianism as these trends exaggerate both their own strengths and the weak points of their opponents. Activists attempting to understand organizations, movements, political lines and historical experience find that, in the face of this competition, complex realities are reduced to a simplistic picture of "white hat vs. black hat" in which all that is truely important is to know who to clap for and who to boo.
(For more on the causes and cure of the sectarian disease--please see Appendix 1: sectarianism vs. open debate)
I believe that all of these so-called "Leninist" organizations as well as the anarchist movement itself are saturated with sectarianism. But the grievances of many anarchists against the so-called "Leninist" organizations are in many cases deeper than simple sectarianism.
Many of the so-called "Leninist" organizations are not independent of the existing political establishment. On the contrary, they often serve to promote the influence and politics of this corrupt establishment.
All roads lead to the Democratic Party
In the ancient world, it was said that all roads lead to Rome. Unfortunately, many (or most) of the so-called "Leninist" organizations are, essentially, on a leash and their actions, as often as not, serve Rome. "Rome" in this analogy (at least in the U.S.) is the Democratic Party (an imperialist party) and its complex web of subordinate political organizations, relationships and hidden alliances that facilitate the transmission of imperialist politics and ideology into the anti-war movement and into all opposition movements in society.
The actions of the reformist political trends to infiltrate, co-opt and tame (or outright sabotage) the independence and militancy of the anarchist movement was seen in the 1999 WTO events in Seattle and the anti-globalization actions last year in Genoa, Italy.
In Seattle, the Trade Union Bureaucrats sent their shop steward marshalls to blockade and turn around a march of 40,000 people who had marched two miles and were only two blocks from where police were attacking thousands of militant anti-WTO activists with pepper spray, batons and rubber bullets.
In Genoa, last year, the Italian government secretly assisted dozens (or hundreds) of known neo-nazis and fascists to come to the anti-globalization demo (dressed up as if they were black bloc activists) and carry out large-scale violence and other provocations that gave the Italian para-military police an excuse to attack thousands of demonstrators. Afterword (even after the collaboration of the Italian government and the fascists was exposed) many "marxist" reformists (the best example being a talented impresario who has created the most popular and prestigious email discussion list dealing with marxism-related topics at: http://marxmail.org) sought to blame the anarchists for this and insisted that the militant anarchist core of the movement be isolated, physically prohibited from wearing masks and so on (see my comments on this: Genoa, the black bloc and the labor aristocracy, August 6, 2001).
The relationship (and subordination) of many so-called "Leninist" organizations (actually most of these subordinate organizations are usually considered to be Trotskyist) to the Democratic Party (in particular its left wing) is complex and difficult to precisely define because these relationships are usually indirect and to an extent ideological in nature. I have tried to illustrate (as best I can) these complex relationships in the diagram (below) which illustrates the "left ecosystem" at the present time in Seattle and, to an extent, nationally.
AM =anarchist movement.
The placement of various militant-appearing trends in this diagram may be somewhat inexact or arbitrary. Any resemblance between the left wing of the Democratic Party and the head of a bloodsucking leach is a coincidence.
Many of these so-called "Leninist" organizations are actually social-democratic in nature. Often, these organizations will give favorable mention, in their agitation, to "courageous" Democratic Party politicians or corrupt trade union hacks--supposedly in order to "encourage" other politicians or hacks to stand up against reaction--but actually as part of cementing an alliance with a social strata that has organic connections to the Democratic Party. Many of these groups (like the WWP) have organized very worthwhile mass actions in spite of their dependence on an alliance with the left wing of the Democratic Party. In some cases, like the FSP, illusions in the nature of bourgeois democracy are reinforced thru direct appeals to activists to pour their time and energy into persuading the consciences of the political mouthpieces of the rich and powerful (ie: "our" state legislators).
Often, the best and easiest way to determine the hidden dependencies and alliances that exist is by taking note, not of what these groups do, but what they don't do (ie: a general failure to oppose, in their agitation, the myriad reformist illusions, promoted by the Democratic Party and left Democrats, like Jim McDermott, to the effect that the Democratic Party is not also a party of war and reaction--or that it or the U.N., international law, etc will somehow stop the coming war aginst Iraq).
