The open letter of Ben Seattle against the CVO
(November 18, 2007)
in which he proposes abandoning the word "socialism" and denounces the idea of a class-wide proletarian party


Below is Ben Seattle's appeal against the use of the word "socialism". He writes that he advocates a "decisive break from this word [socialism] and am in favor of the proposal by Russian revolutionaries ... to use a new word, "proletarism", to describe our goal: the historical stage in which the proletariat runs society." Joseph Green replied in a letter of Jan. 9, 2008.


From: "Ben Seattle" <box601p@weaponoftransparency.com>
To: <mail@communistvoice.org>
Subject: FW: A comment on the CVO's article on "socialist health care"
Date sent: Sun, 18 Nov 2007 15:14:58 -0800
Copies to: [....]

This is also posted at:
http://seattle.indymedia.org/en/2007/11/262875.shtml

http://chicago.indymedia.org/newswire/display/80277/index.php
(and on Portland if it gets through the moderation person)

Sent: Sunday, November 18, 2007 2:34 PM
To: 'pof-200'
Cc: 'pof-300'; 'theorist'
Subject: [pof-200] A comment on the CVO's article on "socialist health care"

how the cargo-cult ideology cripples agitation:
A comment on the CVO's article on "socialist health care"

Recently the Communist Voice Organization (CVO) published an article on "socialist health care" [1]. The article describes the current crisis in health care in which many in the U.S. have no health insurance and even those who do are faced with escalating costs and service cutbacks of all kinds from their employee health plans. The social-democrat, Michael Moore, made a well known documentary, "Sicko", on this topic. But the CVO article goes further and not only supports the many existing proposals for universal health coverage -- but makes an effort to describe the essential difference between (1) the proposed reforms of the health care system and (2) the health care system as it will exist when the working class runs society.

Today the demagogues of right-wing talk radio attack proposals for universal health care as "socialized medicine". The liberals cringe defensively at such accusations. The CVO article, in contrast, makes an effort to show what health care would really be like under "socialism".

The CVO article is quite useful and describes and exposes many of the shortcomings of both the existing health care system and the many proposals for how to reform it. But the strongest point of the article is where it contrasts these with how health care will work when workers run the show.

Unfortunately, the strongest point of the CVO article (ie: the comparison between health care as it currently exists under the rule of the capitalist class and how it will exist under workers' rule) is also, at the same time, its weakest point.

It is a strong point because there is a great need, today, for articles of all kinds which point to the problems of capitalist society (ie: imperialist war, poverty, racism, social crime, a culture of ignorance and isolation, ecosystem destruction and global warming, etc) and which point out how these problems can only be resolved when the working class throws off the rule of the biggest capitalists and runs society in its own interest. Articles like this can help to encourage other articles which explore other crises of capitalist society and make clear to readers that nothing fundamental can change as long as the class of big capitalists, the bourgeoisie, run society.

However this central theme of the article, its strong point, is also at the same time its weak point -- because the article makes several blunders which tend to reinforce the worst prejudices about how society will function when it is run by the working class.

----------------------------------------
theoretical weaknesses undermine
the main strength of the article
----------------------------------------

The combined effect of these blunders is to present a picture of "socialism" as a fantasy -- an unrealistic pipe dream that can never be realized because any attempt to bring it into the world would only make things worse -- would simply bring about a police state with low productivity characterized by bureaucratic rule, a lack of democratic rights and an unbridgeable chasm between official utopian propaganda and a dismal reality of shortages for the many and privileges for the few.

It is useful to point out and correct the blunders the CVO makes in this article. The problem in the CVO article is not that it attempts to compare how health care currently works (ie: when society is under the rule of the biggest capitalists) with how it will work (ie: when workers run society). The problem is that the article does this poorly and surrenders to all the usual mythology which equates working class rule with the rule of a single organization (ie: a police state with rampant hypocrisy, repression, fear, stagnation and shortages).

Attempts in the 20th century to create "socialism" (ie: the former Soviet Union, China, etc) are well known. These attempts created many good things for hundreds of millions of people but they have all failed in what was supposedly their main goal: to place the working class in power. A lot of economic development took place because of these social revolutions but they ultimately produced (1) social systems that denied essential democratic rights to workers and (2) stagnant economies unable to compete with the Western imperialist economies. The CVO article is unable to come to terms with the failures of these attempts and evades dealing with the need for the working class to have the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization in order to resist corruption, safeguard its rule and create a world of abundance for all.

Better would be an article which has the strengths of the CVO article but which avoids the blunders and the evasion which weaken it. The goal of workers' rule is destined to be the great central, unifying goal of everything that is healthy in the progressive and revolutionary movements. The CVO article helps us to understand this. But if we take this goal seriously -- then we must struggle to understand it in a scientific way. We need articles which deal with workers' rule. And what is worth doing at all -- is worth doing well.

