Ben Seattle
We Need Mass Democracy
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Letter to comrade Edward:

The Road to Information War

A longer-term view of the tasks
of building anti-imperialist
and revolutionary organization
in the U.S. in the early 21st century

Hi Edward,

 

We have had a successful Mayday action.  Thousands of workers came out into the street.  We distributed thousands of leaflets.  Maybe a few people will come to our next meeting.

 

And, with some of our immediate tasks out of the way, this is a good time to give thought to our longer-term tasks.

 

*         *         *         *         *         *

 

For the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) to serve the movement it will need to take a long-term approach and do the right things:

 

1. be open

------------------

 

    Work to build an open community of activists

    who can help us better understand the movement,

    extend our reach and resolve our disputes.

 

2. develop national reach

-----------------------------------------

 

    Make regular and consistent posts to many indymedia

    sites, email lists and web-based forums -- and follow up

    to respond to the best comments or criticisms we receive.

 

3. recognize the need for theory

---------------------------------------------------

 

    Confront the questions that need to be confronted

    (including the crisis of theory) so that we can consumate

    the marriage between our current tasks and our future goals.

 

*         *         *         *         *         *

 

The current orientation of SAIC will eventually reach the limits of its effectiveness (if it has not already done so).  Whether SAIC takes steps in the direction (above) that it needs to go -- depends a lot on you.

 

You have asked me to join SAIC.  I do not understand your reasons for this.  I already assist SAIC, attend its public meetings, make suggestions on its agitation and help distribute its leaflets.  More than this -- I am a source of the kind of criticism which SAIC needs.  There is a gap between what SAIC does and what our movement needs.  I point to this gap.  This is much more important (and necessary) than having formal status as a member.

 

*         *         *         *         *         *

 

This is not an easy time to build an organization.  The theoretical level in the movement is abysmal and there is no widespread recognition (or hatred) of the sabotaging role of the reformist political trends which chain the movement to the illusions, schemes and manuevers that originate with the imperialist Democratic Party.  So the approach which I advocate -- even if followed -- would be unlikely to yield results in the short term.

 

The CVO comrades [1] advocate one path for SAIC (ie: more or less the path it is currently following) and I advocate another path (ie: see my three points above).  They advocate planting certain kinds of seeds in a certain way -- while I advocate a different mix of seeds and different ways of planting.  But even with the right seeds and the right methods -- there is the question of time (ie: it takes seeds time to sprout) and conditions (ie: how favorable is the soil and other factors).  So there is no easy experiment that can quickly prove which path is best.

 

Scientific experiment (ie: practice) is the best way to determine which path is best -- but as noted -- experiment takes time and results are uncertain in any event.  So my arguments here are somewhat theoretical.

 

*         *         *         *         *         *

 

Why do we need to build an open community?

 

We need a community to help us with our mission.  We need extra eyes and ears in the movement.  We need a transmission belt to extend our influence to the movement.  We need a laboratory to help us better understand the interaction of different trends and the ways in which the formulations of our political line are understood.  We need a school of information war.  A community can be all of these things.

 

A community can be a gateway for those activists who want to investigate our views and our practice.

 

A community can also assist us in better understanding and resolving our contradictions.

 

The community must be open because that is the nature of a community.  It must be something that is easy for activists to be part of -- with few commitments required other than to treat other activists with respect and a recognition that a certain level of focus and responsiveness is required in order for the community to work.

 

Within the community, projects will compete with one another for attention.  Some of these projects will be reformist-oriented efforts which we will understand are a waste of time and are destined to go nowhere.  This is inevitable because, in many ways, our community will be a microcosm of the larger movement – and will reflect within itself, in concentrated form, all the contradictions of the movement. 

 

In other ways, we can consider a community like this to be a primitive form of mass organization – a low-level form that is unfocused and undisciplined.  But as unfocused and undisciplined as it is -- it may still represent a step forward for us – and help us to learn how to build and to influence communities of activists.

 

SAIC has already taken a significant step toward the development of a community.  Every article that SAIC writes is now “live” in the form of a blog where readers can post public comments, questions and criticisms.  We need to continue in the direction of transparency and community.

