How to Build the Party|
of the Working Class
February 22, 2008
The most important task for revolutionaries in the present period
is the creation of a genuinely revolutionary organization
(or system of organizations)
capable of uniting everything
in the progressive and workers' movements
and laying the foundations for a
mass workers' party that
can overcome both the reformist and sectarian diseases
and unite the majority of the working class around
a program centered on the overthrow of bourgeois rule
-- Contents --
Sections of main article:
- Why do we need organization?
- What form will our organization take?
- Party will emerge from network
- Network will self-organize around revolutionary news service
- Poles of attraction will emerge
- The revolutionary pole
- The reformist pole
- Competing agendas
- Emergence of mass organization without reformists
- Why will this take so long?
- The experience of Russia (1903 to 1912)
- The experience of the Communist International (1919 to 1935)
- Cargo-cult attempts to clone Lenin's party
- We cannot "grow" a small group into a mass party
- Which is better ? Building a brick wall -- or casting a wide net ?
- Can we build "a party of a new type" ?
- Cargo-cult method cannot create the revolutionary pole
- Revolutionary core will emerge from primal struggle
- The development of the split in the Russian Party (1903 - 1911)
- Party of the working class may emerge from a mass organization
- We need answers to these questions
- A revolutionary news service will be the central task
that will unite all the warring factions of the left
- Attempts to create working class parties and an international organization of the working class
- Do we create a mass revolutionary party by
(1) building a brick wall or (2) casting a wide net ?
- We need to hear your voice
- What does the word "party" really mean ?
- What's the deal with "Democratic Centralism"?
- One big party or a system of multiple parties?
- What is Political Transparency ... and why do we need it?
- The revolutionary party will need an open and informal community
to help it spread its influence and resolve its disagreements
- We must resolve the crisis of theory--and dare to talk about our goal
- Related Reading
- What will be our common work?
- Who's Who in the Ecosystem?
- What is "cargo-cult Leninism" ?
We need answers to these questions:
How will we create
the party of the working class?
Who will be in it-–who will not?
How will our party defeat
the terrible disease of reformism ?
How will our party defeat
the terrible disease of sectarianism?
Which tasks are most decisive?
The creation of a
revolutionary news service
will be the central task that will unite
all the warring factions of the left
The central task that will unite revolutionary activists
will be 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.
This news service will be open to contributions from
all progressive trends (and from ordinary people) and will
also provide a platform for the struggle of trends. This
news service will make use of both paper and digital forms
of communication but it will be the digital backbone of
this service that will eventually extend its reach to
many millions of people on a daily basis
who will rate, filter and discuss articles
from a wide range of sources.
For more about how this might work, please see my proposal
News Refinery and the
(the next step in the evolution of wiki warfare).
Attempts to create working class parties|
and an international organization
of the working class
Communist League • 1847 - 1852
This was a relatively small international organization of communists,
Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto for this group.
Many of its members became leaders of radical trends
in the European revolutions of 1848-49.
International Workingmen's Association • 1864 - 1874
Now also known as the First International,
it was founded by Marx and Engels.
By mobilizing international support for strikes it created
a sensation and became well-known and influential among workers.
It included reformists and anarchists. It broke up after
the Paris Commune uprising was crushed in 1871.
Second (Social-Democratic) International • 1889 - 1914
Created following the success of German social-democrats and their
nationwide political agitation. Encouraged the formation of
mass workers' parties that had the goal of "socialism"
(ie: rule by the working class).
Took an active role in mass struggles of an economic and political
nature and the ideological struggle between trends. The German party
had many daily newspapers and was the largest political party
in the country. The Russian party was the RSDLP (see above)
which included (1903 - 1912) both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.
Nearly all of the parties of the 2nd International
became dominated by their reformist (ie: class collaborationist) wings
and (with the notable exception of the Bolsheviks and a few splinters
from other parties) betrayed the working class by supporting
the mutual slaughter of worker by worker known as
the first world war.
Third (Communist) International • 1919 - 1943
Created in the wake of the October 1917 revolution in Russia.
Had the aim of creating workers' parties everywhere
that were not dominated by the kinds of reformist politics
that had led the Second International to hell.
The parties associated with it were highly disciplined
and had unprecedented success--including leading
national liberation struggles that ultimately
were successful in China, Vietnam and elsewhere.
Most of these parties degenerated in the 1930's
as a result of the degeneration of the Russian party
which was the leading and most influential party.
Trotsky founded the
4th International in 1938.
Since then there have been a number of other less well-known attempts
to create international groups of workers' parties.
The creation of genuinely revolutionary mass organizations
and an international organization of such organizations
remains on the agenda for revolutionary activists.
No one today has a clear idea of how this will come about.
It is this author's hope that the ideas here may help
contribute a small amount of clarity to this question.
