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Commentary :: Organizing : Politics
Letter to comrade Edward (The Road to Information War)
14 May 2006
Modified: 01:20:16 PM
A longer-term view of the tasks of building anti-imperialist and revolutionary organization in the U.S. in the early 21st century:
(1) Work to build an open community of activists
(2) Develop national reach via the internet (indymedia newswires, email lists, etc)
(3) Develop theoretical tools that will allow us to think about and talk about our long-term goal
Hi Edward,

We have had a successful Mayday action. Thousands of workers
came out into the street. We distributed thousands of leaflets.
Maybe a few people will come to our next meeting.

And, with some of our immediate tasks out of the way, this is a
good time to give thought to our longer-term tasks.

* * * * * *

For the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) to serve the
movement it will need to take a long-term approach and do the
right things:

1. be open
--------------

Work to build an open community of activists
who can help us better understand the movement,
extend our reach and resolve our disputes.

2. develop national reach
---------------------------------

Make regular and consistent posts to many indymedia
sites, email lists and web-based forums -- and follow up
to respond to the best comments or criticisms we receive.

3. recognize the need for theory
-----------------------------------------

Confront the questions that need to be confronted
(including the crisis of theory) so that we can consumate
the marriage between our current tasks and our future goals.

* * * * * *

The current orientation of SAIC will eventually reach the limits
of its effectiveness (if it has not already done so). Whether
SAIC takes steps in the direction (above) that it needs to go --
depends a lot on you.

You have asked me to join SAIC. I do not understand your reasons
for this. I already assist SAIC, attend its public meetings,
make suggestions on its agitation and help distribute its
leaflets. More than this -- I am a source of the kind of
criticism which SAIC needs. There is a gap between what SAIC
does and what our movement needs. I point to this gap. This is
much more important (and necessary) than having formal status as
a member.

* * * * * *

This is not an easy time to build an organization. The
theoretical level in the movement is abysmal and there is no
widespread recognition (or hatred) of the sabotaging role of the
reformist political trends which chain the movement to the
illusions, schemes and manuevers that originate with the
imperialist Democratic Party. So the approach which I advocate
-- even if followed -- would be unlikely to yield results in the
short term.

The CVO comrades [1] advocate one path for SAIC (ie: more or less
the path it is currently following) and I advocate another path
(ie: see my three points above). They advocate planting certain
kinds of seeds in a certain way -- while I advocate a different
mix of seeds and different ways of planting. But even with the
right seeds and the right methods -- there is the question of
time (ie: it takes seeds time to sprout) and conditions (ie: how
favorable is the soil and other factors). So there is no easy
experiment that can quickly prove which path is best.

Scientific experiment (ie: practice) is the best way to determine
which path is best -- but as noted -- experiment takes time and
results are uncertain in any event. So my arguments here are
somewhat theoretical.

* * * * * *

Why do we need to build an open community?

We need a community to help us with our mission. We need extra
eyes and ears in the movement. We need a tranmission belt to
extend our influence to the movement. We need a laboratory to
help us better understand the interaction of different trends and
the ways in which the formulations of our political line are
understood. We need a school of information war. A community
can be all of these things.

A community can be a gateway for those activists who want to
investigate our views and our practice.

A community can also assist us in better understanding and
resolving our contradictions.

The community must be open because that is the nature of a
community. It must be something that is easy for activists to be
part of -- with few commitments required other than to treat
other activists with respect and a recognition that a certain
level of focus and responsiveness is required in order for the
community to work.

Within the community, projects will compete with one another for
attention. Some of these projects will be reformist-oriented
efforts which we will understand are a waste of time and are
destined to go nowhere. This is inevitable because, in many
ways, our community will be a microcosm of the larger movement -
and will reflect within itself, in concentrated form, all the
contradictions of the movement.

