In defense of theoretical work

Letter of May 14, 2006 from Joseph Green to Ben Seattle

(This is a reply to Ben's letter of May 5, which requests the publication of his letter of May 1 to Edward. Ben's letters are appear below Green's letter. In this material, some typos are corrected, and some other minor corrections have been made in Joseph Green's reply in accordance with the corrected version of May 15 sent to Ben; a title has been added; and a few spelling errors have been corrected in Ben's letters.)

to ben

May 14, 2006

Dear Ben Seattle,

. Thank you for submitting your letter for publication in Communist Voice.

. You give your criticisms of the way the SAIC is organized as the main reason for your letter to Edward. On this question I shall consult the SAIC comrades as to whether they think that a discussion of the nature of the SAIC would be of general interest at the moment.

. But you also spend a good deal of time on your view of the Communist Voice Organization. One might think from some of the expressions in your writing that you sympathize with or support, to this or that extent, the aims and work of the Communist Voice journal and the Communist Voice Organization. But as far as I could see, you don't have much regard for our work. You refer to the CVO as a "cargo-cult organization"; and you think you can brush aside our work on the transition to socialism, and by implication on other matters as well, by finding one isolated individual point or other where you think we are wrong.

. I would be interested to know which left-wing groups and theoretical journals you regard as having done serious work concerning the transition to socialism and other theoretical issues, work which you can't simply brush aside as easily as you brush aside our work. It might help move discussion forward if you would say which articles by others you believe are serious. And I would like to know if you have submitted your letter and other articles to these groups and their journals, and whether they have published them. If they have rejected them, I would be interested to know why.

. It is also quite a serious matter that, when it suits some purpose of yours, you make very prejudicial remarks in your letters, without any concern for their accuracy. For example, you write to me that the Marxist-Leninist Party collapsed because it "failed to confront the crisis of theory". In fact, as you are well aware, due to your past association with the MLP, the MLP laid a great stress on theory. It devoted itself to the anti-revisionist struggle, both the theoretical side of this struggle as well as the practical organizational side. Although the MLP was a modest-sized group that was extremely active in agitation, demonstrations, and organizing activities, it pushed forward very hard on the theoretical front. It held that theory and practice should be intimately related; and it was acutely consciously of the theoretical crisis of the left-wing movement. The MLP didn't just restrict theoretical work to a handful, but it brought the entire MLP into this work, and not just members of the MLP but as many supporters and sympathizers as it was able to. People around the MLP was mobilized, when possible, not just into studying the theoretical views of the organization, but doing theoretical and historical research and helping the MLP develop new views.

. The Documents of the Second Congress of the MLP of late 1983 give some idea of the sweep of MLP activity, the breadth of its theoretical interest, and its serious approach to the anti-revisionist struggle. The Second Congress documents dealt with the conception of the class struggle and how it develops, the issue of party-building, the specific analysis of various mass movements, the different stages of revolution in different countries in the world, the need to foster different norms of relations among revolutionary parties than those common at the time, the history of and fight against the main revisionist and opportunist trends, etc.

. Among the issues dealt with by the MLP and its predecessors were:

. a) the theory of three worlds. The very formation of the MLP was tied inseparably to the campaign waged by the Central Organization Of US Marxist-Leninists against the three worlds theory, then promoted by the Chinese Communist Party and the Maoist movement worldwide. The COUSML didn't simply oppose various of the reactionary consequences of the three worlds theory, but promoted a deep study of the political basis of this theory. The COUSML connected repudiation of the three world theory to looking into the basic Marxist-Leninist teachings on revolution and on organization. It also looked into the historical roots of the three worlds theory, such as what weaknesses in the world communist movement contributed to the rise and spread of three worldism. This led the COUSML and then the MLP to a renewed study of the history of the world communist movement.

