How to Build the Party
of the Working Class

How will we unite everything healthy in the progressive and workers' movements and overcome both the reformist
and sectarian diseases?
Ben's reply to Eric (that the CVO attempts to hide from its readers):
Workers' Rule: Is it Dead or Alive?
The question that we cannot escape concerns the degeneration of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions
of 1917 and 1949
. If these revolutions appeared to be successful and then degenerated -- does this mean
that future attempts at establishing workers' rule
will inevitably suffer the same fate?
We Need Mass Democracy
Real organization cannot be built
on a foundation of sand

The Media Weapon community
and the Party of the Future (POF) email lists
More from Ben Seattle

Reply to a cargo-cult Leninist:

Powerful Agitation Requires

Confronting the Crisis of Theory


Ben Seattle, January 26, 2008




1. Intro: powerful agitation requires a marriage

    between our current struggles and our future goal

2. The politics of workers' rule

    Many independent organizations will exist

3. The proposal to rename the communist movement

4. The struggle to build a party: community, political

    transparency and confronting the crisis of theory

5. Economics in the transition period: and the

    struggle of the working class to exercise control

6. The struggle for integrity:

    The issue is line, not author


1. Intro: powerful agitation

requires a marriage

between our current struggles

and our future goal


In November 2007 I posted a criticism [1] of an article by Joseph Green on "socialist health care" [2].  I said that the article surrendered to the usual mythology which equates working class rule with the rule of a single organization that has a monopoly of power and suppresses its opponents.  I said that such a surrender greatly weakens the agitation.  I said that we need a system of agitation which not only encourages various struggles for partial demands (such as universal health care) but which also makes clear that the root of all the problems of our society is the class rule of the largest capitalists (ie: the bourgeoisie) -- and that we must overthrow this system of bourgeois
and replace it with a system of workers' rule that will be better in every way.


I also asserted that, for the sake of clarity, we must make clear that workers will have the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization after bourgeois rule is overthrown.  And I also supported a proposal by a group of revolutionary activists in Samara, Russia to rename the goal of our movement from "socialism" and "communism" to something new--in a way that was analogous to Lenin's proposal to change the name of the revolutionary movement from "social-democracy" to "communism" after the great betrayal of 1914 (ie: when nearly all the social-democratic parties supported the mutual slaughter of worker by worker known as the first world war) since the betrayal of the communist parties of Russia, China and elsewhere was fully comparable to the betrayal of 1914.


Joseph Green has responded with a seventeen thousand word article which discusses a number of important topics related to my criticism [3].  The differences between Joseph Green and me concern the nature of politics and economics in the period after bourgeois rule is overthrown.  In the present period, our differences concern how to build a system of powerful agitation and a revolutionary organization which is deserving of the respect and loyalty of the working class.


In addition to this, Joseph, in his reply, also repeatedly describes, at great length, political views which he believes that I hold.  The great majority of Joseph's descriptions of my views are not accurate -- and this kind of inaccuracy (plus the length of Joseph's reply) makes it difficult for readers to follow our exchange.  However, political exchanges concerning important principles can be highly valuable, even if they contain many inaccuracies.  It is my intent to summarize the important principles which are being discussed and to reply to Joseph in a way that is accurate, concise, calm -- and focused on the principles that are decisive to our movement.


We should keep in mind that the exchanges between Joseph and me are not for the purpose of convicting either of us of thought crimes.  Rather, our focus must be on what actions, and what principles, are decisive in creating a system of powerful agitation and an organization with the ability to unite the working class and lead it to victory.


2. The politics of workers' rule:

Many independent organizations will exist


The main criticism that I made of Joseph's article concerned a problem in a single sentence, where Joseph describes how workers will run society after bourgeois rule is overthrown.  Here it is again:


The government and politics won't be run by a rich elite,

but by the working class, through its own political party and

through mass organizations of the entire working population.


The problem with this sentence, I noted, is that it will be understood by many (if not most) readers as describing the kind of political system that existed in the former Soviet Union or that exists today in China: where a _single party_ has a monopoly of power and suppresses all organized opposition--and where workers do not have the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization.


The governments in the former Soviet Union and today's China are widely described and popularly known as "communist" and their flags feature the hammer and sickle icon--the identical icon that appears on the cover of the journal of the "Communist Voice Organization" where Joseph's article appeared.


So it would be important, and necessary, for agitation (especially from an organization that describes itself as communist and is festooned with the symbol of the repressive Soviet and Chinese regimes--and which favorably describes a single-party system of government as the alternative to the current system of bourgeois rule) to make clear to readers that, when society is run by the working class -- everyone will have the fundamental democratic rights of _speech_ and _organization_ -- and the political life of society will be characterized by a very large number of political organizations which will be _independent_ of one another.


This is what Joseph's article fails to do.


Furthermore, any readers of the article who dig a little deeper and look at the other articles by the Communist Voice Organization (CVO) -- will also fail to find _any_ clarification whatsoever concerning whether:


(1) workers will have the fundamental democratic

      rights of speech and organization

(2) there will be a distinction in principle

      between the workers' state and workers'

      political parties


Empty Words


Joseph's article (and other CVO articles) _do_ say that "socialism" will be different from what existed (or exists) in the Soviet Union (or China) -- but the differences are explained by the use of empty words and meaningless phrases rather than more concretely in terms of (1) democratic rights or (2) a political system featuring a large number of organizations which are independent rather than being under the thumb of a single ruling party.


Instead of confronting the key ideological weapons that the bourgeoisie aims against the concept of workers' rule (ie: that any attempt to replace bourgeois rule can supposedly only create a police state with low productivity) Joseph contrasts socialism to capitalism by means of largely meaningless phrases like "a new way of life for the entire population" (ie: phrases that we have heard a thousand times from the Soviet Union, China and even North Korea) that promote a lot of cynicism [4].

many different possibilities


In order to illustrate what is wrong with Joseph's description of "socialism" as the rule of a single party (and a system of subordinate "mass organizations" to which everyone belongs and which are controlled by the ruling party) I have created a chart (see above) illustrating four kinds of scenarios for workers' parties following the overthrow of bourgeois rule.  Many variations are, of course, possible but these basic scenarios are enough to illustrate something of the range of possibilities.


Joseph's article describes a police state


Joseph's description of the rule of a single party will be seen by many (if not most) readers as corresponding to the 4th scenario -- which is that of a police state such as the former Soviet Union or today's China.


That is the basic problem with the description of "socialism" presented in Joseph's article: instead of _challenging_ the dominant view (promoted by both the bourgeoisie and by cargo-cult Leninists) that workers' rule must take the form of the rule of a single party with a monopoly of power -- Joseph's article _surrenders_ to this conception.


Disagreements would doom workers’ rule


Joseph elaborates on this in his lengthy reply to my criticism: The working class would supposedly not be able to run society if there were disagreements serious enough to require more than a single party:


You believe it is absurd to imagine that the bulk of the class-conscious workers would unite behind a single party because of all the different things they might disagree on. But, if there are disagreements on what policies a party should advocate, there will be the same disagreements on what policies the government should implement.  If your reasoning were valid, it would be equally absurd to imagine that the working class could rule.


