Cargo-Cult Leninism vs. Information War
Workers' Rule:
Is it Dead or Alive?

The question that we cannot escape concerns the degeneration of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions of 1917 and 1949.
If these revolutions appeared to be successful and then degenerated -- does this mean that future attempts at establishing workers' rule will inevitably suffer the same fate?
Appendix A:

Comments from
readers
Alex and Paul
Appendix B:
What Does Victory
Look Like?

A chart comparing the "dictatorship of the proletariat" (embryonic vs. with immune system)
across 8 dimensions
Appendix C:
Who will control the gift economy? • Does planning require a central authority? • Do we need a single plan for the entire economy? • Will we use carrots and sticks -- or our internal compass? • Who is the ultimate authority?
Appendix D:
Ben answers three of Eric's questions
• Finding Marx's endorsement on a piece of toast • One party to rule them all?
How to Build the Party of
the Working Class

We need mass democracy
Real organization cannot be built
on a foundation of sand

The Media Weapon community (and POF email lists)
more from Ben Seattle

Appendix D:

Ben answers three of Eric's questions

 

Question 1: Are Joseph's views supported by Karl Marx?

 

Finding Marx's endorsement on a piece of toast

 

Eric:

 

> In the final section of his reply to you, Joseph provides

> several quotes from Marx, in which I understand Marx to

> state clearly that the proletariat must form itself into a

> single unified party, and that workers must recognize that

> what binds them together as workers is more important than

> what divides them in disagreements over particular policies

> or stands.  Marx argues that the class will remain impotent

> to effectively wage the class struggle if it does not do

> so.  Marx wrote:

>

> "In its struggle against the collective power of the

> possessing classes the proletariat can act as a class only

> by constituting itself a distinct political party, opposed

> to all the old parties formed by the possessing classes."

>

> "This constitution of the proletariat into a political

> party is indispensable to ensure the triumph of the social

> revolution and of its ultimate goal: the abolition of

> classes."

 

(highlighting above in yellow is by Ben)

 

After more quotes (this entire section is reproduced in note D-1 below) Eric continues:

 

> You ignore this whole section in your reply, even though

> one would think it was a topic that was important for you

> to address, since it directly contradicts you entire scheme

> for the future. In your latest reply, you spend a lot of

> energy complaining that Joseph engages in word twisting

> and distortions.  Did Joseph distort Marx’s ideas in this

> passage?  If not, was Marx wrong in thinking that the

> proletariat must unite as a single class to overcome its

> domination by the exploiting classes? 

 

I did not reply earlier, Eric, to these quotes that Joseph found because they do not support Joseph's views.  I considered the use of these quotes by Joseph to be nothing more than another silly argument that did not necessarily require a response.  I ignored a number of arguments that were silly in order to save time for myself and to be considerate to readers (who also have limited time).

 

Since you appear to think that the quotes by Marx support Joseph's arguments--then you have done the right thing in asking me about them.

 

First: my criticism of Joseph's article concerns the nature and relationship of working class parties in an advanced stage of workers' rule (ie: where there is no significant distinction between rich and poor or between exploiter and exploited, etc) in the context of a modern society with a developed economy and infrastructure.  Marx appears to be describing the conditions in France in the 1870's.  These are very different situations.

 

Second, Marx is arguing for political organization which is independent of the bourgeois parties (ie: "a distinct political party, opposed to all the old parties formed by the possessing classes").  Marx makes clear that the word "distinct" means "in opposition" to the bourgeois parties.  This is similar to how we argue today, in the U.S., for political organization which is independent of the imperialist Democratic Party.

 

I include (in note D-1 below) the rest of the quote you provided, Eric.  If you carefully look at the actual words Marx used you will see that Marx was not focused on the question of a "single unified party" under conditions of an advanced stage of workers' rule but was instead discussing the need for a party independent of bourgeois control under conditions of bourgeois rule.

