Longview, Occupy, and Beyond: Rank and File and the 89% Unite!


This piece is written by the Black Orchid Collective in Seattle, with contributions from members of Advance the Struggle in the Bay area, members of Hella 503 in Portland, as well as friends in various cities.  We have all been deeply involved in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle, Occupy Portland, Occupy Oakland, and Occupy Wall St., including the Dec. 12th West Coast Port Shutdown. We have worked to build solidarity between the Occupy movement and the rank and file workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). This piece presents our critical reflections on these struggles so far. We welcome criticism and discussion.

Table of Contents:

I) Longview and Occupy: a warm autumn on the West Coast

II) Birth of the hip hop picket line: the Dec 12th West Coast Port Shutdown and the precarious proletariat.

III) From Dec 12th to Jan 6th: attempts at coastal solidarity, and divisions in Seattle

IV) Our response to Socialist Worker newspaper’s article

V) Workers’ Committees : a stronger fightback under capitalism, pointing toward revolution

VI) Solidarity is a Two Way Street

VII) Critiques of existing union structures

a) Question of Bureaucracy

b) Partial worker self-management under Capitalism, or Territorialism?

c) Labor Law as a Broken Truce

VIII) The Solidarity we actually need

***

I) Longview and Occupy: a warm autumn on the West Coast

In Longview, Washington, multinational corporation EGT is attempting to operate a new grain export terminal by using non-ILWU (scab) labor.   In September, workers faced police in riot gear in order to stop scab grain from being delivered to EGT’s terminal.  Workers and their families have used their bodies to block trains bringing grain shipments to the terminal. When police beat them back, hundreds of longshore workers came back the next day and dumped the grain all over the tracks. Since then, Longview ILWU members have faced fines, injunctions on picketing, and ongoing police harassment and repression.

The Occupy movements in our cities have also blockaded the flow of capital with picket lines and barricades.  Both the Occupy movement and longshore workers have challenged what is considered common sense and legitimate under capitalism, opening up new possibilities for creative class struggle against the corporations who are destroying our lives. But attempts to bring these struggles together have been filled with tension.

Some members of the ILWU, including the international leadership, do not want the ILWU to work with Occcupy, while rank and file members and other leaders have reached out to us.  We have no desire to be caught in these debates among union members anymore than we unfortunately already are. Our intention is only to build broad solidarity with rank and file ILWU members who have asked for our support.

II) Birth of the hip hop picket line: the Dec 12th West Coast Port Shutdown and the precarious proletariat

On December 12th (D12), Decolonize/Occupy Seattle organized the port shutdown alongside other West Coast Occupies, in support of the Longview struggle. However, our goals did not end there. The port shut down was an organized retaliation against police attacks on our communities and  the Occupy movement. It was also a response to the austerity budget cuts coming down again in Washington State, as well as solidarity with port truck drivers, who are mostly immigrant workers of color. Our  efforts to build actions that unite the struggles of longshore workers and that of unemployed, and/or non-union workers, was faced with much resistance.

At a community potluck before the port shutdown, an ILWU  Local 19 member came to tell Occupy Seattle folks not to proceed with the action because the ILWU International leadership did not support it. In response, a member of Decolonize/Occupy Seattle stated Occupy’s independent reasons for organizing the port shutdown. He added, “I grew up in the ‘hood and the union was never there doing anything to support us; the least you can do is to honor our picket line.”  Another radical longshore worker responded by saying that ILWU Local 10 in Oakland had done a work stoppage to support the struggle against police brutality when Oscar Grant was murdered. Another person responded with, “That’s great, but that’s in California. This is Seattle.”

Our friends’ remarks reveal real tensions in the relationship between organized labor and the 89% of the proletariat [1] that are not in unions.  By proletariat we mean both the exploited working class and the unemployed;  we think the term “working class” is too restrictive since it leaves out those of us who do not or cannot work for a wage.  The proletariat includes workers and everyone else who is dispossessed, with nothing to loose but our chains.  For too long, we have not gotten each others’ backs as the corporations attack and divide us.   For too long, union bureaucracies have forsaken the interests of the 89% who include many people of color, immigrants and women, by cutting deals with capital and the Democratic Party. Good, well paying jobs are often preserved for predominantly white workers, through seniority systems and other tiers in pay structures.  We recognize that there are many people of color and women in unions, but these particular unions have been less able to maintain higher wages and benefits than the ILWU.  The labor movement as a whole has failed to overcome these divides.

To be clear, at this potluck our friends were not saying that unemployed, precarious, non-union workers of color should have more authority than the ILWU to decide tactics in the Longview struggle.  Instead, they were pointing out that the D12 port shutdown was not just about solidarity with the ILWU so it was not up to them to decide whether or not it should happen.  In Seattle, it was about the proletariat showing our collective power by breaking the norms of capitalist legitimacy and legality. For one day, we were able to exhibit our power to blockade the flow of capital with a barricade at the port, cutting capitalist profits at the point of distribution. It wasn’t an attempt to co-opt the ILWU; it was an action done autonomously from the ILWU as well as in solidarity with port workers’ struggles.

It is in light of constant attacks on the legitimacy of non-union workers and unemployed people to conduct such a direct action, that we began to define ourselves as one big union of the 89% and unemployed, in unity with rank and file union members. We want to express explicitly that we, too, have a stake in class struggle. By using the label “89%,” we do not mean to suggest that the 11% of union workers are our enemy.  We are not comparing them to the 1% or the capitalists.  Instead, we wish to point out two things. First, that union leaderships who claim to speak for the 11% of union workers, cannot, and do not, speak for the rest of us. In fact, many times they do not even speak for the members of their unions. Second, we use the language of the “89%” to convey that labor struggles in this country must go beyond efforts  to preserve existing unions. Those defensive struggles are important, but for those of us who are not unionized, our class struggles in our authoritarian casualized workplaces, communities and neighborhood, need to be recognized as such: class struggle, even when they are not “sanctioned” by unions that are officially recognized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

This perspective allowed us to build support for the ILWU struggle when we flyered at welfare offices, day labor sites, high schools, and bus stops across the city.  When we initially approached people with flyers saying “support the Longshore union,” most people stared blankly at us.  The ILWU has not supported their struggles so why would they care about Longview?  So we changed it up and said, “If the capitalists cut us through budget cuts, we’ll cut their profits. Occupy Wall St. on the waterfront”.  At that point, people got very interested. By presenting the port action as a collective struggle against the capitalists who screw us all, we were able to open up conversations where we could actually talk about the importance of the ILWU union struggle to people who otherwise would not have seen how it relates to their own lives.

Initially, some of us in Seattle were skeptical about Oakland’s call for an urgent coast-wide port shutdown. Its rapid nature did not give us enough time to reach out to rank and file Seattle longshore workers (we flyered at the union hall and held mass meetings nearby, but this was not enough).  However, once the call went out, it created an explosion of class struggle energy in Seattle.  People we had never met before kept calling us asking for flyers to distribute – we printed thousands and kept running out.  This self-mobilization was evident the day of.  Consider this video made by high school youth: 700-1000 proletarians, including a large number of youth and people of color came out with militant energy ready to shut it down.  Terminal 18 was shut down with a street barricade and Terminal  5 closed because of a hip hop picket line: road flares, barricades, a traditional circular picket, and in the middle a freestyle hip hop cipher session.  This is what the future looks like. For an excellent reflection on this moment by one of the high school students who participated, check out this comment in the discussion that follows the piece.

Since then, we have been organizing to expand this new rupture of proletarian energy. Alongside others,we have converged around a strategy to build the Occupy movement as a vehicle for forging two-way solidarity between militant rank and file union struggles and militant organizing of the 89%. Concretely, this means building solidarity with the ILWU struggle in Longview and at the same time organizing solidarity actions with immigrant farmworkers in Eastern Washington who face repression as they try to organize on the job.  At the Jan 27th farmworker solidarity march, we chanted “From the ports to the farms, fight together arm in arm.” A rank and file member of the Seattle ILWU spoke about unity between the unionized and non-unionized working class. We aim to build alliances among all who are resisting capitalist attacks, regardless of job category, nationalities, NLRB status, and employment. It also means laying the groundwork for long term workplace, community, and neighborhood direct action organizing and occupations in Seattle.

Photo: Rick Barry (demotix.com)

III) From Dec 12th to Jan 6th: attempts at coastal solidarity, and divisions in Seattle

Since both Occupy Longview and the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum counties labor council  have called for broad public support to prevent the scab-loaded grain from being loaded onto the first grain ship at the EGT, the Occupy movement coast-wide has been coordinating efforts to bring people out to Longview.  We’ve been helping to set up phone trees and caravans from Seattle to Longview to help people get out there.

On January 6th 2012, as part of a coast-wide speaking tour to build support for this Longview convergence, participants in the Occupy movement and rank and file members of ILWU from Oakland, Portland, and Longview  arrived in Seattle. The event began with a successful planning meeting, followed by a panel discussion.  Rank and file ILWU members spoke about the Longview struggle and the history of solidarity between the ILWU and the community.  Daniel B, from Hip Hop Occupies, spoke about his experiences as a barista trying to organize on the job. He expressed solidarity with ILWU members and also emphasized that solidarity is a two way street, and that the ILWU should support struggles of workers without unions who are trying to fight back.

The panel was disrupted by an organized grouping of ILWU leaders who demanded to read a letter from the ILWU International. When told that they could read the letter after the panel, the grouping of drunk white men with alcohol on the breath physically attacked several audience members. They also said several sexist slurs. Here are a few accounts of what took place that day. One is by a former Local 19, Seattle longshore worker. The second is by a comrade, Ryan W, a member of Seattle Solidarity Network. The third is an account by some members of Occupy Seattle who organized the event, including some BOC members. The video footage of the day itself are also included here, in 4 parts.  Part 4 shows the disruption.  Here is Part 1:

IV) Our response to Socialist Worker newspaper’s article

In response to the conflict at this event, members of the Seattle branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) published a piece in Socialist Worker arguing that “a minority of Occupy activists are putting this potential unity [between Labor and Occupy] in jeopardy through attitudes and tactics that are hostile to the ILWU and organized labor.” The piece does not take a firm stance against the bully tactics of the ILWU leaders. Rather than blaming the thugs who came and disrupted the meeting, silencing a panel of rank and file longshoremen from Seattle and Longview,  this piece blames those who stood up to their bullying.   Beyond its political flaws, the logic of the ISO’s statement is built on a number of factual distortions.

The Seattle ISO authors write, “Allowing ILWU members to read the letter immediately may or may not have prevented the conflict from escalating. But this much is certain: There was no good reason not to allow it to be read.”  These statement are completely decontextualized from the events of the day. It would have been one thing if the individuals had shown up early and asked to have the letter read beforehand. It is hard to understand how bowing down to the demands of aggressive heckling and shouting in the middle of an inspiring forum which included the ILWU rank and file, helps to foster the “unity between the two struggles.” In reality, the ISO authors avoid the fact that the demand to read the letter was more of an excuse, than a reason, by the ILWU disruptors to break up the forum.  They also ignore the fact that we told them to wait for the question and answer session to read the letter because we refused to let them silence our comrade Maria Guillen who was slated to speak next about building solidarity between port workers, immigrant farmworkers in Eastern Washington, and Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle.

The ISO’s claimed that no one from the Seattle ILWU was invited to speak.  In fact, two members of the Seattle ILWU were present on stage – Gabriel Prawl from Seattle Local 52 and member of the Million Worker March Committee emceed the event and Desert Rat from Local 19 presented us with a musical performance and analysis about the Longview struggle (same song performed at another event).

The ISO piece blames the conflict on Black Orchid Collective (BOC). It seems to suggest that the way to build unity in the movement is for the ISO to denounce the Black Orchid Collective to ILWU leaders.  In reality, the Jan 6th event was not organized by BOC alone.  The entire Occupy campaign in solidarity with port workers has been an effort of a significantly larger and open,  nonsectarian, multi-tendency group of radicals and rank and file workers who have built an incredibly positive community together in struggle. Together, we have been consistently radicalizing the political content of Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle.  In the past few months in Seattle, our collaboration has included attempts to stop Democratic Party co-optation, to organize for the December 12th West coast port shut down and to build solidarity with farmworkers most currently.  This open alliance of radicals has never claimed to speak for all of Occupy Seattle. We, the Black Orchid Collective also do not claim to speak for all of the radicals who — despite our differences — work together. Clearly something exciting is happening here on the  West Coast, and the ISO piece overlooks this by focusing so narrowly on BOC. In fact, they unduly give us credit for the organizing that many other comrades did as well.

In fact, only one BOC member was a part of the committee that organized the Jan 6th event.  The Seattle ISO members should know this because two ISO members attended the meeting and participated on the email planning threads of this event for which they claim no responsibility in their piece.  We are open to the suggestion they make in their article to invite a member of Local 19 with an opposing view beforehand to join the panel. We wish they had raised it themselves in planning meetings before the event instead of over the internet two weeks later.  We urge them to take responsibility for their own role in this event instead of throwing us under the bus.

The Socialist Worker piece further claims that Occupy Seattle participants alienated and angered ILWU Local 19 by putting out flyers at the ILWU union hall and communiques online stating that “the Occupy movement has become a new type of movement of unemployed, low-waged, and casualized workers, both in the workplace and outside of it. We are the 89 percent of the U.S. working class that is not unionized.” The ISO members argue that these are “anti-union politics” that exclude or ignore union workers who have been participating in the Occupy movement.

This is highly selective misquoting.  What the Socialist Worker leaves out is that these flyers also said that Occupy is a new workers’ movement of rank and file union members who come together across industrial lines:  “Some of us are also rank and file union members who realize that we need to expand beyond the limits of traditional labor struggle if we want to stop the attacks we are facing.”

The Socialist Worker article argues that these perspectives indicate Occupy Seattle is trying to exert “greater authority than the ILWU to determine how the Longview struggle should be conducted.”  However, we are a new workers’ movement precisely because we believe as an Occupy movement that the ILWU rank and file, not its International, should decide democratically how their struggle is conducted. It is up to them whether they want to work within the ILWU structure, transform it, or join with other proletarians in Occupy to build a larger movement or organizational framework to wage the class struggle. It is not up to their leaders and it is not up to us.

We recognize that their battle requires direct action on the job, something that only the union members themselves can do.  There never would have been a broader Occupy mobilization around this struggle if union members themselves had not taken the lead this fall in going beyond legalistic forms of labor struggle and dumping out that grain.  Like many of us, they are actually fighting the capitalists by any means necessary. This is what inspires us to build solidarity with them.  All we are saying is that for these battles to succeed they also require that other workers and unemployed folks take similar actions, and we are trying to make that happen by organizing and mobilizing the 89%.

V) Workers’ Committees : a stronger fightback under capitalism, pointing toward revolution

The problem that the ISO’s piece glosses over here is that there are few rank and file class struggle committees in the ILWU that are linked up with the unemployed and other sectors of the working class; there are only individual rank and filers who have admirably reached out, often against serious opposition.  If such committees were built, they could take leading roles in the historic struggles of the proletariat as a whole,  laying the groundwork for one-big-union of the proletariat as a whole –  class struggle unionism instead of industrial unionism.  In their absence, the ‘authority’ in the union often falls to small groups of bureaucrats who work to prevent class-wide organizing.

Some of us are members of trade unions who are trying to build these kind of committees in our own workplaces. Doing this will hopefully allow us to link our own rank-and-file struggles to the struggles of farmworkers, unemployed folks, prisoners, and the rest of the proletariat.

This kind of organizing, like the early Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), combines struggles for survival under capitalism with long-term struggles to overthrow capitalism.  Rank and file committees create more effective ways to fight the bosses now. They also lay the groundwork for future workers’ councils and assemblies that could replace the capitalist state [See the Workplace Papers for a longer discussion].  Both the immediate struggle and the long-term revolutionary one require expanding rank and file power.  Numerous historical examples of working class struggle have been sold out by the highest levels of the trade union bureaucracy as they approach revolution. Unless something different is built, history will likely repeat itself. We definitely do not claim that this kind of a class-for-itself organization already exists, or that we are the embodiment of it. Rather, our organizing is aimed towards fostering its development.

Likewise, committees need to built among the non-unionized proletariat.   The ISO article states that “The Occupy movement is far from an organization of unrepresented workers at this point.”  We agree that it hasn’t gone far enough, but the Nov 2nd strike in Oakland and the Dec. 12th blockade up an down the coast showed Occupy starting to function like a union for the unorganized.  We are trying to build off of this energy by organizing in our own workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.  We do think that those of us in Seattle need to do more of the kind of organizing that our comrade Ryan W. from Seattle Solidarity Network (Seasol) calls for in this piece. Seasol, East Baysol and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) offer workplace and community organizing models we can learn from and expand upon. Comrades in Advance the Struggle have been actively building East Baysol and connecting it with Occupy Oakland. Seasol comrades here in Seattle are also working to make these connections.

For those of us without unions, Occupy is all we’ve got and it’s a good start.  We are not trying to replace the unions with ourselves. As discussed above,  we simply assert that  we are every bit as much a part of the proletariat as union members are, and we aim to unite with them.  We  welcome individual rank and file members of the ILWU to continue to join the Occupy movement where we can bring rank and file workers and the 89% together to wage larger battles that affect all of us. This includes struggles against austerity measures, police repression, racism and sexism, and the overall battle against the dictatorship of the capitalist economy over our lives. Our frequent outreach outside the union hall was aimed toward this. The McCarthyist resolution by Local 19 that prevents our Longshore friends from building with us damages these potentials.

Of course, the goal of coming together as a fighting class is much larger than Occupy and its current limitations. We see Occupy as the beginning, not the end, of broader efforts to build new forms of class struggle that can fight back against the economic massacres the proletariat is facing.  This is a global struggle, with the proletariat inventing new forms of struggle – and reinventing old ones – from Tahrir Square to Longview.


Photo: Rick Barry (demotix.com)

VI) Solidarity is a Two Way Street

In the US today, the percentage of workers who are non-unionized has steadily increased. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership among the employed proletariat stands at 11.9% in 2010, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier. This means a total of 12.2 million workers. Among these members, 36.2% belong in the public sector, while only a mere 6.9% belong in private sector.With increasing attacks on public sector unions, this number is likely to decrease, or be rendered meaningless as healthcare benefits are cut and collective bargaining eroded, as in Wisconsin.

The US unemployment rate has been fluctuating, from 10% to a current 8.5%.  While official unemployment has gone down, deeper analysis shows that we are still reeling from the recession.  When people who have stopped looking for work are included, the rate is 11%.  If underemployment is added then the rate is 20%.  Youth unemployment is above 19% — 31% for Black youth and 20% for Latinos.

Recognizing that ongoing attacks on unions are steadily eroding the livelihoods of many union workers, the conditions that workers face are a steady race to the bottom — toward that of the least organized, most oppressed layers of the proletariat. Union members should see that the conditions of these most oppressed layers represent the future that capitalists have in store for them.

It is this race to the bottom that is the current reality of the ruling class’s attack. This is the reality that unions in this country, with few exceptions, have been unable to respond to. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)-recognized unions cannot be the only measure of mass class struggle organizations.  They have insufficiently addressed these realities because none of them has been able to initiate mass, anti-capitalist, from-below campaigns to organize the unorganized, precarious working poor, that is also independent from the Democratic Party. We are open to critiques of our term “the 89%”. But it arises as an attempt to address this absence, at a time when it is sorely needed in moments of upsurge like Occupy. If comrades don’t like how we are addressing it, they should do it better – but it needs to be done.

In the deepening of the economic crisis, it is hard to tell poor, unemployed, undocumented, immigrants, people of color, that we too, have a stake in the struggles of union workers, especially relatively privileged workers.  This is an unpopular reality that many revolutionaries and leftists do not want to confront. But really, what materially is in the struggle to defend union workers in Madison and Longview? What’s in it for the unemployed? What is the connection between Madison and the streets of Milwaukee? What is the connection between Longview and the fields of Eastern Washington?  Those of us from the 89% might be impressed with how militantly union workers are fighting back, and we cheer them on when they confront the cops who we hate, but where is our entry point to participate?

When revolutionaries act as if legitimate class struggle only happens through NLRB-recognized unions, they ignore the very real and material divisions between union and non-union workers, many of whom see unionized workers as remote and unrelated to their lives at best and as privileged workers who do not understand the realities of the proletariat at worst.  If we do not understand this sentiment by the majority of the proletariat, then we cede this ground to the right wing, who will gladly use it to mobilize anti-union attacks on a populist basis. It’s ironic that the ISO accuses us of supporting right wing anti-union politics when that is precisely what our 89% rhetoric and organizing aim to challenge.

This is in no way meant to question the solidarity we need to have with ILWU workers and other union members. As the Longview struggle shows, ILWU members risk losing their privilege. As they lose it, they’re fighting like the rest of us do, or like we want to.  We are asking: what way forward for the proletariat as a whole?

The disenchantment of many proletarians toward unions are also addressed in the fact that unions have not been present in the struggles that proletarians, including their members, have faced outside the workplace.  With few a exceptions, unions stayed quiet during hurricane Katrina, Black America’s 9/11. Notably, one of those exceptions was the efforts of rank and file local 19 activists with the Million Worker March, who have also tried to build an ILWU-Occupy alliance today.  Where were unions during the prison strikes in Georgia and California, some of the largest, most courageous, and most militant mass strikes in recent US history? Where have unions been during the colonization of Iraq and Afghanistan?  The ILWU is one of the few to act to stop it, and their 2008 anti-war work stoppage was initiated by the rank and file.   There is a social crisis facing the global proletariat and most of the unions do not have a plan or strategy to deal with it.

If non-union workers are going to support union struggles, the unions need to respond to these crises, which face all of us. At the very least, non-union workers should not be told to leave our own “agenda” or “issues” at home when we come out to support union struggles, especially when this agenda is simply the survival of our communities, something that the unions should be fighting for anyway if they claim to represent the proletariat.

The non-union proletariat, including the unemployed, are not simply warm bodies to be called out to protest at the beck and call of unions.  Nor are we shock troops who will do the illegal actions that unions want to take but can’t without risking fines. We will face arrest shoulder to shoulder with rank and file workers but we will also shout about our own struggles as we do so.   It is important for union workers to support non-union workers in our struggles, as we too, form unions and engage in workplace struggles, under the banner of “solidarity is a two way street.”

By not confining investment in class struggle to the realm of those in formal unions, we make openings for a conception of “Occupy class struggle” to exist within the movement. We are able to affirm, support, and encourage the self-activity of everyday workers in the various aspects of our lives, from workplace to community and schools.  As anti-capitalist revolutionaries, we can offer an understanding of how the looting of the surplus value we provide to the capitalists through our labor  goes hand in hand with the looting that takes place in the rest of our lives as we struggle to reproduce ourselves and the next generation of the proletariat as future workers.

VII) Critiques of existing union structures

As we try to build this proletarian movement, we need to develop a critical analysis of the existing union structures.  Our goal is not to take sides in inner-union debates or to attack individual union leaders, it is to understand how aspects of the structures of existing unions have limited rank-and-file power and proletarian unity so that all of us – especially those of us in unions- can figure out how to overcome this.

a) Question of Bureaucracy

When fighting for liberation, oppressed people have and will utilize varying forms of organization to succeed. Unions have been and continue to be one of those forms. NLRB-unions have a dual nature under capitalism. They at once ensure that union workers have the ability to negotiate with bosses about wages and benefits by way of collective might. However, they also adhere to laws which hinder the potential of this collective might and it’s ability to end a situation in which a majority has to negotiate for its survival. Our critique of the bureaucracy lies in the fact that regardless of how progressive individual labor leaders may be, their positions rests in some manner on their ability to adhere to the contract which they have negotiated with the capitalists.  They end up helping management and the courts enforce this contract even when it goes against the interests of the workers.  In other words, they play a role in maintaining labor power as a commodity and in ensuring some level of discipline at the workplace .

At times rank and file workers use the union structure to fight back against the bosses and secure gains; at times they go beyond this structure and create new forms of struggle.  In either case, our solidarity should be with the workers themselves, not the union structure.

Some have suggested that our critique of the union bureaucracy does not take into account the specific features of the ILWU as a union, such as the fact that many elected leaders stay on the job, and many decisions are made by democratically  stop-work meetings of union members.  They have pointed out that the ILWU is not a top-down dictatorship like the SEIU under Andy Stern.  They say we should be more cautious of demonizing elected local leaders who participated in the disruption of the Jan 6th event as “bureaucrats.”  They think we are using the term “bureaucrat” as a personal insult against ILWU leaders we happen to dislike.

Our problem is not with individual “bureaucrats”, it is with bureaucracy as such.  For example, we have no ability or desire to psychoanalyze the leadership of Local 19 to figure out what their personal motivations were for organizing a group of people to act like thugs shutting down fellow union members and fellow proletarians from the Occupy movement.  Our criticism is simply of their actions.

Our criticisms of union bureaucracies in general are not a criticism of specific leaders.  They are a criticism of the structure of the unions which are shaped by and bound by anti-labor laws in this country.  Of course, we recognize some leaders are better than others, and that structures differ from union to union.  In particular we recognize that the ILWU has its own particular structure due to its specific history of communist leadership.  It has also broken labor laws repeatedly which is a major reason why it’s strong. But this militancy alone does not mean that the ILWU has no bureaucracy. It is still an AFL-CIO, state-sanctioned, NLRB-recognized union in the US, which means its bound by all the same constraints as other unions of this type.

