Sent: Thursday, May 24, 2007 1:21 AM
Subject: Re: Ben's May 5 letter
A few weeks ago Ben Seattle sent out an “Annual Report” letter as well as a 10-point proposal for the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee. I’ve taken the time to write the comments below regarding these materials because I think the letter---and Ben’s politics in general---are instructive in showing how the sloughing over political questions can lead one into a sterile desert. I hope that you all, and especially Ben, find something useful in my effort.
According to Ben,
“The current US imperialist adventure in the Middle East is business as usual. In reaction to it a movement has emerged here in the U.S. The movement is not yet large or militant or sufficiently politically conscious to make a decisive break from imperialist politics. Movements like this emerge periodically and usually they do not amount to much. What this movement will amount to remains to be seen.”
Nothing to get excited about. And the movement of millions of migrants and others that has risen during the past 14-15 months against the attacks the government is launching against them clearly isn’t worth mention. But,
“What is new at this time is the emerging revolution in communications.”
Now this is something that we should be excited about!
Yet this new revolution has been going on for much more than a dozen years, and during all these years Ben has poured hundreds of thousands of words onto the internet, participated on lists and Indymedias, set up numerous webpages that he‘s very widely advertised, bought-up a number of domain names, etc., etc. And what has practice shown about this effort?
“So far there is little to show for my efforts. The email list has 170 subscribers -- but most are completely inactive and few have a clue.
“The list has occasionally had on it activists with a clue. But, generally, they have not stayed because they saw no reason to do so.”
Thus, social practice would seem to show that Ben’s internet-organizing scheme is wasted energy. One might even conclude that it has proven to be bankrupt. But, no, Ben doesn‘t stop to deeply ponder this. If he can just convince the well-known João to write four posts a year to his list then it might save the day!
He goes on to tell us that
“What has not happened, João, is for any revolutionary trend to make systematic and determined use of the emerging revolution in communications.
“This has surprised me, João.
“And the possibilities of making use of the internet to fuel and organize a revolutionary movement are growing with each year. But so far there is precious little fruit growing on this tree.”
But it’s almost impossible to name a political trend (reactionary, reformist, or revolutionary) that does not use the internet to help fuel and organize a movement around its politics! And the SAIC does this not just with a website, but by posting materials in various places (including nationally), replying to responses, etc., as well as with a page on a “web within the web” (myspace). Additionally, a number of individual members have blogs that they use to promote and defend SAIC’s activities and politics. And, lastly, one of the ironies is that two SAIC members, Edward and Frank, actually make more use of the internet to fuel and organize the revolutionary movement than Ben does!
Thus, it cannot be said that the SAIC does not make use of the internet, or that it fears open debate on it. Nor can it be said that other leftists don‘t use it. But all of this is not systematic and determined enough for Ben; and the only explanation that he can offer is that all of the many, many left-wing political groupings around the world are either “deeply confused”, or they fear transparency. It just doesn’t occur to him that perhaps all these groupings, whatever their politics, recognize, and recognize from their experience, that there are great limits on what can be achieved over the internet (be it in developing theory or in practical organizing), and that the decisive work (be it in Covey’s Quadrant 1 or in his Quadrant 2) must take place away from a computer terminal. *
Thus, although there’s no doubt that the opportunist trends and groups have something to fear from public debate, this fear may not at the present time be the main reason that they do not set up interactive websites or otherwise be more active in cyberspace. (And, as a matter of fact, a number of them are on myspace, a forum where comments can be made.) But let’s look more at the “deeply confused” people of the SAIC, or me, the “short-sighted and timid” CVO supporter that he takes to task in his letter.
The SAIC has already, at its own pace, implemented some of the ideas that Ben (but not just Ben) suggests. And, it may eventually take up some of the suggestions in his10-point proposal that it has not already implemented---at least those which apply to a committee with SAIC‘s basis of unity. But at the committee meeting to which Ben presented this proposal I indeed gave the opinion that SAIC would "crash" if it tried to take up all of the points that applied to us at once, and in the discussion I said that I thought that he didn’t realize how fragile the committee was. So here I would like to elaborate more on this.