 

Yes, Marx did speak of "a political party" rather than "a system of political parties".  But Marx was speaking at a time when no independent party existed.  Marx was arguing in favor of the need for such a party.  This is not the same as asserting that the party must exist in the form of a single organization that is "unified" in the sense that Joseph and Frank and you understand the word "unified" (ie: a monolithic party that does not include sections openly competing for public support--for more on this see my reply to question # 2 below).

 

You ask, Eric, if Marx was wrong in thinking that "the proletariat must unite as a single class" in order to overthrow the domination of the bourgeoisie.  I believe that Marx was correct about this.  But it is also important to understand that uniting "as a single class" is not necessarily identical to uniting "in a single party".  (And, in particular, it is not the same as uniting in a monolithic organization that keeps the differences between its different sections secret.)

 

Sometimes a class may be represented by more than a single party.  Or sometimes the class may be represented by a single party that contains, within itself, different sections.  The class needs a party (or parties).  But a party is not the same thing as a class.

 

The solution to groupthink

 

The Virgin Mary on a cheese sandwhich sold for $ 28,000

Finally--I will note that I have often written about the cargo-cult method of finding some quote by Marx or Lenin and twisting the words around to support some notion that had little or nothing to do with what Marx or Lenin was fighting for at the time.  Related to this is the danger of "groupthink" by which the supporters of a small group all take identical positions on some topic without thinking things through for themselves.  It appears to me, Eric, that you have accepted Joseph's interpretaion of these passages by Marx without reading them carefully.

 

This reminds me of a phenomenon that pops up in the news from time to time.  Some highly religious person will see a vision of the Virgin Mary in the pattern on a concrete wall or a piece of toast.  These stories get in the news because sometimes the item is sold on EBay for twenty-eight thousand dollars (company executives who made the winning bid said they were willing to spend “as much as it took” to own the 10-year-old half-sandwich with a bite out of it).

 

People see these visions because the patterns are already in their minds--ready to be triggered by the random shapes to be found in a cloud or the pattern of burned bread grains on a grilled cheese sandwhich.  I think that Joseph and Frank and Eric sometimes see the patterns they are looking for in quotes by Marx or Lenin (For example Frank did something similar, in August 2007, to Lenin's words in chapter 5 of "Left-Wing Communism" -- see note D-2 below).

 

There is a solution to this kind of groupthink.  The solution is the calm and scientific exchange of views on public forums open to revolutionary activists who are not part of the group.

 

Marx on the need for community and national organization

 

One section of the Marx quote did catch my eye.  It is this one:

 

> In so far as there is merely a local connection

> between these small-holding peasants, and the

> identity of their interests begets no community,

> no national bond and no political organization,

> they do not form a class.

 

Marx is discussing the need to end the isolation of the French peasants from one another.  He appears to regard any steps in the direction of creating a community, a national bond and a political organization of the peasants as being useful.

 

I have argued, as the first two points of my "Information War Program for SAIC" that SAIC should: (1) reach out to a national audience and (2) work to build an open community [see note D-4].  I have included here the graphics I used to illustrate these points.

 

Antiwar activists in the U.S., of course, are not French peasants.  But many of them are isolated.  They are isolated from one another.  And they are isolated from clear answers to the questions that are decisive for the movement.  SAIC has the ability, I believe, to take steps to end this isolation.  This is why I said, In June 2007:

 

> We need a systematic effort to reach a national audience

> with a letter directed to more experienced activists

> calling for public discussion and a public summation of

> experience. We must begin to make systematic use of

> internet discussion forums and email lists for this purpose.

 

So, some people may look at the pattern on a piece of toast and see the Virgin Mary.  But when I look at the same pattern--I see Elvis (note the photo: it looks exactly like him).  Eric (most likely) thinks that if Marx were alive and could talk to us--that Marx would support Joseph Green's idea of a party that hides its internal contradictions.  I think otherwise.  I believe Marx would believe that SAIC should adjust its priorities.  But guess what?  Marx is not here to tell us what he thinks.  So--instead of twisting around the words of Marx--we will have to think for ourselves.



Question 2: Does Ben recognize that workers' may unite into a single party?