Joseph’s argument leaves us with a fantastical picture of workers’ rule as a society without any serious disagreements.  Any activist who accepted this kind of thinking would be unable to defend the goal of workers’ rule (ie: the central goal capable of unifying everything that is healthy in the progressive movement) against the bourgeois ideological offensive which proclaims that “only capitalist society can accommodate a diversity of views”.  Joseph’s views, therefore, represent a formula for leaving activists naked and defenseless on the most important ideological question of our time.



Joseph admits multiple parties might exist after all


Amazingly, only three paragraphs after saying this, Joseph turns around and contradicts himself—and admits that his description of a single-party state may be mistaken.  It is possible, he notes, that the working class will rule through _several_ parties rather than a single party:


If workers can actually run the affairs of a country on a class basis, and if this is a stable rule, then it means that they have overcome their divisions and, in some sense, have formed a political party. That's what it means to act as a class on political issues.  This party, or party in a broad sense, might be organized in a better or worse fashion, and might formally be divided into several organizations.


Joseph also admits that, if the working class rules through a single party, that this party _might_ allow opposition parties to exist:


But even if a single proletarian party maintains the stable support of a majority of the population, this doesn't necessarily mean that other parties, if they haven't risen in revolt against proletarian rule, will be suppressed.


So Joseph has admitted that the 1st and 2nd scenarios in my chart are possible.


But if Joseph admits that the description of single-party rule that he presents in his article may be mistaken (ie: that it would have been more accurate for Joseph to have added two words and write of the working class ruling through "its own political party or parties") then why does Joseph not agree to present a more accurate formulation in future agitation?  I believe that Joseph should agree to do so.


More than this, I believe that Joseph should recognize the need to deal with the 3rd and 4th scenarios in my chart: the workers' party could be captured by the enemies of the working class and there would be a need for an alternative workers' party to replace it.  Furthermore, the working class will need the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization in order to make this happen so that scenario 3 unfolds rather than scenario 4.  So, in order to have more depth on this question, I believe that Joseph's organization (the CVO) must investigate the relationship between (1) the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization that workers will have and (2) their ability to effectively control the politics, economy and culture of society after bourgeois rule is overthrown.  The CVO has, so far, totally ignored this question--as if this issue did not exist--or was only being raised by liberals and anarchists.  But the simple truth is that this question is vital to developing an understanding of how the working class will be able to run society, defend its interests and maintain power after it overthrows bourgeois rule.


The party vs. the state


Joseph also appears to be confused concerning the distinction between the workers' party and the state.  In his lengthy reply to me, he writes:


... if there is no ruling party, the state apparatus may find itself independent of outside political control. Thus the possibility exists that the government itself would emerge as the ruling party.


 ... the government would not only have its hands on the reins of power, but it would emerge as the only unified, country-wide political force.


It is unclear what Joseph is thinking here.  Only a few paragraphs earlier, Joseph admitted that working class rule may take the form of a system involving multiple parties--but Joseph also described these multiple parties as being a single party "in a broad sense".


It is not necessarily incorrect, by the way, for Joseph to describe (in the course of a lengthy letter discussing theory) a system of multiple parties as being a single party "in a broad sense".  After all, we sometimes refer to the bourgeois system of parties here in the US as consisting of a single Demopublican party--since both parties serve the same imperialist masters and are loyal to core imperialist values.  In an analogous way, a system of proletarian parties would share core proletarian values.  However, my criticism (that launched this discussion) was of Joseph's article on "socialist health care" and, in the context of that article, Joseph would have created clarity in the minds of readers if he had referred to the possibility of multiple parties as well as a single party.


In any event, I think that clarity on the party-state question is necessary.  The state is a machine.  In order to control society the working class must control the state.  It is of secondary importance whether the working class controls the state machine by means of:


(1) a single umbrella organization (that has different

     internal sections that cooperate as well as openly

     compete with one another) or by means of

(2) a system of parties which share certain core values

     of decisive interest to the working class


since both of these descriptions amount to very similar systems (ie: the 1st and 2nd scenarios in my chart are actually somewhat similar to one another).  The key point here is that the working class must control the state machine.


What is important to understand is the distinction in principle between the workers' state and the workers' party (or parties).


The state has the power of coercion.  The power of the party, on the other hand, is based on voluntary actions.  This is fundamental.  The state is democratically controlled by the working class and the masses.  The party may, on occasion, hold views that do not correspond to the views of the majority of the working class and masses.  On such occasions, the party will work to raise the consciousness of the working class and masses.  The party works to influence the working class and masses -- and the working class and masses control the state.  The party does not control the state directly except inasmuch as party members are elected by the working class and masses to positions of authority within the state.  But the working class and masses exercise effective control of the state by various means: elections are a key lever of control but there will be other levers also related to mass mobilizations and mass action.


Because there will be multiple parties (or, equivalently, a single party with multiple sections) the state will remain, to an extent, contested terrain.  On core questions the various parties that have influence will unite.  On less decisive questions the different parties (or trends within the same party) will conduct open struggle for influence and support among the working class and masses.


In the course of the 1917 revolution in Russia the bolshevik party and state were essentially merged.  This action was not correct from the point of view of how workers' rule will function.  On the contrary, such action was an emergency measure taken in desperate circumstances.  They fact that such a measure was necessary helps to make clear that what existed in Russia at the time was not workers' rule as much as it was an embryonic form of the same.



All of these things are part of taking a serious attitude toward the theoretical questions related to how the working class will rule after bourgeois rule is overthrown.  Some argue that such questions are too abstract to deal with today.  But I believe that I have shown, with the help of Joseph Green, that such questions are a vital part of effective agitation today, in 2008.


3. The proposal to rename

the communist movement


In my criticism of Joseph's article on "socialism and health care" I advocated a decisive break with reformist and revisionist conceptions of the goal of our movement and, for this purpose, supported the proposal of a group of revolutionary activists in Samara, Russia that we abandon the names "socialism" and "communism" in favor of a new word in a way analogous to how Lenin advocated breaking with the name "social-democracy" as a name for the revolutionary movement of the working class.


The group in Samara favored the word "proletarism" as the new name for our movement.  They picked this name because it is consistent with how the historical periods of feudalism and capitalism were named: after the class that ruled during that period.  The proletariat will rule during the transition period, they argued -- so why not call this period proletarism?  That name also has the advantage that, being a derivative from Latin, it would translate more or less directly into other languages (ie: as opposed to a word like "workerism" that would be different in different languages).


I was glad to see Joseph, after many years, respond to this proposal.


Unfortunately, in more than four thousand words on the topic, Joseph avoided dealing with the arguments that the Samara group advanced for changing the name of our movement.  Is the betrayal of the Soviet and Chinese revisionists on a scale that is comparable to the great betrayal of 1914?  I certainly think so.  Joseph, unfortunately, does not offer any opinion on the matter.  Was Lenin correct to advocate changing the name of our movement in 1914?  I think so.  Joseph's reply did not touch on this question either.


But these questions are highly relevant.  The change in 1914 from "social-democracy" to "communism" amounted to recognizing that the old name had become hopelessly compromised and was not capable of being salvaged or redeemed in the eyes of the working class.  The Samara group argues (and I agree) that the words "socialism" and "communism" are, in a similar way, beyond redemption.  So, if recognizing this reality was correct in 1914--then why would it not be correct to do the same thing now, in the 21st century?


Instead of dealing with the arguments put forward by the Samara group, Joseph opposed their proposal on the grounds that this group has made a number of errors in practice and theory.  Joseph's argument appears to be that if we support the proposal by this group to change the name of our movement to "proletarism" -- that this would amount to an endorsement of every practical action and theoretical position this group has taken in the course of its existence.