The ISO are part of the Trotskyist tradition, and they claim to adhere to Leon Trotsky’s transitional program, a strategy for building socialism.  In that program, Trotsky argued that the crisis of the working class is a crisis of leadership. In their interpretation of this program, the ISO sees the main problem to be that the union leaders have sold out. Their goal is to replace the leaders they think have sold out with new leaders who they think will lead the union to struggle more effectively. Many other Trotskyists would argue that the ISO betrays their tradition when it fails to challenge current union leaders concretely, directly, in practice.  It appears there is also debate about this within the ISO; Dana Blanchard wrote a reply to the Socialist Worker piece, arguing that “The article is not critical enough of what the ILWU International is doing right now with regards to the struggle in Longview.”

We agree with this critique of the Seattle ISO piece and are happy to see that its authors do not represent the entire organization. However, both the original Seattle ISO piece and Blanchard’s response focus too much on the individual bureaucrats and their politics.  The problem is not just with the current  leaders. Replacing them with new leaders through organizing inner-union reform caucuses will  not solve the problem. At best, it will help prevent an even worse outcome or could create temporary openings for the rank and file to organize which will soon close.  At worst it will be a waste of time or will suck the best rank and file organizers into the constant work that goes into maintaining the union structure instead of advancing the class struggle beyond the limitations of the union structure.

These structrues are limited by labor law, divided up by industry, and confined to the national borders of the U.S. Today, automation, deindustrialization, unemployment and prisons are competing with industrial workplaces as the reality and experiences of proletarian life. The need for global solidarity to win against global corporations is even more apparent. Limitations on union structures prevent adaptations to these current conditions for enhancing class struggle.

Pointing this out does not make us anti-union.  We recognize that rank and file workers in the current unions have the power to transform these union structures.   This can only be resolved through massive rank and file organizing and self-mobilization, not from better leaders.  It also cannot come from Occupy or anyone else helping from the outside. We think that rank and file workers also have the power to team up with the 89% of workers who are not yet in unions to  build larger, new types of class struggle organizations across industrial and national borderlines.    We are trying to build solidarity with the ILWU because we recognize that many ILWU workers are trying to work through these kinds of transformations, and as workers who are at a key point in the international economy they have the power to help the entire working class make these transformations.

b) Partial Workers’ Self Management under Capitalism, or Territorialism?

Some have argued that Occupy is violating the democratic processes of the union by taking actions at the port without the rank and file voting on them through the official union structures.  The idea is that, since the docks are longshore workers’  workplace, they have final say over any action that happens there. Besides the obvious fact that predominantly immigrant port truckers also share the same workplace and have asked for Occupy’s solidarity, this territorialism limits longshore workers’ own power to win the struggles they are facing.

There are positive dimensions to this territorialism, but it is a double-edged sword. It seems to have come from the ILWU’s  history of partial self-management that was won through the militant strikes in the 30s. Back then, the union took control over the process of who would be hired. They prevented the notorious corruption, racism, and divide-and-conquer favoritism that occurred when the maritime companies had control of hiring through the “shape up” system.  Any attempt workers take to gain more control of the work process is positive because it helps build up our confidence as a class to eventually occupy our workplaces and run them without bosses.

The downside of this, however, is that we can end up self-managing our own exploitation by capital and we self-manage the divisions among the working class that make it possible.  This is a problem for many of us who work. We cling to the job category that capitalism assigns us until it becomes our identity.  When we get a tiny little bit of control of our job we end up treating it like our property. We end up  embracing our own exploitation with pride, saying “I’m a longshoreman, get off my waterfront,” or “I’m a teacher, I’m a professional, listen to me,” or “At least I have a job, what are you unemployed bums doing with your lives?”  All of this creates divisions within the working class that allow the bosses to play us against each other. It also limits the horizons of what we can become as human beings.  When revolutionaries fall into this it is particularly tragic – they forget Marx’s point that the the proletariat must abolish itself as a class through revolution, so that all of us can become humans instead of alienated workers. In the new society we will have no jobs or  job titles; our “work” will be collective creativity, done out of care for each other.

In the case of the ILWU, winning partial union control of the hiring process put the union in the role of partially determining who stays out of the industry as well,  which has the danger of creating a sense of hostility toward the rest of the working class.   Demands for the hiring of more women, more people of color, etc. have at times challenged current workers’ efforts to make sure their own family members make it onto the job. Some members from the Black community in Seattle have questioned such practices.

We’re not saying every Local 19 member is a white male chauvinist who only cares about his own family; many workers support fair hiring practices even when it challenges their personal interests because they know it strengthens solidarity, or just because it’s the right thing to do.  However, there is a real contradiction between the union and more oppressed layers of the working class, especially during this economic crisis where jobs are increasingly scarce. In many cases, when we’ve tried to build solidarity with Longview we’ve faced skepticism from some folks who feel the union’s hiring discriminates against folks in our communities.  We need to encourage our communities to mobilize in solidarity with the ILWU in Longview, but to do this effectively we need to be able to show them that solidarity is a two way street and that ILWU members will also get our backs when we struggle.   That’s why we appealed to the ILWU to respect our picket line on the 12th as we mentioned above.

Finally, this sense of ILWU controlling its turf is positive if it means that they refuse to be told what to do by middle class activists who try to come in as condescending saviors claiming to know how to run their struggle better than the workers themselves.  We can understand that sentiment; we are also proletarians and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do either.   We can also understand if some union members or leaders thought at first that Occupy was a bunch of liberal middle class kids coming in from the outside trying to coopt them, especially since some of the liberals in Occupy often do come off as patronizing to working class people.

But these liberals in Occupy Seattle do not speak for all of us just like the conservatives or sexists  in the ILWU do not speak for every member of the union.   In fact, over the past 3 months, working class people in the Occupy movement have shaken up the liberal, middle class politics that are prevalent in many Occupies and made the movement locally much more proletarian.  Specifically, those of us who organized the action on the 12th are clearly a proletarian wing of the movement.

This sense of  the ILWU controlling its turf becomes problematic when it involves Local 19 telling Occupy activists that we cannot mobilize at the port for our own interest, in solidarity with truckers who also work there, or in solidarity with Local 21’s, Occupy Longview’s, and the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Counties Labor Council’s call for support.  None of these mobilizations involved us telling Local 19 or anyone else what to do; we have simply been trying to organize our own community in solidarity with ILWU members and port truckers who have explicitly called for our support.  The Local 19 leadership was breaking this solidarity with immigrant port truckers when they opposed the Dec 12th port shutdown. They also broke the solidarity with their own members in Longview when they shut down the Jan 6th Solidarity meeting.

The struggle in Longview is against a vast multi-national corporation. As such, it requires a vast multi-national working class response.  Bunge, which owns EGT, controls a quarter of the world’s grain.  Local 21 is essentially fighting Wall St. on the waterfront, not just a local company.   The ILWU’s attempt to control their own turf does not account for the fact that globalization began on the waterfront with the rise of the containerized cargo system, whose greater efficiency allowed factory production to be moved around the world, creating a global assembly line that could produce parts in one place, ship them elsewhere for finishing, and sell them in a third place.  What that means is that the ILWU’s “turf” is now interwoven economically with everyone else’s workplace, farm, city, and country all over the world.  Their enemy is everywhere, and all of our enemies congregate on their turf. Given that,  it is in their interests make friends and comrades everywhere.  To do this they should definitely maintain their sense of “don’t mess with us and don’t tell us what to do on our job”.  But we hope they can untie that sense of autonomy from the sense that they own the docks.

As we argue below, some ports have pushed toward full automation, where computerized cranes replace longshore workers.  If this were to be adopted on the West Coast, it would of course be a major threat to the ILWU.  It would also be a victory for corporate globalization and a major obstacle to international proletarian solidarity.  Goods could be shipped from one highly exploited segment of the working class to be consumed by another, with less of a threat of dockworkers shutting down the port in solidarity with, say, the farmers who produce the food under toxic, near-slavery conditions, or the unemployed rebels who will be exterminated by the military hardware that ships through the ports.  (And now some of that military hardware is being used against the ILWU itself in Longview as the Coast Guard turns the Columbia river into a military zone.) We all have a vested interest in building solidarity with Longshore workers to make sure they gain control of these new technologies instead of getting displaced by them.

An article by Oakland’s Bay of Rage about the port shutdown suggested that because of deindustrialization, the proletariat is no longer concentrated in industries that can be shut down through strikes; so to fight global capital, all we can do is blockade its flow from the outside like we did on the 12th.  Automation of the ports would be one more phase of deindustrialization and would deepen this shift.  However, we don’t think the situation is quite that extreme yet; even automated industries still have some workers, and the ports here are not yet fully automated.   There are still port workers with a pulse, backbone, and guts who stand between us and Bay of Rage’s scenario.  The ILWU rank and file is still in a unique position to rise up on behalf of all of us- and themselves- and put an end to this nightmare before it’s too late.  But Bay of Rage is right that the rest of us shouldn’t wait around for them to save us, and we didn’t on Dec 12th.  From that day onward we’ve been recognizing  that our own power as dispossessed, precarious proletarians is also valid even if we’re not working in key strategic industries like the longshore workers are.  Dec 12th is not the last time we will meet each other on the barricades.  How can we expand this militant energy, while welcoming more rank and file workers to join us, so that eventually barricades and strikes can reinforce each other like they do in other parts of the world, like Cairo, Greece, and Chile?

Some of us are the product of the massacres union workers have faced in the class war- there are numerous unemployed teachers, auto-workers, and longshoremen among us on that barricade.  We are those who serve the longshore workers coffee, clean the buildings they utilize, and take care of their elderly grandparents in nursing homes. We want to work with them, side by side as equals, to help connect their struggles with the struggles of those of us who produce, transport, and sell the goods they unload from those ships.

We hope for a future where the proletariat as a whole, including longshore workers, can control the docks so we can occupy everything and redistribute everything for everyone.  This is why we chanted on D12, “Whose ports? Everyone’s” and “Everything for everyone, the revolution has begun”.

c) Labor law as a broken truce

These slogans are echoes of great union struggles like the IWW during which immediate struggles for survival opened the way for revolutionary class warfare.   However, today in the United States, as in many other states, we find ourselves in a historical moment where the state has used a legalistic judo (using your opponents’ momentum against them) to turn the official structure of the trade unions into structures that stifle and negate the revolutionary process, rather than facilitating it.

When the IWW made demands for the 8 hour day, better working conditions, etc. these were tied to an explicitly revolutionary program of trying to unify the proletariat to gain increasing control over production, taking this control away from the capitalist class through strikes and upheavals.  Some of these traditions were carried over into the early Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) movement in the 1930s which gave birth to most of today’s unions including the ILWU.  The Toledo auto-lite strike united employed and unemployed workers. It was a strike in one industry that became a city-wide insurrection when the unemployed councils reinforced the picket lines. We wonder if Occupy is a possible reincarnation of these unemployed councils?  The Flint sit-down strike was a factory occupation which temporarily took the plant away from the capitalist owners.

The state responded by driving a wedge between the CIO’s immediate reform demands and the revolutionary goals of many of the CIO workers. This is how they coopted the unions.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Democratic Party passed the National Labor Relations Act, legalizing unions and setting up the process of collective bargaining which would encourage unions to settle grievances through contract negotiations backed up by the courts and the new National Labor Relations Board. Unions would become legal, and the state would try to mediate between unions and the corporations so that epic battles would be settled in the boardroom instead of in the streets or the shop floor.  This allowed the CIO unions to make immediate reform gains for some sectors of the working class – higher wages, pensions, benefits, and new legislation around health and safety.  However, in return they were required to give up their attempts to gain more control over their workplaces and over the production process.  Most of the contracts negotiated under the new NLRA processes involved no-strike clauses which took away the workers’ most powerful weapon.

The Taft Hartley act deepened this co-optation.  Passed just after a strike wave of 8 million US workers shut down the whole coal, railroad, maritime, and communications industries, Taft Hartley made it illegal for unions to engage in hot cargo agreements, solidarity strikes, and secondary boycotts. It forced union officials to take anti-communist loyalty oaths among many other things. While hundreds of thousands of workers immediately defied Taft Hartley in the shipyards and coal fields, over the decades the law’s provisions were more stringently enforced.

The National Labor Relations Act and Taft Hartley were essentially a truce between workers and the capitalists where each side got a little bit of what they wanted in order to establish labor peace. These labor laws became so complex that they require that unions develop bureaucracies and hire lawyers to navigate this whole system. Union leaders are forced to submit to rules that set them up to lose in order to ensure legal protection of the gains that were won before those rules were created. It also made labor law increasingly, and deliberately inaccessible for the regular rank and filer.

Notably, this truce specifically left out domestic workers and farmworkers, majority Latino and Black folks, solidifying and deepening white supremacist divisions within the proletariat.  Millions of European immigrants who used to face racial discrimination now became white and upwardly mobile as they built unions like the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the ILWU.  Meanwhile, Black and Brown workers continued to face the most extreme forms of exploitation.  Some of them made it into the unions, but most did not, and those who made it in were constrained by the labor truce which prioritized collective bargaining around wages and benefits instead of direct action on the job against racist and sexist treatment.

Through all of this, the divisions between the whitest, most privileged layers of the 11% and the most oppressed layers of the 89% are solidified, weakening both.  We would love to say “We are the 99%” or “We are the proletariat,” as if it were a current reality. Unfortunately in America, with its legacy of colonial settler brutality and slavery, it is not that simple.  Unity is a goal, not a reality, and it needs to be forged through militant struggles and transformations.

This unequal truce is the why the farmworkers at Ruby Ridge Dairy in Pasco, WA today are threatened with guns when they try to organize on the job.  The same laws that fail to protect the farmworkers also prevent longshoremen from legally striking in solidarity with them or, in many cases, with fellow longshoremen in other cities facing local struggles.

Those of us who are union members need to remember that people in the early 1900s fought under even more repressive conditions to build the unions.  If they faced open warfare, the least we can do is face fines or possible jailtime.  While breaking these laws involve real consequences that should not be taken lightly, the alternative is even worse: the bosses have made it clear they are willing to destroy the living conditions of the global working class and unionized U.S. workers will not be spared forever.   The question is: are  the current U.S. unions going to fight or not?  If not, the proletariat may end up voting with its feet and building new types of (probably illegal) international class struggle organizations, reviving the class struggle unionism traditions of the IWW and the early CIO.

While we are not anti-union, we do not see the current U.S. unions as a path to the emancipation of the oppressed from wage slavery. But someone might still ask: if these unions stopped being ways to advance  revolutionary struggles, aren’t they still effective ways of securing immediate reform demands?   In the short term this may be true, but these reforms will likely be selective concessions aiming to divide the class by buying off one group of workers at the expense of others.  And that weakens the class’s ability to fight for collective short term survival, let alone revolution.  When the unions laid down their strike, sit-down, sabotage, and occupation weapons in order to pursue collective bargaining, they gained higher wages but they lost their ability to stop the bosses from speeding up the work process.  They also lost their ability to stop the bosses from closing the workplace and moving it somewhere else in pursuit of cheaper labor, or replacing workers with machines.  So in the end, even those higher wages and benefits are disappearing.

In his piece, “The Remaking of the American Working Class”, Loren Goldner suggests that this will continue to happen because capitalism is in crisis. In order to keep up their profits the capitalist class needs to drive down the American working class’s standard of living to the point  where the working class cannot even reproduce itself.

It is clear that bosses are boldly breaking their end of the truce by attacking union workers.  Yet they expect us to hold to our end of the truce by following labor laws and our contracts with them.

The ability of capitalism to co-opt proletarian struggles and to continue to exploit our labor requires that we too, dynamically respond for our own liberation. Unions like the IWW and the early CIO could play a militant anti-capitalist role in the past because they found themselves faced with an expanding capitalist system hell bent on bringing more and more labor into its satanic mills.  As Marx put it, the capitalists were focused on extracting absolute surplus value by the lengthening of the working day across the board.  Workers worked 12 hour days or more.  Insurgent unions fought this with great heroism, but this ended up pushing the capitalists to change up their strategies and adapt.  The capitalists made their truce, and granted the 8 hour work day to some layers of the proletariat (not farmworkers and not most proletarians in colonized countries).  But this did not mean that things were all good for the unionized workers in core U.S. industries.  Capitalism figured out other ways to extract profit from them, by speeding up the work process and introducing new technologies that would make their labor more efficient, even if this meant pushing many of them out of the workforce into unemployment.  Marx called it a  phase of accumulation centered on relative surplus value.  The unions facilitated this shift by enforcing the truce and suppressing  the agency of workers.

Today, the capitalists are trying to generate more relative surplus value through automation. The EGT Grain Terminal in Longview is an example of this. What used to take human labor to transport, is now achieved for through machinery for much less. The ports in Hamburg and Rotterdam suggest a possible future for West Coast ports:

“there are docks that operate with no visible human presence. Once a container is moved off a ship, it is picked up by an automated crane, which puts it on an automated guided vehicle, which transfers it to the yard, where two automatic rail-mounted gantry cranes, or ARMGs, stack and retrieve containers.”

Edna Bonacich “Pulling the Plug: Labor and the Global Supply Chain,” New Labor Forum (2007)

The drive toward automation exposes the contradictions of capital. Capital measures the value of a commodity based on the amount of average labor time that goes into producing it. At the same time, capitalism drives technological change that constantly lowers the amount of labor time needed to produce and reproduce all the commodities necessary to reproduce capitalist society each generation.

Automation also exposes the contradictions within trade unions. Under capitalist society, existing unions are trapped in the framework of having to defend the sale of labor power. Certain conditions of technological change force them into situations where they choose to defend the sale of labor power on favorable conditions for only a few, at the expense of many. Often, this selection is racialized and gendered.

This is exactly why the proletariat may need to look beyond trade unionism toward a vision of one big union for the whole class, with no one left behind. Such organizations could fight to gain control of these technologies to reduce toil and drudgery for everyone. Some of this technology would need to be destroyed to re-establish ecological health and human freedom, but some of it can be rearranged and transformed to build an ecologically-based society without drudgery . Technologies could be used to reduce the amount of time necessary to reproduce society, so we could spend our time caring for each other, creating art, and organizing our communities without a state dictating our affairs.

VIII) The Solidarity We Actually Need

New forms of workers organization could emerge to confront the phase of capitalism we now face.  Struggles like the ILWU fight in Longview, the farm worker struggles in Eastern Washington, and the Occupy movement all contain seeds of potential proletarian organizations of the 89%, the unemployed, and the union rank and file united.

One of the greatest challenges that faces new forms of workers organization is how workers often entrust the ability to wage their struggle to some other entity besides ourselves. We need to challenge the belief that the union leadership, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the NLRB, or a group of labor lawyers has the ability to win lasting victories. Each of these entities operates in a terrain where the proletariat has very little power, as opposed to the globalized workplace where the proletariat can shut down or blockade industry and the flow of international capital. Everyday workers recognizing our own responsibility to strategize, theorize, and actualize winning struggles squarely on our own shoulders is a challenge.

Pointing to examples where workers have done this successfully helps show that it is more realistic than depending on the NLRB. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, subway workers were able to win a 40% increase in payroll after they led a militant strike wave. They organized the strike without the help of the official union leadership, directly electing their own delegates and holding mass assemblies at the different train barns to decide how to proceed. In the final week, services were interrupted three hours per day, then four, five, and finally twenty-four hours. After negotiations broke down, and a 48 hour shutdown was announced, the company and the government signed a backroom deal with the official union leadership. Although the deal outlined a 44% increase in payroll, the delegates and assemblies went ahead with the 48 hour shutdown until each local had voted on the agreement.

This is one successful model of struggle that depends on the militancy of the rank and file, instead of institutions like state labor boards or union officials that don’t have the power to shut down the means of production. Inspired by such victories, we see class struggle workers’ committees that do clandestine agitation, produce literature, and study revoluionary  texts, in combination with mass assemblies directing the goals and tactics of struggle, as one viable path forward amidst the contradictions of contemporary US trade unions.

Members of the IWW have also been developing new ways to think about workplace organizing that focus on direct action on the job as a way to develop the confidence, leadership and experiences of the proletariat as a whole. The goal of direct unionism “will not be union recognition from a single boss. Instead, the goal of the actions is to build up leadership and consciousness amongst other workers.” The piece lays out strategies and suggestions for workplace organizing that avoid the pitfalls of contractualism and bureaucracies.

These kinds of methods could be what build new insurgent, class struggle unions among the 89%.  In the upcoming months we hope to generalize them among participants in the Occupy movement who are interested in organizing on the job.

Occupy has been a powerful force for the partially-employed, unemployed, and students who are in school racking up debt with no future employment in sight.  Those of us in these situations have had the time and sense of urgency necessary to advance the struggle.  We should not have to wait for the majority of wage workers to rise up in order to take action.  We hope Occupy continues to function like an unemployed council or commune, occupying and redistributing resources that we need to survive.  However, we also want to expand this activity into more of the employed workforce, unionized and non-unionized, who still make up the majority of the U.S proletariat.   It has been hard for those of us who work long hours to participate in the majority of GAs or street demonstration.  But what if we built Occupy committees in our workplaces and neighborhoods, committees that functioned like direct unions or solidarity networks, connecting with the IWW and Seasol who are already doing this work?  In this way we can participate and can reach more employed wage workers to expand the struggle.  All of this could continue laying the groundwork for new types of class struggle, proletarian, direct unionism that unites the employed and unemployed of the 89%.

These types of struggle are also options for the rank and file of current unions, especially if these unions continue to loose legal protections.   Unions in Wisconsin have likely lost collective bargaining rights – it was important and inspiring that folks fought to protect these rights, but it appears that that fight was unsuccessful and now new forms of struggle  become necessary.  What if union members relied on forms of struggle that don’t rely on collective bargaining?  What if they took up direct action strategies such as work slowdown and strikes to directly resolve grievances around the job, the community, and politics?  These types of actions could build real confidence among the proletariat and develop authentic solidarity across borders and industries.  That is the kind of solidarity we need to win immediate fights and to ultimately bring down capitalism.

We need to learn how to work with one another to make this happen-  employed and unemployed,  unionized and non-unionized.  This is what we’ve been trying to do the past few months.  We hope these reflections offer a small grain of sand that could contribute to the broader strategizing going on throughout the proletariat from Longview to Oakland, from Madison to Milwuakee, from Seattle to Cairo and Buenos Aires.   We eagerly welcome criticism, feedback, and suggestions as we grow and move forward together.

[1] We recognize that there are limitations with the concept of “the 89%”, most notably in its implicit populism.  The number reflects the percentage of employed people in the US who are not in unions.  This means it includes people ranging from CEOs to Harvard professors to the majority of food service workers.  When we talk about the 89%, we are referring to the percentage of the proletariat that is not unionized — including unemployed people and prisoners.  We use the term “89%” throughout this piece because it has resonated with many militant proletarians around us for the reasons we discuss, but we are open to changing our language in the future. 
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50 Responses to Longview, Occupy, and Beyond: Rank and File and the 89% Unite!

  1. Alex Schmaus says:

    My name is Alex Schmaus.

    I am a member of the ISO in the Bay Area and I appreciated reading this article; this debate is normal and healthy.

    I agree with Dana B’s response to the first Socialist Worker article, “ILWU officials shouldn’t get a pass.”

    But I am also critical of the “we are the 89%” formulation, not because of its implicit populism, but because it seems to draw too sharp of a dividing line between the organized and unorganized proletariat. The struggle of better paid sections of the proletariat, like the ILWU, tend to provide strength to the entire class. We need to develop more of a knee-jerk solidarity to all labor struggles, not give ground to the forces of the right which seek to divide us. That means, when necessary and possible, making temporary, partial compromises with conservative Union leaders.

    And I think it is important to note that Black workers are actually over-represented in the ranks of organized labor. Defending unions is anti-racist action.

    Also I think it is important for people to know that the ISO is not an ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist organization. The International Socialist tradition was established in the aftermath of World War II as a split from many of Trotsky’s incorrect proscriptions and the sectarian groups that turned his writings into a dogma.

    In particular, the International Socialist tradition broke with the Transitional Program and the notion that the “crisis of the working class is a crisis of leadership.” We have very different perspectives on the questions of leadership and union bureaucracy than the ones you describe.

    We also broke with ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist’s ambiguous or soft support of Stalinist Russia and its satellites as “degenerated or deformed worker’s states.” During the Cold War, our slogan was “neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Socialism.” Anyway, that’s besides the point.