It is this author's conviction that the emerging revolution
in communications will play an important, and possibly
decisive, role in the
emergence of genuine revolutionary organizations
on a national and international scale.
The history of the proletarian party.
See also these chapters from the uncompleted:
How to Build the Party of the Future series:
The German Social-Democratic Party and the Great Betrayal
(Communication and Competition
• Government censorship and repression
• Censorship of revolutionaries by reformists
• Communist Cooperation and Competition with Reformists)
Lenin builds a party within a party
(Marxism takes root in Russia
• The local circle spirit
• Lenin takes on the "Economists"
• Parties within a party - Bolsheviks & Mensheviks 1903-11
• Concept of a party with an active base)
Centralism in the Service of Democracy
(How centralization and secrecy slow the rate of information metabolism
• Centralism to achieve a high
productivity of political labor
• Centralism to increase democracy
• The Gohre Incident:
Centralism vs. Localism and Opportunism
• Summary: stages in the development
of inner-party democracy
• Distributed Authority)
See also the page that the following (shrunken) chart links to:
Do we create a|
mass revolutionary party
by (1) building a brick wall
or (2) casting a wide net ?
Many "cargo-cult-Leninists" believe they
can build a mass revolutionary party
by starting with a small group
that has the correct line and recruiting
activists to it until it becomes a large,
mass party. This has never happened
and it is not how Lenin built his party.
We need to hear|
Creating a mass revolutionary organization must be
the primary focus for every serious revolutionary activist.
All of our work and everything we say and do in
the political world must revolve around this goal.
And yet there appears to be tremendous confusion
on this topic. I have seen confusion in the comrades
with whom I have sometimes worked.
I have seen confusion in some of the posts on the
I have seen confusion on the
pof-200 email list
that I run.
I have attempted, based on my conviction in
the potential of the emerging revolution in communications
and my study of revolutionary history, to outline what
appear to me to be the principal principles at stake.
It is possible that the ideas in this article represent
a significant contribution. It is possible they do not.
It is possible that there is much that is original in
what I have written. It is possible that there is not.
What I do know for certain is that the creation
of a mass revolutionary organization is not something
that will be accomplished by a few people.
And there is one person in particular that is needed
to make this effort a success. That person is you.
Do you want to make a mass revolutionary organization
a reality? Please read this article carefully.
And then post your thoughtful comments, questions and criticisms to
where this is posted on the blog for
pof-200 email list.
The time is right when we make it right.
What does the word "party"|
really mean ?
The word "party" often mean different things to different people.
I will explain here how this word is often used.
The word "party" often refers to an organization which presents itself
to the masses as being capable of running society. It implies that the
organization is sufficiently large and experienced and has enough
support among the masses to run whatever country it is in.
This word has another meaning also: it is sometimes used to refer to an
organization which sees itself as capable of growing up to be a real
party -- as soon as enough activists and workers recognize
its ability to lead and join its ranks.
Further--the word "party" is often used to
imply that a certain amount of sorting out
of political trends has taken place: that the party includes the "good"
activists and excludes the "bad" ones (where the definition of "good"
and "bad" varies but often means consolidation around a particular
ideology or set of politics or beliefs -- including sometimes particular beliefs
concerning the practice of Trotsky, Mao or some other well-known
For example in the mid to late 1970's a number
of revolutionary groups in the US
that emerged from the antiwar movement (in the period following
1968--when mass recognition of the nature of the Democratic Party and
the imperialist nature of the society we live in led hundreds of
thousands of activists to revolutionary conclusions) declared themselves
to be parties. By this they meant that things had been sorted out.
For example, the "Revolutionary Union" declared itself
to be the "Revolutionary Communist Party" and the "Central Organization
of U.S. Marxists Leninists" (which I supported) declared itself to be
the "Marxist-Leninist Party".
And sometimes the word "party" is simply used in activist circles
interchangably with "revolutionary organization".
What is common to these definitions (in the context of a revolutionary
party or organization) is that the goal of the party (or organization)
is to take power (or have the working class take power) from the
bourgeoisie. So the idea here is that the party or organization is not
simply for the purpose of stopping the war (ie: whether the war in
Vietnam in the 1960's or the war in Iraq and Afghanistan today) or of
assisting in various mass struggles -- but in one way or another is
committed to _ovethrowing_ the system of bourgeois rule and _replacing_
the economic system of capitalism with something that will, presumably,
What's the deal with|
Originally--it described how a living organization fights.
Now it's a code phrase used to maintain cults
and kill any trace of independent thought
Some cargo-cult Leninists believe that a mass organization
or party must be controlled by what they call "democratic centralism".
But the term "democratic centralism" itself
means different things to different people.
To many, this term refers to the principles used to maintain a cult.