. b) The MLP carried out a study of the immediate post-World War II line of the world communist movement, that is, the line between 1945 and the death of Stalin. This showed that various of the errors that came out blatantly in the three worlds theory had much earlier roots. This study played an important role in exposing the real nature of Stalinism, and changing the previous views of the MLP and its predecessors about Stalin; it also helped refute the views of the Party of Labor of Albania that Stalinist views are the alternative to three-worldism and Chinese revisionism.

. c) The MLP carried out a study of the change in line at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935. This showed that, while certain adjustments in the line of the world movement were needed in the mid-30s, the Seventh Congress went overboard and took up liquidationist positions. This study was based on a major examination of what was happening to the world communist movement in the mid-30s and of the needs of the fight against world fascism. It included major studies of the events in France and of the Spanish Civil War. This study was another part of a growing refutation of Stalinism.

. d) The COUSML and MLP carried out repeated studies of united front tactics, seeking to distinguish correct united front tactics from capitulation to reformism. This included a study of the lessons taught by the first four congresses of the Communist International concerning the united front. It also included close examination of the united front work of various organizations, and of course it eventually included the study of the Seventh Congress of the CI.

. e) The MLP carried out a study of the line of the world communist movement between the 6th and 7th Congress of the CI, showing the overall revolutionary features of the line and certain rigidities and problems.

. f) The MLP carried out a good deal of work refuting Trotskyism. It developed a critique of Trotskyism that was distinct and different from the Stalinist critique of Trotskyism. This critique has been continued and improved by the CVO, and it shows that Trotskyism is, in large part, simply the flip side of Stalinism.

. g) The MLP carried out a good deal of analysis of the economic history of the Soviet Union. It showed that there was no fundamental change in the Soviet economic structure between the time of Stalin and that of Khrushchov, thus refuting the Maoist view that it was the rise of Khrushchov that restored capitalism and was the turning point in the Soviet Union. It carried out a good deal of study of Soviet developments of the 1920s and 30s, and in the course of this, it saw the need to examine the question of the transitional period between the socialist revolution and the actual achievement of full socialism. But the MLP did not come to a conclusion concerning this period of Soviet history, nor did it get beyond a certain point in thinking about the transitional period. This work has been pushed forward by the CVO, which has verified the state-capitalist nature of Stalinism; deepened the study of the economic features of revisionist state-capitalism in Russia, Cuba and China; laid stress on showing the economic difference between revisionist state-capitalism and the transitional economy of a workers' regime; and sought to bring to the fore the overall conception of the transitional economy.

. Above I have emphasized its theoretical work concerning the general line of the world communist movement, but the MLP was also intensely interested in particular questions concerning different fronts of work.

. h) For example, the COUSML and MLP paid a good deal of attention to a number of theoretical questions that arose concerning the struggle of the Afro-American people. The COUSML opposed the socialist segregationism which certain Maoist groups put forward as the alleged anti-revisionist approach to the struggle; in line with this, the COUSML fought the anti-busing movement, rather than supporting it, as did certain sections of the Maoist movement. The MLP also devoted attention to whether there was a Black Belt nation in the south which deserved the right to self-determination.

. i) Another example is that the COUSML and MLP made an extensive theoretical study concerning [revolutionary work] directly in the working class, with particular attention to what to organize at the factories, the relationship of the economic and political struggle, the relationship of the immediate struggle and the goal of socialist revolution, the role of party-building, and the line towards the trade unions. The results of this study can be seen in the documents of the Second Congress of the MLP.

. One could continue on and on.

. You, Ben, are aware of this and more. But you have little interest in most of this theoretical work. That is your right, of course. But it is neither honest nor honorable when you deny the existence of this protracted theoretical work of the MLP, work that -- until its final period of decline and dissolution -- was closely related to and motivated by its organizing work and its anti-revisionist stand. The MLP took seriously the theoretical crisis of the movement, and it strove hard to overcome this. It is your right, of course, to disagree with the stands of the MLP, and to oppose the anti-revisionist viewpoint which it put forward. But it is dishonest when you pretend that this theoretical work and ideological struggle did not exist.

