Ben Seattle
June 30, 2007
"Cargo-Cult Leninism" vs. Political Transparency:
What principles of organization will serve the antiwar and revolutionary movements?

Our weapon is mass democracy
The revolutionary mass organization that we need
will rely on the energy and experience of activists in open struggle to resolve
-- in full view of friend and foe alike -- opposing views on the way forward
Contents:
Part 1   • Introduction   •   "Information War" Program for SAIC   •   Where is my organization?
            • Is helping to distribute SAIC’s agitation parasitism – or principled cooperation?   •   Is Ben sufficiently "political"?
Part 2   • What is political transparency?  
(It means that activists can see what goes on behind the curtain)
            • The opposite of transparency  
(Stonewalling: the easy answer to all criticism)
            • The relationship of the revolutionary mass organization to the mass of activists
Part 3   • The problem with pragmatism   •   Is Ben a "black hat" ?   •   What is the “rate of information metabolism” ?
Part 4   • Cargo cults and cargo-cult Leninism
            • Join our group – We can do your thinking for you  
(Why do supporters of left-wing groups so often drink the kool-aid ?)
Part 5   • What is revolutionary theory?  
(GLUE to hold us together? – a STICK to beat heretics? – or a LIGHT that helps us see?)
            • The Spectre of Endless Discussion  
(We don’t need to live in fear of talking about our goal)
            • What is Ben’s idea of a “trend of trends”?
Part 6   • Is Ben an anarchist ?  
(Watch out for his Trojan Horse!)
Part 7   • Did Ben attempt to bury debate?  
(The showdown at the final congress of the MLP)
            • Right-wing demagoguery – or materialism?   •   Ben corrects himself
Part 8   • Confronting a refugee from the theoretical needs of the class struggle  
(Ben Seattle talks to Joseph Green)
Part 9   • The foundations of modern revisionism  
(“Marxism-Leninism” is anti-Marxist, anti-Leninist and revisionist)
Part 10   • Proletarism is anti-revisionist Marxism for the 21st century
Part 1 • Introduction • "Information War" Program for SAIC • Where is my organization?
• Is helping to distribute SAIC’s agitation parasitism – or principled cooperation? • Is Ben sufficiently "political"?
Ben’s "Information War" Program for SAIC
What is necessary in the long term?

1) Reach out
to a national audience

We need a systematic effort to reach a national audience with a letter directed to more experienced activists calling for public discussion and a public summation of experience. We must begin to make systematic use of internet discussion forums and email lists for this purpose.

2) Work to build a community

A revolutionary mass organization needs an open and informal community of activists to help it:

(1) spread its influence and
(2) resolve its disagreements.

Anti-imperialism (understood as the recognition that we must fight illusions that we live in a "democracy" where imperialism is a "policy" -- and instead make clear that imperialism is a political and economic system that is inevitable under capitalism -- which we must get rid of one way or the other) has room for many political trends. We need these trends to interact with one another in an intelligent way so as to help resolve their contradictions in full view of friend and foe alike. For this purpose SAIC must take the following easy and practical steps to help develop an open community of activists:

• The SAIC website needs a diversity of views in a section where supporters can post their own articles and promote the principles they consider most important to the movement.

• The SAIC website needs posts for each public meeting so that disagreements which emerge can be discussed and activists have an opportunity to comment.

• The SAIC website must have a link to SAIC’s myspace page to help readers discover and link up with like-minded activists.

3) Dare to talk about our goal

Our agitation and website must openly talk about the most important idea of our time: that a world without bourgeois rule is both possible and necessary.

Lack of clarity on this question has paralyzed the revolutionary movement because both activists and ordinary people have a hard time believing that such a world is possible. However, at present, SAIC cannot go further than vague talk about "ending imperialism". Nor is there space on SAIC’s website to lay out, compare, discuss and learn about the different views on important questions such as this.

Where is my organization?

The kind of organization which we all need
does not exist.   We must create it.

