How to Build the Party
of the Working Class

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

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

Contents:

SAIC and the struggle for sobriety -- Ben Seattle, July 17, 2008
Ben is a liar and demagogue -- Frank replies, July 25
The Road to Sobriety -- Ben Seattle, Sept 7
What do you think? -- (How to post your comments to the wiki)

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SAIC and the struggle for sobriety


In honor of those who have fallen
SAIC and the struggle for sobriety
(and a high productivity of labor)
in the antiwar and
revolutionary movements

Ben Seattle -- July 17, 2008


They were the best people. They were the most clear-sighted, determined, dedicated and politically conscious people. Now they are dead--all except Frank and me.

Ray, Joe, Mohammad, Anthony, Danny, Fred, Maggie, Molly, Pat and many others were the people who inspired me when I was new to struggle--who allowed me to believe that a small band of determined comrades, armed with a scientific understanding of society, could assemble a revolutionary mass organization with the ability to mobilize the immense energies of the working class for the overthrow of the economic and political system of imperialism.

Now they are gone. Of course, they still live and breathe, in a technical sense, if you want to be nitpicky. But they are lost to the struggle. Politically, they are dead: rubbed out, not by bullets, but by a sense of futility and hopelessness; by a feeling that revolutionary work at the present time is useless.

The few words above are the story of my youth (not a wasted youth by any stretch--on the contrary a truly excellent preparation for my work today).

Why did I remain active in struggle when so many comrades, more dedicated and disciplined than me, have fallen?

The 21st century, more than any period humanity has witnessed, is destined to be a century of information war.

Most likely, it is simply because I was in the right place at the right time. I could see something the others could not.

The war of ideas, organized on a mass scale, will be known as "information war". And information war is bound to emerge as the central organizing principle of the class struggle. The 21st century, more than any period humanity has witnessed, is destined to be a century of information war.

For whatever reason, I have seen this with a bit more clarity than many others. I want to do everything possible to prepare for the gathering storm which, I believe, will sweep away the rule of society by the social class, the bourgeoisie), which is dependent for its existence on the circulation of capital.

But I must return to the theme of my story.

My determination to learn and apply the lessons from the loss of my former comrades surfaced during a minor confrontation at the most recent public meeting of the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) [1].

SAIC (for those who are unfamiliar with it) is certainly the best organization of its kind in the Pacific Northwest (and most likely in the entire country). It is distinguished by its work distributing large quantities of skillfully written leaflets which, with clarity and consistency, target the influence of the liberal-imperialist illusions which currently hold the antiwar movement hostage.

More specifically, SAIC works to break the antiwar movement from its current state of dependence on the various social-democratic and "socialist" flunkies in orbit around the left-wing of the imperialist Democratic Party. It is the politics of class struggle and independence from imperialist influence, manipulation and control that, above all else, our movement needs.

But there is also a problem with SAIC. Any organization which stands up to the blackmail and slander of the mainstream reformist antiwar organizations will face the immense pressure of isolation. Overcoming this isolation and bringing class-based anti-imperialist politics to activists and to the movement requires making full use of the emerging revolution in communications. It requires creating an organization which is accountable to activists and which "belongs to" activists--who must have the opportunity to intervene (by means of knowing what is going on and by giving public voice to their opinion) in the struggle for the direction of the organization and the principles which must guide it.

And this brings us again, patient readers, to my story.

On the agenda of the SAIC meeting was a brief summation of the significance of the resignations of two members of SAIC.

One of these people was a supporter of the PLP [2], a sectarian group at odds with another sectarian group, the CVO [3] which, for all practical purposes, charts the course of SAIC. The guy from the PLP had been around SAIC for a few weeks.

The other person to resign was a woman who quit, essentially, because she felt that the sacrifice of her time to SAIC's agenda and program of work was not producing the kind of results which left her feeling enthusiastic and encouraged.

For two years of her life, this woman had devoted a substantial portion of her free time to SAIC. One might think that her resignation might have resulted in at least a single moment of sober reflection.

Not a chance.

This inevitably leads to demoralization because, when supporters of an organization are wasting ninety percent of their precious life energy--sooner or later they will sense, even if at a subconscious level, that the organization lacks the ability to have significant impact over the long term.