 

One party to rule them all?

Eric asserts that I have forbidden the working class from uniting into a single party:

 

> In your scheme, this working class,

> forbidden by your skull and cross bones

> from ever uniting into a single party, is

> rendered helpless in its fight against the

> state capitalist bureaucrats. Your scheme

> gives the state capitalists all of the guns,

> and leaves the working class to fight with

> a stick -- and not only that, you condemn

> them to use that stick as much against each

> other as against the state capitalists.  It is

> sad that you are trying to pass this off as a

> liberating theory.

 

Actually, the first of four scenarios in my chart (reproduced here to make things easier for readers) showed a single umbrella party with a commanding position within the workers' state.  Eric appears to be unable to recognize the big red circle with the label "one umbrella party" as a single party.  I think this is because I assert that the party would contain internal organizations which would openly compete for public support.

 

Eric appears to have made the assumption that such an arrangement would leave the party "helpless in its fight against the state capitalist bureaucrats".  Apparently Eric considers it impossible that the different sections of the umbrella party could both compete against one another as well as cooperate and unite around the basic interests of the working class.  More than this, Eric's talk of sticks vs. guns reveals a view that a party with different sections would be weaker (rather than stronger) in its fight for working class interests.  But an assumption is not the same as a scientific argument.

 

Should we ignore the concerns
of activists and the masses?

 

Since Eric has brought up my chart, I will add that it would have been useful if Eric had dealt (in any way at all) with the 3rd scenario in my chart (ie: a healthy party works to replace a party that has become corrupt or has been captured by bourgeois elements).  Probably the main concern most activists (and the masses) have about the idea of workers' rule is the potential for the workers' party and state to be captured by corrupt elements and to degenerate into a new form of class oppression.  This is a valid concern after the failures and collapse of the Russian and Chinese revolutions.  My work on this topic has, from the beginning, been centered on addressing this concern.

 

I have concluded that the democratic rights of speech and organization will be used by the working class to keep their party (or parties) from degenerating (or to replace them if they do degenerate).  How does Joseph Green or Frank or Eric address this valid concern of activists and the masses?  How would the working class and masses (in the imagined world of the CVO) act to correct or replace a ruling party if they did not have the weapons of speech and organization?  Joseph and Frank and Eric do not say.  Nor is it likely (unless they recognize their errors) that they will ever have much to say about this issue that is decisive for restoring the idea of workers' rule to its rightful place at the center of the progressive movement.  This is the kind of "liberating theory" which, apparently, Joseph and Frank and Eric prefer to avoid thinking about.

 

I did add a correction to my chart (see the purple text at the bottom) for Eric, who asserted that I considered the 4th scenario in my chart (ie: what happens when the working class does not have the weapons of speech and organization--a corrupt party suppresses the working class and all opposition) to be a form of working class rule.  I did not realize that some readers might think that I considered this kind of police state to be a form of workers' rule--and have corrected the chart to make it more clear.

 

Question 3: Has Ben mocked Joseph--or answered him?


Is Ben making fun of Joseph?

 

Eric:

 

> Joseph showed pretty clearly that in actual practice,

> your scheme would result in the denial of rights for most.

> You mock, but don’t answer these arguments that he made.

 

It is unclear to me what arguments Joseph has made that I have supposedly ignored (Eric does not provide any specifics concerning how my arguments supposedly fail to reply to Joseph).  Joseph often makes a lot of silly arguments.  (It often appears to me that, since he does not have the truth on his side, Joseph has been forced into the tactic of attempting to put his readers to sleep with many thousands of words of silly arguments.  I think the real conclusion that readers are supposed to come to is that these kinds of polemics are a total waste of time--so they should just go away and "forget about it".)  But I attempted to reply to Joseph's argument in this case (see note D-3 below).

 

Yes, it is true that I mocked Joseph's argument as "fear of fascism".  But it is also true that I accurately reported the content of Joseph's argument and gave his argument a concise and scientific refutation.  The humor, in this case, is the product of Joseph's actions.  It is like the case of the emperor who strolled down the street without any clothes.  The boy who cried out the truth was not making a joke of the emperor.  The emperor was making a joke of himself.