(For more on on the causes and cure of the reformist disease--please see Appendix 2: How the bourgeois political machine undermines the independence of the mass oppositional movements)
Removing the blindfold
At its best (disregarding for now its weaknesses) the anarchist movement represents a striving for militancy and independence in the movement for a better world. It must be frustrating for many anarchists to face competition (for the attention and loyalty of young, militant activists) from so-called "Leninist" organizations that, in some cases, are allied with powerful bourgeois-supported political trends and which can project, by virtue of these alliances, a false reputation of greater strength, independence and militancy than is really deserved.
But one can always fight better with the blindfold off.
These are the reasons I believe militant anarchist activists would do well to understand, on a deeper, more conscious level, all rival political trends. (Not all of these trends are the same. They are all, in my view, infected with sectarianism. But not all are infected with reformism.) The complaints of anarchists about attempts to infiltrate their ranks, siphon off their energy and so forth--have a powerful material basis in the present reality. But the anarchist movement (in its positive sense) faces a greater political threat from the illusions promoted by the (imperialist) Democratic Party (and its myriad opportunist flunkies and playthings) that promote reliance on "saviors" from within the establishment and undermine independent activity than the supposed threat of extermination at the hands of a future workers' state.
The solution to the crisis of theory
Here are five concise points which outline the solution to the crisis of theory:
1. Workers' state will guide transition to no state
A state machine controlled by the working class will make possible the transition to a classless society that will not need a state.
In the context of a stable, modern economy this workers' state will protect the fundamental democratic rights of agitation and organization for everyone (including critics and opponents, whether reactionary or progressive, of the workers' state).
2. Economic stability (and experimentation)
Such a workers' state will maintain sufficient stability to ensure the general economic life of society (and, in particular, the needs of the masses for food, transportation, shelter and health care) during the lengthy period of trial, error and experimentation that will characterize much of the transition to the self-organizing moneyless gift economy that will form the economic foundation for a classless society that requires no state.
3. Gift economy will absorb other sectors
In the course of this period of transition the self-organizing moneyless economy will compete against and eventually absorb the private and state capitalist sectors.
The self-organizing moneyless economy will not be based on money, capital, commodities or wages. Nor will it be directed by all-powerful central planners.
Rather it will consist of myriad self-organizing assemblies of economic units in competition with one another to most efficiently transform skilled labor and other resources into forms of social wealth serving the the material and cultural needs of the masses.
4. State will suppress bourgeoisie, not workers
The workers' state will also suppress the attempts of the former (or aspiring future) bourgeoisie to restore the rule of an exploiting class. This workers' state will do this without suppressing the independent political voice and independent political life of the working class (as happened under the repressive regimes that came to power in the Soviet Union, China, etc). One of the guiding principles of the workers' state will be "the separation of speech and property" which will recognize the distinction in principle between commercial speech (which will be regulated by the state) and the free speech of individuals and the masses (which will not be regulated or controlled by the state).
5. Masses will overthrow corrupt leaders
In the event that political leaders of the state become corrupt and attempt to restrict the democratic rights of the masses (ie: the ability of the masses to form independent political organizations and carry out agitation critical of state policies) -- the masses will make use of information war and the weapon of transparency (made possible by the emerging revolution in digital communications) to organize themselves for powerful mass actions to overthrow such corrupt political leaders.
Thermador vs. Transparency
Point 5 above requires some discussion because the most wipespread, universal, persistent and consistent objection to the concept of a workers' state revolves around a single theme: the fear of repression of the kind that characterized the former Soviet Union or the current China (or North Korea, etc).
The path of degeneration of the two major revolutions of the twentieth century (ie: Lenin's 1917 revolution and the 1949 revolution led by Mao that liberated China) into the feudal-style rule of a parasitic exploiting class gives pause to any serious-minded and sober activist. How could such degeneration be avoided in a future workers' state in a modern society?
The term "Thermador" refers to the period in which a revolutionary movement, having overreached itself or exhausted its resources, consumes itself in an orgy of violence. The term itself comes from the fateful month of Thermador in the French revolutionary calendar. In 1789 the French bourgeoisie, as a rising class, had seen the need to rid itself of the rule of the French aristocracy--which had become an obstruction to bourgeois economic expansion. However the French bourgeoisie had no use for the more radical demands of the Jacobins--and, for this reason, in 1794 sent them to the guillotine. Within a few years the counterrevolution was consolidated in the hands of a talented general named Bonapart, althou history knows him better by his first name: Napolean.