All present at the meeting (with the exception of me) concluded that this woman's resignation was a result of her own inability to see and appreciate the value of SAIC's current methods and current work (which are mostly centered around creating and distributing leaflets).

I had a different view.

I have often criticized SAIC's obsessive focus on short-term goals and what I call SAIC's "next leaflet--next 60 days--keep people excited--urgency addiction" orientation [7]. This orientation allows SAIC to do much useful work--but it fails to address many of the real needs of the movement. This inevitably leads to demoralization because, sooner or later, supporters realize that the organization lacks the ability to have significant impact over the long term.

I said that SAIC was wasting ninety percent of its potential because its priorities were screwed up. I said it was inevitable that this would create a crisis of confidence and demoralization. When supporters of an organization are wasting ninety percent of their precious life energy--they may not fully understand all the details--but they will sense, even if at a subconscious level, that their time is being wasted.

Whatever its shortcomings, SAIC remains the best organization of its kind. And, for this reason, I support it in various ways. But I do not support it blindly and, over the years [4] I have publicly criticized SAIC's failure to:

(1) make a commitment to building an open community of supporters,

(2) make greater use of internet forums on a national level,

(3) be more politically transparent,

(4) take a long-term view of its tasks, including those theoretical tasks which are decisive for the revolutionary movement.

More concretely, I advocated that SAIC:

(5) distribute a political summary of its work to activists and activist organizations at least once a year (making wide use of electronic forums) and ask for and publish feedback and advocate that other organizations create, publish and discuss similar summaries of their own experience

(6) maintain a public email discussion list

(7) publish summaries of their public meetings in postings on their blog, so that readers can more easily understand (and publicly comment on) SAIC's priorities and the confrontation of agendas which is inevitable in any genuinely mass organization.

(8) Give all members and supporters of their organization the right to some form of representation on its web site -- so that the politics of the people and political trends within SAIC can be public and the SAIC web site can represent and function as the union of its members' politics rather than the intersection or "least common denominator" everyone can agree with.

(9) Post drafts of their leaflets as these leaflets are developed, along with summaries of the related discussion (to the extent that time allows) so that other activists can better understand how high-quality political agitation is created and participate in this process.

(10) Encourage discussion and debate concerning how society can exist and function without the political and economic system of imperialism (and the capitalist system of production for profit which makes imperialism inevitable) in order to help overcome the universal belief that the only alternative to the existing system of bourgeois rule is a corrupt police-state, such as the former Soviet Union or China, where a single party holds a monopoly of power and can suppress the voice of its opponents.

There is no guarantee, of course, that the measures I advocate would have prevented either of the recent resignations. But I believe that such measures would expand the scope of SAIC's work and provide a more effective vehicle for the systematic engagement of a larger number of activists on a wider range of levels This conforms to the needs of the movement and would better position SAIC to gain experience (and attention for its politics) in the coming era of information war.

Even the best, most determined and most conscious groupings of activists, in order to protect their sense of mission and purpose, will often surround themselves with a protective cocoon of myth, illusion and self-deception.

It goes without saying, of course, that my views were not warmly received at the SAIC meeting. I was accused of being "passive and demoralized". It was pointed out, correctly, that my own efforts to help build an activist community with its own practical program of work have, so far, come to very little [5]. But such a response, and the general failure to recognize that SAIC's priorities are distorted, are what one would expect from a dysfunctional organization.

Nothing about SAIC is going to change in the short term. This is an organization so obsessed with control that it refuses), in a world of interconnection, to link to its own MySpace page [6] from the website which it advertises on its leaflets.

Even the best, most determined and most conscious groupings of activists, in order to protect their sense of mission and purpose, will often surround themselves with a protective cocoon of myth, illusion and self-deception. We underestimate the significance of this factor (in a period in which the revolutionary movement is paralyzed by a crisis of theory) at peril to everything we hold dear.

The only realistic and reliable way to overcome self-deception and maintain a clean and sober perspective is to strive to develop a depth of humility equal in magnitude to our confidence in our principles and the boldness of our vision. This means, above all, that we must ask for help from one another for the purpose of keeping ourselves honest. We need mass criticism. Mass criticism is a matter of life and death. Mass criticism equals victory. The lack of mass criticism equals defeat.