This term originated as a way to describe the principles by which
the members of a party could control its direction and destiny
so that the party would not be controlled by a few people
in leadership positions. Since then this term has become corrupted
and is today most often used to mean the opposite -- a set of
principles by which a few people in leadership positions
can discourage independent thought and maintain their control.
The mass organization of the working class that I describe above
would need to be a fairly loose organization in order to
accomodate sections that have agendas in total opposition
-- and would never agree to be completely controlled
by their political opponents.
These groups would need to agree to certain basic forms of cooperation
(as for example the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks agreed to between 1903 and 1911)
but, other than these basic forms of cooperation--these groups would insist
on their freedom of action and their ability to do what they want.
Within this mass party there would be smaller organizations
with their own forms of discipline. Those organizations
that were based on democratic principles would end up
being far more effective than those which maintained
a cult-like internal life.
One big party or|
a system of multiple parties?
Finally, there is often confusion concerning whether a party
might assume the form of multiple independent organizations.
From the point of view of theory there is
not necessarily a fundamental distinction
between a single party and a system of parties--if we think of this
system of parties as being united around certain core principles. This
is because a single party would contain internal groups that would
engage in open struggle with one another and this struggle would be more
or less equivalent to the struggle of parties within a system of parties.
The cargo-cultists view matters differently--and sometimes focus on the
ability of a single party to keep its internal struggles secret from the
class enemy and to "keep secrets" in general. The problem with the
cargo-cultist view--is that keeping things secret from the class enemy
also means keeping these same things secret from the working class. But
we need the energy and consciousness of the working class to help
resolve the issues which are important--and if we keep the working class
in the dark--we will have fucked ourselves.
Of course there are rare instances when important decisions must be kept
secret (for example the decision of the bolsheviks to initiate an
unprising in October 1917). But, with the exception of these rare
instances (related to time-sensitive tactical suprise or manuever) the
general rule is that differences must be open and the masses must have
unrestricted access to basic information and news on the differences
between revolutionary trends.
(Note by Ben, March 7: I updated this section on the Party by
breaking it up
into three sections on: definitions, democratic centralism
and multiple parties)
What is Political Transparency?
Political transparency means
that everything that is politically important can be known
by anyone who cares. In the context of a mass organization
it means that activists can easily find out (for example,
by going to the website of the organization) about
the internal struggles, or contradictions, within the organization.
It means that activists have the right to know:
1) What political trends play an important role in
the life of the organization and
2) What political agendas exist and how the struggle
between these political agendas unfolds.
... and why do we need it?
It is also important (in order to clear up common misconceptions)
to explain what political transparency is not.
Political transparency does not mean that there will be
unnecessary compromise of issues related to: (1) personal
or organizational security, (2) personal privacy or
(3) time-sensitive tactical info related to upcoming mass actions.
Why will our revolutionary organization need political transparency?
So that activists and the masses will know what is going on
and have the ability to:
(1) make their views and concerns known -- and
(2) link up with and support
those political trends within the revolutionary organization
which they believe best represent their interests.
So that incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption within
the revolutionary organization will have no place to hide--and will
be quickly discovered and corrected.
So that the organization will have a high rate of "information metabolism"
and the supporters of the organization can more quickly
self-organize to assist on a variety of projects.
(More info on this topic is here)
The party of the working class will need|
an open and informal community
to help it spread its influence
and resolve its disagreements
A revolutionary mass organization will have room for many political trends.
But there will also be people who may like the organization or its work but who
may not wish to be (or may not be qualified to be) members. These people will
probably greatly outnumber the people who are members.
These people will be part of an
open and informal community that will help
the revolutionary mass organization:
(1) spread its influence,
(2) carry out its work and
(3) resolve its contradictions.
"Open and informal" means that this community will not be
tightly controlled by the mass organization and it would
be very difficult to exclude principled critics from it.
Such an arrangement will make it easier for people who like the organization
to self-organize their support activity
and develop their opinions concerning
the policies, principles or people which guide the organization.
And this will also provide a safeguard
against sectarian cult-building and attempts
to isolate or ostracize critics.
People in the community would have "voice but no vote"
concerning the direction of the revolutionary organization.
Supporters will find this to be useful training and preparation
for membership--since, even members (who will have the right
to vote) will often find that
the scientific arguments they make will
carry more weight than their vote itself.
We must resolve the crisis of theory|
so that we can dare to talk about our goal
The failures of the Russian and Chinese revolutions have led to a
"crisis of theory" that has made it impossible to think in a realistic way
about our supposed goal--a world run by the working class in which there is peace
and abundance for all.
The most important role of theory is
to give activists and workers a guiding vision of
a world ruled by the working class.
This guiding vision collapses
when our vision of a supposedly "better world" is a police state
without the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization.