I find such logic to be more than a bit strange.  The first principle in struggles over principle is to recognize that the issue is "line, not author".  This slogan (ie: the issue is "line, not author") has emerged in the discussion on Mike Ely's blog [5].  Mike Ely used to be the editor of the newspaper of the RCP, USA.  The intensification of the cult-like culture and atmosphere of this group was finally too much for Mike--and he wrote a series of letters on his blog critical of the RCP.  The response of the RCP (so far) has been to circulate an internal letter which calls Mike a bunch of names.  A copy of this letter got to Mike (who posted it on his blog).  Mike correctly replied that it does not matter if the various names he was called are accurate or not.  The real issue for revolutionaries -- is the content of Mike's criticism in his nine letters.


Similarly, the issue for revolutionaries considering the proposal of the Samara group -- is the validity of their arguments for the proposal.  If Lenin was correct to advocate changing a name that was beyond redemption in 1914 -- then why would such a course of action be incorrect today?


The errors that the Samara group has made and is still making (ie: sectarianism in practice and various eccentric theoretical views) are essentially irrelevant.  The experience of the Samara group, on the other hand, is highly relevant.  These people were arrested and sent to prison camps because they organized Russian workers in the only way that was possible in a police state (ie: in secret—underground) under the "communist" regime.  The experience of this group stands as total refutation to the apologists of the revisionist regimes who claim that only "counter-revolutionaries" were suppressed in Soviet Russia.  Further, these same people were arrested again—this time by Yeltsin's government after organizing a highly successful action in which hundreds of striking workers shut down the main street of a mid-sized Russian city for several months.  The fact that the leaders of this group were arrested by Yeltsin again demolishes the arguments of the revisionist apologists who would otherwise claim that this group is just a pawn in the hands of the Western imperialists (ie: Yeltsin was allied with the Western imperialists at the time).


Joseph has accurately (with a few notable exceptions) criticized the errors of the Samara group.  Part of Joseph's analysis appears to be based on my work (which Joseph quotes) criticizing many of the errors of this group.  But the issue remains: "line, not author".




(1) Was Lenin correct to advocate abandoning a name

      beyond redemption in 1914?

(2) Has the betrayal of the Soviet and Chinese revisionists

      been on a scale comparable to the great betrayal of 1914?

(3) If Lenin was correct to advocate changing a name that

      was beyond redemption in 1914 -- then why would such a

      course of action be incorrect today?


It is of course possible (even if highly unlikely) that Joseph may support the proposal to change the name of our movement but is in favor of another name.  If so--then of course Joseph could suggest a name that he believes would be more suitable.  But I doubt this will happen.


I have no doubt that Joseph is capable of writing four thousand, or forty thousand, or four hundred thousand words on this (or any other) topic.  What is unclear is whether Joseph will answer these questions.


Experience shows that Joseph asks questions.  He rarely answers them.


4. The struggle to build a party:

open community, political transparency

and confronting the crisis of theory


Joseph, in his reply to me, raises this topic amid a shower of accusations that I am supposedly opposed to building the revolutionary party of the working class.


Joseph, in his actions, is working to build such a party.  So am I.


Joseph and I, however, have different conceptions of what this party will be like and how it will be built.


A revolutionary party of the working class will mobilize the workers to defend their own material interest in many kinds of struggles.  It will create a system of agitation for this purpose.  I think that Joseph and I are agreed on this much.


My view is that building a genuinely revolutionary party also requires something more:


(1) building an open community of supporters

(2) a commitment to political transparency

(3) a willingness to confront the "crisis of theory"

      that makes it extremely difficult for even the

      most dedicated and militant revolutionary activists

      to understand how society will function when it

      is run by the working class.


I have written, in many places, on these topics, including "Cargo-Cult Leninism vs. Political Transparency" [6].


Joseph and the CVO, it would appear, oppose this orientation.  Any readers who may doubt me, for example, on the CVO's commitment to political transparency--can verify this for themselves: email the editor of the CVO journal and ask them to give an explanation for why they refused to oppose, in print, the US imperialist bombing campaign during the Balkan war.  The US military actions in the Balkans were used, among other purposes, to help prepare public opinion and pave the way for further US imperialist actions -- such as the invasion of Iraq.  It is clear to me that it was a mistake for the CVO to refuse to oppose the bombing campaign.  But they have neither admitted their mistake nor explained the reason for it.  Instead they give doubletalk of various kinds (ie: they disagreed with US diplomatic actions and ambitions in the Balkans but took no stand to oppose the bombing itself).  If any reader can find out why the CVO refused to oppose the bombing -- please let me know.


In the meantime, it is clear to me, and a good many others, that a genuinely revolutionary organization, or party, would be more open with its agenda and its politics.


I have also written, in various places, about the central task that will unite revolutionary activists: the creation of a revolutionary news service that will offer comprehensive news, analysis and discussion from the perspective of the material interest of the working class and which will also provide a platform for the struggle of trends.


Joseph and the CVO, in spite of their many errors, are doing a lot of good work.  I believe their work will assist in various ways the struggle of the working class to build its genuinely revolutionary party.  This party may, at times, take the form of a system of parties -- or it may take the form of a single party with different internal sections which cooperate on core issues but publicly oppose one another on other issues.  I believe that Joseph and the CVO oppose this conception of a revolutionary party in favor of a party that is more monolithic and speaks with a single, authoritative voice.


Part of the work to build a party, it is clear to me, is to work to better understand the kinds of principles which must guide this party and guide its organization.  I have written on these topics in a way that I have tried to make calm and clear and accessible to readers.  I would like to see Joseph and the CVO make an effort to do the same.  For example, if they support the idea of a monolithic revolutionary organization that speaks with a single voice (as it appears they do) then it would be helpful if they were to explain why they think this is best.  And it would also be helpful if they were to recognize that honest and sincere activists may disagree with them--and cut down on the kind of name-calling and word-twisting that reduces readership and audience.  These are important topics essential to building the kind of genuinely revolutionary organization which the working class needs.  We want activists to be interested in these topics and to find our discussion of the principles that matter to be concise, calm and clear.


Our actions show what is in our hearts.  Let Joseph show the depth of his commitment to building the revolutionary party of the working class by means of supporting open, clear discussion of the fundamental principles that must guide this party.


5. Economics in the transition period

and the struggle of the working class

to exercise control


Any attempt by the working class to run society will succeed or fail on the basis of its ability to "deliver the goods".  The working class and masses will need food, clothing, shelter, transportation, electricity, health care and culture.  If the workers' state is unable to deliver these things--then large sections of the working class and masses will conclude that the bourgeoisie ran things better.  I described how this would work in part 5 of the anarcho-leninist debate on the state [7]:


the bourgeoisie would simply move in and pick up the pieces. "We may be corrupt", they would tell the masses, "we may steal you blind", they would say, "but at least we know how to run things".  And the boys would be back in town.


We need, today, at least a general understanding of how the working class will be able to run the economy and provide for the needs of the masses--in a way that will be _better_ than what the bourgeoisie can do.


We don't need to have this understanding in order to draw up detailed blueprints for how we will run things in the future (any attempt to do such a thing would be both foolish and impossible) but for another reason: the historical experiences of the Russian and Chinese revolutions have created so much confusion and uncertainty concerning how the working class would run a modern economy--that the predominant idea today is that any attempt to replace the capitalist system is doomed to failure.