 

Building a community is a long term project.  Such a project requires the appplication of consistent effort over a long period of time.  The level of effort is not necessarily high – maybe half an hour or an hour per week.  But the effort must be steady, consistent and long-term.  And in the long term, it will pay off.  (This is what I believe.  The community I have been working to build [2] has not yet reached a critical mass of talent and determination in spite of years of work that I have poured into it.  Nor is it clear how many more years it will be before such a critical mass appears.)

 

*         *         *         *         *         *

 

The case for putting more of an effort into national distribution -- is that the real value and significance of our work can only be appreciated by a relatively small section of activists (ie: who have learned to hate opportunism) and 98% of these activists are outside Seattle.  Some of these activists read Portland Indymedia -- but many do not.  If we want to reach them -- we must post to many indymedia sites, email lists and other types of forums -- and must experiment with ways of replying (at least to the more serious criticisms) so that our posts are not perceived as spam.

 

*         *         *         *         *         *

 

The case for developing theoretical tools that allow us to confront the more serious questions -- is that these questions are very important to the thinking of activists.

 

Activists want to know why the Soviet and Chinese revolutions failed (ie: degenerated into police states).  If we don't tell them why these revolutions failed -- the bourgeoisie will (and does).  The bourgeoisie will (and does) claim that any attempt to defy the rule of the market will inevitably result in: (1) a police state and (2) low productivity (ie: poverty for everyone except corrupt bureaucrats and jail for anyone who speaks out).

 

I recently reviewed (again) some of the CVO's theoretical work on what they call the "transition to socialism".  It was quite poor -- at least in relation to answering basic questions that activists have.  The CVO is unable to provide a reliable explanation of what "socialism" is -- much less give any clear idea of the transition to this thing which they are unable to either define or explain.  In particular, the articles include no _mention_ whatsoever of the decisive role of _democratic rights_ in making it possible for the working class as a _class_ (ie: not just an organization which claims to represent the class) to actually run and control the economy, culture and politics of the new society.

 

The CVO, like other cargo-cult organizations, appears to regard democratic rights as an article of consumption in the political economy of post-bourgeois society.  As such, the fundamental democratic rights of speech and assembly are regarded as optional – as dispensable – as being _undeserving of mention_ in a series of articles supposedly focused on the “transition to socialism”.

 

A serious approach to revolutionary theory will make clear that the opposite is true.  Democratic rights are more than an _article of consumption_ in future society – they are fundamental _means of production_ that make everything else (in particular the security and stability of working class rule) possible.

 

Only by making use of democratic rights can the working class prevent the degeneration of its state. Hence democratic rights are not simply a goal of workers' rule -- they are the essential weapon necessary to defend workers' rule. Without democratic rights the workers' state is living on borrowed time.
 
Lenin was acutely aware of this.

 

The CVO article, however, falsely claims that Lenin never discussed the possibility of the ruling party/state degenerating:

 

> Lenin never dealt with the issue of the degeneration

> of the regime and the loss of its character as a

> revolutionary representative of the masses.  The

> regime might be overthrown, but he assumed that

> if it could hold power, that it could maintain its

> status as the voice of the masses. [3]

 

The truth is the exact opposite.  Two months before his stroke in 1922, in his last major address to the party, Lenin warned the 11th Party Congress that "the real and main danger" was that everything might degenerate along bourgeois lines [4].

 

What is the significance of this?

 

The significance of this is simply that it removes much of the mystery concerning what happened and why.  Degeneration was the "normal" course of events which could only be successfully opposed with assistance from _outside_ the apparatus (ie: with assistance from the independent actions of the masses).  But this requires that the masses have the fundamental rights of independent speech and organization.

 

If we want activists to have confidence that a world without imperialism (ie: bourgeois rule) is possible -– we must make clear that there are achievable material conditions in which such a world will not be hanging by a thread -- but rather will be secure.  These material conditions include a society where democratic rights are used on a daily basis to mobilize mass opposition to the inevitable incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption that will emerge even within the people and principles which guide their own state.

 

The exercize of these rights, by the masses, to secure their victory -- must be as easy as breathing -- because these actions are the breath of society -- bringing needed oxygen (ie: transparency) to every corner in which bacteria begin to gather.  Lenin's 1917 revolution was suffocated due to a lack of oxygen.  This is why it died, as Lenin knew was the real and main danger, with a whimper rather than a bang.