Thermadoran reaction in the Soviet Union took place in the mid-1930's and Stalin, rather than becoming a victim, became Russia's Bonapart. The question for activists is therefore equivalently expressed as: how do we avoid a future Thermador? Because if we can't--then why bother overthrowing bourgeois rule? And there are many who argue that for this reason we should not try.
This question must be given a clear answer both (a) to give confidence to the movement for the overthrow of bourgeois rule (and allow this movement to become a mass movement) and (b) to effectively oppose the hopelessness and fatalism promoted by social-democracy (a political trend that is between a hundred and a thousand times larger than anarchism--and which is directly propped up by the bourgeoisie) to the effect that workers' rule will never amount to more than a police state based on repression--and that the progressive movement should therefor restrict its vision to the hopeless task of gradually reforming bourgeois society until the end of time.
However the answer to these complex questions is actually not all that complicated. It all boils down to two simple points:
1. If political leaders of a future workers' state become corrupt and make an attempt to restrict the fundamental democratic rights of the masses--the masses will fight back.
2. In such a fight the masses will win.
See? It's not really all that complicated.
How can we be so confident that the masses will win? History does not necessarily lead to optimistic conclusions. Napolean had little trouble dispatching the Parisian mobs. And Stalin easily wiped his enemies off the pages of history (at least for a good many years). Why should things be any different now?
For the answer to this we must turn to my second law:
Ben's second law
The long-term suppression of political trends
is no longer possible in the conditions of a modern
economy and communications infrastructure.
What has changed, in a word, is the internet.
No state machine can effectively suppress its opposition without having a monopoly on political news, ideas and information. And no such monopoly can be maintained when the majority of the population has access to the internet.
The emerging revolution in digital communications is destined to usher in a new kind of warfare that has little in the way of historic precedent. For the first time in history, the splendid weapons that will be forged from this revolution will be of vastly greater use to the masses than to the exploiters. This is not fully realized by many at the present time. But it will be increasingly recognized as the revolution in communications unfolds decade after decade.
Mass-based information war
Today the phrase information war is often used to mean the deliberate sabotage of computer systems. But a new definition of this phrase is bound to emerge:
Information war will mean the open and systematic struggle for ideas on a mass scale in a world where digital communications systems are universal and work just fine--and the masses (who have been shut up for most of history) discover that no force can stop them from making their voices heard.
In any country with a modern economy and communications infrastructure (ie: where the majority of the population has internet connectivity) the systematic struggle for ideas on a mass scale will make it impossible for any exploiting class to suppress information about any political trend. This is something new in the world, a change of enormous significance.
A corrupt government could eliminate an isolated individual--but eliminating political trends, which tend to be organized, connected and dispersed, would be far more difficult. And of course any ruling can class can and will take steps to marginalize serious opposition or, failing that, to co-opt (ie: share the spoils with) its opponents. But the complete suppression of political trends (ie: as in Thermador) is becoming increasingly impractical as the world becomes more transparent with every passing decade.
This is why corrupt leaders of a future workers' state are not to be feared.
The masses understand on a very deep level (deep enough to fight over) that fundamental democratic rights are essential for a healthy society. Attempts to suppress these rights would provoke profound mass outrage and militant mass actions that would undermine the legitimacy of the state, create immense friction and lead to the collapse of the corrupt government.
Question # 1: Why couldn't a future repressive state simply shut down the internet?
Answer: Because doing so would fatally cripple the economy.
The internet is increasingly becoming the heart of all modern economies--as essential to modern economic life as steel, plastic or electricity. Shutting down the internet would tear the heart out of any modern economy. No repressive state could survive this because any state which cripples its economy would also cripple its military power, its ability to defend itself against other states and, in a dangerous world, will pass out of existence. As I pointed out in essay 152, this is the contradiction faced by the current, repressive Chinese government. It needs the internet in order to survive. It is hoping that it will be able to maintain control of the internet. But the genie is coming out of the bottle and, once out, is not going back in.
Question # 2: Well then, if the internet cannot be shut down, can't it be heavily filtered, as is now being done by the repressive Chinese government?
Answer: Do you think the Chinese government can possibly find it practical to continue its heavy filtering as internet usage expands? Keep your eyes open.
Why "censorship by filter"
is doomed to fail
All attempts to heavily filter the internet are doomed to fail. The internet is "leaky" by its nature. The popular slogan "information wants to be free" applies here and, in this case, means that information that is relevant to people will find its way around all barriers.