This, in turn, has led to the rampant saturation
of the progressive movement with the sectarian and reformist diseases --
and paralyzed the revolutionary movement.
A mass revolutionary organization would include
within itself activists
from many political trends who would have a variety of views concerning
what working class rule would look like.
No mass revolutionary organization would deserve to be taken seriously
if it failed to confront this question by means of study, investigation,
discussion and open debate.
Read More ...
The Media Weapon Community
• Isolated from one another we are easily defeated.
Connected to one another no force on earth can stop us.
• The most powerful truth of our time is that
a world without bourgeois rule
is both possible and necessary.
The Media Weapon community is determined to help
bring this truth to the working class and to the world.
8 Theses on the Destiny of the Concept of Workers' Rule
9 Theses on the Emerging Revolution in Communications
and its Significance for the Awakening of Proletarian
Political life and Consciousness
A scenario for the overthrow
of bourgeois rule
in the U.S.
in the middle of the 21st century
1. The digital fire •
The first third of the 21st century
-- the left learns how to use the digital fire
to build channels to the masses and overcome
the diseases of sectarianism and reformism
2. Electoral victory •
Sometime in the middle
of the 21st century -- electoral victory
3. Economic retaliation •
Bourgeois reaction (part 1)
-- Capital flight and economic retaliation
4. Workers stand firm •
Workers refuse to capitulate
5. Attempted decapitation •
Bourgeois reaction (part 2)
-- Bourgeois legality tossed aside
-- Attempt to decapitate workers' movement
6. Workers' movement resilient •
is initially suppressed but, because it was prepared,
over time proves itself resilient in the face of repression.
7. Bourgeoisie paralyzed •
In the face of the militant
mass resistance by many millions the military government
eventually proves to be unstable and disintegrates.
The bourgeoisie itself becomes split and paralyzed.
8. Workers' victorious •
workers' movement victorious
9. Stable workers' state •
Workers state brings
the stability needed for economic experimentation and the
development of self-organizing moneyless gift economy
Politics, Economics and
the Mass Media
when the Working Class Runs the Show
• competition between multiple political parties
• Will there be elections?
• Contradictions in society:
• consumption vs. investment
• local vs. international
• ecosystems vs. development
• gift economy vs. other sectors
• The three economic sectors in the transition period:
• private capitalist • state capitalist • gift economy
• The evolution of the mass media
• commercial media • state media • free media
• the interaction between the different media sectors
Why do we need organization?
will give the working class the ability to raise its consciousness, coordinate
its actions, overthrow the system of bourgeois rule
and create a world of peace
and abundance for all.
What form will our
The revolutionary organization of the working class
will eventually take the form of a party
with a mass character. This party may take the form of a single
organization--or it may take the form of a system of organizations
which share common core values and have the ability to combine their
efforts when necessary and, so to speak, strike with a single fist.
Party will emerge from network
This mass party will most
likely emerge from a self-organizing network of
cooperating (and competing) individuals and organizations.
Network will self-organize around revolutionary news service
This network may initially take the form of
an informal and open community
that is likely to emerge out of common work to build
a revolutionary news service that will
offer comprehensive news, analysis and discussion (from the perspective of the
class interests of the working class) to many
millions of people.
Poles of attraction will emerge
As this network (or informal community)
develops and matures, it will likely witness
the emergence of two primary poles of attraction
corresponding to and reflecting the material interests and ideology of the two main
contending classes in society.
The revolutionary pole
One of these poles will represent
the material class interest of the proletariat
(ie: the working class) and be organized around the central mission of
overthrowing the system of bourgeois rule
and creating a society where everything is run by the working class.
I will refer to this pole as the
The reformist pole
The other pole will represent
the class interests and ideology of the bourgeoisie
(ie: the largest capitalists who own or control the corporations, the
government, the mass media and all the influential institutions of society) and
will be organized around the mission of keeping
the working class passive or restricted
to useless (or marginally useful) activity aimed at making conditions of life
for the working class less bad while leaving
intact the foundations of bourgeois
rule. I will refer to this pole as
the reformist pole.
The use of the word "reformist" is often confusing
to many people--who think of this word
as meaning the same thing as being in favor of
the struggle for reforms.
The word "reformist", however, has a different and
well-established meaning in the revolutionary tradition:
This word is used to describe the view that
all the problems of bourgeois rule
can be solved by a series
of gradual reforms --
and that the ruling bourgeoisie will
peacefully accept and allow the working class
to take power by democratic and constitutional means.
The primary axis of political development of
will be the struggle between these two
poles of attraction as each works to win activists and workers to their
respective programs. Each pole will have
its own agenda.
The revolutionary pole will work to
lend assistance to independent struggles
of workers and activists and raise
their consciousness concerning the
nature of the society in which they live.