. You not only pretend that the MLP wasn't deeply involved in theoretical work and anti-revisionist struggle, but you also disregard the theoretical work of the CVO. You adopt a frivolous attitude to it, believing that it isn't necessary to take it seriously because you think you have found a factual error in a series of articles about the transitional period between the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the achievement of a classless society. You don't bother to address the many issues raised by these articles, but crow about this single supposed factual error. And you don't bother dealing with the many other theoretical articles in the CV -- no, you wave your one factual error for all its worth.

. This is not a serious approach to theory or with dealing with the theoretical crisis of the left. It is empty posturing.

. CV articles contain a great deal of valuable material concerning the transitional period between the revolution that overthrows the capitalist class and the achievement of a classless society. CV articles have dealt with this from many different sides, including the following:

. a) We have opposed the revisionist view that the state-capitalist regimes, although not fully socialist regimes, are regimes part-way along the road to socialism. We have put a good deal of work into showing that state-capitalist regimes are not transitional regimes moving towards socialism, but are another form of capitalist regime. We have done this through careful analysis of the economic nature of these regimes, and not simply by asserting that we don't like what the state-capitalist regimes have done, or what they say, or how they have oppressed the masses. We have looked to see whether there is an economic basis underlying how these regimes have behaved, and we believe we have shown that there is.

. b) As part of this, we have made a careful study of the nature and evolution of the Russian economy and the Cuban economy, as well as some partial studies of the Chinese economy. We have shown that underneath the veneer of planning, these economies are subject to anarchy of production. We have shown that the problems facing these economies weren't simply some bad plans or some unfortunate errors or bad conceptions on the part of their leaders, but followed from the basic economic structure of these economies, and hence these problems continued and intensified even when these economies overcame the initial startup problems. We have thus shown that the lack of an actual workers' control in these economies affects the basic structure of the economies: it isn't simply that one can have a transitional economy with or without the workers' control, but that whether the workers actually exercise control affects the basic character of the state sector and of the economy as a whole.

. c) We have not only carried out historical studies of these economies, but we have also carried out a study of the Marxist views on this subject, and the evolution of the views of the revolutionary working class movement on the transitional economy. For example, we have examined the basic thinking concerning the transitional economy from the days of Marx, through Kautsky's Day After the Revolution, and to the Leninist plans at the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution, and on through War Communism and NEP. We have also examined and repudiated various of the later Stalinist and Trotskyist theories.

. d) We have deepened the criticism of anarchism by dealing closely with its economic basis. For example, our critique of the economic experience of anarchism in the Spanish Civil War shows that the Spanish anarchists didn't actually overcome the state and market economy and commodity production, but only thought they had. This verifies the Marxist critique of anarchism. Like you, the anarchists of those times boasted loudly that they had overcome capitalism and coercion, while preserving in reality that which they despised in slogans.

. e) We have carried out further theorizing, beyond that achieved by the Soviet communists, concerning the transitional economy. We have not simply repeated the slogans and views of the past, but have tested them against past revolutionary experience, modified them as needed, and developed new views. This theorizing takes account of the economic history of the last century, and shows that it is Marxism, not anarchism, that continues to show the path towards a classless, communist society.

. f) One result of this work is that we have been able to provide a sharp repudiation of the Trotskyist theories that believe that state ownership in itself, whether or not the working class is free or enslaved, is the economic basis of socialism. This is also a repudiation of similar Stalinist theories.

. No doubt various CV articles, including my own, do have some errors of detail and other problems. As for errors of detail, they will be corrected when pointed out. But this hardly suffices to overthrow the main standpoint of these articles. In such a vast work, mistakes are inevitable -- and indeed, our work is not the final word, but only an indication of a path to be pursued further.