    It would be best if folks take the time to read what the ISO has to say about unions. The link below is to a recent article by Sharon Smith: “The Future in the Present: Marxism, Unions and the Class Struggle. http://www.isreview.org/issues/78/feat-marxism&unions.shtml

  2. Matt E says:

    The people who call themselves revolutionary but are not

    I find it humorous that the ISO (ignorant sell outs) had the nerve to attack BOC as some1 Who has worked closely with BOC and also seeing the color blindness of the ISO (meaning all they see is white, unless they get called on it then they point to the two colored people in the organization to say look we are not racist), One example of the color blindness is showed in there piece, they make a statement about BOC using the word goon and how that showed the relation to the right, however the truth about it is far different BOC is a very multi racial and multi cultural organization. Which keeps multi cultural company, and is heavily influenced by that. ISO on the other hand is not. That’s why they over looked the fact that the black proletariat and lumpen proletariat have used the term goon to describe any one that uses violence or intimidation to accomplish there end goal. And as a hood black man it really pisses me off when the ISO gives dictate over a word so commonly used by me, and my community to the right.
    Another example of this in that piece is the attack on the idea of the 89% which most people of color fall under. It shows that the ISO is inherently threatened by the more impoverished class trying to unify along side the class that are some of the most like to become impoverished. So that we could then all become unionized as one whole mass of equal people that could truly start to become the 99% that we are trying to create. Which would then bring us one more step towards revolution. Alongside with the fact that in general they didn’t acknowledge the many people of color around or in BOC. Again we as people of color are invisible to white so-called socialists.
    Another funny thing about this whole thing is that the BOC was pushing for other radicals such as myself to be willing to work with the ISO in a kind of united front. I was firmly against this from the start because I could see the white supremacy. Not to mention that I could tell from the beginning that this is not a revolutionary organization, no it is an attempt to become a new factor in the National Democratic Party. But BOC pushed that we give ISO a chance to work together respectfully they could not achieve that. I could go on and on about the ISO but I think I said all I need to so in short the ISO had a chance to build but destroyed it by burning the only bridge they had. Enjoy the sinking ship.
    ;-)

    matt E

  3. steven colatrella says:

    Dear comrades in Black Orchid,

    This is a reasoned, clear and non-sectarian piece. I don’t know all of the details, not living on the West Coast of the US, but it seems that it is fair to both the positive roles played by organized labor overall and the problem of existing unions that separate workers territorially as you write from the rest of the working class. While 89% is problematic – we certainly shouldn’t fix any distinction between union and non-union, employed and unemployed and thereby add to divisions in our ranks – your overall approach is a class one it seems to me.

    It is nice to see that there are groups that are developing in the struggle and movements today that are well informed about working conditions, at least trying to bridge the gap between workplace and larger class community, and using theory in a creative and useful way, and not as a form of identity politics. Like the comrades at Advance the Struggle state on their website, many groups, including those I, you or we may disagree with on any number of things, or whose practice we may not like at times, also add useful aspects to a class struggle that grows from its own internal contradictions. It was good to see the response from the ISO activist here that was respectful, made some useful points and advanced the discussion. Hopefully we can avoid any full scale splits between anarchists and marxists, between specific tendencies of one or the other, while everyone can find ways to participate that best fits their experiences, views, temperaments, and not least of all, class compositions.

    Steven

  4. Blarg says:

    Hey, thanks for an all-around great article. I agree with almost all of this, and can only wonder how you all can possibly find time to do any organizing while writing so much…

    Now, on to my four specific criticisms. Please believe that my motive in pointing these things out is simply to try to make our analyses fit the actual facts as closely as possible,

    First, here:
    “We recognize that there are many people of color and women in unions, but these particular unions have been less able to maintain higher wages and benefits than the ILWU. The labor movement as a whole has failed to overcome these divides.”

    Ok, this is a minor point, but here you seem to be implying that the ILWU is overwhelmingly white, which is true in the Northwest but isn’t true in California, which is where most of the ILWU is based.

    Second, the “bureaucracy” thing. Ok, as one of the people who has made the criticism to which you’re responding, I’d like to point out that you haven’t really answered it in this piece. To put it as simply as possible: within the labor movement, the term “bureaucrat” is generally understood as referring to salaried union officials. It doesn’t just refer to anyone who plays a conservative role within a union, or even to anyone who holds an elected position but remains on the job. The ILWU does contain some bureaucrats, but most of the ILWU people whom you’ve recently called bureaucrats, are actually not. You can redefine the term if you want, but I’d rather you didn’t, since the distinction between on-the-job union leaders and salaried officials is a useful concept.

    Third:
    “Finally, this sense of ILWU controlling its turf is positive if it means that they refuse to be told what to do by middle class activists who try to come in as condescending saviors claiming to know how to run their struggle better than the workers themselves. We can understand that sentiment; we are also proletarians and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do either. We can also understand if some union members or leaders thought at first that Occupy was a bunch of liberal middle class kids coming in from the outside trying to coopt them, especially since some of the liberals in Occupy often do come off as patronizing to working class people.”

    Unfortunately, I think most ILWU members (not counting casuals) are more likely to see themselves as “middle class” than as “proletarians”.

    Last but not least:

    “…they were pointing out that the D12 port shutdown was not just about solidarity with the ILWU so it was not up to them to decide whether or not it should happen. In Seattle, it was about the proletariat showing our collective power by breaking the norms of capitalist legitimacy and legality. For one day, we were able to exhibit our power to blockade the flow of capital with a barricade at the port, cutting capitalist profits at the point of distribution. It wasn’t an attempt to co-opt the ILWU; it was an action done autonomously from the ILWU as well as in solidarity with port workers’ struggles.”

    Ok, but in any discussion of the West Coast port shutdown actions, it’s important to acknowledge that these actions would not have been possible without the ILWU being there. Getting an arbitrator to rule that the picket is a legitimate safety hazard, and then having union leaders tell workers not to try to cross (which from what I’ve heard, is what ended up happening in Seattle), is a LOT easier than it would have been to forcibly shut down a non-union facility. I think this acknowledgment is crucial both in terms of understanding reactions within the ILWU, and more importantly, in being able to accurately assess what’s tactically feasible for the Occupy movement given its current strength. If people get the idea that Occupy accomplished Dec 12th through the sheer force of its blockade, rather than through a combination of factors which crucially included the presence of the ILWU and its contractual setup, then they might walk away with a tragically (i.e. tragic next time they try it) inflated estimate of what a few hundred unarmed people can successfully blockade by force in a major city.

  5. Sean says:

    i’m an anarchist high school student and i’m pleasantly surprised that you linked to the video of our high school walkout. i definitely think the port shutdown had a radicalizing effect on the students who came out- that is, it shattered illusions about pacifism, the police, etc. i actually missed much of the major action at terminal 18 but it was inspiring to see some of my fellow students who i viewed as fairly pacified and liberal building the barricades and defiantly facing off with police lines.

    we made no concessions to the logic of power; even though “only” twenty-five or so walked out of school that day, we reveled in this rupture of routine in capitalism society, where one is used to the disempowerment of everyday life- if survival could even be called truly living. i feel like i have no control over my lives and have no faith that political institutions, organizations or reforms would truly alter “the poverty of student life.” i can’t speak for others, and i’m acutely aware that i associate with many that hold middle-class aspirations, and am quite detached from those who might be termed the “proletariat” among youth, including dropouts. however, while flyering the response was receptive from those unfamiliar to me; it is my hope that through these informal connections the fires of rebellion spring up at every juncture.

    though i originally made the call out for the action at my school, i am intensely averse to somehow becoming a leader or activist, whose role is to manage the anger of those to whom i am preaching. there is always the implicit contradiction in anti-austerity and student struggles between petitioning the state for increased education funding and the latent desire to destroy all that is alienating in modern capitalism, including work, school, and the state. while flyering, one skeptical student asked why we were skipping class to “support” school. while simple-minded, it had a certain logic, since it was framed as an anti-cuts struggle. this, i feel, is a limitation, for while most people don’t seriously dream of liberation from work, this has far more potential through the struggle of everyday life, an anti-political one.

    and this is where i personally feel that it is problematic to consider groups like the ISO as “allies.” i had the naivete to accept an offer from a member of socialist alternative to offer a teach-in during study hall. this was probably the only chance to actually discuss strategy and outreach before the walkout; to my surprise, the room was packed, even though i had barely publicized the event. while i introduced the speaker by establishing an anti-authoritarian ethos to the discussion, urging against deference to the speaker. to my shock, she effectively monopolized the conversation to extol her tired, liberal values of “education and jobs”- essentially a restoration of upward mobility in capitalism dressed in anti-capitalist language (in seeming self-parody, she said that “Democracy Now” is the only worthwhile news source). she left no time for student-led organizing, and had the arrogance to send around a sign-up sheet, which she claimed upon questioning was intended for future “student struggles” but was quite transparently recruiting for their group. i had to send around my own contact list to compete with this one. this means that the best opportunity for outreach was squandered through her rather boring, incoherent speech which hardly mentioned the port shutdown.

    btw, if this request isn’t too trivial, could someone revise the link to the “high school youth” port shutdown video to go to the original upload by the BedFreed channel, posted below. you actually linked to my brother’s reupload and i think the filmmaker deserves the proper credit (not to mention the likes:dislikes on the original video are 67:1 and the reupload 5:7 haha).

    http://tinyurl.com/6w5q6dk

  6. Ben Seattle says:

    Hi there Black Orchid comrades,

    I have only read this article the first time. I have yet to study it.

    The article has strong points and weak points.

    I will come right to the point.

    The article has a weak point that I wish to bring up now.

    I hope to have more later.

    I believe this article is _far too lenient_ on the ISO.

    There is a sentence (or more than one sentence) where the article appears
    to imply that the ISO is a group led by revolutionaries who are somehow
    mistaken.

    If this is an correct interpretation (I could be making a false assumption
    concerning what I read) then either:

    … (1) You are betraying the working class and oppressed by
    … … concealing your real opinion of the ISO, or

    … (2) You are naive concerning the nature of the ISO.

    I do not know which of the above is true.

    My hope is that both are untrue. My hope is that I simply misread or
    misunderstood your article.

    My opinion is that the nature of the ISO is akin to the deathstalker scorpion
    I wrote about in this letter to comrade X:

    … The Nature of Our Coming Victory
    … (Letter to comrade X)
    http://www.revleft.com/vb/blog.php?b=6722

    The ISO may be in a position (ie: because of their connections and “clean bill
    of health” from the labor traitors) to mobilize bodies for the Longview action
    (ie: with help from an array of social-democratic institutions and organizations).
    And that would certainly be a good thing.

    But activists still need to know their real nature.

    My hope is that, after their most recent betrayal, it becomes _impossible_
    for the best activists in this region to even _think_ about the ISO
    _without_ the image of the deathstalker scorpian automatically and
    _inevitably_ coming to mind. Even amongst the ISO supporters at the bottom
    or the organization (ie: the naive activists who do not yet feel ashamed
    to be associated with the ISO) it should be _impossible_ to think about
    the reputation of their group without a vivid image in their mind of a
    deathstalker scorpion.

    All the best,
    Ben Seattle

  7. Fray says:

    Hi everyone,

    I’m going to respond to some (but not all) of the above in one comment. To be clear, I am a member of Black Orchid Collective. I’m going to try to focus my response to the larger questions and less on the ISO specifically, though I will address ISO-BOC stuff a little.

    @Alex: thank you for your response. I agree that it’s best to debate these things openly. While I found the piece written by Seattle ISO members to be unnecessarily sectarian, it did do us the favor of forcing us to write out exactly where we are on some really important questions! We’d been planning to write many of these things for a long time, but were too busy organizing. The necessity of responding to the ISO brought these questions to the forefront.

    I confess I’m not very familiar with ISO’s theoretical works on labor unions’ role in class struggle, so my response will be based on the practice I have seen. What I have seen is that both BOC and the ISO have engaged in activities that one might call “temporary, partial compromises with conservative Union leaders.” When BOC and others who often organize with us do this, what it looks like is things like this: setting up initial meetings with conservative union leaders in order to figure out how we can organize together, supporting and attending rallies organized by said leaders, organizing actions mostly within the confines of labor law, etc. These are all necessary compromises due to the relative weakness of class struggle right now. But when rank and file (as well as some leaders) are willing to push past their conservative leaders and labor law, we should support them. What I see the ISO do in practice is to not support the militant workers but to back the conservative union bureaucracy. This happened in my own union’s struggle a couple of years ago, in which I was one of the militant rank and file that the ISO did not support, and again in the case of the ILWU right now.

    I disagree that the 89% formulation is necessarily divisive. The divisions already exist, particularly in the context of “labor struggles”, which are so often thought of as something that only applies to unionized workers (and often only to union leaders). The 89% formulation asserts that non-unionized workers and unemployed proletarians have a role in class struggle beyond, at best, warm bodies in a rally. If the state of workers’ struggles in the US were more advanced then maybe it wouldn’t be necessary to assert this; it would be obvious. But right now it’s not. To create an authentic unity proletarians who aren’t unionized need to articulate what class struggle looks like for them.

    While black workers are unionized at a higher rate than white workers (15.6% compared to 11% in 2003), this figure is a little misleading. First of all, in that same year, 79.5% of union member were white, which is higher than the percentage of the population that was white at that time. I suspect this is because the number only accounts for workers, and unemployment is much higher for blacks than whites. I would bet money that the percentage of white *proletarians* who are unionized is higher than that of black proletarians. I haven’t worked out these numbers yet though, and I do want to add that it’s very important to not play into the assumption that all union members are white, as this is clearly not the case. (The numbers I quoted above are from http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CD8QFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdigitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu%2Fcgi%2Fviewcontent.cgi%3Farticle%3D1176%26context%3Dkey_workplace&ei=qLQpT82-CPDYiAKJoPHlCg&usg=AFQjCNGtxTxqTrE7T11RY54f6Db_xU4z6g&sig2=zn9IXuSil_dHC5GORKdktA)

    @Blarg: thanks for your comments too. I also like facts. :)

    Regarding your first point: that’s fair. We were thinking of the PNW ILWU (or at least I was) in regard to that part of our piece. With regard to local 19, there is an undeniable racial dynamic in their hostility to our organizing, but it’s not fair to generalize that to ILWU overall.

    Regarding your second point: I was recovering from surgery and wasn’t actually present the day of the Longview event that local 19 disrupted. My understanding was that quite a few members of the local 19 leadership were among the disruptors, which leads me to think that the official bureaucracy, in some capacity, bears responsibility for what happened. At the same time, we should be careful to understand and state what is a dynamic of rank and file vs bureaucracy and what is a dynamic of conservative vs radical. I think of the Longview case as one of radical rank and file and a few radical bureaucrats against conservative rank and file and conservative bureaucrats, but with the bureaucracy overall playing the role of conservative, especially given the position of the international.

    On your third point: while most A-men and B-men may think of themselves as middle class, I am guessing many of them wouldn’t necessarily want their struggle taken over by a bunch of, say, non-profit bureaucratic do-gooders. Some conservatives in the ILWU were baiting us as such and our response is, “yeah, you’d be right to fight that, but that’s not what we are and that’s not how we roll.”

    Your fourth point is important for assessing where we are right now and how we can advance class struggle. I completely agree that D12 would’ve been unlikely and probably impossible without the ILWU. This is one reason why we are for struggles to defend and expand unions. But at the same time, we should be building toward forms of struggle that can overcome the legalistic aspects of D12. We’re not there right now, but that’s where we should aim.

    @Sean: Thanks, that video is great! I agree that there is a real tension between some of the reformist orientations that anti-austerity struggles can take and the revolutionary orientations. One way that we in BOC have talked about this is that, while we might make demands on the system, they should be the type of demand that gets at notions of, e.g., “everything for everyone” rather than channeling energy into bureaucracy. This means, for example, fighting cuts to transit through bus occupations that demand free transit rather than proposing a “tax the rich” initiative. This allows us to at least talk about how our labor creates all the wealth that runs the buses, and so we should be able to access transit — and not just to go to work, but to visit friends, go to parties, etc. With school, maybe having chants and flyers around a school walkout that talk about how alienating that type of education is, and how school should ultimately be abolished/transformed. Ultimately I think the tension you’re getting at can only be resolved through mass revolutionary action.

    @Ben: I always appreciate hearing your advice and opinions. I do think that the ISO’s practice has been more liberal than revolutionary. But we work with liberals too, in united fronts where we refuse to hide our politics and where we also take independent action. We all agreed that devoting a lot of this piece to confronting the ISO would look like an irrelevant sectarian pissing contest to most people. We are much more interested in engaging the questions of strategy that the ISO piece forced us to confront in writing but that are much bigger than the ISO. I don’t see this as a betrayal of the working class and oppressed people.

  8. Frank Arango says:

    I make these comments in the context of liking the overall orientation of your piece. I’ll use “proletariat” and “working class” interchangeably because I think it’s pretty normal to define unemployed people, people in prison, rank-and-file soldiers, etc., as members of the working class. But I suppose what is “normal” differs in various milieus.

    “class struggle unionism instead of industrial unionism?”

    This appears to be mixing two different issues together: 1) class-struggle trade unionism vs class-collaborationist trade unionism; and 2) industrial unionism vs craft unionism. But whether a union follows class-struggle policies or not is not determined by whether it’s organized by craft or by industry.

    At any rate, first developed by the workers themselves, trade unions are a rudimentary form of class organization. And since they focus on wages and conditions in the workplace, craft or industry they’re based in, they have a certain narrowness. Nevertheless, despite this narrowness, the workers must fight the daily guerrilla warfare against capital (the trade union struggle) or disqualify themselves from launching any greater social movement.

    Moreover, unions are inevitably led by political trends or parties. (In fact, political parties first arose only a few decades before the first unions.) And today the U.S. trade union machinery is dominated by the Democratic Party, and bourgeois politics more generally. This is where the theory of common interest between labor and capital, class collaborationism, national-chauvinist screaming that “our” jobs are being “exported overseas” etc., essentially come from.

    So given these two points, what is the attitude of a revolutionary proletarian party or group toward the unions?

    First of all, to be a revolutionary party or group means it must base itself on fighting for the interests of ALL the exploited and oppressed in the course of the struggle for emancipation of the working class. Thus, the trade union struggle (which includes organizing the unorganized into unions) becomes just one of it’s fronts of work—and one that ebbs and flows in importance depending on the current circumstances. Moreover, the aim of the group in the workplaces (whether unionized or not) must be to build its own political trend among the workers there. This involves agitating on all of the issues in society, including with leaflets distributed from the outside when that’s technically possible. It involves mobilizing workers in the place to demonstrations or other actions against racist police brutality, imperialist wars, deportations, environmental ruin, Occupy actions, May Day, etc., and to progressive meetings of all kinds. It involves organizing workers to attend political affairs discussion groups and study groups dealing with Marxist theory that are led by the party or group. It involves involving other workers building secretive distribution networks for party literature inside the workplace. And more.

    But you say that you see building class struggle workers’ committees that do clandestine agitation, produce literature, and study revolutionary texts…while seeming to leave this within the framework of waging the economic (i.e., trade union) struggle, e.g., in Argentina, the ILWU fight in Longview, the farm worker struggles in Eastern Washington, the Occupy movement…or uniting the struggles of the 89%, the unemployed, and the union rank and file into one. I think this is an error.

    What I’m emphasizing is that without the orientation building the revolutionary political trend in the workplace or industry (which I have quite a bit of experience in doing) workplace organizing is inevitably going to be narrow even if some militant actions are organized. Said another way, the aim of revolutionaries must be to build the pro-party trend, or the revolutionary political trend, in the workplaces (as well as everywhere they militate). Work to advance the trade union (or economic) struggle is a subordinate component of this. And workers should (and must) organize independently of the trade union hacks in order to effectively wage the economic struggle, not be legalistic, etc.,—all of which you correctly say. Thus, organizing various kinds of rank and file committees is simply part of the latter, and cannot be seen as anything more.

    As an historical aside, during the ’70s two lines developed among the left trends that came out of the mass struggles of the ’60s and very early ’70s. One side said build the Marxist-Leninist party in the working class, and develop tactics with which to do it. The other side (which really didn’t believe in Marxism and was essentially social-democratic) said “build rank and file committees!” So what happened to the proponents of the latter line? Well, those who pursued it the farthest became trade union reformers who even got their slates elected to the leadership of a couple local unions. At times we could have unspoken united fronts with them during metal trades or Boeing strikes, while at other times we had to fiercely fight them. Moreover, they soon went back to their more comfortable home, the Democratic Party. (And, btw, one of our “favorite” opportunists in the city today—the one who threatens to shut off his speakers when Democrats aren’t allowed to speak—comes from this “rank-n-file” trend of the ’70s.)

    Now I liked it when a BOC comrade called for taking Marxism back from the ISO on Facebook. That’s the spirit we need! Marxism grows strong in battle against revisionism, be it Trotskyism, Stalinism, or other. And to carry this struggle through to the end involves reorganizing the revolutionary political party of the American proletariat. After all, Marx argued that:

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

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

    And I think that history has subsequently confirmed this.

    But your piece, which is written for revolutionary activists, ignores the key question of building the proletarian party. Instead, it confines itself to discussion of rank and file committees, and anything else but party organization—which it only vaguely hints at. And it says things like: “if such committees were built, they could take leading roles in the historic struggles of the proletariat as a whole, laying the groundwork for of the proletariat as a whole – class struggle unionism instead of industrial unionism.” Thus, although I don’t think you mean to do it, boils everything down to trade unionism (the economic struggle), albeit class-struggle trade unionism and one-big-union.

    This raises some issues I would like to point out about the IWW.

    It organized by industry. It organized Black, other national minority, and immigrant workers. And it emphasized direct action. These were historical advances. (Here I’m writing of direct mass actions, not sabotage by small groups or individuals—which I don’t consider advances.) Furthermore, I think that it’s fair to say that the IWW was led by a political trend. For example, “Big Bill” Haywood, who pounded the gavel at its founding congress, was on the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party. The Socialist Party’s Eugene V. Debs was also active in the congress, as was the Socialist Labor Party’s leader, Daniel De Leon. Nevertheless, within a couple years a factional fight developed against the SLPers (who were strong in Chicago, and who split), and the famous IWW preamble was then changed to preclude “affiliation with any political party”—which didn’t mean that many of its active members didn’t remain in the SP.

    So the IWW focused on industrial action coupled with a conception of expanding the One Big Union to such a point that they could organize a general strike that would pretty simply bring down capitalism and replace it with a collective commonwealth built around the ever-expanding OBU. But this schema didn’t deal with the state, the problem of politically isolating it and its parties to the maximum before rising in insurrection to overthrow it, and so on.

    And the IWW in general had a hard time dealing with political questions. Thus, in the build-up to WWI it passed some resolutions filled with good class hatred of workers being driven to slaughter in a war between capitalist masters, and the IWW threatened a general strike if war came. But when the war did come it didn’t organize such a strike, and couldn’t. (Yes, in this state there was the 1917 Wobbly strike in the woods, which the bourgeoisie screamed was treasonous, and the governor sent troops against. But the thrust of this strike was over conditions and wages.) The IWW hadn’t done the political work necessary to organize such a strike (if it were possible), and hadn’t even tried to. Bill Haywood (whom I’ve always greatly admired and loved) and other IWW leaders (they had them) were against doing this political work because they saw it as a diversion from the economic struggle.

    You also talk of the early CIO, while ignoring the political and economic struggles led by the CPUSA that helped prepare conditions for its formation. For all its shortcomings, during the 1920s and early ’30s this became the finest political party that the American proletariat has yet to build. Obviously, we shouldn’t try to copy it, which wouldn’t be possible anyway, but there is much to learn from its experience. And some of the things it did in the late ’20s and early ’30s was to organize mass struggles and direct actions of the unemployed (including in Harlem), organize Black share-croppers in the South, organize workers into new unions that it often led, lead fights in the class-collaborationist unions for class-struggle policies, work to popularize the struggles of the Chinese and other oppressed peoples—and all from the framework of building a party to lead the socialist revolution.

    But the CPUSA abandoned this orientation in the mid-30s. It became a revisionist party that prettified the class enemy, e.g., Roosevelt in the U.S., and Stalin of the state-capitalist USSR. And in the workplaces this turn to revisionism meant that it used the good organizing skeleton it had previously built up to do did leg-work for a new generation of labor bureaucrats, the CIO leaders! This included in the 1937 Flint sit-down strike, a real significant occupation battle of the 1930s.

    This is a link to articles or speeches about the CPUSA that I’ve previously sent to some of you: http://communistvoice.org/00CPUSA.html. They’re written from a critical (Marxist-Leninist) perspective.

    There are other things in your piece that I would like to comment on, but don’t know when. Until then, let us keep up the proletarian struggle on all three of its major fronts: the economic, the political, and the theoretical.

    Comradely,
    Frank

    • Syndicalist says:

      Interesting piece. Bunches of stuff I’d like to come back to. So, I’ll do this incrementally.

      Frank, I am clearly not an ML or marxist for that matter (I describe my views as anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist-communist), but cut my teeth in the struggles of
      the mid-to late 1970s. While I can’t speak to the specifics of 1970s Seattle—and maybe this what you’re reflecting on– I think this piece of history is, well, not accurate in so far a US trends:

      “As an historical aside, during the ’70s two lines developed among the left trends that came out of the mass struggles of the ’60s and very early ’70s. One side said build the Marxist-Leninist party in the working class, and develop tactics with which to do it. The other side (which really didn’t believe in Marxism and was essentially social-democratic) said “build rank and file committees!” So what happened to the proponents of the latter line? Well, those who pursued it the farthest became trade union reformers who even got their slates elected to the leadership of a couple local unions. At times we could have unspoken united fronts with them during metal trades or Boeing strikes, while at other times we had to fiercely fight them. Moreover, they soon went back to their more comfortable home, the Democratic Party. (And, btw, one of our “favorite” opportunists in the city today—the one who threatens to shut off his speakers when Democrats aren’t allowed to speak—comes from this “rank-n-file” trend of the ’70s.)”