One year ago Ben argued that the SAIC was approaching or had already passed the limits of its effectiveness in Seattle in order to argue that the committee should begin to post and follow up things all over the internet, participate on lists, etc. But, I and others held that we had just begun to touch the surface of the possibilities existing here. Thus, if his yearly letter to the movement were honestly thoughtful and self-critical, one would think that Ben would mention that practice has shown that I and others were right, and that he was wrong. For example, one measure of our effectiveness has been that the committee continues to grow, which is a reflection of influence in the movement. This growth, however, is in almost all cases not the result of the internet work that we’ve done (which has been quite a bit), although having the website might have helped. Ben fails to ponder this.
One year ago Ben also asserted that the SAIC had “embarked on a well-traveled path”, the result of which “tends to be sterile organization which is largely closed off to the life of the movement.” But we’re certainly more involved in the life of the movement than we were a year ago. Thus, practice has again proven Ben wrong. Further, this connection with the living movement came through persistence in spreading our politics through leaflets and discussions, organizing contingents, and beginning to concentrate our work in a definite material base: SCCC. It for most part did not come from the internet work that we did, which included postings, discussions and debates on Indymedias.
None of this is to say, however, that I don’t think that the internet work that we’ve done is not important, only that it must be kept in perspective. For example, I think that our immediate postings of leaflets or statements helps spread our politics---which is important in its own right---as well as helps prepare conditions for future growth of the committee itself. Further, I think that the internet discussions or debates that we get into have value, and I personally have even at times used tactics designed to provoke debate on Indymedia for this reason. But, since the readership of Indymedia is largely unknown, this has an element of shooting in the dark about it (with some educated guesses), and it can’t be a substitute for face-to-face political discussion or debate on the streets, at SCCC or in workplaces, and at demonstrations.
Returning to the past year’s practical experience, I think that it shows that in order to have more influence, more growth, and to organize a real fighting anti-imperialist pole of attraction in the anti-war movement requires persistence along the path that we’ve been on, i.e., not getting diverted from it. This path requires analyzing events and what various political trends are doing in relation to them; writing and distributing leaflets; face-to-face discussions with people in the streets, in their schools or workplaces, in their homes, and at meetings; theoretical study, and summations of practice based on that study. To say that working to solve these problems is to be stuck in Covey’s Quadrant 1, or urgency addiction, or narrow focus on “(a) the next leaflet or next action (b) what needs to be done in the next 60 days (c) what will keep people who are around SAIC energized and excited” is to be politically blind. For example:
developing analysis of events and political trends isn’t just a matter of rising to the immediate demands of the movement, but it also lays the basis for future practical work, and it gives comrades needed experience in how to actually developing scientific analysis;
the attempts of the committee to involve every member in discussion of leaflet drafts (and themselves writing drafts) isn’t just a matter of meeting immediate practical demands of the movement, but is laying the basis for us to in the future have more leaflet writers (and perhaps better ones), and it helps us to cement ourselves around and have confidence in our politics;
discussions with people aren’t just a matter of convincing them of something now, but also of planting seeds for the future, and of learning many, many priceless things that we could learn in no other way (which also prepare us for the future).
Further, although the committee itself has not initiated any study of theory, the majority of present members do actively participate in study groups, while the rest have read (or read) various theoretical articles or books. This too is obviously an investment in the future by these comrades, and, moreover, the SAIC itself may want to initiate study of imperialism as new members are attracted who are less versed in theory, or for other reasons.