. Moreover, in this case, it turns out, you are wrong about the factual error. You didn't bother seriously reading the article you were criticizing, and you are mistaken about what it claimed.

. You write that "the CVO article, however, falsely claims that Lenin never discussed the possibility of the ruling party/state degeneration", and then triumphantly cite the words of Lenin at the 11th Party Congress that the Soviet regime faced dangers and that it might be replaced by a bourgeois regime.

. But what the CV article pointed out was that Lenin never dealt with what communists should do if the Soviet regime lost its revolutionary character. And in fact, Lenin didn't do this at the 11th Congress. He did sharply point out the dangers to the Soviet regime posed by the economic nature of the NEP, the resulting struggle of classes, and the possibility of Russia degenerating into what the bourgeoisie would recognize as "an ordinary bourgeois state". And this reinforced the point made repeatedly in various CV articles about economic measures of a NEP-style economy having class consequences, and about Lenin holding that they did.

. But Lenin didn't discuss the possibility of the development of a new exploiting class in the Soviet Union, rather than the restoration of the old bourgeois system. And he did not discuss what should be done if the Soviet system itself lost its revolutionary character. He simply called for struggle against the dangers posed by NEP for the regime. This was a call not only of practical, but of theoretical significance. But it is not the same thing as discussing what to do if, due to lack of mass support, it was impossible to have a revolutionary Soviet regime.

. We are anti-revisionists Marxist-Leninists not because we hold that communist theory was finished and complete with the death of Lenin. Marxist-Leninist theory does not consist of simply repeating Marx and Lenin's phrases, nor does it mean regarding Marx and Lenin as infallible. Instead we hold that revolutionary theory must continue growing. It must be repeatedly tested anew, and further developed, by taking account of the experience of the revolutionary movement, and by using it in the revolutionary struggle.

. All this may not be clear from your paraphrases of the article, or from the brief quotes you give. Perhaps too my writing could have been clearer in certain places. But here is a more extended quote from the passage you refer to, which is the next to last paragraph of the article. The general drift of what it is raising should, I think, be clear:

. ". . . I think that by the end of NEP, the Soviet Union had already decayed quite far into a state-capitalist country. Moreover, even while Lenin was alive, there are still a number of questions about NEP. One issue is that the Bolshevik government may have already irretrievably lost sufficient mass support to be a revolutionary government near the beginning of NEP, which would have doomed any economic policy. Lenin never dealt with the issue of the degeneration of the regime and 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. Whether the regime had become permanently detached from the masses while Lenin lived, or only after his death, in any case he didn't theorize on the issue of what communists should do in this case. I don't deal with the practical assessment of NEP here; however I believe that the sounder theoretical framework about state-capitalism sketched in this article should be helpful for such a study."

. Now let's look at Lenin's remarks at the 11th Congress. He stated:

. ". . . I am in favour of supporting the Soviet government,' says Ustryalov, although he was a Constitutional-Democrat, a bourgeois, and supported intervention. 'I am in favour of supporting Soviet power because it has taken the road that will lead it to the ordinary bourgeois state.'
. "This is very useful, and I think that we must keep it in mind. . . . We must say frankly that such candid enemies are useful. . . We must say frankly that the things Ustryalov speaks about are possible. History knows all sorts of metamorphoses. . . . .
. "There have been many cases of this kind; . . . The enemy is speaking the class truth and is pointing to the danger that confronts us, and which the enemy is striving to make inevitable. Smena Vekh adherents express the sentiments of thousands and tens of thousands of bourgeois, or of Soviet employees whose function it is to operate our New Economic Policy. This is the real and main danger. And that is why attention must be concentrated mainly on the question: 'Who will win?'. . . the fight against capitalist society has become a hundred times more fierce and perilous, because we are not always able to tell enemies from friends." Lenin, "Political Report of the Central Committee of the R.C.P. (B.)", March 27, 1922, Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 286-7)

. Here Lenin stressed sharply the dangers of the NEP period. He talked about the seriousness of the question of "who will win?" and of the problems caused by the need to rely, in the economic and Soviet apparatuses, on large numbers of bourgeois. But he didn't say what should be done if the communists had irretrievably lost the support of the majority of the masses; and he only saw the defeat of the revolution in light of the old bourgeoisie, such as the Smena Vekh adherents, coming back.