The reformist pole will do everything possible to
promote illusions. It will
assist popular struggles at times and at other times will do its best to
sabotage struggles—depending on what it
can get away with.
The revolutionary pole will tell the workers
and masses the truth and represent their interests.
The reformist pole will promote illusions
and represent the interests of the bourgeoisie
with which it will have a defacto alliance
and which will support the reformist pole with favorable publicity,
resources, tactical concessions, "respectibility"
and a thousand other levers which will help the reformist trends
to win the support of workers.
Emergence of mass organization without reformists
As the many struggles of the working class develop--and
as the struggle between the revolutionary and
reformist poles develops--the nature of this struggle will
become more clear to many millions of workers.
This process may take a number of years--or it may take decades.
Eventually this process will mature to the point where the
center of gravity within the workers’ network
(or organization or party) will shift to the revolutionary pole.
As this struggle continues to develop--a mass organization
or party will emerge without a reformist pole
and in which reformists are not welcome.
Why will this take so long?
Many activists with experience in the antiwar and/or
revolutionary movements may ask why the network (or organization or party)
of the working class should contain within itself political trends
which stand in direct opposition to the interests of the
The answer to this question is that the process by which
millions of workers learn about the nature of reformist and revolutionary
politics—will take years (or decades).
During this lengthy period many organizations will be created which are
hostile to reformism and reformists—-but these will not tend to be
The emergence of mass organizations without
reformists--will require a period of struggle in which many
millions of workers acquire bitter experience with the
treachery of reformism.
The experience of Russia
(1903 to 1912)
In Russia the process described above took place in roughly
the period from 1903 to 1912.
In Russia the main organization of the working class was called
the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP).
By 1903 (shortly after the birth of this party) it became clear
that two antagonistic poles of attraction had emerged within it.
These poles became known as the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.
At that time the nature of the differences between the Bolsheviks and
Mensheviks was not clear to most members and supporters of the RSDLP.
These members and supporters insisted that the two poles (ie: the Bolsheviks
and Mensheviks) cooperate with one another--and they did so--while at
the same time each pole also created its own "party within the party".
At the time most members and supporters of the party were not aligned
with either of the two poles (please refer to the first diagram above--the
Bolsheviks and Mensheviks are colored red and blue and the undecided
section is colored yellow).
Over the course of the years that followed the nature of
the two poles and their differences became clear
to most members and supporters of the party. By 1912
both the Bolshevik and Mensheviks sections had grown
at the expense of the undecided section. By this time the militant workers
concluded that the Mensheviks had an agenda that was not compatible
with their class interests--and the formal cooperation between the Bolsheviks
and Mensheviks ended--and the RSDLP split up.
A few years later, in 1917, the Bolsheviks led a revolution
against the provisional government of the bourgeoisie and landlords.
The leading politicians in this government were Mensheviks.
The experience of the
(1919 to 1935)
The Communist International was founded in 1919
and the basic idea
was to export and accelerate the process of differentiation between the reformist
and revolutionary poles within the working class movement--so
that revolutionary parties could be more quickly put together
in other countries.
For a while this was successful. Parties could only be part of
the Communist International if they made a decisive break with
their reformist wings. The result was the relatively rapid creation
of many parties worldwide that had a revolutionary orientation
and which were no longer dominated by the reformist methods and ideology
which were undermining the struggle of the workers.
The methods of the Communist International allowed workers
in many countries to bypass the lengthy period of struggle
between reformists and revolutionaries that had taken place in
Russia--and advance directly to the goal of a mass revolutionary
organization that was not hobbled by reformist treachery.
This success was possible because the Communist International was,
in some ways, hierarchical in its nature.
By this I mean that the success,
prestige, accumulated revolutionary experience and influence of
the Bolshevik Party in Russia allowed the Russian comrades
to help give useful direction to parties around the world.
(This is not to say that the various communist parties that were
created simply followed orders from Moscow--it was not that simple--but
rather that the experience and prestige of the Russian Party
had a deep influence on activists in both the leadership and base
of the various parties around the world and became a
powerful factor in the internal struggles within these parties.)
But this kind of quick success carried a risk--because
the "knowledge base", so to speak, was lopsided: the Russian party
had far more revolutionary experience than the other parties
and therefore had enormous influence on them. This worked
as long as the Russian party was capable of giving other parties
around the world effective leadership and could assist
these parties to better understand their circumstances and tasks.
However, by the early 1930's, the Russian party had degenerated.
In particular, Stalin was frightened by
the installation of Hitler
into power in Germany in 1933--and understood that
Western imperialism (ie: Britain, France, the U.S., etc)
intended to use Hitler as their tool to invade and lay waste
the Soviet Union.