But in persisting on the path that we’ve been on I think that it’s important that we recognize that we are ideologically and organizationally fragile. True, were we to have a coalition with the FSP, for example, I don’t think this party could split members away from the committee for its brand of sham anti-imperialism. (I would welcome any such attempts!) True also is the fact that although we’ve several times had to retreat from initial plans that were too ambitious, we did fairly rapidly recognize the limits of our capabilities. Further, although nearly every leaflet or statement that we’ve produced has required a lot of ideological struggle (even if only by the writer of the original draft), we‘ve so far avoided making any big blunders. So when I speak of fragility I have in mind committee members staying political, and becoming more so. And I think that this is an issue is evidenced by the fact that we’ve often had only a small part of the committee engage in discussion of l eaflet drafts (particularly of the political issues in them), and by the fact that we’ve also often had only a small part of the committee leafleting other than at large events---which must evidence an infirm grasp of political necessity, and of what we can actually do in the present situation (where there are more openings all the time). Further, we’ve had two periods in our history where several people missed several meetings.
Thus, I think constant politicization is a real issue, and that Ben is blind to this reality. Such politicization requires confronting the ever-changing political issues in the movement, and resolution of internal ideological and organizational issues on this basis. It requires lots of individual investigation and study, and lots of collective discussion (i.e., more than we’ve had). And all this takes time. So this is why I think that we would crash if we were to get our feet off the ground chasing illusory gains that are allegedly to be found in Ben’s internet organizing schemes.
I would now like to take up what I think is the fundamental issue with Ben’s latest letter, his 10-point proposal (as well as many earlier proposals), and with Ben’s politics in general. This is tendency to not want to deal with living politics.
Thus, we saw in the beginning that he’s not too interested in the present anti-war movement: “Movements like this emerge periodically and usually they do not amount to much.” But he’s not too interested in the movement to defend and develop revolutionary theory either. Thus, this man who constantly talks about a crisis of theory, says that his theoretical work is essentially completed!
Last year, when Ben said the same thing, I was astonished by the self-satisfied theoretical complacency. But I really shouldn’t have been at all taken aback because a look at Ben’s “work” shows that it’s merely long-winded attempts to sell anarchist prejudices as Marxism-Leninism, i.e., see http://home.flash.net/~comvoice/04cBen1.html#T6. And anarchism is generally satisfied with having a few dogmatic ideas and slogans that it thinks universally satisfy the needs of the movement.
A perusal of the mentioned materials shows that “anarchism” is not just a slur that CVO people long-ago made up because they for some reason didn’t like Ben. Moreover, anarchism is known for substituting emotional phraseology for politics, and this is exactly what Ben today does when he writes the following references to the late MLP:
“I have seen what was most precious to me in all the world, the MLP, destroyed because the loyal comrades were unable to see beyond what they thought was ‘urgent’…But the MLP died, I am convinced, because it got trapped in the first quadrant and could not find its way to Quadrant 2.”
Thus, politics are reduced to schematics; and, as a matter of fact, it simply was not the case that MLP comrades were urgently (in any negative sense) trying to get out leaflets, lead immediate struggles, sell the Workers’ Advocate, etc., etc., during it’s last years. The very opposite. During the ‘80s the central bodies constantly warned against running around in the mass movements, warned against getting over-extended, advised sacrificing previous fronts of work, etc. Moreover, the party had consciously decided to try to resolve various vexing theoretical problems during the lull in the mass movement that had set in during the ‘80s. And, like everything else it did, the MLP did this in an organized and militant fashion, with every branch (and even supporters) being involved in the work, and important theoretical advances were made.
But on this front of party work, as well as on all others, passivity began to develop by the latter ‘80s, and popular bourgeois ideas started to appear in the theoretical reports, speeches, and draft articles. The difficult external conditions (rampant Thatcherite-Reaganite politics dominating society, the working class being disorganized by capitalist down-sizing and restructuring, etc.) were causing the responsible comrades to despair over the possibilities and prospects of continued revolutionary work, and fashionable bourgeois theories were being taken up and given Marxist disguises in order to justify its abandonment.