. You also have another criticism of CV and this particular series of articles. You write that I fail "to discuss, or even mention, the necessity and decisive role of the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization in making the dictatorship of the proletariat a reality in the period following the overthrow of bourgeois rule."

. In actual fact, CV articles lay great stress on the democratic rights and demands of the masses. We have dealt extensively with the issue of democratization, democratic revolutions, and the role of democracy in the present world. We have vehemently opposed the Stalinist state-capitalist methods and laid stress on the need for revolutionary parties, movements and regimes to actually be based on the masses, not simply in word, but in deed. And our articles on the transition to socialism lay stress on the importance of the actual control, in fact and not simply in name, by the masses over the economy. They point out that state control of the economy isn't sufficient to have social control, and they point to the question of the actual control by the masses over the economy, the politics, and so forth. This is not a side point of these articles, but a key part of the anti-revisionist critique developed in CV.

. Apparently, however, the problem is that you don't see any connection between the control of the masses over the economic and politics and their democratic rights. Nor apparently do you see the building of revolutionary organization, both party organization and state organization, as an essential part of the masses expressing their will. In your sectarian way, you simply assume -- and repeat over and over again -- that you are the only one who is sincere about the democratic rights of the masses. You think that if you just say it loud and often enough, people will assume it must be true. You pretend that CV articles aren't concerned with the democratic rights of the masses, and that the CV imagines that a shackled, bullied, and intimidated working class might yet be said to have control of the economy.

. But, aside from your pretext that you are the only one who supports the rights of the masses, there's another reason why you claim not to see any connection between social control of the economy and politics of a country and democratic rights. In the picture of the society which you have laid forth, the masses do not really have social control over the economy as a whole. You restrict their economic rights to being able to direct their own little piece of the economy, and campaign against idea that the masses can control the economy as a whole. Your regard that central planning or formal authority must always be tyranny, Stalinist super-centralism, and incompatible with freedom. This is a key point of your theory about future society; it's one of the reasons you described this vision, at one time, as "cooperative *anarchy*"; and it is indeed fully in line with anarchist illusions.

. But would the future society you envision guarantee the democratic rights which you profess to support? There is no reason to believe it would. There are many reasons to believe that it wouldn't. You ignore the fact that, if the masses lack control over the economy as a whole, they may well lack free speech and other rights as well.

. For example, consider the picture of "cooperative anarchy" which you drew in a lengthy article of February 3, 1995 ("Seattle #76: Why is Joseph afraid of consciousness?"). In this society, it is acceptable for any group of people to put any restrictions it wants on those who want to take part in "its" factory or workplace. There is no guarantee of anyone's rights in these workplaces. The workers who are suppressed by the restrictions of the dominant group in an enterprise would have to seek out some other small part of the economy that was more congenial to them. But there is no guarantee that one could even do what one wanted in one's private piece of the economy. That's because, having established their own individual power bases, differing groups of people would then apply economic and social pressure against each other in order to compel the losing side to carry out the will of the stronger side. One workplace would seek to pressure other workplaces; and a dissident group inside an enterprise could stage a strike or even engage in sabotage. As you yourself describe it, taking up the question of how disagreements would be resolved, "the answer is kind of simple: the various sides fight it out. This would kind of be like a war. . . " (emphasis as in the original). And indeed, you describe a situation which the different enterprises engage in boycotts of each other, deny each other needed materials, keep technical information secret, and so forth. You call such a war between independent economic units "social planning", but it actually is just the marketplace anarchy of production. (Excerpts from your description of "cooperative anarchy", and a commentary on it, can be found in my two-part article in Communist Voice #4 entitled "Left-wing neo-conservatives", part one: "the reflection of neo-conservatism in socialist thinking" and part two: "the mailed fist behind the anti-authoritarian phrase". The term neo-conservatism is used in these articles to describe what is more commonly called neo-liberalism.)