----------------------------------------
a gagged and blindfolded working class
cannot create abundance and equality
----------------------------------------

The main problem with the conception of workers' rule presented in the CVO article is that it mixes up features of workers' rule that would never be able to coexist: an absence of fundamental democratic rights on the one hand and, on the other hand, a highly developed economy and social system.

Let's look at this more carefully:

----------------------------------------
The rule of a single party:
primitive and unstable
----------------------------------------

The article states that workers' rule (which it calls "socialism" even though this word today means little more than sharing a bit of the wealth of society and centralizing authority and tends to be a "weasel word" most often used by charlatans and cultists) will be characterized by the rule of single organization.

This is the key weakness of the article so it is useful to explore this more carefully.

The article describes how the working class will rule "through its own political party". Note well: this is a single party -- not a system of parties which openly compete as well as cooperate with one another. The article also mentions, in the same sentence [2] that there will also be "mass organizations of the entire working population" but it is clear that, in the CVO description, these "mass organizations" will not be _independent_ of the single ruling party. Instead, these "mass organizations" will be _subordinate_ to it (ie: exactly as "mass organizations" were/are subordinate to the ruling party in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, etc).

The main problem with the rule of society by a single party is that, in practice, this means that the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization will be denied to the working class.

This follows from the simple fact that, if the working class has the democratic rights of speech and organization -- then it will create organizations which are independent from one another (and from the ruling state) and these organizations will openly compete for (a) influence among the working class and masses and (b) control of the workers' state. And, in such conditions, no single organization would be able to maintain a monopoly of influence among the masses or complete control over the workers' state.

----------------------------------------
why there will be multiple parties
----------------------------------------

Contradictions will continue to exist after bourgeois rule is overthrown and the working class runs society. These contradictions will be larger than the scale of individuals and will involve differing material interests and ideological views on many key questions of social, economic and political policy. For example: there will be a contradiction between consumption at the present time and investment in the future. Social production capacity and resources will not be infinite. Do we build, for example, a factory that creates consumer goods we can use right away -- or a factory that creates infrastructure that will allow us to build more factories in the future? Revolutionary society, of course, will engage in both consumption and investment -- but opinions will differ concerning the ratio of resources put into each -- and there will be organized forms of struggle as opposing schools of thought attempt to influence the masses and effect social policy.



Many other examples could be given (see my appendix "Contradictions in Society" below) of contradictions that are likely to result in schools of thought and political, economic and cultural organizations that will struggle against one another for influence. No one can predict, of course, the precise nature of the issues that will most engage the attention of the masses. But we can say that there will be open struggle between organizations with different views and agendas. This is the vital principle for which there is no room in the CVO description of what it calls "socialism".

----------------------------------------
the need for clear language:
socialism vs. proletarism
----------------------------------------

Revolutionary activists need to understand questions related to our goal of workers' rule because there is enormous confusion concerning what this goal is. The author of the CVO article, Joseph Green, even admits this directly and says that "there is a great deal of confusion about what socialism really is". The problem is that Joseph (with his conception of "socialism" as being a society ruled by a single organization which denies fundamental democratic rights to the working class and which has the ability to suppress the voice of its opponents) is in no position to provide clarity on this question.

In the meantime, the confusion continues. Yesterday, the local paper here in Seattle, for example, headlined the recent effort of Chavez in Venezuela to revise the constitution as a "bid for socialism" (and this language is being used by Chavez himself to describe his goal and is also used by nearly all political trends in the rest of the world). Now the struggle which Chavez is leading in Venezuela against the local oligarchs (as well as against the influence of US imperialism) is positive for the working class and masses and deserves support. But the working class is not in power in Venezuela and Chavez will not bring the working class to power (although he will improve its conditions). And the Chavez "revolution" will remain vulnerable to the long list of counter-revolutionary intrigues and various forms of economic and social pressure.

This highlights the key problem with using the word "socialism" to describe the rule of society by the working class. The word "socialism" is no longer used in that way by hundreds of millions of people and it now means something else: it describes a political system where the working class remains largely passive and dependent on benefits from a political system tied to and part of the bourgeois world.

And the political trends, like the CVO, which claim to uphold "socialism" would not be able to explain what "socialism" means if their lives depended on it. There is no one to uphold this word. There is zero.