Hence, we had people theorizing that a multi-polar world had given rise to a situation where imperialist political domination no longer existed (just economics), or that monopoly and domination were just imperfections on the world market, or that imperialism was progressive, or that the realistic path for the Palestinians was to develop with the help of the imperialist aid and Israeli capital that would allegedly come from the Oslo Agreement. Others abandoned a proletarian-revolutionary standpoint regarding the struggle in the Northwest timber industry for a program of structural reforms that envisioned workers and capitalists collaborating to compete on the world market. Others theorized that due to changes in the composition of the U.S. working class we should no longer base ourselves in the industrial proletariat, but in a “middle strata”; and that Marxist polarization of society was a myth. And, if one wanted to defend and elaborate Marxism on such questions, well, Leninism (hence, Marxism itself) was held up as suspect. For example, Stalinism, it was implied by some, was merely the logical product of Leninism. And the very idea of anti-revisionism was jettisoned.
But these and other wrong ideas were opposed by a minority in the party, with exchanges taking place over them in the Internal Bulletin (which was shared with supporters outside the party), letters (shared in the same way), and the public Workers’ Advocate Supplement. The leaders of the majority didn’t like this because exposure of their fallacious ideas would mean that they would once again have to come under the discipline of what the correct ideas said should be done, i.e., continue the anti-revisionist cause in theory and practice. They no longer wanted to do this, and, because they wanted to maintain their “revolutionary” self-images, the only way that they could see out of the situation was to liquidate the party and say that they had done so because of the difficult objective situation.
Nevertheless, while in its last years the MLP was marked by ideological decay and crisis, it was not the case that the majority of the membership necessarily agreed with the “new” theories being championed by the liquidationist leaders. Quite a number (including several people who voted with the majority at the dissolution congress) were simply confused by them. Thus, the only way to salvage anything from the situation insofar as the MLP membership and circles was concerned was to actively confront this crisis of theory (to use Ben’s oft-repeated words). Further, there was also the broader issue that the movement as a whole was being undermined by theories similar to those promoted by the liquidationist leaders, if not the exact same ones. Thus, there was a duty to carry the discussion as widely as possible. And, as we’ve seen, a minority in the party was determined to confront the crisis of theory that had arisen.
At the dissolution congress a proposal was put forward that a temporary theoretical journal be funded that would publish and continue discussion of the theoretical controversies. The vote on this proposal---about two-thirds against vs. one-third for---is what defined what were from then on known as the majority and minority of the ex-MLP. And this was in fact a vote to stop and bury from public view the theoretical debate that had come up. But theoretician Ben wasn’t the least interested in publicizing these theoretical controversies, and pursuing them farther. Instead, our champion of openness and transparency sided with the burial party, and personalized the issue by castigating the proposal that Joseph Greene had made as “Joseph‘s journal”, resorted to right-wing demagoguery, i.e., “Joseph should get a job!”, etc. Further, although he didn’t agree with all of their particular theories, Ben made repeated efforts to form blocs with the leading liquidators against the minority.
Ben’s program for these blocs was to construct a “trend of trends” which many good things would allegedly come from now that we had been liberated from the allegedly stultifying atmosphere of the old MLP. Moreover, this “trend of trends” would make all kinds of use of, you guessed it, “the emerging revolution in communications”, the internet. But Ben had not paid close enough attention to the “new” political theories of these people, and to where these theories led. Thus, all his efforts to form alliances with them came to naught as they took their theories to their logical conclusion: abandonment of all political work.
Now, as I’ve noted, Ben didn’t necessarily agree with all of the particular theories of the leading liquidators. He agreed with some of them, disagreed with others, and had no stand on others. What he shared with the liquidationist current was the an inability to stick to Marxism-Leninism in the face of the neo-conservative political climate. Where he differed was that his “liberation” from Marxist ideas went in the direction of anarchism disguised as Lenininism. And, while Ben today tugs our heartstrings by writing about “what was most precious to me in all the world, the MLP” he in fact became a renegade from everything that this party had stood for.