"Ben’s politics in general – are instructive in showing how the sloughing over political questions can lead one into a sterile desert. [...] Why is it that after 15 years Ben remains an ‘organization of one’ [?] [...] fundamental [to] this is individualist fear of collectivity and collective discipline" – Frank
My mind and focus are on the need for something real which corresponds to the needs of our time – an organization which is both mass and revolutionary in its character. Frank is not part of such an organization and neither am I – because such an organization does not exist. Nor can such an organization simply be slapped together out of thin air or from a few naive and well-meaning activists. Such an organization requires:
(1) a critical mass of talented, experienced
    and determined activists and

(2) a minimal level of unity concerning
    our basic objective and methods

There are no shortcuts. I speak out on the need for such an organization and I work to help bring such an organization into the world. Part of this work is to help build a community of activists which is focused on building such an organization.

Frank may talk of "collectivity and collective discipline" but, unfortunately, he does not understand what these words mean. Frank, in my view, uses these phrases as code words for drinking the kool-aid and being part of a political cult where your fundamental questions and concerns are never addressed and you eventually learn to allow others to do your thinking for you (see separate sidebars for more on this topic).

Frank, also, does much work which I believe will help to bring into existence the kind of organization which we need. I simply think that Frank is confused about the nature of the organization that he wants to see (and so are a lot of activists). That is why we need calm and clear discussion of the principles that must guide this organization. Until we have such an organization we are all, so to speak, in a desert – isolated from one another and from the working class and oppressed who are the force which will overthrow the entire corrupt system of bourgeois rule.

Is helping to distribute SAIC’s agitation
parasitism – or principled cooperation?

"All Ben has to propose to his 'informal community' is
political parasitism upon the living work of others." – Frank

Some months ago (probably in the fall of 2006) Frank and X9 and I had a meeting in X9’s apartment and I proposed that a member of our community might be interested in helping SAIC distribute its agitation on the internet. We did not discuss details of how this might work – but both Frank and X9 were favorable to the idea. Now, it seems, Frank has discovered that such a thing would be "political parasitism" and speaks with indignation as would befit a proprietor. If Frank has changed his mind on this (as it appears) it would be useful for him to explain why.

Introduction

In my recent annual report (May 2007) I discussed the principles which I believe must guide the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) in order for it to fulfill its potential to evolve into a revolutionary mass organization. Frank, a supporter of SAIC and the Communist Voice Organization (CVO), replied to me at length and opposed, in particular, my proposal that the SAIC website add a section where SAIC members and supporters could post articles or opinions -- arguing that this would somehow make it more difficult for activists to resolve their differences. Frank also opposed my proposal that SAIC take up explicitly revolutionary tasks, such as encouraging discussion aimed at creating a clear vision of our revolutionary goal. Frank also made a number of criticisms of me and the principles which have guided my political work for the last 15 years.

I am replying to Frank in order to draw attention to the principles which I believe will be the salvation of the revolutionary movement. To make my reply easier to read and digest I have broken it up into numerous "sidebars" which can be read in any order. It is unlikely, in the short run, that my arguments here will have much influence with SAIC or CVO activists, much less Frank. I believe, however, that in the long run -- the effort to forge and clearly explain fundamental principles will be of immense value. If the antiwar movement in the US takes a more serious turn, in which a large section of activists throw off illusions that US imperialism can be reformed (similar to what happened in 1968), then many activists will understand organizational principles to be a matter of life and death. In a period of great urgency and confusion we will need clear descriptions of principles that conform to the needs of the movement.

Resolution requires open struggle

The first principle of a mass organization based on mass democracy -- is that resolution of our differences requires a period of open struggle in which the best arguments on each side are brought out in the light of the sun and sufficient time exists for activists to study, consider, discuss and debate these arguments. Allowing supporters to post to the SAIC website conforms to this principle.

Movement needs revolutionary organization

Frank has argued that SAIC cannot take up revolutionary tasks because it is not a "communist" organization and that "our agreement" is that these tasks be entrusted to "other organizations and forums" (ie: the CVO). It is traditional in the movement for a cargo-cult organization of one or another flavor (ie: trotskyist, avakianite, etc) to lead a mass organization which includes those not inclined to drink the kool-aid. But that does not make it right. Frank advocates that SAIC entrust the CVO with tasks such as:

(a) developing SAIC’s ideological life
    (ie: by means of the CVO study group [*]) and

(b) developing and putting forward a
    clear vision of our revolutionary goal.