I advocate a decisive break from this word and am in favor of the proposal by Russian revolutionaries (who organized underground groups of workers to struggle against the abuses of the Brezhnev regime) to use a new word, "proletarism", to describe our goal: the historical stage in which the proletariat runs society [3]. The analogy here is how, in 1914, Lenin advocated abandoning the phrase "social-democracy" as hopelessly corrupted in the eyes of workers after nearly all the social-democratic parties supported the mutual slaughter of worker against worker known as the first world war. The terms "socialism" and "communism" are, similarly, after many decades of unimaginable corruption, something of a lost cause.

Groups like the CVO (which are among the _best_ under current conditions of a confused, demoralized and largely corrupt left) can only talk about "socialism" or "communism" in empty words that are essentially indistinguishable from propaganda from North Korea. Talk about "revolutionary communism" or "a new way of life for the entire population" is nothing more than meaningless hot air without recognition that the working class will need the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization in order to exercise its rule as a _class_. The inability of the CVO to deal with this shows that they are unwilling or unable to recognize the crisis of theory that has paralyzed the revolutionary movement and brought it to is knees.

----------------------------------------
The CVO is confused about the
distinction between party and state
----------------------------------------

The CVO description, by itself, reveals a conception of workers' rule in which a single ruling organization controls the state (ie: is essentially merged with and identical to the state) and suppresses its political opponents.

Now such an arrangement is called "socialism" by both (a) the ruling bourgeoisie and its mouthpiece media and (b) progressive political trends that are based on a religion that I call "cargo-cult Leninism" [4]. In my writing I am careful never to equate such an arrangement with the rule of society by the working class. The reason for this is simple. Such an arrangement is not the rule of society by the working class but the rule of society by a single organization which, in order to preserve its rule, must deny to the working class the fundamental democratic rights necessary to run the show (ie: if you don't have the ability to know what is going on you will not be able to really run things and if you don't have democratic rights then pretty soon you will only know what the ruling organization wants you to know).

But leaving aside semantics (and the use of weasel words like "socialism") such an arrangement might possibly represent (in some possible and unlikely circumstances) an embryonic step in the direction of workers' rule. But if we recognize this -- then it also becomes important to understand why such an arrangement could only correspond to a primitive, fragile and inherently unstable society.

----------------------------------------
The need for an "immune system"
to oppose corruption
----------------------------------------

Without fundamental democratic rights (and the independent political organizations which are inseparable from such rights) the working class will lack the kind of functioning immune system which it will need in order to effectively oppose and defeat the kind of incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption in people or policies which will inevitably emerge even within their own state -- because "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". If the working class does not have the essential weapons of independent speech and organization -- then corruption will inevitably win.

What are the circumstances under which it might be to the _advantage_ of the working class to have its democratic rights restricted? Some might argue that in the aftermath of a possible civil war accompanied by large-scale economic destruction, hardship and dissatisfaction -- that the social forces which represent the interest of the working class would not have the support of a stable majority of the population -- and for this reason -- would need to restrict democratic rights in order to maintain power long enough to improve conditions so that dissatisfaction was lessened and democratic rights could eventually be introduced. (This was essentially the circumstances of Bolshevik rule in Russia in 1921.) Whatever else can be said about this -- it should be clear that such a situation would not correspond to a workers' state having the support of a stable majority of the population (ie: because if it did -- then the workers' state would have little need to suppress democratic rights).

----------------------------------------
A developed economy and social system
----------------------------------------

The CVO article claims that under "socialism":

(1) there will be no significant distinction between rich and poor or between exploiter and exploited and

(2) there will be no major suppliers to the health care sector that will be based on "profit" (ie: private capitalism)

While both of these goals are achievable under workers' rule any serious study or investigation of this will conclude that such features would not be achieved overnight but could only be the result of years (if not decades) of political and economic development under workers' rule.

And this is the key contradiction which the CVO presents to us as what it calls "socialism". We are presented with an image of a highly advanced social and economic development that will take a number of years (if not decades) to achieve in the circumstances of the stable support of a majority of the population. And we are told that this highly developed social and economic system will be ruled by a single party (ie: that could only maintain its monopoly of power by suppressing the voice of its opponents -- something that makes no sense if the workers' state has the support of a stable majority).

If we want readers to understand, after reading an article, that an alternative to continued capitalist rule is really possible -- and this this alternative would be _better_ (and not worse) than capitalist rule (ie: not be a police state with shortages and low productivity) -- then we must give readers the ammunition they need to stand up to the immense ideological pressure which the bourgeoisie directs against the concept of working class rule. Readers need to understand, for example, that, under workers' rule there will be successful open struggle (by groups that are independent of their own workers' state) to overthrow the inevitable incompetence, hypocrisy or corruption that will come up in people or principles. Readers need to know that there will be open political struggle and competition. And readers need to know that that economic competition will also be organized to defeat bureaucratic bottlenecks, stagnation and empire-building in economic sectors. Competition under capitalism means a "race to the bottom" as workers compete against one another for the worst wages and conditions. Competition under workers' rule will take place in circumstances where the essential means of life and happiness are guaranteed to all.