In other ways, we can consider a community like this to be a
primitive form of mass organization - a low-level form that is
unfocused and undisciplined. But as unfocused and undisciplined
as it is -- it may still represent a step forward for us - and
help us to learn how to build and to influence communities of
activists.

SAIC has already taken a significant step toward the development
of a community. Every article that SAIC writes is now "live" in
the form of a blog where readers can post public comments,
questions and criticisms. We need to continue in the direction
of transparency and community.

Building a community is a long term project. Such a project
requires the appplication of consistent effort over a long period
of time. The level of effort is not necessarily high - maybe
half an hour or an hour per week. But the effort must be steady,
consistent and long-term. And in the long term, it will pay off.
(This is what I believe. The community I have been working to
build [2] has not yet reached a critical mass of talent and
determination in spite of years of work that I have poured into
it. Nor is it clear how many more years it will be before such a
critical mass appears.)

* * * * * *

The case for putting more of an effort into national distribution
-- is that the real value and significance of our work can only
be appreciated by a relatively small section of activists (ie:
who have learned to hate opportunism) and 98% of these activists
are outside Seattle. Some of these activists read Portland
Indymedia -- but many do not. If we want to reach them -- we
must post to many indymedia sites, email lists and other types of
forums -- and must experiment with ways of replying (at least to
the more serious criticisms) so that our posts are not perceived
as spam.

* * * * * *

The case for developing theoretical tools that allow us to
confront the more serious questions -- is that these questions
are very important to the thinking of activists.

Activists want to know why the Soviet and Chinese revolutions
failed (ie: degenerated into police states). If we don't tell
them why these revolutions failed -- the bourgeoisie will (and
does). The bourgeoisie will (and does) claim that any attempt to
defy the rule of the market will inevitably result in: (1) a
police state and (2) low productivity (ie: poverty for everyone
except corrupt bureaucrats and jail for anyone who speaks out).

I recently reviewed (again) some of the CVO's theoretical work on
what they call the "transition to socialism". It was quite poor
-- at least in relation to answering basic questions that
activists have. The CVO is unable to provide a reliable
explanation of what "socialism" is -- much less give any clear
idea of the transition to this thing which they are unable to
either define or explain. In particular, the articles include no
_mention_ whatsoever of the decisive role of _democratic rights_
in making it possible for the working class as a _class_ (ie: not
just an organization which claims to represent the class) to
actually run and control the economy, culture and politics of the
new society.

The CVO, like other cargo-cult organizations, appears to regard
democratic rights as an article of consumption in the political
economy of post-bourgeois society. As such, the fundamental
democratic rights of speech and assembly are regarded as optional
- as dispensable - as being _undeserving of mention_ in a series
of articles supposedly focused on the "transition to socialism".

A serious approach to revolutionary theory will make clear that
the opposite is true. Democratic rights are more than an
_article of consumption_ in future society - they are fundamental
_means of production_ that make everything else (in particular
the security and stability of working class rule) possible.

Only by making use of democratic rights can the working class
prevent the degeneration of its state. Hence democratic rights
are not simply a goal of workers' rule -- they are the essential
weapon necessary to defend workers' rule. Without democratic
rights the workers' state is living on borrowed time.

Lenin was _acutely_ aware of this.

The CVO article, however, falsely claims that Lenin never
discussed the possibility of the ruling party/state degenerating:

> Lenin never dealt with the issue of the degeneration
> of the regime and the loss of its character as a
> revolutionary representative of the masses. The
> regime might be overthrown, but he assumed that
> if it could hold power, that it could maintain its
> status as the voice of the masses. [3]

The truth is the exact opposite. Two months before his stroke in
1922, in his last major address to the party, Lenin warned the
11th Party Congress that "the real and main danger" was that
everything might degenerate along bourgeois lines [4].

What is the significance of this?

The significance of this is simply that it removes much of the
mystery concerning what happened and why. Degeneration was the
"normal" course of events which could only be successfully
opposed with assistance from _outside_ the apparatus (ie: with
assistance from the independent actions of the masses). But this
requires that the masses have the fundamental rights of
independent speech and organization.