We need confidence in a bright future


In order for a revolutionary movement to emerge and become powerful--hundreds of thousands of activists must have confidence that something better than capitalism is not only possible--but inevitable.


So we must, for this reason, tackle the existing conceptions of how the working class will run a modern economy.  Again: we have no interest in or need for detailed blueprints--we have a need to understand, in a realistic way, only the most general principles--so that we can sweep away the existing misconceptions and build the confidence necessary for a revolutionary movement that can defend the idea of workers’ rule against the immense weight of the bourgeois ideological offensive against the goal of workers’ rule (the most important idea of the 21st century).


Central Planning is no magic solution


Today the predominant idea is that the working class would attempt to run things by means of what is often called a "command economy" in which central planners will issue directives to factories and other producing units concerning what goods and services to create and distribute.  This appears to be Joseph's conception also (although he usually speaks of "social planning", "overall planning" or a "general plan" or even "conscious control" when he means central planning).


However, we need to be careful not to consider central planning to be some kind of magic solution that will solve all problems.  Central planning is a necessary tool for some kinds of problems but is incapable of solving others.


Central planning plays an important role today in all capitalist economies (for example the role in credit and finance played by central banks--or the highly efficient and centralized systems used to build cars and planes by Toyota and Boeing).  But central planning also has important limits.  Any attempt to run an entire modern, complex economy on the basis of a central plan would result in fiasco.  The central planning bottleneck would never have the ability to anticipate or respond to the many millions and billions of adjustments and changes of course that countless small producing units will need to make in order to deal with rapidly changing conditions.


So any modern economy, whether it is run by the bourgeoisie or the working class, will make use of some amount of centralized planning--but centralized planning can never be used to run an entire modern, complex economy.


So, in understanding how the working class will run the economy--we need to think "outside the box" of central planning--and focus on the larger issues.


There are two large issues to consider.


1) The working class will inherit a commodity economy


First, the working class, after it overthrows the system of bourgeois rule, will inherit an economy based on commodity production.


A commodity is anything created for the purpose of sale or exchange.  An economy based on commodity production is an economy which is dependent on the circulation of capital.


The workers’ state, as it emerges, will not simply wipe out the existing economy and reorganize everything from scratch.  Rather it will expropriate the largest corporations and run these corporations itself.  These expropriations may be initiated by workers at the companies who take them over--or they may be initiated by the workers’ state--or they may represent various combinations of both.  But the expropriated corporations will in many cases continue to be run in ways similar to how they ran before--in the sense that money and money accounting is likely to be used in many ways for some time.  And the products and services which are produced will, in most cases, continue to be exchanged for money (ie: they will still be commodities).  And most workers will continue to exchange their labor for wages (ie: their labor will be a commodity).


So, in many ways, the expropriated corporations will still be based on commodity production and will be subject to what are known as "the laws of commodity production" [8].  The laws of commodity production are also sometimes called the "laws of the market" or "market forces".  Adam Smith called these laws the "invisible hand".  Joseph has called them the "iron hand".


Joseph appears to argue that if the workers’ state expropriates these corporations and runs them all according to a central plan--that this will somehow free this section of the economy from the laws of commodity production.


But if that is Joseph’s argument--it is not a very solid one.


The laws of commodity production operate any time that commodities are created.  Now if the workers’ state expropriates the largest corporations and runs them in accord with a big central plan--then it will, in many cases, be violating the laws of commodity production.  For example the workers’ state might say that bread will be sold for less than its market price might be.  Or that unskilled labor will be given a wage higher than its market price would be.  Now this kind of intervention by the state will, in most cases, be a good thing--but it will also carry a cost.  The cost emerges in various ways, including, sometimes, shortages or other ways that things can get out of equilibrium.  And these shortages can also be addressed by further state intervention.  And sometimes the cost emerges in the form of bureaucrats who accumulate so much power that there is a danger of corruption.


The workers’ state will decide, based on the experience it accumulates, how much intervention in the "laws of the market" is necessary and useful.  This is another way of saying that the state (guided and controlled, in various ways, by the masses) will decide how much of the activity of the expropriated corporations will be run in accord with a big central plan and how much activity will be organized on the basis of the laws of the market.


But I consider both categories of economic activity (ie: a big central plan as well as market-oriented activity) to be a form of state capitalism.


Even the activity which is organized in accord with a big central plan is, in my view, a form of capitalist economy because most of the goods and services created by this plan will be exchanged for money (or some kind of money-equivalent) and because workers will still exchange their labor for money-wages.  And there will still be some kind of circuit of capital (even if it is modified from how capital flows under bourgeois rule).


Joseph (it appears) argues that nearly 100 percent of the activity of these corporations will be organized on the basis of a big plan.  I do not have much of an estimate myself.  I think it is probably a safe guess that, at least in the first few years, between 10 percent and 90 percent of the activity of the expropriated corporations will be organized on the basis of a central plan and the inverse (ie: between 90 percent and 10 percent) would be organized more along market lines with smaller amounts of state intervention.  A guess that is less safe, but more specific, would be that the center of gravity of the state capitalist sector would, at least for the first few years, be in activity that creates good and services for the market.


I made a big chart as part of my work in the anarcho-leninist debate on the state showing my view of how the different sectors of the economy would develop over time.  The chart is not a blueprint (even though many of my political opponents insist on calling it such) but is more of a visual aid to help readers understand the relationship of the three primary sectors of the economy: private capitalist, state capitalist and moneyless gift economy (where everything is given away for free and there is no exchange--no commodity production--and where the laws of commodity production do not apply).
In the chart I estimate, for example, that even twenty years after bourgeois rule is overthrown, the dominant sector of the economy will still be the expropriated corporations and their descendents.  My estimates, of course, could easily be way off.  They are really more guesses than estimates (many of these things can only be guessed at this time).  So what I say might take 20 years--might take far less--or far more.  But the chart is useful even if the estimates are based on wild guesses -- because the chart shows that there will be, in effect, two distinct waves of expropriation--with the first wave (from private capitalism to state capitalism) taking place relatively quickly and the second wave (to the moneyless gift economy) taking more time.


In my chart both sections of the state capitalist sector (ie: the activity based on central planning and the activity based more on production for the market) are colored blue.  The differences between these two sections, in my view, are minor compared to their similarities.  The big question here is not the distinction between (1) the parts of the state-capitalist sector that are organized on the basis of a big central plan and (2) the parts of this sector that are organized on the basis of producing for the market.  Much more fundamental is the question of who controls the state capitalist sector in the first place?


2) Who controls the state capitalist sector?


The state-capitalist sector will be controlled by the state.  The working class and masses will control the state.


Everything comes down to the question of who controls the state.


Joseph argues that the state capitalist sector which I believe will dominate the early period of working class rule will be “Stalinist state-capitalism”.  Joseph is overlooking the question of who controls the state.  Under Stalin the working class did not control the state.  Under working class rule, however, the working class will control the state.


This little detail that Joseph overlooks makes all the difference in the world.


How will the working class control the state?  Will it be through one big party?  Will it be through a system of parties?  Maybe.  But, more fundamentally, the working class will rule because it will be able to self-organize.  We cannot predict the exact organizational forms the working class will use.  These forms will depend on the conditions and history of struggle in each country where the working class comes to power.  What we can say—is that the self-organization will be possible because workers will have the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization.