Thus, while the “minority” was determined to continue anti-revisionist work, and started to organize itself to do so, Ben was bitterly against the reorganization of a trend that opposed his “new” and liberated political ideas. This led him to further abandon the style of careful analysis that was so characteristic of the MLP in order to launch a campaign of vilification and political abuse against individual members of the minority rather than deal with the political questions being debated. And this, of course, is characteristic of anarchism. (I have a several-inches-thick pile of abuse-filled documents written by Ben that demonstrates this, and there may be some on his websites.)
During the past 15 years Ben has never abandoned his “trend of trends” idea. Thus, shortly after the SAIC was founded he theorized as follows:
“Why use the phrase ‘pole of attraction’ rather than ‘trend’ or ‘organization’? Because we want to convey the idea that we want to put something together that includes multiple trends that will compete with and struggle against one another as well as cooperate. This is what happens in any movement or organization which has a genuinely mass character. As the movement polarizes, various trends (and parts of trends -- as some trends break apart as the field strength, so to speak, increases) will be drawn to the anti-imperialist pole. The contradictions between the trends which gravitate to the anti-imperialist pole will not disappear-- but rather will become more concentrated and will likely manifest themselves in more visible ways….”
Thus, if in his anarchist vision of future society Ben can only see endless competition between independent economic units (“kind of like a war”), today he can only see endless competition between political trends. That resolution of contradictions between anti-imperialists is possible through seeking truth from facts (for example) is missing from his schema. But a classless society will be impossible so long as the working people cannot run the economy in common, and building the anti-imperialist movement today is impossible unless activists fight to overcome contradictions among themselves, and do overcome them.
Behind Ben’s organizational theory, I believe, is the anarchist tendency to see organization and discipline and joint effort as a shackle on the individual, and failure to see how they can be the agencies of liberation. And, historically, anarchism has always had a disorganizing effect in the class struggle. Thus, while we’re struggling to build an organization of anti-imperialists in Seattle, including struggling to build a committee website, Ben comes forward with the proposal to “change our website so that all SAIC members and supporters (which includes Ben--Fk.) have a place where they can post their own articles (and where readers can post comments just as they do on the SAIC articles)…”. I submit that this is a proposal that fails to see the value of building the committee and the committee website, and that would have a disorganizing effect if adopted.
More regarding organization:
Ben enthusiastically writes over and over of “community”, “authentic community”, “open and relatively unstructured community”, and “self-organization”---all very popular substitutes for class organization among anarchists and petty-bourgeois. He also writes of organization in another sense, i.e., a future supposedly Marxist organization that will command the actions of millions, or gain the respect of millions. But I don’t think Marxists build organization with the aim of either commanding or of having respect. Rather, I think they want to use the power of organization to politically influence, inspire, and lead the class struggle; to facilitate and better organize it. Further, when Ben writes of the CVO members in SAIC he can only think of posing the issue in terms of control: “The CVO does not have total control of SAIC.” But, according to Ben, “even if it was true that the CVO controlled SAIC -- this would still be a far better situation than that of SAIC's opponents.” (What a blessing!) And, Ben sees the committee itself as being a “constrained” organization. (By the way, when writing to the SAIC itself he invariably writes of “our” work, “our” leaflets, and so on. But when writing to João it’s “their kind of organizing”.)
Next, Ben proposes that the SAIC abandon its unity statement when he proposes that it
“Recognize that the anti-imperialist movement will remain crippled as long as the general idea that there exists no viable alternative to the political and economic system of imperialism dominates the thinking of activists – and take meaningful steps to address the crisis of theory under which a police state ruled by a single party is seen as the only possible alternative to the continued rule by the bourgeoisie.”