 

Notes for Appendix D

 

[Note D-1] The section of Eric's reply dealing with Joseph's quotations from Marx is reproduced below:

 

In the final section of his reply to you, Joseph provides several quotes from Marx, in which I understand Marx to state clearly that the proletariat must form itself into a single unified party, and that workers must recognize that what binds them together as workers is more important than what divides them in disagreements over particular policies or stands.  Marx argues that the class will remain impotent to effectively wage the class struggle if it does not do so.  Marx wrote:

 

“In its struggle against the collective power of the possessing classes the proletariat can act as a class only by constituting itself a distinct political party, opposed to all the old parties formed by the possessing classes.

 

“This constitution of the proletariat into a political party is indispensable to ensure the triumph of the social revolution and of its ultimate goal: the abolition of classes.”

 

He also wrote:

 

“Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers.... This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, ...this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests.”

 

And:

 

”The small-holding peasants form a vast mass, the members of which live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with one another... In this way, the great mass of the French nation is formed by simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. In so far as there is merely a local connection between these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond and no political organization, they do not form a class. They are consequently incapable of enforcing their class interests in their own name, whether through a parliament or through a convention.... Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unlimited governmental power that protects them against the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above.”

 

You ignore this whole section in your reply, even though one would think it was a topic that was important for you to address, since it directly contradicts you entire scheme for the future. In your latest reply, you spend a lot of energy complaining that Joseph engages in word twisting and distortions.  Did Joseph distort Marx’s ideas in this passage?  If not, was Marx wrong in thinking that the proletariat must unite as a single class to overcome its domination by the exploiting classes? 

 

[Note D-2] See my comments on the quotes from Lenin that Frank cites (chapter 5 of "Left-Wing Communism") in: http://struggle.net/Ben/2007/818-3-Ben.htm

 

[Note D-3] See: "Powerful Agitation Requires Confronting the Crisis of Theory" posted at: http://struggle.net/Ben/2008/126-agitation.htm

 

The excerpt below is from the satirical subhead: "The gift economy will lead to fascism":

 

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

 

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

 

> ... your gift economy wouldn't need just financial

> subsidies from the economy: it will also need [...] the

> iron hand of an oppressive government to ensure that the

> toiling masses who are paying for the gift economy keep

> doing so, and, moreover, don't decide to remake the gift

> economy into something more reasonable. [...] Your system

> requires a supposedly benevolent despot to hold the

> population in line. [...] your system will require, in

> order to be stable and enduring, a Stalinist-style ruler.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Note D-4] See "Ben’s 'Information War' Program for SAIC" at: http://struggle.net/Ben/2007/cargo-1-intro.htm

The first two points were as follows:

1) Reach out to a national audience

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

2) Work to build a community

A revolutionary mass organization needs an open and informal community of activists to help it: (1) spread its influence and (2) resolve its disagreements.

Cargo-Cult Leninism vs. Information War
Workers' Rule:
Is it Dead or Alive?

The question that we cannot escape concerns the degeneration of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions of 1917 and 1949.
If these revolutions appeared to be successful and then degenerated -- does this mean that future attempts at establishing workers' rule will inevitably suffer the same fate?
Appendix A:

Comments from
readers
Alex and Paul
Appendix B:
What Does Victory
Look Like?

A chart comparing the "dictatorship of the proletariat" (embryonic vs. with immune system)
across 8 dimensions
Appendix C:
Who will control the gift economy? • Does planning require a central authority? • Do we need a single plan for the entire economy? • Will we use carrots and sticks -- or our internal compass? • Who is the ultimate authority?
Appendix D:
Ben answers three of Eric's questions
• Finding Marx's endorsement on a piece of toast • One party to rule them all?
How to Build the Party of
the Working Class

We need mass democracy
Real organization cannot be built
on a foundation of sand

The Media Weapon community (and POF email lists)
more from Ben Seattle