----------------------------------------
the struggle for integrity
----------------------------------------

The theoretical weakness of the CVO article on the decisive question of workers' rule can be understood as a result of the crisis of theory that flowed from the decay of Lenin's revolution and the degenerate political and economic system that became the model for revolutionaries in China and elsewhere in the decades that followed.

This theoretical weakness is the most important reason that the concept and realistic goal of workers' rule is not at the center of the progressive and revolutionary movements and that a revolutionary movement that is deserving of the respect of the working class can hardly be said to exist. Without a clear and realistic understanding of our goal we will never be able to build a conscious revolutionary movement.

But theoretical weaknesses can be overcome. No person and no organization is infallible. We all make mistakes. What is important, for revolutionary activists and revolutionary organizations -- is to be open to criticism and to take a stand for scientific attitudes and integrity, even if this can be, at moments, painful. I am asking Joseph to either publish my criticism of his article in his journal or to provide a link to its web address [5] -- in order to stimulate discussion of the decisive theoretical question of workers' rule [6].

Ben Seattle

http://struggle.net/ben/

----------------------------------------
footnotes:
----------------------------------------

[1] What would socialist health care be like?
http://home.flash.net/~comvoice/40cCompare.html
and chart of different health systems
http://home.flash.net/~comvoice/40cChart.html

[2] here is the key sentence:

> The government and politics won't be run
> by a rich elite, but by the working class,
> through its own political party
> and through mass organizations
> of the entire working population.


[3] See: "Proletarism is anti-revisionist Marxism for the 21st century" at: http://proletarism.com

[4] See: "Cargo cults and cargo-cult Leninism" at http://struggle.net/Ben/2007/cargo-4-cults.htm

[5] This article is posted, together with a formfor comments from readers, at:
http://struggle.net/ben/2007/1118-CVO-healthcare.htm

[6] More exploration of these decisive theoretical questions can be seen in: "What does victory look like?" at:
http://struggle.net/Ben/2007/909-Ben.htm which includes:

* Lenin on a Bolshevik "two-party system"
* The DP vs. the DP-embryo: a chart across 8 dimensions
1. Who rules?
2. Majority support?
3. Weak or strong?
4. Democratic rights of speech and organization?
5. Multiple organizations?
6. Separation of party and state?
7. Development of immune system against corruption?
8. Relationship to our goal?

========================================
Appendix: Contradictions in society
========================================

excerpt from: "Politics, Economics and the Mass Media when the working class runs the show" at: http://struggle.net/alds/essay_153_content.htm

1) Consumption vs. investment

What proportion of social resources should be consumed to benefit the population at the present time--as opposed to investing in areas that will only bring a benefit decades (or generations) later? Some people and groups will tend to favor shifts of resources in the direction of more consumption in the present and other groups will favor shifting in the direction of greater investment in the future. This will be a complex question and it includes, for example, questions related to investment in education and culture--which return wealth to society decades or generations later.

2) Local vs. international development

Trade-offs will exist between the kinds of development that raise the standard of living in the home country vs. internationalist aid to less developed countries. This will be a particularly important issue for countries like the US and in Europe which have profited immensely from the rape and plunder of Asia, Africa and Latin America and which have both a huge historical debt--as well as an internationalist duty--to the workers in the rest of the world. Furthermore, the genuine development of the rest of the world is necessary for the most rapid possible development of the world economy as a whole.

3) Ecosystems vs. development

Some kinds of economic projects may diminish some of those remaining ecosystems that have not been totally destroyed during the period of capitalist development. In some cases opinions will differ as to what are legitimate trade-offs and what are not. Ecosystems are immense treasuries of future scientific and cultural knowledge and so the imperative to preserve them can also be considered a subset of the first contradiction above--between present consumption and investment in the future.

4) The "gift economy" vs. other sectors

The fundamental way to escape an economy ruled by the laws of commodity production will be the development of a "gift economy" that does not make use of money or exchange and which will pioneer new "relations of production" (ie: the relationships between people who work cooperatively to create goods and services). However this sector of the economy will initially be small and will likely require many years of subsidies that will in effect tax the rest of the economy. Differences will exist regarding how aggressive to be in trying to develop this sector. (This contradiction, like # 2 and # 3 above, can be considered as a subset of the first.)




Back to main page, write us!

Last modified: February 14, 2008.
www.communistvoice.org
e-mail: mail@communistvoice.org