Since he knows that the committee is not going to take up this proposal, this is no doubt put forward for propaganda purposes. Nevertheless, I think that it merits comment.
And the first thing about it, of course, is that a police state ruled by a single party is not seen as the only possible alternative to the continued rule by the bourgeoisie---either by committee members, or in the larger movement. (Nor is Ben’s “co-operative anarchy” seen as the only alternative.) But the SAIC is an activist committee with the definite program of work outlined in its unity statement. And, although it has room within it for various schools of thought on what the viable alternative to imperialism is---including room for people who don’t think too much about this question---our unity is that “debating this question is not the purpose of the SAIC.”
Why, would Ben have us overthrow this? I think it’s because he has little understanding of revolutionary tactics---another characteristic of anarchism. For example, I don’t think the SAIC takes the stand that it does because it’s composed of a bunch of conservatives who place no value on the theoretical struggle over what the alternative to monopoly capitalism is, nor do I think it’s because we want to put off this struggle until some later “stage”. In fact, a great part of our membership is acutely interested in this struggle, with several people actively participating in it. But our agreement is that other organizations and forums should be used to wage this struggle: a question of tactics.
In my opinion---an opinion which I think is generally shared in the committee---were SAIC to “take meaningful steps to address the crisis of theory under which a police state ruled by a single party is seen as the only possible alternative to the continued rule by the bourgeoisie” it would no longer be the kind of broad anti-imperialist activist committee that it is, and that I think the anti-war movement (in particular) needs. Of course, the more we pursue our work, the more people we will have who are seriously looking into the question of what capitalism should be replaced with. This greatly pleases me and the other committee members who are very interested in this question, and who want to build a communist organization. But the SAIC is a committee of anti-imperialist activists, not a communist organization.
More generally, the longer U.S. imperialism is wreaking havoc in Iraq, the more people there will be who conclude that imperialism is the problem, who conclude that there are no solutions to it to be found in the establishment, and who conclude that revolution is necessary. And they’ll act on these conclusions. Such acting is already going on, of course, and some of the forms it’s taking is that new people are looking into revolutionary theory and investigating trends and groups that proclaim themselves revolutionary, and new people are starting Marxist study groups in various parts of the country and combining them with activity in the mass movements. Among the latter, having an organization like SAIC, i.e., one that does not “take meaningful steps to address the crisis of theory under which a police state ruled by a single party is seen as the only possible alternative to the continued rule by the bourgeoisie” does not seem to be some kind of mysterious or controversial tactic. For example, a member of one of these study groups told me in some recent correspondence that they were discussing setting up a group with the same slogans and same kind of agitation as SAIC’s before they were even aware of our existence.
One of the tasks of Marxists is to fight to find the appropriate forms of organization and forms of struggle for the concrete situations they‘re in. Thus, new revolutionaries in other cities must struggle to find the form of organization that is most appropriate for their situation. Nevertheless, the idea of building 1) a fighting mass organization and 2) a Marxist organization at the same time---and not trying to mix them together---seems to be elementary for people half Ben’s age.
Ben’s ninth proposal is as follows:
“Recognize SAIC’s responsibility to encourage discussion, at a national level, on the decisive tasks of the antiwar movement and post summaries of SAIC’s experience and an open letter to activists, at least twice a year, on at least a dozen imc sites and an equivalent number of activist email lists.”
This seems to imply that the committee feels no responsibility to the national (and world) movement, i.e., we don‘t “recognize…”, etc. But this is wrong, and I think that it is precisely because we do feel such responsibilities that we can get so much work done, consistently fight opportunism, and persevere. Furthermore, from this framework our responsibility is first and foremost to build up the struggle where we exist! It’s the latter effort that gives us a basis for encouraging and participating in discussions with groups and individuals elsewhere. For example, I mentioned above what some groups are doing in a few parts of the country. But I would never have come across this information had I not been involved in building a definite organization, the SAIC, as well as being excited about building the present-day living movement everywhere. Conversely, the only reason people in other cities have asked questions of me is because of my involvement in building someth ing concrete in this area.