We cannot build our movement around the goal of a world in which society -- and everything which we have fought and sacrificed for -- is in danger of suffocation -- in which everything is hanging by a thread. Our goal must be victory.

We cannot ask the working class
to sacrifice for this struggle
if we cannot hold up the light of theory
and illuminate the path to victory.

This is why it cannot be the period of martial law (ie: the rule of a single organization with the power to suppress its opposition) which might conclude a possible civil war -- but the period after in which the working class makes daily use of the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization to defend its role as master of society -- which we must recognize as workers' rule (or, if you will, the dictatorship of the proletariat).

 

Unfortunately the CVO articles are "sealed off".  There are few, if any, ways that correct criticism of these articles can be brought to the attention of readers of the CVO journal.  (Of course anyone can write to Joseph and submit a criticism to this corrupt gatekeeper – but such criticism is unlikely to see the light of day.)

 

*         *         *         *         *         *

 

I am not sure, Edward, what any of this means to you.

 

One of your concerns, as I understand it [5], is that you want to see more activists come to SAIC's local meetings and participate in its activity. This appears to be one way to measure the success of our work and gauge our potential to influence the antiwar movement in an anti-imperialist direction. I share your concern. I can't guarantee that the path I advocate will address this concern in the short run. But I believe that this path will help us to connect with serious activists nationwide because:

 

1. We can make systematic efforts to make ourselves known to them.

 

2. We can learn how to answer their questions and address their concerns (even if we cannot prove by any kind of spectacular local success that we understand how to build the antiwar movement).

 

3. We can build an open community of activists where the two diseases which most cripple the antiwar movement (ie: reformism and sectarianism) can be successfully fought.

 

*         *         *         *         *         *

 

On the other hand, if we don't do the right things -- then not only will we fail to build the movement -- but our own ability to take action will tend to be undermined -- as we are eventually overwhelmed by demoralization, cynicism, apoliticism and passivity.

 

*         *         *         *         *         *

 

The path I advocate (which I will call the path of information war) is not something with which any of us have a lot of experience.  As we work on this path we will stumble many times.  We will make many mistakes.  We will get a lot of things wrong.  This is inevitable when you are trying something which is new.  But we can learn from all of our mistakes.

 

Yes -- if we use public forums or email lists to discuss and debate among ourselves -- we will sometimes look like fools.  Big deal.  We will look like fools because sometimes we _are_ foolish.  We will look ignorant because sometimes we _are_ ignorant.  But this is also the fastest (and ultimately the least painful) route to _overcoming_ our ignorance and foolishness.  I therefore assert that it is ignorant and foolish to avoid this path.

 

*         *         *         *         *         *

 

The "tried and true" methods which the CVO comrades advocate represent a path that is well-travelled.  It is easier to go on this path -- because all the methods and techniques are well-established and debugged -- the pitfalls have been learned in decades of experience.  But this path is also limited in terms of what it can do.  The result of this path tends to be sterile organization which is largely closed off to the life of the movement.

 

Leaflets which give an anti-imperialist analysis of the news and expose the treachery of the reformist trends -- are certainly necessary -- but they are not enough.  We must harness the power of the emerging revolution in communications to take our message far and wide and build open communities.  We must _integrate_ our message -- and our analysis of current events -- with a clear vision of our goal (which means we must have enough respect for theory to develop tools that will allow us to think about and talk about our goal).

 

Until we take these steps -- until we forge this new path -- then as long as the movement is at its current level -- nothing is going to change.
 
Sincerely and revolutionary regards
Ben Seattle http://struggle.net/ben

May 1, 2006

 

Isolated from one another we are easily defeated.

Connected to one another no force on earth can stop us

http://MediaWeapon.com

___________________________________________________

Notes for readers of this open letter:

[1] The majority of the supporters of the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) are also supporters of the Communist Voice Organization (CVO).  The SAIC website is: http://SeattleAIC.org .  The CVO website is: http://CommunistVoice.org .  My criticisms of SAIC (including this letter) are online at: http://struggle.net/mass-democracy

[2] The Media Weapon community currently makes use of

the pof-200 and pof-300 discussion lists and a wiki.