Contested Terrain


The working class will use the rights of speech and organization as weapons of immense power to defeat the incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption that will inevitably emerge even within the workers’ state.  Joseph fails to understand this and argues that the state-capitalist sector of the economy that I describe would be dominated by bureaucrats and petty tyrants:

You describe the state sector as "state capitalist economy". It will still use money and commodity production. But more than that, you regard that it will be dominated by "state-appointed bureaucrats" who do pretty much as they please, independent of the working class. You say that workers might be able to run some of the state corporations, but you regard that, overall, this sector is the realm of state bureaucracy.


Astute readers will note that any time Joseph uses the phrases “you regard” or “you believe” or “you view” or “your reasoning is” – what follows will usually be a misrepresentation of my views.


The state-appointed bureaucrats will not be able to "do pretty much as they please, independent of the working class". The state-capitalist sector will be a battleground of sorts.  One tendency would be for state appointed bureaucrats to dominate everything. But this will be countered by the opposite tendency: for the workers (both within an enterprise and in society at large) to assert their control over the various enterprises. In some situations one tendency might come out on top, and in other circumstances the other tendency will win. Often what might emerge are partial victories for each side. But the main thing to keep in mind is that as long as the enterprise is based on commodity production -- it will tend to be a field of struggle in which the playing field is tilted against the workers and a lot of energy will be necessary to keep things from getting out of hand. This is why the gift economy (where there are no commodities and the laws of commodity production have lost their power) is the only fundamental way out.


Joseph’s secret plan


Joseph, by the way, argues that working class rule will have a transitional economy that will have something new and different from the state-capitalist sector that I have described in my work.  However, after announcing this with great fanfare, Joseph does not tell us what will be new and different.  Instead Joseph points us to a collection of articles at the CVO website [9] that will supposedly tell us.


This is typical Joseph, who can write lengthy articles (as if he were paid by the word) without really saying anything other than to show readers how smart and knowledgeable he is.  I have looked at Joseph’s articles on the transitional economy in years past as he wrote them.  I do not remember anything that was new that Joseph described and I believe the reason for this is that there is nothing there.  It is all a shell game.  “Go here to get the answer.”  And when you go there--you find another signpost telling you to go somewhere else … until you give up and realize there is nothing there.


If Joseph could tell us what was new and different in his conception of a transitional economy he would have summarized it in his seventeen thousand word reply to me instead of wasting his (and our) time with criticisms of insignificant and irrelevant details of the work a small group in Samara.  The best that Joseph has come up with is to say [10]:


… the working population as a whole must be increasingly involved in directing production and dealing with all the common concerns of society as a whole. … Step by step, the working class must learn how to control the economy, both as an overall whole and workplace by workplace. This refers both to workers learning how to administer their own workplace, and learning how to unite in large regions and on a countrywide basis to give overall direction to the economy.


But such talk is empty coming from someone who refuses to recognize that the working class will be able to self-organize on the basis of the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization.  It is because the workers will be able to self-organize that they will be able to step by step become increasingly involved in directing and dealing and controlling and learning and administering and uniting and giving overall direction and everything else under the sun.


Joseph vs. the gift economy


Joseph has been on a rampage against the idea of the gift economy as the economic foundation of a classless society ever since I first described it in 1995.  The idea of an economy and a society that runs just fine without any need whatsoever for a central authority that tells everyone what to do—just seemed so unnatural to Joseph that he declared that it was really just a form of capitalism.  It was a peculiar kind of capitalism—with no capital, no money, no wages, no trade or exchange—where everything was created and given away for free with no strings attached other than the expectation that what was given away would be used wisely.  But it must be capitalism, Joseph thundered—because it had no central authority.  Instead, each individual was guided—by the simple authority of their conscience and consciousness—to create whatever they believed was best for themselves and society.  As my reward for concluding that such an economy represented the destiny of humankind—Joseph called me a “neo-conservative” and his partner, Frank, claimed I was an anarchist.



Joseph retreats with his tail between his legs


Joseph has silently retreated from the most stupid of the arguments he made in 1995.  Joseph no longer claims that the moneyless economy must be a form of capitalism simply because it is not guided by a supreme and all-wise central authority.  It is likely that Joseph eventually realized that this argument relied on nothing but the emotions of attachment to a central authority rather than any understanding of the laws of commodity production.  Unfortunately, rather than admitting that he was mistaken when he announced, with blasts from ten thousand trumpets, that I was making an argument for “eternal capitalism” [11] — Joseph has simply abandoned his previous absurdity and cut his losses—and now argues that the self-organizing moneyless economy simply would not work very well.


Joseph now offers five arguments why the moneyless economy would not work:


(1) Terrifying Toxins


Joseph argues that without a central authority the moneyless economy would not be able to ban environmental toxins:


You gave an example of your views by referring to what would happen

if society had to make a choice between two products, one which was easy

to produce but poisonous, and the other which was harder to produce but

was safe. It turned out that it was impossible, in cooperative anarchy,

to altogether stop the production of the poison. You saw the problem as

one of what proportion in which to produce the products, and said this

would be settled by how many consumers wanted to buy each product, how

many factories wanted to produce each product, etc.


Before replying—I should note that in this argument Joseph talks of consumers buying products.  No one would or could buy anything in the moneyless economy—because nothing is for sale and everything is given away for free.  Joseph may have forgotten, as he wrote this sentence, that he is no longer claiming that the moneyless economy is a form of capitalism.  Or maybe this is an error that Joseph made out of habit (kind of like how Dr. Strangelove’s hand would sometimes reflexively give the nazi salute).


Of course, if we are discussing the period during which the workers’ state still exists—then the state itself, as a representative of the will of the masses, could take action by passing a law or regulation.  But if we are discussing the period after the workers’ state has withered away—then there will be no central authority with the ability to create laws enforced by armed bodies of men.  In this situation we can ask ourselves:  How will a society with no central authority—where nearly all wealth is created by the self-organizing moneyless economy—prevent the production of environmental toxins?


I explained how this would work at length during my original debate with Joseph in 1995.  If it was really necessary to stop production of the toxin altogether—and if some production unit consisting of volunteer workers failed to understand this and continued to produce it—then people in society at large (as well as other producing units) would have the ability to apply as much pressure as would be necessary to stop production of the toxin.  Media campaigns would mobilize public opinion.  The volunteers who worked to create the toxin would feel compelled to answer to public opinion.  If more pressure was necessary, the producing units which supplied raw materials to the unit that manufactured toxins could threaten to cut off supplies.  And if the supplier units refused to take action—then they also could be targeted and the struggle would escalate.  If the toxin was really so bad that it should not be produced at all—then people in society would have a thousand ways to use their words and actions to stop production of the toxin.


On the basis of self-organization, there would be many independent groups which would investigate and monitor the production, distribution and proper disposal or recycling of toxins.  Some of these groups would have great authority (not in the formal sense of having official status given by a central point of control—but rather the authority that comes from reputation and the development of conscious public opinion) and these groups would likely play a decisive role in the scenario I have outlined above.