      Not knowing which brand or ML party you supported, I thought that the main ML parties and groups had a practice — and final journey — not disimiliar then some in the International Socialists or New American Movement. The ML rethoric was beyong comprehension and dogmatiuc, but the practicce damn near paralell. I mean, look at the road out of Detroit for the League of Revolutionary Black workers and Motor City MLers. Started off real militant and ended down the social democratic path as well.

      I would say that the only real exception to this was, around 1976ish, the formation of the National United Workers Organization by the Revolutionary Union. I recall the RU seeing itself as the party of the masses and the NUWO as their tarde union transmission belt. Or, as they imagined, their Trade Union Educational League leading to the formation of a Trade Union Unity League of red unions.Didn’t happen and the split was sharp. inside the RU over this. The main NUWO forces becoming the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters, who practiced a trade union reformism which you criticize as being solely the purvue of the “social democracts”. The only other example of some real independent workers intiatives by MLs was the, I believe, CWP work inside the Boilermakers Union, where an independent union was formed after much internal organizing within the Boilermakers failed to reap results….ultimaletly this effort was smashed by a combination of factors and forces (including the FBI).

      I would tend to agree with you that a number of folks who called for building “rank and file movements” feel into either forming blocks with some lower levels of the union structures. I suspect a bunch of this came about during the heavy deindustrialization and concessionary period in industry (late 1970s-1990s). But many MLers also engaged in this practice as well.

      In terms of going over to the Democrats, I recall whole sections of the MLMovement warming up to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, thuis shifting towards and ultimately ending up on the left side of the DP.

      before closing, one last thing, during this period there were a number of us who radicalized
      and rejected both the SD and ML concepts, ideas, forms and vsions. We were small in number, mainly kids and very much influenced by the idea of building a workers movement from below. One that maintained self-organization and self-managment of our struggle. Some comrades became outright anarcho-syndicalists, some more libertarian socialist and other strrictly “revolutionary industrial unionists” (wobblies). Often times our paths crossed, many times they were fully interwined. But our visions were mainly parralel, radical and we did the best we could with small numbers, youthful inexperiance but lots of piss and vinegar to promote a workers radicalism and revoutionary workers movement in start contrast to the SD’s, the MLs and the trade union hierarchy.

      Perhaps in my immediate years on the shopfloor we made small gains or simply tried to find practices and approaches which might be usueful to an ever changing workers world. I make no claim that we have won the day or any such egotisitic and self-centered (and erronious) claims. What we were able to do was to start clearing a path through the jungle of distorted ideas and hold the fort (in the area of ideas and smaller activitiees, actions, publications)until the Seattle generation and beyond began to embrace the ideas of (anarcho-syndicalism, libvrtarian socialism, wobblyism) in such numbers as not seen in many a decade.

  9. Nate says:

    hey comrades,
    Thanks for this, great piece. I particularly liked the point about rhetoric — “defend the unions” gets little response but “occupy at the port!” gets a response. This is wonky but I think one of the things that happens over the history of the working class is that at different times the class has invented new vocabularies for itself (and it always starts with a small group then spreads), and this often includes giving itself new names or names for organizational forms. That’s all stuff I’d like to know more about and something probably worth talking more about.
    About this : combing “struggles for survival under capitalism with long-term struggles to overthrow capitalism”, I agree that that’s the aim, but I’m not sure how much we’re succeeding at this. What I mean is, I think more than anything else this our hope and our set of questions. I think that currently Occupy is a mix of militant reformists and radicals, and people move quickly between those political positions, and it’s not clear yet what radical practice is or should be as distinct from militant reformism. That’s not meant to be a dis on anyone, but to indicate what I think are some live questions that we should be engaged (or at least, that I am personally hung up on currently). Right now the other side is not interested in negotiating or conceding. That shapes our tactics and responses. It also means that politics like ours are more likely to be hegemonic, because reformism as a political project is so obviously not going to work right now. But if Occupy gets bigger, the rulers may become more open to reforms and reform may become more realistic – or there could be electoral shake ups. If our hegemony is mostly just de facto based on the fact of the current rulers current disposition, then if the current rulers change, or if they change their minds, then we’ll be more likely to be outflanked. I’m not sure what, if any, practical take away comes of this, it’s just what’s on my mind in general and in response to this article.

    I like the stuff on the union structures. I don’t think that the duality is specific to the NLRB stuff, though. I think all fighting collectivities “at once ensure that [the involved] workers have the ability to negotiate (…) by way of collective might.” Negotiation is a social relationship. The NLRB institutionalizes it in a particular way.

    I think that in the future we’re likely to see more times when people “go beyond this structure and create new forms of struggle” but that doesn’t necessarily mean going beyond negotiation. It’s going to be a process either way and will be muddy, and some of the new forms of struggle will be innovative, militant, exciting ways to renegotiate and maintain the status of labor power as a commodity. It seems to me that we very much need institutional innovations (going beyond NLRB, having leadership from the shopfloor upward instead from the top down etc) and many in the labor movement recognize this and are experimenting with it. As that happens I think we’ll see temporary alliances based on agreement on institutional change (noncontractual unionism, for instance) and those alliances will soon then face internal disagreements on politics and about issues related to negotiation and trying (or not trying) to go beyond negotiation.

    I think territorialism is a good term for some of this. Our movements advance and take territory. The tide turns and we either hold territory or we give it up. Contractualism is an attempt to hold territory and it leads to all kinds of negative dynamics as your piece describes. I wonder though if this might not be part of a deeper problem of trying to hold territory. Holding ground – whether in taking state power or carving out some economic or geographic/community space – means having to govern that ground. When the wave of struggle is advancing, this is one thing. When the wave is receding, it’s a different thing — during the decline of a wave of struggle, governing territory means having to pass on pressures from the surrounding social environment. The socialist state has to discipline the populace as part of being able to trade for goods and avoid invasion. The union officialdom has to discipline the workforce to maintain the labor process and avoid fines and lawsuits. I think it may be that self-management under capitalism mostly can’t avoid collapsing back into territorialism, so we have to decide if we’re more in favor of self-management or in favor of avoiding territorialism. Maybe as we move forward we should think about tactics that don’t try to keep territory. I think the solidarity networks might be one example of this.

    I don’t know if it matters but the piece seems to suggest a greater possibility within the CIO than I think was there. I think the CIO’s vision was of successful negotiation. I don’t think there was a major turning point there in terms of radicalism which declined. There was a change in militancy and tactics, but I think that most of that took place within/between different kinds of reformism. And, the legal stuff was only partly from the top down. The officials involved in the CIO had been practicing forms of contractualism that involved disciplining workers to production for years before the legislative changes that went on. So rather than the laws flat out creating a new truce, I think what the laws did is take local truces and nationalize them, or take local truces and make them into the model for labor truces generally. Part of why that took hold so quickly is that it’s what the labor movement was mostly already practicing or trying to practice anyway.

    Final thought: on the CIO and the IWW and surplus value — I don’t agree that expansion of capital etc meant that those bodies were anticapitalist. I think it meant it helped their radicalism in some ways (terribly brutal capitalism is easier to denounce, but that also set them up to be outflanked by some reforms). It also meant that they could be more successful in their efforts at negotiation, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it advanced their anti-capitalism.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.

    take care,
    Nate

  10. Binh says:

    As a former ISO member I felt embarrassed to discover that the quote in Socialist Worker taken from the BOC literature was manipulated to make it appear that BOC is somehow “anti union.” Such methods impair rather than facilitate political debate, and Socialist Worker should issue a retraction, clarification, or an apology for misrepresenting where BOC stands.

    As for Sharon Smith’s theoretical piece that Alex posted, she poses the question “This begs the question: should socialists run for union office to replace these ‘vacillating leaders?'” but never actually provides a concrete answer. I thought Marxism was supposed to be a guide to action?

  11. Pingback: Longview, Occupy, and Beyond: Rank and File and the 89% Unite! | Advance the Struggle

  12. Ben Seattle says:

    A number of quite intelligent and useful insights have been contributed to
    this thread. Powerful actions, such as the December 12 Port shutdown, lead
    to powerful thinking. We need the powerful thinking just as much as we do
    the actions.

    There was recently a powerful action in Oakland. The police surrounded
    hundreds of mostly peaceful protesters in a “kettle”–and then ordered
    them to disperse. The police, however, gave the trapped activists no way
    to escape, no way to desperse. That way the police could have an excuse to
    arrest hundreds of activists.

    Isn’t that clever? Our class enemy is conscious and intelligent.

    In Oakland the activists escaped the kettle and then occupied (and trashed)
    City Hall (from which the orders to the police originated). In normal
    circumstances, to be frank, I would not think much of the tactic of trashing
    City Hall. But in the specific circumstances in Oakland that day, such
    tactics were completely appropriate.

    Oakland’s mayor Quan responded by saying she would call on the “national
    leadership” of the Occupy movement to denounce the militant activists
    who had just taught her a lesson.

    Quan understands that the Occupy movement has both a liberal and a militant
    pole which are rooted in opposing class interests. As such it is the most
    natural thing in the world for her to attempt to use the liberal pole to
    attack the militant pole.

    The bourgeoisie would like the militant wing of the movement to be “tamed”.
    The bourgeoisie wants us to be terrified of losing the support of the
    liberal wing.

    From our point of view, it was a good thing that Quan acted as she did
    because it helps us understand how the ruling class (ie: the bourgeoisie,
    what is currently called the one percent) sees the liberal wing of our
    movement: as a weapon to use against us.

    It is necessary that we understand why it is that the liberal and militant
    wings of the Occupy movement work together in the first place. Both poles
    are competing, ferociously, against one another for influence in the
    movement. Both poles are, essentially, at war with one another. This is
    not something to cry about. This is _inevitable_ because we live in a class
    divided society. So why are these two poles (ie: which are at war with
    one another) cooperating with one another in the first place?

    Because whichever pole _fails_ to cooperate will _lose_ the war for influence.

    This is why we (ie: the militant section of the movement, or the “ultra-left”
    in the language of the liberal headquarters) work with the liberal pole.
    And this is also why the liberal pole works with us.

    It is a strange sort of war where we must work with our enemy in order to
    defeat him. But, like it or not–that is the kind of war we are in.

    We need to understand this in order to win.

    Activists understand the need to defeat the police. Activists did that
    at Oakland. Activists smashed fences and escaped encirclement.

    We must do the same thing politically. We must smash down the fences
    that the liberals seek to build within our movement and within our
    minds. We must fight to be conscious. We must understand that our
    clas enemy (ie: the bourgeoisie, the one percent) has its _own_
    representatives within _our_ movement–and we must work with these
    people, we must “drink from this cup” because of circumstances we
    are not yet powerful enough to change.

    I saw a filmed interview once with an activist from Nicaragua. The U.S.
    backed dictatorship there had imprisoned him. He was kept several days,
    in the intense heat, chained to a wall and without water. Finally, his
    interrogator handed him a cup of water. But before handing to him the
    cup of water–his interrogator first spat into it.

    Would the activist, in a show of pride, toss out the water?

    No. He drank its contents. In the film, the activist explained: “I had
    no choice, I was very thirsty”.

    That is the position we are in. That is the position of power the
    bourgeoisie is in–and we are in. The bourgeoisie is compelled to
    give us water (ie: to give us a minimal level of support in order
    to nuture and support the liberal wing of the movement that they
    intend to eventually use as a lever to tame, undermine and
    liquidate the movement) and we are compelled to drink it.

    Working with groups like the ISO is like drinking from that cup.
    We have no choice. But are only defeated if we _lose sight_ of
    the fact that the ISO works for the class enemy–or if we _mislead_
    activists about this.

    That is my disagreement with a portion of the BOC’s article, which
    appears to characterise the ISO leadership as revolutionaries who
    are making some kind of tragic mistake.

    Was the guy who spat in the cup making a tragic mistake?

    We could look at it that way, I suppose.

    But I prefer to look at it another way.

    I was glad to see the ISO openly attack the BOC and the entire militant
    wing of our movement. It creates clarity. We fucking NEED clarity.

    The ISO is “helping” our movement for the specific reason of kicking
    our ass. The ISO is a puppet of the trade union bureaucrats and other
    social democratic institutions. The ISO has been hurled into action
    against us because _the bourgeoisie_ is afraid of us. This is not
    actually complicated once we look at this in class terms.

    We are compelled to accept the help of the ISO. But it is _we_ who
    must kick _their_ ass. We do not work for them. We force them to
    work for us.

    As part of preparation for writing, I went and saw “The Girl with
    the Dragon Tattoo”. It is a great movie by the way. There is a
    powerful scene where she tells a sadistic rapist that she will
    tattoo what he is on his forehead if he misbehaves again. He cowers
    in fear because he knows this is not an empty threat (she has already
    tattooed this across his entire chest and stomach).

    I think that should be our attitude toward the ISO.

    The time has come to tattoo what they are right on their foreheads.

    We need to work with them but we do not need to pretend they are
    revolutionaries! We do not need to pretend they are anything other
    than a disgusting, foul substance that has been spat into water from
    which we are compelled to drink.

    Every fucking activist in the movement must know exactly what they are!

    Sean, the student activist who posted here Tuesday, explained that
    he was naive enough to invite the ISO to conduct a teach-in.

    We _owe it_ to activists like Sean to _tell him the truth_ about groups
    like the ISO. Every time the bourgeoisie throws one of its flunky
    careerist or “revolutionary” organizations at us–we should make
    the bourgeoisie pay for this–we should expose the group–so that it
    no longer has a _shred of credibility_–and force the bourgeoisie to
    throw another group or collection of its flunkies at us.

    The harder they come the harder they fall, one and all!

    Fray:

    > I do think that the ISO’s practice has been more liberal
    > than revolutionary. But we work with liberals too, in
    > united fronts where we refuse to hide our politics and
    > where we also take independent action. We all agreed that
    > devoting a lot of this piece to confronting the ISO would
    > look like an irrelevant sectarian pissing contest to most
    > people. We are much more interested in engaging the
    > questions of strategy that the ISO piece forced us to
    > confront in writing but that are much bigger than the ISO.

    It is correct that this article focused on the larger strategic
    questions of the movement rather than the ISO. I am in complete
    agreement with that. Yes, it certainly would look a stupid pissing
    contest if too many words were expended against the ISO. But
    that does not mean that we should fail to tell the truth about
    them. If the ISO is important enough to _mention_ in an article,
    then–then this mention should also include their true nature,
    rather than conceal or prettify what they are.

    It is good that the ISO _forced_ you to confront your own thinking.
    These issues will come up, again and again, in a thousand faces.
    But we can cut through the confusion with a simple and powerful
    principle.

    We do not work for them. We force them to work for us.

    If we assist the flunkies of the bourgeoisie in _concealing_
    their real, disgusting, poisonous and utterly treacherous nature
    –then we are working for them. If we always and consistently
    tell the masses the simple truth about everything we see and know
    –then we are forcing the flunkies of the bourgeoisie to work for us.

  13. Syndicalist says:

    Right quick….. Nate, comrades, I don’t see the CIO as ever being anti-capitalist. def. not in any sense like the IWW.
    The CIO never called for the abolition of capitalism by the working class, as the IWW has from its inception.

    Even one of the more left-wing of the CIO unions, the United Electrical Workers (UE) set forth only the following:

    “PREAMBLE to the UE Constitution

    We, the Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE) realize that the struggle to better our working and living conditions is in vain unless we are united to protect ourselves collectively against the organized forces of the employers.

    Realizing that the old craft form of trade union organization is unable to defend effectively the interests and improve the conditions of the wage earners, WE THE ELECTRICAL, RADIO AND MACHINE WORKERS (UE) form an organization which unites all workers on an industrial basis, and rank-and-file control, regardless of craft, age, sex, nationality, race, creed, or political beliefs, and pursue at all times a policy of aggressive struggle to improve our conditions.

    We pledge ourselves to labor unitedly for the principles herein set forth, to perpetuate our union and work concertedly with other labor organizations to bring about a higher standard of living of
    the workers.”

    That said, there have always been anti-capitalists inside many CIO unions. And there prolly was a number of Local Unions who carried forth policies we would consider favorable to our ideas.

    I do not want to discount the militant and aggressive struggles of the early to midish 1930s, oft times carried out under the CIO banner.

  14. Binh says:

    Correction: Ben, Sean’s experience was with Socialist Alternative, and based on that he questioned the usefulness/wisdom of working with the ISO.

    Here’s the footage of the failed police kettle in Oakland:

    http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=214

  15. Ben Seattle says:

    Hi Binh,

    Thanks for the correction. Yes, Sean described the SA, not the ISO. Here in Seattle the ISO has behaved worse than the SA, although both organizations, in my view, have been “captured” by (ie: become subordinate to) their social democratic allies. It is a complicated situation to be certain, and will certainly become more complicated before it becomes more clear. What is most important for activists to understand, at this time, is that the political attacks against us (and the ISO’s support of the goons sent by the trade union bureaucrats is such an attack) are a result of the needs of the ruling bourgeoisie.

    The SA takes a similar (if more subdued) stand in their leaflet for the December 12 action:

    > Occupy activists should not skip over the necessary
    > step of organizing, communicating, and working through
    > the organizational structures of trade unions and other
    > progressive organizations.

    http://www.socialistalternative.org/news/article12.php?id=1740

    As if the above had not already been tried. As if the “organizational structures” they demand we worship have not been _engineered_ for the specific purpose of taming, controlling and liquidating mass struggle!

    This is the exact same line pushed on us by the Stranger’s Dominic Holden: “meet with the professionals” (ie: the trade union bureaucrats of the King County Labor Council) and agree to take orders from them.

    Activists have a fair amount of righteous anger against the attacks on us by the police. But there is much more confusion concerning the political attacks by forces that many of us expect to be allies. This is where we need clarity. It is actually a _good thing_ that we are being attacked–because the need for us to defend ourselves _forces_ us to develop this clarity–and this clarity will be useful in many encounters as the class struggle develops.

    I am strongly opposed to considering groups such as the ISO to be “revolutionaries” who have somehow made mistakes. Revolutionaries make mistakes, of course, but revolutionaries can be persuaded to recognize and learn from their mistakes.

    The ISO is a different kind of phenomenon. It is “revolutionary” only in its appearance. It has become a vehicle used by _social democracy_ to _attack_ the militant wing of the movement. This was just as much true before their most recent attack as it is now. What has _changed_ is that _now_ they have _exposed_ themselves. So, for us, this becomes the time for action: Now that they have dared to openly attack the entire militant wing of our movement–we should publicly brand them for what they are: a weapon against the movement at the hands of the Democratic Party and its ecosystem of subordinate fiefdoms.

    As the struggle intensifies, the question which is thrown in the air (and to which all individuals and organizations must account) is “which side are you on?” The ISO is on the side of the bourgeoisie. We need to be clear on that. That is not a “mistake” any more than it is a “mistake” when the police attack us. When the police attack us–this is the _inevitable_ result of our living in a class divided society. Ditto for the ISO attacks.

    The ISO is _waging war_ against the “ultra left” on behalf of their social-democratic patrons and sponsors. We degrade ourselves and our reason for existence on this planet; we forfeit our own self-respect, as activists and as revolutionaries–if we allow ourselves to be classified in the same bucket as these slimeballs. The naive activists who distribute these kinds of leaflets for the ISO and the SA must be made to understand that they are being _used against the movement_ by the cynical leaders of their organizations.

    Yes, we need to be in alliances with groups like the ISO and SA. But what are the _terms_ of this alliance? That is the question.

    And the answer is simple:

    They are free to lie about us as much as they want.

    And we are free to tell the truth about them.

    We do not allow our thinking or our statements to be compromised by distorted perceptions of diplomatic necessity. Any diplomacy which acts as a barrier to the truth is not good diplomacy. If we fail to recognize this–we may find ourselves on a slippery slope.

    I have great respect for the Black Orchid comrades (it is not for nothing that the ISO aimed its attack at the BOC). But the BOC is still learning and I owe it to them to criticize their formulations on this topic, while the topic is hot on all of our minds. These same issues will return, again and again and again in the years ahead. So _this is the time_ to develop our necessary skill in dealing with them.

    All the best,
    Ben

  16. Frank Arango says:

    “The question is: are the current U.S. unions going to fight or not?…”

    Well no, they’re not going to fight. The UAW is the best example. After decades of helping the capitalists force concessions contracts onto auto workers in the name of “saving” jobs the UAW’s dues base shrank and shrank anyway. But they still wouldn’t fight. Instead, they turned the UAW into an outright company union that owns shares of company stock and invests in financial markets. And as the current crisis has repeatedly shown, the unions in Europe are generally no better: To pretend they’re doing something they call the workers out for one or two day protests against austerity, and sometimes on weekends, when there’s no work! They do propaganda that cuts do have to be made, but just not as big. And they undermine the struggle with nationalism—just like the UAW weakens the U.S. auto workers’ struggle with nationalism.

    Of course, this does not mean that the bureaucrats will never call a strike or other action, but these are not fights in the sense we mean it.

    For example, before the last major Seattle metal trades strike there was such a tidal wave of worker anger against the contract offer that the bureaucrats recommended a strike. But this was merely a cheap way for them to maintain illusions about themselves among the workers. Thus, after a month or more of striking, i.e., when some workers were getting a little hungry, the bureaucrats came back with essentially the same proposal wrapped differently and railroaded it through the meetings. Another example is the September 2007 “strike” called by the UAW: two days(!) for the sole purpose of cooling off the auto workers.*

    These kinds of treachery are typical of the U.S. labor traitors.

    A more complex example is that the labor officials actually mobilized tens of thousands of workers to the anti-WTO protests. From our standpoint this was good. The workers could gain a sense of their own power by marching together. They could come into contact with political trends other than the Democrats and Republicans…and into contact with people fighting on environmental, indigenous and many other issues besides the economic struggle. And we could distribute communist literature among them. But the labor officials had called this action as part of the intra-Democratic Party squabbling over trade issues. (Clinton was a big free trader, while demagogues like Kucinich were agitating to mix this with a little more protectionism under the slogan “fair trade.”) Hence, at the Seattle Center they moaned about “our” great American jobs going overseas (forget about the Korean and Chinese workers), etc. And their plan for marching downtown was to get into and out of the area as fast as possible. More, in order to prevent “their” workers from mixing with the thousands of workers and other people already there (who included militant anti-imperialists giving speeches with bull horns, communists and other leftists) they used large ropes carried by hundreds of people. (This didn’t altogether work, however. E.g., see http://communistvoice.org/TOC23.html.)

    So even though they did something helpful to the movement despite their efforts not to, here again the labor traitors had no intention of fighting in our sense or the word. They’re never going to take up class struggle politics. And this is not just because they’re thoroughly bourgeois in their ideology and politics. They also have vested financial interests in maintaining the status quo, e.g. many, many of the top officials make between $100,000 and $200,000 yearly, plus perks…and others still more.

    “The question is: are the current U.S. unions going to fight or not? If not, the proletariat may end up voting with its feet and building new types of (probably illegal) international class struggle organizations, reviving the class struggle unionism traditions of the IWW and the early CIO.”

    I would raise a couple of points about this which may or may not be obvious.
    Where the proletariat is already unionized, it may not “vote with its feet” for a very long time, and perhaps not until the eve of the revolution itself. Moreover, the presently organized industries are often important ones. Thus, communists and other revolutionaries must work to win the workers for class-struggle policies within the present reactionary unions…as part of winning the masses of workers to their entire program, which is not merely the economic struggle! This is a complicated struggle that involves the danger of being fired (directly by the employer, or because the union has snitched to the employer), visited by goons, etc. So a group or party has to work out a lot of wily tactics. But as several people reading this can testify, it can obviously be done. (I smile when writing this coz it’s also a lot of fun.)

    When big motion develops among unorganized workers to unionize develops (a real trade union movement) I think it’s going to go in a number of directions: Many will want to join existing unions, particularly those with undeserved militant reputations; while in these conditions the bureaucrats will certainly step up their own organizing drives. Other workers will want to form independent unions that to greater or lesser extents do want to fight; while left social democratic trends will likely get active in organizing such unions to ensure that they don’t go “too far.” Where real communists and revolutionaries are active the workers may organize unions with firm class struggle policies, unite them into their own federation, etc. But none of this is going to come real soon. And even where communists are active in organizing a union it’s not always going to be the case that the majority of workers will want an independent class struggle union. (Years ago, when my trend was active there, the housekeepers and others at Providence Hospital opted for the SEIU.)

    But taking up from my previous comment, trade unions are only a rudimentary (but necessary) form of class organization that combine together all of the workers in a workplace, craft, or industry to deal with economic issues. It’s a mistake, I believe, to see them as more than this, or to think that they’ll transform themselves into something other than this, or to even think that they should. (Even in time of intense revolution there remains need for mass organizations that are focused on the economic struggle. Indeed, sometimes this is key!) We need many other kinds of class organizations that deal with other fronts of the class struggle, as well as our own proletarian party that works to lead the entire revolutionary process.