(This was the real logic behind the Western policy of "appeasement"
to Hitler--this was a policy of giving Hitler the resources
he would need to carry out his invasion of Russia.)
Desperate to "make a deal" with the Western imperialist countries
(ie: so that they would pull back on Hitler's leash)
Stalin used his considerable influence
(beginning with the 7th Congress of the Communist International
in 1935) to lead the communist parties worldwide into
the reformist sewer
under the flag of Dimitrov's "united front against fascism".
In the years that followed nearly all of the communist parties
in the world degenerated--and the working class movement has
never recovered from this treachery.
to clone Lenin's party
In the years since, there have been innumerable attempts
by revolutionary activists to duplicate Lenin's success and create
revolutionary mass organizations that were not crippled by reformist
methods, reformist ideology and reformist treachery.
Generally speaking, all of these attempts have failed.
The most successful of the efforts to create a party like the Bolsheviks
are probably those that were part of the national liberation struggles
of the Chinese and Vietnamese peoples.
These struggles were successful in regard to the effort
to free their respective countries from foreign domination.
These struggles were less successful in creating parties of the working class.
Efforts to create parties similar to the Bolsheviks
in the Western imperialist countries have generally fallen victim
to the reformist or sectarian diseases--or remained small,
relatively isolated groups.
The problem may be that a party like the Bolsheviks cannot be created
except by a process similar to that which created the Bolsheviks
(ie: a lengthy period during which the two principal poles in
the workers' movement were in open competition with one another
and large numbers of workers had the opportunity to learn how each pole acted
as the class struggle developed).
We cannot "grow" a small group
into a mass party
It appears likely (for several reasons) that a mass party without a significant
reformist component cannot be created by "growing" a small group
and keeping the reformists out as it grows. Groups that attempt
to grow in this way generally either eventually collapse into reformism
themselves in an effort to escape their isolation--or fall victim to
the sectarian disease as they compete with other similar groups
for the warm, living bodies of activists who are new on the scene
and are looking for some organized force with which to hook up.
The lengthy sorting process that the RSDLP went through had the virtue
of allowing workers to see (on a very large scale) the struggle
between the reformist and revolutionary poles. This helped activists
and workers to understand that the struggle between these two poles
was the principal struggle within the workers' movement. This
represented a higher degree of clarity and political consciousness
than is held by many activists today who have come to believe that
the basic dividing lines in the movement are those between the
various political religions (ie: trotskyism, maoism, anarchism, etc)
that have emerged as significant militant trends in
the wake of the failure of the 1917 revolution.
The view that a mass revolutionary party can grow
from a small group
while keeping itself oriented along the correct line
(as determined from applying so-called "democratic centralism"
to the summation of experience)
most likely originates in the practice of the Communist International
which encouraged methods and beliefs similar to these--as well as
what I call "cargo-cult Leninism"
(ie: a political religion which repeats various phrases or actions
Lenin used without understanding what Lenin actually
meant by these phrases or what the aims were of his actions).
But the problem here, as I noted, is that these methods do not
tend to work well when there is no international leadership
with enough experience and prestige to help the small groups
correctly orient themselves and unite.
Which is better ?
Building a brick wall ?
Or casting a wide net ?
For this reason I have concluded that revolutionary activists today
must recognize that the revolutionary organization we need
must emerge from a lengthy period of principled struggle
between these two principal poles and this lengthy struggle
must take place within the context of a mass organization
or a large and informal network or community of activists.
Efforts to simply "grow" a small group into a mass party
with the correct line--tend to
leave the small group isolated
and leave the mass of activists out of the process of struggle
between reformist and revolutionary politics.
Under these circumstances
(with the mass of activists uninvolved in this struggle
and largely unaware of it)
the reformists will win because the revolutionary group
will remain small and isolated.
The distinction here is between what I call the methods of
"building a brick wall"
and "casting a wide net".
The first method corresponds to restricting one's efforts
to creating and attempting to "grow"
a small, "pure" organization into a mass party.
The second method corresponds to creating a larger and
more informal network or community and participating
(with a smaller, more disciplined and advanced organization)
in a protracted and open struggle
within the larger organization/network/community
in such a way that the entire community
has opportunities over the course of time to witness this struggle
and participate in it and draw conclusions.
Can we build a
"party of a new type" ?
The standard cargo-cult Leninist view is that Lenin
built a "party of a new type"
(ie: with "democratic centralism" -- without reformists --
and without the class enemy having a home within the workers' party)
and that this somehow means that, at that time,
the world somehow entered a new stage
-- and that this is how we build a party.
(Interestingly enough--such a view would hold that either the Bolsheviks
were mistaken to co-exist with the Mensheviks within the RSDLP
for a period of ten years--or
that the world somehow changed in the period between 1903 and 1912.)
This is not true. Nor was this Lenin's view.