If we want activists to have confidence that a world without
imperialism (ie: bourgeois rule) is possible -- we must make
clear that there are achievable material conditions in which such
a world will not be hanging by a thread -- but rather will be
secure. These material conditions include a society where
democratic rights are used on a daily basis to mobilize mass
opposition to the inevitable incompetence, hypocrisy and
corruption that will emerge even within the people and principles
which guide their own state.

The exercize of these rights, by the masses, to secure their
victory -- must be as easy as breathing -- because these actions
are the breath of society -- bringing needed oxygen (ie:
transparency) to every corner in which bacteria begin to gather.
Lenin's 1917 revolution was suffocated due to a lack of oxygen.
This is why it died, as Lenin knew was the real and main danger,
with a whimper rather than a bang.

We cannot build our movement around the goal of a world in which
society -- and everything which we have fought and sacrificed for
-- is in danger of suffocation -- in which everything is hanging
by a thread. Our goal must be victory.

-------------------------------------------------
We cannot ask the working class to sacrifice
for this struggle if we cannot hold up the light
of theory and illuminate the path to victory.
-------------------------------------------------

This is why it cannot be the period of martial law (ie: the rule
of a single organization with the power to suppress its
opposition) which might conclude a possible civil war -- but the
period _after_ in which the working class makes daily use of the
fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization to
defend its role as master of society -- which we must recognize
as workers' rule (or, if you will, the dictatorship of the
proletariat).

Unfortunately the CVO articles are "sealed off". There are few,
if any, ways that correct criticism of these articles can be
brought to the attention of readers of the CVO journal. (Of
course anyone can write to Joseph and submit a criticism to this
corrupt gatekeeper - but such criticism is unlikely to see the
light of day.)

* * * * * *

I am not sure, Edward, what any of this means to you.

One of your concerns, as I understand it [5], is that you want
more activists to come to SAIC's local meetings and participate
in its activity. This appears to be one way to measure the
success of our work and gauge our potential to influence the
antiwar movement in an anti-imperialist direction. I share your
concern. I can't guarantee that the path I advocate will
address this concern in the short run. But I believe that this
path will help us to connect with serious activists nationwide
because:

1. We can make systematic efforts to make ourselves known to
them.

2. We can learn how to answer their questions and address their
concerns (even if we cannot prove by any kind of spectacular
local success that we understand how to build the antiwar
movement).

3. We can build an open community of activists where the two
diseases which most cripple the antiwar movement (ie: reformism
and sectarianism) can be successfully fought.

* * * * * *

On the other hand, if we don't do the right things -- then not
only will we fail to build the movement -- but our own ability to
take action will tend to be undermined -- as we are eventually
overwhelmed by demoralization, cynicism, apoliticism and
passivity.

* * * * * *

The path I advocate (which I will call the path of information
war) is not something with which any of us have a lot of
experience. As we work on this path we will stumble many times.
We will make many mistakes. We will get a lot of things wrong.
This is inevitable when you are trying something which is new.
But we can learn from all of our mistakes.

Yes -- if we use public forums or email lists to discuss and
debate among ourselves -- we will sometimes look like fools. Big
deal. We will look like fools because sometimes we _are_
foolish. We will look ignorant because sometimes we _are_
ignorant. But this is also the fastest (and ultimately the least
painful) route to _overcoming_ our ignorance and foolishness. I
therefore assert that it is ignorant and foolish to avoid this
path.

* * * * * *

The "tried and true" methods which the CVO comrades advocate
represent a path that is well-travelled. It is easier to go on
this path -- because all the methods and techniques are
well-established and debugged -- the pitfalls have been learned
in decades of experience. But this path is also limited in terms
of what it can do. The result of this path tends to be sterile
organization which is largely closed off to the life of the
movement.