Our defeats and our victories, our strengths and our weaknesses (large or small) must be publicly discussed), in real time, in the light of day.

This is what will strike a chord with other activists (who want to see a mass organization where the conflicts concerning which principles and agendas will guide the organization are not concealed with smoke and mirrors). These activists will help us recognize and correct our errors and maintain sobriety in a society (and in mass movements) saturated with intoxication and illusion.

Only by correcting our errors will we be able to touch the heart of god. Our god is the working class and the oppressed of our country and the entire earth. This is the source of infinite reserves of energy and consciousness which will eliminate imperialism (and the system of bourgeois rule from which imperialism is inseparable) from this planet and bring forth a world of peace, abundance and authentic culture and community for all.

Some of the good comrades of SAIC (or the CVO) may object to my airing "dirty laundry" or making SAIC "look bad" and so forth. My reply to them is to simply say, again, that we need to take a sober view of our long-term tasks. And, in the long term, the antiwar and revolutionary movements will never be truly powerful until they confront the need to build organization on the basis of genuine mass democracy. And this will prove to be inseparable from the concepts of political transparency and information war.

Ben Seattle

Public comments are welcome on the "Party of the Future" (POF) open email lists
and the "threads" section of the page where this is posted on the wiki maintained
by the Media Weapon community-in-embryo.

See also: How to Build the Party of the Working Class by the same author.

Notes:

[1] SAIC, Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee
[2] PLP, Progressive Labor Party
[3] CVO, Communist Voice Organization
[4] Real organization cannot be built on a foundation of sand
[5] The Media Weapon community-in-embryo
[6] SAIC myspace page
[7] See the illustration (below) of the Covey activity matrix from my 2007 annual report

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Frank replies to Ben
July 25, 2008

Ben is a liar and demagogue when, in reference to a person who resigned from the committee, he writes in this link that:

"For two years of her life, this woman had devoted a substantial portion of her free time to SAIC.
One might think that her resignation might have resulted in at least a single moment of sober reflection ... Not a chance."
The facts are that we had worried over and discussed both this person’s heavy work schedule, and her growing passivity in SAIC for a very long time. (We also like her.) Moreover, she wrote a letter of resignation to explain what was going on, which was the comradely thing to do. Meanwhile, for months, Ben, who now treats us to these tear-jerking sentences, wasn’t even interested enough in the person to learn her name. Why? She’s a woman, and therefore not very important in his view. (Yes, Ben, everyone in the SAIC noticed this.)

Ben also mentions the resignation of a man from the PLP. But this wasn‘t really a resignation, the person just disappeared. And this isn’t surprising given PLP’s stand toward the Palestinian and other national movements. But since this person was male and therefore “important“, Ben was immediately trying to exchange addresses with him, and he didn‘t forget HIS name!

For the rest, if we tried to do everything that Ben has in his organize-over-the-Internet “program” for us, 24 hours a day on a computer would probably still not be enough time. (And there‘s more to his program than is in just this article.) Taking this up would utterly destroy the committee as an anti-imperialist political force, or any political force at all.

Meanwhile, for 15 years the individual, Ben, HAS been striving to make “full use of the emerging revolution in communications.” (It was emerging 15 years ago, it‘s emerging today, and if Ben is still alive 15 years from now, he‘ll be singing the wonders of this emerging revolution then too.) But his practical experience shows that he essentially remains an isolated individual posting his “wisdom” around the Internet, and this is what he would reduce us to were we to follow his suggestions, i.e., atomized individuals.

But in defiance of his own practical experience, Ben tells us that 15 years ago he “could see something the others could not.” He’s the best of the best, the staunchest of the staunch, the most clear-sighted of the clear-sighted. So I guess our conclusion should be that we should join Ben in taking up that “ol’ time (Internet) religion,” and shouting halleluiah to our savior.

Well, no, I think that we can do better than religion.

(Source: SAIC blog - July 25)

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The Road to Sobriety

Ben replies to Frank
September 7, 2008

My regular readers will know that I have immense respect and admiration for Frank but believe his comments are mistaken.