    * For more on the incredible shrinking UAW see http://communistvoice.org/41cUAW.html.

    Cheers

  17. Frank Arango says:

    Syndicalist, sorry, but I didn’t see your comment until now.

    I’m not attacking the need to build rank and file committees and networks of various kinds that fight on economic issues, discrimination, etc., in the workplaces. But if the aim, or strategy, or line, of communists in the workplaces is merely this then they’re really not communists.

    So the examples I used were the practice of a large social-democratic trend that existed in Seattle and nationally which meekly called itself Marxist (and usually Maoist). If it liked a newspaper this was usually the Guardian (U.S., not British), and the people involved usually admired the earlier Motor City Labor League. But this trend was not all I was referring to. The RU/RCP, October League, and many other groups that called themselves Marxist-Leninist—but weren’t—also pursued the rank and file committee line. And they did this because their leaders didn’t see the working class as the revolutionary class in society. According to them, it was crazy and “ultra-left” to go to the factories with agitation dealing with all of the issues in society from a scientific socialist perspective, crazy to think you could build a pro-communist trend among the workers in a place, etc. Instead you should appeal to the working class with a thin gruel, while restricting “party” building to recruiting from the circles that had previously gravitated toward Marxism during the upsurges of the 60s and early 70s, which were often student circles.

    Now I’m not sure whether you’re using NUWO as a positive or negative example of organizing work in the proletariat, but to me it’s a good negative example, and an interesting and relevant one.

    Initially, the RU went to the working class with grossest economism, e.g., patronizing local newspapers that refused to deal with any of the big national and international issues confronting the working class. (Locally, for example, if you said the paper should have an article denouncing the murder of George Jackson by the California prison authorities you were told that was “ultra-left,” the workers wouldn’t understand it, and the like.) And the work inside the plants followed the same line.

    But by the mid-70s the RU (now the RCP) flipped over to a left economism which was represented by NUWO—which they poured everything into building. And as a large organization they could mobilize hundreds of rank and file workers to mass picket lines supporting strikes, protests against outrages occurring in various workplaces, etc. (Similar to much of Seasol’s work today, but on a larger scale.) They still refused to build revolutionary political organization among the workers, however; they didn’t know how. So this left the labor bureaucrats—with their national chauvinism, racism, sexism, undermining and betrayals of struggles, and tying the workers to the two-party system—“in charge” of politics. And this was the fundamental political stand that results from economism that Lenin pointed out: “let the workers carry on the economic struggle…, and let the Marxist intelligentsia merge with the liberals for the political ‘struggle.'”

    Well, as you correctly point out, this huge effort led the RCP to a crisis and split—the RWH, which wanted to continue the same line. I would add some points/speculations about why this crisis developed.

    When RCP launched the NUWO project workers motion toward doing things independently of the labor bureaucrats was fairly high in the class. But there was no guarantee that this objective motion was going to continue; and it didn’t, it declined. And since the RCP leaders had hyped the NUWO work as being almost the direct path to revolution, this brought tremendous pressure upon the rank and file, e.g., “last year we mobilized 20 workers to an event, and this year two.” Alongside this the RCP did have cadres who wanted to fight on issues in society other than the economic one, and many of these cadres were aware of the work of COUSML (our organization at that time) to organize the workers around those issues. So this put additional pressures on the RCP leader: the possibility of desertions to the left.

    But the RCP leaders didn’t resolve the crisis by concluding the NUWO orientation had been wrong, and that they should honestly look at Marxist-Leninist theory, try to learn from what real communists had done historically and were doing at present. Instead they just abandoned workplace organizing, and justified this with ludicrous distortions of Lenin’s ideas about economism, i.e., their own project hadn’t been economist (oh no), but assisting in advancement of the economic struggle itself was economist! And in doing this they reproduced economism on a higher level: the workers were left on their own to conduct the economic struggle (while being sat on by the labor bureaucrats, and influenced by their bourgeois politics), while the RCP went seeking alliances with the liberals to wage the political struggle. WCW of this century is the latest example of the latter.

    In summing up your own practice you refer to making small gains on the shop floor, finding practices and approaches which might be useful to an ever changing workers world, and promoting workers radicalism. But that is NOT in stark contrast to what genuine (not revisionist) MLs do. (I’ll dispense with trying to list what the COUSML>MLP>CVO trend has done in this regard.) Our real difference (and tell me if I’m wrong) is that I believe that at best this remains only a small part of building a revolutionary workers movement. Our difference (and again tell me if I’m wrong) is that I believe a revolutionary group or organization must learn how to organize the proletariat to fight on all the major struggles rending society. And flowing from this is that over time we should work to turn the factories into fortresses of communism that dispatch conscious troops to take part in struggles against racist police brutality, imperialism and war, women’s struggles, environmental struggles, theoretical debates, and more.

    Lastly, this is not abstract theorizing on my part. No, my trend did these things (exciting things) in the 70s and 80s in fairly small ways, so we know for sure that with a new influx of revolutionaries they can be done in much bigger ways.

    Comradely,
    Frank

    • Frank Arango says:

      BTW, in the 3 comments above, what I’m arguing for is to have an ORIENTATION toward re-founding a M-L party of the U.S. proletariat. Personally, I think this historic step forward is quite a few years away. But since we’re heading into decades of great crises—particularly environmental crises—activists may be swept by the great truth that we need a party sooner than I imagine. And that’s when the movement will really come alive, as it did in the late teens and late 60s of the last century.–Fk.

    • Syndicalist says:

      Frank,

      Thanks for the reply. Not to be personally disrespectful, but politically honest with you. I guess we just don’t share the same vision. I don’t believe in an ML party.. I think the 1970s ML’s spoke a language that was from another planet and sought out Stalinist nightmares for the working class.. A look at the documents on the Marxist Internet archives gives a taste of how the MLs spoke and their visions. The vision of a world dominated by failed statist and authoritarian ideas of most of Marx, nearly all of Engels, and for sure Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Houxa. Where is working class freedom and socialism from below in the scheme of MLism?. It just don’t exists. So there are real and fundamental “foundation” issues that separate revolutionaries and radicals, not just tactical ones.

      As an anarcho-syndicalist, I don’t believe that workers can only attain a “trade union consciousness”. And I don’t believe unions or workers organizations should be transmission belts for the party. But, I would agree, that revolutionary ideas and organization help to tie class struggle strings together.

      I would suggest that the lessons of the 1990s forward are those of building horizontal movements “from below”. That given an understanding that folks got the power in their own hands, and not those in the hands of “condescending saviors”, a whole lot of shaking and moving can be done.

      If lessons can be learned thus far, coming out of this round of struggle (Wisconsin, Occupy) , is that those on the libertarian left still have a ways to go in reaching out to working folks. That there are still many decks to walk up and many obstacles in the way. Sometimes we need to find ways to move obstacles in a manner principled and engaging, sometimes not as engaging but always principled.. But the creation of an ML party — or any Party — will not be the vehicle to engage or of change. The time consuming efforts at building organic links, of education, and of over coming frustration will be the keys, not the refoundation of some ML party. Well, for what it’s worth, not in my opinion at least.

      Anyway, thanks for the walk down 1970s memory lane.

  18. jubayr says:

    good piece, but i agree with what a lot of other people have been saying: you should have come out harder against the ISO. what’s needed is a clear and concise critique of them and their methods spelling out the full implications.

  19. j Koenig says:

    Great piece. I loved this part: “So we changed it up and said, “If the capitalists cut us through budget cuts, we’ll cut their profits. Occupy Wall St. on the waterfront”. At that point, people got very interested.” And I especially liked the last section which related the connection of the docks to the exploitation of labor worldwide and hence the connection of ILWU and non union dock workers and truckers with the workers and 89%ers everywhere: “with the rise of the containerized cargo system, whose greater efficiency allowed factory production to be moved around the world, creating a global assembly line that could produce parts in one place, ship them elsewhere for finishing, and sell them in a third place.”

  20. Pingback: A response to Chris Hedges: « artfrancisco

  21. Ben Seattle says:

    Chris Hedges proves our movement is dead if we do not fight back

    Mayor Quan of Oakland was not bluffing. She said she would call down
    the wrath of the “national leadership” on our heads. Now it has happened.

    I am referring, of course, to Chris Hedges’ article on the “cancer”
    that is us.

    The Occupy movement has had a dual nature from its beginning. Activists
    with a social democratic ideology started it. They opened the door.

    Once the door was open, the class struggle flooded in and gave it power.

    The problem is that Hedges’ arguments appear, on the surface, to be
    quite reasonable. We must recognize this. If I did not know the context
    of his article, what led to it and why he writes it–I would probably
    be foaming at the mouth against the dastardly “black bloc” hooligans who
    throw flowerpots at the cops and upset our chances to win decisive support
    from people with power and influence in the ruling class.

    What is our response to Hedges?

    We do not have a good response. Not yet.

    We need to put our heads together.

    More at: http://www.revleft.com/vb/blog.php?b=6739

  22. Frank Arango says:

    Syndicalist,

    I know you don’t believe in a M-L party. We disagree on your caricaturization of Marx, Engels, and Lenin’s ideas, and their alleged failure. And when you ask: “Where is working class freedom and socialism from below in the scheme of MLism?”… leaving aside the question of MLism being a “scheme,” my reply is that they’re everywhere!

    Other things we disagree on are that:

    I think it’s wrong to lump Stalin, Mao and Hoxha together with Marx, Engels and Lenin. To me the differences between the former three and the latter three are insurmountable, and mean everything to the working class.

    And as much as you infer otherwise, as a Marxist-Leninist, I don’t believe that workers can only attain a “trade union consciousness” either!

    The other side of this picture is that we at least agree that revolutionary ideas and organization help to tie class struggle strings together. We agree “that given an understanding that folks got the power in their own hands, and not those in the hands of ‘condescending saviors,’ a whole lot of shaking and moving can be done.” And except for your opposition to having a party perspective, I agree with everything in your last paragraph.

    • Syndicalist says:

      Frank, I don’t want to derail the topic, but I’m interested in what you mean by:

      “I think it’s wrong to lump Stalin, Mao and Hoxha together with Marx, Engels and Lenin. To me the differences between the former three and the latter three are insurmountable, and mean everything to the working class. ”

      Here’s my email address: syndicalistnyc [AT] gmail.com

  23. Jan Makandal says:

    Although I am engaging in a debate in which no unity exists on classes in the US social formation, more especially on the composition of the working class, I will demarcate myself from the populist notion of the 99% or the concept that the proletariat is composed of mostly of non-unionized people and is inclusive of all working people. Again, I will argue on the need for a class analysis of the popular masses, even in a difficult period characterized by a low level of class struggle, since any class analysis is an analysis of the struggle of these classes.

    Some general points
    The rupture with economism and ultra-leftism.

    Any analysis of the capitalist mode of production addresses the actual conditions of proletarian revolutions and the appropriation of the actual conditions and problems for the construction of socialism in any social formation. Any attempt to reduce the concepts of surplus value and the process of valorization of surplus value simply in terms of profits will lead to opportunism. Schematically and very concisely, the history of capital is determined by the forms and conditions of wage labor and the process of disappearance of wage labor will determine the process of disappearance of capital.

    Again schematically and concisely, all modes of production are characterized fundamentally by the nature of relations of production that they presuppose and reproduce between direct producers and non-producers and the means of material production. Any mode of production that implies, as an organically necessary condition, the presence and the activity of non-producers appropriating privately the means of productions is by this fact a mode of exploitation of social work.

    Beside and aside the modes of production of “primitives societies”, the problematic of all historical modes of production is the problematic of historical forms of exploitation and simultaneously the problematic of all modes of production is the problematic for the abolition of exploitation, especially the problematic that the capitalist mode of production can’t disappear without the abolition of all forms of class division.

    The capitalist mode of production is fundamentally characterized by relations of production that oppose capital to labor in the process of extraction of surplus value. Surplus value is not simply a quantitative surplus added as a new value in social work on the value of consumption necessary for the reproduction of labor power. This is partially true since in all modes of production based on the exploitation of social work generate a surplus/profit, but in the capitalist mode of production this surplus takes the form of capital, fundamentally different from all preceding or existing modes of production and a particular characteristic of capitalism. To really define surplus value is to appropriate the form this surplus is produced and this form is a social process that will give some characteristics to the communist mode of production.

    Surplus value is the organic unity of all forms of exploitation in the same process. It is class struggle in the process of production…

    I will address point 7 first to put in perspective my general comments…

    I think the definition of organized labor as bureaucratic organizations is partially correct and I do agree with it, but it is limited since it fails to show the true class nature of organized labor and that limitation will objectively lead to an erroneous theoretical approach and objectively, to an incorrect political line, since the theory to guide the line is dominantly incorrect. The notion of dominantly is in the application of One is Divided into Two.

    In point seven, the attempts to understand tendencies, external manifestations of US labor organizations are important observations but limited in the understanding of the real nature of US organized labor. From combative, strictly economic organizations (in the understanding of a limited aspect of surplus value) US labor organizations transitioned not only as bureaucratic organizations but into full blown bourgeois organizations. The main problems of US labor Organizations is not that they are bureaucratic, they are indeed, but fundamentally they are structurally bourgeois organizations with complex contradictions. Most of their rank and file are their nemesis, the working class. So the existing organized labor can no longer play a role at their level to engage in a form of organized struggle against capitalism in general or against the bosses in particular. In fact, for the past 60 years or more, the role of organized labor has been to play a pre-emptive repressive role outside the repressive apparatus structure of the State Apparatus to pacify working class struggles while at the same time guaranteeing their main source and form of capital accumulation: unions dues.

    Organized labor has to deal with an internal dual contradiction: reproducing its source of capital accumulation and at the same time pacifying working class struggle trough economism and working class populism for the reproduction of its relations with the rank and file in the interest of the bourgeois class.

    This type of concentration and accumulation of capital by organized labor allowed a very parasitic fraction of the capitalist class to be constituted within the capitalist mode of production. This parasitic fraction (or layer) is quite similar to the form of concentration of capital by the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, which is able to develop itself through the expropriation of capital and through corruption in the State Apparatus, making that bureaucratic bourgeoisie a very parasitic class as well.

    I will, in this sense, because of the similarities, include the union leadership, totally different from the rank and file, in the fraction of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. Since this sector of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie is evolving outside of the State Apparatus and due to its particular parasitic nature, it needs some super structural elements for its reproduction, and, in the case of the US organized labor, that is the Democratic Party.

    Organized labor acts as an extension of the Democratic Party and seems to defend the interests of the Democratic Party inside the rank and file. It is important to point out that this extension is not purely a sign of political unity with the policies of the Democratic Party, that they are trying to influence through bourgeois practices, such as lobbying, but mainly, this extension is determined by their parasitic nature, even when they are constantly being fucked by the Democratic Party and/or by candidates they invested capital to elect.

    This is, now, the general evolution of Organized labor, with some minor tendencies of combativeness defined and determined by contradictions of the rank and file with capitalism, this tendency of combativeness is natural for the rank and file but only conjunctural for the leadership, as long as the membership is protected for the expropriation of union dues. Organized labor is no longer a working class organization, but an additional bourgeois organization inside the working class and working people.
    Posted in Kasama as well.

  24. Ben Seattle says:

    The coming civil war and the open network

    This has been an interesting thread, which has covered a lot of
    territory. I have a lot of thoughts on a number of topics that
    have been raised. Few readers are still looking at this thread,
    but I will list some of my conclusions. Every principle that is
    important will come up again and again, and it is important for
    us to gain experience in hitting key points with precision and
    concision. The more we learn to fight, today, with the weapon
    of criticism, the less need there will be, tomorrow, to fight
    with the criticism of weapons.

    ————————————————————-
    (1) The coming civil war
    ————————————————————-

    Why are all these people crawling out of the woodwork
    to attack us? And what do we do about it?

    The Occupy movement, and the emerging wave of class struggle
    which it has symbolized, is divided. Many or most activists
    are upset by this division. They want to heal this division.
    They want our movement to be united because they know that a
    movement that is united will be stronger.

    I consider such views to be naive.

    Our movement is polarized. This polarization is intensifying.
    The logic of this polarization, and the class struggle which
    is driving it forward, is moving in the direction of a civil war.

    Many want to avoid this civil war. But it can’t be avoided.

    Many or most activists do not understand this. Many or most
    activists see the various attacks on our movement (by the
    “progressive” Stranger, by the Trade Union Bureaucrats, by
    supposedly “revolutionary” or “socialist” groups like the ISO)
    as isolated and unconnected from one another, as if the authors
    of these attacks have made mistakes and need to be reminded of
    which side they are supposed to be on.

    But the real mistake is to think that these attacks are “mistakes”.

    The attacks on our movement by the Stranger’s Dominic Holden,
    the ILWU leadership and the ISO (and a thousand other similar
    attacks by “progressive” opinion leaders) reflect the way our
    society really works.

    If we lift a finger to build a movement that is independent and
    powerful, we will be attacked by a thousand supposedly “progressive”
    individuals and institutions who will work to persuage us to do
    the “smart thing” and attract support from the (supposedly) “good”
    section of the ruling class.

    This tactic was ancient when it was used by the Summarians.

    Nowadays this tactic is called “good cop/ bad cop” (and many
    other names, including “working within the system”, social
    democracy, gradualism, liberalism and “reformism”).

    jubayr:

    > good piece, but i agree with what a lot of other people
    > have been saying: you should have come out harder against
    > the ISO. what’s needed is a clear and concise critique of
    > them and their methods spelling out the full implications.

    First, Jubayr (if you are reading this) thanks for your comments.
    The BOC (in my opinion) does not, at present, have the ability
    to put together such a clear and concise critique. That is my
    conclusion. The comrades around the BOC will gain these abilities
    (it is my firm hope) as they gain experience in struggle.

    The best critique I have seen (so far) was put together by Peter
    Gelderloos, in his reply to Chris Hedges on Counterpunch:

    > It’s election year. Those who still have faith in the system,
    > or those whose paychecks are signed by the major unions, the
    > Democratic Party, progressive NGOs, or the left wing of the
    > corporate media, know it’s their job to forcibly convert any
    > popular movement into a pathetic plea to be made at the ballot
    > box. The unmediated, experimental politics of the Occupy
    > movement must give way to symbolic protest and dialogue with
    > the existing “structures of power” whose members must be
    > brought “to our side”.

    > For the Occupy movement to be sanitized and converted into
    > a recruiting tool for the Democratic Party, it will have to
    > be neutralized as a space for real debate, experimentation,
    > and conflict with authority. Its more revolutionary elements
    > will have to be surgically removed. It is an operation the
    > police, the media, and some careerist progressives have been
    > engaged in for months, and Hedges’ contribution is just the
    > latest drop in the bucket.

    I could express a similar analysis with an analogy:

    There is a certain kind of leech (Placobdelloides jaegerskioeldi)
    that can only live in the anus of a hippopotamus. We can picture
    the trade union bureaucrats (TUB’s) as a hippopotamus. And the
    ISO, in this analogy, is one of these leeches.

    The ISO made a public attack on the “ultra-left” out of strategic
    necessity. They considered this a “crucial” step taken to cement
    their position as a lackey (ie: servant) to the usual assortment
    of trade union bureaucrats, religious misleaders, poverty pimps,
    “progressive” media personalities and professional “opinion
    leaders” who are in orbit around the Democratic Party.

    The ISO did not make a mistake. A civil war is taking shape and
    the ISO is simply announcing to the world which side they are on.

    Many activists do not want to see matters in such stark terms.
    Many activists want to cling to dreams and illusions.

    And that is their right, the right to cling to illusions. In
    the meantime, those of us who understand that these illusions
    stand in our way, will do what we can to toss these illusions
    in the garbage–where they belong.

    I work with a few other activists and we are considering
    whether we have the ability to put together some kind of
    joint statement that might, with precision and concision,
    help activists understand what is going on.

    The phenomenon that we, as a movement, must understand, has
    a name, a phrase which describes it. The name is “social
    democracy”. We are discussing this on our blogs:

    > One place to start may be by seeing if we can put together
    > a list of questions (about social democracy) to which
    > activists would like to see answers. If we can learn to tap
    > into the questions which are in ferment in the minds of
    > activists–then we may be able to put together something
    > that they will read (ie: rather than the usual boring wall
    > of bullshit activists are often faced with).

    http://artfrancisco.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/33/

    > Are social democrats on our side–or the side of
    > the class enemy?
    >
    > If they work for the class enemy–then why would we want
    > to work with them?
    >
    > What is it about the social democratic ideology that leads
    > them to believe they can sit, permanently, between two classes
    > with irreconcilable differences?
    >
    > How do social democrats typically work to “tame” our movement
    > and undermine its independent character?
    >
    > How do we work to keep our movement untamable and defend
    > its independent character?

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/blog.php?b=6741

    We need the help and support (ie: political support, emotional
    support, and ideas for text and graphics) that might help activists
    understand the complex questions involved in working out principles
    that will guide the kind of united front with social democrats that
    we need–a defacto political “alliance” with political trends which
    will do everything they can do to _undermine_ (ie: tear down,
    destroy and liquidate our movement). We need to tell the truth
    (to everyone) about the nature of these trends while we work for a
    resolution in which we do not work for them–but rather force them
    to work for the movement.

    The good news is that these questions were worked out (and solved)
    90, 100 and 110 years ago. The solutions have been forgotten.
    But the solutions are written, large, in history. If we have a
    clear focus, they are easy to find.

    But we need your help. We need the emotional energy and experience
    of those activists who understand that this question is important
    and who also understand that we will never gain the respect of the
    working class and oppressed as long as we “turn the other cheek”
    and allow ourselves to be used as a punching bag.

    ————————————————————-
    (2) Do we need a “Party” or an Open Network?
    ————————————————————-

    > Some of these traditions were carried over into the early
    > Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) movement in the 1930s
    > which gave birth to most of today’s unions including the ILWU.

    The CIO was created by many thousands of militant workers. The
    political force that was at the _core_ of this effort was the
    Communist Party (CPUSA). We should be conscious of our history.

    So then, what happened? How did this all fall apart?

    Frank has argued, on this thread, that the solution is to create
    a “M-L” party (ie: a religious cult based on the sacred principle
    of cemocratic dentralism).

    I think we need a kind of organization which is resistant to
    the pressure that comes up to create a religion.

    We will do this by creating a revolutionary mass organization
    based on an open network and the principle of political
    transparency. Many activists believe that any “party” which
    we create will inevitably betray. But what is a “party”?
    Is it possible to build organization which will not betray?

    I assert that it is possible. If some activists are allergic
    (ie: for historical reasons, because every party that has
    been created eventually betrayed) then we don’t have to call
    it a “party”. We can call it a “machine” (or even a
    “flowerpot”). They decisive question is not what _name_ we
    call this thing we need–but the principles that we will use
    to build it.

    Here is what I wrote earlier:

    > the CPUSA was the best-organized and most revolutionary
    > organization that has ever existed in the United States–
    > at least prior to its degeneration in the 1930’s.

    > The mid-1930’s degeneration (ie: into subservience to the
    > bourgeoisie: becoming the tail end of Roosevelt’s Democratic
    > train) was directed by Stalin. Stalin was alarmed about Hitler’s
    > rise to power and the eventual nazi invasion of Russia, and was
    > desperate to make any concessions he could to the Western
    > imperialists, in the hopes that they might make a deal with him
    > to put a leash on Hitler).

    > What lessons does this offer for the development of the kind
    > of revolutionary mass organization which we need?

    > The primary lesson, in my view, is that we need an organization
    > which is resilient and resistent in the event of disorientation
    > or betrayal by its leadership.

    > The CPUSA lived, so to speak, by imported consciousness. The
    > Soviet revolutionary experience was quite advanced (in the early
    > period around 1920) compared to the experience of the class
    > struggle here in the U.S. So it was natural that the bolsheviks
    > had great influence in the development of the CPUSA.

    > But if you live by imported consciousness, then you may die by
    > imported consciousess. And this is what happened.

    > When the Soviet revolution degenerated, this degeneration was
    > eventually exported worldwide.

    > The masses at the base of the organization must be aware of
    > the struggles within the organization for its direction and
    > destiny.

    > This is the primary lesson.

    > The masses at the base of this organization must participate,
    > and be completely engaged, in these struggles. This is the only
    > way that the disorientation or betrayal by the leadership can
    > be successfully opposed.

    > But doing things in this way requires that the “internal”
    > struggles of a revolutionary mass organization also be public.
    > This is because any mass organization–in which the members
    > and supporters at the base are involved in struggle for the
    > future of the organization–will not be able to keep these
    > struggles secret from friend or foe.

    > We must understand and accept this.

    > I have written about this more elsewhere. My conclusion is
    > that we should think of the primary organizational principle
    > as being “democratic communication” rather than “democratic
    > centralism”. Democratic communication means that all members
    > and supporters of an organization (and all activists,
    > including those outside the organization’s circles of influence)
    > _have a right to know what the fuck is going on_ with the
    > organization–and have a right to make their voice (and the
    > weight of their bitter experience) felt.

