How to Build the Party
of the Working Class

Ben Seattle
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
healthy 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 for the News Refinery and the Attention Refinery (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, mainly workers. 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.

  • Other Attempts
    Trotsky founded the 4th International in 1938. Since then there have been a number of other less well-known attempts (see 1, 2, 3 and 4 ) to create international groups of workers' parties.

  • Future Efforts
    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.

Source: 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 • Iskra • 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
your voice

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 around SAIC with whom I have sometimes worked. I have seen confusion in some of the posts on the Kasama blog. 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 Kasama, the Ginger Group or the 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.

1 - 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.

2 - 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.

3 - 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 revolutionary leader).

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".

4 - 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, work better.

What's the deal with
"Democratic Centralism"?

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.
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.

... and why do we need it?

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 ...

Related Reading

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.

17 Theses 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 •
Workers' movement 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 •
Bourgeoisie defeated, 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?

Revolutionary 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
organization take?

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 revolutionary pole.

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.
Note: 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.

Competing agendas

The primary axis of political development of this community/network/organization 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 working class.

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 mass organizations. 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
Communist International
(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.

Cargo-cult attempts
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) must exist. 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:

  1. a platform for a lot of practical work to assist the independent struggles of the workers

  2. 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 reformism.

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).

Revolutionary core
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.

Ben Seattle

What will be our
common work?

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.

Who's Who
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 ISO, RCP and PSL / WWP 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 CVO and LRP 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 common interests.

What is
"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 ...

More about similar topics
by Ben Seattle:

We Need Mass Democracy
Real organization cannot be built on a foundation of sand

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.
• 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.

The Mass Democracy 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