But SAIC should not be dependent in either of these ways on the CVO. First because SAIC should stand on its own feet and second because the CVO is utterly unreliable on both counts:
(a) people like me (who have done independent theoretical work and are aware of the CVO’s shortcomings) are excluded from the CVO study group

(b) the CVO is totally incapable of putting forward a clear vision of our revolutionary goal. For example: in the 12 years since they were founded they have never said a single word in print that recognizes and discusses the need for the working class and masses to have the democratic rights of speech and organization in order to exercize control over the economy, culture and politics of society in the period after bourgeois rule has been overthrown. The CVO appears to be aware of the brutal suppression of democratic rights over many decades by the former Soviet Union and the current Chinese regimes – but they are unable to reach the conclusion that they have any obligation to make it clear that their goal is not a similar society – even though their leaflets and theoretical journal are festoned with the hammer and sickle symbols of these regimes and they use various phrases (like: "socialism") which they repeat but are unable to understand, explain or defend.

We need calm, long-term discussion

I look forward to reading calm and considered opinions concerning the principles which are decisive to our movement. In the months and years ahead we will all gain experience and learn from our mistakes.

Ben Seattle -- http://struggle.net/ben – June 30, 2007
A description of pof-200 email discussion list – a low volume, low-noise list is at: http://MediaWeapon.com

* [Footnote by Ben. July 14] After writing this I learned that the study group is not an official CVO study group. It is an informal study group. A SAIC supporter emailed me and informed me that the reason I was not welcome was because my participation would tend to distract from their study.

Is Ben sufficiently "political"?

The real problem is that my politics
are at odds with Frank’s politics

At various places in his reply Frank says or implies that I am insufficiently “political”. What is the story here?

First: I am not following and participating in the current, day-to-day struggles to the same degree that Frank and some others are. It is useful and necessary for activists to follow, be enthusiastic about and involved in current struggles. However not everyone has the time and ability to be deeply involved in everything that is important. That is one reason we need organization – because an organization has the ability to do things that are beyond the ability of any individual. My situation is that my time for political activity is quite limited – and the time that I have for political work must be focused on those tasks which are most decisive.

Second: I believe that what upsets Frank is that I am sufficiently political to understand the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the organizational principles he supports. I oppose what I call “cargo-cult” methods of building an organization – and instead advocate building an organization which is both mass and revolutionary in character.

Contents:
Part 1   • Introduction   •   "Information War" Program for SAIC   •   Where is my organization?
            • Is helping to distribute SAIC’s agitation parasitism – or principled cooperation?   •   Is Ben sufficiently "political"?
Part 2   • What is political transparency?  
(It means that activists can see what goes on behind the curtain)
            • The opposite of transparency  
(Stonewalling: the easy answer to all criticism)
            • The relationship of the revolutionary mass organization to the mass of activists
Part 3   • The problem with pragmatism   •   Is Ben a "black hat" ?   •   What is the “rate of information metabolism” ?
Part 4   • Cargo cults and cargo-cult Leninism
            • Join our group – We can do your thinking for you  
(Why do supporters of left-wing groups so often drink the kool-aid ?)
Part 5   • What is revolutionary theory?  
(GLUE to hold us together? – a STICK to beat heretics? – or a LIGHT that helps us see?)
            • The Spectre of Endless Discussion  
(We don’t need to live in fear of talking about our goal)
            • What is Ben’s idea of a “trend of trends”?
Part 6   • Is Ben an anarchist ?  
(Watch out for his Trojan Horse!)
Part 7   • Did Ben attempt to bury debate?  
(The showdown at the final congress of the MLP)
            • Right-wing demagoguery – or materialism?   •   Ben corrects himself
Part 8   • Confronting a refugee from the theoretical needs of the class struggle  
(Ben Seattle talks to Joseph Green)
Part 9   • The foundations of modern revisionism  
(“Marxism-Leninism” is anti-Marxist, anti-Leninist and revisionist)
Part 10   • Proletarism is anti-revisionist Marxism for the 21st century