[3] See the 2nd to last paragraph in "State capitalism, Leninism and the transition to socialism (part 3)" at http://home.flash.net/~comvoice/14cStateCapitalism.html

[4] Political Report of the Central Committee of the RCP(B), March 27, 1922 (pages 286-7)

    http://www.marx2mao.com/Lenin/EC22.html

[5] This paragraph was modified as a result of email exchange between Edward and me. The original version can be seen here. The entire exchange can be found in the "follow-up" section for my "Road to Information War" article at: http://struggle.net/mass-democracy

 

Additional background for readers:

Lenin was incapacited by a series of strokes beginning in May 1922 and his political life ended completely ten months later. Two months before his stroke, however, in his last major address to the party, Lenin warned the 11th Party Congress that “the real and main danger” was that the ruling party/state might degenerate.  Lenin  quoted an article written by one of the enemies of the revolution, named Ustryalov, who asserted that the degeneration of the Soviet State into an “ordinary bourgeois morass with communist flags inscribed with catchwords stuck all over the place” was merely a matter of time and “evolution”.  Lenin warned that:

            “We must say frankly that the things

            Ustryalov speaks about are possible.

            History knows all sorts of metamorphoses.

            ... This is the real and main danger”

Readers may want to know why, if Lenin understood the need for democratic rights (and the danger that the lack of such rights posed to revolutionary society) he considered it necessary to suppress these rights (even within the party) in the period following the end of the civil war.

Lenin’s argument was that this suppression of democratic rights was necessary becasue otherwise, in the extreme conditions of the time (ie: a shattered economy, famine -- and a majority peasant population that greatly resented the emergency measures such as the confiscation of surplus grain) the bourgeoisie and landlords (who had just recently been defeated in the civil war) would have been able, within a matter of months, to press for elections, remove the Bolsheviks from power and replace the Bolsheviks with opportunist political trends which would have (1) made all kinds of fraudulent promises in order to get elected – and then (2) surrendered power to the bourgeoise and landlords.

Lenin argued that before essential democratic rights could be reestablished – the shattered economy (which had been destroyed in the civil war) must be restored in order to lessen the dissatisfaction of the peasant majority of the population.  Lenin estimated that it might take 10 years (or even 20 years) before the shattered economy could be restored.  Unfortunately, in the absence of the organized mass struggles against corruption (that were not possible in the absence of democratic rights) the ruling party/state was unable, during this lengthy period, to maintain its character as a revolutionary representative of the masses.

It was bad enough, of course, that Lenin’s 1917 revolution was suffocated.  The internal suffocation of this revolution shaped all the key events in the rest of the 20th century.  But what would be worse – would be if we failed to recognize the need to clarify our theory – the need to toss in the trash the so-called “marxist-leninist” principle (established by the exploiting class that took control of Soviet society) that identifies workers rule with the rule of a merged party/state that suppresses its opponents.  We must recognize -- in theory -- and in thousands of articles which must be written and posted to every corner of the internet – that workers’ rule corresponds to the period (1) after bourgeois rule is decisively broken and (2) during which the working class makes daily use of the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization to defend its role as master of society.

Further reading:

Lenin’s attitude toward these questions in revealed in many of his writings in 1921 including his speeches at the 10th Congress, his famous article “The Tax in Kind” and in various less well-knows works such as “Letter To Myasnikov”

Related work by Ben Seattle:

Seventeen Theses on the Destiny of the Revolution in communications
and the Concept of Workers' Rule

"The concept of workers' rule is central to the development of a progressive movement
which is conscious and organized. The power of this concept to clarify our tasks
is fully equivalent to the power of Darwin's theory of evolution to understanding biology
or the theory of plate tectonics to understanding geology. Without this concept,
we are reduced to feeling our way forward (and sometimes backward) in the dark.
With this concept--the lights are on." (Thesis # 3)

Politics, Economics and the Mass Media
when the working class runs the show

This short essay gives a good overview of a number of key questions and also serves as a quick introduction the principle of  the “separation of speech and property" which will be used by future workers’ states to draw the line between commercial media (which will be regulated by the state) and non-commercial media (which will be unregulated).

Replies:

Replies from Edward, Frank, Joseph Green
and MB are indexed on the main page:
We Need Mass Democracy

Ben's reply to Michael can be seen in
the essay titled:
Make Hay while the Sun Shines

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