Clearly, the SAIC has never had a passive attitude about encouraging discussion nationally, and we do have some practice to sum up in this regard. For example, last year we posted our immigrant rights leaflets on several IMCs around the country located either where the movement was large, or where many migrants live; this year we posted the May Day leaflet in Chicago and L.A.; we posted the WCW leaflets in quite a few places; etc. (A few times, to my knowledge, others have picked up our leaflets and reposted them as far away as Peru, Australia, and a refugee group’s website in Lebanon.) But, besides on PDX Indy, these postings have given rise to little discussion, and no letters to us. Of course, I do think that we should continue to post particular leaflets or statements at particular times to particular national sites (i.e., post with some political rationale), but not with the expectation that much discussion will result.
Of course, Ben wants us to post an open letter calling for discussion, which is a little different than posting leaflets. But he essentially proposes that SAIC shoot in the dark by posting “summaries of SAIC’s experience and an open letter to activists, at least twice a year, on at least a dozen imc sites and an equivalent number of activist email lists.” And this while his own years of efforts in essentially spamming the internet with articles and comments advertising his websites leave him complaining that this work “if not completely dead -- is in a state of suspended animation.”
I think that we can do better than shooting in the dark this way. For example, our myspace page---which Edward took the initiative to set up, and which is not three months old---now has close to 300 friends from every part of the country, quite a few of whom do “have a clue” (to use Ben’s terminology), and quite a few of whom are active in their own right. We send these people our leaflets in the form of myspace “bulletins”, and we receive their bulletins. Further, although we have not yet had organization to organization discussion (or organization to individual discussion) with any of them, individual SAIC members who have some of these friends in common on their own pages have had some discussions with a handful of these friends, with mine seeming very promising. I’ve given my personal summaries of SAIC experience in these discussions---which were expressed as such, and understood as such---just as other SAIC members no doubt do, and should do. And, during the summer, we may want to go to talk with some of these people.
This, I think, we do have time to do! It may be “their kind of organizing” (as opposed to Ben’s superior methods); but it’s through groups and individuals beginning to correspond with each other, going to talk with each other about the common work, learning from each other in the discussions, and advancing the work in their particular areas that I think real national discussion can be built up.
I began this letter by saying that sloughing over the living political questions can lead one into a sterile desert, and asserted that this applied to Ben. And, I hope that I’ve shown a little of how he did this during the final crisis of the ex-MLP, and how he does it today. This detachment from living politics leaves him making subjective judgments that repeatedly prove to be wrong: In letters and articles he first said that founding the SAIC was “hasty”, “premature”, etc. Then he said that the CVO people in SAIC were only “paying lip service to the goal of building an anti-imperialist pole of attraction and that their actual agenda is (a) to use SAIC to recruit into their group and consolidate those activists who are new on the scene and looking for some trend to hook up with and (b) to then liquidate SAIC once it has served this purpose.” Then, a year ago, he said that the SAIC was approaching or had already passed the limits of its effectiveness in Seattle.
Meanwhile, Ben has been pursuing his internet organizing scheme (“our” way of organizing) to little avail, but he refuses to entertain the idea that it has come to little because it’s not what the movement wants or needs. (I think that what it wants and needs, Ben, is revolutionary, really Marxist, politics! The result is that he’s writing letters halfway ‘round the world pleading that João post to his list in order to keep this “open and relatively unstructured community” alive. But alive to do what? “Leverage and expand the work, and influence, of an activist organization like SAIC!”
This is sad.. After 15 years of internet fire and thunder from the sidelines of the movement in this country, and 15 years of trying to get anyone he can to join with him---the liquidators of the ex-MLP, Sal of Seattle, the dissolved Seattle Anti-Imperialist Alliance, CVO people, Marik, João, SAIC, anyone---as elitist internet generals waging “information war”, all Ben has to propose to his “informal community” is political parasitism upon the living work of others.