With an online population of 45 million (more than three percent of the population) and rapidly growing China is the fastest growing population of internet users in the world and will soon be the second largest national market (after the US) for personal computers. Maintaining control of this rapidly expanding base of users will prove impossible. The state has already lost control of email and instant messaging use since the volume of traffic is simply too great for any army of censors to review. "Subversive" messages appear constantly in public internet forums and chat rooms and currently have a half-life measured in minutes before they "mysteriously" disappear as they are discovered and deleted by the growing army of bulletin board censors.
But the problems posed for the censors will grow exponentially as traffic and usage increases. For example, as the army of censors grows, it must recruit from deeper within the ranks of the masses and becomes less reliable as individual censors increasingly sympathize with the comments they are supposed to be censoring. And what happens as bandwidth increases and text begins to be replaced with live audio and video (making censorship attempts more obvious, obnoxious and deserving of contempt from forum participants)?
Overwhelming also, will be the complexity of the censorship problem as the masses become more skilled (and this skill level becomes very high in any repressive state) at laying their message "between the lines". Does this poem contain subversive imagery? Is that comment, written as if it were sincere, actually intended to appear sarcastic? It would be easier to separate a billion tons of the finest freshly ground black pepper--from a billion tons of flyshit. The truth will out. Information wants to be free. People's real attitudes and feelings will find their way thru billions of openings. The real news that counts will prove impossible to suppress. Those who would attempt to stop this will eventually find that they would be more successful were they to emulate the Persian emperor who went down to the beach and commanded the waves to stop.
Productivity of labor inseparable
from revolution in communications
Ultimately, the development of the productivity of labor will prove to be inseparable from universal and unfettered access to all the fruits of the revolution in communications. Today, the phrase "productivity of labor" is mostly used by economists and marxists. But this phrase will eventually find itself in widespread use because it is really central to everything that is human.
In the long run the productivity of labor proves more important than anything else. The productivity of labor increased when our distant ancestors learned to walk on two feet (increasing the energy efficiency of their travel and thus increasing the range of their foraging for food) and, following this, developed larger brains. The productivity of labor took a huge step forward when we mastered the use of stone tools and fire. And many believe that it was the immense jump in the productivity of human labor made possible by bronze tools that ushered in class society and all the consequent development of human civilization.
We find that everywhere, in history, the long-term trend is for the productivity of labor to be inseparable from the release of worker initiative. Roman slaves, for example, could not be trusted to work with horses (they would mistreat and eventually kill the horse, which they understood, correctly, would lead to an increase in the relative value, to his owner, of the slave's muscle-power--and hence would lead to a greater life expectancy for the slave). The transition from the slave system to feudalism ultimately took place because the serf, who had the right to a percentage of what he grew on his lord's land, had a greater incentive to display initiative and be productive (ie: to maximise what grew on the land). Similarly, the transition from the feudal system to modern capitalism was inevitable because capitalism allowed a greater development of the productivity of labor. And the transition from capitalism to the self-organizing moneyless gift economy (which is likely to begin in this century) is also inevitable for the same reason: it will allow a greater release of initiative (and productivity) from the people who do the work.
It is the increase in the productivity of labor made possible by more advanced "relations of production" (ie: the nature and character of the human relationships between the people who work together to create goods and services: sincere or insincere, characterized by equality or exploitation, etc) that guarantees the inevitable victory of the class struggle of the proletariat.
The profound relationship between the revolution in communications and the productivity of labor is too complex to explore in this essay. I will say that this relationship is manifested in many ways. The internet (for example: email, the web, instant messaging) greatly increases the productivity of office workers. The internet also makes it far easier for many kinds of workers to educate themselves about many aspects of their jobs and to acquire the skills that they will use in future jobs.
Even more fundamentally, in an economy characterized by increasingly complex and rapidly evolving processes--the revolution in communications is what will allow workers to better understand "best practices" that relate to the question of how best to restructure or redesign their own work processes and goals and motivate their own teams to compete more effectively. (Yes, competition will still exist in the economy of a workers' state--and even in the self-organizing moneyless gift economy that will exist when there is no state. But it will be a healthy kind of competition, like the competition between sports teams, but more interesting--not the dog-eat-dog competition of the capitalist economy in which workers compete in a "race to the bottom" to see who will work for the least in the worst conditions.)
More generally, the revolution in communications will make possible the highest level of productivity that requires the unfettered flow of human energy, consciousness and authentic emotion that dissolves the boundaries between work and play.