(2) The Threat of Turmoil


When I explained, in 1995, how workers in a society without a central authority would be able to take whatever action was necessary in order to stop production of a dangerous environmental toxin—Joseph seized on this to claim that the strongest and most severe actions would become “routine” and, as a result, there would be so much turmoil in society that the trains would not run on time.  Joseph recycles this argument below:


My article of 1995 on your "mailed fist" excerpted a number of your enthusiastic descriptions of the war-like trials of strength that would be a routine affair under cooperative anarchy. For example, if two factories disagreed with one another on something, such as the proper environmental protection measures, what would they do? You wrote that the workers of one factory would "stage a *labor action* (possibly similar to a strike or slowdown or at least a dampening of enthusiasm) in order to *put pressure on the rest of the workers* to rethink their positions." So in capitalism, workers strike against the bosses, but in the gift economy, they will strike against other workers. And if the strike didn't work, they would look to shut down the offending factory through having its suppliers deny it raw materials. And if that doesn't work, they would proceed to "strikes, slowdowns, boycotts", with each side "targeting or aiding their *allies and enemies".


You went on to describe how the activists in a cooperative anarchy would use these methods to censor the mass media, to re-educate people they regarded as recalcitrants, and otherwise apply direct pressure to force people to behave properly. So long as all this was done by individual groups, and not by a central authority, you couldn't see how any of this violated the freedom of speech or individual rights. But in reality, the only real freedom in cooperative anarchy will be to engage in such wars.


Why, it might be asked, wouldn't workers try first to come to a common decision, and perhaps vote on issues of common concern? Wouldn't that be more appropriate than fighting each issue out? Surely a struggle that is like a war should only be resorted to in extreme circumstances. But voting on an issue implies that there will be an overall authority -- such as the authority of the vote itself. This would be centralism and hence anathema to your cooperative anarchy. And so, the only way that is left to resolve disagreements is to "fight it out", not just in words, but through fierce economic struggle, including the building of broad coalitions that would boycott each other, deny each other needed goods, censor each other, etc. And it is hard to imagine that such economic struggle might not spill over into physical struggle as well.


So Joseph presents to us a picture of workers punching one another in the nose because they disagree on whether to use plastic or paper to carry their groceries.


Joseph asks why the workers couldn’t first negotiate and try to come to a common decision—and concludes that this would not be possible without a binding vote—and that a binding vote would not be possible without an all-powerful central authority to enforce it.  And so the poor, dumb workers in a society without Joseph’s central authority would naturally have no alternative but to punch out one another’s lights like sectarian students in China during the cultural revolution.


The problem with arguments like this is that they are all based on the assumption that workers will be unable to self-organize and sort out contradictions among themselves without some central authority that can make them behave properly.


(3) Quarrels over Quarantines


A variation on the argument above is that chaos that would break out if it were ever necessary to quarantine someone with a contagious disease.  People would never be able to agree on something like this (apparently it is part of “human nature” that people cannot agree on anything important in the absence of Joseph’s central authority) — so we would all be doomed to get sick and die.


(4) Because he says so


Faced with a lack of solid arguments, Joseph resorts to simple assertion:


You say that while the gift economy will need subsidies for a long time, it will eventually outgrow them. But there's no particular reason for that to be so. The gift economy will operate according to cooperative anarchy from the very start. There will be no major internal change as it grows older. If anything, it's likely to get worse as it grows older and the zeal of its early pioneers dim. It's no more likely to overcome its tendency to stagnation than was state-capitalism during the long economic crisis that brought down the Soviet Union.


The gift economy will never outgrow the need for subsidies.  It will stagnate.  Why?  Because Joseph says so.  We should believe Joseph because he is obviously very smart and can spell big words like “stagnation”.  Like the banditos in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” Joseph, in effect, announces: “Scientific arguments?  I don’t need no stinking arguments!”


(5) The gift economy will lead to fascism


A big Microsoft executive made a major public relations blunder when he once called the open source software movement a “cancer” that would supposedly destroy innovation.  A major part of the open source movement consists of software projects based on the gift economy: software that is created and distributed for free by volunteers.


Joseph appears to be similarly afraid of the gift economy.  He asserts that it will lead to fascism:


… your gift economy wouldn't need just financial subsidies from the economy: it will also need […] the iron hand of an oppressive government to ensure that the toiling masses who are paying for the gift economy keep doing so, and, moreover, don't decide to remake the gift economy into something more reasonable. […] Your system requires a supposedly benevolent despot to hold the population in line. […] your system will require, in order to be stable and enduring, a Stalinist-style ruler.


There are two things wrong with this “fear of fascism” argument:


If the majority of the population does not believe that it is worthwhile to subsidize the gift economy – then the result would be that the subsidy to the gift economy would either be small or would be nothing at all.  In this case the gift economy would remain small and would only be able to grow very slowly.  But even in this event, this is not a reason that we need to fear that the gift economy would somehow lead to the iron hand of fascism.  Who is it that is making this argument?  Oh yes, it’s the guy who refuses to recognize that workers will have the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization.


The other problem with this argument is that Joseph overlooks the possibility that the majority of the population might support the gift economy because they are aware of the benefits that it provides to them in their daily lives.


Gift economy will aim for the commanding heights


Joseph, of course, has the right to be skeptical.  Joseph has retreated from his claim that the gift economy is really capitalism—even if he is unable to admit this.  And Joseph’s other arguments can help to highlight some of the issues with the gift economy.


The gift economy will, of necessity, start small and its initial growth will likely be in those industries with high ratios of labor to capital (such as software and certain areas of culture—which are likely to form the “commanding heights” of the economy in the future).  The main form of subsidy to the gift economy will come in the form of free labor which is volunteered by workers who have jobs to support themselves in the private or state-capitalist sectors.  These kinds of subsidies will not require support from the state that will tax the other two sectors.  The need for state subsidies will come in when the gift economy begins to move into industries which require more capital equipment.  These state subsidies will initially be small (and they should be small) because many of the projects in the gift economy will be experimental and many or most of them will fail as lots of people learn from experience what forms of organization work and what forms of organization fail.  As experience accumulates, I believe the gift economy will grow over the years and decades and eventually give back infinitely more than was invested in it.


For those who are interested I have written a lot about the self-organizing moneyless gift economy [12] and the period of transition to it [13].


6. The struggle for integrity


“I sing the song because I love the man,

I know that some of you don’t understand”

-- Neil Young, The Needle and the Damage Done


Confronting the crisis of revolutionary theory has become decisive, in countries such as the U.S., to the development of a revolutionary movement with the ability to inspire and draw on the energies of a generation of activists.  I have shown, with Joseph’s help, that we cannot even write a powerful article on the crisis in health care without confronting the crisis of theory.

But I cannot end my reply without talking about the struggle for integrity.

It was kind of fun for me to put this together.  Maybe there is something here that will be of use to some activists.  It is also possible that these are simply more wasted words.  Dealing with Joseph and the CVO, like dealing with cargo-cult Leninists in general, usually results in a lot of wasted words.  It is kind of like telling an alcoholic that maybe he should stop drinking.  He is not listening to you.


Every hour I spend reading Joseph’s endless arguments is an hour stolen from more urgent priorities: my job, my health, my loved ones.  Joseph and the CVO actually have a line against what they call “endless discussion”.  I am the one who has always been in favor of activists like us discussing our differences with a view to resolving them. 

But this cannot be done without a commitment to integrity.