Leaflets which give an anti-imperialist analysis of the news and
expose the treachery of the reformist trends -- are certainly
necessary -- but they are not enough. We must harness the power
of the emerging revolution in communications to take our message
far and wide and build open communities. We must _integrate_ our
message -- and our analysis of current events -- with a clear
vision of our goal (which means we must have enough respect for
theory to develop tools that will allow us to think about and
talk about our goal).

Until we take these steps -- until we forge this new path -- then
as long as the movement is at its current level -- nothing is
going to change.

Sincerely and revolutionary regards,
Ben Seattle
http://struggle.net/ben
May 1, 2006

Isolated from one another we are easily defeated.
Connected to one another no force on earth can stop us
http://MediaWeapon.com

Below:
* Notes for article
* Additional background for readers
* Further reading
* Follow-ups
* A note to Indymedia readers who want a response from me

------------------------------------------------------------
Notes for article:
------------------------------------------------------------

[1] The majority of the supporters of the Seattle
Anti-Imperialist Committee (SAIC) are also supporters
of the Communist Voice Organization (CVO).

The SAIC website is: http://SeattleAIC.org

The CVO website is: http://CommunistVoice.org

My criticisms of SAIC (including this letter) are
online at: http://struggle.net/mass-democracy

[2] The Media Weapon community currently makes use of
the pof-200 and pof-300 discussion lists and a wiki.

[3] See the 2nd to last paragraph in "State capitalism, Leninism
and the transition to socialism (part 3)" at
http://home.flash.net/~comvoice/14cStateCapitalism.html

[4] Political Report of the Central Committee
of the RCP(B), March 27, 1922 (pages 286 - 287)
http://www.marx2mao.com/Lenin/EC22.html

[5] This paragraph was modified as a result of email exchange
between Edward and me. The original version can be seen
at: http://struggle.net/Ben/2006/506-ben-2.htm

The entire exchange can be found in the "follow-up"
section for my "Road to Information War" article at:
http://struggle.net/mass-democracy

------------------------------------------------------------
Additional background for readers:
------------------------------------------------------------

Lenin was incapacited by a series of strokes beginning in May
1922 and his political life ended completely ten months later.
Two months before his stroke, however, in his last major address
to the party, Lenin warned the 11th Party Congress that "the real
and main danger" was that the ruling party/state might
degenerate. Lenin quoted an article written by one of the
enemies of the revolution, named Ustryalov, who asserted that the
degeneration of the Soviet State into an "ordinary bourgeois
morass with communist flags inscribed with catchwords stuck all
over the place" was merely a matter of time and "evolution".
Lenin warned that:

"We must say frankly that the things
Ustryalov speaks about are possible.
History knows all sorts of metamorphoses.
... This is the real and main danger"

Readers may want to know why, if Lenin understood the need for
democratic rights (and the danger that the lack of such rights
posed to revolutionary society) he considered it necessary to
suppress these rights (even within the party) in the period
following the end of the civil war.

Lenin's argument was that this suppression of democratic rights
was necessary becasue otherwise, in the extreme conditions of the
time (ie: a shattered economy, famine -- and a majority peasant
population that greatly resented the emergency measures such as
the confiscation of surplus grain) the bourgeoisie and landlords
(who had just recently been defeated in the civil war) would have
been able, within a matter of months, to press for elections,
remove the Bolsheviks from power and replace the Bolsheviks with
opportunist political trends which would have (1) made all kinds
of fraudulent promises in order to get elected - and then (2)
surrendered power to the bourgeoise and landlords.

Lenin argued that before essential democratic rights could be
reestablished - the shattered economy (which had been destroyed
in the civil war) must be restored in order to lessen the
dissatisfaction of the peasant majority of the population. Lenin
estimated that it might take 10 years (or even 20 years) before
the shattered economy could be restored. Unfortunately, in the
absence of the organized mass struggles against corruption (that
were not possible in the absence of democratic rights) the ruling
party/state was unable, during this lengthy period, to maintain
its character as a revolutionary representative of the masses.

