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We Need Mass Democracy
                Real organization cannot be built on a foundation of sand
If we can create a mass anti-imperialist organization where decisions and struggle are based on mass democracy -- then we will capture the imagination of serious activists everywhere -- and be in a position to change the dynamics of the entire antiwar movement. Ben Seattle

The future of SAIC

Ben has two basic problems with the
Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC).
The reasons Ben considers SAIC to be
a dysfunctional form of organization are:

a) SAIC is not organized in a way
that is consistent with the kind of
mass democratic decision-making
and struggle that our movement needs.

b) SAIC has no commitment to a
long-term program of work to
capture the attention and imagination
of serious activists on a national scale.

The future of SAIC

Posted by Ben Seattle November 7, 2005

(excerpted from "Monthly Focus # 50" from the pof-200 list)


-----Original Message-----
From: Ben Seattle
Sent: Monday, November 07, 2005 11:58 AM
To: 'pof-200'
Subject: [pof-200] MF # 50 -- Real organization cannot be built
on a foundation of sand (the need for mass democracy)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 Monthly Focus # 50 -- / building a community of information war
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

   Real organization cannot be built on a foundation of sand
   (the need for mass democracy) 

    [...]
(6) The future of the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee:
    Real organization cannot be built on a foundation of sand
    (the need for mass democracy)
==============================================================
--  Appendix -- Proposal for the kind of anti-imperialist
--  organization that our movement needs:
--
--  The Open and Democratic Anti-Imperialist Network
--  for Mass Action and Information War (ODAINMAIW)
==============================================================


[... sections 1 to 5 dealing with other topics deleted ...]


----------------------------------------------------------------
(6) The future of the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee:
    Real organization cannot be built on a foundation of sand
----------------------------------------------------------------

I hope that subscribers have had an opportunity to read Edward's
excellent summation of the Novemebr 2 actions, which he posted
here on Wednesday nite.

There were probably a thousand (or more) high school kids (most
of whom had never been to a demonstration before) who walked out
of school and participated in one of the two events that was
organized here in Seattle.  This was a great thing!  It was great
to see so many new faces -- which were full of excitement and
enthusiasm.

The trotskyist coalition and the maoist rcp (ie: "world can't
wait") coalition both held rallies at the same place -- but at
different times -- in order to keep their actions separate.  This
is an example of naked sectarianism.

Activists and the youth at this event were able to get 3 separate
leaflets which all had similar politics that opposed the
influence of the Democratic Party.  The CVO had an excellent
leaflet (I have posted a copy of it to the pof-300 list).  I had
my leaflet (which I posted last month).  And the Seattle
Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) had its leaflet (which Edward
posted here October 30).

         *         *         *         *         *         *

SAIC represents an effort at joint work by: (a) local CVO
supporters, (b) Edward and (c) me.  We all worked together to
discuss and edit the leaflet -- which was focused on explaining
what imperialism is.

SAIC had a meeting yesterday to discuss its future.

         *         *         *         *         *         *

Earlier this month, the leading local supporter of the CVO
proposed that I be banned from attending the public meetings of
SAIC.  The reason for this was that I had made clear that (a) I
would not be a member of SAIC but would only work with SAIC in an
informal way and (b) I would not distribute SAIC leaflets unless
they were "interactive" (ie: also posted on SAIC's website along
with a form by which readers could easily post their public
comments or criticisms).

I have taken these positions because this is the only way I can
effectively protest against dysfunctional forms of organization
and dysfunctional (and obsolete) methods of literature
distribution.

At the meeting yesterday, the CVO supporter retreated from his
insistence that I be banned from SAIC public meetings.  The
practical effect of this retreat is not clear at this time.  If
SAIC develops its activity by means of closed meetings to which
only members are allowed -- then I will be effectively excluded
from playing much of a role in SAIC's development.