. Your letter to Edward lacks serious theoretical content; and it is basically a spam-like repetition of things you have written over and over. You do not deal seriously with anyone having a different point of view than your own. So whether I accept it, or excerpts from it, for publication will depend mainly on whether the SAIC comrades think that it is useful at this time to have a general discussion on the points raised by your letter, or whether your letter somehow otherwise kicks off a useful discussion on some points of interest.

Joseph Green
editor, Communist Voice

Ben's request that his letter to Edward on 'information war'
be published in Communist Voice

[May 5, 2007]
Hi Joseph,

. I am writing to ask you to publish my letter to comrade Edward in your theoretical journal.

. This letter includes criticism of your series of articles on what you call the "transition to socialism".

. I criticize, in particular, your third article of this series for a factual error -- your assertion that Lenin never considered the possibility that the Soviet party/state might retain power but lose its character as a revolutionary representative of the masses. I show how this is untrue. Lenin, in his last major speech to the party, at the 11th congress in 1922, warned that this was "the real and main danger".

. I also criticize your series on a more important matter -- you failure to discuss, or even mention, the necessity and decisive role of the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization in making the dictatorship of the proletariat [1] a reality in the period following the overthrow of bourgeois rule.

. This is too important a matter to ignore in the wake of the catastrophic failures of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions -- and the way in which these failures are used by the bourgeoisie today to preach to activists that any attempt to lift their hand against the rule of capital can -- in the event of success -- only result in the creation of a police state.

. We ignore the need for revolutionary theory at enormous cost to the development of a revolutionary movement. To the extent that a revolutionary movement exists in the U.S. -- it is as weak and helpless as a new-born kitten. The reason for this is simple: we have failed to confront the crisis of theory. This impacts all of our political work across the entire spectrum.

. This is why the MLP collapsed.

. Revolutionary struggle requires courage. We cannot inspire others to commit their lives and join us in struggle if we lack courage ourselves.

. We need courage not only to recognize our mistakes in the past -- but also to recognize our mistakes in the present.

. Frank and Alex believe that you are a man of courage and integrity. Edward has an open mind. I believe that, during a moment of extreme pressure, you lost your connection with your courage. But this proves only that you are human -- since much of our work is in uncharted territory and anyone can lose their footing. As long as we breathe -- it is never too late to find our courage. It is inside -- waiting for liberation.

. The revolutionary movement needs your help Joseph. We cannot build a revolutionary mass movement without assistance from comrades like you.

Sincerely and revolutionary regards,
Ben Seattle

[1] including, as you put it, the development of "social control of production" in a period during which the state capitalist sector may dominate the economy of a future workers' state.

"The road to information war" --
Ben's letter of May 1, 2006 to Edward

From: Ben Seattle
Sent: Friday, May 05, 2006 10:18 AM
To: 'pof-200'
Subject: [pof-200] Letter to comrade Edward
(The Road to Information War)

Letter to comrade Edward:

The Road to Information War


A longer-term view of the tasks
of building anti-imperialist
and revolutionary organization
in the U.S. in the early 21st century


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 consummate 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 application 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 exercise 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.

. Your concern, as I understand it, is that you want to see more activists come to SAIC's local meetings. This is how you measure success. (I consider attendence at local meetings _a_ measure of success -- but not the only one and not even necessarily the most important one. ) I can't guarantee that the path I advocate will result in increased attendence (particularly in any short period of time). 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


Notes for readers of this open letter:

[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


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).

Back to main page, write us!

Last changed on July 18, 2007.