A small, disciplined organization with the "correct line"
(or what it thinks is the correct line)
cannot "grow" itself into becoming a mass party.
What such a small group can do is participate
in the open struggle against reformism
(and for a correct line in any number of areas)
within the context of a larger mass organization
which aspires to be revolutionary.
But this means that some kind of larger organization
(or network or community which has many of the features of an organziation)
This larger organization must have a mass character
(meaning that it is large and includes activists from many trends)
and it must aspire to be revolutionary
and be generally recognized as having potential
to make good on this aspiration.
It also means that this larger, mass organization
(which will contain activists from many trends)
will not have unity on some of the most fundamental
and decisive questions. More than this -- this organization or network
must be permanently characterized by political transparency
and by active and highly public confrontations
between opposing views.
What this larger organziation will be is:
- a platform for a lot of practical work
to assist the independent struggles of the workers
- a platform for the struggle of trends
within the workers' movement
and a laboratory capable of proving to many millions
which trends are aligned with the class interests of the workers
and which trends represent the voice and views of the class enemy.
Cargo-cult method cannot
create the revolutionary pole
The experience of many attempts to create revolutionary organizations
suggests that the cargo-cult method of growing a small organization
while keeping it correctly oriented and united around a single monolithic
"correct" line is not only incapable of creating a mass party--but is
also incapable of creating the revolutionary core that would
participate with skill in the struggle to expose the nature of
The overwhelming result of practical experience is that such groups
fall victim to reformism or sectarianism or both. The main "revolutionary"
groups within the left all have strong cult-like features (some with
strong comical overtones) and "democratic centralism"
(which once was a living concept that allowed the majority
of activists at the base of an organization to exercize control
over the direction and fate of the organization)
has degenerated into a set of principles
mainly used to stiffle independent thought and maintain a cult.
I believe it is likely that the process of struggle between
the revolutionary and reformist poles within the context
of a larger mass organization or network (as I have outlined above)
will have the effect of throwing together, so to speak,
individuals and groups which today
may not even be aware of one another
(or are barely on speaking terms if they are aware of one another).
will emerge from primal struggle
It will be this "throwing together" of disparate groups and individuals
that takes place in the context of the protracted and primal struggle
for the ascendency of revolutionary politics over reformist treachery
-- that is most likely to forge the revolutionary pole of the larger
mass organization. And it is this revolutionary pole which will
emerge as the core of a mass revolutionary party that has
made a decisive break with reformist methods, reformist ideology
and the reformist social stratum
(ie: liberal-labor politicians, trade union bureaucrats,
religious misleaders, poverty pimps, "progressive" media personalities
and professional "opinion leaders")
-- which will lead the working class to victory
over the system of bourgeois rule.
More about similar topics
What will be our|
The concept of a single organization that contains opposing factions
only makes sense if the organization has a program of common work
that the opposing factions (as well as the undecided sections--which
for a long time would be the majority) can easily support and get into.
If the organization is doing useful work--then I think activists
will want to be part of it. If it is not--then they won't.
The program of common work that I see as emerging would revolve around
the creation and development of the revolutionary news service
(as outlined above).
This would involve a certain amount of technical work but more than this
would involve investigating, writing and editing articles and helping
to guide or moderate discussion on the articles.
This means that the different individuals or political organizations
within this network
would maintain a common database of public domain (ie: free of copyright)
articles (including text, graphics, video, summaries,
comments and rating and filtering data, etc)
and would be able to freely use and modify anything contributed to this
database for their web and/or printed agitation.
Other kinds of principled cooperation between people and organizations
in this network might include such things as the following:
(1) Agreements to give credit (and a link) to a person or organization
when an article of theirs is used or modified.
(2) Agreements to give a public answer to public questions or
challenges made by a person or organization within the network
(within the limits of practicality).
(3) Agreement that no statement could go out in the name of
the entire mass organization without a supermajority vote
of some kind (ie: such as two-thirds, or something like that)
and that each person or organization would identify itself
as a section or contingent of the organization
rather than claiming to represent the entire organization.
This would mean leaflets might be signed something like:
"The ABC contingent of mass organization XYZ".
The aggregation of work and content, the agreements to give
credit and links for content used and the agreement
to give public replies to public challenges would make it
and easier for activists to understand the political differences
between the different sections and would increase political transparency.
These modest measures would represent an improvement over the current
situation where many leftist groups routinely act as if their critics and
other groups do not exist.
in the Ecosystem?
Let's look at how this all might work (in the context of groups existing today)
if the Revolutonary News Service took off and created a network or
organization similar to what is shown in my diagram above.
Most of the hard-left groups that joined would only do so under duress:
they would probably only join because the Revolutionary News Service
was taking off and becoming popular and they (and their supporters)
were concerned about being left out or left behind.