It was bad enough, of course, that Lenin's 1917 revolution was
suffocated. The internal suffocation of this revolution shaped
all the key events in the rest of the 20th century. But what
would be worse - would be if we failed to recognize the need to
clarify our theory - the need to toss in the trash the so-called
"marxist-leninist" principle (established by the exploiting class
that took control of Soviet society) that identifies workers rule
with the rule of a merged party/state that suppresses its
opponents. We must recognize -- in theory -- and in thousands of
articles which must be written and posted to every corner of the
internet - that workers' rule corresponds to the period (1) after
bourgeois rule is decisively broken and (2) during which the
working class makes daily use of the fundamental democratic
rights of speech and organization to defend its role as master of
society.

------------------------------------------------------------
Further reading:
------------------------------------------------------------

Lenin's attitude toward these questions in revealed in many of
his writings in 1921 including his speeches at the 10th Congress,
his famous article "The Tax in Kind" and in various less
well-knows works such as "Letter To Myasnikov"

Related work by Ben Seattle:

Seventeen Theses on the Destiny of the Revolution in
communications and the Concept of Workers' Rule

"The concept of workers' rule is central
to the development of a progressive movement
which is conscious and organized. The power
of this concept to clarify our tasks is fully
equivalent to the power of Darwin's theory
of evolution to understanding biology or
the theory of plate tectonics to understanding
geology. Without this concept, we are reduced
to feeling our way forward (and sometimes
backward) in the dark. With this concept --
the lights are on."
-- Thesis # 3 -- http://struggle.net/17

Politics, Economics and the Mass Media
when the working class runs the show
http://struggle.net/ALDS/essay_153_content.htm

This short essay gives a good overview of a number
of key questions and also serves as a quick
introduction the principle of the "separation of
speech and property" which will be used by future
workers' states to draw the line between commercial
media (which will be regulated by the state) and
non-commercial media (which will be unregulated).

------------------------------------------------------------
Follow-ups:
------------------------------------------------------------

Frank, a supporter of SAIC and CVO, has written a 2200 word
reply to the first two points of my 3 point program for SAIC.
Frank's reply is posted in the "follow-up" section for my
"Road to Information War" article at:
http://struggle.net/mass-democracy

------------------------------------------------------------
A note to Indymedia readers who want a response from me:
------------------------------------------------------------

If I just post this article to a few Indymedia newswires
without taking the time to follow up and reply to comments
-- then many readers may regard this post as a form of
political spam.

On the other hand -- it usually takes me a week or ten days
to create thoughtful responses to comments, questions and
criticism that I receive. And this newswire post will be
old and in the archives (and without an audience) by then.

So -- I have created a web-based forum on
the page where this article is posted at:
http://struggle.net/ben/2006/501-to-edward.htm

You can post your thoughtful comments, questions and
criticisms to that page -- and I will reply (if you
indicate that you would like me to) within ten days.

Postings will not be screened prior to becoming public
(ie: what you post will immediately become public just
like here on Indymedia) however I will delete posts
which are (a) racist or (2) lack political content
and consist of personal insults. This gives you the
right to make your views known immediately and to
challenge anything I say that you believe to be
bullshit -- while also maintaining a signal-to-noise
ratio that makes discussion useful for serious activists.

This also gives you the opportunity to see comments
from readers in other parts of the country. And
the forum gives you the ability (if you want to)
to pass your email address to me (in a way that is
not visible to spammers) so that I can contact you
when I have had time to respond.

Many readers like what I write -- and many others
believe what I write is total garbage. Whether you
love or hate my work -- I am interested in your
thoughtful comments -- and I will respond.

Sincerely,
Ben Seattle -- May 14, 2006
See also:
http://struggle.net/ben
http://struggle.net/mass-democracy

This work is in the public domain