A comment on Ben’s public letter to Edward (Part I)*
On being open, the SAIC was organized very publicly, and has been and is entirely open about its politics. If it didn’t have an interactive website in operation rapidly enough to please Ben I think this is because all but he thought (and think) the priority was to actually forge a committee of local activists wanting to influence the various oppositional movements with anti-imperialist politics. This would mean hammering out agreement on various slogans, statements, and leaflets addressing the main issues in these movements…and engaging people face to face with them. It was from this work that the content of the website would come. In other words, having content for a website, and not the website itself was the priority. The website was not what the SAIC should be built up around.
Ben didn’t agree with this orientation, nor does he agree with the committee form that’s been implementing it “successfully” in his words. He says that we’re approaching or have already passed the limits of our effectiveness. Thus he admits that we’ve somehow been effective despite the fact that we opposed Ben’s priorities from the beginning. But this doesn’t phase him. He goes on to allege that we’ve taken uptried and true methods, and have embarked on a well-traveled path where all the methods and techniques are well-established, debugged and so on. And, according to Ben the “result of this path tends to be sterile organization which is largely closed off to the life of the movement.”
Well, I could agree that we’ve taken up such tried and true methods as fighting to have a democratic committee, something that is fairly rare in the movement overall. But to say we are on a well-traveled path is to negate reality. How many committees of genuine anti-imperialists are there in the country, or have there ever been? Moreover, if we continue the struggle to build this committee the result will be more life rather than sterility, and more connection to the life of the movement rather than being closed off. (In this regard, I don’t think any member can say that we don’t now have more connection to the life of the movement than we did when we started!) In fact it’s Ben’s suggested path that would tend to lead to a sterile keyboard life largely closed off from the movement.
The underlying irony is that while Ben opposes the basic organizing priorities of the committee he actually wants to harness it build his abstract activists community---a project that he has been working on for many years with not a lot to show for it. Thus, while during the past month the SAIC has been able to directly address mainly workers with 6350 leaflets locally (plus hundreds of the Spanish translation of the April 17 leaflet that were passed out by CVO people and a supporter in Detroit and Chicago), the Media Weapon Community was nowhere. Moreover, what about work on the Internet, the MWCs specialty? Ben put out a call to members of this “community” to post SAIC materials on IMCs around the country, and it went nowhere. Ben didn’t do it, nor to my knowledge did anyone else. It was committee members me and Edward who did this, and not because of Ben’s call.
(We posted leaflets to Seattle, Portland, L.A., Arizona, Chicago and NYC---and engaged in discussion in Seattle and Portland. For my part, I learned various things that will be useful next time we want to do this---and it‘s not the first time we‘ve posted something elsewhere than Seattle and Portland. But it was not only something that could only be done after the leaflets were written and approved by the committee we‘re building, but also a lower priority for me than email correspondence and personal discussions with other activists, and actually passing out the leaflets.)
If practice is the criterion of truth, then the facts seem to show that the organizing orientation and capability of the committee is superior to that of the MWC. In fact, Ben’s lists seem to be the big part of this “community”, and he has already said that “the truth is that (one of them) is not accomplishing very much in the way of real work to advance the movement. Mostly it exists as a ‘talkshop’ where people without experience exchange opinions concerns the definitions of words….The few advanced activists who have been on this list (ie: DJ, Ulyanovist, Edward and others) have either left or are no longer paying much attention to it.”
It seems both presumptuous and contradictory of Ben to single out the individuals who have left his list as the “few advanced activists”. If they were truly advanced according to Ben’s conception, then why wouldn’t they make it their priority to build the MWC, just as those allegedly backward people (as implied from Ben’s description) are? Could it just be that both the social practice of the SAIC and Ben’s own experience with the MWC are proving the bankruptcy of his scheme for organizing via the Internet?
Well, Ben is not one to be phased by facts, so he theorizes for eight or nine paragraphs about the wonderful role that his abstract “open community” of activists can play. But the SAIC itself is already fulfilling some of the roles he theorizes about, while it would have to liquidate itself to fulfill others, i.e., be a forum where reformist-oriented projects competed with revolutionary projects, be a microcosm of the larger movement, etc. (Although Ben qualifies this by saying “in many ways”, I think the essence is a step backward and liquidationist.)
So, after having said all of the above, I’ll turn to Ben’s ideas about developing national reach.
Ben has criticized the SAIC for not having a program with this in it from the beginning. Never mind that to have anything to say as a committee---and to even have a committee--required and requires lots of organizational work in “meat space” (as he derogatively puts it in his M.F. #56) right here in Seattle. But it’s alsoobvious that anti-imperialist politics don’t stop at the Seattle City Limits: we’re part of a national and international movement. Thus what we say and do in our humble attempts at concretely building this movement where we are (Seattle) can have positive influence on its being built by others in other cities, and we would like to share and discuss our ideas and experiences with activists in these other cities as well as hearing their ideas and reports of their experiences---something that can positively influence us. (It‘s a two-way street.)