I am struck, in reviewing Joseph’s lengthy reply to me, by the number of shallow and/or dishonest arguments he uses.  I will summarize here only a few:


(1)  Joseph has actually agreed that my criticism of his article was accurate.  Buried in seventeen thousand words of shallow abuse is his admission that the working class may rule by means of multiple parties.  This means that his description in his article of the working class ruling by means of a single party was not necessarily correct and should have been modified.  But instead of owning up to this—Joseph asserts that I am not sincere in wanting to improve his article—because I am not up to speed on all the details of the California and Massachusetts health plans.  This is not an honest argument because my criticism was not of the way that Joseph described these health plans in his article.  My criticism was of the way that Joseph
described workers’ rule.

The insincerity of Joseph’s argument can be understood by referring to the diagram showing a man attempting to walk when one of his legs is chained to a heavy weight.  The leg which is free represents, in this case, Joseph’s work to investigate the facts and shortcomings of the health plans.  This work is done well.  The problem with the article is not this leg: it is the other leg (the one which is chained).  Joseph’s article is unable to effectively illustrate the connection between decent health care for all human beings (ie: a current struggle) and the working class running all of society (ie: our goal) because he is unable to confront the crisis of theory. 


(2)  It is astonishing that Joseph has silently dropped (without explanation or apology) the assertion that Mark and he made countless times (in a series of articles that stretched over all of 1995) that the moneyless gift economy, as I described it, was actually a form of capitalism (because it had no central authority that could tell everybody what to do) and that I was a neo-conservative promoting a view of eternal capitalism.


Of course it is good that Joseph has apparently been compelled to privately recognize his error.  But he has not acknowledged his error publicly.  I am not raising this to belittle Joseph or humiliate him.  Part of the struggle for integrity—part of being accountable for one’s actions—is to acknowledge errors.  The injury here—which should be addressed—is not to me—it is to the political and theoretical consciousness of CVO supporters (I am thinking of Frank and Eric for starters) who uncritically accepted the analysis they were fed by Mark and Joseph and who deserve to understand that their failure to think for themselves is part of a deeply corrupt tradition and represents a betrayal of their responsibilities to the North American and international proletariat.


(3)  Rather than consider or discuss the proposal by the group in Samara that our movement should change its name (in response to the revisionist betrayal) in a way analogous to the change from “social-democracy” to “communism” (in response to the 1914 betrayal) on the basis of the merits of the proposal and the arguments made in its favor (and dealing with those arguments) Joseph spends five thousand words describing some of the weaknesses and errors of this group (which are essentially irrelevant)—as well as holding me responsible for their errors (even though I have publicly criticized these errors) because I “promote” this group (ie: discuss their proposal and experience on some of my websites).  This is unprincipled because it ignores the principal principle in resolving disagreements: the issue is line, not author.


(4)  In years of lengthy theoretical articles supposedly discussing the essential differences between the revisionist and anti-revisionist views of how the working class will run society after bourgeois rule is overthrown—Joseph has refused to say jack shit about the need of the working class for the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization which are decisive for considering how the working class will exercise effective control over the economy, culture and politics of post-bourgeois society and effectively prevent the rise to power of a new bourgeoisie.  When I criticize Joseph for this and show, by means of scientific argument, that Joseph should not refuse to investigate the relationship between these fundamental democratic rights and the ability of the working class to rule—Joseph responds that I am a liberal and an anarchist—without even bothering to explain or defend his own views on this topic.


(5)  Rather than respond to my many criticisms over more than a dozen years of his failure to address the issue of the democratic rights of speech and organization—Joseph responds with a boatload of windy nonsense that I supposedly have a bad line on elections in post-bourgeois society (or fail to discuss elections in sufficient length or with the proper enthusiasm) and instead I simply list elections as one means by which the working class and masses will exercise effective control over the workers’ state.


This is (at best) an amazingly shallow argument because it will be clear to any serious student of these topics that elections are a secondary and derivative matter in relation to the primary and fundamental principle of the democratic rights to speech and organization.


If the working class has the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization—then elections (and other means of controlling the workers’ state—including mass actions and mass mobilizations of many kinds) will inevitably follow (including real elections with organized opposition).


However without the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization—the working class will not have the ability to effectively self-organize and elections would tend to be a meaningless sham.  For example, the crown prince of North Korea, I have heard, always wins by huge margins.  This may be of great significance to cargo-cult Leninists—but to the rest of the world it is a bitter deception or a source of cynical humor.


And, yes, it is cynical for Joseph to “counter-attack” my line on elections when the only reason he does this is to deflect attention from his failure to address the issue of the democratic rights of speech and organization.


(6)  It is either extremely shallow or simply dishonest for Joseph to claim that I supposedly oppose work to build a party (or a system of genuinely revolutionary organizations) with the ability to lead the US working class to victory.  I have written at length (in ways that are clear, concise and readable) about the principles that must guide this party or system of organizations.  I have made every reasonable effort to build interest in (and an audience of serious activists for) discussion of the goal that is uppermost in the heart and mind of every serious revolutionary activist.


I have discussed the need of this party or system of organizations to create an open community, to be committed to political transparency and to confront the crisis of theory.  I have described the central task (the creation of a revolutionary news service) that is most likely to bring this party into being.  And I have worked to make all of these things a reality within the modest and realistic limits of my time and abilities.


Joseph, it appears, is opposed to these principles:  Joseph stands in opposition to political transparency.  Joseph has hardly lifted a finger to create an open community.  Joseph is avoiding the crisis of theory like Sarah Connor avoids the terminator.  But Joseph does not encourage discussion of these principles—because discussion of these principles appears to be in contradiction to the principles which he will not discuss.


Is this any way to build a party?  Has Joseph (or any supporter of the CVO) written anything to describe how they believe a genuinely revolutionary party or organization will come into existence?  I don’t think so.  If they have a plan—it is a secret.  But the US proletariat will never build its genuine party or system of organizations on the basis of a secret plan.


Of course Joseph and the CVO and their supporters have done a whole lot of outstanding work (I would not be bothering to criticize them if they did not—since criticism is a form of support) and this outstanding work should be recognized.  But it is shallow or dishonest for Joseph to argue that he and the CVO stand for building the party (or a system of revolutionary organizations) while I do not.


(7)  Joseph also makes many arguments (too numerous to list here) that simply do not stand up to critical examination or make a lot of sense.


(8)  Finally, Joseph engages in a very large number of misrepresentations of my views.  Joseph asserts that I “regard” or “view” or “believe” a whole list of things which I do not regard or view or believe.  When Joseph describes what I believe—the odds are about ten to one that he is telling a fib.


How can Joseph get away with

such shallowness and dishonesty?


Joseph has been engaged in this kind of behavior for at least fifteen years that I have personally observed him.  At a certain point we must ask ourselves—why does he do this? — and how can he can get away with this—year after year?


The answer to that question involves an examination of the dynamics of small-group sectarianism among revolutionary activists.
One of the best ways to examine this interesting phenomenon is to consider the example of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) here in the U.S.


The RCP is far more of a cult than the CVO.  It is like the difference between a cougar and a cat.  And this allows us to better examine one of the basic cycles of cult dynamics: the cult-like qualities of the group eventually lead to a crisis of confidence that can best be solved by pumping up confidence in the ability of the fearless leader to know the way forward.  Unfortunately, this tends to increase the cult-like qualities of the group and the cycle may become a downward spiral—especially as the more independent-minded activists bail out and those who are left are the ones more inclined to drink the kool-aid.