I am in favor of all of us working together in an informal way.
If the other comrades insist on creating in haste another
organization of the usual kind -- then I am in favor of making
SAIC's working meetings open to activists such as myself -- so
that I can contribute _without_ endorsing an attempt to create
organization which divorced from the reasons for its existence --
and which is built on a foundation of sand.

But the CVO supporters who hold predominant influence in SAIC see
matters very differently.  Instead of taking the necessary time
to discuss and sort out what kind of democratic mass organization
the movement needs -- they have insisted that such a course of
action would be the path of stagnation and "sterile debates".

In other words we don't have time to talk about the direction we
must go (ie: because such talk is supposedly "sterile debate").
Instead we must march (even if it is in the wrong direction, even
if we will end up marching on the road to nowhere).

At yesterday's meeting Edward gave his opinion that I was being
sectarian because: (a) I refused to be a member of (ie: to
effectively endorse) what I consider a dysfunctional organization
and (b) I refused to distribute leaflets that were not
interactive.  I asked Edward to make his criticism public here on
the pof-200 list but it is unclear if this will happen.

I am using this opportunity to again ask Edward to make his
criticism public.

If the current differences are significant enough to act as a
_barrier_ that will exclude me from participating in the life or
development of the local anti-imperialist grouping (which I
played a decisive role in creating -- by assisting Edward in
breaking from the pseudo-leftism of the RCP and by encouraging
Edward to make contact with a local CVO supporter) -- then I
believe it would be entirely approporiate and necessary for
Edward to make his criticism public.

We are supposedly working to build a community here.  How are
activists like Marik or Ulyanovist or Lonnie to understand this
issue if they cannot know Edward's views on the matter in
Edward's own words?

If this matter is important -- then it deserves public
discussion.

It is as simple as that.

         *         *         *         *         *         *

I have two basic problems with SAIC.  The reasons that I consider
it to be a dysfunctional form of organization are:

a) SAIC is not organized in a way that
   is consistent with the kind of mass
   democratic decision-making and struggle
   that our movement needs.

b) SAIC has no commitment to a long-term
   program of work to capture the
   attention and imagination of serious
   activists on a national scale.

         *         *         *         *         *         *

Organization is our fundamental weapon.

Creating organization must be at the center of all of our
activity.  As such, we must take it seriously.  (That is why I
oppose hasty attempts to slap together an ill-considered
dysfunctional organization that makes it more difficult for us to
understand that we still _lack_ the kind of organization which we
need.)

I want to help put together a _real_ organization -- an
organization with the ability to capture the attention and
imagination of activists everywhere who are struggling to
puncture the reformist stranglehold on the movement.

So I want to review, in the appendix below, the features which I
believe are essential for a real organization of the kind we need
-- an organization which can help set the hearts of antiwar
activists on fire.

And there are two essential features: (a) mass democracy and (b)
a commitment to a long-term program of work that corresponds to
the needs of our time.

         *         *         *         *         *         *

The question of mass democracy is central.

The importance of this question can be expressed simply: if we
can create a mass anti-imperialist organization where decisions
and struggle are based on mass democracy -- then we will capture
the imagination of serious activists everywhere -- and be in a
position to change the dynamics of the entire antiwar movement.
Put another way -- if we can understand and implement genuine
mass democracy -- then we will win.  On the other hand, if we
fail to take this question seriously, if we fail to understand
what mass democracy is -- then we will end up with a typical
organization that will accomplish relatively little and which
will eventually evaporate.  In other words we will lose.

         *         *         *         *         *         *

But what is mass democracy?

The CVO supporters who hold sway in SAIC argue that democracy can
be reduced to a simple mechanical formula.  According to this
formula -- democracy is equivalent to "winner take all" majority
rule whereby the majority has effective and exclusive control
over everything the organization does.

Consider an example of how this formula might work:  If, in SAIC,
the CVO supporters can secure a 4 to 3 majority by voting as a
bloc -- then the CVO supporters can control every word of every
leaflet the organization creates as well as the entire content of
the organization's website and everything that goes out over the
organization's email list.