Maybe there is not much need for me to belabor this point? Any state that shuts down the internet--will cripple the economy--and fuck itself good. Any state that tries to filter the internet in an attempt to control the political news, ideas and information to which its population has access--will cripple the development of the internet and the development of the productivity of labor--and cripple the development of the economy--and fuck itself good. Anyone who doubts this (ie: mainly the cargo-cult "Leninists", the fear-mongering anarchists and the cowardly, head-in-the-sand social-democrats who cannot conceive of a workers' state that is not a police state) keep your eyes open to the world that is unfolding all around you.
The courage to confront our fears
The movement for the overthrow of bourgeois rule has been paralyzed by the crisis of theory (ie: no one could describe, in a realistic way, how the working class, in the context of modern conditions, could run society better than the bourgeoisie). This movement, which once commanded the respect of millions of workers has been disoriented and reduced to quarreling sectarian grouplets preaching what are essentially religious doctrines amidst a large number of activists who are armed with only the vague aspiration of a "better world" without exploitation. This movement will emerge, again, as a mass movement with its feet on the ground and a clear, compelling aim as the crisis of theory is resolved and news of this resolution is brought to thousands of activists who have yet to be presented with a vision of humanity's path forward that makes any sense.
The emergence of the revolution in communications has made it possible to see that the solution to the crisis of theory is at hand.
The solution is a state machine in the hands of the workers that will make possible the transition of humanity to a self-organizing gift economy (ie: where everything is free--with no need for money, markets, trade, exchange, wages or all-powerful central planners) in which no state exists.
No one has ever proposed a realistic alternative to a state machine controlled by the working class that is practical and that conforms to the laws of motion of the material world (for example: the laws of commodity production that guarantee that the various barter and time-exchange proposals would amount to nothing more than an inferior version of capitalism with a lower productivity of labor than ordinary free-market capitalism--and are theoretically in the same bucket as the never-ending proposals from cranks for perpetual motion machines).
The primary objection to a workers' state amounts to a fear of Thermador--that a workers' state would become a police state like what existed in the Soviet Union or still exists in China. This objection falls apart when considered in the light of modern conditions in a country with a working class majority and a modern economy and communications infrastructure--where the working class would effectively combat incompetence, hypocrisy or corruption in high places using mass-based information war as the ultimate weapon of transparency.
In the light of the facts drawn from a study of the material world, I assert that this solution is as clear as 2 + 2 = 4. And I assert that my opponents (ie: those who argue that a workers' state must take the form of a single organization with a monopoly of power--or in other words a police state) are, in effect, arguing that 2 + 2 = 5. These beliefs cannot be supported by calm, scientific arguments. (If anyone thinks so--let's hear them.) These beliefs are supported by denial (ie: a need to believe, a systematic refusal to think about any facts or arguments that go against what one wants to believe) or by a knee-jerk, irrational fear.
Orwell's Winston had a reason to believe that 2 + 2 = 5. What is the excuse of those who make an equivalent claim today in the name of standing up to tyranny? Which side in this dispute has capitulated to big brother?
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Sectarianism is a disease of the left that affects all organizations in one way or another. The contradiction faced by activists is as follows:
The convictions of an organization’s members are most effectively reinforced by the growth of the organization. From this follows the imperative to "expand or die" that leads such organizations to recruit from one another’s ranks and finds them locked into a ruthless competition for survival. From the perspective of individual members of such organizations (or trends) this competition becomes one of right vs. wrong and white hats vs. black hats. Even the most honest and dedicated activists can and do fall into this trap because they underestimate the power and seductiveness of sectarian logic and emotions.
Note: This is not to say that issues of right vs. wrong do not exist within the revolutionary movement. Such issues do exist (for example see appendix 2 which highlights the need to struggle against reformism). The problem with sectarian practices is that activists in rival trends often lose sight of their common goals and interests and become atoms who are isolated from one another.
The end result of all this unprincipled street-fighting is the sabotage of the principled cooperation between rival organizations that is necessary to build a powerful movement.
It is important to understand that competition between revolutionary trends and organizations, while inevitable, can manifest itself in either healthy or unhealthy ways.
Healthy competition can reveal to all what, in Darwinian language, is "strong" or "weak" or, in more political language, what kinds of theory and practice are effective in raising consciousness and building a powerful movement.
Unhealthy competition is often characterized by distortion, slander, manipulation and the kinds of attitudes usually found among pimps defending their turf against one another.