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/blog.php?b=3568

    ————————————————————-
    (3) Conclusion
    ————————————————————-

    The polarization which many want to avoid will be an inevitable
    outcome of the development of the class struggle in our
    class-divided society.

    The forces on the healthy side of this civil war (ie: that
    oppose the subordination of the movement to the lackeys of
    the bourgeoisie) will, with time, work out practical methods
    of co-operation and collaboration with one another. These
    practical methods will take the form of an open network,
    based on political transparency and “democratic communication”.

    For our common victory
    against the bourgeoisie

    — Ben Seattle

  25. Frank Arango says:

    Ben says “The CIO was created by many thousands of militant workers. The political force that was at the _core_ of this effort was the Communist Party (CPUSA). We should be conscious of our history.”

    This is true, but it leaves out the key issue that prior to the late-1935 founding of the CIO the CPUSA had already abandoned the struggle for proletarian independence. In 1934 it was already having difficulties in dealing with new trends coming up among the workers, which could have been worked out had it stuck to a revolutionary line. But it didn’t. It increasingly began to flinch in face of AFL pressure, and then capitulated to the pressure of the bourgeoisie as a whole. As our old MLP research showed:

    “Starting perhaps at the end of 1933, but certainly in 1934, [the CPUSA's] work among the auto workers began to degenerate. It liquidated the red union, the Auto Workers Union, and it sought to build up the AFL union. It worked in the AFL not with the perspective of winning the workers over to red unionism, but to build ‘a strong AFL’. It no longer encouraged rank-and-file revolt against the pro-capitalist bureaucrats, but instead subordinated everything to deals with them. By the time of the massive upsurge of sit-down strikes, the CP was restricting its framework to the pro-capitalist trade union structure.”

    Ben goes on to ask, “what happened? How did this all fall apart?”…..but then leaps to say that “Frank has argued, on this thread, that the solution is to create a ‘M-L’ party (ie: a religious cult based on the sacred principle of cemocratic dentralism).”

    Well, I certainly argued for having the perspective of preparing conditions for at some point re founding the M-L party of the American proletariat. And while none of my comments have dealt with democratic centralism, it’s pretty obvious that any revolutionary group of any size is going to have to use this principle. You can’t have unity of action against the class enemy without thorough democratic discussion and decision making. Furthermore, certain bodies must be elected and charged with carrying out specific tasks between meetings, which include leading the fight against the class enemy in circumstances where you can’t say, “time out, let’s have a meeting!” Hence, democracy and centralism.

    Of course, just because the ISO and other revisionists claim to be democratic centralist doesn’t mean that they are. In reality they practice bureaucratic centralism. But even in an organization filled with good revolutionaries it takes time to build up a revolutionary democratic centralism. Devotion to the revolution and correctness of the political line are part of this, but Lenin emphasized that the organization’s “ability to link itself with, to keep in close touch with, and to a certain extent, if you like, to merge with the broadest masses of the toilers–primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian toiling masses” was also needed. And I think it’s notable that when the party Lenin belonged to went over to being bureaucratic centralist this coincided with it’s becoming divorced from the proletariat and non-proletarian toiling masses (partially due to the decline in the mass movements that took place in the 20s) AND it’s abandonment of revolutionary positions on one issue after another.

    Returning to the CPUSA, which Ben says we should be conscious of the history of, it too had problems with democratic centralism. In the 20s there was a factional struggle which undermined militant unity, and which took years to figure out and resolve. (This wasn’t because the various sides didn’t put forward their positions in the party press and journals, but because the factions weren’t always straight-forward in giving their real positions.) O.K., those things happen, and it looked like the CPUSA was summing up this experience pretty well. But then around 1932 the party leadership began putting forward impatient and really unrealistic plans for party growth. This indicated that it wasn’t democratically soliciting what was really going on at the base, and then devising plans that conformed to the realities there. And with the mid-30s departure from a revolutionary line, democratic centralism became total history. (Ex-CPers who lived through this period used to complain to we young revolutionaries that “you didn’t know what the party line was from one day to the next…they kept changing it!” This shows that bureaucracy was then in control.)

    When Ben says we should be conscious of the CPUSA’s history he actually demands that we not think too much about it. According to him, “if you live by imported consciousness [from the Bolshevik revolution], then you may die by imported consciousness. And this is what happened.” So, you see, it’s all simple…and there’s little more to think about.

    It isn’t that simple, however. Of course, the founders of the CPUSA were inspired by the Bolshevik revolution and the writings of Lenin. Who wouldn’t have been? But they also had their own history. From the time of the 1900 defeat of De Leon’s sectarianism large numbers of them were already disseminating and trying to apply Marxism to the problems of the revolution in this country. By 1912 a left wing had developed in the S.P. that for the next few years fought many battles against the betraying right wing. And also in the teens, Foster, Johnstone and others split from the IWW and anarcho-syndicalism, while the African Americans who united around The Crusader newspaper had split from The Messenger over the latter’s support for entry into WW I.

    This history, which many thousands of workers had been involved in, and which had its own leftward motion prior to 1917, is the real basis upon which the party was founded. (If it had been an “imported” party it would have very soon collapsed.) And this history is why during the lull that set in during the 20s that the party could continue to consolidate itself, work out lines on what to do on various fronts of the class struggle, and make progress.

    So this view actually makes it a harder task to explain what happened to the CPUSA in the mid-30s than if we adopted Ben’s simple formula. But if we’re to learn anything, “be conscious of our history,” then we must use this materialist approach.

    “The masses at the base of the organization must be aware of the struggles within the organization for its direction and destiny…..The masses at the base of this organization must participate, and be completely engaged, in these struggles. This is the only way that the disorientation or betrayal by the leadership can be successfully opposed.”

    Ben says “this is the primary lesson” of the rich CPUSA experience, and it’s very easy to agree with that because it leaves out the real primary thing, politics! And, in particular it leaves out the question of what ideological method and theory an organization is following, and whether the cadres at the base of the party are studying and assimilating the classic works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and others.

    For example, all through the 20s the CPUSA made strides toward overcoming the social-democratic tradition of having a party where the mass of the membership was not very theoretical and not required to do much practical organizing. And this was within the context of the long-standing international criticism of the American communist and workers movements for having disdain for seriously studying revolutionary theory. But history shows that this struggle didn’t go far enough. Around 1928 the Communist International started using one-sided/mechanical/rigid/formulaic (subjective idealist) approaches in sorting out what should be done in various of the global movements, yet very few in the U.S. (or elsewhere) caught them on this. This had a corrupting ideological influence, and further disarmed people when faced with dealing with the huge betrayal that was formalized by the 7th C.I. Congress of 1935. However, I would again add that in the mid-30s the question of “imported consciousness” was only one factor. The main thing was capitulation to the pressure of Roosevelt’s shift to the “left,” and his activation of social democracy.

    Since the activists at the base of the party were under the same ideological pressures as the leaders, we can’t say how many would have stood up if they had been better grounded in Marxist-Leninist theory—particularly Lenin’s conception of united front tactics, the role of social democracy and the labor bureaucrats, etc. But without this grounding they had no chance. It was only a decade later that a weak anti-revisionist current briefly flared against the (by then) hardened revisionist bureaucrats.*

    Ben, however, just passes over the question of the entire party being schooled in Marxist-Leninist theory, including its newest members. Yet without this the masses of members have little firm grounds upon which to stand when fighting disorientation or betrayal by the leadership. Moreover, I would submit that Ben “forgets” about the need to study the Marxist classics because he doesn’t agree with them.

    “We need to tell the truth (to everyone) about the nature of these trends [social democratic ones] while we work for a resolution in which we do not work for them–but rather force them to work for the movement.

    “The good news is that these questions were worked out (and solved) 90, 100 and 110 years ago. The solutions have been forgotten.

    “But the solutions are written, large, in history. If we have a clear focus, they are easy to find.”

    Really? Was everything “solved” then? The truth is that the parties of the Second International had no consistent conception of united front tactics (which is what Ben is referring to) in either 1902 or 1912. And as a consequence they had big problems with both “left” sectarianism and right opportunism. Moreover, even though by 1922 the Bolsheviks were beginning to lay out the basic principles of the revolutionary united front tactics they’d used, this elaboration could only be refined with summation of further practical experience in the class struggle, a process which must continue as long as there are classes and struggle between them.

    At any rate, Ben tells us that if we have a clear focus the answers to the questions he raises are easy to find. But he doesn’t tell us anywhere we might look. So I’ll help him by pointing to http://communistvoice.org/WAS8503-7CINotes.html, which he knows all about. These useful articles deal with basic principles, and could be taken farther today…as could Lenin’s book at http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/index.htm.)

    Frank

    *http://communistvoice.org/WAS8803Anti-Revisionists.html.

  26. Frank Arango says:

    “The masses at the base of the organization must be aware of the struggles within the organization for its direction and destiny…..The masses at the base of this organization must participate, and be completely engaged, in these struggles. This is the only way that the disorientation or betrayal by the leadership can be successfully opposed.”

    Taken by itself, there’s little wrong with this. But it’s also superficial, i.e., successfully opposing disorientation or betrayal by leaders (or others) of a revolutionary organization requires that the cadre be well grounded in revolutionary theory because that’s the grounds upon which the fight is going to take place. And, indeed, if it’s truly a revolutionary Marxist organization it strives to raise the theoretical level of all members (as well as of the masses) to the highest level possible.

    While it was still revolutionary, however, the CPUSA had its ups and downs on this question. For example, in some areas it had labor schools where workers from the factories and cadres studied basic Marxist works side by side, in other areas it had party schools, and in other areas it recruited people with little knowledge of Marxist theory and doesn’t seem to have done much at all to raise their level. And, as a whole, I think history shows that it didn’t go far enough on this front.

    Since all that is a little tangential to the main content of the BOC piece, let me tie it back together.

    Although the local Trotskyist groups (ISO, FSP, SA, PSL, WWP and SWP) have their differences, they all rely on making unprincipled alliances with the labor bureacrats at the expense of the proletariat. When they do this they’re in fact following the revisionist united front tactics formalized by the Comintern in 1935, and taken up by the CPUSA when it went bankrupt.

    But since they’re Trotskyists they don’t say this. In fact, they scream against the “popular frontism” of the Seventh CI Congress while relying on Trotsky’s “entryism” “French turn” (join the social democrats) and other theories to justify the same rotten activity. (This is another example of how Stalinism and Trotskyism are often twins, with both being anti-Leninist.)

    I agree with the comrade who said “we gotta take Marxism back from the ISO,” and I’d add: “plus all of them!” And there’s no way to do this outside studying and applying Marxism to the living movements of today.

    Cheers

  27. Ben Seattle says:

    ===================================================
    Our revolutionary mass organization will emerge
    in the form of an open and politically transparent
    network based on a self-organizing community
    ===================================================

    It is a useful that Frank has replied to me. Our movement
    is growing and developing and we are all beginning to learn
    about and know one another. Many of the best activists
    know Frank by now. I think everyone respects him.
    I certainly do.

    Frank has a deep knowledge of radical history. This makes
    his comments useful. Frank also makes a number of errors
    which are common in the movement. These errors also make
    Frank’s comments useful–because so many of us have made
    (or still make) similar errors.

    But my reply to Frank would be a waste of everyone’s time if
    my main focus was on Frank’s errors. Most activists already
    understand that we need something that is both deeper and
    broader than another cult based on a political religion.

    In the recent period a wide range of people and institutions
    that we are used to thinking of as “progressive” have worked
    to subordinate the militant core of the Occupy movement to
    the traditional layer of corrupt trade union bureaucrats
    and non-profits. They have demanded that we give up the
    right of militant self-defence and instead restrict our
    actions to what is acceptable to the so-called “mainstream
    public opinion” that is manufactured by the corporate media.

    We have seen pressure, lies and attempts at blackmail from:

    ** The Stranger (spearheaded by Dominic Holden)
    ** The ISO and SA (voice of the trade union bureaucrats)
    ** National Occupy activists such as Chris Hedges
    ** and many others

    There is a name for the political trends (and ideology)
    which has attempted to tame and liquidate our movement.
    That name is “social democracy”. Remember that name.

    Social democracy is best understood as a trend which
    attempts to appear radical but which is largely controlled
    the bourgeoisie (ie: the social class which corresponds
    to the 1% which controls the corporations, the government,
    the media, etc). Most social democrats, of course, do
    not view themselves as being controlled by the bourgeoisie.
    They view themselves as following their star. It is just
    that their perspective is limited: they do not understand
    that they are in a box, and that their “star” is a pinhole
    at the top, through which the bourgeoisie is shining a
    light.

    The good thing about many of the recent attacks by social
    democracy on the militant core of the Occupy movement is
    that these attacks have helped many activists understand
    that the movement is polarized and that, in spite of the
    many shades of opinion and diverse ideologies, there are
    basically only two sides in the internal struggle within
    the movement.

    Understanding that there are basically only two sides
    is quite helpful. This simple fact helps us understand
    which people we should consider working with.

    It turns out, for example, that whether an activist calls
    himself an anarchist or a marxist is less important than
    whether the activist takes the side of the militant core
    (which works to create an independent and powerful movement)
    or the side of the trade union bureaucrats, poverty pimps
    and similar misleaders (who work to steadily subordinate
    the movement to the system of politics as usual).

    We want our movement to be organized in a way that allows
    us to be more effective. And, once we understand that our
    movement is split into two opposing camps, we can understand
    that we need forms of organization that (1) include the
    largest possible number of activists on “our side” and
    (2) help exclude (or, at the least, greatly reduce the
    influence of) those activists who, so to speak, play for
    the other team.

    It is particularly important that we develop forms of
    organization that are based on mass democracy and are
    resistant to the corrupting pressure which (from the
    perspective of history) has caused nearly all organizations
    of the working class and oppressed to eventually betray.

    I assert that the principles of political transparency and
    mass democracy (in particular as made possible by the
    unfolding revolution in communications) will allow the
    proletariat to create revolutionary mass organization that
    is resistant to the corrupting pressure. The resistance
    will emerge because the activists, and the masses, will
    know what is going on with the organization and have the
    ability to either (1) prevent its degeneration in the first
    place or (2) quickly route people, resources and energy to
    an alternate organization if degeneration takes hold in the
    original organization.

    These principles (ie: political transparency, being open,
    self-organization, etc) are what allowed the Occupy movement
    and its general assemblies to emerge as powerful vehicles
    of mass democracy.

    We need to understand these principles better, not in the
    sense of some kind of silly dictionary definitions, but in
    a deeper, living way.

    That gets into the problem with Frank’s views. Frank’s
    proposed orientation (ie: eventually building a party based
    on _his_ political religion–whatever he chooses to call it
    –or _any_ political religion) fails to help us understand
    the principles of political transparency and mass democracy
    which we need.

    My problem is not with having great respect for the work
    of Marx or Lenin. Rather, the problem is that attempting
    to build a revolutionary mass organization on the basis of
    a pre-defined _ideology_ (ie: something that would
    inevitably be defined by a caste of priests who would tell
    everyone who to clap for and who to boo) goes against what
    we need–which is activists who study life and learn to
    think for themselves.

    I believe that, as the movement develops, the best
    activists, from different schools of thought, will learn
    to work with one another and learn from one another. And
    the political religions (of which there are many) will be
    tossed out, whether quickly or slowly. As this lengthy
    process takes place, political leaders of the past, such
    as Marx and Lenin, will be seen in their rightful place,
    as determined by activists who have learned how to think
    for themselves.

    My personal opinion is that, as this process deepens,
    Marx and Lenin will end up standing pretty much without
    peer. But that is only my view. What will count will
    not be my view, but the views of many tens of thousands
    of activists who will learn, in struggle, what is real
    and what is not.

    And, in the meantime, there are no shortcuts to this
    process. All kinds of idiocy (and all kinds of crimes)
    have been done by people who called themselves Marxists
    and Leninists. So shouting about “Marxist-Leninism”
    (ie: a term _coined_ by Stalin himself in order to justify
    the permanent suppression of the independent political
    voice and independent political life of the proletariat)
    accomplishes very little.

    If we want activists to study life and learn to think for
    themselves–then we can help them–by giving then concrete
    analysis of the class struggle as it is unfolding around
    them.

    That is why I have asked Frank (and others) to help in the
    process of putting together a joint statement that would
    explain, in a clear and concise way, on the basis of class
    politics:

    (1) Why the social democrats (ie: the trade union
    bureaucrats, the Stranger, Chris Hedges,
    the die-hard pacifists and religious misleaders,
    and the phony “socialist” organizations) are
    attacking the militant core of our movement
    and working to tame our movement and channel our
    movement into the Democratic party

    (2) The nature of our tactics toward the social democrats
    and how we can work to defend the independent character
    of our movement and how we, instead of working for
    them, can force them to work for the movement.

    I have no doubt that Frank has the ability to help put
    together a joint statement. Frank closely follows events
    in the life of the movement from the perspective of class
    politics. For example, in November, I discussed Chris
    Hedges with Frank and gave my opinion that it was only
    a matter of time before Hedges would betray. Frank had
    independently reached the same conclusion.

    It is clear that there is great interest (a thirst for
    knowledge) on topics such as this. There is a lot of
    confusion and activists would like clarity. If Frank
    would like to talk about Lenin, I believe it would be
    more helpful to talk of Lenin in the context of the
    development of united front tactics (UTF) since these
    tactics (applied or misapplied in one way or another)
    have been the basis of every great victory (and every
    great betrayal!) in our revolutionary history. So we
    need to understand united front tactics. And the way
    to do so–is with the help of lively and colorful examples
    from our current struggles–now that our movement is
    finally strong enough (and enough of a threat to bourgeois
    class interests) for the bourgeoisie to send their social
    democratic flunkies at us from every direction like an
    army of cockroaches.

    So I would like to encourage Frank to help from this
    direction, as he has already started doing. The two links
    Frank provided, in my view, were both helpful. I would
    encourage activists to take a look at them and see what
    they may (or may not) be able to understand from them–and
    to ask questions or make criticisms

    We can understand the past on the basis of our experience
    today and, of course, we can better understand our struggles
    today on the basis of understanding the past.

    For our common victory
    against the bourgeoisie

    Ben Seattle

  28. Frank Arango says:

    “OUR revolutionary mass organization will emerge in the form of an open and politically transparent network based on a self-organizing community.”

    So what Ben calls an organization is really only a network which will “emerge” based on a “self-organizing community” (whatever that means). But in a time of growing mass political ferment (like now) newly active people invariably network, form new groups, work to forge links between groups (network), and usually go on to try to form some kind of national organization out of a national network that they’ve built up. And neither we nor they confuse a network (or having various small and seperated revolutionary groups) with the kind of political organization it’s going to take to lead a proletarian revolution.

    On the other hand, Ben says that the CPUSA “was the best-organized and most revolutionary organization that has ever existed in the United States–at least prior to its degeneration in the 1930’s.” Fine. The CPUSA certainly was NOT a network in its revolutionary days, however. Instead, it networked with others around itself in the workplaces, African American communities, etc. But a few years after its betrayal it indeed became a network for a period of time (the Communist Political Association), and this century it’s again nothing but a network. I’d add that it seems to be a pretty transparent one too, e.g., criticisms/debates of the line and leadership from the Houston Branch and others have been on the internet for years.

    Nowhere in the history of the last century or this one has a network led a great mass struggle to victory. The victorious national liberation movements were led by parties (or national liberation fronts dominated by parties), as was the October revolution. And I think a weakness of today’s movements is that the revolutionaries militating in them often have little more than networks to depend on.

    For example, in Greece the troika is pushing so hard on the masses of people that it is forcing a decision—starve or rebel. Moreover, while there’s anger against the nationalist and reformist KKE for it’s constant opposition to a real fight against the exploiters, there’s also a lot of illusions about this party, whose mass popularity is growing. So Greek revolutionaries face the task of developing their own program of immediate struggle against the bourgeoisie, their own press, etc. And from the framework of developing the class struggle against the bourgeoisie they must also work to win the masses away from the KKE (which can posture as Marxist-Leninist with the best of them), as well as other parties of the left and right. It will take something much more ideologically and organizationally solid than a network to achieve this.

    Well, Ben goes on to talk of organizations that at first sight appear to be real organizations. And he stresses that they need to be democratic and transparent.

    Fine. I don’t think there’s been any controversy here that if these organizations are revolutionary they’re going to be democratic. But what about transparency? I (for one) believe a revolutionary organization must be transparent about its politics, policies and program, and that it should publish important internal political debates or controversies. On the other hand, I think there are other things it can not be transparent about. An obvious example would be letting the bourgeoisie, cops, Minutemen, etc., know the plans about a militant action against them. But there are others. Are you going to divulge that you have comrades in a government or other institution where their main task is to gather information? Are you going to publish your membership, and who contributes money? And there are other questions of secrecy that the organization has to decide depending on the situation: If it has comrades in the military, where are they located and who are they? What workplaces does it have comrades in, and who are they? If it’s having discussions with another group domestically or internationally, how much about this should initially be public, if anything? Etc. In general, it’s better to be cautious than sorry when dealing with these kind of questions.

    Returning a little more to Earth, I think Womyn, genderqueer, and POC organizers, Hip Hop Occupies to Decolonize, BOC, and others did an admirable job of organizing the December 12 port blockade, which turned out to be a great action. More, it represented a certain centralization in the movement (represented by these groups) that was able to release mass democracy—as was shown prior to and during the event. That’s what organization that is in tune with the masses does. Would have advertised and transparent planning meetings or discussions helped develop an even better plan? Maybe…but also maybe not. Furthermore, some groups or individuals may have decided to stay away in that case.

    A couple of other points:

    During the past few months a lot has already been said about the social democrats in this piece (and comments beneath it) plus numerous other local threads and meetings. But if Ben Seattle or others want to say more then they should do it. The only thing I would presently add is that social democracy is notorious for its flimsy style of organization: active and reformist-conscious cadres at the top, pretty passive and ideologically confused people making up the mass membership—which is more like a network, which rarely meets, and which is for both reasons is easier to control. Where social democracy gains its strength is from the prevalent bourgeios ideas in society, and particularly those of the left wing of the Democratic Party.

    The revolutionary left, the fighting left, must reject social-democratic style organization.

    Other than saying that I believe Ben is appealing to backwardness and distrust, I’m not going to reply to his charges that I want to eventually build a “cult based on a political religion,” etc.

  29. Ben Seattle says:

    Hi folks,

    Both Frank and I believe that, at this time, it is appropriate
    and useful to talk about different ideas concerning the nature
    of the national political organization that will be needed to
    mobilize and lead the proletariat in its struggle to overthrow
    the currently existing system of bourgeois rule.

    My response to Frank’s most recent post has been, so far, to
    jot down a few pages of notes and some ideas for graphics that
    might illustrate a few ideas. It may take me a week or more
    to work this material into a reply which is focused, easy to
    understand and (hopefully) not too boring. Also, of course,
    it would be good if what I write is also correct in terms of
    corresponding to the need of our movement.

    In the meantime, I would like to address those readers who
    may still be following this thread:

    If you have thoughtful questions, comments or criticisms of
    either Frank or me (or both of us) now would be a good time
    to post them. This informal discussion/debate will be richer
    if it can reflect the experience of others.

  30. Ben Seattle says:

    ===============================================
    Proletarian Organization in the Information Age
    ===============================================

    > The revolutionary left, the fighting left,
    > must reject social-democratic style organization.
    — Frank, Feb 25

    Our actions today are part of a worldwide struggle. The Occupy
    movement was inspired by the struggles of the Egyptian people,
    which continue today, as do struggles in Athens, Oakland and
    Homs.

    Our struggle today, here in the U.S., is in conditions where
    we are relatively safe. We are not shot down on the street
    on a daily basis for protesting, as took place in Egypt or is
    taking place today in Syria. Because the conditions of our
    struggle are not as harsh as elsewhere, it is easy to overlook
    something important:

    The streets here in the U.S., at some point tomorrow, may look
    like the streets of Egypt last year or the streets of Syria
    today. What this means is that effective organization may
    eventually become a matter of life and death.

    Some activists understand this. Some do not.

    Frank understands this. That’s one reason I respect him.

    Frank and I have different views concerning the nature of
    revolutionary organization. Frank’s views represent the old
    way of doing things–a way that has failed. My views represent,
    to the best I am able, the emerging new way of doing things.

    It is easy enough to demonstrate that Frank’s views on the
    nature of revolutionary organization are close to useless. But
    that does not help much. What is necessary is to understand
    and explain the _emerging new ways_ in which activists will
    organize themselves, and why these new ways are necessary and
    will be powerful.

    Frank underestimates the power of _networked organization_. The
    examples that he gives reveal he knows little about what networks
    are or can be. Frank assumes that networks cannot give rise to
    anything that is solid.

    Frank underestimates the significance of _self-organization_,
    and even admits he does not know what the phrase
    “self-organization” means.

    And Frank fails to understand that _mass democracy_, in relation
    to a revolutionary mass organization, is something more that
    the application of a sterile formula.

    And yet we live and work in the information age. The internet
    is deeply woven into our economy and our personal lives. And
    the emerging revolution in communications will play a central
    role in the efforts of the proletariat to self-organize,
    overthrow the class rule of the bourgeoisie, attain mastery of
    the economy and culture and create a world of peace, abundance
    and genuine community for all.