In the case of the RCP this phenomenon has been going on for decades and in recent years has become even more severe.  The term “whateverism” was coined to describe how the followers of the RCP are perfectly happy to accept anything they hear from their great leader.  And there is some whateverism also to be found in the ranks of the CVO supporters (which is why Joseph can get away with his shenanigans) but it is much less than in the ranks of the RCP.


Is theory for internal consumption

or for the needs of the movement?


Strongly related to this phenomenon is the rivalry between sectarian groups which are in fierce competition with one another over the warm, living bodies of activists who are new on the scene and are looking for some established group to hook up with.


Political theory involves analysis of what is going on.  Political theory is a summation of practice and experience.  Political theory plays the role of light that allows activists to see and understand how the various movements can become powerful and achieve their aims.  Political theory allows activists to understand who their allies are and who their enemies are.


And, for all these reasons, political theory is often prostituted for small-group sectarian purposes.


If someone is engaged in theoretical work for the purpose of helping activists understand the principles which are decisive and serving the needs of the movement—then there would be no reason to be dishonest.  On the other hand, if theory is being created mainly for sectarian purposes: to hold a group together—or assist in the cutthroat sectarian knife fight between groups for the warm lifeblood of activists—then there may be every reason in the world to be dishonest: to tell fibs, for example, about the positions of one’s opponent—or to write long articles that appear to be saying something important but which really say very little.


In my humble opinion, this explanation may give insight into the quality of some of Joseph’s work.  Why, for example, would it be to Joseph’s advantage to write theoretical articles on the nature of workers’ rule that investigate the relationship between the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization and the ability of workers to self-organize and control the economy, culture and politics of their society?  From Joseph’s perspective this is not a winning proposition—because the conclusions he might come to might be the same conclusions that I have come to—and he would risk a loss of prestige and may feel that the existence of his group is threatened.


Of course, this explanation represents a certain amount of speculation on my part.  Maybe there is some other reason that Joseph avoids the important questions?  If there is—I would sure like to know.


And this leads us to the other half of this equation: why do the CVO supporters so readily accept as profound the things which Joseph writes—even if he writes one thing today and the opposite thing tomorrow or even, as in his reply to me, one thing on one page (ie: multiple parties would doom workers’ rule) and the opposite on the next page (ie: workers’ rule might involve a system of multiple parties)?


And the answer to this question is found in the dynamics of any cult (even cults based on imitating the appearance of comrade Lenin) where believers have a strong need to believe.  The leader provides the confidence that the believers need so badly.  And the followers prop up the leader also.  It is a system of denial in which everyone “benefits” – except the proletariat which is again subject to the usual betrayal.




Joseph, of course, can reply to me however he would like.  He can post my reply to him on his website or can decide that my reply is insufficiently serious.  He can say that I am really an anarchist and a liberal and a petti-bourgeois and he can twist my words around or make up any argument he wants to support this.  And his followers may be willing to eat it all up (it is what they have done so far).  Of course there may be some limit to what Joseph can get away with—but the record so far indicates that the CVO supporters have a remarkable capacity for the suspension of disbelief.


If Joseph’s article is too long or contains too many somersaults to be carefully read—well that’s all the better for Joseph: CVO supporters can point to a long article and have a warm and fuzzy feeling without having to worry their pretty little heads about a thing.


If the activists around the CVO are unable to see beyond the walls of the magic kingdom they have built for themselves—then, like the denizens of the avakian fantasy planet—they are sacrificing their life energies in such a way that 95 percent will be wasted—and it will be left to other activists to take the road of sobriety and step by step move things forward.


-- Ben Seattle

This article is posted at:


More about the principles discussed here can be found in "Cargo-Cult Leninism" vs. Political Transparency (see footnote 6)




[1] how the cargo-cult ideology cripples agitation:

    A comment on the CVO's article on "socialist health care"

    by Ben Seattle, November 18, 2007 (revised November 25)


[2] What would socialist health care be like?

    and chart of different health systems

    by Joseph Green, August 2007 issue of "Communist Voice"


[3] Reply to Ben Seattle on health care, his proposal to

     replace "socialism" with "proletarism", and party-building

    by Joseph Green, January 9, 2008


[4] Here is Joseph's description of "socialism":


Socialism, by way of contrast, means eliminating the entire system of production for profit.


 This doesn't come into existence all at once. It requires not just that the working class takes political power in a country, but a protracted period of social and economic change. The working class cannot simply replace the old CEOs and managers, but has to change the way workplaces and enterprises are run, and the way they are coordinated and managed. Step by step, the working class must learn how to control the economy, both as an overall whole and workplace by workplace. As a result, the economy will no longer be run on the basis of profit-making, but to satisfy people's needs.


This will be a period of revolutionary transition to a new system. The government and politics won't be run by a rich elite, but by the working class, through its own political party and through mass organizations of the entire working population. This doesn't just mean technocrats or party officials administering the system, even socialist technocrats, but that the working population as a whole must be increasingly involved in directing production and dealing with all the common concerns of society as a whole.


So the period of socialist transformation isn't just a change in the ruling party and in some political policies, but a new way of life for the entire population and a new system of running the economy. It is a transformation that will eventually result in eliminating all class differences. This type of socialism is workers' socialism or revolutionary communism, as opposed to the state-capitalism which pretended to be socialist, namely, the Stalinist system of the past or of Cuba or China today. It is what is needed to develop consistent mass involvement in, and control of, health care, not as an exception, but as a rule.


  From: "What would socialist health care be like?"  (see footnote 2)


[5] See "9 letters to a comrade"


[6] "Cargo-Cult Leninism" vs. Political Transparency:

      What principles of organization will serve

      the antiwar and revolutionary movements?


[7] Finding the Confidence to Build the Future
       How will the working class keep supply chains running
       and bourgeois apologists from flooding the airwaves
       on the morning after bourgeois rule is broken?


[8] The Laws of Commodity Production for Dummies


[9] Joseph includes everything here except the issues that are decisive:


[10] See footnote 3


[11] Left-wing neo-conservatives:

       The reflection of neo-conservatism in socialist thinking -- part one
        "These articles from Ben show his view of eternal capitalism.
        Oh yes, he talks about communism and the dictatorship of
        the proletariat and a future classless society, but he pictures
        the future as having such features of capitalism as separate
        enterprises in anarchic competition with one another."


[12] The Self-Organizing Moneyless Economy


[13] See my short article: “Politics, Economics and the

        Mass Media when the working class runs the show” at  and the longer:

       The ascendancy of the self-organizing moneyless economy

        Ben Seattle speculates on some of the ways that the self-organizing

        moneyless economy may unfold as it overtakes and overwhelms

        the commodity economy in the period following the overthrow

        of bourgeois rule

 1. Information sector likely to emerge as working class fortress

 2. Funding levels--will start small

 3. Who runs the show?

 4. Opposing priorities and intense competition

 5. Development and evolution of discipline

 6. Key to higher labor productivity will be improved "relations of production"

 7. Gift economy projects will outcompete commercial rivals

 8. Expansion into different sectors

 9. Rate of growth

10. Two "traps" to watch out for

11. No incestuous trade relationships

12. "ministry of foreign trade" will mediate relations between gift-economy

       and exchange-economy ● A scenario ● Freedom of action retained ...

13. All labor must be voluntary