So my opinion has been and is that this is a subordinate question. (Practice seems to show that my opinion is shared by the rest of the committees, i.e., no one has taken it upon themselves to begin posting SAIC materials all over the place---which all were free to do) But not so for Ben. He says we must “make regular and consistent posts to many indymedia sites, email lists and web-based forums”---something which if consistently taken up, in my opinion would be the end of a live SAIC. And not only do lack the forces for it now, but when we do I think it would be an error to make this too high of priority.
Nevertheless, me, Edward and other SAIC members obviously think that this is a subordinate issue worthy of some attention. That’s why we’ve posted various things before, and engaged in discussion over them. But regular and consistent posts to many sites, lists, and web-based forums would practically lead us to be something other than a committee of anti-imperialists working to build the movement in a very definite material base (Seattle). Instead we would be a writers and debaters group more or less suspended in the air (kind of like the MWC).
So my view is that it is something we should be irregular and inconsistent about, and usually not do with very many sites. Thus I thought it important to get the April 10-17 leaflet on Indy sites that were located in important centers of the immigrant rights movement because no one else was saying anything like we were on these sites, and the movement very much needs it. Further, because it was possible that we had attracted some attention with our analysis and ideas, I thought it important to follow this up by posting our May Day leaflet to these same sites---in fact I thought it so important that I put the pressure on to get the leaflet out Friday night rather than Sunday.
But these were judgments made on the basis of an analysis of the needs of the movement and the role we were capable of playing in it at a certain definite time. Normally, I don’t think we should post our leaflets to many IMCs, lists, and forums for the reasons already stated. Nevertheless, there is another concrete issue that the SAIC might address abnormally (if you well) as soon as we can. This is the question of the problems confronting the best elements or groups leading the immigrant rights movement.
This question involves not just that there was an ultra-reformist wing that worked to sabotage the May Day strike/boycott, or even that the big pro strike/boycott groups are dominated by those that will paint the McCain-Kennedy or even a Senate compromise type bill as a “victory” it it's achieved. It also involves many issues concerning the state of the movement, i.e., are the masses ready for more huge mobilizations, particularly under the same slogans? what should the content of their activity in these mobilizations be? if they‘re not ready, what should be advocated and done to prepare the situation? etc. But more particularly---and why I think this is something we might take up now---is that (firstly) there are leadership forces among the pro strike/boycottists who oppose McCain-Kennedy and want to continue mass actions. At the Chicago meeting on the 22nd they had to stand up against a probable majority who support McCain-Kennedy (or worse) and who in some cas es want to turn everything into lobbying. Further, there is soon to be another meeting of the pros with which they want to form a national organization, and where there will be more debates. Secondly, there are lots of other groups involved in the movement besides those who either worked to sabotage May Day or the main groups who organized it. Lots of smaller and localized groups built for it (many of whom will be invited to the meeting organized by the pros), and we don’t know what their stands are even in Seattle.
So a letter addressing certain key questions coming up that is sent to specific groups and individuals among the pros (as well as to groups or individuals whose stands we’re in the dark about) could perhaps help them to fortify their positions against the negative trends in the movement, as well as helping us. Such a letter could also be placed on certain Indy sites that we thought were in key areas, but this wouldn’t be the main reason for writing it.
I think this is something we are capable of at this time because I’ve been studying the situation a little, and have been thinking about what might be said, and how. Other SAIC members probably haven’t been thinking about doing this, so it’s incumbent upon me to more fully explain to them the reasons I think we should seize the time to do this, refer them to various descriptions of meetings that they can read on the Internet, quotations from various leaders that they can read in the press, etc., as well as prepare a draft letter.
According to Ben’s way of looking at things this is no doubt just another short-term task to be gotten out of the way so that we can tackle the real tasks. But are not long-term tasks accomplished through the algebra of accomplishing concrete short-term tasks on all fronts, including in the theoretical struggle? And, in the longer term, do we really want to have “national reach” (the SAIC posting stuff and debating all over the Internet) for a local committee, or do we want to help build a national anti-imperialist trend---something the SAIC is not alone in trying to do? If it‘s the latter, then we very certainly must deal with the many short-term tasks we’re confronted with in Seattle, and accomplish what we’re capable of with the movements in this area (our capability being something we can only learn through practice). Any ears we prick up nationally, any influence we have there, is a derivative of this.
Ben says that building a committee capable of tackling and accomplishing these tasks is easier than the path he advocates, but I think the reverse is true. If we can‘t organize where we are (a major U.S. city with all kinds of proletarians in it, almost all of the national political trends in it, etc.), the hard thing, then it’s difficult to see how we can have any significant positive influence nationally. End.
* I say this is Part I because there’s another issue or two that I would eventually like to address. But this only after I accomplish some other writing projects and other work which may lead to things that I think are of higher priority. Hence, I can’t promise when there will be a Part II, or even if there will really be one.
Also, I’ve used italics to highlight a few words or phrases, but I’ve noticed that things that Ben resends don’t include this kind of highlighting. Thus these words should be redone with capital letters or underlining.