Groups such as the
would end up,
on the basis of their practice (in my opinion)
as part of the reformist pole. These groups do not see themselves
in that way, of course. But that is how they would be regarded
by militant activists when the movement develops and
political consciousness and transparency increased.
Groups like the
and various individuals that
have decisively broken with reformism and recognize the need
to oppose the reformist influence would find themselves at or near
the revolutionary pole. In such close proximity, they would tend
to discover one another and, to the extent that they overcame
the sectarian disease--might find renewed appreciation of their
"cargo-cult Leninism" ?
There is a name for the kind of religion that is formed when people encounter
an advanced technology which they are unable to understand: it is called
a "cargo cult" (named after the South Pacific islanders who encountered
American military logistics teams during the second world war and who,
as a result, attemped to contact the gods of cargo by doing such things
as carving microphones out of wood and headphones out of coconut shells
and repeating the magic phrase "Roger, over and out" in hopes that
the big silver birds would land with their bellies full of precious cargo).
Anthropologists have counted at least 75 cargo cults that formed
independently of one another, in regions separated by thousands of miles,
in the period from the 1890’s to the end of the second world war.
These cults became popular because they embodied the anti-colonial sentiments
of the native islanders and their belief that they, too, were entitled to
a share of the material benefits of civilization.
Cargo cults united peoples of different tribes that, previously,
had little in common and led to such things as mass boycotts of mandatory
attendence at missionary churches. For this reason, the European colonialists
would beat and imprison cargo cult leaders. There is at least one cargo cult
that is still active (the “Jon Frum” movement in Vanuatu, east of Australia).
Cargo cults are fascinating for several reasons. They give us insight
into the formation of religion and the process of human cognition. We tend
to understand things on the basis of their external features and appearance.
Hence the tendency to copy the outward appearance of phenomenon which we want
to emulate but do not understand.
Many “marxist” groups are caught up in what I call “cargo-cult Leninism”
and have developed their own tribal totems and taboos. Basically, they have
created a little religion on the basis of an appreciation for (but a limited
understanding of) Lenin’s 1917 revolution. Frank and the CVO make a fetish
out of centralized control and they repeat magic words and phrases such
as “dialectical materialism”, "democratic centralism", “dictatorship of
the proletariat”. And they can repeat by rote many sacred definitions. But
they do not understand what these words mean.
read more ...
We Need Mass Democracy
If we can create a mass anti-imperialist organization
where decisions and struggle are based on mass democracy
-- then we will capture the imagination of serious activists everywhere
-- and be in a position to change the dynamics of the entire antiwar movement.
In other words: we will win.
Real organization cannot be built
on a foundation of sand
• On the other hand, if we fail to understand what mass democracy is
-- then we will end up with a typical organization that will accomplish
relatively little and which will eventually evaporate.
In other words we will lose.
site is an archive of exchanges (2005 - 2008) between Ben, Frank, Joseph, Alex
and others on the nature of the organization which is needed
by the antiwar and revolutionary movements.
Building a Community of Information War
* Theoretical weapons must be used
* What can we do today?
* The coming ocean of transparency
* No source of ignition
* Fear of transparency
* Being in the right place at the right time
* My annual report
* The heart of the matter
* My efforts to create a community
* The need for a open, focused community
* My Proposal
* SAIC -- trapped in Covey's first quadrant
* SAIC's strength: powerful agitation
* The need for sober criticism
* Vital to keep mind on long-term goals
* Stephen Covey's views on our vital priorities
* The sad results of urgency addiction
* Urgency junkies consider me an impractical dreamer
* Why SAIC needs transparency
* Transparency: threat or menace ?
* The road forward
• Other theoretical work (from the
Anarcho-Leninist Debate on the State)
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?
The Future Transparent Workers' State
• Will a workers' state be a brutal police state
or a machine controlled by workers?
Ben's first and second laws drive a stake thru the heart of the great fear nourished by anarchists and social-democrats alike. Ben also explains how all the sturm und drang about historical events of the 1920's and 1930's is rooted in the antagonist competition, today, for the warm, living bodies of activists. There is also a nice exposition on the nature and workings of the local left ecosystem.
Politics as Usual:
Ben Seattle's Cartoon Guide to the Left in Seattle
• 13 cartoons with the simple and brutal truth about:
• The Democratic and Republican Parties • The Imperialist Democratic Party
• The Big Antiwar Coalitions • The Green Party
• The Reformist Disease • The Sectarian Disease • The Crisis of Theory
• The SA and ISO (ie: Socialist Alternative and International Socialist Organization)
• The FSP (ie: Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women)
• ANSWER and NION (ie: Not in Our Name)
• The RCP (ie: Revolutionary Communist Party)
• The CVO (ie: Communist Voice Organization) • The Anarchists