Sectarianism can be understood as being the unhealthy kind of competition. Sectarianism inevitably manifests itself as a striving for "information isolation" (ie: opposition to calm and productive exchanges of news and opinion between members of rival revolutionary trends or organizations).
Now to a certain extent it is sometimes necessary to discourage unproductive exchanges between activists with different views on the path forward because (particularly on the internet) there is no shortage of hot-headed, word-twisting, time-wasting spammers who would destroy (if allowed) any forum intended to attract the limited and valuable time and attention of serious activists. Revolutionary work requires a commitment to focus on what is important and a conscious decision to tune out and ignore the kind of noise from the clueless that amounts to nothing more than a distraction.
Where is the boundary between sectarianism and principled competition—between healthy competition (that reveals what is weak) and unhealthy competition (that isolates activists from one another and weakens the movement)?
One important marker of this boundary is calm and open debate. Calm, principled and public debate between rival trends is necessary in order to give serious activists an opportunity to compare different ideas on the path forward and to examine the criticisms that competing revolutionary trends make of one another. The emerging revolution in communications will do much to encourage healthy debate and to bring transparency and accountability to a progressive movement that has been devastated by many forms of ignorance and self-deception.
One of the sectarian methods used to oppose healthy debate and the calm and productive exchange of views--is the accusation of "parasitism". To illustrate this phenomena I will give some examples from my own personal experience.
1. In October I announced on several elists my intention to post installments of the Anarcho-Leninist Debate on the State. In response, a subscriber to the NorthWest Anarchy elist warned his fellow anarchists that this "bullshit debate" was a tactic of mine to "grab our spotlight" and "catch our tailwind". The subscriber was righteously indignant: anarchists, in his view, had achieved a certain amount of attention and mindshare from activists as a result of years of hard work, dedication, sacrifice and attention to the integrity of their principles--and here I come along--to steal the attention for which they had all worked so hard.
My efforts to stimulate activists to give hard and realistic thought to fundamental principles--was seen as a clever trick--a maneuver by me to profit at their expense.
That's one example. Here's another:
2. In the spring and summer of this year, the five other members of the group I was working with, the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Alliance (SAIA) concluded that I was taking unfair advantage of their hard work because I was planning on making public my criticisms of their errors. I believe that this was the fundamental reason that they voted in July to liquidate SAIA (they have a different view).
3. Finally, over the years I have on countless occasions distributed revolutionary agitation at mass protests of all sizes. In some of these protests, the organizers told me that I would not be "allowed" to pass out leaflets at "their" demonstration (ie: as if the demonstration was their personal property). In some cases I have even been physically threatened (I ignored these threats and passed out leaflets all the same).
There is a common thread in the three different examples above. I believe the principle at issue is related to opposing conceptions of the flow of democratic communication within the revolutionary movement.
As activists struggle to get organized to oppose imperialist war, racist attacks, attacks on workers (and all the various outrages of bourgeois rule) it is inevitable that mistakes of all kinds will be made. Correcting these mistakes, learning to distinguish between opposing ideas in the revolutionary movement, requires transparency within the movement. Activists must have the ability to be aware, to be conscious, of all the different views and opinions--so that they can more easily draw their own conclusions. And this requires that information about controversies and so forth circulates easily.
But there is another view which is more similar to the view of a Hollywood entertainment corporation which believes that one of its music CD's or movies has been illegally pirated. "How dare you make use of our intellectual property!" they huff as they frantically do everything they can to stop the "theft" of what they believe belongs to them.
I believe that this Hollywood-type view is wrong. It does not conform to the development of the revolutionary movement. And (particularly as the emerging revolution in digital communications shows its potential to shine a powerful light on all the hidden rot, corruption and putrid self-deception that saturates all corners of the revolutionary movement) we must recognize the need to bring transparency to the revolutionary movement.
The current period of squabbling trends and organizations surrounded by a sea of liberal reformism is a symptom of the theoretical and organizational bankruptcy of the revolutionary movement. There exists no revolutionary organization that has its feet on the ground and that has succeeded in freeing itself of the sectarian and reformist diseases that saturate the revolutionary movement--or that has sorted out an organizational model that fully meets the needs of the revolutionary movement.
But it will happen.