    So we need to understand how modern communications will shape
    what we can do. Frank’s rejection of these things is based, in
    my view, at least in part on the fear of the unknown, a fear of
    what he does not understand.

    I understand that readers have limited time and that much of what
    is written about organization is a waste of time. So I will do
    my best to be concise and focus on what is important.

    ———————————————————–
    Clearing up confusion
    ———————————————————–

    Let’s start by clearing up some of Frank’s confusion.

    “Self-organization” means organization which is initiated
    from below (ie: from the “bottom up”) rather than from some
    central authority (ie: from the “top down”).

    For example, Frank discusses the admirable work done by Womyn,
    genderqueer, POC organizers, Hip Hop Occupies to Decolonize
    and the BOC. All of these groups, as I understand it, came
    about as a result of self-organization. Activists saw the
    need for such groups and created them, without a directive
    from some central organization.

    Frank gives examples of networks which (a) are guided by the
    social democratic ideology and (b) have a membership base which
    is deliberately kept passive, so that the membership can be more
    easily controlled. Frank then implies that all networks must be
    like these.

    As conscious activists, we need to be careful about the kinds of
    arguments that Frank uses, which are what I call “argument by
    atypical example”.

    In bourgeois society we are exposed to this kind of argument all
    the time. One view, for example, is that “people are rotten”.
    This view is supported by one example after another of people
    who have done rotten things. But one person is not the same as
    another. And one network is not necessarily the same as another
    either.

    There is also a similar form of argument, which does _not_ make
    use of atypical examples–but instead uses good (ie: more
    representive) examples.

    An example of this is the argument that any proletarian party
    we create will eventually become corrupted and betray. This
    argument is actually supported by every important example
    anyone can think of. The proletarian parties in Russia and
    China (as well as in Western Europe, the U.S., and all the
    parties in Asia, Africa and Latin America) _all_ eventually
    become tools for the oppression of the proletariat.

    This kind of argument is called “induction”. The argument that
    the sun will rise tomorrow because it rose today and yesterday
    (going back more than four billion years) is the classic example
    of induction. Induction is a powerful form of argument and it
    is usually reliable. Our brains are hard-wired for induction
    because if they were not–we would have been out of the gene
    pool.

    But induction often fails to account for new things coming into
    the world. “Man will never fly because all attempts to fly
    have failed” is also an example of induction. And so is the
    argument that there will never be a successful proletarian
    revolution–or a proletarian party that will not betray.

    ———————————————————–
    Proletarian organization in this century
    will take the form of an open network
    ———————————————————–

    What do I mean by the phrase “open network”?

    I mean two things:

    (1) The network will be open in the sense that its communications
    will be _public_. Friend and foe alike will be able to observe
    most of the important communication between people in this network.

    This does not mean, of course, that there will be no private
    communication between members. Nor does this mean that details
    of everyone’s legal name, workplace, residence, bank account,
    citizenship/immigration status, social security number, sexual
    orientation, religious affiliation or disciplinary record from
    the 2nd grade will be public (as Frank appears to imply).

    Political transparency does not mean that we pretend we do not
    need a security culture. Rather, it means that we do not allow
    the need for a security culture to be used as an _excuse_ to
    _conceal_ political dysfunction or opportunism.

    Political transparency will mean that activists and organizations
    that are part of this network will _develop traditions_ that
    recognize the value, to the proletariat, of making important
    political information public so that activists, and the working
    class, will be able to make the weight of their bitter experience
    felt as struggles develop within the movement over the direction
    forward and as contradictions are resolved.

    (2) The network will be open in the sense that revolutionary
    activists will be able to be part of it without the kinds of
    _barriers to entry_ that sectarians usually use to _isolate_
    and/or ex-communicate their critics.

    This means that activists will have the _right_ to be part of
    this network. This means that there will be rights and
    responsibilities associated with being part of this network
    but that these rights and responsibilities will tend toward
    the minimal.

    One of the rights of being part of this network will be the
    right to communicate with other members, and to work with them
    on common projects. (It may appear obvious to many that this
    kind of thing would be necessary for revolutionary activists,
    but my efforts to act in this way within the paternalistic
    Kasama “community” appear to have led to the harassment and
    threats of ex-communication which have kept me, for several
    years now, from participating in the discussion there.)

    The fact that this network will be open to all revolutionary
    activists means that it will not be based on so-called
    “democratic centralism” (ie: generally understood today as a
    narrow and formalistic conception of democracy under which a
    majority of the members has the right make all rules and boss
    around the minority and appropriate the labor of the minority).

    ———————————————————–
    Disciplined work teams will grow
    from the soil of an open network
    ———————————————————–

    Sustained revolutionary work, of course, will require something
    more than an open network in which members have minimal rights
    and responsibilities.

    Most of the real work will be done by disciplined work teams.
    Being part of a disciplined work team means being accepted by
    the other members of the team. It means having a say in the
    activity of the team. It means having more rights and more
    responsibilities.

    It is the increased rights and responsibilities of a disciplined
    work team that correspond (in a very approximate way) to the
    positive side of the so-called “democratic centralism” on which
    Frank is so keen.

    But there is a decisive difference between (a) the disciplined
    work teams that I believe will spring forth in considerable number
    from the open network I describe above and (b) the kind of
    ideologically based and mutually isolated fortresses which Frank
    proposes.

    The kind of organization which Frank proposes typically falls
    victim to the “looking good is more important than being good”
    disease, in which the pressure to _recruit_ and maintain the
    organization results in efforts to _strictly control the flow
    of information_ about the organization and its work in order to
    _maintain confidence_ in the organization and engage in
    _cutthroat competition_ with other similar organizations over
    the _warm, living bodies_ of potential supporters.

    This stands in contrast with the disciplined work teams that
    I believe will self-organize (on the basis of the much larger
    open network) and reflect the developing traditions of political
    transparency of the open network. The disciplined work teams
    will promote a culture of political transparency and
    accountability, they will encourage activists to criticize them
    rather than discouraging criticism. And they will encourage
    their members to view themselves as part of the larger network
    and movement rather than the “us vs. the world” sectarian
    mentality that is inseparable from the “looking good is more
    important than being good” disease.

    (this post can be found at my blog, together with one new
    graphic and six related graphics I have created in the past
    –Ben)

    ———————————————————–
    A message to readers:
    ———————————————————–

    I have worked to keep this short. I have left out a lot of
    arguments and examples to support these arguments. If you
    believe I should explain some things better or reply to various
    questions or apparent contraditions in what I have outlined
    –then meet me halfway: post your thoughtful questions,
    criticisms, comments or suggestions. And if you like some of
    the ideas I present–please consider making a post to this
    effect. Both Frank and I are getting old. We are not going to
    be around forever. If you believe it might be useful to engage
    either Frank or me, don’t wait too long.

    For our common victory in the struggle
    for the overthrow of bourgeois rule

    Ben Seattle

  31. Frank Arango says:

    First on Ben’s ridiculous charges about my views:

    I allegedly “underestimate the significance of self-organization, and even admit I do not know what the phrase ‘self-organization’ means.” Never mind that the political organization I’m associated with (CVO) makes repeated calls to the masses to take political matters into their own hands and get organized. In one way or another we’ve said this in hundreds of leaflets, and also, when possible, made concrete suggestions as to what this meant in various struggles. And Ben knows all that. Thus, when I wrote that “what Ben calls an organization is really only a network which will ‘emerge’ based on a ‘self-organizing community’ (whatever that means),” the “whatever that means” was intended to mock Ben’s non-class, “self-organizing community” approach. In other words, he didn’t approach revolutionary organization from the angle of it being based on the class, or based on a revolutionary political movement representing the class interests, but instead said it would be based on some vague “community.”

    I allegedly “fail to understand that mass democracy, in relation to a revolutionary mass organization, is something more that the application of a sterile formula.” Ben gives no examples coz he can’t. And, as a matter of fact, I’m the only one who’s given an example of mass democracy, i.e., what happened on December 12.

    I allegedly reject how modern communications will shape what we can do. Funny, for years I’ve everyday used the internet for politics. But one thing I strongly believe (and believe from my own experience) is that the internet and electronic gadgetry are no substitute for face to face organizing, meetings, and so on. And while the internet is a convenient tool for discussing the results of theoretical study, or position papers, or draft leaflets, etc., the actual work must obviously be done off line.

    I allegedly assume that “networks cannot give rise to anything that is solid,” whereas I in fact think they can. That’s why I wrote that “newly active people invariably network, form new groups, work to forge links between groups (network), and usually go on to try to form some kind of national organization out of a national network that they’ve built up.” But I obviously do not believe that a network is anything more than a network.

    Secondly, although some individual or grouping may be first to suggest “let’s have a meeting,” or “let’s form a group, etc.,” self-organization simply means that some group of people in some part of society is getting organized to do something. And this is neither from above or from below. If anything it’s sideways (or maybe one could say “from the center out” if a very knowledgeable and strong leader makes the original suggestion). So when Ben writes that “‘self-organization’ means organization which is initiated from below (ie: from the ‘bottom up’) rather than from some central authority (ie: from the ‘top down’),” he’s revealing his own petty-bourgeois/anarchist outlook: top down = bad; bottom up = good, and he’s appealing to these prejudices in others (“central authority,” horrors!). He refuses to deal with the fact that “from below” and “from above” (or from center outward) can go hand in hand in order to strengthen both.

    So, in this regard, what about Ben’s network? If it were really a political center in the movement rather than a debating society composed of anarchists, social democrats, anarcho-syndicalists, pseudo-Marxists, part-way Marxists and others (which not far fetched since all “activists will have the RIGHT to be part of this network,” and the work teams won’t be “ideologically based”) then it’s in fact going to be advocating analyses and courses of action in the mass movements “from above.”

    Ben boldly proclaims that the communications of his network “will be PUBLIC,” and then turns around to say “of course,” there will be private communications, and there’s a need for security, etc. Not much different than what I more briefly said about a proletarian party.

    And who makes the decisions of his network? Ben evades the issue. Instead he talks about democratic centralism being “generally understood today as a narrow and formalistic conception of democracy under which a majority of the members has the right make all rules and boss around the minority and appropriate the labor of the minority.” Well, no doubt there are some people who understand democratic centralism that way, but Ben makes no attempt to clarify that there really is a revolutionary democratic centralism, he only writes of “so called” democratic centralism. Nor does he stand up for the democratic principle of majority rule. All he can see is a majority bossing around a minority and appropriating the labor of a minority. (Again, Ben’s petty-bourgeois/anarchist aversion to organization peeks through.)

    So perhaps the decisions of the network will be made by who can shout the loudest? or by who can wear everyone else down with endless internet screeds? or by a minority of one? What’s wrong with the framework of majority rule after democratic discussion? (Such a framework can ensure there are ways for minority opinions to be heard, but if an organization is going to fight for the interests of the proletariat it must be able to act.) Oh, wait, there will also be disciplined work teams which Ben “believe(s) will spring forth in considerable number” that organize themselves in ways “that correspond (in a very approximate way) to the positive side of the so-called ‘democratic centralism.'” So how will decisions be made when the teams politically disagree with each other, or with the rest of the network? I’m sure Ben will provide a caveat to explain that too. And while he’s at it he might explain whether the work teams (who would do the real, sustained revolutionary work in Ben’s idealist concoction) are accountable to a network composed of people whose rights and responsibilities “will tend toward the minimal,” i.e., include people who were essentially sideline critics.

    The last and main point I’ll make is that discussion about organization cannot be separated from ideology and politics, which is exactly what Ben does.

    The reason why the Russian revolutionaries—first organized as the RSDLP and then as the CPSU(B)—could for more than 25 years lead the Russian proletariat forward, lead the first proletarian revolution that lasted more than a few weeks, and take the first tiny steps in organizing the transition to socialism was because of their ideology and politics, which their organizational form only served. The reason why the CPUSA could for 14-15 years lead the American proletariat the revolutionary way it did was because of its ideology and politics, which its organizational form similarly only served. So for all those years Ben’s “the old way of doing things” actually worked! When these parties betrayed (which didn’t happen all at once in the USSR, or even in the U.S.), this meant that they’d abandoned Marxism-Leninism for bourgeois ideology masquerading as Marxism-Leninism, i.e., for revisionism. But Ben doesn’t use inductive reasoning to conclude that there must therefore be even a harder fight waged to grasp and defend Marxism-Leninism (which is inseparable from applying it to the class struggle) than these parties waged, doesn’t conclude that there must be a conscious and consistent struggle to raise the ideological level of each and every party member as well as that of the entire movement, etc. No, according to Ben the problem is the party form of organization itself. And this is an idealist departure from any serious treatment of revolutionary history.

    But how is a network composed of anyone who calls them-self revolutionary (and where “rights and responsibilities will tend toward
    the minimal,” no less) going to better fight against revisionism in the course of advancing the class struggle than a M-L party can? Ben doesn’t even raise the question, much less answer it. Yet this is the key question.

    I don’t know how or when a proletarian party is going to again rise in this country. But there are a couple pretty obvious prerequisites:

    1) A nation-wide revolutionary movement that is angry at and fighting not only the bourgeoisie and its political parties, but also angry at and fighting against the trade union bureaucrats, social democrats, left communists, anarchists, Trotskyists, Stalinists, and Maoists during the course of fighting the bourgeoisie. If there’s not a rejection of the latter trends in the movement that gives rise to the party, with a clear idea of why we must oppose all of them, then the new party will, at best, politically wander and make sectarian errors. (I would add that there will be new trends that arise, e.g., left social-democratic ones, that activists are going to have to carefully analyze and tactically deal with. Today too there are trends like the dissidents in ILWU Local 10, and other trends, that we have to do this with.)

    2) Connection/beginning merger with the proletariat, especially its most oppressed sections.

    Ben’s network proposal (which he’s been making for 20 years in various forms) simply skips over such “mundane” issues as these.

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  34. ArtFrancisco says:

    I think this is an interesting discussion between Ben Seattle and Frank, and worth the time for activists to follow. Discussion of how we can accomplish a mass organization that best serves the needs of the Proletariat and our movement, will be essential groundwork necessary for growth. I’m a believer that a conflict of ideas in a respectful manner (debate) is necessary for productive teamwork.

    Both Frank and Ben have a lot of experience to contribute, so I think that it is important to take their positions and opinion into strong consideration. We as activists must guard ourselves against a sectarian division of anti-capitalists, since our solidarity and unity is our greatest strength. Criticisms of fellow activists should be aired out, but I think extreme caution should be exercised before condemning other anti-capitalist activists as agents of the class enemy.

    There are a lot of similarities with both organizational models regarding their principles. The structures themselves may be different. So it will be important to define those structures, in order to determine their strengths and weaknesses.

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  37. mamos206 says:

    Syndicalist, Ben, and Frank, thanks for your comments about revolutionary organization. I’m reading through them all and thinking about the issues raised. There is a lot to digest so I haven’t been able to write a response yet.

    Many of these issues are being contentiously discussed among the broader activist milieu in the Decolonize/ Occupy Movement. I believe there is increasing clarity among the most talented and dedicated Occupy activists about the need to prevent social democracy from co-opting us. But how to do this is hotly debated: do we need revolutionary organization or not? If we do, should it be a collective, vanguard, network, party, affinity group, etc.?

    One of our comrades, Blue Bossa Nova, is working on a sharp response to the ISO which addresses some of the issues ya’ll raised. Hopefully that will continue and deepen the discussion. I’d love to hear what other readers on this thread think about these issues.

  38. Ben Seattle says:

    ===================================================
    We need an organization, and a goal, that are real
    ===================================================

    Contents:
    ————
    1. There will be authority
    2. There will be self-organization
    3. There will be ideology
    4. There will be no little blue flags
    5. Are we doomed or are we toast?
    6. The need for distributed authority
    7. A concrete example: Carl Davidson on Kasama
    8. We need political transparency
    9. Collaborative filtering will provide little blue flags
    10. No overnight solution
    11. Do we need a party or a prison?

    Hi folks,

    The nature of revolutionary organization is an important
    topic and discussion of this is valuable. The best kind
    of discussion is intelligent and productive, where we can
    learn from one another and where it is easy for readers
    to join the discussion.

    I would like to see this discussion be of that nature.

    Frank lists about a dozen questions which he claims
    I either evade or don’t deal with. One of the problems
    here is that if I were to attempt to answer all of the
    questions which Frank claims I evade, it would take 20
    pages, and what I write would be so lengthy that no one
    would read it.

    I am committed to being accountable. This means that I
    answer questions. My suggestion to Frank is this:

    If you want to see me reply to questions or issues,
    then list them, up to 3 at a time, like this:

    …. Q1: blah, blah, blah
    …. Q2: blah, blah, blah
    …. Q3: blah, blah, blah

    Other than this, to simply accuse me of evasion and so
    forth, may look to many readers like some kind of personal
    attack (or meaningless squabble between people who like to
    argue) that would a total waste of time designed to drive
    away readers.

    So if this is an important topic, let’s treat it as such,
    and make our best effort to respect the time of readers.

    For my part, I will try to keep my posts as concise as
    practical and focus on a few important points at time.

    So, of the various issues in Frank’s most recent post,
    what are the most important?

    ————————————————————
    1. There will be authority
    ————————————————————

    Let’s start here:

    > what about Ben’s network? If it were really a political
    > center in the movement rather than a debating society
    > composed of anarchists, social democrats, anarcho-syndicalists,
    > pseudo-Marxists, part-way Marxists and others (which [is] not
    > far fetched since all “activists will have the RIGHT to be part
    > of this network,” and the work teams won’t be “ideologically
    > based”) then it’s in fact going to be advocating analyses
    > and courses of action in the mass movements “from above.”

    Yes, the network (and the work teams that grow out of and
    with help from this network) would become political centers
    that would have authority. This authority wouold flow from
    two sources:

    (1) the analysis they put forward will be a product of open
    public discussion and debate in which all the best and most
    respected activists have fully participated, and

    (2) the analysis will conform to the material circumstances
    of the movement and the nature of our revolutionary tasks.

    Frank says that this kind of analysis would be (as he puts
    it) “from above”.

    And this is true. But so what?

    “From above” and “from below” work together all the time in
    the life of the movement. They are both essential and we
    need both, just as We need to walk, so to speak, on both legs.

    What is unhealthy are not actions or analysis that have
    authority based on respect–but rather the failure to fully
    recognise, respect and appreciate the energy, initiative
    and organization that come from the bottom up. This is why
    the idea of “self-organization” is necessary if we are to
    fix everything that is rotten in our movement.

    ————————————————————
    2. There will be self-organization
    ————————————————————

    One good example of what happens when “self-organization”
    is not appreciated is the paternalistic “community” centered
    around the Kasama web site. As a participant in the community,
    I attempted to create a “left opposition” with others
    there–so there could be better coordination of effort to
    oppose some of the bourgeois and social-democratic ideology
    that often comes up. My efforts resulted in a series of
    collisions with Mike Ely, who systematically used one bullshit
    excuse after another (ie: accusations of “spamming” and
    “attempting to divert discussion”, etc) to shut down my
    participation on “his” forum to zero.

    But a community cannot be self-organizing if participants have
    no practical way to freely interact with one another except
    under the guidance, supervision and approval of a central
    authority which feels threatened by their actions.

    And no revolutionary mass organization can emerge to overcome
    the current crisis of theory and organization without the help
    of activists who have the ability to freely interact with one
    another in a self-organizing community.

    And this has been a problem with the forms of organization
    (ie: CVO/SAIC) that Frank has worked on–which have never
    recognized in any real way (ie: other than lip service) the
    need for self-organizing community. Frank’s efforts have been
    focused instead on: (1) control, (2) control and (3) control.

    SAIC, for example, stopped having public meeting because
    activists who came to these meetings often thought that my
    criticisms of SAIC might be valid. I could give many similar
    examples (and I have written about all this at great length).

    ————————————————————
    3. There will be ideology
    ————————————————————

    I will correct one comment by Frank in the passage above.

    > the work teams won’t be “ideologically based”

    Clearly, since activists will be free to create any kinds of
    team they want, some teams will be more ideologically based
    than others.

    An ideology is a set of mutually reinforcing ideas. For
    example, there is the idea that all the problems of our world
    have their root in the control of society by the bourgeoisie
    (otherwise known as the one percent) and that our revolutionary
    effort must be aimed at overthrowing the system of bourgeoisie
    rule. I support this idea (as probably do many readers). And
    this idea is interwoven with and supported by a number of other
    ideas, including that the system of bourgeois rule is the
    inevitable result of the capitalist system which, in turn, is
    the inevitable result of the system of commodity production.
    So many or most of the work teams (and most of the open
    network) will probably be ideologically based in the sense of
    supporting ideas like this.

    And there is another set of ideas that are important. These
    ideas are based on the need to oppose the influence of social
    strata (ie: liberal-labor politicians, trade union bureaucrats,
    religious misleaders, poverty pimps, “progressive” media
    personalities and professional “opinion leaders” who are in
    orbit around the Democratic Party) that the bourgeoisie has
    nurtured for the purpose of diverting revolutionary energy
    into a black hole. These ideas are centered on the need to
    oppose the influence of social democracy.

    Not all work teams that emerge will be based on opposing the
    influence of social democracy. But the teams that _are_ based
    on this, that see the need to oppose this influence as a core
    part of their mission, will become, in my view, the most
    important, the most central to the life of the open network.

    And, over time, the open network will increasingly take
    a stand against social democracy, and will recognize
    that social democracy must be fought tooth and nail.

    ————————————————————
    4. There will be no little blue flags
    ————————————————————

    This brings up an interesting (and important) question:

    Frank notes that the open network I have described will,
    at least initially, include a section of social democrats.
    And this is true, if only for the simple reason that social
    democrats do not all carry little blue flags that say “I’m
    a social democrat”. Instead, there will always be a section
    of social democrats who will describe themselves as
    “revolutionary”.

    So what do we do about them?

    How do we keep the social democrats from dominating and
    hijacking the open network (ie: as they normally do with
    any project that contains revolutionary mass energy)?

    If our network is open to all revolutionary activists,
    how can we _exclude_ social democrats who _pretend_ to
    be revolutionary in order to smuggle in their bourgeois
    reformist ideology, traditions and influence?

    More concretely, how can we keep social democrats out of
    our network while still maintaining the _open character_
    that our network will need in order to draw in an emerging
    generation of activists?

    The activists who must be welcome to our network are not
    hardened social democrats. However, because of the nature
    of our society, these activists certainly will be heavily
    influenced by social democratic prejudices and ideology
    (ie: nearly all revolutionary activists start out with
    social democratic ideology and only become revolutionary
    as they break with social democratic thinking).

    ————————————————————
    5. Are we doomed or are we toast?
    ————————————————————

    There would be several big problems with having a central
    authority in the network with the power to exclude fake
    revolutionaries.

    (1) The first problem is that determining who is (and who
    is not) a “fake revolutionary” is not simple and, in many
    or most cases, deciding who is (or is not) a fake would be
    _beyond the competence_ of any single work team.

    (2) The second problem is that giving that much power to
    any work team is _inherently corrupting_. At first they
    might only exclude social democrats. Soon enough they
    would be excluding anyone who dares to criticize them.
    Lord Acton said it best: “Power corrupts and absolute
    power corrupts absolutely”.

    (3) The biggest problem is that having a central authority
    with this much power would, by itself, _change the character_
    of our open network and open community into a _paternalistic_
    network and community. Once that happens, our “revolutionary
    mass organization” will have acquired what is commonly known
    as a _single point of failure_. Once that “single point of
    failure” becomes incompetent or corrupt–the rest of the
    organization–will be toast.

    ————————————————————
    6. The need for distributed authority
    ————————————————————

    Our revolutionary open network must be able to defend itself
    from social democrats–without making use of a centralized
    authority with the power to exclude its critics. This
    requires that the necessary authority be widely distributed
    to all activists who have experience and recognize the need
    to fight social democracy.

    An example of “distributed authority” is found on Ebay. If
    a seller on Ebay defrauds you, you have the authority, as an
    individual, to “flag” the seller as fraudulent. Anyone else
    who uses Ebay will have the ability to see your flag. In
    a somewhat analogous way (very roughly) anyone in the open
    network will be able to flag anyone else as a social democrat.

    Of course there will be clueless people who raise flags on
    anyone they disagree with. But, over time, activists in
    the network will learn who raises reliable flags and who
    (ie: which people or work teams) do not.

    There are lots of different variations (in the details) on
    how this would work in practice. I cannot predict the details
    of how activists will do this–other than to express my
    conviction that something like this will happen because it is
    necessary. Everyone in the open network will be on a public
    domain database (ie: generally with their political pseudonym
    rather than their legal name). Anyone would be able to create
    their own matching public list of who is a social democrat
    (or who is, in general, anything other than what they claim to
    be). And all activists would be able to make use of these
    matching lists to gain insight into who is (or is not) a
    revolutionary activist.

    ————————————————————
    7. A concrete example: Carl Davidson on Kasama
    ————————————————————

    To better appreciate one way this _might_ work, we can consider
    how this idea could be applied, in the present circumstances,
    to a community that considers itself revolutionary but which
    has been dealing with social democracy for some time: the Kasama
    community.