Equally sad is the fact that through such parasitism Ben hopes to spread his “compelling” vision of the future. In reference to this, he oh so humbly writes that “My contribution to marxist theory, in my view, is modest…my theoretical work is nothing brilliant -- deserving of only a footnote in the book of marx's theory. I have earned this footnote.” (Lord, deliver us from this kind of modesty!) Unfortunately, according to Ben, his work is not “known” yet, but when it is…!
The pareconites, anarchists of various schools, Socialist Labor Party, Socialist Party of Great Britain (Socialist Standard) all condemn capitalism and have their visions of the future, with the latter boasting that it has been broadcasting it since 1904. But they’re “above” doing the detailed work necessary to advance the movements of today toward overthrowing capitalism. All that is necessary is that people grasp that capitalism is no good, and their proposed system better. These barren politics leave them perpetually on the sidelines, and, perhaps like Ben, consoling themselves over the fact that few see their brilliance because they’re all either “deeply confused”, or something else.
Practice seems to bear out that since leaving the ex-MLP, Ben has been part of this family of “left” socialist sects and anarchists. Further, when he’s done anything political, I think that it’s generally been with the underlying aim of convincing others to join him in spreading the gospel. Thus, his program for SAIC is that it “Recognize that the anti-imperialist movement will remain crippled as long as the general idea that there exists no viable alternative to the political and economic system of imperialism dominates the thinking of activists – and take meaningful steps to address the crisis of theory under which a police state ruled by a single party is seen as the only possible alternative to the continued rule by the bourgeoisie.”
An After Word
From Mt. Olympus, Ben says of the present anti-war movement that “Movements like this emerge periodically and usually they do not amount to much. What this movement will amount to remains to be seen.” But, he’s not going to help it . Oh, no, there’s something “new” to be involved in, the internet and “information war”! He will work to “draw…activists into this community”, work on “a new kind of combined wiki-blog”, and through such methods he’ll allegedly “leverage” the work of groups like SAIC.
In a discussion between me, Ben and a newer SAIC member following the last SAIC meeting Ben commented that he and I were comrades, but also political opponents; and he went on to say that he wanted to work much closer with “Frank” (typical of his ingrained habit of reducing politics to the question of individuals, and of his only being able to see competition forever). I replied that I wanted Ben to throw himself into really building the committee. But to do this he must fight and overcome all of the anarchist and subjective prejudices that he‘s been cemented into for a great many years. He must open his eyes to really look at the class struggle, and not from an elitist standpoint. He must get truly political, and see that his past 15 years were a ridiculous wasteland that he actually tried to lead other people into.
Moreover, people may wonder why it is that after 15 years Ben remains an “organization” of one. No doubt his style of preaching generalities and his personality have something to do with this. But I would submit that more fundamental than this is individualistic fear of collectivity and collective discipline. Further, I would suggest that the only way that this fear can be fought against and overcome is through focus, real focus, on the issues confronting the masses of people, and focus on revolutionary theory. This is what can lead Ben (and all of us) to the conclusion that we must and can organize, now!
The main point on the next SAIC agenda will probably be what we’re going to do “in the next 60 days”, our next leaflet, etc. (Horrors! Quadrant 1!) What impels us to take up these items is hatred of the crimes of imperialism all over the world, the desire to overthrow it, and some vision of what the new society will be (lest we wouldn‘t be for overthrowing the present one). Ben should abandon his 15-year-long debacle and reclaim his youth by joining in this collective effort. Rather than being on a well-trodden path---as he says we are---we’re on a very new one.
which refered to Indymedia and Alternet, was one-sided and could have been misunderstood by some readers.
(Frank's original letter, unmodified, is posted at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pof-300/message/1179 ) [return to text]