I believe that the creation of such a revolutionary organization (or network of organizations) will be the product of activists who consider themselves to be anarchists just as much as it will be a product of activists who consider themselves to be marxists. I am a marxist myself. But the "marxist" movement as it exists today is no closer to genuine marxism than is the anarchist movement.
In the incredible confusion, corruption and bankruptcy of thought which exists in the revolutionary movement today--we must recognize the fundamental necessity that we keep open the lines of communication to one another. We all have limited time. Some people are more serious than others and we all need to make decisions concerning who to listen to and who to tune out. We need to make those decisions well--and not on the basis of some superficial criteria--like what "ism" somebody currently thinks appears to make the most sense--or how someone views some event (like Kronstadt) that took place in 1921. It is sometimes the people who shout the loudest who are the first to go passive when the movement retreats.
US imperialism will likely invade Iraq in January. The war will probably be over in a few weeks (the occupation may last decades). The anti-war movement and the generally high level of ferment among activists may die down when the shooting dies down and the corporate networks saturate the airwaves with images of Iraqi people dancing in the streets (they will surely find some Iraqis dancing somewhere and will show us them rather than the tens or hundreds of thousands of bodies burned beyond recognition by "smart weapons").
But bourgeois rule will remain and the movement to eliminate it, as confused and disoriented as ever--will remain also. And the connections and experience that we gain during this period of relative ferment will not go away. Nor will go away the need for all serious activists to remain in communication with one another--and to find methods of principled colloboration to solve the problems that will allow for the emergence of a powerful mass revolutionary movement that is "out of control" and cannot be bought off or tamed by the bourgeoisie.
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How does the bourgeois political machine suck the life and independence out of oppositional mass movements within the world's biggest imperialist power?
By skillfully manuevering to gain leadership in the mass oppositional movements the left wing of the Democratic Party in the U.S. can lead these movements into the gutter as it siphons off their revolutionary energy into directions (ie: election campaigns for this or that "savior" from within the establishment) that are fundamentally harmless to bourgeoise interests.
The nature and workings of the left-ecosystem can be confusing (and highly non-intuitive) to many activists who do not have years of bitter experience with the deception and betrayal of the liberal-labor political trends.
Consider the example of the Workers' World Party (WWP).
The WWP organization exists, essentially, as an alliance between
Note: I am not claiming that the liberal-labor endorsements of WWP's A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition are what prove that the tail wags the dog (ie: that this unprincipled alliance goes against the interests of the development of the revolutionary movement). Rather, the proof is the price that has been paid for these endorsements: WWP's complete failure to clearly oppose in its mass agitation the political deception of the left-wing of the Democratic Party as it manuevers to divert the revolutionary energy of the anti-war movement into meaningless election fodder or other forms of the least militant forms of protest aimed at appealing to the conscience of the bourgeoisie.
But here is the interesting part: In spite of its alliance with a bribed social strata, the WWP has successfully organized a number of large and powerful demonstrations against the bourgeoisie's "war on terror" and the coming invasion of Iraq. The U.S. bourgeoisie would obviously prefer that such demonstrations did not take place.
What does all this mean? What is going on here?
Long historical experience has allowed the bourgeoisie
to develop and refine a complex and sophisticated
machine to suck the life energy and independence
out of all oppositional mass movements.
The bourgeois political machine that sucks the life out of mass protest movements is centered around a political trend known as social-democracy. The social-democratic political trend is not centrally controlled from the White House or any other location. Rather this trend functions as a complex distributed ecosystem in which the component parts enjoy a considerable degree of independence (ie: essentially a long leash that only becomes visible during periods of great crisis).
Many of the trends and people who are caught up in this machine (especially at its lower levels) have little grasp of how their actions serve to promote the influence of bourgeois-imperialist political methods and thinking. Many of these people simply see themselves as "doing what is realistic" to improve things here and there. But all of these political institutions and prominent personalities inside and outside of the Democratic Party (for example: Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader or the Institute for Policy Studies) have bought into and promote the political deception that the Democratic Party (or a third party or a labor party that would also be on a bourgeois leash) can be made to serve the interests of the masses.
In this way, these "saviors" attempt to deceive the masses and create a firewall between activists and the fundamental conclusion to be drawn from the disgusting spectacle of the Democrats giving their enthusiastic support to Bush's current round of imperialist wars.
What is this fundamental conclusion?
The problem is the system of bourgeois rule and this system cannot be eliminated without the development of a mass movement which openly aims to do this and which is completely "out of control" (ie: independent of bourgeois influence.)