    Of course, as many of my readers know, I am blocked (not
    formally banned, but blocked in practice by post deletions,
    moderation delays and threats of ex-communication, etc) from
    posting to the Kasama blog. But one person who can (and does)
    post there quite often is a fairly well known social democrat
    by the name of Carl Davidson.

    Just about everyone who posts regularly on Kasama has figured
    out by now that Davidson is a social democrat. The only
    person who has _not_ figured this out–is Davidson himself.

    There is a logic to why Davidson cannot see what everyone
    else around him can. The social democratic ideology serves
    the bourgeoisie. This is its nature. This is what defines
    it. This is the reason it was brought into this world.
    Someone who has given in to this ideology has, essentially,
    allowed their mind to be controlled by the bourgeoisie.
    Davidson does not understand that he is a social democrat
    because the bourgeoisie does not _want him_ to understand
    this. It is to the advantage of the bourgeoisie, as a class,
    that a section of their social democratic flunkies really
    believe they are revolutionaries. Why? So that they may
    more convincingly fool those who are naive and inexperienced.
    (Some readers, undoubtedly will say that I am oversimplifying
    this. Say whatever you want. I will call things as I see
    them.)

    Participants in the Kasama community have figured out that
    Davidson is a social democrat as a result of a large number
    of encounters in which, fairly consistently, Davidson has
    advocated channeling revolutionary energy into useless
    directions (for example: electing Obama, and so forth).
    But the process of discovering that Davidson, so to speak,
    “plays for the other team” (ie: Team Imperialism) has been
    _slowed down_ by Mike Ely, who will _not allow_ anyone to
    actually say out loud what everyone knows: that Davidson
    is a social democrat. Ely even forbids anyone to call
    Davidson by his last name, because this is not “comradely”.
    According to the paternalistic Kasama culture, it is
    more “comradely” to require that everyone leave their
    comrades _in the dark_ concerning who is a social democrat.

    And this, in my view, is the wrong way to handle the most
    important political contradiction of our era.

    ————————————————————
    8. We need political transparency
    ————————————————————

    Carl Davidson actually often has interesting things to say.
    I was running an email list a few years ago and I invited
    Davidson to come to the list and defend his social democratic
    views. He accepted my invitation. I did this, I should note,
    on a principled basis. I introduced him to everyone on this
    list as a representative of an ideology that serves the
    bourgeoisie. I explained that we are not actually going to
    get big capitalists or bankers on the list who will defend
    the capitalist order. In their place however, we could get
    Davidson. We now had a living opportunity to gain experience
    confronting, in the struggle of ideas, a skilled expert who
    would defend the class interests of the bourgeoisie.

    This had a very good effect on the list. Some members
    of the list found it difficult, at first, to understand
    and believe that someone who described himself as a
    “revolutionary” (as Davidson does) and knows all the
    marxist lingo and catchphrases would defend, in such a
    consistent way, the bourgeois political system. Was I
    simply making up some kind of fantastic story?

    After a few email exchanges with Davidson, however, it
    became clear to all that Davidson was exactly how I
    described him. One member of the list used a vulgar
    personal insult to describe Davidson at the moment he
    realized that Davison really did represent the ideology
    of our class enemy. (This same person apologized an hour
    later, and said that he would keep his comments political
    and give Davidson the respect that would be due to an
    enemy soldier.)

    I give this background to help make it clear that I do not
    advocate banning Davidson from Kasama. What I do advocate,
    however, is political transparency. It should not be
    necessary for participants in a community of aspiring
    revolutionaries to discover, one by one, in a lengthy process,
    the social democratic nature of skilled ideologues who serve
    the class enemy. It should be the opposite: activists must
    have a way to share and aggregate their knowledge.

    ————————————————————
    9. Collaborative filtering will provide little blue flags
    ————————————————————

    At some point, as activists develop more advanced types of
    forums, everyone who posts will have, next to their pseudonym,
    all the flags that other activists feel there is a need to
    raise. If you see a post a post by someone like Davidson in
    a more advanced forum (ie: the kind of forum that does not
    exist yet–but most likely will exist eventually) there _will_
    be a little blue flag next to his name at the top of each of
    his posts. The blue flag will indicate that a _lot_ of
    experienced activists (whose opinion _you_ respect) think the
    guy is a social democrat. And, as a reader, you will have
    the option, when you read the comments on a thread, to filter
    out the posts (and the replies to those posts) that come from
    social democrats.

    Sometimes you will want to read the posts of social democrats
    (and other kinds of time-wasters) to see what you might be
    missing. But most of the time, serious political activists
    will want to read posts by other serious serious activists.

    This method of leveraging the experience of others (ie: in
    order to avoid wasting your time looking at shit which is
    created for the purpose of wasting your time) has a name.
    It is called “collaborative filtering”. Activists in the
    future will develop and make use of collaborative filtering
    so that they will be able to invest their limited time and
    attention in the places that will best serve the revolutionary
    movement.

    As I noted above, I am not going to go into the details of
    how collaborative filtering may work, or the various ways it
    has been used in the last fifteen years. I am sure that
    there will be some activists who will raise all kinds of flags
    on people like me, attempting to warn others that my posts are
    “spam” and attempts to “divert discussion” and so forth. I am
    not worried about this. Readers will have many ways to learn
    which flags are worth their attention and which flags they
    want to filter out.

    ————————————————————
    10. No overnight solution
    ————————————————————

    No method of organization can be a substitute for activists
    gaining political experience. I have outlined some ideas
    for how an _open network_ (based on political transparency
    and the _disciplined work teams_ that will emerge from such
    an open network) will help to raise the consciousness of
    activists concerning the struggle against social democracy.
    And I have outlined some of the ways that activists will
    learn how to “say no” to the efforts of time-wasters to steal
    their attention. And I have shown, or at least suggested in
    outline, how these things can be done without creating the
    kind of centralized organization that would be based on a
    “single point of failure” and would eventually become corrupt.

    These are important principles, but it is also important to
    recognize that there is no magic bullet, by itself, that will
    solve these kinds of problems.

    Activists will learn to hate social democracy on the basis of
    their bitter experience with it. This is primary. Activists
    will gain experience with social democracy as social democracy
    attacks the movement. And social democracy will attack the
    movement as the movement grows, becomes powerful and threatens
    the class interests of the bourgeoisie. This is a lengthy
    process that will unfold over many years.

    So I want to be clear that I am not offering some kind of
    instant or overnight solution. Rather, I am simply describing
    some of the ways that we may be able to better do what we are
    _already doing_ in terms of developing the movement and our
    political consciousness. By getting everyone, so to speak,
    on the same page (ie: a common, public database) with open
    communications, we will be able to increase the rate of what
    I call our “information metabolism” (ie: the speed at which
    we will be able to collect and digest information, and
    organize a response: in other words, understand and react to
    events).

    Some forms of organization will tend to _undermine_ political
    transparency and _restrict_ our ability to self-organize.
    Other forms of organization will go in the opposite direction
    and will allow us to create healthy and powerful alternatives
    to social democratic and sectarian corruption. And that is
    what we need.

    ————————————————————
    11. Do we need a party or a prison?
    ————————————————————

    Frank:

    > But how is a network composed of anyone who calls them-self
    > revolutionary (and where “rights and responsibilities will
    > tend toward the minimal,” no less) going to better fight
    > against revisionism in the course of advancing the class
    > struggle than a M-L party can? Ben doesn’t even raise the
    > question, much less answer it. Yet this is the key question.

    I have answered this question partially. Disciplined work
    teams will make use of the open network in the same way that
    steam-powered locomotives made use of the railroad network in
    the 1800’s. Railroad tracks would be useless by themselves,
    without trains. And an open network (which any self-described
    “revolutionary” would be free to join) would be useless
    without self-organizing work teams. At the same time, it
    should be clear that trains could go nowhere without tracks.
    And disciplined work teams will be able to go further and
    faster (and carry greater weight) when an open network (based
    on the tradition of political transparency) exists. One
    technology, so to speak, rests on and is enabled by another.

    But there is one part of Frank’s question which I have not
    answered. I have not explained why the “M-L Party” that
    Frank proposes is doomed to failure.

    I will explain that now.

    There are a lot of myths about “Marxism-Leninism”. The biggest
    myth of all is that “Marxism-Leninism” is based on the work of
    Marx and Lenin. The opposite is true. “Marxism-Leninism” is
    a _political religion_ that was invented by Stalin in order to
    justify the _permanent suppression_ of the independent political
    voice and independent political life of the proletariat.

    The idea that today, in the 21st century, we must base our ideas
    of a society run by the working class on such a political religion
    (ie: based on the permanent suppression of the proletariat) is a
    _stinking corpse_. The putrid, toxic stench is making people sick.
    It is time we buried it.

    We need an organization with the ability to represent the
    interests of the proletariat for class independence. Once we
    have this, everything else will tend to fall into place: We
    will have a banner to which millions will be able to rally.

    Such an organization is traditionally called a “party”,
    although the word “party” has been corrupted to mean something
    else. The word “party” has been corrupted, over many decades,
    to mean a “prison” for revolutionary aspirations.

    The kind of party that Frank advocates would be a _prison_
    because it would be based on a deeply pathological fear of
    the masses. Frank cannot understand this and can point to
    a mountain of _words_ that he and his comrades have written
    which deny that they are afraid of the masses, and so on.

    But the problem cannot be washed away by a river of denial.

    The “M-L Party” that Frank advocates would be based on
    the _goal_ of a _single-party state_ with the power to suppress
    the voice of its critics. And, because this deeply pathological
    religion cannot defend itself in open, public debate, supporters
    of this religion are _inevitably_ reduced to people who have
    systematically trained themselves _not to think_.

    That is not what we need. We need an _organization_, and a
    _goal_ for our movement, that are healthy and real.

    And we will have them.

    For our common victory in the struggle for
    the overthrow of the system of bourgeois rule

    Ben Seattle

  39. Frank Arango says:

    I’ll start on a light note: Ben’s concern about words.

    “There are a lot of myths about ‘Marxism-Leninism’.”

    Obviously.

    “The biggest myth of all is that ‘Marxism-Leninism’ is based on the work of Marx and Lenin.”

    Well, if it’s real or true or genuine or anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism it’s certainly based on the pioneering work of Marx and Lenin.

    But oh no, says Ben,

    “The opposite is true. ‘Marxism-Leninism’ is a _political religion_ that was invented by Stalin in order to justify the _permanent suppression_ of the independent political voice and independent political life of the proletariat.”

    Well, that’s only true if you accept Ben’s definition, which he shouts at us with bold lettering on his blog. Moreover, Stalinist revisionism was not (and is not) simply a political religion. It was (and is) based on a set of definite anti-M-L (or anti-proletarian) theories and practices.

    Furthermore, Stalinist revisionism was not simply “invented” by Stalin, which is a ridiculous idea. Nevertheless, what Ben is apparently referring to is the claim that Stalin either “invented” or first popularized the phrase “Marxism-Leninism” around the mid-20s.

    But whether a group or party chooses to conveniently use a hyphen between Marx and Lenin, or says it’s based on the scientific socialist ideas of Marx, Lenin and others, or says something else, it still must be judged by its politics, not on how it refers to its theory.

    Of course, according to Ben, when we eventually have a revolutionary party in this country we dare not call it a party because that word “has been corrupted, over many decades, to mean a ‘prison’ for revolutionary aspirations.”

    Scary, so let’s see. Divided between those who think in terms of an electoral party; those who think in terms of a party that backs electoralism with mass actions; those who think in terms of parties like the Workers Communist Parties of Iran, Iraq and Tunisia, or like the Labour Party of Pakistan; those who think in terms of a socialist working-class party that leads the masses in the class struggle; and those who think in still other terms, there are probably millions of people in the U.S. who’re already saying they want a new party. Furthermore, as part of transforming themselves during the course of the class struggle many others will come to this conclusion.

    And, in fact, that’s what happened in the 1960s. The decade started in conditions of virulent bourgeois anti-communist hysteria that is nothing like today, while on the left the practices of the CPUSA and SWP (which were then larger than any group we now have) certainly discredited the idea of a party. But the 60s ended with a national movement of many, many thousands of activists who’d concluded that a new, genuine communist party was necessary. I think those activists were right, and that when a new generation of revolutionary activists reaches this conclusion on a mass scale they’ll also be right, and that this will change everything.

    The issue isn’t that Ben worries too much about the movement being misunderstood because it’s associated with the words “party” and “Marxism-Leninism;” it’s that he opposes those words’ contents.

    New political groups have been forming around the country for some time, and there will be more. They’re looking into various revolutionary theories and trying to apply them to the class struggle in their locations, and they’re investigating the theories and practices of groups in other areas (with aims like learning from the other groups, forging practical collaboration, etc). Marxian revolutionaries are excited about this real world development, and do as much as they can to help its farther development. That’s why in this thread I made some modest comments about the labor bureaucrats and raised the issue of having a party perspective even though I know the latter is not presently popular with many. And it’s why I used the quotations from Marx:

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

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

    Of course, Marx arrived at this conclusion through study of the practical experiences of the proletariat: the revolutions of 1848, but also later. And Marx and Engels’ conception of a proletarian party changed with their experiences in building one, as well as with changes in the broader workers’ movement. For example, Engels participated in much of the preparatory work for the founding of the Second International, whose parties were organized quite differently than the parties of the First International had been, and were for the first time really mass parties. And after summing up the experiences from the Second International, the parties of the Third International were still different: More centralization and discipline, which fostered a higher level of independent activity from their members, a greater role in mass action, and a higher level of theoretical knowledge and consciousness. More attention to rooting the party in workplaces rather than organizing them by general territory. More attention to the nationally-oppressed workers in the industrial countries, and firmly planting the communist banner in the midst of the national liberation and anti-imperialist movements.

    So there is no blueprint for how to precisely organize a proletarian party, and can’t be. Nevertheless, today it’s valuable to continue summing up the experiences of the Third International, as well as our own experiences in organizing (which for some of us means summing of the rich experience of the MLP-USA).

    Meanwhile, life itself is continually teaching that “constitution of the proletariat into a political party is indispensable to ensure the triumph of the social revolution and of its ultimate goal: the abolition of classes.” For example, organized into a few militant trade unions plus networks, last year the Egyptian workers were able to accomplish a great deal, i.e., topple the decades-old tyrant and force a political situation that gives them more room to organize in. But they did not have the ideological and organizational strength to overcome the military in what was only a democratic uprising (where they had many petty-bourgeois allies, as well as big bourgeois allies), not a proletarian revolution. So not surprisingly, a section of the movement therefore concluded from their experience that they needed more organization, and set about organizing not just new trade unions, but also new political parties. One of these is the Workers Democratic Party, which is rooted in the textile workers union, plus other militant sections of the class.

    Now I’m in no position to make an overall judgment of the WDP. But all Egyptian workers can certainly get behind its struggle against the neo-liberal class offensive of the bourgeoisie, its struggle to bring down the SCAF, etc. Moreover, this party’s founding shows (again) that the modern class struggle inevitably becomes a struggle between political parties. And where the proletariat has a revolutionary party this is the vehicle for its own class liberation, as well as the liberation of all of the oppressed.

    But don’t think that way, says Ben. And personalizing things he shouts with bold lettering:

    “The kind of party that Frank advocates would be a _prison_ because it would be based on a deeply pathological fear of the masses.”

    “The ‘M-L Party’ that Frank advocates would be based on the _goal_ of a _single-party state_ with the power to suppress the voice of its critics. And, because this deeply pathological religion cannot defend itself in open, public debate, supporters of this religion are _inevitably_ reduced to people who have systematically trained themselves _not to think_.” (“Deeply pathological fear of the masses.” I liked that one.–Fk.)

    Further personalizing things, Ben makes the baseless and ludicrous charge that

    “Frank’s efforts have been focused instead on: (1) control, (2) control and (3) control. SAIC, for example, stopped having public meeting because activists who came to these meetings often thought that my criticisms of SAIC might be valid…”

    True, SAIC stopped having public meetings for a long while, and I favored that. But my favoring it had nothing to do with considerations about what other activists thought about Ben Seattle’s ideas and criticisms—which were usually rejected anyway! (For anyone who cares to look, I dealt more with this in “comment 2″ beneath http://www.seattleaic.org/statements/eight-years-after-iraq-invasion-us-empire-in-trouble.)

    But for all that, capitalist society is ruled by invisible laws of political economy which result in its being out of the control of anyone, whether capitalist or worker. And based on the system of exploitation of wage-labor by capital, these laws are giving rise to continual economic crises and mass impoverishment, super-exploitation and oppression of national-minority, immigrant and women workers, wars, and destruction of Earth itself. Hence, I and all class-conscious workers fight for control (you God-damned right we do!), and not just to control individual workplaces, but to control the entire economy through planning. There’s no other way of overcoming the laws of the market (and fundamentally, the law of value) without workers control, and this requires proletarian organization.

    Let’s now return to Ben’s network, which he calls an organization, and implies is a party by another name.

    First of all, historical motion toward forming new proletarian political parties in the U.S., Egypt, or anywhere else does not fit into the framework. Indeed, since Ben only talks about “disciplined work teams” which he believe(s) will spring forth in considerable number” in the future, BOC, CVO, the Gathering Forces trend, Seasol and others are simply left out of the picture…unless we liquidate into a “work team” under the discipline of his network.

    But wait! Ben has yet to tell us who is accountable to who in this imagined network, and how anything gets decided. If it were not to immediately fall apart, logic would say that those doing the actual work should make the decisions, and Ben says those people would be in the work teams. And after first posing these teams against “the kind of ideologically based and mutually isolated fortresses which Frank proposes,” Ben now concedes the obvious: his work teams would unite around various conflicting ideologies. Moreover, the more passive members of the network, which little would be required of, would also be divided between conflicting ideologies. (Of course, since they weren’t on a work team, they would have more time to opinionize on the internet) So this leaves the problem I previously raised: who decides what “our revolutionary mass organization” does, and how?

    In fact, a network like this could only itself agree to the lowest-common-denominator kind of politics, and if were to include most of the anarchists it would have to do so by consensus. Thus, it couldn’t be a fighting organization of the proletariat leading it forward.

    I think Ben senses this, which is why he spends three paragraphs worrying over how to “_exclude_ social democrats who _pretend_ to be revolutionary” (his bolding) while welcoming activists who “are not hardened social democrats.” He spends three more paragraphs worrying that having a “central authority in the network with the power to exclude fake revolutionaries” would end it in toast, then more paragraphs arguing for a technical solution: distributed authority.

    But for all the worrying over how his scheme for organizing via the internet would work, Ben’s network would just be one leftist network among many, and an attempted reproduction of part of the revolutionary movement in cyberspace.

    • mamos206 says:

      This comment on our peice was posted over on Recomposition blog, which posted this peice about a week or so ago (http://recomposition.info/2012/03/11/longview-occupy-and-beyond-rank-and-file-and-the-89-unite/#more-662):

      I’d put off reading this for ages cos of the length, but it’s really good. One thing I’d appreciate a bit of clarification on: at the end of section VIIa, it says “Limitations on union structures prevent adaptations to these current conditions for enhancing class struggle… We recognize that rank and file workers in the current unions have the power to transform these union structures.” This, to me, sounds like a kind of boring-from-within strategy – in essence, trying to turn the ILWU into something like the IWW – which feels sort of at odds with the rest of the piece. Is that bit of language just a fudge, or are BOC really into the idea of trying to transform the existing unions, or what? Feels kind of weird to ask this here instead of at the BOC site, but when I looked at the comments on the original piece, half of them seemed to be some very lengthy argument between Leninist party-builders that I didn’t feel like diving into the middle of.
      Also on a technical note, in case you haven’t noticed, this piece has all the links missing, which is a bit jarring in some places. It’s really good apart from those two things, though!

      Here is a response from Jomo, from BOC:

      Hi Cautiously Pessimistic,
      Thanks for engaging w our piece. We know militants within the unions who are trying to transform them, but not simply through union opposition caucusing or within the limits of their current union. They do so by breaking down the boundaries of the bureaucratized trade union structure and the divisions that such institutions set bw them and the rest of the non-unionized class. We’re not at all trying to advocate capturing union leadership, but simply recognizing that if there had been more revolutionary militants within the ILWU, it would have been easier to unite different sections of the class and prevent the bureaucracy to divide us/label us as outside agitators. Hope this make sense!

      And here is Cautiously Pessimistic’s response:

      Yeah, that all sounds pretty reasonable. Like I say, it’s a really good piece overall and I found some of it really resonated with my personal experiences, I just found some of that language a bit unclear.

  40. Pingback: Outside and ignored by the unions: a few links for the 89% | Cautiously pessimistic

  41. A couple points on the Frank and Ben discussion:
    On the one hand I’m seeing that how to deal with the united front was solved 90–110 years ago. On the other hand, that the key theoretical questions for the working class are answered in the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin.
    The problem with social democracy is an expression of the struggle between reform and revolution; in which a range of views need to be addressed. One is the view that revolution is impossible. Another is the view that revolution will be a cure worse than the disease. Another is that things just aren’t bad enough to require such a drastic solution. A revolutionary ideological struggle within a united front needs to credibly address these issues. I don’t think these issues are posed in the same way as they were 90–110 years ago.

    Basically Frank correctly points out that the key to whether a revolutionary party can really act in a revolutionary way is a political question, not that leaderships just go bad for no reason. The limitation I’m seeing here is that problems will continually come up that can not be solved on the basis of a fixed body of theory. I think what has happened in the CPUSA in the 30’s, USSR in the 20’s etc. is that problems came up for which there were no good or “correct” answers. The civil war and the related collapse of the economy in the Soviet Republics in the first case. This means that theory really needs to be advanced, usually when conditions are most difficult. Significant sections of workers and their allies need to learn to do theory in the sense of generating new theory for new situations in the world. Just on the learning level this is different from lets say a class at a vocational school or something. I don’t equate theory with ideology. Good theory should translate well across a reasonable range of ideologies.

    As far as organization and information technology issues: I think organizational forms flow from whats happening in society, and learning theoretically and practically what this means. I don’t think there is any fixed body of knowledge that is the solution. The IT question is not just a new opportunity for how people can organize– it’s most importantly a new rapidly evolving set of forms and configurations of capitalism globally. I would start from that and then see where that leads us in terms of organization. One problem is that the working class does not control the IT.

    My initial thought is that I agree with Ben in terms of political transparency on issues of policy, direction, theory and strategic conception of revolutionary activities. In many practical areas involving more immediate strategy and tactics (like where will a revolutionary team hook up at a demo, and much broader extensions of this type of question as thing develop), a whole different security question arises. A related concern is that as events in society move towards crises with revolutionary implications, the whole parameter of state repression will likely change, and any party or network or whatever will need to quickly adapt.

    If the class enemy can know what the organized revolutionaries are planning and doing on a large scale in real time in a revolutionary situation, it’s not looking good for the revolution

    Another issue with IT in relation to a mass revolutionary formation is the signal to noise problem.

    • Frank Arango says:

      Since Anton posted this here I’ll leave a reply here, plus note that the discussion continues on his blog.–Fk.

      Anton,

      It’s true that communists have been employing united front tactics from the time of Marx, but I don’t think it’s quite correct to say that how to deal with the united front was “solved” 90–110 years ago. As a matter of fact, that’s why (I believe) the C.I. repeatedly came back to this question throughout the 1920s, just as we have to today. And the latter is related to my agreement with your statement that theory really needs to be advanced. Indeed, we MUST advance revolutionary theory or become side-line sectarians.

      Just one example of the latter is that much of the revisionist left has no theory on what to do to build the environmental movement now, while capitalism still exists. Instead, they uncritically rely on Jim Hansen and others in sounding the alarm that a global ecological catastophe is rapidly approaching, but then fall back to saying we need a revolution to reverse the course, and that’s pretty much it. Now one obviously couldn’t rely on Marx, Engels or Lenin to work out a line for what to do in this situation, but one can take their proletarian standpoint and use their method to sort out a line on what is to be done, which is what CVO has been doing especially since 2006-07, e.g., http://communistvoice.org/39cKyoto.html, and the whole series at http://communistvoice.org/00GlobalWarming.html.

      I certainly think that revolutionaries should use information technology (or the internet), which many of us have long used every day (and transparently too!). But we can neither depend on it nor make it our main form of activity. Driving this home is that last year the bourgeoisie talked a lot about a Facebook/Twitter revolution in North Africa and the Middle East, but everywhere in the region the less-than-electronic-cutting-edge regimes were able to disrupt the developing mass motion simply by closing down service.* And they also used the internet to play dirty tricks on activists, track them down for jailing or murder, etc. Indeed, I think it was a weakness of the movement that it had to depend so much on the internet, i.e., the masses tended to be atomized: not part of organizations with other means of communication. Exceptions were the tens of thousands of workers at the Egyptian al-Mahalla textile factory, and other large workplaces or institutions.

      *Some activists were able to figure out a way to circumvent the shut-downs fairly soon. But not everyone knew how to do this, and had this alternative lasted long I’m sure the bourgeoisie would have found a way to shut it off too.

  42. Pingback: May Day and beyond: Late April/early May round-up | Cautiously pessimistic

  43. Pingback: Struggles on the Waterfront | Black Orchid Collective

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