Frank asserts that the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) would have to work more than 24 hours a day to implement my recommendations. However, Frank fails to be more specific.


1) Is it difficult to set up an email discussion list?   No. Would maintaining a discussion list require more than an hour or two per week? Only if it was done without discipline.

2) Would it take a lot of time to post a short summary of SAIC's public meetings? It would take about 30 minutes a month.

3) How about creating an annual report and posting it to leftist email lists and discussion sites? This would take more time--but would only need to be done once a year.

4) How about posting drafts of their leaflets? This could be as simple as posting to a public email list (set up for this purpose) the drafts and comments that they regularly email to one another.

5) How much time would it take to give members and supporters the right to have some form of representation on the SAIC website? This could be done by giving them links on SAIC's website and setting up a wiki (setup time is less than an hour) and linking to it.

6) How about encouraging discussion of the decisive theoretical issues? This could be done on the wiki. A disciplined pace of activity might involve interested individuals devoting one evening in each 90 day period (ie: four evenings a year) to wiki pages or threads on these topics.


Of course all of these tasks could easily take far more time than this if a disciplined approach was not used. But this is not an argument that these tasks are not necessary. Rather--it is an argument for the necessity of discipline. One example of discipline is that one of my discussion lists restricts subscribers to one or two posts per week. This encourages thoughtful comments and a higher signal-to-noise ratio.

Frank notes (correctly) that so far little has come from my efforts to create an open political community with a clean focus on the decisive tasks and a practical program of action. But this does not prove that efforts in this direction are not necessary or are bound to be futile.

My lack of success, so far, only proves that such a project is beyond the reach of a single individual with limited time and ability.

Nor does my lack of success prove that SAIC would "reduce itself to atomized individuals" were it to implement the six specific recommendations I advocate that would help SAIC overcome its isolation and build community:


1) maintain a public email discussion list
2) post summaries of its public meetings
3) create and distribute an annual report
4) post leaflet drafts and comments
5) give SAIC supporters the right to representation on its website
6) encourage discussion of decisive issues
Frank appears to believe that collective work (ie: on SAIC's leaflets) would not be possible if SAIC's work also included the tasks above (some of which involve individual initiative). Frank's assumptions are heartfelt and sincere--but this does not make them correct.

I am in the position of a messenger who delivers bad news that Frank (and others) do not want to hear. In one amusing incident at SAIC's July public meeting (no one could make this stuff up) a supporter of the Communist Voice Organization bellowed so loudly that I was a "class enemy" who made him feel the need to vomit--that the librarian had to come upstairs and close the meeting room door in order to avoid further disturbing everyone else in the building.  And Frank now writes that I am a "liar" because I had written that the recent resignation of a SAIC member did not result in "a single moment of sober reflection".

Frank replies that he and other members gave much thought to this painful situation.

My description, however, remains correct: the reflections of Frank, and other SAIC members, were not sober if they failed to consider the possibility that this woman's resignation did not so much reflect on her lack of consciousness as it did on SAIC's distorted priorities and excessively narrow conception of its tasks.

Revolutionary activists must struggle to understand (in a sober way) what work is necessary and possible. SAIC is failing to take (or even consider) steps which are necessary to overcome its isolation and the isolation of many serious activists across the country.

The challenges of creating authentic antiwar and revolutionary organization are complex. I believe that solutions to these challenges will make use of the emerging revolution in communications. Frank's skepticism on this topic should be taken into consideration. But we also have a responsibility to think these things through for ourselves.

Frank's skepticism, it appears to me, is based on fear. Frank is part of a cargo cult which is unlikely to survive in the coming era of information war and political transparency.

The need to take a sober view of our long-term tasks will not go away. If we are serious about overthrowing bourgeois rule we must focus on what is decisive.

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Showdown on Seattle Indymedia
(September 7 - 13)

Sparks fly! SAIC supporters X9 and Eric call Ben various names.
Ben replies with excerpt from "Ozymandias" (1817).
(if seaimc is down, the thread is cached here)

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What do you think?

Comments can be posted on the wiki page where this exchange is also posted.

(See the threads section at the bottom of the wiki page.)