Under this view of "democracy" those who vote with the majority
have no need to explain to the activist community (or even to
other members of the organization) the reasons _why_ they vote
the way that they do.  The majority has no responsibility to be
accountable to anyone for any reason.

This was my experience with SAIC's predecessor: SAIA (ie: the
Seattle Anti-Imperialist Alliance, which existed from October
2001 to July 2002).  The five supporters of the CVO in SAIA were
the majority and could do whatever they wanted.  They made at
least one decision that was completely screwball (ie: to
eliminate the webpages which contained copies of all the SAIA
leaflets) and for which, to this day, they have never given me
any explanation of _why_ this screwball decision was made (other
than that they were the majority and could do whatever they damn
well wanted).  This same majority prevented me from sending out
to activists on the SAIA email list my criticism of the decision
to liquidate SAIA.  This was in glaring contradiction to the SAIA
unity statement: "who we are and what we believe" which made
clear that "we are committed to making serious criticisms of us
public".  My criticism was serious -- but it was not made public
-- it was suppressed.  I had helped to build SAIA's email list,
collecting email addresses for it as part of my work with the
organization.  But when the time came to use the email list in
accord with the "who we are and what we believe" statement that
defined the organization -- tough shit.  What was the reason that
the majority voted to toss aside the principles of the unity
statement and suppress my criticism?  Your guess is as good as
mine.  To this day none of them have told me.  They didn't have
to.  They were the majority.  The majority can do whatever it
wants.

This is the CVO's version of "democracy": bloc voting and no
accountability to activists in the movement -- no accountability
to anyone at any time for any reason.

And what about the rights of the minority under this kind of
democracy?  Well the minority has the right to hit the road.  End
of story.  Love it or leave it.

         *         *         *         *         *         *

Now readers have the right to ask me my view of an organization
that is based on genuine mass democracy.  It is one thing for me
to criticize the CVO's mechanical formula for democracy.  But for
my criticism to be credible -- I must offer an alternative.  And
that is what I sketch out in the appendix below.

I will not attempt to give a precise definition of mass
democracy.  I understand the concept well enough to understand
that I am unable to define it with precision.  (I have enough
respect for the concept and its importance to recognize my
limitations.)  I do understand that mass democracy rests on a
foundation of democratic rights (a concept which is more
concrete, and easier to define than mass democracy).  And for
this reason I _do_ sketch out below the democratic rights which
members and supporters of the organization (as well as activists
at large) must have.  And I do understand that mass democracy
must also insist on the principle of individual responsibility
and accountability to the wider activist community.  More that
this, I recognize that mass democracy is not possible without
open politics (a phrase which means the same thing as "political
transparency").  And this means that a mass democratic
organization must give activists everywhere a window into the
internal struggles which define the future of the organization.

I believe in the need for mass democracy.  I may not be able to
define it with precision but I know it when I see it.  And, more
to the point, so will hundreds of thousands of activists.
Hundreds of thousands of activists will not be fooled by
mechanical formulas which are a _substitute_ for mass democracy.
If we want the attention of hundreds of thousands of activists --
we must give them the real thing.  They will know it when they
see it.

         *         *         *         *         *         *

What follows in the appendix below is in the form of a proposal.
I am making this proposal to the comrades in SAIC.  I should make
clear that this proposal does not have the chance of a snowball
in hell of being adopted.  If I confined myself to what stood a
chance of being accepted -- then -- well ... I wouldn't propose
anything.

But I have a responsibility to my comrades and former comrades.
My responsibility is to tell my comrades the truth.  My comrades
want to change the world.  My comrades want to tell activists the
truth about how the bourgeoisie and its reformist allies have a
stranglehold on the antiwar movement.  My comrades want to break
this stranglehold.  My comrades want to arm themselves -- and
activists -- with the weapon of organization.  My comrades have
armed themselves with a form of organization which is crippled
from birth and which can only fizzle out.  My comrades have need
of a real organization.  And so, I will say to my comrades: this
is closer to what a real organization would look like.

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

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

 
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